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JOHN KING, USA

Getting no Traction; Racial Profiling; Win with Weed

Aired August 2, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Wolf. I'm Jessica Yellin. John King is off today.

Tonight's big political story is a sore point for the Democrats. The more legislation they pass, the lower their poll numbers seem to go. The Democrats' political reality now sounds a little like a "Rolling Stone" song; they just can't get no traction.

Privately administration officials complain they've accomplished more in two years in terms of major legislation than other presidents did during two terms. But still the public, they say, seems unimpressed. Some of that frustration surfaced in a speech today. Listen to President Obama during a speech to veterans defending health care reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say it as clearly as I can. The historic health care reform legislation that I signed into law does not, I repeat, does not change your veterans' benefits.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Another sore point -- border security -- last week when I was covering the immigration story in Arizona, I was inundated with e-mails from Democrats who were touting the administration's work to beef up border security. Again, listen to the president today this time on the CBS "Early Show".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: My administration has actually put more resources on the border to the point where we now have more of everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: So why is he doing this? Well, check it out. The president's approval ratings are below 50 percent on health care, the economy, immigration, and the deficit. So with only 92 days until the midterm elections, can he and the Democrats get any traction? With me tonight from Pennsylvania Governor and former Democratic Party Chair Ed Rendell -- Governor, thank you for being with us.

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: My pleasure, Jessica. YELLIN: CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger and Republican strategist Rich Galen. Thanks to all of you for being here -- Governor, first to you, what should Democrats do to turn this around?

RENDELL: Well, it's hard, because on many of the basic issues we've lost the communications battle. On health care we've lost the communications battle. If Americans knew what was in it, we would win the communications battle, same thing on the economic stimulus plan. How many Americans do you think realized that they got a significant tax cut under the stimulus plan?

I think of the thousand people who got it, probably 995 had no idea they got it. We've lost the communications battle. It's tough to make that up in the last three months in the campaign but I think we've got to try to explain what is good about it, what we've done, and what we've accomplished and also focus on the glaring mistakes that the Republicans have made in the last two or three months, on BP, on financial responsibility, on unemployment compensation where they've clearly taken positions that are out of touch with the American people.

YELLIN: Rich, let me ask you. Do the Democrats deserve some credit?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, they've done too much, two too many, four too few. I think over the course of the last two years I agree with the governor. It is -- they've little the communications battle, but largely because they have so little to communicate. It's all been leftist, liberal, hard core policies and the only --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tax cuts --

GALEN: It's the only reason it's not worth Governor is because the Republicans in the Senate stopped them.

YELLIN: Gloria, do you buy that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: No --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tax cuts?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, yes, exactly --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A leftist?

RENDELL: Good grief.

BORGER: I think -- well, but, but I guess the question that Governor Rendell is do -- how does the great communicator, Barack Obama, lose a communications battle? I mean, you know this is the man who created a whole new group of voters during the last campaign, who got out more Democrats than anyone -- I mean how does --

YELLIN: Well, Governor, are the Republicans beating the president at his own game -- communications?

RENDELL: I think to an extent absolutely I think that's happened and you know and it's unfortunate --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How?

RENDELL: -- because I think he has done a lot. I disagree with Rich, obviously. I disagree with Rich. I think he's done great. Tax cuts, Rich, are socialist? If there were tax cuts --

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: -- billion dollars --

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: What happens at the end of the year, Governor, when those tax cuts go away and --

RENDELL: Not on people --

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: Not on people who make less than $200,000 --

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: Tax cuts, that's fine, but tax cuts are either tax cuts or tax increases, we have tax increases coming down the pike and you know it as well as --

YELLIN: But Governor how did this happen? Gloria's question is how did the Democrats lose this battle?

BORGER: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good question.

RENDELL: Gloria, Gloria --

BORGER: Yes?

RENDELL: I wish the heck I knew the answer to that.

BORGER: OK.

RENDELL: You know. I wish I could -- I'll say this. I think we took it for granted that we would get credit that we didn't get credit for and I think we made some mistakes. On stimulus, I think the administration should have written the bill, it should have been tight, it should have had tons of job producing things, three or four times the money on infrastructure --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They let Congress -- (CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: And absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Joe --

(CROSSTALK)

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: The Democrats are saying that the big problem is party discipline --

YELLIN: Right.

JOHNS: And the party discipline starts with the president who they say, the critics and the Democratic Party say he doesn't crack knuckles. He doesn't kick people in the knees. He just isn't tough enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He doesn't have the what?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But I think -- I think the point is here, and I don't know if, Governor, you would agree with me or disagree with me, which is that he's sort of advocated some of his responsibility and handed it over to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who are two of the most unpopular politicians in America, because he didn't want to do what Hillary Clinton did on health care, which was write the bill first and then send it --

RENDELL: Right. There's no question. What I actually advocated is on stimulus, that the president -- the day after he was sworn in, addressed the American people about stimulus, explained what was in the bill, why it's important, why it's necessary, each component, boom, he would have owned the bill.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

RENDELL: He would have owned the bill.

