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State of the Union: Interview With Robert Gibbs; Interview With Senator McCain

Aired February 15, 2009 - 20:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: STATE OF THE UNION report for Sunday, February 15th.

Will the new stimulus bill mean a quick fix for the nation's growing unemployment problem. The president's chief spokesman Robert Gibbs' answer might surprise you.

The Republicans on Capitol Hill called the Democratic plan nothing short of generational theft. But were they really shut out by the Democrats? That's only one question we'll ask Arizona Senator John McCain in an exclusive conversation.

And rating the president's game on and off the court. With five legendary basketball stars.

That's all ahead in this hour of STATE OF THE UNION.

We're with you this morning from Phoenix, Arizona which is where the president is coming this week to discuss a new plan to deal with the housing crisis. Arizona ranks third in the nation in foreclosures.

He will visit just after signing the big and controversial new stimulus plan. The unemployment right here in Arizona, 6.9 percent. And he will arrive facing new pressures to act on the emotional issue of illegal immigration. The debate we explored up close here in recent days.

On a lighter note, Mr. Obama is a huge basketball fan. At halftime at tonight's all-star festivities here in Phoenix, it will include a taped presidential message promoting the president's community service agenda.

It's a packed agenda. So let's get started with the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, who, like the president, spending Valentine's weekend in Chicago.

Robert Gibbs, thanks for joining us. Let's get straight to the accountability test. The president did get a big policy win just this past week. He got nearly $800 billion in economic stimulus spending. He will sign it into law in Denver. I want to show you the front page of the "Denver Sunday Post" here, "Stimulus' Big Stage in Denver."

As he signs it into law in Denver this week, the American people are asking when will we see what we paid for. The president says, Robert, three to four million jobs. How many of them by the end of 2009? ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look, John, let's step back for a second, because in just four week's time, this president, working with Congress and both parties in Congress, will get a nearly $800 billion economic recovery plan -- it will go through Congress and be signed into law by him.

We hope those jobs begin to get created very quickly. We think the money is going to get out the door relatively quickly to help states so they don't have to lay off police officers or firefighters or teachers that we can help create jobs through investment in alternative energy that will double the amount of alternative energy production in just a few years.

So the president is focused on making sure that the money gets out the door very quickly. But John, as you know, you're in Arizona where the unemployment rate has gone up, and certainly the number of jobs that we've lost over just the last three months shows you that the economy is actually getting worse right now, not getting better.

So I think it's safe to say that things have not yet bottomed out. They're probably going to get worse before they improve. But this is a big step forward toward making that improvement and putting people back to work.

KING: Well, Robert, this, I'm holding it in my hand, this is the bill that is supposed to make things better. And I'll try to turn it different ways so our viewers can see it at home. It's about 1,000 pages.

Many are questioning, not only the substance of this bill, Robert, but the process of this bill. I'm going to hold up one page. This is $800 billion in government spending. There are literally handwritten scribbles on the side of the page, changes to this bill being made just as people were voting on it. You can't find a member of Congress who has read all this.

And my question to you ask is, for a president who promised a new era of transparency and openness and government, did urgency trump transparency when it came to passing this bill?

GIBBS: Not at all, John. But -- let's step back and understand the urgency for a second. As I mentioned, we lost $600,000 just last month. We lost -- during this recession we've lost 3.6 million jobs in little over a year. Half of those jobs in the last three months, which means the unemployment rate is actually getting worse. It's accelerating at a time in which many people are really hurting.

The urgency to get something done was very important. But, John, I think what we have here is a very balanced approach that's going to put people back to work. For the first time we're going to put money back in the pockets of middle-class Americans, not just those that have done well for the past few years, but people who need it the very most. We're going to make some new investments that will help our long-term economic growth.

All of those things together provide a balanced approach that will get the economy this moving again, put people back to work, and we hope to see improvement soon.

KING: I want you to listen to the president, in selling this legislation he left Washington and hit the road. One of the places he went was to the factory floor in Peoria, Illinois. Caterpillar has laid off more than 22,000 people in the first quarter of 2009. I want you to listen briefly to one of the president's pitches.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jim, the head of Caterpillar, said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off. And that's a story I'm confident will be repeated at companies across the country.


KING: Now, that was the president on the floor of Caterpillar, Robert Gibbs. But Jim Owens, the CEO he was talking to, said after that speech that yes, he supported the stimulus bill but that no, he said, will he rehire those people? He said, quote, "I think, realistically, no. The truth is, we're going to have more layoffs before we start hiring again."

Did Jim Owens change his story for the public than what the told the president? Or was the president exaggerating what the CEO had told him about this bill?

