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JOHN KING, USA

Interview with Representative Fred Upton; Interview with Representative Steve Israel; Interview with Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Aired September 14, 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 some rare good news for President Obama in the polls, as he warms to a jobs fight with Republicans, our new numbers show big support nationwide when the president says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you want construction workers back on the work site, pass this bill. If you want teachers back in the classroom, pass this jobs bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But there's bad news for the president, too, and lots of it. For starters, Democrats lose a New York congressional seat the party has held for 90 years. And the Republican winner predicts it's just a down payment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB TURNER (R), NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN-ELECT: I am telling you, I am the messenger, heed us, this message will resound for a full year. It will resound into 2012.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's hardly the only headache for the Obama re-election team. Also of note your collective answer to the question that doomed the last one-term Democratic incumbent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin, though, tonight on Capitol Hill with the congressional investigation in to a big government loan award to a clean energy company that is now bankrupt and under investigation by the FBI. Solyndra is the company's name. Here are some pictures of President Obama visiting the Solyndra plant -- that's May 2010 -- eight months after the federal assistance was awarded. The company collapsed two weeks ago, leaving taxpayers liable for a whopping $535 million loan. One of its biggest investors is George Kaiser (ph) who helped raise as much as 100,000 for the Obama 2008 campaign. Now the White House says it did nothing wrong and when the government invests in emerging technologies, it's inevitable some companies will fail, but some Republicans see it differently, very differently.

They say the Bush administration was skeptical about Solyndra's viability, and now have e-mails from Obama administration officials suggesting the loan was rushed under White House pressure despite appeals that it was to quote one of those e-mails, again, this is from an Obama administration official, quote, "not ready for prime time". To critics, the White House handling of the Solyndra loan violates this pledge candidate Obama made again and again in 2008.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I am going to fight as hard as I can over the next 70 days to make clear to the American people that they deserve a president and a White House that is fighting for them. That's not fighting for the special interests, it's not fighting for the banks and the oil companies and the well connected. But it's fighting for you!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: At a minimum, the White House has some explaining to do. At first it said it had no involvement in pushing the loan to the finish line. But e-mails subpoenaed by the committee show top White House aides including former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel did get involved asking, for example, if the White House could do anything to, quote, "help speed along on the OMB side". The response, quote, "I would prefer that this announcement be postponed", but the announcement went forward. And Vice President Biden participated with great fanfare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So important we invest in Solyndra and invest in what Solyndra is doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, Congress wants to see if undue political pressure was applied and find out why warning signs about the company were overlooked or played down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TIM MURPHY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: In the time you've been there, you became aware of this, did you begin to address these issues with Solyndra to say show me the money?

JONATHAN SILVER, DEPT. OF ENERGY LOAN PROGRAMS OFFICE: Well we talked with -- staff talked with the company on a regular -- MURPHY: I really want you to stop throwing everybody else under the bus. I hear you throwing all your staff under the bus. I want to know, you're in charge. You've handled loans of this size and now you're saying it's everybody else's fault but you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The man heading that investigation is the Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton; we spoke a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Mr. Chairman, I want to get into the details in a second, but first I want to set the threshold question, is it your question whether political influence, campaign contributions had role here or is your biggest question whether the administration should have seen a flashing light saying this company was in trouble and not giving them the money?

REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: All of the above. From the way that I understand it, the Bush administration said there's not enough evidence for this thing to move forward. And they said that in early January of '09 before President Obama took office. Six days after he takes office, they begin to reignite this whole episode. We have now seen the e-mails saying this is not ready for prime time, you know, what needs to happen.

As our committee began to investigate the whole scenario, they, then, began to restructure the loan, which by the way is in violation of the law and because the law clearly says that the taxpayer -- if one of these companies goes belly up, the taxpayer comes first, not last. And so literally as we begin the investigation, they restructure the whole thing and the taxpayer ends up last, so not only do we have 1,100 people lose their job, the taxpayers lose maybe more than half a billion dollars.

KING: All right, let me --

UPTON: And never ready for prime time is what their own internal memos were saying.

KING: All right -- excuse me for interrupting, sir. Let's get back to the questions in order, then, you say all of the above. By saying politics played a role, perhaps campaign contributions played a role. That's a big -- that's a big thing to say. We can have a question about whether they made a bad judgment but what's the evidence that they were influenced by campaign contributions or politics of any kind?

UPTON: Well, we'll see where the investigation takes us. We know that Mr. Kaiser (ph) was a major bundler for the Obama administration. We know that the White House log show that he was at the White House a good number of times when this thing was proceeding again. We're going to be having the executives from the company; they've agreed to come testify next week for the Oversight Subcommittee Friday. They'll be sworn in as all witnesses are, and we'll see where this takes us, but I think right now you have to look at all options are on the table as to how did this proceed and how did the taxpayer lose literally a half a billion dollars?

