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State of the Union: Insight & Analysis; Interview With Oscar Goodman

Aired April 26, 2009 - 11:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: And here's what's still to come in STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, April 26, 2009.

As of this morning, 81 people are feared to have died from a virulent strain of swine flu that is spreading from Mexico into the United States. We'll have the latest on this emerging threat, including a live press conference from the White House.

Almost 100 days ago, Barack Obama became president of the United States. Well, has he lived up to his promises?

We'll grade his performances with two former White House chiefs of staff and a senior adviser in the White House. Between them, we're talking decades of White House experience.

The City of Las Vegas is close to going bust. Unemployment skyrocketing, foreclosures at record highs. So, why isn't the stimulus money getting to cities where it's desperately need? It's enough to trouble even the happiest mayor in the universe, Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas. That's all ahead on this hour of STATE OF THE UNION.

Only days after President Obama decided to release two previously secret memos on the enhanced interrogation of terror suspects, the political controversy is still intensifying. Several top Democrats today said the White House could calm things if it would flatly rule out prosecuting former top Bush administration officials and just let a Senate investigation run its course.


FEINSTEIN: 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: Two key Middle East leaders also offered their perspectives as we approach the 100-day mark of the presidency. From Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is on record saying Israel should be wiped off the map, a startling answer to the question of whether he could support a two-state solution, a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.


MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT: I'm calling for the right for the Palestinians to determine their own fate. Nobody should interfere. Allow the Palestinian people to decide for themselves.


KING: And from a key U.S. ally in the region, upbeat talk about the improving U.S. image around the world, but also a question.


KING ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN: Today, there's a collective hope that there's a new America and a new America means new values for the world. What everybody believed America to stand for is what I think Obama encompasses, but how long is that goodwill going to last?


KING: As you can see, as always, we've been watching the other Sunday shows, so maybe you don't have to. Let's bring in three people who know what it's like to sit inside the Oval Office looking out. CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, who has been a senior adviser for presidents, Republicans and Democrat. John Podesta, he was the chief of staff for Democratic President Bill Clinton and Ken Duberstein, the chief of staff for Republican Ronald Reagan. Gentlemen, thanks for joining us as we approach the 100-day mark.

I want to start, a lot to talk about with this administration, but I want to start with the statement in the interview with George Stephanopoulos, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. He has said Israel should be wiped off the map, but he says if there is a peace deal, fine with him. Big deal?

PODESTA: Well, I'd like to think King Abdullah's right, which is that President Obama has reset the terms in the Middle East, but I think that with respect to President Ahmadinejad, maybe he's feeling some pressure as a result of this change of U.S. diplomacy, but like most things that he says, you know, I take that with pretty much a grain of salt.

KING: A trust deficit.

PODESTA: A trust deficit.

DUBERSTEIN: Absolutely. I think it looks like it's a good step in the right direction, perhaps a small step. Let's verify it. It's that old line, trust but verify. But does it sound good? It sounds like he's moving. And whether that is because of President Obama or changes in the Middle East, let's wait to see whether or not it's real. Let's verify it.

GERGEN: This fellow remains bipolar. It was only 10 days or so ago he was blasting Israel at an international conference and people walked out. I wouldn't put much in this. He really wants to show some bona fide, call off support for Hamas and Hezbollah, which have made it a lot more difficult to get peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians.

KING: Let's bring the conversation back home. Big item, Barack Obama's elected to deal with the economy. The big debate the past week has been the controversial decision to release these top-secret memos from the Bush administration days, detailing the terror tactics -- water boarding, slamming people into walls.

And part of the debate is you now have the former vice president saying that's only some of the memos. If you release all of the memos, you will see that in the some limited cases, yes, controversial, but that these tactics save lives. John Podesta, you've been involved in these situations, releasing classified information conversations. Now that some are out there, should all go out?

PODESTA: I have no problem with them taking a look at this and taking up Vice President Cheney's request to have these memos looked at. Maybe they should be released. I think the Senate Intelligence Committee is looking at them. The Senate Armed Services Committee just released more information. I think one of the things that also has to be looked at is the comments that Ali Soufan they made in last week's "New York Times," the FBI interrogator who actually interrogated using traditional technique, Abu Zubayda, and found that most of the information they claim to get from these enhanced techniques actually were gotten earlier using traditional techniques and without the tremendous cost to the United States in terms of its moral authority and reputation around the world.

KING: There is a policy debate here, Ken, about the interrogation tactics, about whether releasing these memos maybe undermines the future interrogations, but there is also a question about presidential power and releasing such a thing. And there are some who are arguing that he has undermined or weakened the presidency by putting out there these classified documents that are essentially internal debates about what we can and cannot do.

