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JOHN KING, USA
General McChrystal Out; Nikki Haley Interview
Aired June 23, 2010 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf. Good evening on a dramatic day here in Washington. The president played the commander in chief card today and in doing so sent an unmistakable message, he fired the Army general he put in charge of the Afghanistan war just a year ago Stanley McChrystal and in his place put a now trusted and well known hand the Iraq surge architect David Petraeus. It was a swift response to a magazine profile in which the four-star McChrystal and his top deputies repeatedly criticized the president, the vice president and others in the civilian national security team.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our democracy depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command and respect for civilian control over that chain of command.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A strong rebuke of General McChrystal and a clear message to the troops, but hardly the president's only message today. General McChrystal isn't the only member of the Obama war council who has from time to time used the news media to try to shape what are supposed to be classified internal debates, so the president delivered another message to his team, learn the lesson of General McChrystal's demise and learn it immediately.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I just hope my national security team that now is the time for all of us to come together. Doing so is not an option but an obligation. I welcome debate among my team but I won't tolerate division.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A big day, testing time for the president as a leader and for his strategy in a war he now owns and that by all accounts isn't going very well. A lot to digest with our CNN political contributor Paul Begala, Republican Congressman Pete King of New York, a member of the Select Intelligence Committee and the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee who believes a civilian surge not a military surge is the path to success in Afghanistan, also with us Veteran Administration and CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. Let me start with this basic premise to you Congressman King first, Congressman Ellison, what did we learn about our commander in chief today?
REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY CMTE.: I think he certainly demonstrated he's the commander in chief, I think he did the right thing. I have great regard for General McChrystal but he was wrong and by removing General McChrystal, by bringing in General Petraeus, who is a military genius, the president maximized the situation. Now his burden though is to provide the same type of discipline over his civilian team. (INAUDIBLE) dysfunction and confusion that's going among his civilian advisers and the vice presidents and secretaries, it just can't go on. It has to be ended, has to be one team speaking with one voice.
KING: Is it dysfunction and confusion as your colleague says from the Republican side or is it a debate, a disagreement in the top circles of the administration about policy that is too often in the president's view, spilling into public?
REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: It is a debate about policy which spilled into the public and I think it's a good debate to have. I think the president was right. He can't have these things aired out in the public this way but at the end of the day is the policy right? I think that the insurgents counter insurgency policy wasn't the right thing; we needed a counterterrorism policy along with a strong civilian surge to help stabilize Afghan society. I think that's an important debate for us to have and I think that we've seen it displayed in public unfortunately.
KING: Are you any more confident in the military strategy now that it's Petraeus, not McChrystal and I ask in the context (INAUDIBLE) if you have to vote in the near future, as you will, on funding for these troops, yes or no?
ELLISON: Same menu, different waiter. We need a new policy.
KING: So you'll vote no on the money for the troops.
ELLISON: That's right.
KING: Paul, I want you to weigh in, but first I want you to listen to something the president said today because many viewed this as a test of the president's resolve. Some in Washington say it was a test of his spine. Listen to the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I don't make this decision based on any difference in policy with General McChrystal, as we are in full agreement about our strategy, nor do I make this decision out of any sense of personal insult.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL BEGALA, CNN DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, I mean, he's -- you know he's Mr. Spock. He's remarkably cool. The only person capable apparently of angering him is James Carville who he can't fire because he works for us here at CNN. I talked to a lot of senior White House aides. The president was what you would want.
He was resolute. He was very serious. He was very professional about it. Wanted to hear from all sides but I think Congressman King is right, he showed spine. He asserted civilian control of the military, and he did send that message, believe me, in private as well as in public to his national security team, get with the program and don't test me, because now he's been tested and I think he came up looking very strong.
KING: But what does it say about the team, you were around in the Bush administration when they were debating the surge, debating Afghanistan, debating things in Iraq. What does it say if the team does have these disagreements still?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATL. SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: It's OK to have the disagreements; it's OK to have the debate. That's what you have the White House situation room for, but that's where they're supposed to remain. And what the president was asserting was his right to make the ultimate decision and have everybody when they walk out of that room prepared to execute it or leave and to Congressman King's point, there have been -- there has been some confusion in the senior ranks. What is Ambassador Holbrook's (ph) role? What about Ambassador Eikenberry in Kabul? And so this is an opportunity now frankly, he's cleaned up, he's made it very clear on the military side he needs to do the same thing and I think we saw him send that message on the senior civilian --
KING: Does he need to do more?
P. KING: Yes, he does because it's not just the debate. It's the impact it has in Afghanistan where you have Secretary Clinton, Secretary Gates is not going to be allowed to pull down of troops in July of 2011 and Joe Biden says there will be a whole lot of troops coming out, and he says that repeatedly and you have this fight between Gates and Biden going on that causes real confusion over in Afghanistan among our allies and they're wondering, are we going to pull out and just leave them there?