KING: I want to read from one of the e-mail exchanges that has people curious and some people suspicious of whether the White House was trying to help a donor. This is an e-mail exchange August 31. "The special assistant to the then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel noted the vice president's announcement at Solyndra" -- the vice president was planning to go out there for a trip and asked whether, quote, "There is anything we can help speed along on the OMB side". Essentially the chief of staff's office saying can we help speed the process up. How is that any different? I bet your office from time to time has called whether it's the Small Business Administration or the Veterans Administration to help a constituency, saying hey the bur bureaucracy is bugged up, gummed up, speed this up.

UPTON: Look, when you're looking at $535 million, shouldn't someone be asking the question is this viable or not, particularly when the administration itself said, do you know what, if this thing goes forward, they could be out of cash by September of 2011. That was two years -- a year and a half before September 2011 came about. Their own -- own stuff that they had showed that this was not perhaps going to be a viable company.

Why, then, are they speeding forward? Why are they change -- or going against what the law says in terms of restructuring to try and push this before the evidence is there? We've seen evidence that they knew that, in fact, it cost $6 per panel and they were selling them for three. Who makes money that way? The taxpayer loses.

KING: We've dealt with the politics question but I just want to ask you clearly because people (INAUDIBLE). You say want to find out, you bring in the witnesses. As we speak today, you have zero evidence of any wrongdoing, correct? You just have suspicions.

UPTON: Well we've got now -- you know we tried to get the documentation early on. We scheduled hearings and the administration literally didn't show up. They promised us that they were going to provide documents. They never came. Finally we resorted to the last resort and that was a subpoena, and in mid-July we served a subpoena on the administration. It still took more than a month to get a lot of the stuff that was there, and as we're examining now a lot of the stuff that we finally got, we're now finding these e-mails that nobody knew about before.

So, we're going to see exactly where this takes us. How did this thing get approved and how -- who made the decision to restructure the loan so that, in fact, at the end of the day because they did go belly up, in direct contradiction to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, did someone make the decision to put the taxpayer last instead of first when they filed Chapter 11.

KING: As you know, some of the Democrats on your committee say this is an overzealous Republican majority trying to embarrass the president and trying to advance some of your own policy decisions. Listen to your colleague Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The majority has chosen to politicize this program and it is attempting to discredit clean energy the same way they have tried to do -- to climate science. It is that simple -- that simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is it that simple?

UPTON: This has nothing to do with climate science. This has everything to do with are we going to support a company that is actually going to be able to pay the money back to the taxpayer. I support renewable energy. We had a key vote earlier this summer. I was -- I was a yes vote, it passed by two votes. This is -- appears to be when the administration's documents themselves show that it's not viable, it's not ready for prime time, it's -- they're going to run out of cash by September of 2011, who in their right mind would support them a half a billion dollar loan that they know may never get -- be paid back and now for these unfortunate 1,100 souls that worked there, they're left with absolutely nothing at the end of the day.

KING: The White House press secretary says this is what happens. This is how business works. You invest in 10 companies. One or two of them might fail.

UPTON: Well when they have the evidence to show that it's not going to succeed, why does someone push the button and move ahead? And was it just because it was a campaign donor? We'll find out.

KING: What do you think?

UPTON: I don't know. We'll find out. We're going to wait for all the evidence to come in.

KING: Chairman Upton, appreciate your time tonight.

UPTON: Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Still to come, another day, another 2012 battleground state. North Carolina this time as President Obama plugs his jobs bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There may be people, whose refrain is, no we can't. But I believe, yes we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And next, the stunning upset in a New York City congressional district and what it does and doesn't tell us about the landscape for 2012. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Republicans are downright giddy tonight over a stunning upset in a congressional district held by Democrats since 1920. Republican Bob Turner not only won but won big in the district last represented by Anthony Weiner who, of course, resigned in disgrace after admitting inappropriate online relationships with several women. Geraldine Ferraro also once represented the congressional district that includes chunks of Brooklyn and Queens and given that Democrats held the seat for 90 years, well it's hard to argue with Turner's take on the results.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TURNER: We have been told this is a referendum and we're ready to say, Mr. President, we are on the wrong track.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, let's take a closer look at just what we're talking about. Here's the state of New York, the district down here. In New York City you see Manhattan over there, this district has Brooklyn and Queens, let's take a closer look now. In the November 2010 midterm -- let me close that down for you -- Anthony Weiner, remember he just resigned; he got 61 percent of the vote against this same Republican, 61-39. That was just last November. What happened last night, 54 for Turner, 46 percent for his Democratic opponent who is a scion of a big political family. A huge win for the Republican there, so what about in presidential politics, yes, this is not a strong district for President Obama, 55 percent of the vote, John Kerry at about the same four years before that.

