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JOHN KING, USA

Lawlessness in Cairo; Million-Man March; White House Leverage; Ambassador to China Resigns

Aired January 31, 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. President Obama's ambassador to China submitted his resignation this evening to prepare for a possible 2012 presidential run of his own and critics of the Obama health care law are celebrating a huge win in federal court, but first, more dramatic breaking news from Egypt tonight.

The government has taken new steps to block Internet access and shut down phone lines -- this an apparent effort to interfere with what Mubarak regime critics vow will be the largest demonstration to date. Here in Washington, the Obama administration is playing down concerns that if President Mubarak is forced out, radical Islamists could seize power.

Yet, there's a sense of frustration and uncertainty at the White House. The administration has made clear to President Mubarak he needs an exit strategy but sees no evidence as yet he is ready for a true dialogue with his critics. As one official put it to me quote, "it is not clear he is listening, and he may try to overstay his already overstayed time."

A packed hour begins in Cairo with the very latest from CNN's Arwa Damon -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. And on that point you were just making there about the concern that exists that if the Mubarak regime should fall there would be some sort of Islamist government that would take over, a lot of strong opinions on that front from the streets of Cairo. People saying that, no, that is not the case because this is not an Islamic revolt.

This is a revolt of the people and what they do want is democracy. And anyone who comes into power should President Mubarak fall is also going to be held just as accountable as he is being held by the population right now. And the population here, the demonstrators really digging in. We were just down at Tiananmen Square, Liberation Square where the demonstrations have been concentrated, and it has turned into something of a campsite.

Entire families pitching tents determined that no matter what they are going to be taking part in this million-man march that is anticipated for tomorrow. But while there is that sense of excitement at the demonstration site itself, it's not quite what we're seeing in the streets of Cairo. Entire streets deserted. Shops shut down, many of them destroyed.

Gas stations empty, lacking fuel or shut down because of security. Banks are not working, ATMs are blank. People are struggling to get money. But even more importantly, they're beginning to struggle to get food. A lot of those people that we've been talking to who are not partaking in the demonstrations voicing their anger and frustration at the difficulties that they're facing in their daily lives -- John.

KING: And Arwa, the newly appointed vice president went on television today and promised to open a dialogue. Are the protesters, those organizing the demonstrations, do they take that seriously or is all they want for Mubarak to go?

DAMON: They're not taking is seriously, nor are they taking anything that anyone who has anything to do with the current regime seriously. They are sticking to their one demand and that is that the president step down no matter what. And they are saying that they are going to stick it out. They're going to keep up these demonstrations until that does, in fact, take place.

All of the reshuffling within the government that we're seeing right now, they're saying that that is insignificant. They are determined to make the point that they do not want any sort of a military regime. They want to see fresh elections; they want to see a new democracy. And they are not going to be listening to what they are calling empty promises that are being made by the current president or by anyone who's been newly appointed -- John.

KING: Arwa Damon for us in Cairo -- let's get more now from Nic Robertson who's been in the middle of massive demonstrations in Egypt's second city, Alexandria -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, the mood on the demonstrations here, one of determination that we've continued to hear all the while the last few days, but it's once of also increasing frustration, it's one of divided opinions from what people should do. The ouster of President Mubarak is a given, but should they give this government that he's talking about, the new government, should they give that a chance? Should they -- or should they just push ahead and get a clean sweep?

There's divided opinion there. But I think one of the other opinions that comes across, and we heard it very clearly today, is that the United States, President Obama, should take a stronger position behind the people here, and I heard that from a father and son, Egyptian-Americans, here at one of the demonstrations. And I heard it from another man whose sister and brother both live and work in the United States, so there's a lot of people here with a really nuanced understanding of U.S. foreign policy.

And they really want to see the United States come out more strongly in favor of them and their protests because they say they're the new future, and if President Obama and the United States want them as friends in the new future, it better make it known now -- John. KING: It's a fascinating point you make. And Nic, what do they make, the people who are planning to demonstrate, the people who want President Mubarak to go, of the government taking even additional steps tonight, trying to block phone service, cut off what was left of the Internet access, do they view that as defiance from the regime?

ROBERTSON: Absolutely. Everything that they're seeing from the regime they view as defiance, but you do have this level of concern from one part of the population that doesn't want disintegration into anarchy and that does think that some stable transition is the best way to go. They're not the loudest voices.

But there is a concern that as the regime blocks the phone service again as it did on Friday when we had the big demonstrations, as it's going to cut the rail service, which -- which here in Alexandria the rail, the main rail station terminates right at one of the big rally points here, if the regime is going to try and thwart them in that way, there's a concern that the regime is also trying to divide them by giving -- by essentially sort of having a soft option and a tough option out there.

