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JOHN KING, USA

9/11 Anniversary Tomorrow

Aired September 10, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Suzanne.

And good evening, everyone, on this September 10th.

I remember the morning of 9/11 as if it were yesterday. The Secret Service ordered, yelling for everyone to run from the White House grounds. Young staffers crying as they ran down the North Lawn driveway. People screaming there was a plane heading toward the White House or maybe the Capitol. Fear and confusion.

Then sadly, the crisp blue sky stained with smoke across the Potomac at the Pentagon. The nation will again pause and remember tomorrow on September 11th not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans.

To reinforce that point, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama will pay tribute together at the site of the Flight 93 crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Still this 9/11 feels different, more entangled in politics on year nine as it has been, in my memory anyway, in the past.

Debates about mosques and talks Koran burnings are proof enough and while the president did not start those emotional discussions, he weighed in today during a more than hour long news conference at the White House.

He also drew some sharp contrast with Republicans on economic issues and shrugged off the cold reality that many Democrats are running from him and his agenda this election year.

The politics in a moment, but first, the issue that turned the president from professorial to passionate, tolerance in American after 9/11. The president was also passionate in making clear he sees no reason that a mosque and cultural center should not be built a few blocks from what we now call Ground Zero.

So is this 9/1 different and what most was striking today about the president, let's talk it over with our senior political analyst David Gergen, CNN contributor Roland Martin and with me here in Washington, CNN contributor Erick Erickson, and two White House correspondents who were in the east room today for that news conference, Times Michael Sheer, and CNN senior White House correspondent Ed Henry.

And Ed, let's start with the president talking so passionately about tolerance in America, and about, and there was some controversy about this at a Ramadan dinner.

He said he supported the mosque and then were some who thought he had stepped back a little bit. Listen to the president today, it is clear from Mr. Obama here that he believes if they want to build that mosque, they should be allowed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: One of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely. And what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a church on a site, if you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, he came into the room to draw contrast on the economy, but the president and his staff had no know by saying that he reignited the whole mosque debate.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, but he was not equivocating like he had seemed to have done before, very passionate. He said after that, look, I'm commander in chief.

I've got Muslim soldiers serving in Afghanistan and said, look, the American people need to know we are not at war with Islam. He earlier also talked about how he praised George W. Bush and said that the thing I most admired is that after 9/11.

He made it crystal clear that we are not at war with Islam. Just a week after the president had a hard time thanking President Bush for what he had done with the surge in Iraq.

So I think it was interesting. It was passionate, but it's also dangerous political territory. This is a president who knows that are a large number of Americans who mistakenly believe his Muslin.

So to be getting out there on these issues and standing up, it's politically treacherous and that's why he quickly added you'll know, at one point, I'm a president of Christian faith and we are all one nation under God.

KING: And yet, as we continue the discussion, I want to say without taking sides in this, but in the way, amen. We have so many politicians in these days who were driven by polls, driven by talking points who sound the same day in, day out.

If this is what he believes, Erick. I know you disagree with him on this, but if this is what he believes, isn't it refreshing to see someone who passionate. This is what I think, this is what I believe and now you can debate me at least you know where I stand.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it was refreshing to a degree after having sat through the press conference over and over. I mean, every question had to have the words middle-class in the answer until the last.

Then he was passionate and the hand gestures came back and the pointing and the karate chop hand maneuver, they all came back to him, but the problem for him is that we are starting this show talk about this issue, and not the economy. And everyone else is doing the same.

KING: Well, I also think, that it is important to talk about the broader message the president was trying to puncture through and I think the country needs to think about given the emotional debates we have had about Koran burnings and the mosque near Ground Zero and other places in the United States.

And that is are we more tolerant or are we - how more suspicious nine years after 9/11. I want to bring in David and Roland into the conversation.

But first, I want you to hear from the president here who spoke about tolerance as the president and more importantly from his perspective as the commander in chief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I've got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan. In the uniform of the United States' armed services. They are out there putting their lives on the line for us and we've got to make sure that we are crystal clear for our sakes and their sakes, they are Americans.

We honor their service and part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don't differentiate between them and us. It is just us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: David, he could have shied away or given shorter answers to these questions knowing there is an election 53 days from now and this is quick sand perhaps. But he was very passionate about the issues and perhaps remembering he'll be president well past that election in 53 days.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: John, he seemed to resolve whatever internal doubts he may have had about this issue and come out really four squared and I think spoke from the heart and from his soul on this.

