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George Clooney Exclusive; Obama & the Economy: Can the President Turn it Around?; Energy Policy Takes High Priority in Washington

Aired February 23, 2009 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, George Clooney exclusive -- he's just back from Darfur and just finished meeting with the vice president. He's here live from the White House on the crisis he says we must confront.

Plus, T. Boone Pickens sounding the alarm with power players Clinton and Gore -- the man who made billions from oil says we'd better change our energy ways or else.

Is time running out for an energy fix or is it already too late?


T. BOONE PICKENS: We do have a choice. We've just failed to make it.


KING: Then, the Dow drops to another new low. We'll preview President Obama's speech and what it means for you and your money, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

We begin with an old friend and a great talent, George Clooney, the Oscar-winning actor and activist. He's traveled to Darfur -- the refugee camps near the Sudan/Chad border last week and met with Vice President Biden today.

He's standing, as you see, in front of the White House, where it's 12 degrees. And we thank him for doing this, because he's freezing to death.

GEORGE CLOONEY: I should have worn an overcoat tonight.

KING: You have no coat on?

CLOONEY: And no -- and no pants either, which is (INAUDIBLE).


KING: Well, you've always been a little strange, George.


KING: Anyway, you met with the vice president today about Darfur.

What did you tell him?

CLOONEY: I did. I actually met with the president in the Oval Office for about 15 minutes. And I met with the vice president. Basically, we were just talking about coming back from Chad and right on the border of Darfur. And we were talking about there's a moment coming up relatively soon -- probably by the middle of next week where the International Criminal Court is going to indict the president of Sudan for war crimes, which has never happened before -- a sitting president.

And we talked about this being an opportunity, perhaps, not just for the United States, but all of us together to work with the international community in a real diplomatic effort to try and bring some sort of peace to this region.

KING: What interest -- what scale of interest did Vice President Biden show?

CLOONEY: Well, I have to say that, from the very beginning, long before they were Vice President Biden and President Obama and Secretary Clinton, they were all very much involved in this issue. I worked with then Senator Obama three years ago at the National Press Club. We did a press conference on the issue.

They've been very involved. Vice President Biden has been incredibly vocal on the issue. We had a long talk about the idea of, first and foremost, appointing a high level, full-time envoy that reports directly to the White House so that it's not just a temporary -- you know, what's happened over the past few years is whenever something spikes, whenever violence spikes, we get an envoy who's very talented to go and try and solve the problems.

We need somebody working on this, you know, every day -- getting up every morning with their sole job to find peace in the area.

KING: What did you see last week?

CLOONEY: It was rough. You know, it's always rough over there. You feel terrible for them, because they don't have -- they're hanging on by a thread -- Chad, obviously, infinitely safer than Darfur.

The Sudanese government, of course, didn't give us visas this time to get in and that's always a concern, because you're never sure -- when you can't get in, that means something is going on.

I went there with Nicholas Kristof and with Ann Curry. And so we went there with -- I was there with journalists who have been in that region a dozen times.

We saw an awful lot of -- an awful lot of fear. There was a tremendous amount of hope. You know, there was a lot of hope that these indictments and this new administration are going to be able to help move the international community toward -- toward a real peace. KING: Why, George -- and no one would know it better than you with all your trips -- the U.N. Says 300,000 have been killed, 2.7 million have been driven from their homes.

Why a lack of progress when the whole world can see this?

CLOONEY: Well, as complicated as it always is, you know, there's a -- there's a lot of issues. The problem the U.N. Has is that it isn't -- you know, it is, in fact, several countries. It's not just one body. And there are countries there that do business in the Sudan. China does business in the Sudan.

One of the things that we talked about here was asking China if there's -- if they can take a much stronger position, diplomatically, since they have the foothold there, on what's going on in the area. Basically, we're saying, you know, China, help us out, at this point. You guys do business. You make a lot of money out of there. You should be holding their feet to the fire when they're committing these kinds of atrocities.

KING: How do you handle just meeting with these people and seeing this tragedy?

Personally, how do you handle it?

