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Supreme Court Justice Announces Retirement; Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak Retiring
Aired April 9, 2010 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: a reelection rally derailed with a surprise announcement. Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak, under fire for his vote on health care reform, now says he is retiring.
And another retirement. Quiet, but very influential member of the Supreme Court, Justice John Paul Stevens, is stepping down now, after 35 years. It sets the stage for a confirmation battle this summer.
And two perspectives on a controversial chapter in American history, how blacks and whites perceive the Civil War.
Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
They are two men with very different life stories, but each wielding tremendous influence in shaping the future of the United States, one in Congress and one in the Supreme Court. Now, together, they have stolen today the headlines this Friday, each announcing his retirement, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and Congressman Bart Stupak.
It was not what his constituents expected, but Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak traveled to his district in Michigan today, presumably for a reelection rally. Well, instead the 18-year House veteran, he told them he has decided not to seek another term.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: My service to the people of Michigan has been one of the greatest honors of my life. But it's time to begin a new and exciting chapter.
Last night, and early this morning, I informed Democratic leaders and key supporters that I would not seek re-election to Congress. I will always serve the people of the first district, but I have chosen not to continue to serve as their congressman.
I'm committed to helping the Democrats retain this seat, as I believe we must continue to fight for our working families and small businesses, for our economic and national security, for our great lakes, and for our quality of life. By announcing my intentions here today, potential candidates will have ample opportunity to organize campaigns and collect the necessary signatures before the May 11th filing deadline.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Now, Stupak says that he and his family made this decision less than two days before he announced it.
Our CNN senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, she broke this news that Stupak would be resigning, and she spoke with the representative after his announcement.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There had to have been a light bulb moment when you said, "I can't do this anymore."
B. STUPAK: No, not really. It had been building for some time. The last two or three election cycles, Laurie and I and our family would sit down and: Do we want to go another time?
This district, as you know, is a massive district. When I come out of Washington, I don't know home, I stop home for a minute, see my wife for a few hours, and I'm on the road again, and I'm gone all weekend, sleeping in different motel rooms. And it's just -- it's just finally, after 18 years, just got, enough is enough.
BASH: Politics about perception.
B. STUPAK: Sure.
BASH: And given the timing of where we are, it's just a couple weeks after you passed that health care vote.
B. STUPAK: Sure.
BASH: ... that put you at the center of the national spotlight, and also put you in a very tough spot from the right and the left politically.
It's hard for people out there to imagine that that was not the cause of Bart Stupak deciding to leave.
B. STUPAK: My district, which is most important and knows me the best -- you got all these other people saying things. They don't know me, probably never met me.
But my district knows I have taken tough votes before. This is rural America. I voted against the NRA. Then they came after me. You know, the impeachment vote, I didn't vote for that. The war in Iraq, when it was popular, I didn't vote for that.
I have always stood up for my principles. They know that. They respect that. They would reelect me if I ran again. BASH: Now, your wife got choked up when she was talking about the kinds of calls that...
B. STUPAK: Sure.
BASH: ... you have gotten, not just at your office, but at your home. She talked about the fact that they were vulgar, cruel and profane and threatening.
LAURIE STUPAK, WIFE OF BART B. STUPAK: We were saddened and disappointed by the cruelty and hypocrisy of some of the callers.
B. STUPAK: Well, it -- it's unnerving but, you know, I have been a police officer for many years. I have been through some tough votes. We've gone through this before, but not to the degree of the viciousness of this time.
BASH: Now, there are already some Democrats I have talked to in Washington who are warning that some of your Democratic colleagues are going to be, for lack of a better word, peeved that you forced many of the anti-abortion Democrats to do something they didn't want to do and have this very strict, from their perspective, restriction on federal funding for abortion, and now you're leaving.
B. STUPAK: Right.
Well, no, but I'm leaving because we have accomplished the goals that we wanted to, which is health care. And even those who are not happy with the executive order that the president signed that we negotiated with the president, the outcome was health care, which they're very happy about.
