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JOHN KING, USA

Libya and Gadhafi; Syrian Demonstrations; Unhappy Democrats

Aired June 17, 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. Tonight is the sixth month marking in what we have come to call the Arab Spring and the brave images emerging from Libya and Syria tonight tell us the push for change is alive and well.

Sadly though, those same images and reports also tell us the dictators are so determined to hold power they will kill their own people. NATO airstrikes caused a string of fresh explosions in Libya's capital of Tripoli tonight. But as the uprising in his country hit the four-month mark Colonel Moammar Gadhafi struck a defiant tone. In an audio address played to a pro government crowd in Tripoli's Green Square (ph), Gadhafi vowed to defeat NATO and the Libyan rebels challenging his regime.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER: (through translator): This is the first time they are facing an armed nation of millions. They will be defeated. The alliance will be defeated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: David McKenzie live for us in Tripoli tonight -- David, a defiant message again from Colonel Gadhafi, essentially telling NATO you keep bombing and I'm still here.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: that's right, John. There's really only defiance coming from the Libyan government. I was at that rally in Green Square (ph), really the heart of Tripoli and really the symbolic heart of the Gadhafi regime. Several thousand people showed up at the rally. There were many (INAUDIBLE), many handguns, men, women and children at that rally. Very much an aggressive atmosphere towards journalists, towards international press, towards NATO, towards President Sarkozy and President Obama. There's a feeling amongst Gadhafi supporters that it's the world against them and that they aren't going anywhere four months to the day into this uprising.

KING: And so David, defiant rhetoric, those pictures there designed by the regime to say look we still have support, we're still in power. And yet at the same time Gadhafi asking for an urgent meeting at the United Nations, and an urgent and extraordinary session of the United Nations Security Council, some could read that as a sign of weakness, that he's getting a little bit nervous and he's trying to find some help.

MCKENZIE: Well, Gadhafi himself never does actually ask for anything or asks for any help. His role in this entire process has been get on the airwaves, get on the television, and tell everyone that he's in charge and everyone else can basically go away and take a hike to put it bluntly, but his prime minister and other officials are saying that more conciliatory notes at you know occasion mixed in with that more direct rhetoric.

I just finished a press conference with the prime minister here at our location. He said he's been talking to the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, that he's having a conversation with him tonight, even though we are late into the tonight here in Tripoli. He says they're asking for that extraordinary session of the Security Council, even for the General Assembly to meet. You know our U.N. correspondents tell us that they've asked for this before, but it does indicate that they are trying to open up some kind of dialogue.

They refuse to say whether they are talking with the rebels in the eastern part of the country, though the Russian envoy said that they were, so certainly they're wanting to talk with someone. But they say the precondition for any of this is NATO to stop its campaign. They say it's killing civilians. NATO, John, says that they are trying to help civilians and stop Moammar Gadhafi's regime from continuing to suppress any dissent.

KING: David McKenzie live for us in Tripoli tonight, four months now, four months now since that uprising began. David, thank you.

It is worth remembering the event that set all of this off was six months ago today. A fruit vendor in Tunisia frustrated at his government set himself of fire and that image became the regional rallying cry. Tunisia's government fell. Then Egypt, elsewhere though the spring has been more of a struggle with embattled regimes doing what they can to push back.

Libya for one we just mentioned, Syria another. Thousands again took to the streets after Friday prayers there today with images emerging of rallies in several major Syrian cities. Leave, they chanted in Keswau (ph), south of Damascus. Another chant there, the people want the fall of the regime. CNN has confirmed at least nine deaths Friday, other reports suggests at least twice that many were gunned down by Syrian forces. CNN's Arwa Damon is tracking today's protests from just across the Syrian border in Turkey.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, according to what we've heard from activists and also what we saw on videos that were posted to YouTube, again, we could not independently verify their authenticity, but it most certainly would seem as if the demonstrations once again taking place throughout the entire country.

And John, these demonstrations apparently are even taking place in areas that are under the control of the military, people literally going out and risking their lives. We have, however, heard that on a number of occasions, the Syrian security forces, according to activists, again used indiscriminate lethal force and that people were killed, mainly in the central city of (INAUDIBLE) and also in the eastern part of the country. Alongside all of this, that intense military crackdown taking place in the northwest is still ongoing, with an activist who is based right along the Syrian-Turkish border saying that he heard gunfire overnight and their spotters have been noticing and reporting back that the Syrian military appears to be inching even closer to the Turkish border and that naturally has been something (INAUDIBLE) fear amongst the thousands who are still waiting on the Syrian side to cross into Turkey.

