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JOHN KING, USA

Judd Gregg Interview; Luis Gutierrez Interview; Trying Immigration Reform Again; Preventing Nuclear Terrorism; Senate Complains About Judicial Confirmations

Aired April 13, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf. You know Congress is back and the next big fight here is already under way, the subject is financial reform. Tonight we'll go "One-on-One" with Senator Judd Gregg. We'll press him on whether Republican message on that issue is not only just no, but no change.

In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight we'll look at the latest economic numbers including the Dow way up again. Are we back to boom times or might the economy still go back to the brink?

In our "Pulse" tonight, the controversial issue of immigration reform. We'll talk to a congressman from the president's home city of Chicago, a Democrat who says what he hears from the White House is change for the worse.

And in our "Play-by-Play" tonight we'll break down the tape of Michelle Obama's big surprise and we'll also fact check, something we hear on Capitol Hill. When it comes to the president's judicial vacancies, is there a big slowdown?

The Dow is back above 11,000. And that's a reason to cheer, but not a reason to celebrate. By comparison, the Dow is back to where it was in late September 2008. Remember late September 2008? That's when Barack Obama and John McCain came off the campaign trail to meet with President Bush. He needed help selling a big and controversial proposal to rescue the financial system.

At first, Congress balked and a nearly 800-point drop on Wall Street began a six month market collapse. But a week into that slide Congress reconsidered and by significant bipartisan margins passed a $700 billion program called the Toxic Asset Relief Program. TARP they call it here in Washington. You probably call it the damn Wall Street bailout and that's when you're being polite.

Fast forward to spring 2010, here's what the Congress and the White House have done to prevent it from happening again -- nothing. To be fair, the Financial Regulator Agency say they have learned big lessons, but the bigger systemic financial reforms are caught up in the partisan divide that is Washington these days. And that divide on this issue grew even bigger today.

So who's telling it straight? We'll spend some time trying to sort the policy choices and the politics, time tonight and beyond. And while it's a complicated debate it is one you have huge stakes in. If you don't think so, try this. Take a look at your 401(k) statement tonight, then a look back at September 2008 and ask yourself if you want to risk all those rocky weeks and months in between happening again. And if your answer is no, why not explore which party here in Washington seems to be pushing the right ideas to fix things and speak up.

So what are the major points of contention? To hear the Senate Republican leader, Democrats wants to allow more big bailouts and won't listen to compromise ideas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: All signs we get from the White House is they're not interested in talking. They're not interested in making a deal with us. They want to jam through a totally partisan bill. And if they do that and it looks like the Dodd bill, it will guarantee a perpetual taxpayer bailout of Wall Street banks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But the Senate's top Democrat says that's nonsense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We think that it's very important that we have a bill that ends bailouts by liquidating these big firms. We think a reform bill should stop an entity being too big to fail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So who's telling the truth? Here to go "One-on-One" is Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, a leading Republican voice on financial issues. Good to see you, Senator.

SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: John, thanks for having me. I love the Red Sox shirt.

KING: Amen for that.

GREGG: Is that (INAUDIBLE)?

(CROSSTALK)

KING: That was sent to me as a gift. This was the subject of tense, but bipartisan negotiations for some time, this issue of financial reform. Everybody out there watching is affected by this.

GREGG: Absolutely.

KING: Now those talks have collapsed. You see the partisan mood at the moment. Some of your colleagues say this is all a hangover from health care, that health care got so partisan, forget it, we're not going to work with the Democrats now. Are we being that petty in Washington? GREGG: I hope not. We need to do this in a bipartisan way. This is extremely complex stuff. There really aren't a whole lot of partisan issues in this mix but there's a lot of big issues as you said, it affects everybody on Main Street. And we can do it in a bipartisan way. In fact we are very close to agreements on things like "too big to fail". We're very close on agreements on derivatives, very complex issue. Very close on agreements on systemic risk.

KING: So what's the barrier to agreement? And let me ask you as you do so. The House Republican leader put out a statement tonight saying the Democratic proposals guarantee, quote, "open-ended bailouts". Is that a fair statement? I know you disagree with some of the particulars, but is that a fair statement? Senator Dodd's bill in the Senate does have the shutdown plans, does create a mechanism to shut down firms if they get out of control, the so-called funeral plans. They would have to put up money. Is it fair to say the Democrats want open-ended bailouts or is that hyperbole?

