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JOHN KING, USA

Alleged Russian Spies Arrested; Handgun Ban Shot Down

Aired June 28, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux in the "Situation Room." JOHN KING, USA starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: It made vanilla seem spicy. That was a colleague's dead on take today after Supreme Court nominee, Elena Kagan, opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kagan knows the drill. Tomorrow come the tough questions. Today was about making a first impression.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELENA KAGAN SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: What I've learned most is that no one has a monopoly on truth or wisdom. I've learned that we make progress by listening to each other across every apparent political or ideological divide. I've learned that we come closest to getting things right when we approach every person and every issue with an open mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Hard to argue with that. There were no arguments allowed today, anyway. The confirmation process is a Washington ritual. Day one is opening statements. A chance for Democrats to say how impressed they are with Kagan's intellect and her middle class upbringing, and gently, to suggest her lack of prior judicial experience leave them wondering in a few areas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HERB KOHL, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We have less evidence about what sort of judge you will be than on any nominee in recent memory. Your judicial philosophy is almost invisible to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Republicans were polite but also more pointed. Some a lot more pointed in suggesting Kagan has spent too much time around democratic candidates and presidents and too little time in the courtroom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I look forward to trying to better understand how you will be able to take political activism association with liberal causes and park it when it becomes time to be a judge. That to me is your challenge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The nominee's day began with an oval office pep talk from the president. But how did it end? Closer to confirmation or to controversy? Jeff Sessions is the top Republican on the judiciary committee and his take will have significant sway across the GOP. And Ben Cardin is one of the committee Democrats who has questions about Kagan but also wants to make a broader point about the court's current conservative majority.

Gentlemen, welcome. Let me start this quick one at the end of day one. The feistiness will come tomorrow when you get to answer specific questions, but to you, Senator Sessions, she said judges should be modest. Judges should show restraint. Judges should respect the law. Did she win you over?

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, (R) JUDICIARY COMTE. RANKING MEMBER: You know, sort of mayor promised that too, and she's been one of the more activist members of the court voting with (INAUDIBLE) more than any other judge. So, I think there is some cynicism on our side. We want to know with more specificity. She said she's going to be more forthcoming than others have in the past. So, maybe, she can be more specifically convincing. Just to say that I think it is not the final answer.

KING: Not the final answer. Senator Cardin, in your opening statement today, you're complimentary to her in some ways. You said you had some questions for her, but you also took after the Robert's court. I want you to listen to a little bit of what you said because after that I have a question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Time and time again by the narrowest of margins this activist court has sided with big business over main street America wiping away protections set in place by years of legal precedent and congressional action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Your colleague would disagree, but let's just say for a minute that your take on Chief Justice Roberts, on Justice Scalia, on Justice Alito, on Justice Thomas is correct.

CARDIN: They're not being confirmed.

KING: Were you raising that point because are you worried that because you don't know much about Elena Kagan she could become like that?

CARDIN: No, I want the justice is going to follow the precedent of the court and congressional intent. And I think the Roberts' court has not done that. Citizen united is a perfect case. They reversed previous rulings by the Supreme Court and congressional act by taking a case, defining it the way they wanted to in order to lay out corporate America to have more say in elections. Pardon?

KING: Unions as well.

CARDIN: Yes, but I think that's activism. I think that's something I don't want to see on the court. I want to see a court that's going to follow legal precedent to expand the rights of the individual against the abuses of power whether it's government or whether its big business or special interest.

KING: I'm not a lawyer. I assume in law school, there's a definition of activism that the two of you might be able to agree on. Is it fair to say that in Supreme Court nomination battles in today's time that activism is if you're a conservative that means you're a liberal and you're going to do things we don't like, and if you're and left of center, it means you're a conservative, you're going to do things we don't like.

SESSIONS: My philosophy as Senator Cardin says a good definition which is that a judge who allows their personal and political, social religious views to cause them to not render an objective fair decision based on the law is an activist. They can be conservative or liberal. I think Senator Cardin is exaggerating the cases in calling them activists, and I certainly don't think citizen united meets that standard. Just because you reverse a prior decision if it's validly reversed based on constitutional principles, it's the right thing to do. That's not activist.

KING: You gave an opening statement in which I would say you laid out the Republican questions and potentially the republican case against Elena Kagan. I want you to listen to this part of your statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: Ms. Kagan has less real legal experience of any nominee in at least 50 years and not just that the nominee has not been a judge. She has barely practiced law and not with the intensity and duration from which I think real legal understanding occurs. Ms. Kagan has never tried a case before a jury.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, there's a bit of a deja vu here back to what the Democrats were saying when President Bush in the previous administration nominated his White House council, Harriet Miers. And I want to read a statement you issued back then. "It's not necessary that Miers have previous experience as a judge in order to serve on the Supreme Court. It's perfectly acceptable to nominate outstanding lawyers to that position. I look forward to the confirmation process and to learning more about her judicial philosophy.

Is Elena Kagan less qualified than Harriet Miers? Harriet Miers was a corporate lawyer. She did do some litigation. And Elena Kagan could say I have a much more accomplish work (ph) in academia.

