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State of the Union: Best Political Team in Television

Aired March 15, 2009 - 11:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: And here's what's coming up on this next hour of our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, March 15th.

From the war in Iraq to economic meltdown, blunt talk from perhaps the most powerful and, in the eyes of many, the controversial vice president in history. My exclusive conversation with Dick Cheney coming up.

This week, stocks gained, but thousands more Americans lost their jobs. Is the Obama stimulus plan working or not? The best political team on television will look at all of the angles.

And six years ago this week, U.S. troops rolled into Iraq. But have we won and lost in this long and costly conflict? We'll go to Savannah, Georgia, to get the opinion of a grandfather, a veteran of the first Gulf War now heading back into battle. All that ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

Live picture of the Capitol there on a morning here in Washington, D.C. In his first television interview since leaving office, former Vice President Dick Cheney had a blunt answer when I asked him if he thinks President Obama's anti-terror policies are making America less safe.


CHENEY: He's making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.


KING: The big issue around most kitchen tables this morning and on Sunday morning talk shows is the economy. On that point, the former vice president says he worries Mr. Obama is trying to use the bad economy as a cover for a liberal agenda.


CHENEY: I worry a lot that they're using the current set of economic difficulties to try to justify a massive expansion of the government and much more authority for the government over the private sector and I don't think that's good.


KING: We'll talk more about the former vice president's provocative comments on foreign policies in just a few minutes when I'll be joined by CNN contributors James Carville and Bill Bennett.

But let's lead off this hour with the pocketbook issues you're likely talking about around your kitchen table on this Sunday morning. The new economy, the stimulus plan in the United States, a four-day rally on Wall Street. Let's bring in -- joining me now from New York is personal finance coach Jean Chatzky. Her latest book, and I have it right here is "The Difference: The Decision How Anyone Can Make -- I'm sorry about that, Jean. "How anyone can prosper even in these tough financial times." Getting the book up there, my apologies there, Jean. I want to start by bringing in this little graphic right here over here at the magic wall. Here is the Dow, the historical look at the Dow going back to 1997, the big high, October 2007 and then of course the low, this is the day Barack Obama took office on January 20th, 2009. And now I want to bring in just last week, which is the news most Americans are trying to digest. So when you look at this, we haven't had this in a long time, not since back in November of 2008, 7,224, does that tell you, Jean Chatzky, we have hit the bottom?

JEAN CHATZKY, AUTHOR: Absolutely not. I wish I could say that it did. But I think anybody who gets in and tries to time the market as it's heading back up makes the same mistake as people who tried to time the market when it's at a high.

For individual investors, the only thing that you should be doing is looking at your time horizon and asking yourself, do I need this money in the next five years? If I do, it does not belong in the market even if you think that market is heading back up. It never did, by the way.

But you're longer-term assets, you should be using to buy into a diversified portfolio, stocks, bonds, cash, real estate, commodities, that play out over a number of years so that you're buying in at all levels and you're not risking the decision to try to time this market that is ricocheting up and down.

KING: So let's expand on that a little bit more. And I want to show viewer the cover, the front page of "Newsday" on this Sunday in Long Island, what to watch for. As you say, we haven't hit rock bottom. Give a few more clues to people out there sitting around the table this Sunday morning who might be thinking, I have a little bit of money, not a lot, but is this the time to get back in? What should they be looking for?

CHATZKY: I think what we know about stock market cycles is that the stock market will start to head up before the economy has really turned around. The stock market will lead the way. That's what Warren Buffett was talking about back in October. Now he thought we were going there a couple thousand points ago. But as he said just last week, he's continuing to buy American stocks at all levels. And I think that's the only thing that individuals can do. We learned from watching all of the debate this week, we don't have all of the information about what corporations are doing, about what's happening on trading floors around the country.

So what we can do to best protect ourselves is simply diversify and buy over the long term at all levels. And if you cannot afford with that small amount of money that you've got to lose any of it, then you just accept the fact you're going to put if into a money market account or a money market fund where it's going to make 2 percent, 2.5 percent at best but you're not going to are have to worry in the middle of the night that that money's not going to be there for you tomorrow.

KING: In the heydays of the 14,000 plus Dow I was showing on the wall just a minute ago, that economy was being primed by the U.S. and consumer spending.

I want to show you the cover of "Newsweek" this week, Uncle Sam, "I want you to start spending." And that is the message we're getting from our government right now. I want you to start spending. As you look at this cover, I want you also to listen to Christina Romer, on the president's top economic advisers out on television this morning saying reach into your pockets, Americans, and spend.


CHRISTINA D. ROMER, CHAIR, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: The truth is, consumers have also not done a lot of spending for the last 14 months. So what I would predict, and I think would be a perfectly reasonable thing, is you go out and you buy that car that you've been thinking about for 14 months and you do some of the spending and then over the long haul, I'm hoping we'll come back to probably a higher savings rate.


KING: Spend then save? I think Al Gore would call that fuzzy math.

