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John King, USA

House Censures Rangel; Tax Cuts; WikiLeaks Investigation

Aired December 02, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Tonight fascinating new research that forces us to rethink fundamental questions about the building blocks of life, it was a discovery right here on earth, but the scientist behind it tells me in her view it makes it more likely, much more likely she thinks there's life elsewhere too.

Also some crackling exchanging as the defense secretary and America's top military officer make the case for repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prevents gay Americans from serving openly.


ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I've been serving with gays and lesbians my whole career. I went to war with them aboard a destroyer off the coast of Vietnam. I knew they were there. They knew I knew it, and what's more, nearly everyone in the crew knew it. We never missed a mission, never failed to deliver ordinance on target.


KING: Plus a day of sharp debate over your taxes. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, yes, she is still speaker for another month or so, celebrated passage today of a Democratic plan to extend tax cuts for families making $250,000 a year or less and to raise taxes on anyone above that line. Republicans including the man who will get the speaker's gavel in a month called it a stunt and more.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: I'm trying to catch my breath so I don't refer to this maneuver going on today as chicken crap, all right? But this is nonsense -- all right?


KING: The tax debate just ahead, but first censure and shame for a man who not long ago was among the most powerful players in Washington. Congressman Charles Rangel of New York called to the well of the House this evening and publicly rebuked by his colleagues for a long list of ethical (INAUDIBLE). Rangel, the 23rd member in the history of the United States, 23rd member of the House to be censured -- a lot of important political news to talk about it. Let's get right to it. CNN contributor John Avlon with us from New York, and here with me in Washington Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher, Republican Ed Rollins, and our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. The 23rd member, Dana Bash, in the history of the House, Charlie Rangel, 333-79, an overwhelming vote of censure and a public rebuke and embarrassment for a guy who used to write the tax laws for the people of the United States of America.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know I think it's just a sad day. I think you can say that objectively. It is a sad day and it's just too bad. The fact of the matter is, Charlie Rangel had a press conference afterwards, and he said it's just a political vote. It's hard to make the argument that it's just a political vote who have long served with him and respected him thought that this was the -- you're talking about one step short of expelling him from Congress.

KING: Let's listen to that. After -- Charlie Rangel did go to the floor right after the vote and then he had a news conference in which he tried to say yes, I've done wrong, but I didn't deserve a punishment so bad. Listen.


REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: People would recognize that the vote for censure was a very, very, very political vote. I did not curse out the speaker. I have not tried to have sex with minors. I did not steal any money.


KING: His point, Cornell, is that others have been given the same penalty for more egregious offenses, but he was convicted by the Ethics Committee of essentially doing shady things that involved finances.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Look here's the thing and full disclosure I'm a pollster for Charlie Rangel, so I'm going to be a little biased here even more so, but look, I mean Charlie Rangel is a good man. I mean he wasn't -- he wasn't found to be corrupt -- there was no corruption here. What he was found to be was --

KING: No personal enrichment.

BELCHER: Enrichment here. I mean this is a guy who's not into that. I mean here's a guy who's strapped on a gun and went over to Korea shortly after Truman said it was OK for black people to even be in the Army. Strapped on a gun and went over there and saved lives and fought for his country heroically over there in war for us. This is not a corrupted individual. He is guilty of being sloppy on some things, and I'm got to be Peter -- Republican Peter King on this. I don't think that the crime fit the punishment here on this, because I think, you know, it's interesting because he actually had a deal on the table for a reprimand earlier. And if they were going to censure him then, this was so bad, why did they ever put the reprimand deal even on the table? And I know you know him well, so -- but I don't think -- I think there was politics involved.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Cornell, Cornell, today's censure does not overshadow Charlie Rangel's long and distinguished service to this nation, but that service does not minimize the 13 counts of corruption against him, many of which were not just negligence and sloppiness but things that are unacceptable from a man who oversaw the tax cut, things that an average citizen would never get away with and this was an appropriate punishment. And it should be a wake-up call --

BELCHER: But John, he wasn't found to be corrupt on anything. That's my point.


AVLON: If you've got four rent controlled apartments in New York --

BELCHER: There was no corruption --

AVLON: You've got four rent controlled apartments in New York --


AVLON: -- that's beyond shame.

BELCHER: No, it's not. Because here's the thing -- the detail -- those apartments at the time when he took those apartments, they were -- they were -- people were begging for him to take those apartments because they were drug-infested apartments that no one wanted to live in, so they wanted him to live there at that time, so this was not -- this was not -- this is out of place.