Well, I tell you, it's -- I could tell you a million stories about how it actually affects you personally. But those always -- I worry about those because I think -- I'm not quite sure that people should -- I don't think people should be going there and coming back and saying how it affected them. I think somehow we should all know that these people are hanging on by the skin of their teeth.

And they're -- and they need, more than anything -- you know, here's an important part of this, Larry -- and I want to make it clear. This isn't about needing American dollars. I understand that it's a very difficult time. It's not about needing American troops. It's about needing what we do best -- what we have done best since the start of this country, which is good, robust diplomacy all across the world.

KING: All right. This international court which is going to apparently al-Bashir, we're not on -- the United States isn't a member of that court.


KING: Should it be?

CLOONEY: You know, I'd like to -- I'd like to see us a member. We had that discussion in there, too. And I -- you know, I know that that's something that they're in the middle of talking about. That's something that -- that wasn't part of the Bush administration.

They've been in office for 30 days and they have, you know, two wars and Iran and an economy in a freefall right now. So I think that this hasn't really come up. You have to understand that when I sat down with them, it's not as if there isn't interest and it's not as if they haven't been involved. It's just that they have a lot to things to do right now.

So my job is to come and remind them that this is one of them that was very important.

KING: We're going to spend a few more minutes with George Clooney.

Two aide workers were ambushed and shot dead in Darfur over the weekend.

Was George's own safety in jeopardy during this trip?

That's next.


KING: We're back with George Clooney.

Was your safety in jeopardy?

CLOONEY: Oh, you're talking about the U.N. Story.

KING: Yes. What, they pulled your security, right?

CLOONEY: That's not -- it's not -- I mean that's sort of what happened. You know, the truth is this wasn't about my safety. My safety -- I was never in jeopardy.

The -- we were supposed to go to -- I was with journalists who wanted to go into some areas that weren't particularly safe. And we decided that we would go. And that wasn't necessarily part of what the U.N. Was looking to do.

And so we, you know, just went on our own. I don't think that there was -- our safety was never an issue. It was fine.

I wanted to say something, also, Larry, which I forgot to say about what I just did today. I delivered 250,000 postcards to the president signed by people all across the country who wanted to help give some political capital to and remind this administration of how important this issue is. It was from the Save Darfur people. But it's from all across the country. And we're probably going to have another 700,000 by the end of the week.

So I just wanted you to know -- or them to know that those postcards were given away.

KING: What specifically, George, do you want Secretary of State Clinton and the administration to do?

CLOONEY: Well, several things. First is this envoy -- somebody working fulltime. We need -- we'd love for them to talk to people in the region. Obviously, China, who is in the region by -- because they're taking products from them. Egypt -- I'm trying to think of the other -- most of the African Union.

Sorry, I'm freezing cold. I'm trying to remember things.

The African Union and Europe, of course, to be involved. France can help us in a lot of ways. And President Sarkozy and Mr. Kouchner have been helpful. But they could be more helpful along the way.

What we really need now is, since it doesn't appear that the United States is going to -- it doesn't make sense that the United States is going to send troops in or that the U.N. Is going to send in an army to do this, what it really means is that we're going to need diplomacy. And diplomacy has to start and it has to be aggressive and it has to start soon. We have an opportunity here.

KING: One other quick thing.

Are you going to be in the final presentation of "E.R. ?"

CLOONEY: Actually, I'm doing a remake of "Friends," which -- I didn't want to break the news. But I'm doing...

KING: Oh, my gosh.


KING: That...

CLOONEY: I'm going be playing the Jennifer Aniston role.

KING: I'm thrilled for you, George.

CLOONEY: Thank you. It's a career move. It's a choice.

KING: Yes, I know.


KING: This is your big move.

CLOONEY: I am...

KING: Are you going to be in "E.R.?"

CLOONEY: I am. I'm in the -- I'm in the last episode with Susan Sarandon and Julianna Margulies. So it should be fun.

KING: That's great.


KING: Thanks, George.

Get out of the cold.

CLOONEY: Thank you.

It's good to talk to you.


KING: George Clooney.

A little factoid for you. George is also a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations.

The stock market took another frightening nose-dive today.

Can President Obama turn things around with tomorrow night's speech?

Some answers in 60 seconds.


