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JOHN KING, USA

Political Foot in Mouth Syndrome; Off and Running; Campaign Promises

Aired January 20, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. A reason to smile tonight, uplifting breaking news from Tucson tonight, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will fly to Houston in the morning courtesy of the United States Air Force, we're told, leaving the hospital after just 12 days for a long-term rehabilitee center. Her astronaut husband said today he's confident she'll return to the Congress and just moments ago her lead trauma doctor told me her final full day in his care was special.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. PETER RHEE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, UMC TRAUMA CENTER: Today actually we were glad to say that we were able to take her outside and she was able to do her physical therapy outside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: More of that interview with Dr. Rhee in a few moments, you won't want miss it. Also tonight at the halfway point of President Obama's term, new details of his re-election plans including more staff shakeups at the White House, but up first politicians cleaning up messes of their own making. One is a Republican who wants to be our next president and who played the race card in a conversation about our current president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Barack Obama says no. Well, if that person's human life is not a person, then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say we're going to decide who are people and who are not people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tonight Rick Santorum explains just what he meant. The other politician behaving badly is a Democrat who was with us here last night to insist he had no apologies for comparing House Republicans to a gruesome Nazi propagandist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: The way they lied has been the same way that the master political propagandist of all time Goebbels (ph) said the lie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tonight though Congressman Steve Cohen, well he's retreating a bit. So how damaging is Santorum's misstep to his presidential ambitions and did someone nudge Cohen to back off the Nazi comparison? Let's debate the rules of political behavior and discourse with our CNN contributors from the right, center and left Erick Erickson, John Avlon and Cornell Belcher.

I want to start with Rick Santorum. A former conservative senator from Pennsylvania who's been moving around to Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, gearing up and signing up activists as he prepares to most likely run for the Republican nomination for president. This is what he told the conservative outlet CNS (ph) News, and to give you a little bit of a setup, he's talking here -- he's talking about President Obama back in 2008, was asked, when does a baby get human rights? And the president said well that one, when is a fetus a human being? When does it get human rights? The president used the term speaking to Pastor Rick Warren that that was above his pay grade. This is Rick Santorum taking issue with that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: I don't think you'll find a biologist in the world who will say that that is not a human life. The question is, and this is what Barack Obama didn't want to answer, is that that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says no. Well, if that person -- human life is not a person, then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, no, we're going to decide who are people and who are not people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There was a dustup about this I want to read you before we get into the conversation here. A statement Rick Santorum released today, essentially cleaning it up, dropping the word black person, saying what he was trying to do is make the point that there was a time in our history when blacks were not counted as full people and therefore he thinks Barack Obama because of that as a black man should have a different view about the unborn.

Here's the statement from Rick Santorum today. "For decades, certain human beings were wrongly treated as property and denied liberty in America because they were not considered persons under the Constitution. Today other human beings, the unborn of all races are also wrongly treated as property and denied the right to life for the same reason because they are not considered persons under the Constitution. I am disappointed that President Obama who rightfully fights for civil rights refuses to recognize the civil rights of the unborn in this country."

Cornell Belcher to you first -- you may disagree with Rick Santorum on the abortion issue, on the life issue. I assume if he said what he said -- was in his statement today about the history of civil rights, you would find it somewhat less objectionable to him saying I can't believe -- it's remarkable he said for a black man to say that? CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I would find it just a little bit -- I mean the former senator is making a really dangerous mistake of mixing two deadly things together in politics, that's abortion with race. And he's mixed them together and he's drank it and it's a shame. The problem -- my fundamental problem with that is that he -- what he's fundamentally saying is that because Barack Obama's black, he should think a certain way, and that he can't believe that Barack Obama doesn't think a certain way because he's black. That is fundamentally wrong. And he should better and quite frankly hopefully voters -- I mean he's thinking about running for president. You know I think even some conservatives will hopefully push back on this because you cannot say because someone is black they should think a certain way.

KING: Well Erick Erickson, you're plugged into the conservative community. Rick Santorum has had some progress signing up prominent activists and hard working activists in some of these states. Is this a setback?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, not necessarily. I think the outrage here is that anyone is treating this candidacy for presidency viably. The outrage is not actually what he said today. I think he misspoke, but I knew exactly what he meant in comparing slavery to the abortion issue of today. And on that I completely agree with him.

KING: John Avlon, Rick Santorum is moving around. He is someone who as people watch him move around say well this is a guy who has had some controversial statements in the past. There's debate about whether he should have used this language anyway complicated by his history where some say well can he be a credible candidate for president?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, I mean he is a strong social conservative who's a hero to the far right for that reason. But will that translate to a general election win -- probably not. I mean this statement is actually, we understand what he was trying to say. I think you do get in a very slippery slope when you start talking about abortion and making slavery parallels.

