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JOHN KING, USA

White House Political Shakeup; Airport Security Debate

Aired November 22, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Suzanne and good evening everyone. Tonight new controversy about that proposed mosque and cultural center near ground zero. The developers want your money, tax dollars to help build the project, applying for grant money from a fund created to help rebuild from the ashes of 9/11.

Also a shift in tone from the TSA heading into America's busiest travel days, the government says it is listening and will make scans and pat-downs at the airport as minimally invasive as possible. But the administration also stresses intelligence warning of threats and says its first job is preventing another 9/11.

We'll debate the line between your security and your privacy and we'll explore why this issue is suddenly getting all the politicians' attention. We begin with breaking political news at the Obama White House, a White House still trying to recover from its midterm elections shellacking. Now we knew the top political adviser David Axelrod was leaving early in the New Year to set up the president's re-election campaign. But our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is hearing now that that change and others are moving at an accelerated pace -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. CNN has learned that all this may be moving very quickly. That in fact, David Axelrod who as you noted has been saying publicly he'll probably leave in about six months or so, is now likely to leave right after the president's State of the Union, late January, early February.

The reason is he's tired, he's been doing this here at the White House nearly two years, was on the campaign for two years before that. He wants to get to Chicago, as you said, set up the campaign, but first wants to take a little time off before he jumps right into 2012.

The second piece of information we're picking up is that David Plouffe, the president's former campaign manager is going to be coming in as a senior adviser in early January right at the beginning of 2012. What does this mean for the president? It means David Plouffe is known as someone who is a lot more organized than David Axelrod, somebody who had a plan that he put together in 2008 and just stuck with it, relentlessly.

And there are a lot of top Democrats in town who think that David Plouffe will help put together a plan in terms of dealing with this new balance of power on Capitol Hill and also getting ready for 2012 and they could stick with that, maybe have a tighter ship around here. But I think the bottom line is that these are some of the same faces just sort of moving around. It doesn't suggest that this president is going to strike a new tone or have a lot of new blood around here -- John.

KING: To that point, Ed, it is another familiar face from the Obama political operation coming in to replace one, essentially, who goes out to build the new re-election operation, any grumbling from Democrats saying Mr. President how about some new voices, new faces?

HENRY: They're not doing it in public, but in private, yes. There are some very senior Democrats around town who before the election but especially since November 2nd have been advising this White House maybe you need to bring in some new people. But the names I'm hearing for some of these other jobs they're going to move around, for example, Carol Browner likely to leave the energy czar job and maybe become a deputy chief of staff here to Pete Rouse, the chief of staff who replaced Rahm Emanuel,

Again, somebody who has been here already, a familiar face, very well respected. But yet it's not really new blood, John. So it's interesting to see whether not just the independent voters who maybe were looking for the idea that the president got the message, but maybe some of the president's own fellow Democrats will they feel like maybe they're not turning the page -- John.

KING: Ed Henry for us at the White House with this breaking news -- Ed, thanks so much.

Now to a debate gaining steam as Americans prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday and many prepare for their trip through airport security on the way to see family and friends. I had the full body scan this morning before I flew to New York. You know you get up like that. That's a screening technology that is done something increasingly rare in our country today, uniting the left and the right on grounds the government is going too far and invading our privacy in the name of security.

Also provoking ire, the more aggressive pat-downs in use these days, critics call them government-sanction sexual assault. The government says it hears the complaints and will make changes if it can, but the head of the TSA also urged Americans to remember it was just shy of a year ago when a man with hard to defect explosives in his underwear tried to blow up a crowded plane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN PISTOLE, TSA ADMINISTRATOR: That's exactly the reason that we put these into place to make sure we don't have other people like this Christmas Day bomber trying to kill hundreds of people on passenger airlines.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So here's the question or questions. Is the government going too far or are impatient Americans too quick to forget real threats? And is there a growing sentiment to tell the government hands off or just a small but vocal movement of libertarians and conservatives eager to prove they have growing political clout.

Let's debate your rights and the politics of your safety with from Atlanta tonight CNN contributor Erick Erickson, the editor-in- chief of the conservative blog RedState.com, here in New York, CNN national security contributor Francis Townsend, who served as President Bush's homeland security adviser and serves now on the Homeland Security Advisory Board. In Provo, Utah, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz -- he sent a letter to the president today -- and from Minneapolis Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison.

