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Libyan Crisis; Contradictory Claims

Aired March 4, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf, and good evening everyone. A day of deadly violence across Libya tonight as Colonel Moammar Gadhafi unleashes his forces and his military and his mercenaries in a bid to retake key cities from the opposition. A doctor in the coastal town of Zawiya -- let's take a closer look -- he claims a river of blood flowing at his hospital and a peaceful march -- check this out -- by anti-regime forces in Libya after daily Friday prayers is met with a deadly mix of bullets and teargas. You see that fighting there.

The anti-Gadhafi forces also claim a significant prize, the oil refinery town of Ras Lanuf. Take a look at the pictures here -- these right here -- these opposition forces capturing that town vowing to stay on the march. They now list Gadhafi's hometown as one of their next objectives. And tonight amid all of this bloodshed, a fierce debate in Libya over who has the upper hand, the dictator who has ruled for more than four decades or the oppositions who vow Libya like its neighbors in Tunisia and Egypt is at the cusp of a new era.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson tonight interviewed Colonel Gadhafi's son, Seif and Nic joins us live now from Tripoli -- Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well John, one of the things he made clear was that in the east of the country the attacks would continue. I asked him to lay out his plan of how things will go in the (INAUDIBLE) from here. One of the steps to bring respect to this country and he said first we'll take control of the country from the militias.

This was a new word from him -- militia. Militia is not al Qaeda, not drug taking youth. Militias, he said. It is militias in the east of (INAUDIBLE) and other parts of the country that are (INAUDIBLE) the government and he said that the east the government would push and take the fight to them and (INAUDIBLE) all over those areas and not until it's taken control over those areas will it begin to reform the constitution.

So as he lays it out it is a military plan first followed by reforms. That's how he sees it. In the town of Zawiya we asked him about the military action there. He said the government pretty much has that town under their control now. He thinks it will all be done by the end of Saturday. He said the people there have been trying to get out of the town (INAUDIBLE) get out of the town and attack the oil refinery, coincidentally where journalists were taken yesterday. The sources we talked to in Zawiya talk of 15 people dead, 200 killed. A doctor said there are rivers of blood in the hospital (INAUDIBLE) there -- John.

KING: So Nic, let's reinforce the importance of that. Colonel Gadhafi's son essentially acknowledging that this is an uprising of Libyans within the country not blaming outside forces anymore. And yet as he vows to deal with it, a change of language, but no sense of a change in strategy or any conceding any ground?

ROBERTSON: None at all. I asked him about President Obama's statement that his father has lost credibility in the country and needs to step down. That is not going to happen. I asked him about the fact that (INAUDIBLE) alerts for his father, his brothers, his whole family. He said that was misguided. That it shouldn't have happened. Why involve them? They're not the army. They're not part of the country.

But what struck me most of all about this interview is he was short on detail and answers. I said how are you going to take control of the rest of the country? Well the people will do it. How are you going to (INAUDIBLE) reforms? Well the people will see that these are necessary. So it really struck as a situation where he is trying to sort of put the best spin on the situation.

How are you going to win over the international community? He said well he -- he said you, the journalists are here. That's what you are here for to give a positive impression to the international community. So it was short on detail in the answers but very clear that this country is headed towards more conflict in the short-term at least -- John.

KING: And Nic, do you get the sense that Colonel Gadhafi is firmly in charge? You've been right there watching all this. You've seen all the statements. Many call them ramblings. Some call them delusional. Is he truly calling the shots, or is his son perhaps a more important figure at the moment?

ROBERTSON: It seemed to me -- I mean there are many ways to read his son right now and that is either he doesn't want to answer the questions in detail or he can't answer them in detail. And if he can't answer them in detail that raises the possibility that he is a figure head at the moment representing those stronger forces in the government. We know that when he's tried to (INAUDIBLE) this country before, it's been thwarted by the sort of what people describe as the old guard (ph), the security apparatus, the heads of intelligence of internal security and the army. Are they really calling the shots now along with his father? That could definitely be one interpretation of why he was short on detail in the interview -- John.

KING: Fascinating conversation -- Nic Robertson for us in Tripoli -- Nic thanks. Keep up the great reporting.

