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Grumpy Political Mood; Democrats Family Feud; Legal Students, Illegal Parents

Aired August 12, 2010 - 19:00   ET


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

A very big day in politics, our three biggest stories, one, a federal judge in San Francisco issued an order allowing same-sex marriages in California to resume again beginning next week.

Two, the Senate came into special session for just about 22 minutes to pass a new border security measure Democrats hope will help them in the 2010 midterm election. And three, Karl Rove says today bluntly quote, "that the narrative for this election is firmly in place."

So with 82 days left, is Karl Rove right? That's our first question for our big political panel tonight, a group as good as it gets. Veteran Democratic strategists Peter Hart, Anita Dunn, former top George W. Bush adviser Michael Gerson and joining us from New York, long time Republican strategist Ed Rollins.

Peter, I want to start with you with that basic question. Is Karl Rove right? And as I do, I want to share some new numbers fresh out tonight from our new CNN Public Opinion Research polling. Now, how are things going in the country; well, 31 percent; badly, 69 percent. If you match that up with 2006 and 1994, two interesting midterm election years, more Americans feel right now nearly seven in 10 that things are going badly in the country.

PETER HART, CHAIRMAN, HART RESEARCH: Well, we've seen the same thing in the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. It is indeed a very negative electorate, it is an electorate that is looking for change and while I can't agree necessarily that it's all locked in place there are still things to go, the basic dynamic is there. For Democrats and for incumbents, it's going to be a long and a tough year.

KING: Michael Gerson locked in or what would you worry about if you were advising a Republican candidate right now about not being overconfident?

MICHAEL GERSON, INSTITUTE FOR GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT: Well, I think it's been hard for Democrats to change the narrative for months now and the thing that would have helped most is some good economic news which they really didn't get. But I, you know I think Republicans are showing that it's good for them to have an angry electorate. It's not particularly good for them to have angry scary candidates. You know even if you're riding a wave, you can sink if you're a bad candidate in this circumstance. And I think that's the Democrats' hope here is to try to make it race by race, candidate by candidate and win that way.

KING: Anita Dunn, you worked in the Obama White House for a long time and this gets frustrating especially close to an election because there are some things, I'm not saying the president hasn't made mistakes, but there are some things that just are beyond your control when you're in this economic environment. In our new polling tonight, 51 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president; 47 percent approve. That's roughly split, but that's the highest, that matches the highest disapproval number we've ever had in our polling.

ANITA DUNN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well of course I think people in the White House get frustrated. I think the president has made it clear that he's frustrated that more people aren't back to work, that the economy isn't moving faster, more quickly into recovery. But I also think John that the reality as everybody knows is that it took a long time for the economy to get this bad, that by fits and starts it's just starting to move again. It is going to take some time.

And the president is going to frame a message and a choice very clearly on the stump this fall and he's already started doing it. I think that we've seen him start doing it about the beginning of progress versus turning back to the policies that got us here to begin with. And I think that --

KING: I was waiting for that part.

DUNN: Well you're going hear it a lot I think this fall, so and probably much more eloquently than I can do it.

KING: Well Ed Rollins come in on that point because you were with Ronald Reagan and his first midterm election year and you hear what the Democrats and what President Obama personally has begun to do in recent days saying look I know you're not happy and I know you don't love everybody I did, but George W. Bush made it worse and the Republicans don't have anything different than what they did then. Can they sell that?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's hard. You know the backdrop like it was in 1982, you know Reagan went out, probably saved 10 or 15 seats, the predictions we were going to lose 50; we lost 26 which was very dramatic and changed the dynamics. You know right today if you had the election, there's probably 200 Republicans, 200 Democrats who were fighting over the last 35 seats.

Most of those are Democrat seats and I think to a certain extent it's not a national election, it's about picking each of those incumbents off. The only fear I have is candidates matter and elections matter. And I think in this particular case we have some very fine candidates who aren't tested in the battlefield. So they can't make mistakes.

They've got to run almost error free campaigns and if they do, they can win. It's a better environment than we've ever had in certainly the last 20 years and I think we're going to have a great November 2nd.

KING: Interesting commentary from an issue's perspective. Doug Schoen, veteran Democratic pollster, you all know him well, in the "Politico" today he mentions the big achievement of this president, health care reform, something Democratic presidents have wanted to pass for quite some time. Doug suggested it's become a negative.

I want to read what he says. "Recent polling shows that health care reform bill has been a disaster for the party with near 60 percent of voters saying that they oppose the measure. In recent months as voters express anger across the board with Washington, there may well be no single initiative as unpopular as the administration's health care reform bill."

Is that true, Peter that what the president views as probably the biggest achievement of his first term is a political albatross?

HART: No. It's controversial. You have Republicans very unhappy with it. You have Democrats that are basically happy with it. I think that way overstates it. I want to pick up on one thing about Ed Rollins that he'll know. And that is in 1982, 10 percent unemployment, everybody was talking about how terrible the Republicans are, how much trouble Ronald Reagan would be in.

