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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

New Jobs Report; Fighter Jet Crashes Into Virginia Apartment Complex

Aired April 6, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Candy.

President Obama and Mitt Romney engage in a spin-off over today's jobs report. We cut through the rhetoric and find the truth.

A fighter jet crashes into an apartment complex in Virginia. We have the dramatic video.

And Andrew Sullivan says, forget the church, just follow Jesus.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm John Avlon in for Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, new jobs numbers and the predictable partisan spin cycle. The economy added only 120,000 new jobs in March. That's 100,000 less than last month. The good news, the unemployment rate fell to 8.2 percent. That's the lowest since February 2009, one month after President Obama took office.

And not surprisingly, Republicans wasted no time in attacking the White House. Mitt Romney called it weak and troubling jobs report and said, quote, "Millions of Americans are paying a high price for President Obama's economic policies."

Now, don't be shocked, President Obama saw the glass half full.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our economy's now created more than 4 million private sector jobs over the past two years and more than 600,000 in the past three months alone. But it's clear to every American that there will still be ups and downs along the way and that we've got a lot more work to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: So let's cut through the political spin by adding some perspective. Here's a look at the number of jobs in the USA since Obama took office in 2009. Now, we're not back to where we were, but we are objectively on the upswing.

The Great Recession isn't over for many Americans, but the trend still could be Obama's friend. In a presidential election year, everything is political. And we can already see that this election will be fought on three fronts: the economy, the middle class and women, who were aggressively courted by both parties today.

RNC Co-Chair Sharon Day said, quote, "President Obama and his fellow Democrats love to say they stand for women, but women can no longer stand for the Obama economy."

Meanwhile, the White House hosted a forum on women and the economy, President Obama seizing a similar opportunity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I do think that the conversation's been oversimplified. Women are not some monolithic block. Women are not an interest group. You shouldn't be treated that way.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Women are over half this country and its workforce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: Now, let's bring in James Carville and Elise Jordan, columnist and former speechwriter for Condi Rice.

Elise, starting with you, your party has a problem with women. Right now polls show that there's a 2:1 gap between Obama and Romney among women in swing states. And all the idiotic war on women rhetoric aside, it doesn't happen in a vacuum.

There's been talk about defunding Planned Parenthood, talk of personhood amendments, the whole contraception debate. So what do you think your party can do to help build that bridge back with young women?

ELISE JORDAN, COLUMNIST AND FORMER SPEECHWRITER FOR CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I think what they did today was a step in the right direction, by releasing, doing announcements of the numbers and showing how women have really suffered the most in this recession.

And so I think by focusing on an electing a pro-growth president who can help us, you know, improve the economy, I think that that's the way to do it.

And also, I just would like to see some of these candidates step up to the plate when women are attacked, that you know, Romney, I don't think Romney has a woman problem, but it looks like he has a woman problem when he can't stand up to Rush Limbaugh.

AVLON: Well, that's a great point. Well, so the heart of your message I guess is, it's the economy, stupid.

And of course, James, that was your famous message in 1992. But here's my question for you: 8.2 percent is still significantly higher than the unemployment rate, 7.4 percent, under George H.W. Bush, when you ran Clinton's campaign in 1992. So are Democrats feeling a little bit of overconfidence right now? JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL STRATEGIST: You know, I think they might be. And, look, I didn't think we were going to produce the 220,000 jobs a month, that it was time to talk about progress in the economy. The second thing -- you mention the middle class, this has not permeated to them.

But people know we were losing 750,000 jobs a month when this president took office, so they're quite patient here.

But I don't think these numbers are very good. I didn't think the numbers last month were that great. They were certainly better than anything we had before, and some patience required, but the president's right to say we need to double down and work with triple hard here.

This has been a very, very, very tough recovery here. And it followed the worst financial crisis we've had since the Great Depression. And that's just a fact. And it can't be spun any other way.

AVLON: Well, speaking of spin, Elise, you know, Mitt Romney gave his strong speech after winning Wisconsin, and he tried to draw a very strong contrast. He's talking about Barack Obama's government- centered economy.

Here's a question. When he's going to such a play the base message, does that risk alienating general election voters at the same time he's trying to tie up the nomination?

JORDAN: Well, I think that we're just going to have to the look at the numbers. And the economy is really going to be such a huge deal in this election.

And in '09, the White House said that if we enacted the $800 billion stimulus, that unemployment should be at about 5.8 percent today. And we're just not there. And if those numbers look bad in August, September, October, Obama really has a problem.

