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JOHN KING, USA

Airstrikes in Tripoli; Rising Gas Prices; Mission Creep?; Another Presidential Candidate?

Aired April 21, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Candy. I'm Jessica Yellin. John King has the night off.

Two important stories developing right now. One is the White House's effort to tackle this nation's highest gas prices. But first, there is breaking news now out of Libya. Within the past hour our crews in Tripoli reports hearing new airstrikes. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Tripoli just phoned in this update.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): We heard about three major explosions that we believe came sort of from the outskirts of Tripoli and what you've been seeing yesterday as well as (INAUDIBLE) as well (INAUDIBLE) NATO is attacking the infrastructure that Moammar Gadhafi has here around the Tripoli area.

NATO has been saying that it's been attacking the command and control infrastructure, things like command and control bunkers, also the headquarters some of the Gadhafi brigade here in Tripoli as well as things like ammunition dumps and telecommunications installations, so what they want to do here when they strike around the Tripoli area is they want to take off all of the stuff that Gadhafi is using to supply and to communicate with his troops on the front lines in Misrata as well as of course in the east of Libya.

YELLIN: On the heels of that news, there is important news also about U.S. -- stepped up U.S. involvement in Libya's civil war in another way. This afternoon Defense Secretary Robert Gates revealed, as of today, the U.S. is using armed predator drones in Libya. He was asked, is this mission creep?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think this is a very limited additional role on our part (INAUDIBLE) provide some additional capabilities to NATO, so no, I don't think there's mission (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: We'll discuss that and have more from Libya in a bit, but now I want to turn today's big story here at home and it's something that every one of us is worried about, high gas prices. In Nevada this afternoon President Obama went out of his way to let us know he feels our pain at the pump and he's doing something about it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The attorney general is putting together a team whose job it is to route out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices. And that includes the role of traders and speculators. We're going to make sure that nobody is taken advantage of American consumers.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: And take a look at this -- this is how much gas prices have risen in just the past three months nearly 80 cents a gallon. They're actually getting close to 2008's all-time high of $4.11 a gallon and there is word it could surpass that this summer.

CNN's Dan Simon is out west with the president today. Dan, I know you listened to the speech and we all heard the president make this big announcement about government action on rising gas prices. My question, does it sound like his proposal has any teeth at all?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Jessica, the real question is what does this task force find? If they find that there is fraud or manipulation or let me put it another way -- if they find that the companies, these oil companies are ripping off the American public, then they could face some criminal sanctions.

They could be charged criminally in a court of law. To have that kind of price gouging, if you will, though, you would have to have a vast conspiracy going on with these oil companies and that's why I think a lot of people would have a hard time believing that can occur but you know we'll just have to see how this plays out.

YELLIN: OK and we'll talk with our panel here a little bit about the impact of this gouging investigation. But on another topic, President Obama had a fund-raiser in San Francisco today, but we also know that he's going on to three more in Los Angeles now. So why is he in California really? Is this his piggy bank for Democrats and how much do they expect to raise?

SIMON: Well, I think that's a good way of putting it. As I heard one political analyst say, California is basically the ATM for Democrats. The president is going to raise in excess of $6 million while he's in California. Obviously San Francisco is rich turf. You have all of those Silicon Valley executives who have deep pocket.

He had a fundraiser there last night. The price of admission nearly $36,000, $35,800, to be exact, that's the legal limit. He's going to have two more of those in California in Los Angeles. Movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg attending, you're going to have all of these Hollywood heavyweights. So the bottom line here is the president can take this time now. We're not in the thick of the general election. California is safely in the hands of the Democrats, at least you would think so for this election, so he can spend some time now really getting those funds -- Jessica.

YELLIN: That's right. Stocking up on a campaign nest egg -- All right, Dan Simon from California, thank you.

And now joining me to talk about the politics of gas prices and Libya, Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who is an adviser to Mitt Romney, CNN political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN political contributor Cornell Belcher who is a Democratic pollster and an extra addition tonight -- thank you for being with us in Los Angeles -- actor and activist, Esai Morales, a former Democrat who's now become an Independent.

Out there where the president is, we'll get to you Esai, but Gloria, I first want to turn to you on gas prices because I remember when George Bush announced something very similar to this. They're going to investigate high prices around the country.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

YELLIN: Right and that didn't really make a difference --

BORGER: No.

YELLIN: So can a president do anything about gas prices?

BORGER: Not really. It's one of those problems and I think Barack Obama railed against high gas prices when he was running for president. It's one of those problems that a president doesn't have a lot of control over. I mean this is a president who talks a lot about energy and becoming more energy independent and greener. But you really -- you really can't.

