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Two Dead at Virginia Tech; President Obama on the Attack; Interview With Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman

Aired December 8, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

In tonight's "Truth": a look at why Republicans are probably better off if they avoid questions that generate this answer.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who've been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.


KING: Plus, liberal women's groups accuse the administration of betrayal, this after it refuses to allow the so-called morning after pill to be sold over the counter to girls 16 and under.


TIFFANY DUFU, PRESIDENT, THE WHITE HOUSE PROJECT: This is also why we need more women in leadership.


KING: Those stories and more in a packed hour ahead.

But first as always let's get you up to speed with the news you need to know right now. Deadly violence today at a university already infamous as the scene of mass murder. Virginia Tech, remember, 33 massacred there during a shooting rampage back in 2007. Today shots rang out again, a frightened campus immediately locked down. Local police and federal officials swooped into action.

Here is what police say happened. A gunman approached a campus police officer in his vehicle area and shot the officer dead. The gunman then was seen running toward a parking lot where a second body was found a short time later. Was that the gunman or someone else? Still unknown tonight. Police working to put this puzzle together, here's what they said at the news conference just a short time ago.


QUESTION: You consider this case other than figuring out the details as basically closed? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't say closed, no.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) harm to the public...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say when the university lifted the alert they consulted with several people and they felt like it was safe to have the students and faculty go about the rest of their day.


KING: Virginia Tech officials say the alert system they put in place following the 2007 massacre worked quite well today.

In Pennsylvania, Jerry Sandusky back home tonight. The former Penn State football coach posted a quarter million dollar bail and was released from police custody. He was put in cuffs for the second time yesterday accused of new child sex abuse charges.

The two new alleged victims came forward -- as they came forward, Sandusky's wife, Dottie, released a statement this evening saying in part -- quote -- "I continue to believe in Jerry's innocence and all of the good things he has done. I'm asking everyone to please be reasonable and open-minded until both sides of this case are heard."

Joining us on the phone tonight from Pennsylvania is Sara Ganim. She's a reporter for "The Patriot-News" and a CNN contributor.

Sara, we haven't heard much from Dottie Sandusky. What is the significance of her making a public statement and how important is she both in the court of public opinion and potentially in the court of law?

SARA GANIM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, John, you're right, we have not much heard from Dottie Sandusky up until this point. And I think that that is the significance of the statement she issued tonight, because even though we haven't heard from her, she's definitely been the subject of a lot of conversation, especially today, one day after new charges were filed against her husband.

And the grand jury presentment that came along with those new charges detailed -- it talked about her a lot, basically. Dottie Sandusky was mentioned in the first presentment almost kind of in passing, some direct evidence about her role that she might have played in this, but really this latest grand jury presentment specifically says that one of the victims says he cried out for help from the basement while he was being assaulted, hoping that Dottie would come and help him, but no help came.

Her statement today seems to be a response to that and really a response to a lot of people talking today about what role she might have played in this.

KING: A little bit more from her statement before we move on. "I'm so sad anyone would make such a terrible accusation which is absolutely untrue," so Dottie Sandusky defending her husband.

Sara, you're on the phone tonight because you're at the Central Mountain High School for a school board meeting. Help our viewers understand why the questions tonight could be so important, including a controversy at this school, correct? Some students were allowed to leave with Jerry Sandusky?

GANIM: That's correct, John. That had been controversial. Another thing that this school has come under scrutiny for was the response when victim one came forward. Remember, he was the first one to come forward. He kicked off this investigation.

He was a student here. He says and his mother say that he came to the principal's office, said that he was being abused by Jerry Sandusky, who was a volunteer football coach, and that the principal told the family to go home and think about what they wanted to do.

We haven't heard much from the school up until this point. I did talk to the board president right before the meeting started. And they are not going to issue a statement today. They were thinking about and they say their attorneys told them it wasn't a good idea.

The public meeting doesn't call for questions, but he did tell me this. He said, we are comfortable with our response. That gives you an idea of what page they are on right now. But I don't think we will be hearing as much from them as we expected we might tonight.

KING: Sara Ganim on top of this fast-developing story, Sara, thanks for your help tonight.

It's a mystery on top of a mystery. Take a look at what Iranian TV is showing. It's said to be the drowned U.S. spy drone. And as you can see, it appears, if you look at the pictures, to be in pretty good shape. There you see it right there. But is that really an American spy drone?

For that, let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

And, Chris, first, straight up, initially, the Pentagon assumed when this was shot down or whether it lost flight control that the Iranians had recovered it. Your sources telling you when they see these images what?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, that they are not so sure now. It's a great question to raise when you consider that Iran is believed to be the country that once welded oil drums together and claimed that they had a sophisticated Russian missile system.

