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JOHN KING, USA

Perry's Post-Debate Troubles; Interview with Michael Oren; GOP Debates; Interview With Rep. Henry Waxman

Aired September 23, 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. You're on the hook tonight for more than $500 million and Congress is trying to find out just how it happened including whether a now bankrupt green energy firm got a big government loan because of political influence in the Obama White House. But don't hold your breath waiting for answers about what went wrong at Solyndra.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL STOVER, CFO, SOLYNDRA: Mr. Chairman, on the advice of my counsel, I must invoke the privilege afforded by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and I respectfully decline to answer any questions put to me by this committee and subcommittee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Harrison (ph), will you invoke your Fifth Amendment rights in response to all questions here today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then you are excused from the witness table at this time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Also the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas rejects appeals from the Obama White House and asks the United Nations for recognition as an independent state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT (through translator): At a time when the Arab peoples affirm their quest for democracy in what is called now the Arab Spring, the time has come also for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But up first tonight, testing time for Republican presidential front-runner Rick Perry, this from earlier today a textbook example of playing it safe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our president, the great promiser of hope and change, he has delivered neither. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: This, on the other hand, well you call this throwing fuel on the fire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My friend Governor Perry said that if you don't agree with his position on giving that in-state tuition to illegals that you don't have a heart. I think if you're opposed to illegal immigration, it doesn't mean that you don't have a heart. It means that you have a heart and a brain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Those competing speeches to a conservative political gathering continued. The immigration dividing line that was on display in last night's latest feisty Republican presidential debate. Governor Perry's immigration views, opposition to a border fence, support for in-state tuition breaks for the children of illegal immigrants are anathema to many conservatives. And there is suddenly a sense the national Republican presidential front-runner is perhaps a bit wobbly.

Our conservative contributor Erick Erickson of RedState.com for example wrote this of Governor Perry's latest shaky debate performance. Quote, "Rick Perry stands on the precipice. He is about to fall off." A "Weekly Standard" editorial by the conservative Bill Kristol was equally harsh. "No front-runner in a presidential field has ever, we imagine, had as weak a showing as Rick Perry. It was close to a disqualifying two hours for him."

It is, we remind you, only September 2011. Still more than four months until the Iowa caucuses, but if Governor Perry is wounded tonight, how much so? Erick Erickson is with us tonight from Macon, Georgia. Long-time Florida conservative activist Al Cardenas is in Orlando and the veteran "Washington Post" political writer Dan Balz is with me here in studio.

Dan, let me start with you. We've covered a lot of these things. This is a case of fast gravity, I guess. Rick Perry went up very quick. Has he really fallen that fast?

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: Well, there is certainly a lot of air that's come out of the balloon. We have not seen with him what happened with Michele Bachmann, who went very quickly up and then very rapidly down. But he has certainly been damaged by the three debates that he's participated in.

And the reviews particularly from conservatives, as you point out, have been very, very harsh, especially in the wake of last night's debate. So I think there's no question that he's wounded. Does he have time to recover? Certainly, but he's in a different place today than he was.

KING: And let's dig deeper into exactly why. And Erick Erickson, I want to start with you on the policy. You heard Governor Romney there essentially going after Governor Perry, who said this in last night's debate. Governor Perry, the Texas governor of a border state, have supported those in-state tuition breaks for the children of illegal immigrants and here's why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: But if you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That is his position. It has been his position for more than a decade, Erick, but he's telling a lot of conservative voters who disagree with him they don't have a heart.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, that's not helpful. This reminds me of the George Bush rhetoric in 2005 with his comprehensive immigration reform where conservatives got mad at him not necessarily to begin with, with what he was doing, but the way he was demagoguing the issue against conservatives. This isn't going to help Perry. If he actually explained his policy, I actually think most conservatives would probably agree with it. We are actually only talking about a couple of hundred students for the entire state of Texas.

And explain that versus the offset of if they weren't going to school getting an education, they would probably be sucking up community resources elsewhere. So that's his position. He just -- he did not have a debate performance last night worthy of a debate performance and -- but of course, his camp today says you know, he's lost every single debate he has ever been in, in any election he's ever run in and still won those elections.

KING: He's never run for president. And a lot of governors do find out it's a little different. But I want to get to the debating skills or lack thereof in a moment, but Al Cardenas let me go to you. You just heard Erick there saying if the governor explains his position, he believes most conservatives would agree with him. Do you believe that?

We were together just a little more than a week ago at a luncheon in Tampa and you had a lot of Tea Party activists there and they flat- out were just furious when they heard this about Governor Perry, state resources, their tax dollars, going to support the children of illegal immigrants. Can he win this one with the conservative base on the policy question?

