Return to Transcripts main page

ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Money Politics; Rep. Bachmann in Overdrive; Predicting a GOP Wave; Craigslist "Censored"

Aired September 6, 2010 - 23:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And thanks for joining us.

Tonight: buying influence and access in Washington. Some of the biggest names, Democrats and Republicans, taking money, unlimited amounts of money, from big companies with business before Congress. Sound outrageous? What if I told you it is perfectly legal? We'll show you how it's done and how charities, of all things, play a part. We're naming names, "Keeping Them Honest".

Also tonight: New polling shows Republicans cruising toward a big victory this fall. Our campaign coverage kicks into high gear. Tonight, we'll take you to the front lines of the most expensive House race this year. Do you know which one it is? Michele Bachmann. We'll take you behind the scenes of her race.

And selling sex online -- under pressure from law enforcement in many states, Craigslist removes their adult services section, saying they have been censored and unfairly targeted. We'll talk to the CNN correspondent who confronted Craig himself on the ads; also, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin on the legality of running them and the constitutionality of trying to stop them.

We begin tonight, though, "Keeping Them Honest," as always, with the surprising way that politicians had discovered that they can look good and big companies have learned they can buy influence in Washington. So, what is this legal loophole?

Well, we're talking about charities, at least two dozen charities according to "The New York Times," set up by individual Democratic and Republican lawmakers, big-name politicians who big companies want to be in bed with.

Now, let's be clear. These charities seem to do good work. They give out scholarships, fight cancer, donate to local causes. But why do so many big companies want to donate to little foundations that just happen to be set up by congressmen?

Well, we'll tell you. You're about to find out.

Remember when the Democrats took over and promised the culture of corruption in D.C. was done? Well, this is what Nancy Pelosi said back then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This all comes back to the American people. They have to have confidence that Congress is here to work in the people's interests, not the special interests. They have to know -- and I honestly believe -- that you cannot advance the people's agenda unless you drain the swamp that is Washington, D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Drain the swamp.

Well, she was referring to scandals like the one involving this guy, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Congressman DeLay had a charity, the DeLay Foundation for Kids. And as one of the top Republicans who controlled Congress at the time, his foundation raked in big money from big corporate donors, many of which had business before the House. Donations, by the way, not subject to campaign finance limits, and tax deductible to boot.

Now, despite all the hand-wringing about it and promises by Democrats to change Washington, it seems like there are more and more congress people creating charities and taking donations from big companies looking to buy influence.

Take a look. This is California Democratic Congressman Joe Baca. There are -- it's on the -- he's on the Web site of California energy company Rentech. He's the one in the middle right there at a golf tournament organized by the charity. There's a big check there. The charity is the Joe Baca Foundation.

The foundation supports local causes in his district and, as "The Times" points out, allows him to get his name out there to potential voters. He's seen to be doing good work. The guys on either side of him, by the way, in that picture are from Rentech. They're sponsors of the golf tournament.

Now, just after the event, Congressman Baca's office sent this letter to the Department of Energy, lobbying them to approve loan guarantees that, guess what, Rentech was seeking, a coincidence?

Well, let's take another look. Here's GOP Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. He helped establish the Utah Families Charity, which holds a fund-raiser every August. For a $20,000 minimum, sponsors get access to a special reception, where they get to meet and schmooze with the senator himself.

In 2008 and 2009, a drug company called Watson Pharmaceuticals ponied up the money. They were embroiled in a dispute with the Federal Trade Commission.

This year, in Senate hearings, Mr. Hatch went to bat for them. Is that a coincidence?

And here's another Democrat, James Clyburn, the third most powerful member of the House. His scholarship foundation has a list of corporate sponsors too long to say. Now, is it just a coincidence that all these huge companies really, really care about James Clyburn's scholarship foundation?

One of them, Comcast, which is trying to merge with NBC, also donates to another congressman, Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings's charity. It's called the Elijah Cummings Youth Program in Israel.

Now, it's certainly nice that Comcast wants to send kids from Maryland to Israel, but is that just a coincidence? This past June, the FCC got this letter from the charity director in support of the merger.

We could go on and on. "The New York Times" got a hold of these documents in part through disclosure forms that corporate lobbyists have to submit under rules put in place in 2007 to, as Speaker Pelosi said, help drain the swamp.

But guess what? Those same rules bar the congressional officers who collect those forms from actually examining them to see that they're complete and accurate. So, no one in Congress is really checking.

Eric Lipton is the Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent who broke this story in "The Times." Also with us is former eight-term Oklahoma GOP Congressman Mickey Edwards. He is currently director of the Aspen Institute -- the Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellowships in Public Leadership.

I appreciate both you being with us.

Eric, are these -- I mean, the charities are all legit. They all seem to be doing, for the most part, good work. What -- what is wrong with this?

ERIC LIPTON, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think that what it shows is that Washington is really a creative place.

There's billions of dollars at stake, these corporations have agendas that they want to push, and that they are constantly looking for ways that they can work within the rules to influence members of Congress. And -- and they have discovered that one way is to give donations to charities that they have founded, that they care about, and that impresses the members of Congress.

And there seems to be a correlation between those donations to those charities and then -- and the -- the positions frequently that the members of Congress take.

