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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With Congressman Jason Chaffetz and Congressman Mike Quigley; Supreme Court to Rule on Health Care Law; Will Congress Hold Attorney General in Contempt?

Aired June 27, 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, the House prepares to hold the nation's highest law enforcement officer in contempt. We debate the merits of that and retrace the key moments in the Fast and Furious debacle.

In 16 hours, the Supreme Court tells us if the sweeping Obama health care law passes constitutional muster. A look at the high court's options and how the decision might impact your next doctor's visit.

And calling them relentless doesn't do them justice, the destructive and growing swathe of wildfires wreaking havoc in Colorado.

We are on the eve of a dramatic day in Washington. And let's start with this afternoon's partisan fireworks up on Capitol Hill, just a preliminary skirmish ahead of tomorrow's dramatic big showdown, a vote on whether for the first time in history a sitting U.S. attorney general will be cited for contempt of Congress.

House Republicans are spearheading this attack on Attorney General Eric Holder because they say he won't share key documents concerning a now discredited program called Fast and Furious. That program was supposed to trace weapons smuggling, but ended up helping Mexican cartels acquire guns from the United States. One of those guns then turned up at the scene of a murdered U.S. Border Patrol agent.

At first, Holder told Congress the Justice Department didn't know anything about allowing guns across the border. Turns out that wasn't the case, and Holder had to change his story. Now, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa wants to see the entire paper trail.

This afternoon, Issa defended citing Holder in contempt for only offering Congress some of the documents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Congress was told something that was untrue, and many people inside the Justice Department apparently participated for 10 months before it was corrected and we were told the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Democrats like the ranking member on the Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, say they want to get to the bottom of what went wrong in Fast and Furious but they say this contempt citation is a partisan witch-hunt.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Why are we steamrolling ahead on a matter of such gravity? In my opinion, the answer is plain and simple. Politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns is with us now.

Joe, let's get to the deep, important stakes here and let's begin with this. Was there any last-minute effort, anything under way tonight to try to head this off or is this vote going to happen tomorrow?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly looks like it will happen tomorrow. And just a few minutes ago, House Rules Committee meeting, John, broke up. They had been working on these two votes. One is a criminal referral for the most part, the other is a vote on civil contempt citation.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, members of the House Oversight Committee, one of them actually attending that meeting, top Democratic congressman, Elijah Cummings, released a letter that attacks the Republican effort as riddled with 100 errors, omissions, and mischaracterizations. Some of these arguments we have heard before from the Democrats, including that Attorney General Holder is being asked for information he is required by law not to release.

The letter also asks the House speaker to intervene, in other words, to take a direct and personal role. It is just not clear frankly though that the speaker is suddenly going to have a change of heart. He does certainly appear at least at this stage planning to see this thing through, John.

KING: And one of the escalations politically is the National Rifle Association deciding to get involved, deciding to say it supports holding Holder in contempt, and to go beyond that, Joe, and say for all the House members, it will score this vote, meaning if you live in a district where your grade from the NRA matters, if you vote no, this will hurt you.

How has that changed the dynamics?

JOHNS: Absolutely. Well, you think you have the Republicans who are going to vote for this, and the question is what about Democrats? Is it going to look like a purely partisan vote?

And now with the entry of the National Rifle Association, certainly the potential there for 20, possibly even 30, maybe even a few more than that Democrats coming from those districts that are influenced by the National Rifle Association saying in an election year, I'm not going to vote against the NRA, because it could come back to bite me. And talking to some of those House Democrats who are saying, hey, I'm going to vote against Holder at this stage, even though he's from my party.

KING: Even though he's from the party. Did they say they are going to vote against him because they believe maybe they don't think he should be held in contempt, but they believe he has mislead Congress, and so close enough or they're just afraid of the NRA?

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: I'm always seeing justification. I'm seeing justification that it is time for this thing to end, the administration should have been more clear earlier, so they make justifications on point, on the issue.

They don't say I'm just going to side with the National Rifle Association. But at the end of the day, we know the power of this lobby in Washington, and we know what guns mean to some Americans out in some parts of this country.

KING: Joe Johns tracking this story, we will be in touch throughout the night and tomorrow. Joe, thanks very much.

Let's step back now and take a look at the key issues and moments in this very contentious showdown. The Obama Justice Department launched Fast and Furious in September 2009. It allowed 2,000 guns to pass across the border to suspected gun smugglers, and the idea was to trace the weapons, to help identify and eliminate arms trafficking networks.

