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JOHN KING, USA
New Terror Threat; President's Jobs Plan
Aired September 9, 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: Good evening, everyone. Up first tonight, urgent concerns about your safety heading into the 9/11 10th anniversary weekend, especially if you live in or near Washington, D.C. and New York City. Among the precautions tonight additional security at the memorial event President Obama and other dignitaries will attend this weekend at ground zero in New York, the Pentagon and the site of the United Flight 93 crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Evidence of heightened security is everywhere in New York. Police searching box trucks before allowing them to cross bridges into Manhattan and there also are new checkpoints and increased patrols. The homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, is tonight asking for your help, asking the public to be vigilant and to speak up if you see something. See something say something is the government's reframe tonight even as it tells people there is no reason in its view to change your schedule or routine.
Here's what we know about this disturbing intelligence. CNN is told by several sources that American spy networks intercepted communications from an al Qaeda operative in Pakistan whose information in the past has proven reliable. In this case, the operative indicated plans for terror strikes, most likely involving car or truck bombs in New York and/or Washington around the 9/11 anniversary. Our sources tell us other intelligence chatter suggests the new al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is involved in the threat, which the government describes as quote, "specific, credible, but unconfirmed."
What more does this intelligence suggest and just how credible is the threat? Just moments ago, I received an update from the New York City police commissioner, Ray Kelly, whose challenges include protecting targets ranging from Times Square to the major ground zero memorial effects (ph).
RAY KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER (via phone): That's very true. We also have the U.S. open going on. We have several other events associated with 9/11. We have a baseball game. So it's kind of a -- you know it's a New York weekend. We had the U.N. General Assembly starting next week an as a result we will have heads of state start to come in pretty soon, maybe some on Sunday. So it's, you know it's challenging but I think we'll be able to handle it.
KING: We've talked many times over the years and in New York City you're always on high alert. What is it specifically in this chatter, this intelligence that convinces you, you need to go to a significantly higher level?
KELLY: Well when the federal government tells you that it's a credible and specific threat and when we know that bin Laden has spoken about having an event close to or on 9/11, those two things come together. And I think, you know, it would be imprudent for us not to take you know all appropriate measures and I think that's what we're doing.
KING: How do you answer the person out there who says Commissioner, Mr. President, whether it's New York City, Washington, D.C., if you can't tell me specifically what you're talking about, why are you scaring me?
KELLY: There are credible threats. You know, they have to be put out for the public. You can't sit on it if in fact it looks like it's, you know there's credibility to it and it certainly does in this instance. So that's what I think is the right thing to do. We sit on it and you know something untowards happens, people will be extremely upset.
KING: The commissioner of New York City Police Ray Kelly just moments ago. Our national security contributor Fran Townsend is here with us. You're working your sources tonight. What is the most disturbing or the most interesting new thing you're hearing?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well the fact that the intercept comes from a wire that's given reliable information in the past all by itself would have made the threat credible to them. When you take that with the level of detail, the specificity of it, all that wrapped together, that's unusual. And I think those two things taken together explain the heightened state of concern that you see from government officials. You asked the question to Ray Kelly, why come out with it if it's unconfirmed. I think there are three good reasons, not just the one he gave you.
One, you need help of the American people because you don't have enough details. Two, it's a bit of a brush back pitch. You want to send a message to the bad guys we're looking for you. We're on to this. And third is the time constraint. September 11th is -- the anniversary is upon us (ph).
KING: Several times in that conversation we played only parts of it, Commissioner Kelly said specific, specific, specific. That's why he's a little more alarmed than normally. How specific?
TOWNSEND: Well it's Washington or New York. You're talking about a car bomb, three men. We know that one or two are U.S. citizens. We have not heard yet whether or not -- where they -- do we have identifiers on these people, do we know where their locations are? Presumably not or they would have done something about it and so those are the sorts of things that lead us to say there's a lot of work that they need to do to be able to either put this to bed or disrupt the plot.
KING: Stay with us. I want you to listen to this conversation I also had just a short time ago with Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. He's the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Here he is discussing exactly what he knows about the threat.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: This is somebody who in the past has been a source of reliable information. But the people being quoted are not that person. So -- but it's specific enough -- the information is specific enough that it deserves to be taken seriously. And I'm very grateful that we are.
