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Gaining the Upper Hand; Libyan Fighting; NATO's Role; Federal Funding For Public Broadcasting Criticized After Video Surfaces of NPR Official Criticizing Conservatives and Tea Party Members; House Homeland Security Committee to Hold Controversial Hearing on Radicalization in Muslim American Communities; Republican House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King Criticized for Past Support of IRA

Aired March 9, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf.

And good evening everyone. The sound of artillery fire was a constant in key contested cities across Libya today as the regime of Moammar Gadhafi mounts a determined effort to reassert its grip. Let's take a close look at some of the fighting.

The most violent fighting out here along the coast to the east -- look at this scene playing out in Bin Jawad (ph). Rebel forces trying to hold off the government here and you watch as it plays out and it's just dramatic. Shoulder-held there -- shoulder-held rocket propelled grenade here. You see that play out there.

Now watch as we play this out a bit further. You'll see artillery fire right here off the back of the truck here, surface-to-air missiles going up to shoot. The Libyan government obviously trying to use its air advantage here -- that in Bin Jawad (ph) to the east and look at this scene as well in Ras Lanuf. Again, this is an opposition held town. See those flames.

That is a giant fuel storage tanker. It blew up. The Libyan government saying that damage was called by forces loyal to al Qaeda. People on the ground saying it was blown up as part of the gunfire as the opposition forces tried to keep hold of that town under a regime offensive. And with the NATO allies planning a meeting Thursday to discuss military options there is little doubt the regime is rushing, rushing to make the most of its superior firepower.

Also no doubt the regime is aggressively targeting opposition leaders. On State TV today, a half million Libyan Dinar (ph) bounty -- that's about $410,000 for the capture of Mustafa Mohammed Abdul-Jalil (ph). He is an opposition leader and in a moment an exclusive CNN interview with Abdul-Jalil who says international help must come now immediately he says before the rebels are overwhelmed.

But first the latest on the battle for control of key oil and gas cities all along the northern coast of Libya, these strategic towns right here. CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson in Tripoli tonight -- Nic, if you look at Libyan State TV the regime is suggesting that it has retaken Zawiya. What is the balance of power? Is the regime gaining the upper hand?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems to be. The demonstrations of the pro-government demonstrations we're seeing on the state television tonight did appear to be live. They came at dusk. They were on the outskirts of Zawiya (INAUDIBLE) the rebels have been holding up, but the latest reports we had 24 hours ago a doctor saying that the two clinics there had been closed down, civilians being killed by the Army, hard to confirm.

No information coming out today but the government officials here several times trying to get trips going out to Zawiya, even wanting to run one in the middle of the night right now because they firmly believe they've got control there and they want to take us in to show us. I think by daylight we've told them that's (INAUDIBLE) time to go. There's no point going in the middle of the night. We can't see anything, can't assess anything. But it does seem that if they haven't finally got the upper hand there must be pretty close -- John.

KING: And as this plays out and we focus town by town on the situation on the ground, the regime obviously is aware there is a big NATO meeting coming up on Thursday. Do you get any sense from their public statements from what they're saying on Libyan TV what the ministers are telling you about -- is there any sense of trepidation that the dynamic internationally is about to change or do they think they will be largely as they have been so far left alone?

ROBERTSON: Oh, they're hugely worried. One official told me (INAUDIBLE) and said, do you think that the decision on a no-fly zone will be taken this week, i.e., paying very much attention to that NATO meeting and asked him what he thought. And his assessment was, no. It won't be but this is pushing the Libyans to act faster in the east because they know they need to use their air superiority right now otherwise (INAUDIBLE) losing it and making their battle much harder and the very fact that they've sent in their secretary of state to an international corporation to Portugal, to Greece, to Malta.

They want to send him elsewhere, a fact-finding mission, they're trying to sort of engage with the international community because the international community (INAUDIBLE) right now. They're not getting a new ambassador recognized at the U.N., (INAUDIBLE) Britain, France, Germany (INAUDIBLE) have been met with stony walled silence. They've asked them to send fact-finding teams here to Libya. It hasn't happened. They're getting no response, so they're feeling that isolation and they are worried about what's going on there -- John.

KING: And we just talked about Zawiya. When you look at the map where would you look to next in the next 24 to 48 hours beyond Zawiya to get a sense of how aggressive and how successful the regime is being in retaking lost ground?

