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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; Republican Race Turning Nasty?

Aired March 19, 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: And the 911 tapes from the shooting death of a 17-year-old Florida boy. A police dispatcher urges calm. Yet, moments later, we hear what is likely Trayvon Martin's last scream.

But up first tonight, the battle for Illinois and the Republican presidential nomination. Mitt Romney trounced Rick Santorum in Puerto Rico Sunday and Romney knows a big win Illinois would pad his commanding lead in the delegate chase.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We used to say vote early and vote often. That happens to be a Chicago line as well, doesn't it? Yes, yes, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Part of Senator Santorum's closing pitch, a poke at the former Illinois senator who now lives in the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have a particular obligation to write a wrong here in the state of Illinois.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There are 54 delegates at stake Tuesday in the state of Illinois. A look at the math shows you time is running short for Santorum or anyone else trying to stop Governor Romney.

Let's look at it. Here's where we stand after Puerto Rico. You need 1,144 to clinch. Governor Romney is at 519, not quite halfway but look how commanding the lead is. Senator Santorum is second with 239 and Gingrich at 139 -- 138 -- excuse me -- Ron Paul at 69. Romney with a big lead. That's the current map.

What's next? If you look at the remaining delegates, let this play out for you, 996 have been allocated to date. That leaves about just shy of 1,300. We're almost to the halfway point in the delegates being awarded and Illinois will get us closer to that. If you are behind Romney, and you need to catch up to him here, you're running short. Let me show this to you another way. Mitt Romney is the leader now in the delegate chase and he has right now 49 percent, 49 percent of the delegates needed. The average win, he has been winning 57 percent. If he wins 49 percent of the rest of the way, he clinches the nomination and he has been winning more than half.

For Senator Santorum, he would need to win 70 percent of the delegates from here on out and he's been only winning 20 percent of the delegates. Speaker Gingrich, the hill is even steeper. He would need to win 78 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination. Congressman Paul would need 83 percent. You see this here.

If Governor Romney continues to perform at about the level he's performing, winning half or more of the delegates, he would clinch. It might take awhile but he would clinch. The other candidates would have to do dramatically better than they have been running in the primary so far. It makes it pretty unlikely in the eyes of most.

And a new American Research Group poll out tonight shows Romney with a 14-point lead over Santorum with Newt Gingrich running a distant third and Ron Paul at the back in single digits. And you might not be surprised by this, the talk on the trail is tough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I'm someone experienced in the economy. I'm not an economic lightweight. President Obama is. We're not going to be successful in replacing an economic lightweight with another economic lightweight. We will have to replace them with someone who knows how to run the economy.

SANTORUM: Let's just be brutally honest about it. There is one candidate in this race who can never make this race about freedom because he simply abandoned freedom when he was governor of Massachusetts and he abandoned it when he promoted Obamacare in 2009.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta is in the thick of all of this live for us tonight from Chicago.

Jim, very tough rhetoric. It seems, number one, Governor Romney can see a chance to get the momentum back. Santorum there standing in front of the statue of Ronald Reagan, pretty tough as well.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Whatever happened to Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment, thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican? Standing in Chicago, it is hard to figure out which metaphor to go with, the uncivil war that is going on in the land of Lincoln or the Chicago way politics that have been practiced, something right out of "The Untouchables" between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

And in the last 24 hours you heard Rick Santorum respond to the economic lightweight tag that Mitt Romney tried to hang on him by basically calling Mitt Romney a Wall Street financier and releasing a statement saying that Mitt Romney has no core, earlier today saying as just you mentioned a few moments ago saying Mitt Romney has abandoned freedom.

And the Romney campaign isn't really taking any of this lying down. They have gone after Rick Santorum as late as late this afternoon with a Web video they put out to reporters referring to a Rick Santorum statement at a town hall in Moline, Illinois, earlier this afternoon where Rick Santorum said I don't really think about the unemployment rate, I don't think it is important in this campaign.

And the Romney people are basically trying to turn that into Rick Santorum's I like being able to fire people. And the only relief to voters here in Illinois is that the primary is tomorrow, John.

KING: That's an interesting way to put it, Jim. I want you to listen here to a very interesting observation from Governor Romney. This is about young voters. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I don't see how a young American can vote for -- well, can vote for a Democrat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Jim, given Governor Romney's history, that's one is a bit dicey, no?

