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JOHN KING, USA

House Passes Jobs Act; Interview With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor; Will U.S. Sell Israel Bombs?

Aired March 8, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


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

Tonight, there are reports in Israel the Obama administration is leaning toward selling Israel bunker-busting bombs that could be used against Iranian nuclear sites.

Rare bipartisanship in Congress today and on the issue that likely matters most to you, the economy.

Plus, what keeps Mitt Romney up and night and how he deals with it. Let's just say your breakfast is his nightcap.

We begin with significant new developments in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program and what to do about it. In a moment the framework for one last attempt at diplomacy, but first new indications tonight of what might come to pass if that diplomacy fails.

According to Israeli media reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Washington this week included a request for one of America's most sensitive weapons systems, bunker-busting bombs. And those reports suggest the administration is inclined to say yes.

At the White House today, a very careful response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In the meetings the president had, there was no such agreement proposed or reached.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Note "in the meetings with the president" from the spokesman there. Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly made this request in talks with the Pentagon.

The bunker-busting bombs would be major assets if Israel were to launch strikes against the suspected Iranian nuclear facilities. Let's take a closer look at just what we're talking about using recent satellite imagery. As you watch the map expand, these are the reported Iranian nuclear sites. Let's just focus on two, one at Qom we talked about before.

As you pull it out here's why the bunker-busting bombs would be so important. The main entrance to the facility here, but look at these openings captured in the satellite images. These go down to some sort of underground facility. Deep underground is where Israel and others believe Iran is working on these weapons program.

That's Qom. Let's look here at Esfahan here as well. This is a clearer picture. You see the main facility right over here, you see a helicopter landing pad here. Some air defenses right here. They're expecting possible attacks. But look at this. These red dots up here, intelligence analysts say each of these dots is an entrance to a deep underground facility below ground.

The Israeli preparations for possible strikes on facilities such as this come as the United States pushes Iran to return to negotiations. Those negotiations aimed at getting Iran to permanently agree to end its nuclear weapons program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: So we are hoping that the Iranians will come to the table prepared to have the kind of serious and sincere discussion we have been looking for, for several years. We think it is even more pressing and imperative today than it has been in the past. And we would like to see diplomatic progress, which we support.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: More pressing and imperative today, the secretary of state says.

Let's get some perspective now from CNN's Fareed Zakaria, beginning his take on the latest statement from Iran's supreme leader.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, SUPREME LEADER OF IRAN (through translator): I heard two days ago the American president said he's against at war with Iran. These are good words and in any case an exit from delusion. But the U.S. president has added he wants to bring the Iranian people to their knees through imposing sanctions. This part of his statement is a continuation of illusion regarding this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Any reason to believe when you listen to supreme leader that Iran is willing to come to the table in a serious way and we will give up on this program?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: There's rhetoric on both sides. The Iranians particularly have a tendency to have this wild and outlandish rhetoric which is part of a kind of theologically- based regime. I wouldn't read too much into what Khamenei said.

The really important question is, are they feeling the pain. And I think the very fact that Khamenei, the supreme leader, made that statement and said it's good to hear that Obama has started talking about maybe not going to war, the fact that they have sent offers and offers to negotiate, that they send the negotiator, all these are signs that the Iranians are responding to the pressure.

They have always behaved like this. They're fairly calculating. And when they see the pressure and when it pinches they begin to act.

KING: And Israel does not get a seat at that table but they obviously have perhaps the highest level of interest in any discussions should the negotiations resume again.

Listen here to the Israeli ambassador to the United States. He was on the program yesterday. Israel is very skeptical about Iran essentially using negotiations to buy more time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: We know from experience that Iran has used talks to delay and stall while it keeps on enriching uranium, while it keeps on developing its international ballistic missile program.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do the Israelis have a point? Should they be concerned?

ZAKARIA: The Israelis have a point. They should be concerned.

It is worth pointing out, however, the Iranians did also once freeze the program as a kind of good-faith gesture. This was during the George W. Bush administration. And that administration basically rejected that, didn't pay much attention to that and did nothing with it and proposed no real diplomatic solution.

KING: And how do you set that standard? As I ask let me put it in the context of the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. She says they'd better come serious, ready to deal and give up their nuclear program. The window is finite.

How do we define finite?

ZAKARIA: The question is do they have a weapons program and when does it reach a critical mass? That's when presumably the negotiations have to stop and it's very difficult to tell where we are there.

My own gut is we still have a fair amount of time to test whether the Iranians are serious about negotiating, but we also have to come up with solutions that make sense, you know. When you have a negotiation both sides have to meet somewhere. And right now it seems to me that -- listen to the Republican candidates.