So -- and again, I think one of the things emerging here is there's no clear leadership of the demonstrators. So who do you talk to? Who convinces the demonstrators when it's time to step back? This million-man march again is going to be another key day, but I don't think anyone on the streets today fools themselves and thinks it's going to be over. They know the regime's digging in -- John.

KING: Nic Robertson for us in Alexandria -- fabulous reporting. Thank you Nic and can President Mubarak somehow keep his grip on power and can President Obama help bring about a peaceful resolution that leaves Egypt in friendly hands?

Nicholas Burns is a veteran diplomat, former under secretary of state and Nick, let me start with you just asking you about tomorrow. They're calling it a millions-man march. Is this a potential tipping point? When the administration sends the new vice president on TV and says we'll have a dialogue and the demonstrators say no, thank you, sir. When the administration cuts off phone service, cuts off Internet service, if the people flow into the streets in more massive numbers than before, what signal does it send?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well John, I think that tomorrow's going to be a very dramatic and perhaps even a decisive day of the situation in Egypt. It seems that President Mubarak is losing control of the streets. He doesn't appear to have a strategy, at least not one that's publicly visible for how to take this situation and normalize it.

He's appointed a government that looks exactly like, in fact is exactly like the government he had before. These new people have not indicated any serious effort to promote reform or open a dialogue with reformers. And so I think that he's quickly going to have to make the decision that he can no longer lead the country. He's going to have to make the decision and make the announcement that he's not going to stand for president in the September elections, nor is his son, Gamal. And the best case scenario would then be that a caretaker government, perhaps with elements of his current team and especially with a military which is highly regarded in Egypt will be able to shepherd the country through the next several months to restore some order but give people hope that the voice of the demonstrators and reformers will be listened to towards that September election. I think, John, that's the best case scenario. There are a lot of bad things that could happen, and this situation could turn obviously in a much more negative direction.

KING: Well let's start with the potential for a transitional administration that is peaceful. And on that point if President Mubarak ignores the will of his people, again, after a giant march tomorrow, at what point does the president of the United States need to pick up the phone, Nick, and not say, Mr. President, you need to start thinking about an orderly transition, you need to start reaching out to the critics, at what point does the president have a very blunt conversation and say, President Mubarak, you need to go now?

BURNS: Well of course we know from the press, John, that President Obama was in touch with President Mubarak over the weekend, that Secretary Gates was in touch with his counterpart, Mr. Tantawi, that Chairman Mike Mullen was also on the phone, so there is a lot of communication right now --

KING: And you know the language of that communication --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- having been involved in sensitive conversations like that. You know the language of the conversation and then what the administration says publicly. But we know they're saying, Mr. President, please leave. Please plan this. When do they say you have to leave? We will not give you aid, you must leave?

BURNS: Well, I think -- I think tomorrow will be a decisive day because if the military cracks down on peaceful demonstrators in the streets of Alexandria or Cairo, that will be a decisive factor. And John, I actually think that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have done a really skillful job here of balancing on a tightrope. And here's what they've done.

They have clearly articulated in President Obama's Friday evening statement and in Secretary Clinton's Sunday morning remarks that they want a transition to reform. But they have not injected the United States directly into the conflict as if we were directing events because that will backfire on us and so I think they've been skillful in that regard.

And I think if any tough message is going to come, it has to come privately as opposed to publicly because as you know, the United States is not popular with many segments of the Egyptian public and if it looks like this scenario is being directed by Washington, it's not going to serve the interests of the United States, nor will it serve the interests of the people that we need to depend on in Egypt. So I think that the administration -- I don't know what they're saying -- I'm not privy to these messages, but I think they're giving a fairly direct message to the government that the time has come for a transition to break the cycle of the crisis.

KING: And you mention you hope there's a peaceful and rational transition, orderly transition. What is your concern if that does not happen?

BURNS: Oh the concern is that there are a thousand different scenarios here and most of them aren't good. As you know, the Muslim Brotherhood is a considerable force and Egyptian politics is an opposition group. There are others that are extreme Islamist character. And so -- and Egypt's a very complicated and complex country, but if those groups believe that they can begin to direct these events or play a major role in the future, then, of course, all bets are off.

There's also the additional complication here that there's a pan- Arab narrative being written. Tunis has influenced Cairo and Cairo is going to influence the events in Sana'a, perhaps even in Damascus over the weekend. And so this is an extraordinary moment for the Arab world in some ways, extraordinarily hopeful because the vast majority of people on the streets are peaceful.

They clearly want a better future. They've had to live with corrupt and inefficient governments and so if their power can be harnessed it could be -- it could be a positive ending. But if some of these negative terrorist groups or Islamist -- radical Islamist groups get involved, then of course they could turn this in an entirely negative direction.

