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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

The Last Word: Interview With Joe Sestak

Aired May 3, 2009 - 12:00   ET

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


KING: And we'd like now to welcome back our international viewers to our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, May 3rd.

After just three months in office, President Obama gets a rare gift, a vacancy on the nation's highest court.

But with opportunity comes pressure, from within his own party and from worried conservatives. The Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, and Republican Senator Richard Shelby right here to talk about the legal and political stakes.

Senator Arlen Specter's decision to switch parties is the latest blow to the Republicans, but leaders of a new outreach effort say better days for the GOP are closer than you might think. We'll ask former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and House Republican Whip Eric Cantor about rebuilding the Republican brand and the lessons they're learning from the Democrat in the White House.

And he's considering taking on the presumed favorite, Arlen Specter, in next year's Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary, Congressman Joe Sestak gets the "Last Word." That's all ahead in this hour of STATE OF THE UNION.

Justice David Souter's decision to retire gives President Obama and his first chance and an early chance to put his stamp on the Supreme Court. The president says his selection team will quickly get to work. So, too, though, are all of the competing political voices.

There are competing pressures from White House allies to pick a woman, a Latino, an African-American. And conservatives are gearing up, too, watching the White House and warning their allies not to shy away from a spirited confirmation battle.

We discuss both the legal issues and the political pressures with the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Patrick Leahy, and Republican Senator Richard Shelby.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Chairman Leahy, I'd like to begin the conversation with you, as the Democrat, the chairman of the committee that will consider the president's nominee, after eight years of George W. Bush, what are you looking for, sir?

There are some who say name a middle-of-the-road, a pragmatist, a coalition-builder, but there are others on the left who say, no, we need intellectual firepower to go up against Justice Scalia, to go up against Justice Alito. What would you like, sir?

LEAHY: Well, I've talked with President Obama about this and I'm going to be meeting with him this week. I've also encouraged him to meet with both the Republican and Democratic leadership on this issue.

But you know what I think about -- as you walk into the Supreme Court, over the doorway there's a big piece of Vermont marble and on it is carved "Equal Justice Under Law." I want, first and foremost, somebody who believes in equal justice under law.

That's equal justice for all, whether they're liberals or conservatives, Democrats, Republicans or whatever. And I think that's what he's going to look for.

Remember the president was a constitutional law professor. He understands the court probably better than certainly any president in my lifetime. And I know some of the names he's thinking of. They're all going to be extremely good people.

I don't want to see an ideologue. I've said before I don't like to see an ideologue of either the right or the left, and I don't think we're going to have one.

KING: Well, Senator Shelby, I want you to explain how this standard applies to you, because I'm holding up a pocket version of the Constitution here. There are some who say any president, when given this rare opportunity, should read this and what a judge should do is read this, and the constructionist would say, do no more, do no less than the founders intended.

But, Senator Shelby, President Obama has laid out some of his thoughts on this choice and here's something what he said back in 2007 to Planned Parenthood: "We need someone who has got the heart, the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom, the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old, and that's the criteria by which I will be selecting my judges."

Is that the right criteria, Senator Shelby?

SHELBY: Well, I think that's part of it. But that's not all of the criteria. I think the criteria should be to follow the law, not to make the law, to fall the Constitution, to try to stay within a lot of norms.

I have no illusions about President Obama appointing a conservative like Alito or Roberts or so forth, but if he will appoint a pragmatist, someone who is not an ideologue, that someone who is not just going to light all the light bulbs in America on the left, I think that would be good for the country. He's very smart, he's very careful, I hope he's going to be careful in this appointment.

KING: Could there be, Senator Shelby, a sense of payback brewing among Republicans in that Senator Obama, before he was President Obama, voted against both Bush nominees, voted against Judge Alito, voted against Chief Justice Roberts? And Senator Lindsey Graham, who is on the committee -- the Judiciary Committee, says this in The New York Times, he says: "President Obama should hope that Republican senators are fairer than he was when he was a senator."

SHELBY: Well, I'm not a payback-type guy. I think you have to keep moving. On the other hand, a lot of us were aware of then- Senator Obama's votes against Alito and I believe against Roberts and a lot of other Democrats..

