Return to Transcripts main page


RNC Chairman's Gaffe; Sobering Jobs Report; One on One with NPR's Peter Sagal

Aired July 2, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Suzanne. And good evening. It is history we celebrate this Fourth of July weekend and we begin tonight with an attempt to rewrite history.

And new calls for the resignation of gaffe-prone chairman of the Republican National Committee. Video emerged today of Michael Steele calling Afghanistan a war of President Obama's choosing.

Never mind that Mr. Obama was in the Illinois state Senate when Bush launched that war back in 2001. And that's just the beginning.

Chairman Steele went on to sharply criticize a strategy that Republicans in Congress overwhelmingly support. Chairman Steele tonight is trying to clean up his latest mess, but he isn't apologizing, or even saying he misspoke.

Instead, in a new statement, Steele voices support for the troops and their mission, and says it is Mr. Obama's strategy being implemented on the Afghan battlefield now.

Enough to calm the critics? Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is a former Democratic Party chairman who has talked his way into a controversy once or twice.

And CNN contributor Erick Erickson is editor in chief for the and among the conservatives who today said Chairman Steele has exhausted their patience.

Gentlemen, I want you to start by just listening to Michael Steele in his own words. He's at fundraiser and he starts talking about the war in Afghanistan. And here is the part where he attributes a war begun by President Bush to this president.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: This is a war of Obama's choosing. This is not -- this is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.


KING: And here's what he went on to say later about the strategy. "Well, if he's such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan, all right? Because everyone who has tried, over 1,000 years of history, has failed."

Governor Rendell, it may be unfair to go to the Democrat first, but I was half joking. You have talked your way into a controversy or three or four in your tenure. And -- including as Democratic Party chairman.

Is this fatal to Michael Steele? Or as a Democrat, you just wish he stays?

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, he's the gift that keeps on giving, but yes, I think if this was the only thing he's done it wouldn't be fatal, but on top of all the rest, I think it is.

And it's really symptomatic, though, beyond Michael Steele. It's symptomatic of the way the Republicans have tried to blame President Obama for everything. Take the bailout, for example.

As I recall, John, and I think you all confirmed it, the bailout started with Secretary Paulson and President Bush. And by the way, I think the bailout saved America. But to blame Barack Obama for the bailout is rewriting history, just as Chairman Steele was rewriting history about the Afghan war.

KING: Well, Erick, you have -- I'll say kept your powder dry in the past on some of these controversies. Today, you said -- you put up a posting saying look, he's got to go. Bill Kristol, the editor of the "Weekly Standard", said this is an affront and he's got to go.

Will he go?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I hope so, but I'm not hopeful. Say what you will about Michael Steele, but in addition to swallowing his foot on a regular basis, he's also very stubborn.

If it was for the good of the party, yes, I think he would go, but Michael Steele lately seems to be about the good for Michael Steele. I think that he's going to be made to realize that this is not for his good either. He's thrown the message off for the week, more so than Joe Barton ever could have hoped or John Boehner or any one else.

You know, Republicans attacked Democrats repeatedly during the Bush administration saying you can't really say I supported the troops and don't support the mission. That's exactly what he said. Now he's coming out all of a sudden and saying I support the troops and the mission.

Well, he can say that now, but when he wasn't having to do spin, he very clearly was saying he supports the troop and not the mission.

You can't have it both ways, Chairman Steele. You need to go.

KING: Help me, honestly, Governor Rendell, as someone who knows the job of national party chairman. How much does it matter? In a competitive election year where we're getting down to November and you've got 37 governors races and 36 Senate races and all these House races and probably, you know, 30 or 40 at that point that are contested.

What -- what does it matter if the chairman is an asset or a liability?

RENDELL: Well, it is a make or break clearly, John, and that's the case. But I think, again, Chairman Steele epitomizes what Republicans have tried to do during this entire year and that's to blame Barack Obama for everything under the sun.

And it's been very divisive and it's hurt the country. And you see it now when we desperately need help for the unemployed in this country. We desperately need help for states so that we don't have to lay off police and firemen and teachers.

You're seeing this partisanship and this blame game running rampant. And I think that does hurt the Republicans. I think the Republicans -- Mr. Barton, Mr. Steele, not passing the financial responsibility act -- those things are going to come back and bite them.

They're taking an election which they should have been a huge overwhelming favorite in and I think they're making it a whole lot closer.

ERICKSON: This discussion is exactly why I think it's time for the chairman to go. He's said a lot of dumb things in the past, and there's an accumulation. At some point, the straw breaks the camel's back.

We should be discussing today just how terrible the jobs numbers were yet again. But no one in the national media is going to talk about that now because --

KING: Actually, we're about to talk about it --

ERICKSON: Well, OK, good.

KING: We're about to talk about in this conversation with both of you two gentlemen.

ERICKSON: Yes, well, good.

KING: But I want to -- one more quick question on this point, Erick. When you sent out this message, did you face any pressure, look, even from friends who agree with you, look, you'll only add to the conversation by publicly calling for him to go?

