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JOHN KING, USA
Fort Hood Massacre; Mine Safety; Tea Party Rally
Aired April 15, 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. Well it's Tax Day. You don't need me to tell you that and as the Tea Party rallies across the country we'll spend some time tonight seeing if their anger matches up with the truth about tax policy.
But our "Lead" tonight, a story you're not hearing much about elsewhere, remember the Fort Hood massacre back in November, well Congress is trying to investigate and there are growing tensions with an Obama White House that some lawmakers say is stonewalling and not providing key evidence.
I'll also go "One-on-One" with the labor secretary, Hilda Solis (ph). She is in charge now of writing tougher laws for mine safety, but we'll ask her if that tragedy in West Virginia should have been prevented.
And in "Wall-to-Wall" tonight, the president's vision for NASA's future, the president says he'll be alive when Americans land on Mars, but he has many critics and as we give them their say too, we'll show how all of us benefit from America's Space Program.
And in our "Pulse" tonight, the Tea Party movement, there are protests here in Washington and across the country. I'll ask a leader of that movement, the former Republican Congressman Dick Armey, how he sees its political future playing out in this big election year -- all that and more in a packed hour ahead but first as always a few observations.
It is Tax Day, always a good time to reflect on the price and the power of our government. There are Tea Party rallies as we noted from coast to coast including right here in the capital. T-e-a is taxed enough already. And as we listen to the frustration, we will ask tonight if this protest movement has what it takes to evolve into a political force.
But first, we'll tackle two tragedies and questions about whether the government is using its power wisely. No, is the answer two leading senators give in one of these cases. Investigating November's massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, those senators, one of them is with us tonight, are threatening to subpoena the Obama administration because they say it is stonewalling Congress.
As a senator, Barack Obama believed the Bush White House too often flexed its executive muscle. Some of his former colleagues now wonder if President Obama has had a sudden change of heart. The president did promise today to see if the government could have done more to head off that tragic mine explosion in West Virginia. We will talk to the cabinet secretary now charged with writing tougher mine safety laws and we'll ask her a question framed this way in a conversation I had today with an old government hand.
Why are improvements to mine safety laws always written in blood? Thirteen people were killed at Fort Hood, 29 died in the mine tragedy. All good Americans, all denied the chance to be part of today's ritual debate over taxes and government. That government owes their families honest answers to the questions of whether warning signs were ignored in both cases and whether those sad events might have been prevented.
Let's begin with the Fort Hood massacre and sharp new complaints from two top members of the Senate committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Shortly after the November 5th murders, President Obama said that he not only welcomed the congressional investigation, but that Congress should investigate. Well, after five months of trying to obtain the necessary information to carry out such an investigation, we conclude that people within the administration didn't hear the president's words or they have been overturned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Chairman Joe Lieberman and ranking Republican Susan Collins gave the White House four days, until Monday to produce the materials they want for their Fort Hood investigation. And they say they will issue subpoenas if the administration says no. Senator Collins joins us now to explore this showdown. Simple question at the beginning, do you think the White House has something to hide?
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: You know I'm puzzled why the White House has been stonewalling our investigation. Right after the massacre at Fort Hood, the president said that he welcomed a congressional investigation, even said there should be one. We announced our investigation back in November. We have written and called and negotiated, and we just can't get access to the information we need.
KING: What's the answer -- is the answer -- is the answer wait, or is the answer none of your business? Is the answer this is executive privilege? What's the answer?
COLLINS: Well in some ways this reflects the usual tension between the congressional branch of government and the executive branch. But in this case it makes you wonder if the White House doesn't want to hear what we're going to find about inadequate information sharing between the FBI and DOD, information that had it been shared might have prevented this tragedy.
KING: And let's remind people who might have forgotten the details, you're talking about the Army psychiatrist blamed for this tragedy, Major Nidal Malik Hasan (ph) and whether agencies they did know about him, they did know about some communications with radicals overseas, and one of your questions, obviously, is did the government miss the evidence, did the government fail to connect the dots?
KING: And they won't give that to you.
COLLINS: The reason we want to know is we want to make sure that we can improve our procedures, strengthen our laws, so that we can ensure that we do everything possible to prevent such a case of home grown terrorism from happening in the future. Thirteen people lost their lives that day. And we have an obligation to find out could this have been prevented?
What's really frustrating to me is the White House has made available information to its hand-picked investigators. We're asking for that same kind of access, to people, to documents, so that we can put together what happened. We're not going to interfere with the prosecution. We can draw those lines, but we have a constitutional obligation to conduct oversight.
KING: Well without the materials, can you answer this question, could this happen again today or tomorrow?