I do think that he deserved points for courage given the polls and how upset many Americans are. I think that he gave what is one of the best arguments that I have heard for placing the mosque here.

What surprised me as well though, was that I thought that given what the imam's conversation with CNN a couple of nights ago in which he said, look, if I had known what I know now, I would not have put it here and I'm looking for an alternative.

I thought the president would encourage that, you know, perhaps trying to find ways to make this more of an interfaith center than he did, so I was surprised that he came out saying, OK, if they want to build it here not only do they have that right, but he seemed to say today, it is also the right thing to do, and let's e embrace it.

I was surprised by that and give him points for courage. I thought there was a way that he might have walked the line a little differently.

KING: Could you argue, Roland, though and you're not (inaudible) to David, but come on in.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, remember, what was the question that Wendell Goler asked, and he talked about -- the question really dealt with this whole climate in this country.

There were some of other questions that dealt with that and so I think that is why one of the reasons why you saw the president talk about this whole issue of intolerance.

Understand this is also a president who has been under attack with what he has different values, a different world view, and so I think he, himself, realizes that you have people in this country, who, you don't know, but you don't have to call them bigots or call them racists or call them anti-Muslim.

But there are people out there who are expressing these doubts who are not asking some critical questions, and that is, I'm talking about a fellow American and so I think by reinforcing that, it is by recognizing what am I doing?

Am I looking at every Muslim in the same way and somehow assuming they are terrorists? That's the problem that we have I think in this country right now.

KING: It's actually an excellent point that Roland makes. We will get to the Koran burning controversy in a minute, but let's just step back and come up to 30,000 feet for a minute, and Michael Scherer, does this 9/11 seem more politicized than those in the past?

MICHAEL SCHERER, TIME MAGAZINE: There's no doubt about it. I mean, it started three or four weeks ago we're now in this. This is, again, a problem for the president.

He would rather be talking about middle-class, middle-class, middle-class, but what he is doing to fight for them, but the thing we are taking away from this is that when he talks about these issues, he is far more passionate.

KING: But yes, he would prefer to talk about other things, David Gergen, but if some of the ardent supporters some of whom perhaps are tuned out for this election campaign because maybe they're disappointed in him in some way or maybe they don't like the Congress and think those elections don't matter, but if they see a passionate president, might they say, yes, now I remember.

GERGEN: I'm not so sure, John, because back to Michael's point which I think was very well taken, because he didn't have the same sense of passion about jobs and about the middle-class.

You know, I thought that yesterday we could have had a whole conversation on television about that piece on the front of the "New York Times" saying that China is eating our lunch when it comes to renewable energy.

They have created a million jobs, and here the jobs are disappearing and going to China on the renewable energy and how do we fight for people? That is what I think people and the Democratic Party. I think that's what Americans want to see them doing is fighting for jobs.

KING: Let's let the people at home -- Roland, let the people at home be the judge. Let's listen to the president. We just heard him talking about tolerance and talking about the proposed mosque and cultural center. Here's the president drawing a difference between the Republicans and the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: If you want the same kinds of skewed policies that led us up to this crisis, then, you know, the Republicans are ready to offer that.

But, if you want policies moving us on even though you are frustrated and even though change is not happening as fast as you'd like, then I think the Democrats are going to do fine in November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is a fair point, David Gergen, makes that he is drawing a distinction there, but in a more professorial way less partisan way.

SCHERER: Absolutely, not quite as passionate on that, but he has laid out the stakes out here for the election. The contrast with the Republicans, but of his problem in terms of maybe a lack of passion on this is that these proposals he laid out.

The new ones this week, we have chewed over them all week and maybe he should have saved them for Friday to roll them out for the news conference, but also, they are going nowhere fast.

I mean, it's not just the Republicans who don't want to give him a last minute victory before the midterms. We've heard very little from Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi saying, yes, let's get these done before the election. They know the clock is ticking.

ERICKSON: John, for you who have been around a lot longer than me, I was wondering when I watched today. What's part of the problem with that is he's the president of the United States giving a press conference from the White House, but he's trying to get the campaign stump, so he can't give the fire in the belly like --

KING: I have heard presidents of both parties be partisan in east room or any room in the White House, so maybe he found it personally restricting in some way, but history supports that any president can be passionate in the White House.

