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JOHN KING, USA

Charlie Crist Goes Independent; Arizona's Immigration Crackdown; The Results Party

Aired April 28, 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: Thanks Wolf. Late breaking developments tonight on an issue we've spent a lot of time covering in recent days, just about a half hour ago Democrats and Republicans agreed to start debating financial reform in the United States Senate. Democrats had failed three times to bring the legislation to the floor. But late today Republicans dropped their objections. Those Republicans say they want major changes to the bill. Democrats say the Republicans blinked. After days of calling Republicans obstructionists, the president traveling in the Midwest today offered them a rare compliment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very pleased that after a few days of delay, it appears an agreement may be in hand to allow this debate to move forward on the Senate floor on this political issue.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I'm very pleased by that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Much more on that story in the hour ahead.

But our "Lead" tonight another major developing story, down in Florida, Republican Governor Charlie Crist is going Independent we're told by sources. He's looking for the Senate. We'll look at how that rates -- it's not only big in Florida, but as a textbook case nationally of our fractured politics.

In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight energy will dominate the discussion, a big wind power announcement up off Cape Cod in Massachusetts and an oily mess in the Gulf of Mexico, we'll bring you the latest on both of those stories.

"One-on-One" tonight, Tim Kaine is the former Democratic governor of Virginia. He's now the Democratic National Committee Chairman. He's in charge of the Democrats' battle plan in what everyone expects will be a very bad year. He'll share that plan with us.

And on our "Radar" tonight among the items, Laura Bush is writing a memoir. Parts of the book have leaked out and among the startling revelations, she says on a trip to Germany the president and the first family might have been poisoned.

Broken government is a term we use all too often. Fractured politics is a term I find myself using more and more these days. There are big meaningful developments in both arenas tonight. In a few moments more on word the Senate will finally open debate on major changes to the rules governing Wall Street. A big deal anyway, it may be a sign that Democrats and Republicans can do your business instead of their partisan finger-pointing for a few days anyway.

And there are rumblings in the feisty immigration debate as well, but first one race that above all others this year shows the fractures in our politics and what national messages that one race is sending. It is Florida's U.S. Senate contest. Sources tell me tonight that Republican Governor Charlie Crist will announce tomorrow he will not seek the GOP nomination but will instead, run as an Independent, or no-party affiliation. That's the term they use on the Florida ballot.

This is not the way Crist planned it nor the way anyone imagined it a year ago when he was the darling of the Republican establishment and considered a shoo-in for the nomination and the favorite to win that seat outright. So what happened -- well he hugged President Obama and he welcomed the Obama economic stimulus program. It's not quite that simple, but almost.

And because it's a big race and a big and important state, it is a critical test of efforts by some in the resurgent right to push out Republicans who get too close to Democrats. They have every right to do so. This is after all why democracies hold elections. But are purity tests, as some call them, a good thing for either party? And when something as dramatic this happens, does the middle get squeezed or might a Crist Independent candidacy actually make the middle the key battleground?

Let's talk it over with a group that gets to rough and tumble with today's politics. The former Maine Governor Angus King was elected as an Independent in 1994 and ran up one of the biggest margins in Maine history when he was re-elected in 1998. Also with us CNN contributor Erick Erickson of the popular blog RedState.com and here with me in studio, Torie Clarke, who was chief spokeswoman for the Pentagon during President Bush's first term and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona, who worked for the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton.

Let's get right to it. Erick Erickson, you are among those on the right who have said Charlie Crist isn't good enough for the Republican Party. Let's rally around Marco Rubio as he prepares to make this announcement. I assume you consider it a victory, but do you worry that as an Independent Charlie Crist may prove this strategy wrong?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't worry about that at all and yes it is a victory. You know it's not Charlie Crist is a liberal or a moderate. It's that he's an opportunist and there are too many opportunists in both parties these days. You can't tell the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats anymore. I believe in having a Republican Party that actually stands for something. Charlie Crist apparently only stands for himself. The heat got too hot in the kitchen so he decided to get out.

KING: Governor King, you know how hard this can be. You were successful at it, but you don't have party infrastructures that are built ready to turn out votes. You don't have financial organizations that are there to give you money. Tell us tonight what you Charlie Crist faces when he makes this decision tomorrow morning and then wakes up? I know -- I'm told tonight his Republican polling firm will say, see you later, Governor. Some of his Republican staff is saying can't work for you, Governor. What's the challenge?

