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Republican Presidential Debate in Tampa; Jindal Endorses Perry

Aired September 12, 2011 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": We've got a big debate in one hour.

JOHN KING, HOST: My friend a big debate in one hour, as you noted, the first CNN/Tea Party Republican Presidential Debate right here live from the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. My friend, Wolf Blitzer, is going to head inside. A quick handshake, good luck, my friend, as you would say, be strong.

BLITZER: I'll be strong --

KING: Enjoy yourself.

BLITZER: Thank you.

KING: And it's a very important night, a consequential night for the country as Wolf goes into moderate this debate. Let's show you again that live picture inside the hall, eight Republican candidates for president engaging in this debate. We are in September 2011, but in recent days, a crackling debate about the 2012 presidential campaign. Not only, and you'll hear it all night long tonight from these candidates, taking aim at President Obama and his agenda, but we have playing out a fierce and an increasingly intense battle for the leadership, the heart and soul, the policy agenda and the philosophical approach of the Republican Party.

Watch these eight candidates tonight. We know the Texas Governor Rick Perry has emerged quickly as the front-runner. The Massachusetts governor, the former governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, his lead challenger, number two. And then there's a break between the other candidates. If there is one other candidate who perhaps has the most to prove tonight, it is the Minnesota congresswoman, Michele Bachmann. The Tea Party favorite herself, someone who rose in the polls after a CNN debate back in June, but she has struggled as of late, as she has stumbled in the polls mostly in part because of the entrance of Governor Perry.

A 90-minute debate, Wolf Blitzer will moderate it inside. Social Security we know is a big issue, taxes is a big issue. It will be increasingly interesting to see if more national security issues come up, especially given the day we have this debate. Just after the country paused to remember and reflect 10 years on the September 11th, 2001, attacks. Let's set the stage and the stakes tonight with two people who are following this race closely and perhaps have a little different perspective about what the Republican Party needs in its leadership at this urgent moment for the party and for the country.

Our CNN political contributor and Republican consultant Alex Castellanos is with us, also Billie Tucker of the Tea Party Alliance of Florida and Billie, let me start with you first since this is a Tea Party debate, the Tea Party of course shot like a rocket on to the scene in 2010, hugely helpful, if not usually responsible for the Republicans taking back the Congress. When you look at these eight candidates tonight, and you're looking for a leader, for the Republican Party an embrace of the Tea Party movement, what is your defining question?

BILLIE TUCKER, TEA PARTY ALLIANCE OF FLORIDA: The defining question is how are they going to lead? We want to know how they're going to govern and we want to know if they are going to be strong leaders. We need a courageous leader right now.

KING: A courageous leader right now. And you say that in the context of debating President Obama or do you say that in the context of your disappointments with the last Republican president, especially at the end, George W. Bush?

TUCKER: We say that just really basically on the fact that we need a courageous leader because we have serious problems in our country. The Tea Party is looking for courageous leaders to do the right things. That means in the White House and Congress and in the Senate. So it's really important that leadership shows up tonight.

KING: Alex Castellanos, I want to set the stage for our viewers, just looking at our latest poll, a CNN/ORC poll and as we go through these poll numbers, first, let me pause for a minute. That's the former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman and his wife. He is arriving here. Governor huntsman had a hard time breaking through. He says civility and a polite tone should be important in this campaign.

He was just months ago of course President Obama's ambassador to China. He has had a hard time breaking through so far in the Republican race, but as you watch him enter his trailer with an hour to prepare for this debate here, one of the key issues he will stress tonight, we are told, is when he was the governor of Utah, it was creating jobs. We also are told Governor Huntsman will join the fight tonight in contrasting Governor Perry's view on Social Security with others' views and on that point let me get back to where we stand, Alex.

Right now Republicans' choice for a nominee, this is without Sarah Palin in the race, Perry, the governor of Texas, 32 percent, Governor Romney, 21, Ron Paul, 13 percent, Michele Bachmann down to seven, the former speaker Newt Gingrich at seven, businessman Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman, and Rick Santorum further down in the race. The crackling debate in recent days has been about Social Security. And Governor Perry is trying to clarify is the term I will use, the polite term I will use.

He wrote an op-ed in "USA Today" where he used the term "Ponzi scheme" in a debate last week about the finances of Social Security. He wrote today, "For too long politicians have been afraid to speak honestly about Social Security. We must have the guts to talk about its financial condition if we are to fix Social Security and make it financially viable for generations to come." How important is it that he get this right? Recalibrate the wording and the message to audiences? Number one, the Republican primary electorate, number two, if he's the nominee, he's got to sell it in the general.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, John, it's important enough that he wrote an editorial in "USA Today". It's big time. You don't -- you launch your campaign, you don't want the missile to hit grandma's house. And that's a little bit what Perry did. It clouded his coming out party. It hasn't hurt him. I mean he's shot to 30 percent in the polls. He's going to do what every Republican on that stage does. Assume the position that, yes, Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, but I'm the only guy you can trust to tell the truth about it and therefore, the only guy you can trust to fix it.

KING: But --

CASTELLANOS: So he'll say that tonight.

