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Fellow Catholics Blast Lawmaker; Economic Slump?

Aired April 26, 2012 - 18:00   ET


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

Tonight, a new warning sign for the economy and the president's reelection campaign. Does a sluggish jobs market mean a major spring slump is close at hand?

Plus, does God oppose the House Republican budget? Its architect, Congressman Paul Ryan, rebuts Catholic critics who say GOP spending cuts violate the church teachings.

And is President Obama subsidizing his reelection campaign with your tax dollars? Republicans say yes. The White House says no way. Tonight's "Truth" draws the line between official business and partisan politics.

Up first this evening, though, new terror concerns as we approach the first anniversary of the daring raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. A new government intelligence bulletin stresses there is no credible information suggesting al Qaeda or its allies are planning attacks tied to the anniversary.

But the concerns are real enough that President Obama reviewed the threat picture just this morning with his top national security advisers.

Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is here with the details.

Chris, what is the biggest threat intel officials are most worried about?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, they are very concerned right now about a renewed effort to target Western aviation.

In fact, the FBI, Homeland Security, and the U.S. military's Northern Command sent this memo out to law enforcement agencies across the country basically alerting them to the possibility of this threat. Specifically, they think the biggest threat is coming from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. That is the most active al Qaeda group.

It's also the group that has tried to attack two U.S.-bound jetliners in the last few years.

KING: And, Chris, is this a running concern? Or is it hyped up, exaggerated? Do they believe more of a concern because of the coming anniversary, May 1, of bin Laden's death? LAWRENCE: Yes. What they have seen is an increase in talk on some of these extremist Web sites.

In fact, one specifically made a threat targeting the Pentagon on May 2 and later seemed to target the secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, as well. But they think that right now there is not a specific tie to bin Laden's death. What do they mean by that?

Well, when you take a look at homegrown extremists, those who are already right here in the United States, they think that, yes, it would be a symbolic victory to attain some sort of attack on this anniversary. But they think if they have a plot in the works, they're not going to accelerate their timetable to meet this deadline.

KING: Our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence, Chris, thanks so much.

And this related development just in. A federal judge has just ruled the pictures of Osama bin Laden's corpse should not be released saying, "A picture may be worth 1,000 words, yet in this case verbal descriptions of the death and burial of Osama bin Laden will have to suffice."

A critical barometer of the state of the economy will be unveiled tomorrow morning and that is when the government makes its fist estimate of economic growth for the first quarter. The consensus is a growth rate of about 2 percent in the first three months of 2012, which is fairly anemic.

There are new worries tonight about the current quarter. Three consecutive weeks of relatively high new filings for unemployment benefits suggest a soft jobs market and perhaps a spring slowdown in the broader economy.

David Leonhardt, the Washington bureau chief of "The New York Times," crunching the numbers.

David, when you look at these, last week, 380,000 people initial claims. Two weeks ago, 389,000, a high number, 388,000 before that. Economists say 350,000 or below makes them feel more optimistic. The question is, is this a blip or a sign of a dip?

DAVID LEONHARDT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": We don't know yet. What was so troubling about today's number is a lot of people thought the prior two weeks were a blip.

They thought it might have to do with the timing of Easter, the way these numbers are calculated. They said we're soon going to see these numbers falling. And then we didn't see them fall today. And when you put that on top of the last jobs report, which was disappointing, there's reason to worry some combination of Europe and the oil market and the usual aftereffects of a financial crisis are once again holding back the recovery.

KING: And obviously Americans who either want to upgrade their jobs or find a job are concerned about this. The president has to be concerned about this both from a policy and political standpoint.

You mentioned jobs. As you see the unemployment filings -- we will get in a couple of weeks, we will get the next unemployment report. But in January, the economy created 275,000 jobs, February 240,000 jobs, pretty good numbers there, not great. And then in March, you had that whoa, 120,000.

If April follows in the ballpark of March, what does that tell you about the bigger economy?

LEONHARDT: So these jobless numbers make you worry that April is going to follow March. We don't know for sure. This shows only part of the picture. It doesn't pick up hiring at all. It's just layoffs. But if April follows that, it does suggest we're then not really taking off.

We're just sort of moving along here, getting better at a very slow rate. And given how deep the hole was, how deep the recession is, that's worrisome for the job market most of all. As you noted, it's clearly worrisome for incumbents, the president above all.

KING: If you're getting along at just that very, very slow rate, you're also a lot more susceptible to external factors like more Europe, or like some other unpredictable thing like an Iranian foreign crisis?