ANGUS KING (I), FORMER MAINE GOVERNOR: Well first, I want to respond to the comment that was just made, he doesn't stand for anything. I know Charlie Crist, what he stands for is getting things done. And I think that's what the public wants rather than the fractured government that you've been describing over the last couple of weeks. He's got a tall order, but he's you know a long way there.

The first thing you need as an Independent is credibility as a candidate. He's got that. You need name recognition. He's got that. You need some kind of infrastructure on the ground -- I suspect that he's got that just from his personal relationships throughout Florida over his career. So he's a credible, serious candidate right out of the box.

And I suspect -- I don't know the breakdown in Florida, but I suspect that probably there are more unenrolled voters, more Independents that are members of either of the political party, so you know I think he starts out tomorrow as the favorite in the race.

KING: Torie, I want to you jump in, because you worked for President H.W. Bush at a time when the (INAUDIBLE) movement coming out in America. We had fractures in our politics. It manifested itself in different ways, but as a Republican, and I want our controller to show the picture again. Here's the crime that Charlie Crist has committed. He hugged the president of the United States when he visited Florida. He gave him a big hug there. And he also --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

KING: He also accepted the stimulus money, as many Republican governors did, but again the right says one of Charlie Crist big mistakes is not only did he take the money, but he said it was a good thing. Let's listen to Charlie Crist outside of the White House last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: We accepted the stimulus money. All of my fellow governors did. I think it was the responsible and right thing to do for the people and it puts people above politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: Absolutely right. That was in the eyes of the very conservative people in the party that was the big sin because they are so upset with what they see as the you know excessive growth of government in a nanny state and entitlements growing in general, so that's the big fundamental flaw.

KING: But is it -- are we at a point now where with the resurgence of the right of the Republican Party which is a fact -- we see evidence of it every day. Is it not only a crime to hug and praise Barack Obama, but a crime punishable by death in the Republican Party?

CLARKE: I'd be careful with words like crime and death and things like that. But -- and I'd also push back on your comparison to Bush and Perot. This is much more fractured. You use the word a lot but it is absolutely right. But this is multifaceted fracturing of the party. And what I wonder is these big lessons people are already drawing from Florida, even before this has happened, even before he's declared his independency, I think people ought to wait before they draw lessons for the rest of the country.

KING: Maria, comment on the point that Kendrick Meek, Democratic congressman is the likely Democratic nominee. I want to show a poll right now, a three-way poll. Charlie Crist is actually in the lead, 32 percent. Marco Rubio, 30 percent, Meek, 24 percent, but as Governor King noted, he's very well known, Charlie Crist.

In Rubio and Meek, you have two very attractive, very appealing, very good communicators. Neither one has run state wide. Neither one has run state wide. It is a big, complicated diverse state and many think that Charlie Crist while he's taking a huge risk here could be the beneficiary because untested candidates, even the best politicians make mistake.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well that's certainly true and you never know what's going to happen, but here's the problem that the Republican Party is facing not just in Florida, but everywhere. It's this tug-of-war. It is what is fracturing that party which is the conservatives versus the moderates. Clearly in Florida, you don't know who's going to win.

But clearly the problem with polls is months ago we never would have seen this situation when Charlie Crist was ahead by more than 40 points. So I think what's going to happen is that it's going to be a huge bloodletting between Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist. It's going to be like the primary that never ends. And ultimately Kendrick Meek is going to be the one to benefit from that because he will be able to focus on the issues that Floridians care about, jobs and the economy.

KING: I'm guessing there's some disagreement with that. We'll continue the conversation, but Governor King, before we go to break, I just want to bring you out on this point. Florida is not Maine. Maine is a smaller state. You're able to -- even though it takes some hours to get places, it's not as diverse as Florida. Is there a middle in America that will rally to help this guy way down in Florida. We're in the early primary season and a contentious midterm election year, so all we hear about is left and right. Is there a middle left in America, in your view that will care about the state of Florida and this Republican governor?

A. KING: I think there is. There are a lot of people who feel that our politics has become so fractured it just isn't operating, it just isn't functioning. And I think there are people that will help Charlie Crist that will go down campaign for him. And you know like I said, I think he has a real serious shot at this and it's going to have reverberations nationwide.

The public doesn't -- there's a small sliver in both parties that care passionately about the party and the party candidate and the purity of the party candidate. Most people just want education to work. They want the country defended. They want terrorism defeated. They want the potholes filled.

And they don't care about which party it is or who -- you know who gets the credit or those kinds of things. And if Charlie Crist can grab on to that, he's going to take it. And you got to remember, neither party has enough in their base to win an election. Anywhere in the United States, you have to have Independents on your side to win any election and that goes across the country and I think -- I think this is going to be a very interesting test, whether or not Florida voters are willing to take that jump to say, I'm going to vote for somebody that's not on one of the party -- under one of the party labels. They haven't done it before in Maine. In my case, they done it 20 years ago. But I think this is a year when it could happen.

