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JOHN KING, USA
President Obama on the Attack; Afghanistan Exit Plan
Aired May 21, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I am John King.
Tonight: President Obama delivers his most direct critique yet of Republican rival Mitt Romney's business record and in the process ignores allies who say the president's attack on Bain Capital have crossed the line.
The NATO summit ends with a pledge to wind down the war in Afghanistan. The president says a dozen years of war is enough, but he concedes that getting out could be a messy process.
Plus, a former Rutgers student sentenced to 30 days in jail for spying on his gay roommate with a Webcam. That roommate committed suicide. So, was it a fair sentence?
We begin this evening with President Obama's most personal and most direct critique of his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. Speaking in Chicago at the conclusion of the NATO summit and brushing aside criticism from a prominent Democratic ally, the president took aim at Governor Romney's tenure as the head of the private equity firm Bain Capital.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This issue is not a -- quote -- "distraction."
This is part of the debate that we're going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The distraction critique came from the Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Cory Booker, who just Sunday urged the president and Republicans to focus on the country's biggest problems.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORY BOOKER (D), MAYOR OF NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It is nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Asked about Mayor Booker's critique, the president praised his friend, but then dismissed the criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience.
He's not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He's saying, I'm a business guy, and I know how to fix it, and this is his business. And when you're president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, was on hand in Chicago.
And, Jess, sometimes you think it is the staff directing the strategy, but the president making quite clear there he not only completely agrees, that he is prepared to continue to step on the throttle here.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, John.
And the campaign will continue with this Bain strategy. They believe that it connects very effectively with the voters they want to reach most, middle-income voters, people who in the words of campaign strategists feel that "the deck is stacked against them."
The president today for the first time picked up the line of attack that his campaign has been waging for weeks and that frankly Democrats have been waging since January, John. There were Democrats in Iowa during the GOP primary there who were bringing along some people who were laid off by a firm that had been they said shut down by Bain activities and pushing this line of attack then.
And so today the president defending the message that effectively Mitt Romney is not, as the campaign says -- not a job creator, but a job killer, and the president defending this position, saying that they're not attacking wealth. He believes that creating wealth is good, but this is a fair -- this is all fair game for his campaign, John.
KING: And as say fair game, Jess, do they worry at all that when they have a prominent African-American Democrat and a good friend like Mayor Cory Booker, when you have the former Democratic Congressman from Tennessee Harold Ford, when you have Steve Rattner, who was on the president's auto task force, worked in the White House for a bit, when they have I will call these guys more pro-business Democrats out there saying, whoa, Mr. President, do they worry at all that there could be a negative impact?
YELLIN: I am sorry? I'm having -- are they worried about getting negative attacks in response?
KING: Do they worry that the criticism from Democrats could hurt in the end?
YELLIN: They're not worried about the Democratic response because they're so convinced this message works with the people that they need to reach the most, because, look, the bottom line is Cory Booker flipped on what he said.
He didn't flip entirely, but he took back enough of it and they're going to take -- they're going to continue with this message no matter what because they think it connects with the voters that they need to reach, period. So if Democrats are criticizing them, they will withstand that. You heard the president stand by this campaign strategy because they believe bottom line, John, it works.
KING: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, in Chicago today, where the president made clear battled joined direct and personal.
And it is not just the Romney campaign complaining that team Obama is highlighting the blemishes on the Bain record, but ignoring the many successes. Bain Capital is usually very publicity shy, but today it issued a strongly worded statement criticizing the latest Obama campaign attack.
The company's statement reads in part: "Throughout Bain Capital's 28-year history, we have been focused on growing businesses and improving their operations. Despite political attacks that emphasize the few companies that have struggled, the facts are that during Bain Capital's ownership, revenues grew in 80 percent in the more than 350 companies in which we have invested."
CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta joins us now live with more.
And, Jim, the Bain Capital statement was a bit earlier. I want to read to you quickly from a statement Governor Romney himself just issued. He says: "President Obama confirmed today that he will continue his attacks on the free enterprise system, which Mayor Booker and other leading Democrats have spoken out against. What this election is about is the 23 million Americans who are still struggling to find work and the millions who have lost their homes and have fallen into poverty. President Obama refuses to accept moral responsibility for his failed policies. My campaign is offering a positive agenda to help America get back to work."
