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JOHN KING, USA

Herman Cain Rising; Interview With South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint; Super Committee Meeting in Secret?

Aired October 5, 2011 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone.

Tonight, more stunning proof Texas Governor Rick Perry is slipping in the Republican presidential race. And the man benefiting the most says, this isn't just one lucky day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will be the president. I was born in 1945, and when I'm sworn in, it will be the 45th year of marriage between my wife and I -- 45 is a lucky number.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tonight, we will put Herman Cain's signature tax proposal to the truth test.

Plus, one of the leaders of that super committee charged with cutting more than a trillion in spending, maybe your student loan or your Medicare, defends doing business behind closed doors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: I remember well one time when I was very little and I was fighting with my brother every other minute and my mother put us in a back room and said don't come out until you got it figured out. We stared at each other for a while but we came out friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Thanks, Senator Murray, for confirming Congress is just a bunch of feuding children. To me that's proof they just don't get it.

And tonight's number, it will warm your heart. A military widow who lost her Navy SEAL husband in combat just weeks ago has now lost his treasured keepsake but there's help flooding in from new friends.

That and more ahead, but, first, as always, tonight's breaking news and other stories you need to know right now.

Breaking right now in New York, take a look. Huge crowds still gathering in New York City protesting against the big banks, Washington gridlock and the state of the U.S. economy. These Occupy Wall Street protests started as you know several weeks ago. But as of today they're getting big union support, and going national.

You're looking right now at what could be a decisive tipping point for this protest movement and right in the middle of it, CNN's Susan Candiotti. She's in the crowd there in New York.

Susan, lots of momentum for the protesters today. Tell us where you are, what you're seeing.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a big question, too. Is this a tipping point? Will the movement continue to grow from here or might it go on the decline? Was this the biggest day?

It's certainly the largest numbers we have seen since the group started gathering in this park 19 days ago. They have been marching shoulder to shoulder from the park here where they have been situated in Wall Street to Foley Square, which is near city hall and a lot of courthouses. People packed in, listening to speeches, hearing chants, waiving their arms and signs with marching bands and air horns blowing.

Chanting things like we have got to unite, we have got to unite and one man even saying it's time to shut down the country. Do they really mean that? Will that happen? We certainly know there's a lot of anger among this group. So far, as far as we know, no arrests, but they did have several hundred of them last week and because of that, there's a huge monumental police presence here standing by with a lot of paddy wagons just in case -- John.

KING: Susan, you hear people say, maybe this is the foundation of a liberal Tea Party, maybe this will become not a protest movement but a political movement. Do the protesters say that's what they want or are they out there some of them venting about very different things?

CANDIOTTI: A lot of different reasons that they're out here. And they say they don't want to be affiliated with any particular party. They just want to be heard in Washington. Fed up for a number of different reasons. Environmental issues, health, education, of course, a bad economy. They want jobs. And they don't think anyone in Washington is listening to them.

Certainly not listening to them around Wall Street. And as you can see, they're looking for as much publicity as they can get to try to fuel their movement. They got help today from unions.

KING: Susan Candiotti, live in New York City for us.

And as we look at those live pictures at this stunning event, look at those aerial views right there. Maybe you support them, maybe you don't. That's an pretty impressive crowd out tonight in New York City. We will keep track of the protests and where this movement heads in the days ahead.

Susan, thank you, Senate Democrats tonight are changing tactics on President Obama's jobs bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid, who blocked the bill yesterday, now promises to bring it up because his Senate Democrats he says have figured out a new way to pay for it. Instead of spending cuts, they want a millionaire's tax.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We are going to propose to pay for this important jobs legislation by asking people who make more than $1 million to pay 5 percent more to fund job creation and ensure this country's economic success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's a huge political debate. A short time ago, I spoke with the Republican Senator Jim DeMint. He says even Democrats won't vote for this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is all smoke and mirrors. This idea that there's this permanent class of rich people in America is just not true and we're not going to help our country by taxing the people who are creating jobs in our country. So it's probably a nonstarter with a lot of Democrats. But I would welcome Harry Reid. If he can bring a bill to the floor, let's vote on it. I think they're bluffing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan working her sources all day on this on Capitol Hill.

Kate, the Democrats on the Senate side saying raise taxes. I'm not that great at math but I think I'm good enough to say doesn't this make this much more of a political statement, and the bill less likely to pass?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think you are right there, John.

You have been around Washington long enough to know that. Basically this change, if you will, this millionaire's surtax is designed to make the bill more palatable to Democrats, to win support of more Senate Democrats around this measure. Some Senate Democrats had been opposed to -- had taken issue with how the president had originally kind of proposed to pay for this broad jobs package.

