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In the Arena

Gadhafi Likely to Prevail; Mayhem in Madison; U.S. Muslims under Attack; American Muslims Under Attack; Controversial Hearings on the Hill; A Real Solution for the Deficit

Aired March 10, 2011 - 20:00   ET


ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Eliot Spitzer. Welcome to the program.

IN THE ARENA tonight, a world of conflict with battlegrounds ranging from Libya to Wisconsin to Washington, D.C.

In Libya, Gadhafi loyalists seem to realize that there will be no quick or meaningful intervention from America or the international community. And they are attacking opposition cities with impunity.

The question tonight -- is it too late to stop Gadhafi's violent attack on his own people?

More on that in a moment, but first, our regulars, E.D. Hill and Will Cain have been following some battlegrounds here at home.

What are you guys looking at?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Eliot, it was amazing to see the Wisconsin state capitol on lockdown last night like a prison. Police clearing angry protesters in the building. But in the whole thing, something seems to be completely lost. And I think it's important to know that collective bargaining is not a right, it's a privilege.

E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And Eliot, I've been looking at congressman king's Hearings on the extent of radicalization in the American community. And I looked at statistics on the Department of Justice Web site and saw that over 400 convictions for terrorist acts prosecuted since September 11th.

The vast majority related in some way to Islamic terrorism. And I think we've got to talk about this.

SPITZER: All right. Amazing amount of stuff going on. A lot to talk about. But first to the latest on Libya. I want you to hear what one of our nation's most powerful officials had to say today.

Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said that given Moammar Gadhafi's resources, his regime will defeat the rebel forces.

You heard right, Clapper says Gadhafi is going to win. And without a decisive move by the United States and other international forces, it's hard to argue with his assessment. After days of bloody fighting, this is the scene of devastation in the western city of Zawiya. Now reported to be under the control of Gadhafi forces. And it appears they now control the terminal oil city of Ras Lanuf. Also a bitter scene of resistance.

Senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman has been covering the battle of Ras Lanuf. He joins us now.

Ben, what's the latest?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The latest is that that town which was under the control of the anti-Gadhafi forces is now disputed so to speak. It's not clear who is in control. That was after a day of intense bombardment by government forces on the town. By air, by land, and this time for the first time, also by sea.

We saw -- we were watching actually as those rounds were coming in. One of them hit very close to the hospital in town, which has now been evacuated. One also hit a mosque where people were inside. According to eyewitnesses, one of the people inside was killed.

As a result of that bombardment, we saw the anti-Gadhafi forces really high-tailing it out of Ras Lanuf. So there's a lot of concern that Moammar Gadhafi is in a sense taking advantage of perhaps these last few days before a no-fly zone is imposed to gain as much territory as possible -- Eliot.

SPITZER: You know, Ben, you describe a battle that sounds as though it's a complete mismatch. What is the relative state of the armaments between the Gadhafi forces and the opposition forces? Is there anything close to a fair fight here? Or is the opposition completely outgunned at this point?

WEDEMAN: There's no parenting on the battlefield. On the one hand, the government forces have tanks, they have heavy artillery, they clearly have a lot of surface-to-surface missiles. Plus, of course, there's the issue of airplanes. They have jets, they have helicopters.

The rebels for their part they have a lot of the automatic weapons. They have some surface-to-surface missiles, light range, short range really. Some anti-aircraft guns, some anti-tank guns. But they have no training for the most part.

Most of these people -- you talk to them and they had a few hours of explanation on how to use these things. Some of them have SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles. And they're missing a vital part so they're walking around with these things, aiming them at the sky. But they can't even shoot them because they're missing the battery that makes them operate.

So it's a complete mismatch. They're completely outgunned. The only thing they have in their favor is spirit -- Eliot.

SPITZER: All right. Ben Wedeman, thank you for that report. Grim as it may be. Thank you so much. Just three weeks ago my next guest warned on this very show that the winds of change in the Middle East would hit a brick wall in Libya.

James Rubin was the State Department's spokesman under President Clinton. He is also the executive editor of "The Bloomberg View." He joins me now.

Sir, you were right. We have hit a brick wall. It is a disaster right now. What should the United States policy be?

JAMIE RUBIN, EXEC. EDITOR, THE BLOOMBERG VIEW: Well, we've got a problem. On the one hand, the legal steps we've taken, these international legal sanctions have left no way out for Gadhafi. There's no where for him to go. He'll be a fugitive anywhere. So he's going to fight to the end, to the death.

On the other hand, President Obama has said that Gadhafi has to go. But when it comes to actual practical steps to make that happen, none of these steps, sanctions, legal sanctions of some kind, sending the information to the court, that's not going to convince Gadhafi.

