Return to Transcripts main page
JOHN KING, USA
Egyptian Revolt; Mixed Messages on Egypt; Potential Presidential Candidates
Aired February 7, 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. Tonight a Google executive jailed for 12 days after taking to the streets with pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt describes a harrowing encounter with security forces.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAEL GHONIM, FREED GOOGLE EXECUTIVE (through translator): I was going to get a taxi so I went one way and I was walking down a straight road and I found all of a sudden four people surrounding me. They were kidnapping me and I yelled, help me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We'll also talk to a 26-year-old Egyptian-American still scarred from his role in the protests. Sherief Gaber says don't believe people who say life is getting back to normal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERIEF GABER, EGYPTIAN-AMERICAN GRADUATE STUDENT: The police have come back on to the streets and have begun arresting, hassling and otherwise kind of just ensuing fear in people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And talk about strange bedfellows, the Chamber of Commerce spent millions opposing the Obama health care plan and then millions more helping Republicans in the midterm elections, but tonight President Obama is trying to make peace or at least detente.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe if we had brought over a fruit cake when I first moved in we would have gotten off to a better start, but I'm going to make up for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The president says his goal is to create more jobs for Americans. Trust me he's also looking to keep his -- that and a rare CNN conversation with likely Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich, ahead. But first the political crisis in Egypt and its implications for America -- the State Department tonight is raising new concerns that the Egyptian government is excluding key voices from the dialogue designed to end the protests and begin a transition to open and fair elections.
That same complaint echoes in Cairo's Tahrir Square, from pro- democracy protesters who don't believe any government headed by Hosni Mubarak and his loyalists will allow a true democracy to take shape. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins us live with the latest. And Nic, traffic jams today, some shops opened today, so images of some return to normalcy and yet when you talk to people involved in the diplomacy and the negotiations, boy, is there a lot of mistrust.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is, and I guess one of the strangest images for me today, John, was to see a group of about 30 to 40 policemen in their freshly cleaned and pressed uniforms, white hats back on, looking very smart, back out standing in front of their burned out police station in Alexandria, just an incredible juxtaposition, these police have suddenly come back en masse on Monday morning to do their jobs, guiding traffic.
They've got a history of sort of take bribes off of drivers at busy intersections. That wasn't happening, but they had nowhere to go. Their offices and buildings were all burned down. So yes there was a lot more traffic and you had this appearance of normality, but a great concern among the young protesters here, the youth who really got the Internet campaign, the social media campaign going, which really brought everyone out on the streets in the beginning really feel that they are not being properly represented.
At the moment you have groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have been into talks with the vice president. You have the vice president here talking about the possibility of lifting martial law after it's been in place for some 29 years. But the youth here don't feel that their voice is being heard and I think there's echoes of this that we're hearing from the State Department that the government is doing a little window dressing, but not enough to get to some of the real concerns, so while there's a lot more normality, normal traffic back on the roads, the government is running these talks into a stalemate -- John.
KING: And is -- that was the -- that's the question -- is the government trying to stretch this out, Nic, to essentially keep power, dilute the protesters or is part of the problem that the protesters because it's sort of a rag-tag group that came together. They don't have group of lead spokesmen and say this is our group, talk to them and only them?
ROBERTSON: And that is perhaps the essence of the problem because most revolutions and they do see it as a revolution -- most revolutions have a charismatic leader who can sort of corral the people, bring them along. The people have a figurative lead and a leader they can believe in. And he tells them and they sort of believe in the vision, in the points, in the statements and in the demands that a charismatic leader would make.
This is different. Everyone got together on the Internet. They agreed on one thing, to remove President Hosni Mubarak and he hasn't agreed to that. He's done a few other political maneuvers and they feel now divided. There was no single figure head person to lead them and that perhaps is going to be one of the greatest difficulties moving ahead. We are seeing more names emerging, more groups forming, but it is going to be -- it is right now a major issue and will continue to be -- John.
KING: Messy to say the least. Nic Robertson, part of our spectacular team on the ground in Cairo and throughout Egypt -- Nic thanks.
Let's get some firsthand perspective now from a 26-year-old Egyptian American who has been on the ground in the Cairo throughout all this. Sherief Gaber joins us now and Sherief, I can tell just by looking at you, you look like you've been roughed up a little bit. Explain what happened.
