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JOHN KING, USA

President Obama's Approval Rating; U.S. Embassy Attacked

Aired September 13, 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.

Tonight what impact will 90 minutes as the CNN debate pinata have on Texas Governor Rick Perry's front runner status?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There is no government purpose served for having little girls inoculated at the force and compulsion of the government. This is big government run amok. It is bad policy and it should not have been done.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And can the Tea Party deliver on this bold promise?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look, we are going to choose the next Republican nominee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are not going to accept what the Republican Party hands us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But up first tonight, stunning evidence of why the stakes of that Republican civil war are so consequential. New lows for President Obama on just about all of the tests you use when an incumbent asks for four more years. The president's overall approval rating at a new low, his grades on leadership, worst ever. And nearly six in 10 Americans now doubt the president has what it takes to manage the government effectively.

Yet, another low point. On the road today in Ohio, the president suggested Republicans know he's on the ropes and are now willing to punish unemployed Americans to keep his numbers down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Already yesterday there were some Republicans quoted in Washington saying that even if they agree with the proposals in the American Jobs Act, they shouldn't pass it because it would give me a win. Give me a win? This isn't about giving me a win. This isn't about giving Democrats or Republicans a win. It's about giving the American people a win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's get behind these startling new numbers tonight with Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher. He worked for the Obama campaign in 2008. Also with us our senior analyst David Gergen who has advised both Democratic and Republican presidents. Gentlemen, I'm going to go to the wall.

I want to break down some of these numbers. It's truly stunning especially when you look at how things have played out over the course of the Obama presidency. This is the overall approval rating. How is he handling his job as president? Back at the beginning in 2009 as you would expect very high numbers.

Drops down, drops down. Here we are now 43 percent in our new poll out tonight. That is a low for the president of the United States. Forty-three percent of Americans approve of his handling, which means the majority of Americans disapprove. That's one way to look at it. How is he handling the economy? We know that is the top issue in the country right now. Again, watch this drop. Drop more and drop even a bit more.

Thirty-six percent approve of his economy. That is not a low, he was just below that a couple of weeks ago, but that is trouble, trouble for any incumbent right there. This is another new low for the president of the United States. Is he a strong and decisive leader? Look at this drop throughout the nearly three years of his presidency, now less than a majority, 48 percent view the president as a strong and decisive leader.

That is trouble for an incumbent seeking re-election. One more and then we'll start the conversation. This one to me is incredibly important especially if you think of how George W. Bush lost support. People didn't think the Iraq war was managed well. They thought Katrina response was botched. They didn't think he was a competent chief executive. Can President Obama manage the government effectively?

Watch this drop over the course of the presidency, 42 percent now, four in 10 Americans, just a little more than that, think he's up to the task of managing the government effectively. Cornell Belcher to you first as the Democrat who would be helping this Democrat, an incumbent seek re-election, when you combine overall approval rating down, economic approval rating down, leadership, strong and decisive leader, managing, the American people their grade of this president right now does not suggest he'd get four more years.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, two things, and let me put this in context, you know, his numbers aren't poor alone. When you look at sort of the congressional job approval numbers, those numbers have gone down, too, from the 30s now with Republicans taking over into the teens as well. And approval or disapproval doesn't necessarily immediately equate to support.

You know, my mother, for example, if I ask her, is the president doing a great job on the economy, when she looks around at the neighborhood and she looks at gas prices, not so much, but does she support the president, absolutely she does. Another thing in that poll that you pointed out -- that you didn't point out was when you asked questions about sort of does he care about people like you and does he have vision, the majority of Americans still think that the president cares about people like them. He's on their side and he has vision.

And one last point to make on this. When we make a big brouhaha out of every poll number that come out, but if you put this in historical context, if you go back to August 1983, Reagan's job approval was in the low 40s and if you go back to September of '94, '93, you know, Clinton's job approval numbers were also in the low 40s, so put some context around this. Given all the economic angst that are out there right now I think it's fair to say that Americans aren't happy and they do -- the buck does not stop with the president.

KING: Well let me -- the buck does stop with the president. Let me, before I bring David Gergen into the conversation, all valid points. That American people still like this president. They like him personally, but when they don't think he can manage the government effectively and they don't think he is a strong and decisive leader that adds up to a shorter word, which I'll call potentially weak. They think maybe he's weak. You mentioned the historical numbers about Reagan.

