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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With Alberto Gonzales; Interview With Norm Coleman

Aired May 30, 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'm John King.

Tonight: game on for the general election. President Obama congratulates Mitt Romney for clinching the Republican nomination just as his campaign turns to a Massachusetts record team Obama says is mediocre at best.

The former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urges Romney to moderate his positions on immigration to win Latino votes and says picking conservative sensation Marco Rubio as his running mate would be a big mistake.

And as the bloodshed continues in Syria, Governor Romney says the president is too passive, Romney urging new steps to arm the opposition, but stopping short of other Republicans who want airstrikes.

Tonight, we are 160 days from the presidential election and at a turning point in the campaign. Consider it a boxing match. Essentially, today was the day -- political equivalent anyway -- of when the referee brings the fighters into the middle, says, shake hands, come out fighting.

The president phoned Republican Mitt Romney this morning, congratulated him on clinching the Republican nomination. Governor Romney went over the top in delegates last night. Now, both campaigns described the conversation as cordial and brief.

Now the slugfest.

Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.

And, Gloria, as we start the conversation, I just want to start over here to the magic wall for a minute. Why was the conversation brief? Because there's a lot of work to do. We have got a very competitive election. Here's how I call it right now, the blue states either leaning or solid for President Obama, the red states leaning or solid for Governor Romney, 247-206, so advantage Obama.

A half-dozen tossup states, all those yellow states there, an easier path for the Democratic incumbent, Gloria, but, but a very competitive race. And some numbers, some numbers getting better for Romney. Let's look at the "Washington Post"/ABC poll. Favorability ratings, 52 percent to 41 percent, so the president still is liked by more voters, if you will. But if you notice, the president is down a little bit and Governor Romney is up a bit from in April. Where are we at this turning point?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He's -- Mitt Romney is consolidating his report. The primaries, the divisive primaries are over. Republicans are coming back to him.

Women, believe it or not, unmarried women are coming to Mitt Romney to a certain degree. He is doing better with women. The number that really interested me, though, is the number among independents and the view of President Obama among independents. And you can see from looking at this, John, that the president's favorability rating among independent voters is down eight points from mid-April.

And Romney is up with independent voters by six.

KING: Is it economic anxiety and independents are caught up in that or is it the tone of the campaign? Independents don't like that the president has been on the attack?

BORGER: I think it is all of the above. Let me point out that both of these candidates are underwater with independent waters, which shows you that they are kind of saying a pox on all your houses.

But when you look at who has made up some ground, it is really Mitt Romney. So, I would have to say it's because the primaries are over. They are now sizing these two gentlemen up. And we still have yet to figure out whether it is going to be a choice election or a referendum on President Obama.

KING: Well, to that point, lay out sort of the battle lines for each candidate.

BORGER: Well, I think the president wants to turn this into an election with Mitt Romney, whom he is portraying as extreme and unsuccessful when it comes to the economy.

We have also -- we have heard, seen the ads on Bain Capital. And now they are starting to come out and talk about the state of Massachusetts more. Remember, Mike Dukakis once said Massachusetts miracle. Mitt Romney is not saying that, but the Democrats are pointing out, guess what, you were 47th out of 50th when it came to creating jobs. You had a debt there. You didn't cut taxes the way you said you would.

So, they are going to start now, the Obama campaign, start talking about Mitt Romney's record in Massachusetts. And the Romney campaign is going to say, what about your record as president, Obama?

KING: Well, you know what? That would be a fair and fun election.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: That would be a good fight.

KING: Amen, 160 days to go.

Gloria, thanks so much.

BORGER: Who is counting?

KING: I am.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Let's turn now to today's scary accident at one of country's biggest airports. The wing of a big cargo jet clipped the tail of a commuter plane at Chicago O'Hare Airport. You see the dramatic pictures right there.

Now, both planes, as you can see, on the ground at the time and thankfully, nobody was hurt.

CNN aviation and regulation correspondent Lizzie O'Leary is here, though.

Lizzie, if you look at the pictures, lucky nobody was hurt. What are you learning about this?

LIZZIE O'LEARY, CNN AVIATION AND REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Yes, lucky nobody was hurt.

What we're talking about here, John, is an EVA cargo jet. It was a 747. That's a great big plane. Its right wing -- you see it -- clipped the tail of an Embraer 140 that was flying for American Eagle. That's their commuter airline. It was flying in from Springfield,Missouri, to Chicago, 18 passengers on board, three crew members. Nobody hurt.