DUBERSTEIN: If you go down this path, which is to start selectively releasing documents, to me, you have to be fully transparent and release them all. You can't just release whichever ones you want to. I don't think this is a question of presidential power or diminution of presidential power. I think it's much more about getting the story out. And if we're going to go down this path, let's do it with full transparency.

The problem is, the more we keep revisiting the past, the more we don't focus on the economy and the issues that are most important to the American people. That's what I think we should be, you know, focusing on. I think that's what the American people want, and I think that's what President Obama, at least initially indicated, although he sort of is starting to soften because of the liberal onslaught.

KING: Well, that's a key point, David. I want you in on this, then we'll move onto bigger 100 day issues. President of the United States, pretty disciplined guy. We learned that in the campaign. We're seeing that in the White House. He deals with a number of challenges, but there has been a mixed message on this in the sense that when he released the documents, he said we're looking forward, no rearview mirror. They don't think anyone should be prosecuted. Then the attorney general says I'll follow the law, if I see offenses, I'll go after them. And as Ken notes, there is pressure on the left to have a truth commission. Robert Gibbs, the press secretary today said let's let the Senate Intelligence committee finish its investigation, leave it up on Capitol Hill in the quiet, mostly classified hearings of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Are they trying to put the genie back in the bottle?

GERGEN: They're trying, and John Podesta may have more to add to this. I think he's possibly going to be making some news today on this issue. But let me just say this, John, there were four big steps the president's taking, and on three of them in my opinion he's gotten right. The first thing he did was change policies quickly upon taking office, really critical. Secondly, I thought it was wise to put out the memo. You need to clear the air so that you really do change the policies in a firm way.

Thirdly, the decision not to prosecute people who carried these things out at the CIA, I thought all of that was right. It seems to me he's been waffling on the fourth issue of sort of where we go from here. I would be in favor of full disclosure of all the memos, as John Podesta said and by the way stop selectively leaking in a way that smears Congresswoman Jane Harman. I think these kind of selective leaks are unfair to people and unfair to the way -- But I also feel we should not be engaged in the prosecution and the effort to possibly impeach people who have served in the past.

KING: Well, you bring the world impeached. Let me jump in on that point, because impeaching, if you're a federal official, that is prosecuting. That is the equivalent of prosecuting. And John Podesta, this is a letter with your signature attached to it to John Conyers, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, saying you know what, there's one guy, he is a federal judge, Jay Bybee, he was involved in writing these documents in the justice department in the Bush administration.

PODESTA: Signed the August 1st memo.

KING: And you say, signed the August 1st memo, and you say if the administration doesn't act or if he does not resign voluntarily, that the Congress should impeach him. You were the chairman of the president's transition. President Obama says let's look forward, not back. You want to ...

PODESTA: Look, the one thing I disagree with you and David about is I do think there is a distinction between going back and prosecuting in the criminal courts the actors who were involved in these memos and letting Judge Bybee continue to sit on a court one step removed from the Supreme Court. He's acting and listening to cases and making judgments of others, and we know that he authorized things that were illegal under U.S. law and violated the U.S. obligations under international treaties, and you know, I think that if he would do the right thing, he should just simply resign. But if he doesn't, I think this is one matter where he continues to sit. He doesn't have the moral or legal authority to continue to do that. And I think a simple matter would be to remove him from office.

KING: We need to move on and get into the break. I assume your friends at the White House don't agree with you on this?

PODESTA: You'll have to ask them, but I suspect they don't.

KING: Quickly before we go to break, good idea or bad idea to try to impeach a federal judge?

DUBERSTEIN: Not on this case. GERGEN: Not on this case. And we've had Supreme Court justices that were members of the KKK. We didn't go around and impeach them when we found out about it.

KING: We'll continue our coverage ...

PODESTA: We knew that before they were confirmed to the court.

KING: Much more to talk about with our distinguished panel here, including Barack Obama at the 100-day mark. We've been talking about terror. We'll take a much broader look when we come back.

We're also going to put you on the spot. What grade would you give the president for his first 100 days? We'll be right back.



GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: It was Obama that got elected. His team put this stimulus package together. So let's support it and not be political about this whole thing.


KING: You might call him the post-partisan governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. We're back with our panel, former presidential adviser David Gergen, and two former White House chiefs of staff, Ken Duberstein and John Podesta.

I want to put up some numbers for our viewers to see, because Arnold Schwarzenegger there says, you know, let's not be political, let's get over it. But even though Barack Obama promised to change the way Washington works, to get across the partisan divide, if you look at the numbers at the 100-day mark, high approval ratings, you can't argue with that from the White House perspective.

But take a look at this here, the disapproval ratings of this president as well as the previous two, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. All presidents get a bit of a honeymoon period, but if you look at the last three presidents, John Podesta, you served one of those presidents, why is that almost right off the bat close to a third of the country is against you?

