Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Call to Arms; Tea Party Politics; GOP 2012 Frontrunners; Queen of Comedy; Athletics vs. Academics

Aired April 13, 2010 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. Tonight, "Keeping Them Honest." Oklahoma Tea Party leaders reportedly thinking about a call to arms. They say the federal government is overreaching and exploring the idea of forming some sort of militia. A state senator who is running for governor has said he believes they have a right to form a State Guard. In a state that's paid a peace price for extremism, is this a dangerous move? We'll talk with the state senator at the center of a fire storm.

Also tonight, "Raw Politic" Sarah Palin maybe the most talked about Republican these days but in a new poll just released today she is not the top pick. What's does that say about her political future?

Also later, the "Big 360 Interview" Chelsea Handler: the wickedly, funny comedian, talk show host and bestselling author joins me. Who knows where the conversation will go.

First up tonight, though, "Keeping Them Honest." Tea Party leaders in Oklahoma are exploring the possibility of creating a new volunteer arms militia because they say the federal government is overstepping its powers.

According to Associated Press, Al Gilhart, who heads a group called the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance supports the idea saying and I quote, "Is it scary, it sure is. But when do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?"

An Oklahoma State Senator Randy Brogdon, a Republican who also happens to be running for governor told the AP, he was approached about the idea and believes the State Guard would be authorized by the Second Amendment. Now, in case you're wondering the Second Amendment says, "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Now, critics of the idea are asking, what exactly would an armed State Guard do? How would they fight against the federal government overstepping its powers?

This notion has set-off a fire storm of controversy as you can imagine today. Next week of course, is the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. And a number of other Republican politicians in the state have criticized the idea of an armed militia. Here is what Republican State Senator Steve Russell said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STATE SENATOR STEVE RUSSELL (R), OKLAHOMA (via telephone): I cannot imagine any scenario where the formulation of a militia or ideas along these lines would be a good thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: State Senator Brogdon says, he never called for the creation of a militia, but his statements haven't exactly been clear. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY BROGDON (R), OKLAHOMA STATE SENATE: I'm talking about protecting ourselves. As the Governor of this state, I will do everything in my Constitutional authority to keep Congress within their Constitutional authority. Congress is so far overreaching into state's business, it is crippling our economy. The bail outs, the stimulus, Obama care --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So, the question tonight, does he support forming an armed State Guard? And if so, what would it actually do to curtail the powers of the federal government?

State Senator Randy Brogdon joins me now.

Sir, thanks very much for being with us. I know you feel that the federal government has overstepped its powers and certainly, a lot of people around the country feel that way. And you haven't called for an armed State Guard but you've also made statements today that make it sound like you do support such a volunteer force. So just for the record, do you?

BROGDON: Well, I certainly support our National Guard, we currently have that. And on the State Statute Section 44 of the Oklahoma Constitution, we already have a State Guard. It's just not activated, it's never been organized. I don't really have the historical knowledge of that. But that is something that we do have available to us.

COOPER: But you've earlier today said that the National Guard was federalized and therefore really wasn't available for some state issues.

BROGDON: Yes.

COOPER: And you -- again, I mean, it sounds like you're saying -- you're saying the State Guard exists in the statutes. Would you support the idea of raising a volunteer State Guard?

BROGDON: Well, let me, Anderson, let me frame the debate and let me make sure your viewers understand what I said. I made a very benign statement yesterday that was picked up on the "Drudge Report" simply reaffirming our Second Amendment rights.

We, here in Oklahoma, we appreciate those Second Amendment rights. And I understand that without the Second Amendment, our Constitution would be in dire trouble.

The Second Amendment gives us the right to keep and bear arms. That is unquestionable. It's undeniable. And most citizens here in this state appreciate that.

COOPER: But it --

BROGDON: And so that's the story that I was making.

COOPER: But in the AP article, you had said that you were approached by the Tea Party groups about the possibility of some sort of State Guard in the article called a "militia". But I know you don't support the idea of a militia, so some sort of volunteer armed force. And it seems, I mean, your critics say you're trying to have it both ways, on the one hand saying it's allowed for, but without really setting your own position.

So again, I have to ask you, I mean, would you support some sort of volunteer force called a State Guard if it's already on the books? Would you support that idea?

BROGDON: Well, here is my position. And my position is, I would like to see a quiet revolution. I want to see the restoration of our founding principles. I still believe in limited government, I still believe in personal responsibility and I still believe in the expansion of freedom. And all of those things are protected in our Constitution.

That is my goal as governor to protect the citizens of this state standing on Constitutional principles and using my authority as governor to protect the citizens of this state. That is my position on this issue.

COOPER: OK, but pardon my ignorance. But I -- I just got to re- ask the question, though. Do you support, you know one way or the other, yes or no, the idea of some sort of armed State Guard?

BROGDON: I certainly support our State Guard that is already in the Oklahoma Constitution. That's unquestionable just like I support our military, just like I support the National Guard.

