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Debt Ceiling Debate; NFL Owners End Lockout

Aired July 21, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone.

Up first tonight no deal, but seeds of progress in the sensitive negotiations to avert a government default while also slashing trillions in deficit spending. Here's what we know tonight, the House Speaker John Boehner I'm told is telling President Obama he's still open to discussing a big deficit reduction package, somewhere in the ballpark of $3 trillion over 10 years. First though, Speaker Boehner said it's imperative that his conservative members are telling him critical the Senate vote first on the GOP's current plan. They call that Cut, Cap, and Balance, if that fails in the Senate as expected, then look for the negotiations to kick into high gear.

That Senate vote will be tomorrow. That's a day earlier than initially planned. Key elements of the Republican establishment tonight are trying to nudge hard line conservatives toward a compromise. The Chamber of Commerce, for example, sent this message today. Quote, "Defaulting on our debt is not an option. It has real, immediate, and potentially catastrophic consequences."

The ratings agency Standard and Poor's also sent a team to Capitol Hill saying to warn that not raising the debt ceiling would stain America's credit rating and drive up interest costs for everyone. Many House conservatives, though, aren't ready to give up and some of them won't budge. They say if there are any taxes in this deal at the end, any new taxes in this deal they would rather have the first default in American history.

In our new CNN/ORC poll tonight gives us a fresh sense of what you think. Thirty-four percent of Americans say any deal to raise the debt ceiling should include only spending cuts. But nearly two thirds of Americans, 64 percent, say the deal should include a mix, spending cuts and tax increases. That's what President Obama wants and here's a little more proof he at the moment has the upper hand politically.

Fifty-two percent of Americans say the president has acted responsibly in this showdown. Forty-six percent say he hasn't. Only 33 percent of Americans say Republicans are acting responsibly. Sixty-three percent say they are not. So, let's go inside the critical House debate now with two members of the freshman class that delivered the majority to Republicans and the speaker's gavel to John Boehner.

Nan Hayworth represents New York's 19th Congressional District. That's a moderate swing area just north of New York City. Tim Huelskamp is from the 1st District of Kansas. That's a more conservative area once back in the day represented by then Congressman, later Senator Bob Dole. Thanks both for being with us tonight.

I want to start with this message from the Chamber of Commerce, the message from Standard & Poor's. Congresswoman, to you first, do you believe if we got to August 2nd and there's no deal and there was a default, do you believe the warnings it would have a catastrophic impact on the American economy?

REP. NAN HAYWORTH (R), NEW YORK: John, certainly I have been well persuaded that it would have a substantial impact on interest rates, and that includes, of course, what happens on main street, not only on Wall Street. So, the resolve of this member, and I think of the majority of the conference, if not everyone in the conference, is to get this issue settled by August 2nd.

KING: So, to get it settled, Congressman Huelskamp, to get it settled by August 2nd, you can't get your way. The House passed its plan. It will fail most likely tomorrow in the Senate. Then what happens? Are you willing to sit down and authorize your speaker to sit down with the president of the United States and negotiate a deal that gets you much of what you want but not all of what you want or if there are any revenues in that plan, would you say, no way, I'm walking away?

REP. TIM HUELSKAMP (R), KANSAS: Well, John, I think it's very premature to presume to know what the U.S. Senate has done. They've not taken a vote yet on this issue. They are going to have a clear plan on the table. They've got no detailed plan. The president has no detailed plan and that's frustrating as a freshman to say, hey, we're going to negotiate with some folks that won't identify a solution. And Cut, Cap and Balance is a solution. It's balanced in terms it deals with the necessary spending cuts but it does give the president his debt ceiling increase and I think that's a reasonable balance.

KING: You say it's a reasonable balance and I certainly, sir, respect the promise you made to the voters when you ran on it, but we have a divided government right now, and the House of Representative which has passed its plan and you like that plan. I can do the math pretty well. Our Hill reporting team can do the math pretty well. They say the votes aren't there in the Senate and the president said even if it cleared the Senate he would veto that.


KING: Go ahead.

HUELSKAMP: John, the thing about Congress is you've got to let them vote. You've got to let them vote. There are 23 U.S. senators that have said over and over in their district they support a balanced budget amendment. This is part and parcel of helping pass a balanced budget amendment and those 23 senators many of them up for re-election are going to have to go home and explain to the voters why they promised one thing and delivered another. So you can do all your reporting counting but the final vote will be on the Senate floor and as a freshman I look forward to them casting their first vote on this issue after months and months of discussion.

KING: We look forward to the vote. I look forward to this debate moving forward anyway. Congresswoman, let me come back to you. The president has said and I respect what the congressman says, let's let the Senate vote. The president said even if the Senate passed it, he would veto it. Now maybe you could say if the Senate passed it, he would, but if we get to the point, if we get to the point where we need a new plan, are you willing to support a plan that has some new tax revenues in it if that's the best the speaker can get?