BASH: Now, what about some of your colleagues who are like-minded Democrats who are anti-abortion, as you are, who are in a lot more vulnerable positions in very tough, really Republican-leaning districts?
B. STUPAK: Sure.
Well, they're -- they're -- I talked to a number of them today. They said: Congratulations. You and Laurie, we understand, for you, it's the best thing. It may not be best for us. And, by the way, can you come down and help me out this fall?
BASH: You are effectively in the middle. You are a Democrat, but you have very conservative views and positions and have taken conservative votes on social issues and on other issues. And, so, with you leaving, is it an example of -- another example of the middle disappearing. And how concerned are...
B. STUPAK: No.
BASH: ... you about, in politics, the middle disappearing?
B. STUPAK: No, no, I don't think the middle is disappearing at all. In fact, whoever takes my seat -- and, hopefully, it's going to be a Democrat -- will be much like me, because it's reflective of this district. This is a hardworking, blue-collar district. And it's the middle of America.
You have been here a little bit, and you have gotten to see my district a little bit. They're hardworking, good folks who play by the rules and just want a fair shake from their government. And whoever takes my position, I'm sure will be reflective of that position. It won't be anyone from the left or extreme right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: The district that Bart Stupak represents in Michigan is large, easily the largest in the state. The 1st District includes 32 counties, but it's somewhat sparsely populated. Its largest city is Marquette. Its population is just over 65,000.
Now, the people in the district are almost 94 percent white. The largest minority population is Native American. That is 2.3 percent. Only 1.4 percent are African-American. It is the only congressional district bordering three lakes, Lakes Huron, Michigan, and Superior.
And its 1,600 miles of shoreline, it's more shoreline than any other district in the continental United States.
Well, Representative Stupak is one of a number of members of Congress who are experiencing an increase in threats against them, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi included.
CNN national political correspondent Jessica Yellin, she joins us now.
And I imagine the decision that went in to this, Stupak, even his wife talking about it publicly, that it was difficult and that they're afraid of what this environment, this climate, has become, and now it's a lot of folks.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
And the Stupaks emphasized it wasn't the reason he left, but it clearly was something weighing on their minds. And congressional and law enforcement officials say that they're seeing a major jump in the number of threats against members of Congress broadly. They're blaming it on the divisive debate over health care reform.
So, according to a law enforcement official, there have been 50 threats since last October. Compare that to 20 during the prior year. That's clearly more than double. Now, security officials do report seeing a spike since health care was passed.
Now, some of the members targeted, we have covered this extensively -- Nancy Pelosi, a man was arrested, accused of leaving her lewd and threatening messages. Senator Patty Murray, a suspect was charged with threatening to kill her.
Representative Tom Perriello, his brother's propane gas line was cut, and, of course, Representative Bart Stupak, who received a fax with a drawing of a noose on it, saying: "You're dead. We know you. We will get you" -- very upsetting.
So, Stupak today announced his retirement, as Dana has been covering extensively. He made clear that those threats did not prompt his decision, but he and his wife did acknowledge that they have been upsetting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
B. STUPAK: Threats, the 3:00-in-the-morning phone calls threatening us, things like this, that's people outside the district. That's not my district.
L. STUPAK: Some of those calls were vulgar, cruel, profane, and threatening. We were saddened and disappointed by the cruelty and hypocrisy of some of the callers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Now, so far, authorities have arrested three people for making threats against members. And for a little perspective on this, one law enforcement official does say, in the past, when they also have seen spikes in the number of violent threats against members, they do go down, Suzanne, in time.
MALVEAUX: And, Jessica, are they upset on Capitol Hill? Are they worried?
YELLIN: I have talked to aides to members on both sides who say, yes, they get a little freaked out. Some of these callers are so emotional and so intense, that it's been disturbing. Obviously, everything is business as usual when they get back, but not a lot of fun in the workplace when you're getting those threats.
MALVEAUX: OK. I know President Obama and now President -- well, President Bush wanted to change the culture in Washington. We will see how this goes.
