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Elizabeth Edwards Dies at 61; "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; Man in the Middle; Bishop Sex Scandal; Parents Play Key Role at California School

Aired December 7, 2010 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with the breaking news tonight.

Family and friends have been gathering at the home of Elizabeth Edwards who died today after a six-year struggle with breast cancer. We're going to take a look at her life, the losses she suffered, the trials she overcame and the cancer battle that she ultimately succumbed to.

We'll talk with Larry King and Candy Crowley and a friend of the Edwards who was at the house this evening.

Also tonight "Keeping Them Honest", politicians against repealing "don't ask don't tell" now are saying there's just not enough time to vote on it but are they simply trying to run out the clock and is their clock even accurate? We've got the facts that indicate no.

Senator Joe Lieberman joins us. He wants to keep working until Christmas and beyond because he says the troops and justice demand no less.

And later "Crime & Punishment": the preacher at the center of a sex scandal; accused of forcing sex on several young men in his congregation, Bishop Eddie Long. His accusers filed suit. He said he was going to fight the allegations like David against Goliath. But now he's willing to negotiate, passing on a trial and going for mediation. Our question: is that simply a legal maneuver to settle things fast and quietly or an admission that maybe the story is a lot more complicated than Bishop Long initially suggested.

We'll talk to senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

We begin tonight with the breaking news, the sad news that may have been expected but, frankly, few expected so soon. One day after announcing on her Facebook page that she was stopping treatment for breast cancer, Elizabeth Edwards died this morning at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The end of a six-year struggle and she was just 61 years old.

We're told she died surrounded by family. Her estranged husband John Edwards was there as well as the couple's children. This evening, friends and family members have been visiting the house.

In a moment we're going to talk with a long-time friend and colleague of Elizabeth's who went to the house to pay his respects just a few hours ago.

For the Edwards kids, of course, this is a devastating blow. They have two small children. Ten -year-old Jack and 12-year-old Emma Claire, their daughter Cate is 28. The Edwards met during law school at the University of North Carolina and were married just days after taking their state bar exams. They looked so young there.

Elizabeth Edwards said that the one thing she asked of her husband the day they married was that he always remained faithful to her. They launched their law careers; they also began a family.

Their first child, Wade, was born in 1979 and three years later he gained a sister, Cate. Wade was killed in a car accident at the age of 16. It was an unthinkable death that Elizabeth wrote about and talked about years later.


ELIZABETH EDWARDS, JOHN EDWARDS' WIFE: You know that was a long time that happy was just not within any -- within reach. And then you realize that you don't want the legacy of this child to be these wrecks of parents that he left behind. You want the legacy to be the positive, as positive as the boy himself.


COOPER: Well, Elizabeth Edwards did find joy again. Two years after Wade's death the Edwards began rebuilding their family. At 48 she gave birth to Emma Claire, two years later to Jack. Little kids who made a big impression on the campaign trail in 2004 when John Kerry chose John Edwards as his running mate.

During that campaign, Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer but amazingly she kept it secret even from her husband until after the election. She later said that Wade's death gave her perspective on her diagnosis.

Here's what she wrote in her first book.


EDWARDS: I always talked about the strange gift that comes with the awful tragedy of losing a child. I'd already been through the worst, I believe. We all had. And I had the gift of knowing that nothing will ever be as bad as that. The worst day of my life had already come. And I knew, too, that I had a chance to beat this. A chance my son never had. A chance we never had to save him.


COOPER: Well, the strength that Edwards brought to her battle won her a lot of fans. In 2007 when she learned her cancer had returned and spread she urged her husband to pursue his bid for the White House. After he withdrew from the race she continued to be a strong advocate for health care reform.


EDWARDS: I sit in a chemotherapy chair once every few weeks and listen to people speaking with the person who accompanied them wondering how they're going to pay for the kinds of care that they -- that they need in order to stay alive.


COOPER: While facing down death, Elizabeth Edwards also faced of course her husband's betrayal and news that he'd fathered a child with Rielle Hunter.

Here's what she told Larry King this past June.


EDWARDS: The hardest part, I think, was feeling like somebody who had been -- been the person I had leaned on when I need somebody, when Wade had died, when the cancer came. I think it's probably been hard for him, too, to see himself in this new light as not the person on whom I feel I can lean.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": He disappointed a lot of people.

EDWARDS: He disappointed a lot of people. And I don't -- I think that probably includes himself.


COOPER: Well, friends of Edwards say in these final months she's been focused on her children. For all her accomplishments -- professor, lawyer, author, health care advocate -- being a mom was the most important thing to her. It was how she saw herself.

Cancer has robbed Elizabeth Edwards the chance to see Jack and Emma Claire become teens, become adults. She wanted more time, but that wish was not granted.

On her Facebook page just yesterday she wrote this. "I have found that in the simple acts of living with hope and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious and for that I am grateful."