YELLIN: There's also another attack coming at him this time very current. Let's play this out. This was from Sarah Palin over the weekend. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Jan Brewer has the cojones that our president does not have to look out for all Americans, not just Arizonians, but all Americans. More power to Jan Brewer and 44 other states who are in line to help support Jan Brewer in state laws, state efforts, to do what our president won't do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Cojones (INAUDIBLE) Joe, who is she speaking to? Are there any --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

YELLIN: We know what that means.

JOHNS: Yes. The truth is obviously she's speaking to her best. But the fact of the matter is that this sort of resonates with a lot of Democrats, what I was talking about just a minute ago. You know the fact that there are Democrats out there saying this president is seen as indecisive on the Hill, is seen as a kind of person who is not persuasive, who's not decisive, who doesn't really -- you know hit people in the knees or where it hurts, that is one of his biggest problems because that leaves him as a president who is just very good at giving a speech.

YELLIN: Let me ask do we have time to play this montage we have? This is what happened last August. Remember, as we were heading into the August break and health care was a big issue. Play this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop spending our money!

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't trust me?

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One day God's going to stand before you and he is going to judge you and the rest of your damn cronies up on the Hill.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: All right, that was again one year ago, greatest hits of health care town hall rage -- Rich, are Democrats going to face similar outrage over what?

GALEN: Well, to agree with Governor Rendell, who, by the way, is one of my favorite governors, along with Tom Ridge, really, the people of Pennsylvania are blessed to have you two guys as their --

RENDELL: Thank you.

GALEN: The -- but here's what happened. The president sent or the -- and the speaker and the leader sent people home last August, one year ago, with no plan, just kind of a vague theory about what should be in a bill, and one of the rules of politics as we know is if you don't define your position, your opponent will do it for you and that's what has happened over the last year.

YELLIN: But Gloria, what are they --

RENDELL: That's clearly right. That's clearly right.

YELLIN: And Gloria --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: -- you've seen the talking points though --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: What are they going out there with?

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: -- they sent out talking points. One week it's about Social Security. One week it's about taxes. One week it's about you know every -- financial regulations --

YELLIN: Right.

BORGER: So they have a plan, Jessica. The question is whether the public is going to buy it because the biggest problem they've got is that this is a president who's had government solutions to problems at a time when people just don't trust government to take out the garbage.

YELLIN: OK.

BORGER: And so they're -- you know --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: -- government is very low --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Very big hill to climb --

YELLIN: All right, we're all staying here because we're going to take a quick break, but in a minute, another problem that's keeping Democrats from getting political traction, corruption scandals on Capitol Hill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: As if the Democrats didn't have enough trouble this year, now they are getting splattered by ethics scandals on Capitol Hill. Today, the House Ethics Committee charged high-ranking California Representative Maxine Waters with violating House rules. The committee says she and her husband had financial ties to a bank that got a $12 million federal bailout after she arranged a meeting between bank officials and the Treasury Department. Waters denies breaking any House rules, now these allegations come just days after the Ethics Committee brought charges against another powerful Democrat, New York Congressman Charlie Rangel. He's accused of failing to report more than $600,000 on financial disclosure reports, improperly soliciting construction money for the city college of New York, using rent to -- using a rent subsidized apartment as a campaign office, and failing to pay taxes on a home in the Dominican Republic -- this from the former head of the Ways and Means Committee. Now let's talk it all over with our panel, Joe Johns first to you, how bad is this for the Democrats?

JOHNS: Well I think it's a real problem and it's a real problem because the Democrats sort of got control of the Congress by talking about the culture of corruption, you know and which now you look at these members of Congress, the shoe is on the other foot. The other half of it is these Democrats, these Democrats in the Congressional Black Caucus --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

JOHNS: -- a lot of them are saying, hey, it's because we're black.

YELLIN: Any legitimacy to that?

JOHNS: There's a bit of a problem there. I mean there are a lot of members of Congress who are African-American who have been saying that for 30, 40 years, probably longer. But right now if you look through this stretch, over the past probably half a decade or so, you see a lot of white politicians, very powerful ones, John Young (ph) --

YELLIN: Getting charged?

JOHNS: Right -- yes --

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: Yes, it just goes on and on and on --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right, good point.

JOHNS: So it's hard to say that.

YELLIN: Rich, Nancy Pelosi took the speakership and vowed to drain the swamp, so how aggressively will Republicans use this against Democrats --

GALEN: Very aggressively, but there's only so much a speaker can do. These are 435 individually-elected individuals. They do whatever they want to do. They all think they're the top dog.

It took 40 years for the Democrats to become so bloated that in 1994 the Republicans could take over. Republicans became so bloated in only 12 years they gave it back and now it looks like the Democrats are going to do it in just four.

YELLIN: Governor, will you listen for a moment to what the president said about Rangel last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: He's somebody who is at the end of his career, 80 years old. I'm sure that what he wants is to be able to end his career with dignity and my hope is that it happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: That sounds like he's being pushed. Should these two members step aside, Governor?

