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JOHN KING, USA
Elizabeth Edwards' Legacy; Dissent Among Democrats
Aired December 7, 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 Wolf and good evening everyone. It was a defiant and a defining day for President Obama as he chastised liberal critics and defended the tax cut deal he negotiated with congressional Republicans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My job is to make sure that we have a north star out there. What is helping the American people live out their lives, you know, what is giving them more opportunity? What is growing the economy?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: In a moment we'll test just how deep of a revolt the president faces within his own party and show you why he believes going -- doing something he once called unconscionable is best for the economy and best for his re-election prospects.
But first sad breaking political news -- Elizabeth Edwards died today after a six-year courageous battle with cancer. She was 61 and surrounded by family and friends at her North Carolina home just one day after publicly disclosing her cancer was spreading and her doctors had determined additional treatments would serve no purpose.
We got to know her as the wife of Senator John Edwards, 2004 presidential candidate, then the Democratic Party's vice presidential nominee. In 2008 she was at his side when he ran for president again, inspiring because by then we knew she was struggling with the scourge of cancer. What we would later learn was the she was also secretly dealing with her husband's infidelity. She talked about that struggle with Larry King earlier this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH EDWARDS, 1949-2010: I think it is important for me to understand that I didn't do anything wrong, not just important for me, but important also for my children to understand that what -- the mother they saw, the wife that they saw you know trying to support her husband in his quest in his dreams.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Mrs. Edwards and Senator Edwards separated last year though the former senator was among those on hand in Chapel Hill when Elizabeth Edwards passed away at 10:15 this morning. She leaves behind three children, Cate Edwards is 28; Emma Claire is 12; and Jack just 10. In a statement President Obama said he had spoken to Cate and to John Edwards today and praised Elizabeth Edwards as "a tenacious advocate for fixing our health care system and fighting poverty." Mrs. Edwards was above all else an inspiration for those fighting cancer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
E. EDWARDS: You're alive and you know don't spend your time worrying about when it is you are going die. Spend your time worrying about how it is you're going to live today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's spend a few minutes reflecting on the career and the legacy of a tenacious woman -- joining us CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. A tenacious campaigner, a strong supporter of her husband, very publicly in 2008, even though we knew then they had trouble. Donna, reflect.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think in the poet -- in the word of the poet Maya Angelou, she was a phenomenal woman. She was resilient. She was tough. She was a woman of strong convictions. But she was a family woman, John. She was somebody who simply cared about her family, her kids, her family life.
I met her back in 1997 when her husband had decided to run for the United States Senate. And for people here in the District of Columbia we wanted someone to come to D.C. and support our causes. And John Edwards was the candidate but Elizabeth Edwards really understood the cause. She understood justice and freedom and fighting for poor people. She leaves a wonderful legacy of fighting for women with breast cancer but more importantly she leaves a legacy of family and friendship. There are so many people whose lives have been touched because of her courage.
KING: She often overshadowed him a bit as a campaigner --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
KING: -- Senator Edwards, because she was an inspirational campaigner, whether talking about her own struggle with cancer or just whether it was talking about the fight for poverty, the fight for fairness.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know when I covered Senator Edwards, when he first came to the Senate, and you met Senator Edwards and you met Elizabeth, you sort of asked the question, gee, why didn't she run for the Senate. She was a fabulous campaigner. She was also a political strategist.
She was very complex, very strong behind the scenes. Some staff folks thought she was way too strong. Out front she was his greatest defender. She could be controversial. And she was somebody most of all I think for somebody who wouldn't let herself become a victim. She wouldn't become a victim during her husband's infidelity and she wouldn't become a victim when it came to her own cancer. And she fought her cancer and she was very vocal, open about it, and really became a role model for lots of people struggling with the disease and decided she was going to treat it as a chronic disease and as you saw in the clip, go on with her life.
KING: A bankruptcy lawyer, a public service attorney before -- essentially she gave up pretty much most of her legal work to support his candidacy and political aspirations.
BRAZILE: That is because John Edwards embodied what she most believed in, which was fighting for fairness and fighting for people, especially working class people. John Edwards had the narrative, but Elizabeth Edwards had the drive. She had the determination. She was the guts behind much of what John Edwards stood for.
And when I say that I'm not saying John Edwards didn't really believe in it. I'm saying that Elizabeth Edwards really pushed him to fight for poverty, to end poverty in America and in justice. A couple of months ago Elizabeth Edwards was probably tired and fatigued and she called and said can you do a speech for me and then she wrote half of it. And she -- and most of the speech was something I could have given without reading it because she said you better stand up for people who are still working in this country earning a living with their hands. And she was really the spirit behind that Edwards campaign.
