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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

President Obama's First 100 Days

Aired April 29, 2009 - 23:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LARRY KING, HOST: Good evening. Welcome to a special midnight edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

The president's first 100 days in office are behind him. How will he be tested now, by the economy, or war, or the immediate challenge of a flu pandemic?

We will talk about it all with our great guests coming up tonight.

And we begin with President Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod.

And I asked him if there's room for improvement as President Obama moves ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: And if you think -- if you're so satisfied that you think you have done everything perfectly, and you have completed your work, then you shouldn't be president of the United States.

So, I think the president would have graded himself the same way.

KING: Is he doing about as well as you expected, or better?

AXELROD: Well, Larry, you know, you're asking the wrong guy, because I'm -- you know, he's my friend. I admire him.

But I have to say, you know, when we started the campaign for president, it wasn't an easy transition for him. There were months of adjustment, as he got used to the -- the rigors of -- of being under the klieg lights at all time and the demands of a presidential campaign.

I haven't seen that this time. It's almost as if he was born to do this job. He's comfortable. He's -- he's in command. And, you know, there isn't a day that goes by when I don't leave that office and look back and think, man, I'm glad he's there.

So, I think he's -- he's -- he's doing very well. And he's probably exceeded my very high expectations.

But that's just me. I'm -- I'm a much looser grader than Gibbs. But...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Of course, he entered under unusual circumstances. And we haven't checked records like this, but would you guess, has he made more public appearances in these hundred days than any other president ever made in their first hundred days?

AXELROD: You know, I don't know the answer to that, Larry, but he's made a lot.

And there's a reason for it. One of the things that he -- he promised to do was bring transparency to the government, to share with the American people the nature of the problems we're facing and the things he's putting in place to deal with them, so that they know and are -- what's going on and they're part of their own government.

And, so, this is an important part of the process as far as he's concerned. And I think it's one of the reasons the American people are so engaged right now.

KING: Among the many topics covered tonight, David, was water- boarding and whether the previous administration had sanctioned torture.

Here's some of what he said. And I will ask you to comment.

AXELROD: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I have said -- and I will repeat -- is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices.

I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Privately, was he angry, David, when former Vice President Cheney said that this administration leaves the country more vulnerable?

AXELROD: Well, I don't think the word is angry. And I don't think he spends a whole lot of time worrying about what the vice president had to say.

We have had an -- we had an election last November. A lot of these issues were litigated during that campaign, although this particular issue was not, because John McCain had the same position as Barack Obama on many of these issues.

KING: Right.

AXELROD: So, he wasn't angry about it. But, he's -- as he has said, and as he truly believes, he is looking forward, and not back. He's not looking -- he's not looking to rerun old debates. He's looking to move the country forward. So, it's not productive to spend a whole lot of time worrying about that.

KING: Newt Gingrich, writing in "USA Today," says, "In just 100 days, President Obama has been devastatingly effective in swiftly moving forward the most radical government-expanding agenda in American history."

Would you share that view, whether you agree or disagree with Gingrich philosophically?

AXELROD: Well, I disagree with him. I think most of the American people disagree with him.

I think Speaker Gingrich is playing to a segment of his own party. But I think most Americans understand that this president is not an ideologue. He's -- he's a pragmatist. He's looking for ideas to move this country forward. He understands -- he -- he came to office with an enormous plate of economic problems handed to him.

And I think the American people expected him to act. And he's acting, not just to solve them in the short term, but to lay a foundation, a solid foundation, for future growth.

What the speaker would like, and what some of those in that wing of that party would like, is simply to replicate the policies that we have had for the last eight years. Well, we gave that a try, and it was a dismal failure. And I don't think the American people are going to sign up for a repeat.

KING: A couple of other things, David. Take us a little behind the scenes. The Obama we see, is that the Obama you see inside the White House?

AXELROD: Larry, that's the remarkable thing.

I mean, there is such a consistency to this guy, as long as I have known him, and I have known him for 17 years. I mean, that's the thing that struck me. He is who he is. And it never changes. He's as -- he's the same guy privately as he is publicly.

He's got penetrating intelligence, great intellectual curiosity, but, also, there's a humor and a solicit -- solicitousness, a solicitude, for others that he -- that you see in private meetings, as well as in public.

The Barack Obama you see in public is the same guy I see every day in the Oval Office.

KING: And I know you're very close to Mrs. Obama, Michelle Obama.

How is she -- frankly, how is she doing?

AXELROD: I think she's doing very well.

You know, her principal concern during this period has been to get her family adjusted, and particularly her girls, to make sure that they made a good adjustment to school and that they were happy. And -- and that's gone very, very well, even before the dog.

