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Gulf Oil Spill

Aired June 14, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf. And good evening from Mobile, Alabama, on day 56 the president is here again to get a firsthand assessment of the BP oil spill and its impact both on the sensitive Gulf environment and the fragile Gulf economy.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This region (ph) has known a lot of hardship, will bounce back just like it's bounced back before. We are going to do everything we can 24/7 to make sure that communities get back on their feet, and in the end I am confident that we're going to be able to leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before.


KING: The president stopped first in Mississippi, then here in Alabama, and is taking a ferry this evening across this bay and spending the night in Pensacola, Florida. By this time tomorrow, though, he'll be back in Washington preparing for an oval office address to the nation (INAUDIBLE) with BP's top executives this week.

Today, members of the House Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee said their investigation uncovered that five days before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, BP's drilling engineer warned the operation was quote, "a nightmare well." The committee also says BP ignored the advice of its subcontractor Halliburton and saved $10 million by skimping on cementing the well.

It's safe to say there's enormous pressure on the president to show he's on top of this crisis. Here's one way to illustrate. In a brand new "USA Today" Gallup poll, 71 percent of Americans say the president has not been tough enough in dealing with BP and 53 percent of Americans rate his handling of the oil spill as poor -- tough numbers. But here's a much better way to illustrate the president's dilemma and the impact of this catastrophe on a region and its proud people.

Today I met a man today named Nello Barber, a crusty boat captain, not the type of man you would expect to start crying and rush off, embarrassed to be so choked up. Nello has been fishing these waters all his life. The oil spill has shut them down to fishing indefinitely and I asked Nello what he would say if given a minute with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NELLO BARBER, FISHERMAN: You let it come to the beach. Plow over it every day, watch it on the news every day, fly over oil, oil, oil (INAUDIBLE). I'm -- glory, I can't do this (INAUDIBLE).



KING: More from the president and from Nello and others we met here today in just a minute. But first, before we get to any politics, let's get personal and talk this over with two CNN contributors who have been in the oval office in times of crisis. James Carville was a top adviser to President Clinton. He's in New Orleans tonight.

And in New York, Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican operative who was Ronald Reagan's White House political director. And with me right here at the edge of Mobile Bay -- and it is windy at the moment -- is the local congressman Republican Jo Bonner, who was in the briefings here with President Obama today. Congressman, I want to start there and we've got a little bit of wind in your district.

You're familiar with this along the bay. When you see Nello Barber, 60-something years old, fishing these waters all of his life, he thinks the oil in that Gulf has taken his livelihood away.

REP. JO BONNER (R), ALABAMA: And with good reason, John. Unfortunately, Mr. Barber represents thousands of people all across the Gulf Coast who are seeing their way of life being threatened and who don't know what tomorrow is going to bring, and that uncertainty is captured very poignantly in Mr. Barber's emotion. But as I said, the thousands of people all along the Gulf Coast who feel the same way, whether they're a shrimper, an oysterman, a restaurateur, you know with the hurricane, we know how to survive it and to wake up the next morning and try to rebuild. This uncertainty is what is eating at millions of people --

KING: Were you with the president today?


KING: He was with some of the workers who were doing the Lord's work out there trying to keep the oil from hitting the beach. Do you think he gets that? The gnawing sense of these people that their way of life is disappearing?

BONNER: Well, I certainly think it's good for the president to come down here and we were glad he was here, but whether you can get it just by meeting with the mayor or from a congressman or the governor -- what I would have loved to have seen would have been if the president could have actually had a town meeting with some of the people who have been most affected by that, but we're glad he came.

I do believe this president cares about what's going on. I just hope that we can put a face going forward that both the government, the federal government, state and local government, that we're all working together for a solution, and hopefully, for a better day in the future.

KING: Ed Rollins, come in to the conversation. And if you can't hear me very well, the winds just suddenly picked up just as we were starting the program, part of the rough part about being on the edge of the water, but we'll be just fine.

Ed, what does the president have to do to personalize a moment like this? This is the president's fourth trip, the three previous trips (INAUDIBLE) Louisiana, now in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida today. How do you make that personal connection that many of the people down here they seem to be seeking?

ED ROLLINS, GOP STRATEGIST: I think to a certain extent, he's starting to do that. He's not a very empathetic figure, but he needs action. And I think what these people want you can't say we're going to make it better than it has ever has been before, because you can't, no one is going to believe that. What you can say though is I'm going to send soldiers and I'm going to send troops that are not basically in Afghanistan or they're needed in Iraq, and I'm going to send them down there and they're going to basically help those local people try and get their beaches cleaned back up, try and get this thing done as quickly as possible.

