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JOHN KING, USA

Interview With Rick Santorum; New Help For Homeowners

Aired February 9, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm John King.

Tonight: a $26 billion settlement aimed at helping two million homeowners hurt when the bubble burst, but will it put the broader housing market back on track?

Tonight's "Truth" explores the politics of health care and contraception. The president's outreach to liberal women comes at a price with a critical swing vote.

And Rick Santorum is the man of the moment in the Republican presidential race. I will ask him, does he really believe President Obama wants to snub Israel to curry favor with Iran?

We begin with important news on the mortgage front. The housing meltdown took down with it countless homeowners. In fact, I'm probably talking about many of you. But today federal and state officials announced a $26 billion foreclosure settlement aimed at righting some of the wrongs. The settlement was made with five of the nation's largest home lenders.

Let's bring in our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, to dig deeper into this mortgage settlement.

And, Ali, let's start with the basics. What exactly will this mean for struggling homeowners?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Let me tell you the five.

You said there are five banks, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial, which is a subsidiary of GE. Here's it works. It's $26 billion and it's going to be spread out the following way. First of all, there will be no more robo-signing home foreclosures.

This is where this whole discussion started. If you had your home foreclosed between 2008 and 2011, you may be eligible for a payment of $2,000. If your home is severely underwater you could get up to $20,000 or an average of $20,000 in principal reductions as long as your loan is not with Fannie or Freddie or backed by them.

These are for private loans that go through those banks that I just mentioned. What do you get for this? What do the banks get for this? Well, the lenders get immunity from future state claims. They don't get immunity from criminal investigations. Homeowners can still pursue claims against the banks, even if they take either the $2,000 or the $20,000 in reduction.

And states still have the right to pursue criminal investigations. In Missouri, they have indicted one of the mortgage servicers. We just spoke to Attorney General Beau Biden in Delaware, who said he is still pursuing investigations. Those attorneys general who didn't sign on initially were convinced to do so because they retain the right to sue. Oklahoma, by the way, didn't sign this deal, John.

KING: So, Ali, two million homeowners -- two million who lost their homes, anyway, get some help here. How does this fit in? How big of a piece is this in what needs to be done to get the broader housing market back in a stable track?

VELSHI: Teeny-tiny, John. We're talking about a market that's $1 trillion underwater, probably $700 billion in straight underwater money.

The amount of capital reduction, the amount of actual mortgage that's being reduced by this deal is $17 billion. Some critics say a slap on the wrist for these five banks. But others say that until they knew there was a settlement, the banks wouldn't move forward and start to clear this backlog of foreclosures, which is necessary to get this housing market back on solid footing.

So a lot of people are holding their nose and saying, look, this was a deal that allows us to move forward. It doesn't move the needle on house prices. It does help a number of people out. But there's still a long way before this housing crisis is over and this probably needed to happen to allow us to move forward, John.

KING: Excellent context and reporting. Ali Velshi, Ali, thank you.

VELSHI: OK.

KING: A ray of hope tonight in the fight against Alzheimer's, the sixth leading cause of death. A cancer drug may hold the key to treating, possibly even reversing Alzheimer's.

The findings were released just a few hours ago.

To explain this important development, let's bring in our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. She joins us now.

Elizabeth, straight up, how promising is this?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: John, we have been talking to doctors this afternoon. And they're very excited about this. They say, look, this is just mice and it might not work in humans, but it is really promising in mice. And they feel sort of confident that hopefully something -- that it will work in humans.

And basically what they did is they took a cancer drug that's already on the market and they gave it to mice that have Alzheimer's disease. They found that it changed really important biomarkers in their brains and it changed their behavior. So you might wonder how do you measure mice memories?

Take a look at the cage on the left, the messy one. When researchers put tissues into a mouse's cage, that mouse on the left has Alzheimer's. He doesn't know how to make a nest because he has Alzheimer's. They then gave him this cancer drug. All of a sudden within 72 hours, he knew how to make a nest. His instincts came back.

That is a big deal. But again, this is just mice. And so it is possible that this may not work at all in humans. But they say that they really have great hopes and they're hoping to try this out soon.

KING: You say try it out soon. When would the treatment be available at least even on an experimental basis?

COHEN: Well, what's interesting is they're hoping to start trials in humans, not big trials, but little, little ones in the next two months where they would give this cancer drug to healthy individuals to see if it changes their biomarkers that would give them some assessment of whether or not Alzheimer's disease might develop.

So in the next two months they're going to do some work. But really this is probably years away from truly being available and FDA- approved, if at all.

