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JOHN KING, USA

President Obama's Trip; 2012 Presidential Ticket; Alaska Senate Race

Aired November 8, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOE JOHNS, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Wolf. John King has the day off. Just a few hours from now President Obama heads from India to Indonesia. He'll visit the school he attended as a boy, see the largest mosque in Southeast Asia and make what's billed as a major speech at the University of Indonesia. Today the president talked about the U.S. and India pursuing joint research efforts such as starting green jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And this includes the creation of a new clean energy research center here in India and continuing our joint research into solar, biofuels, shale gas and building efficiency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So what is the president doing talking about creating jobs in India only days after an election where the Democrats got clobbered over the lack of jobs back here in the U.S.? Joining us to talk about the president's message and the timing of his overseas trip, in Atlanta CNN contributor Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog RedState.com. From New Orleans, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville. In New York, CNN contributor John Avlon, who is a senior political columnist for TheDailyBeast.com and here in Washington, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger. Thanks to you all and welcome.

James, I want to start with you. Is this trip all about changing the subject after the election?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, no. And I think these trips get scheduled at an awfully long time in advance. I think there's something like a thousand business people on it. You know you just can't pick up and do something like that. So I don't think that's what it is. Maybe the timing could be unfortunate. I don't know.

It is about -- I think it would be fair to the president -- to be very fair to him it is about American jobs. You know we got to export things if we're going to create jobs. And you know he probably hasn't done as good a job of explaining it and it certainly got its share of criticism. But in the end, that doesn't trouble me that much. JOHNS: Well you know there are great photo ops there and we do know that when presidents get into little trouble domestically a lot of times they tend to hit the road. I know President Clinton did it a couple of times. I think even President Bush went overseas after he sort of got whacked in a midterm election, so --

CARVILLE: I know, but --

JOHNS: Go ahead.

CARVILLE: This is not an ad hoc thing. This thing was planned -- I think it was planned a long, long time ago is my guess. Maybe --

JOHNS: That's right.

CARVILLE: -- somebody can speak to that. I don't know --

JOHNS: No, no. You're absolutely right. In fact, we do know that the president postponed this at least once because of the issue in the Gulf of Mexico and the oil spill there. So in fairness to the president, that is true. But John Avlon, now I want to move on to you.

The president is talking a lot about lessons learned. And he gets it from the public. Do you think this is sort of a way to convince the public that he actually gets the message of the last midterm election?

JOHN AVLON, SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST, DAILYBEAST.COM: No, I don't think this trip has anything to do with the message of the electorate other than it's time to get back to the business of governing. You know we get so caught up in the horse race sometimes we forget the whole purpose of our elections is to put people in office to actually make decisions and move the country forward and if you are interested in jobs in the country and if the conservatives criticize the president for not having enough businessmen in his administration this kind of an outreach to major ally and trading partner is a step towards increasing jobs and geo strategic securities, so this is part of the job of governing as president.

JOHNS: Now Erick, the president going to Indonesia, obviously this is a place that he does have some connection with. and the big question tonight I think for a lot of conservatives is whether this is going to sort of re-conjure those questions about the president being Muslim which he has actually said aren't true, of course.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: God, I hope not. You know if you remember just a few weeks ago there was a big debate, I believe it was in the "Politico" and several other places reported there was a controversy within the White House as to whether or not he would go visit a Sikh temple in India because he didn't want people to drum back up this idea that he's a Muslim.

And now to go to Indonesia and do that, I'm not sure where the schizophrenia is in the White House. I've got no problem with him doing any of it. He should. He's the president of the United States, the commander-in-chief of the last best hope for mankind. He should be going to all these places.

JOHNS: Well the other question though is whether it will sort of demystify the issue of Indonesia. What do you think about that?

ERICKSON: Well you know I grew up overseas. I have been to Indonesia. I love the people. I love the culture. Anything to shed the spotlight on Indonesia. They have been just problematic with violence and corruption over there and the Suharto regime. Anything that we as a country can do to help Indonesia I think would be a great thing.

JOHNS: Now, Gloria, the thing that's very interesting here is of all the things we have seen from India we have seen some pretty wonderful photo-op -- pictures I think.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: Dancing really caught my attention?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

JOHNS: Does this make him look presidential? Does this -- what do you think?