Despite, Jim, that last reference about a positive agenda, it is very clear today if the president wants to put Bain in play, Governor Romney is prepared to kick back just as hard. I don't think it's going to be positive from here on out.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John.
And last week, the Romney campaign, as you know, was trying to find its footing on how to respond to some of these Bain attacks. And what's very interesting about that statement that you read from Mitt Romney, listen to the first line that is in a Romney campaign Web video that was just released earlier today. "Have you had enough of President Obama's attacks on free enterprise?"
Almost word-for-word what Mitt Romney said in that same statement, and this Web video that the Romney campaign put out, John, also uses the word Bain. That is not something we have heard from the Romney campaign so far. They released a Web video last week that talked about a different steel factory that had done OK after Bain Capital had come in. That ad referred to a private sector leadership team that worked with Mitt Romney, didn't talk about Bain.
But in this Web video, you hear Cory Booker very clearly saying the word Bain. And I talked to a Romney adviser earlier this afternoon and asked about, what do you think about what's going on with Mayor Booker and how the Obama campaign is dealing with this? And his response was that this shows that anybody who is not walking the "anti-business line" inside Obama world gets punished.
So you hear attacks on the free enterprise system from Mitt Romney, attacks on the free enterprise system in this Web ad and anti- business and these statements coming from Romney advisers. John, it almost sounds like anti-jobs, anti-economy. This is moving in their direction. At least that's the way they look at it, John.
KING: And so they will push back at the president, Jim, and his record, his tenure as the president of the United States, but take us behind the curtain, because Governor Romney has experience at this. Senator Kennedy when he ran against -- when Governor Romney ran against Senator Kennedy years ago, the Kennedy campaign used Bain effectively, including these same examples.
When Romney ran for governor, his Democratic opponent tried again; it wasn't as successful. As you know, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry brought it up in the Republican primaries. What do they think and what are the lessons learned, the bruises, the lessons of some of the bruises and the best way to respond when essentially people say he is a heartless, corporate greedy guy?
ACOSTA: Right. Well, so far up until this weekend, John, they really haven't been saying that much. They were sort of reluctant to talk about this publicly. You will remember last week they were trying to shoo reporters away from the rope line just to keep the press from asking these questions.
But I did talk to a senior Romney adviser behind the scenes that day and I was -- what's the deal with all of this? Why are you guys so reluctant to talk about this? And the message that he was putting forward was, hey, wait a minute, keep in mind, Bain -- people at Bain have supported Democrats in the past. They have contributed money to Democrats in the past. They're located up in Boston for Pete's sakes.
So they feel like they do have some ground to stand on when it comes to these attacks. But make no mistake, John, I don't think they want to have this go on for months and months and months, as it appears to be the case. At least that's what the president said today. He says this is going to be what the campaign is about. This is not a distraction. Those are his words.
The Romney campaign I think is hoping it is a distraction, John.
KING: Jim Acosta, our national political correspondent inside the Romney campaign, Jim, thanks so much.
And in his pointed remarks today, the president suggested Romney's profit-oriented mission at Bain wasn't compassionate enough to carry over to the Oval Office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So, if your main argument for how to grow the economy is "I knew how to make a lot of money for investors," then you're missing what this job is about. It doesn't -- it doesn't mean you weren't good at private equity, but that's not what my job is as president. My job is to take into account everybody, not just some.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here now with more.
Gloria, if you strip away all this, the specifics of what the president says about Romney and Bain, what Romney says back about the president's economic tenure, this is an argument for voters on who is best on your side, who will fight for you and your job, is it not?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Yes, and I think what both sides are now trying to do is turn this into a character issue.
Presidential campaigns are about character. They're about values. You first heard it from the Obama campaign using Bain Capital as evidence that these same values as the Obama people say would have severe consequences as they put it for the middle class.
What was interesting to me today about Romney's statement that he released within the last hour is that he said President Obama refuses to accept moral responsibility for his failed choices. This is the first time I have heard the Romney campaign kind of throw it right back at the Obama campaign and say, OK, you want to have an argument about values? You want to have an argument about morality? You want to have an argument about character? Well, what about all of the jobs that were lost?
