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JOHN KING, USA

Health Care History; Israeli Speech to AIPAC; Vicki Kennedy Interview

Aired March 22, 2010 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, HOST: Thank you my friend and happy birthday. Our "Lead" tonight, health care history, as the president is prepared to sign landmark legislation into law and sell it to a skeptical American public, Republicans say vote for us and we'll repeal it.

Tonight "One on One" exclusively with Vicki Kennedy, the widow of the late Senator Edward Kennedy tells us of a graveside visit to tell him his lifelong cause was at the finish line.

And in "Wall to Wall", you might call it blue flu. The president's poll numbers hit a new low and the Democrats are worried because he risks losing his base, but can he get it back?

In "Play by Play" we'll look at the presidential swagger. He hopes the big health care victory allows him to take more than a victory walk, but when you look closely, you'll see someone in that picture who shouldn't be there.

A packed hour tonight as we begin, but first we'll begin with a check on tonight's "Pulse" from our focus group, conservative blogger Erick Erickson, liberal blogger and activist Jane Hamsher and Democrat turned Independent actor and activist Esai Morales.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: After last night's health care vote, it's clear Blue Dog Democrats have become a rare breed indeed and pro life Democrats are largely assigned to history.

ESAI MORALES, DEMOCRAT TURNED INDEPENDENT: How little the American public knows about its health and how few incentives there are to stay healthy and not depend upon the system.

JANE HAMSHER, FOUNDER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM: (INAUDIBLE) first casualty, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Those are their headlines, here's mine. Historic like love is in the eye of the beholder, here in Washington anyway. Historic achievement is how the president and his allies describe this, 2,274 pages, a health care measure that by this time tomorrow will be the law of the land. Historic blunder say Republicans who with this one page would repeal it. Of course to do that, they would need your help and a lot of it in November. The best elections are about big choices, hard to imagine a bigger divide than this or a better time to start a new political program. As we welcome you tonight, we want to tell you public opinion at the moment is not on the president's side. Nearly six in 10 Americans say they oppose the health care measure. In our new CNN poll released this hour shows Mr. Obama at a new low.

Just 46 percent of Americans approve of how he's handling his job as president. Ahead a fascinating look at what is driving those numbers and making Democrats nervous even as they celebrate a major policy achievement. Tonight and every night we'll ask our reporters to work their sources and bring new information to you before it's in the morning newspapers.

President Obama toasted his health care victory early this morning on the Truman Balcony and some White House staffers were with him, but in tomorrow's headlines tonight he has new hurdles to face and our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry has the latest.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well John, that's right. CNN has just learned the president's in the Oval Office right now having a big meeting with a small group of senators. It's not on his public schedule, but I've been able to confirm with top White House aides the president is meeting with Majority Leader Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, as well as Kent Conrad, who is the budget chairman, that's important because he's the master of sort of the reconciliation rules.

This shows that this White House knows they're not done with this yet. They've still got to go through a lot of different maneuvers here to deal with potential road blocks in the Senate in terms of some of these fix-its and you mentioned a little celebration last night on the Truman balcony. Today there was also a little bit in the "Situation Room" in the White House. We're told by aides that the president had a previously scheduled meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton but she decided to begin the meeting by hugging the president, congratulated him on health care, Clinton, Obama coming together on health care -- kind of interesting, John.

KING: That is interesting -- Ed Henry at the White House. Major tensions and the U.S. -- as the U.S. and Israel try to get their relationship back on track. The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just ended a two-hour closed door meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Before that private diplomacy, a blunt public message from Secretary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: New construction in East Jerusalem or the West Bank undermines that mutual trust and endangers the proximity talks that are the first step toward the full negotiations that both sides say they want and need. And it exposes daylight between Israel and the United States that others in the region hope to exploit. It undermines America's unique ability to play a role, an essential role in the peace process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tonight, it's Prime Minister Netanyahu's turn to address a AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Jill Dougherty is tracking that diplomacy and Jill, any progress and what is the prime minister going to say?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well that's what we're going to hear very soon, John. But next up you have Prime Minister Netanyahu meeting with the vice president. They're going to do it over dinner. That is before he delivers his speech. And our sources are telling us that giving this kind of a preview of what he's going to stay in that very important speech to AIPAC tonight.

