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JOHN KING, USA

Big Primaries; Strange Year; "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Aired May 11, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. You know politics is a funny business, funny strange. A year ago Arlen Specter was a Republican. He voted against Elena Kagan, the president's new Supreme Court nominee back when she was up for her current job as solicitor general. He voted for the Bush tax cuts and backed John McCain for president in 2008. But turn on a TV in Pennsylvania tonight and marvel at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love you and I love Arlen Specter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is more a marriage of convenience than love for both men. And it is exhibit "A" heading into a remarkable week in politics. One week from today primaries in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Arkansas will help us better understand just how restless voters are on the left and the right.

We'll begin tonight on the left. And with two outspoken voices who are not afraid to question the president or challenge the conventional wisdom. Joining me in New York radio host Amy Goodman from Democracy Now and in Washington CNN contributor Paul Begala, a veteran of the Clinton presidency and no stranger to tough races in Pennsylvania where Republican turned Democrat Arlen Specter is in trouble.

Let's start there as we try to capture, Amy and Paul, some of the frustration on the left and first another quick sampling of the TV ads here. It's a rough-and-tumble race. Here's a snippet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I want to say a few things about Arlen Specter. He came to fight for the working men and women of Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My change in party will enable me to be reelected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Arlen Specter switched parties to save one job, his, not yours.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Amy, let me begin with you. As somebody who speaks forcefully for the left does it offend you that the president is helping Republican turned Democrat Arlen Specter after all those votes against Democratic priorities?

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, DEMOCRACYNOW.ORG: Well, I mean I think it's very clear when you look at Pennsylvania, when you look at various states in these primaries that you have these insurgents, people who no longer represent the establishment but probably represent the majority of people. And we're talking about Democratic challengers who don't accept what -- well, here you have a Republican who opportunistically moved to the Democratic Party but really doesn't represent the traditional Democratic agenda.

KING: And Paul, Amy used the word opportunistic. In a year when people are anti-incumbent, anti-establishment maybe looking for authenticity does Congressman Sestak, Joe Sestak, a former admiral challenging Senator Specter in the primary essentially saying this guy is a phony. Is that a better sale?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He's not I think so much saying he's a phony as he's saying he's been a Republican for 36 years. I mean the debate they had, Admiral Sestak, Congressman Sestak now just kept hammering Senator Specter on the Bush tax cuts. You would have thought Bush was still on the ballot.

And I didn't think Senator Specter responded as forcefully. If I had been advising him, I'd say every time you hear Sestak say Bush you need to answer with Obama because Obama is cutting ads for Arlen Specter. But this is -- I think he's in a ton of trouble in Pennsylvania, Senator Specter is and I think that Barack Obama has to do this. He's the leader of a church as it were that needs to seek out converts, right, not hunt down heretics, but it doesn't mean that the rank and file in the party are going to follow Barack Obama just because he says Arlen Specter is a great guy.

KING: I want to stay on this point, Amy, because in the next block we're going to talk with some people on the right about this idea. Is it about converts and heretics? Is there a purity effort going on in the Republican Party, but in the Democratic Party let's look quickly at first the polling. One poll recently in the morning call tracking poll shows Sestak actually pulling ahead now 47 to 43 percent. He was down just a couple of weeks ago. Other polls have shown Senator Specter ahead.

So this is clearly a very tough race going into the end. And one of the pressures on senator Specter is he voted against Elena Kagan, now the Supreme Court choice when she was up for solicitor general and Sestak is pressuring him saying are you going to vote against her again? Are you going to vote against her again? Why don't you announce now?

Dana Bash talked to Senator Specter today and he said he would not be bullied. He's going to wait for the confirmation hearings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: People would not expect me to make a knee jerk reaction before I know the facts and the issues and have an opportunity to make a formulated, considered judgment. And that is exactly what I will do, as I always do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, Amy, does that position which is consistent with his record hurt again when the question is are you a real Democrat?

GOODMAN: Well I mean, I think the question of are you a real Democrat on someone like Elena Kagan is not so clear-cut. There are a lot of people -- progressives around the country who are deeply concerned about her not having an established record, who are concerned about what it is, how exactly she would cast her vote, make decisions when it comes to issues of expanded executive privilege and issues like that. So I don't think that really is the testing ground for whether someone is a real Democrat whether they would support the solicitor general.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Amy, can I ask you could Specter get away with saying I was against Elena Kagan for solicitor general because she was too conservative? I don't think anybody is going to buy that in Pennsylvania, right? They're going to say --

GOODMAN: Well no, right --

BEGALA: -- no you were against her because you used to be a Republican, right?

