Return to Transcripts main page

JOHN KING, USA

Hurricane Earl; Midterm Elections

Aired September 3, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Here's what you need to know right now, especially if you're along the East Coast and especially if you're planning to spend your Labor Day weekend in New England.

As we speak Hurricane Earl is approaching its close encounter, Cape Cod and the rest of New England in its sight now. Let's show you some live pictures from our affiliate WCVB. Those are the waters off Nantucket, choppy waters, high winds, tough weather.

As Earl gets closer, it's getting a little bit weaker. Although a weak hurricane, well a weak hurricane is still a dangerous storm. Let's check in with Chad Myers in the CNN Hurricane Headquarters for the latest -- hey, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's still 80 miles an hour, John. Exactly, exactly what you just said, this is still a dangerous storm. There's Nantucket, here's Cape Cod. And the storm, although it doesn't have a big eye right now like it did a couple of days ago, not a category four, it's 140 miles per hour at one point and time, and it will not make a direct hit on southern New England, but still close enough.

You see those waves. You don't want to be in that surf. You could be in the rain as well. Some planes have been delayed today because of the rain and that's going to continue. The wind moves away later on tonight into tomorrow. You just want to put off traveling until tomorrow. In fact by 2:00 Saturday afternoon, this is going to be north of Nova Scotia. This is going to be gone, past St. Johns (ph), let it all calm down and get to your destination tomorrow rather than frustrate yourself (INAUDIBLE) anywhere tonight.

Hurricane warnings still in effect for the Cape all the way down into Nantucket. Also (INAUDIBLE) back out here into parts of Long Island, tropical storm warnings, which means winds could be tropical storm force. And they've been that way most of the day in some spots along the coast. We had wind gusts of over 80 miles per hour in North Carolina yesterday. That was its closest approach. Yes, I don't think we'll see anything like that in New England -- John.

KING: Thank you much, Chad. We will keep in touch as Earl makes its way north. See you in a little bit.

Now we're going to dig deeper on today's biggest political story, it's also an economic story. On Wall Street today, investors were cheering and the market went up. That's because technically the company is not -- country is not going to slip into a double dip recession. But yet why are Democrats so glum at today's numbers? The unemployment rate is up.

That's one reason. New jobs in the private sector up just barely. And all President Obama today could say is it's the Republican's fault and quote, "there's no quick fix". To discuss where we go from here with 60 days from today until the midterm elections, I'm joined by Democratic strategist Peter Fenn, "New York Times" national political correspondent Jeff Zeleny, Republican strategist Ed Goeas, Jackie Calmes who covers national economic policy for "The New York Times" and from Atlanta, our CNN contributor Erick Erickson who is editor-in-chief of the conservative blog RedState.com.

Politics in a moment, first I want to wander over here just to show people the numbers because when you look at the economy, you wonder, and you think maybe the White House is regretting deciding to call this the summer of recovery. Here's the unemployment rate. The red is when George W. Bush was president. The blue is since Barack Obama has been president.

You watch the rate just going up, nine percent, 10 percent, hovering right at 10 percent, dipping down a little bit. This is where we are today, 9.6 percent nationally after it was 9.5 percent last month, bad news for the president there, a summer of recovery in which the unemployment stayed stagnant, even tipped up a bit. Let's go from there.

The question is what about -- where are the jobs? Again the Bush administration, the recession, losing jobs, losing jobs, losing jobs into the Obama administration, a little bit of mixed few months there. Then you have three months that were going up, including at the end of last year, numbers the White House was getting happy about, and then you see this overall.

Now let's factor this in. Some of this is because of lost temporary census jobs. They hire all those people to go out and do the census, so let's take a peek at the private sector. Still modest job growth, but boy is that very modest job growth, 50,000, 60,000 private sector jobs a month or so when you need Jackie Calmes, 200, 250,000 jobs, maybe 300,000 jobs a month for the rate to start to drop.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to get jobs for those people who lost them and the new people that are coming into the labor market.

KING: And so, Ed Goeas, if you are a Republican, 60 days out and the president is saying well things are OK. I was e-mailing one of the Republican strategist today who said there's a wave out there and there's nothing the Democrats can do about it now, who was saying the House is probably gone, the Senate is in play, and maybe 30 or more governorships after the election will be in Republican hands. Is that how you see it?

