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JOHN KING, USA
Romney's Announcement; Going Broke?; Bipartisan Plan for Big Cuts
Aired April 11, 2011 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JESSICA YELLIN, GUEST HOST: Thanks Wolf. I'm Jessica Yellin. John King has the night off.
We begin with the day's biggest story in politics. The game is on. Mitt Romney, the man who has long been considered the favorite in the 2012 Republican presidential pack finally announced today that he's forming a presidential exploratory committee. First these are modern days he tweeted the news and he posted a video announcement that he had recorded in New Hampshire earlier today.
Romney in the video emphasizes his experience running a business and creating jobs. In fact he says the word jobs seven times in just two and a half minutes. Now Romney's announcement comes as President Obama faces the fiercest test yet of his leadership. Up next new fights for President Obama with Congress over cutting spending and reducing the deficit.
Let's first go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. Ed, first of all today, the political news what's the White House's reaction to word that Romney as expected but is officially running?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well they're not going to say anything for the record. But I can tell you in private they are very excited at the prospect of Mitt Romney going far in the Republican primaries and potentially being the Republican nominee in large part because of his health care plan back when he was governor of Massachusetts.
They think here at the White House it's going to be hard for him to explain that, number one. And number two, it almost in a way could take that issue off the table for the president as a huge controversy because Romney will have to spend a lot of time in the debates explaining his own proposal. I mean think back to when David Axelrod left the White House here as senior adviser, he did an exit interview with "USA Today" where he you know sort of tongue in cheek said we learned a lot from Mitt Romney's health care plan on the state level.
We really learned so much. We're so grateful to him. And you're going to see a lot of that faint praise from top people here at the White House and top Democrats like Axelrod now on the outside.
YELLIN: And the Romney people insist it's a non issue for them; we will get to that discussion about health care and Romney coming up in our discussion later. But Ed, another question President Obama on Saturday was celebrating the budget compromise. He did it with a surprise stop at the Lincoln Memorial. We have a little bit of video. And then today he greeted students from the important swing state of Colorado.
HENRY: That's right.
YELLIN: Obviously he's governing but these also looked a lot like campaign moments to those of us here.
HENRY: You know what's really remarkable is late Friday night White House aides were saying you know this is really not a victory for the president when they finally got that budget deal. This is a victory for the American people. We're not thinking about this politically and then you're right, within a few hours the president is at the Lincoln Memorial jogging up the steps, embraced by adoring crowds, maybe potentially footage for a campaign down the road might you think and then today you're right.
Colorado students were here. These, by the way, were the students the president mentioned late on Friday night that they had written -- one of the teachers had written the White House and said look if you don't have a budget deal and the government is shut down these kids here on spring break won't get to see the monuments. It will all be shut down, but you know Colorado being a swing state, very nice bonus as well.
YELLIN: Well since we are now in political season, he is giving a major speech on Wednesday, the president, addressing a deficit reduction, long-term change potentially to entitlement reform. It is impossible for him to do this without looking at it through a political lens. Do you have any indication how far he will go in suggesting reductions and meaningful change?
HENRY: Good question because they are absolutely hedging it here when you talk to senior White House aides about how much detail the president will give. They're not even officially saying that he's going to lay out a specific plan with specific spending cuts. It may just be sort of broad principles.
Why does that tie into 2012? Because let's face it, if he gets into too many specific spending cuts he's going to have a problem on the left with a lot of liberals who he needs energized in 2012 saying what happened to all that investment in education, infrastructure, et cetera, that you talked about in the State of the Union.
And then on the right if he talks a little too much about tax increases that's sort of a nonstarter for Speaker Boehner and some of the Republicans. But if he at least mentions those and angers the left and the right a little bit, he can sort of go down the middle and say look they're fighting on both sides.
I've got the sensible center here. It's what the president did in December with that tax cut deal and the lame duck session in Congress. He's what he did late last week with this budget deal with Speaker Boehner. It may be what he does again this week -- Jessica.
YELLIN: One budget guru said what he needs is a goldilocks budget. Something that's just right --
HENRY: Right -- right in the middle.
YELLIN: Yes, thanks so much Ed Henry at the White House.
HENRY: Good to see you.
YELLIN: To discuss these issues in more depth and the announcement that Mitt Romney is forming his exploratory committee with us now CNN contributor Erick Erickson who is editor-in-chief of the conservative political blog RedState.com, "New York Times" White House correspondent Peter Baker (ph) -- a treat to have you here in the studio with us, Peter -- and Democratic pollster and CNN political contributor Cornell Belcher -- always a treat to have you with us so I don't have to --
YELLIN: First to you, Erick, because this is your party. Look, the issues the president is addressing this week. The nation's economic future are Mitt Romney's strong suit, a businessman. He's got the biggest campaign team, a formidable fund-raising machine. Is this his nomination to lose?