GABER: Yes, well this -- the kind of war paint here comes from a brick in the face courtesy of a pro-government thug on Wednesday night. I was in Tahrir Square during the day, it was still relatively calm. But reports started coming in throughout the day that a bunch of supposedly pro-Mubarak protesters really paid thugs were coming in descending on the square. A bit later, a little before sunset we realized we were basically trapped for the time being in the square. So over the course of the night, the Army pulled away from two of the key kind of entrances to the square basically resulting in these huge pitched battles that some people have seen on TV with protesters attempting to set up barricades and defend themselves against the onslaught of just, you know thousands and thousands of these, just thugs.
KING: And so where are we now? The thugs roughed you up as you called them. Today there was a traffic jam and today some people are saying there's more of a sense of normalcy and there are other negotiations between some of the demonstrators and the currently newly appointed vice president. Do you trust that process and do the people you're talking to, those who have been demonstrating over the past 10- plus days, do they trust that process?
GABER: I don't think anyone trust the process and I think that while it appears that it's come back to normal, I think that that's a false act of contrition on behalf of what is effectively the same government it was two weeks ago and the same government it's been for 30 years. The police have come back onto the streets and have begun arresting, hassling and otherwise kind of ensuing fear in people.
The military police are not as benign as they seem and they've been perpetrating similar acts. I think that this simply a change of tactics on behalf of the regime to move from just violence towards kind of the every day oppression that's been going on for years and years and years. And they're hoping to just asphyxiate the protests that way. KING: Just asphyxiate the protests that way. That's pretty strong language. The government, what do you make of the messaging from the government? Certainly they're saying they're having this outreach and they say for example 11 people over the course of the 10, 12 days of protests. Do you buy that number?
GABER: I absolutely do not. You can pull-up more than three times that amount of YouTube videos probably showing people being shot by security forces. There are photographs. I have a friend of a friend who had six people die in their hands in one of the clinics. I mean for it to say 11 like that is heart rending and I think it just speaks to the just sheer amount of lies and propaganda that the state media has been issuing since this began, but also, I mean, this is business as usual for them. I mean this is how they operate. The media is just as complicit as the security forces in many ways in what has been going on here in Cairo and in Egypt as a whole.
KING: So how do you keep it going if in your view the government is trying to essentially run out the clock and in a more quite, less visible way, asphyxiate -- your term -- the demonstrators. How do you keep the energy if you believe as you do that this outreach process is a sham?
GABER: The goal is to try and reach out and create some sort of counter propaganda mechanism and people have been trying to do this, have been trying to assist in this. The goal is to simply finds these lies, find these rumors and the innuendoes and to combat them to challenge them with facts on the ground, with photographs, with video, but also with argument because I think that people will be susceptible to this. They are just getting a very limited feed and a highly censored feed of what's happening from the state media services.
KING: And as we see, the tent city and the camp essentially in the center of the square, are those people staying because they fear if they leave, the movement will lose its energy or are they staying because they fear if they leave perhaps they will be punished once they get out of the public spotlight?
GABER: Listen, I think that both of those are true. I think the people who are there, the people who I have talked to in that tent city, especially are just incredibly committed, incredibly passionate people in there. They have been talking, they have been sharing food, they have been sharing water, and they believe in this movement and they want it to succeed definitely. But reprisals are not even a question.
Reprisals have been happening already. People have been pulled over and hassled by both military police, intelligence services and Army kind of the central security alike. And you know people who are young, people who look like some type that whatever you know they're looking for are already getting hassled, already getting arrested and it is just more quiet, it's less, you know I guess camera friendly than when you have thousands of thugs descending with Molotov cocktails and you know stones and rocks and rifles on the protesters, so it's just a change of tactic. KING: Sherief Gaber, appreciate your firsthand insights. More perspective now from someone who has seen this up close -- on January 27th, two days into the protests, Wael Ghonim, the head of Middle East and North African marketing for Google sent this ominous tweet. Quote, "pray for Egypt, very worried as it seems that government is planning a war crime tomorrow against people. We are all ready to die."
Later that Ghonim was taken into custody. He was released today and gave Dream TV (ph) this account of his arrest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GHONIM (through translator): I was kidnapped Thursday night, about 1:00 a.m. at night. I was with one of my friends, he was my colleague at work and he was coming to visit Egypt and after I finished visiting him I left the place. I was going to get a taxi so I went one way and I was walking down a straight road and I found all of a sudden four people surrounding me. They were kidnapping me and I yelled help me, but of course I knew these were security forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ghonim's jailing was a rallying point online for many who supported the protesters but he says the credit and the attention should go elsewhere.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GHONIM (through translator): I'm not a hero. I slept for 12 days. The heroes were in the streets. The heroes are the ones that went to the demonstrations. The heroes are the ones that sacrificed their lives. The heroes are the ones that were beaten and the heroes are the ones that were arrested and exposed to dangers. I wasn't a hero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ghonim says he was not a hero even though he was the administrator of one of the Web sites that helped brought the organize -- helped organize the protests. As he sent that tweet, the ominous tweet, of course the Internet was still up in Egypt. Let's look at this as it plays out.