KING: We will keep our fingers crossed, a step in the right direction.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.

KING: U.S. Marines in Afghanistan shown posing beside a flag with the Nazi S.S. on it. The infamous S.S. as you know committed unspeakable crimes against humanity during World War II.

The discovery of this photo comes less than a month after the world saw images -- and we want to warn you the image we're about to show is explicit -- showing Marines urinating on Taliban bodies. It's another embarrassment for the U.S. military caught on camera.

Our correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is with us tonight, the details on what happened.

Chris, how did this come to light? And what was done about it?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, they actually took the picture, John, in September of 2010. But it was when it got posted on the Internet that people started to get alarmed.

Just recently, over the last few months, when this really came out, some religious organizations have been calling for heads to roll over this photo. But, ultimately, I spoke with a Marine Corps official about an hour ago who said what the Marines thought they were doing was they looked at that S.S., the lightning bolt, standing for scout sniper. She said those two lightning bolts have been sort of an unofficial symbol of the Marine Corps scout sniper, not sanctioned by the Marine Corps, but it has popped up on T-shirts, hats, even some tattoos over the years.

Take a look at the official Marine Corps statement on what they determined after investigating this picture that the unit took. They said: "The incident was found not to be racially motivated. Those involved acknowledged that the symbol could be misinterpreted and is not in keeping with our Marine Corps ethos and values. The commander determined that disciplinary action was not warranted. Further, all Marines in the unit were reminded that any such behavior would not be tolerated and further display could result in punishment" -- John.

KING: So, internally, Chris, they decided no disciplinary action was warranted. Externally, do they feel any need to do damage control?

LAWRENCE: I don't think so. The sense I got from talking to the Marine Corps official is, look, these were probably a lot of very junior NCOs, a lot of corporals. They just didn't make the historical connection between that symbol and the S.S.

She even said -- sort of offhandedly, she said, I'm sure you might be able to go out in public, show those two lightning bolts, and not a lot of people in public would be able to immediately connect that with the S.S., nothing to the effect of that -- what you showed earlier, with the Marines, the video of them urinating on the corpses. That has gone all the way up to the top, with the secretary of defense condemning it, Afghan President Hamid Karzai calling it inhuman.

And that is now a criminal investigation by the NCIS.

KING: Chris Lawrence live for us at the Pentagon tonight, Chris, thank you.

Moving overseas now, more than 130 people killed today alone across Syria -- 11 of the dead are children, according to activists. They say President Bashar al-Assad is now using even more muscle, more firepower trying to stomp out the resistance. You hear the sounds there. The government says it's only targeting armed militants.

But one activist says no one is safe. Here's his view from the streets. I want to warn you, it's easy, you might want to turn away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a civilian house. This is where civilians lived. The pieces of bodies are still in here. These are bodies. These are civilian bodies. These are civilian bodies. This isn't the army. These are children, men, women being killed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's a disturbing perspective from the ground level in the city of Homs. We want to give you now the unique perspective of what this looks like from above. These are satellite images. This is the broader of the city of Homs. It has been under siege for months and especially in recent days, this taken just a few days ago, February 5.

Now, we want to show a little then and now. Let me start here. Excuse me one second while I stretch this out. Look on the left. This image is August 2010. You see a little traffic in the streets. If you look closely at the rooftops of the buildings, they're all in pretty good shape.

Now let's look over here. This is just a few days ago. Look at the tops of the building. You can see a lot of damage. Look right here in the streets, some sort of a burn crater here, again more damage over here.

Now, obviously, we're not there. But this powerful satellite imagery tends to support the accounts from activists that there's a lot of shelling and fighting going on in the city and a lot of fire. So that's just one.

Let me show another one just down the street here. We will pop this one out. A little bit then and now that gives you a perspective of just how under siege this city is -- again, look at the intersection. You see buses, you see some cars, you see traffic coming this way, traffic going this way, and again the rooftops pretty intact.

Pretty organized, looks like a clean neighborhood. Now look over here. It's like a ghost town. There's no cars at all, and there's damage in the roads and so much damage on the top of the buildings up in here as well. That's that burn debris I showed you earlier.

One last image I want to show you here now. Again, August 2010 here, February 2012 here. You see the tops of the buildings. You see much more damage here and a bit of a fire right in this area here. A lot of damage to the structures over here that you don't see at all when you look back here.

Again, we're not there on the ground, but these images do tend to support what you get from activists on the ground, that this has been a city for months now and especially in recent days under siege.