In December 2010, though, a gun from the Fast and Furious operation was found at the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed. In February 2011, as Congress began asking questions, the Justice Department sent Senator Chuck Grassley a letter saying any suggestion the department sanctioned letting guns pass into Mexico -- quote -- "is false."

Nine months later, though, the Justice Department had to eat those words and acknowledge the letter wasn't truthful.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: On February the 4th, 2011, the department sent me a letter, also assuring me that allegations of gun walking were untrue.

It reads -- quote -- "ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico" -- end of quote. That statement is absolutely false, and you admitted as much last night that you knew by April 2010 that ATF walked guns in Operation Wide Receiver. That's correct, yes?

LANNY BREUER, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, Senator.

(CROSSTALK)

GRASSLEY: That's all I need to know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was the head of the Criminal Division there saying yes, senator.

The House committee says it needs the documents to see if this statement from the president stands up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, I did not authorize it. Eric Holder, the attorney general, did not authorize it. There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made. If that's the case, then we will find out and we will hold somebody accountable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And the House Republicans say there also could be more documents to help settle the question of just when Attorney General Holder first learned of the Fast and Furious debacle. In May 2011, the attorney general said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Five months later, five months later from that statement, five months after that statement, Republican lawmakers release memos they say prove Holder was told about the operation nearly a year earlier than he acknowledged in that testimony.

Now, the attorney general says he can't read every line of every memo sent to his office, and he insists he told Congress the truth. The House committee says the additional documents also could help resolve those disputes, other disputes, and some Republicans now say this. Now that the president has invoked executive privilege to keep the documents from Congress, those Republicans say they have new questions about whether the White House has something to hide.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Brian Terry's family has the right to know what happened. The American people have a right to know what happened, and we're going to proceed. We have given them ample opportunity to comply.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What will happen when the House votes tomorrow?

Let's get perspective now from two members of that Oversight Committee that recommended to holding the attorney general in contempt.

Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois.

Congressman Chaffetz, I want to start with you.

It's pretty clear the Republicans have the votes and unless a deal is struck overnight, for the first time, a sitting U.S. attorney general, the nation's highest law enforcement officer, will be held in contempt.

I want you to listen here to the ranking member of the committee saying this is a huge mistake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUMMINGS: I think that if we take this attorney general and find him in contempt tomorrow, I am telling you, I think it is a stain on us as an institution, particularly when there is an effort to work things out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Why, Congressman, do you disagree? Why would it not be in your view a stain on the institution?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Well, I wish it hadn't come to this. The only thing I would disagree with Mr. Cummings on, Congressman Cummings, is the idea that there's an effort to work this out.

Brian Terry was killed in December of 2010. This letter, this bogus letter from the White House or from the Department of Justice came in February of 2011. Here we are in June of 2012. The subpoena that was issued by Congress was issued in October, and for me it is about the principle of abiding by the subpoena.

The beauty of the United States of America is no one person is above the law. But you have a duly issued subpoena and that ought to be complied with. It is not about Eric Holder, but it is about the Department of Justice and justice in the United States of America.

KING: And, Congressman Quigley, you're the Democrat in the conversation. To be fair, I'm going to play a little bit of Chairman Issa saying that he has tried, he has tried, he has tried, and he has to get to this dramatic step he says because he hasn't gotten the answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ISSA: All we're asking for and the reason for contempt is we were told a lie. We want to know about the deliberation for 10 months between the lie and the truth, and that's the information we seek, and that's the information the attorney general has said, no, I won't give you because it's deliberative and doesn't serve my purposes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Did the Justice Department, Congressman Quigley, create this mess, if you will?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: No, I think you have to look at Chairman Issa's predetermination about what this case is about.

In the end, Fast and Furious, and the investigation of the attorney general is his great white whale. Let's remember what he said before he even took the gavel. He said I'm going to have seven meetings a week for 40 weeks to investigate the most corrupt administration in U.S. history.

Let's remember your timeline is just a little off, with due respect. Gun walking under a program like Fast and Furious started under the Bush administration. But the Republican curiosity ends the day before President Obama took office.

Why not bring in Attorney General Mukasey, ask him what happened there, was anyone was hurt, how many guns crossed the border there? They were both horribly conceived and implemented programs. And the investigation on a criminal basis, the inspector general investigation should continue.

But this vote tomorrow has nothing to do with investigating Fast and Furious.