So a lot is riding on whether or not President Mubarak and his advisers can make this decision that they can't be part of the future, that they have to hand this off to other people. People like Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a very distinguished Egyptian who is back in the country, who would be someone perhaps that the government could turn to and negotiate a transitional period.

KING: Nick Burns is a former ambassador, former under secretary of state. Nick, appreciate your insights tonight, we'll keep in touch in the days ahead.

And still to come for us, critics of the Obama health care law win a huge victory in federal court. And might the president's 2012 Republican opponent be someone who at the moment works in the Obama administration? Next though Fareed Zakaria on just what to look for next in Egypt.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Egypt's newly appointed vice president says the government wants to open a dialogue with the demonstrators demanding an end to the Mubarak regime, but those demonstrators say it is too late to trust Mr. Mubarak's promises of new political reform. So where is this crisis headed and just how much leverage does the Obama White House have? Let's get the perspective of CNN's Fareed Zakaria. And Fareed, at the moment this appears to be a test of wills, President Mubarak promising some outreach, some dialogue. But most people believe he's essentially see if he can outlast the energy on the streets.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Precisely. Mubarak clearly is -- has decided and the army seems to back him in a strategy of wait, let these demonstrations exhaust themselves, open up some kind of dialogue, and hope that the basic structure of the Egyptian regime stays in place, though there may be some changes. It may even be that Mubarak realizes that he will have to go. But the military behind him clearly wants to maintain the basic structure of the Egyptian regime, which is essentially a military dictatorship.

KING: And so when you hear this now the demonstrators saying they want to have a millions-man march. They want to have the largest demonstrations ever. I assume if they can produce those kind of crowds, the next big test is whether there's any tension with the army on the streets or whether the army reaches the calculation to say, Mr. President, you need to go.

ZAKARIA: I think that's exactly right. I think the army has decided that it will not fire on the protesters. As you know, they've already said that it would be awful if they were to renege on that. I think they've decided that they cannot be in opposition; they cannot be mowing down protesters. The Tiananmen Square option seems to be foreclosed.

So the next thing that the army is going to ask itself is can it save its own skin by sacrificing Mubarak. If these marches go well, my guess is that the most important person in Egypt right now is Field Marshal Tantawi, the head of the armed force, who will be trying to decide whether this regime, which is at core a military dictatorship should try to survive by sacrificing Hosni Mubarak.

KING: And as this plays out, how much leverage does the Obama White House have? We know that President Obama spoke briefly to President Mubarak. We know Prime Minister Cameron of the U.K. and Prime Minister Merkel of Germany have spoken to him. All essentially, if my sources are correct, giving the same message, telling him that he has to ultimately plan a path to an Egypt not led by Mubarak. But how much leverage do they have especially when the leaders closest to Mr. Mubarak, the king of Saudi Arabia, the king of Jordan, the last thing they're going to do is tell him to step down because that would cause pressure on their own governments.

ZAKARIA: Right. Those leaders, his neighbors -- Mubarak's neighbors have all publicly supported him and are privately probably urging him to stand fast. Look, this is an interesting revolt in that the -- the things you're not hearing on the street in Cairo are the Palestinians, Israel, or even the United States much, this is an internal revolt, this is about dictatorship, repression, lack of economic opportunities, inflation, domestic causes.

But there is one person who has leverage in this situation, one outside player and that is Barack Obama. I think Obama is trying to find the middle course between honoring an old ally and responding to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. But right now in this crisis, the middle ground he has found is deeply unstable.

I think he is going to have to make that call that I don't think he has made yet, a call to Hosni Mubarak to tell him it is time for him to go. He can plan his -- his departure. He can plan the process by which he leaves, but it is inconceivable that he will be able to stay as president of Egypt for more than a few months at most.

KING: And yet, there are some who are saying if it comes to that, beware of what you wish for, who are drawing comparisons saying that they believe this could turn out to be like Iran in 1979. Do you see that as a possibility that out of this push on the streets you have these masses in the streets, it seems to be a genuine across the population uprising. But could the flip side be if Mubarak is forced out that what you get in return is a radical Islamist government?

ZAKARIA: It seems unlikely, though you know, everyone has to be concerned. These are not idle fears. It seems unlikely because Iran has a particular kind of Shia Islam in which the clergy are very powerful politically. It seems unlikely because the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the Islamic party, seems to have support. But not more than 25 percent in most informal polls that have been done. They are not the spearhead of this protest movement.

They are -- they are there, but so are many lawyers and students and general middle class types. And also the fact that it is now being led -- or by perhaps in some kind of figurehead fashion assuming (ph) led by Mohamad ElBaradei, who is a deeply secular man with absolutely no Islamist or Islamic fundamentalist connections whatsoever.