We have to show there's a real resolve, and as long as there's confusion is there, you can't blame them in Afghanistan for covering their bets. They don't want to be involved with us because they're afraid we're going to pull out and leave them high and dry.
KING: You mentioned the deadline. Let's add Senator John McCain's voice to the debate. He specifically mentioned that today because the president has said we will start to bring them home next summer, July 2011. A lot of people quietly have said unrealistic especially because --
KING: -- a lack of progress so far.
P. KING: (INAUDIBLE) say it's not going to be a large number. Joe Biden continues to say it is going to be a large number and that's causing real angst --
KING: I want to bring Congressman Ellison, but let's first listen to Senator McCain today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We have the right strategy, but we cannot allow that strategy to be undercut by a firm date for withdrawal, which sends the message to our friends and enemies alike that we are not there until we have the successful implementation in this strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It was the sense, Congressman Ellison that General McChrystal didn't like a date on a calendar either but in exchange for getting from the president a commitment of 30,000 plus more troops he was willing to say I think I can make that work. Now that you have General Petraeus, who his Iraq experience was don't give me dates. This should be based on conditions on the ground then we bring troops home. Are you even more worried now this -- from your view this will go on?
ELLISON: Well I'm quite convinced it will go on unless Congress steps up to really bring some sense to it. I mean I really think that what I'd like to see is a civilian surge. We have about only 1,000 civilians there to help governance, water, roads, education, and really help Afghan society solidify and stabilize so that it can protect itself. I mean the fact is, is that we have 100 -- 98,000 troops there, ISAF (ph) makes it 150,000, but 1,000 civilians to actually help Afghan society get its act together? I think that we have an open-ended thing here and we really need to draw -- we need to look carefully at that.
KING: Can you see victory?
P. KING: I think we can stabilize Afghanistan and that to me is victory. If we can defang al Qaeda and the Taliban and have a reasonably stable government in Afghanistan and prevent them from starting the training camps and using that as a launching pad against the U.S., that's victory.
ELLISON: There's no al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They say less than 100 identified al Qaeda members in Afghanistan. That's my point. I mean if we're there to fight terrorism then let's fight terrorism, we can have a counterterrorism strategy along with helping strengthen civilian society and we don't have to get into these things where we're losing all kinds of American troops.
P. KING: I agree with President Obama if the Taliban takes over Afghanistan, al Qaeda comes back in, and how do we launch a counterterrorism strategy if the Taliban is in Afghanistan because Pakistan will walk away from us immediately. ELLISON: Let me tell you that we have to deal with the fact that the Taliban is from Afghanistan. This is their country. They need to have a national process to deal with that, but we should stand back and deal with terrorism as it relates to those folks taking (INAUDIBLE).
ELLISON: -- have to be some kind of a process because this is Afghan versus Afghan fighter at this point.
KING: A quick time-out -- I want to call a quick time-out. I want to show you this is the headline in this morning's "New York Post" Congressman King's home area, "Civil War: The General versus the President." This is today. The president now has turned to a man who just a few years ago President Obama was harshly critical of, Senator Obama, candidate Obama was harshly critical of the surge in Iraq. Now the general who led it is his point man in Afghanistan. We'll continue the conversation in just a moment.
KING: Continue our conversation about the president's dramatic decision today to replace his commander in Afghanistan, here's how the transit copy of "The Chicago Tribune" put it today. "G.I. D'OH!", and a picture of Stanley McChrystal on the front page. General McChrystal now relieved of his command. He tendered his resignation but it was not, not without some pressure from the White House.
Congressman King in your statement today you said essentially but it's about time the president took charge of this process, referring to some disagreement within the others in the ranks. Has he been lacking in that regard?
P. KING: I think he has. I mean you have this open dispute between Joe bidden and Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton, you have Ambassador Eikenberry, General Jones (ph), President Karzai and then General McChrystal being in the middle of it. I mean I can almost understand General McChrystal's frustration. There's no excuse for what he said but being on the ground and trying to convey one message to the Afghan government, then you have General Jones (ph), Ambassador Holbrooke (ph), Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, all saying different things. And that's true, you can't send a mixed message to somebody you want to be your ally, especially when you're talking about life and death, when you're talking about time limits.
KING: You know these guys very well, Paul. Do they think they have a problem internally? Again, people love an open and vigorous debate but when it spills over like this do they think they have a problem?
BEGALA: I think it has -- with the exception of McChrystal who last year was leaking like a sieve and trying to pressure the policy process, no, not as big as we've seen in the past. If you remember the Reagan administration where Secretary Weinberger (ph) Defense didn't speak to Secretary Schultz (ph) at state or in the George W. Bush administration where General Powell in the State Department and Rumsfeld in Defense hated each other.
This is nothing compared to that and the president did take command. He went to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He announced his policy. He fired the general who was there at the time. He put somebody else in, turned out to be McChrystal, so this is the Obama policy. Now Congressman Ellison and a whole lot of Democrats, more and more Republicans too are really worried that this thing is not going to end well but this is the Obama policy.