AVLON: James, I mean, do you think that Governor Romney could have a credibility gap if he keeps hitting these narratives hard, or is this just politics, and it ain't beanbag?

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, I think it's a little bit of both. He has the lowest favorable of any challenger entering a general election in the history, I think, of modern polling, I think I'm correct on that. And by the way, I think the Obama people will point out that his record in Massachusetts, he had like the 47th or 48th worst record in job creation when he was the governor of Massachusetts.

Look, there's no doubt that this president inherited just a really nasty recession, maybe to some extent a depression, and this thing has been slow and it needs to be acknowledged. It's just tough out there for a lot of middle class families.

AVLON: Well, particularly in the Rust Belt, and that's why I want to ask you, James, a specific question about one bright spot in these numbers.

American manufacturing seems to be coming back a bit. We've got 37,000 new manufacturing jobs. Is that a good news for Democrats when they face the Rust Belt fights in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania? Or is that pain just so deep it's not going to be sending a positive message about the economy anytime soon?

CARVILLE: Well, I wouldn't call it good news, I would call it somewhat better news. But I think that what the president needs to say is that that's why he has a jobs plan that has not been acted on by the Republicans. That's why we need to do more. That's why we need to get more work out.

I don't think any of this should actually be spun as good news. I think it should be spun as sort of challenging news. And people know that. I mean, they give this president a great deal -- they cut him a great deal of slack in this. But I am not, even when the numbers are over 200,000, I don't think it's real smart to go out and tout those as really good numbers.

And, you know, John, you and I are baseball fans, and I know Condoleezza Rice is a sports fans, and baseball would say you're only as good as tomorrow's starting pitching. And presidential politics in an election year, you're only as good as last month's employment number. You don't know where it's going to go next month and you're kind of stuck with it.

AVLON: Well, that's true. Real quick, Elise, can Republicans win Ohio and Pennsylvania?

JORDAN: Maybe.

AVLON: Maybe?

JORDAN: Time will tell. I'm not too sure yet. But I think they can if, you know, the economy drops off.

AVLON: Well, we'll see.

CARVILLE: This is an honest woman you have on here.

AVLON: We like honesty.

Well, now, the battle for Congress is on. Olympia Snowe's seat is up for grabs. Could an independent take it and shake up the Senate?

And then 100 years after the Titanic went down, we show you amazing new video of the wreck.

And the war on women, war on religion? Maybe it's time to ask, war, what's it really good for?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AVLON: The race is on for control of the U.S. Senate and one man in Maine could be the deciding factor. Now, Democrats currently hold a slim six-seat majority, aided by two independents who vote with them.

But there are 21 Democratic seats open this year, compared to just 10 Republican. The majority could come down to a single seat, which is why all eyes are on former two-term governor, Angus King, who's running as an independent on Senator Olympia Snowe's seat.

Now the latest polls show him with a commanding lead over both Democratic and Republican candidates. But will King really stay independent or will he end up aligning himself with one of the parties? Angus King is OUTFRONT tonight in the first national interview of his campaign.

Angus, thanks for being with us. Here's my question --

FORMER MAINE GOVERNOR ANGUS KING: John, great to be with you. Welcome to Maine.

AVLON: Well, it's good to be there. Listen, with Olympia Snowe throwing in the towel, frustrated so much with the partisanship and polarization of the Senate, what do you think you can accomplish up there by running as an independent?

KING: Well, the way she left -- the way that she left the job is what really provoked me to run, John, because here's a senator with over 30 years of experience and seniority in the Congress, a great work ethic, integrity, good relationships and basically she said I can't get anything done. And that's why I'm leaving.

When I heard that, and then later on she talked about it being almost a like parliamentary system in the Senate, I said, we've got to try something different. We cannot continue to go down the road where we are, where it's all about partisan warfare and bickering and who's up and who's down, we've really got to try something else. And that's why I'm going for it.

I governed as an independent and I think I can go down and make some sense in Washington as an independent.

AVLON: Well, Senator Orrin Hatch had this to say yesterday to "Politico," "We're probably going to lose the Maine race," he said, "because Angus King is the most popular politician in Maine. He'll caucus with the Democrats, there's no question about that."

Angus, is he right or are you open to caucus with either party or neither party?

KING: Well, he's right in the first half of what he said. I think that was a brilliant insight. At least I hope he's right. The second half is, John, I can look you right in the eye and tell you I haven't made a decision. And I'm not going to make a decision till I get down there.

If I announce now I'm going to caucus with the Democrats or the Republicans, it sort of defeats the purpose of what I'm going to do -- of what I want to do, which is to steer a middle course and remain independent as long as I possibly can.