I want to show you another one here. This is Jimmy Carter 14 months before he ran for re-election his approval rating was 30 percent, disapproval, 55. The president of the United States right now, Barack Obama, his approval rating is 13 points higher, 43 percent, but his disapproval matches Jimmy Carter at 55 percent. David Gergen, when you look especially at the leadership and can he manage the government effectively how alarmed should the president be?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: These are very sobering numbers for the White House, and they -- I think they send a message that's very clear. I think Cornell makes some very good points; the president still has a reservoir of goodwill out there. People do like him. They want him to succeed. And what we saw in all of those numbers, John was that he took a dive because of the debt ceiling fight and the downgrade of our credit rating.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: And he didn't get a bounce out of his congressional speech either.

GERGEN: Yes.

KING: Presidents usually get a bounce when they address the country.

(CROSSTALK) GERGEN: Yes. Thank you. That's exactly the part where I wanted to go. Because the big surprise in all of this to me is coming off a terrible August, I can understand why his numbers were down. However, when a president goes to a joint session, in you know, essentially in the evening, and can command a big audience, typically a president like Bill Clinton got five-to-ten-point jump in his numbers. Here this president got no bounce that we can see whatsoever.

And that has consequences as you know, John. He's going around the country trying to whip up pressure against the Republicans to pass a jobs bill. If you don't get a bounce out of that kind of speech, it's really hard to put pressure on, isn't it? You know 43 percent is not exactly something you can lash people with.

KING: And that's the challenge of the moment. Can he get the -- can he move the dial? Can he get the public to support him in this policy fight? There's another issue -- I want to go back to the wall a little bit -- as we head into the campaign I want to look at the map this way. You take into context all this numbers about the president.

Here's the 2008 election maps, blue states Obama, red states, McCain. The blue states electorally President Obama won in an electorally landslide. He did it with a lot of support among independent voters. Look at this, gentlemen. Thirty-one percent of independents approve, 65 percent, two-thirds of independents disapprove of how he's doing his job as president. That's one key constituency.

Again take a look at this map. Look where the blue is, the Midwest critical to the president's victory in 2008. Handling the economy, on handling the economy, 34 approve, 64 percent in the Midwest, a lot of big bellwether states right there disapprove of the president's handling of the economy. In one way the Obama campaign says it was rewriting the map for the Democrats out here in the West.

They hope to do even better this time. John McCain is not running. They thought Arizona might be in play. The president out in the West on the economy, the number one issue, approve, 38, disapprove 62. So Cornell, I take your points on the other issues, but when you look at this map and you look and you look at those numbers, this is a much different campaign than 2008, and not a little different, it's hugely different.

BELCHER: Can I jump back in?

KING: Yes.

BELCHER: One -- well, yes, but however, again, this is -- it's not like the Republican brand is Mercedes right now. If you look at sort of the congressional job approvals and if you look at those independent voters, their approval right now, the Republicans are even worse and it's even worse when you tie the Republicans to the Tea Party and the extremism that's going on right now.

In the end it's not going to be a referendum on the president. It's going to be a choice. And yes, the president is going around the country trying to sell his economic plan because they're big, complicated ideals, but in the end it's going to be a choice between the president who cares about them and has a vision or whoever the Republican nominee is quite frankly who is basically saying I'm going to double down on the Bush-year policies.

KING: David, I want you jump in on that point. I just want to change the map as you do because Cornell said he's going around the country. I just want to show people where the president is going and how important it is. The president -- these are the president's travel through April. And if you look at where he's going purple states are states that we call battlegrounds in this campaign, but he's going to all the places he won last time.

He is going essentially trying to keep this map in play. David Gergen, Cornell makes the point this is not a referendum. He makes the point that there will be a choice. But often that depends, we don't know that quite yet, do we? Often when it's an incumbent, it is a referendum.

GERGEN: It is to a significant degree a referendum, John, going back to the Carter experience when Reagan ran against him. When Reagan ran and won that race, a third of the people who voted for Reagan said they did so because he wasn't Carter. They didn't want Carter anymore and they went -- and they took a gamble with Reagan, a gamble that many of them thought paid off, of course, so there is a referendum quality about this. It's more than just a choice. We're going to see something tonight in this ninth district of New York. We'll all be waiting to see the results.

If a Democrat wins, I would expect that, but if a Republican wins that district, which hasn't been in Republican hands since 1923 that is going to -- that's going to be another straw in the wind. I -- what I do agree with Cornell on is on this. We don't yet know the Republican nominee and you really -- to win re-election you have to know who the opposition is and if it's somebody who, you know, broad swaths of the American people do not think is acceptable, then the president's chances will go up.

