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Obama Ousts G.M. Chief

Aired March 30, 2009 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight...


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of taxpayer dollars.


KING: G.M.'s top man is forced to walk the plank. Others are put on notice -- shape up or ship out.

Is President Obama micromanaging corporate America?

And what does it all mean for millions of workers kind of caught in the middle?

Plus, Madonna adoption controversy -- she's in Malawi with daughter, Lourdes, and wants another girl.

Why do so many think they know what's best for Madonna and child?


KING: By the way, is it anybody's business?

Next on LARRY


We have an outstanding panel to kick things off tonight.

Representative Thaddeus McCotter, Republican of Michigan, chairman of the Republican House Policy Committee and a member of the Financial Services Committee.

Ed Begley, Jr. is here in Los Angeles, the actor and environmental activist, star of "Living with Ed" on Planet Green network.

Also here is Judge Greg Mathis. He presides over "The Judge Mathis Show." But he was born and raised in Detroit and he has relatives who have worked in the auto industry.

And in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom, Democrat of San Francisco, has warned Congress that some effects to preserve the U.S. auto industry could have the effect -- rather, efforts to preserve the industry could have the effect of impeding advanced transportation technology.

President Obama announced the government's virtually unprecedented intervention in the auto industry earlier today.



OBAMA: Today, I am announcing that my administration will offer G.M. and Chrysler a limited additional period of time to work with creditors, unions and other stakeholders to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional taxpayer dollars. During this period, they must produce plans that would give the American people confidence in their long-term prospects for success.


KING: Ed Begley drove up to our studios tonight in an electrical car. And he has always been a supporter of things environmental and maybe he -- there he is. Maybe he thinks that should be tagged onto this.

What do you make of this whole thing, Ed?

ED BEGLEY, JR. ACTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: I think there are clean technology jobs out there. Clean tech is growing leaps and bounds every day. I think they need to make the cleanest cars, the most energy-efficient cars possible. They can do that in Detroit, in Flint, in Lansing and all those places.

KING: Would you have made that conditional on this bailout?

BEGLEY: Yes, to do as much as is humanly possible to make those kinds of cars. I mean all the auto companies are hurting, but Toyota is hurting a lot less than G.M. and Chrysler are right now. And they made the Prius and they made lots of other cars and they made that car I drove up in today.

KING: Congressman McCotter, Bush bailed out the auto industry to start with.

What do you make of this move today?

REP. THADDEUS MCCOTTER (R), MICHIGAN: Well, the one concern we have, Larry, back home in Detroit, is what type of further restructuring is going to be necessary in the next 60 days for G.M., in the next 30 days for Chrysler. We have a lot of working families that are wondering if their job is going to be included in those that have to be lost. We have retirees that are worried about their benefits.

So our number one concern right how is how this affect the hearth and home within the auto industry. KING: All right. As a born and raised in Detroit gentleman, Judge Mathis, you're aware of these kind of problems going on and...


KING: You have relatives in the auto industry?

MATHIS: Yes. And I'm still in Detroit, for the most part. What we have to understand, first of all, is that what we're seeing is a result of the banking collapse, because we would not be talking about General Motors and Chrysler being on the brink of bankruptcy had there not been a banking crisis. That's the immediate problem that created this.

So you're dumping on the auto industry, but you're handing out tens of billions of dollars to the banking industry with no strings attached.

KING: But they weren't selling cars.

MATHIS: They weren't selling cars because you can't get credit. If you can't get credit because the banking system has collapsed as a result of predatory lending. But in Detroit, I have many family members who are suffering. And to give you a good example, I have a community center there in Detroit. And, for the most part, we train young people to become cosmetologists -- hairdressers. Now, the door is being kicked down by older adults -- middle-aged people who want to take the training opportunities from young people.

So it's a lot going on. There's a lot suffering.

KING: Mayor Newsom, do you think Mr. Wagoner is a fall guy?

MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM, SAN FRANCISCO: Well, I don't think he's a fall guy. This is the guy who drove us off the cliff. Remember, this is the guy who killed the electric car -- literally, not just figuratively. I mean he's had his opportunity and he had his time. Now it's time for car 2.0. It's time for Steve Jobs or someone of his ilk to come in and reinvent this industry.

With respect to the judge, I agree partially about the context of Wall Street. But the reality is this industry has been suffering for years and years and years, as we've been focused on profit in the context of these big cars, these SUVs, these Hummers, etc. And that's been at the expense of reinventing this industry, as Ed said and others.

But Toyota and Honda and other foreign manufacturers have advanced. And that's why they're in a better position than the American auto industry is today.

KING: Ed...