KING: All right, let's take a quick time-out here. We'll continue the conversation about some of the pressures in our politics in just a moment, but as we go to break, a quick look behind the numbers on Wall Street today. The Dow industrials rebounded from yesterday's 213-point drop, gaining 53 points to get back to above 11,000. Investors were reassured by the Fed's new promise to keep interest rates low.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Arizona's doing it, but why not California, why not Texas and the rest of the Border States?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were forced to do this, they had no choice. There's no federal help there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not right to have police be ready to question you when they suspect (INAUDIBLE) citizen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's completely unfair. And it's going to promote racial profiling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Some of your views there on the controversial new Arizona immigration law. Well let's talk it over with our panel. We're back with the former Maine Governor Angus King, an Independent, conservative blogger and CNN contributor Erick Erickson, Republican strategist Torie Clarke , who (INAUDIBLE) Mr. Bush Pentagon spokeswoman and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. Erick, I want to go to you first again because this is an issue and it's driving conversation on the right. Many more prominent Republicans, Jeb Bush, Karl Rove, Tim Pawlenty, coming out and saying we understand why they did this. They need help protecting the borders, a lot of frustration there, but we think they went too far. Is that a fair assessment of general conservative consensus?

ERICKSON: No, I don't think so. I think there's a divide on the Democrats and Republicans. Republicans are just being more vocal about it. You know though for the last four weeks, we've had this hand-wringing over rhetoric on the right regarding the tea parties and what's going on in Washington, and for the past 48 hours we've been treated -- there are calls for boycotts in Arizona, compared to Nazis and fascists, and everything else under the sun.

And the same people who are wringing their hands over this rhetoric from the right are now perfectly fine to go along with this because they disagree with Arizona's law. I've got concerns but they had to do it. At least they felt they had to do it. It's very popular in the state. We have federalism. If you don't like it, don't go to Arizona.

KING: The political rhetoric was pretty sharp on this. I want to give or panel and our viewers a bit of a sample. Bob Menendez is a senator from New Jersey, obviously, a Latino senator, and he spoke out about this today in very harsh and personal terms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Arizona has become the "show-me-your-paper" state. And if I was a citizen of Arizona or if I were visiting in Arizona the only papers I would intend to show is the Constitution of the United States that says that I have rights as a citizen and that I'm not a second-class citizen in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But Bob Menendez is from New Jersey. Texas Republican Ted Poe from a border state says many people if you don't live on the border maybe you don't understand this. And he says if you live by the borer you have a warrior mentality.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: I recently asked a Texas Ranger, I said what's it like on the southern border with Mexico after dark? And he said Congressman Poe, it gets western. It gets western. And what he meant by that, it gets violent and there's gunfire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Governor King, you're a border state governor on the other border. I don't think you have to had to worry about a threat from Canada. But to Erick's point about state's rights, whether you like this or not, does the state of Arizona have the right to do this? A. KING: Well I think the courts are going to decide that. Ultimately, it's a question of federal preemption and whether federal law controls immigration and whether each state can make its own immigration policy. But I think beyond that, yes, there is -- we do have state's rights. Jefferson said the states are the laboratories of democracy, so Arizona can try this. It may be unconstitutional, it also may cost them economically.

They're going to have to bear the consequences of it. I think the political consequences though are that the Republican Party seems to be in a process of throwing people out. And in this case, they're writing off the Hispanics, which it seems to me is a losing strategy. And they also seem to be writing off moderates or anybody who dares to say something nice about the president of the United States. If you're narrowing your base, the people that are left are really enthusiastic, but they aren't going to end up being enough to win elections.

KING: To Governor King's point, I talked to Tim Kaine, the Democratic National Committee chairman, and I asked him why would Harry Reid say he's going to bring this up on the Senate floor, the leader, when we know he doesn't have the votes. And Senator -- Governor Kaine -- excuse me -- addressed that a bit, but first he attacked the Republican critics. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM KAINE, DNC CHAIRMAN: Demagoguery on immigration you know may work with some, but they're already with you. But most people see it as a very complex problem and they want folks who are really interested in solving it right now on immigration. Senator Reid's point I think is a pretty simple one and so is the president's. If we could just get a subset of the Republican senators who are on board for immigration reform just three years ago to be for meaningful reform now, we could do it --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: You didn't have a war along the border with Mexico. We didn't have the drug cartels --

KAINE: Well you know they're going to come up with some argument. But there isn't any reason. Is there still a problem? Sure, there's a problem. Does it still need a solution? Of course, it does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Come back in the studio here in Washington. Torie, if you're Lindsey Graham and you voted for it four years ago. John McCain voted for it four years ago. A tough primary this year, are you a hypocritical if you vote no this time or can you say look the circumstances have changed.