Now the one thing that could turn this into a much more radical movement, of course, is harsh repression. The reason the shah of Iran's regime ended up being replaced by an Islamic regime was in part because he eliminated all liberal opposition very, very brutally and what was left at the end were just the absolute diehard radicals, the ones who wouldn't stop marching, who wouldn't stop protesting no matter what and those were the Islamic fundamentalists.

So if there is a lesson here it is resolve this quickly. Because the more brutality and repression you use the more the only people left standing at the end will be the Islamic fundamentalists.

KING: You had an extensive conversation with Mr. ElBaradei, does he view himself as a transitional figure who could help represent the views of those on the streets in the transitional role or does he view himself as a future Egyptian president?

ZAKARIA: You know you never know what people's internal ambitions are. I think he realizes that his most effective role would be to be the -- some kind of caretaker, transitional president. Does he hope perhaps that you know he does such a great job that Egyptians rise up and support him? Possibly, the evidence is he's not known really on the Egyptian street. He's a man who lived most of his life in Vienna, an international bureaucrat. But he serves a very, very useful function right now. And that is why the opposition has coalesced against him. He's untouchable because he's so high profile internationally, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. He's also seen by most of these other political parties as unelectable. So they are not threatened by him, so while they -- each would not agree to one -- you know of the other representatives, they all agree on this guy. So for all of these reasons he's the man of the moment.

KING: Fareed Zakaria, as always thank you.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

KING: A look here at the complicated region, the neighborhood, if you will, Fareed was just talking about -- Egypt here, Saudi Arabia watching closely, Iran watching closely, so many other governments in the region, many of them autocratic watching closely what happens in Egypt. We want to show you this too quickly.

You heard at the top of the program tonight -- let me make that go away -- you heard at the top of the program tonight about the Internet outage. Watch how this plays out. People have been using the Internet to help organize the protests. You see last week, Internet usage up, Internet usage up, then look at that, that flat line the government cutting off access to the Internet. For most Egyptians a flat line that has continued even more today. What limited Internet service there was, we are told, cut off tonight.

Much more on the Egypt crisis ahead including an outspoken member of Congress who says the White House risks a radical Islamic regime if it doesn't firmly back President Mubarak.

But next, the U.S. ambassador to China resigns. He's a Republican and his supporters are organizing a possible White House run in 2012.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: There's breaking political news tonight involving America's top diplomat in China. Ambassador Jon Huntsman delivered a resignation letter to the White House today disclosing his plans to leave his Beijing post effective April 30th. What makes this political news and not just diplomatic news is that Huntsman is a Republican and a former Utah governor who already has a shadow 2012 campaign organization forming.

Is he leaving the president's team to challenge the president? Let's debate the diplomacy of that with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Republican strategist Kevin Madden, and John Avlon, a founding member of the centrist group No Labels.

Mr. Madden, I want to go to you first on this one. (A), you're a Republican. (B), you worked in the last campaign, and you're still close with the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, who knows Mr. Huntsman and knows him pretty well. Is he in?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Mr. Huntsman?

KING: Yes.

MADDEN: I believe --

KING: I have no doubt Mr. Romney is in.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: Those all the signs I think you need. You have you know word out there that he's already put together an inner circle, the fact that there's probably going to be some outreach now to fundraisers. And, you know, and resigning your ambassadorship is probably a clear sign, as clear as it made in the "Newsweek" article that we saw two weeks ago that he's seriously thinking about it, so I'd expect to probably see an announcement very soon in the spring.

KING: Donna, it's the other party. I guess -- you know I guess back in the Truman administration the secretary of war challenged the president, but do you remember anything like this -- a guy leaving an administration to run against his boss at the moment?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, not leaving the administration, but back in the 1960s, Henry Cabot Lodge was the ambassador to Vietnam and he -- someone wrote his name in New Hampshire, he won the New Hampshire primary. He later lost the primary. He didn't resign his position.

But this is not unheard of. But I want to say something about Mr. Huntsman. He's a very attractive candidate. I will have to I guess go back and forth between looking at him and Mitt Romney just in terms of checking my eyesight.

KING: Now, now, now, superficial there from Donna. John Avlon, what profile does he fit? He's a more moderate. He certainly, he's a conservative, but he's a more moderate than many of the candidates, prospective candidates, we have seen running around. He has been more moderate on gay rights, for example.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. He's decidedly center right with executive experience. And I think this is the first candidate that the White House is genuinely concerned about. Now the big picture question of course is whether someone who's served in the Obama administration can survive a Republican primary. But he really is in a strong position.

