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AIDS Epidemic Stabilizing in Africa; More on Possible Economic Turnaround; Help in Finding Employment

Aired April 12, 2009 - 11:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Howie, have a great Sunday. Thank you very much.

And here's what's still to come on our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, April 12th, 2009.

Millions are still dying of HIV/AIDS in Africa, but according to the United Nations, the epidemic there has stabilized or begun to decline. Dana Perino went from the Bush White House press room to an AIDS counseling center in South Africa. We'll ask her if this positive trend will continue.

This week, President Obama says he sees glimmers of hope in the economy. Are they real or just political rhetoric? The best political team on television will join me to break it down.

And will sectarian violence slow the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq? We'll get the facts in an exclusive interview with the commanding general in Iraq, Ray Odierno.

That's all ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq voices full confidence that all American troops will leave in two years on schedule. But General Ray Odierno tells us a recent spike in violence could mean he will push to keep U.S. troops in some Iraqi cities past an interim deadline that's just 11 weeks away.


ODIERNO: But we will continue to conduct assessments, along with the government of Iraq, as we move toward the June 30th deadline. If we believe that we'll need troops to maintain our presence in some of the cities, we'll recommend that. But ultimately, it will be the decision of Prime Minister Maliki.

KING: Nearly three years ago, Iraq's national security adviser predicted all American troops would leave his country by the end of 2007. They are still there, of course, and now Mowaffak al-Rubaie voices confidence Iraqi security forces are finally be ready.


AL-RUBAIE (ph): In the next year or so, we'll be in a position to take over all our country, all the security all over the country.


KING: And here at home, the Obamas are finally, finally going to get a new pet, a Portuguese water dog named Bo. To some, it's front- page news. To the former Republican speaker of the House, it's something very different.


FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE NEWT GINGRICH (ph): I hope that the girls love the dog. I hope the family and all the press (ph) they're going to be in finds it useful, and I think this whole thing is fairly stupid. It's great that they have a dog. It's great that the kids are adjusting. And where they got it from, who cares. It's a nice gesture on Senator Kennedy's part to give it to them, but who cares?


As you can see, we've been watching all the other Sunday shows, so you don't have to.

A bit later, our reporters and analysts will discuss and debate the major challenges at home and abroad, as President Obama inches closer to the 100-day mark.

But first, something a little different, this morning. For Christians, this is Easter Sunday. And Jews, this past week, gathered with family and friends to mark Passover.

It is a time when many not only reflect on their faith but also commit themselves to charity and to helping others.

So we begin this hour with a guest you came to know as a top aide to President Bush. Former White House press secretary Dana Perino is with us today, though, because of a choice she made, as her time in government was coming to an end.

Dana Perino, welcome to "State of the Union."

You decided, after the leaving the rigors of the White House press room to go to South Africa, to volunteer in an HIV clinic. I want you to tell us why, and as you do, over your shoulder, we're going to show some of the video you brought back of the amazing children you met.

PERINO: Well, thanks for having me on and for being willing to spend some time, on your Sunday show, when there's no shortage of political topics to talk about, to shed some light on this.

You know, over the years at the White House, you become, kind of, hardened. And I had felt that way, a little bit, but it wasn't my true heart. And when we went to Africa in February of 2008 with President Bush, I realized that this is what I want to do. I want to come back and try to help in some small way.

I actually think that the work that I did really only helped them in a very small way, but if I can come back and shed some light and have some -- put some amplification on what we are doing, as Americans, all around the world -- there are Americans of all different stripes, and some with Christian groups, some with Islamic groups, some with Jewish groups, out working with NGOS and governments all around the world, to try to help in any way that we can.

KING: And turn over your shoulder, as we speak. You can see some of the children here. This is your video that you've brought back. Tell us about meeting these young children who come from families where their parents and I assume some of these children have HIV.

PERINO: Well, these are children who live in a township called (inaudible)

And I didn't really know a lot about townships and how that had really -- I had never seen it and witnessed it. Of course, I read about it books and you can see it on TV, but it's something different when you see it in person.

And these children were at a kids' club, which is something they do between the hours of 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., every day, through Living Hope. That's the group that I went and volunteered with. And they have little warm-up exercises.

I remember, this little kid here, in the jersey, he was very proud of his Ronaldo shirt because, obviously, soccer is very important.


But they were basically getting taken care of. They get a snack every day, which in some cases was the most nutrition that they got in any day. And it's all provided by Living Hope, which 52 percent of the funding from Living Hope comes from the American taxpayer.

So I wanted to see for myself, what are we really doing and how is it working?

And I can tell you -- I just want to make sure every American knows that this is a bipartisan program, now, started by President Bush but embraced by everybody. And the work that we're doing is really good, and we should be proud of it.

KING: Let's get up and walk over to the wall for a minute. Because, before we talk more about your experience, I want to put the HIV crisis in context.

This is a map of the world. And the lighter colors mean lower incidence of HIV. You see 5,000 cases. The brighter colors, orange and red, mean a higher incidence. You see the United States here. There's between 1 million and 5 million cases in the United States.