But I think Obama has -- President Obama has got some strong cards to deal. I hope he makes a great choice for the court.

KING: Chairman Leahy, take me behind the curtain. You know, I'm getting e-mails and phone calls from African-American groups saying, first black president, he should pick an African-American. I'm getting phone calls and e-mails from Latino groups saying, he got our votes, he owes us. Women's groups say he owes us. What is it like? What kind of pressure are you facing and is he facing right now?

LEAHY: Well, John, I'm getting some of the same. You and I talked before we went on the air about the fact that Marcelle and I drove to Vermont on Friday, which is something we do about once a year instead of flying, and thought it would be a nice, quiet time. It was like a phone booth in that car all the way up with all of these different groups, everybody else calling about who should be there.

I want the president to pick somebody for all of the American people. In the past few years, the court -- many members of the court have seemed to be more and more isolated from real Americans, real people.

I would like to see somebody -- I'd like to see an appointment of somebody who has real life experiences, not just within a judicial monastery, but somebody who can reflect the feelings of real Americans.

KING: In the short time we have left, I want to switch to other subjects. Quickly, Senator Shelby, you're the ranking Republican on the Banking Committee, the administration in the week ahead will release the results of the so-called stress tests on America's banks.

Are we going it learn that more of our banks are in trouble of failing? And, Senator Shelby, do you believe more taxpayer money will be requested by the administration to help keep them afloat?

SHELBY: John, I don't know what we're totally going to learn come, I believe, it's Thursday from the stress test. But I think we're going to -- sooner or later we're going to learn a lot.

Some banks are going to come out of the stress test looking strong, others are going to need more capital and if they can access that capital privately, that's the best way. Will -- the banks that are lacking in capital and don't meet the tests, I think there will be a push to put more capital in them. That is not my way of doing business. I think we should let the ordinary course of events happen. When banks are insolvent they should close them whether they're large or small. KING: Senator Leahy, in The Boston Globe today, in an op-ed piece, you continue your effort to get what you call a commission of inquiry, to look back into the practices -- the detainee interrogation practices, what you call the torture committed during the Bush administration.

You write this about the Justice Department memos that President Obama has released so far. "These memoranda seem calculated to provide legal cover -- a legal free pass for these unlawful policies. The Justice Department was apparently being used to immunize government officials to conduct torture by defining it down and building in legal loopholes."

Essentially your case that the department that is built to uphold the law was helping people break the law is the case you make.

Senator Feinstein has said the Intelligence Committee will investigate this. The White House has said that is fine with them, leave it in the Intelligence Committee. Why isn't that good enough?

LEAHY: What I'm saying, instead of having four or five committees in the Senate, and four or five committees in the House do it, why not have one nonpartisan or bipartisan commission do it all at once, get all the answers, sort of like what we did after 9/11? We did the same thing after some of the savings and loan problems, things of that nature.

And have -- and have all of the answers just so that nobody is tempted to repeat this. Nobody is tempted to set up an idea that certain people in our government are above the law, that the law doesn't apply to everyone. And that's what I want.

But, if we don't have such a commission, then we will have the Intelligence Committee and we will have the Judiciary Committee, and we will have the Armed Services Committee and others each do pieces of it.

But that, in some ways, is like, you know, the committee of blindfolded people who try to describe an elephant each having just part of the elephant.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Interesting way to put it.

Senator Shelby, it was 15 years ago, it's hard for me to believe because I remember it like yesterday, you were a Democrat that switched over to the Republican Party. Arlen Specter left the Democratic Party to go to the Republican Party this last week.

Just want -- do you have any advice for Senator Specter? Just your thoughts on what it's like to be caucusing with one group on a Monday and the other guys on Tuesday.

SHELBY: Well, it's some good experience from the standpoint of serving in both caucuses. You have friends in both. Arlen Specter is a friend of mine. I differ with him on a lot of issues, but I wish him the best. I wish he hadn't left the caucus, but he did. Perhaps there is somebody over there, I don't know who he is, I know it won't be Leahy that could rejoin us and have equilibrium.

KING: Senator Shelby in New York. Chairman Leahy in Burlington, Vermont, this morning. Gentlemen, thank you, both.

SHELBY: Thank you, John.