Look, I'm not naive. I don't have illusions that I can go down there and Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid are going to put their arms around me and ask me how to solve these problems, but I do think that I can go down and remain independent as long as possible.

If it ends up that I have to join a caucus in order to be effective on behalf of Maine -- I don't want to go down and not be able to serve Maine -- but, you know, we're in sort of uncharted territory here.

I've got a great app, John, I want to recommend to you on my iPhone. It's called "The U.S.A. Manual." It's a 99-cent app. It's got the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, great speeches, Supreme Court decisions, the Federalist Papers.

I went back and read Article I, which talks about the Congress. The word "caucus" doesn't appear, neither does the word "party." And it doesn't have to be the way it is now, and that's the -- I want to be the pebble in the pond that starts a process of change.

AVLON: Now, you were a two-term independent governor of Maine. Very rare thing, two-term independents. So out of all the skepticism you confronted going into office, what did you learn as governor that could apply to being an effective senator going forward?

KING: Well, the first thing I learned -- well, I've got to back up for a minute. I got to tell you, John, a lot of the articles that are being written now, an independent can't do anything, can't accomplish anything, all those same articles were written when I was running for governor as an independent. The same stories.

And by the way, notice who they interviewed. I asked the question, can an independent be effective? They always ask the party people, what are they going to say, heck, no! So those stories appeared when I first ran for governor, and I think we laid that to rest.

The main thing I learned from being an independent is it's really great to not have to check with somebody before you make up your mind. I only want to be able to check with the people of Maine. My deal is, nobody in Washington tells me how to vote except the people of Maine.

And that's a luxury -- I didn't realize that going in as an independent governor, how that was going to liberate me to make my decisions, not on some interest group or who's important to this party or that party or what the majority leader wants me to do, I was able to just call them as I see them. That was my political motto.

Sometimes I sided with the Democrats, sometimes I sided with the Republicans, sometimes they were both mad at me at the same time. But I was trying to make those independent decisions and that's, you know, this isn't some strange idea.

The United States Senate, as recently as 15 or 20 years ago, operated on the principle of people trying to solve problems. This lockup that we've got now is relatively recent.

Here's an amazing thing, John. You're not going to believe this. When Ed Muskie, the great senator from Maine, moved through the Clean Air Act in 1970, it passed the United States Senate unanimously. That's -- I mean, think of that. Those folks today couldn't agree on what time it is unanimously.

AVLON: That is true. Governor King, thank you very much for your time and your first national interview.

A Navy fighter jet crashes into an apartment complex. We have dramatic video.

And 100 years after the Titanic sank, we take you to the wreck and show you what the ship looks like today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AVLON: Yesterday was Major League Baseball's opening day. Attendance has been on the decline since 2007, but there's good news, which brings us to tonight's number: 334,424. That's the number of people who went to a baseball game yesterday. Now, that works out to more than 41,000 people per game. It's great news for America's pastime.

A new season is a time for new beginnings. Even Cubs fans can hope that this is their year. And the last six times Kentucky won the NCAA tournament, as they did this year, the Yankees have won the World Series. Bottom line, play ball. Springtime is here.

Next Sunday marks 100 years since the Titanic sank, killing more than 1,500 people. As the world's most famous shipwreck approaches its centennial, experts are raising serious concerns about its condition. Earlier this week, Erin spoke to Dr. Bob Ballard, the man who discovered the ship's final resting place more than 25 years ago, about its quest to save what's left of this ship of dreams.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT D. BALLARD, OCEANOGRAPHER AND MARINE SCIENTIST: You know, I didn't go at it with some -- I was not a Titanic groupie. I saw it as a challenge. But when I found it, it really spoke to me. And what spoke to me the most, you know, I'm down there in the submarine, I'm driving around, there's a -- the Titanic is -- everything about the Titanic is huge, the bow, the boilers.

And I come across where all the bodies landed. And that stopped me in my tracks. See, after the Titanic sank and it went to the bottom, hundreds of people were trying to survive. And they were freezing to death and they died. Hundreds of people died. And many of them didn't have life jackets and all those bodies -- people forget that -- came raining down onto the bottom.

Now, the animals found the bodies, they ate the flesh, their bones were exposed, the deep sea's undersaturated in calcium carbonate and dissolve it. Everywhere you see are pairs of shoes that were attached to those bodies.

ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: So all the bones are gone, but the shoes are there.

BALLARD: They're tombstones. And you see a pair of mother's shoes and next to her are her daughter's shoes. Boom! I mean, that hit me like a freight train.