The problem for Barack Obama is obviously that this affects people's optimism or pessimism about the way the economy is going. "The New York Times" has a poll out tonight, Jessica that says that the nation's mood is at the lowest level in two years and 57 percent of the people in this country disapprove of the way the president is handling the economy. Gas prices just become a part of that.

YELLIN: And Cornell, you're one of the president's pollsters, is this the kind of political action he needs to take to look like he's doing something about gas prices?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Look, the gas price thing is like a big wet blanket thrown over the country right now so the optimism of the country absolutely has to do (INAUDIBLE) thing George Bush did the president has to do as well. This is sort of the failure paying factor. But however at some point, the industry, the energy industry they are going to have to come to terms with at some point they are going to stop bluffing and they're really going to go after the energy industry about what they are doing.

YELLIN: But that also speaks to comprehensive energy policy and Esai, I want to turn to you. You're in California where the president is not quite campaigning but basically campaigning tonight. Is this kind of move on the gas prices -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the traffic is definitely showing that.

YELLIN: I can imagine. I'm from L.A. I know how bad it gets. Is this kind of move on gas prices announcing a task force the kind of political action without bold action on a comprehensive energy policy that drives the progressive left crazy?

ESAI MORALES, ACTOR: Absolutely. The face of the matter is that there are so many -- so many promises that were made a few years ago that have not come to fruition. You know and I understand that there's only so much the president can do, but the fact is that we've had a chance to fix our energy policy for decades and we didn't because I believe we had you know an oil cartel behind a lot of administrations --

YELLIN: Yes.

MORALES: -- previous and they set up -- they set up the system. Cheney had a super secret task force --

YELLIN: And you are the progressive left.

MORALES: What's all that about?

YELLIN: We will come back to you to ask you about Hollywood's attitude to the president because he's out there. I want to turn for a moment though to this news we have out of Libya. And Kevin, one of the reasons gas prices have risen is because of the turmoil in the Middle East. Today we've had a lot of news, stepped up U.S. action and this word now that the U.S. is committing predator drones to the fight. All of this comes as Mitt Romney said this -- there are signs of mission creep. The president all along said he never wanted extreme involvement, so how is this mission creep?

KEVIN MADDEN, EXEC. VP, JDA FRONTLINE: Well right now what the American people need and what the president needs and what I think our troops on the ground and our folks in the air over Libya need is certainty. They need direction and right now because of the president's action we don't have a direction. I mean can anybody really answer what is our clear mission in Libya? Can anybody really answer with certainty what it is exactly that we are doing?

YELLIN: Cornell, what's the --

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: What we're seeing right now is a muddled mission and it's because the president has not offered clarity and he hasn't persuaded the American public that he has clarity behind his actions.

BORGER: I think he made it -- you know he made a tactical mistake, if you will, in saying that, yes, there's a humanitarian mission, but we want to get rid of Gadhafi and that sort of --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait a minute. Let's be clear.

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: Because he wants action but not too much action --

BELCHER: Well let's be clear. We are following what the U.N. said for us to do, which was to protect those people down there and use all sort of the forces to protect those, and you know what? Those fighters there on the ground, the rebels, they are thankful that we are there doing that, so the idea that we're not clear on that --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are asking for more.

BELCHER: Well they are asking for more because they -- because quite frankly they want more and I think they're going to get more from the European Union. However at this time the president has to step back and say look, all of these problems that we have going on in this country, the last thing Americans want is for us to be muddled down there in the Middle East, once again. It's interesting to me Republicans want to play it both sides. (INAUDIBLE) Republican no he's not doing too much. Now this week he's -- oh he's doing too much --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: It's mission creep.

MADDEN: I think the problem is that we don't know what he's doing. We don't have a clear mission with what we're doing in Libya and what his actions are doing, what the intent is. When he started this policy and when he designed it, he automatically -- he already at the very beginning of it decided while he was getting on the entrance ramp that we had an exit strategy and I think that's what has created this muddle right now. I am not a foreign policy expert. I'm not a military expert, but I think when I asked the question, what is it we're doing there, what's our goal, I think I'm like a lot of Americans right now. I simply don't know --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: But it's to stop the Libyan dictator from slaughtering the rebels --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: Let me ask Esai --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: -- and Esai, as a progressive for the anti-war left, is this the sort of mess that you expect to get into when a president commits any kind of military action to a foreign effort?