KING: But even heroes have to abide by the rules and Ed Rollins that is what his fellow Democrats said by an overwhelming number. It's not just the republicans.

ED ROLLINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The bottom line and I like Charlie. I've known Charlie for 30 years and he's been a very distinguished member. He's represented New York well over the years. But the bottom line here is this is his own peers and this is their rules. He clearly violated their rules and -- he could have made a deal a long time ago. He should keep his mouth shut right today and if you're his adviser tell him to keep his mouth shut and go away for a month --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like that ever works.


ROLLINS: He's making it worse by himself. He made it a very uncomfortable vote for his fellow members by the e-mails and all the rest of it and I think to a certain extent he ought to hold his head up high. He first got elected to Congress by replacing someone who did some unethical things and he should have set a better example.

KING: Let's move on to the issue over which Charlie Rangel used to have so much sway here in Washington and that is taxes. Dana, you're the senior congressional correspondent. Nancy Pelosi wanted the Democrats to take this vote today. It essentially says tax cuts stay in place if you're a family $250,000 or below, anyone above that line your taxes would go up on December 31st.

She celebrated that as a big Democratic victory. However, she knew the whole time they were having that vote that this is hardly the last word, that there are negotiations ongoing right now and I want to focus not so much on the House vote but on what you're hearing about the negotiations including jitters from Democrats who apparently think that the White House might not be getting as a good deal as they want.

BASH: It's so fascinating and it is clearly a part of the post- election dynamic. What's going on is that as you said that there are negotiations going on, there are those negotiations set up by the White House and there are also discussions going on at the highest levels of the leadership Democrats and at the White House. And what I'm told is what we've talked about here at this table many times is that the likely scenario is that it will be a temporary extension of all Bush era tax cuts for all income levels, but Democrats are hoping it's part of a larger package, in which they will get a lot more things on their wish list. In Congress --

KING: Unemployment benefit extensions and other job creating tax cuts, things like that?

BASH: Right, college tuition, tax cuts -- exactly -- things like that. Democrats who I talked to in Congress say that they're really worried that the president and the White House is going to -- in the words of one source I talked to cave and they're going to basically sell out the Democratic priorities. And they're worried that they're not going to fight hard enough for some of the (INAUDIBLE) asks, some of the things that they're asking for on their wish list in exchange for these concessions on tax cuts.

KING: This plays out on Capitol Hill -- excuse me for interrupting -- it plays out on Capitol Hill and it's also playing out on the television air waves because the left, as you point, is worried about the president. Listen to this new ad -- We just had an election. It's over. You would think everybody on left of center would be gearing up to go against the Republicans in 2012. But has this message for the president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE POLITICAL AD: What's happened to that bold, aggressive man (INAUDIBLE) 2008?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE POLITICAL AD: The guy stands for all the people, and he's not going to let himself get pushed around.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE POLITICAL AD: Mr. President, please do not compromise with the Republicans about extending the Bush tax cuts.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: What is it, my friend, Mr. Belcher, about the Democratic Party that when times are tough that it's a circulating firing squad kind of thing?

BELCHER: It -- never a dull moment -- never a dull moment. Look, what's interesting to me here is that when you pull back the politics of this thing, we actually know fairly certainly that, look, unemployment, there's going to be a deal cut. Unemployment is going to be extended. There is going to be a deal cuts. The tax breaks are going to be extended.

What's interesting right now is the maneuvering that's going on inside of both parties quite frankly because truth of the matter is Nancy Pelosi probably strategically needs to get to a place where Mitch McConnell is going more so than where Boehner is because right now she's setting up sort of her politics and the politics, as you can see from MoveOn are progressive, want some red meat thrown. And guess what, from the House Democrats they got some red meat today and they're setting up for a longer debate where we think we have this -- we have one side. I know Ed is going to disagree that he -- that they have the better side, but it's going to be a debate, political.

ROLLINS: If you think two years from now this is going to be a critical election issue you're crazy. The bottom line today is what this is this is the first effort of the Democrats to agitate Republicans and give them the excuse to be treated the same way Democrats have treated them for the last two years. This was not good negotiation. If Nancy Pelosi feels good about this, great. But I tell you if I was a House Republican today, I'd say they want to cooperate with me, great, I'm going to treat them the same way they treated me the last two years or four years --

BELCHER: (INAUDIBLE) the same way that Boehner said no, no, no. She's just picking up his playbook --

ROLLINS: He can say no, no, too --


BELCHER: She's just picking up his playbook, a very successful playbook by the way.