Now Nic, as we said, is over here in the capital of Tripoli. CNN's Ben Wedeman has been spending his time more here in the eastern part of the country. Right here in these coastal cities, they are critical to the balance of power because of their oil, gas and refinery operations. So, Ben, where you are to the east, it sounds like the anti- Gadhafi forces "A" are making gains and then "B" making plans to advance even further. Is that right?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they made major gains today, John. They took over the town of Ras Lanuf, which is a major oil refinery town on the road to Tripoli. It was a town that until now was controlled by the Gadhafi forces, considered very strategic and of course what comes after that is the town of Sirte. That's Gadhafi's hometown and it appears that you know even though they're not quite as organized as they could be, the anti- Gadhafi forces seem to have a certain amount of momentum.

We were watching as -- while the attack was under way. More and more pickup trucks, cars, buses, any form of transportation they could get full of volunteer fighters were heading to the front. And the feeling among the fighters is that if they can take Ras Lanuf, if they can Sirte and they could even get to Tripoli. They're already talking about besieging (INAUDIBLE), which is the compound where Moammar Gadhafi lives in, in Tripoli -- John.

KING: And so let's be clear about the ambitions there. The audacious ambitions, you might say, in the sense that some had foreseen a situation where the anti-Gadhafi forces take parts of the country. Gadhafi keeps Tripoli. We have a stalemate and we see essentially who blinks first or who gives in first or whether the international community does something. You say their plan is to keep on marching, as long as they make gains they'll go all the way to Tripoli.

WEDEMAN: Yes, as long as they make gains. NOW What's odd in this whole situation, John, is that the Libyan Air Force, the Libyan Army that's still technically loyal to Moammar Gadhafi has superior firepower. They have tanks, helicopters, jets, heavy artillery, Grad rockets, katyushas. They have so much more. But until now what we've seen is the Libyan Army has really not been able to put up much of a fight when faced with this rag tag, somewhat anarchic collection of former soldiers of the Gadhafi regime and basically people have very little military experience, what they do seem to have is high morale and a determination somehow or other to topple Moammar Gadhafi's regime -- John.

KING: And Ben when you have conversations with policymakers here in Washington, they say one of the challenges here is that if they wanted to talk to an opposition leader or the opposition leader on the ground in Libya, they don't know who that would be. Do you?

WEDEMAN: Nobody really does. I mean in Benghazi you have this so-called courthouse, which is the nerve center for the opposition. But no single individual has really emerged as the leader. And there doesn't seem to be any consensus over it. You have people on the one hand, businessmen, lawyers, doctors, human rights activists who have no experience in politics, because politics in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya was really a forbidden territory.

And on the other hand you have these figures from the old regime like the justice minister and the interior minister. And there is tension between the two groups. The civilian so to speak, the nonpolitical figures don't trust those men, but they realize they may have to deal with them just to sort of take the reigns once Moammar Gadhafi leaves. So it's a very unclear situation not only for policymakers in Washington, but people in eastern Libya and the rest of Libya as well -- John.

KING: It is fascinating, absolutely fascinating. Ben Wedeman thanks so much.

And here in Washington tonight, the more violence in Libya brings more pressure on the Obama White House to back up its call for Gadhafi to go with a commitment of the U.S. military to impose and enforce a no-fly zone so that the Libyan leader cannot use his Air Force to attack his own people.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I do not subscribe nor advocate ground troops, U.S. ground troops in Libya. Let me make that clear. But there's a lot of ways we can assist the Libyans without that kind of action.


KING: The administration says it is moving military assets into the region in case it comes to that, but says the top priority right now is the growing humanitarian challenge. And tens of thousands have already fled Libya and getting supplies to them and many within Libya's borders who needs help is a daunting challenge. Check out these satellite images. I want to show you first this side here; this is in Libya, just at the western border near Tunisia. Look at the crowds of people. You can see them if you look closely at these satellite images. They are coming here -- try to get out. Now here we are here. This is a tent city. Just across the border into Tunisia, a few miles away from here across the border, a few miles in, you get right here. Look at all those tents popping up. CNN's Becky Anderson spent the day here.

KING: Becky, we hear numbers, some are in the ballpark of 200,000 people who have left Libya; the U.S. Agency for International Development thinks there are 90,000 or so in those camps just over the border in Tunisia. Describe the conditions and the plight of the people where you are.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: It's desperate, and it's fairly grim, but it's not the humanitarian catastrophe that the United Nations HCR Department had feared only about 24 hours ago, so that is of course the good news. I don't think you can see the tents behind me. I'm about three miles from the border here at what is the U.N.'s emergency transit camp, as it were, and the guys here are asleep -- and I probably shouldn't be talking as loudly.