ED GOEAS, PRES. & CEO, THE TARRANCE GROUP: I think all that's true. I think what we know from a polling standpoint is it takes basically six months of nothing but economic news for the attitude of the American public to be a growth mentality, not a recession mentality, but I think more importantly if you go back to the data you just showed there with the main numbers, with the big increase, 431 new thousand new jobs, 411,000 of those were census workers. So they kind of hid that fact that that was the big job growth and now they're paying the price for it during the summer months when those jobs are going away.

KING: And the president is under a lot of pressure from people in his own party to do more on the economy. At least if you can't turn the numbers around, try to turn the psychology around a little bit by election day. In the Rose Garden today, the president I guess did his best.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The key point I'm making right now is that the economy is moving in a positive direction. Jobs are being created. They're just not being created as fast as they need to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's tough, Peter Fenn, if you're a Democrat as you are. I mean essentially what the president is saying is, I don't know what else he could say, is well, the patient has a pulse.

PETER FENN, PRES., FENN COMM. GROUP: Right. I think one of the things that he's got to convince the American people of is that we were in meltdown when he took office. We were losing 750,000 jobs a month. We have had eight months of positive job growth when it comes to private sector jobs, but that isn't enough. We need to have more small business tax cuts, you know we need to do more and the Republicans are standing in the doorway. And that's the argument he's got to make is that we're on the right track, but it is a tough argument to make two months before an election, no question.

GOEAS: He's certainly making that argument out there. The big elephant in the room is a real way to help calm business down, especially small business, is not to implement the tax increases that are about ready to be implemented. And if he would delay those tax increases, that is the best way to get confidence back to the business community, back to small businesses in this country and start moving the economy forward.

KING: Well let's look at that and let's bring Erick into the conversation because the question is, and we'll talk more about politics. We got plenty of time tonight, but let's talk about policy. For anybody watching at home saying is anybody going to do anything to help me, let's look at the debate. Here's what the Obama administration and the Democratic allies in Congress say to do.

Pass the $55 billion jobs bill, it's a small business bill, right now that they say would create jobs by helping small businesses hire. Extend a research and development tax credit and federal spending on infrastructure. That is what the Obama administration says it can do in the short term at least to try to stimulate some economic growth. Here's what Republicans say in the meantime.

As Ed just said, extend the Bush tax cuts. They're due to expire at the end of the year. Extend those indefinitely is what -- or permanently is what the Republicans want. They also say have a tax deduction for small businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Erick Erickson, is there any middle ground for the Republicans? What if the Democrats said you know what, we don't want to do this, but if you give us some of what we want, we'll extend the Bush tax cuts for one year and then we'll talk again and see how things are going.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know politically, I don't know that the Republicans really have to do anything, let the Democrats do anything. Polls are showing most voters have decided the stimulus didn't work and they're showing more and more that voters really don't think the Democrats have the ideas. So if they propose something, they start from the proposition that voters don't think it's going to work.

That's a downside for the Democrats. They really do have to change the psychology. But let's not forget if we go back to 1994, there were three positive months of economic numbers in job growth and GDP growth and the Democrats, by October, were thinking that things weren't going to be so bad for them and they still got wiped out. If we compare, we're at a worst situation economically than we were for the Democrats in 1994 and they still got spanked in '94.

KING: Well if George H.W. Bush is watching, he could call it right now and tell us it was the same way back in 1992. It started to get better in September and October. It didn't do him any good at (INAUDIBLE). But that's a political argument Erick just made. Republicans don't have to do anything to win the election. What about for some guy out there who may be a Republican, who may be an independent, who may be a Democrat saying so that's what this is about, we're not going to do anything but fight until the election. And hello I could use a job. Ed Goeas, if a Republican -- if you were advising a Republican Senator and the president said fine, I'll give you the Bush tax cuts for one more year, but you have to give me this, this and this, how would you tell him to vote?

GOEAS: Here's the hard place first of all that the president's in. He's exactly right. If you look at the stimulus, you have about 60 percent of the American public saying it's not working. Only a third of the American public saying it is working. Basically that principle is now flawed in terms of what they're trying to put out there as their main proposal. Any discussion as the Democrats are trying to put on the table of the stimulus two is dead on arrival before you ever get out --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Oh they won't use that word even if that's what it is.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But (INAUDIBLE) Jackie, you know, you talk to people in the White House every day. They have -- you know look, the president campaigned that he was not going to extend the Bush tax cuts. So he could say asked and answered. This has been litigated by the American people. I won 53 percent in electoral landslide, go away.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But in this environment, any thought at all of saying we've got to give them something to get something?

JACKIE CALMES, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well there is some thought of that, but the -- most Democrats still say and they have polls to show that they have the winning argument against raising the tax rates, against keeping the tax rate at Bush levels for another year or permanently as the Republicans would like. But the president in effect has already extended them once.