MORALES: Well, I just feel bad because, you know, who are these rebels, number one. Number two, you know is this something that we've manufactured in order to get hold of these oil fields? I don't know and frankly it goes beyond right and left. I mean war is a business. It is the biggest business. I think it's our biggest export, so --

YELLIN: And I've heard you say that you're kind of questioning why here when there are other people suffering elsewhere. Why commit humanitarian aid in this instance and not in all others.

MORALES: I mean Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, they're attacking -- our friends are attacking their own protesters and why aren't we being a little more at least you know conservative with them and say, hey, guys, tone it down on your crackdowns.

(CROSSTALK)

MORALES: The fact of the matter is --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right. But you know we've grown up in one world and we're now in another world and I think we have to begin to kind of accept a little more nuance and a little more ambiguity in our foreign policy goals --

YELLIN: So you argue he does have a foreign policy --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I would argue that it is ambiguous and I would argue that it is nuance and you can't know what your end game is before you get in sometimes and I know Congress wants answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's ambiguous by design.

BORGER: Well that's right because it's a difficult --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not a good thing --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But you know the president said --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that's real world.

BORGER: -- we will go into some places but we won't go into all places --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the Obama doctrine is to not to have a doctrine.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: No, the Obama doctrine is --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: -- we can't please the whole world. Look, I would love to go into Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and all those places and change it, but quite frankly that means boots on the ground --

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: One moment.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And our president is very --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to suggest one thing.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- Saudi Arabia.

YELLIN: Let Esai speak for just a moment. Go ahead.

MORALES: I just -- I just believe that there's also another factor here. You know if we don't want China to have as much access to Africa -- I mean Libya is a huge place. There are a lot of resources and I think this a geo global positioning to make sure that other super powers or burgeoning super powers don't get too strong a foothold --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well --

BORGER: And what about Iran? You know Iran is kind of the elephant in the room here, right? So you have to be concerned about what lesson Iran takes from this. But one size doesn't fit all anymore. That's the thing. So it's a different world --

YELLIN: But the consistent theme is whether we're talking about gas prices where we started this conversation or Libya here -- the president is in this situation where everything is so delicate he doesn't have control and is he in the danger of seeming weak because he has a policy position he puts forward and then he can't make it happen in Libya arguably with Gadhafi.

BORGER: I think that's a good question. I think and that's the danger here --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And the question is can we ever really be in the back seat of anything when we're a part of it? And I think that's very difficult for the --

MADDEN: On the gas price issue, I think the president -- you're right -- he cannot do anything in this moment to bring down prices tomorrow. But the president can put together an energy plan that is going to be an all -- above the energy plan as far domestic exploration. And instead what we're seeing is a market that's driven by global demand that we haven't seen as robust a market because we -- the president, his energy policy was to put a moratorium on drilling --

YELLIN: But this is a philosophical difference between the parties --

MADDEN: And that is going to -- that's going to affect the market over the long term, if we were to have a much more robust engagement on our domestic energy --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: With all due respect, Ken, that's just not true because the president and Senate Democrats have had an energy policy bill stuck in the Senate for almost a year now and you know very well that the Republicans will not let it move. You know very well that. When you have your ranking member a year ago apologizing to BP, I can't take Republicans seriously on an energy policy.

MADDEN: Well I think look, what we also see from the president is a textbook response, which is that he's very thin-skinned and he's reacting to the criticism by saying I need a task force. That's not exactly leadership, all right --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Bush --

MADDEN: And the other thing is that what he's done -- no, it's exactly true.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bipartisan.

MADDEN: That's exactly true. But he's also -- I think one --

BORGER: What else can he do?

YELLIN: Yes, there's only so much a president can do on gas prices.

MADDEN: Right --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all agree on --

MORALES: I want to ask a question of you guys. I'd like to ask a question. Why is it that every time there is a problem in the Middle East gas prices -- there's an excuse to go up when our largest producer, our largest exporter to us is Canada. What's going on there?

MADDEN: Because that's how global markets work when you have an enormous amount of exploration that takes place in that part of the world that gas prices are going to go up. That's pretty simple -- YELLIN: Well that's the argument for -- right -- more of a domestic energy policy. I want to ask Esai, because you're on tonight since the president is out there and we know that he is losing some support among progressive members of the Hollywood community. Is Hollywood feeling much less enthusiastic about the president for any particular reason? Is there anything he could do now to win you back?

MORALES: Well, the last time I spoke to Hollywood --

(LAUGHTER)

YELLIN: OK. You're the spokesman for all celebrities.

