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President Obama's Budget; Birth Control Mandate; Big Brother Watching?

Aired February 10, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm John King.

Tonight: President Obama retreats on a health care battle over contraception that had infuriated the Catholic Church, conservatives and some Democrats in tough races this year.

Also, she is always seen, but rarely heard. But today Callista Gingrich tried to help her husband restart his presidential bid.

Plus, former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky speaks out as he asks the judge to loosen terms of his house arrest on an array of child sex abuse charges.

There are dramatic developments in the Syria crisis as well tonight, but we begin with the White House retreat on a major health care policy battle with huge political implications. No longer will religious schools and charities be required to provide free birth control to their employees. But if they don't because of religious or moral objections, the insurance company will have to provide that coverage.

The president says it's a win/win.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions to find a solution that works for everyone. With today's announcement, we've done that. Religious liberty will be protected and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women.


KING: CNN chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin and our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, are here tracking the policy and political reaction.

Jess, let's start with you.

They're trying to say they didn't, but they botched this one at the White House, the handling of it. Do they think with this compromise now they have calmed the storm?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They think they have calmed the storm.

They actually were pleased that the Catholic Church came out with a response that was more positive than they expected. They think that the women's and progressive groups that are aligned with the Catholic Church and on the left are happy. And they think that this is now going to quiet down. At least they're crossing their fingers and hoping that it does from here on out.

KING: Take us inside the deliberations. Just a couple weeks ago they said we're right, we're holding firm.

YELLIN: Right. Then they saw that this was a firestorm that was growing and the heat was increasing and it wasn't going to quiet down, that conservatives were accusing them of a war on religion and that that was going to be a battle that they weren't going to win unless they changed their position a little bit.

And so, yes, as of...

KING: Go ahead.

YELLIN: As of Wednesday, they started saying -- we were reporting on Wednesday that they were already looking at a compromise. They started looking at Hawaii -- 28 states have a different version of this. But they were really looking at the Hawaii version and how they could make that work legally. This is sort of a legal tweak to make a federal version of the Hawaii plan.

KING: Stay with us. We will continue the conversation.

Newt Gingrich earlier today was at this gathering of conservatives here in Washington. He says this is part of a much bigger battle with the Obama White House. Listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I, frankly, don't care what deal he tries to cut, this is a man who is deeply committed -- if he wins reelection, he will wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he's reelected. We cannot trust him, we should -- we know who he really is, and we should make sure the country knows who he really is.



KING: Dana, let's go through some of the temperature if you will of the reaction. Jess mentioned the Catholic Church statement. Let me read a statement from the U.S. Conference of Bishops: "While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them."

Sounds like they're saying thanks, but we're not so sure and maybe we want more. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Look, this is far from over when it comes to the policy and the politics. You just mentioned the policy. I think Jessica was saying at the White House they were certainly happy or at least that was the -- maybe the expectations game, and that they were happy that the Catholic bishops didn't come up blasting it, but they also didn't embrace it, either.

You just heard Newt Gingrich on the politics of this. That is one aspect of it, that Republicans feel that they have a winning argument here in terms of a war on religion. But that's not it. I think the bigger reason why Republicans feel that they have a winning issue is because they have been really hoping to add ways to illustrate the whole idea that President Obama is infringing too much on your rights, that it's the big hand of government.

They think that this particular issue brought it into focus for them big time. And Rick Santorum in particular, I was out with him on the campaign trail this week. He used it in a way that they think really helped him.

KING: So we will hear the political rhetoric and that will continue without a doubt. Speaker Gingrich, I think, at the front of it, and Senator Santorum and others will follow.

What about on Capitol Hill? Speaker Boehner at one the president said this rule will not stand. They were going to try to come for it legislatively. Does this move by the president at least put that aside or do we not know?

BASH: It doesn't. In fact, in the House of Representatives, they are saying that they are still going to go forward with hearings at the beginning of next month to look into this, try to craft legislation to repeal this rule.

We know the way things go on Capitol Hill. This is likely to pass the House, but then go nowhere, but at least gives them a political instrument to keep -- really try to poke at the president on this issue.

KING: And I assume their goal was not to please everyone, but to please those on the left, the op-ed columnists and those lawmakers on the left, Senator Casey, candidate Kaine in Virginia, Congressman Larson from Connecticut, that the think they have at least satisfied their only internal revolt.

YELLIN: Exactly. And they just want to quiet us down. They really think this is sort of a D.C. media hysteria and if they can just quiet all of us down it will sort of pass. And they see some help.