LEONHARDT: That's right. One of the real problems with the aftermath of financial crises is relatively little things can upset confidence. Something in Europe, which feels far away, can upset confidence because people are so scarred by the crisis.

And so every time the growth rate comes down a little bit, it not only makes things not improving at a better rate, but reduces the margin for error going forward.

KING: David Leonhardt of "The New York Times" appreciate your coming and helping us understand this.


KING: We will watch the GDP report first thing tomorrow morning.

A provocative question today in the debate over the House Republican budget. How would Jesus vote? That budget's architect, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin visited the Jesuit-run Georgetown University today to rebut Catholic critics who say Ryan's proposed cuts in Medicare and other social safety net programs run counter to the church's teachings.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I suppose that there are some Catholics who for a long time thought they had a monopoly of sorts, not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our church. Of course there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this. The work I do as a Catholic holding office conforms to the social doctrine as best I can make of it.


KING: Congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan was at Georgetown.

Kate, how was the speech and the chairman received?


Paul Ryan's speech today was met with protests both inside and out at Georgetown University. I will say they were not huge or disruptive protests, but his recent comments that his Catholic faith has guided him in planning the 2013 Republican budget caused an uproar among some Catholic groups, like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as well as some 90 Georgetown faculty, where as you have mentioned he was giving the speech today.

They're criticizing him for linking Catholic social teaching to a budget that these critics say goes against Catholic teaching. They condemn some of the central provisions of the plan aimed at reducing the deficit, including dramatically changing Medicare for future seniors as well as cuts in food aid and other programs for the poor while at the same time cutting taxes for wealthier Americans.

Essentially these Catholics are arguing that Paul Ryan is unfairly targeting the poor in this budget and that does not follow Catholic teaching. Ryan defends the budget and did so today saying it does embody the Catholic teaching as the aim is to take power away from bureaucrats in Washington and give it back more to local communities.

Talking to some of the Catholic critics though they did not seem any more persuaded as they left the speech today. As you know, though, John, this has become a very important political document as well.

KING: Very, very important political document in this campaign ahead, 194 days to Election Day. Kate Bolduan, thanks. We will see you bit later.

Some Georgetown 90 faculty members sent Ryan a letter objecting to his approach and it said in part -- quote -- "We would be remiss if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few."

Father Thomas Reese among those who signed the letter.

Father, thank you for joining us on this night.

After listening to Congressman Ryan explain his side of this and to say sure, there is diversity, do you have a better understanding? Or are you still in 1000 percent disagreement?

THOMAS REESE, SENIOR FELLOW, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Well, I think we were happy to have Congressman Ryan come to Georgetown University because it stimulated a discussion of how our faith, how our values should influence what we do in the public sphere.

Now, if he presented his budget in one of my classes or in a class on Catholic social teaching, we'd have to flunk him because it doesn't represent what Catholic social teaching is all about. As the bishops have made very clear, you cannot balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

Let's look at other programs that can be cut. And, you know, and let's look at the possibility of raising taxes.

KING: You say look at other programs that can be cut, the possibility of raising taxes, that's all part of the debate here. One of Congressman Ryan's rebuttals would be, OK, but if we don't do anything, then we pass a huge debt on to your students and to their children and that is counter to the church's teachings. Does he have a point there?

REESE: Absolutely.

The debt is a really serious issue that needs to be confronted. Too bad it wasn't confronted, you know, over the last 10 years when we were in economic prosperity. Instead, we continued to run deficits, we went into two wars, we cut taxes, and we extended Medicare entitlements with Medicare D without paying for it.

You know, in the good times, we're supposed to run surpluses and put money aside for the bad times that we're in right now. We didn't do that.

KING: If you look at public opinion polling right now, the Catholic vote's usually a big swing vote in a presidential election. President Obama carrying it nationally right now early on, 51 percent to 45 percent.

If you do a breakdown, though, among very religious Catholics, Governor Romney has a slight advantage. Among moderately religious and non-religious Catholics, it's the president who has a slight advantage. This constituency is always important. How active do you think the church is going to be, are you going to be in this debate going forward? Or do you get reluctant to be in the middle of it when we're picking a president and making that kind of a choice?

REESE: Well, I think that as Catholics, as clergymen, we don't want to endorse candidates.

We don't want to get involved in endorsing political parties, but what we do want to get involved in is talking about the issues, because they're moral issues. The budget is a moral document because it has an impact on people, especially poor people. We want to talk about the issues, but stay away from endorsing candidates.

KING: Father Reese, appreciate your coming in tonight. It's an important debate. It will continue.