GREGG: That's a touch over the top, but they do have the problem that they have created an atmosphere and the bill does not kill the atmosphere. We're too big to fail still exists because it gives the Treasury and the FDIC the ability to come in, in a bank that's over extended itself for financial institutions that's got systemic risk and allow that entity to be continued as it tries to work out the problems. The proposal which was bipartisan, which was led by Senator Corker and Senator Warner (ph) and which I strongly support didn't allow that to occur.

Unfortunately, that's been put on the shelf. That basically said to a financial institution that wasn't making it, you're done. Your stockholders are wiped out. Your unsecured bond holders are wiped out. You go basically straight to a form of bankruptcy, which is what we should do. Because the markets can't have a concept that somebody can exist even though they're financially insolvent. That undermines basically the efficient use of capital. You do not want that to happen. We have to end "too big to fail" and on our side of the aisle we're totally committed to that and I think the other side of the aisle is too. They just haven't gotten there yet. We have got a better idea. Their idea doesn't get there.

KING: I want to get to some of the specifics because again this is important. It affects every single American watching up, but it is caught up right now in the politics. And here's what the Democrats are saying that these negotiations were ongoing. There were some differences but progress was being made. And then what their take on this is that in this political environment that Mitch McConnell, your leader, Senator Cornyn (ph), the head of the Republican Senatorial Committee, went up to Wall Street, met with hedge fund leaders and said you know what, we're on your side on this issue, give big to the Republicans. That is the narrative coming from the Democrats right now.

GREGG: Well you know that's a little over the top to say the least, too. I mean the simple fact is we were willing to reach an understanding -- I think the pullback here occurs as a result of a lot of different factors. But primarily it is that politics versus substance has taken the forefront. But I think it's coming from both sides of the aisle. I would say that the White House has been extremely populist (ph) on this issue recently. Now originally they had proposals which made a lot of sense and in fact they actually signed on to some of the proposals which were out there that had been reached in a bipartisan effort.

And then they backed up about three weeks ago and said no we're going a more populist route. Well populism has great jingle phrases. You know it makes people feel good to beat up on Wall Street. But in the end, if you undermine the financial institutions that create the loans that make the small business person able to hire people, it cuts off our nose to spite our face. And that's what happens here when you do a -- when you take a populist approach.

KING: So then help me out. A common sense conservative from the state of New Hampshire, a guy who almost became a cabinet secretary in the Obama administration at the beginning before you had second thoughts about that, the guy who was the lead Republican negotiator in creating the TARP Program back in the Bush administration.

GREGG: Right.

KING: You have been involved in this. You have a history of reaching across the aisle. You also have a history of being a pretty fierce partisan when you choose to be too. Where's the circuit breaker here not for who wins in Washington but for the people watching at home who are saying all this time after the collapse, all this time after September 2008 and all this time of watching their 401(k)s go this way and just starting maybe to come back to that point, why has the Congress and the president still done nothing on the big issues?

GREGG: Well first off, I don't want to be too supportive of the administration. I'm happy to be. I'm just kidding. A lot has been done. The simple fact is that the financial industry was stabilized. We were facing a calamity, a catastrophic event, an implosion of our entire financial industry not only on Wall Street but on Main Street and it would have had a massive effect on our economy and the recession we went through would have looked like small potatoes even though it's been very harsh compared to what potentially would have been a depression type event.

And we stabilized the financial industry and now we've gotten the money back from the banks at least. We're not going to get it back from the auto dealers -- with interest, so the taxpayers have actually made a fair amount of money here and that's taken a lot of time to work through. And a precipitous action to try to address this would have probably produced the wrong results. We have to take a look at what really happened, figure it out and try to adjust. Now there are four basic areas where we're trying to make corrections and they're all fairly complex but none of them in my opinion require partisan response.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: So then why does your leader -- why would your leader say today I would recommend Republicans to vote no? Why doesn't -- (CROSSTALK)

KING: Why doesn't everybody button it up and try to go back in the room and fix it.

GREGG: Because the bill that came out of the banking committee was partisan. I mean it did not include the core elements of a really good constructive bipartisan bill. Why don't we button it up and go back in the room? That would be my suggestion. Why doesn't the White House call a little bit of a conference here quietly, bring down the key players, you know Senator Shelby, Senator Dodd, a couple of the other folks who understand what they're doing on these very complex issues, sit them in a room, sit them around a table and say OK we're going to stay here until we get it done. That's what we did with TARP and it worked and I think we could do it now if we wanted to. But right now unfortunately the administration is pursuing this we want a political win, I think, as versus we want a substantive win and that's just my view --

KING: I'm going to ask Senator Gregg to stay with us.

