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Government Shutdown Looming; Obama Keeps Focus on Jobs Saudi Women Gain Right to Vote; Smokers Need Not Apply; Larry King Interviewed; UCLA Student Goes to Libya to Interact with Rebels; Federal Government Faces Shutdown over Disaster Relief Funding; Bill Clinton Claims President Should Not Raise Taxes

Aired September 26, 2011 - 07:59   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A political showdown on Capitol Hill could lead to a government shutdown. I'm Carol Costello. Democrats and Republicans unable to come together, even to help victims of wildfires and hurricanes. So how could they possibly agree on a spending bill by Friday?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama taking his jobs pitch out west. I'm Ali Velshi. The three-state swing, aimed at re- energizing his political base and refilling his campaign war chest, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

COSTELLO: Good morning. Happy Monday. It is September 26. Christine Romans is off today.

VELSHI: A fair amount of news for you this morning. A lot of political news over the weekend. But we begin by counting down to a government shutdown for the third time in five months. I think there are a lot of people that don't know it's even happening, because they don't want to acknowledge it's even possible.

COSTELLO: I know. Why even bother to listen. It's too depressing.

VELSHI: You're --

COSTELLO: But please listen for just a moment longer.

VELSHI: You're looking at a live picture of a gridlocked Capitol Hill. This time, the House and the Senate cannot agree on a temporary spending bill to keep the government funded through mid November. It's gotten so bad, Democrats and Republicans can't even come together to help hurricane and wildfire victims.

Kate Bolduan is live in Washington this morning.

Kate, the Senate is scheduled to vote on its version of the spending bill later today. Where do things stand?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Things have been going back and forth pretty much all last week. But the bottom line is the standoff continues, Ali. Both the House and Senate are scheduled to be on recess this week, but the Senate will be back in this evening to vote on what Senate Democrats are calling a compromise measure. Basically, they'll go along with the House-passed short-term spending bill, which provides also $3.6 billion to federal disaster relief, which is less than Democrats wanted.

But they also say they will not go along with the offsets that Republicans are demanding to pay for some of the emergency aid. And the finger pointing continues, unfortunately.

Listen here.


SEN. MARK WAGNER (D), VIRGINIA: Some of these Tea Party Republicans who say on every issue, we're going to make this a make or break. We saw it on the FAA when they shut down the Federal Aviation Administration. We're seeing it now on this debate about FEMA.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: I give the Senate Democratic leader most of the credit. He manufactured a crisis all week, about disaster when there's no crisis. Everybody knows we're going to pay for every single penny of disaster aid that the president declares.


BOLDUAN: Bottom line: Congress needs to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government running past the end of this fiscal year, which is Friday. Lawmakers also want to approve additional funding for FEMA in the wake of all the natural disasters the country has seen in recent months. Those are two things that both sides agree on.

But after that, there's little agreement on how much FEMA should get and if it should be paid for. Often emergency aid, Ali, like this, is not offset -- and Democrats are also very much against how Republicans specifically want to pay for this, by cutting money from clean energy programs that are in place. They say they are job creators.

One of these programs is linked to the now bankrupt solar company Solyndra. Bottom line, bottom line, very unclear how they're going to move forward from this.

VELSHI: I was going to ask you, bottom line, bottom line, there's a bill in front of the Senate today. But we just don't know how this plays out, because obviously, the real deal making will be behind the scenes. It's not going to play on the Senate floor or the House floor.

BOLDUAN: Everyone says it really comes down to harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, and John Boehner, the Speaker of the House. The Senate is going to move forward on a measure that's up for a key test vote. I'm not going to get into the legislative complexities here.

But if they did move forward with this measure, it could move quickly through the House if everyone decided to get along and agree on this. That's not clear that's the case. Not clear if it's going to happen.

VELSH: Right.

BOLDUAN: And if we look at history, it's not likely that it's going to move very quickly.

But they need to do something very soon. I mean, they are running out of government funding at the end of this week. FEMA funding, this disaster relief fund, could run dry very early this week, today or even tomorrow.

COSTELLO: And the sad part about this is all of those people in need, they are just lost in this -- another political argument.

VELSHI: Right.

BOLDUAN: And FEMA funding is something that generally speaking, funding disasters is not something that's a political hot potato. But it has become one.

VELSHI: Yes, it has become one recently. Kate, good to see you as always. Kate Bolduan, watching this for us.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, guys.

COSTELLO: Also this morning, President Obama continues his fundraising and jobs tour out West. This morning, he'll take part in a LinkedIn social networking town hall event.

The president road-tested a more aggressive approach towards Republicans at a campaign event in Seattle last night. He said that the GOP vision of government would, quote, "fundamentally cripple America."

CNN's Dan Lothian is live at the White House. So, the president is still pretty fiery, at least he's speaking that way now. And he is really slamming the GOP.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And you heard the president even criticize the rhetoric and the tone that we have heard lately from the Republican debates, even taking a shot at Texas Governor Rick Perry -- although he did not mention him specifically by name. He did refer to the governor of the state that the state is on fire but he is denying climate change.