ERICKSON: A lot. But it needs to be said. And, you know, I -- if nothing else staked out a reputation of saying the things that need to be said, whether people like it or not. Yes, I've gotten a lot of pressure to not go with that, to take it down or to back off of it slightly, I can't. He needs to resign.

KING: Let's talk about these jobs numbers. The government said today 125,000 jobs -- 125,000 jobs were lost last month in June. The unemployment rate actually dropped from 9.7 percent to 9.5 percent. But, Governor Rendell, you know how this works. That's because 650,000 Americans got so discouraged they stopped looking for work. You are the governor of an industrial state. Your unemployment rate at 9 percent is the highest in 25 years.

The politics of that have nothing to do with Michael Steele. That is a bad omen for the Democrats, no?

RENDELL: Well, first and foremost, John, to be fair, private sector jobs were up 83,000 this month. It's the loss of these temporary census jobs that skewed the figures.

KING: Right.

RENDELL: In January of 2009, Barack Obama's first month as president, we lost 750,000 jobs. In the last six months of this year -- the first six months, we gained 600,000 jobs. So let's put that in perspective.

First three months of 2009, Pennsylvania lost 81,000 jobs. First three months of this year, we gained 76,000 jobs. So the recovery is happening. It's not happening as fast as I would like, or as you would like or any red-blooded American would like, but it's happening and it's happening for a number of reasons.

And the stimulus has certainly been one of those reasons. In Pennsylvania on March 31, there was 16,300 people working in jobs that were fully funded by the stimulus. And another 20,000 state workers and municipal workers who are working because we got stimulus money and didn't have to lay them off.

So stimulus has had a dramatic effect in Pennsylvania as it had across the board and we're making progress. Not fast enough, but we're making progress.

KING: And one of the debates, Erick, going forward, is you know the Democrats have tried to extend unemployment benefits. And in that package released in one version of it was also some money to give Governor Rendell and the mayors some help with teachers and firefighters to keep people on the payroll.

And they haven't been able to do it because the Senate won't go -- the Senate won't go along because a lot of Republicans there and one or two Democrats say we've got to pay for it to do it.

I want you to listen to Elijah Cummings. He's a House Democrat who today just voiced his frustration that they can't at least agree on an extension of unemployment benefits.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), JOINT ECONOMIC COMMITTEE: You know sometimes I listen to my colleagues on the other side and I wonder, what do you say -- and maybe they've never been in those situations where a person just couldn't find a job. So what do you say to the person who doesn't -- can't find a job? Just go and die? Just get lost? No empathy? No nothing?


KING: Are you convinced, Erick, that -- that Republicans, excuse me, can win that argument in the elections saying look, we would have loved to have given unemployment benefits, extended them, but it would have increased the deficit?

ERICKSON: I think that it so far overshadowed by what the administration and the Democrats have not been able to do, which is sustain a job growth in this country outside of government, that it overshadows.

You know, I actually am of the conservative opinion that we don't need to keep extending unemployment benefits because however awful it may be to say, to a degree, you subsidize unemployment by doing that.

We're the country on earth now who has the longer unemployment benefits than any other western nation. Coincidentally, we're also having more trouble than any other western nation getting out of this recession and creating jobs.

I think there's a connection. But for those who disagree, I would say, look at the numbers the governor quoted and look at what the government right now is quoting. These are jobs that are being created inside government or dependent on government.

Those jobs do not produce as well or efficiently in the free market as jobs in the private sector do. But this government continues to show a bias towards government jobs and government dependent jobs. And that's going to hurt us long term.

KING: Governor Rendell, I'll give you the last word but I want you to do it in the context of this. I want to do it in the context of this. As we came on the air tonight, here's what we had received today from the Democratic National Committee.

Twenty-eight e-mails about Michael Steele. One about the jobs report today. That speaks volumes as to how the Democratic National Committee thinks that job report will bounce politically.

RENDELL: Well, it speaks volumes about how bad politics is today. But let me correct Erick. Those 76,000 jobs in Pennsylvania were job increases in every sector, including the fact Pennsylvania's gained manufacturing jobs five months in a row. That hasn't happened in years.

We are bouncing back. We're bouncing back in construction, in manufacturing, in green energy job, and that's one of the things the president is fuelling. Green energy jobs. The stimulus has been a tremendous plus on green energy jobs.

ERICKSON: They couldn't survive without it.

RENDELL: So, yes, it's not as fast as we'd like but yes, it happening in the private sector. Not just government jobs. Government jobs have been retained, not created, other than the temporary census jobs. But I'm sure that Erick wouldn't want teachers or policemen or firemen to be laid off either.

KING: I've got to call a truce right there, gentlemen, for tonight. We won't litigate this all. I want to thank you both on the Friday before the Fourth of July for stopping in and saying hello.

Gentlemen, enjoy the holiday and have a great weekend. And we will see you soon.

ERICKSON: Thank you.

RENDELL: Thank you, John.