COOPER: So -- so, what's in it for both sides? I mean, for the congressperson, besides just doing good work in their community, it -- it -- what, it's -- I mean, it's another way of campaigning, really. It lets them get out there and get local press coverage in a very positive way, right?

LIPTON: Right.

I mean, it does -- it serves a lot of purposes. That -- for the corporation, as you mentioned, it's a tax deduction -- deductible gift. It also -- they are supporting causes that are, you know, quite worthy, as you said, breast cancer or college scholarships.

And for the member of Congress, it -- it -- with Joe Baca, for example, he has -- he gives -- there are Joe Baca T-shirts, baseball caps for his foundation, and it's essentially a permanent campaign for him. And, so everyone, to some extent, is served.

But there's a certain cynicism here, because, I mean, here you have these companies, and you sort of wonder -- you know, charity is about giving for the good of the cause. Is it -- is it about sort of pursuing your corporate agenda? And, you know, you -- you -- that's the thing and I think that's the rub, is, is how -- is this really about their -- their concern for these charitable causes? Or is this about pushing their agenda in Washington?

COOPER: Congressman, is it a coincidence that -- that all these big companies who have other, you know, forms of giving just happen to be giving, you know, large sums of money to little foundations set up by congress people who they are going to be ruling on issues that are, you know, of great interest to -- to the companies?

MICKEY EDWARDS (R), FORMER OKLAHOMA GOP CONGRESSMAN: Anderson, you know it's not a coincidence. It's not a coincidence at all.

What happens is, the company that wants to get in good with somebody who either chairs a committee or is an important player in Congress says, here is a way that I can make that person identify with me, have a relationship with me, feel that I am somebody who shares their concerns.

And when I call on them later, they're going to know me. They're going to know my family. We have built up a relationship over time. And I'm going to ask them to help me, and if there's no reason not to, sure, they are glad to come on board, and they're glad to say, you know, you're a friend. How can I, you know, do this for you?

And -- and it's not insidious in terms of being malevolent. It's a way of trying to build that relationship between a member and a funder, to the mutual advantage of both. And what's left out is the interests of the citizens.

COOPER: It is buying influence?

EDWARDS: It is absolutely buying influence.

COOPER: And -- and, Eric, I mean, and there are direct links between these companies that are donating and issues that they -- you know, that these congress people are going to be ruling on, correct?

LIPTON: Right.

The thing that's interesting is to look at -- ok, you know, Lisa Murkowski, a Senator from Alaska, her family set up this foundation in Alaska, but it's all oil companies that are donating. She's the minority -- she's the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee that makes decisions about, will they allow offshore drilling in Alaska? You know, Joe Baca is the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees nutrition. His donors include Coca-Cola and McDonald's that don't want to see regulation on what they can serve in the vending machines in schools or you know. And then, Jim Clyburn is really big on nuclear issues, and the nuclear companies are all giving great deals of money to him.

And Jay Rockefeller is chairman of the Commerce Committee, and then it's all -- it's the airlines. It's the -- it's the telecommunications companies. So, there's a -- there's a correlation that seems to be consistent in these donations that -- that, again, makes you wonder, is this about politics or is this about charity?

COOPER: So, it's legal, Congressman. It doesn't -- you know, it's borderline on the ethics department. How do you stop it? How do you change it?

EDWARDS: Well, what you have to do is a couple of things, partly what you're doing here, what Eric has done in "The New York Times."

But you also have to do some changing of the ethics rules. For example, if it is not possible now to look at the ethics rules and say, I cannot take money directly or indirectly from somebody who has concerns in front of my committee, then the rules need to be changed. And it's easy enough to do.

The fact is, it's not just a matter of perception. It's a matter of having other factors come into play when a member of Congress is deciding what to do for a company, what to do for a friend, and the public interest may or may not be served.

The ethics rules can be changed. If -- look, if Nancy wants to drain the swamp, she's in a position. She's Speaker. She can get the rules of the Ethics Committee changed, and she can drain the swamp.

COOPER: Eric, I mean, I don't want to seem too cynical, but, if -- if congress people wanted to raise money for charities, there are also plenty of charities out there. They don't necessarily have to create their own.

LIPTON: True.

And there are donations made in honor of members of Congress that go to charities that are completely unrelated to those individual members. That does happen as well. You know, but they're --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: But -- but if you're just giving -- if you're a congressperson and you're just raising money for some other charity, it doesn't have your name on it. It's not as big a benefit to you.

LIPTON: It's true. Then it doesn't -- you can't then have the -- you can't, you know, present the check, as many of these members of Congress -- they collect the funds and then they present the check, and then they get a double bonus, because they can appear to be sort the hero for the community that's delivering, you know, more money.

COOPER: All right, Eric, your -- your reporting on this just continues to be outstanding, and you -- you focused on this story -- it's in "The New York Times" -- in great detail today.

Eric Lipton, I appreciate you being with us.

Congressman Mickey Edwards as well, thank you very much.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

LIPTON: Thank you.

COOPER: All right, let us know what you think about this. Join the live chat right now at AC360.com.