BORGER: You know I think they're nice pictures of the first couple dancing with children. I think it's interesting though that what we had from the president was a serious, lengthy interview with "60 Minutes" on the -- you know while he was over there in India. He spoke his peace about the election.

He finally, I think, got the tone that he was searching for. He's trying to get his equilibrium. And I think this is a way for him -- and, again, as James says, these things are planned way in advance. But it is a way for him to kind of pivot onto other important issues while the Congress organizes itself and fights with itself and then he'll come back and they will deal with the lame duck session and the question of taxes.

JOHNS: Americans watching this on TV, do you think some of that adoration or whatever it is in India is rubbing off here in the United States?

BORGER: No, absolutely --

JOHNS: -- given the --

BORGER: No, absolutely not.

JOHNS: -- with its low popularity right now?

BORGER: I think people like to see their president being well liked abroad. I think that's always a -- that's a positive. But whether or not you see the president dancing with children, I think it doesn't make any difference.

JOHNS: Now James, there is another issue, of course and that's the issue of outsourcing. And India has sort of become connected with that.

CARVILLE: Right.

JOHNS: The question being --

CARVILLE: Right.

JOHNS: -- that the president of the United States over there talking about jobs for people in India, doesn't that sort of conjure up the question of outsourcing which has a very negative connotation in the U.S.?

CARVILLE: You know right -- everything conjures up something. This is the reality. India is the second most populous nation on earth. It is the largest democracy on earth. It is South Asia's absolutely essential part of the world to us. It's a huge trading partner.

You know, if we are going to create jobs here, you know, we're going to have to export things, too. He took business people over there. Indonesia, I believe, and somebody can correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think I am, is the largest Muslim country in the world. There are more Muslims in Indonesia than any other country.

Look at a map, see where it is, also very strategically located important ally to the United States. You know anything that he does, the guy got criticized for the kind of condiment he puts on his hamburger. He's always going to get criticized.

But to me this looks like something -- part of the job of being president to go to the second largest democracy in the world, second largest nation, largest Muslim nation in the world that's strategically located. You know yes, he gets criticized, but I don't think a lot of it makes a lot of sense.

JOHNS: You know we have a sound bite here from the president talking about that strategic partnership. Can we just listen to that?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It was a referendum on the economy and the party in power was held responsible for an economy that is still underperforming and where a lot of folks are still hurting.

Together, we can create the high tech, high wage jobs of the future. With my visit, we are now ready to begin implementing our civil nuclear agreement. This will help meet India's growing energy needs and create thousands of jobs in both of our countries.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Do you think people understand and get that connection? You know the president talks about creating jobs in India. The idea, of course, is that you do something over there, there is an effect felt over here in the United States. But doesn't that take an awful lot of explaining for the average Joe, six pack, who is sitting out in the middle of the country?

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: Let's explain it then. I mean that's part of our obligation and opportunity. We are an Internet-connected world and if folks believe in free trade then we want to be opening up new markets to our exports. It is all part of growing not only the American economy, but the world economy to increase peace and stability. So let's do take that job, take Joe, six pack, and make the point.

BORGER: He didn't take this -- he didn't take this trip before the election, Joe. He took this trip after the election because people were worried about jobs at home. I mean he wasn't going to do it before --

JOHNS: All right. All right everybody hold on.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: Go ahead, James. Go ahead.

CARVILLE: All right.

JOHNS: Go ahead.

CARVILLE: I'm just like -- I'm like getting very sympathetic to Michael Bloomberg who said does anybody have a passport? We live in the world here. I mean it's -- whether who's president we still live in the world and if we're going to create jobs we've got to sell our stuff overseas.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: (INAUDIBLE) hard to figure out.

JOHNS: OK, we want to continue this discussion in just a minute. The president of course also talking about one of his potential rivals in the 2012 re-election campaign, I want to ask you if he's guessed the right opponent. We'll talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: I don't know for sure what I'm going to do after I'm done being governor, Candy. I will decide that early next year.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: We are intent on taking the coming weeks to really prayerfully consider that, to wait on the Lord, to seek counsel and after the first of the year we'll make a decision.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm going to need a job, David, after 2013, you know and so whether it's going to be being governor of New Jersey or doing something else I have four kids between 7 and 17. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Everywhere you looked this weekend a prominent Republican was hedging about whether they were going to challenge President Obama in 2012. The president himself added another name to the mix. Check out what he told CBS's "60 Minutes".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We thought that if we shaped a bill that wasn't that different from bills that had previously been introduced by Republicans, including a Republican governor in Massachusetts who is now running for president, that we would be able to find some common ground there and we just couldn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Who's he talking about? That Massachusetts Republican governor the president mentioned is Mitt Romney. James, first to you again, is the White House actually taking Romney as a serious threat this early in the game?