BORGER: You know I think she humanized him to a great degree. When you looked at John Edwards, you thought oh god, there is a you know a pretty politician. He looks the role, made for television. Elizabeth Edwards would walk in a room and she'd talk to you about oh, I'm on a liquid diet because I've gained too much weight and my husband looks so perfect and I don't look so perfect and she was just human.
And you know in Washington we have a lot of people who play their parts. And she didn't have any particular part she needed to play. But in being herself she really redefined what it is to be a political spouse.
KING: And you -- she was a survivor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
KING: And she was a fighter.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
KING: And if you listen to that -- the last clip we played right in the intro, when she was asked by Larry King, what is your message to people struggling with cancer and you know hate is a strong word. We are not supposed to hate things. I hate cancer. Cancer took my dad and (INAUDIBLE) that should be --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure. KING: We wish we could get rid of, but her thing was live your life. Don't worry about your death and yet when you talk to friends they say that she had spent some time preparing for this.
BRAZILE: No question about it. I mean Gloria and I both know people who were with Elizabeth in these final hours. And you know when I got the e-mail, John, and when I saw it go public, I'm like you know we don't have lot of role models. For women in this country our role models are so few and she was really a role model for women, especially women from the Deep South because she didn't mind speaking what was really inside of her. She was a woman of true grit as well.
KING: And she had lost a son in a car accident --
BRAZILE: That's correct.
KING: -- high school aged son Wade in a car accident.
BORGER: What could be worse and you know the title of her book, her least book, "Resilience" --
BORGER: And I think that describes her because to come back from that, to have two more children, to deal with the personal issues that she had to deal with in the last years of her life, to go through a couple of presidential campaigns, it is not easy and she handled it all very gracefully.
KING: Gloria, Donna, thanks for sharing your reflections.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
KING: Elizabeth Edwards passed away this morning just 61 years young we would say after a very courageous six-year battle with cancer -- more on her legacy a bit later in the program, but when we come back we will shift gears to today's big political news here in Washington.
The president trying to sell a very controversial tax cut deal he made with Republicans -- the president's problem, selling it to the Democratic left. When this news broke last night we spoke to Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He said he didn't like it, wanted to study it. He is back with us tonight. We'll be right back.
KING: In a word today was a wow day here in Washington. President Obama sent a tough message to the Democratic left defending his tax cut deal with Republican congressional leaders and chastising liberals for their refusal to trust him and he said to accept compromise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This is the public option debate all over again. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It was a defining moment, one that speaks volumes about how the president reads last month's election and how he sees his best path to re-election. In the short term though the president's challenge is winning votes from Democrats who see the White House deal as a sellout and a violation of the party's promise to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Unconscionable is how the AFL-CIO labeled the president's deal with the GOP, a millionaire's tax bailout was the scathing critique of the liberal group MoveOn.org. Last night as word of the deal first broke, Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown joined us to share his concerns, but the senator said he wanted to take a closer look before deciding whether he would definitely vote no.
Senator Brown who we should note is up for re-election in two years and is a top Republican target joins us again tonight. Senator, the vice president came up today to meet with the Democrats in a private caucus to try to say look, this isn't as bad a deal as you might think. The president needs you on this one. Does he get your vote?
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: He doesn't have it yet. I'm still very concerned Barack Obama this. The vice president didn't -- he is good, he always is. He didn't sell too many members of our caucus. There is still a lot of anger. There's -- you know my concern, John, is that what happens in the next year, these tax cuts you know what I said last night. We borrow $700 billion to the Chinese, add it to our children and grandchildren's credit cards and then give it to millionaires and billionaires with these tax cuts.
Now you know we've already voted twice for tax cuts for the middle class. We know that. But we do this, and what happens next year? What we are concerned about is the budget deficit has gotten worse. The Republicans will blame it on Barack Obama even though this tax cut is what got us there from the early Bush tax cuts nine years ago, which clearly didn't work to build the economy and then the Republicans are going to come after him.
Let's cut Social Security. Let's cut Medicare. With these tax cuts the budget -- the budget hole is just exploding a -- huge, huge deficits, huge, huge deficits. And the Republicans are going to want to fill those deficits by going after Medicare and Social Security. That's what they're going to do. That's what they always do. Tax cuts for the rich, then go after Medicare and Social Security and I'm very worried about that in the next couple of years and how Barack Obama is going to need to answer it and what we are going to do about it.