KING: And you describe there the situation near the Turkish border. Explain why the Lebanese government decided to activate some of their own troops today.

DAMON: The flashpoint that happened today was in the northern city of Tripoli and there are two neighborhoods there that have historically clashed, one is Sunni and one is (INAUDIBLE) and it does seem as if some sort of confrontation took place. The Lebanese military was in fact dispatched and those clashes did turn deadly with at least one Lebanese (INAUDIBLE) reported to have been killed along with three civilians, but the Lebanese are most certainly watching what is happening in neighboring Syria very closely and very concerned about even more spillover -- John.

KING: Arwa Damon reporting for us from Turkey near the Syrian border -- Arwa, thank you.

The number of refugees fleeing Syria into Turkey is now close to the 10,000 Mark, those camps off limits to the media for the most part. But actress Angelina Jolie visited today in her role as the United Nations goodwill ambassador. Let's get some perspective now on the day's big events and the last six months in the region from Nicholas Burns. He is the former undersecretary of state and a former ambassador to NATO.

Nick Burns, six months ago tonight, the beginning of the Arab Spring, as I noted, if you look at Syria and you look at Libya, it's hard to use the term Arab Spring there. The regimes are cracking down forcefully. Let's start in Libya. Can one make the case now that the NATO mission is ineffectual; that Gadhafi is still there, Gadhafi is still being so defiant?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: John, I don't think so. I think that what you'll find now in Libya is a stalemate. Gadhafi has survived despite the extraordinary efforts of NATO. But you know I think Gadhafi is on the ropes. He's much weaker than he was four months ago today, three months ago today. You've seen defections of leading military officers. You've seen two leading ministers including his closest aide, the foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, they've both defected.

He has less of an ability to use the vast economic resources from the oil industry. I think it's a matter of time and therefore I think ultimately, if we're patient, the NATO mission is going to succeed. Gadhafi is going to lose power.

KING: You say it's a matter of time. I just want to remind our viewers as I bring up the map of Libya how this has all played out. Here's the start of the airstrikes just shy four months ago. Green is Gadhafi-controlled, so he controlled much of the country. Then the opposition forces are over here. Then the opposition peaked right in here.

You see they started to gain control. Here they were making their way, this way. Here's about where we are now, Nick, and you say stalemate. The opposition still controls over here in the east, a little bit in Misrata, to the west Gadhafi controlling Tripoli and some towns in here. At this point you say stalemate. Should NATO change its tactics? Should NATO, which has essentially said he has to go, do more on the ground or do they continue with the airstrikes?

BURNS: I think NATO's problem at the beginning of this, John, the beginning of a military operation was the insufficient use of force and the insufficient intensity of the use of force. You've seen NATO really change tactics. They have gone after Gadhafi. They've gone after his command and control. They've significantly weakened his military machine.

So I do think despite the fact that you have to describe it as a stalemate when Gadhafi survived, I do think he is losing influence and he's losing power. And it's only a matter of time before someone brings him down from within, or his regime collapses because of popular protest. And I think that in that sense it would be -- it would be a great, great disadvantage to the United States to leave the field right now.

There's this debate about the war powers act in the Congress. John, you and I have seen Republicans and Democrats argue both sides of that issue depending if they're in power over the last 30 years. The U.S. needs to stay the course, in my judgment, and support the NATO effort and lead it to a victory against Gadhafi.

KING: And we'll watch that one play out. Let's turn our attention to Syria. I want to close this map down and bring up Syria, these cities here, the ones that are flashing is where we had violence today. The Assad regime cracking down against its own people.

Nick Burns, I want you to judge the administration's response to this one, but first I want to listen, this is the president about a month ago. He has not spoken out much of late at all publicly about the crackdown in Syria. Here's what the president said a month ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice; he can lead that transition or get out of the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A month later, Assad has shown the world, Nick, what his choice is. What further pressure, what further screws does the administration have, if any? BURNS: Well, John, as you know there's no military option in Syria. We don't have the Arab League with us, the U.N. Security Council. It would be folly for the United States already in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya to intervene in a fourth country in the Middle East, so that's out the window, but what the U.S. can do is further increase the economic sanctions and convince other significant countries particularly other members of the Security Council to be as tough minded on sanctions as we have been.

And we've seen John that Assad right now is his own worst enemy. Everything he's tried has backfired. The picture of those tens of thousands of refugees in Turkey is a really dispiriting one. It's going to reduce his support internationally. He has shown himself to be barbaric in the way he's treated his people.