AL CARDENAS, FORMER FLORIDA GOP CHAIRMAN: Well you know on the policy question, I didn't understand his response, frankly. Conservatives believe in the Tenth Amendment. He could have said look, this is a state decision. People in the state of Texas on both sides of the aisle supported the subsidy program, whether you agree with it or not, that's how we like it in Texas. But he didn't use that argument. Nationally that doesn't sell. I think that everyone on the panel, all the other candidates and most conservatives didn't have a problem with kids who didn't have anything to do with the decision to come to America going to college, but I don't think anyone in the conservative movement agrees that they ought to receive subsidies, no matter how many of them. And frankly, something that stuck in our craw was if they were in Arkansas, you know a military veteran wanted to go to school in Texas, they would have to pay $100,000 more for their education than that other kid.

And so that won't sell well. And obviously, Governor Perry entered this race, John, without any chinks in the armor. As the campaign goes on, folks find out that all candidates, although they're all very good have a chink in their armor and we are just beginning to discover a few in his.

KING: I have yet to meet the perfect candidate and that is one of the questions, that's an important policy issue he's going to have to litigate with conservative voters. Can they accept that? Can they set that aside even if they disagree with him and maybe support him for other positions. But one of the other big things about Governor Perry was people said here's this Texan.

He's smooth, he's aggressive, he's tough, he's the guy we can see up on the stage against Barack Obama next October in the big debates. And then last night this came along. This was his third debate. His reviews have been so-so, not great after the first two debates. Here, he's trying to draw a contrast with Mitt Romney, trying to say essentially Mitt Romney is inconsistent, he flip-flops on the issues, but the answer sounds a bit rambling. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: I think Americans just don't know sometimes which Mitt Romney they're dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment? Was it before he was before the social programs from the standpoint of he was for standing up for Roe versus Wade, before he was against Roe versus Wade. He was for race to the top. He's for Obamacare and now he's against it. I mean we'll wait until tomorrow and see which Mitt Romney we're really talking to tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: To be fair to the governor, Dan Balz, all candidates have rough debate performances and especially new candidates on the presidential stage. Sometimes whether it's nerves, whether it's inexperience he hasn't debated a lot in his races. If he's been ahead, they've said no to debates. But if you're trying to sell yourself in this Republican year, when Republicans feel the president is vulnerable, as the guy you want up on that stage next October, that didn't help.

BALZ: No, it sure didn't and that particular answer along with some of the other things he had to say last night and some of the other debates, have really caused people to say is this the Rick Perry that we thought we were getting when he came into the race. On paper, he looked really good to a lot of conservatives. But as you know, presidential campaigns are a much different order of battle than anything he's gone through. He's never experienced this. There are obviously nerves. There is lack of preparation and I think the third thing he suffers from is he's had to do this all under the bright lights. Everybody gets a chance to make mistakes kind of out of public view. Every mistake he makes now is going to be magnified.

KING: And so, Al, when you're talking to conservative activists at your CPAC meeting today, in other settings, what are their questions now that they have seen this guy, most of them are probably favorably disposed. Now they've had three debates. They have questions. What's the number one and the number two question they have?

CARDENAS: Yes, John, the -- you know using the football metaphor, the big question is well is he in preseason form or is this a regular season and this is the best you get. Most of his supporters push back saying well he's brand new into the process. He's in preseason form, wait until he gets a good hang of it. And other folks are saying well if this is the best he's got, he's in real trouble.

I don't know the answer to that. I guess we'll know as the future takes hold. But you know one thing he's got going for him is unlike previous years where we had two or three debates and a debate like (INAUDIBLE) would have been fatal, you know you fellows are going to have 12 or 15 of these things by the time the primary season is over, so if he lost one round like he did yesterday, he may have 10 more rounds to go to recover, but recover he must if he's going to continue to be a top tier contender.

KING: Al Cardenas in Florida tonight, Dan Balz with me, thank you. Erick is going to be back with us in a little bit. Gentlemen thanks so much for your help tonight. We do have more debates coming and we know Governor Perry will probably feel the pressure to be in the next one. We'll see how it goes from there. Gentlemen, thank you.