Here's the big thing that makes you jump. Remember, the Republican won this district. Look at the voter registration. Look at the voter registration. Even if you add in the conservatives to the Republicans, 3-1 voter advantage for the Democrats and yet they lost. Yes, just one special election but to lose in the heart of one of America's most Democratic cities and lose by eight points is a stunning rebuke to President Obama and the Democrats and an embarrassment for the man who hopes to lead the Democrats back to a House majority. Congressman Steve Israel also of New York heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Congressman, you are charged with getting the Democrats in majority, getting the gavel back in Nancy Pelosi's hands. If you can't win in the heart of New York City, how are you going to win in Colorado, in rural Michigan, across the Midwest and in the South?

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D-NY), CHMN., DEM. CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN CMTE.: Well, the same things were asked of the Republicans when we won a special election in one of the most Republican districts in the United States in upstate New York. Look, the fact of the matter is that they stole one from us in downstate New York and it's not the end of the world for us just as we stole one from them in upstate New York and it wasn't the end of the world for them.

Special elections are not predictive, John. Let me just give you one statistic. In 2006, we lost every single competitive special election and Democrats won the House of Representatives. In 2010, we won every single competitive special election and we lost control of the House of Representatives. They are moments in time. They are not predictive of trends.

KING: You don't think this means anything, then, just one loss even though Democrats have held this seat for 90 years?

ISRAEL: Look, it was a tough loss. You know, I wish we had won. I'm not going to minimize it. I'm not going to sugarcoat it --

KING: But what happened? But what happened?

ISRAEL: But it was a loss based -- it was a loss based on a confluence of events, a perfect storm, if you will, of so many different factors in a particular district on a particular day. And those factors will not be operative in every district we need to win on the days we need to win them. This is the loss of a battle in a war just as the Republicans lost a battle in New York 26 in a war. They'll have good days. We'll have good days. At the end of the day, people are going to vote for the party that's pushing for job creation not the party that's obstructing job creation.

KING: You know well how this works, when Kathy Hokele (ph), the Democrat you just mentioned, when she won that seat, a lot of Republicans in private and some publicly said what do we need to do differently? What did we do wrong? Are you telling fellow Democrats especially those in tough districts next year don't worry, don't do anything wrong, or do they need to adjust and learn a lesson from this?

ISRAEL: No, look it is certainly not my style to tell everyone -- anyone not to worry. I am paid to worry. We're not going to win elections by optimism. We win them with a cold-blooded, clear-eyed plan. I'm telling not just Democrats, but I think that Republicans ought to take the same lesson from this election. People are not too fond of incumbents. The bad news for us is that our candidate was treated as an incumbent in that election. The good news for us is that there are many more Republican incumbents that have to defend seats going into the cycle than we do. And so at the end of the day I would not call the 2012 election based on what happened yesterday in Brooklyn and Queens, 40,000 voters.

KING: The winner of that one special election says to President Obama this is a referendum and this is just a down payment. Tell him why you think he's wrong.

ISRAEL: Well again, I think that there was a confluence of events. Look, the president's numbers were low in that district, 33 percent disapproval, but that's a 33 percent disapproval in a congressional district on one day --

KING: Isn't it worse than that in many parts of the country though? Isn't it -- you make a very key point here, you say the president's disapproval rating there in New York City, it's down I New York City, but if you look elsewhere in the country, if you look in white rural America -- I was just looking at the polling last night in the Midwest and out in the West, key areas for the Democrats, both in the Senate and as you try to take back the House, the president's numbers in that part of the country, those parts of the country are lower than they are in New York City.

ISRAEL: I'm not going to quibble with you on that. They are. The question is where will they be next year? If this special election was in September of 2012, I think that the White House would have to be far more concerned and worried than they are now. The fact of the matter is that there was a confluence of events, again, a perfect storm. It wasn't just the fact that the president's numbers needed to be higher than they were. There were a variety of other factors.

You had some cultural issues. You had some disagreements on U.S./Israeli relations and those disagreements don't necessarily play out in other districts throughout the country. You had some disagreements on marriage equality. There were a confluence of different events that came together converged on this district. It was a perfect storm and we couldn't prevail, but we're going to stay focused on our strategy. We're not going to change our strategy based on a moment in time.

KING: And if the president's numbers don't go up between now and then? I assume you'd be willing to admit that Nancy Pelosi will not be the speaker and that the Senate Democratic majority would be in jeopardy?