And in reality, yes, Democrats picked up 26 seats, it was an important election. But it didn't change the end towards 1984. We have a tendency to get way ahead of ourselves and Doug Schoen as good as he may be is sort of suggesting that this is the worst thing. I think we're way ahead of ourselves on this.

DUNN: And I want to say that I think recent polling, Kaiser Permanente, other public polling has shown that Doug is actually not even correct about this, that as time has passed since the passage of the bill, acceptance of the bill is growing. Now the intensity of opposition is still there, but one thing that's interesting John is you don't see Republican candidates talking about repealing that bill any longer.

Because they don't want to have to answer the question, well, why do you want to repeal all those insurance protections that are in the bill? They don't want to have to answer the question why do you feel that insurance companies should be able to drop people you know once they get sick. They don't want to answer those questions and so all these candidates who at first were out there on repeal are now walking that back. That's not as big a talking point as it was and that shows how Doug is really not correct.


GERSON: Well do you have to remember that this was sold to many Democrats in marginal seats that this is actually going to help you in the election that was coming. That certainly hasn't happened. But do I think the Democratic problem is much more complicated than that. It's really kind of the three I's -- Independents as recently show you know are very, very upset about spending, debts, deficits, the economy. You know intensity is very much on the Republican side and issues. You look at not just health care, but debt and the economy and there's a broad disapproval of the president on these things. That's a bad trifecta.

KING: And to that point, "A", because of those issues and "B", to the core group of Independents, our new poll shows are Obama's views too liberal; now 46 percent of Americans believe that. In March of 2009, it was only 36 percent of Americans believe that. People say is this 1982, is this 1994. That was Bill Clinton's problem in 1994; people perceived a centrist who ran for president who was governing in a more liberal way than they had thought essentially. Is that this president's problem?



HART: "A", the reason why it's not the president's problem is it's an economy that's not working. And that's the president's problem. And the other thing, this is a Washington that's not working. And that's everyone incumbent's problem. So you put those two things together and what you end up with as I've said before is a JetBlue election. And what that really means is a lot of invective (ph) and the voters are looking for the emergency exit.

KING: I hope they grab a beer on the way out. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll discuss the new same-sex marriage ruling from San Francisco today, also a bit more, some new salvos you might say in the White House war, at least the press secretary's war with what he calls the professional left. Stay with us.


KING: A federal judge in California today issued an order that essentially allowed same-sex marriages to resume in the state of California beginning next week. Will it just be a California debate? Of course it's going to make its way through the courts, but what about in this year's election?

Let's get back to our great political group here and Ed Rollins, I want to start with you. The end of just about every George W. Bush speech late in the 2004 campaign was I will defend traditional marriage. It was viewed as a motivator, a turnout motivator for the conservative base in the Republican Party. This year, will we hear a lot about this issue in the campaign?

ROLLINS: I think Republicans need to be talking about the economy and jobs. I do think it will mobilize a certain element of our party, places like Missouri and elsewhere, it's a very important element. But I think at the end of the day it really is about the economy. And I think if you get distracted with too many issues, side bar issues, at the end of the day, it's who votes.

We talked earlier about, Peter who I have great respect for, you're not going to have the same model that turned out in 2008. You're going to have a gigantic drop off. Young voters, African- American voters who turned out in the brilliant Obama 2008 aren't turning out and who is turning out are elderly voters, over 65 who are very concerned about the health care, are very concerned about the economy, very concerned about the security for their kids and their grandkids and those are the base that we're going after.

KING: Let's move on -- you talk the base, there's been a bit of a squabble between the White House and its base in recent days. Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, saying he couldn't understand those on the professional left who aren't happy with the administration saying perhaps they should be drug tested. He went on to say they wouldn't be happy even if Dennis Kucinich were president. Dennis Kucinich, of course the liberal congressman from the Cleveland area -- well Dennis Kucinich was on a network morning show this morning and he decided I guess as the spokesman of the left to fire back saying you know what Robert Gibbs, you just don't get it.


REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: It's also important that we as Democrats come together on mainstream economic ideas and to try to paint as out of the mainstream people who want a full employment economy, people who want peace, who want to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, that's the mistake that Mr. Gibbs makes. He's missing exactly what's happening out there across America.


KING: Now I'm not sure Anita Dunn this is going to you know win or lose a congressional race out in Missouri or Indiana or anywhere else, but why is the Democratic White House in a feud with its own people right now?

DUNN: Well I think I have one piece of advice for Robert, which is take a few days off and get some rest and turn off the cable TV, so I think --

KING: Not now, Robert.

DUNN: Not now, no, only watch John King. But no, you know the Democratic White House, the president went before the Net Roots Nation Convention and said hold me accountable and I think that the president's been very clear that he wants a united Democratic Party, that I think there's a lot that the, whether it's the professional left or the amateur left or the you know part-time left or the weekend left, I think there's a lot for people to be excited about in terms of the change, the progress and, frankly, the hope that the president is bringing to this country and that people will be united behind it. And I think that Robert on reflection probably feels like he would have said it differently.