KING: And when the information is possible, targets New York and Washington, how specific is that and how worried should somebody in the nation's capital or New York City be?
LIEBERMAN: Well that's about as specific and general as the evidence or the intelligence is, those two cities, and I would say that people should be alert. I don't think anybody should be panicked. When you -- when an administration comes to a decision about whether to let this information out that there is something that we picked up that suggests that there might be an attack being planned, they've always got to make a judgment about whether to make it public. Making it public sometimes jeopardize sources. But in this case, I think it's important because it alerts everybody to be on guard this weekend and be careful.
KING: Help us understand, because most people don't get access to the intelligence, don't see the reports, don't read classified information. What makes this different that the administration would take that extraordinary step to say not just a general warning, but to say here this is specific and credible, be vigilant?
LIEBERMAN: Well you've got a couple of things going. One is that we know from documents taken from Osama bin Laden's compound by SEAL Team Six that he was encouraging people in al Qaeda to carry out another major attack on the United States homeland right around 9-11- 11. It was actually some opposition to that in some of the documents we found from other people in al Qaeda, so that raises our guard and we were already planning to be in a very defensive mode for this coming weekend.
Then added the chatter, the noise in -- that we picked up through our intelligence sources and electronic means comes something quite specific. Some parts of it may be a little bit hard to believe. But it's specific enough that it's not just loose threats that it warrants the kind of reaction we're giving it.
KING: You said jus then some of it was hard to believe -- hard to believe because it sounds implausible or hard to believe because it sounds frightening?
LIEBERMAN: No, hard to believe we're raising questions because some parts of the evidence, which I can't reveal, were illogical, if you will. But you know this is not a field of -- when you're dealing with extremists and terrorists where everything is logical.
KING: Even before we knew about this threat, there was a conversation inevitably around the anniversary of what is different in the world of the terrorism and the terrorist threat. What has the government done right or what has the government done wrong over the last 10 years. Just this morning, the former vice president, Dick Cheney, said in the context now of having this specific threat, he thinks the administration, the Obama administration, made a huge mistake in his view getting rid of waterboarding another enhanced interrogation tactic. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: The authorities are saying you know that this is unconfirmed but we're taking it very seriously.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
CHENEY: So I think -- I do think it was a mistake for them not to stay as actively and aggressively involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: He's essentially saying, Senator that the government might know more if it were continuing to use those interrogation tactics. Do you agree?
LIEBERMAN: Well I agree in part and I disagree in part. And here's what I mean. We've got so much better intelligence. We're so much better coordinated. We've got places where the dots are being connected that we know an awful lot of what's going out -- going on out there. On the other hand, when we capture somebody and detain them who is a prisoner in the war against Islamist terrorism I think we've got to be real tough with them. People are experts in interrogation tell me that most of what works is long, persistent interrogation.
But I would not prohibit so-called waterboarding, because I think there are cases, particularly cases where you've got a detainee who you -- we have reason to believe knows about a terrorist act that may be unfolding right now. If we had somebody in our detention who we thought knew the details of a possible attack against us this weekend, I would want our government with the permission of the president to be able to subject that person to waterboarding to get that information out of them.
KING: Senator Lieberman is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Senator, thank you for your time tonight.
LIEBERMAN: Thanks, John.
KING: And Fran Townsend is still with us. Let's talk a bit about that. You mentioned this, Senator Lieberman mentioned it. Off the top somebody in Pakistan, a known al Qaeda operative, whose information in the past has proven reliable, which begs the question I guess in some ways we're grateful to have this information tonight. Why isn't that guy in custody?
TOWNSEND: Well it's not clear. You know in the way it's been reported to a number of us here at CNN whether or not that information was gleaned in person or was it a wiretap, an intercept of that person's conversation.
KING: If the person is in Pakistan, couldn't we presume that Pakistan, our alleged ally, would be able to get this person and his associates?
TOWNSEND: Well Pakistan is an ally, John, but as you know, this has not been a smooth relationship. Just this morning Secretary Clinton was interviewed by one of our colleagues on the floor of the Exchange and asked specifically about cooperation with Pakistan. And the secretary very gracefully sort of said we are cooperating with everyone to follow this up and didn't say anything about the recent arrest of Mora Toni (ph) or the counterterrorism cooperation. This is a very cool relationship. I talked to somebody very close to the Pakistani prime minister who said to me today the relationship is at the worst it's been.