AVLON: Cornell, that's Ed's point I think is that we create this cycle on incitement. Politics follows the laws of physics. Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction and this sets the tone exactly on the wrong foot where we're just going to have more obstructionism, more positional bargaining (INAUDIBLE) attrition. And for the left to be running ads against President Obama right now, essentially accusing him of being a squish, that is deeply self defeating in the long run (ph).

BASH: But I actually had a Democratic, senior Democratic aide say to me today look this is the first real debate of 2012 and we're really worried that the president is just going to hand it over to Republicans and that is going to set the pace and the president for everything that we do in the future. There is concern that tends to run ads against Democrats on a lot of things. They tend to incite those --



BASH: But it's real.

BELCHER: But one point really quickly -- I think it's unfair for us to say oh now Nancy Pelosi has to behave in a way that's not the way that Boehner behaved --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She can be whatever she wants to be.


BASH: And by the way --

ROLLINS: And we will treat her the same way she treated us.

BASH: And by the way, just for the record, the senator -- Senate is almost surely going to do the same thing. Senate Democrats are agitating to get on record with their priorities --

KING: Divided government -- divided government makes interesting politics and the Democrats in Congress are not going to always agree with the Democrat down the street at the White House.


KING: Quick break here -- when we come back, a big debate today about "don't ask, don't tell" and also late-breaking news about WikiLeaks. Senate Intelligence Committee members have been briefed on this. They say -- this is the chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein -- quote, "this qualifies as espionage".


KING: More breaking news tonight. After a closed door meeting of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, senator from California, told reporters WikiLeaks' posting of all those U.S. secrets quote, "is far beyond free speech". Listen.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: We have reviewed the espionage statutes and we believe it qualifies as espionage.


KING: Feinstein and the Republican co-chairman, Chris Bond (ph) -- also after the meeting Senator Joe Lieberman added that they all think WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be prosecuted. Let's get back to our discussion -- John Avlon in New York, Cornell Belcher, Ed Rollins, Dana Bash here. Dana, the speed with which the politicians wanted to grab hold of this and the urgency in which they are saying he should be prosecuted, it adds to the political debate about this and obviously they also want to see the government do more to protect its secrets. Obviously it's the Justice Department that has the tough job of figuring out can we really charge him.

BASH: Oh absolutely it's the Justice Department. If you want to look for bipartisanship (INAUDIBLE) anybody thinks it's missing in Washington, this is an issue where we see it. This is it because there is no question. You saw how angry Dianne Feinstein was coming out of that briefing. Fellow Republicans are equally angry. I mean they really are putting serious pressure (INAUDIBLE) Congress on the Justice Department, more importantly on the State Department and the Defense Department to do something about this.

ROLLINS: The country is appalled by it. It's not just the politicians. I mean this is espionage. This is top secrets that have been released. This has jeopardized lives. And I think this -- when they find this guy they ought to try him for espionage or whatever they can try him for.

KING: Let's listen to a little more of what Dianne Feinstein said. And Dana noted her emotion. She's usually a pretty calm character especially about this intelligence stuff. She tries to stay level-headed about it. Listen here. She's clearly worked up.


FEINSTEIN: We've just seen the tip of the iceberg so far, so I have no way of knowing what's to come next. But clearly, you have the secretary of state out in a major effort right now trying to reassure allies, trying to move on, trying to set up a mechanism to stop this and state has done that and it's very serious. And this is far beyond free speech. This is an attack at the operating capability of the United States government.


KING: The word "attack", John Avlon, is interesting that she would use that, and she's dead right about the embarrassing part. More documents out tonight were some of the cables back from Mexico essentially say the Mexican government concedes, it's lost control of parts of its country. Yesterday we saw the documents where people sending back -- the U.S. diplomat is heading back from Russia, all these allegations of corruption -- are they shifting money out of the country somewhere, about Iraq, about Pakistan, about Turkey. Everybody around the world is pretty mad right now.

AVLON: Yes, I mean and I think the espionage argument is an interesting one because I think it's a lot closer to mark certainly than some of these folks have been -- like Sarah Palin -- they're throwing around terrorist comparisons, which I think is just absurd. This gets more to the heart of the matter. Look it's a brave new world. This is the downside of globalization and technology. We need to update our capabilities. We need to update our laws in some case, but I think that is a much more accurate and fair way to prosecute this case going forward than throwing around al Qaeda comparisons that I think only diminish the -- our integrity of the U.S. government in this case.

