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JOHN KING, USA

Afghan War Strategy Reconsidered

Aired June 29, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Suzanne. And good evening from a capital city buzzing tonight about two consequential confirmation hearings, one, for Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan. Her contentious (ph) time for leading Republicans suggested she was being too careful in describing her philosophy and less than candid about how and why she kept military recruiters off the Harvard campus during her stretch of her tenure as the law school dean.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, (R-AL) JUDICIARY CMTE. RANKING MEMBER: I think the nominee has gotten herself in a position that does not -- is not becoming of a person who'd like to be on the Supreme Court of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: More on the Kagan nomination in just a minute, including some, some candid discussion of reviews on the big issues. But we begin tonight with the other hearing, and more specifically, the questions it raised about the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan. General David Petraeus breezed through his Senate Armed Services Committee testimony and tonight is back at his headquarters in Florida for a dinner with Vice President Biden. Depending on your perspective, odd or perfect timing?

At today's hearing, one of the complaints was that the vice president and General Petraeus perhaps don't see eye-to-eye on the plans to begin drawing down U.S. troops next July. Petraeus talks of beginning a gradual withdrawal. Biden talks of a big pullback.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody needs to get it straight without doubt what the hell we're going to do come July because I think it determines whether or not someone in Afghanistan is going to stay in the fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Here to sort this up comes from the spin tonight, two veterans, a big White House policy and personnel debates, former Clinton pollster and adviser, Mark Penn, and George W. Bush confidant and senior adviser, Karen Hughes. Thanks both for coming in. I wanted to start with this Petraeus confirmation hearings, because at this moment, this evening, he's having a dinner with Vice President Biden. And if you go back and read Jonathan Alter's book, "The Promise," about the first year of the Obama administration, he says this about the vice president.

"At the conclusion of an interview in his West Wing office, Biden was adamant. In July 2011, you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out." Bet on it. Biden said as he will to leave the rule, late for lunch with the president, he turned the door, and once more, bet on it.

And yet General Petraeus, as most military men do, they don't like, Karen, you know this, Mark, you know this, they don't like specific time lines. They want to accomplish the mission and deal with it as it is. At the hearing today, General Petraeus did, did seem to think he was bringing the vice president his way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER OF THE UNITED STATES CENTRAL COMMAND: The vice president grabbed me and said, "you should know that I am 100 percent supportive of this policy," and I said that I'm reassured to hear that. Is it OK to share that with others?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He shared it there with the American people and the Senate Armed Services Committee. How important is it that this team all get on the same page because on this issue of the timetable and some others they have not been.

KAREN HUGHES, FORMER COUNSELOR TO PRES. BUSH: It's critical because our enemies are listening. It's not just the American people listening, but it's our enemies, and General Petraeus, I thought, did a good job of threading the needle today and not countering the president or countering the vice president directly but also making it clear the president is the only one who can clear this up. And I think the president has made a mistake by setting a timing and notifying our enemies essentially that they can wait us out.

KING: Some, Mark, say this is deliberate, that they speak with two voices, two different audiences, one that General Petraeus or General McChrystal before him, of course, they can come back to the president at that key moment and say, sir, here's the situation on the ground. We need a little bit more time or we need to go a little more slowly. But politically, this is a president who you know very well is taking a lot of heat from the left of his own party saying, Mr. President, we want this over yesterday.

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think the president consistently campaigned that he would show strength in Afghanistan, and that's exactly what he did after he got elected. So, I think for everything that people talk about in terms of what is Obama's policy, he said that he was going to go ahead and fight the war in Afghanistan. He has. I think he's signaled that the July 2011 timetable as a way of shifting responsibility over to the Afghans and not making it an open-ended commitment by America. And I think that's the purpose of that policy. I think as Karen says, only the president is ultimately going to make these decisions. I think he's consistently said this is important, we'll fight it. I think the fact that he's appointed General Petraeus now also signals an intent to really go forward on this war.

KING: And as the issue of the timeline came up today, I want you to listen to this exchange, General Petraeus and John McCain, not so much for the issue of the deadline, which we just discussed a little bit, but I want you to listen to it because I want to talk a little history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: General, at any time during the deliberations that the military shared with the president when he went through the decision making process, was there a recommendation from you or anyone in the military that we set a date of July 2011?

PETRAEUS: There was not.

MCCAIN: There was not by any military person that you know?

PETRAEUS: Not that I'm aware of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: On the one hand not at all shocking. Military people don't like deadlines. We know that. But when both of you were around presidents and a reporter like me would call up or if you were testifying somewhere which doesn't happened too much if you're an appointee (ph), if people ask you a question, you answer the question. If I said what did you tell the president? That's always, whoa, that's the zone that you don't talk about. Those are private conversations. Unusual at all for the general to be talking about military shared with the president with Senator McCain's question.

HUGHES: I think it's a little unusual. Usually, that kind of advice is given in private, not in public, but I do think perhaps that General Petraeus feels that it's important, that he send a signal to his troops and to the mothers and fathers who have sons and daughters in Afghanistan that he was not putting them at risk by giving our enemy a timetable for their departure.

