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Political Fallout; John McCain Interview; The State of Black America

Aired March 25, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thank you, Wolf. Another busy day, heated day in the health care debate, the House is in session as we speak to cast one last vote in the legislative debate. We'll keep you posted on that.

And the political fallout continues, President Obama hitting the road today to make his pitch, more allegations of threats against Democrats who voted yes and some against Republicans who voted no. The raw emotions of the health care debate are among our topics in hour the ahead.

And we will go "One-on-One" with Senator John McCain, asking him if the rawness of the health care debate can give way to bipartisanship on other issues.

In our "Pulse" tonight, "The State of Black America", a community already hard hit faces harder times in this punishing recession.

And we will go "Wall to Wall" with George W. Bush's architect, Karl Rove, on health care politics, including his rebuttal of the president's argument on the road today.

And you won't want to miss "Play by Play", two very different faces of victory. Watch as Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emanuel celebrate in their own way what they believe to be a big health care win -- a lot to cover in the hour ahead, but first, as always, a few observations.

Two very emotional issues dominated the day here in Washington. Health care, as you know is one. Democrats reported more threats against lawmakers who voted yes on health care reform, including a threatening letter and white powder sent to the office of New York Democrat Anthony Weiner. Republicans who voted no say they also are on the receiving end. A bullet was fired through the window of an office rented by the House's number two Republican.

And a caller who left a voice mail for a Republican congresswoman from Cincinnati called her a bitch, said he had wished she had broken her back in a recent accident and went on to talk about perhaps using his nine-millimeter to shoot Tea Party protesters -- raw to say the least.

Democrat say it's being stoked by harsh Republican rhetoric. The Republicans in turn say it's the Democrats who are playing politics with this, including using the threats now in fund-raising efforts -- more on all this in a moment, but first, a contrast.

The other emotional here issue today was a Pentagon announcement about its "don't ask, don't tell" policy against homosexuals serving openly in the military. The president wants that ban repealed. And in the meantime, the defense secretary today promised a less strict enforcement of the current policy. Emotions, as you know, on this issue can sometimes get raw, too, which is why, to me, this language from Defense Secretary Gates stood out.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I believe these changes represent an important improvement in the way the current law is put into practice. Above all, by providing a greater measure of common sense and common decency to a process for handling what are difficult and complex issues for all involved.


KING: A call for common decency -- amen.

Let's stick with the health care and the often ugly political fallout as we advance today's top stories. The legislative battle over health care reform is coming to a close. The Senate today passed a package of so-called fixes to the sweeping plan President Obama signed into law the other day. Because of a few additional tweaks in the Senate, those changes had to go back to the House for one last vote. The House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, predicts it will all be done today and we'll get you the update if the House takes that vote this hour.

Congressional debate over campaign though is just getting started. In Iowa today, the president dared Republicans to anchor their fall campaign on repealing the measure. That line won applause, but the president also saw and heard firsthand that some liberals think the new law is too nice to insurance companies. What about the public option, a man in the crowd call out and when the president said it isn't in the legislation, the man asked why.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because we couldn't get it through Congress. That's why.


KING: Back here in Washington, the debate about how much all this will cost and who it will help was mostly drowned out by finger pointing over whether the raw emotions of the health care debate were encouraging threats and violence against members of Congress. CNN's senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash has been working her sources all day -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, we got word of even more security threats to lawmakers who voted for health care. And as you mentioned, even some who are vocally against it a law enforcement official told me tonight they are sifting through reports trying to keep up. And yesterday, we were told about 10 lawmakers were targeted.

Tonight, I'm told that number is significantly more. Now you mentioned that there was one Democrat who actually got white powder to his office today and then there is the Republican Whip in the House, Eric Cantor. He came to the cameras to talk about a bullet being shot through his campaign office window but he turned to what he really wanted to talk about and that is accusing Democrats of using threats against violence for political gain.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MINORITY WHIP: I have deep concerns that the DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine in particular are dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting -- suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon.


BASH: Now both of those Democratic leaders dismissed Cantor's accusation of playing politics is false and a tempered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned words matter.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I believe that words have power, they weigh a ton and they are received differently by people -- depending on their, shall we say, emotional state and we have to take responsibility for words that are said.


BASH: Whether Democrats are lashing out at top Republican figures from Sarah Palin to House GOP Leader John Boehner for overheated rhetoric, Democrats say that they might incite threats and the vandalism that we're seeing. Now I can tell you, Boehner made no apologize for some of the language that he has used like calling a Democratic political dead man, but he did say once again, John, violence and threats are unacceptable.