KING: Congressman Chaffetz, answer the congressman's point there. Fast and Furious began under the Obama administration, but there were sister programs, if you will, gun monitoring programs under the Bush administration. Why hasn't the committee scrubbed those as it's scrubbing this one?

CHAFFETZ: Well, actually, if you look at what was requested, it talks about any attempt to do gunrunning. It's not specific to only Fast and Furious.

What you find is Operation Wide Receiver which was started under the Bush administration was put to a halt in 2007 because the line attorney there in the Phoenix U.S. attorney's office refused to prosecute because these tactics were so egregious.

But it was then in 2009, under Lanny Breuer, who was the head of Criminal Division, who started this up. And remember we have a dead Border Patrol agent, and we got 2,000 weapons, mostly AK-47s purposely given to the drug cartels and Congress is just supposed to stand down and not ask questions?

I am getting tired of whole, hey, well, Bush did it, so it is OK. I don't think the American public is buying that. I want to get to the bottom of it. I don't care what administration, what party, it was wrong; gun walking was wrong, whether it was the Bush administration or the Obama administration. It's wrong, and we have to work to solve it.

So far, we have not lived up to what the president promised, which was openness, transparency, and that if there was something wrong, we would fix it. That hasn't happened.

(CROSSTALK)

QUIGLEY: Again, the curiosity is very selective -- 2,000 weapons crossing the border is extraordinarily inappropriate and a disaster. Let's remember under the existing gun laws allowing straw purchasers, several hundred thousand weapons have crossed the border.

(CROSSTALK)

CHAFFETZ: Straw purchasing is illegal. Straw purchasing is illegal.

QUIGLEY: And the ATF agents told us in committee that punishment for straw purchasing is currently no more than a moving violation. You want to talk about gun safety, let's have that conversation.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let me ask you here, sometimes -- this is a serious investigation, and I see the disagreements here. There are substantive disagreements between the two of you. Sometimes when you look at it this broader debate, it's hard to sort what I will call the facts and the issues from the politics.

And on the subject of executive privilege, which the administration invoked late in this, a lot -- the speaker says he is going ahead with the vote, and he says the president is doing the wrong thing.

And, Congressman Chaffetz, a lot of Democrats go back to when George W. Bush was president. And listen to John Boehner then when that Republican president invoked privilege.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: It is very clear that while the president has made a good faith effort to provide the information, we have got Democrats here on Capitol Hill that want to have a political sideshow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Hypocrisy?

CHAFFETZ: No. Look, it is very simple.

There are 140,000 documents relating to Fast and Furious. We have been given less than 8,000 of those. The Congress has a right, duty and responsibility to get to the bottom of this. This shouldn't be a partisan issue.

But when you have a dead Border Patrol agent, you have over 200 dead in Mexico, you have a program that Attorney General Holder has called fundamentally flawed, then we have a right and a duty to follow up on this. If there are specific documents that the president himself believes that we should not see because they were part of that process, then he should specify item by item what those are.

But to just put this blanket out at literally the 11th hour and say, well, we shouldn't do that because I just don't want you to see them, that isn't good enough.

QUIGLEY: Again, we're talking about a chairman who "Forbes" magazine sharply criticized today for the manner of his investigation and the quality of his investigation.

Who are you dealing with here? Someone who has predetermined, who has already made up their mind, who has attempted from his very first day to embarrass the Obama administration? This is his best shot.

KING: Congressman Quigley, Congressman Chaffetz, appreciate your time this evening, gentlemen. Appreciate the civil conversation, even though you disagree. A big day tomorrow. We will stay in touch. Thank you both.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: That contempt vote is only one of the potential headaches the president faces tomorrow. The other one could be devastating. Next, we set the scene for the Supreme Court ruling on health care reform.

And later, a closer look at what one Colorado fire chief calls a firestorm of epic proportions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It is now perhaps the most polarizing debate in recent history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: They understand we don't need to refight this battle over health care. It is the right thing to do.

BOEHNER: If the court does not strike down the entire law, the House will move to repeal what's left of it. Obamacare is driving up the cost of health care and making it harder for small businesses to hire new workers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Hard to remember, but back in the very beginning, there was a brief flirtation with bipartisanship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: If we come together and work together, we will finally achieve what generations of Americans have fought for, and fulfill the promise of health care in our time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Emphasis on brief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Every single Republican and every thinking Democrat who knows something about the private sector would realize the wrong thing for America is to get government into the health care business.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: The Democrats' solution is a 1,990-page trillion dollar overhaul of the health care system we know, a sweeping new entitlement that raises taxes, cuts benefits to seniors.