KING: But on that point Amy raises some doubts on the left about Elena Kagan. There are other questions of the left, which is one of the reasons we're all asking will there be turnout this year? Will there be people just at home. Here are some of the other complaints from the left. No public option in the health care plan even though you have a Democratic president and big Democratic majorities in the Congress.

A lot of people on the left don't like the fact that the president is adding troops in Afghanistan. A lot on the left are furious he hasn't moved more quickly to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" banning gays from serving openly in the military and we see Latinos and others on the left saying hey what about that promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Paul, you were in the Clinton White House and on the Clinton team back in 1994 when the left was mad. How does that list of complaints add up when it comes to turnout, enthusiasm, fund raising, energy?

BEGALA: Bill Clinton became president through a nominating process where he was the more moderate guy in the field, right. Barack Obama became president by being the more liberal guy in the field beating Hillary from the left and beating the rest of the candidates mostly from the left. Add to that list that he's taxing health care benefits which is anathema to (INAUDIBLE) members and lots of Democrats that he approves offshore oil drilling and just days before that rig blew he actually said oh these rigs never -- they're very safe actually.

Something if Bush had said people like me would be killing him for saying now. So President Obama has I think done a great job of holding the left in his camp even as he's moved away from them on so many issues, but right now they're not in revolt in his party the way Republicans are on the right.

KING: So how does it play out nationally? I want to show you some polling here. How are things going in the country right now? Those who say things are going badly 50 percent of liberals think things are going badly even though they have a Democratic president and Democratic majorities in Congress. Moderates are at 66 percent say it's going badly and obviously conservatives the wrong track or things are going badly much more higher.

But if half of the liberals, half of the most supportive base of the Democratic party think that things are going wrong in the country right now, Amy, what does that spell in a midterm election year?

GOODMAN: I mean I think it should be a real warning to President Obama. I mean this issue of expanding the war in Afghanistan, the issue, my gosh, of offshore drilling and expanding that -- I don't think President Bush could have gotten away with that. But people are really fed up. I mean you have not just environmentalists who are completely opposed to the granting of permits to -- for offshore drilling.

But now you have people across the political spectrum. I think President Obama has to really take a hard look at what he is representing today, not to mention the issue of health care, having really taken the issue of single payer of Medicare for all off the table. People across this country are suffering a great deal right now. And I think President Obama has to re-evaluate what exactly -- what is the platform that he represents.

KING: And I want to quickly get in one more race. In Arkansas, you have a Democratic incumbent Blanche Lincoln, she's the chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, but she is being attacked not only from a more liberal opponent but from labor unions. Listen to a snippet of the advertising there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess Blanche Lincoln sided with the big insurance companies because they can afford big campaign contributions. We need a senator that's going to truly stand up for what the working people need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you listen to Bill Halter in his TV ad you'll notice he never denies outsourcing American jobs to India just like he won't tell us what he promised the AFL-CIO.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: So Paul, if you see this playing out in the primaries, unions running ads against Democrats, Democrats responding by attacking candidates who side with the unions, someone is going to win that primary. What happens then? Arkansas is a tough state for a Democrat any time -- anywhere this year, but if that happens across the country in a number of places what happens if you're having these civil feuds in the party, family feuds, then how do you come out of the primary and have any chance of winning in an already tough year?

BEGALA: That's right. It's hard enough in Pennsylvania, which is a pretty blue state. Not totally, but pretty blue state. Arkansas is a very red state. Barack Obama did not run well in Arkansas. And it spells real trouble. If -- it's got to be the top of the Republicans' list for pickups. If it's a tie race right now in the primary, but looks like what you may have happen because of this primary fight is you perhaps replace a conservative Democrat, Blanche Lincoln with a conservative Republican who beats either her or Bill Halter in the fall which Democrats can't afford.

KING: All right, those primaries are one week from tonight. We'll continue this conversation (INAUDIBLE). Amy Goodman thanks. Paul Begala thanks as well. That's from the left. When we come back we'll deal with the right.

Also still much more ahead in the program on other issues as well. Among the topics still to come the most important person or tonight people you don't know. There's a committee at the Pentagon, they're charged with asking American military men and women what do you think about gays serving openly in the military. Once they tell the answers the defense secretary will decide how quickly to proceed.

When we go "Wall-to-Wall" tonight the defense secretary will join us. We'll be tracking terror with Bob Gates, the defense secretary as our guide with the challenges all around the world -- quite candid conversation with him.