And Roland, we have to take a break. When we come back, is that Koran burning still scheduled tomorrow? Is there confusion? And what did the president say today in drawing a line on why he thought it was important that the administration got involved. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If we can believe the people in a small church in Gainesville, Florida, tomorrow's scheduled Koran burning is off. Several times today, Pastor Terry Jones or people who say they have talked to him came to the microphone outside that church and told reporters point blank he will not, not burn a Koran tomorrow.

But on morning talk shows, Jones seemed say both now and maybe. As we speak, news crews are camped out waiting for Jones to make another statement or perhaps to leave for New York to meet with the imam behind plans to build that Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero.

So as we continue the discussion here, we are not the only ones talking about this. The president of the United States had to talk about it today. He was asked a question about it.

He said he was not responsible for elevating the story, but he did in very strong language say both as president and as commander in chief, why he thought it was important for his Administration try to stop the Koran burning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The idea that we would burn the sacred texts of someone else's religion is contrary to what this country stands for. It is contrary to what this nation was founded on.

And, you know, my hope is that this individual prays on it and refrains from doing it. But, I'm also commander in chief, and we are seeing today riots in Kabul, riots in Afghanistan that threaten our young men and women in uniform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Roland, as the president made what he believes to be an important point, he was kind enough to use the term individual and I have used gad fly and pastor, which I think are probably more appropriate.

But the president was being kind there, but to the bigger point, the president does view this as some national security risk.

MARTIN: Absolutely, because, again, how this is going to be perceived around the world is important. I mean, we saw what happened with those Danish cartoons and the editorial drawings drawn up, and General Petraeus has come out and actually made a comment as well.

And I'll tell you as a Christian, as the husband of an ordained minister, I would hope this pastor could be more prophetic as opposed to partisan, as opposed to saying I am somehow going to recognize 9/11 and what took place nine years ago in a prophetic pastoral manner as opposed to in this hyper-partisan manner.

So he should think more about the God in him versus the secular, versus the flesh in him.

KING: I want to show our viewers some pictures. These came in today from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, the Koran burning protest there, and it is one of the many protests that administration has says.

And our CNN international desk has tracked around the world, Muslims around the world voicing outrage that this could possibly happen in the United States.

David, when you see those pictures, it reinforces the administration's concerns number one, and how did the president handled this one today?

GERGEN: I'll tell you exactly the right argument. There was a national security concern, and somebody died in the protests today in Afghanistan. There were a number of people wounded by gunshots in those protests.

Can I just say that it is a pleasure that we have now had 12 hours without seeing that jerk from Florida on national television. It is such a pleasant change from what we have had over the last week.

I -- I think that it seems to me that the media in general and television in particular is now moving away from trying to give this guy a platform and that's terrific. It will help to diffuse this in some way. I don't see him as a partisan. There is nothing partisan about him. I see him as a lunatic who's looking for publicity.

KING: I would --

MARTIN: Well, it is --

KING: Well, go ahead, Roland.

MARTIN: well, first of all, your role as a pastor based upon the sermon on the mount is to bring people to Christ, and so my whole point there is his role as a prophetic voice as opposed to saying I'm going to do this actual burning of the Koran as a way to be more of a patriot, as a testament to 9/11, and that was the whole point there, and it was more prophetic than partisan.

KING: And we call the word lunatic used and I said gadfly, and fringed. There might be a few others out there, and hopefully we don't have to hear from Terry Jones in the 40 minutes of this program tonight.

Let me ask a bigger question though, and in doing so, the president as we know today, the president complimented George W. Bush today. And so let's go back in time. Let's listen to George W. Bush in the days immediately after 9/11, making a distinction that throughout his presidency from that moment on, he made time and time again, and said it is critical.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The face of terrorism is not the true face of Islam. That is not what Islam is all about.

Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war. When we think of Islam, we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, let's forget and lump it together the fringe idiot in Florida, but why across America, and forget what he wants to do, but is that a tougher statement today? Is there more doubt, more suspicion? More wonder and more intolerance?

HENRY: Well, the president today attributed it in part to the fact that there is so much economic anxiety out there, and people are going to lash out.