CARVILLE: I don't know. I think that every Democrat likes to point that out. Look, you know, President Obama and Senator Clinton announced their candidacy sometimes like January or February of 2007. So they are praying a lot right now, but the gun is going to go off here pretty soon. This is going to be an utterly thrilling, parade's going to stop (INAUDIBLE) start. And this is going to be one of the most thrilling contests in American presidential political history, the Republican nominating process here of 2012. I can't wait.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I don't know why they don't just start now.

BORGER: Aside from the last one which was pretty thrilling, but I think President Obama --

CARVILLE: Yes.

BORGER: -- is right. I mean Mitt Romney is running. People close to him like to say oh he hasn't decided. He hasn't decided. He's decided. He's running and Republicans love to nominate the person whose turn it is to be nominated. And so I guess the president was thinking, OK, well it's Mitt Romney's turn because he lost to John McCain last time. I'm not so sure the process is going to work that way this time, but --

ERICKSON: Erick, I want to go to you now. I have heard Republicans on the radio and in other places referring to Mitt Romney as the architect of the Obama health care plan. Do you think that's a fair assessment or a little over the top?

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: You know Mitt Romney (INAUDIBLE) a lot of ideas from the Heritage Foundation went into it. The Heritage Foundation subsequently repudiated some of the ideas that Romney has yet to. You know the problem here is --

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) your guy, huh, Erick?

ERICKSON: Yes, I got e-mails from some of the Romney people saying, ooh, ooh, ooh, he did this, he's setting us up. No, I mean yes, he did take some of the Massachusetts plan (ph). That's a fact and I think he was just stating. I don't know who the presidential candidate for the Republicans are going to be in 2012.

Right now I'm not very impressed with any of them. You have a lot of people who probably could put the most -- I don't know -- put a refrigerator to sleep. I mean it's just -- they're not exciting people --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Sarah Palin is pretty exciting.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Palin is pretty exciting --

JOHNS: For the record --

ERICKSON: I will tell you this. I will tell you this. Whoever it is will not have their name preceded by representative or senator.

JOHNS: For the record now we do have to get in what Kevin Madden, our old friend Kevin Madden, who used to be the spokesperson for Romney at least in the last campaign. He put out a tweet that said this. "Actually Governor Romney hasn't decided his future yet, so it's interesting to see --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what they all say.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: -- President Obama already talking about it.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Why was he out campaigning for so many candidates?

JOHNS: Yes, well --

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) Sarah Palin --

JOHNS: And -- but -- and -- but there is more now. I think we also have a graphic of this. Jonathan Alter, the writer in his -- an excerpt from "The Promise". He says "President Obama said to an old friend -- apparently some conversation -- who would really want this job for more than one term? But I have to run -- Obama says -- now. Otherwise it will mean letting someone like Mitt Romney step in and get credit for all the good stuff that happens after we've been through all this crap."

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: That's quite a quote.

AVLON: This one-term stuff, I think, is just Republican fantasy to create this impression of an embattled president without the will to move on. Here's what I think we know.

Republicans are going to have a very broad and deep field this time around. Well Mitt Romney is the conventional wisdom front runner and he is serious about running which is more than I can say about some candidates who are mentioned (INAUDIBLE). You're going to see a real broad group of candidates including folks like maybe Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, so you're going to see a very deep field coming out.

Now history tells us that the conventional wisdom front runner usually wins the Republican nomination after the party flirts with a seriously -- with a dark horse. So there is a lot more history yet to be written (ph), but Mitt Romney has put himself in a poll (ph) position with serious planning no matter what the tweets --

BORGER: There may be more dark horses than serious candidates this time.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: But now listen --

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: There is -- there is this poll --

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: -- the CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll -- this is from the end of October, registered voters' choice for president, Romney 50 percent, Obama, 45 percent. You know, just saying.

BORGER: Yes --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: That's also what the polling said about Sharron Angle beating Harry Reid.

BORGER: Right, but you know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

(CROSSTALK) CARVILLE: And that's what the polling said about Bush 41 defeating any --

BORGER: Right.