And in "Play-by-Play" tonight you might call this the president's mixed message about iPods. He gave one to the queen of England -- remember as a gift -- but he's telling young college graduates they're dangerous.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: From tensions on the left to a crackling debate about just how far right Republicans need to go to get the grand old party back on track and back in power. Ed Rollins helped Ronald Reagan spark a Republican resurgence 30 years, but he's also tested the third party route as a top adviser to Ross Perot back in 1992. Erick Erickson is stirring the pot in this year's campaign using his post as editor of the conservative RedState.com to challenge the party establishment and encourage conservative challengers like Marco Rubio in Florida and the forces that just helped topple an incumbent Republican senator in Utah.

Erick, let's start the conversation and Ed with your next target which is Kentucky. The primary is one week from tonight. The Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has endorsed Trey Grayson in that race and Trey Grayson makes note of that support and other conservatives in one of his ads. Let's take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm proud that my conservative record has won the support of Mitch McConnell and so many others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You see Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, Rick Santorum in that ad, but the candidate you prefer and Sarah Palin prefers, Jim Bunning, the Christian conservative leader James Dobson, Senator Jim DeMint, the conservative people who are challenging the establishment is Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul, the libertarian and Republican presidential candidate. Listen to one of his ads where he is going after the establishment head-on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disastrous bailouts, busted budgets, the health care takeover, big government is out of control. With Trey Grayson in Washington, it won't stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What happens to the party if Trey Grayson wins this primary?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, well, you know if Trey Grayson wins nothing much happens. It will be status quo. I like Rand Paul. I like the way he's shaking things up. I gave him a campaign contribution today. I hope that he's able to pull this off and I think he will in Kentucky.

They had a debate last night in Kentucky that sums up the entire race where Trey Grayson attacked Rand Paul's opposition to earmarks. With Grayson like it is with Mitch McConnell, like it was with Bob Bennett with too many. It's all about bringing home the bacon. They're never willing to compromise in favor of smaller government. It's always bigger government and bigger government lately has come through earmarks.

KING: Ed, healthy democracy to have this debate or like the conversation we just had with the Democrats, is there a point or a line where if you bruise up the other guy too much you hurt the party?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well it's important to repair -- this is a state we can lose. We now hold a seat. And Unlike Arkansas where I think we're going to win and unlike Pennsylvania where I think we have an excellent chance of winning this is a state that will be a real target of Democrats. So it's very important that whoever wins this -- and I'm not going to predict at this point in time because I don't think I can -- but they both come out of this, they join back together again and they go forward because Kentucky is a swing state. KING: Let's look at some of the complaints from the right. I'll put them up so our viewers can understand them. A lot of conservatives complain not just about the Obama administration. Their complaints go back to the Bush administration. They say deficit spending has been a problem, that the federal government has not done enough to deal with the illegal immigration problem, securing the borders.

They complain as you did in the race against Senator Bob Bennett against anyone who voted for TARP, the financial Wall Street bailout program and also of course more recently in the Obama administration they complain about the reach of government and the price tag of the health care reform plan. Ed, you've been through this before where the Republicans have been the party in power and then the party out of power. Is this what you're seeing now -- is it about the script you would write for a party out of power that's mad at the last guys from the Republican party who were in Washington and of course is more mad at the Democrats who took their place?

ROLLINS: Well I think we have to prove that we can be the fiscal party again. We lost that battle and it was our great mantra for a long time. And So I think that's a lot of the debate today as these deficits becoming runaway deficits. The critical thing here is the conservative values. Being an opposition party, which is what we are, demands a loyalty and I think that we've moved forward and got back in the game by being a party that has opposed Obama and opposed Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid on almost every front.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But is it healthy? We talked about this a little bit the other day. Is it opposing Obama and Pelosi I guess fine for all Republicans but what about opposing your friend Bob Bennett? Are some Republicans in your view putting purity over pragmatism?

ROLLINS: Well I think Bob Bennett was an extraordinary man as I told you last night. I mean I think he served and served very ably and would always be viewed as a conservative. I think that TARP vote -- I think it's a different environment today. I think it goes to the Kagan vote.

I think any Republicans who may like traditionally vote for someone of Kagan's qualifications as a throwaway vote are going to think very hard and fast in this environment. This is a different -- I've been in this business for four decade. I've never seen an environment like this one.

KING: And to that point, Erick, is any Republican who votes for Elena Kagan does that put you on the black list?

ERICKSON: If their name is Orrin Hatch it probably will; a few others out there as well. You know the problem with this and the reason we're having this debate and this fight, intra-party fight, is because it's really hard for conservative activists outside of Washington these days to really understand what the Republican Party represents. It used to be about smaller government, limited government, traditional values and more and more you see Republicans relying on earmarks as a gateway drug as Tom Coburn calls them for bigger government --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Well let me jump in at this point --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I don't mean to be rude but let me jump in at this point --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Because you've seen this in many races and yet out in the state of California, Sarah Palin and now Rick Santorum --

ERICKSON: Right.