And I want to swing the map around, because this is where you were. And you see, obviously, the biggest problem is in Africa, in the continent of Africa. And I want to zoom in a little closer here, where you were, down in South Africa, and bring it up on the screen: 5.7 million cases -- that's 18 percent of the population -- higher over in tiny Swaziland, 26 percent of the population, but 5.7 million cases.

Now, the PEPFAR program, the president's emergency program -- the U.N. says it has stabilized people, but not so much in the new incidence of the disease.

What is the next key step, in your group, in terms of making these numbers go down?

PERINO: Well, one thing that happened, when President Bush took over in 2001, 50,000 people on the entire continent of Africa were getting anti-retroviral treatment. OK? He started the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. It's called PEPFAR. Now that's 2.2 million people around the world that are getting this treatment. Most of them are in Africa.

The key to any type of poverty eradication is education. And in this case, it's not only education for those youngsters to be able to get jobs but prevention, and prevention is the next step.

And I think that -- obviously, there's a lot of need. If you imagined that 18 out of 100 people that meet almost had a death sentence; now they're able to, maybe, live longer -- not necessary in the rural areas. But it's because of our generosity and working with NGOs and in some cases the United Nations, they were able to help save lives.

But then, how do you make lives better? And that's the next step.

KING: When you were going on this trip and you told me about it, I begged you to take a camera. And I want, as we sit back down and continue our conversation, for our viewers to meet your new friend, Khumi.


KHUMI, RECIPIENT OF AID FROM PEPFAR (ph): I was very, very sick at that time. My children were in foster care. And now (inaudible) I could see that now I can, maybe, be able to support my children with the money that I make from this (inaudible)

PERINO: How many women do you have selling for you?

KHUMI: I've got eight women and one man.

PERINO: Do they make enough money to help support themselves and their families?

KHUMI: It does really make a difference in their lives.

PERINO: How did this whole thing get started?

KHUMI: At night, I would practice sewing. When other patients were asleep, I would be sewing.


PERINO: Tell me a little bit about what you have made here.

KHUMI: This is the original bag of the peacock. The tag says, "Partners for Hope, Evangeline Ministries is a nonprofit mission helping South African women who live with HIV and AIDS, to enrich their lives by developing skills that make them self-sufficient."


KING: You have with you some of the products from this.


KING: We're not in the endorsement business or the advertising business, but how important is that self-sufficiency to these people who, as you mentioned before, had a death sentence?

PERINO: Well, it's critical because a lot of these people have no way to make a living. And Khumi, which she doesn't talk about it in the video, in that sound bite, is, she was on her deathbed in 2006. She was 34 years old at the time, is a mother of two sets of twins, and was basically had no way to support herself or her children.

So she had to take the older set of twins and take them to family out in a rural area in the northern area, and then find some place where somebody could take care of her babies because she was about ten days away from death.

And she says to me that the doctor leaned over her, at Living Hope --basically she had gone there to die -- and said to her, we just got some medicines from America and you're going to make it.

And she said she didn't believe him at the time. And then she was taught to do these bags. And I do have the original peacock bag, actually. And I have to tell you -- I'm not a connoisseur of bags. I'm trying to find the best one.


But it has pockets on this side. And they have cute little wooden buttons.

But you heard what she said. She has figured out a way to help other women learn how to sew in order to help take care of themselves and to be able to provide for their families. And you just -- you can't put a price tag on that.

The one thing I think is great -- you saw this study, this week, from Stanford, saying that President Bush's program had saved over a million lives. What you don't know from that -- and that's just through 2006, so we don't know what the numbers are in the past two years. But what it doesn't talk about is the ripple effect of what we're doing. If you help Khumi and she helps eight women, then how many other people is that helping?

And so, if we can keep these programs going and focus on the good work that Americans do and be really proud of ourselves and not apologize wherever we go, I think that -- I think that we can do even greater work.

KING: It is remarkable and inspiring. I'm going to make an awkward twist, because I can't let you leave without a little bit of political commentary...



KING: ... from Dana Perino. In that very seat, a month ago, the vice president, the former president, Dick Cheney, said something about the Obama administration that drew a very tart response from senior adviser David Axelrod. I want you to listen to the exchange.


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

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11.


KING: And Mr. Axelrod's response. Do we have that?


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: I think it was an unfortunate statement. And let me say, in contrast, how much we appreciate the way President Bush has behaved. He was incredibly cooperative during the transition. And when he left, he said "I wish you guys the best. I'm rooting for you." I believe that to be the case. And he's behaved like a statesman.

And as I have said before here and elsewhere, I just don't think the memo got passed down to the vice president.


KING: Don't think the memo got passed down. Just take us inside the White House in those final days. Did former President Bush get together with you all and say, I'm going to keep quiet, you feel free to say what you want, or please be quiet, give the guy a chance?

PERINO: Well, he had said for a couple years as people got ready for the 2008 elections that he was going to get off the stage when he left the office.

But that doesn't mean you can't defend yourself, and I think, you know, you posed a question to Vice President Cheney and for two years the Democrats and then-candidate Obama criticized the Bush administration for our policies in the war on terror or whatever they call it now, and I think it's perfectly appropriate for Vice President Cheney to defend the policies of the United States.