REESE: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

We will continue our closer look at the defining issues of the 2012 campaign. Next, the Democrats claim Mitt Romney has an outdated back to the future world view.

Also ahead, John Edwards' lawyers try to destroy the credibility of a star witness testifying against the former senator and presidential hopeful.


KING: Vice President Biden delivered an important policy address today praising President Obama's handling of foreign policy and suggesting the presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney is stuck in the past.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And sometimes, I don't know it's a slip of the tongue or it's a mind-set, but he even refers to the Russians as Soviets. Governor Romney is mired in a Cold War mind-set.


KING: The Romney campaign held a conference call to take issue with the vice president's speech, but a top Romney adviser, the former Navy Secretary John Lehman, well, listen.


JOHN LEHMAN, FORMER NAVY SECRETARY: We're seeing the Soviets pushing into the Arctic with no response from us.


KING: The Soviet Union, if you haven't read your history books, dissolved in 1991, by the way.

Despite the tough rhetoric from both campaigns, do the president and Governor Romney really have different approaches to the major global challenges like Iran and Syria?

In Chicago, the foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign, Dan Senor, and here in Washington with me, Michele Flournoy. she's a former undersecretary of defense, now an Obama campaign adviser as well.

Let's start, Dan, to you first. The secretary general of the United Nations just moments ago said he is appalled and he's raising concerns that Syria is just ignoring its commitment under the cease- fire. In a Romney presidency, if Governor Romney were president today, would he go outside the United Nations? Would he act unilaterally?

DAN SENOR, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Well, first of all, he wouldn't outsource our decision-making on Syria to Russia and China.

Really, Russia that has really paralyzed the process at the U.N. Security Council. And the only thing they have been able to support is some dumbed-down version of what the secretary general is speaking to. But more importantly, what Governor Romney will be focused on, what he has spoken is organizing and working with our allies in the region, countries like Turkey, countries like Saudi Arabia, to identify opposition leaders we can work with and members of the opposition movement who we can fund and train and get arms to.

Russia is funding and arming the Syrian army that is responsible for a bloodletting in Syria, the likes of which we have not seen really anywhere in the world in years. You can go back to the Balkans for something comparable. That is what you're seeing in Syria today.


KING: Is Dan right, Michele? Has this president outsourced our foreign policy? Essentially letting Russia and China make the world and in part of that the United States ineffective, useless when it comes to Syria?


When you look at everything from how we have handled Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, al Qaeda, and counterterrorism, and Libya, now Syria, the Arab spring more broadly. The U.S. is in a leadership role. This president understands the unique role that the U.S. has to play.


KING: But what now? The United States is in a leadership role, but it supports the Kofi Annan mission, which has done nothing. Forgive me, but has done nothing except give Assad cover.

What now, when you have the secretary general saying it's failed?

FLOURNOY: Well, I think what you have to do first is allow the diplomatic effort to try to work.

If that does fail, then you're in a position to put together a coalition to increase pressure even further beyond what's already been done and to take necessary action. So this has to be done in the right way. If the U.S. were to go off recklessly and unilaterally and militarily, that would totally change the dynamics of the situation in a way that would be very harmful to our interests.

KING: Let's listen to the two candidates, the president of the United States and Governor Romney, talking about their approach to Iran and keeping Iran they hope from getting a nuclear weapon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible and far better.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As president, I will be ready to engage in diplomacy. But I will be just as ready to engage our military might. Israel will know that America stands at its side in all conditions and in all consequence.


KING: Dan, I know Governor Romney says in his view President Obama was slow to increase the sanctions on Iran. But where we are today, let's focus on where we are today, escalating sanctions against Iran, the conversations with the Israeli government. Would Governor Romney be doing anything different if he were president today?

SENOR: Well, first of all, it's not -- I just want to correct something. It's not just Governor Romney who says the Obama administration has been slow on the sanctions. Leading Democrats in the House and Senate have actually made that point too.

As it relates to the message we'd be sending to Iran right now, what we'd be doing right now in a Romney administration is, one, while the sanctions should be taking hold and we should be hopeful that there's some peaceful diplomatic solution to this, John, none of these tracks have a shot if the Iranians do not believe the threat of military force is credible.

To be clear, we are not suggesting that the military option should be used. No one, Michele, is saying we should be recklessly, unilaterally engaging in military action. However, the president and his senior surrogates and senior members of administration for the last year or two have made crystal clear that the military option is effectively off the table.

