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JOHN KING, USA

Dueling Republicans; Tea Party vs. the Establishment; Budget Cuts; Poll Numbers

Aired January 21, 2011 - 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, happy Friday. Tonight Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is in Houston, Texas, airlifted there from Tucson to begin her long-term rehabilitation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. RANDALL FRIESE, ASSOC. MEDICAL DIRECTOR, UMN TRAUMA CENTER: When we were traveling through the streets of Tucson, there were several times we got -- we could hear applause in the ambulance with Gabby and she responded very well to that. Smiling and in fact, even tearing a little bit. It was very emotional and very special.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We'll hear tonight from her new medical team in Texas. Also tonight, Piers Morgan joins us live to discuss former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's new flirtation with running for president in 2012 including his take on the Palin factor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be more tempted to run if she wasn't?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe the opposite.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does he remember how poorly his first run went? But before we debate 2012, let's begin with crackling new Republican tensions in the here and now. One example, the Republican establishment today named its choice to respond to President Obama's State of the Union Address next week and then very quickly, the Tea Party Express announced one of its favorites. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann would deliver an alternative response.

Here's another example. A group of GOP conservatives worried their leadership won't be bold enough in slashing spending are pushing dramatic cuts in everything from the federal workforce and foreign aid to Amtrak subsidies and legal, college and energy assistance to lower income Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We must start looking at this budget as an opportunity for us to transform the way we see government's responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us to navigate what you might call right versus more right debates, CNN contributors Erick Erickson, John Avlon and Roland Martin. Let's start guys with the latest Tea Party rumblings and I want to walk over to the "Magic Wall" for that.

Tonight Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who we just mentioned, she will deliver the response next week. She's in Iowa tonight flirting with running for president. Next week as we noted another chance to raise her national profile. The Tea Party Express Organization announced today Congresswoman Bachmann will deliver its response to the president's State of the Union address.

Never mind the Republican establishment chose the House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to deliver the party's official response. In Indiana tonight veteran Republican Senator Richard Lugar, he's a six-term senator. He's gone home to raise money well aware the Tea Party forces in his state meet tomorrow to discuss challenging veteran Senator Lugar.

Also out in Utah, among the states where another veteran Republican could face a Tea Party challenge. Orrin Hatch of Utah, another six-term Republican and in New Hampshire over the weekend a state party. The Republicans will choose a new state chairman tomorrow. The candidate favored by the GOP establishment, Juliana Bergeron, well she faces a tough challenge from Tea Party leader Jack Kimball.

That state of course cherishes its first in the nation presidential primary and the publisher of the conservative "Union Leader" newspaper, Joseph McQuaid, wrote a tough editorial this week because he worries Kimball is suggesting moderates are not welcome.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: So Joe McQuaid, you got a little nervous about this Tea Party candidate running for state Republican chairman after he suggested we need a very strong conservative candidate for president and that he would quote "make that very clear to all of the incoming presidential candidates." Why did that worry you?

JOSEPH MCQUAID, PUBLISHER, NEW HAMPSHIRE, UNION LEADER: Well the "Union Leader" is happy to have strong conservative candidates for president but my concern is that New Hampshire both sides Democrat and Republican has always thrown out the welcome mat for any candidate for president to come in here and have a fair playing field and to say off the bat from the state party chairman that no moderates need apply. I don't think that's good. I don't think it's a good test for the conservative candidate.

KING: We see this all across the country, Tea Party and establishment Republican tensions. How deep are they in your state, which is a state in and of itself but as you noted, it's also a state that gets a lot of national attention because of that primary.

MCQUAID: Even if the Tea Party so-called gets the chairmanship of the state party, I'm not sure how deep the Tea Party is. Last November the candidate that national people said was the Tea Party candidate wasn't (INAUDIBLE). In the U.S. Senate thing (ph) he was barely beaten by somebody seen as the establishment candidate, Kelly Ayotte, who got the endorsement of Sarah Palin who I think is Tea Party, so come to New Hampshire to read the tea leaves.

KING: Do you think we overplay it? Is this -- do you think it's Tea Party versus the establishment or is it just more generational? New people want into the game and some -- to get into the game they have got to nudge out some older people.

MCQUAID: I think it's more conservative versus liberal and if the Tea Party embraces that then so be it. I don't -- I haven't gotten the sense that the Tea Party as it is seen nationally is that strong a force in New Hampshire. There was a huge turnover from Democrat to Republicans in the state legislature this last time and a certain number of those I'm sure have Tea Party roots. That hasn't manifested itself yet in any big legislation but the session is just under way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: All right, so let's get our conversation going. Erick Erickson, to you first, you're a friend and ally of the Tea Party, a prominent conservative, why all this activity so soon after the election. Senator Lugar, of course going home to raise money, the Tea Party will be there, but I want to start with Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party Express saying we will have our own response to the president's State of the Union. Seems to me the only way you can interpret that is maybe nothing against Chairman Paul Ryan but you're the establishment. We're going to do it our way.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know I think the Tea Party movement wants a voice and has wanted as best it can to be distinct from both the Republican and the Democratic Party and so they are doing this as a Tea Party candidate who happens to be a Republican. I'm not actually sure that there are very many if any Democrats there but they definitely want to be distinct from the parties and not delivering a party response so much as a grassroots response, but you know going to the New Hampshire question as well, I totally agree with the editor of the "Union Leader" there that the state party chairman if he's a Tea Party activist, he needs to back off. A Republican Party chairman should not be involving themselves in politics like that.