MATHIS: Well, it's also because they have protectionist policies, those companies you talk about, the Japanese, as well. And in those countries, they have tax policy that is more advantageous to them. So if you include the subsidies that the foreign countries provide to their companies, if you include the protectionist policies while we engage in free trade, we find other reasons that those foreign companies -- as well as health care costs.

KING: Ed, what do you make of the president almost guaranteeing Americans that buy a G.M. car, we'll take care of them?

BEGLEY: I want to buy an American car. I mean I had a...

KING: What did you make of the guarantee?

He guaranteed them.

BEGLEY: I think he's trying to get people to get out there and buy those cars. I'm trying to get them to make the kind of cars people want to buy. I've bought American car. It was the G.M. EV1. And they took that back and they crushed it. You know, I had a Ford Contour that I drove for years. It was a natural gas flex fuel car. And I always want to buy American. And that car had more miles up and down on the rack than it did driving on a horizontal plane. It had lots of problems.

KING: Congressman, what do you make of the guarantee?

MCCOTTER: I think the guarantee is helpful. Anything we can do to solve the underlying problem of cars moving off the lot into consumers' hands, that's part of the critical problem. All the amount of restructuring in the world, the painful human cost will not amount to anything if we can't get cars off of the lot.

KING: So Mayor Newsom, what happens from here?

Does Chrysler merge with Fiat?

NEWSOM: Well, I think that's seemingly inevitable. Remember, Chrysler is owned by a private equity firm and G.M. increasingly by all of us. And that's why I thought it was appropriate that the president speak on behalf of G.M.'s largest and newest shareholder, the American public, and say, look, good enough isn't. And we've got to reinvent or die. And in this case, he, I think, set a very bold target.

It reminds me a little bit of Michelangelo's comment that says the biggest risk is not that we aim too high and miss it, it's that we aim too low and reach it. And I think this industry has been aiming way too low for too long. And it's time to completely reinvent it.

And that requires more than just ingenuity and entrepreneurialism in Detroit and Michigan, as critical as that is for jobs in this economy. But it also requires an investment in places around the rest of the country, not least of which in the garages of people here in Silicon Valley.

KING: -- go to that and click on the blog, tell us what you think. We'll share some of your comments later in the show and we'll take your calls.

Don't go away.


KING: We're back.

Let's take a look at something else President Obama said earlier today about the U.S. government and the ailing auto industry.


OBAMA: Let me be clear, the United States government has no interest in running G.M. We have no intention of running G.M. What we are interested in is giving G.M. an opportunity to finally make those much needed changes that will let them emerge from this crisis a stronger and more competitive company.


KING: Congressman McCotter, what happens if G.M. goes bankrupt?

MCCOTTER: Well, the administration is talking about what they call a quick rinse bankruptcy. No one is quite certain as to what that means. But we do know that it will be entailing painful restructuring. It will cost more jobs than have already been put on the table by the companies and it could have a very devastating impact on the retirees' benefits that they've earned over a lifetime of hard work.

KING: Ed, what do you think?

BEGLEY: I want to keep those jobs in Michigan. I want to keep those companies thriving (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: Well, they can keep the jobs, can't they?

They restructure and (INAUDIBLE)...

BEGLEY: Restructure. But we have to -- there's not just cars that you can make. You can make wind turbines and things. There's a company -- two companies, PAS (ph) and Rausch, and they're making parts for wind turbines like (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: The question was, if they go bankrupt, can't they still exist?

BEGLEY: Absolutely.

KING: Judge?

MATHIS: For a very short amount of time. Let me just ask...

KING: Why, people, you think, wouldn't buy cars?

MATHIS: Of course not.

Would you buy a refrigerator with the appliance store in bankruptcy?

You wouldn't suspect that you could get a spare part when it came out of bankruptcy. So I think if they go into bankruptcy, they'll never come out.

KING: Now, Mayor Newsom, there are some suggestions that the government may want them to go to bankruptcy.

Do you buy that?

NEWSOM: Well, I certainly I hope not. I agree with the judge -- I think it could be very problematic and I think it would only accelerate the downward spiral. And remember, those workers that have already given up 50 percent -- those entry level workers now, those who just started, giving up half of their wages. Those legacy costs, of course, are what would go -- the courts would go after in this bankruptcy. And a lot of folks shake their heads and say well, that's a good thing.

Well, that's not necessarily a good thing if that's your only pension and your only health benefits through your retirement years.

So, look, I think we should do everything we can -- President Obama has set that course -- to keep them from insolvency and bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is not the end of the world, but it's certainly something I hope -- I hope happens.

KING: Let's take a call.

