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JOHN KING, USA

Tea Party Express; Kathleen Sebelius Interview; Health Care Politics

Aired March 29, 2010 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, HOST: Thank you, Wolf.

They're preparing at the White House for another signing ceremony, tomorrow the final piece of the health care legislation, and this Congress is testing the waters back home, a sense of how the American people will like this bill or not in this big political year ahead and that's our "Lead" tonight as we look, our new poll from CNN tonight shows evidence of a big bounce for the president, but not all the numbers are so encouraging.

And we'll go "One-on-One" with the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. Don't you dare is the tone of a letter she sent to health insurers tonight warning them not to look for loopholes.

In "Wall-to-Wall" we'll map out the president's secret weekend trip to Afghanistan. And later an insider on that trip will join us to share his pictures.

And you won't want to miss "Play by Play", avoiding the meltdown. The treasury secretary's playful take of how the big stock market collapse might have been avoided. A packed hour ahead, but we begin as always though with an observation or two.

Opening day is next week. Amen. And the White House announced today President Obama will throw out the ceremonial first pitch here in Washington when the Nationals open their season at home. A reminder, along with the breathtaking cherry blossoms here in the nation's capital, that it is spring.

Spring, worth repeating because with the tense political environment of recent days, it is sometimes easy to forget elections are held in the fall. Meaning this year's midterm vote is still seven months away. Still, this is an interesting week to get a sense of the early landscape. Congress is home for a two-week recess. And we'll be stopping by a good number of town halls to get a sense of just how people feel about the new health law and about the state of the economy.

In fact we'll show you highlights of one in just a few minutes. We'll also poll quite a bit to keep track of public sentiment and we'll sprinkle some numbers tonight throughout the hour. Here's one -- 51 percent of Americans approve of how Barack Obama is handling his job as president. That's up five points from just a week ago suggesting a decent health care bounce.

But here's another -- 56 percent of Americans disapprove of the new law. So what does that tell us? Most of all, in my view, that we should avoid sweeping judgments. Health care is a complicated highly personal issue. A lot of people are understandably confused about just what it means for them and seven months is a long time. Look at it this way. Baseball season is still a week away, yet we'll know the winner of the World Series before we know for sure which party gets the upper hand in health care politics.

Among those trying to shape the health care debate during the congressional recess are Tea Party activists. The Tea Party Express is in the early days of a cross-country trip targeting vulnerable Democrats who voted in favor of the sweeping health care changes. The caravan got rolling this weekend in Nevada and has already made stops in Arizona and Utah. Here's a little flavor of the mood so far.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well I think that's another thing that's misconstrued is people say oh you know that the right or the Tea Party movement is against health care, which I don't think is the case. I think it's a matter of how health care has come about and how this bill was rampantly just forced down people's throats. I think that's what makes them angry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We can see an agenda and it just continues to billow and foam with cap and tax, you know just all kinds of things, legislation that they want to push through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know I don't think that these national movements should be the -- you know people shouldn't rely on those to make their decision. They need to meet the candidates, find out the issues, do the research study and make their own opinion, form their own opinion and not just come to something and be a cheerleader for their team.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The final destination of the Tea Party Express is right here, Washington, D.C., on April 15th. That's Tax Day. Our Ed Lavandera is riding along and is here now from St. George, Utah, to take us behind the curtain -- hey, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Well we are with the CNN Express traveling with the Tea Party through Utah. We are in St. George, Utah, in the southwest corner of the state in the midst of tonight's rally here in Utah. The first time the Tea Party has come through here and the theme of this express as they wind their way across the country is vote them out.

And as Congress people have returned to their home districts for that recess, obviously that mood around here is that they would much prefer to see these congressmen and congresswomen stay home. And there is a great deal of anger toward many of these Congress people who have voted for health care, for a government bailout. Those themes continue to intensify and one of the things and one of the challenges that organizers of this Tea Party Express movement understand and accept is that they will have to keep and maintain the intensity of this organization through the November election. And that's a big question, whether or not they'll be able to do that -- John.

KING: And Ed, you know a lot of talk in Washington about anger and tough language and tough rhetoric. What's the sense there? It looks to me like it's a pretty civil crowd behind you.

