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2012 Presidential Race; Clashes in Yemen; High Unemployment

Aired June 2, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: Thanks Wolf and thank you for joining us. I'm Jessica Yellin. John King has the night off.

It is a huge day on the presidential campaign trail. Mitt Romney most polls show is the front runner for the Republican nomination officially joined the 2012 race today. At times he sounded a bit like Captain America.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know we can bring this country back. I'm Mitt Romney. I believe in America. And I'm running for president.



YELLIN: Romney made his big announcement on a sunny farm but his speech was heavy on the gloom and doom, a long series of attacks on President Obama whom Romney repeatedly accused of thinking like a European. We're joined now by long time New Hampshire conservative activist Ovide Lamontagne and Romney media adviser Russ Schriefer.

Russ, hi, thanks for being with us. I'm going to start with you. You are one of Romney's -- hi -- you're one of Romney's top campaign strategists. I was interested in the tone of his message. Let's listen to this and we can talk about it.


ROMNEY: When Barack Obama came to office we wished him well and hoped for the best. Now in the third year of his fourth-year term or his four-year term we have more than slogans and promises to judge him by. Barack Obama has failed America.


YELLIN: He went on to rip the president's foreign and domestic policies and it all was fairly negative. Can you explain why your candidate is launching his campaign with an attack on the president rather than focusing on a positive vision of what he would do for the country?

RUSS SCHRIEFER, PRINCIPAL, STEVENS & SCHRIEFER GROUP: Well, I think that the positive vision is -- Governor Romney's positive vision is bringing jobs back to America. And this is a president who promised that unemployment wasn't going to go below eight percent -- go above eight percent. It clearly is above eight percent. It's a president who has failed in most of his foreign policy endeavors.

We don't know what his foreign policy is most of the time. And you have to draw the contrast. And this is a campaign we believe of a very clear choice. That Governor Romney will present over the next 16 months to show the American people that the record that Barack Obama has, has been -- has failed as Governor Romney said.

YELLIN: Sixteen months, it sounds like you guys are already looking ahead to the general election assuming a little bit that the primary is over. We'll ask you about that in a minute. But Candy Crowley is joining us now from New Hampshire. You are there, Candy, for the event. Would you give us a little bit of a sense of the mood and the message?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well listen, I think the message was actually both of the things you're talking about. It was very fiercely anti-Obama administration. I mean the one thing positive about -- not that you expect a potential rival to say something positive -- but he did give him -- give the president credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden but beyond that relationships with Israel, too apologetic to Europe, spent too much money, didn't get any jobs.

It was very, very anti-Obama administration. And then it was very, you know, pro jobs. This is a campaign that will campaign Romney as businessman, Romney as a person who has been in the real world. One of his lines was, you know, in order to create jobs you actually maybe should have had one and I've had ones (INAUDIBLE) of course that the president didn't ever have a job, so there's a very pro jobs component to the speech but there was also a very anti-Obama component to the speech.

And the crowd was, you know, obviously very receptive of him and they come because they like him and they think this is the guy that can focus in on the economy, which at the moment it still shows in the polls that that's what people want their politicians to be talking about.

YELLIN: Ovide you know the Republican field and their chances in New Hampshire about as well as anyone. You've had many if not most of the candidates to your house. You've said that New Hampshire is Romney's to lose but he still has a huge obstacle he is going to win there and that is health care reform.

As Massachusetts governor he signed a bill that had many similarities to President Obama's national plan which is not so popular with Republicans. So since he is clearly not going to apologize for his Massachusetts plan, what in your view does he need to do to get past it?

OVIDE LAMONTAGNE, GRANITE OATH PAC: Well, I think he needs to convert that obstacle into an opportunity. And there is an opportunity for him. He has some standing to talk about health care reform from a national perspective as well as a state perspective. Let's face it. He showed leadership whether we like the policy or not by taking on this challenge while he was governor.

Now what he needs to do is convince us that his plan for the national role in health care is fundamentally different than President Obama's not only repealing Obamacare but actually charting a plan for restoring local control over health care, breaking out the federal monopoly over it through Medicare and so forth. He can chart -- he can take this obstacle and make it an opportunity.

YELLIN: Russ, what he's talking about is a vision for the future that's different but it means talking more about health care. So tactically how do you handle this? Does this mean more speeches on health care are essential or silence, no more talk about health care is the best way to go?