January 24th, January 25th, that's when the protests began. January 27th, that's when Ghonim sent his tweet -- you see pretty high Internet use there -- then watch what happens 24 hours later -- flat line, flat line, flat line. The Internet knocked out in most of the country there and then into the weekend it came back and as you see right now, Internet use in Egypt up above where it was just before the protests begin now that the government has allowed it to stay on.
When we come back, did the United States mishandle this crisis at the beginning? Is it sending a mixed message now? What is the way out when it comes to diplomacy? Fareed Zakaria and David Gergen in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: It is Tuesday morning now in Cairo. Let's take a live look at Tahrir or Liberation Square. You see the tent city set up there. Some demonstrators refusing to leave; some of them say they will stay until Hosni Mubarak steps down as president. Now that is the subject of very delicate diplomacy and some are saying the administration has sent some mixed signals.
Let's go back six days ago. The president of the United States, Barack Obama, comes out. He has just decided, placed a phone call to President Mubarak. He says he needs to go and the president sounds quite urgent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What is clear and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Within hours though word came from the Egyptian leadership that President Mubarak wanted to stay to complete his term which runs in September. The morning after you just heard from President Obama there, his press secretary at the White House says not good enough.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You're asking me if now is September -- it is unseasonably warm, but it is not September. Now means now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: As we headed into the week and Frank Wisner, a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, who was sent over by the Obama White House as a special envoy to talk to President Mubarak said that his take on the situation was to avoid chaos, perhaps President Mubarak would have to stay in office a while.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK WISNER, U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO EGYPT: The president must stay in office in order to steer those changes through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now the State Department was very quick to say Ambassador Wisner there was speaking on his own, that he was no longer operating as a special envoy for the administration. And yet not long after that, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself saying perhaps it was better to avoid chaos, that President Mubarak not go right away, perhaps sometime in the future.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: There are risks in the transition to democracy. It can be chaotic. It can cause short-term instability, even worse than we have seen it before. The transition can backslide into just another authoritarian regime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So how can the administration begin the week with the president saying now means now and the transition needs to begin and end the week with the secretary of state acknowledging perhaps President Mubarak will stay in power indefinitely -- a good place to start a conversation with two of our smartest, CNN's Fareed Zakaria and David Gergen. Fareed is there a mixed message or has the administration evolved to a place where it's better off now or worse off in the beginning?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well there clearly was a mixed message and it must have been a mistake. I think it's difficult to imagine that that was planned. But I have some sympathy for the administration in general. This is a very fast moving story and the administration's leverage is not as great as people think.
The administration it seemed did want to ease Mubarak out, but when it became clear that the Egyptian military was going to stick with him, it realized that it couldn't really get what it wanted and rather than bang its head against a brick wall it's now trying to make do with what it has and with a slower transition process with Omar Suleiman. I think that fundamental judgment was exactly right. And fundamentally they have handled it well. Some of the tactics like the one you just mentioned, clearly they -- you know they needed to get everybody on the same set of talking points and they didn't.
KING: Does it matter in the end if they get to the right place?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If they get the right results, it won't matter, if they get the wrong results, everything we're saying now won't matter. In the beginning I think they were fumbling around a little bit. I think (INAUDIBLE) early stages. They clearly -- clearly the president wanted to be on the side of the protesters and he staked out a position.
They got him pretty far out front on that side, but I think that as the week went on, their position evolved because they thought and realized that they needed an orderly transition. So I think they have come out at the right place and I think overall, I agree with what Fareed just said, I think if you look at the totality of what they have done, I think generally they have done a good job. There have been some things on the margins. I continue to think they talk too much. You know they might do more of this quietly and get more accomplished.
KING: And the question now is where does it go from here and who do you trust or maybe not trust in that process as they try now to get the vice president to reach out to the groups? We're hearing from some demonstrators in the street, Fareed that they don't trust that process. They don't believe in that process and that there have been people invited into the meetings who some of the demonstrators say don't represent them.