ROBERTSON: If they can retake Mesrata by their own judgment that will be another good fact. I think they feel that time is on their side there, again, because they don't need to use air power there. Where they really need to focus their battle and put their energies in is the places where they need to use air power and that's in the east against the rebels to retake Brega, to retake Ras Lanuf. (INAUDIBLE) government officials told me they do believe that they will be able to retake. They'll feel better when they've got those. There's another town a little further up the coast. They'll go after that, they say. Then they'll try and get into negotiations with the rebels in and around Benghazi so it seems at the moment my estimation, look to those key oil facility towns in the east where the Libyans need to use that air power first -- John.

KING: Nic Robertson for us in Tripoli -- Nic, thanks. And as Nic mentioned (INAUDIBLE) look at the map -- he mentioned key towns starting from Mesrata and then moving east along here, a major Gadhafi priority, especially as NATO meets now to consider whether to impose a no-fly zone.

Let's check in with CNN's Ben Wedeman now in eastern Libya and Ben, we're hearing about intense fighting in Ras Lanuf and throughout the east. Give us the latest.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what we saw, John today was a massive artillery and rocket barrage from the Libyan forces on to the opposition. It went on for about an hour and a half. It was including air strikes, artillery barrages, rockets and other weapons and, of course, what happened was -- and we're not quite sure what hit it but an oil storage tank caught on fire. That seemed to spread through the entire refinery area causing this huge plume of black smoke to go into the sky, one of the tanks after another exploded.

You saw these huge balls of flames going up and that was really just part of the battle that was going on between Ras Lanuf and Bin Jawad (ph), which is a town that the Libyan forces currently hold. It does appear that the rebels in Ras Lanuf are under extreme pressure from the government, what we're seeing is that their shortcomings in terms of organization, in terms of military experience, in terms of command and control are becoming blaringly apparent.

We have seen they're sending more and more reinforcements to try to bolster the defenses of the town but it appears that that offensive we were reporting on just a few days ago by the opposition forces has come to a halt and now there's the definite possibility that the forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi could start pushing in the opposite direction -- John.

KING: And to that point, Ben, you mentioned shortages of weaponry, obviously shortage of training, you have these people just brought together, put together almost ragtag to do this. Is there a sense even among the anti-Gadhafi forces that in a lengthy war of attrition the colonel would have the upper hand?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly they've met quite readily, that in terms of armaments they are at a distinct disadvantage. We've seen the tanks, the artillery, the aircraft, the helicopters in action from the other side. On this side they say that their biggest weapon, of course, is their determination, their will, their spirit to push on and, of course, many of them say they have Allah, God on their side as well. But when it comes, you know, push comes to shove and those shells start raining in, you start to see the rebels really rushing off in the opposite direction because they realize they are doomed if they keep their positions. Now, this evening as we were leaving Ras Lanuf, we did see significant reinforcements coming to join the opposition forces.

Multiple rocket launchers, truck after truck with anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine guns, so I think it does appear that they've come to the realization that this anarchic system of warfare that they followed until now isn't really working that they need to bolster their defenses, organize their defenses, get their men sort of trained to an extent that they can put up a real fight instead of the sort of wild rushes to the front and then wild rushes back as they realize that they've run into sort of a wall of fire -- John.

KING: Ben Wedeman for us -- Ben, thanks.

And as it struggles to hold its ground the opposition is also trying to organize itself politically. Former Gadhafi Justice Minister Mustafa Mohammed Abdul-Jalil (ph) is the head of what the opposition called its emerging transitional government. He talked exclusively with CNN's Arwa Damon today.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What happens if the international community is not able to take action, if they deliberate for another week or two?

MUSTAFA ABDUL-JALIL, HEAD OF TRANSITIONAL LIBYAN GOVT. (through translator): Has to be immediate action. The longer the situation carries on, the more blood is shed. That's the message that we want to send to the international community. They have to live up to their responsibility with regards to this.


KING: Arwa is with us live now from Benghazi and, Arwa, it is clear the sense of urgency there, the new head, Mr. Abdul-Jalil there of the transitional government seems to be saying our days are numbered if we don't get help.

DAMON: John that pretty much is the reality here. As we just heard Ben Wedeman there reporting, the opposition is increasingly struggling in the face of this onslaught coming from the air and from the ground by pro-Gadhafi elements. There is the realization that no matter how much will and determination these opposition fighters have realistically speaking, militarily speaking they cannot out-battle, outgun Gadhafi's forces. At this point in time, the opposition firmly believes that the international community has to make a choice.

