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JOHN KING, USA

Interview with Senator Rand Paul; Violence in Syria

Aired September 26, 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 our new poll shows the first evidence that shaky debate performances are hurting the presidential campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Also in our revealing new numbers a warning sign for Sarah Palin.

Plus, a shocking atrocity in Syria tonight, a young woman who disappeared after heading out to buy groceries is returned to her family by Syrian security forces, beheaded and mutilated.

But we begin tonight with breaking news right here in Washington. It looks like there will not be a government shutdown after all thanks to a late afternoon backroom deal in the United States Senate and well you might say a lucky break with some federal disaster money.

Our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill where this breaking news is unfolding, Kate has the details. Kate this is complicated. It's a little messy (INAUDIBLE) Senate procedures we're dealing with, but tell us, what is happening right now?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Bottom line is the Senate -- Senate Democratic, Senate Republican leaders have been able to reach agreement to avert a government shutdown. That's the big headline for most of our viewers. And this was -- they were able to do this after all of this discussion and all of this fight over specifically the inclusion of FEMA funding, additional FEMA funding in the short-term resolution.

What is happening right now, John is there is going to be a series of two votes, actually. One vote that they're probably debating as we speak has to do with a clean or simple short term extension of funding that will take -- keep the government funded and there will be FEMA funding in that as well through November 18th. This basically is the measure that everyone basically agreed to. Funding FEMA as well as not shutting down the government and it strips away all of the obstacles that had really been holding up the agreement to this point.

The second measure that they will be voting on is actually -- here's the confusing part -- a one-week extension, one-week short-term spending extension. And this -- the purpose of this is simply the House is out this week, as you well know. If they can't get members back in time or they can't get agreement to just pass it very quickly they will need that one-week extension of funding to avert a government shutdown and get the House back in time to vote on this measure -- John.

KING: And so Kate, what changed? This morning and into the afternoon we were told you still had this partisan showdown. The Democrats and the Republicans over everybody said yes. We want to give FEMA, the federal emergency management agency more money but there was a big debate over whether you had to cut other spending to get that money. What changed?

BOLDUAN: Plain and simply what changed is that FEMA announced today that they had enough funding. They were able -- they are able to stretch the funding in their federal disaster relief fund to make it through the end of this week. That's different than earlier predictions. FEMA had said that they might run out of funding at the beginning of this week, which would be a problem.

The reason why -- the key is that they can make it through this week is the end of this week is the end of the fiscal year. The battle over to pay for the FEMA funding or not pay for the additional FEMA funding all had to do with FEMA funding for the current fiscal year, fiscal year '11, if the FEMA can make it through this week and get into 2012, it removes the big obstacle that's been on the table all along -- John.

KING: For now -- for now -- for now. Kate Bolduan with the breaking news on Capitol Hill, Kate, thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

KING: And this is one of the things -- this is one of the things that we know drives you at home a little crazy. You watch these debates in Washington you think it is a sand box at best. And this playing out that Kate just explained to us, a shutdown averted for now. It plays out at a time when you watch Washington. It's pretty clear. It's pretty clear. You don't think much of this town. How is the U.S. being governed? Eighty-one percent of Americans are dissatisfied -- dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed. Nineteen percent say they are satisfied.

That 81 percent in the Gallup poll a historic high for discontent with the way the government is being run. How about the United States Congress? Sixty-nine percent of you say you have not very much or none at all on the question of trust and confidence in the Congress. Look at that -- seven in 10 Americans essentially say they have not very much trust or no trust at all in the legislative branch of government -- right there 69 percent. That is a country that has a very dim view of its government. So let's go straight to the source.

One of the Republicans who came to Washington promising to change the culture of this town is Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senator Paul, we've averted a shutdown for tonight. But how much does this weigh on you? I know you came here saying we're not going to spend any more money. We don't have any more money to spend. How much does it weigh when you see the American people look at Washington -- this is my term not theirs -- they essentially see a daycare center? SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, I'm sort of perplexed because you know the Democrats held this up because they said we don't want to offset the spending. In other words, the Democrats are insisting that we borrow the money for FEMA. And I don't think anybody in America thinks that we can perpetuate these debts and continue these annual deficits and the trillions of dollars. So I think most people say well gosh, why couldn't we cut duplicate spending or why couldn't we cut some foreign aid or foreign welfare that we're sending? So I think really the American people are ready for us to offset what we're doing and have cuts and not just add to the debt.

KING: I think the big question of that -- you're absolutely right -- most public opinion polls have shown people are very upset about the deficit. They want it dealt with. But I just want to show another graphic to our viewers -- I want to take this one down and talk about what we were talking about in the sense of this FEMA fight, about $3.5 billion, $3.65 billion. This is the entire United States federal budget up here.