KING: I don't ask the question to be political, but I know we're in a political conversation here. We've heard from the secretary of state. We've heard from the secretary of defense. We see the outrage now in Congress. We haven't heard in any detailed way from the president of the United States. Now in part, I assume that's because he's letting his deputies do their job, and Secretary Clinton has the hard diplomacy. But, Ed, you say the country is outraged. Certainly this is a breach of security that has embarrassed the country around the world. At some point and I'm not saying you know he's a day late or a day early, whatever, at some point though does the president have to explain this --


ROLLINS: He has to step forward and basically say -- first, he has got to hold his own people accountable, however this happened, and it's not just some private in the Pentagon somewhere. There was a massive, massive breakdown in our system. He has got to fix that. And he's got to basically say I'm appalled by all of this and I think the American public would applaud that. And then he's got to say we're going to find this guy. You know he's -- it's not -- I'm not going to count on Interpol. We're going to find him ourselves and we're going to bring him to trial here --

KING: There are legal -- that might face -- that might (INAUDIBLE) a whole host of questions that have the president explaining a lot of other things.


ROLLINS: Put him in Guantanamo for a couple of years --


ROLLINS: A nice jail down there --


BELCHER: But Avlon is right here. I mean to a certain extent, you know technology has gotten ahead of the laws and our laws have to catch up here. But I got a feeling like Al Capone; we're going to get this guy on something. I mean whether it be the sex case that they have on him. We're going to get this guy --


KING: Like Al Capone. Like Al Capone. All right, let's move to the conversations on Capitol Hill today "don't ask, don't tell". This has been a very, very difficult one. And John McCain back in the 2008 campaign said if the Pentagon leadership, the military chiefs tell me they're ready to change this policy, then I'd be willing to change this policy or at least be willing to listen to them. But he has a different position now, essentially saying the president of the United States and defense secretary to him don't qualify. Their opinion doesn't matter. Listen to this bit here. Senator McCain asking Admiral Mike Mullen -- he's the top uniform military officer in the United States of America -- they had a survey. The Pentagon said that survey proves that there would be some bumps in the road but they can do this. Senator McCain says why didn't you ask the simple question in the survey, do you want us to change the policy?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why wouldn't --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- ask the question?

MULLEN: Because I fundamentally, sir, think it's an incredibly bad precedent to ask them about -- you know to essentially vote on a policy.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's not voting, sir. It's asking their view.


KING: And at the same hearing Secretary Gates essentially backed up Admiral Mullen.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: That's not the way our civilian-led military has ever worked in our entire history. The should-question needs to be decided by the Congress or the courts as far as I'm concerned.


KING: It got pretty tense in there. One of the things the military brass is worried about a lot of them don't like this. They don't want to change it, but their position is have Congress pass this law. That will give us six months or a year or two to make the changes because they're worried some court is going to tell them do it tomorrow.

BASH: They're very worried about that. You heard that -- I listened to this hearing -- you heard that over and over from everybody sitting at that table. That they understand that this is Congress' job and they want Congress to act because that allows the military to kind of do it their way and take their time to do it. One point on what you just heard from Senator McCain, why didn't you ask what they think -- Senator Susan Collins (ph), a Republican, she made the point in that hearing do we ask troops should we go to Iraq? Do we ask troops should we go to Afghanistan? The answer is no, you don't. You ask about the ways to do it, not if to do it, whether to do it -- KING: So the question now is you saw the tension there and you saw Senator McCain and a lot of the Republicans don't want to do this. There are enough Republicans probably if the vote is 51, but John Avlon, will all this talk of only if we get a tax cut deal, only if we get a government spending, will all the procedural stuff get in the way of this vote?

AVLON: It might and it's hard to see how these two things could be linked. What's so extraordinary to me is, is look at the shift in public opinion. We forget the "don't ask, don't tell" was a reform. It was a compromise back in Bill Clinton's era. But the country's moved on dramatically. Over 70 percent not just the members of the military, but the U.S. public believe we should make this change.

And Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen (INAUDIBLE) profile encouraging words here for the stand their taking and it is important to do it the right way, to implement it the right way, not through the courts but through the proper processing channels. But this is a really high stakes moment here, and I'm disappointed that Senator McCain has apparently reversed himself. He should listen to Senator Goldwater who had the seat before him who said now you don't have to be straight to shoot straight.

KING: All right, on that point, well this conversation will continue. We'll end it tonight on that point. John, Cornell, Ed, Dana, thanks so much -- a lot more to come in the program tonight.

We're going to revisit this issue some as well. When we come back one of the things we're going to talk about is this fascinating discovery. A NASA scientist says guess what everything you learned in class about the building blocks of life not so much. A new discovery here on earth she says could make it more likely there's life out there.