Coming up: election season kicking into high gear, new evidence of a big wave for Republicans. We're going to take you behind the scenes of the most expensive House race this year. Do you know which one it is? Well, it's Michele Bachmann, running hard, but hardly talking to reporters her campaign considers risky, a strategy we are seeing more and more of this year. We'll talk about that ahead.

Also, later: why Craigslist took down the adult services ads this weekend. Is it being censored, as they claim on their site? Should prostitution be allowed -- or should prostitutes be allowed to sell sex online? We investigate ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: With the midterm elections fast approaching, we think you should know how the campaigns work from the inside. And, tonight, we're just starting to do that with the first in a series of behind- the-scenes reports.

We begin with Republican Michele Bachmann, who is one of the most visible, powerful and, well, she's probably one of the most polarizing members of Congress, serving Minnesota since 2006. She is the mother of five kids and a born-again Christian. She's become a champion of conservative values, a far cry from the launch of her political career as a volunteer for Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign.

Congresswoman Bachmann has raised millions trying to defeat her Democratic challenger in the coming midterm election.

Tonight, we're going to take you inside her campaign with a look at the high-pressure world of politics.

Here is Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No doubt you've heard of Michele Bachmann. She's a hero of the Tea Party, but a villain to many in the political left and some in the center, for that matter -- no middle ground for her. And that's why Bachmann runs her own show. And, at this moment, she's in a hurry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, we've got to speed it up we're late.

TUCHMAN: She will be speeding for the next eight weeks, until the election. Not a single moment in what is this year's most expensive congressional campaign will be squandered.

Chances are, you have not heard of Bachmann's opponent, Democratic state Senator Tarryl Clark, who has already at today's battleground, the state fair.

(on camera): The Minnesota State Fair is a huge deal in this state. High-profile politicians running for office don't dare miss it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ok. We've got to speed up. We're on in two minutes.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: We're on in two minutes?

TUCHMAN (voice-over): For Bachmann, running the show means spending her time almost exclusively with those she knows she can count on. They love her. She loves them. Right now, she's rushing to be a guest on a Christian radio station.

BACHMANN: I believe that life is from conception until natural death. And so I want to respect life at every stage.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Michele Bachmann has spent a lot of time at this fair over the years. That's because she and her husband raised five children and 23 foster children. That's right, 23.

They weren't all in the Bachmann house at the same time, but it's quite the accomplishment. They sent their foster children to public school, and in many occasions, they didn't like what their children were learning there.

So, Michele Bachmann made the decision to run for school board. She lost the election, but a political career was born.

(voice-over): Her sense of right and wrong would evolve into an unflinching conviction. She was right, and they were wrong. And that's when she began speeding ahead, right and wrong, with us or not with us.

BACHMANN: Hi. How are you? Thank you.

TUCHMAN: Speed-walking in heels through political mud, she gives as much as she gets.

Next stop, a national conservative radio talk show, where she'll serve up more red meat for her core: "We are right. The President and much of Washington are desperately wrong". BACHMANN: And he ran as a center-right candidate, his campaign, but he's governed as a far-left liberal. That's what the American people are opposing.

This is where I love to go. It's so much fun.

TUCHMAN: The American people, she's absolutely certain she speaks for them, because she says God called her to run for Congress. So rushing for the media outlet who transmit her views without question is priority; but for members of the press who might ask some harder questions, different treatment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not taking those questions today. Thank you, though.

TUCHMAN: Because the Bachmann campaign thinks there are many in the news media out to get her.

For years, Michele Bachmann has been a frequent guest on this show.

JASON LEWIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This is "The Jason Lewis Show," America's Mr. Right, on Radio Free America.

TUCHMAN: Jason Lewis is one of the people who Michele Bachmann will talk to, and she has talked to him for many years.

LEWIS: You don't need the gatekeepers anymore. The word is going to get out there, and it's not the Walter Cronkite era, where there -- these -- you know, we are the gatekeepers of the media, and if you don't do the interview with "The New York Times" or CBS, you are essentially stifled. It's not -- not the case anymore.

TUCHMAN: Her conservative views on social issues are lock-step with the Tea Party. It's why she went to Glenn Beck's rally in Washington.

But she must now respond to attacks from her opponent. And, as a Tea Party leader, she is carrying the flag for them nationally and losing touch with Minnesota. With that in mind, Bachmann is now emphasizing taxes and the economy. This is her latest campaign spot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. I know. It's state fair time, and you don't want to hear about politics.

But while you're at the fair, you should know that Tarryl Clark here voted to raise taxes on your corn dog and your deep-fried bacon and your beer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Tarryl Clark says the ad is very misleading. She says she voted to give residents of Minnesota the right to decide themselves if they wanted tax increases. But she says she did not vote herself to raise their taxes.

(on camera): Do you think she's a fair campaigner?

TARRYL CLARK (D), MINNESOTA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I think that she has her own way of doing things, which is very much out of the Karl Rove playbook. And I have never seen her do anything else.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Michele Bachmann stands by her ad and eventually did agree to talk to me, but only two questions.

BACHMANN: We're polar opposites. She's voted for every big increasing spending bill there is.

TUCHMAN (on camera): All the polling in this race has shown Bachmann in front. The Clark forces say they have new numbers, new internal polling that shows they're within single digits and that they have momentum.

The Bachmann forces won't tell us what their internal polling says. They just say their numbers are strong.

