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JOHN KING, USA

Grumbling on the Right; 2011 Challenges; 2010's Most Memorable Political Moments

Aired December 23, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf.

And good evening, everyone.

Tonight, new warnings from the Tea Party and other grassroots players who helped the Republicans to their election huge wins last month. They now accuse the party establishment of ignoring them in the year end Congressional session and warn things better shift to the right in January.

But don't count all Republicans as listening.

Remember Senator Lisa Murkowski?

She lost the GOP primary to a Tea Party favorite and then roared back to beat him with a write-in campaign. She tells me she'll stay a Republican but she's relishing a newfound independent streak.

And here's a Murkowski answer about Sarah Palin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: Well, I think she is absolutely wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You have to stay with us a bit to hear the question and to hear what Oprah thinks of Palin 2012.

And get this -- the Tea Party is counting on Senator-elect Rand Paul of Kentucky to shake up Washington and to give Democrats fits. But in our exclusive conversation with Senator Harry Reid, we learned this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I had dinner with Rand Paul. I find him to be a very, very sincere person. I think -- I think that he is not going to be the flame thrower that people think he is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Leader Reid also talked strategy for deficit reduction -- one of the biggest flash points in the coming new year.

So why is the right so disappointed all of a sudden?

And are there clues in that disappointment of how Washington will look and work when divided government dawns in January?

Erick Erickson is the influential editor of the conservative site, RedState.com.

John Avlon is a founding member of the new centrist political group, No Labels.

And with me here in Washington, Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher.

Erick, I want to get to this grumbling, because you are among those who don't like what they just saw.

You write this on RedState.com: "From "Don't Ask/Don't Tell's" repeal to START, you name it, the GOP became the party of capitulation. The 2010 election was about moving the Senate GOP right, not moving the Senate to the GOP."

You also go on to say: "The Senate GOP is decidedly mushy on many fronts and unwilling for really tough fights, except in odd circumstances. The Senate GOP understands that Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio are headed to the Senate as reinforcements for Jim DeMint. They are deeply worried because of it."

So you do not see, Erick, the election as stealing much. You think this struggle for the heart and soul of the party is going to carry over into January.

ERICK ERICKSON, REDSTATE.COM EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Oh, very much so. I -- I think it will. There will be a lot of (ph) fights where the -- the right and the center of the GOP line up perfectly. There will be a lot of behind the scenes negotiations, however, where they won't.

I think people should be focusing not on Rand Paul, for example, who is in Kentucky, which can be a tough seat for them. They need to focus on Mike Lee from Utah, who is moving his family to Washington so he can be there on a Thursday afternoon to object to all the unanimous consents.

This is a fight that's going to be dragged out. It's not going to be a bitter fight. You're not going to see a lot of acrimony, but you will see a lot of huffing and puffing and a lot of complaints along the way.

What you are going to see for sure, though, and why I think the Republicans scrambled so fast to cut as many deals as they could at the end of December was because they know that with Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Jim DeMint there and Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey, they're not going to be able to compromise as much as some in the GOP -- Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown, Susan Collins, even Mitch McConnell -- are comfortable with.

KING: It's not just Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, planning for the arrival of these more conservative Tea Party-backed senate -- senators. The majority leader, Harry Reid, he knows they're coming, too. And he knows it's going to force him, with more Republicans anyway, the now more conservative Republicans, to do more business across the aisle.

I want you all to listen here. I was talking to Harry Reid. Mitch McConnell had said if the Democrats don't like it now, just wait until next year.

Listen to how conciliatory he is toward Mitch McConnell and then what happens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm not going to be challenging what Mitch said in whatever setting he was in, other than to say that my conversation with him has been very positive about the next year.

KING: He's also going to have, in his caucus, a couple of Tea Party members -- Mike Lee from Utah, Rand Paul from Kentucky.

You ran against him somebody who espouses pretty much the same platform. You defeated Sharron Angle.

But how much do you think that will change Leader McConnell's job, and then, by extension, your job, as well, having that presence in the Senate?

REID: I had dinner with Rand Paul. I find him to be a very, very sincere person. I -- I think that he's not going to be the flame thrower that people think he is. Mike Lee was my neighbor. He is -- my son Josh and he are best friends. I'm not worried about Mike. He's a very fine young man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Erick, I want to get to everybody else. But when you hear Harry Reid talking so nice about Rand Paul and Mike Lee, that's got to send a little chill up your spine.

ERICKSON: Not at all. Not at all. That -- that's what they're going to say. Wait until he sees what happens next year.

Look, you're going to see a good cop/bad cop routine, I'm pretty sure. Mike Lee can be the senator from Utah for probably as long as he wants as long as he stays to the right. So he can be the bomb thrower that Rand Paul from Kentucky can't be. And then they've got Jim DeMint, as well.

I -- I suspect Harry Reid is going to see something he probably doesn't expect.

But, you know, what else are they going to say at this time of year?

KING: Well, John Avlon, what he's saying is that he's committed to reaching across the aisle and -- and whatever you think of Harry Reid or whatever you think of the Democratic agenda, Harry Reid just proved he understands how the Senate works.

JOHN AVLON, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, DAILYBEAST.COM: Yes. Not just that, I mean somehow the Christmas spirit and civility is suspect?

I mean that's exactly, I think, what the American people -- the vast majority of them -- are sick of.