Yes, he uses the language it's on the table. But every time there's a discussion about possible military action, Secretary Panetta in particular over the last year has talked about what a terrible mistake it would be for the United States or Israel to take military action. Again, it doesn't mean we should be taking military action, but we certainly want to leave the mullahs in Tehran with the view it's a credible threat.

How else are we going to focus their minds on a non-military solution?

KING: Dan says the president, this administration has not convinced the Iranians it's serious. Is he right?

FLOURNOY: Look, the president has been very clear at the AIPAC conference and numerous other times the military option is on the table, but it's not time for that option to be exercised yet. And we have to pursue sanctions.

We are at the most crippling sanctions that we have ever seen against any country, and particularly Iran. We're pursuing that. We need to let that run its course before you rush to military action, given the very severe consequences and downsides of doing that.

On Israel, if I may, this administration has been a staunch ally of Israel. In fact, one of -- in one of my goodbye meetings with Ehud Barak, the minister of defense in Israel, he pulled me aside and he said, I just want to thank you. There's no U.S. administration that has ever done more for the security of the state of Israel than this one.

So let's be clear on that point.

KING: OK, 194 days, I believe, to continue this conversation and debate.

Dan Senor in Chicago, Michele Flournoy with me, thank you so much for coming in tonight. We will continue the conversation in the days and weeks ahead.

And still ahead here, more on the finger-pointing about who is behind the latest atrocity in what is supposed to be a cease-fire in Syria.

Plus, the rise of what will soon be New York City's tallest building.



KING: Still ahead here: John Edwards' lawyer accuse a one-time aid of exaggerating threats the senator's mistress would go public about their affair.

And the media mogul Rupert Murdoch admits his British papers covered up phone hacking. And for what it's worth, he says he's sorry.


KING: This half-hour: a cease-fire, yet the body count is over 400 in less than two weeks. And the head of the United Nations tonight says he's -- quote -- "gravely alarmed."

Also, Environmental Protection Agency officials boast about crucify companies. That has Republicans outraged and the White House in retreat.

And we will take a trip down memory lane for tonight's "Truth" about presidents mixing official travel with reelection politics. Guess what? Everybody does it.

A Syrian opposition group today reported 462 deaths since April 16. That's the day the United Nations observers began monitoring what's supposed to be a cease-fire.

About an hour ago, the U.N. secretary general declared he's gravely alarmed by the continuing violence.

CNN's Arwa Damon has more on the latest atrocity: an explosion that killed at least 70 people in the city of Homs.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, opposition activists are saying that the explosion was caused due to a rocket that was launched by Syrian government forces into this neighborhood. And the reason why it ended up causing such wide-scale devastation is because it was fired into an area that was fairly poorly built up, causing a number of buildings to collapse on top of one another.

Video posted to YouTube showing the extent of the damage that was caused and parts of the rescue effort that included images of women and children being pulled out from underneath the rubble.

Now the Syrian government, for its part, is saying that the explosion was due to terrorist gangs trying to put together some sort of bomb, effectively saying that this complex was being used as something of a bomb-making factory.

Either way, what is undeniable is that people have died. And that the cease-fire at this point in time has ceased to exist. And as any sort of peaceful negotiation at this stage to try to end this crisis, well, that is something of an unrealistic proposition. And at this point, the future for Syria remains to continue to be incredibly bleak -- John.


KING: Arwa Damon reporting from Beirut.

Rupert Murdoch says he's sorry. The 81-year-old media tycoon apologized today for not paying close enough attention to the phone- hacking scandal now dogging his empires.

CNN's Dan Rivers has been monitoring a public inquiry about the scandal.


DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it was a fairly contrite media mogul Rupert Murdoch who appeared before this judicial inquiry into press ethics, not mincing his words when he said sorry.

RUPERT MURDOCH, CEO, NEWS CORP: It was an omission by me. And all I can do is apologize to a lot of people, including all the innocent people in the "News of the World" who lost their jobs.

RIVERS: But what will garner most headlines here is his admission that there was a cover-up in relation to phone hacking. Rupert Murdoch suggesting that the cover-up was limited to the disgraced newspaper, "The News of the World." But many of his enemies and, indeed, some of the executives in that newspaper are suggesting that the cover-up went higher up: the management structure. The big question for Rupert Murdoch is, is there proof it went all the way to him -- John.


KING: Dan Rivers in London tonight. Thanks to Dan.

We're following new allegations tonight that Secret Service agents may have been boozing and hiring prostitutes long before their now-infamous trip to Colombia.

These new reports date back to March 2011 just before President Obama visited El Salvador. A reporter for KIRO -- that's our affiliate out in Seattle -- says he's in contact with a government contractor who was with about a dozen Secret Service members and a few military specialists at a strip club in the capital city ahead of the president's arrival.