KING: But here's the question. He says in "USA Today," and we expect him to say it passionately tonight, we need to fix it, as he said here, make it financially viable for generations to come. That's what he says now. If you read his book, these are his words, if you read his book "Fed Up," he's talking about Social Security and he says about it, "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, at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government."

He is on the record in his own book of saying the founding fathers never would have done this. Social Security, perhaps, is unconstitutional. You're nodding your head. We were at a lunch today with 100 or so Tea Party members in the room. They agree with that.

TUCKER: That's right.

KING: So here's the challenge. If he says that, if he says that, you want him to say that, don't you?

TUCKER: We do want him to say that.

KING: You want him to say that?

TUCKER: That's courageous, isn't it? Let's --


KING: If he wins the state of Florida in a general election, if he said, if he said, if I were there, I wouldn't have voted for it, that's different from saying, I think it should be abolished.

TUCKER: It needs to be reformed. It's here now. It's just like everything else that happens when government gets involved in policies they shouldn't be involved in, like Obamacare. This is the same thing. We're all talking about Obamacare, Obamacare. Twenty years from now we're going to say, why did we do that? This is a mess. It's broken.


TUCKER: This is the exact same thing.

KING: You're a guy who cuts ads. You're a guy who cuts ads. If Governor Perry is the nominee of the Republican Party, and one of the reasons people in our poll, Republican voters have elevated him is they believe he is the most electable candidate. They believe he is the strongest candidate to go up against President Obama. As a consultant, if you were cutting for the Democrats, cutting ads, not Republicans, does that quote, does that quote, is that potentially a disqualifying, good-bye, Florida, good-bye, Pennsylvania, good-bye, Iowa, good-bye, Arizona, good-bye states with significant senior populations?

CASTELLANOS: If Rick Perry is the nominee, you can count on seeing that quote in an ad. And the other night in a debate when he came out of the box, Rick Perry implied that if he could go back 70 years and undo it, he would. Those are the issues he's going to have to deal with. And what it does is it takes a spotlight off of the big advantage Republicans have running against Barack Obama, which is the economy and jobs and fixing Washington. Obama's made Washington bigger, their economy work. He hasn't made yours work. And we need to be talking about that as Republicans, not Social Security.

TUCKER: Right. Right.

KING: I think a candidate, obviously, Perry and Romney are the top tier at the moment. A candidate with a lot at stake tonight is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who came out of the CNN debate in New Hampshire in June with a lot of momentum. She has struggled of late. Look at this just over the months. Back in May, she was at nine percent support among registered Republicans. And in August nine percent, stable, August, a little bit later, 12 percent. She was shooting up right there.

Now she's back down to seven percent. Billie to you first, she is a favorite of a lot of Tea Party people. Her numbers are going down. Why? Is it -- has she made mistakes in the debate or as she debates more, people are saying maybe she's not a president.

TUCKER: No, she hasn't made mistakes. She's been who Michele Bachmann is. I think it's just because we have new people in the race and it's changing the dynamics a little bit. But Michele's been Michelle been Michelle, so you know she hasn't changed at all. We'll see what happens. I don't think that they're all here.

CASTELLANOS: Rick Perry occupies the same space with Tea Party voters and other Republicans that Michele Bachmann does, but he's a successful governor in a large state with more stature and credibility. And so he's just taken the wind out of her sails. She's not going to knock Rick Perry out tonight. All these candidates are going to nip at his heels. But it's going to take a month or two to vet Rick Perry. These candidates have to not look (INAUDIBLE) short- term tonight. They have to present a candidate tonight who could be president of the United States. They need to show somebody that they could sit in that big chair in the Oval Office and actually lead the free world. So they've got to be careful about getting too small tonight.

KING: Is this the field, these eight candidates tonight, we're going to talk a lot more in the hour ahead about the policy clashes and the like. Is this the field? These eight candidates at this luncheon today when I was asking the Tea Party voters what they think about the field I heard a few "run Sarah runs" in the back of the room. Do you think where you have the field right now and we're picking from these eight or are we going to get somebody else, possibly Governor Palin?

TUCKER: I think the field's here, you know. I would be surprised if Sarah did win -- I mean did run. But there are still a lot of Tea Party people out there that think she will so --

CASTELLANOS: I can't imagine that the field's going to change. I think Sarah Palin loves her country, wants to defeat this president. I think she understands, like a lot of Republicans do, she may not be the best candidate to do it. But we've seen the world turn on a dime in a day, so who knows?

KING: Alex and Billie, appreciate your insights --

TUCKER: Thank you.

KING: As we wait the Tea Party/CNN Republican Presidential Debate now less than an hour away. In the hour ahead here though, beforehand we'll have an exclusive conversation with the vice president, Joe Biden, just moments from now his thoughts about the Republican race and the Republican field.

And up next another exclusive conversation with that man, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Just today he announced his endorsement of this race. What impact will that have? Where does Governor Jindal see the Republican Party going? That's next.


