Return to Transcripts main page


Lame Ducks; Swearing off Wasteful Spending?

Aired November 15, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Congress is back from its election break and Washington is crackling with debates over tax cuts, whether to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and whether to ratify a major nuclear arms treaty with Russia, but when the House of Representatives convened today, this was the first order of business.


REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: This resolution provides for consideration of legislation to prohibit the creation and sale of so- called animal crush videos. These videos depict small animals being slowly crushed to death by women using their bare feet or while wearing high heels.


KING: Important? Absolutely -- but first out of the box after a huge election message from the American people? Over on the Senate side, though, proof that sometimes some politicians do listen. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell stunned many of his colleagues in both parties by announcing he will support a moratorium on earmarks. Those spending projects members of Congress slip into legislation. McConnell has used the perk liberally over the years to steer money home to Kentucky, but says he gets the Tea Party's conservative message.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Nearly every day that the Senate has been in session for the past two years I have come down to this very spot and said that Democrats were ignoring the wishes of the American people. When it comes to earmarks, I won't be guilty of the same thing.


KING: Republicans will push their earmark ban in the next session of Congress, the one that starts in January, and that's one issue where President Obama is on the same page with them, but what about the rest of this session, the so-called lame-duck meeting? Will Democrats use their final week controlling both chambers of Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell", pass new immigration reforms, and end the Bush tax cuts for wealthy Americans or in the words of the liberal "Washington Post" columnist E.J. Dionne today, will Democrats be quote, "lame and spineless and avoid the controversial issues?"

Good questions for Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and two of our best political reporters CNN political analyst Gloria Borger and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Senator, let's get straight to that question. If you look at the unfinished business of the current Congress, it includes the disclose act, which would at least force all those corporations putting money into campaigns to disclose publicly their campaign spending.

Don't ask don't tell, the repeal the president says he supports. Most Democrats support. Some Republicans support. The DREAM Act, if you came to the country as a young child as an illegal immigrant, but you go through college and finish that and become a good member of society, you could get status here in the United States.

What do with the Bush tax cuts, unemployment benefits, perhaps a $250 payment to Social Security recipients because they got no cost of living increase, if Democrats don't go through that entire list, are they as E.J. writes today "shameless?"

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Well I think we should go through most of the list. I think Democrats -- every one of those issues you mentioned, John, is an issue that the public overwhelmingly supports and every one of those issues is an issue that Republicans filibustered because they were the party of no through the election. It was a political strategy that worked for them, but it clearly didn't work for the American people.

Unemployment benefits, extending those, clearly "don't ask, don't tell", I mean the public is clearly on the side of changing that policy, of why should we continue to train people very expensively in the military and then show them the door? Because of that, I think all of these issues we can move forward on.

KING: And so when you go into the Democratic caucus and some people say, you know, my state -- you're up in two years. We'll get your thoughts on that too. But someone says yes my state just sent a message. We can't touch "don't ask, don't tell". Let's extend all the Bush tax cuts because I don't want to be accused of raising taxes right now. Are you going to, to borrow a term that's been used a little bit in the campaign that just ended, tell your colleagues to man up?

BROWN: Well I don't use that term. I think it's clear. I mean, I'm proud of every one of those positions. It's essentially the Republicans they are of two minds here. They talk about the deficit all the time. Let's get rid of earmarks because we have got to balance the budget, but then they want to give a $700 billion tax cut to their wealthiest contributors and the wealthiest people in this country and not pay for it. Is it coming out of Medicare? Coming out of Social Security? I don't know what they're going to do with it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But Senator, we had a poll out today that showed that 70 percent of the American public said that this last midterm election was about quote, "a rejection of Democratic policies." If that's the case, don't you have to respond to that?

BROWN: Of course, we do, Gloria, but I mean a rejection of Democratic policies, meaning what? The tax cuts for small business, for health care, a rejection of extending unemployment compensation, a rejection of don't ask, don't tell?

BORGER: Health care.

BROWN: Well I don't think so. You start asking specific questions about health care, you get a very different answer. You know you have been polling for -- I don't know --


BROWN: But I -- we do the right thing. The right thing is extending unemployment benefits even if Republicans try to block it. The right thing is not to blow another hole in the budget as they've done for 10 years by giving more tax breaks to millionaires.

KING: Are you 100 percent confident on that point if you can convince Harry Reid, your leader, and the other Democrats to make that fight, are you 100 percent confident that the president will have your back?