Look, we just came out of the most productive lame duck in a long time, because, I think, the White House and the Senate leadership recognized the message that the American people were sending, which wasn't a conservative ideological mandate. It was about the need for checks and balances. It showed that divided government doesn't have to mean gridlock.

Conservatives -- libertarians should be applauding the eight Republicans who had the courage to vote to end "don't ask/don't tell." The START Treaty was backed by every living Republican secretary of State. Folks who are strong on national security should applaud those 13 Republicans who crossed the aisle.

So the folks on -- on the far right who are calling these folks traitors, I think, fundamentally, misread the mood of the electorate and the opportunities of divided government if they think constructively rather than destructively about the Senate.

KING: But, Cornell, people had the same conversations. You have all these guys who just won. They haven't voted yet. Maybe they don't like what just happened, the Rand Pauls, the Marco Rubios, the Mike Lees. They're all coming here -- Pat Toomey. They're all coming.

But you could say that, you know, well, they don't like what just happened, compromise, people having to give up to get. You could make the same argument about the Democrats after the Obama victory, when they were so headstrong, we control everything. But governing is a lot harder than campaigning.

CORNELL BELCHER, PRESIDENT, BRILLIANT CORNERS RESEARCH & STRATEGIES: It is a lot harder than campaigning.

And you've got to be careful because when you start governing in a way that's ideological and -- and -- and sort of extremist, you're going to lose it. You're going to lose it. You're going to lose elections.

KING: By 63 seats?

BELCHER: Yes, by 63 seats.

(LAUGHTER) BELCHER: You're going to lose elections. So, you know -- you know, the flame throwers and the fire throwers come in, but -- but when you look at the sort of long span of the -- of the Senate history, you know, flame throwers and people who are hard partisan don't get -- get -- make big waves in the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BELCHER: I think it's going to be real problematic if they come in and try to make big waves and try to move against the bipartisanship that we're seeing in the Senate. It's going to hurt them politically.

KING: Well, let's bring our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, into the conversation. And everybody can get mad at Ed at once. And that's why...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: -- because I want to talk about some of the challenges going forward. He is not only is with the president in Hawaii, but he managed to get there a few days early, playing that senior White House correspondent card, exquisitely, Ed. You get extra points for that one. Here's...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Here's what's coming ahead. You know, giving people tax cuts and running up the deficit is easy. Whether it's necessary or not, it's easy.

What happens next year is going to test this new "Kumbaya" spirit, because spending cuts -- the Republicans will control the House. They have made clear their budget will push for spending cuts. They want deficit reduction. The Democrats say that's a priority. Too.

To get deficit reduction, do you put Social Security and Medicare on the table?

Good luck with that in the Democratic Caucus.

The president also wants to talk, maybe, about broad tax reform. The Republicans do, too.

But do they get along on that issue?

And the president says he's going to fight for investments, research and development credits, more infrastructure. Republicans say no way. And, of course, the president is going to be dealing with a House that wants to repeal health care reform. And that will be a huge fight -- so, Ed, I have to assume that one of the reasons the president wants to recharge is because he knows as good the two weeks he just had, it's going to be very, very different.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is, because I mean, look, there were two big factors that helped the president get a lot of these victories in the final days of the lame duck.

Number one, you had the fact that Nancy Pelosi was still the speaker of the House. So when "don't ask/don't tell" repeal failed the first time, they were able to jam that right through the House.

Come early January, that won't be the case, when John Boehner is the speaker.

And secondly, as we all know, once those members of Congress, in both parties, started smelling the jet fumes and then wanted to get home, whether it was Hawaii or Ohio or wherever it was, they all wanted to get out of there. And there are a lot of Republicans, as you know, angry, thinking that too many of their own capitulated and gave in on a lot of these things, like the new START Treaty.

So the president will not have that environment. And, instead, he'll have, as you've been noting, the Tea Party and others really pressing this new Republican leadership. They're the same players, but now they're got new power in the House, new power in the Senate, to stand firm on these issues. And that could change the whole dynamic the president just had in the lame duck -- John.

And so then the question for all of us is, what happens?

You know, the president had this debt reduction commission. It had its recommendations. They did not get a super majority, so Congress does not have to voted up or down on them.

I asked Leader Reid, why not just bring it to the floor?

Why not show leadership and say I'm going to bring this to the floor, we're going to test both parties?

We're going to call the bluff of the liberals who say I'm for deficit reduction by making them vote to raise the Social Security retirement age, for example. We're going to call the bluff of the Republicans by making them to vote for a new tax structure that would, in the end, raise revenues in Washington.

Leader Reid said no, he doesn't like that opinion. But he did say he is willing to go back to like they do with the military base closings. You have a commission. It comes up with a set of recommendations. They bring them to the Congress and they have to vote up or down.

Leader Reid, listen here, says he's still prepared to do that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID: We had to belly up to the bar and vote yes or no. And we did that. We closed scores of bases. If we do it -- the same thing on this base -- on the base closing commission, the same type of legislation we had with the base closing question as we have with the deficit reduction commission, we'll get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Erick, the Democratic leader of the Senate says we'll get it done. But you know there will be resistance in his own conference -- his own caucus -- to that, because that would put Social Security and Medicare on the table.

What about Republicans, if the issue between now and the next presidential election is a plan like that, that most likely would include a tax increase?

ERICKSON: Well, first, I'm not sure if I can process your question after having to look at Ed's shirt. But I...

(LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: I think generally, you know, the Republicans are -- are probably willing to come up with something. A lot -- like that. A lot of the Republicans have been saying they want BRAC-style commission on spending cuts. Now, if they have to go along and -- and say we'll take spending cuts and tax increases, they may go for the commission and then vote down all the recommendations.

But I think Harry Reid raising that is -- it's an interesting twist, because a lot of Republicans have been out there saying it, very much like the Democrats using the payroll tax holiday in -- in the tax compromise, which had originally been a -- an American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, idea. Heading in that direction might work.

KING: I want -- I want John and Cornell to weigh in.

But first, I want you to listen here to Kirsten Gillibrand.

I spoke to Senator Gillibrand this week, as well.

And she doesn't rule that out, by many means. But if you listen to what she says here carefully, you understand she is hoping, as many politicians are hoping, that economic growth will make these choices easier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: The president has chosen pro-growth policies that I think will make a difference.

And if you want to pay down the debt and you want to reduce that deficit, the best way to do it is have a growing economy once again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So you hear that, John Avlon, and what they're all hoping is, boy, I hope by the time we get around to this, we've have had a couple of months of economic growth, because then there's more tax revenues coming into Washington and then it's a hell of a easier.

AVLON: Yes, of course it is. I mean, you know, I -- I love hearing Kristen Gillibrand talking about pro-growth -- pro-growth tax cuts. But that -- that sort of mind melt aside, look, the BRAC-style commission is a good idea. But that was the idea behind the Deficit Commission itself. And we showed that Tom Coburn and Dick Durbin could support that tough medicine. There should be ground to build on.

The folks on the far left and far right who objected to the tax cut compromise allegedly did so on the basis of the deficit. The reality is, there's going to have to be entitlement reform, there are going to have to be spending cuts and there are going to be some revenue increases. Maybe that gets done with a tax reform that closes loopholes. But Republicans who are serious about the deficit and the debt need to lead on this. And the president needs to really lead. He can pull a Nixon in China on entitlement reform if he wants to and that will help him not only reduce the deficit and the debt, but reconnect and really seal the deal with Independent voters going forward.

KING: Do you believe he can do that heading into a -- what will be a tough reelection campaign, because the economy is not going to turn around overnight?

AVLON: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: I think he needs to.

BELCHER: Yes, he has to. And I think -- and I think he will.

But...

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: But -- but, by the way, it's also politically smart, because guess what, that's what the American people are looking for, the sort of, you know, we were under this idea (ph), we're not going to not tell you all the things that you -- that you want to hear. So this sort of tough, centrist sort of bipartisan leadership, I think, is exactly where he need -- needs to be.

There is going to be fighting on both sides of the ideological purists, when you talk about Medicare and Social Security or the taxes. It will be interesting to see how many of these new Tea Party people coming in, these ideological purists, will put -- in fact, put taxes on the table.

John...

KING: All right, everybody stand by...

ERICKSON: John, to Cornell's point real quick...

KING: Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK) ERICKSON: I think the Democrats and Republicans can find common ground on getting rid of a lot of the tax loopholes that apply to specific businesses and specific industries.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

ERICKSON: They can start on that and move forward.

KING: All right. It is going to be great when they put the mortgage interest deduction...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

KING: -- on the table and everybody goes, ah.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: All right, we're going to take a quick time out.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: When we come back, we're not going to talk about Ed's shirt, because Ed will probably have a run break during the commercial, for all we know. But we are going to talk a little bit ahead about some of the year's most memorable political moments.

And when we come back, Sarah Palin and Oprah.

You don't want to miss it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: All right. This is more pop culture and fun than serious business, but Oprah was a big player in helping Barack Obama.

So does her opinion of Sarah Palin matter?

We'll get back to our group in a minute.

First, let me read. This is Oprah Winfrey in the issue -- coming -- upcoming issue of "Parade" magazine. She knows TV and so she's giving high marks to the Sarah Palin reality show: "I don't know her, so I can't I can't speak to whether or not she'll be a candidate, but I would say America is going to fall in love with her from her show, "Sarah Palin's Alaska." When I saw that first episode, I went whoa. She's charming and very likable."

Now, opera knows television. The question is, does she know politics, because she's asked about that potential Palin 2012 candidacy and she says: "It does not scare me because I believe in the intelligence of the American public."

Erick Erickson, we call that a diss.

(LAUGHTER)

ERICKSON: Yes, I would think so. You know, she's -- she's a supporter of Barack Obama. They're friends. I -- I would be shocked if she would say anything to support Sarah Palin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think she's...

KING: That was very diplomatic.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very diplomatic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wasn't that nice?

BELCHER: Actually, you know what?

That was actually, though, what most of the establishment Republicans are saying about -- about...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BELCHER: -- about Sarah Palin, including...

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: -- including, you know, saying some really harsh things about her. I mean Ed Rollins -- I mean, Ed, our friend Ed here says she wasn't ready for prime time.

KING: Right.

BELCHER: So that was actually one of the nicer things said about her.

AVLON: Yes. I mean I'm surprised she was so complimentary about her TV show, frankly. You know, I mean that's -- that's an area she does know. And I wasn't expecting the shout-out on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

AVLON: But -- but, you know, I believe in the intelligence of the American people, too. And -- and, you know, when six out of 10 Americans say they won't consider voting for Sarah Palin, I think that pretty much, you know, it's all over but the shouting. You know, we'll have a lot of fun covering the who -- he said/she said about it. But that's a pretty definitive judgment from a very smart electorate.

