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Senate Vote on Debt Plan Set for Tuesday: Congresswoman Giffords on the House Floor; Crackdown in Syria

Aired August 1, 2011 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we're going to have the behind- the-scenes story of Gabby Giffords appearance today. We're going to talk to Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz who actually helped her out onto House floor. We'll talk to her later on the program.

The breaking news tonight on the debt deal, no vote until tomorrow in the Senate and a breathtaking moment just as the House was voting to pass it. It looked and sounded like business as usual and then as we pointed out, everything changed, listen.

For that moment or two, nobody watching knew quite what to make of it. Then word got out it was wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords entering the chamber to cast her vote since being shoot in January. As I said, we'll have a lot more on her remarkable comeback a bit later on in the program. She had returned in case her yes vote was needed to provide the margin of victory.

It turns out it was not that close. Take a look.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Ayes are 269. The nays are 161. The bill was passed without objection. A motion to reconsider is laid on the table.


COOPER: Well, of that 161, 95 Democrats and majority voted no, so did 66 Republicans. Liberal Democrats for the most part and Tea Party Republicans joining in opposition. Now in a moment a Democratic congressman who voted "no" and who called it a sugar-coated Satan sandwich." We'll ask him what that means and GOP Senator Rand Paul who plans to vote no tomorrow.

Shortly before air time, congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan spoke briefly with House Speaker Boehner.



BOEHNER: I feel great.

BOLDUAN: How do you -- what do you think of the vote this evening?

BOEHNER: I thought it was a strong vote but the first step in many steps yet to go.

BOLDUAN: What do you hope the American people take? What do you think the message is for the American people tonight?

BOEHNER: The process works. It may not be pretty but it works.


COOPER: Definitely not pretty. President Obama said nothing publicly today but reluctantly endorsed the compromise last night.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, is this the deal I would have preferred? No. I believe that we could have made the tough choices required on entitlement reform and tax reform right now, rather than through a special congressional committee process.


COOPER: Well, some on the left put it a little differently. Paul Krugman slamming Mr. Obama in today's "New York Times" under a headline reading "The President Surrenders." Now, you can decide for yourself what happened.

But here is the deal, more than $2 trillion in savings over the next decade including $21 billion next year, a little more than $900 billion already agreed on for the next ten years and then, a bipartisan commission made up of six House and six Senate members would be charged with laying out by this Thanksgiving, at least another $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and/or revenue increases to complete the deal. They'd have to stay away from Social Security and Medicaid.

Now, if the panel can't agree, across the board cuts would kick in including on defense spending and payments to Medicare providers. The bill would also call for a vote on but not passage of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Gloria Borger talked about that last week.

In exchange for all of that the debt ceiling will be raised through the end of next year. Democratic and Republican supporters each trying to claim credit for getting a handle on the deficit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to return the fiscal responsibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is it that we're going to be able to do that? Getting our fiscal house in order.

REP. TOM REED (R), NEW YORK: The American people have spoken loudly. They want us to get our fiscal house in order.

BOEHNER: Fiscal handcuffs on this Congress that are sorely needed.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Washington is beginning to get its fiscal house in order.


COOPER: Wow, remarkable how responsible and on the same page everyone sounds there yet as we mentioned the ordeal that Washington is putting the country through well, it is not yet over. The Senate does not vote until tomorrow. The deadline today is somehow ensuring they are not just going into the 11th hour in this hot mess but right up to the last second of the last minute of that 11th hour.

A new polling tonight from Pew Research, people were asked for their one word assessment of the budget negotiations. Just two percent -- two percent had something positive to describe the process, two percent with a positive word. You can imagine some of the words folks would use. It's not a kind word, just a positive one. The number one word used by 66 percent was "ridiculous".

All the angles tonight: John King joins us on Capitol Hill. Jessica Yellin in the White House, chief political analyst Gloria Borger is with us -- wow, that's a six-box -- along with Ali Velshi who is covering the impact on the nation's economy and yours. A bit later: perspective and the political fallout from Democratic strategist, Paul Begala and's Erick Erickson.

So John, a lot of talk about winners and losers on all of this; you say the President actually maybe wins by losing? How so?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, remember, Anderson, at the beginning the President was trying to negotiate a $4 trillion big deal. He gets a little more than half of that, $2.4 trillion. Remember, he said he wanted to do this all in a one-fell swoop. This is a two-tiered system so this debate will be back in several months.

The President also said it had to be balanced. Meaning it had to include some tax increases. He did not get that in the first swoop; he is unlikely to get it many believe in the second swoop.

And yet, why does he win? Because as a candidate for re-election, bad manufacturing numbers this morning, bad GDP numbers Friday, an anemic unemployment report expected this coming Friday.

The President, the last thing he needed was to be the first President in history to have default happen on his watch and the last thing he needed beyond that was to have more uncertainty, more turmoil, a collapse of the financial markets. A President running for re- election in a very tough economy, he has enough to worry about, Anderson. He did not need a default.