ACOSTA: That one is a bit dicey considering that Mitt Romney voted for Paul Tsongas in the Massachusetts primary back in 1992 and the Romney campaign and Mitt Romney have both said that that was because they were trying to block Bill Clinton from becoming the Democratic nominee.

But it was an odd way of phrasing things. And, honestly, this was really another example of Mitt Romney having trouble turning his sights on President Obama. He has been so busy fighting with Rick Santorum today. He was supposed to go into this building behind me here on the campus of the University of Chicago, John, to go after President Obama's economic record, and on President Obama's home turf, just a couple of miles from the headquarters of his reelection campaign.

And yet what really has been the talk of the political world today and the talk of the primary has been just this very, very nasty battle, perhaps the nastiest 24 hours of this campaign so far, John.

KING: Jim Acosta in Chicago tonight and be there through the voting tomorrow. Jim, thanks so much.

Let's get some perspective now from our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

If you do the delegate math, you can see, yes, Romney hasn't clinched it, but he is so far ahead of the others. How big of a gamble and how much of a backfire was Santorum spending two days in Puerto Rico when he could have been in Illinois and now he is down by double-digits?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Obviously, it didn't pay off for him because Romney swept all of those, got all of the 20 delegates.

I think if you are the Romney people, I talked to a senior adviser to Romney today who started calling Santorum words like spoiler and obstructionist, because the whole notion that they will take it to the convention -- and they believe he cannot get the requisite 1,144 -- that if he wants to play that game, at some point they're saying, look, you need to win 70 percent of the delegates. How are you going to do that?

Particularly they look towards April 24. Pennsylvania is up on April 24th, and they say if Rick Santorum doesn't win both the delegates and the popular vote, that's when people ought to say time to say goodbye. But this is the Romney people.

KING: But given how the race has gone like this, let's get through Illinois before we worry too much about April.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I want you to listen here to Governor Romney. Because one of the difficult challenges for the Republican candidates, especially for the Republican candidate who says the best thing I can do is fix the economy, yet our statistics, and I don't mean they want people to be in pain, but statistics show the economy getting a little bit better. Governor Romney acknowledged that today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I believe the economy is coming back, by the way. We will see what happens. It's had ups and downs. I think it's finally coming back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He went on to say he thought it would come back stronger if we had a new president with different policies. But how much more difficult from a communications standpoint does it make it that at least some -- people may not feel it, but at least some of the statistics are getting better?

BORGER: Right. I think that clip shows that he has really taken a pivot on how he talks about the economy.

It does get more difficult for him because he has to give the president some credit, although he didn't say he gave the president some credit here, but you can't be seen to be a Republican candidate, voting -- saying, OK, the economy is not getting better or at least not acknowledging the fact that it is getting better. You can't seem to be rooting against an improving economy, so I think he has to say what he said today, that it is getting better, I would have gotten it here a little faster and certainly I will make it get better a lot faster if you vote for me. But it is the first time I think we have heard him really say that.

KING: Speaker Gingrich is not a factor in Illinois. He's running a distant third. If we're having this conversation a week from now and he doesn't prove himself in Louisiana which votes over the weekend, his reason for staying is what?

BORGER: No.

Sheldon Adelson, the sugar daddy who funds his super PAC. And I don't think he has much of a reason. And in talking to the Republicans today they believe that Newt Gingrich if he doesn't do well in Louisiana, will be able to see that historically -- and that's how Newt Gingrich thinks in terms of his legacy and history -- that he will be able to say, you know what, maybe I can be a kingmaker in this race and maybe I can be somebody who can make a difference for either of these two candidates, and so then he would get out.

But nobody has actually gotten to Newt Gingrich and spoken to him about that yet.

KING: Illinois first and then we will deal with Louisiana and that question. Gloria, thanks for your time tonight.

As for President Obama, he heads west this week in another attempt to soothe voters' anger and anxiety about pain at the pump, gas prices. He will Oklahoma, Nevada, Ohio and New Mexico to push his all of the above approach that emphasizes not only domestic production but also alternative energy sources.

High gas prices have become a regular part of the Republican presidential candidates' stump speeches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We also got to get the president out of his job and turn to somebody who will get America energy secure and energy independent and I will do that.

SANTORUM: We need a president who understands that whether it is coal or oil or gas, whether it is in the ground, that that is not a liability for our country. That is an asset for our country that we need to produce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's bring in our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar.

Brianna, we know this president or any president can only do so much especially in the short-term when it comes to gas prices. But you have to take this tour after the president talking about this just last week is proof they feel both that financial pain of families and the political pitch.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. John, you know we have seen the president making his case for an all of the above approach to energy and traveling to do, but we haven't seen this, a very concentrated, very visual series of stops.