They got all those passengers off, but certainly that's a pretty significant intersection, certainly with a very, very large airplane. Now, that smaller plane was heading in toward the gate. The larger plane was going to be flying out to Anchorage with a load of cargo. So, we don't yet know what happened.

Unlike air traffic control, you can't always listen to communication between the ground controllers and a plane. So we don't have that information yet and don't know if this was a controller error or a pilot error or just simply they were way too close. But, certainly, they should not have been that close, John.

KING: And that's a key point. They should not have been that close. And so as we try to figure out, communication breakdown, somebody do something wrong, we do know it is not the first time something like this has happened at O'Hare.

What do the busiest airports try to do to prevent this?

O'LEARY: Well, certainly O'Hare is an interesting example. It's the sixth busiest airport in the world if you look at some of the monthly traffic numbers.

And O'Hare has a history of some problematic things going on with its controllers. "The Chicago Tribune" did some excellent reporting showing that the number of operational incidents had doubled from 2009 to 2010. A number of things were going on at O'Hare. They were expanding the airport. And at the same time, that means a lot of runways and construction, some that are being shortened, lengthened, a lot of different things to go around.

At the same time, they were also training new controllers. So, Senator Dick Durbin, representing Illinois of course, asked the FAA and the Department of Transportation to look into this. And that's still ongoing. The DOT's inspector general's office didn't know yet what the status of that report was. But it is something they are watching because this is a very big and very busy airport -- John.

KING: Lizzie O'Leary for us tracking that one.

Again, we are glad nobody was hurt. Lizzie, thanks so much.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook just gave everyone some very interesting hints about what's ahead in the tech world. Cook, you will recall, took over from the late Steve Jobs, says, Apple has -- quote -- "intense interest in new technology for televisions." He would also like to see -- this is very important -- he would like to see more Apple products -- get this -- manufactured here in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Will there be an Apple product ever made again in the United States?

TIM COOK, CEO, APPLE: I want there to be.

QUESTION: So will it ever say on the back of an Apple product, designed in California, assembled in the United States?

TIM COOK: It may. It may. And even though it doesn't say that today, you could put down there, several parts are from the United States.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Dan Simon is tracking all this at the All Things Digital Conference, an annual meeting of technology and media executives.

Dan, so how real is that possibility? Apple has been criticized for that big plant in China. How real is the possibility manufactured right here at home?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it is very real, John. I was very surprised it hear Tim Cook say that. And I think the people in the audience were as well. Things are humming along just fine for Apple, despite the fact they have had these problems in China. They have record profits. They know what they are doing with those plants in China. They can do them at scale.

The problem -- and Tim Cook put it this way -- right now, the United States simply doesn't have the infrastructure to manufacture something like an iPhone or an iPad. He says that there aren't enough companies in this country who could actually make the machines that make the iPhone and the iPad.

So, until you have that infrastructure, built, I don't think we are going to see it happen. But you have a company like Apple that has billions of dollars at its disposal. It has got a lot of influence and of course a lot of power. So if they want to will this and make it happen, then they probably can. I just think it is unlikely.

KING: Well, he is going to face a lot of political heat now from politicians and the like who would like him to bring it home now that he put that on the public record. We will see how that one plays out.

So, Dan, as you're there, we are about a month away from Apple's big annual show. That's when we used to see Steve Jobs come out and say, hey, this is an iPod, hey, this is an iPad. What are we expecting from Mr. Cook, what new products down the pipeline?

SIMON: Well, right. this is the Worldwide Developers Conference. It's in San Francisco on June 11.

And, look, any time Apple says they have some big stuff coming out, people pay attention. And so expectations are high for this. Now, they are notoriously secretive. So, we don't really know what's going to come out. But there is a lot of buzz that they are going to have new laptops, maybe a new desktop, and then the much rumored Apple television.

Apple currently has a set top box called Apple TV. But the question is will they actually come out with their own television? There has been a lot of speculation about that. You mentioned that Tim Cook said they have an intense interest in that area. We will just have to wait and see. That's June 11. And all eyes will be on San Francisco at that time, John.

KING: Busy couple of weeks of reporting before that for our Dan Simon.

Dan, thanks so much.

Mitt Romney is demanding -- quote -- "more assertive measures" to stop the slaughter in Syria. Coming up, we will ask one of his top advisers for specifics.

And, later, the one-time Attorney General Alberto Gonzales warns the Romney campaign to do more to reach out to Latino voters now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: That will be a challenge for Governor Romney. I think he has to make some kind of personal connection with the Hispanic community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Among those warning the Republican Party about a crisis in the Hispanic community is a man who came to Washington as a top adviser to President George W. Bush and then became the highest- ranking Hispanic official in his administration as the attorney general.

