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JOHN KING, USA

Rebel Forces; Defiant Gadhafi; Budget Deal; Mubarak Detained

Aired April 14, 2011 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Major breaking news at home and in Libya tonight -- here at home, your country has a budget. Yes, might seem a bit of a surprise for me to say, but that's breaking news. But that is true tonight. Your country has a budget.

A bit pathetic in my view, Congress doing its job qualifies as breaking news, but six months in the fiscal year, finally a budget. First the House, then the Senate acted today. The government will be funded with the president's signature through September -- more on that in a moment including telling defections in the Republican ranks tonight.

But first, a busy day of important news in Libya that includes this dramatic image. Moammar Gadhafi riding through the streets of Tripoli waving hello to his people and sending a defiant message to his critics, including President Obama who 43 days ago said Gadhafi must yield power. Just moments ago, the White House released this new joint statement from the president of the United States, the president of France and the British prime minister that says bluntly, it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Gadhafi in power.

And yet not only is the Libyan dictator still in power, one could make the case he's winning, or at least not losing, despite a month of airstrikes by the now NATO-led military coalition enforcing that no- fly zone. Let's take a quick look then and now at the situation on the battlefield. As you zoom in closer in Libya, it is striking to watch this play out.

Here's the start of the airstrikes. These stripes, the opposition, green means the regime control. This is the start of the airstrikes. And the opposition clearly benefited at the beginning. You see the surge right there. This is late March, the final days of March, the opposition making its way aiming west. But this is where we are now. Look at that.

The regime has taken back all the control of this and back on their feet right now is where you find the opposition and look at this -- another embarrassing day on the battlefield for the opposition. These troops here -- and watch as the video plays out -- you get the sense which way they are going. They wanted to go west from Ajdabiya, instead retreating back to the east despite a wave of NATO airstrikes designed to support them.

CNN's Ben Wedeman was right there on the front lines as this played out today. We spoke just a few moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: So Ben, you're right out there on the front lines in Ajdabiya and you describe what you see as a catastrophic collapse. Take us to the scene.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well we were there and we were told that there would be this push toward Brega. And initially we saw what seemed like positive signs. They have got proper military radios. They have boots apparently contributed by the gulf state of Qatar. They didn't rush willy-nilly to the front.

They were getting very organized, prepared to move forward. They were hoping to the outskirts of Brega, then at one point apparently one of the soldiers dropped one of the mortar rounds. It exploded -- that sort of caused chaos. A few minutes later, they got the order to move forward. And they didn't get more than about 15 yards past the main gate of Ajdabiya when for no apparent reason, they started firing in every direction, rockets, Katyushas, heavy machine guns.

It was utter pandemonium. And then they sort of scattered in all directions. And a few minutes later, a large convoy of the eastern Libyan Army showed up, but they hadn't coordinated with the other fighters and the fighters thought that these were Gadhafi's men dressed up as rebels and they almost came to blows until the message came across.

But apparently this Army column was several hours late for this planned offensive. So yet again, they were all ready to go towards Brega, that all-important oil town, when their efforts simply fell apart -- John.

KING: And Ben, forgive me, but it sounds like "keystone cops".

WEDEMAN: That's what it looks like, John. And this is when apparently NATO is conducting frequent and pinpoint strikes on Gadhafi's forces in the area. I was told by one member of the transitional national council here that NATO had done what they had promised to do today, which was to hit Libyan Army targets midway between Ajdabiya and Brega and on the outskirts of Brega.

All that was left was one small group of Gadhafi's men about six kilometers or four miles from Ajdabiya. They never even got that far. So the effort in this part of the country is looking exactly like that, "keystone cops" -- John.

KING: One day obviously does not complete the story. But if they're getting what they wanted on this day from NATO, what does it say about their ability -- you know we talk of a stalemate. I think you'd have to say advantage Gadhafi on the ground. What does it say about their ability going forward if NATO is more robust, if NATO is more aggressive, can these rebels get their act together and start making their way to the west? WEDEMAN: I think one thing that's painfully apparent at the front is the lack of any senior commanders. The most senior guy there today was maybe about 30 years old. You don't see any real trained military men, senior officers, at the front. And without some sort of direction, experienced direction, this really is just a slap-dash effort and is doomed to failure. And it's not just -- it's not just a question of judging one day -- believe me, I spent a lot of time up there. And it seems that if anything, they're getting -- they're going from bad to worse. There is no apparent improvement in their military performance. They seem to be getting worse -- John.