CARVILLE: I mean there should be -- I'm not -- I'm kind of a libertarian (INAUDIBLE) what they want, but all polls should be embargoed in the primary.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: They always come out Romney 21 and somebody 20 and somebody 18 in every cycle and of course it means nothing once the gun starts.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I bet the polls were the same for Bill Clinton after he lost Congress and for Harry Truman after he lost Congress and they both went on to win re-election.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: At this point in his term, I mean you know Ronald Reagan was losing to Senator John Glenn, so yes, reality check.

CARVILLE: Yes, yes, that's a good point.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right.

JOHNS: In all sincerity when you think about it actually, you know this is a situation where we are already a full week away from the midterm elections. What better time to start talking --

BORGER: Right.

CARVILLE: We can talk about 2012, absolutely. We're not that far. I'm telling you. Come January and February they're going to be -- they're going to be going, man.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: This is what we live for.

BORGER: I tell you one thing you can be sure of. Whomever the press anoints as the front runner is not going to win.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: About the only thing I know for sure is if the field is as it is right now I'm moving to Nevada so I have the "none of the above choice" on the ballot.

BORGER: Oh, OK. JOHNS: All right. Well OK, I think we are just going to have to go ahead and wrap this up right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

JOHNS: Thanks to our guest. Erick will be back later this hour. Only one U.S. Senate race is still undecided tonight. We will go "One-on-One" with Alaska's Republican nominee Joe Miller. Does he think he can catch up when they start counting the write-in ballots this week?

And later, is civil war breaking out in the Republican Party? We'll get a live update from tonight's meeting of top House Republicans and our off-beat reporter Pete Dominick's looking at the potential political impact of Conan O'Brien's return to late night TV. It happens later tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Welcome back. Let's check in with Kate Bolduan for the latest news you need to know right now -- hey.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot going on today. There's a lot going on. CIA Director Leon Panetta, well he's warning agency employees the government is taking a quote, "hard line on leaks of confidential information" such as the recent disclosures of WikiLeaks. By the way Panetta's memo did not leak. It was posted on the CIA Web site -- there you go.

Louisiana and the federal government today ordered the immediate re-opening of commercial crabbing areas in the Mississippi River Delta that have been closed due to the BP oil spill.

And Michigan, well, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell who wrote a very controversial blog targeting an openly gay student leader at the University of Michigan he's been fired. His former boss says Shirvell quote "repeatedly violated office policies, engaged in borderline stalking behavior and inappropriately used state resources".

Also in the firing line today, Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips; he's gone if you didn't already know. Replaced, for now, by the 1-7 -- 1-7 team's offensive coordinator Jason Garrett (ph). Can anyone say writing on the wall?

JOHNS: I got to tell you, I watched that game last night.

BOLDUAN: Yes, I did, too.

JOHNS: And that was the worst. I have never seen the Cowboys --

BOLDUAN: It was like watching a high school team play like --

JOHNS: It was awful --

BOLDUAN: -- I'm a huge University of Michigan fan -- JOHNS: Yes.

BOLDUAN: -- like playing the Wolverines.

JOHNS: And you know I actually think there is a political component to all of this. Whenever the Dallas Cowboys and the Redskins get together, I think it creates compromise or something in Washington. But I just -- I haven't seen any studies yet on how it works --

BOLDUAN: I wouldn't read so far into it. I just think they needed to get somebody out --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: -- because that record, oh, my gosh.

JOHNS: I know and they were supposed to win the whole thing --

BOLDUAN: And I'm not even a Cowboys fan -- I felt bad for them.

JOHNS: All right, Kate Bolduan --

BOLDUAN: All right -- all right.

JOHNS: See you -- bye. The 2010 midterms are not quite over yet. We'll ask Joe Miller how he's feeling as they get ready to count the write-in votes up in Alaska. Can he come from behind? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

JOHNS: Alaska's big showdown starts this Wednesday. They will start hand-counting ballots in the U.S. Senate race and trying to figure out which names actually got written in. As things stand now, write-in presumably means Senator Lisa Murkowski who has 41 percent. Republican Joe Miller has 34 percent.

The Democrat has conceded and nobody inside or outside Alaska is saying publicly they want this thing to turn out like the nightmare in Florida a few years back. Joe Miller joins us now from Anchorage, Alaska. Thank you very much for coming in, sir.

