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JOHN KING, USA
Times Square Suspect; Immigration Reform; Boycotting Arizona
Aired May 5, 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: Thanks, Wolf. A busy and eventful day, so it was hard to decide where to begin. It is Cinco de Mayo and as he welcomed Latinos to the White House for a celebration, the president just moments ago weighted into the dicey politics of immigration, but nowhere near as forcefully as most of his guests would have hoped. The president made a promise to push major immigration reforms in his first year in office, now three months into year two listen closely; this pledge has no commitment to get it done in 2010.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to begin work this year and I want Democrats and Republicans to work with me because we've got to stay true to who we are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Back to immigration policy and politics in a moment, but we begin with your safety, because of important new details about the suspect in the Times Square car bombing attempt and because of a new government statistic you might find hard to believe. First this question: Do you think someone on the government's terrorist watch list should be able to buy firearms or explosives. Now the statistic: Over the past six years, 91 percent of such purchases were approved by the government and there were a lot of them, 1,119. The mayor of New York is among those who find that outrageous, even if it adds a little hassle to the lives of law-abiding Americans who have been wrongly added to that watch list.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: A key element of any smart counterterrorism strategy is to make it harder for terrorists to strike. That's why air passengers walk through metal detectors. That's why our police randomly check bags in the subway. That's why our police patrol sensitive locations. And that's why it's just common sense to give the FBI the authority to keep terror suspects from buying guns and explosives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So should gun laws be changed? And what else are we learning about the Times Square suspect, his motive for the attack and his claim to have received terrorist training in Pakistan. With us tonight Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, a former FBI agent who serves on the Select Committee on Intelligence, Democratic Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland and CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. And Jeanne let's begin with you with the latest on the investigation including the question did he act alone.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well a federal law -- law enforcement official tells me that they do not believe he had any associates here in the United States. That they believe that he built and placed that bomb on his own at this point in the investigation. They're still looking very hard at the international connections and a senior Pakistani official tells us that in July of 2009, it's believed that he traveled up through the Waziristan portion of Pakistan where he met with one or more leaders of the Pakistani Taliban.
Now with him on this trip was a man named Mohammed Rehan (ph) who is believed to have strong links to a militant group called Jaish eMohammed (ph). That group is believed to have links to both the Pakistan Taliban and with al Qaeda. Rehan (ph) has been taken into custody in Karachi. U.S. officials say despite all this, at this point in time, they aren't ready to draw a link between Shahzad and any overseas group.
KING: Another key question and one I want to discuss with the members of Congress is how did he get on this plane? You have new information about the time line of the whole -- the flight watch list?
MESERVE: Yes, this from an administration official. Apparently at 12:30, he was added to the no-fly list on the TSA web board and a lookout was posted to customs and border protection. At 12:39 an automated message was sent out to all of the airlines saying be on the lookout. There's a special addition to this list. Please check.
But at 6:30, he made a flight reservation as he drove to the airport, and at 7:35, he arrived at that counter of Emirates Airline, paid cash, picked up his ticket and got on the plane. Now, it is true that at 10:40, the terrorist -- the National Targeting Center got a hit because of that CBP (ph) lookout, and at 11:02 they pulled him off the plane. But the question is if they sent out a lookout to the airlines at 12:39, why didn't the airline pick him up at 6:30 or at 7:35.
The reason was that Emirates had not updated its no-fly list and they weren't required to. Today that changed. The TSA is now saying if you get a notification that there's an add to the list, the airlines have to check within two hours.
KING: So let's start the conversation with the members of Congress right there. Is that enough or does more have to be done to fine tune how this watch list system works so that this guy can't -- there's no way a suspect like this can get on a plane?
REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D), MARYLAND: Well I think even from the Christmas Day bomber, we know that we've had to tighten up the way that we look at these watch lists and I think this is yet another tweak. I've always said that this watch list and the process and how you get on it and who looks at it is really a work in progress. And we've seen that very clearly today. What's really clear though is he was on the watch list, the notification went out, and they were able to pull him off the plane in time.
KING: Are they doing this right?
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well there are obviously some things we have to do in the watch list. In the beginning there were too many people on it -- that was the complaint. Now there are not enough people on it. The problem is that is our absolute last line of defense. The real question here is what things have been suspended?
What collection, intelligence collection activities have we not been doing that would have caught him not while he's getting on the plane after he would have set the bomb off but when he gets on the plane from Pakistan back to the United States? And those things are missing. This administration has made those changes; I think we ought to have a debate about that.