CHATZKY: I would just completely disagree. What she's doing is predicting that there is some pent-up demand that consumers will eventually come back to the table. That is fine. But no consumer out there owes it to the government to take money that they should be saving or using to pay down high-interest rate credit card debt which is a guaranteed return on your money and going out to buy something you just don't need.

We need to save more money. That's one of the tenants in my new book, "The Difference." It shows that people who are financially secure, financially comfortable, save money they could have otherwise spent. And it is a healing proposition for the American consumer to put some money away because it makes you feel better. You're a better person, you're a better parent if you know that who you can take care of people you love tomorrow.

KING: As you give this sober advice, I want you to help me with the language of the administration right now because you just heard Christina Romer. She said spend and then you'll be able to save a little bit. I want you to listen. I think we have Larry Summers, another one of the president's top economics advisers. He was asked this morning, is the economy out of the woods yet? He said he can't say that just yet. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: While there is signs that some of the things that the president is doing are starting to have effects, these problems did not get made overnight. They didn't get made in a year. And they're not going to get fixed very rapidly.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Jean, the administration was proud of itself last week, thinking it finally settled on a consistent economic message and a more upbeat economic message. How much does what they say from the president of the United States on down through his team, how much does it matter to what happens on Wall Street and how much should it matter to everyday Americans sitting around the table trying to figure out what to do?

CHATZKY: Wall Street is looking for so many different messages that it's not taking the messages that come directly from the White House and banking on those. It's looking for the releases in unemployment and housing that we get every single day. And by all means, consumers should not be looking at one message either. Consumers and to go back to that spending message for a second, consumes are need to ask themselves what can I do for me? And knowing that there are more job losses on the horizon, potentially for a very long period of time, what skills do I have that I could potentially make some money from?

Big story in "The New York Times," yesterday about people who can't find jobs going out and starting their own businesses. Another one in the business section of the "Times" today focused on people who are signing up for the kind of companies where you have parties at home to make a few thousand dollars to just tide them through.

We need to draw on ourselves, on the resilience that we were born with but maybe haven't used for a very long time to carry ourselves through this bad time. The economy and the government, they're working on it but we need to have patience and we need to find the strength within ourselves to get ourselves through.

KING: And as you give that pep talk, those lessons to the American people, what do you make of another conversation here in Washington, Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Fed, he says he still believes, he says it's tough to predict the ups and downs, tough to predict this economy. He says he still believes the recession will end in 2009 and 2010 will be a year of growth. Do you see anything that would allow you to make that statement?

CHATZKY: You know what? I hope that he's right. I think that he's being a little optimistic. But my message is, it doesn't matter when this ends. You focus on you. You do what you have to, to take care of yourself so that among the people who are being hurt by this recession, these tough times, you won't be one of them. You will be the person who is able to take care of their family, put away a little bit of money for an emergency, put some money aside to grow in stocks at these very low prices and know five years from now, 10 years from now, you will absolutely be OK. KING: And so you do, as I hold up the book "The Difference" if you want to pick it up, if you're enjoying this conversation, here is it here. So you would agree with the president to the degree that he thinks there are a lot of bargains in the market right now and if you can afford it, put a little in?

CHATZKY: If you can afford it. If you've got a 401(k) match that you are not taking advantage of, that is the closest thing we have to free money and you want to grab every one of last dollars. But we're not putting the money that we need for tomorrow into the markets. We're talking about long term.

KING: And what happens to somebody who has put money in say one of the 529s to save money for their kids' college education and now they need that money next year because their son or daughter is a senior and that money is now down? What options are available to those people?

CHATZKY: You've got a couple of options. For the first thing that you absolutely need to be doing is filling out the application for federal aid, making sure that you get every last dollar that you can.

CHATZKY: But very few people fund college entirely.

And even if you've got a child who is a freshman going into college next year -- a senior, going into college next year, you may want to give that money in the 529 a little bit of time to grow again and use it to pay for some of the last years of college instead of some of the first years of college.

KING: Helpful advice, as always, from Jean Chatzky, and a few challenges to the words of the administration. Jean, thanks so much for coming in on a Sunday morning.

CHATZKY: My pleasure.

KING: You take care. And beginning tomorrow, get five days of unprecedented worldwide reporting on the money meltdown that's changing your life. "Road to Rescue," the CNN survival guide, all next week on all of the networks of CNN.

CNN contributors James Carville and Bill Bennett are standing by. Provocative conversation. STATE OF THE UNION will be right back.


KING: I'm joined now by two friends and two members of the best political team on television. Democratic strategist James Carville, he is with us from New Orleans this morning. And in New York, radio talk show host and Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute, William Bennett.

Gentlemen, thanks both for joining. I want to start by replaying for you a pretty startling -- a short comment, but a pretty startling comment from the former vice president of the United States this morning.

We know he disagrees with the terror policies of Barack Obama. But I asked him, has President Obama made Americans less safe? Listen to this exchange.


KING: Do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?