RENDELL: Well Jessica, before I answer that, real quickly I want to answer Sarah Palin on immigration. The president does have the courage. And Sarah Palin, if she doesn't know this, she should know it. But number one, Sarah, the president has invested more money on border security than any administration. Number two, we are deporting people at a faster rate than we did under President Bush, so President Obama has done --

YELLIN: I got those talking points last week.

RENDELL: And they are correct.

YELLIN: OK.

RENDELL: They are true and you have --

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: -- have a little bit of an obligation to tell the American people that.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: OK, so but the question is, Jessica asked is --

RENDELL: Sure and I'll answer that. I'll answer that. Look --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) problems of the Dems.

YELLIN: Should they resign?

RENDELL: I think Rich said it right. There are 435 people. They believe they are innocent and if they believe they're innocent, they have their right to their day in court before the evidence commission. It's tough to control them. I think in Charlie's case, he's done so much and served so well, I think he cares about the party and cares about the country. I would like to see Charlie step aside, not because he hasn't been a valuable asset to the country, but because it would be the best for him, the party, and the country right now. Maxine Waters, that's one charge and she has the right to dispute that if she wants, but clearly if anyone says this is racial, it isn't. I mean these charges have been leveled against people, white, black, Hispanic, you name it.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: -- with it there's not a -- there's not a rush to even coming up with these charges, these things have been going on for two years and part of it is the timing.

YELLIN: Gloria --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- this had been happening last year --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: Gloria --

BORGER: But to Governor Rendell's point, it's interesting to hear you say that Charlie Rangel ought to step aside because he's already not the chairman of the committee. Nancy Pelosi has taken him out of that. But are you saying that if he runs again he would actually win and that would be bad for the Democratic Party?

RENDELL: No, I think -- I think he would win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

RENDELL: I think the ethics procedure, whether you call it a trial or whatever, is going to be harmful. And I think the point Rich made is true. It's clearly something that we couldn't afford in an even year and this is going to be a tough year. And so I would like -- and I think Charlie Rangel has done a great job for the country and for his constituents. But I would like to see him you know step aside and follow the president's lead. I think on this the president is correct.

YELLIN: Hey, Governor, last week -- switching gears for just a moment, you floated the idea of a primary challenge to President Obama in 2012 --

RENDELL: No, what I said --

YELLIN: Who do you think would run against him?

RENDELL: I don't think there would be a serious challenge. I said there could be some candidate from the (INAUDIBLE) of our party. But look, I think the base of our party understands the president has accomplished a lot of the goals, maybe not as perfectly as they'd like but he's accomplished a lot of the goals. And on Afghanistan, which right now I think is the central issue; he has set forth a timetable. Nobody else has done that. He has set forth a timetable and that's the key, so I don't think we're going to get any serious --

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: -- some fringe candidate.

YELLIN: Is that Howard Dean, Russ Feingold? Who are the types of people in that category?

RENDELL: Even more fringe than that.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even more fringe than that.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- hear the bus backing up under which Governor Rendell threw the president and Governor Rendell backing away from what he said --

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: No, no, no, no, no --

(CROSSTALK)

RENDELL: Listen, if you listen to that comment, I said --

YELLIN: Yes.

RENDELL: -- there might be a challenger but it would be from the fringe wing of the party, not from any substantial challenger. I don't think Russ Feingold is going to do it and I don't think in the end Howard will do it, although I think Howard will think about it but I don't think he will do it.

YELLIN: Governor, and you wouldn't run, sir, would you?

RENDELL: No, not me, not me --

YELLIN: We hope to get you on the show a lot more, then. Thank you so much for joining us, everyone, the panel, a good discussion. Joe is sticking around for a news break and we're going to take a break now. On the other side, is there any issue that will energize independents and progressives this year? You won't believe it but some people say legalizing marijuana will. Stay there. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Welcome back. Let's check in now with Joe Johns for the news you need to know right now -- hey, Joe.

JOHNS: Hey Jessica. The Senate has put off tonight's scheduled vote on sending $26 billion to the states to prevent teacher layoffs and cover medical expenses for poor people.

Senator John McCain says he will stop blocking a vote to confirm James Clapper to be director of National Intelligence. An FBI Web page quotes a senior agent as saying "violent Mexican drug cartels may be more dangerous than al Qaeda."

And a cautious response tonight to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's offer to meet face-to-face with President Obama, National Security Council Chief Denis McDonough (tells CNN's Wolf Blitzer he's not leaving the door open and he's not closing it.

And "The Washington Post" Company said Monday it has sold struggling "Newsweek" magazine which it has published for half a century to audio industry pioneer Sidney Harman, as in Jane Harman.

YELLIN: That is right, the husband of Congresswoman Jane Harman from California.

JOHNS: Well that's pretty amazing. They will be able to publish the news and make it.

YELLIN: That's right. That's a true Washington power couple.

JOHNS: That's incredible.

YELLIN: All right, thanks. Thanks, Joe, so much for the news break.

And we have a lot more to cover tonight. Next, how about this one? Want to win with weed -- see why some people say legalizing marijuana is the perfect ballot issue.

And among the items on my "Radar" Andrew Breitbart gets a new invitation from the Republicans and President Obama takes credit for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq.

