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Health of Social Security?; Secret Service Scandal Grows

Aired April 23, 2012 - 18:00   ET


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

Tonight, a third government agency drawn into the Secret Service prostitution scandal, but the White House said it checked and has cleared all of its staff on the presidents Colombia trip.

A new government report tonight says Medicare will go broke in a dozen years and the Social Security trust fund on track to run dry in 20. But the political divide over what to do is as great as ever.

Plus, is this the ticket? Mitt Romney campaigns with Florida Senator Marco Rubio and while they say it is nothing of the sorts, some conservatives see a bit of an audition.

Up first tonight, President Obama is imposing new sanctions designed to make it harder for rogue regimes like Iran and Syria to crack down on their own people. Speaking at the Holocaust Museum here in Washington the president drew on the lessons of history saying it is imperative to never forget and never be silent, he said, when there is evidence of mass killings, human rights abuses and other atrocities.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With allies and partners we will keep increasing the pressure for the diplomatic effort to further isolate Assad and his regime, so that those who stick with Assad know that they are making a losing bet. And we'll keep increasing sanctions to cut off the regime from the money it needs to survive.


KING: But is it enough, the new steps from the president? Syria continues to violate a cease-fire for example that it negotiated with the United Nations. And as the president spoke just today Sudan attacked South Sudan with warplanes and ground troops.

Our national security Fran Townsend in New York with us tonight is a member of the external advisory boards for the CIA and the Homeland Security Department.

Fran, the president announced this new atrocities board and he announced the new sanctions and other steps. He says the government will do a better job watching, keeping track of what the rogue regimes are doing. But listen here. Even a man that supports the president, a hero of the Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, listen to what he said today at the ceremony.


ELIE WIESEL, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: In this place we may ask, have we learned anything from it? If so, how is it that Assad is still in power How is it that the Holocaust number one denier, Ahmadinejad, is still a president?


KING: Anything, Fran, in the new steps, this new practices put forward by the president today that might change that, might endanger Assad?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: No, Look, John, I think the additional sanctions that the president outlined, particularly as it regards Syria, are helpful, are useful, and applying more pressure.

I find no fault with that. But I think what you're hearing from someone like Elie Wiesel is we need more than words. An atrocities board, we ought to do more than just watch this and talk about it. I think there is tremendous frustration. What I think people fail to appreciate fully is as Assad violates the terms of the cease-fire he agreed to, as he continues to kill his own people, the civilian population left and abandoned by the international community in Syria becomes more hardened and more radicalized and more bitter over that sort of abandonment.

And I worry, John, from a counterterrorism perspective that they become vulnerable to sort of radical elements because they feel that there is no one left to turn to. And so we really have a national interest to do more than talk about it, more than merely sanctions. We really have to do something about it.

KING: When you say that, you're laying out an accountability test. If you're going to talk about it, you better do something and a lot of people said that this administration -- and it is hard -- but they have been saying for months now Assad's days are numbered.

Here is what the former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and the former defense secretary Bill Cohen wrote the board the president is appointing. "The real test will be whether the U.S. government will use this body and the tools it develops to heed the warning signs and to engage early enough at the highest levels of government to prevent atrocities. No longer will bureaucrat inadequacy and lack of prioritization be an excuse for inaction. Indeed, this initiative raises the standards of accountability for this in future administrations."

And they're making the point you make, though, that if you're going to lay this out and say we have these new tools, you better be prepared to use them.

TOWNSEND: Exactly right. It is funny. There is a parallel here. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Board which was recommended and put in legislation after the intelligence reform was manned by the Bush administration, didn't do a lot, and then in the new administration only last week did the people get appointed three years into an administration and again they haven't done anything.

If you are going to have one of these boards, you better be sure you're prepared to appoint the right people and use them to really formulate policy. But you can have a board but if you ignore it and don't take action, it really doesn't matter.

KING: Our national security contributor Fran Townsend, important insights. Fran, thanks so much.

TOWNSEND: Thank you.

KING: We learned today another member of the United States military is under investigation in that prostitution scandal that came to light during President Obama's visit to Colombia.

But the scandal still hasn't touched the White House staff.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is keeping track of the developments.

Dana, let's start with a 12th member of the Secret Service implicated and this one was staying at the president's hotel. Right?


It was the Cartagena Hilton and as you said was the president's hotel and a source familiar with the investigation tells me this happened five days before the president arrived in Colombia, and not just that. It was two days before the now infamous evening with 11 Secret Service members and prostitutes at a different hotel, which is the Hotel Caribe.