As we mentioned, prices on Wall Street are at levels we haven't seen in 18 months. The Dow industrials did it again today but just barely closing only 13 points higher. The broad s7p 500 also closed at an 18-month high while the Nasdaq hit a 22-month high.

In a minute we'll switch the focus from money and financial reform to some pure politics. We'll see if Senator Gregg thinks it's really in the Republicans' best interest to as some say be the party of no.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. You are unique -- not totally unique but special in the idea that you're not running for re-election, so this is your last year, which I assume gives you the freedom, is this correct, to just maybe be a little bit more honest, a little bit more --

GREGG: You'd like to think you were anyway.

KING: Yes.

GREGG: But there's no question there's a certain relief from the day- to-day necessity of nuancing (ph) things. You just basically -- I was not much of a nuancer (ph) anyway --

KING: Third term in the Senate -- came here in 1992. Lived through the polarization of the Clinton days, the polarization of the Bush days, candidate Obama said Washington was going to be a very different place. I'm not assigning any blame. I think it probably shared on both parties but it's not -- Washington is not a very different place. Why?

GREGG: I think there are a lot of factors. But if I were to pick the number one factor, I believe it's the polarization that's the result of -- I hate to say this -- the 24/7 news cycle where hyperbole is the watch word of the day. And as a result, instead of having substantive thoughtful discussions everybody is trying to get the one-liner that gets them on the news or that makes them -- or that creates an event that's coverable.

And because the news cycle is such that everybody who is doing the news has to basically create attention, you don't get the in-depth sort of substantive thought process or analytical process that you used to have. Now, that may be just a perception we have because we live today. If you go back and you read what happened during Lincoln's day, I mean the vitriol was much worse than ours. I just completed a book on Andrew Jackson and the vitriol was incredible.

I mean the Senate even censured him -- never happened before, never happened since, so maybe it's just that in this moment in time we think it's worse than any other time but maybe it really isn't. Maybe it's just --

KING: What is possible -- what is possible in the rest of this year, midterm election year where everybody has pretty much already gone into their camps, everyone is thinking about raising money. We're going to have a Supreme Court nomination, for example. Do you expect partisan Armageddon there or do you think the president is going to bring Republicans down to the White House, try to have a little meeting of the minds, maybe some sharing information beforehand? Might that be an exception to the current climate?

GREGG: I would hope so. I mean there is certainly a lot of good people out there that he could nominate that wouldn't necessarily be of my philosophy but I'd vote for. I voted for Judge Sotomayor, for example, but as a very practical matter it's going to depend on who he decides to nominate and how he decides to vet that person with members of the Senate before he moves the name forward so that there's a feeling of inclusion as versus exclusion, which is very important.

KING: There's a debate in your party some people say especially in this midterm election year. It's not a national election. You're not pushing a presidential candidate or a big national agenda that say it is safe to be the party of no because people are skeptical of the Obama administration. People are in a bad mood because of the economy. People maybe don't like some parts of the health care bill which is part of the midterm election debate.

Some people say just be the party of no. Your former speaker on the House side Newt Gingrich yet again today said this at a speech here in Washington. "You can't govern by saying no. Imagine we won a huge victory. Imagine that John Boehner is the new speaker -- he's the House Republican leader right now. Imagine that Mitch McConnell, your leader at the moment, is the new majority leader. What's their agenda? It can't just be yelling no." Does your party yell no too much right now?

GREGG: Well we do and we need to when we're confronting things that are very bad for our country either fiscally or from a standpoint of policy. I do not want to see this country move down the road of Europeanization of our nation and basically you've got a government now that's moving to the left. I think the fundamental area that this administration --

KING: That far left? You came pretty close to joining this --

GREGG: Yes, I did and that was my mistake. But the -- all American politics is historically played between the 40 yard lines. But this administration came in with what was essentially super majorities in the House and Senate and they decided to govern like a parliamentary system and they went down to the 20 yard line or the 15 yard line on the left and they basically moved very aggressively out on an agenda --

KING: Did they earn that with their super majority? They won big in 2006 and 2008 --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: They could make the argument we won the election.