PODESTA: Well, the country has been in a partisan period, I think, that started in the '90s and has lasted through the Bush administration and into the Obama administration.

KING: And he has not been able to heal it?

PODESTA: Well, President Obama, I think, has done what he can do to try to heal it. He has reached out. The first meeting he had, rather than meeting with a bipartisan congressional leadership, was to meet with the bipartisan governors and maybe Governor Schwarzenegger reflects the fact that people who are really dealing with people's real problems, the governors of this nation. I think he has gotten some support from Republicans as well as Democrats.

KING: Well, some support from Republicans. There's a guy in the middle here, is a Republican, was Ronald Reagan's chief of staff. And yet, you came out in the last election after your friend, Colin Powell, General Powell, Secretary Powell, and said, you said you know what, I'm going to support this guy, I'm going to vote for Barack Obama. Disappointed? What kind of a grade does he get from Ken Duberstein?

DUBERSTEIN: It's very simple. We like to like our presidents. Barack Obama has come across as eminently likable, the whole family. But again, this is only 100 days, and it's not a very good judge -- a period to judge.

We're in the "Mary Poppins" period of a presidency, where everything is easy and sweet, even with the poll numbers being what they are. But there is a caution here. President Obama is at 67 percent. Reagan was at 68 or 69 percent. Jimmy Carter was at 64 percent. A year later, Reagan and Carter were both at 40 percent, in the 40s.

And so, we go from a period of intense love, of getting accustomed, the "Mary Poppins" moment, the honeymoon, to reality setting in. We're now in this period, we're entering this period where all the hard choices are going to end.

All the easy stuff, the low-hanging fruit has been done. And now we're going to have to be the moments of trade-offs, whether it's on health care, whether it's on the economy, whether it's on energy and the environment.

This is where the real testing of Barack Obama is going to come.

KING: And all those things, David, require goodwill and tough votes. And every administration goes through this. This guy, Obama, came out of the legislative branch. So I think a lot of people in Congress thought he would pick up the phone more often and consult them.

You know the criticism of George W. Bush was, you know, he had Republicans in charge of Congress, my way or the highway, they just told them what to do, didn't consult them. So I asked senators Feinstein and Lieberman, a Democrat and a Democrat-turned-independent earlier today, did he reach out at all during this anguishing decision about whether to make those terror memos public? Did he ever pick up and ask you? Let's listen.


KING: Anybody at the White House pick up the phone and say, what do you think?

LIEBERMAN: They did not.

KING: Did they pick up the phone and call you?

FEINSTEIN: No, they did not.


KING: What are we learning about our president when it comes to things like that?

GERGEN: Well, I'm surprised by that. I thought he was having more people down to the White House. He has had regular conversations. Maybe he's not a phone guy, you know. Some -- President Reagan didn't make many phone calls, either, but he had people into the White House a lot.

DUBERSTEIN: Yes, he did.


DUBERSTEIN: You're right. But not to the press.


GERGEN: I'm surprised by that. I do disagree with Ken -- my friend Ken about this has been the easy part. I mean, Barack Obama has been wrestling with some of the toughest problems any president has inherited, practically since the day he was elected.

I mean, we call this the 100-day mark, but, you know, he has been sort of been sort of like our semi-president on domestic affairs since early November. It has been about five or six months now.

And I think he has had to make some very tough calls. Yes, he has had supportive Congress among the Democrats, but he has had to make some very, very tough calls on the economic situation.

And what's interesting, I think he has impressed most of the country, certainly impressed me in terms of his talent. And I think he's very likable, but I think it's incomplete to know whether he made the right calls. That's the hard part.

KING: You all know firsthand, sometimes in painful and difficult ways, presidents don't get to pick their challenges. He came to Washington to deal with the economy. He has Iraq, he has Afghanistan, he has Pakistan, he has this swine flu.

What's the biggest surprise, John Podesta? You worked very closely with him during the transition. So you should have had the plan as to what was coming. What's the biggest surprise for you so far?

PODESTA: Well, I think he's actually executing the strategy that he laid out both in the campaign and during that period of transition, on energy, on health care, on the financial markets.

I think probably what no one really could quite anticipate was how rapidly the economy deteriorated and how much the Geithner and Larry Summers and the other members of the economic team have to really build a program in support of trying to keep the financial system stabilized.

And I think that they've done -- you know, again, I actually agree with David. They've made choices. I think they're the right choices. But time will tell. But with respect to actually executing (INAUDIBLE) his program, I think he has been disciplined and focused and he has opened up I think that -- maybe this is also surprising, he has opened up virtually every issue that needs to be attended to internationally just with a couple of trips and this interchange both at the G-20, the NATO Summit, now with the Summit of the Americas.

We're engaged everywhere in the world, from Afghanistan to Cuba.