To the congressmen first and Congressman Chaffetz to you first, why is this gaining steam right after the election? Is it because Americans are growing frustrated with this or is it because conservatives and libertarians said we have new power, let's use it.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Well the problem is that Americans are being given a false choice. That is give up every liberty in the name of security. And look I want the planes to be as secure as possible, but we should demand that technology be more effective and less invasive. And there's no reason we should settle for anything less. No reason.

KING: But what's your solution? This is -- 9/11 was a long time ago. You're a member of the United States Congress and as you push the TSA, Congress has oversight responsibility. Have there been pressures to say let's have new technology, let's find another way to do this?

CHAFFETZ: Well the point I've been trying to make is "A", the threat is very real and we cannot diminish that, but let's do what the Israelis do. Let's start profiling terrorists. We've got to go after the terrorists. We have 2.2 million travelers, 450 airports, 50,000 TSA agents, and a machine that looks at people naked.

That is not the formula for success. What we should be doing is put people through a metal detector and then have them walk by a bomb- sniffing dog. The Pentagon just recently completed a study and found that after spending $19 billion, the single most effective tool in finding a bomb-making material is the dog. That's what we should be doing.

KING: Fran Townsend, when you listen to the congressman there does he make sense?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: He does make sense. And I think people -- the American people are frustrated. We associate pat-downs and that sort of behavior with law enforcement, the way we treat criminals. The underwear bomber was, as you pointed out, almost a year ago.

Why haven't we -- why don't we have better technology? In defense of the government's action, they have deployed more of these scanners. They haven't done a very good job explaining frankly that they don't retain these images. They are screened away from where the public view is and so they're trying. But they need to do better. KING: Well Congressman Ellison, as the government tries and needs to do better, do you think that the answer is in technology, more technology at the airport, some new way of screening that perhaps is less invasive, or is it as your fellow congressman suggests, perhaps that we're doing this wrong, that we should be doing more profiling. We should be using more intelligence outside of the airport, to judge -- to have a better sense of how to judge people and maybe select who gets more screening at the airport?

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Clearly it's both, but I wouldn't use the word profiling. It introduces the idea of discrimination. But behavior based monitoring. Like for example in the case of Omar Abdulmutallab, his father indicated that he was a potential security risk. We need to have less siloing in our intelligence organizations, more harmonizing, more sharing of information and more human intelligence that can help identify threats.

You really can't get around it. There's no technological magic bullet. What there is, is just better intelligence gathering and sharing of information and of course technology can play an important role. This piece of technology I think is too invasive and really is problematic. I think that our scientists can do better. We've got to continue to research how we can do this better to save people -- safeguard people in the skies without undermining their privacy.

KING: Erick Erickson, come into the conversation. As you do so, I want to point out to our viewers you're not only editor-in-chief of RedState.com, but you're involved in local politics where you live there in Georgia. I want you first though to listen to the woman who is ultimately responsible for this at the moment, obviously the president is most responsible, but Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary said today, and this was a noticeable shift in tone from the government saying yes, we understand a lot of complaints coming in. We're going to listen. We're going to be sensitive. We're going to try to be less invasive, but --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Forward of course we will listen to concerns. Of course we will make adjustments or changes when called upon. But not changes or adjustments that will affect the basic operational capability that we need to have to make sure that air travel remains safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I mean, those responsible for this, I mean they have a pretty ominous responsibility and they do hear the intelligence, Erick.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: John they do, but there's a lot of illogic in all of it. Consider this. When you land a plane in New York you land outside the city, but if you take Amtrak you pull straight up into midtown. No one checks my bags when I take Amtrak into New York or across the country or what about a Greyhound bus. The illogic and the disconnect there is problematic. Likewise, all of the security we're responding to happened from overseas. The people flying into the country putting liquid explosives in shampoo bottles, we responded by three ounces or less. People coming into this country wearing bombs as underwear, we respond by full body scans and pat-downs. What happens when they start using body cavities, which people have said can happen?

What happens when you have some of these results happen? How absurd will the TSA become? We know that the x-rays, the full body scans can only detect things on the outside of the body. We should be going to behavioral checking. I realize we can't scale the full extent of the Israeli system, but we need to be looking at that as opposed to what we're doing.