The guys are asleep tonight. A majority of them are Bangladeshi migrant workers. And these are the guys who certainly said that the world forgot over the last sort of 72 hours. And the stories from them have been so painful, John. And they haven't been paid they tell me, many of them, for about two months. And when the fighting started in Libya, they just feared for their lives.

They were already assaulted before the fighting began and they've been harassed and all manner of things. So they decided to flee and what happened was they simply walked to the border, some of them 40, 50, 60 kilometers (INAUDIBLE) 30, 40, 50 miles and when they got here there was nothing for them. Many governments around the world have really ramped up their action in order to get these evacuees out to the airport and out of here.

But the Bangladeshis had absolutely nothing, so they spent about three days sleeping on the floor at the border. And last night when we were broadcasting from there the wind was roaring. It was pouring with rain at one stage. It's been miserable. However, tonight they are safe. They are being accommodated in these tents.

They've been given food and water. And the expectation and the hope is that now this humanitarian and international effort has begun and the Americans have already arrived at the airport about 100 miles for here. But these Bangladeshi migrant workers, many of them who have been endangered workers will actually be able to get out of here. Where they go after this is of course a big question Mark because what they have at home is often not as grim as this, but it isn't great -- John.

KING: And Becky, officials say that the flow has slowed down, 10 to 15,000 by the day, just a couple of days ago --


KING: -- perhaps somewhere in the ballpark of 2,000 now. Is that because most of those who want to get out have escaped or are they being stopped on the other side?

ANDERSON: It's a really interesting question. And the problem is that nobody here can answer it, which is what they're concerned about. They were seeing about 1,000 evacuees a day -- sorry -- an hour over the past sort of 72 hours until about lunchtime yesterday. And suddenly the flow went down to a trickle and virtually stopped. Now today they say they've seen about 1,800 to 2,000 coming over the border. Some of whom, let me tell you, are Libyans coming over the border who really do not want to talk.

They won't tell their stories. They're just coming over and they're trying to sort of disappear as it were. But yes, that is the concern. And there's been much talk that pro-Gadhafi forces have been on the other side of the border, possibly attacking or preventing other evacuees from getting out. I haven't got any more evidence of this nor the aide officials nor the Tunisian army on this side of the border, but that is of course a big question mark this evening.

KING: A question we'll try to answer in the hours and days ahead -- Becky Anderson, thanks.

Still ahead "Made in America" makes a comeback. And that means new jobs for thousands. And next, Fareed Zakaria chooses between the cautious administration approach to the Libyan crisis and those who want a more muscular response.


KING: The escalation of violence in Libya is adding intensity to an already crackling policy debate here in Washington. Listen to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and what is most obvious is that the Obama administration remains very reluctant to use military power, including imposing a no-fly zone to curb the bloodshed.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Of course we are concerned with the ongoing violence and the actions that are initiated and perpetrated by Gadhafi and his regime against his own people. We are considering a number of ways that we can be of assistance with respect to that. But we are now focused on the humanitarian situation.


KING: Some on Capitol Hill say the administration is being too timid and needs tough action to back up its calls for regime change in Libya.


MCCAIN: Logic dictates that if the secretary of state and the president of the United States say Gadhafi must go, one of the measures that would hasten his departure would be a no-fly zone, which would inhibit his ability to prevail militarily.


KING: So which is the wiser position, caution or the use of military power now? Let's ask CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Fareed, the administration now getting more and more criticism for what I'll call the hawks in the Congress, are the hawks right or is the administration right to be cautious?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I think the administration is right, right now. The president has said all options are on the table. They're not ruling anything out. But look a military intervention in another Muslim Arab country -- this will be the third Muslim country we'll intervene in, in 10 years, is a big deal. We should be thinking about it. We should be cautious.

It would hand a weapon over to Gadhafi, which is he would be able to say he was resisting western imperialism, American aggression. I think that the president has to do something because he has drawn a line in the sand. And he has to keep mounting the pressure on Gadhafi. But there are other ways to do it. We could fund covertly the opposition, the rebels.

We could arm them. We could provide all kinds of logistical support to them. We could try and get the neighbors to get more involved. We could get the Arab League to maybe start a process where they request a no-fly zone. And in that context perhaps a no-fly zone becomes more viable. The crucial thing I think to understand is Gadhafi still does have something of an army, a paramilitary force, lots of weaponry at his disposal.

