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ICE Agents Wounded; Turmoil in Iran; Egypt's Constitution; President Obama's Budget

Aired February 15, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Jess and good evening everyone. We begin a packed hour with breaking news. Two United States Immigrations and Customs officers shot and seriously wounded while performing their duties in Mexico. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve joins us live with the breaking details -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: John, details are still very slim at this point in time. What we have been told by Immigration and Customs Enforcement is that these two agents were driving from Mexico City northward to Monterey, Mexico, this afternoon when they were shot by unknown assailants.

An ICE official tells me the two agents were seriously wounded. ICE right now is working now with the State Department, with Mexican authorities and with its U.S. law enforcement officers to learn more about what happened here. Of course, Mexico has been wracked by violence, more than 12,000 people killed in the drug wars there last year as the cartels fight for turf and territory. We are waiting for more details though on what happened to these two individuals -- John.

KING: And Jeanne, it might be a surprise to some of our views that these officers operate south of the border. On any given day, about how many ICE officers would be in Mexico?

MESERVE: I'm told that the ICE office in Mexico City constitutes about 30 officers. They work a broad range of issues. They work on immigration issues, of course, also drugs, things related to currency relating to weaponry. So the broad range of law enforcement issues are dealt with by them on a daily basis down there.

KING: Jeanne Meserve on top of this breaking news for us. We'll check back as more details come in. Thanks Jeanne.

Now to fresh signs of political unrest across the increasingly volatile Middle East -- let's show you the map to show you more demonstrations across the region today. In the tiny capital city of Bahrain, take a look at this. Demonstrations on the left, a funeral march -- we'll load up right here momentarily on the right. You see a Facebook posting, too -- Facebook posting -- we've posted a lot of videos of the protests and all we can see is that the riot police are attacking the peaceful protesters.

This a funeral march here -- here you see the protesters in the central of the capital there -- Pearl Square right here being compared now to Egypt's Tahrir Square. Thousands joined the demonstrations Tuesday and sadly for the second time in as many days a protester was killed by police in Bahrain. King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa (ph) went on national television to promise an investigation of the deaths and to continue political reforms and tonight, the United States State Department issuing a statement urging the government to show restraint when it comes to the demonstrations.

That's in Bahrain. Down here south on the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, more demonstrations again today and you see another Facebook posting, again used by organizers all across the region. The march began from the district clinics toward the neighborhood rally and is still going. Thousands again in the streets in Yemen protesting their government and all in the region watching -- we'll make this one shrink down and come up here in Iran -- you see again, Facebook being used again here.

New signs in Iran tonight that the Islamist regime is planning yet another crackdown on opposition forces -- last night we showed you images of new opposition protest and anti-government chants. Here -- some postings here -- the youth of Iran, we are all behind you, and support you where it goes. But check out this video right here. Leading members of the parliament in this unruly debate calling for the two main opposition leaders, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, to be prosecuted and to be put to death.

CNN's Reza Sayah is keeping us -- keep track as best we can of the political turmoil in Iran.


KING: Reza, when you see these pictures of the parliament it is absurd in some ways but I assume if you are an every day Iranian who might be thinking of casting your lot with the opposition that also sends quite a chilling signal?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. This is a signal from Iran's hard-line leadership, how they may perhaps handle Iran's opposition movement and their comeback, especially how they might handle the two leading opposition figures who called for the rally yesterday. So the question now is will the government heed the calls of those lawmakers? Will they go after opposition these opposition figures who according to opposition Web sites are under house arrest -- John.

KING: And Reza what is the dynamic inside Iran when the president of the United States speaks out like he did today? We had heard from the vice president. We had heard from Secretary of State Clinton, but then President Obama himself today essentially calling the Iranian regime hypocrites, saying they saluted the demonstrators on the streets of Egypt but now they are you know beating and quashing their own opposition at home. How does that impact the debate inside Iran?

SAYAH: What we are hearing from the Obama administration is much different from what we heard two years ago. Remember, there were some people who criticized the Obama administration for not being vocal enough; they are playing their cards differently. They are leaning on the Iranian regime more; they are adding more pressure on them and vocally coming out in support of the opposition movement. Will that be effective? Will that be any different? It remains to be seen.

KING: Reza Sayah, as always, thanks for your help.


KING: And from those troubling images Iran, let's take a peek over at Egypt. Much more encouraging pictures coming out of Egypt today -- this is the Facebook page that was used to organize the demonstrations. Remember, you had up here a more militant figure urging demonstrations just a few days ago, now, dreams came true in Egypt. We are all Khalid Sayed (ph).