I mean the Dred Scott (ph) kind of parallel he was trying to make doesn't really work. Good people can disagree on this issue and I think that's important to affirm as well, but clearly Rick Santorum is running as a social conservative candidate for president of the United States for the Republican nomination. That's fine, but I don't think -- he's going to have a hard time converting that to broader appeals especially with statements like this.

BELCHER: But, guys, I've got to jump in on this. Again, you cannot get away in this country saying that someone because of their race should think a certain way and that you are offended because that person doesn't think a certain way because of the race. And Erick, I got to tell you on this, this ideal, this notion that abortion and slavery are similar boggles my mind. When you think about sort of what has been the roots and the evils of slavery and sort of the holocaust for my people -- the ideal that -- the issue that you would bring the issue of abortion in that and compare them to me is a little over the line.

ERICKSON: Well I think the holocaust of the millions of children killed in this country is pretty equal to that.

AVLON: Guys, just the holocaust is the holocaust. Let's, you know -- let's -- turn around here. I mean I think Cornell's point I agree with. We've got to keep our terms of debate --

KING: Let me -- I want to move on to Steve Cohen who was here last night and trying to clean up a mess of his making today, but Erick, first, you mentioned you thought it was interesting thing to you was they were treating Rick Santorum as a viable candidate. He was a senator for a big state. He has moved around.

But you in recent days have been part of what is a growing, it's still not a ground swell, but a growing effort by some conservatives to draft Mike Pence (ph) into the race and I take that as proof, evidence that you look around at people like Rick Santorum, who were trying to establish their credentials with your community. Maybe people like Mike Huckabee, who ran last time, who has some base but there's still some questions about whether he will go again. You don't see anybody in the field right now Rick Santorum included who meets your test of a true conservative?

ERICKSON: You know not really and it's not so much that they don't meet the test of a true conservative, but look at a guy like Rick Santorum he couldn't win re-election in his own state. Same with Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, I really think we need a fresh slate of people. We're drumming back up has-beens, many of whom couldn't win election -- re-election. Why do we want someone who couldn't win a re-election in their own state as the party nominee? It's not so much whether they're conservative or not. It's whether or not we need a fresh face and I think we very much do.

KING: All right, let's move on to Steve Cohen. He was here last night and the reason he was here, I want to first show our viewers if you weren't with us last night and you haven't followed this in recent days. This is Steve Cohen on the House floor, in the middle of the health care repeal day. Now he thinks Republicans are telling these lies about the Obama health care debate (ph). Now he thinks Republicans are telling mistruths or his word, lies, about the Obama health care (INAUDIBLE), but he goes to this length.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COHEN: They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels (ph). You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually people believe it like blood libel. That's the same kind of thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, he said that just days after writing an op-ed piece post Tucson where he said people have to be careful about their rhetoric because people on the fringe will seize on things and act on them, so he was here last night I asked him did he fail his own test? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So how about somebody on the fringe element on the left saying that's right, Steve Cohen, the Republicans are like the Nazis, when you say that, you invite that, don't you?

COHEN: I don't think I invite it, AND I think that people are looking for something. I think the press was hypersensitive. Certainly I didn't intend to do that, but the way they lied has been the same way that the master political propagandist of all time, Goebbels (ph) said to lie. Keep it short. Keep it simple and do it over and over and over and eventually the people will believe it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now we would like to bring you tonight the outrage of all the senior Democrats who said that what Congressman Cohen said violated their call for more civility. We can't bring it to you because none of them said anything publicly and they might maybe should be asked about that, but privately there was a bit of pressure on Congressman Cohen and he did release this statement today. I'll read some of it.

"I regret that anyone in the Jewish community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments. My comments were not directed toward any group of people, but at the false message and specifically the method by which it delivered."

Cornell Belcher, he compared the Republicans to Nazis. He said he wasn't doing so, but that's what he did.

BELCHER: It was unfortunate. And it's interesting because he's the one who's been out on front on this issue, sort of talking about sort of pulling back to civility and then he -- you can't compare Republicans to Nazis. I -- you know as much as I'm disagreeing with Erick, and I'm really fighting the temptation to go back to the abortion issue with him, he's not a Nazi. He's a good guy. We just disagree, but -- and this is sort of base language that he should not have used. He said he -- you know I think he's pulling back from it now. He did get nudged on it and --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: He got nudged privately, John Avlon. If the Democrats want to hold us to this new post Tucson standard, I've gotten a little hot air myself for saying we should try to be more careful. That doesn't mean they're not battleground states or targeted races, but we should try to be more careful when we can. If they're going to hold him to that why didn't they say publicly Congressman bad?

AVLON: And they should. I mean really for us to stop the cycle of incitement that we're in and this is just the latest example of congressmen making outrageous statements and doing all sorts of comparisons. The most important thing is for people in their own party to stand up to the extremes in their own party. That's where the moral credibility comes in. It's Republicans standing up to Republicans who make statements that are across the line and Democrats standing up to Democrats. That's the only way we're going to break this cycle of incitement going forward, so they need to do that. They should have done it. This is unacceptable.