SESSIONS: Harriet Miers had 26 years of full-time legal practice in a law firm in court and out of court throughout those years and was quite a respected lawyer. And I never felt she was the highest quality nominee the president could have submitted.

KING: You were being nice to a Republican president?

SESSIONS: Yes. And I think she was a good person and probably would have done a fine job, but she was, I don't think, the perfect person for that job. I felt Sam Alito who replaced her with such magnificent experience and such real knowledge of the law was a better choice. This nominee, clearly, in the last 50 years, had the least real practical legal experience. If you haven't been in court, you haven't tried cases, you haven't been before judges and sort of haven't been a judge, all of that is a real lack. I don't think there's any doubt about it.

KING: Virtue or does it raise questions?

CARDIN: She's the solicitor general of the United States. Generally referred to as the tenth justice. She's argued cases before the Supreme Court. She's was a dean of Harvard Law School. She comes to this process with rich background, and as was pointed out, this is the first time in history of the Supreme Court where all of the justices were appellate court federal judges.

One-third of all of the justices of the Supreme Court came to us other than through the federal bench. I think having a little diversity on the court other than being a federal judge is not a bad idea.

KING: I want to lay out one more concern raised by a Democrat. This is Russ Feingold about executive powers. This is a huge issue for the court because you have terrorism cases, a lot of cases carrying over from the Bush administration. How do we deal with (INAUDIBLE)? Listen to Senator Feingold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I also hope that you will have the wisdom and the courage that the justice you have been nominated to replace, Justice John Paul Stevens, showed time and time again in drawing the line against an executive branch that sought powers that endangered the individual rights and freedoms that our constitution guarantees.

(ENDVIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tomorrow, when we get to Q&A and the day after that if necessary, is it going to be more about the future, the terrorism cases in the court, maybe the health care law coming up than in the past we've seen discussions about Roe v. Wade and abortion rights and cases that many would tell you whether agree or disagree or settled law. Will we looking that way at those kinds of cases tomorrow?

CARDIN: Absolutely.

SESSIONS: I don't think there's any doubt about it. We just had today the 5-4 ruling from the Supreme Court on the gun case in Chicago, headed in 5-4 the other way any state in any city could completely ban firearms in America. The right to keep and bear arms as an individual right is hanging by one vote on the Supreme Court. She will be one vote on the Supreme Court. These are important issues.

There are a lot of other issues out there like that, and we need to know that the judge will protect those explicit constitutional rights. The right of free speech. The right of free press. The right not to have your property taken except for public use.

KING: Why is the biggest question mark you get from groups left of center who are little nervous that she could be like a suitor (ph) or maybe a surprise.

CARDIN: I'm not sure there's a great deal of concern here, but let me point out, I think Senator Feingold's point is a good one and that is, we want a justice and we want a Supreme Court that will protect the individual against abuses of government. Government power can become very abusive. And Senator Feingold was raising that point in his question. It's not always the populist position. We want the Supreme Court is not meant to be a populist body but meant to do what the law dictates without regard to politics or without regard to popularity.

KING: Let me ask you quickly, as you go, you're the ranking Republican on judiciary, you're also on the Armed Services Committee. Tomorrow, you're going to have Elena Kagan still before the judiciary committee and General Petraeus before armed services. Are you going to wear running shoes tomorrow back and forth? How can you handle that one?

SESSIONS: You know, my first responsibility will be at judiciary, but I did meet with General Petraeus Last week. And he's just so fabulous. We're just lucky to have him, and he's been senior commander for Afghanistan, so I think he'll do very well at the testimony.

KING: And you'll miss more of that when you have to. Senator Sessions, Senator Cardin, appreciate you coming. We'll stay in touch as this process unfolds. When we come back a couple other stories developing this hour.

Next, alleged Russian spies apparently trying to recruit Americans.

Also, General Stanley McChrystal's new career move.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Remember last Thursday, President Obama went out for burgers with the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, and the cold war seemed very, very far away. Today, some say it's back. The justice department announcing the arrest of ten alleged Russian spies and the justice department says it's looking for one more. CNN's Deb Fayerick in New York, one of the cities where the alleged spies were snagged -- Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's so interesting because what the Russians are accused of right now is being intelligence operatives who basically their goal was to go out, become Americanized, blend in, and recruit other people who were either in government or those who were close to people with access to policy making decisions. That's what their goal was. They're not accused of espionage, simply of trying to recruit people. And there are a couple interesting names among them. A columnist for the Spanish language newspaper, El Diario, who worked in the United States 20 years for the newspaper, and she's accused of trying to recruit people, she and her husband. Their home was searched in Yonkers today -- John.

KING: Interesting mystery, Debs. Stay on top of it for us. Thanks very much.

Another story just in to CNN, General Stanley McChrystal has told the army he will retire. Only a week ago, of course, he was in charge of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. In some ways, Barbara, not a surprise.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Not a surprise, John, when the president of the United States removes you from a four-star command there's certainly nowhere to go but to retire. It's still going to take a couple months. There's a lot of paperwork involved. And I should tell you that while here in the Pentagon, everybody in the military just wants to move on and get this past them. There is some compassion for General McChrystal and his mistake.