COLLINS: Well, that's the whole point. Until we find out why essential information was not shared between the FBI and the Army, we can't ensure that it won't happen again. In this case, we know that the government had information that Major Hasan (ph) was communicating with a radical cleric in Yemen, that he was increasingly unhappy with the military, that he was becoming radicalized, but we don't know why the information wasn't shared, why the dots weren't connected. And it is imperative that we understand what went wrong so that we can help ensure that it doesn't happen again.
KING: And this is not an idle threat. If you don't have it by Monday, subpoenas will go to the White House.
COLLINS: That's correct, will go to DOD and the Department of Justice. We have been trying to get this information since last November. We have sent letter after letter. In March we sent the final letter, March 23rd, telling these two departments that we would issue subpoenas and we are going to follow through if we don't get the material.
KING: As you know, this was a source of considerable tension in the previous administration. George W. Bush was a governor before he became president. Bill Clinton was a governor before he became president. They tend to have a different view of executive power from the get-go. Senator Obama, before he became president, here is something he said to Wolf Blitzer.
"In an Obama presidency you will see there will be a sufficient respect for law and co-equal branches of government that I hope we won't find ourselves in a situation in which we would be having aides being subpoenaed for what I think everybody acknowledges is some troublesome information." This was a question of Bush administration aides back in those days. Senator Obama said co-equal branches of government, not going to happen under my watch. What is happening with President Obama?
COLLINS: Well he's clearly changed his approach and I think that's very unfortunate. Issuing a subpoena is the last resort. We don't want to do that. We want to have a cooperative arrangement with the administration, but after five months, we've reached the conclusion that we have no other choice if we're to carry out our obligation to exercise oversight.
KING: Let me ask you lastly -- you are always one of the Republicans that comes up when the Democrats are looking for votes. Relatively moderate column (ph) as you see, a senator from the state of Maine. Tonight you voted yes on the question of extending unemployment benefits. That was a debate, stalled over before the congressional recess. Tonight you voted yes and everybody in Washington will ask have we at least cracked the partisanship? Is there going to be more bipartisan cooperation from here, maybe for a month or two before we break for the nasty political season and the midterm election campaigns? Is there any hope of that?
COLLINS: There is a hope of that, and it certainly is something that I advocate all the time. I think the American people are really tired of the excessive partisanship that they're seeing in Washington. There are real problems with the economy, most of all, and they want us to get to work in a bipartisan way. So that's what I'm going to continue to advocate, and I hope that there are enough people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle to accomplish some of those goals.
KING: We'll watch as we move on from unemployment benefits to other issues down the road. Some of them, I bet, there won't be as much bipartisan spirit, but we'll watch. Senator Collins, thanks for coming in tonight. Thanks especially for your thoughts on the Fort Hood investigation. We'll keep track of that.
And coming up later, we'll look at the first family's tax returns, what happened to all that Nobel Peace Prize money?
And when we return immediately the president's had strong words for mine owners today, I'll go "One-on-One" with the nation's labor secretary. Her department is supposed to make sure that mines aren't death traps.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time to go "One-on-One".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We owe them more than prayers. We owe them action. We owe them accountability. We owe them an assurance that when they go to work every day, when they enter that dark mine, they are not alone.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Tonight we go "One-on-One" with the cabinet secretary who was at the president's side when he made that statement in the Rose Garden this morning. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis is not only looking into whether the company that owned that West Virginia mine was negligent in the deaths of those 29 miners, she also needs to find out whether agencies in her department including the Mine Safety and Health Administration perhaps failed in their mission.
Madam Secretary to that point, the very question of accountability, there are people in that community, you've met with the families, as they look at the safety violations and they look at the big jump over the past year, a lot of them think this never should have happened. That everybody failed them, not only Massey Energy (ph), but their government, your department as well.
HILDA SOLIS, LABOR SECRETARY: Our rescue team was on the ground in record time. We have more enforcement officers on the ground. And in fact this one operator here was cited in 2009 over 515 times.
KING: But if cited so many times, and, yes, I know they appealed, they stretch out the process --
KING: -- why isn't there, in the law, or is there in the law and it was never used, just an emergency provision where you can say you know what, this alarm has gone off too many times, we need to stop this?
SOLIS: You have to meet a certain measure to be able to do that. And in the last few years we have never utilized that, at least in the time that I've been there. We know, however, that we have to make some changes and today my meeting with the president, he and I spoke as well as the two most important folks on my team, Joe Maine (ph), who was a miner, who spent 30 years in the mines and has lived through these catastrophes, as well as Mr. Kevin Strickland (ph), who is our administrator, and they tell me that explosions are preventable.
KING: But you mentioned your agency did cite them a huge jump in citations.