There are a whole lot of resources to the federal government and we need to start seeing them there and we have to cut through all the red tape, and obviously, the congressman is there. He knows what can be done. But those individuals there have to feel that some action is taking place, that someone in Washington has heard their cries, their pain -- the pain and anguish, and is going to help them.

KING: And so, James, people have made the comparison, and this president and his team are not happy about it, but people have made the comparison, saying you know Bill Clinton was more of an empathizer, Bill Clinton would be more personal. When you see the president making the trip today, is he doing a better job of getting out and touching and feeling?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via phone): Yes, I think so, and I think as the congressman said, I think the president gets it, I think he wants to do well, I think he wants (INAUDIBLE). You know (INAUDIBLE) has a place in Orange Beach and (INAUDIBLE) beach (INAUDIBLE). The beach looks better than it ever did. And they've got it combed and done, and there's no reason that people should cancel a vacation plan there.

What's going on (INAUDIBLE) a little bit different than what's happening in Louisiana, where it gets in the marshes and these are sort of breeding grounds (INAUDIBLE) commercial fishing industry here. But yes and I think it's good that he went to visit (INAUDIBLE) Alabama. There are a lot of fine people over there who have been adversely affected by all this.

KING: Congressman, I want to read you something the president said in an interview, given on Friday and got a lot of publication over the winter -- over the weekend. He was talking to Politico's Roger Simon and he said "Some of the same folks who have been hollering and saying 'do something' are the same folks who just two or three months ago were suggesting that government needs to stop doing so much.

Some of the same people who are saying the president needs to show leadership and solve this problem are some of the same folks who just a few months ago were saying this guy is trying to engineer a takeover of our society through the federal government that is going to restrict our freedoms." He means you. He means Republicans in Congress. You've been somewhat critical of the federal response. What do you make of that from the president?

BONNER: Well John, personally, I'm looking forward to what the president says tomorrow, because that's going to be a seminal moment in terms of his address to the nation. It will be his first oval office speech and it will be an opportunity for him to speak to the whole country about what he has seen over his four visits already made to the Gulf Coast. We're at day 56.

I've tried not to be critical of the president, but I have been critical of the federal response, because early on, if you recall, the Coast Guard wouldn't even admit this was an incident of national significance. It took several days to get that admission. We've been so dependent on BP to give us information, and that's been one of the frustrations is does the federal government have a response and -- we know that we've got a responsibility, but does the federal government have a response they can do it better than the company can?

So, I read the interview that the president gave Roger, and I understand his point, but the fact is, is that this is something where the federal government (INAUDIBLE) this was a well drilled in federal waters, and this is something where the federal government I think does have a role and responsibility, more than what we've already seen. The federal government got involved in General Motors and Chrysler and in the banks and in a lot of other areas of our economy. This is a place where I think the federal government had a legitimate role.

KING: Congressman is going to stay with us. Ed and James are going to stay with us. If you've never seen a storm roll in suddenly in a warm day of the south, you're getting a look at it right now. We're going to take a quick break here. We're live in Mobile tonight right along this beautiful and blustery bay at the moment. Don't go anywhere. We'll be right back.


KING: We're back live in Mobile, Alabama, a windy night here. Here are some other important developments you need to know about today. The White House is voicing confidence that BP will agree in those White House meetings on Wednesday to create a multibillion dollar escrow fund to pay claims across the Gulf Coast. The administration also says BP responding to White House pressure has presented a new plan that should allow it to capture at least double the amount of oil at the source of the spill, up to 80,000 barrels a day by mid-July. Let's continue the conversation now. Congressman Jo Bonner is here with me in Mobile. Ed Rollins is in New York and James Carville is in New Orleans. Gentlemen, I want to talk to you about this new "USA Today"/Gallup poll out just today. Seventy-one percent of Americans -- 71 percent of Americans say the president is not being tough enough with BP in rating the handling of that. Ed, as someone who's been in the oval office with the president in times of crisis, what does that tell you as the president prepares to give this oval office address tomorrow night?

ROLLINS: Well, he'd better get tougher, because I think this is an American community that is suffering immeasurably. We go to Haiti to rescue the Haitians after the earthquake. We go to Afghanistan to fight for democracy or Iraq. This is American citizens who are losing their way of life, and the great indictment of George Bush, George W. Bush, was he let an American city drown with Katrina.