P. KING: -- troop withdrawal. When Gates says it's going to be a small number and Biden says it's going to be a large number that's a big difference to people on the ground in Afghanistan.
BEGALA: Go back and look at what the president at West Point and until he tells us differently the rest is all just opinion. There is, as George W. Bush said, one decider.
P. KING: Well in that case then everyone --
P. KING: You can't have Biden saying one thing and Gates saying another.
KING: Fran, does he need to make additional changes to this team. Obviously the team that was around General McChrystal will be replaced. General Petraeus will bring in his own people, but what about the ambassador? Senator McCain today said bring back Ryan Crocker (ph) who was there in the Bush administration. What about the team here at home?
TOWNSEND: Yes, look the president made a real effort to make himself perfectly well understood by the senior civilian leaders that he's not going to abide a public debate anymore and so the time has come for that to get right. Whether or not you have to replace Ambassador Eikenberry I'm less concerned. One of the things that disturbs me about the kind of mixed messages is the role of Ambassador Holbrooke (ph). Holbrooke (ph) was meant to do exactly what Congressman Ellison is suggesting, that is be the head of the civilian surge.
They've increased the number of civilians there since President Obama took office, it is true but it's not enough. The military -- I think the military strategy is correct, but the military alone won't succeed without the sort of civilian surge that Congressman Ellison is talking about. We haven't seen it and we haven't seen a plan for it and we haven't seen Holbrooke (ph) lead it and that's a problem.
KING: You have been quite outspoken, but many other members of the caucus, Democratic caucus who share your views privately have been supportive of the president or at least muted in their criticism publicly because he's a Democratic president. In a midterm election year right now and there's a question about Democrat intensity, especially about the base of your party which I think I could fairly describe mostly as anti-war and against the war in Afghanistan. Do you expect now more criticism or because the president has had a crisis moment will Democrats dial it back even if they're as critical as you?
ELLISON: You know I hope that Democrats don't criticize to just be critical. I hope everybody is in a search for the right way forward in this thing. I happen to believe that it has to do with strengthening Afghan society, strengthening women, strengthening the voting process and the election, making Afghan society, put them into the position where it can run on its own, but without any more of a civilian surge, I don't think we're going to be able to do that like I said less than 1,000, less than 1,000 civilians.
KING: There is some irony here in that President Obama is now turning to General David Petraeus to help him at a time of crisis. I want you to listen to candidate and then Senator Barack Obama talking about the surge General Petraeus was the architect. This is a couple of years back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The responsible course of action for the United States, for Iraq, and for our troops is to oppose this reckless escalation, and to pursue a new policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had a whole lot less gray hair then, didn't he John?
BEGALA: In defense of our president, he has been consistent. He said in the campaign, I want to dial down Iraq and dial up Afghanistan. Now a lot of his liberal supporters only heard the first half of that policy but --
KING: But he's able to dial down in Iraq, is he not, because of the policy of General Petraeus.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, absolutely.
KING: The situation has changed. I'm not trying to pick on him. I'm just pointing out the irony that now he is so dependent on General Petraeus.
BEGALA: Is precisely correct -- had General Petraeus' surge which Senator Obama criticized not worked so well it would be impossible for President Obama to dial down Iraq.
KING: Fran, why General Petraeus now?
TOWNSEND: Well because he's proven he can do this successfully. He was facing a very difficult circumstance and in fact if you remember, John, right after the surge in Iraq we saw increased violence and Petraeus held steady, he implemented the policy and we are now in a position to draw down because of it. It's exactly what we're seeing in Afghanistan.
They're executing the counter insurgency strategy; we've seen an increase in violence. General Petraeus testified last week on Capitol Hill if winning is defined as progress, then we're winning right now because we're seeing some progress but there's an increase in violence and we have to hold steady.
KING: Fascinating day, I appreciate everybody coming in. We'll continue this conversation. General Petraeus will be up for his confirmation hearings as early as next Monday we are told by our congressional team.
When we come back we'll go "Wall-to-Wall", dramatic developments as well in the BP oil spill, the cap came off today. Millions of gallons spewed into the Gulf. They are trying now -- trying now to put that cap back on.
We'll also go "One-on-One" with a new Republican star in the state of South Carolina; Nikki Haley won the runoff for the race for governor. You'll hear her views. Much more still to come in the program as well. You see a bit of a rundown there. We'll be back in a minute.
KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight some dramatic pictures we wish we did not have to show you. This is underwater; this is the BP feed from the Gulf of Mexico, the rough, the dark outline there that is that containment cap. They're trying to lower it back on to the wellhead; they're trying to lower it back on because they had to take it off, a setback today.
Back to these live pictures in a moment, but let's go over to the "Magic Wall". We will explain to you just what happened. Because that cap is off, of course, more oil spewing in. This is our 3D animation. You remember this maybe from last week if you were with us, right up here is where they're flaring up, burning off some of the natural gas. You have the main wellhead; you have what's also called the Q4000.
