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President Obama in Texas; Tomorrow's Big Races; Social Security Benefits

Aired August 9, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf and good evening everyone.

If you like politics today was a fascinating day to kick off what should be a consequential week. President Obama spent the day in Texas and the Democratic candidate for governor made a point of being far, far away. Yet the state's Republican Governor Rick Perry was on hand to greet Air Force One.

He even clapped as the president came down the stairs and greeted Mr. Obama with a friendly handshake, but you knew there had to be a but, before his fellow conservatives could conclude Governor Perry had lost his bearings, if not his marbles he hand delivered a four-page letter calling the Obama administration too soft on border security and the Mexican drug cartels. Politics is a funny business and with 85 days until the big election in November, Mr. Obama told a fund- raiser in Austin today he is ready to mix it up a little bit more.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's been a fundamental lack of seriousness on the other side. We have spent the last 20 months governing. They spent the last 20 months politicking. Now, we got three months to go, and so, we've decided, well we could politic for three months. They forgot I know how to politic pretty good.


KING: Say what you will about Sarah Palin, but she can politic pretty good, too. Georgia was her stage today. It has a Republican runoff for governor tomorrow and a big subplot there is that Palin and Newt Gingrich both possible 2012 presidential hopefuls back different candidates.

And Colorado has big primaries, too, with its Senate race drawing most of the national attention as a test on both the Democratic and Republican side of the depth of anti-establishment mood out there.

Let's dig deeper on the big races and the big issues driving them with Democratic Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, Floyd Ciruli, an Independent pollster based in Denver, our senior contributor Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative and with me here our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

Governor, I want to start with you. With this dynamic in Texas where Bill White, the Democratic candidate for governor, is far away as the president visits the state. You were the Democratic National Committee chairman back in 2004. Ann Richards was running for reelection during your tenure. She did not want to appear with President Clinton. Perhaps more significantly, the vice president of the United States, Al Gore was running for president, and he did not want to appear next to President Clinton. Does it help or hurt Democrats to say, go away, Mr. President?

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, it depends where you are. And I think all of that is overrated. I think it underestimates the intelligence of the American people that when the president is in town they know you show up. That's what you do. I showed up often when President Bush was in Philadelphia, a person I liked personally, but disagreed with on almost everything.

But it depends where you are. Even at the height of my popularity in Pennsylvania, John, which is not now, even in the height of my popularity in Pennsylvania, there were some parts of the state where candidates didn't want me to go into. There were other parts of the state where candidates would give their right arm to have me in, so there's nothing unusual about it at all.

KING: Floyd, I want to talk specifically about the Colorado race in a minute, but to this dynamic (INAUDIBLE), the president of the United States, his popularity is clearly down. Your state is a state he won, Texas and Georgia not. But I want you to listen to what David Axelrod, the president's top political adviser, told our Wolf Blitzer a short time ago about Democratic candidates who want no part of the president.


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: We didn't carry Texas or Georgia, so the politics for us has always been a little challenging in those states and these candidates have, they're running now. They're on the ballot. They're going to make the judgments they think are best for their campaigns and I'm totally fine with that. The president understands, understands that.


KING: But, Floyd, David says he understands it. He says the president understands it. Does it send any kind of a message to perhaps an undecided voter on the fence?

FLOYD CIRULI, POLLSTER & POLITICAL ANALYST, CIRULI ASSOCIATES: Well, the president is active in this primary because it's targeted completely at Democrats, but I think in the general election, it will be different. The vulnerability of the Democrat senator whoever wins this nomination and there is a Democratic incumbent Congress person here, I'll be very surprised if the president is going to be campaigning for them.

I think they're going to want to keep some distance. You're absolutely right, he is probably at about 43 percent popularity here in the state, a little below his national average and at least that low among the unaffiliated voter which is critical in Colorado.

KING: And Erick Erickson, I want to bring the conservative voice into the conversation. You know a lot of people say the president is unpopular, but the White House is quick to say well his approval rating, while down, is still higher than Republicans in Congress. I want you to listen to the president today in Austin. He was saying that it is getting closer to the election and he's willing to gear it up a little more. He often says it's the Republicans who drove us into a ditch, now he's adding a new twist.


OBAMA: I want you guys to think about this. (INAUDIBLE) if you have a car and you want to go forward, what do you do? You put it in "d". If you want to go backward, what do you do?


OBAMA: You put it in "R". I'm just saying.


KING: He is the Democrats' best campaigner. Any nervousness on the Republican side, the conservative side that this president seems determined to at least to be a bit more active and a bit more partisan?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We certainly hope so. We want people to be reminded of him. You know he made the statement about being pretty good at politicking. I got flooded with e-mails after he delivered that line from a bunch of people saying I wish he was half as good as governing as he is at politicking. And that's the point. I mean he can blame the Republicans and blame the -- blame George Bush but right now I think a lot of Independent voters in particularly who are going to be key in November. They don't mind the Republicans being the party of no because they wish Congress would stop saying yes to everything he is offering and from Georgia to Texas to Missouri candidates keep running away from him.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: But you know it's interesting, Erick, because internal Democratic polls show that if you just poll people and say well what about voting for this generic Republican, they're fine. But when you say what about voting for a Republican who supports George W. Bush's economic policies, the numbers go way down.

