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Firefighting in Libya; Budget Talks; President Obama Walks Out

Aired July 13, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone.

Tonight from reality TV to federal court, the cast of TLC's "Sister Wives" says four wives and 16 children is none of the government's business. Their new lawsuit tests this question. Is polygamy somehow protected by a constitutional right to privacy?

Plus late word the government's credit rating could be downgraded because of the stalemate in negotiations over spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling. That warning from Moody's came hours after the Fed chairman gave his take on the consequences of not letting the government borrow more money.


BEN BERNANKE, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: Failure to do that would certainly throw the financial system into enormous disarray and have major impacts on the global economy.


KING: But up first tonight, riveting and exclusive CNN images from the battlefield in Libya. New U.S. intelligence assessments show cracks in the regime that suggest Moammar Gadhafi might finally be ready to discuss an exit strategy. Well, perhaps. But our Ben Wedeman and his crew just a short time saw firsthand an effort by pro- Gadhafi forces to retake the town of Goholish (ph), it's about 60 miles south of the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

















UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, just calm down --




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gunfire all around us and we believe that Gadhafi's forces are doing a roundabout movement. So we are rushing out of this area.


KING: Ben Wedeman is safe, with us now live from Zintan in western Libya. Ben, it's harrowing to watch that footage. Take us back. You're on the ground there. You're about 60 miles south of Tripoli. What happened? How did you first realize -- you could hear the gunfire -- that things were going bad?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well we had gone to the outskirts of Goholish (ph) to investigate this report from Human Rights Watch that the rebels had vandalized property and burnt some houses in the area, and two of our drivers had gone up to the top of a hill just to look into the town to see what the situation was like, and right in front of him, they saw just about 150 yards away two car loads of Gadhafi soldiers. And so they came rushing down the hill. And while they were coming down the hill, the shooting began. At first we couldn't tell if it was on the other side or somewhere down the road.

But suddenly we realized it was right among us. And so we, as you saw, fairly panicked moments trying to get into the car. We drove away, but we had to go quite some distance because every time we thought we were safe, there were more bullets coming in. And this was really the beginning of a long, long day during which in other areas we came under rocket fire. I spent a lot of time on my stomach in the dust just trying to stay safe as that stuff was flying over. It did end with the rebel fighters being able to regain control of this village of Goholish (ph), which is important because it leads to one of the main highways that goes to Tripoli. And what the rebels are trying to do is now they've retaken Goholish (ph), to get to that main highway and cut it off so supplies from the southern part of the country won't be able to reach the capital -- John.

KING: Well Ben, as you make that point, I'm coming over to the map just to show our viewers just what you're talking about and the strategic ground here. Just want to show the state of play. If you see the stripes that means it's held by the rebels. If you see green, it's held by the Gadhafi regime.

You see right here is where Ben was earlier today, held by the rebels. And Ben, as you make this point, when you're out there and you have the fighting like that given the stalemate of recent days just what does it tell you? That you're in this town that the opposition, the rebels believe they hold, but the Gadhafi forces not only show up, but show up and open and start a gun fight.

WEDEMAN: Well what the situation in this area is, is that each town basically rises up against Gadhafi, and that's what's happened along this string of the mountains that goes from the Tunisian border fairly close to Tripoli. But they don't have enough manpower to hold the ground in the event Gadhafi's forces move towards them. So what happened is really hundreds of fighters from this town Zintan, one of the biggest towns in the mountain range, they came and basically saved the day.

They sent dozens and dozens of trucks and rocket launchers to that town to reinforce the fighters in the area who really were simply overrun by Gadhafi's forces, so it's really touch and go even then. We've seen this in other parts of Libya where you think the rebels hold a place, and then within a matter of literally minutes it's retaken by Gadhafi's forces, and the whole sort of strategic map is thrown up into the air -- John.

KING: Ben Wedeman in Zintan tonight. Ben, we're glad you're safe and your crew as well. Fascinating and brave reporting for Ben and his crew yet again putting their lives at risk in Libya. Ben, thank you.

Let's get some perspective now from our senior analyst David Gergen and our national security contributor Fran Townsend. Fran, I want to start with you and I want to pause for a second because a lot of our viewers out there may not understand this. I want you -- I want our viewers and I want Fran and David to listen again as this plays out. Ben is on the ground. Mary, his camera woman is out there shooting, his crew is there, and then you hear this.






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wait, wait, wait.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, just calm down.



