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Museum Attacker Targeted Axelrod; Rating Rahm Emanuel; If Boehner Becomes Speaker

Aired September 30, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf, and good evening, everyone.

We begin tonight with an eye-opening new report about a rise in anti-government extremism and militia activity right here in the United States.

And within that report, a shocking subplot. Evidence that James von Brunn, the man who brazenly walked into the Holocaust Museum here in Washington 15 months ago and shot a security guard had his sights set on a bigger target -- the president's top political adviser.

But what motivated these groups and why are more and more, not only organizing but stockpiling weapons and ammunition and training for battle perhaps against their own government?

Barton Gellman is a "TIME" magazine correspondent whose cover story this week has a six-month investigation. And CNN national security contributor Frances Townsend served as White House homeland security adviser under President George W. Bush. She remains an outside adviser to the Department of Homeland Security and is a partner at the international law firm on Baker Botts.

Barton Gellman, I want to start with you. As part of your fascinating reporting here you spent time with the Ohio Defense Force, one of these militia groups around the country, as it was conducting its annual exercise. And you write this in your report.

Their unit seal depicts a man with a musket and a tri-corn hat over the motto, Today's Minute Men. The symbol invites a question, who are today's red coats?"

Bart, who do they see as the enemy?

BARTON GELLMAN, AUTHOR, "ANGLER: THE CHENEY VICE PRESIDENCY": Well -- and this is a very common theme amongst the self-described patriot groups. They go back to the Minutemen and to Lexington and Concord and the first shots of the Revolutionary War.

They see -- they see Washington as the enemy. They see -- they see themselves in effect as heirs to the founders. And that means that the present government of the United States is the heir to King George. And so Washington is the foreign tyrant.

KING: And Fran Townsend, as someone who has seen the intelligence on these groups over the years as they rise, and Bart's reporting indicates they've risen quite a bit in the last year or so. What is it from a Washington government perspective that scares you about them?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Well, you know, when we first saw this beginning rise that Bart really describes well going back to the immigration reform debate.

During the Bush administration we saw these militias pop up along the southwest border because they didn't believe their government was doing enough. And so that -- at that point the aim was to help their government.

Within -- in 2007 while I was still at the White House, saw these hate groups, these supremacist groups begin targeting. And that was why while I was still there we went to then Senator Obama and encourage him to take Secret Service protection earlier than had ever been granted to anybody during a campaign.

KING: And Bart, you touch on that in the piece. You talk about the explosion of the number of these groups that the government is tracking from 2009 -- throughout the year 2009, how the number doubled and then tripled.

And the Department of Homeland Security, as Fran noted, has been aware of this for some time. This is from a report back in April 2009.

"Prominent anti-government conspiracy theorists have incorporated aspects of an impending economic collapse to intensify fear and paranoia among like minded individuals and to attract recruits during times of economic uncertainty."

So the economy playing in that report from the Department of Homeland Security, but then, Bart, in your reporting, you take it a step further and you personalized it to a degree.

"Their resurgence now is widely seen among governments and academic experts as a reaction to the tectonic shifts in American politics that allowed a black man with a foreign sounding name and a Muslim-born father to reach the White House."

Fair to say, a lot of this is about race?

GELLMAN: Well, yes and no. For sure there are large numbers of people, you know, sort of on what you call the radical right, who are bothered by Obama's race or their beliefs about his religion or their beliefs about his country of origin.

And so he's a kind of a uniting figure in that sense, for the first time behind the three major streams of bigotry on that side of the movement. But many of these groups at least profess and I think honestly don't feel any great racial hatred. That's not their motivation.

They are against what they see as an overweening federal government and they believe that the government is coming to get their guns, for example, or to declare marshal law or to move people into concentration camps.

Now for them Obama is a kind of an intensification. I mean if you believe your government is alien, then the various ways in which Obama has been cast as alien from the American mainstream has a way of amplifying that.

KING: And so Fran, if you're a government official, a homeland security adviser, and you're trying to dedicate, whether it's intelligence resources, domestic or international, or money, programs, focus where al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or a home-based threat, where do you draw the line?

TOWNSEND: Well, the FBI has long just used them as an example, has long had resources devoted to both. But I will tell you, going back to 2007 and 2008, they had to -- they have had to devote increasing resources to this domestic extremist.

And we've seen cases. We've seen arrests in places like Michigan as a result of those increased resources.

KING: And so, Bart, there's two big issues in your piece. And you read through it. It's fascinating reporting.