He could just end up being a spoiler for Mitt Romney. But nobody should doubt the ripples this is going to have throughout the race, not only in the GOP side of the field, but overall. And his father is a very highly respected philanthropist through a lot of conservative circles and a mentor to a lot of conservative opinion-makers. So that's a very significant blunting force to those folks who might say he's too centrist for the GOP right now.

MADDEN: Who raised money for Mitt Romney in 2008 --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

KING: That money is dried up for Governor Romney. Governor Romney's got to look elsewhere. John Avlon just made an interesting point; you know how would the Obama administration service affect Governor and Ambassador Huntsman if he's running in a Republican primary. We'll remember, President Hu Jintao of China was just here and Jon Huntsman was in the front row and President Obama was asked about -- at the time what was a scenario, a possibility that Ambassador Huntsman might leave to run for president. Here's what the president of the United States had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I couldn't be happier with the ambassador's service and I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future and I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, you have a bias, Mr. Madden. Obviously, you're on team Romney. Would that matter? Would that, in and of itself, is that a liability in a Republican primary that he served two years in the Obama administration?

MADDEN: I think right now people in Washington know who Jon Huntsman is. Voters in Iowa, voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Michigan, all the early primary states don't. And that -- that announcement that bio, part of his bio is going to be in the lead of every single introduction, introductory profile about Mr. Huntsman. And at a time where not many of these Republican activists, Republican voters in many of the mainly primary states are looking favorably upon the Obama administration, it's going to be something that he's going to have to shoulder. A burden he's going to have to shoulder.

BRAZILE: John, I spoke of his attractiveness, and I wasn't just talking about his looks. I was talking about the fact that he's worked with the Democratic administration. And while it may not play in the early primaries or caucuses, I think independent voters in others, in certain states where they can vote, he might be an attractive alternative to the hard right.

KING: An here's another-go ahead, John.

AVLON: That's the really important point here. Like all centrist candidates he's a better general election candidate than a primary candidate.

But the fact that he's worked with the administration, A, ensures a degree of civility in a campaign. And allows him to be somewhat above the fray with the uglier edges of the conservative populism that we've seen over the last two years. So, he's got the credentials, philosophically, and in terms of policy. But it allows him to take a different tact that a lot of folks in the center and independent voters, in particular, in a state like New Hampshire could find very refreshing.

KING: Here's what I also find very interesting. President Obama is the exception to the rule. So, people at home would say this guy doesn't know what he's talking about. Governors tend to get elected president. Governors tend to win because of the chief executive experience, because of their fundraising ability. You had Governor Pawlenty, who is moving around. There is no question he's going to run for the Republican nomination. Governor Romney is about to start his book tour. I don't think there is any question he is going to run for the Republican nomination. We've been asking is Governor Barber going to run? Is Governor Perry going to run? Does a Governor Huntsman running take up more of the field? Take up more of the space?

MADDEN: Governor Daniels and also possibly Governor Gary Johnson. I think it makes that space --

BRAZILE: Let's not forget Sarah Palin.

MADDEN: And former Governor Sarah Palin.

KING: Shouldn't forget her.

MADDEN: It becomes a very competitive space. And I think one of the mistakes that we make, right now, at first glance trying to analyze who's up, who's down, on something like this is you really don't know until all the folks are in the field. There are going to be people going out there now, a lot of candidates going out and trying to develop a competence narrative, an executive narrative. Well, that space gets very, very competitive. Who is going to break out of it? So we really don't know until all these candidates are in.

KING: And can you run, John Avlon-it's a contrarian argument. You mentioned he's more to the center. Rudy Giuliani just talked about this with Piers Morgan last week. And Rudy, last campaign was shall we say not so good, I'm going to be kind. I don't view him as a guy. But in a race where you have everyone's saying, well, the Tea Party is the juice of the party right now, so I have to go right, right, and further right. Can you run a primary campaign - it's a contrarian argument -- saying I'm electable. I'm not one of them, I'm the anti-Palin, if you will.

AVLON: Yeah. There's a space in the field, in the center right now, that's what Rudy was speaking to. I think Huntsman addresses it, as well. Especially a state like New Hampshire, where independent -- with open primaries, where independent voters outnumber Democrats and Republicans. That is a winning proposition potentially. It's not going to help you in Iowa, not going to help you in South Carolina. But it could make a difference in a state like Iowa, and then pivoting into Super Tuesday where the electability argument should carry the day, it is not academic. It's very real.

BRAZILE: But social conservatives want to know his position on abortion -- KING: George H.W. Bush, the last, I would say, centrist Republican to win the nomination. He sort of had an advantage. He was Ronald Reagan's vice president.

BRAZILE: Huntsman is going to get in trouble on abortion, on gay marriage, and a number of other issues that have really hurt a lot of Republicans.

KING: It will make the soul searching on the Republican side interesting. Everybody, stay put.