LAVANDERA: Yes, actually a pretty low key event. Probably a little bit more than a thousand people here. They have been going almost for an hour. They'll continue to do so for about another half hour or so then they'll move on to Provo, Utah and Salt Lake City as well, 42 rallies across 22 states, and as you mentioned, John, ending there where you are in Washington on April 15th, Tax Day.

KING: All right, Ed, you take care out there. Thanks very much to Ed Lavandera. And count Speaker Nancy Pelosi among the lawmakers explaining their health care vote back home. The speaker was an enthusiastic yes and at an event today in San Francisco she put the health care bill on par with creating Social Security and Medicare and passing the Civil Rights Act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: We set upon a course to make a difference for the American people. This is not just a bill. We passed many bills that have their impact and that's important. This was a crusade for change, to take the country in a new direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Not everyone cease sees it that way, of course. In our new poll 76 percent of Democrats approve of the new law; 90 percent of Republicans disapprove. Perhaps no surprises there, but these numbers are worth tracking in the months ahead. Thirty-six percent of independents approve of the health care changes; 63 percent disapprove.

And among voters over the age of 65, 44 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove of the new health care law. Those older Americans are among the most dependable voters especially in non-presidential election years like this one. So Congressman Mark Schauer of Michigan focused on seniors as he held the first of two town halls today back home. Here's a sample.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hundreds of polls have shown more than half the people didn't want this plan we now have, 30 million more people covered. You tell me, less cost, no more additional government intrusion. I don't believe it. I believe you voted incorrectly. I will remember in the next election.

REP. MARK SCHAUER (D), MICHIGAN: The worst thing that I could do or I think that the Congress could do is do nothing. That would guarantee double digit premium increases by insurance companies, families continuing to go bankrupt, seniors continuing to fall into the doughnut hole.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Some tough questions, but we should note a very, very civil affair there. One more footnote from last week in an update, the bullet that hit Republican Minority Whip Eric Cantor's office -- Virginia office last week may have been random, but this today is much more serious. A Philadelphia man is under arrest for allegedly threatening to kill Cantor and his family.

The Justice Department says Norman Leboon seen in a YouTube video calling Cantor a pig and a liar, and saying quote, "you received my bullets in your office. Remember they will be placed in your heads." The video has been taken down. A written statement says Congressman Cantor is deeply grateful to the authorities and will have no further comment.

Today's numbers on Wall Street sure to headline tomorrow's news. The Dow industrials closed up 10,895, their highest point in a year and a half, a big reason for the optimism, a rise in consumer spending. The modest increase has investors betting there's some strength, some lasting strength to the economic recovery.

When we come back, the secretary of Health and Human Services to go "One-on-One", she sent a letter tonight to the insurance industry and guess what? She's not happy. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's been less than a week since President Obama signed health insurance reform into law and already it looks like the administration's worried insurance companies might be looking for loopholes. The administration's point person in this fight the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius joins me now to go "One-on-One".

Madam Secretary, thank you. I'm going to hold up a copy of what I will call a "don't you dare" letter that you sent to the insurance industry tonight essentially saying you're worried that they're looking for loopholes specifically to the provision that says you cannot deny a child coverage for a pre-existing condition or not allow them to be on their parent's insurance policy because of a pre- existing condition. Do you know they were trying to do this or do you just suspect it?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HHS SECRETARY: Well there was some discussion in a couple of articles over the weekend, John that suggested that companies were looking at the legislative language. And we just thought it was appropriate as we are in the process of developing regulations for the policy that will be the law in September of this year to make it very clear that parents shouldn't worry.

The law is that children with pre-existing conditions must be covered under their parents' policies. The services that they need for those pre-existing conditions must be covered. The regs will be out shortly to make that very clear. But in the meantime, we thought it was appropriate to put the companies on notice that that's the legislative intent, that's what we intend to do, we intend to follow the law.

KING: I want to read a line from your letter. "Now is not the time to search for nonexistent loopholes that preserve a broken system" -- doesn't sound like there's much trust at all between the administration and the insurance industry here. Do you believe that's what they're doing, reading the fine print looking for any ambiguity in the language they can?

SEBELIUS: Well, again, we had seen some articles which suggested just that is going on and I think it's fair to parents to tell them good news is on the way. Six months from the date that the president signed the bill, which was March 23rd, this is the new policy of the land, that if you have an insurance policy your child cannot be excluded because of his or her pre-existing condition, nor can the treatments that they need be excluded. And lots and lots of parents are anxious for that day in September to come. We want to make it clear that it is coming. That's what the regulations will say. That's what Congress and the president intended. And that's what the law will say.