KING: A simple "I do," Bill Bennett, that's a pretty startling thing for a man who many Americans, whether they liked or disliked the Bush administration, view with some credibility on national security matters.

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he has lot of credibility on national security matters. We were not attacked again. I agree with him. I absolutely agree with him. I think Barack Obama is a patriotic man. He doesn't wish any harm to the United States. I think he thinks he's doing the right thing.

But this liberal jurisprudence of his is governing his policies on foreign policy and the war on terror. And I think to get rid of these black sites, to get rid of waterboarding, as something you might go to on a few rare occasions, which worked, by the way, in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, all sources that we know of say, and prevented an attack in Los Angeles.

To get rid of these enhanced interrogation methods, this new business, we don't know what this means, you know, don't call enemy combatants enemy combatants. To change the model from an offensive war against terror to a defensive jurisprudence law enforcement I think is a mistake and I think it does raise the risk higher.

This is why at the end of the day -- we know Barack Obama was elected president, but 46 percent of the American people voted for John McCain. For me, at the end of the day, the game is national security.

I thought we were in better hands with McCain than Obama. I pray to God he does the right thing but I'm a little more fearful than I would have been with John McCain.

KING: I'm guessing you disagree, James?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I mean, come on, look, he got General Jones over there, four star Marine, who was the commandant of the Marine Corps, the head of NATO. You've got Gates at Defense. You've got people -- Admiral Mullen, you've got everybody.

And, you know, I don't know that people agree that former Vice President Cheney's record on national defense matters were all that sterling. I mean, we were promised weapons...


CARVILLE: ... of mass destruction, we were promised that we'd be greeted as liberators. I mean, we can -- this is certainly a very arguable point and there are a lot of people out there who would disagree vehemently that his record is that good, but it's -- I'm sure that will get debated a great deal post this rather...

BENNETT: Well, it is...

CARVILLE: ... startling interview. BENNETT: Sorry. It is interesting. I mean, I have some confidence in General Jones. I was trying to think, as you were talking -- by the way, great interview, tough questions without being an assassin, John, it's nice to see on national television. That was a really good and tough interview.

But, you know, I was trying to think, who speaks in this administration with that kind of moral seriousness? I think James put his finger on it, maybe James Jones, but I really hadn't heard him speak yet.

But it's interesting that the defense of Obama as commander-in- chief is a defense of people around him and not his own instincts and inclinations.

CARVILLE: No, I think he has superb people around him, and I would point out, Mr. Secretary, he was more experienced in matters of foreign policy than Bush when Bush 43 was when he took office.

I would further point out that when the vice president was asked for specifics of how he made us safe, he said, well, it's classified. This is an administration, sir, that classified (sic) the name of an undercover CIA agent...

BENNETT: Come on, James.

CARVILLE: ... that declassified the National Intelligence Estimate, and that gave Bob Woodward tons of classified materials. I suspect if there was something classified that helped him, we would have known about it because they do have a very startling record on declassifying things.

BENNETT: You do not need classified information to know that we were safe after 9/11. That's the bottom line. You do not need classified information. It worked, James. And if Barack Obama had a lot of foreign policy experience and resolve, I missed it. I don't know where that is.

CARVILLE: Again, he had more than Bush had when he took office and he has got some really startling people around him and the man has got some extraordinary judgment. But we will see as this rolls out.

BENNETT: Yes, we will see. KING: All right. Let's move on -- let's move on, because as startling as it was that he said he believes President Obama is making us less safe, I also found it startling that he would not use the term "mission accomplished," because we all know that's politically loaded from that aircraft carrier back in the Bush administration.

But I asked the vice president -- the former vice president, has the mission in Iraq been accomplished, and he was pretty upbeat. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHENEY: We've accomplished nearly everything we set out to do. I don't hear much talk about that. But the fact is the violence level is down 90 percent, the number of casualties in Iraqis and Americans is significantly diminished.


KING: James Carville, do you think the American people view it that way?

CARVILLE: Well, I don't know, you know, one thing I'll say for the vice president, I disagree with him, but he's a serious man. I mean, the Republican Party has traditionally has been a party of very serious people.

If you look now, and I say this advisedly, but it's true, there a lot of clowns. I mean, Michael Steele, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin. I mean, the guy has some gravitas when he speaks and he's pretty careful in that sense about what he said.

Look we're six years and by most estimates, $3 trillion into this. One would be grateful that we'd have some progress. That wasn't -- we were never told that, by the way, by anybody in the administration that we still have 140,000 people and be trillions of dollars into this war.

But I think that he was very careful about what he said. I mean, he is a serious guy. Like him or not, he's a man that has some gravitas.

BENNETT: If James wants to object to distractions and clowns -- you shouldn't call Michael Steele a clown, by the way. But if you want to object to distractions in the Republican Party don't make them distractions, James, by running ads about Rush Limbaugh, which is a lot of what the White House is spending its time on. But you're right, Dick Cheney is a very serious man and that's a very, very good thing.