We'll also talk tax cuts and other policies with two of Congress' leading conservatives. Congressman Mike Pence, Senator Jim DeMint they'll talk tax cuts, "don't ask, don't tell", a whole lot more with them as they push not only Democrats, but their leadership. And tonight a world class World Cup snub for the United States on the world stage. And they don't just (INAUDIBLE) often but LeBron going back to Cleveland -- feisty --


KING: As the White House and congressional leaders negotiate a possible temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts, two leading conservative voices in the Congress are shaking their heads saying that isn't good enough. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana have new legislation to indefinitely extend the current tax rates. Yet both also say Washington needs to do a better job balancing its books.

So does their math add up? Senator DeMint and Congressman Pence joins us now from Capitol Hill. If you match up the strategy, what you're leaders are doing in these negotiations with the White House right now with the legislation you gentlemen propose. To you Senator first, is it fair to say you believe at the moment your leaders are being too timid, they should be asking for more?

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well I know they needed to negotiate, but what Mike and I want to do is to allow every congressmen and senators an up and down vote on a permanent extension. What we hear from the business community and individuals all over the country is we need some certainty. You can't plan to grow a business in six to 12 months. Sometimes it's a five or 10-year process. So to have certainty in what the tax rates will be is much more important than a temporary extension of the current rates. We don't need a temporary economy and so we don't need temporary tax rates.

KING: And yet, as both of you describe yourselves as fiscal conservatives, Congressman, do you think you have the obligation and to put forward at the same time -- the Congressional Budget Office says extending those tax cuts over 10 years would cost about $4 trillion in red ink? Would you put forward offsetting budget cuts and saying look here is what we'll cut as we cut these taxes as well.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Well look, there's no question and Senator DeMint and I are of one mind and have been for many years, we've got to put our fiscal house in order with restraint, with budget cuts, with entitlement reform. But job one right now needs to be to get this economy growing again. And I've got to tell you the last thing -- back home in Indiana the last thing anybody wants to see Washington do in the worst economy in 25 years is raise taxes on anybody.

And the House actually just voted today to allow a tax increase on small business owners and family farmers and what Jim and I are advocating I think would be broadly supported by the majority of the American people and that is not a tax increase in four weeks, not a tax increase in one year or two years -- let's begin the pathway back to prosperity by saying that the tax rates are what they are. Let's permanently extend all the current tax rates and then we can begin to build and rebuild our economy on top of that certainty.

KING: Is that an absolute position for both of you? I ask that in the context of this debate we're now going to have about the president's commission on deficit reduction and the plan they put forward. Perhaps they can't get enough votes to force a vote in the Congress. But they have laid out a plan that is eye-opening in some ways. And one of the things they insist that yes, you need to raise the retirement age and do some things in Social Security, get some money out of Medicare, make some cuts across the government, the Pentagon and everything else. But they also insist that in the end they would prefer a flatter tax code, take away some of the loopholes and some of the deductions but also a bit of a tax increase in the end. Is that completely off the table for both of you?

DEMINT: Well John I'll start. I do like the flat rate tax. I would throw all the deductions out the window, if we could have a lower flat tax rate. I don't think we need to increase taxes. And getting back to your previous point, keeping tax rates the same should not be considered a trillion dollar or more cost to the government. We're just keeping want the money in the private sector where it's been earned. So again, both of us want to see us address the debt issue. One of the most important things we could do to address the debt is get the economy going again and a permanent extension of the current tax rates would give our businesses, our individuals, our entrepreneurs more predictability so they could plan to add jobs in the future.

PENCE: And John, I really think it's a really important point to emphasize that -- and let me also agree on the flat tax that Jim and I are talking about building some legislation. That would be a true flat tax to be offered in the Congress after the turn of the year. But let me -- let me say I really do believe the American people deserve to know the debate that's going on right now is not even about tax cuts.


PENCE: Nobody -- nobody is talking about cutting taxes in Washington. All we're talking about is whether we're going to raise taxes on some Americans or whether we're going to allow Congress and the House and the Senate to have a fair up or down vote on extending all the current tax rates. We're arguing that that ought to be permanent, but you know let's let the House and the Senate work their will. Let's bring the DeMint/Pence bill to the floor and let's get on with it. And I like our chances. If we can get a vote on the floor, I think we could extend all these tax rates for the American people.

