Return to Transcripts main page

Lou Dobbs Tonight

Democrats Divided; Racist or Dissent; President Obama's Czars; Border Violence

Aired September 16, 2009 - 19:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, you're all a twitter. Thanks.

Tonight Democrats may be self-destructing. The new Senate health care plan has the party divided not about what was actually in the plan, but rather about what's not in it -- the must discussed public option.

Also, if you don't agree with President Obama, you may be a racist. That's what former President Jimmy Carter says -- just one more outrageous statement by the former president. And you call this a post-racial America? We'll have a special report.

And some Republicans say this administration's countless appointed czars severely undermine the Constitution. Americans need to know, who are these czars? What do they do? Why do we have them to begin with?

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT; news, debate and analysis for Wednesday, September 16th. Live from New York, Mr. Independent, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening everybody. Democrats don't like it much, neither do Republicans -- in fact the only one who seems to be rallying around the sweeping health care overhaul proposed today by Democratic Senator Max Baucus is Senator Baucus. A 10-year $865 billion proposal generally reflects the president's vision with a glaring omission, the so-called public option that liberals have been infatuated with.

It's nowhere to be found. And that could prove to be fatal for divided Democrats. As lawmakers enter what is the final hour of the health care debate, Senator Baucus says his plan may be the last best hope to pass any kind of health care legislation. Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill.


DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After months of intense negotiations with Republicans in search of a bipartisan health care agreement, the Democratic finance chairman made his big announcement alone. But still declared...

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), MONTANA: This is a good bill. This is a balanced bill. It can pass the Senate.

BASH: What Senator Max Baucus means by that is his much anticipated health care proposal is more moderate than other Democratic bills. The starkest example -- it does not include a government-run insurance option that many Democrats called critical to increasing competition and lowering costs. Instead, it proposes nonprofit insurance cooperatives.

The Congressional Budget Office says Baucus' plan cost $774 billion, considerably less than the $1 trillion Democratic House plan. Baucus insists it will be paid for with hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to government health programs, mostly Medicare, as well as new taxes and fees. Senator Baucus insists it will be paid for with more than $500 billion in cuts and savings, to government health care programs, mostly Medicare and nearly $350 billion in new taxes and fees.

That includes a 35 percent tax on insurance companies for high- end so-called Cadillac plans that cost over $21,000. Baucus' proposal would ban discrimination based on preexisting conditions. And it would require all Americans to have health coverage. Those who don't would be penalized with a fine up to $3,800 for a family of four making $66,000 a year, but low-income Americans would get help from the government to pay for their coverage either through expanded Medicaid or tax credits. To lower the cost of the plan, though, Baucus offers fewer subsidies than the House Democrats bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are some who think I've not gone far enough. There are some on both sides of the aisle think I've gone too far.

BASH: Some of the harshest criticism is coming from Baucus' fellow Democrats.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: How can we give all these new consumers to the health insurance industry with no accountability, no competition, and no real challenge for them to honor the reforms that we have in the bill?


BASH: Now, the three Republicans in the Senate who Baucus spent hundreds of hours negotiating with, they're not supporting this right now because they say it still spends too much. On the other side, there are some Democrats on his finance committee who say they're not supporting it right now because they say it doesn't spend enough, especially on making insurance more affordable. So what we are going to see for sure, Lou, next week when the Senate Finance Committee starts voting is vigorous attempts on both sides of the aisle to change this proposal.

DOBBS: Three hundred and fifty billion dollars of new taxes when an economy as weak as ours is struggling to reach recovery. You know, Senator Rockefeller says no deal.

BASH: That's right. Well, you know, this tax proposal that he has is less than and actually more acceptable to Republicans than what the House had. Of course, you remember, the House had an excise tax, sort of a blanket excise tax on wealthy Americans. This specifically is targeted at insurance companies and even more specifically targeted at high cost insurance plans.

And this is something that actually when you talk to the Republicans they were OK with this because they thought it not only was a revenue-raiser, so to speak, they believe that this would somehow bend the cost curve -- we've heard that term -- but lower health care costs eventually. It's also what the president endorsed when he spoke last week, Lou.

DOBBS: Again, Senator Rockefeller says no deal.

BASH: Senate Rockefeller says no deal. Other Democrats say no deal. And I think the most difficult thing that Senator Baucus is going to have to deal with, and that means that the White House is going to have to deal with, because ultimately this is what the president has as his top priority is the fact that you talk to any Democrat, just like Republicans, more importantly any Democrat, and they will have a different idea of how they think that this should be changed to make it better. And that is going to be a huge challenge, especially next week as this committee really starts to take votes and to formulate this proposal...

DOBBS: As if they don't have challenges enough already. Thank you very much, Dana -- Dana Bash from Capitol Hill.