This is the Wael Ghonim page today. It's been a very busy day in many places and these encouraging pictures -- look at this -- cleaning up in the areas in and around Tahrir Square. Also in Egypt today the new military government suggested a speedy timetable for moving toward democracy.

It wants a new constitution written in a matter of days and a referendum on that document in two months, elections perhaps in six months or so. CNN's Arwa Damon is live in Cairo with the latest. Arwa, are they committed? Do the protesters believe the military government is actually committed to that speedy transition to democracy?

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the majority of them are. There are, of course, some who are not. And that is of great concern because they do say that they plan on continuing to demonstrate until the government does actually put all of its plans into action, but the formation of this constitutional committee is very significant and that is the first concrete step the military has taken towards trying to persuade and prove to the public that is it is, in fact, planning on eventually handing over to a civilian government, but by that token there still does remain a very sensitive point in Egypt's history.

The banks were shut today because it was a national holiday but they were shut down yesterday as well because of those ongoing protests with the Central Bank announcing that they would remain closed Wednesday and Thursday and then of course Friday, Saturday being a holiday here. However, those protesters, the employees protesting in front of the bank, their voices are also being heard with the Central Bank saying that each bank should assign individuals to represent them and their grievances.

A lot of them wanting investigations into allegations of corruption and so on, all of that being said though, the military has yet to fulfill some of its other equally critical pledges such as bringing about an end to arbitrary detentions and releasing political activist who were detained throughout these protests from the prisons. We have still been seeing a number of cases where people are still being rounded up, detained and outside of one of the prisons that we have visited today, around 200 people were sleeping on the sidewalks because they are waiting for some word of their loved ones, saying that the military really doesn't disseminate information. They don't exactly know what is happening, so a lot of anger and confusion on that front -- John.

KING: And we will keep tracking that anger and confusion. Arwa Damon for us live in Cairo -- Arwa thanks.

This sad footnote on the unrest in Egypt -- in a statement tonight CBS News disclosed that its correspondent Lara Logan suffered what the network described as a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating while covering the celebrations in Tahrir Square just after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down last Friday. CBS says Logan was saved by a group of women and Egyptian soldiers -- excuse me -- and is now hospitalize here in the United States. She is in our thoughts and prayers tonight.

Egypt's revolution and its ripple effect were major topics as President Obama held a press conference today.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My hope and expectation is that we are going to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and a more representative government. Understanding that America cannot ultimately dictate what happens inside of Iran any more than it could inside of Egypt.


KING: That's the president talking there about Egypt and Iran, so what are the chances of change in Iran? And is there anything the Obama administration can do to help? Joining me Geneive Abdo, she's the director of the Iran Program at the Century Foundation and National Security Network. Also here Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian-American Council.

Let me start first with what we heard from Reza and what we saw in Iran today. Members of the parliament looking like a mob, calling for the prosecution and the execution of the two leading opposition figures. Based on what you hear from friends, colleagues, contacts in Iran, what impact does that have if you are a young student who is trying to organize to go out in the street? Will it motivate them to do more or will it cause a chilling effect and fear?

GENEIVE ABDO, IRAN ANALYST, THE CENTURY FOUNDATION: No definitely. I mean, the whole point of this is to intimidate any potential, you know, unrest, particularly on the scale that we saw in 2009. And so, while you have -- as you know we have been seeing now for several weeks, great democracy, uprising in the Arab world it is really a lot more difficult for Iranians, much, much, much more difficult because of the terror and the fear that's going on within the population.

KING: And so what do you hear from the opposition inside? Are people afraid to do it on the scale we saw back in 2009? Are they determined to do it any way and take the risks?

TRITA PARSI, PRES., NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: I think they have shown that the fear is actually not with the opposition, it is with the government. The thing that they showed from the parliament, I think a lot of people interpret as a rather desperate move by the parliament. Certainly intended to instill fear amongst the population but at the same time, revealing their weakness and their own concerns and their own vulnerability, I think the government in Iran was really taken by surprise by the very large number of people that showed up and showed that they actually did not have fear.

KING: What should the U.S. administration do? Should it leave this to the Iranian students and the Iranian opposition or are there things the president can do that perhaps in your view he didn't do two years ago?

ABDO: I think today is a really very positive sign. Clearly, the administration has now shifted its position that we are hearing really tough rhetoric against the regime and support of civil society in Iran and so we can only hope that there's some sort of policy that follows the rhetoric, but I think today, from what President Obama has said and also from what Secretary of State Clinton has said over the last few days is a very, very positive sign.

