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JOHN KING, USA
Inside Libya's Revolt; Labor Unrest
Aired February 22, 2011 - 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. Dramatic developments in North Africa tonight, the Libyan leader, Moammar Gadhafi, insists his absolute hold on power isn't slipping, but the facts on the ground point to a dramatic new reality.
Right now on the streets of Libya's capital, Tripoli, are trashed and empty wilderness watched over by snipers. The aftermath of eight days of anti-government protests and Gadhafi's brutal crackdown that's cost hundreds, hundreds of lives. Still defiant Gadhafi went on state television today. He refused to quit. Vowed to die in Libya as a martyr, he said, and threatened death to anyone who stands up to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Using force against the state, the punishment is execution. Destruction, ransacking, looting, the punishment is execution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: But despite that tonight Gadhafi's support in eastern Libya is totally gone. Around 12,000 people have fled across the Libyan border into Egypt. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports armed people in civilian clothing are guarding the streets and those civilians appear to be in firm control. Ben Wedeman joins us now live on the phone. Ben, give us the latest where you are.
KING: Some issues with Ben Wedeman's telephone line. It's very difficult to get contact right now inside Libya. We should be clear of that and trust me, the Libyan government, the regime is doing all it can to keep us from contacting our brave reporters. We'll get back to Ben as soon as we can reestablish that signal.
Whatever is left of Gadhafi's international support is evaporating as well. I want to show you some of the -- other protests in the region today before we get to that. In Bahrain today, there were demonstrations. You see all these people by the thousands flowing up into Pearl Square -- dramatic developments in Bahrain. That is one spot.
Protests in Jordan today as well -- demonstrators demanding a better economy and political rights in Jordan, but most of the action, most of the dramatic action is here in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya. You watch some of the tent cities here, you'll see it's grainy video, of course burnt out cars here coming in. You see people protesting in the streets. This is a dramatic scene.
Many believe the regime is in danger of falling right there. In response to the protests in Algeria, the government over there also today lifted a state of emergency that's been in effect since 1992. But Libya is the drama of the moment and CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is just near the Libyan border in Tunisia. Remember Tunisia -- that was the country whose revolution started toppling the dominos across the Middle East in North Africa. Nic, among the more dramatic developments recently, Libya's interior minister says he is resigning and he is joining essentially the revolution. Tell us that.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And he's publicly come out and criticized Moammar Gadhafi who said that Gadhafi has essentially massacred his people by machine gunning them down with automatic weapons in Benghazi in the east of the country. He said that about -- his estimate about 300 people have been killed. And he said that Gadhafi had told him that he wanted to use planes, aircraft, to attack his citizens in Benghazi.
The interior minister said that he told him that that would kill thousands of people but he said to the people listening to him on television here in the region, he said I'm a soldier first and I could not stand within my heart to stand with the people. He says he believes that the regime will be over within 48 to 72 hours but he says Gadhafi is absolutely stubborn, will fight to the bitter end.
In fact people now saying that it will either take somebody to go in and shoot him or for him to commit suicide because his -- these are people who have been insiders with him for many, many years, throughout his 42 years in power. The interior minister at his side at the very beginning with Gadhafi took power and he knows him well. And this is what he's saying, a stubborn man that it's going to need somebody to essentially take him out to end all of this. That's how it's looking to the former interior minister -- John.
KING: And Ben -- I'm showing our viewers on the map here Egypt is here. We know Ben Wedeman has gone into Libya from Egypt. You're on the border up here with Tunisia on the other side of the country. Are you seeing -- as we know people are fleeing from Libya into Egypt. Is the same thing happening up here? Are people fleeing from Libya into Tunisia and if so, what stories are they telling?
ROBERTSON: Not quite the same numbers yet, John, but we saw well over 2,000 people come across into Tunisia today. It's very interesting when you talk to them. They are still in a bit of -- coming from a bit of the country that's still controlled by Gadhafi. So when you ask them on camera why are you leaving, they say nothing is wrong. Nothing is wrong. We're just coming here to visit friends.
It doesn't ring true. When you talk to them without the camera, they tell you something completely different. They say it's bad. It's dangerous that they are fleeing the danger. They tell you that in Tripoli itself it's not safe to go out on the streets that there is gunfire at night. That it's bad if you are a foreigner there. So the stories that they are telling is they are getting out of it while they can because they know the fight now is going to come to this corner of the country -- John.