There's no question about that. But on the referendum issue right now, Cornell, I think referendum is part of any presidential campaign when you run for re-election. That's just -- it's baked into the cake and the president has got to deal with that. It's just -- that's the hard truth.

KING: David Gergen, Cornell Belcher, hard truths, fascinating campaign ahead of us, we'll keep watching those numbers and we'll watch it play out and we'll test your theories, Mr. Belcher, as things plays out here. David thanks as well.

Still ahead here, a harrowing firefight as militants wearing suicide vests attack the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

And next, beating Rick Perry at the moment, well, it means being on defense. Will his Tea Party support stay high now that his record as Texas governor is under constant attack?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not have the courage to stand up and --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you knew nothing about the Republican race for president but tuned into our big debate last night, it would not have taken very long for you to figure out this much. Texas Governor Rick Perry, well, he's the front-runner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to offend the governor because he might raise my taxes or something.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You dealt four aces. That doesn't make you necessarily a great poker player --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company, the drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For Rick to say that you can't secure the border I think is pretty much a treasonous comment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, coming into the debate Governor Perry had a strong lead in our latest national poll in large part because of strong support among Tea Party loyalists, but will the scrubbing of his Texas record last night give some constitutional conservatives pause? CNN contributor Erick Erickson of the conservative blog RedState.com is here tonight as is Billie Tucker of the Florida Tea Party Alliance.

I want to start by going through some of these exchanges last night because I'm curious. Will Tea Party voters especially stand by Governor Perry as they learn more and more about his Texas record? Let's start here with the HPV vaccination; the governor admitted he wished he hadn't done it this way, but he signed an executive order that required -- required -- young girls to get a vaccine against -- to protect them he says against a sexually transmitted disease. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Unless Texas has a very progressive way of communicating diseases in their school, by way of their curriculum then there is no government purpose served for having little girls inoculated at the force and compulsion of the government. This is big government run amok. It is bad policy. And it should not have been done.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I think we made decisions in Texas. We put a $3 billion effort in to find the cure for cancer. There are a lot of different cancers out there. Texas I think day in and day out is a place that protects life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Billie, do Tea Party voters want a governor or a president who tells parents your daughter must get this shot?

BILLIE TUCKER, TEA PARTY ALLIANCE OF FLORIDA: No. No, they don't, John. They don't mind the government maybe putting out PSAs about health concerns, but they certainly don't want an executive order coming down from an individual telling us that we have to inoculate our children. You know, the government puts out PSAs on flu shots and it's something that we all go out and take care of on a personal basis. But, no, we don't want the governor to tell us to inoculate our children, absolutely not.

KING: And so Erick, on the evening after, do you detect some people saying, hmm, I got to look more closely, because Governor Perry has only been in the race about a month but boy he shot to the top pretty quickly. Are conservatives, especially Tea Party constitutional conservatives saying maybe we need to peel back the pages a little bit?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think there are two dynamics in this, John. The first is, yes, I think this will give some people pause and they won't lock into him if they were going to right now. They'll wait and see for another debate, but there's another one as well. I think this could have had more damage against Rick Perry until Michele Bachmann started talking about it after the debate and started talking about someone approaching her who said the vaccine caused mental retardation and other issues and by today the rhetoric from a lot of his critics was completely anti-vaccination including MMR shots, et cetera.

And I think that discredits a lot of the conversation. It was unintentional, but it happened. I don't remember a candidate imploding so fast after a solid score like Michele Bachmann other than the Dean scream in 2004 going from scoring solid shots on Perry last night to by today people -- even Rush Limbaugh saying she'd jumped the shark.

KING: It's been a long time since we had a Dean scream reference on the show. That's -- I'm happy for that. The vaccination was one thing where people were saying -- you heard Rick Santorum saying big government run amok, certainly not a label a conservative wants appointed (ph) to. Another place Governor Perry came under attack, Billie, we were at a luncheon yesterday where a lot of the Tea Party voters you have down there in Florida were still angry about how illegal immigrants get benefits from the government and Governor Perry was defending that in Texas children of illegal immigrants get in- state college tuition and some financial aid. Congresswoman Bachmann said no way. TUCKER: Right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws who are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Billie, you know support for Governor Perry pretty strong among Tea Party voters. When you talk to them after the debate and today to the point I asked Erick the same question, are some of them saying I need to look more closely or now that I know that about him, I can't support him. What's the reaction?

