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JOHN KING, USA

The Politics of the U.S. Economy; Ken Mehlman Comes Out

Aired August 26, 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 Suzanne and good evening everyone.

Driving our debate tonight are two numbers, 68 and 9,986. Sixty- eight days before a midterm election in which the economy is by far issue one; 9,986 is today's closing number on Wall Street. The Dow again falling below 10,000 amid worries there could be a double dip recession.

The stakes of a wobbly recovery go well beyond politics. The job market is weak; the housing sector soft. And state and local governments are facing severe budget crises. So what should the federal government do? We will hear from the Fed chairman tomorrow and the White Houses says President Obama and his economic team are debating their options.

But is there much the president can do or is willing to do in this tough political climate? And does the sour economic mood make it more likely Republicans will capture at least one chamber of Congress come November? Joining us tonight, the Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, in New York veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins, and "TIME" magazine political columnist Joe Klein and with me here in Washington is national political correspondent for "The Washington Post" Karen Tumulty.

The politics of the economy in a minute -- let's start with the policy choices. And Governor Rendell, to you first. In an industrial state that is bearing a heavy burden in this post-recession wobbly recovery, is there something the president, the Congress, Washington needs to do now to make it better?

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Sure. I think we need to do two things. Number one, pass the small business bill, $30 billion for small business loans, that's essential. Republicans, Democrats, we all should vote for it. Forget the partisanship and to the extent we can forget the election.

Secondly, the president's got to do something about infrastructure. The best job creator of anything we have done in the last two years were the infrastructure dollars. We can spend and we can spend them quickly. They not only help on the construction site, they help back in American manufacturing, the steel and concrete and asphalt plants. That's the best way to get this economy humming again.

KING: Ed Rollins, at the moment to the small business bill Governor Rendell was just talking about, the Republicans say no. They say they don't like it. They say it doesn't do the way they would want to do things. They say the better prescription is for the president to say leave the Bush tax cuts in place. What is the burden on Republicans at this moment or can they keep saying no?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well I think they're going to keep saying no on any kind of spending. I think equally as important, there's a whole lot of Democrats that have gone home and found out the voters don't like them very much. I have never seen and I go way back, Ed Rendell and I are old men here, Klein's not much younger, I go back to Watergate.

Last time I saw as many incumbents worried about the environment as they do even though '94, Democrats lost the House. They didn't realize it was coming. This is a bad environment and I think Democrats now know what a bad environment it is. Charlie Cook is saying they're looking at over 100 races today, most of them Democrat. So I don't think anybody's going to have the will to spend 20, $30 billion bill with the few weeks to go to election.

KING: I want to go through some of the races and the impact on races in just a minute. But all of us cross paths at one point back in 1992, the last election campaign I can remember in which the economy was so front and center, and yet it didn't seem as bad as it does now. You had people then facing foreclosure, people then saying I need health care, but Joe Klein, one in 10 Americans, if you look at the latest number, have missed a mortgage payment, at least one mortgage payment of late.

And I'm going to walk to the "Magic Wall" and show some other numbers. We showed some of these numbers yesterday, but I just want to reinforce the point. In an economy driven by housing the darker the state on this map, the higher unemployment rate, now look at this. This is new home sales. And if you look at where the unemployment rate is high, new home sales are going off the chart. One other way to look at this is this way.

The shaded part is the time over the period of time where there was a new home buyer tax credit in place. You'll watch home sales go up a little bit. The market gets a little bit better during that tax credit, but then look what has happened in recent months. It goes off the map.

In this environment, Joe Klein, the American people feel this profound economic anxiety and at the moment, it doesn't seem like they believe any of their politicians are doing anything about it.

JOE KLEIN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, they shouldn't. They should be very skeptical because of the gridlock you have. I think that what really needs to happen, and pretty quickly, is some kind of a compromise on the Bush tax cuts, which are expiring. The Democrats can't keep the tax cuts for the most wealthy.

What they should propose is some kind of gradual, you know, reinstatement of those, plus continuing tax cuts for the middle class. There needs to be a feeling of certainty. American business is sitting on $1.8 trillion worth of cash and they're looking for some sort of certainty in the direction the government is going on deficit reform and on stimulus.

KING: Well Karen, Joe talks about some gesture from the Democrats on the Bush tax cuts. Maybe not extending them completely but give something to the Republicans and maybe then ask for something in return. Vice President Biden yesterday flat-out again said no to that. And he was in New Hampshire today, a very important state, perhaps, in his future.