Now, you are about 13,000 votes down by our count and presumably most of the votes that are there for the write-in are actually for the incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski. Do you still think you can pull this thing out realistically?

JOE MILLER (R), ALASKA SENATE CANDIDATE: Joe, we're cautiously optimistic. There are 37,000 absentee ballots that have not yet been counted. And we believe that those will run strongly in our favor. Not only that, in the past write-in campaign that was had here in Alaska 1998, almost eight percent of the ballots were disqualified. So when you add the numbers from the absentees, from those ballots that are going to be counted on the write-ins, we are right in there. We believe that there is a real reason for cautious optimism.

JOHNS: Now I have to talk to you a little bit about something that a lot of people have been making fun about here in Washington. After your primary win against Senator Murkowski, a volunteer with you guys actually posted some tweets, which have become controversial. Let's talk about what they said.

One of them said, "I think I will do some house hunting while I'm in D.C. I guess I should pick out some office furniture as well. Then there is a matter of a name plaque for the door." All of this sort of exudes confidence on behalf of Joe Miller. Do you think you were actually over confident even though we all know that this was a volunteer who posted these tweets?

MILLER: Right and the tweet that you missed was the tweet asking for a new volunteer tweeter. You know frankly we've always approached this race as the underdog. This is a David and Goliath battle. It's been that from the beginning.

We knew it was going to continue that way in the general election after the write-in bid was announced. Certainly it's not changed in any way. Even now we recognize how things have been kind of stacked against us. But again I think cautious optimism is really where we're at right now. We are trying to make sure that the process, the rule of law is complied with, that we get a fair shake at the level of the Division of Elections and that we have people on the ground to watch the counting of the ballots.

JOHNS: The Republican Senatorial Committee sent out a letter just about three days after the election and a lot of people suggest this may have been a bit too late. Do you think the National Republican Senatorial Committee is 100 percent behind you or would rather see Senator Murkowski back in Washington?

MILLER: You know, we are thankful for help from all quarters. Certainly there was recently some help not only with the fund-raising e-mail but also with some assistance on costs for the teams coming in to assist with the count. We are thankful for that. That reflects that obviously there is support coming from that sector. We are happy that was provided.

JOHNS: Have you talked to Sarah Palin since the election? Is she showing you support? Is she going to send you money?

MILLER: I think, in fact, Sarah probably is or has donated money to the count fund we have set up at JoeMiller.us. We have been pleased with her support. Not just in the general but after the general as well.

JOHNS: Do you think she's turned her back on you a little bit? You are one of the people who wasn't able to climb the hill as we said or at least so far.

MILLER: Well, again, we're cautiously optimistic. We think at the end of the day we'll come out on top. I think there probably has been disappointment amongst some in the state that, look, the gap wasn't wider, that we did not win by a significant percentage. The only thing that matters is who is certified the winner. That's what we are working toward and I got to tell you our old friends are behind us. I'm excited about the volunteers that have actually continued to provide support. This is a monumental undertaking. We are talking about over 80,000 write-in ballots which requires us to have a significant team on the ground to assist with that. Just from all corners of the state people have come in behind the campaign and are continuing to show support.

JOHNS: Last time you were on the show you were explaining how a local supporter ended up handcuffed by people who were apparently working at least on your behalf. There were questions to answer about ethics violations allegedly involving you. Let's listen to your interview with John King just a couple weeks ago. Then we'll come back and talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MILLER: John, I'll admit I'm a man of many flaws. I'm not going to say I have conducted life perfectly.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Is this a fair statement in your view that at the time this happened you were disciplined but it had nothing to do with the reason you left the agency down the road?

MILLER: Absolutely. That's a fair statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: In hindsight, do you think you handled the two issues well or do you think you should have jumped on it a little bit earlier?

MILLER: I think what it reflects is the extreme bias of the local press. You're talking about a violation of the computer use policy. Certainly it could have been handled differently. That really is what we faced here on the ground during the general election. Basically a whole host of different groups that were orchestrating basically an effort to make sure we didn't win the race because of, I think really, the level of the vested interest in Alaska. They are very concerned about whether or not the federal dollars will continue to come here. We saw that as well even on the day leading up to the election. Go ahead.

JOHNS: I wanted to jump in before we lose time with you. There are a couple very important questions. One is about the counting of the ballots.

MILLER: Sure.

