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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

Interview With Valerie Jarrett; Interviews With Senators Feinstein, Lieberman, Graham

Aired April 26, 2009 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, HOST: I'm John King, and this is our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, April 26th. Today, a special look at President Obama's first 100 days in the White House, including unique behind- the-scenes accounts and images.

One of the president's closest aides and friends, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, joins us for an exclusive look at both the policy and the personal challenges.

The release of top secret memos on CIA interrogations is fueling one of the most sensitive debates of Barack Obama's presidency. Three key senators, Lindsey Graham, Dianne Feinstein, and Joe Lieberman, on whether making the documents public undermines national security and what happens next.

Plus, strides and missteps. Two of the best political strategists assess the first 100 days, appearing together only on STATE OF THE UNION, James Carville and Mary Matalin on the first chapter of a historic presidency.

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

A live picture there of the White House on day 97, day 97 of the Obama presidency. I asked the president about our first guest, and he'll tell you he doesn't like to make any major decisions without consulting her. A woman who has earned several nicknames like "first friend" and "the other side of Obama's brain." So who better to talk about it as we approach that important benchmark, the 100 days of the Obama presidency, than Valerie Jarrett. Valerie Jarrett, thanks for joining us on STATE OF THE UNION.

JARRETT: Thank you, John. And good morning and congratulations on your 100th day as well.

KING: Thank you. Yours is a bit more important than ours, but thank you very much. I want to start -- I want to get to some of your personal reflections on history. But I want to start with the news dominating the headlines this morning. This is The San Diego Union- Tribune. "Swine flu outbreak gets more worrisome."

The San Antonio Express-News, "In Texas flu fears shut down a high school." The administration has been aware of this since late last week, had a number of meetings and will have a briefing later today. What do we expect from the White House? Will it include, say, travel restrictions on going to Mexico? JARRETT: Well, I don't want to prejudge what the officials are going to say later today. But let's just put it this way, the president is taking this very seriously. He has assembled his teams from the Centers for Disease Control and Homeland Security. He has been briefed regularly. And he has asked them to speak to the American people and give the appropriate counsel later today.

So I'll let the experts speak to that.

KING: An interesting circumstance in that he and a number of senior officials had just been to Mexico. I understand he has been tested and he's in the clear?

JARRETT: He's fine. He is just fine. Thank you for asking, though.

KING: Let's move on to this momentous decision he has made in the past week, which was to release the CIA documents, the internal legal documents about the CIA interrogations. And I want to get your sense. You have watched him make hard decisions.

And I'm told by senior officials that this one weighs right up there with the decision to send more troops into Afghanistan as the toughest he has had to make in his first 100 days in office, in part, because only 44 men have been president of the United States, and in making this decision, he did something no president before him has done, put out former top secret memos on the previous administration so soon after taking office. Why?

JARRETT: Well, look, first of all, we are a nation of laws and the law requires us to release the documents unless there's some national security interest that would make it more important to keep them secret.

But the fact of the matter is there is nothing in the documents that the American people hadn't already seen all over the news. The techniques that were being used by the prior administration were well- known. When the president came in office, he said, we're not going to use those techniques anymore. That's not who we are as a country. In fact, Denny Blair, his intelligence adviser, has said in fact using those techniques makes us less safe. So the president said, let's release them and then let's move forward.

KING: In the context of let's move forward, there is a question about should there be a truth commission, should there be investigations, should there be prosecutions? And there is a big policy debate, but there's also a political debate that some say has been intensified by what they see as mixed messages from the White House.

If you turn over your right shoulder, I want to you take through some of the timeline. When the president released the memos on April 16th, he said, this is a time for reflection, not retribution. Three days later, his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, echoed the president, saying, the president believes those who devised the policy should not be prosecuted. But then on April 23rd, just a few days after the chief of staff was out, the president seemed to give a different message. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Why did the president change his mind? He seems open now to possible prosecution.

JARRETT: No. Let me be clear where the president stands on this. What he has said is that anyone who followed the advice of the Justice Department and did any kind of acts that were within the confines of that advice, he doesn't think we should prosecute.

The rest of it, he leaves up to the U.S. Attorney General. That is who is supposed to make decisions about prosecution. So I think the president has been very clear and what he said is, we need to be a nation of laws, we need to be consistent, and he leaves it to the attorney general to figure out who should be prosecuted for what.

KING: Who should be prosecuted for what. If it's not those who acted on the advice they were given, who were told it was legal, what are we talking about here? Are we talking about the attorney general in the previous administration, the CIA director, Secretary Rumsfeld?