We shall see. But he was focusing on the stimulus plan again and on part of the stimulus plan that weatherized he says up to 200,000 homes. That has helped a lot of people in need without a doubt, but listen to the vice president's description of what he calls success by the administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're rebuilding this economy and it's not just this home. This home is an illustration of one of the pieces about how we are going to literally, and this is not hyperbole, lead the world in the 21st century.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You listen to him like that, and he is proud of the stimulus program but does it not reinforce the disconnect when they're talking about we weatherized this home and people out there are saying, as I said, one in 10 have missed at least one mortgage payment. Unemployment is above 10 percent in many of the biggest states in this country. Does it not sort of say why are you talking about weatherizing a home when there's this tsunami.

KAREN TUMULTY, NAT'L POLITICAL CORRESP., THE WASHINGTON POST: You know the poll number that has struck me the most over the last month is when you ask people whether they or someone in their family has been out of a job in the last year, the numbers are now up to about one-third of Americans say yes. So the problem with all of these measures is that people do see that Washington is doing a lot and the things that we're talking about tonight, you can argue as to whether they help the economy in the long run, but none of this is really going to be effective in time for people to feel it in their own pocketbooks in their own lives by November.

KING: And Governor Rendell, as a leader of the Democratic Party, your party controls the White House, it controls both chambers of Congress at the moment, and there's a debate among Democrats, a lot of moderate and conservative Democrats are afraid to do anything that involves spending money right now because of the election campaign, but does the Democratic Party have to say forget about the election 68 days away and try to do something bold in the short term, or do they have to wait until after the election?

RENDELL: I think they can do something bold and it can be politically feasible. I'll tell you why. And I disagree with Ed Rollins, a smart guy, but he's got it wrong. Seventy percent of the American people say the number one issue is job creation and the economy. Only 17 percent say the deficit is number one. We should spend on the things that are important and will create jobs, that will help small businesses and that will put construction workers and manufacturing workers back on the job. Those things matter. They can make a difference. They're good for the country. And I also think they're good politics.

KING: Ed, the governor just called you out there. Can the Republicans say you Democrats are wrong if the Democrats came forward in the short term with a proposal like that?

ROLLINS: The problem, and no disrespect to the governor who I have great respect for, is that nobody believes it. You know we spent $850 billion plus on a stimulus and people -- some people may have gone back to work but the vast majority of people don't think it worked. So trying to spend another $30 billion in a few weeks before the election, people are going to say that's just the typical politicians trying to do what they've always done to get themselves elected.

I would argue it's your party that doesn't want to vote for this in the short term. Maybe long term we all have to get back to an infrastructure program. We have to rethink this. And after this election, if we don't have bipartisanship, we're going to have more deadlock than ever. And I would argue this country can't have that.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)

RENDELL: John, if I --

TUMULTY: One of the hardest arguments to make politically is it would have been so much worse if we hadn't done this. That's the political equivalent of trying to push a string. And I think that's the real problem with the credibility here.

KING: Let me call a quick time-out. Everybody stay put -- a very quick time-out. When we come back, we're going to connect these dots. Many of you sit around the kitchen table wondering about the viability of the American dream. When we come back we're going to connect the dots from that anxiety to this fall's election campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Ready, we're going off to the races.

KING: Continue our conversation about the economy and how it impacts the political campaign. And I want to begin by showing you a graph. The stock market closed under 10,000 today. And if you see the rate of the stock market, the run of the stock market from the beginning of the Obama presidency until now, it started in the 7,000's so it has gone up some. But of late, you see that line.

It's dropped back down under 10,000. Why does that matter? Many Americans judge the success of their own portfolios by those quarterly statements they get in their 401(k). At the beginning of the year they were heading up. Well now they're heading back down. And Karl Rove, the former President Bush's chief political adviser, sees a direct correlation between that and this year's campaign, writing in "The Wall Street Journal" today "by overselling the stimulus before its passage in 2009 and exaggerating its benefits with layer upon layer of slippery half-truths in 2010, Mr. Obama has made the voters angrier."

That is Karl Rove's take. And if you look at the campaigns across America today, listen to the Republicans here. They believe by criticizing the Democrats and focusing on jobs, they can pick up seats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Carnahan for job killing energy taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By 2012, the game will be over; $3.5 billion job killing deficit must be fixed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a new energy tax coming our way from Washington that's a job killer for Ohio called cap and trade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taxpayer funded bailouts for Wall Street. A $787 billion stimulus that failed and spending so reckless it's led to record deficits and skyrocketing unemployment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: One of the leading House Republicans, Joe Klein, said today Kevin McCarthy, there are more than enough seats to win, I think the map is getting bigger by the day. Republicans look at the economic data and they see perhaps an ability to take at least the House back.

KLEIN: Well, you know, I wouldn't say that the concrete is fully set, but it's hardening at this point. I think it's looking more and more like a very, very good Republican year, although things could change. The important thing based on what Karen was saying before is and I would throw this to both Ed's and to Karen, about the stimulus package.