PENN: Yes. Look, I think the general was just being forthright and honest, which I think was the most --

KING: Has he opened the door next time he's up there, they can ask him about his conversations with the president?

PENN: I think this is confirmation hearing, it's a special hearing. I think the most important thing he said today, very assuring to mothers and parents of soldiers over there that he's going to re-evaluate the rules of engagement. KING: Let's listen to that because it is a key point going forward. A lot of the military, yes, there's a concern about civilian casualties, a legitimate concern about bringing down civilian casualties. Karen, you work in this department, trying to win over the hearts and minds, and yet, the troops sometimes feel their hands are tied behind their back. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETRAEUS: I want to assure the mothers and fathers of those fighting in Afghanistan that I see it as a moral imperative to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform. I am keenly aware of concerns by some our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive. They should know that I will look very hard at this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUGHES: Very important assurance, not only to the mothers and fathers, but also to the troops themselves. And if you read the "Rolling Stone" article, that was one of the complaints of the troops that they often felt they were putting their lives and their colleagues' lives at risk because their hands were tied behind their back because of these engagement rules, which again, I think that was a very tough needle for him to thread because General McChrystal frequently said for every civilian you kill, you're creating more terrorists. And so, we do have to be very careful to try to avoid to the greatest extent possible civilian casualties without putting our troops at undue risk.

KING: And yet, part of the key element of counterinsurgency strategy is to win over the hearts and minds of the people, as you clear out the Taliban in this case in Afghanistan, you win their support. And every time there is an errant bombing, every time there is collateral damage, anti-American sentiment can grow.

PENN: I think he was suggesting that he would take a look at it. So, perhaps, the things have been dialed a little bit too far back as a result of some events that happened, and maybe it was time given the revised structure in order to dial things a little bit more appropriately in favor of the troops in combat.

HUGHES: And let me just say God bless, David Petraeus. And we all owe him an enormous debt of gratitude, not only for what he did in Iraq and turning around the war there with the surge, but for what he's now going to do in Afghanistan, taking on a very hard challenge and for a life of service to our country. We're fortunate that we have men like that.

KING: Amen to that. General Petraeus is on an easy path to Senate confirmation. He will be confirmed as the new commander in Afghanistan. Elena Kagan, probably, but there are a few more doubts, a few more questions on that one. When we come back, the Kagan's Supreme Court hearing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: A day of questions today, some of them contentious for the president's Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan. Did we learn about this woman who's never been a judge -- what did we learn about her judicial philosophy? Here to continue the conversation, Mark Penn, democratic pollster, former Clinton White House strategist, Karen Hughes who, of course, close friend and adviser to George W. Bush, and our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is with us.

Want to share this with you first. We did learn some things today. Elena Kagan was pressed all day long. Wanted to take about this issue, that, another issue (ph). Here's a bit of what we got.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: I do think that the continuing holding of roe and doe versus Bolton is that women's life and women's health have to be protected with -- in abortion regulation. I have repeatedly said that I believe that the don't ask, don't tell policy is unwise and unjust. I believed it then, and I believe it now.

SESSIONS: Do you believe that this country submitting a suspected terrorist to military commission trial is within our value system? Do you personally feel comfortable with that?

KAGAN: I do. I wouldn't be in administration if I didn't.

In terms of my political views, I've been a Democrat all my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: No surprise to the last one. A Democratic president appointed Democratic all her life. But Mark Penn, this is a tough one, obviously, since the Bourque nomination went south, the tradition is say as little as possible and make your way through. How did she do? Because in academia, she set the Kagan standard saying, you know, nominees should try to be a little bit more candid.

PENN: I think she invoked the Supreme Court nominee privilege to not comment on ongoing cases, yet she did make comments. If you listen to her today, she said, when it came to gun rights and the second amendment, she said that's settled law. She said the same thing about a woman's right to choose and abortion rights. Essentially, that's settled law. So, very rarely have you had a Democratic nominee endorse both gun rights and the right to choose in the same hearing and then be told you didn't say anything.

KING: Karen, you know, the left would like the fact that she talked about abortion rights. The left won't like so much. Many on the left, not everybody, will like the gun right stuff and especially the last part about the terrorist, the executive power and terror trials. She's trying, I think, put herself in the middle.

HUGHES: We know a little more about her political views than we do, unfortunately, about her judicial views. And not only that she not have any judicial experience, but she really, unlike, for example, Harriet Meiers, who was criticized when President Bush appointed her because she had no judicial experience, but she had a long career as a practicing attorney.

Elena Kagan does not have that. So, she has very limited actual practical legal experience as well so much so that, not a Republican, but a Democratic senator said her judicial philosophy is almost invisible and that's worrisome, I think. And I would hope that we would hear more about it because she's only 50 years old. If confirmed, she would be on the court for a likelihood of a long number of years.

KING: And so what is different at the end of this day from the beginning of this day?