The White House tonight rejecting former President Jimmy Carter's charge that most of President Obama's critics are racist. Carter saying many Americans do not simply disagree with the president on public policy. They are just uncomfortable with a black man in the White House. Candy Crowley has our report.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Race and politics is a combustible combo. And it explodes into headlines when an ex-president lights the fuse as Jimmy Carter did on NBC.

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.

CROWLEY: It's the sort of thing that tends to raise people's defenses. In particular, it tends to turn off independents who by nature hate the hard edges of politics. That makes this entire conversation a political loser for a president with an ambitious agenda. The White House wants no part of this.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president does not believe that criticism comes based on the color of his skin.

CROWLEY: As a candidate, Barack Obama understood the political danger in letting his race become a major topic. He avoided it when he could, but race was always a subtext as it is now in his presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) feeling among (INAUDIBLE) this country that an African American (INAUDIBLE) to be president (INAUDIBLE) given the same respect as if (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY: Framing criticism as racism cropped up several times during the campaign, always leaving bitter feelings. When Geraldine Ferraro (ph), a Clinton supporter said during the primaries that Obama would never have gotten as far as he had if he had not been black, candidate Obama pointedly left race out of it.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that her comments were ridiculous.

CROWLEY: But Ferraro blamed Obama supporters for her hate mail.

GERALDINE FERRARO, FORMER DEMOCRATIC VP CANDIDATE: I've been called all kinds of names. And the attacks are ageist, they're sexist, they're racist.

CROWLEY: And the topic of race even came to haunt Bill Clinton, the so-called first black president.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no difference in your voting record and Hillary's ever since. Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.

CROWLEY: Bill Clinton's fierce attacks on Obama's statements about Iraq caused grumblings in the African-American community that Clinton was being dismissive. It prompted accusations that the former president was playing the race card.


CROWLEY: Now, Michael Steele (ph), who as you know, Lou, is the African-American who is now chairman of the Republican National Committee says that he believes former President Jimmy Carter is dead wrong. Not only that, Steele (ph) says, listen, he's taking away from cases of real racism. He said no one's denying racism is gone.

It's just that when you make these blanket assertions that almost all protests is based in racism, you take away from what's really important in the battle against racism. So we're hearing the same sorts of things as I'm sure you are, Lou, around the water coolers. They say this is just one of those topics that tells us both that there is no post-racial America right now.

DOBBS: Yes, and it's also important to put into context, whatever news organization reports on this, that the president who made this statement, that is former President Jimmy Carter, was one of the most criticized and unpopular presidents of the last quarter century. And in the criticisms of President Carter certainly didn't have anything to do with his race. Candy, thank you very much -- great reporting as always -- Candy Crowley.

Well, President Carter not the only one crying racism. Congressman Hank Johnson had a strong reaction to Congressman Joe Wilson's accusation that the president lied. Congressman Johnson actually compared the president's critics to the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D), GEORGIA: If I were a betting man, I would say that it instigated more racist sentiment feeling that it's OK, you don't have to -- you don't have to bury it now. You can bring it out and talk about it fully. And, so, I guess we'll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people.


DOBBS: Congressman Hank Jackson (ph). Coming up in our "Face Off" debate here tonight, some people said the president's election was proof-positive that America has turned the corner on the issue of race, but now issue is back and in a big way, the debate over a post racial America coming up here later in the broadcast.

This is not the first time that President Carter of course has made controversial comments -- his claims that attacks against the president's policies are racist seem familiar, unfortunately his outbursts have become all too expected -- Kitty Pilgrim with our report.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Jimmy Carter left office a relatively young man in his 50's and since then has been a visible figure on the world stage. No one questions his humanitarian work, personally working with Habitat for Humanity. He has figure-headed the Carter Center in Atlanta to monitor elections around the world.

In 2002, Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize. But Carter's high profile has also generated controversy by inserting the former president into difficult situations, often at the discomfort of the administration in power. For example, last April, Carter met with a senior Hamas leader, generating outcry from Congress and the State Department. The official U.S. policy was to shun the group. Two months later, after a meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad (ph).

CARTER: I don't believe there's any possibility to have peace between Palestinians and Israel unless Hamas is involved directly.

PILGRIM: Carter also generated controversy by writing a book that compared the Israeli treatment of Palestinians to South African apartheid titled "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid". The book was endorsed in an audiotape reported to be Osama bin Laden. In 1994, during the Clinton administration, Carter also went to North Korea as a so-called private citizen during a tense nuclear standoff.

Carter was feted and treated as a head of state, declaring success upon his return Carter remarked "I don't see that they are an outlaw nation. People in North Korea were very friendly and open." The Carter Center also monitored and certified the Venezuelan election in 2004 that reinstalled the Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.