Nothing short of a complete and total Iranian capitulation under foreign pressure is going to be acceptable. When has that happened? When does a nation simply throw up its hands and cry uncle and surrender? Especially a nation like Iran, 90 million people, proud history, sees itself as a pivotal player in the region? That's not going to happen. We have got to try and -- if we want a negotiated settlement we're also going to have to work toward it.

KING: Fareed Zakaria, as always, thank you.

ZAKARIA: A pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Let's turn now to the still very, very lively Republican presidential race. Right now Mitt Romney is about to hold a rally in Mississippi. See him right there with the crowd. Republicans there in the neighboring state of Alabama vote in the presidential primaries next Tuesday.

Earlier today, the former Massachusetts governor told a Birmingham radio station he realizes Alabama and the Deep South, well, present a bit of a challenge.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I realize that it's a bit of an away game. But I also think we're going to pick up some support in the states that remain this month. We obviously had a terrific Super Tuesday and got a good head start. But I would like to get some support from folks in Alabama.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: Romney telling reporters he won't ask any of his rivals to drop out. Rick Santorum today asked Alabama voters to narrow the field down to himself and Governor Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you go out and deliver a conservative victory for us on Tuesday, this race will become a two-person race. And if it becomes a two-person race for the Republican nomination, the conservative will win that nomination.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Newt Gingrich, though, says he's staying in this race because he believes it's impossible for a Republican moderate to win the general election. Gingrich concentrating exclusively on Mississippi and Alabama this week. The former speaker pumping gasoline there to highlight his plan, says $2.50-a-gallon gas if he's president. Then he attacks President Obama who Gingrich says wants higher gas prices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So the president's political consultants have said to him, this Gingrich attack on the price of gasoline is dangerous. We have got to do something about it.

And it's been fascinating because you can tell when you watch, half of him wants to do the politically smart thing, which is to be for us paying less. The other half of him can't give up his left-wing radical ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Energy also the focus of a big debate back here in Washington.

And it took personal lobbying by the president today to convince wavering Democrats to defeat a Senate bill that would have sped up construction of a controversial oil pipeline; the Keystone XL pipeline would transport oil from Canada down to the U.S. Gulf Coast. It needed 60 votes in the Senate this afternoon, but came up short, getting only 56.

House Speaker John Boehner says he cannot understand why the president is taking a go slow approach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Personally lobbying against the Keystone pipeline means the president of the United States is lobbying for sending North American energy to China and lobbying against American jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash joins us now live from Capitol Hill.

Dana, let's start here. Why was the vote so close?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Because of what you just heard.

The Republicans had done a pretty good job of framing this as a jobs issue and it made it very difficult for some Democrats to vote no. For example, I talked to senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. He was one of those Democrats who defied the president. He said at a time of high gas prices, at a time of joblessness, it was impossible for him to vote against something that could provide help in both areas.

Other Democrats voted with Republicans because the pipeline could come through their state, again, jobs, and also because they're from oil-producing states. So this is a regional issue and an economic issue.

KING: So take us inside the president's lobbying. How hard was he lobbying? How important was this to him?

BASH: Very important to him, because this would have been a huge embarrassment if it would have passed. It wasn't so great that 11 Democrats defied him in the first place.

But he called several Democratic senators trying to make sure that it didn't go over the top. And the politics of this are really interesting, John, because I'm told that Senate Democratic leaders, they basically said look, to you, the White House, this is your decision to take a stand on this political issue, which as I just said does not necessarily cut for the Democrats across the board.

So they said to the president, he needs to do the lobbying. He needs to make the calls, which is what he did. You just heard the speaker. He really jumped on that, saying, are you kidding? The president is lobbying against jobs?

But we should also note that the White House insists they're not against this pipeline altogether but they say that the final plans are not done and they're not going to approve a pipeline until they see exactly where it's going through the country.

KING: The president wins on this vote today, but this debate will continue throughout the campaign year.

Dana Bash live on Capitol Hill. Dana, thank you.

Democrats and Republicans believe it or not in the House actually agreed on something today, a jobs bill that makes it easier for small companies to grow. It passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Haven't heard that word very often, have you? Bipartisan.

The Senate's working on a similar bill and President Obama indicates he's for the idea.

Stay with us. In a moment, we will speak to one of the jobs bill's biggest supporters, the Republican and the House majority leader, Eric Cantor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A rare, almost unprecedented event on Capitol Hill today on the House floor, when a bill aimed at help small businesses attract new investors passed with, get this, bipartisan support.

