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JOHN KING, USA

BP's Gulf Oil Leak; Border Protection; Top Kill

Aired May 25, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thank you, Wolf. We start now with breaking news. On the eve of BP's big operation to try to seal the leaking well and finally stop the Gulf oil spill, new details tonight on what went wrong. BP has sent Congress a memo showing the company was aware of several previously unreported warning signs before the April 20th explosion that caused this tragic leak.

The BP investigation has also raised concerns about the maintenance history, modification, inspection and testing of the critical blowout preventer that was supposed to have stopped any spill but obviously failed. We'll have more details tonight as they come in to us.

But let's start our conversation. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is from Arizona, a Democrat, member of the Armed Services Committee, our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is here. Our CNN contributor David Gergen will be joining us in just a moment. If you read this report it seems to suggest that BP should have known about some maintenance issues. What are your big questions? Obviously, it's a big night. By tomorrow they hope to at least have success plugging this leak, but as Congress investigates what are your big questions.

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D), ARIZONA: Well Congress has a lot of questions. I think first and foremost the most important thing is to stop the leak. We don't know precisely how much is leaking out. It's a guesstimate at 5,000 gallon -- 1,000 gallon barrels every single day. I mean you know you think about what that's doing to the Gulf Coast. But our priority of course is to making -- make sure that BP pays for all the clean-up but that we get the leak stopped immediately. There is going to be a lot of accountability later. We're going to have a lot of questions but we have to focus on stopping the leak.

KING: I want to read the last page of this memo as part of this report. And again this is a House committee that asked BP for more information "A" to find out what happened but "B" because they're with the information flow they're getting from BP.

Several concerns about the blowout preventer were identified BP including the failure of its emergency disconnect system, the failure of its automated mode function or dead man switch, the failure of the BOP's (ph) sharing functions and the failure of the remote operated vehicle interventions. The BP investigation has also raised concerns about the maintenance history modification inspection and testing. Essentially, the one thing that is down there that is designed to stop this from happening wasn't working and there are questions about the maintenance history. What does it tell you about the company? But just as importantly, what does it tell you about what should the government be doing to make sure these things don't happen?

GIFFORDS: This type of deep well drilling is pretty new actually around the world. And the lack of regulation, the lack of oversight, the lack of accountability -- we're seeing a tragic, tragic situation right now. Now Commandant Thad Allen (ph) is from Tucson. He's from that area.

I have a lot of confidence in him, members of Congress as well know that in terms of trying to fix the problem, we're fusing together, BP some of the national, international experts around the world. But the fact that BP may have ignored real warning signs I think is something that you know we're going to hold them 100 percent accountable for.

KING: What is the sense, Dana, as you work sources on Capitol Hill? Obviously they're trying to investigate what went wrong. They're also trying to figure out is BP doing everything it can do to stop the leak. And is the administration -- there's been a lot of controversy about whether the administration should do more, whether the administration should lean on BP more, whether the administration should order BP do things that some think haven't been done yet.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of controversy about all of that and what's interesting is that the committees that have jurisdiction both in the House and the Senate, right now what they're really focused on is transparency. I just actually was talking to a source in the Senate who is working on trying to keep those 12 camera feeds which we heard from Congressman Marky (ph) who is the lead on this in the House side to keep them out, keep them up and running.

And for transparency issues so that the public actually sees what's going on 5,000 feet under, but also because in Congress and you might be able to add to this, they say that they really think that it helps add to their investigation because they're actually documenting what's going on down there and ultimately they'll use that to prosecute and to give information to get money for taxpayers back from BP.

KING: And let me jump in on that point before you answer as well because we are just learning this breaking news as well. BP has just tweeted that it will continue to provide the live video feeds from the sea bed throughout the planned top kill procedure. So obviously the cries of outrage from the Congress have convinced them not to turn off that feed.

That has been another big issue, that they obviously -- BP had this video long before they showed it to the public so that we could every day -- I keep it on constantly in my office and you watch it and you just -- it depresses you to no end. GIFFORDS: Oh it makes you absolutely sick to your stomach. And we see the video coverage of the marine wildlife that's been washed up onshore and to know that particularly during the spawning season that we may lose major parts of our Gulf Coast. It is -- it is really tragic.

Again, the accountability, the oversight, the investigation all of that really matters but I think in a broader context as we've been having very large discussions about new types of energy, renewable energy, being able to pass legislation that transfers our dependency off of foreign oil and also hard-to-reach and find oil and really I think focuses on the future.