KING: And yet Nic that is so telling that on camera they say we're just coming to see friends. Off camera they are willing to be a lot more candid. It portrays the fact that they are not certain that Gadhafi will fall and that they may have to go back to Libya still under his fist. What's the latest in your reporting from Tripoli which of course Benghazi is under what we could call protests or revolutionary control right now, but it is Tripoli that is most important. What are you hearing?
ROBERTSON: We're hearing from sources in the city that today there was a lot of pro-government vehicles out on the streets. They were in dominance. We were told that the streets were largely deserted during the day because the government -- because of what Gadhafi said in his message today calling on the security forces to get a grip on the capital.
They have been out in dominance and that the people have been off the streets. People are expecting more trouble overnight. That's when the fights have been at night but we're hearing as well that there is sort of the heavy machine guns that are being used from helicopters are targeting three principle areas in the city and that Gadhafi and his sons may be holed up in a military camp somewhere near the city, but the streets in Tripoli tonight our sources are saying appear to be firmly controlled by Gadhafi's security forces right now -- John.
KING: Nic Robertson for us up here on the border between Libya and Tunisia. We'll be back in touch with Nic as well and we'll reestablish our Ben Wedeman -- I understand we've reestablished now our telephone communication with Ben Wedeman. And Ben, we were just talking to Nic Robertson who is up along the Libya/Tunisia border. You came into Libya from the opposite side in Egypt. Give us the latest on where you are and specifically the sense, the sense of whether Gadhafi can hold on.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): The sense here is that Gadhafi is doomed. The sense is that he made this sort of desperate somewhat incomprehensible speech threatening yet again the people of Libya and the protector in particular with force. In fact in his speech he said he has not used force until now and he will use force if he has to. Something that comes as a bit of a shock to people in the eastern part of the country, there's been hundreds of protesters (ph) killed in the last week. The feeling is that the fact that the anti-Gadhafi forces continue to sort of strengthen their hold on the eastern part of the country and you have continued outburst of rebellion in the west that sooner or later Gadhafi is simply going to fall -- John.
KING: And Ben, help our viewers understand again. You crossed into Libya from Egypt. And we certainly hope you are staying safe, my friend. That is a dangerous mission. Help our viewers understand one of the reasons the Americans of course know Libya as a source of one of the supplies of oil from the region. What is your sense of -- is oil production continuing? Are there added security steps there? Are people concerned about that?
WEDEMAN: Well it appears that oil production has been reduced from the eastern part of the country where most of Libya's oil comes from. In fact, we spoke to one community leader here who has been in touch with the oil workers saying that they would like or they plan to cut all exports from eastern Libya all together if Gadhafi does not stop what they describe as the massacres of the Libyan people. This obviously could seriously complicate an already serious -- a complicated situation if it comes to task -- John.
KING: And, Ben, lastly, when you see these civilians, armed civilians in the street who appear to be in control of many of the communities in Libya, is it peaceful? Is it tense? Do they have -- is it just simply they are the anti-Gadhafi right now or is there any sense of what comes next?
WEDEMAN: Tense they definitely are because there are still continued worries that Gadhafi is going to make a counterattack. Today several people told me they are worried that he has recruited sympathetic tribesmen from the (INAUDIBLE) area of Egypt to come over the border and attack the eastern part of the country from the Egyptian side. When you go around you see these checkpoints set up along the road, they are not very well armed. They are oftentimes just some teenage boys with hunting rifles, machetes.
It's not terribly well organized. There is a certain level of military presence in the eastern part of the country but -- and these are officers and soldiers who have gone over to the anti-Gadhafi forces but they certainly don't have the critical mass. They don't have tanks as far as I can tell. They definitely don't have any aircraft, so there is a certain sense of vulnerability in the eastern part of the country particularly, John, after these reports that Gadhafi's forces used aircraft to attack protesters (ph) in Tripoli -- John.
KING: Ben Wedeman, stay safe and we will stay in touch with you in the hours and days ahead, a very tense situation in Libya. Ben, thank you very much. So who is Moammar Gadhafi, the leader of Libya? Let's take a look right here. He's 69 years old. He led the revolution to overthrow the king of Libya -- that's back in the late 1960's.
He has been the leader since 1969. In this period here he became known well before Osama bin Laden as the face of terrorism from this region. But in 2003, he started to make amends with the world community, promising to dismantle his weapons arsenal and in 2006 President Bush restored diplomatic relations with Libya. But let's talk more about this man and his challenge now with our national security analyst, Peter Bergen. And Peter, you have written extensively about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, but before any American knew the name Osama bin Laden when it came to terror, it was Moammar Gadhafi.