KING: Well we're going to spend a bit more time on this. Before we take our first break I want to go to the congressmen first, to Erick's point right there. Congressman Chaffetz to you first, then Congressman Ellison jump in right after to the sense that when the government -- we're in the middle of this debate now -- it's a political debate and it's getting a lot attention and we're right in the middle of the holiday season, but when you come back to work, if not before the end of the year, in January, what should the Congress do to essentially say all right let's put the heated rhetoric aside. Let's all go into a room together and figure out what next.

CHAFFETZ: I think we need to limit the use of the whole body imaging machine as a secondary screening device. I think we need to ratchet up and get the dogs in there as fast as we can. That is the single best way according to the Pentagon, to detect these types of bomb making materials.

KING: Congressman Ellison?

ELLISON: You know I tell you we need to lower the barriers that exist between intelligence gathering agencies so that we can harmonize intelligence, share information that's out there. I mean one thing about these terrorists they like to talk a lot. We need to make better use of that and put it into effect so we can protect people on the airplanes.

KING: All right we'll continue this conversation in a moment, including a closer look at some specifics, including the episode that had Congressman Chaffetz fire off a letter to the president. But as we go to break I want you all to listen here, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's reaction to these new airport screening procedures. This is what she told CBS "Face The Nation". Is this undercutting the TSA's message?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But would you submit to one of these pat- downs?

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Not if I -- not if I could avoid it. No. I mean who would? (END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's continue our conversation about TSA screening procedures and whether in the name of trying to keep you safe, the government is overstepping the line in invading your privacy. Still with us Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Congressman Keith Ellison, Erick Erickson and Fran Townsend and Congressman, I'm holding up the letter -- Congressman Chaffetz, I'm holding up the letter you sent to the president today. And I want our viewers to take a look at the episode online that prompted this complaint to you from the president of the United States.

This is at the Salt Lake City airport, this is November 19th, and you see the young man there with his shirt off. He was going through security with his father, set off the metal detector, and obviously that in trying to resolve what the issue was this situation reached the point where the young man's father took his shirt off, essentially, to say here have a look. There's nothing there for the pat-down.

Now you sent a letter to the president just saying to the fact that the act alone that they had had to have a shirtless pat-down is an outrage. Those on the site -- and I want to read the TSA statement on this, the TSA statement on the TSA blog says "on November 19th a family was traveling through a checkpoint in Salt Lake City International Airport. Their son alarmed the walk through metal detector and needed to undergo secondary screening. The boy's father removed his son's shirt in an effort to expedite the screening. After our TSO completed the screening, he helped the boy put his shirt back on. That's it. No complaints were filed and the father was standing by his son for the entire procedure." In your view what's the outrage, sir?

CHAFFETZ: Well I talked to the local TSA agent, the agent who's in charge, and he told me that that young kid did not set off the alarm and that's why I want an investigation. Mother walks through, explains to TSA that that 4-year-old is an autistic kid. He's flailing around. He's having trouble. They can't get him to go through the line by himself, so they kind of shove him through.

Dad comes through and says, you know, I'm not going to be able to do anything here because, you know, he's an autistic kid for goodness sake. He did not set off that metal detector. That's what they told me personally. So then dad takes off the sweatshirt to try to prove that there's no threat here. He still gets patted down on the lower part of his body. And the kid is freaking out because he has got this strange man patting him down and he's an autistic child. That's ridiculous.

KING: Congressman Ellison, do we need, should we have or is this in its own way a form of discrimination, a place where a family that has an autistic child, that has somebody whether a condition like that or whether it's somebody who has a knee replacement or a hip replacement, should there be a place you can stop at the airport and essentially self-identify and receive some sort of different, not special treatment, but different and more sensitive treatment?

ELLISON: Yes, as long as it's voluntary, as long as it's not based on your race, your national origin, what people think your religion is, I think that you ought to be able to seek out, you know, more private search procedure as long as it's something that, you know, you can go do. But I tell you this; you know there's plenty of opportunities for us Republicans and Democrats to throw (INAUDIBLE) to our base.

I think we need to get our heads together on this one for the sake of the American people. The story that the congressman told I think does raise certain issues if it went the way he described it and I think that it does warrant us getting our heads together, making sure we come up with an answer on this one.

KING: Congressman Chaffetz, did you speak to the father or any of the parents involved or just the agent?

CHAFFETZ: Just the agent -- I've -- I want to contact and talk to the parents. I talked to the gentleman who recorded the video. And my point to the president, my point to the TSA administrator and the secretary of homeland security is we need an investigation on this because there are two sides to the story.