Well, picking a replacement for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. We're going to go inside President Obama's Supreme decision and look at some likely candidates.
Plus, the president is now demanding answers in that West Virginia mine disaster. We're going to get an update on the search of the four missing men.
MALVEAUX: Justice John Paul Stevens has announced that he will retire at the end of the current session. That's after 35 years on the Supreme Court.
Well, President Obama spoke by phone to Stevens. He called him, praised him to reporters, saying that his leadership is going to be sorely missed. And now, for the second time in less than a year, the president will make a nomination that's likely going to influence the country long after he leaves the White House.
Our CNN White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, joining us live.
Hey, Dan, good to see you.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: What are we expecting here from the president?
LOTHIAN: Well, you know, Suzanne, first of all, I should point out that this did not come as a surprise to this White House.
For quite some time now, top aides say that they have been quietly but actively working on this, putting together a list of names. And I talked to one senior administration official, who told me that they have about 10 names on that list. They obviously don't want to play that name game, but, again, they have been putting together that list.
Other sources expect that perhaps this list will be expanded in order to give the president additional options. Now, in looking and making that choice, the president pointed out today that he would be focusing on some characteristics, first of all, a person who is independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, someone who has a fierce dedication to the rule of law, and also a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.
This obviously is a big, a critical opportunity for the president as he looks to shape the future of the Supreme Court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I view the process of selecting a Supreme Court nominee as among my most serious responsibilities as President. And while we cannot replace Justice Stevens' experience or wisdom, I will seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: A senior administration official told me that the president will be making his choice in weeks. And I asked another official whether or not the process of interviewing these candidates would happen soon, perhaps as soon as this weekend.
I'm told that it would not be soon, definitely not this weekend -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: All right, Dan, thank you very much. We will be watching out in the weeks ahead. Thanks, Dan.
Well, Stevens is a lifelong Republican, but considered a liberal in his judicial rulings. On average, he dissents one out of four rulings, writes many of the dissenting opinions, and among the best known, his dissenting opinion in Bush vs. Gore, which decided the 2000 election.
He wrote: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the law."
Stevens reflected on his decades as a judge back in 2005. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN PAUL STEVENS, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: At the very least, I know that learning on the bench has been one of the most important and rewarding aspects of my own experience over the last 35 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Want to bring in our CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. He's written extensively about the Supreme Court.
Jeff, when you take a look at the selection of John Paul Stevens, this was 1975, Gerald Ford, Republican, who nominated him. But he ended up really being a liberal voice in the court.
How does President Obama, how does he actually know what he's going to what he's going to -- what he's getting into, if you will? Is it typical that these justices change as they serve over years and even decades on the bench?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they change somewhat.
They tend not to change a lot. You have to remember the context of President Ford's appointment of John Paul Stevens. It was right after Watergate. It was right after the storm of controversy over Ford's pardon of President Nixon.
The big priority was to get a nominee who would not be controversial. That meant someone who was appealing to Democrats and Republicans. And they screened this nominee with Senator Ted Kennedy, who approved him, and he was confirmed by 98-0. I don't think we will ever see any Supreme Court nominee confirmed by 98-0 anymore, because the process is so polarized now.
MALVEAUX: And with Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the president, President Obama, admittedly, he was under a lot of pressure to make history, if you will, either the second woman on the court or the first Hispanic. Does he have more leeway, now that he's done that?
TOOBIN: Well, you know, I don't think the White House is going about it that way.
You have to remember, the legal profession now is approaching 50 percent women. The law schools are more than 50 percent women. The idea that you have to dole out one or two Supreme Court appointments to women, I think, is obsolete. There are dozens of qualified women for the Supreme Court now. I would not be surprised if Barack Obama had five appointments to the Supreme Court and named all women. You know, the Canadian Supreme Court has a majority of women. I just think those kind of calculations are -- are obsolete.
What is significant is that the current Supreme Court are all nine former appeals court judges. I think he's going to be looking for a different kind of diversity, not gender, race, religion. He's going to be looking for occupational diversity, someone who has not been a judge before.
