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Terror Plot Foiled; Tight Presidential Race; Interview With Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and Congressman Charles Gonzalez

Aired May 7, 2012 - 18:00   ET


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

We continue to get new information on tonight's breaking news story. The United States, with the help of allies, foils a terrorist plot to bomb an airliner.

Also, an in-depth look at the key issues in the 2012 presidential election -- tonight, President Obama's report card on immigration.

Plus, exactly six months from now, Election Day, and new polling tonight shows an incredibly tight race, while the Romney and Obama campaign confront a pair of tough questions.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KING: We start with dramatic breaking use this evening, new information coming in to us here at CNN by the minute on a new terror plot foiled by the United States and its allies.

The plot is said to involve putting a suicide bomber aboard an airliner. But the plot was foiled and the U.S. recovered and is now studying the explosive device.

Let's quickly bring in our CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend, who was President Bush's homeland security adviser. Also with us, CNN contributor and the former FBI Assistant director Tom Fuentes.

Fran, I want to go to you first.

From your sources in the intelligence community, we are hearing that this was an upgrade, if you will. You remember the underwear bomber, that this was a way to upgrade the technology into an IED and explosive device. What do you know about it?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: John, just speaking to a senior administration official tells us that while there were many similarities to the past bombs that we have heard out of AQAP, the al-Asiri bomb-making network, there was some differences to this one, which is why they want to take the time to make sure the FBI goes through the forensics.

We have also heard recently about a number of threats about body bombs, a senior administration official that tells CNN that this was not intended to be a body bomb. This was more in line with the sort of underwear bomber type of thing. Look, they really feel strongly that this is a success.

They worked with their international partners. Make no mistake about it, the best internal service against this target is the Saudi service. We know that the Saudi service has tipped off the Americans when it came to the cargo plane threat and worked with them. The head of the Saudi service, Muhammad bin Nayef, was the target of the one of the Asiri bombs.

So this is -- they understand this target. They're a very close ally of the United States. But this administration official stressed to me that this really was an international effort, although they also stress that this bomb never made it to their knowledge near an airport or an airplane prior to coming into their possession as far as their investigation has shown, and it was never a threat to the United States.

So that means one of two things to me, John. Either this was in an early stage, this bomb plot, or it may have been made inert by either the U.S. or another security service, which is why they wouldn't have been -- they wouldn't have feared it actually detonating.

KING: So an intelligence success in keeping that bomb from either being able to be used or keeping the bomber from buying a ticket, getting on a plane, whatever.

But, Tom Fuentes, the question now is if they were developing this new technology, what is it capable of, what have they learned? As the United States adapts to them, how they try to adapt as well. Here is what the FBI says tonight.

"As a result of close cooperation with our security and intelligence partners overseas, an improvised explosive device designed to carry out a terrorist attack has been seized abroad. The FBI is currently in possession of the IED and is conducting technical and forensic analysis. Initial exploitation indicates the device is very similar to IEDs that have been used previously by al Qaeda."

If they're getting better, what are the key questions?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I don't know that they're getting better.

I think when they it's similar to devices in the past, one of the reasons that the authorities can identify a bomb-maker or a bomb- making school is because they don't deviate. This is not like the chef in a restaurant trying to be creative. If you make a bomb and you have all your fingers and toes afterwards to tell about it, you don't deviate too much from that.

So PETN, if that is the choice again that they used over and over, AQAP, then there is not going to be much deviation. The underwear bomber, there was no metal involved in that. So if have you PETN in a plastic Ziploc bag or something and you're trying to light it with a match, there is not going to be a metallic object with that. There is also a difference between an underwear bomber or an externally carried device, as opposed to what we heard about body bombs where they're trying to put it into a body cavity. That is a much different thing. And I don't know what kind of container that would be in prior to it going into somebody's cavity.

And the only other concern I have in this whole plot, everyone is cheering the success so far, but yet we don't have someone in custody. So the question that I have is, how much intelligence do we have about who made it, where did it come from, who was going to carry it, what airplane or group of airplanes might this have gone to later?

So we don't have a lot of details. We just have the material, and that is often easy enough to obtain or to intercept, and I think that if you're interdicting an explosive device, does it give you enough information to basically interrupt the people who made it?

KING: Well, Fred, what's your sense of the questions Tom raises from your intelligence sources? Do they have many of those questions or do they have some of the answers and we just don't know them yet?

TOWNSEND: No, I think they -- John, I think they actually understand a good deal more about this device than they're making public, and that's for good reason.