I don't think he was being bombastic. He didn't seek it out to talk about it. And Vice President Biden and others in the current administration, after they took office, have viciously criticized President Bush at every turn. And I just think that there's a double standard here and people should take a step back. And he was asked a question, do you think America is less safe if the policies that you had changed? And he said yes.

Well, I think it would have been easier for the Obama administration to be able to say something along the lines of, I know George Bush loved his country, I love mine, too, and I take my responsibility very seriously, I'm going to protect our country, as well, I just might do it in a different way.

And then we wouldn't have been -- had this debate, which might have not have been as much fun, but that would have been a way to deal with it.

KING: Well, we'll continue to cover all sides right here. And, Dana Perino, mostly for bringing us the inspiring story of your trip.

PERINO: Thank you.

KING: Thanks for coming in to see us today. Thank you.

And let's take a quick look at what's still coming up on STATE OF THE UNION. Straight ahead, we will debate the day's big stories with Hilary Rosen and Rich Galen.

Then waffles and eggs at the Ridge Diner in Park Ridge, New Jersey. And a breakfast debate over whether President Obama is on the right course, and maybe trying to do too much too fast.

At the top of the hour, our exclusive conversation with General Ray Odierno, the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq.

And amid all of this talk about new green energy sources, a reminder, we are still very much dependent on oil. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar takes us offshore and gets "The Last Word."


KING: It is Easter Sunday, but we're going to prove that politics never takes a holiday. Joining me, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Hilary Rosen, and Republican strategist Rich Galen. Thanks for coming in this morning.

I want to begin with the interview we had earlier in the day with the commanding general in Iraq, General Ray Odierno. He said, number one, he thinks he will be able to get all of the troops out by 2011, which is President Obama's deadline and the agreement between the United States and the government of Iraq.

But he also said that if he sees a problem in a major city or somewhere else and he thinks he needs to delay something or put more troops somewhere, that he believes President Obama will be flexible and listen. Let's listen to General Odierno.


GEN. RAY ODIERNO, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: He understands, as he has stated, that there is still much work to be done here in Iraq. I believe he has given me the flexibility over the next 18 months in order to adjust the size of the force that I need in order to accomplish the mission. What we're trying to do is set the conditions for Iraq to take over and be able to secure themselves.


KING: As you know, Hilary, on the left there have been some jitters about more troops in Afghanistan, maybe taking a little longer than they had hoped to get out of Iraq. Does this president have the political flexibility here at home to say, General, if you need a few more months or if you need especially the short-term interim deadlines to get out of the cities, if you need to send more troops in for a little while, that's OK?

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think the president has flexibility for one reason, because he is being really honest about why we're in Iraq now. We're there as a police force essentially until the Iraqis can take over.

He doesn't pretend any longer, like we had for so many years, that we're in there because there is a strategic mission to accomplish and therefore there's a deadline to accomplish the mission.

The political situation needs to be fixed. It's not going to be fixed militarily. It has got to be mixed politically. And I think the fact that the president is being clear about it, he is talking with the troops properly, I think that gives him the kind of leeway people need.

People didn't feel like we were getting the real deal before.

KING: Rich, you spent a good amount of time there in the early days. Do you have the confidence on the Iraqi side that they are finally ready?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, I was there when General Odierno was the commanding general of 4th ID, I believe it was, in Tikrit, which was huge, very dangerous back in those days.

But the point I think that was really telling, earlier when you had the general on and the national security adviser, was the notion of how far we've come that it's no longer just the president's decision or the field general's decisions where and when we're going to deploy these people.

Now it's not only negotiated but, in fact, sort of asking permission, would it be OK if we added forces here. So I think it has come a really long way and we really are I think at the end of that very long and arduous and dangerous time, you know, when we had to have ground forces everywhere in Iraq.

KING: Another big issue facing the president is this hijacking, kidnapping, piracy, call it what you will, off the coast of Somalia, an American captain now held prisoner, held hostage by these pirates or terrorists, you might say.

And it's a big challenge for the president. Republican Senator Tom Coburn out earlier this morning saying that the American people will judge the president by how he handles this.


SEN. TOM COBURN (r), OKLAHOMA: You have to have a tough approach, which means you have to be strong. We're not going to give in to blackmail, and we're not going to allow them to continue to do what they're doing.

So, that's going to require a tremendous increase in resources, but it can't be just us. It has to be everybody, because everybody is affected by it.


KING: This is not a country, Rich Galen. These are outlaws and thugs. How does this president and, as Senator Coburn notes, how does the world respond to this?

GALEN: Well, you know, the Marine Corps hymn has "to the shores of Tripoli," and Tripoli was -- that was an anti-piracy maneuver. And the rule then was, and I think it is now, is you fight piracy from their land bases, not on the seas because the seas are too vast.

And I suspect unfortunately that's what it's going to take. Whether or not we get any help from our great and grand friends at the U.N. is something else again, but we'll have to do it.

ROSEN: I can't remember the last time I agreed with Senator Coburn on anything, but I do today. Commercial shipping is critical to the global economic development of this -- in this environment, and if the commercial seas are not accessible, then we've cut off a vast opportunity for economic development.