KING: Does this matter?

GERSON: Well I think it could matter moving forward. And on one issue in particular, which is really Afghanistan. This is where the president is most at odds with his own base. There's kind of large question mark over his administration pursuing an escalation, pursuing General Petraeus' strategy there. I think there's genuine discontent there and disillusionment that they can't just wish away.

KING: I want it show you some pictures that I think have a lot of Democrats nervous and that is Congressman Charlie Rangel who had a birthday party last night, he's under ethics investigation. You have this picture right now. A lot of Democrats were elected in 2006 on a promise to clean up the swamp in Washington and to end what they call the culture of Republican corruption.

Now Charlie Rangel is innocent until proven guilty, but many Democrats are upset not only that these pictures are out there in these final months heading into the election, but that every day in recent days Charlie Rangel has come out to defend himself. Let's listen.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: There is no question in my mind that there will be no obstacles politically or in the newspaper that's going to stop me good health allowing from clearing my name from these vile and vicious charges.


KING: Again, innocent until proven guilty. But Peter Hart, as a message for the party, especially for those candidates who in 2006 and 2008 ran on a clean up the corruption, a different kind of politics, a new day in Washington, that doesn't help.

HART: No help to be perfectly honest. Look, what Democrats have to do, Michael Gerson made the point, is they have to be able to run a one-on-one campaign against their opponent. That makes a great deal of sense. When Charlie Rangel is in the middle of that kind of a debate, it is no different than the kinds of problems that the Republicans had in 2006. And to be perfectly honest, Mr. Rangel has to make his own decisions, but putting himself in the spotlight does not help Democrats, period.

KING: I want to ask everybody to stand by. When we come back, a lot more to talk about including a very provocative debate, some conservatives have said repeal the 14th Amendment. That is the part of the Constitution or at least the interpretation is that it allows the children of illegal immigrants to have citizenship rights here in the United States.

We'll talk about that and we'll show you a new study that shows the numbers, the scope of this issue (INAUDIBLE) some would call a problem. On the "Radar" tonight, a surprise visit from the former President George W. Bush out in public. We haven't seen much of him. We'll show you just where.

And "Pay to Play" it's not a question about Rod Blagojevich. It's a question about the president of the United States and basketball. And in the "Play-by-Play" tonight, we're going to break down some interesting tape. She's the top Democrat in Congress, Nancy Pelosi also is "top chef". And some political song and dance; we'll leave it there and let you think about it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A big debate in recent days in Washington. There's been a proposal from some Republicans and conservatives to rewrite the 14th Amendment to the Constitution or pass legislation essentially to take away the right that if you're the child of an illegal immigrant in the United States you get citizenship rights in the United States.

The Pew Research Center put out an interesting study today showing that an estimated 340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in the United States in 2008 were offspring of unauthorized immigrants; again, so 76 percent of the babies then were children of U.S.-born parents 16 percent were of legal immigrant parents; eight percent of the babies born in the United States are from unauthorized immigrant parents.

And one of the arguments to do this is because of what it costs; more than $1 billion, about $1.2 billion in Medicaid spending to deal with this issue, about $2 billion a year in education spending to deal with this. Some Republicans say go forward. I want to go to Michael Gerson because this is an issue that many in the Bush camp, and you were in the Bush camp say is a horrible mistake for the Republican Party to go down that path. Are you in that camp?

GERSON: Very much. I think it's an issue, a perfect issue that shows how you can take a good issue, which is border security where you're punishing people who have done illegal things, OK, and going to the 14th Amendment where you're punishing infants born in hospitals and criminalizing essentially and changing something that's been true for 140 years.

If you're born in America, you can become president of the United States. That's what the Constitution says. To attack this is really to fundamentally alienate the fastest growing group of American voters. And it's also just unbelievably bad Constitution theory.

KING: But you mentioned that point -- before I bring the others in to the conversation, let's listen to the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, who happens to be in a tough re-election campaign home in Nevada, so Latino voters matter out there. That might be part of this, but Harry Reid says go ahead, Republicans.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't know how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican. OK? Do I need to say more?


KING: Ed Rollins, I'll bring the Democrats in a minute, but this is a question for the Republican Party right now. How do you navigate this one? As Michael knows this is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, those who are here legally and who can vote and if you look at the demographics of this country, you lose this constituency and you're in trouble with the national party. ROLLINS: Well we have to constantly work on this constituency. It is very important and you'll never have success electorally (ph) if you ever lose more and more Hispanic voters. The key thing here I think -- this is a very complicated issue and as a father of a child that I adopted from China at four months of age and brought to this country and she's an American citizen who I'm very proud of, I'm not about for taking away rights of kids who legitimately were born here, as many Republicans will argue with me, but I think to a certain extent this is a sensitivity. This child -- you know if you enforce the borders, keep pregnant women from coming across, keep illegals from coming across I'm all for that. But to take rights away is not what historically we've done with our constitutional changes.