Now, keep in mind: this is one unnamed source. We have not been able to confirm this independently at CNN. But here's the reporter, Chris Halsne, retelling his source's story about what happened at that club.


CHRIS HALSNE, REPORTER, KIRO: He witnessed some of the Secret Service agents going into the VIP area to get sexual favors for cash. And ultimately, he said, they were working really hard to try to get the strippers back to their hotel rooms, and that in at least two circumstances he witnessed, that despite him telling them that it was a terrible idea, that that occurred.


KING: Secret Service is responding to this report with this statement: "The recent investigation in Cartagena has generated several news stories that contain allegations by mostly unnamed sources. Any information brought to our attention that can be assessed as credible will be followed up in an appropriate manner."

Turning now to the trial of John Edwards. Today the jury saw key pieces of evidence against the former presidential candidate. Pictures, phone records, voice messages, and more, all presented to the jury as prosecutors tried to prove Edwards used campaign money to cover up his affair.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning, Mr. Edwards.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thursday for the first time, the court began releasing some of the prosecution exhibits entered into evidence. Pictures of one of the houses in North Carolina where John Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, stayed after moving away from the New York area to escape hounding from the media. Phone records, transcripts of phone calls.

And there was more painful cross-examination with prosecution star witness Andrew Young on the stand, a former right-hand man to Edwards who helped raise money to conceal the former senator's affair with Rielle Hunter and wrote a book to tell about it.

Edwards' defense lawyer, Abbe Lowell, continued to try to chip away at Young's credibility and his recollection of dates, times, places, conversations he had with Edwards. Young often sparring with Lowell, saying he was not able to recall certain specific dates and times. Or even the sequence of events. Not able to remember whether he wrote a check to buy a car for Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, or paid for it some other way.

Lowell asked if he used Hunter as a way to get money for himself. Young said, no.

Most of the money in question was given by a wealthy Edwards benefactor, Bunny Mellon of Northern Virginia. Mellon's checks, released publicly Thursday by the court, had been endorsed by Young's wife and deposited in the Young family account.

Mellon ended up giving $725,000, though the larger amount she had promised is in dispute.

The Edwards defense team needs a clear timeline to try to support its claim that Young was enriching himself while he was paying for living expenses, travel expenses for Hunter, and the baby girl fathered by Edwards.

The cross-examination was painful at times. At one point, judge Catherine Eagles warned the defense she might have to exclude certain evidence because it was confusing the issues or wasting time.

A North Carolina law professor observing the trial defended Lowell's line of questioning.

MIKE RICH, LAW PROFESSOR: I think he's dealing with a hostile, difficult witness to -- to get answers out of. And so it's taken a long time, but it doesn't seem like he's been going around in circles and really wasting the court of the jury's time.


JOHNS: A bunch of transcripts of voice mails also released today by the court, including one from the middle of December 2007. That was a time when the media was really closing in on Rielle Hunter. An appearance of concealment in a message from John Edwards to Andrew Young, indicating that he's going to call back in a little while, but if his wife Elizabeth Edwards was there, he's going to feign he didn't know what was going on. What happened? What's going on?

Just one more indication of the texture of the communications between Andrew Young and the former senator from North Carolina -- John.

KING: Our senior correspondent Joe Johns at the Edwards trial. Joe, thanks so much. Another important story breaking in Washington today. A high- ranking administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency has set off a political firestorm with these words about how to handle polluters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was what they did when the Romans used to conquer (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the Mediterranean. They'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere. They found the first five guys they saw, and they crucified them. Then that town was really easy to manage for the next few years.


KING: That video talking about crucifying is from 2010, and the administrator has now apologized for what he calls his, quote, "poor choice of words." But that's not enough to satisfy the Republican senator, James Inhofe, who's launching an investigation. And he says the problem reaches way beyond one regional administrator.


SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: His comments give us a rare glimpse of the Obama administration's true agenda. No matter how much President Obama may pretend to be a friend of oil, gas, and coal, his green team constantly betrays that truth that the Obama administration is fully engaged in an all-out war on hydraulic fracturing.


KING: Nor hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as it's called, is a technique used to get natural gas. Senator Inhofe says overreaching environmental laws on fracking could also be bad news for domestic oil and gas production.

So White House press secretary Jay Carney weighed into the controversy today, saying the administrator's words were inaccurate. Then he added this plug for his boss's energy strategy.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I would note that since the president took office, oil and gas production has increased each year. Oil is currently at an eight-year high, and domestic natural gas production is higher than at any time in history.