And you know I mean I'm someone who has been advocating for solar energy. Coming from the state of Arizona that sun is going to come up every single day. You're not going to have a leak. You're not going to have a problem. Again, our problems with oil and our dependency on this industry that has not been transparent with incredible profitability, I think it's a time where we can really do some deep reflection.

KING: David Gergen joins us now for the conversation. David, we're reading through this memo of this new congressional report. Now everybody obviously knew something horrible went wrong and mistakes were made. But as you read through this, they're saying the blowout preventer, essentially the safety valve that was designed to stop this tragedy from happening, there were questions about the maintenance, the modification, the inspection and the testing.

Also saying here in addition key questions exist about whether proper procedures were followed for critical activities throughout the day. Negative pressure testing was initially done on the drill pipe rather than the kill line even though the drill plant specified it should be done on the kill line. More and more questions, David, that lead to, number one, if BP was in charge when this happened and can't be trusted, can BP be trusted now?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: John, clearly not. And I think there is -- we shouldn't be focusing on the past right now how we got here, nor should we be focusing on the future where we're going. What we need to be focusing on is the here and now, this building national emergency and somebody taking charge. I think it's -- the very reason we form government is to protect us from events like this.

So it does seem to me that it was appropriate for the Obama administration to allow BP to run this early on. But with this mounting national emergency, if this top -- if this top kill doesn't work tomorrow it's imperative that the Obama administration take charge of this overall effort and treat it like a national emergency. It's unbelievable to most Americans that our fate of our precious coastlines and of the water just off our shores is in the hands of a foreign-based company like BP. How in the world are we ever allowing ourselves to have BP determine what happens to our coastline.

BASH: But the open question and the scary question is does the government -- does the Obama administration or anybody know any better than BP? Do they know how to do this? I mean they don't know -- do they have the capability, the know-how, the technology to end this horrible spill any better than BP does?

KING: As a Democratic member of Congress, do you have questions about how the administration has handled this? The White House announced today the president will go back on Friday. He's out on the West Coast raising money tonight and a number have said you know look you can't stop everything. We're in a campaign year. That's all important. But as David notes, this is a mounting national crisis. Should the president put off all politics at the moment and take charge of this? Should he do more?

GIFFORDS: Well absolutely it's a huge crisis but I think it's also important to note that as I understand it, BP and the federal government are fused into one at this point. We have international experts that are flying in and working on this problem side by side. It's not as if we -- if BP is in a room in isolation. This is a top priority for the administration without a doubt.

Again, Democrats are critical. A lot of the reason why we have these deep drilling plans that were approved and authorized happened a long time ago. I mean first and foremost we've got to stop the leak. But then as we move forward we're going to have to analyze the process and really figure out how we want to get America's energy.

I think it's important to be critical of the administration because I've always believed they should be doing more. We have military. We have NASA. We have other organizations that I think can come in and provide technical expertise. But stopping the leak now is absolutely critical before more devastation transpires. And I think that everyone is working on that, it's fused together.

KING: Let me take a quick time-out here. When we come back we'll continue the conversation. David please stand by -- we'll continue the conversation (INAUDIBLE) this and other key questions of presidential leadership including the president's decision today to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the Arizona border and the president's deciding to overrule the objections of his top military advisers and allow Congress to go ahead -- embrace Congress going ahead with key votes to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Continue our conversation -- Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is here. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger joins us and David Gergen is with us from Boston. The big announcement from the president today to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the Arizona/Mexico border.

Congresswoman, this is your district. You have had the violence there, although some would look at the statistics and say violence is actually down. Question to you -- is it enough? You're colleague Senator John McCain says it's not enough. He wants more National Guard troops there. GIFFORDS: Well I was very pleased to announce the deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, the redeployment. They were here a couple of years ago under President Bush. Rob Crentz (ph), the (INAUDIBLE) County rancher who was tragically murdered on his ranch March 27th was my constituent, so what we've seen over the course of the last few years is a buildup of the Department of Homeland Security, the Tucson sector, the Border Patrol but out in the rural areas, out in the ranches we still see tremendous amount of violence, of destruction. And it's fine time -- to finally, finally have the border more secure.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) enough?

GIFFORDS: Twelve hundred should be more but it's a first step. This is not the last step. It is a first step, also 500 million in emergency supplemental appropriations that will help assist. We're going to augment, we're going to use intelligence, surveillance, we're going to be able to help the boots on the ground but I believe that these Border Patrol -- the guard on the border, he needs to be armed. They need to be able to protect and defend themselves but we need to get them down there immediately.