GIBBS: No, John, if you look at what Jim Owens said on Friday, to make sure that things were clear, he said if Congress went ahead and passed a strong stimulus package, combined with other measures around the world, he thought it was likely that he'd be able to re-evaluate the layoffs that they've made at Caterpillar.

Look, there's no, there's no doubt that in this piece of legislation there's a dramatic increase in infrastructure spending. To build roads and bridges and repair those, to modernize our schools, and the exact equipment that Caterpillar builds is going to be used to build some of those roads and bridges. That's going to put people back to work in east Peoria, in downstate Illinois, and all over this country.

KING: Robert, I want to ask you some issues the president will confront when he comes here to Arizona. He's coming to talk about housing and foreclosure. But in this state right now, the illegal immigration debate is brewing up again. And it now confronts the new president.

Several Democrats, eight of them, sent the president a letter this past week including a Democrat from this state, saying halt further construction of the fence along the U.S. border, the U.S./Mexico border. Much of it has been completed. But during the campaign the president did indicate he might reverse that policy if elected.

Will he agree with those Democrats and stop further construction of the border fence? GIBBS: You know, John, I -- haven't seen the letter but I know the president would tell you that we can't just do one thing to stem the immigration problem, that we have to look at this in a comprehensive way. And I think that's what the president will do in approaching this problem.

We're fortunate enough to have, in our homeland security secretary, the former governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano, who I know will also be a big advocate for a comprehensive solution. She understands this problem, as the president does. And I think that's what you'll see the approach taken by this administration.

KING: I could poke you on immigration and the stimulus bill bipartisanship for sometime. We will get to those down the road. But I want to close on a light note.

I am here in Phoenix in part because of the NBA all-star game tonight. I had a great treat of sitting down with some legends past and present in the NBA to break down your boss' game. And we took a look at the jump shot. We took a look at his dribbling. They say, you know, he could use some -- maybe move a little bit quicker on defense.

I wanted to get your sense, Robert Gibbs -- I know we will hear from the president at halftime tonight, a community service message. But how much does basketball mean to this president in terms of stress relief, mental health, if you will?

GIBBS: Yes. You know, John, there are very few days in which I don't see, at some point in the day, the president either handling or dribbling a basketball. I know he's anxious to get out on the court. He's going to play with some friends in Chicago here today. It's been a part of his life for a very long time, growing up in Hawaii and playing with his friends on a playground, and, you know, even playing with those very same friends now.

But I'll tell you what, John, I can only imagine that if I were to call him now, he'd be a little nervous that people like Bill Russell were going to critique his game. That's pretty serious.

KING: Well, if he wants to catch those tips, he can tune in a bit later. Bill Russell, Grant Hill, Magic Johnson, Steve Nash and Chris Paul break down the president's game in just a little bit here.

Robert Gibbs, thanks for joining us today. We will have you back on STATE OF THE UNION.

GIBBS: Thanks, John.

KING: Up next, a Sunday exclusive. John McCain. He tells us why he thinks Republicans are off to a bad bipartisan start with President Obama.

And later, as you just heard, NBA legends pick apart the president's game. Why they say Mr. Obama's basketball smarts might help him with his real job at the White House.


KING: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm John King in Phoenix, Arizona this morning.

President Obama plans to sign the stimulus bill Tuesday. Here's a look at what it means to you. Most workers will see about $13 a week extra in their paychecks starting in June. People buying a new car or sending a child to college will get a tax break, and the government will help laid off Americans cover the cost of their COBRA health insurance.

Congress passed the plan Friday night but only three Republicans bought into the $787 billion price tag. They argue the package guarantees deficit spending on liberal priorities but won't produce enough jobs fast enough. Among the outspoken critics is the man who, on election night, voiced hope of working with his campaign rival.

Here in his home state with us for an exclusive conversation is Senator John McCain.

Senator, thanks for joining us. Let's start on that point.


KING: I just tried to get Robert Gibbs. Was this a skirmish over philosophical differences? Republicans don't like this bill. Or was it a beginning of a partisan war, people in your party coming to the calculation let's just say no?

MCCAIN: I don't, I don't know the answer to that. I do say, in all candor, that it was a bad beginning. It was a bad beginning because it wasn't what we promised the American people, what President Obama promised the American people, that we would sit down together.

Look, I appreciate the fact that the president came over and talked to Republicans. That's not how you negotiate a result. You sit down together in a room with competing proposals. Almost all of our proposals went down on a party line vote.

Now, I hope that with the next issue -- a TARP will be coming up again...

KING: More bailout money.

MCCAIN: More money. I hope the next time we will sit down together and conduct truly bipartisan negotiations. This was not a bipartisan bill.

KING: Well, if we're going to do that moving forward, part of that is the spirit. You've given your promise right here you want to do that. He's going to be right here in your home state talking about foreclosures. It's a terrible problem in the state.