KING: Help us understand the scope of your challenge now. You mentioned on this particular issue, children's coverage that you're working on the regulations. How much more authority, how much more power and how much of a task do you have now in implementing it through all these regulations?

SEBELIUS: Well the good news for Americans is that there are lots of these provisions that actually begin in 2010. We've talked about the kids with pre-existing conditions. We're about to put states on notice that they'll be eligible to receive some funding for high risk pools. So adults right now who don't have insurance because of a pre-existing condition will have some safety net coverage.

We've got changes in Medicare that are coming this year. We've got new rules for insurance companies about dropping people from coverage or stopping treatments in the middle of coverage, so we've got -- we've got a job to make sure and get these notices out quickly in a timely fashion and -- but as the president said, to do it right, to make sure that the rules are understood, implemented and that we publicize what's going to happen to Americans.

We look forward to having a very robust Web site to having a lot of information to answer people's questions online. But it's going to be a step-by-step process to get the new pieces of the puzzle in place. The good news for working Americans, health security is on the way, but also to get the regulations written so it happens.

KING: If you listen to the administration's Republican critics and some critics out in corporate America, AT&T, Deere, Caterpillar among the companies that have said look, under this bill our health care costs are going to go way up and they're taking charges. Do the Republicans have a point; do those companies have a point that at least in the short-term there could be an adverse economic impact here?

SEBELIUS: Well one of the things that companies are looking at is a change in the tax deduction. They have been actually taking tax deductions on money that the government has given them in the first place. That will cease under this bill. And the way accounting rules work, John, is they have to notice shareholders that that's going to come over the next 30 years, so they have to put them on notice.

When we talked to company execs, they admit at the outset that what they will give up in terms of closing that kind of a loophole on tax benefits is well overcome by the kind of savings they're looking at with not only incentives for businesses to keep health insurance for their employees, but the kind of wellness and prevention efforts to lower costs in the long run. So on balance, I think it's very good news. Small business owners are one of the big recipients of some of these early benefits. And again, we want to get that word out that four million business owners this year are eligible for tax credits to bring them back into the insurance market, to help them buy health insurance for their employees. They should plan for it right now because it's going to be available for tax year 2010, and we think that's very good news.

KING: You are a former governor who under administrations both Democratic and Republican would be among the governors sometimes raising their hand in the State Capitol saying Washington please stop sending mandates our way. Do you have any concerns at all that these challenges being mounted mostly be Republican governors and Republican attorneys general, but do you have any concern at all that they might have a point, that Washington does not have the authority to tell states that people must buy insurance?

SEBELIUS: Well in talking to our legal team I'm well convinced that this bill is on solid constitutional grounds. There is plenty of precedent for having this kind of effort move forward. And I think this is one of the most state friendly pieces of legislation that I certainly have seen in a long time. I was, as you say, a recipient of a lot of Washington mandates.

There is no expectation that a state have to do anything until the year 2014, and at that point, the first several years are 100 percent federally funded. I've never been in a situation as a governor where that kind of partnership was anticipated, that exchanges start at the state level, insurance regulation is assumed to be at the state level. We're actually putting money on the table right now to help states provide for some of these changes to take place.

So I think this is a collaborative effort. I look forward to working with my former colleagues, both insurance commissioners and governors because I've served as one of each.

KING: Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Madam Secretary, thanks for your time tonight.

SEBELIUS: Great to visit with you.

KING: Health care among the topics when we take "The Pulse" of America next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Almost a week now since President Obama signed the big health care reform into law and we're seeing a modest but definite bounce in his approval rating. But still our latest snapshot of what the voters were thinking shows Democrats still have plenty to worry about as we head into the midterm election season.

To take "The Pulse" of America, CNN contributor Erick Erickson who is editor-in-chief of the conservative blog RedState.com -- he joins us from Atlanta -- and in New York, Amy Goodman, the host and executive producer of "Democracy Now!" a daily independent news program. Thank you both.

We did a lot of polling over the weekend. It does show the president has a bounce up and we don't like to hyperventilate too much about polls, especially seven months before an election, but this one's interesting. I want each of your opinions because I can't tell if this is an half empty or half full glass.