KING: Critically important perspective and reporting. Our Ben Wedeman tonight in Benghazi -- Ben, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And again Ben Wedeman over here to the east in Benghazi. To the west in Tripoli, that Gadhafi drive through the streets today, well it came within hours of this. We had these images going up. You see the smoke rising up. You could hear the explosions in Tripoli. We're told the explosions were NATO strikes on regime military installations.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is live in Tripoli tonight and Fred, take us through the symbolism of this. The leader, Gadhafi making his way through the streets, waving through the sunroof of that car, a show of defiance just after these strikes -- what was it like?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, clearly. I mean clearly he's trying to show that he is defiant even in the face of these NATO airstrikes. He did of course tour basically the inner city here, went to some residential areas, allegedly visiting some of the alleged civilian casualties of those airstrikes. We actually asked to see some of these civilian casualties who apparently were wounded.

We weren't able to do that. The government minders did not take us there. But clearly he is trying to show that he's still very much in power, that he feels very assured and that he is very defiant. And you're absolutely right. This was really one of the days where we felt we had the most airstrikes in a very long time here in the capital. Some of them seemed to be fairly large.

Now we were taken to the site of what was apparently one of these airstrikes and the government minders there tried to tell us that it was a university building that had been hit. However, when we inspected that building, it was clear that there was no bomb damage to it whatsoever. And then we sort of peeked through the trees there and we saw that it was actually a military radar site that had been hit, quite precisely hit it seemed to us. There was actually a vehicle next to the radar station that was still standing, but the radar itself was just completely destroyed -- when we tried to film that we were very quickly told that it was not allowed and that we needed to leave as soon as possible -- John.

KING: And Fred, you have seen this statement now, the new joint statement, the president of the United States, the president of France, the prime minister of Great Britain saying they cannot imagine a Libya with Gadhafi still in power and essentially trying to prod NATO to stay on the job as long as it takes. What's your sense of how the regime will see that show of -- you would say at least tough words from the leaders?

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean the regime is obviously going to say that it's absolutely outrageous and that it's not going to happen. I mean that's what we've seen from the Gadhafi government in the past. They have said that Moammar Gadhafi leaving power here in Libya simply is not in the cards at this point in time. Now, the sense that we've been getting from Libyan officials in background talk -- and it really takes a long while to actually get through to this -- they seem to be feeling that they're more sure and more secure in their position than they were, for instance, a couple of weeks ago when you still had sort of a lot more protests here in Tripoli and they felt that their power base might have been eroding a little more.

Right now, they seem to feel a little more assured especially in light of the fact that they've been able to push back the rebel fighters, back all the way back to Ajdabiya. Remember they were almost all the way to Sirte, which is Gadhafi's place of birth and he's very close to the Libyan capital. They also feel that they're trying to get sort of the situation in Misrata under control. Of course the battle there is one that's very bloody and where we've seen and heard of the civilian casualties that are going on there, but clearly at this point in time, the Gadhafi government does not feel that it's shaken to the point where they think that Gadhafi is going to have to relinquish power. So it does appear that this could be a very, very long-term operation -- John.

KING: Important perspective, Fred Pleitgen live for us tonight in Tripoli -- thanks, Fred.

In a NATO meeting -- ministers meeting today in Berlin Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gadhafi is testing the alliance and she downplayed the family feud about Libya's strategy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are also sharing the same goal, which is to see the end of the Gadhafi regime in Libya. And we are contributing in many ways in order to see that goal realized.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Only half -- only half of NATO's 28 members are involved in the Libya operation and just six of those four team members are willing to use their military assets to strike ground targets. France and Britain are appealing for more aggressive targeting. And NATO's secretary general tonight says he needs more military firepower.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: We need a few more precision fighters, ground attack aircraft for air-to-ground missions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's bring in our senior analyst David Gergen for some important perspective tonight. And David, I have this new joint statement. It will be published as an op-ed essay in newspapers around the world tomorrow, key international newspapers. President Obama, President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Cameron, they say they can't imagine a Libya with Gadhafi still in power. And David, as you hear about the "keystone cops" on the ground opposition and you hear Fred Pleitgen talking about the regime and we see those dramatic pictures of Gadhafi, we read this. This is what the three leaders say.

"So long as Gadhafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders." Goes on and says "Gadhafi must go and go for good."

But David Gergen, however, so long as Gadhafi is in power, NATO must maintain its operations. That means this could be weeks, it could be months. It could conceivably be years.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It could be a long time, John. I don't think anybody knows how long. You know it's very frustrating for us to sit here and watch these films, to see the defiance of Gadhafi 43 days after the president of the United States says he must go. He's sitting there shaking his fists at us. And it just makes you angry, doesn't it?