They say that he's going to dig in his heels on Jerusalem and the settlements. He's going to say Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, it's not a settlement. He's also going to say what Israel has done for peace, the steps that it's taken. He's going to throw it back at the Palestinians and say, what have you done for peace recently? And then finally he's going to be talking about what's on everybody's mind, and that is Iran and the nuclear program of Iran -- John.

KING: Jill Dougherty for us at the State Department -- sounds like an interesting meeting. That speech will set up with the president tomorrow -- thanks, Jill.

Back to the health care debate -- you know health care doesn't just move the poll numbers here in Washington. It's moving the markets, too. On Wall Street overall an up day -- the Dow closed up almost 44 points, but check out this. A closer look at three major insurance companies -- they took modest hits today as investors pondered the impact of the new health care law -- faring better, though, drug companies and hospital operators.

Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts was a champion of health care reform for more than four decades -- up next in "One on One", an exclusive conversation with his widow, Vicki, about the moment and her future.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the cause of my life. New hope that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American, north, south, east, west, young, old will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Nineteen months after that moving speech and seven months after his death, we are honored tonight to have with us Senator Kennedy's widow, Vicki Reggie (ph) Kennedy. Thank you for joining us.

VICKI KENNEDY, SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY'S WIDOW: Thank you -- great to be here.

KING: It must be something to see that on this day.

KENNEDY: It's exhilarating, really.

KING: This is the newspaper the senator would look at every morning, "The Boston Globe", "historic yea on health". What goes through your mind after all you went through with him and all you've gone through in the past few months to see these headlines?

KENNEDY: Just such a wonderful, wonderful day. Last night when the House of Representatives voted to pass the bill, I was just so thrilled for the American people really.

KING: There's a big White House signing ceremony of the Senate legislation planned for tomorrow. Will you be there?

KENNEDY: Oh, I hope so. I hope so.

KING: You hope so. Talk about your role a bit. You were called on from time to time after your husband's passing to help with the heavy lift the Democratic leaders were pushing.

KENNEDY: Well I was happy to talk to members and talk about what was in the legislation. Teddy always talked about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. And those are the kinds of conversations I had.

KING: I just want to take a moment to reflect for anyone out there who perhaps didn't follow his career closely to remind them that this was a cause, an issue he highlighted from his earliest days in the Congress back in the early '60s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel that it is essential that we provide a medical care program to meet the needs of our senior and elderly citizens.

If health insurance is good enough for the president, the vice president, the Congress of the United States, then it's good enough for you and every family in America.

Every member of the United States Senate and Congress belong to this program. And we believe firmly that what is good enough for every member of Congress, every member of the United States Senate and the president of the United States ought to be available to every American citizen in any part of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Such a reminder there in that video that he was the Kennedy brother we watched age through the years.

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: In his final days, he sent the president of the United States a letter. I want to read from it because I assume this is somewhat of a bittersweet moment for you. You get this victory, but without your husband here.

He wrote the president, "when I thought of all the years, all the battles, and all the memories of my long public life, I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the president who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. It was the cause of my life."

Sadness in writing those words -- when he was writing the words, I will not be there, while I will not be there, was there any exhortation on your part, don't write those?

KENNEDY: No, never. Of course, I was personally sad, but no, never because he didn't have self-pity. He isn't -- wasn't a man who had self-pity ever. So no, he wasn't feeling personal sadness. He was thinking, this is an important thing to do. I won't be here. It was really almost a matter of fact sort of thing. So this letter will only be presented if I'm not here. He was certainly hopeful that he would be here, but he said, you know, this -- I want you to give this letter to the president if I'm not here.

KING: We talk to those we lose and we miss. How have you communicated this in terms of --

KENNEDY: I went to Arlington yesterday and spent some time. You know, I do that frequently. And I thought yesterday was an important day to be there because I had hope and confidence and certainly, you know, wished that the bill would pass.

KING: It was a beautiful sight. There's quite a bit of talk in this town about how this happened. And I want to show you a headline that you did not enjoy reading. This was back in the special election for Senator Kennedy's seat.

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: "Big win for Brown" -- Republican Scott Brown shocked Massachusetts and shocked the country, no, no, no, never was your answer when friends of the senator and friends of the family came to you and said, Vicki, you have to run in this special election. Any regrets on the morning when you saw that the Republican would have that seat or any regrets now of not getting in?