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, absolutely, John. Of course I think it really came onto the American radar screen with the attack you may recall on a disco in Germany in 1986 where they killed some American servicemen, as a result of which President Reagan authorized air strikes against the -- Tripoli directed at killing Gadhafi effectively, in fact killed one of his daughters. He survived the attack obviously. Then he responded of course with the plan to bring down Pan Am 103 killing some 270 people mostly Americans and also some Scottish people on the ground, as a result of which he became a pariah in the international community.
KING: And so pariah then, the Bush administration started to make amends with Gadhafi. I wouldn't call it trusting, but at least a new relationship with him. And now as you watch all this unfold and I'm going to close this down so people can see the map behind me because as you watch this neighborhood, the Middle East, North Africa, this has been the source of such great concern. Pakistan and Afghanistan obviously just up here off the map -- such a concern about the threat of terrorism.
You wrote a fascinating column on CNN.com about how you believe at the moment -- at the moment Osama bin Laden might be celebrating. Mubarak has fallen. Some of these other regimes friendly to the United States appear to be at risk or at least in trouble. However, you think around the corner could be a bad day for bin Laden.
BERGEN: Yes, I think he's watching this with a mixture of glee and despair. Glee because you know he wanted to get rid of all these dictators and monarchies in the Middle East, but despair because none of -- this has got nothing to do with al Qaeda or his ideas or his allies. The people who are, you know sort of shock troops of the revolution are on Facebook. I mean Osama bin Laden probably doesn't even know what Facebook is.
So you know this is happening without any involvement of his ideas, his followers and the outcome is not going to be to his satisfaction. I mean what he would like is Taliban style theocracies from -- you know from Algeria right across the region, but in practice you know they're not going to be perfect democracies but it looks like whatever replaces these autocratic regimes are going to represent their people better than what preceded them.
KING: Peter Bergen thanks for your insights tonight. We'll continue this conversation a bit later in the program. I spent most of my day in Chicago today including not only visiting the man who hopes to be the next mayor but also right there with David Axelrod. He is -- will be the architect -- he won't like that word, but I'll use it -- of the Obama reelection campaign.
We had lunch at his favorite deli in Chicago today. He shared his views on the political situation at the moment. We'll talk about that. But when we come back, much more on the situation in Libya including a conversation with former Under Secretary of State Nic Burns about what, if anything, the Obama administration can do now.
KING: The Obama administration watching closely events across the Middle East and North Africa with an eye particularly on Libya today because of reports Gadhafi is using his military and other thugs to shoot protesters in the streets. Sharply condemning the violence today for the administration the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We join the international community in strongly condemning the violence as we have received reports of hundreds killed and many more injured. This bloodshed is completely unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: But beyond strong condemnation, what diplomatic or other leverage does the U.S. administration have? With us now the former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns and Nic let's start there. Yes, the Bush administration tried to make amends with Gadhafi, but he has a history and a long career of thumbing his nose at the international community. Secretary of State Clinton condemns the violence, a strong condemnation from the United Nations Security Council today. Will he listen?
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: I suspect he will not listen. He gave that long and rambling speech today, John, saying he was willing to go down as a martyr. His son, Seif, gave a fire-brand, very irresponsible speech the other night that they were willing to use force against their own people. This is a very different regime than what we've seen over the last couple of weeks in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Bahrain and the one crucial difference here, John, is that in each of those situations especially Egypt and Bahrain, the United States had a history of good relations with Mubarak and with the king of Bahrain.
We had influence there and you saw President Obama able to use our influence to urge the Egyptian military, for instance, not to use force against the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, to urge the king of Bahrain and the crown prince to back away from the use of force over last Friday and Saturday. We don't have that kind of history with Gadhafi. We don't have a level of personal knowledge, a good relationship with him.
We have bad and negative history particularly his brutal and cynical shoot down of Pan Am 103 and the murder of so many Americans by Gadhafi, by order from Gadhafi and by his regime. So I think this is a difficult conflict for the U.S. because we know we want to -- we know the result we want to see. A peaceful resolution and -- of the crisis in the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi, but I think this regime might continue in its very violent ways.
KING: And so without a diplomatic opening, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has suggested sanctions that include what I would call a little bit of an economic pressure, suggesting today that all American and international oil companies should immediately cease operations in Libya until violence against civilians ceases. The Obama administration should also consider re-imposing U.S. sanctions that were lifted during the Bush era. If he won't listen to diplomatic condemnation, would a financial noose, if you will, impact him at all or does it not matter to Moammar Gadhafi?