ISRAEL: Look, I take it one district at a time, one day at a time and we're not focused on who the speaker is going to be and what the president's numbers are going to be, because quite honestly, that's out of my control. What's in my control is number one, do our candidates have the mechanics, the financing, the message that they need? Number two, if Republicans are going to continue to obstruct job creation and small business growth in this economy are we effectively holding them accountable and responsible for that obstructionism? And if we're right on number one and we're right on number two I feel confident that the House will continue to be in play --

(CROSSTALK)

ISRAEL: The House is in play even today after yesterday's special election.

KING: But isn't it fair to say that history proves number three especially when the -- when the president is an incumbent that your party -- your party will rise or fall based on his numbers?

ISRAEL: We're going to -- well, the numbers are where they are today. But we'll see what happens with those numbers over the next several months and into next year.

KING: Steve Israel is the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, sir thanks for your time tonight.

ISRAEL: Thank you, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Still to come NASA's big brand-new rocket. Will it ever get off the drawing board?

Also he's America's most controversial sheriff, a man critics accused of racial profiling in his zeal for fighting illegal immigration, but some leading Republican candidates for president want his blessing, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: He calls himself America's toughest sheriff. Critics call him a racial profiler and accuse him of stoking anti-immigrant sentiment and Republican presidential candidates well they just call him or swing by for a visit. Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is with us tonight fresh from a meeting with Republican presidential-candidate Michele Bachmann. Sheriff it's good to see you. Michele Bachmann, did she ask for your endorsement?

SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: Well she came to my office. We had a nice talk. I'm sure she would like my endorsement. Romney called me last night, Governor Perry last week, I met with Cain, so you know they come in, I talked to them, and it's nice to meet with them.

KING: Well let's go through some of the issues, we'll see where Sheriff Joe might end up at the end. In the debate the other night Congresswoman Bachmann was asked this -- it was not the other night -- I'm sorry -- a debate a week or so ago she was asked this hypothetical. Well let's suppose we get to the point where you want to get, where the border is secured. Illegal immigrants are not coming over in any big numbers anymore. Then what do you do about the millions of illegal immigrants already here? Now I know, I've met you, we've talked many times over the years, I know you're a round- them-up and throw-them-out guy. Here's her view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: It is sequential and it depends upon where they live, how long they have been here, if they have a criminal record, all of those things have to be taken into play.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is that tough enough to get your blessing?

ARPAIO: Well you know, we do our thing here. We just locked up 24 more last night. Everybody can say secure the border. Why do they have to say first? Yes, first and then they'll go into the interior and lock up those that are here illegally? No, we have to hit it from the border in and also in the interior. So I wish they would take the first out of that secure the border and say let's lock them up in the interior of the United States like we have done, my office.

KING: Well, you mentioned Governor Perry called. He, of course, is the governor of Texas, another border state, a longer border than you have. One of the groups that is constantly critical of you is the National Council of La Raza. Governor Perry went to speak to them just a couple of months back and he took note of the law passed in Arizona and had this to say about Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That Arizona law that was passed, you know, it may be right for Arizona, it ain't exactly right for Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Could you endorse a guy who doesn't like the Arizona immigration law?

ARPAIO: Well, yes, the 1070, you know about that, we've been locking them up without the 1070. Listen, I'm sure he's been using his Texas Rangers and DPS (ph) to patrol the border because the feds won't do it. He's talking as a governor of Texas, not as a president of the United States.

KING: Well, another thing he has done as governor, it was a debate nationally, President Obama wanted to do it as president, was give in-state college tuition benefits to children of illegal immigrants. That's Governor Perry's position. The woman you just met with, she took issue with that in our debate the other night. Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is that we believe in you. That if you want to live in the state of Texas and you want to pursue citizenship that we're going to allow you the opportunity to be contributing members in the state of Texas and not be a drag on our state.

(CROSSTALK)

BACHMANN: And I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does it help or hurt your cause, Sheriff, if a state offers tuition benefits, other state assistance, taxpayer money, to illegal immigrants or their children?

ARPAIO: Well, that DREAM Act is a big problem. I have to go on the part of it that if you violate the law regardless of the circumstances, you're here illegally you have to get out of this country. So, I would side with that. But I'm not going to talk -- I'm not going to second-guess the governor of Texas right now. I mean, you know, he can change his attitude, too. I talked with him for 20 minutes. Maybe I can sway him on certain situations regarding illegal immigration.

KING: Well, let me give you one more contrast. You were a Romney guy back in 2008. Your home state Senator John McCain wasn't too thrilled with that. I remember those days. I don't want to dwell into past history, but you were a Romney guy in 2008. Governor Romney also took issue with one of Governor Perry's positions at the debate the other night. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But with regards to illegal immigration, of course, we'd build a fence, and of course, we do not give in-state tuition credits to people who have come here illegally.