What the president is trying to do here is really fire up his base. He realizes that there is a lot of frustration among the base. Some people disappointed that some of the things that the president promised during the campaign have not materialized so far during his administration.

And so, the president is trying to energize them. That's why he is out there on this West Coast tour. In addition to that, doing fundraising, expected to pull in more than $8 million in stops in Washington, California, and also in Colorado.

COSTELLO: Also there's a sit-down interview with the president scheduled for tonight on the BET Network. It's pretty fiery. And actually, the president has some choice words for the Congressional Black Caucus.

But what do African-American voters actually really want to hear from the president?

LOTHIAN: Well, you know, there have been a lot of rumblings and grumblings over the past few months from African-Americans, as in particular the leadership in Congress. And they're concerned because when you look at the unemployment situation, African-Americans have been hit a lot harder than other Americans, and they don't feel that the president has done enough to specifically address some of the concerns among the African-American community. And so, the president has been reaching out to a lot of different folks in his base, but in particular, trying to make sure that he has the support of the African-American community.

Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to press on for the sake of all of those families who are struggling right now. I don't have time to feel sorry for myself. I don't have time to complain. I'm going to press on. I expect all of you to march with me and press on.

Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes. Shake it off.

Stop complaining. Stop grumbling. Stop crying


LOTHIAN: The sense there as you see from the president fired up, speaking directly to those leaders in the African-American community, specifically those up on Capitol Hill, who have had some concerns with the president's record, trying to get them fired up to support him in this bid in 2012.

And one of the things that the president has been using not only with the African-American audiences, but as he travels across the country, is trying to lay out his record, talking about what he has done to turn around the auto industry, talking about the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" -- some of the issues that the president believes resonates with these voters and try to let them know that, yes, they may not have gotten everything that they wanted, but that he has some accomplishments. He has delivered -- Carol.

VELSHI: I think we need to let him go. He sounds like he's going to be picked up by a garbage truck. What is that noise?

LOTHIAN: I know. As you know, there's a construction project going on behind me here. And the timing is always great.


LOTHIAN: We have this big cement truck. And it couldn't just pull in here. It had to fire up and start dumping cement out at about the time that I came out here. So, I'm competing with that noise.

VELSHI: You're doing a great job. But it's fairly significant. I am a little worried about Dan's safety.

LOTHIAN: That's right. I should wear that hard hat, right?

VELSHI: All right. Dan, good to see you. Get out of the way of the cement. That stuff sticks.

COSTELLO: At least somebody is working there.

VELSHI: Shovel-ready project.

COSTELLO: Exactly.

VELSHI: There you go.

Meantime, the president is holding his LinkedIn town hall. House Republican leaders Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy will be at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, for a town hall of their own. The GOP trio known as the "Young Guns" will take live questions in front of an audience of Facebook workers and guests.

COSTELLO: Herman Cain shaking things up in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. The former CEO of Godfather's Pizza scoring a stunning victory in Saturday's Florida straw poll, outperforming Rick Perry, 37 percent to 15 percent.

Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, Cain insisted he's no flash in the pan and that voters are simply responding to his message.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have given a specific plan, 999, which is different from any of my other competitors because they are tying their plans for a boost in the economy to the existing tax code. My plan is bold because it throws out the tax code, and imposes a business flat tax of 9 percent, a personal flat tax of 9 percent, and a national sales tax of 9 percent. It replaces all of the taxes that people are now having to grapple with, and it provides certainty to the business community, which is what they are looking for in order to grow this economy.


COSTELLO: Mitt Romney finished a distant third in the Florida straw poll, but he did win Michigan's straw poll yesterday, trouncing Rick Perry 51 percent to 17 percent. But keep in mind that Mitt Romney is from Michigan.

VELSHI: Well, it's like you asked. I mean, other than the building of momentum and the help that it gives to a flagging campaign, it's not particularly scientific.

COSTELLO: The straw poll, no. It's more like a popularity contest. I mean, the primary, you know --

VELSHI: If your campaign is really flagging and on the ropes and all of a sudden, you get a big charge ahead, it certainly gets you into the news. And in this particular case, because the field is so spread, it helps with fundraising. But it's not really determinant of who's winning -- who's going to win the nomination.

COSTELLO: Right. And many analysts say it shows more the disappointment with the Republican field than that big win for Herman Cain.

VELSHI: Right.

COSTELLO: But the one in Michigan -- I mean, Mitt Romney is from Michigan so you expect that.

VELSHI: You got to give Herman Cain credit, he has staying power.

COSTELLO: He does.

VELSHI: He keeps popping.

OK. They still can't drive or open a bank account, but now, women in Saudi Arabia have gained the rate to vote, sort of. They'll even be able to run for office in future local elections.