One example is some had taken issue with raising taxes on oil and gas companies, if they're coming from oil and gas, of course, producing states. But at the very same time while this measure's -- this change obviously is designed to win over more Democrats, Republicans that -- no surprise, this is still a nonstarter with them. Republicans remain steadfastly against tax increases and the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, made pretty clear that this bill, if they move forward with it, which they likely will, will not overcome a first procedural vote, basically meaning it's not going to overcome a Republican filibuster -- John.

KING: Politics ahead of the important policy urgency of creating jobs. Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill.

Let's get the perspective now from our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar.

Senator Reid says a millionaire tax, Brianna. The president wants his jobs bill. The House has already said it won't bring this up. The Republican House said they're not going to bring up the president's plan. Now the Senate Democrats are changing it in a way that makes it unpalatable to Republicans there.

You had a chance to ask the president about what he wants today. What did he say?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I asked him today in the Oval Office during a meeting that he was with the president of Honduras if he endorsed Senator Reid's so-called millionaire's surtax.

And, in fact, reporters asked him in total three different times and he didn't take the opportunity to endorse it. We also heard today the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, making some positive sounds about this idea but there's really no endorsement yet. Here's why. It's really an issue of timing. One White House official that I spoke with said, when you look at the president's proposal for how to pay for his jobs plan, the tax increases there kick in, in 2013.

Democratic aides on the Hill tell CNN that Reid's proposal would kick in, in 2012, so just a few months down the road. So that is a difference that needs to be worked out, as the White House kind of looks into and digests some of the fine print. But at the same time, this whole concept of this millionaire's surtax, John, very much in line with that Buffett rule that President Obama laid out there, that millionaires should not pay a lower tax rate than the middle class, and so that tells you that it's likely that the White House is going to come out and support this.

And certainly as a general concept, the president seems to, White House officials say, support this at this time.

KING: As a general concept, you say. But the president's been running around the country waving the bill and say vote on this now. He seems to think it's fine as is. When you have the Republicans saying no and the Democratic leader changes it in a way that complicates the policy, isn't Harry Reid supposed to be on the president's team?

KEILAR: Of course. And I think one of the things that you see the White House and congressional Democrats trying to do right now is trying to get on the same team. They're trying to certainly minimize any daylight and promote a unified front. That's why we're hearing some of the positive sounds certainly from the press secretary here. The strategy here is pretty clear that ultimately the White House will likely sign on with Senate Democrat on this concept and that they will paint Republicans as trying to protect millionaires, something that they think will resonate with the American people. Of course, you know, John, Republicans are going to fire right back. We heard Mitch McConnell today say it, that it's a bad idea to raise taxes during a recession and they're going to accuse -- or when the economy's bad -- and they're going to accuse Democrats of trying to do just that.

KING: Well, if they don't figure out something to help the millions of Americans who don't have jobs, they happen to be Democrats, Republicans and independents, I think they will all be pretty fed up. Brianna Keilar at the White House tonight tracking this dicey one -- Bri, thank you very much.

Supreme Court justices tend to be camera shy. Too bad. Check out what Justice Antonin Scalia said during a rare televised appearance before Congress today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONIN SCALIA, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: It doesn't take much to throw a monkey wrench into this into this complex system. So Americans should appreciate that. And they should learn to love the gridlock. It's there for a reason, so that the legislation that gets out will be good legislation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A future as a political analyst if he gives up that Supreme Court thing.

On the campaign trail today, the Texas governor, Rick Perry, in California, adding to his campaign's already impressive bank account. Brand-new numbers out tonight show the Perry campaign raised about $17 million since he jumped into the race back in August.

A source tells us Mitt Romney's campaign will report between $11 million and $13 million over the past three months. And Ron Paul raised $8 million from 100,000 donors, nearly five times as many donors who gave to Governor Perry.

Today, White House officials announced President Obama is getting back on his bus, October 17 for a state through the swing states of Virginia and North Carolina. The goal, promote his jobs program. Lately the president's been calling himself a warrior for the middle class. In Florida today, Republican hopeful Romney fired back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he's a warrior for the middle class, boy, I would hate to see him if he was a warrior against the middle class. This guy's friendly-fire has hurt the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A prediction today, the U.S. government will deport a record number of people this year. In a speech defending the administration's change of policy to focus now on deporting convicted criminals, the homeland security, Janet Napolitano, insisted the U.S./Mexican border is more secure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The border security measures we have taken constitute the most innovative and effective approach our country has ever deployed. So using the claim that the border is not secure as a reason to block immigration reform is not reasonable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Not that you need one, but here's another reason to be angry with the big banks. A new round of big increases in fees for consumers.

CNN's Alison Kosik has the latest outrage.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, these fees have become a way of life these days. Citibank is the latest to announce new fees. Beginning in December, customers with an easy checking account will have to pay $15 a month unless they carry a $6,000 balance in their combined Citibank accounts.