And at each of these stops he is making he will either be touting his energy policies or he will be rebuffing Republican criticism of them. First off is Boulder City, Nevada. He will visit a huge solar farm that powered 17,000 homes, and his message is that renewable energy which he has emphasized so much is worthwhile and can be worthwhile economically.

And then he is onto Carlsbad, New Mexico, on Wednesday where he will visit oil and gas fields on federal land. And he will be doing a couple of things here or he will have a chance to, of course, which is to defend himself against Republican criticism that he has essentially put the kibosh on drilling by using it as a backdrop and saying basically, hey, no, I haven't, and then also answering Republican calls to drill more, which he has done before and saying that if the answer was drilling more to get prices down, then prices would be down since domestic oil production is at an eight-year high.

Thursday, he heads to Cushing, Oklahoma, his first visit to the state and this is key. This is where the Southern half of the Keystone XL pipeline will be built. This is him undercutting Republican criticism of his delaying of the northern half. And then finally on Thursday, what do you know, John, he heads to Ohio, a key battleground state, where he will go to Ohio State University and discuss energy-related research there.

KING: If he goes to Ohio once or twice more, he will be paying taxes. We will see how that one plays out.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Brianna Keilar, live for us at the White House tonight, Bri, thank you.

Tonight, there are calls for the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the shooting death of a Florida teenager. He is African- American and the neighborhood watch guy who shot him is not. You will hear the 911 call next.

And later, what parents need to know and what they don't see in this viral video of airport security agents searching a 3-year-old in a wheelchair.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tonight, there's increasing pressure for state and federal action in the wake of the shooting of an African-American teenager in Florida.

As CNN's David Mattingly reports, the neighborhood watch guard who killed the boy is free, not charged, and because of that the case is sparking outrage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Listen as calls to 911 tell the story of a tragedy in the making.

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, FLORIDA: They always get away.

MATTINGLY: That's the voice of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, apparently frustrated by recent break-ins. He gives a dispatcher his poor first impression of Trayvon Martin walking alone and acting strangely.

ZIMMERMAN: This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something.

MATTINGLY: Less than a minute later, Martin is running away and Zimmerman gets out of his car.

911 OPERATOR: Are you following him?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes.

911 OPERATOR: OK. We don't need you to do that.

ZIMMERMAN: OK.

MATTINGLY: But, instead, Zimmerman and Martin end up fighting. And a neighbor calls 911.

911 OPERATOR: Nine-one-one. Do you need police, fire or medical?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe both. I am not sure. There is just someone screaming outside.

MATTINGLY: In the background, listen for the sound of a fight and a panicked voice yelling for help followed by a gunshot.

911 OPERATOR: And is it a male or female?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounds like a male.

911 OPERATOR: And you don't know why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know why. I think they're yelling help. But I don't know. Just send someone quick, please.

911 OPERATOR: So you think he is yelling help?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

911 OPERATOR: All right, what is your...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was gunshots.

911 OPERATOR: You just heard gunshots?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

911 OPERATOR: How many?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just one.

MATTINGLY: The cries for help stop. But whose voice was it? The answer could make the difference between a case of self-defense or a deadly crime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is that crying?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trayvon crying.

MATTINGLY: Monday morning, cries for justice for Trayvon Martin continue, demonstrations outside the Seminole County Courthouse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could so easily have just been any one of us, so I feel like the reason you all are out here is because you all are affected the same way I was affected.

MATTINGLY: David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Not only are Trayvon Martin's parents furious about the conduct of the Sanford police. Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, wants the U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder, to launch a federal investigation.

She joins us now.

Congresswoman, thanks for being here.

Let me up front play it this way. I'm always a little skeptical when Congress tries to get involved in what is a local investigation. What convinces you that federal government needs to -- the attorney general needs to get involved and Congress needs to keep an eye on this?

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Well, what you see is an outpouring of both sympathy and outrage by parents across America regardless of their color or background, because what they see is a child being in the line of fire.

It is OK to have a neighborhood watch, but not a neighborhood vigilante, and frankly the question has to be whether this young boy's life was taken and his civil rights denied and an ineffective investigation. Now, at this point, not knowing what will happen going forward has been waged if you will, no lie detector test, no detaining of Mr. Zimmerman, seemingly no extensive review of eyewitnesses who heard the shots, no analysis, at least to date.