But I -- you know you read that piece and it's -- it doesn't break in (ph) any ground, but I also find it strange and I think there's a section of that op-ed piece you just read, there's one sentence that says that the city of Misrata is under a medieval siege, a medieval siege, disappearances and abuses are growing there. And the very next sentence of the statement says, our mission is to protect civilians and we're accomplishing that -- unbelievable.

I mean you know one sentence, we're watching all these abuses, terrible things to his people. Next sentence, but, by the way, we're protecting the people. You know it -- I think that's part of the frustration of what's going on here. I have to tell you that from a United States perspective and talking to top people and the government over the last number of days, I don't have a -- the same sense of urgency that these films suggest.

The -- I don't have a sense that the United States government is really, really -- this is not at the top of the priority list. They make it very clear that they're keeping their eye on bigger strategic goals for the United States, that Libya is still quite marginal to the United States. What they're really worried about and they're concerned about and they think they're making progress on is Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Iraq. And they think they're working on it -- along with Iran, of course. KING: And yet -- and yet though, David, and yet -- forgive me -- and yet the president of the United States puts his name on this essay, that will be published in these key papers around the world. Who's the audience? Obviously you're trying to tell Gadhafi we're determined (INAUDIBLE), but who's the audience?

Is it Gadhafi or is this more directed at the wavering members of NATO saying, the big guns, the United States, France and Britain, are going to stick this out. Get in line behind us.

GERGEN: I think it's the latter. It's more aimed at NATO and I think it's intended to do exactly what Secretary of State Clinton was doing today, and that is to try to mend this sort of open riff where the British and the French aggressively call for more action and more military action. They will rebuff over the last couple of days in NATO. And Hillary and I think the president -- you know the president's the first person who signed this.

It sounds like it was written out of Washington. It has all the language that he's been using. I think it was really aimed more at NATO. But John one other thing I think is really interesting, it's changed over the last few weeks, and that is that we no longer even talk about the possibility that there will be a crack in the Libyan government, that the people around Gadhafi will defect. He seems to have strengthened his hold right there in Tripoli.

KING: And because of that, David, this could be a long process. And the president of the United States committing NATO to that tonight and American taxpayers need to realize if he commits them, he commits American taxpayers as well. Important perspective from David Gergen -- David, we'll keep in touch. Thank you.

And still ahead here today, could Egypt's young revolutionaries (INAUDIBLE) sandmonkey. Tahrir Square protester and blogger Mahmoud Salem visits us with his take on what Egypt needs next.

But up next, bet your family can't go six months without a budget but your government did until tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Congress tonight passed a budget that keeps the government running through September. This was the deal struck late Friday to avert that government shutdown. Bullish praise hard to find even among those who negotiated the deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Is it perfect? No. I'd be the first one to admit that it's flawed -- well welcome to divided government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The House vote, 260 to 167. The Senate quickly followed with an 81 to 19 note that sent this six-month budget down to the White House and quickly turned the page to much more consequential and contentious (INAUDIBLE) over next -- fights -- excuse me -- over next year's budget and raising the government's ability to borrow money. In those debates, this number could be critical, 59.

Fifty-nine Republicans in the House voted "no" on that short-term budget tonight because they think it is too timid in slashing government spending. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash was watching the action on Capitol Hill. Also with us our senior analyst Gloria Borger and from New York, "TIME's" political columnist Joe Klein -- Dana, let's start with the 59.

If you're John Boehner and you know you have to vote in the coming weeks to raise the ability to borrow, the debt ceiling, the government's debt ceiling, if you know you're going to have to try to negotiate with the president a longer-term deficit reduction plan, the president wants tax increases, that 59 handcuffs, a straitjacket? What would we call it?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Probably a combination of both because just to put in context, 59 is a quarter of all House Republicans. That's huge. It really is. And look what they had to deal with is that they had to have 81 Democrats vote "yes" and actually they -- they needed 39, but the bottom line is they need the Democrats -- they need the Democrats on this.

So anything that gets done is going to have to be bipartisan. Maybe that is potentially a good thing if you look at the big picture, but it definitely makes it very difficult for the House speaker.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a little more difficult, though, you know as you continue to go through these fights and the president gave a pretty partisan speech yesterday about the budget. As you continue to go through these fights, you know I think you may end up with more and more Republicans peeling off here because they figure OK, we're into 2012.

KING: Joe Klein, if you're an average American watching at home, you think well I have to have a family budget the whole year. I can't wait six months before I adopt one, so that's one thing and say this -- we can't be too excited that Congress did a job it should have done six months ago. But what does it tell us about the debate going forward and before you answer I want you to listen to somebody I know you're paying a lot of attention to in recent days and you write about him in this weeks issue.