And in the "Play-By-Play", Lady Gaga joins the Arizona immigration debate and what Sarah Palin wrote on her hand this time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This corner and in this corner.

YELLIN: Tonight in the clash believe it or not some progressives' biggest hope for getting out their base is legalizing marijuana, really. The thinking goes that if pot legalization goes on the ballots across the nation win or lose it will attract more young people, more Democrats, and progressive independents to the polls. Take a look at this new poll.

Only 41 percent of Americans say that pot should be legal, 52 percent say no. But when you ask young voters, 18 to 29-year-olds -- guess what, the yes response jumps up to 58 percent with only 39 percent against. So is this really smart politics for the Democrats?

Jane Hamsher is the founder of the progressive blog FireDogLake.com and Tim Rosales is with the No On Proposition 19 Campaign in California and you guessed it -- that's the ballot initiative to legalize pot in California. Jane, I'm starting with you; your mission is to drive out the youth vote with ballot initiatives to legalize weed. Why is this a good idea?

JANE HAMSHER, JUSTSAYNOW.COM: Well marijuana -- our marijuana policy has failed and that's why we're launching the "just say no" campaign with students for sensible drug policy. Americans consume $113 billion of marijuana every year. Fifty percent of it comes from foreign sources, and if that money is financing the Mexican drug cartels and exacerbating all of the violence along the Mexican border, there were over 6,000 people killed last year by the Mexican drug cartels, which now have a presence in 250 cities across the country, so we're joining with students and also law enforcement elite (ph), law enforcement against prohibition to end this --

YELLIN: But Jane, the expressed mission of the campaign is not about what you just described, but it's about using, legalizing marijuana to get out the youth vote. Is that a political sound --

(CROSSTALK)

HAMSHER: If you actually go to the Web site "just say no", it actually is about legalizing marijuana. Now we're mobilizing youth because they are the ones that care about it in overwhelming numbers. And polls have shown that they are 60 -- 36 percent more likely to vote. They say they are much more likely to vote if marijuana legalization is on the ballot.

(CROSSTALK)

HAMSHER: But I think it's a mistake to say that they are going to vote for Democrats because many of the youth are just as likely to be Republican libertarians as they are to be Democrats.

YELLIN: So it's just to get the young people out voting for which ever ballot -- for which ever candidate?

HAMSHER: Yes.

YELLIN: OK, Tim --

HAMSHER: Well it's a way to get candidates to, you know, support the policy in order to be able to get young voters to support them. You look -- you've got Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, who are both very big on marijuana legalization, who are both dipping their toes in the 2012 presidential pool and they are already sort of making the circuit on the college campuses --

YELLIN: OK.

HAMSHER: -- so I think those votes are up for grabs.

YELLIN: Tim, let's get you in this conversation, a 2008 survey conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that more than 15 million people had used marijuana in the previous month. Could motivating that electorate be enough to influence a national election?

TIM ROSALES, CAMPAIGN MGR., NO ON PROPOSITION 19: Well, you know first off, I think it's pretty tasteless to take a "just say no" campaign that was created in 1980's to get -- help get kids off drugs and use a play on words as this campaign is doing now to say "just say now" to try and legalize marijuana.

But outside of that, I think that you know the efforts that they are going to undertake, I don't know that you can really influence a national campaign on something that has such widespread opposition. Here in California there's opposition from both senators, Dianne Feinstein and Senator Barbara Boxer as well as a number of Republicans as well.

YELLIN: Let me ask you --

ROSALES: I think it's -- again, it's very difficult to motivate nationally on such of kind of a niche issue like this.

YELLIN: And Tim, if Jane's group gets these initiatives on the ballot, do you think there's a motivated minority that will come out just to block the effort? Could it actually backfire politically?

ROSALES: Well we did a survey here in California for No On Proposition 19 and what we found is that when you take a look at people who will vote no on marijuana legalization, no matter what, that number was 44 percent. And the people who will vote yes on marijuana legalization no matter what is only 19 percent, so I think that they have got a pretty significant hill to climb and I think they're much -- they are many more people out there who realize that legalizing marijuana in the United States, they've tried it in Mexico.

We've seen explosion in drug violence. You'd just be giving the Mexican cartels a platform -- a legal platform to operate from here in the United States.

YELLIN: Jane, it's --

ROSALES: I don't think that's a risk that a lot of Californians or even Americans want to take. It's pretty chaotic.

YELLIN: Jane, it's my understanding by our count that there are ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana in only five states right now and the deadline for putting an initiative on the ballot is approaching in most states. So how much of an impact can this really have in this year's election?

HAMSHER: Well, we're looking to mobilizing those states and mobile young voters, but also looking towards 2012.

But I want to say something about the name of the campaign JustSayNow.

YELLIN: Yes.

HAMSHER: It -- since 1984 when the JustSayNow campaign started, our prison population in the United States has quadrupled and that has burden has fallen disproportionately on minority communities. It is a crime that these people are rotting away in jail. There were over 800,000 arrests last year for marijuana possession alone. And those people are -- are in jail at tremendous costs. Is this how we want to be raising our children?