KING: We're back with our panel. Let's meet them.

Bob Woodward, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist of "The Washington Post," "New York Times" best-selling author. His last book, "The War Within."

Dee Dee Myers, White House press secretary to President Clinton. Her best-seller, "Why Women Should Rule the World," comes out in paperback tomorrow. There you see its cover.

And Ari Fleischer. He's in Stanford, Connecticut. He was the White House press secretary for President George W. Bush.

We'll start with Bob Woodward.

Is the speech tomorrow going to turn things around?

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": No. I mean there's no possible way it can.

That -- what's happened, it's not just the stock market and the economy and the banking crisis. We're really going through a financial economic convulsion that, to a certain extent, has disabled and certainly disfigured capitalism and the free markets.

And so getting that back on track is -- is something that is going to take a long time.

What's interesting is that there is much political criticism and the usual political crossfire in this. But it's all Obama. It's all on his head. The Federal Reserve has put interest rates almost at zero. There's not much they can do. The Republicans can't do anything, really. The judiciary, the Supreme Court doesn't have a role.

The supreme -- the Academy Award winners, a panel of psychiatrists, no one can fix this. It's all about can Obama pull it out. And pulling it out is going to take, frankly, years -- not months or one night.

KING: All right.

Dee Dee, since he did inherit it, what does he need to say?

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, BILL CLINTON: Well, I think he needs to continue to do what he's trying to do -- and it's a delicate dance for him -- which is to remind people how serious this is; how he did inherit much of it; how it's going to take us not a night, not a month, not a year to get out of it, as Bob said, many years.

But at the same time, to be optimistic and to say, hey, if we all work together on this, if we all, you know, stick to the plans that I am proposing, we can get out of this. So to infuse the country with a sense of optimism.

So he has to do both. He has to sort of sound the alarms and he has to remind people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, which is difficult. So we'll see him try to do that.

He's also since, as Bob pointed out, this is a huge crisis throughout the economy. He's trying to restructure things as he goes. And so he's going to talk about health care. He's going to talk about energy independence. He's going to talk about fixing education so that we're not just -- we don't just need to create jobs, we need to fundamentally restructure the economy to make it work for not just for the next year, but the next decade.

KING: Ari, has his pessimism, some have said, been wrong or has it been honest?

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I think it's the role of every president to accurately describe the economy and the economy is bad. I do think Barack Obama has to show a sunnier side to his disposition, because the cheerleader aspect of the job is an important one.

But, Larry, I disagree with something that a real good man, Bob Woodward, just said. It's not all Obama. It's the private sector. America's private sector will pull us out of this, if the government doesn't get in the way. When prices drop to a point where buyers come back into the markets, that's what cures recessions. That's what gets things back into balance. And what I'm afraid of...

KING: But didn't...

FLEISCHER: What I'm afraid of is that the Obama method is just to throw the kitchen sink at everything and a lot of taxpayer money is going down the drain. You get the sense that nobody in Washington knows what to do or how to do it and the old adage, don't just stand there, spend something.


KING: Before Bob replies...

WOODWARD: Yes. KING: Ari, didn't the private sector get us into it?

FLEISCHER: Well, sure they did, Larry. And it's -- well, the private sector combined with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and some terrible decisions that people in the government made to have people to get loans they couldn't afford to repay. All of the above.

But when we get to be a country where only the government can solve our nation's private sector economic problems, the government is too big and too powerful. It's the private sector that can pull us out of it, not the government.

KING: Bob?

WOODWARD: But, you know, that is kind of Republican doctrine.


WOODWARD: But it doesn't work here, unfortunately. And the private sector has more or less said we're throwing the towel in. Not completely. And Ari is right, in the end, it has got to be the private sector.

But look at the banks. I mean, this is the lifeblood of the system. The two big banks, there's -- stocks are down to a couple or $4 a share. You talk to people in the banking world and they are quivering.

So the idea that they can fix this, they acknowledge that they have to go to the government. They are the ones who are saying, Mr. -- President Obama has the ball here.

MYERS: And not only that, let me just add.

KING: Wait, wait. Hold on one minute. I'll be right back, Dee Dee. Hold on.