But here is the problem. The National Guard, when they are deployed, they are federalized. The governor has no authority over the -- over the National Guard. And when we send so many members out of this state overseas to fight a war, the State of Oklahoma, oftentimes is left very vulnerable.

And we may have ice storms, we may have tornadoes where the National Guard is normally called out to help protect the citizens. They're gone. So would I support a State Guard to help the National Guard? Of course --

COOPER: But earlier, you seem to be framing it as something to curtail the powers of the federal government, of an overreaching federal government. How would an armed State Guard of volunteers, I suppose, prevent federal laws from infringing on -- on what you believe are state's rights?

BROGDON: No, my -- my comments on the overreaching of state government, I believe that with all my heart. I believe Congress is so out of control now, Congress is so reaching into the State of Oklahoma causing economic havoc, havoc with the bail outs, the stimulus schemes, Obama care, cap and trade, all of these things have caused a devastating effect on the citizens of this state economically.

And so those things can be corrected utilizing the rule of law standing on Constitutional principles. The problem is, we have had a lack of leadership in this state.

COOPER: OK.

BROGDON: And as governor, my -- my sworn duty will be to protect the citizens of this state and hold Congress at bay with the Constitution.

COOPER: So just --

BROGDON: The military is used to fight wars.

COOPER: Just so I'm clear though, on your position because earlier in the day, there was a lot of concern about comments you made or they may have been misinterpreted. And that's why we want to have you on tonight.

So just so I am clear, you would not support, if a group of Tea Party activists wanted to arm and form some sort of State Guard -- that they call it a State Guard or whatever they called it -- with some idea of somehow curtailing the powers of the federal government, you would not support that notion.

BROGDON: If you're talking about having a State Guard to march on Washington, D.C., of course not.

I -- you know this has worked for 234 years. Our nation has been secured and blessed with freedom for all of this time. Right now, we're in trouble in our country because the tenets, the values and the principles of our Constitution is being abused by Washington, D.C. and I believe in states' rights.

I believe when the governors around this nation get a clue of what their responsibility is and stand in the stead, stand in the gap between the federal government and the citizens of their state, we can once again return some civility to the State of Oklahoma. We can reclaim what's rightfully ours and that's freedom and liberty.

COOPER: So was the article correct in that you were approached by some Tea Party supporters about this idea and if so, what did you tell them? Did you tell them "I would not support the idea of an armed group"?

BROGDON: No, if you read the article on the Drudge Report, the AP article, I had one small quote in that. And here is the problem. I am running for governor of the state of Oklahoma.

And I'm a Constitutional conservative. As a matter of fact, I happen to be the most conservative legislator in the entire State of Oklahoma. And I'm the -- I have a target on my back because of that. There are a lot of people that do not appreciate my Constitutional conservative values.

Now, the people around this state appreciate that a lot. It's some of the politicians that don't.

COOPER: But -- but did you have members of a Tea Party umbrella group, this gentleman who has quoted, Al Gilhart, did he approach you about this idea? And if so, what did you tell him?

BROGDON: No, we -- did he approach me? It's been reported that we have had meetings on this subject. Absolutely not true. I have had conversations on a plethora of items and issues for the last year since I've running for governor as you would well expect.

But my ideas and my goal of good government as governor is just to protect the citizens standing on the rule of law. And that is my goal.

So, no, I don't have this clandestine idea of supporting some wild-eyed militia or something like that. My goal is to protect the citizens standing on Constitutional principles. And that will be a pretty solid ground to stand on.

COOPER: Senator Randy Brogdon, I appreciate your time tonight sir. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

BROGDON: You bet, Anderson. Thank you.

COOPER: Our political panel will weigh in on this after a commercial break.

You can join the live chat; let us know what you think at AC360.com. You can also text your name and questions for our panel to AC360 or 22360, standard rates apply.

One piece of "Raw Politics", on the table tonight, Sarah Palin's speaking contract is getting a lot of attention. Full provision and spelling out what she requires when she shows up for speaking engagements. Plus this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHELSEA HANDLER, HOST, "CHELSEA LATELY": First of all, you twitted me and said, "I knew we had a thing tomorrow. Pick you up at 7:00. Ha, ha, ha, ha." Why do you have to put a "ha, ha, ha, ha" at the end?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Comedian and late night talk show host, Chelsea Handler is the "Big 360 Interview" later tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Now the "Raw Politics" of the Tea Party Movement. On March 20th, near the end of the bitter health care debate, Representative John Lewis, Andre Carson, Emanuel Cleaver say that some demonstrators, many of them Tea Party activist yelled the "n" word as the Congressmen walked from House office building at the Capitol.

Conservative and Tea Party activists insist it never happened. And one of them has offered big money if anyone can prove it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW BREITBART, WEB ENTREPRENEUR: I offered $100,000 to anyone that can show video that the "n" word was hurled once.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: That was Andrew Breitbart, a conservative blogger who released the video of ACORN workers counseling actors posing as a pimp and a prostitute. He's pledged to donate $100,000 to the United Negro College Fund if anyone provides proof of the epithets.