SCHRIEFER: No, listen, I think that we're more than happy to talk about health care. We're more than happy to talk about what you know Governor Romney has said that on the -- if he is so fortunate to be elected president, the first day that he's sworn in as president he'll give a waiver so that states can opt out of Obamacare.

YELLIN: But I think it was just one line in his speech today --


YELLIN: He had just one mention of it in his speech.

SCHRIEFER: Sure. He mentioned that what he did with health care reform in Massachusetts and that he took on a state problem. It was a tough problem to take on. And he stepped up to the plate and took it on. And as, you know, as (INAUDIBLE) said, you know it was sort of not going to be apologizing for that. But the question really is, is what do we do with Obamacare? What do we do moving forward? And Governor Romney is very clear. On day one, waivers for states so that they can get out of Obamacare and in the long term, full repeal and replacement of Obamacare.

YELLIN: Candy, apparently Mitt Romney thinks President Obama is just a little bit euro. Listen to this.


ROMNEY: Now here at home the president seems to take his inspiration not from the small towns and villages of New Hampshire but from the capitals of Europe. With the economy in crisis his answer was to borrow more money and to throw it at Washington bureaucrats and politicians just like Europe.


YELLIN: Well at least he is not accusing him of being born in Kenya, but isn't it possible to disagree with a president without challenging one's allegiance to America? CROWLEY: Well, you know, to be perfectly literal about it, he didn't challenge it but this was a very Americana setting here today. They served hot dogs and hamburgers and the candidate and his wife scooped up, ladled (ph) up Chile for people and the American flags and they sat on hay bales. And id did -- it did strike me how often that Romney linked President Obama to Europe.

He talked about how his European solutions aren't working. I think there is, you know, obviously I think what he is going for is this sort of socialist idea, you know, Europe has these big government answers and we're small government but I think you're right that the totality of what you came away with was how many times he suggested that President Obama was European, it was a little bit like suggesting that John Kerry was French, which didn't help him at all. So it's better to be Americana than to be European, American race.

YELLIN: Let me put this one to all of you. In national polls at least, of all the contenders, Romney is at or near the top of the polls. He's got the biggest organization, the most fund raising muscle, and even with Sarah Palin in the state he is the man to beat it seems to many people. But my question is and please be brief, is this Romney's nomination to lose -- starting with you, Candy, yes or no?

CROWLEY: I think that goes a little far. I mean I think the best description I've seen is he is a weak frontrunner. There's a lot of time left in this race. I think he will be challenged mightily and I think to say that it's his to lose goes just a tad too far in stating his position right now.

YELLIN: Ovide, your view?

LAMONTAGNE: It's a wide open race. New Hampshire voters were polled recently. Ninety percent of them who were going to vote in the Republican primary have not committed to a candidate. It's a wide open race and it is very exciting that it is finally taking hold and the governor is in now so let's see how he does.

YELLIN: OK, non-committal, and Russ, I know this is a hard question. You work for the guy. You want him to win, but is it his to lose?

SCHRIEFER: Listen, I think that I would agree with both with Candy and with Ovide. This is a -- this is a very tough process, the nomination. And it is a long process and candidates, all the candidates are going to be tested day after day, time after time. And we do believe that, you know, Governor Romney, because of a very unique set of circumstances, his experience, having private sector experience, a governor of a state that took on tough problems that cut taxes, that worked on jobs and the economy, makes him a good choice for the Republican Party and the best choice to defeat Barack Obama.

YELLIN: Tough spot for you -- we know from Hillary Clinton and John McCain's experience presumed frontrunner is a tough position for any candidate, so thanks to you Russ and to all of you for being with us. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.


YELLIN: Up next, more calls for Syrian President Assad to step down. Will it have any impact on the violence in the region?

Plus, is the violence in Yemen a threat to the United States and why did the president -- why did the residents there have even more to fear? That's next.


YELLIN: Troubling news tonight of increasing chaos in parts of the Middle East -- in Syria the United Nations now is demanding an investigation so there can be some sort of justice for a 13-year-old boy named Hamza. Many Syrians believe he was tortured to death by the government as a warning to demonstrators. The government denies it but that isn't the story CNN's Arwa Damon is hearing.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: CNN managed to get in touch with one of Hamza's relatives. We are not identifying beyond that for his and for the family's own protection. This relative providing even more chilling insight into what young Hamza may have suffered. According to him another relative received a tip that Hamza was being held in one of the prisons.