Even if you put the no-fly zone in place he -- the balance of power is against the rebels. And so we will have to do lots of other things to try and keep pressing on Gadhafi to make him understand, make the people around him understand that the end of this drama is preordained. It's just a question of how long they want to take. But Gadhafi cannot stay in power forever. He's going to have to find some exit strategy for himself.

KING: And when people debate the no-fly zone, many draw the Bosnia comparison. Now Libya is not on the scale of the genocide that we had in the Balkans, but it took some time you remember for the world community, especially for the president of the United States to reach the stage where so many images of the violence, so many images of horrible, horrific bloodshed, the world finally acted. Is there a comparison or is that unfair?

ZAKARIA: Look, there are some similarities, to be sure. But this is an Arab country; this is a Middle Eastern country. The whole region the other governments have made it clear that they would not welcome American military intervention. Other African countries have made it clear they would not welcome American military intervention. This was not the case in Europe, which was a more complicated one where some Europeans didn't want the United States in but others very enthusiastically did.

Look, I think that each of these cases have to be taken on their merits and certainly the no-fly zone should be an option. I simply think that the United States has many tools at its disposal. And the president is wise at this point to say, we're no going to rush in -- what is the lesson of the last 10 years, John, in terms of Afghanistan and Iraq? It's easy to start a military intervention.

These things take on a life of their own. You're then in the thick of a very complex fight. The enemy has a vote and can alter whatever your plans are that these things are going to be clean and surgical and you are going to go in and out. And you take on enormous responsibilities for the country that you're militarily intervening in. What Colin Powell said about Iraq is worth remembering. You know you break it, you buy it.

KING: You break it you buy it. We assume Colonel Gadhafi has full access to this political debate here in the United States, and it's the way we function here in the United States an open debate and exchange of ideas. Sometimes a great deal of controversy. Does the political debate in the United States and the clear hesitancy of the administration to use military force now does it impact Gadhafi's decision-making at all?

ZAKARIA: It may, but it would be one in a long line of dictators and third world experts who have miscalculated because they listened to this free and open debate and assumed that the United States is without teeth, without power. I mean you can go back from the Soviet Union to Hitler to Saddam Hussein. There are all these leaders who think that this kind of open debate is a sign of weakness. It isn't.

It's a sign of strength because it means that the foreign policy that emerges is one with greater legitimacy, with greater sanction. At the end of the day the United States has many, many weapons at its power. I do think that -- at the end of the day here, we know what's going to happen. Five years from now Moammar Gadhafi is not going to be running Libya. Right now he has a balance of power in his favor against these rebels.

And we're trying to figure out how to do things to make it so that he doesn't slaughter them. But at the end of the day, you know, maybe he can hold out for a year. Maybe he can hold out for a few months. Maybe he can hold out for two years. I can't see any scenario with the world now totally opposed to him. With his allies, he's down to Chavez and you know probably the North Koreans. With those allies, how can he -- how long can he last?

KING: Fareed Zakaria, as always, thanks.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

KING: Still to come here a new indictment against the alleged gunman in the Tucson shooting spree targeting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

And next, "Made in America" is making a comeback helping drive the unemployment rate down a bit.


KING: A new jobs report from the government today has many thinking that finally, finally perhaps the recovery is gaining some real steam. Let's take a closer look. First let's look at the number. The unemployment rate, this is playing out throughout the Obama administration, the new report today, 8.9 percent unemployment. That's down a little bit. Still 13.7 million Americans don't have jobs, but as you can see, the rate is down just a bit from recent months.

That's encouraging. Now where is the jobs market? That tells the story. This is the beginning of the administering losing jobs, then gaining jobs, then a little spottiness right now, 192,000 jobs added to the economy last month. That's the biggest number in some time, again, starting to fuel some optimism, so what's working in the economy?

"Made in America", manufacturing is up. That's great news. Construction also is up. Some say that's because of the weather, but still good to see that number up. The transportation sector gaining jobs, the health care industry gaining jobs, here's the down and you've watched this play out in all these state budget battles -- state and local governments shedding workers, 30,000 jobs off the government payrolls just last month. So I'm going to show you this. You look at this -- this looks a little confusing, doesn't it? It looks like multicolored spaghetti. What this is, is the last 11 recessions. Here's where they begin and this is the 1980 recession, this bright yellow line -- a drop down, quickly out. You're out of recession. Other recessions, you drop down here. This is 1974.