Republican leaders in particular weren't shy about patting themselves on the back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is just another step in the right direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today was a very bipartisan day.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: We really can work together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining me now, the author of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups bill, the House majority leader, Eric Cantor.

I'm cracking a joke about it, making fun of it, but it's been a long time since we have seen a 390-23 vote, big bipartisan vote in favor of this legislation. Can we have more?

CANTOR: We certainly hope so.

I mean, this bill I think reflects Congress actually beginning to come together, both sides trying to set aside differences and rally around what we know needs to happen. And that is to get entrepreneurs, small business men and women back into the game of job creation.

And what the jobs act does very simply is, it reduces the red tape that has been in the way for small business people, allows for the introduction of more start-ups. And that's the problem, John. We have seen over the last three years the number of start-up businesses in America decline. And we know that most jobs in America come from small businesses. This is a way to jump-start that again to see more jobs created and get this economy growing again.

KING: Now, the president has said he would sign this bill. The White House also says they would like some bigger, what they think are more bold jobs proposals passed.

But I want you to listen here to the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi. Sure, she says this is good, but:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: It's because it's so meager. Trumpet, here comes the little king.

This is...

(LAUGHTER)

PELOSI: Yes, it is bipartisan. And we pledge to the flag. That's a big thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: She doesn't seem to think too much of this.

CANTOR: Well, you know what, she may -- Nancy Pelosi may make fun and say it's meager, but it's not going to be meager and insignificant to the small businesses that will actually start up because of this and all the new jobs that are created because of this.

And I would like to ask her what she would say to the individuals who actually are going to get a job because of this. It's not too meager to them. So, again, the kind of constructive attitude that we can take is, let's begin to take steps together to actually solve problems.

And that's what today was all about, focusing on trying to do things for small business people, getting businesses started up again. And frankly now I think the onus goes over to the Senate. And we hope that Leader Reid will take this bill right up and do as the president has asked us and get the bill to the president's desk as quickly as possible, so we can be there to help small business start-ups.

KING: Especially in this campaign year, Republicans are fond of breaking out charts or breaking out past votes from the president and saying, you said if we passed the stimulus bill, for example, unemployment wouldn't go above 8.1 percent.

This is your legislation. Let's assume it gets through the Senate and the president signs it. Leader Cantor, if I call you back in six months, how many jobs will be created because of this legislation?

CANTOR: You know, I am not prepared to even give you a number.

What I can tell you is the bipartisan vote surrounding this bill reflects the commonsense notion that if you make it easier, if you get rid of the red tape standing in the way of small business job creation, if you allow for small businesses to access capital, you're going to see more small businesses start up.

And there's some outside studies out there indicating X-number of jobs that will be created because of this. But I can assure you, this is a positive step forward to creating an environment to see more entrepreneurial activity and job growth come about.

KING: Let me close with a couple questions on other topics. You recently endorsed Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

And the former House speaker who used to work in the chamber where you are now a leader, this was his reaction to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: I think he goes around the country and he's legitimately collected most of the insiders. I like Eric Cantor, but he is sort of quintessentially part of that same group.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Are you quintessentially a Washington insider?

CANTOR: I don't consider myself as such, no.

And the reason why I endorsed Mitt Romney is because he is the only individual in the race to put forward a bold pro-growth plan to create jobs. As we have just been talking, John, the Congress has decided it can rally around the one important message and the one important policy point that needs to happen, and that is, we need to create an environment for the private sector job creators to kick into action.

Mitt Romney understands it. He's the only man who's actually created jobs. He's the only candidate in the race, including the president, who has a track record of actually solving problems.

KING: Would you be comfortable with Speaker Gingrich as the nominee?

CANTOR: I'm going to be comfortable with Mitt Romney as the nominee. I think he is going to be our nominee.

I think, just as Newt Gingrich would say he would support the Republican nominee, I would support the Republican nominee.

KING: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, sir, appreciate your time tonight.

CANTOR: Thank you, John.

KING: Next: worries that some of Afghanistan's air force pilots may be flying some extra cargo on the side, illegal drugs.

Also, you ladies especially may be familiar with the products that made a U.S. woman the world's youngest billionaire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: And if you have a billion, this might make this a little bit easier. Gas is up 60 cents a gallon so far this year. Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, hit the road to find out just why. And what he found is a real eye opener. Don't want to miss that just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In this half-hour: reports of mass executions in Syria as the United States and other countries around the world can't figure out whether they can do anything to stop the killing.