He went there and actually saw that Hamza was alive and well and was told by authorities to return in two days which he did. At that point he was told that the family should go to the hospital. When they arrived at the hospital it was there that they were handed over a corpse. Those chilling images with authenticity we cannot verify that appeared on YouTube showing Hamza's bloated, mutilated and horribly disfigured young body.

According to the relative his mother became hysterical. She had a nervous breakdown alternating between sobbing intensely and then shrieking for joy that her child had become a martyr, this relative firmly believing that Hamza was brutally tortured for two days because authorities were enraged that the family had managed to track him down. The relative also providing us with insight as to the type of a child that Hamza was, saying that he was the youngest of six, just 13 years old, but with a maturity of a 30-year-old.

He was always taking part in the demonstrations to break the siege of the city of Daraa. Remember his family was from outside of Daraa and that some occasions he was refusing to eat because he would tell his parents it was unfair for him to be able to have access to food when so many children were suffering inside Daraa because of the siege. And he also had dreams to be a policeman one day, but according to the relative he changed his mind when he saw the police brutality against the demonstrators.

And he didn't know what he wanted to be when he was going to grow up. Now we do know that he is at the very least emerging as a symbol of the Syrian uprising.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.


YELLIN: And on Syrian State TV a person identified as the medical examiner in the case said the boy died from three gunshot wounds. He said the condition of the body was the result of deterioration after death and there was no evidence that the boy had been subjected to torture. Syria's interior minister has promised an investigation.

There is also trouble at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen. Violence today forced a halt to all flights in and out of the airport in the country's capital city Sanaa. Here is CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, on Thursday even more clashes erupted in Yemen's capital as fighting between armed tribesmen and government forces intensified. One extremely worrying development for residents of Sanaa, reports from eyewitnesses that a group of about a thousand armed tribesmen entered the capital of Yemen during the early morning hours saying they're supporting Sheikh Sobigal Ahma (ph), a leader of a tribe that has been involved in street battles with government forces for more than a week.

As fierce fighting continued, it has spread to even more neighborhoods and there is a palpable sense of fear I'm hearing from residents there. Many are afraid to leave their houses and concerned their country is perilously close to all out civil war. One Yemeni government official says the reason the street fighting in Sanaa has gotten so much more intense since Wednesday night is because Special Forces are now involved that elite units of the country's Republican Guard are being utilized in order to minimize collateral damage.

Elsewhere in the country there were reports that violence in the city of Taiz (ph) continues. Eyewitnesses say that yesterday there were even more clashes that broke out between security forces and anti-government demonstrators. We're also told that tribesmen whom eyewitnesses say were there to protect those anti-government demonstrators were involved in that fighting as well -- Jessica.


YELLIN: Thank you, Mohammed Jamjoom reporting. President Obama called congressional Democrats to the White House for a strategy session today. Next we'll ask one of his top defenders what happened.


YELLIN: President Obama is getting an earful from members of Congress this week. Republicans got some face time at the White House yesterday. Today Democrats had their turn. And beyond the fights here in Washington the president is taking plenty of flack from the growing field of Republicans who want his job.

Joining us now the woman whose job it is to defend the president and his party, Democratic Party Chairwoman and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Thank you for being with us. As you know well the president is once again waking up to some pretty tough economic news.

The unemployment numbers are going to be coming out and economists predict that they will fall less than expected. The projection is they'll be down to only slightly to 8.9 percent. Now, no president post war has won re-election with numbers, unemployment numbers that high. Is unemployment the story of his first term now?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL), DNC CHAIRWOMAN: Well, I think it's good news that it would continue to fall at all. And I think it's important to look at the fact that we're dealing with the month of May in which we had exceptionally high gas prices and, you know, given that, it's possible that that had an impact. But you can't take one month, a one-month snap shot and make a prediction about trends or -- I think we have to take a wait and see attitude. But focusing on jobs and the economy is -- and continuing to do that is absolutely critical. And the Republicans haven't been anywhere close to doing that and that's why we need to continue to push, to move in that direction.