We've learned today that Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, within hours of McChrystal being fired, got in his car, drove to McChrystal's home here in Washington to visit him and his wife to make sure they were okay -- John.

KING: It is a tough one. Barbara Starr, thank you very much. And we should not forget General McChrystal's service even though this not ending as he would like. Let's bring in to conversation, Republican strategist, Ed Rollins and Democratic strategist, Paul Begala. I'll try to speak English at some point in the program. To that point, here's a guy who served his country, and yet, you have this remarkable fall from grace, and one day you're a commander and another day you're gone.

ED ROLLINS, GOP STRATEGIST: He should be honored, though. It should be a great retirement service. He gave 34 years, the last nine years in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was one of our great generals whatever his miscues were here to "Rolling Stone." His service deserves to be rewarded. And if it is, I think a lot of troops out there will feel much better about it.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely. I think president did the right thing in firing him. I think Admiral Mullen did the right thing in going to his home. You know, this is the man who served our country. Difficult dangers. Thankless duty. And we do owe him a debt of gratitude even though the president, you're right, he did the right thing to remove him.

KING: And there's a big page turning tomorrow. General Petraeus will go up to the Senate. There is no doubt he will be easily confirmed, perhaps unanimously confirmed, and yet, there will be questions about the policy. Is this enough just having a new general? Do you need a new strategy? Do you need a new ambassador or something wrong in the civilian. Dianne Feinstein, Democratic California was on a Sunday show yesterday where she said, look, if General Petraeus thinks there needs to be more changes, give them to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN, (D) SELECT INTELLIGENCE CHAIRWOMAN: This is kind of if you will not a last ditch stand, but it is a major change in the middle of the surge, and I think you put the general in. He should make the call. If he can't work with the ambassador, the ambassador should be changed. If he can't work with Holbrooke, that should change. I mean, I think we put all of our eggs in the Petraeus basket at this stage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROLLINS: Totally agree with the senator. This is the one we have to basically make it done right. Whatever the outcome here, it's only going to be better. If he gets his team, he gets to do it the way he wants to do it.

BEGALA: I think a lot of Democrats are drawing a distinction between the man and the mission, right? Universal respect for General Petraeus. But deep concerns among Democrats about whether the mission in Afghanistan is the right one, whether President Obama, a Democratic president, has us on the right course, a lot of Democrats. I think the hearings you won't hear a lot of attacks on General Petraeus but I think you'll hear a lot of concerns about the mission.

ROLLINS: There are some republicans who have the same kind of concerns.

KING: We'll see that aired out tomorrow as we track the court nomination. We'll have General Petraeus, a lot to cover tomorrow. And Paul is going to stay with us in the program. We'll talk about the court policy in just a minute.

Also to come tonight, it's been a remarkable day here in Washington and a sad day. Senator Robert Byrd, for more than 50 years, leading senator from West Virginia, he passed away this morning. You will hear from him tonight in his own words. An interview he gave to CNN, the end of (INAUDIBLE) I Washington. You'll want to learn more about Senator Byrd.

On our radar tonight, some fun stories. Back in the papers, Ross Perot. Remember him? In a year with the tea party and the independent streak, we haven't heard much from him today until now and Senator Oprah? Just think about. We'll explain when we come back.

And in the "Play-by-Play," Bill Clinton on fire about what? You'll have to stay with us .

And President Obama's dare. Who is he daring and what's the subject? Don't go anywhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: For wall to wall today, Ed Rollins and Paul Begala still with us. We knew in any Supreme Court nomination battle that gun control would be an issue. We are certain now that conversation has higher stakes because even as we watch the Elena Kagan confirmation hearing, the current Supreme Court issued a huge decision today. A 5- 4 ruling that struck down a Chicago City ordinance that long had been in place, very restrictive ban on handguns. The city's mayor, Richard Daley, says he doesn't like the ruling, but he'll deal with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RICHARD DALEY, (D) CHICAGO: We're still reviewing the entire decision, but it means that Chicago's current handgun ban is unenforceable. So, we're working to rewrite our ordinance in a reasonable and responsible way to protect second amendment rights and protect Chicagoans from gun violence. We'll publicly propose a new ordinance very soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Mayor Richard Daley there. Let's take a walk over to the magic wall to take a closer look at what this issue means. The court essentially is saying that there's a federal right to bear arms and that no state can take it away. It was back in 2008, there was a big D.C., Washington District of Columbia state and that ruling the city eased but didn't eliminate all of its restrictions on handguns. This is what's now faces the mayor and Chicago and the suburb of oak park after go back and rewrite their gun laws in a whole host of (ph) cases on hold around the country because of that case coming up in the Supreme Court including a half dozen out in California.