Number one, these groups, militia groups that have spread up under the patriot banner, if you will, correct me if I'm mischaracterizing it. And then the lone wolves, people who radicalized themselves and perhaps they get -- they share information on the Internet or perhaps they get information from the same site.

And one of them is the Holocaust Museum shooter. And you say in your reporting, and I made some phone calls today to verify this, that von Brunn came, shot the guard at the Holocaust center, but then in the investigation they found indications that he wanted to kill David Axelrod, the president's top political adviser.

GELLMAN: Well, that's absolutely right. He considered a number of targets and he thought the president himself was too hard to get to. But of course in von Brunn's world view the Jews ran everything. Obama was merely a puppet of what he called his Jew owners. And so in that sense Axelrod was a more valuable target to him than the president was.

What freaked out the Secret Service and DHS and FBI is that here you had a guy -- again it's not just talk, here's a guy who has demonstrated the motive, means, intent, willingness to kill, who's got Axelrod's name and other information about him in the notebook that he left in his car as he walked into the Holocaust Museum to open fire.

KING: And so, Fran, again, what do you do about something like this? I was communicating with David today. He refused to talk about this. He said he can't talk about this at all.

But with some law enforcement sources has said Bart's reporting is dead-on and they were very alarmed by this when they saw it. Is that a -- is that more of a threat now with a lone wolf theory that somebody close to the president -- maybe not the president himself?

TOWNSEND: You know, immediately after 9/11 during the Bush administration there was a security assessment done on the president's staff. Most didn't require security but for example a national security adviser wound up with the details, so did the chief of staff.

And it is not unusual. The Secret Service, as a matter of protocol, is constantly looking at threats around the president including his staff. And so I can well understand why when they saw this they would have wanted to be sure David got detail.

KING: Bart, you spent six months on this. Help us draw the line because some people out there watching are already going to say there are these people in the media talking about taking away our guns, they're talking about restraints.

Draw the line between what you saw as honest, God-loving American citizens who might have different views about guns and organizing than some of us who live in the big cities, and people who are radicalized, who have a more extreme agenda?

GELLMAN: Look, the fact is I liked a lot of these guys that I was talking to. And they are, lots of cases -- I mean most cases, ort of motivated by their own sense of what's patriotic.

I don't think anyone should begrudge anyone their political beliefs. It's not a question about -- you know, whether they're conservative, anti-government, don't believe that gun control is legal, any of that.

What gets scary, what gets dangerous is when you have people who believe that the government may be coming for them, who are equipping and training to combat federal forces. Because even this rather moderate Ohio militia, the exercise of which was premised on the idea that Muslim terrorists were rampaging through the Midwest because the Muslims sympathizing president would not intervene.

The force that they trained against, that they were trying to kill in their exercise, did not look like any terrorist group on the planet. It was described as having modern military hardware, encrypted communications, vehicle support, operating in uniform and platoon-sized strength.

And what they were describing is essentially was an FBI hostage rescue team or a National Guard platoon or an ATF tactical force. They were practicing to kill federal troops.

And when you have people with that mindset, there are two big worries. One is that they will interpret some ambiguous act as an attack and do what they perceive as defending themselves. And the other is that within their midst there grows up a lone wolf who believes the rhetoric, who keeps hearing the warnings, keeps practicing and can't stand it anymore and decides to go out and act.

KING: And so then, Fran Townsend, they don't trust the government. So who is it that can go to them and try to talk to them? Is there a middle ground or broker, or is it you just have to watch them and react?

TOWNSEND: Well, you really to have to watch them. And the lone wolf that Bart describes is the most difficult. Because typically what will happen is the group itself expels him. And he goes out on his own and so there's no one around him to trigger law enforcement to know that you've got a real dangerous threat. Somebody who's now armed, trained and prepared to act.

KING: Fascinating reporting, Bart Gellman in "TIME" magazine.

Folks, if you haven't seen it, it's available online. It's the cover story in "TIME" this week. It's a fascinating story. You want to read it. Excellent reporting.

Bart, thanks for coming on and sharing with us tonight. And Fran, thanks for your insights to that as well.

When we come back the president is losing his right-hand man. Rahm Emanuel wants to run for mayor of Chicago. But how do we rate him as chief of staff? Is he the most effective chief of staff perhaps in recent history or the most polarizing?

Stay with us.


KING: The absolutely worst kept secret in Washington will become official tomorrow complete with a presidential sendoff. Rahm Emanuel is resigning as the White House chief of staff and will begin campaigning for mayor of Chicago next week with visits to some of the city's neighborhoods.

The East Room announcement caps the tenure of one of Washington's most polarizing figures. To his allies he's tireless, relentless, loyal, and crafty. To critics he's ruthless, rude, hyper-partisan and hostile to those who don't see things just his way.