KING: So this is what you've done for a living for a long time. There are people out there watching saying credible, specific, but unconfirmed. What does that mean? Should I be scared? You've looked at this stuff for years. What does your gut say about this one?
TOWNSEND: Right now I think what the American people need to do is focus on the unconfirmed. This is specific and credible is meant to alert all government and law enforcement authorities to get after this and resolve it. The unconfirmed is meant to tell the American people you don't have to worry about it yet. If we confirm it and we -- or we raise the threat level that's the cue to you to change your -- consider changing your activity. Not yet.
KING: Appreciate your insights Fran Townsend, thank you.
And still ahead here, Michele Bachmann takes issue with presidential rival Rick Perry's description of Social Security as a Ponzi scheme.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: America needs to keep its promise to senior citizens. I talk with them all the time. I love senior citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And the president's jobs plan, too big, too timid or just right? Fareed Zakaria shares his take next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: This time last night President Obama was unveiling his new jobs plan -- the price tag, about $450 billion. Look at it there. More than half of that is tax cuts plus new spending on schools, roads and bridges as well as extending unemployment benefits. To sell it the president is focusing on key 2012 battleground states, Ohio, North Carolina next week, Virginia today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You expect in a time of crisis that everybody stops the political circus and actually do something to help people, to help the economy, to restore some security and opportunity. Restore the American dream. Restore those things that made America the envy of the world. In other words, you expect action and you deserve it right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's get some perspective now from our friend Fareed Zakaria, host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" -- Fareed, the president's speech last night, he's out on the road selling it today, too timid, too bold or just right?
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN'S "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": I think it was just right in terms of what he can conceivably get from this Congress. The programs -- the projects are clearly designed to be of appeal to the House of Representatives. There's a lot of tax breaks. There's a lot of tax cuts. What he's talking about in terms of infrastructure is very targeted. I think I would have liked it to be more bold in one sense.
A lot of what the president is talking about is stuff to jump- start the economy or to keep it going, to stop us from going into a double dip. That's all great. That's short-term stuff and it's really feeding the kind of consumption economy that we have by extending unemployment benefits, cutting payroll taxes, things like that. But these are temporary measures. What we also need is a long- term investment program in the country that talks about the need to create investments that will really spur the next generational growth, investments in the smart grid (ph), in new technologies, in research and development spending.
KING: Mark me down as a bit skeptical, but maybe we'll get about discussing and debating those long-term fixes in the presidential campaign. But I think you make an important point about the politics of the moment and how much it swayed the president's approach here in his proposal. Let's listen to this little nugget of the president here which I think is quite telling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that's been supported by both Democrats and Republicans including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for, everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Here's this president who said he was going to change Washington, who said he was going to be transformational, who was so aspirational as a candidate and he starts this big speech, very early in this big speech says there's nothing here that's controversial. Shouldn't there be things that are controversial?
ZAKARIA: Well it depends on what you're trying to do. President Obama is really taking a lot of heat from many corners (ph) because he's so damn responsible, right. What he's trying to do is say I'm not going to give some kind of airy-fairy speech that touches a bunch of causes that are very near and dear to my party's heart or to liberal's hearts but won't actually happen. I'm trying to actually get stuff done that will actually move the economy on the ground. Because what I want to do is to improve the economy and by the way, improving it in 2012 would be a very useful thing for my reelection.
KING: Obviously one of the things you watch for after the president's speech is how do the House Republican leaders react and it's quite interesting after sparring with the president for months, listen here, the House majority leader, Eric Cantor sounds almost conciliatory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Let's set aside the things in the bill that we can agree on, so again it's in that spirit of working together and building consensus that I hope the president can join us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is that an agreement on some of the policy or is that a reflection that these leaders in the Congress know that the president's numbers might be down, but theirs are down even more?
ZAKARIA: Oh I think it's a reflection of the fact that they took a beating after the debt ceiling debacle. Whatever they may say, whatever they may talk about, the general public impression, which has been confirmed in poll after poll, is that the Republicans were intransigent and were willing to put the credibility of the country at line in order to gain partisan political advantage. So clearly there is a very strong going back from that.