If you have a higher level Citi checking account with more features, you will have pay $20 a month unless you carry a $15,000 balance. Now, the comes just days after Bank of America outraged customers with monthly $5 debit card fees. And some customers are talking about switching banks but unfortunately a bank account without fees is really becoming harder to find. Bankrate says only 45 percent of checking accounts are free down from 76 percent two years ago.

Now the tides started turning after the financial crisis when Congress passed a financial overhaul bill. The idea was to limit bank fees and it worked. But the banking industry claims those regulations are costing them billions of dollars in lost revenue. But banks, they're getting creative and they're finding new ways to stick it to us -- John.

KING: New ways, indeed.

We often talk about broken government. Get this, word today the system the government wants to put in place to improve airline safety actually might put your life at risk. The Transportation Department's inspector general warned Congress that $2 billion -- that's with a B -- $2 billion computer system designed to keep track of planes in the air is bogged down by bad software, cost overruns and delays.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CALVIN SCOVEL, TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENT INSPECTOR GENERAL: For sites with complex and congested airspace, such as Chicago and Los Angeles, risks will increase.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Politics is a funny business. Today, President Obama named the Grammy-winning singer Shakira to the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Shakira, she's from Colombia. A White House statement notes she's founded the Barefoot Foundation, which operates schools and educational projects in Colombia, South Africa, and Haiti.

Finally, a quick pop quiz. Guess which of these members of Congress take a close look, once played pro football in the NFL. Yes, you figured it out. It's the big guy on the right. New York Republican Jon Runyan, a former offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles, he's one of the lawmakers getting ready for the October 12 Congress vs. the Capitol Police charity football game.

Don't run into him.

Ahead, number nine, it's an old Beatles classic and the centerpiece of Herman Cain's tax reform proposal, but does it add up? That's tonight's truth.

And Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is a Tea Party favorite and conservative power broker. His blunt message to those grumbling about the Republican presidential field, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Breaking news just into CNN, breaking political news.

The former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has just issued a statement to the conservative talk show host Mark Levin saying she is not running for president in 2012, not running for president in 2012. She has given hints of that for some time, but definitive word tonight from Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, again, telling the conservative radio host Mark Levin she is not running for president.

She had been the last big question mark about the Republican race, especially since the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's announcement yesterday that he would not run. Governor Palin not running. She's a Tea Party favorite. She, of course, was the 2008 vice presidential nominee. Her decision to stay on the sidelines all but assures, all but assures us that this field is now complete.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: On Capitol Hill today, take a look. A delivery of petitions with 1.6 million signatures calling for the repeal of the Obama health care law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEMINT: The federal control of health care that has proved all his promises false. He said it would help our economy and employment. It's hurt our economy and employment. He said it would eventually reduce our deficit. The statistics show that it's increasing our deficit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You remember, of course, that repeal Obamacare was a signature slogan of the Tea Party, as it helped Republicans to giant successes in last year's midterm elections. That repeal effort now, though, has zero chance of short-term success. Democrats control the Senate. President Obama of course has at least 15 more months at the White House.

So was today's event a waste of time and energy?

Well, let's ask one of the organizers. You just saw him there, Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina.

Senator, on that point, you know you have zero chance. And I could make the case 1.6 million signatures, wow, that's a pretty big number, but I could also make the case more than 82 million people voted in the midterm elections. That's not such a great number.

DEMINT: Well, what we're trying to do here is to remind Americans, as we try to cut our budget, try to deal with our deficit, that many on the Democrat side, including the president and some Republicans, have talked about cutting Social Security and Medicare.

We can't talk about cutting our promises to seniors at the same time we're spending trillions on this new entitlement program that we call Obamacare. Millions of Americans want it repealed. Every statistic that's coming out is telling us it's raising the cost of health care. It's hurting job creation in America. And it's going to eventually hurt quality of health care.

So we cannot let the issue die and I don't think it will die because of the debt that we're dealing with. We could cut $1.5 trillion immediately just by repealing Obamacare. Instead, they're going to look at cutting benefits on Social Security and Medicare.

KING: The latest CBS/"New York Times" poll, three in 10 Americans say repeal the entire law. About 17 percent say repeal parts of it. So about half of the country wants to repeal all or part. But don't you from a tactical standpoint right now really have two options in the short term? Number one, maybe the Supreme Court agrees with you and says it's unconstitutional or, number two, you need to elect a Republican president, right?

DEMINT: Well, you're exactly right.

And we need to make sure whatever Republican is elected is committed to repealing Obamacare. That's why we have got to keep the issue alive.

Fortunately, all the Republicans running for the nomination have said that they will repeal this bill. KING: You mentioned the Republican presidential field. Do you think this is it? Governor Christie yesterday saying no. Let me ask you this question first. Does Sarah Palin owe her supporters a definitive, final in or out?

DEMINT: Well, I don't think she owes anyone anything.