International correspondent Mohammed Jamjoom joins us live from Abu Dhabi. He knows Saudi Arabia well.

Mohammed, I qualified it. I said, sort of. Give us the headline and what those sort ofs are.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ali, it's a complicated issue by Saudi standards. A major announcement, definitely historic what the king came out and said yesterday.

But it's the details we're trying to figure out right now. The king said that women could participate in future municipal elections, that they could nominate themselves and other candidates. That's being interpreted by all the people I'm speaking with in Saudi Arabia to mean that the king said women would be able to vote and would be able to nominate themselves as candidates in the forthcoming election, which would be four years from now at the earliest.

That having been said, though, there are people that are wondering if exactly that means they would precisely be able to vote, because he didn't specifically say the word "vote." The translation, he did not say vote, they are wondering if that leaves a little room for interpretation.

The women yesterday I spoke with were elated at the news. They were overjoyed. But today, I was speaking to some women, the activists, just in the past the hour, that were a little bit more tempered. They were saying now some disappointment is starting to set in, because we are talking about four years from now. And anything could happen between now and then.

And they're saying that could give time for the extremists or hardliners in the country to try to reverse the decision, try to make the king renege on his word. So, there is concern.

And in a country like Saudi Arabia, where, as you said, women don't even have the right to drive, it's a big step forward to get the right to vote. And you can count on hard-line factions of the government and society to try and block this from actually happening before it happens -- Ali.

VELSHI: Handicap this for a second, though, because, really the right to vote is so much bigger than the right to drive. The right to drive is more economically helpful to some people. But the right to vote is such a big deal. Handicap the chances of this actually coming forth and why they are choosing this time to do it.

JAMJOOM: Well, Ali, there has been criticism of the Saudi government because there have been two rounds of municipal elections, one in 2005, there's another one that's coming up on Thursday. In both of those rounds, women have been trying to get on the ballot. They have been trying to say that they should be able to vote. Women's rights activists there have been very critical of the government, saying that the government has not specified that women can't vote. So, they should be able to vote.

So they have been pushing it. The Saudi government is very concerned that they look bad in the eyes of the international community.

So, this is a way of saying, OK, you're not going to be able to participate this time. Next time, you'll be able to.

I would say that if the election were in a month, yes, it's a very good chance they would be able to vote. It looks like the king is serious.

But four years, a lot can happen. You're talking about a king who is 86 years old. His deputy is 85 years old. A lot can happen in that time. You could have a new king. You could have a new leadership.

The conservative faction could win out. And they could try to reverse this decision.

So, a lot can happen between now and then -- Ali.

VELSHI: All right. Mohammed, thanks very much.

It takes you back to times when women couldn't vote in a lot of places. I think it's interesting in Saudi Arabia that they want to be candidates. So, they are not taking it slowly. They are saying we want to be in the process, 100 percent, when we're in it.

And I'm sure that's how it's been for women all the time, right? There were women who wanted to run for office before women could vote --

COSTELLO: Oh, yes.

VELSHI: -- in America. And I think it's such a major step if it happens. But as Mohammed says

COSTELLO: I can't help but think they are sticking with the no drive thing because you have to drive to the polls. If you're in elected office, you have to use your car to get places to campaign.

VELSHI: But what a big step if it's true.

COSTELLO: Yes. Big step.

Still ahead this morning -- forget Cancun. A college student from UCLA joins Gadhafi rebels in Libya -- actually, anti-Gadhafi rebels in Libya, and he did that during his summer vacation, to find out first hand what fighting in a revolution would be like. We're sitting down with him.

VELSHI: And muggy temperatures, heavy rain, and now a possible tornado. Reynolds Wolf is tracking your work week forecast next.

It's 13 minutes after the hour.


COSTELLO: Good morning, Atlanta friends. It is cloudy and 72 degrees. Thunderstorms for you, too.


COSTELLO: Eighty-five later today.

VELSHI: Where are there not thunderstorms, Reynolds Wolf?

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: There are no thunderstorms I would say in parts of Texas, where they have just been battling the incredible oppressive heat. They need the rain. It's just been empty hands. Just hasn't happened for them. You know, that wasn't the case in Mississippi, especially last night with a line of strong storms that came through.

Not only that, but a possible tornado that moved right into Cleveland, Mississippi caused some damage to a couple of buildings, did some tree damage. Not sure as to whether or not it's a tornado as of yet. What's going to happen is, later on today, the Local National Weather Service Office will go out and survey the scene. Then, this afternoon, perhaps even tomorrow, they'll come out with an official report.

What we are going to report to you, though, is that we're going to see more of this activity possible from the Great Lakes clear down to the southeast. This is area of low pressure, the trailing cold front all driving off to the east is going to bring the rain showers. However, in Texas, maybe a mix of clouds.

There'll a bit of sunshine, but rain not in the picture. Same story for the central plains and into the great base (ph) and Pacific Northwest. Who would ever think it? Some rain in Seattle and also into Portland. We could see that last through a good part of the day. Future delays are probably going to be an issue for a good part of the day also, especially in Chicago and Detroit.