KING: A conservative there and a Democrat there. When we come back, an independent voice on the economy. The New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former billionaire CEO, talks about when will the jobs come back and the politics. The tough politics for an incumbent.


KING: Consider this number -- 26 million. Twenty-six million Americans are either unemployed or underemployed meaning they want to work full time but they can't find it. The president makes the case things are slowly, slowly moving in the right direction.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All told, our economy has created nearly 600,000 private sector jobs this year. That's a stark turnaround from the first six months of last year when we lost 3.7 million jobs at the height of the recession.


KING: In an election year, though, economy almost always means tough politics, tough sledding, for the party in power. And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire CEO, before trying his hands in politics says the frustration is easy to find these days.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: Well, I think that every incumbent will tell you, this is a tough time. The economy -- it starts out with the economy.

The economy is in trouble, people -- some people are losing their jobs and their homes. And when that happens, lots of people start thinking it could happen to them. That creates a sense of unease in the country. Then that also keeps people from spending more. And so the economy sort of -- it's a self-creating kind of thing.

When the economy is bad, we've got to blame somebody. I think you're seeing this populist movement against bankers, against elected officials. We're in a situation in this country where people because they're uncomfortable are more negative than they normally are. KING: There are some who look at weak jobs data and some who look at the Wall Street, who look at the European debt issue, who look at other issues and say there's a risk of a double-dip recession. Do you see that?

BLOOMBERG: There's certainly a risk. I can tell you about the economy of New York, which I really am familiar with. And that is that our economy is doing better. We never had the job losses that we had projected. We had lots of job losses but not as bad as we thought and our tourism numbers have stayed pretty high.

So New York City is getting through this. The rest of country probably a little bit less so. And that's based on -- I have friends who have stores all across the country and they tell me the New York stores are doing, the others aren't doing as well.

So I think there really is a problem throughout this country. The economy is not improving as fast as you and I would like it to do. But part of that is, that it just takes time. So to some extent, this is another economic cycle. It doesn't mean it isn't painful, it doesn't mean people aren't getting hurt. Doesn't mean people don't need our help.

The question then becomes how do you get us out of it? And I would be on the side of -- well, some of the stimulus programs, I think, have been good. I think some of them have not been as targeted as they should be.

Deficits do matter, but having said that, we've got to keep making investments.

KING: One of the debates in Congress is whether states should get more money to them pass on to cities to help you with teachers and police officers and firefighters that a lot -- some people are saying we can't do that right now because of the deficit issue you just mentioned.

If New York state does not get the money it is counting on from the federal government next year, what happens to your city?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I think the first thing is you've identified the problem. The money should go to the cities -- and keep in mind I'm a mayor so I have a vested interesting in this -- but the money should go to the cities where the problems are and where we can build the infrastructure, instead of going to the states that then spread them around the states.

Because when that happens, the cities do not get the money and we're counting on the cities to have some money because that's where the unemployment is. So the federal government -- I have said this repeatedly. I'm thinking you'll find virtually every mayor in the country agreeing with me, although governance would probably be on the other side in all fairness.

But saying the money has to go directly to the cities. Some federal programs do that. But too many of them go to the states and the states never pass that money down to the cities or pass only a small amount down. And that's why when the -- federal government spends stimulus money, it's very -- it's relevantly ineffective.

There's an enormous loss between what they're trying to do and what gets done because there's enormous -- distribution of the money between the federal government and where the real problem is.

KING: Help me out as a guy who understand Wall Street. In this town, Washington, Democrats say this new financial reform bill, it's the most sweeping package of reform since just after the Great Depression. It's going to -- too big too fail goes away. It's going to take care of all the shenanigans that got us in trouble in 2008.

Republicans say it does nothing of the sort. And it's going to restrict credit and hurt small businesses across the America. Which is it?

BLOOMBERG: Well, they're both right and they're both wrong. Number one, what this bill does is going to be decided by the regulation that the Fed and the treasury implement and other federal agencies. So you really don't know what it's going to do.

Number two, it's also true that the economy didn't fall apart because of the banks. The banks were part of it. They created a lot of instruments so that we could take money and leverage it. So that we could have lots of mortgages and lots of loans for lots of companies.

And they created a situation that was volatile. Keep I mind, everybody wanted that. I know of nobody four or five years ago when the stock market kept going up, when everybody could get a mortgage, when every quarter, every company reported better earnings, when unemployment was low, and people were getting raises -- I don't know anybody that back in those days said oh, stop, stop, some day we're going to get in trouble.

No, we all loved it. Our IRA's were becoming more valuable. Our pension funds were becoming more valuable. Invariably, you get into a period, and in all fairness to Greenspan, he did in one speech -- and I don't know if anybody listened -- maybe he didn't even.

But he said -- this exuberance of which was just not tolerable. It can't -- nothing goes up forever. And we were sort of -- which we always do in these cycles -- come to believe that it's a new world and it is going to go forever. And that just didn't happen. And it won't happen the next time either.


KING: Mayor Michael Bloomberg there. When we come back, we'll go wall to wall to show you the states where a high unemployment means high anxiety for the Democrats.