This has actually energized some young people and women who really care about these issues and that it could energize, really energizes the base on both sides.

BASH: That's what's interesting is that we have been seeing this as Republicans thinking that they have found political gold here with this issue. But there is a question of whether or not it is helping the president for that particular reason.

I have talked to senior Democrats who say it looks bad. Certainly we messed up the messaging on it.

YELLIN: Not that they wanted this issue.


BASH: Right. Exactly.

KING: Well, we will see. We will learn a lot more about how it plays out when we closer to November.

Jess, Dana, thanks someone for coming in tonight.

The health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, was a major player in this contraception debate. I spoke with her a bit earlier today and she insisted this was not a major retreat. And she took us inside some of the heated administration deliberations.


KING: Do men and women have a different perspective on this issue?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I don't think there's any question that women's health issues have been long ignored in the marketplace. I'm not talking about inside the White House.

KING: I'm talking about conversations in the Oval Office.

SEBELIUS: Well, I think that people express their views. And there were men and women, I would say, on various sides of this whole issue.


KING: More from Secretary Sebelius a bit later in the program, including more of what some are calling a battle of the sexes inside the Obama White House.

Moving on now to other important news tonight, Jerry Sandusky wants to see his grandchildren. That's why the former Penn State assistant football coach says he showed up in court today. He's facing 50 charges of sexual misconduct with young boys. And there are allegations now that he's been leering at neighborhood children.

But Sandusky is focusing on how hard it is, he says, when his wife goes to visit the grandchildren alone.


JERRY SANDUSKY, CHARGED WITH SEXUALLY ABUSING CHILDREN: Or when she comes home from visiting with grandchildren and tells me that one of them said that, "The only thing I want for my birthday is to be able to see pop," I'm sensitive to that."


KING: Jason Carroll has been covering this story. He's live in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, tonight.

Jason, let's listen to just one more statement from Jerry Sandusky today.


SANDUSKY: I have associated with thousands of young people over years. And now all of a sudden, OK, because of allegations and perceptions that have tried to have been created of me, now I can't take our dog on my deck and throw out biscuits to him.


KING: Jason, if you listen to both of those slices of sound there, it sounds like Jerry Sandusky wants us to think of him as the victim, right?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he does. And the reason for that, John, is because he says he's an innocent man. And now he feels like he's being victimized even more.

In that sound bite, you heard him refer to the fact that he says he can't go out on his back porch and feed his dog. Well, I want you to take a look at some video that was introduced into evidence today during the hearing. That video is shot by one of Sandusky's neighbors.

He saw Sandusky, as you see there, out on his back porch. That was introduced into the evidence. Defense doesn't have a problem with that video being introduced into evidence because they say, under the conditions of his house arrest, John, he's allowed to be out on his back porch. They say he was not leering at children.

Just to set the scene there, his back porch is right next to a playground from an elementary school. Even so, defense says he wasn't leering at children, he was simply feeding his dog.

The bottom line in all this, John, the defense basically wants the conditions of Sandusky's bail lifted, if you will, in some ways. They say he should be able to visit his grandchildren, he should be able to have some visitors come and see him under the right conditions.

And the prosecution is saying no way. They say a man who's facing such serious allegations in no way, shape or form should be able to have his bail lifted or the conditions of his house arrest lifted in any way, shape or form -- John.

KING: Keep tracking this case, Jason Carroll, important reporting live for us tonight from Pennsylvania. Jason, thank you.

Later this hour, the former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is honored with a new combat ship.

But, up next, as the bloodshed in Syria continues, our Fareed Zakaria on how Russia is now the brutal regime's chief protector.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's going to be tough because the instruments that the international community has are basically the U.N. Security Council, and that is blocked.



KING: It is, sadly, another day of mindless killing in Syria. Activists opposed to the regime report more than 50 more deaths across the country.

In the besieged city of Homs, at least 16 more deaths, that on top of the nearly 140 reported killed Thursday. In a new move today designed to pressure the Assad regime, the State Department released some U.S. spy satellite images from above Syria.

In this one, look here, you see artillery deployed toward al- Zabadani. That's a town about two hours south of Homs. And when we talk about that besieged city, look here. More artillery pointing at Homs and in this image rocket launchers also pointed, the U.S. government says, towards the besieged city of Homs.

Those powerful images there, and today on the Internet another powerful appeal from an anti-Assad activist in Homs known as Danny.