He campaigned saying he would repeal them, but they kept it going until they're going to run up against the lapse in the law at the end of this year because the economy was so weak last year. Now what they want to do or what they're trying to do, the trick is getting agreement, to get about $35 billion worth of small business tax cuts, 35 billion being about the amount you would lose from tax cuts on the rich next year in one year alone.

(CROSSTALK)

GOEAS: But here's the problem on the tax cuts for the rich. They talk about the 250,000. Over half of those people are small businesses that cannot hide their profits the way big business does.

(CROSSTALK)

GOEAS: And in fact, that is what is affecting the small business climate out there, is they're sitting there saying I'm about ready to have my taxes increased, and not only increased in terms of what is happening in that area, but the taxes that are coming in January in terms of the new health care bill and what's going to happen in terms of the AMT.

KING: A quick timeout -- quick timeout -- it's a feisty debate. We got to work -- we got to make a little bit of money here so we can continue our conversation, but we will have the debate. When we come back, we'll continue to talk about tax policy and the politics of jobs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: America votes 60 days from today. We know the economy is the number one issue. Let's continue our conversation about the politics of jobs and as we do so let's remind people of the stakes in the midterm elections, when we go over. Sixty days from today, the American people decide who controls Congress. If you look at the United States Senate right now, 59 Democrats, 41 Republicans. You can do the math at home.

The Republicans need to pick up 10 seats to get the majority that a month ago people would have said probably not, now people say maybe, 50-50. House of Representatives is viewed as definitely in play, 179 Republicans, 256 Democrats. Again, do the math at home, 39 seats the Republicans need to gain to deny Nancy Pelosi another term as the Speaker of the House and to put the Republicans in charge.

The economy is the driving force in these elections. And if you think the numbers don't matter, our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash was in suburban Philadelphia today, Patrick Murphy's district. A Democrat who won a year ago, I don't think he would have been on the target list. He's nervous now. She ran into a man, George Repitsky (ph) is his name, he runs a flooring business. He's having a horrible time in this economy and he's going to change his vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE REPITSKY, OWNER, GEORGE'S FLOOR CENTER: I'm a Republican, registered Republican. I voted for President Obama or Democrat this time, I will not do it again. I needed change. He sounded good, all the Democrats did. They don't sound good anymore because they're not doing the job they promised they would do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Peter Fenn if that's happening in the Philadelphia suburbs and there's more than one, and she was out there all day. She says there is more than one, George Repitsky. If it's happening in the Philadelphia suburbs, then it's happening all across America and Nancy Pelosi might be nervous tonight.

FENN: Oh I think -- I think she's definitely nervous, John. I mean look the fact is that getting Republican vote these days is unbelievably tough, getting independent votes for the Democrats is tough. We have to make the case that we can save and created 3.3 million jobs because of the stimulus. We have to make the case that we should not be giving out a tax cut.

(INAUDIBLE) with the $250,000 which the president campaigned on? We ought to take that as someone said and make it a million. That's 85 percent of the money comes in. Have Republicans say I'm for a tax cut for those who make over $1 million a year. We'll keep all the tax cuts in place for the middle class.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Why aren't the Democrats making that case in a forceful way? And I assume with the president in the lead, I want to show you some numbers as we continue the conversation. New polling out today, how do you rate the president's performance on the economy? His overall approval rating actually went up a little bit this month, but look at these numbers on the economy, 40 percent of Americans now give this president approval on the economy.

That is the low point of his presidency in our CNN polling. If that's where the president is, heading into election day, Jeff, the Democrats are in a deeper dish that many of us would have thought a month or two ago. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's not a surprise to them and they've known this for a long time. But a lot of Democrats I talked to this week said why is President Obama talking about the Middle East all of a sudden? The mosque situation hurt them in August. So at least they were heartened by the fact that today he was talking about the economy.