So you see where the Romney campaign is headed on this one, John.
KING: And, Gloria, I think there is no question the Romney campaign is going to have to do more and maybe get help from Bain in doing more and saying here are the successes, here are the failures.
KING: But if you listen through, we had G.S. Steel last week. Ampad is the company that the Obama campaign is highlighting today. And what Romney says and what his Bain allies say is, yes, some of these companies we tried to turn around, it didn't work. When it didn't work, we shut them down. And that's painful.
How is that any different? I want you to listen here. This is the president of the United States talking about his challenge in reinventing government and at times facing hard choices about shutting down agencies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: No business or nonprofit leader would allow this kind of duplication or unnecessary complexity in their operations. You wouldn't do it when you're thinking about your businesses. So why is it okay for our government? It's not. It has to change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Not exactly the same, Gloria, but couldn't Governor Romney say sometimes you got to make a tough call?
BORGER: Right. He could. And he could also point back to President Obama, then Senator Obama's vote on not raising the debt ceiling, OK, which President Obama has since said was a bad vote.
So, you know, I think the Romney campaign can find plenty of areas in which it could say to President Obama, well, you know what, maybe your experience didn't lead you to make the best decisions and how do you know my experience wouldn't lead me to make better decisions?
So, I think this is -- this is the kind of argument, as Cory Booker said, that the American public in the end may not tune into as much as the Obama campaign would hope because each side has an argument to make and meanwhile people are worried about their jobs. President Obama clearly wants to carry this argument on and on, though, John, and he will.
KING: Well, you could see the president's passion today. There is no question he believes...
BORGER: Yes. He is driving it.
KING: ... a successful strategy.
BORGER: He is clearly -- it is interesting, because I think he is clearly driving this strategy. This is not a campaign who is telling a candidate what to do. This is clearly a president who says this is what this campaign is about for me.
KING: Gloria Borger, appreciate your help and insights tonight. Up next here, an exclusive -- Afghanistan's president reacts to NATO's decision to speed up the timetable for giving his forces, the African forces, the lead in fighting the Taliban.
And later: accusations of gang rape leveled against the disgraced former head of the International Monetary Fund.
Back in a moment.
KING: Critical decisions about winding down America's longest war. President Obama and the NATO allies not only reaffirmed their pledge to give Afghan forces the lead in the fight against the Taliban. They intend to speed up the transition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We agreed that Afghan forces will take the lead for combat operations next year, in mid-2013.
At that time, ISAF forces will have shifted from combat to a support role in all parts of the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: My colleague Wolf Blitzer is on hand at the NATO summit in Chicago and he spoke exclusively today with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who says war-weary American taxpayers will save money come 2014.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: 2014 will be a year in which the United States will not be spending as much money in Afghanistan as it is spending today. It will save money and we will be providing security ourselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Wolf, he sounds confident, President Karzai does, that his forces are ready to take on the job. What was your sense eye-to-eye with him? Are they ready?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He certainly does sound confident and he gives the impression that they're ready to take charge.
I have to tell you, from other sources, U.S. sources on the ground, NATO sources, they're not all that confident that this timeline will necessarily work, that when the U.S. begins to pull out significant forces 2013 and in 2014, still another two-and-a-half years until all U.S. forces are out of Afghanistan -- it's still going to be awhile. They're not sure that the Afghan troops are necessarily going to be ready. We will see.
But Karzai insists that they're moving in the right direction and he disagrees with the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that the Taliban is stronger now they say than it was a year ago. He says that is not true, disagreeing with Dianne Feinstein and making that point.
So there seems to be a disagreement, although he says all the right things in public.
KING: And, Wolf, fascinating conversation, a wide-ranging conversation, including Americans may be very tired of a war that began 10 years ago. If they remember, right after 9/11, one of the faces of the Taliban was Mullah Omar. He was a spokesman for the Taliban back in those days.
And you put this question to President Karzai.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So even Mullah Mohammed Omar, who was in total alliance with al Qaeda and bin Laden before 9/11, if he were to pop up someplace...
BLITZER: ... and if your troops were to find him, let's say, would -- would they arrest him, would they kill him or would you negotiate a deal with him?
KARZAI: Well, we are talking of peace. We are not talking of arrests or of killing.