KING: Fran, I just want your assessment of that in the sense, when you look at the map and we've gone through this. We've talked of stalemate. We've talked now for months about are we nearing a tipping point? What does it tell you about the very complicated and violent situation on the ground in Libya?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, I think it's just another indication that Gadhafi is feeling -- and his forces are feeling pressure. What they don't need are the very reports of the facts on the ground that Ben Wedeman and his crew are producing. That is, they're under pressure. They're running out of fuel and cash.

Turkey seized moneys in an account there. And so they're getting increasingly desperate, and the stranglehold around his forces and Gadhafi himself in Tripoli is tightening. The question is how long can they last? And can the rebels capitalize on this? But these are the sort of tactics of a desperate, increasingly vulnerable Gadhafi government.

KING: Well David, you hear Fran say a desperate, increasingly vulnerable government. Listen to the take just today from the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who suggests perhaps there might be an opening here.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are still getting contradictory signals from Colonel Gadhafi's camp. He has yet to meet the red (ph) lines that are set by the international community to cease violence against his people, withdraw his forces, and step down from power. So although neither of us can predict to you the exact day or hour that Gadhafi will leave power, we do understand and agree that his days are numbered.


KING: Somewhat mixed message there, David. The French foreign minister says Gadhafi is sending emissaries all around the world saying, let's talk. I want to get out. But we haven't seen the proof of that.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well that's right, John, and by the way, Secretary Clinton is really putting on the miles, isn't she? She looked really tired there in that -- those photos. I have to feel sympathetic for her and supportive of her. What the French are saying and what Secretary Clinton is saying is, yes, there have been feelers that have come out from the Libyans, but they have all sorts of conditions attached still.

And that is Gadhafi may be willing to step aside, but his sons say he would have to have some major position of authority or power. Gadhafi would want to stay in country. Gadhafi wants (INAUDIBLE) international criminal charges dropped against him. What is apparent, I think, to everyone is that until the noose that Fran talks about is tightened some more, he's probably not going to step down.

And what's surprising to me is I thought we had him on the run a few weeks ago. He was literally on the run in Tripoli as the bombs fell. And then we sort of pulled back a little bit, and now we're left in this struggle that so -- takes so long and so tedious, and even as support in both the United States and Western Europe is waning.

KING: And so, Fran, is there anything NATO can do to help with the nudge, if you will, or is this simply now a matter of patience to see if the rebels can get their act together?

TOWNSEND: No, going to what David Gergen has just said, what NATO needs to do is resume the sort of targeting and bombing that they were doing several weeks ago. Look, it was clear one U.S. admiral who's in the NATO command acknowledged that Gadhafi himself is a legitimate target as the commander in chief of their military that targets and pulls off the kind of stunts Ben Wedeman lived through today. And so he's a legitimate target. They ought to resume those bombing campaigns because what you need is that added military pressure that NATO can bring to this, to bring this to a quicker end.

KING: Fran Townsend and David Gergen appreciate your insights and again, we applaud our Ben Wedeman and his crew risking their lives to bring you the latest from the battlefield. Still ahead here, on TV, Cody Brown (ph) keeps no secrets.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to meet my family. I'm a polygamist.


KING: Well today the Brown family went to court to try to get the government off its back. And next talks aimed at letting the government borrow more money are heading nowhere. Moody says a failure to act could hurt the government's credit rating and the Senate's top Republican warns it could destroy the GOP brand.


KING: No progress reported tonight in those big deficit reduction talks at the White House and with that, this warning tonight from Moody's Investor Service. The federal government could lose its top of the line credit rating if the White House and Congress can't agree on a plan to increase the nation's debt ceiling, meaning allow Washington to borrow more money to help pay its bills.

That warning came just a few hours after this sober math lesson from the Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. Since the government borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends, a failure to increase Washington's credit limit would require a 40 percent cutback in spending.


BERNANKE: Significant cuts in Social Security, Medicare, military pay, or some combination of those in order to avoid borrowing more money.


KING: Now that sounds ominous, but some conservatives think the catastrophe scenarios are exaggerated.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: That if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion that somehow the United States will go into default, and we will lose the full faith and credit of the United States. That is simply not true.


KING: In any event, so far the debt and deficit negotiations are making little or no progress, but, well, colorful rhetoric, there's a surplus of that.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: My kids and my grandkids, I am very worried about because we have spent ourselves into a hole that we can only make very tough decisions, and clearly, we are not making those decisions here in Washington, D.C. It's hard trying to do the Lord's work in the city of Satan.