Let's go down undersea and we'll try to give you a demonstration of what is happening beneath the surface, remember this is a mile down. The cap had been in place and it was containing some of the oil, not all of the oil but there was a problem detected this morning. Here is what it looks like as you get down to the bottom. Here is the wellhead; the containment cap is in here; this is some of the oil still spewing out. I'm going to ask them to take away here, you can take away what the oil is, here is the cap head, they had to take it off because of a problem they believe maybe one of those underwater robots rammed into it and caused a problem.
Because it came off, that returned us to unabated spewing oil. Remember when the cap was on before they said with the cap off and that cut they placed an increase, a dramatic increase in the amount, nearly one million gallons, nearly one million gallons of oil by our estimates spewed into the Gulf today when that cap came off. BP just moments ago issued a statement saying it now is trying to put the cap back in place, and you see it right here again, almost looks like the landing gear in a lunar landing, you see a cutout ridge there, there's another one over here.
The pictures get a little blurry but they are now trying. They're moving very slowly and you see right here this is the wellhead; this is where they made the cut. They're trying to position that just right and bring it back down and this, of course, the image we wish we did not have to show you, more oil spewing out into the Gulf, but they're dropping down, they have done this a couple of times though, they've dropped it down to get in a position then they seem to reposition it a little bit. I can promise you we are watching this operation as it unfolds.
A setback today, BP says it had no choice to do this because of a problem down there. We will watch this throughout the hour. Again you see it go down. You see it come up, very sensitive engineering. They need to get that cap on just right to try again to contain. We'll continue to watch these live pictures we promise you.
When we come back in just a moment "One-on-One" with a new Republican star, Nikki Haley, she was a long shot when she started her race for South Carolina governor. Tonight she is the Republican nominee; she will be here to go "One-on-One" when we come back.
ANNOUNCER: It's time to go "One-on-One".
KING: One of this year's most fascinating political stories is playing out in South Carolina, where State Legislator Nikki Haley picked up Sarah Palin's endorsement, survived a nasty four-way primary and yesterday won the runoff to become the Republican nominee for governor. She would be the first woman ever elected South Carolina governor, but as she reminded her supporters last night quote "don't get too excited. We're not there yet."
Nikki Haley joins me now to go "One-on-One". First let me start with a congratulations to you for surviving to become the nominee. If you are victorious in November, you would become the governor of South Carolina, and the commander in chief of the South Carolina National Guard. That National Guard currently has several hundred troops serving in Afghanistan. The president of the United States today replaced the general in charge. Did the president do the right thing?
NIKKI HALEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA GOV. CANDIDATE: Yes, I think the one thing that we have to look at is everybody has to be accountable. I think there were issues on what happened with the interview. We need to turn around and make sure that loyalty matters but more than anything we need to make sure that we're keeping our troops safe and we're keeping our country safe and we're doing everything we're supposed to do. I think the governor did -- I think the president did what he needed to do. KING: And are you confident for the men and women serving in your National Guard that he has a clear strategy and do you support the idea that they should start coming home in 2011, next summer or do you agree with Senator Graham from your state, Senator McCain saying wait a minute. Let's do this based on conditions on the ground. Don't circle a date on the calendar.
HALEY: Well listen I have a brother that is a "Desert Storm" veteran. I also have my husband is in the National Guard, he also works for the Department of the Army. The one thing we have to understand is that we have to keep our soil safe. We have to make sure that we are keeping America safe and we have to make sure that we're doing everything we can.
We need a strong strategy but I think putting deadlines in place and assuming we're going to get out a certain timeline is something that we need to look at but we don't need to be set on that. Our goal is to keep us safe and make sure we're doing everything we can to protect our people and I think right now that the situation being as volatile as it is we need to be very careful.
KING: Another big debate happening here in Washington that would affect every governor around the country is the debate over spending and whether the federal government should step in and try to help the states more. As you know, there was a big stimulus program early in the Obama administration. The administration now wants something it's quite smaller in terms of the price tag but still says that states are in this recession, states have the budget crunch and they need billions of dollars to help keep teachers on the payroll, maybe to keep police and firefighters on the payroll. If the Congress comes together and gives the president that money, would you take it as the governor of South Carolina?
HALEY: Absolutely not. You know that's the problem that we've had right now is governments trying to be all things to all people. What we need to understand is this is not about losing teachers. This is not about losing law enforcement. This is not about what you spend. It's about how you spend.
KING: Critics might go back and look at two votes you cast in the legislature that essentially took federal stimulus money the first time around and made it part of the South Carolina state budget. Now you say those were procedural votes but answer someone who would say come on, you should have known better, Nikki Haley is a hypocrite.