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: To a degree it is. Everyone has thought Mitt Romney would be a front runner here. The problem for Mitt Romney is he's announcing his presidential bid on the fifth anniversary of Romney Gear (ph). I've been in a number of meetings with Mitt Romney off the record and on the record where he's given speeches where he's refused to distance himself from Romney-care, where people in the audience asking him questions. I've been begging him to distance himself from it and he hasn't done it. You're going to see people like Tim Pawlenty come out and go after Romney for that. And Romney is a good salesman, but I don't know if he's good enough to distance himself from what Democrats and Republicans alike have for over two years said was really the predecessor to Obamacare.
YELLIN: Well let me ask you, Cornell, because it's what's come up. Romney to just be clear passed as governor as Massachusetts a health care bill that has some striking similarities to some of the elements of the Obama plan.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I think some of us would say it was almost a blueprint for what the Obama plan --
YELLIN: Well the Democrats will say that for sure --
BELCHER: -- what the Obama plan was and so good luck selling that in the Republican primary. Where you have the you know Tea Partiers who are sort of energized against what they saw in the health care plan.
YELLIN: Do we have a sound bite of President Obama talking about this? He made a joke about it. Let's listen to President Obama joking about this and we'll discuss it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that many of you have asked for flexibility for your states under this law. In fact, I agree with Mitt Romney who recently said he's proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions. He's right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: And President Obama has even gone further saying I got all my ideas from Mitt Romney -- he's been joking around. Does it -- do the Republicans need this as an issue, Peter, if they don't have it as a bludgeon over Obama, do they lose a major issue?
PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well it's interesting because you would have thought this was the central issue just at six months ago for the 2012 election. And it looks like that may pivot if in fact Mitt Romney gets through the Republican primary process, it's not obviously the selling issue it once was. I think the federalism argument which is that the states ought to do it, not the federal government ought to do it is a real hard sell to a lot of audiences. So it's interesting that Mitt Romney is becoming increasingly the front runner in the primary.
YELLIN: Until we're proven otherwise.
YELLIN: Right, that's the conventional wisdom among all of us.
BELCHER: History is littered with the bodies of the front runners --
YELLIN: Tell that to Hillary Clinton -- right. So Cornell, Romney has some weaknesses no doubt. We've talked about one big one. But he is also not just an accomplished businessman. He has a record of creating jobs in some ways arguably because he ran a company. And look at this announcement that he made today. We call this a word cloud. It's basically a visual demonstration of how many times he used individual words in his announcement. Which word stands out -- jobs. So shouldn't the White House be just a little bit worried about him?
BELCHER: Well quite frankly and this is interesting because Erick should weigh in on this. The problem with -- before you even get to a general election is if you look at what the Tea Party has done through the primary and caucuses this last midterm election cycle, how does a guy quite frankly with a rather moderate record and agenda get through a Republican primary and a Republican caucus when the Tea Party is dominating that. Mitt Romney is probably a candidate who is several years too late to win the Republican nomination. YELLIN: Well is he a moderate, Erick?
ERICKSON: Yes, I wouldn't necessarily say it's a moderation issue. When you look at most polls a lot of Republicans have pretty much decided they want someone who can beat Barack Obama and they'd take Donald Trump if he wasn't a laughing stock. They'll look at Chris Christie, somebody to beat Barack Obama.
The problem Mitt Romney has when it comes to the Republican primary is most voters look at him and they expect the next words out of his mouth to be what can I do to get you in this new BMW. That's a big problem for him.
YELLIN: That's not very nice. Erick, you really have one of the best tweets of the day. We want to put it up. You said "At a time calling for boldness did Mitt Romney really pick a logo with shades of gray as his background?" If we can put up the Romney logo, you all can see that it is set against, yes, gray. So --
ERICKSON: With the aqua fresh toothpaste "R" as well.
BELCHER: It looks like the French flag to me. Is he challenging Sarkozy?
YELLIN: That's interesting. His logo is, what is it, "believe in America".
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does look like the French flag.
YELLIN: Erick, what is the larger message you're saying there? Why is gray a problem for Romney?
ERICKSON: Well you know the problem with Mitt Romney all along is he's very technocratic and right now you have a lot of Republican primary vetters who are going to get fired up by a strong conservative message and Romney throughout even in 2008 was a very nuance technocratic message. He very much brings the smartest guys into the room and we can solve the problem.
And that's -- that's been his core problem as well when the American people particularly conservatives in the Republican primary want to hear we don't want you in Washington to do these things. We want you to let us in the states and the people do it. Romney is going to have that burden to overcome. He hires the smartest guys. This was a vain investment firm model to hire the smartest guys, get the things done, but that doesn't resonate as well in a Republican primary or a Democratic primary for that matter.