YELLIN: You heard Mitt Romney out there today and the message they're going to hit --


YELLIN: -- is that you know improvement isn't running -- happening fast enough to argue that we're on an economic recovery yet. Look, there is, as you point out the gas prices are rough and with the president in charge he gets blamed. The stimulus has come to an end. Housing prices are down. A stimulus -- the stimulus has run out. Even the stock market is jittery up and down. So is it now the president's record? I mean this is -- you can't blame George Bush anymore.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well the president's record is a strong one and it's one that he plans to run on. If you look at where we've been, where we were bleeding 750,000 jobs a month in the month leading up to his inauguration and now two and a half years later we are creating private sector jobs, 14 straight months of job growth, 2.1 million jobs created in the last 14 months. I mean, we are continuing to pick up the pace of recovery.

YELLIN: Will you tell Democrats to run on that or to take some distance from the president if they need to House and Senate members when they're in their races --

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Democrats are going to proudly run on the fact that we turned the economy around. It was our policies under President Obama's leadership through the Recovery Act, through investing in the automobile industry. The Republicans would have let the automobile industry go bankrupt and we made sure that we could keep the American automobile industry alive and now they're thriving.

And the record that we have is strong and clear. And the record the Republicans have is that we should continue to give tax breaks to the wealthy. That we should focus on repealing the Affordable Care Act leaving Americans twisting in the wind at the mercy of the health insurance companies and ending Medicare as we know it.

YELLIN: But even --

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That's a pretty good comparison --

YELLIN: Even Democrats though privately will say they're frustrated. I mean it's hard to sell what's happening out there right now to people and say how about more of the same?


YELLIN: So what did the president say to his members today when he met with them?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well first of all I don't think it's hard to sell at all. I go home to my district every weekend and talk about where we've been and where we are now two and a half years later and acknowledge, look, we obviously want to continue to pick up the pace of recovery but that we are recovering and that we're moving in the right direction. But what the president talked about at the White House today to the Democratic caucus is that we need to make sure that we continue to press for shared sacrifice.

That we're going to need to absorb some pain. The Republicans want to pile all the pain on people who can least afford it and the middle class and Democrats under his leadership want to make sure that we can address deficit reduction and continue to make investments and shared sacrifice is going to be imperative in order to be able to do that.

YELLIN: One of the big debates out here is bringing down the long-term debt -- deficit -- debt and deficit, and Paul Ryan has put out a Medicare plan, reform plan that you have used some very strong language to attack.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Only because he deserves it.

YELLIN: Well the question then is how does telling voters that he has, quote, "thrown seniors to the wolves", help get us to a bipartisan compromise which is really what is needed in the end.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well what is not needed to get to bipartisan compromise is proposing to end Medicare as we know it. We do not need to end Medicare. We don't need to throw people who are younger than 55 years old to the wolves which is what we do. I mean somehow I keep hearing Paul Ryan say oh it's OK because it's people who are younger than 55 are the ones that are going to be affected. Well you know how many people I represent under 55 who are saying I paid into Medicare for years and I expect that safety net to be there for me.

YELLIN: But the truth is you don't want a deal before the election, right --

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Absolutely. What we need to do, Jessica, is come together around the table and hammer out a compromise. Apparently the Republicans aren't interested in compromise. They're only interested in ending Medicare, which is something they've never supported Medicare.

They didn't support it when it was created. They don't support it now. And every time they come into power, they do something to try to decimate the social safety net that protects senior citizens in this country.

YELLIN: I've heard you say that the Anthony Weiner Twitter problem is a personal matter for him.


YELLIN: But some Democrats themselves are complaining that this is a distraction and he needs to be more forthcoming. So do you just wish he'd come out with more of the facts to make this go away?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I really think it's a personal matter that is something that Anthony Weiner needs to deal with himself.

YELLIN: And you won't call for him or asking him privately to do more?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I don't do that when it comes to personal matters.

YELLIN: All right. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Congresswoman, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

And coming up, New Jersey's Republican governor is taking plenty of flack for taking a state helicopter to his son's baseball game. Hmm, but is Chris Christie apologizing? Stay there. You'll want to hear what he said this afternoon.


YELLIN: Welcome back.

There is a lot happening here today. And here is Joe Johns with the news you need to know right now.

Hey, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jess. An official with the government Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells CNN three people here in the U.S. likely have been infected by the new potentially deadly strain of E. coli bacteria. All three recently traveled to Germany.