And I am told that investigators believe these are completely separate incidents which will feed into the worry especially here on Capitol Hill that this is a cultural problem at the Secret Service.

KING: And the other agency drawn into this today is the White House Communications Office. This is a member of the military who was assigned to the White House Communications Office, agency, and what do we know about that?

BASH: We know that one member of the White House Communications Agency or in the alphabet soup of Washington we call WHCA was relieved of his duties after he told according to our Barbara Starr his leadership he was involved in this misconduct of "some kind."

Now, the White House Communications Agency is travels with the White House and they're involved in documenting the president's events, archiving it, so that is separate from the White House staff. But with regard to the White House staff, we also learned today from the spokesman that the White House counsel did his own investigating and found according to them that nobody inside the White House did anything wrong. And those, of course, are White House advance members who were there ahead of time to prepare for the trip.

KING: Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash on top of this breaking news. Dana, thanks so much.

President Obama heads out tomorrow, and it's a two-day trip to universities in three important swing states, North Carolina, Colorado, and Iowa. He will call for congressional action to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling this July.

Well, the Republican nominee, likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, tried to get out in front of this issue today and, surprise, listen. He agrees with the president.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I fully support the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans. There was some concern that that would expire halfway through the year. I support extending the temporary relief on interest rates.


KING: Our chief political analyst, Gloria, is here.

Gloria, roll the breaking news animation. It is very rare that Governor Romney and the president agree on something that involves spending and involves philosophy. Smart for Governor Romney here to get out ahead of the president?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. It does cost $6 billion, but it is temporary and this is all about younger voters.

Don't forget 2008, President Obama, then candidate Obama won with young people by 2-1. This is part of Mitt Romney's pivot as we call it in political parlance, because he is talking to women voters because he knows he has a gender gap. He is talking to young voters because that is a problem and he is also talking to Hispanic voters where he is losing by about 47 points to President Obama.

KING: I hope the young voters you mention, also their parents that might need a little help with the cost of this.


BORGER: Absolutely.

KING: We just showed Governor Romney there talking. But if we broaden out the picture a little bit and I think we can do that, you see this guy Marco Rubio, and he's the freshman senator from the state of Florida. Both of them say, no, no, no, we're just campaigning together.

But are we looking -- and hopefully we can show some pictures here, are we looking at a dream ticket? Here is what they had to say about it.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Like unemployment which under his watch has gone up, like a debt which under his watch has gone up, like the value of our homes which under his watch has gone down.


KING: Senator Rubio there giving an endorsement and denouncing President Obama as part of his endorsement of Mitt Romney. A ticket?

BORGER: It is a little premature, wouldn't you say, John?

KING: Yes, very premature. But?

BORGER: It is easy. Because you look at Marco Rubio, young, attractive from the battleground state of Florida, could appeal to Hispanic voters and at least get Hispanic voters to give Mitt Romney a second look. Don't forget Mitt Romney during the primaries moved way to the right. He is now trying to move back to the middle.

I think Marco Rubio is trying to give him a bit of a lifeline there by revising the DREAM Act and saying maybe you could go along with that. But in the end, what Mitt Romney has said is that the person he picks has to be ready to be president on day one.

And I think some Republicans and maybe Mitt Romney himself would think, you know what, if we're running against Barack Obama on the experience issue, saying he did not have enough experiences, a two- year senator, maybe Marco Rubio would not be ready.

KING: One of the many calculations Governor Romney has to make. He's appealing in some ways. You mentioned the experience. But he does have as much if not more experience than Senator Obama had at that point. But if you will make that case.


KING: We will see how that goes. We will watch.


BORGER: You bet we will.

KING: We will see who gets the next audition too.

BORGER: See who he is out with tomorrow. Right?

KING: Still to come here, there's a question tonight as to whether Sanford, Florida, will need a new police chief as part of the fallout from the Trayvon Martin case. City officials today refused to accept their chief's offer to quit.

Next, the government's annual report card on Medicare and Social Security is a wakeup call or at least it should be. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A new report out just tonight spells trouble for two entitlement programs millions of Americans depend on; the Social Security and Medicare trustees report estimates that Medicare won't be able to pay full benefits starting in 2024.

That's stable, the same prediction they made last year. But Social Security benefits won't be paid in full as early as 2033. That's moving up three years earlier than the trustees projected just last year.

Joining me now to talk about the solvency or lack thereof of Social Security and Medicare, in New York, Chrystia Freeland. She is the editor of Thomson Reuters Digital. And here in Washington, David Walker, the former comptroller general and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative.