KING: We're live tonight at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa; we're about 40 minutes away, 45 minutes away from a CNN/Tea Party Republican Presidential Debate. Eight candidates will be on that stage, you see it live right there, making their case, that they are the best choice to lead the Republican Party in the 2012 campaign against Democratic President Barack Obama.

One governor we thought might be a candidate, then he decided, no, he would stay in his state is the Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal. He is with us tonight just hours after delivering an important endorsement of this race. You Governor, welcome, decided Rick Perry, your neighboring governor, you believe among those eight Republicans we're going to see tonight, he's the best nominee and the best president, why?

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: That's exactly right. Thank you for having me. You look at the record of what he's done in Texas. This election, I believe, is about the jobs, about the economy. We've got a president, we've got President Obama who believes we're going to tax, borrow, spend our way into prosperity. Rick Perry understands, he has held that line on taxes, he has cut regulations.

Texas in the last few years has been responsible for over 40 percent, almost half of the new jobs created in America. You've seen under Governor Perry's leadership, they've cut spending first governor in decades to actually cut general revenue spending in Texas. He understands we can't borrow away -- he understands the seriousness of the $14 trillion debt.

One fundamental lesson that apparently President Obama hasn't learned is that government doesn't create jobs. When government spends money, it costs taxpayers money. Governor Rick Perry understands that when the private sector creates jobs, that's good for the American taxpayers.

KING: You served in the Congress before you became governor. You understand Social Security often considered the third rail of American politics. You've watched the debate play out in recent days. You just heard the conversation we had in the last segment about this. Is Governor Perry vulnerable, especially to a general election audience for having the view that in his Social Security is essentially unconstitutional? It shouldn't be there.

JINDAL: Look, it will be demagogue. He will be attacked, but let's be clear. Look at Social Security today. Certainly, when you look at it last year, for the first time since the early 1980's, they paid more than they took out. By the time I reach retirement age, the trust fund will be gone. There was a survey in the '90s that showed young people are more likely to believe in UFOs than that Social Security would be there for them.

What Rick Perry has had the courage to say is let's protect it for those that are retiring or about to retire, but then let's fix it for the younger generations. You know what, anytime anybody has the courage to say this, whether it's Rick Perry or Paul Ryan they're going to get attacked. The safe thing for him to do would have been to duck and avoid it. He hasn't done that.

He has shown real leadership. That is one of the reasons I think he's not just promised hope, but deliver real jobs for Americans. That's why I think he is the best candidate to be president. Voters want candidates that are going to be honest with them, leaders that are going to tell them the truth, not just tell us what we want to hear. I applaud him for having the courage to lead and be honest, look the American people in the eye and say if we don't make serious changes, Social Security will not be there for our children and grandchildren unless we take action today.

KING: He has skyrocketed, as you know, to the top of the Republican field. This is his second debate, so we'll see if they last. You've been in politics a long time. You know you can get an early lead in a race and watch it go away. The woman who was making a lot of strides in the race who has stole some in part because of Governor Perry's entrance is the Minnesota congresswoman, Michele Bachmann. I was asking her last week if she was worried, if she thought she was going to sputter now that Governor Perry had taken a lot of her momentum. I want you to listen to this interesting analogy from the congresswoman.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Don't forget in the last election cycle, Fred Thompson jumped in late in the race. He was polling at about 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.


KING: That's a fair historical point, if you look at the -- go back and look here -- September 2007, Rudy Giuliani leading the Republican field with 28 percent, Fred Thompson, 27 percent. John McCain, the ultimate nominee, in third place at that moment in time. Might she have a point? Might your governor, Governor Perry be a flash in the pan?

JINDAL: Well two things, if you go back, you remember at the time everybody thought Senator Clinton was the odds-on favorite to be the nominee. The reason I'm endorsing Rick has nothing to do with polls. It's the fact that he's been governor for nearly 11 years of Texas. During that time, they've displaced New York as the second largest economy in the country.

During that time you've seen per capita income has increased from last year to this year. At a time that the president's offering is talk and promises, Rick Perry is creating jobs. And so for me it's not about polls. You know Governor Perry is not the kind of guy that sticks his finger out in the wind and sees which ways the polls are going. It is really is about executive experience and leadership.

We elected a president, President Obama who gives great speeches, had never run anything before in his life until he was elected president of the United States and clearly has been overwhelmed by these economic challenges. In Rick Perry, you've got a man with executive experience, been governor of a very large state with a very complex economy, has done a great job fighting efforts to raise taxes, cut the regulations (ph), creating jobs. I think he's got lasting power not because of the polls, not because of the temporary attention, but rather because of his track record, because of his executive experience, that's what the American people are looking for.

KING: Let's step back a bit. As a governor, as someone who has served in Congress in Washington, want your perspective on where we are, the politics of the moment, divided government, a Democratic president, Republican House of Representatives, this campaign starting to gin up and get some momentum. You were here in this very town back in August. The Republican National Committee summer meeting, and you were making a point, essentially trying to, shall I say, have some in your party grow some backbone I guess is the way I would put this. Listen to your view on whether people should stand their ground or compromise.