A fascinating way to look at it from satellite images taken from space. We will stay on top of that story.

And coming up in about 15 minutes here, we will reveal the personal e-mails of top Syrian officials. They were apparently hacked. And you won't believe how they're trying to spin this brutal crackdown to Americans.

But up next, Rick Santorum takes a stand on religious institutions being required to provide coverage for contraceptives in their health insurance plans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's the church's money -- and forcing them to do something that they think is a grievous moral wrong, how can that be a right of a woman? That's not -- it has nothing to do with the right of a woman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Rick Santorum is riding high, raising a quick million dollars after his stunning Tuesday sweep of Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado and now setting his sights on proving those wins are no fluke.

Here's one sign the Mitt Romney campaign now takes Santorum more seriously. He has his own letterhead for Romney press releases questioning Santorum's past support of pork barrel spending and raising the government's debt ceiling.

Earlier today in Oklahoma, the former Pennsylvania senator took issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Governor Romney's campaign has -- has been about serially tearing down opponents without offering any kind of vision for what he wants to do for this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Senator Santorum now joining us from Tulsa.

Senator, it's good to see you.

I want to go through some of the things you said at your earlier event today.

At one point, you were criticizing the president's decision to oppose the Keystone Pipeline. You said that would make the United States more dependent on foreign oil and that the president, then, would have to get that oil from OPEC.

And then you went on, sir, and you said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: So what are we doing?

We're throwing Israel under the bus because we know we're going to be dependent upon OPEC. We're going to say oh, Iran, we don't want you to get a nuclear weapon, wink, wink, nod, nod, go ahead, just give us your oil.

Folks, the president of the United States is selling the economic security of this country down the river right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator, you believe this president of the United States is picking Iran over Israel, that he is sacrificing a decades-long alliance with Israel to make friends with Iran?

Isn't that ludicrous?

SANTORUM: Well, no. Look at his actions, John.

Look at his actions, with -- the secretary of Defense comes out and says that it -- that Israel is planning a -- an attack on Iran, you know, this -- this is our closest ally in the region and the secretary of Defense goes out and -- and divulges information, sensitive information about what is -- what Israel's plans are then -- then reaps scorn on them and invites the -- scorn of the rest of the world, that that is somehow what a friend does. And then, at the same time, as I said before, the president, who fought tooth and nail against putting sanctions on Iran and only capitulated at -- at -- at the end.

This is a president who is -- who is not standing by our allies, is trying to appease, trying to find a way to -- to -- to allow Is -- clearly, to allow Iran to get this nuclear weapon. He's doing absolutely nothing, in a consequential way, to make sure that they do not get this weapon.

KING: It is a different thing to say I disagree with his policy, I don't think he's doing enough. If I read you correctly, what you just said, you think he doesn't care?

SANTORUM: I think he -- he is looking past Iran with a nuclear weapon. That's what I believe. I believe that he -- he is now -- and you hear it from voices within the administration, they -- the idea of -- of containment, you don't hear any of the real things that have to be put on the table that will stop Iran.

You have four -- almost 40 nuclear sites. The idea that Israel alone could actually take out those sites without any kind of carrier presence in the Gulf is simply, from a military standpoint, highly improbable.

And so you have a president who's now basically telling Israel, don't do this, we're not going to help you, we're not going to be a partner in this and we're going to have to live with containment. That's the -- that seems to be the clear policy of this administration, from its actions.

KING: I want to bring up another controversy that you've focused on a lot in recent days. That is the administration's decision to require Catholic institutions, other religious institutions, if they provide health insurance to their workers, to make sure that insurance includes contraceptive coverage.

You call that a violation of religious freedom, making institutions give coverage that is against their religious and their moral beliefs.

In raising that issue today, you talked about a former opponent, a former colleague in the United States Senate.

I want you to listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Barbara Boxer sort of was a dog whistle for me when I came to the United States Senate. Any...

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: Any time she'd get up on the floor of the Senate, I just felt this magnet to run and...

(LAUGHTER)

SANTORUM: -- she said women's rights trump religious rights.

(BOOS)

SANTORUM: Maybe we need to look at that First Amendment again.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I want you to address your response here to women who might disagree with you on this issue. It's a tough policy call and it becomes dicey politics. But to a woman who, say, favors abortion rights or a woman who says this is an access to health care issue, who disagrees with you on this issue, what would you say to her?

SANTORUM: I would say that you have the right to go out and purchase that product. No one is telling you that that product should be banned.