PILGRIM: Now last week, Carter seemed at odds with President Obama's policy in Afghanistan saying Americans have turned against the war, just as U.S. commanders have said they need more troops. Carter said rather than sending troops, I quote, "would negotiate with the locals" -- Lou?

DOBBS: Kitty, thank you very much.

Well, race and politics supposed to be past all of that with Barack Obama now in the White House. Maybe the claims were just a little premature. We'll be examining that, also tonight, some difficult questions being asked about the White House's powerful czars. Why so many? They make big important decisions, yet you and I know almost nothing about them. And who are they?

The feds may finally be making a move against the left-wing activist group ACORN. What took so long? We'll have the latest on that and a great deal more straight ahead.


DOBBS: The left-wing activist group ACORN could soon be facing a federal investigation. At a Senate hearing today, FBI Director Robert Mueller was asked about the issues raised in a series of undercover videos taken in ACORN offices.


ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: I think the first I heard of this incident to which you refer was last evening. And I -- and beyond that, I do know -- I do not know where we are. Clearly given what you have said, it's something in consultation with the Department of Justice that we'll look at.


DOBBS: ACORN today said it is taking steps to correct issues raised in those videos, including sending its employees to sensitivity training. Undercover filmmakers posing as a pimp and a prostitute seeking business advice -- ACORN employees are seen and heard telling the pimp and the prostitute how to well, how to do business.

ACORN says it will order a thorough review of its operations and better train its staff. There are calls in the Senate for an investigation of ACORN, House Republicans planning the legislation to bar ACORN from receiving any federal money whatsoever. ACORN now receives an estimated 40 percent of its funding from the federal taxpayers.

President Obama has faced a sharp round of criticism for the unprecedented number of czars he's appointed. President Obama has named more than 30 czars -- so far many of them to top policy making positions. But none of those advisers subject to Senate hearings or confirmation or vetting. Now, many in Congress are demanding far more accountability and testimony from the so-called czars. Lisa Sylvester has our report.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are about 30 so-called czars watching over everything from Afghanistan to the economy. Some lawmakers complain these advisers have bypassed the Senate confirmation process, answering only to the president and can't be forced to testify before Congress.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: This formation of a shadow cabinet that in fact is more than twice the size of the real cabinet is a danger to the very question of who's advising the president and on what basis.

SYLVESTER: Representative Frank Wolf says the czars have not been put through full security screenings, unlike cabinet members who have had to go through a lengthy vetting process.

REP. FRANK WOLF (R), VIRGINIA: The FBI said they do a background check, but it's the same background check they would do for an intern at the White House. But they do not do a security clearance (ph).

SYLVESTER: Green job czar Van Jones stepped down after controversial statements he made surfaced. And President Obama's car czar, Steven Ratner (ph), without explanation resigned amid reports the New York attorney general was investigating an investment company linked to him. The White House defended itself saying the practice of appointing czars is nothing new.

GIBBS: These are positions that date back at least to, you know, many, many administrations where there may be policy coordination between many different departments in order to make governmental responses more efficient.

SYLVESTER: The Democratic National Committee followed up saying, quote, "most telling of the credibility of these attacks is that they come from the same Republican Party that didn't utter a peep about the 47 documented czars in the Bush administration."

But it's not just Republicans bothered by the czars. This week, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold who chairs the Senate Constitution subcommittee asked the White House to disclose more information. Who are the individuals? What are their responsibilities and whether and how these positions are consistent with the appointments clause of the Constitution?


SYLVESTER: And lawmakers are continuing to press the issue, introducing legislation to withhold funding from any czars calling for congressional hearings and today a resolution of disapproval was introduced in the House of Representatives -- Lou?

DOBBS: Yes and to be clear, we should point out that that number in the Bush administration, the number of czars, in point of fact, the highest number of czars that we were able to document in our own reporting on this broadcast for the number of czars previous to the 34, 35 czars appointed by President Obama in his first eight months in office was during the Clinton administration and he had only 10 czars -- a remarkable change of emphasis on czardom (ph), if you will.

SYLVESTER: Yes. You know, if you take a look at the numbers that the DNC put out, one of the things that they do is they count all of the czars that President Obama had as opposed to counting the positions, so if you really want to compare apples to apples here, you know if President Obama is starting with 30 czar positions right now, well just think how many individuals might flow in and out of those positions, so you could well have over 60 czars double or triple the number of czars if they're going to be comparing it to the same way that they came up with the numbers under President Bush.

DOBBS: So in other words, they were counting the number of people who rotated in over two terms?

SYLVESTER: Over -- exactly. Over eight years. That's exactly what they were doing...


SYLVESTER: ... as opposed to the positions.

DOBBS: How open and transparent of the DNC. Thank you very much, Lisa. Lisa Sylvester.