Paul Ryan is the top Republican; he's the guy essentially the president has to do business with on the budget in the month (INAUDIBLE) and listen to him talk -- this is about the president's speech yesterday and how Paul Ryan thinks we've devolved into finger- pointing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: I expected Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to come out, you know, with a tax. We didn't expect it from the commander-in-chief. And when the commander-in-chief sort of brings himself down to the level of the partisan moshpit that we've been in, that we are in, it makes it more difficult to bring that kind of leadership.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joe, you've covered more than one rodeo, sometimes they talk like that and they actually do business. Sometimes they talk like that and it tells you they can't do business.

JOE KLEIN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, you know, first of all, I'm a lot more optimistic on the chances of getting the debt ceiling raised than Dana or Gloria because you're going to have all of the Democrats in favor of it. All you're going to need is you know maybe half (ph) of the Republican caucus and you're likely to get that.

These 59 are the real recalcitrants. You know I think that there's still a chance at doing business. As for Ryan, what on earth was he expecting? You know it's amazing to me how election after election, the winning party over-reads the returns. The Republicans have tremendously over-read the returns of 2010. You know Paul Ryan proposed a budget that was extreme.

It was very radical. The Medicare piece of it was just way off the deep end. And now he's associated his entire party with a plan that would gut the most popular government program out there. Now, if you're president of the United States of the opposite party, if you're a Democrat and you don't even mention that in your budget speech, you should be sued for political malpractice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well --

BORGER: But there's mentioning and there's mentioning, right? And I think -- I think a lot of people were kind of stunned that Barack Obama went from sort of Clark Kent to Superman overnight, right, in a minute because he had been -- he had been --

KLEIN: He set them up perfectly.

BORGER: He did. But my question always was -- my question always was couldn't the president have waited just a little bit or was the left so upset with him that he knew he had to do something at this particular moment, which is why of course they laid on the speech at this time?

KLEIN: You know we could --

BASH: Let me just say just what Joe said about the difference between the next fight that they're actually going to have to vote on, which is raising the debt ceiling and the big, big issue of trying to cut $4 trillion in 10 or 12 years. I agree. I think the debt ceiling is just a matter of what they can negotiate that that is going to be something that they're going to do.

But I am very skeptical that they can get the big thing done. But I do think it's important to sort of take it up 10,000 feet and talk about what we're talking about here -- cutting spending. This was not a part of the lexicon. This is not a part of the debate just a few months ago and it has changed the dynamic in the debate.

KING: Changed the dynamic in Washington, cutting spending now --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

KING: We'll see what happens in the -- over the 10-year trek. Go ahead, Joe. You wanted to make a point.

KLEIN: Yes, well it's -- the debate in Washington is not the debate that's going on in the country. Only 11 percent of the American people, according to the most recent Gallup poll, think that the deficit is -- you know it's the most important issue out there. People are concerned about the economy.

And I will give the Republicans credit for this -- to the extent that they've managed to divert the president from the immediate problem of getting the economy going again and now people are predicting a slowdown later this year, to the extent that the Republicans have succeeded in taking his eye off that ball, they're doing -- you know they're doing their political job.

But this deficit cutting stuff, it's a long-term problem. It's not something that should be -- that we should be all consumed with right now.

KING: You make that point, Joe. And I do think that jobs by far is the number one priority of all Americans. But perhaps part of it's our problem and the politicians' problem for not educating them. I just want to go through this again. If nothing is done about the long-term deficit, this is where your government ends up by 2020.

Imagine every dollar of the federal budget, 28 cents, Social Security, 24 cents, interest, 21 cents-plus to Medicare, 12 cents-plus to Medicaid -- if they don't change these programs and start dealing with this now, you have 11 cents for everything else. And that everything else could include stimulus -- I know it's a dirty word -- efforts by the government to create jobs -- just about anything.

The government is paralyzed and will be more paralyzed if it doesn't deal with this in the short term. The question is can they find the political will and that is a big open question. We're going to end there tonight. We'll continue the conversation though -- this one will go on for months. Joe Klein, Gloria Borger, Dana Bash, thank you.

Still ahead, remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Read my lips -- no new taxes! (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: No wonder so many Republicans say "no way" to new taxes now. But is that best for the country?