ROSALES: Jane --

HAMSHER: Is this how we want to be --

(CROSSTALK)

ROSALES: You're not being with your -- you're not being genuine with your numbers. If you look at -- you know, you ask any district attorney or sheriff or even cop on the street here in California, and people do not get arrested for possessing a joint or possessing an ounce of weeds.

HAMSHER: Yes, they do actually.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSALES: It's a --

HAMSHER: In New York City alone last year people who were arrested for possession --

ROSALES: It's a $100 ticket. If you will look at California, 1500 people --

HAMSHER: And they were disproportionately --

ROSALES: -- are in jail for major drug crimes. That's it. In California.

HAMSHER: And the people who are on our board of directors, (INAUDIBLE), former deputy attorney general under Ronald Reagan, Neil Franklin, who is the head of -- 33-year cop in the Maryland police force who was the head of law enforcement against prohibition leap. We've got (INAUDIBLE), former Seattle police chief.

And these people know that they are being shot with the guns that are being bought by -- by the money that is being provided to the Mexican cartels.

YELLIN: Jean -- let me --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: This is a fight we're not going to resolve tonight.

ROSALES: I'll take -- I'll take Dianne Feinstein and I'll take, you know --

HAMSHER: You are welcome to.

(CROSSTALK) YELLIN: Let me interrupt you both. I just want to wrap with one question to Jane.

ROSALES: Versus your list any day of the week.

YELLIN: All right, Jane. I just want to wrap with one question. Are with we at a devastating point if the only way we can get young people to vote is by letting them vote to have drugs?

HAMSHER: Well, I think that it's an important issue regardless on whether young people are for or against it. Our drug policy has not worked. It's destabilizing the Mexican government. It's racist and it is condemning the future of young people who are being busted for a joint and not able to apply for student loans or get a job anymore.

And disproportionately people of color -- African-Americans and Latinos. We just ended the sentencing disparity between cocaine and crack. And so we're taking a look at this right now. We have 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of it is prisoners.

And conservative senators like Senator Jim Webb are saying this is just wrong.

YELLIN: All right.

HAMSHER: And so yes, I think it is something that we should be looking at it right now and it is a moral matter and that young people care about it is to -- is a good thing.

YELLIN: OK. I'm afraid we're going to leave it there. But I have a feeling if this is on many ballot initiatives across the country, we're going to revisit it in the elections to come.

Thanks to both of you for being with us, Jane and Tim.

ROSALES: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

YELLIN: And we are determined to bring you into this conversation. So each week we ask you to make your case on an important topic. This week's question -- what else -- would you vote to legalize marijuana?

Record your opinion and post it at CNN.com/Johnkingusa. We'll play the best video Friday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Today's "Most Important Person You Don't Know" has his fingers on two of the hottest hot-button issues in the country. He's Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli.

He just ruled that Virginia law allows officers to check the immigration status of anyone that they stop or arrest. That's pretty close to what Arizona was trying to do by passing its controversial immigration law. Well, if that's not enough, Cuccinelli is also taking on the Obama administration over health care reform, suing to block the health care law. Today a federal judge decided that the lawsuit can go forward. Though it's no wonder, he's lined up to speak at Virginia's first-ever first Tea Party convention this fall.

Cuccinelli was elected attorney general last November. He was in Virginia's state Senate before that and a practicing attorney before that. And Cuccinelli -- a little factoid -- didn't quite marry the girl next door. His future wife actually lived three doors down.

That's kind of cute.

Joining us now are Republican strategist Ron Bonjean and former DNC official Moses Mercado.

Thanks to both of you for being here. Ron, I got to ask you first because he's you're your party. Cuccinelli. Is he just ambitious or does he have a serious ax to grind with the Obama administration?

RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, he's clearly a rising Republican star. I mean that's strong double play that you just described. Both health care and immigration are hot topics this year, especially in November. And I think he's making all of the right moves for rising up the ranks.

There's nothing wrong with focusing on the right policies and also being ambitious.

YELLIN: Do you think that this is a productive way to govern or is this about making headline?

MOSES MERCADO, CHAIRMAN, OGLIVY GOVERNMENT RELATIONS: Well, I think it's a bit of making the headlines. I mean I agree if you're going to stop everyone and everyone has to show their citizenship. I don't disagree with that. I go to the airport when I travel, and everybody in line, whether you're black, brown, green, yellow. Everybody shows their I.D.

I have a problem when it's only highlighting some folks. So I applaud him if he's doing it, but I think it's just politics.

YELLIN: He's playing politics. Well --

(CROSSTALK)

MERCADO: A few weeks -- a few months away from the election.

YELLIN: We have yet to see if that immigration policy is allowed to be implemented in Virginia. No doubt there will be a lawsuit challenging it. We can guess.

OK, let's take a look at some of the other stories "On My Radar." In his speech today to this disabled American veterans, President Obama warned that we have not seen the end of America's sacrifice in Iraq but he also pointed out that by the end of this month, more than 90,000 U.S. troops will come home. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America's combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing. As promised and on schedule.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Ron, I covered him on the campaign. He did promise that and he's on schedule. So is it fair for President Obama to take credit for this troop return?