You see where most of the money goes. Discretionary security spending, discretionary non security, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other mandatory program, FEMA, how much is FEMA? Look at that tiny slice. This was a huge fight. Senator Paul, you were willing if it came to it, if it came to it to have the United States government shut down over this tiny little sliver. Is that principle that important to you?

PAUL: Well what I would say is it's sort of the opposite. The Democrats are willing to shut down government if we don't borrow that tiny amount of money. But the thing about it is, is every program up here you can say it's only a tiny amount of money, but you know if you can't cut 100 million here or you can't offset three billion there, we're never going to balance a $1.5 trillion deficit.

So really you do have to look at even small amounts and it should be a priority. Should we be spending this money overseas in foreign aid or foreign welfare? Should we be building our bridges here in our country? And it's something I actually agreed with the president. I got to ride on Air Force One with him recently and he's mentioned that. We have to be concerned with our country's needs as a priority right now.

KING: How much does this come up in the Republican conferences especially with members who are on the ballot next year and I asked the question in the context of this. We have a new CNN/ORC poll out tonight and now again tonight we can tell our viewers, the breaking news is the government shutdown has been averted. But with that possibility, Senator, we asked them if the government shut down who would you blame? Republicans in Congress, 47 percent, President Obama, 33 percent, are there jitters in the Republican ranks that the image of the party is taking a hit in the middle of all this?

PAUL: Well, I think you could also poll and ask people whether or not they should think that we should add more debt or whether we should offset debt. You know it's not whether we should shut it down. I'm not in favor of shutting it down either. I think we should pass appropriation bills like we used to.

We should have a budget. American people are upset because we keep bumping up against deadlines. It sort of looks like poor planning or it looks like a circus up here because we always bump up against deadlines. But I can tell you I'm up here day after day not voting, sitting around, having no debate and then the deadline comes and it's hurry up or the government shuts down.

How come we didn't have this debate last week or the week before or the week before that? Everything comes to a deadline, I think, because of poor leadership and poor planning in this place.

KING: I don't think I would disagree with you on that point and I think that can be, at times, a bipartisan disease. I'm not pointing at any one side. One of your Republican colleagues, Scott Brown, said this today. "The gridlock and partisanship in Washington right now is disgusting. With economic instability in the United States and around the world, it's unacceptable for Congress to add more uncertainty to the marketplace by threatening another government shutdown."

Now Senator Brown is up for re-election next year. He's up for re-election in a tough state for a Republican, so maybe that's a little bit about his re-election campaign as well. But we've already seen the United States credit rating downgraded. You saw the poll numbers I just showed you. I understand your point, Senator.

Is there any effort to get the Republicans and the Democrats in a room to say, let's get back to passing a real budget? Let's get back to looking like we can figure out what the hell we're doing here?

PAUL: Well, many of us on the Republican side have been pointing out it's been over 900 days since the Senate has had a budget. So we are pushing to go through the process in a normal fashion, but I think people are also alarmed when you talk about uncertainty in the marketplace, I'm very alarmed when I read the news coming out of Europe. But that has nothing to do with them having too much debate or over there or too much gridlock.

It has to do with them having too much debt. That's our problem. We are following on the heels of Europe because we have an enormous amount of debt. And I agree with Admiral Mullen when he says it's the number one threat to our national security is our debt. So we've got to offset debt every time. Every time we have a new spending program, it's got to be offset by cuts in other places and that's the only responsible way for a legislature to act is to prioritize spending.

For example, on the highway fund or you giving money to turtle tunnels, squirrel sanctuaries and flower beds and our bridges are crumbling. That's what I asked the president. Can we not fix our bridges and put off some of these beautification projects for a while? I think that's a bipartisan way of looking at it and I'm more than willing to work with the president on that.

KING: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, appreciate your time tonight and I hope maybe by the time this super committee gets about its business we can have a little bit more of an adult conversation. We'll keep in touch with you as that plays out. We appreciate your insights this evening, sir.

PAUL: Thank you.

KING: Still ahead here, a new CNN poll indicates the Rick Perry boom may have peaked already and a familiar face rising to the top tier of the Republican field, but next horrifying new evidence of how far Syria's regime will go to stamp out demands for democracy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A new low tonight after months of brutal atrocities in Syria. Zainab al-Hosni (ph) is the latest victim of the Assad regime's bloody determination to hold power. Her crime -- her brother was a pro democracy activist. Zainab al-Hosni disappeared after leaving home to get groceries. She was returned by security forces beheaded and dismembered.