And next @sandmonkey (ph) is the Twitter handle of one of the young Egyptian bloggers who helped inspire a revolution. Tonight, he's right here to reflect and to look ahead to Egypt's next chapter.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: An update now on the investigation of the former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and two of his sons. They're in custody and they are being questioning about the killings of protesters during this year's uprising. CNN's Hala Gorani live for us in Cairo tonight and Hala, how is information coming out, if at all, about the progress and the process of the investigation?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well just a few minutes ago we called the spokesman for the general prosecutor here because there were reports out in the press, the local press that Mubarak and his two sons would be brought before a court in Cairo on Tuesday. He firmly denied it and said no date had been set. Now this 15-day detention period includes some questioning and the charges and the allegations against Mubarak, his sons, his close associates and many ministers right now in prison, in Torre (ph) prison in Cairo, that they were guilty of corruption and that they used excessive force against protesters during the uprising.

So the military backed the government, it seems after a violent day on Saturday where there was a crackdown in Tahrir Square just behind me -- seems to be reaching out to the protesters who were saying that all of this, the process to investigate Mubarak was going too slowly. So this is what we know -- that right now there is an investigation going on, but no date, John, has been set for a court appearance for Hosni Mubarak and his two sons, Ali and Gamal.

KING: And, Hala, expand a bit on this effort. The military, government, a lot -- especially the young revolutionaries -- a lot of questions about its motives, questions about its commitment. And you mentioned the crackdown. There was an arrest of a prominent blogger last week.

So, on the one hand, they see signs that disturb them. Are we seeing other signs that this transitional government is trying to reach out and maybe soften its image?

GORANI: We are today because they have made an announcement today that they will review the cases of protesters who were sentenced to prison terms in military tribunals. Now, we don't know exact numbers, dozens, some say up to several hundred people were detained, were then tried in military tribunals in a hurried and rushed way and then were sentenced to prison terms for various crimes ranging from insulting the government and the authorities, to simply causing trouble.

So, they are reaching out because it appears as though the military-backed caretaker government is starting to become concerned that the sympathy that the protesters felt for the army during the uprising and the antipathy they felt for the police at the time, that that was dissipating and they were starting to truly doubt the motives and were starting to wonder if the promises made by this caretaker government were being broken.

So, tomorrow is going to be interesting. We're hearing that no protests have been called for in Tahrir Square. If so, it would be the first time since the beginning of the uprising that no protests will take place in Tahrir Square in Cairo, John.

KING: Important to watch. We'll check back with Hala Gorani in Cairo tomorrow. Hala, thanks so much.

The political unrest across the Middle East has magnified the influence of bloggers, many of them young, who put their lives at risk simply by posting pictures and descriptions of what they're seeing on the Arab street.

During Egypt's uprising, an anonymous blogger who called himself Sandmonkey gained international notoriety. We now know who he is, an Egyptian-born U.S.-educated 29-year-old named Mahmoud Salem. A little bit earlier, he was right here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: I want your thoughts today on the fact that President Mubarak, who was forced from office by your revolution, is now in custody and being questioned. Do you view this as a legitimate investigation by the now military transitional government?

MAHMOUD SALEM, EGYPTIAN BLOGGER: Well, they were basically forced into launching the investigation by us because we wouldn't stop until we managed to get him. I think that the transitional government wanted to, you know, focus more on the institutional corruption and, you know, just kind of wait for it. But now -- now, it has to be done and the evidence has been there.

I mean, ignore all the evidence in Egypt, all you have to do is read the human rights reports that are being published by the U.S. State Department for 30 years about the crimes of the Mubarak regime and the fact that he is in absolute power and control of the entire country, to actually like see the extent of human rights abuses and corruption. I mean, you saw it on TV the things that were happening to us.

KING: And, yet, sometimes, there's a debate, and if you spent so much time and energy looking back to punish, that you might lose focus and energy on the challenges in front of you. How do you strike that balance?

SALEM: Well, here's the thing. He was the big fish. And we finally got him. That's fine. Now we can focus on the parliamentary elections.

But there was no way we were able to move on when justice wasn't served, you know? Like, and this man's arrest and trial is the way to flip the page and get over with that part of Egyptian history and moving on.

KING: Let's talk about that challenge. I want to read something you tweeted on February 11th. Again, you're Mahmoud Salem, but you're @sandmonkey to your followers. "To everyone who ridiculed us, opposed us, wanted us to compromise, I say, you are welcome. Today we all celebrate."

How do you keep the energy of that remarkable revolution into now the more mundane, difficult, challenging and sometimes divisive business of political organizing?

SALEM: Well, you know, the idea is simple. Again, we need to understand that there is the rest of the country. A lot of people who honestly speaking just want to live their lives, (INAUDIBLE) what's happening, all they want is stability, and to work and feed their kids. And now, they're very concerned about what's happening.