And I -- the moment I saw that, I said, you know, the -- you know, we don't touch this site. And I've been totally opposed -- you don't go to Gettysburg with a shovel. You don't take belt buckles off the Arizona. Why can't the Titanic get the same respect that those ships or those battlefields get?

And when I started meeting with the survivors, talking to the ones that lost their loved ones, talking to the people that built the ship -- Belfast is doing an amazing exhibit. We're doing one at Mystic Aquarium. But what we're doing is we're telling the story not so much of the ship, this piece of metal, but the people that were on it, and the bottom of the ocean speaks to you when you're down there.

It's amazing. I didn't expect -- I'm a scientist. I'm not supposed to be touched by such things. It knocked me off my feet.

BURNETT: It was an --

BALLARD: Very powerful, powerful experience.

BURNETT: Do you think that this could be a museum?

BALLARD: Oh, it is already. The question is, there's no lock on the door.

BURNETT: Right --

BALLARD: There's nothing protecting it.

BURNETT: -- but how can you bring it to -- you describe it so eloquently with the shoes, the mother and the child, but how can you bring that to --

BALLARD: By passing a law that -- Senator Kerry, just in the last few days -- so we're having our effect -- introduced a law into the Senate to protect the Titanic, to give the old law teeth. We're hoping that other countries will sign it -- we only need two countries to sign it right now.

Russia and France, those are the submarines that are going down there and doing the damage.

BURNETT: You are a person who has brought these pieces of history to life. And the fact you can that turn that ship and the stories that we've all heard into that image is a pretty incredible thing.

And I know you're going to be doing that possibly again with Amelia Earhart, heroine of mine and of so many women. And you're talking about you have a 15-year-old daughter --

BALLARD: I've been asked by Senator Clinton to advise the team -- Rick Gillespie and the Tiger Group are going out in July, and this new data has really collapsed the search area. So they've got a good shot and I wish them fair winds and a following sea.

BURNETT: You were explaining how it happened, that there was a picture from 1937 --

BALLARD: A picture from 1937, three months after Amelia disappeared. They were photographing this island called Gardner Island, not even thinking about her.

They saw a ship up on the reef, and everyone's looking at the ship, and over in the left-hand corner was a little something. And the secretary of state and assistant secretary of state, Kirk Campbell, gave analysts, real special analysts, this image. Didn't tell them anything.

BURNETT: CIA?

BALLARD: Well, you never know. The really good analysts, so they can see golf balls on a golf course from way up side -- they gave them the image and they said -- they didn't tell them what it was, and they said, what is it?

And they said -- they did their crunching. They came back and said, well, I don't know where you got this picture, but that's a Lockheed Electra landing gear from the 1930s. Well, that was her plane.

So the search area, which was thousands of square miles, collapsed to a very small area. So I wish them luck. It's worth looking at and it's being privately financed, so it's not government money. We're not wasting any money, and I think they got a good shot at it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: "Save the Titanic with Bob Ballard," premieres Monday, April 9th, at 10:00 pm Eastern on the National Geographic Channel.

We're just getting word there's breaking news in the Trayvon Martin case. We'll bring that to you right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AVLON: Breaking news on Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who was fatally shot last month by neighborhood volunteer watchman George Zimmerman. Let's get right to Ashleigh Banfield, who's in for Anderson Cooper tonight.

Ashleigh, you just spoke to the witness to the shooting. What did she say?

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did. I was actually quite surprised at a difference in her account of what transpired the night that she saw what happened as Trayvon Martin was shot dead. Now earlier she has said to us that it was very difficult to make out what was going on, about 25 feet from her window.

But one of the things she told us, John, was that the police did not seem interested in how much she wanted to tell them. She told us that she asked the police if she could take them to the location where it happened and kind of reenact a little bit about what she saw happen, and they seemed very disinterested and did not go to the location with her -- again, outside of her window. She also said that she had called 911 and that she talked to 911 all the way through this account, even holding the phone up to her window so that they could hear the yelling.

And then, John, surprisingly, she also said that this week, just two days ago, she's finally had a chance to talk to the state attorney, that officials from the state attorney's office have now finally shown up and asked her some questions. And it did not go the way that she and her attorney thought.

AVLON: Well, have police commented on this witness?

BANFIELD: No, not yet. Other than to say that they're not commenting on the case at all, because it's been taken over by the state attorney. One thing you might be surprised at, the state attorney has a varied job here, John. They've got a couple of jobs they have to do.