This president should have been prepared for this and he's got to be forceful from here on out and make the American public think that he's tough. And that speech tomorrow night had better be, I am going to straighten this thing out, I am going to devote all my energy and all of the energy of this government to taking care of those citizens, our fellow citizens who are hurting.

KING: To James, that same poll. Seventy-one percent say he's not being tough enough. Fifty-three percent say he's handling this poorly. Fifty-three percent rate his handling of the oil spill as poor; 44 percent as good. Again, when the president decides to give an oval office address, the first oval office address of his presidency, they're well aware at the White House of these same numbers, aren't they?

CARVILLE: Well, they are. And you know, I think that's one of the things he can turn this around tomorrow night and he can turn around the perception of BP. Let's see what -- how this (INAUDIBLE) works, how much actual skin BP gets in this game and how this goes from here. But you know this is a long-haul thing. I think anybody will know that.

I think the congressman knows that. Ed knows that. I certainly know that. I think the president does. And polling numbers are transient. They can change at any point. I think tomorrow night is the big night and I hope he has some significant (INAUDIBLE) thinking. I hope that we, you know a lot of things can happen here. I wouldn't -- I've been critical of the response, but it seems to be a little more robust now, so let's see what happens tomorrow night. Hopefully, it will be better.

KING: One of the questions --


KING: -- that has faced the administration is -- go ahead, Ed.

ROLLINS: I think he can't be partisan. This is a time to throw partisanship out the door. What happened three months ago, what the press are doing to him, whatever the rest of it -- this is his job. He's the leader of this country and he's got to show he's tough. He's got to show he's effective and he has a concept of where he's going to take this country and put the partisan stuff aside.

And any Republicans who stand up and criticize him when -- if he's doing right are equally as guilty. I think at this point this is about Americans doing good for Americans.

KING: Well, let me bring the Republican congressman into the conversation on that point. You were with the president today. Some of this is real, people, of course, want more done more quickly, whether it's a Democratic president, Republican president. Bush went through this after Katrina. And some of it was mistakes and some of it is people want maybe the impossible sometimes.

Some of it is reality. Some of it is perception. We were talking earlier about a fear of a way of life is disappearing. Help me understand where you think OK, this is something the president's being blamed for maybe that's not his fault and maybe this is legitimate?

BONNER: John, no one could legitimately blame the president for what happened on April 20th. And I agree with Ed. I think what the American people will be looking for tomorrow night will truly be something that rises above partisanship. We have seen so much partisanship, notwithstanding the fact that the president said he would try to lower the partisan thermometer when he got elected.

We have seen so much partisanship and division in Washington over the last 16 months. This is a time of national crisis, not just along the Gulf Coast. The entire nation is looking at this and they are all wishing, Republican, Democrat, Independent, for the president to provide the kind of leadership that I know he's capable of that I think will give a serious address to these issues facing us on the Gulf Coast.

KING: It is an enormous crisis to try to get your arms around not only trying to stop the leak, but also trying to deal with the BP claims process, trying to understand the economic impact, trying to understand what could be a generational environmental impact in this region. But at times, I want you guys to listen to this and help me understand what you think of it.

At times, the administration has suffered from what some would say are mixed signals. I want you to listen to David Axelrod, the president's top adviser and Thad Allen, his point person to deal with this crisis. Essentially, the question is, is BP your partner?


DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: I don't consider them a partner. I don't consider them -- they're not social friends, they're not -- I'm not looking to make judgments about their soul. I just want to make sure that they do what they're required to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you trust them to get the job done, yes, no or maybe?

AXELROD: We're going to make sure they get the job done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you still trust Tony Hayward?

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: You know, I get the trust word all the time. The fact of the matter is we have to have a cooperative, productive relationship for this thing to work moving forward. When I talk to him, I ask for answers, I get them. You can characterize that as trust, partnership, cooperation, collaboration or whatever, but this has to be a unified effort moving forward if we're going to get this thing solved.


ALLEN: If you call that trust, yes.


KING: Now Congressman, one is the political adviser and one is the guy who has to deal with BP every day, but is there a bit of a mixed message there?

BONNER: Well I think most people sitting at home in their living room in Wichita right now probably would say there is a mixed message. You know just a couple of weeks ago, the president said basically the buck stops on my desk. I'm in charge of this. And we are in charge of telling BP what to do, and yet, we continue to go to BP saying we need you to speed up the process.

Cap it. Find a way to slow it down two weeks earlier or find a way to expedite the claims process, which many of us are most concerned about. So, it does seem to be a double-edged sword and two different messages. We want BP to do more, and yet, we want to portray the message that we are really in charge.