And I believe that the situation now is one where the United States has to figure out a way to give some help to the rebels. Arming them may be too much. But at a minimum, we should be sending, as the former Air Force General McPeek suggested, NATO planes or American planes -- it's just a small area where most of these air strikes are taking to deter -- and deny their air force and helicopter the free rein over the airspace which does make a difference.

SPITZER: Let's just be clear. We've given him every incentive to fight to the death. And then we have denied the people whom we want to support the mechanical support they need to win. And we have seen the tide of this military conflict shifting dramatically over the last 24 hours.

Now contrary to what we heard from Defense Secretary Gates, you were saying and General McSpeak -- McPeek has been very clear that a no-fly zone is imminently doable.

RUBIN: Well, What McPeek pointed out is that if we can't find a way to ground the Libyan air force when we have a huge air base in Aviano nearby and aircraft carriers and naval facilities, then we should get out of the air force business.

This is not a powerful air force. Remember this -- no American fighter plane has been shot down since Bosnia and in all of the operations that we've undertaken. I don't want to deny the importance of air defenses, but senior air force generals and experts are pointing out that this is doable.

We can't wait for Russian approval, Chinese approval, Turkish approval. This is a doable thing. It's not an answer. But having boxed ourselves in with this rhetoric where the president says Gadhafi has to go. We've got to do more than sanctions.

SPITZER: You know I heard you say earlier in the day what I thought was a very powerful line. We have lawyers figuring out why not rather than strategic thinkers figuring out why.

And it doesn't seem to be a strategy right now to get to the end point we need which is Gadhafi to leave. Why do we not, as a first step, recognize the new government that has been formed and they could then ask us in, which solves the legal problems, puts Gadhafi more in a box, gives us a way to arm them or do whatever we think military is necessary?

RUBIN: Well, yes. I fear that the lawyers are expressing cautions. And lawyers are supposed to do that. But the president needs real proper strategic advice here. If he knew, I suspect, three weeks ago that we would be where we are today with Gadhafi seeming to have the momentum according to the national director of National Intelligence, I don't think he would have gotten to all these statements.

These have been 24-hour tactical lawyers' arguments. Instead of saying where do we want to get to and how are we going get there, well now we're on the record saying Gadhafi has to go. The kind of steps I've suggested certainly de-recognition of the Gadhafi regime.

He doesn't control all his territory, we've declared him illegitimate. We need to have a strategy to get to where we want to go. Just saying we're tightening the noose through sanctions and legal steps -- let's face it, Gadhafi is in a bunker mentality now. Sanctions and legal approbations are not going to get him to change his policy.

SPITZER: He is openly mocking us. Now you also fear that what we are seeing is that those in the military who at the beginning may have had some ambivalence. Do they go with Gadhafi? Do they go with the opposition, having seen us hesitates and having seen that we are so far just a paper tiger? They seem to be joining and fighting more aggressively with him because they're not fearing us at this point which is the worst place for us to be.

RUBIN: Well, I don't know the internal dynamics for sure. I suspected all along that Gadhafi had prepared for this moment with a variety of security services. Something we've talked about in the past where we knew he could pay to keep them loyal. Not out of loyalty to country but through money and through personal steps.

The question was, which way would the bulk of the middle group go? And right now, they're either going back towards Gadhafi or still in a holding pattern. And unless these rebels get more help -- and look, there are lots of different things we can do. Humanitarian aid drops, nonlethal assistance.

And we're not doing this with it's the United States against Gadhafi. The whole world has essentially spoken already. Security Council resolutions, the Arab League speaking out against Gadhafi. The Gulf Cooperation Council.

There's no question that it's -- America isn't intervening in some, you know, party dispute between two Libyan factions. The world is against Gadhafi. His only friend is Hugo Chavez.

This is a moment when the world's greatest superpower has got to be able to take more effective steps.

SPITZER: Jamie, you are so right. And what I think makes it stick in the craw of virtually everybody is that we seem to be waiting for the Russians to say yes at a moment when they have no interest in our doing so, and we ask ourselves why should they get the veto anyway?

Jamie, you've got enormous credit. You've been right every step along the way. So thank you for that analysis.

RUBIN: Thank you, Eliot.

SPITZER: All right. Up next, that crazy scene in Madison, Wisconsin. Thousands turn out. Seems like almost everyone in Wisconsin is there except the lawmakers who passed the controversial bill last night.

That story next. Stay with us.


SPITZER: It almost felt like a war zone in Wisconsin's capitol building today as police removed angry protesters and death threats were hurled at some lawmakers. The mood is not good in Madison after the Wisconsin assembly, the other branch of state government, has now pushed through the wildly controversial bill that passed the Senate yesterday. It strips collective bargaining rights from state workers.

Earlier today, protests got so heated police actually locked down the entire capitol for two hours.