There will be ICC, internationally criminal court investigations, allegations of war crimes. I think again as in Libya, the United States and the Europeans need to stay the course and be patient. It's difficult for us to do that in this kind of political environment that we find ourselves in, in the United States. But the patience of the Obama administration I think has been impressive. And if we see that patience continue and see the sanctions continue, I think there's a fair chance that the Assad regime will also fall in Syria over time.

KING: Ambassador Nick Burns, appreciate your insights tonight.

BURNS: Thank you.

KING: Still ahead, there's a new effort to draft conservative Senator Jim DeMint into the presidential race. Will he listen? We'll ask him.

And next, the (INAUDIBLE) Conventions delivers a blunt message to a top White House aide. The left isn't happy with a lot of what it sees from President Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The annual net roots gathering of left-leaning political activists was crackling with tension today and the focus today was not the Republican agenda. It was the Obama White House and what many on the left say is a long list of broken promises from closing the Guantanamo Bay terrorist detention center and launching military action in Libya to repealing the Bush tax cuts and moving slowly to repeal "don't ask, don't tell". Top Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer, well he drew the short straw. He was the White House emissary sent to make peace or at least detente.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN PFEIFFER, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Sometimes when our friends attack us, we get frustrated. It doesn't mean it's the right thing to do to get frustrated. We -- you know we want you to push us. We absolutely do and the people who you care about most attack you, you sometimes get frustrated. Doesn't mean it's the right thing to do -- UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We understand how that feels.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The stakes here are enormous. A struggling economy guarantees a competitive 2012 presidential race and the president needs to reinvigorate his grassroots support. But listen here as liberal blogger Kaili Joy Gray, AngryMouse to her readers, suggests the president may suffer a liberal enthusiasm gap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAILI JOY GRAY, DAILYKOS BLOGGER: We're all Democrats and we understand the importance of making sure Democrats are in power. But they might not turn out in the same way that they did in 2008. You know some people are saying I'll show up on Election Day but I'm not going to knock on doors. I'm not going to make phone calls. I'm not going to donate money. So do you need us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

GRAY: And what are you going to do for us? What's in it for us in a second term?

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So how raw are these wounds and can team Obama heal them in time? Amy Goodman is the leading progressive voice and the anchor of the "Democracy Now!" program and CNN contributor Cornell Belcher is a Democratic pollster who works for the Obama campaign in 2008.

Amy to you first, there's a lot of venting in life and in politics. Are these folks just venting at the White House or is this talk, I won't call it a threat, but is this talk of you know what, we won't volunteer, we won't help at the headquarters. We won't knock on doors, and maybe some of us won't even vote. Is that real?

AMY GOODMAN, HOST, "DEMOCRACY NOW!": Well first, I just want to say it was wonderful coming to CNN tonight, John, because there is a rainbow over New York in all of the rain. As for what's happening right now with people across the country and I think it is bipartisan, a bipartisan frustration. It is where is President Obama on the issues he campaigned on?

We're talking about war, the longest war in history. We're talking about Wall Street, protecting Wall Street at the expense of taxpayers of this country. They're bailing out Wall Street and Wall Street is walking out on them. Talking about five shooting wars right now, the economy, where is President Obama?

I think he's what you said. He's on the road to 2012, about to raise a billion dollars, not going to turn his back on the very small elite that is supporting him, but what about the majority of the people in this country? KING: Answer that Cornell.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Look the -- like on the streets in politics a closed mouth doesn't get fed, so the left is doing exactly what they should be doing. They should be sort of rallying for their cause and they should be putting pressure on the White House. But I think the president is going to have a good story to tell.

When you look at us drawing down from Iraq and in a year or so I got a feeling that we're going to be drawing down from Afghanistan. When you look at Wall Street, reform, we're going to hold banks accountable. Consumer reform where you know first time consumers --

KING: What if he doesn't appoint Elizabeth Warren --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Does he have a choice there?

BELCHER: I think he does have a choice. And when you look at the consumer protection, when you look at for the first time the law of the land, you know "don't ask, don't tell" is not law of the land. I think he's got a pretty darn good story to tell to progressives come 2012 --

KING: Let's listen to one more exchange from the meeting there. The president has long been on record saying he personally opposes same-sex marriage. But there was a mix-up back in the 2008 campaign or at least that's what the campaign says when some aide filled out a brochure, saying the president was for same-sex marriage. Listen to this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the president going to evolve again and get back to supporting civil rights on gay marriage?

(APPLAUSE)

PFEIFFER: A couple of things on that. The president has -- I think the best way to actually do this would be to -- sort of -- I'll try to paraphrase an answer that the president gave.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well I've got his exact answer right here. I favor legalizing same-sex marriages and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.