JOHNS: How much are you going to adhere to technicalities or are you going to be the kind of candidate who tries to go with the intent of the voter, whatever it may be?

MILLER: We are going to be the kind of candidate that looks to the law and expects the rule of law to be applied in this case. The people in the state of Alaska elected a legislature that enacted a law that controls how the ballots are to be treated. That's what we are going to insist upon is that the rule of law is applied. That's all we are asking. I think that's what is going to happen in this case.

JOHNS: As far as statewide candidates go do you, at the end of the day think the tea party helped or hurt elect conservatives and Republicans this year?

MILLER: I don't think there is any doubt that the tea party helped. They activated -- and of course there is not a monolithic tea party but the tea party movement activated Americans, many of whom were not involved in politics before but are concerned about the direction of the nation. I think the movement will continue. As people see economic issues that face the nation, come into greater relief in the coming months will be all the more motivated to change the direction of the nation. It's a start of a movement I don't think we have seen the end of yet.

JOHNS: Joe Miller in Alaska, thank you very much for coming in. We'll watch closely on this count in Alaska. We'll check news headlines in a second. Later, Pete on the street looks ahead to tonight's big event on television. The impact politics will play with the new king of late night comedy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Welcome back. Let's check in again with Kate Bolduan for the latest news you need to know right now. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The department of homeland security is taking new steps to tighten security for cargo and passenger planes. You won't be allowed to travel with large printer cartridges like the ones involved in the recent terror plot. The ban on air cargo from Yemen has been extended and now applies to Somalia as well.

Today, a federal judge blocked Oklahoma's newly passed constitutional amendment banning the use of Islamic religious law in state courts. The judge's ruling on first amendment grounds prevents election officials from certifying last week's vote which went more than 2-1 in favor of the amendment.

And in another mark of the bleak economy personal bankruptcy filings jumped 14% this year compared to 2009. That works out to 1.5 million filings and the number is expected to keep going up.

Also, Sarah Palin has a new target -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. In a speech today Palin says the Fed's new stimulus plan amounts to printing money out of thin air.

And also a prominent Republican seems to be walking back his criticism of Sarah Palin and the tea party. Last week Alabama Congressman Spencer Backus, the top Republican on the powerful financial services committee, blamed Palin and the tea party for the Republicans' failure to win the Senate. Today a spokesman explains he really meant stronger candidates may have won in Delaware and Nevada and it is a lesson going forward. We want to clear that up before everybody gets back.

JOHNS: Right. It sounds like the same thing to me. When you think about it, it's hard to explain the difference between the Republican gains in the House and Republican gains in the Senate.

BOLDUAN: But they are two very different chambers. People don't understand that as well.

JOHNS: That's true. Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

JOHNS: It's a whole new world on the house side of the capitol. Tonight sources tell CNN Republicans are working on a way to give the tea party some real clout. Details next.

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JOHNS: There is a big Republican powwow on Capitol Hill right now. They may be talking about who get a seat at the leadership table. Three senior House GOP leadership sources tell CNN there are plans to add a leadership slot for a freshman member to incorporate the tea party movement and perhaps bring another woman into the inner circle. Congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar is working her sources on the hill. Also with us again, CNN contributor Erick Erickson of the conservative RedState.com and Neera Tanden of the left-leaning Eenter for American Progress Action Fund. Brianna, let us start with you. You spoke with the head of the GOP transition team. What changes will we see in the Republican leadership next year as far as you can tell?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, we have a couple different things going on right now. As we speak, there is a transition meeting going on, actually is a lot of housekeeping. One of the things you heard a lot of tea party supporters -- in fact even yelling outside the capitol -- is that they wanted people to read the bill. One of the things that we are expecting and that I spoke with Congressman Walden who is the head of the transition team is proposing this 72-hour chance for people to read the bill for it to go online. There is a lot to be worked out but there could be an earmark ban as well.

On a separate track what you have going on is some leadership changes that we're hearing from sources close to leadership and what they are trying to do is add the voice of a freshman Democrat. Because what you have, of course, is this whole new wave -- just dozens and dozens of new Republicans coming in, some of them supported by the tea party, and you know what we understand now from two of the sources is that South Dakota's Kristi Noem has expressed interest in the position. Why is this important? Well first off, she is a woman and right now there is only one woman who is part of the elected GOP leadership. Also because she's associated with the tea party. So as you have Republicans walking the balance of trying to make sure they answer to the tea party but also try to keep their entire conference together, this allows them to put someone at the table from the tea party and really try to continue to harness the energy, Joe. JOHNS: A lot of people said you need to have somebody in the leadership representing the tea party because, after all, that's why Republicans have the majority. But let us go now and talk a little bit about the Democratic side of this equation and the leadership battle there. We do know that Nancy Pelosi is looking to be the minority leader but there is another position and two other people running for it. Let's talk a little bit about that Brianna.

