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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte; President Obama Changes U.S. Immigration Policy; Mitt Romney's Battleground Bus Tour; Interview with Duncan Hunter, Mario Diaz-Ballart

Aired June 15, 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, call it the backdoor DREAM Act -- why the president decided 144 days before the election to take a bold step many Latino groups would have liked on day one.

And Mitt Romney's battleground bus tour -- as he promises more jobs if he wins the White House, is he also auditioning prospects for the job of running mate?

And an inside at a Colorado focus group -- what 10 Obama 2008 supporters said that made the event organizer, a Democrat, conclude this. President Obama, he says, is in trouble.

Up first tonight, President Obama's dramatic change in immigration policy, it has most Latino groups cheering and many conservatives chafing. You have likely heard of the shift by now. The Obama will not only stop deporting younger illegal immigrants. It will make up to perhaps a military undocumented residents under the age of 30 eligible for work permits.

You might call this the backdoor DREAM Act, the president using executive power to do something Congress has considered, but not passed because of conservative opposition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix. This is a temporary, stopgap measure that lets us focus our resources wisely while giving a degree of relief and hope to talented, driven, patriotic young people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the administration insists it has the legal power to set deportation priorities.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET NAPOLITANO, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: As someone who is charged with enforcing the immigration system, we're setting good, strong, sensible priorities, and, again, these young people really are not the individuals that the immigration removal process was designed to focus upon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, that's where the fight is.

Even some conservatives who support the policy shift say the president can't do it without congressional approval. Freshman Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio, for example, said this of President Obama -- quote -- "By once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one."

Just last year, this very, very senior, you might call him the most senior administration official, seemed to agree, the White House couldn't act on its own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that's just not the case because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was then. This is now, 144 days before an election in which the Latino vote could swing a few battlegrounds. Even some of the president's closest allies wonder why if he has this power he waited three-and-a-half years to use it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: Let me say a word about the man who co-signed the letter that I sent to President Obama and Secretary Napolitano two years ago asking for this.

His name is Dick Lugar. He was the only Republican senator who had the courage to step up and join me in signing this letter to Secretary Napolitano.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Why no when that letter was sent two years ago, but yes now?

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is working her sources.

Big policy shift that, forgive me, most people in town think is about politics.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And it is hard to disagree with that to a large extent, John.

Look, the administration will say that this is about having studied their policy after three years. They have cracked down on deportations, or deported more people than in the past, and that they think they have really tightened the border so that no real threats to society are getting in, and that's why they can now focus on lightening up on this.

Bottom line, though, right before an election, what they need to do is not just get the Latino vote, but ensure that Latinos turn out to vote, feel energized. As you know, the president promised immigration reform would be a top priority, it hasn't come up. He needs to do something.

KING: It has been the quicksand of American politics for five, six, maybe more even years now. Where do you think their cover is, if you will? Some conservatives are mad. Do they feel they have enough cover?

YELLIN: One thing that is interesting, John, as you know, they brought in a group of evangelicals to the White House earlier this week, not just progressive evangelicals, but conservatives, Richard Land, Southern Baptist.

And this is meaningful because they were talking immigration reform. An umbrella group of evangelicals right and left said that they're glad that the White House is moving toward immigration reform. That gives them a little bit of cover. And it's an issue -- having the kids of illegal immigrants get some protection is an issue that has support right and left among political groups. They feel they have a little cover on this.

KING: Probably the least controversial piece of what is a very complicated immigration puzzle. Jess, thanks so much.

YELLIN: Right.

KING: And the president's actions come just as Republican challenger Mitt Romney is accelerating his outreach to Hispanic voters and just days before the two candidates for the very first time appear at the same meeting, a national Latino leadership conference.

Governor Romney took his time responding to go the president's big announcement, but finally spoke to reporters in New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe the status of young people who come here through no fault of their own is an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis, so they know what their future would be in this country.

I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution, because an executive order is, of course, just a short-term matter. It can be reversed by subsequent presidents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: National political correspondent Jim Acosta was right there as that played out. Jim, the governor didn't respond right away, seemed like he wanted to think about this one a bit. Why?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Well, I will tell you that the Romney campaign was caught off guard by this today, John. It was pretty apparent at the first event that Romney had today. I talked to a senior Romney adviser. They think this is a blatant pivot away from what was a bad couple of weeks on the economy for this president.