YELLIN: Well Peter, you covered the White House. You know President Obama and his team. If you consider a Romney/Obama matchup, what do you think the centerpiece of that campaign is about?
BAKER: Well at the moment obviously it looks like the economy --
BAKER: -- jobs and that's something that as you say is Romney's selling point. Let's keep in mind four years ago we thought the election in 2008 was going to turn on Iraq and obviously by the time the election happened something had changed, so you've got to be careful about predicting these things. But I'm struck that the White House has made -- and the Democrats have made such a point of ridiculing and attacking and going after Romney this early.
It's very interesting. I don't know whether that reflects the acceleration of politics today or does it reflect that they actually think he would be a strong candidate and they're trying to like remind the conservatives who are going to vote this is the guy who does Romney care. Don't forget.
BELCHER: You haven't seen anything yet quite frankly --
YELLIN: But they also tease about Huntsman, Jon Huntsman, another man who might get in. We know they're scared of running against him, so it might be like a jujitsu counter intuitive move here, right, that they are scared. Do you think jobs more than spending is the issue?
BAKER: Well it depends on where the unemployment rate is going to be. That's a very good question obviously and I think the two are connected in a way that just leave a lot of average Americans feeling dislocated, feeling that the government isn't -- it's too busy not managing its own house and order while their houses are still burning. And the question is does the unemployment rate come down enough to give people some sense that trajectory is right.
BELCHER: One quick thing --
BELCHER: I see sort of the Republicans have been overplaying their hand on the spending thing because poll after poll you look at what the top issue concern is strictly among those struggling independent voters, it's jobs and the economy. Secondary almost third in line is quite frankly spending, all of the focus on spending and cuts and cuts and cuts. It does play to the Republican base, but I've got to tell you right now it doesn't play to independents who are hurting for jobs.
YELLIN: But does that --
ERICKSON: It's going to be jobs and foreign policy I think by the time we get to 2012. Foreign policy I think all of us were underestimated as a signature issue in 2012. And I don't think Romney plays well to that. That's where someone like Huntsman could be a surprise candidate.
YELLIN: Although Romney has been spent an enormous amount of time over the last year proving his foreign policy (INAUDIBLE) traveling around the world, talking nonstop about foreign policy to just build up that kind of heft and resume. You don't think it's getting through to the American people, Erick?
ERICKSON: You know I don't think so. Mitt Romney is a guy who can afford to travel around the world, but I really haven't heard a lot about it and what he's doing. And if he has been so be it. So has Sarah Palin to a degree, but I don't think voters really connect Romney to a foreign policy message. He's very much the technocratic jobs creating message and if jobs is the big issue, don't get me wrong, Romney will be a formidable force within the Republican Party. I just think between jobs and foreign policy, we're going to find a lot of voters looking for someone else.
YELLIN: OK, Cornell, briefly if you could, you do polling. You poll for the president. How does Romney do with independents? If jobs are the big concern and Romney is strong on jobs, he should do well there.
BELCHER: First of all, I would push back that he's strong on jobs and I will make -- of course I'm going to push back --
YELLIN: Yes --
BELCHER: -- make the counter --
YELLIN: Let's hear it. Bring it.
BELCHER: -- that the president has actually created an awful lot of jobs 13 straight months here. But the challenge for Romney really is sort of at the end of this primary process if he comes out of the primaries as Republican nominee, how does he then move back to the center, because you know he's going to be drug to the right by the Tea Partiers and how is he going to move away from those caustic, social issues that divide America back to the moderate center --
YELLIN: Isn't that how American elections work? You move to the end and then you go to the center --
ERICKSON: Cornell, you were using the same language in October before the Democrats got their butt kicked.
BELCHER: I don't remember that, Erick.
YELLIN: Amnesia --
YELLIN: OK, Peter, take a look at these logos if you would. I'm going to ask you the silly question. Those are -- everybody has got a flag waving in the middle of one of their words and Romney's message is "Believe in America". What is that connote? Is there a suggestion there that President Obama somehow doesn't?
BAKER: Yes, absolutely -- no, absolutely. Part of the running theme about President Obama is he doesn't believe in America exceptionalism (ph). He doesn't believe that America is a unique force in history of the world and you saw that at the State of the Union and the Republican response, the Tea Party response. Everybody has been hitting that theme lately.
Some of it plays obviously to his father's roots in Kenya. You hear that with the birther movement. Obviously some of this plays into that without you know overtly going there. And it's also about this idea of summoning the spirit of Ronald Reagan who did in fact you know appeal to Americans with this optimistic vision of what the United States should be.
YELLIN: "Morning in America", that's right. All right gentlemen, thanks for being with us. I think we'll have a lot more conversations like this in the days and weeks to come.