Amnesty International calls her death an outrage. United Nations high commissioner for human rights calls it appalling. And the regime, on the day word of this latest crime surfaced Syria's foreign minister asked the world to believe that Syria is under attack by armed thugs and is trying to keep the peace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALID MUALLEM, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Syria exercises its responsibility to protect its citizens. It acted to guarantee their safety and stability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That doesn't match the accounts of the death of Zainab al- Hosni.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) carried by dozens of women in the city of Post (ph). Protesting her slaughter and chanting for the downfall of the regime. Her crime, Zainab's older brother Mohammed was an activist well-known for leading demonstrations and treating the wounded in Post. For months he had been evading the authorities. The family says that the security forces demanded Mohammed in exchange for Zainab. On September 10th the family says Mohammed was wounded in a demonstration. (INAUDIBLE) tortured to death they believe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Nor does the regime explain gunshots fired at demonstrators marching peacefully for more rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And then of course there's this. A man on his knees in front of an army tank, unarmed and massacred.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (INAUDIBLE)

(SHOTS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The images, months of them now, don't lie. And yet we are asked to believe this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUALLEM (through translator): Syria provided our region with a model of peace for co-existence among the different components of the Syrian people, a model which deserves to be emulated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Here's our question tonight. Is there anything the international community can and will do to pressure President Assad and his cronies to stop this bloody crackdown? Joining us from New York Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and journalist and Middle East analyst Robin Wright -- she's the author of "Rock the Casbah".

Fouad, when you see the pictures, the procession, the horrible story of this woman killed, mutilated by security forces and then you see the foreign minister saying, the world has it wrong. We are protecting our people against armed thugs. I don't know what the right term to use. It's fantasy land, parallel universe. It would be laughable except for the bloody stakes.

FOUAD AJAMI, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION, STANFORD UNIV.: Exactly it would be laughable (INAUDIBLE) for the tragedy of this young woman of 18. And it is almost (INAUDIBLE) even to tell our audience what was done to this young girl. She was beheaded. Her arms were cut off. She was skinned we're made to understand. So in fact what we know is that now for Bashar Al-Assad he really has crossed the Rubicon. And when you hear his foreign minister speaking about the dismemberment of Syria, it's a grotesque idea because this regime believes that it is still facing foreign conspiracies rather than inflicting death (INAUDIBLE) on population.

KING: And Robin, the United Nations General Assembly becomes for rogue regimes an international platform. We can say, my god. We can show the pictures and prove the foreign minister to be a liar, to prove what he says not to be true. But what about domestically back home? Is this helpful to President Assad to have his foreign minister on the world stage essentially condemning the United States and the Europeans?

ROBIN WRIGHT, AUTHOR, "ROCK THE CASBAH": I don't think any Syrians have any illusions about what is happening at home. And the reality is that this is not the first time this has happened. In April a 13-year-old boy was separated from his parents during a demonstration. He went missing for a month. His parents looked for him in prisons and hospitals and finally his body was returned and he had also cigarette burns all over his body and at 13 years old, his genitals had also been cut off.

Syrians are very well aware. And what's so striking about what is happening today in this country is the fact that they continue to turn out in peaceful civil disobedience against the regime. And I think that's the stronger message that I don't think the presence of the foreign minister is convincing anyone at home.

KING: And when we see these latest pictures, again Zainab al- Hosni is the young woman who was brutally murdered. Fouad, what strikes me as we've been watching these pictures unfortunately for months and months and months now, in that procession, the number of women was striking. Amnesty International says it believes she is the first woman killed in captivity. Is that anything that could suggest a broader resolve in society, a tipping point, perhaps?

AJAMI: Well I think, John, they have -- the Syrians have entered now month number seven in this (INAUDIBLE) if you will against Bashar Assad. The thing about Syria now so far the demonstrations and the protests have been peaceful. But I think we may be coming now to the tipping point where the people of Syria will take stock of where they are and they will understand that this regime cannot be taken on peacefully.

Now can they stand up to the regime? Will it take up arm against them? I'm not so sure. Does the international community care enough to come to the rescue of the Syrians? Alas, it seems, the verdict on this is negative. Still Bashar is protected by and shielded by Russia, by China, by India, by Brazil, by South Africa so I think it tells us something about the cruelty of the so-called international community.

KING: And the foreign minister clearly understands, Robin that if -- for there to be additional sanctions, as Fouad notes Russia, China, others would have to come around. Listen to part of his message to the General Assembly essentially saying well the United States says it wants to protect the Syrian people, wants to help the Syrian people, but the very sanctions it has helped put in place not only from the United States and others around the world, the foreign minister insists are doing more harm than good.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL-MUALLEM (through translator): This course cannot in any way reconciled with pronouncements about concern for the interests, security, and rights of the Syrian people. It rather runs counter to the basic principles of human rights in defense of which the state based the interference in our internal affairs. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's that last peace, interference in our internal affairs. That is something that China often complains about when it is criticized in the world community. That Russia often complains about when it is criticized in the world community, the foreign minister seems to be directly appealing to those who he needs to keep, if not on his side, at least not on the other side.