ZAKARIA: This is a very, very interesting, crucial period because the established order in Egypt which is a military dictatorship is going to try to cling to power. It's been in power since 1952. They get enormous privileges from being in power and they have rigged the system very effectively so that many of the so-called political parties in Egypt who are being invited in are phony political parties that are headed up by corrupt people on the payroll of the state and the military, by the way, has intelligence files that can discredit them at any point if they want.
So you know there's -- the regime is going to try to stay in power. The protesters are going to be deeply dissatisfied as I think are many, many Egyptians and the administration has to find a pathway that's pushing for orderly change and no chaos, but yet real change, not simply a re-constitution of the military dictatorship with a few bones thrown in like a controlled election.
How they manage that is going to be very tough because the people in power, they know Egypt. They know the system. They've rigged the system and they're going to -- you know they are not going to give up that easily. So the administration is going to have to use all its persuasion, its -- the fact that it does have leverage. It gives Egypt almost $2 billion in total aid, all that is going to have to be used very effectively to try to steer us to the right outcome here.
KING: What do you make, David, of the political debate, the divide in the Republican Party of people like John McCain saying the president's handled it pretty well? You have others like his former running mate Sarah Palin saying this was his 3:00 a.m. phone call and he let it go to the answering machine and then a third view, I guess I would call it, from Dick Cheney, the former vice president who has been somewhat critical of President Obama and yet in the same breath saying President Mubarak does have to go in the end now.
GERGEN: Well this is what happens when you have now a party that's looking for a leader as the Republicans are. There are going to be different voices and I don't think anyone has particularly distinguished himself in a critique of President Obama from the right that has captured the country's imagination. But I must say, I think the public at large, he's -- I think the president is gaining ground in persuading Americans that he really is starting to get to know his way around the world and that you can trust him to handle something like this with seriousness.
And not be reckless and after all we have been through a period when a lot of Americans concluded with the last administration as much as it wanted democracy, it also was reckless in the way it pursued it in Iraq. And I think Americans would prefer -- I think Americans like this sense of let's be a little cautious here, let's be on the side of freedom and democracy, but let's be a little cautious how we get there and make sure it's an orderly transition.
KING: What is the test, Fareed, to you first then David in conclusion. What is the test? What do you look for over the next week to 10 days to see if the administration, in your view, Fareed, is handling the levers about right now?
ZAKARIA: The test will be if there's a serious new constitutional process, in other words not simply something managed, stage managed by the regime, but something that deals with some of the fundamental elements of the dictatorship in place. Egypt is still under martial law. It still has military courts. It still has a process which makes it impossible for most real political parties to run. If you don't deal with those things it's not going to satisfy people and this -- here's why this is important.
Let's remember, the problem of Islamic terrorism and Islamic extremism in the Middle East in the Arab world stems from this fact. The reason it's directed at us is they think we have supported dictatorships in the Arab world because those dictatorships have been nice to us in foreign policy terms. And so the people of the Arab world, the opposition movement became violent, they became extreme, they became religious and they became anti-American. So this is not us engaging in kind of a bit of altruism in the Arab world. This is trying to take care of one of the core reasons why Islamic terrorism grew out of that place and was directed at us.
GERGEN: A near term test, this process doesn't grind to a halt, that the opposition -- the opposition that refuses to talk, the government digs in, the whole thing sort of -- and then I think we have a real problem. But the longer term test is the big one, and that is can the United States with other nations help to usher in a democracy in Egypt that is also respectful of the positions and friendly toward the United States?
I mean we want two things out of this. We want a democracy, but we also want to continue in friendship and the government in Egypt. And I hope those things are reconcilable.
KING: David Gergen, Fareed Zakaria as always gentlemen, thanks very much.
GERGEN: Thank you.
KING: More on the Egypt political crisis ahead -- it's also a big day in politics. Coming up next, a rare CNN conversation with the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who would like to replace President Obama in 2012.
KING: When it comes to covering the early maneuverings of the 2012 presidential race, we at CNN have what I'll call the FOX problem, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich all possible candidates, all contractual contributors to FOX News, so they're not supposed to sit down for interviews with CNN. So when I was out at the Reagan's Centennial yesterday in Simi Valley, California and I saw the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, I jumped at the opportunity to sneak in a few questions about whether he's going to run.
KING: You have been a leader of the Republican Party as the speaker of course, but there are many who think right now your goal is to become the leader of the Republican Party as its presidential nominee. Is there a Reagan lesson in this for you go about this?