Also, the facts behind why you're paying so much more at the pump, even though the United States is producing more oil than it has in years.

And what you will notice or not as the fallout from a huge explosion on the sun starts hitting the Earth.

Even though dozens were killed in fighting across Syria today, the United Nations' new special envoy, the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, cautioned that outside military intervention could he said make the crisis even worse.

Also today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the United States is trying to help unify the opponents of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. Secretary of State: We are working closely with the Syrian opposition to try to assist them to be able to present that kind of unified front and resolve that I know they feel in their own -- on their own behalf is essential in this struggle against the brutal Assad regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Arwa Damon responded during the situation in Syria from the neighboring country of Lebanon.

Arwa, let's start with what's happening on the ground. What's the latest you're hearing today?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, once again, as is taking place just about every single day, dozens of people were killed across the country, John. And activists are reporting that in Homs alone 44 people were summarily executed in a field.

Now, Valerie Amos, the U.N.'s human rights chief, did in fact, manage to visit Homs on Wednesday, make it into the hardest-hit area there, the neighborhood of Baba Amad. And she said that she was completely taken back by the sheer level of destruction and the lack of people. And she was wondering where it was that all of the families there would have fled to.

The video that emerged from the neighborhood right next to Baba Amad, in Shad (ph), gives an idea of what it was that Valerie Amos would have seen. An utterly deserted area. Just about every single building bearing some sort of marks from bullets or artillery falling, and no sign of humanity whatsoever, John.

KING: And Arwa, inside Syria reports the oil deputy minister is defecting. Highest-ranking official to abandon the regime. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARDO HUSSAM EL DIN, SYRIAN DEPUTY OF OIL (through translator): I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime. You have inflicted on those you claim are your people a full year of sorrow and sadness; denied them their basic rights to life and humanity; and pushed the country to the edge of the abyss.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Arwa, is this significant? Just one official, does it matter?

DAMON: This is an indication that the regime is beginning, perhaps, to fray on the inside. What activists are hoping is that this defection is going to encourage others to take this critical step, as well. Because up until now, this really is overall a regime that still maintains a fairly strong grip on power, John.

KING: Arwa Damon in Beirut, Lebanon, tonight. Arwa, thank you. Sadly, you don't need me to tell you this part. A gallon of gas costs 60 cents more than it did at the beginning of the year, and we're only three months in. The price spike was a hot topic on Capitol Hill today as House lawmakers questioned the energy secretary, Steven Chu.

CNN's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is on board the CNN Express, traveling through the oil-producing states.

Ali, right now, Austin, Texas. I want your help with some fact checking. Here's Secretary Chu talking about the pace of oil production here in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN CHU, ENERGY SECRETARY: I believe it's the highest it's been in, in over eight years. Also as you pointed out, the fraction of the oil we import has declined. We're exporting fewer dollars abroad. And as we produce more oil here domestically, that's jobs in America, wealth creation in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: True or false?

ALI VELSHI, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's actually true. Let's compare 2010, which is the last year for which we have full figures, to 2008. We were up. We produced 800,000 barrels more of oil or oil equivalents, other forms of energy, in 2011 than we did in 2008.

Now, that's because there were a number of fields, more exploration opened up under the Obama administration. Some people will tell you those were permits granted under the Bush administration. But there have been new ones granted under the Obama administration. So 2011 might actually even be higher than the 7.5 million barrels.

And what -- what Secretary Chu was saying is that our dependence, our net dependence on foreign oil is now at 49 percent, from a high of 60 percent, John.

KING: So let's listen to some more of the secretary here talking about how much oil we Americans are consuming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHU: First, there was a dramatic decrease, unfortunately, due to a very severe recession that we're slowly climbing out of. There's another important part, and that is the efficiency, the use of gasoline is improving. And this goes directly to help every American family in reducing the amount they spend on gasoline every week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What do we make of that?

VELSHI: Well, I think that's about half true. I'd go half to maybe a little more than half. I'll tell you why.

The secretary is right. Over the last ten years, due to fuel efficiency largely, Americans have started driving less and using less fuel. Part of that is also when oil prices go up, gas prices go up. People make better choices. So when gas got up to $3.50 a gallon in the past and then $4 a gallon people got out of their SUVs and started buying more fuel-efficient cars.

And then he's right. The recession hit, and that caused a lot of people to lose their jobs in many cases and not drive around.

Why I say it's half true, is because just that we're using less gas doesn't mean we're spending more. Because as you see, this new increase in the price of gas takes that money right out of -- out of the pockets of American households.