ERICKSON: Absolutely --

BORGER: So, it's clearly why he's resurrecting George W. Bush and they're going to continue to do it through the election and, believe it or not, you know they think that running against extending the tax cuts actually will work for them because it will tie Republicans to Bush.

ERICKSON: Gloria, I'm reminded of that CNN poll in from just a couple of months ago that Republicans were more critical of Republicans than Independent voters were. I mean, there is a lot across the board of people --

BORGER: Right.

ERICKSON: -- who really just don't like the policies of the Bush administration.

KING: Let's talk about the Colorado Senate race. You have Andrew Romanoff, the speaker of the House, running against Michael Bennet, who was appointed to take the Senate seat here in Washington when Ken Salazar became the interior secretary. It's a tough Democratic primary. Floyd, to you first, I want you to listen to what Mr. Romanoff told our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin about how I'm Mr. Antiestablishment.


ANDREW ROMANOFF (D), COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE: I am doing that of course right now by running against the wishes of the national political establishment. It is unusual to see the national party put its thumb on the scale of this contest. As we're speaking today, literally, phone banks are being run out of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee telling Coloradoans how to vote. That doesn't sit well.


KING: What is the general mood out there? He's not in Washington right now but he's a veteran politician and you see all these members of Congress, people who actually live and work here, you know talking about oh those horrible things they do in Washington.

CIRULI: Absolutely. I think that, surprisingly, Romanoff is in this race with very little money. There's at least been some polls that have showed him ahead and I guess we're a little surprised out here that this anti-incumbent and anti-establishment mood has also affected the Democratic Party. He has -- Michael Bennet, of course, is also arguing that he has been independent of the establishment in Washington, D.C., but clearly he's having a much more difficult time of doing that with the president campaigning for him and with his having almost all of the endorsements and most of the money.

So that it appears that there is a substantial element within the Democratic Party that is not necessarily pleased with Washington. Some liberals are angry that we're still in Afghanistan and we don't have the public option in the health care bill. Some unions, particularly the teachers' union are angry that the administration hasn't been sufficiently supportive. So you're just getting a variety of groups that have apparently united behind Romanoff and have got him in this race.

KING: And Governor Rendell, add into that you know 9.5, 9.7, in some states 10 or 12 percent or 14 percent unemployment. You've been around the track a few times. How does the Democratic Party navigate this environment?

RENDELL: Well, I think, number one, we've got to do a better job talking about the things we've done. But, number two, the Republicans handed us in the last month three great issues to campaign on. One, so many of them came out -- not a majority, but a lot of them came out angry against the president's deal with BP.

I don't think five percent of the American people thought what the president did to BP was unfair; secondly, their stance many of them on unemployment compensation calling workers lazy. That resonates very badly. And then attacking the financial responsibility bill; Americans want Wall Street to be regulated and controlled. I think you can do a very good effective job and I hope the DNC saying look, this is the party of BP, big oil, Wall Street, big money and against the working guy who lost his job.

BORGER: But Governor Rendell, you know the Democrats are now the establishment. You saw that in Pennsylvania, right, with Sestak and Arlen Specter.

RENDELL: Sure, there is -- Gloria, there is some of that, but I think you can recast the debate by just taking the Republicans -- Republican elected officials' own comments and recast them as the party that supports big oil, supports big money on Wall Street and is against the working guy. I think we ought to go on the offensive and slam them very hard and it's not unfair that those words came out of their mouth.

KING: A quick break right now -- when we come back, our panel will stay with us. We'll follow up on what Governor Rendell is talking about, the issues that we mentioned at the top of the show. Governor Perry of Texas had a letter for the president. What was in it? And the Palin factor on display today in Georgia. Don't go anywhere.


KING: Let's continue our political conversation and focus on tomorrow's Republican runoff for governor in the state of Georgia. Karen Handel is the candidate with Sarah Palin's backing; Nathan Deal, a former congressman, has the backing of the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who is from Georgia; Mike Huckabee who ran for president last time around, the former governor of Arkansas. Governor Palin though was on the ground today trying to get conservative momentum for her candidate.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Georgia, are you ready to bring it on?


PALIN: Are you ready to elect a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment common sense constitutional conservative who will fight like a mama grizzly for you, for the values that you hold dear? Are you ready for Karen Handel to be your next governor?


KING: Erick Erickson, you're also a Karen Handel supporter, but my question I guess is more of a broader one. What are the risks for Governor Palin here? She is perhaps the most visible national politician, at least so far, in this campaign. She has won some in terms of her endorsements. She's also lost a few recently. What are the risks?