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Yes, to be very patient and tell you cheerfully, Callista and I will make a decision at the end of February, and that -- and march to your own drummer. I mean, to realize that you need to do -- Reagan did what he believed in when he thought it was right. He ran against Gerry Ford and lost very narrowly. He came back at a time when many people thought he was too old, and he ran a campaign his way. He made a mistake frankly of not campaigning in Iowa more, came back in New Hampshire, but it was a long campaign. George H.W. Bush gave him a real race for the nomination.
KING: You could look at your race or your thought process two ways. You could say here's a guy. He's a provocative guy. He's an ideas guy. He's a known entity, so when it comes to the fundraising part, you probably have a good advantage over many, if not all of the others out there. Others would say wait, does the Republican Party want to go back? Newt Gingrich was a fairly polarizing figure, was involved in some pretty polarizing debates at the time. Does that -- how does that weigh in when you're traveling and talk to people?
GINGRICH: I think we're as a country in real trouble. I think we have had the longest period of over nine percent unemployment since the Great Depression. The news last month that we have 45 percent African-American teenage unemployment should sober every American. We have real dangers in the world. The fact that 126 people have been indicted in the U.S. for plotting terrorism in the last two years, what's going on in Egypt, Afghanistan, none of this should make us feel good, and I think having somebody who tells the truth -- you know, sometimes telling the truth is polarizing.
Camus wrote that a man who says two plus two equals four can sometimes be killed because they authorities can't understand the truth. And sometimes -- what Reagan did -- and I frankly tried to study Reagan and Thatcher and Lincoln because I think they were the great truth tellers of modern politics. Sometimes when you tell the truth, people in the establishment go nuts because it's not the truth they want to hear.
KING: I'm going to ask you lastly, this is a place that just evokes presidential leadership, it makes you think about big decisions. The president of the United States now is involved in one probably of the greatest foreign policy crises, watching what happens in Egypt and the potential domino effect in the Middle East. Governor Palin last night said it was his 3:00 a.m. phone call and it went to the answering machine. Do you agree with that?
GINGRICH: Look, I think the fact that they appointed a very able diplomat, Frank Wisner, and within two days, we're publicly contradicting him, is, you know, it's so amateurish. I was with John Bolton last night, he said it's inconceivable that they would be this clumsy and this out of sync with -- I mean, just with themselves, forget the Arab world. They can't even get the White House and their special envoy to be on the same page.
I am very concerned. We want to help the people of Egypt achieve democracy, and I'm very concerned that -- Secretary Clinton apparently said that we wanted to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood. I think this is absolute, total misreading of history. The Muslim Brotherhood is a mortal enemy of our civilization. They say so openly. Their slogan says so openly. Their way is jihad, their method is death. For us to encourage in any way the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood is fundamentally wrong.
And I think that what we want to do is walk a narrow line between -- we don't want to betray somebody who's been with us for 30 years as an ally. We do recognize his time may well have gone. We want to treat him with dignity, because he stood by us in very tough times. We want to help the Egyptian people achieve self-government, but we want to isolate and minimize the risk of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This administration, I think, does not have a clue about those realities.
KING: Mr. Speaker, thanks for your time.
GINGRICH: Thank you.
KING: He sure sounded like a candidate to me. Let's get the views of two of our contributors. Democrat James Carville, Republican Erick Erickson.
Mr. Carville, to you first, you worked for Bill Clinton at a time when he did a lot of battle with Newt Gingrich. The former speaker didn't answer my question about whether his past would be baggage, whether the Republican Party would be looking for a new face, a new voice heading into the future. What do you think?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think, I hope he goes; he seems like he's cocked, he seems like he's got a round in the breech, and we're just waiting on the word. I hope John Bolton goes with him, you know, Sarah Palin, I'm all for it. It's time for these guys to get out there and start campaigning. And, look, he's going to say some things that are going to excite us, and are going to be very provocative. And that's what we need over there on that side. Yes, sir, I'm hoping he goes.
KING: Erick Erickson, you're in touch with the right, the base, the energy in the Republican Party, do they want --
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: There's a generational divide, a lot of folks who really weren't around and paying attention to politics when Newt was speaker are very excited by him, and a lot of older guys aren't as excited by him. Largely, because there is a sense, particularly, among generationally, the older Republican voters that he's a brilliant ideas guy but they remember his downfall as speaker. And they think there are issues there.
And frankly, and I hate to be the one to say it, but it is going to come out there, as much as Mitt Romney went through Southern primaries in 2008, being dogged by the Mormon issue, Newt Gingrich is going to be dogged by the marriage issue as well.
KING: And, James, you don't hear too many presidential candidates quoting Camus?