The down side is it wasn't great economic news but you talk to Democrats, you look what they're advertising on television and you look what they're telling voters. Now they're going after their Republican opponents on issues that have nothing to do with their accomplishments. They're going after them -- in Texas, for example, a new ad by Chet Edwards, he is accusing his Republican opponent of not voting in a primary years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're getting --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) things, I think you have a sense that Democrats are running out of options.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been there before. I mean this is --

(CROSSTALK)

GOEAS: This is 2006 for the Democrats. In 2006, I worked in dozens of campaigns and nothing we did worked, nothing we did worked. Democrats are now kind of coming to the realization that no matter what they say and do, nothing is going to work --

KING: Which, again, back to the question I want to ask on behalf of some guy out there trying to find a job --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

KING: If campaigns are to litigate big issues, President Obama won the last campaign, he said we're going to get out of Iraq, we won't extend the Bush tax cuts. We're going to make health care a priority. None of that should have been a surprise. What are we litigating in this campaign? Chet Edwards opponent didn't vote in the primary and somebody once said something -- turned a blind eye --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Are we doing anything --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: John, there's a problem with this one here. You know I mean we can't just go back to 2006. The Republicans could have promised every American a golden goose laying platinum eggs and they still would have been thrown out of office even if such a thing existed. The American public got tired of them. I'm actually shocked frankly that the American public has turned so quickly on the Democrats. Remember just a year ago in January, the cover of "TIME" magazine was Republicans, an endangered species. I don't know that it matters that much anymore. Whoever mentioned earlier, the psychology, they really do, the Democrats have to turn the psychology around and I don't know that they can.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: To that point, I think this is really critical. In 1982, you know, the Republicans took over in 1980. It was a land slide. And they took over the Senate and what happened by '82? The unemployment rate in this country was 10.8 percent. It was over 10 percent for 10 months and of course, that's when Democrats came flying back, but the economy turned back around. So you know voters (INAUDIBLE) they're impatient, they want stuff to happen now and that's the problem Democrats are in right now.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Here's a question. Here's a question --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Hang on one second. Hang on one second because here's a question. Is it harder or is it a bigger fall for this president because the bar was so high? I want you to listen -- this is Barack Obama in Grand Park in Chicago, the night he knows he's the next president of the United States. Listen to this message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This is our moment. This is our time to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids, to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace, to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth that out of many, we are one. That while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people, yes, we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, I don't care -- I don't care how conservative you are or how independent you are, that is uplifting. Today, you get this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There's no quick fix to the worst recession we've experienced since the great depression. The hard truth is that it took years to create our current economic problems and it will take more time than any of us would like to repair the damage. Millions of our neighbors are living with that painfully every day. But I want all Americans to remind themselves there are better days ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A lot of this is not his fault and there's nothing he can do about it, but is it because the bar was so high?

CALMES: Well it was high, but you know when he gave that speech on election night there was the best data you could find at that time would have told you that the economy was slowing to a level that was about twice as good as it actually turned out to be. And so I mean he's right, he has an argument that when he came in, nobody, the best analysts, nonpartisan analysts didn't know how bad it was going to be.

And then a year -- once we knew how bad it was going to be, I could take you back a year and show you things I wrote and what other people wrote that said Democrats would be lucky for unemployment by election time to be coming up -- or coming down to where it was in the neighborhood of eight percent, because of a sort of recession we were in. But their hope -- their best hope was that they would get credit for improvement. What happened this summer is that recovery summer turned out to be flat. There is --

ERICKSON: But you know this isn't an issue though where he runs off the rhetorical cliff like Wily E. Coyote suddenly realizes there's no more rock under him. He's also the guy who said that upon the moment he seized the nomination this is where the oceans begin to recede and the world begins to heal, things like that. And the recovery summer is just -- this is an example. He just continues on past where rhetoric and reality meet and now I'm wondering if he's running for 2012 already.

FENN: Erick, I (INAUDIBLE) ask you one question. Have you read a Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan speech --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Oh yes --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: I do believe it was Ronald Reagan, but I don't with Barack Obama --

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: They do believe in this guy. They like this guy and he'll come back. But that's an over the top --

GOEAS: That's getting -- that's getting into the back (INAUDIBLE) words. I mean what really happened here was that he went way too long on blaming Bush, long past where the voters were focused on blaming Bush and focused on the problem and looking at what are the solutions and are they working? That is what he's being judged on now.

What were the solutions and are they working? And as much as you say it was worse than what they thought, the situation was made worse by many of the solutions they did in the early months of the Obama administration --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Hang on, hang on, nobody going -- one more quick break here. Remember those faces when the president gave that speech on election night, you saw those young faces, those African-American faces. Will those people vote in 60 days? A startling look at some new numbers -- we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Sixty days until Election Day -- the big question is who votes? President Obama won a huge electoral landslide in 2008 because of increased turnout among African-Americans and young people. Will they vote this year? We'll get back to our panel in a second. I want you to look at some interesting new numbers from Gallup just out today.

We'll pop them up here on the screen. Is there an enthusiasm gap out there? There we go right here -- non-Hispanic white voters, that's the green line, black voters, African-American is the yellow line. This is interesting in the campaign. You see white voters are much more interested in the campaign than African-Americans.