Also ahead tonight, we'll go one on one with the NPR funny man, Peter Sagal. A bit of a history quiz on this Independence Day. See if you can past the test. And on our radar tonight, some fascinating stories including Speaker Nancy Pelosi's threat to the Obama White House.

And it's been one year since Sarah Palin gave up the office of Alaska governor. How's she doing? You'll want to see the numbers.

And in "Play-by-Play tonight," you don't want to miss this. Remember candidate Obama said he'd clean up the swamp of Washington? Is it really true that he's empowering the lobbyists?

And blame Bush. A lawmaker in Congress helped build the list of things President Bush is at fault for. This one a bit tongue and cheek. You don't want to miss it.


KING: In "Wall to Wall" tonight a closer look at how a tough economy complicates an already tough year for the Democrats in this midterm election year.

Let's first take a look at the 10 states with the highest unemployment. You see Florida, 11.7 percent. Nevada is the highest right now at 14 percent. You see all of these other states -- Michigan, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio.

Not rocket science. Go to a state with high unemployment, you're likely to find a lot of competitive races and Democrats in trouble.

Look at Ohio. The incumbent governor Ted Strickland. He's is leading right now but that's a very tough race in part because of that 10.7 percent unemployment rate. Republicans think there are five House seats now held by Democrats that could be in play this year in the state of Ohio.

What about next door in Michigan? 13.6 unemployment, huge. The open governor seat, the Democratic incumbent is term limited. Republicans think they could pick that one up there. At least two seats held by House Democrats right now -- held by Democrats, Republicans think they could gain in the state of Michigan.

Let's come west. The story is the same. As we said Nevada now has the highest unemployment in the country. Out there, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He is vulnerable in this midterm election year and there's a House Democratic seat out there Republicans have their eye on thinking that the economy could be one of the factors they'd pick up a seat out there.

And out in California, a state that has been blue for the Democrats for a long time. Barbara Boxer, Democratic Senate incumbent in a close race. Again, the unemployment rate, one of the big factors there, four House Democrats being targeted by Republicans who think California -- not usually fertile for the Republicans -- could be a pickup area this year because of that 12.4 percent unemployment.

So it's not surprising if you're in one of these states with competitive races, you turn on the TV and you see the advertising, the economy is a dominant theme.

Like California. Meg Whitman is the former eBay CEO. She's running for governor in that state and she says I've run a big company, I can help you find a job.


MEG WHITMAN (R), CALIFORNIA GOV. CANDIDATE: If he could only do one thing, putting people back to work would be the most important thing. The human cost of 2 million Californians out of work is devastating. And I think often politicians forget about that because they don't see it every day. I see it every day.


KING: That's Meg Whitman's pitch in California. But what about an incumbent Democrat? Can he highlight this? Well, I just told you Harry Reid, he's is one of the vulnerable Democrats. He's also the Senate majority leader.

Watch his ads in Nevada. What he is telling his people is you need to send me back to Washington because one of the things I do is bring you work.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you see here are hundreds of jobs. These solar jobs wouldn't be here without Harry Reid. It's that simple.


KING: Just watch it play out. Find a state with high unemployment will find tough races for Democrats this year, and more than likely the air wars are about the economy.

When we come back, we'll go one-on-one with NPR funny man Peter Sagal. There's a quiz asked around the country, who did we declare our independence from? Unfortunately, 1 in 4 Americans failed the test. We'll see how Peter does in just a minute.


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

KING: Sunday, of course, is the Fourth of July, which celebrates America's independence from -- wait, wait, don't tell me. Apparently that's a harder question than 1 in 4 Americans can handle. But certainly not Peter Sagal, the host of NPR's weekly quiz show about current events. He's in Chicago for a weekly get-together.

And Peter, can you -- well, first, can you answer the question? Our independence from who?

PETER SAGAL, HOST, NPR'S "WAIT, WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!": Well, I was trying to figure it out because I'm one of those people in that 25 percent. And I was trying to do it logically.

Who sort of looks like us, speaks English but are clearly evil that we want to rebel from? And I came up with it. It's the galactic empire.

KING: The galactic empire? This -- I mean this is pretty stunning.

SAGAL: We're part of the rebel alliance.

KING: This is a Marist --

SAGAL: I think so.

KING: A Marist poll from which country did the U.S. wins its independence? 74 percent -- God bless them -- got it right, Great Britain. Twenty percent said they're not sure and 6 percent mentioned other countries including France, China, Japan, Mexico and Spain. Hello?

SAGAL: I -- hello? What do they think that our rebellion was for? Did they imagine that it was like a Team Jacob-Team Edward fight just got out of hand? We couldn't get along anymore?

KING: I think maybe the World Cup has just poisoned their views or warped their perspective or something.

SAGAL: I know.

KING: All right, I'm going to make you rep for Chicago here because on the program this week, we had the New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. And in the biggest trending story in America today -- who gets Lebron -- Mayor Bloomberg was repping for New York. He says Lebron should come there, play for either the Knicks or the Nets because of this.