HAYWORTH: I think, John, if the plan is to bring revenues in through growth, that's something that a lot of Republicans can support. We can't have any net tax increases. That's anti-growth, John, and that's the key. We can do lots of great things to bring this debt under long-term control and we need to do them and we need to do them by being fair to the 14 million Americans who are desperately seeking employment and who can then contribute their fair share to the workings of the federal government. That's really what we're talking about when we talk about no net increase in taxes. Let's get working capital back into the economy.

KING: So, here's my rough understanding of what the speaker and the president have talked about. It would be about $3 trillion in long-term, over 10 years, deficit reduction. It would have substantial cuts in the Medicare program. It would have some changes to the Social Security program. It would cause for some defense cuts and some other cuts in the domestic discretionary spending. The Bush tax cuts would then expire on 2013, which is right on the books now anyway.

Congress would have to act to change that and then the speaker and the president would have a commitment for the Congress to work on tax reform which would go from six brackets hopefully to two or three brackets with lower rates, but tax revenues to Washington, then, as a result would come up. Congressman to you first -- are you OK with that?

HUELSKAMP: Well, John, we're looking for the details. And I visited with the speaker just a couple of hours ago. There is no deal. There are discussions. And it's amazing how people claim to know what's in a deal even before it's been reached and agreed to. But frankly, I agree. We need more revenue, and we do this by putting folks back to work, by letting the economy create more jobs. Instead of hammering small businesses across the country we need to encourage them.

We need lower regulation. We don't need higher taxes. That's the way we get more revenues. And most Americans are very supportive of that concept. They recognize Washington is not helping to create jobs. We have 9.2 percent of Americans out of work, 14 million Americans. We need them back to work. We passed multiple job bills through the House and they refused to consider those in the Senate and the president hasn't presented a jobs package either. That's how we have more revenue. KING: I just hit an important point, so I want to stick to it because there's an impression out there that some Republicans, they just simply don't trust the process and so they don't want any deal that could lead to more revenues. But if I'm hearing both of you right, if your plan fails in the Senate, and I understand and respect you want to see that one go forward first, but then you would be OK voting for a deal that had some things you didn't like, like the Bush tax cuts expiring as long as there was a promise that Congress would work on overall tax reform that would lower rates.

HAYWORTH: I will not favor expiring -- allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, John, if there's a net tax increase there. That sure sounds like a net tax increase and I have trouble believing that our speaker and our leader negotiating with President Obama haven't made that adamantly clear. We can certainly make the tax code flatter and fairer. There's a lot of opportunity to change the entire system of exemptions so-called loopholes without raising net taxes and activate the economy. And, John, that's the kind of tax changes we're talking about, not about a net tax increase.

KING: Let me ask you, we're going to have to wait probably several days before we see how this plays out before we have more details of what would be a plan "b," "c," "d," or "z." So let me ask you a more philosophical question. You're this new Republican class. You are the reason John Boehner is the speaker of the House.

What are the conversations among you as a group? And you represent two very different districts. So I'm wondering if you agree on this point, in the sense that this is what we promised. This is what we're here for and if we have to vote no and even if the country were to go into default and even if we were to lose our seats, is that how important it is to stand your ground here?

HUELSKAMP: Well I think what's going on here is pressure coming out of the White House, the Treasury Department picked the date of August 2nd. As far as I know we're still kind of looking at what the actual cash flow numbers are. And we certainly don't want to have a default, but if there is a default, it would be the president's choice in my opinion. This is the president that threatened to withhold Social Security checks just seven days ago and that was wrong to say that, and so we need to be honest in negotiating. We need a detailed, written plan from the president. We need a detailed, written plan from Senator Reid. We listened to your polling as we went in here. There was no discussion of U.S. Senate.

Where is their plan? What is their discussion? What are they going to pass? They never passed a budget in 811 days. They have no deficit or debt ceiling plan. We sent Cut, Cap and Balance over there. I encourage them to consider that and have a full, open, and honest debate, but tax increases on job creators, on small businesses across America that doesn't create jobs. What creates jobs if Washington could do less regulation and unleash entrepreneurs across America that would create more revenues? I do not believe we need to repeal what I call the Bush/Obama tax cuts. They were continued under this president. I think they should continue in the future so we can create more jobs. HAYWORTH: John, we are not going to let the nation go into crisis based on the actions that we take here. We are here to solve problems, not to make them worse. We are here to put 14 million Americans back to work. We are here to revive the economy. And we will assure that that will happen in the timely fashion, a deadline will be met. I have every confidence in our leaders to make that happen.

KING: Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, Congressman Tim Huelskamp, appreciate your time tonight. We're going to keep in touch as this one plays forward, a dramatic moment for the country and a big moment for the freshmen House Republican class. Thank you both for being with us tonight.

I want to get a quick impression from our political panel. First I want to tell you about a little bit of breaking news. We're told the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is coming out to speak soon. The owners are voting on a plan tonight that could end the NFL lock-out, could bring us closer to having an NFL season. Commissioner Goodell to speak in this hour. We'll bring you that as soon as we can.

Now, let's get a quick first impression as we weigh in from our political contributors, left, right and center, Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog, Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who worked for President Obama back in 2008, then Senator Obama, and John Avlon, a senior columnist at "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast."