DANNY, ACTIVIST: They're hitting civilians. We're asking for humanity to help us. We're asking for the U.N. to help us. We're asking for the Arab League to help us, anyone. Anyone with any kind of humanity in their heart, do something about this.


KING: But will the international community do more to help? A good place to begin a conversation with CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Fareed, does Danny have any hope?

ZAKARIA: I think it's going to be tough because the instruments that the international community has are basically the U.N. Security Council, and that is blocked because Russia and China have both vetoed any condemnation or particularly any action going forward.

And the trouble is that, in Syria, you don't have a place where the opposition has been able to create a kind of base of support or a zone of support.

KING: The United States has been more aggressive in recent days. The Turkish government now asking for help, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia asking for help. We talk often about Iran being Assad's number-one ally, but at the moment, is not Russia?

ZAKARIA: Russia has a veto. Iran does not. So Russia is their most important ally.

And it's not clear why the Russians are doing this, in the sense that they don't have a big economic relationship. My own speculation is it's partly -- this is the one Cold War relationship that has survived in the Middle East. And the other part is, of course, if the principle is established that when you have protests in the street, the U.N. Security Council can go in and intervene, well, there are protests on the streets in Moscow, there are protests on the street in St. Petersburg.

And the Russians are worried about that.

KING: I want to turn your attention now to the presidential campaign and the conversations about foreign policy issues. I had a conversation with Rick Santorum yesterday after he said in a speech in Oklahoma that the president of the United States is throwing Israel under the bus because he has a long-term plan to essentially make friends with Iran. I pressed him on that. I want you to listen.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president, who fought tooth and nail against putting sanctions on Iran and only capitulated at the end, this is a president who is -- who is not standing by our allies, is trying to appease, trying to find a way to -- to -- to allow -- clearly, to allow Iran to get this nuclear weapon. He's doing absolutely nothing, in a consequential way, to make sure that they do not get this weapon.


KING: Does that match up with the facts?

ZAKARIA: No. It's unfortunate campaign rhetoric.

But here's why it's very dangerous, because we have to try to approach the strategy toward Iran with a great deal of pressure. But we also have to try to find some negotiated outcome that is going to work. That is to say, if we're trying to avoid a war, if we are trying to get a non-nuclear Iran -- that is, an Iran without nuclear weapons -- without having the United States launch its third war in the Middle East in 15 years, we need some negotiating track, which everyone understands.

And this is something that everyone from Henry Kissinger to James Baker to Republican secretaries of state have endorsed for years now. So to not accept the idea that we're going to have to play a fairly sophisticated game here, and if every time there were any talk of trying to have this kind of sophisticated approach, it becomes -- it degenerates into charges of treason and allowing the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon, it very -- it worries me.

It worries me in particular because this charge of Santorum is almost manufactured out of whole cloth. Obama right now is only pressuring Iran. All he has done is put more and more pressure on Iran. You can see the success of that strategy by looking at the Iranian economy. Look at the value of Iran's currency, which has dropped by 65 percent since Obama came into office.

But at some point, you are going to have to search for some kind of Social Security some way of getting to a place where you get inspectors back in, you turn the cameras on, and you can -- you have a situation. The best outcome, surely, is no war, no nuclear weapons.

And Santorum's rhetoric makes it much, much more difficult to do that. So it's actually quite dangerous.

KING: Fareed Zakaria, as always, thank you.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

KING: Rick Santorum catching heat over something he said right here on this program last night. Now he's trying to clarify his position on women in the military. But he might just be making it worse.

And look at this image. No, that's not the Arctic tundra. It's a major sea frozen over in Eastern Europe as a punishing cold grips the region.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Critics have said it time and time again. Mitt Romney, they say, not conservative enough to be the Republican nominee. Today, he tried to prove the naysayers wrong at CPAC.

And the furor over birth control, did it even divide men and women inside the Obama administration?


SEBELIUS: I don't think there's any question that women's health issues have been long ignored in the marketplace. I'm not talking about inside the White House.


KING: Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on whether the White House had a battle of the sexes on its hands.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: In this half-hour: a battle of the sexes in the White House over birth control? I will ask someone in the president's inner circle, the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

And a divided CPAC. Conservatives are searching their souls as the candidates battle for their affection.

Plus, two big aging action stars are reunited, no, not on the big screen, but in hospital beds.

Rick Santorum had some explaining to do over how he feels about women on the front lines after talking to me here last night.