HUGHES: In terms of the big picture, not much, and the big picture is will she get confirmed. All systems look like they're go. But in terms of the politics and the positioning which we knew was going to happen, because we're 4 1/2 months before an election, they happened in a big way, particularly, on the Republican side because my fellow Republicans, they realize especially that this is, you know, a good chance for them to get out there, to show their base that they're trying and they're pushing on some of the critical issues that will come before the court.

But I tell you, there were some interesting moments when some Republicans, even tonight just before I left that hearing, which was still going on, some Republicans said, look, you know, I think actually I have a better idea of how you would rule as a judge than maybe I thought I would, which surprised me.

KING: One of the big sources of contention, Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican, came in early on when she was dean of the Harvard Law School; military recruiters were banned from the campus for a while. They were allowed to operate out of a different building because of the don't ask, don't tell policy. Harvard has an anti- discrimination policy. Jeff Sessions making very clear at the hearing directly to miss Kagan that he did not think she was connecting the dots factually in her explanation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I'm just a little taken aback by the tone of your remarks because it's unconnected to reality. I know what happened at Harvard. I know you are an outspoken leader against the military policy. I know you acted without legal authority to reverse Harvard's policy and deny those military equal access to campus until you were threatened by the United States government of loss of federal funds. This is what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KING: We'll get back to our conversation on the Kagan nomination in just a moment. But a bit of breaking news here that is very, very important for those of us here at CNN. Larry King has just tweeted that he will end his nightly broadcast this fall. Larry's been with CNN since 1985, 25 years. He'll tell us more tonight at 9:00 eastern on "LARRY KING LIVE." Again, Larry King has just tweeted he will end his nightly broadcast, a landmark of this network, this fall.

Here's Larry's tweet.

Just as CNN defined the news business, Larry King defined the art of the television interview. His candor, curiosity and compassion are legendary, and his ability to interview people from all walks of life, world leaders, celebrities and everyday people has made him an icon. Having conducted nearly 50,000 interviews over 50-plus years in broadcasting, Larry deserves to take some time for himself and his family.

After 25 years at CNN, he will conclude "LARRY KING LIVE" on his own terms some time this fall. We are proud and grateful that Larry will continue the next chapter of his story career at CNN and will host several specials over the coming years. That CNN statement tonight after Larry has made this -- this today is about Larry. We'll announce plans for the 09:00 P.M. hour in the weeks ahead. Again, Larry King tweeting just a short time ago that he will end his program sometime this fall.

It is a landmark and anchor of this network, and Larry, one of our most memorable and recognizable faces around the world, will talk more about this tonight on his program "Larry King Live" at 9:00 p.m. Let's get back to our continuing conversation. It's a tough turn. Actually, let me stop for a minute. Let me stop for a minute.

HUGHES: That's the end of an era. I've been on Larry's show many times as a guest. I remember going on his show during my book tour. I appeared -- I was honored to appear as a contributor to his show last year during the election in 2008. And it really is the end of an era. And he really was -- he had that amazing capacity to interview such a range of people from all walks of life and to really bring out the real person and the best of them.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It just something, (ph) just basic questions.

HUGHES: Just basic questions. Never mean spirited. Sometimes tough but always revealing and insightful and trying to really get you to the essence of who a person was. And so, it really is the end of an era. It's sad.

KING: A gentleman, which is rare in today's business.

BASH: Very much. Very much. And also, just, I mean, Larry King has been known for having some pretty interesting celebrity interviews, but for our world, in politics, he's really changed the political debate with some of the interviews he's done going back in time to the Ross Perot interview and the debate that he did with Al Gore.

HUGHES: I can't think of a political figure who hasn't appeared on Larry King. Anybody of any note. KING: He has had big moments in political news, big moments in cultural and celebrity news and entertainment news. And outside of work, it should be noted, Larry is a hugely charitable figure. He's a wonderful sports fan as well. We love to do business. He's a Dodger fan. I'm a Red Sox fan. But he's pro most of all. He's a fatherly figure to those of us at the network, and we appreciate the citizen, some ways bittersweet news, but Larry has tweeted he will end his program, much more, he'll end at this fall. Much more from Larry himself tonight. You won't want to miss him.

When we continue our program, a lot more to go about. I'll walk over here. Larry likes to call me the chairman of the board. I call it the magic wall. When we come back on the program tonight, remember, it's the economy. If you look at Wall Street today, it was a bad day in part because consumers appear to be losing their confidence in an economic comeback.

On my radar tonight, a blunt message from the governor of Louisiana directly to the vice president. You won't want to miss it.

And who said this today -- there's a political rebellion brewing out there in the country. In our play-by-play tonight, we will break down the tape. David Axelrod on Jon Stewart. Punch versus knee, I'll let him explain it. I'm not going there.

And how to be boring? That was the advice one senator gave today to the Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A huge news day today and not all of it here in Washington. On Wall Street, the market way down today in part because of declining consumer confidence. Let's talk about the numbers and the politics of the economy. With me in studio here, veteran Republican strategist, Ed Rollins, Democratic strategist, Cornell Belcher, and from New York, our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin. And let me start the conversation by heading over here to the magic wall for a little bit to look through the numbers.