And the fact is nobody's focusing on the economy. I mean, even the government is not focused on the economy. Of course, the economic plan was, well, the protests have to stop because the wheel of production somehow arrives at Tahrir and can't pass if all the protests are happening. You know, it's not like they haven't offered any kind of economic solution.

So, what we have to do is also start offering economic solutions, start talking to, like, the international community and be like, well, let's figure out a way to, like, you know, bring Egypt back up because you don't want, you know, poverty to bring about another revolution. That might not end up being as peaceful as this one.

Not to mention, we also want people and I have to say this here, come to Egypt, OK? Come visit Egypt. We have fantastic resorts and fantastic beaches. It's really cheap right now. And you might get some revolution tourism out of it, you know?

KING: You're campaigning for minister of tourism here.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Take us -- we're laughing now, which is a great gift.

SALEM: Yes.

KING: Take us back to when in the middle of this, you were arrested. What happened?

SALEM: Well, it was the day after -- the day they sent camels and horses against us. And I managed to completely not be there when that happened. I had left before then. And I spent an entire night -- you know, a lot of people spent the night with us just watching what was happening, which was basically a massacre. So, the next day, I wrote this post, you know, urging people, like, you know, to go down to Tahrir and like, you know, help people out. And I took medical supplies and I went there. And when I arrived, Mubarak thugs attacked me. I escaped with the car.

And I have five police officers, you know, asking -- we had three girls with us. I'm like, just get us out because of the girls. I don't care just what happened. They took away our IDs. They tell us our IDs are fake.

They start bringing people around us telling us the American and Zionist agents that were here to destroy the country. And what followed was a 45-minute zombie attack movie. They took away the car keys and basically we're inside the car. We're being beaten up inside the care, destroying the car, jumping on the car, trying to flip the car, bringing out, you know, ropes and telling us they were going to lynch us.

One of our friends got (INAUDIBLE) his face. One of the girls end up getting a tire iron hit in her arm. It wasn't fun. Until I had to jump from my car to the police car, and my car got completely destroyed because of it. And they took, you know, everything that I had in the car.

And it doesn't matter. I got detained for a couple of hours and I managed to get out that day. And then, at the end of the day, that was, you know, the last straws, if you will.

KING: Are you convinced those dark forces are now completely purged or are some of them going to try to pretend to be reformers, pretend to be people who want a place in the new next Egypt?

SALEM: Well, they're already pretending, you know? And there comes a point in which, well, I don't want them to be a part of it at all, you know, in reality. But if you look at the history of countries like ours --

KING: Do you worry about that, though? Do you worry that there are dark forces or there are forces --

SALEM: Of course.

KING: -- that have no interest in sharing your goals for Egypt?

SALEM: No, no, of course. There are always -- there are ones from the NDP, there are one from the Islamists, like, you know, a lot of people are trying to stop us from getting a secular civil constitution and one that has equality for everybody, because, you know, trust me, we don't want to get into war with Israel. We don't want to create an Islamic state. And this falls to the entirety of the Egyptian people.

You know, a lot of people still believe that they would like to see an Islamic country or whatever, but we're trying really hard to ensure that we have a society that protects minorities, protects the rights of women, you know, finally get us to the 21st century instead of back to the 1600s.

KING: How much -- how much of the credit goes to things like this to a generation that operates in technology and organized using Twitter --

SALEM: It kind of goes into the generation -- I mean, the technology is a tool. I mean, we have to use Facebook, you know, because you couldn't exactly like call for a revolution like on the news. And that's the thing. You had to use Twitter because we didn't have any kind of ways to communicate with each other.

But the reality is, you know, they shut down our Internet the 27th. And we managed to increase on the 28th and the following Tuesday and so on and so forth. The narrative about this being a social media revolution -- well, with all due respect, don't get me wrong, but this -- part of the reason is the foreign media.

I mean, when I was watching the Tunisian revolution happened, I tweeted saying, dear foreign media, if you call this revolution one of your stupid names like the hoshkosh (ph) revolution, I'd be really mad." And they call it the jasmine revolution. If you ask a single Tunisian, they'll tell you, we don't know why did they call it the jasmine revolution? We have no clue.

The same thing with Bahrain. They called it the Lulu revolution. And they can't call like a revolution started by Arabs the Lulu revolution. We're Arabs, we're supposed to be scary, OK? You can't call us Lulu, all right?