David, I want to start with you. House Speaker John Boehner immediately issues a statement saying almost we told you so, we have to get about serious entitlement reform. The former speaker, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, see this is completely differently.

She says, "Despite the repeated efforts of Republicans to privatize Social Security and end the Medicare guarantee, these vital initiatives remain strong."

Who is right?

DAVID WALKER, FORMER UNITED STATES COMPTROLLER GENERAL: The fact is both programs are paying out more each year than they're taking in so they're adding to the deficit.

When you look at known demographic trends and rising health care costs, our federal financial hole is getting deeper $10 million a minute. The longer we wait to address entitlement reform or social insurance program reform the more dramatic the changes will be, the more risk of a debt crisis and the less transition time that we will have.

KING: Chrystia, David mentioned $10 million a minute. That means we're going to up about $40 million or $50 million during this conversation.



KING: We're in an election year. Nothing will happen between now and November. They tried the big grand bargain last year and they got nowhere.

What is the trigger, the circuit breaker that will finally get politicians to sit down and figure this out? FREELAND: That's the $40 million question.

I do think there is a deadline coming up at the end of this year because of the deal that they did to get the debt ceiling raised. So, you know, we could see some fairly dramatic action then. The other big thing, and I don't see when this is going to happen, but what forces other countries to finally deal with their budget deficit problems -- and that's essentially what this is -- is when the rest of the world stops agreeing to lend you money.

And the perversity of America's situation today is even though America is spending a lot of money right now, the rest of the world is lending America money at incredibly cheap rates. So the feet are not to the fire.

KING: If the feet are not to the fire, one of the things that has allowed the politicians, and this goes back to previous administrations -- it's not just with one and it's not just this Congress -- to sort of punt it, to kick it down the line is the report always says the next generation, future generations.

Two of the public trustees in this report say if they don't deal with this and deal with it soon, people now on these -- getting aid from the programs will be affected and people just waiting in their 50s about to kick into these programs will be affected. Will that be enough to light the fire?

WALKER: What will be enough is when we get a market signal. Right now we have the lowest interest rates in modern history. We have not locked them in these interest rates for the long term. For every 1 percent increase in interest rates 100 basis points, it is over $150 billion a year in interest, for which we get nothing.

It is not a matter of if interest rates are going to go up. It is a matter of when and how much unless we make meaningful progress. We must make meaningful progress in 2013. As you may know, John, I was a trustee of Social Security and Medicare from '90 to '95 and myself and my co-public trustee, Stan Ross, were the ones that blew the whistle on this back in the early 1990s.

KING: You say must make progress in 2013. That's conceding the point we are not going to make any progress in 2012.

Chrystia, will we at least make progress in maybe advancing the dialogue? The president has his approach and Governor Romney says in terms -- not that this is about all Social Security and Medicare -- but in terms of the big approach to the deficit he says take tax cuts off the table, but he has talked about things like raising the retirement age and the like.

Are we at least going to have them discuss at the presidential campaign level some of the pieces so that whoever wins the election will be able to move quickly or am I being too idealistic?

FREELAND: I am afraid that you are being too idealistic. At this point although there is a lot of discussion about the economy and I think there is a meaningful discussion happening now about taxes, I don't think either side is presenting a really realistic program for getting the budget in balance.

KING: And so?

WALKER: That's true. Neither candidate right now has a credible program to be able to restore fiscal sanity, one that achieves a measurable goal, one that is culturally acceptable and one that can pass a political test, that can get the support in the House and the Senate and meaningful bipartisan support.

KING: Does this take somebody outside the system, Chrystia, to kick and raise these issues?

FREELAND: Well, I think the point that David and I have been making is maybe what it is going to take is some kind of a very powerful market signal.

What's unfortunate about that is when market signals come, it's really painful and unpleasant, so I hope it doesn't come to that. The other point that I would make is President Obama took a lot of flak for trying to address health care. But one of the problems here is the U.S. has probably the least effective health care system in the Western industrial world.

You spend a lot of money and you don't get particularly good results. Fixing that, really fixing the guts of the health care system would go a long way towards fixing Medicare.

WALKER: John, we spent double per person for health care and we get below-average societal outcomes. And as you know, the trustees said that if the Affordable Care Act was repealed, then the Medicare date would move up to 2018.

The other thing that they didn't talk about is that the chief actuary of Medicare actually thinks the situation is much worse than the trustees and the politicians claim. So we have serious problems. This general election really has to focus on the facts, the truth, the tough choices. We need to be able to make meaningful progress no later than 2013 or else we could have a debt crisis in the United States.