Most experts say that it has worked. But it has been the most politically inept sales job I have ever seen. Have any of you ever seen an instance where a president of the United States gave a tax cut to 95 percent of the American people --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody knows.

KLEIN: And nobody knows.

(CROSSTALK)

KLEIN: How on earth could that happen?

KING: Well Governor Rendell, you say nobody knows. Then give them some advice. When the vice president is in a home say hey we weatherized this home, that's a bad message, wrong message?

RENDELL: Well, first of all, I would have sent everybody a check. Everybody gets an $800 check. They realize what's happened rather than getting a little bit in their payroll deduction every week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

RENDELL: I know the economists say that works better than a check because you put the check in savings. I wouldn't have cared. I would have sent everybody a check. Look, I think this can still be turned around and I think if the Republicans keep saying no, particularly to the small business bill, I think they do so at their own peril.

But I want to compliment Ed Rollins and I've just criticized him. We have to, as a country after this election, we have to get together and do deficit reduction for the long term and some sort of infrastructure plan to get this economy moving again. And we've got to do it in a bipartisan way or else the country is done.

KING: Well I want to show you some poll numbers, then I want to pick up on that point. But first I want to show again you how the bad economy is impacting elections. Let's focus right on Governor Rendell's state. In the race to succeed Governor Rendell right now, the Republican candidate is ahead by 11 points, according to a Franklin and Marshall College (ph) poll, out just today.

That race was very close if you went back just six or eight weeks ago. Here's the Senate campaign in the state of Pennsylvania, Toomey versus Sestak, Pat Toomey being the Republican, up nine points. Now again if you went back a little bit in time you find that being close to a tied race.

So the economy without a doubt is helping Republicans in this election campaign. Governor, you just made a point after the election we have to have a serious conversation. But you can have a serious conversation after an election if you have a serious debate and discussion during the election. Does anyone see evidence that we're having, instead of finger pointing and the Democrats will raise your taxes or the Republicans will bring back George W. Bush, are we having a serious conversation about these enormous policy choices, whether it's raising the Social Security retirement age, maybe a mix of tax increases and spending cuts to deal with the deficit, anyone find that out there?

ROLLINS: No, absolutely not. I would argue just the opposite. I mean I think Republicans are just basically hammering away on Democrats and Obama and they think that's enough. Joe Biden is out there trying to be a cheerleader but no one is believing what he's saying. The president is off on a vacation; he's coming back and talking about Iraq next week; talking about mosques last week.

And I think the reality is historically when there's two presidencies I've watched in which they basically have worked for the other side, Ronald Reagan went to the Democratic leadership in the first couple of years of his administration and basically worked out compromises. President Clinton, after he lost in '94, went with the Republican leadership, worked out compromises.

You can't basically try and pick off the weak and the lame, as I call them, the fringe Republicans and try and make deals. You got to sit down collectively and say what do you need, what do I need, and let's try and move this forward.

(CROSSTALK)

ROLLINS: Otherwise it doesn't work and it won't work. It will be far more severe after the rhetoric of this campaign than it's ever been.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's easier said than done.

TUMULTY: But we're also coming out of primary season and we are moving into the general election season. These candidates are going to be out there in debates with their opponent from the other party so it really won't be just posturing to be the most extreme person in your party to get the job. So I do think there's time for that debate and I do think it's going to happen because candidates understand that people see themselves out there with very serious problems, and they want concrete solutions.

KING: But do we believe that in this campaign, Joe, I was reading a blog posting you wrote today, adding your voice to this debate about Social Security and you were commenting on something else that was written by another journalist. Where is the serious discussion in the campaign about these things by the people who would have to vote for them?

KLEIN: It's impossible to do right now, John, because look, if political ineptitude is what characterizes the Obama administration on these issues, political irresponsibility, total irresponsibility is what has characterized the Republicans in the Congress on these issues. I know for a fact that the president was willing to negotiate on issues like malpractice insurance and a whole bunch of other things on the health care bill, but the Republicans wouldn't play. They have completely refused to play throughout. What they've done is very politically effective as we're seeing, but it's not in the best interests of the country.

KING: Not at all -- thank everyone --

ROLLINS: I could actually dispute that but that's all right, Joe --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: We got 68 days to do it and maybe we'll do it over a drink as we do it some night. Governor Rendell, Ed, and Joe, thanks. Karen with me here, I'm going to ask her to stay one more minute. When we come back, we'll continue the conversation about the campaign. We'll move away from the economy for a second to show you Democrats in large part because of the economy are under siege across the country. We'll take you coast-to-coast, show you the ad wars and the Democratic strategy. Vulnerable Democrats turn on the TV, they're on the attack.