BROWN: I think the president will have our back. The president has been in this position for months and months and months. And I think ultimately Republicans don't want to go home and say, wait, I chose a tax cut for millionaires and billionaires instead of balancing the budget. I want to send this debt on to my grandchildren instead of cutting -- instead of giving tax breaks for the wealthiest. So I think in the end we win that argument.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But Senator, there has to be some kind of middle ground, you know that, in order to --


BASH: -- unless you just want everything --

BROWN: The middle ground continues to shift. And the middle ground now is -- the middle ground initially was we end the tax cuts. Then it was well we end the tax cuts or maybe we make it -- I mean the middle ground keeps shifting --


BROWN: No, let's do the right thing here, Dana, instead of always looking for the compromise and always looking for the middle ground.


BROWN: You're darn right I'm up in 2012 for re-election, but as I said I'm proud of these positions because they're the right things for the country -- BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) the new reality --


BROWN: There's a new reality according to --


KING: So what is the new reality then? And here's in the context of this -- General Colin Powell is Larry King's guest tonight, and he was on -- he recorded the interview a while ago, and here's his take of what happened to the president of the United States. Let's listen to General Powell on the president and then expand it to the Democrats.

BROWN: Sure.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The American people are losing some focus on President Obama, what he's trying to do. And when you look at the election results, as he said, I mean he got shellacked, but I think it was more than a shellacking. I think it was a real body blow that he now has to reflect on and figure out how to come back.


KING: Did the president take a body blow here?

BROWN: Sure -- I don't know -- he used the term -- Colin Powell says body blow. The president himself said shellacking. In my states Democrats were beat badly. I understand that. But I also understand what doing the right thing is, and I don't think the voters went to the polls and voted Ted Strickland out of office because they want to give more tax cuts for the richest people in this country and they want to block unemployment insurance for people who have earned it. It's called insurance, not unemployment and welfare --


BASH: Senator, you -- Senator, you are a smart pol (ph). You have been around for a long time. What do you take as the lesson? You say -- but it's not. But what is it? How do you adjust?

BROWN: I think it's partly -- I mean it's -- we didn't focus enough on jobs, clearly. I think the health care was the right thing to do. It took way too long to do it. The focus should have been more on jobs all along. I think we know that. I think we did the right thing. The Recovery Act created three million jobs --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But moving forward --

BROWN: I think we -- I want to work with Republicans. I want to work with my new junior Senator Rob Portman on figuring out job creation, but I don't want to do it -- (CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But how do you do that --


KING: Let me show --


KING: Let me show our viewers --


KING: Let me show our viewers the results of that race.

BROWN: You don't do it by more tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation of Wall Street, that's what got us into this and if that's their argument, that's not what the public is saying.

KING: Fifty-seven percent of Ohioans voted for Rob Portman, 39 percent for your lieutenant governor who is his opponent, Lee Fisher. Your state is viewed by many as the ultimate bellwether. If Republicans don't win in presidential politics, they don't win the presidency. President Obama did carry it in 2008, narrowly elected a Republican governor -- you just mentioned that -- convincingly, elected a Republican senator there.

So Sherrod Brown, you're one of the people, I think to use E.J. Dionne's word from "The Post" this morning -- you're one of the people that's not afraid to have a spine and stand up for your positions. As you know, sometimes in politics others get a little squishy. When you look at the 2010 map and you look Democratic senator up in Florida, in Pennsylvania, your seat in Ohio, in Missouri, in Michigan, in Wisconsin, a lot of big bellwether swing states up there, will they stand up when the Republican -- the House will pass a repeal of Obama care? Obviously that won't pass the Senate, but when they come back and say all right well let's do this and they try to take pieces away, are you open to some of that or will you say hell no?

BROWN: Well I'm open to fixing the 1099. I'm not open to -- there's some bumper stickers printed up before the election eliminate -- bring back preexisting conditions, vote Republican. I mean I don't think people -- I don't think people (INAUDIBLE). Let me give you another number. Barack Obama in 2008 got two -- more than 2.9 million votes in Ohio.

The entire Republicans, all 18 of them, running for Congress in Ohio, in a good year for them got a total of fewer than 2.1 million votes. So don't give me this --

BORGER: So let me ask you --

BROWN: Wait a minute, Gloria -- this is all of a sudden a mandate to do everything John Boehner wants to do when Republicans even for one day didn't say it was a mandate for when Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

BORGER: So is this just about getting unemployment -- the unemployment number down and nothing else about policy?

BROWN: No, it's way more than that, of course. I want to repeal "don't ask, don't tell". I think that's a problem for our military.

BORGER: I mean the election -- I mean the election --

BROWN: The election -- of course, it was about jobs. And you know, when -- you know, the governor in Ohio, there were 400,000 jobs lost during his four years. It was mostly because of Bush economic policies, but he paid the price. I understand that's the way politics works, so does Ted Strickland, the outgoing governor, understand that.

BASH: Senator, before we let you go, I have to ask you about earmarks. You got $84 million in earmarks you sponsored or co- sponsored that. Are you going to stick to that? Are you going to continue to do that, or is the pressure coming now from Republicans and Mitch McConnell's decision to say no more?