KING: -- two very conservative voices coming to the aid of Carly Fiorina, who is not the most conservative in the race --

ERICKSON: Right.

KING: -- to run up against Barbara Boxer, so what's happening there, Erick? If it has been purity over pragmatism in most of the country what's happening out there?

ERICKSON: See I don't think it has been purity over pragmatism. I think it's been everywhere that where the right can win, the right should win. Where the Republican Party can go right, it should like in Florida. Scott Brown was a compromise in Massachusetts. There was no further right than him. In California you have Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore who I'm supporting and Tom Campbell and there are a lot of Republicans who feel like Chuck DeVore with four weeks left hasn't been able to surge and it's every -- anybody but Campbell and if Carly Fiorina is the one to get rid of Campbell, if -- look, if Chuck DeVore hasn't gone up in the polls within two weeks significantly I'll be with Carly Fiorina because Tom Campbell that's bad.

KING: Quickly, Ed, you know California very well. Can any Republican win that race?

ROLLINS: Yes, you can. I ran the race against Barbara Boxer last time with a great candidate with no money and we stayed close to the end. We got badly outspent. Boxer is vulnerable with a good candidate. And we'll see who emerges here. We can beat her. That's a race that's --

ERICKSON: We can.

ROLLINS: It's way down the list in the sense there are seven or eight that are more important to us that we're sure of winning, but that's one that we certainly have to watch and I think it would be a gigantic win if we got -- beat Boxer.

KING: We'll end on that point of agreement between Ed Rollins and Erick Erickson. Gentlemen, thank you. We'll see you again.

Next the most important people you don't know. They're asking and want service members to tell them what they think about gays in the military.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A group of veterans came to Capitol Hill today. They're among those pushing the Congress to move quickly to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the United States military. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he needs several months to survey the troops and says moving quickly is the wrong approach here. Well stupid is his word for it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I've led several huge public institutions and I've led change in every one of them. And there's a smart way to do change and there's a stupid way to do change. This one has to be done smart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Which brings us to today's most important person or in this case people you don't know. The three person panel Secretary Gates appointed to sound out service members on the potential impact. Army General Carter Ham worked his way up from enlisted infantryman to the Army's commanding general in Europe. Jeh Johnson is the legal guy, a former federal prosecutor and New York trial lawyer. He's the Defense Department's chief legal officer. Clifford Stanley, South Carolina State Bulldog and retired Marine General who is the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

They're asking -- they want people to tell them how this change might go over. Let's bring into the conversation our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Secretary Gates also said in that interview that if Congress went ahead with this before he was ready that it would send a very negative signal to the troops and in his view dramatically undermine morale. How's that selling among the big players on the Hill?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know I bumped into the Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin in the hallway in the Capitol today and I asked him about this. And he was a bit exercised is probably the best way to put it. He said wait a minute, Secretary Gates has said it's not whether this is going to happen repealing "don't ask, don't tell." It's when, so why shouldn't Congress go ahead and do it? I'll read you some of what Senator Levin told me.

He said he, "Secretary Gates, has favored the repeal and reached that conclusion prior to receiving the report -- meaning the military review. There is no reason why we can't reach the same conclusion he has that we ought to repeal."

KING: And so then if -- if he says, sorry Mr. Secretary, then what's their game plan, their timetable?

BASH: Well what Senator Levin also said is that the legislation that they would craft would actually explicatively say that the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal would not go into effect until 90 days after the military review that Secretary Gates is under going through now goes into effect. But there's a big but here.

The "but" is that Senator Levin says it's not clear whether they will go ahead in the Senate with this until they know that they have the votes. And I talked to Democratic sources just before coming on the show who said it's really unclear whether the votes are there especially -- interesting -- especially given the warning that Secretary Gates gave to you on this very program last night saying, Congress, don't do it.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) votes now. We'll see if they would have them after the election. Dana Bash thanks for coming.

A lot more still to come tonight. I'll go "Wall-to-Wall" tracking terror as Defense Secretary Robert Gates explains the global challenges facing the United States and among the items on my "Radar" an e-mail from Bill Clinton and a billboard that you might call a sign of the times.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight a look at some global challenges with the help of the Defense Secretary Robert Gates. First I want to show you some video that came out of Iran yesterday -- some student protesters -- the video is a little shaky but just watch and it comes up -- protests outside a building where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president was speaking. Now we haven't seen much of this.