BACHMANN: I don't take it for granted. I don't take any election for granted. So, thank you.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): And then Bachmann is speeding off again. She will ignore those who do not agree with her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are insane, lady. She is crazy. Could anybody believe the crap that comes out of her mouth?

TUCHMAN: -- in search of those who do.

Before the day ends, she will do more interviews with people she trusts, people who won't challenge what she has to say. For Michele Bachmann, this is a righteous cause.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We're kicking off our 2010 campaign coverage tonight: John King with CNN's Election Express in Pittsburgh; senior political analyst David Gergen; NPR commentator and founding editor of ThatMinorityThing.com, John Ridley; and GOP strategist Ed Rollins.

John King, let me ask you. You ask -- you like to get interviews with a lot of politicians. It does seem like we're seeing more and more people only talking to outlets they believe are on their side. And we have -- we have -- Jan Brewer is another prime example of someone doing this very same thing down in Arizona.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": Well, especially as you get closer and closer to the election, Anderson, you will find that to be true.

I have talked to Michele Bachmann several times in Washington. She came on the program once. But when you get closer to an Election Day, what are you trying to do? You're trying to identify your most ardent supporters. You're trying to turn them out, and you're trying to stay away from controversy.

So, if you think your race is tough -- and all politicians, especially all incumbents, are being extra careful this year. Even though it tends to be a Republican year, the Bachmann race is viewed as potentially competitive.

So what she is she going to do? She is going to try to preach to the choir and get support in the radio interviews as much as she can. And you'll see it on the Democratic side, too. She's not alone.

COOPER: Yes. It's definitely on all sides.

Is it also something about a lot of new people entering -- entering in these races, a lot of Tea Party activists entering these races who don't want to necessarily, you know, find themselves in a challenging situation --

(CROSSTALK)

ED ROLLINS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, sure. There's a whole new constituency out there that's called the Tea Party. Many of them were Perot supporters back in '92, many new candidates this time running against incumbents. They're untested.

And so to a certain extent, as John said, you want to talk to people that have -- but you're not -- this is about -- this is not about converting. This is about energizing, and so you talk to people that basically are supportive of you, and there's so many vehicles today to go do that, both Internet, talk radio, television, what have you. But the reality is, network television doesn't necessarily do it for you anymore.

COOPER: And, David Gergen, to the point of someone in the Bachmann campaign, you know, or to that radio guy who Gary interviewed, he's kind of right. There aren't any gatekeepers, and everything you say gets out there in one form or another.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly does.

And you make one little mistake, and it can be amplified so quickly now through the Internet, that people are extra careful. But this whole trend of candidates no longer talking to the press, we've seen that in presidential politics for the last two or three campaigns, too, where, sometimes, a candidate has gotten very, very isolated from the press.

COOPER: We're going to talk to John Ridley in just a moment. We've got to take a quick break.

Our coverage continues. Stick around, guys.

After the break, we've got some new polling -- pretty grim news for Democrats -- to talk about. Also ahead, breaking news: Hermine gaining strength, now coming ashore. We'll bring you the late word from the National Hurricane Center on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, continuing our political conversation, you've heard the phrase "pick your poison". Well, new CNN/Opinion Research polling shows that 49 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of Democrats, and 49 percent have the same view of Republicans.

Yet, when it comes to actually voting, that same polling suggests that people are choosing between the two, and choosing Republican. By a seven-point margin, 52 percent to 45 percent, Americans say they prefer a Republican to a Democrat in their congressional district. The Republican margin is bigger, nearly 2-1, among independents.

Back with our panel: John King, David Gergen, John Ridley, and Ed Rollins.

John Ridley, a lot of Democrats have said, you know, that some of the Tea Party candidates the GOP has nominated this year are going to put a lot of races back in play for the Democrats, but is that just wishful thinking on their part?

JOHN RIDLEY, FILM DIRECTOR/ACTOR/WRITER: I think it will put some back in play.

You can certainly see in Nevada, where Harry Reid and Sharron Angle -- you know, Harry Reid was dead, buried and gone. And now he has got an opportunity. I -- I don't think that the Democrats can assume that every one of these races is going to be able to be put on -- look, they are the extreme, and -- and you can't vote for these individuals.

Clearly, the numbers you -- you read, Anderson, people are frustrated, and people are angry. They don't like either party. They've tried the Democrats for a while. They're going back to the Republicans, which is actually the problem with a two-party system. You don't have much of a place to go.

COOPER: John King, I mean, the President is on this now big push all this week, all about jobs. He spoke today. We're going to play some of that in just a moment.

But, you know, in one CNN poll, people seem to blame Republicans over Democrats for our current economic problems, but, despite that, there's this seven-point Republicans have in congressional races.

KING: Well, that's because the Democrats are in charge. And, when you're frustrated, you take it out on the party in power. And the President's power almost always historically suffers in the midterm election, especially the first one.

The President is a Democrat right now. The Democrats have run Congress for the past few years, so they're in charge. And you're right. The number blaming the Republicans, the percentage, has gone up a little bit, which would suggest that all those Democratic ads around the country that people are starting to see and the President's message might be breaking through a little bit.