Let me start with you, Amy. We asked people should we leave the bill as it is; 23 percent say leave it just like it is. Change it to increase the involvement of government; 27 percent want to change it to give the government more power. Repeal and replace; 47 percent. Does that strike you at all Amy, especially a quarter of Americans say you know that must be the single payer or the public option crowd saying give the government more power here.

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, "DEMOCRACY NOW!": That's right. It's very interesting that more than half of the half of people who are either supportive of the bill or feel it should be changed in favor of more government control. This is saying something that I think polls have shown for a long time. When people have single payer explained the idea of Medicare for all, they overwhelmingly support it in this country.

And that would then put us, well, in line with the rest of the industrialized world. And I think the problem right now and we just heard it with Secretary Sebelius is she's already having to deal with these insurance companies that are going to get richer and more powerful under the Obama plan, under Obama-care trying to wriggle out even now.

If they weren't there, if they weren't the middlemen here determining our care, if it was direct from or at least paid for by taxpayers and overall a single payer system, we wouldn't have these people profiteering off people's health. And a lot of people feel that way in this country.

KING: Erick, I want you to come in, but I want to break down the numbers just a little bit further as you do, because this is really fascinating. Among those who say repeal and replace, which is your argument. You're a repeal guy. Some conservatives say repeal and replace with something else. Seventeen percent of Democrats say repeal and replace; 80 percent of Republicans say repeal and replace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

KING: And significantly in this election year where you're looking for who can win the Independent vote, about half of Independents, 52 percent say repeal and replace. This is just as the president starts to travel quite a bit and make his case. As a conservative in the repeal side, is that about where you expect it to be at this point or did you think that number would be higher?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, it's about what I expected and I'm actually surprised the Independents are that high. If I were a Democrat I'd be a little troubled. I would have been curious if the pollsters would have asked how many people -- what the percentage would have been for government to make changes to decrease government involvement as opposed to just repeal and replace.

I was kind of surprised that was left out. But I think by and large looking at the rest of the numbers, the majority of Americans polled are dissatisfied or angry with it. A majority of Americans think it won't help them or will hurt them. These are not good numbers for the Democrats when these strategizing beforehand what was a message to Democratic elected officials that if you do this, the public will like it. And we're not seeing that.

The bump in the polls for the president hasn't been as large as some people predicted. I think Gallup poll today showed him settling back down again. If I were a swing state Democrat in particular, I'd be a little nervous.

KING: Amy, what's your sense -- forget politics for a minute to the degree we can here, just in your conversations with friends and family members and colleagues over the past week or so, how many of them really understand what's in this incredibly complicated bill?

GOODMAN: Oh, it's very hard to understand, but there is an overarching issue here and that is the insurance companies get more powerful. Sure, there are mandates. You know you have to cover every kid now and pre-existing condition should not be a reason to drop a child. 2014, it will be the case for adults as well.

These are good things. But it could be part of a plan that doesn't involve in any way trusting these insurance companies. I can't for the life of me understand why this was taken off the table from the beginning when polls show that most people in this country were highly suspicious of, very angry at the insurance companies, why the decision was made to preserve them and make them stronger. That's the battle that President Obama will have and the Democrats will have, why they are shoring up -- and this goes across the political spectrum, people's concerns -- these companies that have proven to be so untrustworthy.

KING: A little sign of the tension still on the left with the president's final product. Erick, I want to close by asking you a question about the right. As you know, today the Republican National Committee back in hot water today looking at its FEC documents -- a consultant who worked for the party charged just under $2,000 at what I'll call a racy nightclub out in Los Angeles and there are a lot of critics. You know the party chairman, Michael Steele, says he has nothing to do with this. But he has many critics, a lot of whom say you know why isn't he better managing the party and its money and why is he allowing embarrassing stories like this in a year in which the Republicans should have the wind at their back.

ERICKSON: Right.

KING: What do you make of this?

ERICKSON: Well you know most troubling to me is that the party acted like it had no clue what was going on until after the reporter came back and turns out the reporter undercounted the amount of money with "The Daily Caller". I'm kind of surprised by the blow-back from the RNC. There's been some rallying around this afternoon, but now as the facts come out this evening that "The Daily Caller", which ran the story is slowly dragging out more and more facts and it's worse and worse. This was an after-party, this wasn't even the party. You know, some day I hope the RNC can get by a daily news cycle without more bad press for mismanagement of funds.