HALEY: Yes, the interesting thing is we didn't know. It was the first time we had ever been required or even been pushed to take money from the federal government and then mandate it on how we did it, so when the stimulus money came down the first thing I did was I called Governor Sanford, I called Senator DeMint, and I said do we have to take the money? And their answer was we don't know and so what I and a group of reformers did were try and clean up what we could in terms of the budget until we could figure that out. By the time it got to the Senate we realized that all it was going to do was run up our debt. It was mandating programs that didn't necessarily apply to South Carolina or that we needed and so when it came down to the final vote, when it came to the vote that it really affected the voters of this state, I voted against the stimulus.
It was the right thing to do then. I'd do it again today if we needed to.
KING: What about the issue of immigration? It is, as you have said, a federal issue in terms of securing the border. But many states saying the federal government has failed in its mission for taking matters into their own hands including the state of Arizona which passed a pretty tough law that gives police new powers if they pulled people over or come into contact with them in some other way, that if they have reasonable suspicion to check papers and the like.
Does South Carolina need a law like that?
HALEY: You know, South Carolina passed a law that was strong on illegal immigration a couple of years ago but the key with Arizona is they did what they had to because the federal government failed to react. They failed to act on something that they should have.
They need to be looking at securing our borders. What we saw Arizona do is say we can't wait on the federal government anymore. We're going to go ahead and turn around and protect our state.
I applaud what Arizona did. I applaud the governor, and I think that every state in the country is going to turn around and start looking at what they need to do to take care of themselves. I think that's part of state's rights.
KING: As we track politics here on the show our staff keeps a running tally of who's endorsing whom and how that all works out. But here's one little footnote we think is an interesting statistic. Maybe you won't. But we've looked at endorsements so far that we call the battle between Vice President Cheney and Governor Sarah Palin.
And so far, Governor Palin has three victories to zero for Vice President Chaney including in your race. Does that mean anything?
HALEY: You know, I mean, I think she has been a national figure that has taught people the power of their voice. I think she is pushing for conservative reform. I think she is trying to remind elected officials that they are not the ones in charge but the people are.
Certainly I can tell you that while we were creeping up in the polls when she came to South Carolina it was a great boost. We welcomed here. The people in South Carolina loved her and they felt energized at getting the power of their voice back and it carried on with our Join the Movement message so we were thrilled to have her.
KING: Nikki Haley, we appreciate your time today and we will check in between now and November.
HALEY: Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.
KING: Thank you. And today's "Most Important Person You Don't Know" is also celebrating a big win, so big even the White House is tweeting about it.
KING: With all the serious news here in Washington, only today's "Most Important Person You Don't Know" could have given the White House something to crow about. Even tweet about.
Here's what went out this afternoon. A soccer ball followed by USA. USA. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard is turning a lot of people into soccer fans right now. His shutout of Algeria today means that for the first time since 1930 a U.S. team wins its group at the World Cup. That means the U.S. advances.
Howard is 31 from North Brunswick, New Jersey and a world class player despite having Turret's syndrome, a disorder that causes people to make unusual movements and sound. He plays pro soccer for Everton in England.
What does he miss most about living here? Light beer. Well, we can forgive him for that.
Let's continue our conversation with diehard soccer fans, Gloria Borger, Republican pollster, Whit Ayres, and Democratic pollster, Cornell Belcher.
Are you more of a soccer fan today than you were a week or two ago because of this?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. You know, I've been a soccer mom. I have to tell you these pollsters know what that is. But --
BORGER: I've been a soccer mom. My son used to be a goalie.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That's so '80s.
BORGER: I know. Sorry. Sorry, that's when I was, a soccer mom, and so I'm thrilled.
BELCHER: I'm waiting for real football to start. Soon. When it's winter and training camp starts. That's what I'm waiting for.
KING: All right.
WHIT AYRES, FOUNDER AND PRES., AYRES, MCHENRY & ASSOCIATES: Hard not to be much of a fan with the U.S. winning today.
(CROSSTALK) KING: It's exciting. It's exciting. All right, there's not as much enthusiasm here as I would have hoped, so let's move on, take a look at some stories "On My Radar."
Do you feel like things in the country are going well at the moment? Well, a growing number of you don't. In our latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polling, 73 percent of Americans say things are going badly. That's up from 67 percent in March.
Only 27 percent of Americans believe things are going well in the country, down from 32 percent in March.
Let's go to the numbers, guys. Why are people -- they seem to be slightly more optimistic about the economy and yet more pessimistic about the direction of the country.
AYRES: They're worried about a lot of things, John. They're worried about the economy, they're worried about the situation in Afghanistan. They're really discouraged about so many aspects of the country, which is one reason why there's a wave building for Republican candidates in the fall.
When the Democrats control the presidency, the House and the Senate, and you see those kinds of numbers on the right direction- wrong track, it's builds momentum and builds a way for the out party.
KING: Is there a good Democratic argument against that?
Good thinking at that end. That's good.
BELCHER: The thing about --
KING: But is it true?