BLOOMBERG: Lebron will be able to walk the streets and not be bothered by people but he'll also have the power of being a star when he wants to do it. You can have both things in New York. And there are plenty of other cities that he can be successful in and enjoy, I just think that New York is better.


KING: Well?

SAGAL: All right. A couple of things. If Lebron is watching because I know he's a fan of yours.

First of all, you should listen to me, Lebron, because I'm actually taller than Mayor Bloomberg. There are few people of whom I can say that but I can say it of him.

Secondly, I want you to look outside. That's an actual live shot of Chicago. The weather, despite what you've heard, is really always like that.

KING: Now do you think --

SAGAL: Really.


KING: Go ahead.

SAGAL: And lastly -- and lastly if you've been following the news here in Chicago particularly with the Blagojevich trial, what we're finding out about our former governor, here in Chicago, we forgive just about everything. Just keep that in mind, you and me, Lebron, you know what I mean?

KING: Now, one of the things working against Chicago is apparently this is a psychology lesson. Would Lebron James be able to walk into the United Center every time and walk past that statue of Michael Jordan, which at the moment happens to be wearing, I guess, a Chicago Blackhawks jersey because of the win in the Stanley Cup finals. But, that's the question, you know, would LeBron forever have to live in the shadow of Michael if he comes to Chicago?

SAGAL: I'm willing to state on behalf of my fellow Chicagoans, we're so desperate for another superstar that it says on the statue, you know, "Michael Jordan, the best there every was, best there will be." We're willing to scratch that out and write in "so far, really until you showed up." We'll put your head, we'll get like one of those LeBron James Halloween mask and put it on the head of that statue if you come here to play. It's a little sad, how desperate people are around here. Come on, we've got pride. We' got this big lake. We don't need this guy, is what I say.

KING: All right, before I move on to the next topic, I need you to raise your right hand and under oath tell me you are not now or never have been a Russian spy.

SAGAL: Yeah, well, you know, I did grow up in the New Jersey suburbs and that means these days that that is a sign of suspicion. I, speaking of the son of the New Jersey suburbs, am stunned that that's where Russia sent their spies. What did they expect them to find out? Did they expect them to find out that Mrs. Berkowicz down the street has been getting Botox?

I mean, very good work Agent X, now we want you to infiltrate Olive Garden, find secret of endless pasta bowl. What were they working for? It's a little disappointing, don't you think that when we finally discover this ring of spy that's almost like a movie, it turns out to be such a bad movie. These guys not very good spies.

KING: Let's move on to the most interesting characterization or use of words in politics, ants don't make their way into our political dialogue that often, but the House Republican leader, John Boehner made some likening of the financial crisis to an ant and said the financial reform bill was like dropping a nuclear weapon on it. And the Democratic Party couldn't resist trying to have a little fun with this.


ANNOUNCER: This week, John Boehner compared Wall Street reform to killing an ant with a nuclear year weapon.

BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Do you think the financial crisis was an ant?

REP NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: It was a situation that some have called an ant, An ant? A-n-t, ant.


KING: Nancy Pelosi can spell, that's a plus.

SAGAL: Yes. Well, I think that this was -- we like to call on wait, wait don't tell me, a "Boehner boner." But, I don't think that he handled it as well as he should. He could have gone two ways. He could have taken a cue from Nancy Pelosi and said no, he was referring to his actual aunt, his Aunt Barrel (ph) who he doesn't like and thinks they should use a nuclear weapon on. Or he should have had his spokesman come out and say that Leader Boehner is really afraid of ants. He thinks ants are terrible and once again feels that nuclear response is appropriate for an infestation of ants.

KING: We study political ants here all the time and we look for colorful characters, we look for colorful issues. It is hard to top this one. This is Pamela Gorman, she's running for Congress in Arizona and she wants you to know, she has guns, plural. Let's listen.


ANNOUNCER: This year a lot of folks think this is our best shot at changing Congress. Course, that all depends on the caliber of our candidates.


Meet Pamela Gorman, candidate for Congress in Arizona 3. Conservative Christian and a pretty fair shot.



KING: You're speechless.

SAGAL: I am kind of amazed. I watched that. There seems to be a number of ads in this kind of combative way. If I were her opponent, I have no idea who her opponent is, I would probably do a counter ad that just cuts that footage and then cut to like the deer she's presumably shooting at, 10 feet away, and the deer's like, "What, I'm fine. Come on, are you teasing me? Come on, I'm standing right here? Huh?" She -- it's a little crazy. Do we need our legislators to be excellent shots? Are we expecting invasions? Are we expecting hordes of game animals to overrun the capitol and we need to defend ourselves?

You know, I imagine people have their own standards for picking their leaders, but an ability to put up with a recoil of a fully automatic weapon and not yip in pain doesn't seem to be high on my list.

KING: Peter Sagal, we appreciate your time and enjoy the fourth, my friend.

SAGAL: You, too, John. Talk to you soon.