Look, if they want to thwart these things going forward, they can't signal publicly everything they know. We have heard again and again that this device never represented a threat to the United States. It suggests to me that even when it was not in the possession of U.S. officials or their allies, something had been done to it to give them that degree of confidence that this device never posed an active threat to the United States.

KING: And, Tom, when they say it never posed an active threat and they were saying all along they have no specific or credible information when we were asking these questions around the bin Laden anniversary, is this a -- so if you're the average person watching tonight and you think, OK, they have found this bomb, they have stopped this plot, I shouldn't be worried about this, right?

FUENTES: Well, you shouldn't be worried about that bomb. It is in custody now. But who made it? How many did they make? Where else are they storing them?

So could there be a continuing terrorist operation that has not been thwarted? That -- there may be. It may have been thwarted and they just haven't said so yet. And the thing is that in terms of not discussing the details of how it was made or what it would look like, at some point, how are you going to tell the airline officials around the world and TSA and their counterparts around the world what to look for?

So if they don't know what to look for or if they don't how it could have maybe been hidden from the new scanners that they have or any of that, it is not going to do a lot of good just to say we found this great device and we're not going to tell you about it. Tell us about it. What are we looking for?

KING: Those are some important tensions sometimes between the agencies still.

Tom Fuentes, Fran Townsend will continue to work their sources. We will check with them throughout the hour as new information comes in.

The defense secretary, Leon Panetta, spoke about this plot just moments ago.


LEON PANETTA, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I do not comment on specific classified operations, other than to say that the United States engages in a number of operations to go after al Qaeda and their militant allies, their terrorist allies, who would try to attack the United States.

What this incident makes clear is that this country has to continue to remain vigilant against those that would seek to attack this country. And we will do everything necessary to keep America safe.


KING: Let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

Jess, what did people at the White House know about the plot and when did they know it?


Officials hear say that the president was informed in April by his counterterrorism chief here, John Brennan, about this plot and then received continuing updates ever since then, and that again reiterated at no point was the public ever in danger from this foiled plot.

I am also told by a counterterrorism official that they are confident that this plot was not tied to the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death. In a statement released here, they also said that while the president was assured the device did not pose a threat to the public, he directed the Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement and intelligence agencies to take whatever steps necessary to guard against this type of attack.

I am advised that that means that out of an excess of precaution to make sure that there is nothing else out there like this, to make sure that Americans are safe. But the key piece of new information here is that they are confident that this was not Osama bin Laden's death -- related to Osama bin Laden's death or an attack planned around that, John.

And as you might guess, they're insistent and quite pleased that this is a sign that American intelligence-gathering has developed and been greatly enhanced since 9/11, not a sign that al Qaeda -- not only a sign that in their view al Qaeda has been degraded, but that the U.S. has stepped up its abilities significantly since then, John.

KING: That is quite an important point there at the end.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, Jess is working her sources as well. We will stay in touch. Thanks for that information.

And still ahead here: much more coverage on tonight's breaking news, the foiled terror plot to blow up an airliner.

But, next, we begin an in-depth look at the presidential candidates' campaign promises -- tonight, President Obama's report card on illegal immigration.


KING: Each night this week, we're going to take a look at the candidates' positions on key issues and grade them. In the case of the president, we will grade his campaign promises from 2008 and how he has delivered in office. Next week, we will some spend time on the Romney record as well.

Tonight's topic is immigration. I want to come up and bring you up this report card.

Four years ago, candidate Obama promised to act quickly.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We will have in the first year an immigration bill that I strongly support and that I am promoting.


KING: And he promised his bill would be sweeping, securing the border and more.


OBAMA: We will crack down on employers who exploit undocumented workers and undercut American workers. And we will put those 12 million people living in the shadows on a path to earned citizenship.


KING: So how did the president do?

Well, bring up the report card. Introduce immigration reform in his first year, you would have to say the president broke that promise. He never introduced legislation, did talk to the Congress about it, but never submitted an actual bill. Securing the borders, the administration claims significant progress when it comes to securing borders. It has its many critic, but there are some data that would suggest progress. You would have to say that one is still a work in progress. But the administration claims progress.

How about providing a path to citizenship for undocumented workers? This of course is a promise the president has not kept, although he says he is still open to conversations with the Congress. He says, right now, he can't get anything done if you have a big partisan fight over the immigration issue.



OBAMA: I would only have broken my promise if I hadn't tried. But, ultimately, I am one man. We live in a democracy. We don't live in a monarchy. I am not the king. I am the president. And so I can only implement those laws that are passed through Congress.


KING: Well, let's discuss the immigration report card and how this issue will shape the campaign ahead.