KING: What kind of policy step could they take to back up the rhetoric? What firm things could they do that not only put pressure on the regime but somehow help the opposition?

PARSI: I think first of all the rhetoric has been positive because it has been focused on pointing out the double standards of the Iranian government, the hypocrisy there by focusing on the right of assembly and on human rights. Policy wise I think one of the first things the administration can and I hope actually will do is to work with the international community to make sure (INAUDIBLE) human rights commission in Geneva that there is human rights monitor adopted for Iran. There has been very, very intense human rights violations taking place in Iran for the last two years, but the response from the international community and the U.N. has so far been very, very disappointing.

KING: As you know, some make the argument that the more outspoken the United States is, the more of a foil that gives the Ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad. True or should the United States press no matter what?

ABDO: I think that that was true in 2009, but I think we are at a different place now and right now the regime is somewhat vulnerable, particularly to anything that has to do with human rights. So I think that the more the United States and the outside world can highlight to show the population inside the country that their government no longer has legitimacy, I think that that could really turn public opinion against the regime and that will help the democracy movement.

KING: It is a very different regime though and even tougher, stronger, more autocratic than the Egyptian regime. Are you at all confident that in two months, three months, six months we will be having a conversation that takes us from Tunisia to Egypt to change in Iran?

PARSI: Well they got repression down to a science and I think frankly if they were to look at what the Egyptian government were doing, they would view it as somewhat amateurish compared to what the Iranians are capable of doing when it comes to repression. When it comes to what the U.S. should be doing, if it's different, et cetera, I think if the intent is to help then the first thing one needs to do is to listen to the people themselves on the ground.

So far, I have not heard anything in particular that would be negative towards what the president and the secretary said today. On the contrary, the main criticism that came out from two years ago was that while they did not want the administration to take sides they were not happy with what they perceive to be silence on the human rights front. That seems to be changing.

KING: Trita Parsi, Geneive Abdo, thanks for your time and insights today. Let's keep in touch as this one plays out. Appreciate it. Thank you.

A bit later, more on Iran with Anderson Cooper who spoke just today to a student inside Iran who is helping to organize the opposition, but next the president says his budget makes tough choices, but does his own budget math square with his words?


KING: To say the president's new budget hit with a thud, well that is an understatement. Republicans say the Democratic president is abdicating leadership on the biggest spending challenges facing the federal government and even many editorial pages that tend to lean left call the president's approach too timid, so he called a news conference today to make his case.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not be adding more to the national debt. So to use a sort of an analogy that families are familiar with, we're not going to be running up the credit card anymore.


KING: Now to me, I don't know about you, but to me not running up the credit card means not spending money I don't have, but not to the president it appears. Let's take a look at the president's spending plan. This is the Obama budget. We will start here in 2010 and come through 2011. Now, just to stop for a second, red is spending. The top line is red.

That is government spending under the Obama budget. Green is income, meaning money coming in, revenues coming into the government. As you can see, this year, next year, the year after that, the year after that, the year after that, the year after that, the year after that all the way through to 2021 the president projects spending every year more than the government takes in. I think that is called running up the credit card -- I don't know -- maybe not. But the president did go on a bit later in his news conference to explain his explanation a little bit more. Yes he said some red ink but not as much, and the president made this key point. He said it's not all his fault.


OBAMA: We have piled up, we've wracked up a whole bunch of debt and there is a lot of interest on that debt. So, in the same way that if you've got a credit card and you've got a big balance, you may not be adding to principal. You've still got all that interest that you've got to pay.


KING: Let help you. Let me help you now on how that math works. If you look at this, this is what we call the debt pie -- it's not a happy pie. This is -- the president would run up under his budget, $7.2 trillion in debt over the next 10 years. That is the president's budget -- 5.72 trillion of that, all but two trillion of that comes on paying interest on the government's debt, so the president has a point about a lot of the money goes to interest on the debt.

Now, some of that is his debt, some of it is previous administration's debt, but the president has a point there. A lot of it is paying interest on the debt, two trillion in new debt the president would add, so did the president quiet his critics? We'll let's ask CNN contributors Ed Rollins, John Avlon, and Cornell Belcher.

Mr. Belcher, you're the Democrat so you get to go first. He's a Democratic president, and it is a tough time and to be honest this is a political document. It is not a bold document. They made a calculated decision at the White House. Let's put forward a plan that has some cuts, but let's let the House Republicans go and then we'll figure out where we go from there.

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But he is serious about cuts. I mean because there is some pain in here and there are some programs in here that's going to be cut that clearly that's sort of, you know, the heart and soul of the liberals and those on the Democratic side. But look, when you are being attacked by the far left and the far right, you're probably right in the middle where most Americans are.