KING: Is the president, Gloria, in taking this step implicitly embracing what has been the Republican message border security first? Put off any conversation about comprehensive immigration reform, a new guest worker program, status for those here illegally, push it down the road.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I wouldn't say it's the Republican message. I think it's the message that Americans are sending although the Republicans will say as Dana can tell you better than anyone this is not enough. But I was talking to a couple of Republican senators who were in this meeting they had today, this extraordinary closed-door session with the president and one of them said to me -- he said you know we were stunned that the president did not mention to us the fact that he intended to send these National Guard out and we had a long, detailed discussion about immigration. He walks out of the room and then an hour later it's announced.

BASH: Do you think, Congresswoman that as a Democrat, as a border, Congresswoman, should the White House just stop talking about comprehensive immigration reform and really just focus on the issue you're talking about which is border security for now?

GIFFORDS: Border security has to come first. And even Democrats like myself who believe that we need to work to change all of our immigration laws, we have to secure the border.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: After the election, nothing on immigration reform until after the election.

GIFFORDS: Chances are it's going to happen after the election, but let me tell you. I serve on the House Armed Services Committee. Last week I voted to authorize $760 billion in the National Defense Authorization Act. That's a lot of money, hundreds of billions of dollars going abroad securing other nation's borders, securing other citizens. It is time that Americans are safe on their own property, on their own land.

The hundreds of billions we spend abroad, national security should be about border security. We have to secure the border. It is porous. People know coming right through southern Arizona that basically that that is the widest, most open gap in the border.

KING: Let's move to another national security issue and David, I want you to come in on this one. I talked to General George Casey (ph) today. He is the chief of staff of the United States Army. He is in charge essentially of those 94,000 in Afghanistan, 92,000 in Iraq, thousands of other U.S. servicemen around the world.

The president has brokered a compromise with Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." We know his defense secretary has said he can support the compromise language but he doesn't like it. He would prefer that that vote be put off until after he can survey the troops. Now General Casey (ph), I want to make clear, was here to be -- for an interview on another subject. But David, listen to General George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff. I asked him what he thinks of this compromise. Here's how he learned about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: I actually don't know, John. I just read about it this morning in the paper and we've been told by the department to forward all questions on this to the Department of Defense. I've not seen the proposal. And so I have to look at the proposal and see what my recommendations will be based on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And, David, I talked to the Defense Secretary Bob Gates a couple of weeks ago and he said there are smart ways and stupid ways to do things and he thought it was stupid to have any votes before he completes the survey of the troops. And General Casey said he agrees with Bob Gates. Is the president risking a rift with his military commanders by deciding that he will embrace essentially the Congress going forward with this vote now?

GERGEN: John, I doubt there will be an open rift. But I know there's going to be a lot of grumbling and unhappiness among the top military leaders that this wasn't done in a more coherent way with everybody at the table trying to figure out what works best. It's clear that this -- you know it's the right thing to do to get rid of this and it's -- but it's very clear that politics entered into the timing of it and it's going to complicate it at the military level trying to how to move forward to get this done properly.

I think Secretary Gates and the other -- and the heads of the various military -- you know the Marines in particular are going to be, I think, unhappy at the way this was -- it was -- it is clearly being pushed for political reasons because the election is around the corner and the Democrats want to mobilize that base. But even so, in the past, normally the military has been at the table to discuss how best to do this.

KING: You're on the Armed Services Committee. Would you vote for this change or do you think it's better to wait?

GIFFORDS: Well in our authorization bill that we marked up last week, there was no discussion of "don't ask, don't tell." And it's obviously imperative that everyone is on the same page. Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen needs to sign off on a plan before the implementation is actually brought forward. But this should not be a surprise to anyone. I believe that the president has been talking about this for a long time, the House leadership, the Senate leadership has been talking about this for a long time. Again, they -- the military --

KING: Are the votes there to pass it?

GIFFORDS: You know --

KING: Your chairman, Ike Skelton (ph) says he won't vote for it.

GIFFORDS: Yes, that's true. I believe the votes are probably there. I mean it's -- you know in the United States military where fewer and fewer Americans are stepping up to serve, we need to have America's best and brightest. So we know that this is a piece of legislation that needs to go away. The implementation is absolutely critical though. I've got a couple of large important military bases in my district. It needs to be implemented the right way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But what do you think about the timing?

GIFFORDS: You know the timing of course is something that has come you know a little bit out of the blue, but --

KING: Political? Is it about --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Is it about pleasing constituency in the campaign year?