This is not the time to debate whether or not they should be getting involved in Libya. It is not the time to make the point that these are Libyan internal affairs. The international community has to choose which side of this conflict it is going to fall on and by many people's perspective here if they do choose inaction or if they delay their action they're going to have just as much blood on their hands as Gadhafi does -- John.

KING: And you're talking there globally about the international community. You also had a very specific conversation about the role of the United States. Let's listen to that exchange.


DAMON: What sort of communications have you had with the White House?

MUSTAFA ABDUL-JALIL (through translator): We sent a written message to President Obama that reached his office a week ago and we contacted the former ambassador with our requests, but there has been no real result. We received a message that they are working on a United Nations resolution.

DAMON: Do you think the U.S. is being aggressive enough?

MUSTAFA ABDUL-JALIL (through translator): We expect more. The White House and the international community have the means to put an end to what the Libyan people are going through.


KING: They have the means without a doubt, I think, Arwa. The question is do they have the will or do they see the national security interest. Again, you get a sense of frustration that not only are they not getting action right away, it doesn't seem like they're even getting communication back as fast as they would like.

DAMON: Yes, John, and it's been very frustrating for people here who really fail to understand how it is that the U.S. and other global leaders are not putting together some sort of a cohesive plan. It's almost as if the U.S. and the international community is debating its own political interests instead of realizing the fact that we're talking about people's lives being at stake.

Libyan opposition leaders, everybody here in the opposition held part of the country feel as if a price tag is being put on their very lives, that what is being debated as the cost of implementing a no-fly zone or as a potential global repercussions there could be. They're very aware of the debate going on in the United States as to whether or not American involvement would be viewed as just another U.S. invasion into an Arab country and they say that this is all irrelevant right now.

What we're talking about is the United States global leaders' responsibility on a humanitarian basis they say to put an end to a man who obviously has no qualms about massacring his people and the issue is that the longer this goes on, the stronger it appears Colonel Gadhafi's forces become, the greater at risk the opposition is and this is not a man. Gadhafi is not a man who is known to have shown mercy for his opponents -- John.

KING: Fascinating reporting under difficult circumstances, Arwa Damon, thanks so much. We'll keep in touch.

And here in Washington Republican Senator John McCain urged the Obama administration to recognize that transitional government led by Abdul- Jalil as Libya's legitimate leadership. Senator McCain also repeated his call for swift U.S. and NATO military steps.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If this is our policy that Gadhafi must go, then it seems to me some action needs to be taken, for example, a cutting off their -- jamming their communications, jamming their television capability.


KING: The White House though remains reluctant to use military force but Thursday's NATO meeting in Brussels will consider potential options from tightening an arms embargo to imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. And the nuts and bolts and the risk of a U.S. and NATO military intervention that's --


KING: -- how it would work and how it could change the balance of power in Libya's civil war.


KING: NATO defense ministers meet tomorrow to discuss whether the alliance needs to take a more active role in the Libya crisis and the options range from tightening an arms embargo and expanding humanitarian aid deliveries to more muscular tactics like imposing a no-fly zone and targeting perhaps some of the firepower the Gadhafi regime is using against opposition forces.

Let's map out the options and the risks with a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, retired General George Joulwan and General, first I want to start with the political part of this. These are NATO defense ministers who gather tomorrow but they understand -- you heard our reporting from the scene, the opposition forces are desperate. They say Gadhafi is cracking down on them but yet you have Russia and China at the United Nations saying oh wait a minute. We don't know if we want to do this. I want you to listen to Senator John McCain here. He says that NATO Alliance can act without a United Nations stamp of approval.


MCCAIN: I do -- I think there are other options, especially NATO, but other -- there are other coalitions of the willing that perhaps could be formed and we have intervened in other parts in other crises without the United Nations Security Council approval.


KING: You've been there in that job at NATO when these tough ones come up and the world is divided. What's the biggest challenge of getting clarity of purpose before we talk about clarity of mission?

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: The issue, again, is consensus at 28. That's what we're dealing with, 28 nations now make up NATO. And I was there with 16 and it was very difficult. So trying to get that consensus is what the issue is going to be about. As John McCain says could there be a coalition of the willing, yes. Could there be unilateral action taken by one country, yes. But for NATO to act it's going to take 28 nations to agree and they, I believe, will insist on a United Nations resolution to allow them to do it.