As we said, friends and family members have been gathering at the Edwards home today. Among them, John Moylan, a former campaign adviser for John Edwards. He joins us now along with Larry King who interviewed Elizabeth Edwards numerous times and Candy Crowley who joins us by phone.

John, let me start with you. You went to pay your respects at the Edwards' home tonight. What can you tell us? How is the family doing?

JOHN MOYLAN, FORMER EDWARDS CAMPAIGN ADVISER: You know, Anderson it's a hard time. But -- but Elizabeth did an amazing job of preparing the family. The Christmas tree is up, the house is decorated. They're prepared for Christmas. And she met with her children, and I think until the very end, provided them with comfort and did everything that a mother could possibly do to prepare her children for this day.

COOPER: I don't want to ask too many questions because frankly it's really none of our business, but to -- to the degree you can talk about it, how are -- how are her little kids doing?

MOYLAN: I saw both Jack and Emma Claire just a few minutes ago. They are very remarkable children. It's -- it's hard on them, as you can imagine, it would be hard on any -- on any child. But they are doing as well as -- as could be hoped.

COOPER: Larry, you and I have talked about this privately. You -- you lost your dad when you were very little. I lost mine when I was 10 years old, around Christmastime as well. Today I -- after I heard this, I mean, I just couldn't stop thinking about -- about their two youngest, about Jack and Emma Claire, 10 and 12, losing a parent at that age.

It's something that reshapes your life. It's something one really never truly recovers from.

KING: Correct. It lasts throughout your entire life. My father's death, I was nine and a half. I'm 77; it's with me today. It's going to be with those kids. But it's important, Anderson, they were raised to this point by an amazing mother. I know you -- Elizabeth -- there was no one like Elizabeth Edwards. I've -- I've --


COOPER: She was one of your favorite guests, I remember you saying.

KING: One of my favorites. She was forthcoming, she was tough, she was caring. You liked her when she -- she changed the room. When she walked into the room, she changed it. I knew that when the time came she would pass away as gracefully as she did this morning.

COOPER: Candy, I mean, obviously Elizabeth Edwards is well known as you know, the wife of John Edwards, but she was a political figure in her own right. And certainly a lot of people who covered them often came away feeling she was, you know, a more formidable candidate frankly than -- than her husband. Why do you think she never ran for office?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, she came from a different era to begin with. I mean, this woman born in the late '40s, women weren't really thought of, really, at that point as political candidates through that -- her growing up period.

Now she was a lawyer. She was in -- in fact a -- a highly-esteemed lawyer. Many people felt that she was certainly on par with John Edwards who was, there are very few who are as good in the courtroom as John Edwards was as a trial lawyer. So she was very accomplished. And she was working as a lawyer, raising her two kids, Cate and Wade. And then when Wade died, it sort of -- it changed her. I mean, she would say there was the pre-Wade era of her life and the post-Wade era. It just -- it completely changed them. And it's one of the reasons they always said that -- that John Edwards decided to go into politics.

But just because she didn't run for politics doesn't mean she wasn't a really good politician. She was better than he was, part of it was her forthrightness, but she was also much more determined than he was in so many ways. She was definitely the power behind the throne.

Sometimes the staff didn't like that very much. Because she -- make no mistake about it, Larry's exactly right. This was a woman who was full of grace, who talked to anybody that came up to her, who was a really wonderful woman, but she was one tough lady.

And I remember one time she didn't like a story that was on our dot com that I had written and she called me at home and you know we had a 45-minute conversation as she laid out one by one by one what was wrong with the story. And it was about him.

So she was a politician, she just wasn't an elected politician.

COOPER: And John, in Larry's last interview with Elizabeth Edwards, she talked about wanting to live just eight more years to see her kids grow up, to see them become the young -- you know the young man and woman that they will be. Being a mom, rather than a politician or -- or frankly a wife or a lawyer, I mean, being a mom was -- was how she ultimately defined herself. Yes?

MOYLAN: Absolutely. I mean, do you -- through Cate and through Wade earlier, and then later with Jack and Emma Claire. I mean, I will never forget being on the bus with Elizabeth, you know, going through New Hampshire with the children on her lap reading bedtime stories. That was even during the height of the campaign, there was nothing more important to her than being a good mother to those children.

COOPER: Larry, I mean I remember her on your program. She's very candid about you know, the -- the affair that her husband had with Rielle Hunter, ultimately fathering a child with her.

She wrote in the book, "Just as I don't want cancer to take over my life, I don't want this indiscretion, however long in duration, to take over my life, either. But I need to deal with both. I need to find peace with both."

Were you surprised Larry just how open she was? And I mean, the fact that she wrote about this toward the end of her life?

KING: Yes, I was. I knew she was an open person, but I thought she was quite open about this and also when you add on something, Anderson, quite forgiving in a sense. And talked about what a good father he was and how important after she's gone he's going to be in their lives. She was an amazing woman. There's no -- it's the best word to describe her. She was amazing. There's -- I don't think there's ever been anyone like her.