PFEIFFER: If you actually go back and look at that -- that question there was actually filled out by someone else, not the president. There was a long debate about this --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So it's a fake questionnaire?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: You know, Amy, I know Dan, and Dan is trying to do the best job he can do there and as I said he drew the short straw today. But the frustration, you feel it. And again -- my question again is you know where is it going?

GOODMAN: Well I mean I think the operative words that Cornell was saying is going to -- he's going to do this, we think he's going to do this. But I mean he's had a number of years right now to fulfill his promises and these are dire years. You have Wall Street being bailed out. The banks making out more and better than they ever have before, and yet what, they hold a million mortgages?

You have the energy companies getting tax subsidies. These are the wealthiest corporations on earth. Where are the subsidies for alternative energy, which would mean millions of green jobs in this country, you know the jobs that stay here. Where is President Obama fulfilling all of the promises he made, everything from ensuring that the Internet remains open and free, to ending war?

I just want to say one thing. Hillary Clinton, only at the very end when she was running against Obama did she finally admit she made a mistake in supporting the war in Iraq. President Obama should take that as a warning.

KING: He -- Cornell, Amy has that long list there. You hear the frustration, it is real, it is real, and the president is about to try to cut a deal on this debt ceiling, which he's going to agree to even more spending cuts. He's going -- he's going to get deeper into this frustration, is he not?

BELCHER: Well here's the problem and I'm a progressive, as well. But nowhere is there a magical wand for the president. So unless they get more enthusiastic we have a filibuster proof Senate, he can't magically sort of wave a wand and make all this go away because he's still got Republicans in the Senate he's got to deal with. Given his hand, he's played a pretty good game.

KING: All right, we'll continue this conversation heading into the campaign. Amy Goodman it's good to see you again --

GOODMAN: Thanks, John.

KING: Cornell thanks for coming in tonight. And still ahead tonight here a leading conservative warns of a third party if Republicans fail a big upcoming test and up next the day's biggest headlines including another milestone for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' staff confirms she'll be in Tucson over the weekend for a brief private visit with her family.

At the close of trading today both the Dow Industrials as well as the S&P 500 finally broke out of six-week losing streaks. The market ended up on an up note in part because of a steep decline in oil prices, now at a four month low.

There was an unusual protest in Saudi Arabia today, women drove cars. It's a challenge to the country's status quo where religious edicts, rather than any specific laws, bar women from a number of activities, including driving.

Up next, a Republican who carries an important endorsement in his back pocket, who will he give it to, or could he be persuaded to run for president himself? We'll ask him, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tonight in New Orleans, the Republicans who would be president are trying to impress conservatives gathering at what they call the Republican Leadership Conference. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann took issue with President Obama's economic stewardship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know what works. It's cutting spending. It's growing the economy. It's doing what free markets do and what economic superpowers do, and Mr. President, you're no economic superpower.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Congressman Ron Paul of Texas argued presidents of both parties ignored the Constitution in starting wars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How long are we going to allow our presidents to go to war in an improper manner? I say if we have to go to war debate the issue, declare the war, and win it and get it over with.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum shared a lesson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But I learned from my 2006 election, which I lost, that losing isn't the worst thing that can happen. Not standing up for your principles and for what's right for America is the worst thing that can happen.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Also speaking to that (INAUDIBLE) gathering in New Orleans was South Carolina GOP Senator Jim DeMint a man many on the right wish would join the 2012 presidential race. Senator DeMint is with us now.

Senator, let's get straight to that. You've heard some of the grumbling. You're hearing it there in New Orleans. You've heard it from your friends in the conservative movement. They look at this field and they kind of say it could be better.

In your hometown tomorrow, Greenville, South Carolina, there will be a "Draft Jim DeMint" rally.

Will you run for president?

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: No. I have no plans to run for president. And, frankly, the more I see of the Republican field, the better I feel about it. I think it takes a while for candidates to develop and get their footing, and we may have some new folks join the race, too.

So, it's too early to say it's a weak field. I think we'll end up with a good candidate and any of them would be better than what we've got in the White House right now.

KING: Is your no a Shermanesque no? You've said in the past, you'll listen to these people out of good manners and common courtesy. Is it emphatic, pour the cement no?

DEMINT: Well, I have no plans to run for president. I'm never going to rule anything out in life, because most of what I'm doing now, I never intended to do. So -- but I don't plan to run for president and have made no arrangements to do that. So, it's getting a little late to jump in, if you haven't made plans.