(LAUGHTER)

AXELROD: So -- so, she -- you know, she -- I think she's very pleased.

I -- as time goes on, she's going to shape her role around the panoply of things that interest her, national service, the military families and some other issues. But, right now, adjusting the family was her (AUDIO GAP) about where -- where they are.

KING: And, finally, David, we don't see a lot of him. How is the relationship between the president and Vice President Biden?

AXELROD: It's really -- Larry, it's really very good. It's very close.

You know, when Senator Obama chose Senator Biden as his running mate, he was looking for someone who could be a wise counselor to him, someone who had a real feel for the middle class in this country, but also understood this town, understood the world, who had a broad knowledge and a wisdom. And that has come into play time and again.

Joe Biden sits in the inner councils on the major decisions that this administration makes. And he always has something valuable to add. They -- they get to -- they spend time alone once a week at lunch. And it's -- it's -- the relationship is exactly what the president had hoped for. And I think it's something that it benefits the country.

KING: And are you enjoying it?

AXELROD: I have to say, Larry, you know, it was an adjustment for me the first few weeks, because I was a journalist for 10 years.

KING: Right.

AXELROD: And then I was a consultant. And, you know, the notion of showing up somewhere at 7:00 in the morning in a suit and tie was a whole new experience for me.

(LAUGHTER)

AXELROD: But, once I got over that, and once I got over the fact that, you know, you work very, very, very long hours, I -- I have to say, I feel like the most privileged guy in the world.

I'm working for a wonderful person, doing important work. And, every day, you learn something interesting. Every day, you're challenged. And you're doing things of consequence. I can't think of a better job. So, yes, I'm doing very, very well. KING: Thanks, David. Always good seeing you.

AXELROD: OK, Larry. Nice to see you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: What do journalists make of the president's first 100 days and his agenda for the next few years? We will ask Tavis Smiley and others right after the break.

And we want to hear from you, too, at CNN.com/larryking.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the Great Depression.

I think people are right to be angry. I'm angry.

Let me be clear. The United States government has no interest in running GM.

We will rebuild. We will recover. And the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: An outstanding group of journalists joins us, from Washington, Tavis Smiley, host of his own show on PBS and bestselling author. His latest book is "Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise." Jennifer Skalka is editor of "Hotline on Call." And Chris Cillizza is the White House correspondent for "The Washington Post." He writes "The Fix" column for the politics blog on TheWashingtonPost.com.

All right, Tavis, we have been asking all the guests all day long to give it a -- give it a number. Where do you put this, A to D? How's he doing?

TAVIS SMILEY, HOST, "THE TAVIS SMILEY SHOW": I think he's doing good.

This grading thing is so -- it's such a question, Larry. And I understand why we ask it. The 100-day mark, I understand, comes from FDR. But it seems so unfair in so many ways, particularly given that this president has been up against more than any president certainly in my lifetime. When you look historically at what he is up against, it's a unique set of situations -- set of circumstances, that is.

What this book "Accountable" that you referenced tries to do is to lay out about 242 promises, Larry, that Senator Obama made on the campaign trail. My number, according to the book, is that he's -- at the clip, the pace he's moving now, he will complete about 66 percent of what he said he was going to do in his first term.

But, in his -- in his first 100 days, let's face it, he has signed seven major bills into law. That's seven more than George Bush did in his first 100 days.

KING: So, do you give him -- you're not going to give him a number?

SMILEY: Well, I mean, if I had to grade him, he's clearly doing better...

KING: A letter.

SMILEY: He's doing better than average. B-minus. B-minus.

KING: OK.

Jennifer, where do you score it?

JENNIFER SKALKA, EDITOR, "HOTLINE ON CALL": I think I would score him in two ways.

First, I think I would take a look at the -- the image renovation that he's tried to bring to the White House and to the presidency and to the country, really, in three visits to three continents in his first three months in office. I think he's an A, a solid A, in trying to recast American diplomacy as a kinder, gentler, more open, less cowboy-oriented foreign policy.

I think, domestically, I give him a B, B-minus. I think it remains to be seen if that $787 billion economic stimulus package is actually going to work. And that's a whole lot of money. So, we will see.

KING: And, Chris, where do you come in on this report card?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Larry, I had the most time to think about it, and I'm going to give you the least conclusive answer, which is pathetic on my part.

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: But I have been watching CNN all night. And I have seen all kinds of smart people say incomplete. So, I'm...

(LAUGHTER)

CILLIZZA: I'm feel comfortable saying incomplete.