COOPER: Jessica, does the White House see this as a win?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, they see this as a -- the better outcome of many possible outcomes, Anderson. Just a few days ago there were plenty of Democrats who thought at this point we could be at a 50/50 percent chance of default. They really thought that default was a likely possibility here.

So this is a happy outcome. Here at the White House tonight I'll tell you there is a sense of exhausted relief. It's the first night in many weeks that there are lights out at this building. People have gone home and it's a little bit lonely here on the lawn.

And they are aware that they have been bruised politically by this fight; that they have left some Democratic priorities in print on the table that they will have to stand and fight for again. But this is certainly not the worst of all the possible outcomes that they could have faced.

And they also think that the Republican Party has not served itself well in this fight and will have a lot to answer for in the upcoming election.

COOPER: Gloria, saying it's not the worst that doesn't necessarily mean it's a win either.


COOPER: I mean someone could argue that President Obama looked weakened in this and that the Republicans seem to have gotten more than the Democrats got.

BORGER: Well, you know what, first of all nobody really wins here in public opinion as you just said, because the public takes look at this and say, "Why can't they just get this over with? Do their jobs and raise the debt ceiling?"

But I was talking to a senior White House official today who said, look, if you look at this down the road, we have some other landmarks that are coming up in November and again -- and again in December. And he said, look, this could frame the debate for the White House for 2012. If Republicans are only for cuts in entitlements and not for any kind of revenue, that's something that our public opinion show the public does not support.

And you recall when the Ryan budget came out right around the summer Republicans started going home to their town hall meetings and started getting a lot of grief on the Medicare issue. So this official's position is, well, this could come back to that point again if we don't do anything beyond entitlements, when we have to deal with what the commission tells us to do.

COOPER: Ali, what affect --


BORGER: So they think they'll be ok.

COOPER: What affect does this actually have on the federal debt?

ALI VELSHI, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it -- it brings it down as you know by $2.1 trillion over ten years. That's not enough, that's -- COOPER: But doesn't it bring it down from just what it was projected to be?

VELSHI: That's correct. Right, so that's why --


COOPER: Because Republicans are saying you're still spending $7 trillion.

VELSHI: And there's no way, we've done the math, there's no way to bring that math in line and really bring the deficit down, down, without increasing what Republicans call revenues, but taxes. There's just no math.


COOPER: There's no way to do it?

VELSHI: The only way to that -- well, the only way to do it is have grown like Indian grows and grow like China grows, but that's not going to happen in America. That's the only way you can get your way out of this.

So there has to -- this has to happen. President Obama, as John said, wanted a $4 trillion deal. That's what the ratings agency said we needed. He got half of that. You can't get to that $4 trillion without tax increasing.

COOPER: Well, Republicans say well, don't raise taxes raise taxpayers.

VELSHI: Well, let's call it tax reform. Right? There are a whole bunch of people in this country who don't pay taxes. There are a whole bunch of companies that don't pay taxes. So if you got everybody to pay some taxes, in theory, all of us would pay a lower percentage.

But you've got do both of those things together. We've got to figure out how to get more money. And this is going to affect all of us. This is also middle class. One thing about this administration, they say they don't want tax increases for the middle class. Again, the math doesn't work. Everybody is going to pay a little bit more tax. That's how you get to your $4 trillion.

COOPER: John, you're a young man but an old Washington hand. Is Washington different than it was even two years ago when we were all talking about how polarized things were?

KING: Ouch.

Yes, it is. I mean, it's still polarized. We saw that, we see this deal today, we see this compromise today, we'll see if it follows on the future.

But in terms of the conversation in Washington, remember when President Obama took office. He came into office. He passed a big health care plan that involved a huge activist role for the government. He passed an $800 billion stimulus plan that included a whole lot of government spending to prime the economy. He wanted to pass more infrastructures spending this year. He wanted to increase education spending.

What is the conversation in Washington about? Cutting spending, shrinking government, not raising taxes; we'll see what happens with this super committee. We'll see if the President gets his revenues and tax increases in the second installment of this.

But this is a dramatically different conversation in Washington about the role, the size, the scope of the federal government, where the money comes from and that is because of the last election, 2010. The American people in 2010 spoke a very different message than they spoke in 2008 and now we're going to have a debate. 2008, Obama, 2010 Republicans and we're going to carry that into 2012 including Anderson, a lot of people say this deal will quiet this debate. No, it won't; just for a couple of days, maybe.

When this committee gets to work we are going to back involved in every single one of these issues again and then it's going to spill into the election.

COOPER: Gloria, haven't there been though, a ton of committees already that have come up --



COOPER: -- with plenty of ways to save money and cut the deficit? And I mean --


BORGER: Right.

COOPER: -- there's -- there's been -- I don't know how many. What is this one going to --


BORGER: I don't know.