KING: And Dana, in the argument from the Republicans, the Democrats are the ones trying to play politics here, do you think they may have received a bit of ammunition today?

BASH: Well we did see Organizing for America, which, of course, is the president's political organization, send out a fund-raising e- mail, trying to raise money off of the threats against fellow Democrats. It specifically cited an incident with freshman Democrat Tom Perriello of Virginia and also talked about death threats to other House members and then explicitly asked for political donations.

KING: Thanks, Dana. Dana has been working her sources all day. This is a quite conflicting story at times. Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger has been also working her sources and she is here to help us try to put some context in this if we can find the context.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Raising money off of this? I mean John that's kind of a new low --

KING: This is that letter. This is the letter from Organizing for America.


KING: It's the spirit of the --

BORGER: It is.

KING: -- of the season. Where are we going here?

BORGER: You know, I don't know. I think back to the presidential campaign, I just ran into John McCain in the green room. He's about to come out and talk to you. And I remember what was going on during that campaign when there were some awful things said at McCain/Palin rallies. And it was John McCain who had to come out and put a stop to it and he said, you know, no, no, it's not true.

Barack Obama was born in the United States. He is not a Muslim, whatever it was. And it took John McCain to sort of calm it down. What we have not yet seen on to the Hill is Democrats and Republicans, not in press releases and all but coming out together, Boehner, Pelosi and saying, OK, enough is enough. Let's put an end to it. I don't know whether it is going to take the president of the United States to get them to do this, but, you know, at a certain point, I think it might be the responsibility of the lawmakers of the elected officials to --

KING: Complicated though because it is a midterm election year.

BORGER: Absolutely.

KING: And the bases are so important.

BORGER: Well, of course, so you are obviously all playing to your base and midterm elections, as you know, are about -- are about getting out your base. They are about intensity. They're about raising money. This isn't a presidential race. So, you play to your base and that's what raising money off of this is about for the Democrats and for the Republicans that's what I think some of the shouts we heard on the House floor were about the night that health care passed.

KING: I love carbon politics, but this stuff is ugly. Gloria Borger, thanks so much.

BORGER: Yes, sure is.

KING: Threats, vandalism, name calling in the wake of the health care reform vote can we ever find a path back to civility? Senator John McCain is here. We go "One-on-One", next. Welcome.



KING: As you just heard and if you've been watching the past few days you know there is plenty of anger and name calling and even threats to members of Congress in the wake of the big health care vote. So how do we get past this unhealthy debate? Senator John McCain built his reputation as a consensus builder. He is here to go "One-on-One". Welcome.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, John. Thanks for having me on your show.

KING: Welcome -- you're welcome here. I want to read you something -- these are your words from very early in the 2008 presidential campaign, "I'm going to raise the level of political dialogue in America." As we try to get back, I assume you want to get back to a better place, a more civil debate, I want to give you a couple of examples that people say, some people say, are helping to stoke this environment and one is a map put up on her Web site by your running mate, Sarah Palin.

I know you're familiar with this. If you look over your shoulder here, you can see it. She says it's time to take a stand. She said in a tweet "don't retreat, instead reload." And you see those crosshairs. Those are congressional districts where she thinks Democrats are vulnerable. She could have used stars, Senator. She could have used arrows. She could have used points. Crosshairs are something you have in the scope of a gun, is that beyond?

MCCAIN: No, John, the rhetoric that we use in every day language about political campaigns, battleground states, it's going to be a war, all of those things we have used for years and years. They are in the crosshairs. I have heard you use that language. I have heard every commentator use that language. The fact is this is a very emotional issue. And people are very emotional --

KING: At a time when they are so emotional, should everybody -- should political leaders and people in my business maybe have a higher burden to step it back a little bit when you know the emotions are so wrong?

MCCAIN: We should try to -- we should try to step it back, but when I'm -- when we are passing legislation that is full of sleazy, sausage making deals that are special deals for special interests, whether it be the cornhusker kickback or the behind-the-scenes deal with pharma, of course they are going to be angry. I'm angry.

Now the question is do you turn that anger into voter registration and demonstrations and elections and ballot booths? That is what you have got to urge people to do, but I don't -- I don't begrudge people their anger. We are talking about a passage of legislation which is going to lay another $1 trillion of debt on our kids and our grand kids. Of course they are angry and frustrated.

KING: How do you throw the circuit breaker? Should a bipartisan group of people come out and say, look, we can fight about these things and we will fight about these things, but everybody needs to step back or do you just have to let it run its course?