When we come back, next, a big win for more than two dozen states who claimed the Obama health care law is unconstitutional. The legal and political implications, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Critics of the Obama healthcare law tonight are celebrating a big win in the federal courts. U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson today sided with 26 state attorneys general who argue that Congress overstepped its constitutional powers when it included a mandate that most Americans purchase health insurance. Judge Vinson put it this way, quote, "I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the act with the individual mandate." The politics of healthcare in a moment, but first let's dissect the legal issue with our Senior Legal Analyst Jeff Toobin.

Jeff Toobin, so we're two to two now. Two judges have said it is constitutional two judges have said it is not. Is there any way to just get the Supreme Court to just decide this now, or do we have to wait a year, or three?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: I think we have to wait a while. The Justice Department, the Obama administration has made clear that they are not going to seek and expedited review. They are going to go to the circuit courts of appeals. That will certainly take several months. I think it's unlikely that the Supreme Court will even get this case until its October, 2011 term, which means it will probably be decided in early 2012, in the Supreme Court.

KING: Oh, presidential election year, gee, what a coincidence. You know, the critics of the law say that this is the bigger of the cases that have been decided so far. The biggest they would say because 26 states joined in. Does that make any difference? Does it give it more gravitas, more volume?

TOOBIN: Maybe a little. I think what's especially significant about Judge Vinson's ruling today is he said that the individual mandate part was unconstitutional. But as a result, he had to throw out the whole law; meaning, every provision. Now I think that is an extreme step. It's different from what Judge Hudson did in Virginia, who found the individual mandate unconstitutional, but invalidated that part of the law. If this is upheld, if Judge Vinson's ruling is upheld, everything about pre-existing conditions, about keeping kids on their parents' insurance until they're 26, all that goes out the window, even though that's not unconstitutional. That, I think, is -- is an enormous victory for opponents of the law. I think that part of the law is probably unlikely to stand appellate review.

KING: So help the cynic in me out here. We believe we have an independent judiciary. Even though judges are appointed by presidents for lifetime terms, we like to think it's an independent judiciary. Let's look at the scorecard so far. Unconstitutional, both judges who have ruled that, Henry Hudson and Roger Vinson, appointed by Republicans, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. The two judges who said it was constitutional, huh, look, appointed by a Democrat, Bill Clinton in both cases. Is there any other way to read this than to say that, guess what, the president -- there's politics involved in judgeships?

TOOBIN: You know, John, I don't think that's undue cynicism. I think these are mixed political and legal judgments. And there is no point in pretending otherwise, and I think to look at the political profile, to look at the previous decisions of the judges who decide these cases is entirely appropriate and very revealing. And we have a United States Supreme Court that is essentially divided 4-4, liberals and conservatives, with Anthony Kennedy in the middle. And I think Anthony Kennedy's going to have a lot to say about whether this law survives.

KING: Jeff Toobin, appreciate your legal insights. Justice Anthony Kennedy, come on down.

All right. Let's get back to our political group, here; John Avlon still with us, Kevin Madden, Donna Brazile.

Kevin, the Republicans tonight are saying, see, we told you so. This one is bigger. It will add volume to the political debate at a time when now all 47 Senate Republicans have signed on to repeal, which is a little surprising, because a couple of those moderates, we weren't quite sure they would. Does it affect the political debate at all?

MADDEN: Well, sure. I think a lot folks that are working on this, on the legislative side, folks on the House who voted to repeal it. Folks in the Senate who want to have a vote on repealing the healthcare bill, they feel a certain sense of validation. It gives strength to their argument, they can point to the court ruling, and say there is an intellectual honesty, to saying the previous Congress had passed this, had overreached on its congressional authority. And we need to repeal it. I think, yes.

But I think ultimately this is something that's going to continue to play out over the long term because we're not going to have, like Jeffrey Toobin said, we're not going to have anything until the end of the year from the appellate court and then the Supreme Court next year.

KING: if it emboldens the critics, I assume it emboldens the supporters as well, who have been much more aggressive in defending this law after being relatively silent during the campaign. BRAZILE: Well, one of the reasons why we're aggressive in defending it is because so many lies have been told that we're just trying to get out the truth. This is a case of simply overreaching. The judge found one area of the law unconstitutional and basically nullified the entire law. At some point, as Jeffrey mentioned, it's going to the Supreme Court.

In the interim, I think it's important for those who support the health reform efforts to continue to get the information out, to continue to urge consumers out there to use all of these great provisions, the lifetime caps, the -- making sure children are treated, with pre-existing conditions, and to force Republicans to come up with something other than repeal the existing law.

KING: John Avlon, I assume it confuses people if nothing else. If you're just the average American sitting there at home, you heard last week it's constitutional, this week it's unconstitutional, you hear all these politicians saying repeal, don't repeal. What do you think?