CROWD: Shame. Shame. Shame.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold up. We have the law --


SPITZER: But the big question remains, was yesterday's surprise vote even legal?

CAIN: And tonight it's not just those Democratic senators that are staying away. Some Republicans are, too.

Joining us now from Milwaukee is Republican State Senator Glen Grothman.

Senator, what are you doing in Milwaukee?

GLENN GROTHMAN (R), WISCONSIN STATE SENATE: Well, it's not safe, I think, to be walking on the street and be a Republican in Madison right now. The hatred on the left is just out of control.

CAIN: Senator Grothman, have you received any death threats?

GROTHMAN: Oh, yes. There were e-mails that all of us received. We had something put under the door of my office last night on the way out. I have never seen --

CAIN: What was put under your door?

GROTHMAN: -- a lobbying group more angry. The only good Republican is a dead Republican, as well as an e-mail to me personally similar to the e-mail that Senator Hopper and Fitzgerald received.

HILL: Senator, there are a lot of actions underway right now to change things in Wisconsin from recall efforts of both Democrats and Republicans to I'm sure legal challenges about this open meeting.

If it were found to be illegal, this -- that you called the session and you had the vote in two hours instead of the 24, couldn't you just come right back and when everybody's sitting there bring up the exact same bill?

GROTHMAN: Well, of course we could. And the idea was not an open session is a little bit silly, as well, in the sense that there were plenty of people in the room that night. Most of the people in that room were demonstrating type people. Obviously, it was a small room. You couldn't fit hundreds of people in there. But there were plenty of people who knew about that session in advance and did attend it.

SPITZER: You know, Senator, I know you're being somewhat dismissive of this notion of process here. But, you know, you and I have both been in government. There is a reason that there are obligations of notice so that people can be heard.

Isn't it not conceivable that if there had been notice of this conference committee given to the Democratic senators they might have come and actually made an argument that would have persuaded you? Isn't that the way democracy works? That there would have been a discourse and a conversation about splitting this out as a separate bill and then you would have had a conversation different than the one you've been having thus far where this was part of the budget bill which makes it an entirely different sort of bill?

GROTHMAN: Well, first of all, if the Democrats were in the building, we wouldn't had to split the issue. If the Democrats were in the building by law, they would have been on the floor of the state legislature.

At the time of that committee hearing, we were under a call of the Senate. Any Democrat in the building could have been forced to go to the Senate chambers by law enforcement in the building. So I do not believe any Democrats would have returned if we would have given them 24, 72, three weeks notice in advance.

They still would have hung around Illinois because the minute they step on foot on the floor of the state legislature we not only would have passed the collective bargaining rights portion of the bill, we would have passed the whole bill, because then they would have been there.

SPITZER: But Senator, they might have and that's the very purpose for the notice requirement to give them that option. Is that not correct as a matters of law?

GROTHMAN: I think if they were in the building we wouldn't even had the committee hearing. Because if they were in the building, we wouldn't had to split the question. If they were in the building, we would have passed the whole bill as is.

SPITZER: But that is not what the law --

GROTHMAN: The minute --

SPITZER: Senator, that's not how the law reads. The law reads that you're obligated to give notice to give the people who are on the committee the option to determine whether or not they attend. Isn't that the law as clear as day?

GROTHMAN: That's the intent of the law, and that's why we write that law with a regular session. With a special session, it doesn't apply.

SPITZER: And where is the statutory foundation for that assertion?

GROTHMAN: Wisconsin is somewhat of an unusual state. Under our Wisconsin Statute 19, Wisconsin Senate rules trump -- unlike most states, trump the statutory 24-hour requirement. And I think that has been consistently upheld under separation of powers. The Wisconsin legislature is able to make its own rules. And we had firm, legal opinion before we proceeded last night.

SPITZER: Just so I understand this, is the open meeting rule itself within that section 19 that you were talking about?

GROTHMAN: Correct. Senate rules or legislative rules in general can take precedence over state statute.

SPITZER: All right. Interesting stuff. All right. Thank so very much for joining us, and fascinating conversation.

GROTHMAN: Thank you.

SPITZER: We're going to keep watching this to see how it plays out.

And now for the other side of the aisle in Wisconsin, joining us on the phone from Illinois is Wisconsin Democratic State Senator Fred Risser.

Senator, thanks for calling in.

FRED RISSER (D), WISCONSIN STATE SENATE: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk to you.

SPITZER: All right. Well, you know, it seems to be reaching some sort of crescendo over in your home state of Wisconsin. What happens next? Now that this bill has been passed and the governor is going sign it, what do you do next as a Democratic senator who opposed it?