KING: Let me try to quickly get through a couple of other issues. I know Congressman Pence you have a vote you need to get to. The military brass, Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and some others came up to the Senate side today and said they believe the conditions are now in place and they have a detailed study that makes them confident it's time to repeal don't ask don't tell. Senator DeMint, to you first. A good idea?

DEMINT: No I don't think it's a good idea. As you know gays can serve mountain military now. The studies I've seen, the generals I've talked to who were free to express their opinions are saying this would be bad for morale, it would be an adjustment that's not necessary. Let's allow people to serve unless they want to make an issue of their sexuality. The military says that's not a good idea. This is not a good idea to come in and make a change like this. Morale is at an all-time high in the military and stretched thin. This is a political move and has nothing to do with the security of our country. We need to take that off the table.

KING: You in the same place, Congressman?

PENCE: I really am. Number one, there's no higher priority for the national government than to provide for the common defense. We ought not to use the American military as a backdrop for social experimentation or debating domestic policy issues. The focus ought to be on readiness, it ought to be on recruitment, it ought to be on retention, unite cohesion. I have to tell you, John, what I heard when I was in Afghanistan about a week ago, I was in a mess hall. I sat down completely unscripted conversation with about a dozen different soldiers on the front lines in operation enduring freedom. There were Democrats at the table, Republicans at the table. To my memory every single combat soldier said, go back to Congress and tell them don't do this. When you look at that pentagon study, there's a difference between the opinions expressed in that survey by people that are down range in combat versus other people serving in different roles in the military. So I don't believe the time has come to repeal don't ask don't tell. I really believe our soldiers that are at the tip of the spear know that. We ought to put their interests and the interests of our national security first.

KING: One last quick one here. Senator DeMint, your conservative PAC sent out an e-mail targeting Democrats who refused to vote to ban earmarks who ewer on the ballot in 2012. Saying this about them, "These senators are nice folks but they've ignored the will of the American people and they must be replaced with principled conservatives in 2012." The email targeted Democrats but as you know a number of Republicans refused to vote to ban earmarks. Let me focus on one of them, Dick Luger is on the ballot in 2012 from Indiana. Would you target him as well? Does he need to be replaced by a principled conservative?

DEMINT: I've let Dick know I'm going to keep my focus on Democrats, because compared to the Democrats every Republican in the Senate is a conservative. I think you're going to see a lot of these Republicans who are continuing to stress taking home the bacon, they're going to have primaries. John Koran our chairman of the Senate committee has warned them to expect the primaries. I'm their least worry right now. I think you'll see Americans continue to keep the pressure on parochial spending.

KING: Senator, you've told me in the past you're not running for president in 2012. What about the guy standing next to you. He's making moves and he might run for the Republican nomination. What do you think?

DEMINT: I think he might make a good president, so we need to keep our eye on him.

KING: Congressman Pence, I know you have a vote. We'll keep our eyes on him. Thank you for your time.

A huge snub from the United States today on the world stage, and in Ohio today, it's a huge day for politics. Also tonight, a big statement in sports. That, when we come back.


KING: If you're like me ever since you've been somewhere down here you've looked up here and asked the question we all ask, are we alone? Today a huge discovery by NASA scientists down here on earth will help answer the question. Remember science class? Hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, carbon, phosphorous. These are the six building blocks of life. Without these six, you can't have life. That's what we thought until today. This new discovery by NASA scientists, let close this out and bring this up. It happened out here in California. What they discovered is arsenic. We think of it as a toxin. Arsenic can be switched out with phosphorous right here. These are small bacterium and they're alive and found in the lake and they have arsenic instead of phosphorous in the building block of life. It makes scientists rethink everything we know about life on earth. Does it all make them think about life out there? I was very excited when I had a chance to talk earlier with a lead scientist on this project at NASA Felisa Wolfe-Simon.

Let me start with a pretty basic layman's question. With this amazing discovery you announced today, how much does it change what we've all been told and taught about how we got here?

FELISA WOLFE-SIMON, NASA ASTROBIOLOGY RESEARCH FELLOW: Well, it doesn't exactly explain or give us an exact answer to how we got here. But I think it suggests that things could be a little different or even very different than we know. There may have been other options to how we got here.

KING: OK. Well, if there's other options to how we got here and we need to rethink and maybe keep studying just about everything, what about up there?

WOLFE-SIMON: I think that I certainly would say that there's more -- it's even more likely that we find life elsewhere, and finding life elsewhere until the universe would be enormous discovery and I would say we're not alone in the universe and there may be other solutions to the challenge of being alive. That can give us insight into what it means for us to be alive and our role and place in the universe.