So his facts are correct about oil and gas usage. But whether or not we're spending less, that's a household-to-household matter. And in some cases people are spending more than they were two years ago, for instance, on gasoline, John.

KING: Ali Velshi, fact checking for us and traveling the country to check out this problem. CNN Express tonight live in Austin, Texas. Ali, thanks so much.

More free checking accounts are dying off. Today Wells Fargo customers in a half dozen states, more states, learned they'll be paying $7 for their basic checking. Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange for us, sizing up the new fee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John.

The basic free checking account seems to be getting closer and closer to extinction.

Wells Fargo said today it's going to be introducing a $7 monthly maintenance fee on customers in six states who already have accounts with them. Now, these are customers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

And this goes along with the move that Wells Fargo made in 2010, when the bank did away with free checking for new customers.

But it's not just Wells Fargo doing this. This really seems to be a trend. BankRate.com says 55 percent of all checking accounts have fees now. That's up from 24 percent in 2009.

All right. So here's a sampling of some of those fees. And they really run the gamut. Chase charges a hefty $25 fee for its most basic checking account. A similar account at smaller T.D. Bank will cost you about 4 bucks a month. Hey, but the free checking account still lives at Capital One.

Keep in mind, though, these are just the minimum fees. And these fees go up for more complex accounts and often vary, depending on where you live.

The good news, though, is that you can get around these fees, because in most cases, they're discounted or waived completely if you keep a minimum balance, you use direct deposit, or if you opt out of getting paper statements through the mail.

And that's true for Wells Fargo, too. Wells Fargo says customers will be notified before those fees take effect on their accounts. The bank does say it is making these changes gradually in hopes of giving customers time to go into their branch, talk through their options, and find the account that works for them -- John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Alison Kosik, from the stock exchange. Alison, thank you.

Up next, hear the truth about Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign and whether it's about to run out of gas.

And you'll hear the remark that got Congressman Barney Frank banned for a day from the House floor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Most campaigns try to play down expectations. Let's give the Gingrich for president campaign a tip of the cap for honesty.

Looking ahead to next week's southern primaries in Mississippi and Alabama, the Gingrich spokesman, R.C. Hammond, put it this way: "Everything between Spartanburg all the way to Texas, those all need to go for Gingrich."

Well, first a little refresher political geography. You see it right there. South Carolina and Georgia are the only two Gingrich wins so far. And his spokesman's candor means Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas are considered must-wins. I'd like to add Arkansas to that list, too, which brings us to tonight's "Truth."

Speaker Gingrich is the candidate with the most at stake in the next five days. Then, truth be told, frontrunner Mitt Romney has to privately be wishing him at least modest success. Why? Rick Santorum can answer that question better than I can.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you go out and deliver a conservative victory for us on Tuesday, this race will become a two-person race. And if it becomes a two-person race for the Republican nomination, the conservative will win that nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, Governor Romney's campaigning in both Alabama and Mississippi. But if you listen here, he doesn't sound like a man expecting a victory in either state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm confident we're going to get some delegates. That's of course, what this -- what this is all about, getting the delegates necessary to become the nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, if Romney can't win Mississippi or Alabama, and the odds are long, he would prefer Gingrich over Santorum. In camp Romney's thinking, another Gingrich revival beats another Santorum surge, at the moment, anyway.

Let's talk truth tonight with former GOP congressman Tom Davis, a Romney support; the deputy Washington bureau chief for "TIME," Michael Crowley; and the former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts, a Gingrich supporter.

I want to read something that Michael wrote in the paper, because this is -- this is the defining question. Right? Does Santorum get a one-on-one shot, or does Newt come back -- we were joking before the break -- for his ninth life?

Writing about Senator Santorum, Michael writes this: "As long as he sticks around, Santorum is sure to keep steering the political conversation towards the issues of religion, morality and sexual mores that have come to define his political identity but which may be causing the Republican Party severe damage with the moderate swing voters they'll need to beat Barack Obama this fall. And don't discount the possibility that Newt Gingrich drops out of the race suddenly, creating a head-to-head contest between Romney and Santorum that could spell Romney's doom."

First, on the question of Santorum. Congressman Davis, you used to run the congressional committee. You've been involved in campaigns where things a presidential candidate says or doesn't say could impact the rest of the party. Is Rick Santorum hurting the party right now?

TOM DAVIS, FORMER GOP CONGRESSMAN: I think he is, for this reason. The Republicans' way back is really the economy. It's been high unemployment: we're going to lead you back. What Santorum is doing he's altered that direction and put it back on the social issues, which are, when you get to the base of each party, frankly -- that's what controls each party on the cultural side.