GREGG: They had the right to try it but we also have the right and the responsibility to try to resist it. And I don't think the American people are there. America is a center right government, center right people. They want government but they don't want it to be excessive. They want it to be affordable. And most importantly what Americans want is to pass on to their next generation their children a country that's better, stronger and more vibrant and more prosperous. What we're looking at now because of the debt that's being run up in this country is that we're going to be the first generation to pass on to our kids a country that's less prosperous where their standard of living goes down.

That's not fair and it's not right and it's really a function of excessive government, a government just simply growing too much and spending too much. And when you pass something like the health care bill, which is the single largest expansion of the government really in my experience and probably in the last 50 years and you couple that with a nationalization of the student loan program, you couple that with the taking over the automobile industries, you couple that with very significant aggressive procedure, proposals in the area of just general spending on the discretionary non-defense side, you're seeing a government that's just growing beyond our capacity to pay for it and our children are going to end up with a debt which is going to saddle them and make their lifestyles much less viable than ours as far as quality of life.

KING: There is a different perspective of course at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and your Democratic colleagues in the Senate, but we will bring them in to give their perspective on this (INAUDIBLE). We thank you for --

GREGG: Thank you, John. I appreciate the time. I love the set.

KING: I appreciate it. Thank you.

Up next I'll go "Wall To Wall", we'll take a closer look at the economic recovery and whether we're headed for boom or possibly doom.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: That's the closing bell on Wall Street today, the Dow ending above 11,000 for the second day in a row back to where it was in September 2008 right before the collapse of the market. So the question is where are we? Are we out of recession? If you listen to the president as he addressed the nation just this past weekend he believes finally the recession is over and the economy is on an upswing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy is growing again. Companies are beginning to hire again. We are rewarding work and helping more of our people reach for the American dream again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You may feel the recession is over or you may feel it's not. Let's take a look at just how this is decided. This is a very technical decision. The National Bureau of Economic Research makes the call and it says right now it's premature to pinpoint an end of the recession. The likely end of this recession was in the summertime last month the economy started to grow out. But one thing worth noting and many of you know this firsthand, unemployment usually keeps rising well after a recession ends, unemployment a lagging indicator they say.

Let's go over to the magic wall and take a closer look at some of the other economic statistics that we all look at to decide are we back -- are the boom times coming back or might we still be in trouble. Let's do this historically, some of you probably remember the recession back in 1981 early in the Reagan administration. This is our current recession. Well let's drag it out. Watch the Dow. The blue is the old recession.

The gold is the current recession. Look at how low the Dow was back in the 80's -- remember that -- just around the 31,000 mark. Here's the end of the 1981 recession. This is the likely end of our current recession and the Dow of course is on the way back up. That's one way to look at it. The Dow is starting to come back up. Let's look at it this way, GDP, the Gross Domestic Product. How strong is our economy, how are we growing. If you look at these past recessions -- this is back to the 40's, the 50's, up through the early 60's and 70's here.

Here's again the comparable recession July 1981, look how they -- but this recession was deeper, the current recession. Way down here is a percentage of DDP -- GDP the economy dropped. That's one of the frustrations now and trying to come back. Another way to look at it is the unemployment rate. These are recessions, again, all the way back to the '50s, the low of the unemployment rate coming into the recession and how high did it get? Let's come closer here, again, we often compare this to the 80's.

The unemployment rate though at the start of that recession was already above 7.2. So even though it got up near 11 percent it didn't have that big to jump. Look at this. We started this recession at 4.4 percent so what a giant jump in unemployment there. And that is why the pain is still so high even as we start to come out. Now are we out, here's some of the things that they look for on Wall Street. I want to bring this around. This is a big week for quarterly profit reports.

They're expected to be strong especially when compared to this time last year. One of the things though is some of this growth is because of cost cutting. What investors want to see is profit driven growth not just cost cutting, so we'll watch that. And here are some other key indicators, consumer confidence it is starting to go up, retail sales of late starting to go up. But again for those of you who don't have a job or who are underemployed working part-time this is what you most worry about and what even the economists who are optimistic at the moment tell us is that rate at 9.7 percent could even trickle up a little bit and as it starts to come down it will be very, very slowly taking months, if not years, to get back down somewhere in the ballpark say of seven percent and then down from there, so numbers worth studying as we look at the economy in the days and weeks ahead.

And as if the economy and financial reform aren't enough, another big issue is hanging over the Congress in this election year. Is it time for another big debate over immigration reform? We'll take "The Pulse" of the nation when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Here in Washington we've seen a few trial balloons, even a couple of promises about putting immigration reform back on the front burner. Joining me now from Chicago to take "The Pulse" of the country is Illinois Democratic Congressman Luis Gutierrez. He's not only been talking to people back home in his district. He's the chair of the Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force. Congressman, thanks for joining us tonight.