KING: The new freshman Republican class in Congress does not have a representative at those big White House meetings yet, it is a driving force nonetheless. Because Speaker John Boehner is on notice these new members expect their campaign promises to be honored in any deal.

Ben Quayle is a new representative from Arizona's 3rd Congressional District. He's with us live from Capitol Hill tonight. Congressman, do you believe there needs to be a deal or if we get to August 2nd and there's not a deal to your liking, so what?

REP. BEN QUAYLE (R), ARIZONA: Well I would like to see a deal. I think that we need to make sure that we do not default on our debts, but we also need to make sure that we actually have some spending reductions and some structural reform the way we spend money in Washington. Now you talk about Moody's and their ratings and talking about if there's an actual default, and we don't want to default.

But we also have to understand that if we don't have the real spending reductions and the structural reforms, the bond vigilantes in the market, we're going to take it out on us going forward because they realize that Washington isn't serious about cutting their spending and living within our means.

KING: And so when you hear the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell say, you know what, I might agree with everything you just said there Congressman Quayle, but we Republicans will get the blame if the government defaults. What do you say to him?

QUAYLE: Well I understand Senator McConnell's frustration. He's been in the room and there's been a lot of frustration with how the White House has been able to handle this. But what I say is that you know if you hit August 2nd, you know we can actually not default on our debt, but we're going to have to prioritize our spending. So what we need to do is hopefully we'll be able to come to an agreement that actually gets our spending down. But let's not start to fear monger when we're out there talking about cuts to Social Security if we don't reach an agreement by August 2nd.

KING: Well let's -- you make the point about prioritizing. I'm just going over the wall here to show our viewers because you make an important point. And by fear mongering I assume you believe -- mean the president's thing when he said just yesterday perhaps Social Security checks wouldn't go out, perhaps veteran's checks wouldn't go out. This is an analysis from the bipartisan Policy Center.

They say essentially the government in years past in August takes in about $172 billion, has about $306 billion in bills to pay. Therefore, you'd be short about 134 billion. Remember this number, 172 billion, if you go back and look at big ticket items here. As you come out to the safety net. I need to take this one off -- make that one go away.

And you come back and you look at this deficit scenario here, if you look at interest on the debt and you look at Social Security payments and you look at Medicare and Medicaid, some other services, then you hit up to the money pretty quickly there of what the government has. So the question is priorities. Congressman, yes, the president could send the Social Security checks out, but if he did that, something else wouldn't get paid. The military might not get paid. How would you prioritize?

QUAYLE: Well that's the thing, is that we need to prioritize. I think we should be looking to not default on our debt. We should be paying Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and our military pay. And I believe we can do that with the revenues that we're taking in. Now I want a deal. I want to make sure we do not default that we don't have to get this prioritization, but those are going to be the president's responsibilities. If he cannot come to the table and actually agree with the House Republicans, the Senate Republicans, the Senate Democrats on a deal that will get through both chambers --

KING: And can a deal have any revenue increases?

QUAYLE: Well you talk about revenue increases, I want tax reform. Not in this deal because it's going to be too late. It's too complicated of a matter. I think tax increases at this time is a bad idea. It's going to hurt job growth and economic growth. We need to get this focused solely on spending and reductions in spending. And then we can get to the tax reform later on that can get rid of the loopholes and lower the corporate tax rate and personal income tax rate that the president has been talking about and seems to be in agreement with us on.

KING: There's been a lot of talk in town that when there was word that Speaker Boehner might be negotiating a grand compromise with the president, $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the decade, but the possibility -- and the speaker says this never came up in any detail, but the possibility of some revenue increases, that freshmen like yourself said, whoa, wait a minute. We campaigned on this. This is our red line, no way. Is that true?

QUAYLE: What Speaker Boehner and what Leader Cantor said that there were no tax hikes that Speaker Boehner was going to be agreeing to, we believed that that was off the table because it's not a good time to be raising taxes during an economic slowdown. When we're having such an anemic recovery right now, we need to get more revenue into the government, and that happens through more economic growth, getting more taxpayers into the system, not through increasing your taxes, which is going to slow economic growth and actually hurt our feeble recovery right now.

KING: Do you include loopholes in that, taking away some oil -- subsidies to the oil companies perhaps, corporate jets, the ethanol subsidy, could you support a deal that has closing loopholes like that in it?