RISSER: Well, we've lost the legislative battle, but the war isn't over yet. There are several avenues of which we're pursuing. We feel very strongly that this bill was passed in violation of the laws of our state -- open records laws -- which requires certain notices before legislative action is taken.

Furthermore, we have recall election against eight Republicans who voted for this bill. And the last analysis, the voters will have a chance to act on whether or not they want this type of representation.

HILL: Well, I understand there are recall efforts out there underway for both Republicans and Democrats. When you come back into session -- I believe it's April, is that right? You're out of session now?

RISSER: Well, we're supposed to be recessed under our recess resolution.

HILL: Yes.

RISSER: However, the governor could call us back in special session any time. And the special session that we were in has just been temporarily recessed so --

HILL: So when you come back, what happens?

RISSER: Well, we'll go back to fight the bi-annual budget which the governor has introduced. He has decided to cut public education and he has furthermore taken the lifeblood out of aides to local units of government. The whole process that is subject to review and we're going to be out there fighting to preserve the Wisconsin way.

HILL: Well, you've got a budget deficit you got to fix there. Where would you cut?

RISSER: Well, the budget deficit is made up in large part by public employees conceding to the governor's request that they contribute more in their health care and in their various health care and pension programs.

There are a number of other matters. The budget bill is introduced by the governor, and it will be reviewed by us. And it's not our responsibility to try to set up the budget right now. We are reacting to the governor's ideas which we think are pretty bad.

CAIN: You've made no bones about how bad you think those are, Senator Risser. In fact, in the past you said Scott Walker has acted like a dictator.

You know, his opponent, Tom Barrett, the former Milwaukee mayor who was on the Democratic ticket, came out just a day or so ago and said he knew that repealing the collective bargaining portion of this bill as a stand-alone process was something that you could do, and he would certainly favor it.

Would you say Tom Barrett is also a dictator?

RISSER: Well, I think he's a dictator in a way that he has not been listening to the public at all. He's been telling the Republican legislators what to do. They've been following him blindly. And in less than two months in office, he has done a lot to take a good share of the responsibility of the legislature away from the legislature and put it in the executive branch.

He's taken away all the rule-making power. In this bill he tries to take away the legislative oversight of Medicare, and it's a pattern which he's pursued and which makes in my opinion a dictatorial approach.

SPITZER: You know, Senator, look, I hear when you say that it's not your job right now to set out your own priorities. But clearly the unions have said, yes, we accede to the governor's request. They're making contributions in several different ways that will help close the budget gap.

But where would you have preferred to see the governor close his budget? I think it is certainly a fair question that folks say to you, come on, you object to that, you've got to have an alternate answer.

And so how do you on the Democratic side of the aisle say here's our counterproposal?

RISSER: Well, you know, one of the proposals we had was not to give additional tax benefits to business. He's already cut some of the business taxes through credits, and he's increasing the deficit outrageously.

Actually, I think that taxation based on the ability to pay is the type of approach to use. It's been the Wisconsin way for many years. And even though our tax rates are less than they used to be, they could probably be adjusted very simply to make up the difference.

HILL: There's always room to hike taxes, you're saying?

RISSER: No, I'm saying that taxes should be based on the ability to pay. That the governor has been giving away our money to the -- from the corporations. I think we should increase some of those corporate taxes, yes.

SPITZER: You know, Senator, look, I -- you know, certainly agree with the notion of shared sacrifices, what's got to dominate across a very difficult time in state budgeting. Everybody has got to pitch in some. And what you're saying is the contradiction between asking sacrifice and very significant sacrifice from one group and giving an additional benefit to another just seems a little disproportionate at this moment.

Do I hear you saying that?

RISSER: Well, I am saying that the governor is disproportionately going after workers' rights, going after collective bargaining. And actually what he did is put a -- sort of legislative nail into the casket these building for workman's compensation. It's a nationwide effort, I think, to go after workman's rights, go after collective bargaining. Wisconsin is proud. We were the first state in the union to adopt the collective bargaining for state workers. And it's worked well in our state. And we like it. We feel strongly that we should support our state employees as they have supported us.

SPITZER: All right, Senator Risser, thanks for joining us.

RISSER: Thank you.

SPITZER: Up next, Congress is hunting for radical Muslims in America, but are they looking in the right place?

Fareed Zakaria joins me when we come back.


SPITZER: Now to those Capitol Hill hearings on the alleged radicalization of American Muslims. The hearings have been called everything from McCarthyism to the salvation of America.

But in the midst of all the hype, there was at least one moving moment. Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison told the story of a Muslim who died at ground zero while trying to save lives only to be accused of being part of the conspiracy.

Take a listen.


REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was with the attackers because he was a Muslim. But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed.

Muhammad Solomon Habdadi was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion.


SPITZER: What impact do these hearings having on Muslims and on America? Joining me tonight is Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."