Yes, a lot of what was intended has been achieved, and it's extraordinary.

BENNETT: Read the New York Times today. On page eight of the New York Times, they talk about the major problem in Baghdad being stray dogs.

You have got a democracy building in the Middle East, which is an extraordinary thing. And despite Harry Reid saying we had lost the war, and Barack Obama saying, pull all the troops out, when he was campaigning -- remember, he went to the left of Hillary Clinton because the war was lost. The war was not lost.

CARVILLE: I would point out...

BENNETT: The war was won. The war was won.

KING: Let's move to the...



CARVILLE: I would point out -- I would point out that huge majorities of Americans -- Tom Ricks knows more about this than anybody -- all believe that this war was a mistake.

I mean, we make a mistake and we carry through on the mistake. But, again, that's something to be debated at a different time. My point is, I thought he was judicious in not using the term "mission accomplished."

KING: All right. Let's move on -- let's move on to the economy. it's a big issue. Americans sitting at home, watching this program, are worried about it.

I want to give you a little contrast of then and now, talking about, during the campaign there was a big dustup between Barack Obama, then a candidate and a senator, and Senator John McCain, his Republican opponent, about something Senator McCain said. Let's start with the then.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Our economy, I think -- still, the fundamentals of our economy are strong, but these are very, very difficult times.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You and I know that, not only was John McCain fundamentally wrong; it sums up this -- the fact that he's out of touch.


KING: That was then. Here's Barack Obama in the Oval Office, just the other day, now.


OBAMA: If we are keeping focused on all the fundamentally sound aspects of our economy, all the outstanding companies, workers, all the innovation, and dynamism in this economy, then we're going to get through this. And I'm very confident about that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Perhaps he's not as articulate as President Obama, James, but isn't that what Senator McCain was saying during the campaign?

CARVILLE: No, it's not. I mean, if we can wish he said that, but that's not what he said. He said it was fundamentally sound. And then, when they had to clean it up and they sent the whole campaign down to Florida, they said, well what we meant to say is American workers and American companies are strong, which of course is what President Obama said.

So, not only is it not what he said; what he said was exactly what Senator McCain said, after they sent the entire campaign down there to clean up the mess that he started in September.


CARVILLE: So, yes, I think it makes -- it makes the president's point exactly on point.

KING: I see your head shaking, Bill.

BENNETT: Yes, well, he said -- I don't know why you didn't run the quote. There's a quote where he actually just uses the words "fundamentally" and "economy" and "sound," all in one sentence. And Christina Romer just said it on "Meet the Press," a little while ago.

Look, the indictment of Barack Obama that seems to be gaining strength, by the way, not from conservatives but David Broder, this morning, for Pete's sake, Robert Samuelson, Howard Fineman, Warren Buffett, Stuart Taylor, all these people in the middle, is the guy just talks. He doesn't mean it.

It's -- the indictment was made, I think, most eloquently, by his opponent in the primary, Hillary Clinton, who said it's speeches; it's words; it doesn't matter. I mean, he also was opposed to earmarks, and then he "totally backs down" -- that is Broder's words, this morning, on earmarks, when it came to the stimulus package. He talks about all this stuff. It has no connection to reality.


KING: James, we're going to run out of time soon.

CARVILLE: He never said he was -- he never said he wanted to get rid of earmarks. That's just...


BENNETT: Oh, sure he did.


BENNETT: He said earmarks is over.


KING: Let me call a time-out.

CARVILLE: He wanted to reform.

KING: That's right. He said he wanted to reform.

Quickly, before I lose you, James, you've had a lot of fun...


KING: You've had a lot of fun with this Rush Limbaugh argument, but I understand you're among the Democrats who think it's time to turn the page in the economic debate. Tell me why?

CARVILLE: Well, I think this. A, not a lot of fun -- Rush is, according to any number of people, the most influential Republican. But what the White House said, according to Politico, is that they wanted to have -- Republicans to have a plan.

And I thought it was interesting that the vice president basically endorsed the White House position, this morning, where he said they shouldn't just oppose; they should propose. And I thought that was a significant thing that came out of the interview.

And I noticed, John, as soon as he said that, you jumped right up with a follow-up, which I think that you saw, when he said it, the significance of that.

So I think you're going to see the White House coming forward, saying, now even Dick Cheney agrees that it's time for the Republicans to start proposing things.

BENNETT: Well, by the way, Rush, my friend, is a very influential Republican and conservative, but, on balance, it would be better to be influenced by Rush Limbaugh than George Soros. We'll take that deal any day.


They do need to change -- turn the page. And they need to find a center to this economic reform. Geithner is not cutting it, and all this stuff about education and cap-and-trade and health care -- they're not addressing the main issue. And even a lot of their supporters are getting restive on this. James is right on that.

KING: I need to end it on that point. Bill Bennett, James Carville, always provocative. I need to turn you guys off...


KING: ... keep us in line. We'll see you on another Sunday.