That would suggest African-American turnout will be down, younger and older voters, 18 to 20 years old is this bottom line, the gold line and again look at that. Younger voters not much interested at all in this campaign, older voters, slightly. (INAUDIBLE) that's still not a great number if you're a civics teacher, but much lower among young people.

Men and women down here, the purple line is women. Much lower interest among women in this campaign, men a bit higher. Men tend to vote more Republican than women. Ed Goeas, you're a numbers guy. When you look at something like that, we talk about an intensity gap and turnout, if you have a demographic gap like that, what happens?

GOEAS: Well there's two factors. One is this and in 1994, we saw the intensity gap at six percent in the spring grow to 10 percent during the summer and stay there through the campaign. This year we saw it at 14 points in the spring, grow to 16 points and as you see there it's in many cases 17 points. That's only half the story.

The other half of the story is the independents. In an off-year election, a non-presidential year, it's the angry independents that turn out to vote. And this isn't even reflecting those angry independents that also play into the Republican's favor in this election.

KING: So Jeff, if the strategic's (ph) tide is so overwhelming against the Democrats, in 60 days, there are some things you can do tactically, but that requires tough choices if you're Speaker Pelosi, for example, and you want to keep that gavel, you're going to say, sorry Peter, you're eight points down, you're 10 points down, no money for you. Jackie, close enough, we'll give you some money. Are the Democrats ready to do the nuts and bolts? JEFF ZELENY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I think they are because they know that their majority depends on it. Over the next couple of weeks, you know until Labor Day, we'll be over by then. A new batch of polls will come out. They will look to see whose messages are working and some of them might be working out in the country.

So they will hold onto them. The rest will be cut loose. Some of them you know realize that they're not coming back to Washington next year. The one thing that I find interesting (INAUDIBLE) travel around the country, the machinery of the Democratic Party is still much more robust and muscular than the machinery of the Republican Party.

A lot of state Republican Parties are almost broke. You know it's not going to matter a lot. You know it's not going to change the dynamic, but a couple percent here and there. So I think that's one thing to just keep an eye on. You know there is this army of Obama people. Some of them will rally. It will be a small army, but we shouldn't lose sight of that.

FENN: And that's absolutely right. And these close contests they can make a difference. And there are 16 million names on that e- mail list from the Obama campaign. They're talking about $50 million into this get out to vote operation and stayed in touch with those people.

You know is it going to (INAUDIBLE) those numbers up? Ed is right. It probably won't raise them tremendously, but in some of these very, very close races, that level of organization might pull --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: You know I got to tell you something --

(CROSSTALK)

ZELENY: Voted for President Obama is not necessarily going to vote for Democrats again, so you know it's not a sure fire --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Republicans do have a secret weapon though. We're sending Michael Steele to Guam for a couple --

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well I would also say --

(CROSSTALK)

GOEAS: -- same argument was used on the Virginia race last year, the New Jersey race last year, the Massachusetts race this year and what they found is all those resources, all that money, any advance (ph) they had didn't make up for the intensity gap for the angry independents. KING: So what's your biggest question then? If Labor Day is Monday and that's our curtain raiser on the stretch of it, when you sit around and saying all right, how do I want to look at the map, what is your question?

CALMES: Oh, my gosh, well it would be who comes out to vote? I mean it all comes down to that. And you know your chart doesn't have senior voters --

KING: Right.

CALMES: -- and we know that in midterm elections, about 40 percent of the electorate are seniors and they've never been a good group for the Democrat -- for Barack Obama.

KING: They've been trending more and more Republican and we see -- you can go across the country and see Democratic ads saying wants to privatize Social Security, wants to get rid of Social Security. Will it work?

GOEAS: Well here's the difference. Seniors today are not the seniors of 30 years ago. The Democrats keep treating seniors like they're the Roosevelt seniors. They're not. They're the Reagan seniors and so they react to those spots much differently and they're trying to go back to the old playbook. They need to rewrite the playbook if they're going to have an impact with the seniors.

ERICKSON: John, I'm struck by Jim Marshall. I wondered whether or not he wanted to extend the Bush cuts totally. The publisher of the paper was beating down my door today to say that Jim Marshall was saying yes, yes, I want to extend the Bush tax cuts. We have a lot of Democrats in the swing districts that know they're in trouble and they're sounding an awful lot like Republicans.

KING: When the Congress comes back, it's going to be kind of messy because you're going to have a lot of Democrats thinking survival and I would say a circular struggle.