KENNEDY: No, that was the wrong time --

KING: Is there a time in the future? Senator Brown, the new Republican senator from Massachusetts issued a statement last night when you were issuing your statement saying how proud you were and how wonderful you thought this would be for the American people and for your husband's legacy, Senator Brown issued a statement saying this was a grave mistake and that he will fight it in the United States Senate. Because he is completing your husband's term, he has to go before the voters again in 2012. Any chance you would get in that race?

KENNEDY: I think that -- I think that there's a misreading of what that election was about. The people of Massachusetts did not reject health care reform.

KING: You say the last time the special election was not the time. Is there a time in 2012?

KENNEDY: That's not something I'm thinking about.

KING: Not something you're thinking about. I do want your reflections on something else. And before I get them, I want to play the very last part of your husband's speech at the Democratic Convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans. So with Barack Obama and for you and for me, our country will be committed to his cause. The work begins anew. The hope rises again. And the dream lives on.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I want to ask you a forward looking question, but just watching it again, I remember being in the hall. Just reflect a bit on that remarkable moment.

KENNEDY: It was so exhilarating. It was -- it was a fantastic moment. And I'll never forget it. He was so pumped up after that speech as well. He didn't want to leave the hall. It was a fantastic moment.

KING: But you mention you want to serve in some capacity.

KENNEDY: It's been just about seven months since he's gone. It's been -- and it was a difficult couple of years, but I'm thinking things through and finding my way. I've been working a lot on the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate, which is very exciting. And that's a -- we're going to break ground on the building in the fall. It's right next to the John F. Kennedy Library.

KING: The Kennedy Library, it's in Boston, but as we said, that's my home town so we call it Dorchester (ph), Massachusetts. And you see there are some mementos of Boston around the room here --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- including my Fenway (ph) Park sign. And I want to close on that part. It has been seven months and you talked about your visit to Arlington yesterday. It's -- the question I guess of how you're doing and how the transition goes in the sense that as someone who grew up near that library, which is out on the water, and spent a lot of time on the Cape, this is the season and the senator would say spring is the time of renewal.

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: And it's when you see the sails pop up --

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: -- as you look out into the water.

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: Has to be both a wonderful time and also a hard time.

KENNEDY: Absolutely. You've hit the nail on the head on that one.

KING: During the funeral time, I stopped by Fenway Park to talk to Larry Lucchino (ph), one of the partners in the Red Sox ownership and he talked about how they had invited Senator Kennedy to come for the 100 year anniversary of Fenway in 2012 and he sent a note back saying I'll be there. But when he was becoming more ill, they decided to have him come in and throw out the first pitch last year.

KENNEDY: It was one of the most exciting moments of his life. I really think it was. He was so thrilled. It was opening day at Fenway Park, which he loved. His grandfather threw out the first pitch ever at Fenway Park in 1912, so this was a family legacy. It had a little hop on the first pitch, which was sort of a problem because of his illness.

And he couldn't throw the ball quite as far as he would have wished. And he wanted to throw it again. And so he threw it again. And he told our grandchildren, that's what you do in life. You just keep throwing until you make that pitch. And it was a wonderful, wonderful life's lesson.

KING: Let's just circle back and close where we began. When you get to see the president of the United States -- and I suspect there will be a pen that comes into your possession after the signing ceremony -- what will you say to him?

KENNEDY: I'll just say thank you. I'll just say thank you.

KING: Thank you for coming in.

KENNEDY: Thanks so much.

KING: When we come back, across the political spectrum to take "The "Pulse" of America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Time for "The Pulse" -- with us tonight CNN contributor Erick Erickson, he's editor-in-chief of the conservative blog Redstate.com. Jane Hamsher is founder of the liberal Web site FireDogLake.com and Democrat turned Independent and activist now Esai Morales. Thanks for joining us all.

Erick, I want to start with you because in your Red State (ph) morning briefing this morning, you said for conservatives the choice is not to repeal and reform, it is to repeal. As the president signs this into law and goes out to the American people, still a very skeptical American public, and tries to sell it, you believe that the right message -- and here's how you put it -- I want to read the language.

You put it "Friends, if we are going to destroy the Democrats, we must first build up an army of real conservatives who would repeal this." That's the language you think is best for conservatives going into the fall?

ERICKSON: I think so. You know, we're already hearing today on Capitol Hill some Republicans saying, well, we just want to -- we want to fix it, we want to tweak it. They're not saying repeal it. I think the American public polls are showing very clearly, want this legislation repealed. There's no consensus really on what to replace it with. But repeal it and start over as opposed to trying to fix something no one wanted to begin with.