QUAYLE: If we have closing loopholes and tax reductions, then we can start talking, but the things that you're talking about, these loopholes, you know talk about things that the president is saying and some of this stuff, we're talking about tax deductions for companies, not just specifically for one industry. We want to, and we talked about it in our 2012 budgets about getting rid of those loopholes and making the tax code a lot simpler and actually having a tax code that's pro growth so that companies that provide the best services and the best products actually succeed rather than those who have the most influence in Washington to give them a special carve-out (ph) in the tax code. These are the types of things that we want in the future, but it's going to be too late going up against the August 2nd when we want to come to an agreement right now.

KING: Congressman Ben Quayle of Arizona, appreciate your insights tonight. We'll keep in touch as this one plays out.

QUAYLE: Thanks John.

KING: Thank you and later perspective from another new Republican in Washington, the freshman Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think the president has ever released anything other than you know what he says at press conferences. I've never seen paper on their deal. I've never seen him propose a plan.


KING: But next the man who summoned lawmakers to the White House for today's budget talks, guess what, President Obama, breaking news, he walked out.


KING: Welcome back. I want to bring you up-to-date on some breaking news. An angry President Obama, we are told, walked out of this afternoon's debt talks after telling the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor quote, "Don't call my bluff". They were apparently discussing a back and forth and we are waiting to get our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan or our White House correspondent Jessica Yellin with us.

They were apparently discussing a back and forth and I'm going to read some of the notes on this. Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, saying, that's when the president got very agitated and said, I've sat here long enough. No other president, Ronald Reagan, would sit here like this. And that he's reached a point that something's got to give. You've got to compromise -- or apparently here he says Eric, I'm going to take this to the American people. Eric, don't call my bluff.

I'm going to the American people with this. Leader Cantor says he was somewhat taken aback and started to have a conversation with the president about maybe continuing the conversations. In spite of saying none of us want to bring this to the brink, he shoved back from the table, said I'll see you tomorrow and walked out.

Let's get more now from our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan. Kate this sounds quite dramatic, a showdown between the president and the Republican Majority Leader of the House Eric Cantor where the president in his own house leaves the room.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sounds like that, John, at least according to the number two House Republican, Eric Cantor. Following this meeting Eric Cantor came out to the speaker's lobby right outside where they have votes and talked to a group of us reporters as we were standing there and gave a very detailed explanation of how he -- how he's describing what happened in the most recent -- what's been happening in these meetings.

The headline here is that, according to Eric Cantor, he said to the president, look, we're so far apart here in trying to reach this number and to get the votes that would be needed to pass a deal through the House -- Eric Cantor said he was going to move off his own insistence to have only one vote, as the president has long supported, saying they were going to have one vote on this to get them through 2012. And Eric Cantor said that asked -- he said he asked the president if you could consider some kind of series of votes, a smaller number to possibly get them through a shorter term, a series of votes.

At which point -- I'm going to have to read from my notes here as we're just getting this. Cantor said that at that point the president became very agitated, he said, and said -- quoting the president through Eric Cantor -- the president told him, Eric, quote, "don't call my bluff. I'm going to the American people with this." Cantor said that he was quite taken aback by this, at which point then the president pushed back from the table and said "I'll see you tomorrow."

I asked Eric Cantor, John, if where they go from here because this really sounds like a serious breakdown in communication, very dramatic and very tense moment in this White House meeting. Eric Cantor said that he expects they'll be back at the White House tomorrow to continue the conversation. But it seems that things didn't make much progress here this evening -- John.

KING: Well, Kate, as you know, sometimes confrontation gets everyone to think again or sometimes confrontation begets more confrontation. We'll stay on top of this story. We're going to get the White House perspective as well.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

KING: Breaking news from our congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan. Kate, thank you. And again we will stay on of this. We'll get the White House perspective. We'll try to get some reaction as to where we go now, a dramatic showdown, the president of the United States staring down the Republican Majority Leader of the House, then walking out of the talks in his own White House. Dramatic breaking news, we'll stay on top of it.

But when we come back, a man who says he has four wives, four happy wives, goes to federal court in Utah saying the state should have no right to keep him from what he admits publicly is polygamy.


KING: Kody Brown and his four wives today challenged Utah's law criminalizing polygamy, saying there are tens of thousands of so- called plural families who only wish to live their private lives according to their beliefs. Now, if Brown's name sounds familiar, he and his family are the subject of the reality TV series "Sister Wives."


KODY BROWN, SISTER WIVES: My name is Kody Brown. And you've got to meet my family. I'm a polygamist, but we're not the polygamists you think you know.


KING: Brown's attorney Jonathan Turley spoke with us a short time ago from Salt Lake City.