BROWN: I don't know what they're going to do in reality --


BROWN: -- but what I want to do is continue to work with -- I'll work with Rob Portman as I did with George Voinovich. Many of these earmarks --

KING: They have Udall and Claire McCaskill, the Democratic caucus so far.


BROWN: I understand --

KING: I assume Governor Manchin will be with them, although (INAUDIBLE) be a break for West Virginia I guess, but if these new Democrats coming in are with them, do you see any pressure there or do you think --

BROWN: I'm sure there will be pressure, but I also know what doing the right thing is about and earmarks, as long as they're transparent, as long as they go through the process, they help hospitals. They help clinics. They help educational establishments. They can be a good thing for our country, and Mitch McConnell knows that.

He did it for years. And I think that debate will go on, but basically the Republicans are using it because they don't really want to deal with the significant -- the real budget issues that we face. And earmarks, as you know, are such, as you've said on this show, are such a small percentage of the budget.

KING: All right. Senator Brown clearly has energy for the lame- duck in the next (INAUDIBLE). Senator, thanks for coming in, Gloria and Dana as well. When we come back, we'll talk a bit more about this Republican push to swear off earmarks. Is it a bold move or political show boating? Also, Sarah Palin is a big hit -- her new show is anyway, but see if you follow this -- she's no Snooki.


KING: Wow, what a nighttime shot. Beautiful shot at night of the United States Capitol. Right there earlier today where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell surprised a lot of people by calling for a moratorium on earmarks, those spending projects members of Congress slip into legislation. Two Democrats, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Mark Udall of Colorado also jumping on board the band earmarks bandwagon.

The thing is we should be honest about this, when it comes to reducing the deficit, eliminating all earmarks would only make a tiny, tiny drop in the bucket. Joining us now to talk this over from Houston, CNN political contributor Roland Martin, in New York CNN contributor John Avlon -- he is a senior political columnist for the -- and in Atlanta CNN contributor Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog

Erick, this has been one of your criticisms of Mitch McConnell for a long time. That the establishment would not give in, would not listen to the conservative base and ban these earmarks. Maybe it's not a lot of money, but it is symbolically important. I want you to listen quickly to Mitch McConnell today on the floor.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Banning earmarks is another small but important symbolic step that we can take to show that we're serious, another step on the way to serious and sustained cuts in spending and to debt.


KING: Is Erick Erickson going to sign up now for the Mitch McConnell fan club?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, but this is a step in the right direction. I'm impressed and however much it pains me to say something nice about Mitch McConnell I will tonight. He did a good job, had his pulse clearly on where the Tea Party was, and I suspect based on what I'm hearing he knew the inevitable outcome and decided to be with the majority, but, John, I would say it's a mischaracterization to say this is a small drop in the bucket.

Yes, earmarks are very small, but what they lead to, as Tom Coburn has said repeatedly is they're a gateway drug to larger government. Larger pieces of legislation are typically loaded up with earmarks in order to get members of Congress to pass the bigger pieces of legislation.

KING: That's an important point. We'll watch as this goes forward and whether this is the first step in a diet. You need to take a first step to have a successful diet. John Avlon, to Erick's point, in fiscal year 2010, appropriations bills contain nearly 95 -- 9,499 earmarks worth just shy of $16 billion. Now, what earmark supporters say, well, if we don't specify where the money goes, the executive branch will still pass a big bill, and they'll spend it the way they want to spend it, but it could be, could be a step toward some reduction, yes?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes and this is a step in the right direction, and Mitch McConnell deserves a lot of credit for this. He was dragging his feet, but he heard the message. Not only the conservative base, but I think the vast majority of the American people who understand that there's something crooked about anonymous earmarks, and they've been sending this message for a long time, and I think it's great that he is taking this message is a step forward not only for Mitch McConnell, and the Republican Party, but for the whole Congress hopefully.

KING: But Roland (INAUDIBLE) is the next test, I guess, if you will save billions through earmarks, many people have looked at the bigger picture of the deficit and said OK, fine, we can cut -- we've got to cut some Pentagon spending. We've got to cut this. The left is in screaming that you can't touchdown Social Security and Medicare, and the right is screaming saying absolutely don't put any revenue or tax increases on the table. What's the next big test?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, there's no doubt that you are going to see the next step has to be discretionary spending. The left, they are not going to like that, but there's going to have to be some tightening there. You also have seen Secretary of Defense Bob Gates order not only the massive review of Pentagon contracts, but also making it clear what we simply cannot afford. He has been fighting many of the generals there who simply don't want to scale back in those areas, because he sees a train that is coming.