KING: Mr. Erickson is speaking for the right. It wasn't quite an apology, but does Mr. Cohen's statement today satisfy you?

ERICKSON: You know we've got this thing on the Internet called Godwin's Law (ph). The first person to raise Nazis loses the debate and I think he lost the debate on that. But you know honestly I think to some degree that we're helping generate some cynicism by expecting a future where this doesn't exist. I mean 20 years ago we had George H.W. Bush calling Bill Clinton Tweedle-Dee (ph) and Al Gore Tweedle- Dumb (ph) while being caricatured as carrying a purse. Thirty years ago Reagan --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm OK with that.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Nazi -- Nazi seems a little beyond the line --

(CROSSTALK)

ERICKSON: It absolutely is beyond the pale, but I don't think we should be shocked that this is continuing. It's not going to change.

BELCHER: But really quickly, John, I think this -- and I agree with you on that, Erick, but I think is important for you to do, because if you all don't do it and don't bring it to light just for a little bit, it doesn't stop, so you know what, next time someone's going to think twice about using the comparison with Nazis, they will.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let's try to leave the Nazis out of it, Tweedle-Dee (ph) and Tweedle-Dumb (ph), you can object to, but it's not the Nazis. Let's leave that one there tonight. Erick and John, thank you. Cornell is going to stay with us for a bit.

Still ahead, "One-on-One" with the doctor helping Congresswoman Giffords get back on her feet -- a remarkable story he has to tell and House Republicans shift from repealing health care to the abortion debate. What happened to putting jobs first?

But next, the nuts and bolts of Obama 2012 and how Hillary Clinton fits into the next two years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Six hundred, fifty-six days and counting -- what -- you don't have a countdown calendar to the 2012 presidential election. Well they do at the Obama White House, which chose today exactly the halfway point to the president's four-year term to release details of the Obama 2012 reelect plan. It includes some shifting here in Washington.

Here's one thing to look at. Jen O'Malley (ph) right here, (INAUDIBLE) the executive director of the Democrat National Committee -- off to Chicago. She's going to be deputy campaign manager in the Obama campaign. Patrick Gaspar (ph) he's the political director right now in the Obama White House -- guess what -- he takes her job over at the DNC -- gone from the White House. Jim Macena (ph), deputy chief of staff in the government now, about to go to Chicago and join the campaign.

David Axelrod, the president's top political adviser, he's going home to Chicago, he will lead the campaign effort from there, and former Virginia Governor Tim Kane (ph), he's right now the Democratic National Committee chairman. There was talk he might leave. Maybe be replaced -- White House says today he will stay put and remain as chairman. So why now?

And since we know Joe Biden is staying put as the president's number two, what role will Hillary Clinton play between now and the next election. Cornell Belcher is still with us here in Washington. He worked on the Obama campaign last time around. And joining us is veteran "TIME" political correspondent Joe Klein who has a provocative column about Secretary of State Clinton in this week's issue. Mr. Belcher, as the strategist, why now? Halfway point in, a lot of Americans will say do we have to start this already?

BELCHER: Well actually they're actually not really starting it. But they are getting it in place, and you know what, these political campaigns are starting earlier and earlier, and when you say you need to raise a billion dollars for a political campaign, yes, you're going to have to start a little bit early, and that's sort of the hard truth that we're stuck in. But also Republicans from the last time around scared a lot of progressive Democrats because you know what, Karl Rove and his group, they raise a whole lot of money and they spend it in ways that we could not react to.

KING: So Joe Klein, now we've been through a few of these rodeos together and you might have worked in one even before I got here. Listen to Robert Gibbs at the White House today. I'm not saying you're older than me, I'm saying you're luckier than I am, that's all. Listen to Robert Gibbs at the White House today essentially backing off Cornell's point. He says no, no, no, no, easy everybody, easy everybody, we're putting the infrastructure in place, but the president he'll be governing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just because the president sets up the machinery of ultimately running for re-election, does not mean that you're going to see the president doing a ton of political re-election events.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But we are going to see the president doing a ton of fund- raising, are we not? There was a big meeting planned in New York that they delayed because of the Tucson shooting.

JOE KLEIN, POLITICAL COLUMNIST, TIME MAGAZINE: Yes, I think you're going to see the president do a lot of fund-raising, but I got to say, John, the thing that really is shocking to me about this race so far is how late it's getting started on the Republican side. I mean you have this guy who they've portrayed as a socialist, the anti- Christ, you'd think that half a dozen people would want to have at him by now, and would be you know spending lots and lots of time and money in lousy motels in Iowa by now.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Lousy motels in Iowa, how dare you? The Iowa Tourism Board is now -- let's give Joe -- put Joe Klein's e-mail up on the screen for the Iowa Tourism Board.