In this case though you're getting different opinions from officials and analysts alike. One aviation expert I spoke with says he thinks it's real. And he accounts for the good shape by saying, look, it was not shot down and it could have glided to earth in what he calls a falling leaf pattern that would have left it relatively intact. On the other hand, another analyst I spoke with says this is nothing more than a parade float. He said the wings when you look at these two images side by side, he said the wings on the Iranian video droop lower, whereas he said most of the images we have seen of this felled drone, the wings are positioned higher for better stability.

And one U.S. official said flat out, these drones are not designed to survive a crash like that intact. He says the U.S. had satellite footage of the wreckage and it showed that the drone sustained significant damage.

KING: Chris Lawrence live at the Pentagon.

When you look at those pictures side by side, I have to tell you I'm a tad suspicious, but what do I know? We will see how this mystery plays out. It is a fascinating, fascinating question. Chris, thank you.

LAWRENCE: You're welcome.

KING: And different and disturbing news from the Pentagon tonight. The Air Force admits it never initially bothered to determine, never initially bothered to determine, get that, the number of American military remains that were buried in a Virginia landfill.

Now it says the number is substantially higher than first thought. The military now says body parts from at least 274 killed service members initially sent to Dover Air Force Base were cremated and then buried in a landfill with medical waste. An additional 1,700 body fragments were never identified.

In Massachusetts, Occupy Boston protesters facing a midnight break down to their camp in the city's financial district. Mayor Thomas Menino's office says police will take action if the protesters are not gone. A makeshift library and food tent were broken down today, but some of the demonstrators are debating whether to test that deadline.

Here in Washington, a major showdown today between the White House and Senate Republicans. The GOP blocked the president's choice to lead a new consumer watchdog agency. Republicans say they want to scale back that new agency's powers first. But the president casts the GOP as siding with big banks and other financial institutions he says too often take advantage of consumers.


OBAMA: This is a big deal. About one-in-five people use these kinds of mechanisms to finance everything from buying a house to cashing their checks. And we passed a law last year that said we need this consumer watchdog in place to make sure that people aren't taken advantage of.


KING: The partisan divide over extending a payroll tax cut for the middle class also playing out again on Capitol Hill tonight. Democrats and Republicans tested competing plans in the Senate, but neither version has enough votes to pass.

With no compromise in sight, the president says he's now likely to scale back his Hawaii holiday vacation plans, stay here in Washington and urge Congress to keep at it.


OBAMA: So I know some of you might have been looking forward to a little sun and sand, but the bottom line is, is that we are going to stay here as long as it takes to make sure that the American people's taxes don't go up on January 1 and to make sure that folks who desperately need unemployment insurance get that help.


KING: More on is that story in a minute.

On the campaign trail today, GOP presidential front-runner Newt Gingrich was in South Carolina, you see him there, just one day after our new poll showed the former House speaker with a big lead in that state. Gingrich said he would relish a contest with President Obama.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you watch his speeches, they are totally left-wing, radical, class warfare, bureaucratic, socialist speeches. And it's a respectable position. It's just wrong.

I happen to believe in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Adam Smith, "The Wealth of Nations," the idea of creating jobs, fundamentally different.


KING: Texas Governor Rick Perry was also in South Carolina today, Mount Pleasant to be exact. His focus on military issues and social conservatives.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's important for Americans of faith to be engaged in the public arena. The First Amendment says we're going to have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.


KING: In Iowa, a major investment by supporters of Mitt Romney. a so-called super PAC supporting the former Massachusetts governor's bid for president launched a new TV ad in Iowa today. And CNN is told the spending in five markets across this state will surpass $2 million.


NARRATOR: How many jobs did Barack Obama create as a community organizer, as a law professor? Maybe now you see the problem. Mitt Romney turned around dozens of American companies and helped create thousands of jobs.


KING: Back here in Washington, congressional Republicans grilled Attorney General Eric Holder today threatening impeachment and accusing him of withholding information about Operation Fast and Furious. That's a botched gun sting operation. The failed mission was supposed to track guns going across the border into Mexico and into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

Instead, some of those guns used actually in crimes including against U.S. border agents. Congressional Republicans grilled the Attorney General Eric Holder and the man in the hot seat seemed to take a page out of Bill Clinton's playbook, arguing legal definitions.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, if you want to have this legal conversation, it all has to do with your state of mind and whether or not you had the requisite intent to come up with something that can be considered perjury or a lie.