Another thing, when you watch President Bush saying that, it is remarkable now that people are still in this country saying that you can't put a mosque near Ground Zero, because they attacked us on 9/11 as if it were Islam that attacked instead of the terrorists, and that distinction is still not made enough in the country.

ERICKSON: And this is the frustration I've had all week with this and the conflating it with the mosque issue, is that there is a conversation that needs to be had that everyone is dancing around.

And that is how can one pastor in Florida by burning some books set off millions of people to riot in the streets overseas, and I mean, as an example last year, our military in Afghanistan burned a pile Bibles so that American soldiers would not be tempted to proselytize.

There were no Christians riding and when the American people see that I think and then they see that -- we don't want to engage in the conversation that maybe necessary out of that.

I think that (inaudible). We talk about tolerance and intolerance and what about other tolerances. What about virtues and vices of those who are writing the street about a Danish film worker over burning Korans?

HENRY: Well, you have to bring the media into this issue. Over the last few years we have had a segmentation of the press that is feeding this economic discontent and so you have the ability of one, you know, whatever you want to call him, to sort of capture our imagination. Everyone starts running with it, and it dominates the news cycle and we have another one of these sort of side issues every week or twice a week and we have to be able to get away from it.

We have to be able to turn off the cameras of the stake out and say this guy does not have power over us. He shouldn't have power over what's happening to our troops. He should not be causing protests in Pakistan.

In the end, what is going to come down is if we empower these people to take over our imagination - we'll have Koran burnings in every state, and there are plenty of people out there who want to do this.

KING: I give an amen on that point. Gentlemen, I thank you all for coming in tonight. Roland, David, Erick, Michael and Ed, a lot more to come in the program tonight. We will continue our conversation on the sensitive issues as well.

Among the people we will talk is our friend, Fareed Zakaria, when we come back one on one with Fareed. He says the United States government grossly overreacted to 9/11. He'll explain just what he means in a provocative conversation.

When we go wall to wall tonight, who were the heroes of 9/11? The first responders, the firefighters, and nine years later across the country budget cuts meaning many are being laid off in New York City as one place, and could it be your state, too?

And also, it is 53 days from the very critical midterm election. We will go off to the races tonight, discuss the president's views of the economy and why so hard today for the president to say that word?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Johns with the latest news that you need to know right now. Hey, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Some of the smoldering rubble is still too hot to search, but firefighters in San Bruno, California, say that no one is missing after a gigantic gas line explosion and fire that destroyed 38 homes in this neighborhood near San Francisco. Four people died and 52 others are injured.

Iran now says it will not release a U.S. hiker tomorrow because the judicial process is not complete. The three hikers have been held for more than 13 months.

And strong words today from Defense Secretary Robert Gates as he marked World Suicide Prevention Day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There is always a horrible tragedy to see a service member safely off of the battlefield only to lose them to this scourge. We can, we must, and we will do better. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: "John King USA" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: As we approach the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, my next guest says it is clear that the United States overreacted. Writing in "Newsweek," CNN'S Fareed Zakaria asks when do we declare victory? When do the emergency power cease?

Fareed joins us now from New York. Fareed, on that point, you have for years been writing that perhaps the United States government overreacted and went too far.

This year, you posted some comments on cnn.com and I understand the reaction was more overwhelming than in years past and why do you think is that so?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I think part of what is going on, John, is that we are at a very polarized moment, almost dysfunctionally polarized so that anything that one says is, can taken as red meat by one side or another to whip people into a frenzy or hysteria.

And I feel as though the emergency measures have gone too far and Homeland Security has gone too far and we have created this gargantuan bureaucracy. There is now 17 million square feet of new office space that's three Pentagons or 22 U.S. capitals to house the new intelligence and counterterrorism bureaucrats, 250,000 of them.

Now, this would seem to be an issue on which it would not necessarily be a left-right divide, but the right now views this as suggesting that, you know, that there is no enemy, that this is appeasement. To a certain extent, the left, I think, has always been uncomfortable with the idea that we might have done something smart in the first few months and year or two after 9/11, because it suggests that the Bush administration deserves some credit for getting a few things right, and the result is you can't have a rational conversation about this subject nine years after the event.