Erick, I want to go to you first. Pretty clear there from those freshmen that they don't want tax rate increases, but it was also pretty clear that they also don't want to go off the rails here and that if they get a promise of tax reform, they seemed more open-minded than some of the freshmen have seemed in recent days and weeks about let's try to figure this out.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and what I'm hearing from members of Congress, in fact, before we got on the air, I fielded a few calls from some of them, and their concern goes to this gang of six deal that they're willing to consider some alternatives if the Cut, Cap and Balance fails in the Senate which it probably will, but they want everything to be now. They don't want to raise taxes now with promises of spending cuts in the future because they feel very strongly that when Republicans have made these deals with Democrats in the past we've never actually gotten to the spending cuts.

KING: And so when you hear this -- let me ask the guy in the middle here. You know, we've had this talk, will we have Armageddon, will we go off the rails, will the House Republicans' plan end in default? It sounds increasingly that not everybody's happy, but that's sort of how you get a deal, not everybody --

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, perfect is not on the menu and the devil is in the details. But look, when the gang of six plan got put forward yesterday (INAUDIBLE) pro-growth fiscal conservatives should be cheering, talk about lowering rates, simplifying the system, entitlement reform. So it's really a matter of folks moving towards (INAUDIBLE) that balance plan, not the bumper sticker of balance, but actual balance because everyone's got to give a little bit. And the folks who are still saying all or nothing they're the folks who are risking dragging our American economy off the cliff. Talk about American decline, that's a way to ensure it.

KING: And yet and yet, I'm going to add a question mark here. We know that Speaker Boehner wants a deal. We know the president wants a deal, but we also know that some conservatives don't like what they're hearing and a lot of liberals -- the president is meeting this hour still with Democratic congressional leaders who got wind early this morning -- there were some rumors there was a deal ready that included Medicare cuts, Social Security, and the Democrats were howling, so he may make progress with the Republicans and end up having a problem with the Democrats.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well and it's not going to be the Democrats that's the problem here, because in the end mark my words on this, in the end the speaker's going to need Democratic votes to get this thing done. And you see them backing away from this because they're getting killed in the polls. You had a poll out the other day that had a majority of Republicans don't even agree with their positioning. Their positioning is awful and it's killing them with Middle America and it's going to be Democrats who reach across with the speaker and get this done.

KING: Erick Erickson, I was reading -- you write some pretty feisty e-mails sometimes and you wrote an e-mail today telling these House Republicans don't listen to Standard & Poor's, don't listen to these people warning you don't blink, don't blink, hold the line. Define the line.

ERICKSON: I think the line is they need to force votes on Cut, Cap and Balance, and frankly we're seeing more and more conservatives say you know maybe we do need to push up to August 2nd and get some more of the Democrats. The Republicans are really frustrated. Remember they've come up with two plans now, Paul Ryan's plan and now Cut, Cap and Balance. The president has never said he'll cut -- the Senate has killed this budget 97-0 so if the Democrats aren't going to put up, then they need to treat the Republicans a little more seriously. They need to hold the line on this.

KING: I just want to let our viewers know and I grabbed a prop off the set here. You know we keep some toys on the set here. Commissioner Goodell, we may go from politics to sports. Commissioner Goodell is supposed to speak any moment now. NFL Network is reporting that the owners have voted in favor of this proposed new contract agreement. That would be a huge step toward football season, so we may take a pivot to sports in just a minute. Maybe we'll toss the ball around while we wait.

It's a question, we're making light because of the football announcement, this is a big moment in Washington of divided government where you have a lot of these new House Republicans who god bless them, you know, they're doing something -- we criticize politicians when they don't keep their promises, and they are saying this is what I campaigned on, but sometimes they say it so passionately they seem to forget there's a Senate and a presidency, that they're only one chamber of the government. It's a learning curve here.

AVLON: It is. But it's also a question of priorities. A lot of these folks were elected by saying we need to deal with the generational theft that is the deficit and the debt. That means you've got to put forward (INAUDIBLE) divided government a balanced plan and if they've got Democrats backing entitlement reform that is a big deal. We got The Simpson/Bowles Commission should have pushed forward. Now we got gang of six. We know what the solution is here, folks, but people are throwing tantrums and holding their breath --

KING: And so with that I want to jump in here because this is Again, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, let's listen to a little sports news here --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You all set, Gary?


ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: OK. Good afternoon. The clubs approved an agreement that was negotiated with the players this afternoon. In addition to approving that agreement, we also approved a supplemental revenue-sharing system for the next 10 years. With this ratification and with the ratification of the NFLPA board, we will be prepared to open the training facilities beginning on Saturday, this Saturday. We will then be prepared to start the new league year next Wednesday subject to the full membership of the players ratifying the agreement, recertifying as a unit.

Obviously you know that we're all in a time constraint. That's one of the reasons we worked to get this agreement completed tonight. We are unfortunately going to have to cancel the Hall of Fame game this year. The time is just too short, and we feel that it's important for all 32 teams to be operating with the same number of preseason games and also starting camp at the same date or near the same date. So, unfortunately, we will not be there to play the game this year, but we will be, of course, the ceremonies will go on.