Remember a few months back around the Iranian elections there was a great deal of scenes like this and violence in the street. Questions at the time about whether the students and others in the opposition would be able to effect change in the government. In my conversation with Secretary Gates the other day I said since we've seen so much less of this was that a sign to him that the regime had somehow managed to stifle the opposition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Should there be a conversation for months and months more about trying to fine tune them or should there be a decision as soon as possible on let's get the best package of sanctions we can get, let's put it in place, maybe it's not perfect but it's now.

GATES: Well my personal view is the latter because I think that if we can get the resolution -- first of all, the value -- the principal value of these resolutions is that they isolate Iran. And if it didn't matter for Iran then I don't think they'd be working as hard as they are around the world to try and prevent this resolution from being passed. So it has a great political impact.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The secretary there saying in his view sanctions now are better than a better package of sanctions down the road if it takes months more. He also said he did believe the regime had been able to squelch much of the opposition although he said underground there was still great dissent with the Iranian government. That was his view on Iran. What about in Iraq? We've seen the post election discord, the inability to form a new government so far, also have seen a great deal of violence in recent days. Does that mean the United States, which has 96,000 troops in Iraq now won't be able to meet that hard deadline of getting down to 50,000 by the end of August? Not in the view of the defense secretary.

GATES: Well you know Pentagon plans for everything. But our intent, our policy direction, and our plans are all to be down to 50,000 on -- in August as the president has directed and as we've told the Iraqis. And right now there's nothing on the table that tells us that we are not going to be able to make that.

KING: Keep an eye on that one in the weeks ahead. Right now he says they have contingencies but they believe they'll make it. President Karzai of Afghanistan is in the United States right now. One of the things he wants to do after the high level meetings when he gets home is to have the tribal jurga, conversations with tribal leaders all around Afghanistan. He's trying to recruit Taliban leaders into his government to get rid of the violent opposition, convince them to join the governing party. Many in the United States would like him to take a few more weeks to wait. They want the U.S. military operation to gain steam first. Let's listen to the secretary's views on that.

GATES: I think that's up to President Karzai. I think our view certainly is that any negotiations need -- efforts at reconciliation need to be from a position of strength. We think that we are in the process of blunting the momentum that the Taliban had in Afghanistan and beginning to reverse that momentum. I think with each passing day, the position of the Afghan government becomes stronger in terms of bowing able to conduct those negotiations.

KING: Is it fair to extrapolate from that if you had a couple more months, that President Karzai would be in a much stronger position than he might be in a couple of weeks?

GATES: I think over time he will be in an increasingly strong position. But that doesn't mean he can't start having consultations and doing the kinds of things that I have the impression he's trying to do with the peace jurga.

KING: Where do you join the line with the level of Taliban you're comfortable with him talking to about reconciliation? Could you imagine a conversation with Mullah Omar, someone that level?

GATES: Speaking personally I think that conversation with Mullah Omar would be pretty tough. But I think that -- that's certainly from my personal standpoint, that's kind of the list.

KING: Note the wry smile there. The secretary doesn't think that will happen. Let's fly home because one of the fascinating conversations whenever the Obama administration is trying to put out a united front on national security who are the president's messengers? Secretary of state Hillary Clinton, remember, she was the toughest opponent in the Democratic primaries and defense secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Republican Bush administration. I asked him did he think that that was odd to have such an odd couple.

GATES: Secretary Clinton and I have a great working relationship. And I think we see eye to eye on a lot of big issues. And, frankly, I think that -- I think the president has assembled a god team and I think the word team needs to be underscored because it's Jim Jones and it's people like Stephen Chu at energy and so on. I think it is a good team. And I enjoy working with Secretary Clinton.

KING: You don't find that at all odd? Given the history of both of you?

GATES: I find my own situation to be a little odd. Just in terms of it's -- although I think there is value in sitting in the situation room and to be able to say we tried that in 2007 and it didn't work then and it's probably not going to work now. Or we should have tried it in 2007 but now maybe it will work. So I think maybe in that respect, having some continuity brings some value.

KING: Also part of our conversation, the defense secretary opening a little wiggle room. First he said he would leave at the end of the year. Now look for the possibility he might stay on a bit longer.

Next in radar what Senator Robert Bennett says is like going to your own funeral.

And in the "play-by-play" Arnold Schwarzenegger's new one-liners about Arizona and the Kennedy family.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Vice President Joe Biden's 41-year-old son Delaware attorney general Beau Biden is in a Philadelphia hospital tonight after suffering a mild stroke. Doctors say he's fully alert, in good spirits and has full motor and speech skills. They expect him to make a complete recovery and we certainly wish him the best.