Because 2012 though still a ways off, President Obama, he has some tough battles just around the corner as in this week. We'll dig into those in just a minute.
YELLIN: President Obama just got through with one budget fight, so how about another one or even two? CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill looking at these fights ahead. Dana, just when we thought the budget battles in Washington basically couldn't get uglier, the White House said and this is a quote that we're staring at a potential Armageddon because soon we'll run out of the ability to borrow money. We call it the debt ceiling. How big is this fight going to be on Capitol Hill?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Huge. It already is. I mean the fact that the fight from last week over spending cuts to keep the government running is barely even over. In fact they haven't even voted on that yet this week and they are already fighting over the debt ceiling, which is a among away just gives you an indication of how big it's going to be and how much Republicans who feel that they probably rightly so did pretty well in this fight over spending cuts last week that they've got some leverage.
So they are very much pushing the idea which we've heard for months since they got the majority in the House that there's no way that they're going to allow the Congress to vote to raise the debt ceiling unless -- the limit unless they're accompanied with that will be some spending cuts or maybe even some more broad reforms to how spending is done. A balanced budget amendment, some entitlement reforms, things like that, but Jessica, as you know, voting to raise the debt ceiling is always politically difficult. Even President Obama when he was senator he voted against it. YELLIN: Right. Well I'm about to interview two members of the so-called "Gang of Six". It's a bipartisan group of senators, as you know, who are trying to propose a compromise to reduce the deficit. A lot of hope is resting on their shoulders. You are up there. You talk to members. Do people believe they are the key to solving this problem?
BASH: I think people believe they are the best key to solving this problems. It is a very, very interesting group. They are -- it's six senators and they really run the gamut in terms of political philosophy and a most conservative to some of the most liberal senators. And they have been working, Jessica, about two or three times a week they've been meeting for four months.
They've been holding the cards very close to the vest in terms of what they've been working on. But a couple of them and I think they're the ones you're going to interview later gave a little bit of a hint of what they're talking about. They are talking about tackling entitlements including, including Social Security, which Republicans and Democrats so far have said that they have not wanted to touch.
And interesting from Republicans especially Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, he made clear that he does think that some of the tax deductions that Republicans and Democrats but especially Republicans like so much, mortgage deduction, deduction for charities, things like that, that those have to be touched. So these -- those are some of the things that they're looking at. They say they realize that both of the parties are not going to like it, but maybe they can at least respect it and realize this might be the best job that they can do to get the deficit intact.
YELLIN: They're demanding major concessions from both parties. I know you'll continue to follow it. Dana, thank you from Capitol Hill.
BASH: Thank you.
YELLIN: Well today the pair of U.S. senators she was talking about finally revealed a few details of their long awaited deficit reduction plan. Their plan aims to cut four trillion -- with a "t" -- $4 trillion over the next decade. But its three pronged approach would require, as I say, these major concessions by members of both parties. Some examples, the plan makes serious cuts in discretionary spending including defense spending.
It also raises revenue largely by eliminating or reducing some popular tax deductions and credits in return for a cut in overall tax rates. Both of those measures would be hard for many Republicans to vote for. But Democrats will have trouble with the plan's call to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Now these senators have been negotiating in private ignoring critics, who say they won't get the votes, unless they finally end up sharing the details with everyone.
Joining us now are two members of the so-called "Gang of Six", a bipartisan group of senators trying to negotiate deficit reduction. Senator Saxby Chambliss is a Georgia Republican. Senator Mark Warner is a Virginia Democrat. Gentlemen thanks for being with us and first to you Senator Chambliss, you have been working on this proposal for months. When will you reveal it and do you really see $4 trillion in savings?
SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Well there's no question but what we're working on a plan that's going to achieve $4 trillion in savings over the next 10 years. As to when we're going to be able to complete the details, that's still up in the air. But our group of six has been working very diligently over the last several months and we're going to continue to work until we get this done and get it done the right way. That's a lot more important than the time frame within which to get it done.
YELLIN: Well let me press you on that Senator Warner. House Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan has revealed the Republicans initial deficit reduction proposal. President Obama will reveal one on Wednesday. Don't you both need to unveil it now within days to be relevant in this debate?
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: Well I think one of the things we saw in last week's debate is if we start from our partisan corners you end up with a kind of 11th hour brinkmanship. We've been working for months on a serious plan and we're very close. We want to make sure it's right.
And I do think you know in the coming short period of time we need to get this into the debate and I think you're going to find an awful lot of members in both parties willing to step up and say if we start from a bipartisan basis there's a much better chance of it getting done.
YELLIN: Well let's talk about bipartisanship because we saw an awful lot of acrimony over the last month over just a tiny sliver of the budget, the continuing resolution. How in the world, Senator Chambliss, are you going to get Democrats and Republicans to agree for a long-term spending plan in this partisan environment?