KING: The goal of research is you have this list of unanswered questions, and your goal is to go about it to answer the question. Sometimes if you answer that question, if you answered a big one today, you cross that question off the list and then you have fewer questions on the list. Sometimes you answer one question and you get a whole other longer list of other questions. Which is it?

WOLFE-SIMON: I think I'll take number two for as much grant money as I can get.

KING: So, then, if it is choice number two, does every science teacher in America, whether they're teaching first and second graders, fifth or sixth graders, in high school, in college, in post-graduate work or graduate work, do they have to walk into class tomorrow and say, never mind?

WOLFE-SIMON: Not never mind. But there's something else. So I think we've added to our arsenal of understanding of biology here. I think what we know is true. This expands our understanding of how things work.

KING: What's your next question that you need answers to understand the scope of what you have discovered?

WOLFE-SIMON: I have a lot of other questions and I'm an early career scientist, so I'd say stay tuned. I think this will spurn interesting questions of our roll, our life here on Everett earth and life in the universe by myself and any other scientists around the world.

KING: Felisa Wolfe-Simon, fascinating discovery today and we appreciate your time and wish you the best of luck answering your longer list of questions.

WOLFE-SIMON: Thank you.

KING: I don't know about you, but I find that pretty fascinating and pretty cool.

When we come back, CNN caught up with Sarah Palin. She is out signing books in Iowa today. Did she answer questions? Stay with us.


KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Johns for the latest news you need to know right now.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey John. Emergency crews are working to get to homeowners and motorists buried in snow in and around Buffalo, New York. Heavy snow has stranded motorists for nearly 20 hours on interstate 90.

In Iowa another cold place today Sarah Palin did something she usually doesn't do, answer a reporter's question about 2012. The reporter here is CNN's Jim Acosta.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Any chance you're closer to an announcement on running for president?

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Am I doing interviews? I want to talk to the nice people. Where is our good enthusiasm?

ACOSTA: Well, we're nice, too.

PALIN: Not always, but maybe you are.

ACOSTA: Are you getting any closer?

PALIN: No, not any closer yet, no.

JOHNS: And then they were kicked out of the event. What is up with the CNN people asking questions?

KING: Reporters want to ask questions. We'll get to that at the table. She has a little shuffle there?

JOHNS: What was up with that?

KING: Maybe she got that from dancing with the stars. She's had experience with that latest. She has an interesting strategy right now. Number one, she's smart. She has these book tours and she has a big audience in Iowa, duh, she's twice in Iowa going to South Carolina. It's not in her interest to do the give or take. She faces a huge challenge, whether it's reporters or people of Iowa, if she's serious about running down the road, she has to interact more than signing books.

JOHNS: If she talks on camera, she does it on her reality show.

KING: You were up on Capitol Hill today. Charlie Rangel is a guy you covered for a long time was embarrassed and shamed and censured today. What was it like to watch that?

JOHNS: It was a view of two Charlie Rangel. On the House floor it was a solemn occasion. If you think Charlie Rangel came out of that thing, broken I wouldn't say so. He had his head up and went to a news conference. A lot of people thought he was going to cancel the news conference. Went straight to the cameras and talked and told his peace and said he felt pretty good about putting it all out there.

KING: Let me ask you a question. Now that he's in the minority with the Republicans running the House how his service goes over the next couple of years. When we come back, a major snub for the United States on the world stage. Think soccer. And oh, boy, Cleveland, just a few minutes from now, the return, and it is not a celebration.


KING: So the U.S. gets snubbed again. President Obama went to Europe, and didn't come back with the Olympics. Now former President Bill Clinton goes to Zurich to try to get the World Cup, but listen to what happened today.

SEPP BLATTER, FIFA PRESIDENT: The winner to organize the 2022 FIFA World Cup is Qatar.

KING: Qatar, the Middle Eastern big oil country gets the World Cup and not United States. Why can't the United States get any respect? Here to talk it over is Christine Brennan the award winning sports columnist for USA Today and in New York CNN contributor, former sports radio host, all around sports guy Max Kellerman. Why can't the United States get the respect of the world? Is that the wrong question?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA TODAY: I think the U.S. has the respect of the world internationally and certainly politically and in sports. I think the issue is that these international world leaders, basically it's a bunch of European guys, 75 and older, they run the Olympics, they run FIFA and they run all these other sports and they love to stick it to the United States. They love American money and want American corporations to support these events and when it comes to time to giving the United States that big prize, they just don't want to do it. They actually enjoy watching the president fly over, try to win the Olympics and then snubbing him. That's an interesting group of people who like that.