COOPER: And, Candy, she really was -- it seems like trying to set up the life that her kids would face after she was gone. I mean trying to, you know, even for -- for all the difficulty that she had had with John Edwards and the estrangement, you know, as Larry said, she knew that -- that he was the father of -- of these kids and -- and he would be the one moving forward with them.

CROWLEY: Sure. And she did that for her kids, not for John. You know, she knew obviously, I mean he's the other parent, and that these kids -- you know, were going to be with him. So you can't do scorched earth policy with that. She still had to deal with him, she did.

But let's also remember that that book was really tough on John Edwards and then she gave a series of interviews after that book that were just scorching about him.

And one of the reasons which she said I want to live the rest of my life and, you know, find myself and be myself and one of the ways she did that was to separate from John. So it -- it wasn't -- you know, yes, she forgave him in the sense that this is my children's father, that's where they're going, they need to have a smooth way to make that transition.

So she was, you know, there were reports down in North Carolina they'd been seen grocery shopping together. But there were -- there were -- make no mistake about it, there were lots of hard feelings, and she was very angry about it and you saw it in those interviews.

COOPER: Well, John Moylan, I know it's been a difficult day obviously for you. I appreciate you coming on and talking to us. Candy as well for calling in and -- and Larry King, thanks for sticking around longer to talk to us about your -- your memories of her.

Let us know what you think, your thoughts, your memories of Elizabeth Edwards, the live chat is up and running right now at

Coming up next, "Keeping Them Honest": Opponents say there's just no time for repeal of "don't ask don't tell" before the Christmas break. But are they simply trying to run out the clock? We're "Keeping Them Honest" and we'll talk with Senator Joe Lieberman who says, well, why doesn't Congress just work until Christmas like most Americans?

And later, President Obama takes aim to the left and to the right on his deal with Republican on tax cuts. The question tonight does that make him a moderate as he's -- and has he been a moderate all along?

We'll talk about that -- ahead.


COOPER: Tonight's "Keeping Them Honest" report is about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". And lawmakers have figured out a way to stop the repeal of "don't ask don't tell" without actually having to say that's what they're doing. You already know about Senator John McCain who has been moving the goalposts on lifting the laws we've shown you numerous times, repeatedly changing his conditions for considering repeal.

Well, now opponents of the repeal are borrowing another football tactic, running out the clock. The senators are saying there are simply isn't enough time left in the current session, too much to do, too little time.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: The Defense Authorization Bill requires four or five weeks to debate. But instead of having that debate or turning to the Defense Appropriations Bill which funds the military, they want to use this week for a political exercise.


COOPER: The Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. That was back in September. He's talking about the legislation that "don't ask don't tell" repeal is attached to, the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill. The House you know has already passed it. The Senate tried earlier this year and failed in a fight over procedure. And yet the Senate does have certainly a lot on its plate.

But last week the Pentagon report came out, the top brass telling senators that implementing repeal can be done. Defense Secretary Gates urging, in fact fast action, before courts force the issue. Yesterday's tax deal also potentially speeding up another big item on the Senate's agenda.

Yet just this weekend, Senator McConnell was still talking about how long it typically takes to pass a defense authorization, only this time he shortened the time frame a bit.


MCCONNELL: Once you get on the defense bill it typically takes two weeks. I don't see how we can possibly finish the Defense Authorization Bill, a two-week bill. Fully aside from these controversial items that are in it, there are a whole lot of other things in it, before the end of the year.


COOPER: Senator McConnell, this week on "Meet the Press," again saying that there's too little time before the 17th when the Senate is scheduled to adjourn for Christmas. He's not the only one saying this, by the way. Take a look.


SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: There's not going to be time to do it this year now before Christmas.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: That was Jon Kyl. So that's the premise, too little time. That it just takes too long. It takes two weeks typically. That's what McConnell said.

We did some checking, however. Here is the legislative history of last year's defense authorization. Senate Bill 1390, the Senate took it up on July 13th. Considered 340 amendments and passed it just ten days later. That's actually unusually long.

In other years the time frame is even shorter. According to Democratic Congressional staffers who have crunched the numbers, since 1990 there have only been four occasions where passing a defense reauthorization has taken more than a week.

Congressional scholar, Norman Ornstein has been following the Hill for decades agrees, adding that on occasion such bills have been adopted after just a day or two.

So "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, lawmakers are free to support or oppose repealing "don't ask don't tell" as they see fit on the merits of it, but to say they don't have enough time to consider it, that doesn't wash.

And what's more, although the Senate does adjourn on the 17th, there's no reason it has to. Senators passed health care reform on Christmas Eve last year. Most Americans work basically up until Christmas Eve.

This year a number of senators who support ending "don't ask don't tell" want to extend the session again. Among them is independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. We spoke earlier tonight.