JINDAL: One of the things I have found in government and it's just the opposite -- I know this will shock you, but this is the opposite of what the news media wants you to believe, but it is this. It pays to be stubborn. Nothing, if you want to be popular with the editorial boards, nothing will make you as popular with the intelligence in America as compromise. We are told over and over that's what adults do. I have found that in government it pays to be stubborn; it pays to stick to your guns.


KING: Pays to stick to your guns, you say. So should the House now, the Republican House, stick to its guns and say no when President Obama wants new infrastructure spending, for example, as part of this jobs plan, new aid to states like yours so you can keep police, firefighters, and teachers on the payrolls? Should they say no?

JINDAL: Two things, one, look the first stimulus (ph) tax and spending (INAUDIBLE) didn't work. There's no reason to think more of the same is going to work. I think Speaker Boehner has said the right thing. (INAUDIBLE) the president I think the bill came over today. He said we'll look at it piece by piece. It's not going to be all or nothing. There may be some good ideas in there. We'll take those. We'll add our own good ideas. He asked the president, he asked the White House to respectfully consider our ideas as well. That's what they're supposed to do.

It shouldn't be an up or down vote. It shouldn't be all or nothing. They should take it piece by piece, do the analysis. But absolutely, should they reject stimulus part two, absolutely. And what I was saying there in that speech, what I was telling my fellow Republicans was it absolutely pays, and we should be principled. We should take a principled stand. When it comes to this debt ceiling debate, this is not the debt ceiling. It is the debt 49 states are required to balance their budget. No reason we can't have a balanced budget requirement in the federal Constitution.

I also said this. We're not -- we as Republicans, we shouldn't hate the president. We shouldn't question where he's from. We should question where he is going. We can have a respectful debate, respect the office of the presidency while being consistent with our principles and we can avoid those --

KING: Help me define stimulus two. I asked you specifically about infrastructure and the aid to states to keep people on the payroll --

JINDAL: Sure, well look, infrastructure --


JINDAL: Look, I think there's bipartisan support to extend the highway bill. There's bipartisan support for the FAA bill. I mean there's bipartisan -- there are a lot of bipartisan things that you can do. We can have bipartisan support for the free trade treaties. I think there's bipartisan support now. The president belatedly is now beginning to roll back some of these EPA regulations.

I think we can do some things when it comes to domestic energy production. I think we have predictability on taxes and regulations coming out of Washington that can create jobs. But we must not make the mistake, however, is thinking government is going to create jobs. Government spending is going to cure this economy. The reality is the more the government spends, that's not free, we have to pay that back. If all we get is more temporary government spending and more permanent higher taxes, that's going to slow down the economy.

So there are areas we can agree to work on a bipartisan basis, but what we cannot do is simply repeat the stimulus bill. Now remember that was supposed to keep unemployment below eight percent, supposed to create millions of jobs. It hasn't worked. There's no reason to believe that simply doing the same thing again will produce different results.

KING: Governor Jindal, appreciate your insights tonight, thanks for coming in.

JINDAL: John, thank you --

KING: Thank you, sir. We'll see as the campaign unfolds.

Up next, another exclusive conversation this one, another perspective, the different perspective, the Democratic Vice President Joe Biden on whether he thinks Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and he also responds to several recent criticisms from his predecessor, former Vice President Dick Cheney.


KING: Live pictures here of the Debate Hall in Tampa, Florida, the Tea Party, CNN/Tea Party Republican Debate about 35 minutes away. Eight candidates for the Republican nomination will be debating in that hall. Our Wolf Blitzer will be the moderator. Stay with us, an important night in Republican and in American politics.

First, let's check in on some other headlines, news you need to know right now. Moammar Gadhafi's son, Saadi, confirms to CNN he has crossed the border and is now in Niger. In a phone call with CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, Saadi Gadhafi said he is on what he called a humanitarian mission.

The Al-Rai television channel read a statement from Colonel Gadhafi himself today. It says quote, "We cannot surrender Libya to imperialism, so we have no option but to kill until victory and to destroy this attempted overthrow." The Middle East's first civilian nuclear power plant officially opened for business today. It's in Iran. And if you thought you'd never see bipartisanship in Washington again, take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: God bless America, land that I love stand beside her and guide her --


KING: Less than an hour ago on the steps of the Capitol, Democrats and Republicans, members of the House and the Senate, gathering to sing "God Bless America," that to observe the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

When we come back, an exclusive conversation with Vice President Joe Biden, his thoughts on this Republican presidential field gearing up for 2012, and a recent suggestion that perhaps the strongest candidate for president isn't named Obama or Biden.


KING: Live pictures here. That is the debate stage. Here in Tampa, Florida, the CNN and the Tea Party tonight sponsoring a Republican debate between eight Republican candidates for president.

The Republicans are trying to decide who will leave their party into the campaign against President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in 2012. So, the Republicans in center stage tonight.

But over the weekend, I had a chance to sit down exclusively with the Democratic Vice President Joe Biden. In wide-ranging conversation, we talked about the current terror threat facing the country, the 9/11 anniversary. And we begin here, his response from criticism from the man who last held his job, the former President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney making the case that the Obama administration has two unfairly restricted its options in fighting terrorism.