KLEIN: And the wonderful hotels in Des Moines and the wonderful restaurants --

KING: Much better, much, much, much better. So you write a piece, a lot of us talked to you -- there was the whole buzz will Hillary Clinton replace Joe Biden as vice president.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I saw an ad on our air today paid by some guy who is trying to draft her to run for president in 2012 -- that's not going to happen, but you know the guy has got money. He wants to spend it. That's good. You write this piece in the magazine this week and you talked about Hillary Clinton and there's some talk that she'll replace Gates over at the Defense Department and you write "all of which started me to thinking once more about Hillary Clinton's career trajectory. She's one of those politicians you can actually watch grow in office. She begins each new assignment quietly, studying the territory, making a few mistakes along the way, but then she gradually gains control of her portfolio and masters it."

And then you go on -- I want to read a little bit more -- it's a great piece. Everybody at home should read it. "Hillary Clinton's stature lends gravitas to the work of diplomacy, an art that was denigrated during Bush the Younger's first term and remains sorely undervalued now. As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down, as relationships from China to Pakistan to Iran fester, this is the moment for diplomacy to be restored to center change -- center stage -- excuse me -- as senior partner to our military might. That was Holbrooke's obsession. It should be her legacy."

You also write that if she went to defense, she knows the issues, she would have the respect. But you think stay put, which would keep her as our top diplomat, would also keep her away from the campaign?

KLEIN: Well I think that she's going to -- that's her intention, is to stay away from the campaign. I don't know whether she's going to remain our top diplomat, I certainly hope so. There really is talk about her going to the Pentagon, but I think it's a lousy job the next couple of years. It's going to mostly be involved with budget cutting and fighting the military industrial congressional complex over every last nut and bolt. I don't think that she would be particularly well suited for that. A guy who is well suited for it is Leon Panetta who has the national security chops now at CIA, but he also has a history as a budget cutter in both the Congress and the Clinton White House.

As for Hillary and as for diplomacy, as you read so beautifully, I really do believe that the role of the State Department is naturally more important than the role of the Pentagon. It's only when diplomacy fails that we, God forbid, have to go to war. And now, most of the biggest challenges, including negotiating and end the war in Afghanistan and really settling down Pakistan and India are diplomatic challenges. She's really gained the experience, she's getting good at it, and I think she should stay there.

KING: Joe Klein giving his two cents worth. Joe, thank you, Cornell as well and Joe, when we're off to Iowa I will register two rooms at the hotel so that you don't get put down the hall with the wet carpet by the ice machine.

KLEIN: Do they still have the Starlight Inns (ph) in Story County (ph)?

KING: I'll see you at the Republicans straw-polling (ph) names my friend.

KLEIN: Oh my God yes.

KING: A lot ahead including one of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' doctors, lead doctors who joins us to detail her remarkable recovery and the challenges ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Promises made, promises quickly kept is the motto of the new House Republican majority. Last night it was the vote to repeal the Obama health care plan and tonight House GOP leaders are pushing what Speaker John Boehner calls one of his top legislative priorities, the no taxpayer funding of abortion act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Our members feel very strongly about the sanctity of human life. We listened to the American people; we made a commitment to the American people in our "Pledge to America".

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The abortion promise was in that campaign pledge. But remember when Republicans mocked President Obama early on for appearing to put other issues ahead of jobs? Are they risking the same disconnect with voters? Jessica Yellin and Dana Bash are here with more on that and the broader GOP agenda.

And Dana this is your beat; you're up there every day. Do they worry about that? Yes, they're keeping the promises and they can have the "Pledge to America" and say here it is. We said we're going to do this. But President Obama said he was going to do health care too and early on when he spent so much time on it he had a disconnect with the voters.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a question I asked several Republicans today specifically, and the answer was, look, we're going to have debate after debate after debate on spending, on the economy, on jobs. This is something that from their perspective polls off the charts, specifically the idea of taxpayer funding for abortion. And look the reality is that this is something that for the Republicans is important to their base. There's a march for life next week, which is always around the Roe v. Wade anniversary. And they're not making any secrets about the fact that they wanted to get this done to make clear to their base, look we have control and we're going to do some of the things that you care about on social issues.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And there is also a difference with health care in that it doesn't seem likely this will pass the Senate. So it doesn't seem -- there are three measures before the House, they do various things, it's possible one of them could, but it doesn't seem likely, so it's not the same kind of protracted fight. They're doing this. Their base will be pleased, maybe they can move on.

KING: That's an excellent point you make, their base will be pleased because they have this fascinating challenge right now and when you watch them and when you talk to them, and we should applaud any politician who keeps his or her promise. And whether you support or oppose repeal of health care they promised to do it, they did it. This was in their pledge, they did it.

But they won because of the middle. Independents is what gave them 63 seats and when President Obama lost that middle because people said why? Why are you spending so much time on health care now? I don't have a job. The question is can they -- can they manage the communications challenge that cones along with doing what you said you will?

BASH: I think on this particular issue there isn't even a date scheduled for them to actually debate it. But the fact is that it is HR-3 (ph) on the calendar meaning this is just the third bill that they put out there. That's a -- that low number is usually left for very important high priority issues. So they're certainly are trying to send a message.