New York City, hello.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should union leadership be held accountable at G.M.?

KING: Congressman -- we're going to have a couple of union guys coming on in a moment.

Congressman, what do you think?

MCCOTTER: I think that one of the things that's been overlooked in all the restructuring that the auto industry did prior to the bridge loan and during the bridge loan is some of the sacrifices that the UAW has made in partnership with the auto companies.

One is we just heard, the two tier wage system -- cut in half for new employees. We've seen them take over the health care for some of the retirees. And I think that, in many ways, the partnership between the UAW and the companies has been something that's been overlooked and could, in many ways, could form as a model for labor and management relations in the future.

KING: South Bend, Indiana, hello.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, good evening to you, Larry.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a question for the automaker industry as a whole.

Are you going to be able to increase the quality of the product that goes out?

KING: Would you bid on that, Ed?

BEGLEY: I'd like them to. I'd like them to make cars that get better mileage, that emit less...

KING: Well, the president is guaranteeing the warranties. You would think they'd want to make a better product.

BEGLEY: I think they have to or they will be sunk and there won't be anything left of them. I think they must.

KING: Judge?

MATHIS: Well, I think they'll make a better product. But, once again, I'm still concerned about the unfair trade competition that goes on so that our competitors will always make a better product if they continue to get the benefit of the unbalanced trade policy.

KING: Mayor, what's the way out of this?

NEWSOM: Well, I think we do have to make a better product. At the end of the day, it's a product problem, as well as a cost problem. There's no doubt about that.

And remember, look, it's not just the unions that are at fault here. It's policy makers. It's, with respect, politicians and not just those that are current positions, but those that have been in positions of influence over the years.

This is the same industry that did everything to fight every conceivable reform -- be it seat belts, be it requiring rear view mirrors, let alone mileage standards. And it's put us in this position we're in today -- a combination of all these factors, not the least of which, the inability to reconcile the health care costs -- the biggest disadvantage we have, from a competitive perspective, versus other industrialized nations.

But the reality is we got into the SUV business and we made a tactical error.

KING: Yes.

NEWSOM: As other companies around the world got into these smaller vehicles, more efficient vehicles, they made a better bet. And that's what we've got to reconcile -- better quality, more efficiency and obviously focus on the issue of health care, which needs to be linked into this debate.

KING: Back in 60 seconds with President Obama's pledge to autoworkers. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: President Obama spoke directly to autoworkers today as he explained his action plan for Detroit.

Take a look.


OBAMA: While the steps I'm taking will have an impact on all Americans, some of our fellow citizens will be affected more than others. So I'd like to speak directly to all those men and women who work in the auto industry or live in countless communities that depend on it.

Many of you have been going through tough times for longer than you care to remember and I won't pretend that the tough times are over. I can't promise you there isn't more difficulty to come.

But what I can promise you is this -- I will fight for you. You are the reason I'm here today. I got my start fighting for working families in the shadows of a shuttered steel plant. I wake up every single day asking myself, what can I do to give you and working people all across this country a fair shot at the American dream?


KING: Next, the personal toll the American auto industry crisis is taking on many -- see how some in mission -- Michigan, rather -- are coping.

Stay with us.


KING: Our panel will join us momentarily.

Right now, let's check in with some autoworkers themselves.

In Lansing, Michigan is Mike Green, president of UAW Local 652 and his son, Rollin Green. You remember both of them. Mike Green's son, by the way, was laid off by G.M. in December.

And in Detroit is Gary Knapp. He accepted the buyout offered by G.M., retired from the automaker today after 38 years.

What was it like, Gary, to leave?

GARY KNAPP, 38-YEAR EMPLOYEE OF G.M., TOOK BUYOUT TO SAVE PENSION: Well it was kind of interesting, to say the least. It's kind of hard times right now. And I really didn't know where I was going to be going. But I had to make some tough choices based on the economic environment and the conditions between management and the union. And finally the choice was made that this was the right thing to do.

KING: Mike Green, as president of your local, do you understand what Gary did?

MIKE GREEN, PRESIDENT, UAW LOCAL 652: Absolutely. The S&P was rolled out to those people have to take a look at it. If it fit what your needs were it was a good opportunity for you to take.

KING: What do you make, Mike, of Mr. Wagoner being ushered out?

M. GREEN: Well, you know, I don't think it really surprises anybody. I mean, you know, just all of a sudden to come out -- but, you know, like they say, if you have a losing coach for so many seasons, you -- you change that up.

But, you know, one of the things I'd like to say is, you know, from your past panel, when you were talking about making cars. And that -- you know, they act like we missed the boat. Well, we produced what people want. You know, and that was trucks and SUVs. And, you know, that's why you've see Toyota get into the game with crossover vehicles and trucks, also.