KING: Fran Townsend, if you were asked tomorrow to be the TSA administrator what would you do differently and what would you look straight into the camera and say I'm sorry, I know this is hard, but I see the intelligence, I know the threats, we need to do this to make it safe for you to fly.

TOWNSEND: John, the key here is talking to the American people about what do we understand the threat to be and why this is necessary. What we're asking the American people to go through because it is antithetical, the notion that we're being patted down or that we have these invasive machines and the third piece to that is how these procedures are keeping us safe.

You've got to do all three and you've got to explain it to the American people. We can implement security policies but we have an obligation to explain and advocate to the American people we want them to support us. And as I've said even when I was in government, without the support of the American people no security policy on its own will be successful.

KING: Erick Erickson, we're having this conversation about what happens in Washington, how this is debated in Washington. But we looked to the list last week; I think there were 16 airports across the country that have a private company that does their security --

ERICKSON: Right.

KING: -- and then the TSA supervises them, oversees it. Is that from your experience locally what you think will happen next, sort of a -- revolt is a strong word -- but a reaction --

ERICKSON: Right. KING: -- that has local community saying look we're going to try to -- we're going to make sure we do this differently.

ERICKSON: I think that probably will. We've already seen Orlando Sanford International and Orlando look at it. In Macon, Georgia where I am, the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, I have chaired the Oversight Committee for our local airport. We're considering it. More and more I think you're going to see that.

Look, everyone understands there are real problems. Everyone understands there are real issues and real security concerns, but when you hear more and more stories of the person who had to have the breast prosthetic removed, the little boy who took his shirt off, the nun, it makes no sense. Why can't we have a system where when people who are flying 100,000 miles a year or 20,000 miles a year can go through a separate system?

We know those people probably aren't threats. It seems like we're just dumbing down security at the airport to the lowest common denominator and the day after Thanksgiving it's going to be very, very ugly when you have the busiest travel day of the season and the x-ray scanners and the pat-downs sure take a lot longer than everything we've done in the past.

KING: Would there not be as aggressive or perhaps even more aggressive outrage though if the government decided OK, we're going to pull back a little bit at the airport, but we're going to start listening to more phone calls and we're going to start -- I'm going to use the word profiling -- I know Congressman Ellison, you don't like it, but somehow focusing our efforts on likely targets. Would there not be even more outrage then and let's let the congressman go first.

ELLISON: Well I mean I don't like the term profiling because it evokes ideas of race-based national origin based focus. I don't think that should be the focus. The focus needs to be behavior, things we know about certain individuals. As we know and we've seen a number of various people who have engaged in terrorism they don't fit a profile.

They look at all kinds -- they come in all colors, all backgrounds. I don't even think its good policing and good law enforcement and good investigation to do it that way. But behavior based investigation I think is the essential thing that we need to continue to do and that means sharing good information. I do believe that the fact is that we can't escape the human element here and we can be successful if we put a strong emphasis on that.

KING: Congressman Chaffetz.

CHAFFETZ: Hey, I happen to agree with him. This is something again from the right and the left we can actually agree on. We do need to profile people, not based solely on ethnicity or religion but behavior. I absolutely agree with this. And you know what we're the United States of America. We can do anything. I think we have to demand that we become more effective and less invasive and we can get there. The thing is the technology exists today and we should settle for nothing less. KING: I want to thank the congressmen, thank Fran, thank Erick as well. We are going to stay on top of this all week. As you all prepare to travel we'll keep our eye on it and we'll also keep our eye on it after this week when the debate returns to Washington and the halls of Congress. Thanks all for coming in tonight.

And still to come here the day's other big headlines, plus Fareed Zakaria helps us assess several developing global challenges. And should your tax dollars help build that proposed mosque and cultural center near ground zero?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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. Tonight Vice President Joe Biden and his wife hosted a group of wounded U.S. warriors for an early Thanksgiving dinner.

A Pentagon spokesman tells CNN the heads of the military services are preparing their final advice on repealing "don't ask, don't tell". There's only one week to go until the Pentagon release its long- awaited survey of how troops would react to eliminating the ban on gays serving openly in the U.S military.

Irish officials are getting ready to unveil a new package of tax increases and public spending cuts as part of a deal to secure an $11 billion international bailout for Irish banks.

And Nissan says its new electric car, the Leaf, has been EPA rated to get the equivalent of 106 miles a gallon in the city, 92 miles a gallon on the highway. It goes on sale next month but only in five states. And I'm hearing $561 a year for electricity. That's your fuel costs there, John.