ERICKSON: You know the risks are particularly if Karen Handel loses tomorrow, and it is a very close race here in Georgia within the margin of error, the headline is going to be that either Newt Gingrich or Mike Huckabee beat her. And we've seen this movement already with Mike Huckabee and others to try to portray themselves as more electable than Sarah Palin.

So if Handel loses and it's no sure thing tomorrow, she will be out with some bad headlines. But if Karen Handel pulls it off tomorrow, it's going to be attributed to Sarah Palin just like it was with Nikki Haley over in South Carolina.

KING: Floyd, people say you know look different states. In Georgia she probably plays strong with the Republican base. In Governor Rendell's state a lot of people say well she hurt with moderate Republicans in the suburbs. What about out west? If you go back to the 2008 election, when Obama won Colorado, won New Mexico, you know won Nevada, and people say well he'll get Arizona next time when John McCain's not on the ballot. The west was supposed to be for the Democrats what the south was for Republicans. How does Sarah Palin play out there?

CIRULI: Well as you know, the west at the moment is probably trending a bit back toward the Republican Party. Sarah Palin plays extremely well with the base of the party here. Every time she's here she has tremendous rallies and gets huge coverage and probably what's most fundamental in November is that the Republican enthusiasm maintains a high. Registration here is almost equally balanced so that Republicans are going to win this if they're able to improve their turnout over Democrats and, as you know in a moment, the president has not been able to fire up the Democratic base anywhere near the way she is, for example, able to fire up the Republican base.

The other part of it, though, is to make sure that things do not happen, statements aren't made that either scare off or turn off the unaffiliated voter. As you know they're a little less partisan, they like little less conflict and so it's sort of a careful balance. But, clearly, she would be good for the base out here.

BORGER: It's so interesting to me --

RENDELL: And I think that's a great point.

KING: Go ahead, Governor.

BORGER: Go ahead. RENDELL: I think that's a great point. I think one of the risks the Republican Party runs is with independents who are trending their way is making sort of far-out statements like repealing the 14th Amendment. If I'm an Independent voter and I'm thinking about that, I'm starting to think hey, these guys are a little nuts and that's going to be a problem.

BORGER: You know it's interesting to me where Sarah Palin decides to go and where she just decides to Facebook her endorsements because she hasn't had a really risky strategy, I don't think. You know she Facebooked somebody's endorsement and then she did -- she did put herself out on a limb in Georgia though.

You know that's the one place. She went in for Nikki Haley, but she hasn't gone personally to a lot of the candidates she endorsed, and so now what we're seeing is sort of the building of the mama grizzly factor. The strong, conservative Republican women and some Independent voters may be turned off by that, but some Independent women may really, really like it.


ERICKSON: I would just add in there real quick, John, that I know from several friends of mine who have gotten her endorsements that her campaign staff has been very upfront with them in some cases making sure they know that you will have some good come from the endorsement and you will have some bad come from the endorsement and trying to keep a realistic perspective among the campaigns that have endorsed and then to see like in Colorado Jane Norton and Ken Buck both scrambling to try to get her endorsement, neither of whom did, it's a really big draw in primaries. We'll see whether or not it helps in general elections.

KING: I want to ask Governor Rendell and Floyd Ciruli really quickly in closing. Governor Perry gave -- Republican governor of Texas -- handed the president's top aide, Valerie Jarrett (INAUDIBLE) a letter essentially saying you're doing a lousy job on the border. We need more National Guard troops. We need more than you promised. Beef up border security, help us out.

We've seen how this issue is playing in Arizona. We see how it's playing in Texas. I want to ask an industrial state governor and a pollster of the western states and Governor to you, first, how powerful is this issue this year especially in a tough economy?

RENDELL: Well, it's not an issue voters are going to vote on in a state like Pennsylvania. But I will say, again, it's another area where the president's votes are getting outspunned (ph). The president's -- his administration has deported more illegal immigrants than President Bush's did. He's beefed up border security significantly. It's, again, he's getting outspunned (ph) by these tricks and the spin doesn't comport with reality.

KING: Floyd, does it play in a place like Colorado?

CIRULI: It will be a huge issue. It's going to be huge out here, John. The -- as you know, Tom Tancredo, the -- sort of the country's leading opponent to illegal immigration is thinking of running for governor, so it's all -- that already adds up on the issue. Again, I don't know that it will make the difference in one of these races, but it is extremely important for the base and Democrats will have to address it, primarily because there is not an immigration bill this year and no matter what the president has done, that failure will be the most salient problem they have to deal with.

KING: We need to end it there for now, but I appreciate it Governor Rendell, Floyd Ciruli, Erick Erickson, and Gloria Borger. There is still a lot to come though in the program tonight. When we come back, we'll get tonight's top stories. Joe Johns will visit us with that.

And then we'll also go "Wall-to-Wall", your Social Security in a tough economy, many are choosing to get their benefits early. It costs you. Might help you in the short term, but it costs you in the long one.