Joining us now with more on this and a lot of "Raw Politics": CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen; chief political correspondent and host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" Candy Crowley; host of "JOHN KING, USA" John King; CNN political contributor and Republican strategist, Ed Rollins; and CNN political analyst Roland Martin.

Roland, what about that? I mean, if -- if this happened, you would think there would be video by now. Does that -- the fact that it is still being discuss. Is that a win for the Tea Party?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALSYT: No, I think it's -- I think it's dumb on the Tea Party's part to be focusing on this. I mean, if you are trying to create an actual movement, this is the last thing you want to continue talking about.

You want to be talking about policy. You want to getting folks involved. You don't want to be constantly reminding people at the possibility that the "n" word was used because all you're simply doing is having a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it just makes no sense if you're trying to create an actual movement.

COOPER: David Gergen, I don't know if you were listening in to the discussion we're having before the break about Oklahoma and talking to the state senator. What do you make of that? I mean, earlier in the day, a lot of liberal groups were certainly raising red flags saying, you know, Tea Party groups are wanting to you know, raise some sort of militia. The state senator made some comments that raised a lot of concern. Now, he's clearly seems to be saying he is not for some armed group of activists.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well I don't know if he laid it to rest or not, Anderson, but he certainly was suggesting there's more smoke here than fire. And -- until there's proof to the contrary and there may be proof, I'd sort of take him on his word -- at his word and move on.

I do want to disagree with Roland about the point about -- about the Tea Party and the question of Congressman John Lewis walking across that street. That was an important moment. The accusation that he had been called the "n" word and spit upon was a searing moment during the health care debate. And many of us took it as sort of like that's what happened.

Now, if it didn't happen, I think it's important to know that or if somebody was an impostor. Now we'll have to -- maybe we'll never know. But I think it and the Tea Party has every right to sort of say, "Hey, wait a minute" or Andrew Breitbart just say, "Wait a minute, if it didn't happen. Let's get that clarified." Because it did turn off on awful a lot of Americans.

MARTIN: Well, first of all I'm making that point because we've had the previous accusations of the kind of these crazy posters being there.

I remember debating Mark Levin one of the Tea Party leaders on Anderson's show. And I said, "Hey, if somebody had a racist sound, would you tell them to take it down?" And he said no. I don't want to infringe upon their amendment rights.

The point I'm making is if you are trying to get folks elected, you don't want to continue coming back to that kind of story. You could try to just disprove it all you want to, but the point is, you want people focusing on why you have a movement, you want them on focusing on issues, not this. Because it's -- if this is the conversation, that's the last thing you want because you're never going to get people involved in your movement.

COOPER: But John, I mean, this conversation is only going to continue and you also now have this liberal group called the "Crash the Party", that says, it's going to send people to the protest, the Tea Party protest to try to blend in and basically do things as outrageous as they can to cast a bad light on -- on the Tea Party activists.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": And so you see yet another example of the fracture in our politics right now. And to the point both Roland and David I think would agree on, is the challenge for the Tea Party is, "Are you a protest or a political movement?"

MARTIN: That's right.

KING: And if you have people now trying to crash their party, if you will, then you see what's happening. You see that they have incited the left which in an odd way is a good thing if it means political activism. It's a bad if it means political stunts.

We're going to test this out. We're going to test this out through the primary season in a number of parts of the country and then we will test it out come November. Are -- is the Tea Party Movement going to mature as a political movement? What happens if their preferred candidates lose in the primaries? Do they become Republicans and conservatives, it's where most of their energy -- not all of it -- but most of their energy is right now. Or do they protest thinking they somehow got the short end of the stick.

That is one of the many questions in this very volatile year where there are tensions on both the right and the left. It's not just on the right; there's tensions on the right and the left.

MARTIN: True.

KING: How do these fractured pieces come together?

COOPER: Candy, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today that Tea Party is already having an impact on Democratic chances this year. He said, "Do I think that negative atmosphere that's been created by the Tea Party and by others certainly goes into the thinking of members? I think it does. I think you honestly have to point out that it does."

How much of a factor do you think they are for Democrats in swing districts and certainly in conservative districts?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDNET: Well, I mean certainly at the polls they are going to be a factor. And certainly in so far as they drive the debate.

I mean we have heard a couple of the people that have decided to leave and to retire say that the atmospherics are just so bad that it's not fun anymore. It's particularly not that much fun actually for Republicans because being in a minority is not that much fun.

So there is certainly is a kind of a heightened hostile atmosphere here that no doubt weighs on the minds. If you're a Congressman and you've been there for 20 years, this may not be that much fun or worth it to you anymore. I think he's probably just stating the obvious, but I think it is also true that a lot of these people have faced tough races before and they certainly have survived.

And it is in the Democrats' interest to look at the Tea Party and continue to frame the Tea Party and Republicans as sort of crazy people. Because if they can put the Republican Party on the fringe and say, "Well, you know, this hostile atmosphere is so terrible we're just leaving." If they can do that, it's helpful. So there are politics being played on both sides of this.