CLARKE: You know one of John McCain's favorite lines always was "May the words I utter today be sweet for tomorrow I may have to eat them". So they'll figure out how to move around on this --

KING: How to eat them?

CLARKE: But -- yes, how to eat those words. But I think a few things everybody needs to take a deep breath because the rhetoric on both sides of this has been absolutely ridiculous. But then if you're the leaders of the Republican Party, you're sitting back right now going oh, we were looking toward November, looking good, looking like we might gain a record number of seats, this could change that. That could absolutely change it and I think the other guests are right. This is going to fire up the right wing in the party that's already fired up and I don't think it does it too much good for the rest of the party --

KING: Risky for Democrats if Reid brings it up and loses. Some Democrats think well at least we can go to the Latino voters and say we tried. Others will say you know what, the Latino voters are smart enough to figure out you have these big majorities, why didn't you try it last year before you only had 59 votes in the Senate.

CARDONA: I do think it's risky (INAUDIBLE) seen as just a political ploy, but Democrats have been talking about for a very long time the need to bring up immigration reform. And to your point earlier, where are the Republicans on this? We could get this done now if Republicans just stepped up, so I think it's hypocritical critical for Republicans to say, and even those in Arizona, to say oh, well, we had to do this because you know our leaders, President Obama, has done nothing on this.

The White House has done nothing on this. This has to be a bipartisan law because it is something that the whole country is going through. And I think Latinos understand that. They are going to look to Democrats and Republicans for leadership. Right now, the Republicans are not looking so good, especially with this law.

KING: Good luck -- good luck is my answer to you on the bipartisan part. We need to call -- we need to call it a night for now, but Governor King from Maine, thank you. We'll bring you back another time to continue the conversation. It is worth continuing. Erick Erickson, thanks so much. Torie and Maria will be back with us a bit later.

And tonight "Earth, Wind and Fire" isn't just the name of a classic R&B group. It's also the U.S. energy policy. I'll go "Wall- to-Wall" to show you what we are talking about next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In "Wall-to-Wall," two looks at the energy challenges facing the United States. Remember there was a big announcement just last week that the Obama administration supported new offshore oil drilling. Well tonight the administration and BP and officials in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi dealing with this. The spill from that tanker that exploded -- the offshore rig -- excuse me -- that exploded and then sank, you can see pictures of the sheen as it makes its way towards the shore. A number of operations under way to try to control it and minimize it. We'll go over to the magic wall to take a closer look at this. And another big announcement today about wind power further up. Let's check in here first at the Gulf Coast. Here is where the spill is as of late afternoon, just a short few hours ago, 16 miles from the coast of Louisiana. The surface spill runs almost 100 miles along here if you look at this.

Here's one of the things going to try to fix it. Looking closely here (INAUDIBLE) get, this is a robot on a submarine underground, trying to close down the valve. Trying to shut off the source of the oil, the crude leaking into the water. A remarkable operation using this technology. But obviously, it has been somewhat frustrating as well. Here's another peek at how this works out. This is called a burn.

This is a file picture of a previous effort. But the Coast Guard a short time ago announced that the burn operation to try to get rid of some of the oil on top of the water is under way. This is what one of those operations looks like if you get up close. Here's another little check over here. Again, we want to put this into context. The Underwater Horizon, that's the Deepwater Horizon -- that's the rig here, 350,000 gallons so far. That's a big spill and it's causing significant damage, but remember the Exxon Valdez, that was 11 million gallons.

So in the context of the Valdez to (INAUDIBLE) that does not minimize the threat to the resources there, but it's much smaller than the Exxon Valdez. The other big announcement today in this department, where do we get energy and how do we get it offshore happened up here. If you look at all these dots these are proposed wind turbine farms in waters off coastal areas of the United States -- from North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut. The one in issue today was right out here in Nantucket Sound.

The Interior Department gave permission for a company called Cape Wind (ph) to start its project up here. Here's what they want to do in these waters. They want to have 130 turbines covering 24 square miles. They are five miles out from the nearest shoreline. That was the proposal, quite controversial. The late Senator Ted Kennedy opposed it. Given approval today by the Interior Department. But that doesn't mean it will start operations right away because there are many more hurdles.