KING: But he is and the Tea Party -- he has been so far. The Tea Party Express is saying it wants to get involved, John Avlon, on a huge night. The president of the United States who has been going up in the polls will give his State of the Union address. It is essentially joining the battle over the next fight over big priority spending cuts, the economy, jobs and now the Republican Party wants to answer with one voice but --

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes and the fact that they're wrapping their arms around Michele Bachmann is particularly problematic. I mean she's as close as there is to a Sharron Angle or Christine O'Donnell in the Congress. And the fact that Paul Ryan, who's got such strong credentials as a fiscal conservative who the Tea Party would naturally I think try to embrace in advance as a young gun who is serious about cutting spending, deficits and the debt, the fact that Bachmann is an attractive alternative to Paul Ryan speaks to a really deep fisher in the Republican Party. And it's not really the libertarians split. It's the far right versus the center right and that becomes a real problem when it comes to governing. And that's what you see in New Hampshire as well.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: John, let's be clear. There's no such thing as a Democratic Party, the Republican Party and the Tea Party. The Tea Party, they are the Republican Party. And so --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not so sure.

MARTIN: Well they can dance around it --

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: You look at --

KING: They're Republicans but I think there is still a struggle for sort of who is on first, who's in charge.

MARTIN: Yes, but the reality is when you look at that CBS poll on the Tea Party, one of the most extensive, 96 percent of them identified as Republicans and so they're not on the Democratic side. The problem here is you talk about messaging because if you're the Republican Party and you control the House, the last thing you want coming out of the State of the Union is to have two different messengers out there when you're trying to still go against the Democratic Party.

And a lot of the criticism people said was watch out for this sort of split inside the party. When you start having people say the center Orrin Hatch is not conservative enough, I mean I'm trying to figure out who (INAUDIBLE) want?

KING: Well they just did that -- they just did that to Bob Bennett out in the state of Utah, but Erick, Erick, to Roland's point, it's fascinating. Energy is good in politics and activism is good in politics no matter where it comes from, the more people playing the better the system. But it is an interesting challenge where you obviously have in the Tea Party movement people that say we just proved something in 2010 and we want to continue to prove it does make the governing challenge though a bit harder for the leadership, does it not?

ERICKSON: It definitely does. But you know we're dealing with the whole concept they call the Overton window where you try to push the window of what's within acceptable bounds here and it's what many people have done Democrat and Republican where the Tea Party movement stakes out a position pretty far to the right to make sure that the Republicans move in their direction and not move toward the Democratic direction. That's all going on here. Both sides do it. The Tea Party movement has a lot of energy it wants to keep mobilized and they're not going to be able to keep it mobilized if they appear now to be the establishment.

MARTIN: I recall MoveOn.org having their own response on a State of the Union address when Democrats took over Congress. So again, you can try to say it's on the left as well, but this is a whole different deal to have your own response to the president's State of the Union address.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: You know again they feel very -- they feel disconnected from the Republican establishment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Already? It's been what two months. Wow --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was quick.

ERICKSON: They've never felt like they've been a part of it.

AVLON: Yes, when Michele Bachmann is your standard bear, you're sending a very different signal here. You know when the Tea Party has got an opportunity to help shape a leadership agenda right now and when Erick starts talking about the Overton window, you start getting inside to the problem in our politics today, which is the extremes hijacking the process.

And in a state like New Hampshire in particular where it has an open primary and independents outnumber Democrats to Republicans that you know successful Republican Party needs to reach out to the center. It needs to reach out to those independents and they should be putting all their focus on cutting spending, deficit and the debt and it would be nice if they were more consistent about the libertarian rhetoric as well. Michele Bachmann doesn't fit that bill. She appeals to the far, far right.

KING: John makes an interesting point. When you talk to conservatives in New Hampshire they are a little bit nervous because there won't be a serious Democratic challenger and because independents -- anybody can vote. Independents can cross over and vote the Republican Party. They're a little worried that you'll have a more liberal or a less conservative presidential primary because there's no action on the Democratic side. That's something we'll watch in the weeks and months ahead. Everybody stay put.

Still to come for us here, call it fashion Friday. The author of a new book about how first lady Michelle Obama is making a mark on style helps us close the week that saw the first lady make a global fashion statement, but next more GOP tensions as Tea Party and other conservative propose spending cuts far, far deeper than their leadership advocates.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Speaker, the president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was last year. President Obama delivers this year's State of the Union address next week. And administration sources tell me tonight the early drafts include talk of a freeze on federal spending and a call for Democrats and Republicans to work together on ways to curb Medicare and Social Security costs. We won't have all the details until the speech Tuesday night but we do know already that Republicans will say the president doesn't want to cut enough.