GIFFORDS: Well I think it's more about how many legislative vehicles are even left that can be pulled out of the station before the end of the year. And we have Memorial Day recess coming up. We've got budget bills that are trying to move. We've got some critical pieces of legislation and we're running out of time.

BASH: So the congresswoman said -- you said that you're going to vote for this compromise on the House floor --

(CROSSTALK)

GIFFORDS: Yes, my plan is to vote for it if Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates sign off on it and if they're OK with it and it's a long time before this bill actually gets a final vote, if they're all right with it, I'm all right with it. BASH: So it's going to be -- it's still going to be a nail-biter in the House we expect Thursday or Friday. Senate Armed Services Committee they need 15 yes's right now. They only have 13 or 14. They're looking for one or two more Democrats in order to pass it. Right now it's unclear whether this can even pass the Senate Armed Services Committee --

KING: One of the many issues we will follow in the days ahead. I want to thank Congresswoman Giffords for coming in. Dana and Gloria, David Gergen as well -- still a lot to come in the program.

Next when we go "Wall-to-Wall" we'll go back to that issue -- come on up here -- we'll go back to our issue of the oil spill. Plugging the leak is BP's priority. Will its latest plan work? We'll get some advice from a guy you know very well. He's good at explaining things, Bill Nye (ph), the science guy.

"One-on-One" tonight, an exclusive conversation with the president's host for lunch, the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell joins us and guess what -- he's going to tell you the meeting was not all kumbaya (ph).

On our "Radar" tonight some fascinating discussions including the most important number you should know about intensity in this political campaign year and the latest details on the big mystery. Did the White House try to offer a congressman a job to get him to drop out of a Senate primary?

And Pete's on the street tonight doing some intrepid reporting, senators versus wrestling. No he's not talking about a sporting event. This is a question of trust.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight the latest on day 36 of the BP oil spill. The next 24 hours are critical to the company's efforts to finally, finally stop this. These are the live images of the oil still spewing up from the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico. The company tries its latest plan tomorrow. Let's also take a look at some other key developments today right now.

Top kill, that is what it is called, it will start late tonight. We should have the results by tomorrow -- more on that in just a second. BP says now just this past hour those video feeds will stay live during the operation. Earlier today a key member of Congress urged the company not to shut those feeds down. And the president will travel to the region on Friday.

The White House announced that today amid some political pressure for the president to try to do more to bring this crisis to a conclusion. So what's a top kill? What exactly is the company trying to do here in its latest effort? Let's take a closer look -- excuse me for passing by. Here of course is the region obviously. This is the latest on the spill.

The spill's reach is here. The darker -- the areas, that's the heavier the concentration of oil. What is a top kill? Well we will show you a little bit of an animation. Essentially the company is going to use the pipes that are existing and start forcing down through it -- you will see as this opens up -- force down into the -- that's oil coming up. Then you force sand down and you see you try to block it like that.

Once you can get sand in there to slow it down hopefully bring some cement in as well. It's a complicated procedure. It has not been tried at this out here in the deep water before. Will it work? We put the question to someone you know very well who not only is smart when it comes to science, but very helpful in explaining things to you and to me -- Bill Nye the science guy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL NYE, THE SCIENCE GUY: Well top kill is where you're going to get it from the top. So what you want to do is attach something so you can pump drilling fluid. Now, I've heard many people say mud. And in the oil field or, if you will, the oil patch, they call it drilling mud. But it's a material that locks up when you sheer it. When it goes through an orifice, it seizes.

If you have ever seen these ads for antifreeze that are anti- leak, when there's a leak and it's going through the orifice really -- or the hole really fast it seizes. And this is something you may be familiar with if you've ever played with corn starch. Corn starch is what we call a dilatant (ph) material. This is corn starch and water, it's goopy, it drips. But if I hit it real hard, it doesn't splash.

It's counter intuitive. And the reason it doesn't is this material, this property we call dilatantcy (ph), where the molecules stack up like my old boss used to call it a stack of nickels. You can break it going sideways but if you push on a stack of nickels, it doesn't move. And so it is with drilling mud. So the idea is to get in there, pump in drilling mud.

The action of the flow will make it lock and then while it's leaking very, very slowly you've slowed it way down then you just pour cement on top. Now when this thing is 21 inches in diameter, you're going to need at least 400 tons of pressure -- or rather a force. Four hundred tons of weight on top of this pipe to hold it and 400 tons sounds like a lot to you and me. If you had 400 tons of something in your kitchen, you would notice it.