There are many community lawsuits against this. Native-American opposition to this and the costly energy grid upgrades would have to be made if those turbines are built to integrate it with the energy system there. But the Interior Department announcement today was a huge major step to give that project the first wind farm off the United States, in waters propose a momentum to go forward. So, we'll watch that in the months ahead.

And as we come back in just a minute, I'll go "One-on-One" with Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine who has just unveiled a brand new slogan for his party in what is shaping up as a hugely tough midterm election year. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: It's time to go "One-on-One".

KING: You've heard Democrats a lot this year talk about Republicans as the party of no. As of today, the Democrats are re- labeling themselves as "the results party." After the big slogans roll out today I went over to the Democratic National Committee headquarters to go "One-on-One" with the party chairman, Tim Kaine.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You're outlining this new plan today and it's a political plan.

KAINE: Right.

KING: In many ways though -- see if you agree -- your challenge is more psychology in that the voters you are trying to persuade to stay with Democrats or come to Democrats aren't convinced of what you're saying right now. You say you're the party of results, 88 percent of Americans rate economic conditions as fair or poor. Only 33 percent think the stimulus plan actually created jobs in their communities. So how do you change the psychology of the electorate?

KAINE: Tell them the story and we know some things are going to happen in months between now and election that I think will have a real positive impact on the voters. So what we've seen in the economy, if you look at jobs or the stock market or the gross domestic product in the last 18 months in the Bush administration, first 15 months in the Obama administration, there are all dramatic very views with the bottom around inauguration day. And we think the trends will continue to improve. Now, they will not be before we want them to be. But I think the improvement will be noticed by our voters and we'll be able to make the case to them, do you want to keep climbing? Or do you want to hand the keys back to the guys who put us in the ditch?

KING: As you know from your own experience running for office, at some point in an election climate, things sort of jell. It's hard to change them once they do. Many think we're at that point in this election cycle. I'll read you two pieces of data from the recent ABC News/"Washington Post" poll. Do you favor smaller government or larger government? 56 percent of Americans favor smaller government. Does President Obama favor larger or smaller government? 77 percent of Americans believe the president favors larger government.

KAINE: You know the question I wish folks had been asked is do you favor effective government because I think more than size what people want to see is they want to see that their investments that they're makes as taxpayers are producing a return or producing results that they're proud of. And I think in that instance, this president has shown he's going to do the smart thing. Maybe not the thing that is most immediately popular in the short term. Because he's trying to build a platform for long-term success. But even with that long-term scenario, we're already seeing to see results. And again, they start to fit together in a way that I think creates an effective dynamic. For us to say we're the results team, the other guys are the obstructionists and that choice is pretty clear.

KING: At the beginning of your challenge, it's not rocket science. If you look at your plan and if you look at what the president said in his video message that was emailed out to his list the other day, he talks about we need those young Americans, we need Latinos, we need African-Americans, we need seniors, we need the people who are special parts of the Obama coalition to come and play in 2010. Again if you go state by state, if you talk to your candidates and their teams in the key races, a lot of them say, you know what, we're having a hard time getting people who are for him to be for Democrats. Is that a problem? Was it more of an Obama movement than a Democratic movement?

KAINE: Well what we know is this, that this huge group of first time voters, 15 million who registered to vote in the presidential election very strongly supportive of the president in all of the states. We know that they supported the president and that they still do. But we also know that their traditional turnout in a nonpresidential year would be low. We'll never get them to turn out -- in fact, nobody will turn out at the presidential level in a nonpresidential year. But if we can communicate with them in ways to make that between the president and his policies and these candidates and increase their turnout by say 10 percent over a baseline that can be hugely important in these races. It is the case that the candidates themselves may not be able to do this just on their own. They can reach out to the regular voters who will always turn out in midterm elections and energize them and we'll help with that obviously. But we do think at that president and his team, us here at the DNC, we have a unique ability to communicate with those Obama surge voters and then make a match between the voters and the candidates.

KING: I spent a lot of time in this building in '93 and '94 when David Wilhelm was the chairman and he said he was pretty comfortable with this plan and they got washed out in a way. If you look at the map now, how does Tim Kaine feel about being the chairman of a party when where many say you've already lost Ted Kennedy's seat. If you look at the map, Joe Biden's seat in Delaware right now leans Republican. Barack Obama's seat in Illinois right now leans Republican. We could go on and on. How do you look at this map personally as the chairman of the party and say, do I want to be the guy who wakes up in November and be the chairman of the party when that happens?