Fareed, thank you so much for being here.

You have seen the hysteria, and I think it is at least that hysteria that has attached to the issue that Peter King is now holding hearings on. What is your take on the underlying substance and on the hearings themselves?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: I think it is absolutely essential that the FBI and all investigative authorities look into this question.

Clearly al Qaeda is trying to recruit from the -- from the pool of American Muslims. Clearly you want to be sure that our law enforcement authorities are looking into it, investigating it. But the public hearings are not really about that.

This is no help to the FBI. They're doing what they need to do. The Homeland Security agency is doing what it needs to do. This is in a sense a public spectacle that has the effect of suggesting that there is some large problem here. That is the radicalization of American Muslims.

And Peter King just a month ago on the "Sean Hannity" show said 85 percent of American mosques are taken over by fundamentalists. A completely wild statistic with absolutely no basis. In fact 12 years ago, some guy said it. And on the basis of that, he makes this claim.

There is, to the best of my knowledge, one survey of American Muslims which was done about a month ago, I think it was. And what it proves is exactly the opposite. The more religious the Muslim -- the American Muslims, the more likely they are to support American democracy, affirm civic engagement, engage in charity, all those kinds of things, which is true of all communities. The --

SPITZER: Right. Most religions.

ZAKARIA: Right. Most religions, the people who are active churchgoers or synagogue-goers tend to be more active members of the community and active members of the democracy.

SPITZER: Do you think this is designed to play to a misperception in the public arena without any desire to, in fact, help law enforcement? What underlies and motivates all of this?

ZAKARIA: It seems to me it's a political spectacle. It is designed to scratch a fear that Americans have. It's a fear born out of some reality as often this kind of fears are which is that, you know, a lot of the terrorism, a vast majority of the terrorism around the world, is being currently committed by Islamic terrorists. But by doing it the way it's done, it is casting a shadow on the entire community.

Look, you know, you did not investigate Irish Americans in general when you were worried about support for the IRA. You didn't investigate Italian Americans in general to figure out, you know, where support for the mafia was. You investigated the mafia. You investigated the IRA.

SPITZER: It seems to me that what we have here is the risk and the danger of the gross generalization. And here's some numbers that are troubling because 28 percent of the American public thinks that Muslims living in the United States are supportive of Al Qaeda, sympathetic to Al Qaeda. Clearly not the case. As you say, the Islamic community, Muslim community, is nowhere near that. It's a crazy number, but the perception is there. Forty percent of the American public think that those who are Islamic are more likely to encourage violence than members of other religions. And so, how do you think the public should push back? How should other political leaders push back? ZAKARIA: Well, look, unfortunately as you know, this is going to work at some level which is that Peter King is going to present himself as the guy boldly going into these areas. There is a public fear about Muslim terrorism and things like that. But one would hope you would hear more responsible members of the community.

You remember that moment when Colin Powell on "Meet the Press" said, you know, about the widespread rumors that Barack Obama was Muslim. He said the real point people should be making is so what if he's a Muslim. Why are we acceding to this kind of anti-Muslim hysteria?

Now the really interesting thing for me, Eliot, here is you talk to law enforcement officials, and I've talked to a lot of them particularly people in New York City who were on the front lines. And you ask them, why do you think there hasn't been a second attack since 9/11? And most of them, almost all the ones I've talked to, will very high up say, probably the biggest reason is we do not have a radicalized local Muslim community, the way you do in Europe, the way you do in parts of Asia. That there isn't a kind of hotbed -- you know, there isn't support within the community. So these groups don't do very well.

SPITZER: And why is that? If you needed to try to figure out --

ZAKARIA: Right. If you look at the polling data, American Muslims are strikingly assimilated. If you look at -- there are other polls done where they believe in the American dream, they believe in American democracy, they want to get rich, they want to have a car. They want to have two cars, a suburban house. They're not trying to go back to the seventh century caliphate.


One of the interesting tensions that struck me today watching Peter King's hearing was that the same moment he is talking about this radicalization and trying to create this aura of fear, we see in North Africa and the Middle East revolutions sweeping through previously autocratic regimes where everybody again lived in fear of radical Islam, and yet that is not at all what these revolutions have been. So the tension between what is actually emerging there and what Peter King is describing that could emerge here seems stark and kind of wild to me.

ZAKARIA: Exactly. If you look at these revolutions, in none of them was the call for Islam, was the call for the caliphate. Was there any of that? Well, the call was for -- was democracy, freedom. You know, it's striking the degree to which this has been a kind of Jeffersonian revolution. It may not work out.

SPITZER: It may not end there.

ZAKARIA: But at least the demands were not about an Islamic state.