They will now process San Francisco has many laws including a ban on ammunition, locks and discharging a weapon. The legal landscape will now change across the country. Look at this. If a state is red to orange, that means it has tough gun restrictions already in place. The Golden States, they are somewhere in the middle, moderate, the lighter states that show up more is tanner light yellow on your map, they have either no or very few gun restrictions in place. But the Supreme Court now reopening this as an issue across the country. And Paul, are we likely to see in legislatures and city councils and across the country, political gun wars?

ROLLINS: I think there's no question. This is a big night for NRA, and obviously, they had a great victory which I happen to agree with, but they're going to go fight this tooth and nail. People like Mike Bloomberg who made this very much a part of it. My old friend, Jim Brady, who dedicated his life since the day he was shot, he and his wife, for the handgun control so we're going to have big fights.

BEGALA: So, in addition to big fights in the political arena which we've been having for half a century in this country, now we're going to have fights in the legal arena. Now, it's a full employment act for lawyers. Justice Breyer said this is mission near impossible for all the lower courts to try to figure out what was a borderline incoherent ruling from the court today. They didn't say nobody can regulate guns. They said you can't ban them, but you can regulate them, but we're not going to tell you how. And so, this is another 50 years of litigation. This is full employment act for lawyers.

KING: Take us to tomorrow. Elena Kagan back in the chair. Gun control is one of many issues that are likely to come up. Today is theater day. Opening statements day. What are we looking for tomorrow?

ROLLINS: No new news broken today. I think Sessions laid out very effectively the Republican case against her. I think at the end of the day, she's got to defend herself on some of those issues. No Democrats are going to vote against her. And I think at the end of the day, she gets confirmed pretty easily.

BEGALA: She came out today. I worked with her at the White House. She's a colleague. She's a friend. I support her. OK. She came out today in favor of "The Blessings of Liberty and Equal Justice Under Law." OK. Good for you.

KING: Just ice cream.

BEGALA: And ice cream. She promised to work hard and to listen hard. Good. Now, we get to get above kindergarten level. Elena wrote a very biting article (ph) attacking the confirmation process some years ago as she said, a repetition of platitudes and a vapid and hollow charade. The truth is the senators today rule out more specific. You talk to Senator Sessions and Senator Cardin, I was struck that senators Franken and Whitehouse, two Democrats on the committee hammered this point of activism on behalf of corporations by conservatives.

She will be asked about that, believe me, from the Democrats who want to know will you protect consumers and citizens against big corporations or you've been activist (ph) as they see to conservatives.

KING: She was vanilla today and perhaps tomorrow and perhaps we can hope for a little spice. Ed and Paul, thanks for coming in.

Today's most important person you don't know is a genuine American hero. A wounded veteran who, as of today, is third in line for the presidency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: With the passing of Senator Robert Byrd, today's most important person you don't know is a Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. He's now third in line to the presidency after Vice President Biden and the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. How that happened? Inouye succeeds Byrd as president pro tempore on the Senate. He took the office afternoon. The president pro temp resides over the Senate when the vice president kept it's in the constitution (ph). The office goes to the majority party's longest serving senator.

Inouye was first elected in 1962. He's a genuine hero. He lost his right arm fighting the Nazis in World War II. He's also the first Japanese-American elected to the Congress. For the first time in U.S. history, neither the president nor the next four people in the line of succession are white Protestant men. An interesting historical footnote and time to introduce the country, most of the country, just Senator Inouye on what has been a sad day in Washington. But Joe Johns, Dana Bash with us now, you have both covered Senator Inouye. We'll talk a lot about Senator Byrd just a minute. They are alike in many ways.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are alike because they are, you know, parts of the institution that we don't see very much. And I don't see very much walking in the hall of the Senate anymore and neither do you. A soft-spoken guy who likes to get things done. And you know, one thing that they do have in common in a big way, sending that money back home.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They appropriators. That's the thing. And they take their hits. Interestingly enough, they really don't care. Senator Byrd never really cared about people calling him the king of pork. You get that sense from Senator Inouye as well. He's a man who sends a lot of money back home. And his state is, you know, good to show for it.

KING: Let's move on to Senator Byrd. We learned early this morning he had passed. 92 years old. He had been sick for quite some time. Dana, not so long ago, about 3 1/2 years ago, you had a chance to do an interview with him that I believe is his last television interview or one of his last television interviews, and one of the things you talked about with him was what he called a scar on his record. As a young man in West Virginia, he was a member, in fact, the leader of the local chapter of the KKK. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. ROBERT C. BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I will never be able to get away from that albatross, but it doesn't -- I've been accustomed to people asking me the question about the Klan, and I've never hesitated to say that was the greatest mistake of my life. And it's a good lesson to young people of today, that once a major mistake has been made in one's life, it will always be there. And it will be in my obituary. I've tried to be a senator, and as time has gone on, I think I've broadened my views with my education and my experience.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Let's spend a little bit more time on the very last part there, "I've broadened my views," because here's Senator Byrd's voting record. He voted no on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He voted no on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voted no on the nomination of Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1967 -- Justice Marshall, of course, a civil rights hero -- yes on the censure of President Bill Clinton in 1999 and no on the authorization to use force against Iraq in 2002. More on that last vote in a minute. But Dana and Joe, as someone who came to office from the age of segregation, had been in the KKK, was clearly an opponent of a lot of the Civil Rights movement, where was the change?