COOPER: Ed, can they play a spoiler role in some of these races? And there was this Quinnipiac that showed that in just the generic ballots Republicans would come out ahead. But in races where there's a Tea Party candidate in the mix, it might affect things like it did in the --

ED ROLLINS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, historically, elections are about the incumbent, whether it's the Democrat or Republican. And if people aren't satisfied with the incumbent they look for an alternative. In this election, most people aren't very happy with the some of the Democrats. So they're looking at the Republican for an alternative.

If there's a third ballot there that they can go to and certainly this is the strategy of Harry Reid in Nevada, they have been talking about this for months and months. They get a Tea Party, they get a third -- a couple of third candidates in there so he doesn't have to win 50 percent of the vote in order to win. He can win a plurality.

So, anytime you get a group like this and there's no organized leadership here, unlike the Perot Movement, anything can happen. And there's no guarantees that these people won't be as mad at some Republicans. There's six months to go to this elections. And they can turn on Republicans as quickly as they can.

The decisions they have made is they don't like what's going on in Washington, D.C. and they're going to do something about it.

MARTIN: I think this organizing point is critical. I mean at the end of the day, you have to have some kind of centralized operation going because if you're trying to create a movement, you have to move folks in a certain direction.

You simply can't have all these different parties and people just calling themselves Tea Party activists if you don't have some kind of centralized way of doing it. The reform party was able to do that.

COOPER: We're going to have more with our panel coming up including a new poll looking ahead to 2012. Which GOP candidate has the edge with Republican voters right now? Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, what do you think? We'll let you know in a second.

Our panel is going to answer your questions. You can text us to AC360 or 22360.

Also tonight, comedian Chelsea Handler joins us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HANDLER: The list of what I don't like is getting longer and longer. That's right. You heard me tofu, bacon and the professional bowling tour. What I will always love and has become the foundation of my career are little people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The queen of comedy tonight; "Big 360 Interview" Chelsea Handler, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Well, she may be the most talked about potential Republican presidential candidate, but Sarah Palin comes in third in a hypothetical horse race for the 2012 GOP nomination. According to a new CNN Poll, 24 percent of Republicans say they would support former Arkansas governor and 2008 candidate Mike Huckabee; 20 percent shows Mitt Romney, who, of course, also run in 2008; Sarah Palin was in third with 15 percent followed by New Gingrich and Ron Paul.

We'll talk more "Raw Politics" now behind the poll in what's already shaping up to be an interesting midterm election race and eventual presidential race.

I'm joined again by David Gergen, Candy Crowley, John King, Ed Rollins and Roland Martin.

So John, I mean, it's obviously a crowded field at this point and that poll is just kind of a silly snapshot two years out from the presidential race. What do you take away from it, though? I mean, clearly, there's no single front-runner.

KING: And that's the thing you take away from it. The Republican Party has no single national leader at the moment. Whether this will have an impact on 2012 is way down the road.

Let's get through the 2010 midterms. How successful the Republicans are this November will say a lot about what the party is looking for heading into the next cycle.

But it tells you that George W. Bush is gone. Dick Cheney is gone. John McCain is back in the Senate and you have a handful of Republicans who are in the 20 percent ballpark. Most of them people who have been on the national stage recently. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker, Sarah Palin, Romney and Huckabee all involved in the last campaign. No singular presence right now.

Now, many in the party and this could be a good question for Ed, think that's a good thing because it allows a debate about ideas and the philosophy and emphasis and then you figure it out by this November and then you go into the next cycle.

ROLLINS: Well, more than November. I mean, Mike Huckabee was sitting at one percent three years ago right today. And obviously, the course of the debates and the Iowa -- winning the Iowa caucuses mattered. Obviously, it gave him the front-runner status.

COOPER: I remember going out with Mike Huckabee, I think it was right after Iowa. I mean, he had basically a driver. It was the driver, and he had this like a young guy driving him around.

ROLLINS: He had a driver and a bunch of young kids --

COOPER: Yes.

ROLLINS: -- who asked me one time, what it was like in the old days. And I said like, what before Blackberrys? And they said, oh no, we don't want to go back that far. COOPER: Yikes.

ROLLINS: We don't have a front-runner. For the first time in my lifetime or David's lifetime, I've been around Republican politics for a long time there is no -- there is no front-runner.

Romney is getting organized. He knows how to win a by straw polls. He was out there with his Evangelicals. For Mitt, he wasn't there. But you know, he's got to turn into can he win some caucuses and some conventions and some delegates and then some states.

COOPER: Is he running differently this time, than he did --

ROLLINS: Yes, he's definitely running differently this time. You know, I think to a certain extent, he won't flip-flop as much as he did last time. And he'll try and basically be more compatible with the other candidate.

COOPER: I mean, before he -- in 2008, he was basically running as a, you know, consistent conservative to Bart J.D. Hayworth.

ROLLINS: Well, he thought he was going to be the conservative candidate. You've got to remember the guy who was leading all the polls last time was Rudy Giuliani who is you know right up --

COOPER: It shows you how important polls are at this stage of the race.