This happened in February. This is now March 19. No analysis of that 911 call. Was it the young boy's call for help, a young boy who had nothing but candy in his pocket who was legitimately there, who was being judged because he wore a hoodie? The question to Mr. Zimmerman is, did you see him in the act of a crime?

And then the final axe is that the law enforcement -- and this has happened all over the country -- law enforcement has said do not follow him. Stay in your car. We're on our way. That would have been the appropriate vehicle to be able to address this young boy. And no parent should send a child for candy and a drink and wind up preparing for his funeral.

KING: And in terms of a jurisdictional issue, it sounds to me like you obviously don't trust how the Sanford police have handled this. Why shouldn't the next process be the Florida attorney general, somebody at the state level to look at this first? You think this should come straight to Washington as a potential civil rights case?

JACKSON LEE: Well, let me just say that I'm working with the congresswoman in that area, Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who has been outraged, who been with the family members. The Congressional Black Caucus has called on it, other leaders.

But, again, I want to emphasize parents of all kinds have called upon -- and let me say this. I believe the investigation does not need to be mutually exclusive. Let the Sanford police show us what they can do. But I believe it is important to move that evidence, if you will, up to Washington, D.C.

And certainly we welcome the attorney general. This happened February 26. It is now March. They had a long enough time to see some of the failures of the investigation to say we will take a look at it. Not even a major investigation would take a look at -- this family is in pain.

I frankly believe, as I indicated, that I think this young boy, this deceased child, this active child that baby-sat for people, that played football, that had all of the life before him, every parent right now in the United States is probably wondering, can I send my child out no matter what their background is?

I think the Justice Department needs to be the final protector of the people of the United States of America.

KING: And this has become for better or worse a big story getting a lot of media attention, and the family is out there. Mr. Zimmerman, we have tried to reach his attorney and get him to come, get someone to speak for him. And he is presumed innocent. I assume you would agree with that...

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON LEE: Absolutely.

KING: Here is what his father wrote in a letter to "The Orlando Sentinel."

"He would not last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever. The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth."

And I want you to listen here. The issue here is the police department and their preliminary investigation. And what they're saying is that under Florida's self-defense law, they don't have any evidence to charge. Let's listen to the police chief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL LEE, SANFORD POLICE CHIEF: Based on the facts and the circumstances and the stories that have been reported, I can certainly understand how they would jump to that or make those assumptions. I can assure you that the Sanford Police Department is conducting a fair investigation, no matter what the color of anyone involved in it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Sounds to me like you don't trust the chief.

JACKSON LEE: Let me say this.

There are a lot of state laws, and I am quite familiar with Florida's very strong self-defense law, very strong self-defense law. But I am also aware that you have to question the motives and/or the tactics of the perpetrator or the individual who shot the gun. We now have a deceased boy who cannot testify for himself.

I don't believe even with this law that there was an extensive review of Mr. Zimmerman's actions. The Sanford police have to take some responsibility. They told him to stay put. We have had these kind of cases across America. The reason why I suggest that this is a civil rights case, no matter what background the individual has -- civil rights belong to all Americans -- is that sometimes a federal law has to say the protection of this child's life is superior to state law and federal law trumps state law in terms of protecting his life.

Did he have a civil right to walk on a sidewalk? That young boy was not caught behind someone's home coming out of a window, attacking someone. He was walking along a street. Do we not have rights of Americans, free access, free movement? The First Amendment guarantees us that. I believe it is a federal case. And I believe it is a case where we respect police authority and at the same time citizens have to be protected as well.

KING: Congresswoman, we hope you will keep in touch if the attorney general responds to your letter. We will follow this case as we go forward.

JACKSON LEE: Thank you, sir.

KING: Thank you for your time tonight.

A deadly shooting at a Jewish school in France prompts fears of attack in Jewish neighborhoods here in the United States. We will have new information about precautions being put in place.

Plus, the duchess of Cambridge speaks and of course the world listens. We will review her first official speech as a royal next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Up next: more questions for the TSA after this video shows a toddler in a wheelchair -- you see it -- getting a pat-down at the airport.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This half hour, security precautions here in the United States after today's deadly attack on a Jewish school in France.

Also, a viral video shows airport security agents searching a little boy in a wheelchair. But some important things have changed since then.

Plus, the "Truth" behind who and what's to blame for higher gas prices may not make either political party happy.

We begin this half hour with new security concerns in the United States after a deadly attack in France. The gunman got away after killing three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the southern French city of Toulouse. It's the third attack on ethnic minorities in a little over a week.