KING: Well that means this is going to drag on for awhile.


KING: Because of that consensus --


KING: So let's walk over -- let's walk over and look at some of the options. Some of them are not that tough militarily. We talked a bit about this last week. Some people say if you don't do the full no-fly zone right away you could use drones and other vessels off carriers here essentially surveillance. You could watch what the Gadhafi forces are doing and tip off the opposition. You could pick up intelligence chatter. You also could jam their communications so that if a Libyan pilot took off you immediately get into his head essentially and maybe convince him you know if they're jamming my radio maybe they're up there to shoot me down and get him down. Pragmatic step?

JOULWAN: Of course, you can do all of that, but then you have to ask then what? If the attacks continue, if the rebel losses mount then what do you do? And that's part of the clarity here that I think needs to be taken. Of course, we could take some intermediate steps, but as a military planner -- as a military commander, before you put troops in harm's way you got to understand what the mission is. What the outcome is going to be so what you're doing is not incrementally increasing what you're doing but trying to do it all at once.

KING: And if you try to do more, a no-fly zone, these are -- these green stars here, these are places where there are major Libyan installations, air installations -- airstrips essentially and fighter jets on the ground and this is video -- you're familiar with this -- Senator Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, suggested at a minimum, crater their runways to make it harder for their planes to take off and land. Again, though, this -- it may look harmless. It may look like a giant pothole. That's an act of war.

JOULWAN: An act of war but also let me say we've tried cratering a runway after four Gallip Serb (ph) aircraft bombed the Bosnian village and the alliance, the North Atlantic Council (ph) said crater the runway. We cratered the runway, but there are runway repair teams that within 24 hours can get it back up again, so that is a tactic -- I'm not sure it's a long-term one.

KING: You mention the Bosnia experience. You were in charge of that.


KING: And we've talked about that. I'm actually show some -- let's show some of it right now. It started in 1992, "Operation Sky Monitor", became deny flight. This, it's a little grainy, but this is cockpit video. This is a allied flight over the coast essentially looking for activity on the ground. You're talking about how many aircraft?

If they were -- decide to do this -- you did it up in Bosnia and I'm going to shrink this down so people can see the Libyan map again. If you decide to do this here, we talked -- you could use the same NATO air bases in Italy and some others that you used before. What are you talking about? Obviously there are some naval vessels here.

There are carriers out here. There are ships that can do humanitarian assistance like this, but to impose a no-fly zone and again I want to close this down and we'll just show the air installations. If you want to impose a no fly zone after all this, what are we talking about in terms of resources?

JOULWAN: It's going to take -- it may take one or even two battle groups, carrier battle groups to do that. If allies augment what we're doing, that would decrease that. But you have a concentration here around Tripoli and it goes to the west and you have a concentration here in the east around Benghazi and that -- those are the two main areas, so do you want aircraft over both of them?

KING: Twenty-four, seven.

JOULWAN: Twenty-four, seven, that's going to take some aircraft but --

KING: That would take a mix of -- from the bases and from the waters?

JOULWAN: Right. But let me just say if I can and I don't want -- what these people are fighting for, a democracy fighting for their freedom, but we add deny flight, no-fly zone over Bosnia, it did not prevent what happened to Srebrenica (ph) where 10,000 Bosnians were killed on the ground. So I think we have to temper what the effect may be of all of this and we have to understand that. I'm not saying we shouldn't do it. I'm just saying my job as a commander is give clear military advice to the North Atlantic Council (ph) before you make a decision.

KING: And so if you do it -- you're raising the question, if you do it, is the goal flatly stop air operations and then you're on your own in your civil war or is it we're on your side now because you mentioned the point it can't stop horrific tragedies on the ground and if that is the goal we're on your side now, then if there are tragedies even after you keep the aircraft out of the skies, what is your next step?


KING: Your next step --


KING: -- then is you have to go in, right?

JOULWAN: That's right and we have got Marines sitting out there and I'm --


JOULWAN: Look, I think what's happening here is a opportunity for democracy in this region. I'm just not sure that we've thought through the intervention to the point where I think it needs to be thought through and the clarity in terms of instruction given to our military.

KING: You talk clarity. It's also not risk-free.

JOULWAN: It's not risk free. You know we had a pilot shot down in Bosnia and the same Kearsarge went in that got Scott O'Grady (ph) is now off the coast of Libya.