That if he doesn't do it, somebody else is going to do it, because if you see Senator McConnell cave on this issue, you can expect to see other folks cave. But here's the one thing we must watch out for, John, and we always see it. Members of Congress start saying, oh, no, you can't cut that because that means jobs. The one thing we have to own up whenever they throw out jobs, that causes everybody to pause and to freeze and stops them from making some necessary cuts.

KING: All right I want to shift subjects here. You thought you were being booked on JOHN KING, USA tonight, but really this is our edition of "Family Feud". Lisa Murkowski who is the senator from Alaska, and she's likely leading in the count of the write-in votes right now. They haven't counted them all up yet, but she's had a long-running feud with Sarah Palin, so tonight she did an interview on the "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric". You don't have to go back too far, 2008, that was what some would say the scene of the crime, Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric back then. Listen to Lisa Murkowski on the question is Sarah Palin ready to be president?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I just do not think that she has those leadership qualities, that intellectual curiosity that allows for building good and great policies. You know she was my governor for two years, and I don't think that she enjoyed governing.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, she's right.


KING: Tell us what you really think.



MARTIN: Look she's right and look, at the end of the day, Sarah Palin quit as governor of Alaska. OK, I understand the lawsuits, but she quit. And she also has said herself that, you know what, it's great for her to sit here and be able to have no accountability, to offer her thoughts and things along those lines on Twitter and Facebook, and so, look, I understand what Senator Murkowski is saying. And she (INAUDIBLE) have a personal deal going there but she has a better view of Sarah Palin than many of us do because she was there in Alaska.


ERICKSON: You know I don't think we can discount the animosity there between the Murkowski clan and the Palin clan. There's a lot of that there. It would not surprise me if Sarah Palin's TLC show goes a long way towards rehabilitating herself. It looks like that may be the strategy. I'm still not convinced she's going to run in 2012, but I wouldn't take anything Lisa Murkowski said about Sarah Palin to be any sort of truth.

KING: Well John before you jump in let's listen to one --


KING: Let's listen to one snippet from last night. Perhaps Sarah Palin knew Lisa Murkowski was booked with Katie Couric when she said this.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: You know, having every word, every action scrutinized and in some cases mocked, I can handle it. I -- you know I kind of have asked for it, right? We don't reward their continued bad behavior. Yes, yes.

And if I'm tempted to kind of say, oh, here comes another shot, why us, Todd reminds me all the time, man, why not us? We can handle it.


KING: She seemed to know it was coming, John.

AVLON: Yes, look, she signed up for this. I mean and you know now she's entering reality show-ville and it's a further step towards celebrity. You know in the case of Alaska you've got a Hatfield and McCoy situation between these two political dynasties, but I think Lisa Murkowski was telling the truth as she saw it, and when somebody steps away from the elected responsibility and opportunity of governing, you open yourself up for that and attack. It's not an unfair criticism being inflicted upon you. It's something that you knew was coming down the pike because of actions you took.

KING: Man up. Who watched -- show of hands.


KING: Show of hands. Who watched?




MARTIN: I guarantee you I didn't watch that show. Yes, I guarantee you I didn't watch that show.

KING: All right, maybe next week. Roland, John, Erick thanks for coming in. For those who did watch the show, it had 4.9 million viewers, which is a pretty good audience. The number one on TLC for a premier show, I believe, but the reason we made the Snooki thing, not quite as many viewers as the second season of "Jersey Shore".

A lot more to come in the program, when we come back we talk to Fareed Zakaria just before the president went to Asia, some are saying it was a bad trip. We'll get Fareed's post trip notes just ahead.

Also, some new words -- there's a new list out today, the top words of 2010, and "refudiate" from the very same former governor of Alaska is on it, a few others from the campaign as well. Stay right here for that top 10 list. You won't want to miss it.

And Pete Dominick has a question for me tonight because you know he doesn't understand this Washington thing. I have allegedly been here a long time. He wants to know about freshmen orientation. We'll talk to two new members of Congress about their orientation and then we'll talk to Pete.


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

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Homeland Security officials are trying to tamp down a public revolt against the invasive new body imaging machines and security pat-downs at some U.S. airports. In San Diego a traveler named John Tyner refused and recorded his refusal to either go through a scanner that sees beneath his clothing or a pat-down of his groin area. He posted the video on- line. His phone camera is pointing at the ceiling, but you hear his voice and the security guards.


SCREENER: If you'd like a private screening, we can make that available for you, also.

TYNER: We can do that out here but if you touch my junk, I'm going to have you arrested. I'm not letting him feel me up as a condition to get on the plane. I'll turn around and walk out of here.


JOHNS: Today Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the enhanced screening measures.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think as the traveling public recognizes, we need to keep unauthorized liquids, powders and gels off of aircraft just as we need to keep unauthorized metal objects off of aircraft. We're doing this. Airports in Europe are doing this. It's just the next generation of travel security.