KING: And so Esai you hear that message from conservatives. The president knows he has a skeptical American public and Erick is right when he says a majority say at the moment anyway they don't want this bill. So the president understands the depth of the sales pitch. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This isn't radical reform, but it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our health care system, but it moves us decisively in the right direction. This is what change looks like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If this is what change looks like, is it what he promised in the campaign when Washington was going to be bipartisan, people were going to be grown up and get along, and he was going to work with the Republicans? Not all his fault, mind you. But can he sell this legislation now in this new environment?

MORALES: I think he can. The fact that he turned the minds around of the Democrats that were holding out is an example of this. I mean, I supported Kucinich, if anything, because I really believe his interests lie with the people. And basically at the end of the day, it's the people that have got to be served well. And I, you know I have my problems with it, I have to admit. I don't want to pay for something that I take care of myself very well. I take care of myself so I don't have to depend upon the system.

I don't want to be penalized, so I understand a lot of right wingers' concerns but I also think that they made a mistake trying to demonize and hitlerize (ph) and socialize and you know, scare tactics can only last so long before the people wake up. There are things that need to be addressed in this bill, but I do believe it is a step in the right direction in spite of the fact that, you know, insurance industry stock has not gone down. If anything, some of them have actually gone up. This is not anti-capitalist at all. This is kind of trying to make everybody happy.

KING: Jane, come in on that point and to the point -- to the degree of the mood on the left, now that you get this historic bill, but it doesn't contain some things that people wanted. And as you jump in, I want you to listen (INAUDIBLE) Kingwood (ph), Texas. We asked some of our IReporters to contribute and he seems to agree essentially with Esai saying there's a lot of this I don't like, but it is better than nothing. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While the bill that passed was not the singer payer system or public option most of us progressives wanted, it was the best compromise possible given the level of fear for government that was instilled in many Americans' psyche by those opposing universal health care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So it's OK, not great. Does that mean people of that view will be there in November for the Democrats or is that lack of full enthusiasm a problem?

HAMSHER: Well, I think that that lack of full enthusiasm could cause problems. Because you're looking at a situation where 13 percent in the new CNN poll say that they don't like the bill because it's not liberal enough. And that's the base. That's the people that you need to show up for you in an election. And you got someone like Michael Bennett (ph), the senator from Colorado, who is facing a primary challenger Andrew Romanoff (ph) and originally a month ago Michael Bennett (ph) was the hero of the public option. You know he was the guy who was saying hey let's fight for this thing.

And now that he could actually introduce an amendment for one and leadership doesn't want him to, he's going to be a good boy and he's not going to do it. And Andrew Romanoff (ph) is saying well you know if I was in the Senate I would do it, so it's causing a real problem for him because he's starting to look like an unprincipled hack who was only doing it to fund-raise when he, you know when it didn't matter.

And I think that you're seeing a lot of people who in the Senate, in the House, who got forced to walk the plank and vote for something that could you know potentially cost them. And I guess I just wanted to know from you, John, what are you hearing from members of Congress, from the Senate who think that they took a chance voting for this bill?

KING: Well, many do think they take a chance, Jane. In my reporting what you get in a sense from Democrats is that they did come to agree with the White House conclusion that doing nothing would be worse. And if they voted no, they were still not going to get Republican votes and therefore their only hope was to try to get their base back. So you try to get the labor unions, you try to get other progressives to come with you. But many of them acknowledge they're not sure that's the right calculation. It's just the one they made when they faced time to vote.

We'll continue this. This is an early glimpse at the politics post the landmark legislation. The president will sign it tomorrow. We'll watch how this plays out and we'll bring you all back. Esai, Jane and Erick, thank you very much.

And as we come back President Obama's approval rating is at a new low. How is he going to sell health care reform to a skeptical public? We'll go "Wall to Wall" with the numbers next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "Wall to Wall" tonight, a look at the next chapter in the health care political debate. The Democratic plan will soon be the law of the land. But a majority of Americans tell us they don't like it. And as the president hits the road again to sell it, the big question is whether passage of this landmark proposal gives him a political bounce. There is no doubt, check this out, that he could use one. Let's take a look at the president's approval rating since taking office. We'll go back to the beginning here and watch as this plays out.