But the troubling news for the Democrats, Anderson, is the Democratic number for blame has gone up some, too. It's pretty clear the American people blame both parties for the economic mess -- maybe the Republicans a little bit more, but there are a lot more Democratic incumbents on the ballot in eight weeks. And history tells you the party in power gets punished.

COOPER: You know, David, it's interesting. You look back, Democrats are even in worse shape politically now than they were at the beginning of the summer. Were -- were -- do you think things were always going to be this bad, given the economy, or were there missed opportunities, politically speaking, for -- for Democrats?

GERGEN: It's -- it's -- it's odd, Anderson. In the last two summers, the Democrats have lost control of the national message over the summer.

They did it last year with the -- with the town halls and the health care debate. And now this year, they have lost control of the -- of the -- of the argument over the economy. And that's why you see Democrats now starting to localize races, instead of making national arguments in many of these races, while the Republicans want to nationalize this.

But I think that, overall, the Democrats have lost ground over the last 60 days. You take -- you -- you go back to the Tea Party -- Rand Paul in West Virginia, you know, we thought at one time that maybe he would be in trouble. He's opened up a double-digit lead there as a Tea Party candidate.

COOPER: And that's another great example of not talking. After he gave that, you know, controversial interview, I think, to Rachel Maddow, he kind of -- there was suddenly radio silence from him.

ROLLINS: Well, he -- he learned. And every one of these Tea Party candidates have basically taken a lead. The only one that's in a real race is -- is Angle. And she was the flakiest of them all and she's basically almost dead-even with Reid.

The bottom line here is whose side turns out. And I think that the issue, that the Democrats have pushed the health care, they pushed an $850 billion deficit. Both of those are very unpopular. And people don't think they have worked.

So, if you've got a choice between someone who you are not sure of and someone who you are sure is going to basically make your situation worse for you and your kids and going to raise your taxes, then you're going to vote for the Republican.

COOPER: I just want to play something that President Obama said today in a speech targeting or talking about John Boehner. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the Republican who -- who thinks he's going to take over as speaker -- I'm just saying, that's his opinion.

He's entitled to his opinion, as -- but -- but -- but, when he was asked about this, he dismissed those jobs as government jobs that weren't worth saving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: John King, does it make sense for President Obama to be talking about John Boehner?

KING: It makes sense for President Obama to be talking about John Boehner if he sees evidence -- and he has plenty of it, Anderson -- that his side is not motivated, his side is not energized.

So, he's trying to raise the stakes for those union workers right behind him. I was looking at some polling data tonight that says 33 percent, one-third, of union households plan to vote Republican for Congress this year.

If that happens, that's recreating -- ask Ed Rollins about the old Reagan Democrats. Those are blue-collar workers in the 1980s who decided their party had become too liberal. It was wasting their tax dollars through spending too much money.

If that happens to this president this year, if 33 percent of union households vote Republican for Congress, then John Boehner will be the next speaker of the House.

ROLLINS: John Boehner is not known by the country. So the President raises and elevates him and tries to make him a bogeyman and what the President has done basically was going to be above partisanship, has become the ultimate partisan. And I promise you over the next eight weeks, his own negatives are going to get higher, and he will diminish himself and diminish his party.

COOPER: Ed and David, you both have seen in White Houses, you know, a president who, going into midterm elections, faced a tough battle. And different presidents react differently: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton.

How do you think -- if the House goes back to Republican -- David, let's start with you -- how do you think that affects President Obama? How -- what changes?

GERGEN: Well, in the first place, he's not going to be able to get his liberal agenda through. That's just -- that's going to be finished.

And -- but the question is whether he's going to come to the middle and whether Republicans will do that, and we can actually get some real progress, not only on jobs, but on the deficits. I think it could be -- it could be serious gridlock, or we could go the other way. I don't think we know the answer to that yet.

I do think, if he demonizes John Boehner, to go back to the point just made, I think it could become harder to work with him.

COOPER: John Ridley, you had said before that this -- I mean, it could make President Obama kind of go back to the center?

(CROSSTALK)

RIDLEY: Well, I think it has to make him go back to center. I agree with David on that. And I also agree that, look, there's a possibility there's going to be a real narrow margin, a real even split between the House and Senate, post- midterm.

I can't see anything but gridlock going on. I mean, these are groups that don't get along. They've been fighting. There's a lot of fight ahead about what to do with this economy.

And quite frankly, I'd almost rather see more of a Republican majority, to give them an opportunity to do what they're going to do, make President Obama the arbitrator with the veto and see where the country goes. But a narrow majority, that's a little nerve-wracking for me, personally.

COOPER: All right. We've got to leave it there, actually.

Ed, I'm sorry; John King, David Gergen, Ed Rollins, thank you and John Ridley, as well. We'll obviously continue this as our political coverage continues all the way through to the midterms.

There are hundreds of political ads hitting the airwaves, and we know you don't want to sit through them all, certainly, or probably most of them. But there are some you should know about, some real eye-opening messages and a whole lot of money being spent. Tom Foreman joins us -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you talked about it at the top of tonight's program. All the big money that's going out there corrupting the political process, that's always a complaint. "Keeping Them Honest," we are witnessing just what you said, Anderson -- ad spending on track to break all of the records this fall. And we're seeing some wild messages as everybody elbows for attention, including one from Florida Republican Mike Weinstein.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: It's really kind of catchy in its own way.