SOLIS: Right and it depends on the severity, John. And it also depends in terms of what the company does to get off the list of those serious violations. And they have been able to, how can I say, manipulate the system and we have to close those loopholes. The way I see it right now, you can drive a truck through the loopholes that exist.
KING: Senator Rockefeller, a Democrat from that state, one of his concerns is he says there was this computer glitch, which you have acknowledged that did not count some of these violations. And he says that perhaps Massey Energy (ph) would have been put on the list of pattern violation status. Had it been on that list, had there not been that glitch, would that have given you a brighter warning light to go in and do something and the power to go in and at least call a temporary stop? SOLIS: I would tell you that they have been able to skirt the requirements that are put in place right now that would give us the ability to do that because they have been able to game (ph) the system. They have powerful attorneys. They're powerful in terms of their influence in this town. They have been able to skirt the law. We need to close those loopholes. We need to have more ability to bring people in through criminal action. We want to work with Department of Justice on this.
KING: You mention that. I want to bring the president's voice in on this. Because when you were standing in the Rose Garden today, the president obviously expressed his condolences, he promised accountability to look at the company. He said something that caught my ear. Listen to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Owners responsible for conditions in the Upper Big Branch Mine (ph) should be held accountable for decisions they made and preventive measures they failed to take. And I've asked Secretary Solis to work with the Justice Department to ensure that every tool in the federal government is available in this investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The Justice Department. Do you believe this company committed crimes, that it should be investigated for criminal violations that led to these 29 sad deaths?
SOLIS: I can tell you that we are undergoing that investigation right now. And our first attempt was to bring out the bodies, get our rescue team in place to make sure everything in the evidence is kept whole, so we won't be going in for a while. But once we get there, we have to accumulate that, we have to interview people, we have to make sure that there is clear evidence.
And our whole course of action is not to put people out of work. No, what we want to do is say why are there other operators who have similar facilities, but have managed to reduce their violations and injuries and death? Nobody should have to go into a mine knowing that for Pete's sake, you may not come out alive on your shift and that's exactly what happened.
KING: As you look for changes in the law, to make it so they can't just delay with appeals and use the loopholes, what about the mindset in your own department, in the context -- I first came to Washington 21 years ago and my first job was to cover your department, the Labor Department. Back then and through the years in administrations Democratic and Republican, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has been viewed as not having enough people, not having the best training, not having enough resources and often of having too cozy relationship with the industry you mentioned, the directors now they come from the industry.
But they've been with you now, your administration has been in power for 15 months, almost 15 months. At any point did they come to you at the beginning and say we have been there. These laws aren't tough enough. We've been there.
KING: We have to erase these loopholes and if they did, if the answer is yes, why does there have to be blood before we rewrite mining laws? Every time people die there's bloodshed and only then do we go back and rewrite the laws --
SOLIS: John, what I could tell you is that my assistant secretary has only been on for six months and as I said earlier, he spent 30 years in the mines. And he was out there advocating also, beating up on MSHA (ph) in the past because of previous explosions. He knows what has to be done. I take very seriously this job as well as he does.
KING: Let me ask you lastly, today, for a mine family out there in West Virginia or anywhere else in this country, could it happen again tomorrow, because you're going to have this investigation and then you're going to ask Congress to make some changes, are there any emergency powers you need today so that if there is another one of these, and someone shows you a list and says here is a long list of violations but they're appealing, we don't have the power to stop them, but we think this mine is a ticking time bomb, can you do anything about it today?
SOLIS: I think what I can tell you is that we're going to have our field staff out there in the mines. And we're going to do the very best we can to shoulder this responsibility and to make sure we bring in every tool out of our tool kit to see that this doesn't happen. But, again, you know the process here in Washington, you have to work the legislative path, the regulatory path, and also with any criminal investigation or any investigation that goes on is going to take some time.
KING: Madam Secretary, thank you for your time.
And when we come back, we'll go "Wall-to-Wall". The president says the Space Program in this country needs major changes. Some people say he's short changing it. We'll go "Wall-to-Wall" and show you the details when we come back.
KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight you see the president there landing at Cape Canaveral, Florida, earlier today, there to outline his vision for America's Space Program and it is controversial. We'll get to the details in just a second, but first, let's reflect, what has NASA, what has Americans in space meant for you?
Let's take a peek here. Here's NASA's impact -- we have better aircraft engines because of the Space Program, flame resistant materials have been developed because of our need to fly in space, radiation detection improved, enriched baby food, that's important, digital imaging for breast biopsies, something critical there, better brake lining for our cars. And hey, let's not forget about the Tang. So as we watch the world take a few spins here in this let's go over to the magic wall and take a closer look at the president's proposals.