Then we'll go "One-on-One" with Arne Duncan. He's the country's education secretary and let's just say we're number 12 is not something to brag about. We'll explain what that means.

On my "Radar" tonight, Paul Row (ph) filling in for Rush Limbaugh. One thing on his mind, the first lady's trip to Spain, and who is in this political year America's "Slumlord Billionaire"?

And in the "Play-by-Play" tonight you won't want to miss this -- when we break down the tape. The House Republican leader John Boehner then and now on whether Washington should pay for big things, expensive things and Governor Palin confronted by a former constituent back home. We'll show you what that's all about.


KING: In a moment, a fascinating look at how retiring early affects your Social Security benefits. But first, let's check in with Joe Johns for the news you need to know right now -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hey John. President Obama is aboard Air Force One on his way back to Washington. A Dallas motorcycle police officer was involved in an accident as part of the presidential motorcade.

The House of Representatives convenes briefly at the top of this hour. Tomorrow lawmakers should vote on funding for teachers pay and medical care for poor people.

U.S. Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota is stable and doing well after being hospitalized Sunday for what appears to be a negative reaction to medication.

To save money, Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to cut up to 3,000 jobs and eliminate the Joint Forces Command.

And the people running Social Security say there will be enough money to fund the trust funds to pay for benefits until the year 2037, which is good news because Social Security is coming up on a big anniversary. Just about this week, isn't it, John?

KING: It is coming up, their big anniversary, Joe. But also it is coming under pressure because in this tough economy, many people are making a very tough choice. Deciding to opt into Social Security, take money, get their benefits before they reach the full retirement age. I want to break this down for you on the "Magic Wall".

Here's what happens if you're 65 years old and you retire, on average, if you made $15,000 a year you get about $661 a month. If you made about $45,000 a year, you get a little over $1,100 a month and if you made $100,000 a year you'd get just shy of $2,000 a month. That's if you are 65 years old on average retire at the age of 65.

But let's look at it this way. If you retire early, look at this 65, is you get the full dollar, about $1,100 when you retire. If you wait until you're 70, you get a premium for waiting. You get $1,600 plus a little change if you retire then. But more and more people in the tough economy now unemployed are deciding to cash in early, 62 years old. Say you can get your Social Security, but look what you pay for. You get less of your dollar, 956 as opposed to that full 1,100 and more and more people again are doing this in the tough economy.

What does that matter? Well you might say that's only a couple of thousand dollars over the course of a year. Let's play it out and show you just how much it can matter if you make that tough choice. This is your 65-year-old, 50 years -- 15 years retired, you'd get about $209,000 in benefits. But watch these two lines -- watch these two lines as they play out. The lower line, this is what happens if you retire early, at age 62.

If you tap into Social Security early, at age 62, you'll get only $172,000 over that 15 years. If you wait until you're 70, 295,000 this the average, so those who are suffering right now and being forced to tap into Social Security early, they're getting some money, Joe, but they are paying a premium over 15 years. It is a tough issue in a bad economy. It takes money out of Social Security, but, also, just so hurts the people.

JOHNS: Right, absolutely. You know I read somewhere I think on the Internet, pretty good source, that if you do go in early and you get a job, you can actually pay the government back and you'll still be able to jump ahead to the bigger money. But it's a really tough situation right now for a lot of people.

KING: That's counting on getting a job, and the job market is very tough right now, but some people feel at the moment they have no choice.

JOHNS: You look at that trust fund report that came out last week, it seems like there are only like two or three sentences about that, but that is the human tragedy in there right there.

KING: It's a tough -- one of the tough sub plots of this recession -- Joe Johns, thanks so much.

And next we go "One-on-One" with the Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He says we lost our way.


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

KING: The United States used to lead the world in turning out college graduates, but as President Obama pointed out today, in the space of a generation, we have fallen from first to 12th. The president's plan, we take that lead by adding eight million graduates to our current levels by the year 2020. The man in charge of getting us there is the education secretary, Arne Duncan. He's here to go "One-on-One". Put simply, we're losing.

ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: We're losing. We have a long way to go and the president is drawing a line in the sand. He said we have to regain our spot as the world leader in college graduates. We have to educate our way to a better economy. It's the only way we're going to get there.

It is an ambitious goal. It is absolutely the right goal and every one of our strategies, early childhood, K to 12 reform, making higher education more accessible, more affordable, all of those strategies together are towards that goal of, again, leading the world in the percent of college graduates.

KING: If you look at the goal you've set out with the president, 40 percent of Americans in the 25 to 34 age group now have college degrees. You want to get to 60 percent and you want to do it in 10 years. Some would say out there it's a worthy goal. We want more of our young Americans obviously to get college degrees. They'd be better prepared, but why is this the government's job?