WRIGHT: Well it's clear that you're not going to see a replication of what the international community did on Libya and apply to Syria. But the sanctions have begun to bite already and in many ways we're witnessing a race in Syria. Can the regime quash the uprising fast enough before it begins paying a real price? Its oil sales are already plummeting.

There are reportedly no single shipment of oil exports out of a main port this entire month, letters of international -- letters of credit which are needed to buy Syrian oil to deal with Damascus are not being issued by international banks. There is a squeeze. It's a slow squeeze. Sanctions are never going to turn Syria around overnight, but it can make the regime pay a serious price. And so there is something happening. It's not -- it may not be enough, but it's clearly some action, at least.

KING: Robin Wright, Fouad Ajami, as always appreciate your insights tonight, thank you.

AJAMI: Thank you.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

KING: Still ahead, which Republican presidential candidate can brag about being in a dead heat with President Obama tonight? And next, dramatic new pictures of what it was like inside the Washington Monument when last month's earthquake hit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now. Beginning with the breaking news from Capitol Hill where the Senate just passed a spending bill that would avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week.

An attorney for Sarah Palin tonight notified author Joe McGinniss that his -- and his publisher that Palin may sue to cover what they call the gossip in McGinniss's new book "The Rogue".

Take a look -- these newly released pictures from inside the Washington Monument taken last month when an earthquake hit here in Washington, D.C. The shaking starts. The security guard looks around and pretty soon everyone heads down the stairs. Starting tomorrow, crews will spend five days rappelling outside the monument to continue assessing the damage.

And this quick programming reminder -- starting next Monday, we move to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, an hour earlier each night. That's to make room for CNN's Erin Burnett "OUT FRONT", that will be at 7:00 Eastern. Again we start at 6:00 Eastern. Erin follows us at 7:00 as of next Monday.

And next what can be controversial about a bake sale? Well, plenty if the price of a cupcake depends on the color of your skin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: There's an increased diversity bake sale tomorrow at the University of California Berkley. The goodies cost $2.00 if you're a white man. If you're Asian they'll only cost you a $1.50, a $1.00 for Latinos, 75 cents for blacks, and a quarter for Native Americans. Women -- get this -- get an extra 25 cents off. Yes, yes, there's a point.

The Berkeley College Republicans who are hosting this bake sale say they are trying to call attention to proposed changes in university admissions policies which would allow officials to take an applicant's race and gender into account. Well those college Republicans are certainly getting attention with their bake sale.

Shawn Lewis is the president of the Berkeley College Republicans. Ed Hernandez is a state senator and a Democrat who is behind this legislation. Shawn Lewis, I want to start with you. What you are doing is pretty outrageous. I assume that's the point.

SHAWN LEWIS, PRESIDENT, BERKELEY COLLEGE REPUBLICANS: Right. And thank you. I want to say thank you, senator. It's really an honor to sit down and talk about this issue directly. So, thank you for inviting me. It's very controversial event and we feel that we are facing a controversial issue as we want to defy an affirmative action-type debate. It's a very controversial issue and we're facing it with a very controversial event.

KING: Senator, explain to Shawn why you feel this bill is necessary.

SEN. ED HERNANDEZ (D), CALIFORNIA STATE: Well, again, thank you, Shawn, for being on CNN. And I appreciate your ability to express your opinion here in the democratic way. However, the way that you are doing it I think is insensitive. I think we need to do as we looking at what the true intent and the nature of the bill is. And that is to make sure that we have access to diversity in the state of California and that diversity of these campuses reflect the diversity of the state.

KING: Senator, let me stick with you for a minute. What needs to change? You say that I was reading some of the press releases that you put out. Current policy actually discouraged diversity on campus, college-age applicants for getting in the system. How so?

HERNANDEZ: Well, the proposition 209 was written obviously, the University of California as well as California State universities cannot use race when recruiting or trying to get qualified applicants. What this bill does and what we specifically did and understanding and know that we do not want to change the constitution or by any means go around it. We very carefully wrote this legislation to allow the universities to be able to consider, for example, race, ethnicity, gender, to make sure that it reflects the demographic of the state of California or the great state of California.

KING: Shawn, I assume you're not against diversity on campus. Do you think the state of California has a problem?