Up next here, is criticism of President Obama, is it racist or is it political or is it all about public policy perhaps? That's the subject of our "Face Off" debate tonight.

And a new wave of deadly drug cartel violence along our border with Mexico -- it seems unending -- perhaps worsening. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Mexican drug cartel violence is exploding along our southern border. So far this year, more than 600 people in the city of Juarez, just across the U.S. border, have been killed in drug cartel violence. That violence is on the rise, despite promises from Mexico's president to rein in the cartels. More cartel violence is spilling as well over to this side of the border -- Casey Wian now with our report from the U.S./Mexico border.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just across the border from San Diego, six bodies were found inside a burning car in Tijuana Monday night. Two were in the trunk, a sign they're among the latest victims of Mexico's drug wars. In (INAUDIBLE) Juarez across the border from El Paso, 10 people were gunned down in two separate incidents Tuesday...

(SOUNDS) WIAN: One thousand six hundred and forty-seven people have been killed in the city so far this year, already surpassing the total for all of 2008. It's the result of a vicious turf battle between two cartels that local authorities seem powerless to stop.

MAYOR REYES FERRIZ, CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO: We have been able to get most of the crime rates down. Bank robberies are down 80 percent. Car thefts are down 50 percent. Commercial thefts are down 60 percent, so most of the statistics are down. We still need work a lot on murder rates which are very difficult.

WIAN: It's not for lack of trying. President Felipe Calderon has agreed to extend the stay of 7,500 federal troops in the city at the mayor's request. More than 600 new police officers are on the job, nearly replacing the 700 that left after an anti-corruption sweep.


WIAN: Authorities are even running public service ads dramatizing cartel killings with images that mirror real life in a message to the city's youth to stay away from the drug traffickers. But it's a hard sell. Monday dozens of police officers in central Mexico were arrested for allegedly collaborating with cartels and a convoy traveling to pick up a state governor was ambushed in broad daylight.

PROF. GEORGE GRAYSON, COLLEGE OF WILLIAM & MARY: Every time you bash down on one of these creatures that is a cartel or a cartel leader, another one pops up and so I see the violence escalating.

WIAN: Evidence of that includes two attacks this month in drug treatment facilities in Mexico, where a total of 28 people were killed. Authorities suspect some of the victims were cartel members hiding out in the facilities.


WIAN: And the violence continues to spill over to this side of the border. In recent weeks, federal authorities have arrested several suspects in Texas and California, accused of working for Mexican drug cartels. Charges they face include murder, kidnapping, narcotics and weapons trafficking. Lou?

DOBBS: Casey, thank you very much -- Casey Wian reporting.

Well up next, what took so long? The FBI finally saying it may be time to take a hard look at the leftist activist group ACORN. Also Democrats turning on one another over the issue of health care, the fight over the so-called public option. Could it destroy any chance that the Democrats have of introducing legislation and passing it?

And everyone talking about a post-racial America when President Obama was elected, now those claims are being questioned, profoundly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ANNOUNCER: Here again, Mr. Independent, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: The election of President Barack Obama was seen by many as ushering in the post-racial era of this country. That hope, however, may be premature. Former President Jimmy Carter last night saying much of the criticism of the president's policy is racist. Are we in a post-racial America? Is vocal criticism of the president racism? Or is it based on public policy differences?

That's the subject of our "Face Off" debate. And joining me now is Robert Thompson Ford (ph) -- he's professor of law at Stanford University -- Professor, it's great to have you with us -- and Dayo Olopade -- she is political correspondent for "The Root" -- and we appreciate you being with us, Dayo. Thank you so much.

Well let's turn to the first issue. Let's start, if I may, Dayo, with you. President Carter making these statements, do you agree, disagree, what?

DAYO OLOPADE, THE ROOT: I think that there's been a sentiment throughout the country over the last couple of weeks throughout the summer that there's been an incivility to the tone of the political debate and I think that much was when General Colin Powell stepped in at the end of the 2008 campaign and said this is enough.

You know we need to have someone say something. And I think that was what motivated President Carter's comments. I think that, you know, he knows of which he speaks. He's a southern Democrat who ran in Georgia in the 1960s and '70s. Knows very well the political climate down there and the ways in which race plays into voting patterns and prejudices that creep into our discourse.

DOBBS: Richard, your thoughts. Do you agree?

PROF. RICHARD THOMPSON FORD, STANFORD UNIVERSITY: Well, there's no doubt that there are racism in the United States. We haven't overcome racism. And I have no doubt that as the first black president, President Obama, experiences some extra degree of hostility, as a result of that element of the American population.

Now, that having been said, I think that racism is at an all-time low. And it's also important to note that our political debates in this country have been characterized by rank or hostility for quite a long time.