BLITZER: Even Mullah Mohammed Omar?
KARZAI: We are not talking of that.
We are talking of peace for Afghanistan. We are talking for stability and security for Afghanistan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Of the many gambles he faces, Wolf, isn't that a huge one, peace with Mullah Omar?
BLITZER: Yes, piece with the Taliban.
You hear a lot of U.S. officials saying it's -- people who criticize the Obama administration for being willing to accept the Taliban under certain conditions, they say they shouldn't accept the Taliban; they should kill the Taliban. You have heard that from a lot of the critics of the Obama administration.
But, in this particular case, even though they're fighting the Afghan troops and the NATO troops, the U.S. troops are fighting the Taliban right now, they're still at the same time willing to negotiate some sort of settlement with the Taliban.
And it was pretty surprising to me to hear Karzai say, yes, even Mullah Mohammed Omar -- and you remember he's got that patch over his eye -- he was the guy in charge of Afghanistan before 9/11 who worked closely with bin Laden and al Qaeda. Even he, under certain circumstances, would be welcome into some sort of partnership.
So it is a strange situation to put it mildly, John, and one that a lot of folks simply can't understand, but it is one they're working on over there in Afghanistan, a lot of questions that remain to be answered, huge uncertainty and by no means a done deal.
KING: Striking how he said it so matter-of-factly.
My colleague Wolf Blitzer live for us tonight in Chicago.
If you missed Wolf's interview with President Karzai in "THE SITUATION ROOM," go to CNN.com, a wide-ranging and very important conversation.
Wolf, thanks so much.
Facebook's brand-new stock, well, it did an about-face today. We will ask our Ali Velshi how the price headed downhill and in a hurry.
But, next, a record price for a piece of sports history. Again, we're live tonight in my favorite city, Boston, Massachusetts -- back in a moment.
KING: Welcome back.
KING: Facebook's brand-new stock took a hit today. Next, we will ask our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, why Facebook dropped more than 10 percent and whether it is still a good deal.
And later, the "Truth" about why President Obama is ignoring his critics, even in his own party, and zeroing in on Mitt Romney's business record.
We're live tonight from Boston -- back in a moment.
KING: This half hour, sentencing day for the former Rutgers student whose webcam spying led to his gay roommate's suicide. Will he be deported now to his native country of India?
Another disappointing day for Facebook. As shares drop below the IPO price, we'll ask our senior business correspondent, Ali Velshi, should it worry the social media company's founder, Mark Zuckerberg. And the truth about why the Obama campaign isn't going to let up in its attacks on Mitt Romney's Bain record any time soon.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg got married over the weekend, but the company's sliding stock, well, hasn't been a great P.R. move for the new group. Shares in the social media giant dropped 11 percent below Friday's closing price ending the day at about $34 a share.
This just a bump for Facebook or the sign of a larger problem for the company? Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, joins us to break it down.
What's happening here, Ali? Was there just too much hype?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know what? This is -- I know it's not really going to be as interesting to hear. This is really a problem for the syndicate that underwrites the offering, which is Morgan Stanley and about 30 other banks. They priced it incorrectly.
No company can ever be relied upon to find out the price of the IPO. Right? They want a price that's going to create demand and give the early stage investors a good return on their money.
And they depend on Morgan Stanley at this pace to come out and say what's the right price where it's going to come out and be big. Morgan Stanley got greedy. They put a price on that was too high, 38 bucks, and the market has said no, it's actually worth 34 bucks. In fact, today it got to 33 bucks.
What they should have done -- if you remember, John, we talked about this. The original range was 28 to $35. They probably should have priced it in that range. They felt the demand was very high for this stock, but in the course of the two-week roadshow, what happened is people started to hear a lot in the media about its growth problems and blasts about how they're going to make money when everybody uses mobile phones and they didn't have a good answer for it.
And in the end, investors simply didn't have the appetite for it. So this is much more a technical Wall Street kind of problem. It was just priced too high. It doesn't actually say anything about the company at all.
KING: That's my follow-up there then. So you have a negative reaction among investors. Does it have any impact at all on the business from a consumer standpoint?