You're out of recession here. This red line is the current recession. Look how low we go -- deeper, more painful than these past recessions and that is flat-lined at the bottom, so faster in, steeper down, and then tougher to get out. The question now is -- are we finally heading this way?

Let's crunch the numbers now Chrystia Freeland. She's global editor-at-large for "Reuters". And Mark Zandi is the chief economist for Moody's Analytics. Mark, let me start with you. An optimist would look at this and say 222,000 jobs created last month in the private sector. Finally we have a recovery that has momentum. A skeptic or a pessimist might say average it out over three months, it's around 135, 136,000 jobs a month, so I'm not quite sure yet. Where are you?

MARK ZANDI, 2008 MCCAIN ECONOMIC ADVISER: Well, I'm feeling a lot better. I think the trend lines are all very good. I do think trend underlying job growth currently is about 150k per month. And I do think by the summer we'll be closer to 200k per month and by this time next year 250k. All the stars are aligning. Businesses are very profitable. Balance sheets are strong, so unless we get derailed by something like what's coming out of the Middle East I think we'll be in much better shape in the months ahead.

KING: You hear, Chrystia, Mark say what's coming out of the Middle East. That is higher oil prices at the moment, which threatens the recovery. If you look across the report, you have to be happy if you look at construction. You have to be happy if you look at manufacturing, "Made in America" actually making a comeback.

One of the negatives in this report is the layoffs in state and local government, down 30,000 last month and you have to look forward, you see all these union fights going on in all the states across the country, the budget problems in states across the country. That is a number that is going to continue to be in the negative, won't it?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, GLOBAL EDITOR AT LARGE, REUTERS: Absolutely, so I agree with Mark that the stars are in alignment with the big, big question mark of the Middle East and the price of oil. And I think that this could really, really have -- you know, in the same way that we saw the problems with Europeans sovereign debt kind of knocking the U.S. economy off last year. I think that, you know, there's a real danger that that's going to happen now and you just cited, John, the manufacturing, the construction. We've seen the car industry seeming to come back, but a high oil price could be really dangerous to all of those sectors.

KING: And so, Mark Zandi, we look at the numbers from an economic standpoint and they immediately factor into all of our political debates. If we were having this conversation six months or a year ago, you would have people saying the problem is the uncertainty. What will Washington do about spending cuts or the tax code?

What should Washington do now? If you have evidence the recovery is gaining steam and the businesses are starting to hire, should Washington get out of the way and do nothing, or should it do something?

ZANDI: Well, I think the government has done a lot. I do agree that policy uncertainty probably was impeding hiring and job creation six, 12 months ago. But that uncertainty is beginning to abate. So I think the most important thing policymakers can do now is nail down, make very clear all the different things they did do, just make sure everyone understands all the moving parts. As businesses gain clarity, we'll get more jobs.

KING: And Mark, you were in the middle of a debate over the projection on spending cuts your belief that spending cuts could have a negative impact on the economy. The Republicans rushed out to a, no, Mark Zandi is exaggerating this. How much of an impact will the spending and the spending cuts debate play on economic growth?

ZANDI: Let me say I think we need government spending cuts. We need significant restraint. I think it would be great if policymakers could lay out a clear, credible path to spending cuts. I just wouldn't start those cuts right now until we're sure that the economy is off and running, until we're positive businesses are creating enough jobs to bring down unemployment.

I don't think we're there yet. I'm confident three, six, 12 months down the road we will be. And that's when we can more easily and ready digest those very aggressive cuts. I think it's absolutely necessary for spending cuts. I just wouldn't have the draconian cuts right now.

KING: So you can't make that political argument to Speaker Boehner right now, but you can't make that political argument considering all the pressure he faces from the Tea Party who are saying not only cut tomorrow's spending, but cut yesterday's as well.

FREELAND: I think that is absolutely right. The only thing I take some comfort from is I think a lot of what we're see in Washington as opposed to in the states is going to are rhetorical as opposed to significant action on the budget. I don't think you'll see significant action until 2012. But where we are going to see cuts that will have a real impact on jobs and employment is at the state level. We'll see people laid off.