You know, but we've got 20 different vehicles that get 30 miles to the gallon or more, Larry. So I mean we -- we have what they want. And I can get you any color you want right now.

KING: Hey, Rollin, are you bitter toward the company?

ROLLIN GREEN, MIKE GREEN'S SON: No, not at all. I was -- I hired in early June. And, you know, these are hardworking people. You know, I hired in early June and by early August, you know, I was -- I lost 22 pounds. And that certainly wasn't from walking back and forth to the coffee pot and grabbing the paper.

KING: Gary, your pension and retirement health benefits, are you confident you're going to get them?

KNAPP: I believe that I'm going to be all right, that this is going to be a comfortable retirement for me. I have confidence that General Motors and the union is going to come to an equitable agreement for everyone involved.

KING: Rollin, with the buyouts, do you think you'll get back to work?

R. GREEN: There's a good chance. It depends on -- I guess tomorrow we'll -- we'll see how many people are serious about it. Tomorrow's the deadline -- and see if sales pick up and they bring a second shift back on and I'll have a real good chance of going back.

KING: Mike Green, do you think the company should go outside to bring in its new head?

M. GREEN: Well, you know, there's good and bad about that, you know?

There's so much experience deep in to G.M., where people could step in and do the job. But if they want to think outside of the box and look at something new, you know, you might want to take a look at that, you know, and get somebody else's opinion.

KING: All right, honestly, for all of you, Gary, do you think General Motors is going to survive all of this?

KNAPP: Yes, I do. This corporation has had a long history of some adversity. But they've always managed to come through it with flying colors. I think General Motors is going to be fine.

KING: Mike?

M. GREEN: I believe so, too. I mean these are American people. These are American workers. They've met every challenge that's ever been brought before them for decades right now. And they're defending this country, you know, with the heavy industry that we have, through World War II and the Korean War. So, you know, you bring it and we can build it and we can do a quality job.

I'd like to invite you to Lansing, Michigan, Larry, and I'll show you the -- the "Motor Trend" Car of the Year, the CTS.

KING: What -- what kind -- what division makes it?

M. GREEN: The Cadillac CTS.

KING: Yes. I've seen that car. It's beautiful car.

M. GREEN: Come on down and, you know, we'll run you through the line.

KING: I can watch it being put together?

M. GREEN: Absolutely.

KING: How long does it take to make a car?

M. GREEN: From front to what is it, around the body shop, paint shop?

R. GREEN: It's hard to tell. And I mean it's not necessarily one -- the line is so long and you don't have -- basically we were building about 34 cars an hour before the cutbacks.

M. GREEN: And you have three different products that go down the same line, too.

R. GREEN: Absolutely.

KING: Yes.

So you all have faith in this company's going to make it?

M. GREEN: Absolutely.

R. GREEN: Yes, sir.



And do you have any thoughts on -- Gary, by the way, do either of you know Mr. Wagoner, any of you?

M. GREEN: I've met Mr. Wagoner a few times.

KNAPP: I've met Mr. Wagoner, yes.

KING: All right.

What was he -- well, how was like with, vis-a-vis employees?

KNAPP: Go ahead, Mike.

M. GREEN: I met him when he came to Lansing, Michigan here, when they started the LGR plant. And a very personable guy and talkative. And he seemed like a real decent guy.

KNAPP: That's pretty much my sentiment. He was a very nice gentleman.

KING: Well, you've been nice enough to hang tough. I hope you get back to work, Rollin.

R. GREEN: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Mike, keep up the tough fight.

And, Gary, best of luck in retirement.

KNAPP: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Mike Green, Rollin Green and Gary Knapp.

Your blog comments are next --

Stick around.


KING: To bail or not to bail -- that seems to be the question -- at least that's the question of the day on our blog -- David Theall, what are the people saying tonight?

DAVID THEALL, LARRY KING LIVE PRODUCER: Larry, we asked the question of the day: "Should the government bail out struggling businesses?

We're hearing a lot of nos. There's some talk on the blog tonight about whether or not the government should step in and fire the G.M. CEO. But most of the people are answering the question that we asked and they're saying no.

Somebody says: "Enough is enough."

We pulled this one for you, Larry. Somebody said: "At first, I believed these companies were too big to fail -- at first." He says: "I no longer do."

That's the way the conversation is looking this time of night, Larry, on the blog.

KING: And, David, usually when we talk about the auto industry help on the blog, people seem genuinely concerned about the worker.

Is that holding out?