KING: And so, you talk about this gargantuan bureaucracy, the billions of dollars involved and in a new report out by the men who lead the 9/11 Commission, just today, they seem to agree with you, and they say that so much of the focus is on military efforts overseas, in Afghanistan, elsewhere in the world, when they say the greatest threat to them, at the moment seems to be that the efforts to radicalize folks right here at home, in the United States. Is the government at all prepared for that part of the threat?

ZAKARIA: Do you know, the first part of what they say, and it is important, is keep in mind that we have something like a 500 to one ratio of dollars being spent military to civilian, military to political. In other words, for every $500 we are spending on military missions abroad, there's only $1 being spent for political outreach or anything that could be counted as the sort of soft power approach. The biggest danger we face without any question has always been the radicalization of populations at home. The reason that the United States has not had a single serious plan, even after 9/11, and the FBI will confirm this, you know, most of the plans that whether they have uncovered have been pretty lame. The reason that we have not had a serious plan is that the American-Muslim community is not radicalized, it's pretty mainstream compared to Europe, compared to many other country, almost every country in the world, so the focus should be maintaining the confidence of this population, figuring out ways we can actually partner with them.

KING: And does the current administration in its focus and in its responses contribute to this? And I ask in this context, you write in your column talking about al Qaeda's diminished power and influence: "Today, al Qaeda's best hope is to find a troubled young man who has been radicalized over the Internet, and teach him to stuff his underwear with explosives."

And that is largely, not exclusively, but largely, a homegrown threat issue. And yet, today at this news conference at the White House, President Obama was asked, nine years later, why hasn't the United States government been able to find Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, obviously, much of that is in the Bush administration, but we're now we're now 19 months into the Obama administration. Here's the president's answer:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think, capturing or killing bin Laden and Zawahiri would be extremely important to our national security. It doesn't solve the problems, but it remains a high priority of this administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does it need to be?

ZAKARIA: I think that the ideal honest answer should be that the president should not publicly say these things, because it unnecessarily, it overvalues those two individuals. This is a larger network. But, yeah, of course, privately, he should be telling the people as strongly as he can, get them. And the reason to get them is not that these guys have IQs of 200 and have some kind of mastermind plan that we need to understand. It's symbolic. You get bin Laden, you get Zawahiri, you have symbolically destroyed al Qaeda.

But, the truth of the matter, Wolf, is that they are hidden somewhere in caves in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they are not doing very much. Al Qaeda central, that is the group around bin Laden, in the -- all through the 1990s, every two years was producing one spectacular terrorist attack after the other, and in the nine years since 9/11, they have been unable to execute a single major terrorist attack anywhere, all they do now is to produce videotapes. It's almost like a virtual terrorism operation, rather than an actual terrorism operation.

KING: I want you to first listen to the president talking about his predecessor, and then help us put into today's context.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam, we were at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam, had stolen its banner to carry out their outrageous acts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A compliment to President Bush from President Obama. And yet, as you noted, as we mark this anniversary, there are controversies about building a mosque in cultural center near Ground Zero. There is the big debate about this gadfly pastor in Florida who says he may or may not burn Korans an there is, without a doubt, increasing suspicion, mistrust of Muslims living in the United States. Is that just the natural passing of time that this is a more political day now?

ZAKARIA: Well, I think it's interesting. I, first of all, agree with entirely with you, John. I think it's fascinating to notice that this is probably the most political politicized, polarized conversation we've had around 9/11 and you would have thought, you know, that the year or two afterwards it would be like that, but no, it is now. Why is it?

Part of it is, I think, you know, we're not feeling threatened. I think that the proof of my column is just in the fact that most Americans don't think that we are at war. There is something that has changed in the Republican Party. I think that because the Republicans are now in the opposition, and they are freed from the constraints of power and the responsibilities of power, they are having a field day with this, and frankly, exciting a great deal of suspicion and fear and hate.

What is tragic to me is that President Bush is not speaking out. This is something that is very close to his heart. He always believed that it was possible to bridge the divides between religions, he's a man of faith, himself, and I would hope, I would appeal to President Bush that this is a moment for him to step into the public arena. I know he hasn't, but he must be looking at what is happening to the Republican Party with an enormous sense of dismay. This is not the Republican Party he was leading only nine years ago.

KING: That's an interesting point. Fareed Zakaria, before I let you go, give us a little sneak preview of what we will see on GPS, this weekend.