KING: And so with the congressional leadership perhaps because of that toxic environment, there seems to be an opening at least for a dialogue about finding a consensus here. We'll watch that play out. On the presidential campaign trail something quite different. All of the Republican candidates for president say that President Obama, the Democratic incumbent, has it wrong. They call this stimulus deja vu. Listen here to Michele Bachmann making clear she doesn't like any of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BACHMANN: Not only should Congress not pass his plan I say Mr. President, stop. You're last plan hasn't worked and it's hurting the American economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I don't think that matters much now, because the president is still in this legislative session, but when does it matter, when does the opinion of the leading Republican candidates for president start to influence the decision of Republicans in the Congress?
ZAKARIA: Well, I hope it doesn't, because we saw what happened in the debt ceiling debate where even usually sensible people like Mitt Romney started taking extreme positions. Because remember, these candidates are now competing not in the general election but in what is in effect a real primary, it's even a preprimary, which means you are really appealing to the most hard core zealots within the Republican Party, because those are the only ones who are going to show up at the Iowa caucuses and in many other places like that.
So right now what everyone is trying to do is outflank each other in terms of their absolute opposition to anything Obama does. Probably that begins to change when you get into the big states where particularly you have open primaries. And in those cases you are trying to aim for the center. I've got to believe if you look at the poll numbers, people are very concerned about jobs. They're very concerned that the government is not doing enough about jobs. They have different understandings of what that means, but I would suspect that this will begin to change in six months but not before then.
KING: Well let's certainly hope for that. Fareed Zakaria, appreciate your insights as always.
KING: Still ahead, Rick Perry's rival suggests labeling Social Security a Ponzi scheme would make him a weak Republican presidential nominee. And next Hillary Clinton gives us the odds on her next presidential run.
KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now. Lots of trouble in Egypt tonight, protesters upset with the slow pace of reform, set fire to a car near a police station. Other protestors broke into the Israeli Embassy.
Earlier, the police stood by as crowds dismantled the newly built wall around the building that houses that Israeli Embassy. Public anger has been building since last month when some Egyptian security forces died during Israeli air raids on militants. President Obama tonight called the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express his concern about the embassy attack.
In other news, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the New York Stock Exchange today and was asked about the likelihood she'd challenge President Obama in next year's Democratic primaries.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
H. CLINTON: Oh, yes, it's below zero.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What do you think about what Dick Cheney said that you would have made a better president than President Obama?
H. CLINTON: You know what one of the great things about being secretary of state is I am out of politics. I am not interested in being drawn back into it by anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Up next, the congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, presidential candidate on the president's job plan.
KING: The House Republican leadership sees room for compromise with President Obama on a jobs package, but they won't get any help in that effort from GOP Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, , who says the president's new proposal would do all harm and no good.
Congresswoman Bachmann, of course, is a Tea Party favorite and a presidential candidate who joins us tonight from the campaign trail in Colorado.
Congresswoman, thanks for spending some time with us.
I want to get to the president's proposal in a minute, but I want to talk to you about the urgent threat we hear now about the potential of a threat on the 9/11 anniversary. You are a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
I want you to in as much detail as you can, share with us what you have been told about this threat? And do you view it as a credible, specific threat?
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One thing that I want to assure the American people, this is a bipartisan effort when it comes to the safety and security of the American people. I believe that the administration is doing everything that they need to do to secure the safety of the people. I'm grateful for that.
We are working together, Democrats and Republicans, and the House Intelligence Committee is a completely bipartisan committee.
KING: What makes this potential threat different? What in the chatter makes people think it is more significant, more potential to be real than the other chatter that you're briefed about all the time?
BACHMANN: Well, of course, without being able to give details, there is a level of agreement in the intelligence committee that this threat is one that rises to the level that the American public should be informed. And I think that, again, the intelligence community is acting in a way to secure the safety of the American people and it's wise and prudent to heed those concerns this weekend.
KING: Let's move on to the president's job proposal. He outlined it in his speech to the Congress last night. It's a mix.
There are some tax cuts in there. There's some new spending in there. Tax cuts to help people get jobs, spending proposals to keep teachers on payroll in states throughout the country, some infrastructure initiatives.