PRIEST: Well, the change came later, when, really, the whole country changed, and frankly, where the South that he's from began to change. You know, it wasn't just that he filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was in all the years he was there, it was his longest filibuster. It was 14 hours and 13 minutes against the Civil Rights Act. That shows you how opposed he was to it. But he talked about the fact that he -- it took him a while, but he saw the errors of his ways.

JOHNS: Yes, well, and there were a lot of politicians who lived a long time, came from the South, white politicians, who did evolve over time. I'm thinking of George Wallace. I'm thinking of Strom Thurmond, in fact. And there are others, as well, who saw the country changing in a certain way and eventually changed with it. And that's the way Senator Byrd will be remembered.

When you look at the Barack Obama endorsement, it came, I believe, after the primary, after West Virginia had already made its choice on whether it was going to go for Barack Obama, and it didn't. And then that was when Senator Byrd stepped up. You can look at that a couple different ways, but you can point out that he still jumped out there and said, I support him.

PRIEST: He also loved Hillary Clinton.

KING: And we live in this age where pork barrel spending, earmarks -- they're dirty words, and any politician who's for that has to be bad and not fiscally irresponsible. But Dana, you asked Senator Byrd about this, and he was, like, That's me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BYRD: My memory is as good as it ever was, and it's stock full of recollections about the poor people of West Virginia, how they were laughed at. They were a laughingstock. Yes, I'm a hillbilly. Proud of it. Proud of it. But I knew what the people of West Virginia sent me to Washington for. They sent me to Washington to represent them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Citizens Against Government Waste calls him the number one all-time earmarker, nearly $4 billion -- with a B -- $4 billion to little West Virginia since 1991.

PRIEST: I mean, you can't -- anybody who goes to West Virginia knows it. You cannot drive down a street, you cannot pass a building without seeing the name Robert C. Byrd on it. He was so proud of it, so proud of everything that he gave back to his state. And you heard him in that clip there. He made it very clear that this is what he thought the reason for coming to Washington really was, to help the people back home. No apologies. JOHNS: He was an institutionalist. I went to Marshall (ph) University. He went to Marshall. I went to American University law school. He went there. And there's a trail of Robert Byrd between these two schools, his name here and there.

But he believed that Congress had a responsibility to take the money and do as Congress saw fit. And he also believed in separation of powers, that the president had limited powers.

PRIEST: He would point to that section in the Constitution...

KING: Maybe you should move to West Virginia...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNS: I don't think so!

KING: I want to thank Dana and Joe. And as we go to break, one more snippet from Dana's interview with the late Senator Robert C. Byrd. Dana asked him, of the thousands and thousands of votes he had cast in Congress, of which one was he most proud? As we go to break, Senator Robert Byrd in his own words.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PRIEST: ... of all of the 17,000-plus votes that you cast...

BYRD: Is the greatest vote I ever cast. I'm ashamed that the Senate on that occasion shifted its power to declare war to one man.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Now let's move through some stories on my radar tonight. The president isn't giving up on comprehensive immigration reform. Today he met with representatives of community groups at the White House, and a White House statement says the president reiterated he wants to see a bipartisan process based on the proposal presented by Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Lindsey Graham in the United States Senate.

Let's see if that has any chance of passing with my guests here tonight. Erick Erickson -- he's our CNN contributor and the conservative editor of Redstate.com -- and Roland Martin, our CNN contributor who is keeping a promise here to come into the program wearing his ascot.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Hello, Jon Stewart!

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: First day on your show, I said, First time I'm on, I'm wearing an ascot. I'm just letting you know since you have an open collar thing going.

KING: And if you -- you could offer to President Obama to trade that for votes, and unlikely Republican vote at the moment on comprehensive immigration reform.

MARTIN: Actually, I want one of those ascots with the presidential seal. If they make one of those, I'm do it.

KING: Hang (ph) in there for you. Any chance -- any chance -- the president needs to meet with these groups. They're part of the Democratic constituency. Any chance of that happening this year?

MARTIN: No.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No.

MARTIN: Dead in the water.

ERICKSON: Yes, I mean, both sides want to use it as an issue in November, so it's not going to happen.

MARTIN: The biggest problem here is you have no natural constituency, and that is Democrats and Republicans recognize how it could hurt both of them. And what ticks me off, we have too many gutless politicians in Washington, D.C., because no one wants to touch it. They said, Well, don't do it before the 2010 election. And then after 2010, they'll say, You know what? 2012 is coming up, so don't touch it then!

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: And come January 2013, you know we've got an election in 2014. That's the problem with the tough issues!

ERICKSON: Three words -- three words on the Republican campaign trail, secure the border. That's going to be their -- their mantra. And why touch comprehensive immigration reform?

KING: All right, then, if we can't get that one, then let's move on to another one.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Looks like the presidential bug -- the presidential bug just won't leave Mike Huckabee alone. A new fund-raising letter for political action committee notes that a number of political pundits have started to talk about 2012. The letter continues, "While the talk is flattering, my current political focus is completely -- completely -- on the 2010 elections. In fact, I won't even discuss possibly running for president until after the November elections." Remember...