MALVEAUX: Sure. Let's talk about that a little bit, because we just heard Dan say that there's a list of at least 10 or so that he's going to pull up here. He's been through the process once before. Who do you think is in the running here at the top of the list?
TOOBIN: Well, I think you start with the three of the four finalists who didn't get it last time, Elena Kagan, the solicitor general, famous as a consensus-builder when she was at the -- the dean of Harvard Law School, never been a judge before. Diane Wood, she is a judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, same place that Stevens came from.
Merrick Garland who is -- Merrick Garland was sort of a finalist last time. Merrick Garland is a judge on the D.C. Circuit. Janet Napolitano, who is the secretary of homeland security, also a finalist last time, never been a judge, former governor, former state attorney general, former U.S. attorney.
These are, I think, the initial lists, but, you know, there is no reason for the administration to rush on this. They have -- they have a few weeks. And I expect they will look at a lot of names, but I bet it comes down to that group.
MALVEAUX: OK, Jeffrey Toobin -- thanks so much, Jeff.
TOOBIN: OK, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Well, fighter jets nearly collide with a passenger jet, coming close enough to set off alarms in the cockpit. We are learning new details.
An American family returns their adopted child. They put the 7-year- old on a plane to Moscow by himself.
MALVEAUX: Well, as families wait for news of their loved ones that are missing in a West Virginia mine, words of comfort from the White House. President Obama offers his condolences to those who are suffering and a call to action to his administration. Sarah Palin firing up Republicans in New Orleans and ridiculing President Obama's nuclear policy. We're going to hear what Mr. Obama thinks of her opinion.
And Confederate History Month in Virginia, a pair of video essays you don't want to miss.
MALVEAUX: Rescue teams are now back in that mine in West Virginia, searching for the four miners missing since a huge explosion that happened earlier this week.
Our Brian Todd, he is on the scene.
And, Brian, I want to get right to it here. Tell us, is there any news now about those four missing miners? What do we know?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, there could be news very soon.
Right about now, it's about 6:30 p.m. Eastern time. Officials had hoped to get the rescue teams to the second, the last remaining refuge chamber that they had not yet checked. That was one in which these miners could have taken shelter if they were able to get to it that could have given them enough air and food and water to last for a few days.
They tried to get to the refuge chamber earlier today, but they had to be evacuated because of two significant problem, the presence of toxic gases, which got to such high levels that they thought they could have conceivably caused another explosion, and also the presence of smoke in some of the deeper chambers in the mine, indicating that there was a fire in the mine at some point.
They pushed that smoke out by injecting nitrogen into the mine, so that smoke is no longer an issue, at least for the moment. So, right about now, they hope to get some of these rescue teams to those, to that one remaining refuge chamber that they had not yet had a chance to check.
Now, how crucial is that chamber? Well, listen to federal mine official Kevin Stricklin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN STRICKLIN, ADMINISTRATOR FOR COAL MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH, U.S. MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMINISTRATION: If we didn't find anybody in the refuge chamber, we're still going to be trying to find where the four miners would have been located. But we're very confident that, if they didn't make it to -- if they didn't make it to this refuge chamber, there's no way they could have survived.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Now, officials had also hoped to drop a camera down one of the boreholes to see if that refuge chamber had been deployed. But Kevin Stricklin said a short time ago that that camera probably would not be able to see anything, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And, Brian, obviously, a lot of people in mourning. Tell us about the funerals that -- for the 25 who died in the disaster. Do we know when they are going to be held? Have they have been -- arrangements been made?
TODD: Well, today was a very emotional day, Suzanne.
Four of the funerals scheduled for today, at least three of them have already been held, including one for a gentleman whose family we spoke to this week, Benny Willingham. He was almost 62 years old. He was just a few weeks away, a few months away from retirement, I should say.
And it's been just a very, very emotional day for the families here. There's one more funeral scheduled for tomorrow, but we have to remember, only seven bodies have been pulled out of this mine. So this town is going to see a lot more funerals. You have got at least 18 more that are going to have to be pulled out in the coming days.