And you can do it on Facebook, you know, and it was fine, it was a good narrative. It's easy, you know, I guess for the international viewers side and side with Facebook, (INAUDIBLE) with Egypt or Tunisia, you know? But in reality, those are tools. They're very important tools. But they're nothing if you don't have the will. If you're not the kind of individual who's willing to risk it all to ensure the better future for your country.

KING: I hope you'll let me call it a remarkable historic revolution. Thank you for coming in.

SALEM: I agree with that.

KING: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Ahead here, top headlines, including today's big news, a top FAA official out of a job after those reports of control tower operators asleep at the switch. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)\

KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now.

In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos tonight, President Obama takes on Donald Trump and other Republicans who keep questioning whether the president was really born in Hawaii.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that over the last 2 1/2 years, there has been an effort to go at me in a way that is politically expedient in the short term for Republicans, but creates, I think, a problem for them when they want to actually run in a general election where most people feel pretty confident the president was born where he says he was, in Hawaii. He doesn't have horns.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president added he isn't worrying about conspiracy theories or birth certificates.

Think those laser guns in "Star Wars" were just science fiction? Listen to this -- the United States Navy says it successfully tested a high-energy laser weapon. That weapon disabled the outboard motor on a boat a mile away.

Ford is expanding its recall of pick-up trucks because their airbags may go off unexpectedly. The recall now covers about 1.25 million F-150 trucks built between 2003 and 2006.

The Federal Aviation Administration promising now a top-to-bottom review now that the head of its air traffic organization resigned today because of the scandal created by air traffic controllers falling asleep on duty.

Next, I'll ask a pair of freshman Republican senators if, in the quest for deficit reduction, they're willing to compromise on no new taxes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today's political battles are often shaped -- you might argue, haunted -- by defining debates of yesterday. True or not, it is part of Republican lore now that President George H.W. Bush lost his 1992 reelection bid because conservatives were mad and stayed at home after he broke his "read my lips" promised not to raise taxes.

If Republicans refuse to even consider tax increases now, it's pretty hard to imagine any grand bipartisan compromise to reduce Washington's deficit spending habit.

So, a bit earlier, I began a conversation with two freshmen Republican senators, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio, with President Obama's demand repeated again this morning that wealthy Americans must pay more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We can't exempt anybody from these efforts, that it's not a appropriate for us to ask for sacrifices from everybody except for the 2 percent of Americans who are doing best. But rather, we should ask everybody to participate in this effort to get our fiscal house in order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Ayotte, let me start with you. Are you adamant, absolutely positively under no circumstances tax increases or do you at least have an open mind saying if the rest of the package is OK, maybe you can convince me there?

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, I have to tell you right now with where we are in our economic recovery. I don't think we should be increasing taxes. And when he talks about taxes on the wealthy, let's just frame who that is. Many small business owners, in fact, a huge chunk of them in this country, those taxes go through their personal incomes and we're talking about taxing small businesses at a time when we need them to grow and thrive. So, I think it would hurt our economic growth and I wouldn't support that.

KING: Senator Portman, you have a somewhat unique voice in this debate because you're in the Senate now. You served in the House. You were George W. Bush's budget director. You also served as a policy advisor back in the day to George H.W. Bush. I want to take you back to that experience. Go back -- imagine when it's 1990 when George H.W. Bush brought Democrats, brought Republicans to Camp David, to Andrews Air Force Base.

Is our deficit debt crisis now worse than then or not as bad?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: It's far worse. And it's far worse because of the fact that between Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, we probably have about $100 trillion unfunded obligation going forward.

That wasn't the case. Our deficit as a percentage of our economy was also lower and our debt, our national debt was lower as a percent of the economy.

So, it's more difficult now for us to deal with the issue. It's also more important that we show leadership to do so.

KING: And so --

PORTMAN: I would draw this interesting comparison because you mentioned the 1990 budget agreement and the risks that then President Bush took. If you recall, they came back to haunt in the 1992 election campaign.

KING: He lost an election. Let me interrupt -- because he lost an election. The president of the United States who happened to be a Republican at the time broke his "Read my lips, no new taxes" pledge. And you're right. There was a consequence to him. He lost an election.

You could make an argument that Bill Clinton never would have balanced the budget were it not for the tax increase given to him by a Republican president, George H.W. Bush.

Should Republicans now have the open mind and the courage to maybe lose their jobs like President Bush did for the good of the country and at least say entering the conversation, "We won't flatly ideologically, reflexively rule out any tax increases?

PORTMAN: There should be no ideological or, you know, flat denial of anything. But there should be an acknowledgement that what's best for the economy right now is not to raise taxes, it's to reform taxes.