JARRETT: You and I aren't talking about anything. We are going to leave that all up to the attorney general. As you know, the Senate Intelligence Committee is having hearings as well. That is the appropriate place I think for any further investigation. And then the rest we leave to the attorney general. KING: You have a fascinating job because you have the trust of the president and you have become his conduit to many of the CEOs around America right now. He is dealing with the auto bailout. He is dealing with the financial institutions and the banks. He is in negotiations now over credit card reforms.

And you are the person who is often in touch with these CEOs, getting their advice and telling the administration things, seeking their input. One of the questions on the table is these stress test for all of the banks.

JARRETT: Yes.

KING: And without naming names, are there banks out there that are in deep trouble, and, if so, will the president and the White House, as in the case of General Motors, say, you know what, you're in trouble, you're not doing this as fast or as aggressively we thought you should do, if you want more money from us, the CEO has to go? JARRETT: Let's not leap forward. Let's look at where we are. The stress test results are just now being shared with the banks. We're going to have an announcement, I believe it's May 4th, coming from the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve.

They've been going through an in-depth analysis of those top largest 19 banks over the course of the last several months. Let's see where we are and let's not prejudge the outcome. I think what the president's direction has been very clearly is we want to help the economy.

In order to have a healthy economy, we need to have strong banks. They need to be well-capitalized. They need to be able to lend dollars and help support our economy. And so at the end of the stress test, we want to make sure that those are -- that the banks are in a position to do that.

And so whether management changes occur, whether banks are asked to raise more capital, all of that is going to come forth in the coming week.

KING: You helped the president in the campaign. You were one of his a big fundraisers, one of his top advisers. One of the messages he gave to the American people in the campaign is, elect me and I will change the way that crazy town of Washington works, I'm not afraid to deal with Republicans, I will be bipartisan, will change the partisan, nasty tone in Washington.

I want you to listen something he said just after the election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I know we will succeed, once again, if we put aside partisanship and politics and work together. That's exactly what I intend to do as president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: And, yet, in the first 100 days, only three Republican votes on the stimulus plan, no Republican votes on the Obama budget, and now the White House has pressured Democrats in Congress to use their power in the rules so, that if necessary, you can pass health care reform with 51 votes, a majority, not 60 votes.

Has the president decided that because of the mood in this town and because of the unwillingness of this town and both sides to perhaps change, that it is more important to get things done, like health care reform, like climate change, like education policy, than to make friends with the Republicans right off the bat?

JARRETT: Look, what the president has said throughout, he said in the campaign, he said it in his address the night of his election, and the way he has behaved since he took office is one of reaching out to both sides.

He includes everybody in the dialogue. He has reached out more aggressively, I think, to the Republican Party than I've ever imagined a president could possibly do. So I think the burden is on him to reach out his hand and that is what he has done. And that is what he is going to continue to do throughout this administration.

He has not changed tactics whatsoever. That is who he is as a person.

KING: Let's close -- sorry, go ahead.

JARRETT: But let me -- on the issue of health care, health care is extraordinarily important. I think there is bipartisan support for pushing health care forward. It's good for our country. It's good for our economy. And the president is determined to get it done this year.

KING: Let's close with a bit of history. I want to ask you to get up and walk over here with me as we walk over to the wall. This is a diagram of the West Wing of the White House. And you see the Oval Office here, the president's study, some of the cabinet rooms and the Roosevelt rooms, some of these offices, this is the second floor here, I believe this is Valerie Jarrett's office up here, they are highlighted for a reason.

I was a reporter at the White House for almost nine years. I walked those halls every day and never did you see this, an African- American first lady, an African-American senior adviser, an African- American deputy chief of staff, an African-American woman as the domestic policy adviser, as the deputy legal counsel, as the White House social secretary.

Barack Obama has made history. What is it like to work in a White House like this, African-American women in such positions of power?

JARRETT: Well, it's terrific. You are seeing very strong, I hope smart, intelligent African-American women. But I think have to round it out and look at the whole diversity of team. And I think what has been so extraordinary about President Obama is he appreciates diversity and he thinks it will make him think harder.

We push him to make sure that he has had a wide range of ideas as he makes decisions. And so as you fill out the rest of the team, it's extraordinary as well. But these are some pretty terrific women.

KING: And I want you to look over here at this picture. This has never been released before. We're going to have Pete Souza in here at the end of the program today to talk about looking at history through the lens of his camera.