I know this issue is on the top of your agenda as you come back to Washington. You want to also talk about jobs and continue this. But you have been pretty critical of President Obama. Here's something you wrote in an op-ed in "The Hill" newspaper. "For Latinos in this country for anyone who comes about -- cares about fair, comprehensive and humane immigration reform Barack Obama has delivered change. It's been change for the worse. It genuinely pains me to say that the facts show that our president has done no more to solve our immigration crisis than George W. Bush."

As you prepare a come back to Washington will that change? Do you have a promise from the White House that they will do this, this year?

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: Well it's my hope that after comprehensive reform of our health care system has now been set aside and completed that this president can focus on making this a top priority. I just came back this Saturday, John, from a big rally of thousands that were together in Las Vegas. Senator Reid, the majority leader, said there that comprehensive immigration reform is a top priority for him, that he's going to put it on the Senate agenda and he said, moreover that we shouldn't let the Senate confirmation process of the next justice be an excuse for not getting it done.

That makes me very optimistic. The president did embrace the tenets that were put together by Lindsey Graham and Senator Schumer. He did speak to the hundreds of thousands that gathered on the mall just the same Sunday that we passed our comprehensive health care reform and so I think things are headed in the right direction.

(CROSSTALK)

GUTIERREZ: I don't take back a single word.

KING: Yes, headed in the right direction. But you know this debate has headed in the -- what you consider to be the right direction. There are many who passionately disagree, but headed in the direction you wanted to many times before only to hit the wall, only to hit the opposition and I want to share with you -- I had a conversation, an exchange with a senior White House official just today because I knew we were going to have this conversation and I said well is this going to happen. And here's what he said.

Immigration is tough. There is a lot of energy behind it, but most people would say no chance. I'd say very little chance. If that's the attitude of the White House that would suggest to me that the president and his top people are going to deal with financial reform, maybe try to get back to the economic and jobs debate, but not risk the political capital on this issue. That's how I read that, sir.

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: Okay. And let me just suggest -- so this past Saturday we heard from the majority leader stark difference in his opinion and in his vision of how he's going to lead the country forward on this issue. But let me just say this. Look, if the Democrats do not lead on this issue, then they will fail to fulfill a very key and fundamental process to a large burgeoning community which indeed, John, as you'll probably agree one of the fundamental reasons that there's a president, a Democratic president, was new Mexico, was Colorado, was Florida --

KING: Was Nevada.

GUTIERREZ: Was states where there's a burgeoning Latino community that came out in record numbers both in terms of the total number, 2 million additional Latinos came out to vote, and in terms of the quality of the vote. Nearly 70% for Barack Obama.

KING: If the Democrats fail this test to use your words turn their back on this community what will happen in November? Will those Latino voters vote Republican or stay home? Either way you lose.

GUTIERREZ: Well, John, look, we have a majority. That majority must lead. I understand that we have a big majority in the House of Representatives and we also still have a majority, 59 -- pretty significant -- in the Senate. I listened and I believed when I stood next to Senator Reid there in Las Vegas that he is going to put this on the agenda. I know that both Schumer and Lindsey Graham are working but we need this president more engaged. 250,000 people came to Washington on that mall that day and they were inspired by a lack of inspiration of this president in his state of the union address when he barely touched the topic of immigration. That's what caused tens of thousands of people to jump in their cars and get in busses and airplanes and come to Washington, D.C. to be recognized. And this administration has to stop looking at this community as a community that can simply rely on and not have to fulfill a very key and fundamental promise to.

KING: Congressman Luis Gutierrez in Chicago. Coming back to Washington as this plays out in the days and weeks ahead. We'll bring you back and talk some more.

GUTIERREZ: Thank you, John.

KING: We're going to walk over to the magic wall and give au sense what's still to come as we continue the hour here. We're going to show you number one the most important person you don't know. You're going to get to know him because he's the top general headed to take over the very delicate mission in Iraq right now. In our forum tonight, we'll talk about a Democratic bounce. Some evidence of that in a new poll at CNN tonight. Also the dicey politics of financial reform and bailouts on Capitol Hill.