KING: Next among the items on my radar, Nancy Pelosi fires a warning shot about the president's war strategy in Afghanistan. Stay right there.


KING: A lot of fun on my "Political Radar," tonight. Let's start with the political fireworks Republican chairman Michael Steele set off by opening his mouth. Let's listen to him again at a Republican rally in Connecticut blaming the war in Afghanistan on President Obama. And then how about the reaction earlier this hour.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: This is a war of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in.

GOV EDWARD RENDELL (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, he's the gift that keeps on giving.


KING: With me here in studio, Republican strategist, Rich Galen; Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, and our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

Rich, to you, the Republican first, is he, as Ed Rendell says, unfortunately for Republicans, the gift that keeps on giving.

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He was taken out of context. He thought he was taken about where we got independence from, Afghanistan.


It is -- it's unbelievable to me. I mean, I've never been a huge fan of Michael Steele, but I do think that it's time for the Republican -- the members of the Republican National Committee to have a meeting and say OK, either you leave or we're going to put a keeper there and you can get on the phone and raise money, but you're not allowed to out there and say anything that even somebody with a Blackberry phone that can record you, it's just... CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I, of course, want to keep him there. In fact, I'm going to give money to the RNC (INAUDIBLE)...



BELCHER: But here's a serious thing here, is that, you know, the RNC is in a bit of a shambles here because they're not -- they should be lapping us in money right now, given the enthusiasm and energy that' on their side and an organization and they're not doing that. And I think they can begin to point the finger back at Michael Steele on that. And this could really hurt them in organizing on the ground going into this election.

DANA BASH, CNN SR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the thing to remember is that this is not a unique situation, this is one of a series of many, many, many gaffes that he has made that has had Republicans going nuts. I remember back in January, in fact, there was a group of senior Republican aides who actually did a conference call, which I told was explosive with the RNC saying tell him to shut his mouth.

I just have to read this e-mail, one of many e-mails I got from a Republican staffer on the Hill today, who said, you know what, so what, people tuned him out already. "It's more newsworthy these days when he actually says something helpful or coherent." Fellow Republican.

KING: With friends like that file. Let's move on to the Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi cast a rare vote from the House floor, last night, in favor of an amendment that would have placed restrictions on the funding for the war in Afghanistan. That amendment demanded detailed plans for U.S. troop withdrawal and threatened to cut off funding for the war if the military stays beyond next summer.

Now, the amendment failed, but the speaker also issued a public statement making clear the White House should be held accountable for its war strategy. Why is the Democratic speaker getting so aggressive and essentially getting in the face of the Democratic president?

BASH: Getting in the face big time. And a thing to keep in mind, maybe most people don't know this, I know Rich knows this, I'm sure you do, Cornell, too, is that traditionally, the House speaker doesn't vote. So, not only did she issue a statement, but she actually decided this is the issue she wanted to cast a rare vote on for an amendment she knew that was going to fail, but to make a statement. So, it's not a news flash that Nancy Pelosi is a liberal and doesn't like the war, but this is a very difficult issue for the president that she does need to support. The fact that she did this is proof, 60 percent of the Democrats in the caucus voted for it, also.

BELCHER: Well, and the thing, actually, funny because Rich and I think, are on the same page on this, to a certain degree, you do have to throw your base a bone every now and then. And let's be clear, the progressives in this country are top of the list for not liking what's going on in Afghanistan and wanting us to pull out there and they're not going to give it -- they haven't gotten their way on a lot of different issues. I think it's very symbolic and very important for the speaker here to throw the progressive base a bone.

GALEN: Especially her progressive wing in the Congress. I mean, they've had a swell of really hard on some major bills, largely health care, they had to take a lot of or leave out a lot of stuff they wanted to put in. If they get to a conference on energy, they're going to have to give a lot there, too. And I think this was pretty savvy of the speaker and I'm pretty certain that Rahm Emanuel knew this was going to happen


BASH: And interestingly, it wasn't just progressives who voted for it. It wasn't just progressives.

KING: All right, now tomorrow, I'm sure you all have this day circled on your calendar, tomorrow marks one year since Sarah Palin announced she was giving up her $125,000 a year job as Alaska governor. Safe to say, when it comes to the bank account, it's paid off. She's made at least $12 million since saying this...


SARA PALIN (R), FMR ALASKA GOV: Though it may be tempting and more comfortable to just kind of keep your head down and plot along and appease those who are demanding hey, just sit down and shut up, but that's the worthless easy path out. That's a quitter's way out. And I think a problem in our country today is apathy. It would be apathetic to just kind of hunker down and go with the flow.


GALEN: Well, that's more than the four of us make together.


GALEN: Look, she's a great personality. She does a lot to get the base revved up. I think if the McCain campaign had understood what an asset she could have been, I'm not sure they ever would have won, but it would have been a different kind of campaign. Can she be president of the United States? I don't think so. Can she be the nominee? I don't think so.

BELCHER: She's your front-runner.

GALEN: Let me re...