COOPER: -- get that -- that the other ones haven't got? Isn't this is just kind of -- oh, yes, we'll create a committee?

BORGER: I think -- yes. I think that is a really good question. I think there are a lot of skeptics about this. I think there are some skeptics about it inside the White House. I think that the feeling is, the hope is that maybe people will start seeing the light together when they are confronted with these draconian cuts that would kick in.

It's sort of saying to them -- it's an admission essentially that we can't do our jobs that you sent us here to do unless you threaten us with these awful cuts and if these cuts actually occurred we'd probably not get re-elected.

So the feeling is that when you put this sledgehammer to them, maybe -- maybe they will do their work. One other thing though, and again, there's a short period of time here, but if somebody said to me today, this isn't ground -- this isn't new territory.

People understand the issues here. You had the Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson commission which did a very long and detailed report. Everybody knows what needs to be done. They just have to agree on it. But I think you're absolutely right. I think there's a lot of reason for skepticism, I do.

COOPER: And -- and Jessica, you're hearing the Treasury Department is going to talk to rating agencies tonight. Do we know what they're saying?

YELLIN: They're already -- according to my sources Anderson, they are already talking to rating agencies and the ratings agencies are asking for details of this deal because the agencies are still evaluating the deal to decide if we're going to be downgraded.

You know, it looks like, we're on the way to avoiding default but we're not entirely out of the woods yet because they -- these agencies are going to decide if what this -- what this deal means and they have yet to make this decision about a downgrade.

So there are these conversations going on with the administration from Treasury and these agencies and we'll have to see tomorrow and in the coming days what kind of statements come out of the ratings agencies ahead.

COOPER: I mean if we've gone through all of this and still get downgraded and Ali, I mean there were warnings of that. But and I guess there are levels of downgrading.

VELSHI: There are levels of -- there's a little one which -- which we may still get and that is from AAA to the next level. That's very different from a downgrade that you get if you default. That one is the serious ones. So what we might get is a little downgrade.

Japan and Canada have both been through this in the past. They both recovered from their downgrades as a result. When it's a small downgrade and you show efforts to fix it you can get back from it.

COOPER: Well, let's see. Ali, I appreciate it. Ali, John, Gloria, Jessica, thank you.

We're going to turn to Paul Begala and Erick Erickson in just a moment. We'll get more closely to the political repercussions on both sides and get their take on what happened today and what's going to happen tomorrow.

And Tea Party favorite, Senator Rand Paul also coming up.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I'll try to tweet tonight if I can up in this hour.

Up next, I'll talk to a Democratic lawmaker. Why he called the budget deal a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich." Exactly what that means?

And later, we're going to talk to a close friend and colleague who was literally right by Congresswoman Gabriele Giffords' side as she made her stunning return to the House floor tonight.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: Our breaking news tonight: the Senate will take it down to the wire voting not tonight, but tomorrow, deadline day on a compromise to end the budget crisis.

In a moment, Kentucky Senator and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, who plans to oppose it but first my conversation earlier tonight with Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, Democrat of Missouri who also vote "no" in the House and he said quite a bit more than just "no" in opposition to the bill.


COOPER: Congressman Cleaver, you voted "no" on this bill, you also called it, a, quote, "sugar-coated Satan sandwich." What do you mean by that?

REP. EMANUEL CLEAVER (D), MISSOURI: Well, if you pick up the first sheet and start delving into the bill, you'll see that there is nothing in the bill that would garner the support of any of the great religions of the world. And by that, I mean everything that we are supposed to do to take care of the elderly and take care of those who are unable to take care of themselves and also dealing with our children, those things were not protected. And although there are some so-called fire walls in there, this new super-Congress of 12 will have some enormous powers.

And -- and keep in mind, that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, are not off the table. It's been delayed in terms of when that subject will surface.

It's a bad bill. I voted "no" after 250 something votes had already been registered so I knew that the bill was going to pass. In fact, I've said earlier that if the bill needed my vote I would vote yes because I wasn't willing to try to make a point and at the same time drive the economy off into the abyss.

But make no -- no mistake, I don't know of a single Democrat who voted for this bill who thought it was a good bill. I mean not one single Democrat.


COOPER: I know you -- you said that the consequences of a default would be catastrophic but it's interesting you say you would have voted for it if -- if your vote was needed to make it pass. I mean, I guess, a critic could say well, then, that your vote is sort of about politics in this case because you knew your vote didn't really matter to get it passed and so it was sort of a safe vote to vote "no" on?

CLEAVER: No, no. It really wasn't about politics because I made that statement before this -- the vote and I thought it was a bad bill. I talked about the fact that it was a bad bill. And so the safest and easiest political vote was to vote yes.

I mean I stand in favor with the -- the White House. I get kudos from folks who just wanted to get it out of the way but I registered a protest vote.