KING: One of the debates in that chapter will be enhanced interrogation tactics and waterboarding. Your predecessor, the former vice president, talking in the context of this specific threat we're worried today. He says, if you were still using those tactics, if the Obama hasn't set aside, maybe there'd be a date somewhere when you get this intelligence out of Pakistan, you scrub that detainee, you use those tactics, you might have more information.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John, I've been -- no. I've been engaged in this for 46 years as a senator, chairman of the foreign relations committee, a member of the intelligence committee, vice president of the United States involved in this issue. I've seen zero evidence that it works and I think there's abundant evidence that it hurts us internationally and it hurts our security by making a mockery of who we say we are and giving rationale for those who want to do us harm, to recruit people. So, I would argue the opposite.

KING: Let me shift politics for a few moments. That season is heating up, perhaps earlier than many people at home might hope, but it is heating up. Can I call you Joe?

BIDEN: Sure you can. Sure you can.

KING: I say that --

BIDEN: I know exactly what you mean.

KING: I say it as a joke, because the woman who used that line, Governor Palin, has been in Iowa, has been in New Hampshire. And I assumed you're one who has maybe interested her more than most as you watch. Is she going to run?

BIDEN: I have no idea, John. Look, I have -- as the president has said in his jobs speech, he said, you know, the election is 14 months away. There are going to be some crazy things you're going to hear between now and then, and it's going to be a tough campaign.

But, you know, the American people can't wait 14 months. I mean, they're hurting right now. So, I'm not trying to avoid your question. I simply don't have any idea what that field is going to turn out to be and who's going to be the nominees.

KING: But they're up and running. They've had three debates so far. We've got another big one coming up.

I know you're a political junkie in addition to being the vice president and former senator. How close? Are you paying attention? Are you watching?

BIDEN: I watched part, and I'm not being smart like I only watched part. I was able to catch the second half of the last debate, which seemed to be, you know, about Perry and the governor -- the former governor of Massachusetts. But I think this is going to go through iterations here. But I've no idea where it's going to lead.

KING: In one of their debates, Governor Perry says, if you look at the statistics come 2036, Social Security is paying out more than it's taking in. Therefore, he says it can't keep its promises. So, it's a Ponzi scheme. Is Social Security a Ponzi scheme?

BIDEN: No, it's not a Ponzi scheme. He should go back and see who Ponzi was, he was an individual, it's a different deal. But, no, it's not a Ponzi scheme. It is secure through 2036 and to fix it is not hard.

KING: If to fix it is not hard, candidate, Senator Joe Biden, the vice presidential nominee in 2008, said elect Barack Obama, he will put the security back in Social Security.


KING: Nothing has been done. Nothing has been done. And some could argue that the payroll tax, with the best of intentions, to stimulate the economy, has actually between more money out of Social Security. Could they not?

BIDEN: Well, relatively speaking to the Social Security needs, it's the minimum (ph), what it's taken out of the Social Security Trust Fund. But we were in a position where we thought there for while, we had parties, Republican leadership, who were prepared to deal with us in fixing Social Security and actually making some significant positive changes in the second and third decade out there on other entitlements as well as rationalizing the tax code.

But it didn't turn out that way. But I'm hoping now that after going through the brinksmanship, which caused us to be downgraded and started a new little spiral that our Republican leadership will be more inclined to come up with --

KING: You mean that as part of these negotiations with the supercommittee and the deficit reduction debate that will continue in that committee and then perhaps longer than that, a model for that has been, it seems, the vice president, the guy with 36 years experience on Capitol Hill negotiating. You were here today with Speaker Boehner, someone you get along with.

At the president's speech, you were joking with Speaker Boehner. In the lame-duck session, where you had the tax deal, you were key to the negotiations. There are some, even Democrats, who would say, look at that. That works.

Why didn't we do that early in the first term and would we not have learned -- would we not gone through the political price you've paid for health care and the stimulus if it had been done differently?

BIDEN: Well, you know, in the first term, we came in and we were hemorrhaging 800,000 jobs a month. It was a triage. It was just trying to figure out how to stop the bleeding.

KING: So why health care first? You were among those at the time arguing to make sure we got the sequencing right, weren't you?

BIDEN: Because health care was a way in which to actually negatively -- or positively impact by reducing the negative impact of the deficit long-term. It reduces the deficit by $1 trillion over the first -- I mean, $100 billion over the first 10 years. And so, it was both needed, it was consistent, it was a means by which you could also eventually begin to make the positive changes in Medicare that were needed, so there'd be a safety net there.

But, look, where we are now is that I did speak, I did in this last go-round, I was asked to spend a lot of time with Eric Cantor and with John Boehner. We were able to finally pull out $1 trillion in cuts and a means by which we get another $1.5 trillion plus.

And I think the mood has changed. And I think that -- I'm of the view that John and Eric were more inclined to agree on a more balanced package and get a bigger number, but they got resistance. But I think maybe now that folks have been home and they've seen the consequences of not cooperating more, that we're going to have a positive outcome to this.