(LAUGHTER) KING: Thank you so much.

Here's a look at what's still coming up on "State of the Union." Next we'll go to Savannah, Georgia, and hear what's on the minds of the diners at Larry's Restaurant.

Then three of CNN's top reporters take a hard look at what's next, after six years in Iraq. At the top of the hour, our exclusive conversation with the former vice president, Dick Cheney. He has some tough criticism for the Obama administration, in his first television interview since leaving office.

And, finally, Congressman Joe Sestak was once a three-star admiral. What does he think about President Obama's changes on national security?

We'll give him the last word. "State of the Union" will be right back.


KING: I'm John King, and this is "State of the Union." Here are some stories breaking this Sunday morning.

It's bonus day at AIG. The bailed-out insurance giant says it's obligated to pay its executives millions of dollars in so-called retention pay today.

Since September, of course, AIG has received at least $170 million in taxpayer bailout money. But under pressure from the Obama administration, AIG says it's cutting future bonus pay by at least 30 percent, beginning next year.

Catholics in Cleveland, Ohio, waking up with some unwelcome news this Sunday, 52 of their parishes shutting down by June of next year. The area's bishop blames financial hardship, a shift in the Catholic population to the suburbs and the shortage of priests.

NASA will try again tonight to launch the space shuttle Discovery. The initial launch was scratched, Wednesday, because of an unexplained hydrogen gas leak. Discovery is headed to the international space station to drop off a Japanese astronaut and more parts for a solar power system.

That and more, ahead on "State of the Union."

KING: This week and every week, of course we get out of the country to hear what you have to say about what goes on here into Washington. This week, we decided to go down here to Savannah, Georgia, with the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war approaching. Georgia's a very interesting state, one of the places we visited. Can we move this down for a second? It's Fort Stewart, Georgia, you see here, Bradley fighting vehicles. These are young men in the United States Army training to go off either to Iraq and Afghanistan.

We also focused on this date because it has 14 active military installations, a big part of the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan. The unemployment rate in the state of Georgia right know is 8.6 percent. So perhaps no surprise that the war in Iraq and the struggling economy, the major topics of our breakfast conversation at Larry's.


KING: Let's start with a question about how the economy's doing in this area. You say you moved here to try to find a job because you live 180 miles away and there's no work?

JOHN MOON, SAVANNAH: Right. Everything's shutting down. Factories going out of business. One major plant, manufacturers they shut down, they moved to Mexico, put 2,500 people out of work. Shaw Industries shut down, talking about laying off. There wasn't no work to be found there.

KING: How would you -- you've been here a long time. How is the overall economy here?

DENNIS GRAYSON, SAVANNAH: Well it's bad for a lot of people you know when one person gets hurt, it's a domino effect and it trickles down to everybody. So it affects everybody. And a long run, you know, I really think, you know, that the economy's going to pick up. It's just going to take a little time. So you know, everybody's holding on and it's going to get better. It's going to get better.

KING: Do you see the downturn and how does it affect you?

JEANETTE BRENNAN-FRAWLEY, SAVANNAH: The volume, even at, you know, our job is tremendous. I mean at this time, doing poorly.

KING: Volume's way down.

CHERIE BROWN, SAVANNAH: Volume's way down. We work for UPS and I've been there 20 years and it's definitely I can see the changes there. They're cutting out a lot of things, drivers being laid off.


BROWN: 401(k) and salary being affected, stocks.

KING: Ever been this bad in your memory?

BROWN: Never, never. I have never seen the cutbacks like this.

KING: How many people at this table supported Barack Obama for president? Just one. Just one. How many -- how many people thought when we went into Iraq six years ago, not what you think of it now, when it started under President Bush, a show of hands, how many thought then I support this, this is a good idea?

BROWN: Six years ago, I did, yes.

KING: You're a no on that one? OK. How many now, six years later, show of hands, think it was a good idea? Nobody. Nobody. Why? BRENNAN-FRAWLEY: I think we're trying to push our beliefs too much on that country. They're not going to change it.

KING: What do you think of getting out of Iraq now? Do you think it is realistic, when he says he'll get most of the troops out by August 2010?

BROWN: I think it's time. American people need to take care of American people right now. We're hurting, you know? We have our own issues here that need to be addressed first. I understand the interest in other countries are big for the United States, I understand that. But what is the interest when you can't take good care of people at home.

KING: Take care of people at home. You said you didn't think a war's a good idea to begin with. Do you feel comfortable now with how he's getting out?

GRAYSON: I think you need to pull out also. Because they never did want us there anyway. So I think it's time for everybody to come back home. And also, it takes -- it's going to take a worldwide issue to straighten everything out.

KING: What will the history books say about Iraq in 25 years?

BRENNAN-FRAWLEY: People are dying all the time. They died before we got there. They're going to die when we leave. It's just their beliefs, what they do, how they function.