MESERVE: No, I can tell you that I've been told that when he did come back into the country from Pakistan, he was flagged for a secondary screening. He met enough of the CBP (ph) criteria that they questioned him more closely and they did file a report with -- on him at that point with the FBI and other intelligence agencies.
And on that report, there was a phone number, several phone numbers, apparently associated with his travel. On Sunday, when they associated his name with this bomb through the car transaction, they had some phone numbers but they didn't know the name. They ran it through the system. And it was that CBP (ph) report that pinged and that I'm told is how they got his name.
KING: So let's go back to this point because I remember your first statement after all this happened. It is your position, despite what the Obama administration would call a success here, they did -- I know they caught him at the last minute, they had the surveillance hitch and the watch list hitch, but they did catch him, they say he has been talking, which is the reason he hasn't shown up in court yet and they say he's giving them valuable information. But from your very first statement, you said this administration has a different approach, that -- my term, not yours -- that they're softer than the Bush administration in terms of how they go about this --
ROGERS: Clearly -- I mean "A", if we're calling it a success that a car loaded with explosives was parked and attempted to be detonated, if that's a successful day in our war on terrorism, we're in a lot of trouble in this country and we're going to lose a lot of Americans because of it. The whole idea of a preventive intelligence posture is to try to get that information in the development of those plans.
KING: So what could they have done differently? How could they --
ROGERS: Well there are certain collection activities that we -- that have been suspended. As a matter of fact, one particular one that was suspended right after that -- the Fort Hood -- the Fort Hood shooting happened, the Christmas Day bomber happened, now this happens. And we've had no discussion about how we reengage those collection activities so that we don't have gaps in our system. You want to catch them over there. You don't want to wait to try to catch them after something has gone off. Luck is not a national security --
EDWARDS: Well let's look at what the administration is doing. First of all, this is an American citizen and so this is a very different circumstance from what happened on Christmas Day and other things that we've seen. And so I do think that what the administration is trying to do and I think actually the Obama administration has been very aggressive about tightening procedures so that we don't just have, you know, a bevy -- a pot full of intelligence and not know what to do with it.
And I think here you have an example of citizens who were alert in New York, who notified the authorities, who were able to get to this vehicle before it detonated and could have caused great harm and injury. And then you have a, you know a situation that we're trying to tighten up in terms of the watch list, knowing who's on it, making sure that there's actual communication and information isn't just sitting there. And so I would say this administration is being very aggressive.
KING: A disagreement on that issue -- I want to get your thoughts on this. I want you to listen to this quick exchange, Mayor Bloomberg of New York, Lindsey Graham, conservative Republican senator of South Carolina on this whole point about whether if you're on that watch list, you should be able to go out and buy a gun or explosives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If society decides that these people are too dangerous to get on an airplane --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- with other people then it's probably appropriate to look very hard before you let them buy a gun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I totally understand what you're saying, but we're talking about a constitutional right here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is there a way to address the mayor's concerns and make it so if you're on that watch list, you can't buy a gun and deal with the legitimate gripes that some people have that there are law abiding Americans who are accidentally wrongly on that list.
ROGERS: Well a watch list is exactly that, it's a watch list. I don't think you want the federal government to make arbitrary decisions about citizens that they can claim something about you and take away any of your constitutional rights. I think it's a very dangerous place -- KING: So if I'm an American citizen on that list, rightly so on that list, I should be able to go out (INAUDIBLE) America and buy a gun.
ROGERS: And now here's my argument, if we have enough evidence that they shouldn't be buying a hand gun because you can't if you're a convicted felon or you're about to commit a crime, then we should arrest them. A watch list is only a tool. It doesn't mean you can't get on an airplane.
You can get screened, be on the watch list, get secondary screening and still get on an airplane. That can't be the -- that can't be the line of defense here. And I think --
ROGERS: -- is a red herring. It takes away from all of the things that maybe we're not doing to get them to the fact that they show up at the airport to get on an airplane after they may have committed a crime. We've got to catch them much higher in the system.
EDWARDS: Well those things may be true, but in this country, we actually don't allow people who've had misdemeanor domestic violence offenses from purchasing a weapon. And I think the same rules might be necessary in this case, where you have somebody, especially as we're tightening up the watch list, we know who is on it, we know why they're watching it -- why we're watching them, and so there's no reason that they should have to purchase a weapon. That doesn't mean that they can't travel back and forth. It doesn't mean that they're prevented without screening from traveling, but it also shouldn't (ph) mean they have to have a weapon.