MARTIN: You know it's interesting, we are talking about Mike Huckabee. I really thought Huckabee would be further along. I remember after the campaign, you know, we were talking about how Huckabee had a strategy where he wanted to -- had an opportunity to really be this leader of the social conservative movement. And that really hasn't transpired.

ROLLINS: Mike has never had money. He had the opportunity to have a TV show. He's now moved to Florida. And he's building a house down there. He's told me he does not want to run in 2012. You know, he's going to wait until after 2010. But there's no efforts being made to get ready for another election.

COOPER: David, we've got a Text 360 question and I want to put to you. Jeffrey Haas, in Bloomington, Indiana, want us to know, "Is there any room for moderates and moderation in politics anymore?" And we were talking Republicans and Tea Parties earlier. And they are getting closer, I mean, does a moderate Republican candidate stand a chance in the 2012 primary?

GERGEN: It's going to be hard. But there are some moderate candidates coming along in several states. I'm here in Massachusetts; a fellow named Charlie Baker is running for the governorship. He's very moderate. He's sort of the north eastern kind of voice. You see more Charlie Baker around the country. And he's doing very well, by the way.

But I want to come back to the Sarah Palin point. Yes, she's red hot out on the speaking circuit. She's got a fierce following.

COOPER: She's made $12 million, so far.

GERGEN: Yes.

MARTIN: Yes.

GERGEN: Yes, and it's going to go higher. I think she's probably made over 20 since she left the governorship.

But this poll suggested there's a ceiling. What's striking here is that nationally, 69 percent of the people in this poll said she was not qualified to be president. Only 30 percent said she was qualified. Her ratings and that number are actually lower than the Tea Parties.

And it so it's -- I think it's -- I think John and Ed are both right that there's no front-runner. But it's also pretty clear that she's not going to become the front-runner. And I'm among those who don't think she's going to run.

ROLLINS: Let me just give the counter point. As long as we still start in Iowa, and we go to New Hampshire and we go to South Carolina. We don't run a national election, we run state by state, she can walk in there when everybody else in getting 50 people, 25 people doing coffee klatches. She walks in on day one and she's got 5,000, 10,000 people anywhere in Iowa.

She can attract a big audience. There's a great fascination. She has two years to basically do some homework and get to be more substantive. It's not winning a national election at this point in time; it's winning a state, winning a caucus.

So if she wants to run, she'll have the money. She doesn't have operatives. She doesn't want any operatives but I think --

GERGEN: But then she's not a new --

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: I will agree with that. Yes. I think you are right about Iowa. But, wouldn't you also agree that she's pretty well known now. A lot of people have made up their minds about her one way or the other.

ROLLINS: Sure, but you and I both worked for a guy by the name of Richard Nixon who was dead and gone so many times. And as they said he had the hard ass poker sit there and wait your cards. And I think to a certain extent -- I don't think Palin is Nixon, obviously but I do think there is a silent majority out there that loves her. I think she speaks to them and --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Candy, do you think she has that fire in the belly?

CROWLEY: You know, I'm kind of with -- look, who knows. It's a long time between now and when they start to declare.

I'm kind of with David. I think that she is -- somebody when I was down at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, somebody said to me, "I think she wants to be a king maker, not the king."

I think she likes to drive the debate. I think she likes to, you know, she's right up there in the face of the President. They love that. I don't -- she's also making bank. I mean she's making lot of money.

GERGEN: Big money.

CROWLEY: And I think she's enjoying the role she's got.

COOPER: Yes, speaking of contracts which I guess the details were fished out of a dumpster -- who did that, I have no idea; but apparently private jets to speaking engagements, obviously nice hotel rooms and bendable straws. I'm not sure what that's about.

MARTIN: Cue Kanye West, the good life.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: John King, do you think she has that desire to be president?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I can't answer that question unless you send me a bendable straw. Look, she -- there were some things about the last campaign she loved. She proved herself a big draw. As Ed said she brings a big crowd. She brought energy to the McCain campaign.

She loved being out on the road. She loved that energy. Most good politicians do. They thrive on the energy of campaigning and they grow and they get energy from it.

She didn't like the media. She didn't like the way she was treated by the McCain campaign staff. So she came out of that with some pluses and some minuses.

At the moment, if you look at the numbers, at the moment, she's a weak candidate against President Obama and she's not the strongest candidate in the Republican field.

But again, we are talking six months from a mid-term election. If the Republicans win, the dynamic will change. She has plenty of time to make that decision. She can raise money. She would have a grass roots organization.

Among all the people considering running, Romney is already out there running but those with the infrastructure and those with the grassroots support can wait the longest and she is one of them.

COOPER: We have to leave it there. John King, Candy Crowley, David Gergen, Roland Martin, Ed Rollins, thanks very much. Good discussion. You can find an interactive guide to potential Republican candidates for 2012 and learn more about each of them on the Web site at AC360.com.

Still ahead tonight, a major earthquake hits China; latest developments on that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: All right. Let's get the some of the most important stories we are following tonight. Randi Kaye has a "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Anderson.