YELLIN: And I like -- your communications argument is an effective one because they have a challenge when you actually look at what the bills do. It's not exactly taxpayer funding for abortions. It's about limit -- it's very complicated. But the other side can argue that what they're trying to do is really just cut off anyone's access to abortion, which is what they started to do, and then you have this bigger abortion debate that could threaten to overtake the economic --

KING: And I want to show our viewers a snippet of an ad. These are running against three House Republicans who campaigned saying they would vote to repeal the Obama health care plan. They voted to repeal the Obama health care plan and immediately, immediately the next campaign began.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, POLITICAL AD: New Year, new Congress, same old Washington corruption. Spanking new Congressman James Renacci (ph) who took $79,000 from health and insurance interests just voted to put big insurance companies back in charge of your health care, so they can deny you coverage for preexisting conditions, drop you when you're sick, kick your kids off your plan, and jack up premiums. Happy New Year, is this the change we voted for?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's running in Ohio, New Jersey, Michigan. I guess we shouldn't be surprised that the next campaign began after the first vote?

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Exactly -- exactly and that actually -- this particular issue has been fascinating to watch from the perspective of how Democrats have handled it, because they shied away from it so much during the campaign. Now they think this is something that they can help galvanize their base on? Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, sent out an e-mail today asking people for money to retire his campaign debt and did it on the issue of health care. Just you know beware, Republicans say they want to repeal your health care. Please send me money because I need to retire my campaign debt. It's an issue --

KING: They're having more fun in the opposition party to a degree.

YELLIN: As well, isn't that always the case and this is clearly going to be an issue through 2012. I mean it's just not going to die and the Republicans are seeing to it and now Democrats are trying to figure out the message didn't work before. We're going to try something different this time.

KING: Jess and Dana thanks for coming in -- fascinating issues ahead. We'll keep on top of them.

Still ahead here, an update you won't want to miss from Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' doctor, but next it was a rousing call to public service.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Fifty years later to the day, Patrick Kennedy joins us to reflect on his uncle, his father, and a challenge he compares to President Kennedy's promise to put man on the moon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So let us begin anew. Remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was 50 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address.

On a day of tributes and reflection here in Washington, here's a piece of American political trivia. For the first time since the Truman administration, there is not -- not -- a member of the Kennedy family in the United States Congress. The last one to serve was Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the nephew of President Kennedy and son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

PATRICK KENNEDY, CO-CHAIRMAN, "ONE MIND" CAMPAIGN: Thanks, John.

KING: You just left. You decided not to run for re-election. As you watch this new Congress gear up, the feisty debate already about the repeal of health care, the spending battles to come -- you miss it?

KENNEDY: Well, I made a decision long ago -- my decision to leave Congress. And I'm glad I did. I feel good about my choices to go forward. And one of them by which is to mark John F. Kennedy's 50th anniversary of his moon shot address which encapsulated an idea of what was possible in America if we set our sights. In that time, going to the moon and coming back was fanciful.

Now, I'm trying to mark his 50th of his moon shot to say, we need to go to inner space, unlock the mysteries of the mind, and bring cures to the millions of people like my Uncle Sarge, who had Alzheimer's and others who have Parkinson's and autism and all the array of neurological disorder and say, let's do what he did for the moon shot and do it for the mind shot, to unlock these mysteries of neuroscience and free millions of people -- most of whom the newest population are our nations heroes, our veterans, our soldiers.

KING: Let's dig a little deeper on that, because as you know, as you start this effort, this advocacy effort, do you it at a time of dwindling resources. The federal government is cutting back mental health services, community health centers are always the first and second thing to go when state and local governments cut back. How hard is the challenge taking on this challenge at this tough moment financially?

KENNEDY: When we have a soldier caught behind enemy lines by al Qaeda or Taliban, we would think of nothing. We won't ask how much does that cost to bring them home.

Well, our soldiers are behind enemy lines now. They're prisoners of their war injuries. The signature wound of this war is traumatic brain injury. They've come home in body, but not many of them, they have not come home in mind because they're still plagued by their war injuries.

As Americans, we can't leave them behind -- not on the battlefield, but even when they come home, we can't leave them behind with medical research that if we went to it, we could save them from being constantly for the rest of their lives affected by their traumatic brain injuries.

KING: It's a conversation that comes up in the context of the veterans coming home, you're exactly right about that and the generational challenge the country faces. It's a conversation we've also had in recent days because of the tragedy in Tucson, that shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, your friend, the fatal shootings of six others there. Many are saying when they look at the profile of the suspect, he had some disturbances in community college or many people who felt threatened.

And there's a conversation much like after the Virginia Tech shooting -- should somebody have seen the signs of mental disorder of some disturbed personality and grab this guy by the ear and gotten him help? What goes through your mind when you look at that?