The president came into office with sky high approval ratings, way up in the 70's, dipped a bit to the 60's but that's still quite great. Starts to come down, a little tweak up and down as we are now into November of last year, December, and as we cross into 2010, below 50 percent, and the new CNN poll we're releasing this hour has the president at a 46 percent approval rating nationwide. That is the lowest point of his presidency. Now this was taken over the weekend just as the vote was happening.

So we will watch and see if signing this into law gives the president a boost. He needs that boost heading into the midterm election year. That's just one of the big challenges. Let's look at something else as we get rid of this and bring up this -- a little then and now. In the election year, two things are key. Number one, keep your base. Look at these stunning numbers among union households, the president's standing. Back in February 2009, 73 percent of union households approved of his job as president. By October 2009 it was down to 59 percent, now 49 percent. Fewer than half of union households approve of the job the president is doing. Right now union households critical to Democrats in a midterm election year. In another key group that's critical, independent voters. Again a huge drop. 63 percent approval rating in February 2009. Down 10 points in October. Now 41 percent. Just 41 independents in the United States approve of the job that Barack Obama is doing. Critical as he goes toward the midterm election.

We'll talk about those numbers with our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin. Welcome, ladies. At a record low coming into the weekend, they assume at the white house he will get a bounce. Boy, do they need one.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They need one big time. The numbers you just showed are stunning. First of all, the union numbers, this is exactly what Democrats on Capitol Hill are completely freaked out about. You talked about their base, they need their base. They know that part of the issue was the health care bill that they just passed yesterday. The fact of the matter is that many of these unions, many of these critical, critical people who go out for them, were very worried that they're going to lose their health care benefits. With the bill that passed yesterday until it's fixed, they're right. That seems to be playing big time into the president's standing and they're worried that will fall into --

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And Dana, the folks who are on Capitol Hill are the ones who should be worried. Those that were up in November, that's the critical crunch period. The white house assumed that in the next three years, the next race for the white house, he'll have time to rack up other accomplishments. Persuade Americans that this bill is working for them and get back the base. The big number to watch is the independents, that you pointed out.

KING: It's stunning. Those are the national numbers on the president and his approval rating, union household independent. Let's go closer to the ground in one of these key districts. We had a crew out in Ohio as this debate was folding out. Now Steve Driehaus, he's a democrat, a conservative democrat from Cincinnati. A seat that was long in Republican hands. He's vulnerable anyway. On Friday he was on talk radio, big in the district. He's one of the anti-abortion Democrats. On Friday he said because he thought the language was not restrictive enough, would allow federal funding of abortion, that his vote was no.

BILL CUNNINGHAM, TALK RADIO: The Senate bill in its current condition providing for abortion comes for a vote on Friday or Saturday. That Driehaus of Ohio will vote no.

STEVE DRIEHAUS (D), OHIO: Yeah, I have said that.

CUNNINGHAM: Did you say yes?

DRIEHAUS: Yes, I will vote no.

KING: Yes, he'll vote no, he said last week. Then over the weekend the president agreed to issue an executive order. That convinced enough anti-abortion Democrats that that would keep federal money out of it. Driehaus votes yes, knowing how vulnerable he is, goes back on talk radio today.

MIKE MCCONNELL, TALK RADIO: Did you get anything out of this? A lot of the members of Congress got something out of this. A guy in southern California got more water for his farmers. Did you get some funding out of it?

DRIEHAUS: I got an executive order insuring that no abortions will be paid for under this bill. That's what I wanted. That's what I got.

KING: It's not just the abortion issue, Jessica. It is a reminder that we have to go race by race, state by state, district by district to figure out how all this is going to play out.

YELLIN: It is particular to each member. But what's fascinating about that exchange is how distrustful they are of every single member. Did you get -- what special gift did you get? And that's what's polluting all of this discussion. It will affect the Republicans, but it hurts all those incumbents right now. No one has any trust for the elected officials.

BASH: I talked to him yesterday just after the vote. He said that as much as this is a big deal right now, it will be about the economy for his race. I actually want to ask you, John, because you covered the '94 Republican takeover. When you see something like Steve Driehaus and so many of these other Democrats who are, quote, unquote, on the bubble, is it deja vu?