President Clinton, for instance, and President Bush didn't receive an easier free ride. And so a lot of what's going on with Obama really isn't that much different than what's happened to other presidents.

DOBBS: Now President Bush wasn't exactly a favorite daffodil of the -- of the national media certainly for eight years.

But you mentioned civility, Dayo.

OLOPADE: Right. DOBBS: This goes well beyond civility issues. There's no question that Congressman Joe Wilson insulted the office of the president, as well as President Obama.

OLOPADE: That's right.

DOBBS: But that said, he apologized. The president graciously accepted that apology. And now we move to another level, in which the first black president of America, has either those who would like to support him, or surrogates, saying that when you criticize a black president's policies that that in and of itself is racism.

Does that not -- I mean that strains credulity, does it not?

OLOPADE: I think that the question of whether or not this is a racialized moment, whether you can ignore the president's race or whether you have to factor it in to any of his decisions, is sort of beside the point.

This is about politics. We're in Washington. It's a town where there are agendas on the right and the left. And by any means necessary, you see individuals pushing it. And you've seen both Joe Wilson and his primary opponent raising money off his outburst.

DOBBS: Millions of dollars.

OLOPADE: Right. And so I think that, as -- in so far as the racial issue can motivate what Jimmy Carter called a small proportion of the folks who are at rallies, like the rally we saw on the mall on Saturday, insofar as that can motivate them, Republicans will use that tool if they can. And I think that that is lamentable but that's politics, more than race.

DOBBS: Dayo seems to be, Rich, putting us -- boxing in a few folks, if I may, putting us in a position as a body politic. If it is not racism, perhaps implying rather forcefully that racism is a motivation, if not the expression. What do you make of that?

FORD: Well, I think that it's in politics, often politicians will latch on to you anything they can. And unfortunately, sometimes that includes racism. But I -- my concern is that we wind up with a debate about whether or not this person or that person was a racist, Joe Wilson, or what have you.

Now, already, we see his son has come out to say my father is not a racist. That no -- and it distracts attention from the real issues that we have to confront. Both the real racial inequities and I could go on about inner city poverty and...

DOBBS: True.

FORD: ... over representation of blacks in the criminal justice system, and also from the issues that we need to be discussing now, in particular, that health care. And instead, we have kind of a predictable debate about racism where a lot of heat is generated but unfortunately not much light. OLOPADE: Right.

DOBBS: And, interestingly, Dayo, that is the choice of Jimmy Carter. It is the choice of Congressman Hank Johnson. It is the choice of others who should be, one would think, advocates and supporters of the president's advocacy, of his legislative agenda. What we have seen is a departure and a rapture within the Democratic Party, have we not?

OLOPADE: I think that it might speak to a lack of communication between Jimmy Carter and the White House. He's a former president. He's entitled to do whatever he'd like. But, again, the White House is not pushing this. I was at the briefing today where Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked over and over again to speak about Carter. A brief remark. Didn't want to get into it.

The president has spoken about race when provoked and I hesitate to use the word provocation but the Jeremiah Wright incident in April, 2008, the Skip Gates incident earlier this summer, were all instances where something was happening politically that forced his hand.

I think that the president and the White House would much be rather talking about health care. And to address your point, Richard, I think you've called the president's speaking about Skip Gates to be an abusive use of the race card. And I think that that's certainly fair but I -- it's hard to say that the White House is trying to focus on this.

I think they're very much directed in several different directions that they're being pulled from a policy perspective.

DOBBS: Richard -- Professor, you get the last word here.

FORD: OK. Well, I don't -- I never said that the president talking about the Skip Gates incident was an abusive use of the race card. I do think that the White House has been very careful to stay on message and not to get distracted by, you know, kind of un- resolvable debate about whether this person or that person is a racist. And that's to their credit.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you both for being with us.

OLOPADE: Thank you.

DOBBS: Dayo, thank you very much. And Professor, thank you very much.

Up next here, we'll have a lot more on the issue of race and politics, and a possible fallout for the president's agenda. More problems for the left-wing activist group ACORN. Is a federal investigation next?

And a battle over the "Pledge of Allegiance" in our schools. Should our students be given a Miranda warning before pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States? We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Millions of our school children all around the country beginning their day, reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance." Courts have ruled that students have the right not to recite the pledge. But now an activist group wants schools to have, if you will, Miranda warning for the pledge. An adviser to students they can remain silent during the pledge.

Bill Tucker with our story.


STUDENTS: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's the sound of the start of a school day in classrooms across America. And it has been since presidential candidate Barry Goldwater used it in his campaign ads, and it has been in the use since.

REP. TODD AKIN (R), MISSOURI: It is fundamentally American and uniquely American. I don't know of any other nation that has that type of a statement that ties us together which you find in our declaration, and the pledge picking up on those ideas.