BELCHER: Well, it depends. The thing about these numbers are -- because actually, you know, when you go back, when Bush was in office, when it was the 80s disapproval. But look, things aren't -- the number of issues my colleague is absolutely right, the economy, but also now as I get Afghanistan, top of the news again, as well as the BP oil thing, I mean that numbers -- that number bumped up a little bit.
And however, will that number drop back down when news of the -- when people start feeling the economy is turning around? We've had this conversation before. A lot of the numbers on the economy are actually beginning to turn around and look upward. But people aren't feeling it yet. And when the people start feeling it I think that number will move.
BORGER: But wouldn't you -- you know, you wouldn't argue with the fact that this is about independent voters and disappointed independent voters who, you know, gave their votes to Barack Obama, and now feel like he's not coming through for them in the ways that they hoped? BELCHER: No, I wouldn't completely.
BELCHER: Now certainly independent voters are a big part of it. But right now, you know, people missed the fact that Democrats aren't happy with the way things are going either. The Democrats are not happy --
BORGER: I didn't mean to exclude them.
BELCHER: -- with what they're going to see.
BELCHER: What's going on in the country as well. In fact, if I had a solid majority of Democrats who were saying they were strongly approving of the way things were going that number wouldn't be that bad. So it's possible (INAUDIBLE).
KING: Well, let's stay on this because I want to bring you -- Whit mentioned Afghanistan. I want to bring the Afghanistan numbers into the equation because support for the war in Afghanistan is slipping.
Our Opinion Research poll, again, these new numbers from the end of May, so 42 percent in favor of the war down from 48 percent in March. Opposition is at 56 percent up from 49.
Today we saw, well, I'll call it a test of presidential leadership, and a very tough decision for the president. A year after he fired the general in Afghanistan he fired the general in Afghanistan.
When it comes to how people think about the war, and how they think about their commander in chief, what's this mean?
AYRES: John, I think the president came out smelling like a rose today because I think he ended up with the most popular general in the country leading his effort in Afghanistan.
It's an enormous irony, though, that the general that George Bush turned to, to save the war in Iraq is exactly the same general Barack Obama has turned to, to save the war in Afghanistan.
It's a general that the liberal Moveon.org called in a big ad in the "New York Times" "General Betray-Us." So I think there's a sweet irony there and I suspect George W. Bush is smiling tonight.
BORGER: You know I think the problem for the president, though, is that this really does put Afghanistan front and center. We're going to have those hearings, those confirmation hearings, for General Petraeus. He's going to get confirmed, let me go out on a limb, OK, and say that.
But people are going to start -- you've heard that from Senator McCain today. They're going to start reviewing the policy in Afghanistan just a little bit early and the question of whether we ought to begin the drawdown in July.
BELCHER: Well, I -- I love that we're going to start reviewing that policy. But guess what? The president is where the American people are. You have to go back -- well, no, they're not. I mean they're staying there a little bit longer.
You have to go back almost two years in the tread line to find where Americans thought the war was a good war or a war worth the cost. So that number has been slipping. I mean the president is -- I mean, look, we're into this war, we've got a bad economy here, we've got issues on the home front here.
Americans aren't in -- aren't supporting Afghanistan for the long-term. They're not. Those numbers show that.
KING: Whit says George W. Bush is smiling tonight. How about Jeb Bush tonight? He's back on the political radar, too. In the "New York Times" he slaps President Obama for blaming the country's problem on his brother, George.
Quote, "It's kind of like a kid coming to school saying the dog ate my homework. It's childish. This is what children do until they mature. They don't accept responsibility. He really seems like he's getting caught up in what people are writing about him. I mean good god, man, read a book, go watch ESPN."
Jeb Bush is often media shy, he's doing this for a reason.
BELCHER: I think it's particularly cheeky that Jeb Bush is attacking this president for not taking responsibility when you got -- when his president, you know, Bush never took a bump for anything. Never said I was sorry. Never said we did anything wrong.
And this president has said the buck stops with me. You know, we've done some things wrong. So the idea that this guy is lecturing, you know, our administration about taking responsibility is a bit hilarious.
AYRES: John --
KING: And achieved one for another Bush fight. He won --
AYRES: Jeb Bush is one of the smartest, most thoughtful and most successful Republicans in the country. If he's giving the president advice, I'd suggest the president at least listen to what he has to say.
KING: Do you think he's trying to make a comeback of sorts of just assert his voice a little bit?
AYRES: I don't know. He has not indicated any particular desire to run for president but he'd be a very, very strong candidate if he decided to do so.
BELCHER: And --
BORGER: Except he's got that name, and if he could change his name.
BORGER: Jeb. That's -- if he could -- but he is a bridge candidate. Right? I mean he can he talk to the tea partiers and he is of the establishment but he does have that name, Jeb.
BELCHER: But the problem really is that, I mean, Bush did more to undermine the brand of the Republican Party than we Democrats could have done in 10 years with $1 billion. I mean he really did. So he really does to have to sort of come back on that name. That name really right now is a drag on him.