But we've also noticed some real trends, and the first one is guns. All over Republican and Democratic candidates are toting firearms. Clearly, they're selling a message of self-reliance, Americana, and an implied battle against Washington.

But I want to show you this one. Look at Pam Gorman, a congressional candidate in Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This year a lot of folks think this is our best shot at changing Congress. Of course, that all depends on the caliber of our candidates.

Meet Pamela Gorman, candidate for Congress in Arizona 3, conservative Christian and a pretty fair shot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: Well, maybe not. She was soundly beaten by -- in the Republican primary there, Anderson. So she needs to work on that a little bit more, but that's the kind of message we're seeing out there on guns.

COOPER: The Mike Weinstein, I thought the guy singing was Mike Weinstein.

FOREMAN: No.

COOPER: And I've seen a picture of Mike Weinstein. And there's quite a dichotomy between the man in the YouTube --

FOREMAN: Kind of jarring.

COOPER: Yes, right.

FOREMAN: He's just sitting there.

COOPER: So obviously, the Democrats, you know, are facing the sharpest fire in this -- this campaign. How are they responding in terms of ads?

FOREMAN: And they're responding with political amnesia, Anderson. Basically what they're doing, many of them are acting like their party is not in charge in D.C. or that they don't know that they belong to that party.

Think about this: more than 200 congressional Democrats voted for health-care reform, and we have not been able to find one ad since April mentioning that in their political ads.

Instead, many like Joe Donnelly in the swing state of Indiana, are running ads that don't even mention that he's a Democrat. Look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're at it again, smearing Joe Donnelly.

The facts: Joe Donnelly is Indiana's most independent congressman. Joe opposed President Bush's attempts to privatize Social Security and voted against Nancy Pelosi energy tax on Hoosier families. Joe Donnelly is the independent voice who protects Hoosier families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: And "Keeping Them Honest," "The Washington Post" says he votes the Democratic Party line almost 87 percent of the time. That's a little bit low for the Democrats, Anderson, but that's hardly middle of the road or independent.

COOPER: Yes. It seems in that ad "independent" seemed to be the key word there, leading you to believe he's, you know, an independent. Republicans, though, not raising the banner of George Bush either, though?

FOREMAN: No, no, not at all. No, he's a ghost in this campaign. And the Republicans, who voters still don't like much, want to keep it that way.

But they're very happy to mention President Obama, because they think he is a millstone around the neck of every Democratic candidate, like the contender for governor in Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One man ruled with an iron fist, giving us politics and laws we did not want and did not support. Think we're talking about Barack Obama? We're not. We're talking about former governor Roy Barnes. Can Georgia really afford more of the same?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: In fact the Democrat Barnes is running away from the President and openly criticizing some of his White House policies, but that's a little flavor of what's going on out there right now. It's unbelievable, really, Anderson, but we're going to keep an eye on all of these ads throughout the election, from here on out, fact-checking their claims, "Keeping Them Honest" -- Anderson.

COOPER: Political amnesia, I like the term.

Tom thanks.

Still ahead on 360, breaking news, the latest on Tropical Storm Hermine coming ashore right now. Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is tracking it for us.

Also ahead, big changes on Craigslist: the adult service section gone this weekend. Craigslist says it's been censored. Attorneys general in 17 states disagree.

We'll get the latest from CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and reporter Amber Lyon, who's been covering the story from the beginning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Breaking news to bring you up to speed on: Tropical Storm Hermine made landfall a short time ago, winds of just 65 miles per hour. It came ashore about 30 miles south of the Texas/Mexico border. Texas had been feeling the impact of the storm's outer bands all day.

Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras joins me now in Atlanta.

Jacqui, what's the latest?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Anderson, the good news is that now that center of circulation is over land, it's weakening. Already winds are back down to 60 miles per hour. So it will continue to do that.

But the problem that we have tonight is that people are going to bed, and we still have a big threat of getting some damaging winds across southern parts of Texas. So power outages. Trees down are a good possibility.

And notice -- there you can see that red box -- that's a tornado watch. So any time we get a land-falling tropical system in the right-hand side of the storm, we do have that threat of tornados. And that's going to be ongoing for tonight.

In addition to that, some flash flooding can be expected. We're already getting reports on South Padre Island, as well as into the Brownsville area, that several inches of rain has fallen. Those little feeder bands or those outer bands are the ones that we'll be watching for some of this rotation.

Now, we think Texas, for the most part, can handle the storm tonight. But what happens over the next 24 to 48 hours is of great concern, because the track of Hermine is going to bring it up and take a ride all the way across that Lone Star State and make its way on up to the north.

So locally heavy rainfall can be expected, maybe even as much as 10 inches and there you can see those flood watches in effect from the Red River Valley all the way down to the Gulf Coast.

We could see locally heavy rain showers around Corpus Christi for tonight and major river flooding may be possible on many of the area rivers in central Texas by the middle of the week. So, even if the storm is winding down, the flood situation will be ramping back up -- Anderson.

COOPER: Watch out for that. Jacqui Jeras thanks.

Isha Sesay is following some other important stories for us tonight. She joins us for the "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Anderson.