KING: But Republican House Judge member James Sensenbrenner, listen here, a bit more direct.


REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: The answers that you have given so far are basically saying, well, gee, somebody else did it and there is really no responsibility within the Justice Department.

You know, the thing is that if we don't get to the bottom of this -- and that requires your assistance on that -- there's only one alternative that Congress has. And it's called impeachment.


KING: The inspector general's office of the Justice Department still has to issue a report on that investigation.

When we come back, he's a long shot so far, but he says he's beginning to pick up steam. Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman right here one on one.


KING: The former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman urged Republicans today to take a second look at the two candidates now dominating the GOP presidential race.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney will say anything to earn the voters' trust. We are in this mess because there are already enough people in Washington who make a career out of telling people what they want to hear.

Newt Gingrich is a product of that same Washington, who participated in the excesses of our broken and polarized political system.


KING: Here's the short version.


HUNTSMAN: We have a choice between a panderer in chief, a lobbyist in chief, or a commander in chief. I want to be that commander in chief.


KING: Just before that speech, Governor Huntsman paid us a visit.


KING: A fairly tough speech against the two front-runners at the National Press Club. You say Governor Romney will say anything and that Newt Gingrich was part of the problem, part of the polarization, tough words, clear contrast.

A lot of people would say, where you been? What took you so long?

HUNTSMAN: Well, we have been talking about the economic deficit and you can't have a complete discussion in this country without talking about the second deficit, which is a trust deficit.

And I would argue, John, that it's equally corrosive in this country. You can't just handle the economic deficit while leaving the trust deficit untouched. We need a leader who can actually hit that head on. It calls for congressional reform and it calls for somebody who can take on the banks on Wall Street.

KING: And so why then don't the voters trust you, if you will? If you look at the polling data right now, you have spent most of your time in New Hampshire. We have brand-new numbers just out, Romney 35, Gingrich 26, Ron Paul 17, Jon Huntsman 8 percent. That is in the state of New Hampshire. Why?

HUNTSMAN: They trust us enough to go up in every single poll that has been put out the last month or two. We're going up. We're not going down. I think the trajectory is right if you look at three or four years ago, you look at where people were. The voters of New Hampshire, they don't coalesce around a candidate until about 10 days out. So, I suspect that December is going to play out. We will take our arguments to the people there about the economic deficit, about the trust deficit, and allow them to make a decision. And we're connecting on the ground.

KING: One of our contributors, Erick Erickson from, writes this: "What's so tragic about the Huntsman race is that he has the boldest free market economic recovery plan. He has the most pro- life record of anyone in the race other than Rick Perry. He has the best jobs creation record of anyone in the race, with the possible exception of Rick Perry, and he has run away from all of that to be the guy who doesn't offend the women of 'The View.'"

Now, Erick is sort of a younger conservative. George Will, who has been around the track a few times, wrote this about you this past Sunday: "Jon Huntsman inexplicably chose to debut as the Republican for people who rather dislike Republicans. But his program is the most conservative."

Do you second-guess your strategy at all?

HUNTSMAN: Listen, what is happening in the marketplace is, a lot of people who didn't give us a first look are coming around to look at my record and look at my years of service, and they're saying, he's exactly what we're looking for.

They overlooked us, John, at the beginning because they said, he crossed a partisan line. He served as the United States ambassador to China in a Democratic administration. And I say I always put my country first. I always will.

KING: But did you encourage that a bit, Governor -- forgive me for interrupting -- by saying I'm going to be civil, I'm going to be Mr. Nice Guy, and perhaps not stressing some of the more conservative parts of your record?

If maybe they said, well, he was Barack Obama's ambassador, why should I take a look at him, did you not maybe reinforce their indifference?

HUNTSMAN: When you come out on the stage, people take a look at you. It takes a while for the record to be seen and absorbed by people. And so, after a few months, people are looking at the record and they're saying, this is what we have been looking for. They have gone through six front-runner now in five or six months.

And with five weeks left in the race, John, I think our timing is exactly right. They are coming around and giving us a legitimate first look. And that's all I can ask for. And I think they are going to like what they see.

KING: If you look at the numbers today, it's easy to be skeptical about your approach. If you do look at all the volatility we have had in recent months, it's one of the reasons I don't rule anything out in this race as we go forward.

One of your catchphrases is that you are the consistent conservative in the race. I want you to listen. This is Governor Jon Huntsman on ABC back in August saying that you think many Republicans have it wrong when it comes to climate change.


HUNTSMAN: When we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science and therefore in a losing position.