And we know tonight that some conservatives are saying the same thing about their own leadership. As the House Republican leadership is backing away a bit from a promise to cut $100 billion in spending in its first year, a group of GOP conservatives are demanding much, much more pushing for $2.5 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. A bit earlier I talked to a freshman -- freshman Republican Tim Scott of South Carolina and I asked him if Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team are being too timid.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCOTT: I won't say that. I will say that as a newly elected individual to Congress, it is very important for us to not only look at how much we can cut but how can we transform the federal government in a way that meet business aspirations and expectations. As an example, IBM has simply said that over a 10-year period of time they believe that from administrative effectiveness they can find $1 trillion worth of cuts. If that's true, and I think that it is true, why would we not take a look at philosophical paradigm shift toward looking at a business approach to running the federal government?

KING: But the group of conservatives and you're among them that released this plan did so after -- you know this -- many in your own leadership said well we promised 100 billion in the first year but maybe we won't e able to get there because we're already in the middle of the budget year. Did you take that as a sign that maybe they were back sliding a bit so that you needed to be more aggressive in pushing them?

SCOTT: In my opinion $100 billion did not go far enough. I believe that we can save more money and put more money back in the hands and in the pockets of taxpayers throughout America and we have to do so. In my state South Carolina we're looking at $800 million reduction in spending. That's almost 20 percent of our budget.

If they can do -- if we can do that here in South Carolina, can we not do that as a country? I think the answer is yes. It will be painful for us to find the dollars but America, Americans are in pain. Families are sitting across kitchen tables and trying to figure out how to budget -- how to meet their budgets with less money. We have to do the exact same thing.

KING: You mentioned pain but you also -- I want to get your understanding of the political messaging here and the political salesmanship required here because when you say pain you understand full well what the Democrats will say is at a time when Americans are in pain that Republicans are trying to cut too much too fast when you talk about reducing the federal workforce by 15 percent, when you talk about eliminating the rest of the stimulus money, when you talk about cutting the National Endowment for the Arts, Amtrak subsidies, foreign aid, legal services. A lot of the domestic programs the Democrats will argue go to those who need the help the most. Are you confident you can win the public relations battle?

SCOTT: I certainly believe this. I think the answer is yes. We're not really trying to win a simple public relations battle. What we're trying to do is tell the average person in the average home that we're listening to them that if federal unemployment is less than three or four percent and our nation's unemployment is near 10 percent there's a problem with that picture. Is there a way for us to systemically change the system and make this country better for the next generation? I think the answer is yes.

Because the answer is yes we need to get started now and we need to make sure that we take the most effective approach to solving the problems of the country today because if we don't have -- John, if we don't have the money today to meet the obligations that we have today so we're borrowing 40 cents on every dollar that we're spending today, what about the future of the entitlement called national health care? If we can't pay for it today, how in the world will we pay for it in the future?

This is a $2.7 trillion hole that we're creating. It doesn't need to happen. That's why we reformed health care. That's why we repealed health care and that's why we must start looking at this budget as an opportunity for us to transform the way we see government's responsibility. We ought to look at the states and say to the states we're going to empower the states by giving back to the states according to the tenth amendment those responsibilities that are not specifically given to the federal government.

KING: This is one marker the conservative members of the House have laid down especially the new members like yourself. That's one. We've spoken before about a test that will come before we sort through all of the competing budget proposals and that is a vote on raising the federal government's ability to borrow, raising the debt ceiling so the United States government can stay in business by borrowing money. I want you to listen here to Paul Ryan -- you know him -- he's the chairman of your Budget Committee. I tried to ask him -- he knows that he has to come up with a package of spending cuts to satisfy conservatives like yourself, to get a vote to raise the debt ceiling. Listen to this part of this conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), BUDGET CHAIRMAN: We didn't ask the American people to give us the majority to be rubber stamps for big government. We do have to get this thing turned around and yes I think this is an opportunity to actually get serious spending cuts and controls in place in order to prevent defaulting.

KING: How much are we talking about?

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: I'm not going to get into that because I don't think it's smart to negotiate through the media. We want something significant because this debt situation is really getting out of control. And we're not interested in rubber stamping all the spending that has taken place over the last two years. We want to get this thing turned around in the right direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What do you need to see from Chairman Ryan and your House leadership in terms of spending cuts immediately in the short-term before you would vote yes to raise the debt ceiling?

SCOTT: I would like to see a minimum of $100 billion in spending cuts. I would like to have a real conversation about growing -- about controlling the growth of government, tying it to our GDP or tying it to the population growth of our country, something that would put a ceiling on how much we can grow. I would like to see us not only go back to 2008 levels of spending but look even further toward 2006.