KING: Well that was clearly on the president's mind today. I want you to listen here because the president was faced with questions about all the Democratic criticism. Democrats saying why didn't he stand there and fight? Why doesn't the president show more spine? The president saying he defended this deal. He said he thought it was the best deal right now, but then he also said don't worry about me in the future. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I will be happy to see the Republicans test whether or not I'm itching for a fight on a whole range of issues. I suspect they will find I am. And I think the American people will be on my side on a whole bunch of these fights.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That is the crux of this, isn't it? Even though you don't like the particulars of this deal, that comes along every now and then, the sense you get from talking to Democrats like yourself is that they view this as potentially a snowball on the top of a hill. And he's cutting a deal here you don't like and you just mentioned Medicare and Social Security and (INAUDIBLE) something else and that this snowball starts rolling and rolling. Do you believe -- do you believe the president has the spine and the principles for those fights?
BROWN: Well I think the president is going to figure out how to win in 2012. I'm not so concerned about that. I'm concerned about what this does to the middle class when you borrow more money, add to debt, cut taxes on the wealthy. We've already passed twice or voted for twice major tax cuts for the middle class, as we've extended unemployment benefits, but when you do this kind of tax cuts for the wealthy, it puts us that much further behind in trying to balance the budget.
And I know what Republicans do. I know that they go after cutting Medicare and cutting Social Security. The president will make those arguments, fine; probably win the election in 2012 based on that. That's less my -- my concern is less about him than it is what happens to the middle class and what happens to older Americans, older Ohioans and Appalachia and rural northwest Ohio and Cleveland, what happens to them when the Republicans go after Medicare and Social Security. I've seen them do it. Every -- about every five years the Republicans try to privatize Social Security or Medicare. It's always a big fight. They win a little. We win a little. But in the end the middle class and Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries end up getting hurt by this --
BROWN: That is why I'm here on this.
KING: Leader Reid said he was going to try to get some changes to this, but I checked with several sources on the Republican side. Our other correspondents have as well and the answer you get back is no. If this deal is not changed will Sherrod Brown vote for it?
BROWN: I'm going to continue to try to change it. I'm not likely to vote for it. I still need -- have a few more questions about it. I'm very unhappy with it, but my mission as it is as I know many others in the caucus on the Democratic side and frankly some Republicans who actually do care about the budget deficit in reality not just talk about it -- like George Voinovich -- I mean George Voinovich knows this blows a hole -- huge hole in the budget.
And so the Republican senator from Ohio has already said he's voting no. I'm very concerned about where this takes us, if we can't make changes. And my mission is to make changes so it works for the middle class and it works for seniors that are going to be the target of Republicans in the months ahead if this deal goes through, in my opinion.
KING: Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and our national political reporter Jessica Yellin are with us and I know they have a question for you as well, Senator.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Senator, it is Dana Bash. How are you? I just wanted to ask you about something that I actually was asked by the White House today. I was reporting all day from Capitol Hill on what you were saying and what so many of your other Democratic colleagues were saying about the problems that you all have with this.
And the question I got from a White House official is well, what do they expect us to do. Would they prefer that all of the taxes for everybody go up, including the middle class? What would your answer be?
BROWN: Well of course not. You know I don't want to second guess who negotiated what. But you know where is this fighting spirit of standing up for the middle class, of living up to campaign promises, of working for senior citizens to make sure that Medicare and Social Security aren't cut? I -- it is just like the White House made this deal far too quickly.
They gave up way too much on the estate tax. And, you know, I want to fight for the 95 percent of the people -- the 90-plus percent of the middle class who have born the brunt of this recession and it seems this deal gave a whole lot more -- there's a whole lot of talk about the five percent wealthiest people, the two -- with the tax cuts -- the two percent wealthiest people with the estate tax. And it's almost like the unemployed workers and the broad middle class have almost been extraneous (ph) in this argument and in this debate and you know I said last night the U.S. Senate too often -- this government too often sings with an upper class accent. This last week between the Korea trade deal and this has been -- has frankly been a sellout -- sellout of the middle class --
KING: Let me --
BROWN: I thought we were past --
KING: Well let me connect these dots here and then Jessica has a question for you. You used the word sellout. This deal is a sellout to the middle class. I'm going to shorten your sentence.
BROWN: Sellout of the middle class --
KING: Is it fair -- is it fair to say that you believe the president of the United States, the current Democratic president of the United States has with those two deals sold out the middle class?
BROWN: I think the president is doing his best. I think that we need to change the Korea agreement --
KING: You can't on the one hand say these two deals are sellouts and that the president is not the architect of the sellout. He negotiated these two deals.
BROWN: Those are your words.
KING: That's a fact --
KING: That's also a fact, is it not?