MARTIN: Except in this letter!

(LAUGHTER)

KING: No, no, no, not in that letter. Not in that letter. Not in that letter. But on "Fox News Sunday"...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R-AR), FMR GOV., HOST, "HUCKABEE": I haven't closed the door. And I think that would be foolish on my part, especially when poll after poll shows that there is a strong sentiment out there. I end up leading a lot of the polls. I'm the Republican that clearly, at this point, does better against Obama than any other Republican.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But he's not discussing that!

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Just in case we don't know he's leading in all these polls, he wants to remind us he's leading in all the polls.

ERICKSON: You know, you said the political presidential bug won't leave him alone. I think he's the one who won't leave the presidential bug -- and then there was the -- what was it, the article with Steve Schmidt the other day, saying that we needed Mike Huckabee to run against Obama to shut down Sarah Palin. You've got it coming from other sides. But the Huckabee machine is in full swing.

KING: Could be the new Republican triangulation or something like that.

MARTIN: Well, I just love when someone says, Look, I'm not really talking about 2012 unless you keep bringing it up, and then I'll talk about it. But I'll probably going to raise a little money for 2012, as well.

KING: And if you forget to bring it up, I'll do it for you.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Absolutely.

KING: All right, here's a face we haven't seen in a while. And I'm actually surprised, given the mood this year. Full page ad in today's A section of "The Wall Street Journal" caught our eye, and a lot of people's. Look at that guy right there. Time flies when you're making history. Happy 80th birthday, Ross Perot. The glowing tribute comes with a Web address and an invitation to upload your own birthday greetings. A Perot family spokesman tells CNN the ad was paid for by a combination of his son's real estate company and other family members.

Ross Perot -- now, many say the mood in the country right now is somewhat reminiscent of '92. You had these angry people mad at both parties.

MARTIN: Well, John, I tell you (INAUDIBLE) Ross Perot (INAUDIBLE) election. Look, I loved Ross Perot when he was in Texas. I'm a native Texan, as well. But you're absolutely right. I remember going to the Reform Party convention in 1992, and the reality is, when I watch (INAUDIBLE) the tea party rallies, it's very reminiscent of the Reform Party. They were largely Republican, independents, conservative Democrats. The most important issue they were talking about, fiscal issues. One of the stars then, Congressman John Casey. What is he doing this year? Running for governor in Ohio. Not surprising at all.

ERICKSON: There are no bar charts and line charts and pie graphs this time. I mean, that was -- the great thing Ross Perot did was bring back the charts and stuff in '92. And this time, we've just got a lot of people with homemade protest signs.

KING: Remember he used to always talk about that crazy aunt in the attic.

MARTIN: Right. Right.

ERICKSON: (INAUDIBLE) go any further, there would be ear (ph) jokes...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: And that huge sucking sound taking all these jobs. I mean, that's -- I mean, that was Ross -- that was Ross Perot. But also -- but again, that was an opportunity for the first time really to have a strong third party...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: ... able to keep that movement together. Unfortunately, they didn't.

KING: Twenty million votes. It'd be interesting to see if maybe he's welcome to come right here. Mr. Perot, if you're watching, happy birthday. Come share your thoughts...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: H.W. Bush is gone. Yes, thank you for those 20 million votes, Ross.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: H.W. Bush is doing this. Remember that?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: Again, with all that money and stuff, Ross Perot with these tea party guys this year saying third party -- Ross Perot is a lesson. Third parties don't work. KING: Yes, they're tough. They're very tough. Anyway, here's our latest juicy tidbit. And there'll be more. But this is the latest from the Rod Blagojevich corruption trial. Senator Oprah? The idea's in a phone conversation played in court. Back in 2008, then Governor Blagojevich and his chief of staff were discussing who to appoint to Barack Obama's Senate seat. Barack Obama had been elected president, of course. The governor says, "Oprah, by the way, is not far-fetched. She's up there so high, no one -- no one can assail this pick."

MARTIN: I'm sure smoky (ph) (INAUDIBLE) Friday (ph) (INAUDIBLE) pass and puff, or puff and pass. I don't know what they were thinking. Right, Oprah would actually step down from all of that to become a United States senator. Right. She can do whatever she wants. And so this shows you how crazy, you know, Governor Blagojevich was in these kind of conversations and how nutty they were.

KING: You can't be senator and run the world at the same time?

MARTIN: Not when you're making about 350 million bucks a year with your own show.

ERICKSON: You know, I honestly -- I got nothing on this one. Maybe people need new dryers or washing machines across the nation. Oprah can come to the Senate and get the government to pay for it now.

KING: All right. You'll take the first dryer, right?

(CROSSTALK)

KING: A dryer or a car?

ERICKSON: Maybe the car. I'll take her Gulfstream.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Forget that. Just get me some land. I can resell that.

KING: All right, you guys -- you guys, don't go anywhere.