And this is disappointing for the Romney campaign. You could sense that they were disappointed today because they had this carefully crafted six-state bus tour that is going on over the next five days, started here in New Hampshire, it's heading to Pennsylvania tonight, and Ohio over the weekend, and they were pulling out all the stops. They had a jib camera there possibly filming a new TV commercial that might be unveiled somewhere down the road.

They had potential running mates in Tim Pawlenty and Kelly Ayotte here. But this campaign is hoping to get all of this back on track. They will be going to Ohio on Sunday , where they will be with Rob Portman and Speaker of the House John Boehner, and then on Monday with Paul Ryan. All of these potential running mates are seeming to be auditioning during this bus tour.

But, John, it is very interesting to note who Mitt Romney gave a shout-out to today. It was to Marco Rubio. During his remarks to reporters here in Milford, New Hampshire, he referred to Marco Rubio's stance, his position, his take on the president's change on immigration policy today. The one veepstakes candidate who is not on the road for this bus tour is the one that got the shout-out today, John.

KING: An interesting and important point from our Jim Acosta, Marco Rubio, top adviser to the nominee on a very tough question here going forward. Jim, thanks so much.

Is it smart politics or shameless expediency?

Our senior political analyst David Gergen has advised four presidents.

Is that the right way to frame it, David? And if so, which is it?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is both, as you well know, John.

On the surface, this was very smart politics. These two candidates are sort of playing a game of three-dimensional chess with each other. And, today, President Obama took one of Romney's pawns, and he moved in on an issue that's very sensitive, and took the lead, and stole the headlines from Romney just as he started this bus tour.

But I think underneath this, John, there's this question about, wait a minute, you could have done this months ago. If you could do this by executive order, why didn't you do it in the beginning of your administration? It is so blatantly political on the part of the president that it causes obviously a certain amount of cynicism, not to mention the fact that he bypassed the Congress to do this and used the executive order.

So, I think on the surface, it helps the president a lot, and I think puts Romney on his back heels. But over time, I think it has a corrosive effect on the authority of this president.

KING: You say a corrosive effect on the authority. It may help him politically. The question is, as you gain over here, maybe excite Latinos, maybe guarantee that you keep that big margin among Latinos you had in 2008, is there a price to pay somewhere else? Would independents not like expediency?

Is this because the president is already suffering more, hurting more among working-class whites than he did in 2008?

GERGEN: Well, there are certainly parts of the country that wanted to get the border secured before we started figuring out what to do with the 12 million people that were here.

I happen to be very sympathetic with the DREAM Act. I think it is a wise idea. I thought the Rubio substitute for Republicans was a wise idea. President Romney was going -- Mitt Romney was getting himself into a box I thought on immigration. I thought he misplayed it during the primaries.

Having said that, look, I think the president pays a price when he seems to be doing things for total political gain, as opposed to why he thinks it is a wise policy. If he thought it was a wise policy, why didn't President Obama do this a long time ago if he thought it was the humane, proper approach? Instead, he does it at sort of this 11th hour, and it so clearly smacks of politics, as you said. It's both expedient and smart.

KING: And yet expedient and smart -- does it put pressure on Governor Romney -- he's going to speak at the same Latino group as the president next week -- to come forward with any changed policy of his own, to directly address this in some ways with the White House doing this not only to gain among Latino voters, but to pressure Romney on an issue that could put him in a tough spot with his own base?

GERGEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that's why I thought the three-dimensional chess thing.

I think he sort of -- he put Romney in a bit of a corner. And what this president so clearly is going to do, just as he showed in his Ohio speech yesterday and now he did on immigration, he is going to take every one of the tough stands that Romney took in order to appeal to the right wing of the Republican Party, and he is going to try to turn it back on him, he is going to try to flip it on him, and put him in a tough spot.

And this one -- if Romney were to come out with the same rhetoric he used during the primaries now, he would sound very tin-eared. His own party, with Rubio and Jeb Bush and others, have been saying, hey, look, Mitt, you have got to soften this somewhat, you have to look after these kids who came here.

There are a lot of Mexican kids, as you know, down in the Rio Grande area and Florida and California who came here with their parents when they were young, they are finishing college. And one thing that they are really worried about is they're going to get deported, forcibly kicked out of the country, and that's what the DREAM Act was about.

And I think that Mitt Romney got himself in the wrong -- he got himself so far over and so rigid on this issue, it is hard for him to walk it back a little bit.

KING: Well, the president made the first play today. We will see what Governor Romney does heading into that big duel event next week.