BROWN: Well I think the president could have done a better agreement and I think that in the end -- I mean the Republicans use unemployment as their stick to get -- they always do. It's always -- the Republicans answer to every question is more tax cuts to the wealthiest people in our country. They used -- they held up the unemployment bill to get those tax cuts. They said last week, all 42 Republicans said we are not doing anything until we get tax cuts for the rich. The president did the best he could in this. I think it could have been better --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator --
BROWN: -- but the president felt like he was in a position for the Republicans to do anything he had to do that. I would have held their feet to the fire. I would have made them sweat. They are not going to -- they're not going to extend unemployment --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator --
BROWN: Wait a minute -- to hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio, millions around the country. As it comes up to Christmas, if we had stayed and fought up through the end of the year I think we would have won on that -- my opinion.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator, it is Jessica Yellin. The president also had some pretty biting words for members of his own party. He basically described the position you and other critics of this deal have taken as sanctimonious. He seemed to --
BROWN: I guess I -- yes, I heard that. You know I don't think it is sanctimonious to live up to a campaign promise frankly.
YELLIN: I'm curious. Can you elaborate on that? Are you sort of surprised that his greatest anger is with his own party seemingly and not with the Republicans who pushed him into this position? BROWN: I think there are a lot of people in our caucus that are concerned about that, but I -- you know I'm asking the president to live up to his campaign promise and when I -- I don't know he's talking about was sanctimonious. But it was an unfortunate choice of words that I would guess he probably wished he hadn't said. But that is up for you to ask -- up to you to ask him that.
KING: We will try to put that question to him, sir. Sherrod Brown, senator from Ohio, sir, we appreciate your time tonight. We'll keep in touch as this one plays out. Let us know if you change your mind. It doesn't sound like you are going to get there though. Jessica and Dana thanks. We're going to take a quick break here.
When we come back, an update on the WikiLeaks investigation and then John Podesta joins us to discuss losing a close friend. Elizabeth Edwards died today at 61.
KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Johns for the latest news you need to know right now -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: John, the founder of WikiLeaks will stay in a British jail for at least a week. Julian Assange was denied bail when he turned himself in today. Now he is fighting extradition to Sweden for questioning about sex crime allegations. With his arrest U.S. officials are even more eager to get their hands on the man behind the leak of secret diplomatic messages.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is following in the president's footsteps today. He made a surprise visit to the U.S. troops in Afghanistan just days after the commander-in-chief.
And new evidence that an aspirin a day may do more than relieve pain or prevent a heart attack. A study in the Journal "Lancet" found that low-dose aspirin reduced the risk of getting certain kinds of cancer by at least 20 percent and that is something I do just about every day take a --
KING: Low dose aspirin.
KING: An aspirin a day.
JOHNS: Keeps the doctor away for sure even better than an apple maybe.
KING: Amen and on that study, anything, anything, anything that can help the fight against cancer is a good thing, in my view and when we come back in the program, we'll touch on that again because today we lost Elizabeth Edwards dying today at the age of 61.
Still to come in the program tonight John Podesta -- you might know him as the former chief of staff in the Clinton White House -- he was a close friend -- he worked closely with Elizabeth Edwards, an author, an activist and a mother of course. John Podesta will be here to share his reflections.
Also we'll take a more look and close look at the president's deal with Republicans. It has liberals so angry because they say the president then and now are two different people. That he is violating a big promise he made on the campaign.
And later today if you were watching last night you know Pete has some explaining to do tonight. That's about sports, well, to get out of that, he is going to go viral -- Pete bringing the Maccabeats to JOHN KING, USA tonight. We'll be back.
KING: Returning now to our top story today -- the sad death of Elizabeth Edwards at the age of 61. To continue her public advocacy for the causes she cared about -- poverty, health care reform and other issues -- she was a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic leading think tank here in Washington. Her friend John Podesta is the president of the Center for American Progress and he joins us now tonight -- very nice of you to come in on a sad day to share your reflections.
JOHN PODESTA, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Thanks for having me on --
KING: Elizabeth Edwards was to you?
PODESTA: She was a great woman, a great friend, just a force of nature really and today is a very sad day, obviously, but we also celebrate her life. I know all of my colleagues share in her loss. She came to us after the 2008 primaries and was I think a force in her own right in getting the cause of health care on the table and particularly she was so effective in talking about people with preexisting conditions, changed the debate. Really I think there are going to be a lot of people who benefit from her work and her advocacy that will probably never know her name, but she was a great friend of ours and we love her and we miss her.