CHAMBLISS: Well, that's why it's important that we work together as a bipartisan group to develop a product. If we do start from one side or the other side and hope that we can meet in the middle, and my guess is that never gets done. But the fact that we've had three Republicans and three Democrats in a room discussing in a very serious way the most significant national security interest that the United States is facing today, I think says an awful lot, number one, about the fact that we think we can get it done. And secondly, that this group is committed to make sure that in a bipartisan way we address the issue. That in and of itself will give us a better opportunity than if we started at opposite ends and hope that we could meet in the middle.
YELLIN: Well Senator Chambliss do you believe that Senate Republicans will agree to a package that includes any sort of tax changes?
CHAMBLISS: Well, the fact of the matter is that you can't solve this debt problem with just reductions in discretionary spending. You can't solve it just by attacking and reforming entitlements. You've got to look at the revenue side also. And what we're looking at proposing is actually a reduction in corporate rates and personal individual income tax rates which would put more money in people's pockets and we're going to do that through the elimination of tax expenditures.
Every time we have done that in years past whether it was under President Reagan or President Bush, we have seen tax revenues increase. And we've got to have an increase in revenues to be able to retire this debt. Now if we don't want to pay the debt back, then we could just not worry about the revenues, but the fact is we've got a $14 trillion debt staring us in the face and revenue has to be on the table if we're serious about attacking that debt.
YELLIN: Well Senator Warner, that's a big concession by Republicans. For Democrats you've acknowledged that they need to come along and tweak entitlements. Over the weekend one of the president's senior advisers say this should potentially include Social Security, so what changes to Social Security would be part of your budget proposal?
WARNER: Well first thing we need to make clear is neither Saxby or I would propose ever taking money from Social Security to pay down the deficit. What we want to make sure is that there's going to be Social Security 75 years from now and the idea that we should just punt on this problem because there is still some money left in the trust fund makes no sense to me. We ought to go ahead and make sure that for people in their 20's and 30's there's going to be Social Security. There's a series of ideas that were laid out in the Simpson/Bowles plan.
We can take those ideas or there are other proposals out there. We need to make sure we guarantee particularly those folks at the bottom end of the income earnings level get their Social Security guaranteed as well. I think there's a way that we can find some, again, common ground but we've got to recognize everything has got to be on the table.
And if we've got revenues and we've got entitlements we know we've got to deal with defense and discretionary spending. I think we've got the makings of a grand bargain. And if we can start with that bipartisan basis, I actually believe we'll get it done and surprise a lot of the pundits.
YELLIN: Can I press you on that? How much would you propose cutting out of the defense budget?
WARNER: We've got proposals that have outlined within the Deficit Commission. There is a series of numbers that go beyond what's talked about now. I think that's one of the challenges. Paul Ryan's budget is a serious budget, but he leaves revenues off the table. He leaves defense off the table. We think they all need to be part of a grand package that will actually get this job done that can actually get bipartisan support. YELLIN: And coming up, Republican Congresswoman and Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann is in Iowa today. Before she left, our John King asked whether she would tell Donald Trump to stop asking questions about President Obama's birth certificate. You'll want to stick around for her answer.
YELLIN: Mitt Romney's big announcement that he's forming a presidential exploratory comes just as the woman who beat him in first quarter fundraising for her political committee is in Iowa. Today, Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann told the "Des Moines Register" she's committed to being a one-term president if that's what it takes to turn around the country because, quote, "This is not about a personal ambition.
Well, John King sat down with Representative Bachmann before she left for Iowa. Their wide-ranging discussion started with a question about how she would handle the Libyan crisis if she were president.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: I wouldn't have gotten the United States into Libya in the first place. They came out very early saying this is not -- this is not an environment that the United States should intervene in this civil war.
Secretary Gates -- Secretary of Defense Gates said himself that Gadhafi did not pose a threat to the United States nor are there any vital United States interests in Libya. That's the criteria for United State's entry into another nation's borders. He came out last Thursday and said that there is no -- he does not know what the military goal or object is in Libya.
Well, if our defense secretary doesn't know, why are we there?
We also don't know, John, who the opposition forces are. There's reports that it could be al Qaeda of North Africa or Hezbollah. What in the world does United States gain if al Qaeda of North Africa would take over Libya and has access to the oil revenues that could then fund their worldwide terrorist activities?
I think this is a huge mistake to go into Libya and now, we know that the Obama doctrine is to utilize the U.S. military for humanitarian reasons. If that's the case, then why isn't President Obama in Syria or in the Ivory Coast or other nations where there's murders and mayhem going on? This is not a good policy and I wouldn't have us involved in Libya.