Will you stand with him and send a signal you're still willing to work with him, or does he have to prove something to you first? MCCAIN: The president doesn't have to prove anything to me. I will be in another part of the state, which I had previous plans to be. But I'm pleased that he's coming here. People here in Phoenix and across our state are hurting very badly, the housing crisis. And I'm sure that he is very welcome here.

But the point is, this bill was not bipartisan. It was -- it is incredibly expensive. It has hundreds of billions of dollars in projects which will not yield in jobs.

Now, if you think we need to improve education, spend money for it, fine. But this was supposed to be a package that was going to create jobs. A lot of this package will not create jobs. A lot of the tax cuts we've tried before of just giving people some money, it hasn't changed the way that savings have been conducted by Americans.

So I'm not happy, and most of us aren't at the lack of true bipartisanship in approaching this legislation.

KING: And let's go to the process just a little bit more, because it's 1,000 pages. It's eight pounds. We had it FedExed out to us here. It is eight pounds. We're contributing to the economy just having it shipped out here. Some of the changes were literally hand- scribbled on the side of the page. This happens all the time, unfortunately.

MCCAIN: That's the old business as usual.

KING: Well, if it's the old business as usual, didn't President Obama promise a new way of doing things in Washington? You say it was a terrible start. Are you sitting in your office these days saying, I told you so?

MCCAIN: No. I'm sitting in my office and saying, look, there's a lot of issues that we've got to face. These are the worst, most difficult challenges, foreign and domestic, perhaps we have faced certainly in our lifetimes. So let's start over now and sit down together.

But, yes, the candidate Obama said that these conferences would be open to the public. He said that the American people would have five days to view it on the Internet. There was commitments made that are certainly not being kept now. And maybe it's all because of their sense of emergency, but it's not what they said they were going to do.

And, finally, could I just say, Republicans were guilty of this kind of behavior. I'm not saying that we did things different. But Americans want us to do things differently and they want us to work together.

KING: Well, let's stay on the point of the start the new president is off to. You saw Governor Richardson had to withdraw. Former Senator Daschle had to withdraw. Nancy Killefer, who was going to be the chief financial officer, had to withdraw. In two of those three cases, tax issues.

Mr. Geithner was confirmed. He had to pay back taxes. Then your good friend, Judd Gregg, was going to come into the administration. He says he realized, after saying yes, that he had too many philosophical differences.

One of the things you said repeatedly during the campaign for presidency was, he's a nice man, Senator Obama, but he's not ready. Is this proof of you that he does not have the experience to be the chief executive?

MCCAIN: No. But it does show that what I would have done -- and I hate to keep saying it that way -- is get outside the Beltway; get outside of Washington. Get people who have succeeded. Get the Meg Whitmans and the Carly Fiorinas and the Fred Smiths and the John Chambers. Get people who haven't been inside the Beltway, who haven't been part of this incestuous relationship that has caused the special interests and the national interest to somehow be distorted to a degree that the American people have lost confidence in what we do in Washington.

That's what I -- I think is important. Get people who haven't been inside, who haven't been part of the creation of the problem of a crisis of confidence.

KING: Have he -- has he talked to you at all? He had a dinner for you the night before the inauguration, and he said, you know, he wanted to work with you. You say he met with Republicans; hasn't agreed with your ideas.

Any back-channel conversations we don't know about, between you and the president, or you and the president's staff, saying, I want to help you, here's how we do things, or, you say it's just the same as it was before?

MCCAIN: I had a brief phone conversation with the president. Look, he's very busy. He's very busy. And when it's time for us to talk is when there's a specific proposal on an issue that I can probably, hopefully, have some kind of important input.

Once they decided that Republicans really wouldn't be part of the stimulus package, I didn't expect to hear from him.

KING: You didn't expect to hear from him. Let me...

MCCAIN: Well, because we weren't in the -- in the process.

KING: You're up for reelection now. You're going to run two years from now here in the state of Arizona. As you do so, do you have any trepidation about voting no on this plan? Because your state is hurting. You have 6.9 percent unemployment. You're third in the nation when it comes to foreclosures.

From a percentage standpoint, your governor has the biggest budget shortfall, right now, because of the recession, than any governor in the country. And the supporters of the White House say this bill will bring more than $10 billion and 74,000 jobs to your state.

Could there be a point in your reelection campaign where you have to say, you know what, the president was right and I was wrong?


MCCAIN: I -- I don't think so. We are laying a debt -- we are committing generational theft. We are laying a huge deficit on future generations of Americans.

In our proposal -- in our proposal, we had a trigger that, when the economy improves -- and it will improve -- our economy will come back. When it does, that this spending would stop.

To paraphrase Milton Friedman, spending programs that are temporary in Washington become permanent. We didn't want that to happen. And so what I worry about is we lay this huge deficit on future generations of Americans and we don't put our paths back on the track to fiscal sanity.