KING: A quick timeout here -- we're going to continue our conversation in just a minute including the remarks the president made just moments ago at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House on the dicey issue of immigration.
KING: We're back with Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan and Democratic Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland. An immigration question, this one related to the terror investigation. Tomorrow Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, along with Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, an Independent and a Republican there and they have co-sponsors, Democrat and Republican on the House side will introduce what they call the Terrorist Expatriation Act (ph). And it would allow a U.S. national to lose his or her citizenship if they have provided any support for foreign terrorist organizations or in this case of this suspect if proven to be true, had any hostile acts against the United States of America. Good idea -- symbolic idea?
EDWARDS: Very problematic. I mean you know we're talking about constitutional rights of American citizens and you know we do still have a Constitution in this country, even as we want to protect us from any kind of terrorist acts. And I think that you know we have a process and that requires due process and the Justice Department has been able to extract, it seems you know quite a significant amount of information from this suspect, using our process. And there's no need to strip him of his citizenship rights. And I think -- I would fear what would happen with all the rest of us.
ROGERS: If somebody has taken acts against the United States, think of this individual has traveled overseas, trained with a foreign entity, taken assignments and guidance, come back to the United States to try to blow up his you know fellow citizens, I would have no problem making sure that he was no longer a United States citizen. And I think most Americans think that's a fair process. I think there's probably more symbolism in that. I think the State Department in these cases can revoke citizenship. Awlaki (ph) in Yemen is under the same kind of circumstance, but if we can make it clear and tighter, I think most Americans and certainly I'd be for that.
EDWARDS: But what happens with the American citizen who is actually born in the United States? You don't have any place to ship him back to, and you strip citizenship rights. I think we need to go through a process and the administration is doing that. And our Constitution is actually about us. It's not about somebody else.
KING: I want to get to the broader immigration debate -- the president just spoke about it. But before I do, I didn't get to this in the first segment, Congressman, just in your role in the Intelligence Committee, I just want to know have you been told anything in the classified briefings that you can share with us, not the classified part, but the bullet points of it about what he did in Pakistan. They said they haven't yet to be able to corroborate. Did he go to any training camps? Did he associate with known terrorists over there? Without getting into the classified specifics, do you know anything new on that?
ROGERS: Well I mean nothing that I can talk about. A lot of that is still being vetted. I think the important thing is, is that if you look at the planning phase, he had moved his family back. This was considered an operation by those who were seeking to harm the United States including a Pakistan connection. So, you know those things evolve. And if you look at the pattern of the way they're trying to target individuals that either have U.S. passports or have easy access to the United States, it presents a whole new level of danger for us.
The Fort Hood shooting was a radicalization recruitment, the Christmas Day bomber because he had easy access and what you saw here was a U.S. citizen who had a United States passport makes them incredibly dangerous if recruited by al Qaeda and I think that's the change that you had seen. And so this connection, I think you'll probably hear more about in days and months ahead. But we as a nation need to understand that. It will impact our national security --
KING: Back to the immigration debate, which is right before us in this midterm election year, the president as a candidate promised he would -- in his first year in office have a comprehensive immigration reform bill. That didn't happen. He then said last week on Air Force One he would like one this year, but he's not sure there is an appetite. In the place where you work, the United States Congress, because it's such a hard political issue in an election year, here's what the president said just a short time ago at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I want to begin work this year. And I want Democrats and Republicans to work with me because we've got to stay true of who we are, a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Translation to those not from Washington. Begin work this year sends a pretty clear signal that he's not expecting to finish work this year?
ROGERS: I don't think he can get it done this year. I think it is explosive. If they back off this notion of amnesty, if they back off this notion of having people jump ahead of the line of people who are legally going through the process to be immigrants, I think you're -- we're going to get to a great place. I think you can find huge agreement on both sides of the aisle if we just understood we have to control our borders.
It is a dangerous world that we live in. We're seeing -- and it's not just our Mexican neighbors that are coming through the southern border. There are other nations using the southern border and the poor (ph) southern border to enter the United States. That is a huge problem for us. So if the president would back up and say the first step in this process has to be controlling our borders and getting control of our borders, I think you would find a lot of agreement in Congress. I'm just not -- I'm concerned that's not where he's at or that's not where he wants to go.
KING: Is that the right approach?