But 400 tons in terms of cement is not that big. This is a doable job. And as I believe the head of BP said earlier today or late last night, if this were on the surface, if this were a surface oil well, this would be a very reasonable chance of success -- you have 95, 99 percent chance of success. But on the bottom of the ocean, with all this crazy methane ice forming, these cathrates (ph) and the flow of current and brittle materials and hot oil, it's not so clear that it will be easy. But it sure should work.

KING: Bill Nye we certainly appreciate your help. We will see if it works and if it doesn't then we'll come back to you with more questions as we go ahead. NYE: We'll try the next thing, yes.

KING: All right Bill thanks so much. I really appreciate it.

NYE: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And President Obama went to Capitol Hill today to meet with Senate Republicans. But was there any meeting of the minds? Next I go "One-on-One" with his host, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: It's time to go one-on-one.

KING: President Obama's get-together with Senate Republicans today turned out to be more about venting than bipartisanship. Apparently, things got at least a little bit testy.

Here to go one-on-one is the president's host, the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Senator, let's start right on that point as I thank you for joining us. We're told by several Republicans senators in the room and by some at the White House, although they turned the volume down a little bit, that things got a bit testy. What happened?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I wouldn't call it testy. We have some real differences about the direction of the country. And he knew that before he came up.

By the way, it was his idea to come up and I was happy to invite him on behalf of our conference and we were glad to have the discussion. We have some real differences about the way forward and some of those were discussed.

There are also some areas where we could conceivably get some real bipartisan agreement if I may just mention one of them. It is the question of meaningful sanctions on Iran. There's a bipartisan enthusiasm here in Congress, in both the House and Senate, for a bill that's in conference now which the administration doesn't really seem to want to get yet, which I think would really be helpful to them and give the president additional tools to have economic sanctions against Iran that actually might work.

KING: So why wouldn't the president want it?

MCCONNELL: Well, he thinks it will interfere with the efforts he's currently making in the U.N. to get China and Russia on board. I'm sure he knows that the best he's going to get out of that will be rather tepid. But we're -- you know, we're happy to send him some real measures that would give him an additional tool in trying to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And I hope he'll quit discouraging us from sending it down to him for his signature. KING: Let me ask you about an area where the White House says you could have some bipartisan cooperation and that's on border security and immigration reform. I'm told the president in the meeting brought up, as he has before, that 11 Republican senators including you, sir, back in 2006, were willing to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform, an outline that the president would accept today and, in fact, the White House says it would even give you more on the border security front.

Why not move forward on that issue with the president?

MCCONNELL: Well, a lot changed since '07. We have increased violence along the border, serious drug wars right across the border in Mexico, American citizens getting killed. We've really got to work on this border security issue.

And until, John, we get the border secure, I think the American people are really not interested in talking about the rest of it until we get the border secure. So, it's a question of what do you do first.

And there are a number of members in my conference, including myself, who would like to figure out some way to go forward. And the way to do that clearly is to deal with border security, get the border settled down, and then we can talk about comprehensive immigration reform. I don't think you can do it all at the same time.

KING: Does that all at the same time mean not before the November elections in your view?

MCCONNELL: Yes. I mean, I think his bringing it up this close to the election indicates a certain lack of seriousness. This is a very, very tough issue under the best of circumstances. And to do it within five or six months of an election is really asking for failure.

KING: Here's another issue on which the president is asking and congressional -- Democratic congressional leaders are asking for tough votes this week in both the House and the Senate. That's on the issue of repealing "don't ask, don't tell," the ban on gays serving openly in the military in the United States military. The compromise they had struck would have the votes now, but the repeal would not take place until sometime next year, when the defense secretary could first hear back from troops and their families and then certify that he was ready to do this.

Are you prepared to support that compromise, Senator, and ask other Republicans to do that?

MCCONNELL: Well, our leader on that has been Senator McCain. He's our ranking member on armed services. He says that it's got of kind of in reverse, that -- first, you ought to have the study so you understand what the impact will be on military readiness and the recruitment and the other aspects of -- they're important when you have a voluntary military. And then make the decision after that.

I gather what the administration is saying if they want the congressional law repealed now and then they'll study it -- seems to me that we may have it in reverse order.

KING: So, does that mean no -- that you would urge other Senate Republicans based on the recommendation of Senator McCain for all Senate Republicans to vote no?

MCCONNELL: Well, I'm going to follow the recommendation of Senator McCain. He's a hero himself. He's our leader on the armed services committee. He studied this issue for years. He thinks we need to have a full understanding of what the impact is on recruitment and readiness and morale before we make the decision to change the law that was enacted on a bipartisan basis during the Clinton administration.