KING: I know you agree with Michael and with Ed on this. Where does it come from? In an economic environment of anxiety and resentment, is that where these ideas are born?

HART: Yes, but I think more important than that is the political play out on this. In 2004, Democrats had an edge 49-27 in terms of which party do you identify with. At this stage of the game, that's now become 58-22. So it's gone from a 22-point edge to a 36-point edge and as you point out with the group that is growing the most, and the Republicans are playing with fire on this issue. It is something that will be there for a generation. And I just don't understand it either in constitutional terms or in political terms.

KING: I assume Republicans can count. Why?

GERSON: I think it's a very good question. The reality here is that you've had a division among Republicans since the mid 1990's with people like Pete Wilson taking a restrictionist point of view and people like George Bush in Texas that took an inclusive point of view. Bush was elected president, Wilson was -- really destroyed the Republican Party in California. You'd think that that would be a good example and so I don't quite understand it except the passions are very real in tough economic times --

DUNN: John, it is the kind of short term tactical political thinking that you often get when you are -- when you're trying to win an immediate election and you're not thinking long term. And I think that there is no issue that better sums up the attitude that I think a lot of Republicans have towards this year which is we will do anything to win at any cost this year, but then think about the long term.

And if you look at how they have positioned, this 14th Amendment drive doesn't just affect the Latino community. I think there are probably other communities in this country, for instance the African American community that feels pretty strongly about the 14th Amendment, why it was passed to begin with, and how important it is to this nation. I think that it is the kind of a short term tactical thinking that political parties get into and then they have to reap the long term consequences. As Michael pointed out, you know California has been a solidly Democratic state and they have one person to thank for it, Pete Wilson.

(CROSSTALK) ROLLINS: It was a two-fold --


ROLLINS: I think it's very important. It was not only 187, which was to withdraw benefits from illegal immigrants. Pete Wilson is a very dear friend of mine, also did an English only teaching in 157 languages in schools. And the combination of the second issue really drove the Hispanic community away. I think issues like this just sort of add to that and I think to a certain extent we need to be a policy of inclusion and a policy of addition, not a policy of subtraction.

KING: This is a great group tonight and interesting conversation. Hope you will all come back, 82 days, we got a long way to go, a lot more to talk about. Michael, Anita, Peter and Ed, thanks so much for coming in.

When we come back, we'll bring you tonight's top stories and also a sighting at the White House that has a lot of people including some of those liberals not too happy with the president talking tonight.


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

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Two miners are missing in Nevada, a mining company official says what they know so far is, quote, "not encouraging."

The jury in the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial is already off for the weekend after telling the judge they've reached agreement on only two counts, can't agree on 11 and haven't even considered 11 more.

The Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, had a small potentially cancerous tumor removed from his stomach today.

"The Huffington Post" reports Elizabeth Warren was at the White House today. She's considered a possible choice to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

And according to a new CNN Opinion Research poll, 48 percent say they'll vote Republican for the Congress; 45 percent say Democrat. Boy, it's getting a little bit late in the game there for the Democrats to turn that around, John.

KING: Joe, that's relatively close numbers, but for the Republicans, that is pretty good standing especially when you look at the intensity gap out there. And I'm going to wander over and talk to you and Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst is with us because if you look deeper into those numbers, one of the things that worries the Democrats the most is you know how Democrats are going to vote for the most part. The question is can you turn them out? You know how Republicans are going to vote. We see intensity there. What about the group in the middle? So let's show the numbers. Choice for Congress; Republicans 97 percent of Republicans say they're going to vote for the Republican for Congress. No surprise there.

Ninety-three percent of Democrats say they're going to vote for the Democrat for Congress. Not much of a surprise there. But look at Independents. This is a bigger gap and it's a growing gap; 46 percent say the Republican candidate; 38 percent the Democratic candidate.

Gloria, if the Republicans can hold the 12-point edge among Independents, that's a lot of races.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes and I think the big question is will Independents be motivated to go out and vote or are they going to sit at home because they're so disgusted. And you know these are disappointed folks. Lots of people you talk to who are Democrats say Independents are really Republicans in disguise, right? So no wonder they don't like Barack Obama, so it just depends on how angry, how motivated they are. If history is any guide, this just isn't going to be a great year for Dems.

To that point, Joe, I'm sure you're hearing this, too. What a lot of Republican strategists are telling their candidates is independents are so important, they don't necessarily agree with us on immigration, or at least it is not a motivating issue for them. They might not be with us on same-sex marriage they might have conservative views on that, and it's not a go out to vote, a motivational issue for them. But a lot of Republican strategists are saying talk about deficit spending, talk about the economy, talk about jobs. Don't go into the danger zone.