SANTORUM: I do have concerns about women in front-line combat. I think that can be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved.


KING: Now, Santorum says he was talking about the emotions of men. Here's what he told Wolf Blitzer today.


SANTORUM: Just simply the emotions of men in dealing with women in combat, and not focused as potentially on the mission, instead of in protecting -- a natural instinct to protect someone who's a female.


KING: He also said women aren't as physically capable as men in some situations.

Let's get to our Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon.

Barbara, before we talk, let's listen first to Navy secretary, Ray Mabus, talking about this issue today.


RAY MABUS, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY: I have been to Afghanistan now seven times. And I can tell you from firsthand experience there are no front lines there. And women have been serving in areas of great danger for a decade now, regardless of what the policy is, because there are no front lines.

Now, and they have been serving with great distinction. They have been serving at great risk.


KING: Barbara, what do top military officials make of Senator Santorum's comments? BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Ray Mabus is really sending the ultimate signal right there. Talk about raised eyebrows.

Look, they are commanding women on the front lines. Women are not serving in infantry units, in small sniper platoons, in special operations forces, but the reality is over 800 women have been wounded in the last 10 years in battle. More than 140 have lost their lives.

I talked to one female Iraq veteran today, a sergeant we have known for many years now. She said she considered Santorum's remarks an insult to the troops.

But let me give you the other side of it. I spoke to an Army colonel, a man I have been under fire with in Afghanistan. He said he was raised in Texas and he would -- was raised to protect women. I said, would you put the mission at jeopardy to protect some woman? He said, absolutely not.

Troops understand, when they are in the war zone, this is not a gender issue.

KING: And Senator Santorum was speaking, Barbara, because the Pentagon has eased some rules to have women along the front lines as medics and communication roles and such. Where is this debate heading?

Obviously, we see it playing out in the political sphere. Where is it playing out in the policy sphere?

STARR: In the Pentagon, it is actually, John, is playing out to the ultimate that women would be able to serve in any one of those really hard combat specialties that even men are very challenged to be in, special operations forces, sniper teams, scout teams.

There's plenty of men that can't qualify for those jobs either. They are based on your physical, mental qualifications to do those jobs.

And the Pentagon is now headed down the road of looking at whether it can really accommodate women in terms of privacy issues, berthing where they sleep, how they live in these very close combat situations. There are a lot of military forces around the world that have a lot of women serving. It's an idea whose time has come.

KING: Barbara Starr, fascinating report, live at the Pentagon tonight. Thank -- Barbara, thank you.

Newt Gingrich is attaching the GOP establishment. Rick Santorum is attacking Mitt Romney. And Mitt Romney, well, he's on a mission to convince conservatives he's one of them. Each one trying to flaunt his credentials at the GOP base -- to the GOP base at the annual influential CPAC summit here in Washington. Let's start with Speaker Gingrich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For the Republican establishment, managing the decay is preferable to changing the trajectory, because changing the trajectory requires real fights and requires a real willingness to roll up the sleeves and to actually take on the left.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Who has supported, in fact, the stepchild of Obama care. The person in Massachusetts who built the largest government-run health-care system in the -- in the United States. Someone who would simply give that issue away in the fall.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that this president will never get it. But we conservatives aren't just proud to cling to our guns and to our religion. We are also proud to cling to our Constitution.


KING: National political correspondent Jim Acosta was at CPAC all day long. He's live with us tonight.

Jim, let's start with Governor Romney and the reservations many conservative activists have about him. You were in the room when he spoke today. How was the sales pitch? Did he do the job?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John, Mitt Romney is finding out he did not have conservatives at hello in this GOP campaign. But he tried to address those skeptics in the conservative wing at the Republican Party today in those remarks.

At one point Mitt Romney referred to himself as a severely conservative governor during his days in Massachusetts. Those were not in his prepared remarks. He improvised that. So it's going to be interesting to see how conservatives take this speech.

The speech was well received. I can tell you that. It was not as well received as Rick Santorum's speech. It was a much more fiery speech from the former Pennsylvania senator.

But we'll find out tomorrow night. If Mitt Romney could somehow pull off a win in that CPAC straw poll, we all know it's non-binding; doesn't mean a lot perhaps the day after the CPAC convention is over. But that could go a long way to perhaps give him a bit of a "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval from conservatives. We'll see if he can pull it off.

KING: He could use that boost right now.