This is a picture of the president and the first lady dancing. I believe that is the East Room of the White House right there. Take us inside and what is it like from a personal standpoint to see your two close friends in this position now? Can you believe it yet?

JARRETT: I still pinch myself every day. It's a terrific picture. It was the night of the Governors Ball, our first state dinner. And I think the president left right before they broke out into a conga line. And I think all of the folks who were there said they never had a conga line in the White House before. So it makes me happy. I'm so just extraordinarily proud of both of them. And I know that they wake up every day and they think about the American people.

And there so many people out there who are suffering and they need our help here in government. And it's his job to make sure that he delivers on the promises he made to the American people.

KING: Valerie Jarrett, here to mark the 100 days. A lot of challenges will be dealt in the second 100 days. We'll have you right back here to assess them at the end of that.

JARRETT: Look forward to it. I look forward to it.

KING: Thank you so much.

JARRETT: Thank you for having me.

KING: Thank you so much.

KING: Now we just heard Team Obama's position on the release of the so-called torture memos. What happens next? We ask three key senators about calls for investigations and prosecutions just ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: If can you think about what Washington, D.C. was like 50 years ago or 60 years ago. And the notion that I now will be standing there and sworn in as the 44th president, I think, is something that hopefully our children take for granted, but our grandparents, I think, are still stunned by it and it's a remarkable moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: I do. And now he is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Vice President Dick Cheney there on this program just about a month ago. President Obama's election mandate was to fix a struggling U.S. economy but as he starts his 97th day in office today national security challenges are front and center. A debate whether releasing Bush administration terror policies was a blunder and over whether some of the Bush officials should be prosecuted and fresh violence in both Iraq and Pakistan will test the new administration's military and diplomatic strategies. Joining us to talk about this and assess the president's first 100 days, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the independent, former Democrat and from South Carolina, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

Chairwoman, I want to start with you. On the vice president's point, you heard the vice president say there he thinks the new administration is making the American people less safe. He also says that there are other memos not released into the public that prove his point that these controversial interrogation tactics used in limited circumstances actually produced intelligence that saved U.S. lives, including preventing an attack in your home State of California, the City of Los Angeles. Is he right?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I've received those memos. I asked him for them and he sent them to me. They are classified memos so I won't go into them. That's the reason why I believe the Intelligence Committee is the oversight agency for 16 intelligence agencies, including the CIA. It is our responsibility to do oversight. We have access to the classified information. And we have set upon a course, a bipartisan course with a program scope, approved by the committee, to review the conditions of detention and the techniques of interrogation of each of the high value detainees. We estimate that will take six to eight months. My hope is that the public debate quells, that we have an opportunity to do our work. The committee will consider it and then we will release, most likely, findings and recommendations.

KING: Findings and recommendations. I want to get to the other senators but to the vice president's point he believes the documents would show that the tactics worked, saved lives.

FEINSTEIN: It's very hard to tell on the face, because you have to go into who learned what at the time. Now I can go into one, at least one specific case, and it's very uncertain. So we need to find these things out and we need to do it in a way that's calm and deliberative and professional, because I think all of this, on the front burner, before the public, does harm our intelligence gathering, it does harm America's position in the world. And President Obama has worked so hard now to open a new page, to go to so many countries, to say that America is now on a different course. Let us do our work and let us do it the way it should be done.

KING: Senator Graham, you and Senator Lieberman opposed relieving these documents even though you were critics of the interrogation tactics, you thought it would undermine the mission of the united states and the CIA and now that some are out does the former vice president have a point? If some are out, should all be out?

GRAHAM: Well, here is my concern, is that, one, I think it was a mistake to release the techniques that we're talking about and inform our enemy as to what may come their way. I like what Senator Feinstein said, to go through it. And there's no doubt in my mind you may have gotten some useful information out of these techniques but the other side of the story is very real. The more than America embraces these techniques like waterboarding that comes from the Inquisition, the harder to get allies to go with us into the Mid East to fight the insurgents. You inflame the opposition. Our energy uses these images against us.