MALVEAUX: Very sad situation. Thank you, Brian.
President Obama is remembering the 25 miners who perished in that deadly West Virginia explosion this week, as well as the daunting rescue efforts to locate those four who are still missing.
But he's also making it very clear he wants some answers about why this tragedy occurred in the first place.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to offer my deepest condolences to the friends and the families of the fathers and husbands and brothers, nephews and sons who were killed in this accident.
I'm also in awe of the courage and selfishness shown by the rescue teams who've risked their lives over and over and over this week for a chance to save another. They've worked around the clock with little sleep for the past few days and this nation owes them a debt of gratitude.
Now, mining has a long and proud history in West Virginia. And for many families and communities, it's not just a way to make a living, it's a way of life. And the jobs they do in these mines help bring heat and electricity to millions of Americans. It's a profession that's not without risks and danger, and the workers and their families know that.
But their government and their employer know that they owe it to these families to do everything possible to ensure their safety when they go to work each day. When I was in the Senate, I supported the efforts of Senator Byrd and Rockefeller to try to improve mine safety. But it's clear that more needs to be done. And that's why I've asked my secretary of labor as well as the head of Mine Safety and Health Administration to give me a preliminary report next week on what went wrong and why it went wrong so badly, so that we can take the steps necessary to prevent such accidents in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: President Obama is referring to legislation that he co- sponsored along with about a dozen other senators back in 2006.
After two accidents in January killed 14 people, Congress passed the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act, or MINER. The act and the policies federal regulators adopted later focused on responding to emergencies. The law required mining companies to improve communication systems, have rescue teams ready to respond within an hour, install underground chambers where trapped miners can wait to be rescued. The law also increased fines for companies that don't immediately report a hazardous incident or that commit safety violations.
Well, fighting words at the Republican conference in New Orleans. The most stinging so far flung by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich at President Obama. We'll examine the rhetoric and its impact.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: Well, it's not quite nuclear war, but it is a war of words over nuclear weapons between Sarah Palin and President Obama. Palin took multiple swipes at the president today in her speech at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans -- including this. Check this out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Now, the president, with all the vast nuclear experience that he acquired as a community organizer --
PALIN: -- and as a part-time senator and as a full-time candidate -- all that experience -- still no accomplishment to date with North Korea and Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Earlier this week, Palin criticized the nuclear arms reduction treaty that the president signed with Russia, and the president responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I really have no response to that. Last I checked, Sarah Palin's not much of an expert on nuclear issues. If the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I'm probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: I want to talk with this about -- with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, obviously, we're taking a look at this. I notice she said nuclear like President Bush used to say it as well.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
MALVEAUX: The same pronunciation there.
But what do you make of these words here? Obviously, she is playing attack dog. Her rhetoric has been intensified over the last couple weeks, and even months or so. Does this set her up well for who she needs to attract for 2012?
BORGER: Well, you know, sure, in the sense that -- you know, this was a little bit -- listening to it -- it's a little bit of a rerun of the campaign of 2008, in which she talked about Barack Obama as a community organizer and that was the sum total of his experience. She clearly was responding to his comments, as you note, but it's also a little bit Dick Cheney-ish in the way that she talks about Obama and foreign policy, and that's, of course, really good for the base. She says he coddles his enemies yet e alienates our ally. She made no mention, of course, about the war in Afghanistan and his decision to send more troops there, which clearly Republicans agree with.
So, this was a red meat speech for red meat Republicans who were in the audience, which is what they wanted to hear.
MALVEAUX: Well, here's some more red meat. I want you to take a listen to former speaker, Newt Gingrich, and how he put it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: The president of the United States, the most radical president in American history, has now thrown down the gauntlet to the American people. He has said: "I run a machine. I own Washington and there's nothing you can do about it." So, that's where we are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Gloria, from all accounts, we checked that last line and we have not heard President Obama saying any of those things, owning Washington, the machine, and so forth.
MALVEAUX: What do you suppose he's trying to accomplish here?