KAINE: Well, the president and I talked about this in December of '08 when he asked me to lead the party and he said you know what, it could be a very difficult midterm. Just the history of midterms, as you know John, since Teddy Roosevelt, the average is you lose 24 house seats, you lose four senate seats, you lose governors' races. That's the average. And we're not living in average times. The reason I said yes with enthusiasm is because I want to help the president be successful. I want to help him achieve the agenda that he campaigned on and the American public said we want you to do it.

KING: How do you define success? Beating the averages? KAINE: Here's the way I define success. I want to hold on to majorities in both houses. I think if we play our cards right, we can hold on to strong majorities in both houses. That's the way -- I haven't put a number on it. We're going to produce majorities for the president. And if we do this plan right that we've laid out, it will be a strong majority so he can continue to govern and do the big, tough challenging things that Americans elected him to do.

KING: Up next, today's most important person you don't know. He's making sure America's wounded warriors aren't forgotten.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We define, and I mean this in the literal sense, you define who we are as a country. You're the heart, you're the soul and the spine, the spine of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This morning, Vice President Biden signaled the start of the fourth annual wounded warrior ride. 28 service members who despite various injuries are covering the 70-plus miles from the white house up to Baltimore, Maryland and then Annapolis Maryland under their own power.

And that brings us to today's most important person you don't know. Lieutenant Colonel Danny is in charge of the military's warrior transition battalion at Fort Lewis Washington. It's one of many, a response to the scandal over how our country treated its returning wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan. I met Colonel Dudek last year, he walks with braces because his legs were paralyzed in 2007 by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He told me that his unit cares for 500, up to 600 troops but also represents an important change in the military's own thinking. Despite their physical injuries, wounded warriors are worth keeping.

LT. COL. DANNY DUDEK: I can't imagine not being a soldier. I think I'll always be a soldier. Taking the uniform off is something I dread. I really want to be a soldier and have the uniform on until they make me take it off.

KING: Just a remarkable guy. Let's continue our conversation here. Torie Clarke, among other things the Bush pentagon spokesman back with us, Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona. Torie, you went through this in the early days of the Iraq war and the country started to learn. These guys in the years past would have been killed by the IEDs, the roadside bombs a lot of them have traumatic brain injuries but they are survivors and they are fighters and the country needs to figure out how to treat them right.

TORIE CLARKE, SENIOR ADVISER, COMCAST CORPORATION: They're fighters and patriots, I would go to my grave feeling I'm lucky to have worked with them and for them for even just a few years because their dedication is amazing. And step back and be really practical about this. They're highly trained. We've made a big investment in them. Finding ways to make them contributing members is really, really important. Caring for them, absolutely, giving them the best possible care but finding ways, as he just said, allowing them to continue to contribute.

KING: Just amazing he's turned that unit around. Let's turn to other stories on the radar. I want to begin with this agreement. After all this finger-pointing, days of finger-pointing, Republicans saying the Democrats were evil. The Democrats saying the Republicans are evil. By unanimous consent, not even a vote, they agreed to bring financial reform to the floor. Republicans say they go got key concessions on the do not too big to fail language, getting taxpayers off the hook for future bailouts. But the Democrats are saying after three votes Republicans bowed to the pressure and blinked. I almost want to ask to put the politics aside, that's what we do here.

CLARKE: Good luck.

KING: But is the business of the American people going to finally get done now? And will we be safer with what happened in 2008 hopefully in a few weeks?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I hope so and I think to your point of putting politics aside, I think what happened was a little bit of both. I think everybody from the beginning knew that we had to get something done. I do think that Republicans were certainly feeling the pressure after all of the horrible headlines over the last couple of days, how they're siding with Wall Street and not siding with main street and America's working and middle class families, I think that certainly helped to push them along to where they needed to be. Democrats always knew there was going to have to be some concessions here and there. They want to make sure, and the president said it today that the bill is not written by Wall Street lobbyists but for the American people who got so hurt with the financial crisis.

KING: Republicans say they got something in the negations. But was there a tipping point where the risks were too much here? The public doesn't like Wall Street right now.

CLARKE: Right or wrong, politically, what this came down, to you're either with Wall Street or against Wall Street. Those are your only two choices. A lot of Republicans looked at this and said, oh, man, we can't be with these guys right now. And that's why you saw what happened happen.

KING: Not the best deal you can get onto the vote. All right. Here's another story on the radar. President Obama was on the road. We told you yesterday he was in the heartland. Today was his second day. His stops today were in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. The idea is to help him reconnect with Main Street rural America where his approval rating is down 27 points in the past year. The mayor of Quincy, Illinois, the president's last stop of the day is an Obama supporter. Listen to what he told me earlier about the midterm election climate.