MORALES: All right -- Matt Damon and I -- OK -- you lost us there. I mean look, the fact of the matter is when the first thing you do is give you know trillions of dollars to the banks and they don't lend us money back. That's a problem. Where is the committee to investigate malfeasance by the banking industry? How about hiring the same people that got us into this mess? Geithner's, Bernanke's, Paulson's -- I mean you know there's a usual suspect group here and they are very responsible for what is going on. And it seems like oh well since they broke it, they might know how to fix it. I don't think that was the way to go.

YELLIN: OK, it's a message we heard from a lot of the president's progressive supporters -- or former supporters. And we thank you for joining us. And thank you for a lively panel discussion. Thanks, guys -- ahead news tonight that a scandal-plagued U.S. senator is resigning -- we'll tell you who and how it might affect the balance of power in the Senate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: There's a new entry in the 2012 presidential race. Governor Gary Johnson served two terms as New Mexico's governor and left office with $1 billion surplus. As governor he vetoed a record 750 spending bills and earned the nickname "Governor Veto". So with this ongoing debate all about spending, why is it that you probably never heard of him? Well, Governor Johnson joins us from New Hampshire now to correct that.

Governor, first of all, thanks for joining us. And I'd like to start by listing some of your positions. You're in favor of legalizing marijuana. You're pro gay marriage. You're pro choice. Are you sure you mean to run as a Republican?

GARY JOHNSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well I support gay unions, Jessica, believing that government shouldn't be in that business, leave marriage to the churches, and for me Jessica, everything that I did as governor and everything that I think needs to occur right now within the federal government needs to be a cost benefit analysis. What are we spending our money on and what are we getting for the money that we're spending? I'm under the belief that we are on the verge of a financial collapse. We cannot repay $14 trillion in debt if we're spending $1.6 trillion more than what we're taking in this year and years to come. That is not sustainable. (CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: Let me interrupt you for a moment. It certainly sounds like the message you're trying to convey here is focus on financial matters, not on some of these positions you've taken on issues like marijuana and civil unions and abortion.

JOHNSON: Well talking about civil unions and abortion, that isn't something that I ever talk about, but talking about the drug issue -- to me that's a cost benefit analysis when you recognize that half of everything we're spending on law enforcement, the courts and the prisons is drug related. What are we getting for that? We'll we're arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country and we now have 2.3 million people behind bars in this country. We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world and isn't this America, liberty, freedom, and personal responsibility that goes along with that? I think when it comes to drug policy we've thrown that notion out the window.

YELLIN: Let's talk about the Republican field. Today you said about the other potential Republican candidates in this race, quote you said, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss and what's the definition of insanity it's to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome". So clearly you're not -- you don't hold the rest of the field in that high regard. What do those Republicans lack that you think you bring to this race?

JOHNSON: You know, Jessica, I ran two campaigns for governor where I did not mention my opponent in print, radio or television. I really think that people want to vote for somebody as opposed to the lesser of two evils. So I'm going to leave that analysis to you. But what I am believing is that we need to balance the federal budget tomorrow and that if we don't do that, we're going to all find ourselves with nothing. And that we can do this. This would be easy. We landed on the moon. We can balance the federal budget and that means cutting 43 cents out of every federal dollar that we're currently spending and that --

YELLIN: But Sir -- you must think that you bring something that the others don't since it's a broad field and you're jumping in, so what is your special advantage that you think is lacking?

JOHNSON: Well, all I've got is my resume and my resume is, is that I'm an entrepreneur. I've been an entrepreneur my entire life. I started a one-man handyman business in Albuquerque in 1974 and in 1994 actually had 1,000 employees. As governor of New Mexico that was entrepreneurial, the notion of public service, the notion of getting in and actually making a difference actually viewing government from the standpoint that it does have a role to provide a level playing field for everybody to have access to the American dream.

As opposed to legislation that favors business, certain businesses, banking interests, foreign governments. We pick winners and losers when it comes to foreign governments. This is a country where you can go from having nothing to having everything overnight if you've got a great idea and willing to work hard to do that. Government, I think, is getting us further and further away from that notion as opposed to getting us closer to it.

YELLIN: Another potential Republican candidate who also claims an entrepreneurship as his greatest strength is Donald Trump. He's been making headlines lately for wanting and questioning the president's birth place. So let me ask you, do you believe that President Obama is a natural born U.S. citizen and legally eligible to hold his office?

JOHNSON: Yes.

YELLIN: Do you think this issue is a distraction to the issues that matter to Republicans?

JOHNSON: I'll let others judge that, but yes, he's a legally born U.S. citizen.

YELLIN: Why do you think this continues to be an issue?

JOHNSON: Not with me.