To me the question is this. How does he rate as a president's right-hand man? So let's put it to our guests.

In Atlanta, conservative Ralph Reed is the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Here in Washington, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala, Democratic strategist Jim Dyke, head of Jim Dyke and Associates, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile.

Paul, to you first, Rahm is a longtime friend. How does he rate, if you -- some of the critics say here's a guy who, if Barack Obama wanted to be different, wanted to be post-partisan, that for all his skills and all his appeal, Rahm Emanuel was the wrong guy?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, well, first up I don't believe in style points. OK? I believe in accomplishments. Millions, tens of millions of Americans are going to have health care --s better, cheaper, safer health care because, in part, of Rahm's work. Millions of American women are going to have the right to defend themselves for equal pay in part because of Rahm's work. All of us who are consumers are going to have a better chance of not getting ripped off by Wall Street in part because of the work that Rahm has done.

So he has made an enormous impact in people's lives. And the fact that some on the far left or maybe in the far -- rather the far right and maybe a few on the left hate him is fine with me. It shows he's done his job.


BEGALA: Because he served this country.

KING: Ralph, let me put the question to you in the campaign context. Because if you judge it now based on Paul's list maybe in five years or 10 years or 20 years people have a different perspective, but based on Paul's list -- the stimulus program is controversial out there on the campaign trail especially in rural America and, you know, red state America where a lot of Democrats who on McCain and Bush districts are in trouble.

The health care bill, you'd have to say that is a net negative at least in this campaign year right now. Does that affect his rating?

RALPH REED, AUTHOR, "THE CONFIRMATION": Well, you know, I like Rahm. I've worked with him a lot over the years. Interacted with him when he was in the Clinton White House. I think he's a professional. I think he's a very capable political operative.

But I have to say -- and this is no shot at Rahm. It's just my honest analysis. I think this was really a mismatch of his skill set. I think he'll be better on his own as a candidate or an officeholder. I thought he really shined in Congress.

It was where he was best able to show what he was really good at -- raising money, recruiting candidates, developing an agenda. Here he was really ultimately more of a staff guy. And people tend to forget the chief of staff is not the deputy president, he's the staff guy.

And the reality is that his client, the president of the United States, has an average job approval in the last 10 published polls of 45 percent in and a disapprove of 50. In some polls it's in the low 40s.

The health care plan that Paul alluded to, and I certainly understand why he believes that's a significant policy accomplishment, but the fact of the matter is, Democratic candidates are running for the tall grass from this thing.

They don't want to be seen as having voted for it. Some are actually running ads bragging they voted against it.

At least the Rahm Emanuel that I know who is a seasoned political pro, you know, that can't be satisfying to him.

KING: But why, Donna Brazile, are there people in your own party who are sort of hoping the door hits him on the way out? Mario Solis- Marich, a prominent Latino who contributes to us every week, he essentially said just that today in an e-mail to us that, you know, good riddance, see you, good-bye.

Luis Gutierrez, who's another congressman from Chicago who supported Rahm as chief of staff, and I know we're going to a mayor's race and the politics get a little confusing, but he told the "Washington Post" this back in March.

So this is not just now. This is back in March. "For Rahm, power and preservation of power is always the number one priority."

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I've known Rahm probably not as long as Paul. But let me just tell you, Rahm has been an effective chief of staff. He served the president well. He served his country well. His core served his party well.

When Rahm walked into the White House Rahm understood the challenges. He was able to pull together a great staff for the president. We were hemorrhaging over 25,000 jobs a day, 800,000 a month. This economy may not be where the president would like it but because of Rahm's help and his leadership, we're further along and moving this economy in the right direction.

JIM DYKE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I'll be the spokesman for the four staffers on the show. Staff get too much blame during bad times and too much credit during good times. They're a reflection of the principle.

I think Rahm executed what the president wanted clearly. You mentioned style points. I think that you may not think style's important but the American people voted for a style change. And they haven't gotten it so far in President Obama.

KING: But Rahm's style can be a bit unique. I think we all know that.

I want to go back to something the president of the United States said at the White House Correspondents Dinner last year. This is back in May 2009 describing his lovable, cuddly chief of staff.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers in the audience.

I do have to say, though, that this is a tough holiday for Rahm Emanuel because he's not used to saying the word day after mother.


KING: Rahm does occasionally, sometimes more than occasionally, have a flavor for the profane -- I remember during that thing we called impeachment that you would go up and do a live shot at the White House, I was covering the White House on those days, and you'd come back down to the booth and the red light on the phone would be flashing and the producers would just point at it and I would say, Rahm? They'd say uh-huh.