TUCKER: They want to look more closely. A lot of people last night were stunned a little bit by a couple of his comments and specifically, yes, about the -- the illegal immigrants that are getting benefits. And it's not about legal ones. It's the illegal ones. We believe in the rule of law, and so, yes, we're going to take a look. We have not made any decisions but there was some pause last night. People wanted more. They hoped to get a Rick Perry that was just perfect and they found out he's not.

KING: He's not and it's pretty fascinating going forward --

TUCKER: No.

KING: You know Mitt Romney who I will say is a more of an established Republican wants to go after Rick Perry on Social Security. It is very clear that Congresswoman Bachmann and Senator Santorum think looking ahead perhaps to the Iowa caucuses, maybe conservatives at South Carolina that they want to go after Perry essentially saying he's not as conservative as you think. He's not as loyal to the Tea Party principles as you think. Listen to this exchange about immigration and border security between Governor Perry and Senator Santorum.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Unlike Governor Perry I believe we need to build more fence. I believe that we need to secure the border using technology and more personnel, and until we build that border, we should neither have storm troopers come in and throw people out of the country nor should we provide amnesty. What we should do is enforce the laws in this country with respect to employers and we should secure the border.

PERRY: But the idea that you're going to build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and go left for another 800 miles to Tijuana is just not reality. What you have to have is boots on the ground.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Erick, will that hurt him? He's essentially saying you're not going to build a fence or are people past that?

ERICKSON: You know, to a degree I think it's going to hurt him with some Tea Party activists. Not all Tea Party activists are closed-border Tea Party activists. Some are very much -- very free trade and supportive. You know, he's gotten the endorsement now of Brian Sandoval, the governor of Nevada, and that will boost him on the electability scale and I think things like this some Tea Party activists are starting to realize none of the candidates are perfect.

They're not going to get their perfect candidate and we'll see. I suspect that if the candidates play it right, immigration is going to be his Achilles' heel now, with that HPV has kind of imploded. But I think Perry's going to be able to get a message that will sell the Tea Party activists.

KING: As you know, Billie, there are a lot of people especially on the left who don't like the Tea Party, who have some pejorative labels for the Tea Party. A lot of them are seizing on a moment last night during the debate. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer, asked Ron Paul a hypothetical.

He said what happens if a young person refuses to buy health insurance, doesn't get health insurance, if you repeal Obamacare was the context, and that 30-year-old gets sick, tragically sick, who pays for it? I want you to listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But what he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major medical policy but not before --

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": But he doesn't have that. He doesn't have it and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

PAUL: That's what freedom is all about. Taking your own risk. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody --

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: But, Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

PAUL: No --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That last part, Billie, you could hear people in the audience saying yes, and yes, should society just let him die. Do you have any concerns as the Tea Party asserts itself in this nomination process, Amy Kremer, the Tea Party Express saying today we will pick the Republican nominee, not the Republican Party. What is your concern about comments like that on a national stage like that? TUCKER: Well, it was terrible. And, John, I don't know if you realized it was like probably two people that did that and the rest of us turned around and looked at them, like, who said that? I mean because two people made a stupid statement does not mean that the entire Tea Party agrees with that. We absolutely do not. It was horrible for that person, those two people to do it, and we wish they weren't in the room.

KING: Billie Tucker, Erick Erickson, appreciate your insights tonight. We have a fascinating campaign underway. We'll keep in touch as we go forward.

Still ahead here, we put some of the most provocative debate statements to the truth test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN: President Obama in a stunning, shocking level of power, now just recently told all private insurance companies, you must offer the morning-after abortion pill because I said so. And it must be free of charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We'll test that. Plus a deadly attack on the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, how might that change decisions about how long to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Explosions shook the heart of Afghanistan's capital city today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SOUNDS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In brazen and coordinated raids, suicide bombers and Taliban militants using rocket propelled grenades and guns attacked four locations across Kabul including the U.S. Embassy and NATO's command site. At one point the militants took up positions (ph) inside a half-built high-rise and a Taliban spokesman told CNN the targets were quote, "foreign organizations". Gunfire cracked for much of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SOUNDS/GUN FIRE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Attack helicopters patrolled the skies into the evening. Reuters reporting at least nine people are dead. Twenty-three are wounded but we have no reports of U.S. or NATO forces being killed or hurt. Despite the dramatic pictures, the Pentagon's press secretary says today's attacks didn't cause the kind of destruction the insurgents probably expected. And the insurgency's performance, the spokesman says, is quote "less effective this year".