KING: Jon Huntsman there making the case, listen to science, there is climate change, and man probably has a pretty significant role in it.

Here's Jon Huntsman earlier this week right here in Washington.


HUNTSMAN: The scientific community owes us more in terms of a better description or explanation about what might lie beneath all of this. But there's not enough information right now to be able to formulate policies in terms of addressing it overall.


KING: Is that a retreat?

HUNTSMAN: Of course not. I'm on the side of science. I always have been.

When you have 99 out of 100 climate scientists, members of the National Academy of Scientists who have weighed in on the body of knowledge that they work on for a living, I say I'm going to be with science. That's where I am. You might have 1 percent who dispute that. And I say the discussion, the debate will continue.

KING: You say you need more information. There's not enough information right now to be able to formulate policies in terms of addressing it overall is what you said here this week.

As governor, you were part of the Western regional compact on this issue that included some cap and trade. Do you still think that's a good idea?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I think dealing with emissions is a good idea.

Governor Romney, Newt Gingrich, a lot of CEOs, a lot of experts in the energy field, we're all talking about the same thing. The economy implodes. Cap and trade, which was a free market-based system back in the old days of the Clean Air Act in the '70s with SOx and NOx, kind of morphs into a tax scheme. It doesn't work when you're trying to get your economy back on its feet.

KING: Let me ask you, if you were president today -- I don't know if you have seen it, but Bashar al-Assad gave an interview to Barbara Walters of ABC in which he said, only a crazy people would kill his own people.

And he said he had nothing to do with it, that what we have watched over recent months, the videos of Syrian troops shooting and beating their own citizens , that he had nothing to do with it and that it can't be happening in his country, and if it is, it is certainly not happening because of his leadership.

What would a President Huntsman do to get Assad to step down or other force him to?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I say you look at the numbers. You have got 10,000 refugees living in Turkey. You have got probably 4,000 of his own people who have been killed.

You have got a relationship with Iran that is deeply troubling in terms of the pipeline between Tehran and Damascus, the flow of support to Hamas and Hezbollah. I say I would start by supporting the exile government. I would give support to the exile government and I would work whatever means diplomatic and covert that were available to lend support to the groups that share our values, because we need more people who share our values like Israel in the Middle East.

KING: Governor Huntsman, appreciate for your time today.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you.


KING: Ahead: Are Senate Republicans unwittingly helping the president find his voice?

And next: an unprecedented use of power that has social conservatives -- get this -- heaping rare praise on the Obama White House.


KING: An unprecedented Obama administration decision to limit access to emergency contraception is creating a rare political divide.

Social conservatives are praising the Democratic White House and liberals are furious. At issue is whether a medication referred to as a morning after pill should be available without a prescription to women under the age of 17.

The Food and Drug Administration said, yes, recommending that the Plan B pill one-step contraception pill be made available as an over- the-counter medication to everyone. Current policy requires those younger than 17 get a prescription. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius though overruled the FDA recommendation, something that has never happened before. And though President Obama says he had no direct role in this decision, some liberal groups believe the White House wanted to duck an election-year fight over parental rights and birth control.

Here to debate the policy and the politics are Tiffany Dufu. She's the president of the White House Project, a national organization aimed at advancing women's leadership opportunities, and Jeanne Monahan is the director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.

Tiffany, to you first. I have seen a lot of e-mails from the National Organization for Women other liberal organizations calling this a betrayal by the Democratic president. Is that right?

DUFU: Listen, I have been married to a fabulous man for nearly 15 years. In that time, he's done some things that I don't like. But I haven't divorced him. But we're working hard to make sure that this doesn't happen again.

A lot of my colleagues, including myself, were actually stunned, because this is not consistent actually with the track record of the administration.

KING: So why do you think they did it?

DUFU: Well, I don't read the White House memos, but there's a lot of talk about politics and about the political fallout that would occur in 2012.

Listen, this is a really interesting game that we have got to play here in Washington and across the country. And part of the role of the White House Project is to encourage women to actually get in the game and to actually pursue their ambitions, whether they are in politics, in business.

This is actually one of the things that often creates a barrier to women getting in the game is the negotiation has to happen, the back and forth that has to happen. But this is also why we need more women in leadership.

KING: Jeanne Monahan, I'm guessing I could count on one hand -- and maybe have a few fingers to spare -- how much times in the past few years have you said, thank you, Mr. President?

JEANNE MONAHAN, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, actually, it's a great pleasure to be able to say, Congratulations, Secretary Sebelius. I think that you made a decision that was in the best interests of young women's health.