BONJEAN: Well, what it really shows is the difference between campaigning and governing. When he was campaigning, he was largely against the Iraq war. When he's governing now he's supporting it and he's, you know, supporting the troops and the mission.

And it's one that largely Bush funded. And you know when he was campaigning he was working to defund it. So he's trying to get the best of both worlds.

YELLIN: Is he taking credit for something that George Bush did with the surge?

MERCADO: Well, I think he's doing what -- he went out there and made sure that we -- we messed this war up. We should never have been there. Let's go back and people kind of forget that part, that we should never have been in Iraq.

We lost -- we kind of moved away from the real issue, which was Afghanistan, and we have been out there and I think it's right for him to take credit for what we've been doing the last two years.

YELLIN: And for bring troops home. OK, let's move on. This one may fall on the "you don't say" category. This has to do with financial regulatory reform and the big winner of Wall Street reform is lobbyists.

Financial firms have doled out $251 million so far this year as Congress hammered out new laws for the financial industry. According to -- that's according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

$251 million spent on this for just lobbyists, Moses. Are the rich just getting richer?

MERCADO: I don't think the rich is getting richer. I think everyone has a right to petition the governor. And whether you're a company or you're an individual, that's part of our system. I think people -- the economy is bad right now. So people want to sort of gravitate the press and everybody to say, wow, somebody is making up for something.

YELLIN: Yes.

MERCADO: They paid this amount of money. I think that's our -- that's our former system.

YELLIN: Ron, when I was covering the financial reform bill, people were referring to the staffers writing the bill and the lobbyists as the blob. So I go up on the Hill, they're like the blob is working on it.

Is there a problem of staffers and lobbyists just working too closely together in this town?

BONJEAN: Well, you know, this was a very confusing bill so staffers often had -- had to rely on lobbyists in order to understand it. I don't still quite understand it. What a shocker, all of that money being spent on --

YELLIN: Right.

BONJEAN: You know, something that's going to regulate Wall Street. And now the second phase of the battle is about to begin and that's the regulatory phase. The implementation of this all.

YELLIN: You think the money will be spent --

BONJEAN: Yes.

YELLIN: Yes. I think --

(CROSSTALK)

BONJEAN: I don't think it's over yet. Yes.

YELLIN: I think you're right.

All right. Moving on to a story that we've been covering quite a bit. Controversial conservative activists Andrew Breitbart, he is being reinvited to a rescheduled RNC big donor fund-raiser next month.

Now Breitbart you may remember made headlines for his involvement in circulating a misleading video of then USDA official Shirley Sherrod commenting on race. All right. Breitbart was in the news, he was invited, he was disinvited, now invited again.

Why did your party change its mind, Ron?

BONJEAN: Well, I don't know. I haven't talked to the RNC about that. But I will say that it's been quite an issue with Sherrod and it has gotten the Democratic Party off message. I mean, you know, she was fired by the -- by the Agriculture secretary and President Obama had to -- essentially apologize for --

YELLIN: But do you think it's good for him to be associated with the RNC? Is he a little bit to the right of most Republicans or not?

BONJEAN: Well, I think, you know, whatever meeting that is it's probably open to a lot of people and a lot of people are invited to participate. Probably not just him. So there are -- you know, people are invited to express themselves. YELLIN: Are you as a Democrat happy to see Breitbart doing RNC fund-raisers?

(LAUGHTER)

MERCADO: I think it is. It just shows where they are right now. They're trying to motivate the bases. We're about two months away from the elections so this is all about motivate the base and he obviously motivates their right-wing base.

YELLIN: OK. This is a much later topic but one that boggled my mind. At least one New York town is turning to big brother as a way to make up lost revenue.

It's called Riverhead, New York and they're using Google Earth to find swimming pools that don't have the proper permits. According to the Associated Press, so far they've collected $75,000 in fees.

If your city can do this, I can't imagine what the condo board can do to you, if they check Google Earth and see you planted the wrong tree. Is this big brother gone awry?

BONJEAN: Yes, I got a feeling this is going to be settled at the Supreme Court.

(LAUGHTER)

YELLIN: You think so?

BONJEAN: That people are going to -- you know, people feel that anyway the government can get in their pocketbooks, you know, this is one of those big issues. And you know I don't think it's going to -- I don't think it's going to stand. I don't think it's --

YELLIN: All right. And -- there's a lot of frustration that governments in our lives too much. Are elected officials sort of pushing it too far?

MERCADO: Well, I think it goes back to the economy. They're trying to find revenue. We've heard it here with the traffic sort of stops and everybody is watching us. But you know at the end of the day, what's -- what's monitored gets done. So I think that's what cities are starting to find.

YELLIN: So you're for Google Earthing all of us. OK. Don't go anywhere. Coming up, next one ad that really hits below the belt literally.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

YELLIN: It's time now for the "Play-by-Play" where we replay the tape and break down the actions.

Still with me, Republican strategist Ron Bonjean and former DNC official Moses Mercado.

All right. First, let's talk about Nancy Pelosi this weekend. The speaker of the House. There seems to be no sign of a thaw between the House speaker and the White House. Pelosi isn't even referring White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs by his given name.