YELLIN: OK. I see that you're very clear on this. Let me ask you about another issue you've been very clear on, marijuana. You've admitted to smoking marijuana yourself and I was fascinated to see that you told Stephen Colbert after you got high for the first time your first thought was the government's been lying to us. So you got stoned and the first thing you thought about was our criminal policy on drugs?

JOHNSON: Well, look, I've drank alcohol in my life and I've smoked marijuana in my life. I don't drink. I don't smoke today. That's a choice that I have come to. I'll tell you the big difference between marijuana and alcohol is, is that marijuana is a lot safer than alcohol. Citizens of Denver five years ago voted to decriminalize marijuana on a campaign, based on marijuana being safer than alcohol, so about 500,000 citizens agree with me on that one.

Look this is not about saying OK to marijuana or alcohol. But what it is saying is, is that it's a choice that as long as you're not putting someone else in harm's way to legalize it, control it, regulate it, tax it. It is never going to be legal to smoke pot, become impaired, get behind the wheel of a car or do harm to others, and it's never going to be legal for kids to smoke pot or to buy pot.

YELLIN: Governor Johnson thanks for being with us. I'm sure we'll talk to you again.

JOHNSON: Jessica, thank you very much.

YELLIN: And still ahead a scandal plagued U.S. senator is resigning. But next we take you back to Libya where the bodies of two photo journalists killed in the siege of Misrata are now on the way home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: There is a lot happening in Libya's civil war. Within the past hour, our crews in Tripoli report hearing new airstrikes and at least three major explosions. NATO has warned all Libyan civilians to stay away from military areas which may foreshadow a new round of airstrikes. And that may include precision strikes by unmanned U.S. drones.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: Now the president has said that where we have some unique capabilities, he is willing to use those and in fact he has approved the use of armed predators and I think that today may in fact have been their first mission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: In the west the rebels captured a key border crossing with Tunisia. About 100 pro-Gadhafi fighters including a high ranking officer fled into Tunisia where some have been detained. Now a few hours ago a ship carrying about 1,000 migrant workers, rescued from the siege of Misrata, arrived in Benghazi. Also, aboard that ship the bodies of those two photo journalists killed yesterday in Misrata.

CNN's Reza Sayah is in Benghazi. Reza, hi, we know the bodies of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros arrived in Benghazi today. CNN was there. Will you tell us what you saw and did the Libyan government address the journalists' deaths in any way?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a regime official, a Gadhafi regime spokesperson earlier today in Tripoli came out and he said he was saddened by the loss of the journalists. But he added that is not clear who killed these journalists, whether it was rebel forces or regime forces. Here in Benghazi tonight when the remains of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros arrived at the port there were two opposition officials present. They didn't make an announcement to the gathering. But in private, they did tell reporters that they, too, were saddened by the loss of these journalists and they said this is an example of what they call atrocities that are taking place every day in Misrata.

When these aid ships usually come to the port of Benghazi from Misrata, and we've seen a few -- it's usually a very real raucous, emotional and loud event. Oftentimes, you have cheers and chants of "God is great" and gunfire in honor of those injured on board. But tonight, it was a much more subdued and somber event. We have about 300 people out there greeting the ship, holding British and American flags, with signs -- one sign read, "We share with your pain."

There were some officials there who said that what's happening in Misrata is an example of why we need the international community to act right now without trying to create the impression that they are exploiting the situation. So, an emotional event here in the port of Benghazi.

YELLIN: And speaking to that today, Secretary Clinton counseled patients in Libya. She said that opposition fighters are holding their own. Is that consistent with the reality on the ground, or is it looking more grim for the rebels? SAYAH: Well, I wouldn't say that things are looking grim for the rebels. They have up and down days. They have days like today when Washington came out and announced that they have plans to use unmanned drones. That's certainly giving them a boost.

But there's absolutely no reason to believe that, all of a sudden, this is a rebel force that they can now achieve a military victory over the Gadhafi army. And for that matter, there is no reason to believe that the Gadhafi military can achieve a military victory over the rebel forces.

And I think that's why all eyes are on the international community, NATO. They could be the decisive factor here. But many observers say they haven't made that decisive move, that decision, that will give the edge to one side or the other. And I think that's why a lot of people are concerned that there's no end in sight to this conflict here in Libya.

YELLIN: Sounds like you're describing stalemate without further action.

Reza Sayah reporting for us -- thank you.

SAYAH: Yes.

YELLIN: To talk about the apparent stalemate in Libya, I'm joined by CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Hi, Fareed.