We'll be here, by the way, at a special time tomorrow night, midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific, for reaction to the president's speech.

Should Republicans take advantage of bad economic news to boost their cause?

We'll talk about that next.


KING: All right, Dee Dee Myers, are the Republicans playing this right in being just negative down the line, in the majority?

MYERS: It's a dangerous game they're playing. They certainly have some ideological differences with President Obama. But to bet all the chips on his plan failing is not only bad politics, it's bad for the country. So what we need to see from the Republicans are some more plans, some more ideas about what they think should happen to fix this economy.

Because one of the things that we've seen is, across the board, people have lost confidence in the private sector. They've lost confidence in business' ability to pull us out of this. And they're all -- and businesses have lost confidence in businesses' ability to pull us out of this.

And everyone's turned to the president and looking at him. And what the country wants, what the voters want, what consumers want is people to work together.


MYERS: They want this president to succeed.

KING: Ari, can...

WOODWARD: Just so that...

KING: He's appeared so many times. You can't miss Obama everywhere, it seems.

Does that dim tomorrow night's speech?

FLEISCHER: No. I think the country still is, frankly, enraptured with the new president. They want to see what he has to say. And his first speech to a joint session of Congress is a big moment for him to define what he's about.

You know, I get a kick out of the fact that he's going to call for fiscal responsibility now and say that you can't have any more spending increases unless they're offset with spending cuts. You know, he just spent $787 billion without paying for it. I mean, it kind of reminds me, in some ways, as somebody who just finished the bottle of gin and says now it's time for my A.A. Meeting.

He just did what he said we no longer need to do.

So he's got some explaining to do. The economy is getting worse since he became president -- not Barack Obama's fault, but things aren't feeling good. And he and his team have gotten off to a, I think, a difficult start, particularly the Treasury secretary, in addressing these problems.

KING: How important is public confidence in him, Bob?

WOODWARD: It is very, very important. Just so the disagreement is across the board with Ari, who says that we need -- that Obama needs to show a sunny, optimistic side. I think presidents are strong when they're the voice of realism. And in a moment like this -- I mean Ari can remember 9/11. That was Bush's great moment because he went out and said look, we've been attacked. It's going to be a long war. We're liable to be hit again. And it was that realism that mobilized people. In this case, if Obama goes out there and tries to say, oh, well, we've turned the corner...

KING: Yes.

WOODWARD: ...or it's just...

FLEISCHER: Bob, that's not what I'm saying.

WOODWARD: ...not going to work.

FLEISCHER: You know that. I didn't say that.

WOODWARD: Well, what's this...

FLEISCHER: I said he's doing the right thing to accurately describe the economy the way it is. But he also needs to give people a moment of faith and optimism, too. That's what I said.

WOODWARD: Yes. Well, I think it's -- I think it's there. And I think it is -- I think -- there was a Democratic senator on television this morning who literally said, well, because of the stimulus package, we're turning the corner. Well, that's just not so. And if you go...

FLEISCHER: Well, you'll never confuse me with a Democratic senator.

WOODWARD: If you go down that road -- I realize that. There's no confusion here. But I think there's a danger in the sunny side of something that really isn't very sunny.

KING: Dee Dee, what's wrong at Treasury?

MYERS: Well, I don't think anything is really wrong at Treasury, other than the problems that this administration has inherited and this Treasury secretary has inherited are enormous. And it's difficult for anybody to know exactly what to do.

I think it's safe to say that Secretary Geithner, his first big rollout, you know, wasn't as well-received as I think they would have hoped.

But I think they're betting that what's more important is that it's well-received at the end of a year or four years than it is at the end of the day. The markets are reacting to everything. And so I think it's hard to pinpoint one thing that's causing the markets to go crazy, other than the fundamental state of the economy, which is in very, very , very difficult shape.

KING: How hurt has Obama been, Ari, by the appointees' withdrawing?

Four have withdrawn.

FLEISCHER: Oh, I think that's much more inside Washington story than it is a national story. The entire time I was in government, Larry, I always thought people made way too much of who's in, who's out, who's up, who's down in the cabinet. Most Americans don't know the names of those people.