After the speech, Congresswoman Bachmann, candidate Bachmann she didn't like it all. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: Tonight, the president, under the veil of one of the most sacred deliberative forums, a joint session of Congress, delivered yet one more political speech where he doubled down on more of the same policies that are killing the United States economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And yet last night and again this morning, Congresswoman, your own Republican leadership, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, they say they see some things they like. They think the president has some things just right.
Listen to Leader Cantor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MAJORITY LEADER: I think that what Washington needs and what the American people need is for us to find some agreement here and there are plenty of things that we can agree on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's set the president aside for a minute. Is your Republican leadership wrong?
BACHMANN: Well, I think there are areas that we could agree if they're pro-growth policies. The problem is, the president didn't have any of them in his speech last night.
I would love to see a jobs recovery plan. I would have loved to have seen one 2 1/2 years ago. We didn't even get a plan last night, John. What we got one more political speech.
The president didn't indicate exactly how much this effort would cost. We're hearing some estimates that maybe another $450 billion that we don't have, that we'll have to borrow, that we'll have to go into debt for, when we haven't paid off the more than $1 trillion that the president spent already on these failed ideas.
I think, really, the key last night is that what we saw is the plan that the president already has given to us in the past, and it's a plan that hasn't worked.
KING: You see it's regurgitation of failed policies. One of the things the White House says that a centerpiece of this proposal, a payroll tax cut, both for employees and employers, is something that 50 House Republicans, including Michele Bachmann, proposed back in 2010.
Is this a case of simply because he's for it, you're against it? Isn't a piece of this plan something you have supported in the past?
BACHMANN: Now what we're seeing is the effect of actually putting it into place and it hasn't worked. That's the real problem. But even more than that, it's a gimmick. It's a temporary gimmick.
Why wasn't the president humble? Why didn't he say he was wrong? Why didn't he say he was sorry?
KING: Forgive me for interrupting. But is it fair to say that you say it didn't work. Is it fair to say that you think he's wrong now and do you concede that when you proposed this back in 2010, it would have been the wrong idea?
BACHMANN: Well, I mentioned with other members of Congress that we could look at this as one possible piece of a package. And yes, we haven't -- now when we're in this time of serious deficits, this is not the time to do this. And let me tell you why, because this is $11 billion that didn't go to the Social Security Trust Fund. And that's a real significant issue to senior citizens.
KING: Let's stay on Social Security. You will be part of a Republican debate Monday night here on CNN, sponsored in part by the Tea Party Express as well. You were part of the debate this week in which Texas Governor Rick Perry, the man who has eclipsed you in some way in this race, described Social Security as a Ponzi scheme, is it?
BACHMANN: Social Security is a safety net that many Americans have paid into for their entire life. They see that this is their retirement. I believe that the federal government needs to keep its promise with senior citizens, and that's why when President Obama made the decision to lower the payroll tax and take away $111 billion, that put senior citizen's payroll or Social Security checks at risk.
KING: What about Governor Perry? Do you believe a Republican nominee for president can carry the general election if they are on the record as saying Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, that they wrote in their book that they believe it's unconstitutional, that the Founding Fathers could have never seen anything like Social Security, a federal retirement program? Can a candidate with those views carry Florida, carry Pennsylvania, carry Iowa, carry Arizona, carry Minnesota?
BACHMANN: Well, of course, the voters in that state will have to weigh in and let the American people -- let the people know --
KING: What do you think, Congresswoman? What do you think?
BACHMANN: What I think is that America needs to keep its promise to senior citizens. I talk with them all the time. I love senior citizens. I care about them. My mom is 80 and my dad is 87. I know right now we're in trouble. We know that they are trouble in both of these systems. They have to be reformed but we have to keep our promises with senior citizens.
KING: Let me ask you. Back after our CNN debate in New Hampshire a couple months back, you were in the headlines, you had some campaign momentum, even some of your critics said you turn in a very strong debate performance.
Here are a couple of the headlines after the most recent Republican debate. "Perry and Romney Joust Over Direction of GOP." "Perry gets tough welcome at decade." "Perry and Romney spar in GOP debate."
In our most recent poll, you're essentially tied for fourth. Back after that CNN debate, you were in second place. You had a campaign shakeup where Ed Rollins step aside or into an advisory role, another advisor left the campaign.