To say these techniques have brought about no good or no information is wrong, but also to say that it's been a net positive is wrong. There's a way to get good information in an aggressive manner to protect this nation without having to go into the Inquisition era. I believe you can do both. KING: And what about going forward, Senator Lieberman? The president, in relieving these memos, you didn't like that he did, but the president's message let's look forward, not look back but then the president said I'll leave this up to my attorney general who should be prosecuted. Let's listen to Mr. Holder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: I will not permit the criminalization of policy differences. However, it is my responsibility, as the attorney general, to enforce the law. It is my duty to enforce the law. If I see evidence of wrongdoing, I will pursue it to the full extent of the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Are you comfortable with that? Do you think this should be pursued and if you rule out the interrogators saying they were told, they were following orders and acting on legal advice what they were doing was right, what are we talking about here? Are we talking about the CIA director, are we talking about the attorney general in the previous administration, Secretary Rumsfeld, somebody in the White House?

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, no, it is not clear who we are talking about. And I think it is a mistake. I go back to what the president said at the beginning, it is time to look forward. These are top secret documents. These were lawyers, you could disagree with them but in my opinion they were trying to do what they thought would protect our country.

And here is the most important point. This whole debate is moot. President Obama has prohibited these tactics from being used in interrogation, so what do we gain -- well, what do we gain, first, by releasing the memos, but, secondly, what do we gain from indicting lawyers for their opinions, if that is a possibility here, or holding a so-called Truth Commission that the reality is, it will poison the water here in Washington. It will achieve nothing.

LIEBERMAN: It will make it harder for the president to do some of the big things he wants to do for the country -- not just get the economy going, but get some Republican support for health care reform, energy independence and education reform.

So let the Intelligence Committee do its work. That should be the end of it. KING: And one of the questions in the political debate, as you well know, there are people out there saying, wait a minute. You have all these politicians -- and largely Democrats, now -- saying, you know, investigate; truth commission; investigate; we had no idea.

A timeline released by your committee, Senator Feinstein, says -- and this is backed up the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- and then-CIA Director Porter Goss -- Pete Hoekstra -- you know, select members of Congress were briefed -- were briefed, way back at the beginning, including now-Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

And the timeline by your committee says that they were briefed on the use of waterboarding on three detainees, Abu Zubaydah, Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

The now-Speaker Pelosi says, no way; she was told there were legal -- there were -- legal opinions were written but not that the tactics had been used. Is she telling the truth?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I can't comment on that. I wasn't there. Just four people were briefed. The full committee, including myself, were briefed in September of '06. Now, that's four years later or so. So there is a big gap.

I am really strongly opposed to just certain members being briefed on something this seriously. It seems to me the whole committee should be briefed at a given time. We've been very good at retaining security, and I think it's a real disadvantage to the system just to have a few people briefed.

Because it really is a notification; there is no real discussion. When you deal with the whole committee, everybody fires back questions; there's a discussion; there's a dialogue. And I think a point of view emerges.

KING: Well, if -- to Senator Feinstein's point, Senator Graham, if the committee, the Intelligence Committee is going to look into this, and you all think that's the more responsible, measured way to do it, should the committee also look into whether Porter Goss or Nancy Pelosi is telling the truth about what came up at those briefings?

GRAHAM: Well, I'll leave that up to the committee. But the point is, if a member of Congress was read into this program, does it matter?

Yes, I think it matters. It's clear to me that the people who were devising these interrogation techniques were not trying to commit a crime against an individual person. They were trying to create tools for our intelligence community to get information to prevent what we all thought was going to be an imminent attack.

The Geneva Convention did not apply, until 2005, to the war on terror. So I can't conceive of a statute that you could prosecute anyone under because their endeavor was not to commit a crime but to look at the law and come up with aggressive interrogation techniques to get information from an enemy that we all thought was coming after us again.

So, however, if you think what they did was a crime, and you read someone into it, they're part of the crime.

So I think it's ridiculous to say the lawyers were trying to break the law. They were trying to interpret the law to protect the nation. And any member of Congress that was read into the program, I don't think they have any culpability either, because what we were trying to do is defend the nation, not conspire to hurt somebody individually, but techniques to protect us all.

KING: I want to move on to other big challenges facing the country right now.

But, before we do that and before we take a quick break, early in the Bush administration, the criticism in Congress was they never pick up the phone; they never consult us; you know, we've got some pretty smart people up here; we can help you.

I'm told that this decision was anguished; the president came in inclined to release them, changed his mind a couple times during the debate and then came back in the end and decided to release them.

At any point in that process -- I'll start with you, Senator Lieberman -- anybody from the White House pick up the phone and say, "What do you think?"

LIEBERMAN: They did not. And I can tell you, listening to what Lindsey said about looking at these decisions that were made early in the Bush administration, remembering that it was immediately after 9/11/01 there was worry about another attack imminently -- I'm proud to be the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Our enemies are out there planning and plotting to attack us every day.