BURNS: It could have an influence on him. I think that you know Italy obviously is a country that has closer relations given the economic and energy ties between Libya and Italy. And if Gadhafi were to hear in private as well as public a very stiff universally applied message from all the governments that do business there that could possibly make a difference. So I don't think it can just be the United States. Again in Bahrain and Egypt, we were the leading foreign country.
We're not the leading foreign country in terms of political influence in Libya. So I think the issue of sanctions, of overt pressure on the Gadhafi regime may be the only hope we have to see that very cynical and brutal government act in a more civilized way.
KING: Well here's a cynical take and tell me if I'm wrong. That if this were to happen 20 years ago, the world community might condemn Gadhafi, have an icy period, if you will, but then let it pass. Not forget it but let it pass. In this environment with what has happened in Egypt, what has happened in Tunisia, what is happening around the region, is there any resolution acceptable to the United States in terms of allowing economic relationships to continue never mind diplomatic relationships that involves Gadhafi staying in power?
BURNS: Well I think you -- we've seen the events of this week have been so dispiriting and so violent, the use of violence by the government that I think obviously it's the great desire of most western governments including our own that Gadhafi might be -- you know might pass from the scene, might be overthrown. Whether that is going to happen or not is anybody's guess right now and I do think that if rhetoric alone cannot convince him to act in a different way, then there has to be recourse to sanctions and recourse with the kind of economic pressure which may be the only message he's going to understand because that's his life line, John, as you know very well.
That's of his regime. That's the only way he's been able to maintain his own power position over 40 years now, is the fact that they are a major energy producer. So that's obviously got to be the target of international action.
KING: And Nic let me ask you lastly, if Gadhafi were to fall in Libya after Mubarak has fallen in Egypt, I'm not even including Tunisia in the calculation here, more than 70 years of power between Mubarak and Gadhafi. This is more of a psychology question, I guess, than a diplomacy question. But if you are a protester in Jordan, in Yemen, in Bahrain, anywhere else in this region, what kind of a signal would that send if these two, two within a matter of weeks, long time rulers fall from power?
BURNS: Oh John, I think it's going to have a galvanizing impact. Mubarak's resignation and ouster has already had that kind of an impact. We have seen it in Bahrain. We have seen it in Yemen. We may yet see it in Iran. The government there is especially brutal in putting down its demonstrations, but there's a reform, a very strong reform element there.
And so I don't think we've seen the last of these protests in the Arab world and the Middle East. There's a regional component here. There's a wave of reform sweeping the region that we haven't seen in generations and I don't think it's played itself out yet.
KING: Nic Burns, the former under secretary of state, we'll stay in touch, Nic. Appreciate your insights. When we come back here though, we bring the story back home, domestic politics and protests in the United States, Ohio, Wisconsin and beyond, new Republican governors standing up to labor unions. We'll visit that story in just a moment.
KING: Tonight the remarkable political gridlock that started in Wisconsin well has spread now to Ohio and Indiana. Just now Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker went on statewide television defending his plan to close a $137 million state budget gap by putting new limits and restrictions on collective bargaining by public employees' unions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: Despite a lot of the rhetoric we've heard over the past 11 days, the bill I put forward isn't aimed at state workers and it certainly isn't a battle with unions. If it was, we would have eliminated collective bargaining entirely or we would have gone after the private sector unions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Walker's address comes after a week of protests by Wisconsin teachers and state workers and a walkout by Senate Democrats preventing action by the state legislature. Over in Ohio thousands descended on the Statehouse in Columbus as lawmakers held hearings on a bill stripping union workers of their collective bargaining rights. Next door in Indiana the legislature was supposed to take up a bill reducing private sector union rights, but protesters showed up and Democratic lawmakers took off preventing a quorum. CNN's Deborah Feyerick joins us from the scene of the debate in Ohio, Columbus -- Deb, a consequential day there.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. Right behind me you can see about two dozen union employees but inside a much different picture. There are about 1,000 people scattered throughout the floor of the Ohio State Capitol. Upstairs hearings are going on and as opponents of this controversial bill (INAUDIBLE) speak, you can hear the swell of cheers rising up into that room. Now it's interesting.