So I don't really think that's a big issue. It's a time-consuming issue for the president.

The real issue there is when will they start to appoint the assistant secretaries and the worker bees, what I call the colonels and lieutenant colonels at all the government agencies who do a lot of the work. They're falling behind on that. And that's a -- that's something he's got to get his arms around that.

KING: Coming up, your blogs, more on Obama and later, T. Boone Pickens.

Stay with us.


KING: We're back.

Our own David Theall is on top of the blogs tonight. There's still time to weigh in.

We asked: "What do you want to hear from the president tomorrow night?" -- David, what's -- what are we saying?

DAVID THEALL, LARRY KING LIVE PRODUCER: Larry, it's the president's first appearance before a joint session of Congress. That was our question of the day on the blog.

We heard from Bryan, who said this. This is what he would like to hear from the president. And he says: "As a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, I want to hear him say our economic troubles here won't damage or stall our mission there."

We also heard from Neil, who says: "I want him to say that he's changed his mind on the mortgage bailout package."

We're still getting a lot of talk about that on the blog. Says Neil: "I still hate the idea of bailing out people who can't pay their house notes."

And finally, Larry, we heard from Liz. We thought we would include her comment, as well. She says: "I wish he'd say damn the Republicans, full steam ahead. I know he probably won't," she says, "still, I can wish."

We're going to continue the conversation -- Look for the blog link, click it, jump into the conversation. We'll look forward to hearing from you -- Larry.

KING: Thank you, David, as always. David Theall. We'll go to some phone calls too for this outstanding panel. Gang, Obama held a summit today on the nation's future financial health. He took public questions from lawmakers both sides of the aisle. Good idea, Bob? Was that an effective tactic?

WOODWARD: Well, it's an interesting one, always. There's a little bit of this is a show. But his idea of reducing the deficit, as Dee Dee will well remember in the Clinton administration, that was his campaign promise. And he actually delivered on it. And it was I think an integral part in the boom of the '90s. So getting the deficit down works not just because it sounds sensible and frugal, but because that will tend to drive interest rates down, once the economy gets back in a restored position.

KING: Take a call, Las Vegas. Hello?

CALLER: Hello, Larry?


CALLER: Hi, my question is for the entire panel. Do you think the super-rich, the super-wealthy, who control much of the world's wealth, are responsible for the economic problems in America?

KING: Dee Dee?

MYERS: I think there's plenty of blame to go around. Certainly, many people who sat at the top of large corporations or who ran hedge funds or who came up with these complicated and ultimately not very successful strategies for spreading risks bear some of the blame. But as do homeowners who bought houses that they couldn't afford and mortgage brokers who sold those mortgages. There's plenty of blame to go around.

I think we're past the point of trying to sit around and point fingers. And now it's come to look ahead. As tempting as it is to sometimes put a bull's eye on someone's back, I think we're much better served by a conversation about how do we all work together and what responsibility do we all have to get our country out of this?

KING: Ari, what do you make of people giving back, or Governor Jindal of Louisiana saying, I don't want what you're going to give me? Mississippi, the same. Doesn't that seem weird?

FLEISCHER: They're being very specific in most cases. What they're saying is one of the provisions of the stimulus would trigger an expansion of state spending programs. There's federal strings attached. So for every dollar they get back, they have to spend three or four state dollars. So it will end up costing them and set up a program, when it terminates in two years, the state is going to have to pick up the tab and keep funding it.

So it's a little narrower than just we don't want to take the stimulus money. But, Larry, it's a reflection of the ideological divide that still exists in this country. It's a legitimate issue to argue about and debate. And that is the role the federal government should be and whether or not federal spending of the magnitude we've never seen before is the solution. One of the beauties of having 50 different states is you can have 50 different laboratories to see which ideas really work. KING: Bob, what's government's role in something like this overall?

WOODWARD: I understand what Ari is talking about, the reluctance to turn so much of this over to the government. But there's no other recourse. And if you talk to the Republican economists, conservative economists, they're not saying that the government should stay out. In fact, they as much as anyone say the government comes in. It is the ultimate safety net.