EDWARDS: Well I'm readying the tea leaves in the United States Senate and I think that that's where you start and we had a number of senators who voted for comprehensive immigration reform in 2006. And they seem to be backing away. That makes it very challenging for the president.
KING: Challenging in your chamber, too. A lot of conservative Democrats who are vulnerable this year don't want to take that vote. You want to take that vote, but a lot of -- that's a fair statement, right, a lot of them don't?
EDWARDS: I think that's fair. I think what is really true is that on immigration, one, I think all of us recognize that the approach has to be comprehensive and it can't be piecemeal. I think it's also really clear just from the events of the last several days it's important for us to know who's in this country, how they travel here and that we do secure our borders, but we also make sure that we have a process because even after you secure your borders still got a lot of folks here and we don't want anyone jumping ahead of the line, but at the same time there needs to be a really fair process for people who are legitimately able to pay their back taxes, move forward, become productive citizens to go through that process. And I think that we can do that. We may not be able to get to it this year.
KING: The congressman is shaking his head. I understand (INAUDIBLE) issue. We're out of time for this segment. We'll bring you both back. It's a very fascinating conversation, an interesting issue. Congresswoman Edwards, Congressman Rogers, thanks so much. We appreciate your coming in.
And now with a little sense of what's still to come in the program tonight, wander over to the "Magic Wall" real quickly, just take a look. When we come back, we'll go "Wall-to-Wall". They are trying now to speed up the plugging of the leak in the Gulf of Mexico. And we'll talk also about who's going to pay. Is BP trying to pass the buck?
When I go "One-on-One" tonight you'll meet a music icon, Emilio Estefan (ph), he's getting political, rare for him. He'll talk about the immigration issue and his plan to boycott Arizona because of its new state immigration law.
And in "Play-by-Play" tonight you won't want to miss this -- we'll break down the tape, Tina Fey versus Sarah Palin, Bristol Palin's view of her mother's often controversial "Saturday Night Live" politics.
KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight, an update on the effort to cap that tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. We want to show you this structure right here. It looks a little awkward, but it left port today. You see it here on the ship going out; it's a giant dome, a cap that they want to use to plug the biggest leak underground. They did cap the small one today but there's still a lot more work to be done.
Let's show you how this is supposed to work. Remember the shape of that dome, here it is right here. It will be brought out on a crane and the idea is to lower it right down over where the oil is gushing out. If it is successful, the oil then would come into that and be taken on a tube off to a tanker ship up there. That is the plan. Still a long way to go and questions about whether the engineering of this will work. But that is the hope right now to cap the biggest of the leaks.
Let's walk over to the "Magic Wall" and get a sense of the timeline. A big political debate about the pace of the disaster response, whether BP has been forthcoming, whether the administration acted urgently enough, so let's go back and look at some of the key days. It was on the 20th of April that the oil rig exploded. Search and rescue obviously was the top priority in those first days.
Couple of days later, the president received his first briefing in the Oval Office. He of course received other information before that, but that was the first big Oval Office briefing. The first leaks were discovered on the 24th, four days after. You see some of the images there; the red in the water is some of the oil streaking up. On the 25th, on the Sunday after, Secretary Salazar, the Interior Secretary ordered all rigs inspected to see if there were any safety problems. It was not until the 29th that the president and the White House administration declared the spill of national significance.
Now that is one day -- nine days after the spill that many critics say show the administration took too long to recognize the urgency of this. The administration counters by saying the designation was nine days later but that it was acting urgently all along. Quickly through some other key dates here, on May 3rd, that's when the president went down to tour the area and made clear that in his view BP was going to pay the entire bill for the cleanup operations.
And today on May 5th, stop that here and pull that out, the first of the three leaks capped, the smallest of the leak was capped today and the dome shipped out, you just saw that there, that's on the fifth. It is here, where they hope, they hope a week from now to have that dome installed and they hope, BP officials saying if that doesn't work, they have other plans on the books. But one of the big concerns is some have said if this dome does not work, just lowering it down there and doing it could actually cause the spill to accelerate if this doesn't work.
We'll be hopeful that it does and we will continue to follow that operation as it goes on. When we come back, there's a growing chorus for boycotting Arizona over its immigration law. One of those voices belongs to the music mogul Emilio Estefan (ph). We go "One-on-One" after the break.
And later you won't want to miss this -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran says he knows where Osama bin Laden is. You'll never guess where.
