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IN THE ARENA

Teaching Terror to a New Generation; U.S. Security After bin Laden; Bin Laden Raid Sparks Nuclear Fears; Breaking Up with Pakistan?; Near-record Flooding along Mississippi; The Politics of Immigration Reform

Aired May 10, 2011 - 20:00   ET

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


ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Eliot Spitzer. Thank you for joining us IN THE ARENA.

Our top story tonight, a bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. It says beware lone wolves. Individuals acting alone are the most likely to launch attacks to avenge the death of Osama bin Laden.

More on that in a moment, but first a look at all the stories we're drilling down on tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: Political capital. Getting bin Laden has given the president a little extra. I'll ask the experts how he should spent it before it runs out.

Then. We need Pakistan to fight the war on terror. But Tom Ricks knows the ins and outs. He says they need us more than we need them.

And Islamophobia. Is it catching? E.D. Hill talks to one of three imams booted off planes on the way to a conference on religious tolerance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: More on the terrorism alert in a moment, but first I want to show an extraordinary report that illustrates with stark clarity what is really at the heart of terrorism.

CNN's Stan Grant is in Kabul, Afghanistan. Today he got the rare chance to go inside a madrassa, an Islamic religious school. What he saw there is genuinely frightening. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here boys pray early and pray hard. This is a rare look inside a closed wall, a strict Islamic school, madrassa, in a poor Kabul neighborhood. Outside the day is just dawning. But these students, some as young as 6, are already locked in a trance-like rhythm, over and over they recite the Koran.

There is no god but Allah, they chant. But there's another lesson here. A fierceness lesson of hate. These boys' minds are poisoned against the United States.

Do they like the U.S.? No, they say. Should they leave Afghanistan? Yes, they say. We want our country to be peaceful. They are the devil.

"The Americans are making the Taliban and Afghans fight each other," this boy says, "and then they watch. When they see us fighting, Americans are happy."

It's a message they get straight from their teacher. The imam himself.

IMAM, OMER-E FAROOG MOSQUE (Through Translator): God says we can never be friends with unbelievers. What do they know about our religion? We can never be friends.

GRANT: It's a chilling reminder that despite 10 years in this country and hundreds of troops killed battling militants, the U.S. has failed to win the hearts and minds of so many.

In fact, young hearts are hardened here, raised on anti-Western propaganda. Here the words of slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden live on.

"We can never be friends. Americans are doing suicide attacks and blame Osama bin Laden," he says.

(On camera): For these boys this is the only world they know. For many of them it may be the only world they will ever know. They're not learning about math and science here. They're not learning about the world. They're learning only about one thing. God. Islam.

IMAM (Through Translator): A child is like a tree. It will give fruit. When children come to see me I train them the right way.

GRANT (voice-over): That way is the way of strict Sharia law. Girls are banned from the school. They told me women should be behind doors at home. To go outside without a veil, they say, is filthy.

They would fight for Islam. Indeed authorities fear they were being trained to do just that. Earlier this year, weapons, explosives devices, even suicide bomber jackets were uncovered. The previous imam is now in prison linked to a Pakistani Taliban network.

The mosque is under constant scrutiny. Even as the new imam denies any claims the boys were being taught to fight. These boys stand by the old imam as well. To them it is an American conspiracy.

What they say often sounds fanciful, what matters is they believe it.

"They kidnapped mullahs and take them far away," he says. "I have seen on television Americans putting needles into the chests of people and pulling out the other side. That's what they are doing to mullahs."

Like children the world over, these boys like to play with toy guns. But war here is no game. The enemy is the United States. And they believe god is on their side.

Stan Grant, CNN, Kabul.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: Absolutely shocking stuff. And that report does make it easier to understand how jihadists are born like the people mentioned in today's terror alert who share al Qaeda's ideology but are not officially part of it.

Homeland Security and the FBI tell us that such people can act quickly and efficiently. They're much harder to stop.

CNN terrorism expert Paul Cruickshank joins me now to talk about all this.

Paul, what is it that makes these lone wolves different, more dangerous, more threatening, and where do they come from?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM EXPERT: Well, here in the United States it's growing. Extremism here connected to al Qaeda in the United States. People inspired by al Qaeda's ideology. We've seen more than 30 cases of Americans and American permanent residents becoming involved in terrorism cases here in the United States for the last two years.

It was a growing problem here in America. And with these lone wolves, it's very difficult to detect them because they're not part of a group, they're not part of the network, they're not necessarily communicating with other radicals. So it's very, very difficult to stop them launching attacks.

SPITZER: So what can be done? Look, what you're saying, conspiracies always bleed information, you pick it up through wiretaps because people are talking to each other. A lone wolf by definition if he or she is acting individually. How do you drill down, find them and find out what they're up to?

CRUICKSHANK: What the FBI has done, for example, is look at high-risk individuals and on occasion launched sting operations. Also a number of law enforcement agencies here in the United States have now undercover cyber agents who are actually communicating with these extremists online and trying to assess whether they really pose a threat, Eliot.

SPITZER: But when you try to identify them, what are you looking for? I mean this seems to me where it gets difficult. Obviously if we have an ideology like al Qaeda's, you can go to certain Web sites, who is communicating there. But let's face it, these lone wolves often are not just radical Islam.