He took -- you know he took a very solid stab at getting discretionary spending under control. And guess what? We are going to need the Republicans to come and help us on entitlements so you're not going to get too far on entitlement doesn't make any sense because it has to be bipartisan.

KING: That's the question, John Avlon. Does it make any sense -- it doesn't make any sense in the traditional rules of Washington, Cornell is exactly right. Why should the Democratic president start taking harpoons by himself? But if the price is so big that maybe he should have just said you know what, I'm going to take the first harpoon to prove how serious we are. JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, that's where presidential leadership comes in and that's the essential ingredient. The president has talked a good game when it comes to entitlement reform for a long time and now I believe it was an unprecedented opportunity for him to pull a Nixon-in-China and really lead on this issue and Independents would have noticed.

But instead what you have is a modest budget that steps modestly in the right direction, but there are no grand actions. And I think it's playing a larger political game as Cornell alleged, waiting for Republicans to sort of counteroffer and have this occur that way. But I think he is sacrificing real political gain as well as leadership in the process by taking this approach.

KING: But Ed Rollins, you're a Republican, but if you were still at the White House as the political adviser to this Democratic president, knowing the Tea Party guys want to cut even more than their Republican leadership and no matter what President Obama did it wasn't going to be good enough, would you take this approach, which is a down payment, this is a place holder for the big debate to come or would you have been more bold?

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well I'd try to be honest. You know basically saying the debt -- the interest on the debt is not my responsibility. It is someone else's is an absurd argument. You also can't start collecting taxes when you don't have them and they haven't been passed yet, so I think that is bad math.

I think at the end of the day if this president wants to be a historic president and change the dynamics, he had a commission. The bipartisan commission made some very, very tough recommendations that show us how difficult it is going to be to move forward, but there are no of those recommendations in this budget and I think that's irresponsible on his part.


AVLON: John let me add to that because look, Washington is full of gutless wonders on this issue. I mean the president had this deficit commission and it stopped (INAUDIBLE) Paul Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman today said that the president punted on deficit and the debt. Great point except Paul Ryan punted when it came to supporting the deficit commission that he served on --


KING: Let's dig deeper on this because Paul Ryan says and Eric Cantor, the House majority leader says they will have entitlement reform when they get to their budget, so let's see. Let's see if they keep their promise and let's see if they're serious about it. One of their criticisms has been that the president didn't go first on Social Security and he was asked today why not just put your own debt commission's plan forward?

Now I want to go -- I want to -- here's what the president said today. Essentially the president is saying I'm not going alone here. I want to negotiate with the Republicans. If we can all hold hands together, we will walk off the Social Security, Medicare cliff together. Let's listen.


OBAMA: I'm confident we can get Social Security done in the same way that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill were able to get it done by parties coming together, making some modest adjustments.


KING: But listen to this. We're going to go back in time a few days before Barack Obama became the president of the United States. He is the president-elect in this conversation and he's still talking like a guy who says I'm going to be different. I'm going to change Washington. I'm not going to play by the old Washington rules.


KING: What is your timetable for action in Congress?

OBAMA: You know, I think here's the difference. There's something about $1 trillion that gets people's attention and --

KING: One would hope.

OBAMA: I hope. And I think that across the political spectrum people are looking at what we have to do now to get this economy back on track and they are saying to themselves we know we can't sustain this. That means we have got to make some tough decision and I'm going to be using a significant amount of political capital.


KING: Significant amount of political capital. The question was specifically about Social Security and the president said -- the president-elect said he would. The president now is essentially saying maybe down the road. I want to do some business first with the Republicans. Here is why this matters. This is what everybody is talking about cutting -- this dark green portion here -- non-security discretionary spending. It is about 12 percent of the budget.

You can cut it all. You can cut it all, and you will not solve the bigger deficit problem. Over here, mandatory spending is where the problem is. And so John Avlon, the question is everybody says you have to do this. How do we get the political will to start the bipartisan dance?

AVLON: You know, by calling it out, by pointing out the absurdity of debating endlessly the 16 percent that ignores the larger problem. Look, the reality is if folks have the courage to actually lead on this issue, they will be rewarded by independent voters and other folks. That's the secret.

But, look, this -- you know, both parties are indulging in this kind of stuff, but the reality is we have run out of time. You can't kick the can anymore, so people need to realize there is political gain and practical reality in dealing with that other 86 percent now.