KING: So, Mr. Turley, let's try to dig deep on this case. You wrote a blog posting about this filing you made today. And you say, we are not demanding the recognition of polygamist marriage. We're only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations and demanding equal treatment with other citizens in living their lives according to their own beliefs.

So, you're not seeking legal recognition of polygamy. But aren't you seeking a court to bless the right to polygamy here?

JOHN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: No, this is not an effort to have the court endorse polygamy. Rather it's to have the court reaffirm privacy.

In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot use the criminal code for a form of social engineering. They can't make people live their lives according to the moral code of the legislature. That case involved decriminalizing homosexual relations. The question here is whether that right to privacy extends to all citizens equally.

The browns have never asked for multiple marriage licenses. They've never asked for the recognition of these spiritual marriages. This is really a private relationship that Kody Brown has with his wives.

Obviously, they have a television program. But when I talk about privacy, I'm talking about constitutional privacy. That is, they have a right to structure their family in the way that fits with their beliefs.

KING: But you mention that television program. He says flat out, I'm a polygamist. And he uses the term marriage in describing what he calls healthy relationships. Let's listen to a bit of Mr. Brown here.


BROWN: I like marriage, and I'm a repeat offender. So I have adopted a faith that embraces that lifestyle. In fact, it recommends it.

And I like to reward good behavior. So, if you're good with one marriage, they figure you'll be good with two. I think I'll be good with four.


KING: In a very public way, he is saying I have four marriages. That does not, in your view, say that he's asking that this court -- you're asking this court to embrace polygamy?

TURLEY: No. What he's referring to are spiritual marriages. That is, the Brown family has never asked and is not asking now for the state to give them multiple marriage licenses or to sanction their marriage. All they're saying is that they should not be presumptive criminals simply because the adults consider themselves spiritually married.

John, part of the problem in this country right now is that we allow people to have plural lovers, to have any number of partners, have children by those partners, but if they privately express a commitment, a religious commitment to each other as spouses, they can be arrested. And it makes no sense at all because what we're doing is we're saying we'll prosecute you because your family doesn't look like our family, that we don't like the way that you live or the things that you believe in.

And so, what this is really about is not about polygamy, it's about privacy. And whether all of us have a right to privacy in that sense.

KING: And so, answer the critics, and you've seen some of these cases in the past where women have not been voluntarily in relationships like this, they say they have been forced into relationships like this. Answer a woman who has that experience who says, if you win this case, that you will encourage that.

TURLEY: Well, first of all, there are tens of thousands of monogamous families with child abuse or incest or any number of crimes. We don't suddenly debate whether we should ban monogamy.

The fact is the Brown family has been investigated thoroughly. There's no allegation of crimes. This is a happy thriving family. It's rather bizarre to suggest that in the name of protecting families, we should destroy a perfectly successful family.

And the point here -- and this is the reason this case presents such a strong claim for the federal court -- is that the Brown family has no allegations of crime. All of those types of things are stripped away. All that remains is a family that's different. It's different from your family and my family. But it's their family.

And the question is: do they have a right to live their life according to their faith?

KING: Gallup asked this question back in May. Do you believe polygamy is morally acceptable or morally wrong? Eleven percent of Americans says acceptable. Eighty-six percent -- that's a pretty stunning number -- said it is wrong.

Answer somebody out there watching out there right now who says, "Mr. Turley, what you're advocating in court is crazy."

TURLEY: Well, it's not crazy in the sense -- in the most important sense. And that is, constitutional rights do not exist by popular acclamation. In fact, the Constitution is designed to protect those of us who are in the minority, even those of us who might be hated. The fact is it shouldn't matter how many Americans approve of the Brown family any more than it should matter whether the Brown family approves of their families.

That's why we live in this country. That's the point of this case. And we're going to fight very, very hard for that.

KING: You are arguing for this man to continue his relationship with four women. If you win the case on the constitutional point, what do you see is the impact, whether it's on the marriage question, on the gay rights question, on other privacy questions?

TURLEY: Well, there's certainly no impact on the gay marriage question. They are not asking for the recognition of their marriage.

This decision, if it goes in favor of the Brown family, is only going to reaffirm privacy. It's not going to endorse polygamy. The fact is that many people do not like polygamy and plural families. But it's also a fact they live in a country that allows us to structure families not according to whether they're popular with our neighbors but whether they resonate with the members of that family.

KING: Professor Turley, appreciate your time tonight.

TURLEY: It's a great pleasure, John. Thank you.


KING: And with us now someone who knows intimately what polygamy is like, Laurie Allen is raised in polygamist enclave. She escaped as a teenager, went back as someone's third wife and then left again. She is now a documentary reporter.