KING: We thank Congressman Jo Bonner for his time tonight. Ed and James are going to stay with us. We especially appreciate your braving the elements. It's a lovely neighborhood you've got here.

BONNER: We're glad to have you here.

KING: Before we go to break we're talking about the politics and the politics of this are important. The stakes for the president tomorrow night are enormous, but we don't want you to forget for a minute the personal, the personal stakes of this story. We have been in the Gulf all last week, now again on Monday, meeting remarkable people who literally see the communities they grew up in changing because of this spill, literally see the industries they have worked in all of their lives, maybe their grandfather and their father did, too, changing before their eyes. I want to go back to the man we introduced you at the beginning of the show, Nello Barber, a crusty sea captain. We met him earlier today. He couldn't contain his emotions when I asked him this simple question -- what has this spill done to you?


BARBER: My livelihood was from a teaspoon full of water to knee deep. I'm a flounder fisherman, commercial fisherman, and it put me out of business.

KING: Can you get a claim in to BP and get money?

BARBER: All I want to do is go to work. They told us to go get this, go get that. We get everything and we still ain't to work. You know, I come down here every day and stand by.

KING: Do you have any idea when you'll be able to fish again?

BARBER: Oh, we probably won't never -- nah. If it hurts the Gulf as bad as what they think it is, we probably won't never work again.

KING: The president is in your state today. If you had a minute with him, what would you say?

BARBER: It could have been handled better. This ain't the best I ever seen right here. Why fight something that's already to the beach when you already had it offshore that you could fight it? You let it come to the beach. Fly it over day, we watch it on news every day, fly over, oil, oil, oil, but they don't ever fight it. I'm -- glory, I can't do this --



KING: Nello Barber called us back a little after leaving there so emotionally. He wanted to apologize for getting all choked up. He doesn't owe us or anyone else an apology. Whether his feelings are factual or not, whether it is perception, this is a gentleman and a community in a bit of crisis and we appreciate his time tonight and we wish him the best heading forward.

When we continue, you know the old saying I'm from the federal government and I'm here to help? Next in "Wall-to-Wall" we'll explore the government's new Web site 56 days into the oil spill that's supposed to show you just how the government is helping.

Today's most important person you don't know is responsible for the most obnoxious sound in the world, or at least in the World Cup. Get used to it. Among the items on my "Radar" tonight, "who are you?" We'll watch that viral video that forced a Democratic congressman into damage control mode.

And will BP's new commercial about the oil spill help or hurt? And "Pete on the Street," our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick asks people what they want to hear the president tell the country tomorrow night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're live on Mobile Bay tonight. Look at these beautiful pictures. You can see pelicans having dinner at this hour, you might say. It's blustery and windy here, but the pelicans diving into the bay to fish here. It is a beautiful sight, but you can also see the booms in that water. They are worried more and more that some of that oil is coming closer to this beautiful shoreline. In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight, how could you find out if you want more information about where is the oil, just what is the federal government doing?

Well, today, 56 days into the Gulf oil spill, the federal government put up a new Web site. It is called, supposed to be an exercise in transparency. Take a close look -- 325 layers of data from the incident command structure as well as federal, state and local agencies. If you look at the Web site information right here, you'll see how this works. The blue lines and the yellow lines along the coast, that's the impacted shoreline, like right here in Mobile. The green patch, that's the oil slick, where it's been mapped out today.

The red border shows fishery closures, again, as of today. Yellow dots show the location of the BP claims and processing points all across the Gulf Coast. Green dots show staging areas for the response team. The list of data goes on and on and on, 325 layers of it, to be exact, including oil spill projections, satellite photos the estimate of wildlife impact. Now, if we walk over to the "Magic Wall", you might be asking how long will this go on, how long will you need this map?

Well, that depends in part on how successful BP is in drilling these relief wells. That is the plan right now to shut off the source of the crude oil coming up. Well number one has been drilling that since May 2. Well number two, they've been drilling that since May 16th. The plan requires BP to drill 18,000 feet down. That's 16 Eiffel towers. Imagine it that way. So far, well number one is about 14,000 feet down.

That's the one on the right side of your screen there. Well number two is about 9,000 feet down. That's on the left side of the screen. The plan is to get those relief wells in place, hopefully, by August. If the relief well ruptures, however, that could spew more than 250,000 gallons per day additionally, additionally.

As always, we're determined to bring you into the conversation, so each week we ask you to "Make Your Case" on an important topic. Are the media fairly covering President Obama's handling of the oil spill? Record your opinion and post it at We'll play the best video on Friday, and if we play yours, you get a prize.