KING: Let me circle back as we close. We're in the state of Pennsylvania, your home state, your birth state. You're going to be here a lot, I suspect, in the next year.

BIDEN: Yes, I am.

KING: It will be one of the battlegrounds. Your old friend the Democratic pollster, Peter Hart, says based on the current numbers, the current economic statistics, for the first time this week, President Obama and Vice President Biden, they are no longer the favorites. If you look at the economic data and you look at through history, pretty hard to see winning re-election.

BIDEN: Well --

KING: What's that to do with your strategy?

BIDEN: I -- listen, with interest to what he said, he went on to say the same thing about Bush and he said the same thing about Clinton, and they both won re-election. Look, we know this is hard because we know people are hurting and they're looking for answer. Fifty-one percent or so of the American people blame the dilemma on the last administration, but they say that's irrelevant, now fix it. Now fix it.

And part of fixing it is actually getting the other team to actually work with us and come up with, you know, a common cause. And as I said, I am -- maybe it's because I've been there a long time, I've seen this happened before. And I think people have been chastened by the failure to work together.

I don't think no is an answer anymore. And I think they've figured out no is not an answer.

KING: You've been at this a long time. Do you have a private prediction that you're willing to share here on what the ticket will be? The other guys?

BIDEN: No, I don't -- honest to God, John, I have no idea. I would be -- that's beyond my -- that's above my pay grade.

KING: I asked you a policy question about the former vice president. He also said, he thinks that Hillary Clinton would be the strongest Democratic candidate. What do you think of that?

BIDEN: Well, she's a great person and she's a strong person. But, unfortunately, I know who the president wants, and there is no possibility I'm not going on the ticket.


KING: Mr. Vice president, appreciate your time.

BIDEN: But she'd be a great candidate.

KING: Very diplomatic.

BIDEN: Thank you.

KING: Thank you for your time, sir.

BIDEN: Thank you.


KING: Still ahead here, we're about 20 minutes away from the start of the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida.

Up next, David Gergen and Gloria Borger. Can the president sell his jobs plan, and how much -- how much -- will the criticism from these Republican candidates tonight affect that big jobs debate in Washington?


KING: What an interesting day and a fascinating time in our politics.

Here in Tampa, Florida, tonight, eight Republican candidates for president will face off in the CNN Tea Party debate. That's a little more than 15 minutes away, moderated by my colleague, Wolf Blitzer.

You see the debate hall right there. That debate in a little more in 15 minutes away. Eight Republican candidates for president there trying to make the case they should lead the Republican Party into the 2012 campaign against the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama.

That incumbent was in the Rose Garden today, one of the favorite stages for any president trying to use the bully pulpit to communicate with the American people, the president there, to urge the Congress to pass the jobs program. And then, later today, up on Capitol Hill this evening now is the president's plan on paper. The American Jobs Act the president has sent up.

Let's discuss the politics of the moment, the prospects for the president getting that jobs plan, and the impact the opposition from these Republican presidential candidates has on the debate in Washington.

I'm joined here in Tampa by our senior political analyst and former presidential David Gergen, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

David, I want to start with the president. He gave the speech Thursday night, surrounded by teachers, firefighters, policemen -- people he says would be helped by his jobs act -- construction workers. The president in the Rose Garden and his case to the American people is, help me, and in part, he says and listen here, he says Republicans should like most of what's in my plan. He thinks they oppose it simply because passing it might help him politically.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The notion that there are folks who would say, we're not going to try to do what's right for the American people, because we don't think it's convenient for our politics, we've been seeing that too much around here. And that's exactly what folks are tired of.


KING: Is that what this is? Or is it just a legitimate policy difference?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There are genuine philosophical differences between the parties on this -- just as they have been on how you cut the deficits. And, John, I think, politically, there have been two surprises since the president's speech. The president, as you know, was all fired up for that speech. He fired up a lot of Democrats. He got great applause among liberal pundits.

And normally when you have a speech like that in a joint session, you see a bump in the polls, you see a five percent bump. Bill Clinton would routinely get that. So far, early polls, no bump. Maybe we'll see a change, but that's a surprise to me.

Second surprise: the stories throughout the day about how he's going to pay for it. We'll have to see what really comes out, but the early stories say he's planning to pay for the whole thing, the whole $450 billion with tax increases. That's a nonstarter for a lot of Republicans, whether you -- whatever you think about 2012.

KING: And so then, to that point, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, Republican, was conciliatory last week and the speaker still conciliatory tonight saying, we'll score it, we'll see how much it will cost, and then we'll talk, Mr. President. Tax increases will be a no nonstarter.


KING: Leader Cantor says, "I sure hope that the president is not suggesting that we pay for his proposals with a massive tax increase at the end of 2012 on the job creators that we're actually counting on to reduce unemployment." So, that seems to me to be --

BORGER: I think that's a little tongue and cheek?

Given what David is talking about, the president knows they're not going to agree it to. They know they're not going to agree to it. They also look at their popularity ratings. They see that the approval rating of Congress is, what, 14 percent. And so --

KING: In the good polls.

BORGER: In the good polls.