KING: All right. A quick timeout here. When we come back, Governor Mark Sanford and his ex-wife met up with Nikki Haley's campaign headquarters. The CNN cameras were there to catch it. If you come back, you'll be saying awkward.
KING: Two important developments just in, we want to tell you about. Looking at those live pictures on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. It looks like they've just put that containment cap back in place on top of the gushing BP wellhead.
They had to take it off earlier this morning because of a problem. At least a million gallons of oil leaked after it was removed because of an accident this morning.
Again it looks like they have put it back in place. But if you remember the first time we went through this, they have to put it in place, secure it in place then close the vents around it.
We will continue to track this development in the hours ahead.
Also late word from the White House tonight. President Obama called the Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the removal of General Stanley McChrystal. We're told President Karzai welcomed the nomination of General David Petraeus to be NATO's new top military commander in Afghanistan.
ANNOUNCER: Here comes the "Play-by-Play."
KING: Back now for the "Play-by-Play" with Gloria Borger, Whit Ayres, and Cornell Belcher.
And let's stay on the president's big announcement today. The commander in chief comes into the Rose Garden. It's a high stakes moment. He's essentially firing a respected four-star general putting in place General David Petraeus.
So we were listening to every word -- every word -- the president said. This was interesting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Stan McChrystal has always shown great courtesy and carried out my orders faithfully. I've got great admiration for him and for his long record of service in uniform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: One of the biggest points for the president here is to say, "I'm in charge. I'm the commander in chief." The civilian runs the military.
I was struck by those words. "Carried out my orders faithfully." We don't hear him talk about that much.
BELCHER: Well, this isn't about sort of even bipartisan. This isn't about Democrat and Republican. This is about the commander in chief. This is about our democracy. I mean there's lines of action here that have to happen and the president came across very decisive today as a leader and president -- as the president should and did what he had to do.
Democrat/Republican, this is about democracy and the chain of command.
KING: Does anyone out there question him as commander in chief?
AYRES: I don't think so. But I think -- I think the president came across very well today. I think he did what he had to do and he was very fortunate to have General Petraeus waiting in the wings ready to step in.
BORGER: You know --
BELCHER: And they do (INAUDIBLE) fired him.
BORGER: But, you know, he did it very clearly, and he said he was sad about doing it, this is not a president who gloated, he didn't want his staff to gloat about this. This is a president who said look, there's a civilian control here, and I am in charge.
KING: And this is a result. I want to show you. I've been showing some front pages throughout the hour. This is "Stars and Stripes," the military newspaper. "A General's Contempt." Stanley McChrystal on the front page.
A public relations disaster for a decorated, experienced, four- star general, and yet the great irony is when he took this command he got a lecture from the president of the United States about getting this just right and he told his troops, "be careful."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, CMDR., U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: We're also going to get an awful lot of scrutiny in the press and so I'm going to ask you as you go forward, if you're asked, speak your mind but don't speak my mind unless you're me.
So don't speak for me unless I ask you to because it's going to be very important that we be clear about what we are doing, because the whole world is going to be watching and the whole world is going to be listening.
Everyone from our closest allies to our enemies. And they have got to understand that we are of like -- of one mind and focused.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And yet that whole "Rolling Stone" article was about how we were not of one mind and in his view not very focused.
BELCHER: D'oh -- I mean --
BORGER: And his aides were speaking for him. They were saying, this is what General McChrystal told us. This is -- so he was very present (ph), shall we say?
AYRES: This will be studied in the military and in public relations circles.
AYRES: For years as a prime example of what not to do.
BORGER: As a don't.
KING: I will say -- I want to show this. This is -- I want to show this again because Cornell is quite along here. This is the "Chicago Tribune." "General D'Oh." You're good at that. You've practiced that before.
BORGER: You know, it's interesting. Journalists were lurking. This journalist had a tape recorder. This is not as if they didn't know that they were being recorded and were on the record.
(CROSSTALK) KING: By a magazine that is -- I'm not criticizing it at all. It's very clear. "Rolling Stone" is an agenda magazine.
KING: It's not like you're sitting down, you know, with the "Washington Post" or "The New York Times" or CNN for that matter. It's an attitude magazine. I'm not criticizing it but it's known that if you sit down then what it is.
BELCHER: But this is a lesson for people and, you know, CEOs, you name it. You're always on the record. You always have to approach a reporter. I love you, guys.
BORGER: Really, really?
BELCHER: But you're always on the record.
BORGER: No. No. I don't -- you know --
BORGER: Let us in. Keep letting us in.
AYRES: Cornell is right on that.
KING: We're going to end on a softer, if not still an awkward note. Nikki Haley was celebrating her victory in the South Carolina runoff last night. In the room, two Sanfords, Mark and Jenny. Mark, the governor, Jenny, the former first lady. They are of course not together anymore. But a CNN camera was there to capture this moment.
KING: Who wants to go first, reading the body language there?