THEALL: That -- tonight is no exception. People will criticize the government. They will criticize the auto industry. But they usually go to bat for the U.S. autoworker. Somebody like this, Alex, on that said: "I hate giving one dime to the G.M. machine. Unfortunately, if we don't, it's the autoworker who will pay the heaviest cost," says Alex.

This conversation continues, as it always does, Look for the blog link, click it and jump into the conversation. Larry and I always love hearing from you.

KING: You bet, David.

Thanks so much.

All right, Congressman McCotter, the union members say that don't blame them so much, they were making cars that the public wanted.

How do you react to that?

MCCOTTER: Well, they were making cars that the public wanted and even the quality gap, according to most objective observers, has been closed, if not surpassed.

And so I think that when you see people like Mr. Knapp, the new retiree, and both Greens, who are now a family legacy in that industry, you can see that these are the best workers in the world. They take an enormous amount of pride in what they do. And they show a lot of dedication to it. And it is reflect in the product. And I'm most heartened to hear that your viewers understand that these workers are the ones who are going to pay the price for any restructuring in the future. And that's why they need our help.

KING: Nobody, Judge Mathis, is blaming the workers, are they?

Or are they?

MATHIS: Correct. And they shouldn't. You know, as the worker just said, they're making cars that the public wanted. Unfortunately, with the oil crisis, you know, the oil companies make record profits and the oil prices go up at record amounts. And so the attitudes and the taste of the consumer changed then.

But when the oil was stable, then, of course, there was demand for the best cars. And so when the oil market became unstable, they had to change their tastes.

KING: Ed, do you think the industry is ever going to come around to the kind of thinking you have?

BEGLEY: I hope they do -- not just that I have, but many other people have. You know, they fought the CAFE standard (INAUDIBLE) -- the high miles per gallon. They fought the seat belts. They fought the air bags. They fought the smog control devices. We have four times the cars in L.A. right now since 1978, we have half the smog because of those pollution control devices.

We have 500 at the low end; 700 billion a year leaves this country, according to me and T. Boone Pickens, that leaves this country in imported oil. We have more money now to deal with those problems if made higher mile per hour vehicles.

KING: Yet they fight it.

BEGLEY: They fight it. Again, 30 is great. I've gotten 58.6 real world miles per gallon in my wife's Prius. That's the kind of car -- they've had waiting lists for those cars, Larry. I think Detroit wants waiting lists.

KING: How many have they made?

BEGLEY: They've made a lot of Priuses. They've sold now a tremendous amount of Priuses.

KING: Mayor Newsom, do you have faith in the industry?

NEWSOM: It's interesting Ed brings up 30 miles a gallon. In 1908, the model T, Ford was getting 25 miles per gallon. Think about that. Here we are a century later, how much progress have we made?

It is true. Mike was right to suggest that we were building cars that the customers wanted. But I don't know that we knew what we wanted. I much prefer a car that gets 100 miles a gallon, but I was never even afforded the opportunity to think differently and act differently when I was in the show room.

Company out here in the Bay Area, Tesla Motors, just created these new electric vehicles. They're one of the fastest cars in the world. I didn't know that technology existed until I got in and drove one. The reality is, we need to dramatically reinvent, reconsider, refocus, recalibrate our expectations of what the automobile industry is going to look like five, ten years from now, not play in the margins.

I think that's what President Obama is speaking to. There's some good things happening in the automobile industry. But good is not good enough in this economic climate.

KING: Congressman, in your judgment, where is it all going?

MCCOTTER: I think the greens were right. I think Mr. Knapp was right, despite many of the misperceptions that are out there, and the difficult challenges and circumstances in which the auto companies find themselves here in the United States. Precisely because of the workers, precisely because of the pride they take in their craft and the product that they put out, these companies are going to make it. And it's because of the workers.

KING: By the way, judge -- One of Judge Mathis' platforms is advising young people on how to expunge past convictions and provide legal resources. For information, check out AskJudgeMathis -- all one word,

MATHIS: Thank you for the commercial.

KING: Where do you think it's going?

MATHIS: Unfortunately, I don't see much compassion coming from Washington, not the same type of compassion they've shown -- you know, not the same type they've shown to the banking system. You don't see the CFO there or the CEO there being ousted as a condition of money.

And I see them, quite frankly, try to drive them toward bankruptcy. If that happens -- so they can get more control. But they don't understand, if that happens, no one will buy another car.

KING: Ed, do you think Wall Street gets a better break than the auto?

BEGLEY: I think 28.4 billion is a lot of compassion. But I would like to save those workers there. That is my main goal, to save them, to be making cars, fuel-efficient cars, cars that people want, and making things for wind turbines, like Rausch and PAS are doing now. You can do things other than just make cars there. Clean tech I think is going to be a big part of our future.