ANNOUNCER: It's time to go "One-on-One".
KING: Emilio Estefan is an American success story and a Cuban immigrant who built an empire as a songwriter, a music mogul, even a part owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, but he rarely dips his toes into politics, but now out of anger over Arizona's new immigration law, he is. And he joins me to go "One-on-One". Thank you for coming in on Cinco de Mayo. Do you believe a boycott is the proper response to this law in Arizona? You have a new book out; you cancelled the book signing.
EMILIO ESTEFAN, MUSIC PRODUCER/SONGWRITER: Absolutely -- I don't think we feel welcome. I think they're misjudging a lot of the people. I don't think people will go, I mean there are a lot of people that definitely ought to be canceling but because they feel they didn't approach this in the right direction. I feel that in the long run it's a situation that like I told you, they need to fix this. This has been a problem for so many years. But I don't think because you have an accent, you have a last name that is Hispanic they can ask for papers and they -- you're going to feel really uncomfortable going to a place that you don't feel welcome.
KING: I want to play a little bit of a public service announcement that you recorded as part of this effort. I want our viewers to listen to it because I have a question for you about it. Let's play it a little bit first.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ESTEFAN: I'm an immigrant who left my country with nothing but dreams and hope. I dreamed of a new rhythm that would unite Anglos and Latinos and people from all over the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now these will air in Arizona, but it is an inspiring message from you about your success story. But nowhere in this public service announcement does it say repeal the law or I don't like this law. Why a softer approach?
ESTEFAN: You know something -- this was done almost before everything was happening. Just recognizing how much we represent the United States. That's Democrats, leaders that we've been working to protect the image of the Latinos in a better way. We tell the United States how much we appreciate this country, how much we contribute to this country and how much we want to give back. Including a soldier, a doctor, I feel, you know, people recognize that the way it is now, we're all criminals. It's definitely a lot of things that need to be fixed.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: But supporters of the law in Arizona say they're not trying to portray all of you as criminals but they're trying to portray those who come in illegally as criminals, especially now recently the violence with all the drug war. If you look at the national polls, people support this law. A recent CBS poll, 51 percent of the people think it's about right and 9 percent say they don't think it goes far enough. There's a new poll out today within Arizona, a Rocky Mountain poll says the majority of the people of Arizona support it. The majority of the Latinos do oppose it. Some people would say in the state of Arizona it's our business, our state's business, but forgive me, what right does a rich guy from Miami who had special status as a Cuban have to do to comment on Arizona.
ESTEFAN: I want to tell you why, when I went to the marshal on Saturday, I saw the images on Saturday, it didn't portray any good image of the Latinos in the state. One of the astronauts was from Mexico, the lady to signed the bill was Hispanic, you see so many Latinos making contribution to this country, they never show that. This would show the world how much we have luck to live in the United States, how much appreciation we have, I don't think it's Obama's problem, it's a problem that happens for many presidents for years and years. We are asking people to please help with this immigration reform.
KING: You say it's not Obama's problem. He's the president now. President Bush tried to pass comprehensive reform. President Obama is the president now. He promised he would push this issue in his first year in office. We are now four months in the second year of office. You did have the president down to your house in Miami for a big Democratic fund raiser. You will see him at the white house today on Cinco de Mayo. The one thing that people who detest the Arizona law and those who support it agree on is it was born of a political climate in which the federal government failed in its responsibility to secure the border and the other immigration issues. Have you expressed your frustration to the president that you must do this now?
ESTEFAN: We did. I think the reason, I don't get involved in politics, when the president asks you to come to your house, I felt to have spent 20 minutes with him about human rights, everything happening in Cuba and talk to him about the immigration reform, I know he was focused. He has a lot of problems, but he didn't say he was going to help. We got a briefing and they feel that definitely it's on his agenda. He's going to work on it.
KING: Working on it and taking the risk of getting bruised up to try to get it passed are two different things. The president himself said he would like to get it done but he's not sure there's an appetite. Is your advice to him, Mr. President, you must do this, you must take the risk or you risk losing the big Latino support you had in the campaign?
ESTEFAN: The history, I want to tell you something, it doesn't help the Latino community, he's going to lose their vote. People are counting on him. He promised that. I feel he will do it. I feel he has a lot of problems now on his agenda. I feel the commitment. I think what he told me it was a priority, he's going to work. He will do it. I hope so. Because if he doesn't do it now, people will ask him why he didn't deliver his promise.