So, I'm looking forward to another candidate and interviewing candidates. Hopefully, they'll take some strong stands on things like passing a balanced budget amendment. I think by the fall or later in the year, we'll know which one has the courage to be the next president.

KING: Now, you were with Governor Romney back in 2008. Is the fact that you're still shopping in this cycle a sign that you would not endorse him? That you've moved away from him?

DEMINT: I'm completely open at this point. I haven't ruled anyone out or anyone in.

KING: We had a big debate on Monday night up in New Hampshire. And someone who impressed a lot of people at that debate was Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. She's also speaking at the meeting you're at there in New Orleans, of course.

I want you to listen, Michele Bachmann, like Senator Jim DeMint, is a favorite of the Tea Party movement. She says the Tea Party movement gets the bad rap sometimes. Listen to this from the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Tea Party is really made up of disaffected Democrats, independents, people who have never been political a day in their life, people who are libertarians, Republicans. It's a wide swath of America coming together. I think that's why the left fears it so much, because they're people who simply want to take the country back. They want the country to work again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: When you look at Michele Bachmann, do you see a movement candidate, someone who represents the Tea Party but maybe has a ceiling, can only win a slice of the Republican Party? Or do you see a potential president?

DEMINT: No, she understands the Tea Party movement, because what she just said is exactly true. I've been in a lot of Tea Party rallies.

And these folks don't care anything about Republicans or Democrats. They want to save their country. They're afraid about this debt and spending and intrusion by the government.

And so, what's happening is the country is uniting around the issues that are dividing Washington.

KING: Well, what about Congressman Bachmann specifically? I ask you and when you look at her, do you see a potential president? Or do you see -- and this happens in both sides, on both parties every few cycles. Dennis Kucinich was an anti-war candidate in the Democratic Party last time. Nobody viewed him as a potential nominee.

Do you view her as a Tea Party movement candidate? Or do you view her as a potential nominee, a Republican with broad support and a potential president?

DEMINT: She's certainly a potential nominee. I don't think anyone should rule her out.

She is a very smart person, demonstrated a lot of courage. And so, I haven't ruled her out or in. But she's a great addition to the field. And I think, one way or the other, she's going to move the field in the right direction for our party, because she understands that grassroots movement that I think is going to make the difference in the next election.

KING: As you know, the Indiana governor, Mitch Daniels, decided not to run for president. He had talked about a truce on social issues, saying those fiscal issues you just mentioned were so important, Republicans should put disagreements or even put emphasis on issues like abortion and gay rights on the back burner. He decided not to run.

Also deciding not to run was the Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. He spoke to your meeting today. Listen to what he said. I want to get your sense of what you think he's trying to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: Don't get hung up on purity. In politics, purity is a loser.

(APPLAUSE)

BARBOUR: As I say, our candidate won't be perfect. But in this business, it is unity that wins elections.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I know Governor Barbour, Senator. One of the things he's worried about is that if the Tea Party activists, for example, don't get everything they want. If the social issues are not talked about a lot in the primary campaign because people are focusing on the economy, that some Republicans, some Tea Party activists will sit on their hands and stay home.

Is the governor right?

DEMINT: Well, purity -- there's no purity in politics. So, I don't think you have to worry about that.

I hope he's not talking about principle because unless we have principles, Americans are not going to trust us as Republicans. So, I think what you're going to see is that the fiscal issues are bringing people together at Tea Party rallies and grassroots rallies across the country. There are people there who feel strongly about some of the social issues. There are some who don't or more libertarian.

KING: You laid down a pretty strong marker in your speech. I want you to listen here to where you essentially warn the party if it doesn't hold firm on those fiscal issues you're talking about. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEMINT: If you want to lose those people who elected us last November, if you want to deflate that new base that believes that they have the power to change things, if you want to destroy the conservative movement in America and push a third party candidacy at all levels, then fold on this one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You're talking about the debt ceiling vote there. Define fold, Senator. What must you get?

DEMINT: There are three things. And there's a pledge that's on the Internet, there are going to be millions of grassroots folks behind it. The Web site is cutcapbalancepledge.com. And what we're demanding is that we cut spending immediately, we cap spending in the way over the long haul that takes us towards a balanced budget and we pass a balanced budget amendment that stops us from spending more than we're bringing in.

Those are the three things that need to be the demands of the Republican Party. We should not allow that debt ceiling increase unless those three things happen first.

KING: And if the balanced budget amendment vote is not part of the package, would you walk away? Would you tell people, vote for a third party? Would you even help organize a third party?

