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CNN’s John King

Wednesday, July 13, 2011
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HH: All day long, you’ve heard me talking to Marco Rubio and David Dreier and Mike Pence, and just now, Thaddeus McCotter. They’re all trying to get the message back from the President and his bully pulpit. Well, one of the arbiters of whether or not that will succeed is CNN’s John King. He is, of course, the host of John King USA, which you can see every night at 7pm Eastern on CNN. John, welcome to the program, it’s great to have you.

JK: Hugh, my pleasure. How are you?

HH: I’m good, and congratulations. You’re a new father.

JK: I am indeed. Jonah’s two weeks old today, so yee haw. He’s doing great.

HH: Are you getting any sleep yet?

JK: I’m getting sleep in spurts. You know how that works.

HH: Yeah.

JK: But you know what? It’s am amazing gift, and I’m a little tired and groggy, but it’s totally worth it.

HH: Well, congratulations. That’s wonderful. Now John, before we go to the President today, I want to go back to the debate in New Hampshire. I was not a fan of the format. I thought that there just wasn’t enough time. Did you decide the timing on that? Or was that something that they handed to you and said enforce?

JK: I’m going to blame that one on the Trilateral Commission.

HH: (laughing)

JK: I had very little input at the end, and if I could go back and do it differently, I would do so much differently. You know that when you walk out of the studio every night, you want to go back and do your show over, because you think I could have asked this question better. I wished I had more time to talk. I really do. It’s hard when you have so many candidates. It’s just hard. You’re herding sheep, and I don’t mean that in any disrespect. I make a joke. I respect all of them running for the office. We had partners at the Union Leader and WMUR, and we wanted to get voters involved. And in the end, you know what? There’s an old axiom – less is more. We should have had less, and had more time to breathe. That was, you know, a pretty good first outing, but if I get another chance, trust me, I’ll do better next time.

HH: I hope that more people get more time. And from you, since you’ve done it, they’ll listen to it, and I hope they listen to that, because for example, Mitch McConnell’s proposal today, John King, I don’t even know if you covered it on John King USA tonight, it couldn’t be summarized in three minutes, much less explained or debated.

JK: It’s an interesting proposal. We did cover it, and among those, I had Erick Erickson from RedState.com on, and he’s not a fan of this, because he thinks that you give the President the power to raise the debt ceiling, and meaning to borrow more money, and that there’s no guarantee the spending cuts will ever come about, because the McConnell proposal does have this language, you know, by a two-thirds vote, Congress could say no, Mr. President, not those spending cuts. And is there, in the language, and there’s a debate about this, does the President then have to come back with additional spending cuts? So you know, Leader McConnell is one of those, and look, you know this better than I do, there’s a generational shift, generational divide in the Republican Party about do we really have to have a deal before the default? Is default such a horrible thing? How much do we have to give to the President in the end? This is a fascinating tug of war in our politics, and within both the Democratic and Republican parties. So it’s a fascinating moment, and to see the quick grassroots conservative hey, no to Leader McConnell to me is just proof that this is hard for both parties, and it’s not, there’s a lot of gray. It’s not just black and white.

HH: Very interesting. I thought Erick was way overblown on that. I think it’s a fine proposal, and I wouldn’t confuse him with the grassroots, although he certainly has a following, because I think McConnell’s just so sly. But let me ask you this. The President today, John King, basically threatened recipients of Social Security with a cutoff in August. If George W. Bush had done that, it would be, it would lead every hour on the hour on CNN and everywhere else, and yet I don’t see a lot of attention to the President’s threat yet. Is it just because it’s late in the day that it arrived out of the CBS embargo?

JK: Oh, I hope not. We played it today at the top of the program. I had Ron Paul was on the show saying you know, I’m going to use the term B.S., Mr. President, that’s a scare tactic. And it is, most likely, a scare tactic from the President. Is it possible that Social Security checks or veterans’ checks wouldn’t go out? Yes. Is it possible China wouldn’t get some payments, or this loan wouldn’t get paid, or housing grants wouldn’t go out? Yes. What would happen in a default situation is if the government had so much money in the bank, it would have to decide which bills to pay. Now Hugh, you tell me. You’re a President, you’re running for reelection, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, and you have a choice of maybe making some company or some Defense contractor mad because they don’t get their check, or 70 million elderly Americans mad because they don’t get their check. Which call are you going to make?