KING: The equivalent of 106 miles per gallon?

JOHNS: That's unbelievable.

KING: Yikes.

JOHNS: You know.

KING: Puts my first car, a big old Chevy Impala way back in the day to some high shame Joe, wow, wow, wow, wow.

JOHNS: You know I can't wait.

KING: Leaf, Volt, more -- bring on the more technology. We'll try them all. Thanks Joe. We'll see you in a bit.

Just ahead, Fareed Zakaria's take on North Korea's new nuclear defiance. And smile now also his take on an Internet spoof suggesting Fareed might have a future on "Dancing with the Stars".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: New alarming revelations about North Korea's nuclear program and a NATO summit that the White House claims was a success in advancing the president's Afghanistan strategy. Here to talk over these developments Fareed Zakaria, the host of course of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS".

And Fareed, let's start with North Korea; an American scientist was there, Siegfried Heker (ph), and he says when he was in North Korea not only did he see that they were back at the nuclear business, but he says he was in a facility where he was stunned at the advanced technology in the centrifuges and the like. Should the United States be worried?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Oh sure, this is one of the most worrying places in the world. I often say if you are worried about some kind of accidental unforeseen, unplanned taking conflagration taking place this is the place to worry about. I don't think North Korea is trying to develop nuclear weapons because it wants to go out and strike people. But it is doing so as a kind of insurance policy for it regime. And when the regime is itself going through some kind of difficult transition period, it seems that they double down on the insurance policy, they buy more insurance. Very weird kind of insurance but if you think about it they have been rattling the saber in various ways, the sinking of the South Korean ship, look at what these revelations are and they seem to suggest we're going through a period of transition, don't mess with us.

KING: And to that point of transition, listen here to the language of Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was on "STATE OF THE UNION" yesterday. He used the term belligerent in describing North Korea and then if you listen here he sounds frustrated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I've been concerned for a long time about instability in that region and quite frankly, North Korea has been at the center of that. We've worked hard with other countries to try to bring pressure on them to have them comply. They haven't done that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Long time he says, but do you see any of this new developments, the new revelations in any way tied to succession?

ZAKARIA: I think so. I think as I said whenever they go through some period of internal instability, they try to create circumstances where it becomes more difficult for the outside world to intervene and they essentially try to send out a signal, don't mess with us. Now, the complicating factor here is that there's so many great powers involved. There is, of course, South Korea, there is China, there is the United States, and making sure everyone is on the same page and there are no miscalculations is very tough. So far, things have not worked out that well. The South Koreans, for example, are very upset with the Chinese because they felt -- they have felt that the Chinese have been protecting the North Koreans who are their allies, over the issue of the thinking of the South Korean ship. Similarly the United States feels China is not pushing North Korea hard enough on the issue of the nukes. So you see what I mean? Not only do you have a crisis in the region, not only do you have a rogue state, an unpredictable actor, but you have all these great powers circling around and what you're now seeing are miscalculations, feelings of lack of cooperation. It's a combustible mix.

KING: Let's move on to the Lisbon summit. The president returned home from that NATO summit saying it was a great achievement. The key document was a document that says that the control of Afghanistan, the military control, the handover will start in 2011, next year, and that by 2014, it will be completed. A reasonable timeline?

ZAKARIA: I think it's a reasonable timeline. I think that the president's policy has always been a sensitive to two realities. There is the reality that al Qaeda presents a threat to the United States and it to our allies that it was based in Afghanistan which chased it into Pakistan but the two regions are effectively, the two countries are part of one region but the second one is this cannot be an open-ended, nation building commitment in the third poorest country in the world where we could just be there forever. It is an attempt to say at some point we're going to responsibly say we're going to scale down and should have created some level of success with the Afghan army, with the Afghan police, and at that point we transition to a counter terrorism role. I think other countries were happy to hear that message because nobody wants to be engaged in what would be the second decade of an occupation of Afghanistan. You know, the real question is, what happens when you draw down, but you've got to test that at some point. 2011 seems as good a time as any.