COOPER: Senator Lieberman, some Republicans are saying there needs to be weeks of debate on the defense bill. Mitch McConnell latest figure I think was two-week minimum even though these bills are typically passed in a matter of days. Are Republicans just trying to run out the clock on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell?"

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Well, it sure looks like that to me. And I -- I don't make that -- I don't reach that conclusion lightly. But we've got the time to take up the underlying defense bill, which is very important to our military. It authorizes pay increases and equipment to protect our troops, better housing for their families back home.

That bill has been passed in every Congress since the '60s. And for opponents of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" being repealed, to hold up that bill because they're so much against the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", I just think is plain wrong.

And we've got the time to do it. That's why I've been saying that though, I know everybody has this goal of leaving Washington on December 17th, this is too important. We should stay into the next week to get it done. If we have to come back after Christmas, we should do that. This is -- look. Most Americans are working until the day before Christmas, and all of our troops will be out on the battlefields right through Christmas and New Year's. We in Congress should work at least that long to get done what is the nation's business.

COOPER: How much support do you have for that idea of staying, you know, through Christmas or -- or -- or coming back after Christmas?

LIEBERMAN: Well, I raised that in the Democratic caucus today, and we didn't have a show of hands, but there were applause and two or three people got up after me, said, yes, I will. This is too important, both the defense bill itself, to support our military and the repeal of "don't ask don't tell", which people agree in our caucus really is the major civil rights legislation before this 211th Congress.

And we can't let it die because the clock ran out, or we left before we had time to get it done.

COOPER: Have -- have you heard anything from -- from Harry Reid's office about that idea?

LIEBERMAN: Senator Reid, I know, wants to take up the bill. I've been talking to him. Look. The real -- we have more than 60 votes to stop a filibuster against the bill.


COOPER: You're sure of that? Because Senator Lindsey -- Lindsey Graham is saying that he's counted the votes, that there isn't enough support to bring this to a vote and there just isn't going to be, no matter what.

LIEBERMAN: I -- I'm -- I'm confident that we will get more than 60 votes. There's a big "if" but it's not an insurmountable "if". The "if" is two things. One is we do the tax cuts first and now there seems to be an agreement on that. And, two, there would be some process that Senator Reid puts in effect that allows for a fair and reasonable number of amendments.

COOPER: Very bluntly, there are a lot of folks out there who would think look, this is just dead. That -- that you know, maybe that everyone doesn't realize it's dead yet but it's just dead. You say, what, that it's not? That there's still a possibility of repeal?

LIEBERMAN: Yes I do. And I understand that feeling. Look. If -- if the opponents of repeal of "don't ask don't tell" are so much against "don't ask don't tell" that they're willing to stop the whole Defense Authorization Bill by filibustering every amendment that's put up, every motion to send to conference, they can probably run out the clock, particularly if we try to get out of here a week before Christmas.

But one -- I think we should challenge them by staying in and continuing to work on the bill, to really decide whether they -- they're so much against the repeal of "don't ask don't tell" after the Pentagon study made it clear it will not compromise military effectiveness at all or whether they -- they're -- they are prepared to say, ok, we've made our fight, you've won, repeal goes into effect, and the underlying defense bill is just too important to stop for the first time since the 1960s.

COOPER: Senator Joe Lieberman. I appreciate it, sir. Thank you.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Anderson.


COOPER: Up next tonight, did you see President Obama's press conference today? Lashing out at liberal Democrats and also conservative Republicans; some are calling this a defining moment for the President in the literal sense, a moment in which he's defining where he really stands on the political spectrum. Our panel weighs in.

And later, a major development and a surprising one in the case of the preacher of an Atlanta area mega church, this man Bishop Eddie Long, accused in civil lawsuits of inappropriate sexual relations with several young men in his congregation. He's the pastor who allegedly sent these photos of himself to at least one of the young men in the congregation. He brought them to trips, he's admitted to giving the young men gifts, including cars.

He says it was not in exchange for sex, he says he's done nothing wrong and had vowed to fight in court. Now he's apparently looking to get settlement -- fast settlement through mediation. Mediation we should point out behind closed doors.

We'll talk to legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.


COOPER: I don't know if you saw the President's press conference today. It was really interesting. He came out today swinging against both Republicans and Democrats who criticized the deal that he struck on extending the Bush era tax cuts even for the richest Americans for two years in exchange for a cut in pay roll taxes and 13 more months of jobless benefits.

Our question tonight is: is this actually a defining moment for President Obama? Defining him finally and publicly not as a far out leftist or as a -- as a conservative of -- of Republican as some progressives think. But as the candidate that he actually campaigned as, the man in the middle.

That's the buzz on a number of political blogs tonight. It's easy to see why. He lashed out today at both sides, scolding liberal Democrats who say he caved, likening conservative Republicans to hostage takers.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've said before that I felt that the middle class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts. I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people. And I was not willing to see them get harmed.