BELCHER: No, I've got to jump in because D.C. is a town that apparently with no context and no understanding of history. We just came out of the deepest recession we have had in decades, so the president was focused for the first two years on pulling us out of a recession. And now he is, in fact, turning to the debt, which is what he should. All of a sudden you all want this done yesterday. We were just in a recession and he pulled us out of a recession --


KING: I think it's going to take --


BELCHER: That's leadership --

KING: I think it's going to take a lot of time and I don't think -- I agree with you, you don't want to go cutting crazy now in the sense that if you're going to hurt the economy --


KING: -- but you would send stability to the markets, and Ed Rollins, you were there with Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill so help me out. You would send stability to the markets (INAUDIBLE) give confidence to the American people. If you -- if they at least saw instead of Republican proposal, Democratic proposal, let's kick and spit at each other for six months, then ultimately they're going to have to sit down anyway, if they would start the sit-down adult conversation now, Ed, why is that so impossible?

ROLLINS: It is not impossible. I think the bottom line is the Republicans would sit down with the president. Both sides are going to have to come together, as I said last night on this show, both sides put their spending priorities into this thing and they're both -- both are going to have basically give up on some of them. We cannot afford to have trillion dollar debts as far as the eye can see.

We cannot raise taxes and Cornell I'm happy that you think we are out of the recession. I think there is a lot of Americans out there who aren't quite sure yet and I think anything that basically dramatically changes that is good, but I think this president can basically today sit down as Reagan did and Bob Dole and Tip O'Neill and basically came and swallowed some very uncomfortable things for Reagan to basically raise taxes after the -- in -- and also resolve the Social Security issue.

I think governors -- Governor Cuomo in New York here has got a 77 percent approval rating. He's in there talking about tough cuts. Governor Christie, Republican in Jersey, cutting about tough cuts. Across the country, governors, Democrats and Republicans are making tough cuts.

KING: All right.

ROLLINS: Congress has to do the same.

KING: All right, a quick timeout here -- quick timeout here -- hold the thought -- hold the thought. These guys are staying put. Still ahead, my rare interview with the NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell -- what a treat that was -- who received this nation's highest civilian honor today.

But next, someone important today said if the federal government has to give 200,000 workers pink slips, so be it. We'll tell you who and we'll check his math after the break.


KING: Now we know the Republicans don't like President Obama's new budget. They say he's not cutting enough spending. They say it's more bloated government, big government, and the House Speaker John Boehner says Republicans will go much, much deeper in their cuts and including, including he says, if necessary, cutting federal agencies and workers.

Listen to this.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Over the last two years since President Obama has taken office, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs. And if some of those jobs are lost in this, so be it. We're broke. It's time for us to get serious about how we are spending the nation's money.


KING: Now, first, we'll check the math. Ed and John and Cornell still with us.

First, we'll check the math. There have been 200,000 people hired -- hired by the federal government during the Obama presidency. But there are vacancies, of course. Jobs come off when people leave jobs. There are 58,000 more federal workers, not 200,000. There are 58,000 more federal workers in January 2011 than there were in January 2009.

So, number one, there's honesty in the math question there. It's a net jobs versus total jobs, Ed Rollins. But as a Republican, that tone -- is that all right, is that the tone you want to set, so to be? If you want to make the cuts and say the government is out of money, this is a really tough time, we're going to have to hurt some people we really don't want to hurt, that's different than saying, so be it, isn't it?

ED ROLLINS, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, tone is very important and, as I said, governors have to make cuts, tough cuts; chancellors in schools have to make tough cuts and I think to a certain extent, you want to save as many jobs as you can in this kind of environment but you have to decide what's important here. And I think if some of those jobs are periphery, then I think basically eliminate them.

But more important than all of that is the entitlements, and until we tackle the entitlements, you know, we're just playing around the edges.

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And I want to place back a little bit on this ideal that there's not tough cuts. There are over 200 cuts to programs to be cut or eliminated here. So, there are some tough cuts that are going on here but you can't -- but you cannot cut away and gut sort of our recovery in order to just get the deficit down because it becomes counterproductive.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, which is a point that the short-term cuts don't actually do a lot to deal with the long-term deficit and debt, which is why you need to deal with the big picture.

And Washington needs to get over itself to the extent that, you know, raising the retirement age to 69 by 2075 is not the end of the world. If the federal government headcount shrinks, I don't think folks at home are sitting worrying about that so much. They are worrying about the private sector at a time when the public sector has done great and in some states, the average public sector worker makes more when you add in benefits than the average private sector worker.

So, Boehner didn't sound really like a passionate conservative, but he's not wrong. That's the tone you need to take sometimes.