KING: Let's hope that we're all wrong, that the candidates are a little bit more shall we say debating the facts and the issue more than we think they might.

David, Chrystia, thanks for coming in today. We will stay on the issue going forward.

In North Carolina today, prosecutors started presenting evidence that could send one-time Senator and presidential hopeful John Edwards to prison for 30 years. We will have the latest on his trial in just a little bit.

But, next, winter 's sudden revenge in the Northeast.



KING: We have seen several important developments in the Trayvon Martin case today, including the temporary release of the man accused of murdering him. We will get the latest from Florida in just a moment.

Also, why the Pentagon doubts Iranian claims they have deciphered a big secret from that captured U.S. drone.


KING: This half-hour, we're tracking new developments in the Trayvon Martin case. The man who shot and killed the teenager free on bail tonight, and a police chief tries to resign over the case, but his bid is rejected.

Sex, money and a man who wanted to be president. The criminal trial of John Edwards now under way. If convicted, he could spend up to 30 years in prison.

And GOP powerhouses are slowly and some of them reluctantly joining team Romney. The truth about why the likely nominee would like to feel more love from his party.

John Edwards, the two-time presidential candidate once considered a Democratic superstar, now on trial. You see him right here arriving in federal court today. That's in North Carolina. He is accused of illegally using campaign funds to cover up his mistress' pregnancy while his wife battled cancer.

He could be looking at up to 30 years in prison if he is convicted of the six criminal charges he's facing.

Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is in Greensboro. And John, tell us what to expect over the next few weeks, including the big names on the witness list.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, probably the biggest name of all on the witness list, John, is Andrew Young. That is the guy who was the North Carolina advance man for John Edwards, held a variety of other functions, very close to Senator John Edwards, and worked with him very closely. Also, wrote a book about his experiences.

He's the guy who, in fact, falsely took credit for fathering the child of Rielle Hunter. Of course, that child eventually turned out to be the child of Senator John Edwards.

So a big day in court here, of course, with Andrew Young taking the stand. He's probably going to be on for a couple more days.

We also had opening statements here in Greensboro, South Carolina -- North Carolina, I'm sorry, the former senator being described by the government as a master manipulator, while the defense said, "Sure, he lied about the affair; he lied about the baby; but he's not a criminal."

And that, of course, is the novel question that the prosecution is tackling here in North Carolina, John, whether there actually was a crime committed at all, whether John Edwards did it, or whether he was basically just lying to avoid humiliation, which is what the defense claims. So could be a few weeks before we know the answer from the jury.

KING: National (ph) correspondent Joe Johns is there. We'll keep track of this case. Joe, thank you.

Turning to the Trayvon Martin case, and what was supposed to be a shakeup at the police department that initially handled the investigation. Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee tried to resign, but the city commission tonight says not so fast. We'll talk about that in a moment.

But first George Zimmerman, he of course, the Neighborhood Watchman who admits to fatally shooting the unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, is out on bail. You see him leaving jail right there. Zimmerman slipped into a waiting car after midnight. That's early this morning.

CNN's David Mattingly following all of this.

David, there are questions about Zimmerman's safety and some threats. Is he safe and what do we know about the role of police in his protection now?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, when you look at that video of him departing the jail, the man who's with him was actually his bail bondsman.

Zimmerman himself was wearing a bulletproof vest at the time. As they sped off into the night, they were actually assisted by sheriff's deputies who provided roadblocks so that they could make a quick getaway into parts unknown.

We spoke to Zimmerman's attorney today, and he said they have multiple locations set up where Zimmerman will be staying. They'll be shuttling him from location to location, sort of a shell game just in case anyone tries to go looking for him.

Zimmerman does have the court's permission to go out of state if he wants to, but his attorney will not say if Zimmerman is out of the state of Florida or inside.

He says he's going to be dealing with his client over the telephone, and he's already made arrangements so that they've already entered a "not guilty" plea to the second-degree murder charge so Zimmerman will not have to come back to court soon for that arraignment.

KING: And David, as we try to keep track of Mr. Zimmerman, what happened with the police chief? Bill Lee resigned. He was obviously a controversial figure in the initial investigation. Why didn't the city council approve his resignation?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it came down to a 3-2 vote. The deciding vote was actually cast by the mayor here, and he said that he wanted to wait until the investigations were complete and that how the police department here handled the Trayvon Martin case. That's going to take a couple of months. At that time he believes it could then take up the personnel matter of whether or not to keep the chief on the payroll.