GERGEN: He sure did.

KING: David Gergen, appreciate your insights tonight, as always.

Later, a pair of Republicans with differing views debate how to get a long-term fix for our broken immigration system.

But, first, what looks like Mitt Romney's latest round of auditions for vice president. One his possible, you see her right there, Senator Kelly Ayotte, joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Some interesting and possibly significant stagecraft at one of Mitt Romney's stops in New Hampshire today. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: A great leader, the next president of the United States, Governor Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The woman in red there who just introduced Mitt Romney is New Hampshire's junior senator, Kelly Ayotte. She's a former New Hampshire attorney general and was elected to the United States Senate back in 2010.

She's also one of the people generating buzz in Republican circles as a potential Romney running mate. The senator joins us now from Manchester.

I will get to that in just a second, Senator, the mystery of who will share the ticket.

But let's focus on the substance of the event today. Governor Romney is on this bus tour starting in New Hampshire, small state, but one of the key battlegrounds. He's going to go through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and beyond on this bus tour, trying to take away the key states that will decide the fall.

SEN. KELLY AYOTTE (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Right.

KING: Here was part of his economic message to the people of New Hampshire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: For so many Americans, the distance between their town and the city of Washington has never seemed so far. The federal establishment has never seemed so hostile and so remote, so disconnected from economic reality, and yet so willing to use restrictions and regulations, taxes and fines, commissions, and czars to direct our daily lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is it a tougher sell is my question in the state of New Hampshire, which if you look at the numbers back when President Obama took office, the unemployment rate was 5.2 percent? It is 5 percent now. So, it went from -- especially relatively if you look nationally, it went from not bad to even better.

Is it a harder sell for the challenger in a state that is doing pretty well?

AYOTTE: Well, certainly our unemployment rate is 5 percent, John, but I have gone throughout our state and I have talked to so many small business owners, and they have the same concerns that Governor Romney is talking about, strangling regulations from Washington, rising health care costs as a result of Obamacare, and just a deep concern about the fiscal state of the country.

And I hear that from all of my constituents. And I think that Governor Romney hit those issues strong today, a concern not only about what's happening right now, but the future for our children.

KING: I mentioned this bus tour. He's going through the battleground states, and he's getting some help from his friends, including you, Senator.

And some of asking the question are these auditions or "getting to know you" sessions? I want to show our viewers during the course of this bus tour over the next few days, Senator Ayotte was there today, Governor Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, was there today. I think he continues on. Senator Rob Portman will be there in his home state of Ohio. Senator -- Representative Paul Ryan -- excuse me -- will be there in his home state of Wisconsin.

Tell me, Senator Ayotte, why the lady in the group here would be the best running mate for Mitt Romney?

AYOTTE: Well, I have to tell you this, John. I don't view it the same way as you. I don't think they are auditions. I believe all of us or most of us campaigned with him well before he was the nominee. And I have been supporting him since November. And we are going to be in our states campaigning hard for him, and that's my focus is representing New Hampshire.

And I think when Mitt Romney is president, he's going to need people like me to work with him to solve the problems that our country faces in the Senate.

KING: And you answer that way because you assume you will be in the Senate. You have not been asked for what I call the Roto-Rooter of the vice president vetting process.

(CROSSTALK)

AYOTTE: No, John. The only thing that I have been doing is campaigning, and helping the campaign to make sure that Mitt Romney gets elected.

KING: Do you think he should pick a woman, even if it is not you?

AYOTTE: I think he should pick the person that he thinks is best qualified to serve with him and to serve our country.

KING: That was a careful, careful answer. It was very nice.

If you had a chance, if you had a chance to debate Joe Biden, what would be your number one goal?

AYOTTE: Well, I think it would be a similar debate in terms of what we will hear.

There's such a different vision that Mitt Romney has for our country and that I share for him, one of fiscal responsibility, of getting our fiscal house in order, and creating a climate for the private sector, repealing Obamacare, making sure that government becomes a partner with business, instead of what we have right now, where it is hostile to business and hurting employers.

So, that's what the debate would be about, a very different vision for this country, and one that will get people back to work and will make sure that we preserve our country and don't become bankrupt.

KING: As you know, some people say this is the most important decision a nominee makes and a lot of other people say as long as he doesn't have a disaster, it doesn't matter who the number two is. Where do you stand?