The questions about Governor Romney is one major plot line. The other one is the sort of competition to be the first leading conservative alternative. If that's a Gingrich-Santorum contest, how did that play out today?

ACOSTA: You know, John, I think we saw two different strategies today. From Rick Santorum, he was trying to show his pugnacious side. He has been under fire all week from the Romney forces. They've been going after his record, supporting earmarks when he was in Congress. He went after Mitt Romney today, talking about how Romney care was the stepchild of Obama care.

I went up to Rick Santorum, asked him about that. I said, "Do you stand by that remark? Was that over the top?"

He said no it wasn't.

Newt Gingrich was trying to do something different today, John. We know that women voters have had a very tough time supporting the former speaker. The exit polls and entrance polls from all these caucuses and primaries tell us that.

It was interesting to see Callista Gingrich give the opening remarks. We don't see very much of Callista Gingrich out on the campaign trail, not as much as Ann Romney, who is often introducing her husband, all of these different events. Callista Gingrich gave that warm-up speech. She talked about how Newt Gingrich isn't a very good golfer.

I talked to R.C. Hammond, the spokesman for the Gingrich campaign after that was over. He said you're going to be seeing more of Callista Gingrich in the coming days, because in his words, she brings out the softer side of her husband -- John.

KING: Jim Acosta, for us all day and tonight at the CPAC conference. Jim, thanks so much.

As Jim just noted, Callista Gingrich usually seen but not heard on the campaign trail. But she did introduce the former speaker today. And it's a possible signal, as Jim's reporting just proved, that she's about to take perhaps a bigger role in her husband's campaign.


CALLISTA GINGRICH, NEWT GINGRICH'S WIFE: When we decided to run, we knew there would be tough stories from the media as well as hurtful attacks from some of our opponents. What we didn't know was how kind so many Americans would be to us.


KING: Politics aside, Callista Gingrich also talked about how her husband spends his down time. Hear that a bit later coming up in tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed."

But first, let's turn to President Obama backing up a controversial birth control rule, one that waded into the overlap between women's health care and religious liberty.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every woman should be in control of the decisions that affect her own health. Period. This basic principle is already the law in 28 states across the country.

Now, as we move to implement this rule, however, we've been mindful that there's another principle at stake here, and that's the principle of religious liberty.


KING: After intense pressure from conservatives, churches, even some Democrats, the president says church-affiliated schools and hospitals will not be forced to offer free birth control to their employees. But if they say no on religious or moral grounds, the insurance companies will have to pick up the slack.

I asked the health and human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, earlier today about some of the criticism from Democrats.


KING: The president's announcement, he said he had to speed up this process, because some were playing political football in his terms. A lot of Republicans have raised this. A lot of conservatives have raised this.

But Senator bob Casey, a Democrat of Pennsylvania; Tim Kaine, the president's former hand-picked chairman of the Democratic Party; congressman John Larson, a Democrat and a member of the House Democratic leadership, they were among the sharpest critics here, Madam Secretary. Were they playing political football?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, I think that they were voicing their religious objections and their hope that we could find a way to both respect religious liberty and deliver these incredibly important preventative services so women could make their own determination about their health and their families' health. And we've done just that.

KING: Some of those long-time allies and friends who objected pretty forcefully here say you had to have known this would happen. You had to have known you wouldn't get a year to work this through. And they wonder how does a president, especially a president heading into a re-election campaign, seem so tone deaf?

SEBELIUS: Well, John, again I don't think it's a question of not being aware that this controversy was out there. But I just want to remind you what was called for was a vast expansion of a total exemption, making millions of women, their spouses of employees, daughters of employees, millions of people who work in universities, work in hospitals, work all over this country, bear the financial burden of an employer's objection to contraception coverage.

We know that this is a critical health benefit. And the women who may or may not share that faith tenet, nurses and teachers and janitors, would have had that financial burden imposed on them and their families.

So it wasn't being unmindful of the objection. But what we pledged to do and what we have done is find a solution that both satisfies the health needs of the women, follows the Institute of Medicine's important recommendation on a range of services including contraception, and respects the religious liberties of these employers.

KING: If you call into the White House and ask about the policy deliberations, you get an account that at times sounds like a battle of the sexes. Vice President Biden, the former White House chief of staff Bill Daley on one side. You madam secretary, Valerie Jarrett, one of the president's top aides, Nancy DePaul from the health office, as well, on the other side. Was that what played out here, the men and the women fighting over this policy?