BORGER: I can say, just as to say it's not Al and Tipper in 2000.
BORGER: Sort of the opposite of that.
BELCHER: That looked like most of my dates back in high school where I'd go in. They'd --
BORGER: Extremely awkward. Extremely awkward.
AYRES: Knowing both of them, I think I'm going to take a pass on this one.
(LAUGHTER) KING: Pass on that one?
BORGER: Go out on a limb.
KING: It is an interesting moment though. Nikki Haley and the legislative is a huge supporter of this governor's agenda and clearly he wanted to be there. Jenny Sanford was out campaigning for her, saying South Carolina should have a woman governor.
I guess, it's an awkward moment.
BORGER: She's being a little --
KING: You do the best you can.
BORGER: -- sort of just reading her body language, she kind of patted him on the shoulder, and went ooh. She was sort of taken aback by it.
KING: Our crack intrepid producer Peter (INAUDIBLE) who I think now qualifies for residency in South Carolina was right there in the middle of all that. He's the one who alerted us this move and I believe it was our Kevin Bono who got some of these pictures here.
BORGER: It was. It was.
KING: Kevin Bono, another intrepid producer. So it's an awkward moment but that's the way it is.
Thanks all for coming in. You wanted to say something else? I'll give you a sec.
BORGER: No, I was just saying we have it recorded for history now.
KING: We do have it recorded for history whatever that means.
Whit and Cornell, thanks.
AYRES: Thank you.
KING: Gloria, thanks for coming in.
Up next, the United States sympathetic underdog? Can't be. "Pete on the Street" catches World Cup fever.
KING: Want to give you a quick update. If you look at these live pictures here. The containment cap is back in place. You still see oil coming out, came off completely this morning though.
A million gallons or so leaked out because of the problem they had. The accident this morning. BP has put the cap back in place. We're waiting for an official statement to see if it has been locked down, if the vents have been closed and how much they're containing as we go up.
CNN will stay on top of this story, including at the top of the hour when John Roberts is filling in for Campbell Brown. Let's head up to New York now for a preview.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, John. Thanks very much. We're going to go deeper on the change in command in Afghanistan. With McChrystal gone, what is next for our troops? We'll hear from retired General Wesley Clark and the man who helped write the book on counterinsurgency David Kilcullen.
Also BP's latest blunder. How underwater -- how the underwater accident sent even more oil gushing into the Gulf and what BP is doing to fix it. Bill Nye, the science guy, joins us to explain it all for us.
Plus, death threats in Arizona. Why smugglers are now taking aim at off-duty officers on this side of the border.
All that coming your way beginning at the top of the hour -- John.
KING: Our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick can be kind of unpredictable. We were trying to find him earlier today and I think he was at a bar watching a soccer game.
PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: John King, I went out to do my regular assignment and somebody pulled me in a bar where everybody was groaning and cheering. And I said, hey, it's the World Cup. And -- and well, you'll see what ensues.
DOMINICK: What happened? What happened? Oh. Man. You ever think about politics and foreign policy with these games?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well --
DOMINICK: Like you root for a team, like you're not rooting for North Korea because they're evildoers?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know the good thing about the World Cup is that everybody forgets about politics and plays the game.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The North Koreans. I mean, you don't want them to be killed for losing.
DOMINICK: You worry about their health, the players. Right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. I think they probably bought themselves some time with that goal.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're going to hire fake Chinese actors to play as fans --
DOMINICK: Chinese actors?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because the North Koreans aren't allowed to leave the country.
DOMINICK: No, what is wrong with them?
U.S. is tied right now still against Algeria. You know, the empire of the United States and, really northern African nation. I mean, how are we not dominating?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Northern Africa, I think they were in Antarctica somewhere.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just like to watch good soccer.
DOMINICK: You're drunk, aren't you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quite frankly, I'd like to see the U.S. win tonight.
DOMINICK: You'd like to see the U.S. win and advance in front of England? Oh, thanks, man, thank you, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're OK, you're OK.
DOMINICK: OK. Yes! Jesus! What is going on here?
DOMINICK: John King, it gets a little -- it gets a little rowdy at a soccer game but I had a good time at 11:00 in the morning, thank you.
KING: That would be video evidence of our Pete Dominick drinking on the job, I believe?
DOMINICK: That was apple juice, sir.
KING: Apple juice, my --
DOMINICK: I don't know if you can say that, but it was -- it was a lot of fun. And what a win. I just want to know, if you're not from the country playing, do you care about their foreign policy, their culture, their language? People only care about the sport, John King.
KING: And give me a quick one here. The (INAUDIBLE) to your upset, they think they can keep going?
DOMINICK: The U.S. will probably dominate all the way through halfway of Saturday's game then lose to Ghana sadly.
KING: Pete Dominick, calling it like he sees it. That's all for us tonight. Thanks for stopping by. John Roberts takes it away right now.
ANNOUNCER: CNN Primetime begins right now.