AYOTTE: Well, I stand that I think obviously the position of vice president is very important, but ultimately it is going to be the people of this country that will judge the candidates and I think at the end of the day, they will judge that Governor Romney has the private sector experience and obviously the experience as governor to get our country turned around and on the right track.

KING: And, lastly, on a scale of one to 10, one being no, 10 being yes, what's the likelihood Kelly Ayotte would be that pick?

AYOTTE: You know, John, I don't even think about that, because, right now, it is all about working hard on behalf of my constituents and particularly on making sure that Mitt Romney gets elected president.

KING: Will he win New Hampshire?

AYOTTE: I think he will. We are truly a swing state.

The last time we went for the GOP was in 2000. But he has great connections in New Hampshire, he has been working very hard here, and his message of fiscal responsibility very much resonates in New Hampshire.

KING: Senator Ayotte, appreciate your time tonight. Diplomatic answers. Maybe you're auditioning for secretary of state after all.

AYOTTE: Great to be with you, John.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: See you in the days ahead. Have a great weekend.

Still ahead: the "Truth" how President Obama's immigration switch could help him in some crucial battleground states.

But, next, a judge rules on whether a pilot accused of goes berserk during a cross-country flight is competent to stand trial.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: In a moment: a Republican congressman from Florida and one from California react to today's big change in immigration policy.

And we will listen in. This is fascinating. A focus group of Colorado voters, 10 of whom went for President Obama in 2008, what they say now points to big trouble for the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In this half-hour of "JOHN KING, USA," a pair of Republicans react to President Obama's end-around, bypassing the Congress to stop the deportations of young illegal immigrants.

Also, a fascinating look at the nuts and bolts of politics. A Colorado focus group sends President Obama a message. He's in trouble.

And there's no question today's moment you probably missed this irritated the president, but reporters with even louder voices have annoyed presidents before. More now on today's top story. Less than five months before Election Day, President Obama made a dramatic shift in the country's immigration policy. He's directing the government to stop deporting some young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not amnesty. This is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining me now to discuss this controversial change, two Republicans with different points of view: Congressman Mario Diaz Ballart of Florida and Congressman Duncan Hunter of California.

Congressman Hunter, let me start with you. You just heard the president there. He says this is not amnesty, and he says it's the right thing to do. Is it?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, first off, John, good to be with you and with my great friend, Mario Diaz Ballart, a great representative, as well, from Florida.

It is amnesty, plain and simple. The president's being disingenuous when he says that. It is an amnesty, and he is making things harder for himself and harder for this immigration fix to actually happen through -- through the U.S. Congress the way that it is supposed to.

The reason that we have this problem now, period, is because our nation's borders are not secured. If you have secured nation's borders, Mario and I might be on the same side of this. I might say all right, not a bad step, but the nation's borders are not secure. You can't promise this won't have to happen every other year to accommodate all of those folks who come here illegally. So by doing this, he has messed up the process.

And he's also made, in my opinion, kind of a permanent sub class of people that are not trying to get citizenship, but are now here in America legally for periods of two years at a time. That's not what we want.

What we want is a permanent immigration fix and an actual secured border here. And this is not a California problem or a Florida problem. It's an American problem, and I think most Americans would agree that, if we're going to fix immigration, you have to secure the borders first. That's not what's happening.

KING: But Congressman Diaz Ballart, the president's argument, his team's argument, is that there's no way Congress is going to pass a comprehensive bill. And so he's going to take this slice, which they think, yes, they think it helps them politically. They also thinks it's the least controversial piece of immigration. Is the president doing the right thing here?

REP. MARIO DIAZ BALLART (R), FLORIDA: John, that's his solution now. The question is, as one who's been supportive of a DREAM Act having an issue for a long, long time is where has he been all this time?

Doug and I don't agree -- don't disagree on this issue. Actually, we all agree that the United States has a right to decide who comes in and who leaves. I think all countries have that right.

And I also agree with him when he says that this actually makes, I think, a long-term, a real fix more difficult. When the president says that he couldn't get it through Congress, how do we know that?

John, I -- my office, my chief of staff and myself, have been contacting the White House, saying let's sit down and let's try to work something out. Let's try to come together and try to have legislation, bipartisan legislation so we can actually have a long- term, a real fix of this issue.

And the president has -- frankly hasn't even called me back, hasn't gotten back to us. He's been totally missing in action, and that's a real shame. This is a real issue.

Now, whether we agree or disagree on, you know, the merits of the DREAM Act. Well, I think there maybe Duncan and I disagree. This makes it more difficult to get a real fix done, and it's pretty evident this is done strictly for political reasons.