VELSHI: Not really. Everybody is a little less rich. The company has a little less money but remember, people, when Google went public it was essentially a search engine. Today Google is a company that has Google Plus. It's, you know, coming up with driverless cars. It's got these glasses.
That's what being a public company does. It gives you that much more money that you can hire that many more engineers. And you can -- you know, the world is your oyster. You can start to think about things. Facebook will still do that. The price of the stock probably ends up higher in a year than it is now, but for all of our viewers, John, that's exactly what they should have been thinking about. What is the price a year from now, not day one? This business of tracking IPOs and their performance in the first week, that's for guys like me who follow this all the time.
Ultimately Facebook will be the same experience. It will get richer. It will -- meaning the experience will get richer. And it will mean more to consumers. And this will be a blip in history.
But this is really more damaging for Wall Street and the investment bank than it is for Facebook.
KING: Chief business correspondent Ali Velshi breaking it down. Ali, thanks.
VELSHI: All right.
KING: Turning now to an emotional day in court and a surprisingly light sentence in a bullying case that made national headlines.
Dharun Ravi was convicted of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation of his roommate, Tyler Clementi, who was gay. Clementi committed suicide the night after Ravi invited online friends to spy on him with a webcam while his roommate was on a date.
Ravi could have received ten years in prison and could be deported to India. Instead he will stay in the country, serve 30 days in prison, three years' probation and pay $10,000 to a program that helps victim of hate crimes.
Now, prosecutors are furious. They say they plan to appeal the sentence, calling it, quote, "insufficient."
CNN's chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, joins us from New York.
And Jeff, to that point, it does sound like a remarkably light sentence, no?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It sure does. The heart of the case was a paradox. Was this a prank that just got out of control after the fact, or was it a hate crime?
He was convicted of a hate crime, but the judge really treated this like a prank. He didn't really take into consideration the aftermath of the law -- of what happened, Tyler Clementi's suicide. And in light of that, the judge treated it in a much lighter way. And 30 days is a lot less than the ten-year maximum but even much less than the year or two the prosecutors sought in the case.
KING: And when prosecutors appeal a sentence, what's the track record? Do they have a prayer?
TOOBIN: Very little chance. The judge has a great deal of discretion. The sentence was zero range. The sentencing range was zero to ten years. This ran -- this sentence was within the range. There are no binding sentencing guidelines in New Jersey that forced the judge to sentence within a certain range. I think this is a registering of outrage by the prosecution, and frankly, I don't -- I don't begrudge them the fact that they're very disappointed in the sentence, but as a legal matter I don't think that they have much chance of having the sentence overturned.
KING: As this played out today, it was a dramatic case all along and a dramatic trial. But at the city sentencing hearing you had both mothers. The mother of the victim spoke to the court. The mother of the defendant spoke to the court.
And then, Jeff, in the sentencing the judge went through a long litany, essentially, very, very critical of the defendant, and then goes pretty light. I mean, what was your sense just on the theater, of the drama, and then the end result?
TOOBIN: Well, I think the judge wanted to send a message that this was a serious crime, that this crime is going to be taken seriously, but at the end of the day, the judge was not going to send Ravi away for a long time.
I mean, one of the reasons I think people were so surprised by this sentence is that Ravi himself has shown minimal remorse. He gave really kind of appalling interview to Chris Como of ABC News, has never really come to grips with what a terrible thing he did, leaving many people to speculate that he would get, you know, really banged because this is something that judges care about often, which is remorse, acceptance of responsibility.
But even in the absence of serious remorse on the part of Ravi, the judge did not hit him very hard.
KING: And any chance now at all he'll be deported? Or does this guarantee he can stay in the states if he wants to?
TOOBIN: I think that is very unlikely at this point. It's a separate legal proceeding. It involves the federal government as opposed to the state government, which handled this prosecution.
I think, given such a small sentence, the chance is really, really remote.
KING: Our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Important case, Jeff. Thanks.
Coming up when we return, will President Obama's tough talk on Bain Capital backfire or help him over the top on election day?
Remember, we're live in Boston tonight. As we go to break, the Old State House.
KING: Cory Booker is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey. He's not shy, loves to tweet. And maybe you saw in the news not that long ago he ran into a neighbor's house during a fire and played super hero. He fashions himself as a straight shooter, and "Truth" is, there is zero reason to believe anything other than he meant every word of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORY BOOKER, MAYOR, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: This kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright. This stuff has got to stop.