And I think it's a big mistake for this country and all countries with that kind of economic interest not to band together and use our military forces.


KING: Use our military forces. Does that include -- they're trying to negotiate, and elders in Somalia who are in contact with these pirates, I'll call them pirates for now, some say terrorist is a better word, would not agree to the deal, if necessary?

ROSEN: Piracy is most focused by deterrence. The reason that it has been so successful in the last year-and-a-half is because is there's a perception that there is no deterrence, that there's no enforcement.

And the only way we're going to see those seas safe again is to really focus on the enforcement side. GALEN: One of the reasons it's been so successful is because of the vast amount of shipping that frankly for the shippers, it's cheaper to pay the ransom occasionally when one of their ships gets hijacked than it is to put armed guards at hundreds of millions of dollars a year on each and every one of the ships that goes through there. So it's a little built like Chicago in the 1930s. Somebody's got to step in and say OK, we're going to stop this and stop it now.

KING: I want to pivot and close our conversation on a more light note and uplifting note. For one, we do know this morning that President Obama and the family went across Lafayette Park to St. John Church, the church very close to the White House. That does not mean that is the church the Obama family has picked to worship. It is the church they picked this morning to go.

The other news we know this morning is the White House has released an official White House photo, and I believe we can take it better than what I'm holding. There we go right there. Meet Bo. Bo is the new White House dog. The favored pet now and named by Sasha and Malia Obama.

Rich Galen, you worked closely with Newt Gingrich in the past. He says this is a joke. Why are we spending any time talking about this?

GALEN: It is not a joke to talk about it. I think it's a joke for anybody to somehow get exercised about the fact that we're talking about it. As he said, there are two little girls in the White House, they wanted a dog. Their folks got him a dog. I hope they have a wonderful time with it and they learn to take care of it and take it out for walks, much as, you know, my wife has had to do with me.

ROSEN: This family is working pretty hard to be as normal as they can, but I love the extra touches that the White House is going to when it comes to the major moments. On holidays, that they celebrate a Seder as well as Easter Sunday, that they focus on what Muslims have in their religion. I just think their inclusiveness, their energy around it, their sense of America's a family and they as the first family is just really nice for people to see.

GALEN: I think it's -- that's overstating it a little bit.

ROSEN: No, it's not.

GALEN: On a positive side just as some of my friends --

ROSEN: That's why he's so popular.

KING: But to that point, you say he's so popular. To that point, having a Seder, he's a Christian obviously. That's a unifying moment. You know, trying the lighter moments, like the dogs.

And yet if you look at the new Pew Research Center poll, 88 percent of Democrats approve of the job he's doing. Only 27 percent of Republicans approve of the job the president is doing. Is he doing something wrong, Rich Galen, or is that just welcome to Washington, after eight years of Bill Clinton and eight years of George W. Bush, we are polarized no matter what?

GALEN: And 20 years of CNN and FOX and everybody else. But let's remember that exactly eight years ago, I believe to the very week, eight years ago, an ABC/"Washington Post" poll had George W. Bush at 63 percent. So, we are still in what is commonly known as and properly, the honeymoon period. We'll see what happens.

ROSEN: I think he's still got very strong support among Independents, and basically what the American people wanted was change in this election. That means that there was a sense that people weren't feeling that they had a good economic future. When you disrupt some of the haves to help the have-nots, that's going to create some unhappiness. And clearly, wealthy Republicans for the last eight years were feeling pretty good about what they had and change doesn't feel good to them.

GALEN: Well, I'm not sure if that's right either, but I think what we're finding is that --

ROSEN: Yeah, it is. It's the Republican base that's the most unhappy.

GALEN: Stop for a second. Most people, most people have solidified their theories of watching people like us having these kinds of discussions. And I'm not -- somewhere along the line, this stuff will even itself out, but I still think we are far from the post-partisan era that both Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed in his re-election and --

ROSEN: I don't think so.

KING: John King will declare detante. Not peace, but detante on this Easter Sunday. Rich Galen, Hilary Rosen, thanks for coming in. And one of those Internet dining guides, you know, you read those, says the Ridge Diner in Park Ridge, New Jersey, is the best diner in Bergen County. We didn't get into that debate, but we enjoyed our breakfast and listening to strong opinions on everything from bailouts to global warming. Our weekly diner segment is straight ahead. STATE OF THE UNION will be right back.


KING: As you know, we make it our mission to get out of Washington and listen to your voices every week. This week's full disclosure, we went up to New Jersey, but not just for work. I was up here in Bergen County, right up here, this is where my in-laws live. Stuart and Nancy Schwartz (ph) hosted us for a fabulous Seder on Wednesday night. Then on Thursday, we went to the Park Ridge Diner. It is a fabulous diner in a state known for its diners. Very interesting conversation about the Obama agenda and whether the president is trying to do too much, too soon.