He himself said, by the way, as you put it on the show a little while ago, that it couldn't be done administratively. Now he's doing it administratively.

The reality is he could have done it before. The only reason he's doing this, by the way, is because Marco Rubio has legislation out there that was starting to get bipartisan. People were starting to look at it seriously, and the president wanted to kill that, wanted to make sure that Congress didn't do anything, and so therefore he does this. It's really sad that for his election, he may jeopardize legislation that we need to get done to fix this immigration problem.

KING: And what happens now, do you propose, Congressman? What happens to Mitt Romney now? You heard his statements. He was pretty careful. He says yes, he would like to help those young illegal immigrants who, through no fault of their own are here, carried across the border by their parents. But he says this is the wrong way to do it. So you might disagree with him on the solution. But he agrees with you this is the wrong way to do it.

If he -- if Governor Romney now tries to reach for what I'll call the center on this, what happens to him on his right?

HUNTER: Yes, I think he simply has to be honest. I think President Obama is doing it purely for political reasons. He doesn't have a long-term fix. Mitt Romney wants a long-term fix. That's why he looks carefully at Marco Rubio in Florida and some of the other running mates that are, you know, possible with this. But he actually wants a fix to this.

And Obama doesn't. I think that's -- that's why he's being careful. He's not going to go out and be glib and say, "Here's what I'm going to do by presidential fiat." He's going to talk about what Congress can actually do and get accomplished that solves this problem in the long term.

So I don't think you're going to get like, you know, short, stand-by answers out of Mitt Romney on this. Nor should we want that if we want him to be president. We want a deliberative thinking president that's not going to make decisions or deals for political reasons.

KING: And Congressman Diaz Ballart, you think this is the wrong way for the president to do it. You think he makes a long-term comprehensive solution harder. Let me ask you this question, though. In terms of raw politics in your state of Florida, a battleground state, does it help him?

DIAZ BALLART: Short term, it probably does help him; long term, it hurts him. And it also reminds people in the Latino community around the United States that this is a president that said that in his first 12 months, he was going to pass and -- present and pass immigration reform. He's yet to present a bill.

And then he said that he couldn't do this administratively, and now he does it. He shows that he's -- he really just seems to be a president who's not concerned about being president, but he's more concerned about being a candidate, and he will say and do anything to get reelected. That doesn't look good for the president of the United States.

I think again, Mitt Romney, whether you agree with him or disagree on a number of issues, you can count on him. He's serious. By the way, he also knows how to fix the economy.

And I think part of the reason the president has done this now, is not only to try to get some votes that he's lacking, but also to try to divert attention from the real issue, which is the sad state of the economy. President Obama has been a failed presidency. Mitt Romney will get this economy going.

And again, I think the president just looks weak. He looks undecisive [SIC], and he frankly looks like he can't say the truth, no matter what.

KING: Congressman Diaz Ballart, Congressman Hunter of Florida and California respectively. Gentlemen, we'll continue the conversation. Thanks for your time tonight.

HUNTER: Thank you.

KING: "President Obama is in trouble." Those five to-the-point words lead a memo about a recent focus group in Colorado. Powerful anyway, but more so because the man who wrote them is a veteran Democratic strategist who wants the president to win.

Pollster Peter Hart sat down with a dozen voters, then of them -- this is important -- Obama supporters back in 2008. Only four of the 12 are committed to vote for the president this year. And Peter Hart says that's because even those who like the president see no plan, no road mark, no conviction.

Here's a glimpse. We'll take you inside this fascinating focus group, Peter Hart starting with a question, interesting question to try to get their perspectives about Governor Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER HART, POLLSTER: You're a plus in the force, nine other people with you, how would Romney handle the situation?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He will call for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Romney with us?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably going to call Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably going to call Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Probably going to call Donald Trump. That's a snippet of what they think about if they're in the forest with Mitt Romney. How about Hillary Clinton?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HART: Hillary Clinton in the same situation. You and nine friends, what would she do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take jabs at the press.

(CROSSTALK)

HART: What?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she'd take charge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Take charge for Hillary Clinton. You heard what they think Governor Romney would be like in the forest, what Secretary of State Clinton would be in the forest. How about the president?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HART: How about Obama? What would Barack Obama do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Blame it on Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blame it on Bush. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First he'd give a pep talk, I think.