Hopefully we can all work quickly, expeditiously and get this agreement done. It is time to get back to football. That is what everybody here wants to do. And we will allow our chairman, Mr. Richardson, who did an outstanding job, to say a few words. But before I do and before we take questions and hear from Mr. Richardson, let me just tell you how hard I think everybody in the NFL, how hard the players, how hard DeMaurice Smith worked. They've done an outstanding job.

I think we've crafted a long-term agreement that can be good for the game of football, be good for the players, be good for the clubs and mostly importantly, good for our game and for our fans. We really are anxious to get back to football, and hopefully today's development and the developments of the NFLPA over the next few days will ensure that. So, I'll hand it off to Mr. Richardson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Commissioner. We all know this journey began in May, 2008. It's been long. At times it's been very, very difficult, but we're happy to say and we feel very good about the fact that we are confident that the players and the teams have arrived is a good place. We think we have a fair, balanced agreement. It has been a joy for me personally during these negotiations to have close contact with the players. They have been tremendous, and we've ended up, we feel, in a very good place. Thank you.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the situation with the union and the ratification from a union standpoint? How soon do they have to ratify?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry. We, you know we form as a union to be able to go ahead and get this thing going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, those are decisions that ultimately have to be made by the union about what their process is going to be and their timeline. But as I mentioned earlier, there's an urgency to this. We want to have a full 2011 season that includes the four preseason games, and we're up against a wall. And I think that's indicated by the unfortunate cancellation of the Hall of Fame game.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have there been conversations with the Players Association before this press conference as far as backing and ratifying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I just spoke to DeMaurice probably 20 minutes ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did he say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to go take care of his business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger (INAUDIBLE) wait and see mode or do you feel (INAUDIBLE) be back to football by the (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scott, I think maybe the word is exhaustion, but we've been working very hard. The members (INAUDIBLE) up here, Jeff Pash is the lead negotiator for the owners. You know, it's been an incredible effort. And as we indicated earlier the players have worked equally as hard. I think have done a fantastic job of coming up with an agreement that's sensitive to their issues, strikes a balance between what I think are very important issues with player, health and safety and the work rules, putting together the right kind of agreement that works for our retired players. That also works for the growth of our game going forward and encouraging investment in our game. I think it's an outstanding agreement from that standpoint.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, one at a time, sir. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you shed some light on what the final issues were to be settled today, the past couple of days, how you worked to resolve those?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, you work through it like you do every other issue. You address them. You try to understand the issues, and you try to come up with a resolution. But we've essentially had the core of the agreement for well over a week, as you all know. And what we tried to do is make sure that our ownership fully understood that today. They understood all ramifications, put in a supplemental revenue-sharing system that will be I think good for all clubs and continue to have the competitive balance that the league is famous for, and make sure that we continue the great game of football.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's the (INAUDIBLE) watching the process and wondering what was going on in these last couple of days and why it took -- take so long at this point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I understand their frustration, and I hope they understand that we're working hard to get that agreement that is going to secure the game of football for the future. We have a 10-year agreement, which I think is going to be great for everyone involved, for the game, number one, our fans. And so I guess I'd say to them, we're getting close to getting football back and that's what we want. We want to get started with football.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roger, over to your left. It's just questions and clarification. Ten-year agreement, so it's through the 2020 football season?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is correct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. And also, if the players do approve, when would teams be able to start re-signing their own players, and then when would the free agency period begin?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to Jeff Pash touch on a few of those issues -- Jeff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Commissioner. Peter, the -- there's a -- I think in the press release that Greg's distributing, there's a calendar which goes through that in detail. And what we're -- what we're looking at is once the ratification has been -- a process has been completed, there would be a period where the players would come in. You do your physicals.

You'd get your rosters in order. Teams could begin signing their own players, their draftees, and the like with the contracts sort of being in a state of suspended animation until the ratification is complete, but they could begin that process. And then what you would have is an opening of the new league year perhaps next Wednesday, the 27th. And at that point free agency would begin, training camps would open. But, again, all of that is dependent on how the ratification process proceeds, which is not entirely in our control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff, over here.


KING: Listening here to live coverage. A major announcement by the NFL commissioner and the owners. The owners voting tonight to end the NFL lock-out. Now, this is subject to approval by the players union, but the owners say they have a new agreement with the players. The owners have now approved it tonight, a new contract with the players union and a 10-year supplemental revenue agreement. Under this agreement they say if the players ratify it, facilities will open as early as Saturday.

Players have not been able to train at their team facilities because of this lock-out. They would open as early as Saturday. The league year would commence beginning Wednesday. That means free agency, training camps and the like would begin as early as next week. Again, an important footnote we need to make, we don't know all of the details of this plan and we know the players need to approve it first.