I would love to have a conversation about how are we going to function in the year 2030? We need to quit running for re-election every two years and start thinking about the future of the country over the next 30 years. If we will plan a generation ahead and work our way back, then we're having a substantive conversation about real change that we can believe in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Let's get back to Erick Erickson, John Avlon and Roland Martin. Erick, to you first, a couple of fascinating things about this debate, but let's start with the fact that you have these conservatives especially most of the new conservatives in town and they flat out -- and we talked a bit about this before, but they flat out don't trust their leadership. Never mind the fight with President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate. They don't trust their own leadership in the House to cut as deeply as they think is necessary.

ERICKSON: Yes, you're absolutely right. I'm hearing that from a lot of them. A lot of them are very concerned.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: You were about to say disappointed. ERICKSON: No, I was going to say -- I was about to misspeak and I caught myself. I'm Cajun and Swedish. That happens sometimes. You know they are hearing from Erick Cantor and from John Boehner mixed signals about what's going to go on and I think you're about to see the conservative new members of the House, Republicans, take control themselves. It's going to be an interesting test for John Boehner.

AVLON: A lot of what Tim Scott said in your interview, John, I think would actually resonate with many independent voters when you start talking about generational responsibility and the generational theft that is deficit and the debt. The reality is though that any spending cuts meaningfully it's not going to be non-defense discretionary. You've got to get into entitlement reform to have a meaningful change in the deficit and the debt and that's something that the politicians have been afraid to do but it's absolutely necessary. And if they did it, they could find a lot of independents were in their corner.

MARTIN: And that's why that was the most fraudulent conversation you've ever heard. The House Republican Study Committee, they put forth a $2.5 trillion in cuts. Not a single dime for defense. Now they can't stand here and try to protect their special interest area, defense, when the Democrats are then going to turn around and protect Social Security and Medicaid.

I had Tom Price (ph), the chairman of this group, on my TV1 show "Washington Watch". He said two weeks ago everything is on the table. Well what happened? Did it get thrown off the table? And so Republicans can't stand here and talk about deficit control and spending if they are unwilling to confront defense spending?

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Roland is absolutely right on that point and I'm disheartened to see that they took defense off the table. There are plenty of ways to cut defense contractors. The Pentagon has a slew of projects that they don't want but members of Congress are telling them they have to pay for.

KING: On the one hand, you have to applaud them for being specific. You can disagree with their cuts if you are watching at home. On the one hand you applaud them for being specific. They're having the courage to say we would cut this. My question is what happens when the president has the power of the bully pulpit and you know what he's going to do here.

He's going to say I propose some cuts and I know my base is mad at me because I'm open to even doing Social Security and Medicare, but what you are doing especially when the states have no money is being mean spirited. The president is going to -- that's the argument the Democrats will make about the Republicans. Will they hold firm?

ERICKSON: Oh I think the Republicans are going to hold firm, the leadership not as much as the new members, but you'll definitely see some real movement to push the Republican leadership further in spending cuts. (CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: But that's not going to be the problem. The problem is not going to be the president. To be honest the problem is going to be the American taxpayers. If you saw what happened in Camden, New Jersey, this week. Dara Reith (ph), the mayor there, she said we had a budget shortfall, whacked 45 percent of the police force, all of a sudden she began to freak out.

And so taxpayers are going to have to say, wait a minute, I can't keep asking for more and more. That CBS poll was amazing. They don't want cuts. They don't want Medicaid cut, Social security cut. But -- the same number, 69 percent they want to see the deficit cut. So at some point the taxpayers are going to have to say I can't have it all. Can't have cut deficit but keep my spending.

KING: To borrow from Ross Perot, John Avlon, the devil is in the details, right?

AVLON: It always is. But look, if the president opens a door to entitlement reform in State of the Union and Republicans turn that opportunity down because it's not enough that would be so self- defeating not only for fiscal conservatism but generational responsibility. They have got to find a way to work together on this. If the door is open on entitlement reform, that's a huge opportunity to move this debate forward.

KING: We'll continue this conversation next week in advance of and then after once we hear the president's State of the Union address. Gentlemen thanks for coming in on a Friday night. Later George Clooney meets Piers Morgan and talks about his malaria. Rudy Giuliani meets Piers Morgan and dips his toe into the 2012 presidential fray. Not a bad first week for our new guy, but first one poll says 18 percent of Americans want to repeal the health care law, another says 50 percent feel that way. Confused -- we'll crunch the conflicting numbers next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I read a lot of polling, too much probably. But understanding public opinion is part of covering the big policy and political debates. The polls this week, however, were more than a little confusing. If you tuned into ABC, you might have heard their polling shows only 18 percent of Americans want to fully repeal the Obama health care law.

But if you clicked over here to CNN, you heard 50 percent of Americans favor repeal. No we don't cook the books. But sometimes how you asked a question and where in the survey you put the question can impact the outcome. Let's crunch numbers.

Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher here to help us explain along with conservative Erick Erickson and let's go through these numbers first because I was stunned this week. Often we see a little bit of movement in the polls but some of these were just whoa this week. Here's our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Repeal all provisions in the new health care law. Favor repeal, 50 percent. Oppose repeal, 42 percent, seems pretty straightforward.