Again, the president is proposing major, major changes in space. Let's look at some of them. Here is one of the things the president says as we bring this -- oops, it doesn't want to work here for me -- here we go -- some of his proposed changes. He wants to spend an additional $6 billion over the next six years. He wants to invest in deep space exploration and he says this would bring about a multibillion dollar modernization as well of the Kennedy Space Center to improve its facilities.
His critics say by taking these things out of NASA in the private sector, we might lose America's lead in space, have big layoffs at NASA perhaps and some of these commercial ventures they would note in the jobs that would be produced are years down the road, also could be a loss of some tourism in Florida and Texas. Let's look at some of the other questions here.
This is NASA, look at this little purple slice -- see that little purple slice? As we debate this big issue and it is controversial that is all of NASA's slice of the entire federal budget deficit, $19 billion, 0.5 percent of the federal budget. So what is at stake here first? Let's go to the moon. George W. Bush announced that he wanted Americans to go back to the moon.
President Obama is saying we have been there, we have done that, we're not going to spend the money on it. You see the space station in orbit here, here are some of the key questions involved here. Orion -- that was supposed to be the rocket that brought us back to the moon. But now the president says the crew capsule will be used only as an emergency vehicle to reach crews up here on the International Space Station, bring them necessary supplies or in some kind of an emergency.
One other thing we want to look at, what about constellation? That was supposed to be the program to return us to the moon. The president says it costs too much, it is behind schedule, and again, he says been there, done that. That program now likely to be canceled and the Space Shuttle Program, remember, we should also note is about to end as well. Where the president does want to go, though, is he says in his lifetime he predicts Americans will get back -- will get to Mars -- excuse me -- for the first time.
As we watch this play out in space, there is the big red planet, let me bring this up here, the president says we will get back there in his lifetime, and here is his vision for this. And again, it's controversial. He wants to expand the commercial space industry out of NASA. He believes it will over time create thousands of jobs in the private sector and the president, again, he predicted this today that in his lifetime he predicts the American Space Program will get to Mars.
It is controversial. It is also fascinating. It is worth studying as we watch how this plays out into the future. I just love looking at the pictures. When we come back, we'll talk to the former D.C. insider, Dick Armey, who became the unofficial leader of the ultimate group of Washington outsiders. And later on, an entirely different look at today's Tea Party protests from who else, our own Pete (ph) on the street.
KING: Every day we make it our mission to take "The Pulse" of America, tap into the big political stories, maybe not necessarily generating headlines here in Washington. Well, today, something a little different. We tracked the Tea Party Express making its way across the country. Some of you are fans. Some of you are not.
Well, there are big Tax Day rallies across the country, so we went down today here in Washington and talked to Dick Armey. He used to be a Republican congressman, now he is helping lead the Tea Party movement. We caught up with him down on the National Mall.
KING: What is your sense of how this movement takes the next step? It is clearly a high profile protest movement, gathered a lot of attention, and a lot of steam and raised some issues. How does it become a political force in a big midterm election year?
RICHARD ARMEY, CHAIRMAN, FREEDOMWORKS: I think it already is. And my way of explanation, everybody who holds office today and seeks office is asking themselves the question, and oftentimes calling and asking me, how am I going to stand with respect to the -- to the Tea Party access, because that's become the generic term. And in fact I had a guy in South Carolina give me a call and say, Dick, can you call off the dogs? I said you need to understand I don't own the dogs.
KING: And a lot of people now say yes, you have a whole bunch of state Tea Parties, organizations affiliated with the Tea Parties and you know people have the idea, let's try to bring them all together. Can you do that when you have a bunch of independent-minded people who don't agree on every issue?
ARMEY: Right, right --
KING: You're right, they generally share the government's too big, taxes are taxes are too high is a general shared belief, but can you bring them together and do you think it's a good idea to bring them together or are you better off having these loose forces?
ARMEY: No, the observation that, which is unnerving for a lot of people, no one is in charge --
ARMEY: -- that's what makes it authentic or grassroots.
KING: You were on the other end of this mall a few years back, 1994, when Republicans signed the contract with America.
ARMEY: Yes. KING: That turned out to be a big year. You became the majority leader after that election and through the Republican growth. Are we in the middle of a year like that again and what role does this group of people play in it?
ARMEY: I think we are. If you take a look at 1993, it was the year of massive anxiety on the part of the voters at large. And they were looking at the Clinton administration and saying, oh, my goodness, what are they going to do to my country? That level of anxiety today, while the same, is larger than it was with the Clinton presidency. And the Republicans at that time, remember, I always remind the Republicans, nobody alive in America could remember having been disappointed in the Republican majority. So they said, "Well, we want to show you we're different. Here's our contract." Well, I guess I was part of that.