So, as we think about what we want to release, how much information we want to make public, what kind of mud fight we want to get into about something that happened seven years ago, we better remember that and focus on our security today, not back-biting and vendettas from a time passed.

KING: Quickly to you, you're the chairwoman of the committee. You're investigating these matters, anyway. Do they pick up the phone and call you?

FEINSTEIN: No. They did not.

KING: Is that a mistake?

FEINSTEIN: Well, if they had, I probably would have said, as I said, let us do our work first. Since the first two cases have already been done, let us do the rest of it before anything is released, so that at least the Intelligence Committee can see everything in context and make some decisions.

KING: All right. Much more with our Senate guests in just a moment. We ask them to lay out the stakes in the tough choices facing the United States in three major hot spots, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. "State of the Union" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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?

GENERAL RAY ODIERNO (USA), COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: As you ask me today, I believe it's a 10 that we will be gone by 2011.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with our three senators, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, Independent Joe Lieberman and Republican Lindsey Graham.

That was General Odierno on this program, Easter Sunday morning. Since then, as you're all aware, there has been an uptick, as the military would call it, in violence across Iraq, Mosul, Baqubah, including in Baghdad.

And on the front page of the New York Times today, "Iraq Resists Pleas by U.S. to Placate Hussein's Party."

Essentially, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, has not, at least if you believe U.S. officials, reached out to former Baath Party members and said, it's time to move on; it's time to reconcile.

Senator Lieberman, to you first, are you worried at all about the combination of those things, more violence and the slower pace of political reconciliation will knock the U.S. timetable off track?

LIEBERMAN: Sure, I am. I'm concerned about it. And incidentally, it's part of why I'm so grateful that President Obama did not yield to the calls for a precipitous rapid withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. He's got us on a timeline. It's based on conditions on the ground. And what's happening now shows that all that we've sacrificed so much and worked so hard to gain is not quite set. So we need to be careful here.

LIEBERMAN: But I think Prime Minister Maliki has really done a pretty good job at reconciling a lot of the divisions in Iraqi politics. The Sunnis are much more involved than they used to be. I know that there's some problems with former leaders what was basically Saddam Hussein's party. We ought to encourage Prime Minister Maliki to try to bring them in as well so they all could be united at what seems to be remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq that are carrying out these brutal bombings against Shia, this an attempt by al Qaeda to try to stimulate sectarian conflict again in Iraq and neither Prime Minister Maliki or the American forces or the Iraqi forces can let that happen.

KING: And if that challenge were not great enough for the military to deal with and the president to deal with, Senator Graham, you also have this expansion of the Taliban influence inside Pakistan. And ... GRAHAM: Right.

KING: ... Admiral Mullen was just there, the is due back for a White House meeting on Monday, administration officials say they have some big decisions to make based on what Admiral Mullen tells them. There are now more U.S. troops heading into Afghanistan and the question to you is if Pakistan is in such trouble and you have the Taliban on the move inside Pakistan, is it time for the president to slow down the deployment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan? Will they be at risk on the other side of the border or will we need perhaps more troops because of the uncertainty in Pakistan?

GRAHAM: I would counsel the president to do what General Petraeus and others in the region tell him about troops. There is a provision in the supplemental that is coming up in about a month that provides economic aid to Pakistan and $400 million to help them create a counterinsurgency program. I've been talking with administration officials, Republican Party leaders, to see if we can break some of that money out and pass it as a standalone provision soon to show the Pakistani people and government that we're with you, to give them some money to accelerate their counterinsurgency program and give them some money to provide economic aid to their people, the people do not want the Taliban to run Pakistan, but the economy in Pakistan is on its knees and we've got to get the Pakistani Army focused on the insurgency, as well as the government.

The threat the Pakistan is not an invasion by India. It's insurgents, the Taliban and others destabilizing the country and I think we need to be all in in helping Pakistan As to Iraq in 2011, I hope we will have a strong contingent of Americans there training their Air Force, their Navy. It is in our long-term best interest to have an enduring relationship with the people of Iraq, militarily and otherwise.

KING: Admiral Mullen says Pakistan could be at a tipping point. You see the intelligence. Is the Taliban, Senator Feinstein, a threat to the government, the central government of Pakistan?

FEINSTEIN: Oh, in my opinion, yes. I also think that these bombings, the size of the bombings in Iraq are a real danger signal. And I think that Mr. Maliki has to step up to the plate on this. And it's going to be very interesting in the next few weeks to see how he handles this. If these bombings continue and there is an escalation of violence, I think it jeopardizes everything the united states is trying to do.