MOON: One thing I'd like to see in 25 years in the history books is how we went in for bin laden and ended up with Saddam Hussein. I'm waiting to read that in the history books.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: Our thanks to Larry's in Savannah, Georgia, for some interesting conversation and a good breakfast. Coming up, I'm joined by the best political team and later, an exclusive interview with the former vice president. He defends his role as we approach the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war.


KING: Joining me to continue our Sunday conversation, CNN homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, CNN contributor Stephen Hayes, he's the senior writer for "The Weekly Standard" and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger. Thank you all for coming in.

The most startling thing from the conversation that we had this morning with the former vice president was quite bluntly, has President Obama made Americans less safe? Do you think that? He said I do. Jeanne, this is your beat. You cover homeland security for us. You talk not only to the political appointees but to the career people who were there in the last administration, here in this administration, will likely be here for the next administration. Do they think these changes have made us less safe? JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think it's too early to tell at this point in time. You've seen the Obama administration take some steps but people in the left would tell you they're half steps, they're baby steps. They haven't gone all the way.

For instance, yes we're going to close Guantanamo Bay, Obama says. But he says we're going to take a year to figure out what we're going to do with those people. No, there won't be any more CIA black sites overseas. But rendition? We still could that. We're going to limit interrogation techniques to those in the army field manual, but in some circumstances, the intelligence community might be given a little leeway on that. So we don't know yet exactly where they're going to end up. It's premature I think to say they've made us less safe.

KING: Steve, you've known this vice president for a long time. You wrote a book on this vice president. For him to say something like that, he knows it's going to generate some headlines. He knows it's going to generate some controversy, why?

STEPHEN HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well I think what he said there was he put it more starkly than most people do, which is, typical of Dick Cheney. He says what he thinks. I didn't think actually on substance, though it was terribly different from the charge that Democrats made really throughout the 2008 election cycle. And the 2004 election cycle, for that matter.

HAYES: The campaign, at least the campaign on foreign policy and national security was largely a debate over whether we were safer or not. Democrats may be arguing, a sustained argument, that we were not. And I think he countered that today, spent a lot of time doing it.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: But I think this shows you the extent to which he was invested in each of these policies and how important he was to devising all of these policies. And the fact that for example, the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, was also for closing Guantanamo, was also against water boarding, doesn't matter to Dick Cheney because these are things he clearly was a large part of in this administration and is very invested in these policies to this day.

MESERVE: You know one thing he says was that this administration is turning this from a military operation into something that's more legalistic. He objected to that. I think on the face of that, you have something contradicting that, which is the fact that President Obama is sending more troops into Afghanistan where many people say the war on terror should have been fought in the first place.

KING: And a tougher battle, a tough battle to come there. This is a man who we watched for eight years. Being vice president is a tough job, especially if you're a strong willed guy like Dick Cheney is, loyal to the president. But today, it was interesting, made quite clear disagreed with the strategy when it came to Iran, relying on diplomacy, the Europeans to pressure Iran to come to the table. Disagreed with the president when it comes to North Korea. Was that a surprise for you to hear that, Steve?

HAYES: It wasn't, in part because I had done some of my own reporting on that. But I think one of the things that we are likely to see over the next few years as we begin to get these histories of the Bush administration, and books from the main players themselves, is this split on policy.

I mean clearly on foreign policy and national security, you had a first-term that was in a sense a Dick Cheney term and a second term that was a Condoleezza Rice term. Now that's oversimplified for a lot of reasons but really I think you can go down the line, North Korea, Iran, as he talked about with you, Guantanamo Bay. Remember, President Bush said that he wanted to close Guantanamo Bay. Dick Cheney opposed that. I think there's a whole range of issues particularly on foreign policy and national security where there was this split. BORGER: I think what you're going to see, and maybe Dick Cheney's going to write about this in his book, is that he believes that George W. Bush made a lot of political decisions that Dick Cheney would have made differently because he considered himself somebody who wasn't political.

After all, he promised the president that he wasn't going to run for office again and he thought that was a great model and he would be critical of George Bush for making political decisions on Iran and on North Korea. And history may prove him right or wrong, but he, I think, he'll be critical of the president for being political which he shouldn't be, by the way.

KING: The disagreement over Iran is one of the books and Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush are both working on their books and I suspect we'll all read them anxiously.

One of the things he talked about though is a live ball in play as in President Obama wants to make Chris Hill, who was the administration's, the Bush administration's point man on North Korea. Vice President Cheney did not like the work he did. Barack Obama now wants to make him the ambassador in Iraq. And former Vice President Cheney says he just flatly disagrees with President Obama's decision. He says Chris Hill is the wrong man for the job.

HAYES: Yes, I think there's a long history there. It involves North Korea diplomacy chiefly. I mean Vice President Cheney was very critical of the way Chris Hill I think as you pointed out in the interview, gave too many concessions without really getting anything back and in part left us where we are now.

Of course Chris Hill was reporting to Condoleezza Rice and also the decider was President Bush. But I think, you know, the vice president thinks very strongly that Iraq is so fragile and that a strong diplomatic presence there is so crucial that that's why he's opposed to Chris Hill being there.