We have heard this administration promise again and again a commitment to science and transparency. And I for one really do believe that that's what they were doing in this decision. Most parents and most reasonable people will agree that removing a medical screening for women and young women as young as the age of 10 or 111 if they are sexually active would not be a good decision and not in the best interest of young women's health.

KING: Let's explore that a little more. First, let's listen to the president of the United States. When he was asked about this at the White House today, he spoke not only as the president but as the father of two daughters.


OBAMA: As the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.


KING: Tiffany, why should a 15-year-old girl, a 14-year-old girl, a 12- or 13-year-old girl be able to walk into a pharmacy and buy this pill?

DUFU: Well, let's talk about common sense.

Young women that age already have access to medications, some of which are more dangerous than what we're talking about here. It wasn't that long ago that I was a 15-year-old girl that needed access to contraceptives.

And while I have very wonderful parents who are very nurturing, very supportive, the truth of the matter is I didn't want to talk to them about my sex life. I just came this morning from speaking to a group, engaging with a group of girls at a high school in Connecticut. They are smart, talented and capable women.

And despite what Obama has actually said, I can't imagine that if Sasha or Malia were in a situation in which they had found themselves needing this, that he wouldn't want them to have access.

KING: Jeanne, you say the president -- the administration, anyway -- went with the science. Secretary Sebelius says she hasn't seen any research about whether this drug is safe, for example, for 11-year-olds or 12-year-olds.

But to Tiffany's point, a lot of people say hogwash to that. They see pure politics. They say if that was the argument, then why couldn't an 11- or a 12-year-old walk in and buy acetaminophen or many other cold medicines, pain relievers that are available over the counter? You really believe this was policy in science or do you think this was, "You know what? Let's stay out of this fight in an election year"?

JEANNE MONAHAN, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: I'm not going to try and get into the president or Kathleen Sebelius's mind. I don't know what motivated the decision and, frankly, we were surprised as well as everybody else.

But what I will say is, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately half of the people in this nation who have an STD are young people under the age of 25. It is not good medical practice for those young people to remove from them medical screening. It's just, again, common sense and good public health sense for young people who are sexually active to interface with a medical professional. If a young woman has a sexually transmitted disease and it goes untreated and undiagnosed because she herself has not interacted with a medical professional, unfortunately, she could have lifelong ramifications to that.

KING: Tiffany, you talked about the tradeoffs in politics, some of the barriers to women as politics. Some people see this as a tradeoff. You think it is politics and some people say, well, the administration took some hits when it said if you're going to be in the part of the new health-care program, those plans have to offer contraception for free. Some people see this as the tradeoff, if you will, trying to reach back out to people in the middle, people more conservative. Is that the way the system works?

DUFU: That's exactly the way the system works sometimes, and though it's challenging and sometimes we don't like the system, it's incredibly important that we understand the system in order for us to even change the system. And that's part of the reason why, at the White House project, we're really focused on getting young women in the game and in the system.

KING: It's a fascinating debate, both on the policy and the politics. Tiffany Dufu, Jeanne Monahan, thank you so much for your time today.

DUFU: Thanks for having us.

KING: Thank you.

And still to come here, tonight's "Truth" explores the question behind this answer.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.


KING: And next, the latest on a breaking story with an eerily familiar headline: shots fired on the Virginia Tech campus.


KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now.

Two people were killed today at Virginia Tech, the site of a massacre, you'll remember, 33 people killed there back in 2007. One of the victims today was a police officer, who was shot to death. The I.D. of the second victim is unknown at this hour. Vladimir Putin has a message for the United States: butt out. He's accusing the Obama administration of meddling in Russia's election process.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The first thing that the U.S. secretary of state said about the Russian elections was that they were neither fair nor free, even before receiving reports from international observers. By saying that, she set the tone for some public figures in our country. Gave them the signal. They've heard that signal and would be supportive of the U.S. State Department started their active work.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We expressed concerns that we thought were well-founded about the conduct of the elections. And we are supportive of the rights and aspirations of the Russian people to be able to make progress and to realize a better future for themselves. And we hope to see that unfold in the years ahead.


KING: Here in Washington, Jon Corzine dropped a bombshell before a House committee. The former head of the bankrupt money firm MF Global said of the missing funds, quote, "I simply do not know where the money is." More than a billion dollars in client funds nowhere to be found.

Bernie Fine's being sued by one of his accusers. Zach Tomaselli claims the former Syracuse University basketball coach sexually abused him nearly a decade ago when Tomaselli was 13 years old. Fine denies that allegation. Tomaselli himself now faces charges of molesting a boy.