And so if the FBI, the CIA are worried about this, where else do they being to look?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, there's a warning signs online. It's often online. They're on sort of Facebook or other sites. They're communicating with other extremists in sort of a virtual echo chamber. And if they're interacting with others, and some of their rhetoric suggests they may want to try and launch attacks, or they're praising other people for launching attacks, or they're watching sort of suicide videos and they're praising those sorts of videos.

All of those triggered warning signs and more investigation by the authorities, Eliot.

SPITZER: And of course, Paul, those who are individuals can act faster than a conspiracy. It's just easier for one person to go out and do what he wants, and that of course is one of the great dangers of these lone wolves.

All right, Paul, thanks so much for those insights.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, officials are accusing the United States of violating their country's sovereignty when it raided bin Laden's compound. And now some in that country are asking, what if the Navy SEALs were after Pakistan's nuclear secrets and not bin Laden.

CNN's Brian Todd is looking into this.

Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Eliot, Pakistan's military and intelligence are under fire right now for not knowing about the U.S. raid beforehand and that's provoking concerns among the public and media that that those services cannot protect the country's most valuable security assets.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The speed and efficiency of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden reignites fears in Pakistan over the country's nuclear weapons. A senior Pakistani security official tells CNN the media there is roiling with speculation, asking whether U.S. forces could just as easily capture or compromise Pakistan's nuclear facilities.

The official says it's gotten to the point where Pakistan's top general, (INAUDIBLE), felt compelled to say publicly that Pakistan's strategic assets are well-protected. U.S. officials have never even hinted at a desire to take over Pakistan's nuclear facilities and that senior Pakistani official says Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently reassured Pakistani officers of that.

But the bin Laden raid has also fuelled fears in Pakistan of the terrorist threat to its nuclear weapons. Experts say Pakistan has got about 100 nuclear warheads. Where they're kept is a closely guarded secret.

What's not secret? The Iranian processing facility at Dera Ghazi Khan which experts say has come under attack in the past by militants. The Kushab reactors where they make plutonium for weapons. The New Labs plant where they separate that plutonium and the Wah facility where they make nuclear weapons.

I asked nuclear weapons expert David Albright about an eye- opening concern from the bin Laden operation.

(On camera): Bin Laden was found in Abbottabad, right about here, not too far from some of these nuclear facilities. What's the main security concern?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: Well, one that bin Laden was active right in the heart of Pakistan. And there's a lot of worry that he was trying to recruit insiders in these nuclear sites, maybe get them help to steal the nuclear explosive material, maybe get help on weapons design.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Albright says even after bin Laden's death, there's concern that if he had designs on penetrating Pakistan's nuclear facilities, that he wouldn't have been acting alone. Albright says U.S. officials are likely now scouring the seized documents and computer chips from that raid to see if bin Laden might have been cultivating a network of nuclear insiders inside Pakistan -- Eliot.

SPITZER: You know, Brian, I got to ask you, though. Even though they may be paranoid and delusional, wouldn't it make sense for our military to be prepared to go in to prevent this seizure of those nukes by al Qaeda?

So wouldn't we want to have that sort of planning ready to push a button and say, we do have an enormous interest in preventing those nukes from falling into the wrong hands. What can we do to stop it from happening?

TODD: Of course it would make sense and those provisions could be being made, you know, as we speak. David Albright says, though, that would have to be -- mean a complete collapse of Pakistan's government and the threat of imminent chaos for that to even come close to happening.

That's something neither side is discussing in public, but the reason these questions are being asked right now is because the bin Laden operation has clearly shaken the confidence of the Pakistani in its military and intelligence to a degree that experts say we have not seen even since the 1970s -- Eliot.

SPITZER: All right. Brian, it obviously had shaken our confidence in them as well.

All right, Brian Todd, great reporting. Thank you so much.

TODD: Thank you.

SPITZER: The nuclear issue isn't the only factor weighing heavily on our relationship with Pakistan. There's also the issue of trust. On that question I talked a few moments ago with Thomas Ricks. He's an author and military analyst so knowledgeable that officials at the Pentagon have been known to call him for advice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: Joining me now from Washington, D.C. is Thomas Ricks.

Thomas, thanks for joining us.

THOMAS RICKS, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: You're welcome.

SPITZER: If I have read your articles properly you want a divorce, for lack of a better word, from the Pakistani government over the long term. You think they are duplicitous. There's -- you know, more subtlety to it than this necessarily, but so many of them are not willing to be open and truthful with us that long term we want to separate ourselves from us -- from them and if we don't need to supply our troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan, we can do that.

RICKS: I think that's right. In the short term we have them on the back flip, they're off balance, we should collect our winnings to the extent possible, get the information we want, get the whereabouts of other al Qaeda people.

But in the long run, yes. We want to back away from these people. People say you can't. They have us over a barrel. They're like AIG. Too big to fail. That's their bottom line, is they think we have nowhere else to go.

I think we need to show Pakistan we can go somewhere else. And if they want to go be allies with from China, knock yourselves out, fellas.