KEILAR: Yeah, Joe. That's exactly right. What you have since the Democrats are moving from the majority into the minority is there is one less leadership position. There is a possibility that someone gets squeezed out. So on one hand you have Steny Hoyer jockeying for position against the number three Democrat, Jim Clyburn for the role of minority whip come January in the new Congress. If you talk to their different camps they will tell you they are both well positioned, they have a lot of support from different kinds of Democrats, from liberals, from moderates. So this is turning out to be quite a bit of a fight. You know, one of the things, Joe, is that we are sort of waiting to see exactly how all of this shakes out and what more support they garner.

JOHNS: It's sort of a battle of the titans, if you will, on the House side. When you look at Steny Hoyer, here is a guy who actually ran against and won against John Murtha, who was pretty much the hand- picked person by Nancy Pelosi to be the majority leader when Democrats had full control. Then you have John Clyburn, on the other side of the equation, who is an American African-American, the highest ranking African-American in the House of Representatives. So this could be quite a battle politically even though it's very inside there.

KEILAR: They really represent these different parts of the Democratic Party. Hoyer in one regard has a lot of alliances with the blue dog Democrats, many of them who suffered major losses in this election cycle. But at the same time -- and he is actually putting out there a lot of information about who is supporting him. It's important to note that there are some significant liberal members who are supporting him even though he's a moderate. On the other side you do have Jim Clyburn, who is the most prominent African-American in Congress. This is a very important part of the Democratic Party. He has the support right now of much of the Congressional Black Caucus. So it is really almost a difficult decision to make and unless they maybe come to some agreement, this is going to be the sort of intraparty, potentially a bloodbath and a lot of members, a lot of Democratic members say that is not good for the party, Joe.

JOHNS: All right. Thanks so much for that Brianna. I want to bring in Erick and Neera to talk about the House races which are really quite interesting. They only happen a couple times a year. Once every two years. I should correct myself. Now Erick I guess for you the first question is when you look at the situation right now, how much influence does the tea party expect to get on Capitol Hill given the fact that they are a pretty new entity as far as American politics is concerned?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's not just that they are a new entity. There are still a lot of Republicans on the Hill who don't know what to make of the tea party movement. They kind of want to hold them at arm's length. They are fearful that they will be turned on in two years if they don't meet certain deliverables. I don't think necessarily that's the case, but there is the race between Michelle Bachmann and Jeff Hensarling is being viewed as tea party versus the establishment. It's making for great headlines inside the Beltway. I don't know that a lot of fights are there on either side, Democrat or Republican. It's more inside the beltway punditry, I think by and large. The tea party movement will get some seats at the table for Republicans in the House while getting blamed by Republicans in the Senate for hurting them. They will make some major inroads on the appropriations committee and hopefully will change some of the rules for the rules committee, which will be big wins for them.

JOHNS: And what would you call a win? What would you call a win for the tea party, early on, so sort of set the tone?

ERICKSON: I think a win for the tea party movement has already come with the election, seeing these people come into Washington. One of the big wins for them -- the most significant win for the tea party movement up front will be if the house Republicans adopt as a rule for the House, not just their conference, an earmarks moratorium, which I think we'll see.

JOHNS: All right. Now let's talk with you. What's the difference between Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn? Is there a significant difference? I've heard he's more moderate, and we're talking now about Steny Hoyer.

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: I think the common perception is Steny is a little bit more moderate than Congressman Clyburn. I think the differences are not that stark. That's why a lot of liberals have supported Steny Hoyer. Steny has had a long record of supporting moderate voices and I think that's an important play for Democrats going forward. And I think a lot of Democrats think everyone should just take one step down and try and consider a role for Congressman Clyburn around the table to make sure his voice is there, but it's not fair to sort of push Steny out when he's been such a good voice for progressives and moderates.