He is still on the payroll. He's still collecting a paycheck, but he's stepped down temporarily while this -- all of these investigations and all this heat was on the department right now. So he's still getting paid, but they were not accepting his resignation just get.

KING: Strange twist there. David Mattingly on top of it all. David, thanks so much.

Heading overseas now to Iran, where officials say -- get this -- they say they cracked the code to American drone technology. They say they're making their own copy now after, of course, you might remember a U.S. drone crash landed there late last year.

Could be cause for major concern if -- underscore if -- it's true. But the defense secretary, Leon Panetta, has his doubts.


LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, you know, it's obviously a classified program, and I don't want to get into the particulars of that program, but I think I can tell you, based on my experience, that I would seriously question their ability to do what they say they've done.


KING: More here from Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just four months after it paraded this had captured stealth drone before the world, Iran claims it has unlocked the secrets of the classified American UAV.


LAWRENCE: The general who runs the Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division says Iran cracked the Sentinel's software code and knows it flew over Osama bin Laden's compound and when and where it got maintenance. He says Iran is now building its own copy.

But a top U.S. lawmaker told "FOX News Sunday" he's skeptical.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I don't have confidence at this point that they're really able to make a copy of it.

LAWRENCE: Aviation experts admit Iran has adapted other American technology like the Hawk surface-to-air missile.

BILL SWEETMAN, AVIATION ANALYST: From Iran and on the ground against an aircraft and they actually adapted that and put it on their Tomcat fighters.

LAWRENCE: Bill Sweetman says the Sentinel has a grid over the engine that blocks radar waves and special coding to absorb radar. Designing a new one goes far beyond just duplicating its smooth edges.

SWEETMAN: You have to know how every little piece of that aircraft contributes to its radar signature or to its infrared image or to any way in which it can be detected.

LAWRENCE: At the same time it's boasting of one success, Iran is crying foul over another alleged cyber-attack. The world's fourth largest oil producer says it has detected a virus in its main oil export terminal which handles 90 percent of its oil exports.

Officials say they have been forced to disconnect the oil ministry itself, and some data has already been affected.


LAWRENCE: In fact, most of the world's oil facilities are run by computers, which just gives you an idea how important technology is in modern warfare.

As for the drone, most of the experts that I spoke with say to develop this kind of drone you need to know what you're doing and why you're doing it along every stage of production. You don't get that kind of knowledge overnight, and most of the experts say they don't see the evidence that Iran has invested the time to do so -- John.

KING: Then Chris, let's take this a bit further. Maybe Iran hasn't invested the time to do so, but Iran has conversations with countries like Russia, with countries like China. Might they have the capability and certainly interest of trying to reverse-engineer this?

LAWRENCE: That is a key question, John, especially in terms of capability. Because some of the experts I talked to say the concern over Russia and especially China may be a bit overblown, but they don't see this particular drone as the end-all be-all of U.S. stealth technology.

In other words, they think the U.S. already has more advanced stealth capabilities out there. And they say China in particular, probably within its own research and work, has already matched or close to matching what this particular captured drone can do.

KING: Chris Lawrence, live for us tonight at the Pentagon (ph). Chris, thanks so much.

Coming up here, the "Truth" about Mitt Romney's big-name GOP endorsement and his time on the trial just today with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. .


KING: As auditions go, Mitt Romney, well, he had to be pretty happy with this.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: There's only one choice running for president that will help us reclaim and recapture the things that make this nation of ours different from all the other countries on the earth, and he happens to be here today. His name is Mitt Romney, the next president of the United States.


KING: Now, of course Governor Romney says that was not an audition. Ditto says Senator Rubio.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think I have any comments on qualifications for individuals to serve in various positions in government at this stage. That's something that we're going to be considering down the road as we consider various potential vice-presidential nominees.

Do you want to add?

RUBIO: I'm not -- I'm not talking about that process anymore.


KING: But truth be told, Governor Romney had to love getting some love. After all, there's been more than a little grumbling and complaining of late about the man who is all but certain to be the Republican presidential nominee.

In finally endorsing Romney, for example, the former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, says he wished Newt Gingrich had fared better.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: But I think that Mitt has won fair and square. I mean, he's proven he's the most effective Republican.


KING: Not exactly bubbling with enthusiasm there, right?