ROLLINS: And uniquely as important, you can't be adding $53 billion, $50-plus billion for rapid trains across the country when you can't even pay for the northeast corridor which is the most dense area, you're going to --


BELCHER: But really, quickly, that is the essence of sort of our own debate because what he says is wasteful spending. I say is infrastructure and it's going to create jobs and position us better to win the future. Those are sort of investments you have to make if you're going to win the future. You can't just gut those --


KING: To get that investment, the president has a Chamber of Commerce on his side of that one. He needs some of these Republican governors on his side for that one. That's one of his big challenges going forward. He can get any of the Republican governors to talk about the rail and taxes (ph).

All right, Ed and John and Cornell, thanks for coming in, helping me do some math tonight. Math is not always my strong suit.

But someone sells paying a lot of time -- paying a lot of attention to the budget and doing the math is our own offbeat reporter Pete Dominick. Pete, what are you doing with the budget?

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: Well, listen, as much as I love to hear from the pros, the commentators that are on your show, handsome John Avlon, the legend Ed Rollins and Captain Style, Cornell Belcher -- that's quite the turtleneck, sir, I want to take it outside Washington and outside the pros. I've learned from all of those guys and you, that politics is perception.

So, I went up to Manhattan's liberal upper west side because I've been hearing that liberals are not very happy with the president's proposal. And here's what I found out this morning.


DOMINICK: What's the best way to balance the budge?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What? Are you serious?

DOMINICK: Come on, sir. Come on. You have the answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't balance myself.

DOMINICK: You maybe of the age that you receive Medicare or Social Security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes. I hope I still get it after this change.

DOMINICK: What if we cut some of that? What do you think of that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are getting old. More people are getting on it.

DOMINICK: All right. So, no cuts there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No cuts here whatsoever.

DOMINICK: How do you think Medicare works for you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It keeps me alive.

DOMINICK: So, you wouldn't want to see any cuts there at all?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to raise tax on the wealthy people and stop this Bush era tax cuts for millionaires. It's simple.

DOMINICK: You don't want to see tax increased on anybody?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't mind taxes being increase, but I think the president is -- has a delicate balance that he's playing right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without taxes, you can't mend the roads, you can't repair your bridges. Taxation is a necessary evil.

DOMINICK: Are you telling me that you like safe roads and bridges, is that something that's important to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the infrastructure of the country, if it's allowed to disintegrate, it reflects --

DOMINICK: Another elitist.


DOMINICK: Well, get your government hands out of my Medicare and I'm OK with raising taxes -- just a little bit of what I heard today, John King.

KING: Pete, those are not people who made John Boehner speaker. I'm going to go way out on a limb here.

DOMINICK: Absolutely not. But, you know, you hear -- I'm reading a lot of liberal bloggers and commentators and even legislators saying they're not happy with President Obama's proposal. Sneaky suspicion that maybe that's why he came out and made those comes this morning or maybe he just wanted to save his new press secretary one more day, of course, like he said.

But, you know, the people that live on Manhattan's upper west side, very liberal, and they didn't seem too upset today, but maybe they're not paying as much attention as some of us. I don't know.

KING: Well, this is the beginning. This is the beginning in a long debate between the president, the House Republicans and the Senate. We'll get involved in some point.

Pete Dominick, appreciate the insights of yours and those people today.

Next right here, the latest on the turmoil in the Middle East, including Anderson Cooper's conversation with a student inside Iran hoping -- hoping -- to bring about change.


KING: Welcome back.

Here's the latest news you need to know right now:

In a hastily scheduled news conference today, the president defended his budget and accused the White House press corps and others in Washington of being too impatient. He predicted he and Congress will be able to get together to tackle the deficit. He also defended his response to the Egyptian political crisis.

In Egypt itself, the military is giving an independent committee 10 days to come up with constitutional reforms.

Hardliners in Iran's parliament furious about renewed anti- government protests today demanded trials and executions for the two main opposition leaders.

Our CNN colleague Anderson Cooper managed to speak exclusively with a student inside Iran today who's helping to organize the anti- government opposition. Anderson joins us now live.

Anderson, it must have been a fascinating conversation.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was. This is a young woman who has risked her life in order to try to get word out about what is going on in the streets of Iran. I talked to her a short time ago.

Here's some of what she said.


COOPER: Were you scared to go into the streets yesterday?

"SARAH," IRANIAN STUDENT (via telephone): Oh, yes. And we didn't know what was coming, so we were scared. But when I saw the people being back like the old days, that was really exciting.

COOPER: And at some point, was there violence?