ZELENY: More than usual. I think you're going to -- the dye is set at this point in terms of when members of Congress come back. Obviously nothing is going to change. You're going to see perhaps some fratricide inside the party. When speaker Pelosi has to make those hard choices, a lot of people have taken hard votes for her. It's not going to be pretty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look at some of these races, the blue dogs have run these independent style campaigns. They've already done it. Look at the guy in Idaho, he might win. That's happening in a lot of other districts. The difficulty that the Democrats have right now is that they have to prove that they're fighting Washington, too. That they are independently minded.

GOEAS: Here's the real map in the house. You have 202 seats that will definitely be Democrat. 202 seats that will definitely be Republican. Everything else is up for grabs. It is not, we're at 219-220, let's define the ones we have. So it's a much different situation than in the past that they make a hard choice.

KING: 60 days from today. Appreciate you coming in on a Friday night, Labor Day weekend. Enjoy your weekend. We'll have you back before Election Day. When we come back, it's been a violent summer. Gang related violence in Chicago, we'll talk to the police superintendent and a Catholic priest trying to bring peace to the streets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In Chicago, a long, hot deadly summer may be ending soon. But there's no end in sight to a plague of street violence. Since the first of the year, at least 132 young people aged 25 or younger have been killed. Some targeted deliberately, others simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gang members called their own news conference yesterday to complain about how they're being treated by the police. Sparking outrage by parents and community leaders. With me to talk this over from Chicago is the Reverend Michael Pfleger, the pastor of Saint Savina Church and the police superintendent Jody Weis. Mr. Superintendent I want to start with you first. In a moment, we'll get into the controversy over some of the tactics, but I want both of your views first, the superintendent first on why. Your overall crime rates are down but the audacity, the heinous nature of some of this youth and gang crime is off the smarts. Why?

SUPT. JODY WEIS, CHICAGO POLICE: You have a lot of folks that don't have respect for human life. These gang members are blaming the police department and the law enforcement for harassing and intimidating them and she said how dare they when they intimidate and harass neighborhoods every day, how they kill children and take the future of this city away from us because of the complete lack of respect for human life. It's just so tragic that so many young people, lives have been lost through this senseless gang violence.

KING: Father, I want you to jump in, but as you do I want you to listen to the news conference. Mark Carter who is the voice of ex- offenders organization is actually speaking for the gang members. He spoke out yesterday. He's saying the superintendent is wrong. He met with the gang leaders and said if there are crimes in the community and we can trace them back to you, we're going to charge you as well. Listen to Mark Carter.

MARK CARTER: Is the mayor going to be held accountable for the corruption held on his catch? Is the police superintendent going to be held accountable for all the corrupt cops that kill young black men?

KING: How does a community react when you have people associated with or at least familiar with the people responsible for gang killings talking like that?

REV. MICHAEL PFLEGER, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: Well, firstly, I think the reality is, these are guys who are in gangs. I don't know what the surprise is. When you meet with the police department and they tell you we're not going to tolerate this violence and we're not going to tolerate this gang activity, and you're saying we're going to come after you and we'll use whatever tools we have. Our communities feel threatened. Our children feel threatened every single day. And it's time for the gangs to say, enough of this stuff, stop the killing.

KING: And yet you're taking it from both sides. You have the gang leaders essentially mocking you for meeting with them and saying you're going to be tough and you have people in the political community saying how dare you for meeting with these people. Listen to this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe that the top cop in the city of Chicago is negotiating with urban terrorists here. These are people that are killing our kids. Not only with guns and they're also doing it with drugs.

KING: How would you answer that, sir?

WEIS: Well, let me clarify something, let me be perfectly clear. There was no negotiation at this meeting. It was a monologue, it was not a dialogue. We didn't sit and give them something and trade back and forth. What we did is we simply laid down the facts, that if they kill anyone, if they shoot anyone, we will use every tool we have. We will make use of continuing criminal enterprise statutes and it was a clear message. I do find it amazing that folks that aren't at the meeting never talked to me, are claiming we were negotiating, which is the farthest thing from what actually happened.

PFLEGER: In order to save the lives of our children, whatever it takes and whatever we try. When President Obama said coming into the presidency we're going to talk with the president of Iran, we're going to talk to our so-called enemies to have a reasonable conversation and talk about our problems and our difficulties, I encourage police to talk with gang members, with citizens, store owners, talk with children. Whatever we can do to try to send the message that we have to stop the killing. Whatever it takes. Why can't we have conversations first of all? For a long time we have gang leaders saying we know how to control the streets. Then you tell them this is what we want to do, we want to stop the violence, you got to do it or we're going to get you, now saying we shouldn't talk to them. My feeling is let's think out of the box and talk about saving our country. This worked in Boston.