KING: We cover politics on this show a lot. I wasn't sure this fit in tonight but apparently it fits perfectly. Is that what it is that these world leaders want to come over and kiss the ring and all that but then is it corrupt or just anti-American?

MAX KELLERMAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's possible that that's the case. The saying I think it's the medical profession, don't rule out zebras but think horses first and what occurs to me, watching this, is that Qatar is -- has a tremendous amount of oil money and there are ongoing allegations and investigations of vote swapping and bribery among FIFA officials. It's incredibly powerful. It generates unimaginable amounts of money, yet is completely internally regulated. It has no real external check, and so that Russia gets the bid in 18. Russia is -- you know, also fueled by petro dollars and also quite corrupt and Qatar gets it in 2022. Is it possible that they want to get it to places that have never had the World Cup before? They want to grow those markets? I don't know what the market in Qatar is. The gas is cheap and they have infrastructure and get to the stadiums that they have yet to build. It's possible.

KING: Average temperature in Qatar when they will have this competition 106 degrees Fahrenheit. They better air condition everything.

BRENNAN: They said that they are going to, but we'll see.

KING: Let's move on. Let's bring the story back home to the presidential and basketball state of Ohio. This is the view. Heated return. Will it be cheers or jeers? Lebron is coming home. He's a member of the Miami Heat. They are not happy.

BRENNAN: I love the guy in Cleveland who that said everyone should laugh. Everyone should just laugh when they introduce him and everything that they love. I don't think that is going to happen. We are not cavalier fans, John, per se, but these are great sports fans. They're very loyal. Cleveland hasn't won anything since 1964 in terms of a national championship. They've been waiting a long time. This is their chance. Lebron had the decision back in the summer. Now this is the return and the chance for these Cleveland fans and I think it will be classy but they will boo and let him know and I think they have every right to let them know.

KING: What do you think, Max?

KELLERMAN: They are going to boo him, of course. The interesting thing about the whole Lebron situation in Cleveland, Cleveland is getting the sports identity, which I think was murkier before Lebron made the decision and is now the jilted city. Or state. The region has been jilted by Lebron James and hasn't had a championship in what is it, 40 years now, 45 years now. And they kind of -- it's better than nothing that identity. I always felt when the Red Sox won the World Series, they lost that. They lost some of that bitterness, that thing that distinguished them from the generic team. Now Boston is just a great team and a great tradition and everything. They lost that part of their identity. I think Cleveland is carving this jilted identity right now. It's interesting to me.

KING: You expect Lebron to light it up?

BRENNAN: That's another interesting point. You know maybe Max but we know he has not played great when the pressure's really been on and you can make a strong case John that this is really the most pressure he's faced then potentially a huge playoff game. We will see.

KELLERMAN: Lebron, Lebron has come up small in some big situations. He's also come up very big in some big situations in his career and as much as most sports fans would love to see the Heat lose and Lebron play poorly, I'm expecting him to play well with the ball in his hand for most of the game.

KING: We'll see if he blows a kiss to the owner Dan Gilbert out there. They had tough words when it was over. Christine, Max thanks for coming in. Tipoff just a few minutes away. Stay here. Tivo it. But it's your call. We'll stay with politics and sports. Pete Dominick is thinking some members of Congress are targeting athletes with unnecessary roughness.


KING: Our offbeat reporter Pete Dominick is a lot like me. He loves sports and love politics but the two worlds are colliding as Congress looks for a way to trim the debt, better manage its time. Pete, why aren't you happy?

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Well, listen, the Republicans have done it now. They have decided in the 112th Congress that they are going to do away with the symbolic resolutions that are so important. We put together the most important moments ever on Capitol Hill. Take a look at what they want to do away with, John King.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of Resolution 1456 which congratulates the University of Dayton's men's basketball team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Resolution 1480 which congratulates southern California men's tennis team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: University of South Carolina's baseball team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Little league girl's softball team.

DOMINICK: John King, this American voter voted these Congressmen and women in to congratulate girls' little league teams. This is important work that they do up there. What is this controversy about?

KING: You just created a much bigger controversy. How did you vote for the guy in the islands?

DOMINICK: I'm not sure how I did that. That's a good point. It's hard to maintain my fake anger on this one, but seriously, national day of the cowboy? What do Republicans have against the national pollinator day? What is America if we don't celebrate national thrombosis week? I'm done.

KING: I'm with you, Pete. We'll see you tomorrow. We'll see you tomorrow, too. "PARKER SPITZER" starts right now.