Pretty much the same for the Indiana governor, Mitch Daniels. He came on board Team Romney last week and said, in his view, the key for Republicans is to speak more passionately and directly to those still struggling to make economic gains. And he went on to say, quote, "Romney doesn't talk that way." That was Daniels talking to "The Indianapolis Star." Again, talk about a ringing endorsement.

The former GOP contender, John Huntsman, is a little kinder, telling "The Harvard Crimson," "I think Romney will show leadership on the economy."

But on the trust deficit, Huntsman says, quote, "I don't see a whole lot of leadership."

At least Huntsman has endorsed Romney. Rick Santorum is out of the race but still hasn't officially joined Team Romney. Same for Michele Bachmann. And, of course, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are still active candidates, despite the inevitable.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You don't quit because you happen to be behind. You want to see how you do. Who knows? Maybe somebody will stumble.


KING: Congressman Paul is actually pretty kind when he's asked about Governor Romney, and the Romney campaign doesn't worry much about the Texan staying in the race.

But the "Truth" is, it would like a little more love from the rest of the party.

Here tonight to talk truth, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein; advisor for the Romney campaign Kevin Madden; and the CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

Now Mr. Madden, to you first. Why is this taking so long? Why do people when they come on board add the mumble under their breath that he could be better at this or I wish it were Newt or da-da-da-da?

KEVIN MADDEN, ADVISOR FOR ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with the stage of the race that we're in right now. Governor Romney has still yet to get the nomination officially, so we're coming towards the end of the nomination process.

And I think this is -- a lot of this is a result of the fact that we are at the very end now. Now, this is why this is a very critical time during the campaign, particularly as Republicans, is what are we going to do to bring the party together? And how are we going to get beyond litigating our differences and focus on what unites us as a party and how we can take the fight to the collective opponent, Barack Obama and the Democrats and their policies.

And I think that's what's happening. And I think I would point to the remarks of Marco Rubio, who was very enthusiastic, is representative of what a lot of the people, I think, across the party are feeling right now. KING: In our history going back 20, 25 years now, it is often in presidential years your party that has this problem, that has the healing problem after. Not this time.

As you watch that, is that about how it goes? Or if you were them, if you were on Team Romney, would you be a little worried or say this will all play out?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I remember 1988 with the caucus Jackson feud.

KING: That was fun.

BRAZILE: Of course. And to quote one of my favorite entertainers, what's love got to do with it?

You still have to put together an organization. You've got to try to look over in the other camp to see if there are any good people that you want to bring on board: surrogates, fundraisers.

I'm sure the Romney camp right now is just focusing on the fall. They're not going to continue to put a lot of resources into the primary battle. Right now the entire focus is on defeating President Obama.

KING: The entire focus is, Ron, but this is when you're trying to -- you're trying to, No. 1, you've got to look to the right and heal some wounds and repair those relationships.

No. 2, you're trying to figure out. And I think Governor Romney today, when he tried to get ahead of the president on the student loan thing, is looking back maybe not in the center of the electorate but for, you know, younger voters and their parents, people in the strain of the economy. How are they doing with the tug of war with sometimes conflicting goals?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, absolutely. This was a very insular primary. It was very much about speaking to the Republican base. There was very little effort made, I think, by Governor Romney and probably less than he could have to reach beyond the Republican base even during the primary process. Now he obviously has to begin doing that.

He's got two separate challenges. At the elite level you do see this kind of grumbling. The fact is there was not anyone in this field, including him, who was an ideal fit for the Republican Party in 2012. And I think you still see that in some of this grumbling.

On the other hand, Republican voters are coalescing pretty quickly/ There are some polls with him already up to 90 percent among rank-and-file Republicans. So clearly the principle focus going forward has to be expanding beyond that.

MADDEN: And nothing unites the Republican Party like the prospect of beating Barack Obama. KING: When you -- when you look, people endorse the governor. Some are volunteers. You see Senator Rubio there. We've seen some other potential prospects for the running mate.

Answer those who say these are auditions. This is -- Governor Romney wants to see if he's comfortable being in the same room with them. He wants to see them out there publicly speaking. He wants to see if they'll be passionate about him.

MADDEN: Yes, I think the problem with that is that people who haven't been involved in the process do think it has more to do with the pageantry than it has to do with the substance. They look more at the formula: who's from a big state, who has either ideological or geographical diversity that they may bring to a ticket.

And I think that's absent from the considerations that the actual top of the ticket goes through, which is who is going to be there on day one with me to govern? This is my first decision, you know, a presidential -- a nominee has to think this is my first decision as a potential president. What kind of message do I want to send to the American people?