Because here's what happen today, the market down 268 points today. We'll pull out first this number, consumer confidence. The survey of consumer confidence, as you look this going back through July 2009, cross into 2010, it starts to rise again, and then look at this, here's the problem right here, this ten-point drop from May to June in what consumers feel, how strongly they feel, how happy they feel, how optimistic they feel about the economy? It drops ten points. What does that do on Wall Street? The markets are nervous enough because of the European debt crisis, other issues in the markets.

You see this here, I'm going to stop this right here in January -- this is November 2009, the market got back up above 10,000 after being way down here in 2008. A little bit bouncing around and looks like the market is starting to recover, looks it's recovering, the investors, but then went bam, it comes down to 9,870 today, below 10000. That is psychologically and financially, Jessica Yellin, something investors watch, market dropping down below 10,000. What is the likely impact on the mood in the markets and the mood in the politics of the economy here in Washington?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that the markets matter a lot more to the ruling elite and the media, the folks in finance than they do to voters who are going to the polls. I know that it matters because it drives people's 401(k)s, their pensions and investments, but what matters most in an election season is the unemployment figures. And if that continues to improve, if the president manages to pass a Wall Street reform bill, those are two matters he can campaign on and help folks going into the November elections. I think unemployment, Wall Street reform, obviously, consumer confidence important, but those things matter even more than a gyrating stock market.

KING: And one of the hard things for a president at a time like this when the market is bouncing around, when there are factors a president cannot control, a president gets credit or gets attacked in the economy, but I want you to listen to the president with the chairman of the fed, Ben Bernanke, trying to say, look, times are rough but we're going to get through this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think in our discussions, we share the view that the economy is strengthening, that we are into recovery, that it's actually led by some interesting sectors like manufacturing that we haven't seen in quite some time. The tech sectors are strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He's almost trying to will it to get better and you can't blame him.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: One interesting thing about this number is as someone who follows numbers, you got a fairly positive trend line moving there for the last couple months. And it's interesting to see if this is just going to be a blip. As a pollster, we look for trend lines. And this has been a fairly solid trend line upwardly. Is this a phenomenon or is this a blip out of nowhere? I think we'll see that over the next couple of days.

Other interesting part about this, if you look at some of the public polls that have been out over the last two, three weeks, you actually see an increase of a number of Americans actually to begin to feel optimistic about the economy over the last couple of weeks. So, to see if this is just a bump or if, in fact, this is a new trend line downward.

KING: Friday's unemployment data will give us the biggest indication. Ed Rollins, as someone who is at Ronald Reagan's side in the rough midterm year, the first term, when does the psychology said, and even if the president is right and things start to get better in late summer, into the fall, when do voters make their decision? ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Maybe in the last six weeks in this campaign because you have a lot of this early voting, which, obviously, will be a very much part of the process. The most important number, and no disagreement with my friend in New York, the president's approval rating is really what drives this number. The last month, whether it's the BP crisis or what have you, since June, his number has been pretty inconsistent and going downward.

And I think at the end of the day, if the unemployment numbers on Friday are bad, last month it was kind of a glitch because of the census, but there's no census jobs being created, but if he basically gets another bad unemployment number, no new jobs being created, you'll see the stock market go down fourth of July weekend, a whole variety of things that will go bad and I think you'll have a lot of panicky candidates.

KING: We have Cornell, Ed, and Jessica staying with us. When we come back, there's a big exception to today's the not so good economic news. One company's stock was up 40 percent today. The guy behind it is today' most important person you don't know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's move on to some stories on my radar tonight. This one right out of a spy novel. First, our guests are still with us, Ed Rollins, Cornell Belcher, Jessica Yellin from New York. This one right out of a spy novel. Police in Cyprus arrested an 11th suspect in alleged Russian spy ring. That's right. Russian spy ring here in the United States. Ten were arrested yesterday and charged with being Russian agents involved in a long-term mission in this country. There's a movie coming out this fall about this. I think with Angelina Jolie at it or something to this effect, but I thought the cold war was over?

BELCHER: You want to tell us about the cold war? I don't remember that.

(LAUGHTER)

ROLLINS: This is the old and the young. This is what politics has come to. You know, the amazing thing about this is this has been going on for a long period of time. The FBI has had these people under investigation for years, and the technique that they have used in this modern age is very anti-modernization. And so it's -- maybe we've got to aim the nukes back at -- do that little readjustment and aim the nukes back at the Soviet Union like the good old days.

But I think -- I think at the end of the day, the FBI caught them and I think there's more of a story here before they're finished.

KING: Interesting, Jess, because the president was just with the Russian president talking about how the era of mistrust was behind us.

BELCHER: Didn't have Putin there.

YELLIN: And that's what the Russians are complaining about. They're so angry because they think we're trying to undermine this whole reset which is -- it's a little hard to believe.

This sounds like quite an elaborate sting operation which we all want to read more about, but I don't imagine this hurting foreign policy.

KING: It's a full reset, back to the good old days.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Here we go. Former President Clinton is breaking ranks with the Democratic Party in the Colorado Senate race to fill the seat vacated when Ken Salazar stepped down to become the Interior secretary.