KING: Erick Erickson, Amy Goodman, thank you both tonight and we'll see you again soon. Thanks a lot.

One of our goals here is to get your perspective on the big issue so every week we'll ask you to "Make Your Case". This week's question: Members of Congress are back home in their districts for a two-week recess. If you could say one thing to your elected official, what would it be? Record your question. Then go to CNN.com/JohnKingUSA to "Make Your Case". We'll play the best commentary on Friday night.

Next, President Obama's secret weekend trip to Afghanistan -- we go "Wall-to-Wall" and get the inside story and photos from a photographer who went along.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: On Friday President Obama left the white house for what was described then as a family weekend at Camp David. But on Sunday morning, we learned the president had a secret. He had traveled overnight to Afghanistan to deliver a stern message about corruption to President Hamid Karzai and to thank U.S. troops for their risky service there. It was all hush hush for security reasons, but now we can give you an up-close look. Here you see a map of the region. Again on Friday afternoon, they said the president was going up to Camp David up in the Maryland Mountains. He did go up Friday night but then snuck secretly overnight to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. That's where air force one is kept. We'll take this out from here. We'll watch as the president went overseas. He flies overseas to Afghanistan. You see that long trip. He's now 13 hours into his journey and he's at Bagram Air Force Base. It is here, you see him come off the plane here at Bagram Air Force Base coming off air force one in his suit. You see him being greeted there. Next stop up was the presidential palace in Kabul. Let's pull out the map and come here from Bagram down to Kabul. Presidential palace. We'll bring this over. It is here where he had his meeting with President Karzai. You see the national security adviser Jim Jones here, President Karzai's team and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry in the background there. In private, white house officials say the president made clear his frustration that President Karzai hasn't acted more boldly to improve corruption. In public, the president also tried to product his Afghan partner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We also want to continue to make progress on this process of insuring that agricultural production, energy production, good governance, rule of law, anti-corruption, all these things resulting in an Afghanistan that's more prosperous, more secure, independent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was the meeting with President Karzai here at the palace. From there, Mr. Obama went up to say hello to the troops and to thank them for their service. You see that back up here at Bagram air force base. You can see the president addressing a crowd of enthusiastic troops thanking them for their service. And after Bagram, time for the long trip home. Again, the president flying back to the United States from Afghanistan. You see him coming across, a refueling stop in London on the way. By the time he was back, 8:52 in the morning this morning, 34 hours and 12 minutes he'd been gone. 14,000 miles traveled on that trip. That was Mr. Obama's first trip to Afghanistan as commander in chief. U.S. troops were deployed shortly after the 9/11 attacks back in 2001. But it was this president that ordered a major escalation. 63,000 were in Afghanistan back in August. There are 83,000 now. At the peak of the Obama surge will get troop levels to just shy of 100,000.

Up next, keeping your boss alive in a war zone. The most important person you don't know had a busy weekend coordinating with the president's secret travels.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today's most important person you don't know helped President Obama get to Afghanistan and back safely and secretly. George Mulligan is the director of the white house military office, which among other things, doesn't make his picture available to the media. Mulligan's office coordinates the marine one helicopter squad run and air force one. Camp David also falls under his job description. So does arranging food, communications and emergency medical services for presidential trips. Mulligan is a career defense department employee, a naval officer from 1986-1994 and he held a number of jobs inside the white house military office. He landed in the director's chair last year after his former boss -- you'll remember this -- took the fall for arranging the now notorious photo op where the president's plane made a low unannounced flyover of New York City. Among the people in on the secrets, the president's secret trip to Afghanistan, photographer Charles Dharapak. He was part of the press corps and he's here to share his first person account. Welcome. This is your photo on the front page of "The Washington Post." I guess you don't get excited about that now. I've been with President Bush to Baghdad. Supposed to keep it hush hush. When did you first learn?

CHARLES DHARAPAK, ASSOCATIED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHER: I learned about it Friday morning when my boss came to the white house with a satellite phone in his hand. Immediately when I saw that I knew that we were going. This has been a trip that we've been anticipating ever since President Obama announced troop increase in December. So we are always guessing is he going to go after this trip? Is he going to go while he's in Hawaii? So once I saw the sat phone, nothing had to be set between him and I. I knew it was happening. I just wanted to know is it tonight or is it tomorrow. He said it was the next day.