JOHN KING, "JOHN KING, USA" HOST: Ask more of a political question. You are exploring running for president and you soon are expected to actually form that exploratory committee. But your existing fund-raising organization has had a good quarter. You raised about $2 million in the last quarter.
The president is talking about raising $1 billion, with a B, dollars. Can Michele Bachmann raise $1 billion?
BACHMANN: We were extremely excited. We raised $2.2 million more than any other GOP candidate. Rand Paul had raised $3 million. But none of the money from Liberty PAC can be transferred over into a presidential account. All of the money that we raise can. So, we were the top fund-raiser for moneys that could be applied toward a presidential race.
I really believe that the American people are looking at a change election. Most of our donations were small donations and from people all across the United States. We have a wonderful background of support. We're very gratified and we'll make the decision sometime early this summer whether or not I'll be a candidate.
KING: You don't sound at all hesitant to me. It sounds to me like that decision is made.
BACHMANN: We haven't made the decision yet. And we'll let you know, John, as soon as we make it.
KING: Let me ask you one last question on this. If you look at the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll this morning, Donald Trump, the businessman, now polls second among prospective Republican candidates. And if you've been watching, and he's just about everywhere, Congresswoman, in recent weeks, but he has been riding this idea that he's not sure the president was born in Hawaii. He's not sure the president is an American citizen.
Should Donald Trump -- should anyone go around the country making that argument?
BACHMANN: Well, that's up to Donald Trump to make that argument. I think that this is the most solvable problem that America has today. All the president has to do is produce his birth certificate and it's over.
KING: I've looked at his birth certificate. I've look at his birth certificate and the notice that was in the newspaper the week he was born. Why doesn't everybody say let's argue about taxes and spending, let's argue, as you just did, about his foreign policy in Libya and say, look, he was elected president of the United States, I believe he was born in the United States, he's an American citizen, let's move on to big and important issues? Why can't people say that?
BACHMANN: Well, that's what I've said. I've said that I take the president at his word and I have talked about the president and his policies. That is what people are very concerned about with this president and why I think he will be a one-term president.
KING: But if Donald Trump raises that in a Republican debate and you are there, and you know, about 20 percent of voters out there do have these questions -- would you essentially play to those voters or would you turn and say, "Mr. Trump, stop it. It's foolish. Let's argue about the issues"?
BACHMANN: I'm not going to tell Mr. Trump what to do. I think that's up to him. He can make his own decision. He's a mature adult.
I am more than happy to show my birth certificate to anyone if I choose to come in as president of the United States and solve that matter once and for all.
KING: Born in Iowa, Michele Bachmann was.
BACHMANN: That's right.
KING: And we expect to see you there very frequently in the months ahead.
BACHMANN: Thank you, John.
KING: Congresswoman, thanks for your time.
YELLIN: And coming up ahead, today's attempt to negotiate a cease-fire in Libya was rejected. So, what's the latest in the effort to end the fighting between Moammar Gadhafi's government and opposition rebels? We'll go to the region live. Don't go away.
YELLIN: Welcome back.
If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now.
A magnitude 6.4 earthquake just hit Japan about half an hour ago. We are checking with our reporters in the region and we will be sure to bring you the very latest from Japan as soon as we hear it.
In the West African nation of Ivory Coast, forces loyal to the winner of last year's presidential election today capture the country's former leader whose refusal to give up power ignited a civil war.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This transition sends a strong signal to dictators and tyrants throughout the region and around the world: they may not disregard the voice of their own people in free and fair elections, and there will be consequences for those who cling to power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Pakistan's strained relations with the U.S. were the subject of what a CIA spokesman calls frank discussion today between the heads of both countries' intelligence agencies.
Washington, D.C.'s new mayor was arrested today during a sit-in protest on Capitol Hill. Mayor Vincent Gray is upset with new congressional mandates about school vouchers and abortion restrictions for the District of Columbia.
And if you missed the day's big political headline, Mitt Romney, yes, he's forming a presidential exploratory committee. He made his announcement in New Hampshire which not only holds next year's first presidential primary, but is next door to Massachusetts where Romney served as governor.
Is it just a coincidence? Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of then-Governor Romney's signing of the Massachusetts health care reform law -- a big talker in political circles.
A little while ago, I asked New Hampshire Republican Party chairman, Jack Kimball, if that will be a problem.
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JAC KIMBALL, CHAIRMAN, NEW HAMPSHIRE REPUBLICAN PARTY (via telephone): I think it's important for everyone to understand that when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts they needed to do something. He came up with an experiment which is what you call Romneycare, but it really was an innovative experiment. He's a very smart man.