KING: General, appreciate your insights.

JOULWAN: Thank you.

KING: Helps a lot. We need clarity -- clarity purpose here. Still to come here, Muslim Americans voice outrage at planned congressional hearings on the spread of radical Islam right here at home, but the man leading them stands firm.

And next, more controversy at NPR gives conservatives more energy as they push to cut funding for public broadcasting. One of public radio's most popular voices, Diane Rehm (ph), joins us with her take.


KING: NPR's chief executive resigned this morning one day after a video emerged in which the top NPR official labels Tea Party members racist and says in his opinion it would be best if the organization did not rely on federal funding. The video was recorded by conservative activists who arranged the meeting by falsely claiming to be interested in making a big contribution to NPR, meaning they lied. But however unethical or sleazy the tactics may be there is no disputing what the NPR official said including this.


RON SCHILLER, NPR FOUNDATION PRESIDENT: Yes, frankly (INAUDIBLE) it is very clear that we would be better off in the long run without federal funding and the challenge right now is that if we lost it all together you would have a lot of stations go dark.


KING: Here's the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor today after word of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller's resignation was made public.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY LEADER: First of all, you know, the statements were that NPR realizes it doesn't need taxpayer funding. That's what the statement was about. And so perhaps, you know, the truth finally came out and we are going to proceed along those lines because that's what was said and indicated by that organization. As far as the individual and the statements that he made, I think that they stand for themselves.


KING: Now, in the scope of the big federal budget deficit we're not talking about a lot of money here, but conservatives say it's important to make a principled stand here. Here's what we're talking about. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting gets about $420 million of your tax money right now. It gives that money out to local public radio stations and local public TV stations.

You see the split from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities also get taxpayer money, about $334 million. They also give some money out to local public radio stations and local television stations. These radio and television stations at the local level probably one in your town are affiliated with NPR and with PBS nationally.

Now it is crystal clear momentum in Congress is shifting in favor of those who want to cut all that federal funding for public broadcasting. Opponents say that would spell the end of "Sesame Street" or public radio favorites like "All Things Considered" (ph) or "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me". Diane Rehm is, of course the host of "The Diane Rehm Show" which is produced at WAMU here in Washington and distributed nationally and internationally by NPR. Welcome.


KING: Let me start -- you were about 20 minutes from going on the air this morning when this dramatic news of the NPR CEO's resignation breaks. How is morale? Is there a shock in the system right now in public radio?

DIANE REHM, HOST, "THE DIANE REHM SHOW": Definitely a shock, but at the same time, you had the feeling another shoe was going to drop after the Juan Williams affair, the Alan Weiss (ph) resignation. You know it -- and the Congress with its focus on public broadcasting, we're all sort of waiting to see what's going to happen next.

KING: And with that focus, their focus has been cutting federal funding.

REHM: Right.

KING: They say public broadcasting should not get federal funding, especially at a time of deficits. Ron Schiller, the former NPR fundraiser who is caught in this video. Now it's a stunt. We can question the ethics of how it was captured.

REHM: Right.

KING: But he said what he said.

REHM: He did.

KING: And what he said was in his view in the long run, public broadcasting would be better off, NPR would be better off without federal funding. Does Diane Rehm share that view?


KING: Why?

REHM: Because seven percent of our listeners contribute. We have in this city about 735,000 listeners, and seven percent contribute about $135 each. Now, that's Washington, that's Baltimore. What happens across the country to smaller stations? Washington is not all of public radio. You've got to think about what's going to happen to the rest of this system.

KING: So that answer, a conservative who says, well, if public radio is to survive in rural South Dakota or rural Minnesota or big Boston and big Washington, then foundations will have to come up with the money or members contributors, individuals will have to come up with the money. You'll have to raise that more. Answer that.

REHM: I think we will have to raise more, and in fact I think public stations that have the means are going to have to help those who don't have the means.

KING: And the money part is one question and Washington is having a conversation, and it's a conversation Washington should have about government priorities, what deserves money and what doesn't. That's a worthy conversation and we'll see what happens.

It's also a question about reputation. In the middle of this some of the critics of any public funding, any federal funding for public broadcasting are saying pretty tough things. I want to read you a statement. Bill Wilson is a president of the conservative group Americans for Limited Government. He says, quote, "Public broadcasting is nothing more than an expensive toy run by pseudointellectual snobs who despise the rest of us. Not one dime of taxpayers' money should be spent to fund public broadcasting, which is nothing more than an elitist soapbox."