KING: Does his opinion, Gloria, matter? Chris Hill would have to be confirmed by the United States Senate. Does former Vice President Cheney's opinion matter or will the Congress say President Obama needs to pick his man? BORGER: Well, I think conservatives were already rallying against Chris Hill before Dick Cheney weighed in this morning. But I do think he'll add a little more fuel to the fire here against Chris Hill. But in the end, Congress tends to believe, and that presidents ought to get the people they want to represent them around the world. It's kind of a matter of presidential prerogative. So I think Chris Hill probably will get the job.

HAYES: But the real question is now you've seen John McCain and Lindsey Graham come out and raise serious questions about Chris Hill. The real question is, and we saw this when Democrats were opposing the Bush administration, will any of them place a hold? Will they do anything sort of more dramatic to keep him from taking that job? KING: All right, everybody stand by here for just one second. Back in a moment. First, CNN's Campbell Brown with a preview of what she'll be covering in the week ahead.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: John, we are taking a no bias, no bull look at the way out of this financial crisis. All next week, we're on the road to rescue. We're going to follow the money, tell you exactly where President Obama's plans are creating jobs and where they're lagging behind.

Plus, our experts will answer your questions, everything you need to know to pay for college, to keep your home, to hold on to your savings. It is the weeklong investigation into how this recession is rippling across the country and around the world and how you can try to get your money back. That's 8 p.m. Eastern weeknights on "Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull." John?

KING: Thanks, Campbell. More with our panel straight ahead. And at top of the hour, my exclusive conversation with the former Vice President Dick Cheney. He weighs in on President Obama's decision to reverse several policies he helped craft. Stay with us.


KING: We're back now with Jeanne Meserve, Stephen Hayes and Gloria Borger. We talked before the break about some policy differences, former Vice President Cheney with former President Bush over Iran and North Korea. There were a few others. The vice president also talked about a personal difference, one that hit closer to home to him. He wanted the president in his final days to pardon Scooter Libby, who was his confidante, his chief of staff, a close aide, not only in this White House but way back to when Dick Cheney was the defense secretary. President Bush said, no, he had commuted the sentence, he wouldn't give Scooter Libby a pardon. Dick Cheney still mad. Let's listen.


CHENEY: I was clearly not happy that we in effect left Scooter sort of hanging in the wind, which I didn't think was appropriate. I think he's an innocent man who deserves a pardon.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Steve Hayes, he doesn't show his emotions but my reporting and I believe consistent with your reporting shows that one did cause some fraying in the relationship.

HAYES: Yeah. I think he was deeply disappointed that there wasn't a pardon for Scooter Libby. And go back a year and the public statements that President Bush made at the time when he commuted to the sentence suggested to me and I think a lot of people that a pardon was unlikely. But I think the vice president thought really throughout until the very end that a pardon was at least possible, if not likely.

HAYES: And the fact that it didn't happen, I think, is very disappointing.

BORGER: You know, it just shows you that Dick Cheney doesn't have really good political antenna, because if he did, he would know that it would be unlikely, I think, that George W. Bush would do that.

He -- this -- President Bush was thinking about his legacy more than he was thinking about Scooter Libby and whatever arguments his vice president was making to him. And in the end, he didn't want to do any controversial pardon and he didn't.

KING: And at the Justice Department, prosecutors didn't even want the commutation, because they thought what a bad signal this sends. This man was convicted of lying to a federal grand jury. A man who took an oath of office to defend the Constitution lied to a grand jury.

So even the commutation, Jeanne, was that enough in terms of the career people who have to enforce the laws at the Justice Department?

MESERVE: You know, I just don't -- I can't give an answer definitively on that one. I haven't talked to them enough. But I did pick up in that interview you just did with the vice president this sort of seething discomfort underneath his very calm veneer when he talked about this with you.

HAYES: And I think Gloria's point, too, is an important one. It is one of the reasons that I think the vice president was so disappointed with the decision. It is perceived -- I think he does perceive it as largely a political decision...

BORGER: Which it was.

HAYES: ... that was made about his legacy, about President Bush's legacy. And I think that was more disappointing than anything else.

KING: All right. A lot of talk about homeland security, Iraq, terrorism policies with the vice president. I want to show our viewers though that in terms of how the American public views what's most important from the previous administration to this administration, (INAUDIBLE) has changed and strikingly so, look at this up on the map. In January of '08, 29 percent thought Iraq was the most important issue, the most important problem, with 13 percent the economy. Ask people today, 8 percent say Iraq is the most important problem, 57 percent say the economy.

Gloria, obviously, the new administration is focusing on the economy, but when Iraq falls so low on the radar screen, is that an opportunity for them to move around, people aren't paying close attention or do people want to just forget about it?

BORGER: I think people are paying close attention to what's happening at home right now because it's affecting everyone directly. And they have a sense that we're turning the page on Iraq, that this president has made a decision that he's going to withdraw troops by a certain date, that he's moving into Afghanistan and at this point, the focus is on where it hits you at home, obviously.