Look, I think to Tavis' point -- and this is -- it's hard to emphasize this enough -- 100 days is tough for any president, in terms of evaluation. It's especially hard right now. Barack Obama has essentially come into office in the midst of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, and put in huge infrastructural changes that we may not know, in 1,000 days or 10,000 days, whether it was the right or the wrong thing to do.

So, I think it's difficult. That said, I think his metabolism is the right one for the American public at the moment. He's moving. He's doing things. People feel as though he's out there, he's looking out for them, he's trying to take care of them in one way, shape, or form. And that's what the country needs right now, and people are reacting. Look at his poll numbers.

KING: Back with more of this outstanding group right after this. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Our combat mission in Iraq will end. It is time for to us transition to the Iraqis.

We are in Afghanistan to confront a common enemy that threatens the United States, our friends, and our allies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Obama looked to a difficult future tonight in remarks just before his news conference.

And here's what he said about the many challenges ahead. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think we're off to a good start, but it's just a start. I'm proud of what we've achieved, but I'm not content. I'm pleased with our progress, but I'm not satisfied.

Millions of Americans are still without jobs and homes, and more will be lost before this recession is over. Credit is still not flowing nearly as freely as it should. Countless families and communities touched by our auto industry still face tough times ahead. Our projected long-term deficits are still too high, and government is still not as efficient as it needs to be.

We still confront threats ranging from terrorism to nuclear proliferation, as well as pandemic flu. And all this means you can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security in the second hundred days, in the third hundred days, and all of the days after that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you have got something to say, we want to heart it. Twitter at kingsthings, one word, and let us know how you grade the president on his first 100 days.

Send us your blog comments, CNN.com/larryking. And keep your eyes on the bottom of the scene to see what you're sending us. We're reading it all -- back with our panel after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This is a special midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific, edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Tavis, with all that he had on his table, now what with this pandemic?

SMILEY: You know, this is tough, but I think he handled this just right tonight.

He was measured. He gave the American people practical suggestions for what to do. He made it very clear that he wasn't going to panic and that we, as a country, should not panic.

I mean, you almost, on a certain level, feel sorry for Barack Obama. And I say that cautiously, because he is so gifted. He certainly gets an A in communication. He said he wanted to be transparent. I think he's doing a good job of that. He's doing an excellent job communicating to the American people.

But it's in crises like these that you want someone who is measured, who is steady. And that's what he campaigned on. If -- if nothing else, he's certainly starting to deliver on being the kind of leader that -- that -- that we can put our confidence in. And, with a pandemic like this, you want that. I think he handled this issue brilliantly tonight.

KING: Jennifer, in a -- in a kind of way, is this -- could be his Katrina?

SKALKA: Oh, I don't know if I want to say that. I -- I certainly hope not.

I will say that, you know, I think Tavis is right. I think we're seeing that he's really a cool customer. And this is just one more enormous global issue that he's facing. I think there's a reason that we're seeing, in all the polls out marking this 100th day of his administration, that folks believe that the country is now on the right track, that the right track -- or wrong track/right track numbers, there's more parity than we saw three months ago after Bush left office.

Folks are more -- voters are more optimistic, you know, and I think they're with him for the long haul. They think that -- that he's moving, that they see action, and that he's trying to do his best to solve some of the nation's pressing issues.

KING: Chris, when I mentioned Katrina, what I meant was that, in a sense, this could be the kind of tragedy that could hurt him, not handled correctly, right?

CILLIZZA: You know, absolutely, Larry.

Here's what -- here's what I think. Every -- every presidency is, in some way, shape or form, big or small, a reaction to the presidency that's come before it.

George W. Bush's presidency, I think, was defined by a few things, but certainly one of the big ones was Katrina and the government's failure to act in an appropriate and quick way there.

I think you have seen Barack Obama, as well as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and any number of other officials make sure that the American public knows they are on top of this, that they are competent, that they are dealing with this, and that, as Barack Obama said tonight, there's reason for concern, but not panic.

I think they want to make sure they get out -- in politics, you want to make -- always want to make sure you get out front of a big thing like this, rather than look like you're reacting to it. That's what happened with George Bush in Katrina.

So, I think the lessons of Katrina are absolutely present in this current situation.

KING: Tavis, how do you account for his continuing, no matter what happens, popularity?

SMILEY: Well, I think he, to Chris' point now -- and he's absolutely right about this -- continues to show that, no matter what the issue is, he's at least well-informed, he's on top of it, and communicate to the American -- can communicate, rather, to the American people what he feels about said issue.

I mean, somebody asked me earlier tonight what I thought the storyline out of this was. I don't know what the media is going to take out of this. I have already seen some storylines. Clearly, the comment about Chrysler and his believing that -- that this -- that they're going to be OK, that is going to be news tomorrow, Larry, for sure.