Alberto Gonzales says Republicans, including Mitt Romney, need to rethink some of their policies and rethink a tone he describes sometimes as mean-spirited.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The answer is self- deportation, which is people decide that they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales now teaches law at Belmont University. He joins me here in Washington.

When you hear Governor Romney there, now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, talk about self-deportation, back when you were at the White House or at the Justice Department, he was initially someone who spoke favorably of what we called in those days Bush- Kennedy-McCain. It was path to citizenship. Now he says, no way.

What does he have to do to get the Latino community to say, let's take a second look?

GONZALES: Well, I think the Latino community is going to first look -- they're going to look first at his policies and then the way he talks.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Self-deportation, is that a good policy?

GONZALES: That is not going to be something that resonates with the Latino community.

The Latino community is going to respond to the notion of we are a country of laws, the rule of law. More security is important.

KING: But he was -- again, he spoke favorably of Bush-Kennedy- McCain back in the day. Now he says no, no path to citizenship. He says not even a path to status for those who are here illegally.

Do you think he go back to status and citizenship?

GONZALES: I think for the Hispanic community, there is less concern about the pathway to citizenship, per se.

What I think is important is that anyone who is in this country needs to be here under some kind of legal status, either a temporary work program or a visa. But we need to know who is in this country and why, John. It is very, very important. And I think the Hispanic community will respond to that.

KING: He also said during the primaries he would veto the then Democratic version of the DREAM Act. Essentially, if you are a child of an illegal immigrant, you were brought into the country, you had no choice in the matter, your parents brought you over, you were too young.

You go to high school, maybe you serve in the military, you are contributing as a taxpayer. You may be here illegally. But he said he would veto that. Now he says he will look in what Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, might develop.

How damaging is that in the community, when you're saying even the children, even a child who wants to join the military, no, can't?

GONZALES: Well, some people may remember that.

But I think people -- as we get closer to the election, people are going to listen to what Governor Romney is saying. And I am heartened by the fact that he now understands that perhaps it does make sense. And I think it will be important for the Hispanic community if he supports some kind of legislation that puts these children, innocent children in some kind of legal status.

I think the pathway to citizenship is probably less important for the Hispanic community. They want to know that our leaders are going to provide for these children...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: And if he changes positions, will they say he is pandering? Will they believe him? Will it be credible if he evolves?

GONZALES: Well, that will be a challenge for Governor Romney.

I think he has to make some kind of personal connection with the Hispanic community.

KING: Though some say, if he wants to make that connection, he should surround himself with some people who can help, including maybe a running mate. You know the names that come up from the Latino community as potential prospects.

I mentioned the freshman Senator Marco Rubio from Florida, the freshman governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, the governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval. Should Governor Romney be looking at those three?

GONZALES: They are all very talented people. But I don't think the Hispanic community is going to vote for Governor Romney based upon who he selects as his running mate, quite frankly.

KING: Are they qualified to be president?

GONZALES: I think that that will be a decision that Governor Romney has to make.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: In the past, you have questioned whether Senator Rubio in particular is ready to be president.

GONZALES: From my perspective, that should be the number-one criteria.

If I were the nominee, the person I would look to, to put on the ticket would be the person I knew day one could be president. And as I look at the slate of candidates, there are a number of good people in the Republican Party that I think have more experience and would be better suited on day one.

And when you combine that with the principle that I don't think Hispanics are going to vote for a nominee based on who is the number two on the ticket, then I think it behooves Governor Romney to look at other candidates.

KING: But of the three I mentioned, as you know, Senator Rubio gets the most buzz with the conservative base, a rising star in the party.

GONZALES: He's very talented, no question about it.

KING: But when you have said in the past -- and you just hinted at it in more diplomatic language right now -- you don't think he meets the number one test to be ready to be president. Why?

GONZALES: Again, he is extremely talented. And I honor his service.

But I think that the job of president -- and I have seen it firsthand, how hard it can be and how important it is to have someone with wisdom. Wisdom comes from experience. It comes from living, comes from success. It comes from failure.

And I just think that the country needs to have people in positions of leadership who have that level of experience that's important to serve effectively as president and as vice president.

KING: Mr. Gonzales, appreciate your time. It's good to see you.

GONZALES: Thank you, John. Good to see you.

KING: Oil prices crossed an important benchmark today. No, not up -- down, and down a lot -- the details in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Mitt Romney is calling for tougher U.S. action against Syria. In a moment, we will ask one of his top advisers what a President Romney would do differently today.