But you shouldn't be able to tell the Catholic Church that they have to pay for it. That's the issue here, is making someone pay for something using money from the church. It's the church's money -- and forcing them to do something that they think is a grievous moral wrong.

How can that be a right of a woman?

That's not -- it has nothing to do with the right of a woman. This has to do with the right of the church not to spend their resources in a way that's inconsistent with their faith. And this is not a casually held position. This is something that's real serious.

We're not talking about denying women the access to -- to contraception. They can go and get it. But we're talking about forcing a church, of which they happen to choose to work for, to -- and they know their positions in working for them, you're now forcing them, as a condition of -- of employing people, to pay for something that is -- that is, again, a grievous moral wrong.

No. The -- a woman's right to free contraceptive coverage being paid for by someone who believes it's a grievous moral wrong is not trumping that constitutional right of freedom of -- freedom of religion.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: More of that conversation with Senator Santorum a bit later in the program.

But ahead here, it's the company that helped capture so many of our memories. Did you ever think to would hear Kodak is getting out of the camera business? How it plans to stay alive ahead.

And the striking video -- a young boy forced to run nearly naked in the snow. No, it's not punishment. It's his dad's idea of good parenting.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: And get ready. When we come back, more with my conversation with the surging Rick Santorum.

When will the American public finally get to look at his promised tax returns? I will press him on that.

And Stephen Colbert has criticized her for years for telling Democrats not to talk to him. Now Nancy Pelosi gets her revenge.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In this half-hour: President Obama vs. the Catholic Church, a difficult battle the president hasn't made any easier on himself.

Also, more of my interview with Rick Santorum -- why he thinks having more women in combat isn't such a great idea.

Plus, you like tossing the ball around on the beach? Be ready to pay a hefty fine in one of America's sunniest cities.

Every day, sometimes by the hour, we report new horrors from inside Syria carried out by the regime. Now, thanks to some allegedly hacked e-mails, we're getting an inside look at how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his cronies are trying to spin the crackdown.

Spoiler alert: They apparently don't think too much of your intelligence.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's days before a big interview with an American network and Bashar al-Assad is being coached, to spin this crackdown, one aide writes, don't talk reform. Americans won't care or understand that.

The aide advises the Syrian president to talk about, quote, "mistakes," blame his own police. American psyche can be easily manipulated when they hear that there are, quote, "mistakes done" and now we are, quote, "fixing it."

Here's what Assad then said about the crackdown in that early December interview with ABC's Barbara Walters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC)

PRESIDENT BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIA: This is individuals. And that's what I call -- what I describe as individual mistakes.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: OK, done by the military or done by whom?

ASSAD: We don't know everything. In some cases done by the police; in some cases done by civilians.

TODD: That e-mail on what to say was apparently from Sheherazad Ja'afari, press attache at Syria's mission to the U.N. to one of Assad's press aides in Damascus. The hacker group Anonymous posted the e-mail passwords of top Syrian officials. Hackers like this one cited by "Foreign Policy Magazine" claim to have downloaded the e- mails and posted them online.

CNN has seen the e-mails. They appear legitimate, though we cannot independently verify their authenticity. The e-mail, apparently from Ja'afari, advises Assad on a quote to give: "Syria doesn't have a policy to torture people," says he can contrast that with the U.S. and mention Abu Ghraib. Referring to Assad as "H.E." for "His Excellency," it says, "At one point H.E. was viewed as a hero and in other times H.E. was the bad guy. Americans love these kind of things and get convinced by it."

AHED AL-HENDI, SYRIAN DISSIDENT: They think that the American public is very stupid.

TODD: Ahed al-Hendi is a Syrian dissident who says he was once imprisoned and tortured by the regime.

AL-HENDI: It is how -- what they told us at the school, that the Americans know nothing about the world. They really enslave their people. The worker has no rights in the U.S. And they really think so. They think that the American is easy to fool.

TODD: David Kenner of "Foreign Policy Magazine" says the e-mail reflects an amateurish effort to present Syria's case to the world.

(on camera) What is their current media strategy? DAVID KENNER, "FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE": Honestly, I think at this point they think they have lost the western media, they've lost the United States.

TODD (voice-over): Kenner says at this point Bashar Assad's government is more concerned with winning public government opinion and public support in Russia and Iran. Contacted by CNN, a Syrian official at the U.N. said the information reported with the alleged hacked e-mails is baseless, poisonous and illegal.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Getting back to politics now. Former GOP presidential candidates Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain kicked off the first day of the annual conservative gathering CPAC here in Washington. While they jumped at the opportunity to reassert their political swagger, Bachmann was humorous in admitting her bid for the White House was filled with, well, lessons, especially history and geography lesson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Running for president of the United States is really one series of humiliations after another. But it's also a very educational experience. And I learned three things when I was running for president.