She has not said she's going to run. I don't expect her to get in at this point. I think the field is complete, but that's just a guess on my part. And I think the field is actually developing. You know, the three or four top Republicans at this point all would make good presidents, and I'm anxious to see how it continues to go over the next few months.

KING: If you are looking now at the top tier of this field, and you have Governor Perry, who is conservative on some issues, but doesn't support the border fence, supports in-state tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants, take that vs. Governor Romney, I know you have concerns with the Massachusetts health care plan. Which of those is the better choice?

DEMINT: Well, I think they're both good choices. And I think we have got several other good choices in the field.

So, as you have probably detected, I'm not going to lean one way or another at this point.

KING: Herman Cain has come from nowhere. He's now number two in most of the Republican polls, right up there with Governor Romney and Governor Perry. He's never held effective office. Does that give you pause when you think about being the next commander in chief?

DEMINT: Oh, not at all, not at all.

I think -- well, I had never held office when I was elected to Congress. And I think I was a better congressman for it.

KING: President's a little different, though, isn't it, Senator?

DEMINT: It is, but I would rather have a chief executive than someone who had been a politician their whole life. And so I think we have got a -- again, a good field.

Herman Cain would be a very credible presidential candidate, along with all the others I think that are in the race right now. So, I'm waiting to see how America leans because all of these candidates have a lot of the qualifications that would appeal to me.

But we need to make sure this candidate can not only win the nomination, but can win general election. Again, this may be our last chance as a country to turn things around. We have got to pick the right candidate.

KING: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, sir, thanks for your time tonight.

DEMINT: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: That conversation a bit earlier tonight.

The woman you're seeing on the screen, the former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, since I spoke to Senator DeMint, Governor Palin has now officially confirmed she will not, not be a candidate for president, not be a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

Governor Palin doing that in a statement to the conservative talk show host Mark Levin, saying she has decided not to enter the Republican race. That, as Senator DeMint just said, essentially seals the deal. The field that is in the race now is your Republican field for president.

Governor Palin had large Tea Party support, although it is worth noting, as she waited and as she pondered entering the race, back in August, 16 percent of Republicans in our CNN polling said she was their choice to be the Republican nominee. In our latest poll, that was down to 7 percent. So, clearly, some Republicans turning to other candidates, perhaps getting frustrated with the long wait from Governor Palin.

She insists she can still be influential from the sidelines, but she will not be a candidate. That makes a big difference in this race. She has a base of support in Iowa. She has a base of support in South Carolina. Now the other candidates, particularly the conservative candidates who think they can appeal to her Tea Party, blue-collar, rural base, will try to appeal for those voters.

Again, a dramatic, important decision from the former Alaska governor and the 2008 vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin tonight. She will not, not, be a candidate for the Republican nomination.

More on the Palin story ahead tonight.

Plus the latest surprise in the Republican nomination battle is not borrowing from the Beatles, but the number nine plays a huge role in his rise from obscurity. The truth about Herman Cain's tax plan next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Herman Cain tonight is a candidate on the move and moving up. The provocative Republican presidential hopeful has never held elective office, but at the moment, he's in the top tier in the national polling.

Our new CNN poll of polls, for example, has Mr. Cain in second place behind the former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and now ahead of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, is benefiting from shaky Perry debate performances, but he's also generating attention with his tax reform proposal, the 999 plan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It eliminates all loopholes, so you don't get into this debate about who's going to pick winners and losers. It replaces the payroll tax, which is the biggest tax that a lot of people pay, the capital gains tax, the corporate income tax, the personal income tax, and the death tax. It replaces all five of those taxes by generating the same amount of revenue.

KING: Now, here's how it would work. Let's take a closer look.

As Mr. Cain says, it's the 999 plan. What does he mean by that? Replace the current tax system, throw it out. You would have a 9 percent national sales tax, a 9 percent corporate tax rate and a 9 percent income tax, 999. That is the Cain plan right there.

Well, here's tonight's truth. It's a bold idea, but in today's economy, it would bring in much less money to the federal government, forcing even tougher spending choices.

And it is politically risky, probably a nonstarter in Congress because it would also end the guaranteed funding pipelines for Medicare and Social Security.

Let's take an even closer look. If you break down the plan here, the national sales tax in today's economy, the growth we now have, would bring in roughly this. Corporate tax would bring in this. Income tax rates this. Remember, that's a lot of numbers, gobbledygook maybe. Here's how you want to look at it, add it up.

The Cain plan would bring in about $1.77 trillion. Right now, in the current economy, we're bringing in $2.16 trillion. So, what you have here, an 18 percent to 20 percent gap right there. That means about one in five dollars the federal government now has, it would not have again under current economic conditions with the Cain plan. That's a big problem as you look at this plan going forward.

So, joining us to discuss this, Stephen Moore. He's the senior economy writer for "The Wall Street Journal."