The one person missing is the Republican Senator Shannon Jones, who is sponsoring this bill. She says the state is out of money and while this particular bill would not save any money, she says it's important for cities and towns and municipalities to have flexibility so they can decide how to spend the money they do have. What that means is the ax is falling on the unions.
All state workers would lose the ability to bargain and firefighters, police officers, teachers, nurses, they would have limited bargaining so for example, pensions, health care, none of that would be on the table. And an interesting point, just moments ago is that no union members were at the table and people say that is unfair -- John.
KING: Deb Feyerick for us on the scene in Columbus. Deb, thank you and let's get some national perspective now from Richard Trumka. He's the president of the AFL-CIO. And this is in many ways we're seeing it state by state by state, but is it not a national test and in some ways a national battle of survival?
RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO PRESIDENT: Well it is. It's about the workers. If you take Wisconsin, it's about the nurses. It's about the teachers. It's about the EMTs. It's about snowplow drivers. I think the entire nation has been moved by their determination to stand up for the right to come together and bargain for middle class life. And I think we need to be doing more to build the middle class, not less, so it's about that. It's about the workers in each of those --
KING: You say the nation has stood up. I'm going to play a little devil's advocate and say that remains to be seen.
KING: These guys just got elected. Whether it is -- in Indiana the governor has been there awhile, but in Ohio and Wisconsin you have new Republican governors and they are going at it. I want to show you some statistics because this is why they say it's important. Number one, I just want to just give a little history here.
The percentage of union membership in the workforce, as you fight these battles with these governors, you're fighting 2010, about 12 percent of the population, workforce is unions. That's way down from 1983 and it was 20 percent. If you look at the percent of union members who are government workers in 2010, 42.3 percent compared to 32 percent back in 1983. So this is more and more these battles with the governors, these government public employees' unions, this is more and more of your base. So this is a big -- this is a national issue for essentially labor survival, is it not, if these governors win the right to dramatically restrict your bargaining rights that percentage will come down.
TRUMKA: Well, of course, they're attacking these workers and trying to take away their bargaining rights so they can't bargain for a middle class life to pay back their right donors and campaign contributors.
Take Wisconsin, that's the Koch Brothers. Putting another couple of million dollars or, they say, millions of dollars to try and take away the rights of Wisconsin teachers and EMTs and snow plow drivers so they can't bargain for a middle class life.
That's not what they were elected to do. They were elected to create jobs. And they've just simply gone too far.
KING: We're watching some live pictures here. This is the Ohio demonstration here. You say they've gone too far. Here's one of the arguments the governors make, and I want to give you a chance to rebut it.
They say, look, I have these budget gaps. I have to close them. And, as we talk in Washington, you know, you have to deal with Social Security, Medicare, the defense budget because that's where most of the money is.
At the state level, they would say we have to deal with public employees union benefits, whether it's health benefits or pension benefits because that's where the money is. Here's the average salary for union and a non-union worker. A union member makes about $200 a week on average more than a non-union person.
TRUMKA: Of course. That's private sector workers as well.
TRUMKA: Of course, they do.
KING: And if you look at the benefits, health care, retirement, et cetera, a union member about $14.66 an hour goes toward benefits, a non-union member about half that amount goes toward benefits.
What is your position to these governors. If you'd say, look --
TRUMKA: First of all, let's talk about Governor Scott. The state employees in that state said that they would accept his cuts in health care and his cuts in pension plan even though they didn't have a deficit when he came in, even though he gave tax breaks to the rich, even though he did a number of spenders for spending things for his buddies, for his lobbyists and his big CEO buddies. They said they're willing to do that. Collective bargaining doesn't have anything to do with balancing the budget. Every newspaper in the state said that, that he isn't talking about balancing the budget. He made a political choice. A choice to weaken his opponents. That's what this is about. And the workers in Wisconsin, the teachers, the EMTs, the snow plow drivers and all the rest are standing up for their right to come together and bargain for a middle class way of life.
And I believe we need more middle class people. But you can't have an economy that's 72 percent driven by consumer spending when you want to take away the wages of everybody while CEOs and the rich continue to get more and more and more. This is about middle class America. And that's why so many people have come out to support us.
Even the Chamber of Commerce in Madison said that the governor's gone too far. That he's overreaching. That he ought to go to the table and negotiate. And every time he's been asked to negotiate, he says no. It's not about the budget fights, John, I wish it was. We could solve that.
KING: All right. Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO. I'm having a little trouble with the English language tonight. We'll keep in touch as these play out. Thanks very much for coming in.