The World Health Organization today blamed the germ for killing 16 people across Europe. And they haven't figured out where it came from. Forget the food pyramid. First Lady Michelle Obama today helped introduce a new icon you will be seeing on food packages. It's called "My Plate" and it's supposed to make it easier for eat a healthy meal.


MICHELLE OBAMA, U.S. FIRST LADY: Since I've seen the icon I can't help but look at my own plate a little differently to see whether I have enough fruits and vegetables. And trust me, we are implementing this in our household.


JOHNS: Finally, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie told reporters this afternoon he's reimbursed the state for more than $2,000 to take a state police helicopter to his son's baseball game, but he isn't apologizing and may do it again.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I don't -- you know, I don't use it to joy ride around New Jersey. I use it when I absolutely need to do it. Because the schedule has so many demands on me in that particular day there would be no way to physically get there at all or without putting myself and my protective unit in real danger by going really fast.


JOHNS: Basically sounded like he was paying the money to silence his critics. But he is definitely not apologizing.

YELLIN: He is not. But, you know, I talked to some of the top strategists yesterday and they said he's not going to pay back. He's not going to apologize.

Now, he's paying it back. Maybe he'll apologize. I don't know.

I was listening to the press conference today and he sounded a different tone. I think we should listen to a little more of it. It's riveting.


CHRISTIE: My initial reaction was the state police have said there is no reason, there's no expense, any additional expense to taxpayers. So, there is nothing to reimburse. But here's the bottom line, David. You know, I'm governor 24/7, every single day. But I'm also a father.

And the fact of the matter is that sometimes when you're governor, you do not control your schedule. And so, if you want to try to do all the things that people want you to do as governor and also be a father and try to make sure that you get to as many of the things for your kids that you want to be at, there are times when it is literally impossible to do that by car. And two of those instances came up in the last week.


YELLIN: I don't know. I find him -- he is such a straight talker. You sort of -- he's forgiven for a lot, but other politicians have been brought down for this kind of thing.

JOHNS: Absolutely. And there are a lot of governors who have actually used state aircraft before -- McGreevey in New Jersey has gotten in trouble for it. Frank Murkowski in Alaska; James Swift, lieutenant governor in Massachusetts. There are a lot of people.

His problem, really, I talked to one Republican strategist today, he said his big problem is that everybody sees him as a good government guy, a guy who is supposed to be saving the taxpayers money, and people get angry, especially this sort of economic environment, because they look at him and say -- well, it doesn't look like he is saving the taxpayers money. It doesn't look like he's acting like a good government guy here, whatever the truth of it is. So, it could be a problem for him.

YELLIN: And the question is, does it get lost when you have these larger issues coming up? There's major pension reform coming in the state by the end of the month and major budget battle coming. And so, maybe it gets swallowed. But I know the Democrats are going after him for it already. They're not going to let it go.

We interviewed an assemblywoman, Huttle, who is, you know, got fumes coming out over this. Here's a little bit of what she had to say.


VALERIE HUTTLE (D), NEW JERSEY STATE ASSEMBLY: You know, it's all about perception and reality and this governor is an example of "do as I say not as I do." We right now are down in Trenton, you know, going through budgetary items, trying to restore funding for women's health issues, for seniors for tax relief, and this governor takes a helicopter to his son's baseball game and then to Drumthwacket to entertain donors from Iowa.

I don't think that anyone should be able to have access to a helicopter when there's really no need, there's no policy need, there's no governmental need. It's all about setting priorities and his own personal agenda. I quite frankly insulted by that -- as I think the taxpayers of New Jersey should be insulted by this as well.


YELLIN: But, you know, you wonder how much of this is ginned up outrage because there is all this attention on Christie as a potential Republican presidential contender.

JOHNS: Absolutely. On the same day, on the very same day, when he went to this baseball game, he also sat down with some Republican contributors from Iowa who are trying to talk him into going. So, one Republican strategist I talked to today said, sure. This is a good Democratic strategy whether they're planning it or not -- and they probably are -- to try to mess up his hair and cause a little trouble for him because, at the end of the day, if he's a potential Republican contender, he is the kind of guy you try to create some questions about long before he even gets in the race, you know? That's politics.

YELLIN: That's politics and he does seem to be good at getting out of tough situations.

JOHNS: He certainly does. Yes. The news conference today was quite a tour de force no matter what you think of him.