Tumultuous developments today at the United Nations and in the Middle East, next will it bring Israel and Palestinians any closer to peace talks?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: At the United Nations today, a defiant public demand for Palestinian statehood and an urgent private effort by the United States and others to get some semblance of a peace process restarted and quickly. The push for statehood by the Palestinian President Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, came despite appeals from the Obama administration that he give diplomacy more time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABBAS (through translator): I do not believe anyone with a shred of conscience can reject our application for a full membership in the United Nations and our admission as an independent state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That Palestinian request is vehemently opposed by Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations General Assembly granting statehood now would be a setback, not progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel is prepared to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank but we're not prepared to have another Gaza there. And that's why we need to have real security arrangements which the Palestinians simply refuse to negotiate with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As that war of words played out, two dynamics worth noting. First, cheers for President Abbas and celebrations in Ramallah as he made his case for statehood at the U.N. Later, though, some clashes between Palestinian youths near Israeli checkpoints. You see them there, in the West Bank. Also the so-called quartet, that's the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia worked on a new proposal designed to get direct negotiations started again, they hope within four weeks.

The goal is to have an agreement, a peace agreement, by the end of 2012, but the quartet's statement avoids the most difficult obstacles to peace talks now. Palestinians, for an example, demand an immediate freeze of settlement expansions. Israel demands recognition as a Jewish state. So hardly clear, this push to resume talks will actually result in productive negotiations but that didn't stop Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from hailing it as a significant breakthrough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The quartet proposal represents the firm conviction of the international community that a just and lasting peace can only come through negotiations between the parties. Therefore, we urge both parties to take advantage of this opportunity to get back to talks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's take a look at how these different perspectives play out on the map. Essentially if you look here, this is the border of Israel, roughly along the 67 border, but you see in this area here in the West Bank, you see yellow shading. That's because Israel has security control over much of the West Bank area. What do the Palestinians want? Well they want an independent state that had this land here, the Palestinians want East Jerusalem. They also want the Gaza Strip.

And in negotiations in the past, they have tried to negotiate some sort of a land swap that gives them a contiguous state that involves some of this land so the Palestinian territories would be connected in the state. That is what they want. Let me clear that up. One of the big obstacles, Israel has built a wall. You see it squiggling here, sometimes eight or 10 miles in from Israel proper into the West Bank areas. That's a high security wall built for security purposes. It alienates, to say the least, the Palestinians and then this. This is the biggest hang-up.

These are all Israeli settlements. You see Israel proper here, in the West Bank here, all these Israeli settlements, many of them still expanding, a huge source of contention. The Palestinians want any expansions stopped immediately before they agree to go back to the peace table. All of these issues -- you have seen this map for decades. A short time ago I discussed the obstacles to peace with the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Michael Oren.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us. You heard President Abbas today and he says essentially there's an Arab Spring all across the region, why can't we Palestinians have our independence? We have been waiting so long. He says the old ways, waiting for negotiation, haven't worked. Why is he wrong to go to the United Nations and say we haven't been able to negotiate this, so just grant us statehood?

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well first, good to be with you, John. The answer is very simple. By declaring a state unilaterally, it won't bring about peace. It won't bring about stability. It won't bring about the same type of benefits that people protesting in the streets across the Middle East are struggling for. There is no shortcut to peace, John. You got to sit down face-to- face, Israelis and Palestinians, and work out the difficult problems.

And we do have some very difficult problems, but as Prime Minister Netanyahu told the U.N. today, he's ready to do it. He's ready to do it today and meet with President Mahmoud Abbas in the U.N. building to reach an historic peace. He held out his hand and he hoped that the Palestinians would accept that hand.

KING: He held out his hand, but he also said, and I want you to listen to some of the prime minister's speech. I know you're quite familiar with it. He was going through a litany of some of the issues and he brought up the very difficult, always contentious issues of settlement. Here's the prime minister's take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NETANYAHU: The core of the conflict is not the settlements. The settlements are a result of the conflict. The settlements have to be -- it's an issue that has to be addressed and resolved in the course of negotiations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If we were having this conversation five or six years ago, I think some Palestinians might say OK, I get the point, those were there. But as you know, a burning issue for the Palestinians is the continued growth and expansion of settlements. Would the prime minister, is there any gesture he could make, pulling back some, shutting down some, any gesture he could make that maybe would convince the Palestinians he means it when he says let's sit down, let's talk?

OREN: Well, we froze settlement building for 10 months to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, John. They didn't come back. So that gesture is not going to work. I think that the prime minister said today that he had been discussing with the United States some ideas about moving forward. There were some things there that were hard for us. There were some things we know would be hard for the Palestinians, but he's willing to take that step forward, too, even though it's difficult to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

KING: As you know, it's not unfamiliar to you, Israel sometimes gets beat up in the court of public opinion, certainly at the United Nations. I want to read to you a bit from a "New York Times" editorial just today. "The main responsibility right now belongs to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who refuses to make any serious compromises for peace. He appears far more concerned about his own political survival than his country's increasing isolation or the threat of renewed violence in the West Bank and all around Israel's borders."