MCCAIN: I think that would be very helpful. I say all the time and so do a lot of my colleagues say, look, we -- we are a nation that loves to have debates. My favorite person I debated with and we would go nose-to-nose was Ted Kennedy. We believed a fight not joined was a fight not enjoyed --


MCCAIN: But that -- it's got to be carried on with respect and obviously, you don't want things like, well, like in my campaign, when Congressman John Lewis compared my campaign to the bombing of a church in Birmingham where three young children were killed. Now that happened during my campaign and he alleged that of me. He has never apologized for it. I think that's kind of inflammatory.

KING: Let me show you something that others would find -- if you want to raise that example. I want to show you when Congressman Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, if you look over your shoulder this way, this is him on the deck, wiping, some say slapping a picture of the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Is that appropriate conduct?


MCCAIN: Of course that's uncalled for. Of course that's uncalled for, John, and we see from, you know the person that yelled "baby killer", but I think that we've got to urge everybody to be respectful. That's all we do. I have town hall meetings all the time and the only thing I ask people to do is be respectful. And I have had thousands of them. And so we ought to urge everybody to be respectful of one another.

KING: How about showing an example? Your friend, Lindsey Graham, has said because of the poisonous health care debate, as he calls it, he doesn't see any possibility for say bipartisan cooperation on immigration reform. Right now, there's a partisan divide over financial reform in the Senate. Is there something out there where people can say, look we disagree on a lot of things? We might even have some policy debates here. But look at us on this one, actually getting together. Is there one on the horizon?

MCCAIN: Afghanistan I think is a perfect example.

KING: Not immigration or financial reform though?

MCCAIN: Well the problem is (INAUDIBLE) in all due respect bipartisanship, there's been none. They have taken their 60 votes and when they had 60 and the majority in the House and they've rammed stuff through, the stimulus package, the budget, the omnibus spending bill and so any semblance of bipartisanship was not used by the majority. I understand that, but that's not changing Washington. In fact, it is change for the worse.

KING: Another example coming up would be another extension of unemployment benefits and your Republican colleague, Tom Coburn says, look, I will vote for this but only if we offset the deficit spending. We have got to find it somewhere else. And he says if you don't give him that offset that he will put a hold on this. He will use his power to slow this debate down if not stop this debate. Would you side with him in that or is this an issue on which you should not use those tactics, those levers at your disposal?

MCCAIN: In the last year, we have increased the deficit by a couple of trillion dollars. This year, we are going to have $1.4 trillion deficit, next year, $1.5 trillion deficit. The people want us to stop the spending and they want us to pay for things. The anger out there is at a lot of things but one of them is the generational theft we are continuing. Of course, why can't we find some way to --


KING: -- the unemployment -- that would you support Senator Coburn or do you think it is the wrong -- on that particular issue because --


MCCAIN: Doing exactly the right thing to find ways to pay for it. We have increased domestic spending by some 20 percent over the last year, while every state in America has had to tighten their belts and do incredible -- take draconian measures so can't we find a way to pay for these things? That's all that Senator Coburn is asking.

KING: Let me ask you in closing, you are going to head home tomorrow, you're going to be out campaigning with Sarah Palin.


KING: She's coming to Arizona to help you. You face a primary challenge, she is going to help you in your state. Any talk while you're out there campaigning, maybe (INAUDIBLE) get a role on her new reality TV show?

MCCAIN: I'd love it. I understand that she is being well compensated, almost as well as you are for this new show.

KING: I think she might be getting a little bit more than me.

MCCAIN: Could I -- could I -- could I just go back on this? Yes, there is a lot of anger and passion out there. Let's translate that into a spirited, healthy, respectful campaign season between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives and that's a message we want to give everybody and that is a message I want to give, too. Let's -- let's -- let's really go at it but let's do at it -- do it with respect.

That's the key to it and obviously, you and I have seen examples where that's not the case and sometimes it has a bad influence on citizens who become too passionate. And I decry it and I know you do and all of us do.

KING: Appreciate your time, Senator.


KING: We will come out and see you on the road and on the trail in Arizona.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

KING: African-Americans desperately need jobs, even before the recession hit, they needed them. Times now though are much, much harder. The National Urban League President Marc Morial and I take "The Pulse" of America when we come back.


KING: We all know this is a painful recession and it is hurting minorities much worse than the rest of the nation. The National Urban League's New State of Black America report is out and Urban League President Marc Morial is here to help us take "The Pulse" of the nation -- welcome.

MARC MORIAL, PRES. & CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Hey great to be with you, congratulations on the show.