All right. Now, today, they got a little bit different issues. And, I said, "You've just gone through a period of time where everybody out there in America today is mad and scared for the Democrats and the majority today, but remember their disappointment and hurt with you in the majority. So you don't have the legs to stand on to offer a Contract with America. They're going to just look at you and say, 'Oh, yes, I remember.'"
So what we've done is we worked with grassroots activists all over the country, through the Internet, and we have conceived with a Contract From America. And it is our belief that Republican officeholders and office seekers do have the credibility to accept the contract, not to offer one.
KING: What's the test? The day after the election, when I call you up and say, "Dick Armey, did this group do what you thought it was capable of doing?" what's the test?
ARMEY: I think if, in fact -- first of all, I think they're already accomplishing that. The Democrats have a growing awareness and caution about trespassing against liberty.
KING: Will a third party come out of this? And would that be a good idea, or is that destructive?
ARMEY: No. My first understanding, that grassroots activism in America today -- and it is small government grassroots activism -- will not devolve into a third party as in New Jersey.
In New Jersey, if you take a look at the third party candidate in that race, that candidate had polling numbers going into the election week that, had they been met on Election Day, would have assured a re- election of the incumbent liberal Democrat. On Election Day, that candidate only got something like two percent of the vote. And that vote that swung away from him to the Republican candidate gave us a change.
Now, here's what the grassroots activists got from that swing, because they are, and they understand, they are only a swing vote. But they went from a Democrat, liberal Democrat that's 100 percent liberal, to a Republican that's 80 percent conservative. That's not perfect, but 180 degree turnaround is pretty exciting.
So -- and so they understood that. They're not going to leave the bad guys in office out of the quest for purity and the alternative.
KING: Thanks for your time.
ARMEY: Thank you. My pleasure.
KING: Appreciate it. Thank you.
KING: TEA: Taxed Enough Already. That's the motto of Dick Armey and those Tea Partiers, and a motto worth remembering, because when we continue the program, we will introduce you to the "Most Important Person You Don't Know."
Today it's the tax man. Do you know his name?
Stay with us. You're about to find out.
In our forum tonight, we'll look at the Tea Party and see whether it really packs a political punch and whether it could evolve into a third party.
In our "Play-by-Play," we will go line by line, not an audit, just a look at the president's taxes. We'll see how much income and where he gave money to charity.
And Pete on the street tonight. Where else? Pete Dominick is out Tea Partying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: Everybody should watch JOHN KING USA on CNN and add me on Facebook. Add me! I'm lonely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: There are few safe bets in life, but here's one. Today's "Most Important Person You Don't Know," probably also today's most unpopular person you don't know. He's the tax man, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Douglas Shulman, and he has lots and lots of help.
The IRS employs more than 100,000 people. They collect about $2.4 trillion, with a "T," trillion dollars a year. It isn't Shulman's fault the tax code is so complicated. Blame the Congress for that. But even with a Masters in public administration from Harvard and a law degree from Georgetown, get this -- Shulman has someone else do his tax returns. IRS commissioners serve five-year terms. When Shulman took the job in 2008, he promised a better balance between tax enforcement and taxpayer service. They have a ways to go.
We called the IRS to ask how he spends April 15th. We were put on hold twice, then promised an e-mail. We're still waiting.
Well, normally you might see National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin here in the studio with me. But she's not here because she is out in the middle of it all. We know that taxes are a big issue down at the Tea Party movement. They don't like the tax man.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Nobody here likes the tax man, John.
I'll tell you, folks here have been very, very determined and clear in their message all day, John, that they want the government to be spending less money, and that they plan to do something about it. If you could pan out, I want to give you a sense of the crowd.
A large crowd, John, but much more subdued than some of the crowds we have seen in the past. Not a lot of anger here, more a mission to defend their reputation and to say they're going to vote on Election Day.
Let's listen to what some folks had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't you dare ever let anybody tell you, you are a racist, you're angry or you're a mob.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want more jobs to come to the United States, get this broken tax code out of the way.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: There's no member (ph). What do you say? Let's take back our country!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody's not paying attention. Our elected official seems to have forgotten us. And I think it's about time that they start listening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: And John, that last message is what I hear from every single person I speak to at this event. They think the elected officials in Washington have not heard the people. And these folks say they're going to get organized, mobilized, and make a difference in November. We'll see.
KING: And Jessica, they're mad at everybody. But have you heard anybody of them say, "I'm going to vote Democrat in November"?