In our class tonight, the former chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman, under George W. Bush has told friends and associates he is gay. There's a debate now about whether he should have spoken up during a presidency in which there was a big campaign against same-sex marriage.

On our radar tonight, who's saying Palinism equals McCarthyism? And is that a smart political strategy? And this conservative Democratic House member jokingly said maybe Nancy Pelosi will get sick and die, a bad joke? Is it good politics?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in now with Brianna Keilar for the latest political news you need to know right now -- hey Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, John. Florida Governor Charlie Crist today discontinued the state of emergency for all but seven panhandle counties affected by the BP oil spill.

And prosecutors today dropped all charges against Robert Blagojevich, the brother of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. And a judge says the former governor will be retried early next year.

An independent investigator says New York Governor David Paterson may have given misleading answers about free World Series tickets that he received last year.

This one's kind of weird. You never know where a terror suspect will turn up. Canadian investigators say one of three suspects just arrested auditioned for the show "Canadian Idol" in 2008. There he is, John.

KING: You know, you have the urge to laugh but then you realize it's not a laughing matter there.

KEILAR: Exactly.

KING: So I guess we'll just let the investigation play out and save our laughs for later. Thanks, Brianna.

All right we're going to keep you with us for a minute because we've talked about this in the past. If you're a vulnerable Democrat, the economy is not on your side in this election campaign and a lot of people say you are going to lose, what should you do? Well first let's remind you of the balance of power right now.

If you look at the House of Representatives, Democrats have 256 seats to 179. I'll do the math for you. The Republicans need to gain 39 seats, 39 seats to get the House majority after the November elections. If you flip it over to the Senate, it is 59 to 41. I'll do the math again. Republicans need to gain 10 and then they would control the Senate.

Not out of the realm of possibility in the Senate and some say increasingly possible, if not probable, when it comes to the House. So if you're a vulnerable Democrat and you're back home, maybe you're Steve Driehaus and you represent a Cincinnati district that not long ago was represented by a Republican named Steve Chabot. What do you do if you are Steve Driehaus? You attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE DRIEHAUS (D), OHIO: I'm Steve Driehaus, I approve this message because Congressman Chabot and I have clear-cut differences. I support a tax cut for 99 percent of Ohioans and tax relief for small businesses to help them create jobs. Steve Chabot opposed this bill. I voted against $458 billion in spending and refunded $300,000 to taxpayers by cutting my office expenses. I oppose pay raises for myself. He took pay raises for himself. There's a clear difference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Steve Driehaus for Congress --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Stop that one right there. Karen Tumulty of "The Washington Post" is still with me. What I find most interesting about that is Steve Driehaus is the incumbent, but he says Congressman Chabot, if there's an anti-incumbent sentiment out there, he wants to remind people that guy served once, too. Does he have any choice but to attack?

TUMULTY: Not really and the one thing to remember is that these Democratic candidates, they have not been caught napping. These are in most cases people who are really battle-tested quite recently in the last couple of election cycles. The other thing to remember, they have a lot more money in most cases than their challengers do. That means you're going to be seeing a lot of these ads.

KING: Let's show you another one. You mentioned that Harry Reid is the Senate majority leader. You would think he has a lot of resources and he does. A lot of people said well the Republicans nominated an out of the mainstream candidate so Harry Reid will be fine. The polls though show that race is still neck and neck. Nevada has the nation's highest unemployment rate, so what does Harry Reid do? He attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: What do you call a candidate who says the way things are going that time may be coming for Second Amendment remedies, an armed response to our government? Who says a teenaged rape victim should be forced to have the baby? Who proposed a scientology massage program for prisoners and who says that Medicare and Social Security violate the Ten Commandments? What do you call that candidate? Extreme. Sharron Angle, just too extreme. SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I'm Harry Reid and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Harry Reid pops in at the end there to approve that message. Again, right after she was nominated, a lot of Democrats said we'll be fine now but they're not fine. That race is still a dead heat. Harry Reid attack to the point we were having earlier, if we're trying to have a conversation about the serious issues, deficit reduction, entitlement reform, whether to if Republicans gain some seats, go back and change the Obama health plan in some way, we're not having it when that's the ad debate.

TUMULTY: That's true, but I do think at some point and certainly the House Republican leader, John Boehner, is promising at some point after Labor Day the House Republicans come out with their own agenda, their own strategy for governing. And so hopefully at that point, like I said, as we head into these debates and the other kinds of things we see in the fall campaign, we're going to hear hopefully a little more about the differences on the issues.