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit northwest China early Wednesday. The U.S. Geological Survey says the quake hit at 7:49 a.m. local time and was followed by several aftershocks.

According to China's state-run news agency, at least one person is dead, many others buried under debris.

First lady Michelle Obama made an unannounced stop in Haiti today; along with her, Jill Biden. They took a helicopter tour of earthquake shattered Port-au-Prince and met with the Haitian president and his wife. Mrs. Obama then headed to Mexico for her first official solo trip as first lady.

Toyota says it will temporarily stop selling the Lexus GX 460 after Consumer Reports issued a safety warning. The magazine gave the SUV a rare "don't buy" rating. It says its test runs revealed a problem that could cause it to roll over during sharp turns.

And two Chinese singers have become the first in the country to be fined under laws banning lip synching. Yes, it's true. The singers were fined what amounts to about $7,000. The law was introduced after the 2008 Beijing Olympics Anderson when a girl lip synched to vocals performed by another child who, in fact, wasn't deemed pretty enough to appear in the opening ceremony.

COOPER: I remember that. Yes. I didn't realize they passed a law banning lip synching.

KAYE: Can you believe that, a law against lip synching.

COOPER: That would like, stop all our artists from ever performing in this country if they start lip synching

KAYE: There you go.

COOPER: All right. Time for the "Beat 360" winners, our daily challenge, of course, to viewers to show up our staffers by coming up with a better caption for the photo that we put on the blog every day. Pretty simple.

Tonight's photo is President Barack Obama welcoming German chancellor at the start of the nuclear security summit in Washington yesterday.

We have two staff winners tonight. Frankly, I couldn't pick. First, Gabe. His caption: "Ich bin ein bad haircut."

And our other winner is Joey with the caption: "Release the Kraken."

COOPER: It's funnier if we saw a close-up shot.

KAYE: Yes. Not a very attractive shot.

COOPER: Not a great picture, no.

Our viewer winner is T.A. from Detroit, Michigan. His caption: "Whew. As long as it's you and not Biden talking here. F-bombs and nukes don't mix."

COOPER: T.A., you're right about that. Your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way. Congratulations.

Maybe we should show the pictures up closer. I can't really see them.

All right. Join the live chat right now at AC360.com. Let us know what you think about the picture controversy.

Up next, the one and only Chelsea Handler.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHELSEA HANDLER, COMEDIAN/TALK SHOW HOST: This is the first census where gays can officially acknowledge their life partners. I think that's fantastic. But what about all those sad women who also have cats?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The wickedly funny comedian and talk show host joins us for the "Big 360 Interview," coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: She is funny and fearless and brutally honest, whether she's cracking jokes about celebrities or her personal life. It's certainly true with her latest book, "Chelsea, Chelsea Bang-Bang," another best seller from the author and comedian. She's also late- night star, the host of "Chelsea Lately" on the E! Network. Tonight, she celebrates her 500th episode. Congratulations.

Chelsea Handler joins me now for the "Big 360 Interview."

Chelsea, first of all, did you bring your dog Chunk with you?

HANDLER: My dog Chunk's in the car. COOPER: Did you at least roll down the windows?

HANDLER: No. No. But don't tell PETA.

COOPER: So what do you make of Conan --

HANDLER: He's not in --

COOPER: Sorry. Go ahead.

HANDLER: He's not in the car. He's not in the car. I mean, he is, but I don't want it to go on national television that he is.

COOPER: OK. We'll edit that part out.

What do you make of Conan O'Brien signing with TBS?

HANDLER: It's a surprise. I mean, I'm surprised. Are you?

COOPER: Totally. I had no idea TBS was even in the running.

HANDLER: Me neither. I guess they made him a really sweet deal, you know? And -- and it will be a big boon to George Lopez and his show. So it's great. Conan is a really great guy. You know? So the more people in the 11 p.m. time slot the better, I guess.

COOPER: Do you have any hints for working in basic cable?

HANDLER: It doesn't get a lot worse than this, so just enjoy the road to the middle.

COOPER: Do you like doing a nightly show?

HANDLER: I love it. I mean, I never -- like I became a comedian because I thought I would only have to work on the weekends. And it turns out I'm working a lot more than I had anticipated. But I love it.

I love coming to work and getting to see a show on the air that night. It's pretty gratifying. I mean, I don't really watch my show at night, but it's nice to know that it is on air at night.

COOPER: You don't watch -- do you ever watch yourself?

HANDLER: I used to when I lived with my boyfriend. He would force me to watch my own show when I got home. But that ended a couple months ago.

COOPER: I'm sorry about that.

HANDLER: That's ok. It's a good thing.

COOPER: It's good. Why -- why are you the only woman who has a show on cable at night?

HANDLER: I don't know. I mean, I think Joan Rivers had a show. But then she had a bunch of surgeries she needed to get. So I --

COOPER: That got in the way of her show?

HANDLER: I'm not sure -- yes, that probably got in the way of her whole, you know, day.

But I -- I don't know. I think a lot more women are getting a lot more attention for comedy, so to speak, at this time right now. There are so many people out there that are doing their thing and getting recognition for it. So it's just -- I guess it was timing.