GERGEN: You wonder who those 14 are. BORGER: So, if they were to come out of the box and say, no way. That would have been a problem for them. And so, they're behaving.

It's not a problem for these folks behind us debating. They're going to oppose it.

KING: But it's an interesting point, because let's get to the folks debating in a minute. This debate is sponsored by the Tea Party. And one of my big questions is: does this movement, which has such an impact in 2010 -- how much impact will it have in 2012? How much impact will it have on this nominating process?

Obviously, still has some juice, because it's a sponsor of a big debate here. If you look at the polls, 27 percent of Americans, what about half of Republicans, identify themselves as Tea Party supporters. How much, David, does that, the fact that the Tea Party wants none of what the president proposes, impact how the Republicans deal with it?

GERGEN: I think it's going to impact more than we have assumed in the press. You know, we thought that the speech would sort of begin to change the dynamics. And then when you, a week later, it looks like the underlying dynamics didn't change all that much. The Republicans are still opposed.

I mean, the Republicans are conciliatory, yes, but conciliatory up to a point. They're going to be -- they clearly, the Tea Party clearly helped put the Republicans in control of the House. They're clearly going to have a major voice -- tonight's a good example of how much voice they're going to have in the nomination process.

And if the Republican makes it to the White House, the Republican will need that Tea Party.

KING: What's your biggest question as we watch these eight candidates tonight? What are you looking for tonight, as we move through the series of debates, in which now you have a Perry, Romney, and then question mark field.

BORGER: You know, there's been a big sense of unsettledness, if that's a word, about this Republican field, until the last couple of polls, where you get a sense that the people are sort of settling down, Romney, Perry. I think the big question that people out there watching and that I have is, who can take the fight to Barack Obama? Who's -- and Republicans want to win. They want somebody who can really take the fight to Barack Obama.

And I think we'll see that develop on the stage tonight, in the way Rick Perry chooses to answer the charges that are going to be brought against him on Social Security and the way Mitt Romney decides to attack him on that. But we will see that, I believe.

KING: And who has the most at stake?

GERGEN: I think Rick Perry has an awful lot at stake here because he's sort of been like this starburst in our politics. The question is: is he going to burn out or is he going to continue to burn? I think he's going to be sort of watching him tonight.

BORGER: Or does Sarah Palin get in?


GERGEN: I think that's --

KING: That's a question for another day.

David, Gloria, appreciate your insights. The debate's coming up in just a few moments.

When we come back, we'll help you set the stage. Two key grassroots conservatives -- what do they want out of this debate tonight? Is this the Tea Party -- is the Tea Party winning or the Republican establishment winning in what is in some ways a tug-of-war for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. And we're just moments away. You'll see it right here, 11 minutes away from the CNN Tea Party debate.

Stay right here.


KING: Just about eight minutes away from the top of the hour, and the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate.

Let's end our conversation, our pregame show, if you will, with two grassroots conservatives.

There's a live picture inside the hall, the eight candidates about to take their places. My friend Wolf Blitzer is moderating.

Eric Erickson is our CNN contributor, editor of the conservative Also our contributor, Dana Loesch, organizer of the National Tea Party Coalition.

Here's my question, you have a tug of war between grassroots conservatives and the Republican establishment, if you will. Who -- who in this field is your candidate?

DAN LOESCH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know. You know, I see a lot of candidates, each of them have qualities with which I identify. I can tell you the easier question to answer is who do I not identify with, who do the grassroots not really embrace? I'm going to have to say that that's Mitt Romney because --

KING: You have to say that's Mitt Romney. Now, he's second in the polls. Does that mean -- do you view this now as Romney the establishment candidate?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Right now, Romney and Perry, if Perry flubs tonight's debate, then I think Michele Bachmann has another shot at for someone else. If he does, then I think it locks in Perry versus Romney. And that doesn't help Romney.

The more candidates drop out, the higher Rick Perry does in the poll.

KING: And if you're hearing a little noise behind us, it's democracy. We have protesters out there, people different causes out here.

You mentioned Romney and Perry. They clashed last time over Social Security. It is certain they will clash again tonight over Social Security.

But, today, campaigning in South Carolina, Governor Romney brought up another issue, another piece of Governor Perry's record. Let's play this and I'll explain it on the other side.

All right. I guess we don't have that.

You brought up in Charleston, South Carolina, was the HPV vaccine controversy. Governor Perry mandated that teenage girls get this vaccine. It became a huge controversy. He now admits it was a mistake.

Governor Romney bringing that up, does that -- we have the sound. Let's play it.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have a health care plan in our state which has mandate. I don't know about South Carolina's laws. In Massachusetts, we also have mandates that you have to have auto insurance and we mandate kids have to go to high school. Some states, Texas, for instance, mandates that young girls -- or did mandate that young girls have to get inoculations for sexually transmitted diseases.

There are a wide range of mandates. So, that's not breaking new ground.


KING: Gentle there. Let's see how it plays out in the debate. That is Governor Romney essentially saying the Tea Party and other conservatives who don't like the government telling them what to do and he does it too.