And, later, the important "Truth" behind today's courtesy call between the two rivals for the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This half-hour: Mitt Romney slams President Obama's policy of paralysis after a massacre in Syria, so I ask Romney's foreign policy adviser what would be different in a Romney White House.

Then, chivalry, or at least courtesy, on the campaign trail -- the president places a congratulations call to his Republican rival. But, in a race this close, don't get used to it.

And later, a flurry of papers and a 93-second rant on the floor of the Illinois Statehouse, and why a discussion about a pension bill struck a nerve with that lawmaker.

Day by day, hour by hour, it seems we're watching the situation in Syria deteriorate, that after a massacre in Houla over the weekend that left 100 people dead, half of them children.

This photo says it all -- the body of a little girl and an adult man placed on the hood of a United Nations' observers SUV.

The relatives of the victims wanted to show the observers, they said, what had happened to their loved ones. Images like that come in daily now and they're feeding calls for more action in Syria.

And Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is among those voices, slamming President Obama's -- quote -- "policy of paralysis" on Syria.

Joining me now is the former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, who is Governor Romney's special adviser on foreign policy.

If the current president has, in your candidate's view, a policy of paralysis, what would be different today -- if Mitt Romney were president today, what would the United States be doing differently in Syria?

NORM COLEMAN (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, first, if Mitt Romney were president today, we wouldn't be in the situation we've been in today. We've had a year-and-a-half of really a lack of leadership. A year-and-a-half ago, Hillary Clinton called Assad a reformer, just as -- as the -- as the movement against Assad was -- was stepping forward.

I'm not a -- "The Washington Post" is not a Romney spin machine, but they talked today about the president hiding behind Kofi Annan's plan for two months and called that plan, by the way, the most -- called it one of the most costliest diplomatic failures in U.N. history.

So the bottom line, leadership. We should be arming those who are supporting the opposition. You've got to do that very, very carefully. But the bottom line, John, is we're at a point that were at today because of the failure of leadership, whether it's been hiding behind Kofi Annan for two months, whether it's been a lack of leadership for a year-and-a-half. And those images you see today, they're -- they're heartrending.

KING: Right.

COLEMAN: This is not about emotion. This is about a very difficult area of the world, a region of the world. We've got Iran supporting Syria, Syria supporting Hezbollah. Leadership is required. We haven't seen it...

KING: So you...

COLEMAN: -- from this president.

KING: -- you say arming the opposition, that's one specific step you say a President Romney would take today, carefully, but would take today?

COLEMAN: Yes.

KING: OK. What about airstrikes?

John McCain and Lindsey Graham say airstrikes might help.

COLEMAN: Well, I don't think direct action, at this point, at this point, is needed. But -- but you don't...

KING: All right.

COLEMAN: ... you don't rule anything out.

But the bottom line, the Syrians have shown an -- an ability and a willingness to, you know, face this oppressive -- to face this murder, to sacrifice. And so if you give some support to the opposition, you may not need some of the other things. You don't rule anything out.

But the bottom line is Assad has to go. This president, Obama, has talked about it but has done little to make it happen. Again, he has stood behind Kofi Annan's plan. He's now looking for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the Russians to somehow come in and save the day. Depending on Putin to save the day doesn't seem like a good game plan to Governor Romney or to probably most other people. KING: So would President Romney, then, take more aggressive action? You mentioned the Russians. They have been stalling with the Chinese, dreadfully so, in the Security Council. If they won't move and you can't get anything tougher out of Security Council, would a President Romney act unilaterally or try to form a coalition outside of the United Nations? And in Libya, for example, you had the Arab League inviting folks in. There's no Arab League invitation here.

COLEMAN: No, but you have others in the region who understand that there's a real serious problem. You know, the Turks are concerned. Lebanon, obviously, should be concerned.

So again, if there was a President Romney, you wouldn't have this leadership void that we have. And therefore, you might be in position to put a little more pressure on the Russians. You know, right now, we're playing, you know, "Mother May I" in the U.N. You know, can we -- asking Russia and China for permission before we go forward. But that was very little pressure. The president is depending on Putin and the meeting they're going to have in a few weeks. Well, Putin, by the way, decided not to come to Camp David. He's asking for permission.

Governor Romney becoming President Romney is not going to be about asking for permission. I think you'd see a lot more pressure being put on the Russians, put on the Chinese to be part of an international community that understands that Assad has to go.

KING: What magical diplomatic influence would he have -- forgive me -- to move the Russians, if they're just -- they refuse to budge?