GALEN: Because at this point, I just looked up in the green room, at this point in 2006, no poll even in primary front-runners, even had Barack Obama listed in 2006, I mean.

BELCHER: She's your front-runner. I'm standing with that.

KING: That's his story and he's sticking to it.



KING: All right, let's move on, one more here. As required by law, the administration just reported to Congress who's on the White House staff and how much they make. The average salary about $82,000, although there's a widespread from the low 40s to the 170s. The chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel made $172,000, a far cry from the $16 million he made during his three years in investment banking. But don't feel too badly for him, the "Chicago Tribune" reports his detailed financial disclosure shows investments worth a minimum of 6.7 million plus incidental income of 25 tickets to a pair of Bruce Springsteen concerts. Rahm's going to the Boss, given to him by the Boss himself. Not so bad. Not Sarah Palin league for money, but I bet he gets better Boss tickets.

GALEN: And he's your front-runner. But, I mean, look, I mean, forget about how much he made before, that's OK, I'm fine with that, but whatever -- we've all been around White House staff, we've all worked in or around the building and whatever they're making it ain't enough, whether they're Republicans or Democrats. They take their jobs extremely seriously, they work 27 hours, eight days a week and it's though, though...

BELCHER: It is a burnout job and they are underpaid. Now, most Americans will be -- look at those numbers and get cynical, but I'm telling you, those guys work around the clock.

KING: They do. I can't agree more and especially the young ones who don't make all that much, who are making the 20s, 30s, and the low 40s and they're there seven days a week.

BELCHER: But they do get to work at the White House, which is kind of cool.

GALEN: That's right, they get four, five, six (INAUDIBLE), you can ask for you (INAUDIBLE)...

BASH: And I know there's no more revolving door, but let's get real, they're not making that much now, they're working very, very hard, but once they leave, cha-ching.

BELCHER: What are you talking about lobbying?

BASH: Anything.


BELCHER: I thought we outlawed lobbyists, didn't we?

BASH: Oh, yeah. Wink, wink.

KING: Wink, wink, nod, nod.

GALEN: Cynic. He wins the cynic.


BASH: See what he's saying about you?

KING: I got nothing. I got nothing more on that one. I'm shutting down on that one.

All right, up next, the president takes on special interest groups. We started the conversation here and one big lobbyist in this town snaps back.


KING: If you're just joining us, here's what you need to know. Right now, BP just put out a statement saying those notorious FEMA trailers were never put in service and won't be. The "New York Times" reported a contractor was selling the trailers, which have toxic levels of formaldehyde, trying to sell them to BP clean-up workers.

Also, BP blames high winds and waves for former Hurricane Alex for the wobble that's developed in the cap. You can see it right there, the cap collecting oil from its leaking well.

A little Friday night "Play-by-Play." Still with us, Democratic Cornell Belcher, Republican Rich Galen. It's a fascinating service today for the late Senator Robert C. Byrd in West Virginia. And among the speakers, the president of the United States. And I was watching in my office, here we have our first African-American president eulogizing a senator whose life includes leading a chapter of the KKK in West Virginia, and leading a filibuster, trying to block the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. So despite that history, the president of the United States eulogizing him, and this is why.


OBAMA: Like the Constitution he tucked in his pocket, like our nation itself, Robert Byrd possessed that quintessential American quality, and that is a capacity to change. a capacity to learn, a capacity to listen, a capacity to be made more perfect...


KING: It was such an interesting moment of where we had been and where we are.

BELCHER: I can tell you, you know, I did the primary polling for Obama in West Virginia during the primary season and for Byrd to come out early and strongly for the president was courageous because believe me that's not where the voters were. So he was someone who learned and changed just like the country did and worked every day to make it better, so hats off to the courage of Senator Byrd. GALEN: And he was a great senator for West Virginia. I mean, you know, you can't walk across the border without seeing the Robert C. Byrd something. And I mean that's the job he chose for himself and he did a great job because it's a state, other than coal, there ain't much there except what he brought in.

KING: President Clinton told a great joke. He said Ted Kennedy was here once and his bus broke down and he called the police and said I'm broken down on the Robert C. Byrd highway and they said which one?


All right, let's move on. At a hearing this morning on Capitol Hill -- let me preface it first -- everybody in the Democratic party blames President Bush for the economy, for the rain, for the potholes in the roads and it's fine in the political debates we have, but today a Republican in a Joint Economic Committee hearing decided he was going to get into the act, a little tongue in cheek from Congressman Kevin Brady, here.


REP KEVIN BRADY (R), JOINT ECONOMIC COMMITTEE: Do you think President Bush should apologize for the United States losing its soccer game the other day, Chicago not winning the Olympics bid, "Avatar" not winning the best motion picture of the year, and Democrats not passing unemployment benefits for those who are out of work?


KING: That last part I guess wasn't a joke.