However, ABC News/"Washington Post" poll conducted at essentially the very same time best approach to health care reform, repeal all of it, 18 percent. Repeal parts of it, 19 percent. Wait and see, 17 percent. Support reform, 45 percent. So let's stop there for one second and Cornell that to me is a classic case of we ask a favor or oppose. ABC/"Washington Post" ask a more nuance question and they get a very different result.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well it is different, but what it basically says there's a lot of confusion out there. I mean and you hit it right on the head. There's a lot of confusion out there because quite frankly Americans are still sort of up in the air on health care reform. They still don't know what's all is in it. If you ask me do I want to repeal all of it, John, quite frankly you know what, I live here in Washington. I did a lot of work around it. I have no idea what that means.

So I think there's still a lot of confusion around this. And I think Senator Schumer had a very interesting comment today -- this week. He said you know it's important for us to have a second chance to make a first impression on this because so many Americans don't. Also in those numbers what's also going on is from our side I mean -- Erick -- on Erick's side the Republicans are fairly so strong against it, but on our side you know there is still a lot of confusion. There's a 12-point intensity difference between Republicans who favor it versus Democrats who favor it. We didn't do a good enough job of selling it to our own base.

KING: And Erick, I want to go back to our numbers again because the Republicans seized on those. Because they came out just as the House Republicans were voting to repeal what they call Obama-care. Fifty percent favor. Forty-two percent oppose on repeal. But if you look more closely at our data, we did ask some other questions.

Provisions in the new health care law, favor all, six percent. Favor most, 39 percent. Oppose most, 34 percent. Oppose all, 16 percent. So if you take that oppose all, 16 percent, you can pretty much match that up with the repeal all in the ABC News/"Washington Post" poll, 18 percent. If you study the polling closely, somewhere in the ballpark of 17 to 20 percent of Americans say get rid of it all. And then beyond that it gets confusing.

BELCHER: And that's Erick.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Yes, that's me, absolutely. You know the striking number that I think is and I've seen a number of polls this week including The AP/JFK (ph) poll that really surprised a lot of people of 1,011 register -- adult Americans is when you pull out the Independents, you still have a majority of Independents in the country who either want it all gone away with or a substantial rewrite of it.

And I think that's one reason you're going to see Republicans continue to push this because it does to a degree help them prevent the president from making a complete pivot on this and keep this issue alive for those Independent voters. It's going to be interesting to watch them try to keep it alive.

KING: I want to get to some of your research in a second. But just quickly from a communications standpoint, our job here is to try to help the people sitting at home, help them understand and when you use polling help them understand if their views are the same as the country at large. But in this past week because there are so many polls, especially with the new Congress back, we've probably contributed to the confusion, have we not?

BELCHER: And it's still very fluid. I mean in polling terms we call this sort of -- it's fluid. It's very moveable. I mean you know the hardcore Republicans are clearly solidified against it. But you still have a lot of independent voters and quite frankly unfortunately a lot of Democrats who are still fluid on it. They're still not certain about whether they are strongly for this, or whether they oppose it. In your CNN poll, you had 47 percent of independents oppose it; and 47 percent favor it overall. So there is still a lot of fluidity out there.

KING: But in politics, Erick, if you see a number you like even if conflicts with the other guy's polls, you grab it.

ERICKSON: Absolutely. I've got a question for Cornell. I would be interested in his take. I have seen very few polls right now of likely voters, which obviously we're two years away from an election, but even among registered voters we're seeing a lot more of just general adults. And wonder how much stock, Cornell, as a pollster, outside of partisan spheres, looks at polls of just adults in general?

BELCHER: That's a really good point. I hate to say this on television. But the truth of the matter is inside reflection, especially when we are doing it for campaigns or candidates, we don't care about what the general public thinks. Because you know what, the general public doesn't impact this. If it's not likely voters going into this election cycle, they matter the most and that's where you have a little bit more informed audience. Because likely voters are little bit more informed. A lot of these public polls are broad, and not just of likely voters.

KING: Now, to clarify, not to confuse, you have some research that shows how the dynamics of the health care debate have changed for your party, the Democratic Party, between 2008 and 2010. I think we can show a chart on the screen. Let's put the chart up and, Cornell, you explain it for us.

BELCHER: I think would Democrats have had a bad year going in this cycle? Yes, we would have. But I absolutely not one to say health care did not impact us in a negative way. What this shows is that going into the last cycle health care was a plus 18-point advantage for Democrats overall going into the impact on electorate. It was a minus 6 point disadvantage for us this time.

What you're seeing inside the data, when you get inside the data, is that us walking away from the debate, Republicans were able to energize and organize a set of electorate specifically around anti- health care reform. And it was like us getting off the sort of the swing and it moved all their way. They were able to energized a group of voters against health care reform. And there was a group of voters out there who we could energized for health care reform but we did not. We missed the opportunity.