And if we don't, then you're going to have inflation and debasement of the currency and great problems that will directly affect the people we're trying to help.

KING: We'll take a quick break. We'll continue our conversation in a minute.

And here in Arizona, illegal immigration, always one of Senator McCain's top concerns, a highly emotional issue, right here in this state and across the country, also, suddenly, a pressing issue for President Obama.

When we come back, a discussion of immigration policy and politics. Stay with us.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon. Live here at CNN world headquarters. More "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King, but first here's a look at your headlines.

It was a raucous news conference today from the man who replaced Barack Obama in the Senate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, you don't have three different versions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me. No, wait a minute.




SEN. ROLAND BURRIS (D), ILLINOIS: Well -- they -- it's based on what you all are writing. And you all are writing inconsistent information. Thank you very much.


LEMON: That's was just a small of it. Illinois senator Roland Burris has confirmed he was solicited for campaign cash from the brother of Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich was removed as Illinois governor for allegedly trying to sell Mr. Obama's Senate seat. Grilled by reporters today, Senator Burris says he did not donate one single dollar.

Well, we know now more tonight about what happened to Flight 3407. The plane was on autopilot and while the NTSB discourages the use of autopilot in severe ice conditions, officials say there was no sign of severe icing at the time of the crash. The commuter flight slammed into a house outside of Buffalo, New York, Thursday, killing 50 people.

President Barack Obama prepares to head west this week. The president plans to sign the $787 billion bill in Denver on Tuesday. Far from the political wrangling in Washington. The GOP lawmakers say the bill won't deliver the change Mr. Obama promised.

All kinds of weather warnings across California tonight. Our Bonnie Schneider is in the CNN weather center tracking it for us. Bonnie?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Don, we're seeing lots of rain in northern California right now but this storm is not only going to bring rain but a flooding. Flash flooding is possible as far south as San Diego. In around the Los Angeles area, flash flood watch in effect tonight starting at 10:00 and will go straight through Monday afternoon.

We're seeing heavy rain right now in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. That will continue through the overnight hours. And watch out because the winds will really pick up. Gusts could get as high as 40 miles an hour.

I'll have more coming up at 10:00. Don?

LEMON: All right, thank you, Bonnie. We'll see you then. And much, much more on all of this stories including that one that Bonnie talked about. 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

I'm Don Lemon. Now back to "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King.

KING: We continue our exclusive Sunday morning conversation now with Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate.

We were talking before about the economic stimulus plan. The president will sign that in Denver, and then he will come here to Arizona and he will want to talk about this issue.

And I want to hold up the "Sunday Mesa Tribune," "Foreclosures." This is about a gentleman who's making money off all of this, a man who cleans pools, at a time when so many houses are foreclosed. But it's much more than that, as you know. What do you want the president of the United States to do? What can he do? And do you trust him to help deal with this crisis?

MCCAIN: Well, I think, first of all, we've got to go back to -- and I understand he's going to say -- talk about it here in Phoenix -- to go back to the fundamental problem that started this -- this conflagration, and that is housing. Until housing prices stabilize, the economy is not going to stabilize.

So one of our great disappointments in Paulson and TARP I, and now the non-specificity that Mister -- Secretary Geithner displayed, which the markets reacted very negatively to, is let's get to the housing market. And I was a bit disappointed that, in the conference, the Democrats removed a pretty important provision for a $15,000 tax break for homeowners.

But we've got to get back to stabilizing the housing prices, buy up these bad mortgages, give it to people that can afford the housing so they can stay in their homes.

KING: You got into a lot of trouble, early in the Republican primaries, by pushing your proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, including giving some sort of legal status to those here illegally in the United States.

As you know, the issue is always on the front pages here in Arizona. I have a "Mesa Tribune" just from Saturday: "House Judiciary Chairman Calls for a Probe into Sheriff Joe Arpaio," here in Maricopa County.

You have had a rollercoaster relationship with this sheriff. He says he is just simply enforcing the law. He goes into businesses, he's rounding up people. John Conyers, others in Congress, say racial profiling.

Is the sheriff in line or out of line in your view?

MCCAIN: I -- having been engaged in the presidential campaign, I haven't paid as close attention. I've disagreed with the sheriff fundamentally about the fact that we need to have a comprehensive approach to illegal immigration. That includes a guest worker program. That includes securing our borders, and it includes putting people on a path to citizenship, that we're behind everybody else, that has no -- that they have to pay fines, et cetera, et cetera.

But we are also now ignoring a huge problem, an existential threat to the country of Mexico, which is the drug cartels are taking over towns along our border. There are killings going on of incredible cruelty and beyond belief, and we ought to be helping the Mexicans try to get these drug cartels under control.