SPITZER: Fareed, thank you as always for being here. Fascinating conversation. Coming up, it turns out some people think radical Islam is a really big threat and some of the people who believe that are themselves Muslims. That story coming up next.


SPITZER: Well, E.D. and Will, as we've been reporting, there was no shortage of controversy or anger leading up to Congressman King's hearings on the radicalization of Islam. Many thought it was a witch hunt. Our next guest disagrees. Dr. Zuhdi Jasser is a self-described devout Muslim and he testified at those hearings today.

Dr. Jasser, thank you for joining us.

DR. ZUHDI JASSER, FOUNDER, AMERICAN ISLAMIC FORUM FOR DEMOCRACY: It's nice to be with you. Thanks for having me, Eliot.

SPITZER: Well, look, a lot of -- and I've just got to put this out there -- a lot of devout Muslims think that this hearing is painting with such a broad brush and it perpetuates ugly stereotypes. You disagree obviously. Explain why.

JASSER: Well, I think it's an opportunity. I think that if you look at the negative perceptions of Islam have doubled over the past three or four years alone. If we look at terror arrests of the last 220, 180 have been Muslims. Somewhere we're failing. And I think this is -- that the fact that it was all Muslims there tells America that we are Muslims who want to solve this, and we're the only ones who can solve it. So has our country become so polarized and so paralyzed that we cannot focus on a problem and say, yes, there may be other forms of extremism but at this point we have to walk back. You know, it's not just that final step of violence. You have to walk back radicalization over years and figure out where it starts and how to get Muslim youth identifying with this culture.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Dr. Jasser, you talked a little bit about that root cause of radicalization. In fact, you said in the past that our conversation has myopically focused on jihadism and violent extremism but that we need to talk more about the concept of Islamism which you called political Islam. Can you tell us a little bit about that? And importantly for me, how widespread is Islamism in the United States?

JASSER: Well, that's a great question. And that's where we need the government's help for resources to help have a public/private partnership to figure that out. But political Islam is the sense that, well, all laws come from Islam, that government is not under God or based on individual rights. It's based on rights that are given from Islam and thus, laws based on Sharia or Islamic law. I think pervasively in the Islamic community that's about maybe 20, 30 percent, felt that way. And if you look in Egypt or in the Middle East, the brotherhood is about 20, 30 percent. And the brotherhood is the main organization globally that promotes that idea. They have not by coincidence hatched most of the radical groups in the world. But remember we're defining radicalism as violence. It's not just violence, it's an ideology. When Muslims are told by their families or by their imam that this society is not Islamic but we live here because it gives us rights but ideally we want to create Islamic states, it disenfranchises them.

E.D. HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I don't think that Muslims are the only ones certainly out there that are looking at things as a Muslim first and perhaps other things. Second, I call it hyphenated Americans, where you're something first and, oh, yes, I'm American also. What do we do to counter that? You say that, you know, you want that. A lot of people do. How do you go into the community and help people think of themselves as Americans first and whatever else they happen to be, second?

JASSER: That is such a great question. As we saw in the Middle East, the revolution spread through communication, and we've not been engaging our immigrants with the ideologies of Americanism. We've just sort of been letting them live here, and we've not been promoting the ideas that my family came and embraced and sought to -- to embody in our practices. And I -- you know, I was raised believing that I could practice my faith more freely in America than anywhere else in the world. That mantra is not being taught to a lot of Muslim youth that end up going down the slope of radicalization.

SPITZER: You know, Doctor, I could have -- I thought I heard Newt Gingrich the other day invoking God and saying that all rights devolve from God just the other day. So I'm not so sure this is an idea or issue that's isolated to what you're viewing as radical Islam. But you know, I want to know what your sense of the 20 to 30 percent is. Where does that come from? And when you say 20 to 30 percent of those who are Islamic or believe in the Islamic faith in the United States, believe in political Islam, are you suggesting 20 to 30 percent of those who are Islamic in the United States don't believe in separation of church and state? That is completely contrary to every piece of data I've ever seen. So what is your source of this 20 to 30 percent?

JASSER: Well, again, I don't know what data you've seen. We have to make sure we're clear what we're talking about. If we're talking about violence, it's only three to five percent that believe they should do that violently. But if we're talking about those that want the Islamic state, those -- the Pew poll, for example, said that -- there was a Pew poll that looked at Muslims that said that they were Muslim first. Forty-seven percent said they were Muslim first, and it also looked at how much they wanted Islamic law in government, et cetera.