With respect to the Taliban and particularly in both Afghanistan, as well as Pakistan, I think the takeover of the Swat Valley, the movement up north is a very serious thing. The fact that, despite the fact that we provide money for the Pakistani military, they have done nothing to stop this Taliban advance, I think, causes me great concern that Pakistan may be in very deep trouble. And I would think that -- and most of us, I think, do agree that Pakistan is sort of Ground Zero for terror today and that this thing has to get sorted out and sorted out quickly or you could lose the government of Pakistan and Pakistan is a in nuclear power and that concerns me deeply. KING: A grave issue there. I want to close on a lighter note.

And that is, as we approach the 100 day note we are in a political environment where people are making assessments.

I want to take you, Senator Lieberman back to something you said when you were campaigning for John McCain at the Republican National Convention. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: Senator Barack Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who I think can do great things for our country in the years ahead, but, my friends, eloquence is no substitute for a record. Not in these tough times for America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We've been discussing a number of tough issues and there are many more, senator, has he proven you wrong, Barack Obama, in his first 100 days.

LIEBERMAN: First, John, let me thank you for running that tape.

KING: Tape is a dangerous thing.

LIEBERMAN: I have no regrets about supporting John McCain and really what I said then, I meant. Barack Obama is extremely gifted. Coming in at a very difficult time. I was thinking particularly about Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror. And McCain, of course, great experience, bipartisan record. Once the election was over, I said I would do everything to support Barack Obama as president. He is our president. I have, but I'll say this. I've been impressed by what he has done. He is a young man but he is extremely gifted. He has acted with strength, I think, and purpose in Iraq and Afghanistan, rebuilt some of our relations around the world and acted very boldly here at home on the economy where we needed him to particularly with the stimulus package.

But it's early but I would say he is off to a very good start. Maybe the most important thing he's done overall is that he has restored the confidence of the American people in the American presidency and he has raised their hopes about the future of our country. That is critically important.

KING: We're out of time. I want to give Senators Graham and Feinstein one sentence each. Senator Graham, to you the question is what does the Republican Party need to do in the second 100 days?

GRAHAM: To stand up for fiscal responsibility, work with the president and to make sure that we end Iraq right, win in Afghanistan and stabilize Pakistan, be a partner where we can and loyal opposition where we need to.

KING: There is a question as to whether you want to be the next governor of California. FEINSTEIN: Well, let me answer the prior question. No. You said in a sentence so give me an opportunity.

KING: All right.

FEINSTEIN: I think the Republican Party should stop being the party of no. This is a president well elected by a large number of people. He has had a very strong first 100 days. He has traveled to countries abroad, he has turned the page, he has opened a new day, he has taken strong executive actions, he has put together programs. He has delved into the economy. And I would hope that the second 100 days would find more Republican cooperation.

KING: When do we get the answer to that other question?

FEINSTEIN: Oh, you'll see.

KING: We'll see. Great. We're out of time. Senators Feinstein and Lieberman and Graham, thanks so much for coming.

Up next, Mary Matalin and James Carville have both counseled presidents in crisis. Their take on the challenges and the 100 day mark, something you will see only right here on STATE OF THE UNION. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We've added a sharp and occasionally spicy political team to our "State of the Union" report. The only place you'll see these tested strategists together on TV is right here.

And joining us now from New Orleans, our newest CNN political contributor, Republican Mary Matalin, alongside our longtime contributor Democrat James Carville.

I want to get, from both of you -- good morning from Jackson Square. It looks beautiful there, this morning -- a little breezy.

I want to get, from both of you, your 100-day headline, your assessment. But first, I want to share with you the assessment of somebody we got to know in the last campaign; that is the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin.

She says this of the first 100 days, the former vice presidential nominee, "For now, Obama's back-peddle on the bipartisanship promise just makes him look insincere. At some point, Obama will need Republicans on his side. He'd be smart to spend his second 100 days making up for the serious snubs of his first."

James Carville, does Sarah Palin have a point?

CARVILLE: Well, you know, I'd rather go with Senator Lieberman's point, who supported Senator McCain, and I completely agree with him -- without going through a recital of all the accomplishments, the signature accomplishment of this president is we have a restoration of confidence in this country. People are feeling better about the country. And that's a magnificent achievement.