But I -- I sat in, quite frankly, amazement and awe looking at all that he has on his plate in the first 100 days. And for all these eight or nine issues that he at one point joked about tonight, he had a command of all of these issues.

I mean, there was nothing that came up tonight that he did not have a command of, he had an answer for them, he had done the research on. And that, I think, given certainly eight years of President Bush, with all due respect, people just feel confident about a guy who knows what he's talking about, has something to say about the issues, and appears to be in control.

They -- you can't underestimate that.

KING: Jennifer, there were a couple of lighter moments during tonight's news conference. Here's one example. Then I want your thoughts on it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Jeff Zeleny. QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?

OBAMA: Now let me write this down.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I have got...

QUESTION: Surprised, troubled...

OBAMA: I have got -- what was the first one?

QUESTION: Surprised.

OBAMA: Surprised.

QUESTION: Troubled.

OBAMA: Troubled.

QUESTION: Enchanted.

OBAMA: Enchanted, nice.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: And humbled.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: And what was the last one, humbled?

QUESTION: Humbled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Jennifer, you're too young to remember. That was a John F. Kennedy moment.

SKALKA: I'm a little too young to remember, yes, Larry. But it also felt like, you know, the White House press conference, the musical.

(LAUGHTER)

SKALKA: You know, it was, how enchanted are you? What makes you enchanted?

You know, I thought -- I thought he handled -- he's gotten a little bit easier with humor, President Obama. He had a couple of gaffes along the way, one on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," a misstatement about Nancy Reagan that he later apologized for. And -- and I think this showed an ease in the job for him. And he and Jeff Zeleny, I think the subtext is that he and that reporter go back a ways, used to be a reporter for "The Chicago Tribune." So, I think they have known each other for some time. And there was an instant warmth and rapport there that we saw as well.

KING: And, Chris, how has he dealt with the Arlen Specter matter?

CILLIZZA: Well, you know, Larry, he -- he, I thought, was -- gave a very interesting answer. He was asked about Arlen Specter and about that -- the party switch.

This is obviously a huge coup for President Obama. It happened one day before the 100th day. But we're going to -- we will count it anyway within his 100 days. And he -- he said something very interesting. He used the word liberate, that this is going to liberate Arlen Specter to work with us on health care.

Now, for all these other things that Barack Obama is doing on the economy, on the environment, health care is going to be the big fight to watch for in the fall, Larry. It is going to be tough, a lot of even Democrats already fretting over the cost.

Will Arlen Specter -- does Barack Obama know something we don't know -- we don't know -- about Arlen Specter and health care? And is Arlen Specter's switch indicative that they are going to be able to do this, to pass this, something that president after president after president after first lady, in the case of Hillary Rodham Clinton, were unable to do? Does this switch indicate something larger, as Barack Obama faces a huge domestic policy fight in the fall?

KING: We thank Tavis Smiley, Jennifer Skalka, Chris Cillizza for being with us.

We will be right back.

We have got the latest on swine flu. The World Health Organization fears a pandemic is imminent. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will tell us what that means for all of us -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The president addressed the current flu outbreak several times during his 100th day prime-time news conference.

Here's some of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We are continuing to closely monitor the emergency cases of the H1N1 flu virus throughout the United States. As I said this morning, this is obviously a very serious situation, and every American should know that their entire government is taking the utmost precautions and preparations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The alert level for swine flu was raised today from four to five. And the first death in the United States related to the virus was revealed. Fort Worth, by the way, is closing all its public schools until May 11. And Mexico City appears to be shutting down.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us from there.

Sanjay, first, we have heard the word all day. What is a pandemic?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: A pandemic means, basically, you're starting to have -- I'm sorry -- I'm hearing myself there, Larry. Excuse me for one second.

KING: OK.

GUPTA: You start -- you have sustained human-to-human transmission in many places around the world.

Right now, we're at level five, which basically means that you have, in two countries, in one region, the United States and Mexico, you have human-to-human transmission that is sustained. We're seeing it happen here, certainly, in Mexico. You mentioned there was the one death in the United States today.

And there's been evidence that this virus can transmit itself from one human to the next -- Larry.

KING: So, how fearful are you as to how bad this can get?

GUPTA: Well, you know, when it comes to these sorts of things, we have a little bit of history to rely on. Certainly there have been some bad pandemics in the past. And a lot of people are going to reflect on those.