KING: Hopefully. I'll accept the hopefully. I suspect when they come out with that plan, it will just end up being a Democratic attack ad, but we'll see. Let's be hopeful there's actually a policy debate. Karen, appreciate your stopping in. When we come back, next in the class, gays and the GOP, in light of the former Republican Party chairman, Ken Mehlman's revelations that he's gay.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: In this corner and in this corner.

KING: Tonight's clash involves the Republican Party and gay Americans, one of today's hottest items in the political blogosphere is an Atlantic magazine article in which former Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman reveals he's gay. Mehlman was President Bush's campaign manager back in 2004, the year Republicans put same-sex marriage questions on state ballots -- I believe it was 11 states -- to draw social conservatives to the polls.

With me to debate this now from San Francisco, R. Clarke Cooper, he's executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. In New York, Michelangelo Signorile, the host of a daily political talk show on the Sirius XM LTGB channel.

Let me start with a very simple question. If you read the blogosphere, there are some who say good for Mr. Mehlman for coming to terms with this and speaking out publicly. He is now raising money for proponents of same sex marriage in California and offering strategic advice. Many say good for him. Others are saying he's a hypocrite because he was part of the Bush campaign in 2004 which used this as a wedge issue to try to turn out Republican voters. Mr. Cooper, to you first, does Ken Mehlman owe some kind of apology?

R. CLARKE COOPER, EXEC. DIRECTOR, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: Well, he already has apologized. He already has said he regrets where he was earlier, as you mentioned, 2004. I want to remind your viewers that Ken was in a different place. Anybody who has been through what he's been through, the coming-out process, it doesn't happen overnight. It's an evolving process. I remember when I was in that space when I worked for Governor Jeb Bush. I finally came out during the first term of the Bush administration myself. It's not easy. It's a crucible period. It's very difficult. Before one actually comes out publicly, they have to come out to themselves. Not knowing what was in Ken's head at the time and I'm not speaking on his behalf, but one could presume he wasn't out to himself at that time. The good news is, he is out and he's fine. He's reconciled it with himself and wants to look toward the future and advancing civil rights for all and working for an inclusive Republican party.

KING: That is what Mr. Cooper says. Just before you speak, I want to read you something Joe Jervis, a blogger and editor writes about gay culture. He wrote this. You don't have to be gay or out to know that discrimination and bigotry is wrong. Don't let Mehlman's personal journey babble snow you. Which do you agree with Mr. Cooper or do you agree with Mr. Jervis?

MICHELANGELO SIGNORILE, HOST, SIRIUS XM RADIO'S "OUTQ": I agree absolutely with Joe Jervis. Everybody has a journey but no matter where you are, there is right and wrong. The Republican Party at the time was pushing a virulently anti-gay campaign demonizing gay people in the states. He was the Republican National Committee chairman. He okayed all of the ads, ads that really turned gay people into monsters in many communities, and you know, a lot of people knew he was gay back then. It has been talked about and blogged about. I don't know how far along he was on his journey, but I think he was far enough that he knew right from wrong.

KING: I want you to listen to something Mr. Mehlman said on our air on CNN to Judy Woodruff back in 2004 on this very question, the debate about same sex marriage and its role in the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN MEHLMAN, BUSH CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think one thing about our party, we are a big ten party. People will disagree on this and on other issues, but nevertheless, the president strongly believes marriage is between a man and a woman and he intends to work to make sure that's the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I want to read you something, I had a phone conversation with Ken today and I should disclose to our viewers I have known him for a very long time. I consider him to be a friend and a good man. This is what Ken told me earlier today. "When you don't accept a part of your life it makes things unbelievably difficult on all kinds of levels. This is an example of that. Knowing how much I tried to push the envelope in other areas in attracting new constituents to our party, I look back and wish there was something I had done in this area. It was something about my life I was having a hard time accepting then, and I can't change that. What I can do is try to be helpful in the future. I understand people who are going to be angry. I have to look forward and do what I think is right." Go ahead.

SIGNORILE: Well, you know, if somebody is willing to come out and help, I think it's great and we should accept their help and use all of the connections he has, that is terrific. But we cannot sweep under the rug what happened. I spent the day on the radio listening to people tell me about how their lives were destroyed in these campaigns in Arizona, people being forced to move, their neighbors turned against them. In Wisconsin, people's homes defaced, their children attacked. These campaigns were brutal. They used homophobia, they used hate and they used religious bigotry. That needs to be addressed. He needs to be held accountable and history needs to record it. It cannot be swept under the rug.

COOPER: This is being addressed. It is being addressed. Of course it's being addressed. We are talking about it right now. We have moved forward and Ken has actually said himself that he wants to work toward reconciliation. We all recognize, actually Michael just said it, to say as we say in the military, when you add a force, you have a force multiplier. Ken can be a tremendous force multiplier for equality and for advancing civil rights, and I'm very glad that he is now on our team to move it forward. It is very good news. We're very grateful that he's finally reached that point. We're not discounting or denying the past and neither is Ken, frankly. But let's move forward. Onward and upward, folks.