In northern Chile 33 miners trapped deep underground appear to be doing well. But today, a setback in one of the rescue plans. Problems with a cable temporarily stopped one of two drilling operations underway to reach the men. They've been confined to an area about the size of a studio apartment for more than a month.

Joran Van Der Sloot has told a Dutch newspaper that he extorted money from Natalee Holloway's family because he wanted to get back at them for making his life tough. His lawyers said his comments may have been mistranslated. Van Der Sloot, the prime suspect in the 2005 disappearance of Holloway, an American teenager who vanished in Aruba, is facing separate murder charges in Peru. He was charged with extortion in the U.S. in June after an FBI sting.

And the daredevil known as Skyscraper Man has struck again. CNN affiliate KGO is reporting that Dan Goodwin climbed the 58-floor Millennium building in downtown San Francisco in just over three hours. After reaching the top, Anderson, he was arrested.

COOPER: Hmm.

SESAY: Now --

COOPER: What's the point?

SESAY: You know, that's what I was going to ask you. Because I mean, I know, I'm sure you figured out by now I'm not from these parts.

COOPER: Yes.

SESAY: You know, just a thought. And I just needed you to kind of shed some light.

COOPER: Would this sort of thing go on in the U.K.?

SESAY: No, because in the U.K., if you're in your 50s, as this guy supposedly is, you'd be sitting by the fireplace, reading Dickens and drinking hot cocoa.

COOPER: Hot cocoa?

SESAY: Hot cocoa and Dickens. Don't forget the Dickens.

COOPER: Ah, yes, Dickens. All right. Isha thanks. We'll check in with you a little bit later on.

Still ahead, a major new twist in the Craigslist sex ad crackdown. Under pressure from 17 state attorneys general, they say they're being censored and unfairly targeted.

We'll talk to legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and the CNN reporter who covered the controversy.

And later, the church that plans to burn Korans on 9/11. Well, now the U.S. commander in Afghanistan says if they do it they're going to be endangering our troops -- the story ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: In "Crime & Punishment", a new development in a story we've been covering for weeks. Over the weekend, Craigslist shut down its adult services section, slapping a "Censored" label in its place on their Web site.

They say they're being unfairly targeted. They point out that, unlike plenty of other Web sites and newspapers that have escort ads in classified sections, but don't do any screening at all, they say they do screen ads. Craigslist says it screens all adult service ads that appear on its Web site to police for human trafficking, underage prostitution, or illegal activities.

Now, it's believed adult services ads make up about a third of Craigslist revenues, bringing in tens of millions of dollars last year.

CNN's Amber Lyon wanted to see just how carefully Craigslist actually was monitoring their adult services section. She went online, posting a fictional sex ad under adult services. Her cell phone soon began ringing with calls from interested men. Amber found plenty of ads which appeared to be selling sex.

Next, she tracked down Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and asked him how all these ads got posted despite the company's assurance that it screens them. He did not really respond and cut the conversation short and later complained that she had ambushed him unfairly.

Then in a letter last month, 17 state attorneys general demanded that Craigslist close its adult services section saying it helped facilitate prostitution and the trafficking of women and children.

And as we said, this weekend they, in fact, shut it down.

Amber Lyon joins me now, along with senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Amber, so you've been reporting on this a lot. Craigslist has not appreciated your reporting on this.

AMBER LYON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No.

COOPER: To me this boils down to, I mean, if Craigslist had simply said, "Yes, we have escort ads, just like every classified -- lots of classified sections in newspapers and plenty of other Web sites out there, and there's nothing wrong with it. It's not illegal for us to have these ads," there would be no story, correct?

LYON: That's right. You know, the whole point here was to keep Craigslist honest. Craigslist was making pretty bold statements to the public, saying that they were tirelessly screening these ads, tirelessly working along with law enforcement and key nonprofits.

And we really just put a check on what they were saying they were doing not really focusing on their legal responsibility in this story. And we found that, in some cases, what they were saying they were doing and reality just weren't matching up, Anderson. COOPER: Now, why couldn't they just screen every ad? I mean, I understand it's -- though they make a lot money, there's only -- I read there's only, like, 30-something employees. Do they just not have enough employees to screen?

LYON: That's what some victim's advocates have been saying. They say that Craigslist should take some of this money they're making -- as you said earlier, Anderson, tens of millions of dollars off these ads -- and hire more people. Focus a little more on this.

But another thing victims' advocates and these attorneys general are saying is the big problem here is they don't feel that Craigslist is working tirelessly with key nonprofits to come up with solutions.

You saw that ad we posted. We put code words in there: "sweet", "innocent", "new girl". Clear code words that any victims' advocate in the land of sex trafficking would tell you indicate that could be a minor; yet those words were able to get through on Craigslist's site.

COOPER: Yes, but I would argue with that, saying, I mean, plenty of people are going to say they're sweet and innocent in a personal ad. I mean, that doesn't necessarily connote or mean that the person is underage.

LYON: Well, according to these victims' advocates, you know, Anderson, this is a land of code words. They're not obviously going to come out and say, "Hey, this is an underage girl offering sex" or "I'm offering X, Y and Z." All these ads are written in these code words and these advocates say that it's really important for Craigslist to be paying attention to those words when they're screening these ads.