There are things in this plan you like, but let me start with the politically hard part. You understand politics. If you take away the guaranteed payroll tax deduction for Social Security, the payroll tax deduction for Medicare, that's guaranteed money. It goes into the pipeline. We can debate entitlement reform and all that, but that's guaranteed money that comes in.

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHEN MOORE, SENIOR ECONOMIC WRITER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Right.

KING: Can you sell that? Can you -- can you get the politicians to vote for that? I know Mr. Cain could say there will be enough money that comes to Washington. Then they take it and put it there. But boy, are you going to sell that to seniors? MOORE: It might be a tough call. You know, the number you had on how much that sales tax can raise. I would question that number, because we have about $10 trillion of national consumption over the year. If you tax 9 percent of it, that's a lot bigger number than some people are estimating, close to $900 billion.

But look, the real question is whether people would accept, you know, going from a payroll tax model, as you, said which we use now to fund Social Security and Medicare, to essentially dedicating the revenues from this new national sales tax, which would be, John, pretty much like when you go to the cash register and pay your state sales tax. It would work very much like that.

KING: Do you worry about behavioral adaptation? Once people know their sales, their consumption is going to be taxed, essentially, a lot of critics say that's not fair to poor people, that it hurts them. Does it -- and what happens to charitable contributions, more deductions? Would Mr. Cain just get rid of those?

MOORE: A lot of positions (ph) there. Yes, he gets rid of all the deductions, all the exemptions in the tax code. That's how he can get that rate down to 9 percent. From an economic standpoint, I think it's great. I mean, to have a 9 percent tax rate would make America extremely competitive in global markets.

But you raise a good question. How will this affect poor people? The poor pay the payroll tax. Don't forget that, John. They're paying 14, 15 percent payroll tax. So what Herman Cain would say, yes, we're going to have to pay 9 percent sales tax, but they're not going to have to pay the payroll tax anymore.

His numbers suggest that the poor actually come out better, because they're not paying that 15 percent tax. I'd like to see -- I think he's going to have to prove that with some real analysis.

KING: You're smart about the economy, but you also understand politics. When you see him rising in the polls like this, do you think it's because people see a plan in a tough economy? Maybe they completely don't understand it. Maybe they don't completely agree with it, but they see something bold, provocative, that even if it's not perfect would rip up the system? Or is he just benefiting: he's coming up because Perry's going down?

MOORE: Both. Both because he's been an incredibly good debater. He's just -- he's just touched people in the way that he's debated. That story about his cancer and overcoming that, I mean, that tugged at people's heartstrings.

But this plan, look. You're talking about Republican primary voters here, John. They think things are terribly wrong with the economy. They think the wheels have come off and that we need super- sized solutions to a super-sized economic problem.

So yes, I think that he's benefiting, from the fact that, of all the Republican candidates, he has the boldest, most radical tax plan out there, getting those rates down to 9 percent. Whether you could -- the big question, I think, John, about this politically: can you sell the American people on a national sales tax? I don't think in the history of this country we've ever had one. I think there may be times at the turn of the century we did. So if that's the big issue, whether Americans will go for this brand-new tax. And he's going to say, look, you're going to have a 9 percent sales tax, but look how much your income tax and payroll tax are going to go down. That's going to be the big issue.

KING: Let me ask you, as you're walking in you hear the news: Sarah Palin is not running for president. That is the breaking news. Now, as someone who's looked at the Republican field, you know, there's been some dissatisfaction. Do we need more people in it? Does it have an impact? Does it plus or minus for the quality of the field or plus or minus for any particular candidate?

MOORE: Most -- most conservatives are kind of relieved that Sarah Palin is not running. I don't think she would have added a whole lot to this race.

John, look, I was looking at that poll you showed earlier. When the top Republican in the field is only at 20 percent, that means people are completely undecided. They're not completely satisfied with the choices.

Now, I'll make a prediction to you. I still don't think it's too late for someone else to get in this race.

KING: Who?

MOORE: Maybe a Jim DeMint, who you were talking to...

KING: He says no. He says people are asking him all the time, but he says no.

MOORE: Maybe Mitch Daniels maybe will reconsider. I know they've said no. But all I'm saying is I don't think it's too late when you've got the top candidate at only 20 percent in Mitch -- Mitt Romney.

KING: It's an excellent point. Steve Moore, thanks for coming in.

MOORE: Thank you.

KING: I appreciate your help.

Ahead, an update on tonight's breaking news. Former Governor Sarah Palin saying she will not run in 2012.

And when a military widow lost a prize memory of her fallen hero, she asked friends for help. Tonight's number, it will warm your heart and, we hope, help make that number grow. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

We begin with breaking news out of Wasilla, Alaska. Sarah Palin has just announced she will not run for president in 2012. She first put out a written statement. Then she also went on the Mark Levin radio program. Here's a little bit of what she said in her statement.