REHM: An elitist soapbox with people all over the country tuning in to NPR and public broadcasting for information they would never get elsewhere.

I don't like being called elitist. I'm a very down to earth person and I believe that there are many, many millions of people like me who turn to public broadcasting for a solid, across the board information. I think, John, that not only is this financial, it's political. I think that what's happening here is not only are they looking at the budget, they're looking at a way to silence public broadcasting.

KING: Ron Schiller is the NPR fundraising official. He has now left the organization, but he is the one captured on the tape.

REHM: Right.

KING: Again, this is a contemporary group that lied and said they wanted to give a donation to NPR. So we can question their ethics and tactics but some of the things he said are now being used against public broadcasting. Let's listen to a bit of his conversation here about the Republicans and the Tea Party.


RON SCHILLER, NPR FUNDRAISER: The Tea Party has been hijacked by this group that is radical, racist, Islamaphobic, really xenophobic. Basically they are white middle America gun toting -- I mean it's scary.


KING: You're at WAMU, which is NPR, but you get funding and your show is distributed by NPR.

REHM: Right.

KING: You have a senior official in the organization now departed but at the time of that lunch talking point Republican Party has been hijacked. These Tea Party people are white, middle American, gun- toting scary, not only -- not just Islamophobic but xenophobic.

REHM: Why are we focusing on the views of one person's stupid comments?

KING: If there is a top official at Coca-Cola or General Motors or CNN or the United States Congress somebody with a title said something like that when at a time they're funding or their stature were in the news, wouldn't it be news?

REHM: Absolutely, and it has been news initially. This young man, Schiller, did not even investigate who these people were, went out and said such things. If I had known you for ten minutes, John, would I have said those things to you? These were the views of one individual making foolish comments that aren't now reflecting on the entire organization.

KING: And you believe that's unfair, but this has. This has tainted everybody.

REHM: Absolutely. It has, indeed, and given those who don't believe in public funding for public broadcasting more and more ammunition. At some point, the system will change. At some point perhaps there will be sufficient dollars out there coming not just from wealthy individuals, but from people who do want to support in more than single digit percentage points. KING: The White House would like $451 million overall for public broadcasting, but when asked about this in the middle of this controversy today, I would say their defense of that money was tepid at best. They were not pounding the podium and not saying we have to do this. They were not saying the president --

REHM: But they were defending it.

KING: They were not enthusiastically defending it. You've been in this town quite some time. Is it your sense as we have this conversation today that the budget that reaches the president's desk ultimately will have a big zero when it comes to public broadcasting.


KING: You think it will survive.

REHM: I think some will survive. I won't say how much. I don't think public broadcasting is going to be zeroed out because I don't believe the people across this country want to see public funding zeroed out. I think they may feel that like every other institution it needs to be reduced because of the deficit, but not zeroed out.

KING: Diane Rehm, we appreciate you coming in today.

REHM: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

When we come back the day's top headlines, including developments in Libya breaking since the top the hour, and tomorrow's controversial hearings. Are Muslims in America increasingly radicalized? One Republican congressman thinks so. Those hearings are tomorrow.


KING: Important breaking news out of Wisconsin in the budget battle that has been watched coast to coast for its implications for public employees' unions. The Republican led Senate in Wisconsin just moments ago passed Governor Scott Walker's controversial restrictions on the rights of public employees' unions to have collective bargaining.

Again, severe restrictions on the rights of public employees' unions in the state of Wisconsin just cleared the Republican state Senate.

If you've been following it, no, the Democrats that have been boycotting did not return to Madison for the vote. Republicans were able to do it without a full quorum because they cut the bill in half, stripping out the budget provisions. If they had the budget provisions they would have to be there, some of them anyway to have a quorum.

But just on the issue of collective bargaining they're allowed to vote on that issue because it has no financial implication, no budget propose situation without a full quorum. So again, the Republican led Senate in Wisconsin has approved sharp restrictions on the rights of public employees' unions to collective bargain in the state of Wisconsin.

You've seen the protest. I want to read the statement from the Senate Democratic leader. We have it here at CNN, Mark Miller saying this tonight, "In 30 minutes, 18 state senators undid 50 years of civil rights in Wisconsin. Their disrespect for the people of Wisconsin and their rights is an outrage that will never be forgotten. Tonight 18 Senate Republicans conspired to take government away from the people. Tomorrow we will join the people of Wisconsin in taking back their government."