YELLIN: No one. They have listed the people that they plan to endorse, this organization has. And there is one Democrat on the list. But nobody I surveyed here in person says they plan to vote for a Democrat. Either it's a Republican, Independent or no one.
KING: Jessica Yellin for us, down having a bit of a Tea Party. That Democrat is Walt Minnick. He's a Democratic congressman from Idaho, and he's conservative. And I was down there earlier today, and we don't take sides, but we do collect souvenirs here.
Next, some stories on my radar today, including a groundbreaking, never-before-seen political event across the Atlantic. We Americans have been doing this for half a century, but it's new to the Brits. We'll tell you about it.
KING: This is the part of the show we call "The Forum." Every day we'll bring in our great reporters and some smart political players. Maybe they're involved in the big campaigns. We'll get everyone to share the thing we hear from our sources, or from our candidates. Here are a few things on my radar tonight.
You're looking at a live picture right now. That's the House floor, where a vote to extend unemployment benefits is under way.
The Senate, just moments ago, voted 59-38 to restore unemployment benefits through June 2nd. People who missed unemployment checks will be able to receive them retroactively. You'll recall the debate about this. The $18 billion measure was held up by some Republicans who wanted to pay for the bill's cost rather than just add to the budget deficit.
Everyone else is talking about who might the next Supreme Court justice might be. So why not the people already there?
At a congressional hearing today, Justice Clarence Thomas said he's hoping for someone who's honest, conscientious, and easy to get along with.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT: I don't think any of us would come out and say to you we have a formula for what the next member should look like, just as long as the person is a capable, good person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Justice Stephen Breyer said justices should be able to think themselves into the lives of the people their decisions affect. You might call that the empathy standard.
It's 50 years late by U.S. standards, but the Brits made political history just a few hours ago. Behold, the first-ever televised debate among the three party leaders. In effect, the three candidates for prime minister. Technology has made its way across the pond. They even took an instant poll after it was over. Prime Minister Gordon Brown finished last.
Those are the stories on my radar tonight.
Joining me for the forum, Republican strategist John Feehery, Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, and CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger.
So, John, we'll start with you down at the end there.
What is the biggest thing on your radar today?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Today is Tax Day. Forty- seven percent of the American people don't pay any taxes, and yet the American people are still angry about their taxes. I think that says a lot about the anger about where the money is actually going, the fact that people are not happy with the size, the shape and the competence of the federal government.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think -- speaking about where the money is going, I think on my screen, the back and forth on the ballot we're about to get in around Wall Street reform is going to be interesting and a very defining debate.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: The thing I'm thinking about today, watching those Tea Partiers who Jessica Yellin was just talking about, is this notion of trust in government. Those folks don't trust government. But most people don't trust government right now.
We're talking about big government programs. Twenty percent of the people in the country don't trust government to do the right thing most of the time. Tea Partiers, "The New York Times" says today, only six percent of them say government is working for them.
KING: So let's spend a minute on that. You saw the interview, I hope, with former congressman Dick Armey.
John, you worked with him on the Hill when he was the Republican majority leader. He says this is a force, a political force, not just a protest movement.
Cornell, let's start with you, because your Democrats would have the most to lose if he's right.
Are they? Have they matured to that point yet?
BELCHER: What I see is in the polls coming out now is, to me, they strike me as a fringe break-off of disillusioned Republicans. I mean, when you look at -- and they're eating, quite frankly, the middle ground out of the Republican Party.
The litmus test that they're putting up for Republicans are going to be -- it's going to make it more polarized and even tougher for our government to solve any problems. I don't see them as a force for good. I see them as a dangerous movement, quite frankly, for the Republican Party.
KING: You share that view? You share that view, in the sense that one of the big questions is, this will be as good a year for Republicans as '94 was, when you went from the minority -- you'll remember that -- to the majority, which you enjoy a whole lot more?
FEEHERY: The majority is much more fun. I guarantee you. You get to dictate what's going on.
I think that the Tea Party movement is actually going to be very good for Republicans, only in a sense that it energizes their base, gets them -- they have already made the decision that they're going to go to the polls and they're going to vote for Republicans. They're not going to vote for third parties.
If this was a presidential election, and you had a Ross Perot, this could be very damaging for Republicans. But because they are so energized, and they're going to go to the polls, and they're so upset about where the government is going, this is going to be very good for Republicans.
KING: When you work your sources, do Republicans -- there is great energy, there's no question about that.
BORGER: Oh, yes. Absolutely.
KING: But do Republicans see any downside to this?
BORGER: Well, yes, in the primaries. Republicans are being challenged. Establishment Republicans are being challenged by Tea Party candidates. That's not good for you guys in the primaries. It may be better in the general election, but it may be anti-incumbent generally, when we get to 2010, when we get to the midterm elections.