KING: And yet, Jeanne, you see the potential for a homeland security challenge closer to home. Yes, he's worried about Iraq. Yes, he's worried about Afghanistan. But?

MESERVE: Well, there's an unintended consequence here, which is so many resources were diverted to the war on terror that other things weren't getting attention. For instance, within the Justice Department, people taken away from financial crimes. Look at what has happened there. Some would say it's a contributing factor.

And the attention taken away from Mexico. Also within the DEA, you have resources shifted away from this hemisphere to see what was going on in Afghanistan. And I've talked to several law enforcement people in the last couple of days who really feel that what we're seeing in Mexico now is in part because the U.S. took its eye off the ball and allowed those cartels to grow in power and influence.

And now the Calderon government, with our help, is trying to get a grip, but it's a much tougher battle now perhaps because we weren't paying attention.

KING: Steve, just a few seconds left, the vice president seemed to suggest that he thinks his party in Congress should come up with detailed proposals when they oppose Barack Obama. That has been a debate within the Republicans in Congress. Should they oppose this president with specifics or just say no?

HAYES: Yes, and I think, you know, his words here are probably pretty important. When you look at the broad range of public opinion on Dick Cheney, he's not terribly popular. You look at the conservatives in Congress, you look at the conservatives around Washington, D.C., the conservatives around the country, he remains very popular. So I suspect that they will probably listen to him and may pay heed to his words of advice. Watch how this plays out.

KING: Gloria Borger, Steve Hayes, Jeanne Meserve, thanks for joining us this morning.

At the top of the hour, my exclusive interview with the former vice president, Dick Cheney. From the economic crisis to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you'll hear his most unfiltered opinions. And straight ahead, a grandfather prepares for war nearly 20 years after his first deployment. His personal story up next.


KING: We went down to Savannah, Georgia, this week, and I'll bring up the state of Georgia as we continue the conversation. We wanted to touch base with Chris Tucker. He is an old friend who served three tours in Iraq.

But while we were down there, we also took a look -- let me bring up the video right here, this is Fort Stewart, Georgia. These are troops preparing to go off either to Iraq or Afghanistan, practicing there in their Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

We took a look at their training at Fort Georgia (ph), also touched base with Chris Tucker. But he said, don't just talk to me, you want to talk to grandpa. Chris Tucker is now a police officer in Savannah, Georgia. And he said he has met a man, his name is Randy Powell, he's 50 years old and guess what, he's about to go to war.


KING (voice-over): Randy Powell is a corporal on the Savannah police force and a grandpa about to go to war.

STAR CPL. RANDY POWELL, SAVANNAH POLICE FORCE: Fifty years old, I think I'm still fully capable of being a soldier. Once a soldier, always a soldier.

KING: This is Randy nearly 20 years ago, during the first Persian Gulf War, five-and-a-half months in the sand as a radar specialist with the 1st Infantry Division during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

POWELL: Our job essentially was to locate enemy mortar, rockets, and artillery fire, locate where the enemy is and forward that information down to our artillery units so they could do a counter- fire strike on the enemy.

KING: Powell left the Army in late 1992, at a time the military was downsizing.

POWELL: So they offered an early retirement. One of the stipulations for this retirement was that the soldiers would have to be in the IRR, non-active reserve status.

KING: But as troops went off to Afghanistan after 9/11, and then off to Iraq, sometimes for two or three deployments, Powell heard nothing.

POWELL: I haven't heard anything from the military for approximately 14.5 years.

KING: And last year and again in January, he was required to report to a local reserve center. Both times, Powell filled out some paperwork and was sent home. But then this letter in February, orders activating Powell for a tour of duty in Iraq.

POWELL: I leave the fifth of April and report to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for the initial training.

Right now, the orders stipulate no longer than 400 days, so I should be back before the ninth of May of next year.

KING: That means Christmas in Iraq and time away from a granddaughter born just days ago, but no complaints from Randy Powell, to the contrary.

POWELL: Kind of looking forward to getting back into the groove. Get in shape and go do what I'm trained to do. I follow the orders of my commander-in-chief and superiors that are above me. You know, a soldier always does what he's told.


KING: We're going to keep in touch with Randy Powell as he heads off to war. And we certainly wish him and his family the best.

We'd like to welcome back our international viewers to this hour, our STATE OF THE UNION report this Sunday, March 15th.

The worst U.S. economy in decades. An Iraq War approaching year six. Those are just two of the many topics we're covering. The former vice president, Dick Cheney, in his first television interview since leaving office.

President Obama reverses major Bush policies involving the war on terrorism. Is the country less safe as a result? The highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to the Congress, Democrat Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, gets the "Last Word."

And Chris Tucker served three tours of duty in Iraq. Now back in Georgia, we check in with the former soldier to see how he is adjusting to life away from the battlefield.

That's all ahead, in this hour of "State of the Union."