PERRY: 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: So, help me out. Where is Sheriff Joe as we have this conversation tonight, Perry's called, Romney's called, he was your guy last time, Bachmann just came in for a personal visit. You said you met with Mr. Cain or spoke to him as well. Who is it going to be?

ARPAIO: Well maybe I ought to run for president. I'm going to Iowa Friday, been to New Hampshire, I'm just joking. But you know what, if you want to build a fence, OK. But when you hop over it, you should go to jail. That's my problem with all these guys saying build a fence. What happens when you hop the fence? You put them in jail. You don't bring them back across the border, so that's my philosophy on the fence.

KING: Help me understand where we are in our politics. You know you have many critics. Some of them are watching right now and I'm going to get the angry e-mails why did you even put this guy on TV. And if you look at the statistics the administration gives you, they say number one, more boots on the ground. Number two, they say there are fewer people coming across. Number three, they say they are throwing more people out, deporting more people than they ever did in the Bush administration. So, the administration would say it is making progress in this fight.

But I was at a Tea Party forum the other day and if you talk to Tea Party voters, boy, if you listen to them, you would think they are coming across by the tens of thousands an hour. Listen to this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you 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 because we can already put over 4 million people back to work immediately by just going after the employers and making the fine sticks and not slap them on the wrist and let them do it again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is the administration right when it says in a high unemployment economy, they are not wanting to come across as much, and that the situation now is better than three or four years ago?

ARPAIO: We're locking them up every day. We go into the workplaces, locked up over 500 and hit over 45 different businesses, and most of the people there working have false identification. We don't have any problems locking up people coming into our county. My office, over 50,000 we have investigated, arrested, in the jails and on our streets.

So, what is this that they're not coming across? We're doing it. We're just a little old sheriff's office.

KING: Maybe that phone call's another one calling, trying to sneak in after the conversation with Congressman Bachmann.

Let me close with this and it's t-ball for you, I guess. But what value would it be for a Republican presidential candidate do you think to have Sheriff Joe's endorsement in Arizona?

ARPAIO: I don't know. You got to ask them. They're all calling me.

I have four guys running for president a few years ago. They all lost when they visited me in my tent city jail. So, why do they keep coming asking for my endorsement? I don't know. I must be doing something right. It's not because of my looks.

KING: When you're ready to make that pick, Sheriff Joe, we hope you'll give us a call. We'll keep in touch as the campaign unfolds. Appreciate your time tonight.

ARPAIO: OK. Thank you.

KING: And still to come here, challenger Ronald Reagan asked a simple question as he roared to victory in 1980. Are you better off now than you were four years ago? Well, your answer today to that same question says a lot about President Obama's re-election odds.

And next, the latest outrage by Mexico's drug cartels.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

Here's the latest news you need to know right now: And the first story comes with this warning. Even though we've blurred the image you're about to see, it is very disturbing. Mexican drug cartels left two mutilated bodies hanging from a pedestrian bridge in Nuevo Laredo. This is along the U.S./Texas border. A warning sign says they used social networks to denounce the cartels and, quote, "This is going to happen to all of those posting funny things on the Internet," end quote.

In Libya, the interim leadership has given civilians 48 hours notice to leave the city of Bani Walid, which is a stronghold of pro- Gadhafi forces. A statement from a Gadhafi spokesman, though, says, quote, "We will continue to fight."

Today, NASA unveiled plans for a new rocket that will be even more powerful than the Saturn V which launched a man to the moon. They call it the space launch system that will carry NASA's Orion spacecraft, the replacement for the space shuttle. The price tag, get this, $18 billion. The first launch scheduled for 2017.

Next, today's answer to a question Ronald Reagan posed 31 years ago. And it's bad news for the current president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" coming up at the top of the hour.

Let's check in with Anderson for a preview. Hey there.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Hey, John.

Ahead tonight on "360," at 8:00 p.m., keeping them honest -- Michele Bachmann still under fire for her claim that the HPV vaccine could cause, her words, mental retardation. The claim has been refuted, of course, on a medical front.

But, now, some political observers are saying that statement could be the nail in the coffin for the Bachmann campaign. We're going to talk to a former Bachmann staffer about his time working with her and why he says her constant stretching of the truth led him to step down.

Also, Syria's crackdown against its own citizens enters its sixth month, six months of murders and brutal torture, six months of scarred lifeless bodies being returned to families as a warning to others. It is has now happened again. This time, a human rights activist allegedly tortured to death by government thugs and then at his funeral, the crowds were fired upon. We'll tell you his story.