GERGEN: John, he's also -- it's interesting -- both Johns -- he's very strategic. Just as he ran his campaign in a very strategic way and spent a lot of time worrying about the execution, I don't think we've seen as strategic a president since Ronald Reagan took office, where someone who came in with a set of goals and here's where we're going to go and just keeps pounding away at it.

DUBERSTEIN: Yes, but let me come back for a minute to the easy moments. He promised during the campaign that he would close Guantanamo. He did it. He promised that he would change stem cell research policy, he did it. He said he would get a national service bill. He did it.

We're now in the period -- entering the period where he's going to have to make an awful lot of tradeoffs.

DUBERSTEIN: What has surprised me in these initial months, even being a veteran of Washington as all three of us are, is the difficulty he has had with getting people confirmed -- nominated and confirmed.

And all of these cabinet officers who are home alone, when you have a compliant Congress, a Senate which you by and large control with 58 votes, you can't get more people confirmed. And that is a danger unless he starts filling them and getting them done quickly.

KING: I wish we had more time. We will call it quits for there, but during the second hundred days, we'll bring back these fresh young faces in Washington with their young perspective.


KING: And straight ahead, we'll go around the globe to hear what leaders have to say about the president's first 100 days.

And later, we'll talk to Pete Souza, you won't want to miss this, the White House photographer who caught this smile. We'll reveal more never-before-seen photos right here later on STATE OF THE UNION.





BLAIR: ... of activism, of energy, of determination, of commitment, and certainly, from the perspective of people on the other side of the water over in Europe, I think there's a great deal of hope and expectation.

Now, the challenges are really tough. I think this period of activism that some people criticize, I don't think there's any option. I mean, the fact is, the world is out there with these challenges, and in order to overcome them, we have to make major change.

So, you know, I wouldn't presume to give him any advice on what he's doing right and what he's doing wrong, but I think the sense of energy and vitality is something that people welcome and want to respond to.


KING: The former British prime minister, Tony Blair, right there grading President Obama on 100 days in office. That's from afar, around the world. Now let's listen to some voices a bit closer to home.

I went down here to the state of Georgia. One person we wanted to ask, well, what do you think of the first 100 days? Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: ... whether he really wants to try to run America from the left or the big government health plan, and a big government spending plan, and a big government control of the economy, or whether he wants to move back to the center and try to find more practical ways to get things done.

I think there's no evidence right now that I know of from any Republican of any outreach by the White House to have a serious bipartisanship. And at some point, that will become a real problem for him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The former Republican speaker there. Let's get a very different view, though, from David Paterson. He is not only a Democrat, but he is the first African-American governor of the state of New York.


GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: I think that we have not seen a president make an impact on a country since President Franklin Roosevelt took office on May 4th, 1933. That was when the president took office, on March 4th, 1933.

And what President Roosevelt accomplished is what President Obama has emulated. He was working on his stimulus package during the transition period. So he hit the ground running. And you would say that his stimulus policy has very much like the Works Progress Administration.

He's trying to put America back to work.


KING: Some perspective there from the voices of the powerful. But as you know, one of my favorite parts of this program is not just listening to them, but listening to you. So, this week, we were out in Las Vegas. We went to Jan's Restaurant (ph). It's a wonderful diner, and one of the questions we put over some breakfast was, rate the first 100 days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING: It's only a few months, but it's an early point at which people say, all right, let's look, what are we seeing in 100 days? So you wanted change. Are you getting it?

RONNI KLEIN, LAS VEGAS: I see them bailing out these big companies, but the everyday people still are losing their jobs, still are losing their houses, and still don't have any money. And the money is not circulating because people are afraid to spend what they do have.

So, are we having change? I don't know.

KING: You didn't vote for him, but do you see change in the first 100 days, any change for the better, in your view?

ROB ISLER, LAS VEGAS: Well, you know, it's probably too soon to tell. I mean, anything financially usually does happen over the course of at least six months to a couple of years.

I think this is a great thing that has happened, because it will show America, all of the people that voted for Barack Obama, and that in my opinion did so off of emotional reasons and trendy reasons and fad reasons, wanting to be part of history and it's a novelty and so forth, I think they're going to very quickly see that it was a big mistake, and as flashy and exciting as it all was, it's really a bad choice.

KING: Do you see -- do you agree with him or you're not so sure, like her? Do you see any change for the better?

VIRGINIA KAPLAN, LAS VEGAS: I haven't seen any change. I'm unemployed for the first time in 50 years. My community that I live in, in Las Vegas, one of the largest master planned communities, just filed for Chapter 11.

We have a lot of unanswered questions. We don't know how it's going to affect the homeowners, how it's going to affect me financially. I haven't seen any change for the positive. Any of the bailout money certainly hasn't helped me any.

KING: He has been trying to do quite a bit. He put his budget out there. He continued and modified the bailout plan started in the Bush administration. He's talking about whether to bail out the car industries. Wants to do health care, wants to do climate change.