SEBELIUS: I wasn't at least part of any battles. I was a part of many discussions about how the best path was to move forward. There were certainly some who argued for a broader exemption.

KING: Did it break down that way? Do men and women have a different perspective on this issue?

SEBELIUS: Well, I don't think there's any question that women's health issues have been long ignored in the -- in the marketplace.

KING: I'm now talking about conversations in the Oval Office.

SEBELIUS: Well, I think that people expressed their views. And there were men and women, I would say, on various sides of this whole issue.

But the president was very firm from the outset. Women should have access to preventative health care wherever she worked, whether she was a nurse or a teacher or a janitor. Her employer should not determine her access to important preventative health. And her income shouldn't determine that. That's the promise of the Affordable Care Act. And that should be available to women across the country.

On the other hand, he insisted that we needed to respect religious liberty and find a way to have a workable alternative. We knew that those situations were in place around the country. We've been reaching out to various states, various insurer stakeholders. And I think we managed to find a solution where women will have access to these preventative healthcare and religious liberty of employers is respected. And that -- that is exactly where we need to be.

KING: Madam Secretary, thanks for your time.

SEBELIUS: Sure. Good to talk to you, John.


KING: Three presidential hopefuls all of them speaking on the same day at the same conservative conference. But can any of them calm jitters in the movement right now?

And you still have time to get your tickets for Saturday's Powerball drawing. Start thinking: what would you do with $325 million?


KING: CPAC is an annual ritual and in some ways an annual irony. The biggest conservative pep rally of the year, held always in the city those very conservatives complain has become all too powerful and all too important.

Four years ago, Mitt Romney ended his presidential campaign at CPAC. This year, today to be precise, he tried to revive his presidential campaign at CPAC.


ROMNEY: I fought against long odds in a deep blue state. But I was a severely conservative Republican governor.

I understand that the battles we, as conservatives, must fight, because I have been on the front lines.


KING: Here's a little more irony. One of the most controversial voices of the right urging a gathering known for promoting ideological purity to think, well, less ideologically.


ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE AUTHOR: Keep your eye on the prize, right wingers. The only question you should keep asking yourself is who will have the most appeal to independents, to undecideds, to my gender?


KING: Read that as a bit of help for Governor Romney. But Governor Romney's biggest threat at the moment begs to differ, saying aiming for the middle is what did in past GOP nominees like Bob Dole and John McCain.


SANTORUM: Well, I think we have learned our lesson. And the lesson we've learned is that we will no longer abandon and apologize for the policies and principles that made this country great for a hollow victory in November.


KING: Well, here's tonight's "Truth." The conservative movement has a serious case of the jitters: not sure it can trust Romney, not sure if Santorum can win, not sure of Gingrich, period. Just not sure.

It's an odd place for a movement that had so much vigor and energy coming out of the huge wins of the 2010 election cycle. That sure seems like a long time ago these days.

A look at GOP turnout in recent weeks suggests a profound lack of enthusiasm. Conversations with activists here for the CPAC meeting suggest a profound lack of consensus. The truth is, turnout intention in February does not necessarily signal trouble come November. As speaker after speaker noted, President Obama is a unifying force across the conservative spectrum.

But watching the movement soul searching is fascinating. There's a lot of excitement about the next generation. A lot of questions about the current crop. It's not unusual for a party out of power. But it sure is interesting to watch it play out.

Let's talk truth now with three conservative voices. Rich Galen is a veteran GOP strategist and one-time Gingrich ally. Our contributor, Erick Erickson, is the editor of And Joe Miller, you might remember him: a Tea Party activist and a former U.S. Senate candidate from Alaska.

Welcome all the way to Washington, D.C. Let's start -- and I want to listen to a little bit more of Governor Romney, his take. This is a big test for him today. Three big setbacks in the last week. A conservative movement that's unsure, if not opposed. He says, "Pick me."


ROMNEY: This election really is about a battle for the soul of America. And it's going to come down to a choice: a choice between whether we want a nation to be of and by Washington or a nation of and by a free people. And we conservatives believe in freedom and free people and free enterprises.


KING: Now when you ran against Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, you were criticizing her: too much time in Washington, all the habits of Washington. Governor Romney there was trying to say, Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum, you're going to get more Washington. I'm not sure what a severe conservative is. Maybe you can help me. But how did that go?

JOE MILLER, CHAIRMAN, RESTORING LIBERTY ACTION COMMITTEE: Well, I don't think it went over well. In fact, if we're looking for a severely conservative governor and we look at that record, it's obviously not what conservatives are looking for. And frankly, in 2012 in November, in order to win that race, it's going to require that core base. That core base of conservatives that already are reflecting a lack of enthusiasm.