JOHNS: Blue dog Democrats, the conservative Democrats on Capitol Hill that we've heard so much about apparently were hit pretty hard in this last election. Although there's some speculation that their ranks will be repopulated. But if there are fewer blue dogs right now, does that mean that Steny Hoyer has less support on Capitol Hill than he did before?

TANDEN: I think every Democrat should look at all these candidates and think, what's best for the tea party, what's best to rebuild the majority, and how do you get moderate Democrats elected? Because we're not going to be the majority if it's only progressives. Progressives are a critical part of this, obviously the majority now, but we need to build support throughout the country to become the majority again.

JOHNS: Is there a plan yet? Is there a plan yet for Democrats to figure out how they recover from this and start rebuilding? Is someone already talking about that, or are we still in the blood-letting stage?

TANDEN: You heard the president start talking about. It's jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. And I think it's incredibly important for the majority and the minority, both Republicans and Democrats, to be most concerned about creating economic growth and jobs. And hopefully, there'll be some areas of bipartisan support around those ideas. Because everyone gets hit when people feel like they're not concentrating on jobs.

JOHNS: And the other interesting thing, Brianna, if you're still there, is a lot of times when you get to leadership races, you start looking at the amount of money that these members who are now running for the leadership have actually passed around to their colleagues on capitol hill. And I see Steny Hoyer actually raised $4.4 million and gave $1.4 million to the DCCC. Clyburn raised $3.2 million and gave $1.2 to the DCCC. But the most interesting number, I think I found, is on the Republican side. Where we've talked so much about Michele Bachmann, actually, you know, being in the leadership. And Michele Bachmann apparently raised $11 million, gave $90,000 to her colleagues, where Jeb Hensarling, the other guy in this race, raised $1.6 and gave about a third of it away. So money really talks, doesn't it, when you're in Capitol Hill?

KEILAR: Well, it does, yet at this point, Hensarling is the one perceived to be the one with so much more support and very prominent support from establishment Republicans. One of the things we've been talking about, of course, is this perhaps leadership role for a freshman. And if so, it appears the front-runner is Christy Nome from South Dakota and she does have the support, we're told by sources, of Republican leadership, and this would allow them to check the box and say, look, we have a new face in here, we have someone associated with the tea party, which Michele Bachmann is as well. She's referred to as the darling of the tea party. But arguably, Michele Bachmann is someone who, she really doesn't have a problem bucking the system and she might be someone who is difficult for Republican leaders to control, whereas, obviously, Jeb Hensarling is someone who would seem to be more in-step with them. So, yes, does money talk, it does, but I think in this particular case, you're seeing a lot more support for Jeb Hensarling.

JOHNS: Thanks to Brianna, Neera and Erick. We'll talk to you again soon and follow that race.

Coming up next, a president falling out of favor, a change in command in the House of Representatives, the perfect time for a comedian? We'll ask one, Pete on the street, coming up next.

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JOHNS: It's a familiar face in a new place. Conan O'Brien's late-night program debuts on our sister network TBS and our own funny man Pete Dominick now joins us from New York to talk about comedy in a time of political turmoil, Pete?

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: That's right, Joe Johns. Tonight, the big Conan debut on TBS, 11:00 p.m. But he's up against David Letterman, "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno, Stewart, and Colbert. Which means you'll have to watch the 11:00 hour with four TVs. I'll let you decide which one you don't want to watch.

JOHNS: It's a little frustrating, though, because everyone's finished running, the Congress has finished running, the marathon's finished running, there's no running left. What's left to be funny about?

DOMINICK: Listen Joe, we have to stop running. Eventually, we have to stop running. We're running for office forever. They're already running for 2012, as you covered, they're running this marathon. There are still people out here in New York running, running for the subway, for the train, to get our kids. New York needs to stop running and smell the coffee. Enjoy life, Joe Johns.

JOHNS: Are you running, next time?

DOMINICK: No, not unless I'm being chased, Joe Johns, and a little birdie tells me that Joe Johns has run one or two marathons. That's right?

JOHNS: I've run two marathons.

DOMINICK: You're too tall of a man.

JOHNS: I was shorter then.

DOMINICK: And you won't be running for office. I'm not running for office, but it seems like everybody's running for office, always running in America. My message to America tonight, slow down. Enjoy life.

JOHNS: Stop running. All right.

DOMINICK: No more running. I got to run.

JOHNS: Be sure to watch JOHN KING, USA tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. eastern. Our guest will be personal finance guru Suze Orman.