But our David Mattingly is on the scene there where these negotiations have been playing out. And David, this is a huge deal for football fans. It's a huge deal for the economy of football cities around the country. We knew in the end there was a dispute about trying to adjust the rookie salaries to get more money up to the veterans. There were disputes about other issues as well. Do we know what in the end caused this deal, at least the owners' side to say we have a deal, let's go forward?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well like you said, there were numerous issues and we've been hearing about those from the players' side. We don't know specifically from the owners at the moment what were the sticking points and why it took so long for them to do this today. But they decided early on today that they were going to go ahead with a vote, and they came in here feeling confident that they could reach an agreement, even though they didn't have prior approval from the players.

Now, what we've been able to find out today, that based on the agreement, this multiple -- multi-page release that they just came out, that come Saturday they will allow players to go back into facilities, so the lock-out is over, players can go back in and start voluntarily working out on Saturday. Then the teams begin with their training camps. That will be next Wednesday.

This will, of course, contingent upon approval by the players. They have to recertify their union. They have to have their conference call tonight to go through, the player reps, with the details of this. And there's going to be a lot to digest. So at the moment, the commissioner himself -- you heard him -- just expressing the sense of urgency, wanting them to get this done and get done quickly. But we've heard from the representatives of the players all along that they're going to do this on their own timetable, so we'll see if the plans that the NFL has right now to get started next Wednesday will indeed come about -- John.

KING: CNN's David Mattingly on the scene of these negotiations. David making a key point -- we have to wait to hear from the players' side here, but the owners approving a new contract tonight, a new 10- year revenue, supplemental revenue deal with the players tonight. Under this plan Commissioner Goodell did say the annual Hall of Fame game -- that was scheduled for August 7th -- that will be canceled he said. The preseason could begin as -- on schedule on August 11th, but again that means the players need to approve this.

We'll reach out to the players union tonight, as David noted, a conference call from them. We'll try to get some reaction. But if you're a football fan or if you live in a big football city, major news tonight, major breaking news the commissioner announcing and you heard the owners explaining there, they have approved a new contract ending the NFL lock-out. We'll wait not to see if the players decide to ratify that agreement.

A quick break for us -- when we come back, Dr. Drew Pinsky joins us, back to politics. Dr. Pinsky had an extensive interview with Bristol Palin. Does she think her mom will run for president and more? That's just ahead.


KING: Tonight on our sister network HLN Dr. Drew Pinsky talks to Bristol Palin about her life including what it's like to be a teenage mom and about her mother's political ambitions.


BRISTOL PALIN, SARAH PALIN'S DAUGHTER: I think she's so smart and I think that she could debate anyone and do very well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you hope she (INAUDIBLE) win. You know what I mean (INAUDIBLE) --

B. PALIN: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- oh please, no. Don't do that.

B. PALIN: No, I think that people are going to be talking about my family and her and everyone else no matter what we're doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you like that?

B. PALIN: I mean, I don't know how to feel about it. I think that there are awesome opportunities that come with it. But then I also think there are lots of drawbacks and lots of negatives towards it. But I think whatever she does will be right for our family and right for herself.


KING: (INAUDIBLE) Dr. Drew is with us now live.

Dr. Drew, let's do a little more digging on that point there. I thought pretty candid there. There are some pluses of being in a famous political family. There are some downsides being there. Just -- what was your sense? Obviously, she has said she wants her mom to run. Do you get the sense that she knows? Her mother says the final decision is down the road a bit.

Do you get the sense that she knows?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S "DR. DREW": No, I don't get the sense that she knows. I get the sense that she really is separated from the political machinery. She is really just their daughter. And she is a teen mom and she's had to figure out a way to capitalize on this public life that she has.

And as such, she's become -- found a way to make a living from this and she's grateful for that.

But, by the same token, I think some of the acting-out behavior that she manifested that led to the pregnancy was a function of both how tightly wound the family system is and how she then acted when her mother was taken away by the governorship. She really didn't understand what she was feeling and started acting out. And that ended up in a pretty bad place.

KING: It's an interesting point. I want on get some more of the interview in a moment. But I want to follow on that. Because I tagged along for a little bit of Sarah Palin bus tour and you had Piper Palin, essentially -- I don't know if she was joking with reporters or not, saying thanks for ruining our vacation.

This is a family -- both from your conversation with Bristol and just your own experience as someone who is -- as a therapist and someone who has been around families under stress, just -- what is your sense of the toll it takes -- in Bristol in particular -- how -- what lessons she's learned from it?

PINSKY: Well, I'm not sure she learned the lesson. I had to kind of push on her a little bit on this because what I saw, this is, again, the very short period of time I spent with her, was that she is not -- her sense of herself and her emotional landscape is a little bit sort of disconnected and that's because they are so tightly wound as a family system, and they're trying to live as normal a life as possible for the kids. I mean, they really have gone to great lengths to do that.

But the reality is that the world, in fact, intrudes in and it creates all kinds of ambivalent feelings and unless she can really express those feelings, it leads to, you know, inappropriate and bad behaviors particularly in her age group. So, what I was telling her was, look, everyone has got to not be responsible for each other's feelings, but just have these feelings, Bristol, let's hear what you're feeling. I think they're somewhat in denial about the fact that the stress of being in the public light as much as they try to pretend it's not happening does affect their kids. As you heard there, the young one saying thanks for ruining my vacation.