That, I think, is much more -- we don't put enough of a premium on that when we play the veepstakes.

KING: You guys think -- good.

BRAZILE: I just -- you know, I'm animated always about being for Obama. You've to beat someone with something. And right now we don't know what that something is, because Mitt Romney is still trying to define who he will be now that he is going to be the presumptive nominee. So it's interesting.

KING: I've asked Gloria to talk about it. You guys stay put. We'll talk about that when we come back.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour, though. Tom Foreman is sitting in. Tom, what's on tap?


You know that drone that the Iranians captured last December? They say now that they have cracked the electronic brain. They know the code behind how our drones operate and what they do and where they go.

The U.S. government says they're wrong. But if we're wrong, the consequences for our troops all over the world could be profound. We'll look at that.

Plus, a woman who gave a kidney to help her boss and in exchange got fired -- John.

KING: That sounds like a raw deal there. Tom we'll see you in a few minutes. Want to hear more about that. When we come back, great news for drivers tonight. Finally, gas prices -- you probably noticed this -- they're starting to drop. How far and how long this break could last.

Lady Gaga keeps company with presidents and political powerhouses. She does? At least that's what her wax figure does.


KING: When we look at presidential politics and the polling, we know Mitt Romney has a little uphill climb. There's a gender gap. There's also a huge problem with Latino voters.

Let's continue our conversation with Ron Brownstein, Kevin Madden and Donna Brazile.

Kevin, just today, out campaigning with Senator Rubio, he had a different version of what's now called the DREAM Act. The president had a version. The Republicans don't support it. Governor Romney doesn't support the Democratic version.

Essentially, if you came to this country illegally, you were a child, if your parents brought you over, you have nothing to do with it, if you're in college or if you enroll in the military, you get some benefits. You get a break, and you get a path to status.

How important is the Rubio version, which is a little less generous, I guess, in its benefits, to the Republican Party and potentially to Governor Romney in dealing with what is a huge problem with Latinos?

MADDEN: First of all, we have to remember that the Rubio plan is still in its genesis stage. He's having conversations across the aisle; he's having conversations with leadership about what that would look like.

I think what's most important on the particular issue is that the Rubio approach allows Republicans to talk about what they're for. All too often as a party, we take the bait, whether it's by the media or Democrats, to make this a very divisive issue about what we're against.

And I think an aspirational Republican plan about what a modernized immigration system looks like is good for the party. And I think it will be good for the political debate, and it will help us make better inroads.

BROWNSTEIN: But Romney's mixed or cool or stand-offish response today...

KING: Needs to study it. Needs to study it.

BROWNSTEIN: ... is emblematic of the challenge Republicans face. In the long run, I think everyone agrees. All serious strategists in the Republican Party agree they cannot allow Democrats to continue winning two-thirds of Hispanics, as Obama did in 2008, and where he's polling again in 2012.

But today, they are heavily dependent and are winning preponderant majorities among portions of the white electorate -- older whites and blue-collar whites -- who are the most uneasy about the demographic change that is going on.

And this is a fundamental conundrum. That -- that vote is a pretty tight leash on immunizations (ph). We've already heard voices of the Republican Party, the most conservative voices in immigration, opposing what Marco Rubio was doing, which would allow these children of illegal -- young illegal immigrants brought here as kids to stay but not provide them citizenship.

Democrats will say that doesn't go far enough. But conservatives already saying that goes too far. So how can they make this leap from the coalition they have to the coalition they need? No one has fully answered that.

BRAZILE: Governor Romney said at the CNN debate on February 22 that SB-1070, the Arizona law, immigration law, is a model for the country. That law is going to be debated before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

This is not about responding to the Democrats or responding to the media. It's about responding to millions of Americans who believe that there should be a fair way for them to become citizens. They've worked hard; they've paid their taxes. They want to become Americans. They believe in this country. They want to have a piece of the American dream.

So you don't have to respond to Democrats; respond to the Hispanics.

MADDEN: Real quick, Governor Romney during the debate and today, actually, also talked about what he believes in, as it relates to immigration, what a modernized immigration system looks like and how it would help not only Hispanics but it would help the entire economy. So he's actually been one of the candidates that's been the best on this issue talking about it.

Now, we need to do more. That's a guarantee. But I think the governor has been very clear to make sure he hasn't framed this in terms of what he's against. He's talked about -- more about what he's for.

BROWNSTEIN: But he also has embraced attrition through enforcement. You know, the self-deportation idea, which is, you know, a step to the right of even where Republicans were in opposing the pathway to citizenship.