And I thought that Senator Lieberman did a very good job of bringing that out. And I would prefer to go with his definition of the first 100 days than Governor Palin's.

KING: And what does Mary Matalin think, at this point?

If you look at the numbers, Mary, this president does have -- about two-thirds of the American people approve of his job. Even a higher number like him as a person and like the imagery of this presidency.

What do you think? MATALIN: Yes, he's maintained his personal popularity, but -- which is on par with his predecessors, but what he's lost, after starting out with record-setting approval ratings which included a goodly amount of Republicans, a lot of independents, he has lost that support, because what he is not is what he was perceived to be in the campaign, a centrist.

He's spent more than all of his predecessors since the beginning of this country. He's expanded government, the greatest in two generations. So he's not a centrist. He's also not post-partisan.

It's not just that he demonizes his opponents, which is old politics. He'd knee-cap his own guys. He's got Valerie Jarrett, who's the liaison -- your former guest is the liaison to MoveOn.org, who is running ads against moderate Democrats. He's not a centrist. He's not post-partisan. But he is -- elections have consequences. We lost, fair and square, and let's -- that's what this debate is about. I hope Republicans can rise to the challenge and oppose him and stop some of this expansion.

KING: Well, I want to talk about some terror policy in a minute. But since you raised that point, Mary, that you lost and you hope Republicans rise to the challenge, I want you to listen to something that your friend and your former colleague in the Bush White House, Steve Schmidt, said the other day about the decline of the Republican Party. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It is near-extinct, in many ways, in the Northeast. It is extinct, in many ways, on the West Coast. And it is endangered in the Mountain West, increasingly endangered in the Southwest, particularly with Hispanic demographics. And if you look at the state of the party, it is a shrinking entity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Mary, Steve Schmidt says the leadership vacuum has him thinking you're in the "Lord of the Flies" phase of the Republican Party.

What's the road back?

MATALIN: You know, one of the advantages of age -- I didn't think I'd ever brag about this, but I'm much older than Steve and I've been through this before. And we will come back.

The Republican Party brand is irrefutably ruined, but that's because they lost their connection to conviction conservatism, common- sense conservatism. We've been here before and we've come back, not only strong but to ascend to the majority.

And there are many -- and there's a good nucleus of smart fiscal conservatives, strong defense, back to basics, personal liberty Republicans who will restore the brand and reassociate it with conservatism as we know it: Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan. You know who they are.

So the advantage of being aged is that you've been through it a couple, two or three times.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: James, I want to ask you, on this...

MATALIN: You went down, honey. You've been down.

CARVILLE: Yes, if age confers any wisdom, then you're looking at -- our combined age would make us very wise.

(LAUGHTER)

But, look, I think Steve is a very bright guy. He came down to my class at Tulane, and of course, as you know, Speaker Gingrich did, too.

But I think there's a lot of people who are trying to get under the hood of the Republican Party because, as Ross Perot said, it really needs some fixing. And there's a lot of different voices, here, and we're going to have to see what emerges.

But while all of that is going on, it's indisputable this president's enjoying a 69 percent approval rating. He's getting things done, left and right. He's got any number of things to deal with. And I think he's off to one heck of a start here. And it's understandable because the Republicans are all -- have a cacophony (ph) because they're not doing very well right now.

It's not...

KING: Mary...

MATALIN: It's not a -- it's not a cacophony (ph).

You know, John, can I just add to that?

We keep looking -- and all the pundits like to look at his top number, which is high, but as I said earlier, comparable to his predecessors. The danger spots for this president -- I'm just looking at all the polls, and they're 100 percent consistent on this. It's an 80 percent issue that people of all stripes, across the aisle, are concerned about the rapid and expansive growth of government that this president has ushered in.

That's not an old idea; it's not a stale idea; it's not Republican obstructionism. People just do not like how fast and how far this president has gone. That's an 80 percent issue.

So he's at -- he may be at 60 percent, but concerns over the things that he's done so far -- and that doesn't even include his foreign policy problems, you know -- he's got some undercurrents of issues, here, in this first 100 days. KING: Let me -- let me close on a lighter note, and that is, to James, you are a friend of now-Secretary of State Clinton. You were trying to help her retire her campaign debt when she was Senator Clinton...

(LAUGHTER)

... running against now-President Obama. And the Clinton campaign organization, trying to reduce its debt, has put out a letter offering people who contribute three potential prizes.

One is a day with former President Clinton in New York City. One is tickets to the "American Idol" season finale. And the third is, spend a weekend in Washington, D.C. with James Carville and Paul Begala.