In the play by play great tape to break down, Michelle Obama's big surprise tonight. We'll fact check this. The Democrats say there's a big slowdown when it comes to confirming President Obama's judicial picks on Capitol Hill. Pete on the street he usually makes you laugh. We hope so tonight because he'll talk to you about the day we dread, April 15th when the tax man cometh.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today's most important person you don't know is very important because he's in line to become the top U.S. general in Iraq. Administration sources confirm to CNN General Lloyd Austin is in line to take over from General Ray Odierno at the end of this summer. Right now Austin is the staff director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He's seen plenty of combat. In early 2008 when unprepared Iraqi forces started a surprise offensive in the southern city of Basra, General Austin came to the rescue turning a near catastrophe into a victory. It's a bit of history worth remembering. Austin may be taking over just as U.S. forces officially end their combat mission and the Iraqi security forces take more authority. Austin is from Thomasville, Georgia and a 1975 graduate of West Point. Fewer than 6% of the military's top brass are African American, so he is an elite leader in an elite class. And as General Ray Odierno prepares to come home I'll bring Dana Bash our senior congressional correspondent into the conversation. He might be my favorite Yankees fan, General Ray Odierno, except for your dad.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I was going to say.

KING: We wish General Austin the best. In all the stories we're covering big nuclear summit, financial reform debate Americans all over the country are trying to understand this new health care law and how it affects them. Turns out we may be missing one group that's probably surprised to know it has something to learn.

BASH: That group is the group that wrote this legislation, members of congress. Turns out that their own health coverage may be in limbo. Here's what's going on. During the health care debate Republicans successfully convinced Democrats to accept the fact they were going to give up their health coverage which everybody really likes who has it. It's based on the federal employees benefits program. They have coverage that is very vast. Lots of options. Instead get their coverage from what many Americans are now going to get from these new exchanges that will be set up by the law. Here's the catch. Here's the problem. Those exchanges won't be set up until 2014. That's more than 3 1/2 years from now. And the way members of Congress or the Democrats wrote this, it's not explicitly clear whether they can keep their coverage, their own coverage for the next 3 1/2-plus years until they have this. We walked the halls. Ted Barrett, my colleague and I walked the halls talking to senators about this trying to get a sense whether they're alarmed. Turns out many of them didn't even know this was an issue. I want you to listen. I say listen because we talked to some of these senators in areas we're not allowed to have video cameras.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd have to look -- I don't know. As quickly as feasibly possible.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I think as little things come up there will be a technical correction or some type of a correction package and they'll get fixed. I just wasn't aware of this.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: I haven't heard from my employees about it and certainly, you know, it would seem unfair to ask someone to drop out until there's access to an exchange.

KING: And it's not just the members who have to deal with this but some of their staff members maybe somehow exempted. Do the staff members get a better deal?

BASH: Some of them. It turns out the way this law is written some Congressional aides who work for committees in the house and Senate side and some Congressional aides who work for the most senior members of Congress, leadership aides, they were exempted from having to drop the coverage again that they like very much and move to getting coverage through these exchanges. Democrats we talked to today insist that this is what they call a drafting error in this huge law. But I talked to Chuck Grassley, who is top Senate Republican. He said that this was no such thing. He made Democrats aware of it during the debate. He tried to get it changed. They wouldn't do it. We talked to a lot of senior Democrats today who said oops, we realize this is another issue they're going to have to change probably legislatively. Otherwise it wouldn't be fair. Some aides have to change their coverage. Some aides don't have to.

KING: We'll watch that as it plays out. Here's one thing I don't want you to miss. This is a picture at the pentagon today. It will seem very surprising when you see it at first. That is America's top military officer Admiral Mike Mullen to the right chairman of the joint chiefs with Elmo and Rosita and Jesse. They are participating in a pentagon initiative when families grieve. Some 12,000 military children -- 12,000 have experienced a death of a parent in recent years and this sesame street is part of an effort to give them some counseling and give them some help. We salute not only the military brass but Sesame Street for helping with this critical and important cause.

Tonight there's some new evidence that Democrats' prospects aren't quite as dismal as many people were thinking. In a moment we'll convene our reporters' forum and ask if their sources believe what our polls are showing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining me tonight for the forum CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, national political correspondent Jessica Yellin and back again senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Let's begin with the president's nuclear summit in town. It wrapped up today. Two days of talks. The president said he had significant commitments from Russia, Ukraine and Canada. He says the United States will make significant commitments, other countries to reduce their dangerous nuclear materials and safeguard those they have in a better way. They signed all these leaders did this document. There are no enforcement mechanisms. This is a promise to do this. So the president was asked essentially if the communique has no teeth will it work. Here's the president.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: If what you're asking is do we have an international one world law enforcement mechanism, we don't. We never have. All right. So in all of our efforts internationally, in every treaty that we sign we're relying on good will on the part of those who are significant that tri-s to those efforts.