COLEMAN: I'll quote "The Washington Post." You're not going to hide behind Kofi Annan's feckless plan for the last two months. You're not going to depend on Vladimir Putin to somehow be the savior. What's going on in Syria, when the Russians today are arming the Syrians?

So the bottom line is that you'd have a president with a lot greater strength and leadership who wouldn't have waited a year and a half to be in the position we're in where your viewers are looking at those -- those heart-rendering, horrible scenes, that slaughter that took place just the other day.

KING: Mr. Coleman, appreciate your time. Thank you.

Let's get some more perspective now on the bloodshed in Syria. Fareed Zakaria, the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" and editor-at-large for "TIME" magazine.

Fareed, I want to start with the criticism from the Republican nominee-to-be, Mitt Romney. He says there's a paralysis in the Obama White House when it comes to this. His adviser, Norm Coleman, we just heard him say that the president is hiding between Kofi Annan, that he's too reliant that the Russians will somehow come in later and save the day. Valid points?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN ANCHOR: I think it is mostly political, to be honest, because most of what Governor Romney is attacking President Obama for is a kind of unspecified lack of assertiveness, that we should be tougher and we should -- we should somehow, you know, force the Syrian regime out.

For example, contrast that with Senator McCain or Lindsey Graham, who are very tough on the president, but they have a specific course of action they are advocating. They are advocating military intervention. As far as I can tell, a pretty open-ended military intervention. You know, they may have certain conditions.

But in the case of Romney, it's unclear what he would do, you know, being tough for going -- getting out ahead. What does all that mean? At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves, what tools do we have? And how do we use them?

President Obama has decided he's not going to use the military yet. He's using diplomatic tools and economic tools. And if President Romney has a better strategy, we need to hear it.

KING: And so when you say what tools do we have and what tools do we use, I think -- I don't think there's any disagreement that the Kofi Annan mission has failed, and some would argue -- and I can't debate them -- failed miserably. What other tools does the president have diplomatically?

ZAKARIA: Well, I think that the effort to try to get the Russians to -- to stop shielding the regime are important. The Russians, obviously, are never going to cooperate.

But at some point, they might realize that the Assad regime's days are numbered and they better get on the right side of history. And they might want to reposition themselves in the right place. And that might provide an opening.

At the end of the day, I think you have two choices. One is to try and economically strangle this regime, which is, frankly, quite possible, because this is not an oil-rich country. The regime does not have an unending supply of cash.

KING: Do you see a viable military option? When you talk to folks at the Pentagon they say you'd have to have at least 75,000 boots. They're worried about a dozen or more depots with chemical and other weapons of mass destruction around Syria, a very complicated ethnic situation and a much tougher, stronger well-trained army than you had in Libya.

ZAKARIA: I think it's very tough. Because as you said, the Libyan case is quite different. Syria is about 10 percent the size of Libya with about three times as many people.

In other words, in Libya, you had vast swaths of territory where the rebels could hide. They could get resupplied. That's why they were able to detach almost a half of the country or a third of the country and a major city, Benghazi, from which they could get resupplied, from which they could proclaim independence. Syria has no such geography, and as a result, notice that the Syrian rebels do not control anything. They do not control a town; they do not control a piece of territory. And so it's going to be very hard.

The Syrian opposition is quite divided, quite diverse, and in that mix, to say that, you know, western no-fly zones would work when most of the butchery is taking place using heavy artillery and tanks, I think again it's more rhetoric rather than an actual action plan that would work.

KING: As always, Fareed Zakaria, thanks very much.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

KING: And check out Fareed Zakaria's latest reporting on the crisis in Syria from the next edition of "TIME" magazine, out tomorrow.

And coming up, President Obama picked up the phone to call Mitt Romney today. The sign of a truce on the campaign trail? Don't count on it. The truth behind a close race next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: My dad used to say, chivalry isn't dead; it's just wounded. Maybe the same can be said of common courtesy.

Last night, Mitt Romney mathematically clinched the Republican presidential nomination. And this morning, he got a congratulatory phone call from the guy who lives in that big White House Romney wants to call his own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was very collegial and friendly. It was not, of course, particularly long.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Collegial, friendly, nice, courteous and, of course, temporary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and across the nation.

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He left out some facts. His speech was more like a cow pie of distortion.

ROMNEY: Over 8 percent unemployment, still. Thirty-nine straight months people are suffering because this president has failed them.

OBAMA: I've got to ask, why is he running around with the same bad ideas that brought our economy to collapse this last time out?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You get it. We're 160 days out and the "Truth" is, this one at the moment about as close as they come.