KING: Mayor? Go ahead.

NEWSOM: May I just jump in. Let's not talk about saving these jobs. Let's talk about creating the jobs of the future. The reality is we have a limitless capacity if we reinvent this industry. Plug-in hybrid technology, purely electric technology, rethinking the way we deliver the vehicle, along the lines of the way, for example, we deliver phone service. You can pay by the minute. You can pay by the mile.

Reinventing this system. There's so many new programs and proposals out there. Better Place, a company out here in the Bay Area, is doing just that in Israel, in Denmark, in Australia. We need to reinvent and re-imagine, and not just play on defense, but now start to play on the offensive.

KING: Thank you all very much. Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, Ed Begley Jr., Judge Greg Mathis and Mayor Gavin Newsom. This is a continuing new story and we appreciate you coming by tonight. Madonna wants to adopt another child. So why does the whole world have something to say about it? That's next.


KING: Welcome back. By the way, Natalie Cole is with us tomorrow night. And she's got some major health problems. Natalie Cole tomorrow night.

Madonna is in Malawi to adopt a second child. The girl whose name means Mercy is about four years old. Her mother died soon after her birth. Madonna already has two biological children and a three- year-old son that she adopted in Malawi in 2006.

Our panel to discuss all of this here in L.A. is Carlos Diaz, correspondent with "Extra." In Lalongway (ph), Malawi is Celean Jacobson, a reporter for the Associated Press. And in New York, Rodney Atkins, the country music star and National Adoption Council spokesman. He, by the way, was adopted multiple times in his life. His new CD, "It's America," is available tomorrow. And in Boston, Vicki Peterson of Wide Horizons for Children, one of the largest non- profit adoption and child welfare agencies. By the way, Angelina Jolie adopted her daughter Zahara through Wide Horizons in Ethiopia.

Why is this a plus?

CARLOS DIAZ, "EXTRA" CORRESPONDENT: I, for one -- I'll set things off real quick for you. I can't believe there's this much fuss over Madonna wanting to make a child's life better. There are up to 50 organizations now lining up to stop this adoption. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Madonna has hundreds of millions of dollars.

This is not a flash in the pan. She's been involved with Malawi for years now. And she has David Banda (ph), who she's proven to be a great mother to for the past two or three years that she's had him.

KING: Celean Jacobson in Malawi, AP reporter, do you have any problem with this? Why is this a big story?

CELEAN JACOBSON, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Because she's Madonna. It's the one of the reasons why she's a big story. But the issue about the organizations that are trying to -- who are raising objections against her adoption is because it's a feeling that children in Africa should be able to stay with extended families, that David and this new little girl have extended families and that they should remain in those communities. That's one of the issues that these organizations are raising.

KING: I see. Rodney Atkins, do you have a beef?

RODNEY ATKINS, COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER: No, not a beef at all. I'm proud to be part of the National Council for Adoption here in D.C. and America. And just trying to let folks know that how important it is and there seems to be a stigma a lot of times about kids that are put up for adoption in this country, that they're going to have some kind of baggage of substance abuse or genetic problems. And for the record, I guess why they've asked me to speak for the National Council for Adoption -- when I was born, my parents, after I was adopted, were told I would be in the hospital. I was born very sickly. That I would be in the hospital my whole life.

And I think just because of the support of being around a permanent family and having unconditional love is --

KING: But you have no problem with Madonna adopting a child in an African city?

ATKINS: Madonna? No. I think that children deserve to know what unconditional love is. That's what a parent provides.

KING: Yes. Vicki Peterson, do you have a problem with it?

VICKI PETERSON, WIDE HORIZONS FOR CHILDREN: I have no problem with it at all. I think Madonna has the same rights and responsibilities that everyone has. If they're interested in bringing another child into their life, she would have had to go through a home study and evaluation. And if she's shown to be a responsible parent, I don't have a problem with her adopting another child.

KING: So I'm puzzled. You say all of the organizations. So far tonight, we're unanimous.

DIAZ: We're unanimous.

KING: We don't have a complainer here.

DIAZ: I'll tell you what, there are a lot of people that are complaining over in Malawi saying -- they're equating this to child trafficking. That's the term they're using. Because of the fact that in Malawi there are certain laws that say that you have to be in Malawi for 18 to 24 months before you can take a child away from the country. The reason these laws are in place, Larry, is so that people don't come in and abuse children, take them away and abuse them, or traffic them in certain ways.