DUNCAN: It's all of our jobs. It's our job, it is our job to point out the challenge and it is our job to really encourage everybody, parents, teachers, community members, universities, early childhood educators. All of us have to understand what is at stake. As you know so well, John, there are no good jobs out there in today's economy for a high school dropout. There are basically no good jobs out there if you just have a high school diploma. Some form of higher education. Four-year universities, two-year community colleges, trade, technical, vocational training, some form of higher education has to be the goal for every single student who graduates from high school.

KING: If you look at the list, the rankings, United States is 12th, Canada is No. 1, South Korea No. 2, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Israel, France, Belgium, and Australia, ahead of the United States. If you look at how much each of those countries spends as a percent of their overall economy, a percentage of GDP, the United States is smack dab in the middle. About 5.3 percent of GDP in public expenditures toward education. Norway, is at 7.2 percent, Japan, 3.5 percent. So, many would say, great goal. But if you look at that, does it have to be more money, or is it just spending what we spend, more wisely?

DUNCAN: It's both. Never just about money, it's about being much more ambitious as country. It is interesting, John, when we led the world a generation ago, with flat lines, not that we've dropped, we've just stagnated. I think we became complacent. And, frankly, I think we lost our way a little bit as a country. Other folks invested more, took this more seriously and, frankly, I think we're paying a price for this in terms of a tough economic climate today.

This is about raising our ambitions, raising our sights. If you asked any American on the street today, are you happy, are you content that we're 12th in the world on college graduates? No one is going to say that that's good enough. No one is going to say that is who we are. But unfortunately, that is-when we look in the mirror today, that's exactly where we are.

If we all work together, if we all pull together; if we understand what's at stake for our children, for education, and for our nation's long-term health and vitality, nothing is more important than making sure every single young person has a chance to enter a very competitive global marketplace and has the skills to do that. To be successful in that world today, you need some form of higher education.

KING: Why does it cost so much? The average cost of college in Canada, I know there are some subsidies involved, but the average cost in Canada, $4,500. The United States if you include two-year and four-year colleges, is about $16,200. If you look just at the average four-year college, it is about $19,000. Why is it so expensive?

DUNCAN: Well, other countries subsidize more. I spent four years in Australia. My wife is from there. She basically went to college for free. And so there is a different economic model. What's so important here for your viewers to understand is that by stopping the subsidies to banks we've added $60 billion over the next decade for Pell grants. We have tripled tuition tax credits for the middle class. So, there's a real opportunity for middle class families, for families from lower income situations to have a chance to go to college.

What I feel very good about-for the first time in a long time-we can look any nine-year-old or 10-year-old in the eye and say no matter how tough things might be in the neighborhood, or in your home, if you work hard, if your dream is to go to college, that opportunity is going to be there for you.

KING: Do you want more money in this environment, now, where people are talking more and more about the deficit, and more and more, especially in an election year where you probably have fewer Democrats in the Congress next year. People looking to get less spending in Washington, are you looking for more money?

DUNCAN: We actually have a bill coming before the House tomorrow, that passed the Senate, and would help us save-a $10-billion package that would save us 160,000 teacher jobs K to 12 this fall. We think that's absolutely important that happens. The last thing our country needs is to have 160,000 teachers, in the next couple of weeks, on the unemployment lines rather than the classroom.

So that emergency spend is critical. On the higher education side we have had this massive investment in increasing Pell grants and we are reducing loan repayments to the back end to make it much more accessible and affordable. There has been a huge, huge push, tens of billions of dollars, going in. What we need to do is we need to become more productive. We need to make sure students aren't just going to college, but they are actually graduating.

KING: So, you have had a fight with the teachers unions, at times. And that is somewhat odd with a Democratic administration. But you have had a fight with teachers' unions. We had the D.C. chancellor, Michelle Rhee on the program a short time ago, and you have a proposal now looking at the state of Wyoming. There is $8.6 million out there to turn around its schools, but they have to make some tough choices. They have to apply to state for the thing, they might have to fire teachers. They might have to shut down schools. Is that what you want to be doing at this time. Is that what you have to do? Shock the system at the bottom?

DUNCAN: As a country, John, right now, we talk about the lack of college graduates. It doesn't start, as you know, at the higher education level. Our high school dropout rate around the country is 25 percent. We're losing 1.2 million students from our schools, through streets, each year. They have no chance to compete in a global economy. Our dropout rate in the African-American Latino communities, in many areas, is 40 percent, 50 percent. This is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable.

And so where you have very high performing schools, we need to learn from them. We need to replicate them. We need to showcase them. Where you have schools where dropouts rates are 50, 60, 70 percent, where students are falling further and further behind, the status quo is not going to get us where we need to go. We need dramatic change. We need to do the right thing by our children. We have to educate our way to a better economy.

KING: What are the responsibilities out there, for a parent, or for a local teacher, a local school administrator. Because Washington can't-maybe Washington can be part of the solution, but Washington can't fix this.