KING: And if you're the president of United States, you look at this as the unemployment rate is below for the first time in nine years. People are deciding whether or not I get four more years. Mark, you talked about job growth. You believe to pick up 250,000 a month by the middle of next year. What's the most optimistic, and then what's the downside of where unemployment will be around October of 2012? ZANDI: The most likely scenarios is unemployment will be around 8 percent come Election Day of 2012. I think it's possible we could do better than that. I the most likely would be around eight percent.

KING: And eight percent is not good but I guess it beats 10.

FREELAND: For sure. Even we journalists can do that math, can't we?


ZANDI: Appreciate your time today.

One quick data point to wrap this up. I showed you a minute ago the depth of this reception. You heard Mark and Chrystia talking about the potential to slow the recovery. Let's put it into context. No doubt the Libya crisis is disrupting about a million barrels of oil, gallons oil. But put it into context right now.

But the Iranian Revolution, the 1980 Iraq war, much more disruption to the oil market. If this crisis is short lived, the damage is not as lasting. We don't know the answer to yet.

Up next, new charges against the man who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Plus Mike Huckabee is stirring the pot, trying to sell books. His latest controversy after the break.


KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know now. Newly released photograph shows Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords about a minute before she was shot last January in Tucson. She's speaking with Jim and Doris Tucker. He was also shot but lived. New indictment again Jared Loughner raises the number of charges to 49.

Today Scott Walker said he'll start laying off hundreds of workers April 1st unless Democrats return to the capitol to vote on the spending cuts.

President Obama and Jeb Bush find common ground at a Miami high school's computer and robot lab. They were promoting excellence in education.

Before leaving the White House the president also reunited with his former chief of staff, the Chicago mayor-elect, Rahm Emanuel.

Once again tonight, Mike Huckabee clarifying something he said on the radio, that actresses like Natalie Portman set a bad example when they get pregnant without being married. In a written statement he says "Contrary to what the Hollywood media reported, I did not slam or attack Natalie Portman, nor did I criticize the hardworking single mothers in the country."

I'm guessing Mike Huckabee is trying to sell books by stirring up controversy, but let's talk that over. Three CNN contributors with us in New York, Republican strategist Ed Rollins, "Daily Beast" senior columnist John Avlon, and with me here in Washington the Democrat pollster Cornell Belcher.

We talked about Mike Huckabee last night when he was talking about the president's upbringing that included some time in Indonesia. He's on the radio program with Michael Medved. He asked about the example of Natalie Portman. Here is what governor Huckabee said.


MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: One thing that's troubling is people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet saying we're having children. We're not married. We're having children and they're doing just fine. But there aren't really a lot of single moms out there who are making millions of dollars every year for being in a movie.

And I think it gives a distorted image that, yes, not everybody hires nannies and caretakers and nurses. Most single moms are very poor, uneducated, can't get a job and if it weren't for government assistance, their kids would be starving to death and never have health care.


KING: Ed Rollins, your friend governor Huckabee came under attack. People saying he was going after Natalie Portman there. Was he?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think he was. He's had more experience dealing with unwed mothers and the difficulty of them getting jobs and getting their children raised in an environment that's safe and healthy. I think he begins the book by saying the most important thing for children is a father and mother. None of us would argue with that.

KING: Last night he was talking about a young Barack Obama, his time in Indonesia and the influence, and we all found that out of bounds. What about this one?

JOHN AVLON, SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST, DAILYBEAST.COM: Well, it probably plays well with the conservative base. Think the issue here is he's making a larger point about single mothers, that's fine. What a lot of independent voters hear is how come there wasn't conservative outcry about Bristol Palin? So I would like to see more consistency, not the situational ethics.

KING: A conspiracy theorist Cornell could say he is going out and stirring things up and stepping back. Is he trying to sell books?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: This is tragic. He could have been a serious political leader. I think when he's conveniently a moralist, because you're right, it would have been leadership if he had the conversation with Bristol Palin. He's being convenient right now. It's a shame. Now it seems he wants to sell books more than be a political leader. KING: Ed Rollins, you know him the best of anybody involved in this conversation. Is he selling books or is he running for president?

ROLLINS: I promise you if he would have mentioned Miss Palin and her problems, he would have sold a lot more books. The bottom line is he was on a radio show. He was asked the question. We've all been in the situation when we sometimes say things we wish we had not said.