BELCHER: Comedy is really hard. Politics is easy. He should stick to politics because the comedy there isn't very good. But look, you know, we've had the Republicans blame Obama for almost everything. Now it's Obama's deficit. Now, according to Steele, it's Obama's war. So there is a little bit of the blame game going back and forth here. In the end we got to look like we're taking responsibility and showing leadership. I'm hopeful that's what Americans are seeing for the president.

GALEN: Well, but I mean, nobody said to Barack Obama, OK, you have to do this, that you -- that we're going to throw you in jail unless you run. I mean, you run for president, you run for any office because you think you can make it better than it was and then to sit around and whine about it for two years is getting a little tiresome, I think.

BELCHER: Well why, I mean, this is the guy who says, you know, it's my fault, the blame stops with me. He has taken responsibility for all problems.

GALEN: Only after the polling shows it.

BELCHER: You had a guy -- nah, he didn't poll that much, believe me. You had a guy in the White House who never said he was sorry for anything.

KING: All right, one more quick one, here. Let's get this in. As a candidate, candidate Obama said he would drain the swamp of Washington, reduce the power the lobbyists. As president, after signing the health bill, he was very proud saying he had beat them.


OBAMA: When the special interests deployed an army of lobbyists, an onslaught of negative ads to preserve the status quo, you didn't give up.


KING: But then Tony Podesta, to quote the "New York Times," the big lobbyist in town saying this, "The irony is every time the president says we lobbyists have all this influence, people who don't have a lobbyist want one...he exaggerates our power, but increases the demand for our services." So, see he's a jobs program.

GALEN: Well, and not only that but it's lost to history already that they made a secret deal with the pharmaceutical companies in secret meetings at the White House, some of the biggest lobbyists in this town, to support the bill in order to put caps on what they would lose.

BELCHER: Look, in this town, unfortunately you have to talk to lobbyists. It's just the way it is. You have to talk to lobbyists.

GALEN: Well, then don't lie (ph).

BELCHER: This is an administration by the way who's blocked more lobbyists out from coming in this administration, put more regulation around lobbyists than anyone and we didn't take a dime from lobbyists during the presidential campaign. This guy is cleaner than most when it comes to lobbyists.

GALEN: That's faint praise.

KING: Enjoy it fourth. Enjoy your fourth. You're off to the ballgame, enjoy it. Faint praise is better than no praise at all.

It's the 4th of July weekend, so what better time to ask what would you like to declare your independence from? Pete on the Street, next.


KING: Part of our commitment to bring you into the conversation every Monday we ask a question and give you all week to make your case by posting a video on our Web site, This week's question inspired by the 4th of July. What do you want to declare your independence from this year? Here's our best video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MELISSA, YORBA LINDA, CA: I want to declare my independence from politicians that don't know how to leave and from all of those Apple gizmos from a man named Steve.


KING: That was our best online answer. Our off beat reporter, Pete Dominick, though, took that same question to the street -- Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, John King. That's right. I don't know how to rhyme as well. I wasn't wearing as many American flags, but we did a pretty good job today. What do you want to be independent from? That's the question. Here's your answers.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to declare independence from our tour group.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The opinions of other people.


July 4th is the traditional start of the summer movie season.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to be independent from this oil spill.




Will Smith is the undisputed king of summer blockbusters.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to declare my independence from people who don't give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oppression, hypocrisy and double standards.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From working on a cruise ship really.

DOMINICK: I know what you need to be independent from. Those giant goggles. What, you got a welding gig coming up? Are you welding something together?

Nothing you need to be independent from? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I swear. I'm free. Yeah. I'm not even wearing underwear.


DOMINICK: Same for candy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks. That's what I need.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, fatter fools (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wedding planning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am free from FaceBook. No! I just can't do it anymore.

DOMINICK: For how long?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too many posts. Too many things to share. I mean, can't share anymore.

DOMINICK: You're going to need to be free from horrific dancing.


DOMINICK: Will you declare your independence from that tie this weekend?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yo, most definitely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's see, Obama care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am declaring my independence from milk chocolate.


DOMINICK: Hedge funds? Bonds? Stocks? Wall Street?


DOMINICK: Well, there you go, John King. What is John King going to be independent from now on?

KING: Work, for a few days. How about that?

DOMINICK: Yeah. Congratulations on that. Enjoy it.

KING: You know, I want to pick up, a person in that said I want to declare my independence from FaceBook. Did you know today, today Lady Gaga broke the 10 million followers on FaceBook? I think you were the 10 millionth. UI think you got her over the line, there. She's the first living person to have so many friends and we're showing a couple outfits on TV, they're all borrowed from the Pete Dominick collection. She had been running neck and neck with President Obama, but she's passed him now. He has 9.5 million friends on FaceBook.

DOMINICK: Well, I took issue with quite a few things you said. No, she's not my FaceBook friend. And by the way follow me on FaceBook, Pete Dominick. And No. 2 the fact that she has more FaceBook friends than the president or really anybody means a sign of the apocalypse I think, John.

KING: I think it means she can sing better than the president. Pete Dominick, have a great 4th. Everyone out there have a safe and happy 4th. CAMPBELL BROWN starts right now.