MAYOR JOHN A. SPRING (D), QUINCY, ILLINOIS: Boy, it's tough. It's just very tough. I'm a Democrat, as you obviously know, but it is a difficult climate right now because people don't feel as though there's been enough change. And it's easy for people to be, you know, kind of back seat quarterbacks, if will you.

CLARKE: You know, I hear so many people saying, gosh, this could be '94 again. It's not going about '94 again. What happened on Election Day was a big surprise. Now, everyone is saying, boy, these midterm losses can be greater than ever. Democrats are making some very smart moves politically to try to lessen that. I think every state is going to be difficult. I don't think there's a single issue or galvanizing thing that's going to drive it across the country.

KING: To her point about is Democrats making smarter decisions because they see it coming. The smartest decisions will be the toughest decisions when you get into that final 20 days and you see 30 races. And you say, you know what, we could give all of them this amount of money or tell these 20 guys and say sorry. Take that bigger pool of money and save these ten guys. Is Tim Kaine, Rahm Emanuel, President Obama are they ready to do that?

CARDONA: I think they want to make sure everybody who runs on the Democratic ticket has the strongest record to run.

KING: The question was, when necessary, are they willing to pool the money?

CARDONA: I think when necessary, they will do what needs to be done in order to assure that Democrats don't lose the majority in either house. Look, midterm elections difficult for the party news flash, of course.

KING: Let's go to another one on the radar because it illustrates this very point. An overwhelming majority of Americans right now are very sour on the economy. Take a look at the numbers from the Pew Research Center. 88 percent say the national outlook is poor or fair. Only 11 percent call it excellent or good. In that environment, Torie, if Republicans don't do great, people are going to say, hello that was a gift. We blew it.

CLARKE: Yes, it's always about the economy. It's one of the biggest factors, if not the biggest factor but there's this anti- incumbent anti-Washington streak that is across Washington, higher and lower in different places. But I think if the economy doesn't tick up in a meaningful fashion, those numbers don't change, you'll see Democrats and Republicans pay the price.

KING: Let's sneak this one in. Maria you get to go first. CNN has obtained a copy of the former first lady Laura Bush's new book. It talks about a lot of things and we'll get to it in the weeks ahead. Here's one here "Spoken from the Heart" due on book shelves May 4th. One of the most surprising passages suggests that she, her husband and several aides were perhaps poisoned in a 2007 visit to Germany for the G8 submit. She writes, "Nearly a dozen members of our delegation were stricken, even George, who started to feel sick during an early morning staff briefing. Exceedingly alarmed the Secret Service went on to full alert, combing the resort for potential poisons. Poisons?

CARDONA: That's sort of scary. I would say if it was anybody else except for Laura Bush you know they're trying to sell books, but it's Laura Bush, she's not like that, I don't think she would say something like that, or claim something like that if she didn't believe it isn't true. So I think it's a little alarming, clearly they dealt with it.

KING: You've been around the world with the secretary of defense, other VIPs how worried do they get about this stuff?

CLARKE: Clearly, they should be worried. It looks like food poisoning or something like that. But anybody else, oh, my god, she's using words -- she's a very serious responsible person.

KING: I can't wait to read the book. When we come back on, play by play, Chelsea Clinton's marching orders for her father as she gets ready for her wedding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Time for the play by play. You get the drill, just like in the sports shows. We break down the tape. Our analysts tell you who did right or wrong. We've got our behind the scenes comments. Still with us Maria Cardona and Torie Clarke. Let's start with a guy we all know very well. President Clinton was speaking today at this fiscal summit here in Washington. The goal was to bring down the big federal deficit. But the president talked about the grilling that the Goldman Sachs executives received when they were before Congress yesterday. He said something. We'll get to the something, the analysis part in a minute. That some Democrats didn't like.

FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON: These government guys were mad because they think they were targeted at this time and they think they didn't violate the law. I'm not at all sure they violated the law but I do believe there was no underlying merit to the transaction.

KING: Now, I'm not sure at all they violated the law. Remember all those questions from Democrats at the hearing yesterday, reading those e-mails about the bleeping deals and the Goldman e-mails? Well, the left got mad about this. Jane Hampshire, she's a prominent liberal activist, she tweeted this, I'm not at all sure they violated the law, what does that mean in your world? If the democrats are trying to make a point their former president pulled the rug out.