SARAH: Oh, yes. As they did not let us proceed, we have to kind of fight to make our way, but at some point, we couldn't -- there was too much violence so we couldn't proceed.

COOPER: So, you saw that? You saw police beating people?

SARAH: Yes. And I saw someone got beaten and so I saw it, yes.


COOPER: She says she is just one of many participants who she saw in the streets, too many to count she said. She also he knows one of the young men who was killed, she says by government forces. The Iranian government, John, as you know, is claiming that person was actually a pro-government militia member, but they -- she and others say that person was a student at Tehran University.

KING: And Anderson I had two experts on Iran in earlier, but there's nothing like talking to a young student, a brave student actually there, do they take -- she and her friends take these threats of executions of the opposition leaders and the obvious crackdown -- do they take it as a motivational force or a source of fear? Or both?

COOPER: Well, there's -- I mean, I think she readily admits that she's afraid and has every reason to be afraid, even just speaking to us on the phone is done at great risk. But, look, she is determined to try to make change. She says she wants freedom and is determined to try to do whatever she can to get it.

KING: Fascinating story -- a great interview for Anderson. Much more of that coming ahead, "A.C. 360" tonight, 10:00 here on the East Coast. Thanks, Anderson. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had this issue in mind today, too, when she warned dictators not to block their citizens' access to the Internet.

In a major speech, she said the United States is going to put up some $45 million to help technically-savvy activists find ways to fight what she calls Internet repression.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We believe that governments who have erected barriers to Internet freedom, whether they are technical filters or censorship regimes or attacks on those who exercise their rights to expression and assembly online will eventually find themselves boxed in. They will face a dictator's dilemma and will have to choose between letting the walls fall or paying the price to keep them standing.


KING: So, good idea to or bad idea for the United States government to get involved in an issue like this?

Joining me now, Andrew Lih. He is the author of "The Wikipedia Revolution" and associate professor of journalism at the University of Southern California. Also with us, Amar Bakshi,'s new world producer.

Andrew, to you first -- Hillary Clinton is saying in the United States will use the resources of the government essentially to help people in Iran, in China, elsewhere, whose governments are blocking Internet access. Good idea?

ANDREW LIH, AUTHOR, "THE WIKIPEDIA REVOLUTION": Well, I think it comes as a double-edged sword, obviously. One of the things that we saw with the Egyptian revolution was that it was really one inspired by the people, and it really -- you really couldn't put to the U.S. as being an interloper or an instigator of that. But when it comes, say, on Iran, you start to see that the U.S. is really starting to interpose its real strong opinion about what should happen there with tools and with actions. And I think that could be problematic in the long term.

KING: You share that view, Amar? Are you worried about it?

AMAR BAKSHI, CNN.COM NEW WORLD PRODUCER: I'm not terribly worried about it. For the past three years, the State Department has been investing in what Hillary Clinton called the venture capitalist approach to help develop tools to bypass forms of censorship and other forms of oppression.

Generally speaking, it's kind of like a Jerry Maguire moment where the U.S. is helping people help themselves. That's certainly a better course of action than directly funding some of these groups or opposition groups like the U.S. does. It certainly carries less risk that than. So, I think it's a development in a positive direction.

KING: Amar thinks it's positive, Andrew. What would you do instead of the government being directly involved? Because we have a map we can show people, this is from Reporters Without Borders, the Internet's black hole in Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, China, Burma, North Korea. It's a pretty nefarious group, countries where the government either says no Internet or very little Internet. And if you try to search for any sensitive issues or subjects, well, then, absolutely no Internet.

What should the West open governments or schools and students do to try to help their friends elsewhere?

LIH: Well, you kind of saw that effect in Egypt where a lot of the folks there used Twitters, Facebook, Google even. We're starting to get some of the details of how the Google employee there, Ghonim, used various tools to assemble and to motivate people to gather and even to keep the government off balance there.

So, there are a lot of great citizen tools out there and better education for all these folks, how to use the technological tools to communicate among folks who are organizing is a good thing in general. I don't think I really disagree with anything that was said before. It's just that when the U.S. has a direct -- you know, very direct statement about who should be the winners, especially in Iran, that could be a real problem. And you saw Clinton use the word awful when it comes to Iran today. Those are pretty strong words that the U.S. didn't use when it came to Egypt and other folks.

KING: And so, Amar, is there a way for the United States government -- sensitive to Andrew's points about not wanting their fingerprints all over it -- if a government just shuts off the Internet, shuts off cell service, so somebody like Wael Ghonim can't get on Twitter, can't get to Google or to Facebook because it's been shut up, is there a way to come in and help essentially?