SIGNORILE: I want to move forward. I think he needs to talk more about what happened and really address those issues but you're absolutely right. This is a great thing for the gay community, certainly in terms of isolating conservative Republicans who have been opposed to gay rights and that's a good thing.

KING: Gentlemen, I appreciate you both coming in today to have this conversation. I'm glad we could be part of it today.

COOPER: Thank you, John.

KING: Among the items on the radar, does Palinism equal McCarthyism? We'll explain. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A lot on the radar tonight. Here to help talk it over, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, Republican Ron Bonjean and Nia- Malika Henderson, the political reporter for the "Washington Post." Welcome. Let's begin just a few hours from now in faraway Alaska. The AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka will give a speech lambasting Sarah Palin. His prepared text says among other things this, "After she tied herself to John McCain and they lost, she blew off Alaska. I guess she figured she would trade up. Shoot for a national stage. Alaska was too far from the Fox TV spotlight. I bet most of you on a clear day can see her hypocrisy from your house. She'll go down in history like McCarthy. Palinism will become an ugly word." Governor Palin wasted no time firing off what you might call a prebuttal tweet. "Think Trumka's frustrations are with Obama, not me. High unemployment deals with Obama and his subsequent broken promises, so understandable, we're just ticked." Peter, he is on your side of the political spectrum. Maybe she's trying to gin up the labor guys up there.

PETER FENN, PRES., FENN COMMUNICATIONS GROUP: I love Rich Trumka but I'll tell you, she just won a big victory up there. Looks like she knocked off Lisa Murkowski. This is some kind of track record she's got endorsing folks. I think they may rue the day because if the mayor of Wasilla can become the governor of a state, the mayor of Sitka may end up being a senator. We'll see what happens.

KING: Mr. McAdams, the Democratic candidate up there. We shall see on that one. Is it smart I guess is my question, you're elevating Sarah Palin without a doubt.

RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's smart if he wants to get media attention during a quiet August but is it going to work for him, that's the other question. I don't think it's very smart at all. Palin's a force. She is winning her primary up in Alaska and she has a lot of blue collar workers support up there. I don't think it was a smart move, long-term strategy, short-term media hype, maybe gets him a little bit of bang.

KING: KING: She has become I think the poster child or the person, the left focuses on. It used to be Newt Gingrich or George W. Bush, but now it's Sarah Palin.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: You saw the white house do this with Rush Limbaugh, make him the face of the Republicans to make them seem like they're very extreme. This seems very much in keeping with that strategy of the left. Really kind of paint the conservatives as very extreme and out of touch with mainstream America.

KING: Here's one we'll file under candidates say the darndest things. In Alabama, Representative Bobby Bright, a conservative Democrat was asked whether he would support Nancy Pelosi for another term as speaker of the house. A reporter in the room says Bright ducked the question by joking that Pelosi might lose this November or not run for speaker or otherwise be unavailable. The reporter says Bright then went on to say heck, she might even get sick and die.

FENN: This is, you know, the press is on all the time, you got to be careful what you say. You know, he was joking but boy, he's back pedaling like crazy right now.

BONJEAN: A 24/7 news cycle, this kind of thing can explode and it's leading the dredge report right now. It just shows the frustration the house Democrats have with their leadership and with the election landscape right now. For him to be just joking about that, it's just not something you usually say as a joke.

KING: If the Democrats keep the majority I think he should be worried about his committee assignments, huh?

HENDERSON: Pelosi has been good about letting the blue dog Democrats kind of go their own way but I think he's probably going to have some explaining to do if he in fact gets back in the house. KING: Blue dog in the dog house. Gone a bit too far there. Some angry finger pointing in New Jersey. Doesn't involve the real housewives but Republican Governor Chris Christie and the state's largest teacher union. The union says New Jersey's application for $400 million in race to the top education money failed because the governor didn't round up enough support from school districts. Christie blames the state employees' mistake on the application form and Obama administration bureaucrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Does anybody in Washington, D.C. have a lick of common sense? Pick up the phone and ask us for the number. Are you guys just down there checking boxes like mindless drones, or are you thinking?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He did also say he's the governor, he's responsible, but he's trying to push this one off. This is a guy who's gotten a lot of favorable attention since he took office for cutting spending, standing up to people up there and trying to get the state in order, taking a little egg here.

FENN: I tell you, John, I think this is a big mistake by Christie. He's asking for a do-over. There are rules on how you do this. Every other state had to do it. He didn't negotiate with the teachers unions and pull this off. They made big mistakes. For him to blame Obama on this one, big problem.