AVLON: It adds a huge degree of uncertainty. There is no question this is going to the Supreme Court, probably in a presidential election year. Double down on the uncertainty there. The point Jeff Toobin made, that I think is important for everyone to take home, is that this is part of what we see with the ideological litmus tests on judges. This is profound thing. I mean, this judge's decision, one of the paragraphs there, he actually makes a Tea Party reference. And makes, I think, a very clever point about how it's hard to imagine the government requiring people to buy tea, in effect, the tea being the individual mandate in this case. That's how politicized this fundamentally is.

That is what the Supreme Court is going to have decide. Judge Kennedy in the center, the strength is in the center. That's an, enormous amount of power and influence for one guy in the center at a time when our judges are so polarized because our parties are so polarized.

KING: I think it probably would be good for the country, whatever it is, good or bad, constitutional or not, for the Supreme Court to decide sooner rather than later. But, hey, why not do it in a presidential year?

BRAZILE: Well, we're paying, the taxpayers.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: John Avlon, Kevin Madden, Donna Brazile, thanks for coming in.

Still to come here, a slice of the country faces the threat of icy, extreme weather. Chad Myers standing by to map it all out.

But next, the Republican member of Congress who says President Obama needs to stand firmly with Egypt's embattled president or risk another Iran in the Middle East. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: U.S. Marines today bolstered their numbers inside the American embassy in Cairo. The embassy's urgent priority at the moment, getting its nonessential staff and other Americans in Egypt out of the country safely. Joining us with the latest on that, our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty-Jill.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the latest is that the State Department has now gotten-today, in fact- 1,200 Americans out of Egypt. They're using mainly charter flights, and they're going to several different locations, to Cypress, Istanbul, and Athens. Also they used a Canadian flight to get out. And in one case they actually used a military plane that was in the region.

Tomorrow, they're planning on doing basically the same thing, hopefully the same numbers roughly. They plan to have six flights going out, two of those could be to Frankfurt. Then also the State Department says that they are analyzing and surveying other cities in Egypt, you know, this has been coming out of Cairo, they're looking at places like Aswan and Luxor because there are pockets of Americans in other cities around Egypt. They want to help them to get out.

Now, how do they get the word out? Because there's a real lack of communication. They're using everything -- e-mail, the web site, social media, radio, TV, and they're also encouraging Americans who have relatives in Egypt to try to get in touch with them and give them the latest.

And the last thing, you know, there can be long waits, so they're saying bring water, bring food, you could be in for a wait before you get out.

KING: Jill Dougherty, appreciate that help. Hope all those Americans get out safely. Thank you very much.

Let's turn now to Republican Congressman Thad McCotter, who says it is imperative at this moment that the president of the United States stand by our long-time ally in Egypt, including, of course, President Mubarak.

Congressman, appreciate your time. Congressman of Thad McCotter, Republican of Michigan.

What should the president be doing, right now, when you hear more and more people, especially on the streets, saying they want the president to be tougher, they want President Mubarak to go?

REP. THADDEUS MCCOTTER, (R) MICHIGAN: I think what they have to do is continue to support the hope for constructive change. We have already seen the vice president of Egypt come out with an olive branch toward the opposition, to those with legitimate grievances, to try to bring them into the government, bring them into the process.

It doesn't help if they believe already that the United States has written off Mubarak, or that we have written off the government as it stands. This would be a far more salubrious development if it were not for the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the chance for chaotic transition, which could be usurped. So at this point, the president has to express his continued support for peaceful change, which he has done, very well. To say that we do not support a wholesale chaotic change, which could empower Islamists to usurp a peaceful revolution. I think that that would be a premise that I would hope that the State Department agree with.

KING: Your initial statement as the crisis unfolded from Friday, said, "Right now freedoms radicalized enemies are subverting Egypt and our other allies."

We have correspondents who have been out in the streets in these demonstrations, and they say, yes, there are some members of the Muslim Brotherhood there, but by and large it is middle class Egyptians, young and old, who are frustrated with their government. Who have had no political rights. The elections have been a sham. They want Mubarak to go. What's wrong with that?

MCCOTTER: Well, it's the same thing we saw in 1979 with the Shah, where you had a very broad-based popular coalition that was subverted by the Khomeinis of the world, and the radical Islamic factions within there. So what you have to do is find a way to separate the movement of the young people and of the middle class and others-separate them from the radical elements within the Muslim Brotherhood, who have not renounced the goal of Sharia law on a global basis, or the return of the Caliphate, which would be a disastrous not only for the Egyptian people but for the peace process in the Middle East, the Suez Canal and international commerce, and the interest of the United States.