HART: OK. Anybody else?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come up with a slogan.

HART: I'm sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come up with a slogan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Man leading that discussion, pollster Peter Hart, joins me now. So Romney would call for help. A joke about Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton would kick ass, take charge. The president of the United States would have a slogan, call a meeting.

My impression from looking at the three answers is the president doesn't come out as the strongest leader.

HART: I don't think either Romney or the president comes out as the strongest leader. One is using sort of his wealth and his connections. The other person is really not taking charge.

Four years ago when they talked about Barack Obama, what they said is this person that gets people together, brings together coalitions, would make things work. And this stage of the game, people are feeling it's too much of a show. That it's all sort of politics. It's all patina on -- on the surface.

KING: You do this an interesting way. You do ask policy questions, but part of their get to go know you, you do what would it be like in the forest? You also ask who do you want to go to the ballgame with?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HART: Why do you go with him?

HART: OK. For three of you, because he'd pick up the tab. OK. Why are you going with Obama?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just not political. I think Obama knows a lot. I'm a huge sports nut. I know Obama is pretty educated in sports. I've never heard Romney talk about sports. I think Obama...

HART: Why are you going with Obama?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought he'd be more fun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So if you want someone to pay for the $8 beer, you bring Mitt Romney. If you want more fun, you bring the president. How does that translate into what happens on election day?

HART: Well, very simply, Obama they like personally. We always find the person that we like and we relate to does better.

And to be perfectly honest, Romney has yet to connect. He is still sort of a stick like figure. By the way, this was done for the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

KING: Important to get that in there. You say Romney is still undefined; he's like a stick figure. And yet -- and yet, ten of these people voted for Obama last time. Only four of the group would commit to that this time, in part because let's listen: on the big issue, here's Governor Romney, views of Governor Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that he actually, unlike Obama, he's been a lifelong politician. Romney actually has experience in the private sector and has -- has created jobs, knows some of the hurdles that, you know, go along with that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's made money. He came from money, but he made a lot of money on his own. And so I...

HART: And that's good because?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think if you can operate your country like you operate your life, that's good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you read your report and if you watch this video, which I did today, I see only an upside for Governor Romney. If he's undefined still but people have that impression, if only four of the ten who voted for the president last time do so this time, if Romney does a good job here on out, that's why you say the president is in trouble? Right?

HART: Well, the president is in trouble, because he had so much going for him at this stage of the campaign. It's too much glitz; it's too much glamour.

KING: Paying the price for being the aspirational, transformational guy in 2008. So people had him up here, and now they see what real life is like?

HART: Exactly, but they are willing to go with him. If he paints a future and says, "Here's where we've come from. Here's where we are, and here's what I'm going to do about the future.

The challenge for Romney is people don't know his economic plan. They don't have any sense of him. They don't have any sense of Bain Capital. All of those things are still in play. And what it really is, it's a long way from here to there. But these people really point out the challenge that's facing the president.

KING: A hundred and forty-four days to go. You're the maestro of this stuff. We'll know more as we go forward. Right?

HART: Thank you.

KING: Peter, thank you.

Up next, the "Truth" about President Obama's immigration decision. Was it the right thing to do, and how will it play politically?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: They call it the Rose Garden strategy for good reason. It was there just outside the Oval Office that President Obama today announced his administration would not deport young, illegal immigrants who are brought across the border by their parents. And not only that, he'll allow them to get legal status to work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I believe that it's the right thing to do because I've been with groups of young people who worked so hard and speak with so much heart about what's best in America. Even though I knew some of them must have lived under the fear of deportation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is it the right thing to do? Well, there's already a fierce debate in our politics about that. Will it help politically? Truth is, even the president's toughest GOP critics see today's move as a potential plus in some of the key November battleground states.

Let's take a look. If you look at the map now, we have it this way: 247 Electoral College votes solid or leaning for the president, 206 solid or leaning to Governor Romney. Our yellow states here are tossup states, the truest of the battlegrounds at the moment. Let's look at just a few of them.

Let's switch maps and take a look. Let's go to the national map. There is no question -- no question at all that in the state of Nevada, the Latino vote is critical.

Let's take a look here: 26.5 percent, little more than a quarter of the vote in Nevada will be Latino voters. That's up a little bit from 2008. Back then, look at that. That's a wow. Seventy-six percent in Nevada went for President Obama. He holds anywhere close to those numbers, that's a very, very tough state for Governor Romney. We'll see if this one helped. That's the state of Nevada.