KING: I want you to listen. This is from April 2008, Tampa, Florida, Elizabeth Edwards talking in personal terms about why the push for health care reform was so important to her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
E. EDWARDS: I'd have to tell you I was a healthy person until I was 56. I would have been a great insurance risk and then two years ago what happened to me happens to a great number of people across this country, is on a certain day they are no longer in that desirable pool. And it is not -- it's just not a moral thing for us to do to have health insurance programs that are great for the healthy but are very unsatisfactory, expensive, or unavailable for those of us who -- the short straw and had some -- got some disease.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A couple of things there -- one is the health care debate. People talked about the cost. People talked about the role of government. She's talking about it as a moral issue.
PODESTA: Yes, and taking it down to a personal level, the way people really live their lives. You know, so much of what we do in Washington is political talk or, you know, wonk talk or policy talk. And people don't get what it means to them.
And I think one of the things that she understood was that, from her own experience and from her ability to really travel the country and talk about this, she had to bring it down and really not only draw strength from the people that she met who had their own problems would also reflect on her own experience and then -- and try to talk to people on a level that they really understood. And I think that's what made her so effective in this -- in this debate because she could really connect with people and, you know, she was just such a loving person and she, you know, had such a great sense of humor and for those of us who get too full of ourselves, she put us in our place and she just moved the ball forward.
But she could talk to real people in a real way. And I think to some extent that's what's missing in Washington policy debates these days, is people don't get how it affects their lives, but she knew how to affect people's lives.
KING: And the personal language she used there for those of us who draw the short straw, many people who, facing a challenge like that, get depressed and withdraw. What was it about Elizabeth Edwards that made her do quite the opposite, to get more engaged and to be such a public advocate?
PODESTA: I don't know. She was the kind of queen of resilience, you know? She, after -- even after the 2004 campaign, a bunch of the Edwards campaign staff came to work at CAP and trying a support group for her and then she joined us. And, of course, she's written about that in her book.
But she just was -- as I said, she believed in the power of resilience. She believed that every day was a gift and that you had to lead that in a way that you really actually imagine it as a gift and that you did the best you could and you loved as well as you could and that you were rewarded for that. And as I said, I think that that infected all the people around her and I think that we miss her very much tonight.
KING: Some people who are public in our lives, political figures, activists, we see them in public. Some of them are exactly the same in private. Others are very, very different. Which is it with Elizabeth?
PODESTA: Elizabeth, you saw her, you knew what you got. And whether it was out in a television appearance or, as I said, in a book or testimony or town hall meeting or in the office or on our block, she never pulled a punch. She told you what she taught. She, you know, if -- you know, she could get into the detail.
She really understood what mattered, what didn't matter, what would affect people's lives in a very, very real sense. But then she could take that and really communicate that, I think, to people because she understood their lives and she -- you know, if it meant that you were going to be denied health insurance coverage because you had a preexisting condition or you're going to be knocked off health insurance because you got sick, she related to that and she told those stories and she met people and became a megaphone for what they were going through.
And as I said, I think there are going to be people in the future who all their lives in a quite literal sense to the work that she did to provide people with coverage that can't be taken away and that would be affordable. So, you know, she -- the country owes her a great debt of gratitude.
KING: In recent years, we saw her dealing -- to struggle with cancer. We saw the struggle on the personal side with her husband. One of the things that came up in the earlier campaigns, but not so much later in life, was she had to do what no parent should ever have to do, which is bury a child when her high school age son was killed in a car accident.
KING: What was the impact of that?
PODESTA: Well, you know -- I mean, that -- from a period of her life that, you know, predates my experience with her, my friendship with her. But I think that, you know, she went through what is really the toughest thing I think any adult can go through and yet, she came through it. She rededicated herself. She had two additional wonderful children in addition to Cate, her older daughter, and raised them and loved them.
And as I said, with all that tragedy and with the tragedy of having drawn the short straw, she still always kept just such amazing positive attitude and treated every day as a gift.
KING: John Podesta, appreciate your coming in and show your reflections tonight on a very sad day.
PODESTA: Thank you, John.
KING: We'll live it right there. Elizabeth Edwards passing away early this morning at the age of 61.
We'll be right back.
KING: Why are so many Democrats so mad at President Obama for this tax cut deal he negotiated with congressional Republican leaders? And why is the president in turn so frustrated with the left of his own party? Let's talk it over.
With us tonight: Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, CNN contributor Rowland Martin, Republican strategist Rich Galen, and back with us, our CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash.
Let me start by reminding just a few moments ago, right here in the program, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, left of center, on the ballot in 2012, a top Republican target, he was with us when this deal broke last night. He said he didn't like it. He studied it more closely.