BONJEAN: You know, I have to disagree. I thought it was a brilliant move by Christie because he could have fired a state employee, he could have had a lot of egg on his face. Instead he tried to turn it around and blame it on the Obama administration. I watched the press conference. It looked pretty effective the way he took the regulations, put them on the table and tried to explain the issue and say you know, when president Obama gets here, he has got a lot of explaining to do himself.

KING: Washington bureaucrats.

HENDERSON: Actually, there is a lot of dissatisfaction with the race to the top program. This $4 billion program. Not a lot of people are happy with it. Unions aren't happy with it, a lot of civil rights organizations aren't happy with this idea that it's all up to a competition and that the students most in need might lose out because of a clerical error here. So I think in some ways he's picking up on some of that discontent.

KING: I will see how much fun you guys can have with this last one. We will go out of the country. A German court is about to decide on a freedom of information case demanding details for the bill for President Bush's dinner with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2006. According to the "Washington Post" it cost German taxpayers nearly nine million Euros, the Euro was pretty strong back then. The main course was barbecued wild boar which the president mentioned repeatedly during a news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. PRES. GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES: I may have the honor of slicing the pig. Looking forward to that pig tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Apart from the pig, Mr. President, what sort of insights have you been able to gain?

BUSH: I thought you were going to ask about the pig.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well?

HENDERSON: You're killing me.

FENN: Listen, I'm ready to go into pig farming myself. What the heck. Wild boar sounds good to me. Why not? But they did say there was a large security because of the protests over Iraq. My guess is the cops cost more than the boar.

HENDERSON: That must have been some boar, though.

FENN: That's right.

BONJEAN: President Bush is from Texas. He knows his pigs. He knows barbecue when he sees it. He was fascinated by the Germans. He spent nine million Euros, I don't know how many dollars that is. I don't know if you can get something like that in Las Vegas.

HENDERSON: That's quite an expensive barbecue there.

KING: My first real job besides delivering newspapers was in a German restaurant. We didn't have anything on the menu that cost nine million anything. When we come back, we will show you one candidate for governor who's a middle of the road kind of guy. First, today's most important person you don't know. He may be the Democratic nominee for Vermont governor. Peter Shumlin has a 192 vote lead after Tuesday's five way primary but the candidates who came in second and third still haven't conceded yet. All five candidates though did show up for a unity rally yesterday. Shumlin was a Vermont state senator and former state president pro tem. If his lead holds, Shumlin will face Republican Brian Duby who beat him in a three way race for lieutenant governor back in 2002. Yes we watch Vermont elections too. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Thursday night, time to break down the tapes. Still with us, Democrat Peter Fenn, Republican Ron Bonjean and "Washington Post" reporter Nia-Malika Henderson. Let's starts with Sarah Palin. I'm a little crazy. I sit in my office and I watch things online. She did an interview with the Fox Business Channel yesterday. The anchor was talking you know, bad people in his view who vote for these Wall Street bailouts, the T.A.R.P. program. Toxic asset relief program and as those mentioned for voting for that was this guy named John McCain who won a primary in Arizona and happened to be Sarah Palin's boss, running mate, back in the presidential election. So Governor Palin says -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Certainly, Senator McCain and I think that he would be quite admitting of this, too, he's seen the light in some respects on some of these issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BONJEAN: What light?

KING: Anybody here seen the light?

BONJEAN: The bright light? I don't really know what to make of all of that but I know that McCain won the primary the other night. Did all he could to win and pulled it off.

KING: As you know, the T.A.R.P. folk, whether Democrat or Republican, it's being used against them in the campaign out there and it's become a toxic vote and it was McCain and Obama off the campaign trail calling it a suspension I remember when they met with President Bush. I guess she's got to be nice to him.

HENDERSON: She was out in Arizona campaigning for him and he was able to pull out a really big went out there.

FENN: He went right. He'll come on back to the center. That will be the name of this game.

KING: You can hope. See what happens. Let's stay in the Alaska for a minute. One thing we have seen across the country, particularly in Alaska when the candidates challenged. The Republican incumbents move a little bit to the right. One of the issues in the race up in Alaska became Senator Lisa Murkowski and the views on cap and trade legislation. Here is an ad she ran just before the Republican primary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When the president tried to pass cap and trade Lisa had the courage to stand up to him because she knew how devastating it would be Alaska jobs.

KING: Remember that, Lisa had the courage to stand up to him because she knew how devastating it would be. Well her opponent had a pretty good research team because they remembered this conversation Lisa Murkowski had on CSPAN back in 2009 where she sounded a little different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: Count me as one of those who will keep my mind open as we move forward in looking at all aspects of this. I have said repeatedly when we're talking about climate change legislation, we need to make sure that all the options are on the table out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, to be fair to Senator Murkowski, in the end she didn't like the proposal or by the time she got around it, she said no. But she's a lot more open minded there.