Here she was yesterday on ABC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about what the president's employees say. We have a solid plan, messaging and mobilizing the grassroots level and management of our campaigns. And we have a 2-1 advantage money-wise.

So we feel very confident about where we are. Whether that's known to that gentleman or not.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: "That gentleman." We know that she's referring to when Robert Gibbs said that the Democrats could lose the House this year, Moses. Sounds like she's not spending a lot of time forgetting.

MERCADO: No. And it's difficult. Look, when I worked for the leader in the House, it was difficult when then President Clinton's staff would say something then, because we -- you have to control your members and everybody has got to stay on message. So I don't blame her for it. She's got a hard job and --

YELLIN: You've worked there, too.

BONJEAN: Yes.

YELLIN: So what's it like when the White House says your folks could lose? Do they come and start complaining?

BONJEAN: Well, it's not fun at all. And of course we would complain if we were in that seat, too. The trick here is, though, not to let it get under your skin. And not let show anybody else that it's bothering you.

She should have just laughed it off and downplayed it instead of, you know, making it into something. Because then we still believe, yes, the House really is in trouble. I guess it's not really a secret.

(LAUGHTER)

YELLIN: That's your argument. But do you think this is a message that the White House, don't say it again?

BONJEAN: Yes, I think so. I think it's a shout across the bout to the press secretary that if you say it again, we're going to have real problems.

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: The press secretary, you mean that gentleman.

BONJEAN: Yes.

YELLIN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BONJEAN: That gentleman. Absolutely.

YELLIN: That guy.

BONJEAN: Right.

YELLIN: All right. Sarah Palin, our next story, is a palm reader? Palin was on TV yesterday talking tax cuts when the conversation turned to her now well known habit of writing notes on her hand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I ask you, what do you have written on your hand?

SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: $3.8 trillion in the next 10 years so I didn't $3.7 and then get dinged, you know, by the -- by the liberals saying I didn't know what I was talking about.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: What's wrong with the notes?

MERCADO: I don't see any notes. I mean I've seen in the last -- glimpses of FOX News a couple of times really have to (INAUDIBLE) then, I guess, they're really worried that she may be the front runner. So I think they're all trying to take a swipe at her so as a Democrat, I like her up there.

YELLIN: You like it.

MERCADO: I like it.

YELLIN: Because she's bad for the Republicans or because you find her --

MERCADO: Well, just sort of shows the extreme -- the extreme part of the party where I think America is in -- they're more in the center.

YELLIN: Does that warm the cockles of your heart when you see that?

BONJEAN: Well, I think it's hilarious. She said start actually selling her hand -- selling ads in her hand, Coke, Pepsi, whatever. You know? (LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: That's true. Take out ads. Could you imagine?

BONJEAN: I mean, she's going to make a lot of money for corporate sponsors as we pulled that. But it's an interesting way for her to get her message out and she did.

YELLIN: You think she's doing that deliberately to --

BONJEAN: I think she did that deliberately.

YELLIN: She knows.

BONJEAN: She knows.

YELLIN: She's very ironic and plays the media a little bit. Yes.

BONJEAN: This is definitely. This is definitely a plan.

YELLIN: Yes. OK. This is a rather memorable ad. Well, you see, talk about hitting below the belt. Take a look at this ad in the Connecticut. Republican Senate candidate Peter Ship running against his opponent Linda McMahon, who as we know made a lot of money running the World Wrestling Federation -- is it called WWF? OK. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liberal McMahon has kicked Republicans for years. Liberal McMahon contributed thousands of dollars to national Democrats. Liberal McMahon attended the Democrat National Convention. McMahon supporting Obama's bailouts.

Isn't that just a kick in the --

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Ouch! OK. First it's World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE now. Thoughts?

BONJEAN: Yes, I think -- you know, I don't like the ad. And frankly she's going to win. She's going to win the primary. It's not really a problem here. And I think it was really below the belt and it cross the line.

YELLIN: Literally.

BONJEAN: Yes. Literally below the belt.

YELLIN: Just a lot of puns there. Cross the line.

(CROSSTALK)

BONJEAN: And she's going to win the primary and she's going to take on Richard Blumenthal.

YELLIN: And what -- do you think that's appropriate?

MERCADO: Well, as a Democrat, I kind of like this that they're sort of fighting with each other.

YELLIN: Going at each other.

MERCADO: But, you know, it's kind of funny. It reminds the way -- you know, like had her on there in the ring to remind everybody that she made her money from wrestling.

YELLIN: OK. I have a question that you gentlemen might see differently from me. Do you think it's a little bit sexist that a strong woman is accused of hitting below the belt for being tough on her opponent?

BONJEAN: Well, she could get the sympathy vote. There's no question about that. And that's not something you want to do when you're trying to attack her is to have a boomerang on. So sure.

YELLIN: Are you allowed to hit below the belt on WWE rules or you guys don't watch?

BONJEAN: Probably not.

(CROSSTALK)\

MERCADO: On Mondays. On Mondays.