YELLIN: Thanks so much, Joe. Joe Johns on Chris Christie.

Now we go from our own headlines to a woman who is making headlines of her own today, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Jill Abramson was named executive editor of "The New York Times" today. She will be the first woman in charge of the paper in its 160- year history.

First, congratulations on the job and on shattering a glass ceiling. How does it feel to be "The Gray Lady's" leading lady? And in seriousness, will having a woman in charge --


YELLIN: -- will having a woman in charge change the place?

ABRAMSON: I don't know that it will change the place. It's, you know, a piece of history that I'm proud to be part of. That's for sure.

When I became the Washington bureau chief, I was also the first woman and a woman who I had worked for much earlier in my career, who at that point was working in Hong Kong, sent me a telegram that said she could hear the glass shattering all the way to Hong Kong.


ABRAMSON: So it's, you know, a nice moment in that vein.

YELLIN: In the business of news as well. We all know these are tough economic times for newspapers.


YELLIN: And you've worked in the online edition of "The New York Times." Now that you're the boss, I wonder, can you tell us how much longer do you think there will be an actual paper edition of "The New York Times"?

ABRAMSON: I have studiously stayed away from the profession of prognostication, which I am very bad at.


ABRAMSON: But I'll answer your good question in a somewhat different way, which is, you know, there are plenty of people who still find the print edition of "The New York Times" to be indispensable to their lives.

And actually, the number of people who have gotten home delivery subscriptions for two years or more, which is the point at which we feel they're pretty much hopelessly hooked, that number has actually increased in the past year, which is encouraging.

YELLIN: Really?

ABRAMSON: There are 840,000 people who pay a lot of money for the privilege of getting the print paper every day. And, you know, I think that audience is going to survive for quite some time.

That doesn't mean that we aren't in the middle of what I see as a thrilling but very challenging transition from a print world to a mainly digital world.

YELLIN: Now, the executive editor you are replacing, Bill Keller, has been publicly very disdainful of Web sites like "The Huffington Post," and Arianna Huffington in particular, equating her business model to piracy. Do you agree that Web sites like "The Huffington Post" actually hurt journalism?

ABRAMSON: I wouldn't go that far. I think that, you know, the aggregation of pieces of journalism that, you know, other news organizations have paid dearly to like get the story, get it right, tell the story behind the story, is -- you know, poses a threat to us in some ways.

But, you know, I respect the fact that an awful lot of people like to read that way. And, in some cases, I think "The Huffington Post" has been inventive and presents what it aggregates well.

So, you know, I don't see myself -- I've known Arianna Huffington since the early '90s in Washington. She is an inventive person. I certainly don't want to be in a war with her.

YELLIN: I detect a change in tone at the top already.

Jill Abramson, we wish you well. Thanks for being with us.

ABRAMSON: Thank you so much.

YELLIN: And Sarah Palin's One Nation bus tour rolled into New Hampshire stealing somewhat the political spotlight from Mitt Romney. Coincidence or on purpose? We'll try to find out, next.


YELLIN: On the day of Mitt Romney's long planned presidential announcement in New Hampshire, Sarah Palin's One Nation bus tour rolled into the same state stealing some of the political spotlight.

Joining us to discuss this coincidence, "The Washington Post" national political correspondent Dan Balz and CNN's political reporter Peter Hamby.

But they both have to be ready to leave at a moment's notice in case the bus tries to take off without them.

Guys, thanks for joining us.

I have to mention that even getting time to talk to both of you together has been hard because Palin's bus keeps moving without any public schedule.

Dan, you've covered so many campaigns. How is covering this bus tour different from any other political campaign?

DAN BALZ, WASHINGTON POST NATL. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Peter can tell you much more about actually covering the bus tour because I just came up last night to New Hampshire. But this bus tour is totally unlike anything we've ever seen in politics. Normally when a candidate or a prospective candidate or somebody who may be thinking about it sets off to attract attention, they usually give people some advance notice of where they're going to go or they usually set up real events.

Governor Palin has done this in a totally unorthodox way and the press has been chasing her. She's gotten all the attention and more that she might want but there is no question that it is something we haven't seen before.