KING: Haven't had a chance to talk to you since the contentious Republican Senate primary in your state. Your candidate did not win. And you were trying to make detente if not peace with the man who did win, Rand Paul, who is the tea party favorite. One of the things Rand Paul has said that has generated quite a bit of controversy, as you know, is he said that he found some of President Obama's criticism of B.P. after the oil spill to be un-American.

Do you agree with that?

MCCONNELL: I think the criticism of B.P. is obviously well- founded. There's no question that B.P. or the two other companies involved in this drilling are responsible for what happened. And the government now is subjected appropriately to have questions about what its role was, and not only in approving the drill site but also in approving the spill response plan which was filed with MMS, the Mineral Management Service.

So, there's plenty of blame to go around between the government and B.P. And I don't -- I don't -- I don't say that in any way what B.P. has done is excusable.

KING: So, help me a little bit more there on your advice, then, to Rand Paul. All newcomers to the big stage make mistakes. He has made a few. My understanding is that you are among those who, through your aides and allies, convince him not to show up on "Meet the Press" this past Sunday, to go dark for a little bit, to take a break, and sort of collect his thoughts. Message discipline is the term we use in politics.

Talk about that, your relationship and your advice to Rand Paul right now.

MCCONNELL: Well, look, I mean, he's -- according to the polls that came out after the primary, he has a 25-point lead going into the general election. He's in a very good position to put this Senate race in Kentucky in Republican hands. And the voters are going to be in Kentucky. My advice to him would be to speak to the people who are going to be actually voting in this election. I think he's said quite enough for the time being in terms of national press coverage.

KING: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell -- Senator, thanks for your time today and we'll see you soon. MCCONNELL: Thank you, John.

KING: Take care, sir.

The story behind today's most important person you don't know helps all of us remember the sacrifices made by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families here at home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today's most important person you don't know is one of the more than 5,000 Americans remembered -- memorialized in this remarkable new CNN.com interactive tribute. I'm shifting over to Iraq here and you watch the number of casualties build over the years of the Iraq deployment. Check your hometown. Check towns inside Iraq, more than 4,700 U.S. and coalition casualties in Iraq alone these past few years.

Let us pay tribute today to Sergeants First Class Richard Joseph Henkes II. His hometown was Portland, Oregon. If you go to this amazing Web site, you can bring up a profile. Second battalion, 3rd Infantry regiment, died in Iraq on September the 3rd, 2006.

What makes this so remarkable is not only can we post what we know about these casualties, these heroes, but where they lived in the United States, where it happened in Iraq or Afghanistan. But if you know them or if you maybe lived in their community, you can post your memories, too. We can show you here.

This is from the staff sergeant's father. "Bypassing the obvious cuteness of a wonderful son, I want to begin with the time Rich realized who he had become. It started in junior high. Sports was his life. He was already a near straight-A student."

It's a remarkable place where you can pay tribute to people from your community as we pay tribute to Sergeant First Class Henkes tonight.

I just want to come back to the beginning as we can look from here. Check your hometown. This Memorial Day is approaching. You can pay tribute to Sergeant Henke and others in your community. It is a remarkable way to remember these heroes regardless of your opinion about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As I move over here, I want to bring Robert Traynham, Republican strategist, Maria Cardona, Democratic strategist, into the discussion.

You guys disagree from time to time. I hope we can agree on this. It is just one way that Americans, again, go out, argue about Iraq, argue about Afghanistan, voice your views. That's healthy to the debate. But these remarkable heroes deserve all of our praise at their ultimate sacrifice.

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Absolutely. You know, words cannot express -- I think I can speak for Maria with this, too, is how we both feel or how we should feel, how every American should feel about our men and women who serve in the armed forces, but even more so, they paid the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free.

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's no question about that. Looking at your board, John, it takes your breath away. These have -- these heroes have made the ultimate sacrifice. And I think that that should give us even more impetus to really try to solve the critical issues that we have here at home, try to bring them home, get them out of harm's way, and figure out how to give our children a brighter future.

KING: It's a breathtaking use of technology and we hope all of you will take time to visit it this week as Memorial Day approaches, and then in the days ahead as well or any time. You just have a free moment and want to pay tribute to these heroes.

Now, let's move on to some stories on our radar tonight and more now on one of this campaign's great political mysteries. Who asked Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak if he'd take an administration job instead of taking on Senator Arlen Specter in a Senate primary? Sestak who beat Specter a week ago in that primary, he won't say.