Number one, they have to look at the case itself. They're essentially taking over the investigation from the Sanford Police Department, but they're also looking into whether anything went wrong with the investigation with the Sanford Police Department. So, you would think that the interview would be very long, if you have an actual witness in the case.

And this person says she saw it all. Granted, it was a long way away, 25 feet, maybe not so long, and granted it was dark. But she did witness this incident play out.

When I join you shortly, you're going to find out how long the interview actually was and what she and her attorney thinks about that.

AVLON: And there were multiple witnesses, right, Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Hard to say. A lot of people, John, called 911. How many people had a vantage point? That's going to be critical.

Not every piece of information that's come out about this case has come out about this case. A lot of that could be protected and privileged information right now. It might be in the purview of the Sanford Police Department. It might be something that only the state attorneys know at this point.

One thing we can say for sure, a lot of people seem to think they know what transpired between these two parties the night that Trayvon Martin died. But clearly there's a lot we don't know.

AVLON: Thank you, Ashleigh. We look forward to hearing more.

BANFIELD: OK.

AVLON: Now --

(MUSIC)

AVLON: Now to the OUTFRONT five -- stories we care about where we focus on our own reporting.

Up first, breaking news: the military coup in Mali could soon be over. The Mali state television announced moment ago that leader of the coup and the economic community of West African states have reached a deal. Under the deal, the coup leaders will hand over power to the civilian government. In return, economic and trade sanctions will be lifted. The deal provides the framework for the return for constitutional rule under a yet to be named interim leader.

Number two: a Navy fighter crashed today in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The Navy said the Hornet had just taken off from a nearby Navy base when it suffered a mechanical malfunction. The two pilots ejected before the jet slammed into an apartment building. Seven people, including the two crew members, were hurt in the crash.

At this hour, everyone but one of the pilots have been treated and released.

Number three: a Marine Corps board has recommended that Sergeant Gary Stein be dismissed for questioning President Obama's authority. Stein has posted on Facebook that "Mr. Obama was the domestic enemy our oath speaks of." And he later posted he would refuse to obey orders given by the president. He later clarified that meant his illegal orders in his mind. Stein says the opinions were his own and the military is using him as an example.

A final decision on the recommendation for dismissal is expected in the next few weeks.

Number four: one of the winners of last week's Mega Millions jackpot has come forward to claim his or her prize. The Kansas lottery officials told us the winner has chosen to remain anonymous -- the person's ticket worth $218 million before taxes. Now, there are still two other winning tickets out there, one sold in Maryland and the other in Illinois.

It has been 246 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back? The government added 120,000 jobs in March. Every little bit helps to get the economy back on track, but we still have a long way to go.

Well, we just learned a few hours ago that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor donated $25,000 to a super PAC with a mission to oust incumbent members of Congress, including members of Cantor's own party. It's a story first reported by the Capitol Hill newspaper "Roll Call."

The super PAC is called the Campaign for Primary Accountability and it was founded by two Texans, one of them a wealthy construction engineer and the other a philanthropist.

The super PAC has already spent more than $1 million targeting seven incumbents this year and successfully ousted two of them from office. It has its sights set on eight others in the upcoming races and says it has a dozen more on its watch list.

I spoke with the cofounders Leo Linbeck and Eric O'Keefe a short time ago, and I started by asking them, how do they decide who to target?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEO LINBECK, CO-FOUNDER, CAMPAIGN FOR PRIMARY ACCOUNTABILITY: There's four criteria. The first one is a safe seat, because that's where all the power is in Congress. It's in these incumbents that win in the general election without with really any competition. It's either a Republican or Democratic district. So, it's got to be a safe seat.

We're looking right now at long-term incumbents. So someone who's a freshman really doesn't have much power or influence in Washington. So, we want to go at the heart of the issue.

The third is, there has to be a credible challenger, right? Congress is not an entry-level position, it's a serious job.

And the fourth is, they have to be popular in their district. So we go in and do polling.

And if the American people -- if the people in that district want a different representative or a choice, then we engage. If they're happy with what they've got, if we tell them what their incumbent's been doing and they're like, well, with I'm OK with that, I want to re-elect that person, we don't engage. The system is working there.

AVLON: And you're head of a group called U.S. Term Limits last decade. So this is an extension of that fight, correct? So if term limits were in place, the need for this PAC would presumably be diminished. And for example, if there's redistricting reform, more competitive seats.

ERIC O'KEEFE, CO-FOUNDER, CAMPAIGN FOR PRIMARY ACCOUNTABILITY: Yes. And actually, and this is better than term limits. Term limits was a kind of one-size-fits-all, we'll take care of the seniority system, and everybody goes, kind of regardless of what the voters in the districts think.