So they've reoriented the debate on this thing. And that has not helped with the Republican narrative to beat Barack Obama.

KING: He just did, Senator Santorum, an interview with our Piers Morgan that airs tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern. I urge everybody to watch it. Where I was just reading through the transcript. He tries to steer every question back to manufacturing and jobs.

Michael, so do you think is he getting the hint or are people getting to him, saying stop talking about this stuff?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": There's no question. And you know, when I spoke to him for my article, he complained that the media is pigeonholing him and trying to define him as two-dimensional.

But look, two years ago he was complaining that we weren't talking enough about social values and sexual mores in America. These are issues that he wanted to promote. But he realizes now he's got to steer it back toward the center.

I think the reality is there's only so much he's going to be able to do that. This is his identity. He has a long track record of fighting for these issues. And, you know, when he's talking on the stump, he can't help himself. He cares about this stuff. He shouldn't pretend to be something he's not, and I don't think he's going to be able to.

KING: Senator Santorum just won your state, Oklahoma. Gingrich didn't do very well there. He's looking at Mississippi and Alabama now, and they've been very honest. The speaker has been, and his staff has been very honest. If we're having this conversation next Tuesday night and he doesn't win both of those, it's probably over.

What did he -- what did he do wrong in Oklahoma? What does he need to do differently in Alabama and Mississippi?

J.C. WATTS, FORMER GOP CONGRESSMAN: Well, he didn't do anything wrong in Oklahoma. He just didn't start it soon enough. We had a big push the last five days. And when you look at the numbers we gained more than anybody. We went from about 21 percent to about 27 percent the last five days of the race. We had another three days, no telling what might have happened.

But -- but I think this issue that you guys are talking about, Republicans have to show that they can walk and chew gum at the same time.

I don't think you have to abandon life or marriage or, you know, being against activist judges to be for the economy. You know, Newt Gingrich stood with those social conservatives on all of those issues, and at the same time created an environment to produce about 11 million jobs when he was speaker of the House.

So again, we have to show that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

KING: I want you to help me -- and Congressman, to you first on this one, because you're a Romney supporter. He's doing this radio interview -- we played a bit of it just a moment ago -- talking about his stakes in Alabama. But here he gets -- the question for Governor Romney has been can he connect with the average guy? Can he connect with somebody who's down on their luck? He's a very wealthy man, and we don't criticize him for that.

Listen to this question here. I call this t-ball. This is your opportunity to show empathy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Picture me, I guess, as the small businessman today. I get up and I'm eaten alive with regulation. We just had a caller about that. My gas, fuel costs are going through the roof. Without being Bill Clinton, do you feel our pain on that, on the street level of what we're dealing with out here?

ROMNEY (via phone): You know, one of the great experiences of my life was starting a business of my own. We -- we got going with ten employees. And -- and we built it up over the years. But there's no question, particularly in small business. You spend one heck of a lot of time filling out government paperwork, filing all sorts of taxes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Forgive me. But there's this opportunity. You know, gas is 4 bucks, somewhere around 4 bucks for everybody all across the country. It's teed up for you. Big Clinton, "Feel my pain."

There's nothing wrong with the answer. Small businessmen do complain around the country about paperwork and filing taxes. But what is it about Governor Romney where he can't just, boom, get at the empathy?

DAVIS: He's a turnaround guy. He turned around the Olympics. Turned around Massachusetts. I think he'll turn around the economy. He's got to get the narrative a little better, though, in terms of...

KING: A lot of politicians, this is about a guy, though. In a close presidential election it's who do I trust? Who do I think is going to help me, protect me, right?

WATTS: But John, it's one thing after the other like that with Governor Romney, who's saying cordon poor people off and I'll fix the safety net. I'll make it stronger.

You're saying, "I define compassion by how many people we can have on Food Stamps and they have to stay in public housing," as opposed to saying, "Let's define compassion by how few people are there, because we've helped them climb the ladder of economic opportunity."

He has had -- that's why, after five years and $150 million, $200 million, he's still sitting at about 33 to 35 percent, because he's not connected with not just Democrats, but he can't connect with Republicans, which he's in a Republican primary.

KING: And majority of the delegates at the moment. I agree with there's a connection issue. But he's winning.

CROWLEY: And John, I would just say, there's a connection issue. But I think to some degree, there's only so much he can fake it. I mean, you know, he's not a blue-collar guy. He doesn't struggle with the price of gas.