DUNCAN: We'll never fix this. The great ideas in education are never going to come from me, or frankly, from anyone else in Washington. The great ideas in education are always going to come at the local level. What we need it is great courage and great vision. For all the challenges that you and I just talked about, I'm actually incredibly optimistic. We have never had more high-performing schools, we have never had more high-performing, high-poverty schools around the country. What we have to do is make those examples of success the norm, rather than the exception. We have to take these pockets of excellence, these islands of excellence and make them systems of excellence.

That's what we're working so hard to do. But it is going to be because of the innovation, the courage, the entrepreneurial vision of great local teachers, principles, school superintendents, school boards, that is what is going to take our country where we need to go.

KING: Secretary Duncan, appreciate your time.

DUNCAN: Thanks for the opportunity.

KING: Thank you.

You know, in the old days, spy versus spy meant guy versus guy, which makes today's most important person you don't all the more interesting. She's the first woman ever to run a U.S. intelligence agency.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Although I was aware of the symbol (ph), I have no idea what it stood for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Utter one more syllable and I'll have you killed.


KING: Today's most important person you don't know isn't exactly M, the spy boss for the OO7 movies. But as of today, Letitia Long is the first woman ever to run a U.S. spy agency.

We could call her L, but she already has a nickname. It is Tish. She was sworn in today as director of the National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency. That agency analyzes satellite pictures like these enhanced images of the Gulf oil spill. Or much more sensitive images of suspected Iranian nuclear sites. The NGA has a multi- billion budgets and thousands of employees.

Tish Long spent 32 years in government service, including more than two decades doing intel. Women have served in second in command at most of the major U.S. intelligence agencies. Long, herself, for example, held a series of number two positions. Today, she's number one.

Let's talk that over with three ladies who know politics very well. Jen Palmieri from the Center of American, former Congresswoman Susan Molinari, and our National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin, who has escaped to Denver, where there is a big election tomorrow.

Significant? Glass ceiling?

SUSAN MOLINARI, FMR. MEMBER OF THE HOUSE: In terms of the intelligence?

KING: Yes.

MOLINARI: Well, for those of us who are women, we say women, intelligence, they have gone together for a very long time. It's nice that the other -


KING: Point, set, match, Molinari.


MOLINARI: -half of the population finally got it.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I was surprised that there hadn't been one, actually. That was the sort of news I took away from it, the sort of headline. I had no sort of awareness that there were 16 agencies and this was the only the first one.


PALMIERI: Yes, so, I think we're both glad she's there. It seems like it was a long-time coming.

KING: Jess, anything you want to weigh in on that one?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I just said long time coming, but about time.

KING: About time.

YELLIN: Exactly.

KING: All right, big achievement there. Now, let's move on to some stories on my radar tonight. This one tips the hypocrisy meter a little bit. Bill White, the Democratic candidate for Texas governor, was no where to be seen while President Obama was in the state today. Last month White said this, there are some people, including me, who believe the president is spending a lot more money than we're taking in; is spending too much money in Washington. So, the president is out of favor with Bill White.

Well, early last year White was a lot less skittish about using the president's image. Look at this picture right here. This was promoting when he was Houston mayor, Bill White was, Martin Luther King ceremonies, Martin Luther King on one side, and Barack Obama on the other.

Jen Palmieri, why are Democrats who, not too long ago, were happy to even be in ads with-?

PALMIERI: Happy? I think maybe he might have been in a Democratic primary when he contemplated the first ad.


PALMIERI: Right, I think that might have something to do with it.

KING: So, just straight up pure politics? PALMIERI: I think this is straight up pure politics and in a state that is pretty Republican driven, like Texas. And I don't know that it's the smartest thing for Bill White to do, but I think it's just general politics.

MOLINARI: Well, the governor showed up. The Republican governor showed up.

KING: Governor Perry did show up. Yes, he did.

MOLINARI: He came to say hi, and welcomed him. And wrote him a little letter.

KING: Yes, he did. Gave him a four-page letter saying you're too soft on immigration.

MOLINARI: Absolutely, good for Governor Perry.

KING: Go ahead, Jess.

YELLIN: You know what, John, all over the country Washington is so hated. I'm in Denver and here in Colorado every single candidate is running as the Washington outsider. Even Michael Bennett, who spent one and a half years in Washington is tagged as an insider because he's been there. It's as if you have taken a trip to D.C., you're dirty.

Now that the president is on the inside he's associated with the establishment. It's amazing how this is playing out in the primary, but anything that speaks of Washington establishment-style politics is reviled in these primaries.

KING: Let's jump in on that point, because you mentioned, Democratic Senator Michael Bennett. He was appointed to replace Ken Salazar, who became the Interior secretary. Now even though he's the incumbent, as Jess just noted-listen to him Mr. Bennett talking to Jessica Yellin a short time ago. Washington, where is that?


SEN. MICHAEL BENNETT (D) COLORADO, Until 18 months I had never run for office before. I spent my whole life outside of politics, and to have a career politician attacking you for being an establishment candidate, I think, just isn't washing with people in Colorado.


KING: Jess, are you going to help him find his way back if the Senate comes back into session?