Now, 80 percent of people wanted it, so it would have been a good thing to do. We can't get it without the permission of Congress.

One of the parameters we set, we're going to operate within the rules as they are. You know the greatest puzzle in American politics is how can we have this 9 percent approval rate you mentioned, John, and have 90 percent re-election rates? It's a huge puzzle.

And we studied this for a couple years and found out that basically one party's districts, that's 85 percent of the country. So, if there's no primary competition, they own the seat.

AVLON: So one of the craters that you listed is going after entrenched incumbents and favoring the newer, fresher faces. One of the Democrat's race you played in, actually the side you weighed in on would have benefited Dennis Kucinich, who had been in office since 1996. How did you make that decision, considering not only is he an entrenched incumbent, but one of the most liberal members of Congress?

LINBECK: Sure. So, we chose that district based on the fact that it was predominantly Marcy Kaptur's district. She's a 30-year incumbent Democrat. And we didn't know whether Kucinich was going to run in that district or not. He decided to run.

Now, 30 years versus 16 years, you know, you can make the argument that that's sort of, you know, not exactly an anti-incumbent play. But we were going after the longer term, more entrenched incumbent in that district.

And the reality is that our activities made her come back to the district, in a way that she had not had to do in many, many years. She had very little challenge in previous cycles and she had to reengage with the voters and she had to listen to them and she had to ask for their vote and she did, and she won. And we're fine with that.

We're not here to pursue a policy agenda. We're looking for governance reform.

AVLON: Let's talk about another Republican incumbent you're talking, Tim Murphy -- suburban Pennsylvania, swing district, he's a veteran. Why target him?

LINBECK: Well, it's not a swing district. That's a safe Republican district.

AVLON: Suburban Philadelphia?

LINBECK: You just need to look at the district makeup. That's a safe Republican district. So, we're engaging in that because there's a good, credible challenger.

AVLON: A Tea Party activist.

LINBECK: Yes, who's a credible challenger. So, we're leveling the playing field. The incumbent gets to raise all the money from the lobby and the special interests and have this message monopoly. We're coming in to level the playing field and let voters decide.

O'KEEFE: And Murphy's attacking us as pro-Obama, which is kind of fun. But, you know, but we're not the issue. Their problem is 10 percent congressional approval. That's their problem. AVLON: "Roll Call" is reporting today that you received money from a PAC associated with Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. You're taking on members of his conference and presumably backing newer Tea Party members against more establishment Republicans.

That is definitely taking a side within an ideological and faction fight within the Republican Party.

LINBECK: Look, we are delighted that the House leadership of the GOP shares our vision of creating real competition for entrenched incumbents. I mean, that's so forward thinking of them. You know, this idea that committee chairs and House leadership ought to actually have to compete for the support of their district. We applaud their foresight.

AVLON: So when the PAC says that Eric Cantor gave money to you, it was going to be explicitly to favor these newer Tea Party members against more establishment members of their own conference, committee chairs and elsewhere, or otherwise?

LINBECK: No, we are very clear about what our criteria are, what our vision is. There's no earmarking of those dollars. They flowed in, we told everyone who the races we are engaging in. They looked at that and said, hey, that's a race we'd like to engage in.

AVLON: Eric Cantor's office responded and said his PAC did, indeed, give the $25,000 to your super PAC, your organization, but with the explicit understanding that that money was only supposed to go to support Adam Kinzinger.

Is that -- that seems like that's news to you, because you said it was in one general fund.

LINBECK: It's news to me. I mean, I don't know what their expectation was, but I've never talked to anyone in their office. I don't know what their expectations were. For us, it came in, it went into our super PAC, and we spent it on the activity that was underway.

AVLON: So that conversation never happened or never got transmitted to you?

LINBECK: Not to me.

O'KEEFE: I didn't talk to anyone in that office either.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AVLON: Eric Cantor's office sent us a statement reiterating that he believes his donation would only be used for that specific campaign. Regarding the super PAC itself, they say, "Leader Cantor does not support the actions of this organization in any other election."

OUTFRONT spoke to campaign finance expert and attorney Matthew Sanderson who says it is possible for donors like Eric Cantor to earmark their donations for a specific purpose, but both the donor and super PAC would have to mutually agree on those conditions, which as you just heard, the super PAC says was not the case.

We invite Representative Cantor to appear on the program next week to talk more about this and we hope he'll accept.