LEWIS: Well, if the issue is about diversity, I would like to ask the senator, if the issue is about diversity why are we only talking about race and gender? Why don't we talk about things such as religion, or sexual orientation, physical disability or maybe even political ideology? Are we suggesting that our campus, college campuses have a problem of diversity, we need to fix that problem, do we have underrepresented groups in those areas? Would you suggest that maybe UC Berkeley should use, could use a few more college Republicans since Republican view is pretty far in the minority? Do we need more diversity in that way, too?

KING: Does he have a point sir, that once you open this box, you have to fully open the box?

HERNANDEZ: Well, if you look at the bill and the way it's written, it does talk about other factors as well which could include the exactly what he was talking about, it also talks about gender ethics. So there are other factors. But what the bill's main intent is to look at and make sure we have underrepresented minorities. And if you look at pre-209 and post-209, if you look at the demographics of the state, I'll give you for example, the State of California, you have 45 percent Latino that are graduated from high school but yet 16 percent of them are in the UC systems.

KING: Shawn, I want to come back to the provocative nature of this in the sense that you're doing this to make a point. You're doing it to highlight your opposition to anything that is affirmative- action base or quota base. Are you worried though about a backlash? Have you received any backlash from groups on campus while the day we ride black, Asian-American, native American saying, maybe I understand your point or maybe I respect your point to make it but this is offensive?

LEWIS: Well, on the first few hours of the event being on facebook, we got hundreds of posts on the page. And you're right we were intending to be controversial. We were hoping that this controversy would force students and members of the community to think more critically about a bill, a piece of legislation that would bring in race would treat people differently based on the color of their skin. So the controversy was there.

No, the backlash that we received was in some ways surprising. We did on the facebook event which still public, all of the comments are still up. And there are both implicit and explicit threats made to the creators of the event, to the organizers of the event. One threat including bringing a spike baseball bat to the table tomorrow morning and one that really stuck out that people really responded to or were worried about is, one person said that, well, remember your faces on campus. Pick your fights wisely. So, there certainly has been backlash and we expected some but we really were not expecting the uncivil and violent reactions that we received.

KING: Help me out. Senator to you first, both of you gentlemen started the conversation by saying hello to each other, by thanking each other and coming out with this issue in a public in polite and civil way.

Senator, when you hear things like that, I assumed you take as much offense to any threats of violence or behavior like that as you do to the bake cell itself. How can we get the two of you, and maybe some other people in a room, can this issue be worked out through non- legislative means perhaps? Is there a compromise out there or is this going to always be something that can be caused by a divide like this?

HERNANDEZ: Well, first of all, let me state very clearly that it totally inappropriate for the threats that this young man has received. Because what he is doing is exercising his constitutional right. We may both agree to disagree, but he has a right to his opinion and I think these threats were totally inappropriate. So, let me just very clearly state that for the record and I believe that his name is Shawn. Shawn my apologies for anybody to do that. And this is the exact reason why we need to have a civil discussion on this debate about ethnicity and the race and we should be sitting down and having a calm discussion to make sure that this great university system and this great California state university system has the ability to be able to bring diversity in, to make this state great, continue to be great, and to continue to make sure that we have free and open speech.

KING: Can that discussion happen, Shawn? Can the college Republicans invite the senator to the campus and start on the point that he just did that we disagree on the premise but let's have a conversation?

LEWIS: If the conversation is about diversity, the question is still, are we only talking about race and gender? Now, the language in the bill it says race, gender, and other relevant factors. And the very loose language of the bill is one of our biggest problems we have with it. It not in fact opens a wide door for lawsuits and litigation against the University of California. It doesn't really provide infrastructure to guarantee that these factors will be used in actually overcoming these diversities problems that we face on our campus.

And if we're going to look at that issue, what other kind of diversity issues do we have? Should we have more political ideological representation on campus or a variety of other issues? But the other thing is the reason that we, our response to this bill really came out of our student government which decided to endorse this bill and sponsor a phone bank to urge Governor Brown to pass and sign this bill into law. And we wanted to, we're very adamant about saying that Berkeley, even though it's very liberal, there is not one voice or one opinion. In fact, the Berkeley College Republicans would really like to urge Governor Brown to veto this bill. KING: We will watch this debate as it plays out. I want to thank Shawn Lewis and Senator Hernandez for coming out debating it politely tonight. Gentlemen, we will keep in touch. Thank you.

When Rick Perry jumped into the presidential race, his poll numbers, you know this is shot through the roof. But now that he's out there debating, those numbers well, are looking a little different. We'll dig into just why, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Breaking news tonight here in Washington, the United States Senate just passed a new bill to provide a government shutdown. It only passed on week and the six weeks extension of government spending House Republicans will now pick and decide which one of those to pass. You can see Democrats there celebrating the passage and explaining the passage. It's been a debate that has not made most of you proud about how Washington does its business.