And you'd pick up the phone and you'd get the earful if he didn't like what you said.

Again, back to the point, the president campaigned on new different -- a different tone in Washington. I'm not blaming Rahm because Jim is right. Your staffer reflects the principle.

Was it in hindsight, now that we're 20 months later, and nobody out there in America thinks Washington looks or sounds different? Maybe a bad choice?

BEGALA: No. I think it was a dumb promise. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but if you look at President Bush -- I didn't support him, but he campaigned all around the country saying I want to be a uniter, not a divider. And he meant it. OK? How'd that work out?

The most divisive president in modern memory. Look at my old boss Bill Clinton. He campaigned around and said I want to be the healer of the breach from the Prophet Isaiah. How did that work out for him? They impeached him. OK?

This is a divided town. Nobody, nobody, except maybe Jesus, was going to change tone in Washington. So just get things done, change people's lives in the real world. That would have been a much better promise.

That's in fact what Barack Obama is doing. I think he's making great strides in changing people's lives for the better. And again, who cares about Washington? Let's not be so self-indulgent here and self-referential. Let's actually make a difference in people's lives outside the beltway and then they won't care about style.


BRAZILE: Look, back in the day when he was running the inaugural committee back in 1993 I went to Rahm, and, you know, Rahm can be a little brusque. But I say, look, we need some tickets to give the kids all the -- east of the Anacostia River to come to the inaugural. At first Rahm looked at me, he was about to take my head off, I said, kids, and Rahm said absolutely.

Tonight kids with pre-existing conditions will be able to keep their health care because of Rahm Emanuel.

So thank you, Rahm. God bless you.

KING: I'm going to -- everybody take a time out. Our panel is going to stay with us because we have a lot more to come including the test Paul just laid out. Getting things done.

If that's the test, when we come back, we'll give you the top news stories today. But also a blunt warning for the Congress from Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York. He says Congress needs to do more. We'll go through the record of this session and see how much is good and how much maybe not so good.

Also tonight, a bit later, Jean Chatzky, you're worried out there. Is the recession over? What should you do with your money? Having a hard time saving? We'll connect your personal finances to the politics of Washington with Jean in just a bit.

And our Sanjay Gupta today had an exclusive interview with Michael J. Fox about his long-running battle with Parkinson's. You won't want to miss it. It's a very emotional interview. Sanjay will be with us to give us the details.


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

Hey, Joe.


Sources tell CNN that at the White House today the top Democratic leaders from the House and the Senate pushed President Obama to be more aggressive in the closing weeks of the campaign.

According to the sources, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the president they want to see more campaign rallies and rhetoric like Tuesday's Wisconsin appearance.

Meanwhile, Minority Leader John Boehner today outlined his agenda if the Republicans take the House and he becomes speaker.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: It's my view that we should open this process up and let the battle of ideas help break down the scar tissue that's been created between the two parties.

Yes, we're still going to have disagreements, but let's have them out in the open.


JOHNS: Now, I'm no doctor, John, but I just don't know if more battle is the way you break down scar tissue. Could be.

KING: Well, it's an interesting speech from the man who would like to be the next speaker of the House, though. It was a very process-oriented speech. A lot of people would say why? But it was aimed at the Tea Party activists and independent voters out there who think and have pretty good reason to believe this town is broken, that they can't get anything big done, that incrementalism is a dirty word.

Everything has to be in comprehensive immigration reform, big sweeping spending bills, and then they get held up because they're big which makes them controversial.

So, Ralph Reed, I want to go to you first on this point. Is John Boehner a credible spokesman for saying if you make me speaker the town will actually work? It'll be different, we'll have small bills so we can cut spending.

And I say it in the context with no criticism intended, but Newt Gingrich promised to be different. Nancy Pelosi promised to be different. Barack Obama promised to be different. Maybe it's not them. Maybe this town just doesn't allow different.

REED: Well, I think what breeds cynicism is when people are asked to vote on a 1300-page stimulus bill that spends $862 billion. And you know it lands on people's desks an hour before they vote.

And by the way, there were negotiations in the Rules Committee where House Republicans sat down with Democratic leadership, including the relevant committee chairs, offered amendments, were told they were going to be accepted, got to the floor to their desk, started flipping through the bill and they had disappeared.

This process is desperately in need of reform. Committees have been totally bypassed. The legislative process has been disrespected. And it's no wonder that millions of people are pouring into the street and demanding that at a minimum representatives be required to read the legislation and be given adequate time to do so.