KING: Thank you very much. I want you to turn here and look at this graphic play out because this is unemployment, we go back a decade. The African-American community was hurting to begin with and then you will see the pain of the recession kick in. You see the unemployment rate play out there. And then you see African-American unemployment today, 15.8 percent, national unemployment, 9.7 percent. First question in the environment, when there is so much hope, the election of the first African-American president, is there a sense in some of these communities in black America that maybe the hope has not translated into help?

MORIAL: Well, there's a lot of anxiousness, anxiety and anticipation, but I think there's also a sense that the type of change that we'd like to see takes a great deal of time. The president inherited an economy really on life support and also a decade where we've have had the slowest economic growth since the great depression. So I think there's a great deal of hope and I do think though that there is a great deal of anticipation and a desire for change very quickly.

KING: You talk about the caboose, that black America being the caboose on a train, always at the end. I want to show you some more statistics because -- the question is how do you change that dynamic? This is the national numbers. This is a country about 13.5 percent of our population is African-American. There you see nearly 10 percent unemployment, 13 percent of all Americans live below the poverty line.

But let's zoom in on Claiborne County, Mississippi for example, because when you go to these majority African-American communities, 84 percent of the population there is African-American, 18 percent unemployment, 35 percent of the population below the poverty line. How do you break that? MORIAL: You break it with targeted policies and you break it with a long-term commitment to education and training. But you have got to have targeted policies.

KING: When you say targeted, has the administration done that? I was in Selma, Alabama, for example. A couple of other African- American communities in the past year where the mayors were saying they weren't getting stimulus money or they were getting very little compared to somewhere else. Has the targeting of this administration in your mind, been to the right targets?

MORIAL: This is what I tell you I think that the TARP was -- not the TARP, the stimulus was designed very quickly. I would have like to have seen more money go directly to municipal governments, more money go directly to community-based entities. I think now that there is an opportunity that the president has said let's focus on job creation, our advocacy is going to be for this new round to be focused and targeted on the chronically unemployed. You've got to put resources where the problems are the greatest. And I think you can do that within the context of an overall plan. But those poverty numbers, those high unemployment numbers beg out for some specific attention.

KING: And what about the private sector in the sense that you want the government to do a little bit more? Is it harder to get the private sectors in these communities but because of the poverty, because of the poor education, you don't have a trained and educated workforce and you might not have the infrastructure for a business to say, hey, I want to go there?

MORIAL: Well I think that is why we need targeted job incentives. The private sector is key, but we need incentives that sort of help business to locate and grow in these areas and the second thing I think we need to do more of and that is dramatically expand small business lending. The National Urban League has proposed that the SBA expand its small business lending and lend money out at one percent, a very low interest rate. So it's about targeting, whether it's targeting business incentives or targeting direct government spending.

KING: Marc Morial, we will have you back next year and I hope this report is a bit more optimistic.

MORIAL: We're going to keep on working, thanks John.

KING: We appreciate it. Thank you very much. Thank you very much.

Whether it is the recession or health care reform, everything in Washington boils down to politics -- next we will go "Wall to Wall" with Karl Rove, you remember him as the architect. He will give us his political predictions.


KING: Karl Rove doesn't spend his days 15 steps from the Oval Office anymore, but he shares inside stories about his life as George W. Bush's top political adviser in his new book, "Courage and Consequence: My Life As A Conservative In The Fight" and he is here with us to go "Wall to Wall". Karl, thanks for joining us.

The ink on the health care legislation is barely dry and the political fight in the midterm election season is well under way. The president of the United States is out in Iowa, where he first promised as a candidate to pass sweeping health care reform. And he is making note of the Republican promise to campaign this fall on a message of repeal. Here is what the president says in Iowa City today.


OBAMA: My attitude is, go for it.


OBAMA: If these congressmen in Washington want to come here in Iowa and tell small business owners that they plan to take away their tax credits and essentially raise their taxes, be my guest.


KING: Any worries that the president, now that this is signed, can sell it that way?

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE SR. ADVISER: Well, except that he -- no Republican is out there saying take away the $40 billion in small business tax credits in this bill. What they are saying is get rid of the $466 billion dollars in subsidies and insurance companies that begin in 2014 and get rid of the $434 billion of federal dollars, plus hundreds of billions of dollars of state dollars for a Medicaid expansion. Let us find a less costly way of solving this problem.

KING: I want to take a closer look at the politics starting with the president, then we'll move on to Congress. I'm going to walk over to the magic wall, as we do so, so I can show you numbers. If you talk to the White House, they say this is a big achievement, the president deliverers on a campaign promise.

If you talk to Republicans, they say it is big government, proves to them he will be a one-term president. Right now and this is in some way silly, but it is a snapshot of the moment, when we ask people their choice for president in 2012, they say Obama, 47, unnamed Republican, 47. Again, 2012 is a long way off, but it is an interesting snapshot. Now I want to bring in some other numbers here starting with the president. This is more telling.