KING: The administrator is still employed by the EPA. And he oversees Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Texas and Senator Inhofe's home state, Oklahoma.

Coming up, the "Truth" about your money and presidential travel. Should the president reimburse the treasury for trips that Republicans say are really campaign events? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The House speaker, John Boehner, today accused President Obama of subsidizing his reelection campaign with your tax dollars.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, it's time for the Obama campaign to reimburse the treasury.


KING: Now, we've talked about this issue frequently here. The blurring of official events of campaign pitches. And there's no doubt President Obama tested the limits this week. Taxpayers paid for events at three college campuses in three November battleground states that had the unmistakable look and feel of campaign rallies.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want this forever to be a country where everybody gets a fair shot. And everybody's doing their fair share and everybody's playing by the same set of rules.


KING: Now, truth is, this president is as aggressive as they come in using official events and travel to make points vital to his reelection effort. But it's also true he is hardly unique. And, in fact, his record is fairly comparable to that of his Republican predecessor.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some in our nation's capital respond a little differently than I will. They want to increase federal spending dramatically. The problem with that plan is, somebody has to pay for it. And that somebody's going to be you. That's who will pay for it.


KING: Now, here are the numbers. Since filing his reelection papers a year ago, President Obama has taken 61 domestic trips, and 26 of those included fundraisers.

In roughly the same period in the 2004 reelection cycle, President Bush took 61 domestic trips, 34 of them fundraisers included.

Now, if the president uses Air Force One to fly, say, to Los Angeles or Dallas for just a political fundraiser, his campaign or the political party has to pick up the tab. But if that same stop also includes an official event, then taxpayers pay all or most of the travel costs. The Republican National Committee this week complained to the Government Accounting Office. But truth is, while President Obama isn't shy about blurring the lines between official and campaign events, the GOP complains, well, it conveniently forgets fairly recent history.

In the George W. Bush administration, taxpayers paid for about 97 percent of presidential travel, the Republican Party picked up 3 percent. It was Democrats who were complaining then. Just as the Republicans are complaining now.

There's no question incumbent presidents have a huge advantage. But unless both parties want to work together -- work together, remember? -- and write some new rules on who pays for what, we're going to have this debate again in four or eight years.

Here tonight to talk truth, "TIME" magazine's deputy Washington bureau chief Michael Crowley; CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona; and the former Santorum campaign spokesman and GOP strategist, Alice Stewart.

Correct, I understand why the Republicans are complaining now. The president's their opponent. They're going to complain about just about everything he does. But forgive me: George W. Bush did this; Bill Clinton did this; George H.W. Bush did this. We could go back and back and back.

Each one gets a little better at doing it, but they all do it.

ALICE STEWART, GOP STRATEGIST: He claims to be the most transparent president. Unfortunately, he's a little obvious about this.

In the Iowa speech he was at the other night, take his body out, you could put any of the candidates in there. That rally looked exactly like any rally we've seen over this election cycle. It was a campaign rally, pure and simple.

And all we're asking is for him just to fess up: sure, it was a campaign event. He doesn't need to disguise it and pretend that it's like it's a presidential event. It was -- it was a campaign event going to California to be on the Jimmy Fallon show. That's certainly not anything to do with being president.

He needs to just fess up and be honest with the American people and pay for what is a campaign event and let the taxpayers pay when he's doing official business. We're happy to do that.

KING: If I'm not wrong, Jimmy Fallon -- if I'm not wrong, Jimmy Fallon actually came to the college campus where he was. I think. I'm not positive about that. Correct me if I'm wrong.

But, Maria, to Alice's point. Look, you know, every president studies the last president. Every campaign studies the last campaign. I remember George W. Bush doing this. I was active in that campaign. I remember past presidents doing this. I do think President Obama is probably more aggressive in his political rhetoric, but he's doing the same thing. The American people just have to suck it up and pay for it? Or should both parties actually say, "Maybe we need to draw clearer lines"?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think if both parties are going to complain about it, which they do. And frankly, I didn't think that -- I didn't think much of it when Democrats complained about it. I thought there was plenty to criticize George W. Bush on his policies and stay away from this. I thought it was ridiculous then; I think it's really ridiculous now. You have to focus on substance.

And look, if the president stayed in Washington, what a complaint would that be? Oh, the president's in the bubble. He's not going out to visit voters. That's exactly what he's doing as president, as he should. He's talking about the issues that he believes are important to the American people. Like the student loan.

And guess what? He's gotten the Republicans to now follow suit, and those president -- and those loans are not going...