And before we go to break, just a reminder to join us tomorrow, we'll be back in Washington for the lead up to the president's oval office address to the nation on the oil spill.


KING: We're back live in Mobile Bay, Alabama. You see the bay right there and the bridge. Not long ago, the president sailed across this bay from Alabama to Florida, where he is spending the night tonight, a two-day trip to the Gulf Coast. Then, of course, a critical address to the nation from the oval office tomorrow night on his assessment of the BP spill and what the country will have to do to make the Gulf right. The president promises he wants to make the Gulf even better than it was before that spill.

Let's continue our conversation, bring Ed Rollins, our Republican contributor, he's in New York tonight, back into the conversation, as well as Democrat James Carville, who is in New Orleans.

Gentlemen, I want to let you listen to something the president said today when he was here. He was in Alabama, but his first stop was in Gulfport, Mississippi. He met with Republican Governor Haley Barbour there, and he made clear that as he addresses the nation tomorrow night, as he meets with top BP executives this week, one of the items on his mind -- he's the president of the United States, but one of the items top on his list is trying to come to a better understanding of how to make the claims process.

If you're a fisherman, if you own a hotel, if you rent a condominium, and BP now is going to pay you for your lost income, the president wants to know, how does he make that process better?


OBAMA: So, we're gathering up facts, stories right now, so that we have an absolutely clear understanding about how we can best present to BP the need to make sure that individuals and businesses are dealt with in a fair manner and in a prompt manner.


KING: James Carville, he's the commander in chief of the United States, but right now, he's almost like an insurance claims adjuster because this is the great source of frustration when you go through all these states in the Gulf. People saying it takes too long. There's too much paperwork, too much bureaucracy.

CARVILLE: It sure is, and everybody will go to BP and everybody thinks you get a better deal if you go to private industry, you go to the government, and they're just as bureaucratic as the next guy, I guess. Look, it's important and it's important that the money get in the hands of the people who deserve it, like this guy you were interviewing. People had file false claims. I hope that we have adequate laws to deal with them because they're clogging up the machinery here, and the law needs to deal with them decisively and harshly.

And even in a place that I care so much about, we got people that are capable of doing something that stupid. And if they do, I hope they get caught, because a lot of people have been profoundly adversely affected by this negligence, and they need to be compensated as quickly as possible, and the people who don't deserve compensation don't need to be in the system.

KING: To that point James is making, we drove by the BP claim office not too far from here in (INAUDIBLE) tonight, and right on the front, there's a sheet of paper that says "BP has zero tolerance for fraud." I don't know if we have those pictures. If we do, we can put them up on the screen, but a busy time. There are families and children going up. You see the claim center right there. Families with children, and some of the smaller pieces of paper, one of them says "BP has zero tolerance for fraud."

Ed Rollins, this is the president of the United States, but again, the criticism has been why can't we get our reimbursement? How much of a detail man does the president have to be here? How deep into the weeds does he have to get and then how big is the big-picture leadership challenge?

ROLLINS: He looked like a bureaucrat there talking about -- and first of all, I'm assaulted by BP, that basically has done significant damage to this environment and to that community to talk about fraud. I mean, before all is said and done, they're not going to be able to point any fingers at fraud. They cut corners and they know they cut corners. The president needs to basically go back as a student of the presidency in addition to having to work for a couple of them. He needs to go back and look at what Lyndon Johnson would have done or what Harry Truman would have done.

They were kick-ass presidents. He needs to kick ass. He needs to bring that BP chairman and the chief executive in their office, and they need to walk out of there with their feet and their legs shaking because he knows they mean action. Then he needs to look at Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, who had great empathy, and he needs to basically not create a bureaucracy. What he needs to do is relive a bureaucracy whether its BP or the federal government and get people money so they can eat and basically take care of their kids and feel that there's some hope.

Right now, there's no hope. And whether it's the bureaucrats from Washington or the bureaucrats from England doing the BP bidding, that isn't what matters. What matters is getting that poor man who's on your show some hope. That's probably a third-generation fisherman, and right now, he basically sees his world come to an end, and we basically have got to be an action. And the president is the leader of this country, and he needs to be the action and chief man.

CARVILLE: Well, let's give him --

KING: Let me ask you both about this, because you both said --

CARVILLE: Go ahead, John.