LOESCH: Well, he also used the analogy with auto insurance which I -- that's something state ran and that's to protect other people from you. But aside from that, though, if you compare, I guess, Perry care to Romney care, at least Governor Perry offered an opt-out. Now, I'm still not a fan of his position on HPV. I still -- I think if you have to have an opt-out, you probably shouldn't have to have the legislation.

But when I look at Romney, Romneycare in Massachusetts, there was no such thing as an opt-out. In fact, his mandate penalized small business owners. Anyone that had less -- anyone that had less than 11 employees had to pay a $300 fine for not abiding by the mandate. Now, this was the same candidate who says, oh, I want to make it easier for business. I want to help create jobs. But his record doesn't -- he can't reconcile what he's saying now with what his record was when he was governor of Massachusetts.

KING: You know, I don't know that the HPV vaccine issue has staying power since Perry backed down and like Romney -- has held on to Romney here. In fact, a lot of Tea Party activists say it's the one issue he should have flipped on but didn't.

Beyond that though, I'm interested to see how the candidates begin to pivot to immigration, which I think is Rick Perry's ultimate Achilles' heel with conservative voters right now.

KING: You mentioned that. I was the moderator of a panel today sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, about 100 Tea Party members in this room with this lunch. Let's play a snippet here of some of their questions because we know jobs and the economy are a big issue. We know these candidates have been sparring over Social Security.

But what do these Tea Party voters want? Listen.


BILL LANDES, HERITAGE LUNCHEON PARTICIPANT: We want to bring the jobs back to America. Let's start exporting all the illegal aliens here going after the employers and saving the jobs for Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't you think that even if we did away with all our regulations and cut taxes totally, we'd still have a problem competing with China and what they do illegally really?

JOSEPHINE ELLIS, HERITAGE LUNCHEON PARTICIPANT: I woke up one day and I saw socialism. And I have a question why nobody will call it socialism and how we can educate and pull the wool back off of everybody's eyes?


KING: Let's start with immigration, then get to some of the other issues raised there. You think it could be his Achilles heel because he allows illegal immigrants --


ERICKSON: Right. Rick Perry, state college, with the state discount, you can go there. They call it the Texas Dream Act. Yes, I think they could.

Although Romney I don't think is going to pivot that way because he doesn't want to get to the right of Perry on this issue. He's kind of where Perry is. Bachmann could.

But getting to the left on Social Security I think only hurts him even with senior citizens in the Republican primary. But I'll tell you this -- I think Perry gets a pass on some of these issues because one of the polling lines CNN asked that a lot of people haven't paid attention to, 30 percent believe Perry will fight for what he believes in, and only 12 percent for Romney, which suggests Romney's history of changing positions over time is really anchoring him down.

KING: How much -- primaries are about ideology normally. And we always say, well, it will be about electability this time because President Obama's vulnerable. There's no Democrat who would dispute that.

When you talk to votes in conversations, do they say electability trumps positions on the issues? You heard those voters in there. What about immigration, what about China? Why won't these guys just call it socialism?

LOESCH: Right. Well, I think to that CNN poll, just to dovetail into what Erick was saying, grassroots voters -- Republican voters, grassroots voters are more interested in a candidate that would beat President Obama in an election more so than they're worried about his electability right now.

I think they're looking, I think the electability is going to come up, obviously. I mean, that's what these debates are all about and that's something we're going to see tonight. But right now, we need to see a candidate who is strong and who cannot only kind of pacify some of the establishment critics but also reach out to grassroots and independents. And that candidate ultimately, that will be the electability and we'll see.

KING: So often, the debates are to flesh out positions on issues. Do you think these debates, Erick, are more Republicans say, all right, I'm going to imagine Obama up on a debate stage, he's a pretty persuasive guy, he's a good debater and that's how they're judging him or is it more on the issues?

ERICKSON: No. I think on Rick Perry, they want to make sure he can hold his own in a debate. And if he can, I do believe it will become his (INAUDIBLE). I think this debate will be the one to do it. Right, I think I think they're interested in where these candidates, not -- don't stand on social issues, because they already know. Where do they stand, where do they nuance on the fiscal issues, the size and the scope of the federal government issues -- that will be the make or break for candidates in this election year.

KING: We have a couple of seconds left. Another candidate, the second tier candidate who you think is it's a make or break night for tonight?

LOESCH: Bachmann. This was a make or break night for Bachmann. If she's not aggressive and doesn't challenge one of these perceived front-runners this might not be so well for her.

ERICKSON: I think this is Michele Bachmann's make or break night tonight.

KING: All right. A consensus there. Erick Erickson and Dana Loesch, I appreciate it. You see my colleague Wolf Blitzer in there right now as we count you down to this debate -- I'm going to ask all of you at home, whether you're a Democrat or independent or Republican or not quite so sure, tune in. This is an election of enormous consequence -- jobs and the economy, national security, so many other issues.

Wolf Blitzer will be moderating this debate just moments from now. Stay with us throughout the night here. It is very, very important. September 2011 helping set the stage for the debate that will dominate campaign 2012.

I'll see you right back here tomorrow night.

CNN Tea Party Republican debate, though, begins right now.