He's very passionate about the issue as we all should be. We have an epidemic in the country of unwed mothers having children. It's a very significant problem both for the society in the long term for the children, many of whom come from not just African-American families, but white families and Hispanic families and what have you.

We need a dialogue about it. Maybe not on the radio, maybe not while he's selling books. But it's a serious issue and we need to talk about it and not be afraid of it.

KING: All right, stay with us until the next panel.

Right now the president is negotiating with Republicans over the budget. But those Republicans, well, they have to look over their shoulder. The Tea Party is not happy with Speaker Boehner. That's next.


KING: Tonight was, emphasis on was, the first deadline that could have triggered a government shutdown. Now the White House is trying to broker a bigger compromise for the rest of the fiscal year.

House Republicans want $61 billion in spending cuts as part of any deal. Democrats countered with a proposal that would slice about $10.5 billion. Bridging that won't be easy, and not just because of the tough negotiations between Democrats and Republicans.

Some Tea Party leaders say the GOP proposal is too timid. Tea Party Nation leader Judson Phillips is calling for a 2012 primary challenge to the Republican Speaker John Boehner unless he promises to cut more, even if Republicans need to shut down the government to overcome the president's objections.


JUDSON PHILLIPS, FOUNDER, TEA PARTY NATION: What's going to be worse, letting this go on uncontrolled, or having a government shutdown? What I would prefer to have happen is to see serious budget cuts. Let's get us down to living within our means again and the start whacking on the national debt. But if I have choice between uncontrolled spending and shutting the government down, it's a choice of bad and worse, and I'll take bad over worse.

KING: And so the criticism that includes mounting a primary challenge, is that a way to get attention, or are you serious about that in 2012 in a year where many Republicans and probably a fair number of Tea Party members, even if up unhappy with the speakers, say, whoa, challenge number one needs to be defeating Barack Obama. Let's not lose energy by having a primary fight, especially with the speaker of the House?

PHILLIPS: In 2012 we have a number of objectives. Putting a still in the White House, not just a Republican, but they've got to be a conservative, putting a conservative in the White House is one of them. Putting conservatives in control of the Senate is also one of them.

But also if John Boehner, he's or best hope right now. He's the Republican -- he's the de facto Republican leader. If he's not going to do the job we put him up there to do, then we need to replace him. We cannot have business as usual. There's an old political joke that says with Democrats you get more of the same and with Republicans you get less of the same. We're not at the point -- we're at the point where we can't do less of the same anymore.


KING: Our three CNN contributors, Ed Rollins, John Avlon, and Cornell Belcher. Ed Rollins, you know, John Boehner hasn't been speaker but a month and a half maybe, I guess. Can he get anything done if he has to worry about this? And how seriously does he have the take this? Not so much a primary challenge. But if they say we'll cut ten and we only cut eight, they'll get whacked.

ROLLINS: Any cut is a great progress. You can tell by the $50 billion difference significantly what the house and Senate want. So I think Boehner has been an effective leader in trying to poll both sides. He has 87 freshmen members, many of them supported by the Tea Party. I think he's being a good leader. To a certain extent he's being responsible.

And we have a long way to go. We have two years here. And this is a partial budget. And we'll get the full budget that we'll be able to put on a bigger blueprint.

KING: Is there a way, Cornell, for Democrats to take advantage of this? Obviously Republicans have the upper hand? But can they take advantage of the divide among Republicans and somehow get a better deal?

BELCHER: Ed is very good at what he does.


Here's the problem, and I've been saying this for a while now. He's got the tiger by the tail with this. The craziness is there. They'll have to sow it. There's an ideological purity test that the Tea Party is trying to get to, and the sensitive Republicans are trying to get out of this.

You had the economists talking about you can't have draconian cuts. The Tea Party, they're not going to be satisfied unless they have draconian cuts, that usurp ideological purpose. It has nothing to do with creating jobs or improving the economy. It's not even political. At this point it's about being practical.

KING: And John Avlon, an interesting thing has happened here. The White House is trying to take ownership. Some Democrats were grumbling where's the White House, and I think some Democrats at the end might be grumbling why did we ask for the White House.

Joe Biden has taken charge, he helped broker the tax cut deal that liberals so dislike. And what he will propose saying Democrats in the Senate, you bring your proposal for a vote. Guess what, they don't have enough votes to pass it. Republicans, you bring your vote and they don't have enough votes to pass it.