And, by the way, there's a consensus about that on both sides of the aisle. If you look at what the fiscal commission did -- they said, one, we've got to get the spending under control, understanding that spending is a big problem here. It's going up as a percent of our economy, and in every other measurement. But, second, they said we've got to grow this economy and that means we need tax reform. So, they explicitly rejected the idea of raising taxes and instead said let's reform the tax code.

And, by the way, this is what Paul Ryan proposed in the budget.

And the president, yesterday, when he talked about this, did not accurately reflect what's in the Ryan budget. The Ryan budget does not say you're going to have this big new tax cuts. What it says is, we have to take our current code and make it more efficient and better for the economy and better for growing jobs.

AYOTTE: We can't lose sight that we obviously have or we're on the path to have the highest corporate tax rate in the world, and we're just not competitive enough. So, we have to reform our tax code. We got to have jobs and growth here to get out of this crisis, as well as getting serious about spending.

KING: But if we do tax reform, not the current code, rip it up, start over, make it flat or make it fair, or make it more simple, make it less confusing, perhaps put some lawyers and accountants out of business -- is it possible, would each of you accept that -- if I could get a yes or no, it'd be great -- that in the end the government got more money, more revenue as long as you were satisfied with the details of tax reform?

PORTMAN: Well, I think the government would end up with more revenue under any analysis that I've seen that is not a static analysis. In other words, if you look at how the behaviors are going to change, because by a better tax code, you encourage more economic growth. It's pretty simple.

AYOTTE: I would agree with Senator Portman on this. That will have greater revenue because of the economy growth. There won't be an increase in taxes. There will be greater economic growth because our businesses will be able to thrive and grow and we'll be more competitive with other countries around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Republican Senators Ayotte and Portman earlier today.

Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin is with me here to crack some of the Washington code in that conversation.

It was striking that Senator Portman himself has been through this, brought up -- you know, George Bush lost his job. It seems that the -- I hate to say it because I think they are pretty good public servants there. But that default -- we might lose our jobs if we even consider raising taxes, outweighs, should we have an open mind for the good of the country maybe and go in thinking, "I don't want new taxes but I will think about it."

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Maybe I'm too Pollyannaish but I really get the sense from the Republicans I'm talking to, that they genuinely do not believe that raising taxes contributes to solving the problem. There is a fundamental belief when you talk to these Republican economist and elected officials that it only hampers business growth, and that the government needs to collect more revenue by changing the tax code, eliminating loopholes. That's what the gang of six is proposing.

And don't you think this is an inevitable campaign issue?

KING: It's an inevitable campaign -- they did say -- they did say that it's important, that they are not afraid of tax reform revenues going up. There are some conservatives who say, in tax reform, the projections have to show the government still takes in less money. They don't want the government to get more money because they say that's a tax increase.

Both of those senators say they are open to it as long as they like the details. And I guess that's the way out because I understand the position. They think taxes hurt the economy.

When you have a Democratic president who says I won't sign a grand compromise without a tax increase and you have Republicans who say, no way, they have to do tax reform -- the question is: can they do that between 2012 or do we have a campaign about this?

YELLIN: Because what I keep hearing is that what we're likely to see as part of this grand compromise is setting large goals. For example, over three years, we will cut $1 trillion of the debt or over 10 years, we'll cut $4 trillion. And then leave until after the campaign exactly how and exactly in what ways, so that you argue about the tax issues, you argue about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security after the election season is over. You get the agreement before.

KING: And if you get divided government after that election campaign, I'm not sure what you take from that. But we'll see how it goes, Jessica Yellin. Thanks.

Up next, we check your Facebook comments, including pretty helpful suggestion about maybe how to bring the deficit down a little bit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: E-mails on Facebook and Twitter -- we get a lot of suggestions about what to cover in the show and maybe some suggestions about what the politicians should do.

Let's look at one suggestion about the deficit and the debt. Ashley wrote this, "Why hasn't anyone suggested a cut to the president's salary or to all of those overpaid politicians? That would save the country a lot of money."

How much money would it save, Ashley? Well, let's take a look at that because it's a helpful suggestion, as Washington tries to determine -- excuse me for putting my back for a second -- what to do. So, let's take a look here when we zoom in.

Congress, annual salary and its pensions, you get that. The president and the vice president, you get this. Total it all up, what do you get? About $120 million. A hundred and twenty million dollars -- that's a lot of money. No question about it.

But in terms of the big picture, look at that. Of the federal budget, $3.7 trillion, it's just a tiny speck, not even 1 percent. A down payment perhaps, though.

We'll stay on top of this. Thank you, Ashley.

We hope to see you tomorrow night.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.