KING: It is a bit of deja vu but different district by district. Some of them are what I call and I don't mean this disrespectfully, accidental Congressmen. They're swept in. They're swept in because of presidential coattails in a big year like that. It was always be tough for people like that to win re-election. There's a few of those seats were going to go. They were carried to Washington by Barack Obama and they were going to lose almost anyway. Then you look at the numbers among independents, that was the margin of Obama's big victory. If those numbers stay there, very troubling for Democrats. Union households, that's the money, the foot soldiers, the energy and intensity. That's why Scott Brown is the Republican senator for Massachusetts, he won half the union households. If those numbers not only stay the same for the president but translate over to Democrats of Congress, it might look a bit like 1994. Don't go anywhere, ladies. When we come back, the Senate Republicans are dead set against health care reform but the man who may have the ultimate say wasn't elected by anyone. Next, the most important person you don't know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: When it comes to health care reform, senators are calling him the prosecution, the judge, the jury and the hangman all in one. He's even being called the Senate's new celebrity. That's why Alan S. Frumin is today's most important person you don't know. Frumin is a Senate's parliamentarian, the guy who knows or looks up every nitpicky obscure rule about how the Senate works and he needs those for the healthcare debate. Only five people have held that job since 1935. In plain English, he'll be the traffic cop as the Democrats try now to use a process called reconciliation to push through the changes the house voted for health care reform. So Dana, you wander those halls every day. How big of a powerhouse is this guy we don't know?

BASH: He's a very quiet powerhouse, but boy, does he have power. I spent actually most of my day today trying to figure out what was going on behind closed doors. He was meeting with Democrat staff and Republican staff ahead of tomorrow's opening on the debate on this so- called reconciliation bill or change bill. He will decide whether or not when Republicans say, oh, that's not -- that shouldn't be in there, that shouldn't be in there, whether that will live or die. He will make the ruling. And right now, Republicans are actually waiting to find out if he will rule in their favor as to whether or not they can block this bill from coming to the floor at all.

KING: So one man, who we don't really know, decides whether the changes to this health care bill happen or not?

YELLIN: I find it pretty remarkable. Apparently he's been in this job or in this office since the '70s. This is his life, clearly. But you cover it, so it's my understanding that he has a little bit of wiggle room. It's his discretion. He's like a judge.

BASH: He's the umpire. That's what he is. He decides. Now technically, the president and the Senate, meaning the vice president, could overrule him, but politically that could be a disaster.

KING: All right. Before we go, we spend a lot of time on the big stories like health care today, U.S./Israel relations. What are we missing?

BASH: On Sunday while we were in the capital covering the huge health care debate on the west front, at least on the mall side, there were tens of thousands of people marching on immigration. Immigration, which is still a big political wedge issue, but was the issue we talked about nonstop just a couple of years ago. It is just remarkable how things change. Now we're talking -- we talked entirely yesterday about health care and the immigration story barely was a blip in the news cycle.

KING: Something else on Capitol Hill perhaps being overshadowed?

YELLIN: For everybody who was angry that the banks got trillions of dollars, today the Senate made a major step forward in passing a new Wall Street reform bill that's supposed to make sure we don't have another economic meltdown, but there's such disagreement between the Democrats and Republicans, only a 50/50 chance it gets through the house. Maybe no changes to Wall Street this year.

KING: Here's something somebody's not missing. Now that we're here in this slot trying to get our feet under us for this new show, Wolf Blitzer gets to go home for dinner.

BASH: Lynn will be happy.

KING: Lynn will be happy. Ladies, thanks very much for coming in. Next, the clash, frustrated incumbents and angry voters look ahead to November's big election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: No punching, though, not in here, the clash. With us tonight, longtime Republican aide including Mitt Romney adviser Kevin Madden who is now with the strategic communications firm Jim Dike and Associates and former Clinton white house press secretary Dee Dee Myers. Welcome, make yourself comfortable.

The healthcare communications challenge now, it will be the law of the land tomorrow. This is it, 2074 pages. As of this moment, the majority of the American people don't like it. Republicans say elect us and we'll do this. One page, 50-something words that would repeal all this and make it go away. You worked in a white house that tried the health care fight and did not succeed. How does this president now that he has the law and the victory convince the American people it's a good thing, don't vote all my guys out?