President Obama is more likeable. Look at these new numbers from "The Washington Post"/ABC poll. And sometimes, likeability, favorability matters, especially when picking a president. But on- the-job performance often matters more when you have an incumbent. And there, right there is Governor Romney's opening. A majority disapprove of how the president is handling the economy.

Now, presidential campaigns are very rarely settled in June and July. But this one is so close. Both the president and his challenger have very important work to do in what used to be the summer lull.

So let's talk truth about the challenges ahead with Michael Crowley. He's the deputy Washington bureau chief for "TIME." Maria Cardona, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor. Mary Matalin, the Republican strategist and CNN political contributor.

I want to start first with the theater. You have been in the room. You worked for Bush 41 and Bush 43, around the vice president. You've been in the room when they make these phone calls to a guy they really don't know that well, they probably really don't like that well, but they have to say, you know, "Congratulations. How is the family? See you when we debate." What's it like?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST/CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's theater. It is funny. But there is a collegiality that goes to the small club of people that run for president, who have been president. As you know today, the Bushes and the Clintons are very close. It's a tiny little club.

I'm laughing at your saying there's a summer lull. When was there ever a summer lull with all the campaigns we've done together? It's 24/7, 365. This was a nice grace note for the president to take one day before they start contrasting and having a big debate.

KING: And the Obama campaign after spending some time, a week, ten days at Bain -- doesn't mean they won't come back to Bain Capital -- but they say they now want to look at the record as Massachusetts governor. Do you think as a strategist that that's a better -- is that a better place than Bain Capital or what's the combination?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST/CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I wouldn't necessarily say it is better. I think that's one of the tools in the Obama campaign's arsenal to show the biggest picture of Mitt Romney in terms of how he is not equipped to be president. Bain is a big part of that. And I agree. I think that they absolutely will go back to Bain.

But the Massachusetts governorship is also a huge part of that. Because he was governor there. He doesn't talk about it all that much, which is so interesting. Because normally, you think that people who have been governor are the ones who are most equipped to be president, as we've seen in the past.

His record there is not one that you would think that he would want to tout, 47th in job creation. You know, taxes and fees hiking up.

So I think that absolutely is part of the bigger package to show who Mitt Romney really is.

KING: The Romney campaign would dispute some of the characterizations there and the record, Michael. But it is true. It is true he sort of blows through four years as governor when he's campaigning. I don't think the president is going to let him do that. Does he have to come up with a narrative about being governor?

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think so. I mean, it's too important a part of his record for him to ignore entirely. And of course, you know, you have this very problematic cornerstone in that record, which is the health-care law that he passed. Which he really doesn't want to talk about because of its similarities to Obama care.

KING: Even now? Even now, in the general election, does he think he'll scare conservatives away, that now that they have seemed to rally back to him? Is that the worry?

CROWLEY: Well, conservatives don't like it. But it also just clashes with a core part of his own platform, which is repealing Obama care. Obama care is a bad thing, that Barack Obama misunderstood how to manage health care.

And I just think, although he has an explanation for why the state law is different from the federal law, it's complicated and easily lost on people. I don't think he wants to go there.

KING: So the challenger has the biggest next decision. We assume Joe Biden is staying on the ticket. So Governor Romney has to pick a partner. He's out in California tonight. He's at a big fundraiser.

Condoleezza Rice will endorse him tonight. She says, no, no, insert a word that rhymes with bell, no when it comes to whether she would be interested. What is -- would she be on the list? Should she be on the list?

MATALIN: She is an amazing human being with a stellar record. When she -- when she says no, it means no. I don't know what it's about when men say no, it means yes. When they say no, they mean no. We don't need to keep going on. She has a great life, and she loves it out there.

My personal favorite is actually Rob Portman for his deep resume in both chambers, in the House, in the Senate, and at the executive branch. And he's from a good state, brilliant. He was Cheney's debating partner. So that's my take. KING: All right, Mary. Mary has Portman on top of her list. I talked to the former attorney general and the former Bush White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, today. He says Governor Romney's got to do more in the Latino community.

A lot of people think, Maria, Marco Rubio would be a good vice- presidential pick if he had to reach out to the Latino community. I've seen a lot of people, not Judge Gonzalez.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Wisdom comes from experience. It comes from living, comes from success, comes from failure. And I just think that the country needs to have people in positions of leadership who have that level of experience that's important to serve effectively as president and as vice president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ouch. I actually agree with Mr. Gonzales. But you know who else I think agrees with him? Marco Rubio has said in the past that he doesn't think he has experience enough to be vice president. And he has also said no. And no, we think that maybe all men mean yes. I actually think that he is very focused on having a very successful Senate career and then perhaps down the line doing this on his own terms.