BHAKSI: And I think that's where the diplomatic might of the United States is important -- exercise through back channels, ideally not WikiLeaks. I agree with Andrew that -- although the situations in Iran and Egypt are very different, that the U.S. getting out in front of revolutions generally does not help. But there are many ways for it to support it from the back end.

KING: What have we learned over the past few weeks about the power of the Internet, social media and organizing that we should watch to see if it is built on as we follow developments throughout the region and as we head to the next campaign here at home? Andrew?

LIH: Well, I think what you saw in Egypt and what you'll see in other places, that multiple, redundant channels of communication have really empowered the citizenry to do things that you could never imagine before. And this is not just a Facebook revolution or a Twitter revolution but it's mobiles, it's blogging, it's Wikipedia, it is all these different tool that allow the public to talk to each other in multiple ways that governments can no longer censor effectively.

And that's what's really causing this amazing phenomenon that we see today and it's something that even bites the U.S. government in the rear sometimes. So, that's something they have to worry about. When Clinton gave that speech, you know, a lot of these same tool that we want distance to use in Iran and China, WikiLeaks has used with respect to states -- state secrets for the U.S. So, it's a double- edged sword.

KING: It is indeed. Amar?

BAKSHI: I think in net, the evolution of these tools is immensely valuable for the future of revolutions. The speed and alacrity in which this occurred caught by surprise and the sophistication with which it was planned is coming out now and it's fascinating to behold. I think we're going to see a lot more of this especially as mobile penetration increases in these places and the intelligence of our phones increases so that people are networking in real time, on the go. And I think there's a lot more of this ahead.

KING: Amar Bakshi, Andrew Lih, appreciate your insights today, gentlemen. Thanks both.

BAKSHI: Thank you.

LIH: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

When we come back, the president of the United States bestows the nation's highest civilian honor on a broad away array of people. One is a former president, one is a musician, one, the greatest basketball player to ever play the game.


OBAMA: -- stood up for the rights and dignity of all men. And I hope that one day, in the streets of Boston --




OBAMA: When we award this medal to a Congressman John Lewis, it says that we aspire to be a more just, more equal, more perfect union.

When we award it to a Warren Buffett, it says we don't like to be so humble and wise and maybe make a little money along the way.

And when we award it to Former President George H.W. Bush, it says we celebrate an extraordinary life of service.

Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men. And I hope that one day in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man.


KING: I had a rare chance and a great chance to sit down with the great one, Bill Russell. That interview when we come back.


KING: I do some special work for NBA television, in addition to my CNN work. Bill Russell in town today for the Medal of Freedom -- I had a chance to sit down and say hello.


BILL RUSSELL, MEDAL OF FREEDOM RECIPIENT: He was my hero from -- since I can remember. And so when he told me that he was proud of me because he liked the way I turned out and he was proud of his son, that was -- you can't top that.

KING: No, you can't.

RUSSELL: So, and while this is a unique and very, very flattering honor, it's -- in fact, when I -- my daughter told me that I was going to get it, the first thing I did is I got in my car and drove out to California and visited my father's grave and told him about it, and it made me feel a lot better. Of course, basically, I said to him, you know, I have to agree with you that I did OK.


KING: You've done more than OK. Why? Why do you think Bill Russell was chosen for this prestigious honor?

RUSSELL: I tried to take care of my community. Like when I played for the Celtics, especially after I became the captain, I considered myself sort of a big brother to my teammates. And I always acted the same way about my community, you know, that I always tried to make sure that I and my friends were always treated with respect.

And I used to always say it doesn't -- whether anyone likes me or not is irrelevant. The relevant thing to me was to be respected, and by being respected myself and being respectful. It can create an atmosphere that the folks that -- they can see the folks around me are also people who can be respected.

KING: This is the highest civilian honor a president can give, and you are the first NBA player to receive it.

RUSSELL: Well, there were so many things that I was the first to do. You know, it's, like, I just -- it's almost an accident of birth that I came when I did. And so, a lot of things had happened.

But the table had been set. And, for example, my attitude was -- I don't know if you know, I was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson's funeral. And I had enormous respect for him. And my attitude was Jackie has gotten us from point A to point B. So, I should start from point B, not go back to point A.


KING: We'll bring you more of that conversation at a later date.

But, now, some breaking news just in to CNN. We told at the top of the program, two border and customs enforcements agents were shot today between Monterey and Mexico City. One of those agents has now died. The statement from Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, one agent was critically wounded and died from his injury, the second shot in the arm and leg remains in stable condition. We'll stay on top of this breaking news.

"PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.