And I almost want to give him some credit for just saying, "Look, you know, I'm a manager. I ran businesses. I'm going to be able to," according to him, "rein in the budget and make the economy better. And vote for me on those grounds."

And to some degree I think he should live or die on that, rise or fall. Not try to pretend that he's someone he's not and look ridiculous in the process.

KING: Let me ask you, closely, and I think I know you're answer, but I'll start with you. Is Speaker Gingrich in this race next Wednesday which means he wins Alabama and Mississippi by his definition?

WATTS: John, I'm not talking for the speaker. I can't speak for him. But I will admit we don't need a place or show; we need some wins. And I think next Tuesday is going to be important.

But you know, only a third of the delegates have been chosen. So I could see where any one of the candidates would feel strongly about continuing on.

KING: Is he here next Wednesday?

CROWLEY: Yes. I think so. I think he's in for a -- look. Nobody has an incentive to get out of this race at this point. And the convention is going to be -- just getting some show time at the convention is a prize for everyone just to grapple.

KING: You want him in next Wednesday at team Romney, right? You like four; you don't want two or three.

DAVIS: I think he's entitled to stay. Proportional voting from here out. I think it's going to be tough to out-delegate Romney at this point.

WATTS: I think it's tough for anybody to get to 1,144 mathematically.

KING: It's almost impossible. Romney has a way to get there. It's almost impossible for the other guys. It's not an easy way.

Thank you, gentlemen, for coming in.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the area. Erin, you're keeping a close eye on the situation in Iran. What should we look forward to?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: John, you were talking about whether the Israelis had asked the United States for more powerful so-called bunker busters.

But you know, John, just a few minutes ago, a late interview in Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Netanyahu giving his first interview since meeting with President Obama, and he said something that, well, throws cold water on people saying that Israeli really backed off, John.

He said tonight, "It's not going to be days. It's not going to be weeks until we strike, but it isn't going to be years." And obviously, that leaves the politically sensitive time frame of the U.S. election on the table. We're going talk about exactly what he meant, why he chose to say it today, on a day when it actually seemed that the Iranians, the United States, and the Europeans could come to the table and try to find a solution, a diplomatic solution in this window. So we're going to talk about that interview, what exactly he meant, top of the hour.

Back to you.

KING: Looking forward to it. Very important story for this country and for the world. Erin, thank you.

Later on, the sun sends a burst of energy 93 million miles right here to Earth, and right now, we're being bombarded. How could the effects of the solar storm affect you? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Right now, the Earth is being bombarded by billions of particles, shocked toward us by this gigantic burst on the surface of the sun. Big solar storms like this can disrupt power and put your GPS system on the fritz, but it looks like we may be dodging the bullet, at least for now.

Reynolds Wolf, standing by for us in Atlanta. Reynolds, the pictures are stunning. Help us understand what's going on.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The first thing you've got to understand is how old the sun happens to be. The sun is about 5 billion years old, and ever since that time, till the present moment, we've been dealing with different types of solar flares. The thing about the sun is it's not a constant output of energy. It's not stable like you've have, say, with a 40-watt bulb or a 60-watt light bulb in your House.

This is not steady; it changes. It pulsates. And what we're getting is a pulse of energy that's been getting closer to the earth. That, of course, with the latest output we've had from the sun.

Take a look at this, John. If you and our viewers across America can see, you'll notice a little bit of a sun spot activity which indicates places where we've had these solar flares from the latest storm.

One thing that works, certainly in our favor, is that the latest we've had has been kind of a glancing blow past the earth. It has not been a direct hit. And because of that, NOAA is telling us that it's going to be -- on a scale from the G-1 being a relatively weak event to the G-5 being extreme, this is going to be a little bit on the weaker side for at least the time being.

Still, we can be impacted in several ways. One, a high frequency of radio blackouts certainly possible especially in the northern half of the sphere. Power grid outages are a possibility, and of course, with GPS and satellite interruptions, you're perhaps going to have some trouble, possibly, through the weekend if you're trying to get from one end of the country to the other using your Garman, so to speak. So, you might have some problems.

But there is one cool thing, and that is about the brilliant auroras that maybe people will be able to see. It really depends on where you happen to be in the U.S. If you happen to be in the northern plains, perhaps even into Minneapolis or Chicago, you might be able to see through the cloud cover and notice some of the Northern Lights if you look towards the north, obviously.

But one big issue that we're going to have, John, is we're also going to have a full moon, and with a full moon, that certainly is going to hamper some of the colors that you might see in parts of the northern U.S.