So, this is Madonna. She is one of the richest entertainers in the world. She's got hundreds of millions of dollars. We know that she's not going to be, A, trafficking children, or, B, abusing children. And she's filed for interim custody order, which means it's a two-year process to adopt this new girl, who's four years old. Her name is Mercy. She wants to take her away for two years and go through the adoption process, just as she had done with David Banda.

What I don't understand is -- I understand her getting a lot of flak for David Banda. It's like, let's see if Madonna's serious. Through David Banda she's proven that she's serious in her adoption -- in her motives for adoption, that she's serious about the love, and not for publicity.

KING: Are those who are saying, why not adopt an American child?

DIAZ: The thing is -- that's a very good point. Why not adopt an American child. For a celebrity the size of Madonna, it would be very difficult for her to adopt in America, because you would have people coming out of the woodwork, in some way, trying to take advantage of the star of Madonna's stature in America. It's a sad fact, but it's a fact.

KING: We'll be back in 60 seconds with a look at my interview with Madonna shortly after her son, Rocco, was born. That's next.


KING: Madonna has a lot of interesting things to say about being a mom. She was here shortly after her son, Rocco, was born. We spoke about parenting.


KING: Giving birth to a boy? What was it like? Any difference, girl, boy?


KING: Biggest difference?

MADONNA: The biggest difference is that they're just, from the minute they can express themselves, all they're interested in is cars. Cars --

KING: Boys?

MADONNA: Cars, wheels, mechanics, how things work, you know what I mean? It's just in their molecular structure.

I live a highly-scheduled life. There's absolutely no time wasted. I'm very focused. And I -- I have a great assistant.

KING: Very important.

MADONNA: Very important, yes.

KING: She or he?

MADONNA: She. Yes.

KING: But emphasis is first children?

MADONNA: Yes. My emphasis -- my priority is my family, absolutely, 100 percent.

Taking care of children is a full time job. And I have total respect for women who do it completely on their own.

KING: You never feel sorry, though, that you have children? You never say -- you've seen people go, oh, I'm better off.

MADONNA: No. Absolutely not.


KING: Should madonna adopt another child from Africa? That's tonight's quick vote question. Go to Cast your ballot. More Madonna after this.



KING: I want to take a second to salute my man, Danny Gans. For 12 times now, he's been selected entertainer of the year in Las Vegas. He's a great performer, currently on deck, recent guest here. Twelve times entertainer of the year. Congratulations. .

Should Madonna adopt another child from Africa? That's our quick vote at Right now, get this, 64 percent say no. Carlos can't believe it.

DIAZ: I mean --

KING: There's time to vote. I want to check in. Celean, is it true that the young child's grandmother is opposed to this adoption?

JACOBSON: That's what has been reported. I haven't been able to speak to any of the girls' family myself. We understand that the family did object earlier in the process, and then has come around, but that the grandmother has still got problems with the adoption going ahead.

KING: Are people in Malawi complaining?

JACOBSON: They are torn. There's some concern that this child will go -- go with Madonna, get lost in America and be lost to Malawi. But at the same time, they know they can't deny a child the opportunities someone like Madonna would offer.

KING: Well said. Rodney Atkins, are you surprised that, at least in our poll, 64 percent of respondents are opposed to this?

ATKINS: Yes. And I'm sure it has more to do with adopting from another country versus staying at home. I think that -- you know, I can see this -- I get if somebody was coming to America coming to America to adopt a kid to take to China, it may strike us as funny. But I don't know. I just encourage folks to check into adoption and you can change a child's life. Thanks for the time here, Larry.

KING: Sure. Stay with us, Rodney. Vicki, Bob Considine, the late Bob Considine, the great writer in Chicago once wrote, I have four children. Two are adopted. I forget which two. Adoption is a -- is a wonderful thing. Why do you think anyone would feel aghast at it, especially when someone like Madonna is going to be your mother?

PETERSON: Well, it's true that I think people can be pretty judgmental about those in the U.S. who go abroad to adopt a child. But the reality is that there truly are millions of children living in orphanages, and there's a very high mortality rate in orphanages. I've been to loads of orphanages. And no child belongs in an orphanage. It's not a place for a child to grow up.

So, sure, there are children in the United States that can be adopted and should be adopted. That doesn't mean that children in other countries don't deserve a family, too.

KING: Carlos, couldn't we make the case -- let's play devil's advocate, come on. We know there are children right now here in Los Angeles, South Central.

DIAZ: Yes.

KING: They're in -- they're in terrible places.

DIAZ: But that's not the gripe here, Larry. No one's saying Madonna shouldn't adopt in Malawi because there are kids in America. They're saying that she's bullying the people in Malawi; she's using her power, her prestige and her money to bully people there. I almost agree with you. Maybe she should look into adopting in America. Like I said, it's very difficult to adopt in America when you're a celebrity of Madonna's stature.