But the breaking news tonight, it will not be a government shutdown. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" coming up at the top of the hour and Anderson is here with a preview. I'm sure Anderson is grateful that the government is not going to shut down.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Yes. We're surly going to talk about that tonight. It means it actually did something like this to happen in session, the rest are vacation.

John, we're keeping them honest ahead on 360. At 8:00 p.m., selling weapons to killers. The U.S. Department of Defense is selling $53 million in weapons, to Gulf Allies Bahrain, a country whose security forces do this to unarmed protesters.

Protesters are chanting "peacefully, peacefully" and then watch what happens.

That was back in February. The crackdown continues to this day and it's been largely successful. Protests basically have been crushed there. So why is there one set of rules for brutal regimes in Syria and another set of rules, rules that including tens and millions of dollars in weapons for Bahrain? We'll keep them honest.

Also tonight, Amanda Knox, the American student convicted in Italy in killing a roommate back in court today. The lawyer for the murdered woman used strong language in urging the Italian jury not to overturn the conviction or it's called Knox diabolical Lucifer like and Satanic. We will have the live report from Italy.

Those stories and tonight's "ridiculist," John it's a pairing I never thought I'd put on the "ridiculist" David Gergen and George Clooney. We will tell you about their odd connection at the top of the hour.

KING: I already know. I don't know want to hear anymore about it. But I'm sure everybody else watching does. There are so much that you want to hear and then, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

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

Tonight, the first evidence that Rick Perry's shaky performance seems to be impacting his Republican presidential campaign. The Texas governor still the GOP front runner but look here, at a minimum, his climb has stalled. Perry needs to deal pact (ph) of 30 percent support among Republicans. Now, that's down a couple points though from our CNN ORC poll just a couple weeks ago. Former Massachusetts's Governor Mitt Romney is second at 22 percent and former house speaker Newt Gingrich has climbed to double digits, an 11 percent.

Here's another set of numbers, Republicans are talking about tonight. In head to head matchups, against President Obama, Perry trails by five points, 51 percent to 46 percent. Again, the former Massachusetts governor Romney on the other hand is in a statistical dead heat with the democratic incumbent, 49 percent to 48 percent. And he's the only Republican Romney is who drag the president at this point below 50 percent. Now, Republican say, electability matters this cycle. So, you can be sure team Romney will make hay of those numbers.

Our conservative contributor Erick Erickson sees it differently. He's take Romney is the known entity. He ran for the Republican nomination four years ago and yet nearly eight in ten Republicans support someone else.

Here's my take. The biggest lesson is, despite all of the talk about putting electability first, primaries are about ideology. And Perry has stopped climbing, even dipped a bit because as conservatives get a closer look, they see him as out of sync with their views, immigration perhaps or maybe use of executive power.

So, let's go behind the numbers now with Erick Erickson as I just mentioned, Republican strategist as Romney backer from the 2008 campaign. I'll try to speak English Kevin Madden and CNN contributor Roland Martin who suffice to say, is a bit to the left of these other gentlemen.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: I want to get first to Erick Erickson, to the simple horse race numbers, I don't want to make too much at one poll, but Perry was doing this and he at least now done this. In your take and in your conversations with fellow conservatives, is it as people learn more and more about the record, they get a little pause.

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: It's not so much his record, except on immigration. The HPV thing I think has been overplayed. Immigration has giving people a lot of pause. What is giving more pause than anything is the third debate performance and I suspect the polling was done starting I think the Friday and Saturday, Sunday after the debate, had it gone on a little bit longer, although obviously you couldn't because of the calendar, Perry's numbers would have been down even further. His debate was horrible and I think people are willing to give him maybe one more chance to get it right and then move on to someone else.

KING: I want to show, before I bring Kevin and Roland into the conversation. Let's show a little moment here. Governor Romney and his wife were out in Michigan over the weekend and I'm going to call this, no disrespect to anybody intended, I'm sure a lot will be taken al gore liked.

(BEING VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: You want a better kiss than that? We're not going to do an al gore moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We bring that out not just because it's cute video, but I want Kevin jumping on this point. You saw the horserace numbers that Perry, Romney. Look at this, if you break it down, there's a gender gap in the Republican field. Among men, 35 percent of Republican men say Perry, 18 percent say Romney. Among women, 26 percent say Romney and 22 percent say Perry. Why do we have a gender gap in the Republican race?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think one of the, and Erick made this point earlier that as people start to learn more and more about Governor Perry that some of the issues that are not very helpful to him with women voters have come to the forefront mainly for the HPV vaccine. For a lot of mothers who have 13-year-old daughters that may have been forced with an inoculation. You know they may see that as something that as something they don't agree with and it something that they started to reject.