Democrat Congressman Charles Gonzalez of Texas with us. He's chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. And Republican Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, who serves as co-chair of the presidential candidate Mitt Romney's national steering committee.

We showed the gentlemen backwards there, but as we talk to them, we will get it right.

Congressman -- the Democrat, I want to come to you first, Congressman Gonzalez. To the point that, in the Latino, people say, Mr. President, you promised to submit the legislation and you never did, why? Even if you know Congress isn't going to pass it, why not keep the promise by handing up the piece of paper?

REP. CHARLES GONZALEZ (D), TEXAS: There were ongoing discussions throughout the first two years of the president's tenure, of course.

The problem was the reality of a gridlocked Congress. And we know what was going on in Senate. The Senate was supposed to go forward first, but of course you know what's going on there and of course the frustration and of course just the obstructionism.

The president has been dedicated to comprehensive immigration reform from day one. He has not let up on that. The problem is, he is absolutely right. He's the executive branch. You still need Congress to pass the law.

KING: You do need Congress to pass the law.

Congressman Diaz-Balart, what is the mood at the moment? As you know, your party, if you look at the polling, has a problem with Latino voters. I know you're among those who has tried to suggest that some voices tone down the rhetoric, maybe we should get progress.

Is the problem here the comprehensive part? If you did this piece by piece, could we get agreement with the Democratic president on incremental immigration reform?

REP. MARIO DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think it is important to put the facts on the table.

And your -- when you first spoke about it, you did so. But when people talk about the obstructionist Congress, for the first two years, this president had huge majorities, Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate.

And as you said a little while ago, he said that he was going to bring forward legislation. When he controlled the House and the Senate, for two years, not only -- and then later, he says, well, I tried. He never presented legislation. By the way, we're still waiting. I send messages to the White House continuously. They don't even respond to me about this issue.

But, again, let's put it on the record. Look, he promised he would present legislation and try to get it passed in his first 12 months. He said so repeatedly. He never -- he to this day has yet to present it. And to blame Congress when in the first two years, he had 100 percent control in the House and the Senate, and now to blame Republicans?

Look, the facts just don't add up. The reason we do not have immigration reform, look, it is a tough issue, obviously. Otherwise, we would have done it a long time ago, those of us that support it.

But without presidential leadership, it is impossible. This president only talks about it election time. And giving speeches is not real leadership. The problem that we have is that while he talks about it when he remembers it during election season, he has not wanted to get it done because here is a question. Where is his bill? We're still waiting for it.

KING: It is a fair question, where is his bill, is it not? And your Republican colleague is correct in that the first two years in office, the Democrats did run the town.

GONZALEZ: Running the town and passing legislation are two different things. One is perception, that you have that majority.

I love my dear friend Mario, but I don't understand how he is going to reconcile the position that we tried to move just on the DREAM Act, which is, again, incremental. We voted for it. Mario voted for it. I voted for it. When it got to the Senate, they couldn't get 60 votes just to get to a vote.

They had 55 votes. Where you don't have the support that is needed is just a handful of Republicans. If we don't have that in the Senate, you're never going to get to the 60-vote threshold and you're never going to get to a vote. And that's what's happening in the United States Congress today.

KING: And Congressman Diaz-Balart, as you want to use this as an issue against the president, if you would like to go to your community and say he didn't even keep his promise, he didn't send us the legislation, whether we passed it or not, don't you have a problem in that the Republican Party has an image crisis, I will call it, right now in the Latino community in many ways?

And to what degree do you disagree with your candidate, Governor Romney, on some of his proposals on this issue?

DIAZ-BALART: No, I have publicly disagreed on some of his proposals on this issue.

And Charlie and I are good friends, but let's not forget the president didn't even introduce legislation his first two years. He broke that promise. The DREAM Act, which, by the way, one of the original sponsors of that was my brother, then Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, when the president all of a sudden decided to move forward on it -- Senator Harry Reid didn't, because he had a tough election in his state -- he didn't even talk to any of the Republicans who were the sponsors, including myself -- and my brother was the original sponsor of that legislation, along with a Democrat.

So, again the question is, is it being done for political reasons or are they generally trying to get it done? Is this president trying to get it done? And I think the problem that he is having is that people are understanding that he is no different from any other politician that goes through this town, promises, promises, promises, whether it's that he's going to cut the deficit in half in his first term, whether he was going to have no lobbyists in his administration, you name it.

This is another one of these typical political promises. And that's why I think it is -- people are frankly upset. Now, I would like to tell you that the Republicans have been much better. And, there, I will tell you, no, they haven't. On this issue, both President Obama and the Democrats and the Republicans frankly have been -- I think have left a lot to be desired.