Democratic senatorial campaign committee is supporting incumbent Michael Bennett -- he was appointed to the seat -- while Clinton is backing the challenger Andrew Romanoff, saying in an e-mail to supporters, "Andrew brings to this race both an extraordinary record of public service and an extraordinary capacity to lead. I believe that those assets give him the best chance to hold this seat in November.

Jess, that's Bill Clinton today. The party's not going to be happy here.

YELLIN: Oh, my gosh. This created quite some excitement in the political world when it happened. Because, look, is Bill Clinton going against President Obama's pick for this seat?

President Obama has gone out to campaign for Romanoff's opponent. They worked hard to make sure that Bennett wins there. But this is really the bottom line, Bill Clinton showing his loyalty. Romanoff came out for Hillary Clinton hard during the campaign, and I think this is him paying back the loyalty that Clinton is known to show.

Still, quite a bit of frizzle around this one. You like that?

ROLLINS: Romanoff is a very legitimate key. Probably should have been appointed to begin with. A speaker, been very prominent man out there. And I think to a certain extent he had a good shot of winning this. I think the Clinton endorsement really puts him over the top.

BELCHER: I think Bennett, you know, in most of the polls, Bennett is actually running fairly solid. The Clintons are known for their loyalty. I mean Bill Clinton is a loyal guy. Hillary Clinton is loyal. They're known for their loyalty.

This will put a lot of attention on the challenger there because Bill Clinton making an endorsement here is kind of a big deal.

KING: One of the many great races. Here's one more. Some important political news for the president, especially when it comes to independent voters.

"Hotline On Call" reports, a series of focus groups of voters in eight states conducted for the conservative nonprofit group Resurgent Republic found that while independent voters have soured on President Obama, they haven't abandoned him completely.

However, independents who identified themselves as part of the Tea Party movement, have, quote, "turned the page" on the president say GOP pollster Glen Bolger who is part of this project. I should say in five states so those focus groups --

BELCHER: Is that news? Tea Partiers have turned the page on -- I mean, part of the Tea Party movement is a reaction to President Obama more than anything else. The Tea Party, so that movement within that sort of that hardcore Tea Party is really more about, to me, a civil war within your party being sort of battled out across the country right now than it is about the president.

I don't see any news there about the Tea Party folks --

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: Well, the fortunate thing is the president is not up for this cycle and the Tea Party is going to basically -- be intensified. A lot of these races, your side right today is not intensified. Let's see what happens in the next few months.

But the Tea Party is very important to us. And I think Glen Bolger is a first rate pollster. He used to work for me. Does a lot of things with your old partner, Stan Greenburg, and so, you know --

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: But, you know, another part about the Tea Party is -- you know, I agree, but the Tea Party, they're not bringing new people into the conversation. They're not bringing new people into the table. Yet your party, the enthusiasm gap is a problem for us right now. But they're not broadening the Republican Party.

YELLIN: I would disagree with that.

KING: Come on in, Jess.

YELLIN: They are bringing some new people in. They're bringing some real outsiders in to some extent. They've also -- they're turning on Republicans in their own party, too. They said they've turned the page on Obama. They've turned the page on some incumbent Republicans, too.

Everybody is feeling the pain from the Tea Party. The question is how much of a role will they play by the time this president is out for reelection.

BELCHER: Here will be my pushback. You know, look at the primaries. Where have we seen a huge growth in the primaries? When you look at the Democratic primaries from the last time around, there was huge growth.

I mean, my god, we were missing, you know, predictions because we were undercounting the number of people brought -- bringing into the process. You're not seeing a growth in the primary numbers because of the Tea Party candidates. There's not.

YELLIN: You're seeing a new -- I'll agree with that, but you are seeing an energized movement of people.

BELCHER: Yes, they are.

YELLIN: Who really felt disengaged, who are now taking an active role in their politics of their states.

ROLLINS: And independents -- independents are the ones who make elections, especially midterm elections. And a lot of these independents now have gone with the Tea Party and they're going to be basically a part of that movement, which will be good for us, I think.

KING: All right. We're going to keep Cornell and Ed hostage with us. Jess, we're going to say good night and thanks.

When we come back, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's blunt message to the vice president who's been down visiting the Gulf on day 71 of the BP spill crisis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today's "Most Important Person You Don't Know" couldn't make this morning's White House meeting on the stalled Clean Energy Bill.

Elon Musk and his electric car company Tesla were busy making $266 million or so with the first initial stock offering by a U.S. car company since Ford back in 1956. For the occasion, Tesla's really neat-looking and really expensive cars were parked outside NASDAQ in New York's Times Square.

The plan is to use the money from today's stock sale to start mass producing affordable electric cars by 2013.

Unlike Henry Fold, Elon Musk isn't a household name, although if you use the Internet, you might know his previous start-up, PayPal. He made a fortune with is, lost it starting Tesla, and at age 38 -- a young man -- he's hopefully driving toward another fortune.

Let's continue this conversation here. Ed Rollins, Cornell Belcher, still with us. Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash comes back to us.