Now let's run through some stories on my radar tonight and get expert perspective. With us to help Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher along with former Bush-Cheney campaign adviser Robert Traynham who's now Washington bureau chief for the Comcast Network. Let's begin here. The interior secretary Ken Salazar just a short time ago on CNN's "SITUATION ROOM" gave Wolf Blitzer his best and worst case scenarios for cleaning up the gulf oil spill.

KEN SALAZAR, INTERIOR SECRETARY: The best case it starts coming into some kind of containment over the weekend and into next week and the next couple of weeks. Worst case is you're looking at August and a relief well. KING: Looking at August.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, BUSH-CHENEY '04 CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Not good. It's not good at all. It's not good politically. It's not good environmentally and it's also not good from a crisis communication standpoint. The Obama administration is really in free fall right now just from a messaging standpoint because they can't control the story. The reason why they can't control the story is because BP can't control the oil leak bottom line.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I wouldn't say the Obama administration. Of course I wouldn't say they're in free fall. The president acted quickly and decisively. This is like being on the moon compared to what we're trying to figure out. We're trying to hold BP accountable but this is a tough process and something we haven't done before. Let's hope and pray for those families that this stuff doesn't go onshore.

KING: Everyone on Hillary Clinton's e-mail list which means Cornell, maybe, Robert maybe not got a new e-mail in their inboxes. She's looking for help paying off a big presidential campaign debt, $771,000 still left. The contribution enters you in a drawing for a fabulous prize described by former President Bill Clinton. How would you like the chance to come up to New York and spend a day with me? I'll forward you the e-mail.

TRAYNHAM: That's okay. Bottom line she has almost a million dollars worth of campaign debt. As secretary of state she legally and ethically can't raise the money herself. Who wouldn't want to spend a day with Bill Clinton up in New York, go to Harlem and have soul food.

BELCHER: Here's the thing. I saw that and I'm going to actually donate. It was a hard-fought campaign, tough. And I'm trying to think are all my Obama for America invoices paid off. I think they are. But campaigns are becoming way too expensive. That was one of the most expensive in history. We got to lock how we reel this in as how regular people can afford to run. I think when Hillary Clinton and the Clintons are having a hard time putting together money to run a campaign we got a real problem with campaign financing.

TRAYNHAM: What I find interesting about this whole story is remember when the whole primary battle finally came to a close in 2008, Barack Obama said I want to retire Hillary's debt. I want to send an e-mail. I think Hillary folks even back then and now are upset they didn't do enough.

BELCHER: But he did.

TRAYNHAM: Didn't do enough to close that.

KING: You think her debt is a sign of the times. How about this as a sign of the times in Buffalo, New York. This billboard take a lock. It's a message to President Obama. Part of a campaign put together on YouTube by some Buffalo State college students and a guy who lost his small business 15 months ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need a freakin' job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need a freakin' job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need a freakin' job.

KING: Not necessarily family friendly but not un-family friendly language but they make their point.

TRAYNHAM: 9.9 unemployment rate. There are millions of people out there that are unemployed. They're being very creative. Good for them.

BELCHER: Here's the thing. Here's the good news. What the Obama administration did do is beginning to turn this economy around. We have the best jobs numbers we've even in four years a couple weeks back and things are moving in the right direction. He does need a freakin' job but help is coming.

TRAYNHAM: That's a bunch of Democratic talking points. Bottom line --

BELCHER: 290,000 new jobs.

TRAYNHAM: We are recovering out of this economy but -- out of the recession but it's still a jobless recovery.

BELCHER: Yeah but things are beginning to turn around. Instead of losing 700,000 we gain jobs.

KING: Let's close radar with a guy about to lose his job unless he tries something a little different. Senator Robert Bennett says he hasn't decided whether to wage a writing campaign for a fourth term. Utah Republicans refused to re-nominate him over the weekend. He was back on Capitol Hill today and got a standing ovation. After he described it like going to your own funeral but still being alive.

TRAYNHAM: He said it best. Bottom line is that he's worked very, very hard. Got elected in 1992 --

KING: You used to work with a Republican up on the hill. What the club is like?

TRAYNHAM: Very exclusive. It's a fraternity, no question about it. It's close. And he feels like he put his heart and soul into this. And the tea party movement, the conservative movement back in Utah are not giving him enough credit for standing up against the Obama administration. But even more importantly for standing up for them. Senator Bennett doesn't believe he's done enough.

BELCHER: Here is the amazing part. Do you know what his crime was? His crime was reaching across and trying to be bipartisan and work with Democrats on some issues. That was his crime. Most Americans actually want bipartisanship but only to the tea partiers is being bipartisan a crime.

TRAYNHAM: That's not the case. If you take a look at Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas and some of conservative Democrats they have the same problem, it's just reversed. Complete that sentence. That's true.