SPITZER: And what is the leverage we have? You have said -- I think it's an interesting point. We don't even often hear and articulate it. We can begin to warm up to India. In fact, we've actually been doing that recently.

RICKS: We can warm up to India. Remember, we've been giving them $4 billion a year in overt and covert aid. That's a lot of money. And I think there's a lot of sentiment in Congress for cutting off that flow of funds.

Here's a country that claims to be a friend yet harbored our public enemy number one, has been a very bad proliferator of nuclear technology with countries like Iran and Libya, and is making threats against us. Extortion.

This is not the act of a friend. That's the act of a hostile country. I think we're probably in the long run going to have to start to treat Pakistan like its acting. Like a hostile member.

SPITZER: Explain to me, what is it we want from Pakistan and why is it that we have become enmeshed in this relationship? What is the interest that we see in fostering it? And are we accomplishing that?

RICKS: Look, Pakistan says we're doing the best we can. We're an ally of yours in the war on terror. We just want to help you out but we are victims in the war on terror. We are losing money because of you people.

And I really just don't buy it. I don't think they really have been an ally of ours. I think they played us a lot because as I said, they think they are too big to fail. There two aces they think are -- they have over 100 nuclear warheads. And so we have to be nice to them. And B, they are the frontline in the war on terror.

But as it happens, they have not been good stewards of nuclear technology. They have the A.Q. Khan network and they spread it around. They still treat A.Q. Khan their leading nuclear technologist like a national hero. And they effectively extort money from us in order to supply our troops in Afghanistan while at the same time playing footsie with the Taliban and supporting elements in the Taliban that are attacking American troops.

This is not the acts -- this is not the way a friendly country should act.

SPITZER: So let me see if I understand this properly. On the one hand, they have disseminated nuclear technology to the worst regimes to the world and they have harbored public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden.

On the other hand, they have pretended to help us against al Qaeda while they simultaneously provided safe havens along the Pakistani-Afghan border and on the other hand we've also given them $20 billion in aid.

So we seem to be getting the short end of the stick here.

RICKS: Yes, who's the chump? You're an old prosecutor. It reminds me of when a cop catches a criminal, and says to the criminal, are you sorry? And the criminal, yes, sorry you caught me.

SPITZER: Right.

RICKS: I think that's basically the foreign policy of Pakistan right now. Sorry you caught us.

SPITZER: OK. But now let me play the other side of the argument for a moment. If we were to terminate the relationship, and we're to get a divorce -- you know, as I said, for lack of a better metaphor, that's what you're recommending we get, wouldn't they then just continue and make it that much worse by sending that nuclear technology in -- with greater abandon to other regimes and couldn't they continue to harbor al Qaeda, the Taliban, et cetera? So don't we need to build this relationship with them, rather than just sever it? RICKS: We had tried to build a relationship for 50 years. And I'm not sure quite what we've gotten from it. I mean the fear of proliferation, they are doing it.

I think what we do know as a country very well is how to contain a stake that has nuclear weapons. And I think eventually we'll have to do the same thing with Iran. The things you do are make it very clear to them that if they misbehave, their nuclear sites can be taken out.

Also if they proliferate, there are ways of taking out nuclear scientists, engaged in proliferation. It's violent, it's covert, it's a shadowy world, but sometimes these things should be done.

If removing a nuclear physicist who is giving technology to rogue regimes is necessary, we should do it and we should make it clear to the Pakistanis we're willing to take that stuff.

(CROSSTALK)

RICKS: Right now we can't take those sort of steps because they'll say, hey, you know, it's an awful shame your convoys are starting to burn as they go through the Khyber Pass.

SPITZER: You make a hugely important point. If we were to reduce our force in Afghanistan to something in the range of 10,000 to 20,000, we would not need the supply chain through Pakistan. That would give us enormous freedom to negotiate more aggressively on all these other issues.

RICKS: Yes, and I think we could actually move to what diplomats call a transactional basis with Pakistan, which is no more money for promises. It's -- we want you to do this. When we see X happened, we will pay you Y amount of money. But no more promises. No more oh, you're such victims, and you should be friendly to us.

SPITZER: Well, it's kind of hard for me to imagine that our relationship with Pakistan can get a whole lot worse than it is right now. A word coming out today that we were literally prepared to shoot our way out after we had gotten in to capture or kill bin Laden, and not shooting at bin Laden's guard, shooting at the Pakistani army, without giving them any heads up.

I mean this has got to be a pretty sad state of affairs for as you say somebody who pretends to be a friend.

RICKS: Well, I think that underscores that the bin Laden raid was not just an attack on al Qaeda, but actually an operation against Pakistan's security establishment. I think they're correct to interpret it as such.

Among other things, we show that if we can do it, India can probably do the same sort of thing. And I think it's no accident that the Indians are -- that the Pakistanis are so upset in part because there are nuclear facilities near the town of Abbottabad, and that's something that India might have to do one day. And frankly I would be happy to see the United States help India take out Pakistani nuclear facilities and Pakistan engage us in blackmail and threats.

SPITZER: Always interesting. The world of diplomacy. Thanks a lot, Thomas.