OBAMA: The choice to defer reform is nothing more than a decision to defend the status quo.

BOEHNER: This will wreak havoc on our country and wreak havoc on the future for our kids and our grandkids.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You remember that day. Vice President Biden delivered that now famous BFD line when prosecute signed the Affordable Care Act into law. That was March 23, 2010.

Some major provisions don't kick in until 2014, but there are some big changes already, including insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children based on preexisting conditions. Young adults are allowed to stay on their parents' insurance now through age 26. And insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime dollar limits on essential health care benefits.

Sixteen hours from now, we will learn if the Supreme Court considers that health care law to be constitutional.

Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is here to break down the key questions.

And I'm very jealous. You will be in the court tomorrow when we get a little slice of history. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I sure will. I can't wait.

KING: But what the options do the justices have now in settling this case?

TOOBIN: Well, certainly the preferred option of the Obama administration is simply to affirm the law, and that remains a distinct possibility.

After that, things start to get very complicated. At the other extreme, they could take all 2,700 pages and say, enough of it is unconstitutional that we have to throw out the whole thing, start from scratch.

Certainly more likely than that I think is declaring the individual mandate, the requirement that every American or certainly most Americans have insurance, declare that unconstitutional. And then that's where the complexity begins because then both the court and then certainly the administration will have to figure out how much of the rest of the law can be politically and financially sustained without the mandate.

KING: And that's kind of the mystery, the implications of whatever choices the courts make.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Correct. We will know, of course, a lot more. And again I want to emphasize, affirming the whole thing is a possibility, but once they start picking it apart, it becomes a real puzzle and a real challenge to determine how the remaining parts of it will work, if they will work.

KING: And a lot of people don't understand all of the pages and all the provisions and everything to begin with. In terms of day-to- day life, if the court throws out all or part, what happens?

TOOBIN: Well, again, if they throw out all of it, the three provisions you just read, they go out the window. People can't stay on their parents' insurance until age 26, and that could happen tomorrow.

If they rule out just the mandate, which is clearly the most controversial part of it, those provisions remain intact, but the question then becomes, without the requirement that people who don't have insurance get it, how do the insurance companies have the money to expand the coverage, and how does the government have the money to expand the coverage?

That's going to be the big challenge. It's possible. It is possible that if the mandate goes down, much of the rest of the law will go into effect, but that's going to be the real complexity.

KING: Without the mandate, it's hard to find out where the money comes from. For a few years now, we have called this the Roberts court. But tomorrow, we really learn about the Roberts court, don't we?

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

And the way the division of labor works at the Supreme Court is you can usually tell who's writing the remaining opinions because they like to divide all the opinions more or less evenly. It is virtually certain that the chief justice will be writing the health care decision, and this will be the Bush v. Gore of the Roberts court.

This will be the most celebrated or notorious opinion of the Roberts court, and, frankly, I think it is fitting and appropriate that the chief justice take the responsibility and take the heat for his biggest decision.

KING: I will be sitting outside the court when you come racing out tomorrow with the details. You want to switch seats?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: No, I'm sticking with my -- I got my pass.

KING: Your season ticket, as I like to say, inside the Supreme Court.

TOOBIN: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Jeff Toobin, we will see you tomorrow. It's a big day. Thanks so much.

If you do the math right, numbers don't lie. But, still ahead, whether the latest poll numbers in some all-important swing states tell the full truth about the race between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

And next, what's hanging down on London Bridge?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Flames from one of Colorado's wildfires came dangerously close to the U.S. Air Force Academy's main campus today. The state's governor says there's so much destruction in some places, it is -- quote -- "surreal." We will take you right to the fire lines next.

Plus, just within the past hour, Mitt Romney leveled a new blast at President Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This half hour on JOHN KING USA, Colorado's monster fire roars into neighborhoods, forcing tens of thousands of people to get out. We talk live with the governor in just a second.

Mitt Romney gets big cheers bashing President Obama's health-care law just hours before the Supreme Court rules on it. And Team Obama has to be smiling when it looks at new polls from the battleground states. The "Truth" about why his attack strategy against Mitt Romney seems at the moment to be working.

Crews in Colorado are fighting a fire storm of epic proportions, those words from the Colorado Springs fire chief. And here's what he's talking about by the numbers.