JOHNS: Right, right, the kitchen table issues, because when you get out into some of the social issues, they're land mines. And a lot of independents coming from places like Ohio, parts of West Virginia, you know back in the day, you hear that, people again, and again, and again talking about their pocketbook issues. And those are the things that swing elections particularly in close states.

Also you're right about intensity gap. That's been a huge issue for the Democrats. Just for months and months and months. Democrats just sort of shrug and say I don't care so much about this. Obama's not on the ballot.

BORGER: They have to get the Obama voters out there. They have to get those minority voters out there.

KING: They have to get the people who help Barack Obama get the nomination and then the presidency in the first place, which are liberal Democrats who sided with him because they thought he was more one of them than, say, Senator Clinton, back in the primaries. And a lot of them are unhappy now. We've seen this dust up with Robert Gibbs in recent days. We know they don't like the Afghanistan policy. We know they wish the troops were out of Iraq already. They wanted a public option in health care. They wanted immigration reform. Why is GITMO still open, Mr. President? You promised to close it.

So today at the White House, this Elizabeth Warren sighting, you just talked about. To most Americans out there, they're saying Elizabeth who?


KING: She's an oversight person now for the TARP, the bailout program, but she's in line to be one of the candidates, and there you see her, for this new consumer protection agency that was set up as part of the new financial reform legislation, and the left loves her. The question is she has some dysfunctional relationships with Secretary Geithner, the Treasury secretary, a lot of people in Congress, she's rubbed the wrong way.

Right. Chris Dodd has said that she might not be confirmable. Barney Frank, who is in charge of that committee in the House loves her. So the president's going to really have to make a decision here. And he can throw the liberals a bone here and say, look, I've appointed your woman to run this consumer protection agency. She's going to be tough, but she's also going to be difficult for the White House to deal with.

JOHNS: She's the bull in a china shop. She's the outrage person. She's the person who makes your hair stand on end and says look at what they're doing with your money. So, of course, the White House is going to like her a lot because they'd like push that idea that the corporations were preying on the public. And you're supposed to be angry about that. And they'd like to say that's one of the things we'd like to use to get to the polls.

KING: Interesting question because they're viewed as an insular group.

BORGER: You think?


KING: You know, a group that picks from their own friends.

You think?


KING: And she is not one of them.



KING: And so to do this would be quite interesting.

BORGER: And they could use some more strong women at this White House.

JOHNS: And she uses the language. I mean, she really uses the language of consumerism and so on.

BORGER: But business will not like her.

JOHNS: Not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now, that could be --

KING: They're already mad at the White House.

BORGER: Right. And that could be a plus or that could be a minus particularly when your liberal base is unhappy with you, as you point out. So it's going to be interesting to see whether they decide to do this that the point when they could use some more support from their liberal base.

KING: One of the many fun things to watch. Gloria, Joe, appreciate it.

When we come back, among the items on my radar, a surprise public appearance by the former President George W. Bush. You won't want to miss it.


KING: Today's most important person you don't know went on trial today in a courtroom you're not allowed into. Omar Khadr is the defendant in the Obama administration's first full military trail for terror suspect at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

He was born in Canada. Captured on an Afghanistan battlefield in 2002 when he was just 15 years old. The defense contends Khadr, who is now 23, was a child soldier forced to fight by his father. The prosecution calls him an unlawful combatant and war criminal who helped assemble and plant roadside bombs and who killed a U.S. soldier with a grenade. The soldier's widow was in the front row today.

Witnesses aren't identified by name. Seven military officers are hearing this case which is expected to last several weeks. Let's talk that over with my guests, right now.

Don Baer, a former Clinton senior advisor, and Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist with deep ties on Capitol Hill and in the Bush administration.

More than the particulars of this case, Don, to me as people see and watch the coverage of it, will it reignite the debate about Mr. President you promised that Guantanamo Bay would be closed by now?

DON BAER, FMR. SR. ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Right. And it's kind of a lose/lose for President Obama, if you think about it. On the one hand, you promised this. There are people on the left, in his party, saying why haven't you done it already? It reminds people on the center and on the right why did you ever promise this, we need to keep this where it is.

KING: On the other hand, can they make the case, Ron, that conservatives have said we're soft and we're having this trouble? Never mind where it is, we're having this trial and we're holding this guy accountability.

RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yeah, absolutely right. I would agree with Don that they haven't closed Guantanamo Bay it and President Obama is really vulnerable on that.

KING: Is it vulnerable on the left, or is it?

BONJEAN: Well, it just shows, he's vulnerable on the left and he's vulnerable on the right. It just really shows that he's making promises that he can't keep and here's another one of them.

KING: Let's move on to other issues on my radar. This one we love this because we haven't seen much of him. 145 U.S. troops just back from Iraq and Afghanistan got a welcome home they'll probably never forget. Former President Bush and his wife, Laura were waiting at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport yesterday to thank them for their service and to pose for some pictures. If you can't tell by the faces, it was a complete and much appreciated surprise.