KING: It is?

DIAZ: It is, because of the fact that you know yourself that people are going to try to come out of the woodwork and try to profit off of that. It's easier to adopt -- and poverty in Malawi, Larry, is a thousand times worse than poverty in America. It's one of the poorest countries in the world.

So, I mean, we're talking about a girl who's in an orphanage right now. The reporter earlier talked about not being able to interview the parents. That's because the mom's dead. And the dad, no one can find him. You know? So this is a girl who's in need.

KING: Celean, what has Madonna had to say?

JACOBSON: Almost nothing about it. We have not been able to speak to her, her spokesperson in the U.S. or her lawyer here in Malawi. That's adding to some of the confusion.

If I could maybe just raise one point. The fact that Malawi's laws are fuzzy on adoption is I think what is causing some of this problem. That is what's leading to this allegation that she's using her profile to fast track the issue. In Malawi, when foreign parents want to adopt, they should be residents in the country 18 to 24 months. That law was benched for Madonna's first time around. It appears that this going to happen the same time the next time around.

DIAZ: It was bent and look at the results. David Banda is now two years away -- was adopted two years ago. He saw his father this week. His father said it was one of the proudest moments of his life. David Banda has turned out great. Madonna has proven that she is a great adoptive mother.

KING: We'll be back with more. We'll ask Rodney Atkins about whether he would adopt. Don't go away. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back. We're going to take a couple quick calls in here. Rodney, are you a parent?

ATKINS: Yes, I am. My wife and I have a son together and I have two step-daughters also.

KING: Would you adopt?

ATKINS: I would, yes. It's something that we've started talking about. And I just -- you know, love is thicker than blood.

KING: No kidding. They were chosen. Vicki, were there any complications when Angelina Jolie adopted?

PETERSON: Well, there are always -- there are often complications in adoptions. That's not unusual. Yes, there were some complications. Again, that's fairly typical, whether it's an adoption from the United States or abroad.

Adopting a child is not a simple process. And there are often bumps in the road. But the vast majority of people who go through an adoption are extraordinarily glad that they made the choice to go ahead.

KING: You're not kidding. Our executive producer adopted two and have never been happier. Two wonderful little kids.

Fort Mill, South Carolina, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, Larry. I think it's wonderful that the stars want to adopt homeless children. And I have heard your guests' comments. But I really would like to see more focus on efforts to improve the adoption process of homeless children right here in America. Thank you.

KING: All right. That's a point that's been made by others and continues to be made. Chicago, hello.

CALLER: Yes, hi, Larry. I am an adoptive mother myself. And I'm planning to adopt a second child. Hello?

KING: Yes. Go ahead.

CALLER: My question is, why should a celebrity get more preference in, you know, adopting than everybody -- there are so many other mothers out there wanting to adopt and they don't get any kind of preferential treatment for the same. We are pretty much the same mothers.

KING: Carlos?

DIAZ: This little girl is in an orphanage in Malawi. Madonna saw this girl, Mercy, two years ago. Mercy is now four. Madonna saw her two years ago and said she had a smile that could melt butter. She instantly fell in love with her. She couldn't adopt her and David Banda at the same time. She adopted David Banda two years ago. That's proven successful. Now she's back to adopt Mercy.

They're not breaking the rules. They're just basically -- the only rule that's being bent is that she's not a resident of Malawi for 18 to 24 months.

KING: Sanford, North Carolina, hello?

CALLER: I just -- I don't understand what --

KING: What, sir?

CALLER: I don't understand why everybody has a big deal about Madonna adopting, especially if the youngin' was an orphanage. We've got people here. Look, this woman has eight kids. Somebody needs to adopt -- take care of them. Madonna can give this kid more education than it can get over there. I mean, can you imagine the possibility this youngin' can get when it gets older?

DIAZ: That's the thing. Imagine David and Mercy, 18 years from now, going back to this village in Malawi with all they've been taught, possibly going to Harvard, you know, possibly going to the best schools in the world and taking that knowledge back to this village. And who knows what they can do at that time.

KING: Yes. But the other side would be they could have had two nice kids going to Harvard who were born in St. Louis.

DIAZ: Thanks for playing devil advocate.

KING: I had to. There was no one else. Thank you, Carlos Diaz, who nearly lost his mind tonight. Celean Jacobson, Rodney Atkins, Vicki Peterson. Natalie Cole will be here tomorrow. Anderson Cooper is here right now. He's got breaking news on "AC 360." Anderson?