JOHNS: So I was going to try to think up a joke to talk about this, but they don't like jokes in the airport.

KING: No they don't -- they don't like jokes in the airport. You know, I have had to do the scan thing a couple of times. They have you do this, and I always apologize to the poor person who has to watch it in another room. They say they destroy the image but I always --


JOHNS: And you could get on the watch list.

KING: Yes, but this is going to be -- this is going to be a big issue for the new Congress.

JOHNS: Right.

KING: Is this over the line or not? So I want to show, Joe, before we go a little look at what's coming in the new Congress, an interesting group of people coming. Now, remember, the people in town this week for orientation are the new people. The people you see debating that's the current Congress. But when Congress comes back in January there will be 16 new members of the Senate, 13 of them Republicans, three of them Democrats, plus we're still waiting to see the Alaska Senate race, whether it's the incumbent Lisa Murkowski or another new face in Joe Miller.

That count is not done yet. We'll have a much more newness in the House -- 94 new members of the House of Representatives, 85 of them Republicans, nine Democrats and there are six pending House races, meaning they're still counting the results in six more House races so those numbers will change a little bit. What's interesting is that about half of these people coming never held office before. Fifty-one percent of the freshman class held political office before, but 49 percent did not, so what did they do?

Well, about three percent were involved in ranching or farming. One was a pilot involved in aviation, 10 percent in business, eight percent in military or other public service, 13 percent are lawyers, three percent in the construction and engineering business -- excuse me -- and four percent medical, including a retired ophthalmologist who just won a seat up in the New York suburbs up there, so an interesting group of people, Joe. Not all members of Congress, which I think not all politicians -- excuse me -- which I think is actually healthy for the debate to have some fresh people who this is all new.

JOHNS: Still a lot of lawyers.

KING: Still a lot of lawyers. Yes, there's probably some grimacing at home for that -- my apologies to the lawyers for that one. When we come back, Fareed Zakaria grades the president's Asia trip and George W. Bush's interview with our Candy Crowley.


KING: President Obama is back from his trip to Asia, a trip notable for what the president didn't get. No deal with the g20 to help U.S. manufacturing or no free trade agreement with South Korea. We spoke with CNN Fareed Zakaria when the trip began. He is here to compare notes that it's over. You write in a column, you wrote at the end of the trip that there were some successes in terms of the conversation that needs to be had about the long-term China challenge, but that perhaps this trip was marketed in a wrong way by the white house. You wrote this. "Doubtless egged on by his political advisors, Obama cast his trip to Asia as about jobs, jobs, jobs. If the president was truly crafting a trade trip, someone sent him to the wrong places. Only one of the countries he visited, Japan, is among the top six destinations for U.S. exports. He could have saved a lot of fuel and traveled to Canada and Mexico." Is that what you think, this was marketed wrong, but some successes?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, clearly the idea of this being about jobs and trade was an afterthought. Clearly, this was constructed as an Asia trip where the president would inform American leadership in Asia, assure rising Asian powers that the U.S. would not abandon them to a Chinese-dominated Asia. After the midterm they decided, oh, we're going to explain this is all about getting American exports up, getting jobs. Well, look, Canada and Mexico buy 20 times as much from the United States as India does, ten times as much as South Korea does. Our biggest trading partners are Canada, Mexico, Germany, the United Kingdom. That would have been the trade trip. This was an Asia trip, and the purpose of the trip was clearly more geopolitical, and at that level, forget the PR and the spin. At that level I believe it worked. I talked to a lot of people in Asia. I was in Asia myself last week, and I think there was a sense that Obama was giving the Asian countries the signal that the United States is here for the long haul, it's seriously committed to Asia, and, in fact, is going to rebalance its foreign policy to devote more time, energy, and attention to Asia.

KING: Did we see any evidence that the leaders were either testing him or that the leaders viewed him as somewhat reduced in stature because of the Republican rout here in the domestic elections?

ZAKARIA: Most of the leaders in Asia are pretty seasoned, and they understand that the president had unilateral authority on foreign policy and, therefore, domestic losses don't necessarily translate into a weakened international condition. I think their main concern when I talk to them is two-fold. One, small -- a smaller part of it is Obama weakened politically? The larger one is the United States on a slow growth trajectory that is going to make it less powerful, its model less attractive, and its budget conditions such that it will not be able to play the political and military role in Asia? In other words, their big concern is not about Obama. It's about the United States. If the United States is not strong, healthy, and vibrant, it cannot be the kind of balancing power in the Asia Pacific that India and Japan and South Korea are looking for.

KING: You mentioned that the paramount objective of the global economy getting growth restarted here in the United States and around the world is still a hangover, if you will, from the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. Our Candy Crowley sat down with George W. Bush to talk about his new book "Decision Points." She asked him shouldn't he have seen it coming, have done more at the beginning of the crisis so that it didn't get so deep? Listen to this.