KING: It's not unusual, Gloria. This is a big event to bring in 47 nations represented here, a few other organizations. Rhetorical progress? Enough teeth?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think so. I think those are two different things. I think you have to give the president credit for this entire session because he is a world leader on this -- on the issues of nuclear disarmament and loose nukes which is what they were talking about this week. I think you have to give him credit for getting these nations together. Did he get, for example, an agreement from China on sanctions against Iran or even Russia? The answer to that is no. Did he move a step further when you talk to people at the white house? They will say absolutely. So better that he did this than that he did nothing.

KING: So that's a world stage question for the president. Here at home they're fighting an issue this financial reform debate. You heard Senator Gregg saying I wish there were a circuit breaker and we could find a way to get along but at the moment they don't have a way to get along and it's very, very partisan.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is very partisan right now. But within the Republican caucus you'll find that there's a variety of views. And where the leadership is right now is a new very firm no to this bill. I mean, some of the information you'll get from the Republicans right now is that this bill is unacceptable in almost every specific. That's very different from where the members of the banking committee were a few weeks ago. I think there are individual Republicans the white house can pick off but I think the time frame is short because pr will push this somewhere else.

BASH: Absolutely. What was most interesting was the language that Republican leader in the Senate chose to used to that this is a permanent bailout for wall street. Those are obviously intentional words that were used also by --

KING: You heard Senator Gregg saying that's a bit of hyperbole language.

YELLIN: Go ahead.

BASH: Hyperbole for a purpose. As Jessica was just saying this is a game of chess right now. I talked to several Republican sources. I know Jessica has been reporting on this all day. Who say we mean it we're going to walk if this bill doesn't change but this is also about trying to get into the game. We want to get in the game right now. Otherwise it's going to be health care redux and everything else redux where it's completely polarized partisan.

BORGER: Who can be more populist? The Democrats have renamed financial reform Wall Street reform.

KING: I thought this was about preventing this from happening again.

BORGER: Too big to fail. It's about who can outdo each other.

KING: One more quick thing I want to show, we talk a lot about polls and sometimes we get feedback saying why do you use so many polls? Some matter, some don't. I want to show our new poll, the president's approval rating, how's he handling his job as president. Our new poll has him higher than recent polls. 51% approve. 47% disapprove. A Republican pollster shared this historical data. I want to show it up on the big screen now. This is a president's approval rating, if we can show the bigger diagram here if we have it. There we go. The president's approval rating -- all presidents going back in time and what happens in the midterm election. You see President Bush was at 39% when they lost 30 seats in 2006. President Clinton was at 46% when the Democrats lost 52 seats back in 1994. So you see a president's approval rating does have an impact on midterm elections. If you put President Obama right around 50 right now, Clinton was at 46. Obama will be very happy that he's at 50 and even more happy he's not where bush was in 2006. This one matters as we go through the spring into the summer.

BORGER: Particularly in the president's first term. Historically you don't do well in the midterm elections. And this election will I think be very easy to nationalize because the issues are such huge national issues, health care reform, financial reform.

BASH: But I think the number that matters the most is one he can't control. That's the unemployment number come Election Day. That will drive the decision more than anything.

KING: Everybody stand by. Michelle Obama making her first solo overseas trip as first lady and her first stop wasn't where they told us she was going. We'll take a look in the play by play.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back for play by play with Gloria Borger, Jessica Yellin and Dana Bash. Another big fight and this goes back several administrations. This is judicial nominees and the slow pace of the confirmation process. As we wait the president's big Supreme Court choice, his allies on Capitol Hill are starting to complain staying president, this Democratic president has sent up a whole host of nominees and Republicans keep slowing things down. Here is Pat Leahy, the judiciary committee chairman.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: The pattern of obstruction and delay in the Senate's consideration of these nominations, especially judicial nominations is completely unprecedented.

KING: Let's stop it there. Completely unprecedented, he says. We went back and looked. We went back and did a little research. President Bush at this point in his term April 13th, 2002 had 42 judges confirmed, federal judges confirmed by the United States Senate. President Obama the same point, April 13th, 2010, only 18.

BASH: True.