KING: Father Pfleger, you mentioned this is the president's hometown and because of that when there is this violence in Chicago it gets attention not only across the country but sometimes around the world. People say how could this be happening? 62%, according to the city police department stats of the murders between January and July of this year, tied into gangs. So whether it's somebody in Boston, at home in Chicago or around the world watching, they ask why and what can be done? Obviously there's no magic solution but what do you think is missing from the approach underway right now?

PFLEGER: I'll tell you one thing, John, that is missing to me. Whether it's the BP oil disaster, hurricanes or flooding, when with you put national attention to disasters that are going on around this country. Violence is a disaster. It's an epidemic in this country from Newark all the way to Oakland, California. I think we're missing putting the emphasis nationally on this. Why have we not banned assault weapons? The president of Mexico asked us to ban assault weapons. Why are we not stopping the easy access of guns? Why are we so afraid of the NRAs in America? We've got to stop the easy access. They've overturned the gun laws in D.C. and Chicago, but let's demand registration and training. Let's stop the easy access of guns, because that is now the first line of offense. America's wardrobed with guns right now. So until on a national level we deal with jobs, we deal with easy access to guns, we ban the assault weapons and then we put the programs of conflict resolution into our schools across the country. Those are national things that we are not doing. 48 hours, this country responded to the swine flu. This has been years of violence and we're not responding to it.

KING: Is that a fair response, Mr. Superintendent? Do you think the president who calls your city home and this up to, Washington, D.C. where I work, is ignoring your needs?

WEIS: You know, I wouldn't blame the president, but I think our legislation in D.C. as a whole are. You look at the gun violence, it's usually attributed to lack of education, it's attributed to substance abuse and it's attributed to mental. None of those are really a police problem. It's a very complex problem. We have to work with these various agencies to try to fix it. We've got to teach our young people, without a doubt, conflict resolution, anger management skills. We have to do that. But we also have to give them opportunities for hope. So many kids we run into on the street feel as if they have no hope. And they fall victim to the gangs because the gangs offer them false hope. The only thing that happens when you join a gang, 99 percent of the time, prison or death. We can do better as a country. Look what we did for h1n1. The entire country rallied around that. And yet when we have a condition of public health, which affects so many of our young people, we don't see too much being done. And we've got to bring a common sense approach to this. We've got to get some legislation in place. We've got to bring some programs in place so these young men and women who are being tempted and lured into the gang life have other opportunities.

KING: We appreciate your time tonight. Simply wish you the best in your difficult challenges ahead.

Still a ways to go here tonight. Stay with us. When we come back, we'll bring you our top stories, including Colorado conclusion. Republicans tried to get their candidate to drop out of the race because they don't think he can win. It's still a three way race tonight. And this is the right message? Ben Roethlisberger today had his suspension significantly reduced. Is that the right message to women after his behavior? And Pete's on the street tonight. He's got a question maybe you get asked at the grocery store a lot, paper or plastic?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield for the latest news you need to know right now. Hey Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey to you, John. There's a state of emergency after that big earthquake in New Zealand. The magnitude 7.0 quake hit near Christ Church, causing water mains to break and some buildings to crumble. At least two people are seriously hurt.

In Colorado, Republican nominee Dan Mays refused to get out of the governor's race by this afternoon's deadline, despite pressure from the Republican establishment and tea party activists.

And times change. President Obama is going to campaign with Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak. Last year the white house asked Bill Clinton to talk Sestak out of running and yet there's more. You're going to dig a little deeper and find out what's gotten to the bottom of this. You will be off to Pennsylvania later on in the week.

KING: One of the things we'll explore will be in Pennsylvania. Maybe we'll explore that kumbaya with the Obama white house and Sestak. Then we're going to go to Ohio, Kentucky, three states, we'll be there Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. If you want to follow us, I don't know if you do, go to the website. You can sign up and keep track of us on the road and you can keep track of what we eat.

WHITFIELD: OK. That's the best part of the road trip and we know you'll make it interesting .

KING: It's going to be a lot of fun. I may not come back.

WHITFIELD: Okay. We're going to let you see what they're serving up in terms of their opinions. What's next in politics?