But it is a giant problem. I mean the -- Ari can remember when Bush became president in 2001. And this sounds unbelievable, but the number is correct, it was about a five trillion dollar projected surplus for the next ten years. This, in part, accounted for Bush's push on his tax cut. And, you know, we are now -- the tax cuts that were enacted are still in place. And so the government gets less revenue because of those tax cuts, even in the dire situation we're in now.

KING: Let me get a break in. Ari can respond while he's smiling. Got a question about the economy. We're taking another call after this.


KING: Take another call. Kalamazoo, Michigan. Hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. King. I have a quick for Ms. Myers and a very quick one for Mr. Woodward. Ms. Myers, I hear you talking about how Obama has inherited these problems. But in all candor -- I'm a Democrat. I voted for Bill Clinton twice. Let's say that it's the lousy trade deals that he pushed through, trade deals Republicans never could have passed, that have left our country devastated, no manufacturing base and an unfair trade balance.

The majority of the American people are powerless. We don't have an opportunity to speak before the media all of the time. And suffering. That needs to be addressed.

And for Mr. Woodward, please, I would like to ask that you use the same passion that you use to expose Watergate to actually report on the realities faced by Americans. The Post, for the first time in more years than I can recall, actually covered the reality of working poor citizens being homeless this weekend. We need more of that. Thank you.

KING: Then that's a call an obvious question from Michigan, which strongly opposed it. Dee Dee?

MYERS: Well, NAFTA was -- this is the first time I've actually heard someone say that NAFTA alone or trade deals caused the economic crisis we're in. I think a lot of things contributed. I generally think that free trade is a good thing. There are some problems with the trade deals, could be structured in ways to protect the environment, protect workers more. But trade helps create jobs. We have a big trade imbalance in this country. That's something we need to focus on. I think had Bill Clinton been president over the last eight years, he would have corrected course, tried to -- truly wouldn't have done the things that President Bush did, like the giant tax cuts, like the doubling of the national debt on his watch, that have really deepened this crisis, and caused us to be in the circumstance we're in.

I said earlier that there's plenty of blame to go around, I believe that. But I certainly don't think NAFTA is not one of the big reasons that we are where we are.

KING: Bob, is the post focusing more now on the less fortunate?

WOODWARD: We do. We should. It's clearly part of the story. The human wreckage in all of this, you can't show it in numbers. You have to deal with human beings and tell their story. I mean, the idea of 500,000 people losing their jobs each month, that's a staggering number. And what it does to those families and the individuals is indeed very central to telling what's really happening.

KING: Ari, logically, can the tax cuts be defended?

FLEISCHER: Oh, Larry? I mean --

KING: Come on, look what we run in to.

FLEISCHER: When George Bush came in to office, he inherited a recession. You remember the bubble burst in the dot coms. The market peaked in March of 2000. The economy went in to recession in February of 2001. And one of the reasons it was a short and shallow as it was in 2001 was because of the tax cuts, the marginal across the board income tax rate cuts, followed by the cuts in dividend, which also helped with a huge boost to the economy.

We had a record breaking 55 straight months of job creation and economic job growth in this country, until the banking crisis hit. The answer is of course yes. Same thing for the boom of the '90s, which I have to remind, really took off after Republicans took the Congress in 1994. That led to the huge growth in both the markets and the economy and capital gains rates were cut. So the answer is emphatically yes.

What I get a kick out of is when Bob Woodward says Bush's tax cuts were wrong. But Barack Obama has included some tax cuts in his plan. But I guess those are right.

WOODWARD: I never said they were wrong at all. The crisis we're in is not about tax cuts. The crisis we're in is -- let's reduce it to the word that it should be labeled with, greed, that people, particularly in the financial institutions, made deals, made derivative contracts which people -- most people don't understand -- I barely understand it. And leveraged money -- so they said, hey, I'm making a dollar on this. Wow, if I borrowed the rest of the money, I could make 30 dollars or 50 dollars.

FLEISCHER: Yes, and I agree with that.

KING: We're out of time. Thank you all very much. We'll be calling on you regularly. You're all outstanding guests. Remind you, tomorrow night, we're on at 9:00 Pacific, following the president's speech.