But today, the number two Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, told CNN, quote, "At some point, I think Congressman Sestak needs to make it clear what happened."

To the Democrat in the conversation, does Congressman Sestak need to make it clear what happened? I asked him repeatedly last night. He said, yes, they offered me a job, but he won't say who, won't say what.

CARDONA: Look, I've said this before, John -- I think that this is the greatest mystery that people outside the Beltway could care less about, because as we were just talking about, the issues, the recession, the wars. This conversation is not going to help create a job. It's not going to help protect Sergeant Henkes.

And so, I think that we do need to focus on the issues that are -- that we are facing today. I do believe, though, if this is going to keep Sestak from talking about those issues to his constituents, to help him win that race, then he is going to have to come clean.

KING: Well, on that, as you come in, I want to remind our viewers if they weren't with us, I tried to get David Axelrod at the White House to say who had those conversations with Sestak. And David Axelrod said he knows the conversations took place. He has been told they were appropriate. He said he didn't know who it was.

He also said this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I don't think any questions will be left unanswered on this.

KING: Well, we're right here for you, David Axelrod, when you're ready to make those people available. I'm not trying to be a jerk here. I'm just -- AXELROD: No, no. And I don't take it that way. I think these are fair questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does that imply to you, Robert Traynham, if the White House says they're fair question that the White House either will answer them for his perspective or pressure the congressman to do so?

TRAYNHAM: I think -- I think, yes, look, I said this yesterday and I'll say it again. Transparency is the moniker of this Obama administration. And thus, in the process, the American people do care about this because it boils down to a credibility issue.

However, I'm going to go out a little bit on a limb here, Dick Durbin is one of Barack Obama's closest friends. They obviously served in the Senate together. Dick Durbin is a gentleman who encouraged the president to run when he was senator. I think the Obama administration reached out to Dick Durbin and said, you know what, Senator, why don't you kind of maybe egg this along a little bit in a good way and perhaps maybe encourage Sestak to come out clean?

KING: Our intrepid Ted Barrett put the question to Senator Durbin and tracked him down, and made him answer, keep persistent at him. But maybe -- maybe that happened, but I want to credit to Ted who had to keep pressing to get that answer.

Let's move to today's most important number -- most important number. Maria wants to move on. She won't like this.

Most important number you don't know. Take a look at the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats in our new CNN/Opinion Research poll: 54 percent of Republicans are extremely or very enthusiastic about voting this year, versus 32 percent of Democrats. Our math is pretty good -- 22-point intensity gap, enthusiasm gap.

That worked so much to your advantage in 2008. You're on the other end this year.

CARDONA: That's right and it's not news. We know that going into midterm elections, it is a tough uphill battle for the party in power. We knew this when we won the House in '06, when we padded those numbers in 2008, because of the fact that we won a lot of districts where a Democrat doesn't have any business really winning.

So, we understand that. It's not really news. We have a lot of time to energize our base. We know that the tea party is energizing the other side. We have time to make sure that our issues are the ones that our base is going to get excited about and I think we'll make it happen.

TRAYNHAM: These numbers tell me the Democratic Party overall is very enthusiastic about the president personally but they're not overly enthusiastic about the Democratic agenda. When you look at health care, when you take a look at the president's second pick for the Supreme Court, one would think that the Democratic base would be extremely, extremely excited, but they're not.

And the reason why is because liberals are very, very skeptical of Ms. Kagan and also, liberals are very skeptical of the public or lack thereof in health care. So, they're about mad (ph) Barack or mad (ph) about the Democratic Party fever out there. And we'll see if it translates to November.

CARDONA: There's a lot of time.

KING: A lot of time. OK. She says a lot of time for us to take a quick break here.

When we come back of this quick break, guess who's back in another campaign ad? And still to come, which is more believable: wrestling or politics?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Here comes the play-by-play.

KING: You get the drill in play-by-play. We break down the day's big tape. We have our experts here, Republican Robert Traynham and Democrat Maria Cardona.

Let's start with the shifting politics of immigration reform. Back in 2006 when George W. Bush was president, the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, was one of 11 Republicans who voted to move forward on a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Most Democrats at the time supported that legislation.

But I spoke to Senator McConnell a little bit ago and he says, sorry, things have changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: A lot changed since '07. We have increased violence along the border, serious drug wars right across the border in Mexico, American citizens getting killed. We've really got to work on this border security issue. And until, John, we get the border secure, I think the American people are really not interested in talking about the rest of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Facts or politics?