His approval rating, 46 percent, his disapproval rating, 51 at the moment, but before Republicans can celebrate that Karl, you know these numbers. Ronald Reagan at this point in his presidency was just about the same, 46 approved, 45 disapprove. Rate the president at the moment in terms of he did get this thing through after many thought it wouldn't happen. ROVE: Well, yes, he did get it through, but he did not run on this. One of the reasons why he is in the shape that he is today is because during the campaign, the second most widely watched ad of the Obama campaign called quote "Government-Run Health Care Extreme." end quote and from your own survey earlier this week the American people think this is too much government, too expensive, going to lead to lower quality, higher cost, bigger premiums.

And so you know, look, you're right it is now not the time to forecast what the 2012 presidential election is going to look like, but for this year's election this there is a lot of pain that's going to start appearing in this, get a little bit better for the President temporarily but by the November election, American people have educated themselves in spite of 58 speeches by the President and adding a few more to it -- that laundry list of speeches is not going to change their opinion.

KING: Well you have been through many midterm election seasons, both in your days at the White House and beforehand in the private sector and in campaigns. Assess the political climate at the moment. History says it will be a tough year for the democrats but there is also a lot of turbulence out there you have the tea party movement, you have some disaffection on the Left as well as on the Right. Many say it is 1994. Others stay is more like 1929 with this Anti- Establishment Perot move out there what is your sense?

ROVE: Well I don't think it is 1992 because there is no Ross Perot. A jillionnaire with his own deep pocket running for president. This is going to be a series of races for the senate and the Congress and every bit of evidence we have, particularly in the senate races, which, as you know, John, tend to frame up a little bit earlier, firm up a little earlier, candidates have to get in the races earlier, raise money, establish their themes.

Those senate races are tilting heavily against the Democrats, if the election were held today, the democrats, which today have 59 would be lucky to get 51 and they might even get less, depending on what happens this month in Wisconsin where Tommy Thompson might run and Washington State where Dino Rossi might run.

We got Democrats, even in states like California, who are in dog fights and we got Harry Reid and a bunch of other incumbents well behind their Republican challengers.

KING: Let's get the architect on the record. How many house seats will the Republicans pick up in November?

ROVE: I think, you know, before health care passed, I would say 23 to 30, somewhere in that range I think the number is going to be slightly higher now but I -- you know it could conceivably be a Republican majority in the house. I'm not certain of that because I think you know these house races depend upon filing deadlines and we got filing deadlines until June and they depend on the outcome of primaries, but I think the Republicans are going to make a significantly larger gain than the average since World War II which I think is around 29 for the first midterm. KING: Hey that an optimistic picture for the Republicans. Let's pretend we are in a private meeting for the moment and meeting with key Republican leaders or key Republican lawmakers. They said, Karl what is the one thing we are doing wrong or the biggest thing we should worry about for our side, what should it be?

ROVE: Well the biggest thing, you cannot surf a wave of discontent with Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi to victory. That will get you only so far and the Republicans have to do what they have begun to do in this health care debate over the last year and that is take their conservative principles and apply them to the problems the country faces and sketch out what they would do. And when it comes to jobs and taxes and the competitiveness of America and the quality of life and health care, they have got to have answers that American people say, you know what that makes sense and I like what you are talking about.

KING: Karl Rove, thank you for your time.

ROVE: Thanks John.

KING: We will see you out there take care, Karl.

And everyone knows Karl Rove was President Bush's top political guru but who runs the White House office of political affairs for president Obama? Stick around he's today's most important person you don't know.


KING: Today's most important person you don't know is doing one of Karl Rove's old jobs as director excuse me of the White House office of political affairs, but Patrick Gaspard has almost none of his predecessor's notoriety, as part of his parents are Haitian, he was born in 1967 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and raised in Brooklyn New York.

Not only did he and the president share African roots, they both got started as community organizers. Gaspard specialty was working with big labor in 1988, he signed up to help Jesse Jackson run for president. He was Obama's political director in 2008.

Gaspard has a family, writes poetry, reads Russian literature, cheers for the Mets, won't hold that against him and by all accounts, has a fabulous comic book collection. Now that is pretty cool. Dana Bash is back with us now. Tough job for this guy because he works with people who kind of like politics.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean can you imagine being the political director and working with David Axelrod or Rahm Emanuel? You know obviously --

KING: Robert Gibbs, too.