In New York, in Philadelphia, Cleveland, in Cincinnati, Atlanta, and D.C. metros, it's going to be variety of low clouds and thunderstorms and possible rain (INAUDIBLE) keep you grounded, but the big thunder boomers in Chicago and Detroit are going to bring runways to a stand still possibly by midday.

Hey, let's talk about something very different. We're going to go from this weather to a little bit of sports action. Take a look. This happened in Arizona just last night. Final game of the regular season. Foul ball, a mom catches the foul ball and gives it to her son. That's very sweet.

VELSHI: Look at this. This little kid is so grateful. How long do you think he stayed grateful for?

WOLF: I think he's at that (ph) for about three hours.

VELSHI: Until he got in the car and decided he wanted an ice cream on the way home.

COSTELLO: That's why I would have kept that ball for myself.


WOLF: You know, there was something said. There's a thing about kids, when they reach a certain age, then, they're too cool to hug their mom and dads, you know?

VELSHI: Right. He's not that age. Yes.

WOLF: These are the salad days. You've got to enjoy that.


WOLF: These are baseballs all about. Nice, nice hugs.

COSTELLO: After the kid turns six, he becomes evil.

WOLF: Pretty much. Yes. We've got three that have horns right now.

VELSHI: I'm with you, Carol. You know what, just keep the ball.

COSTELLO: That's so cruel, but I probably would.

VELSHI: Good to see you, my friend.

WOLF: All right, guys.

COSTELLO: So bad. We're just kidding.

VELSHI: I don't know that we are. That's the sad part. I think we might just keep the ball.


VELSHI: But we don't have to tell the viewers that. This isn't live.

COSTELLO: I know. No, it's just a dream.


COSTELLO: Now is your chance to "Talk Back" on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning, is Bill Clinton helping or hurting President Obama? Bill Clinton, the last two-term Democratic president, may have thrown cold water on President Obama's bid for a second-term. Clinton told the conservative website, "News Max" that now is not the time to raise taxes.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I personally don't believe we ought to be raising taxes or cutting spending, either one, until we get this economy off the ground. This has been a dead flat economy.


COSTELLO: But wait, what about the so-called Buffett rule, the touchstone of Mr. Obama's deficit cutting plan? That won't solve the problem, Clinton said. As you could imagine, conservatives are thrilled. Congressman Eric Cantor saying, quote, "I hope President Obama will heed the advice of President Clinton and drop his demand for one of the largest tax increases in American history."

Now, hold on. In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, President Clinton said he would actually support the millionaires' tax, and he blasted Republicans for their anti-tax ideology. As for Obama's jobs bill, Clinton said, he was all for it. This isn't the first time Clinton has sent mixed messages that could derail a presidential candidate.

Hillary Clinton, anyone? In South Carolina, the former president set off a firestorm of criticism for comments that some considered racially insensitive. Obama won that primary. GOP strategist, Cheri Jacobus, writes on the, "Slick Willie does it again. He has now managed the fancy footwork of both agreeing and disagreeing with President Obama at the same time." The White House isn't commenting.

But the "Talk Back" question for you this morning, is Bill Clinton helping or hurting Obama? I'll read your comments later this hour.

VELSHI: So, my feel from what you've read, so far, of the comments is that people are not feeling overwhelmingly that this is damaging.

COSTELLO: No. They love President Clinton.

VELSHI: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) they don't really want to -- they don't want to embrace the idea that he might be.

COSTELLO: Exactly. And they, actually, are saying that President Obama has hurt himself.

VELSHI: Right.

COSTELLO: And there's no way that President Clinton could hurt him more.

VELSHI: Right. Interesting. All right. Look forward to more of your responses.

A check of the morning financial markets coming up next.

Plus, smokers need not apply. A Texas employer is rejecting job candidates who smoke. It's 21 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Good morning. Twenty-five minutes after the hour. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

We could be in for a nice start to the trading week after the Dow's worst week since 2008. Right now, U.S. stock futures, look at that, all up. Markets in Europe also trading higher on expectations that further measures will be taken to tackle the region's debt crisis.

Netflix appears to have scored a win after some expensive blunders. According to the "New York Times," Netflix has signed a deal with Dreamworks to stream the studio's films starting in 2013.

Baylor Health Care System announcing it will no longer hire people who smoke. The company says the move has to do with the high cost of healthcare, and if it wants to be one of the leading healthcare providers, it needs to be a role model for its patients.

You're paying less to fill up your gas tank. Prices have dropped 12 cents in the past two weeks alone. That's according to a Lundberg survey which comes out every two weeks. To give you some perspective, the national average, $3.54 a gallon, is 85 cents more than it was a year ago. And "The Lion King 3D" holding on to the spot at the box office over the weekend. The animated re-released took in an estimated $22 million. That's about a million dollars more than "Moneyball" starring Brad Pitt. And Carol and I both really like "The Lion King.