The vice president is hoping that proves to the extremes in both parties, meaning to liberals who don't want any cuts or small cuts, and to the Tea Party people who want more. Now we have to cut a deal. Will that work?

AVLON: It should because at the end of the day the extremes are much more interested in ideological games than they are with practical proposals. This budget's going to go through because of bipartisan partnerships like the one -- the negotiations between Senator Warner and Chambliss, trying to move forward the deficit reduction commission.

When the Tea Party leadership starts confusing seriousness about fiscal responsibility with shutting down the government or refusing to raise the debt ceiling so America goes into default, that's just political malpractice. That serves no practical purpose.

To get serious about the deficit and the debt, you need to do with entitlement reform. The only way that's going to get done is with bipartisan cooperation, whether it's, you know, Speaker Boehner working with president Obama, whether it's those two senators. So keep the eye on the ball where it really is, it's about entitlement reform, not games of chicken that take the U.S. government off a clip.

ROLLINS: It's important, my friend, John, realizes that what he describes as extremes is the mainstream of the Democratic Party today in the Congress, and the mainstream of the Republican Party in the congress. There really are --

AVLON: Don't pass the buck like that.

ROLLINS: There aren't many independents and that may alter over time. Both sides, conservatives are Republicans, liberal Democrats, when you look at them today from a historic perspective. And you're right, they have to come together. But it's a hard process here.

AVLON: Look, at the end of the day the center right and center left have a great deal in common. They recognize the need for fiscal responsibility, it's not about independents per se. It's about not letting the extremes lead the way. It leads to no progress. Everything's got to be on the table to move forward. It's about entitlement reform.

BELCHER: But the problem is that the center right is being challenged by the Tea Party. They're talking about taking out senators, taking out their speaker in primaries. They've got to get that under control. They have to get it under --

AVLON: It Tom Coburn and Dick Durbin could agree on the deficit reduction panel I would hope for a deal.

ROLLINS: Part this is the lack of trust the lack of trust. The Tea Party guys don't trust anybody who was here before the last election because they remember the George W. Bush days where you had a conservative president and a Republican house and a Republican Senate, and spending went up. Part of it you might say, John, part of it is well, they're out here on the extreme, they don't understand the value of compromise. Part of it is they have legitimate questions and doubts, as do liberals about whether the leadership will stand and fight the fight.

AVLON: Yes. That's fine. But look, again, if -- if the Tea Party is making their litmus test, if their sign of ideological commitment is shutting down the government or refusing to set the debt limit to put America in default, they're fundamentally not serious.

They should be focused on entitlement reform and supporting folks in both parties who want to do the tough deals necessary to get this ball down the field. Coburn and Durbin were able to agree on raising the retirement age to 69 by 2075. That is not such a frightening concept except for folks in the unions who resist any entitlement reform to Social Security.

So these sorts of deals have to get made. They can be made. It's going to take courage and bipartisan leadership.

KING: Let's end this --

ROLLINS: And a couple more elections.

KING: All right, quick show of hands before we go. Raise your hands if you think they will actually work as the speaker suggested today in an op-ed piece, they'll work in a bipartisan way to deal with Social Security this year, raise your hand if you think they'll do that?

AVLON: Keep hope alive.

KING: Two out of three, there. That's not bad. We'll see how that goes. Ed, John, Cornell, thanks for coming in on a Friday night.

When we come back, more on the turmoil in the Middle East. We'll end this workweek by showing you Libya is not the only place where we have had protests today.


KING: In addition to the day's big developments in Libya, there were protests all across the region today in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. Inside Libya not only the fighting but a focus on getting humanitarian aid into Libya, much of it delivered in Tunisia. But two drops in eastern Libya.

The largest supplies, though, including two American c-130s bringing aid into Tunisia, aid enough for 2,000 people. We know there are roughly 90,000 people here. The aid drops will continue. This the beginning of an American effort, other countries trying, as well.

The other top news from Libya today, Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's son for the first time acknowledging to CNN the crisis an uprising of Libyans, not Al Qaeda or outside forces as his father has so defiantly suggested.

In an interview with CNN's Nic Robertson, Gadhafi's son said the government's priority now is to take control of the country from what he called "militias," that's what he said, "militias." We'll keep on top of this throughout the hour and throughout the weekend here as we continue to follow these developments playing out.

But right now on CNN, that's all for us. We'll see you Monday. Coming up "Race and Rage: the Beating of Rodney King."