So a dramatic budget confrontation on this night. Score one for Governor Scott Walker and the state Senate Republicans. The Democrats vowing to keep it on top. We'll stay on top of this breaking news tonight and throughout the day tomorrow.

And when we come back here a key congressman, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee says radical Islam is on the rise in America. It's a controversial subject. Big hearings tomorrow. We'll score them in just a moment.


KING: Tensions on the eve of House hearings on the depth of radical Islam here in United States. If you were here last night you heard the man leading those hearing, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York saying he is repeatedly told by law enforcement officials they do not get enough cooperation from Muslim-Americans.

New York City police commissioner declined comment when we asked if he agreed. Good sources told me that Commissioner Ray Kelly sees nothing to be gained by public debating the influential chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. But the Obama administration's top law enforcement official today did just that.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I do not agree with that. Leaders of the Muslim community and the Muslim community itself have contributed significantly to the resolution of many of the things that we have resolved over the course of the last 12 to 18 month.


KING: That's one point of contention. Otherwise, some critics of Congressman King see anybody hypocrisy in his focus on Muslim- Americans, odd they say for an Irish-American politician with a history of defending the Irish Republican Army which at times was designated a terrorist organization. Listen to this exchange 16 years ago on CNN's "Crossfire."


REP. PETER KING, (R) NEW YORK: I will say what I said for the past 25 years, that the moral standing of the IRA is equal to that of the British army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's outrageous.

PETER KING: You compare the atrocities carried out by the British government --

You were saying --


KING: Dana Bash joins us. And Dana, you interviewed Congressman King about the hearings and also followed back up with him. The shot back, if you will, the criticism from Attorney General Holder. What is his reaction?

DANA BASH, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: His reaction is that he insists there is going to be nothing that shows he is demonizing anybody in these hearings. He says this over and over again, that you have to watch to really prove him right.

But he also says, look, he says if we're not going to look for radicalization from Al Qaeda and the Muslim community where else are we going to look? He insists he is doing what he feels that he has to do as Homeland Security chairman.

But another very interesting note. And that is that he doesn't have anybody from law enforcement coming as a witness. Not the FBI director, not the attorney general and not anybody on a local level. And I asked him, I said is this the reason why you didn't invite anybody from that level? And he basically said, yes, because he knows they will contradict what he believes and what insists is true because he hears it from his friends in law enforcement, which is that Muslim- Americans, at least the leaders this that community, he insists are not giving help to law enforcement officials.

KING: And that controversy will continue. I want to get your thoughts on the IRA, hypocrisy some critics have said, because you asked him about his involvement with the IRA. And I want to play a snippet from that interview where he says yes, he had relationships with these controversial figures, but he views his role as he saw an opportunity in helping to nudge them into the peace process. Let's listen.


PETER KING: That I was instrumental in bringing peace to northern Ireland so I would say because of my efforts there are thousands of people alive this northern Ireland who would not be if I had not been involved.


KING: Does he view this as serious?

BASH: Oh, yes, absolutely. And he actually says that he understands why people are asking these questions. I got to tell you, played that clip from "Crossfire" about him saying there's an equivalency between the British military and army and the government and the IRA, he basically said to me three hours ago on the phone tonight.

He still stands by that. He insists that the IRA, at least he won't say it was a terrorist organization. He calls it a defensive organization. But he said that this was a dirty war and it was going on between, you know, two sides that maybe today, especially he says he understands in the context of not 9/11 that it hit him very hard as a New York congressman, people might not understand the difference. But he insists there is a difference. He stands by it, no apologies for the support he had for the IRA back then. And, you know, says that he is going to get hits --

KING: He's taking the hits. All right, Dana Bash, we'll watch those hearings tomorrow. Thank you.

Attorney General Holder also said it is his view it is not helpful to stigmatize entirety communities. But Congressman King says the hearings are critical. And among those who agree is Asra Nomani, a contributor to "The Daily Beast" and author of "Standing Alone, an American Woman's struggle for the soul of Islam." Thank you for joining us.

As you know, there's been a lot of criticism from the American Muslim community, saying why are you singling us out? We're trying to help. We're not the problem. Why do you think this is OK?