An odd joint statement this evening from Arizona's two senators. John McCain and Jon Kyl voiced concern about how Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office has handled cases of alleged sex crimes. Their statement was vague, but it promised -- promised to support state and local investigations into the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.

Now to tonight's "Number." Tonight's "Number" could affect you and your tax Bill. It is 23. Twenty-three days for Congress to act to extend the payroll tax cut that's been in place for some time. You want to know the exact hour? Let's check in with the White House Web site. They're keeping a clock up. Look at it right there: 23 days, five hours, 21 minutes and 40 seconds. You see them counting down right there. That's when your taxes will go up, your payroll taxes, unless Congress acts.

Let me break this down for you right here. If you make $35,000 a year and nothing is done, your taxes will go up about $700 next year. Fifty thousand, will go up about $1,000. You make 75 grand a year, your taxes will go up about $1,500. If you make more than $110,000, your taxes will go up in the ballpark of $2,300.

That's the debate Congress is right now, Republicans and Democrats, sparring. It affects, the payroll tax does, 160 million people. Part of this argument is also whether to extend unemployment benefits for another six million people. Depending on which version of the plan you look at, if they get this done, it could cost in the ballpark of $232 billion.

But still, a partisan divide over how big, what the scope, whether to include the jobless benefits and, most importantly, just how to break pay for it.

When we come back, the president was in the briefing room today arguing over several points with Senate Republicans. One big question: are the actions of those Republicans actually helping the president use the bully pulpit? That's next.


KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour. Erin's here with a preview. And I understand you're going to dig deep on this frightening Virginia Tech shooting.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, absolutely, we are, John. It's amazing to watch it happen today with remembering back to 2007. We're going to have on a mother whose son was a student at Virginia Tech back in 2007, and now she has two twins who are juniors who were there today and are students at Virginia Tech. They all three join us to talk about what went down today and exactly where they were when this situation happened at Virginia Tech.

Also, I have a letter here, John, that I just got from the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee. He's going to be our exclusive guest tonight. And they're giving us the details of what they say happened with this incredibly sophisticated U.S. drone.

We were in Abu Dhabi covering the story earlier this week. They're saying now that the plane fly [SIC] 250 kilometers into Iran near the northern city of Tobas (ph). We're going to talk about exactly what happened with him, whether Iran shot the plane -- the drone down and what their next steps might be.

And also Governor John Sununu had a conference call today, as you know, criticizing the record of Newt Gingrich. An aggressive defense of Mitt Romney. He'll be our guest tonight "OUTFRONT".

Back to you.

KING: Sununu's not shy. Have fun with that one. We'll see you in a little bit, Erin.

BURNETT: All right.

KING: Here's my biggest question today. Did Senate Republicans do the president a favor by blocking his choice to lead a new consumer protection agency?

Now, most Americans probably don't know who Richard Cordray is. But the president pounced and suggests Senate Republicans are carrying water for greedy Wall Street firms and the big banks.


OBAMA: This individual's job is to make sure that individual consumers are protected. Everybody from seniors to young people who are looking for student loans, to members of our armed services, who are probably more vulnerable than just about anybody when it comes to unscrupulous financial practices.


KING: Is this t-ball for the guy with the bully pulpit? Here with us. CNN contributor Alex Castellanos, chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and Republican strategist Nancy Pfotenhauer.

Alex, I'll ask you first, in the sense that I know Republicans have some concerns about the size, the scope, the powers of this agency, but they couldn't defeat it. It passed; it exists. Why give the president a chance? The economic numbers are against him, the statistics are against him. Nobody in America knows who Richard Cordray is. Why give him a chance to come in and say, "My guy wants to help you with your mortgage. My guy wants to make sure military families don't get screwed. Republicans are siding with the banks"?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: On occasion in Washington, even Republicans are capable of trying to do the right thing, even if it hurts him politically. And they actually tried to do that on this.

Look, you're right. This is an agency that is completely unaccountable. Its powers are fantastic. The guy can't be fired once he's in the job. And you know who funds this thing? The Federal Reserve. They're unaccountable. So this is just layers of unaccountability.

KING: But they lost the fight, Nancy. They lost the fight. This was the argument when they were debating Dodd-Frank, the big law that this is included. So we just -- we just keep -- the signing a law into law means nothing. You just keep fighting.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think it's T- ball for the guy in the bully pulpit, because this is just another four-letter word to most Americans. And there was a lot of education that went on at the time this horrible piece of legislation, Dodd- Frank, went through.