This afternoon, the Department of Homeland Security says it's not aware of any specific threat to the American Jewish community, but the New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, bulked up the police presence in some of New York's Jewish centers. That's where we find our Mary Snow.

Mary, any specific threats against Jewish institutions there or is the mayor just being extra careful?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The New York Police Department, John, is saying that there aren't any specific threats, but because there's such a large Jewish population in New York City, the police commissioner is saying it is prudent to take more precautions.

You might see behind me the -- standing in front of a synagogue where there is a patrol car stationed outside and you will see more uniformed police officers outside synagogues and schools and other Jewish institutions. The police commissioner is saying the biggest concern are copycat attacks and that security has been beefed up at more than 50 locations around the city.

KING: And you mentioned there the reaction of the authorities. What about the folks in the community? The synagogue behind you has a nursery and day-care center is my understanding. What are people in the community saying?

SNOW: You know, we talked to several synagogues, and there is a lot of concern. You see the university, for one, e-mailed its 7,000 students and staff members, telling them to be on alert. Some of the synagogues we've spoken to have also said that they've increased their own private security in addition to that extra police presence. And as one synagogue told me, they said, listen, when something like this happens, everything gets reviewed.

KING: Mary Snow for us in New York City. Mary, thanks so much.

We turn now to a video many parents would find disturbing. Airport security agents getting heavy handed with a young boy. The video which recently went viral, shows TSA officers -- this is Chicago's Midway Airport -- searching a 3-year-old boy who's confined to a wheelchair because of a broken leg. They didn't find any forbidden substances, but this video doesn't tell the entire story.

CNN aviation and regulations reporter Lizzie O'Leary has been looking into this. She joins us now. Now, the video, first and foremost, we should make clear, it's not new. Right?

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not new. And this is one of the most important things. This was shot in the spring of 2010. The boy's father just put it online a couple days ago.

I talked to him, interviewed him, asked him why he posted this now and really what it was about the search that upset him so much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's another human being putting their hands on my child. That's not acceptable. If he was putting his hands on my child at McDonald's or any place else, we would immediately have him arrested. And we would call the police.

O'LEARY: Did you feel the agent was intrusive or disrespectful?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the whole exercise was intrusive and disrespectful to a human being, and especially a 3-year-old human being.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'LEARY: The agent was about as respectful as he could have been, but it was the process, John, that was the part that sort of got to him.

KING: If the process was the problem, tell us what has changed since then? And is the process among those things?

O'LEARY: Right. The process is one of those big things. There have been big changes in the way kids are screened. Back in September the TSA put in new rules that are supposed to reduce pat-downs for kids under 12. They can leave their shoes on. They can go back through the metal detector another time. They get more of those explosive swabs, those little white pads you can see sometimes.

As for this specific case, since this boy was in a metal wheelchair which would have set off a metal detector or a screening machine, he'd probably still get some kind of a pat-down. So they don't go away entirely, but you're likely to see less of them.

And the TSA has sort of shifted its focus. It's something they call risk-based screening. Remember today, they started letting people over 75 leave their shoes and jackets on in some airports. And essentially, they're saying the people who are the least risky will get generally less intrusive screenings if they still go through random checks.

One note, something that we should point out, CNN folks have seen ourselves, TSA inspectors will often go through and try and test their own defenses. And one place they look is in a wheelchair, a cast, a back brace, because it's human nature to not want to inspect there.

So you're never going to be pat-down free. Even if your grandmother is in a wheelchair, she might get a pat-down, because that's the way to do security.

KING: They're trying to do their jobs. Some parents take offense. Hopefully, the changes have found a reasonable middle ground, but this never goes away.

O'LEARY: Never goes away.

KING: That video is pretty disturbing. Lizzie, thanks.

Coming up here, the "Truth" about the link between President Obama's travel schedule and your price at the pump. Plus, why Senator Scott Brown was talking about Rick Santorum's first time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The president is off on a four-city energy tour this week, and I'm sure it won't shock you. Three of the stops are in big campaign swing states: Nevada, New Mexico and Ohio.