KING: What about the election this year? Do you think Latinos are going to turn out and vote? In 22008, Latinos voted 68 percent. If Latino support for Democrats drops by that much, Democrats will suffer even more.
ESTEFAN: I think so. People are counting on him. When I was in the march in Los Angeles, I felt the pain of the people, the frustration of the people. We understand something. It happens for so many years. It's a problem that we have to fix.
KING: Who's the better president for the Latino community, Bush or Obama?
ESTEFAN: I think George W. Bush was great. He tried to do a lot of things for the Latino community. I think Obama is trying to do that. The minority right now, we are the -- if you ask about the politics power we have at this moment, it's very powerful. They have to -- they have to listen to the Latino people because I think we're important enough. I feel it's important to listen carefully. Obama promised the Latino community he will help. He needs to come through and help us. We're going to work hard to make this a better place. I feel that Latinos love this country. We make a great living for so many years.
KING: I appreciate your coming in today.
ESTEFAN: Thank you very much, sir.
KING: Today's most important you don't know. He's one of the best harmonica players on Capitol Hill. Now he says he's going to have a lot more time to play it.
KING: Today's most important person you don't know, probably don't know, once said Washington is so full of B.S., I don't have the patience for it. The day I do, I quit. Well David Obey quit today. He won't seen reelection. But as to whether the famous Wisconsin Congressman is any more patient, that's debatable. Obey has been in Congress since 1969. Back then, the national debt was $360 billion. Today it's almost 13 trillion. As chairman of the house appropriations committee, Obey has approved a good chunk of that spending. He apologized for not making the Obama administration's economic stimulus plan even bigger. He was the bill's principal author in the House. Obey also plays harmonica in a bluegrass band called the Capital Offenses. Members of the U.S. Senate might take offense at one of his parting shots today.
REP. DAVID OBEY (D), WISCONSIN: Frankly, I don't know what I will do next. All I do know is that there has to be more to life than explaining the ridiculous accountability destroying rules of the United States Senate to confused and angry and frustrated constituents.
KING: With me in the studio, two guys who are happy they don't ever have to explain the frustrating rules of the United States Senate, Nathan Daschle is the executive director of the Democratic Governors' Association, Nick Ayers is the executive director of the Republican Governors' Association. Congressman Obey is not your concern, but does it say anything about the political environment, a veteran guy, a very powerful guy, the chairman of the appropriations committee, said he's just bone tired.
NICK AYERS, REPUBLICAN GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION: Look John, if I had the record -- if my party had the record of Congressman Obey has amassed in the last 18 months since taking office, I would be frustrated and ready to pack it up and head home too. He's been in office since 1969. Your numbers showed it. The debt was less than a trillion dollars now it's nearing 14 trillion. 15 percent of that would have come since his party has been in power and had the white house and congress in the last 18 months. I bet he does have a lot of explaining to do. We've seen that across the board in Democratic politics. It's not just happening with the Congressmen. It's happening with the governors who cannot defend their fiscal record. They're nice guys. They're likeable folks. Bill Ritter is not seeking re-election in Colorado. Because he can't defend his record.
KING: This is it. This is how it works in Washington. The governor's association takes a Democratic Congressman who retires and immediately he's after your governors. NATHAN DASCHLE, DEMOCRATIC GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION: That's right. A lot of people want to know whether this environment is pro Democrat or pro Republican. The reality is it's neither. This is an electorate who wants serious leadership and results. I would be more concerned about Nick's talking points, if they had any validity to them. The reality is whatever arguments the Republicans might be making at the national level, they can't make at the state level, because state spending in the last decade has been less in the Democratic governors than Republican governors. If you look at unemployment rates, the states -- the top five states, with the highest unemployment numbers, four of them have Republican governors. Four of the five states in the Forbes best of business have Democratic governors, the talking points that Nick wants to bring out at the national level simply are not supported by facts at the state level.
KING: Let me take a moment to get both of you. Hang on. You'll have more time. Hang on. I want to get into the environment. Congressman Obey is now the 13th Democrat in the house to say he's not running for re-election. There have been eight Republicans. There are ten senators who are incumbents who decided they are not going to seek re-election. Of the 10, five from each party and the races you guys do among governors, you had four Democrats and three Republicans who could have run, some governors are term limited but four Democrats and three Republicans, including Bill Ritter who is a Democrat who could have run but decided I'm not going to do this. Is there an anti-incumbent, anti-establishment atmosphere out there that convinces some of these guys I don't want to fight?