Because what it does is it undermines to me what this country should be focused on. It's a distraction from the real issues. It's either going to be a small campaign about this crap, or it's going to be a big campaign, in my opinion, about the issues the American public cares about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, focus on the big issues. You heard there, solid advice from a solid guy. But Team Obama went into immediate hyper drive and pushed Booker to take that private equity, meaning Bain Capital, part back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOOKER: Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign. He's talked about himself as a job creator, and therefore, it is reasonable -- and in fact, I encourage it -- for the Obama campaign to examine that record and to discuss it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now Romney has made his business record the centerpiece of his campaign, and it is more than reasonable, way more than reasonable, for the Obama campaign to question that record.
Context, though, would be nice, and in a rare statement today, Bain Capital took issue. Quote, "Despite political attacks that emphasize the few companies that have struggled," the company said, "the facts are that during Bain Capital's ownership. revenues grew in 80 percent of the more than 350 companies in which we have invested."
Now Democrats who work at Bain -- and Democrats who support President Obama who work at Bain -- also have told me the Obama campaign attacks are, in their view, painting an unfair picture of Bain and of Governor Romney's work there.
But don't expect Team Obama to change strategy. Truth is, the goal is simple, and from a raw politics perspective, it's smart. Persuade voters they can't trust Romney to look out for them. The president needs to make this case, because if it isn't just a referendum -- if it is just a referendum on his economic record, well, he could well lose the election.
Look here. Nearly six in 10 Americans say the country is now heading in the wrong direction. And a majority of Americans disapprove of how the president is handling the economy. Now, those numbers aren't good for any incumbent. We should be clear: those numbers actually aren't as bad as they were just a few months ago, but Team Obama isn't taking any chances or taking any advice from friends who find those Bain attacks over the top.
Here to talk truth tonight, editor in chief of RedState.com and CNN contributor, Erick Erickson; Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Maria Cardona; and "TIME" magazine deputy Washington bureau chief Michael Crowley.
Erick Erickson, I want to go to you first, and I want to bring the president into the conversation as we do so. A short time ago at the NATO summit, at the end of the NATO summit he did a news conference in Chicago. And he made clear in his view why he thinks this is not only fair game but very relevant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be president is his business experience. He's not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts. He's saying, "I'm a business guy, and I know how to fix it," and this is his business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You don't dispute that it's fair game, Erick, do you? What is -- what is missing in your view from how the Democrats are going about this?
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think context is probably what's missing, as Steven Ratner, who is an Obama appointee, has pointed out, as Cory Booker implied the other day and as a number of other Democrats pointed out.
One of the chief attacks the Obama campaign has been raising lately, Mitt Romney wasn't even at Bain Capital when it happened, when one of the places that was shut down. He was over saving the Olympics.
So yes, totally fair game, but you should at least go after the things that Mitt Romney was involved in, just as Mitt Romney when he goes after Barack Obama, should go after the things Barack Obama was involved in. So for example, don't go after Barack Obama for TARP. That was a George Bush thing. Go after Obama on the stimulus, Solyndra, things like that.
KING: So Maria Cardona, does the president in his campaign, do they have a responsibility to have context and double and triple check the dates or is your view it's all fair game? He was at Bain, so therefore, anything Bain has done in its history is fair to throw at Romney?
CARDONA: Well, to go back to something that Erick said, Mitt Romney was actually at Bain. He was still listed as the CEO of Bain when that company went under, so let's just put that out there. That's a fact.
But yes, John, when the Obama campaign prosecutes this and puts all of this on trial, absolutely, they should be dealing with the facts. And my understanding is that everything that they've put out there has been able to be -- has stood up in terms -- in terms of facts.
Erick also brought up Ratner. Ratner was the one who said that Mitt Romney should not have mentioned that at Bain that he created 100,000 jobs, because he even said -- and this is what the Obama campaign's point is -- that that wasn't his first priority as CEO of Bain. His first priority was not creating jobs. It was making money for himself and his investors.
And that's fine. But then don't put that out there and use that as a reason why American voters should trust to you look out for American workers and to look out for what's best for the economy in terms of growing jobs.