Whether you agree or disagree with that list and the many other things he wants to do, have you ever seen anybody try to do so much so fast in your lifetime?

KLEIN: No, I haven't. He's just running so fast. I don't know that he has time to think everything through, because he's changing -- he's trying to push everything through. I mean, we've been trying to change health care in this country for how long? Forever.

KING: Does the pace of it worry you at all? ISLER: I'm sure he feels a lot of pressure, and he knows that everything he does is going to be heavily looked at in the history books. And he's probably trying to do a little overachieving.

KAPLAN: I think he's moving too fast. Too many directions at one time, not spending enough time on one item. Just moving too fast.

KING: Very basic question, do you feel more safe, less safe, or about the same with Barack Obama as president as compared to George W. Bush?

KLEIN: Oh, I don't know. I haven't felt safe in a long time. I haven't felt safe since 9/11.

KAPLAN: I lost a nephew September 11th, lots of friends from New Jersey, lots of students from my late husband. I do not feel safe at all, and I'm so afraid.

KING: Less safe -- you say not safe at all, but is that the same if I were here and George W. Bush was still president?

KAPLAN: I really don't care who would be president. I just don't feel enough is going into our security. Maybe some of the bailout money should go to the military, the CIA, the FBI, to secure this country for what we have now before another attack opens.

ISLER: I get the feeling the guy is very intelligent, good speaker, but that he is really just kind of secretly doing this behind his back and keeping a straight face and thinking, oh, are they on to me yet? I don't know what I'm doing, but we'll try this.


KING: Interesting conversation and great french toast at Jan's Restaurant (ph) in Vegas. We thank them.

Now, of course, inside the Obama administration, ask them how their boss is doing, and you can expect they would give him a pretty good grade. But we wanted to put the question to them anyway, so we reached out to one of the president's top advisers and say, it's 100 days, grade the boss.


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: Obviously, if I were grading, I would give a very high grade. But the American people are the ones who grade. We don't get to grade our own papers. We'll let the American people make the -- do the grading.


KING: Now it's your turn to take that challenge from senior Obama adviser David Axelrod. This Wednesday night I'll join Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, and the best political team on television for a CNN prime time event, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, our "NATIONAL REPORT CARD," your chance to grade the president and the Congress on the job they've done so far.

In the middle of it, at 8:00, Barack Obama, the president of the United States will address the nation in a live prime time news conference.

Up next, Ali Velshi will wrap up the president's handling of the economy in the first 100 days. Don't go anywhere, STATE OF THE UNION will be right back.


KING: A year ago, many people would have predicted that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be the pressing issues facing the new president. That was before, though, the historic collapse of the global economy. So, how has President Obama fared so far, dealing with this unexpected fiscal crisis in the first 100 days? Let's turn to CNN's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi.


ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, there may be some places where you can use the first 100 days to judge the success of an administration, or at least the initial success. It's little bit tough on the economic front when we are using economic indicators, largely because of the type of trends that we have to see. Some of the things that we've seen may not measure well according to just 100 days. But let's take a look at things that this administration has done since taking office. Obviously, the biggest one, it was the one we were all talking about before the Inauguration, was the stimulus bill, a $787 billion stimulus bill, which is meant to try and kick-start this economy. We'll talk in a moment about whether or not it has worked and how much of that is actually at work.

A $75 billion mortgage refinance and modification plan that's meant to help some people who are a little bit under water and want to take advantage of the current low mortgage rates, and for those who are a lot more under water and at risk of losing their home. That's under way now.

In fact, only in the last week or so have we started to see those letters going out to people to modify or refinance their loans.

And a budget for the year -- the 2010 calendar year, which starts in October, that's obviously something an administration always has to bring in, but those are record numbers, a $3.6 trillion budget.

Now how do you evaluate what this administration has done and how it's working out for the economy? Well, let's look at those areas that are easier to measure: job losses, home foreclosures, and consumer spending.

And the biggest one, the most important one, is job losses. So, let's take a look. Since this administration took office, the unemployment rate in February hit 8.1 percent, and then in March hit 8.5 percent. There have been 1.3 million jobs lost in February and March, but that's hard to sort of ascribe to this administration, because there have been more than 5 million jobs lost since the beginning of this recession, and it has been accelerating.

So, whether or not you want to ascribe that to this administration, unemployment has become a more serious concern since this president took office.

Now let's look at foreclosure filings since the Obama administration was sworn in. They were up 6 percent in February and then up 17 percent in March. Now, part of this -- the second number has to do with the fact that when the Obama administration took office and there was talk of a housing plan, a lot of banks suspended foreclosures until they knew the details.

Now that those details are out, foreclosures are starting again and we might actually see another very large wave of foreclosures.