But for the president to claim that it is other people's fault, he tries to do that with everything. This is his watch. He had a total majority in the House and the Senate. He didn't even try to get it done in his first two years. Now that it is election season, he blames others.

You know, Mr. President, stop blaming others for everything that you haven't accomplished. It is time to step up, show the legislation, show me the beef. Where is the legislation that the president has offered?

KING: Congressman Gonzalez, I will let you have the last word.


KING: But to this point that -- your colleague makes a passionate case. All -- the president could cut off half of that argument if he just sent a piece of legislation up, even if he knew it wasn't going to pass.

GONZALEZ: Let me put it in the proper perspective here.

This is the difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney. The bill that Mario and I voted for that was five votes shy of getting the 60-vote threshold in the Senate, let's say they reached it. They have 55 votes. We know it would have passed.

Mitt Romney would have vetoed that bill. That is the difference between President Obama's commitment to getting along with everyone in the Senate and in the House to at least get the DREAM Act out. You got Mitt Romney out there that is already saying he would veto it.

I don't understand where Mario actually is coming from on this particular issue. We should all be sponsoring comprehensive immigration reform, the DREAM Act. Let's see if we can get a vote.

But I think you know, Mario, that you're not going to get a majority of the vote in the Republican-controlled House.

KING: I'm going to call a time-out on this evening.

Gentlemen, I appreciate you coming in.

But we will get to the questions about Governor Romney's record as well. I will be happy to have both of you back in to discuss this as we continue forward in the campaign.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

KING: Thank you both so much for coming in. It is important and, as you can see, rather feisty issue sometimes.

Congress is back in Washington tonight talking about budget cuts. But harsh austerity measures just lost big time in Europe. Coming up: what the results over there may mean here, including for your retirement savings.

Also, Britain's Prince Harry here in the states paying tribute to some real heroes.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Next here: new details and new reactions to tonight's dramatic breaking news, word the United States and its allies foiled a terrorist plot to bomb an airliner.

Plus, a preview of tomorrow's primary, where Republicans may throw out one of the country's longest-serving and most respected U.S. senators. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This half-hour, more on tonight's breaking news: a plan to put a suicide bomber on an airplane headed for the United States, new details on the plot and what it says about al Qaeda's strength.

And voters in France elect a Socialist president -- what it means for Europe and for your retirement fund.

Plus, Joe Biden says he's OK with gay marriage. Now the pressure is on for President Obama to say the same. The politics of gay rights in an election year.

The latest now on tonight's breaking news: a foiled terrorist plat to put a suicide bomber on a U.S.-bound airliner. A senior U.S. official tells CNN the plot was disrupted, quote, "well before it was ever a threat to the United States."

CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is with us live from London. But first, let's go to CNN Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence.

Chris, what are Pentagon officials telling you about where this plot was taken down?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, U.S. officials are saying that the takedown happened outside the United States, but they can't say specifically where, because they've got ongoing intelligence operations. Although they do stress it was outside the United States, they can't be specific about where this intercept happened.

A senior counterterrorism official says this does bear the mark of al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, that it was a non-metallic bomb. In other words, designed to evade current metal detectors in that it was specifically designed for a suicide bomber to use on board an aircraft -- John.

KING: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon. Chris, stand by for us.

Nic, if you listen to Chris's reporting and other reporting sounds similar to the underwear bombing plot from Christmas day, 2009; the fingerprints of al Qaeda. What are you learning?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the FBI says it now has custody of this IED device, and they say it is similar to those used by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula for targeting aircraft and for targeted assassinations. That would be the time the Yemeni or the Saudi who now -- who now builds bombs in Yemen for al Qaeda made a bomb to kill one of Saudi Arabia's princes. That was a body bomb.

So I think what we're talking about here is PETN is the explosive. That's what's been used in these bombs. It's hard to detect in sort of airport scanners, because it has a very, very low smell signature, if you will. It's -- even airport sniffer dogs have a hard time detecting this particular explosive. It is incredibly powerful. Just enough to fill the tip of this pen would blow a large hole in the solid wooden desk in front of me, so you only need a small amount. It's hard to detect.

It sounds like this is what al Qaeda is using here. And we're also -- we also understand that they developing their sort of these past bombs, making improvements from what they learned. But now the FBI has it, they'll be able to learn a lot from it, as well, John.

KING: And that has been the question, Nic, going all the way back to 9/11, even before 9/11. But the question is how much does the U.S. advance its intelligence gathering and its network of sources in intelligence gathering? And how quickly can al Qaeda adapt not only to being watched but adapt its technology every time that it's cut? And what does this tell you about al Qaeda's efforts, anyway, to take it to the next level?