YELLIN: Where is Washington ? I've never been there.

Look, he's being tagged as the establishment candidate by his opponent Romanoff. And it has actually succeeded to some extent. That is why Romanoff has surged in the final days of this race. Because Bennett has the backing of Obama, that might be one reason a candidate in Texas doesn't want Obama around him; also, because he has the backing of the DNC and the establishment organizations.

But, again, as I said, Bennett has only been there a year and a half. He has never run for office before. And, still, just being associated with any functioning party apparatus from D.C., makes you tainted in this ridiculous primary vibe, where only sound bites seem to penetrate right now. It really is a remarkable phenomenon we're seeing around the country, John.

KING: Politicians.

MOLINARI: I'm partial to them myself.


But understanding my upbringing was a little different but there clearly is an anti-incumbent fever that I have seen throughout the United States. It is not just the Midwest, it is in New York, it is in California. It is a wave we did not see in 1993 right before we took over the House in '94.

KING: And so then you get a lot of nonpoliticians running for office.

PALMIERI: Like Michael Bennett.

KING: Like Michael-well, OK. But here is one. Florida's increasingly nasty primary for Senate, Kendrick Meek, now calling his opponent, business Jeff Greene, a slumlord billionaire. The Meek campaign even set up a Web site,, detailing what it claims are Greene's shady real estate practices in California. Outsiders are good, except experienced politicians learn how to deal with all this stuff.

MOLINARI: That is, of course, absolutely correct. Jeff Greene is a new guy on the scene, he is a billionaire. He is an example of the fact that there are just some things you can't buy, and that means erasing his past. And that's catching up to him as the primary ensues.

This is going to be a very interesting race for those of us in Washington, who like to watch politics because, clearly, if Kendrick Meek, who is now picking up steam wins the Democratic primary, the Democrats will have a hard time not standing behind Kendrick Meek versus Charlie Crist and that elects Marco Rubio.

PALMIERI: I have to commend the Meek staff on Slumlord Billionaire. It's brilliantly done. It is well executed.


PALMIERI: But it is, and it doesn't erase-which has been a pretty flat campaign to date. And, so, it seems that, it's not necessarily the prettiest one, but that might help actually pull it out for Meek (ph).

KING: Come on in, Jess. PALMIERI: It has been really overspent.

YELLIN: It has been pretty mean. It's been a pretty mean battle. The Meek campaign has accused Greene of bad associations with Lindsay Lohan, Heidi Fleiss, Mike Tyson, destroying a coral reef. At least this is something that has substance to it, real meat. And actually something that could resonate in Florida, where people really are suffering from a foreclosure crisis. And accusations that he played in the housing market and help tank it, could actually resonate, just shortly before the elections.

KING: I want to show you guys something as we head to break here, a T-shirt. I was on vacation in Martha's Vineyard last week. This one caught my eye. Take a look, pretty much speaks for itself. That is President George W. Bush with that big smirkey smile saying, Miss me yet? Take a look at the caption on the bottom. It is a quote from Sarah Palin, "How is that hopey-changey thing going?" So, that brought me to this thought.

As we are determined, as you know, to bring you into the conversation, so every week we ask you to make your case on a topic in the news, or in this case at the beach. This week's question follows from the T-Shirt we just saw. Is there ever a moment when you miss President George W. Bush? Record your opinion and post it at And we'll play the best on Friday.

Next, in the play by play, Sarah Palin runs into another Alaskan, not too happy about the former governor deciding to quit the job she was elected to do.


KING: Here to help us break down the tape tonight, Susan Molinari, Republican, former Congressman, and Democrat Jen Palmieri, former Clinton White House. And let's start with the president. Remember, he was on "The View". It was the highest ever rated "View" ever. The president sat in the middle and said that one thing he doesn't like about Washington, is that people don't want to govern, they just want to play politics.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The one thing that does frustrate me sometimes is the sense that we shouldn't be campaigning all the time. There's a time to campaign, and then there is a time to govern. What we've tried to do over the last 20 months is to govern.


KING: But, 85 days now until the midterm elections, and the president has decided, I guess, did he say there's a time to campaign. I guess it's time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: There's been a fundamental lack of seriousness on the other side. We have spent the last 20 months governing. They spent the last 20 months politicking. Now we have three months to go. And so we decided, well, we can politic for three months. They forgot I know how to politic pretty good.


KING: You know, he does politic pretty good. And Jen Palmieri, as you know there's a lot of Democrats wanting him to do this a month ago, six weeks, or eight weeks ago.

PALMIERI: Yes, that would have been a mistake. I mean, I think that he politics good or well, and he governs better. And I think that he needs to do political events like these and raise money for the party, and some of these clever digs, I think, stick. The metaphor about the Republicans have driven the country into the ditch. The clever thing he said about putting the car into drive, instead of reverse.