A couple of things that, I think, are reassuring. First of all, 2009 is very different than 1918 or 1957 or 1968. Those are the three pandemics people usually talk about. We can take care of people in hospitals much better than ever before. We have anti-viral medication which can be very helpful. We know that they can be helpful in terms of quelling a potential pandemic like this.

Also it's worth pointing out the time of year this is, Larry, right now. We're about to go into summer. In the summer, these viruses don't transmit that well. So I think that this thing is likely to fizzle out over the next several months.

But one caveat is that there's still some of the swine flu or H1N1 around in the fall and winter. It can sort of reenergize and we must be vigilant and do all the things that we've been talking about.

KING: Thanks, Sanjay. We'll be checking you all the time. What a job he's been doing. H1N1 is the official, really, name of this flu. Our panel joins us. Here in Los Angeles, Arianna Huffington, co- founder, editor in chief of the HuffingtonPost.com. In Portland, Oregon, Lars Larson, syndicated talk radio host of his own show, described as being right on the left coast.

Here in L.A., Larry Elder, libertarian commentator -- I like that -- and best-selling author. And in L.A. as well, Mayor Kevin Johnson, Democrat of Sacramento and a former star in the NBA.

All right, Arianna, we have grade to give all day so we have to ask this. What grade do you give the president?

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Well, I give him a straight A for leadership. He has demonstrated real leadership. He's been engaged. He has been a real teacher as well as a chief executive which is an important function of leadership, right down to talking about the swine flu today and telling us to wash our hand and the way he talks and the way engages with the public is a great demonstration of leadership.

I would give him the lowest marks when it comes to the bank bailout. I think this is a complete disaster.

KING: A "D"?

HUFFINGTON: And -- a "D." Maybe less. I mean, I honestly think there's absolutely no redeeming feature to the bank bailouts. The banks are still not lending and the taxpayer is on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars.

KING: Lars, what do you give him?

LARS LARSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I give him a passing grade, just barely. But there are a lot of things to be disappointed in. I was disappointed in his answer on the swine flu or the H1N1. He says the horses are already out of the barn.

Well, the fact is that infection is not in our country right now and it would make sense for us to get a tighter control on our unofficial border crossers until we figure out how bad it's going to be in Mexico.

KING: Larry Elder?

LARRY ELDER, LIBERTARIAN COMMENTATOR: Well, on cosmetics, I give him an "A." He's charming, he's charismatic, he's handsome, he's glib, he's articulate. On...

KING: That's says a lot of pluses, though.

ELDER: Yes. And on substance I give him an "F" as I do the Democratically controlled Congress and as I do the squishy Republicans that have gone along with these hideous bailouts.

KING: You gave it to Bush, too when he bailed out... ELDER: I said the squishy Republicans that went along with Bush on the bailout -- TARP I. The idea that taxpayers should be on the hook for financial institutions that have made irresponsible decisions.

Car companies that can't make cars that people want to buy. States that have not managed their budgets successfully to get bailout money from other states is absolutely antithetical to everything this country stands for. I give him an F on that.

KING: And Mayor Johnson?

MAYOR KEVIN JOHN (D), SACRAMENTO: A solid B plus. I think it's hard to imagine...

ELDER: Perhaps disagree with my grade? K.J.

JOHNSON: That was not hard to do.

ELDER: K.J. I'm stunned.

KING: Broke your heart. Basketball fan, he broke your heart. Go ahead.

JOHNSON: He's catching on.

ELDER: I was a fan of yours. Notice I said was.

JOHNSON: But I was never a fan of yours. Still not. Touche. So for me, a solid B plus. It's hard to imagine any president stepping in with more challenges than he's had at this point.

And I think he has approached things in terms of incredible intensity, diplomacy and decisiveness has been something that the country has really been pleased with. If you think about it, he has had such high sets of expectations because of the way he campaigned.

And I think, right now, people are still excited. If you look at the polls, his approval rating are very high, for him and his wife. I think he's exceeding expectations at this point.

And as early -- it's just 100 days -- all these people say you can't judge somebody in 100 days. I think you can. It's a benchmark at this point.

KING: Is the United States heading in the right direction? That's tonight's "Quick Vote Question." Answer at CNN.com/Larryking. The debate continues after this. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will lift the ban on federal funding for promising embryonic stem cell research. The United States will not torture. I have ordered the closing of the detention center in Guantanamo Bay. The changes we've made are the changes we promised.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Arianna, since everybody went the along with the bailout, I guess, in the majority, where do you go with this? I mean, politically, where do -- can you make a case against him?

HUFFINGTON: Well, you look at the results. One of the main reasons given for that massive bailout was that the banks had to start lending again. Well, the banks are now lending less, 23 percent less, the bailed out banks.