There is news today, as you know, that rebels have seized an important border crossing near Tunisia and there's also word of major defections. In theory, this is how the tide turns. Is it happening?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I think there's no question that Gadhafi is feeling somewhat cornered. The most important news that I've been able to ascertain is that he is having difficulty selling his oil. You are beginning to see this military dynamic work against him.

Now, that can reverse. You know, military dynamics can sometimes shift week to week. But, in general, I think that he was hoping that he would have some kind of dramatic victory over the last few weeks and he hasn't had one. So, the rebels have been able to hold what they have, in fact -- as you point out -- expand a little bit, that presence.

He's having difficulty with oil. He's having difficulty money. All of which suggests that, you know, the noose is tightening. It may not be so tight that he's going to surrender any time soon, but for all of the problems with the allies, life is hard for Moammar Gadhafi himself.

YELLIN: You wrote in "TIME" magazine this, that the most significant challenge for Barack Obama is to keep America's military involvement limited. If Gadhafi does not fall immediately, the response you wrote should not be to escalate.

But, now, we know Europeans want to send in advisers. Some are concerned that leads to a ground war. The U.S. will send $25 million in aid. And now, Mitt Romney, a likely presidential candidate here, is calling this mission creep.

Do you agree? Is this mission creep?

ZAKARIA: No. And I think that you really need to have to wonder about some of these Republican candidates who first wanted Obama to get more involved earlier. Then he got involved, they decided they wanted him to get less involved. This is all politics.

Look, I think the most important thing to worry about with mission creep is ratcheting up U.S. military involvement, by which I mean, more bombing, more bombing targets, widening a set of targets, trying to degrade the regime itself as opposed to simply protecting civilians.

Arming the rebels, training them, arming them, as long as it's done particularly in -- you know, in safe havens is to in my mind an effective way of changing the military balance, of putting pressure on Gadhafi. It does not lead to escalation. It does not lead to fear (ph) of U.S. ground forces.

YELLIN: But you look back at those examples and a lot of the conventional wisdom sense is that those were mistakes by the U.S., or that we got involved without knowing who we were partnering with. And in light of the latest polling which shows that domestic approval of the U.S. involvement in Libya is actually falling -- so the president is having less support for his efforts there -- do you think that too many of his decisions are being influenced by domestic politics and not smart strategy for Libya?

ZAKARIA: No. I think that the smart domestic move would have been to stay out entirely. I think that the president did something that he thought was necessary from a national security point of view and humanitarian point of view. You may disagree with it. But I don't think you can make the case it was politically motivated.

Clearly, Americans are moving toward kind of like an isolationist position with regard to foreign policy. They want nation-building in the United States, not nation-building abroad. The answer there is: don't pull out and dramatically, you know, withdraw from places that you've had some interest.

But there's no evidence actually arming other people to fight their own wars, their own battles, is a much more effective and frankly much cheaper strategy than any direct American involvement.

YELLIN: Yes. But do you realistically think President Obama is going to allow us to openly arm the rebels?

ZAKARIA: I think that they have come up -- they have found a very easy third way which is that the British and French will do it, the U.S. will provide some money. And if the British and French are doing it, frankly, that's more than enough. The Libyans don't need massive amounts of firepower.

The French -- you know, France and Britain have very serious militaries with very serious supply chains. They could supply the Libyan rebels with everything they need.

YELLIN: You've written about the Goldilocks compromise -- the Goldilocks foreign policy the president is pursing in Libya. Isn't that in itself inherently political -- he wants to do a little but not a lot, he wants to be there without committing U.S. forces to a ground war? And is his strategy being compromised by politics?

ZAKARIA: No, I really don't think it's about politics. I think that what he's trying to do is find some way to help the Libyans, to do something humanitarian, without doing an Iraq or an Afghanistan.

YELLIN: Right.

ZAKARIA: You see what I mean? To find some limited way to have America help protect these civilians, put pressure on the bad guys without --

YELLIN: So, we've done something but we don't get stuck there.

ZAKARIA: The biggest problem is that the goal has become the removal of Gadhafi, which is a much larger and more expansive goal than the means that they are willing to provide. I would prefer they talk less about getting rid of Gadhafi, talk more about just protecting the civilians.

And, you know, if you get Gadhafi's ouster, that's wonderful. That's a bonus.

But that's the big problem. There is a gap between the ultimate goal, which is the ouster of Gadhafi and regime change, and the means they are willing to use which are pretty limited in military means.

YELLIN: All right. Fareed, thanks so much. We look forward to watching your show this weekend.

ZAKARIA: Thank you so much.