AYERS: There was a great 19th century British prime minister who says there are damn lies and statistics. Let me just set the record straight on the unemployment numbers. The three states with the lowest unemployment in the country are three states in which Republican governors are North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. There are three states with bipartisan legislatures. He said four of them had Republican governors, but more than two-thirds of the state are controlled by Democrats in the Supreme Court and legislature. The Republican governors were elected to stop the hemorrhaging of the fiscal policies of the Democrats. Places like Rhode Island, Michigan, Nevada, California, Florida, I think those were the five states he's talking about. But I've said since last November, I don't think this is an anti-incumbent year, I think if they're proud of their records, who have held down spending, not raised taxes, they're proud to put their records on the ballots. It's Democrats who are not going to be the right side of voters, Republicans and independents who are going to vote like Republicans this year who don't want to run in an environment where fiscal issues really matter. This election is going to be very simple. Are you willing to take on the public sector unions and bust them up and deal with their pension problems? Are you willing to make tough decisions and cut government spending or do you not want to make those tough decisions and raise taxes? More often than not, our guys are going to be on the right side of that issue.
KING: That's one of the things I want to get to. I got to give you time to come back.
DASCHLE: Here's the problem that Nick's going to have this year. First of all, Nick's going to want to talk about unemployment in the states. The chair of the republican governor association Ely Barber has a 5 percent unemployment rate. He can't be a credible messenger on unemployment. Two candidates that Nick is going to support this year, Bob Ehrlich in Maryland and Terry Branson in Iowa, Bob Ehrlich proposed the single largest spending increase in Maryland this year and that's when times were good. Terry Branson said raise the sales tax 67 percent when he was governor. The problem with the Republicans this year is twofold. One is increasingly they have to radicalize their base to get them active and as they do, they turn off moderates and independents. The second is that all the candidates and all the ideas the Republicans are putting up, this is especially true at the state level are retreads. It's the same people and same ideas that have been in leadership for the last two decades that the voters through out in 2008.
KING: All right.
AYERS: That would make a really interesting argument then in Georgia, there was a governor who was thrown out of office in 2002 named Roy Burns that the DGA said was one of the best candidates in the country.
KING: We're not going to litigate all 37 governor's races here today.
AYERS: We would be happy to.
KING: Maybe between here and Election Day we'll do them one or two at a time. You guys hang on, next in the play by play, how good is Tina Fey's Sarah Palin. You'll get to hear how Bristol Palin rates it. Next, Cinco de Mayo takes on a new meaning.
KING: All right. Play by play time and you get the drill. And just like in the sports shows, we replay the tape and breakdown the action. Here to help us today still with us Nick Ayers with the Republican Governors Association and Nate Daschle with the Democratic Governors Association. Let's start with the first ad we know of in the campaign season that mentions the new boogeyman in American politics. I won't give away the secret. This is Mark Kirk. He's a Republican running for Senate in Illinois.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mark Kirk is a naval intelligence official who served in Afghanistan. Because of Kirk's record on stem cells and stopping British petroleum's pollution of Lake Michigan, he's independent and effective. And Kirk will help stop wasteful spending in Washington.
KING: We can stop that there. We're two weeks from the day I guess after the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP did want to have some exploration in the lake up in Michigan. That didn't take very long. Would you like to see more of that?
AYERS: Probably so. It's political silly season. I think you'll see candidates on both sides of the aisle take shots at BP. Me personally, I'm going to wait and see what the investigation holds. I think energy is such an important issue. The left loves burning oil. They hate producing it. I think before we all pile on to these folks, we should wait to see if it was an equipment malfunction or if they weren't following regulations. But look it's wise for him if he caught them doing something in Lake Michigan and he cleaned it up, then it's his right to run an ad about it.
DASCHLE: Yes I think Nick's right that I think we'll see more and more of this throughout the election year. I know this isn't supposed to be political, it's all I know to do. This came up in the Texas governor's race. Governor Perry said that the oil spill was just an act of god. I mention this not to get my friend Nick excited but this is going to come out in the governors' races as well. Bill White was saying who can call this an act of god.
KING: That's an issue we'll watch. We'll watch BP's role in the campaign. BP competing with Wall Street right now to be a voice in the campaign. Let's move on. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, always controversial, sat down for an interview with George Stephanopoulos. They went through the questions about the nuclear programs and things like that. George also asked him a question about Osama Bin Laden. Listen.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Osama Bin Laden in Tehran?