COOPER: Mr. Obama today, positioning himself in the middle. Over the past two years, Republicans have called him everything up to an out and out socialist, and liberal Democrats have practically called him a Republican, some even talking about a primary challenge in 2012.

If you look at where President Obama today seemed to be positioning himself however, defining himself, it actually sounds a lot like how he positioned himself and defined himself on the campaign trail and after.



OBAMA: There is not a liberal America and a conservative America; there is the United States of America.

I will always be honest with you about the challenges that we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them. That the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.

They didn't send us to Washington to fight each other in some sort of political steel cage match to see who comes out alive. That's not what they want. They sent us to Washington to work together and to get things done and to solve the problems that they're grappling with every single day.


COOPER: So our question though, is President Obama throwing down the gauntlet today attempting to define himself by criticizing strings on the left and the right.

Let's talk about it with former Obama pollster Cornell Belcher, former Bush Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, and Nicolle Wallace, who was a senior adviser to the McCain/Palin campaign and the author of "Eighteen Acres".

Cornell, what about this? I mean, is -- is this a defining moment for President Obama?

CORNELL BELCHER, FORMER OBAMA POLLSTER: I think it is a defining moment. And I think one of the important things to understand is it does go back to the Obama that you saw on the campaign. Look, part of the -- the thematic (ph) that we -- that we built on back there in '08 was the idea that Washington was broken. That politics as usual was broken. We had two divided sides. And you need to come up in the middle on this and sort of have a conversation with both. Today he had a conversation with both.

But this is the first significant piece of legislation to come out of Washington in two years -- think about this -- in the last two years that you can clearly say is bipartisan. You have House Republicans, Republicans in the senate, a Democratic White House, and more than a handful of Senate Democrats sort of making this deal happen.

And when you listen to the broad swath of Middle America, Anderson, what have they been saying for the last couple of years? Why can't you guys get together and be bipartisan? Why can't you get together and make something happen? Because Democrats don't have all the answers, Republicans don't have all the answers. That's exactly what the President did. He was the adult in the room.

COOPER: Nicolle, do you think, A, it was a defining moment and do you think the President risks alienating the left wing of the Democratic Party?

NICOLLE WALLACE, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SR. ADVISER: You and I talked about this last night, and I agree with a lot of that. I don't think this is the political debacle that those on the far left think it is. I think that there was another campaign promise that he would have broken if he hadn't reached across the aisle and struck this deal.

But I think he has to be real careful. I think he sounded more like he was whining than throwing punches today and I think he has to be really careful not to present himself to the public who isn't following every blow in this debate as someone who is the victim of a political reality he created. Someone who was impotent and powerless against the mean Republicans who wouldn't budge, he said today, and someone who's frustrated with the members of his own party for being mad that he didn't get more than the 13-month existence for unemployment. He has to celebrate the outcome not complain about it.

COOPER: Did it sound like complaining to you Ari? Or did it sound like he was reaching out to Independents --

ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: No. I think Nicolle's got that exactly right. The tone is wrong. Presidents have to rise above, Anderson. That is always a job that has vexing problems from both parties and the President has to set the broadest tone for the country to bring people together so he can lead them ahead.

I think his problem, though, is politically perilous for the Democrats and it's two years late for the Republicans. If he had kept that campaign tone immediately as part of his policies in 2009 and governed in a bipartisan way, it would have been very different measure.

COOPER: But wasn't he talking -- he was talking a lot about bipartisanship.

FLEISCHER: He talked about it but he didn't do it until right now. If you take a look at everything that passed, whether it was cap and trade, the stimulus or the health care bill, he could not get any bipartisan support. In fact, the only thing bipartisan was Democrats opposing him on it. It was such narrow, only made to appeal to the Democrat legislation, that's why many conservative Democrats ditched him on that. And that's why the election was so bad for him.

COOPER: Cornell, do you buy that?

BELCHER: But Ari, you have to sort of admit --- if we're going to be truthful here is that -- and it's a brilliant strategy that part of the Republican strategy, part of the Republican House strategy and still Mitch McConnell's strategy was to in fact say no, no, no. And it was a very successful strategy and a very successful playbook.

So they didn't necessarily want bipartisanship because they wanted to block everything that the President did. And you see Nancy Pelosi I think and the House Democrats picking up that same playbook. Because you know what? Unfortunately, it can be a successful playbook in politics. Has it moved the country forward? No. But can you win politically because of it? Unfortunately yes. That's part of the broken politics.

FLEISCHER: Cornell, forgive me when I give you a one-word answer to that -- no. That's not what they did. This was ideologically based opposition by Republicans and by many Democrats. Thirty-four Democrats voted against him on cap and trade, 34 Democrats voted against him on health care reform.

He was governing too far from the left for the first two years. He had his chance in 2009 to get Republicans to go with him. They were scared of him; he had such momentum and popularity coming into office. But he governed too far to the left.