KING: You know, but is it a permanent judgment, is the question -- Ed Henry, when the president looks ahead -- and, you know, Mr. Axelrod is about to go back to Chicago and they're starting to gear up here. And when you talk to them now -- and you know this because you talk to them every day -- right now, they would say, oh, we'd love to have Sarah Palin. We'd love to have Sarah Palin, because they see the same polling. But, you know, we just went through an incredibly volatile election year, where I'm not sure the rules apply. And to -- and in Barack Obama's case, you know, the country, just two years ago, elected its first African-American president. That, in and of itself, is a sign that don't say things can't happen.

HENRY: Absolutely. But I think that's -- you're putting your finger right on one of the other reasons why Oprah Winfrey may have said some good things about the Sarah Palin TV show. Obama intimates want to keep promoting Sarah Palin -- and oh, boy, she's so popular; oh, boy, she's got a great TV show. Indeed, I -- I'd look at that with a grain of salt, because they want to promote the heck out of her, because you're right, people like David Axelrod would love to see Sarah Palin as the Republican nominee.

But be careful what you -- what you wish, because, you know, actually, Vice President Joe Biden said that on "LARRY KING LIVE" just a few weeks ago, that you never quite know what's going to happen in American politics. And some Democrats raised their eyebrows. But, look, he may have been shooting straight on that, that, as you say, this electorate is so volatile, Democrats may think they've got a 60/40 election in their favor if Sarah Palin runs, but maybe not, especially, let -- let's -- who knows what the third party possibilities are out there. There were -- we're still a long way off.

BELCHER: Can I jump in real quick here?

KING: Yes, you can.

BELCHER: I -- I think it would be crazy for her not to run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BELCHER: I mean if you -- if you look -- and I think Erick agrees with me on this. But, Erick, she speaks to something in the grassroots of the Republican Party that no other -- that certainly, you know, Romney can't speak to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

BELCHER: -- and Jindal can't speak to. She'd be crazy not to run.

ERICKSON: She -- she does speak to something. And I'm not sure that's exclusive to her, though. There are people like Mike Pence out there, who also do the same.

But, yes, I -- I mean look at on her -- at her grassroots base right there. She probably would be crazy not to run.

That said, I remember a lot of Republicans, in 2008, encouraging people to go support Barack Obama to pick off Clinton, because he'd be the easy guy to beat in 2008.

KING: Smart advice. Mr. Avlon, you want the last word here?

AVLON: Yes. Look, she's the queen of the conservative populists, but she's not only polarizing in -- in the electorate at large, she's polarizing in the Republican Party -- deeply polarizing. And -- and the American people made seem to have made up their mind. She's -- her supporters love her. But the vast majority think she is not qualified to be president.

KING: All right, John, Erick and Cornell...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- stay with us.

Ed Henry has got to go...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wrong channel.

KING: -- because he's got to shoot an episode Ed Henry's Hawaii.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: That's coming up next here on CNN. You're going to love that program.

When we come back, we're keeping our group, because we're going to go through some of 2010's most memorable political moments.

Did your favorite make the list?

We've got some from the staff, we've got some from our contributors.

Stay right here.

And one-on-one with one of the more fascinating figures in this year -- Senator Lisa Murkowski, defeated in the primary by a Tea Party guy, she roared back. She's the new Republican maverick.

And Rahm Emanuel got good news today. He beat the residency challenge. He will be on the ballot for mayor. But, at another public hearing today, who called Rahm the great pretender?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts was an early sign 2010 would be no ordinary political year. It was the rise of the Tea Party, the fall of the president's political standing and a flat out fascinating mid-term election campaign.

Our contributors weigh in in just a moment.

But first, we asked the staff today for their memorable moments, not necessarily the most important, mind you, just some things that stuck out, made us laugh, smile, maybe debate as a group. Let's go through six of them here. We'll play them through and then we'll talk on the other side.

Number six right here, Congressman Joe Barton, the ranking Republican. This was during the BP oil spill. Tony Hayward, the BP CEO, was in the chair. Joe Barton apologized to him and then said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subs -- subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown -- in this case, a $20 billion shakedown.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Even Tony Hayward didn't know what to say there.

All right, on to number five. Number five here, well, you don't need -- it needs no introduction.

Christine O'Donnell on the TV.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM CAMPAIGN COMMERCIAL)

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), DELAWARE: I'm not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It didn't work out in the end. But it was a pretty powerful ad.

Number four here, this was early on in the year. This one -- no, I'm sorry, number four is this one, this video, if I have this right, this video could be a little bit disturbing. I had these two in reverse order.

This is from "Sarah Palin's Alaska." And it's a memorable moment and a bit odd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SARAH PALIN'S ALASKA," COURTESY TLC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's coming. Just -- just wait. Wait until it turns broadside and stops, OK?

Go ahead. (INAUDIBLE). Got it. There you go, baby. There you go.

PALIN: I got it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Some people like that, some people don't. Sarah Palin again here in number three. This was an early moment in the campaign, at a Tea Party rally.

And you know what?

Like her or not, what she says here essentially framed the 2010 campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM FEBRUARY 6)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And now, a year later, I've got to ask those supporters of all that, how that is hopey-changey stuff working out for you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Funny and a powerful message here.