ROBERTSON: Al Qaeda still continues to target airlines, airliners flying into the United States, be they cargo aircraft or passenger aircraft, is their preferred choice. They still have that intended target.

What we are learning here is that whenever counterterrorism officials, be it United States, the Yemenis, maybe the Saudis, others around the world focus on a particular area, they get better at detecting these bombs in advance.

The last bomb that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula sent out to the world, the printer bombs, picked up by Saudi intelligence. It was only picked up when it had already left Yemen. It was on board an aircraft.

This time, we understand that President Obama from the White House, we're told, was getting briefings on this in April. So there is -- it appears as if the intelligence officials here got enough of a tip-off to be able to sort of be, if you will, have a lot more knowledge about this device and the people handling it on the ground.

Could it have been Saudi intelligence officials again with the tip-off this time? The last time they were the ones. It could be them again. We don't know.

But I would say here al Qaeda is struggling, and their biggest problem in Yemen, they've got an expert bomb maker. They've got access to the chemicals. He's got access to laboratories. What they don't have is easy access that put those bombs on aircraft internationally to get the bombs out of Yemen. And I would say they are struggling even harder with that than they were before, John.

KING: Important reporting. Nic Robertson, Chris Lawrence, gentlemen, thanks.

A political bombshell in France could rattle Europe and maybe your 401(k). President Nicolas Sarkozy is out. Socialist Francois Hollande is in, and he's promising a fresh start, one that doesn't include painful austerity measures. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): The idea that finally, austerity can no longer be something which is inevitable, and that is the mission which from now on is mine.


KING: Voters in Greece are sending the same message, unseating politicians who supported austerity plans that slashed incomes, benefits and pensions.

Richard Quest is with us from London.

Now, Richard, the message is loud and clear. Austerity is unpopular, but are there other options? And as you know, Europe's debt crisis cast a big shadow here on U.S. markets.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are other options, and this comes down to a fundamental view between austerity and growth.

Now, even those who are against austerity don't say that there doesn't need to be any change. What they say is it's been too much, too far, too fast, too brutal. And what they are saying and their argument that is heard in the United States and indeed is the backbone of the Obama administration's argument for not having too much austerity, is that you can take your time to getting there. The markets will give you that leeway, and it doesn't all need to be done overnight.

Now, in some countries like Greece and the United Kingdom and France to some extent and Spain, they did decide to pretty much go hell for leather, austerity all the way. The voters have said enough.

KING: It's an important point there. For the American consumer who's watching and maybe doesn't care all that much about French or European politics but does care about their 401(k), what's the likely impact?

QUEST: Well, you saw a bit of that today. Initially, a bit of a hiccup on the European markets, which then rallied, except for Greece.

For the 401(k), it's the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is what's happening to global growth, what's happening to the U.S. economy. Growing at just over 2 percent, susceptible to European wins that could blow it off course, but fundamentally the ship of America's economy is steaming forward, albeit very slowly and needs to pick up speed.

What the 401(k) watchers need to keep an eye on is any fundamental breakdown in European agreement. If that happens, you end up with everyone back at each other's throats, he euro tanks, the European economy goes down, everybody feels the effects, and we're back to the races. But I do not see that happening in the short-term.

KING: And we'll keep track of this in the short- and long-term. Richard Quest from London tonight. Richard, thank you.

Indiana Senator Dick Lugar don't in the middle of his fight for his political life, trying to held onto the job he's held for 36 years. The state's Republican primary is tomorrow. The six-term senator could be toppled by a Tea Party candidate who argues Lugar is out of touch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since 1976 Dick Lugar has voted for: the Brady Bill, the Bridge to Nowhere, the DREAM Act, the TARP bailout, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, raising the debt ceiling. Dick Lugar: no wonder he's called Obama's favorite Republican.


KING: Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is here, about to head out to Indiana. What's the state of play on primary eve?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't look good for Richard Lugar. I talked to a Republican source who has access to internal polling who told me that he believes Lugar is going to lose, and it's not going to be close, which is not good for Senator Lugar.

He, as you mentioned, has been in the Senate for 36 years. He actually is tied for the longest serving Republican senator serving right now. And not only has he never been challenged from within his own Republican Party, last time around, in 2006, he didn't even have a challenger from the Democratic side. That's how popular, that's how entrenched he has been.

But now the state senator, Richard Murdoch, is really giving him a run for his money, primarily because he has huge backing from outside groups. They're spending millions of dollars.