His name is Ghiyath Matar, just 26. He's been on the run for three months before being hauled away last week in Damascus. Tonight on the program, you'll hear from one of his close friends, the last person to see him alive before his arrest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMEER, SYRIAN ACTIVIST (via telephone): My friend was killed under severe torture, and my other friends are under -- are arrested now. And they are -- there is a very big risk of them to have the same destiny that has already happened. So, it doesn't matter for me if I been caught, so -- because the revolution is going on, and I'm very sure of our victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Young man risking his life to speak out on our program tonight, he'll be joining us for that, John, at 8:00.

KING: Anderson, we'll see you in a few minutes.

You know, you're a busy guy these days. You got a new day time show in addition to keeping this night show. And I finally figured it out, let's show our viewers. You got a body double.

COOPER: Yes. Which is the one? Which is the real me? I don't know.

KING: So, this is unveiled today at Madame Tussauds. Look at that. I don't think they have the hair just right.

COOPER: Yes. Well, I don't know. It's amazing what they've done. I think I guess that's what I'm going to look like when I'm dead. It sort of what it feels like to me.

But, yes, it was very surreal. It's a really surreal thing.

KING: I was going to insist, I think I'll end better you than me, I guess. We'll see you in a few minutes.

COOPER: All right. Thanks, John.

KING: If I were briefing President Obama on our new poll tonight, I'd start the conversation this way -- well, sir, there's a little good news and more than a little bad news.

On the plus side, key elements of his job plan do have significant backing. Seventy-four percent of Americans, for example, favor federal aid to help states hire teachers and police and firefighters. And 64 percent of Americans favor federal spending to build roads, bridges, and schools. So, short term maybe some leverage in those negotiations with House Republicans.

But long term, bleak hardly does justice to describe the mood of the country. Let's start here. Are you better off than you were three years ago? Thirty-two percent say yes. But 58 percent say no. That's a bad number, a very bad number for a president about to ask for four more years.

Let's go behind the numbers and their meaning with CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican political consultant Jim Dyke.

Paul, you were with Bill Clinton when he ran for re-election and he had a much better story to tell than President Obama does now. When you have that many people in the country saying I'm not better off, is that not how they judge an incumbent?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he needs to have a choice and not a referendum. Frankly, President Clinton -- he won a referendum. I mean, Senator Dole ran a fine campaign. He's really an honorable man, but the country wanted to keep their president and that ended the inquiry.

I think this next election is going to have to be a choice, not a referendum. The answer is going to be -- to ask a better question, will you be better off with a Republican president who wants to end Social Security entirely because it's unconstitutional, it shouldn't be allowed in our government --

KING: You're saying Perry is the nominee, are you ceding the Republican nomination?

BEGALA: Or a president like a Mitt Romney who supports budget plan that would essentially end Medicare, preserving tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires and oil companies, or would you rather invest in teachers, cops and firefighters?

Now, you got a contrast here. Now, you got a fight. It cannot be simply a referendum. It's got to be a choice.

KING: Let's see, I can see you are loaded to go here. But is it -- do you get to the choice? I understand the contrast the Democrats trying to make.

But to even get there when look -- at more numbers in our poll, are you angry about the way things are going in the country today? Seventy-two percent say they're angry. Are you scared about the way things are going in the country today? Seventy-one percent say yes.

When people are that frightened, I should be asking the Republican this, but it's hard if you're the incumbent, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, an independent or a Martian. If that's the mood of the electorate, how do you say give me more years?

JIM DYKE, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: There's no doubt Democrats want the American people to ask a different question. The main question they're asking is: where are the jobs? The president promised to change Washington. He promised to change the tone. He promised to change the way things operate.

Over 380 bills passed by a totally Democratic-controlled Congress signed by the president, trillions of dollars in stimulus, a total restructuring of our health care, one-seventh of our economy, regulations through Dodd/Frank -- all of this costing the American people additional money and no job creation. Stimulus has been a failure.

The regulations are holding up the development of new jobs because businesses don't know what's going to happen next. They're petrified by the uncertainty.

KING: And so, the question, Paul, you would concede, you have conceded here, it's a very tough environment for the president and you've also given him some advice they're not so happy with at times.

I just want to show -- I want to show our viewers -- I just want to show our viewers where he's going. The president -- this is a 2008 map here, blue, Obama. Red, McCain. This is where he's been since he gave the job speech. North Carolina, Virginia, two states he won last time, not Democratic states, he wants to keep them. Iowa, also a bellwether in presidential politics.

If you go back to his travel since April, look, this is pretty obvious. These are almost all official presidential trips and they are almost all political battleground states.

From the perspective is he doing the right thing, he's in a ditch. We know the country is in a bad mood. Is he doing the right thing?