COOPER: Some Democrats today in a meeting with Vice President Biden who reports that some of their complaints were saying the Republicans were negotiating like terrorists. How -- how would you characterize the tenor of the debate, the willingness of some in the Republican Party to try to get what they want?

CLEAVER: Well, you know, I'm disappointed in the way the debate went. I mean we had a fact-free debate, you know. But let me say this. I want to give kudos to the -- to the Tea Party members because they pretty much had their way.

COOPER: They won, you think -- you're saying.

CLEAVER: And -- well, I don't think there's any question that they won politically. I think the American public and, in fact, the world probably won because we didn't blow up the U.S. economy and bring down the world economy with us.


COOPER: So do you worry moving forward about -- about the ability to govern and about the ability to kind of -- actually get compromise to get things done moving forward?

CLEAVER: It all depends on whether or not the individuals who -- who won come to the conclusion that they can win every battle if they're willing to send every -- everybody off a cliff. And if they think that that's the way government is supposed to work, I think that's going to continue.

COOPER: Congressman Cleaver, I appreciate your time. Thank you, sir.

CLEAVER: It's good to be here with you.


COOPER: Well, Congressman Cleaver bitterly disappointed. Minority Leader Pelosi is not exactly thrilled either. President Obama taking heat for his negotiating style, the poker analogy is flying all day.

One blogger is saying, Mr. Obama was holding 3 nines and got beaten by a pair of fours -- I don't know what means because I don't play poker. Or was he making the best of a much weaker political hand. Joining us now, Democratic strategist, Paul Begala and Erick Erickson of who just tore himself away I understand from "The Bachelorette", as he tweeted in the make-up room.

So Paul, a "sugar-coated Satan sandwich" -- how upset are Democrats right now?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I think that's pretty typical of it and I think -- Congressman Cleaver by the way is also Reverend Cleaver. And so he's an ordained minister, he also knows of which he speaks both legislatively and I think spiritually.

This is the problem. Democrats are furious about this because -- I think they make a good point. Instead of an even-Steven, 50/50, which I think, most fair-minded people do. It's what President Clinton did when I was working for him. We have about $1 in tax cuts, or tax increases for about every $1 in spending cuts.

We're getting all spending cuts in priorities and programs that in the main Democrats strongly support. There's a bigger thing at play here, though, too. And I think Congressman Cleaver is sort of referred to that which is this obsession on the debt ceiling and it is an artificial contrivance we just created it as a country has distracted from what a lot of people think is a bigger problem. And that is jobs, growth.

You know, I got an e-mail about an hour ago, believe it or not from Willie Nelson who said there's a lot of people who a lot more worried about a ceiling over their head than they are about a debt ceiling. And I think he's right. I think there's great wisdom. Willie is one of the great poets and philosophers of America.

COOPER: I love that Willie Nelson has your e-mail account by the way. I'm just --


BEGALA: It is, I'm -- I live a weird but blessed life. He's my hero. I have to say, I'm from Austin. In Austin, if you don't believe in Willie they call you --


COOPER: Who doesn't believe in Willie? Yes.

BEGALA: That's right.

COOPER: Well, Erick, what -- you know, you talked to Republicans, it's interesting. I talked to Rand Paul and we're going to play that in just a moment. And he says, well look, we were willing to compromise. We compromised on -- on be willing to raise the debt ceiling. But is that really a compromise -- that wasn't really a compromise by Republicans. I mean that wasn't really a Democratic issue, was it?

ERICKSON: See for a lot of Republicans, Anderson, it actually was. And you and me and Paul may scratch our heads over that but a lot of these guys ran on not raising the debt ceiling. And a lot of them, particularly in the House, they viewed themselves as replacing people who are willing to lose to vote for Obama care and they were willing to lose to not raise the debt ceiling and we may say that's not how Washington works but they genuinely believed in it.

By the way, Paul being from Austin, I think that's the place where you can get the burger between the two Krispy Kreme donuts which I think that's sugar-coated Satan's sandwich.

COOPER: Yes probably so.

Paul what about that? I mean, is that fair though, for Republicans to be saying, well, look, we were willing to compromise with the Democrats and raise the debt ceiling -- when did that -- but I don't understand when that became a Democratic issue? Or a Democratic position?

BEGALA: Well, we have been raising the debt ceiling for generations.


COOPER: Right. Right, Republicans and Democrats?

BEGALA: Right, from either party. Now, I will say, an admission against my party's interests, when he was in the Senate Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling when George W. Bush was President. I think that was political then.


COOPER: Right -- which he's acknowledged, he actually said that was wrong and was political.

BEGALA: It is -- and that's correct. But I also do think there are some principles at stake here and in that sense I respect the Tea Party and the other conservatives. I don't agree with them and I think they would have done great damage to the country but at least they show that they have the courage of their convictions.

I do wish the Democrats would -- would come forward with a jobs' bill. I do hear that the President and the Vice President today, were telling congressional Democrats we get this done and then we pivot to jobs. And I sure hope so.