Well, he's one of America's most popular television personalities. Up next, Larry King joins us live right here in our studios. He's being honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Emmys. AMERICAN MORNING back right after this break.


COSTELLO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's half past the hour. With all due respect to Howard Stern, we have the real king of media, all media, with us now, Larry King. And you're going to get your crown, aren't you, later tonight?


COSTELLO: It is thrilling. The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is giving Larry King its lifetime achievement award today. So, it is thrilling. I mean, how will you feel when you get it in your hands?

KING: Well, it's mixed feelings, because a lifetime achievement tells you two things. That you've done a lot in the business, and it was given to you by your peers. It also tells you you're not 26.


KING: There's no bar mitzvah lifetime achievement award.


KING: But it was a thrill to hear from them and honored to be honored by the people that you're in the business with. I'm looking forward to it.

VELSHI: Well, you're -- and the thing is that you're a working journalist. You never stopped being one. So, you don't really have all of these milestones where you can stop and look back at your life. You sort of did when you stopped doing your show on CNN, but this is another opportunity to look back at some of the great moments, and you've isolated a few. In all of your interviews, that are few things that stand out to you.

KING: First day on the air, you know, don't you remember your --

COSTELLO: Oh, yes, definitely. It was not pretty.

KING: It wasn't pretty for me, either. But, jeez, it goes back. My meeting of Ted Turner. First day on television, which was only one year after I started on radio. Doing the first national radio talk show. Now, everybody -- I met a guy today doesn't have a national radio talk show. (LAUGHTER)

KING: He was outside.


COSTELLO: This was the only one. Well, tell me --

KING: And I did the first one of those. And of course historic moments on CNN, the Gore-Perot debate.

VELSHI: The NAFTA debate.

KING: The NAFTA debate, that famous debate, and Perot's entrance into politics. And all of the years, I have just -- Jerry Seinfeld said that I was the original twitterer because we covered lots of subjects in lots of space and lots of time.

COSTELLO: That's right. You did, actually.

KING: And it's fun to come back here. I remember when we moved into this building.


KING: When I started at CNN, we were in a little like a hut in Georgetown. You did your makeup and walked across the alley into the studio.


COSTELLO: And hoped you didn't sweat too much.

KING: The only thing you prayed for was you didn't have a rain storm after you put your makeup on.

COSTELLO: You have seen a lot of changes over the years as far as talk shows and news casts go. What has been the biggest change in your mind?

KING: The 24 hour news and the impact of the 24 hour news. You know, we were the only ballgame in town for a long time. And then Westinghouse started one, and Ted bought them out. Ted Turner deserves -- I think he is the greatest figure of this second half of the 20th century in television history.

And the biggest change now has been the proliferation of it. Talk shows have changed in that a lot of hosts, not every host, but a lot of hosts use the guests as a prop. They are there to serve them and you're there to serve them.

And I never approached it that way. I never had an agenda. Everyone has an agenda now, like a gotcha. And one of the problems also is not so much to get it right as to get it first. So I want to beat you so bad. And another thing that's really not my cup of tea is this judgment on American trials. You know, like this doctor, who is on trial.

VELSHI: Conrad Murray.

KING: We found him guilty already. We, the media, have found him guilty.

COSTELLO: Casey Anthony?

KING: Haven't heard any testimony.

Casey Anthony, you know. Everyone -- see, the problem I think we have is I never judged a trial because I wasn't there. I didn't hear all the testimony and I don't know what a juror is thinking. And I didn't know what effect this witness' statement had on them.


KING: And then the best thing about the American system is you've got to prove it.

Now, Britain, you know, you can't cover a trial. I sometimes wonder if that might not be a little better.

VELSHI: Let me ask you something you covered a lot. Just this last week we are dealing with the idea of the Palestinians going to the U.N. asking for independence, asking for recognition as a state. One of your finest interviews was when you had Yasser Arafat, Itzhak Rabin, all in the same place.

KING: A lot of diplomacy live on television.

VELSHI: What's your thought on that situation?

KING: You just talked about President Clinton. He almost had a deal. He was this close to an actual real deal. Carter pulled off the only real deal. That still lasted despite some recent problems. It's almost insoluble. I just -- the hotel I'm at is where the Israeli delegation stayed. On the street, 24 hours a day, two cops with machine guns.


KING: To protect that hotel. Why should that be in the world? These are first cousins. I don't know the answer. I don't know that we will.

COSTELLO: Does it really --

KING: I think -- someone told me that the English and the Irish had an easier deal to settle than this.

COSTELLO: So does it really matter so much what the Palestinians did at the United Nations?