When we come back, Rahm Emanuel's running for mayor of Chicago. But if he wins, he'll have to sit down with the public employees' unions too because the city has financial trouble. How would he be similar and how would he be different? From the governor or Wisconsin, just ahead.
KING: If you are just joining us, here's what you need to know right now. The Libya leader Moammar Gadhafi went on state television today defying calls for his resignation, threatened to execute pro- democracy protesters and declaring he's ready to die a martyr's death.
As if there isn't enough anarchy in the Middle East, pirates killed four Americans aboard a hijacked yacht off the coast of Somalia this morning even though two negotiators were aboard a nearby U.S. Navy ship.
Here in the United States, CNN used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain two new mug shots of Jared Lee Loughner, the suspect from the shooting of Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords. These were taken the day of his first federal court appearance in Phoenix last month.
And the polls close at the top of the hour in Chicago's five-way mayor's race. Rahm Emanuel, the former White House chief of staff can avoid a runoff if he gets 50 percent of the vote, plus one. I spent most of the day in Chicago, including a conversation with Rahm Emanuel after he stopped by and delivered some doughnuts to volunteers at one of his headquarters in the Hyde Park area of the city.
I asked him outside if he wins this election, he is going to have to sit down with the public employees' unions because he has to close a city budget gap. I asked him how would he different and how would he be similar to what is happening right now in Wisconsin.
RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO MAYORAL CANDIDATE: The Wisconsin model, I totally reject. It's not about a cooperative coming to a resolution together with an understanding and respect. That's not about fiscal issues. It's about politics.
And here, we're going to deal with our fiscal issues by being honest with each other, straightforward and on a level of respect to work out the agreements that are necessary to put our fiscal house in order so our economy can grow. That's the goal here.
What Wisconsin's doing is Wisconsin and, if not, what we want to do in Chicago because there's no respect, no sense of cooperation, no sense that we all have a vested interest in working something out. And here, my view is, as I did this in a number of areas, let's just take the area of public health in Chicago's health care budget.
I have announced a wellness plan that could save us $50 million that people that have been the biggest advocate for what I've been talking about on health care have been organized labor. And I want to take it from a just a pilot project on diabetes to deal with all our ailments of the chronics are heart, blood, diabetes and the unions have been the most supportive and I've been the one advocating exactly that agenda. So, it's a total different approach. We won't even be second cousins. The Wisconsin governor is playing politics.
KING: Watching the results come in. Our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin. She is at Rahm Emanuel's election headquarters in Chicago. And, Jess, I asked Rahm earlier today -- I know you spent some time with him. I just got a shrug when I asked if he thought he was going to get 50 plus one. What's your sense on the ground?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to say the campaign is being cautious about too much optimism is an understatement. They have really been stumping and hitting the pavement all day doing get out the vote at seven different stops in addition to the one you saw him at.
They -- you know, you talk to political watchers here and everybody thinks it's very, very close. He could get just over 50 percent of the vote. Carol Moseley Braun and Gery Chico, especially Gery Chico, his number two opponent in this race, have run an aggressive campaign in the last few weeks especially from Chico after this whole residency issue was resolved. Is Rahm a resident -- Rahm Emanuel a resident or not of Chicago? Once the Supreme Court put that to rest, the campaign has largely turned on Rahm Emanuel's character. Is he what his opponent calls a pathological evader of the truth, his Washington ties, et cetera.
So they stepped up the negative attacks. Emanuel is focused on, as you pointed out in that interview a lot -- a very specific plan to close this debt and his plans for the city. So he is still polling well ahead, but no one thinks this one is a certainty. He's expected to come out on top tonight but not necessarily with 51 percent of the vote. Polls close soon, John.
KING: And the polls close in just under 20 minutes. Jessica Yellin on the scene for us in Chicago. We'll keep in touch. Many of you at home might be asking, why do I care about Rahm Emanuel? He wasn't just the president's former chief of staff, he was a Congressman before that. He also happens to come from a very competitive family. He has a brother, Zeke, who's a doctor. He has a brother, Ari. Have you ever watched "Entourage" on HBO? That agent character is based on Rahm Emanuel's brother, Ari, a big Hollywood agent. So a very competitive family. As we watch the results come in tonight.
When we come back, I had lunch today in Chicago with one of Rahm Emanuel's best friends, David Axelrod. You see him right there. That's Manny's Deli. It's his favorite eating place. He's gone home to Chicago, not only to be with his family, but to build the president's re-election campaign. We'll talk to David Axelrod in just a minute.