That is "The New York Times" there. And I want you to listen here, Mr. Ambassador. Bill Clinton, former president of the United States, considered I believe you would say a friend of Israel. Listen to the exasperation in his voice right here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But sooner or later everybody is going to have to come clean here. If the current government has decided that there will be no Palestinian state and that they have no intention of having a reasonable settlement on the West Bank, they should say that so the Palestinians can get on with their lives and they should live with the consequences.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's not just the Palestinians, sir, who are skeptical that the prime minister genuinely wants peace.

OREN: Well, I have nothing but respect for President Clinton, but here you have the prime minister of Israel who in his first public address, he was the leader of the Likud Party now, came out and embraced the two state solution. He gave that 10-month unprecedented moratorium on new construction in West Bank settlements and by the way, the word unprecedented was the word the Secretary of State Clinton used to describe it.

He removed hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints from the West Bank to facilitate a very remarkable Palestinian economic growth there. He eased up on restrictions going in and out of Gaza to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. This is a person who has done one thing after another to try to get those negotiations restarted, and I'm hard-pressed, I think you would be hard-pressed to think of anything the Palestinians have done except to refuse to go back into negotiations. It's quite tragic.

KING: The prime minister made an important point in his speech that we left Gaza and look what we got. Do you worry at all, though, if Mr. Abbas does not get negotiations, does not get statehood, that over the course of the next weeks and months his political support in the West Bank could be severely undermined and you may get another Gaza like it or not?

OREN: Well, we hope not and we are preparing for all sorts of eventualities and we're preparing our security forces, preparing our population. I think that the Palestinians can look at the situation in Gaza, where there's no economy, no great future for the children and grandchildren of the parents of Gaza. And look where they are today in the West Bank, where there is a thriving economy, and there is a possibility for a much brighter future not only for their children, but our children, and they have that choice. They literally have two windows in front of them. They can choose the Gaza way or they can choose the way of peace with Israel, which can be better for all peoples in the entire region. We hope they make that choice.

KING: Ambassador Michael Oren, appreciate your time tonight, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Still ahead, who benefits most from a prolonged fight for the Republican nomination, the winning candidate or President Obama?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If nothing else, three debates in three weeks helping us learn more about the Republican candidates for president. But also raising an interesting question, does all this debating produce a stronger nominee or a scarred nominee? And the sharp attacks hardly limited to just the debates. Listen here, the former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman, suggests former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney isn't the conservative he claims to be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not standing over a history of being pro-choice, raising taxes and enacting heavy-handed government mandates, so before believing the hype and rhetoric, all I ask is that you take a look at the record and make your judgments and decisions based on the record.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's assess the state of the GOP race with CNN contributors Mary Matalin and Erick Erickson. Mary to you first; that actually was a rare in recent days anyway of somebody going full square at Governor Romney. It has been Governor Perry taking most of the hits since he got into the race and rose right to the top. You have been through a bunch of these. Do you worry at all that all this debate and the increasingly sharp rhetoric will scar your nominee and maybe expose some chink that makes them unelectable or does it make them stronger and tougher?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't worry and by far it makes them stronger and tougher, as is evidenced by Mitt Romney's exceeding expectations. I remember the last -- the first time he was at CPAC and there was so much expectation for him and his speech fell flat, so the longer you're out there, the more times you run around the track, the stronger you get. And the notion that our having an internecine debate is going to be worse than what the Obama (INAUDIBLE) are going to throw at us is -- it's not even close.

So I think it sounds counterintuitive and everybody gets really excited when the other guys are fighting each other, but it's good and the larger good is that if you listen to this group collectively, starting with Newt and Herman Cain who have been consistently the best in all of these debates, collectively they have been making a sound and clear case for conservative governance and a very sound and clear case against Obama. So I think lots of the debates, as panicky as they're making us for the moment, really help over the long run.

KING: And Erick, Mary just used the word long run. Is it your sense most Republicans I talked to and I think you're in this camp, see what one, I think jokingly, I'm not quite so certain, refers to me (ph) as the Perry/Romney death march, thinking this is going to go on for quite some time. If you look at the national polls, here's the American Research Group poll, September 16th through 21st, among likely voters in New Hampshire, you've got Romney way up there -- Romney at 30, Perry at 13.