KING: Let me just set the table in terms of if you supported President Obama in the last election, raise your hand. If you didn't, keep it down. All right, so we have two out of three. What do you think about how he has handled this whole bailout issue? Because it's your money and it's going out, whether it's to AIG, whether it's to General Motors and Chrysler, whether it is to the banks, do you get a sense that's being done right or do you even understand it because it's so much money and it is so confusing?

PETER FITZPATRICK, PARK RIDGE RESIDENT: Well, I think it's being done right. Again, you just have to make sure that the strings are attached and there's accountability.

JENNIFER HEIT, PARK RIDGE RESIDENT: I think again on the accountability front, we need to make sure that there is trickle down. That money is being made available for loans for people who need it and really stimulate the economy.

SCOTT WALTERS, PARK RIDGE RESIDENT: Well, to me, capitalism without failure is like religion without sin.

KING: So let it crash?

WALTERS: You know, if people make stupid decision, you have to live and die by the sword. When I make a stupid decision, I get told about it. I have to live and die with the consequences of it.

KING: Let me talk about the new president, whether you supported him or not, has a pretty ambitious agenda in his first year. He wants to do this economic stimulus plan and other things. He wants to do health care reform, work on climate change, wants to work on immigration reform. Do any of you get the sense that even if he supports all of it, that he he's trying to do too much too fast or do you think that's the best way to do it, put it all out there?

FITZPATRICK: I think he's got to take it head on, but again I would worry about him burning out, too. Anytime you look at the news, President Obama is doing this, he's got a million things going on. So I understand that you have to talk the issues that are involved here, but I wonder sometimes, a little fearful if he's going to run out of gas.

HEIT: I'm a little bit fearful, but like you said, you kind of have to take risks, and I think that it's important to take risks at this time. We kind of have nowhere to go but up.

WALTERS: Well, it obviously is. The main priority has to be the economy. The second priority has to be national security. Cap and trade is going to be a total disaster once everyone understands exactly what that is.

KING: You raise the issue of the cap and trade. Do you think climate change is a problem? HEIT: Absolutely.


WALTERS: No, not at all. It's not caused by humans. Humans are not the factor. And it's interesting that the people have changed from calling it global warming to climate change because they realized they can't win the argument now on global warming so they're giving it yet another name to add a different spin to it.

KING: And a passionate case there, again, for those of you who believe it is a problem, are you willing to maybe personally pay a bit higher in energy taxes, whether it's a carbon tax, whether it is a cap and trade program?

FITZPATRICK: Absolutely.

KING: Is it big enough now that you're willing to pay a little bit more?

FITZPATRICK: Absolutely.

HEIT: Uh-huh. I drive hybrid car. I try to do what I can. I think that -- I'm not a scientist, but certainly there's a lot going on that humans do contribute to the environment, and we can change our ways.

KING: This one is immigration reform. And he wants to do essentially what President Bush wanted to do, which was change the immigration laws so that you create a new guest worker program, but for the -- whether it's $12 million or $15 million or $10 million or $8 million, it's those who are here illegally would eventually be able to get some form of legal status. Are you OK with that?

FITZPATRICK: I am OK with that. I mean, I look around and I see, why wouldn't you want to come to this country? You know, I see immigrants, they are working hard, they're trying to make a difference, they're raising their families. So I'm all for it. I mean, I think they should be given every opportunity to become a citizen here.

KING: Is that harder to sell in a tough economic time where, you know, people are losing their jobs?

HEIT: Sure. I think that that's the case. I think most of us, though, you know, come -- my grandparents are not -- were not citizens and, you know, my parents and myself have made a great life here and why were we allowed to do that? So I think it's hard to drew draw the line, but, you know, I certainly can see the other side, as well.

WALTERS: Well, I think the biggest problem has been there has been a lack of enforcement of current law. You have to enforce current law. If you enforce current law, a lot of the problem would simply go away.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: If you want to keep track of our travels, including reading this week's column from North Carolina, go to

Now congress may still be off next week, but President Obama is heading for Mexico, then the Summit of the Americas. When we come back, three top CNN correspondents look at the policy and politics of the week ahead.

And today, a U.S. soldier died in Iraq. Five U.S. troops died earlier this week in a truck bomb, the kind of tragedy we haven't seen in months. How will this uptick in violence affect the troop withdrawal? My exclusive interview with General Ray Odierno coming up at the top of the hour.

STATE OF THE UNION will be right back.


KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning. The Associated Press is reporting hostage negotiations between the United States and Somali pirates have broken down. Armed pirates have been holding a U.S. ship captain in a lifeboat in the Indian Ocean for four days now.

AP quotes a Somali official as saying Somali elders negotiating with those U.S. officials objected to U.S. demands that the pirates be arrested.

Christians around the world are celebrating Easter. Pope Benedict celebrated Easter Mass at the Vatican. He appealed for peace in Africa and the Middle East and delivered Easter blessings in 63 different languages.

And the White House is getting a new resident. The Obamas have chose a 6-month-old Portuguese Water Dog to be the first pet. And here he is. The puppy will move in Tuesday. The Obama girls named the dog Bo. Get the connection here, the first lady's father's nickname is Diddley.