KING: Hold on one second, James, because I want to ask you both about this. You both talk about how take the politics out of this and as we agree that we can because we have a national crisis and I could not agree with you more. But yet today, the president's political organization, organizing for America, sent out this e-mail, "our continued dependence on fossil fuels will jeopardize our national security. It will smother our planet, and it will continue to put our economy and our environment at risk. We cannot delay any longer, and that is why I'm asking for your help." Asking for help from his supporters to push climate and energy legislation, and the White House, James to you first, does see a political opening because of this catastrophe in the Gulf to maybe find a few votes for that issue. Is that the right thing to do right now?

CARVILLE: I don't see anything wrong with it because they had that before this, and they had the climate bill they were pushing. He ran on it. He talked about it in the campaign. I mean, this doesn't seem to me to be -- this is very consistent with what the president has proposed to the Congress, very consistent with what he said during the campaign, and I think very consistent with what he believes. And there is some evidence that, you know, it certainly is more dangerous to try to get some of this stuff than the other thing.

My point is, we need to resume drilling as fast as we can because even under the most robust energetic scenario, we're going to need petroleum for the short term and the immediate future, but I'm for doing that and I honestly don't see how anybody could complain about that. That's very consistent about what the president has sent.

KING: James Carville and Ed Rollins will stand by with us. They'll continue the conversation in just a minute.

But coming up next, meet the man responsible for this.


KING: You can thank today's most important person you don't know for this sound. Had enough? Well, too bad. The people in charge of the World Cup tournament say they won't ban those obnoxious plastic horns. They're called vuvuzelas. Vuvuzelas, you got it? And you can thank or blame a man named Neil Van Schalkwyk. He lives in Cape Town and says he developed the horn seven years ago. They sell for about $2.5 and were a big deal in South Africa even before World Cup fans started tooting them nonstop. Vuvuzelas has been a top trending search item on Google all day long, and it's turning into a name you call a loud, obnoxious person who won't stop.

Let's continue with the conversation. We still have James Carville and Ed Rollins standing by. I believe we also have Democratic strategist, Cornell Belcher joining us. Who of three is the greatest World Cup fan?

CARVILLE: If they keep playing those horns, I'm going to quit.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Football doesn't start here until another couple of months, I think, John.

KING: Another couple of months, huh?

CARVILLE: Yes, I'm kind of like -- I'm not of the soccer generation. I watch it. And to me, the most exciting thing is watching how much these fans are into it. It's pretty remarkable. By the way, I see beside England, and who knows, they might do very well here. KING: Let's continue now. Let's move on to some stories on my radar. As we do, you might have noticed we moved into the CNN express because there are thunderstorms coming outside on Mobile Bay. We wanted to keep everybody safe. Here's something on my radar tonight. A lot of people see the 2010 election as the second coming of 1994 when a Republican tidal wave swept away a Democratic Congress. Look at these numbers.

Today, 10 percent of Americans say the Democratic Party is too conservative, 38 percent say the Democratic Party is about right, and 49 percent say it's too liberal. That's almost an exact match of the pre-election numbers in 1994. Cornell Belcher, you run numbers for a living. If you're a Democrat and you're looking at a comparison to 1994, it's got to make you a little nervous.

BELCHER: Well, it's absolute damning numbers if, in fact, we're dumb enough to allow this election to be about ideology. I mean, if we're dumb enough to allow this election to be ideology, we will get our clocks cleaned like we have since the 1960s when the elections are primarily about ideology. But look, in 2006, you know, we had an election that wasn't about ideology and we did fairly well. We took back both Houses. In 2008, we had another election that wasn't dominated by ideology. It was dominated by the future and sort of who had the best answers, and you know what, we did fairly well.

So, if this election is about ideology, Democrats won't do well, but if this election is about the future who has pragmatic answers to the future, I think we'll do just fine. One other piece to this, real quickly, John, is that, you know, when we look back at the last election and we brought those millions of new people into the election, particularly the young ones, you know what? They weren't asking who was to the right or who was to the left. They were asked who had a vision that matched their own and was looking forward to the future.

I think if Democrats continue to sort of move forward with a vision for the future, we don't want to get bogged down in the ideological fights, and I know that younger generation don't want to get bogged down and more in the cultural wars and more ideological fights dating back to the 1960s.

KING: Ed Rollins, I'm reminded of my first presidential campaign, being at the convention in Atlanta in 1988 when Michael Dukakis, the governor of Massachusetts said, this election is not about ideology, it's about competence. That didn't go so well.

ROLLINS: No, it didn't go so well. The bottom line here is if liberal is defined as too big a spenders, then those numbers are very devastating, because I think that's kind of a perception that the country has. And midterm elections are always about who turns out. And the bottom line here is that our side is more intense. Every poll indicates that. We want this election to come. We want the change, and the 60 or 70 members that are in real competitive races are pretty much Democrats.