There's a Suffolk University poll of New Hampshire voters also has Romney way up in the state of New Hampshire, which is the first primary. But Governor Perry has been ahead in all the national polls. Governor Perry has been ahead in South Carolina. I think Governor Perry is ahead at the moment in Iowa. Is the expectation among most conservatives that this is going to be one wins, then the other wins, one wins, the other wins and we march on for awhile?

ERICKSON: No, not really. I think everyone kind of thinks this is going to go on for awhile, but you know for awhile just for perspective right now is go on until Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which is four months away. And it seems like we've been doing this since November 7th of 2010. We have been in this.

Look, it does make a stronger candidate. If you look historically, even in the House races, Senate races and presidential races, the candidates -- down to the state level, the candidates who don't have aggressive primaries typically are the candidates who flame out in general elections pretty badly. The ones who have strong contested primaries become stronger candidates in the general because a lot of the attacks become the same attacks repackaged so they are able to respond to them.

And I mean just a great example of this is the Democrats are out there right now saying the Republicans are too far right to get elected. So we've got Jon Huntsman attacking Mitt Romney for being too liberal. We've got Mitt Romney standing to the left of Rick Perry on entitlements. We've got the other candidates pushing Rick Perry to the left on immigration.

It's kind of hard to say these guys are right wing extremists when they're being attacked for being too moderate on some of these issues.

KING: Mary, I want you to listen to Governor Perry at the CPAC conference, though he did have a very good night last night. And I'm being kind. So, he tries to make the case today that -- well, that debating thing really doesn't matter all that much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As conservatives, we know that values and vision matter. It's not who is the slickest candidate or the smoothest debater that we need to elect. We need to elect the candidate with the best record and the best vision for this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I assume Republicans looking for somebody to go up against President Obama hope that after the next debate or the one after that, Governor Perry doesn't need to say we're not looking for the best debater anyway, right?

MATALIN: You know, there are four critical elements in a primary phase -- money, staff and endorsements, what's going on in the states, and political skills, and debate skills. So, he's got three out of four.

Now, we don't know if they're all equally weighted. He did not have a good night. He's not had a good run of performances but he's working against very heightened expectations, against a klieg lighted at warp speed front-runner position.

But yes, debates matter, being able to articulate conservativism. It's not that he isn't the most conservative and he does have the best record on things that conservatives care about. And he really could have explained -- as Erick said earlier, he's right -- that immigration position is substantively solid. He did not explain it now three times.

But I have been in a room with him, in meetings with him -- I'm not on anybody's campaign -- I have been in events with him, he was at the Southern Leadership Conference here in New Orleans, he can rock a room.

What he needs to do is make up for his debate deficits by being in venues that accentuate his really dramatic charisma. So far, he's not done that in a national way, but I think he's still doing that in the states that matter.

KING: In the states that matter. Mary Matalin, Erick Erickson -- thanks for coming in on a Friday night. We got more debates. They got a little bit of a break here so if Governor Perry needs a little work on that, he's got a little time before the next two coming up pretty soon, including a CNN one in October in Vegas.

Mary and Erick, thank you.

Still ahead here, a satellite is falling from space and there's a chance some pieces could land right here in the United States.

And, former Vice President Al Gore tells CNN what he thinks about President Obama's record on the environment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

Here's the latest news you need to know right now. The Dow and NASDAQ and S&P 500 closed slight higher today, but the gains not enough to keep this from being the Dow's worst week since October 2008.

The Vatican statement says Pope Benedict was, quote, "moved," and, quote, "deeply shaken" by today's meeting with men and women who are victims of abuse by Catholic priests. The Pope is on a four-day visit to his native Germany.

Following through on a promise made a couple weeks ago in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, along with the House Speaker John Boehner, have recorded an appeal for donations to finish the memorial for the passengers and crew of Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville on September 11th, 2001.

We don't hear much from Al Gore these days, but in a new interview with CNN special correspondent Philippe Cousteau, the former vice president has both good and bad things to say about President Obama's record on the environment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I have a lot of empathy for President Obama inheriting a really difficult situation and a political environment. And I recognize that he's done a lot of good things, the auto efficiency standards -- fantastic. Some of the moves he's made in other areas, really great.

But on the climate issue, I have said in the past, I think that he should be doing more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Former vice president there. You're on the hook now for half a billion dollars. Coming up: why Congress can't get any answers about who is to blame. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" coming up at the top of the hour. Anderson is here now with a preview.

How are you doing?