KING: You lead me to where I'll go with Michael. Do the Republicans have more credibility to their argument in this particular case? Meaning this past week in the sense that Governor Romney had already said, "I'm with you, Mr. President. I agree with you on the student loans," which already -- which puts immediately congressional Republicans in the box that they're -- the president's going to get that.

So it was a done deal. They've got to argue over how to pay for it for a while. But in the end, they're going to do it. The president still went out and spent a lot of taxpayer money, going to three college campuses. Does that give a better argument? Or so be it?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think so be it. I think -- you know, first of all, I think the president's entitled to make his own case. To hit the issues he wants to hit in the way he wants to, you know, regardless of what Romney's saying. I don't think he has to cancel events because Romney's agreeing with him.

But I tend to agree that the average American, I guess, is probably -- thinks this is kind of Washington bickering. It doesn't have that much impact in their life.

With the one caveat that the White House has to be a little bit careful, the Republicans have a slight opportunity after this GSA scandal to be pointing to wasteful spending here, wasteful spending there. They're throwing your tax dollars around. I think it's exaggerated to some degree. There's always a little bit of waste in government, but I think that's the vulnerability, why Republicans are very eager to talk about it right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Except for... KING: Into that -- into that vortex will come Judicial Watch, a conservative group. Had to sue and file a Freedom of Information Act request. They're releasing information tonight saying a trip the first lady took, a Spanish vacation last year that they've got at least $467,585 because of the Air Force costs, the Secret Service costs, the staff costs.

I'm one who always says when people criticize any president for going on vacation, you know, he won the job; it comes with it. But $467,000 for an overseas vacation?

CARDONA: Well, but to note, that's exactly what it costs because -- and this is another thing, John, and you know this very well, given what you do. The -- the lawyers for both Democrats and Republican administrations are very careful in making sure that they do that delineation because they know this kind of stuff is coming.

So I know that there is very good arguments on both sides. But to your point, I do think that this is something that the American people look at and say, you know, this is just Washington speak, and they tend to tune out.

STEWART: And it is difficult...

KING: I think this is one where the lawyers might have said it's OK, the political staff might have raked their heads -- can we cut a couple bucks off that?

STEWART: It is a little -- it's very difficult to govern and campaign at the same time. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt on that.

But the point is he's got a job to do. We elected him to be president. We want him to do that job. We understand he's obviously running, but just don't insult the American people's intelligence. When you're going out to do a campaign event, let the campaign pay for it, not the taxpayers.

CARDONA: One very last point. You talked about that Republicans are going to call for an investigation. You know what? That cost money too. So...

CROWLEY: Right. Right.

CARDONA: On both sides, I think the whole thing is just vicious.

KING: So Alice, you're here. I introduced you as a Santorum spokesman. You also worked for Congresswoman Bachmann earlier in the campaign. I want you to listen. She was having a conversation with Wolf Blitzer today, and she has not yet officially said, "I'm on team Romney." Why?


SEN. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: I've said all along that I will be backing our party's nominee. I will happily do that. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: When?

BACHMANN: And what I'm doing is working behind the scenes, bringing together all factions of our party. As the line says in "The Wizard of Oz," all in good time, my pretty. It will happen.


STEWART: And Wolf is pretty. Wolf is pretty. No, the truth is and I spoke with Michele today, and I speak with Rick often. All in due time. Because look...

KING: They want something. There's a little leverage there.

STEWART: Absolutely not. Michele has been clear, Rick has been clear. They're not going to, you know, sell their endorsement. They're not going to leverage for anything.

But they are -- they've said very clearly from the very beginning, they're going to do what needs to be done to coalesce conservatives and defeat Barack Obama.

But think -- compare this to '08. Hillary did not get out until June, the first week of June, and then they coalesced and obviously went on successfully. We're still -- we still have a month, a little over a month.

KING: I would argue they had fewer -- they -- there was some bad blood, but it wasn't about policy as much, with the exception of maybe the Iraq war. But...

CARDONA: I think it indicates that, clearly, Mitt Romney is still not a candidate that has been able to have conservatives fall in love with them. And I think that clearly the fact that Bachmann and Santorum have not followed suit. If they do want to coalesce around him, what better way to do that than to announce your endorsement now?

KING: All in good -- all in good time, my pretty.

CROWLEY: Maybe all in good time. Maybe do it at the convention. On the other hand, you know, that's not the message that he wants to send right now. He's moving to the middle. He doesn't necessarily need Michele Bachmann's endorsement to fit in with the message he's sending at this moment, so maybe he's not shedding too many tears.