MADDEN: Democrats and Republicans agree -- Democrats and Republicans agree that we need common-sense enforcement issues.

BRAZILE: We do. KING: We need common-sense conversations on this. And the tone and the tenor, it's not just the substance. It's the tone sometimes that's hurt Republicans.

If Senator Rubio puts something on the table that gives the Democrats 65, 70 percent of what was in the original DREAM Act, do you legislate and say, "We'll take that for now and debate more later"? Or do we do what we've done in every other issue in the last four years, and do that?

BRAZILE: They came up with a plan and said -- they at one point -- John McCain embraced it. And then...


BRAZILE: ... so look, there's no question Democrats are willing to come to the table and talk about this issue.

KING: Would they do it before the election? Would they -- some Democrats would say they're taking the bait, you're doing the Republicans a favor if you try to do it before the election.

BRAZILE: Look, I'm thinking more like an American and millions of Americans who want to find a path to citizenship.

MADDEN: That's the point, though. One of the big challenges for the president right now is that there are many Hispanic-Americans out there who feel that this was a president who talked more and acted -- didn't act enough on the issue of immigration.

BROWNSTEIN: Most Democrats would say the Rubio approach does not go far enough, but some key elements in the immigration rights community might be tempted to accept it.

KING: Makes some progress. Ron, Kevin, Donna, continue the conversation.

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

Hey, there.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, John. Thank you.

U.S. troops in Afghanistan say they're being attacked from across the border in Pakistan, and they're firing back. It has happened at least four times in the past ten months. And the revelation is likely to put pressure on the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. The Taliban and the Haqqani network are thought to be responsible for those attacks.

And a sigh of relief at the gas pump. Prices are starting to fall. A gallon of regular now costs $3.91 on average. Yes, that is still high. This is according to the Lundberg Survey. That's down, though, a nickel from two weeks ago. And experts say we could see prices drop by another dime or so in the next few weeks. And of course, we will all be watching.

A soccer ball swept 3,000 miles away during the Japanese tsunami could soon be reunited with its owner. A beachcomber in Alaska discovered the ball -- you're seeing a picture of it there -- which has printed -- which was printed with the name and the school on it. Now a 16-year-old Japanese student says it's his.

U.S. agencies, including the State Department, are working along with the Japanese embassy. They are working on a process to return these found items. A pretty amazing story.

Another thing -- story that had a lot of people talking today, Ron Artest may have changed his name to Metta World Peace, but actions speak louder than the words on the back of his L.A. Lakers jersey.

The player was thrown out of last night's game against the Oklahoma Thunder for brutally elbowing James Hardin and giving him a concussion. You're seeing the replay right there. He now faces a possible suspension from the NBA.

He apologized yesterday and tweeted this. Quote, "I just watched the replay again. My celebration of the dunk really was too much. Didn't even see James. OMG. Looks bad."

What do you think, John, intentional, unintentional?

KING: Having watched that video, that is not a credible witness. Let's put it that way.

BOLDUAN: Well put.

KING: And unfortunately, even if -- even if he's telling the truth, his history would suggest otherwise.


KING: He's -- the league is going to take a good, hard look at that.

BOLDUAN: More than a name change is going to be required.

KING: Yes. That was not world peace. That was something quite different than that.

All right. Kate, stay right there. I'm going to need your help on this one.

Tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed," Lady Gaga has made her mark -- we all know that -- on pop culture and with her distinctive sound and style. She's made her mark on politics as a gay rights advocate, and now she's making her mark in wax in Madame Tussauds Museum, right here in Washington, D.C., dressed in black latex with huge platform shoes -- that's not her, by the way -- her hair tied with a bow.

Juxtapose that with the other figures. You just saw some of them in the museum: Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Hillary Clinton and, of course, President Obama.

I wonder if his wax figure feels as awestruck as the president -- the real president himself did after meeting Gaga last fall.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She was wearing 16-inch heels. She was eight feet tall. It was a little intimidating.


KING: I don't know what to say about Gaga in wax, so I'm going to let you talk for a couple of minutes.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. You know, I'll take as much TV time as you can give me.

I think it was pretty amazing, how lifelike it looks. It did -- did look this up a little bit, because I know you're interested in more info. It took about four months for them to complete this, and this is one of eight differently-styled Gagas in wax out there in the world today. So you have until June 30, apparently, to see this one in D.C.

KING: That's about the hair end (ph) issues, I guess.

BOLDUAN: The whole thing.

KING: All right. See you back here tomorrow night. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.