ASRA NOMANI, CONTRIBUTOR, "THE DAILY BEAST": You know, I came to this country at the age of four. I grew up in America. I grew up in West Virginia, the heartland of America and I felt the same frustration inside my Muslim community. For the last 40 years we've seen this encroachment of puritanical, dogmatic Islam. I have with me this Koran that came to my mosque in West Virginia from Saudi Arabia, and it adds into its translation text that tell us not to be friends with the Jews and the Christians, don't go on -- don't stray off the straight path like the Jews and Christians have done.

And so that spirit of intolerance is one that we still have in our community and we're not challenging it enough. When we do try to challenge it we get stigmatized ourselves.

KING: Within the community?

NOMANI: Yes. My family and I challenged it in our community. They put me on trial to be banished from the mosque. My father lost his friends. My mother doesn't get invited to the pot luck dinner parties. You know, communities do what they can to survive. And especially when they feel on the defensive but what I think we can do is take the opportunity and actually take on this kind of extremism.

KING: Now, it is one thing to be bigoted, prejudiced, you choose your word, against the Christians, against the Jews, it is another thing to take a step toward radical extremism and violence. Pete King, the congressman, says he believes it is a significant problem. Is it a significant problem? Help with context. NOMANI: This ideology that came out of Saudi Arabia has fueled militancy in Pakistan. It is what has inspired young men like Faisel Shahzad and Anwar al-Awlaki and Major Nidal Hasan to attempt to try to wreak havoc in America.

So this is a global phenomenon, and if we just stick our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist or go on the defensive and have this sort of culture of silence and denial about it, I think we serve no purpose. And it is a serious issue.

KING: You say it's a serious issue. As you know, many in your community are outraged. I want you to listen to some of the criticism of king from leaders of the council of Islamic relations and had a news conference and say they are being discriminated against.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not domestic extremism in which Representative King is interested. Representative King is interested in scoring cheap political points by vilifying vulnerable communities. And that is a threat that should concern all of us.


KING: You're a member of the community and you can rebut that in a way that someone who is not cannot.

NOMANI: I'm going to try to get a front row seat at the hearing tomorrow because I am so excited that we're going to actually have a conversation about serious issues inside the community. For too long we've had closed doors and closed hearts inside of our Muslim world. We need to open up our hearts. We need to open up our minds. We need to open up the doors of our mosques.

And I hope that moderate Muslims will take this opportunity to stand up and actually challenge the extremism. We have to be pushed sometimes. The south didn't want to admit that they were bigoted. They didn't want to admit that they allowed the KKK to run amuck inside their communities. So nobody likes this kind of examination, but we have to have it, I think.

KING: And to the point that Congressman King makes it he believes not only is there a lot of cooperation with law enforcement but when they see clues of troublesome behavior he makes the points that leaders at the mosque level discourage cooperation, not just that it's not forthcoming naturally, but it is discouraged. Is that true?

NOMANI: We have this word inside our Muslim community called "fitna" (ph) which means to cause conflict inside the community. And so oftentimes when we say that this sermon is not acceptable or this practice is not tolerant we're accused of causing fitna (ph).

And so it's a way to keep groupthink together. And that is where I believe we are not moving forward. And we need serious reform of our attitudes inside of our community so we promote critical thinking and we have an exchange of ideas instead of just taking puritanical dogmatism at heart.

KING: Asra Nomani, appreciate your thoughts tonight.

NOMANI: Thank you.

KING: We'll keep in touch. We appreciate it.

When we come back, one more look. NATO meets tomorrow to consider dramatic intervention in Libya. There is a lot of hesitation. We'll give you another look at just why.


KING: One of the big stories we'll cover is the NATO alliance debate about whether it should take a more aggressive posture in the Libya crisis. Let's look as we close tonight at some of the options.

Some aren't all that controversial. You could use drones off Navy vessels to get surveillance of what Gadhafi's troops are up to, pick up intelligence chatter, perhaps help the opposition and give clues and jam the communications of Libyan pilots. That not all that controversy.

Another likely step to come out of the NATO meeting, increase the use of NATO assets including U.S. ships in the Mediterranean Sea for humanitarian supplies, to have them take ships to shore. That is a likely outcome.

The more controversial asset, the thing we'll watch, the more controversial deliberations, whether to impose a no-fly zone. That takes more ships and it takes more planes and it includes more risks, a big step the White House is trying to resist. We'll track this debate tomorrow. We'll see you then. "IN THE ARENA" starts right now.