YELLIN: Peter, I know you've been running around like a mad man trying to chase the bus and you've got a lot of time with Palin. She told you it was a coincidence that she is in New Hampshire the same day Romney announces his candidacy. But then she didn't mind taking a 2x4 to his health care plan at Q&A with you today. Let's listen.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Health care plan, in my opinion, any mandate coming from government is not a good thing. So, obviously, and I'm not the only one to say so, but there will more of the explanation coming from former Governor Romney on his support for government mandates.


YELLIN: So was this part of a plan to attack Romney on the same day when they're going to be in the same state, do you think? Or do you really think it just happened to be a coincidence?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: She stresses that it's totally coincidental, but you have to suspect that Sarah Palin knows exactly what she's doing. A colleague of mine, Scott O'Connor (ph) reported earlier that she planned to go to Lexington and Concord, also in Massachusetts. But she skipped those stops to kind of race ahead to New Hampshire and cross the border and she hit New Hampshire right as Romney was still in the middle of his speech.

She is keenly aware of what she's doing. She enjoys being in the spotlight. And, you know, we've seen her talk at length to reporters at each of these stops freely. So, she is definitely going to --


YELLIN: What did she have to say that was critical of Romney?

HAMBY: She -- well, she criticized the health care plan specifically. She said he would have challenges because of the mandates within the health care plan with Tea Party folks, certainly that's her base. She said, I asked her again about Romney's defense of his health care plan, which is basically that states should have the right to create their own solutions, their own laws. She said, still, that's not good enough for her.

Any mandate is wrong and that he is going to have a real problem in the Republican Party with conservatives because of his health care plan. She just couldn't resist, Jessica.

YELLIN: Right.

Dan, you know, Sarah Palin went as far as predicting which part of the electorate Romney would have the biggest problem with. Listen to this.


PALIN: I think that he'll have maybe a bit more of a challenge with the independents who make up the Tea Party movement, wanting to make sure that we're not going to -- we won't have any excuses or perceived political reasons to grow government. We can't afford it.


YELLIN: I don't know how many independents identify with the Tea Party. Dan, your take on that?

BALZ: Well, the Tea Party movement is, in fact, part of the Republican Party by all evidence that we've seen. What she's really doing is setting up the possibility if she were to become a candidate of a race that would be an insurgency, a grassroots insurgency with a strong cadre of Tea Party support against the establishment front runner in the race who is Mitt Romney. That is the race that would divide the party as it has been divided over the last year or year and a half in many primary contests and there is no person better able to take on that fight at this point seemingly than former Governor Palin.

Now, we don't know again whether she is going to get in or not. But that's the race that she's beginning to set up when she talks like she did today.

YELLIN: You know, Peter, she stood and spoke with you for a good five minutes today. And while she might be cagey about her schedule, she sure is accessible to the media. Do you read this bus tour as sort of calculated chaos?

HAMBY: Yes. The "Going Rogue" analogy the other day, and I think it's appropriate. I was on the plane with her in 2008 and she felt burdened by the McCain campaign sort of shackled and toward the end she kind of broke free and started talking to us reporters because she is actually good at that. She has a common touch.

And during this last two years, she has been under contract with FOX News. She did an interview with CNN last night. She talked to media outlets, national, local, all up and down the East Coast, because she enjoys being right there in the political arena. But as Dan said, it's not clear whether or not she is going to run for president, but we do have to take her seriously as a force in the Republican Party. So, that's why we're here talking about Sarah Palin on the day Mitt Romney announced for president.

YELLIN: Generating buzz and gearing up to run for president sure look a lot alike these days. It's hard to tell them apart.

Dan, I want to ask you. I love the answer Palin gave when she was asked what she learned after visiting Paul Revere's home in Boston. Listen to this.


PALIN: He who warned, the British that they weren't going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and making sure as he's riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free and we were going to be armed.


YELLIN: That's an unusual take on Paul Revere's legacy. Your take, Dan?

BALZ: Well, Sarah Palin is unusual in all sort of respects. And, you know, we will -- we will likely get a lot of different answers from her as we ask her a lot of different questions, whether it's historical or contemporary. So, she is -- she is a scrapper. And as Peter suggests, she's a calculated scrapper.

She has a good sense of what she is doing on this tour. And, in fact, the closer that this tour got to New Hampshire, the more political it became. I mean, as she began the week, she insisted that this was not in any way a precursor to a campaign or a political tour. But coming into New Hampshire at the very moment that Governor Romney was giving his speech is clearly a political act by somebody who made the decision that she was going to get here earlier than anybody had anticipated.