KING: Even as the president celebrated what he views as a significant achievement right out in the open in his language and from President Karzai evidence of the continued tension between the two leaders if you will, the lack of trust, listen to the president's words here. He often speaks from a policy standpoint. Here a very highly personal way the president of the United States essentially was telling President Karzai you better get it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: He's got to understand that I've got a bunch of young men and women from, you know, small towns and big cities all across America who are in a foreign country, being shot at and having to traverse terrain filled with IEDs and they need to protect themselves and so if we're setting things up where they're just sitting ducks, for the Taliban, that's not an acceptable answer either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I was struck by that language. Essentially the president of the United States saying listen Mr. President, to President Karzai, I have other things to worry about than what you say. ZAKARIA: I think that was a very calculated decision and it is a response, I think, to a series of feelers and signals that Karzai is sending out. The most prominent of which was an interview with a Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rasheed which Rasheed wrote up in the "Financial Times" in which Karzai has been bitterly complaining about NATO, about the United States, saying in this article, Rasheed says he has essentially he, Karzai, has essentially become anti-western, and anti-American. Remember sort of a hand-picked choice of the about Bush administration to lead Afghanistan after we overthrew the Taliban. Karzai has been lashing out, perhaps for domestic political reasons, perhaps out of genuine frustration, but the Obama administration seems to be telling him, privately and publicly, look, there is a limit to which you can do this kind of thing and continue to enjoy our moral and political support. The 150,000 troops from the west that are sitting in your country, as President Obama says, trying to do your work for you, and, of course, the billions of dollars of aid that the United States provides, Mr. Karzai.

KING: Let me get your thoughts on another issue where we hope this is just routine medical treatment but many around the world are worried it could be something more than that. The Saudis say their 86-year-old king is seeking treatment in the United States, herniated spinal disk and blood clot. He is 86 years old and the fact that he needs medical treatment has some nervous.

ZAKARIA: It has me nervous John and I'll tell you why. Let's hope it's just routine. There has been enormous progress in Saudi Arabia in terms of the battle against al Qaeda, the battle against Islamic fundamentalism the battle against extremism. The Saudis have turned essentially 180 degrees compared to where they were five or six years ago before the king ascended to his throne and consolidated power. Many people feel these forces of reform in Saudi Arabia boil down to one man, the current occupant of the throne. That if something were to happen to the king, first of all it's entirely unclear who succeeds him. Saudi Arabia has an extremely mysterious process of -- by which this happens. Ordinarily there's a kind of snail's pace succession where the next oldest brother is chosen. We are told there is a new document that might provide for a different method. Whatever way it is, it there is no one on the horizon right now who has anything near the dedication and the authority to pursue the kind of reform against radical Islamic, against extremist in favor of women's rights, education rights, so -- and this will happen at some point, the man is 86 years old. I would rather it happen later than sooner.

KING: Let's end on a more upbeat or uplifting note. This is the final week as you know of "Dancing with the Stars." If you go on-line to this thing called spooktimes.com you come across this. Known by millions from his duties as editor of large of time magazine, the Indian born Zakaria is perhaps less well known for his life-long interest and enthusiasm for dance. Now there is something I did not know. You're a contestant maybe for next year?

ZAKARIA: Somebody sent that to me and I have to confess it is a good example of extraordinarily effective humor. Usually political satire requires some kernel of truth to begin with and as my wife can tell you there is not a kernel of truth. I can't dance to save my life.

KING: That will be a shocking disappointment to everybody out there. Between now and next season, we can both practice our dancing, how about that.

ZAKARIA: Not together, not together, John.

KING: No. I'm sure you're way ahead of me. I have no ability when it comes to that. When we come back we'll view today's big headlines and come back with our political panels on today's big stories.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The people trying to develop that controversial Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero apparently would like some tax dollars to help. They've applied for millions of federal grant money set aside to rebuild lower Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Our contributor John Avlon broke the story today on thedailybeast.com and joins us along with CNN political contributor Republican strategist Ed Rollins and Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, who joins us from Washington tonight. John, Park 51 are the developers. They want to take $5 million is that the right number, from a fund that was set up, local Manhattan development fund, but its money some of its money came from federal tax grants and they want $5 million to build that site.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. It's money from the lower Manhattan Redevelopment Corporation set up after the attacks of September 11th. They applied in secret for a $5 million grant from this group for a cultural and community development. They applied earlier this month. We broke the story today. The real issue is just the appropriateness of the ask. It did not seem to occur to them this would be controversial or inappropriate. That's a big deal. This is a group that at the end of the day is not a conspiracy. This is not what some of its opponents have called it, some kind of an Islamist conspiracy to build a victory mosque. That's not what this is. It's a sign of a great disorganization inside the organization, callousness and cluelessness when it comes to applying for the grant and the story blew up today.