CARVILLE: I like him. He's come-as you know, he's come down to my class.
KING: I was down for your class, you had him in there.
CARVILLE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You know, somebody to sit around and talk to, he can be a very charming man. Sometimes if the generals say he has a tendency to outrun the supply lines. But as you can tell from the interview, it was kind of a provocative interview, congratulations on getting him to talk to you. And I just -- I think he's itching to go. And my sense is that he's going to go and this thing needs to get shaken up, we need to get these guys out on the road, and let's let everybody talk.
ERICKSON: One of the issues here, there seems to be a leadership gap and an ideas gap and an ideas gap. And Newt Gingrich, for a lot of people on the right, fills that void. He was the speaker of the House. He is an ideas guy, as opposed to some who a lot of people view as opportunists. And if he can overcome some of the personal issues in dealing with what happened in his downfall as a speaker, I think he can be a formidable candidate out on the campaign trail. But he's got to deal with those issues.
CARVILLE: He's is to ideas what the Pacific Ocean is to water.
He's got a lot of them!
KING: All right. Erick and James are going to stay with us. We'll be right back. We'll get the latest from Egypt. Also, a very strange day, the president of United States reaching out today to an organization that has spent millions to beat him.
KING: If you're just joining us here's what you need to know right now about the crisis in Egypt. The State Department tonight is raising concerns the Egyptian government is excluding key voices from the dialogue designed to end the protest. In Cairo, today, signs of life returning to normal. More shops and banks reopened. The country's new cabinet met for the first time. Still, for the 14th straight day, demonstrators are in Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding that President Hosni Mubarak resign immediately. A short time ago, an Egyptian-American who has been there among the demonstrators told me, they think Egypt's government is trying to asphyxiate the reform process.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERIEF GABER, EGYPTIAN-AMERICAN GRADUATE STUDENT: I don't think anyone trusts the process. While it appears that it has come back to normal, I think that that is a false act of contrition on behalf of what was effectively the same government it was two weeks ago, and the same government it has been for 30 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: As we continue to track the Egypt crisis, another bit story we're following in the United States today is President Obama's effort to make peace, or detente, with the Chamber of Commerce. And this is striking if you consider the history. Let's look at what the Chamber has spent on lobbying dollars in recent years. This is within the Obama presidency, look at that, off the charts in lobbying money. Also the Chamber spent a lot of money helping candidates in the 2002 (sic) elections, nearly $32 million in the 2010 midterm elections, excuse me. Almost all of that spent helping Republicans or criticizing Democrats. Here is a quick example. This is in one of the races, one of the Republican ads, from the Chamber.
(BEGIN POLITICAL AD)
ANNOUNCER: What's worse? Then cast a critical vote for Obama care, bigger government, less choice, more pain.
(END POLITICAL AD)
KING: That ad run by the Chamber of Commerce, to get it straight there, against a Democrat.
Why would the president want to make peace with the Chamber of Commerce? Well, let's look at this.
That's the flat line, down a little bit, unemployment during the Obama administration at 9 percent right now. A president running for re-election would like to be down lower than that. And what the president is hoping is that by working with the Chamber, perhaps, perhaps he can get more job growth. Because this is last month's number, and anemic 36,000 jobs created. President is hoping to create more jobs for Americans. And in that climate, perhaps, do a better job of protecting his ability to get re-elected.
Let's get back to our conversation with James Carville and Erick Erickson.
James, a number of liberal groups today, essentially, said Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. President, why are you going to meet with what they consider to be the enemy?
CARVILLE: First of all, the president is what I refer to as a unity community Democrat. His instinct is not to be confrontational, he wants people to like him, he wants to be understood. And I think he was sort of, on some level personally traumatized by all the attacks that the Chamber made on him. So he wanted to do that.
You know, they're never going to be for him, maybe they'll be a little less against him is about all he can hope for, in my opinion. Franklin Roosevelt was entirely different, he was never going over there, but different people have different personalities.
KING: You say he might have been traumatized by all the Chamber attacks against him. They were not shy in the Obama White House of firing back and raising charges that the Chamber said were flatly not true. Let's remember the history a little bit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just this week, we learned that one of the largest groups paying for these ads regularly takes in money from foreign sources. That's a threat to our democracy.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why can't the Chamber say these are where the contributions are coming from.
(BEGIN POLITICAL AD)
ANNOUNCER: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, they're shills for big business, and they're stealing our democracy.
(END POLITICAL AD)
KING: They may have been all those things to the Democrats during the campaign, Erick, but today the president is trying and there's some politics to this, but there's also some smart policy to get business a lot of money, he wants them to spend it creating jobs.