KING: Proof, Erick's side carried the day. They moved the numbers and changed the numbers.

BELCHER: They did.

ERICSSON: Yeah, me.

KING: Erick, thanks for coming in.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Have a great weekend. Same to you, Cornell. We'll see you guys next week.

Still to come, hear the latest on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords move from Tucson to Houston just 13 days after being shot. And next, Piers Morgan's busy first week includes a taste of presidential politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Last time Rudy Giuliani ran for president he spent just shy of $60 million. And got zero delegates to the Republican National Convention, and yet, he's not ruling out running in 2012. Last time he focused almost exclusively on winning the Florida primary. If he runs again, he tells our Piers Morgan, he would do it a little differently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I did it again or for anyone else who is running, I would concentrate on figuring out how do you win Iowa, how do you win New Hampshire and South Carolina, and how do you win Florida, in that order, at least one or two of those.

(END VIDEO CLIP)'

KING: Piers Morgan is with us now live at the close of a big first week.

Interesting to listen to a guy, he does not lack confidence, does he? He was a disaster as a candidate last time. He's dipping his toe maybe in again.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR, PIERS MORGAN LIVE: Was he a disaster, really? I mean, it turned out to be a disaster, because as he says thee is this terrible fatalistic nature of being the front runner from the start for too long. It tends to bring everybody down who is a front runner. He knew he waged the wrong campaign. He fought a national campaign. When actually he now can see the way to win these elections is to really fight on a primary by primary basis. I think he's worked out where he went wrong.

I would imagine he still remains a fairly popular character. He became America's mayor after 9/11. He's a smart guy. He's ambitious. And he knows where he went wrong. I wouldn't rule him out. His argument is quite a solid one which is Sarah Palin is a very polarizing figure. She may or may not run. I threw the question to him which was, are you more likely to run if she doesn't? He said actually the opposite.

KING: Let's listen to that, because we have that. Let's listen. I lot of people might say this Piers Morgan guy, is he going to understand American politics? That was the exact right question to ask and you did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Would you be more tempted to run if she wasn't?

GIULIANI: Maybe the opposite.

MORGAN: Really?

GIULIANI: Maybe the opposite because my one chance, if I have a chance, is that I'm considered a moderate Republican. So the more Republicans in which I can show a contrast, probably the better chance that I have.

MORGAN: You have become the acceptable face of the Republican Party?

GIULIANI: I don't know if I'm acceptable. The way I got elected mayor of New York City was not being acceptable. My slogan was you can't do any worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A lot of potential candidates, guys who know they are not going to run, they love the attention. The detail of that answer convinces me he spent a lot of time thinking about this.

MORGAN: I think he's serious and I think he's looking at, as he put it, a rather fluid vacuum at the moment with the Republicans, where president Obama got his shellacking in November. He's come back strongly. Everyone believes he's begun this year in a much better shape than he ended it. And the Republicans are kind of all over the place. No one is quite sure yet who their likely candidates will be.

Sarah Palin, for all her good side and her bad side, remains very polarizing. And a lot of Republicans, we all know this, are concerned that she couldn't beat Obama simply because she does polarize. Someone like Giuliani may well be the guy that comes through, not as a front runner this time, but as the moderate character that actually the Republicans work out may be a better bet.

KING: It will be fascinating to see if he gets in and if he can figure it out.

Let's change subjects because you have had a very busy and a fascinating first week. You started with Oprah. You had Condi Rice. You had Ricky Gervais. I'll get to that in a minute. But in addition to talking to Rudy Giuliani, you had a conversation with George Clooney, and his dad, and it's trending online because you were speaking to George Clooney about his travels to Africa and his bout with malaria. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: George, I was going to start this final segment with you by asking about the glory of being George Clooney, but you told me you have a bout of malaria. It doesn't sound that great.

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR, ACTIVIST: Well, even with malaria it's just good fun.

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: You look slightly overheated now. I thought it was me, but it turns out it is actually this-I mean, you do get malaria flare ups quite regularly do you?

CLOONEY: No. I've had it twice. I just some-guess the mosquito in Juba looked at me and thought I was the bar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I guess being George Clooney you can just laugh off malaria?

MORGAN: Yes, it was quite weird interviewing someone who halfway through in one of the breaks tells me he's got malaria. It was a bit weird. He made a good point about it when we stopped laughing, which was that he's able to have the medication which means it was a ten-day horror story for him, but not a fatal situation.

Obviously, in places like Sudan millions of people do end up losing their lives to malaria. I think that George, actually in a funny way, probably quite likes all of the attention that's come from the fact that he's had a bout of it. Because he can say, look, we need this medication in Africa. We need it in Sudan.