So I don't think that this is just a Republican versus Democrat or a left versus right. If you look at the independents, John, they are breaking heavily. We're talking mid to high 50s as against a president that they voted for 2-1 just two years ago. That shows failure.

KING: And Paul, he's right about the independents breaking. And he's right it's not Democrat or Republican. It's about power. Whosever -- the committee chairman or the ranking members they have power. They don't want to have an open process. They don't want to have everybody gets a say. This is my little feet (ph) and I'm going to keep it.

BEGALA: But the question should be, is Mr. Boehner the right vehicle for a message of reform? I don't know. Maybe Lindsay Lohan is the right spokesperson for sobriety? I kind of doubt it.

John Boehner --

KING: But --


BEGALA: You should know this. John Boehner handed out checks from cigarette companies, cigarette packs, on the floor of the House from these merchants of death to Republican congressmen who voted with them.

KING: But does he have it -- (CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: OK. That is legalized bribery.

KING: Does he have it --

BEGALA: This guy's going to reform something is preposterous.

KING: Does he have his chance now to make the case, though, because the Democrats have not delivered on promise of reform?

BEGALA: Only if -- I -- they have delivered on reform. Please.

KING: Not the process.

BEGALA: The -- or whatever. You're just so consumed with process tonight.

KING: I'm not consumed with process. I'm consumed with --

BEGALA: What is the process of a guy who's handing out cigarette company checks on the floor of the House? That's the most corrupt thing I've ever seen in 25 years here. And it was John Boehner who was doing it.

KING: It's not -- I want to call it -- it's not so -- I'm consumed with process. I'm consumed with what you were talking about during the break. Having a government that works, that can get things done.

I want to show you some of the activity we've had under the capitol dome because we said some things about Congress that were not so polite last night. And I got a lot of complaints. And I give -- here's what they did, whether you like it at home or not is up to you.

But they did pass this year a stimulus bill, health care reform bill, Wall Street reform, Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act, important legislation, a small business incentive package, reforms to intelligence gathering and Flood Insurance Reauthorization.

Significant achievements -- maybe you don't like them, maybe you do, but significant achievements of this Congress. But let's go down here. The House passed and the Senate stalled -- and this makes the House pretty mad because they took some tough votes.

Energy legislation that included what they call cap and trade. Money to give health care to 9/11 Responders. The NASA future to change the space program. A China currency bill to get a little tougher there. Food safety legislation. Offshore oil drilling rules. All passed the House, the Senate would not act.

Then you come up a little further, neither though -- neither chamber of the Congress passed these administration priorities. Internet neutrality bill, immigration reform, neither passed a budget, they just passed this continuing resolution that keeps the government going, they punted on the debate on whether to extend tax cuts. They didn't vote on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Medicare doctor reimbursements, reimbursements for African-American and Native American farmers. I can do on this list for a little while. Stem cell research.

The reason -- Paul, my point is not about process. It's why can't they vote. Why can't they just say, you know what, we're going to bring these things to the floor? And we're going to vote up or down and someone's going to win and someone's going to lose. Not, we can't vote on this today because they'll use it against us in the campaigns.

BEGALA: Take it up with the founding fathers. Mr. Madison and the rest of the geniuses who I think were right sat up a system where in fundamental change is very, very difficult. And I -- you travel around the country and I do, too. Most people --

KING: Most people think this town is a daycare center.

BEGALA: Most people do not come up to me and say I wish Congress had passed more laws. They say slow down a little bit, guys. Now that's what the founders wanted.

President Obama and the Democrats I think have pushed the system to its limit in terms of passing as much as they can. This is what our founders wanted, to have a slow process.

DYKE: Founders intended for Congress to pass a budget, to put in total context the amount of spending so people could understand it. For political reasons, Democrats chose not to. And that's part of the problem, making political decisions --

KING: They're not the first ones to do it, Democrats aren't the first ones to do it.

DYKE: I'm not reviewing the history of Congress. We're talking about the Congress right now.

BEGALA: Republican amnesia.

DYKE: To your point, Republicans got thrown out and four years ago Democrats took over. They've had their chance and failed.

REED: John, this is Ralph, it isn't just the budget and cap and tax. It's a situation we're in the deepest and longest recession since the post World War II period. The Democrats are leaving town for purely raw political reasons. Leaving 26 million small businesses and 100 million families not knowing what their tax rate is going to be on January 1st. We're going to deal with this with a discredited lame duck Congress or wait until January and have a new Congress step up to the plate. That is irresponsible. The American people know that to have a sound economy, if we're going to make investments, if we're going to hire new workers we have to know what the tax on our investments is going to be January 1st. The estate tax is scheduled to go from zero to 55 percent. Dividends and capital gains is going to go from 15 to 30 to 40 percent To leave Washington, D.C., in order to campaign, leaving the economy in limbo, leaving investors, small businesses and employers and employees in the dark is irresponsible and I guarantee you they're going to be punished for it.