Now, the exact numbers, as I told you, it hasn't been studied appropriately. So at the end of the day, I don't know. I'm using numbers extrapolating from Egypt, extrapolating from my own experience. But we have to study this because that's the ideology --

SPITZER: Doctor, I'm just trying to make sure we understand the numbers and understand the phrasing and what you mean because the risk of generalization here is so enormous. I think we could all appreciate that when you start painting with a broad brush about ethnicities and you start saying they believe in this or they believe in that. That's going down a very dangerous road. So I think we need to be careful in how we use these phrases and also where the numbers come from. I think I just heard you saying, the 20 to 30 percent was an extrapolation from Egypt. Did I hear you say that?

JASSER: It's an extrapolation from my experience, from my experience in mosques, from my experience talking to Muslims and universities, et cetera, and where we've studied it is abroad. Pew did a study in Egypt and in Indonesia, and actually even abroad, those numbers, for example, can get higher when you ask them do you want Islam in government? Some of those societies as --

SPITZER: But, Doctor, not to interrupt -- that data is from Egypt and Indonesia, not the United States.

JASSER: Again, I would tell you that we need to study that in the United States.


JASSER: Nobody has studied it appropriately. That's why I'm telling you as a Muslim when I run up against people that don't want to reform, this is my experience. And we need to study it.

SPITZER: So that -- so that 20 to 30 percent number you used wasn't based on data you're extrapolating from the United States.

JASSER: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

SPITZER: Dr. Jasser, thank you so much for being with us tonight.

JASSER: It's a pleasure to be with you.

And a programming reminder -- does freedom of religion mean freedom from suspicion? Soledad O'Brien chronicles the dramatic fight over the construction of a mosque in the heart of the bible belt. "Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door" airs Sunday, March 27, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Still ahead, we've been talking a lot about the budget battle in Wisconsin, but how about the one in Washington? It's fierce, it's ugly, and nobody seems to agree on anything. So why are some Washington insiders so optimistic? The answer after the break.


SPITZER: A government shutdown looms again tonight after the Senate yesterday rejected not one but two competing budget plans. One, the GOP package calling for $61 billion in cuts. The other a Democratic proposal cutting just $6 billion.

For months now, the budget discussion on Capitol Hill has been all smoke and mirrors. But back in December, two Washington insiders, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, presented what could be a workable plan. Yes, they were dismissed at the time, but this bipartisan duo may just end up having the last word.

Erskine Bowles, Alan Simpson, thanks for coming in. And thanks for the hard work you put into this great report. Let's talk politics for a minute. When you announced the plan back in December and you got more votes on your commission than people thought you would --


SPITZER: Sixty percent. Now, still not enough to force a vote in Congress because of the way this was created. Is there political momentum?

You know, I know Senators Warner and Chambliss say they're putting together a bill that would capture the concepts behind it, the Bowles- Simpson report. Is it going to be able to drive its way through a Congress that is still stuck playing footsy over penny ante numbers?

ALAN SIMPSON, CO-CHMN, COMM. ON FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY & REFORM: Well, we think -- I'm very heartened by Democrat and Republican senators. Several weeks ago, there were 47 of them that gathered together to talk about -- these are good people. These are the Udall (ph) cousins, and Dick Durbin deserves the medal of honor. He voted for this package, and when he voted he said --

ERSKINE BOWLES, CO-CHMN, COMM. ON FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY & REFORM: As does Dr. Coburn, as does Mike Crapo, as does Conrad. Those guys in the U.S. Senate who had guts to get out there --

SPITZER: And stood with you and took the slings and arrows --


BOWLES: Because they knew it was right. They don't like everything in this. I don't like everything in this plan. Nobody's going to like everything because it's tough. There are no easy solutions. But the work that they are doing, those four, plus Senators Chambliss and Warner, is going to really make the difference. I think you're going to see something come out of the Senate that looks very much like the Bowles-Simpson plan.

SPITZER: Here's -- I want to ask a pointed question. But has there been enough presidential leadership on this?

SIMPSON: No. But -- you know I don't want to get there. You know, I wouldn't have done this. Somebody said, how could you have done this? You're a Republican, covering Obama's fanny so he can destroy the Republican Party? I said, look, any president of the United States who calls me and asks me to do something, I would do it. And he needs -- he needs to come, but he knew if he had come out first with his budget, he would have been savaged. The Republicans knew if they went for this chunk right now they would have been savaged by the White House. And the savagery will have to stop because they're Americans first and not Republicans and Democrats.

SPITZER: So let me be Pollyannaish for a moment.


SPITZER: Maybe this could be a replay, Erskine, what you led when you were chief of staff to President Clinton.


SPITZER: You've got the vision between the White House and Congress. Maybe it does lead to a compromise.

BOWLES: You know, to get that done, I had to spend months and months locked up in conference rooms with Newt Gingrich and Trent Lot.