Now George W. Bush is controversial, he's political, but for me because we don't see him all that often, although I did notify him watching the sports highlights in the front row at a Rangers game the other night.

Not a smart move for the former president, Ron?

BONJEAN: I thought it was a class move for him to show up and support the troops. Supporting the troops is a bipartisan effort. And the fact that he showed up, he didn't really look-he's never really looking for credit when supporting the troops. Remember during the Fort Hood massacre he showed up, you know? Just showed up at the gate and said, here I am, I'm here to just support the troops.

BAER: Interesting effort by President Bush, to begin to ease back in to the public conscientiousness. Of course, we know he has a book coming out later in the fall, so he's going to try to get back out there. Now, it is interesting. That's the kind of thing President Obama should be doing more of, as well.

KING: That is an interesting point.

Here's another one for you. The Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, busy, busy man, penciled in now as the keynote speaker at a Republican victory dinner next month in Florida. He has already visited Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Wait a minute, where we going with this? They all just happen to hold early presidential nominating contests in 2012. Now, Governor Barbour says it's all about helping to elect Republicans in 2010.

I don't buy it, how about you?

BONJEAN: Well, he is head of the Republican Governors Association. So, it is a smart move that he is in Florida raising money. It also does help him if he chooses to run for president and, yes, people are reading in to this, including myself, thinking he might make a run for it. He's very popular. He would be very popular in the Southeast. Made a name for himself not only as former RNC chairman, but as saving the state of Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina hit.

KING: But he was here in town, as Republican National Committee chairman, he was always fond of using the line, I was born at night, but not last night. And when he tries to say this is all about 2010 and not at all about 2012 that's what comes to my mind. Is he is viable guy?

BAER: Anyone is viable, right? The Republican Party is wide open for 2012. To be honest with you, they don't have any great standouts, that you look at the field right now. You would think it would be an opportunity for them, no one is a standout. It's really interesting to see Haley Barbour in this because you say go far enough back remember Haley Barbour as one of the lead lobbyists here in town. Certainly always a partisan in the Republican Party.

He's done a good job as governor of Mississippi. But it suggests why this is as wide open as it is when Haley can step up there.

KING: Interesting conversationalist. I wouldn't mind him out there. Have a good time in Iowa, Haley, I think.

Here's one that will make a lot of people mad. Seems the federal bank bailouts was good for Europe's banks. A new report says France and Germany were among the greatest beneficiaries of the money that went to prop up the insurance, AIG. This watchdog report also points out the AIG rescue was bigger than France's entire bank rescue program, and was nearly half the size of Germany's. We're talking about billions of dollars here, with a B. Taxpayers didn't like this program to begin with.

BONJEAN: Yeah, this is really bad news for the Obama administration at a time where you have --

KING: This happened in the Bush administration to begin with.

BONJEAN: That's true, but the way that it's been managed, the way the money's been managed as been under the Obama administration. And it's on their watch. And so they have a lot to answer for here.

At a time where you have skyrocketing unemployment, huge debt, concerns about spending, and then you have this watch dog report come out, it couldn't have come out at a worse time for Democrats.

BAER: Yes, but this is one that way too easily to turn into a political football. It's the global economy, right? And Americans understand that. And capital and information and ideas all flow freely across all these boarders. I don't think they're going to be able to make too much out of this.

KING: It won't be another Freedom Fry movement?

(LAUGHTER) BAER: Let's hope not.

KING: All right. You probably heard that for his birthday President Obama played basketball with a really serious who's who of current and former NBA stars. Now the Web site points out his playing companions also a lot of them made sizable donations to the president's campaign, or other Democratic organizations. Giving a slightly different bounce to the old political term, "pay to play". You see some of the contribution there is.

I guess, duh, he wants to play basketball with friends and like- minded supporters, but is this the kind of thing that matters anywhere?

BONJEAN: I'm not going to pick on President Obama this time because he's had a really bad week. The first lady being in Spain, and all the controversy that that had come to it, the fact that he played some basketball with some basketball players. Yes, they donated money to his campaign, but I hope he had a good birthday. I hope he had a good weekend. It was pretty brutal other than that.

BAER: I do notice Republicans are not borrowing at term about this from the Bush years, which was slam dunk. So it's just as well to just leave this one alone.

BONJEAN: Yes, it is pretty bad.

KING: Very good, very good.

All right. This is kind of local, but it is also kind of interesting. Maryland State House Delegate Michael Vaughn is doing what you might call fancy moves to explain his playing a rear or lack of one with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Washington "City Paper" pointed out Vaughn's official campaign biography claimed he plays three years with the Cowboys. And he never played for them at all. Vaughn says his marketing company made a mistake. And he did practice with them-signed as a free agent out of college. But he hasn't explained why anyone, this guy lives in the district where FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, would bother boasting for playing for Dallas in the first place. So, this is a double judgment whammy.

BONJEAN: First of all, I would say that why didn't he brag that he was playing for the Green Bay Packers, my favorite team. That would have been something.