"After much prayer and serious consideration, I've decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for president of the United States. As always, my family comes first, and obviously, Todd and I put great consideration into family life before making this decision."

She also went on to say in that statement, "In the coming weeks I will help coordinate strategies to assist in replacing the president, retaking the Senate, and maintaining the House. Thank you again for all your support. Let's unite to restore this country."

So again, dramatic, breaking news tonight: Sarah Palin deciding, after months of debate and consideration, that she will not -- not -- seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. That essentially leaves the field in place; although there could now be some pressure on other conservatives to jump in. Maybe some who have bowed out to reconsider.

Sarah Palin, though, telling us tonight, she will not -- not -- seek the Republican presidential nomination in campaign 2012.

Moving on, a dramatic shakeup at the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Explosives. New acting director Todd Jones just announced 11 high-level changes. He says the bureau needs to rebuild public trust in wake of its Operation Fast and Furious program, which allowed illegal gun sales to Mexican drug cartels. Some of those guns ended up as murder weapons both in Mexico and the United States.

A new Pew poll of U.S. military veterans from the last decade has some surprising numbers. Only 34 percent say the wars in Iran and Afghanistan were worth fighting, but 96 percent of veterans who served since 9/11 say they are proud of their service.

When asked to describe their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan in a single word, the No. 1 answer, look at that -- bigger than anybody else -- "rewarding," followed by "hot," "lousy," "interesting," "nightmare," "eye-opening" and "educational."

That brings us to tonight's number: 4,950. A number that is very special. Very special -- you see it up here -- to Kimberly Vaughn. Her husband Aaron signed up for duty after 9/11. And whenever the Navy SEAL would deploy, he would leave his silver wedding band at home with his wife and two children in Virginia Beach. Kimberly and the children lost Aaron in August when he and 22 other Navy SEALs were killed in a Chinook helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Kimberly, who had been wearing that ring ever since, lost it on a trip to visit family this weekend. Understandably, she was heartbroken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIMBERLY VAUGHN, WAR WIDOW: Well, it would be two months tomorrow that I lost Aaron, and I've been wearing it every since. So hopefully somebody out there is generous enough to find it. I'm hoping for a miracle here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Kimberly is desperate for help, so she created this Facebook page just Tuesday morning to help find the ring. Show you a picture of the ring here. And as of tonight, as we were coming on the air, 4,450 people had signed on to support to search. As you watch, this count is going to keep going up, because as we've been on the air and all throughout the day and since yesterday, the number has been going up.

We hope tonight's number is one we hope will grow in the hour ahead. If you want to help join this story, visit our Facebook page, JohnKingUSA/Facebook [SIC]. It's a remarkable, remarkable story.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin's here with a preview. Hey, there.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, of course, John, we've got that news from Sarah Palin. And we're going to be talking about that, too, with the man who wrote the book "Sarah from Alaska" and he covered her during the campaign. Talked to her folks this afternoon, and we're going to be talking to him.

Then also, John, we talked about those fees that banks are putting on Americans yesterday with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Well, today we went and did the math. Were the biggest banks being honest when they say they need these fees to make up for regulations? We have an answer to that, and it's one that you might not like. We've got that coming up. We're going to be talking to a banker about it.

We've got Jon Huntsman and we've got supermodel Christy Turlington coming up on the show. Back to you.

KING: I'll be watching. We'll see you in just a few minutes. Erin, thank you.

BURNETT: Well, for Christy, I hope you watch.

KING: And Erin. And Erin. See you in a few minutes.

BURNETT: All right.

KING: When we come back, more on tonight's breaking news, Sarah Palin says she's not running. Why did she decide to bow out this time, and who in the field might that help? Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back to tonight's dramatic breaking political news, Sarah Palin has just announced she will not run for president in 2012. After putting out a written statement she spent about ten minutes talking with the radio host Mark Levin, saying she prayed about this decision, talked to Todd and her family about it, deciding she can still be influential in Republican politics, but in the end, she says, after prayer and conversations, she will not -- not -- seek the Republican presidential nomination.

Joining us to talk it over, Republican strategist Ed Rollins, the Washington director of Demos, Heather McGhee, along with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Ed Rollins, Republican strategist, not a surprise, I don't think. But boy, it had to be a tough decision, when you look at how vulnerable the president of the United States is and how Mitt Romney, who's your front-runner so far, can't get above the mid-20s, it's had to be a tough one.

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, particularly for her. She has her own individual political base. She certainly creates media attention. She can raise money. There's no organization there, though. The -- all volunteer effort would have to be thrown together in a very short period of time. There's no doubt in my mind that, if she would have started a year and a half ago, and really tried to be a serious candidate, she could have been a serious candidate.