Today, those help, but I think the way he really helps Democrats is by being the president and by being seen as doing his job. And I think people see that if you look at who has been trying to govern and govern effectively, and responsibly, and who has been trying to play politics, they're going to favor the president over congressional Republicans.

MOLINARI: Although with his approval ratings being the lowest that it has been since he has taken office. It looks like a lot of people want to take his driver's license away.


PALMIERI: That's good. That's good, Susan.

KING: Let's move on to the Republican leader, John Boehner. He was on "Meet The Press" yesterday and David Gregory trying to press him. The Republicans do not want the Bush tax cuts to expire. They are due to expire at the end of the year. Tax cuts for those who make $250,000 a year, or more. Republicans say leave them in place. Don't, in a bad economy, raise taxes, essentially. So, David Gregory said, all right, if you want to do that, how are you going to pay for it?


JOHN BOEHNER, (R) MINORITY LEADER: Listen, what you try to do is get into this Washington game, and they're funny at accounting over there. You cannot get the economy going again by raising taxes on those people who we expect to create jobs in America and to get the economy going again.


KING: Yesterday it was a Washington game to try to get somebody to explain how you would pay for things. April 2009, leader Boehner, same guy, talking about the Democratic budget saying a lot of red ink, they don't know how to pay for this stuff.


BOEHNER: In the long term the consequences of this budget will be more grave for our children and grandchildren, tripling us into unsustainable debt that will be on their backs. And I think it's unconscionable for us to deal with the challenges that we're dealing with by doing nothing more than mortgaging the future for kids.


KING: We can stop that there. I think we get the picture. Politics is politics, I guess. For your proposals, you don't necessarily have to explain things, but when it's their proposals, it's deficit spending.

MOLINARI: Honest to goodness, I think there are two different concepts and views of governing. And I think this is the big dividing line between Republicans and Democrats this year. The government spending increasing the deficit, not paying for it, putting it on future generations, versus tax cuts, which Republicans have always felt contribute to stimulating the government. I just want to quote, that's why I have my little pad here. In the June issue of the "Economic Review" Christina Romer, said, "Our estimate suggest that a tax increase" -- she wrote this on her own, not the Obama administration - "our estimate suggests that a tax increase of 1 percent of GDP reduces output over the next year by nearly 3 percent." That's what John Boehner is saying. If you continue these tax cuts, businesses will reinvest in the economy.

PALMIERI: But that is not what Obama is saying. I'm mean what Obama is saying is we shouldn't have the wealthy, people making over $250,000 a year. He's never consistent except when he's opposing the president. But I hope that we really do get to engage in a tax cut fight. That is a difference between the two parties and that could define the choice better for November.

KING: All right. Jen Palmieri, Susan Molinari, I appreciate you coming tonight. As we go to break, I didn't have time to let the ladies comment on Pete on the Street, when we come back. But as we go to break Sarah Palin, the former governor, remember she left her job early. She ran into a constituent the other day, who made clear she didn't like that.


SARAH PALIN, REPUBLICAN: Elect candidates who understand the Constitution to protect our military interests, so that we can keep on fighting for our constitutional protections and freedoms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By using your celebrity status, certainly not by political-

PALIN: I'm not a celebrity?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you're certainly not representing the state of Alaska any longer.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is representing the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I know, you belong to America now and that suits me just fine.


KING: August seems to be the time just about everybody wants to get out of Washington. Everybody but our Offbeat Reporter Pete Dominick. He decided to come to Washington. He thought it was a good time to walk around and ask folks about being president.


PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING USA, OFF BEAT REPORTER (on camera): Hey, John, that's right. There are good things and bad things about being president of the United States. I will ask what people think is the best part and the worst part about that job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The great thing about being president is you're the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have the ability to affect and influence a lot of lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a great thing.

DOMINICK: You guys are way too thoughtful. I'm thinking, you know, the servants. But you guys are talking about how you can change the world and all that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get a sweet plane.

DOMINICK: You get a sweet plane.


DOMINICK: What do you think the worst thing is? That plane might get shot at?


DOMINICK: What would be the best thing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Playing golf and getting so many vacations.

DOMINICK: I say the worst thing about being president is playing golf. What a terrible game.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know something? You are right. It's a pleasure to talk with you.

DOMINICK: You're the greatest. The best part of that job?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Living in the White House.

DOMINICK: Worst part of the job?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Living in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I couldn't deal with, like, so many people not liking me. You're screwed no matter what.


DOMINICK: Do you guys model or something? You are, aren't you do either of you find me attractive?


DOMINICK: You do? You do? Will you go on the record?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't want to deal with Congress.

DOMINICK: You also have to work with Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The worst part is when you're right, you're wrong, and when you're wrong, you're wrong.


DOMINICK: Well, John, we learned there's good things and bad things about being the president of the United States. There's good things about being Pete On The Street, too.

Ken, how are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great, thank you, sir.

DOMINICK: All right.


KING: Thanks, Pete. That's all for us tonight. Thanks for stopping by. RICK'S LIST PRIME TIME" starts right now.