I think it's in part because of what they aren't hearing, particularly from Governor Romney. And that is that, look, this country is in severe financial crisis. We've got to get the fiscal house in order. We've got to get D.C. out of these areas it shouldn't be in, get back to the Constitution. With that in that core base, people are going to stay home, and we aren't going to win the White House in November. So I encourage all of the three candidates that are standing against Romney, I think that they offer fine ideas. They all offer fine fiscal packages.

But what we see or what we heard today at CPAC is rhetoric. It's not reflective, I think, of a real true conservative voice. And I think what this nation needs at this point in time is somebody that has a radical idea about D.C. going to get back to its foundations.

KING: And so Erick, coming into that room, Governor Romney could win the room. Don't think anybody at the table agrees he did today. He also could hurt himself more. If he broke even, maybe not so bad. What's your calculation?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I would be charitable and say he broke even, but I think the sound bite that -- it's the one ad-libbed remark he made during the day, that "I'm a severely conservative Republican governor." Rush Limbaugh has already come out saying "severe conservative," that's what the liberals say about conservatives, not something conservatives say about conservatives.

If that plays over the weekend without him trying to walk that back, he may have problems come Monday when talk radio gets going again with the conservative base that tunes into talk radio.

KING: Is this -- is it a big problem to ad lib a line like that? Or is it people who are already predisposed to not like or support Governor Romney who will grab anything he says and thump him with it?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think that's a big part of it. Because -- because what Santorum said about a hollow victory in November, winning the presidency is -- I'll take a hollow victory if we can win the presidency. I think most of us would take that, no matter -- no matter how big the hole might be.

But I do think that I'd agree with Erick. I think playing to a draw today for Governor Romney was -- that's really all he needed. And, you know, if Rush wants to jump on the "severe" line, that's fine. That keeps everybody happy.

KING: And Senator Santorum walks in with a lot of energy. And I want to show you first a tweet from his communications director, Hogan Gridley. He says, "Breaking @RickSantorum campaign. Three states, three wins, three days, 3 million. Today is third conservative million-dollar day. #CPAC #GameOn #momentum." No question Santorum has it.

So he comes into this room of conservatives, activists from all around the country, most of them from states that have yet to voted, and he's very aggressive saying, "Look at Mitt Romney, and this is what you got."


SANTORUM: Who has a record of supporting health savings accounts and tort reform and bottom-up, consumer-driven health care for 20 years? And who has -- and who has supported, in fact, the stepchild of Obama care? The person in Massachusetts who built the largest government-run health-care system in the -- in the United States. Someone who would simply give that issue away in the fall.


KING: Erick, we talked about this some time ago. The health- care issue kind of disappeared for a while. Early -- in the very early debates, it was where Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum. We had a bigger crowd then. People went after Governor Romney. How successful is he using that argument to make the case, "Not him. Look at me"?

ERICKSON: I think he's using it very successfully, and in fact, his campaign is using it very successfully. They have been hitting on that core issue.

If you remember, go back to the CNN debate in Jacksonville. He threw that line out against Mitt Romney on felons voting, and it went well with the crowd. But everyone kind of scratched their head why are you doing this. It threw Romney off of his game. And he immediately came back and completely threw Romney off with this health-care issue, and he's been beating it ever since. It has really, really worked to solidify the base for him.

KING: And so if you go Tea Party activists who have the energy in the party in 2010, the Obama health-care plan was part of the energy. Now, a lot of the anger was at Republicans for spending too much money in Washington; wasn't all about Obama. But was that issue, does it -- when they look at Rick Santorum, do they say, "Yes, yes, yes." The question has been, do they think he can win?

MILLER: Well, I think also the question is where has he been in the past? Has he been part of the problem? Has he acknowledged that?

I think what -- in fact, I talked to Senator Santorum today. I think that his fiscal plan that a lot of people don't know about, $5 trillion in four years. I mean, that's real cuts. And that's what that Tea Party base is looking for.

GALEN: Let me just say this. If that clip counts as people falling down in the aisles, thrilled with what they heard, I heard like one clap, one guy in the back with the frantic clapping. I mean, that was dreadful. He stepped on his own applause lines. He's a better candidate than that clip showed.