BEGALA: Absolutely. In terms of where he's going --

KING: And what he's saying.

BEGALA: And what he's saying.

In terms of where he's going, absolutely. I mean, it would be nice if he added to the 28 states that he picked up, to the nine states that he gained that George Bush had carried, he doesn't need to. He won a big victory with those 28 states.

KING: If the election were held tomorrow, would he hold Virginia, would he hold North Carolina, would he hold Colorado?

BEGALA: If we go state by state, actually yes, because I think he's a spectacular campaigner and he takes my advice, his chief strategist will be Henny Youngman, who every time somebody asked, how's your wife, he said, compared to what? How's your president? Compared to what? Everything has to be about compared to the Republicans. So, attack, attack, attack, contrast, contrast, contrast. Compared to what?

KING: Obama 2012, compared to what?

DYKE: The American people are exhausted of his politicking, of his rhetorical flourish, of his speeches. There's a total -- they no longer believe it.

If you look at a recent resurgent of the public poll, it shows they believe he's a weaker leader -- independents, Hispanics, important groups that the president has to have in all these states. They don't -- they are not going to support him unless they see results. The president can no longer threaten Congress and bang on the table, it's not going to work.

KING: And to that point, to that point, you made your mark in this business because you're a words guy. You're also bare knuckled strategist when you need to be, but you're a good communicator, that's why candidates like you. Jim's right, the president gives this speech, any president, Democrat or Republicans, gives joint address -- joint session of Congress, they usually move the numbers, maybe it's temporary, but they usually move the numbers.

This president this time did not move the numbers. His disapproval is at an all-time high. His handling of the economy stay pretty stagnant, it might have gone, it might have improved a point or two. But why is he -- why is he, this was -- when he was elected, even Republicans conceded masterful communicator, walks on water, why?

BEGALA: Ronald Reagan, a pretty good communicator, also had numbers about like Barack Obama's, too, because words matter but Shakespeare said action is eloquence. And when the president has is a jobs package that as you point in our poll, people really like, particularly independents especially like.

And now, the Republicans who control the House are in the position of either passing it and God forbid helping America -- which seems to be the last thing on their mind -- or failing to pass it and giving President Obama a cudgel to run against, the same way Harry Truman did.

KING: Do those numbers, do those numbers -- if you're Speaker Boehner and you're leader Cantor, you quibble with the president wants to pay for it by raising some taxes and you don't want to raise, and I get that. The he Republicans aren't going to give him that.

But in terms of getting something done, when you see those numbers, 71 percent -- I'm sorry, 64 percent increase spending, road bridges and schools; 74 percent, give money to states, which is something, you know, a lot of Republicans say no way, stimulus two, we're not doing it again. Seventy-four percent that means a lot of Republicans say do that.

Does that give the president some leverage?

DYKE: The president said he's not going to negotiate. It's all or nothing, take my bill and leave it. I'm going to campaign all across the country -- although it looks a little more like target states than all across the country.

House Republicans have already passed important reforms, changes, economic growth that sit in the Senate. The president wanted bipartisan support for his bill, what he's gotten is bipartisan opposition.

Senate Democrats have said this isn't going to fly. Neither on the stimulus side, neither on the tax side, the pay-fors are unacceptable. So, he's got a bipartisan problem on Capitol Hill. Senate Democrats oppose him and House Republicans oppose him.

So, I don't know how he gets out of that conundrum.

BEGALA: I understand. I think Mr. Dyke is spokesman of Senate Democrats. I don't think they would tell you if they talk to them, and I had, that they are opposed to this, but --

KING: They don't like some of it. We got to negotiate on that.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Stay right put. We're not going to let you go.

Up next, the Republican front runner visits Virginia and borrows a lot from a man he hopes to evict from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know it is time for a change in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Change is a buzz word in every election cycle and this time, it's a theme the Republicans say belongs to them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I know it is time for a change in this country. And when I'm talking about change, I'm not talking about the rhetoric of change. I'm talking about a record of change. And I've got that record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, what slogan can the Democratic incumbent rely on and are all Republicans comfortable with the kind of change represented by their current presidential frontrunner, you just saw him there, Governor Rick Perry?

Let's continue the conversation with our smart strategist, Democrat Paul Begala and Republican Jim Dyke.

If President Obama ran on hope and change last time -- I don't mean this to be flip. There's not a lot of hope in the country right now. The economic anxiety has people in a funk and most people don't believe Washington has not changed, but if it has, it has changed for the worse. What does he do? Do you win politics in a bumper sticker, but what is it for 2012?