That and more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

Shot of the Capitol Building there on Easter Sunday here in Washington, D.C. I'm joined here in the studio by senior White House correspondent Ed Henry, senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, a senior moment on STATE OF THE UNION. (LAUGHTER)



KING: Speak for yourself. OK. I want to start with the interview we had with General Ray Odierno earlier in the day because here is a guy who, in the previous administration, said I don't want timelines, I want everything to be conditions-based on the ground. When I asked him about his confidence of getting the troops out in 2011, as agreed to between the United States and the government of Iraq, I was surprised by the answer.


KING: On a scale of 1 to 10, sir, how confident are you, 10 being fully confident, that you will meet that deadline, that all U.S. troops will be gone at the end of 2011?

ODIERNO: As you ask me today, I believe it's a 10 that we will be gone by 2011.


KING: Over at the White House, Ed Henry, they must be very happy that their general on the ground, who had some concerns about this president's policies as a candidate, is on-board now.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They are, but he did say "as of today," and so there's a lot of time between now and next summer, when all combat troops are supposed to be out. As you noted, there is also this agreement that we have with the Iraqis, the Status of Forces Agreement that mandates they have to be out by 2011.

So obviously as a commanding general, he needs to do as much as possible to get that done. But you're right, this gives the president some political breathing space. He made his first secret trip to Baghdad as president this past week.

And he was very clear throughout his trip over the last week or so in saying that, look, I was against this war at the beginning but I feel see a responsibility to end it responsibly and not just pull out too quickly.

So the president will be very happy to have that political breathing space from his general.

BORGER: You know, what the general has also been talking about is withdrawal of combat troops from some of the big cities like Baqubah and Mosul and all of that, and he has left himself some wiggle room on that on about whether he's going to be able to do that in June, because if the conditions on the ground don't warrant it, he's not going to do it. KING: And he says he has flexibility from the commander-in- chief, if necessary, within the big deadline of moving around U.S. troops and keeping more troops than necessary.

BORGER: Exactly.

KING: What about on Capitol Hill, especially on the left, and the Democrats who said this was the president-elected to end the war as soon as possible? Does the president have the flexibility politically here at home that he has apparently given his commanding general on the ground inside Iraq?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The reality is, he does. He does because the members of Congress on the left and even his supporters on the left were very vocal when he made his decision in first place to extend the troop deployment more than he said he would as a candidate.

And the reality is that it was very clear from even the Democratic leaders at the time that he made this announcement that they were not happy about it, but they sort of shrugged their shoulders and said, you're going to do what you're going to do because you are listening to the commanders on the ground.

What I thought was interesting about General Odierno is that, as Ed said, he did say as of now I think we can get them out by 2011, but, you know, politically if Democrats -- those Democrats on the left are hearing him say that, and if you get to that point in time and he says, you know what, I tried, at least he has the ability to say, I made a good faith effort, I made that statement because I really meant it.

KING: Let's come home to the economy. The president this past week said he sees glimmers of hope. And the White House likes to say they believe some of those hopeful signs were a result of the stimulus spending and a result of the new administration's policy.

But there are some who have a more pessimistic view of the economy, among them the former speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich, who believes that more stimulus will be necessary, although not the type of stimulus the White House has supported.

Let's listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think there will be a second stimulus. I would prefer to see it on the tax side rather than the spending side. But I think there's going to have to be some dramatic effort, because I think this is not going to work.


KING: Let me start on Capitol Hill. Is there one Republican in Congress who thinks President Obama is going to come forward with a Newt Gingrich-approved stimulus package that leaves out tax cuts? DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That would be a no, there's no question about it. But, look, you know, stimulus is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, you heard the way he just described it. As you said, tax cuts.

If President Obama did that, that would be probably a defining bipartisan moment in this country and in Washington, D.C. I think that, you know, we already heard just even in the idea of a second stimulus, when Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, mentioned to let the door open to that about a month ago, Democrats from the White House to the Senate to the rank and file went, don't even say that because the political will was just not there to deal with it at all.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: And when Wolf Blitzer and I asked the vice president about that this week and I said can you rule it out, and he said, well, well, well, it's too early, it's too early. I said likely, not likely, and he wouldn't bite. So it's clear they just don't want to talk about it right now.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It would be an acknowledgment that the fist one hasn't really worked so, they want to let that work, they want to give it more time. When you talk to top White House aides, they insist look, some of the infrastructure spending has started but not all of it. They think that's starting to help the economy. And they also think refinancings are up. We've seen the stock market come up just a little bit. They don't want to cheerlead just yet because they've got to manage expectations, but they want to let the first one work.

KING: Do they see any risk, as we do this, I want to put up a graphic showing the polarization of the American electorate -- 88 percent of Democrats approve of the job the president is doing, according to the Pew Research Center. Only 27 percent of Republicans.

Do they see any risk more broadly at the White House in saying there's glimmers of hope, in getting people convinced that we've hit bottom and we're bouncing back? And although the unemployment rate is likely to keep going up, do they see any risk of getting too hopeful?