Next, T. Boone Pickens has a warning for us all.


T. BOONE PICKENS, OIL ENTREPRENEUR: Did you know what happened when Russia cut off Europe's natural gas supplies in the middle of winter? Europe bank rush. Real nice. Please turn it back on. It's cold.


KING: Can it happen here? We'll find out after the break.


KING: Some power players, and I do mean power players, met today in an energy summit headlined by T. Boone Pickens. The man who made billions in oil says we better look to wind and other sources if we plan to turn on the lights in the coming decades.


BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every time oil dropped, people said, give me my Hummer back. And that's not what they're saying now. We want America to be independent. We want to protect the future of our children and grandchildren. We know this is the key to our job growth.

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The scientists continuing to warn us that we really do have a planetary emergency. That phrase still sounds shrill to many ears. We are not used to thinking in these terms. But the generation that's coming on after us will look back and assess what we did or did not do.


KING: T. Boone Pickens and John Podesta are next.



KING: Some movers and shakers gathered today in Washington for the second annual Clean Energy Summit. President Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took part. So did our two guests, T. Boone Pickens and John Podesta. We'll start with T. Boone. People are scared today, T. Boone, of losing their jobs, homes, 401(k)s. How do you get them to make alternative energy and green technology any kind of priority in this climate? PICKENS: You know, when I started my campaign for the Pickens Plan, which was July 8, 2008, I didn't know where we could go from there. It was -- I wondered whether the plan would be accepted or it wouldn't. Actually, today, we're importing just as much oil today as we did back in July.

So the risks to the country, the security for the country, has not changed. The price of oil has gone from 147 down to 37. It's been a huge drop. I would say that with our economic condition like it is in America, that's good for us that it has dropped. It's what has happened globally, with that drop from 147 to 37, is infused three trillion dollars in the global economy.

Whether we can get the people to go for alternatives or not, I have a feeling they're ready to get off of foreign oil.

KING: I'm sorry, go ahead. T. Boone -- let me complete -- T. Boone is founder and chairman of B.P. Capital Management and he advocates the Pickens Plan for reducing US dependence on foreign oil. John Podesta is with us as well, president and CEO of the American Progress Action Fund. John a very familiar figure, served as chief of staff for President Bill Clinton.

As T.Boone pointed out, John, with oil prices more than 100 dollars off last year, how do you get the public to feel urgent about reducing dependence on foreign oil?

JOHN PODESTA, AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: I think you just saw it in the recovery bill that the president just signed. The jobs of the future are really built into the building a clean energy future for the country. So whether it's retrofitting buildings, building new solar and wind power out in the corridors that have so much potential to provide us with power, or whether it's building the intelligent, smart electric grid that we talked about today at the summit that we hosted, I think that the jobs of the future, the prospects for economic growth in the future depend on us getting off fossil fuels, particularly of foreign oil, and investing that money here at home in creating good jobs.

KING: T. Boone, how is the wind farm project going?

PICKENS: Well, it's slow. One, the wind farm that I announced a year ago, we don't start receiving turbines until 2011. What's happened to us, it's very difficult to get any financing at this time to -- you know, to get it started. But we don't receive turbines, so construction won't start for two years. So in that two-year period, I'm very hopeful that -- that credit loosens up, and we have an opportunity to finance this like we thought we were going to do a year ago.

KING: John, Obama set a goal of doubling U.S. renewable energy production in three years. What are the biggest obstacles to that?

PODESTA: I think that he's got the elements in the bill he just signed. I think we heard from the wind power people today that they have doubled in the last three years and they can double again in the next three years. The real question, though, is getting that power to market. We've got a lot of potential for wind power in the Pan Handle in Texas, where Boone invests, in upper Midwest, off shore. We've got tremendous potential for solar power in the Southwest.

But where the power is and where the people are is two different places. So we've got to build a better electric grid to get that power that can be generated through renewable resources and get it to where consumers are. At the same time, do that in a much more efficient way than we currently use energy.

KING: What happens if we don't do anything? The grim energy forecast after this.


KING: Same question for both our distinguished guests, starting with you, T. Boone. What if we don't do anything?