First of all, I learned where John Wayne was born. That's very important.

And then second, I learned the day that Elvis Presley was born. These are vital issues to our republic.

And third I learned never forget the three things that you learned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A little dig at Governor Perry there at the end, all in good nature.

There must be something in the water. Nancy Pelosi also trying a little comedy today. The House minority leader targeting the complicated web of campaign finance law with a punch line: stop Stephen Colbert and his seven-figure super PAC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Stephen Colbert used to be my friend. I even signed the poor baby's cast when he hurt his hand. But since the day he started his super PAC, taking secret money from special interests, he's been out of control, even using his super PAC to attack my friend, Newt Gingrich. And if that weren't enough, I hear he doesn't even like kittens. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He doesn't even like kittens. Wow, that's a tough attack there.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is with us. No. 1, let's start with the attempt at humor. A bit out of character for the speaker, the former speaker, now the Democratic leader. She tends to be more -- a bit reserved.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's what makes it so funny. We see Nancy Pelosi as serious or even stately. Don't see her doing deadpan, especially when it's aimed at Stephen Colbert. But that's the whole point here.

In fact, her aides are hoping that Colbert responds on his show tonight, because they're trying to get attention. They're trying to get attention for the issue that she was talking about, which is super PACs.

They've reintroduced legislation, the Democrats, in the House today to have better transparency, to disclose who the donors are, the secret donors are for these super PACs. And they're trying to really push the Republicans on this issue, saying, "You say you want to change Washington. How about this?"

KING: They're trying to get political gain out of all of this money coming in, saying full transparency. If corporations can give, fine, but they have to disclose it to everybody. And the Democrats say they'll actually do this themselves, right, in the coming campaign, to prove they're behind this.

In trying to make this case, in trying to push for the disclosures and push the Democratic position, she walked up pretty closely to an important line. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: Democrats in their fundraising will be fully disclosing. And by the way, we're asking people to contribute to us if they want to elect more reformers to Congress so that we can do away with super PACs, we can do away with secret contributions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Explain why she was marching up pretty closely to a "do not cross" line.

BASH: And a "do not cross line" is that you cannot ask for -- solicit donations when you're standing on federal property. That is something that you see members of Congress leaving the Capitol all day long to go across the street and dialing for dollars.

Now she -- when she said we're asking people to contribute that they're certainly raising flags. We talked to a few legal experts who say technically she may have violated the law that says you can't ask for money on federal grounds, but her aides say, come on. She was simply trying to talk about the -- what they tell donors when donors say, you know, what are you going to do and they tell donors, "Look, we're going to disclose things." And she wasn't exactly soliciting.

And, you know, other people we talked to say it's probably not actionable, but it's still -- the way she said it, she probably would want to say it a little bit differently next time.

KING: And the way she said it the Republican critics probably won't give her the slack, and they'll probably try to make an issue in it. Thanks for your reporting there.

As always in a presidential campaign, you know Newt Gingrich released his taxes sometime back. Governor Mitt Romney did, as well. Rick Santorum initially said he left his at home. Then he said he finally went home and got them. Then he had an accountant looking them over. He'll release them soon. We're still waiting. Kind of like "The dog ate my homework" excuse.

So back to my conversation with Senator Santorum and the tax question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: I'm looking forward to the day I can stop asking this question. We've been through this for a while. When are we going to see your tax returns?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, pretty soon. You know, I had to -- I had to go to actually have an accountant take a look at them to make sure that I had all the papers that I was supposed to have. And I'm hopeful tomorrow that I'm actually going to meet with that guy and then we can get them out in the next couple of days.

KING: Get them out in the next couple of days. OK. Let me hear another one for you President Santorum might face. The Pentagon today is easing roles on women taking a frontline role, some frontline roles in combat as medics, as people involved in communications, perhaps opening the door to a broader role, ultimately, for women in combat. Good idea or bad idea?

SANTORUM: I don't -- look, I want to create every opportunity for women to be able to serve this country. And they do so in an amazing and wonderful way. And they're a great addition to the -- and have been for a long time, to the armed services of our country.

But I do have concerns about women in frontline combat. I think that can be a very compromising situation where -- where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interests of the mission because of other types of emotions that are involved. And I think that's probably -- you know, it already happens, of course, with the camaraderie of men in combat.