FMR. PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't think anybody really saw the size of the catastrophe.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Doesn't that kind of make you think what's your people's job, to help me do this?

BUSH: I don't think our job is to over-regulate an economy. Our job was to provide reasonable regulation at which we tried to do, but were thwarted by the Congress. Look, I'm not trying to pass the blame on to anybody, but I think it's difficult for a president or an administration to see the size and scope of a downturn.


KING: That a fair assessment in your view, or if they didn't see the size and the scope, were they looking in the wrong places?

ZAKARIA: Well, I think it's fair to say that nobody saw the size and scope of this crisis. Everybody underestimated the down side risk. The place where I would fault George W. Bush is this. You never know when you're going to have these kind of problems, but you want to create -- you want to keep the economy with some comfortable margin for error, and where the Bush administration really let us down, I think, is in collapsing that margin for error.

We took the federal budget, which Bush inherited with a structural surplus, structural surpluses as far as the eye could see, and then he made three big decisions. One was the series of tax cuts, massive tax cuts, prescription drugs for the elderly, and two wars, and he paid for none of it. He, instead, borrowed money, and we went from a structural surplus to a massive structural deficit, so that when the recession hit, we had no money in the bank. We had to run up these enormous debts, these enormous deficits because we started off in a weak position. The Chinese government, by contrast, saved for a rainy day. They had a surplus going into the crisis. They were able to spend and spend effectively. That's where I think George Bush deserves most, and, frankly, that I think is the single most negative part about his presidency, more than anything else. He took the United States -- a United States that was in structural budget surplus and put us into a structural deficit, and we're still trying to pay the price for it.

KING: You mentioned the two wars. Let me stay focused on those, but shift our focus more to the administration of the wars, not the financial impact, but you mentioned those two wars, and he didn't pay for them. One of the criticisms that we've talked about this before is when the United States made the decision to invade Iraq, a lot of the critics say it took its eye off the ball in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban and nation building in Afghanistan. President Bush says, no, not his fault. Listen.

BUSH: What happened in Afghanistan was that our NATO allies turned out -- some of them turned out not to be willing to fight, and, therefore, my -- our assumption that we had ample troops, U.S. and Afghan -- and NATO troops, turned out to be a not true assumption, and so we adjusted, and I completely disagree with the take eye off the ball. I found that to be empty political rhetoric.

KING: Empty political rhetoric. It was a NATO shortcoming, not a U.S. shortcoming in Afghanistan?

ZAKARIA: No I think that's simply not true and I think if you look at the statements of the time, Secretary Rumsfeld believed very, very strongly in a very light foot. He wanted to get in and get out as quickly as possible. He didn't want to have troops on the ground. Look, it's a respectable point of view. It was a way of thinking about the military as a kind of a fast lethal operation. Not doing nation building. Not getting bogged down in occupation. You know, there are still people who believe that that was -- that would have been the right approach. That clearly was the approach the administration took in Afghanistan and also in Iraq. Don't forget, many of the problems in Iraq happened for precisely the same reason. It is, however, in both cases after a while and after years of failure that President Bush in the case of Iraq and President Obama in the case of Afghanistan decided, you know what, this ain't working and we've got to put more troops in. I think, you know, President Bush is, in a sense, not giving enough credit to the fact that there was a credible military strategy laid out and detailed by Donald Rumsfeld, which was to have a very light footprint.

KING: Fareed Zakaria, as always, thanks for your time.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

KING: Pleasure is mine. Thank you, sir. When we come back, top headlines. Plus, the top ten list from 2010 that will take you a mile under sea and to Sarah Palin's Alaska.


KING: Welcome back. Joe Johns back with more news you need to know right now. Hey there.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John, there is a rare event at the white house tomorrow. A living soldier will be awarded the Medal of Honor. Army Staff Sergeant Sal Giunta was recommended only hours after a bloody ambush and firefight in Afghanistan in 2007.

And for better or worse, Sarah Palin has made her mark on the English language. The new Oxford American Dictionary chose her term "refudiate" as their 2010 word of the year. We were just trying to come up with all the words that George W. Bush seemed to create when he was in the white house.

KING: Don't misunderestimate Sarah Palin's impact on the English language. That's one. That's in the dictionary. This is the global language monitor. The top ten list, Joe, for 2010 words and 2010 phrases. Let's walk through this here. David Letterman routine here. Let's start with the top words. Now here are the top ten. You are watching them as home, guido and guidette, shellacking Let's put them in order. A little easier this way. Number ten, simplexity. Everyone knows simplexity. Some of these come from the campaign. Shellacking. If you were around last winter, snowmageddon and snowpocalypse. The deficit is a big word in the campaign. Refudiate also made this list as number four. The narrative we talked about a lot in the election. Vuvuzela, the world cup. You remember that? And spillcam from the BP oil spill. That's pretty cool. Those are the top words.