As the president himself admitted on Jay Leno, they are using the money to balance their own balance sheets. So the public interest is diverging from the bank's interest. And you know what is interesting? This president loves divergent opinions on foreign policy and every other issue except here.

The difference of opinion at the treasury ranges from Goldman to Sachs and from Summers to Geithner. That's it.

KING: All right. Lars, given the fact that this is not a stupid man.

LARSON: No.

KING: Doesn't he make a strong case for helping these banks?

LARSON: Well, he did. And as a member of the Senate he voted in favor of this and in fact, the Democrats wanted the TARP, the original bailout of the banks be even larger. And I disagree with Larry and with Arianna to a certain extent because all the smartest people for both President Bush and President Obama have said, that if they -- if the government had not stepped in at that point we could have seen the collapse of major banks and major institutions that would have sucked down with them major parts of our economy.

That didn't mean that when you bailed them out that there were -- that everything was going to be rosy again and that everybody was going to start loaning money the way they had before because, in fact, Larry, the lecture we gave to the banks was stop doing irresponsible things.

And the banks, I think, to their credit, to a certain extent said, OK, we'll start doing only those things that make the most sense, loaning money where we know we can get it back and where we can get paid.

KING: All right.

LARSON: How does that not make sense?

KING: Larry Elder, isn't it too soon to tell whether it's worked or not?

ELDER: Well, I want to respond, if you don't mind, if I could, to what Lars said. Every economic expert said -- no, they didn't.

LARSON: No, the ones advising the president.

(CROSSTALK)

ELDER: May I finish please?

LARSON: Sure.

ELDER: There was a full page ad taken out in the "New York Times", "Washington Post" and I think one other publication, over 200 economists, three of them were Nobel Laureates. All of them said do not do this. And the smartest thing to do is to do what Reagan did when he inherited a cold war, a recession where unemployment was 10.8, inflation 13.5 percent, crime interest rate, 21.5 percent.

He cut taxes dramatically, cut income taxes, he cut dividends, he cut capital gains taxes. That's what...

LARSON: I agree with all that.

ELDER: That's what those economists said to do. And...

LARSON: But the Resolution Trust Corporation. Remember that, Larry.

(CROSSTALK)

ELDER: It did resolve that problem. And there was another way of doing it. Letting those banks fail...

LARSON: Sure.

ELDER: ... and let other people buy their assets. And to comment on Mayor Johnson's comments, a great Jew from K.J. to Major Johnson now. Obama is popular after his first 100 days. George W. Bush comparing apples to apples, Gallup poll to Gallup poll, excellent and good rating, was actually more popular than Barack Obama was at this time.

KING: All right. Kevin?

JOHNSON: Which do you want me to respond to?

KING: The banks thing.

ELDER: Do you want to take it outside, K.J.? I mean, you know?

JOHNSON: Now you've downgraded me again.

(LAUGHTER)

I think it's too early to tell. I think you know this is a situation where we all stay on the sidelines and be fans in the stands and tell players what they should do when you watch a sports game. I mean he has to make tough decisions really quickly. And I think what he's doing is saying, he's talked to his economic advisers. They're telling him this is what he thinks -- what they think he needs to do. And I think it's too early.

I think as time goes on, he's doing the right things for this country at this particular time. And we have to evaluate it, not 100 days into it or 200 days. But at the course of this year, we'll look back and say was this a right decision? And so far, I think, like most of the American people, we're supportive of him.

KING: Have you to listen to your advisers, don't you? I mean, they're your advisers.

HUFFINGTON: Larry, you know what? He's made so many right decisions. That's why this is so painful to watch. And the banks remain incredibly powerful in Washington. They have just derailed, for example, the bankruptcy bill which passed the House, which was going to give major relief to homeowners facing foreclosure.

And in the Senate, the banks because of their massive lobbying are basically going to eliminate crammed down the (INAUDIBLE) is tomorrow.

KING: That's not the president's fault.

HUFFINGTON: What is happening is that you cannot just keep bailing out banks with without major strings attached, without asking for certain things back, including the credit cards. That's a major thing. Bailed out banks...

(CROSSTALK)

ELDER: You or me? I can't...

HUFFINGTON: Bailed out banks, you know, that have survived only because of the taxpayer money are jacking up credit card interest rates to 30 percent for people who are missing even a single payment.

KING: Your blogs are next. Will we read yours? Find out in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: How would you grade the president on his first 100 days? That's the question of the day. Here's David Theall with some of what you're saying. David?

DAVID THEALL, LKL BLOG CORRESPONDENT: Larry, the blog at CNN.com/Larryking, where you will find these comments. We asked people to grade the president.