As one expert tells CNN today's attacks are about a war of perceptions. Here to talk about that Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a member of the Armed Services Committee. When you see this right in the heart of Kabul, coordinated attacks, perhaps not as effective, perhaps not as deadly, but this is the capital. What does that tell you about the state of play and the state of U.S. troops, 100,000 now, the president wants to get about 30,000 of them out, in a year or so?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Don't let this event fool you into believing the fundamentals haven't changed. The Taliban are on their back foot. The surge forces, 30,000 have really taken the fight to the Taliban in the south. They can generate attacks like this, but they were suppressed. The coordinated effort between the Afghan security forces, commandos and NATO, you're seeing the future.

This is what I want in 2015, a military footprint where we can support the Afghan security forces when they engage the enemy. The fundamentals have changed against the Taliban. The person who said this is a war perception is right. I've been there a lot. The surge is working. And we're on track to defeat the enemy.

KING: So, let's look at the numbers then, right now 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

GRAHAM: Right.

KING: By the end of 2011, down to 90,000 --

GRAHAM: Right.

KING: -- is the Obama administration's plan, by the summer of 2012, down to 67,000 and then continue down from there. Are you OK with the plan as it is right now?

GRAHAM: No. I would have liked to have kept the surge forces, the 30,000 in place through the second fighting season. That wasn't an option given to the president. No one in the Pentagon suggested, General Allen or Petraeus that you withdraw all surge forces in September of 2012. They wanted to go through all of 2012. Then get the surge forces out, and that's created a problem of capacity.

We're doing well in the south. We've got to move to the east. But I do believe the decision by President Obama and Vice President Biden not choosing an option given to him by the generals has been problematic, but having said that the surge is working. There will be 352,000 Afghan soldiers and police under arms by the end of this year. They're better trained and better equipped than ever. I'm quite optimistic quite frankly if we'll do the right things, not come out too soon and have a security agreement past 2014 --

KING: You say -- you say not come out too soon. Forgive me for interrupting --

GRAHAM: Right.

KING: That is your position. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina --

GRAHAM: Yes --

KING: If you listen to the campaign debate I'm told and particularly at the presidential level --

GRAHAM: Right.

KING: -- that is increasingly less and less the majority view I would say within the Republican Party. It's sort of hard to put a perspective on it, but if you consider Rick Perry by the polls, your national front-runner for president, listen here. He seems to disagree with Senator Graham.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time to bring our young men and women home as soon as and obviously safely as we can. But it's also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military, who have the target on their back in Afghanistan? I don't think so at this particular point in time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Governor Perry wrong?

GRAHAM: My advice to Governor Perry would be that we have a plan to withdraw our forces by 2014, we will have withdrawn substantially all of our forces, and what will be left behind will train the Afghan army, provide counterterrorism support, provide air sovereignty and help embed and keep the afghan army on track.

So, here's what I would say to Governor Perry, you're right, we need to do it safely. Just listen to the generals. I've got you know General Allen and Petraeus have come up with a plan. I am confident that Governor Perry if he gets to be president is not going to undercut our efforts. Because the one thing I would have liked for him to have said is it matters what happens in Afghanistan in terms of our national security, it really does, John.

KING: Do you think he disagrees with you or do you think he's not sufficiently up to speed on this issue?

GRAHAM: I think what he said makes sense that we want to withdraw. We want to leave some behind, and that's the strategic partnership agreement being negotiated between this administration and the afghan government is the closes the deal against the Taliban. The goal is to have some air bases left behind, with air power and Special Forces units to make sure the Taliban never come back. I will be glad to talk with Governor Perry about the plan, and this is the one thing -

KING: Governor Huntsman believes the same thing, Ron Paul obviously believes it. More and more in congress, you do hear some Republicans saying, enough. Ten years, we cannot afford this, let's get out.

GRAHAM: You know, I criticized the president for rejecting options and creating his own that's compromised the second fighting season. When it comes to war, I don't want to be a Republican or a democrat, I want to be an American and I want to win. We've got generals that know what they're doing and to any Republican or democrat who believes you can just run for the exits and it won't follow us in the future and it won't undercut our national security interests for decades, you're just flat wrong.

In my view we have a plan to transition to afghan control, and anybody who believes you can withdraw 100,000 troops and just run for the exits, ask General Petraeus, General Allen and our other commanders what would happen, ask Secretary Panetta. I just don't wont politicians making decisions -

KING: Are they - are those candidates, are those candidates reaching out to guys like you who have studied it for years, who have been there?