BEGALA: Ralph Reed attacks Republican filibusters and Republican instruction because all that stuff is bottled up because Republicans have used their filibuster.

JOHNS: There's one thing that's true about this. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth mentality in the House and Senate. Whoever gets control has the power and then they use it and sort of use the process to bat the other side over the head. So the question is, where is that going to end? Because an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

BEGALA: First of, it's what Jefferson did to Adams, okay? It is.

JOHNS: Yeah. The point is --

BEGALA: I understand -- Tom was unavailable. I was at one of these conferences. Somebody asked my old boss Bill Clinton that. When are these politicians going to stop being so extreme and partisan? He said, when you stop electing them. It's we, the people. That's what the founders intended. I'm not happy with some of the Republicans who may win. I have to honor the will of the people.

DYKE: The Democratic leadership in Congress chose against the request of 47 of their own members to not take up the tax bill. They could have passed a bill that completely guaranteed as all the facts that Ralph stated, certainty going forward for the economy, for small businesses. They chose not to.

BEGALA: Republicans filibustered against a small business loan. They killed it. They opposed it. They oppose food safety. Can't we eat a hamburger without the Republicans trying to poison us.

KING: I'm going to call a time-out and concede the fact we did not fix Washington tonight. On this program we did not fix Washington. It's Adam's fault. It's Paul and Adam's fault. Ralph thanks for being with us tonight. Joe, Paul and Jim, thanks.

We come back, a more civil conversation. An important conversation. Jean Chatzky's here. She's an expert on your money. You're a little worried right now. We know it.


KING: The government keeps telling us, telling you, the economy is getting better. Wall Street believes its stocks posted their best September in 71 years. Three out of four Americans believe we're still in a recession. Joining me, personal finance expert, Jean Chatzky. Her latest book is called "Not Your Parent's Money Book." I was joking before we got on the air, I'm going to give it to my son who started his college applications and he could use a little financial advice. To that broad point before we get into some details, if you look at the numbers, the market had a tough roller coaster year. The last month it's been up. The national bureau that tracks recession says, hey, we've been out of recession for some time. The president in a political environment is trying to say, hey, it's start to get better. Why do three out of every four Americans say no way?

JEAN CHATZKY, FINANCIAL EDITOR, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": We're not creating enough jobs. We're creating 60,000 to 80,000 jobs every month. It's not enough to keep up with the number of people entering the workforce. Until that is fixed and housing really starts to turn the corner we are not going it feel better.

KING: So because of those pressures and because of that feeling, your economic reality, the math in your life and what your brain and heart is telling you that might be pessimistic or fearful. What decisions are people making now that are perhaps contributing, maybe holding back, maybe not spending themselves?

CHATZKY: We're getting a good indication of that going into the holiday season. There are a lot of fears out there about what kind of a retail environment it's going to be. If you look at the spending rates, they're starting to tick up. People are paying down debts, they're saving a little bit more. That's all very good for our individual futures, not so great for the economy but for people sitting at home it's what we need to do to make ourselves feel safe and secure and independent.

KING: You heard an example of the economic political debate in this town. Over tax cuts. Whether Washington needs to make some decisions, take tough votes, so that big businesses out there understand what the tax climate will look like so they can decide, are we going to spend more money, open a new plant, hire new workers? Do people feel that way? Do everyday Americans look at Washington and say, help me out?

CHATZKY: I think if you look at the poll numbers that's absolutely what everyday Americans are saying. It's all back to the economy stupid, as Paul Begala or James Carville said a really long time ago. That's how we vote, that's what we feel. That's why president Obama is so worried.

KING: And we focus on the market, sometimes overfocus on the market because so many Americans in the past generation have become owners of 401(k) plans. The average retirement account fell 24 percent in 2008. A lot of that's come back in 2009. How much are everyday Americans when they're making those decisions, state school, private school, vacation, not, new car, just repair this one? How much of that is based on what happens in the 401(k)s?

CHATZKY: Not all that much. When you look at the number of investors in the market and more importantly than that, the amount of money that those investors have in their 401(k)s, you're still not capturing the lion of share of America. More than half of the people in this country are living paycheck to paycheck. Although they would love to put money in a 401(k) they don't have the wherewithal to do that.