And I think it better be a pretty robust jobs' program because we do have a long-term deficit problem. There's no doubt about it but we have a near-term job's crisis and a growth crisis. We will never pay off this deficit with 14 million Americans out of work.

COOPER: So -- so Erick, politically did the President get crushed here? Because earlier we heard John King saying well, maybe this was a win for Obama. A think a lot of Tea Party people feel it was a win for the Tea Party. Do you think the President won here?

ERICKSON: Yes, you know, it depends on whether you're looking at policy or politics. Policy, probably not and he's going to get hurt by his base. If you look at even at Mother Jones tonight they were lamenting that this maybe is a rejection of the American people of the government.

But politically I think he did win because he gets this issue off -- off the burner altogether before January. People are going to have completely forgotten about this by March. The deficit commission, by the way, to answer your question from earlier with Gloria, this will be the 19th in 30 years.

COOPER: Thank you, ok.

ERICKSON: The first one happened when it was $1 trillion. Now we're at $14 trillion. So he'll get all this off the back burner by March and people will have completely forgotten about this.

I mean, frankly you know I think Paul and I can probably agree, this election is going to be about jobs. It's not going to be about the debt ceiling. It's not going to be about diplomatic relations with foreign countries. It's going to be about jobs. And if the unemployment rate goes down he'll probably get elected; if it goes up, maybe not.

COOPER: But Paul, do you -- I mean do you think this was a win for President Obama?

BEGALA: No, no I don't. I do think and having worked in the White House my heart goes out to him. He was dealing with folks who he believed were willing to harm the economy to pursue their -- their principles and perhaps even political agendas.

But this is the problem. Is that the Commerce Department, Obama's -- President Obama's own Commerce Department says that in the last quarter, austerity measures by state, local and federal governments, spending cuts by government, reduced the GDP by 1.2 percent.

So there's no doubt this is contractionary, there's no doubt that will cost jobs and yet we're doing it anyway when the President needs new jobs. He needs to be creating jobs, not shaving jobs off of our payroll.

ERICKSON: But you know, Anderson, I think there's a larger issue here. And no one really is talking about this. You know, if you go back to 1999 which was the best revenue the federal government has probably ever seen. It only went up to 21 percent. The last time that it happened was the end of World War II in 1945.

But the federal government is now spending at 25 percent of GDP and it seems pretty impossible to close the gap. I mean, you forget, go back to the '50s and '60s, tax rates were in the 70 percent, we're now down to 30 percent and tax income has been pretty steady in the federal government up until the past year or two with the extent of the recession. And even if it goes back up it's not going to close the gap.

And so at some point the government is going to have to say, we can't keep running perpetual debt; we're at $14 trillion. And if this plan goes through as they intended to go through we'll add another $12 trillion.

BEGALA: Well, that's a -- that's a good point. First off, most of that spending increase, almost all of it was automatic spending increases caused by the recession. But why then just seven or eight months ago in December, did we have all the so-called experts thought it was wonderful, this bipartisan agreement back then, to increase the debt by $858 billion in the form of tax cuts, which apparently have done very little to stimulate our economy since the economy is still flat.


ERICKSON: Well, but Paul --

BEGALA: We did that at $858 billion to it. So we need to cross both those lines the other way. In other words, we need more revenue, higher taxes, I hope on the rich, and, yes, less spending.


COOPER: We've got to wrap this up. Erick the final thought.

ERICKSON: I've got a question for you here. If -- if 49 percent of the country doesn't pay taxes and 51 percent already do I still have a hard time understanding what their fair share is? It's looking more and more like some of the middle class, if we're going to do the revenue at some point we're going to have to raise their taxes, too, if we go along this way, instead of cutting spending.

BEGALA: Well, first off, believe me, but you're just talking about income tax which is a rich person's tax. Middle class people, poor people they pay gas taxes and excise taxes and payroll taxes and all kinds of taxes; so working people are paying their fair share.

I'm not worried about that. It is -- as Warren Buffett, who is one of the richest men on earth said, there is a class war going on and my class is winning. And I think Mr. Buffett is right.

COOPER: Paul, your southern accent has gotten more southern over the course of this interview. I'm not sure how that --


BEGALA: I think it's getting the e-mail from Willie Nelson.

ERICKSON: Willie Nelson, yes.

COOPER: All right, thank you Paul Begala, Erick Erickson.

BEGALA: Thank you.

COOPER: Stick around. We're going to have more to talk about ahead.

Coming up, Kentucky's junior senator, Republican Rand Paul, he plans to vote "no" tomorrow when the bill comes to the Senate. Why he's not willing to compromise on the debt ceiling. Even though, he says, he is kind of willing to compromise. Well, we'll try to figure that one out.

Plus, a moment that everyone, no matter which party, could embrace, Congressman Gabby Giffords is back on the House floor to cast her first vote since she was shot in January. Her friend and colleague, Representative Debbie Wasserman-Shultz joins us with a kind of behind- the-scenes look.