And Alex is exactly right. All Republicans said. They said, "We will put -- we will put this in place, but you need to do something on accountability. Make it five people, not one single unelected official. And allow it to be -- have their appropriations go through Congress so there's some voter feedback mechanism." I agree with Alex completely on the fact that once this is funded by the Fed, you will never know what's going on.

KING: But they lost -- OK, I thought the way -- I'm trying to remember back to civics class. A Bill becomes a law after both chambers of Congress pass it, the president signs it, and then the law of the land is you implement what it says.

And it says you create this agency. And it used to be conservatives used to argue, no matter who was the presidential election, the President gets his pick. But my argument is beyond that. All the economics statistics are hard for this president. So why give him a chance? It's the old Axelrod argument that is it a referendum or a choice? If it's a referendum on his record, he probably loses because of the numbers. Fairly or unfairly, Gloria. But this allows him to go in and say, "This is a choice. I'm fighting for you."

GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And don't forget, this is the president who is criticized for bailing out Wall Street. Now he gets to be on the side of the consumers against big bad Wall Street. They're not looking at the niceties of the Bill at this point. As John points out, it's already law. OK. You want to change the law? The there's an election coming up.

CASTELLANOS: But you know what this does, though?

BORGER: But at this point...

KING: You're double-teamed. If you haven't noticed, you're double-teamed.


BORGER: At this point he's taking on Wall Street and he wants a payroll tax cut for the middle class.

PFOTENHAUER: This does not help consumers. In fact, it will raise the prices of goods and services that they want. It also puts Big Brother right into things like credit-card debt...

KING: Let them happen and say I told you so...


PFOTENHAUER: I think isn't it their job to try to improve outcomes for the American people? I believe it is.

CASTELLANOS: You can still run against him, and you know how? This president really has a -- the most flip-flops of any candidate running in the Republican or Democratic side. He's the guy who's taken more Wall Street money than anybody. He's appointed all of Wall Street to his administration. Now he says he's...

PFOTENHAUER: Tim Geithner.

CASTELLANOS: Same guy, same president.

KING: I think you're proving my point, then. Why let him go in and make this argument? You talked about improved outcomes. I want to shift the discussion to improved outcomes for Newt Gingrich.

One of them, even as he surged in the Republican polls, one of the Mitt Romney's better arguments -- maybe he hasn't made it, right? But it's been looking, at least, I'm the more competitive general election candidate. Look at the polls next year. I'm stronger against Barack Obama.

Look at these just in recent days, Quinnipiac poll. Ohio, one of the most important states in the country, Gingrich 43, Obama 42. So that's a dead heat; that's a tie. But Gingrich has been behind if you look in the past.

Let's move on to Florida. Obama 46, Gingrich 44, again, slight advantage to the president, but that's a tie. Margin of error right there.

The one state where Gingrich is way behind is an important state Republicans would love to grab back, Pennsylvania, Obama 48, Gingrich 40.

But in terms of the electability argument, that was one of the biggest drags on Newt. If you look at these numbers now, boy, he can puff up a little more, I guess.

PFOTENHAUER: Well, and as we all know, it's an entire political lifetime between now and when those votes would be cast. I would point out, though, and I think that this is why you see the Republicans, and I do believe independents too, will come behind whoever the Republican nominee is, because they would rather have somebody who's right some of the time than the guy in the office who's been wrong all of the time.

KING: That would be -- that would be a fascinating question: would the independent voters who had a bad taste for everybody, including Newt Gingrich after impeachment, come back to Newt Gingrich or is that long and forgotten?

BORGER: I think it depends on which Newt Gingrich shows up or continues to be -- to be here. I mean, because the Newt Gingrich that we've been seeing for the last couple of days, he's been attacked by people like Ron Paul, Mitt Romney surrogates. He's been very cool under the attack. He's been smiling. He hasn't been expansive. He stuck to a message. He's met with conservatives. I mean, this isn't the Newt Gingrich that I covered. What?

CASTELLANOS: But he's Newt. There's this -- there's this scary political element in Washington that all Republicans are now scared of. It's Newtonium. Republicans are afraid that if Newtonium is on the ballot, it will poison everybody.

KING: Do the Iranians have that centrifuges?

CASTELLANOS: Well, any time -- any time an election has been about Newt Gingrich, remember this is the fellow that Bill Clinton ran against.

KING: Yes.

CASTELLANOS: And built the Clinton presidency on this. So I think Republicans -- let's not count Newt Gingrich -- anoint him just yet as the nominee. Looks like he's got a very strong hand right now. All he's got to do is get through two weeks. Christmas freezes the race. Next thing you know he soars out of Iowa into New Hampshire.