BORGER: It's an audition. You know, there's -- Newt Gingrich is very well-known to the Republican Party. But he's very good at this -- at using words to kind of characterize or caricature, depending on your point of view, the president of the United States.
I mean, you'll remember when Democrats were very successful, they characterized or caricatured Republicans as extreme and said they are extreme.
Well, this is what they're calling Barack Obama is a radical and it works when you're trying to rally the base for a midterm election in 2010. The folks who come out to vote in midterm elections are people who are very angry or really, really happy. And the very angry people are the folks that the Republicans need to go out there and vote, and that's exactly what this is about.
What was interesting to me today, though, Suzanne, in hearing Sarah Palin, we had all this news today -- we had the news of Bart Stupak resigning his Democratic congressional seat, for which the Tea Party took great credit.
BORGER: We had the news of Justice Stevens, right? And she could talk about what kind of nominee you needed for the Supreme Court, but we did not hear any of that from her.
MALVEAUX: Very interesting, Gloria.
BORGER: Yes, very interesting.
MALVEAUX: But a lot of red meat there. So --
MALVEAUX: I want to check in here -- the decision by Representative Bart Stupak not to seek another term. It's the latest in a parade of congressional Democrats who are stepping away from public life.
Joining me now in THE SITUATION ROOM is John King, hosts of "JOHN KING, USA," coming up at the top of the hour.
Good to see you, John.
JOHN KING, "JOHN KING, USA" HOST: Good to see you.
MALVEAUX: Looking forward to seeing the show.
Obviously, you had a chance to talk to Representative Stupak very recently. Did he give you any sense, any hint at all, that he was going to retire, that he was going to step down?
KING: The best answer to that is no and yes.
KING: During the interview he said, look, I think in a couple weeks everyone's going to calm down. You know, he had received threats. His family had received threats, political threats and some personal threats after the health care vote.
And a lot of people saying, you know, they are going to harm his family or cause some harm, and some of them are just saying we're going to beat you in November at the ballot box because of his vote on health care. He said, I think everyone will calm down a couple weeks. But then at the end, off-camera, he was walking out, we were just shooting the as breeze as we always do, and some of us about to leave.
And he was one of a number of people in Congress who said recently, you know, it's not all much fun anymore. Here's a guy who takes hours for him to get home. It's a very remote district. He tries to get home just about every weekend. He used to drive sometimes four, five, six hours around the district. So, it is -- it is a burden, but a burden he has loved it, a former police officer and now a congressman.
But a lot of the centrist, Bart Gordon, another Bart from Tennessee, another one who will tell you --
KING: -- you know what, it's not as much fun here in Washington anymore. We can't get together. We can't find the middle ground. It's all left and right and extremes.
So, a lot of those guys who consider themselves in the middle -- it's not as much fun anymore. So, if they see a new challenge or see a new opportunity -- so, let's go, I'll take it.
MALVEAUX: It's a big question, you know, what do the moderates do, where are they?
KING: Where is the middle in our politics right now?
KING: Now, the middle tends to matter in November. But right now, to Gloria's point, we have Republican senators in Utah being challenged from the right. We have Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat senator from Arkansas being challenged from her left.
In the midterm election, the challenge is to gin up your base, the left and the right are the loudest voices and a lot of people in the middle sort of say, hey, what about me? What about me?
MALVEAUX: Raise your hand. Yes.
KING: And they feel a little bit left out. Especially -- and then add in the vitriol and add in some of these record number of threats against members of Congress right now, some people are just saying, you know what, I got better things to do.
MALVEAUX: And President Obama wants to change it. President Bush wanted to change the course (ph).
KING: President Bush said he would change it.
KING: And it seems that they --
MALVEAUX: It's a pattern.
KING: It's a pattern. They all say they're going to make Washington better. These former governors especially, then Barack Obama said they will change Washington and they all find out that campaigning on the theme of changing Washington is one thing, doing it when you're elected, it's very hard to do.
MALVEAUX: Tougher than you think.