KING: I want to close. I want to show our viewers a picture I was watching last night. You had great fun with Ricky Gervais. It was great interview. When I started this program, I told the management, maybe I'd make it like "Mad Man". You know, every office has a bar. And somebody comes in and says, Can I pour you a drink, and they said no. That would be a career ender. They say it would be a career ender. Look at this picture last night. Piers Morgan, Ricky Gervais on the set with their pints-with their pints. Now, I Tweeted during the hour, because your pint was disappearing fast enough for my taste. I said, out of the office I assume that would disappear a bit faster. Is that really beer in there? MORGAN: That was real beer. Unfortunately, we had to, we were going to have cans but they gave me Fosters which is an Australian lager. And the one thing a Brit cannot be seen doing in public is drinking Australian beer.

But I did note your Tweet. I'm looking forward to testing your drinking theory, Mr. King. If you think you can out drink me on the beer front, think again.

KING: I believe in supporting the wheat, hops and barley growers all around the world. That's an excellent challenge. I'll take it even if I lose it will be great fun.

MORGAN: I have some good news for you. I just bought a pub in England. If you're ever in London, I just awarded you free beer for life.

KING: That's worth taking. Piers Morgan, fabulous first week, we appreciate you spending a few minutes with us. We Cheers to you. Enjoy. Tip one over the weekend. You deserve it. And we'll see you next week.

MORGAN: I'm going for a pint. Thanks, John. Take care.

KING: Take care my friend.

When we come back, the latest in another upbeat assessment. Gabrielle Giffords leaves a Tucson hospital. She is rehabilitating now in Houston. The latest when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is at a Houston hospital tonight. A short time ago her office released this photograph taken during today's flight from Tucson. On the left is her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. Giffords' mother is in the center, and the blonde woman is a nurse who has been with Giffords since the day of the shooting. Doctors in Houston say the congresswoman made it through the trip just fine. And even though she still can't talk, they say Giffords is able to communicate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DONG KIM, DIRECTOR, MISCHER NEUROSCIENCE INST.: Today when we were trying to do parts of the exam, if there were things she didn't like she was pushing us away, or directing us to do something different. You know, there is no question that she's aware of what's happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is in Houston at the facility where Giffords treatment and rehabilitation will continue.

Elizabeth, help us understand. Now she's in the hands of the new medical team. Spell out what happens in the days and weeks ahead.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What happens in the days and weeks ahead is that first they're going to mainly address her immediate medical issues. For example, she has a drain coming out of her head, to drain some fluid that's accumulated around her brain. They need to get that out of there. Because while it's in there, she needs to stay in the ICU and have just little bits of rehabilitation; once that's out of there, they can think about moving her full-time into the rehabilitative hospital.

KING: And in addition to the medical update today, we also saw more of the remarkable emotion around this story. The Tucson team that has been with her for 13 days, some of them fly with her on this flight to Houston. And they're having a handoff that's quite emotional for them. Let's listen to Tracy Culver (ph), she is a nurse from Tucson. We saw her in the picture on that flight.

I'm told we don't have the sound ready. She said, "Do you want me to cry? It's very emotional. I'm going to miss her a lot. She's a very gentle person. Her personality is coming out. Describe what it's like to be around this very emotional event?

COHEN: She was really, she was fighting back tears. She said, I've really gotten to know and love her in the 12 days I spent with her. And Culver (ph) told this very sweet story. She had a ring on. She could tell, even though Giffords couldn't talk, she could tell that Giffords liked the ring, and was kind of eyeing the ring. So, Culver took the ring off, handed it to Giffords. And she said Giffords looked at it like this. And then when Tracy went to take it back, Giffords pretended to keep it. Like she was going to keep it. And that indicates that she has a sense of humor. It indicates that she can communicate, even without words. Those are huge things, not even two weeks after a brain injury like this.

KING: Funny moments are also critical in her recovery.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank so much for your help from the scene tonight in Houston. Appreciate it.

When we come back, at home you probably think that guy doesn't know what he's talking about a lot. Tonight you'll be right. When we come back, Fashion Friday and the first lady.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Chinese President Hu Jintao wrapped up his U.S. trip today and is heading home to Beijing. For some people the most memorable image from his visit has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the first lady's dress. You see it right there at Wednesday's state dinner. So was it a hit or a miss? Joining me now is fashion journalist Kate Betts, former editor and chief of "Harper's Bazaar". She is also the author of an upcoming book, "Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama And the Power of Style". And joining me to help, and I definitely need the help, CNN National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin.

You know, Kate, when your book came in the mail this week I stunned the staff because I'm not a fashion plate by any means.

KATE BETTS, AUTHOR, "EVERYDAY ICON": Oh, come on.

KING: I was flipping through it. I really enjoyed it. I'm actually going to read it. I haven't done that yet, but I was flipping through it.

So, she walks out at the White House in resplendent red, which of course had to make the guests happy.

BETTS: Yes, as we all know in Chinese culture red is a symbol of luck and success. And the dress was very glamorous. It was a surprising choice because it's by a deceased British designer, Alexander McQueen, not an American designer, or a Chinese designer. I think that's what we have come to expect with the first lady. She always surprises with her fashion choices.

KING: And she doesn't always follow the rules. Surprises in her choices and sometimes she accessorizes in a way that makes us go -- no?