Do you feel heading into Monday's debate that you have something to prove or risk stalling?
BACHMANN: Well, no. We're doing very well. We're very happy and very confident with the reception we're getting all across the country.
Don't forget -- there's only been one true vote in this race so far, it's the Iowa straw poll. I won the Iowa straw poll and it was a stunning victory, even more than people realize, because I had been in that race a shorter period of time than anyone who had ever participated in the Iowa straw poll.
I'm the first woman to have won that straw poll. We're very confident with that.
And also, don't forget, in the last election cycle, Fred Thompson jumped in late, and he was polling at 31 percent. Rudy Giuliani jumped in late, he was polling at about 35 percent.
This isn't unusual. Campaigns aren't settled just in a day. This is a marathon. And we're very pleased.
And by the way, with our campaign, our campaign is doing very well. Ed Rollins was with me in California at the Reagan Library and he is probably my chief champion and supporter. So, there's no disruption in our campaign machinery.
We're a lean, mean machine and we're moving forward with gusto and we're picking up votes and supporters all across the United States.
KING: You mention the straw poll. Let me close by asking you a question, that might be about as risky to answer as to anything about what you're going to do about Social Security and Medicare. You're going to go to the Iowa state/Iowa game this weekend. Who's your team?
BACHMANN: Well, I was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and I love being back in my state. As a matter of fact, I'll be there a little bit later tonight. A woman, John, you will love this, offered to sew a shirt for me. She's taking half of one team's shirt and half of the other and she's sewing it together. So that's what I'll be wearing tomorrow at the game.
KING: Splitting the difference. Safe politics in Iowa I would guess.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, thank you for your time.
BACHMANN: I can't wait to be there. John, thanks so much. It's great to be with you again.
KING: Thank you. We'll see you Monday in Tampa.
KING: So, when Rick Perry said that, calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme, is he right? Nuts? Or both?
KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" coming up at the top of the hour. Anderson is live at Ground Zero" tonight joins us for the preview.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER": John, it is a remarkable scene here at Ground Zero. Not only is there work still continuing on the site, there was also a choir practicing for Sunday's ceremony with the light fading. It is really a beautiful scene here.
And if you've not seen the latest on Ground Zero, it is an extraordinary sight. We're going to show you that tonight.
We also have breaking news tonight on "360," new details of the terror threat that put security on heightened alert in New York and Washington today. Traffic has been tied up all throughout New York with impromptu security checks.
Also, keeping them honest tonight, John, lessons not learned from 9/11. Why 10 years later, first responders in some cities still cannot count on fully functioning communication systems, life-saving systems if catastrophe strikes.
Plus, a whole lot more -- a look at al Qaeda, the latest, and the "Ridiculist" -- John.
KING: Critical reporting there. We'll see you at the top of the hour, Anderson, thank you.
And so, here's the question tonight: can you be right and dreadfully wrong at the same time? As in, is it fair but maybe a little crazy for Texas Governor Rick Perry to describe Social Security this way?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you're paying into a program that's going to be there. Anybody that's for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids and it's not right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ponzi scheme, monstrous lie. Here's what Governor Perry means. Take a look here.
If you look at this graphic from the Congressional Budget Office, it stretches out the funding. As of now, anybody in Social Security, there's enough to pay you full benefits. But in 2036, if nothing is changed in the program, if nothing is changed, beginning in 2036, the government will have to pay more than it has. Essentially will have no choice if no changes, there'll only be 75 percent of the money for what it owes out in benefits. So it's provocative, even alarming language, but he's does have a point -- if nothing is done to put Social Security in a firmer financial footing, people expecting a full return on their investment down the road are almost certain to be disappointed.
It isn't really the Ponzi scheme language though that makes Perry our new case study in navigating the third rail of politics. It is talk like this. In his book "Fed Up," Governor Perry wrote, "And there stands a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal, in stark contrast to the mythical notion of salvation to which it has wrongly been attached for too long, all at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government."
Can Perry sell that first to Republican primary voters and then in a general election against President Obama?
In New Orleans, CNN contributor and Democratic strategist James Carville. Here in Washington, Republican strategist Nancy Pfotenhauer.