KING: So it's one race. But it has a national context. Help.

BASH: Well, the whole question is going to be the Tea Party, whether or not this is a referendum on the Tea Party. The question has been whether that particular group in the Republican Party has been on the wane. Looks like they could win tomorrow.

But I think if you look at the issue more broadly, this is probably a lot more anti-Richard Lugar than pro-Tea Party. They have been very successful, his opponents, and it's not just Tea Partiers, in painting him as somebody who simply is not doing Politics 101, lost touch with the people of Indiana.

He bought a house here in northern Virginia 35 years ago, sold his house in Indiana. He never bought another one there. And that has really, really hurt him.

And look, the fact of the matter is he has spent his career focused on foreign policy. That's where he has excelled, and he's done a lot of important things on that stage. Focused less at home. KING: I assume Republicans think, no matter who wins this primary, they keep the seat in November?

BASH: They hope so. They do hope so. They feel that Indiana is -- will stay red. And they believe that this is going to be probably a place where they might have to spend a little bit more money than before if Richard Lugar isn't in there, but maybe not as much as they fear.

KING: Fascinating. Watch tomorrow the primary in Indiana. Dana Bash will be out there. Dana, thanks so much. Familiar face, Dick Lugar, in trouble tomorrow.

Vice President Joe Biden says he's now, quote, "absolutely comfortable" with the idea of same-sex marriage. Next, the "Truth" about President Obama's thinking and why the White House is so reluctant to talk about it today.


KING: About a year ago, speaking at an LGBT reception, the president gave himself a big pat on the back.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've met my commitments to the LGBT community. I have delivered on what I promised. Now, that doesn't mean our work is done. There are going to be times where you're still frustrated with me.


KING: Truth is, this is one of those times. Gay rights groups want the 2012 Democratic platform to endorse same-sex marriage. But the president isn't ready to do that, even though he says his views on the issue are evolving.

Caroline Kennedy, who's a co-chair of the Obama re-election, campaign, gave the president a public nudge today. In a statement, Kennedy applauded elected officials and judges who have the courage, she says, to fight for same-sex marriage. And then she added this: "I hope many more will follow their example."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have his views changed at all on this subject?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I have no update on the president's personal views.


KING: This question is back, front and center, for a couple of reasons. For starters, North Carolina votes tomorrow on a state constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman, thereby banning same-sex marriage, civil unions and any other domestic legal unions.

Plus, Vice President Biden over the weekend made clear his views have evolved.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy.

I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women and heterosexual men marrying women are entitled the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties.


KING: As they applauded Vice President Biden, many gay rights activists lamented that the president hasn't taken as bold a step. Maybe in a second term, they say. Now, whether that's cynical or dead on, many gay rights activists believe the president is too worried backing same-sex marriage now would hurt him in several key states this fall.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via phone): North Carolina can do better. Again, this is Bill Clinton asking you to please vote against Amendment 1.


KING: You hear the voice of the former president there. Ironically, North Carolina is one of those key states. Its vote Tuesday, a test of just how this issue plays out in a major November battleground.

Here to talk truth tonight, Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker"; Democratic strategist Penny Lee; and Romney campaign senior advisor Kevin Madden.

Penny, are the cynics right who say, you know, if you listen to the president, he has come closer and closer. If you listen to Michelle Obama, she has been very open. If you listen now to the vice president, to Arne Duncan, the education secretary. Are the cynics right who say the president actually wants to do this, but he's worried about North Carolina? He's worried about Virginia? Maybe he's worried about Florida?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I do think that when the president says that his position is evolving, it comes from one that is of the heart and it's sincerity.

I mean, the American public has also evolved, as we just saw recently. You know, polls right now are right about 52 percent supporting gay marriage. That's a shift 36 points from where they were just four or five years ago. I do believe that the president has and is still wrestling and is still evolving on this issue. But the core factor is his core values haven't changed, and that is to end discrimination and to allow for equal protection.

He has done many things. If you look at the actions this administration has taken you would say absolutely. He has repealed for Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He is for repealing DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. So there are many things and there are many policies that you can point to that are right in line with this community.

KING: And he's the president, Ryan, and it's his convention, and the president shaped the platform. How do you deal with the tension that, if an overwhelming majority of your party wants the platform to endorse same-sex marriage, but you're not quite so sure?

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, one thing you can do, you can do a Bob Dole in '96 and say you didn't read the platform.

But, you know, some issues Obama through his political career has been maybe one step ahead, two steps ahead, leading. On this issue he's always been a few steps behind where his party has been, sort of what I think he considers a sweet spot.