And then let's take a look at the third measure that we want to talk about, and that is consumer spending. This is an economy more than any other economy in the world that is dependent upon the sentiment and spending power of its consumers.

We actually saw a meager uptick in spending in February. Maybe people were feeling a little bit more optimistic about the economy, but we did see that fall back down in March, dropping by 1.1 percent.

So, again, we can't really make trends out of things that are just a month or two long, but that's the picture.

The economy, certainly, is not better than it was when the Obama administration took office, but those are some of the measures that we use to at least judge what the first 100 days looks like economically -- John.


KING: Ali Velshi there for us. Ali, thank you.

And joining me here in Washington are three of the best political team on television, senior political analyst Gloria Borger, White House correspondent Dan Lothian, and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Let's turn back to this debate dominating the lead-up to the 100 days, which is the whole controversy the president himself set off when he decided to release these Bush administration terror memos detailing the interrogation tactics at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

The president -- the White House seems today to be saying, let's stop talking about prosecutions. Let's let the Senate Intelligence Committee do its work and then we'll see what happens next.

But as you all know, there is a great deal of pressure from the left in the Democratic Party. They want some sort of an independent commission, like the 9/11 commission, some call it a truth commission, to explore the facts, see if anybody from the Bush administration should be prosecuted.

Among them, a very powerful Democrat in the Senate, Pat Leahy. Let's listen.


SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-VT), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Why not have a non-partisan or bipartisan commission do it, like we did in 9/11? And just go back and find everything that happened. I know some people say, let's turn the page. Frankly, I'd like to read the page before we turn it.


KING: Dan Lothian, at the White House, why do they think a commission like this is a bad idea?

LOTHIAN: Well, they aren't saying it's necessarily a bad idea to have a commission, but what they're saying is that the president is at least, you know, leaving the door open for such a commission.

They think a bipartisan commission would be something that would be good. You get both sides to sit down, investigate it, and that's where the White House is coming from.

But, you know, what's interesting is that the president came out, sort of alluded to the fact that there should be this commission, but then the White House was sort of back-pedaling from that.

You heard Robert Gibbs time and time again this week when he was hammered, saying, well, isn't this something that the president would be endorsing? And he said, well, no, this was sort of a hypothetical situation that the president was putting out there.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you guys have all covered the White House. You know what sometimes happens when a decision is made and the White House chief of staff goes out on television and dutifully says, no, we don't want to look backward.

The president gets asked a question off the cuff and he freelances. Presidents do that once in a while. And then what happens? Well, the president is, of course, right.

BORGER: So, then you have to back-pedal and figure out a way to explain it within the confines of what you've already said, which is why they're doing somersaults over this.


BORGER: This is very, very difficult.


LOTHIAN: ... pretzel.

BORGER: They are. They are. And so, they understand, the problem is, how can you possibly prosecute any of this, anyway?

How can you prosecute people for giving bad legal advice?

The courts would be full.


You cannot do that. And they understand that. So they're throwing it over to the attorney general, which is...

KING: There's no shortage of lawyers in Washington. You just said...


They're going to be lining up outside to get you.

BORGER: Right.

KING: But the idea that you have a Democratic chairman -- and Dan's right. (inaudible)

The president, at one point, said, well, maybe. And then everyone at the White House, I'm told, was like, uh-oh...


... and they're trying to put the genie back in the bottle, because they don't want to go down this path.

But when you have a chairman of the committee -- this is not some back-bencher -- saying, well, let's have a commission, they're not -- they are willing to stand up to the White House on this and say, you know what, we don't have to listen to you.

BASH: They are, but they're not going to be able to do it because it's not just Patrick Leahy. It's also the speaker of the House.

I mean, what this has done is this has illustrated a pretty big divide in the Democratic Party. You have people like Patrick Leahy, like the House speaker, who say that they do think it's important to have an independent truth commission.

And then you have Harry Reid, who, basically an hour before the House speaker said that this past week, said that, you know, he thinks it's a bad idea, that you should just go ahead and have the Intelligence Committee continue to look into this.

The president basically was the decider on this.


He said that the truth commission was the wrong way to go. And the bottom line is that what you see is these people reflecting the left of the party and the fact that there is a split between the left, who say, you know, we can't turn the page; we have to continue to look back, and people who are worried about looking back and losing their grip on the agenda of the Obama administration.

BORGER: You know, the left does want some degree of punishment, here, for what occurred, but this does open a whole Pandora's box, and the question of what did the Democrats know and when did they know it?

You know, they're on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The House speaker says that she didn't know that waterboarding was being used, et cetera. But if you go down that path, it can be dangerous for both parties.

And of course, the big question out there is, did this work? We don't know.