It is the one that is not a swing state that is most intriguing: Cushing, Oklahoma, the starting point for the southern half of the Keystone Pipeline. Remember, the president refuses to go along with Republicans who want to fast track that pipeline. And it's not just the Republicans. Exxon Mobil now spending big on a new ad campaign that doesn't mention the president but echoes the GOP argument about Keystone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a chance to create jobs in America. Oil sands projects like CURL (ph) and the Keystone Pipeline will provide secure and reliable energy to the United States. Overly the coming years, projects like these could create a half a million jobs in the U.S. alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tonight's "Truth" is a cold reality to the Obama White House. The tour is necessary because the president is, at the moment anyway, losing ground in a potent political debate over energy. The most important number in this debate is this one. An average, you are paying $3.81 a gallon for gas. That's up 30 cents just in the past month and up 45 cents a gallon since the beginning of the year.

The Republican candidates for president blame the incumbent, but his team in turn accuses the GOP of cheap politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: The notion that we can simply drill our way out of this or that somehow that if we say that, the gas prices will go down magically now, Newt Gingrich's 2.50 a gallon and so on, that's not oil talk. That's snake oil talk, and the American people know the difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, truth is, to just blame President Obama is silly and simplistic. Look at this chart from Sunday's "New York Times": increases in gas prices around the world track almost exactly the increases here. But you understand politics. The guy in charge takes the heat when times are tough. Well, gas prices are high, and President Obama is no exception.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've also got to get the president out of his job and turn to somebody who will get America energy-secure and energy-independent, and I will do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Forget the politicians for a moment. As you pay more at the pump, your energy priorities change. A brand-new Pew Research study out today found support for allowing more oil and gas drilling is now back to where it was before the big Gulf oil spill in the spring of 2010.

Now, the president's view isn't without support. He argues for investments in next-generation power sources like wind, solar, other alternatives. Fifty-two percent of Americans say developing those alternatives is the most important priority in energy policy, as opposed to 39 percent who see more domestic production of oil, coal and natural gas as the greater priority.

But just a year ago that gap was much larger, 63 percent, and the highest priority on alternative sources just 29 percent on more production of coal, oil and gas.

It's proof your views on energy are driven by your bottom line and proof the president is losing the upper hand, at least for now, in gas prices the blame game.

Let's talk truth right now with deputy Washington bureau chief from "TIME," Michael Crowley; GOP strategists Nancy Pfotenhauer and Terry Holt. Michael, this issue has become very powerful to the point where the president is going out on the road and what can he say except "When they blame me they're wrong"?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME": Well, the best argument is that he can't make, as you said, that the president's power in this is quite limited, and that a lot of politics is happening.

I think what he can do is remind people of the things that he is trying to do, the case is complicated. For instance, he talks about alternative energy -- solar, wind, green energy. That raises the question of Solyndra and the Republican case against his alternative energy programs. But I think he can remind people that he really has done a lot on that front.

Another point that he can make and I think is a good one, is that he is trying to tamp down tensions with -- between Iran and Israel right now. This is actually a significant factor in driving up gas prices. He wants to cool the rhetoric and slow down the saber rattling.

His opponents are talking about cracking down on Iran and, I think, raising tensions that raise prices. So the best arguments that he can make are tricky ones for him to make. But I think he has to do the best he can.

KING: You're shaking your head. Is there any argument -- if you were a Republican and the Democrats would be here saying the same thing. Is there any argument a president can make when people are feeling it?

When you fill up the tank and not only is it a self-serve generation. You're out of our car and you're watching that go and go and go. And I don't care whether you're a Democrat, Republican, independent, Martian, it makes you mad.

TERRY HOLT, GOP STRATEGISTS: And gas prices are what all of us feel first when we feel a pinch in our home budget.

The president's response, his energy policy, is essentially by campaign press release. The fact of the matter is his policy has been no, no, no on every effort to expand energy capacity in the United States since he came into office. There was an energy bill in the Congress the first two years. He couldn't get it through. He didn't provide any leadership.

He's gone to war against energy, the energy industry, with the EPA, and not opening this pipeline is just stupid. This is him trying to campaign, trying to get behind public opinion and it is way too late.

KING: His position on the pipeline is you don't need to be in such a Rush, that there's plenty of time and the construction would just be starting. He can get to that down the road in a little bit. How is his position now any different from what John McCain was in his campaign four years ago when he said, "Yes, we need to drill more, but we also need wind and solar and everything else"?

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, GOP STRATEGIST: Well, I think if there is a differential, it's that McCain was not hostile to fossil fuels, and I think the Obama administration actually is.

And the reason he can't spin his way out of this is because his -- senior members of his administration and the president himself have basically called for policies that will create higher prices. And they've even endorsed higher prices. And so no one is going to believe them when they now go, "Oh, poor me. We have higher gas prices."