If you look at the folks who are thinking about running in the Democratic primary for 2016, the names that get mentioned most often, this is now a litmus test for Democrats at the national level. You have to be for gay marriage. People like Martin O'Malley, Cuomo, governor Cuomo in New York, they're out there front on this issue.

And, you know, a tippy-top Democrat in town recently the other day said to me the betting among senior Democrats is whether this president comes out for gay marriage before or after the election, and nobody thinks that he won't do it.

KING: Back in 2004, Republicans were happy. Conservatives were happy. There were a number of state ballot initiatives, and the -- Bush, President Bush closed every speech, every campaign stump speech was closed with the "I'm for traditional marriage."

Do you see this -- the issue in this -- when the economy is issue No. 1, does the issue have the appeal, the power, the turnout?

KEVIN MADDEN, CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Well, look, I think the problem on turnout is actually with the president on this issue, and that's why I think, judging from the response that the campaign had today, it was so complicated. I mean, based on different campaign spokesmen and the White House spokesman and the vice president himself, you really couldn't figure out what their position was.

And I think that's because they worry that, while it might energize a part of the base, there are other certain demographics within the Democrat electorate that may be depressed because of the -- if the president were to come out with a very robust endorsement of gay marriage. I think for Republicans, look, still the No. 1 issue, the reason that Governor Romney is running to be president, is because he wants to fix the economy; he wants to put more Americans back to work. That's going to be the main focus. I think that's the issue that's going to most animate voters across the whole spectrum of the electorate this year.

KING: And yet David Axelrod in a conference call today, the president's senior advisor, Penny, was trying to make the case that, you know, well, this is a great contrast with Governor Romney, because Governor Romney supports conservative bans on same-sex marriage. Can they make that case? Can the Obama campaign make that case when the president's not as -- not all the way there? Not where his vice president is?

LEE: Absolutely. Because I think if you look at the totality, gay activists today say on President Obama's worst day, he's with us 90 percent. And on Governor Romney's best day, he only with us 10 percent.

So I think when you look at the totality of the issues in which this community is based and, in particular, they absolutely will be supporting President Obama.

KING: Good time. Everybody stay put. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" here coming up at the top of the hour. Erin, France elected a new president, but there's another election you're keeping an eye on. Tell us about it.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. It's the election in Greece. It's called the Golden Dawn is the name of the party you need to watch.

And just to give you a sense of what might be happening here and how significant it is, John, their share of parliament, three times the share that the then-rising Adolf Hitler got in 1928 when the Nazi Party was rising in Germany.

This, of course, is the far-right Nazi-affiliated party in Greece, and it could be a very big story for America. We talk about that.

Plus, of course, the very latest as we're getting more information on this foiled bomb plot and whether there perhaps are other bombs unaccounted for in the latest al Qaeda attempted attack on the United States.

So we have breaking news on that, top of the hour with the latest news we have. All that coming up. Back to you.

KING: Erin in just a couple minutes. Thanks, looking forward to it.

Coming up here, 7,000 candidates from the battle in Syria's assembly elections. Lots of options, but the rebels say they're not voting. We'll tell you why. Plus, Charles Barkley fast-talks a Celtics fan during a playoff game. It wasn't me. You'll never guess who it was. Hear what he said, up next.


CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER: They want you to say all this stuff about their team.



KING: We're back with Ryan Lizza, Penny Lee, and Kevin Madden. And six months out, ladies and gentlemen, we've got a race. Look at the "USA Today"/Gallup. Twelve battleground states they polled. Back in March, the president had an advantage over Governor Romney, 51 to 42. And now it's a dead heat, 47/45.

Is this -- Kevin, get ready for a softball question. Is this some wonderful, wonderful thing your candidate has done? Or is it just that people are getting more anxious about the economy, and therefore the incumbent...

MADDEN: It is. And I think, also, the choice, the fact that there's a choice between -- an alternative to President Obama is coming into view. I think voters are now starting to take another look at who that other candidate's going to be.

But I will say -- I said it before, when the polls are good, I say that it's a snapshot in time. And I'm going to say it when they're bad. It's a snapshot in time.

And there's a long way to go. And I think, you know, a month out from now, we're going to be looking at very similar numbers that shows the campaign very close. The goal of our campaign is to put ourselves in position so that on election day, when people are asking themselves, are they better off four years -- than they were four years ago, that the answer is that they believe they need to support Governor Romney.

KING: When you look at the map from 2008, you assume you take Indiana and throw it out. So where else? When you look at this, knowing that unemployment can be different. You can travel in the country and be an hour apart and be in states with very different economic conditions. Where do you most worry about?