KING: OK, so they declare them an observer or they're a state and we are opposed to them -- we're -- I wish there was -- Mort Sal, I wish he was around. He used to do great political comedy. This is a little Jackie Mason. They should be a state, but they can't be a state. We want them to have a state, but not yet, but maybe tomorrow. Not yet. Not yesterday, or yesterday you're for a state. We like you, we love you, we hate you. We like you, we hate you. The Israelis love Obama and they hate him. I think the whole thing -- if it wasn't so tragic, it's kind of funny.

VELSHI: If it weren't actually about livelihoods and people, it almost seems --

KING: Like you're writing a script.

VELSHI: You really liked -- I know it's very interesting, because you had this great long career. But Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra stand out to you as hard to get interviews that were great.

KING: In the entertainment field, they would be two stick-outs, and we've had a lot. And we have another one coming for a special we can't announce yet, but it's pretty big.


KING: I can't. We're doing it on CNN, but I can't --

VELSHI: Not yet.

KING: I can't do it yet. And I have an announcement about me that I can't announce yet.

VELSHI: Good lord.

KING: Oh, yes. You are going to have me back soon.

VELSHI: Deal. You're always welcome.

KING: But Brando of course, quick story on Brando, they told me he's going to do only one interview, he wants to do you. He'll call you. I was at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. And the phone rings and I said "Hello?" and he said, "Hello. This is Marlon." And I actually said, "Marlon who?"


KING: Because Marlon Fitzwater was the press secretary for the president. And then he said I'm going to have a car come and pick you up. And he came and picked me up, and we drove around. We did the interview that night. At the end of the interview, he kissed me on the lips.


KING: And I have never been kissed on the lips by a man.

COSTELLO: How was it?

KING: Can't stop thinking about him. (LAUGHTER)

KING: Good setup.

VELSHI: I suppose if you're going to get kissed on the lips by one man, Marlon Brando is the -- that's an interesting way to end the interview.

COSTELLO: Well, a younger Marlon Brando perhaps. Thank you, Larry King.

KING: Thank you both.

VELSHI: Good to see you, Larry. I'll just shake hands. We won't kiss this time. But next time if you're announcement is really big.

KING: I'm so thrilled that this has been more news in the morning.


COSTELLO: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Glad I contributed. I made news this morning.

VELSHI: You did. I wasn't expecting that.

COSTELLO: Let's talk politics again, because we must.

KING: By the way, just one quick thing -- there's no debate tonight.


VELSHI: Fair enough.

KING: Tonight off.

VELSHI: You get the night off.

COSTELLO: Thank goodness.

OK, in the world of politics -- last year they took back the house. Now the GOP has its sights set on winning the White House. And efforts are now underway in some key states to alter the political landscape and perhaps stack the deck for Republicans in 2012.



COSTELLO: In 2008, candidate Obama won the majority of the popular vote in Pennsylvania and all of its electoral votes. That's because it's a winner take all state. But Pennsylvania Republicans want to scrap that. A bill proposed by Pennsylvania Republican Senate leader Dominic Pileggi would award 18 of Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes to whomever gets the most votes in each district. The other two would be awarded to the winner of the overall popular vote. Senator Pileggi says, quote, "This proposal will more fairly align Pennsylvania's Electoral College votes with the results of the popular votes."

If the system had been in place in 2008, Senator McCain would have walked away with 10 votes instead of zero, not enough to change the 2008 outcome, but in a close election it could sway the result.

LARRY SABATO, UVA CENTER FOR POLITICS: It's just an attempt to rig the system. It's what's done from time to time in states across the union by both parties. In this case, it's the Republicans in Pennsylvania.

COSTELLO: There are other GOP efforts underway to change the 2012 election rules. Five more states have moved to require voters to show state-issued IDs, and swing states Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio, all with Republican controlled state government, have reduced the number of days for early voting. So have Georgia, Maine, and West Virginia. Why all the changes? Depends on which party you ask.

JENNIE BOWSER, NCSL SENIOR FELLOW: Politics always comes into play. In this case, the one side is saying we need these laws to prevent or reduce voter fraud, and the other side is crying foul, saying that it reduces voter turnout, particularly among our voters.

COSTELLO: Right now, efforts to change the rules are being led by Republicans. But Democrats have changed the rules to favor their party too, like in 2006, when Maryland State Democrats extended voting times in 21 selected locations, all leaning democratic.

SABATO: The two parties conceive of election laws as being fair when they benefit their party. That's their definition of fairness.


COSTELLO: It's the American way these days, isn't it? It is. This is really a symptom of who holds the majority in state government. Republicans hold more state legislatures this year than they did in 1928, and they are using those majorities to implement these new election law changes. So we'll see what happens.

VELSHI: All right, well, how is this for a summer vacation? A 21-year-old college kid from UCLA goes to Tripoli to help the rebels in their final push for victory. We're going to talk to him live, next. It's 39 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Welcome back. This might be the most interesting summer vacation ever, just the craziest maybe. Chris Jeon, a student at UCLA, left the friendly confines of Westwood to join up with Libyan rebel fighters in their fight against Moammar Gadhafi. How did he do it and why? We'll ask him right now. He is with us. Chris, welcome. Good to see you.