KING: A driving force in family budget and politics the past year or so has been health care. McDonald's saying maybe it can't cover hourly workers because its carrier says it's going to cost too much. Regulations are too much. I want to show numbers. Help me understand what this does to people out there. The average worker paid 14 percent more in 2010 for health care costs. The employees' share of premiums are up 47 percent since 2003. Overall, premiums up 27 percent. Wages up 18 percent. So if you just -- I'm not good at math, but if premiums are up 27 percent, wages 18 percent, that's more money out of your pocket.

CHATZKY: Absolutely. That's what people are worried about with this health care bill. There's a lot of good accomplished. I like the idea kids will be able to stay on their parent's insurance and all people will be eligible for having pre-existing conditions covered. But we're heading into the open enrollment period at our companies and we don't pay enough attention to the fine print. As we look at our policies we're going to have to ask the questions about whether or not we can afford this on an individual basis, or we'll need to look at health savings accounts or cheaper coverage to get what we need for families.

KING: Let me ask you lastly and it's an interesting question. As a parent of a 17-year-old and 13-year-old, do younger people now in tough economic times, uncertain economic times, when their parents are anxious, is this a harder conversation, what to do with -- how your children should handle money?

CHATZKY: It's a harder conversation. So many parents have blown it. So many parents have forgotten the basics, themselves. How do you teach your kids? The kids want the answers. They want to know because I went out and I asked them. How much money is it going to cost me to become independent one day? So they need to learn how to work, how to save, how to spend wisely, how to invest. And the sooner they get that information the better off they're going to be.

KING: Jean Chatzky, thanks for coming in.

CHATZKY: My pleasure.

KING: Come again sometime.

When we come back, tonight's top stories, including a very interesting tweet from a guy who's a candidate in Alaska but he was here in Washington, D.C. Guess what he was doing?


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

JOHNS: Hey, John. The CEO of Johnson & Johnson apologized to Congress today. Bill Weldon says the company let the public down by handling of recalls of some of its popular over the counter drugs including the pain reliever Motrin.

Republican senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia personally apologized to a blogger and fired one of his staffers for posting an anti-gay comment on a gay and lesbian blog.

And Alaska Republican candidate Joe Miller blames volunteers for some tweets his campaign calls inappropriate and had to take down. Oh. One posted during a fund-raising trip here in Washington, read, I'll do some house hunting while I'm in D.C. I thought we had a sound bite there. It's very curious there, John, the Democrat in the race, Scott Adams tweeted back while Miller was picking furniture he was in Alaska introducing a plan to get Alaskans back to work. The funny thing about it, if you drive around in the streets of Washington, D.C., and suburbs there are just an awful lot of houses for sale right now. I don't think Miller will have trouble at all once he gets past the election.

KING: If he gets past the election. A couple points here, Joe. Stay with me, a couple of points. Number one when you're from far away Alaska and the theme of this election year in your state and everywhere else in the country is anti-Washington, anti-incumbent, before the election, it's not very smart to be talking about house hunting in Washington, D.C. and now to the candidate, Mr. Miller's point that it was a volunteer who tweeted this, I would say this to Mr. Miller. You can only use the dog ate my homework excuse once. Remember back a couple weeks ago after Lisa Murkowski lost the primary, there was a debate about this, that and the other thing. He put a tweet up, a reference to prostitution and said then it was a volunteer or staffer that tweeted that out and they had to pull it down. Let's break this down. Our latest polling shows Lisa Murkowski running as a write-in. 36 percent for Murkowski, 38 percent for Miller, 22 percent for McAdams, the Democrat. So Lisa Murkowski is right in this, except you can't trust the poll numbers. That's when the pollster calls up and says, who are you going to vote for and lists all three names. Her name won't be on the ballot. Her ads are getting creative because she wants people not only to vote for her but they've got to do more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm writing in Lisa.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my chance and Alaska's chance to get our senator back.

KING: That's one of several ads she's running telling people, Joe, essentially, just don't be for me, got to know how to spell it.

JOHNS: Yeah. It's a pretty good race. Going to watch that one real close.

KING: I may send you up to Alaska. No house hunting.

When we come back, a fascinating exclusive conversation. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta sits down with Michael J. Fox to talk about his battle with Parkinson's.