KING: Amen to that. Pittsburgh, it's not just politics. There's a controversy about Ben Roethlisberger. He had his suspension reduced today. Right call or bad call? Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Politics has its occasional sex scandal. Is it treated any differently from say, one involving a big football star? Today the NFL reduced Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's six- game suspension to a four-game suspension. A woman accused him of rape during the off-season. Although Georgia authorities decided not to press charges after the investigation, Roethlisberger still was disciplined by the NFL. As of today, you might say, he's been disciplined a little less. Joining me from New York, our CNN contributor Max Kellerman. This is where sports and culture all intersect. From four to six, six to four, excuse me, there may be many women out there watching, why have you said six games, Mr. Commissioner, would you cut it to four?

MAX KELLERMAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First of all because he was not charged with anything, commissioner Goodell said it is just bad judgment to put yourself in a position where you may be charged with something. So you're suspended six games. For those who don't know, who aren't football fans, a 16-game regular season schedule. Six games is an enormous percentage of the season. Then Roethlisberger showed contrition. He was contrite about his judgment. He didn't admit guilt, obviously, he isn't going to but he did show contrition and as a result, I think Goodell correctly lessened the punishment and took two games back. Correctly or not, he was using the punishment and using Roethlisberger to show the league, this is not tolerable. We will not tolerate poor decision making. But in the face of that, okay, if you understand and you publicly take an apologetic stance, maybe we'll lessen the punishment. It is understandable, I think.

KING: That's an interesting point you make about this commissioner. He was not charged. Roger Goodell said that doesn't necessarily matter. You are ambassadors of the league and I will have my own standards of moral conduct. If I think you're doing something that reflects poorly on the league, he will crack down. Has he learned a lesson? Some people would say why did you cut it? Should he suspend people indefinitely and then decide on a number?

KELLERMAN: I think he is using that punishment and reward correctly to change behavior. It not just that Roethlisberger wasn't convicted of anything. Charges were never brought against him. The thing I will say about Roethlisberger that is disturbing, this is not a Plaxico Burress situation, the wide receiver for the giants who took a loaded gun into a club for self-defense purposes. A teammate of his had recently been held up at gunpoint and so he felt unsafe at the club. Maybe he was trying to show off, look what a bad dude he is. He has a loaded gun. At any rate, you can still be a Plaxico Burress fan even if he was guilty which it turns out he was of bringing the gun into the club. What Roethlisberger was being accused of, not charged work his accuser accused him of something that were it true, it would not be possible for a respectable person to be a Roethlisberger fan any longer. His accuser claimed that she was taken into a bathroom against her by Roethlisberger's body guards, essentially, and then he forced himself upon her. That was what she accused him of. So yes, charges were never brought against him. If charges are never brought against him, he is not found guilty but it was the kind of accusation where, were it true, you couldn't -- my test, John, is the jersey test. Can you wear the guy's jersey again? If we convicted of that, you couldn't wear that guy's jersey again.

KING: A great test. Thanks for coming in. Nice to talk about. This he may have a little less of a suspension but the spotlight, I get commission her keep an eye on Big Ben, sometime called bad Ben Roethlisberger. When we come back, if you live here in D.C. and you don't bring your bags to the store, you have to pay a nickel a bag.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Coming up on the top of the hour on "RICK'S LIST PRIME TIME." Let's check in with Rick Sanchez for a preview.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: John, you won't believe what we just got. Our researchers have just informed me after making phone calls, police have now allowed us to see that 911 call that came out when there was that shooting at the Discovery Channel building. We should turn that around in a couple of minutes. We may have it at the top of the show. Back to you, John.

KING: Pete is out on the street. Pete sometimes looks a little funny but this is looking interesting tonight. The question is, Pete, paper or plastic?

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Plastic, John. Many uses for the plastic bag. You know, California just tried to become the first state to ban single use plastic bags. They failed. But I talked to the mayor of a town in Washington, Edmonds, Washington. They have done it. West Port, Connecticut has done it. Plastic bags. Would you pay for them? You have a law in Washington, don't you?

KING: We have a law in Washington where you have to pay a nickel for a bag. Usually it is plastic when you go to the store. Most of the stores have the plastic bags. You have to pay. They're trying to encourage you not to use them. Don't you do that all the time?

DOMINICK: I do. I use the recyclable. I got the nylon and I got the canvas bags. These plastic bags, they are good for one thing. Picking up dog poop. Recycle. Everybody has to do their part. What is in these? They're made of oil.

KING: An environmentally friendly message from Pete Dominick as we enter into the Labor Day weekend. You enjoy yours. Please stay safe. Have some fun with the family. That's all for us. We'll see you Monday. We'll be on the road in Pennsylvania. "RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME" starts right now.