BASH: Yes Robert Gibbs, exactly. Exactly. I mean some of the -- Karl Rove, you had him on the program earlier, we usually get to know the top political person in the White House, but because this White House is filled with them --

KING: I think they like it that way. They have an operational guy who is kind of under the radar who sort of does the nuts and bolts of getting it done. So we will see how it plays out. So Dana, you are here as always to fill us in on some of the things we might be missing.

BASH: That's right well look this goes in the category of Joe Biden, the gift that keeps on giving. Because the Vice President went to a fundraiser last night, it was just outside of Baltimore. And he was talking about how well Democrats did in 2008.

But in the process, he may have been a bit too candid in the way he described some of those House Democrats who come from conservative Republican-leaning districts that the president helped win. Lucky for Biden there were no cameras there. Lucky for us, we have the quotes, "Barack generated such an overwhelming turnout and enthusiasm in 2008 that we had the biggest turnout in history. It was gigantic and a lot of really good Democrats got washed up on shore and all of a sudden were congressmen in districts that Democrats have no business having congressmen."

He went on to say something else, "I'm not here to tell you we are gaining seats, but I'm telling you we are going to go into the second half of our administration with a solid Democratic majority in the House and the Senate and with the wind at our backs."

KING: See, those are the guys I sometimes call accidental congressmen. Not disrespectfully, they just get swept in a presidential way, and Joe has a better term, washed up on shore. See it is the same thing, I agree with Joe Biden here. At least I assume at this event, because we have the quotes, there was no reference to big bleeping dealers anything like that?

BASH: A-ha but actually there was. He claimed that the President thought it was hilarious and that he came into the presidential briefing the next morning and said everything that happened at his signing ceremony on health care, that he thought that was the funniest, not just that - he, Joe Biden said that the president thought it was so funny, he is actually going to memorialize it by making t-shirts that say "Big Blanking Deal."

KING: I'll wait for the day I'll see the president --

BASH: Maybe the t-shirts will go online, fund-raising for the DNC. You never know.

KING: It's possible to see them on the basketball courts. Dana thanks very much.

Next in the clash, political name calling, saying ugly things about our presidents is, sadly, as American as apple pie.


KING: I love every time I hear Marle Albert's voice there. I love it.

The clash: with us today Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala along with John Feehery who is Republican House Speaker Denis Hastert's spokesman, he's now CEO of his own strategic communications group.

Welcome. I'm actually hoping to not make this a clash, but to have you pros help us find the way back to civility. The rhetoric has been pretty harsh in the health care debate. And now you have some of these threats, nasty voice mails, bricks through the window of congressmen, a bullet through the window of a Republican congressman's office, nasty voice mail left for a Republican congresswoman. Most what has been reported against democrats who voted yes but some episodes as well against Republicans who voted no.

One of the democrats who voted yes is Gaby Giffords, she's a Democrat from Arizona, she's a pretty vulnerable congresswoman in this Republican leading here. Let's show pictures of her office back home, some vandalism there, broken glass in front of her office, we have a crew out in Arizona today. And you see the pictures there. That is not outside Gaby Giffords' office obviously. We'll try to get you that picture there in a minute.

Help me, help me here -- there we go, there's the picture outside of the office of her vandalism. And we talked to her communications director. She is on this list that Sarah Palin published saying these are the races that people should target. Reload and get their energy. Here is her communications director.


C.J. KARAMARGIN, COMMUNICATIONS DIR., REP. GIFFORDS: Governor Palin is entitled to her opinion. Of course, it is unfortunate that respected political figures on any side of the aisle, respected by their own supporters, would use language that is incendiary. I don't know if that adds to the debate.


KING: How do we turn the volume down here?

JOHN FEEHERY, FORMER DENNIS HASTERT SPOKESMAN: Well, first, take a deep breath, and show some leadership. The fact of the matter is that the American people are angry and they have a right to be angry at the whole political class. And I think they are not listening to their concerns, not wanting - they are not getting bipartisanship. They are not getting what they want out of the Congress. They are not getting anything out of their political leader. We saw that in the last election, that is why they voted for President Obama. They haven't seen any real change. And the leaders sniping at each other on both sides. The partisanship is as bad as I have ever seen t when I worked for Bob Michel 20 years ago, Bob Michel and Tip O'Neill would get a drink afterwards or play golf without their shirts on, which nobody wanted to see,

(LAUGHTER) FEEHERY: But that is how they would operate. Now --

KING: That is why you wouldn't take your tie off, because of that image?

FEEHERY: My tie is on because my wife wanted my tie on the.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not doing that with John Boehner.

KING: We are laughing about this, which is, in part, a good thing. But there is a serious rawness to the climate right now makes the health care debate and the political fall of it ugly but it raises a question whether this town can ever get along on the big things.