KING: Is that because of Republicans blocking them, or because of the slow pace of just the Democratic-controlled committees doing the nominations?

BASH: Yes. And one other thing. Yes to both of those, and one other thing. And this is an important thing that the Obama administration was slow to nominate some of their judges. And that is part of the slow pace. But let me tell you something. I was at that press conference. I was in the front row there. I was thinking to myself this morning, closing my eyes and thinking, if I could just go back in a time machine and open my eyes, I could very well be sitting here listening to a Republican judiciary committee chairman talking about Democrats holding up a president's nomination.

BORGER: And this is Chairman Leahy himself.

KING: The dates have been changed to protect the party switches. All right. Let's go interview this morning. George Stephanopoulos did an interview on "GOOD MORNING AMERICA" this morning with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev. He was asking him his impression of Obama, and the Russian leader seemed to take a swipe at the last U.S. president. Let's listen.

PRES. DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIA: He is a very comfortable partner. It's very interesting to be with him. The most important thing that distinguishes him from many other people -- I won't name anyone by name -- he is a thinker. He thinks when he speaks. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had somebody in your mind, I think.

MEDVEDEV: Obviously I do have someone on my mind. I don't want to offend anyone.

KING: I don't want to offend anyone. I should note that interview was yesterday. My apologies for saying it was today. I don't want to offend anyone, but yet he did.

BASH: Diplomacy 101, hello. Not very -- well, we do know that George Bush actually had a very close relationship with the Russians. I think --

KING: Until the end. It got a little tense at the end.

BASH: We all covered Bush. We all covered the bush white house.

KING: He looked into Putin's soul.

BORGER: Not in his soul.

YELLIN: The times we've gotten to spend with the president where it's not been business, he actually talked about the fact that he really found interest in the Russians, and he actually spent some time trying to learn about czarist Russia to try to understand Putin and others better thinking would be hurtful to him.

KING: I bet it would be. The last one here. The first lady, we're told her first overseas trip would be to Mexico City. But a surprise trip obviously for security purposes. This is the first lady and Mrs. Biden you see to the left there and the Haitian prime minister in the middle. A surprise visit to Haiti today to get a sense. Still a million people homeless. And the first lady taking a trip there, a, to offer her support, her moral support and the support of the United States government as this task goes forward. How important can she be for the president of the United States in a humanitarian role like this?

BORGER: I think very important. I think first ladies can conserve that way. And this is her first foreign trip. This was very important I think to them that this in a way be the first place that she would visit. And I think first ladies in many ways are eyes and ears. I know I see something, I go home and tell my husband about it, right? And I think it works that way in the first family.

BASH: It's also a reflection of how popular she has become, how effective she has become as an ambassador for him. Think about how she has turned her image around. Her favorability rating is 68%, higher than the number we showed for her husband. She has become an American woman like every woman. And women can relate to her, and families think she is a trustworthy first lady. It's a remarkable.

KING: April 15th, it's almost here. Next, our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick goes looking for people who are losing sleep over the tax deadline. Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's check in with Campbell Brown and get a sense of what is coming up at the top of the hour. Hey, Campbell.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, John. As President Obama wraps up his big nuclear summit, tonight we went to the streets of New York to follow the members of the city's counterterrorism unit and try to find out how they are trying to keep the city safe from nuclear threats here. Also tonight Tennessee authorities say they have yet to speak with the family who sent their adopted son back to Russia. I'm going to talk to one adoptive mom who says she understands what that mother was going through, that her story wasn't exactly a happy ever after, or an instant happy ever after incident either. That and a whole lot more at the top of the hour, John.

KING: See you in a few minutes Campbell. Thanks.

Two days until tax day. We sent our off beat reporter Pete out on the street to find out who is paying and who is not.

PETE DOMINICK, COMEDIAN: Get your taxes done?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Been done.

DOMINICK: When did you get them done?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: January.

DOMINICK: January? January?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.

DOMINICK: I can't keep up with this guy. How did you do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I gave Obama just about everything I made.

DOMINICK: 100% to the white house?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

DOMINICK: Did you do your taxes, buddy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, I didn't work this year.

DOMINICK: You did not work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't do my taxes.

DOMINICK: How do you afford the gear and the cigarettes and that almost mustache?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very nice parents.

DOMINICK: You got your taxes but you haven't mailed them yet? Your father was an accountant and you're birthday ... KING: My bad we couldn't get to Pete tonight. We ran a little late. That's all for us. Thanks for being with us. Campbell Brown starts right now.