Number two, this was a reminder from a supporter directly to President Obama that he had some trouble.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Quite frankly, I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for...

OBAMA: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Give the president some credit for keeping the smile in the middle of that moment.

And this one, my favorite moment of political theater -- not the most important thing that happened, but as the guy who covered the House for a long time, covered Bill Clinton for a long time, I loved this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first of all, I feel awakened being here and now you're going to leave me all by myself?

(LAUGHTER)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's what I'll say, is I've been keeping the first lady waiting for about half an hour. So I'm going to take off.

CLINTON: But I...

OBAMA: I'm not...

CLINTON: -- don't want to make her mad. Please go.

OBAMA: You're in good hands. And...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: -- and Gibbs will call last question.

CLINTON: Yes, help me.

Thank you.

Yes, go ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I'm surprised he's still not there. Mr. Belcher...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Yes, he didn't look so (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Mr. Belcher, give me a moment.

BELCHER: The passing of health care. I've got to say, you know, how many presidents have tried to do this?

Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress got it done. History is funny. It never remembers the political battles, it always remembers the good that comes from this legislation. I think history will -- will be kind.

KING: An excellent point.

Mr. Avlon?

AVLON: Yes, I'll tell you, after covering a lot of overheated, hyper partisan sort of -- in some cases, hate-filled rallies, Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity -- Restore Sanity, for me, was a really heartening moment. It was a moment where you just saw a huge group of Americans come out and cover The Mall, all with that message that you're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore. And it was a pretty good message after a long political season.

KING: And Mr. Erickson?

ERICKSON: Well, I would say, actually, the Glenn Beck rally on 8/28, probably five times the size of the Stewart rally with...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not at all.

ERICKSON: -- all these those supporters out there...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's wrong.

ERICKSON: -- being fired up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: False.

ERICKSON: And then, know, I -- I do have to say...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Erick...

ERICKSON: -- we've got to give an honorable mention to the total meltdown on that other network on election night. That was just hysterical to watch.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: That other network. That's what we call it.

All right, we'll continue to reflect.

Gentlemen, thanks for coming in tonight.

I won't see you beforehand, have a Merry Christmas to all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merry Christmas.

KING: All right, you guys all take care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merry Christmas.

KING: And anybody watching out here, you, the same thing.

Up next for us here, she was a Republican establishment senator successfully targeted by the Tea Party. But then Lisa Murkowski mounted a stunning comeback. And in her new chapter, well, she seems to enjoy casting votes that make her Tea Party critics cringe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: One of the more surprising players in this year-end lame duck sessions is of Congress, well, was to be one of the lame ducks, meaning one of the lawmakers who lost and would not to be back next year. But after losing the Republican primary to the Tea Party favorite Joe Miller, Senator Lisa Murkowski ran as write-in candidate and she won. The first time that has happened in a Senate race in more than 50 years. Once a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, Senator Murkowski's votes in recent day suggest, perhaps, the Senate has a new maverick.

Senator Murkowski is with us now from Capitol Hill.

And Senator I say that because when you were a member of the leadership team I suspect it would have been a lot harder to cast some of the votes that you have case in this lame-duck session. One of only three Republicans to vote yes on the Dream Act that would have allowed younger illegal immigrants who came into this country to become citizens as long as they went to college or joined the military service. One of eight Republicans who voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell", and now among the Republicans who broke leader McConnell and his deputy, Jon Kyl, in announcing you will vote for the START nuclear arms treaty.

Are you liberated?

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, (R) ALASKA: I don't know that liberated is exactly the word, but I certainly took a strong message from my write- in campaign in Alaska. Alaskans want to be heard on the issues. They don't necessarily want to be tied to a political label or party position. And if you look to some of the issues that presented themselves here in the lame duck, probably most notably was the tax package that President Obama worked with our leader on the Republican side, Mitch McConnell to broker a bipartisan agreement that was very widely accepted.

So, I think that was an indicator of hopefully things to come where we truly do come together on a bipartisan basis to figure out how to proceed and enact those policies that are good for the country.

KING: You cast it as a sign of hopefully of things to come. But, yet, and I am sure you are well aware of this, the election is over, but the people who opposed you and opposed you fiercely like the voices in the Tea Party, they didn't like the tax package. They thought it was not paid for; that the tax cuts should have been extended permanently, not temporarily, and the leadership on the Republican side should have held out 'til next year when you would have more power.

They don't like a lot of the other things that you have cast votes for in this session. And they see this essentially as a split in the Republican Party. More establishment types, if I can sue that term, like you saying, we will vote our conscious. We don't think bipartisanship or compromise is a bad thing, against the more grassroots people who say hell no. Is there such a split?

MURKOWSKI: Let's not get ourselves locked into these definitional principles that say, as a Republican you must vote this way. Let's-let's sit down. Let's figure out how we deal with some of these very, very difficult issues, whether it is tax policy or whether it is what we are going to be doing on the spending. We have enough that we need to do that we don't need to get weighted down in the partisan politics. Coming out of the Alaska election, that is what I heard loud and clear. You know, Republicans clearly want to have their representative, but the people who have no party affiliation, and in Alaska 54 percent of the voters choose not to align themselves with any structured party.

So, they are saying, well, who is speaking to this sector of the electorate? Why is it that we have to get so, so lined up on either side that never the twain shall meet? That we can't get to where we need to get on policy? This is where I hope to take things.