DEMINT: No, I'm not interested in a third party. But I think it's a danger if we fold on something that 70 percent of Americans think we need to do. And they believe we need to balance the budget.

Now, that's not a Republican or conservative issue, that's an American issue. More than anything, it's a common sense issue.

KING: One of the leading voices of the conservative moment in America, Senator Jim DeMint -- appreciate your time tonight, sir.

DEMINT: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

KING: And still ahead, the brave young activists who beginning six months ago today stirred what we call the "Arab Spring."

And next, Republican presidential contender Tim Pawlenty tries to recover from a stumble in our big debate this week.

And Pawlenty rival, Mitt Romney, takes aim at President Obama. But does it pass the fact check test?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Some mistakes in politics are quickly forgotten. Others become defining moments.

Former Minnesota governor and Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is this week's test case.

Last Sunday, he took sharp aim at rival Mitt Romney and the health care plan enacted when Romney was governor of Massachusetts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama said that he designed Obamacare after Romneycare, and basically made it Obamneycare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But a day later, on our Republican presidential debate Monday night, Pawlenty, much more timid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Why would you choose those words maybe in the comfort of a Sunday studio? Your rival is standing right there. If it was Obamneycare on "FOX News Sunday," why is it not Obamneycare standing here with the governor right there? PAWLENTY: President Obama is the person who I quoted in saying he looked to Massachusetts for designing his program. He's the one who said it's a blueprint and that he merged the two programs. And so, using that term Obamneycare was a reflection of the president's comments that he designed Obamacare on the Massachusetts health care plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The post debate analysis is Tim Pawlenty blinked or worse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: What was Pawlenty thinking?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He looked frozen and terrified and lousy.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: He wimped out. He backpedaled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He really made a tactical mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He came across pathetic, weak, Romney number two.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS: We either going to attack or you don't. But don't you go halfway and withdraw.

CENK UYGUR, YOUNG TURKS. We have an official term for that in politics, it's called weak sauce.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KING: On Twitter yesterday, Pawlenty conceded it was a mistake to back off. And last night, he tried to get back on offense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAWLENTY: I don't think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of Obamacare and continues to defend it. That was the question. I should have answered it directly. Instead I stayed focused on Obama.

But the question related to contrast with Governor Romney, and I should have been more clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, will this misstep be soon forgotten? Or is there lasting damage to the Pawlenty presidential campaign?

Karen Tumulty of "The Washington Post" and Jeff Zeleny of "The New York Times" with us tonight from New Orleans, and the national journalist, Ron Brownstein, is in New York.

Karen, to you first. Did he clean up last night by going on "Hannity" or there's just still a perception out there that Governor Pawlenty has some explaining to do?

KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: I don't think he's cleaned it up and here's why. The most damaging mistakes in politics are the ones that speak to the concerns that voters already have about you.

And in the case of the Republican base, the concern about Tim Pawlenty is whether he is tough enough to take the fight to Obama and to sort of see him come up with a good attack line, then do a do-over, then do a do-over of his do-over I think has only increased doubts about whether this is the guy the party wants to sort of carry them into the fight with Barack Obama in the fall of 2012.

KING: I like that. A do-over of his do-over.

Jeff, what happened? Obviously, you know, a candidate sets the tone of his campaign, but he has a staff, they made a conscious decision. They go through these meetings. They set up their talking points.

They made a conscious decision to do Obamneycare on "FOX News Sunday." They had to know that would be a question in the debate.

JEFF ZELENY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's really mystifying, John. And even more mystifying, a few hours before the debate, around noon on Monday, when Governor Pawlenty was doing a bunch of events, he stopped for a slice of pizza. He was clearly now preparing for the debate. A reporter asked him if he was going to use that word at the debate. And he was like, no, perhaps not.

And so, he signaled that he wasn't going to use it. But I think everyone who heard him say that thought surely he is going to do it.

I think he's been getting a lot of advice in recent months. He's been too hot, too cold. Some of his long-time supporters have made private concerns to him that they aren't almost recognizing who he is. He was trying to embrace this Tea Party anger for a while in the spring, and became angry than his personality probably allows.

So, perhaps he was calibrating the other way, I'm not sure.

I think how he responds to this, how he gets out of this is the real test for him here. There are going to be a lot of debates, a lot of things and a lot of appearances and forums going forward. So, I'm not sure that we're going to be talking about this, months down the road.

The bigger problem for him is fund-raising. He's in a critical two-week period here and his fundraisers, his supporters were looking for a strong guy that night. And as Karen said, he didn't show up.