COSTELLO: I'm just wondering, you get it in your mind you want to go observe the Libyan rebels. How did you go about getting there?

JEON: Actually, when I go on these kind of trips, you know, people ask me what did you expect? I really don't set any expectations. I mean, I have no prior frame of reference. So I go in there expecting the unexpected. It's a very fluid environment. You have to adapt. My only goal was to get in and live with these guys on the frontlines. That was it.

VELSHI: This video you're looking at from there, so you flew to Cairo?

JEON: Yes. And from there, I hitchhiked to the Libyan border. From there, I also hitchhiked to Benghazi. And from there, I hitchhiked to the frontlines.

COSTELLO: You realize you could have died doing this?

JEON: Yes, of course. There is that risk.

COSTELLO: You seem so matter of fact about that.

JEON: I mean, I think, you know, there are things I can do, and there are things I can't do. And with the group I was with, I felt they were very protective me and I felt very safe around them.

VELSHI: You're talking about the rebels?

JEON: Yes.

VELSHI: So you show up. Where do you go? How do you know who's rebels and who these guys are? Do you just walk up and say I'm an American kid. I'd like to hang with you guys for a little bit?

JEON: That's funny, because before this trip I had never met a single Libyan person. And going into it, I met one guy on the internet, and he gave me his contact number. And he actually set everything up for me. I went over there and he told me where, you know, the frontlines were and how to -- what to say.

And when I got there, they all saw that I wasn't Libyan and they assumed I was a journalist. When I asked to go to the frontlines, they were like, oh, it's that way. And they actually helped me. And as far as hooking up with the rebels, I just stood outside their operating base, stuck my thumb out, and they said, oh, ride with us, ride with us.

COSTELLO: Really? And you don't speak the language, and you have never fired a gun.

JEON: Right. Actually to communicate with them, I memorized, you know, half of my vocabulary was food and slang words. So every time I met new people, I would list off the foods that I would eat, and all of these slang words, "good weather." and they all started laughing. Like how does this kid know this?

VELSHI: So what happened? They take you in. At some point do they think they you are going to be useful to the effort?

JEON: I don't think it was so much useful to the effort. I think when they first took me in, they sort of tested me. They took me out to the frontlines to see whether I got scared. I didn't back away. And we had all of these machismo tests, like we had wrestling matches. We had diving contests off 20-foot cliffs into shallow water. And I never said no to any of these. And I think I gained their respect that way and they thought, man, this kid is really into us. He has an open mind. And I think that's a big reason they took me in.

COSTELLO: Chris, I have to tell you, I can almost hear a majority of our audience saying this kid is crazy.

JEON: I think, you know, this taken out of context, they may think like that. But if you look at my prior experiences, three years ago I lived in an orphanage in Cambodia and taught English there. After that, I lived with indigenous Indians in the Amazon rain forest. Recently I went to Seattle for a week with nothing more --

BALDWIN: But they didn't have guns and bombs weren't flying.

JEON: Right, but I define my life through these experiences. I try to seek as different and varied experiences as possible. And I think that gives me a brand-new perspective on life and helps me understand what goes on in the world.

VELSHI: How does that context go over with your parents?

JEON: They are very understanding.


VELSHI: I bet so. Otherwise, you'd be out on the street.

JEON: Yes. I'm very grateful.

COSTELLO: I think that there would be some in our audience who would say, if you've gotten into trouble in Libya, it would be up to the Americans, American military, American government, to get you out. And you've put them now in a bind.

JEON: Right. Like I said, the group I was with, I felt very protected, very safe. And, you know, I felt good in their hands.

COSTELLO: So what was the take away? What did you learn?

JEON: I think what I learned was that, you know, this country has suffered so much. The people have suffered so much. Yet I was so inspired how they were able to wake up every day and fight for this cause they believe so much in for their freedom and their children's freedom, and, to quote their own words, "to wake up to go out on the streets and smell freedom in the air." That was so inspiring.

VELSHI: What are you going to do with this? Do you have some idea of what you want to do?

JEON: We'll see what happens.

VELSHI: That's just the way he rolls, right.

JEON: We'll see what happens. I don't plan that far in advance.

COSTELLO: Why not join the military, the American military, and fight for the freedom in Afghanistan or Iraq?

JEON: Right. I didn't go so much for the military aspect, for the warfare aspect. I went to see what the experience was like. These people are fighting for their freedom under an oppressive government. Like what is that like? I didn't go there out of some curiosity of guns or anything. That didn't matter to me. I wanted to share in their struggle to see what that's like.

VELSHI: And do we get to share some of this? Are you writing about it or are you --

JEON: Possibly. I mean, I'm taking it slow. I got back, you know, a week ago.

VELSHI: You're getting adjusted to this?