KING: She says, Gloria Borger, in her statement, "I continue driving the discussion for freedom and free markets including in a race for president, where our candidates must embrace immediate action toward energy." And then she goes on and on talking about her priorities. She was already going down in the polls...

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Totally.

KING: ... among Republicans. There's support for her to be the nominee. The desire that she join the race. Does this lessen her influence? Is she now less of a power broker in Republican politics?

BORGER: She may become more of a power broker. In a recent "Washington Post"/ABC news poll, 66 percent of Republicans did not want her to run, but that doesn't mean they don't want to hear her voice.

And my question is, who will Sarah Palin endorse eventually, because I think that endorsement could really be worth something. I think she probably...

KING: Do you think she'll take that risk? She might. She might. Yes, she might. But, you know, she probably looked at the filing deadlines and saw they were coming up. She wasn't ready. As Ed said, she didn't have any kind of organization. I think most Republicans were already discounting her in an odd way. This is -- kind of gets her back in the game, I think.

KING: I also think that she likes Palin Inc.

BORGER: I think so.

KING: She's doing just fine in the private sector, the free market she so espouses, is doing well. Heather, will the left miss her?

HEATHER MCGHEE, WASHINGTON DIRECTOR, DEMOS: That's a great question. Yes, I think a little bit. We all saw what happened when she ran last -- last election cycle. And it was -- it made for a lot of good jokes, and it made for a lot of sort of examples about the kind of leadership we don't want in this country. But I think there's a lot still left in the Republican field for progressives to really poke fun of.

KING: Ed, when you look at the field, Sarah Palin out, if we were having this conversation three or four months ago, I would have said the candidate you were advising back then, Michele Bachmann, would be the beneficiary. But Michele Bachmann has had a rough couple of months. Is there one person who benefits, or does this just leave a slice of the right available for whether it's Bachmann, Santorum, Perry, Herman Cain? Is this -- is this -- everybody's face this (ph) or does one person?

ROLLINS: Those -- I don't think one person benefits. Those four candidates right there, their path out is through Iowa. And if one of them somehow can catch fire and basically win Iowa, they may be back in the game.

Obviously, Perry and Romney and Paul, who's in a different category, and Huntsman, who has independent money, they have money they can go all the way. Ad Huntsman is not, obviously, becoming a viable candidate yet. But the two front-runners who've got money, organization and somebody has got to get a spark.

Iowa can kind of give you a spark in the old playing games. I'm not quite sure, with everything contracted this time how it does, but I'd still rather win Iowa than not. And I think to a certain extent -- for Romney I think he has a test here. If he wants to go back and try and win Iowa, if he won Iowa and sort of shut everybody else down, then went and won New Hampshire, he'd be tough to stop.

BORGER: He would, absolutely. But you know, Iowa's a very tough haul for -- for Mitt Romney. I don't think they're counting on Iowa. I think it's good for Ed's former candidate, Michele Bachmann.

But again, I think most of them have sort of discounted her. They just -- you know, she did wait until the very last minute, by the way. Chris Christie, yesterday, we were all talking, gee, is the field settled? Is the field not settled? And waited till absolutely the very last month she could.

KING: She was also asked, Heather, by Mark Levin if she would ever consider an independent run, which I find sort of ludicrous in the sense that if you look at the polling data, where Sarah Palin struggles the most, Democrats and independents. So how would you be an independent? Unless you want to break off the Tea Party. Unless you're so unhappy with the Republican nominee. When you look at her now, do you view her as someone who will be influential from the sidelines or just -- I can't -- you're more influential if you're running and winning than if you're on a conservative network talking, aren't you?

MCGHEE: Well, I don't think there was ever any chance that she was really going to be running and winning. We saw her really sink the McCain ticket. So I have a question about whether or not she's going to endorse Occupy Wall Street, because I could see that being something. There are a lot of Ron Paul supporters.

KING: Capitalism she talks about.

MCGHEE: You know, this is not just a progressive left/right thing. I mean, she could really say, you know what? "I'm the populist candidate. I rail against the bailouts. I'm standing here with these moms who have lost their health insurance and whose kids are drowning in student debt, the other 99 percent." Of course, that would create a little bit of a problem for Mitt Romney, who's kind of the other .01 percent.

BORGER: I predict a talk radio show.

KING: If she -- would she paint her face if she endorsed Occupy Wall Street? Hold that thought. Hold that thought. Ed, you stay put. Gloria has to leave us. Heather and Ed are going to stay with us, because when we come back, Heather just noted, the occupy Wall Street protests, those protestors are not on the ballot, but they are shaping the day's big political debate.