Vice President Biden went to Capitol Hill today, doesn't have Sherrod Brown's vote yet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: He doesn't have yet. I'm still very concerned about this. The vice president didn't -- he's good. He always is. He didn't sell too many members of our caucus. There's still a lot of anger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You were walking the halls on the Hill today, still a lot of anger. Help us a little more that front.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You could feel it. I mean, it was palpable. It was almost as if Democrats were eager -- eager -- to come up to me and other reporters to -- I mean, just -- I hate to say it, trash the president. Trash the president for what he did with this deal.
Now, and what is most fascinating to me is that it wasn't just liberals. We've heard about liberals for days and days and days. The president addressed them today. It was also moderates.
And the issue that many moderates have with this is the cost, is the fact that this is so much money, not paid for, adding to the deficit, exactly what many moderate Democrats have promised not to do.
KING: So, you are the Democratic pollster in the group. So, the president angers the left because he won't just draw a line, pull a veto pen, do whatever, fight with the Republicans. He angers the middle this is big. And we'll show some numbers in a minute. This adds some big numbers to the deficit.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Because he's the adult in the room. And in the end, when you look at, there's one thing you can say about this was happening right now, that you can't see of anything of significance over the last two years, bipartisan. And when you get outside of Washington, this Washington perspective, you know what the Middle America is screaming for --
(CROSSTALK) KING: When Bush was president, he would get one or two Democrats and he would say it was bipartisan and the rest of the Democrats would scream.
CORNELL: But this is real bipartisanship, because you know what? He's -- for Middle America who was angry, is like, why can't they get along, why can't they come together? Democrats don't have all the answers. Republicans don't have all the answers. Why can't they get along and come together and come up with some solutions.
He's got Democrats in the Senate, so they're going to go along with it, more than a handful. You got Republicans in the House and you have Republicans in the Senate. This is the first piece of legislation that come out in two years that you can say bipartisanship to. And that's what Middle America is looking for, that's what Middle America --
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But it seems to me that President Obama is the only person who believes in bipartisanship. Look, here's the idea that -- when I look at any kind of compromise, the president said there were some things that I don't like, there are some things the Republicans don't like. I have yet to hear a single Republican say, man, I hate this part of this actual deal. Everything I keep hearing is this is great and wonderful. You hear the real complaints on the Democratic side.
BASH: They don't like that unemployment benefits are going to be extended for 13 months without paying for that. Trust me they don't --
MARTIN: But there's really no jumping up and down anger about that.
RICH GALEN, PUBLISHER, MULLINGS REPORT: I'm just devastated by the fact that the president is having such a tough time. Really.
KING: But one of the things -- Cornell talks about the president trying to be bipartisan here. One of the things he did say at the news conference and then gotten some nasty grimes (ph) back from the Republicans was right here -- the president was talking about essentially calling these negotiations a bit of a hostage crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've said before that I felt that the middle class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage-takers unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people and I was not willing to see them get harmed. (END VIDEO CLIP)
GALEN: Here's the thing. First of all, I mean, I know you have to complain about that if you are Eric Cantor. That's his job. That's fine. That didn't affect me at all.
But here's -- this could have been done on January 29th, 2009. There was no -- there was no reason to let this go to the tail end. They could have made the tax changes in the off year --
KING: He campaigned, the president saying it was unconscionable to extend the Bush tax cuts.
GALEN: But no. As I said, they could have done -- they could have done the package that the president wanted in 2001.
KING: Oh, you mean they should have done the minute --
GALEN: Yes, sure. I mean, the fact that they let it go to the end was a strategic error. They got themselves into a box because I think they were pretty sure and I agree with them, Republicans would have said, OK, let unemployment benefits go and let everybody's taxes go up. Bill Clinton didn't get himself in this situation against Newt Gingrich.
KING: In a minute, I want to talk about what this tells about the next two years in the president's leadership. But I want to just go over here for a minute, just to remind people what this is going to cost. And I want the reflections from you guys.
I mean, if you watch all this out -- here are the main principles, extends all the Bush tax cuts, extends unemployment benefits, as a payroll tax reduction, everybody says it's 2 percent of the payroll taxes. Some other tax credits and it lowers the estate tax.
Well, what this does all add up to be? Here's what you get. It's going to add about $800 billion to the deficit over two years and here's why -- $458 billion, if you break down the tax cut extension. You look at this, it's the under 250 grand will cost about $383 billion. Another $75 billion.
Again, this is just over two years. Then the unemployment benefits, payroll tax, add a B after all this for billion. Essentially, $700 to $800 billion added to deficit, the week after Washington spent itself in a conversation about we're going to get serious, we're going to bring down the deficit, we're going to stop spending money we don't have.