ERICKSON: This is why the American public are so cynical, you can see that exchange and then all of a sudden see them be best friends. It's not going to happen. They'll both get credit in the media for being bipartisan and working together, quote, unquote, without actually doing it. The Chamber of Commerce considers the Obama administration bad for business. The Obama administration realizes it needs the Chamber's help. They will maybe have some accommodations on some issues, but generally, no, the chamber will be back spending money in 2012 against him.
KING: I guess, James, the calculation is if the Chamber will help the Democratic president on infrastructure spending, maybe on overhaul of the corporate tax code and he can get those two things done in the next year or so, he'll take that and then take the hits from them in 2012.
CARVILLE: I suspect so. And if they think they can make money doing it, they'll be for anything, they don't care. You know, if infrastructure spending, they'll be for that. If their members can make money, they're not an altruistic organization. They represent what they perceive to be the interests of their membership.
And the president, he doesn't want to be attacked any more than necessary, I think it's kind of understandable, that's his kind of nature. They'll make up for a while and they'll expect everybody to go back to the mattresses here sometime in the next year.
KING: Back to the mattresses.
James Carville, Erick Erickson, thanks for coming in tonight, gentlemen. We'll see you soon.
When we come back, I'm going to ask prominent Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina to help me break a tie. There's a divide in the Republican Party, he'll get the deciding vote when we come back.
KING: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said we should expect a bumpy process toward change in Egypt. A little while ago I talked about the crisis there and a few other issues with Republican Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina.
KING: Senator Graham, I want to get your sense of how you think the president is handling this crisis with Egypt. And in doing so, I want you to help me break a tie. I want you to listen here to the 2008 Republican ticket, Senator John McCain, Governor Sarah Palin on this question, they disagree.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN, FMR. VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is that 3:00 a.m. White House phone call and it seems for many of us trying to get that information from our leader in the White House, it seems that that call went right to the answering machine.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I have to say the president I think is handling this situation well under the most difficult kind of circumstances. We are paying a price for historic neglect of human rights, which we have traditionally stood for throughout our history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Who is right, Senator Graham, John McCain or Sarah Palin?
SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Quite frankly, President Obama has handled it well, Mubarak has said he's going to go. He's announced he is not going to seek re-election. The question for the president, Obama, and the country and the world is what do we do between now and September? The sooner we can get a transition government, the quicker we can build opposition capacity, to have a full and fair, free transparent election, in September the better. But I really have no fault with President Obama the way he's handled this crisis.
KING: What would you say to Governor Palin, if you had a chance to call her up. I assume you wouldn't wait until 3 a.m. to do it. Call her up and say, look, Governor, you're wrong here. And this is why?
GRAHAM: Well, you know, she's a friend and we just disagree on this one. I thought the Iranian crisis last year, maybe a little over a year from now when President Obama really was slow to react and not get behind the demonstrators was a missed opportunity. And I think what he has done in Egypt has been sort of lessons learned from Iran. So I disagreed with governor Palin over this particular issue. But I think a lesson from Iran is that if you don't behind the right side of history quickly, you will regret it. And I think we lost an opportunity in Iran, and I think we're creating an opportunity in Egypt by being involved.
KING: There's some disagreement, obviously, among Republicans on how the president is handling this. There's also, as you know, a conversation among Republicans that now will get more attention, because of the uncertainty in the Middle East. Rand Paul, a new Senate Republican, one of you colleagues, now among those saying in this time of record deficits, we need to cut foreign aid, including the aid that goes to Egypt and Israel.
You're now the ranking Republican on the subcommittee that makes those decisions, what will you say when Rand Paul and others come to you saying, Senator, we just can't afford it.
GRAHAM: This is what I would say to Senator Paul and Senator Leahy, who is the chairman, let's watch what we say and do when it comes to making statements about funding for Egypt. The army is the most stable institution in Egypt. They're respected by the people, and most of our aid for the last 30 years has gone to the army. And before the 30-year involvement by the United States, they were in the Soviet sphere. Where the Soviet empire has collapsed, but it's good that we have a relationship with the army. They buy American equipment, their officers train here in America. And this relationship we have had with the army has been a godsend during this crisis.
I would say to all of my colleagues, let's slow down, take a deep breath, the foreign operation budget is less than 1 percent of total federal spending. But to Rand Paul, my friend from Kentucky, you're right, we can reform that budget, we can some money, but getting out of the foreign operations assistance to our friends business only buys trouble. It's a penny wise and a pound foolish in my view.