The vicious flames have forced 32,000 people to leave their homes, all of them under evacuation orders. DenverPost.com put up these photos, of homes burning under thick clouds of black smoke.

More than 15,000 acres have been swallowed by the Waldo Canyon fire. It's doubled in size overnight and is only 5 percent contained. Jim Spellman is live in Colorado Springs.

Jim, that's just one of ten wildfires burning in Colorado right now. Colorado Springs, the state's second most populous city. Give us the latest, including whether the weather is helping or hurting.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, this is crunch time right now, John. Late in the afternoon when the winds can really pick up, being driven now by storms several miles away from here. But they create what Chad Myers described as outflow.

We saw it in the last 15, 20 minutes or so, where the winds whip right through the canyons and into Colorado Springs. That brings in this layer of smoke that you can see, and it also changes the direction that the fire is moving in.

So if all of the fire-fighting efforts have been to the north and now the winds are blowing to the east, that creates a lot of potential hazards for embers to pick up, fly over into a new neighborhood, start a whole new fire. That's what happened last night. Of course, firefighters, they got past the first and the second fire line, forced them to go back and start over again from, this time, populated home areas.

They're hoping the same thing doesn't happen again, but they're trying to get prepared for it. A thousand firefighters battling this, John, on the ground and in the air, using everything they have.

KING: Jim Spellman on the ground for us in Colorado Springs. Jim, appreciate your reporting. Thank you.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper joins me now on the phone from Denver.

Governor, let me start with a question. A lot of people around the country are probably watching, as they see these dramatic pictures. Do we know anything more about how this started?

GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER, COLORADO (via phone): Well, we still don't know yet. We know that, well, we're just trying to get our arms around it. We have some indication it might have been arson. Some folks thought it might also be lightning, but will -- I mean, these guys, we have the best in the industry, and they'll get to the bottom of it.

KING: You talk about the best of the industry getting to go the bottom of it. Your crisis now is trying to control it. Bring us up to speed on your progress and any step backs in terms of where you are, where you think you are in trying to turn the corner.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, we're still fighting with everything we've got. Unfortunately, we had to increase the evacuations to 36,000 people today.

I mean, it really is, I thought, your report describing how the embers can blow with the changing wind, it becomes like a horrific Whack-a-Mole kind of situation, where all of a sudden you've done a great job of protecting one flank from the fire making progress, and suddenly you have these flying embers, almost like small balls of fire, and all of a sudden, the fire is behind you.

So we have the U.S. Forest Service. We have their top strategic firefighters, their best on-the-ground teams. We stood up now a dual-- what they call dual status command to make sure that we integrate the military resources with the forest service resources. They're training a battalion of army personnel to be able to become expert wildfire fighters and also be able to help do some of the mop up and the recovery with our fire that we are finally controlling up by Fort Collins up in northern Colorado.

KING: The White House now says the president is going to head out there on Friday. I know you've spoken to the president. What's your most urgent federal need right now? Are you getting enough from the federal government? I know some states are pitching in resources to help, as well.

HICKENLOOPER: Governor Duvall Patrick has called. They're sending firefighters all the way from Massachusetts. We've had a number of other governors. We really have had great support. The president called me a little after lunch, about 12:30 today, just saying how could we help, and he wanted to know if I thought it would be useful if he came out.

And I -- you know, I told him, I flew down last night to Colorado Springs on one of our National Guard helicopters, went over the fire, and it really was amazing. And person after person told me how glad they were that I was there and they feel welcome. If they're that glad I'm there, they would be -- if the president could find the time to be able to come by and show the support of the nation for all of these folks that have been evacuated, lost their homes, it would mean a tremendous amount to them.

I mean, one of the things we keep driving home is the rest -- I mean, this is less than 1 percent of our public lands in Colorado have been affected by the fire. We've still got over 10,000 campgrounds, campsites. The rest of Colorado is open and unaffected. But people hear these things about fires and they get very concerned, so we're trying to get that word out, as well.

KING: And as you get that, we'll help you do it right here. What's your -- I know you don't know where the end is yet. But what is your estimate now of the economic and the financial price tag, not only for the damage but you say you may have some collateral damage of people staying away, if you will.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, we haven't -- you know, the -- we're hopeful the collateral damage will be minimized. We spent about almost $37 million on these various fires. We've had a bunch of them. This is the worst drought we've seen in ages, and the conditions are so dry. And then we've had all of these really strong winds and a bunch of lightning. It's just like the perfect storm for fires.