COOPER: More on tonight's breaking news on the debt deal. For those just joining us, here's the latest. The House tonight voted to pass the agreement reached yesterday by President Obama and congressional leaders; final vote, 269-161. Liberal Democrats for the most part and Tea Party Republicans joining in opposition.

House majority leader Eric Cantor downplayed the ugly drama leading up to tonight's vote.


REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I feel like we accomplished a lot by passing that bill. It is the beginning of a process but we're going to change the system in this town. It also, I think, sends a signal that we can work together to try and produce results and right now it's about trying to address this economy so people can get back to work.


COOPER: The bill raises the debt ceiling through the end of 2012, calling for more than $2 trillion in savings over the next decade. President Obama reluctantly endorsed the compromise last night and said nothing publicly today.

The Senate vote is expected tomorrow, I think, around noon. Earlier I spoke to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who plans to vote "no" against the bill tomorrow.


COOPER: Senator Paul, you plan to vote against this in the Senate. You're unwilling to participate in a compromise that can pass through Congress and get signed by the President. Your critics will say that a refusal to compromise is counter-constitutional. That for the democratic process to work, you have to compromise. Is compromise a dirty word?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, interestingly we've offered several compromises. I was part of a group that actually orchestrated a compromise called "cut, cap and balance" which would have given the entire $2 trillion that the President requested in exchange for a balanced budget amendment. COOPER: The "cut, cap and balance" I understand the idea behind it but it's not something which can get -- can really get passed so isn't that -- by insisting on that that's not really a compromise.

PAUL: Well, you see, I mean -- there is an argument about when you compromise, when it's right to compromise and when it's right to make a deal. We did offer to come halfway in the sense that we offered to raise the debt ceiling.

But you know, there were times in the 19th century when people were asked to compromise over many things that were just plain wrong. And I think sometimes it is good to stand on principle for things you believe in and also think it's best for America that we try to balance our budget.

COOPER: But agreeing to pay our debt as a country -- isn't that a moral position, a moral obligation?

PAUL: Yes. I'm not saying we don't pay our debt. In fact what I'm saying is this is going to increase our debt. We're at $14 trillion, this is going to take us up above $16 trillion and that's adding to our debt.

COOPER: But we're still, in this plan, going to be, you know, cutting $2.5 trillion in debt?

PAUL: Yes. And see, that gets into the whole talk about what we're cutting against. They're talking about cutting against a baseline that adds about $9 trillion to $10 trillion so when you subtract two you're still adding seven so there is certain semantics to this argument that I think are lost on the American people a lot of times.

To my mind, I came out of the private world, I think if you spend more each year and you add more debt each year you're not fixing your problem.

To put this in contrast, if you had a real cut, what would be a one percent real cut, we call it the penny plan. Over about six years you cut one penny out of every dollar you actually would balance the budget. I just don't think that that's unreasonable.

COOPER: According to multiple sources, in a meeting with Vice President Biden today Democrats were venting anger about Republicans saying that they negotiate like terrorists. What they're saying is that a small group of Tea Party Republicans, a powerful group, were willing to hold the full faith and credit of the United States essentially hostage. We're willing to risk the full faith and credit and not realizing that at a certain point, you know what, we're not getting what we want so we have to compromise. Is that a fair criticism?

PAUL: Not really. Because I would say that some people who argue that by adding $2 trillion more in debt to our country that that threatens our country more than a temporary inconvenience of not raising the debt ceiling.

COOPER: Has this been a victory, you think, for the Tea Party?

PAUL: In some ways, yes. We didn't win the legislative battle. I didn't get what I want. But I would say that the public debate now, everyone comes up to me and says, whether they're with me or not, they say the debate now is all about cutting spending. Before it was all about where are we going spend more pork barrel projects? Where is the earmarks going to go?

COOPER: Is there any scenario that you believe raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans which according to a lot of polls Americans seem to support, as part of a plan to get toward fiscal health? Would you in any way, be able to vote for something like that down the road?

PAUL: Well, I've been having this dialogue. We get painted as people who are not talking. I talk with Democrats every day. In fact, the Democrats say that the rich need to pay more of their fair share. They need to bear more of the burden.

I can accept that premise. I think we could come together on that premise and then the question is how should they do it? Should they do it by paying more taxes or maybe we can get the rich to pay more of their fair share by saying they should pay more for their benefits. The reason we don't want to do it with the tax structure for the most part is that we think it will hurt job creation.

COOPER: Look at approval ratings of Congress people it's about as low as the approval ratings of journalists and that's not very good. Is this a sign to you this debate that we've seen a sign that government works or doesn't work? I think a lot of folks out there see this as a sign that government doesn't work. But I'm interested from your perspective on the inside.