KING: Let me ask you about some other debates.
The new Republican House has been in business for a few weeks, you have more Republicans, still in a minority on the Senate side. As you know, the Democrats are now starting this narrative.
What about the jobs? It's a narrative the Republicans used against the Democrats back in the health care debate. When you look at what's happening, right now, the health care repeal has been priority one on the House side among Republicans, priority one on the Senate side among Republicans. On the House this week they're going to do some antiabortion legislation, should the Republicans be putting forward first and foremost some kind of a jobs program?
GRAHAM: I think what we should do first and foremost is put together a budget that gets our fiscal house in order. Yes, jobs are important, but our country is in a fiscal situation on spending and debt that is untenable. So, the best thing the Republican Party could do for America is to come up with budgets that reduce spending and in a bi-partisan fashion deal with entitlements.
President Obama has a unique opportunity this year to do something on Social Security that I think would get a lot of bi- partisan support and help us to turn around our long-term liability. So, I would challenge him to work with Republicans on entitlement reform, starting with Social Security.
KING: You are working with a Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York right to try to have yet another set of conversations about whether it's possible to bring forward some large-scale immigration reform measure. Is that a fool's errand? And I ask in the context, I know you have dedicated a lot of time for this over the years. Is this it a fools errand, in the sense that do you have a commitment from the House speaker, for example, if you could somehow get a bill out of the United States Senate. Is there any chance this House Republican Majority would even bring it up?
GRAHAM: I think from a national security perspective it is irrational to continue the current policies we have on immigration, and the common ground is securing the border. Senator Schumer is very good on immigration, President Obama and Senator McCain had a discussion about the way forward on immigration. I think my House colleagues, Republicans and Democrats would rally around the idea of stronger border security as a start. The McCain Kyl 10-point plan for border security, I think is the best way to start the debate. Pass those border security measures as stand-alone bills, then it puts the pressure on all of us to forward on temporary worker programs.
KING: You think you could do it this year?
GRAHAM: I think that's the way forward. You know, I've taken a beating at times for trying to come up with a comprehensive immigration solution. Starting with border security is essential, but 40 percent of the people here legally never came across the boarder, they overstayed their visas. What do you do about 10 million plus people that are here legally. I don't think you can put them all in jail, but you need a rational system to make sure you don't have a third wave.
I've been involved with this issue, I continue to talk with the president, with Democrats and Republicans. But I think the way forward on immigration is to secure the border first, then move forward to the other moving parts.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: Go to cnnpolitics.com. More of that conversation, including the senator's views on 2012. When we come back, where you live, and where you get your news could impact the perspective you get on the Egypt political crisis.
KING: If you've been following the Egypt political crisis from the beginning, you might recall a Google executive who disappeared. Well, we learned he was held in captivity for 12 days. Wael Ghonim was released today and he gave an interview describing how he was trying to help the protesters, the pro-democracy movement and he was taken into custody, he says kidnapped, by Egyptian security forces.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAEL GHONIM, GOOGLE EXECUTIVE, MIDDLE EAST (through translator): I was kidnapped Thursday night, at about 1:00 a.m. at night. I was with one of my friends. He was my colleague at work and he was coming to visit Egypt. After I finished visiting him, I left the place. I was going to get a taxi, so I went one way and I was walking down a straight road. And I found all of a sudden four people surrounding me. They were kidnapping me and I yelled, help me! But of course, I knew these were security forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ghonim's detention rallied people online, became a cause celebre online, also received a lot of attention around the world. And depending on where you lived and how you get your news, you get a somewhat different perspective of the Egypt political crisis.
We've been showing you the headlines. This is an Egyptian state- run newspaper, so it tends to be more favorable to President Hosni Mubarak. "The youth of the square engage in dialogue with Suleiman", the vice president, "and the standoff continues." So, being candid about the stand off continuing there.
Here is another paper from Saudi Arabia: "Cairo dialogue splits the opposition and the January 25 youth movement". Again, in Arabic there, a pretty fair characterization of what is going on.
This one I love. In Iran, you might say all politics is local. What do they focus on here? The Zionist regime, they mean Israel, is worried about the two-week interruption of natural gas transfer from Egypt. All politics is local, there.
And the Gulf News, in Dubai, covers it quite fairly, Brotherhood rejects offer, with talk there about the tensions.
We'll continue to track this story right here and across our spectrum of CNN. That's all for us tonight, though we'll see you tomorrow. PARKER SPITZER starts right now.