YELLIN: And next, we'll tell you which U.S. senator is resigning and how it will affect the balance of power in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: Welcome back.

If you're just joining us, there's breaking political news. Republican U.S. Senator John Ensign of Nevada just announced he will resign his seat on May 3rd. Ensign is the subject of an ethics investigation following revelations that he had an affair with a female aide, who was the wife of another top aide and that his parents subsequently gave money to the aide's family. Ensign had already announced he won't seek re-election in 2012. Nevada's Republican governor will get to appoint a replacement, most likely another Republican. So, it likely won't affect the balance of power in the Senate.

In other news today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the immediate release of all Americans detained in Libya, including at least two reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I say at least because we do not have any accurate information coming from Libyan authorities about other inquiries that we have made regarding their continuing harassment and detention of journalists, including Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: In all, four journalists, Manu Brabo, James Foley, Clare Gillis, and Anton Hammerl were captured April 5th near the oil town of Brega. They have been held in a detention center in Tripoli.

Joining us now to discuss their captivity are James Foley's parents, John and Diane Foley.

To both of you, first of all, thank you for being with us. I'm very sorry that it's under these circumstances. But I know you want to get word out of your son's captivity.

So, let me start by asking you about a tiny bit of good news. I understand that one of these captured journalists was able to reach out to her family today. What can you tell us about that?

JOHN FOLEY, PARENT OF JAMES FOLEY: We heard about an hour, an hour and a half ago that Clare Gillis was able to call home to speak with her parents.

DIANE FOLEY, PARENT OF JAMES FOLEY: Very exciting.

YELLIN: Do you any information -- any details about what she told her family?

J. FOLEY: We think that she is very well. In fact, she told her parents that she was well and not mistreated. And that when she was separated it from Jim on the 19th, that he was equally well given the circumstance.

YELLIN: Now, we know it's been 17 days since your son James was captured. What can you tell us about the latest of his whereabouts, how he's doing, and what this phone call gives you hope for?

D. FOLEY: Well, we do not know where he is at all. We have -- we feel fairly sure that he is in Tripoli. But we do not know where. And we promised a phone call, which we have been waiting for truly all week. So, we are hopeful now that Clare has actually reached her parent.

YELLIN: How does that work? Who promises you the phone call? Can you say?

D. FOLEY: Well, there's been a lot of negotiations through the State Department, the Turkish embassy, many persons have been involved helping us.

J. FOLEY: It's standard practice for detainees/prisoners to have be allowed a phone call home and actually also to be interviewed by foreign journalists.

YELLIN: Sure. And no doubt worrisome to you that it hasn't happened yet.

J. FOLEY: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

YELLIN: May I ask you, John, your son is a seasoned journalist. We know. He's reported from the frontlines of Afghanistan and Iraq. But I understand that you guys were concerned about this assignment in Libya in particular. Why?

J. FOLEY: Well, in previous assignments, he's been embedded with the U.S. Army. And this is the first time that he's been alone on his own without the protection -- without military protection. Obviously, he's been in a very dangerous place.

YELLIN: I know that one of his last tweets -- well, he had been reporting in Libya for 3 1/2 weeks and one of his last tweets out was, quote, that he was watching nice sunset prayers over outgoing rockets in Brega. He was clearly in the thick of it, no question about that.

Diane, if I can ask you -- what did he tell you about the situation there before he was captured?

D. FOLEY: He was -- well, very busy. I think he -- you know, the journalists were really quite close, I think, in Benghazi. They were all kind of using that as their base, if you will, and he actually had been invited by a Libyan family to dinner and was quite touched by their hospitality. So, all this was happening in contrast to, of course, the conflict and all the violence that was occurring.

YELLIN: We all know that four "New York Times" reporters were captured in Libya earlier this month and quickly released after only a week. Less time than your son has been held.

How effective do you think the diplomacy to date has been? Do you feel you're getting adequate attention? And have other countries been helpful?

J. FOLEY: Yes, I think each situation is different, right? I don't think there are parallels. We are very, very happy with the help that we've received from the State Department, some of -- the Turkish embassy, the Turkish government, the "Global Post," and our governor and senators here in New Hampshire.

YELLIN: OK. Can you finally give us a little bit of a sense of James, what would drive him to go to such a dangerous place as Libya?

D. FOLEY: Jimmy has really -- is very passionate about bringing home to Americans about what is going on with the countries in conflict. I mean, he's very interested in people's stories in the midst of all this conflict, and very passionate, really feels that we need to know what the truth about what is happening in these countries, so far away from us.