KING: How many year you play with the Packers?

BONJEAN: Exactly. Wouldn't make something like that up, but I don't think he's going to be allowed on FedEx Field to try out for Shanahan any time soon.

KING: Why do politicians do this?

(CROSS TALK) BONJEAN: Bad fact checking. Bad proofreading about.

KING: They don't read their own stuff?

BAER: They get out there. We've seen this a couple of times this year. They get out there and they begin to believe their own myths.

KING: You guys hang tight. When we come back, the "Play-by- play" including a dance. You don't want to miss. And the chef who happens to have a big voice in Congress.


KING: This just in to CNN. Some tough language from Senator John McCain of Arizona. Remember earlier in the program we played for you a remark by Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid, saying he doesn't understand how anyone of Latina heritage could be a Republican. Senator McCain takes issue.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I was astounded at the comment made by Senator Harry Reid that no person who is Hispanic could call themselves a Republican. This is both an unacceptable remark and an oblivious remark. A Republican who is running for governor in his own state, Mr. Sandoval, is of Hispanic heritage.

It was a statement that was made only to inflame passions and it's unacceptable and Harry Reid should publicly apologize as quickly as possible. We don't need anymore of that kind of rhetoric from harry Reid in America.


KING: Let's talk this over. Still with us, Democrat Don Baer, Republican Ron Bonjean.

Senator McCain mixing it up? He's in a primary campaign, but to go right at Harry Reid on this point. What's the issue?

BONJEAN: It's a strong move. Senator McCain is in a primary. This helps them in his own state, but he's absolutely right. It was blanket statement made by Senator Reid to try to inflame the base there. And try to get Hispanic voters on his side in Nevada. And I don't think it's playing very well. And it's helped other Republican candidates like Marco Rubio, in Florida, come out and give him a chance to talk about it, as well.

KING: Senator Reid's point was it won't help us on comprehensive immigration reform. Some of them are talking now about the 14th Amendment and denying citizen rights to the children of illegal immigrants. Where does this go?

BAER: The answer is there is inflaming going on, on all sides of this now. And it's bad. It's wrong. And all the politicians ought to lay off. The Republicans with this 14th Amendment thing, it's crazy. And I can't imagine what they ultimately think good will come out of that.

KING: Let's have a quick time out and let's move on to the "Play By Play".

ANNOUNCER: Here comes the "Play By Play"

KING: We mentioned Haley Barbour giving a fundraiser or being the headliner at a fundraiser in Florida coming up. We have live action pictures today of a 2012 contender for presidency, Republicans who are doing what you all have to do. Look at this right here. This is what we call the Iowa State Fair. And at the Iowa State Fair there, is a lot of pork.

Let's watch Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota. It is the other white meat. There it is, he has the full apron and everything. I'm shocked. I'm sure you are, as he's out of the Iowa State Fair, there are cameras.

BONJEAN: It's amazing. Instead of the rubber chicken circuit, it's the rubber pork chop circuit, it looks like to me. But you know, the campaign gets earlier and earlier. And even though they haven't announced, it's clear they are running, they have to do things like to connect with voters soon.

KING: Ever been to the Iowa State Fair?

BAER: Sure.

KING: You can get anything you want on a stick, anything you want fried, whether it is a Reese's cup, whether it is a pork chop. You can get bacon-wrapped pork chops.

BAER: It is a sure sign why you have to get in shape now, because this stuff is starting sooner and sooner.

KING: Yes. Republican can pay for president, cardiologist included.

Let's move on. I want to move on. We just talked about Harry Reid. His opponent is Sharron Angle. She has been quite controversial. A Tea Party favorite she shocked the establishment in winning the Republican nomination. She has a tough new ad up against Senator Reid. Let's play the ad and then we'll talk about it.


SHARRON ANGLE, SENATE CANDIDATE, NEVADA: I would like to save Social Security by locking the lockbox, putting the money back into the trust fund, so the government can no longer raid our retirement.


KING: Lockbox, I haven't heard that since Al Gore. What makes this interesting, this is Sharron Angle, saying we need to protect and preserve Social Security, and keep Harry Reid and those other politicians from dipping into the trust fund. This is the same Sharron Angle who told John Ralston, a great political journalist, out in Nevada, during the campaign season, quote, "We need to phase Medicare and Social Security out, in favor of something privatized." I think you call that trying to fill in the ditch.

BONJEAN: I thought it was a smart idea for her to go on the offense and try to redefine the issue. Senator Reid said, repeatedly, there is nothing wrong with the Social Security trust funds. But we all know it will start paying more than it's taking in 2015. So, to get on the issue and to get on offense, I thought it was a smart move.

BEAR: Harry Reid would be smart to take this on as a serious issue and presenting himself as a serious policymaker, which he is, here back in Washington. Because she's playing politics and he could actually stand up as somebody of stature who has something to say on this issue.