KING: Of all the "anybody but Romney" candidates, Newt has the right timing right now. We will see. Everybody stand by.

Next, tonight's "Truth" might help you with a crossword puzzle some day. And there's a lesson for Republicans, too.


KING: A fun little quiz before we go tonight. What's an 11- letter word for weak? Mitt Romney knows.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. Appeasement betrays a lack of faith in America, in American strength and in America's future.


KING: Rick Santorum's got it, too.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president, for every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement. We saw that during the lead up to World War II. Appeasement.


KING: And don't count out Michele Bachmann.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama must immediately end his doctrine of appeasement and weakness toward Iran and pursue decisive common sense strategies, ignored or rejected currently by this administration.


KING: Appeasement. It's a page from the age-old Republican presidential playbook. Whatever it takes, do whatever it takes, make the Democrat look timid and weak.

Well, here's tonight's "Truth." It won't work this time. To borrow a sports cliche, the best defense is a good offense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.


KING: Point, set, match, Obama.

Sure, there are things in the president's foreign policy record that are plenty fair game for criticism. You could build a long list of them. But bin Laden is dead, Anwar Awlaki, too. Not to mention Muammar Gadhafi.

And the sanctions he placed against Iran tonight are as tough or tougher than any put in place by the George W. Bush administration.

So Republicans would be best to look elsewhere for an Obama vulnerability. After all, "ask Osama bin Laden" is a pretty bulletproof comeback, or a slam dunk, as the Bush Iraq war team might say.

President Obama, as a matter of fact, gets his highest marks on terrorism and foreign affairs. It's his low approval rating on the economy that is his glaring weakness.

Truth is the appeasement line isn't really meant for all of us anyway. It's a serving of red meat for foreign policy conservatives who hope one of those Republicans wins so they can get all the jobs back at the State Department and the Pentagon.

But truth be told, this is a less red meat and a more eat your peas time for conservatives, now watching a Democratic president find and kill the terrorists who eluded them, all the while expanding the use of drone strikes and other covert tools in a terrorism fight.

Well, kudos to the troops and the intelligence professionals. That's what most of those conservatives say when you raise those points. But just as any president -- any president -- gets the blame for a bad economy, the commander in chief, including this commander in chief, gets credit for important international achievements. And the sooner conservatives accept that, the less they will have to hear this.


OBAMA: Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement.


KING: Take any issue with that? Should Republicans just -- let's fight about the economy?

PFOTENHAUER: Well, I think the economy will be the determining factor. And I think that's borne out by history. We can parse words on whether we think that the sound bite works. I think it probably does. Although foreign policy experts with whom I work have serious concerns and challenges about how president Obama has actually conducted U.S. foreign policy.

But the bottom line, and maybe I'm biased as an economist, is unemployment. Next November, unemployment stays about where it is and it has a dramatic impact on the outcome of that race.

KING: You can build -- I say you can build a long list of criticisms of the president's foreign policies. And, you know, Democrats might say I'm with him. Democrats will find some areas where they don't like him. But in the big picture, Alex, this is an old playbook. Michael Dukakis is weak. Walter Mondale is weak. They tried it against Bill Clinton. It was a little bit harder. He's the guy from Arkansas, southern. Different kind of Democrat.

They thought it would work against this guy, but given the last couple of years, really? Really?

CASTELLANOS: If Republicans spend a dollar or a second trying to defeat Barack Obama on foreign policy, it's a mistake.

That's not to say there aren't legitimate criticisms. I think he looks bullyish here. I think he looks a little petulant, you know. Iran is closer to having a nuclear weapon. Israel is on the edge of the precipice. Our relationships with Pakistan, our influence in Pakistan's less than ever. A lot of legitimate criticisms. None of those really matter politically right now. It's all about the economy.

When he stands up there and says, hey, you know, yes, we'll have all these problems but you know, I'm hitching up my pants, spitting in the spittoon, "I killed Osama bin Laden," that's not serious.

KING: You mean dead or alive?


CASTELLANOS: Didn't we criticize a former president for that?

BORGER: If -- right, but if any president had killed Osama bin Laden, I dare say take credit for it.

The problem that I have is that the Republicans are all over the lot on foreign policy. There's a very strong isolationist wing in the Republican Party. And you can't, you know, call for action on the one hand and on the other hand say, "You know what? I don't think we should go anywhere. We can't afford it." So the party has some conflicts.

KING: I think this is more of a primary issue right now and red meat than it is in the general.

Nancy, Gloria, Alex, thanks.

We'll see you right back here tomorrow. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.