Anyone got a Tesla?

BASH: No.

ROLLINS: I'd love to have one. I'm not sure you're going to sell many outside the stock market today but --

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: See them starting to build a plant out of northern California.

KING: When we were out in northern California. That we did.

BASH: Yes. They're hoping that's going to bring some jobs out there.

BELCHER: They should give us a couple just to drive around D.C. in.

KING: Volunteers.

BELCHER: Yes.

KING: Just volunteer --

(LAUGHTER)

BELCHER: I volunteer.

KING: Volunteered. All right, that's good. All right, let's move back to some stories "On My Radar" tonight.

Today it was Vice President Joe Biden's turn to visit the Gulf Coast to check on the oil spill cleanup and meet with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And sometimes life's not fair. You all have been hit with Katrina and Gustav and now BP's spill. And in a sense, were not for your courage, you've been through more than any community has a right to be asked to go through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now Governor Jindal didn't say anything at that news conference. But before today's meeting, he tweeted this. "My message to the VP today is simple. Greater urgency is needed. It's time to lead or get out of the way."

Governor Jindal is nothing if not consistent.

BELCHER: Well, here's the thing, and kudos to Jindal because I think over the last -- you know, partisanship aside, I think over the last couple of months he has actually improved his image and his brand has actually been on the uptick.

But you've got to be careful about looking too partisan and too political about this. And I think what he said today comes across as partisan and political as opposed to being a leader for all -- for the entire state in sort of working with the administration to make this thing happen.

The other thing part of this is, look, we've got 30,000 people down there, got 17,000 National Guard were just sent there, we're burning millions of gallons of oil. We've got $30 billion, you know, in the bank now from BP.

I think it's kind of hard to sort of say there's not an urgency and there's not been sort of all boots on the ground from this administration. But anyway, he should step back and be a leader here.

ROLLINS: I would argue by saying what he needs is being a leader. I think it's real easy to roll over on the vice president, the president comes down. But this is a guy who's been on the ground and there's been lots of problems of getting resources and getting things approved that the state can do.

And I think it's perfectly legitimate. And I think the people back home basically want their governor to be fighting. Haley Barbour was -- fighting the federal government when they don't feel that they're getting all of the resources they need.

KING: So, Elena Kagan, the president's Supreme Court nominee, she's famous now for writing as an academic. You know these hearings are a joke. The nominees should be more specific. They should answer the questions.

Now it's her turn. She conceded in her testimony this morning, well, I did write that, but I've changed my mind a little bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: And I skewed it too much towards saying that answering is appropriate even when it would, you know, provide some kind of hints.

And I think that that was wrong. I think that in particular that it wouldn't be appropriate for me to talk about what I think about past cases, you know, to grade cases, because those cases themselves might again come before the court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: On second thought --

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: It's the new Kagan standard, which is the same as the old Supreme Court nominee standard.

Look, I mean, then she actually got with earlier this morning and throughout the day, the long, long day that she had, she lived up to that and there were several occasions where interestingly it was some of her fellow Democrats who were frustrated in not getting answers because of that new standard.

But she actually did answer some questions. We're talking earlier, the gun control issue was actually a perfect example about the fact that she said that some of the recent rulings by the Supreme Court on Second Amendment that they were pretty good precedent.

BELCHER: Well, the other part about this is, you know, there has been something I think since Bourque. I mean, this Bourque rule where I think whether it's Democrat or a Republican, you know, this is going to be the standard, this is how they act, this is how they react to these questions, because when you say for -- like Bourque did, you'll get in trouble. So I think this is what you're going to see from here out.

ROLLINS: Unfortunately, I mean, she's going to turn out to be a liberal justice. She's going to get confirmed. She's not going to be like Souter who is stilt (ph) all the way through. She'll be there still. But Souter went south on us.

KING: And Harvard Law School, Elena Kagan sat next to a guy named Miguel Estrada. That's how long I've been on TV all day.

Miguel Estrada covered this one, too. In 2003, he was a nominee for the Appellate Court and he didn't get through because of a Democratic filibuster. Elena Kagan is lucky because Miguel Estrada doesn't hold grudges, apparently. He's not against her. A Democratic nominee.

He sent a letter to the Judiciary Committee saying she's a fine woman and she would make a fine justice. Lindsey Graham, conservative Republican of South Carolina, could not resist today.

He read some of that letter and he asked Elena Kagan, what do you think of this guy?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: In your opinion, Miss Kagan, is he qualified to sit as an appellate judge?

KAGAN: He's qualified to sit as an appellate judge. He's qualified to sit as a Supreme Court justice.

GRAHAM: Your stock really went up with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Lindsey Graham's doing this for a reason.

ROLLINS: A couple of years when we're putting him on the Supreme Court he'll whip that letter out to the chairman of the judiciary and he'll say even Supreme Court Justice Kagan said he was great.

KING: This is sort of a -- this is sort of -- I don't mean this in any offense to Senator Graham but this is a "Revenge of the Nerds" moment where he's like, aha, you got one of ours. And, you know, this is -- look, how dare you to the Democrats.