LOTHIAN: And the bottom line is that the White House is using these buzz words, saying, no matter what, we don't want to look backwards; we want to look forward. And every time this issue comes up, time and time again, they'll say, you know, this is where it is; we don't want to look back; we want to move forward with this.

BASH: And one thing to just quickly button up is that Patrick Leahy, because he does have power; he is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- I asked him, point blank, if you don't get this commission, will you go ahead and hold hearings on your own?

And he said, without missing a beat, "Yes." So we are going to likely see... (CROSSTALK)

KING: Yes, although the chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee was here today, asking, could you please just let us do this; we need a few more months; we're the ones with the clearance; we're the ones who deal with the most sensitive stuff.

You don't think -- they're not going to heed her advice?

BASH: Well, if you believe Patrick Leahy, he doesn't want to heed her advice. He wants to hold hearings. He wants to look into this, alongside of the intelligence chairman.

Look, you know, there are lots of different ideas, with 100 senators up on Capitol Hill. And, you know, when you have different people holding different gavels with different ideas, sometimes the leader -- even the president can't control them.

KING: Everybody stay right here. Much more to discuss. A spirited conversation there. And John Podesta just threw the idea of impeaching a judge into the mix as well. A lot more to talk about when we come back.

And we know you have a lot to say as well. So give us your grades for the president and the Congress. Go to Click on the "First 100 Days" link, and then watch on Wednesday, at 7 p.m., for the national report card, only here on CNN.



FMR. G.E. CHAIRMAN JACK WELCH: He's done the vision thing. He's a great communicator. And he's got a team-building skill that is really working. So, from a leadership standpoint, I wish he were pushing policies that I liked more, but in the end, I give him an A for leadership.


KING: The former G.E. chairman, Jack Welch, there, rating Barack Obama, President Obama, the first 100 days. We're back with CNN's Gloria Borger, Dan Lothian and Dana Bash.

Jack Welch, there, talking about his leadership skills. One of the things we're still learning is how this president operates and how he manages the different coalitions necessary to do other things.

I had an interesting conversation, over at the White House, with a senior official the other day, who said you know, we were all making calls on the budget today, and the president was making some calls to Blue Dog Democrats, conservative Democrats who are worried a bit about all the spending in the stimulus plan and the financial bailouts, the auto bailouts.

And the president was on the phone with one of the Blue Dog Democrats, saying, what can I do to calm you guys down, to help you out some, too?

And he was told, talk more about PayGo, meaning having budgeting where you pay for things; you raise the money to pay for them as you go along. So they rip up the planned radio address for this week, and it says this.


OBAMA: That's why I'm calling for Congress to pass PayGo legislation, like a bill that will be introduced by Congressman Baron Hill, so that government acts the same way any responsible family does in setting its budget.


KING: I should note that, in the Obama administration, the radio address is also a YouTube video address.


So it's the new generation.

But, Dan Lothian, as they go along, on the surface, they're doing great, high approval ratings; they've passed the things they've wanted to pass so far.

But there are some bubbling of concerns, especially among these conservative Democrats. And what does this tell us about the president?

LOTHIAN: Well, I mean, it certainly shows that the president has a lot of work cut out for him and that it's going to be difficult for him in trying to bring all the sides of his party today together.

But I was talking to an administration official last night, and he pointed this out to me. He said what's different about this president is that, while he's smart and in his heart he believes where he wants to go, he is willing to listen, and he will listen to both sides, and hasn't made up his mind before, and then will make up his mind based on the information he gets.

And he says that's what makes him stand out. There are other presidents who are smart and will listen but have already made up their minds. This is a president who will listen to both sides and then make up his mind based on what he has heard.

BASH: You know, but what's really interesting about that is that he certainly will listen and he will, you know, rip up a radio address, just like you just illustrated, but the bottom line is that, when you're talking about the actual substance of what he's talking about -- for example, PayGo, it's not happening right now.

And, you know, 100 days in, these conservative Democrats who are getting earfuls from their conservative constituents back home are giving the president a little time. BASH: They are giving him a pass right now. But I think if we're talking 100 days or 200 days from now and things haven't changed specifically on the idea of fiscal conservativism, I think some of those conservative Democrats are going to stop giving him a pass and going to say, OK, show me the money.

BORGER: If you look at the polls, President Obama is much more popular than some of his programs. One areas that gives the public a lot of concern is the deficit spending obviously. They put this in their radio address because A, they need those conservative Democrats but B, they also understand having passed a $787 billion stimulus package, you have to let the American public know that there is some end to the spending and their hope is this gives them an opening on curbing entitlement spending, on areas such as Social Security that one day they might get kind of a 9/11 commission if you will together on Social Security.