KING: I hear where you hope to take things. I am wondering what you think it will be like when the new Senator Lee, from Utah, who beat your friend Bob Bennett, comes to Washington, when Rand Paul, from the Tea Party from Kentucky, comes to Washington. Do you think it will be harder to get your view across next year, when you have more Republicans in the conference who disagree with you?

MURKOWSKI: I am not fearful that we are going to have people here who might not be in alignment with what I am trying to advance for Alaska. Our job is to figure out, again, how we get along.

KING: I want you to listen to the colleague, your Republican colleague from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham; he was on a radio program giving his assessment of what happened in the lame-duck session of Congress. And from his perspective, it is not a good thing. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: When it is all going to be said and done, Harry Reid has eaten our lunch. This has been a capitulation in two weeks of dramatic proportions of policies that wouldn't have passed in the new Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Lindsey Graham right? Harry Reid eat your lunch?

MURKOWSKI: I don't think this is a situation of Harry Reid eating our lunch. I think that there were some very, very strong wins for the Republican side. And, again, I don't want it to be that the Republicans gained, two, and now the Democrats have to gain three. It shouldn't be that way. If the ratification of the new START Treaty is a way that makes our nation safer, then, let's work to advance that.

KING: That-

MURKOWSKI: If -- go ahead.

KING: That is among the issues on which you have had profound disagreements and I know you think that we overplay this sometimes, but with the former governor of your state, Sarah Palin, she wrote in "The National Review Online" that she didn't think the treaty was in America's interest, and that it was being rammed through in the lame- duck session using behind the scenes deal-making reminiscent of the tactics used in the health care debate. Is she wrong?

MURKOWSKI: Well, I think she is absolutely wrong about the process and if she had been here, certainly, if she had been a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, where that committee has been working on this treaty for well over seven months now. Now the time that it has been on the floor, and the nine days, which is actually more than we typically have treaties on the floor, may seem like it is expedited. But, in fact, this process that the Senate has gone through to scrutinize this treaty has been one that is as good and sound as has gone through countless, countless hearings and debate and discussion.

KING: You have had an interesting year to say the least.

MURKOWSKI: Yes.

KING: And when we talked about five weeks ago, right after it became clear that, wow, Lisa Murkowski's write-in campaign was going to win. And you would be coming back to Washington, I asked you about the intervention in your state by one of your Republican colleagues, Jim DeMint. Who is a Tea Party favorite, and he spent some money, and raised some money to help Joe Miller; hoping Joe Miller would win that race. And I had talked to him and he said he had some making up to do with you, and this was your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURKOWSKI: He has suggested that he has some making up to do. I will let him make that first move.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You been back a couple of weeks, has he made that first move?

MURKOWSKI: We have. We have had an opportunity to wish one another well after the New Year-excuse me, after the Thanksgiving break. And we have shaken hands. We have not had a lot of talk about what is coming up in this next Congress, but we have a lot of time to do that.

KING: Do you view him as a force for good of the conference, or do you view him as a rabble rouser, troublemaker?

MURKOWSKI: You know, again, when we try-and the media helps it, try to create these personal divisions, this in-fighting amongst members, whether it is amongst Republicans, or Republican versus Democrat, that does not help us within the process.

As I mentioned, there is going to be a whole new crop of incoming senators. I welcome each and every one of them. I look forward to finding those areas where we can find agreement. I know that we are going to have our disagreements. This is human nature. It is because of where we are from and who we represent. But to get down and to saying he is not being very constructive, or she is not very helpful, does not help the process.

KING: Do you have any question at all, that your home is in the Republican Party?

MURKOWSKI: No, no. Not at all.

KING: Senator Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, who has had one of the more remarkable 2010. We wish you a great holiday season, we'll see you in 2011.

MURKOWSKI: Thank you, John.

KING: Rahm Emanuel, the president's former chief of staff, got a big answer today. What was the question? Is he eligible to run for Chicago mayor?

And later, two of the most fascinating shifts this year: Independent voters and senior voters. We will break it down.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. We will check in with Joe Johns on the latest news that you need to know right now-Joe.

(NEWSBREAK)

JOE JOHNS, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And Chicago's board of elections says Rahm Emanuel is a Chicago resident, and his name can go on the February ballot for mayor, even though he spent the last two years living in Washington, where he was President Obama's chief of staff. So finally, that question asked, and answered. After a lot of Sturm und Drang.

KING: Asked and answered. Well, Chicago, you know, if you can't cover politics here in Washington, you might want to go to Chicago, sharp elbows, feisty politics.

JOHNS: Yes.

KING: That election is in February now. You saw some polls in the recent days. Rahm Emanuel overwhelmingly the front-runner. We will see what happens, whether they have a run off election, whether he can get 50 percent. But even though he got this good news today, Joe, you remember the hearings before this. And during the questions all these people coming in, of course, the critics are the ones who show up. He should not be here, he should not be here. Even today as the good news was coming, there was more.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. KELLY, OBJECTOR: He has no place being a candidate for mayor of the City of Chicago in this election cycle.

QUEEN SISTER GEORZETTA DELONEY, OBJECTOR: Rahm Emanuel is a great pretender. And he has hoodwinked and bamboozled the nation. He is a wicked individual, and I can say that, because I have witnessed that from his body language. From looking into his eyes, which is the windows to his soul.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Ouch!

KING: Ouch! You look, at-you know?

JOHNS: For real. He does not say a word, Rahm Emanuel, silenced.