KENNEDY: Well, the warning signs were many for this fellow. What happens as a country -- our instinct if someone falls over is to help them and lift them up. But if you have a mental illness, if you act strange, we look the other way, we turn away from that. And that's what we did in this young man's case. And now, we're reaping what comes from ignoring these problems because they're so stigmatized.

KING: Is that a government issue, a family issue, a community issue?

KENNEDY: It's a societal issue because until we de-stigmatize wounds of the brain, suicide rates for our veterans and actually for our soldiers -- war soldiers took their own lives than were killed in action in the month of June. Even if it's just one month in the war, the notion that suicide is the biggest enemy we have should open our eyes to say, you know, everybody can benefit from us doing this research for the benefit of the soldier, but everyone will help and benefit from it as well.

KING: Let me ask you, your family has sadly -- is all too familiar with gun violence. What went through your mind when you heard about Congresswoman Giffords and the others in Tucson?

KENNEDY: Well, the impact on the people who are closest to her family and loved ones, I was lucky I had my father. I grew up with a father, my cousins didn't.

The biggest toll for those who are affected are the family members. And that's why I've always said, it's not a statistic of how many people are killed or shot or wounded, it's the ripple effect of all those people that love them. And now, America knows Gabby Giffords, and so, everybody's affected. And they know this is not something that we can just turn away from.

KING: Do you ever feel threatened or were you ever threatened in that way when you were in the Congress?

KENNEDY: All of my colleagues have, I think, really over the course of the last couple of years received a heightened number and the level of the threats than we have ever witnessed before in our political lives. I know that was the case for me, but it was the case for every one of my colleagues. So, the discussion about changing the dialogue is an appropriate discussion to have.

KING: Let's reflect on this day and the moment a little bit. Fifty years since the inauguration of your uncle, President John F. Kennedy. There are ceremonies around town. You will be at a big one tonight at the Kennedy Center here in Washington.

At a ceremony earlier today on Capitol Hill, Speaker Boehner, the new Republican speaker of the House, made note of the fact I just mentioned, that no Kennedy in the Congress for the first time since the Truman administration. And he had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOEHNER: This is the first Congress to convene without a Kennedy since the Truman administration. Caroline, there's still time.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What about Vicki Kennedy? There are a lot of people in Massachusetts pressuring her to run for your dad's seat, to try to take it away from Scott Brown in the next election. Will she?

KENNEDY: Well, she said no, and my cousin Joe -- you know, actually, my cousin Joe's son is a prosecutor down on the Cape, very inspiring young man, doing a lot better than I did in school, top of his class Stanford, Harvard. He went to the Peace Corps by the way, speaks fluent Spanish. If I have to identify someone who's got a perfect profile, and I hope if he ever chooses to, I'll certainly like all members of my family be there to help him.

KING: Patrick Kennedy, we appreciate your time on this special day and we wish you the best --

KENNEDY: Thank you, John.

KING: -- in your latest work. It's very important. Thank you for coming in.

The big U.S./China state included lots of promises to improve business relationship, and even human rights. But will these words be followed by actions? Fareed Zakaria joins us next.

But as we go to break, some never-before-seen images of the Kennedy inauguration courtesy of Life.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Chinese President Hu Jintao headed home today. While in Washington, he received a red carpet treatment at the White House, but a much more chilly reception on Capitol Hill.

So, was there a real progress in this most complicated of relationships?

I talked it over earlier down in our newsroom with Fareed Zakaria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: One of the things that is interesting is that if you look at these meetings, we have productive symmetry if you look at the words, China promises to let U.S. companies compete for more contracts. The president of China publicly acknowledges, yes, we got some work to do on human rights.

But if we have this conversation in six months, is there anything in the recent history of this relationship and Chinese behavior to believe those nice words will actually translate into positive action?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN'S FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, that's the real test, John, because, clearly, you're right. The summit has been successful at a symbolic level. But more than that, I think what the American side certainly is hoping to see is that the Chinese seem to realize that they had maybe overplayed their hand over the last six months in terms of the combativeness with which they have approached the U.S. on currency issues, on economic issues, but also the combativeness with which they've approached other Asian countries, South Korea, Japan.

So, will there be some adjustment in fact, not just in words? And that would take in two forms.

For the United States, crucial issues, the currency -- will there be some appreciation of the yuan?

And the second will be the issue which is actually more important of the theft of intellectual property by Chinese companies. American companies go and do all kinds of work in China, and what they find is their cell phone technology, their solar energy technologies have all been stolen by their Chinese partners. Can there be crackdown on this?

I think we're looking to see some small incremental progress on both fronts.

KING: But the American people, by and large, are sad, in some ways, don't pay much attention to foreign policy. But China does seem to be the exception. When you traveled in the campaign year, people often traced their economic anxiety fairly or unfairly, rightly or wrongly, to China.

The NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll out just today -- 20 years from now, which country do you think will be the leader? Thirty-eight percent of Americans say China, 35 percent say the United States. In the United States of America, plurality think China will be a greater power, a leader in the world in 20 years. That's stunning.