The kids are feeling something and they're just not really allowed to speak up vividly about it, because, you know, after all, this is their mom. Their mom has chosen a certain path and they want to support that at the same time.

KING: And so, we met Bristol Palin and we learned about Levi Johnston in the middle of about as much publicity as you can get, the middle of a presidential campaign. Back then the McCain/Palin campaign tried to portray them as, yes, young, but a pretty secure and pretty solid couple. We now know that is not the case.

In your interview, she discussed what she now talks about -- I'm going to call it infamous, I don't mean to be disrespectful -- of being drunk when all this played out. Let's listen.


PALIN: To lie to my mom and to have those series of bad decisions that I made all in one night. But it was definitely life- changing.

PINSKY: But one of them was intoxicated.

PALIN: Yes, underage drinking.

PINSKY: In California, that would be a rape. Is it the same in Alaska?

PALIN: You know, I don't know the laws on it. But I'm not accusing Levi of rape or anything like that obviously --

PINSKY: Does it feel like a rape?

PALIN: It was consensual because I stayed with him for years on end after that.


KING: She seems to be having, I don't know what -- you help me with the clinical term, but the evolution and difficulty with trying to process al this herself.

PINSKY: Right. This is very typical of adolescents, right? So, she's presented with a series of facts which in California the fact is you cannot be intoxicated and render consent for a sexual act. In California, his would have been a rape.

I'm told by my legal friends that in Alaska, there are similar laws in place. So, when I sort present that to her, her way of justifying is, no, that wasn't a rape because we got engaged. So, you know, that's how adolescents kind of think, we made that OK, even though it wasn't OK, because we ended up having a relationship.

And that's why she clung to that relationship. There were all aspects that really were not working to her and, finally, she did have a mature moment and a moment of clarity and she has had enough.

KING: And she has a message and she's perhaps one of the most well known, one of the most well-known teenage mothers in America. She has a message for others like her. Let's listen.


PALIN: My life, my teenage years, were cut completely short. I was on the fast track to adulthood just in an instant because of that one decision. And Tripp is just the love of my life. He is everything to me.

But do I wish that she had a dad that was involved in his life? Absolutely. And do I wish that I had an education and a real career path? Absolutely.

PINSKY: So, you were robbed of a few things.

PALIN: Yes, definitely. I'm not out there saying don't have sex. I hate that kind of stuff. I'm just saying that birth control needs to be used effectively each and every single time. If you're going to be having sex, because teen pregnancy is the hardest thing that I have ever had to go through.


KING: You asked her as part of this interview that, you know, Bristol, you seem to have a relatively solid family life and you made some pretty bad decisions. So, what was her answer?

PINSKY: She was a bit evasive about it. And she wants to take responsibility for these things and yet she really doesn't understand what kind of led to these actions.

But I tell you what? I'm so glad you played that clip, because that was a very, very clear message. And goodness knows that people like me are trying to educate adolescents all the time about teen pregnancy and about safe sex and all these things. And one thing we all know is that you can fill their head with information and it does very little to change behavior.

But you give a relatable source, another teenager who has had a cautionary tale and that they're very astute with those sorts of messaging. So, I'm actually glad that Bristol is out there. I know there are a lot of other teen moms and Bristol has a very special opportunity because of her own mother, but the fact is I'm grateful that she's out there giving the messages because kids will hear it.

KING: Let me ask you lastly. We obviously met her in a political campaign. We've seen her in more of a celebrity setting. I guess I'll describe it as -- in a sense of somebody, is she growing in the right direction or is she somebody who in your view is still a little lost?

PINSKY: Well, it's a tough question. Again, I had a very brief bit of time with her. When I actually interviewed her about a year ago, and then she was very involved with being an autonomous individual, separate from her family, being a young mother and setting up a life for herself and her child. And this time, I found her much more back with her family, dependent on her family, and a little more disconnected from her feelings but really struggling. She really wants to be a complete adult.

And I think she may not -- you know, she's 20 years old. Let's give her a little bit of a break here and she's had some very serious interruptions in her life. I think she's moving along to a good place. I really do.

KING: Fascinating conversation. Dr. Drew Pinsky sits down with Bristol Palin. You can see it on our sister network, HLN. Dr. Drew, thanks for your time tonight.

PINSKY: Appreciate it, John.

KING: When we come back, more on this hour's breaking news. The NFL owners vote to end the lockout, but what about the players? That's next.


KING: Welcome back. Here's the news you need to know right now.

This hour's breaking story: the NFL team owners just voted unanimously to ratify a proposal to end the NFL lockout. The players still have to agree. They're holding a teleconference tonight at 8:00 Eastern to discuss recertifying their union and then allowing players to vote on that new 10-year agreement.

Another breaking news story tonight, a U.S. official telling CNN the Pentagon is set to certify that the U.S. military is now prepared to accept openly gay and lesbian service members and that doing so, the certification will say, will not harm military readiness. According to the official an announcement of the historic certification which is required to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is likely to come tomorrow.