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

Yes, the program at 8:00 p.m., we're beginning with Congress and its inability to basically get anything done. The latest frustration -- yet another potential shutdown looming of the government because politicians can't agree on a bill to keep the government running through mid-November. Despite the gridlock, guess what? The House is packing its bags for vacation next week. We're keeping them honest.

Plus, big day for Amanda Knox and her family. Amanda, the American student, convicted of murdering her roommate in 2009. Her appeal trial started today. And her family hopes new information about how DNA evidence was handled will help free her.

I spoke with Amanda's mom about how her daughter is holding up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDDA MELLAS, MOTHER OF AMANDA KNOX: You know, she's amazing. I don't know how she does it. She's obviously stressed. Today was horrible, you know, listening to really terrible lies about her, about the case, and she just had to sit and listen, you know, to it, and it obviously caused a lot of stress. But, you know, she's hanging in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: More of her interview coming up.

And something to make you laugh at the end of the week, tonight's "Ridiculist" at the top of the hour, John.

KING: Looking forward to it. See you in a few minutes.

It's a classic moment of Capitol Hill drama earlier today. The top executives of a bankrupt solar energy company raised their right hands, swore to tell the truth, and then refused to answer any questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need to make sure your mike's on, if you don't mind. Do you both swear that the testimony that you are about to give is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Harrison. And thank you, Mr. Stover. The chairman recognizes himself for questioning of the witnesses, and I should be less than two minutes, hopefully.

Mr. Harrison, and, Mr. Stover, we're very -- was every document and piece of information you submitted to the Department of energy and the White House Office of Management and Budget, the United States Congress and your investors, accurate and complete to the best of your knowledge?

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KING: They didn't answer, of course. They used their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Those executives ran a company called Solyndra. It made solar panels and was the star of President Obama's push for clean energy and green jobs. He visited the plant -- you see him right there, that's May, 2010.

Solyndra also received a half billion dollars in government guaranteed loan, money U.S. taxpayers now have to pay back. Congress is looking into how much pressure the White House put on regulators to approve those loan guarantees. One of Solyndra's main investors was a big contributor to the president's 2008 campaign.

Today, lawmakers wanted to ask Solyndra's executives whether they misled the government about the company's shaky finances and -- well, Congress wasn't happy when they refused to answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. FRED UPTON (R-MI), ENERGY & COMMERCE COMMITTEE: We finally had to resort to a subpoena and now the outright resistance of getting answers that both of you, our two witnesses, assured us only last week that you would provide. Let me just warn you and the other folks involved in this taxpayer rip-off, we're not done. No, we're not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: "The New York Times" Eric Lipton co-wrote today's excellent front page story about the rush to assist Solyndra.

Eric is with us tonight.

Let's start with the White House, one of the big questions Congress has, one of them is political influence, but one is just the facts. Were there warning signs, were there flashing red lights that said, hey, this company has problems, don't give them this loan?

ERIC LIPTON, NEW YORK TIMES CORRESPONDENT: Even as of late 2008 before Obama became president, there was a huge decline in the price of silicon which was an essential ingredient in solar panels. That was a warning sign that perhaps the whole business plan for this company was perhaps troubled, because it relied upon the silicon prices being at a certain level. So, you know, at the end of the Bush administration, they were concerned that maybe this was going to undermine their plan and then there was a move early on in Obama to disapprove it.

KING: And some people in the Obama administration say not ready for primetime, we need more time, we want to scrub the business plan more, yet it is approved.

And so, one of the questions now, as you report in the piece today, at least three visits by Solyndra officials to Valerie Jarrett's office, top White House official, key access to the president there. She's the outreach to the business community but she also has some sway.

Any reason to be concerned or raise alarms about that, or is it normal business?

LIPTON: Well, I mean, it wasn't with Valerie Jarrett herself, it was with an aide in her office.

And there was a lot of interaction between the company and the White House. And, clearly, this company had hired six different lobbying firms in the period since the beginning of the Obama administration. It was heavily working Washington. And that may have been part of the reason that they continued to get funds even as there were signs that they were in a serious decline and that they were able to get their loan restructured and that the private sector got, you know, the first line of defense against potential bankruptcy.

So, there are some signs that perhaps their lobbying had an effect.

KING: And so, one of the questions people are trying to connect the dots, did fund-raising, political influence, political friendship, help here. George Kaiser is the billionaire from Tulsa, fund-raiser for Obama 2008, backs the foundation of the top investor here.

Is it just this happened/that happened, or can anyone connect the dots?

LIPTON: I mean, so far, it's a great question for the Republicans to ask, because it looks -- it makes it look like this was some political conspiracy. But there's no evidence at all so far that I've seen that George Kaiser played a role in getting this loan done. It does not appear to be a political contributor getting payback. There's no evidence of that that I've seen.