Real quick here, John -- what are you focusing on your show?
KING: We're going to spend a lot of time on this. We'll spend some time on the Stupak resignation and looking for the middle in American politics, especially because we're about to have a Supreme Court confirmation battle and as you know, they are always contentious events. In the political year we are in right now, the president has an amazing consequential choice to make. And we're going to explore the environment in which he will make it.
MALVEAUX: It's going to be a fun summer.
KING: It's a fascinating spring. You bet it's going to be a fun summer.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you, John.
Well, they may be the nation's first couple, but they're also a working husband and wife. And we're going to show you the president and the first lady in kind of a cute and candid moment.
And why so many people are following Tiger Woods' return to the Masters. Are some secretly hoping to see him fail?
MALVEAUX: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Hey, Lisa. What are you working on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Suzanne.
We got some good news to start off with. New signs today that the economy could be bouncing back. The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly moved above the 11,000 mark for the first time in 18 months, easing anxiety over Greece's money problems that's cited as one of the reasons for the spike.
And smoking is already banned in many workspaces, but now, that mandate is extending to submarines. The U.S. Navy announced today that smoking will be prohibited below deck starting in December. The Navy conducted a study in 2009 which found nonsmokers were being exposed to the effects of secondhand smoke. Of the 13,000 sailors currently on active duty, about 35 percent to 40 percent of them are smokers.
And, in case you're wondering what is the pale yellow dots that's doing all over your car these days? Well, it's pollen. The fine powder's permeating airspaces from Florida to Texas to Colorado. And it is making allergy season a nightmare for many. Experts say that it is the worst they have seen in years and believe an unseasonably cold winter is to blame.
But there is hope. Pollen season is expected to end in a few weeks. You just have to hold on a little longer.
And here's a cute moment that happened today outside the White House. Now, this story I really love. President Obama hasn't seen his wife in a while and he calls out to her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Honey! I was just looking for you. Let's not do this in front of the cameras. Stop it! I haven't seen my wife.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: Ah, well, the first lady of the United States, apparently the first couple hasn't seen each other since the president made that quick trip to Prague to sign the new START nuclear treaty with Russia.
And apparently, the first lady was going to greet her husband with a little bit of affection perhaps, a big old hug and kiss. But he was like -- no, no, let's not do this in front of the cameras. So, they took it inside.
MALVEAUX: OK, he's going to keep that private. All right.
SYLVESTER: Yes, love is in the air, though. Nice to see.
MALVEAUX: It is. Thank you, Lisa.
Well, Tiger Woods is back on the golf course in Augusta. The whole world is watching. But why care, really, in the first place? Well, we explore the question. Are we hoping for a fallen star's redemption? Or just waiting for a train wreck?
And Virginia's governor ignores slavery when declaring Confederate History Month. He has since apologized. But the issue is not going away. We'll share two perspectives in a most unusual way.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: Well, some are predicting that millions are going to tune into the Masters Golf Tournament this weekend, and mainly, for one reason, Tiger Woods' return to the game in the wake of a public sex scandal.
But just what is it that viewers want to see Tiger do?
Our Carol Costello -- she is getting some of those answers. Many of them don't involve succeeding.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tiger Woods teed off to an ovation and likely history-making ratings.
A fallen hero hoping for forgiveness.
EARL WOODS, TIGER WOODS' FATHER: I want to find out what your thinking was.
COSTELLO: Woods, thanks to Nike, even brought his deceased father back to life to lure you in, betting you really will watch. And even care.
The fact is, many of you do. The question is: why?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. It's like why do some people buy "The Enquirer," you know? Everybody has different tastes.
COSTELLO: Sports reporters who don't feel the need to be so diplomatic were more succinct.
RAFER WEIGER, HLN SPORTS: I think they're hoping for a train wreck.
COSTELLO: It's a sentiment that psychologist Jeff Gardere says nails it. We're so "damaged by our luck economically" and the country is in such an "unforgiving mood," many are itching to see Woods fail professionally, too.