KING: He'll have to get his party to be willing to deal with the big issue in the election year contest. Which I'm not sure Harry Reid can pull that one off.

Let's move on to the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. We just showed you Tim Pawlenty. He was trying to cook at the Iowa State Fair. Not there, not sure how it came out. Nancy Pelosi, top chef.


NANCY PELOSI, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Coming from San Francisco, where top chef began, it reminds me of home with all the natural products and the rest.

Al dente angel hair is almost impossible to achieve. That in itself is feat. It's delicious.


KING: Let me just ask you this, why is she doing this? She is an issue in a lot of campaigns, that I think is pretty smart.

BAER: The president goes on "The View.", right? Nancy Pelosi is here on Bravo channel. This is good. This humanizes here. It reminds people of things they like about Nancy Pelosi.

BONJEAN: They are trying to connect with voters that are maybe disenfranchised, especially female voters. That is why the president did "The View" and that's why Speaker Pelosi is doing a show like this. Republicans are doing it too. I thought it was good bipartisanship to bring -- you know, good food in D.C.

KING: I love to cook. Top chef, if you happen to be watching. I can come on any time. I'm no Nancy Pelosi, but I can cook.

Let's move on, dancing. You guys dance?

BAER: Sure. KING: First, a little Charlie Rangel. A lot of Democrats are not happy with this. He's under ethics investigation. Here is Charlie Rangel, last night at his birthday party, in the middle of an ethics investigation. I am not qualified to judge dancing. I don't know what to say about that.

Before you guys weigh in on Charlie Rangel's dancing and whether he should be out in public, I want to remind our viewers, probably too often dancing in politics.

KING: Is there no sounds for that? All right. So -- I can't dance. So I'm not qualified here.

BAER: We're not going to dance here tonight, John. But it's amazing you showed the "Seinfeld" clip, because that is what I was going to say, every bit of this reminds me of Elaine dancing on "Seinfeld."

BONJEAN: I was going to say-

KING: Speechless, speechless on the issue of dancing.

BONJEAN: No, I wasn't. I was sort of taken aback, Charlie Rangel, you know, he's dancing while he's in trouble. He will dance himself right out of Congress. President Obama, President Bush, they were dancing, having a good time. I just think the more he gets out there the worse it gets for him. And he shouldn't be dancing in the dark. How about that?

BAER: Good foot work for a guy in his 80s.

BONJEAN: That's true.

KING: There you go. There is always something kind to be said. Don, may have found it. Don, Ron, thanks for coming over. >

When we come back, Pete is on the street and for me it's question time.


KING: Couple minutes away of the top of the hour and "RICK'S LIST" prime time. Let's check in with Rick for a preview.

Hey there.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR, RICK'S LIST: I'm shocked listening to what Doctor Laura Schlesinger just said on her radio show. Hey, John, she -- she goes off on what is being called a racist/political rant. A woman calls her and asks for advice on how to get along with her husband, who is white. Dr. Laura at one point tells her that maybe she is too darn sensitive, shouldn't have married out of her race. Uses the "N" word 11 times in five minutes. We have the tape, we're trying to get a hold of Doctor Laura as well. And we are going to let you hear that for yourself. Coming up, right here on, "RICK'S LIST".

John, back to you.

KING: Our Off-Beat Reporter Pete Dominick is usually out on the streets, as you know, asking questions. Last night, though, he turned the table and let people put questions to me, and we had a lot of fun. We thought we'd do it again. Pete, what do you got tonight?

PETE DOMINICK, OFF-BEAT REPORTER: Hey, John, it went so well the other night, asking you questions, let's do it again. Ask John King, Part II. Here we go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John, my name is Gwen Beckwett. I'm from the Waukegan, North Chicago area. John, what is it like to be on Air Force One?

KING: That's a great question. Air Force One is a treat. About 12 reporters get to travel with the president. You sit in your own cabin. It is a big 747. It is a gorgeous, high-tech super souped-up plane. I've been on it on campaigns traveling the United States.

The most interesting ride I ever took was with George W. Bush on a secret trip to Iraq. Where they do the extra special security landing. And the make us close all the windows and no BlackBerries because they are afraid the terrorists could pick up a signal coming off of your BlackBerry and your phone.

But it is a comfortable plane, and every now and then the president invites you up front. He's a got a little gym area, he has a little study area, and DirecTV, so he can watch the football or the baseball games. So it is a pretty cool ride.

Got another one, Pete?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Lindsey, I'm from Colorado. I'm wondering how the relationship with the president has with the press corps effects the reporting?

DOMINICK: Good question, John, what do you think?

KING: It is a good question. It always runs hot and cold. The presidents are nice to the reporters, usually when they need more favorable press coverage. It goes back and forth, when you're a reporter, you have to do your job whether he likes me or not. What do you think, Pete?

DOMINICK: You did it again, John. I think we'll have to make "Ask John King" a regular thing. Back to you, sir.

KING: We'll see you tomorrow night. "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" right now.