PICKENS: If you don't do anything, you'll have the same plan we've had for 40 years, which is no plan. Which means you're going to import more oil from foreign countries, some of them not friendly to us. So you can't go forward with no plan. We're at a critical point. I think we have the leadership in place. And we will have an energy plan for America.

Then let's just say you didn't do anything for ten years.

KING: Right.

PICKENS: That goes by pretty fast. In ten years, if we haven't done anything more than what we did in the last 40, you're going to be importing over 75 percent of your oil and you're going to be paying 200 to 300 dollars a barrel for it. So it does clear up two problems that we have, health care and education. Because if you go with no plan but foreign oil, you aren't going to have enough money to take care of health care and education.

KING: John?

PICKENS: There's no way you can go without a plan.

PODESTA: I think Boone puts it right. When we started talking about this in the 1970s, we were importing 30 percent of our oil. Now we're pushing up close to 70 percent. The interesting thing, I thought, about the conversation today was we weren't talking about whether to go to this new future of clean energy. It was really just all about how. We have tremendous leadership there with Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid.

We had people like Lee Scott from Walmart and other business leaders, labor leaders there. The question now is how do we get on with the job? How do we get rid of the impediments? This is a national problem that needs a national solution. But I think with President Obama's leadership, with 90 billion dollars that were just in this recovery bill, the big emphasis he's going to place on it tomorrow night, we can get the job done. KING: T. Boone, do you think he'll talk about energy tomorrow night?

PICKENS: I think he will. I think he feels very strong about energy. John knows the president much better than I do. I had one meeting with him that was a little over an hour. But we only have one resource in America that will replace foreign oil. You don't -- wind and solar do not replace fuel that would fuel an 18-wheeler. The only resource we have that will fuel an 18-wheeler and take away foreign diesel is natural gas. And I think that's understood.

When you see what the president has said in the past, he says in ten years, we will not be importing any oil from the Mideast and Venezuela. If that is the case, the only -- only way you can get there is to use our natural gas in this country, which is fabulous, because it will create so many jobs and it will create so much income, and there'll be a lot of taxes paid for it. Instead of letting the money go out of the country, we will actually keep it in the country.

KING: John, has T. Boone got it right?

PODESTA: Yes, I think he has it right. Look, with respect to politics, in the past, we haven't agreed with each other all that much. But I think right now we've come together. And I think that's what we can show to the country, which is that the country can come together, conservatives, liberals, and everybody in between, to get on to this path of a different future for our country and our children. We can solve the problem of global warming. And we can get off this dependence on foreign oil.

But it's going to take a lot of effort and a lot of work and a lot of leadership. I think President Obama has shown that he used this as a key element of rebuilding the economy, getting us out of the ditch we're in and getting us on a path to growth and prosperity again.

KING: T. Boone, we only have about a minute left. What changed you?

PICKENS: Well, you know, I'm 80 years old. I've been in the business over 50 years. And I saw the predicament that the country was in. We were importing more and more foreign oil. I felt it was a security risk for the country, plus an economic risk.

So I put the politics away. I'm not in politics. I'm trying to solve an energy problem for America. And John and his -- his group, when they decided that I was -- that it was an absolute nonpartisan issue with me, and that the problem had to be solved for America, we went to work together on the deal. And we've never had a political discussion in six months. And I doubt that we'll ever have a political discussion.

KING: Are you optimistic, John?

PODESTA: I am optimistic. I think that we can get on with the program. I think we'll see energy legislation, additional energy legislation passed this spring. And I think we'll see people being put back to work on these important projects that's going to make our country more secure and -- and give people something really important to do. And I think that emphasis will -- will inspire a whole new generation of people to -- to create a new future.

KING: Thank you both very much, T. Boone Pickens and John Podesta. We may be a day late, but we're not short on birthday wishes for Ted Kennedy. He turned 77 yesterday. He spent more than half of those years as a member of the United States Senate. Recently, he's been waging a courageous battle against cancer. Happy 77th birthday, Senator Kennedy. May you have many happy and hopefully healthy years ahead.

We're on at a special time tomorrow, Midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific, following President Obama's speech. Right now, it's time for Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?