MARTIN: And Tea Party says nothing. We heard for the last six months, we heard for the last three weeks -- deficit, deficit, deficit. Now, all of a sudden, I hear the conservatives are saying, well, you know, you have Ben Bernanke who say on the short term can't be focused about the deficit because of the recession. Hasn't the president been saying that all year? No, this again shows that people who talk about the deficit are political frauds on this particular topic.
GALEN: The frauds won, however.
MARTIN: Yes, it's a fraudulent argument.
GALEN: You can complain about the fraudulent nature of the argument.
MARTIN: Is it a fraud?
GALEN: No. The fact is that as -- in political hardball, Republicans threw, you know, brushback pitch and the president hit the deck.
MARTIN: No, no, I agree. But that's $800 billion going to the deficit.
GALEN: Only $75 billion of it --
MARTIN: Only $75 billion.
GALEN: That's a rounding error when you have $1 trillion.
BELCHER: But again, this is part -- this is part of the problem. We campaigned two years ago on the semantic that, you know what, we got to change the ways of Washington and the ways of Washington are broke. And you are seeing this debate carried out here.
And, again, it doesn't connect with Middle America who says -- get together guys, work, together. Democrats don't have all our answers. Republicans don't have all the answers. I think Democrats, too, have all the answers. But Middle America doesn't. Get together and work something out.
GALEN: For two years, they didn't even let the Republicans in the room.
GALEN: Much less at the table. So, I don't want to hear this whining about --
MARTIN: You say no to dinner, you're not going to be let into the room.
KING: Quick time. When we come back, we'll continue this feisty debate. Trust me, they continue it during the breaks as well. We'll talk more about the president's calculation. Why knowing the left would get mad did he cut this deal?
KING: Why did the president cut this deal with Republicans when he knew going in, if he cuts the deal as it is now, much of his won party would be angry at him.
Listen for a moment -- this is one of the reasons the president laid out at his news conference today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The single most important jobs program we can put in place is a growing economy. The single most important anti-poverty program we can put in place is making sure folks have jobs and the economy is going.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Here's the calculation if you talk to people inside the White House that, yes, he could have dragged this fight out. Yes, he could have carried it into next year, taxes would have gone up for everybody, he'd be having a good sparring match with the Republicans. Ultimately, they cut a deal and retroactively deal with the tax issue.
But what they're worried about, the White House, in the meantime, is turmoil in the financial markets then since the economy when it's very fragile into more uncertainty. And if that happens, it also send, right now -- if you look at the historical projections over time -- this president, despite all the bruises and bump and bruises, the model will tell you, is likely to be re-elected. They didn't want to mess with that.
GALEN: I tell you, the biggest single number was 9.8. If that unemployment number never hadn't gone up from 9.6 to 9.8, I think the president would have held up for a tougher deal. But they were so concerned about the fact that the job numbers were going in the wrong direction, that they had to do something and do it quickly.
BASH: You know, in talking to Republicans on Capitol Hill for the last several weeks, they had a point at the White House. I mean, there were many Republicans who were really itching for a fight as well and perfectly happy to let the tax cuts expire at the end of the year, and have more votes in January and do something retroactively.
Having said that, I think part of the reason why everybody else hearing so much anger and frustration from Democrats, it's just messaging and packaging. We've been reporting that this is going to be the kind of deal for some time. But the way that his tone and tenor really rubbed so many Democrats the wrong way, in saying, basically, suck it up.
MARTIN: And, John, that is a critical issue. And I've heard this for the last 15 months from many Democrats as it relates to the president. He does not like criticism from his own side.
Now, look, when you think about when President Bush was criticized by the right, they are -- their attitude pretty much was, we get it, we understand it, send Karl Rove, talk to the evangelicals, we'll work it out.
But when the president comes out in that kind of news conference and speaks that way to your own party, what are you then saying for the next fight? Because when you are in a battle, you need some troops behind you. And Democrats are saying, hey, you want to be the general leading us and we don't know if you really want to be in this fight. You -- it's a very fine line for the people who you want to go to battle with you.
KING: There are also some people in the administration and close to the administration who think that the early public statements after the election about the negotiations, about having to give up, about saying a temporary extension would be on the table by Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, David Axelrod, the senior adviser, there are a lot of Democrats who think they gave up a lot of leverage, what little leverage they might have had in these negotiations by saying that early.
BELCHER: But in the end, I said this on the show, too, over a week ago. In the end, there was going to be a deal cut. What was going to be interesting, it was inner party play.
Look, we didn't have the votes. The president said today, the bottom line is we didn't have the votes. He had to do the adult thing and do what was best for the country. And that's what he did.
MARTIN: But the Dems want to see some type of fight. When you see the president get so upset about, look, I've drawn in the sand. That really was responding to Paul Krugman, (INAUDIBLE), people who have challenged his manhood saying you're not being tough enough, you're being wimp. Bill Maher as well.