PAUL: On the debt ceiling I would say it is that debate. Think about how great it is that no one is shooting each other --


PAUL: -- and the kind of the nice story of Gabby Giffords came back today. Well, I mean, just think about it compared to other countries where there is violence involved. People's freedom to express themselves is suppressed. Debate -- we should never in our country complain about bickering because bickering is freedom of speech. And I think you guys in the media, you guys really want to protect the First Amendment and so do I.

That's what debate is about. It's First Amendment expression. We won't always agree but we're not at each other's throats, so to paint us as people unwilling to compromise or unwilling to work with the other side, I think that is just an improper caricature.

COOPER: Senator Paul, appreciate your time as always. Thank you.

PAUL: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Let's talk more about the "no" votes out there. Joining me again: Democratic strategist, Paul Begala; and Erick Erickson, editor in chief of; Paul what did you make of Rand Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: While he was speaking I think that allusion to the 19th century was probably slavery, don't you think. He's comparing a fight over an artificial debt limit to probably the greatest sin in American history. I think that's a little much, at least for me.

And I was struck at what a different type of Republican we have in the Senate today. Many years ago, the Republican leader in the Senate was Everett Dirksen. In fact there's a Senate office building named after Senator Dirksen. He used to say, "I'm a man of fixed and unbending principles and the first among those principles is flexibility." That's how deals got down. That's how the civil rights legislation got passed with people like Everett Dirksen from the Republican Party helping a Democratic president, Lyndon Johnson.

That era seems long gone to me to hear Senator Paul speak.

COOPER: Erick, it's interesting, because I think Charles Krauthammer last week wrote about -- saying that it was counter-constitutional, the idea that, you know, you fight hard for what you believe in but at a certain point when you realize it's not going to happen you have to be willing to compromise. It does seem like there's a lot of folks now who believe compromise is a very dirty word.

ERICKSON: Yes, I really do think it depends on what you're compromising on. You can compromise on practicality. You can compromise on a lot of other issues but if you compromise on your principles, then why bother?

You know, I think it was actually Jesse Helms who gave that great quote that if you think freedom is right and tyranny is wrong, why are people supporting freedom bartering it away like slices of baloney? And there are a lot of guys who really believe that. And Rand Paul is one of those.

He really does believe that we're going to a very bad place in this country economically and he wants to draw a line in the sand and say no further. And you and I can disagree with him but he's convinced that we're going to a very bad place if we keep spending.

COOPER: Paul, how does the Tea Party come out of all of this?

BEGALA: Enormous winners. I have to say, I'm scratching my head in amazement that they don't seem to think that they've won. Although Senator Paul seems to think they kind of did.

Look, in the last eight months since they won the November election in the House of Representatives, since they took control of the House of Representatives. Here's what's happened. A massive tax cut. I think way too targeted towards the rich but massive, $858 billion. Bigger than the TARP bailout for the banks, bigger than the Obama stimulus package but cutting taxes is clearly I think a Tea Party priority. Then in April, the deal to keep the government functioning cut $35 billion to $38 billion from this year's budget; so big spending cut. Now this massive $2 trillion spending cut plan. I think it's a route. I don't support their agenda. But if it's cutting taxes and cutting spending, good, lord, this thing is a route. We haven't seen the Democrats get even a penny of taxes even from oil companies.

COOPER: Erick, you agree with that?

ERICKSON: Not necessarily. Paul makes a very good case to, I guess, enrage the Democratic base and maybe make the Republicans feel good but not necessarily. I would point out that those tax cuts that Paul is talking about they were actually extended by a fully Democratic Congress with a Democratic president with a Republican minority in the House and the Senate.

At the same time these Tea Party activists they don't feel like they've won because they look at this picture and they really do believe that we're headed down the wrong road and they see that if this plan goes according to design, Anderson, and that's the frustrating part for a lot of us by design we'll add $12 trillion. We won't actually scale back government. And they don't view that as a victory.

COOPER: Erick Erickson and Paul Begala -- guys thanks for staying up. Appreciate it.

Coming up, all the bitterness on the House floor stopped for one really inspiring and touching moment today to welcome back Representative Gabby Giffords. Giffords returned to the House today for the first time since she was shot in the head almost seven months ago.

I spoke with her friend and colleague, Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. That is her -- actually standing next to her. You can't quite see her but she'll give us kind of a behind-the-scenes look of how all this came about.


COOPER: It was just an incredibly inspiring moment and really touching on the House floor; one that had nothing to do with the vote that was happening and really put the whole vote in perspective or the debate that's been so contentious. A moment that was not about politics but a person; the moment when Representative Gabriel Giffords returns to the House floor for the first time since she was shot on that dark day back in January.

She was welcomed back and applause, a lot of applause, listen.



(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: She looked great. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi calls Giffords the personification of courage. And it really is remarkable to think that nearly seven months ago, Giffords was shot in the head in Arizona and was fighting for her life in intensive care.