OUTFRONT next, dozens more killed in Syria today. We bring you an update. And tonight's guest says it's time to dump the church and just follow Jesus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AVLON: Detroit just narrowly avoided a state takeover of its finances. And even though the economy is improving, municipal and county bankruptcies are looming across the nation.

Mayor Anthony Williams, former mayor of Washington, D.C., is with us, along with CNN contributor Will Cain.

Mayor Williams, what do you think of Detroit's deal? Because you were advising both the state and city on this, on their run-up.

ANTHONY WILLIAMS, FORMER WASHINGTON, D.C. MAYOR: I actually think it's a good deal because I think you need the state intervention whenever you're in a situation where a city has run out of cash, investors, creditors are going to look for a new management situation. So you need a state intervention. This provides that.

At the same time, it's got to be the city's leadership that leads a recovery. And that's what this should be about. It should be about recovery, not just downsizing.

AVLON: But this is just one example, a prominent example of a growing national problem. We've had five cities and counties, including Harrisburg, PA, and Jefferson County, that have functionally declared bankruptcy since 2008. And if you look at the list of cities that are on the brink, I mean, there are some major players here. You know, San Diego, along with Detroit, Yonkers, Scranton, Providence.

So this is a growing problem. So, Will, my question is, we've got the economy improving, and yet we're seeing more and more states at the brink. Is this a sign that the stimulus bill, to some extent, was a Band-Aid on local budgets?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, the stimulus bill delayed this problem, allowed many cities to never deal with the core problem here. The core problem, at least one of core problems, are these lavish pension benefits from their employees. By the stimulus, it made it possible for them to put off the day of reckoning for those -- to dealing with those contracts.

You see, when the good times were here, in the boom days, these cities didn't just build minor league ballparks, they gave away big, big contracts to the pensions and you can't just maintain that in an economic downturn. AVLON: So, mayor, and both of y'all, I mean, the problems -- as will just said, the pension obligations is true. Also, benefits and salaries for public sector, but also property taxes eroding.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: Exactly right. You've got property taxes eroding, you've got decreased funding from state and federal governments.

WILLIAMS: The old money train is not coming anymore. That train's broken down.

AVLON: So what do we do about it? How do we solve this problem, which is increasingly endemic across the country?

WILLIAMS: I think one of the most important things for a city to do is to provide a settled playing field, a level playing field, settled expectations for investment, so businesses and restaurants want to be in that city in a livable situation. And I've always said that r revolves around the public, public trust. Can I pay my bills? You know, my finances -- public safety, public education.

AVLON: That's the basis. Will, what's your prescription type?

CAIN: You've got to renegotiate these contracts -- these union contracts and their pension benefits. You have to. I know it's hard. It's firemen, policemen, people we love, but you have to do.

AVLON: All right. Mayor Williams, one of your predecessors as mayor of Washington, D.C., Marion Barry is back in the news. Now, he's notorious for making intemperate comments.

But I want to get your reaction on his most recent remarks. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARION BARRY, WASHINGTON, D.C. COUNCILMAN: We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. They ought to go. I'm going to say that right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: What do you have to say about that?

WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, let's say from the bottom line, it's a disgraceful, just repugnant comment. I think the mayor ought to know better. You know, he's a legitimate civil rights leader. I think he ought to know better.

And I think he needs to give, I think, the public and the city a better apology as well.

AVLON: Unexpected or par for the course?

WILLIAMS: I wouldn't -- I don't know about unexpected or par for the course. It's just a reprehensible comment.

AVLON: It sure is. Thank you both for being with us on an important issue.

Well, now to tonight's "Outer Circle", where we reach out to our sources around the world.

First to Syria -- at least 48 people were killed in clashes Friday as opposition groups say continues attacked by the military are forcing people to flee the country. All of this happening just days before the Syrian government's deadline to pull troops out of major cities and towns.

Ivan Watson has been covering this story from Istanbul.

Ivan, how many refugees have poured into Turkey in just the last day or so?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Turkish authorities have seen a record number of refugees fleeing across the border, more than 2,700 in a 24-hour period. And the Turks are complaining, saying they're seeing military operations taking place, backed by helicopters -- this despite a Syrian government promise to the United Nations that it will withdraw forces from Syrian cities and towns by Tuesday of next week. Instead, it looks like it's trying to kill as many people as possible before that withdrawal takes place -- John.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: Thank you, Ivan.