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER PRES. CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, people are confused about what's in it. First of all, it's very complicated. It's obviously very long. We spent a lot of time talking about the politics of it over the last few months and the process by which it was being passed. Sausage banking is ugly but the sausage sometimes tastes pretty good. So the president has to talk to people about exactly what's in it and he has to show them examples of people who are benefiting from it, people like them, people who were denied coverage because of pre-existing condition and children because children will be eligible with pre-existing conditions immediately. He has to show them the benefits are starting and they are starting now. You can no longer be kicked off your health care because you get sick. You no longer have caps on the amount of money that they'll spend covering your illnesses. So that's important and he has to do other things. He has to pivot back to the economy. But it's very important they don't stop now.

KING: Let's show, Kevin, some of the things Dee Dee was talking about. 90 days after the bill becomes law, immediate access to high risk pools for people who have no insurance because of a pre-existing condition. That's pretty popular. The president will want to sell that. Six months after the bill takes effect insurance can't deny people coverage when they get sick. You can't deny coverage to children who have pre-existing conditions. You can't impose lifetime caps if you're an insurance company and parents can have their kids stay on until age 26. How nervous are you as a Republican who wants to make the case this costs too much, it's got too much government power, that when those things kick in, those are popular things the president will go out and say, take another look.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think that the disconnect right now is that somehow Democrats think that the American public haven't been paying attention and all of a sudden they're going to start listening and learning about this bill now. We've had a very robust debate. Millions of dollars in ads, hours and hours of speeches on the house floor. And the American public is aligned against this bill simply because what you just said, the cost and the size of it. They don't believe that we are -- they don't believe we have the money to pay for it and they think it is a radical left of center bill that is going to possibly hurt their care. So I think it's going to be even harder for the Democrats now to go out and sort of re-litigate something that to this point has really left Americans dug in when it comes to public opinion. The people that are against it are absolutely against it. And most importantly, the people in the middle of the American electorate right now, those independents that are supposed to be persuadable have come down on the side to not liking this bill.

MYERS: One of the things -- I think you're right. It's complicated and Republicans won't start arguing against the bill. It's too big, it's too expensive. When people wake up on Wednesday morning and the bill is signed into law, they're still going to have their same healthcare, 85 percent of people will have their employer sponsored care. They won't be able to lose it if they get sick or their child gets sick. Their life - as time goes on, a lot of the misinformation that's out there will prove not to be true.

MADDEN: If I was a Democrat, here's what I would worry about. The American people have been sold a bill of goods. They're going to expect something now. They're going to expect costs to go straight down. They're going to expect --

MYERS: I don't think they expect that at all.

MADDEN: I think they do. Because we've heard 32 million Americans now have health care, costs are going to go down. The deficit's going to go down. They're not going to see that right away because it's impractical.

MYERS: You guys have made sure that they don't think all those things will happen right away. You've done the president a favor. I want to thank you personally.

KING: That's very nice. Stay right here and calm down for a second. When we come back these two political pros are going to help us break down maybe a little play by play; we'll look at the return of presidential swagger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A little play-by-play tonight. We begin with the return of presidential swagger. Back with us, Dee Dee Myers and Kevin Madden. Both of you helped script political events in the past, including Dee Dee, you helped script events right through this hallway. Let's look at the white house last night. After 11 o'clock at night, the house finally passed a healthcare vote, President Obama, coming out of the blue room here. Let's watch him walk down. He's got his partner, the vice president. Look at that smile. We haven't seen that in a while. We had him at a record low approval rating, 46 percent. The poll taken over the weekend, Dee Dee, tell us how a president can use that majestic place to his advantage?

MYERS: Being president is a singular job. There isn't anybody else that can walk down that hall and who can stand behind that podium called the blue goose and talk to the nation with the same authority as the president. And this president doesn't really well. And by the way, nothing succeeds like success in politics. So having a big win like this when people say he can't possibly win, it's the end of health care and he fought it back. And he brought it home. And so I think this will --

MADDEN: You know what I was struck by too was the contrast. You know, you have a bully pulpit. You have the majesty of being president. And when you look at that, all the hours that we watched yesterday of all the house debate was very ruckus. There was a lot of high emotions. And then the contrast, the president walking down the -- to the east room with a lot of optimism and a sense of the executive, the way to the executive office. That contrast I think was very important for America to see as well.

KING: So look at this, it was a big moment for the president. But something went wrong. Let's watch again. Stop it right there. That guy is not supposed to walk out into that hall.

MYERS: This is not a good day for him.