And what he did was he came up with this program geared for the state of Massachusetts. It was never meant to be some model for a national health care program. And then, Mitt Romney has made it very clear and as recently as a few weeks ago to me that he's in favor of complete repeal of Obamacare and that each state should be able to come up with their own plan and to do what's best for their state.
So, I think it's important that that is the tactic that is spoken about and I think that given that, it shouldn't be as big an issue as folks are making it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: New Hampshire's Republican Party chairman defending Romney on his health care plan.
And coming up ahead: on battlefield in Libya, opposition forces have suffered a series of setbacks at the hands of pro-Gadhafi forces. We'll have the latest on an attempt there to broker a cease-fire. That's next.
YELLIN: The Libyan opposition today said no deal to a proposal by the African Union to bring an end to the fighting between them and Moammar Gadhafi's government. The deal called for an immediate cease- fire delivery of humanitarian assistance, protection of foreign nationals in Libya and the start of talks between the Libya government and opposition figures.
Our Reza Sayah is live in the de facto opposition capital of Benghazi.
Hi, Reza. The rebels there, they say that anything short of Gadhafi's removal is unacceptable to them. Are we back to square one in terms of finding common ground between the two sides?
REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jessica, I don't think we ever left square one because I don't think anyone seriously thought that this proposal put forth by the African Union had any serious shot of making a difference. And all you had to do was listen to the opposition leaders over the past 24 hours, they didn't even know the details of this proposal but they knew that it didn't include the removal of Colonel Gadhafi and his inner circle -- their key demand. And that's why it was easy for them to reject it.
News of the rejection drew resounding and loud cheers from a gathering of about 2,000 pro-opposition demonstrators who gathered outside the Benghazi hotel where the opposition leadership was meeting with this African delegation representing the African Union.
The opposition told the African Union: you can propose other deals but they must -- they must include the condition that Colonel Gadhafi will be removed from power.
So, Jessica, we're still at square one. You have a stalemate on the battlefield, an impasse on the political front. And that's why the questions are growing. When is this going to end? How is it going to be resolved?
No one knows at this point, Jessica.
YELLIN: Well, this is a problem. You say that the African Union's deal is never taken that seriously by the rebels and they are essential to brokering a deal. So, did the opposition see them as an honest broker?
SAYAH: Well, they were clearly skeptical. And it had a lot to do with very close relationships between some of these African leaders and Colonel Gadhafi. Colonel Gadhafi has made a lot of close friends over the years, spending his oil money in sub-Saharan Africa, a lot of investments, construction projects. He's built a lot of infrastructure, cell phone networks.
And that's why the opposition was convinced that no proposal put forth by the African Union would include the removal of Colonel Gadhafi from power. I think, ultimately, a lot of people are going to view this campaign by the African Union over the past two days as an effort to perhaps quiet some of the critics who said where is the African Union? How come they have remained silent throughout this conflict?
With this proposal, even though it was rejected, they can say, we tried. Was this attempt in earnest? You know, some say it wasn't. But certainly, the opposition was skeptical all along.
YELLIN: A lot of mistrust. OK. Thank you, Reza Sayah, reporting for us from Benghazi. On the battlefields, the opposition military has suffered a series of setbacks at the hand of pro-Gadhafi forces.
Also in Benghazi is Ben Wedeman, who's been following this story closely.
Hi, Ben. Set politics aside -- does it appear to you as though there's a stalemate on the battleground, too?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does appear that the lines aren't going to shift too much from where they are at the moment. Over the weekend, Gadhafi's forces did enter the city of Ajdabiya, a town normally inhabited by about 100,000 people, but almost all of them fled. After a three-hour battle, the rebels were able to push them out of the city and, of course, on Sunday afternoon, they got hit by a NATO airstrike.
It does appear that it may just end up that the Gadhafi forces will continue to control the town of Brega, which is extremely important because of its oil refinery and the opposition will hold Ajdabiya, because what we've seen really over the last 10 days to two weeks is this back-and-forth, indecisive fighting between Ajdabiya and Brega, and it's not really leading anywhere. Both sides have their own weaknesses.
The rebels are poorly organized. They don't really have command, a command structure. They don't have much in the way of communications. They don't have much in the way of training.
Gadhafi's forces are better trained, better armed, better led. However, they have to deal with the fact that their supply lines, and in fact their frontline troops, are often being hit by NATO airplanes.
So, in a sense it is a stalemate.
YELLIN: Well, given that and knowing that Tripoli is the big prize for the rebels, what are the chances that they'll make advance in -- toward Tripoli now?
WEDEMAN: Pretty slim. They already -- twice, they did go several hundred miles down the road. But you have to remember, it's about 700 miles between Benghazi and Tripoli, and twice, after they made these dramatic advances, they made equally dramatic retreats. They just don't have the wherewithal, everything that's need, to go that far. At best, they might gain a few dozen miles, but they don't have the supply lines, the logistics, or anything to allow them to get anywhere near Tripoli.