RICKS: You're welcome.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SPITZER: Coming up, a live report from Mississippi on that horrendous flooding. It is getting worse.

And E.D. Hill joins us now with what she's got later on.

E.D., what do you have for us?

E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, coming out of that interview you just did, you know, I think here in America, we are alert, we've vigilant about any kind of terrorist attacks. We are suspicious of unusual activity.

But the question is, are we too suspicious? And we're going to have a fascinating story that frankly it left me questioning my first reactions. And I think a lot of Americans will listen to this and I hope start thinking about how we view each other in a slightly different way.

SPITZER: All right. Have we gone too far? Can't wait to hear it.

All right. Stay right there. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: People up and down the Mississippi River are being driven from their homes as floodwaters continue to rise. This slow- moving disaster could leave the region under water for weeks.

CNN's John King is in Tunica, Mississippi. He joins us now with the latest -- John.

JOHN KING, HOST, JK, USA: And Eliot, we spent the day here and it is heart breaking. It is heart breaking. We took by helicopter an aerial view of the damage and you see farmland under water. You see parkland where people say there are hiking trails and horses. People who've lived here for 40 years say it has never flooded. It is under six, sometimes eight feet of water.

We flew over one levee where officials are a bit nervous because water is beginning to seep underneath that. They're pouring dirt, bringing dirt in by the trucks. The Army Corps of Engineer trying to keep that.

We also flew over one neighborhood, 330 homes there. All of them under water. All of them destroyed.

We saw that community from above and then later, Eliot, we took a boat tour right through it. Sometimes we were 10 feet above the roads below, sometimes 15 feet, at times 30 feet above the ground below. You could reach out and touch the streetlights.

You could see that some of these homes at 8 feet, 10 feet, sometimes 12 and 15 feet high, still with water through the first floor up through the second floor. Destroyed, 330 homes destroyed. Officials here say no one will be able to live in them again.

Of those 330, Eliot, this is the sad part, 25 of those families, they're blue collar families, they're retirees, only 25 of those families had flood insurance. A small snapshot in one community of a problem being dealt with from Tennessee to the north of me, now south down to Vicksburg. They are waiting for it in southern Mississippi.

The governor of Louisiana warning today it's coming his way in a few days, too, Eliot.

SPITZER: Unbelievable, John, when you say folks don't have insurance -- I mean hopefully the federal government will step in and help people who have been so devastated.

It seems like there's been just disaster after disaster in this region of the country. And I read in the papers today about 47 feet the Mississippi is cresting above traditional levels. It's hard to fathom that much. How many more weeks can this last before the waters receded?

KING: Well, they say this water behind me will start to recede in three or four days, but it will be here for at least four to six weeks. At least four to six weeks. So that's important because, you know, that's a casino behind me. One of nine casinos. They say they are losing tens of millions of dollars. So it's not just the personal damage, but property damage. These communities are built on these casinos.

It's all the jobs here. It's also the pizza places in town. Everything else in town thrives on this. So the economic impact as we head into Memorial Day, the summer tourism season.

And you make an important point, Eliot, at the Red Cross shelter today, people say the psychological impact because of the tornadoes, now this, that people are really on edge emotionally.

SPITZER: All right. Just devastating. John King, thank you.

Coming up, President Obama traveled to the U.S. border with Mexico today and put one the hottest issues in this country back on the front burner. It's immigration. And we'll hear from some fierce opposition to it in just a moment. Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: Today the president stood at the U.S.-Mexico border and declared that immigration reform will make America more prosperous and create jobs. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should make it easier for the best and the brightest, to not only stay here but also to start businesses and create jobs here.

In recent years, a full 25 percent of high tech start-ups in the U.S. were founded by immigrants. That led to 200,000 jobs here in America.

I'm glad those jobs are here. I want to see more of them created in this country.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

SPITZER: But it's possible the president had one job in particular on his mind. His own. Immigration reform is a major issue for Hispanic voters and Hispanic voters a key voting block in critical swing states may hold the key to President Obama's reelection campaign.

Look at the numbers. In Colorado, Hispanics represent 13 percent of eligible voters. In Nevada 14 percent. Arizona almost 1 in 5 eligible voters are Hispanic. And in New Mexico the number is 38 percent. All together, 31 electoral votes at stake in those swing states.

Joining me tonight from Washington to discuss the president's immigration push, two members of Congress with very different views.

Representative Luis Gutierrez is an advocate for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country. And Representative Ed Royce is a proponent of strong enforcement and a safe and secure border.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining me. Let me begin by putting up on the screen so folks can see what the president actually proposed today. A couple of quick points. One he said, secure the borders and enforce the law. And he has been doing that with more arrests, more folks on the border, National Guard and others, to ensure that there are fewer folks crossing the border illegally.

Second, target employers who hire illegals, again more prosecutions there than in the past. Third, pass the Dream Act which creates a road to citizenship for kids who were brought in illegally by their parents but the kids who are now in college or in the armed forces would be given a pass to citizenship, something that the president believes in and almost passed Congress last year.

And finally, for current illegal immigrants, pay the taxes, pay a fee, learn English, and then get to the back of the line for legal immigration.

Congressman Royce, since you're an opponent of what the president has been saying for, what in that list of proposals do you disagree with?