TUCKER: Thirty-seven states have laws requiring that their schools begin the school day with the "Pledge of Allegiance" while 13 either have no law or have the option to recite the pledge.

Almost as ubiquitous as the pledge, though, is the controversy that comes along with. The group American United for the Separation of Church and State has issued a statement that it wants schools to remind parents and their kids they have no obligation to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance."

ROBERT BOSTON, AMERICAN UNITED: We're not saying that the teacher has to get up in a bull horn every day when the "Pledge of Allegiance" is about to be recited and scream that you don't have to participate if you don't want to.

TUCKER: They do want schools to incorporate the right of refusal into school policy and to notify parents of the policy.

Legally, they're on sound footing with the Supreme Court decision from 1943, that came as a result of a lawsuit brought by a family of Jehovah's Witnesses who said the pledge put country above God, and therefore they could not and will not say the pledge. The court sided with them.


TUCKER: And Lou, that was 66 years ago, right smack in the middle of when we were involved in World War II. And true to form, for every controversy since, as you might guess, it was not a popular decision. Lou.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much, Bill Tucker.

Joining me now Republican strategist, former political director of the White House, CNN contributor Ed Rollins -- Ed.

And president of Christie Strategies, former assistant to George W. Bush, Ron Christie. Good to have you with us, Ron.

Democratic strategist, CNN contributor, Robert Zimmerman. Robert, good to have you here.

Let's start with the pledge. Talk about looking for trouble. Isn't that just looking for trouble?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's not just looking for trouble. You have to wonder what in the world do these people have to do with the time on their hands. And when we have enough wedges in our country without trying to create a new one. So...

DOBBS: And you use the expression wedges. This is just another effort -- I mean, whatever the intentions, whether they be -- well, from the heart or whatever. Why? (INAUDIBLE).

RON CHRISTIE, CHRISTIE STRATEGIES: You got me. I agree with Robert. I think there's so many serious issues confronting the country right now, if children want to say the "Pledge of Allegiance," let them say it. If they don't want to say it, they don't have to say it. But to suggest that they have to be Mirandized before they go in the classroom, it's absurd. Far too many things we should focus on.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: That's absurd. I can't add anything to it beyond that, so let's move on to serious topics.

DOBBS: All right. Let's talk about Jimmy Carter. I mean this man has decided if you criticize a black president's policies, his public policies, then you are, by definition, a racist.

ROLLINS: Jimmy Carter by my definition, having been in the White House who followed him, was the worst president in history and probably the worst ex-president in history.

He can't stand to be out of the limelight. I think this is an idiotic statement. I think this president has gone a great deal both in his election and his campaign to put racism behind us.

There is racism in America. But there's also protest, there's also freedom of speech, and what's been practiced on this very critical issue of health care, there's a lot of Americans being very concerned and expressing concerns. For him to put racism into this as an excuse or non-excuse I think is just absurd.

ZIMMERMAN: Now, Ed, he did help put you in the White House, and that's something we can all appreciate.


When you were a Ronald Reagan political director and a senior adviser. But obviously, based upon...

ROLLINS: That's just a big (INAUDIBLE).


ZIMMERMAN: But the bottom line is, based upon the results of the last election, Jimmy Carter is factually incorrect. It's a divisive statement. And it also is a very -- it's very counterproductive to having a serious discussion about the important issues.

And I give the White House great credit for separating themselves from the statement, as I do many of the House leaders who spoke up today. My problem is, while I see Democrats to their credit coming out and speaking out, we have seen one divisive and hateful statement come from -- after another, coming out from Rush Limbaugh or former speaker, Newt Gingrich, or this fellow Mark Williams, who's leading the tea bag express protests.

And I've not seen one Republican stand and take on the divisive and hateful statements and the racist statements that are coming up.

DOBBS: Well, surely, Robert, you don't want to go through the list of left-wing commentators on the air that -- who have not either expressed themselves either elegantly or to their credit on the issue of race and politics. You surely don't want to...

ZIMMERMAN: I saw -- I do. I want to talk about the fact that 75 senators, more than half the Democrats, voted to condemn when they wrote an ad that attacked General Petraeus. And many Democrats took on, of those who claim that -- myself included, so when they said George Bush was a racist. So I think there is an issue where we can have civility. William F. Buckley drove out the John Birch Society from Republican Party.

DOBBS: And what would you have the Republican Party drive out now? I mean I don't...


ZIMMERMAN: I would have the Republican Party leadership step up and say there is no -- even though it's a small minority. The point is it's dominating the airwaves when we have people like Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich engage in racist rhetoric...

DOBBS: They're private citizens. What are you going to have them do?



ZIMMERMAN: They are spokespeople from the Republican Party and what -- by the way...