She has a long way to go in her recovery. She wasn't moving the right side of her body and still has trouble standing and speaking more than short phrases. But seeing her today on the House floor was a big milestone. And even though the return is temporary, it's also a triumph for her family and for her and her friends.

Giffords' friend and colleague, Representative Debbie Wasserman- Schultz helped Giffords into the House. That's a still photo; you see her on the left, that's her, obviously Giffords, husband on the right, Mark Kelly.

I spoke with Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz just a short time ago.


COOPER: So Congresswoman, what a -- just a remarkable moment today. Amongst all this bickering to have a moment like this and see to Congresswoman Giffords there. She's obviously, an incredibly close friend of yours. What was it like for you to have her there on the House floor?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Oh, just absolutely incredible. When I got the call from Mark last that Gabby had been following the negotiations and wanted to be able to be in the chamber to cast her vote, if it was pivotal, she wanted to make sure that she could help save the country from default and make sure that she was there on the most important vote that we'll probably cast this Congress for her constituents.

It was just the most overwhelming. It would be hard -- my heart was -- all of our hearts were so full. And you've had some grizzled, hardened members with very hardened hearts that everybody just melted when she walked in the chamber. It was so incredible.

COOPER: So you found out, what, yesterday, last night?

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Yes. Mark called me last night and told me that Gabby had been following the debate and had really, really felt it was important for her to be there to make sure that -- especially if she were the deciding vote to save the country from default. And then she decided that it was important for her to cast her vote and make sure her district had a voice in the chamber for something that's this important.

COOPER: How is she doing? I mean --

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: She's doing great.

COOPER: -- she looks good, she looks strong. She looked, you know -- I mean she looked like she belonged there. WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Exactly. She's doing incredibly well. This is the most determined, focused, hard-working person we've said for months -- months ago I said that she would make a triumphant return to the chamber and today she did. And, you know, she has a long way to go in her recovery. She still has to work in rehabilitation so she's not ready to come back full-time but this was an incredible step for her and just a fantastic day in an otherwise tough few weeks.

But Gabby Giffords is the consummate public servant and her district is fortunate as she set the example today for having her represent them.

COOPER: You answered my next question -- my final question which is -- this is not for good. She's not back for good.

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: No. She has a lot of work left to do to continue on the road to recovery but she's making remarkable progress. She's very determined to come back. And I've been able to visit with her a whole bunch since the shooting. She's made more and more progress each time.

It's amazing that America got to see and her colleagues got to see and her constituents got to see how much progress she's made. It was something that after such a tough debate, after so much was at stake for us to have Gabby melt everything, melt our hearts a little bit so we can move on and hopefully, start to work together a little bit better.

COOPER: It was certainly one of those moments in the newsroom where everyone just stopped and I'm sure the same thing on the floor of the House and kind of put things in perspective.


WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: And you should have seen -- really, it does. You should have seen -- I just was watching the members' faces as I was helping to walk Gabby into the chamber and it was just, you know, jaws dropping and smiles and tears and just -- it was -- I think it was the shot in the arm that the Congress and the House needed; the shot in the arm that the country needed after a very tough time.

We've got a lot in front of us, a lot of work ahead of us; you know, hopefully Gabby's return today, even if it's just brief, will help us all come together. That's the civility that I know is so important to her and hopefully, her return sets the tone.

COOPER: I hope she got a sense of the outpouring --


COOPER: -- and I hope it gave her a shot in the arm as it did to everybody else.

WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: She did. She was overwhelmed. It was incredible.

COOPER: Yes. Well, Congresswoman, appreciate your time. Thank you. WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ: Thanks Anderson.


COOPER: Well, still ahead tonight, new brutality in Syria. At least 52 people, including four children, killed yesterday by the government. Military accused of firing on its own people, even as they try to pull victims to safety. We've seen this before, frankly.


COOPER: In Syria, a bloody 48 hours as President Bashir al-Assad escalates his crackdown on pro-reform demonstrators; the city of Hama, a major target. Take a look.




COOPER: Video purporting to show Hama under fire by Syrian security forces yesterday. Amnesty International said at least 52 people including four children were killed. Dozens more reportedly died in other attacks across the country. Hospitals are said to be overwhelmed. Video -- there was people outside one of them.

With foreign journalist barred from Syria we can't independently confirm these reports. There's another video also purportedly shot in Hama. A group of man trying to recover a wounded man from the street; they appear to come under gunfire. Watch.

Keep in mind, this is the holy month of Ramadan. Today in Hama, there were reports of machine guns firing from tanks. At least six more people were killed, according to one human rights group. This video of the tank was purportedly shot today on the outskirts of the city of Hama.

Today President Obama called the attacks on demonstrators horrifying. Secretary of State Clinton demanded that President Assad stop the slaughter now.

We'll be right back.


COOPER: Hey, that's it for 360. Thanks for watching. I'll see you tomorrow.

Piers Morgan starts now.