KING: I want to follow up and close on that point. The best evidence you have seen so far is maybe bad judgment, maybe a bad call, maybe even an egregious judgment, but nothing to suggest undue political influence or essentially a decision that was bought?

LIPTON: No. What I see is that this was an administration that had promised change. It wanted to get money out the door for the stimulus quickly. It was rushing to get this done in 60 days. That was an imperative from the White House, to do it quickly. And I think that perhaps in that rush, they may have been a little too fast in their review of some of the warning signs that were out there.

KING: How cooperative has the White House been with you in trying to get documents? There is some frustration in Congress. How about from a reporter's perspective?

LIPTON: They have answered my questions. They have put people -- they have made people available to answer my questions. They provided me with some documents. And they have been pretty responsive.

KING: Eric Lipton with "New York Times" -- appreciate it. It's great report today.

LIPTON: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

Let's get more on the congressional investigation now from the committee's top Democrat, who made a point this morning that he thought Republicans seemed more interested in political theater than finding the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, ENERGY & COMMERCE COMMITTEE: And we have instead heard today is a line of questions that seemed designed to create catchy sound bites. These questions constitute witness badgering that's both unseemly and inconsistent with a long line of precedent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The California Congressman Henry Waxman joins us now.

Sir, thanks for being with us.

You say you see political theater, but I just want to ask you off the top, you have been the chairman of this committee in the past for a long time. You have led a number of investigations. It is not a good thing when top executives of a company come in and all plead the Fifth. Not good for them and certainly not good for the Obama White House, either, is it?

WAXMAN: Well, I was disappointed that they took the Fifth Amendment. I wanted to ask them a lot of questions. The CEO of Solyndra came in and told me how his business was doing very well, they were going to double their revenues, and a month later, they went into bankruptcy.

I was disappointed. But on the other hand, they do have the constitutional right to assert the Fifth Amendment. But that means we've got to continue the investigation and get the information from every source that's possible, because we ought to find out what went on with Solyndra, the contract they got, and the loss for the taxpayers of $500 million.

KING: I know you think some Republicans are leaping to conclusions before they have all the facts. But do you have questions?

A lot of these Republicans are saying the White House should have seen the flashing lights before the loan was given or at least soon after the loan was given, and done something about it. And instead, the Republicans think because of political favoritism, political pressure, this thing was kept in the pipeline.

Is that a legitimate question?

WAXMAN: Well, it's a legitimate question but they shouldn't assert that there was a political motive without evidence to sustain it. What I want to know is whether Solyndra misrepresented to the administration their own financial stability because they were certainly making that misrepresentation to me.

But I believe investigations ought to be to find the facts and then see what conclusions you would reach. But the Republicans are attacking the Obama administration, they're just trying to use it in some ways, they're trying to use it for political purposes. I don't want to begrudge them the fact they do want to get to the facts and this is a bipartisan investigation.

KING: Right. Taxpayers, more than $500 million left holding the bill. In "The New York Times" story on this mess this morning, there is a paragraph saying that Solyndra's lobbyists corresponded frequently, met at the White House at least three times with an aide to the top White House official Valerie Jarrett to push for loans, tax breaks, other government assistance.

You remember candidate Obama saying he was not going to play by the old Washington rules, that things were going to be different.

Does this look like the same old Washington to you?

WAXMAN: Well, I don't know whether those meetings took place or what was said at those meetings. The Republicans were complaining that one of the investors in Solyndra had also contributed to the Obama campaign. That doesn't tell me anything. They also had investors who were very active Republicans.

But getting contacted by a company or their representatives is approved by the Constitution of the United States. We're supposed to hear from our constituents. But we're supposed to make the decision based on what were the merits.

And if they weren't able to show they were going to be successful, we shouldn't have lent them the money.

KING: As a veteran investigator for several decades here in Washington, when you see the e-mails from staffers at the Office of Management and Budget saying, hey, we need more time, hey, this one's not ready for primetime. When you pick up "The New York Times" and you read this comment from an Energy Department official saying, "We had to knock down some barriers standing in the way to get these projects funded," said Matthew Rogers, the Energy Department official overseeing the loan program.

Does that suggest to you that somewhere there was pressure?

WAXMAN: It suggests to me that the budget people had some questions about it, but other budget people said go ahead. The energy people were excited about it through two administrations.

And I think the pressure that I know of -- and again, I don't want to reach conclusions about everything, was to get this thing approved quickly enough so that the vice president can go and announce it and the president later can go to Solyndra to show that this is the wave of the future.