Overall, Larry, from people we're hearing on the blog, the president would get an average grade of B. I'll tell you how we got that grade. We heard from people like this who says, President Obama unquestionably deserves an A plus for his leadership so far and his mastery of all current critical issues, including those that he talked about tonight. That was measured against comments like this. For foreign policy, this person gave him a D, economy, a C, health care and education says this person incomplete and on immigration, an F.

That's how we came up with the B. The conversation continues, of course. CNN.com/Larryking.

Larry, before I go, I want to give you this comment also that came in here during the show and we thought we'd show it with you. Says this person, "I'd give him a C plus just because 100 days just isn't enough to know what his place as president will do for this nation." Says this person, "If there was an E I would give it to him for effort."

Now I'm minding the blog tonight. I'm helping you mind the blog tonight. I know you have got Twitter covered from your location, Larry. And I definitely know that we are hearing from people on Twitter.

KING: We are. I sent you a "tweet" earlier asking you what you thought of President Obama's speech. Can't believe I'm saying this.

Here's how some of you responded. Shedeals (ph) says, "I thought the president did a very good job at answering the questions. He's a wise person." Miss Adoff (ph) writes, "I do not think he'll live up to the standards of the people who voted him in. He's got a lot to learn."

You can follow me if change things on Twitter or check our blog at CNN.com/Larryking. More after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back on this special late edition of LARRY KING LIVE with an outstanding panel.

A news conference question about what Arlen Specter's switch says about the state of the GOP led the president to this topic of bipartisanship. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: To my Republican friends, I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine. I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work. And the American people voted to change. But there are a whole host of areas where we can work together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: OK. And it started with the Arlen Specter question. So that's where I'll begin here.

Arianna, what do you make of that switch? JOHNSON: Well, it was a dramatic moment. It was another instance of how demoralized the Republican Party is. I mean they are dealing with the problem of having 21 percent of the American people identifying themselves as Republicans. That is a historic low.

So the fact that Arlen Specter, who's been a Republican for 30 years, switches -- of course, there's a lot of self-interest involved here. But still, it's a dramatic moment and it's also bodes very well for the Obama presidency. Because, remember, during the Clinton presidency, the first two years, it was all going the other way around, and of course leading to the 1994 defeat.

So here, it bodes very well that 2010 could be a great year for Democrats.

KING: Lars, what do you think?

LARSON: Larry, I think that Specter was selfish and self- interested. He admitted that in the press release and the statement he put out. And I thought it was all about Arlen Specter. I think it was about Arlen Specter and a kick in the teeth to his Republican voters who put him in office for all those years.

About the bipartisan comment, I thought that was really telling. Because what the president has basically said is I'll be bipartisan. I just defined that most of your Republican ideas are already flawed so I don't even have to look at those, and will only be talking about the fringes of issues where maybe we can find some agreement.

That's pretty telling about how President Barack Obama defines bipartisanship.

KING: Larry Elder, Arlen Specter?

ELDER: Well, I put that under the category, Larry, of be careful what you wish for. Arlen Specter, and assuming Al Franken wins in Minnesota, will give the Democratic Party a filibuster-proof Senate.

That means all of these cockamamie things that Obama wants to do, invest in green jobs, whatever that means, provide a world-class education, whatever that means, take over the rest of health care -- all these things will in fact happen and America will rule the day at some point that we've had this dramatic leap towards collectivism.

KING: What if they work?

ELDER: They won't work, Larry. We had...

KING: That's what the Republicans said about Roosevelt.

ELDER: We've had examples of that. Look at East Germany and West Germany. One was a free economy, one was not. Look at North Korea and South Korea. One is a free economy, one is not. Look at Cuba and South Miami. One is a free area, one is not.

Socialism, collectivism state is... (CROSSTALK)

KING: Are you saying Obama is a socialist?

ELDER: I am saying that Obama believes that government rather than individuals can make decisions on how to run companies. And they can't. Government is a very, very poor investor of money.

KING: How about how well the companies have done?

ELDER: You think bureaucrats who've never run so much as a lemonade stand can make better decisions than entrepreneurs who put their own money on the line. I don't.

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: Larry Elder is right.

HUFFINGTON: You have to answer -- one second. You have to answer the question of the last eight years. When we had minimum regulations, when we let Wall Street do whatever it wanted. And these are the results that it brought.

(CROSSTALK)

ELDER: We didn't have minimum regulations, Arianna.

LARSON: Larry...

KING: Kevin -- hold on, Lars.

LARSON: OK.