Utility officials say the heat wave across much of the United States is stressing the nation's power grid to the max. The organization that manages the flow of bulk power in the Midwest said it's set an all-time record for demand today and declared an emergency alert.

More politics in a minute, including this -- President Obama just wrapped up a lengthy meeting with the House and Senate Democratic leaders. Their concerns: what kind of deal might he cut to get the government debt ceiling increased in exchange for spending cuts?

More on that in just a moment.


KING: Update on one of tonight's breaking political stories. The president had a lengthy meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership, their concerns about what deal he might cut to get an increase in the government's debt ceiling, but also to agree to a package of spending cuts. The negotiations to continue. If we get new details of that meeting, we'll bring them to you tonight.

But now, let's move on to other politics, including the race for the Republican nomination, those that would like to run against President Obama next time.

And let's continue our conversation. Back with us: Erick Erickson of He's in Atlanta tonight. Cornell Belcher, the Democratic pollster. And joining us, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Tim Pawlenty, we talked a little bit about him last night, on the trail today. He was being rather aggressive. He doesn't name names here, but he's essentially telling Republican voters: be careful who you pick because --


TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We learned some other things along the way since President Obama's been a candidate. You can't put somebody in the Oval Office who hasn't had executive experience leading a large enterprise and driving it to conclusion under difficult circumstances with a public component to it.

He was a college professor. He was a community organizer. He was in the United States Senate long enough to have a couple of coffee before it got cold. And now, we put him in the Oval Office and made him the leader of our nation, we wonder why it didn't work. We don't want to make that mistake again.


KING: OK. Pop quick -- to Mr. Erickson, first.

Mr. Pawlenty -- Governor Pawlenty is in Iowa saying we can't have somebody who doesn't have executive experience. Who is he talking about?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, maybe the lady from Minnesota who I think might be running for president, Michele Bachmann, someone he knows quite well actually.

KING: Mr. Erickson wins the prize tonight. That's pretty easy one.

And here's -- let me show before I bring everybody to continue the conversation. Here's one of the reasons he might be making the argument. Here's the latest ABC/"Washington Post" poll, a national poll, mind you. But we know that Michele Bachmann is leading the polls in Iowa and in this national poll, Mitt Romney Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, third -- you got to go down a ways pass Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Jon Huntsman to find Tim Pawlenty.

Gloria, it's early. He's out in Iowa. He's making the case.

Governor Pawlenty, he has plenty of time. He has plenty of time.


KING: However -- however -- when you have somebody like that in your way, from your own state, Governor Pawlenty needs Iowa. He's being more and more aggressive.

BORGER: Yes. You know, we've always been talking about the fact that Pawlenty was the tortoise here, sort of slow and steady, been the first one out there. But, suddenly, the tortoise finds himself in a race with Michele Bachmann for that number two slot. And he wants to be in that number two slot to challenge Mitt Romney.

And so, you saw him the other day take on Michele Bachmann on her migraine headaches, although he kind of backed off of that. And then you just heard him take her on on experience.

So, it's very clear the tortoise has got to knock her out of the race.

CORNELL BELCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think this is interesting because something is going on here because tortoise? He's a snail quite frankly.

But from a strategic standpoint I don't know if going after Bachmann gets you to number two, because I don't think they're pulling the same sort of voters. If anything this seems interesting to me because going after Bachmann quite frankly, to me, it helps Romney more than it helps him.

So, there's something really interesting going on.

BORGER: He wants to pull her voters, evangelical, conservatives.


ERICKSON: There's a problem with Tim Pawlenty, though, even beyond this. Right, I will say the Iowa polls matter more than the national polls for Pawlenty. There's a big problem in the Iowa polls called Rick Perry. You throw him into him into the mix, and all of a sudden, Pawlenty is not in third place, he's in fourth or fifth place.

KING: And, Rick -- you mentioned Governor Perry. So, let's bring -- I had a third issue I wanted to discuss, I'm going to let it go. We'll do it. It requires a lot of time.

But let's focus on this -- you think Governor Perry is definitely in. Most people around think he's definitely in. Governor Perry is smart here politically to stay in the mix.

The shuttle landed this morning and Governor Perry put out a statement talking about, you know, unfortunately, with the final landing of the shuttle Atlantis and no indications of plans for future missions, this administration has set a significantly different milestone by shutting down our nation's legacy of leadership in human space flight and exploration.

Now, the president of the United States would disagree with that. He would say NASA has a plan.

But in doing something like that, trying to get in to just about, you know, finding a story to get in to slap the current president of the United States, that's a pretty clear indication to me he wants to run.

ERICKSON: Yes, I think he is. It helps him in Texas. It helps nationally, except, I got to tell you, the number of conservatives who emailed me this afternoon said, what? Why is this guy talking about the space program? We should privatize it.


BELCHER: But I go to think most Americans don't want to spend billions more dollars exploring space at this time. So, I think it's an odd way to get into the story.

BORGER: But he sort of took a turn and tried to make it into a leadership issue. This is about presidential leadership. The space program was what America used to be about when America was great.