What about the top phrases? These are some from the top ten. Man up, huge in the campaign, Joe, right? That's getting used around here. How many teachable moments do we have in everyday here at CNN?

JOHNS: A lot. They all occur on television.

KING: The tea party, obviously, a big phrase in the campaign because it was so much an anger and rage. A lot of people thought there was along of anger and rage during the election campaign. I'm very tempted over here with my friend, the wall, to talk about teachable moments and anger and rage. I'm not going to go there. I'm going to walk back over here, right?

JOHNS: Absolutely. I couldn't agree with you more.

KING: Absolutely. Always fun to do the top ten list. There's a lot of learning to be done there too. When we come back, we'll also learn from two brand new members of the United States Congress. They are Congressman and Congresswoman elect at the moment. We'll talk to them when we come back. Very interesting.


KING: With me now, two future members of the incoming Congress here in Washington for freshman orientation. Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina and Democrat Terri Sewell of Alabama. Thank you for joining us. I know you're both very busy getting your orientation. As you begin your work, I want to share a number from our new polling at CNN and see, first, if you agree with this number. We asked people the Republican victories in the U.S. house races were a mandate for Republican policies. Only 17 percent said that. A rejection of Democratic policies, 70 percent said that. Ms. Sewell, to the Democrat first, is that how you viewed the election where the Republicans took control of the house, even though they came to Washington as a rejection of Democratic policies?

TERRI SEWELL (D), ALABAMA CONG.-ELECT: No, I don't, actually. I think it's more of a rejection of the economy. I think that voters reacted to the fact that this economy has been turning around, but it's turning around too slowly. I know for me whether it's a Democratically controlled house or a Republican controlled house, my mission basically stays the same, and that's to represent the seventh Congressional district to the best of my ability.

KING: Mr. Scott, if 17 percent, only 17 percent of the American people think this is a Republican mandate, that should give you some pause, no?

TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA CONG.-ELECT: I think what it says is simply this. If the American people are tired of the partisan politics, whether you are Democrat or Republican, the American people want the focus on them. They want a government that stays within the boxing, and what they want is a return back to free markets limiting the role of government in their lives and not spending money you don't have.

KING: Let's focus on a couple of issues and see if I can get a Democrat or Republican to agree or disagree. One of the big issues Mr. Scott in your campaign and in the Republican pledge to America was the Obama health care plan. Ms. Sewell, do you believe that significant changes need to be made in the health care law, or do you think it should be left alone?

SEWELL: I think that the health care bill, while not a perfect bill, was a great step in the right direction. I think that I look forward to actually working to tinker with some of the provisions, but I think overall providing better access to quality health care, especially in my district, has been very beneficial. KING: Mr. Scott, you want to go significantly further than tinkering, correct?

SCOTT: Absolutely. What we need is a patient centered approach to have health care access, and it cannot be run by the government. It has to be a private sector response to the needs of the community, and if we do that, we will find that we'll reduce the costs, get rid of the bureaucracy, and we'll have the ability to maintain the best health care system in the entire world.

KING: Another big issue is whether or not to extend the Bush tax cuts.

SCOTT: We have to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. The truth is that if we're looking for a recovery in the private sector, it's going to take a couple of things. Certainty and predictability. What we have right now is trillions of dollars on the side because business owners cannot make decisions about investments because we need a ten- year snap for us to make good decisions. Without the Bush tax cuts being permanent, it allows uncertainty and a lack of predictability to be the words that will govern not having a recovery at all.

SEWELL: I personally think that we really have to protect the middle-class. That should be the guiding principles for the tax cut and whether or not we should extend them.

SCOTT: Protecting the middle-class will take for us to allow the Bush tax cuts to be universally applied to all American citizens. What we don't need is a class war. We cannot afford to tell those who have ability to invest back into the job markets that we cannot invest because, Bush tax cuts are gone.

SEWELL: The fact of the matter is that we are existing right now under the Bush tax cuts. And while recovery has been happening it's been happening very slowly. So I actually just question the premise of whether or not additional tax cuts for the rich would actually benefit.

SCOTT: I would tell you though that the federal government -- jumping in to the private sector in a way that they're buying private assets does not allow for the -- the economy to recover. If we want an economic recovery, economic freedom, we have to allow the private sector to respond to the needs of the economy and not the government.

SEWELL: I will let John respond.

KING: You two - it's hard for me to believe you are not members of Congress. Pretty good, both warmed pretty quickly.

SCOTT: You said you wanted us to debate.