LEAHY: Thank you. Good to be with you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Big losses in 2006 and 2008, and now, as you just heard, a big defection in 2009. Up next, two leaders of a new effort to rebuild the Republican image and to prove to voters the president is wrong to label the GOP the "party of no." Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the House Republican whip, Eric Cantor, in an exclusive conversation about what needs to change for their party to get back in the win column.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER GOV. JEB BUSH, R-FLA.: It's time for us to listen, first, to learn a little bit, to upgrade our message a little bit, to not be nostalgic about the past because, you know, things do ebb and flow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was former Florida governor Jeb Bush, brother of the former president; Jeb Bush, speaking yesterday at the first meeting of the National Council for a New America.

It's a new effort by some high-powered Republicans to repair the Republican brand.

We'll show you now -- we'll go to the wall to show you just how daunting a task it is -- partisan breakdowns, here, of the House, the Senate, and the governors around the country.

And let's play. And we begin with 1992. Look at this here, only 167 -- remember these numbers -- 167 in the House, 44 in the Senate, 20 at the state house level; the Democrats with big edges here.

But now we have the big Republican revolution of 1994, and look how dramatically this changed: 230 now, a majority in the House for the Republicans, a majority in the Senate, some gains at the state level.

But as we fast-forward now to George W. Bush's election in 2000, roughly parity. The Republican majority shrinks a little; exact parity in the Senate, 50/50. Republicans do, though, make big gains at the state house level, here, as George W. Bush wins. But here's where we are today, in 2009, a dramatic swing back for the Democrats, 257 to just 178 in the House; 57 -- that number is going to grow -- just 40 in the Senate. You have 28 Democratic governors, 22 Republican governors.

So, as you can see, for the Republicans, it's a daunting task. That's why "grim" -- "grim," the big word, the current outlook. That's where we began our conversation, "How do you deal with the grim outlook," with two of this group's new leaders, Governor Mitt Romney and Congressman Eric Cantor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: I just want to start with the basic question. And, Governor, to you first, why? Why is the Republican Party in trouble?

ROMNEY: Well, I don't know that the party is in trouble but we sure have had some setbacks. There's no question but that the last couple of election cycles were not good to us.

In some respects we were playing the same game in Washington that the other party was playing, which is spending too much money, creating a real question about the future of America's prosperity by virtue of that overspending. And I think as a result of that, people are saying, hey, we want to change.

KING: And when Governor Romney makes that point that Republicans in Washington got caught up in all of the spending, you're a Republican in the Washington, you're the number two in the House Republican leadership. Is it George W. Bush's fault or is it also Eric Cantor's fault?

CANTOR: Listen, John, I think there is a lot of blame to go around. And what we're trying to do here today is kick off a series of town hall forums so that we can get back to listening to the people.

KING: If you ask the American people about the president's economic approach, about two-thirds say they support it and they back him. Is that a communications problem on your part or is it that they support his policies?

CANTOR: You know, I think a large part is we don't know where those policies are going to end up. There is so much uncertainty right now. There are so many challenges economically to working families, to small businesses.

People can't get credit anymore. Their lines of credit are being cut. People are being laid off. Fifteen people a minute are losing their job in this country. So the economic realities on the ground are a lot different than maybe what a certain question in a poll may be asking.

ROMNEY: I think if you ask the American people, do you think it's a good idea for us to borrow $1.9 trillion more than we take in? Do you think that's a good idea? I think they would say no. I think if you ask the American people, do you think the president's plan, which would create a doubling in the multi-trillions of dollars of our national debt, do you think that's a good idea? Do you support that? I think they would say no.

So part of our job is communicating just exactly what it is the president is proposing and making sure they understand there is a better way with a brighter future.

KING: And as you try to learn about how to have a better platform and better communications in the next election, give me each of your assessment of the last one. Barack Obama won big in the suburbs. It used to be Republican territory. Won big in the suburbs. Took two-thirds of the Latino vote. Was that because voters were mad at George W. Bush and maybe didn't see enough in John McCain or was it because they turned the page and looked at the competing proposals and said, I want this guy and not those guys?

ROMNEY: I frankly believe that much of what happened in the last election revolved around the fact that the economy fell apart at the time we were, if you will, holding the hot potato. Republicans and Democrats have been playing this game, passing the hot the potato, spending money like there was no tomorrow.