ZAKARIA: We've got two great things, a panel about exactly the questions that we've been talking about, are we safer with, including within it, the man who headed up Homeland Security at the White House on 9/11 for George W. Bush. And then Peter Orszag, President Obama's, one of his key economic aides gives us his first interview upon leaving the White House.

KING: We'll look forward to that and we appreciate your time, today. Fareed Zakaria, thanks so much.

ZAKARIA: Always a pleasure, John.

KING: And when we come back, tonight's top stories, and a look at the firefighters -- the true heroes of 9/11.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Joe Johns is back with the political news that you need to know, right now.

JOE JOHNS, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. Late this afternoon, Sarah Palin responded to a dig from California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor's on a trade mission to Asia and sent this picture and tweet from his jet: "Over Anchorage, AK. Looking everywhere, but can't see Russia from here. We'll keep you updated as search continues."

Palin now tweeted back, "Arnold should have landed. I could have explained our multibillion dollar state surplus and U.S. energy security efforts. What's he been up to?"

Back here in Washington, people have noticed President Obama was not wearing his wedding ring at today's news conference. The White House says, no problem, it's just getting repaired.

Tomorrow morning, the president, the first lady and Vice President Biden will attend separate events commemorating the victims of 9/11. The president will speak at the Pentagon, the vice president will be in New York, Michelle Obama will join former first lady, Laura Bush, in Pennsylvania.

And John, it is simply almost impossible to believe that it has been nine years since those fateful moments.

KING: Nine years and A, let's hope that we can just be Americans tomorrow, and set politics aside for an important day to remember. And B, I want to walk over to the Magic Wall, Joe, because if you remember on 9/11, who were the heroes, the first responders at the Pentagon, at that site, at the World Trade Center site, in New York, across the country when there were some attacks and then some suspected attacks? It was the firefighters who were the first responders.

Right now in these times of budget crises, those first responders, the firefighters especially, are suffering. Look at the map. If you see a states in red, those are the states that have had the most layoffs of firefighters because of budget crises. The yellow, those have had the most fire station closures. So, if you see a state with both colors, you've had layoffs and closures.

And if you can look here, sometimes it might be a little hard to see, but see the states with the thicker yellowish gold around the border of the state, well, those are the highest number of projected layoffs, because, especially, as the federal stimulus money dries up, many states still have budget crises and they are looking at big layoffs.

And what do those layoffs mean? This tells you pretty closely. If you have a five-man crew or a four-man crew, here is the overall scene time: you call 911, how long does it take them to get in the vehicle, get to the scene and do the most important business? A five- person or a four-person crew, somewhere in the ballpark of 15-18 minutes. Smaller crew, means longer response time, two-person crew, it could take 25 minutes or so for them to get to the scene. So, a smaller crew puts you more at risk.

Let's just look specifically, in closing, at the city of New York. Here's what happened last year, about 150 layoffs, 336 jobs lost through attrition, maybe people moved out of state, maybe they retired, those weren't filled because there was no money. This year, almost cut as many as 1,600 jobs, and the mayor, at one point, proposed cutting 20 stations. A compromise kept that from happening, but this is still on the table heading into next year because of tough budgetary times. So, we will keep an eye on this, as well, as we salute the firefighters on 9/11.

When we come back, officials in San Bruno, California, have called a news conference for the top of the hour to give an update on that huge gas explosion. CNN will bring you that event, live. And when we come back, the president came into news conference today wanting to talk about jobs, taxes and the economy. How'd he do? Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: We're going "Off to the Races."

KING: Fifty-three days to Election Day and the president was hoping to change the economic debate out there in the country with his news conference today at the White House. Let's talk over whether or not he had success or not in easing the fears of Democrats on the ballot, this year.

Joining me again, CNN senior correspondent, Joe Johns, also with us, senior political analysis, Gloria Borger, and our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Before we begin the conversation, let's take a look at, you're all familiar with this word cloud technology, let's pop it up on the screen here. This is, essentially, if you take the transcript of the president's news conference, you run it through a computer, and it highlights. The larger the word, the more often he said it. And one of the things you're struck by is the word "going." A press conference is to talk about your achievements, but the president spent a lot of time talking about the economy is going to get better. We have plans that are going to get bring the middle class help down the road.