BEGALA: Yes, first off, I come to this discussion with unclean hands. Okay I hosted a show called "Crossfire." our logo was a -- from a rifle scope. So I can't very well criticize Sarah Palin for using that.

KING: But you have heard Senator McCain saying we have been doing this forever. We use target races, battleground races, show downs.

BEGALE: I've said some really mean things about John McCain. But I feel bad about seeing him, as we talk about civility. So, I'm a really -- I live in a crystal glass house before I can throw stones on anybody else.

I think the key then is to be able to say things like that for people to take responsibility within their own movement. When tempers were high and emotions were high after Katrina, hip-hop artist went on the Grammy awards and said, George W. Bush doesn't care about black people. It was outrageous.

I spoke out against it, but more importantly, Donna Brazile did African-American leader, first African-American to run a major presidential campaign. She spoke out and said, no, no, that is not right, George Bush is not racist. It is going to take conservative leaders like Senator McCain, who I think did a good job in your interview telling people to fight hard, but fight fair and honest and you know register and vote that is the way we express ourselves, not with bricks. So I think what McCain did is enormously helpful.

KING: And will we get more of that John or is it tough for both sides in a mid-election year, where turnout goes down and you are dependent more than ever on the base turning out. If a Conservative says hey everybody turn down the volume or liberal says he everybody turn down the volume, do they run a risk?

FEEHERY: You know I think John Boehner did it exactly the right way when he said, listen, we have a way to channel our anger and go out and vote. And then don't throw bricks, go out and vote and organize. And that is the way someone like John Boehner has to hand this will thing. These are very, very difficult times.

I mean you got one of the worst financial crisis ever to hit Wall Street. You had really in large parts of the country, a depression and people are really, really angry and really, really hurting because five years ago, they thought things were going to keep going up and up with their house. And so there is that disappointment. So we have to manage that in an election where, you know, the emotions are going to be very, very raw.

KING: All right John and Paul are going to stay with us. Next, we will go to the big screen for some "Play By Play", Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emanuel, two very different faces of victory. Don't go anywhere.


KING: "Play By Play" tonight, the faces of victory. Back again Paul Begala and John Feehery. Okay Paul, now Rahm is one of your big buddies. John, you know Rahm Emanuel pretty well. Wolf goes over to interview him at the White House today and he's talking about the big signing ceremony, the celebration of health care, and Rahm didn't get a pen. Watch this.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I was surprised when the President was thanking everyone the other day for what they did and he didn't give you a shout out.


BLITZER: Do you care?


BLITZER: Doesn't mean -- did he give you one of those 22 pens?

EMANUEL: No, because, I mean --

BLITZER: You worked really hard to --


KING: You know Rahm as well. Was he disappointed he didn't get a pen?

BEGALA: No, he's not. I think he's surprised --

KING: I said he did get a high five.

BEGALA: I bet you he didn't notice. I'm serious, Rahm he's not afraid of the limelight, okay. He's got a big ego. But when he took this job, he told I understand I may be called the chief of staff, but I'm staff.

FEEHERY: Did you see that face? He's angry. He should be angry. He's the guy - he's the guy that will drive this thing through. If he hadn't leaked to the press he was right before, he would have been better off he would have got a pen. That's the message --

KING: He didn't get a pen so he can't write notes.

FEEHERY: Look at that face.


BEGALA: The hard ass - I don't know if I can say this the tough guy from Chicago -

FEEHERY: We can't say that.

BEGALA: Actually was the one who wanted to conciliate too early.

KING: Right.

BEGALA: And it was the professor, who I'm critical of often, of Obama, he was too weak. He was the one who was the tough guy here. So congratulations to Barack Obama.

KING: All right next clip, watch this woman, Paul. You know her well. Hillary Clinton tried to get health care back through in 1994. Here she is celebrating today at a women's history event on Capitol Hill.


HILLARY CLINTON: I was so thrilled when that vote finally closed.


CLINTON: I don't know, Nancy. I mean, I kept thinking, oh, lord.


KING: Oh, lord. She says she has some scars from the last debate but she thinks they're fading now. You were there for that.

BEGALA: I was, and she took a pounding, and she took the point and she agreed to do that when the President assigned that to her. But, you know, she's enormously relieved, happy, proud. And now the only thing she's been working of course on this week is Russia, where we apparently have a nuclear agreement, Israel, where we're at a bit of a problem with our allies, she was in Juarez, which is now unfortunately murder capital in the hemisphere, so she's got a full plate, too.

KING: You were on the end that blocked it in 1994.