(LAUGHTER)

Mary, you've got the checkbook there?

(LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: Oh, well, as you can see, I'd rather be here at Jazz Fest and the Zurich Classic and the Bubba Gump Run. And good luck in Washington with your crazy, loony lefties.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: I don't know.

MATALIN: That's a prize. What's the second prize, James?

CARVILLE: I always insist, the last two words, with Secretary of State Clinton and any conversation we have -- and they have always been, "Yes, ma'am."

(LAUGHTER)

So, whatever she wants, I'm delighted to do.

KING: James Carville and Mary Matalin, we are -- we are thrilled to have you back with us, together. We will see you again on "State of the Union" in the near future. Enjoy what looks like a beautiful morning, there in New Orleans.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Take care, guys. During President Obama's time in office, we've traveled to 17 different states to hear your concerns and opinions. A unique perspective on the first 100 days from people we've been lucky to meet all across the country, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We launched STATE OF THE UNION the weekend of the Obama inauguration, promising to chronicle the big issues here in Washington and also to come see how the debates affect you. Our first of 17 states in these 100 days was Ohio, where on a factory floor, we asked the man about to make history to assess the many challenges and the moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You took your family to the Lincoln Memorial.

OBAMA: Now, this is a good story. I love the Lincoln Memorial at night. We go and look at the Lincoln Second Inaugural, Sasha looks up and she says that's a long speech. Do you have to give one of those? I said, actually, that one's pretty short. Mine may even be longer. At which point, the Malia turns to me and says, first African American president. Better be good.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time, but know this, America, they will be met.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A hundred days, of course, is far too soon to judge whether this new president will get his way and whether his way will work. But in our travels to 17 states in those 100 days, from Vermont and New York in the Northeast to Nevada and Arizona out in the Southwest, a fascinating look through your eyes of the many challenges, the uncertainty, and right here early on in Peoria, Illinois, of the pain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): I don't want to be on unemployment. I have never been on unemployment before.

KING (voice-over): For John and Mary Beth Fagan (ph), a double whammy. Both worked at Caterpillar, both out of work effective Friday. Three children, two cars and a mortgage.

(UNKNOWN): If things really got that bad, I would probably volunteer to go back overseas, and that's pretty bad to say.

KING: You would volunteer to go to Iraq or Afghanistan?

(UNKNOWN): For my family, I would, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: One swift achievement in the first 100 days was passage of a $787 billion economic stimulus. The president signed it into law less than one month into his administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Just a few weeks later, a $75 billion administration plan to help millions of homeowners make their mortgage payments.

Another bold and controversial White House move, forcing the CEO of General Motors to step down as a condition for more government bailout money.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short-term, will mark not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry, an auto industry that is once more out-competing the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Speaking of the auto industry, we have visited a handful of states with auto plants over the past hundred days, including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and down here in Springhill, Tennessee, many union autoworkers told us they believe the president is overreaching.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): Yeah, we need help, but to say that the president tells a company's CEO that he has to leave, I just don't believe that should happen.

KING: Make no mistake, Brenda Carter says she loves President Obama, but her concerns, a proof of the risks Mr. Obama faces as he takes an aggressive role in the restructuring of GM and Chrysler. The Lansing Grand River assembly line. Modern, clean and efficient. These Cadillacs among GM's best-selling models. And yet, this plant is down from two shifts to one. New cars just aren't selling.

(UNKNOWN): It's scary times right now for a lot of people.

KING: To listen, to look around is to hear and see a way of life fading. Generous Motors was the nickname when Brad Fredline was growing up. Both grandfathers retired from GM. His father, too. (UNKNOWN): You graduated on a Friday and by Monday you were working at the factory, you knew you had a rock solid job for 30 years, you buy a little place up north and you retire. Those days are gone, I'm afraid.

(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is what's coming up this next hour of our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, April 26th, 2009.

Did the United States use torture to get information from suspected terrorists? The story is being covered by virtually every media outlet, but is it being done right? Howie Kurtz will grill a panel of top Washington journalists.

A pair of new movies with journalists as the stars. No problem. Just play ourselves, right? Wrong. Ahead, the real life newspaper man who helped turn Russell Crowe and Robert Downey Jr. into convincing reporters.

And as we continue CNN's special coverage of Barack Obama's first 100 days, we'll get real-world perspective from three former White House staffers who know just how tough things can get inside the Oval Office. That's all ahead this hour on STATE OF THE UNION.

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