We're determined to bring you into the conversation. So as you know, every week, we ask you to make your case on an important topic. This week around, we want to ask this. Fourth of July is coming up, so we wanted to ask you, What do you want to declare your independence from this year? Record your answer, post it at CNN.com/johnkingusa. We'll play the best on Friday.

We need to take a short break. When we come back, the president puts out a dare, a tough dare, to his critics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you're just joining us, here's what you need to know right now. After a day of pleasantries and opening statements, Elena Kagan starts taking questions during her confirmation hearing tomorrow morning. A new report from Louisiana's health department says 162 people have reported illnesses related to the gulf oil spill or the clean-up efforts. Lower (ph) gulf of Mexico tonight, Tropical Storm Alex now has sustained winds of 60 miles an hour and is getting stronger. It's on a northwest track, aiming for the Texas/Mexico border.

Back for the Monday night play-by-play. Still with us, Erick Erickson, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Redstate.com and CNN contributor and fashion consultant Roland Martin...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: ... still with us in the room. He's helping Erick out with a little color.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: I had to give him a little color there. You know, come on. Come on. I'm from Texas!

KING: The former president, Bill Clinton, talked to our Wolf Blitzer at a time -- it's a family event, a Time event or a Time Warner event. It's a family, Time Warner family event in South Africa. And the question was, Has President Obama -- is he -- is it fair to criticize President Obama for not getting more emotional about things like the gulf oil spill. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I personally think it's a bum rap. That is, you know, we're -- he and I grew up in different cultures. We're different generations. We express ourselves in different ways. He is a brilliant, articulate, and I think, exceedingly empathetic person. But his whole -- and look, when he got into politics, he didn't want to sound like a fire- eating preacher for fear of being racially stereotyped. I mean, he couldn't win for losing on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is that what is it, he doesn't want to be racially stereotypes, or is it just who he is?

MARTIN: No. Obviously, it's who he is, but it does speak to this whole issue that we have in terms of what some expectations for some people. When you talk to African-American men who are in corporate America in terms of certain things you say, how you present yourself -- look, you know, I've heard the exact same thing being on television. Well, how should you portray yourself? The reality is, a lot of people, they liked Obama, his style, his temperament while running. Now all of a sudden, it's a problem. It is who he is. And so therefore, you accept it.

ERICKSON: You know, it's the left who started calling Barack Obama Spock. And they didn't mean it in a nice way, particularly after the BP speech. It was all over Twitter and everywhere else, calling him Spock. They wanted him to care. You rarely hear conservatives say, We want an emotional president. It's what they want (INAUDIBLE) I just want him to do something. And thus far, I'm not seeing that.

MARTIN: All the criticism from the left, frankly, was absolutely ridiculous on this whole issue of trying to show more emotion. It made no sense whatsoever. When they were too -- when they were critical of President Bush, saying, Well, he's too much of a cowboy for all of his kind of antics, and they said, This is what we love about Obama. Well, you know, make up your mind what you want. Do you want the problem fixed, or do you want an emotional president? I'm sorry. This isn't the Maury Povich show, where you want someone screaming, acting the fool. Get the job done. That's what's more important.

ERICKSON: We need the George H.W. Bush "Message, I care" moment.

KING: There we go. That's the ticket. Well, he maybe wasn't breathing fire, but he got pretty feisty or at least emotional a little bit, strong words as he left the G-20 summit up in Canada, the president saying that now is the time to start focusing on fiscal restraint and on cutting spending and on deficits. Eric already is -- Eric's already nodding his head...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let's listen to the president first. Essentially, he says there are critics out there who say, Cut spending, cut spending, cut spending. He says, When I get around to it, you better be there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Next year, when I start presenting some very difficult choices to the country, you know, I hope some of these folks who are hollering about deficits and debt step up because I'm calling their bluff. And we'll see how much of that -- how much of the political arguments they're making right now are real and how much of it was just politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Politics?

ERICKSON: Next year. Next year, he starts it off. Not this year. We'll balloon the deficits more. You know, George W. Bush was fiscally reckless. Barack Obama makes George Bush look fiscally responsible. What's he going to do, send Sheriff Joe out there to start arresting Republicans? I mean, what are we going to cut? He doesn't want to cut anything. He wants to raise taxes.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, he was -- he was -- President Bush -- fiscally reckless, but you also had far too many Republicans who were absolutely silent while that was going on. They were voting over and over and over again.

ERICKSON: And the Republicans are replacing a lot of them in the primaries.

MARTIN: But what you also find is this here, that when President Obama talked about the stimulus bill -- one third of that, tax cuts, and the same people who were critical were running around saying, Oh, it didn't work, but they love the actual tax cuts. Look, it makes absolute sense, but you should call their bluff because too many people in D.C. say one thing and do another.

KING: Well, we'll know a lot more about what any package looks like when we know the composition after the election. How many more Republicans will here be in Washington? Because there will be more Republicans, barring some huge change. But we'll know a lot more next year...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: ... be happy to also take some of those pork barrel projects, as well, and they'll be saying, Oh, no, you cut, not me.