Millions of Americans tonight are celebrating Good Friday and the first night of Passover, including our politicians, who all too often seem to invoke God as a way to make a political point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I'm willing to give something up, as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed, give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense. But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus' teaching that from to whom much is given, much shall be required.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Many in the Christian faith said, "Well, that's OK. I mean, contraception is OK." It's not OK. It's a license to do things that of the sexual realm that is counter to what -- how things are supposed to be.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

AVLON: Now, the politicization of religion has become both a distraction and a division. Shouldn't we just forget all this talk and focus on the original message, the original man Jesus? Well, Andrew Sullivan just asked that question in this week's "Newsweek" and he is OUTFRONT with us tonight.

Andrew, one of the key points of your article is about the contemporary resonance of the Jefferson Bible, which is on exhibit right now at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. It's a document.

What is its relevance, its resonance for you today?

ANDREW SULLIVAN, NEWSWEEK: Well, here you see one of the greatest Americans of all time, looking fearlessly at the New Testament. And instead of accepting or believing it should guide our politics, wants to see in it the truth about how he should live his life.

And what he does is reads that New Testament and he finds the words of Jesus that leap out at him as the most sublime words and morals that he's ever heard, and he literally cuts them out of the Bible in a razor. There is one Bible that is full of holes and another where he is painstakingly glued these passages in to create a whole new New Testament. And he does it not just in English, but in Greek, French and Latin as well -- a quite amazing.

And he's saying, what did this Jesus person, forgetting about all the conferences over the years and over the centuries, what did tell us how to live? How did he tell us we should be? What is the way to live our lives under his commands?

Ands that's I think is something that in our politicize climate, taking it back to the personal, taking it back to the spiritual, taking it back to ourselves. I think it's a marvelous example and, although you can disagree with what Jefferson did with that Bible, I think the spirit -- the spirit of trying to find the truth within it and how to live one's life by it is a wonderful tonic given how politicized our religion has become.

AVLON: It is indeed, and it's an extraordinary exhibit. But fast forward to today and the separation of church and state has become an increasingly controversial concept in our modern politics. And I wonder what you think of this in light of this comment I'm going to play for you from Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgement of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America, the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: Andrew, what do you think of that? SULLIVAN: Secularism does not mean a religion. Secularism merely mean that is when we were in a political space, we translated all moral and religious convictions into arguments that could be on the accepted or disagreed with by people of other faiths or no faith at all. In other words, when we enter the public square and we engage in political argument, we should try to use the arguments that everybody can engage with it and aren't dependent upon simply the authority of your God versus the authority of somebody else's God, because that way, you can't have really a conversation.

But religious people can still be in the public square in the way that Jesus was and not by trying to be a politician, but by bearing witness to what Jesus wanted us to be and serving, by the church serving the poor and the homeless, by people giving up their lives in service to others, by spiritual reflection. Those things can be out there and we can talk about our faith and absolutely should. But when we use it to control others rather than to transform ourselves, I think we are blaspheming against a truth that should be kept out of this kind of politics, especially when it gets down minor issues in health care law and so on and so forth.

AVLON: Andrew, one of the points you make in the essay is that the millennial generation overwhelming identifies themselves as being spiritual, but they don't necessarily associate with organized religions as much. Do you think -- what do you think that the great faiths can do to rebuild this bond?

SULLIVAN: Well, I think not only that is true, but the fastest growing group in America believes they are atheists. And that's also true among the younger generations.

And I think when I go to colleges or when I talk to younger people, what I hear is when they hear the word Christianity, they hear homophobia, they hear intolerance, they hear phobias about sex, they think of priests raping children, they think of evangelicals making lots of money, they think of the prosperity gospel which actually inverts Jesus' teaching and says you can become rich through Jesus.

And they turn away. They don't know it. They don't like it. And they're right not to like it.

I think what we have to do as ordinary faithful Christians is bypass those statements in public, communicate our faith through what we do and how we are, by our example and not by our lecturing. And I think it's that kind of moral example that Jesus exemplified, the great (INAUDIBLE) exemplified. And they brought more people to them than any preacher or lecturer or politician.

AVLON: Andrew Sullivan, thank you very much.

Have the Republicans really declared a war on women? We take a look, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AVLON: There's been a lot of talk about a war on women and war on religion lately. Usually by Democrats and Republicans who are trying to score political points and polarized the nation.

Here's the problem. We are at the end of the decade of real wars. Men and women of our armed forces have sacrificed their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And to inflame every political debate by calling it a war diminishes the service of our soldiers and it distorts the truth. We should have great debates in our nation. They fuel our democracy.

But let's be honest and try to be fair. Accusing the other side of plotting a war is nothing more than fear-mongering.

Thank you for joining us tonight. We hop you have a happy Easter weekend and Passover.

"A.C. 360" starts right now.

BANFIELD: John, thanks.