KING: Aren't we in this box, to a degree, because for 30 years we have sort of shaved those differences and said, yes, it would be nice if you had political reforms to the King of Saudi Arabia. It would be nice if you had political reforms to the President Egypt. Nice if you had political reforms to many other people in that region. Then we just sort of shrug it off when they don't do it. Is your position essentially that we should only be full, open, 100 percent democracy, if we are convinced the good guys will win?

MCCOTTER: No, our position is the United States has strategic interests and allies throughout the world. Throughout administrations we have talked to both our allies in the Middle East, and elsewhere, to move toward further democratization. President Bush was one of those who has done that, as well as President Clinton, and now President Obama. So we continue to try to push them towards that. But what you do not want a push where you have a chaotic change that allows the enemies of the United States, and the enemies of our allies to come in and usurp what is a popular movement, and the to cause it to become radicalized, much as we saw in Iran.

KING: It doesn't sound like you have much trust, though, in just the overwhelming population of Egypt to take care of its own business?

MCCOTTER: I think history teaches us, John, that over a period of time while popular movements may be successful in deposing a government they do not like there is often the chance that in the power vacuum that is filled by the most highly radicalized and organized parties within that country, the vast majority of people were not Jacobins in France, the vast majority of people were not Bolsheviks in Russia, the vast majority of people in Iran were not Khomeinites.

KING: President Bush pushed for elections in the Palestinian Territories, as you know, and Hamas won those elections. Some said it was a big mistake on the president's part, President Bush's part to do that, when they weren't ready. And Hamas won that election. An others have said, you know what, not it's not. It's not a mistake. The United States should stand for democracy, let the people have their will and Hamas will prove it can either deliver services or it can't. Again, why not do the same in Egypt? If somebody is maybe not friendly to the United States wins the first round, we take our chances the second round.

MCCOTTER: Because if the individuals come in, as we saw in Iran, as we could see with the potential takeover from the Muslim Brotherhood, not only is it not in the best interest of the United States, it is not in the best interest of the people of Egypt, any more than it was in the best interest of the people of Iran.

KING: Do you see intelligence that the Muslim Brotherhood is that powerful. Most of our people who have been there for a long time, and have reported on the region, said maybe they would get 25 or 30 percent.

MCCOTTER: They are the largest opposition party. And if, as has been said, they are not playing a large role in demonstrations, I would think it would be very easy to make sure they are not brought in to the government. To enact the very real reforms that would protect not only the interests of the people of Egypt and further democratization and socioeconomic progress, it would also protect the interests of the United States, our allies and the most importantly the Suez Canal, and the peace accords between Egypt and Israel, which are the bedrock of future hopes for a lasting Mideast peace.

KING: And so, what happens, then, sir, if President Mubarak comes to the conclusion that he needs to go. What should the United States do then?

MCCOTTER: We should continue to work with responsible parties on the ground and the existing government, if Mr. Mubarak leaves, to ensure that the transition is peaceful, to ensure that it is successful. And that is an "if" that we do not know will happen at the present time.

KING: Republican Congressman Thad McCotter of Michigan. Sir, appreciate your time tonight.

MCCOTTER: Thank you, John.

KING: Ahead, from New Mexico to New England, people are bracing for a major snowstorm. A lot of ice out here, too. How it could impact you, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A potentially deadly storm is taking shape across much of the Central United States. Could move beyond that, a blizzard watch already issue in Chicago. CNN's Chad Myers is in our Severe Winter Weather Center with more-Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: John, 2,000 miles of warning, I mean, all the way from Maine, all the way back into New Mexico, including Dallas. You would think they would have Super Bowl warm festivities. Well, it could be a little white there tomorrow. Probably not during Super Bowl, but you get the idea.

And, yes, potential blizzard from Chicago back to Tulsa. Some spots could pick up 16 inches of snow before it's all done. It begins in Texas. It runs up into Oklahoma and then through St. Louis, maybe even to Chicago. I think the Southside of Chicago gets a lot more than the North side, like into Waukegan, and into Waukesha, you don't get much. Southside of Chicago, could get a foot of snow. That really buries the city with wind as well. Some of the spots could be picking up 30, 40 miles per hour wind gusts, in this purple zone, right through here.

You have to think of this. This is Detroit, all of northern Illinois, back even into parts of Missouri and Arkansas. That's a foot of snow or more. Then you blow that around with a 30, 40 mile per hour wind gust. That's why you call it a blizzard, and that's what we are going to have. There will be some snow for the Northeast, but not like this.

KING: Chad Myers is going to be a busy man for a couple of days.

MYERS: That's true.

KING: Chad, appreciate that. That's all for us tonight. Hope to see you right back here tomorrow with the latest on Egypt and more. PARKER SPITZER starts right now.