MADDEN: You know what? Everybody he ever went to college with, grammar school with or is calling and e-mail him.

MYERS: But the guy in the front of that picture is not as happy about it.

KING: Just a few seconds left. You both have consulted a lot of people in crisis. I want you to listen. Everyone across the country is watching this. Tiger Woods on ESPN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much do you care?

TIGER WOODS, GOLFER: It would be nice to hear a couple claps here and there. But also hope there are claps for birdies, too.

KING: What do you see in his eyes and in those comments? This was a guy who could do no wrong, a talented and gifted communicator, who just exuded confidence and upbeat spirit. He looks beaten there.

MADDEN: You think he looks beaten? I think he looks earnest. I think he's got this sensibility that he's going back to what he loves more than anything. There's nothing going to help tiger woods more than a win. He's looking forward to that. He's a competitor. I think he wants to get back to doing what he loves which is play golf.

MYERS: He is humbled as a person and the first past of that, he's not sure how he'll be received. But he said I hope they also applaud for birdies. He is telegraphing that he still thinks he has game.

MADDEN: Managing expectations. Anybody that claps now is a success.

KING: Madden's volunteering for the Tiger Woods campaign. Dee Dee, Kevin, thanks for coming in. When we come back, "Pete on the street." Pete Dominick sees Washington on a segue. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You see the logo, "Pete on the Street." Yes, we're going to talk policy and politics. We're going to break down the game and art of politics. We're also going to try to be a little bit different. Helping us is Pete Dominick. He is a New York guy. We brought him to Washington. There are a lot of tourists in Washington, especially as the weather gets nice. We had to teach Pete about the ways of Washington. What did you learn, my friend?

PETE DOMINICK, COMEDIAN: I learned a lot, John. I learned that I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. KING: You're not the only one.

DOMINICK: I'm like -- I'm a political junky, but unlike you, I'm not familiar with the District of Columbia, the nucleus of our nation. So I figured I should probably give myself a tour. I thought what better, cooler, hipper way to do that than on a segue?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: I think I'm ready. Judge me all you want. I'm very comfortable in this pink helmet. I feel like if you're riding a segue, you should have a fanny pack. This one is lady bird.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yeah.

DOMINICK: I like to name mine Blagojevich. I'm on a segue.

Mr. President? Mr. President? It's me, Pete. I've been e-mailing you. Add me on Facebook.

Do you know if the president is in there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, he should be.

DOMINICK: Sir, lobbyist? No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's with the segue?

DOMINICK: Who cares about the segue bro. This is D.C.

Is that Bo Obama?

Can you smell partisanship? Yeah, right. Give daddy a kiss. One, two, three. J.K.-USA.

What do you think they're doing in there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Besides trying to find a new way to rip us off and steal from us? I have no idea.

DOMINICK: What do you think they're doing in there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're legislating.

DOMINICK: Hey, look. It's the Jonas brothers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We drove all the way from Oklahoma just to support America.

DOMINICK: And have you showered today, you guys?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, we haven't.

DOMINICK: We head over to the Supreme Court and see if we can find some more fun people over there. If it was a reality show you could vote off one Supreme Court justice, who you would vote?

That Scalia. Scalia!

And how many justices are there in the Supreme Court?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nine.

DOMINICK: Whitney, do you agree that there's nine justices in the Supreme Court?

WHITNEY: Yes.

DOMINICK: Watch out for my segue! Thomas Jefferson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just one of those colonial guys.

DOMINICK: Just a colonial guy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a colonial guy.

DOMINICK: What do you think of the internet?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love it!

DOMINICK: It was great getting to know Washington, D.C., and many of its colorful characters. And I think I might even come back here some time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You might even come back. Is that a threat or a promise?

DOMINICK: That's a promise, John. But only because I like you and the show.

KING: You know that Dick Cheney has a segue on his ranch in Wyoming. Maybe you should get a tour of that.

DOMINICK: I was actually renting the former vice president's segue there. That is also his helmet.

KING: What struck you most on your tour? You know, this is a city like New York, majestic architecture and monuments. What struck you?

DOMINICK: Honestly, the history. You know, there is so much history, so much took place there. That and you can't smell partisanship.

KING: Pete's going to help us many times in the nights ahead. Pete Dominick, thank you.

That's all for us tonight on JOHN KING USA. We hope you come back tomorrow.

"CAMPBELL BROWN" starts right now.