It was good timing on my part, and you know -- and the network's part. And it's a fun -- it's a really, really stupid show, and we're aware of that. So I think people know that we don't take ourselves too seriously.

COOPER: Do you have a hard time booking people, ever?

HANDLER: We did initially. We had a hard time booking people.

But, you know, with a show like ours that's on "E!," you know, our audience kind of wants the -- you know, they want the spectrum of the reality show stars all the way to the big movie stars and the big TV stars.

So we're fortunate enough that, you know, when it is hard to book, you know, A-list celebrities, our audience is pretty excited about seeing somebody, you know, from "Dancing with the Stars" or from, you know, I love whatever that "Rock of Love Bus" show is.

So it's good to kind of dabble in both ends of the spectrum, so to speak. It's fun for me, you know. It's fun to be excited about an interview or it's fun to kind of be like, "Oh, no, here we go again with this person."

But, I try, no matter what, to have -- have a really good time while I'm doing it.

COOPER: Are you referring to Brett Michaels' "Rock of Love"? Correct?

HANDLER: Oh, are you a fan?

COOPER: I must say, I've watched a couple. I liked it when he would hand out the passes to the backstage. That was his sign that -- that you could stay on for another week. That you had -- you know, had done your -- you know, stuck your tongue down his throat enough that you could actually be voted on to the next week.

HANDLER: I know. And after -- after he sticks his tongue down your throat, like what would possibly be the next logical step? It's something that I definitely don't want to find out about.

COOPER: Well, I also don't really want to know what's underneath his bandana which covers the bulk of his head.

HANDLER: I took it off once. He was on my show, and I took it off.

COOPER: Did you really?

HANDLER: Yes, and I can't tell you what's under there.

COOPER: I imagine it was two, like, giant hair plugs that came, like, flopping forward. That's how -- in my mind, that's what it's like.

HANDLER: It could have been. I'm not familiar with hair plugs as much as I should be, being I'm a woman. But it was definitely not on the up and up, let's just say that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: These are hair plugs. Coming up -- not really.

Coming up next on 360, we'll talk more with Chelsea Handler. I put her through a lightning round of really important questions. More of the "Big 360 Interview" ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Politicians, public figures and the paparazzi-hounded celebrities are all fair game for Chelsea Handler. She's an equal opportunity comedian, and as we're seeing tonight, everyone can become a punch line.

Chelsea Handler joins us again for more of tonight's "Big 360 Interview".

So I just want to throw some ridiculous questions at you, get some quick answers; kind of a lightning round, a hodgepodge, potpourri, whatever you want to call it. Is that all right?

HANDLER: Yes. Go for it.

COOPER: All right. How could Dr. Phil help you?

HANDLER: Dr. Phil could help me by not doing his show anymore and not giving anybody ridiculous advice. If I wanted a therapist who yelled at me, then that would be the place to go.

COOPER: Finish the sentence: A day without vodka is --

HANDLER: Not a real day.

COOPER: Sarah Palin, 2012. Your thoughts?

HANDLER: 2012? Seriously? Is that what we're talking about? That's not going to be pretty.

That's when my contract expires at "E!", so if she runs for president, I'm going to make a promise to the American people that I will also make a bid for president.

COOPER: Really? You will go -- I was going to say mano a mano, but it wouldn't be that. It would be like; I don't know Manolo Blahniks versus Nine West against her.

HANDLER: Yes. I'm hoping that you're talking about her when you're referring to Nine West?

COOPER: It's open for interpretation. I leave it for viewers to decide.

HANDLER: I don't think they have Manolos in Alaska.

COOPER: Right. If someone offered you, say, a million dollars to spend a week on a desert island with Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, would you do it?

HANDLER: I make a fair amount of money that I wouldn't need to do that. But thank you for the offer. Would you do that?

COOPER: A million dollars? I -- I think they're both absurd, and I've never actually seen them for more than, like, a little bit on "The Soup". But I -- yes, for a million dollars, I probably -- maybe -- I don't know.

HANDLER: No, you wouldn't, Anderson.

COOPER: No?

HANDLER: You wouldn't do it for a million dollars.

COOPER: I find them -- they're repugnant.

HANDLER: For $500,000. No, you can't do that. That would -- no. You are a quasi-respected journalist. You might want to try to keep it that way.

COOPER: I appreciate that you gave me the quasi. You know, that you threw me that bone.

Favorite rapper?

HANDLER: Oh, my God. I have so many. Probably Snoop Dogg.

COOPER: Keeping it old -- kicking it old school, ok.

Favorite breakfast food?

HANDLER: I have oatmeal with protein powder. It's not my favorite. But I guess an Egg McMuffin would probably be my favorite if I could just eat whatever I wanted.

COOPER: By the way, did you see when Snoop Dogg and Larry King rode in that car together?

HANDLER: Oh, my gosh. No. I heard about it, though. COOPER: YouTube it.

HANDLER: I love that.

COOPER: Yes, it was quite something.