BEGALA: I think as we were saying before the break, he's got to go to the contrast. He does have, now, a Republican House which is -- you think Barack Obama is unpopular like 40-45. Republican House is like negative 12 or something, I mean, they're really bad. And he has Republican governors in key states now who have come in since him like Rick Scott in Florida, John Kasich in Ohio, Governor Walker in Wisconsin, who are desperately unpopular. They are underwater as we say in polling. More unpopular than popular.

So, he can go around the country and say -- this is what they want to do. They want to abolish Medicare. They want to abolish Social Security. How many jobs will that create, Governor Perry, Governor Romney, Congresswoman Bachmann? How many jobs will it create for you to shut down the Department of Environmental Protection, as if somehow, you know, cutting cancer and asthma would create jobs? I mean, he could take the fight to them, which is what he needs to do.

DYKE: That's a perfect segue because the American people are realizing that government doesn't create jobs and that's what Barack Obama promised, and that's what he spent trillions of dollars on. It hasn't worked. It's failed.

The Republican nominee, I suspect it will be Rick Perry or Mitt Romney, will have a record on job creation. And so, if the president wants to contrast his record on job creation with theirs, that's a happy contrast we're willing to have. But the fact of the matter is, it will be a referendum on the president's failed leadership.

KING: I want to talk about the Republican race in a second. But if you look at these numbers, last time a Democratic president was defeated was Jimmy Carter. Disapproval rating, Obama, Carter, about the same.

Approval rating, President Obama is doing a little bit bitter. The funk in the country, I think, is the same, might even be worse now, different reasons. Iran -- you had Iran back then and a tough economy. You have a really tough economy now.

In a normal environment, would you expect a Democratic challenger? Would you expect some other dynamic in the race? A Ross Perot like figure?

BEGALA: Yes, and I think it's a couple of things.

First off, President Obama has solidified his party. He's been a terrific leader and Democrats across the board. Yes. You know, we all whine and complain -- as I do on the air all the time. But they are united behind him, that's an enormous advantage.

And I also think Democrats learned a lesson of 1980 when Senator Kennedy, God rest his soul, a saint in my eyes, but challenged President Carter and I think weakened him in his re-election or when Pat Buchanan did that to President Bush Sr.

So I don't think he's got any worries on that front, but you might see a third-party candidacy just because the mood of the country is so angry as it was in 1992. And Ross Perrot, you were there, you covered him, he got 19 million votes.

KING: Right.

BEGALA: Despite being, you know, a little eccentric for some --

DYKE: Special elections are snapshots. But if the president has Democrats in his camp so strong behind him, you have to ask why the Democrats lost a seat that have been controlled by Democrats all the way back to 1923 or something.

KING: That's only 90 years, Jim.

DYKE: It's a curious thing for Democrats falling in so far behind the president. He's got problems with his coalition. He's got major problems with independents who don't believe in his policies anymore. They still like him personally, and they want him to succeed. But if they throw that away --

KING: I was going to ask about Governor Perry, I'm going to save question for another day because where we are on time.

Let's talk a little bit more about that. That's New York nine. Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says, ah, snapshot! Ah, this.

But to Jim's point, some special elections mean nothing, no special election means everything. But some mean more than others. Ninety years in the heart of New York City, if the Democrats can't win there, outspent the guy enormously, ask the labor unions to help him out at the end. So, from a candidate perspective, a problem?

BEGALA: Oh, absolutely. But here's the thing -- you have a chest pain. It could be heart attack. It could be heart burn. How about -- no matter what, cut back on the fats. How about jogging a little more?

How about -- I mean, there's only one sensible way a party reacts to this. There's only one to run and that's scared (ph).

KING: Is it the president?

BEGALA: No, it's not the president. It's lots of things. It's the economy, some local matters that Congressman Israel talked about. But it is true that -- Steve Israel told you this, there was an upstate in the same district that hadn't gone Democratic in 120 years.

KING: What lesson do Republicans learn from that? Again, that's an urban area. You don't have a lot of districts like that across America, you're going to be competitive. But what's the lesson?

DYKE: Economy and jobs are the number one issue in this country, and people expect their elected officials to perform and to put forward policies that are going to change the way our economy works. That's what House Republicans have done.

The president gives speech after speech after speech, people aren't buying it anymore . They didn't buy it in New York.

And, by the way, if I'm a Senate Democrat, I'm watching last night's results and I'm thinking the president is going to campaign, run his re-election campaign against a do-nothing Congress? Well, the Democrats control the Senate. I'm thinking, oops!

KING: Oops!

All right. Jim, Paul, thanks for coming in tonight. That's all the time we have tonight. I hope to see you right back here tomorrow. Lots of coverage, including more on Governor Perry, the foreign policy question I wanted to ask but save for another day.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360," though, starts right now.