HOLT: They raised energy standards on cars. That makes it more expensive to make cars. They're in people's wallet in every conceivable way. And a few press releases aren't going to make it.

KING: If the economy were doing better, people might not feel as bad about this. But when you have high prices and a step of recovery or a slowing recovery.

CROWLEY: Well, that's true, John. On the other hand I think to some degree, the amount of time we're spending talking about this issue is probably a little better than the issues that the president was dealing economically -- dealing with economically a year or so ago.

Unemployment is on the way down. The economy does seem to be on a positive, upward trajectory. One week you have high prices is global economic growth. Oil prices rise when -- when the economy is expanding around the world. So it's kind of a nice problem to have. I mean, he wants to solve it, yet in some ways it's better trying to assure people we're not on the brink of another disaster.

KING: Michael -- Michael mentions unemployment. I want to end the gas conversation on that. I want you to help Rick Santorum out of this one.

PFOTENHAUER: Oh, no.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't care what the unemployment rate is going to be. It doesn't matter to me. My campaign doesn't hinge on unemployment rates.

ROMNEY: I do care about the unemployment rate. It does bother me. I want to get people back to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The point was, you know, there are bigger and larger fundamental issues about the economy, but, hello. PFOTENHAUER: Yes, I know. He walked into that punch. And any time it takes you to walk yourself out of it than it did to get yourself into it, you've lost. We all know that.

Circle back just once on gas prices, if I can. Because it does -- it does relate to the economy. Another problem that Obama has got is he has gone all in on green energy, and it has proven to be a failure and corrupt in every other country it's been tried in and here, as well.

KING: Everybody, hold your breath. Stay with us. We'll be right back. Coming up, the New York Mets agreed -- they agree to write a $162 million check, but to not me. It could have been much worse. That story, plus a Washington icon steps down in today's "Moment You Missed."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're talking politics with Michael Crowley of "TIME"; Nancy Pfotenhauer and Terry Holt, both Republican strategists.

Over the weekend, Senator John McCain was out on the Sunday shows, saying the Republican Party needs to move past the debate about contraception and women's health issues that he thinks is harmful. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that there is a perception out there, because of the way that this whole contraception issue played out. We need to get off of that issue, in my view. I think we ought to respect the right of women to make choices in their lives and make that clear, and get back onto what the American people really care about: jobs and the economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, that was a serious discussion of a political issue. Here's a funny way to look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R), MASSACHUSETTS: I see that both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum now have Secret Service with them on the campaign trail. And in Santorum's case, I think it's the first time he's actually ever used protection. So...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You're grunting. It's humor.

PFOTENHAUER: It's not OK.

KING: Not OK?

PFOTENHAUER: Not OK. KING: Not OK why? Talk to the men.

PFOTENHAUER: It's on -- on the Santorum family and the number of children, and so I think he was trying to make it funny. I'm not sure it works with the broader audience, although I have to agree that the Republican Party would be far more successful right now if they were talking about freedom.

KING: I want to be clear before we get through the conversation that was at a St. Patrick's Day breakfast, an annual political event in Boston, where politicians try to be funny and some of them occasionally succeed. But the whole thing was meant in humor. So don't think he's adding that to a normal stump speech out there.

HOLT: But don't think that he didn't do that for a calculated reason. He's running as an independent. Taking a shot at a couple of Republicans isn't a bad thing for Scott Brown. And if he can hold that seat, all the power to him. He's representing his constituents, and the joke had timing. Let me just say, it was funny.

KING: To the broader issue, does Senator McCain have a point in terms of -- is there -- can we demonstrate a toll on the Republican Party from this conversation?

CROWLEY: Well, there has been some toll, and I do think that Republicans are much better off talking about the economy, talking about gas prices. I think that's their strength against President Obama.

At the same time, I think this issue is a little more nuanced than maybe it has come to seem. The way this debate has unfolded has been quite bad for Republicans the last couple of weeks. Particularly when you have Rush Limbaugh saying these outrageous things that are really hard to defend in any context, I think, in most people's opinion.

But the numbers on the underlying issues of whether religious organizations should have these exemptions of conscience, and what sort of health coverage they provide, the polls are not as clear cut on that question. So I would say that the underlying -- Republicans took an issue that was potentially a winning issue or kind of a draw and managed to bungle it. They would probably be well served to step away from it now, but I think over the long run, there's a way in which they can kind of turn things around and at least get on level footing on that question.