So we are working on making a request for presidential declaration, a disaster declaration, which will help us get resources for, you know, certain unmet needs like housing, human services, recovery loans for people's businesses, that kind of stuff.

And again, I can't stress, you know, I talked today, last couple days to Secretary Napolitano from homeland security who -- they're in charge of FEMA, the emergency recovery folks. Talked to Secretary Dobbin from HUB. We talked to Secretary Salazar from interior. This is all over the last week.

Secretary Vilsack was out here just a little over a week ago. Washington, this is -- I will say one thing, that this is an example of the local municipal working with the state working with the federal government at a very high level of effectiveness.

KING: John Hickenlooper, who is the governor of the state of Colorado. Governor, we appreciate your time tonight, time when you're so busy. We certainly wish your state the best in the hours and days ahead, sir.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, we appreciate it. Thank you.

KING: Take care, sir.

Switching to presidential politics now, Mitt Romney has made it clear he's not a fan of President Obama's health-care act, and he's hammering that point home with just about 16 hours now until we hear from the Supreme Court on whether that law is constitutional. Here's what he said just moments ago to a crowd in northern Virginia just outside the Washington Beltway.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My guess is they're not sleeping real well at the White House tonight. That's the way it ought to be, all right?

And this is a decision, by the way, about whether or not Obama care is constitutional, whether it passes constitutional muster, and so we're all waiting to see how the court will decide. One thing we already know, however, we already know it's bad policy, and it's got to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our national political correspondent Jim Acosta is live in Sterling with the governor.

Well, Jim, as you know, this is one of the great ironies, mysteries, I'm not sure what to call it in the campaign. You heard Governor Romney's strong words there, but if you call the Obama White House, they say, "Hey, wait a minute. We modeled it after his plan."

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, but John, Mitt Romney was getting this crowd pretty fired up here in northern Virginia. He went right after the president's health-care law, calling it bad -- not just bad policy but bad economics, saying the president should have been focused on the economy in his first 18 months in office, not passing this health-care reform.

While he was joined on stage by not only the governor of Virginia, Bob McDonald, but Ken Cuccinelli, who is running for governor here in Virginia. He is a well-known legal challenger to the president's health-care law.

But you're right: the Obama White House, the Obama campaign, they've both gone after Mitt Romney and said, "Hey, wait a minute. The former Massachusetts governor, when he was in Massachusetts, passed basically the same law that we have today that was passed on a national level."

And I will tell you, John, we did an interview with Mitt Romney back in 2009 where he essentially touted the mandate in that health- care law as a potential national model, said it was something that Washington could learn from.

And I can tell you, John, that the former Massachusetts governor is spending the night in Washington tonight. He is expected to give some kind of statement tomorrow after the health-care ruling comes down at the Supreme Court. We're not sure what kind of statement he will make.

I think a lot of that hinges on what exactly the Supreme Court says, if it is a big victory for Romney and the Republicans, Mitt Romney may come out in a big way. But if it's sort of a mixed bag for both sides, we may see what we saw on Monday where he put out a statement, then didn't say much after that -- John.

KING: Jim Acosta with the candidate in Sterling, Virginia. One of the advantages, Jim, of having northern Virginia part of a battleground state, you get to cover the candidate and sleep in your own bed. We'll be in touch. Big day tomorrow. Big day tomorrow. Thanks, Jim.

Coming up here, the truth about the president's improving poll numbers in some vital swing states, and whether his campaign bashing of Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital might be behind that improvement. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You know, they say numbers don't lie. But do they always tell us the truth? If the answer is yes, then June, at least up to now, has been a far better month for President Obama than he had any reason or right to hope for.

Economic news, as you know, has been pretty bleak. Mitt Romney is raising more money than the president, and Republicans want that defining recall election out in Wisconsin.

And yet, the president is in a statistical tie in most reliable national polling, and in even better shape in some important battleground states.

Just today, for example, a new Quinnipiac poll show President Obama up narrowly in Florida. Look at those numbers. Ahead by 6 points in Pennsylvania, and with a 9-point edge in the often decisive battleground of Ohio.

Now, Team Obama and its allies say the attacks on Romney's record at Bain Capital are working, which is why the vice president keeps dialing it up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to choose between a commander who can be commander in chief, not outsourcer in chief. We need someone who creates jobs in Davenport and Duluth, Pittsburgh, Toledo, not Singapore, South Korea, Shanghai.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the evidence from Team Obama that those attacks are working? They say it's in states where most of the Bain bashing TV ads are running and where Air Force One and Air Force Two keep touching down.