The thing that's so interesting, though, is when you talk to people privately, off the record, background, they kind of badmouth the Tea Partiers because -- you're nodding your head, there you are -- because they're worried about them and they think it paints the party --
KING: They don't control them. If there's anything politicians of all parties can agree on, they like to control the institutions that are involved in politics.
BORGER: Absolutely. But publicly, John, what do they do? Publicly?
KING: Publicly, they're all -- if they're Republicans, the leadership wasn't invited. But most of the others are parading down there because they see this as helpful.
BELCHER: But that's part of the problem, is they're dragging to me -- when a guy like John McCain has to denounce being a maverick, it's a problem for the Republican Party. They're dragging the party so far right that -- to their fringe, and I think it absolutely will hurt them with Independent voters.
KING: Forgive me. I have a good relationship with the senator, but John McCain saying, "I've never claimed to be a maverick," is like me claiming I've never liked beer.
KING: Everybody hold on.
Next in the "Play-by-Play," we'll take a close look at the president's own tax return. We'll break it down line by line.
ANNOUNCER: Here comes the "Play-by-Play."
KING: You know, on the sports shows they break down the plays, the big plays. We can do that in politics, too. We'll analyze some numbers, sometimes we'll look at big ads.
Back with me right here, John Feehery, Cornell Belcher, and Gloria Borger.
I'm going to walk over to the wall here, because I want to show you something. We were just talking about the anger down at the Tea Party movement, the anger about taxes. Right?
We did a poll nationally. This is everybody in the country. "Are you angry about your taxes?" Right?
So, look at this -- 40 percent of the people say they are angry about their taxes. In 1985, it was 27 percent.
If you look at that, satisfied, the number of satisfied Americans, it's gone way down from 47 percent in 1985 to 36 percent now. You look at that and you think, people are more angry about their taxes now.
But let's clear this because I just want to give a little bit of perspective.
We go back and look at these numbers over here, the average tax -- what people are actually paying, your average tax bill, look at this. Bring up the arrow -- 6.71 percent out of Bush. This is the average family of four paying $4,200 under Bush. Under Barack Obama, now, $3,500 and the tax rate is lower.
So, John, Cornell, Gloria, is some of this anger misplaced?
You were saying it's not so much about paying taxes, as they don't think the money is being well spent.
FEEHERY: The money is being very poorly spent. And the other thing about this is people who are angry are -- 50 percent of the American people pay no taxes. So the tax rate, actually, for people above that rate, they are paying 98 percent of the taxes. So there's also a sense of, where is the fairness? We're paying all the taxes and we're not getting the services we demand.
KING: Cornell, as a Democrat who would think you would be able to tell a good storyline here, if you look over at these numbers, why isn't your president and your party breaking through? Why do people think they are paying more if these numbers say they're actually paying less?
BELCHER: You know, I think when you look at sort of the anger and sort of the talk about taxes and the deficit, to a certain extent I think it's a false issue. Because if you look at where taxes haven't gone up and people aren't paying necessarily much more in taxes, and if these people were so angry about the federal deficit, well, surely they would be fuming mad when we took Bill Clinton's surplus into debt.
I think there is some anger out there about a lot of stuff. I don't think it's primarily about taxes and deficit. I think that's a cover issue.
BORGER: But they know we're going to end up paying more taxes because of this deficit, and that's another thing they're angry about.
KING: And they are paying at the state and the local level in this recession, too. A lot of taxes have gone up, and fees have gone up, and things like that. That's part of it, I think.
BELCHER: Well, there was not this sort of level of anger that you see in our politics up until now. And I don't think it's a coincidence. There's something else going on besides taxes and deficits.
KING: Let's do this -- we all had to do this today, right? I hope everybody paid their taxes. Not often do we get to see -- we know where the president lives, but now we get to see right here, he lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Let me bring that arrow back up there.
Barack H. Obama and Michelle Obama here. Look at this. Here's the president's income. Look at this number up here, $374,460.
Now, the president's salary is $400,000 a year. But remember, this is about 2009. He was inaugurated on January 21st. So he didn't get three weeks of pay.
The president makes $7,000 a week, a little more than that. He didn't get three weeks of his pay. But that's interesting, to see the president's salary.
BORGER: Even though he was writing the stimulus checks?
KING: Even though. Even though. Even though.
Now, let's see over here. If anyone should be mad at the tax man -- because remember, Barack Obama made some money off his book. He made some money off his book well beyond his salary as president.
The man paid $1.8 million in taxes -- $1.8 million in taxes. I will put that right up there.