KING: That is an excellent point, Ron Brownstein, about the fundraising, because I was about to make the point, you know, we could go back to the videotape and I can show you candidate Barack Obama in some early debates, not so great, candidate George W. Bush in some early debates, not so great, Bill Clinton, the list goes on and on. Candidates learn, you get in early debates so that you're better in the later debates. But on the fund-raising question and the buzz that's important right now, what's happening with Pawlenty?

RON BROWNSTEIN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Well, this is June of the odd number year, and we have to keep that in mind. It's a lot louder to us than the broader electorate out there.

But there is -- look, Tim Pawlenty has had kind of a perch in this race as the person who seems like the potential last man standing against Romney, that he would be the one who would be there, perhaps able to bridge the cultural and economic divides in the party. But he has to prove that in practice.

And I think what really hurts him in this debate is it kind of suggests -- it raises the doubt about whether he can fill the role others can cast him in. And perhaps that's one of the reason why you have people like Rick Perry, you know, looking at this more seriously.

The other thing, though, to keep in mind, though, is that Tim Pawlenty's misstep here in terms of on/off/on, the do-over of the do- over as Karen said, does not eliminate the potential vulnerability for Romney on this issue. This is still going to be a big challenge for him in a Republican primary electorate, particularly in the more conservative states.

KING: Right. It's an interesting week for the Republican Party.

I just want to show you guys some numbers we got today from a polling firm up in New Hampshire. We wanted to know who was paying attention. This is in the state of New Hampshire.

Likely New Hampshire primary voters, 54 percent of them said they watched the debate, 46 percent said no -- I'm going to guess most of them are watching the hockey game. But that's not bad -- 54 percent said they were watching the debate and who won?

This is again a poll of likely New Hampshire primary voters, Republican primary voters -- 39 percent said Governor Romney won, 28 percent Congresswoman Bachmann, 8 percent Ron Paul and down you go from there, 6 percent for Gingrich, 4 percent for Cain, 2 percent for Pawlenty, 2 percent Santorum.

The interest level quite high. Ron Brownstein, you write an interesting column this week saying that these guys agreed on a lot. They agreed on a lot at the debate. So, you didn't get an ideological fisher. But you think they're moving so far right in this primary campaign that you have a sharp contrast in the general no matter who wins.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. And, by the way, that's the second problem for Pawlenty at the debate. He ultimately to emerge in this race has to consolidate the portions of the party that are going to be most dubious of Romney, particularly evangelical Christians and the more vanguard Tea Party activists. And you saw at the debate, in the doubly whammy, not only did he perform badly, but Michele Bachmann performed well and raised the threat of splintering that vote or fragmenting and taking a lot of it herself.

But, yes, I mean, I think, in one way, the biggest point of this debate was missed, was the extent to which the party all of these candidates have converged around an agenda on rolling back the size, scope and reach of government that goes well beyond what Republicans have proposed in recent races.

That means you're going to see less of an ideological contrast.

Forward looking in the primary, the debate in the primary will be about who really has the authenticity and the electability to deliver the message the party has settled on. But it does kind of widen the distance between the eventual nominee and President Obama, which is probably something that he prefers, because right now, a referendum on performance might be tougher for him than a choice election, looking forward on two divergent paths for the country.

KING: All right. We lost our signal with New Orleans. If we get it back, we will.

But, Ron, stay with me.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

KING: Help me understand what's fair and what's not here.

I want to play a bit of a video. This is from Governor Romney trying to take advantage of something the president said about the recent unemployment data. First, let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm an American.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm an American.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm an American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm an American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm an American.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm an American.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not a bump in the road.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, that's video for Mitt Romney. Now, I want you to listen to what the president said. Governor Romney has used this term, "bump in the road." It sounds like those voters, what he's trying to say is those voters, unemployed Americans are the bumps in the road, the president was talking.

Now, let's listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are still some headwinds that are coming at us. Lately, it's been high gas prices that have caused a lot of hardship for a lot of working families. Then you have the economic disruptions following the tragedy in Japan. You've got the instability in the Middle East, which makes folks uncertain. There's always going to be bumps on the road to recover.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So fair or not, let's start with Ron and we go to Jeff -- and we got those guys back.

BROWNSTEIN: Here they are.

KING: Fair or not, the president was saying circumstances, the Middle East, Japan, not people.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I think, look, it's a stretch of his words. But it probably -- the president opens himself up to that.

KING: That's the way it goes in politics.

You guys down in New Orleans, each of you take about 10 or 15 seconds. Is all this talk about how unhappy people are with the field, are you feeling it there at that meeting?