BELCHER: It's not even close. The tea party is eating away the moderate sort of middle of the ground road --

TRAYNHAM: Moveon.org back in 2004 and '05.

BELCHER: Moveon.org doesn't have success. The brightest star probably in the Republican sort of -- among Republicans -- this guy is going to be a Republican figure. He was killed dead by the tea parties. You know why? Because he was a moderate. Right now, now you're throwing that Senate seat into chaos because now Kendrick has a chance.

KING: Coach is calling a time-out. We have to save time for the "play-by-play." When we come back Governor Schwarzenegger tries out new one-liners on college students.

Later, you won't want to miss this, our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick is looking back at your high school dreams.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: In high school did you know what you wanted to be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to be an actor.

DOMINICK: What did you end up doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in real estate.

DOMINICK: Any evidence you were act back in high school?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You get the drill. We break down the tapes. Some of it serious, some of it not so serious and dice it over. Robert Traynham still with us and Cornell Belcher still with us. Republican Robert, Democrat Cornell. Let's go first, we talked a bit in the last segment about BP and the public relations challenge both for the administration and the company. The executives from all of the companies involved were on Capitol Hill today. Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell questioning Mr. McKay here of BP about this question. Who's going to pay?

MR. MCKAY, PRESIDENT, BP AMERICA: Obviously we can't keep from being sued. But, yes, we have said exactly what we mean. We're going to pay the legitimate claims.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL (D), WASHINGTON: So if it's a legitimate claim, a harm to the fishing industry both short term and long term you're going to pay?

MCKAY: We're going to pay all legitimate claims.

CANTWELL: If it's an impact for business loss from tourism, you're going to pay?

MCKAY: We're going to pay all legitimate claims.

KING: Before we get to the conversation let's stop that. Pop up this wide picture right behind the BP official who is testifying and there you have, spill baby spill. BP equals bad people. It's not just a public relations challenge for the president. This is a company that want from British Petroleum to beyond petroleum to in they eyes of that one protester bad people.

BELCHER: They need to hire this guy because right now they're in a really tough spot. Look right underneath bankers were the oil men on the low totem pole in America. This is bad for the industry. It's bad for BP but good for Cantwell for drilling this guy, no pun intended.

TRAYNHAM: I don't disagree. If you listen to what he says, legitimate claims. They recognize this is a legal issue and PR issue. They have to step up to the plate. There's no question about it.

KING: One of the things you guys do in all your campaigns and all your advice is you tell the politician or whoever you're advising no mixed message. Keep it consistent. We're going to go through a little politics CSI. Here's the president of the United States speaking at a commencement at Hampton University this past weekend talking about technology.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: With iPods and iPads and xBoxs and Playstations, none of which I know how to work, information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation. So all of this is not only putting pressure on you. It's putting new pressure on our country and on our democracy.

KING: So here is the question. Do you think he told the queen of England when he gave her iPad that it was tool of distraction or diversion or something like that?

TRAYNHAM: I'm confused this is a president who carries a blackberry. This is a president that follows the script of a teleprompter. I'm a little bit confused.

KING: And, hang on one sec. It's a president who has raised this issue before in a very different context. Here is an ad against John McCain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 1982. John McCain goes to Washington. Things have changed in the last 26 years. But McCain hasn't. He admits he still doesn't know how to use a computer, can't send an e- mail after one president who is out of touch, we just can't afford more of the same.

BELCHER: And I actually remember that ad. First of all, let me say, this whole set is one big iPad to me.

TRAYNHAM: That's true.

BELCHER: But the point he was trying to drive, and drove it effectively is that John McCain was certainly was out of touch. Part of that speech was also about responsibility which is a riff that the president does about what is your responsibility in technology and all that that's the best thing you're going to get out of me on this.

KING: I'm going to hold this up here. This is Rolling Stone Magazine back in the campaign 2008, a conversation with Barack Obama. Interview with Jan Winner. He says I've got probably 30 Dylan songs on my iPod.

What are you listening to now?

Everything from Sheryl Crow to Jay-Z. He is trying to keep the students from coming out of school and their iPod running against them.

TRAYNHAM: We'll leave that alone.

BELCHER: Shout out to the real Hampton. I'm from that area.

KING: A little bit of mixed message. We'll see if maybe the president will update his play list. Maybe he puts his commencement address on his iPod. We'll move on to a guy who will no longer be governor in a few months. His term is running out in California. He would love to be president, but he can't because he was not born in the United States. Maybe for Arnold Schwarzenegger, the key is to go on the stand-up routine. Here is the Governorinator giving a commencement speech at Emory University talking about that immigration law in Arizona.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), ARIZONA: I was also to go and give a commencement speech in Arizona, but with my accent, I was worried they were going to deport me back to Austria.