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT: Your question is laughable.
AHMADINEJAD: The U.S. government has invaded Afghanistan in order to arrest bin laden. They probably know where he is. If they don't know where he is, why did they invade? First they invaded, then they try to find out where he is. Is that logical?
KING: He went on to say in this interview, he heard that he was in D.C., because he had such good relationships with his partner, Mr. Bush.
DASCHLE: You know, I think it says it all, John, that it's laughable, right? This is the same guy that our president wants to sit down and negotiate with.
KING: They've not said they would sit down with him. They did say he wanted an engagement with Iran.
AYERS: I think it's clear that our foreign policy strategy of sending Iran once a year happy New Year messages have not paid off. The guy is a serious threat to our allies. He wants Israel taken off the map. It's tough for me to find anything comical about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, because I think he's such a risk to our allies and citizens here in the states.
KING: You want in on this?
DASCHLE: Let me take this a slightly different way. First of all, I think the president has done a phenomenal job of restoring our international relationships and isolating Iran in the process. This actually gives me hope for the political process. I think so many silly things are said in the political campaign and process during each day. Now I look and see there are leaders of foreign government that say sillier things.
KING: Let's do something that I hope is more playful. Bristol Palin was on The View today. She was asked about the great impersonation of her mom. Let's listen to this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you like it when Tina Fey does an impression of your mother?
BRISTOL PALIN: It's funny to a point, but the accent, it's not real at all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No?
KING: Not real. Let's listen. Not real? Back to back. Here we go.
TINA FEY, COMEDIAN: But ultimately, what the bailout does is help those that are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up our economy, to help -- it's got to be all about job creation too.
SARAH PALIN: It's got to be all about job creation too, shoring up our economy, putting it back on the right track.
KING: Bristol Palin, right or wrong?
DASCHLE: I think she's wrong. I think that impersonation is spot on. I think Tina Fey is going to be a verb in politics.
AYERS: I would agree. One of the other things that is funny that may not be well known, Tina Fey's parents are big fans of Sarah Palin. I agree with Nathan. I think the accent is pretty good.
KING: That is pretty good. Nathan, that's very much.
Next, our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick explores the new political meaning of Cinco de Mayo.
KING: It is Cinco de Mayo, a day for celebrations across the country. Not just here in the United States of course, south of the border as well. Somebody who likes to celebrate and likes to explore the source of celebration is our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick. I'm going to apologize in advance for Pete's hat. Pete?
PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: That's right Juan King. I wanted to find out what Americans knew about Cinco de Mayo. Let's take a look. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
DOMINICK: Cinco de Mayo party. The Phoenix Suns are renaming their team for the night during the playoffs to Los Sun.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that's awesome.
DOMINICK: Are you going to rename anything to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. What's your name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mary.
DOMINICK: Not anymore, Maria. Cinco de Mayo.
Don't leave me hanging. Do you know what it means? Cinco de Mayo.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May 5th.
DOMINICK: What's the significance?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what the Mexicans beat the [ bleep ] out of the French.
DOMINICK: I think that's right. I'm here with Wikipedia. Sir are you or are you not celebrating Cinco de Mayo?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I might have some tacos today.
DOMINICK: Cinco de Mayo.
Take yourself a nacho. Cinco de Mayo. Take two. Are you good? Happy Cinco de Mayo. All right. Cinco de Mayo nacho. Whoa.
DOMINICK: Happy Cinco de Mayo, Juan King. There's a party at your house tonight. I have a bet that I can get you to dance tonight. Will you bilar with me, John King. Dance, John, dance.
KING: I don't dance. Pete. I saw you giving away the nachos. By your current state, I suspect you kept all the tequila yourself.
DOMINICK: No tequila. Just Corona John King. Come on dance. Everybody wants to see John King dance. Come on loosen up John.
KING: I'm sorry Pete Dominick. You can ask my wife, John King does not dance or at least does not dance well. Are you having a good Cinco de Mayo?
DOMINICK: I'm about to, sir. Did you guys have any plans? Is the whole "JOHN KING USA" staff going out?
KING: I think we are now on my tab unfortunately. That's for that Pete. Pete, you have a great night. Thank you all for watching. Hope you come back tomorrow. We'll have the latest on the terror investigation. New plans to boycott Arizona because of its controversial immigration law. We bring you all that tomorrow. Campbell Brown starts right now.