HENRY: Absolutely they do. And that's why Lawrence Summers, the chief economic advisor came out with a big speech this week. He had said look, we're starting to see that maybe the bottom will be coming this fall, which squares with what "The Wall Street Journal's" panel of economic experts found on Friday, as well. He was also very careful to say that unemployment could be lagging and that it might not be until late 2010 that we see unemployment start coming down. Why is that significant politically? The midterm elections. A lot of pressure in late 2010 on both the president and his party on Capitol Hill, those Democratic leaders to show they've gotten some results.

BORGER: You know, the president got criticized when he was too gloomy at the beginning and then last week he got criticized because he was saying there are glimmers of hope. And the truth is they know this is not a mission accomplished moment and they can't do that because it'll bite them.

KING: All right, let's call a quite time out. We'll be back with all three of you. Don't go anywhere.

And according to the Department of Labor, the number of Americans working past the age of 65 is expected to jump by two-thirds in just the next seven years. Ahead, an up-close look at the toll of recession, the story of one retiree who had to go back to work after his nest egg simply disappeared. STATE OF THE UNION will be right back.


KING: We're back with Ed Henry, Gloria Borger and Dana Bash. I want to move a little bit of a confrontation. Gloria, you had an interview with Vice President Biden this past week along with Wolf Blitzer and he said something that quickly drew a visceral retort from Karl Rove, President Bush's former top political adviser. Let's hear both sides.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I remember President Bush saying to me one time in the Oval Office, and he was a great guy, I enjoyed being with him, he said to me, he said, "Well, Joe, he said I'm a leader." And I said, "Mr. President, turn around and look behind you. No one's following." People are beginning to follow the United States again as a consequence of our administration.

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISOR: He's a serial exaggerator. If I was being unkind, I'd say he was a liar, but it's a habit he ought to drop. You should not exaggerate and lie like this when you're the vice president of the United States.


BORGER: I think -- I think Karl Rove thinks that Joe Biden's not telling the truth in that particular anecdote that he told. Some have remarked that Joe Biden has said that anecdote before. The vice president's office stood by the story. He was trying to make a point that this administration has, in fact, made us more safe as opposed to what Dick Cheney told you, which is that we're less safe.

KING: What do they make of that at the White House? President Bush, as David Axelrod and others have said, has said he would stay quiet and he has stayed quiet. But Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, others are out there enjoying the sparring with this administration, and this administration seems to be enjoying firing back.

HENRY: That's right. And the early reaction I've gotten is they're more than happy to let Vice President Biden handle that. You're not going to see President Obama do that. We haven't, as you've been noting on this show. He's been very careful not to take swipes at President Bush. Even overseas, we saw sort of subtle swipes at how President Bush used to handle foreign policy, his relationship with European leaders, but President Obama has been very careful. He's going to let Joe Biden do that.

BORGER: You know, and as Axelrod told you, David Axelrod told you, they're happy because the president is staying out of this.

KING: Right.

BORGER: And so, why would they get into a fight with the president?

KING: You spent a long time covering Joe Biden on Capitol Hill before he moved to the White House. And I think that Karl Rove touched on it in his criticism, the guy has a reputation sometimes for exaggerating and talking for out of school so, much so that "Saturday Night Live" had a little fun last night at his expense. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What else? What else? All right, Karl Rove called me a liar.

FRED ARMISEN, ACTOR: I heard about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. I was telling that story, you know, the one about me with President Bush when he said to me, Joe, I'm a leader. And you know, and I said, Mr. President, turn around, look behind you. No one is following. Zing! Right? One for Joe. Yeah. Rove says I never said that, you know.

ARMISEN: Did you really say that, Joe?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who really knows, you know? Lose track of that kind of stuff.


KING: He did have a reputation on the Hill. You've covered him a long time. Can he get a break?

BASH: I don't think so, not with this. Because, you know, once something really becomes ingrained in pop culture, which this obviously is, there's nothing you can do about it, really, to take over.

And when you have something like "Saturday Night Live" doing such a great parody of that kind of part of your personality and your persona, there's no way around it. And he'll tell you, just in covering him, that I remember him coming back from some meetings at the White House and he did in private have some interesting things to say about his meetings with President Bush.

KING: All right. Interesting things. We'll leave it at that.

BORGER: But it's easier to attack Joe Biden for the Republicans than it is to attack a president who's at 68 percent in the polls.

KING: And you said they want Biden to be the point guy in this, so they may not like everything he says, but they're putting him in this role.

HENRY: Well, yes. They'll let him do it. I don't think it's necessarily an orchestrated attack, but, you're right, obviously, when Vice President Cheney came on here and attacked, Robert Gibbs was very quick in the White House briefing room to respond when we asked him about it. And so they're more than happy to have Vice President Biden do this in the short term, but I've also gotten, from White House aides, that they don't want this to go on for too long because they realize...

BORGER (?): We do.


HENRY: Yes, well, sure, the media may. But the fact of the matter is they have a lot of other problems to deal with.

KING: All right, let's move to the day's most important pressing story, which is, of course, the Obamas have a new pet. Bo, a Portuguese water dog, will be moving into the White House on Tuesday.

The front page of The Washington Post today; you see the picture on our air, right now. It's certainly a cute puppy. The former speaker, Newt Gingrich was on ABC this morning. He says, this is a joke; why is everybody talking about this? So what is it?