Let's bring the map back out. Let's come here. Another state is the state of Florida. We just talked to a congressman there who says it will probably help in the short term. Again, more than 20 percent. Nearly a quarter of the vote will be Latino. That's up even a bit more than Nevada from 2008.

Not as big a margin last time. The Latino population is more complicated in Florida than it is in Nevada. Cubans, Puerto Ricans, as well as Mexicans and Latin, South Americans. But look at that. This is a key state top watch, because Florida is much tougher for the president this time than it was last time around. And this is the place where the impact of this decision could help. We'll watch that as we go ahead.

Let me try one more state. I want to go to a smaller state, a smaller state in the sense of look at this. In the state of Virginia, the president won it last time, turned it from red to blue. A much tinier slice of the electorate, about 8 percent, is Latino.

But look how quickly it's growing. Just from 2008, it's up nearly 2 percent. Here was the margin last time. That's roughly the national margin: two-thirds of the vote for President Obama, then Senator Obama, about one-third for Senator McCain.

This is another place where you want to watch this. Virginia is more red this time than it was in 2008. It is a tossup question to watch as to whether this plays out there on that.

So how will it help? How much will it help? Will it help at all? Here tonight to talk "Truth," Tara Wall. She's a senior communications adviser to Mitt Romney, and CNN political contributor, Hilary Rosen.

Tara, the president does this today. I know you think it's the wrong way to do this. Your candidate says it makes long-term immigration reform hard to get to, but in 144 days, will it help him where it matters most?

TARA WALL, COMMUNICATIONS ADVISOR TO MITT ROMNEY: Well, if the goal is to bring out his base, to pander to his base, then yes, if that's what the intent is. I mean, you have to look at why this was done.

I mean, certainly, after three-and-a-half years, many have talked about reforming immigration. And I think that he understands, he recognizes that he's certainly in trouble with his core.

I mean, look, the numbers are still in his favor relative to Hispanic Americans. But at the same time, he knows he's in trouble with his core constituency.

And right now, particularly because the economy is in such bad shape and Hispanics are being impacted so harshly, it looks like it's a bit of a pivot to draw the fact away from 11 percent Hispanic unemployment.

So what do you do? You say, "Well, I'm going to address immigration. I'm going to do something about immigration."

So I think that -- I think you might see a slight uptick. But at the end of the day, I think there is legitimacy in the fact that, long term is what we're looking at. And what is going to happen long term, what can you do long term, and why are you circumventing Congress to do it?

KING: Is it -- is it pandering?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Two things come to mind. First of all, that it is the right thing to do. It has been the right thing to do for years, and Congress has refused to pass a bill.

KING: They say why didn't he do it a year ago?

ROSEN: For Mitt Romney to say, "Well, it's going to block us from doing long-term immigration," when he campaigned the entire Republican primary and said, "I'm against the DREAM Act. I'm against doing this immigration policy." For him to now suggest, "Well, it's not so much the policy. It's that it's going to -- it's going to impede long-term immigration," is just the height of hypocrisy. We have to call him on it.

KING: There is a shift under way, to her point in Governor Romney's rhetoric. He did say he would veto the Democratic version of the DREAM Act. Now he says he wants to work with Marco Rubio. The core issue is still the same, the DREAM Act. Do children who, if they're under the age of 16 when their parents brought them across the border illegally, they're going to school, they're going to college, some of them serve in the military, they're paying taxes. They have violated no laws. Should they be punished for their parent's actions? During the primary he did say yes.

HART: Well -- well, this is what I'm talking about. From what I understand, 800,000 15- to 30-year-olds. And certainly, it is an issue that has to be addressed. I mean, whether you -- you could argue all day about whether it's amnesty, what's right and wrong. There's certainly...

ROSEN: In the primary, he wanted those people deported.

WALL: Excuse me. During the party -- look, within the party, there is -- there are plenty of opinions about this. And I think there's plenty of time to talk about how we address this.

There's no easy solution. And I think he said that all along. He's also said he's open to hearing other solutions like the DREAM Act. I think the more he's heard from others, including Marco Rubio, the more he's opened to broadening the idea of what we need to do with the folks, the young people, who are here through no fault of their own.

If nothing else, we often see today that he does not -- his opinion is the same essentially in some degree to President Obama's. The difference is, what do we do as a long-term strategy?