Hard in an election year to say, "going" as opposed to "look what we have done for you." Another thing I find interesting, and then everybody jump in, is the president was asked a pretty direct question, he proposed new infrastructure spending, this week, $50 billion, build growth, build bridges, well that's stimulus, right, stimulus spending?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR POLITICAL ANALYSIS: Shhhh.

KING: Shhh, is right, Gloria. If you're the president, why won't you use the word "stimulus?"

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: There is no doubt that everything we've been trying to do, everything that we've been trying to do is designed to stimulate growth and additional jobs in the economy. I mean, that's our entire agenda. So, I have no problem with people saying the president is trying to stimulate growth and hiring. Isn't that what I should be doing? I would assume that's what the Republicans think we should do to stimulate growth and jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If I got this right, the president says it is OK to say he's trying to stimulate growth, just don't say he's trying to do it with a stimulus program.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. I mean, you're basically asking him at this point to curse or say a dirty word, because that is effectively what it is right now.

JOHNS: It's a 4-letter word.

BASH: Exactly, I mean, we know we were...

BORGER: Words, you cannot say on TV. That's one of them.

BASH: George Carlin or whatever. But, the reality is that that is a word that people do know and it is a word, unfortunately for the Democrats, people associate with a lot of spending right now that may or may not have worked. And what Democrats we saw out on the campaign trail this week, in a big way, what Democrats voted for it are desperately trying to do is make it real to their constituents and their voters in their home districts, unclear if it's going to work.

BORGER: He doesn't want to cause Democrats any more trouble than he has caused them. I mean it's not as if he can go out there and brag about everything he's achieved, because it's controversial. Health care reform, 65 percent of the American people don't like, and stimulus, don't see the results of it, financial reform, he is not getting the credit for that at this point.

KING: And another interesting point is there's a debate out on all of these campaigns about the Bush tax cuts are due to expire at the end of the year. The president wants to leave in place the tax cuts if it is a family making $250,000 or less, you keep your tax cuts. The Republicans say leave them all in and the president said no, country can't afford that, we need the revenue from the higher taxes on rich Americans, because we need to pay down the deficit. But listen here, did the president open the door to a compromise?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Well, certainly there's going to be room for discussion. My hope is, is that on this small business bill that is before the Senate, right now, that we actually make some progress. I still don't understand why we didn't pass that two months ago. As I said, this was written by Democrats and Republicans. This is a bill that traditionally you'd probably get 90 percent or 100 percent Republican support, but we've been playing politics for the last several months and if the Republican leadership is prepared to get serious about doing something for families that are hurting out there, I would love to talk to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So Joe, he says there's room for discussion at the top of that sound bite, he'd love to talk to them if they'll be serious at the bottom, but then in the middle, essentially you got, it's a bad idea.

JOHNS: Sure, yeah. Well, and there's also an implicit assumption in there that there's a lot of distance between people who make $250,000 a year and people who make $1 million a year. And he even went so far as to say that, well, you know, you're going to get the tax breaks at $250,000, but once you get above that that's when we're going to start hitting you and get rid of the Bush tax cuts.

This is one of his problems that the good that they're trying to tell people about sometimes it's very difficult to explain. It takes some explaining and Americans, a lot of Americans don't have so much patience, there's so much anger.

KING: On the subject of explaining, let me walk over here just a minute, because the president's argument about not extending the tax cuts for those who make over $50,000 a year, is based on this, No. 1, here's some historical tax rates. Let me come across here, quickly. President makes the case, tax rates are pretty historically low. So, if a rich American, wealthy Americans, maybe you don't think you're rich out there, making $250,000 or more, he says, that's not so bad.

Let's look at the Bush tax cuts, let me make this one go away. Here's the point the president makes when it comes to the Bush tax cuts. If you leave them all in place the impact on the deficit is up here. If you take away 250,000 and above, you essentially take this money and bring it into the federal Treasury and the deficit is, you can't say it's a lot smaller, but it's not as big. That's the president's argument, that he needs that money here in Washington for that.