Also with us, Mike Watkiss, a senior reporter for Phoenix, Arizona, television station KTVK, who has extensive experience covering this issue.

Laurie, I want to start with you. When you hear about this family and hear about their case, help us through your experience to understand -- do you think they should win this case? Should this man have the right to four wives?

LAURIE ALLEN, PRODUCER, "BANKING ON HEAVEN": Absolutely not, John. What amazes me is to hear men like -- attorneys like Jonathan Turley talking, who don't even understand the First Amendment. You know, we have the right to believe anything we want religiously, but we don't have the right to practice it.

I mean, you can believe your first born should be thrown in the volcano, but you can't throw your first born in the volcano.

And, you know, I read this complaint, and let me tell you something. It just is appalling that they actually refer to the Bronze Age, the Old Testament, the hippies in the '60s to the very lowest elements of society to justify their belief. And that is supposed to give them the right to practice the lifestyle that they practice.

It's abusive. Birth rates globally, male to female birth rates are 50-50. There aren't enough women to support this lifestyle. That's why we have thousands of lost boys all over the southwestern United States who have been kicked be out of these communities so the young girls are all taken by the older men.

It's an abusive lifestyle. It's third world. It's Bronze Age. There's no room in a civilized world for this.

KING: Michael, you've covered this issue for quite some time. Is Laurie's assessment -- is that the right one, in your view? Do you think this case has any prayer?

MIKE WATKISS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, KTVK: I don't think this comes as any surprise that this being challenged. I think it's beautifully ironic that it comes on, literally, on the eve of the state of Texas putting Warren Jeffs on trial for, in essence, the crimes associated with polygamy.

You know, I think these people -- this may be a wonderful family, and this may all be consenting adults, but the bottom line is they are the exception. When they talk about thousands of polygamists -- yes, they are, and most of them live in communities like Colorado City and the FLDS community where young girls don't have a choice. They're not educated. They're impregnated at 12, 14 years of age.

Warren Jeffs, their prophet, will go on trial in Texas a week and a half from now for taking two underage girls, both of them under the age of 17. That many ways is the reality of polygamy.

And this fine attorney and professor can pontificate all he wants about the law and what these people's rights are, but this system of belief, this practice has been utilized in the American Southwest to oppress women and children for generations now.

Let him go to court and see what happens. I wish them the best because this probably ought to be ironed out. But the practice of polygamy almost inevitably leads to the abuse of women and children.

KING: And, Laurie, you lived this experience. So when you hear Professor Turley say, no, if these -- this family wins, he calls them a family. The Brown family is a family. It will in no way impact situations where younger women or even older women are forced into doing this.

Do you buy that?

ALLEN: Absolutely not, John. I think that's a bunch of hocus- pocus, and I'll tell you why. I think this whole thing is just a big way to get ratings for their show. I suspect that anyway. I just don't agree with any of it.

I think these lawyers are making a lot of money just like the lawyers are representing all of these pedophiles in the FLDS. They're making a lot of money. They're getting their name out there. And I think the whole thing is just a disgrace. I really don't agree with any of it.

KING: Michael, do you see anything novel in the legal argument? This has been debated, of course, for decades? Do you see anything novel in the legal argument going back to say this is a right of privacy issue? As long as everybody consents, they're not violating any laws, they don't have marriage licenses?

WATKISS: Like most things in the world, there's really nothing new. And this has been going on, arguments in behalf of polygamy and various legal maneuvering has been going on for as long as this practice has been present in the nation.

These guys are going to go. They're good lawyers. They're going to talk up a storm. They're going to have all kinds of sympathy for this family.

And again, they maybe -- I know families very much like this where you have mature women who have been educated, they're accomplished, and they decide to live in this lifestyle. Great.

I think these people in many ways protesteth too much. They got investigated, but I understand no charges have been filed.

All the prosecutions of polygamists men in Utah, Arizona and now in Texas, the three states that have taken action are because of crimes associated with polygamy. Not the plural marriage, the raping and taking young underage girls, abusive welfare system.

Mr. Jeffs is in trouble for, as Laurie mentioned, casting out the lost boys. It's the problems associated under the umbrella of polygamy that we're dealing with here.

Let these guys go knock themselves out in court trying to defend polygamy. But law officers where this is present need to continue to focus on the crimes that are almost inevitably associated with this practice -- the underage marriages, the casting out of the boys, the welfare fraud.

Texas is doing it right. They're going after -- they found the perpetrators after that raid. They're going after them, and they're busting them hard.