KING: If you talk to some of the people crunching the numbers for her camp, the Romney camp, they see this. Some of them say, yes, let's acknowledge this. It might help the president. But they also see it as A, proof we have a base election. Everyone's going to try to get every last base voter out.

And they say this is a response to the president looking maybe at other states like a Wisconsin, like a Pennsylvania. And seeing among working-class whites he's in tougher shape than he was in 2008. Is that fair?

ROSEN: No, I don't think so. Yes, this may help him politically, but this has been an objective of the president, to help these young people for years. It has not happened.

The Latino community is advocating immigration reform, did not want him to do this earlier, because they wanted Congress to pass something more comprehensive.

KING: They say -- they say they wanted the whole pie. Didn't want this (ph).

ROSEN: They did not want this. This is a last resort because of inaction and obstruction by the Republicans. And it is crazy to me that we can just keep saying the name Marco Rubio, Marco Rubio, Marco Rubio, and all of a sudden that's a Republican immigration policy.

WALL: Listen...

ROSEN: You know, that's the Romney strategy.

WALL: No, I think that he certainly has some opinions on this, along with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and others, who have a more progressive, compassionate view of this.

And I think that -- I think it says a lot that he's willing to open to varying viewpoints.

I think at the end of the day, if you also look at some of the polls, the No. 1 issue among Latinos is the economy. And that is an issue that President Obama knows that he cannot run on right now in the Hispanic community. He's having trouble with that. And the immigration issue also impacts the economy.

So I think at the end of the day, you have to address the issues that are important to this community and not just assume that immigration alone is the only issue.

ROSEN: I don't think he ever said that. He knows that he is running on the economy. I think he's talked about it. He made a speech about it for an hour yesterday.

WALL: ... he decided to do something about immigration...

KING: It will be fun to watch. We'll have both of these candidates at the same event, not at the same time, but at the same event, for the first time, the end of next week, on this very issue, will be great to watch. Hilary, Sara...

WALL: You might see lawsuits. They're coming already...

KING: You might see -- you might see those.

ROSEN: You may. KING: Ladies, have a great weekend.

Next, way after the fact, the United States finally honors a spy plane pilot who was shot down over the Soviet Union. And today's "Moment You Missed," the renewal of a White House tradition. One I don't think is necessary. Rude reporters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's Mary Snow with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hello there.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, John.

More turmoil in Syria as a U.N. observer says violence between the government and the rebels is thwarting a mission for peace in the country. The U.N. monitor says neither side is obeying the cease- fire, and there's no other plan on the table.

The Pentagon posthumously honored Captain Francis Gary Powers today with the Silver Star medal for his, quote, "exceptional loyalty" during the Cold War. The Air Force pilot parachuted into Soviet Union territory after his plane was shot down in 1960. Powers was captured and suffered brutal interrogation till his release in a prisoner exchange two years later.

And you can forget jumping into Niagara Falls. Tonight will be the latest attempt to tight rope walk across it. The event has daredevil Nik Wallenda suspended almost 200 feet above the falls. Not to hold your breath, but Wallenda will be wearing a harness as he crosses the 1,800-foot wire above the cascade. I'm still holding my breath.

KING: Good luck to him. No, wouldn't get me up there. No, best of luck, though. Best of luck.

Here's something I understand a little better than walking across a tight rope on Niagara Falls. Mary, stay with me. Tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." A reporter starts asking questions before President Obama finishes his big announcement about immigration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It is the right thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

OBAMA: Excuse me, sir. It's not time for questions, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

OBAMA: Not while I'm speaking. Precisely because...

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The reporter there who so annoyed the president in the president's own yard there is Neil Monroe, who works for the conservative Web site The Daily Call. A lot of people on Twitter said, well, he has every right to do that; it's just like Sam Donaldson, the bellowing voice of ABC during the Reagan area.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm hopeful that I'm finally going to hear some of the things that I'm still waiting to learn about...

SAM DONALDSON, FORMER ABC WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: About what you did -- you have to have someone else tell you what you did? Don't you know what you did?

REAGAN: I know what I did. And I have told all of you repeatedly what I did and now I'm going to quit talking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Notice where the president is right there, President Reagan. Donaldson doesn't approve of Munro's shouting today. He tells "The Washington Post's" Karen Tumulty, "I never interrupted any president while he was making a formal presentation of any sort. You don't do that, do you?"

Sam always waited until the president finished. I worked alongside him, Mary, for a long time. He understood respect matters.

Have a great weekend, Mary.

That's all for us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.