The corruption goes the highest levels of government. It's even spilled over to our side. So I would argue that this struggle, the transcendental -- the existential struggle going on between the Mexican government, and we are helping now finally for the first time. But I would argue that is a huge challenge.

You're not going to control illegal immigration if the drug cartels have taken over significant parts of Mexico.

KING: In this bad economy, some here illegally say they think about going home, because they can't find jobs in the United States, but they are afraid to go back for just that reason.

I want you to listen to some sound. We sat down with Sheriff Arpaio this week here while we were here in Arizona, but we also talked to a woman named Rubi, who is in this country illegally and recently lost her job.

Let's listen for just a second.


RUBI, ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT (through translator): The reason I came here was to work and live with dignity. And I don't understand why I have to show these documents.

JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY SHERIFF: So I want the president, I want the politicians, to say we are going to enforce all the illegal immigration laws. And if you come into this country illegally, you're going to be prosecuted and put in jail. Let them say that. I'm waiting for them to say that.


KING: Sheriff Arpaio says the politicians are too shy about this. That woman, Rubi, who you see in the shadows there, because we can't show her face -- she says she is afraid to stay here because of what she calls the culture of fear, and she's afraid to go home because of the drug cartels. Should she be kicked out of the country right now?

MCCAIN: No one should be in this country illegally, but we do need to give people a path to citizenship. If they've been good citizens, we put them in the back of the line. They pay a fine, they do all the things that are necessary to become good citizens, and give them an opportunity to do so.

We need to enforce our borders. Every nation has to secure their own borders. But all of this has been complicated dramatically by this -- people are being beheaded and hung from bridges. Twenty-one people were killed in Nogales, Sonora just the other day. I mean, it is a huge issue.

And so I think we need comprehensive immigration reform, but I also think that it's been complicated by the drug cartel issue, and I'm surprised Americans have not been made more aware of it.

KING: I want to close by circling back to where we began.


KING: He is your former campaign rival. You think he's off to a terrible start. He's coming to your state. You don't like the way the process worked in the first one.

Help me understand what you think he needs to do to get back to that spirit, and what you will do to try to help him, if you will.

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I don't think he's off to a terrible start. This is quite a victory he has achieved with this legislation. And there's no doubt...

KING: You think it's a terrible bill?

MCCAIN: I think it's a very bad bill and a very bad process we went through. But I was there at inauguration. Millions of Americans are invigorated and inspired by this young president, and he's working hard to bring America together.

I think this was a very bad beginning on this legislation. It is not too late. We can go back the next time we have an issue -- and there will be -- there will be many, including the next TARP -- that we can work together, and we need to. Things are too tough in America. Things are too tough right here where we're sitting today, in Phoenix, Arizona, for us not to work together.

But if you pass a bill that's going to mortgage our children and our grandchildren's futures, without any provision for it, without any criteria for whether it creates jobs or not, we're going to do things that we'll be paying for, for a long time.

KING: Senator John McCain, appreciate your time on this Sunday morning in your beautiful home state.

MCCAIN: Thanks, John.

KING: Again, thank you for...

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me with you.

KING: Up next, we go straight to the U.S.-Mexico border to see the fence and the many challenges facing the Border Patrol.

Plus some of the biggest names in basketball have some advice for the president. Why they say he should never give up the games especially now that he's in the White House.


KING: As a senator, Barack Obama voted in favor of building a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. Then, as a presidential candidate, he said he was open to reversing that policy.

Now, in the Oval Office, as he weighs his options and what decision he might take, we decided to go for a first-hand look.


KING (voice over): A few hundred feet above the Yuma Desert, San Luis, Arizona on one side, San Luis, Mexico, the other.

CHAD SMITH, BORDER PATROL PILOT: The highway that you see off to our right side, there, that's Mexican Highway 2. It parallels the border. KING: The river is the official border here. But a steel barrier is the dividing line that gets most of the attention of those trying to cross illegally and of those debating immigration politics back in Washington.

SMITH: You can see those layers (INAUDIBLE) the steel fence right on the border. That's the higher pedestrian fence, about 90 feet (INAUDIBLE) than that, and the (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Three layers, in places where an urban neighborhood is on the Mexican side. Those charged with protecting the border, like pilot Chad Smith, say the result is a dramatic drop in illegal crossings.

SMITH: I've flown before and come back with 70-plus. I know guys that have gone on a flight and come with 100-plus illegals on their log book (INAUDIBLE) they're rounded up. Now it's single digits.

KING: In other areas, a more simple vehicle barrier. Look close from above, and you can see the remnants of white sandbags used as makeshift bridges.

SMITH: It forms a pretty good bridge.