SIMPSON: You said that you enjoyed --

BOWLES: But the truth is, you have to listen. And what I think the president has done is he showed us a little bit of leg in the State of the Union, a little bit more in his budget. I think this week he's come out and said some more positive things. I think when Warner and Chambliss release their budget, I hope he'll lean in to that and I think many will start to see some move. But appointing Joe Biden to head up his negotiating team was a very smart move because you have to remember that Joe's chief of staff is Bruce Reed, who is our executive director on the commission.

SPITZER: Right. He was also in the Clinton White House.


SPITZER: Head of Domestic Policy Council.

BOWLES: I'm very hopeful.

SIMPSON: And then you've got a new cast of characters there with the president. You've got Jack Lew, who is a very close friend of Erskine, knows him. We've got Bill Daley. I know bill. He knows how to make the trains run. You've got Gene Sperling.


SIMPSON: You've got -- there's good things going on. And over in the House, don't worry about those three Republicans that didn't vote for this package because the reason they didn't vote for it, they were thinking if you get rid of employer deduction and employee health care, that they -- employers will flee to bloat the health care. But it wasn't that they were terrified of raising taxes, which is a key. You can't do this without -- Reagan raised taxes 11 times in his eight years.

SPITZER: Right. The mythology has wiped out part of history.

All right. Look, I know you have busy schedules. You've got to go out and explain this critically important plan to the rest of the country. So, thank you, Senator Simpson, Erskine Bowles.

SIMPSON: We're going to have a sandwich board out in the street. Try to --

BOWLES: We do ask people who listen to you, Eliot, to go out there and talk to their representatives, talk to their senators, let them know this is an important issue. If we don't, you know, it's just like Admiral Mullen says, who's chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He says it's our greatest national security problem. If you want to make -- have a country that competes globally, then you darn well better do something about this debt or we won't have the resources to invest in education, infrastructure, or high value research.

SPITZER: An important conversation and a fascinating one. And I'll have more of it in the days ahead with Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. We'll be right back.


HILL: It was a day of high emotion at the hearing led by Peter King investigating the extent of radicalization of American Muslims.

I was struck by a comment made by a very quiet man from Memphis, Tennessee. Melvin Bledsoe lost his son Carlos to radical Islam. Once a happy-go-lucky boy who always apparently had a smile on his face, Melvin says Carlos was brainwashed by an imam to hate Americans. He now stands accused of killing an American soldier in Arkansas. Bledsoe expressed the hope that his pain could open eyes to the threat.


MELVIN BLEDSOE, PRIVATE CITIZEN: I don't understand why we have so much fear of talking about what is real. It is a real threat to America, as I said earlier today. It came into my house but is at your doorstep and we need to talk about it as American people. If I could have just reached out and saved one other child from what my son, what happened to my son and what he went through, then I think my trip to Washington was very much well worthwhile today. Thank you.


HILL: In my opinion, he's right. You know, we shouldn't be afraid to talk about this. Yet, leading up to this hearing, everybody's yelling to me, "hate, it's going to incite Muslims." All these things. And if you really listen to it, all sides were presented, and you could learn something.

CAIN: Yes.

HILL: And that's what's important. Finding out how big a problem we have, and then figuring out how to change that.

CAIN: You know, something that I think we all could benefit from and learn is what is the concept of radicalization. I think for too long we've understood that to mean people that want to blow us up. But the root cause of radicalization as was discussed today in the hearings is this concept of Islamism, political Islam. Now the big question is, what percentage of American Muslims adhere to this concept of political Islam?

SPITZER: Look, I don't think any rational person would disagree that we need to think about the threats to this nation. I was a prosecutor for many years. That's what you do every day, and you challenge yourself and say where are these threats coming from. Al Qaeda, radical Islam is where those threats come from. The question is, when you paint with too broad a brush, you begin to make comments and have generalizations that are damaging, that prey upon the fears and the preconceptions that are not factually based.

My sense is that this hearing shed more heat than light because the numbers that were there were not based on anything. No prosecutors showed up. The Department of Homeland Security wasn't there. The FBI wasn't there. These were experiential stories, interesting, useful perhaps, but they didn't give us what we really need which is data and numbers.

HILL: You look at data -- I want to know what people are living. What happens when a -- you know, a Muslim in America goes into a mosque? What are they told? Is it universal? Are there a variety of opinions? How did these things happen? We can't just say, well, you know, they don't happen. We know they do.

CAIN: And, Eliot, I just want to say your fears are legit, but there's also a converse fear that we blind ourselves with political correctness and don't look at the threats around us.

SPITZER: Look, I'm never going to be one who defends political correctness. Full, open conversation, I think we all agree on that. We're coming from slightly different perspectives. It's going to continue sometime down the road. We're going to make this interesting to think about and watch.

All right. E.D. and Will, thanks as always for being here. Thank you for joining us IN THE ARENA.

Good night from New York. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.