Even Woods' fans can understand that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I mean I think people get a kick out of seeing people fall in general, especially successful people, you know? I mean, like I said, it's just human nature.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we have a spotlight on you; people are looking for you to take a tumble. It's a shame that that's life, but that's life.
COSTELLO: It's why shows like "Dancing with the Stars" are so popular.
Listen to one of the show's judges on the gossip site TMZ.com criticize contestant Kate Gosselin.
BRUNO TONIOLI, JUDGE, "DANCING WITH THE STARS": We have to call it as it is. I mean, Kate is pretty dreadful. She's crap.
(CHEERING) TONIOLI: But in a nice way, you know? In a nice way. She's entertaining. I mean, people like disaster movies, well, they -- we've got our own disaster movie. I'll you tell, "2012" is nothing.
COSTELLO: Psychologists say that kind of thing can be sadly cathartic at a time many Americans are not in a giving mood. It can even provide a kind of bonding experience.
As ESPN.com's L.Z. Granderson says, "Culturally, we just seem to like dirt. The problem is, we focus so much on the stains and the mess, we forget that dirt can also provide the building blocks of life."
It's that last part, he says, we should not forget, as we watch Tiger Woods play golf this week.
(on camera): After all, hasn't Woods eaten enough humble pie? Can we move on? Maybe we'll find out after the Master is over.
Carol Costello, CNN, Washington.
MALVEAUX: Well, Virginians in their own words reacting to the decision by their governor to designate April Confederate History Month. We're going to show what they're saying in a Civil War reenactment in Manassas and on streets of the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond.
MALVEAUX: Virginia's governor has apologized for not mentioning slavery in a proclamation designating April Confederate History Month. But the controversy over the decision -- that has not gone away.
CNN went to Virginia today to talk to the people who actually live there. And see what they're saying.
Here's one point of view from a member of a Civil War reenactment at the Manassas National Battlefield.
UNIDENTIFEID MALE: If we try to bury the history, we lose it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a history that needs to be told. I don't think it needs to be swept under the rug.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to a Civil War camp. If you'll look behind you, you'll see several different types of tents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not have a Confederate History Month? I mean, it is part of Virginia's heritage. I think he was just trying to do something good, you know, like I said, to bring this history to light.
The circle of stars would actually represent you protect me, I will protect you. This is what these meanings stand for.
You know, you get to a point where, you know, it's not all bad being Confederate. You know, it's part of the southern heritage.
What happened here on this field 149 years ago is just as much as part of the slavery history, the American soldiers history, the federal soldiers, Confederate soldiers -- it's all our history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I want to be a drumbeater and let to bring this out (INAUDIBLE)? You know, that's (INAUDIBLE) with it. It's history, let's keep it that way. Let's move forward, you know, let's all come together as Americans.
MALVEAUX: That's one perspective on the controversy.
Now, we also spoke today to an African-American who owns a lunch stand in the heart of Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. He works literally in the shadow of a statue of a Confederate officer.
And here's what he had to say.
RONNIE LOGAN, RICHMOND RESIDENT: I lived in Richmond all my life. I've been cooking for probably close to 30 years. I use hickory wood.
Me and my son the owners of Ronnie's Ribs, Wings, & Other Things. We got our ribs. If you get to the corner of 25th and Main in Richmond, Virginia, you can find it.
The governor, you know, identified April as Confederate History Month. That's -- that's part of Virginia's history. And it's something that happened. To older people, that's part of their history and part of their heritage, just like Africa's part of mine.
People dwell on the past and stuff. Show us a lot of scars left there, but I think, as people, we need to move on.
We're going to open up now.
If you don't have history and remembrance of what happened, look at world wars and all of that, we ought to learn from these things. Not necessarily forget them and continue to do the same thing over and over again.
To me, as a Virginian, I guess being black, it's -- you know, we've got Martin Luther King's birthday (INAUDIBLE), people -- everybody needs something to hold on to.
MALVEAUX: Wolf is going to be back on Monday. Among his guests, the prime minister of Pakistan.
I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.