FEEHERY: I was on the other side. The bill she was trying to pass was much bigger, much more intrusive than even this bill.

KING: So for all the Republicans out there saying Barack Obama has this big, wildly -- FEEHERY: Yes I think the one thing that Rahm learned -- they have to scale back a little bit. They did not do the single-payer plan, they didn't do the public option so, they did scale back quite a bit. Hillary's plan was even bigger but we also did a pretty good job in the house - lessen things up.

KING: All right let's move on. Senate vote today on those fixes. You would think the one guy who knows how to vote is the majority leader. He runs the show, he runs the floor, he controls the caucus. Watch this play out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Reid of Rhode Island. Mr. Reid of Rhode Island. Ay, Mr. Reid of Nevada.



KING: He did it again. The laughter being -- you can't hear him vote, but Harry Reid voted no. He was supposed to vote yes. He also voted no on the health care bill mistakenly back in December 2009. Hello?

BEGALE: A Freudian slip, perhaps? No.

FEEHERY: Exactly right.

BEGALA: He's a guy who, along with Nancy Pelosi, is the MVP here. He has shepherded this thing through brilliantly. He's a legislative master. That's a little stumble. And you know also he's got a lot going on. His wife is recovering from a terrible car accident. So I think we give him a pass on this one.

KING: Give him a pass?

FEEHERY: We should give him a pass in one sense, but in the other sense, if he votes his state, he votes no, his leadership position, he votes yes.

KING: I got you all right last one we are going to go book shopping with President Obama. Put up this video. This is my favorite of the day. Play this out.


PRESIDENT BARAK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: What do you think? Karl Rove book? Mitt Romney's book?


KING: Freeze that. What do you think? Think he's going to read they are one of those?

BEGALA: He just sold -- neither of them need the help. They're both best sellers, but good for him, he's showing some humor. No. But he's probably not going to -- it's a little late in the season now, it's springtime, to have a fire. But I'm not for book parties.

KING: The audacity of book sales.

FEEHERY: His leading book opponents, could be the guy running against him in about two years.

KING: All right so maybe he wants to study, John and Paul, thanks for coming in. A little "Play By Play." The president's study for the next campaign.

And next, we'll go out to see Pete on the street with "Some Do- It-Yourself" health care tips. Stay right there.


KING: Let's head up to New York and check in with Campbell Brown and see what is coming up at the top of the hour, hey Campbell.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there John. We are obviously going to be following tonight's health care vote in the house and we are also looking into the threats and intimidation over health care. I'll talk to a senior Republican senator who says both sides have been out of line here.

We are also going to go live, John, to Miami, where Gloria Estefan had a march in support of Cuban dissidents. And we'll ask her what she thinks of the Obama administration's policy on Cuba. We've got that and a lot more coming at the top of the hour, John.

KING: Sounds like a good great show, we'll see you in a few minutes, Campbell. Thanks.

And now before we go for the night, a lot of talk about health care, the president hit the road today, so we want to check in with our offbeat reporter as we call them, Pete Dominic in New York. Hey, Pete.

PETE DOMINIC, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, John. I don't know if you heard, health care legislation passed.

KING: No way.

DOMINIC: Yes, yes. It's all over the place. But one thing you really can't legislate or incentivize very well is preventative care. So I thought I would ask people how they're eating and how they are exercising. I'm going to ask you, too.


DOMINIC: How many calories have I burned? Three. When was the last time you went to the dock for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, forget about it. Ten years ago.

DOMINIC: Ten years ago.


DOMINIC: You keep in such good shape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. This is my doctor.

DOMINIC: Does it reduce the time you spend in the therapist's office?


DOMINIC: How many calories you burning in a workout?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably about a thousand.

DOMINIC: One, two Petes, three Petes. Now it's time to eat horrible food because I deserve it. We won't think about the calories, like the rest of America. How many calories are in that?


DOMINIC: when was the last time you visited the doctor for any health reasons or not?


DOMINIC: For what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For weight loss.

DOMINIC: are you concerned at all with how unhealthy the burger might be?


DOMINIC: what will you be eating today? Big nick's burger joint.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I might have too to get the sumo burger.

DOMINIC: The sumo burger.


DOMINIC: How many calories are in that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully close to 4,000.

DOMINIC: I'm going to have to pay for your care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. All right I'll order a salad.

DOMINIC: Yes, salad!

(END VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next surgeon general, Pete Dominic. Pete we're out of time, but next time I see you I think I'm going to have you take me to Big Nick's. Looks like you've been there before.

DOMINIC: Yes, it's a deal.

KING: That's all for us tonight. Thanks for spending some time with us, Campbell Brown starts right now.