Was it me or was teen superstar Justin Bieber flirting with you during your interview with him the other night?

HANDLER: He was definitely flirting, but it was a little forced. It was forced -- it was a forced entry. I don't think that -- I think that's his move. I think he flirts with women. And I was subjected to it. And luckily, I want to stay out of prison, so I didn't act on my hunch.

COOPER: And was it me or was Ed Asner doing the same thing?

HANDLER: Ed Asner was definitely flirting with me, and he licked my face. And it was -- it was very -- it was very entertaining. But it was also a little uncomfortable, because he reminds me so much of my dad, that when he was talking to me -- it was -- my dad is like a little bit of a pervert, too. So talking to him was like, "Oh, this is really a bad -- this is eerily reminiscent of my childhood."

COOPER: Last thing you do before going to bed at night?

HANDLER: I set my alarm on my BlackBerry.

COOPER: Ok. Guiltiest pleasure?

HANDLER: Guiltiest pleasure? Um -- oh, gosh. Twitter.

COOPER: Really? You tweet a lot?

HANDLER: Yes. I tweet. My dog has a tweet, too, Chunk Handler.

COOPER: "Jersey Shore" --

HANDLER: He does. He's got a lot of followers.

COOPER: I'll bet he does. Probably more than me. "Jersey Shore," boon or bane for the Garden State?

HANDLER: I mean, it's a pretty accurate description. So it's -- it's a boon. I mean, you know, people love it. And people didn't love New Jersey before. So if it's going to bring more people, even if it's not quality people, I mean, anything is better than nothing.

COOPER: Tiger Woods, family man, oxymoron?

HANDLER: No. That's ridiculous. He's -- that's an oxymoron, and he should have not -- that woman should run screaming. Take her money and start a whole new life with another man.

COOPER: What do you think about all these women, though, who came forward, though, with Gloria Allred as their attorney, saying that, you know -- crying and saying Tiger had done terrible things?

HANDLER: Well, fine then. But then you know what? He probably did. And Gloria Allred does terrible things. She -- Gloria Allred, Dr. Phil and Heidi and Spencer Montag should just go live on an island together and scream at each other.

COOPER: Chelsea Handler, I enjoy watching your show. Thanks so much for being on.

HANDLER: Thanks, Anderson Cooper 360.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Up next, "Building up America" one student athlete at a time: we'll tell you about a tough new plan that would force colleges to make sure their athletes perform on the court and in the classroom.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants college athletes in the universities to put as much emphasis on academics as they do their sports. Duncan has a plan that would sideline teams that fail to pass 40 percent of their student athletes.

Now, the new proposal is designed build up America by improving college athletes' grades. Gary Tuchman reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. Secretary of Education has issued a first of its kind challenge to collegiate athletic teams.

ARNE DUNCAN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: I think I have an obligation to challenge the status quo. I'm going to continue to do that.

TUCHMAN: Arne Duncan says if a college fails to graduate 40 percent of its athletes based on its teams for past years, the current team should be banned from postseason tournaments.

DUNCAN: If universities can't graduate 2 out of 5 of the student athletes, how serious are they about their core mission?

TUCHMAN: The NCAA would have to approve it, but if Secretary Duncan's proposal is enacted, 12 of the 65 teams in this year's NCAA Basketball Tournament would have been under that 40 percent level and therefore not allowed to play in the tournament.

But then there are schools like Butler University.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're actually going to head inside and see a (INAUDIBLE) right now. We actually had Madeleine Albright come.

TUCHMAN: The small Indianapolis campus was the proud home of a team that made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before losing to Duke, and like Duke has a very high graduation rate.

DR. BOBBY FONG, PRESIDENT, BUTLER UNIVERSITY: It confirms for me that it is possible to achieve athletic excellence and academic excellence at the same time.

TUCHMAN: Dr. Bobby Fong is the president of Butler.

DR. FONG: The men's basketball team practices at 6:30 in the morning. That's the time when all of them have free from class.

TUCHMAN: We talked to one of the team's stars, Willie Veasley, as he got ready for final four weekend.

WILLIE VEASLEY, STUDENT ATHLETE, BUTLER UNIVERSITY: I know that we've got the whole final four stuff going on, but I think coach is more worried about our grades and making sure that we're taking care of that stuff with all this stuff going on.

TUCHMAN (on camera): So what does the NCAA think about Secretary Duncan's proposal. Will the organization jump through hoops to get this done? Doesn't look that way.

(voice-over): In a statement, the NCAA declared, "We share Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's concern. However, imposing a ban on teams for the academic performance who entered as freshmen 8 to 11 years ago, is probably not the best course of action. Basing post- season bans on graduation rates penalizes the wrong students."

The NCAA currently uses a complex point system to ban teens from post-season play. But it's much harder to get kicked out. Many colleges think it's the fairest system.

As for the president of Butler --

DR. FONG: I didn't think the NCAA would go for it, but I would be in support of it.

TUCHMAN: He's all for the tougher system.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Indianapolis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Hey, that's it for 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts now.

I'll see you tomorrow night.