CARDONA: I think a little bit. Clearly a lot of people listen to the former president. And I do think that the S.E.C. investigation is a big deal for everybody. And it's one of the reasons why they had the hearing. It was an 11-hour hearing all about what Goldman Sachs did. So I do think that a lot of Democrats and rightly so, are a little bit upset that he might have pulled the rug out from under them.

CLARKE: Absolutely. And he's got a lot of credibility. But I have to say I spent the last several days asking so many really smart people who understand these financial matters saying what did they do and was it against the law. They go well it this and that, maybe not, probably not. If anybody actually sat through and watched that whole scene yesterday, they're absolutely convinced that nobody in Congress really understands what happened or understands lot. That's why there's an investigation.

KING: You guys have both had to clean up messes made by your candidates.

CLARKE: Small ones.

KING: I want to go across the pond. Gordon Brown, the British prime minister who is in a tough re-election campaign, had an encounter from a woman, she's from his labor party. They're talking about immigration policy. She's unhappy. She thinks there are people in the U.K. that she would prefer not be in the U.K. But he ends the conversation. He seems okay when he leaves the woman. She seems all right. The prime minister gets into his car forgetting he has an open microphone.

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Good to see you all. Thanks very much. It was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, I didn't see her.

BROWN: Sure, I think. It's just ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not sure they'll go with that.

BROWN: They'll go with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did she say?

BROWN: Ah, everything. She's just a sort of bigoted woman. It's just ridiculous.

KING: The prime minister spent some time today apologizing and apologizing and apologizing.

CLARKE: You know, and that's what he has to do. You screw up, which if you spend enough time around microphones, this is going to happen. It's amazing how often it happens. So he apologized. Here's what I love. This is a staffer's take son this. It doesn't go well. It doesn't go right, what does he do? Who set me up with that? Whose fault was that? Take some responsibility.

CARDONA: And check the mike before you say anything.

KING: Let's go back to our side of the pond, the president of the United States is not on the ballot as we noted he was out in the country, out in the Midwest. His standing has dropped down in America. Let's break down video of the president, we won't call this campaigning. We call this rope-lining. Let's let it play a little bit.

OBAMA: Good to see you.

KING: All right.

Play through to the babies. Here we go. Here we go. The cell phone is out. And stop that right there. See now, took a while. Took a few hand shakes, but that's what the president wants in the local newspaper, right?

CLARKE: Absolutely right. He's campaigning. And he happens to be very good at it. Whatever the issues, whether you agree or disagree. He's out there. You can see why people tend to go along.

CARDONA: He said the best thing going into the 2010 elections is him acting like this, talking about the issues and connecting with people.

KING: Quickly now, back to Bill Clinton. He was speaking at that forum today, he said his daughter, who is about to get married, has put him on a mission.

CLINTON: She told me the other day, dad, the only thing when you walk down the aisle, you need to look good. I said, what's your definition? She said, oh, about 15 pounds.

KING: Let's stop right there. 15 pounds. He said he's halfway home.

CLARKE: I bet he is. It's amazing how often he talks about the wedding. I've heard him talk more about it than secretary of state or Chelsea Clinton. I hope he can let Chelsea be the star of the day.

CARDONA: It's a big deal. I have a 3-year-old daughter, already I have visions of when they're going to be married. It freaks me out, one day they're babies and then another day, they're married.

KING: I tell my 13 year old wait 20 years. Torie thanks. We will be back in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Time for our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick. You know if Congress can grill Goldman, Pete can grill you about your money.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Yeah, well, the president and the debt commission trying to cut spending and raise revenue. I went on the street and asked people how they try to do that in their personal life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: What should you not have bought or spent money on that you did?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably moving to New York City in December. I moved with my fiance, so that helped.

He's doing very well, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's in grad school.

You guys are finished. I'm sitting here saying you're doing well but still you cut sleeves, sir. Seems like you're cutting back on sleeves.

What are you doing for a living? You're doing well?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a caterer.

A caterer? Are times tough for your business?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, people are eating.

People are eating a lot.

Investments, stocks?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give me a heart attack over managing stocks anytime.

They say about taxing financial trades, that's a good idea, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What it's going to do is force more and more people to do barter transactions.

Barter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll cut your hair if you clean my kid's teeth.

That's a bad analogy for me. Is there anything you want to change?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sending money to my kids.

Because of that, do you watch what user spending to give to them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm retired and well enough off so that I can afford to send them money.

Will you adopt me?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Me, John, I just wear the same jeans every single day you'll notice.

KING: If you change them we'll adopt you but not until then. That's all for us tonight. Pete, thanks and thank you for watching. Campbell Brown starts right now. John Roberts filling in.