ZAKARIA: I think it's in some ways good that we are concerned about China. It is good that we are looking outside and asking ourselves, what are they doing?

The real fear I have is that we get scared by it. That it becomes, you know, an excuse for paranoia, for xenophobia, for bashing the Chinese.

The real issue is that we got to fix stuff at home. We can't stop China from growing. There are things we can do on the margin, even this currency revaluation. The Chinese goods are 90 cheaper than American goods. So, the currency goes up 10 percent, they'll be 80 percent cheaper than American goods.

The big issues are: can we get our educational system back in shape? Can we get more college graduates? Can we revitalize science and technology and education in this country?

If we can get the Chinese "threat," quote-unquote, to spur us to do all that, it will be a very good thing.

KING: One of the other things we saw these fast few days is the starkly different political symptoms and the different cultures in the sense that in this country you have the president of the United States, a state dinner, the red carpet, treating, you know, President Hu with great dignity.

President Hu then goes up to Capitol Hill. He sees two leaders, the Republican speaker who wouldn't come to the state dinner, who says, I want to talk to you about coerced abortions. He sees the Democratic leader in the United States Senate who recently called him a dictator.

Do the Chinese have a full understanding of the sort of differences in our system?

ZAKARIA: I think they have an understanding of it. I think they don't yet completely comprehend that, at the end of the day, the administration can't just steamroll Congress.

KING: Right.

ZAKARIA: It has been able to do so in the past. I mean, there's actually been a remarkably bipartisan approach to China from the point of view of the White House. When the White House was in Clinton's hand, George W. Bush's hand, Obama's hand, policy toward China has been roughly consistent. But Congress is a whole another matter. And the big question is going to be: can the White House continue to assert supremacy over China policy?

You know, if you talk to Congress, as you know, John, you talk to congressmen, their views on China are very combative, very aggressive. And is that going to start bubbling through because they're just going to feel like they need somebody to blame, unemployment isn't going down? And in that context, I think the Chinese might be surprised that the administration is not able to rein in people in Congress.

Remember, these are -- the people you're talking about are not rogue congressmen. You're talking about the two most important people in Congress.

KING: And that's our system.

What did we learn the last few days about their system and its evolution, in the sense that President Hu was at the White House, and he is talking about, yes, my country has ways to go in human right, and guess what, that was blacked out in his own country. CNN International, other Western broadcast, the Chinese never saw their president saying those things.

ZAKARIA: Well, you know, similar thing happened with me when Premier Wen Jiabao, the prime minister of China, did an interview with me. It was much heralded. It was advertised. It was broadcast in China. But Wen Jiabao was giving this interview to a Western journalist, the second such interview he had given, and then because of a few things he said about political reform, about Tiananmen Square, they blocked the whole interview on.

Now, the effect, by the way, in China is to make those comments much more important. So, that Hu Jintao's got that phrase that you mentioned, that Jintao said, we got work to do on the human rights. That will ricochet all over China on the Internet and mobile phones, you know, because the technology is out there. There's only so much you can do. And when you censor it, you make it the forbidden fruit.

I've never understood why the Chinese do this. They have a perfectly respectable case to make about how they have prioritized economic growth, political development, order, over political reform. They don't think the country is ready for it yet. They're going to make step by step progress.

They never say it. Instead, they get defensive, paranoid. They black out the few statements they make.

And in that sense, you get a -- you do get a feeling this is still a regime very much feeling its way to maturity. This is not the -- you know, these are not the actions of a regime comfortably in control and willing to talk about anything and defend itself to the world.

KING: Fareed Zakaria, thanks.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: When we come back, one-on-one with Gabby Giffords lead trauma doctor -- a remarkable update on her remarkable recovery.

As we go break, live pictures here. Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, this is a group of heavy hitters from the first Bush administration, the George H.W. Bush administration, gathering tonight to discuss the 20th anniversary of the First Persian Gulf War, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, the former president H.W. Bush among those on hand. We'll keep an eye on this event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get away than we would have liked as you look at it in retrospect, and the final --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Tomorrow, less than two weeks after she was shot in the head, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is scheduled to be flown from Tucson to a rehabilitation hospital in Houston, Texas. Her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, gave reporters a very upbeat progress report today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK KELLY, REP. GIFFORDS' HUSBAND: She'll smile at me. She'll do some couple of things that she'll only do around me, like pat me on the face. She used to do that before, you know, just very gently. I can just look in her eyes and tell. I mean, she's well aware of who's around her -- just, you know, just very aware of the situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining me now, one of the remarkable doctors who have helped Congresswoman Giffords on her path to recovery. The trauma center director, Dr. Peter Rhee.

Doctor, it's great to be with you.

I want to walk through what you expect tomorrow. We're told you're scheduled to take this flight in the morning, your time. The Air Force will provide the transportation to Houston. And you will be on board that flight.