I also think that there's a point where Governor Romney many voters have start to gravitated towards to him because the overall issue that he has been focused on has been the economy. And moms, dads, all people who are young really want this economy fixed. And because that's his been central focus, his electability has been very apparent but also he has gained another, he has gain with many voters the Republican Party.

KING: You're chuckling a bit, my friend.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Because, look, clearly it doesn't help Perry to talk about the HPV issue. It doesn't help him at all. But while you have Republicans who are not happy with the immigration stance, that is exactly what is going to be appealing to Latino voters, especially in the western states. So when you talk about Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, that's going to be critical. And so Republicans are sitting here upset by it. This is a guy who is from Texas. And I can tell you right now, Texas is a lot different from Georgia, in Tennessee, in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana when it comes to Latinos and as the Republicans they want to start figuring that out. Because at the end of the day, if you just dissed Hispanic voters, you stand to lose the west and you're guaranteeing President Obama wins re-election.

KING: So Roland is making the case that he thinks that Perry is a stronger general election candidate because he can pick up Latino votes. You're going to disagree?

MADDEN: No, I would disagree on that. I think if you look in Governor Perry's position on Social Security, a lot of those suburban voters that win presidential race, Philadelphia, Columbus, Jefferson County out in Colorado, they are turned off about his rhetoric and calling Social Security unconstitutional. I also think that Governor Perry's position on the immigration issue is not a consensus issue. He's at odds with not only Republicans but many independents and Democrats when it comes to illegal aliens.

MARTIN: So there's no perfect candidate.

KING: There's never a perfect candidate.

ERICKSON: There's a bigger issue there.

KING: Go ahead.

ERICKSON: There's a bigger issue there for Romney for example. I mean remember we have now had a series of, I've lost track of the debates that we've had. And at first you had Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann bumping heads with each other and people going after those two and now you've got Rick Perry coming into the race and so you had everyone filling on Rick Perry. One of the advantages that Mitt Romney had so far is that people have largely ignored him in the debates going for other people. Everyone has waited for the debate where everyone makes Mitt Romney's record issued. It hasn't come up yet. And that's an Achilles hill for him. And that when it starts coming up, we're going to be in November, December, January right where people starting to pay attention and I like Mitt Romney, but he's been on basically every side of every modern political issue in American history.

MADDEN: I feel like he's taking his heads Erick in a lot of these debates. You know, they have focused on it. He hasn't gotten out scar free. I think the difference now is that he's much more accustomed to understanding that these attacks are coming and very crisp, very clean answers and he can commanded issues that a lot of people that are watching the debates care about.

KING: Alright, I'm going to ask all of you guys, Erick, Kevin, Roland you're going to stay with us, before we go to break, I want to show you some numbers that don't need commentary because they speak for themselves. We asked also about Governor Sarah Palin in our poll and I want to put the numbers up here. Because if you looked at our poll, she peaked in our poll back in August, about 16 percent of Republicans wanted her to be the nominee. She's now at seven percent. And I'm going to day that it's a safe bet there that Republicans are beginning to think that she's not running and we're going to look elsewhere for candidates and maybe come of them are little tired of her not giving her decisions. So, Governor Palin if you're looking at those numbers, if you have a decision to make, I think your voters would like you to make it.

Up next president Obama's blunt advice to some of his closest political allies. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: President Obama's on the west coast tonight, part of a swing out that way to raise some money and to promote his economic ideas. Among his events today was a town hall organized with a help of the social network LinkedIn. Suffice to say, Presidents don't get asked this every day.

(BEING VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG EDWARDS, FORMER GOOGLE EXECUTIVE: I don't have a job, but that's because I've been lucky enough to live in Silicon Valley for a while and work for a small start-up company down the street here that did quite well. So I'm unemployed by choice. My question is would you please raise my taxes?

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That smart start-up down the road was Google, by the way. He did quite well there. That gentleman is a millionaire, if you didn't figure that out. Here's something else you don't hear often. This is Saturday night at a congressional black caucus dinner. And the president has a message for some of the organization who has been critical of his agenda.

(BEING VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your matching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling. Stop crying. We are going to press on. We've got work to do. CBC, God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's pick it up there with Ronald Martin, Kevin Madden and Erick Erickson. Who has to stop complaining?