BETTS: She writes her own rules when it comes to fashion. From the very beginning we saw that. I think that's what keeps us riveted by her fashion and keeps us paying attention to her.

KING: In Washington, which is not known for being a fashion town, it's not New York. It's not Los Angeles. She has opened a lot of eyes here.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm curious to know from Kate, why-whether you think it's meaningful that she sort is more-let's say it, sexy than other first ladies. We're used to seeing Bill Blass, and Oscar de la Renta, these very traditional looks. Is that appropriate for a first lady?

BETTS: Well, I think she-appropriate? I think she is redefining appropriate on her own terms. She's young. She's in great shape. She has incredible confidence. She has incredible body confidence. Why not? Who is to say what's appropriate or not? She's the first lady, right?

KING: That's a good way to put it. I'm not sure -- help me if this is guy speak. One thing that stands out to me is the contrast. You see her at the state dinner, you see her at these glamorous events. But then when you see her in public, sometimes she is fairly casual. Some in Britain thought too casual when they met the queen. We have pictures of her at this event the day after the state dinner. She did a public event, a cooperation with Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is going to start selling better, more healthy foods. And you see there is the first lady. That's a pretty casual dress there. Gray. Sleeveless. What's the statement there?

BETTS: You know, I think that's kind of what makes her an every day icon. She's somebody who is really assessable. She wants to be assessable. She wants to put forth this message of very casual fashion. That's kind of her personality. I think she also wants to appeal to everyone. I think she does a great job of that with her appearance.

YELLIN: Kate, you know, there's some in this town especially who roll their eyes any time we talk about the first lady and fashion. Why does it matter? Why is it relevant? Is it even sexist that we are talking about how she dresses. But would you explain why you think it does matter and what kinds of message it sends.

BETTS: It's funny. Because I write about this in the book. I think style does matter. In her case she used it to get our attention. When she has our attention she can say what she wants. She can deliver whatever message she wants. For some reason in this country there's a false notion that style and substance have to occupy two separate worlds. And she's proving that that's wrong. And style is substance, and vice versa, and why should they be separated? I mean, style is an expression of who you are and she does that very beautifully I think.

KING: OK. I'm going to be the skunk at the garden party here. For all we've shown some fabulous pictures, and she is certainly making a statement, and people are copying her but we all have our bad moments. I want to show you the pictures when the came back from their Hawaiian vacation around the holidays. She is coming down the stairs of Air Force One. I remember watching these pictures. And because she usually is so stunning I saw this. I thought not so sure that's a picture she wanted to have taken. Am I wrong?

BETTS: I don't know. I think she has a very casual attitude and she's coming back from vacation. And why not? She wants to be comfortable. I think that's fine. She's not always going to be glamorous. I think that's the message she wants to give there.

YELLIN: She's a real person. You know? I mean, one of the things she does is she dresses in J. Crews sometimes to say I shop like you shop, and sometimes she looks a little slubby like the rest of us, too, right?

KING: Amen for that. Normal is good. Especially I'm still learning here. I'm willing to admit that. Kate Betts we appreciate you coming in to help us tonight. We'll see you in D.C. Here's the book, "Everyday Icon", right here. Jessica Yellin, thank you for helping.

YELLIN: No white leggings for you, though.

KING: No white leggings for me. No leggings period for me. Thank you for helping me get through this one tonight. When we come back, this is a segue . What were NFL players doing on the Hill this week? Pete on The Street, Sports is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: My guys are golfing, but yes, it's a big weekend for football. But for NFL players it was also a big week here in Washington. Some players were up on Capitol Hill for their support in their pay battle with the owners. Our Offbeat Reporter Pete Dominick is a watcher of both the on and of field play. Mr. Dominick.

PETER DOMINICK, CNN OFFBEAT REPORTER: That's right, John King. The Jets next to wins could be the final two games of all of 2011, and maybe 2012, because of the labor dispute between the players and the owners.

I tell you, John, I got a lot of different angles to attack this one. But if there are no NFL games, you feel bad for players and you feel bad for us fans. But you have to feel bad for the people who are not going to have jobs, the ticket takers, security people. What about the cheerleaders, John, the makers of cheer. This is bad in so many ways and then the roughest recession in recent history, if not almost ever, the American people don't want to hear millionaires and billionaires complaining they're not making enough.

KING: Which is why I suspect they'll work it out. A lot of bluster and banter but they'll work it out.

DOMINICK: John, from 2006 to 2009, players salaries rose 9.4 percent. The owners revenue 16.9 percent. That's pretty good in an economy where most organizations aren't doing that well. I don't know why they are so upset.

KING: Because-how about greed?

DOMINICK: Well, you know what? The owners won't release the financial statements except, interestingly enough, the Green Bay Packers, which are publicly owned, so go Packers this weekend.

KING: Amen for that.

DOMINICK: And Jets, of course.

KING: I can't even say that. Pete, have a great weekend. That's all for us tonight. We hope to see you Monday. "PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.