KING: Congress, in 2006, with then Senator Barack Obama's support, authorized nearly $300 billion for 670 miles of fencing, stretching from California across to Texas. There are more lights, sensors and cameras.


KING: And more agents like Mike Lowrie.

LOWRIE: This used to be a very high-traffic area. Now, it's not.

KING (on camera): Define high traffic.

LOWRIE: In the Yuma sector, in 2005, we'd get about 800 a day. Now, 25, maybe, give or take.

KING: People who say they don't want this, that this is not the way to patrol the border, you would say?

LOWRIE: Well, the numbers don't lie. Numbers don't lie. We didn't have it three years ago. We were getting massive amounts of illegal entries. We have it now and we don't.

KING (voice over): Construction in this sector is finished. But critics in Congress want the work elsewhere halted; the fence, just one dividing line in an immigration debate now in the hands of the new administration.


KING: The youngest member of Congress got a coveted ride on Air Force One and a personal sales pitch from the president. Then Congressman Aaron Schock voted no. He takes us behind the scenes when he gives us the last word, next.

And basketball superstars on President Obama, the player. Why these NBA legends say Mr. Obama's position on the court sets him up well for running the country.


KING: Welcome back to Phoenix, Arizona. I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

This past week, President Obama went to middle America, Peoria, Illinois, to explain his economic rescue package, as he calls it, to the American people and to try to get the vote from one man.


OBAMA: Aaron's still trying about our recovery package. So, you know, he has a chance to be in the mold of Bob Michel and Ray LaHood and so we know that all of you are going to talk to him after our event because he's a very talented young man. I have great confidence in him to do the right thing for the people of Peoria.


KING: That talented young man President Obama was referring to is a freshman congressman, Republican, Aaron Schock of Illinois. Thirty- four people have been on the Sunday talk shows today, Congressman Schock gets the last word.

Congressman, you voted no despite a ride on Air Force One, coveted lobbying directly by the president of the United States. He came to your district, went to a factory floor where the men and women vote for you or against you. And, yet, you decide in the end to vote no. Why, sir?

REP. AARON SCHOCK (R), ILLINOIS: Well, ultimately, I listened to my constituents. And I looked at what I knew about the bill and determined that it was not in the best interest of my constituents. And it was not really a stimulus bill with the majority of the money going towards stimulating the economy.

I thought it was very interesting the clip that you showed of him encouraging those UAW workers and Caterpillar employees to urge me to vote for it. I stuck around after the president's message and not a single Caterpillar employee or UAW member came up to me and asked for me to vote for this bill.

Conversely, I have over 1,400 letters, phone calls and e-mails just from Caterpillar employees urging me to vote against this bill because they, too, believe that it's not going to do what we need to do to stimulate the economy.

KING: Congressman, take us behind the curtain. You're the youngest member of Congress, 27 years old if I have it right. You get a ride on Air Force One with the president of the United States. He's from your home state. He's known as a pretty charismatic, persuasive guy. You're on the most amazing airplane in the world being lobbied by the president of the United States. Take us behind the curtain.

SCHOCK: Well, it was an amazing experience. And, you know, first of all, you know, I like the president. He's a very good guy. He's from my home state. I want him to be successful. I want to vote for a stimulus bill. I appreciated his hospitality in bringing me along on the trip and, you know, bringing me on his plane and all the accoutrements that go with it.

But at the end of the day, my responsibility is to the people who gave me this job, my constituents, and my job is to look out for them and ultimately to vote on their best behalf. And, you know, at the end of the day, this stimulus bill had a lot of things in it that had nothing to do with stimulus. Caterpillar employees, Caterpillar tractors will be put to work when we invest in infrastructure.

This bill two weeks ago that we voted on in the House, over $800 billion and less than 8 percent of it went to infrastructure. When it came back after the conference vote, it was down to about 6 percent for infrastructure. So when you talk about putting Caterpillar workers back to work and selling Caterpillar tractors, investing in our infrastructure, this bill fell short.

I also think the process...

KING: You make...

SCHOCK: ... left something to be desired. The process...

KING: You make your case there on the substance. Help me us -- help me in the short time we have left, we're still learning a lot about this president. You make a very passionate case there on the substance of this bill and the process which I believe you do not think was bipartisan nor transparent.

But we're trying to learn a lot about this president. You have time with him in private. Is it the hard ball tough sell like a Lyndon Johnson? Is it a soft sell? How does he operate?

SCHOCK: You know, actually on the plane he could not have been more cordial. I think that he waited for the hard sell, if you will, in front of the national media. That's when I really got probably both of my arms twisted there in front of hundreds of my constituents in the National Press Room when he had me stand up and, you know, basically ask my constituents to put the pressure on me.