But it's -- but it's -- I think it would be even more unique if women were in combat. And I think that's probably not in the best interests of men, women or the mission.

KING: And I said at the beginning of this interview you have Governor Romney's attention at the moment because of your three big wins on Tuesday night. And among the things he said to try to convince conservatives you're not all you claim to be is this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: During Senator Santorum's time in Washington, the government grew by 80 percent. And he voted to raise the debt ceiling five times. This -- this may work in Washington, or it may have worked in the past. It will not work in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, I know you say he doesn't like to talk about his record. But right there when he was talking about yours, was anything he said not true?

SANTORUM: I admit Republicans made mistakes. And I was a party to some of that. But I think if you look at my record on spending it was better than -- than just about anybody there. We -- we never voted for appropriations increase. I always fought for entitlement reform. I led the charge on welfare reform.

If you look at Governor Romney's record, it's not a record that -- he doesn't talk about his record of spending in the state of Massachusetts. He doesn't talk about his record of exploding a brand- new entitlement that cost billions and billions of dollars not just in people's money in Massachusetts but in Medicaid dollars that you all across this country are paying for that are sending money to Massachusetts to subsidize the huge expansion of their Medicaid problem.

So, you know, Governor Romney has a pretty bad record on spending and on entitlements. We have actually a very good record on those two topics.

KING: It is a debate that has now intensified because of your success and one that will continue at least through Super Tuesday, perhaps beyond. Senator Santorum, thanks for your time tonight.

SANTORUM: Thank you. It's great to be here at Oral Roberts. I want to thank everybody for coming. We have about 5,000 people here. It's a great crowd.

KING: Still ahead, the truth behind the president's controversial decision on contraception.

Plus, a top aide to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords now running to be her replacement.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: At least no one is trying to pass the buck. Ask top White House officials who made the decision that set off a battle royale with the Catholic Church and the answer is this: President Obama.

All say it was a tough call. On the one hand advisers urging the president to require all health-care plans to provide free birth control to women. On the other, senior advisers who are Catholics, including the vice-president and the former White House chief of staff, urging some kind of exemption or loophole for religious organizations who oppose birth control.

Tonight's "Truth" can unite both side of the debate. No matter your view on the policy question, it has been handled in a ham-handed which. Now, Catholic bishops say the president broke a promise. Several prominent Catholic Democrats are warning of a political backlash. And they worry it won't just be against the president.

Tim Kaine, for example, is running for Senate in Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I think the White House made a good decision in including a mandate for contraception coverage in the affordable care act insurance policy, but I think they made a bad decision in not allowing a broad enough religious employer exemption.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Robert Casey is seeking re-election in Pennsylvania where the term "Casey Democrat" was coined during his anti-abortion father's days as governor.

Senator Casey says this: "Religiously affiliated organizations like hospitals and universities should not be compelled by our federal government to purchase insurance policies that violate their religious and moral convictions."

And liberals who applauded the president's decision chafing now that they hear talk of a possible White House retreat or compromise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NITA LOWEY (D), NEW YORK: My colleagues and I stand in solidarity with American women who have waited decades for equity in contraceptive coverage. We have fought for too long.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: "Truth" is, this was going to be a hard one, no matter what the president decided, just within his own party. Knowing that, it could have, should have been handled more carefully. Now it's messy politics on top of difficult policy.

Let's talk this over and talk truth with CNN contributors Paul Begala and Erick Erickson and Republican strategist Nancy Pfotenhauer.

First to the Democrat in the room and someone who knows Senator Casey very well, a state like Pennsylvania very well. Some people will say, well, if you look at the polling, and we have some polling. Let's put it up on the screen, since we have it. Among all Americans, 55 percent say yes, employers should be required, if they give healthcare, to include contraception coverage. A majority of Catholics also say yes. A majority of Catholics do.

Paul, but if you're in a 50/50 race in Pennsylvania, those conservative Catholics, the Casey Democrats, matter.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, yes. I mean, first of all the politics was from the polling that said never interrupt your opponent when he's destroying yourself. The Republicans are in a difficult primary. They're attacking each other now. I think it's doing some damage. So what do we do? We inject an issue that unites Republicans and divides Democrats.

Senator Casey endorsed then-Senator Obama early in the primaries. He's very close to the president. Governor Kaine endorsed Senator Obama.

KING: He was Democratic chairman for some time.

BEGALA: Sure. These are not disloyal Democrats.