CARDONA: He's right, things have changed. What has changed is that Republicans have completely walked away from their responsibility in trying to get this issue done. And I think that they keep talking about border security, border security -- we have increased border security in an unprecedented way in the last 15 months. I think it was a great move.

KING: And Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, from a border district in Arizona, even she says, even though she supports comprehensive reform, she thinks it has to wait. One of the interesting things here is she talks about the increasing violence.

We had the staff look into this. And here's a quote from the "Arizona Republic." "FBI Uniform Crime Reports shows the crime rates in Nogales, Douglas, Yuma and other Arizona border towns have remained essentially flat for the past decade. Statewide rates in violent crime are down."

The drug wars have caused some horrific violence --

CARDONA: No question. That's right.

KING: -- but the overall rates are down a little bit.

TRAYNHAM: This is a question between politics and a little bit of policy. Look, the fact of the matter is that Senator McConnell clearly thinks that we should have border security now. Here's why -- it stirs up the base. Here's why -- it's because a lot of folks on the line right now and the reason why is because is, if in fact we secure the borders, a lot of tea partiers, a lot of folks in the Republican Party say, finally, Republicans have done something good on this.

KING: Let's move on to what I'm going to call a little bit of revisionist history. J.D. Hayworth is running against John McCain in an Arizona Senate Republican primary. Let's check this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J.D. HAYWORTH (R), ARIZONA SENATE CANDIDATE: I would also point out that if we want to be sticklers, the war that Dwight Eisenhower led in Europe against the Third Reich was never declared by the United States Congress. Recall the Congress pass a war resolution against Japan. Germany declared war on us two days later. We never formally declared war on Hitler's Germany. Yet we fought the war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The facts would show in any history book that we did actually declare war against Germany right at the same time. I was saying today in the staff meeting that maybe the congressman feels a bit like this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Germans?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forget it, he's rolling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it ain't over now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All right. We get the point there.

I might say, this is all of history can be explained in the classics. Take a couple of quick seconds.

CARDONA: I actually think that he -- that the history book that he was looking at was probably put out by the Texas state legislature.

KING: Ouch. Political.

TRAYNHAM: He misspoke and he -- he clearly needs to clean it up. The fact of the matter is that we obviously declared war on Germany.

KING: All right, Maria, Robert, thank you. We're tight on time tonight.

Wrestling versus politics -- which one is more believable? Our own Pete Dominick finds out right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick is so happy to be part of the best political team on television. We look at all the races around the country.

You know, up in Connecticut, the lead Republican candidate is the WWE first lady, Linda McMahon. She's not a politician. She's a sports figure. And an interesting sports figure at that.

Is that what you want in your politics? Pete is answering the question.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Yes, John, the wrestlers, you know, they say things to get their fans riled up, and then they go out and hang out afterwards and they're friendly. I think senators do the same exact thing. That's what I think.

I went out to see if people in the street thought that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Who is more honest: professional wrestlers or U.S. senators?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wrestling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wrestlers, because they both say fake things just to get people mad, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're both fake. They're both B.S. to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politicians still kind of have that guise, you know, where there -- you know, where some people actually believe what they say.

DOMINICK: They're both phony?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Phony-baloney.

DOMINICK: What move would you like to see dropped on the senator?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like the power bomb.

DOMINICK: Linda McMahon is the Republican nominee in the Connecticut Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.

DOMINICK: Do you think she'll bring wrestling technique into the Senate to straighten them out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you need showmanship.

DOMINICK: You need showmanship?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and she has it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need some toughness. Maybe.

DOMINICK: She'll go down there on the Senate floor when they have a controversial bill and go, we're going to sign this, brother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sky is the limit.

DOMINICK: Oh, this kid is going to be a good senator, right here. High-five, man.

What do you think politicians could learn from wrestlers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Production value.

DOMINICK: Production value.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just make it a little more exciting for everybody and maybe you get people out to the polls.

DOMINICK: Aggh, yes!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think wrestlers are better at the sound bites.

DOMINICK: Right, right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, I think Rand Paul could have used a few tips from Chief Jay Strongbow.

DOMINICK: Right.

We're going to reign in Wall Street, brother! Oh, yes!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: See, don't senators say things they don't mean just to grab and maintain power, John King?

KING: Maybe we can put a cage around the Senate and have a little ultimate fighting. Maybe that's the way to resolve the country's big divides.

DOMINICK: Something's got to work.

KING: Senator Pete Dominick, we'll see you tomorrow, Pete. Thanks very much.

That's all the time we have tonight. Thanks for being with us. We hope to see you tomorrow.

"CAMPBELL BROWN" starts right now.