REP. ED ROYCE (R), HOUSE IMMIGRATION REFORM CAUCUS: Well, here's the difficulty. The proposals that you laid out were basically the arrangement the last time that we did amnesty in the United States Congress.

We did amnesty and the consequences of it was that it wasn't followed up with enforcement and once we did the amnesty, there was a great deal of abuse of that. Because the cartels controlled the process of the phony documentation. So a lot of people come in and take advantage of it.

To do it right now when unemployment is so high in the United States would be really a disservice to working Americans.

SPITZER: Congressman, I understand obviously this issue gets all the more tender when unemployment is this high, and as devastating as it is right now. But you said these were, in fact, the terms of the -- of the bill t was passed -- immigration reform bill several years ago, many years ago now.

ROYCE: Much of the -- much of those terms.

SPITZER: But let me ask you this. Would you agree that President Obama has been tougher even than President Bush -- and I don't say this to be critical of President Bush -- tougher even than President Bush on the enforcement along the border with more National Guards, building the wall, and bringing the prosecutions that everybody has called for.

Would you agree that he has done that?

ROYCE: In some ways, yes. Border patrol agents, yes. National Guard that's been pulled down some. Work site enforcement is down 70 percent. So that's somewhat selective, but has it been effective? No, says the Government Accountability Office who say we only have 15 percent actual control, 44 percent operational control on the border. I was just down there to three border states. The border patrol tell me that the problem is that the cartels have operational control in many sectors.

SPITZER: OK. That's something I'd love to pursue. We'll get back to that in a moment.

Congressman Gutierrez, let me ask you this. You have been critical of President Obama for not doing enough to get the Dream Act through Congress and to put to use his administrative powers to ease up on the deportations. Does this speech give you comfort such that you will now be fully supportive of what the president is trying to do?

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), CONGRESSIONAL HISPANIC CAUCUS: Sure. I'm happy the president gave the speech today. But as you've just heard from Congressman Royce and Eric Cantor, the majority leader, they should be declared any movement on comprehensive immigration reform dead. This other -- the very governor, Republican Governor Perry won't even welcome the president of the United States to the state of Texas.

So I think you saw how cold and reactionary the Republican Party is. We've already -- if the president's move today was to show immigrant voters, Latino voters that there is no welcome mat out for our community, then he accomplished his feat. But I think more important, Eliot, is the following.

Look, the president has broad discretionary powers. We're going to graduate 65,000 young men and women who came here at a young and tender age. They're going to graduate. Some of them are class valedictorians. And you know what, they've been admitted to Harvard and Yale and to fine prestigious universities. We've got soldiers being sent to Afghanistan, to Iraq, probably going to defend. They've got their wives with orders of deportation.

SPITZER: Congressman --

GUTIERREZ: And so what I'm saying is why doesn't the president use his discretionary powers so that we can bring some relief and some fairness and justice in terms of the application of our laws?

SPITZER: Well, that's the question I have for you, Congressman. Are going to keep the president's feet to the fire and is there a particular benchmark that you have set to say to the president unless you cut back on the deportations, unless you somehow take this specific step, I, Congressman Gutierrez, a powerful voice in the immigrant community, a powerful voice in the Latino community, am going to withhold my support in next year's presidential race, something you've threatened to do in the past. What is the benchmark you will use to determine the president whether the president is living up to his pledge to you?

GUTIERREZ: Look, Eliot, the president of the United States met with us last Tuesday. He agreed to consider several administrative relief measures that he can take. So he's admitted that he has that discretionary power.

The decision is going to be made on the basis of the following. How broad and how generous is the president going to be in his execution of his discretion? That is yet to be seen. I am very, very hopeful given that meeting that he can say, you know, American citizen children, maybe we shouldn't be knocking on the doors of homes early in the morning and snatching those children from the arms of their mothers.

SPITZER: All right.

GUTIERREZ: I think there is a sense of fairness and justice and the president, they began a campaign.

SPITZER: OK, Congressman --

GUTIERREZ: I hope he executes it.

SPITZER: Let me get back to Congressman Royce here. Congressman Royce, what if the president does ease off using his administrative powers as Congressman Gutierrez wants him to do? How will you and the Republican leadership react? And second, we don't have much time left, the Dream Act. A lot of people say it is basic decency, fairness. Kids were brought in at the tender age of six months or a year. They did nothing wrong? Could you agree that they, if they are in college, in the military, they should be given a path to citizenship? Is that a point of common purpose here?

ROYCE: Well, certainly in the military and frankly I think there is an area to come into an agreement here. And I think a lot of it has to do with the question of this e-verify program. If that were made mandatory, this is our concern right now. What it means is that employers would have to check basically with the government and could only hire somebody who was basically here, legally in the United States. If that were done, you see, then a lot of our concerns would be taken care of. But as I've shared with you, I mean, the real polling shows that there a billion people in the world who would like to come to the United States. We've got seven billion Americans just trying to find jobs as I said in manufacturing and services that can't find those jobs right now. So from a practical standpoint, we've got to get this solved and our friends on the other side of the aisle, you know, it's always been -- give us an amnesty. We did that in the '80s. We never got the control.