KING: Now that's a joke about a conservative immigration law. He also has a joke about a liberal family.

SCHWARZENEGGER: It's my first law degree. And finally, finally, the Kennedys will think that I am successful. And finally, Maria can take me home to meet her family. Finally.

KING: You know, I don't know if it's good form or not, but he likes his own jokes. You can see there.

TRAYNHAM: Two things. When he leaves the governor's mansion, there are two things he should do. First, he should host "Saturday Night Live." I think he should do that. And second he should guest host your show.

KING: He's a little younger than Betty White.

BELCHER: I think he should do "Saturday Night Live" and here is my joke. When the terminator is afraid of that law, it's a pretty good law.

KING: Guest host this show?

TRAYNHAM: I think so. But he has to do it with an iPad. Look. You got it down pat there is no question this is your show, you invented the whole touch thing. But give the Governinator a point.

KING: Put his hand through the magic wall. We'll see. All right. He'll be back. Cornell, Robert, thank you so much.

Do you remember what you wanted to be when you grow up, or as I say, if I grow up, did it come true? Our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick finds out. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: John Roberts is filling in for Campbell Brown tonight. Let's head up to New York and get a sense of what is coming up at the top of the hour. Hi John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi John. Interior secretary Ken Salazar is going to join us tonight on the cleanup efforts in the gulf and who is going to pay for it. Also, the vice president's 41 year old son has a mild stroke. Why are increasing number of Americans under age 45 at now at greater risk? We'll have some answers for you tonight.

And great some news for the families of American hikers arrested and held captive in Iran. I'll speak to the mother of one of them. She may be headed to Iran in the next few days. John?

KING: John, we'll see you in just a few minutes.

Pete Dominick out on a very important offbeat investigative reporting job today, asking people maybe what is your high school dream? Or like I said, Pete, in my case, what do you want to be if you grow up.

DOMINICK: John, are you saying you haven't grown up, yet?

KING: That's what I'm saying, Pete. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

DOMINICK: Elena Kagan, the president's Supreme Court nominee, they found a picture of her wearing a judge's robe and a judge's gavel from high school. So maybe a preview of what is to come. I wanted to find out what people wanted to be in high school and if they achieved that goal?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: President Obama's Supreme Court nominee there is a picture of her holding a gavel, wearing a robe, and now look at her. What did you want to do in high school and how close have you come to succeeding with that dream?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I wanted to be a cowboy, and this is about as close as I come.

DOMINICK: At least you've got a convertible. It's not exactly a horse. Did you want to be a fire dog and it hasn't worked out or a Disney film star, which one? Disney film?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trouble in senior high school and had to go in the army.

DOMINICK: And now what do you do, hair model?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh you like the hair? The girls love it too.

DOMINICK: What did you want to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to be a fashion designer.

DOMINICK: And are you a fashion designer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am.

DOMINICK: Yes!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I design children's clothing.

DOMINICK: Is it creepy when you look like you and you say you design children's clothing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not creepy.

DOMINICK: What did you want to do in high school?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to be a doctor.

DOMINICK: You wanted to be a doctor? What the heck is this? Is there a patient in here? So in high school, did you want to be a chef?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

DOMINICK: What did you want to be in high school?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to be a cop.

DOMINICK: You wanted to be a cop?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

DOMINICK: Did you ever arrest anybody at the restaurant?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In high school I was a clown.

DOMINICK: Okay. And have you joined the circus, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I haven't. But I do do stand-up.

DOMINICK: Hey, me too! That's right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: I fulfilled my dreams this morning. I asked my 5- year-old daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up. John, she told me she wanted to be John King. Really disturbing.

KING: Excellent. I've done all right by it.

DOMINICK: I'll let her know that you approve. What did you want to be?

KING: I had no idea when I was in high school. I really didn't. I had no idea. When I went to college, I thought maybe I'd be a teacher. I thought briefly about law school. Thank the good lord that didn't happen. Have I the greatest career. I learn every single day. My son is a junior in high school, and he is on the college tour, trying to find it out. And god bless he is an average 16-year- old kid, he doesn't have a clue. What do you want to be if you grow up, Pete?

DOMINICK: I've fulfilled all my dreams. My dad told me when I was young find a job you enjoy doing and you'll never have to work a day on the life. I've done stand-up and radio and now Pete on the street.

KING: We'll see you tomorrow, and thank you for watching us. That's all for us tonight. John Roberts sitting in for Campbell Brown, and he starts right now.