CHRISTIE: Let me inject in this. It is a very sad commentary in America where people can disagree with the president of the United States. It's the toughest job in the world, if you disagree with the president of the United States, because he's the first African- American, suddenly you're racist.

Last time I checked, I'm not racist.


CHRISTIE: I disagree with a lot of his policies and his politics, but I think it's very helpful and it's very, very good for this country to be able to suggest that if you disagree with the president, you can have an honest dialogue. We can try to find...

ZIMMERMAN: How about, Ron, when members of your party don't step up and take on people like Mark Williams who called Barack Obama an Indonesian Muslim or a welfare thug? And he leading the Tea Party Express? Why...

CHRISTIE: I don't want to go down that road because...

ZIMMERMAN: Why not? Why don't we condemn Rush Limbaugh for his racist rhetoric?


ZIMMERMAN: Why don't we take on Newt Gingrich for calling (INAUDIBLE) a racist?

CHRISTIE: We had the first grand kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan in the United States Senate. And I didn't see the level of indignation coming out of the Democrats. But let's not get off the rail.

ZIMMERMAN: That's correct.

CHRISTIE: The point of the matter is, the president of the United States ran for this office, he sought this office, he in my opinion should come out very strongly and say, enough is enough. The 39th president of the United States is wrong. I have a record. The White House is out today and said...

ZIMMERMAN: Robert did say that today.

CHRISTIE: ... that they had a record. The president of the United States can put this behind us. We do not need another discussion of race. This is going to hurt the White House.

ROLLINS: Ron, I wish you would have been just a little more intense when the majority leader of the United States Senate called President George Bush a liar.


ROLLINS: No, no, no. We just reprimanded -- we just reprimanded a member of Congress for the first time in history for calling a president a liar for...

ZIMMERMAN: For shouting out during a joint session of Congress. That's embarrassing...


ROLLINS: You don't think the majority of the United States Senate calling the president of the United States and never apologizing a liar, plus a lot of...


ROLLINS: A lot of detrimental things.

ZIMMERMAN: I think...

ROLLINS: So if you want to basically...

ZIMMERMAN: I think based upon...


ROLLINS: Based the gospel to your own side.

ZIMMERMAN: Based upon the lies that we heard from this administration over the Iraq war, I justify it. I accept what Senator...

DOBBS: I'm enjoying this. I'm sitting here trying to decide which is the purist. The Republican...

ZIMMERMAN: And Mr. Rollins is the purist.

DOBBS: The Republican Party or the Democratic Party.

We're going take just a moment's break and try to assess where the greatest amount of purity resides, Republican or Democratic leadership. We'll assess that when we continue.

Coming up at the top of the hour, Rick Sanchez sitting in tonight for Campbell Brown. Rick?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: The woman who runs ACORN, the CEO, is going to be talking to me. It's an exclusive interview we're going to have with her where she's going to try to explain to me -- notice the keyword there is "try" -- to explain to us tonight what happened, Lou, with these videotapes that everyone has been seeing that detail everything from an explanation to how to do prostitution.

I mean, we're talking about several illegal acts. We've got the videos. We've got the explanations. We've got the ramifications. And then she's going to come on and tell us what they are doing now in the midst of this scandalous controversy.

Here's what else we're going to do today, Lou. We're also going to be talking about the situation at Yale. I mean this young lady was found there just a couple days before she was scheduled to get married and she was found in a wall. Apparently police are now saying she was strangled, Lou. And you know what's interesting is a person has been taken away, handcuffed. The police got him, they are checking his DNA, among other things. They've been in his car. They've been in his house. But he's not a suspect, they say. They say he's not under arrest. And that's puzzling. So we're looking into that as well.

All that and a whole lot more, Lou, back to you.

DOBBS: There's a lot puzzling these days, including the fact that Bertha Louise's response initially on the investigation into the left-wing activist group ACORN is they're going to have some sensitivity training sessions.

Look forward to it, Rick.

Coming up next, more with our panel. The real cost of federal aid programs with the poor. The amount is staggering. We'll have that report next. And we'll be right back with our panel. And we'll assess, Democrats or Republicans? Who's purist?


DOBBS: We're back with our panel. We've got time just enough for concluding thoughts on the State of the Union, if you will. Your thoughts about the day.

ZIMMERMAN: The Baucus proposal is not anyone's first choice, but it's clearly emerging as a breakthrough in being the second choice. The preliminary reports from the CBO show over 10 years, this could be a savings up to $49 billion.

DOBBS: It's amazing we don't have even more of these. The money we could make on these health care proposals.


CHRISTIE: Exactly. I think the racial issue that we've talked about with Jimmy Carter is going to be a short-term distraction for the president, but in the long-term, I think it's going to anger and embolden a lot of people who have strong disagreements with this president to say, you should not ever tell us if we disagree with you, we're racist. It's going to portend for the 2010 elections, I think. Not too good for the Democrats.