KING: I have known Rahm Emanuel for a very long time and you have to tip your hat to the point, we'll let the people of Chicago pick their mayor, but he stayed stone-faced for the most part. And he has got a temper sometimes. And he took it and-

JOHNS: Yeah. Well, he is keeping his dream alive, here, he wants to be mayor so bad. He said.

KING: Well, good news for Rahm. All right, Joe, thanks.

When we come back, one of the biggest shifts-a lot of big shifts in our politics this year. We will look at two or three of the very biggest shifts in 2010 and what do they mean headed forward to 2011 or 2012?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This was an interesting year in politics to say the least. The Republicans had huge election gains because they enjoyed a huge intensity gap, meaning conservatives were a lot more fired up to vote than the liberals. That is a big shift from 2008. So was the trend among Independent voters, who were critical to President Obama's landslide. Yet just two years later, just as pivotal to the Republican resurgence.

So as we close the year, what are the major lessons and the biggest public opinion challenges heading into 2011. Ed Goeas is a veteran Republican pollster and Cornell Belcher crunches the numbers for the Democrats.

I want to start with independent voters, because that is why Obama had the electoral landslide. He might have won anyway in 2008, but he won Colorado, he won Virginia, he won elsewhere because of a 37 point swing between what the Democrats did among independents, Obama did, in 2008. And then what happened in 2010, why?

ED GOEAS, PRES. & CEO, THE TERRENCE GROUP: Well, some of it is that immediately the independents are more distrustful of the party in power. And so immediately they began moving off in the wrong direction. Some of it is turnout. I mean, in an off-presidential year, compared to a presidential year, much lower youth vote. It dropped from about 18 percent down to 11 percent. A lot of those were independent youth that voted for Obama, that didn't participate in this election.

But under the surface, it was a huge shift, as you said. The Democrats won by 18 points with independents in 2008. We won by 19 points in this election. And quite frankly, they are kind of up for grabs at this point.

KING: It has to worry you, because if you look historically through the data, you go back to exit polls and House races back as far as 1998, pretty close split; 2000, pretty close split, 2002, 2004. Then all of a sudden you guys win huge in 2006 and 2008. But then all of a sudden, bam!

CORNELL BELCHER, PRES., BRILLIANT CORNERS RESEARCH & STRATEGIES: And not only did we win huge, but look, we won some places in 2006, red places that made us scratch our heads. We won some red districts in 2008 that quite frankly, a lot of us would say, Ed, you should have won that district. And it is because of this volatility in the electorate.

I think when you talk about what is the volatility in the electorate, I think you have to point at those independent voters who have been swinging back and forth. Look, they swung towards-you know, away again from the party in power with Bush, then toward us. They are the center of an anxious American electorate right now. They are not as ideologically driven. They are not sort of partisan, generally they are looking for the practical solutions.

Look, when the president sort of stands up and says, you know what, I will cut this deal and be compromised, and you know why? Because it is those independent voters who looking for, first and foremost, bipartisanship. They think that Ed and I should actually get along.

(LAUGHTER)

GOEAS: And we actually do.

(LAUGHTER)

GOEAS: This is where I disagree with the president. The president, the day after, said it over frustrations on the economy. If you look at the election, 53 percent who voted in this election for Republicans said they were voting for the Republican. They liked the message. And 30 percent to send a message to Obama, and the Democrats in Congress.

When asked what was the message you wanted to send? It was three to one, spending over the economy. So what really drove these independents was the spending they were seeing in Washington, not the fact that the economy was not improving quick enough. And that's where you look at, as state after state after state of unemployment drops below 9 percent, spending becomes the No. 1 issue. We have a 20-point advantage on it. The future has some real storm clouds for the Democrats also, in looking at this election.

KING: And so if you are fighting that out among independents, the other group both parties always compete for because they tend to turn out in higher percentages, are older Americans, the senior vote. And, again, if you look in 2010, a huge Republican advantage among seniors. And if you go back over the years, 2008, a relative split, 2006, a relative split, 2004, a slight Republican advantage. Why the bigger swing this time, just to-can you just write it off as a bit Republican year?

BELCHER: These are not FDR seniors anymore. So they are more up for grabs. But they are also growing as a small proportion of our electorate, as our electorate actually grows younger, disproportionately. I think the future for both parties, and I think it is going to be a task for both parties, is how do we compete for those younger voters. Particularly all those younger voters that we know came out for Barack Obama, who were not part of this independent America but really a surge vote for Barack Obama and he doesn't become president without that surge.

GOEAS: Nice spin, it works if you're only winning or losing by two points. But when you loose by 21 points, all of a sudden they are a huge block. And they are very important. And quite frankly, it comes down to one thing. It was Obama care.

While the -- many of the Democrats like to point out that it's only a 6, 7-point disadvantage in terms of do you approve or do you disapprove of Obama care. The strongly approve, the strongly disapprove is 40 to 14. And that is largely the seniors, largely the seniors concerned over the cost of this bill to them, and what it will be -- mean for their future healthcare. It was very interesting in the campaigns, and I worked in quite a few this year, that every time the Democrats polled they are talking about privatization, Social Security, in the final weeks, all we had to do was say Obama care and it just popped right back.

BELCHER: And actually that is sort of and-I mean, and that is actually a good point, because the truth of the matter is, you all did a marvelous job of scaring the heck out of seniors about what was actually in that bill. A lot of it, you and I both know, it was not in the bill, like death panels for little old ladies, which, believe it or not, there is still a percentage of Americans who still think that crap is out there.