JEON: Yes. I'm in Los Angeles. But I'm still very connected there. Many of my friends are still on the frontlines fighting every day. And, you know, I got a message from one of my good friends on Facebook. He is in the brigade. And he said two of my friends passed away last week. So I'm still very invested in the conflict, checking on it every day. It's close to my heart.

VELSHI: Put the story down on paper. That would be some great value to come out of to hear these stories because we don't really meet a lot of people that hang out with the rebels to find out what they're look. Chris, good to see that you're safe.

JEON: Yes, thank you.

COSTELLO: And I for one hope you don't go back to any warzone, especially one as unsettled as that, because it was difficult to know who the enemy was in that situation, within Libya. So you are lucky.

JEON: Yes. I'm very lucky. Actually it's weird how my life plays out. Everything is just some crazy series of events. I don't think anything happens in my life by accident. I think there's a reason, time and place for everything that happens to me. So, you know, although I'm fortunate, I feel like there's a reason for it.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much.

VELSHI: Chris, thank you.

JEON: Thank you.

COSTELLO: It is 48 minutes past. We'll be right back.


VELSHI: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. The American people are facing the prospect of a government shutdown again. It could happen by the weekend if the house and the Senate cannot break this impasse that they've got over this temporary spending bill, an impasse, believe it or not, over how to help disaster victims of all things. Here's Candy Crowley.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: For the third time this year, a congressional stare-down threatens a government shutdown.

(on camera) Let me start with you, Senator Warner, and ask you if there is a point at which you think this is embarrassing.

SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VIRGINIA: Yes. It is embarrassing.

CROWLEY: Are we there?

WARNER: Can we once again inflict on the country ands American people the spectacle of a near shutdown?

CROWLEY: The U.S. government runs out of money this week unless a temporary spending bill is passed on Capitol Hill. Inside the House version is money to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, which assists disaster victims, tornadoes in Joplin, hurricanes in the northeast. The remarkable thing is that basically Congress can't agree on something that everyone is for, funding FEMA. The crux of the matter is how and when to decide how to pay for it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: The House version says that a disaster has to be dealt with, we're going to help people who have been affected by disasters, but we're going to start cutting the government in other places where the money is not so important.

CROWLEY: Senate Democrats have rejected the house version, saying that Republicans are proposing to pay for increased FEMA funds with cutbacks in programs that create jobs. Nobody's budging, ergo stalemate, a looming shutdown, and the politics that ensue.

ALEXANDER: I'll give the Senate Democratic leader most of the credit. He manufactured a crisis all week about disaster when there's no crisis. Everybody knows we're going to pay for every single penny of disaster aid that the president declares. And that FEMA certifies.

WARNER: One point about who to blame or not to blame on this current hopefully non-shutdown is that there is a group, and I do believe it is mostly centered in the House in terms of some of these Tea Party Republicans, who say on every issue we're going to make this a make or break.

CROWLEY: Pointing fingers about an impending shutdown can be good politics. But an actual shutdown is likely to hurt any politician in a 50-mile radius of Washington. Odds are good they'll figure this out. They have until Friday.

Candy Crowley CNN, Washington.


COSTELLO: Coming up next -- our talk back question of the morning. Is Bill Clinton helping or hurting President Obama? We have your responses. It's six minutes till the top of the hour.


VELSHI: It's 71 degrees and cloudy in Washington, going up to 78. And it doesn't have thunderstorms this afternoon. It will be sunny.

COSTELLO: Wow. I can't get over that Chris Jeon interview.

VELSHI: The guy that went to Libya?

COSTELLO: Just to hang out with the Libyan rebels, to see how it was going.

Now it's time for our talk back question of the morning. This is the question we asked you. Is Bill Clinton helping or hurting President Obama? This from Vicki, "Oh, if we could only have the economy of the Clinton years again. Clinton brings back hope for the Democrats who recently have done nothing, and I'm a lifelong Democrat."

This from Grace, "If people are paying attention to the details they would realize he's helping Obama. He said that he doesn't think raising taxes is a good idea right now. That's fine, because in the bill Obama presented tax increases that do not go into effect into 2013. That isn't right now."

Please keep the conversation going,

VELSHI: This isn't a comment on any president's success or failures, but when it comes to the economy and these big, big swings in the economy, it often has little to do with what a president did. It happens to be where they are in time. And often they benefit from swings that came before them. If you're a two-term president, towards the end of your presidency you're starting enjoying the fruits of what you did. But it's not all about -- you know, you get to preside over the outcome of what somebody else did.

COSTELLO: So in short, the president can't do much to actually control what the economy does.

VELSHI: That is correct. They can help around the edges, and they can certainly see the fruits of what they do. But nothing in the economy moves that fast that a president can do something, except, and this is the big except, the big intangible, is confidence. Is the economy, are businesses and people, confident enough to say, let me invest because I believe in what's going on? I think it's fair to say that today, for various reasons, a lot of Americans don't really.

COSTELLO: Yes. We've got none of that right now.


COSTELLO: Time for Kyra to take it away.

Good morning, Kyra.