Nancy, can you sell to Republican primary voters, you worked for John McCain last night around, the idea that, you know, the Founding Fathers never would have done this? We should not have a Social Security program. Now, in Governor Perry's defense, he doesn't say abolish it tomorrow. He doesn't say abolish it. But he says it shouldn't be there.
NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, actually, he says the way it's currently configured is it's insolvent and he's absolutely correct in that. I wouldn't have used the language that he used, but just as an economist and putting that head on, he's absolutely correct about that.
I mean, we have young people paying in and there is no way to pay. Their dollars are being used to pay current benefits. There's no way to pay their benefits in the future without a massive tax increase or a massive cut in benefit. That's roughly a Ponzi scheme. But it's not quite, because some of that is used to invest in treasury securities. But it is insolvent.
Now, what he should have done, and what I -- he hasn't asked, but if he did, I would have advised him to do is talk about how to fix it. The way he raised it, left it open to the implication that he would abolish it.
KING: But, James, he wrote in the book, and he has said in other interviews, he thinks the Founding Fathers never would have done this, that essentially this is a states issue, not a federal issue.
What's more of an issue as a candidate, whether it's in the primaries or I suspect more so in the general election, calling it a Ponzi scheme, which is alarming language in some way, or being on the record as saying that if I were there back in the day, this thing wouldn't exist.
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he also said it was unconstitutional. As I understand it, he takes an oath to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. If he thinks it's unconstitutional, then he has to veto all the funding for it if he thinks that is unconstitutional.
I mean, that's the real gist of what he was saying, that not -- you know, he may think something is wrong, but he thinks it's unconstitutional, he questions the legality of Social Security. And, you know, furthermore, in 2036 it's not -- they've had to tweak this before in 1983 when President Reagan was there. And they'll have to tweak it some now.
But the idea that some how it's going broke and all of this is ludicrous, and as you correctly pointed out and most people don't, 2036, they'll be able to pay 75 percent of the benefit if they don't do anything. Well, they've obviously have to do something between now and 2036,m everybody recognizes that.
KING: I just want to point out here at the wall, quickly, we'll continue the conversation. This is 2010, all this red is Republicans winning House districts. How did they do that? They swamped the Democrats in the senior vote. Look at that, 21 percent of the electorate, the Republicans swamp them.
One more quick look here -- 2008, in the national election, if you look at it, you know, Obama obviously won. But Senator McCain carried the senior vote.
My question, Nancy, quickly to you is that, if Perry is the nominee and the senior votes are so critical to the Republicans being competitive, in this case, the Republicans win the senior vote and he still loses the election, if the McCain number goes down, if Perry is the nominee, doesn't that guaranty Obama's re-election?
PFOTENHAUER: Well, no. If the economy stays on the track it is, if he doesn't create jobs, he's lost about over 3 million since he came in, I don't think he wins the election.
But you are correct in your assumption that Perry's comments leaves -- gives an opening, not just to his primary competitors but certainly in the general election. The difference here is, and what got lost in his rhetoric, is that he said, seniors and those who are approaching retirement age, will be held harmless.
KING: He did say that.
PFOTENHAUER: This is about changing --
KING: He did say that. But, James, in the world of politics, I suspect you have t-bone with that.
CARVILLE: I make a prediction. He doesn't believe in evolution, but I bet you his answer on Social Security evolves.
PFOTENHAUER: I actually will not disagree with James on that. I bet it does evolve.
KING: We'll watch this one play out. A big debate Monday night, right here on CNN. And we'll watch it play out.
Nancy Pfotenhauer, James Carville, we'll see you again as the campaign plays out there.
And up next, we all remember where we were at perfect September morning when the unthinkable became a horrible reality and changed everything.
KING: Live pictures tonight of New York City, Ground Zero, the site of the former World Trade Center towers as we enter the 9/11 tenth anniversary weekend.
I forget a lot and some memories blurred with time. But that crisp September morning a decade ago is something I remember clearly. I was going through security at the White House, just as the Secret Service ordered an urgent evacuation. The staffers were running out, some of them running out of their shoes. The Secret Service was worried about the changing flight path of the United Airlines flight over Pennsylvania.