But look, the view of Romney's business record is much more negative than in the country as a whole. Here are some new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" numbers. You see them right there. And the swing states, negative views of Romney, higher than nationwide. So again, if the numbers don't lie, here's the big question, do they tell us any lasting truths?

Republican strategist, CNN contributor Alex Castellanos and Obama pollster Cornell Belcher are here. So you're having a good month, my friend. Does it matter?

CORNELL BELCHER, OBAMA POLLSTER: Well, you always want to be ahead. So no matter what else they tell you right now, it's a marathon, not a sprint. You always do want to be ahead.

But the truth of the matter is the dynamics of this race have not set in. I think what you're seeing right now is, quite frankly, advertising works, Alex, as you know. We're beginning -- we are beginning -- we're beginning to sort of define him in swing states. He put, you know, Bain and his business credentials as a predicate for his election. And we're stepping back and taking a look at that, explain it to the American public.

KING: And I know you agree advertising works. Are their ads and their friends' ads better than Romney's ads and Romney's friends' ads?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In a way, I think they actually are. The attacks on Obama have not been new information for voters. They're saying that Barack Obama has done a crappy job renewing this economy and getting it going, creating jobs. Everybody kind of knows that. That's baked into Obama's stock price.

You don't change how voters vote with old information. You need new information. Now, the information that Obama campaign and his allies are giving voters about Mitt Romney, that is new, because he's a blank slate. So that does change things.

KING: An interesting thing in the new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. We talked. We expect this to be a close race. Maybe it will break at the end. But right now, it's pretty close.

You say you look for intensity. The NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll will show the numbers. They look at intensity now with Democrats and Republicans versus the same exact period in 2008. You see a tie right now, essentially. Republicans at about the same point they were now in 2008. Democrats down, the intensity of Democratic voters down. Why?

BELCHER: Well, it's a bad economy. I mean, Democrats are hurting, too, and the president has got to go out there and sort of explain his record. And part of our job is to gin up the base.

Look, we're not going to lose this election, because Democrats aren't energized. I mean, so I'm not worried about that number. We're not going to lose this election because they're not energized.

KING: They're not?

BELCHER: No, we're going to get -- if you look at battleground states like we're leading Ohio, Pennsylvania. Our...

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: ... turnout.

KING: He's his pen out. He wants the other reasons.

BELCHER: You know, we're not going to lose them, because Democrats aren't going to be energized. In the end, we're laying out a case against Romney. We're going to lay out a case for the president, and Democrats are going to come home. They always do.

KING: A tie in intensity now. We've got 132 days, I think, if I'm counting, and that's OK for you, but it's not good enough. CASTELLANOS: It's not good enough. But so far from what we've seen in special elections and elections in 2010, is that Republicans are more energized than Democrats. And I think that's worth a couple of points in these states.

What I'm surprised about these Bain attacks is that, you know, the outsourcer-in-chief attacks, is that it just seems tactically weak. One rule we have in politics is you don't throw stones at your neighbor's house when yours is made of glass. And you know, the response spot here is so easy to write. We could write a negative response spot right now...

BELCHER: Start writing it.

CASTELLANOS: Outsourcer-in-cheer, we've kind of already got one. Barack Obama, here's a guy who spent 2 billion in taxpayers' dollars creating green energy down in foreign countries. Eighty percent of this money, taxpayer funded.

BELCHER: But it...

CASTELLANOS: So that's an easy pushback to do, and I'm surprised that the Obama campaign is going there.

BELCHER: Well, they should push back, because the ads are working. Look, his favorable is down 5 percent -- his unfavorable is up five points in those same states. Whatever the horse race number is, the favorables, the underlines, aren't good for Mitt Romney in those states right now.

KING: Take 20, 30 seconds each. We don't know the ruling yet, so it's hard to have the conversation. But what's the most important thing you're looking for from the political impact of the Supreme Court tomorrow?

BELCHER: Well, we don't know it. And it's a toss-up.

But look, if they throw out sort of the mandate and they throw out the whole health-care law, health care becomes a central issue again in this election campaign. If it becomes a central issue again, this health-care campaign, historically Democrats have been better on that issue than Republicans have.

I don't think Republicans really want health care to be a central issue in this campaign season again. I think they want it to be about jobs and the economy. If it's health care again, I like our odds.

KING: Is he right?