So, I think the reality is we have the opportunity to have a great year if we don't get overconfident and if we try and nationalize it on issues that don't matter to ordinary voters, we won't do well. If we make it every community against the incumbent that doesn't relate to what's going on in their lives, we have a real shot at winning this thing.

KING: James, you were at Bill Clinton's side back in 1994 when the Democrats suffered that drubbing. Do you see the comparisons or do you think we who cover politics for a living just look for poll numbers like that to say ah hah?

CARVILLE: Well, look, I think there's no doubt that the Republicans are going to have a good year. Democrats had two big years in a row. There's obviously going to be some pullback. And you know, just as I said earlier, what time to campaign. These Democrats get out there and run. Can they cut their losses sharp? Yes. Can they do better than they're doing now? Of course. Are they going to pick up seats? Well, of course not.

So, we'll see how the campaign unfolds. And that's why they run these things. That's why they enter the campaign because, you know, right now, there's still a good bit of time between now and Election Day. But if the election were held today, we would do poorly. There's no doubt about that.

BELCHER: And john, could I push back just a second --

KING: Here's another big story -- sure, go ahead. Push back. That's what we're here for.

BELCHER: On the ideal of energy. Because here's the thing, if you look at all the tea party primaries that we've had so far, one of the amazing things is the turnout hasn't been high. They haven't been breaking records. You go back to 2008 and look at the movement that we built. We were bringing tons of new people into the electorate. Exciting, new people, bringing them to the electorate. There's no sign right now that the tea party, you know, is bringing new people into the electorate and rallying people to their side from anger. There's no sign of that in any of the primaries. So --

ROLLINS: Cornell, there's no -- I'm sorry. There's no sign of any of your 2008 who've turned out in any of the elections, the gubernatorial elections or any of the rest of them. I think they voted for Obama. They may come out and vote for him again, but they're not going out and voting for congressional candidates.

BELCHER: Ed, you're absolutely right, and we're going to work our butts off to turn that around.

ROLLINS: If you do, God help us.

KING: Everybody stand by. Everybody stand by. Quick time-out here.

Up next, what caused a congressman to shove a student?

And still to come, if you were the president's speech writer, what would you tell him to say tomorrow night?


KING: For those of you just joining us, we're live tonight in Mobile, Alabama. We've move on to the CNN express because there are thunderstorms here. The spectacular Gulf right out that way. Here's what you need to know at this hour. After a seafood dinner at Tacky Jack's Grill and Tavern on the bayou in Orange Beach, Alabama, President Obama is now on his way to Pensacola, Florida.

While visiting Alabama and Mississippi today, the president emphasized, his administration is quote, "doing everything we can 24/7 to cope with the Gulf oil spill." He addresses the nation tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. eastern, and of course, you'll see it live right here on CNN. We also learned today that a congressional investigation uncovered that five days before the deepwater horizon exploded, BP's drilling engineer warned the operation was quote, "a nightmare well."

ANNOUNCER: Here comes the "Play-By-Play."

KING: Tonight's "Play-By-Play," we have James Carville in New Orleans, Ed Rollins in New York, Cornell Belcher in Washington, D.C. And gentlemen, let's start by breaking down this tape. I want to play you a little bit of President Obama now and President Bush back after Katrina. Listen to this.


OBAMA: We are going to do everything we can, 24/7, to make sure that communities get back on their feet. And in the end, I am confident that we're going to be able to leave the Gulf Coast in better shape than it was before.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Across the Gulf Coast, among people who have lost much and suffered much and given to the limit of their power, we are seeing that same spirit, a core of strength that survives all hurt, a faith in God no storm can take away, and a powerful American determination to clear the ruins and build better than before.


KING: Cornell, opposition to Iraq war was already building, but it was Katrina and the competence question, could government get anything right that so undermined President Bush near the end of his term. Does this president face a similar credibility competence test?

BELCHER: I think every president does. I mean, look when you get inside the polling, tell you a nasty secret is that there are character traits that are more important than others, and Republicans have known this for years. The character trait about strength and toughness is a key character trait for Americans. Americans want to see that their president is tough, strong, and decisive.

I mean, that carried George Bush for a long time. Even when they agree (ph) him, they saw him as a tough, decisive leader when that was undermined and that strength here was undermined by Katrina, you saw his numbers crumble. Same thing will happen to this president if he doesn't get it right.

KING: So, Ed Rollins, what is the lesson that President Obama should learn? He was harshly critical as a senator and as a presidential candidate at President Bush's response to Katrina. What lesson should he learn from that experience now?