Now the problem is the Democrats are in the minority, they expect him to continue to govern from the left, hence the rebellion now on taxes.

BELCHER: But one quick thing, Ari. How many amendments, Republican amendments happened in health care? There were a lot of Republicans -- Democrats time and time again allowed Republicans to join in the conversation about health care. But they didn't want to join in the conversation about health care, because they were running a political strategy.

FLEISCHER: Because it was a bad program on health care. They had alternative ideas -- the alternative ideas didn't have a chance to pass.

But Democrats had huge margins. I'm not disputing their right to try to muscle it through on the majorities they have. I might make the same case when Republicans had Watergate size margins, do it your way you don't need the Democrats but you better have the country if you're going to do that. His policies lost the country.

COOPER: Nicolle, just from a purely political standpoint, were you surprised that basically this is now setting up another debate in two years at election time on taxes and whether or not these tax cuts should be extended again?

WALLACE: Right. A lot of people are saying this was Obama's "read my lips" moment. I wonder if he's going to have a big problem on the left. They're already disappointed with him abandoning and really never even --

COOPER: Are you saying you buy the idea that there may be actually a primary challenger?

WALLACE: Well, I don't know if there'll be a primary challenger. I can't imagine they'd have much success, but it's an irresistible story. I'm sure that even if it's someone with 22 percent --

COOPER: Ari, do you think there will be a primary challenge?

FLEISCHER: I sure do. Afghanistan, disappointment with the left. With the President's continuing --

WALLACE: Public option.

FLEISCHER: Lack of the public option, and now this. This is the heart and soul of the Democratic class warfare and the President has left the House Democrats to fight by themselves.

COOPER: Cornell Belcher, do you buy the idea that there could be a Democratic challenger on the left of President Obama?

BELCHER: You know, Ari, I've got to tell you. The challenge for Barack Obama from the left in a Democratic primary would be like challenging Sarah Palin from the right. The difficulty is this, and I'll just say it. He is the first African-American president in this country and you're not going to beat him in a Democratic primary.


BELCHER: You know why? Because you have South Carolina, you have Louisiana --


BELCHER: You have Georgia, Alabama, et cetera. It would be suicide to try to beat him in a Democratic primary.

FLEISCHER: He can't lose. I don't think he could lose a primary but neither could George H.W. Bush lose a primary, but Pat Buchanan sure made his life miserable and helped Bill Clinton. That's what Barack Obama's got to be on the lookout for, whether or not, there's a principled, ideological --


COOPER: Who are you talking about Dennis Kucinich?

FLEISCHER: Too soon. You just know there's angst out there.

COOPER: Cornell, you just say there's no way. BELCHER: Well -- here's the problem. To me, the person who will be most viable to challenge him from the left would be my old, Governor Dean and he says absolutely no way he would do it in 100 years. So I think that the bench forward is awfully short.

COOPER: Nicolle?

WALLACE: Well, but your base -- these are the most emotional voters in the electorate. So their passions are the most strong when they're angry and they're also the part of the electorate that you can win back with symbolic gestures. Why Obama can't find some issues where he can show passion, where he can be seen fighting, where he can weigh in and put the weight of the office of the presidency behind some of these issues that his base cares about while legislating in a way that doesn't alienate the independents. That's the jujitsu that successful presidents figure out.

COOPER: You were criticizing the tone of it today, you say it sounds whiney, both of you. But it terms of moving forward, do you see the President continuing to position himself -- basically trying to position himself as much as possible in the center? It could be critical --

WALLACE: I don't think we know. He looks a little erratic right now. When it came to health care, I think he would have stayed in that cage-match mentality if his approval rating was 70 percent at the end of that.

COOPER: Cornell do you see him positioning himself like this moving forward? Being more aggressive about it?

BELCHER: I think this is sort of who he is. I mean the truth of the matter is --

COOPER: No, I have no doubt about that, I'm just wondering if he's going to continue to emphasize it moving forward.

BELCHER: Well, yes, I think he is going to emphasize it moving forward. It's a different political world. You have to do it when you have Republicans controlling the house. You have no other choice.

COOPER: We've got to leave it there. Ari Fleischer, Nicolle Wallace, thanks very much. Cornell Belcher as well.

Ahead, fascinating development in the case of Bishop Eddie Long; remember he's the prominent conservative mega pastor who has spoken out against gay people but is now accused of pressuring several young men in his congregation to inappropriate sexual relationships.

He's completely denied he did anything inappropriate, vowing to fight in court. Now it turns out the bishop is hoping to avoid a public trial, agreeing instead to mediation.

Our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin is going to join us tonight, saying it is a very unusual move and may be a sign the story is a lot more complicated than Bishop Long initially led on. We'll have details on that ahead.


COOPER: Tonight in "Crime and Punishment", a spiritual leader accused of coercing young men into sexual relationships has agreed to try to avoid a trial and instead undergo mediation. When the accusations surfaced, prominent Georgia pastor, Eddie Long told his cheering congregation he was going to fight what he called an attack on him. Now the strategy seems to have changed.