KING: That's Manny's Deli and Coffee Shop in beautiful downtown Chicago. For the two years he was in Washington, the White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod said he could not wait to get back home to go to his favorite eating hut. There, he says he likes to bounce ideas off everyday Chicagoans.
Well, David Axelrod is home now. We are days from a possible government shutdown here in Washington. We are watching dramatic political stories in the states as new governors face-off with public employees' unions. And David Axelrod is tracking all that while building the president's re-election campaign operation.
In an exclusive conversation today, here's part one. We'll have part two tomorrow. We talked about why he loves Manny's and what's happening in today's politics.
KING: Tell me why this place is so important to you.
DAVID AXELROD, FORMER SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: This place is important to me because it is like the perfect sort of meeting place for Chicago. Chicago is a very diverse city, you know, and you get people from all walks of life.
And I started coming here 35 years ago when I was a young newspaper reporter, not just because I love the food, and I do love the food, but because you can run into an incredible cross section of people. You can -- I can walk in here and I'd see mobsters sitting at one table, prosecutors at another. Occasionally, prosecutors and mobsters sitting at the same table.
You know, rich people, poor people, black, white, Hispanic. Just a real cross section, and it was a great place to hang out and talk to people, learn from people and, you know, I'd come over here when big news was breaking. I'd get a truer sense of how everything was playing.
So I always -- I told you before, I joke that I come here to clog my arteries and clear my head. And so, to me it's very real.
KING: This is your birthday. Happy birthday.
AXELROD: Thank you.
KING: Perhaps fitting a dramatic change election in your city happens on your birthday.
KING: Any doubt that your friend will be the next mayor?
AXELROD: I think he's going to be the next mayor. You know, Chicago is a town that appreciates kind of strength, larger-than-life characters, can do people. And that's who Rahm is. Rahm is a guy who -- I always say, he's like a heat-seeking missile. Whatever he puts his mind to, he gets done.
And you need that kind of leadership in a big city today. So I think people recognize that, and he's going to do very well whether he does it in one election or two. We'll find out tonight. But I'm very confident he's going to be the next mayor.
KING: How much -- how much -- as someone who's covered this town and worked the politics of this town, how much has the criticism of Rahm, about him and just, you know, campaign, were running against him. That's the way it goes. How much of it is sort of grudge matches. People here who maybe don't have the best relationship with the president or the best political relationship with the president.
AXELROD: Look, I think that there -- there is -- there is a segment of a city council, for example, that has been pinched under the leadership of a strong mayor for the last 21 years, and -- Daley, they would like more say so. The prospect of Rahm isn't necessarily pleasing prospect for them.
So, you know, and, you know, there are all kinds of rivalries and so on. And, of course, -- but ultimately, it's politics and, you know, people are -- it's -- being mayor of Chicago is a great job. People are competing very hard for it. And they're going to say and do whatever they can to try and advantage themselves. That's nothing new.
And you know Rahm has been through, as George W. Bush used to say, this isn't his first rodeo. He's been through this before. And I think he's handled it very well.
KING: You've been back home for a little bit now, not too long, but just a little bit. What is your first gut check here about the president and both his -- from a policy and a communications standpoint -- I mean, what lessons when you came back here people say, you know, David, no.
AXELROD: Well, you know, the funny thing is that while I think Chicago is probably the best place to get a good read politically, it's not necessarily the best place to get a great read on Barack Obama because he's a native son of this city or an adopted son of the city. He's a very, very popular figure here.
But what I do notice is what gets covered on the local news as compared to what gets covered on the national news or on cable TV, you know, when the -- at one of the pivotal moments in the Egyptian situation, which was obviously of major import, you know, the local news the first ten minutes was the impending storm coming into Chicago and it just reminded me that people are out here living their lives. They're not paying attention to every detail of government, all of the political machinations.
And, you know, they're concerned about the economy and they're concerned about things that impact on their lives. And I do think they have a basic sense that he's trying hard under difficult circumstances to move this economy forward.
KING: At the state level, when you look at Wisconsin and Ohio and New Jersey, three states that were on your map in 2008, three states that now have Republican governors, when you look at them, do you see a changing map and changing rules in the sense that you have these guys who are very aggressively going after the public employees' unions and they think, politically, not only can they survive it, but that that's what people want.