JOHNSON: Going back to the Arlen Specter question. I think that what's most critical here is this is a president who's made a commitment to promote bipartisanship. He's campaigned on it for two years. And for him to choose a Vice President Joe Biden at a time where certain people were critical because of Biden's relationship with Specter and cultivating that over the years, you have a situation where you have a defector.

In the first 100 days to have that where have you 60 senators that are on the Democratic side right now, I think is very critical and I think this is something you can't see lightly. All this is attributed to President Obama and his ability to be inclusive, especially on the other side of the aisle.

KING: Lars, you wanted to add something?

LARSON: Well, Larry, a couple of things. On running the last eight years, the fact is, there were a lot of regulars that forced the banks and other institutions to do things that were extremely unwise. Things President Bush...

ELDER: Absolutely. LARSON: I think President Bush pointed those out and said we needed to change Fannie and Freddie's operations. Secondly, consider that the same medicine system in Mexico, which is exactly what Obama's proposing, government-sponsored, not totally socialized medicine like Canada where Natasha Richards died, but instead, a system where that poor 39-year-old woman, who is the first swine flu victim went clinic to clinic in a resource-poor, you know, low-rent government insurance program, and they couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. And she finally died after going from doctor to doctor to doctor.

KING: All right.

LARSON: That's the thing that killed that woman. You want that the here in America?

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I made a mistake. I think I made a mistake. And I told Tom that. I recognize that we're not going to get 100 percent support.

It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If Al Franken comes to the Senate and the Democrats have 60 and that becomes almost giving the president anything he wants, do you fear the worst? Larry Elder?

ELDER: I do. Look what happened under Bush. We had a president, Republican House, Republican Senate and they spent. And Democrats would have spent and will spend even more. It's a very, very bad time.

KING: Kevin, do you see nothing but a plus in that.

JOHNSON: I see a plus, because again this man has created a movement in our country where you have such turnouts. So many people involved and engaged. I was just in Sacramento, my hometown, where I'm mayor of, and we had a block party for the Democratic Party for California and Wyclef performed. And you have thousands and thousands of young people coming out saying getting President Obama elected was not enough.

What can we do now to help our country? What can we do? What is our responsibility? So I think this interest that he's created is a -- is something that going to continue going forward in terms of momentum.

KING: Arianna, you'll admit, banks excluded, there's a movement for Obama? HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. I mean he's done some remarkable things. And despite what Lars said, I mean, this is a real, monumental crisis in this country. Unemployment is going up constantly. Foreclosures are going up. And we need these bold measures that Obama has proposed, both in his stimulus plan, in his budget.

Without those, you know, there would be an absolute catastrophe here. So if you don't want to acknowledge the reality of 47 million Americans without health care, the crumbling health care infrastructure, then you're really just simply alarming people about what's happening in Mexico.

KING: Lars?

LARSON: Larry, as far as the pop culture side of the president, I'm sure young people, like the two young guys I work with, Ian and A.J., they love Obama, from a pop culture standpoint. But Larry Elder is absolutely right. Most of the people in the federal bureaucracy couldn't run a pop stand without assistance.

And the fact is they're going to gum things up. You really think they're going to make better choices for the board of directors of General Motors? That's nuts.

KING: Are you saying that the bureaucrat is less of a citizen than the non-bureaucrat?

LARSON: Not less of a citizen but less of a risk taker and less knowledgeable about the marketplace because they don't operate on marketplace environment. When you screw up and send Air Force One in a low-level mission over Manhattan and scare the daylights out of everybody and spend 300 grand, nobody's head is going to roll over that, even though the president was said to be furious.

If the president is really going to operate like the private sector, somebody in my company would geld fired for that.

HUFFINGTON: The president made it clear in the press conference today that he does not want the government to be shareholders. And...

LARSON: Baloney.

HUFFINGTON: That he wants as quickly as possible to take everything back to the private sector.

(CROSSTALK)

LARSON: But, Larry, you know that's baloney.

KING: All right. We're running out of time but I thank you all very much. We'll be having you back again. You, too, Elder.

(LAUGHTER)

Arianna Huffington, Lars Larson, Larry Elder and Mayor Kevin Johnson.

This just in. According to the "Wall Street Journal" and the "New York Times," talks between the Treasury Department and leaders aimed at keeping Chrysler out of bankruptcy broke down late Wednesday. The carmaker will likely file for chapter 11 protection Thursday morning, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Administration officials who have been braced for a Chrysler bankruptcy for weeks say all the pieces are in place to get the country's third largest employer through the court quickly. Perhaps in a matter of weeks.

CNN is efforting confirmation of this report.

Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned now for the latest news next on CNN. "AMERICAN MORNING" will have the latest on the news about Chrysler. Good night.

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