KING: So this mosque and Islamic center is before us for political debate. I assume not a healthy thing for the developers.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Not a healthy thing for the developers. It gives the Congress an excuse to bring this together and look at where they're spending their money. As you say, it was done in secret. It's no longer secret thanks to John's efforts and I think it will be closely scrutinized. Once the spotlight goes on something like this it becomes more exposed and vulnerable.

KING: Cornell, to make -- the application was put in earlier this month. To take such a bold step knowing what happened throughout the summer in this country, what does that tell you?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: You know, here is where you are at to a certain degree you have to stand with people's rights and not play a double standard. If it's okay for a clutch or another organization to apply for these funds, you've got say it's okay for them to apply from these funds. From a PR standpoint is the best timing no. As Americans we've got to stand up for what's right when it's hard, not for when it's easy. For us to say they shouldn't or can't apply for these funds when others can is a double standard that's fundamentally wrong.

AVLON: Cornell, this is not about their right to apply for those funds but their lack that they did not disclose showed there was some awareness this would be controversial. I live in lower Manhattan. I was a witness to 9/11 and I am not opposed to the park 51 development. Many reasonable people are not. However it's a question of the right to build a mosque with private funds on private property versus the right and wisdom of using public funds, dedicated to 9/11 in the wake of 9/11 to do so. That is clearly a third rail. And that should have been brightly obvious to the developers when they applied for it.

BELCHER: No look it is a third rail but bottom line is, do they have the fundamental right to do? Yes, they have the right to do this. Call them out on that is wrong.

AVLON: Cornell, there's no fundamental right to taxpayer money. There is not.

BELCHER: If another organization can apply for this, John, they have the right to apply for it as well.

ROLLINS: John, Cornell is a Democrat, which they always think they have a right to someone else's money.

KING: Oh. If you go to the website, the development corporation's website, frequently ask questions your click on that, who can get this money essentially. It says religious organizations can make a funding request as long as the request is for a facility or portion of a facility dedicated to nonreligious activities or uses. I'm going to play devil's advocate. The Park 51 developer says yes there's a mosque but there's also a community center and a host of nonreligious activities. By the rules seems okay. Your point is insensitive and why do it in secret.

AVLON: It's precisely the point President Obama made which is they have an absolute right to build that mosque. The wisdom of the decision is another matter. They were in the rights of this application and the Islamic -- the community center development really has a prayer room but it is largely devoted to a community center. That's important for people to understand. Look, this development has been much more controversial outside the lower Manhattan community than it has been inside the lower Manhattan community. But this is a decision, this is a decision that clearly doesn't pass the common sense --

BELCHER: I have to make one quick thing before you go, John. When is it okay for me to apply for my rights? When is it right for me to apply for something I have a right to? That's the fundamental problem. KING: It's an interesting point and debate. A quick time-out here. When we come back a lot of other big political stories to talk about. We got word this afternoon about the woman, you'll remember her, she made national headlines during a presidential town hall a few weeks back. "The Washington Post" reports Velma Heart has been laid off through no fault of her own. Remember when she asked the president this question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VELMA HEART: I have two children in private schools and the financial recession has taken an enormous toll on my family. My husband and I joked for years we thought we were beyond the hot dog and beans era of our lives. It's starting to knock on our door and ring true that might be where we're headed again. I need you to answer this honestly. Is this my new reality?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, the report tonight is Velma Heart's new reality is she lost her job. We'll get reaction when we come back and discuss the white house shakeup or at least an accelerated shakeup in the post-election Obama white house. Stay right there.

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KING: Let's get back to our discussion with John Avlon, Ed Rollins and Cornell Belcher. Cornell to you first as the Democrat, our Ed Henry reporting at the top of the program a bit of an acceleration, if you will, on some changes at the white house. David Axelrod he said will leave earlier than initially planned. David had been telling friends probably March but look like it will be earlier. David Plouffe from the camping will now come in to a white house role. Is this just normal see you later after the election changes or does this signify anything, a lesson learned maybe?

BELCHER: I don't think it signifies anything. They had already talked about Axe going out and preparing and getting ready to gear up for the campaign and Plouffe coming back in. Two great guys. Two friends of mine. As Axe says he needs some time to organize and get right here but Plouffe coming I think is a good idea. I will tell you that look I talked to a lot of Democrats around town. There is a perception that more people need to be brought into this, newer voices, a broader sort of table brought here. I think the white house over time will do that.