COOPER: So now Jeff, I mean, Craigslist says in their blogs, "Look, we do more than any other Web site out there. All these attorneys general are complaining, but they're not complaining about their local paper, which has classified escort ads."

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They have a point there.

COOPER: Yes.

TOOBIN: But it doesn't make -- it doesn't what they're doing right. I mean the fact that other people may be profiting from this business. The fact is Craigslist was profiting from it too because they're a national -- and they're a big national name --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: By the way, they say they're only charging, because law enforcement asked them to in order to limit access to the site.

TOOBIN: That's probably true. That was part of their --

COOPER: But again, to my point, had they just said, "Yes, we have escort ads, you know. So does everybody else," legally that -- they would be fine. TOOBIN: Exactly. That's --

COOPER: There wouldn't be a story.

TOOBIN: -- what's so odd about this situation is because the way the law is set up now, the Internet, as far as this is concerned, is treated much like the phone company. In the sense that, if a john and a hooker set up a transaction through the telephone, nobody thinks Verizon or AT&T is liable for the transaction.

The law makes Internet service providers and even Web sites like the phone company there. They are just a cut-out and not legally liable. But Craigslist decided to take on this responsibility, and that's where the problem started.

COOPER: So are they being punished for -- I mean, are they then being unfairly targeted because they're --

TOOBIN: You know, I don't think it's unfairly. These attorney generals are using the power of embarrassment, the power of moral suasion to get -- get Craigslist to change its behavior. If Craigslist really wanted to force them to sue, which they haven't done, the attorneys general might well lose.

COOPER: Now, others -- I mean, Craigslist has raised questions about some of these victims' advocates, Amber. But you've talked to them saying, "Look, they have a -- you know, obviously a motivation to say there's huge amounts of child prostitution online."

I mean, do we know anything about actual numbers of children who have been trafficked on Craigslist or on other sites?

LYON: Well, we did get some new figures in today, Anderson, from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They say that, since 2006, they have been able to rescue 54 missing children just by comparing the photos on the missing person's ad to the photos on the sex ads under Craigslist adult services section, formerly the erotic services section. So this is happening, but it is hard to prove.

COOPER: A lot of those years are before Craigslist says they started -- you know, I think it was, what, in 2008 or 2009 they said they were actually starting to monitor. So it's really only in the last year or two that -- that they say -- that they made this promise that they've been monitoring, right?

LYON: Yes, that is correct, Anderson.

COOPER: OK.

So we have a "Text 360" question, Amber, from an anonymous viewer in Louisiana. They write, "What's the point in replacing the link -- the link with 'censored'? Why not remove all traces of the former link?"

Has Craigslist commented on why they said "censored"? LYON: They haven't commented to us at all, really, about the reason behind this, but when you speak with the attorneys general and some other groups, they say they're -- they're trying to make a statement here, that they feel like they are being unfairly targeted and that what they're doing is not illegal. And they want to protect their First Amendment rights here, Anderson.

COOPER: It's an interesting discussion. And --

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: First of all, they're not being censored. They are censoring themselves. The government didn't tell them to --

COOPER: Right. Nobody's suing -- the attorneys general are not suing them.

TOOBIN: Exactly. I mean, censorship means the government stops you from doing something. The government has done nothing legally here except express disapproval. And that's not censorship.

COOPER: It's interesting. We're going to continue to follow it. It's an interesting story.

Let us know what you think, and join the live chat at 360.com.

Amber, appreciate it. Amber Lyon, appreciate the reporting, as always.

LYON: Thanks.

COOPER: Jeffrey Toobin, as well, thanks.

Up next, what General Petraeus says about a Florida church that plans to burn Korans on September 11th.

Plus, something you don't see every day: a killer shark caught in a river. I don't know if that's a killer shark. It's a shark caught in the river.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Following a good number of other stories. Isha Sesay joins us again with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

SESAY: Thanks, Anderson.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan is criticizing a Florida church's plan to burn copies of the Koran on September 11, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 people. General Petraeus issued a statement today, saying the church could endanger troops and the overall effort in Afghanistan if it goes through with the controversial event.

President Obama in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this Labor Day; Mr. Obama unveiled a $50 billion plan to create jobs by rebuilding and modernizing roads, rails and airport runways.

And this, Anderson: a scary sight in the Potomac River. Fishermen are catching eight-foot-long bull sharks. At least two have been reeled in. This one weighs --

COOPER: Yikes.

SESAY: -- 300 pounds plus. Bull sharks are considered by many experts to be the world's most dangerous shark, because they can tolerate fresh water and swim up rivers.

Yes. That's some serious bragging rights those fishermen have got now, don't you think?

COOPER: Yes. Well, more sharks -- there's a lot of sharks in the Potomac, I guess -- in the Potomac area, at least.

Anyway, I like the dog sniffing the shark, too. I felt bad for the shark, though, in that freezer. It's sort of pathetic and sad.

SESAY: Don't feel too badly for the shark, seriously. It wouldn't feel badly for you if it caught up with you.

COOPER: That's right. I think they're misunderstood. Isha, appreciate seeing you again tonight.

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

"LARRY KING" starts now.

I'll see you tomorrow night.