GRAHAM: Governor Romney certainly has. Governor Romney.

KING: Is he your candidate?

GRAHAM: No. Governor Romney is -- Perry would be a good candidate for president, I like him a lot. And it's my job -- they're talking about jobs and debts. That's what everybody is focused on. A guy like me and Senator McCain, it's our job to talk about the national security interests of the country and to be helpful. I'm confident that General Perry, excuse me, Governor Perry as president would not pull out 100,000 troops if the generals told him it would lead to chaos.

KING: Senator Graham, appreciate your insights today.

GRAHAM: Thank you very much.

KING: Thank you sir.

Next, the Senate race we're already watching is about to get a lot more interesting. Plus, we'll put some of the candidates' assertions at last night's debate to the truth test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Republican candidates for president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the real question is does Governor Perry -

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now. Poverty in the United States that its highest level since 1993. New numbers from the census bureau tonight put the poverty rate at 15.1 percent, that's 46,200,000 of our fellow citizens. Also, despite the passage of health care reform, the number of people without health insurance grew last year to 49.9 million, 900,000 more than in 2009. But the health and human services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, she sees a silver lining or maybe you call it a glass half full. Pointing out in a blog post the number of young adults with health insurance increased last year by half a million.

The Massachusetts tomorrow, the consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren is scheduled to announce she'll challenge Republican U.S. Senator Scott Brown. And in New York tonight, the polls close at 9:00 Eastern in a highly watched, closely watched special election for ex- congressman Anthony Weiner's U.S. house seat, the democratic district. But Republican thinks they have a chance there or stunning upset.

Up next, free abortion pills? Instate tuition for illegal immigrants? We're about to put some of the candidates' statements in last night's debate to the truth test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates for president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" coming up at the top of the hour. Let's check in with Anderson for a preview. Hey.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Hey, John. Tonight new developments in the case of the American woman missing in Aruba, Gary Giordano, the man being held in the disappearance of American Robyn Gardner has added Jose Baez to his defense team. Baez if you remember who was a key member of the defense for Casey Anthony. There's an incredible story out of Utah, bystanders putting themselves at risk to pull a stranger to safety. Listen to part of the 911 call. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like someone may be under the vehicle. Cars are burning. You better send somebody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I'm in a backup. The motorcycle is spitting out fire, and I don't know if it's going to explode or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motorcycle is on fire, car starting on fire right now. Actually, it's going to go right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: It's amazing. We are going to speak with Sergeant Jason Olson, the first officer on the scene. Those stories a lot in politics tonight and the "ridiculist." And all that John, at the top of the hour.

KING: The video is amazing. Every time I see that, I just crypt by. God bless those people. That's amazing helping like that. Anderson, we'll see you in just a few minutes.

We learned some important lessons from our CNN tea party presidential debate. One is that while Ron Paul has a fervent remarkably loyal core following, he also has a ceiling, any chance to grow into a threat to capture the nomination, undermined by controversial views like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have been explicit. They have been explicit and they wrote and said that we attacked we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia. You do not give Palestinians a fair treatment and you have been bombing, I didn't say that. I'm trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You could hear some tea party voters didn't like that. What else did we learn last night? Our Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.

Let's start with Congressman Paul because he has a remarkably fervent group of supporters, they e-mail and tweet and call us and complain if they don't think we're giving him a fair shake. And to their credit, they're everywhere around the country where you go but, growth ability?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No. You know, he's not even going to win a primary. He's an important part of the debate. In fact, I would argue that the debate in this campaign in the Republican Party has moved more towards Ron Paul than away from Ron Paul when you think back to 2000.

KING: In terms of troops overseas and muscular foreign policy.

BORGER: Absolutely. When you heard about Republicans talking about bringing our troops home, et cetera, so it's moved towards him, but on issues like that, Ron Paul does not carry the Republican Party.

KING: And so between the two guys at the top Governor Perry and Governor Romney, the biggest dispute has been Social Security. Governor Romney trying to essentially say doesn't nominate this guy because he thinks Social Security is unconstitutional and he'll never win a general election. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PERRY: If what you're trying to say is that back in the '30s and the '40s that the federal government made all the right decisions, I disagree with you.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But the question is do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program as you did six months ago when your book came out and return it to the states or do you want to retreat from that -

PERRY: I think we're having a conversation.

ROMNEY: We're having that right now, governor. We're running for president.