AXELROD: And, you know, I think that that's -- they're making a mistake and that -- because I think everybody understands that states have big financial problems as do -- as does government at every level and that they need to deal with it. And so, in Wisconsin, for example, the public employee unions have already signified that they're ready to make sacrifices in terms of their health care and their pension contributions and so on.
But what seems to be happening, certainly up there, is that you have a governor who has an ideological bent, perhaps political as well, to use the budget crisis to try and destroy the unions in the state. And I don't think that's what people signed up for. Everybody recognizes that there had to be concessions. And yes, there have been excesses in places that have to be rolled back. That is fair game. That is a discussion that has to be had here in Illinois and Wisconsin, everywhere.
But when it then becomes a Trojan horse that is rolled in, in which is an anti-union maneuver, I think people are uncomfortable with that. And I think there's a danger that these governors playing to their base will overplay -- will overplay their hand here. I believe that's what's happening in Wisconsin.
KING: There has been, from Organizing for America, the president's grassroots organization, a very active role, and some say that there's evidence that David Axelrod and the other people who helped the president politically think that this is a issue today that will be about 2012. And let's get in with our friends in the labor movement and help them fight back here. How important is that?
AXELROD: Let me just -- I think we all need a little refresher in sort of contemporary politics and Organizing for America is a reflection of it. The 13 million people who were active in the president's campaign were not part of a command and control kind of operation. Yes, we asked them to do some things and they did them.
KING: And you're asking them for some help now though.
AXELROD: There is a tremendous impetus among our supporters in the state to stand up to what they think is excellence. That's not being -- that is not command and control operation. That is a grassroots reaction to what's going on.
KING: But if there's an e-mail from the National Director of Organizing for America, it would be naive of somebody like me, who's been around this track a few times, to think that somebody close to the president doesn't know that's happening. AXELROD: Well, all I can tell you is I think that there is -- there is indigenous grassroots reaction to it, and a lot of that is among people who are also supportive of us. And yes, the president has spoken to this. You know, he believes, as I said, that it is legitimate to deal with the financial problems facing the states. It is not legitimate to use them as a ram rod to try and destroy the unions. And that becomes a very consequential question.
KING: We're talking about Wisconsin, what's happening in the states. Do you, sitting here, processing from Chicago, not the west wing, do you think there'll be a government shutdown?
AXELROD: It's -- I don't know the answer to that. I can tell you this, where I'm sitting today, I think the awareness of it here is probably very low.
KING: The old rules, our history has a lot of Democrats saying, let them go for it. The president would win here. The president has the power of the bully pulpit, he's a singular voice. At a time you'd have all these different Republicans saying different things. But there are others who say after 2010 and the big Republican win, do the rules apply? Do we know the answer to that?
AXELROD: The biggest mistake you can make in politics is kind of sit on the back of the truck and look backwards and say, well, this is how it happened before, so this is how it's going to happen again.
You know, there's great consternation about Washington generally. And when things don't go well, everyone tends to get splattered by it. I do think that, you know, the impetus for this is coming from the Republican party.
The president, you know, seems willing to me to be -- to do some difficult things and to be very sensible about this. But, you know, I'm not sure who's in control of that Republican caucus or how they're making decisions. But there seems to be an inexorable pull there that is leading towards a confrontation. And as I said, I think most people are not yet attuned to that.
KING: David Axelrod, there on the politics of today. Tomorrow, more of our conversation, including his thoughts on 2012, including how much it will cost and will Sarah Palin run?
But next, will the uprising in the Middle East mean you pay more at the pump? That's just ahead.
KING: As we track all the political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, one thing we do know that is happening in volatility in the world oil markets. Worth noting, look at the Middle East here. The Middle East has more oil reserves than the rest of the world combined. Add up all the other numbers around the world and they don't come close to the oil reserves right here in the Middle East and North Africa. And so because of all the political unrest across the region, this is what is happening. You look back over the past year, some volatility in oil prices. But look at right here, just the last couple of weeks, with all the volatility in the region, oil now up around $95 a barrel. If it stays up there, many people think you could be paying as much as $5 a gallon at the pump. So that's one story we'll track in the days ahead.
Before we say good-bye tonight, I want to remind you, tomorrow night, more of our conversation -- exclusive conversation with the president's top political adviser, David Axelrod, including his take on the 2012 field on the Republican side, one candidate in particular.
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KING: Do you assume Palin runs?
AXELROD: You know, I don't know. She seems to be enjoying being Sarah Palin. Being Sarah Palin seems like a pretty good gig.
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KING: We'll see you tomorrow. "Parker Spitzer" starts right now.