And when you start putting people in tough races like Senator Joe Manchin, who's got another re-election coming in West Virginia, also has spoken with the president on this. These are people who, in the main, Manchin last summer but Casey and Kaine very, very close to the president, very loyal to the president.

So he -- this decision which Secretary Sibelius was driving. The president made the decision, but it has divided my party, united the Republicans. And I think you're right. It's taken a very difficult policy and made it very bad politics.

KING: Now, you disagree completely with this decision. But you could argue if the president knows a friend like Bob Casey, a friend like Tim Kaine is going to be mad, and he made the decision if he thinks it's the right policy decision you could make the argument, at least on principle, good for you, couldn't you?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You could make the argument good for you. The problem, though, is that principle and politics and compromising gets to be a very muddy business.

And when you have Catholics and evangelicals -- I mean, the president has done what Jesus Christ could not do. He has united Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox and Southern Baptists all against him. I mean, this is extraordinary. All these -- Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Southern Baptists all together against a presidential decision. He didn't have to go as far as he did. That's the problem.

KING: You say you're the policy expert. These guys are good political guys. You're both good politically and you're smarter.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I'm not saying that. KING: If you're -- if you have his position on the issues, which you don't; you're a Republican. But if you share his position on the issues, how does he thread the needle?

PFOTENHAUER: More importantly I'm a Catholic. And I think you've probably got a few on this panel which is part -- which is emblematic of why he made a mistake.

He could have gone with the Hawaiian approach, which has been discussed, where you made sure that workers have available to them easy access to affordable health insurance options that would cover these things that are so abhorrent and really antithetical in many ways to the Catholic church.

The problem is that this decision feels personal. So even as some might answer a poll and say, "Sure, I'm in favor of contraception. Or I use it personally," whatever, that is not the same as how they will respond when they believe a basic tenet of their church has been purposefully violated.

KING: What does it tell you about the political antenna? You've worked in the White House. And you've seen some good calls, some bad calls, some calls you'd like to get back. What does it tell you about the political antenna, to do it as you made the point. Doing it, it's a tough one anyway. Now you think wow.

BEGALA: I think it's basic policy to not drive this train. The president is doing what he thinks is right. And, you know, I do admire that. But politically, this just -- it can't help him. And now we saw it.

David Lowe (ph), a wonderful Democrat, terrifically loyal to the president, other Democrats. You could have a male-female fight among Democrats in my party, which is a disaster. We had that when Hillary ran against Barack. OK? Put it back together again. We don't need that fight again.

PFOTENHAUER: The best thing to happen to Republicans in a while. Let's just put it that way.

ERICKSON: There's an interesting pattern here that both parties fall into. This is not a partisan issue. You will see parties take issues and then generate polling themselves, saying, "See, don't pay attention to the critics. The polls say they love it."

And we saw that with the healthcare decision in 2010. Look what happened. We see that now with a lot of Democrats coming out, waving the poll, saying Catholics love this decision; except you're seeing politicians, have better read of it. And they're running from it.

KING: Well, the Republican candidates for president have jumped on this one. Let's listen to a snippet from two of them.

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ROMNEY: This kind of attack on religion and on our first freedom, our right to worship and to believe as we choose and have a conscience that is protected, this is wrong.

SANTORUM: When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what's left? It's the French Revolution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That last part got me a moment. What's next? The French Revolution. But...

BEGALA: The French were all Catholic. What's he talking about?

KING: Michele Bachmann was here yesterday. And she said, Erick, that she thinks Santorum's success this week, winning three states, was in part driven because this issue was front and center and Planned Parenthood, the Susan Komen issue was front and center and that Rick Santorum is viewed more credibly on those issues than Governor Romney. And she thinks it just helped to...

ERICKSON: Talking to people at CPAC today where he has the heart of this crowd, at least, it's interesting. They bust in. They're fans on the day of their speeches, and today you get a real authentic sense. The crowd likes Rick Santorum. Two issues, they say, helped Rick Santorum in Minnesota in particular: this and Mitt Romney's comment on the poor last week energized Catholic Republicans who care deeply about the poor, that they went to say they reject that comment.

PFOTENHAUER: It's not just the base. What you've got here is that the swing vote, particularly Catholics in key states, as we know, and white Catholics, particularly, that Obama had a harder time with in 2008.

Again, this feels personal, and in part because you had -- you had really pretty much the liberal faction of the Catholic Church go to bat for him and say, "We know he'll do the right thing on this," and he just -- he just put them to shame.