BONJEAN: Both teams are right. She did in the end oppose the EPA from trying to regulate greenhouse gases. The vote in the Senate failed that she was pushing but she did come out for it. In 2009, it was a free for all. No one knew what the cap and trade legislation was going to be or what form it was going to be. Could she have been a little bit stronger? Yes. I agree.

FENN: There is a point here, John, which is heaven forbid to keep your mind open. Heaven forbid that you should have everything on the table. If we are going to govern and this goes to the last segment, we have to have people who come in with open minds and I think one of the problems we have right now in the primaries is people are being forced into boxes. Not a good thing.

KING: On both sides. But particularly --

HENDERSON: Partisanship and strong feelings on both sides people are having to, you know, lurch for the left or right.

KING: In that environment like that where there's so much partisanship, we are seeing in a half dozen states or so candidates who is say I'm not like them and running as independents. I want to show you an ad, Elliot Cutler, he made his name in Democratic politics but he's running for governor of Maine as an independent and in this ad he literally, literally is walking in the middle of the road.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELLIOT CUTLER: Maine can work. We can create jobs, incomes and opportunity. But only if we get away from partisan politics and move back to common sense problem solving. I'm Elliot Cutler.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Independent just like me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Maine has a track record. It has independent governors in the past. Angus King, great last name. Is this the model when people are disgusted with politics and think they're talking points, beholden to the parties? Will we see more of this?

FENN: I think so, John. I mean a lot of folks are going to go towards that middle trying to capture the middle. Be independent of the two parties. And, you know, this is actually a very good ad. This is 60-second spot and he comes out with a lot of issues. It is a very, very smart and well-done ad and I think help him a lot.

BONJEAN: I completely agree. If you are going to win an election, you have to attract independents. Democrats and Republicans should try to be the kumbaya candidate. Maine does have a history of independent governors, Angus King, Jim Longley, and the walking thing is interesting. Longley did the whole walking thing, too.

HENDERSON: Very visual, kind of an interesting ad. Seeing this Florida with Charlie Crist running as an independent. It looks like he's going to be able to attract some Democrats who are a little shaky on Meek down there so I think it is going to be a tack that people take.

KING: Studying of this. I want to show pictures going to break real quick. Tiger Woods is not the only one working on the golf swing. Can we show those pictures? Just very quick and then we'll get to break. That's the president of the United States. It's been rainy on Martha's Vineyard. Good for him. Every president deserves a vacation. There we go. When we return, it is your turn to ask the questions. Pete Dominick is on the street.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Just a bit until we get to the top of the hour and "RICK'S LIST" prime time. Let's check in with Rick Sanchez for a preview. Hey there.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: You know what we might get tonight, John? This would be interesting. We might get an update on the situation down there in Chile with these 33 poor souls that are stuck underground and there's even a possibility that we might be able to get video from where they are. So, we're following that. If it happens, see it here on "RICK'S LIST." Back to you.

KING: All right. Before we go, let's check in with our off beat reporter Pete Dominick on the street in New York. I understand we're going to have a little I call it "stump the dummie" or "stump the anchor." But you have some questions.

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: That's right John King. You have been asking the questions the whole hour. Now it's time for you to answer some. Let's start with Wayne in Brooklyn --

WAYNE: My question is, why are we so focused on this whole mosque issue when there are issues, for instance, like veterans' issues to be more focused on?

KING: Wayne has a great point. There are many issues, veterans' issues, taxes issues, economic issues. In part, we're focused on it because it's a big national debate. The mayor of New York is talking about it. The president of the United States talked about it at a Ramadan dinner. And we're seeing it in campaigns across the country. I just saw it an ad out in Iowa today where this is coming up. Maybe we need to put it in the right perspective but it's a big national conversation. Got another one, Pete?

DOMINICK: Well done, Mr. King. This young lady is Nicole going to school at Indiana University with a question for you, John King.

NICOLE: John, I'm a student studying journalism. How do I get a job at CNN?

DOMINICK: Oh! Can we hire her? Let's go.

KING: I don't know if we can hire her today but I applaud her wanting to do this in her initiative. Start writing. Be curious. Keep writing. Don't be afraid to start in a small market and work your way up. You learn a lot sometimes in a smaller market. See what happens when you go straight to the big market, you end up like Pete Dominick.

DOMINICK: You want to start in Columbus or Syracuse. Great advice.

KING: See you tomorrow. Have a great night. Enjoyed the radio show today. That's all from us right now. "RICK'S LIST" prime time right now.