Any doubts at all that the congresswoman is ready to take the next step and move into the rehab center?

RHEE: No, she'll be fine doing this transfer. We're confident of that.

KING: And what are the major challenges taking the next step? When she leaves your care and goes to the rehab center, what will be different on day one and day two in terms of the physical therapy and other activities? RHEE: I think the physical therapy in rehabilitation in this phase won't be much different at all, except for the fact it will be in his hometown where he will be able to resume his life as well, than just being here all the time. We've been very aggressive with all of the physical therapy or rehabilitation type of modalities here. We have our speech therapy person seeing the patient all the time.

Today, actually, we were glad to say that we were able to take her outside, and she was able to do her physical therapy outside.

KING: That is remarkable. I want to get more into the details in a moment. But she was outside today. She's standing on her own.

She came into your trauma center 12 days ago, sir, and there were a lot of people questioning whether she would survive. At that moment, did you have any inkling in your mind that 12 days later, she would be on her own feet, you would be taking her outside, she would be ready to go to the rehab center?

RHEE: Well, to be honest with you, I knew that we could keep her alive and bring her back to the state that she was before we did the surgery. However, to be so responsive as she is now, and progressing as well as she had, is -- has been very good for her. And I've been very happy with that process for her and her family.

KING: And so when you listen to Mark Kelly and he gives these updates. He says she's, you know, reaching out to him in ways that he knows that she understands that it's him. She's playing with his ring.

You mentioned her walking outside. We're told she's been, you know, flipping through photographs on an iPad -- the constant source of improvement.

Is there anything -- anything on your list where you say, "Well, we haven't seen this yet, and we need to see this to know she's going to fully recover"?

RHEE: Well, right now, let me clarify a few things. Physical therapy is helping her stand up. She's not standing up on her own, and she's not taking steps or walking. She's not at that phase at all.

So, with physical therapists and us holding her up, she's able to train herself so that she can hold her head up and she can stand on her own with her learning to balance and relearn all the little things that we take care -- take for granted. But at this next phase, you know, it's going to be time to see if she can start processing a lot of the thoughts, which she is doing.

We're all fairly confident that she's thinking and she's thinking well on her own. But she's going to need to be able express that. So, that's going to be a huge milestone as well. As well as, you know, when her arms and legs on the right side start to come back in a meaningful way -- that's going to be another milestone as well. KING: I assume, based on the constant and steady progress, you can make projections about what comes next. Can you look at a calendar, sir, how many months down the road? Mark Kelly thinks he's confident she'll come back to the Congress someday. Can you see that date on the calendar if things continue on the positive path they are now?

RHEE: I'm not that good. No, I'd love to be able to. But I do know that a lot of times, we're very disappointed when they don't make much progress in the first two weeks. And for her to be at her stage right now -- and I see daily progress -- it's very optimistic and very happy and positive about that fact.

You know, what she's going to be doing in two months and then six months and a year from now, that's really difficult to say, and I don't want to be that prognostic on that.

KING: You talk about the increased progress, though, and her increased cognitive abilities, and she's beginning -- well, we assume and hope and pray -- to get her legs underneath her as well. Does she have any idea yet, Dr. Rhee, what happened?

RHEE: You know, it's hard to say. I think her husband has discussed the details of what has occurred to a degree -- how much she remembers, how much she chooses to remember, we don't know. We can only speculate at this time period.

But we didn't really go through a full briefing to sort of say exactly what happened. But I think her husband has mentioned to her she has been shot and she is in the hospital. So, she can probably put some of those information together on her own.

KING: Dr. Rhee, we thank you for your time tonight, and we thank you and all of your colleagues for your remarkable, truly remarkable work over the past 12 days.

RHEE: My pleasure.

KING: Thank you, sir.

Pete Dominick is next. As we go to break, look at this photograph just posted on Gabby Giffords' Facebook page. Her husband Mark Kelly posted this photo. The caption he wrote is: "Gabby got one last look at the Catalina Mountains today before her trek to Houston." Remarkable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Pete Dominick, I'm told, fascinated by the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Pete, you got a question?

PETE DOMINICK, UPBEAT REPORTER: I do, John King. You're the journalist here. I've tried to pretend to be a journalist all day doing my research. Usually when these world leaders come to visit the president, they bring their wives, right? I know that Chinese President Hu Jintao is married. But I don't see his wife anywhere. Where is she?

KING: She did not make this trip because it was a quick trip. You're right. She would have been invited -- look, optics look a little odd. But that is his choice.

DOMINICK: Yes.

KING: That is certainly his choice.

Pete, I want you to stand by because there's an event tonight marking the 50th anniversary of the JFK inaugural. And President Obama is among those who spoke tonight. And listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because of that vision, I can stand here tonight as president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Nice.

DOMINICK: Very real, hard to fake that moment. The president very authentic this evening.

KING: Pete, we'll see you tomorrow.

We hope to see you tomorrow, too. That's all for us, though.

"PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.