ROLLINS: He's in the oval office tomorrow for the first time. People have a vision of that. He's going to be compared to past presidents. Obviously, that was one of Bush's worst speeches that he ever gave, and he had a false set back. There's no audience there. There was stage just for the speech. So, the words in the oval office have to basically exude power. And I think this president has to basically.

People are going to look at him. Is he going to look presidential? Is he going to show the strength he needs? And the people are going to say, OK. He now gets it and he's now going to go fix it. If he does that, then he'll have accomplished great deal.

KING: James Carville, I want you to listen to this as the person who lives in New Orleans. Please, I want to skip this in. As the person who lives in New Orleans, Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent, interviewed Ed Markey, one of the Democratic congressmen pursuing this investigation. They're going to call up a lot of oil execs, not just BP, because Ed Markey is worried that this isn't just BP being a rogue actor, that this could happen across. Listen.


REP. ED MARKEY, (D) ENERGY AND COMMERCE CMTE.: The important thing to know is that it's highly unlikely that any of these oil companies had a capacity to respond to a worse case scenario. Yes, they say, in their representations to the Department of Interior that they had that capacity, but I don't think there's any evidence that that is, in fact, true.


KING: James, if he is right, then all those other companies out there don't have good safety plans either. That sends a chill up your spine.

CARVILLE: It does. A lot of these companies operate are not a big defender of the oil industry. I do think we got to get rid of this moratorium because it's so essential to the economy here and it's so essential to get. The country needs petroleum, but it needs to be operated safely. And I think the safest thing is have the CEOs all sign off, to the safety of these rigs, and they can be -- the companies can work together to have a way to respond or something.

I guess, obviously, no one knows how (INAUDIBLE). This thing has been going on forever. This is a question of what we just said before, where cheap engineering on the wells, that before, three days before, that this thing was in jeopardy. And everybody knows that this leak was operated recklessly and that you can't have.

KING: James Carville in New Orleans, Ed Rollins in New York, Cornell Belcher in D.C., thanks for helping us through in interesting weather night here in Mobile, Alabama.

When we come back, what do you think the president should say tomorrow night? "Pete on the Street" is on the case.


KING: Few minutes away from the top of the hour. John Roberts is filling in for Campbell Brown tonight. Let's head up to New York and get a preview. Hi, John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: John, thanks much. As you've been talking about this evening, Barack Obama returns to the Gulf Coast as Congress raises new concerns about profit over safety in the deepwater horizon explosion. It all comes on the eve of the president's first- ever oval office address to the nation. We'll tell you about his plans to reassure the country as the oil and the accusations continue to flood in.

Also tonight, here's a new one. Arizona takes aim at the children of illegal immigrants. How a new proposal could deny citizenship to babies born in America. We'll have the very latest on this new controversy in the state of Arizona -- John.

KING: So, you just heard John say, we've talked about a bit in the show, the president has a big speech tonight, an oval office address to the nation. What would you like him to say? Our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick on the case in New York. Hi, Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: Hey, John King. That's right. Tomorrow night, President Obama gives one of the most important speeches of his presidency so far. From the oval office, what should he say? I went up to ask that question everybody on the street.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think, you know, he should come out and just show that he is, he is doing something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd like to see him working more closely together with BP and not demonizing them.

DOMINICK: Just tell the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That he should hold them completely accountable.

DOMINICK: Should he actually kick somebody's ass during the speech from the oval office?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That would be lovely.

DOMINICK: That would be lovely?


DOMINICK: You're in. All right. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he should talk some smack to somebody --.

DOMINICK: He should talk smack like a wrestler like, yes, we're going to get you, BP!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he should talk about what he's doing for the oil disaster. You know, and what the administration is doing to try to allay all the people who are saying that the president is doing nothing. And you know, he's a failure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He should use the opportunity to come more climb (ph) in legislation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he should say that he's going to come down to New Orleans. And he's going to camp out in the bayou until it's time, until something happens.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Enough with the preaching. You got to do something now. He's done nothing. He is lame-duck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: First of all, you make an example out of BP. You give them a huge fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's on TV too much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he can probably ask the BP company to commit to putting aside some sort of reserve to help the people -- recoup some of their, their disastrous losses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that it's about time that people in the world start realizing that when you dig down under the earth, it's like popping a giant zit.


KING: Thanks to people across the Gulf Coast for sharing their stories with us this past week. Plus, we will be with you tomorrow night before the president's big speech. Right now, John Roberts in New York takes it away.