HH: Exactly.

JK: Is it possible they wouldn’t get their checks? Yes, it’s possible. Is it, in today’s political world, is that, would any president say that? I guess so. This is what we do. But I think it’s pretty safe to say Social Security recipients are going to get their checks.

HH: Now you’re a veteran of the White House Press room for many years, six years, I think, John King.

JK: Eight and a half.

HH: Did you watch that…okay, you watched that press conference on Monday. Did your successors hold his feet to the fire in the way that, for example, Sam Donaldson might have when he gets asked seven questions in an hour, or six questions in an hour?

JK: Well, one thing this president gives very, very long answers. And it does make you, you know, one of the things I loved about George W. Bush, it’s not a political statement, is that sometimes, Bush would give you a two word answer, and it was part of his game. Dick Cheney is also excellent at this, because they know you’re expecting a three or four minute answer, and they sort of knock you off your game by giving you three or four words, or maybe a sentence or two. And it’s very smart. This president, it’s the law professor in him, and again, I don’t say it with any disrespect. He likes to give a very long answer, and let me explain this, and I’ll go back and explain that. Look, that was a political performance. He didn’t have, and again, Republicans do this, too, he didn’t have anything to say. There was not a transaction to be had at that press conference. He was trying to convince the American people I’m willing to make both the Democrats and the Republicans mad so as we go into the next two or three weeks of negotiations, there will probably be a lot of groundhog day, I want you to remember me, President Obama, as the guy who is willing to fight with Nancy Pelosi and fight with John Boehner. You know, politically, that’s probably smart. Over all that, should he have taken that few questions over that course of time? I mean, I would hope he would give shorter answers and actually have more give and take. But he controls the show. He runs the White House.

HH: Golly, John King, on behalf, I’m a law professor, and on behalf of law professors everywhere, we answer more questions than seven an hour. Now I’ve got to ask you, as someone who sits down with Republicans every day, who is doing the best job on the Republican side of pushing back? Who comes into the studio and effectively tries and perhaps even accomplishes the shift of responsibility for this impasse back to the President?

JK: That’s a great question. You know, obviously we’re watching some of this play out in the presidential race, not so much of the debt ceiling talks, but the Republican party is searching for a leader. And I think who pushes back the best, who frames the argument best, will be a huge part of the primary process, which is just beginning to unfold. Right now where are we? You know, I will say this. I say one of the people I enjoy talking to, I’m not saying he’s always right, I’m not saying, but one of the people I think is very good at framing an argument is Mike Pence. And I think his decision to run for governor and sort of step back somewhat from the leadership role in the House has probably hurt the party some, just because he’s aggressive, but he’s also, he’s not, I don’t know what the right word is, but he’s not put offish. He tends to come prepared.

HH: Yeah, we was just on. He’s always ready…

JK: Sure.

HH: And he listens and he answers. So let me conclude with this. Has the Speaker been in your studio yet? Because if I was his press secretary, I’d have him on every prime time show at least once a week, and has he been there?

JK: He has not been on my show yet. We do have a commitment to sit down. I like to go to diners and sit down in casual settings and talk to people, and he has said he would do that pretty soon. You know, in his first few months as Speaker, he’s wanted to A) restrict media access some, B) do mostly Sunday shows. But he was on Fox today, and I think you’ll see more and more of the Speaker out, especially as this plays out. You know, he was adjusting to a new role. That takes a little bit of a while, but he can come to John King USA anytime he wants. He’s the Speaker of the House. He’s always welcome.

HH: And John King, you’re always welcome here, thanks for joining us today, and again, congratulations to you and Dana Bash on your baby, and we’ll look forward to watching you on John King USA.

End of interview.

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