MATALIN: He's part of a new critical mass, a growing critical mass of conservative senators in -- in that body. So...

KING: What happens if Romney -- Romney is in a very competitive place. So this is in some ways a foolish conversation. But we love these future generation. What happens if Romney loses in 2016. And you have Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio from the same state. Shouldn't he be campaigning to get a head start?

CROWLEY: It's for a look. And Rubio, it's interesting, because he really insists he doesn't want to be considered. At the same time, he's doing the kinds of things that you do to raise your stature and your profile. So he gives these thoughtful deep speeches about foreign policy, and he seems to be trying to demonstrate that he is a guy of substance.

I think, were it not for the Sarah Palin debacle, as a lot of people would call it, Rubio would be a much more serious contender at this point. But I think the point Gonzales is making is that it would probably make it harder for Rubio to be asked.

CARDONA: And we also need to add, again, conventional wisdom that Marco Rubio, I don't think, will be an asset in terms of attracting the Latino vote. He's not very well known outside of Florida. And his stances on a lot of the issues that Latinos care about are not where most of the Latino community is.

MATALIN: Well, that would be an anathema to conservatives, if we did the group identity business that Democrats are so famous for.

But going back to your point about the things that Rubio is doing to enhance his stature, he would be doing anyways to be a leader in the Senate.

And I keep going back to the kind of senators that are getting elected on the Republican side and will be, as we see these primaries unfolding, that are going to be the critical mass that we need to do entitlement reform, debt reform, tax reform, all those issues. He would be the leader.

KING: We have 160 days, but I hope we spend a lot of time on them. Everybody stand by. We'll continue the conversation. You mentioned the primaries. This is a big election Tuesday. It is not a primary; it's a recall election. We'll talk about the importance of that when we come back.

But first, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour.

Erin, stocks fell more than sharply today because of worries again about Europe. What's happened?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Worries, again, about Europe. And you know, John, just to give a human face to this, today a 61-year-old man was found in an Athens suburb hanging from a tree in the park. A horrific story, saying that he made one horrendous choice in his life, going to work for the Greek government; hopes that his grandchildren aren't born in Greece.

The human toll there is incredible, and the financial toll also incredible. What you saw on the market today, just a taste of what has and is going to continue to happen in this country. Why this story is so crucial. So we're going to talk about that top of the hour.

Plus, the bath salts. Or was it really bath salts in that horrific face-eating case in Florida. We have the police chief who came on the scene; says he's seen several cases like this of bizarre superhero-like strength behavior. Is it some sort of a new drug concoction? And why is it spreading? We're going to find out the details on that. Back to you.

KING: Fascinating mystery. Look forward to that. See you in a few minutes, Erin.

Still ahead here, Poland gets an apology from the White House after President Obama misspeaks about Nazi death camps. How the administration said sorry.

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These damn bills for Congress all the damn time. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A state lawmaker -- you see him right there -- says more than a mouthful about pension reform. See what happens after all those papers settled.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should be ashamed of yourself. I'm sick of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back talking politics with Michael Crowley, Maria Cardona and Mary Matalin.

There's a big election out of Wisconsin on Tuesday. Wisconsin will be a huge battleground state come November, but it's a recall election. They're trying to recall the Republican governor. And yet, the Republican governor -- we can show you the poll numbers -- consistently has been, Governor Walker, at about 50 -- or 52 percent in this poll. He's been above 50 in the last three polls. At or above 50. Tom Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, 45 percent.

Mary, how important is this, No. 1, for the state? This has been a conservative, liberal conservative liberal labor class, but what does it tell us about November?

MATALIN: It tells us a lot about where the country wants to go and what it has to do. This is a pension reform fight, and it's -- the governors are leading it because the feds have done nothing about our structural debt.

So Chris Christie, notably, Mitch Daniels and in the time since Walker initiated those policies, his employment has gone up. Property taxes have gone down. He has a good record to talk about.

Huge waste of money, even though the Democrats didn't buy in at the end here, huge waste of money. And it says something to the unions. That people want pension reform. It's not about collective bargaining; it's about saving our states, one state at a time. And Walker, listen, will be a huge signal for November. Very excited about it.

CARDONA: But see, this is why it is about collective bargaining. Because the pension issue and all of the budget stuff has been an issue in other states. And other governors have found a way to sit down with the unions and create an actual deal, where they don't take away the collective bargaining rights.