KING: We live in this world where we have cell phones and PDAs. You mentioned getting a satellite phone. But help our viewers understand, when you go on these trips they tell you to turn these off or sometimes they take them away because they emit a signal. Because if the bad guys were trying to find the president, they see a bunch of signals in the air, they target these.

DHARAPAK: Correct. So after the white house gathered us that Friday to brief us on the trip. They told us to meet at Andrews Air Force Base at a certain time. We were brought in, we had to surrender all of our electronic equipment, communicators, phones, we didn't get them back till we were on air force one.

KING: On the way back.

DHARAPAK: No, on the way over.

KING: On this trip? Any incidents? I know sometimes going to Iraq, or pretty smooth?

DHARAPAK: Not at all. It was pretty smooth. Everyone was pretty relaxed. They had the security worked out. Secret service seemed on their game, but they weren't overly excited.

KING: On the monitor, we're showing some of your pictures. That's a beautiful shot coming in. This was all done at night time in Afghanistan to help with the security. Wonderful shot from the helicopter. This as you're flying in from the air base.

DHARAPAK: This is after we landed at Bagram air base. We landed on air force one, we landed with the curtains drawn, the lights turned off. We landed at night time. So everything was completely dark. The president got off the plane and boarded marine one helicopter. And then we flew in darkness to Karzai's palace in Kabul. On that photo he's meeting with General McChrystal.

KING: This one here, I love. If you stop this photo, if we could hold this one, we see our president. He's always well dressed but because of where he was, you see dust on the suit. DHARAPAK: Afghanistan is a terribly dusty place. So I'm guessing that the president picked up some dust at one point getting in and out of his helicopter.

KING: Anything unique -- you've done many of these. Any unique about these? Is this first with the Obama administration?

DHARAPAK: I did first one where Obama went to Iraq. That was a secret trip because we went at the tail end of a European -- we left from Turkey. But this is the first completely clandestine trip where they gathered the 14 members of the press beforehand and told them that they were making this trip.

KING: All right. As I say, thank you for coming in. There's another great photo you took of the president.

DHARAPAK: This is in the mess hall, about 1 clock a.m.

KING: 1 clock a.m.

DHARAPAK: The troops were excited to see him.

KING: You notice up in the top they're catching a little March madness up there.

DHARAPAK: That's right. NCAA.

KING: All right Charlie. Thanks for coming in. I really appreciate it.

Next, how much anger will members of Congress find at their town hall meetings? Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Perfect. Members of Congress are starting to hold town hall meetings on health care reform. We heard about Christmas in July? How about Halloween in March? Here for the clash, former Bush pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke along with Democratic strategist and former Al Gore spokeswoman Kiki Mclean. I was trying to get in before the break, no hitting. We have gloves. There are lots of quasiweapons here.

After the stimulus passed, Congress went home and they had some feisty, some would say angry town halls. Some of it though just great democracy in action. People coming out and making themselves heard. We looked at a couple today. There were a lot of questions about health care, but the ones we saw today seem to be sort of down here, tough questions but not outright anger. What are you looking for?

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: People want to know what's in it for them. The coverage for the last six months has been about the political fight about the punching and the slapping and the kicking and the biting. Now people are saying what are the benefits that take place now? What happens later? How much does this cost? So they begin to learn that they won't be dropped by their insurance company for disease, that their kids aren't going to have pre-existing condition limits put on them anymore. That there are things that are working for them. You're beginning to see interest coming up. I think people are tired of the screaming and the yelling. That doesn't mean that there aren't people with deep passion about what they believe. But they're tired of the screaming and the yelling.

TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: There are a lot of expectations. And I think one of the things, such confusion. It was so huge, so massive, such confusion. People weren't sure what are the problems we're fixing much less what's in it. A lot of people in the next seven months when we get up to Election Day will say what's in it for me? And well, wait a minute, things don't seem to be getting better much faster. My health care costs don't seem to be coming down. I don't seem to have more choice in my providers. I think it will be a game of expectations and a game of whack a mole because it's huge. Here we have in one week pops up whether or not children with pre-existing conditions are covered or not and what the insurance companies are doing. The administration did a great job of whacking them with that but there are going to be a lot of those.