KING: All right. All right, so we bid farewell to Senator Robert C. Byrd, one of the proudest members of Congress, a guy who knew it like an institution. You may disagree with this vote. He had a checkered history, especially on Civil Rights issues, a bad history as a young man. One of the things he was most proud of was bringing home the bacon, if you will, bringing home...

ERICKSON: (INAUDIBLE)

KING: Here he is at Marshall University. He is celebrating at Marshall University a new biotechnology center. And let's just say he's happy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BYRD: Our efforts to construct this facility and create a stronger foundation for a biotech industry here in West Virginia began where? With a visit to my office!

(LAUGHTER)

BYRD: Yes. Yes, man. Yes, man, a visit to my office. Rolled up my sleeves to do the work in Congress to secure the federal funding. Yes, man, you're looking at big daddy!

(LAUGHTER)

BYRD: Big daddy!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

KING: (INAUDIBLE) see him like that!

ERICKSON: You know, most people die and go to meet their maker at the pearly gates. Robert Byrd goes to the Robert Byrd Gates of Heaven.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I can imagine a remix on YouTube of Notorious B.I.G. I like the way they call me Big Papa. I mean, he delivered! And what I appreciate, he flat out made it clear, This is why I'm there. And what I can't stand, when you have Democrats and Republicans who play this nice little game of, Oh, no, we should cut, cut, cut. But please give me my slice. He made it clear. I'm here to bring money back to my district.

KING: That is authenticity.

ERICKSON: That is authenticity. At least he was honest. But it's also part of the problem, where Democrats and Republicans have both gone wrong.

MARTIN: No, the problem is also with the voters, who love to get the money and keep sending them back. So that's what it boils down to.

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: The Coast Guard has facilities in West Virginia. There's no coast!

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Details.

ERICKSON: Details!

KING: Erick, thanks for coming in. Roland, as well, for the advice, the spin and the fashion tips. You're making everybody look good.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I'm a little worried about that. Gentlemen, thanks.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: How much do you know -- how much do you know about the Supreme Court? Pete's on the street. He's finding out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Elena Kagan before the Senate Judiciary Committee, big stakes for the Supreme Court nominee. How much do you know about the Supreme Court and what it does? Well, our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick, on the case today -- Pete.

PETE DOMINICK, "JOHN KING USA'S" OFFBEAT REPORTER: John King, happy Monday. Do you mind if I call you big daddy from now on?

KING: Yes. DOMINICK: OK. Fair enough. I wanted to go out and find people's fundamental knowledge of the Supreme Court, what with these confirmation hearings happening, and I got to say, I was a little let down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ten.

DOMINICK: Ten is incorrect.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Several.

DOMINICK: Several is correct.

Miss, who's your favorite Supreme Court Justice of all time?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thurgood Marshall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justice Brennan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

DOMINICK: Go (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nine.

DOMINICK: Nine is correct.

Can you name any?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nope.

DOMINICK: Come on, sir!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What about the -- the -- what about the one where the abortion -- wasn't that a big one?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I probably would say Brown vs. the Board of Education.

DOMINICK: And what did that decide, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That decided the fate of African-Americans in education in the United States of America, including my own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there are 10.

DOMINICK: Almost.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Roe versus Wade.

DOMINICK: Come on, sir. Give me...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure.

(CROSSTALK)

DOMINICK: You are right, sir. You've won.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know I have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, nor do I care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thurgood Marshall.

DOMINICK: Thurgood Marshall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twelve.

DOMINICK: Nine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are 12 total.

DOMINICK: Nine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Twelve!

DOMINICK: Nine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Supreme Court Justices?

DOMINICK: You got a smartphone?

Total?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nine.

DOMINICK: Nine is right! Thank you!

Why do people not know that, do you think? You're a lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because they don't teach enough of those kinds of things in school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're digging way into, like, 5th grade at this point in the game?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The separate but equal things. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) That's my favorite. That's my favorite ruling.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Well, John, I was a little disappointed by what I found out people did and did not know out there today.

KING: I'm just going to call that an "only in America" moment. All right, Pete, I want you to stand with me. Be patient. I'm going to have the guy split the screen here. I want to see if you're qualified to be on the Supreme Court. Give me the face, if you're the nominee, and you're -- you want to smile. You really don't like the question, but you need to smile. No, you got to show a little teeth. This is Senate Judiciary Committee. That's better. Much better.

All right, let's move on. Let's move on a little bit. Now, stay there, all right? Now give me the -- I think I'll take some notes. I think I'll take some notes, but I really don't like your question. All right, that one's coming along. It's coming along. OK. That's good. That's good.

All right, now, I know the cameras are pointing at me. I really wish I could go to lunch or anywhere else but here. If the White House is watching, you will be on the short list next time. Pete Dominick, we'll see you tomorrow for that -- Justice Pete -- I like that.

That's all for us tonight. Thanks for being with us. Tomorrow, of course, the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings and General Petraeus hearings. Come right here tomorrow night, we'll give you the latest. "CAMPBELL BROWN" starts right now.