But on the plane in private, it was not -- it was not, you know, a super hard sell. He was very much of a gentleman, very cordial. But, you know, at the end of the day, the American people got very little time to weight in on this bill. We had less than 24 hours to look at the bill. And that really defies the president's pledge back in New Hampshire. He said he was going to allow five days of sunshine on any bill to come before Congress. And we had less than 24 hours.

So, you know, I want to work in a bipartisan way. I'm from a very blue state in Illinois, served in the legislature because I was elected to Congress. I know what it's like to work with people on both sides of the aisle. But bipartisanship is not one party writes the bill and we all vote for it. Bipartisanship means you truly meld together both sides' ideas and come up with a compromise bill.

That didn't happen in this case. And ultimately, that's why I voted against it.

KING: All right, Congressman Aaron Schock, you get the last word today. We thank you for your time, sir. And we will check in on your district and the struggles there in the days and weeks ahead. Thank you very much.

And President Obama likes to spend a lot of time on the basketball court. But just how good are his hoop skills? Some of the NBA's best take on that question when STATE OF THE UNION returns.


KING: It's no secret President Obama is a huge basketball fan. In fact, we just received word he's playing out in Chicago today. But does he have what NBA fans and players refer to as game? We put the question to some past and present basketball greats.


KING: Everybody knows the guy with the ball, right? All right. Let's see. Let's go play a little bit, and we'll stop and we'll dissect it here. All right, there's a little pass. There we go. See? To the lane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Walked him away before he pass it back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Moved away from the ball.

KING: See, he goes in.


KING: There we go. Lost the ball there. What happened there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rewind that, rewind that. That's what they say in (INAUDIBLE). Rewind that. Run that back.

KING: Was that good defense or was he sloppy with the ball?


KING: Oh, it was a foul.


STEVE NASH, TWO-TIME NBA MVP: It was a stupid pass but he got in the way.

KING: All right. Let's look a little more here. Here we go. Here we are inside. All right. What do we make of that?

JOHNSON: Nice pass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No look, no look there.

KING: You like that?


JOHNSON: There, a good pass there.

KING: All right.

JOHNSON: You know what I see? And I know that all of us play the same way. He's smart at the game. That's -- first thing -- he knows. OK, he's passing. Nice post pass. Nice setup. Always looking for the other man.

NASH: Got his head up.

JOHNSON: Yeah, he's got his head up. So that's what I see from the very beginning when he just touched it.

BILL RUSSELL, NBA HALL OF FAMER: What do you know about it?


KING: Here we go. Here we go. Here's some more now. How's the defense?


KING: Let's stop. Let's go back to that.

RUSSELL: A little athleticism. He got to outperform a little bit out there, didn't he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We, you know, he had the advantage of being left handed.

JOHNSON: He never followed the ball. Most YMCA players, they follow the ball. They pass. He wanted it right back. He always passed and went the other way. And so he -- really knows how to play.

KING: How is his D?

GRANT HILL, NBA STAR: That's Bill Russell right there.



HILL: Got a steal right there.

KING: And got a steal right there. What do we think?

HILL: Good D.

JOHNSON: Got right back into the play.

KING: Now what do we do here? What is he supposed to do with the ball?

HILL: Well, he is coming out with it.

RUSSELL: Sometimes you elevate yourself.

KING: Grant, you're being very quiet over there.

RUSSELL: You're trying to be Steve and Magic Johnson.

HILL: They are playing half court and so he's just about to dribble it back out.


KING: Steve Nash or Magic Johnson, what would they do?

RUSSELL: Well, they'd give him a target -- you give me the ball.


RUSSELL: I know what to do with it.


KING: All right. Now is he sloppy with that ball?


KING: A little high? No?

NASH: No, he's fine.

KING: OK. All right.

JOHNSON: No defense. Defense has backed off.

KING: Here we go. Ready? Watch the form. Watch the form.

RUSSELL: Lefty's always a sure...

KING: Here you go. Here's a three. There's a three.

Now what do you think?


KING: Shouldn't he have a little more swagger after hitting a three like that?

NASH: No, he's got plenty of swagger.


NASH: Plenty of swagger. You can tell.

RUSSELL: Do you see that? That's that Harvard cool.


HILL: You're a president, you already have swagger.

KING: All right, watch his form now. I'm going to stop him here. How's that? His eyes in the right place?

HILL: Yes. He got -- he got his left elbow in. The follow-through.

KING: All right? Ready.

HILL: What was the result?


KING: Here we go. Knees bent, is that right? Is that OK? Form is good? How would Bill Russell do that differently?

RUSSELL: I would get closer.

KING: You'd get closer.


KING: Hands in right place, Grant? You're being very nice to his game.

HILL: He looks good.

KING: You're looking for a White House invitation. I know that's what this is. All right, here it is.

NASH: You know what I like, though? Is that -- there's a lot of pressure on that shot. He misses that shot, the whole world sees it.