PERRY: I'll finish this conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: They were having the conversation and Governor Perry never said with a yes or no does he still believe Social Security is unconstitutional. He's going to have to give a yes or no.

BORGER: He's going to have to explain whether it is unconstitutional and, by the way, I also believe he's going to have to come up with a plan for Social Security now, because he came out in a piece in "USA Today" and started talking about reforming Social Security. I spoke to somebody who works for him, I said, OK, if he wants to reform it for younger people, how is he going to do that now? So, I think he's now gotten himself in a position where he has to say this is what I want to do with it and answer the question about whether he wants to leave it to each state to have a different kind of Social Security.

KING: But that's a key point. It's fascinating because a lot of tea party voters, they agree with him on this. They think, they read the constitution as constitutional conservatives, they say it's not there. The federal government shouldn't be doing this. They should be up to states or individuals, they might have different views. But if Governor Perry appeals to them, the risk is in a general election, the more moderate and independent voters or have they switched?

BORGER: First of all, as one Republican just said to me, are there any tea party members who are actually on Social Security? Because I think there are, right?

So, you've got, you've got that problem. So, I think that it is a general election issue, but it's also a larger question. Lots of times people go into political campaigns believing they're going to be transformational, ala Barack Obama. They end up understanding that the American public is more incremental than transformational. And so, while they may be willing to make smaller changes, raising the Social Security retirement age, changing the way we calculate cost of living adjustments. Do they want to say, OK, by the way, overnight, we're going to end Social Security as a federal program and let's give it back to the states? Or maybe not overnight, even for people 40 and below. I'm not so sure. KING: What I find fascinating about this race is the different bets. Governor Perry is betting the tea party which came out of no where in 2010 is ascendant and will continue to be a huge force in the Republican Party. Governor Romney is saying it has an impact but there's a more establishment Republican Party that has been out there in the past and it will be there next year and if I appeal to them I can overcome the tea party guys. Amy Kremer, as you know she runs the tea party express, she thinks, she thinks group, her voters, are growing in power.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMY KREMER, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: Look, we're going to choose the next Republican nominee. We're not going to accept what the Republican Party hands us, and what people need to understand is we're not here to send a Republican to Washington. We want to send a conservative to Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're not going to accept who the Republican Party hands us.

BORGER: Wow. It sounds like a threat of a third party, doesn't it? Look, they were very, very important, very influential in the 2010 midterm elections for one reason, they turned out to vote. The question is do they have the staying power? We know their national popularity has declined tremendously since people started understanding a little bit more about the tea party. They've not gotten more popular. But we have to see whether they turn out in force in Republican primary.

KING: It seems like civil war, tug-of-war? How would you describe it?

BORGER: I would describe it as a civil war inside the Republican party, and, by the way, if you have Mitt Romney win in New Hampshire, you may have somebody else win in Iowa, like a Michele Bachmann or a Perry, and then you're going to have a real fight for the heart and soul of the Republican party, more establishment candidates versus tea party candidates. And that's all good for one person, Barack Obama.

KING: All right. Gloria Borger, appreciate it. This is getting interesting.

BORGER: Yes.

KING: And next, more about the debate. What some of the candidates said last night and the facts?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Instead of giving it to the states, let's give it back to the -

(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Our lively CNN tea party debate included a few statements that we thought deserved to be put to the truth test. Like this critique of the Obama health care plan from Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama in a stunning, shocking level of power now just recently told all private insurance companies you must offer the morning-after abortion pill because I said so, and it must be free of charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, yes and no. Let's take a closer look. It is true that the administration requires insurers to cover emergency contraception. The free of charge assertion, though, that's a bit of a stretch. Insurers are not allowed to charge an additional co-pay for such services but if the plan has a co-pay, you'd still have to pay it.

The use of the term "abortion" also is the subject of fierce debate. The morning after pill design to be taken within three to five days after a sexual encounter, prevents the egg from being fertilized or implanted in the uterus. Most doctors would not consider that an abortion but for some because of religious or other beliefs it is still considered destroying life.

We should know if the administration explicitly excludes coverage, excludes coverage of drugs that terminate pregnancies up to seven weeks. So, how would you score Bachmann's comments? Look it up right here. Remember, free morning-after abortion pills, I think we'd have to put this one just a little bit short of the truth which makes it somewhat misleading.