So, she's all about what she thinks she wants to do to keep herself relevant in this until she does or does not decide whether to become a candidate.

YELLIN: That's interesting. Your take, Peter. So, has it shifted gears a little bit? She seemed to be more engaged in the politics of it and less just a family bus tour?

HAMBY: I think that's absolutely right. In the last day, specifically, she's gotten more political. We've also asked her about Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who is also planning to run for president. You know, she disagreed with his strategy which was to get in early. Obviously, she's trying to draw this out. Some of her advisers have told me they can -- that they believe she can wait until as late as October to get into the race.

But, again, you know, a five-minute, full frontal assault on Romney's health care plan in Romney's hometown of Boston on the day that he announces for president, it's unmistakable that this is a political, Jessica.

YELLIN: Right. Ouch!

All right. Thanks, gentlemen. Good to talk to you.

And coming up, we'll tell you where all eyes in the race for the White House will be at 8:30 tomorrow morning and why it's so important.


YELLIN: Today, Wall Street followed up yesterday's worse loss of the year with another down day. Investors are spooked because unemployment claims came in above 400,000 for the eighth straight week. Well, keep your fingers crossed, another big jobs report is due tomorrow.

CNN's Richard Quest, host of CNN International's "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" joins us now from New York to look ahead at tomorrow's report.

Richard, look, is today's jobs announcement a sign of more bad things to come tomorrow?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL: I wouldn't necessarily use the word bad, perhaps disappointing. But the effect will be the same. The number is expected to show that the U.S. economy simply isn't generating jobs, certainly not in the private sector, like the rate necessary to bring down the 9 percent or so rate of unemployment.

Now, all day, various banks and investment houses have been revising the number, the net job gain that they're expecting to see tomorrow. So, look for anywhere between 90,000 and 120,000. If it's in that sort of (INAUDIBLE), at the lower end, it will be certainly very serious, and upper end, not so serious. But by no means people thinking it's going to be a barn burner tomorrow.

YELLIN: Well, you know, the Federal Reserve had projected at some point that this -- the jobs -- the unemployment picture would be improving by now. So, what does that show us that we're off to such a sluggish recovery still?

QUEST: Well, the real problem is that the recovery hit a bad patch, a soft batch, for the second time in as many years. Now, last year's soft patch was understandable and expected and not unusual. But the fact that it's happened again 12 months later, at exactly the same point, is really giving cause for concern.

It just shows the depth of the recession, the amount of damage that was caused to the core parts and structures of the economy that is taking this long to recover. And what you're seeing time and again is each time there's a bit of momentum forward, another crisis of confidence or some more job losses or a bit of problems with credit, and the whole cycle starts again.

It's one of those situations that people are worried about. It's not a crisis, but it could certainly become one if the economy doesn't stop moving again pretty soon.

YELLIN: I'm going to ask you a question that might sound silly to you but it's something that I hear so much when I'm out covering political campaigns from voters, which is, do our high gas prices contribute to the unemployment picture? Are employers afraid to hire in an economy where gas prices are this high?

QUEST: The direct relationship between high gas prices and unemployment isn't that -- isn't that strong. What it does do is raise the cost of production. It creates a consumer confidence issue. People feel poor in their pockets. They therefore don't spend as much. They become worried about how they are going to pay their bills, whether it's heating or gasoline or any form of fuel charge. If they stop spending, that feeds into the economy.

And just as much as what you hope at this point, you hope to have a virtuous cycle or circle. Instead, you have a downward spiral. And what the regulators and the policy makers have to do is get into that cycle, break it open, and try and reverse the trend.

But at the moment, it has to be said that they are not doing terribly well. And this later soft patch that we're experiencing in the United States, it's clear evidence of that.

YELLIN: OK. Richard, on a lighter note, Mitt Romney announced his candidacy today and he had some not-so-nice things to say about President Obama's relationship with Europe. He repeatedly said that Europe is essentially a Europeanist, that he's making European decision.

Insulting to you, quickly, briefly, that Europe is becoming a dirty word?

QUEST: No, when it comes to domestic politics, the best way to win is to bash people overseas. It's a age old, tried and tested -- tried and trusted formula. When in doubt, attack the foreigners.

YELLIN: Glad you have a thick skin. Thank you, Richard Quest.

And that's all from us tonight.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.