HENRY: Well, I think Newt Gingrich is all bark and no bite.



HENRY: No, I think -- you know, I'm going to be really happy to move on to covering more serious subjects like whether Mrs. Obama is showing her biceps too much, whether the president's hair is turning gray.


I mean, I kid, but, you know, look, there's a lot of interest in the first family. That's part of the reason why we report it. But there's also a lot of serious stuff going on. I think, as long as there's a mix; as long as there's a blend, this is what the American people -- they want to hear some good news sometimes, as well as the problems.

BASH: And you can take Gingrich's name and shrink it down to grinch, I think, when it comes to...



BASH: It's true. No, because...

BORGER: Yes, I'm with you. I'm with you.

BASH: Look, I mean, as, you know, I'm somebody who is -- likes pop culture. And I think the reality is that, when we're talking about pop culture in this country, we're talk about Rihanna; we're talking about Chris Brown. It's not a bad thing to turn our focus on some nice things in the White House. And if that has to do with a little dog and two little girls, great.

BORGER: You know what? There's a lot of bad news we hear, every single day. A puppy is cute and sweet, and so are the president's daughters. And Newt Gingrich ought to really lighten up, here.

KING: OK, we're going to end it right there. You're all a little "ruff" on Speaker Gingrich.

(LAUGHTER) BORGER: Sorry, Mr. Speaker.


(UNKNOWN): ... quit while we're ahead.


KING: We'll quit while we're ahead is right. And straight ahead, we'll spend some time in a job-hunting class, where a teacher is putting his own painful experience into the lesson plan.

At the top of the hour, the latest from Iraq, an exclusive interview with a top Iraqi official and the U.S. commanding general. Stay with us.


KING: When we leave Washington every week to hear your voices, much of our focus has been on jobs. This map, here, shows where the jobs are and are not.

If you see the gold, that is where very few jobs are being created. The teal is somewhere in the middle. The darker blue is where there are jobs to be found, a decent amount, anyway.

One of the places we visited was Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Why? The unemployment rate is nearly 11 percent. That's the fourth highest rate in the country, almost 200,000 jobs lost in the last year. And it's not just those who lose their jobs that are back in the job market. Some people who had decided to retire and call it a day feel the need to make money again.


DON WITTE, WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.: But it's not easy. And each situation is different.

KING (voice-over): In tough economic times, Don Witte is both the teacher and a painful lesson.

WITTE: You have 150 people applying for 25 jobs.

KING: His job search advice at Forsyth Community College, borne of 35 years of experience helping airlines and other businesses recruit and hire new talent.

WITTE: Now, successful networking, be yourself, always be yourself. Don't try to be somebody you're not.

KING: He loves the work, but he's here because he needs it.

WITTE: I retired about four years ago, had a very enjoyable retirement, until last year. And a lot of the funds we had counted on evaporated. KING: All the more frustrating because Don Witte did it just like they say: a smaller, more affordable house after his daughter got married, carefully researched investments, a good mix of blue chips, offering consistent dividends.

WITTE: Diversify, diversify, and diversify. I did. But it didn't make any difference. It is the American dream, you work hard for a number of years, and then retire, enjoy yourself, relax, unfortunately, no more.

KING: Career counseling at the college doesn't pay much, but it helps with the bills, and with Witte's understanding of a recession he says is like none other in his lifetime.

WITTE: From the senior executive to the middle manager to the nurse to the teacher to the laborer to the unskilled, it's affecting everybody. Each one of them is a little different story, and the common thread is if they haven't looked for a job for 10 years or so, it's the toughest job market that I've seen in my lifetime.

How many of you are on LinkedIn?

KING: Witte sees more evidence here when he volunteers for a nonprofit group called Professionals in Transition, a nice way of saying "out of work."

WITTE: I know a few people in town, and I'll share my contacts with you openly and gladly.

KING: Damien Birkel founded the organization in 1992. Most of that stretch, 10 or 12 people at a meeting. Now, often 40 to 50.

DAMIEN BIRKEL, FOUNDER, PROFESSIONALS IN TRANSITION: Banking, housing, construction. I have never, in the 17 years that I've been doing it, ever seen the economic impact ripple through the America like this. It's your neighbors. It's your friends. It's people that, you know, you would least expect to be impacted.

KING: People like Don Witte, who sees the headlines from Wall Street and believes reckless greed washed out his years of careful investing.

WITTE: Me and many, many other millions of people like me, they were playing with our money, not in a safe, prudent way, and they're not suffering. We are. In contrast to a year ago, we're counting every single penny that goes out, not because we want to, because we have to.

KING: Dinner out is now a splurge, not a weekly ritual. There is less travel, and waiting for sales to buy clothes and other staples. Still, Don Witte is an optimist who believes the economy and the market will bounce back, eventually. It is the uncertainty of just when that leaves him worried and has him back in the workforce.

WITTE: Being 64, is there enough time left in my life to recoup, to get back to where it was? Because I'd like to leave something to my daughter and our grandson, and ultimately, grandchildren, but at this point, there's very little there.