YELLIN: On Mondays, you watch it. OK. On to the Lady Gaga story. She is among the list of celebrities who come out against the Arizona immigration law. But her take is don't boycott, protests. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY GAGA, SINGER: The big show of the monster (INAUDIBLE) is to actively protest prejudice and injustice and (EXPLETIVE DELETED) that is put on our society, because you -- because you're a superstar no matter who you are or where you come from, and you were born that way.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: OK. So the bottom line here is instead of boycotting the state like others have done, she decided to hold a concert in Arizona and then say whatever she just said. Do you think that's a more effective than boycotting?

MERCADO: I don't. I really don't. If you look back at apartheid in South Africa, it didn't happen because people protested, because of the economic impact. When people started divesting, and I went to University of Texas during the '80s, and there was divesting of South Africa that brought it to its knees basically.

YELLIN: Do you support the boycott? MERCADO: I do. You know it's been sort of -- I've not been involved in it, but I believe that's the way to do it. Protesting, you can march as much as you want but this isn't going to change very much.

YELLIN: Ron --

MERCADO: But economic impact does.

YELLIN: You think the boycott is hurting the wrong people?

BONJEAN: Yes, I do. And, you know, it hasn't gotten any crazier. Lady Gaga getting involved with it is just taking it over the top. And pretty soon you've got protesters wearing Lady Gaga outfits. I mean, this is out of control.

YELLIN: I saw someone in a Teletubby outfit in one of the protests in --

BONJEAN: Yes. Yes.

YELLIN: -- Arizona so it's not far.

BONJEAN: She clearly doesn't care about record sales but you know I do think she's targeting the wrong people.

YELLIN: All right. Thanks to both of you for being here. A good conversation.

And coming back on the other side of the break, Sarah Palin has a new favorite word. "Pete on the Street" in Washington is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Rick Sanchez joins us now from Atlanta for a look at what he has coming up at the top of the hour.

Hey, Rick, what have you got?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I've got to tell you, there's a new report out by the EPA. It's fascinating. The media, especially the left, tends to have a "sky is falling" mentality when it comes to environmental reporting.

And this situation in the Gulf with the dispersants, it makes one ask very serious questions like what if we didn't use the dispersants, how bad would it have been down there in the Gulf?

Well, guess what? We've got some answers now. And we're going to be able to share those answers because it's in this EPA report. This is interesting stuff. It'll be here right here on "RICK'S LIST."

Jess, back to you.

YELLIN: And now, well, you're looking at him. Pete Dominick has gotten a break from the street and he joins us live here tonight. And I see you've dressed for the occasion.

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: Yes, well, Jessica, I'm sorry. I don't -- can't wear jackets.

YELLIN: I love it.

DOMINICK: I wanted to make you look better. Look at you.

YELLIN: Nice. Well, also no jackets. So we're good.

DOMINICK: Yes.

YELLIN: All right. Pete, you're a comedian. You know a lot about language. Let's talk a little bit about what Sarah Palin said yesterday. And it's getting a lot of pickup. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: Jan Brewer has the cojones that our president does not have to look out for all Americans, not just Arizonans, but all Americans in this desire of ours to secure or borders and allow legal immigration to help build this country.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Cojones. I'm sure that didn't just pop out of her mouth. I'm sure she considered it first, right?

DOMINICK: No.

YELLIN: Is it too much?

DOMINICK: Yes. She does a lot of pre-planning on her hand. Oops, speak of the devil. I guess I look like a hypocrite.

YELLIN: Go out there.

DOMINICK: I have cojones. And the rest of what we may talk about. Can women -- why would she -- no one is talking about the fact that she insinuated that a woman -- Jan Brewer -- has cojones.

YELLIN: It's --

DOMINICK: That's OK. All right. But then the other misunderstanding, the larger your cojones, the more vulnerable you are. I think that's something that people don't understand as well. And that Alaska accent with a Spanish word, I think that sounds weird.

YELLIN: The Alaskan Spanish? Is that more troublesome that the following sound bite from the president? Because we should be fair. It's not just the Republicans.

President Obama made waves when he said this about the handling of the oil spill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: No, he didn't.

DOMINICK: Well, listen --

YELLIN: What did the president just say?

DOMINICK: Well, in context, Matt Lauer said something about kicking butt, and then he said whose ass to kick.

YELLIN: Which we're allowed to say cable.

DOMINICK: Yes. Yes. I have -- I don't have a problem with language. You know, I come from the church of George Carlin. I love language. And I wish presidents and congressmen would talk the way that they talk. The way that we talk. But maybe, I guess --

YELLIN: But should our leaders set a different standard? There's something about nobility, dignity, leadership? I don't know.

DOMINICK: I guess. I mean I'm the wrong guy to ask. I have so little dignity, Jessica, but I don't know that I can really be judging somebody else. I know -- and he was talking about kicking BP's ass, which is kind of OK with most people.

YELLIN: OK.

DOMINICK: Is that really a risk?

YELLIN: Well, it does take cojones to do what you do every day, Pete.

DOMINICK: Well, that's -- that can be -- that can be judged in many different ways.

(LAUGHTER)

DOMINICK: Yes.

YELLIN: Thank you so much, Pete. That's all from us tonight. "RICK'S LIST" prime time starts right now.