BELCHER: Two million people losing their unemployment benefits for this fight. I don't think that's worth the fight.
KING: All right. So, listen to this piece of sound from the president here. One more thing, he's talking about collateral damage here. Then we'll talk quickly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now, if there was not collateral damage, if this was just a matter of my politics or being able to persuade the American people to my side, then I would just stick to my guns because the fact of the matter is the American people already agree with me. Their polls showing right now that the American people, for the most part, think it's a bad idea to provide tax cuts to the wealthy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So, here's what a lot of people, Cornell, and Democratic Party don't get. If the American people agree with him, if the numbers are on his side, essentially he took the hill. It's his hill. And they said, here, you can have it and gave it away.
BELCHER: Because what Rich will tell you is that the Republicans would have let this lapse and 2 million people would have been hurt by it. Am I right, Rich?
GALEN: Absolutely. And they knew that. They knew the Republicans would let those -- they could go back and do it retroactively next year. Again, but you couldn't depend on that and you could let people --
MARTIN: The Democrats have been waiting for this president to rally his constituents, those young folks, African-Americans, Hispanics, those folks in the middle and they're saying is, use the bully pulpit, and he didn't use it.
GALEN: He doesn't know how to negotiate. He's never had to do it in his whole life. He hasn't had to do it as president.
MARTIN: Well, hire somebody who has.
GALEN: That's OK.
BASH: On that point, what I also heard a lot from Democrats today was pouring salt on their wounds by not just extending the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, but the way they handled the estate tax and the fact that individuals up to $5 million, families up to $10 million, they are going to be exempt from the estate tax. That is something that many Democrats were surprised by and really unhappy with.
KING: We'll see in the next few days how many Democratic votes you can get.
Dana, Rich, Roland and Cornell -- thanks for coming in.
Ready for this? "Jingle Bells," "White Christmas," many Christmas songs. But what about Hanukkah? Well, not too many. Perhaps until now.
KING: For those of you keeping track at home, tonight is the seventh night of Hanukkah. And our off-beat reporter Pete Dominick -- well, he hears there's something different about the celebration this year -- Pete.
PETE DOMINICK, OFF-BEAT REPORTER: That's right, John King. The Christmas songs have always gotten all the attention. It's now time for a Hanukkah song to go viral. And these guys made that happen, John King; 2.5 million views on YouTube for this. Take a look online.
DOMINICK: The Maccabeats, John, the Maccabeats. They've got a special song for you. But I want them to take us out, John King. Are you ready?
KING: I am ready. Thank you and thank the gentlemen.
DOMINICK: All right, guys. Hit it.
KING: Pete is going to wire back up. Wire back up, Pete. Wire back up.
DOMINICK: Go ahead, John. Go ahead.
KING: Yes, you got me?
DOMINICK: I got you now, man.
KING: Now, this was a brilliant ploy, because otherwise I was going to abuse you about the Patriots/Jets game last night. Instead, you bring in some entertainment.
DOMINICK: I didn't watch it. I think the Jets won, didn't they?
KING: No, the Jets did not win, my friend. The Jets, I'm not sure they even showed up.
DOMINICK: They weren't -- had no business on that field. Give it up for the Maccabeats, everybody.
DOMINICK: There you go, John King. Two-point-five million views on YouTube, John. What do you think? Are they worth it?
KING: I hope after tonight, we're on our way to 3 million or more. They are worth it. They are fabulous. I'm just enjoying listening.
DOMINICK: This was the director. We want to give him credit. He's skipping med school, John King, to direct this video.
And finally, a Hanukkah song gets the respect it deserves, John King. Great job, guys. John is saying great job, everybody. Any questions for them, John?
KING: Yes, ask them what's next. What's -- now that they've done this, they need a sequel.
DOMINICK: What's next? Is there a song? Is there a sequel? What do we have planned next? This one has gone viral. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're really, really happy that everyone loves the song that we have now. We're trying to make it one day at a time. But hope you guys all enjoy it.
DOMINICK: Is this going to be a career for you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll see.
DOMINICK: Well, there you go, John. (INAUDIBLE) University. There's a lot of opportunities. But I think they want to sing a cappella. We'll see. I think you guys can make it. You got it.
KING: Very smart guys. They have the success right now. They're going to ride it for a while. We wish them all the best.
Pete, thanks for coming in and making our holiday season a better celebration. Thank you so much.
DOMINICK: You go it.
KING: And we'll see you guys right back here tomorrow. Enjoy a little music on the way out. "PARKER SPITZER" right now.