Joe Johns tonight has details.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Charges of hypocrisy, Bishop Eddie Long, the married minister of the huge New Birth Missionary Baptist Church who has been highly critical of gays and lesbians is actually accused of living life on the down low, secretly engaging in gay sex himself. Long denies it.

BISHOP EDDIE LONG, NEW BIRTH MINISTRY BAPTIST CHURCH: I have never in my life portrayed myself as a perfect man. But I am not the man that's being portrayed on the television.

JOHNS: But in church, Long preached that homosexuality is immoral.

LONG: You cannot say, "I was born this way." I don't care what scientists say. If you say you are born this way, then you're saying, "God, you're a liar." You can be converted. You were not born that way.

JOHNS: But on September 21st, two young men in Georgia, Maurice Robinson and Anthony Flagg filed lawsuits claiming Long used his position of trust to coerce them into sexual activity. That he had the young men identified as spiritual sons, that he flew them around the country, sleeping in the same rooms, engaging in sex acts, claiming that sex was an important part of spiritual life. Accusations Long denied.

But in recently-filed court papers, Long admitted he took the men on trips, occasionally shared rooms with them and gave them gifts but he denies sexual misconduct.

JOHNS: Jamal Paris filed a lawsuit against Long and here's what he told Atlanta TV station WAGA.

JAMAL PARIS, ACCUSES LONG OF SEXUAL COERCION: I cannot get the sound of his voice out of my head and I cannot forget the smell of his cologne. I cannot forget the way that he made me cry many nights when I drove in his cars on the way home. Not being able to take enough showers to wipe the smell of him off my body.

JOHNS: Photos were released of Bishop Long dressed in tight revealing spandex workout clothing, apparently taking his own picture with a camera phone. Pictures Long sent to one of the plaintiffs, according to his lawyer. But Long's attorney said the pictures were not relevant to the case.

With speculation swirling whether he would step down, Bishop Long took to the pulpit.

LONG: This thing, I'm going to fight. And I want you to know one other thing. I feel like David against Goliath. But I've got five rocks and I haven't thrown one yet.

JOHNS: By week's end, his fourth accuser filed suit and went public claiming he, too, had sexual relations with the bishop.

SPENCER LEGRANDE, ACCUSES LONG OF SEXUAL COERCION: I pray for everyone, you know, especially bishop, especially bishop.

JOHNS: Now after all the accusations and claims of innocence, Long and his accusers have agreed to try to keep it private with mediation instead of a public trial, according to recently-released court documents. Some legal experts say cutting a deal in private mediation looks like an admission of some guilt, while others say that's not the case.

ELLEN MALLOW, MEDIATOR: Almost all mediations, when the case settles, neither side gives any admission of liability or responsibility. That is pretty standard in any settlement agreement.

JOHNS: If mediation succeeds, we may never know what really happened. Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: So the question is why has Bishop Eddie Long agreed to undergo mediation and what does that mean for the possible outcome in the case? Earlier I spoke with senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.


COOPER: I find this case fascinating, Jeff, because back in September it got so much publicity and Bishop Eddie Long made this very public statement in front of his church saying that this would only be resolved, quote, "in the court of justice", and added, quote, "Please understand I think this is the only place I'll find justice."

Now he's basically going for mediation. What does that tell you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, mediation is usually used, and it's often used in civil litigation, in business disputes. Somebody says you owe me $100, somebody says you owe me $1,000 and they use mediation to settle for $500 rather than go through all the trouble of a trial.

What makes this an unusual candidate for mediation is that you either sexually assaulted somebody or you didn't. And the idea that someone who said it didn't happen at all is now going to mediation sure suggests that the story is a lot more complicated than Bishop Long initially led on. So mediation is usually for somebody who's not going to maybe argue the basics of the case but kind of just trying to reach some sort of a settlement maybe admitting that there is something there but let's not have a long trial, let's not have a public trial, let's just try to settle this thing.

TOOBIN: Certainly if you heard Bishop Long's initial reaction to these accusations, mediation would be the last place you'd think he would wind up. Because mediation is implicitly a recognition that, well, there are two sides to this story.

COOPER: Some people are saying look, he's trying to have it both ways that, you know, very publicly he's claiming innocence in front of his congregation, he's claiming innocence and in the media he is. But in some private mediation settlement, which will be kept private, you know, once they agree to it, he's going to admit basically a degree of guilt.

TOOBIN: I think that's a cynical and perhaps accurate assessment of what's going on here. Look. Bishop Long runs a gigantic business. And what he's trying to do is get rid of this case and preserve his business. That's a challenge.

But he's got a lot of bravado, he's got a lot of poise. If he can just make this case quietly go away, I think he thinks that people won't worry too much about the details and he can go on as before.