KING: When you were in the Reagan white house in '82 and you got thumped not as bad as these guys just got thumped, did you bring in same idea friends of the president or did something new?

ROLLINS: We went outside and did something new. I think the key thing is we started preparing for moving people out of the white house to run the re-election, not in the white house. What you're getting is another campaign person for a campaign person. What you need to do is bring someone who understands business and jobs and I think the American public would feel much better about that. AVLON: That's true but I don't think this is what this appointment is about. I think David Plouffe has actually been the missing ingredient for this white house that it helps account the fact this he were flawless for communication during the 2008 campaign and they've been pretty troubled in that department to date. Plouffe is one of the guys who has consistently talked about independent voters. He seems to understand they are key to the electorate to govern and campaign. And if he brings that focus to the white house job he'll help enormously.

KING: Tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE," the former president of the United States, George H.W. Bush and his wife, the former first lady Barbara Bush are on. As part of the conversation Larry asked Mrs. Bush this question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: What's your read about Sarah Palin?

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: I sat next to her once thought she was very beautiful. I think she's very happy in Alaska. And I hope she'll stay there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Larry got a laugh out of that. Should we?

AVLON: Just sticking in the shiv. Well done former first lady. That was brutal.

ROLLINS: She's always been very candid. Doesn't have a thing to do with anything happening in politics today. It's one person's opinion but it's certainly not going to have an influence on Sarah Palin. Let's just say she was half right. She is beautiful.

BELCHER: I do think this speaks to the rift here with the Republican establishment wanting someone other than Sarah Palin and the grassroots of the Republican Party certainly energized and she certainly speaks to them in a way I would argue the establishment doesn't.

ROLLINS: Sarah Palin will make a career out of beating up the Republican establishment as she already has.

KING: She's got a good down payment. Listen real quickly. This is Glenn Beck on his radio program today taking offense at Mrs. Bush.

GLENN BECK: Really insulting baselessly. Really insulting when you say -- when you say a woman what's your read and you're in this mode. You're in this mode.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She knows what he's asked.

BECK: Exactly right. Well, I think she's very beautiful. Oh, really? Talk down to me, oatmeal box lady. I mean really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You went to the Quaker Oats box.

BECK: Yeah.

KING: I'm not sure I would ever in a conversation put a former first lady of the United States on a Quaker Oats box.

ROLLINS: Not a beloved one and Mrs. Bush was a beloved figure.

AVLON: Yeah, just kind of weird. That's really sort of a bizarre tangent. I appreciate the attempt at humor but a big no gracias.

BELCHER: This guy is out of bounds. He's always out of bounds. This is another case of him being clearly out of bounds and insulting the first lady.

KING: All right. Guys, thank you for coming in. I'll leave it right there. I'll accept it as weird and go from there.

What do more Americans know to this question? Who makes the Android phone or who controls Congress? Quiz yourself. Pete on the street after the break.

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KING: Our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick here to close out the hour and I understand you were catching up on some reading over the weekend, you know. What'd you learn?

PEE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Last week they had the Pew Research poll. I love to take the test myself and see what I know. I do three hours of radio and talk to you every night. So 88 percent of Americans knew that BP ran the oil well in the gulf. Only 46 percent knew that Republicans took over the house. 26 percent knew Google's phone software is Android. Did you know that one?

KING: Yes, I did actually only because of my son.

DOMINICK: And only 15 percent knew that the prime minister of Great Britain was David Cameron which I understand that one. But my question is, are we -- I often say I'm not like Bill Maher, your friend Bill Maher, and say Americans are stupid. Maybe we're apathetic and don't care about things that might be really important. That's my question to you.

KING: Now that there's so much information available to us from so many sources whenever we want, however we want it, people are self selecting what they learn about which can be personally rewarding but a bit dangerous. I just want to know who the 12 percent who don't know it was BP where were they? Where were these people?

DOMINICK: They blame it on the sun spots, I think. Yeah, the sun, the solar. You would have to wonder who do they think it was and were they paying attention? They probably also didn't know there was a spill.

KING: Yes there was a spill. All right. Pete Dominick, thanks for coming inside with us.

That's all the time we have tonight. Hope to see you right back here tomorrow. "PARKER/SPITZER" starts right now.