CASTELLANOS: I think there's some truth in that. It will energize the base of the Democratic Party. But Obama will be left without accomplishment. The only thing he's really done, passed this health-care law. He'll be standing there naked with a bad economy that he says he can't fix. He just says don't let it get even worse with Mitt Romney. So he's got nothing to say about the future.

BELCHER: I don't think he said he can't fix it.

KING: Gentlemen, appreciate you coming in. Cornell and Alex, we'll keep in touch as we go forward here.

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

Erin, you've been on this issue, and tonight the chairman of the armed services committee, who recently raised eyebrows when he suggested Congress should just kick the can down the road when it comes to those automatic spending cuts they are required to make.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, and got a lot of people pretty angry even in his own party when he said that. His first television interview since. He explains what he meant when he said, "Let's kick the can down the road."

Also, going to tell us about a meeting he had today with executives of Lockheed Martin that brings a real human face to these sequestration cuts. They're telling me that they're going to have to lay off about 12,600 people at the beginning of the year. That is a real tragedy that has come along with these cuts. So Chairman McKeon is going to give us his view of why he thinks a delay may be necessary.

Plus Amy Copeland, the miraculous story of the 24-year-old who had the flesh-eating bacteria, that horrific story with multiple amputations. Well, there's -- she's just -- she's just amazing, John, I've got to tell you. Everything she's said is just amazing. She's scheduled to be leaving the hospital next Monday. We're going to be joined by her father tonight.

KING: That's great. That is an inspiring story. And early on it made me cringe. Now it gives inspiration.

BURNETT: Yes.

KING: Erin, we'll see you in just a few minutes.

BURNETT: All right.

KING: Still ahead here, an environmental group ranks the dirtiest beaches in America. How you might want to be here, because you might want to think twice before diving anywhere you're headed.

And Atari celebrates a major milestone. This is for the day two (ph) folks. Can you guess what birthday the iconic videogame maker is celebrating today?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Kate Bolduan is here with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hello again.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again. Hello again, everyone.

Touching moment today on Capitol Hill. Hundreds of our nation's first African-American Marines earned the Congressional Gold Medal today, decades after they trained at Montford Point Camp, a facility set up exclusively for black Marines during World War II. About 20,000 troops trained there, but only a few hundred are still alive, most in their 80s and 90s. And today many of them stood proud on Capitol Hill to receive the country's highest civilian honor.

Stockton, California, is making history, probably not why they want to make history. It's set to become the largest American city to declare bankruptcy. Stockton is looking at a $26 million budget shortfall. The city passed a special budget to operate under Chapter 9 federal bankruptcy. Two hundred and ninety-one thousand people live in Stockton, and the city says it plans to keep paying its employees and vendors.

It's summer -- it's summer, and the living is easy except along some coasts suffering from pollution, unfortunately. The Natural Resources Defense Council just released its annual beach report. These beaches you may want to avoid. Avalon Beach in Los Angeles; Dohany State Beach in Orange County, California; and Winnnetka Elder Park Beach in Cook County, Illinois.

But the coast seems to be clear in other parts of Orange County. Check out Newport Beach, Bolsa Chica Beach and Huntington State Beach. Storm water runoff and sewage pollution seems to be the big issues that some beaches are dealing with. An annual report they put out, but still enjoy the summer.

KING: A long way from here, but I like Newport Beach, Huntington beach. Been there. Haven't been to the other one.

All right, all right. Here we go. Stay right with me now. Tonight's moment you may have missed or rather, a moment you may have long ago forgotten about, but let's refresh your memory here. It might make you feel old.

Atari turns 40 years old today. Back in June 1972, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney formed the arcade console company with just $500. Five months later they released Pong. You know, that old black and white sort of like tennis game. It looks ancient now, but that was groundbreaking. The first commercially successful -- I love that noise. First commercially successful video game.

A few years after the company released the Atari video computer system. As you know, well, hasn't been the same since. Nor has parenting. Games like Space Invaders, and Centipede, all available right from your couch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Atari video computer system has 20 cartridges with 1,300 game variations you play on your own TV set. Don't just watch television tonight. Play it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A little Atari trivia here. Apple founder Steve Jobs worked for Atari back in the '70s. His biography says Jobs liked the simplicity of the technology, something he took with him to Apple.

Play Pong?

BOLDUAN: I did play Pong. Everybody played Pong.

KING: It is pretty amazing. We'll see you back here tomorrow night.

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