MCLEAN: I had an interesting conversation on Saturday. I had to take my 7-year-old to get cleats for spring soccer. We have a neighborhood shoe store, not a big chain, a small businesswoman. She said to me at the counter, she looked at me and she said what do you think of this health care reform thing? I said I'm for it. I feel great about this. How about you? And she kind of looked at me. Well, I'm not sure. She had a couple reservations and she raised a couple of issues. I answered what I knew about it. And it was a relaxed and calm and some information she didn't know. Now, I can't tell you today whether --

KING: Can you bill the white house for that?

MCLEAN: I'm just taking it one supporter at a time. But those are the kinds of conversations that people want. They want information. They're tired of the cat fight.

KING: What happens to the president here Torie? You're a Republican but you've been around. You see the ebbs and flows of presidential power and influence. We did a poll when the president's approval rating was 46. He's up to 51 this week. You mentioned that's been whack a mole. Among liberals he's up 10 points from last week, among independents he's up 6 points from last week. Among older voters, the most important voters in a mid term election year, he was only up 3 points, only 45% of voters 65 or older approve of his performance. That's got to be a warning light at the white house.

CLARKE: I think that's absolutely understandable. Older people have seen a lot of this. They're not going to get swayed as quickly. You said earlier, there's a long way to go between now and November. People can't get obsessed with these snapshot polls. They just can't get obsessed w them. The issues can be completely different come November. It's the speed, the speed of media these days and the information environment is incredible. We want to know, how it is different this morning than this afternoon? It's ridiculous. People should slow down and take a deep breath and say let's see how this all works out.

MCLEAN: This gives a lot of oxygen to a lot of other issues. All of a sudden, you know, quick succession there was the opportunity to go to Afghanistan and have that conversation. Progress was made on the Russia front. And now all of a sudden we have the chance to really get into the jobs work that we've got to do. This has been such a heavy lid hanging over so many other issues that I think people are ready to see that moving forward now.

KING: Ladies, stay right here. My favorite part of the show coming up. We take these chairs away, we get closer to the big screen and have a play by play including the treasury secretary Tim Geithner. He explains how we might have avoided the 2008 market meltdown. The ladies will be particularly interested.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back for the "play-by-play" with Republican Torie Clarke, Democrat Kiki Mclean. All right. Ready? We're going to break down some tapes. Leather apparently is back into politics. I want to show you this. The president -- there's the president here.

MCLEAN: It's great.

KING: He's visiting the troops. Okay. Hold on. Stop. We're going to talk about the president's trip. Stop this. You flip me over and take me to see Governor Palin in Arizona on Friday.

MCLEAN: There we go. Leather bling, a different leather.

KING: Help me understand here.

CLARKE: First of all, every commander in chief should be seen wearing that classic Jacket. By the way, they love them. And about this time last year, wasn't he wearing the dreadful mom jeans? Wasn't he going to a baseball game?

MCLEAN: He is a soccer dad.

KING: So he is stepping up his game.

MCLEAN: I can tell you -- Sarah Palin was, what I would call, an evening leather wear. She had the rhinestones on. That transitions from a political rally in Arizona right to a fund-raiser or, you know, a Bon Jovi concert that night, although he's a big Democrat. And I think that contrast between the former ticket could not be more apparent than the two of them standing next to one another right there.

KING: That is interesting.

MCLEAN: Right there.

KING: All right. Let's go back to the president. I want to play this video out a little bit. Back to the president in Afghanistan. Right there. Stop that. This is what is amazing to me. This is amazing to me in terms of the technology and how tiny it is. I remember when I went with President Bush to Baghdad, not everybody had it like here but quite the same thing. Everybody pops up. They're all taking videos. By the time he's done speaking, even from there because they have such great computer access, these guys are posting this on Facebook.

CLARKE: Yeah. Years ago, the first time I went to Afghanistan, you're meeting the young guys and gals. I remember thinking, god what a sacrifice. They're over here. How often do you ever get to talk to anybody at home? Every day. They all whipped out the cell phones.

KING: When you were at the pentagon working for Secretary Rumsfeld? Quality of life, you love. That they get to be in touch with people. Were there operational issues?

CLARKE: Absolutely. Pluses and minuses. If you have a bunch of young guys and gals in the battlefield. You want their head in that game, not thinking about the conversation they just will with the girlfriend or boyfriend back home.