ERICKSON: He is. And the problem here is, talking to a lot of people at CPAC, is they're just not enthused about any of the three candidates right now. Their heart's with Santorum, but they don't know that he can win. They don't trust Mitt Romney; they don't trust Newt Gingrich to not implode.

GALEN: It's hard.

ERICKSON: It just is. MILLER: Well, and I think part of the reason why is because of the way that the campaign has been conducted to this point. I mean, we've got one candidate with all the money, basically, who's burning down the house if he doesn't win. I don't think that is the way to approach this. It's obviously going to hurt whatever candidate ends up being the nominee, come November. But I think at the core, people have got to get back to the base. If they don't, they're going to lose it in November. People are going to...

GALEN: I don't think that's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I think that's entirely wrong.


KING: ... Erick Erickson, Rich Galen -- well, we'll continue the conversation another day. And remember, Maine caucus is tomorrow night. The all-important Maine caucus.

GALEN: It's been going on for a week.

KING: Most of our night.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin, President Obama is going to release his budget on Monday. You have some advance information about the numbers?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, we do, John. We're going to be putting that -- the numbers are out for his budget for 2013 and we have the numbers. It's pretty interesting what you see in there and also what you don't see, John. We're going to get to the bottom line of that.

And also pretty amazing and, I think, pretty sad and depressing number of how many days it's been in this country that we have not had a budget, which is part of reason that we keep getting downgraded. We have that. Plus, we'll have some breaking news on Syria, top of the hour.

Back to you.

KING: Remember that, we had a budget. Erin, we'll see you in just a few minutes.

Still ahead here, movies buffs, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, snap a photo: side-by-side in hospital beds. We'll tell you what they were doing. And trust me: you don't want to miss this.


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

Hello again.

SNOW: Hey, there, John. Americans' incomes are getting a little bit better. Median income, the very middle of what American households make, went up at the end of last year. It's now more than $51,000. It's the biggest jump in income since 2007.

The CIA's Web site has been hacked. The hacking group Anonymous claims credit for taking it down. Anonymous recently has said they've taken down all kind of Web sites from the Department of Justice to the FBI Web site.

There is some encouraging news for expectant moms going through chemo. It won't hurt the baby. At least that's what a new study says. Doctors looked at women given chemotherapy during pregnancy, and the children born were studied at all different ages, even up to age 18. Doctors didn't find any evidence that the kids were hurt by the chemo.

Madonna's stalker nabbed by police. The Material Girl has been dealing with him for years. Robert Dewey Hoskins escaped from a mental hospital a week ago. The LAPD say he is highly psychotic and has violent tendencies. He has finished his 10-year sentence for stalking Madonna back in the '90s and has been receiving mental health treatment. Police are now deciding if he'll face more charges.

Three hundred twenty five million dollars could be yours. Yes. You heard that right. Tomorrow's big Powerball jackpot drawing will award that, if there's a winner. You can still buy tickets. It will set you back two bucks. Remember the last month when those ticket prices doubled, upsetting a lot of people.

And by the way, remember this: your odds of winning less than one in 175 million.

And there was once a time when a photo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone shirtless would have had women swooning. Well, this isn't that kind of picture. The two actors snapped this photo, gurney to gurney, after having shoulder surgery. And get this: it wasn't planned. Schwarzenegger wrote on his blog, "Look who was coincidentally waiting in line behind me for his shoulder surgery."

John, take a look at those tattoos on Sylvester.

KING: You're dealing me you're not swooning? Is that what you're telling me?

SNOW: Not exactly. They're still in pretty good shape. But not swooning. I'm still mesmerized by those tattoos, though.

KING: All right. Well, stay right here, Mary.

The "Moment You May Have Missed" today, Callista Gingrich actually speaking. She's a common sight on the campaign trail, always standing by her husband, Newt Gingrich, but she doesn't say much. So on the edge of our seat today when she took the mike at the conservative CPAC summit.


C. GINGRICH: Newt is an enthusiastic and committed golfer. It's true. He gets in and out of more sand traps than anyone I have ever seen. Newt golfs the way he does everything: with enthusiasm and determination. He's willing to learn, and he never gives up.

Newt loves books. We have books in every corner of our home. Newt also has an entire library on his Kindle. I may be the most grateful person in America for this invention.


KING: The book thing I believe, Mary. The golf thing, a little bit of a surprise there. I don't know.

SNOW: I think that's a little bit of a stretch.

KING: Mary, you have a great weekend.

Everybody at home, have a great weekend, too. We'll see you Monday.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.