LEE: Places like Arizona and places that are out west, Nevada, and Colorado and some other places, in which we did be able to have some sweeping ties (ph). North Carolina, Virginia are also going to be interesting. Those were, you know, traditionally red states that turned blue in 2008. Virginia in particular. That is going to be a key battleground state, I think, for both campaigns, in which you can try to see.

They've had the lower unemployment numbers. It was actually below the national average. So that is actually helpful.

It's going to be interesting to see, for Governor McDonnell who wants to -- he doesn't want to take credit -- wants to take credit for having these great numbers, but not give Obama credit. Give himself as the governor. So there's going to be an interesting battle. Many, many things are out there, but it's like you said: it's a snapshot in time.

MADDEN: And just real quick: one of the other interesting things will be whether or not people feel that the unemployment rate is getting lower. That's the big difference right now, is that even though we have -- we're at 8.1 percent, voters feel like it's much higher. And I think that's driving a lot of the anxiety.

LIZZA: The absolute number doesn't matter. It's the trajectory, right. It's where it's going.

KING: And so when it's this close, six months out, usually you get a lull. Before the conventions, you get a little of a time-out. Most of the American people are probably like, please, give us a time out. But we don't have a day to waste. Right?

LIZZA: Obama announced today $25 million in ads. Hey, I don't think anyone's done their research, but that's almost like a huge, huge ad buy this early in the cycle.

LEE: It's also a different time. Social media...

KING: Nine states, $25 million in just nine states. That's a reflection. This is going to be eight, nine, ten that's going to decide this campaign.

MADDEN: That's right. And you're looking at even a smaller number of voters, right, in those states that were going to make the difference. I mean, I remember in 2004, it was 117,000 voters in the state of Ohio that helped us -- helped us win there.


LEE: That is 14,000 in North Carolina that made -- made a difference, as well.

LIZZA: It's interesting. It's a, you know, 45/45 country with just that 10 percent in the middle that everybody's -- you guys are going to be fighting over.

KING: We'll talk issues, I promise. Ryan, Penny, Kevin, very interesting. They actually are interesting.

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

Hey, there.


Good evening, everyone.

It's election day in Syria, and more than 7,000 candidates are on the ballot for just 250 seats. Rebels urge Syrians to boycott, saying a vote for any candidate meant a vote for the current president, Bashar al-Assad.

And the election wasn't enough to calm the violence. Opposition groups say at least 28 people were killed today, including five children.

"Fortune" magazine is out with its annual company rankings, yet some of "Fortune's" 500 haven't exactly been creating the best headlines lately. ExxonMobil and Chevron topped the list as gas prices have hit highs in the last few months. And Wal-Mart is taking the No. 2 ranking, is under fire for a bribery scandal in Mexico.

And it seems superheroes are to the rescue once again. "The Avengers" crushed the competition, raking in more than $200 million in its opening weekend here in the U.S. The movie easily beat the previous record of nearly $170 million set by "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II" last July.

"The Avengers" is the first of the summer blockbusters that analysts are hoping will help Hollywood recover from pretty disappointing ticket sales last year.

Yet another movie I have yet to see, John, but I guess I need to get on it.

KING: Well, my brother was the comic book freak, not me. But let's see, I have to go see it. You know, $200 million, that means a lot of people like it. We'll give it a try.


KING: Kate, finally, tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." Some high-profile basketball trash talking. No, not talking about the playoff action on the hardwood. I was there, actually, the Celtics- Hawks game in Boston.

Listen here. Analyst Charles Barkley with some choice words for a famous Celtics fan who happened to be in the stands.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was at the game in Boston.

BARKLEY: We're going to beat you like a drum in November. Don't take it personally. I like you. You seem like a nice guy, but you going down, bro.


KING: Ouch! Now, Sir Charles, Kate, remember, he used to be a Republican. Came up to me years ago at a Republican convention and said he was going to run for governor of Alabama as a Republican. He's had a change of heart. He's a big Obama supporter now, but that's some trash talk.

BOLDUAN: That is some trash talking. I mean, obviously, everyone's entitled to their opinion, but we know that unscripted moments have gotten Mr. Barkley in a bit of trouble in the past. He's going to be running, he's going to have to try to stick to the script.

KING: I think we could get Charles to join us on big election nights. Add a little spice.

BOLDUAN: A little spice. There you go.

KING: He has to bring Shaq and Kenny with him. We'll do just fine.

All right. Kate, thanks.

We'll see everybody back here tomorrow night. Continuing coverage now of our breaking news story tonight on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."