SPITZER: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

SPITZER: Guys, I hate to do this, time is up. This is not going to be resolved tonight. Unfortunately, all I can say is we will have you back. Fascinating conversation. Important for the future of our economy and as the president said, this is what our nation is all about. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, we are all immigrants in this nation.

All right. Congressman Gutierrez, Congressman Royce, thank you so much for being here tonight.

Up next, if killing bin Laden didn't rally the country behind the president, can anything? That story next. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: We are a country divided. Even after a usually successful week, one in which virtually everyone felt a sense of victory over the death of Osama bin Laden, we are now rallying around common American ideals. We are not rallying around common ideals. Instead, Washington is split and the infighting is increasing. Are we facing an ideological divide splitting America in two?

Joining me now are Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of reason.com, and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation."

All right, Nick, do you agree or disagree we are fundamentally divided and there is not the core set of principles that used to bind us together? NICK GILLESPIE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, REASON.COM & REASON.TV: Yes, I disagree. I think that Democrats and Republicans are fundamentally divided and that what we're witnessing is all the polls show this whether it's the Harris poll or dot.Roper or Gallup, Reason Foundation and the Group Foundation in California (ph) just came out with a poll, they show a growth in independents. Independents are people who decline to say I'm a Republican or I'm a Democrat, I'm a liberal or I'm conservative. That's where all the growth is. That's where the power (ph) is. In our poll which you can find at reason.com, 80 percent of Americans are now saying that they would consider voting for an independent candidate or a third party --

SPITZER: Let me address it just before I get to Katrina. The fact that there is a repository in the middle does not mean that the politics nonetheless has moved to either -- Katrina.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, "THE NATION": But, you know, I think -- let's take one example. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan. Inside the beltway among the elites, they thought it was a swell plan. He took it out to the country and it got walloped. Why? Because I believe there's a fundamental disconnect between the elites inside the beltway and a lot of how people are living. I think their fundamental -- there's an American majority which doesn't get on cable TV and we would agree on things like cutting the defense budget for wasteful programs, for wars we shouldn't be fighting. We might not agree, but you want to tax the richest in corporations to make up for the deficit and invest in this country. Those are majority positions which I don't think --

SPITZER: Katrina, let me try to restate the principle then. What you're saying we can agree on this, there is a divide, an ideological divide within the elites who love the back and forth and the battle. But you're saying within the mass of the public, there still is a core set of principles around which we coalesce.

GILLESPIE: It may not be principles but its positions on (INAUDIBLE). You know the political scientist has been charting for 20 years how on issues things that are supposed to be divisive like abortion, gay marriage, drug legalization. There's a growing consensus in America where people are pretty comfortable with it.

SPITZER: Let's see if we can see that consensus might be there. I hope that's right. Let's take one we were just talking about a couple of minutes ago. Immigration is maybe this is the most divisive. It evokes all sorts of passion. What are the core points of agreement you think, Katrina, on immigration.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, this is where I think Representative Gutierrez spoke. There's a moral core, there's a political core. And I think the core is a comprehensive path to citizenship. And I think there's -- well, I think and also to give rights to those who have come here as students.

GILLESPIE: Sure.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But you know, more important, there are fundamental rights which here Nick and I may disagree, which are on the table to be repealed. Collective bargaining has majority support in this country --

SPITZER: OK.

VANDEN HEUVEL: -- and we've seen it as the onslaught in Wisconsin and other states. Those are fundamental 20th century --

GILLESPIE: But if we're talking about immigration, this is what we hear.

SPITZER: One second.

GILLESPIE: Pew Research Center last week came out with a new typology, a very interesting set of surveys of what types of people are out there. What are their politics? There were seven types including staunch conservatives to people who were totally alienated. The lowest percentage of people saying that they didn't want a path to citizenship for illegals who are in the country was 49 percent. Those were staunch conservatives. Overall, something like 72 percent of Americans want a path to citizenship for people who are already here in an undocumented or illegal fashion.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But let me --

GILLESPIE: A huge consensus.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Let me step back for a moment.

GILLESPIE: And you never see Obama or the Republicans say, you know what, yes, the people who are here, let's make them citizens.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But Nick -- but Nick and I would agree on one thing. I think we have a political system, an electoral system that doesn't allow for the full range of views in this country. Therefore, we have a kind of downsize politics of excluded alternatives and the media then leverages and amplifies that.

SPITZER: OK, you're just saying something very important. You're saying that our politics is designed to pull us to the fringes --

VANDEN HEUVEL: Fringes.

SPITZER: -- rather than it pushes. Would you prefer them to see a British parliamentary system which is, by its design, designed to generate consensus?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well --

SPITZER: Is that what you're suggesting?

VANDEN HEUVEL: A former "Nation" intern, Nick Clegg, tethered to David Cameron's brutal savage government. I'm not sure about, but we do need to open it up and we need a fair playing field. We need all kinds of reforms that you tried to push when you were governor. And because at the moment it is not a level playing field in terms of the money and corruption --

GILLESPIE: That the main reform of that would be valid access.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I agree.