KING: Michael Crowley, you know from covering campaigns that we've covered, many of them, sometimes you wonder. You're getting stuff from the staff. They're saying this is where we're going. This is what we think is effective.
And you start to think does the candidate really believe this or is this the staff? Any doubt watching the president, the passion with which he took after Governor Romney on the Bain issue in that news conference, and not only does he believe this issue but he thinks it's the right fight?
MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, he does seem to think it's the right fight, John. It is an interesting contrast to the Obama we saw at the beginning of his first run for president. You know, he was initially saying he was not going to -- he was going to run a positive campaign and he reviewed staffers who attacked Hillary Clinton in very negative terms. And it's been interesting to see how the political process has changed Obama's philosophy of campaigning.
But you know, ultimately, I actually think the president probably would rather be talking about the issues and talking on a higher ground. I think he's kind of a policy wonk at heart. I think he probably prefers policy to politics.
So I think he sees an issue where he can get an advantage and he very much wants to be re-elected to be like that. At the end of the day, I think Obama in his gut -- and I'm just speculating -- probably agrees with Booker. He would rather be talking about Medicare and taxes and, you know -- and wealth in America. I think that's probably where his heart really is.
KING: Maria, Michael says that's where his heart really is, but he's an incumbent president. And I'll get a lot of tweets immediately saying, well, he inherited a mess. That he inherited a mess and he inherited a mess. But he's been president for three years. By the time of the election, he'll be president almost four years. When you're an incumbent, you can't decide. He has to have this attack, doesn't he?
MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's no question about that, John. And I talked about this before where, you know, so many times in the past Democrats have let their opponents define them.
And this, I think, is something that is very smart that the Obama campaign is doing where they're going out and defining what Romney, in his own words and vision, would be as president of the United States versus what President Obama's vision continues to be in terms of doing what is best for the middle class; in terms of touting fairness and a level playing field where everybody can get by if they play by the rules.
And then you have Romney touting his record at Bain, where essentially what he did was look out for himself so that he could get rich or look out for his investors as they got richer, even as they shipped American jobs overseas. And that, I think, is a very fair fight to have in terms of what your values are; what you're going to be focused on if you're elected president.
KING: We'll continue the conversation in just a moment. Mr. Erickson looked like he wanted to counter that point. Erick, hold tight.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour, though. And Erin, you're speaking with Steve Case tonight, the former CEO of AOL. He's got a lot to say about Facebook's big and not momentous week.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. That's certainly true as the guy who's been there and done that going to talk about today, John, Facebook fell 11 percent on its second day as a public company.
And just to give you a sense of what that means, that's about $40 billion in market cap from the minute it opened until the minute it closed today. Pretty stunning number. I mean, these numbers, they're all big.
We're going to talk to Steve Case about that and also an effort that he has to deal with the fact that we have about 16, 17 percent of people in this country, John, that are over 25 who are basically not born in this country. But about a third of the degrees in science, technology, engineering go to people who aren't born in this country, and then they go home with all of that knowledge. So we're going to talk about that and also get Mr. Case's view on the Bain issue.
Back to you.
KING: We'll see you in just a few minutes. Erin, thanks.
The University of Notre Dame -- get this -- suing the Obama administration. Coming up, the school explains why it's turning to the courts over birth control. And Google's chief executive gives some unexpected advice to college grads. Unplug.
Take a look. See if you can identify this beauty. He's on the waterfront in Charlestown, Massachusetts.
We're live in Boston tonight. Back in a moment.
KING: We're back with Erick Erickson, Maria Cardona, and Michael Crowley.
The president of the United States today passionately making the case that he believes Mitt Romney's business record at Bain Capital is more than fair game in this campaign.
Before we continue the conversation, I want to play here this is a web video put up by the Romney campaign because some Democrats have questioned the president's strategy. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you had enough of President Obama's attacks on free enterprise? His own key supporters have.
BOOKER: I have to say from a very personal level I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Private equity's not a bad thing. Matter of fact, private equity is a good thing in many, many instances.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I don't think there's anything Bain Capital did that they need to be embarrassed about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Erick Erickson, is that enough for the Romney campaign to say three or four maybe there will be eight or ten Democrats disagree with the president, are they going to have to proactively do more to open the books? They say the president's, you know, cherry picking, picking the one or two bad cases. Are they going to have to open the books and prove it?