KING: Actor Michael J. Fox was just 30 years old back in 1991 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He's been fighting the disease ever since and he's also been activist for the cause. He talked exclusively to our Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a special report about this that will air at the top of the hour. Sanjay, let me start before we get into the details, just what struck you most about this exclusive conversation?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's 19 years with this disease. And he looks pretty good. One of the things that's striking about Michael J. Fox is that when you think of Parkinson's, you think of the characteristic being a slow movement, having a tremor that is so characteristic as well as have expressionless face. He responds, you can see there, John, to medications pretty well. He's actually -- I didn't quite know what to expect. I'd heard about his progression with the disease for so long. I think that's what struck me is that he looks pretty good.

KING: And one of the fascinating parts of the interview that struck me and I want to play it for our viewer, he talks about when he's beginning the journey, the search, he's looking for the medical community hills, a support community. And he looks and he can't necessarily find one. Let's listen.

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: The cures don't fall out of the sky. You have to go up and get them. I just assumed -- I just assumed there was a department of cures. That there was a minister of cures. A secretary of cures, but there isn't. But there isn't.

GUPTA: That's a good position. Secretary of cures.

FOX: It's a thankless job.

GUPTA: Right, high failure rate.

FOX: So we've kind of -- at the same time, we want to get involved, we appoint ourselves then, in the sense that our actions reflect a burning interest in getting this done and finding all avenues to solutions.

KING: It strikes you, it's lonely, even for a guy had has the financial resources and probably has a good family support, and you're looking for help and you're alone.

GUPTA: You have certain expectations. He's 29 years old. He's famous. He's got a lot of money. He's had a lot of success. He started to get a twitch on his pinkie finger. That's how it started, John. As it progressed, he had expectations. The expectation was let's get this fixed and move on. At some point, he realized, as he said there was no secretary of cures. He was going to have to live with. Something that he would have to deal with for rest of his life, as far as what we can do now. It's a striking thing to hear someone reflect on that part of their life. That moment when everything changed for him.

KING: Has there be any significant advancement, a, toward a cure, and b, in the interim, a treatment?

GUPTA: Since he was diagnosed, the biggest sort of advancements in treatment, not any kind of cure has been through some of the surgical procedures to try to decrease the tremor. There are procedures such as deep brain stimulation now. Some people have heard about this but basically stimulating a certain part of the brain to turn off the tremor, so to speak. He had a procedure about 12 years ago which was beneficial to him. He had a procedure on the right side of his brain which affected the left side of his body. It helped. But then the right side of his body started to get worse. He's not sure if he wants to have surgery again. But John to your question, the treatment for Parkinson's has been largely the same for some time. Dopamine is deficient to a particular area of the brain, you replace that dopamine. That's the treatment. When something big happens, it's going to be a sea change when you look at Parkinson's. We've just got to understand it better first.

KING: Fascinating conversation; Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks for your time here. At the top of the hour, Sanjay Gupta reports a conversation with Michael J. Fox. You don't want to miss it. Thanks again, doc.

How many days are you in your place of business, how do you think that compares to members of Congress? Pete on the street when we come back.


KING: Congress is gone leaving Washington today to hit the campaign trail. They're leaving a week earlier than planned which offbeat reporter Pete Dominick asked this question. Would you leave, if you still had work to do? Take it away, Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: That's right, John King. I wanted to find out if people were all right with their elected leaders going home a week early. And asked if they would do that if they had an opportunity. Take a look at this.


DOMINICK: Congress is headed home a week early, what do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That sound goods.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That way, they can't do any more damage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I guess that's a good thing for them. Not for us, but for them.

DOMINICK: It's a good thing for them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, maybe not for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody else works, they ought to work, too. If they go home, they aren't getting that much done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They weren't getting that much done anyway. They might as well head home.

DOMINICK: Aren't they just trying to protect their own jobs, or am I too cynical?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're too cynical.

DOMINICK: Slap me.

Am I too cynical?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think so. No I don't think you're cynical.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's why they're flying home earlier, to see if they'll stay in office for all of their constituents to see if they'll vote them in another term.

DOMINICK: Maybe I'm not too cynical.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they need a vacation.

DOMINICK: It's not really a vacation. They're still going to get work done but they can't get any laws passed at home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got all the time in the world. We ain't going anywhere.

DOMINICK: Really? You're a very patient man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very patient. We have time to think this out and thank you, President Obama.

DOMINICK: Say hi to John King.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John King, how are you doing?


KING: I'm doing great. Nice guy.

DOMINICK: There you go John King. We have only a few seconds left but I'm leaving early, okay?

KING: Pete, you can leave early. I love that you leave work early to ask people to send you back to work. I like that very much. Pete we'll see you tomorrow. That's all for us tonight. Thanks for stopping by. Remember, special report, Sanjay Gupta reports a conversation with Michael J. Fox starts right now.