Now, Barack Obama is president, and we don't -- we're killing the space program.

BELCHER: We wouldn't have pain but for NASA.

KING: He's also still governor of Texas, and there's jobs in his state.

BELCHER: By the way, the governor of Texas who wanted to secede from the Union. Let's not forget that part.


KING: We will have time for that one on another day.

BORGER: Houston, we have a problem.

KING: Erick Erickson, Cornell Belcher, Gloria Borger, thanks very much. We'll save that for another day.

When we come back, we've been talking politics of space. When we come back, if you might have been sleeping, we're going to show you the final space shuttle coming home and talk about it. It's next.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Landing gear down and locked.


KING: Most of you likely sleeping this morning when an era came to an end. Atlantis touched down at 5:27 a.m. here in the east. It's safe return home, the final act in a space shuttle program that spans three decades. Many at NASA see a period of uncertainty now.


TONY CECCACCI, ENTRY FLIGHT LEADER: I'm sure next week when -- you know, usually when one mission gets done, we're getting ready to work the next one and go back to the office, and there's not a next one to work. That's going to hit a little hard.


KING: NASA's administrator, though, tried to accentuate the positive.


CHARLES BOLDEN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: This final shuttle flight makes the end of an era, but also the start of a remarkable new chapter in our nation's story of exploration. Children, some of them here earlier, who dream of being astronauts today won't get to fly on the space shuttle, but one day, they may walk on Mars.


KING: Your views about the space program -- well, they've changed with the times. Back in 1966, in the Cold Dar days, 51 percent of Americans said it was very important to stay ahead of the Russians, the Soviets in those days, and other countries in space -- 38 percent say that now.

So, what should happen next? Fifty-four percent of Americans say private companies should take the lead, 38 percent of you prefer the government should stay in the lead.

Let's take some highlights. Number one: that final flight of Atlantis, we'll bring this right up here to show you.

The last 30 minutes, 5,000 miles from the landing site. Five minutes, it's 25 miles from the runway. Fifteen seconds, the main and nose landing gear are deployed. Touchdown, the orbiter touches down the runway, it's traveling at 226 miles an hour.

That's what happened today.

How about what's next? Not too long ago, I spoke to one of the entrepreneurs trying to lead the next chapter of space exploration, the British businessman and explorer Richard Branson.


KING: Sir Richard Branson, thank you for your time.

You are one of the world's best-known risk-takers. In the past decade, what was your best bet?

RICHARD BRANSON, CHAIRMAN, VIRGIN GROUP: I hope our best bet will be deciding to go into creating a commercial spaceship company. And Virgin Galactic was born. And, you know, the spaceship is now finished, the mothership is now finished. The spaceport is nearly finished.

And President Obama has basically been indicating that he wants, you know, commercial spaceship companies to offer space travel to people rather than spending all that money on NASA in the future.

KING: Now, that's a combination of what you hope is a good business decision but also this sort of sci-fi romantic adventure.

BRANSON: I've always wanted to go into space. Companies run by governments don't often think about what I want to do.

So, you know, having waited a number of decades, I decided, you know, let's do it ourselves, so that myself and my family would be able to go into space, and many other people would be able to join us. And that is something that I think most people, if they can afford it, would love the chance to go into space and start to explore space.

KING: And if you're right, how far out is not only a few hours of a trip up to experience weightlessness for a few minutes, how far out is the hotel?

BRANSON: I think within the next decade, there will be a Virgin space hotel. I think within five or six years, we'll be offering not just suborbital flights, but orbital flights. I think that quite quickly we'll be able to offer people -- offer schools their own satellites, universities their own satellites at a fraction of the price that's happened in the past.

KING: I want to come back in a moment to some of the challenges here on Earth. But how important is it -- to you, it's part of a business model -- but how important for society, for cultures, for individuals, for groups of individuals to dream like that, to dream the impossible?

I think it's enormously important. I think the 400 people that have been to space, they all come back changed people. They all come back, you know, wanting to protect this beautiful world we live in. And I think we've got to aspire for -- you know, we've got to reach for the stars.

And if you're in a position to do so, you mustn't waste that position.


KING: Listening to Richard Branson there, if you believe him, the future is in commercial space options.

Here's some of the commercial space options already being paid for, taxpayer dollars going to several companies right now that are developing private ventures to get into space. And that would assure access to the International Space Station. That's one thing NASA (INAUDIBLE). So, this is the potential for future commercial space travel. Let's also say, what could be next for NASA? Well, number one, NASA still has exploration goals. Remember, go back to Mars perhaps -- a multipurpose crew vehicle for longer missions. A lot of scientific missions, some of these up there now, the Saturn orbiter, the new horizons to Pluto, the Mars science laboratory, Juno to Jupiter, a lot of these are still playing. U.S. astronauts still go to the International Space Station, 365 days a year.

And here on Earth, they're trying to develop more fuel efficient environmentally responsible aircraft. We'll keep our eye on that. I'm a big space geek. I love it.

We'll see you right back here tomorrow, though.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.