RUSSELL: He has the watch on the wrong hand.

KING: He's got his watch on the wrong hand.

RUSSELL: On the wrong wrist.

HILL: OK, he's got the watch on the wrong wrist.

RUSSELL: That's right.

KING: All right. Everybody give him -- everybody give him a little swagger there at the end.

HILL: Like you said, that's a lots of pressure.

KING: That's part of the game.

RUSSELL: If you can't swagger, what's the use of playing? KING: Everybody gets -- we'll start with Steve and go around the table. Everybody give one tip, help him out.

NASH: Keep the dream alive. Get better every summer. He'll be in the league before he knows it.

JOHNSON: Continue to pick the right teammates.

RUSSELL: Good. Good.

JOHNSON: Because that's what he's done so far. He's running with the right teammates. That's how he's going to turn the country around and that's how you win pickup game, you pick the right people.

HILL: I think he should continue to play. You know, that's the main thing. He should continue to play. I know it's hard to do with all his responsibilities. You can you tell he loves it. We've all seen his passion for the game.

RUSSELL: (INAUDIBLE) basketball...

JOHNSON: To Grant's point, that's why he should play, because of all the responsibilities. That will be his getaway.

CHRIS PAUL, TWO-TIME NBA ALL-STAR: Because when we play, when we play, regardless of all the things we're going through, I know with our families, you wife, girlfriend, anything like that. When you're on the court, everything is out of my mind. Like nothing else is going on in the world. And I tell people like I'm two totally different people on the court and off the court.

On the court, ask my momma.

RUSSELL: You brand new (INAUDIBLE)

PAUL: My momma -- yes, yes. You call, you can call it what you want to.


PAUL: You can call it what you want to. But that's -- that's just another world for us. That's just a whole other world. So if you ever want to get to know me, don't play basketball with me. Don't play basketball with me.

KING: If you're picking him based on what you've seen, if you're picking him for your team, what's his natural position?

JOHNSON: He's going to be a point. Because that's how he thinks.

RUSSELL: Because he sees the court very well.

JOHNSON: He sees it. Also you see the play before it really develops. That's how he's running the country. A point guard got to think five minutes ahead. And you ask these two guys. They know the time. They know what they have to do at that particular time. But they also thinking five minutes ahead. Because we got to know what's going to happen five minutes down the road.

So he's got to stay a point guard because he -- he's running the country the same way. He's got to think for the future. And so he's a point guard for sure.

PAUL: He needs to keep playing but not too much. Stay the president. Don't call me to take my job.


PAUL: Don't try to take my job.

KING: If you got to play with him, you would play him tough?

JOHNSON: Uh-huh. And he would expect it.


RUSSELL: If I was young enough to play.

JOHNSON: You would block every shot. Would you block every shot?

RUSSELL: Special Services would come out there.



KING: Five remarkable men at the table there. And what a treat it was. But how about a woman's perspective? Lisa Leslie is an Obama supporter. She's a mother and she's a 6'5" WNBA star who can dunk.


LISA LESLIE, WNBA ALL-STAR: This is not the first year I voted. I have voted in the past. But this is truly the first year that I followed the political race from the time that the Democrats were battling even into, you know, watching McCain and now President Obama battling.

And I thought it was very interesting to really be a part of it. I mean I've never rushed home to TiVo, you know, the Democratic debate before. So I felt really honored to be a part of it.

KING: And where were you at the inauguration?

LESLIE: We were -- well, you know where the people were seated right there in the front and then there's a group standing? We're, like, right there.

I like the way that he talked about change and for us to recognize as a country that he's not going to be able to do it alone. I really believe in his compassion. He really makes you want to be a better person, a better American. And I feel like, OK, what can I do?

KING: Did you think you would ever see an African-American president? LESLIE: I've always felt like it was a possibility. There was a possibility. And I felt really good to have seen it in my lifetime. And I feel really good that my daughter will know nothing different. And it feels great. I always say that it was like being African- American in America is almost like we were distant cousins because you didn't really have a place at the table. But now we feel like we are really part of the family.

KING: How does it change the role of role models?

LESLIE: Yes, I'm from the inner city. I'm from Compton, California and I've made it out of where I was to educate myself, to go to the University of California, to get my masters degree, and you can do it, too.

KING: It's a dunk.

LESLIE: It's a dunk.

KING: All right. We have to close with this.

LESLIE: That's big time.

KING: Good?

LESLIE: Good, high five.

KING: Here we go.


KING: That's it for STATE OF THE UNION for Sunday, February 15th. We'll be here again next Sunday and every Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern for the first and last word in Sunday talk.

Until then, I'm John King in Phoenix, Arizona. "LARRY KING WEEKEND" begins right now.