ROLLINS: The president thinks he's in a fight now. The president ran as the anti-war president with a speaker who's always been an anti-military. You saw it yesterday with the -- before they even put up the Afghan plan, that there's a lot of objections, very serious Democrats. And so that's going to be the real fight.

DOBBS: All right. Ed, thank you very much. Ron, thank you very much. Robert, thank you.

And up next, the real cost of welfare in this country. It's a hidden cost, but you can't imagine how big it really is. We'll have that for you, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: A new Heritage Foundation study finds that the Obama administration will spend more than $10 trillion on welfare programs over the next decade. The Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector, the co-author of the study, calls the president's approach a plan for bankruptcy.

Robert Rector joins us now.

Robert, good to have you with us. I mean this is -- it's an extraordinary amount of money and why is it not in plain view as we look at the budget numbers and what is being proposed?

ROBERT RECTOR, SR. RESEARCH FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: This spending is largely hidden, because when you deal with similar programs like Medicare and Social Security, they are a single item in the federal budget. But when you look at aid to the poor, and that's cash, food, housing and medical care for poor and very low income people, it's spread out among 71 different programs and 14 different departments and agencies.

So you have to literally go through thousands of pages in the budget to uncover how much we spend on poor people. But when you do that exercise, what you find is that this year, we're going to spend about $800 billion on poor and low-income people. And it's about 5 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. It's the third largest category of government spending.

Social security and Medicare come first, then public education, then comes aid to the poor or means tested welfare. And we're now at a record level. Obama is going to increase it by about $300 billion over the next two years. But the increase isn't temporary. It just goes on and on and on.

DOBBS: Did you say $300 billion over two years?

RECTOR: Yes, that's the increase over the next two years alone. But then it doesn't go down after the recession. It continues to remain high. Within a few years, we're going to be spending $1 trillion a year on this stuff. And I'm not making these numbers up. They come right out of Obama's budgets.

And it's an astonishing thing. We are marching towards national bankruptcy. He's piling on half a trillion dollars of debt a year for the foreseeable future. We're basically mortgaging our children's future in order to spread the wealth today. And spreading the wealth might be a good idea, but we ought to at least be honest before we start doing even more of it about how much we're currently spending on the poor.

Our current spending amounts to about $18,000 on assistance to the poor for every single poor person in the United States, every single year.

DOBBS: Say that number again. How much per person? RECTOR: It's $18,000 for each poor person. That's the total amount of spending on means tested welfare. Now you could even look at it more broadly, because some of the spending goes to people that are low income, but not necessarily poor. But even if you were to take that, if you were to take this money and spread it out through the bottom one-third of the U.S. population, everybody in the bottom third gets part of this money.

It comes to $28,000 for each family of four down in that bottom third of the population. It's a huge amount of expenditure and it's largely untouched, undescribed. When the Census Bureau talks about inequality or measures poverty, guess what? Of this $800 billion of spending, not a -- virtually none of it is counted.

When we talk about how much the poor have and how much the rich have, we don't count the welfare state. They pretend that this doesn't exist. That's an insane way to conduct a discussion about public policy.

DOBBS: Insane and insane that we don't have a discussion of what is being spent in total. $10.3 trillion over the next decade. That is absolutely staggering. $28,000 per family in the lower third of income in this country per year. Again, staggering. And yet, poverty persists.

And as you say, there is no acknowledgement of the money that is being redistributed by the federal government to these low-income people in this country.

RECTOR: What you find when you really examine the living standards of lower income people is that they're doing much better than normal dialogue puts on. For example, if you look at families that census identifies as poor, they have cable and satellite television. What the problem with a lot of this spending...

DOBBS: Robert, I'm going to have to break here. We're running out our time. And Robert, we thank you for being with us. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation.

Thank you for being with us. Join us here tomorrow. Thanks for watching. Good night from New York. Rick Sanchez in for Campbell Brown.

ANNOUNCER: CNN Primetime begins right now.

SANCHEZ: Tonight, here are the questions we want answered. Who killed Annie Le? There are new details from the Yale grad student's murder.

Also, another crime on a different campus. A student gang-raped. Students not warned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We should have gotten an e-mail, we should have gotten a cell phone alert, we should have gotten anything to say that this happened.

SANCHEZ: Are your kids safe on college campuses? We're asking.

Also, this former president says what many were thinking.

CARTER: There is an inherent feeling among many people in this country that an African-American ought not to be president.

SANCHEZ: Is he right? Is this racism or just a political difference?

Plus, ACORN, you fund them and they're caught on camera giving advice on how to run a prostitution ring. Listen to this.