KING: A quick final thought on the president, at the end of the year. We saw him have a tough roller coaster year. His approval rating has ticked up a little bit, at the end of the year. He is in slightly better shape than Ronald Reagan, who went on to win in the 49 states. So I don't ask the question in the context of his re- election, but in the context going into this new environment, of divided government, he'll come back in January. The Republicans will control the House, a very narrow Democratic majority in the Senate, what's the president's challenge?

BELCHER: I think his challenge is to find that bipartisan ground and look bipartisan. Because where independent voters -- you get any independent voters behind that focus group glass that Ed and I do all the time, and they argue that they don't understand why Democrats and Republicans don't get along. If the president can stay in that bipartisan place and look like he's working and trying to reach across and work with Republicans, he will be fine.

KING: Do you agree?

GOEAS: I do. Except bipartisanship for the Democrats in the past have always mean you do it our way.

(LAUGHTER)

GOEAS: And hopefully we won't see some of that. The caution I give to Republicans on the other side, and this is the thing I saw the president doing wrong. And I have seen other presidents do the same thing, is they walked out of the election believing the entire electorate agreed with them, and they were smarter than the other side. I caution Republicans not to walk away with the same example in this election. We're not smarter than the other side and not all Americans agree with us. And I think if we approach it that way, I think their road will be much tougher.

BELCHER: They are not in love with either party.

KING: That is a sober way to end the conversation.

Cornell, Ed, thanks for coming in.

Attention holiday shoppers, time is running out. What are you doing to avoid being the lame-duck gift giver in your house this year? Well, Pete Dominick, he is on The Street. He is up with us next. Ha, if you haven't finished all of your shopping, well, you're not alone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A little late getting in some holiday shopping? Well, I've got some help for you here. Off Beat Reporter Pete Dominick, he's an expert.

Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, PETE ON THE STREET: Oh, yeah, I would never wait until the last second to do my shopping, like many of the people that I met today, John.

Christmas holidays motivate not only Congress to get legislation done, but people get out there to get those last-minute gifts. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Hands up if you're doing last minute Christmas shopper. Sir, clearly? Last minute Christmas shopper? Yes. Last minute people? Last minute Christmas shoppers?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We already did all of our Christmas shopping.

DOMINICK: When did you do it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About a month ago.

DOMINICK: A month ago?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

DOMINICK: Who the hell are you?

Did you get me anything in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a belt.

DOMINICK: You got a belt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For my son.

DOMINICK: You bought your son a belt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did.

DOMINICK: I'm guessing your son's emotion as he just found out he is getting an alligator belt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh.

DOMINICK: And it is this:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is going to be stunned.

DOMINICK: Thanks, Dad.

This is a kit of four lotions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

DOMINICK: Hand and foot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the wife.

DOMINICK: Big and small?

For the wife? Your wife has giant hands and feet?

You are doing last-minute Christmas shopping?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah.

DOMINICK: Why are you waiting for the last minute?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just a rotten (EXPLETIVE DELETED). What can I tell you?

DOMINICK: Just a rotten (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a rotten (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

DOMINICK: Why wait until now, sir, the last minute?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was out of the country on vacation all last week.

DOMINICK: Lies, lies.

Could you buy me a last-minute outfit? I just need-

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, what do you need?

DOMINICK: I need a onesie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A onesie?

DOMINICK: For my daughter, for my daughter.

Oh, hi. How are you, Santa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm well.

DOMINICK: I've just run into Santa doing his last-minute Christmas shopping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For Mrs. Clause.

DOMINICK: For Mrs. Clause, you have to get that last, yea. What are you thinking for this year? What does she need? What does Mrs. Claus not have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She doesn't need anything.

DOMINICK: She doesn't? She's happy?

You are doing last-minute-

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm French.

DOMINICK: You're French?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

DOMINICK: Do you celebrate Christmas in France?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

DOMINICK: You do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joy Noel!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joy Noel!

DOMINICK: Joy Noel. That's French for Merry Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Felize Nagal (ph).

DOMINICK: That's Portuguese, right?

How do we say Merry Christmas in Dutch?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flola Keshfish (ph).

DOMINICK: Flola Keshfish (ph).

Salam Natal! (ph)

Bon Natale! (ph)

Frolick Cheslist! (ph)

Melkam Gana!

Flola Chesmesh!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas. Ho, ho, ho!

DOMINICK: Right here, from Santa, doing some last-minute shopping.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: There you go, John King. Merry Christmas in many languages. And, John, last week you got me a gift. This week I just want to give you a hint of something I got you. It's a signed, signed picture of your favorite 2010 candidate, John King. There you go.

KING: They have this thing, they call it forgery. I believe that's your handwriting.

DOMINICK: How dare you accuse me that I would actually write Christine O'Donnell's-John, it surprises me that you would say such a thing.

KING: I don't want to end up on the naughty list. When the foot lotion guy came up in your piece there I was thinking about Rex Ryan, but I would end up on the naughty list if I that-so I won't.

Pete, I want to show you a picture before we say good bye. This will be me in 48 hours, right there. That will be me in 48 hours, my friend. Have a great night. Merry Christmas, everybody.

DOMINICK: Well, that doesn't look like the bunny slope.

Good night, John.

KING: "PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.