YELLIN: You know, you're spending time with the rebels. What's the level of gratitude or resentment they're feeling toward NATO at this point?
WEDEMAN: Well, it fluctuates. Twice over the last 10 days, there were NATO airstrikes that mistakenly hit rebel convoys. The first time, they said, well, it's war, it's a mistake. The second time, they were getting quite angry about it. In fact, using profanity to describe NATO.
Now, Sunday afternoon, there was a NATO airstrike that sort of critically hit the Gadhafi forces outside of Ajdabiya, and the old attitude changed. Now, they're all in favor NATO, highly praising NATO. So, really is goes -- it depends upon what's happening at any given time.
At the moment, they seem more satisfied with the level and the frequency of NATO airstrikes. But, if for any reason, it relents, we'll hear the complaining again -- Jessica.
YELLIN: No doubt. Thanks so much, Ben Wedeman -- reporting for us.
Stand by for more on tonight's breaking news from Japan, where a new earthquake hit less than an hour ago.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
YELLIN: A magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck Japan less than an hour ago. It happened at 7:08 p.m. here in the East, but that's 8:08 Tuesday morning in Tokyo.
That's where we find CNN's Paula Hancocks who felt the shaking and joins us now live from Tokyo.
Paula, this wasn't even the first major tremor of the day. How are the people there handling these daily earthquakes? They're still trying to piece together their lives back together.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Well, here in Tokyo, certainly people are feeling these tremors quite significantly. But it's nothing compared to up north, closer to the epicenter of many of these earthquakes. And certainly the people there, as many of them are still living in emergency shelters, if they have lost their homes in the tsunamis as well. So, they're finding it very difficult to deal with.
I just came back from that particular area. And I spoke to many people about this, because we had a 7.1 magnitude while I was there, which was very significant shaking and at least three people confirmed dead after that. And they said that they were frazzled, their nerves were frazzled. They're sick and tired of the shaking, but they knew that these aftershocks were going to continue for some time. But obviously it keeps people on edge.
Now, we had a 6.4 this morning, Tuesday morning here. Monday evening, we had a 6.6, which actually created some landslides and we've confirmed that. That one people died from those landslides as it covered houses in one particular city, and three people have been rescued from that area. So, certainly this does keep a country on edge that is already been through an immense amount.
YELLIN: Yes, we're hearing that the earthquake happened about 50 miles off of Yokohama, just for a little bit more detail there.
Also, today, Paula, "Reuters" is reporting that there was a fire at unit four in the nuclear plant we've all been watching. What if anything Tokyo Electric, the owner of that plant, telling you about these reports?
HANCOCKS: Well, we phoned them twice so far this morning, and at this point they're not telling us anything. They're saying that they're still looking into that report. They're just saying it was a plant operator, so whether it was one individual that did phone in and say that this is smoke and fire that they can see it -- although they said that it's now no longer visible.
But TEPCO itself, the group in charge of the plant, isn't telling us whether or not that is confirmed or denied. So, we're waiting for word from them.
YELLIN: For waiting for TEPCO to reveal details. That's a story that we've been hearing a lot lately.
Another story, CNN has obtained rare video of one person's journey into the radioactive zone near the crippled nuclear power plant. It's very upsetting video. We see stray dogs, abandoned homes.
Now, we understand that the Japanese government is extending the evacuation zone. What can you tell us about that?
HANCOCKS: Well, this is what they announced on Monday, but they didn't say that it was mandatory. Basically, there's a mandatory evacuation zone up to 20 kilometers or 12 miles away from Fukushima nuclear plant. Some people have defied that, though, and stayed at home. The self-defense forces are trying to move them away.
But now, they're saying beyond that 12 miles, they will say that if you should move quickly and you're unable to move quickly, or if you have children or if maybe you're pregnant, then maybe you should move already. But they're not saying it's mandatory. They're still saying it's voluntary.
So, it's really mixed signals that they're giving out at this point and it's not necessarily a mile radius that they're going to give this team. They're going to take radiation levels from different points around the circumference of the nuclear plant and discover which parts are more dangerous to those vulnerable people and give them help, really, to move them away.
YELLIN: All right, thanks so much. That's our Paula Hancocks reporting live from Tokyo, where another earthquake has struck -- a 6.4 magnitude earthquake about 50 miles off of Yokohama.
We understand, it occurred about eight miles underground. That is the second earthquake to occur in Japan today -- obviously, a country that has been rocked by one tragedy after another. And this as the power plant struggles to contain -- folks at the power plant struggle to contain radiation. That is the latest news from Japan. And that is all from us tonight.
I'm Jessica Yellin. John King returns tomorrow.
"IN THE ARENA" starts now.