BEGALA: But here's what the -- this is part of the opportunity cost of this for the Democrats, right? While we're talking about this, what the Democrats ought to be talking about is Mitt Romney's position on contraception is to ban all funding for Title X which Democrats and Republicans have supported for decades which supports contraception. It doesn't force the church to do anything, but it supports contraception for poor women. It's, I think, a very good policy. It's very unpopular, Romney's position.

Rick Santorum has gone further. He's written in his book that contraception is harmful for women. So he's an expert now lecturing women on contraception. That's what Democrats should be talking about, these really extreme positions.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Quick -- let's get a quick observation before you go. You mentioned you're here for the CPAC gathering as conservatives are gathering here in Washington at a time when the Republican race is who knows? It's who knows? It was at this group four years ago Governor Romney bowed out. By then, I think we had 30 states had voted by now. We only have eight this time.

What's your sense, in a sentence or two, of where the race stands?

PFOTENHAUER: I think it's completely up in the air, in part, because incumbents defeat themselves. They're rarely beaten by an opponent, and that's pretty much what we've got to hope for at this point, because there just doesn't seem to be excitement.

KING: You should endorse (ph). There's four candidates left right there.

PFOTENHAUER: There doesn't seem to be a lot of excitement.

ERICKSON: Three words, fractured, open, and dangerous. This is dangerous to the parties and to the candidates because, if they blow themselves up with a nasty race, who going to want to stick it for the guy who wins in the general.

BEGALA: Four words: music to my ears.

KING: Eric and Nancy, thanks for coming in.

Two hundred and fifty thousand Apple fans are turning the table on Apple. Details about protests around the world.

And you may want to think twice before you throw that pigskin or Frisbee at the beach. We'll tell you which county is making it illegal. That's next.

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KING: Welcome back. Here's Mary Snow with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hello, again.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, John.

A top aide to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords just may be her replacement. Ron Barber announced today he will run for Giffords' seat left vacant after she resigned from Congress last month. Barber was wounded along with Giffords during the deadly shooting last January. The primary election will take place in April.

While we're all feeling the impact, young adults have taken the hardest hit from the slow economy. That's according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds with jobs is at a record low. Just over one in two young adults has a job. The report finds 18- to 24-year-olds are less likely to have a job than at any time in history since World War II.

FBI files released just today are giving us a revealing look into Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. "USA Today" reports the FBI conducted a moral character background check on Jobs. The FBI says the investigations were reportedly a part of a potential presidential appointment by George H.W. Bush and a bomb threat against Apple.

The FBI documents call into question Jobs' honesty. Interviews detail his ability to twist the truth and distort reality. The files also go into Jobs' illegal drug use of marijuana and LSD in the 1970s.

Meanwhile protesters are taking on Apple. They delivered petitions to a half dozen Apple stores around the world today. More than 250,000 people signed online petitions that demand Apple improve working conditions at Chinese factories making Apple products.

Apple says it's committed to providing safe working conditions and wants its suppliers to treat workers with dignity and respect.

Take a look at this. Believe it or not, there were half a dozen little kids on that bus just before it exploded into flames. According to affiliate WSOC, the bus driver was able to get all the kids off the bus safely, thankfully, before the bus consumed the entire bus. Firefighters say faulty electrical wire ins the bus's dashboard is to blame for this.

And this is a live look at the Southern California beach from EarthCam.com. And at most beaches, footballs and Frisbees are practically a fixture. But forget about throwing those on Los Angeles County beaches between Memorial Day and Labor Day unless, that is, you want to be fined $1,000.

The board of trustees agreed to raise that fine this week. Officials say the ban on footballs and Frisbees is necessary for safety.

No word yet, though, John, if there's an official ban on fun.

KING: OK. Take the fun out of going to the beach. What else? What else can we do?

SNOW: Exactly.

KING: I guess we'd better bring books if we can't bring a football or Frisbee to the beach.

All right. Stay with me, Mary. Finally, the "Moment You Missed." President Obama's playlist. He released the soundtrack to his 2012 campaign on the digital music service Spotify. Twenty-eight tracks: a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll, even a little bit hipster. Right now -- bring up the music. Bring up the music. You're listening to Arcade Fire.

But there's something for everyone. Aretha Franklin, REO Speedwagon, No Doubt. And of course, we all know the president's affinity for Al Green.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (singing): I am so in love with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Yes, "Let's Stay Together" made the cut, the Al Green version, not the Barack Obama version. Could that be a message to his 2008 supporters? Mary, I guess we'll leave that to the pundits.

We'll see you all tomorrow. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.