KING: One of the questions you each face, two new African- Americans in the Congress whether or not to join the Congressional black caucus. I want to share with you one more Republican African- American who was elected, Mr. Allen West of Florida, he has been quite critical. I want to share his view of the Congressional black caucus to see if each of you agree with it. He called it liberal and said policies were too far to the left and not helpful to inner city communities. Here's what Allen West said.


ALLEN WEST (R), FLORID CONG.-ELECT: I think they do have the monolithic viewpoint. When you look at some of the failures in the inner cities, with the liberal social welfare policies and programs, you look my neighborhood what it used to be and what it is now, look at Detroit, look at Chicago. This is not the recipe for success.


KING: Mr. Scott, do you share that view, is the black caucus out of touch and actually hurting America's inner cities?

SCOTT: What I do know, inner cities of America are not receiving the type of assistance it needs because it cannot come from the government. If we are going to see an opportunity, we need to promote entrepreneurship. That's a private sector response to challenges in the economy. If we want to find a way to see the inner cities and communities where I grew up prospering then we have to focus attention for allowing, private and public schools to compete in communities. I don't hear that being addressed in the CBC.

KING: Do you believe that, Ms. Sewell? I was in your community Selma last year and the mayor was complaining that as a smaller city it was forgotten by Washington.

SEWELL: I think that the mandate from my district is pretty clear. That is that they need economic opportunities brought to the 7th Congressional district, Selma, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa. I can tell you that I will be joining the CBC but my vote will be dependent on what is in the best interest of my constituents.

KING: Let me ask you each what it is like, and I mean this with no disrespect but in many ways it's like the first day of high school when you find where your locker, they're giving you a new Congressional blackberry, new Congressional cell phone, teaching you all the rules, what you can, cannot do in a conversation with the lobbyist, where the gift ban kicks in and all that. What's most interesting thing you learn when you go through orientation?

SEWELL: Well, for me it's been -- it's been that there are so many things that bind us. I look forward to joining the next session. I think there are so many commonalities. It's not as, as black and white or Democrat/Republican as I think the media tries to portray.

SCOTT: Someone said today what you don't know can hurt you. And that's what we need to realize. So it is very important for us to understand the rules that will govern us. We are trying to find a way to restore the American people's confidence and trust in elected officials with the respect we abide by the rules and understand the rules we're in a better position to say to the American people we are listening and abiding by the rules.

SEWELL: You know what, John. I agree with that.

KING: Great place to end it. Ms. Sewell and Tim Scott. Appreciate your time today. Thank you both.

SEWELL: Thanks.

KING: Did anyone ever give you a hard time when you were the new kid in class? Next our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick looks at freshman hazing.


KING: One person who wishes he was a new member of Congress here for orientation is our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick. He's up in New York tonight. You would love to serve the people in the Congress, wouldn't you?

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: You know, you are always frying to get me to run for some office, John King. I would be a terrible representative for the American people. You have got to stop or might start to believe you.

KING: I disagree. I disagree. You listen. That is the number one test of leadership. Someone who listens.

DOMINICK: Sorry, I didn't hear that.

KING: Funny man.

DOMINICK: John, my question, I was the senior who didn't haze the freshman. So I think that, you know, the more experienced Congressmen should welcome. I have a couple ideas for workshops they may want to teach. Do you have time?

KING: Hold on first I just want to tell you one thing. I have been here in town, 22 years. I know how the hazing thing works. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Assume the position.

DOMINICK: A seance, right. I see. That is frightening.

KING: That's enough.

DOMINICK: Is that a clip?

KING: That's enough of that. Stop that right here.

DOMINICK: Is that a clip from John Boehner's "D.C. After Dark?"

KING: No. We're just having fun with "Animal House." It's a classic. No disrespect intended, just a little humor. What's on your list? DOMINICK: The other question is will they gain the freshman 15? Thought you let off the two new Congressmen without asking them the question.

KING: Next time. I'll bring them back.

DOMINICK: I was thinking soon to be former speaker could teach never give up. I think that'd be an interesting workshop. Senator Vitter could teach forgiving and forgetting. And President Clinton of course should be teaching the intern trap. You know how scary that can be. Lastly, John, my question to you, when duo the freshmen start meeting the lobbyists? Is it today, tomorrow, when do they become corrupt? At what point does that start to begin to happen?

KING: See I started off with my trust in you. Then you get so cynical, Pete?

DOMINICK: When do they meet the people who are Washington? Because they say they're not going to be Washington. Let me rephrase it.

KING: 99.99 percent are honest, decent, public servants, learning in orientation what you can't make campaign finance calls in your office and things like that. Your cynicism, kills me. Pete Dominick, you are banned. We'll see you tomorrow night. We'll see if we'll let you back tomorrow night. That's all from us. Hope you enjoy a laugh every now and then. And be back here tomorrow night. And that's all for us. And "PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.