BORGER: Well, he's trying to say that Republicans are hypocrites, right? How Republicans are concerned about the deficit. Americans are concerned about the deficit. So, he's saying, OK, my Republican brethren, if you're so concerned about the deficit why do you want to add that $700 billion to it, but with these tax cuts? And why do you want to keep the middle class from getting their tax cuts made permanent? BASH: And it's also from the perspective of Democrats and one of the big messages that they're trying to get across is also a question of fairness. And one of the reasons that you are hearing President Obama now sticking to his campaign pledge to get rid of those tax cuts for those making $250,000 or more and the Democratic leadership on the Hill agreeing to that, even though it's controversial, and a question of whether or not it will actually stick legislatively is because they are apoplectic about the Democratic base to being enthusiastic and this is one of the tools they think can help bring them out by says, look, we're sticking to our campaign pledge, we're going to help the little guy, not the rich guy.

BORGER: Can I just say that all these arguments are really complicated and that's the problem in the midterm election. You know, for the president to say, OK, we're going to give you these tax increases on the rich, but the middle class will be OK. Republicans I talk to say he's in our wheelhouse. We're just going to say he wants to raise taxes, Democrats raise taxes.

JOHNS: It's dangerous for the base, too. But it is dangerous for the base if they were to go in and say, OK, we're going to give people over $250,000 the tax cuts. The base would get mad at him, because that was a campaign promise.

KING: And they're mad enough as -- we'll have to wait until after the election. Joe, Gloria, Dana, thanks for coming, tonight.

Up next, Pete on the Street is out there saying, hey, if you could have been in that news conference today and ask the president a question, what would it be?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's check in with Rick Sanchez, get a sense of what's coming up in just a couple minutes on RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME.

Hey there.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: This news conference, John, in San Bruno is just getting started. We're getting some brand new pictures of what this scene looks like, so lots of unanswered questions and we're going to try and get for you tonight. We'll have it right here on RICK'S LIST. Back to you.

KING: President's news conference got our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick thinking. If you had a chance to ask the president of the United States a question, what would it be? So we sent him out on to the street to find out. If you're a sports fan, pay close, you might recognize one of the people Pete found. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE DOMINICK, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: What would you ask the president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can he make me more richer because I'm tired of working?

DOMINICK: Can he make you richer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

DOMINICK: You lazy, handout wanting -- no, I'll answer, no, work hard. What kind of phone is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm tired of working.

DOMINICK: Tired of working? You're like 12. Get to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (singing) How can we create peace in the Middle East

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you going to any fashion shows this week?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd say, what is he wearing? Who designs his suits?

DOMINICK: Good question. Good question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what I want to know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (singing) When are we going to see clean renewable technology.

DOMINICK: Legendary star Chris Mullin walking around like he's not one of the greatest players of all time. He's looking through his home. Is Kareem Abdul Jabbar in there?

CHRIS MULLIN, BASKETBALL STAR: It's about flexibility, see the floor, hit the open man, rely on your teammates. I'd ask if he has a good left hand. He's a lefty, right?

DOMINICK: He is lefty.

MULLIN: Can you go right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama, how do you like the job so far?

DOMINICK: What do you think he's going to say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's challenging, but it's rewarding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When are you going to legalize marijuana?

DOMINICK: Oh, oh, oh...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (singing) What does it mean to win in Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, you ever catch JOHN KING USA on CNN? High def, at 7:00 every night? DOMINICK: Especially with that "Pete on the Street" segment, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And with my kid, Pete?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: John, that last guy, I'm related to him, I have to confess.

KING: That's your younger brother, right?

DOMINICK: Yeah, that's my younger brother, thanks a lot.

KING: Tell your dad I said hello, it's nice to see him on TV. So, what question would Pete Dominick ask the question?

DOMINICK: Well, you know, you and I talked on the radio, on my radio show, today, and I thought somebody should have asked him the question about the extraordinary rendition case that just got thrown out due to the state secrets clause. I would have liked to hear that question, today.

KING: That's an excellent question. And you could have asked him Chris Mullin's question, too. Can you go to the right?

DOMINICK: Can you go to the left -- can you go to the right? He's a lefty.

KING: Oh, he's a lefty.

DOMINICK: So he can't go to the right. Well, politically, that's another question, as well.

KING: I want to know how much helium you had to feed the guy singing the questions in that piece.

DOMINICK: That guy was very talented. We met a lot of interesting characters out there today, John King. It was a very fun Friday. And how come you haven't commented on my very expensive sport coat?

KING: All right, Pete, you have a great weekend. You have a great weekend out there, too. We go to Rick's primetime, right now, RICK'S LIST PRIMETIME and as we do, that news conference out in San Bruno, California, just getting underway.