MARTIN: That's a very good question. And the reality is when you look at unemployment at 27 percent in terms of essentially young folks, actually 40 percent. It's a huge number, Black men as well. And so look, as a return on investment, African-Americans made it perfectly clear when President Obama was elected 96 percent of the vote. So, a lot of people say hey, he can't do certain things. Wait for the second term.

No second term is guaranteed. And so, it's also question of this administration recognizes that there are some issues with his baits. If you look at those numbers in "the Washington Post", as to where just last week those numbers have been falling. The administration has been saying oh, it's OK. Things are going to work out. But the reality is he is going to need a dramatic turnout in Virginia, in Georgia, in North Carolina and in Florida and those critical states in order for him to win re-election. So, he has to shore that base up. He has work to do.

KING: Let me add Ohio and Michigan.

MARTIN: Absolutely.

KING: And maybe some others.

MARTIN: And Pennsylvania.

KING: I want to show our Republican friends some numbers here just to see what they think of the difference here. This is approval ratings versus favorability rating. This is the president's favorability rating.

Now you watch, like anything, it's down from where he started in 2009, but 53 percent of Americans have favorable view of President Obama meaning they like him, majority of Americans like him. I'm in favor with you.

This is his job approval rating, 45 percent. You have a gap right there. Kevin Madden, when you see the president on the road, number one, he's talking, you know Roland's right about trying to rally debates, but when he is out there talking about the economic plan he's trying to move those closer together and move them both up. Will voters in November in a close election say, I like him, so I'll vote for him, or does it come down his favorability, we like him, or his job approval rating we want to get a four more years?

MADDEN: You know, that's exactly what those numbers down there, that 45 percent shows me that and the fact that his personal attributes still remain above sea level, that this is not personal. This is a performance-based judgment that people are making. And right now the performance has to do with the economy. So all of the talk where the president's trying to position himself and wants people to see him as a fighter, they want to see him as somebody that's fighting for you know the people versus the powerful, almost like the gore campaign in 2000, that's not going to be enough. The only thing to help this president is his performance, whether he can turn around the economy. And where he goes wrong on policy is he's still not putting together the big policy prescriptions going to need to put the economy going in the right direction.

KING: Well Erick, when Kevin makes that point about policy prescriptions, is it just a referendum we've decided now? Or do you see, and I know you talked in the past what you think about Governor Perry has come out with the more detailed plan. So, is it time now for the Republicans to be more details more contrast or should she worry about their own race and let the president be out there campaigning?

ERICKSON: I think the Republicans should have a degree the benefit of time right now John and in that as long as there are so many candidates and it's so close among several of them and numbers are going up and down, they can - the Democrats can kind of try to paint the Republicans with a broad brush but it is not going to won't work in the general election. And you know I throw out the name Leon Jaworski, the water gate prosecutor who condemned Ronald Reagan, said he's going to lead us into nuclear war. And neither to be defeated and when Reagan got the nomination, Jaworski became the head of Democrats for Reagan say he need rather a confident radical than an in confident moderate. Jimmy Carter had higher personal approval ratings than Reagan in 1980 and still lost.

MARTIN: John, what jumps out is I think about Ann Richards losing to George W. Bush in that election. Very popular governor, you look at those critical issues. People say we really like her. But he was able to focus on critical issues and talk about leadership. And so what President Obama has to recognize is people do want to see the level of action, and so the question is will he maintain this attitude and also will we see people on Wall Street held accountable for their actions as long as people say, we didn't see any result from people who screwed the economy up, they're going to hold him accountable. And that he has to deal with it.

MADDEN: And I would agree with Roland and quite frankly I would probably agree with the Obama campaign that tells you this is going to be a choice. But ultimately, fundamentally it is also going to be a contest for the future. The problem for Obama right now is that he's being judged very harshly based on the results that people have seen so far. So, they're not as willing to trust him that the future looks any brighter with his continued policies and his lack of leadership.

KING: And Erick Erickson, when you watch the president.

ERICKSON: You know John -

KING: Go ahead.

ERICKSON: Well, Roland mentioned Ann Richards. And Paul Begala has said several times on here that after she lost she called Bill Clinton and told him to remember it's not what he's done for the country but what he's going to do for the country and they've got to believe him. We're at a tipping point whether independent actually believe Barack Obama and what he said he's going to do.

KING: I think that's an interesting point. We will watch the president out in the road. If you watch where he's going, he's got the map and mine just like all of us do as we looked at it. I like the way you put at approach. ERICKSON: We're working on the same map.

KING: We're all working on the same map, 50 states and they're complicated. Erick, Kevin, Ronald Thanks.

Remember this foot now. We move back an hour to 6:00 p.m. Eastern next Monday night. We'll be here at 7:00 though for the rest of the week. Hope to see you right here tomorrow night. That's all for us. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.