GILLESPIE: But I would say within the two major parties, I don't want to see a parliamentary system more or less. Put it this way, it's not going to happen. I mean, part of the American experiment is this path, first path to a fair system that I think we're probably stuck with. But within the Democratic Party and within the Republican Party, very narrow alternatives. Although this is one place, I'm not a Republican. I don't play one on TV. I'll never register for it, but we just had a Republican presidential debate where fully 40 percent of the characters on the state said they were in favor not just of legalizing pot, but legalizing heroin.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes.

GILLESPIE: Who would have thought --

SPITZER: Look, this will appeal to you libertarian streak.

GILLESPIE: No, but what I'm saying is you're seeing in the Republican Party which used to be, you know what, we need flag, apple pie, mom, and Jesus. It's starting to split into something broader and it's saying no, you know what, there's a libertarian Republican. There's a social conservative. There's a fiscal conservative. The Democrats need to do this.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But on Afghanistan, this is an important point. It is a mainstream position now to find a way out of Afghanistan among independents, Republicans and especially Democrats. How is that polarizing? You know, where is the ideological division there?

The elites are not speaking to it. There's a disconnect to the fact that you don't have representation for that view as strongly as you should. And the fact that we would agree not only on that, but on even at the end of this week, we still need and we would agree on this, we need to rethink the relationship of the executive in this country to the constitution and to what kind of system we're going to have as a democracy.

SPITZER: OK.

VANDEN HEUVEL: The danger of becoming a national security state --

SPITZER: I just want to see if I can articulate the consensus I hear here which is that the elite who play games within the beltway are themselves not reflective of a growing consensus within the --

VANDEN HEUVEL: With two exceptions, with two exceptions.

GILLESPIE: Health care was never that popular, the health care reform bill. And I'm not saying you can argue about the politics of it. It was a good job done. The bailouts, the auto bailouts and the Wall Street bailouts wildly unpopular among the vox populi. They had --

VANDEN HEUVEL: The recovery program was popular.

GILLESPIE: But they had no voice, they had no voice in the electoral system because it's like if your choices are between John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, you know, most of America is living well within that --

VANDEN HEUVEL: Right, let me close out. I do believe there is representation inside the beltway and it's not extreme.

SPITZER: Who is it? Who is it?

VANDEN HEUVEL: The progressive caucus which put out a people's budget which is fair did not get attention because the media slighted it and marginalized it. That is a mainstream budget.

SPITZER: One second, you'll get your turn.

VANDEN HEUVEL: No, but I do think, when Bernie Sanders and McDermott put forth a Medicare for all, that is a majority position.

SPITZER: Just so it's clear, I want to describe it, called for taxing the rich, closing all the loopholes for corporate America, deep cuts in defense spending and reserving the social networks. But you didn't like this.

GILLESPIE: No, no, no. The reason it didn't get attention is because there are no numbers in the ledger (ph) when it was released.

SPITZER: That's all we have time for. The name of one person inside the beltway you think captures what you're talking about?

GILLESPIE: I think Rand Paul does. And I think Rand Paul -- no, Rand Paul --

SPITZER: I just said that's why there's no consensus. All right.

(CROSSTALK)

SPITZER: All right. Nick Gillespie, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, thanks for your time as always. Fascinating stuff.

Coming up, can't fly because he's Muslim. E.D. Hill has an exclusive interview with an imam who was barred from his flight. When we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, some of these facts, we got two sets of imams, Muslim clerics flying from different cities, one set from New York, the other for Memphis. And they're both trying to get to Charlotte. They are on different airlines but all are yanked off their flights. The irony? They're trying to get to a conference on Islamophobia. Coincidence or discrimination. Joining me now is one of those men, Imam Al Amin Abdul Latif in his first national TV interview and his lawyer, Mo Idlibi, who is representing all four imams and he joins us from Charlotte.

Thank you both.

IMAM AL AMIN ABDUL LATIF, BARRED FROM BOARDING HIS FLIGHT: Thanks for having us, E.D.

HILL: Let me just go through some of the facts of this case because it's pretty complicated. You go to LaGuardia airport, you go through security, I believe even secondary security and you get to the gate. The TSA comes up and says, well, let's check that boarding pass again because there's a slight variation. You've got an initial on one of the I.D.s and the full middle name on the other. But they look at it and say oh, you're fine, clear, go on. They let your son, also an imam in the New York state correctional system, onto the plane but when you try to board they say no, head back to the ticket counter. And you go down there and while you are there, the plane moves away then comes back to the gate and they take your son and his luggage off. They then rebook your son for the next day, tell you to buy a new ticket, you do. And when you come back to the airport the next day, they still have an issue with it and won't let you on the plane. Is that about right?

LATIF: That's about right.

HILL: Why do you think this happened?

LATIF: You know, in the name of our beloved and merciful -- again, I'm still trying to figure out why. OK? I felt and I'm not taking it personal, I think again it's attributed to the ongoing climate in the country of fear, distrust and hatred of Muslims in Islam. You know, otherwise known as Islamophobia.

HILL: Do you think it is a hatred of Muslims or people are just -- are just worried, afraid?