J. FOLEY: And I think he's reported all aspects of this conflict. He did so in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. And he does want to make sure that the world actually sees the good and the bad of these situations, and he and the other three were doing their jobs as reporters and really did nothing to harm the Libyan government or the Libyan people.

YELLIN: Yes. And if you could get a message to him now, what would that be?

D. FOLEY: Jim, to be strong and hopeful and know that all of us are praying for you. Your friends have started this Free Foley Web site where anyone can go who might like to help work towards their release, there's a petition to sign and up-to-date information about these four journalists.

J. FOLEY: And we hope you're returned right away and that your return is very safe.

D. FOLEY: We love you, Jim.

YELLIN: John and Diane Foley, this must be an exceptionally difficult time for you. Our thoughts and best wishes are with you.

D. FOLEY: Thank you, Jessica.

J. FOLEY: Thank you.

YELLIN: And for more information on journalist James Foley and others captured with him, please go to our blog, CNN.com/JKUSA. We'll have more information there.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: President Obama is about to hold a fundraiser in Hollywood, which is a usually reliable piggy bank for Democratic presidential candidates.

But lately, some big stars have been noticeably cooler about President Obama. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT DAMON, ACTOR: I really think he misinterpreted his mandate.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: I wish he'd start listening to himself and his wife.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the American people who put him there, how about that?

ROBERT REDFORD, ACTOR: Tell President Obama to lead America toward a clean energy future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if it's anyone's time to go off, this is it.

LADY GAGA: We will continue to push you and your administration.

BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: I'm so disappointed that he seems to be another in a long line of Democrats that come across as wimpy, and wussy.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

YELLIN: Meow.

Joining me now is Joy Behar, as everybody knows, host of HLN's "The Joy Behar Show" and, of course, the co-host of ABC's "The View."

Joy, look, my take is -- celebrities like to get everything they want. They're not getting everything they want. So, they're turning on him. Are they just being spoiled?

JOY BEHAR, HOST, HLN'S "THE JOY BEHAR SHOW": Yes, I think that, you know, at the end of the day, where is the left going to go? So, this is just an exercise in futility, I think.

But they have every right to push him, I suppose, you know. They have to keep pushing him towards the left because he is a middle-of- the-road president. He is not a lefty president, despite what the right wing says about him. They keep saying he's a socialist -- that's the biggest joke that he's a socialist.

YELLIN: And they thought they were getting something different. Yes. Maybe celebs thought they were getting someone more to the left. Do you think there's a single issue that's hitting some in Hollywood against him? Is it gay marriage, Guantanamo, environment?

BEHAR: Well, we are conducting two wars right now.

YELLIN: Right.

BEHAR: And we don't have a lot of money. We keep hearing about that. So, I think that the left is annoyed with him about that. They would like him to bring those two wars to an end.

Gay marriage, I think the guy is pro-gay. I think he's working his way towards that. I have more tolerance for him, I think, because I look at the other side -- I look at the Republican side and I see mental midgets over there. I don't see anybody with any kind of charisma. I see nobody as smart as President Obama.

What do I see over there? I see Donald Trump, a reality star, is leading the pack over there.

YELLIN: People might ask, why are -- why do we care if celebrities are turning on Obama? But the truth is, in this election, the president is staking a lot on the youth vote and celebrities really do have a huge influence on young people. Don't they? Or are we overstating that?

BEHAR: Well, I think President Obama has influence on the youth vote as we saw when he was elected in the first place. The youth of America came out in huge numbers. And I think he has more charisma than Lady Gaga, frankly.

I think that President Obama can get the youth vote because he's very funny also, and he's also very smart and engaging. And he does have an optimistic way to look at the world. And I think that young people want to hear that.

They don't want to hear we're in debt, we can't get out, it's a misery everywhere. They want to hear somebody.

You know, Ronald Reagan, what was that, "Morning in America"?

YELLIN: Yes.

BEHAR: I think that President Obama will come up with a slogan like that and the young people will rally around him again. By the way, can I mention one more thing, Jessica?

YELLIN: Yes.

BEHAR: Middle America, the main votes in a lot of the red states and the swing states do not like Hollywood. So why -- who cares what Hollywood thinks really at the end of the day?

YELLIN: OK. Amen to that, they'd say in Washington.

Joy, thank you so much. Fun to have you on.

BEHAR: You're welcome.

YELLIN: And remember to watch "The Joy Behar Show," weeknights at 10:00 p.m. on HLN.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

YELLIN: And tomorrow, we'll cover the politics of flying. Why does the White House care about your travel plan?

That's all for us tonight.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.