KING: Let me close on this. We have an important election tomorrow in the state of Illinois. Governor Romney routs Rick Santorum in Puerto Rico. Santorum took two days to go to Puerto Rico, and it turns out a risk that backfired. If Romney can win Illinois after winning Puerto Rico, is he back in stability, the land of inevitable again, or is this thing so wacky who knows?

HOLT: Well, conventional wisdom will swing back his way, but...

KING: That will be the worst thing that can possibly happen. HOLT: But -- he still needs 50 percent -- almost 50 percent of the remaining delegates to get the nomination. He's still on track for that.

But this is probably the biggest one yet for him that he has to win. Florida, Michigan, now Illinois. I think it's a pretty convincing case.

PFOTENHAUER: Pennsylvania. I agree completely.

KING: You say Pennsylvania. Do you knock off Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania?

PFOTENHAUER: Yes.

CROWLEY: Well, a lot of the contests coming up are looking pretty good for Romney. Not that many spots for Santorum. I think it's going to be hard for him.

KING: We're going to save the tape to see if we're back in never Neverland again. All right. Thanks for coming in.

Kate Bolduan is back with more of the latest news you need to know right now -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Hey, there, John.

Hello again, everyone.

So you think you have a tough job? Well, try to decide this question the Supreme Court justices just heard today. Should the government pay survivors' benefits for twins conceived by in vitro fertilization and born 18 months after their biological father died? Social Security said no. A lower court said yes. The justices sounded skeptical today. We'll get a decision from them by the summer.

Also Apple is trying a couple of things the company has never done before. It's going to pay a stock dividend of $2.65 a share. It will also buy back $10 billion worth of stock. Some people say Steve Jobs never would have done this but would have plowed this money instead into research. Current officials say with $97 billion of cash on hand, there's enough money for all of the above.

And the New York Mets have agreed to pay $162 million to avoid a trial in the Bernie Madoff case. The Mets' owners are among hundreds of investors sued for allegedly profiting from the Ponzi scheme, even though they deny knowing anything was wrong. Madoff is serving a 150- year prison sentence.

And finally tonight, a little boy set out to cross a bridge here in Washington and ended up spinning a basketball on his finger. He's getting some help, as you can see, from Harlem Globetrotter Flight Time Lang. They dribbled their way into Washington today for an upcoming game. Not a bad afternoon for that little boy. KING: Not bad at all. Bumping into the Globetrotters. That's fun. He'll remember that. Now everybody has a camera on their phone so there's pictures of that, as well. That's a good thing to know.

All right. Stay right there, Kate. You're a congressional correspondent .

BOLDUAN: Yes.

KING: So our "Moment You Missed" or maybe it's someone will be missing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN LAMB, FOUNDER, C-SPAN: Once again, good afternoon from Washington. This is C-SPAN, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network. My name is Brian Lamb. I'll be with you all afternoon long.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: After 33 years at the helm of C-SPAN, the founder, Brian Lamb, announced he'll be stepping down as CEO. The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, Lamb has led an organization that brings the inner workings of Washington to over 100 million households.

We wanted to show you one of his most memorable moments, a 1999 interview with Nancy Reagan on dealing with the assassination attempt on her husband.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAMB: And you've had the assassination attempt, the cancers, your cancer, what have you learned about dealing with illness? And how did you deal with it when you were at the White House itself? Did you have a technique or advice you can give others?

NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: You just -- you just do it. You just get up and take each day as it comes and put one foot in front of the other. I don't know. And you love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Even though he's leaving his leadership post, Brian Lamb will keep asking those important questions. You can catch him every week on his C-SPAN interview series, "Q&A."

And Kate, C-SPAN changed coverage of Congress, changed how the American people get to see. Some people see -- most people see it as a benefit. Some people see all the grandstanding. I'll say this about Brian Lamb: a gentleman, and you don't find that many of those in today's Washington. What do you think?

BOLDUAN: I'll tell you, from the part of covering Congress, there is nothing in a reporter's tool belt that could be more important than C-SPAN some days. They allow more transparency than I'm sure some members of Congress wish they had on certain days. So that C-SPAN network is critical, and he's a good man for it.

KING: Amen to that. And Brian will still be around. He's not going anywhere.

If you've got a question for me, political or otherwise, tweet it. That's @JohnKingCNN. I'll answer them live tomorrow. CNN.com at 12 p.m. Eastern. Send them along.

That's all for us tonight. We'll see you tomorrow night. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.