KING: That will stir up a little trouble. All right.

STEWART: As you all know, he's meeting with Rick next week, and things will pan out then. But they both agreed, and even Newt Gingrich also has said we'll do what needs to get done to defeat Obama.

KING: The Republican Party bus is getting crowded.


KING: Alice, Maria, Michael, thanks for coming in.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. And Erin, you're following the latest, and some of it's troubling, on the Secret Service scandal.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Some very troubling allegations of what happened ahead of President Obama and wife and daughters' trip to El Salvador. We have the very latest on that report. A reporter went down there and got the information.

Plus, Representative Sheila Jackson today, John, met with the chief of the Secret Service. And actually asked him what happened in El Salvador. We have some breaking news on that coming up at the top of the hour. So we're going to have that. Very interesting meeting and some revelations in it. We'll have that.

Back to you.

KING: See you in just a few minutes, Erin. Thanks.

And coming up here, next time you're stocking up at Costco, how about refinancing the house? That's right, Costco is getting into the mortgage business.

A tiny teary-eyed Rangers fan -- look at this -- denied a foul ball by the couple sitting next to him. See how the team came to the rescue of one of its young supporters.


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

Hello again.


Hello again, everyone.

Some headlines to catch you up on. We have some news just in from Chicago's Midway Airport. A Delta flight has been quarantined there, reportedly because of a passenger on board with some sort of medical issue. It happened just over two hours ago on a flight that originated in Detroit. There are -- there were, probably still are, 46 people on board. We'll be tracking that as well as these headlines.

In a rare instance of bipartisanship in the U.S. Senate, 15 Republicans joined Democrats in renewing a law that protects women from domestic abuse. The Violence Against Women Act includes an expansion of funding and protection for same-sex couples, Native Americans and immigrants. The House will take up the bill next month.

And Florida has just finished its investigation into a chain- reaction crash that killed 11 people in January. It says the highway patrol made a number of mistakes by reopening a stretch of highway covered in fog and smoke from a wildfire. Investigators say no crimes were committed, but they are suggesting an update to the policy manual.

And Chrysler Motors just posted its best quarter in more than 13 years. What a comeback for a company that was on the brink just three years ago. Chrysler earned $473 million in the quarter, more than quadruple what it earned during the same three months just last year. Ford and GM will report their first quarter earnings within a week. Congratulations to them on that.

And now on sale at Costco, mortgages. The discount big box store is rolling out a full-service mortgage lending program on its Web site, partnering with First Choice Bank and about ten other lenders. Costco's financial services manager says auto loans and student loans are next.

So you really can get anything at Costco.

KING: Just about, although you've got to do your mortgage online.


KING: If you want, you know, the giant toilet paper or toothpaste and the like, you've got to actually go to the store, I think.

BOLDUAN: Well, at least...

KING: Are you a Costco shopper?

BOLDUAN: I am -- I do. I love Costco.

KING: Best stuff. You got your Costco card?

BOLDUAN: Well, I don't have my wallet.

KING: She doesn't have her wallet on her. Yes, right.



Finally, stay put. Tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." This has a happy ending, I promise you. That's not how it begins.

A Ranger tosses a foul ball into the stands. This is during last night's game. A lot of hands you see reaching for it. Bounce, bounce, bounce. Up, there it is.

It ends up with a couple sitting right next to a little boy. You see the boy, and he's not happy there, wearing his mitt, his Rangers cap. The boy cries, even reaches for the ball, but the two people, as you notice, they're taking pictures. They're enjoying their new treasure, and they keep it. Even though there's a crying kid nearby.

Not to worry, someone in the dugout comes to the rescue.


KING: And there you go, all smiles, holding his own ball, even comparing it with the man who caught the first one. All's well that ends well. But...

BOLDUAN: I guess they didn't -- I don't know if it was they meant to ignore him. I think they just didn't see him. We're going to give them the benefit of the doubt, but it's a good ending.

You know what you think of? I always remember that one -- it happens every baseball season. A dad holding a kid, catches the ball with one hand, it was a triumph, hands it to the kid and the kid throws it back.

KING: He throws it away.

But if you've ever been in this situation, you're giving them the benefit of the doubt. That's good for you. We weren't there. But what happens in this situation is you get a little bit of a -- the people around -- trust me, the people around were making it known. Were making it known.

BOLDUAN: Right, right.

KING: Yes.

BOLDUAN: I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. John won't.

KING: Again, all is well that ends well. Kate still doesn't have her wallet.

That's all for us now. We'll see you back here again tomorrow. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.