TUMULTY: Well, what we're feeling at this meeting is a lot of very fired up Republicans who are very anxious. They are pivoting to who of these candidates that we have is most likely to beat the president.

KING: Jeff?

ZELENY: I think Karen is right. And they are eager to hear Governor Rick Perry tomorrow. He's speaking from Texas, of course. I think that h probably the last person, you know, that might jump in. Of course, with respect to Sarah Palin who knows what she's going to do.

But people here think that president Obama has done such a poor job that anyone can beat him.

KING: Karen Tumulty, Jeff Zeleny, Ron Brownstein, appreciate your help. Appreciate you dealing through that technical issue there. We'll see you soon.

For six months now, we have been witnessing historic political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa. Much of it encouraged and organized by young, tech savvy activists. A special look at their work, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's been exactly six months since a single event set in motion what we call the "Arab Spring." One man's event captured on video and then spread on the Internet and generated the wave of protests and change still sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East. This weekend, in a CNN Presents special called "I-Revolution," our correspondents introduce us to the people who made this revolution possible starting what happened that fateful December day in Tunisia.

Listen here to CNN's Amber Lyon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMBER LYON, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATION UNIT (voice-over): To protest government corruption, a 26 year old fruit vendor set himself on fire in a rural town. The images of his burned body were posted online and instantaneously available worldwide through the Internet.

And the offline battle began.

Lena bin Maheni (ph), a 27-year-old teaching assistant was one of the foot soldiers who would spread the flames. Armed with only a computer and her camera she drove to the center of the protests in rural Tunisia.

(on camera): What inspired you to get in the car and drive to (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fact that the traditional media wasn't doing their job. They were either hiding reality or telling lies.

LYON (voice-over): The reality was shocking. Lena said she learned that the government was opening fire on the protesters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I went to the first house, I started crying and my hands starting shaking -- especially when I saw the corpse of a young man of 20 or so, his family, his mom who was crying.

LYON (voice-over): Within days, thousands of blogs, tweets and retweets turned into hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. But the mainstream media never picked up on the story.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Amber Lyon of CNN Special Investigation Unit joins us now from Rome.

Amber, I want to start with the bravery. I think sometimes, especially in the United States people forget when the young blogger there criticizes the traditional media -- in this country, that means us. But in most of those countries it means state-controlled and state-run media and to defy the state is to risk death.

LYON: Exactly. And it's also to risk detainment, to risk having family members detained and to risk your own safety and you saw in that story, Lena bin Maheni, she's 27 years old. She's an incredibly brave woman who went just to take pictures of these bodies and post them on Facebook. Here in the West, we do that all the time. Post pictures all the time and don't have to worry about our safety. In her case, because she did that, she was being followed by secret police and her security was constantly being threatened -- John.

KING: That was Tunisia. You also went to Egypt and Bahrain.

What is similar -- what are the common threads when you meet these young activists who have been part of what's a dramatic revolution?

LYON: Well, they all want democracy. That's what it is -- regardless of whether the government-run media is painting them to be terrorists or troublemakers. Really, at the root of the cause here is the desire for freedom, for human rights, and for democracy.

And for the first time, all of these activists are able to get out their side of the story through Twitter, Facebook, and all types of social media. And to them that's very empowering and giving them an outlet to push for change.

KING: And what is the sense of as this is expanded we've watched and we see in Syria, we watched in Egypt, governments try from time to time to turn off the Internet, limit access to the Internet, how creative and clever are these young activists in getting around the government blockade blockades?

LYON: Well, for them, it's a constant game of cat and mouse. You know, the government's cyber police tried to get their identities online. Then you have the activists and we've seen these activists in all of the countries we visited working together to teach each other how to avoid government censorship. They use various tools to keep the government from being able to logon and steal their pass codes, figure out who they are.

And they are really uniting in all of these countries to train each other on how to continue to push this battle forward online, avoiding any type of censorship from the government. We get into that in detail, kind of, in our documentary, it's kind of a how to start an online revolution 101.

KING: And the Obama administration was behind the change advocates in Tunisia, behind the change advocates in Egypt, but has been much more muted when it comes to Bahrain, a country in which the United States, of course, has an alliance, has a key military base. Do the young people there see a double standard?

LYON: They do see a double standard. And I've become active in following Bahrain tweets from these activists. And they just don't get it. They say why is the U.S. calling for the ouster of Mubarak and saying that they support democracy, yet when you look at the human rights abuses going on in Bahrain, they are definitely less vocal.

And that has a lot of these protesters just kind of deflates their excitement and really has them not feeling too positively towards the U.S. government right now, John. KING: Have great weekend. We'll see you Monday.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.