KING: Michael Watkiss and Laurie Allen, appreciate your insights on this important issue and we'll keep our eye on this case and maybe we'll talk in the near future. Thank you both so much for coming in tonight.

When we come back, more on our breaking news story: the president of the United States walks out of deficit reduction talks in his own house.

And also, up next, the China challenge. Our economy is struggling. China's growing. The top military officer of both countries got together in China today. Guess what the top Chinese military officer told ours? Maybe you should spend less on defense. Friendly advice or something else? That's next.


KING: No matter how you look at it, China is a rising super power. Today's report that its economy is growing at an annual rate of 9.5 percent helped boost stock markets all over the world.

Looking at it from a military point of view, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of staff, started his visit to Beijing by declaring China, quote, "has arrived as a world power."

To help us assess what this all means, the China challenge, we're joined by "The New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof.

And, Nick, I just want to go over to our magic wall here to put out these economic numbers, because when you look at it, especially given the context of what is happening right here in the United States, a stalled and struggling recovery, and then you look at this growth in China, is it all sunny side up and the Chinese just doing everything right, or is there a risk o this high growth?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": There are clearly risks. One is inflation, which is very politically sensitive around China and has been rising quite quickly. Food prices are up 14 percent the last year.

The other is a question of: is it a bubble? And there are a lot of different answers to that. But I've really noticed that over the last year, a growing number of my Chinese friends have warned that there has just been huge overinvestment in residential housing in particular. And they worry about it.

KING: And in this country, of course, we're having the president in these negotiations about the debt and the deficit. The Chinese economy is growing, which is one of the reasons they can buy so much U.S. debt. But how much is that? Any troubling signs about the Chinese economy or maybe the growth in the Chinese economy when you look at this, our total debt -- China is the biggest stakeholder. Maybe they have too much influence over what goes on here.

KRISTOF: Well, China is in the classic position of banker to whom huge amounts are owed. On the one hand, you know, they could do terrible things to our economy by selling the American bonds they hold. On the other hand, if they started to do that, that would be disastrous for their own portfolio. And so, they're not going to do that.

But, you know, I think it is troubling for us, that fact that we have financed so much of our own deficit over the years by borrowing from China.

KING: I've been fascinated following the visit for our top military officer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen. He's in China for about a week. And he was having a briefing with his counterpart, Chen Bingde, the chief of the general staff, and he said this to the Chinese top military officer.

"I know the United States is still recovering from the financial crisis. Under such circumstances, it is still spending a lot of money on its military. Isn't that placing too much pressure on the taxpayers? If the United States could reduce its military spending a little, wouldn't that be a better scenario?"

I'm not quite sure how that advice would be taken. But when you look right now, I'm showing again U.S. military spending way above the Chinese -- China obviously has been increasing its spending in recent years -- would you take that advice, Nick Kristof, as the friendly advice or do you think as sort of a rivalry?

KRISTOF: It was pretty in your face. I mean, I happen to think it was pretty good advice. I'm not sure we need to spend half of global arms spending right here.

But I think it really did reflect a real tension between the U.S. and Chinese militaries. The Chinese feel that they're being encircled by American military. They're resentful of reconnaissance missions close to the Chinese shore.

And from our point of view, you know, we find them building a blue water navy. They're about to unveil an aircraft carrier. They're investing in space technology, doing strange things in cyber- warfare -- just giving us a lot of concern across a whole range of dimensions.

KING: And that's one of the issues. What is this relationship going forward? I assess the question in short hand -- friend, foe or don't know?

Listen to our Stan Grant asking Admiral Mullen essentially the same question during this visit.


STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Admiral Mullen, if you had to identify one area, what would that be in this relationship?

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Actually, the major concern is we haven't had one.

GRANT: You haven't had a relationship or a concern?

MULLEN: No. We haven't had a relationship. It's been cut off.


KING: It's been cut off. You have two strong military countries. Obviously, the United States is still superior. You have two economic superpowers in this the world. Is there a relationship? Is there trust in communication that is sufficient given the high complexity of this relationship?

KRISTOF: There isn't. And the very worst element of that is the military. You know, we talk across about trade, we talk about other dimensions. In the military, there has been very little contact between the American and Chinese militaries and the problem is that whenever there is a crisis, then the Chinese military immediately -- the first thing they do is suspend those relations that exist.

And I think that one of the things that really concerns our strategic planners is the possibility of some kind of a military accident, like the one that happened off Hinan Island in 2001, there was a collision between planes and our plane went down.