ERICKSON: I don't know necessarily that they have to prove it all.
Look, the Obama campaign has to convince the American public of this point: that Mitt Romney will do a worse job than he's done. And I think that's a very high hill for the president to climb, given the last 3, 3 1/2 years. If the economy starts to improve, it becomes easier for him.
But with what's going on in Europe and Greece it becomes harder and harder to the point of maybe being insurmountable depending on what Greece does. It may be the president dependent on Greece and Europe. And that's the case. He's on defense, to a degree. Because it is record. This is a referendum on him. He's going to have to convince people that Mitt Romney is not the guy to replace him.
And, you know, when the Romney campaign starts pointing out how many people from Bain have given Barack Obama money and that Barack Obama's gotten more money from private equity firms than Mitt Romney's gotten, then suddenly it opens up an avenue to question. Really does the president mean it?
KING: But Michael Crowley, will this pass? I mean, Governor Romney's been through this in every campaign he's run. And he won when he ran for governor. He lost when he ran for Senate and he won the nomination despite the attacks on him in the primary.
But this is essentially an argument about who is on your side, and the president is trying to say, "You might be mad at me. You might not think I've done a great job on the economy, but this guy's cold. This guy won't help you."
CROWLEY: Well, that's absolutely right. Though I think there's a character element to this. You know, on the one hand we're talking about sort of the capitalist system and how it works and who gets the upper hand and who gets the short end of the stick.
But I think to some -- to some extent to a very important extent here, this is a message about who Mitt Romney is. The Obama campaign wants people to feel that he's an unfeeling, uncaring, greedy guy.
And that kind of flows into a larger picture of the Republican Party that Obama's trying to paint, which does go back to the basic policy issues of lowering taxes on the rich and cutting benefits for the poor that Obama wants his campaign to be about.
So in an interesting way this isn't so much about his record and what one company did as this image of a person and a character that the Obama campaign is trying to sell.
KING: Who are you? That will be a debate: who are you, what are your values? A debate in the weeks ahead.
Maria, Erick, Michael, thanks for coming in tonight.
Kate Bolduan is now back with the latest news you need to know right now. Hey, there.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, John.
The Supreme Court has agreed to tackle the government's secret international wiretapping program. It will hear an appeal this fall from the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing domestic groups who have what the ACLU believes is a, quote unquote, "reasonable fear" they'll be monitored because of their interactions with targeted foreigners.
The plaintiffs want to be able to challenge the federal law, even though they don't have proof their calls or e-mails have been monitored.
And the University of Notre Dame and dozens of other Catholic groups are suing the White House over a mandate requiring employers to offer insurance that includes birth control.
In February President Obama tried to accommodate the groups, saying they wouldn't have to pay for contraceptives directly, but the school argues the policy violates the First Amendment. No comment yet from the White House.
And when you think of places to enjoy a frosty cold Guinness, you think of a bar or possibly a ball game. Not so much a submarine. But the Irish brewery is going underwater to celebrate 250 years in business. It worked with an architecture firm to launch its Dead Sea, bar which is a redesigned retrofitted -- a retrofitted sub meant to exemplify the brand's slogan, "Alive Inside."
I don't know, sounds kind of fun.
KING: If they're looking for volunteers, I'm No. 1 right here.
BOLDUAN: I'm No. 2. Right here.
KING: All aboard. All aboard, matey.
All right, Kate. Go nowhere. Finally, tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed," unless you happen to be in town for graduation day at Boston University. The Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, gave some unusual advice in his commencement speech. Sixty-seven hundred graduating seniors. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC SCHMIDT, GOOGLE CEO: Learn where the off button is. Take your eyes off that screen and look into the eyes of the person that you love. All right? Have a conversation. A real conversation with the friends who make you think, with the family who make you laugh. Don't push a button saying "I like" something. Actually tell them. What a concept!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Guy who makes his money off the Internet telling you every now and then put it down, have a conversation. Good advice there, Kate.
That's all the time we've got tonight. We're live in Boston tonight. Back here tomorrow. ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT starts right now.