KING: With so much to be decided in the second 100 days that's so consequential, health care, climate change, energy policy, the budget and also some overseas issues, it was struck this morning, Senator Joe Lieberman among our guests, remember, he supported John McCain and disagreed with President Obama, then candidate Obama about his plan to end the war in Iraq, but now he's on board with the president although as he watches the increase in violence in recent days and some evidence the Iraqi government is being slower than the United States thinks it needs to be on political reconciliation, you sense from Joe Lieberman a bit of a concern. Let's listen.


LIEBERMAN: I'm so grateful that President Obama did not yield to the calls for a precipitous rapid withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. He has got us on a timeline, based on conditions on the ground and what's happening now is all that we have sacrificed so much and worked so hard to gain, is not quite set.


KING: It's that last part, Dana Bash, not quite set. What happens, what happens if President Obama has to go back to Capitol Hill and the American people and say, you know what, this is going to take a little longer?

BASH: The Republican are going to say, hip, hip hooray, he is doing what we hoped he would do. He would watch the conditions on the ground and just not have an arbitrary timeline, but that will pose a big problem for President Obama with his Democratic Party, many of whom, are already not happy that he didn't really stick to what his original promise was, to have an accelerated timeline to pulling it out.

You know what, if the past 100 day history is to be believed, he is going to pay attention to the conditions on the ground and listen to his generals.

LOTHIAN: But, clearly, that is a concern now because in the last weekend we've seen violence rise in Iraq. What you're seeing from the administration a reassurance to the Iraqi people, you saw that from Secretary of State Clinton, telling them we're not going to abandon you. Because that's a big concern. Everyone is saying, yes, violence has, you know, gone down in Iraq, but if you look at the last few days, i mean, a spike and that brought a lot ...

BORGER: But they still say nothing we are seeing that would get us off track. At this point.

KING: We have to call a break there. Gloria Borger, Dana Bash, Dan Lothian, thank you very much.

And up next, we talked to a lot of mayors in our travels across the country asking how their cities are holding up in the recession. How does the man who calls himself the happiest man in the universe grade the president? We head to the bright lights of Las Vegas when we come back.


KING: Within the 17 states in our 100 days here on STATE OF THE UNION we talked to a half dozen mayors and one of them uses this poker chip as his calling card. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. He has been elected three times. He has been mayor for 10 years now. Says he likes this president and likes a lot of what he's doing but he's upset by a comment Mr. Obama made only days after his inauguration.


OBAMA: We're going to do something to strength on the banking system, but you're not going to give out these big bonuses until you pay taxpayers back. You can't get corporate jets and you can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime.

MAYOR OSCAR GOODMAN, LAS VEGAS: We're going to sell ourselves as being a place where people can have a good time and enjoy themselves, notwithstanding the president's comment, which I think was ill- advised, euphemistically.

KING: Did the president hurt your city?

GOODMAN: From January until March, we lost, I think, 341 meetings that were scheduled here. I think some of that wasn't based on what the president said, but it was on the assumption that Las Vegas represents excess and if you're getting bailout money and you're being watched, you shouldn't come here. I think that's foolish.

KING: Why haven't you talked to him or why hasn't he talked to you if this is a big deal for your city?

GOODMAN: I wrote him a letter, and when people write me a letter I respond, I think that is good manners. He has not responded.

KING: He hasn't responded to your letter?

GOODMAN: No, he hasn't.

KING: Does that strike you as a little odd as a guy who rounds up votes?

GOODMAN: Let's put it this way. I don't think it's nice. I think when somebody writes a serious letter, which mine was, it was on behalf of the Convention Authority, on behalf of my city, my constituents and on behalf of this community, I would expect a reply.

KING: And what about the other part of the equation? Stimulus money. You're getting some stimulus money. Is that doing anything to create a job?

GOODMAN: So far, I haven't seen any stimulus money, I'm told we are going to get it and probably help us with our transportation and I know that there's an effort to get green-type businesses and green buildings going here. It would be helpful but we need it right now. What we have to do, we have to create jobs so that folks will be able to pay their mortgages and not lose their homes and be able to feed their families.

KING: That was passed with all this great urgency. Need to do it immediately to get the money in the pipeline and the Senate majority leader from this state, you would think if the money was available, you would have seen it by now.

GOODMAN: You would hope so, but right now I don't think we've received any dollars at this moment.

KING: So then as we hit the 100-day mark where some people say it's a chance to reflect and say, how are we doing so far?

GOODMAN: I have to say this. You have got to give credit where it's due and I think that the president has been very aggressive in the programs that he's suggesting, I think he's certainly not a paper cutter-type resident. He's doing things outside the mold. I think that's good. I think we have to try new ways to make this a better world and make the United States come back as the real super power that it once was.

So he does things that are a little out of the box. I commend him for that. You asked me a question about getting the money, I would like to get that a lot faster than we're getting it.


KING: Oscar Goodman of Las Vegas. The only mayor I ever met with a liquor cabinet in his office.

This is our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, April 26th.