KING: Beautiful pictures. Let's hope it doesn't cause too much trouble. Reynolds Wolf, thanks for explaining that one.

Thank you.

Here's Kate Bolduan now with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hello there.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again. Catch you up on some headlines, shall we?

We all own something that annoys us, right? A product that doesn't work or a gadget that's always on the fritz. Well, here are the five things folks complain about most, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

No. 5, heaters and air conditioners. Four, shoes. Three, toys. No. 2, nursery equipment. And the No. 1 thing consumers complain about: appliances, making up one in three complaints.

Televangelist Pat Robertson's people say he is doing no interviews whatsoever to further explain his call for the decriminalization of marijuana possession. In a recent "700 Club" broadcast, Robertson said too many people are going into the prison system for pot possession and, in his words, that turns them into hardened criminals and is costing taxpayers billions.

Quiet and Barney Frank aren't usually two words uttered in the same sentence, but the outspoken and soon-to-be retiring Massachusetts congressman was actually banned from speaking on the House floor for a day after this outburst.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: To now accuse us of being excessively concerned with credit is the most hypocritical and dishonest statement I have heard uttered in this House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Frank violated a House rule there, the House rule banning -- banning personally attacking a fellow congressman. This was a Republican on the House floor. Frank was concerned in that outburst where credit was due for two very similar pieces of legislation in the Small Business Jobs Act that passed the House earlier today.

I feel like maybe we should institute that rule on the "JK USA" set.

KING: I was thinking whether I would distract you during the things you complain about most. Or it just wouldn't have been nice.

BOLDUAN: That's really not nice. You guys have no idea how brutal he is.

KING: No way. No way.

BOLDUAN: I'm kidding.

KING: All right. Finally, I love this one. Tonight's "Moment You Missed." Mitt Romney reveals one of his nightly rituals. And how he ends his day might look a lot like how you start yours. Listen to what he told a Birmingham radio station today when asked what keeps him up at night?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY (via phone): Keeping me up at night? Not much that keeps me up at night. I must admit, by the end of the day...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of tired.

ROMNEY: ... I am -- I am tired, and I always -- I always eat something at the end of the day. My favorite is cold cereal. So I try to eat some cold cereal at the end of the day. I have a full tummy, a long day, puts me right to bed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of cereal do you like? We're big cereal fans right here. What's your cereal?

ROMNEY: Well, you know, I like Honey Nut Cheerios.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go.

ROMNEY: And I like Honey Nut Chex. And let's see. I like Crispix. I mean, I like -- of course, I love anything with sugar in it. I like the most. You know, Sugar Pops and Honey Smacks and all that, but I don't eat as much of that as the Honey Nut Cheerios.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Get some Cocoa Pebbles. If it's a really rough day, that's how to handle it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You know, so I found that a little bit odd. Cold cereal at night. Show us your sign.

BOLDUAN: Wait. Oh, man, I lost it. KING: You buried it. There you go. That says, "Me, too," if you can't read that at home, because it's written on white paper. So you're...

BOLDUAN: Ask anyone in my family. Me. Mitt Romney, I like you on this point, buddy.

Anyone in my family will tell you, if I had a choice of what I'm eating for dinner, it will be cold cereal.

KING: Cold cereal. Over, like, nice pasta. Or a nice piece of fish or...

BOLDUAN: I love cereal. His list was good, too. Honey Nut Cheerios, a favorite. Frooty Pebbles over Cocoa Pebbles.

KING: Cheap date.

BOLDUAN: Well, you know.

KING: Explain this to me.

BOLDUAN: What?

KING: Explain this to me. Cold cereal at the end of the night. He said it helps him sleep.

BOLDUAN: I don't know how it helps you sleep, though, because there's a lot of sugar in the cereals that he was looking at. And I mean, I don't really sleep that much, anyway. So it's just -- it will keep you going.

KING: All right. This is what happens. The things we learn...

BOLDUAN: This is what we do.

KING: The things we learn in a presidential campaign. What are their views on taxes and spending, up and down, and cold cereal.

Crispix. Crispix is a bit of a throwback there.

BOLDUAN: It is a throwback. For me it's a throwback. What about you, John?

KING: I'm not a cereal guy.

BOLDUAN: What?

KING: Not a cereal guy. Not a breakfast guy. Sorry. Little granola. A little yogurt, maybe.

BOLDUAN: Too healthy.

KING: Sorry.

BOLDUAN: What are we going to do with you, America? KING: We'll see you right back here tomorrow. That's all for us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.