LATIF: Yes. In some instances, it's hatred and bigotry, religious bigotry. And in some instances, people are afraid. You know, I think people, you know, the average American person don't really know. They know very little about Islam and Muslims. You know, they follow what the media say. They follow what the so-called experts say. And sometimes people give a distorted understanding of Islam, you see. And so it rises the fear in people. So there's a distrust and a fear.

HILL: American Airlines came out. They issued this statement. They said, "There was no ill intent on the part of any of our employees involved in this. It was a situation that just got very complicated very quickly."

It didn't seem like it was that quickly. I mean, it lasted through that day and into the next day and they still weren't letting you on. You know, do you think that people perhaps get nervous when they see you, they see the way that you're dressed? LATIF: In some instances that has happened. You know, people do, but again, more than anything I felt that I was targeted. I felt personally targeted because of who I am. I am an imam in the Muslim community. I'm very active in various programs, social programs, anti-war demonstrations. Civil rights issues. I'm involved. I thought I was targeted as a leader, OK. And I'm not the first leader that had been targeted like this, you know, pulled on planes. All right. But I'm not taking it personally because look, again, the climate.

HILL: Yes.

LATIF: And it must stop. It must stop. We must stop discrimination.

HILL: It wasn't just you.

LATIF: Yes, sure.

HILL: Let me just tell people what then happened.

LATIF: Yes.

HILL: Because it was a set of coincidences, frankly when I heard all these coincidences and I believe in coincidences, but not a lot at the same time.

LATIF: OK.

HILL: However, I was really surprised when I start learning more about this. Meanwhile, about the same time within three hours in Memphis, two more imams heading to the same conference also passed through two security screenings. They get onto the plane and the pilot heads back to the gate. TSA takes the men off.

Now, Mr. Idlibi, you represent all four men. I heard this. I thought two sets of men, two different airports, two different airlines within three hours. My first reaction was, you know, maybe there's something going on here? But the facts don't seem to show that. What do you want from the airlines now? You're representing the men. What are you asking these airlines to do?

MO IDLIBI, ATTORNEY FOR IMAM AL AMIN: Well, E.D., first of all, both of these cases are simply civil rights discrimination issues. The imams were not given any explanation by either American Airlines or Atlantic Southeast airlines. In fact, when the pilots and the airlines were approached, they offered no explanation.

HILL: So still to this point, they can't tell you why the imams were taken off? Why they -- one, the son was allowed to go back on the plane the next day. But you know, know, nothing at all?

IDLIBI: Nothing at all, E.D. In fact, you know, under federal law, E.D., we got to clear some things up. The pilots do have a lot of discretion, but they have discretion regarding safety and security issues. And rightfully so. Just because somebody does go through TSA clearance, some of the critics might say that doesn't usurp the pilot's power and authority. And that's correct but it has to be regarding the safety and security issue.

Case in point, two cases that also occurred this week. You had an unruly passenger and a flight going to St. Louis and he went to go open the door of the airplane. You bet you we want the pilot and the flight staff to take, to reroute that plane and kicked off that passenger. Similarly in the flight that was going to San Diego, there's a note where the word "bomb" was written on it.

HILL: Right.

IDLIBI: We want the pilots to t exercise their authority there. But in this case, E.D., the pilots and the airlines acted solely based upon race and religion and that's unacceptable.

HILL: Frankly, it's just that it's two incidences, same day, going to the same place. I mean, it was all these things.

So let me just ask you, there wasn't any unusual and I say unusual because it's normal for imams to be praying, but there was no unusual prayer activity. There was no chanting. We've seen this in other instances where people, you know, get a little sprite and they say, hey, there's something I feel uncomfortable. But there was nothing like that at all.

LATIF: None whatsoever.

IDLIBI: Not in either case, E.D. Actually with Imam Al Amin's son, when he was able to board the next day on Saturday, he was greeted by some of the same passengers from the previous night who mind you, you know, it took over two hours while he waited in the tunnel between the plane and the gate, not knowing he was put in the dark, not knowing what was going on. And some of the passengers could see this between the plane and the gate. So actually the next morning, he was greeted by a lot of the passengers and they told him this is un-American. We are disgusted with how you were treated and they wanted to check up on him and make sure that he was OK.

HILL: And --

IDLIBI: And some of the irony in this, E.D., is that the father and son were really excited about this trip. This is the first time in about 10 years that they were going to travel together.

HILL: Yes.

IDLIBI: And on their way to the airport, they were talking about their excitement and then this ensued.

HILL: Mr. Idlibi, thank you very much for joining us. And Imam Al Amin, thank you.

LATIF: You're welcome.

HILL: And just to make the point -- LATIF: Yes.

HILL: -- you and your son, American-born.

LATIF: Absolutely.

HILL: Thank you. We'll be right back.

IDLIBI: Thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SPITZER: Finally tonight, a personal note. A great man died today. Burt Reinhardt, one of the founders of this network, passed away at the age of 91. As president of CNN in the early 1980s, Burt worked closely with Ted Turner to bring this great venture to life.

Burt was a man of contradictions, a bold visionary who shunned the spotlight, a cost cutter who took a struggling little network and turned it into a hugely successful venture. But most of all, a humble man who changed the world of television and journalism.

We salute him.

"PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.