BELCHER: Well, I mean, look, Estrada is right. I mean she is a qualified woman.

KING: Kagan.

(CROSSTALK) BELCHER: Well, I mean Republican is right here. I mean, she is a fine candidate for this. And here comes my partisan thing. She's a fine candidate for this court -- a court that's been moving outside the extreme and taking up too much leeway with getting power to those who are already powerful and --

BASH: I think you guys are overthinking this. I think you guys are overthinking this.

ROLLINS: Excuse me. You want to explain that to me?

BASH: I think you're overthinking this.

KING: All right.

BASH: That the blood at Harvard Law is thicker than partisan water. And that's just what it is. They're all really good friends. You saw actually Ron Klain, who's now the vice president's chief of staff. He actually quietly wrote a letter in favor of Miguel Estrada. They were all classmates, they're all still really good friends. Republicans and Democrats.

KING: So friendship --

BASH: They're all about --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: At Harvard Law.

KING: At Harvard Law.

ROLLINS: And that other guy running around here all day being on the air, Jeffrey Toobin --

BASH: Exactly.

ROLLINS: -- sat somewhere in between them, too.

KING: Well, I grew up across the river in Dorchester. We called it the People's Republic of Cambridge. Let's leave it there.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Coming up, we'll take a look at one of the president's top advisers getting grilled on late-night TV.

And still to come, "Pete on the Street" goes violent.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you're just joining us, here's this hour's breaking news. Very personal to us here at CNN. Larry King has just tweeted in this past hour that he will end his nightly CNN primetime show coming this coming fall. CNN released a statement that says, "Having conducted nearly 50,000 interviews over 50-plus years in broadcasting, Larry deserves to take some time for himself and his family. We are proud and grateful that Larry will continue the next chapter of his storied career at CNN and will host several specials over the coming years."

Larry will tell us more tonight at 9:00 Eastern. You'll want to watch. He is a friend, a gentleman, and a great in this business. We will miss him.

ANNOUNCER: Here comes the "Play-by-Play."

KING: Back with Republican Ed Rollins, Democrat Cornell Belcher. And let's get straight to the "Play-by-Play." The Kagan confirmation hearings playing out here in Washington but of course being talked about all across the country, especially -- especially on talk radio, where Rush Limbaugh says he knows what's behind this nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, the reason there's nobody criticizing Kagan on the left is because she's exactly what they want, an Obama rubber stamp. She is a full-pledged, far-left ideologue who believes that the Constitution is unjust and immoral and needs to be rewritten, and she's going to be happy to do it.

I mean she can't get confirmed if she admits that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He's right she can't get confirmed if she admits that. Nobody could, but has she said or done anything that makes her a full- fledged, far-left ideologue who believes the Constitution is unjust and immoral?

ROLLINS: No, she is not. But I think the bottom line is everybody knows that she's appointed by the president, she's pretty liberal and I think she'll fit right in the sit that she's -- the Douglas and then the Stevens seat has been the liberal seat for a long time.

BELCHER: Well, look, that's crazy babble. But, you know, and it's crazy babble by a crazy guy. I mean she is a remarkably, well qualified woman. She's going to be a great justice.

KING: And to the point of why he is doing, obviously, we're in the midterm election year. I think the tone this year is a little sharper than it was in Sotomayor a year ago if only for the reason that's an odd number year, this is an even numbered year. Is that it? That's a base issue?

BELCHER: Well, I would argue that it is. I mean part of that sort of energizing the base that my friend here always likes to talk about, the energizing of their base, and their base is more enthusiastic. But you keep throwing them red meat like this. I mean you keep throwing sort of red meat and she's going to take away -- they're going to take away your guns, they're going to, you know, do all this crazy stuff.

ROLLINS: One more. Yes.

BELCHER: You know, you just keep throwing the red base and then you try to keep throwing -- beating out that enthusiasm. And I think, by the way, it's really unfair what Senator Sessions is doing about her, talking about the army stuff, because it's just calculated and it's misleading.

ROLLINS: You better get some smelling salts and some oxygen for your base because they're pretty much asleep. Enthusiastic about this election. Ours are.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: You talking about smelling salts, you know, there were some crackling moments at the hearings today and then there are other moments were they fall a little flat.

Orrin Hatch had been around a long time. He's a Republican on this committee. He was once the ranking member, now he switched allegiances. But at one point, he was having a little back and forth and he said look, there is a reason we need to do this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: We have to have a little back and forth every once in a while or this place would be boring as hell, I tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

KAGAN: And it gets the spotlight off me, you know, so I'm all for it. Go right ahead.

HATCH: I can see that. By the way, I've been informed that hell is not boring, so I -- what I mean by that.

KAGAN: It's hot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROLLINS: Hell to Orrin Hatch is a caucus in Utah.

(LAUGHTER)

BELCHER: That certainly be hell to me.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Now, now, now.

ROLLINS: Watch his colleague, obviously --

KING: It's a tough year for Orrin Hatch watching his colleague, Bob Bennett, losing the Republican nomination.