And the folks at BLR -- that's short for Bad Lip Reading -- strike again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been camping for two nights and six morning in Oahu (ph), downing Bacardi. And where I'm from, Momma gets a what-what. You know, I represent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Straight back to tonight's breaking political news. The former Alaskan governor, Sarah Palin, announcing tonight on a conservative radio show, she will not -- not -- be a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

Governor Palin saying she prayed about this, talked about it with her husband and her family, deciding it is best for her, she says, to influence Republicans and conservative politics from the sideline, not as a candidate. Here's a bit of what she told Mark Levin just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH PALIN, FORMER ALASKAN GOVERNOR: I'm thankful that I believe I -- not being a candidate, really, you're unshackled and you're allowed to be even more active. And I look forward to helping coordinate the strategies that will assist in replacing our president and retaking the Senate, maintaining the House, helping a good constitutional conservative be elected to the governor's seats around this nation.

I look forward to using all of the tools at my disposal to get the right people in there who have a servant's heart and understand what it is that our country was built upon: free men and free markets.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's from the Mark Levin radio show just moments ago. Ed Rollins and Heather McGhee are still with us.

Ed, as a veteran Republican strategist, be honest with me: anybody in Republican politics going to ask Sarah Palin for strategy advice?

ROLLINS: I don't think strategy advice, but she'd certainly be a popular fund-raiser. And at the end of the day, I'd much rather have her come in for me in a campaign to raise money and energize the base than just about anybody else in the country. But she's certainly not going to sit around in strategy meetings and talk about what people should do in their campaign.

KING: It's an important point Ed makes, Heather. Because if you go back and look at 2008, there are some people who all really blame Sarah Palin for John McCain. If you look at some parts of the country, there is no question she was a great asset for the ticket. She fired up the Republican base, conservatives who had severe doubts about John McCain turned out to vote.

But then if you go to some of the places that in a 50/50 race are critical -- the Philadelphia suburbs, for example; suburban women who can go Democrat, Republican -- they went against her. She has been a polarizing, fascinating figure in our politics since then. Does she stay front and center or fade a bit?

MCGHEE: I think it depends on her media contacts, honestly. Because as long as she's able to say provocative things, which she does; as long as she's able to comment on the race, I do think she's going to be important. And that ever-important fund-raising that Ed mentioned, I mean, that is where -- that's where, unfortunately, in this -- in democracy, races are won and lost. So she can go and get money from the heartland and then bring it back to the sort of Republican elite, then she has a purpose.

KING: And, Ed, she has the platform on FOX News, which is not uninfluential among conservatives, as the Republican primary voters. Is there a possibility she could be causing the candidates fits, by essentially, you know, Sports Center on FOX News, rating the field and criticizing them. ROLLINS: No question. I mean, she has -- she has a great impact among her base. I know when I started Mrs. Bachmann's campaign, I made a slight criticism of her, and I've never had my e-mail lit up like -- like it was. I mean, she's got -- she's got people out there who believe in her.

And I personally think she did not cost John McCain the campaign. I thought she gave it energy for about three or four weeks of the campaign after the convention. I think the economy and McCain himself basically lost that race.

KING: You mentioned e-mails come in. I'll check my voice mail after the program. Sixty-four e-mails since we started on this topic a few minutes ago. I bet a lot of them are about Sarah Palin. Her supporters and her critics are quite vocal.

Let's look at just what happened here. Would you like to see Palin run for the Republican nomination? This is ABC/"Washington Post" poll. Yes, 31; no, 66. So two-thirds of Republicans did not want her in the race.

In our polling at CNN, she peaked in August. Sixteen percent of Republicans back then said she was their choice to be nominee. Heather, it fell to about 7 percent. Is that because Republicans found somebody else, fell in love with somebody else, or is it they just got frustrated waiting so long and they said, "You know what? Not waiting for you?"

MCGHEE: I think it's been very clear from the beginning. When Sarah Palin does something, she does it big. I mean, if she was really going to run, I think most Republicans thought she would have declared by now. And so there's been a lot of attention to the existing field. And so it's only natural that they kind of took her at the signal she was giving.

KING: And, Ed, we were talking about this a bit earlier. If you're one of the other candidates for president, does any of them not want her endorsement? Let me ask it that way.

ROLLINS: Absolutely not. I would -- I think every one of them would want her endorsement. You know, you may play it differently. You may play at different states. But you definitely want her to be supportive of you.

Now, there's still a big role for her in the Tea Party. The Tea Party's, you know, an entity without a de facto leader, and she could become the leader of the Tea Party and be a very powerful force in politics in America.

KING: And do you see in any way at all her being a dissentful voice. That is -- let's say Romney is the nominee, Tea Party doesn't like it?

ROLLINS: She could do that, and if she did, she certainly would hurt the ticket. I expect this to be an extremely close election. And anything that basically takes away voters from us would be detrimental, and anything that adds voters could be beneficial. So I certainly would make every effort to have her on my team.

KING: Ed, thank you.

Heather, thank you.

That's all for us tonight. Erin Burnett is with us right now. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.