This was something Scott Walker was focused on. I do have to say something about the polls because, of course, I've been getting calls from all of my friends in Wisconsin, saying that the internal polls -- and there have been several, one -- several that have been released. Celinda Lake, we all know her and love her, respect her, neck and neck, 49-49. It's going to be a turnout game. And they don't want all the pundits and everybody saying that Scott Walker is seven points ahead when, in fact, the internal polls show it head to head.

MATALIN: So the Democrats not giving money to that effort to the Democrat, means they're not looking at those polls? It's a smart thing. Democrats would have funded that if they thought they could beat Walker because it would be a huge message.

CARDONA: There's been a lot of money going into that.

KING: Why isn't the president going out there? If this is so important, if this is -- if this is a defining test for the Obama turnout, for the future of the labor movements in politics, why isn't the president of the United States going? At least he's not scheduled, and we're only a few days away.

CROWLEY: Well, I think that -- unfortunately, I think that may be an indicator of what -- of what their polling is telling them. I don't know what the internal polls are saying. I think it doesn't look good.

KING: So if it doesn't look good, you don't go? That's courage.

CROWLEY: Well, yes. I mean sometimes -- sometimes you don't want to board a ship that's going to sink. And the larger problem is that this could -- this could embolden Republicans for that state in the fall. I believe Republicans haven't carried Wisconsin since 1984, and it will put some wind at their backs, give them some momentum, may make them feel like they can pick one off that the White House wasn't going to defend.

So the other way to argue it would be the White House might want to start that defense now. But I think for the moment they don't want to be associated with what looks to them like a losing call.

CARDONA: A day is a lifetime in politics. It's all about turnout. So everybody in Wisconsin, go vote. It's not over.

KING: I think everybody in Wisconsin should go vote. Everybody should.

Mary, Maria, Michael, thanks so much.

We're going to spend a lot of time on Wisconsin between now and Tuesday night. For now, though, let's get back to Lisa Sylvester with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hi, there.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there.

Before President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to one-time Polish resistance courier Jan Karski yesterday, he said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: For one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale and smuggled him into the Warsaw ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: That reference to a Polish rather than a Nazi death camp provoked outrage and demands for an apology, including from Polish officials. Here's what they got.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARNEY: The president misspoke. He was referring to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland. And as we made clear, we regret the misstatement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVESTER: And now to the Hague, where the former Liberian president convicted last month of war crimes was sentenced to 50 years in prison today. Charles Taylor is 64, so that's essentially a life sentence.

He was found guilty on 11 charges of aiding and abetting the rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war that left 50,000 people dead or missing. Taylor is appealing his conviction.

And in Italy, a woman has been found alive under the rubble of her collapsed home ten hours after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. Fire crews used their hands to clear rocks and debris to get to the woman, who was protected by a cupboard that fell on her. That was one of the happy endings. But the death toll from that earthquake has now risen to 17.

And in Newfoundland, in Labrador, a parade of icebergs is making its way along the northeastern coastline. It's spring, which happens to be primetime to watch these glacial giants float down 1,800 miles from the Arctic.

And you know the Boy Scouts motto, "Always be prepared"? Well, now that includes knowing how to weld. It is the newest merit badge a scout can earn, part of an organized push to get young welders into the workforce. Right now there are 450,000 welders in America, and the average age, John, 55. So they're trying to get these young people into a new craft, learn a new skill. Welding.

KING: It's not fair. My dad taught me how to weld when I was a kid, but they didn't have that badge when I was in the Boy Scouts.

SYLVESTER: So you're a welder, among other things.

KING: I wouldn't say I'm a welder. He taught me how to do it. I'm not saying I'd be any good at it. Life is just not fair. Lisa, stay put. Finally, tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." If you yawn thinking about the politics of pension plans, here. This might be enough to change your mind. Watch. Illinois state lawmaker shouts, punches paper, quotes Moses after getting a new version of a pension reform bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Total power in one person's hands, not the American way! These damn bills that come out of here all the damn time, come out here at the last second and I've got to try to figure out how to vote for my people? How ashamed are you? You should be! You should be ashamed of yourselves! I'm sick of it!

Every year we give power to one person. It was not made that way in the Constitution. He wasn't around when it was written. Now we give it -- we have rules that stop each one of us. Enough! I feel like somebody trying to be released from Egypt. Let my people go!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That might be a bit over the top, but I like passion in politics.

SYLVESTER: I know. He's got a little fire in his belly.

KING: There you go. That's all for us tonight. We'll see you right back here tomorrow. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.