All right, let's end with a little late-night moment. David Axelrod, senior adviser to the president, goes last night to sit down with Jon Stewart. They're having a conversation about how's it going?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": What's more annoying? Obstructionist reflexive antipathy towards the president and his goals or insatiable, never satisfied, always want more people who want this president to succeed but only if that means doing everything exactly the way they want him?

DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: I mean it is sort of a choice between a punch in the nose and a knee to the groin. So I don't know how --

STEWART: May I ask you a question?

AXELROD: I don't know how to --

STEWART: Which one am I?

(LAUGHTER)

AXELROD: Both.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ouch. That's the boxer in Ed Rollins.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: There's one rule, you never try to be funny with a funny man. A man who's a great comedian, you basically not try and compete.

(CROSSTALK)

BELCHER: Although Axel is pretty good. And I think Axel is on there. Axel is a fairly funny guy.

KING: Sort of a choice between a punch in the nose and a knee to the groin.

BELCHER: That's pretty good.

KING: I have to say, I've never seen that on a political bumper sticker.

ROLLINS: The only thing worse than that is a kick in the face that breaks your nose and a punch in the groin.

KING: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: But I'll try to connect those dots. I suspect I'm going to have some sleep --

BELCHER: Too much groin talk for this --

KING: Yes, way too much. This is a family, family, family program.

Cornell and Ed, thanks for coming in.

Up next, our offbeat reporter "Pete on the Street." He's on the hunt. He's on the hunt for spies among us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A couple of minutes away from the top of the hour, let's head up to New York and check in with Campbell Brown for a preview.

Hi there.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, John. With the oil spill threatening billions of dollars in tourism in Florida we have got Governor Charlie Crist, who is fresh off of his Pensacola tour with Vice President Joe Biden.

Also, we are going to take a hard look at BP's relationship with Louisiana senator, Mary Landrieu. Can she hold the oil giant accountable even while raking in thousands for her campaign caucers?

Plus, new details on that alleged Russian spy ring. We have the latest on the arrest of yet another suspect and new information on their mission to share with you tonight -- John.

KING: Finally tonight, we've told you about the busted Russian spy ring so we sent our intrepid reporter 007 Pete Dominick to see if he could find out if there are others who may be still be out there.

Pete, one question first, didn't we meet in Bangkok, April, last year?

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: I think we did, King. John King. You just used one of the phrases that those Russian spies used. The other phrase was, didn't we meet in California last summer?

John King, I went out on the streets of New York in those locations were the spies were and tried those phrases out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Look at that. He's already got the -- so you're spying on the way in. Are you spying?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know sometimes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a Russian spy.

DOMINICK: That's what I thought.

Didn't we meet in Bangkok last April?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

DOMINICK: That's what the spy said.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what the spy said?

DOMINICK: That's the key to the lion.

Are you, in fact, spying on America?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Not at this time.

DOMINICK: Didn't we meet in Bangkok last April?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did you just say?

DOMINICK: You guys wouldn't, by any chance, be Russian spies, would you, Miss?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America --

(CROSSTALK)

DOMINICK: Uh-huh. Stumbled there. Because you're Russian. We found a backdrop right there. This is where the spies I think dropped off their bags.

Didn't we meet in Bangkok last April?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, I know that line.

DOMINICK: This is the other location where apparently the spies were making a drop-off or a swap, if you will, John King. Let's see if there's any more lingering.

Didn't we meet in Bangkok last April? I'm going to take the package.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right.

DOMINICK: I thought it was you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, you were the spy.

(END VIDEOTAPE) DOMINICK: John King, I'm used to those types of phrases coming in my direction from the ladies, but some of these people were surprised today.

KING: You know, if the spies are as cute as those kids, I say we just surrender.

DOMINICK: Those kids were great. Those kids were great spies. And I think when one of these stories comes out, it really does make people all paranoid because these people were living normal lives, so everywhere you look, everything says somebody is a spy for about a day and a half.

KING: You know, I felt like a spy once. I was on a trip with Al Gore way back in the day when he was vice president to the Kremlin. And he was in a meeting and they put us in this room. And then we finally decided there's nobody watching us, so why don't we take a walk. And we wandered the halls of the Kremlins, but I took no secrets.

You, maybe, could be a spy.

DOMINICK: John, I'm trying to find out if I have a story similar to yours, but you traveled with like 40 presidents. My mom took me to the mall and bought me a shirt when I was little. I got nothing.

KING: That's not a good place to spy, at the mall.

DOMINICK: No. Probably not. But I would -- I did dream to be a spy. I think everybody does for a moment and now we know they are amongst us. And Russian spies? Who would have thought that would have been the concern?

KING: You know, Pete, you have remade yourself many times in this life. There is still time. Still time to be a spy. But we are not ready to get rid of you yet, whether you are a double agent or not. We'll see you --

DOMINICK: I've got a call coming into my watch, John. Yes, I'm done here.

KING: See you right back here tomorrow.

That's all for us tonight. Campbell Brown is standing by. We thank you for visiting. We will see you tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: CNN Primetime begins right now.