I'm sure they didn't want to do that to get it approved quicker if they had any thought that this was going to be a failure. They thought it was going to be a great success. They turned out to be wrong.

KING: Congressman Waxman, appreciate your help tonight. We'll keep in touch as the investigation moves forward.

WAXMAN: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

WAXMAN: Next, a NASA satellite is supposed to fall out of the sky tonight. Where will the pieces hit? Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A NASA success story from 1991 -- well, could hit you on the head tonight. The UAR satellite was carried into the orbit by the space shuttle. That's what it looks like -- Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite. It was up there to study the chemical composition of the earth's atmosphere.

Well, tonight or tomorrow evening, it will re-enter the atmosphere. I'll show you a bit of the path here. When we started the show, it was over Australia. We think it's somewhere roughly around here right now.

NASA says when this happens -- I'll play this out a little bit -- that's what's going around the world. NASA says when this happens and it comes back into the atmosphere, it's going to break up into pieces, 26 pieces, perhaps, ranging in size from ten pounds to hundreds of pounds. It may survive that re-entry, hit somewhere possibly in the United States.

Charles Liu is a professor of astrophysics at the State University of New York.

Professor Liu, thanks for being with us. And help me out. I'm going to close this one down and bring up another animation as you speak so I can show our viewers.

What are the risks? As this thing hits and breaks into pieces, some of them perhaps as much as 300 pounds coming to earth, what are the risks of someone getting hurt?

PROF. CHARLES LIU, ASTROPYHSICS, STATE UNIV. OF N.Y.: I tell you what, the bottom line is that you have 100,000 times better chance of striking it rich in the lottery than to be hit by one of these pieces. So, I wouldn't lose any sleep tonight.

KING: You're going to have a lot of people going out to play the lottery right now.

How close can NASA be given that this thing is traveling around so fast, how close can any prediction be of where it was going to hit? It was over Australia when we started the show. Somewhere over the next hours, it will come down.

LIU: Right. They did a pretty good job, but you can think about it as trying to predict, say, the path of hurricane Irene. But this time on a orbital scale.

It's not an easy task, especially since the sun has had a lot of activity lately. When you have solar flares coming through, it temporarily affects the magnetic field of earth in such a way that the atmosphere can grow and shrink. And when that happens, it can change the speed of the satellite ever so slightly back and forth. So they probably got it pretty good in the sort of 12 to 18-hour window. But beyond that, nothing is really certain.

KING: And we've known for some time about this probability, possibility. There's a lot of -- all of a sudden, there's a lot of interest. I guess that's to be expected. Is there anything more in the design that anybody could do to prevent this. Or is this simply what happens when --

LIU: Well, it's really interesting. About 20 years ago when this satellite was launched, NASA actually had no official policy about what to do about things falling out of the sky. Since then, the policies have been established, different protocols are in now for satellites that have been launched.

The probabilities were just so low of these things coming down and actually hurting anybody or anything that it wasn't part of the policy. But now it is. And, fortunately, it doesn't make any difference.

I think we've always been very interested in things falling from the sky, even from ancient and medieval times. This is certainly a manmade event. But in the end, it's kind of fun to see things falling out of the sky, especially since they're not going to hurt us at all.

KING: Kind of fun as long as you're right on that last point.

This has been driving traffic on CNN.com all day long. Why is it do you think people get so fascinated by this idea that look up in the sky, it's a satellite, here it comes?

LIU: Well, you know, 1,000 years ago people thought that comets and shooting stars were divine messages. We've always as humans had a fascination with things in the sky, whether they're falling out of them or moving around them or moving away from us. And I think this is just an extension of that.

Maybe we've gotten a little more attention on this one recently simply because it's coming a little earlier than scheduled because of the solar activity. In fact, last year, an even larger satellite fell down last summer, and there was absolutely no fanfare involved.

KING: More to come? We're sending more stuff up. Does that mean we're going to have more coming down?

LIU: No question about it. But fortunately, I think NASA now has it right in terms of how to make sure that the space debris is even safer than it is now.

KING: Professor Liu, appreciate your insights on this night.

I just want to show our viewers this one more time. When this comes down and as it begins to break up, it will look something like this. It will hit the atmosphere. You'll see the pieces there. It will be many pieces.

Let's hope Professor Liu is right and they all come down and land in harmless places, some of them perhaps as much as 300 pounds. It's fascinating to watch.

We appreciate Professor Liu's insight.

That's all for us tonight. Have a great weekend. We'll see you back here on Monday night.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.