So, here is another one. Texas Governor Rick Perry trying to explain to his rivals and skeptical tea party voters why he supports a Texas law, that provides in-state tuition benefits and financial aid to children of illegal immigrants.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: We decided it was in the best interests of those young people to give them the opportunity to go on to college and to have the opportunity they're pursuing citizenship in this country. Rather than saying, you know, we're going to put you over here and put you on the government dole for the rest of your life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Ed Lavandera is with us in Dallas tonight to help us test that explanation on the government dole for the rest of your life. Ed, what's the governor talking about? ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been kind of hard to figure that out exactly, John, but it can mean a wide range of things. And it's interesting because obviously Texas is a border state and in many Border States, this has been an issue that's long been debated and there are a lot of different ways to look at it.

But back in track a comptroller's, state comptroller report here in Texas, it's kind of weighed the benefits and the costs of illegal immigration in the state of Texas. And what it found is that overall illegal immigrants provide almost $500 million into the state economy here.

However, when you break that down and look at it. When you look at education costs and health care costs, that's where the biggest drain is from illegal immigrants and on the state economy here in Texas. And, obviously, critics and people who agree with Governor Perry will point to that and perhaps being on the dole, that's what they're talking about.

KING: But health care costs going to the emergency room, the state picks up the tab. What's the difference whether you're in college or not, right?

LAVANDERA: Right, and that's the other issue. When you look at the education costs and specifically what they were talking about last night is the number of students that are - the children of illegal immigrants are getting instate tuition. This accounts for roughly one percent of the student population in Texas universities and community colleges, about 16,500 students in all.

If you look at the amount of difference in the money they pay instate tuition and on average you extrapolate that out to what they would have paid if they had all enrolled as nonresident students? That means that Texas is missing out on $84 million. That's a huge caveat. Because if you tell us, a lot of these students that they'd have to pay three times as many instate tuition, many education experts here in Texas would simply tell you they are not going to enroll. So, that $84 million number probably isn't terribly accurate but you'll probably start hearing that number being thrown around quite a bit, John.

KING: I bet you will hear it thrown around quite a bit. I was at a luncheon with 100 or so tea party voters, most of them from Florida but some from other places. And this Ed is one of the things that just make them furious. They don't take a, most of them want to have the round them up, throw them out approach to illegal immigration. But especially when it comes to government resources being spent, it makes them furious. Is it as unpopular in Texas? Governor Perry last night was making the case, I think he only four dissenting votes in the legislature. Is this sort of nobody cares it's not controversial in Texas as it is with the tea party nationally?

LAVANDERA: What's interesting is that this was passed in Texas ten years ago. So obviously, ten years ago, the political climate much different. Remember, we were in an era before 9/11 where Governor George W. Bush had recently become president, was actually talking about extending the olive branch to Mexico, trying to figure out, trying to solve the immigration issue. All of that after 9/11 went by the wayside and the politics around this, as you well know, has changed dramatically in the last ten years.

KING: Dramatically would be a significant understatement. You're right, it changes. And still we'll see what happens on this one.

Let's put another one to the test. Michele Bachmann was criticizing the governor on this issue of the HPV vaccine requiring young girls to get a vaccine. Shed the governor decided, in her view, to issue this executive order because of undue influence. She said his former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for the pharmaceutical company that most benefited Governor Perry took issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: The Company was Merck and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does he have reason to be offended? Was it $5,000, Ed?

LAVANDERA: Well, this is interesting. Merck donated $5,000 to Rick Perry's gubernatorial campaign in 2006, just that one year alone. In all, in the last ten years since Rick Perry has been governor, Merck has donated $28,000. Twenty thousand of that was done before this HPV vaccine executive order was issued.

And what's more interesting is that, since 2006 when Governor Perry became very influential in the Republican governors association took on fund-raising activities and became the head of the RGA, the Merck group, the drug maker has donated almost $380,000 to the RGA and $4 million has been donated from the RGA to Governor Rick Perry's campaign. This is the kind of thing, all perfectly legal, I must be perfectly clear about this. But you know finance watchdogs like the groups here in Texas called Texans for public justice it's one of the things that just infuriates them. They think there's a lot more of this than meets the eye.

KING: Well, if there's more to it, people will be scrubbing that record. My first campaign was Governor Dukakis. And I covered Governor Clinton, spent some time covering Governor Bush when governor step up on the national, they think all of this has been litigated Ed and as you know, maybe not. We'll see this.

Ed Lavandera, appreciate your time tonight.

And that's all the time we have tonight. Hope to see you right back here tomorrow.

ANDERSON COOPER 360 starts right now.