If something like that were to happen today, it's not obvious we could get somebody at the other end of the line and really negotiate a solution. There's a huge possibility for misunderstanding that would flair up between the two most powerful militaries in the world.

KING: And it's a challenge today and tomorrow and for the next generation.

Nick Kristof of "The New York Times," as always, appreciate your insights.

KRISTOF: Thank you.

KING: Thank you. Take care.

When we come back, back to our breaking news: The president of the United States walks out of deficit reduction talks in the White House. That's where he lives.

More of the breaking news. We'll go to the Capitol Hill and White House in just a moment.


KING: Back to tonight's breaking news story -- to listen to House Republicans, the president of the United States walked out of a meeting in his own house today about deficit reduction. But shocking, isn't it?

Quite a different perspective from the White House perspective. They acknowledged the meeting was tense, they say there was no walkout.

Let's get perspective now.

Our chief White House Jessica Yellin from the White House and congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill.

Now, we know they don't trust each other. We know they like each other, Jess, much. Now, apparently, they have a different take on the same meeting. JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, well, I've been in touch with Democratic officials who are familiar with the debt talks. And what I've hearing is that at the end of the meeting, Eric Cantor, one of the lead negotiators for the Republicans, proposed a series of votes, short term votes for the debt extension, something the president has repeatedly said he won't accept.

And the president basically gave the group a lecture. He said, I will not accept this. I will veto this. And then said, this kind of offer reaffirms what Americans already think of Washington. That everybody is posturing for political gain and doesn't really solve -- want to solve our problems.

He called on the group to solve -- stop catering to their bases and find solutions. And that came at the end of the meeting.

And after he made that statement, that is when the meeting ended and that is when the president and others left.

And that is how we should distinguish this from walking out of a meeting.

KING: So, Kate Bolduan -- hold on, Jess, I will stay with you. But so, Kate Bolduan, let's get you into this.

So, it's the president's house, he can decide when the meeting ends. And, of course, he walked out of the room. He's got to go to another room. It's his house.

So, that's his perspective, but clearly tension. The Republicans are trying to spin this as angry president, say forget about it. The key question is: what happens tomorrow?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a very good question. I'll tell you, though, that everyone involved -- I've talked to, Democratic and Republicans -- are at least agreeing on one point that it was tense, and I think that's maybe the understatement for this meeting today.

But the question about tomorrow, John, is a very good one. Eric Cantor, when he returned from tonight's meeting, he came and spoke with reporters. I was among them. I asked that very question, so, what happens tomorrow? Where do you go from here after this dramatic turn of events -- according to Eric Cantor. And he says, well, I assume we'll be back at the White House and we'll continue to try to talk through some of these negotiations.

So, we'll have to see king of where they move forward from here. But an interesting point that we did just find out, is that according to an aide to House Speaker John Boehner, the short term series of votes on a short term extension that Jessica was just laying out, a Boehner aide says that the House Speaker would support that, which is also a change of position for him, as both he and Cantor for a long time have said only one vote -- only one vote, only one time. So, this again, on the same page at this point as well, they seem to be pushing for a series of votes. KING: Go ahead, Jess.

YELLIN: A tiny bit of news, there is a meeting tomorrow and I'm told the first day the group is to discuss revenues, that big sticking point. So far, they've discussed cuts and they will begin to discuss whether there will be tax changes in the package.

KING: Here's a quick question in closing. So far, the markets have only had some hiccup when the talks aren't making any progress. When you start hearing about the president walking out or at least the president being testy at the end of the meeting, saying that, you know, I don't trust you or, you're not coming forward, and these negotiations aren't real -- at what point do the politicians start to worry that if they keep behaving this way, then maybe the markets actually will take a dive?

YELLIN: They're worried now. Secretary Geithner briefed them on the Moody's rating and how significant that is. That is a clearly a concern that all these members at the forefront of their mind, something that the White House is keeping relevant to them every single day, every time they meet, that the longer this takes, the more the markets are going to react and the more meaningful this -- the longer this takes, the more it matters, John.

KING: It is a remarkable night in politics.

Kate Bolduan on Capitol Hill and Jessica Yellin at the White House, breaking news, if nothing else -- deep tension between Democrats and the Republicans, including the president. The meeting will start tomorrow, resume tomorrow. We'll keep track of that.

Remember, this is your money. It's a squabble in Washington, but in the end, it's your money and your country's credit rating.

That's all the time for us tonight. See you tomorrow.

"IN THE ARENA" right now.