The 9/11 heroism of flight 93 is the stuff of legend. I'm honored personally to be travelling to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, this weekend as part of the dedication for the memorial of the passengers aboard that plane.
One of them, the youngest of them was 20-year-old Deora Bodley, on her way back to college in California. Her mother, Debbie, not angry, but passionate now and passionately active in the Shanksville memorial effort.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DEBBY BORZA, DAUGHTER KILLED ON 9/11: Deora was a standby passenger on flight 93. Her girlfriend, Ali, dropped her off at the airport on Deora's request. Ali was starting her junior year at Farleigh Dickenson. And her class is going to start at 9:00. So Deora suggested that, you know, take me to the airport early so you could get to school on time.
KING: And she wanted to catch that earlier flight because she was trying to get back to school.
BORZA: Yes, she wanted to get back home early too. She needed to get herself ready for her junior year at Santa Clara University.
KING: And you found out how?
BORZA: Well, I received a phone call from her boyfriend's mother at 7:10 Pacific. But I didn't really want to believe her at the time. And I apologized. I wasn't calling her a liar. I didn't want to believe her.
And then Ali called me at 9:00 Pacific with big concerns that Deora was on flight 93. But it wasn't until 12:20 Pacific Time that I received my call from Sharon Dewitt (ph) from United Airlines. I was at Stella Maris, the Catholic Church across the street from where I worked.
KING: It is remarkable that you had funneled your energy into the memories and the preservation and the memorial, but not into anger and resentment and retribution. Now, it has to be difficult. You're a human being. You have to have anger.
KING: Especially in the early days, you had to have pretty purulent anger. How did you deal with it?
BORZA: Well, the anger lasted for a couple of hours. Then I was on the phone with the president of Santa Clara University, Father Locatelli (ph). And it was with his assistance that I ended upturning my anger over to God and pretty much let him take care of that side that aspect of my life. And so, I could get on with things that were far more important.
If I were to think of a way to fill the void that I have, I'd much rather fill it with making a difference in the world than being angry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: There's another important dedication this weekend, that of the memorial and museum at Ground Zero in New York. We received the special tour a couple of months back just after the death of Osama bin Laden.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BILL BARONI, PORT AUTHORITY OF N.Y. & N.J.: That is the building of the underground infrastructure. We expect about a quarter of a million people to come through this every day.
KING: Every day?
BARONI: We are building a site that is both office and commerce and retail. But, obviously, most importantly, we're also rebuilding -- we are building the memorial and museum. As you look directly ahead, that is the entrance of the museum, it's called the Museum Pavilion.
This box with the air conditioning in it was the last column.
KING: It's the last column of the original.
BARONI: On site, and you can see how number of pictures, and number of police department, 37, people that we lost.
As you descend down, there's a set of stairs and there's an escalator. But between them, which people will not walk on, are the survivor stairs. They are stairs I believe out of the north tower to Vesey Street.
KING: So the people who made it out --
BARONI: Many people came down these steps. And this is the original -- this is the original wall of the South Tower.
KING: So, you consider this Ground Zero?
BARONI: I think so. Certainly. This is -- this was what -- this is the remains of what happened. Those towers came down and those 3,000 people died, this is their resting place.
This will be the National 9/11 Memorial. That will be opened for the 10th anniversary.
KING: Can you get it done by September?
BARONI: It is a mission of the Port Authority, rebuilding this site. That will be opened for the 10th anniversary. We are working here literally around the clock seven days a week. We've got about 2,800 men and women, construction workers on the site.
This is the north pool, around all four sides of the north, and then the south as well. Those are the names of the victims. And --
KING: Inscribed on here?
BARONI: They are physically under here. They are on bronze. At each of the pools, 600,000 gallons, each of them is the largest manmade pool on the planet. They are in the exact footprint of the original Twin Towers.
KING: So, this is the north tower? BARONI: Correct.
This is One World Trade Center.
BARONI: What you're seeing is we are above the buildings around us. We are at the 55th floor. This building will have 50 more stories on top of us.
We know what we're building here and we know for whom we're building it. And we know that in six months, tens of thousands of people a day are going to come through here, through the memorial and a year later, through the museum. And we owe it to history to get this right.
KING: I'll see you during our special anniversary coverage this weekend live in Tampa Monday night for the big Republican presidential debate.
"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.