MCLEAN: But you know what else the picture is designed for? In the old days we all started, we all designed the picture for -- but the picture on campaign we designed it for one camera. That pool shot that was either going out for CNN or one of the networks. We want to get the shot. Now you know what? All of these folks post video to thousands of people that go to their Facebook, their friends from church back home, their families. That picture is designed as much for those guys and women with those cameras as it is for your AP photographer.

KING: I want you to listen here, the treasury secretary speaking to a crowd of women today talking about how, just maybe, things could have been different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: I picked up this New York magazine article last week, the article that asks the question, "what if women ran wall street." And I thought now that's an excellent question. But it's kind of a low bar. How, you might ask, could women not have done better?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's stop right here. He goes on to mention Nancy Pelosi is the house speaker, a lot of powerful women. A little bit of laughter there. Is that what we need?

MCLEAN: It's always good to see a little humor from the guy who has been living under the weight of a mountain on top of him. Some people might call it a pander. Some of us might call it kind of smart.

CLARKE: Watching him, he did it so carefully as I'm not really sure this is a smart thing to be doing. It looked painful in the delivery of it. MCLEAN: I have to tell you, this is a really smart nice guy. I've been in a room with him in a conversation. I think he has a very soft touch at humor but a real touch at humor. I think that sort of shy look up out of the eye did it and the grin he shared with it. He also, it wasn't just a promotion of women, but it was a dig at the guy who's have been running the show for a while.

CLARKE: He was one of those guys.

MCLEAN: He was one of those guys. A little self-deprecating humor never hurt anybody.

KING: Ladies, thanks for coming in. Is that all right?

MCLEAN: Fine.

KING: We'll do it again. I appreciate that. Congress may be in recess, that doesn't mean partisan bickering is taking a break. Next, we go to our off the beat reporter, Pete on the street. He asks, why can't we just all get along?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's check in what's coming up at the top of the hour. Rick Sanchez filling in for Campbell Brown. Hi Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hey John. We found one of these guys who's actually witnessed the FBI raids, these so-called Christian warriors who police say wanted to kill police officers while they met at the funeral of one of their own. This is an amazing story. He not only witnessed the raids, John, but he knew one of the guys that's been arrested. He's going to take us through this. This is an exclusive interview. It's in ten minutes or so.

KING: Fascinating story. We'll see you at the top of the hour. Thanks Rick.

SANCHEZ: Thanks, John.

KING: Let's check in now with our off beat reporter Pete Dominick who is out there trying to figure out why can't people be less partisan? Hey, Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, COMEDIAN: Hey, John, yeah. I mean not only obviously in Washington, D.C., there's a lot of partisanship. I think there always is, probably more so now than ever. I want to ask people about their own feelings. And feelings are definitely raw out there. But I hoped to find some common ground.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: How can Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, get along?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hot tubs. DOMINICK: It's right here. Yeah. If you can just -- yeah, really put some pressure on there. Do you have any concerns about where we're going right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't because I'm 80 years old. I don't give a [ beep ]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doesn't seem like the politicians in this country are listening to the people anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republicans, Democrats, they're all no good.

DOMINICK: I'm here with my future. Who's fault is the divide?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's our fault. You know what? Get out there and vote. And then maybe you make a voice.

DOMINICK: Are you a couple? Whoa. Red Sox?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the way Red Sox.

DOMINICK: Yankees fan. You know what I love. I love Boston. I love Boston. I love New England.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give me a hug.

DOMINICK: What are you listening to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jay Z.

DOMINICK: If I listen to Jay Z, will you listen to Tom Petty?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is Tom Petty?

DOMINICK: Does your dad hug you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what? No, he doesn't.

DOMINICK: I will give you a hug right now. Bond? We'll bond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

DOMINICK: All right. Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right.

DOMINICK: He does.

Really? Me, look at me. Honestly?

Well, I mean I actually think, John, if we have a discussion about all these issues, a civil decision discussion, we can find common ground. And I want to know if you are a hugger. Is John King a hugger?

KING: Not to Yankees fans. Just about to everybody else.

DOMINICK: Really? You don't think I couldn't get a hug if I go to Fenway with you next week, maybe, possibly?

KING: For all your hard work, Pete, you would get a hug.

DOMINICK: Yes, that's what I'm looking for.

KING: Hang in there, my friend. That's all for us tonight. Thanks for spending some time with us. CNN continues right now.