COOPER: Just to play devil's advocate, he could argue, I'm going into mediation because I don't want to spend a fortune on this trial, I want this thing resolved quickly, and we think this is the best way to go about it.

TOOBIN: And I expect that's what he would say if he were here. The problem is he didn't say that when these accusations came forward. When he was sued initially he said I want to go to court, I want to clear my name. It's one thing to say from the beginning, well, let's try to resolve this amicably. It's another to say I'm totally innocent. Then say, well, let's cut a deal.

COOPER: If this wound up in a courtroom which it still may if mediation doesn't solve the dispute, but he could still win in a courtroom, be found not guilty, and yet evidence would emerge that would, you know, be very harmful for him, given his past pronouncements on, you know, equal rights for gays and lesbians and the feelings of many people in his church.

TOOBIN: And that's got to be a big factor here. Because you know based on simply on the accusations that these young men will testify about sex -- you know, sexual advances that Bishop Long made.

COOPER: Allegedly.

TOOBIN: Well, right. And the jury may wind up not believing them. But they will make these accusations, they will be in public, they will be more detailed than anything that's come in -- may be made public before. That's something any public figure, but especially one with Bishop Long's record on gay rights would certainly want to avoid.

COOPER: It's a fascinating development. Jeff Toobin thanks.


COOPER: Ahead, California facing budget cuts across the board, schools are no exemption. Tonight how one school is working with teachers, students and parents to improve their school. It's tonight's "Perry's Principles" report.


COOPER: California schools have seen deep budget cuts and the cuts, of course, are forcing schools and even parents to come up with new ways to try and meet the challenge.

Education contributor Steve Perry found a great example of parents taking the lead at an elementary school in southern California. Here's "Perry's Principles".


STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR (voice-over): The students at Overland Elementary begin every morning on the right foot. And their parents wouldn't have it any other way. After all, this was their idea.

APRYL KRAKOVSKY, PARENT VOLUNTEER: Their brains are actually ready to learn when they go in the classroom because they've been exercising. So, they were able to take in information.

PERRY: And now, this innovative program has gotten the attention of some powerful people.

LAILA ALI, CALIF. COUNCIL ON PHYSICAL FITNESS & SPORT: We want to commend all of the parents and also the Overland Elementary Parent Association for setting an example for an active lifestyle, for their children.

PERRY: As I saw firsthand, parents involved in almost every facet of running the school.

EVE GELB, CO-PRES. OVERLAND PARENT TEACHERS ASSN.: It starts with an administration that's open to having parents on campus and lets parents contribute where they need to contribute instead of setting really strict boundaries about what we're allowed to do and not allowed to do.

PERRY: Do you really have an org chart?

GELB: The PTA has an org chart.

PERRY: You're serious.

GELB: Yes. We have an arts committee. We have a library committee. We have a safety committee that works hand in hand with our staff to make sure that earthquake supplies are ready. We have a science committee, we have a technology committee together with our technology coordinator from the school. They write a technology plan.

STEVE HERMAN, CHAIRMAN, FRIENDS OF OVERLAND: The parents fundraise annually to support instruction throughout the school. We fund a science lab coordinator, which is a new program that came on campus.

PERRY: How many staff do you provide support for?

HERMAN: Including teachers' aides, you know, at least ten to a dozen.

PERRY: You raise enough money annually.

HERMAN: Correct.

PERRY: To do -- to take on endeavors such as building this library, stocking it, building a science center, all on a public school campus, in California, that's ground zero, by the way, for educational cuts.

HERMAN: The thing we also have tried to do is within the fundraising, it's fundraising for the school. It's not fundraising for, you know, this grade or that grade or this program. The administration, teachers, the other parents, you know, academic bodies then decide how that money is going to be spent.

ANNA BORN, PRINCIPAL, OVERLAND ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: They understand money on many different levels. I'm very fortunate that many of my parents are -- understand that you're not going to get that much from a bake sale as much as you're going to get that much from say -- reaching out to a corporate donor.

TEO HUNTER, PARENT VOLUNTEER: I wanted to be a part of the thing that protected my biggest investment, which was my children.

ALI: I think parents need to lead by example. They need to lead active, healthy fit lives because our kids are watching us. You know, it is hard to tell your kid to do something if you're not even doing it yourself.

KRAKOVSKY: The schools, the teachers, they can't do everything. They'd like to, but there's just not enough time, money, energy to do it. So when you have parents who can step in and get that going, you step in and you help.


COOPER: So what's the lesson? What can we learn from these dedicated parents at Overland?

PERRY: Well, what you learn is that when you put your mind to it and you're creative enough, that parents can actually offset some of the limitations, some of the budget deficits that are occurring in our schools. They can come in as they did in this particular situation and provide something as simple as physical fitness to the children.

COOPER: Good advice, Steve. Thanks. Steve Perry. More ahead on 360 when we come back.


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

"LARRY KING" starts now.

I'll see you tomorrow night.