And I want to show you something. Again, we don't see this all that often. If you haven't seen the president's signature, the president signed it down here, Michelle Obama signed it down here.
He's the U.S. president. It says so right here. That's his occupation. She's the U.S. first lady. It says so right there. And they had their taxes prepared out in Chicago.
One last look and then we can talk about all this.
Remember, the president won the Nobel Peace Prize and he promised the money would go to charity. Let me get those arrows out of the way.
The Nobel Committee in Stockholm, April 12, 2010, they know when our tax deadline is. They had sent a letter confirming, the Fisher House foundation -- that helps servicemen and women and their families. The Clinton-Bush Haiti Fund, the American-Indian College Fund. The Posse Foundation helps underprivileged children in schools -- the United Negro College Fund. All of that money the president won from the Nobel Peace Prize transferred over to charity.
So, it's an interesting glimpse. It's good that we have open and transparent government.
What else do we learn from seeing that?
BELCHER: I should write a book.
BORGER: Yes, that's correct. A best-selling book.
BELCHER: That's right. That's what I need.
BORGER: I want to know if he deducted his home office. Do you think?
KING: They're pretty tough on that one. The president of the United States might get audited.
FEEHERY: I've got nothing to say. I think it's amazing.
I think you're absolutely right, Cornell. It would be nice to write a book. Maybe I have to go write a book.
But obviously he thought very carefully who he was giving his money to. And he knew that at some point in time, someone was going to find out. And he did a pretty good job spreading the wealth around.
KING: 1:43 a.m. this morning, I electronically filed all of mine, and I thought I was taking --
(CROSSTALK) KING: We're not going to put it up there. We're not going to put it up there. Tax Day.
John Feehery, Cornell Belcher, Gloria, thanks so much.
When we come back, who else? Pete on the street. You know, Pete's usually outside of Washington, but with all the big excitement here, he told us he wanted to go to a Tea Party.
KING: Pete Dominick, our offbeat reporter, can't miss a good party. So when he heard there was one down on the National Mall, well, he had to be here.
Happy Tax Day, Pete.
DOMINICK: Happy Tax Day to you, John King.
Last night you said I'm your dependent, so I'm just going to call you, John King, "dad" from now on.
And yes, we had a good time. It was a hot day. People were passionate about liberty, freedom and costumes.
DOMINICK: Captain America! Captain America!
I'm intimidated by you because you're up a step from me. May I join you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.
DOMINICK: Now, look at this. This is a whole different dynamic, isn't it, sir?
Your sign says "Spread the peanut butter, not the wealth." Explain to me what that means.
You're a big peanut butter and jelly guy?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
DOMINICK: Who would you put in the Oval Office, if you could, in the White House, out of all the names we know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It might be Mike Huckabee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ron Paul.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Newt Gingrich.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fred Thompson.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Allen West.
DOMINICK: Allen West?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colonel Allen West, running for --
DOMINICK: I think I need a Google.
What brought you out here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard there is good Ethiopian food in the city. Seriously.
DOMINICK: There is really good Ethiopian food in the city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I know.
DOMINICK: And did you take your daughter out of school for this event?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
DOMINICK: That's really the only reason you're here, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Well -- no it's not..
DOMINICK: You've got the sign, you've got the shirt, you've got the hat. But you've got the Mardi Gras beads that are throwing me off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, it's a party. We're here to have a good time.
DOMINICK: No arguments with your dad?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
DOMINICK: No? He looks like an intimidating guy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes she tells me I'm too easy on the liberals.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I came in from Washington State.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
DOMINICK: Yes. Well, what program would you cut?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would cut the Department of Education first.
DOMINICK: Oh, that seems harsh.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. DOMINICK: No?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
DOMINICK: "Fox, stop torturing America by having 'American Idol' before Glee.'"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had to sit through an hour of that crap.
DOMINICK: "Don't tax my tan." I know a little bit about this.
There's a tax, perhaps, on the tanning salon that will help pay for health care legislation, but there's no tax on that.
Up here. Up here, on the dome. Rub it in. You're on TV rubbing --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're on TV!
DOMINICK: Now make a wish! Make a wish!
DOMINICK: Well, there you go. We met some interesting people. It was fun. We got some good answers, too, John King.
KING: Was that sunblock or massage oil? I'm a little confused and concerned.
DOMINICK: I'm not sure, but I know it baked my head all day. So I think it might have been olive oil, to be honest with you.
KING: Pete, I know they're politically controversial, but I was over there earlier today and they were nice people, they were pleasant. Some people at home don't like their views, but enjoy your time there. Fascinating to watch them.
That's all our time tonight.
"CAMPBELL BROWN" starts right now.