And the economy came crashing down while our party was holding the hot potato. And people said, hey, it's time for something else but I think if they took a good, hard look at what the -- something else is planning on doing with regards to the massive borrowing, they are going to say, that is probably not the right thing for America's future.

I'm concerned that what the president is doing to our overall economy is what the government did to housing, which is spend too much and borrow too much, create a bubble, and that bubble ultimately collapses.

KING: Was it bad timing or was it bad choices?

CANTOR: Listen, I don't think there is any single reason why you can explain the election in November. First of all, could we have done better in Washington? Absolutely. I mean, could we have been more centered on our thoughts of fiscal sanity in Washington? Absolutely.

Did the American public tire of the Iraq War? You had better believe it. Even though we had our men area women were fighting every day for our freedom, the public's patience was wearing thin because no one likes to be at war.

And as the governor says, we had a collapse in our financial markets 30 days before the election. So there was a lot of fear, and a lot of desire to say, hey, we want to put these bad times behind us.

But, ultimately, the future is about trying to be relevant in terms of what we're talking about, the policy prescriptions that we are going to propose to make sure that they make a difference. And it's not that the Republicans need to change, to become like Democrats. We know the principles upon which our party is founded. They are the principles of free markets, of the rights of the individuals, of the faith in individuals, the faith in God, the ability for people to stand up on their own and reach for that opportunity.

KING: And as you begin this listing effort, there are others in the party having the same debate.

And I want to start with one piece of news this week, was when Senator Specter decided he was going to switch to the Democratic Party.

There is no doubt, and there should be no doubt, that he switched because he thought he was going to lose a Republican primary. It was a survival decision. He even concedes that.

But there are some who say, you know, here's a moderate Republican who comes from that area in the Philadelphia suburbs that's critical to winning the big state of Pennsylvania.

KING: Tom Davis, the former congressman from this area, calls it a devastating blow that sends a bad signal of ideological intolerance to moderate white collar voters. Does it do that?

ROMNEY: No, not at all. This was entirely a political calculation on the part of Senator Specter. He has every right to do that. He was a Democrat originally. He became a Republican. He has gone back to being a Democrat. It will help him politically. And, you know, that's fine.

Our party is the big tent party. We have folks of different perspectives. We've always been that way. We've always had different coalitions within the Republican Party. We'll continue to have that.

You know, this last election, we didn't win, but we didn't lose by an enormous amount. And we just need to make sure that we communicate our message effectively and draw those folks who watch with interest back to voting for us.

KING: As you go forward on this effort, you know even -- you find it on Capitol Hill among Republicans. There are some who say "Good riddance, Senator Specter. The Republican Party should move forward, going back to a conservative base that is low taxes, less spending, anti-abortion, against same-sex marriage, more ideological purity. And if he doesn't feel comfortable, get rid of him."

And there are others who say that is a recipe for disaster, among them Olympia Snowe. You know her, the senator from Maine. She says, "Ideological purity is not the ticket back to the promised land of governing majorities. Indeed it was when we began to emphasize social issues to the detriment of some of our basic tenets as a party that we encountered an electoral backlash."

Who's right, those who say smaller is OK, as long as it's pure or those who say that's the recipe for disaster?

CANTOR: You know, John, I think it's a false choice. I think what we really need to do is look to the future. And if you look at Pennsylvania, it's indicative of the challenges that our party faces in the Northeast and New England, no question.

So we've got to go out and, again, reconnect and make sure that our policy prescriptions are relevant to the challenges that people in the Northeast are facing, to the challenges that educated, affluent families are facing, as well as those much more challenged in the inner cities and rural areas of our country. There is a common theme in this country, and that is opportunity. That's what these forums are going to be about, about listening to how we tap into the real challenges and how we allow opportunity to flourish again.

KING: When we come back, we'll ask our two guests how Republicans should deal with the thorny issues of immigration, health care, and same-sex marriage.

Much more of our conversation when "State of the Union" returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's get back now to our conversation about how to rebuild the Republican Party, with the House Republican whip, Eric Cantor and the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.

Let's go through some of the issues, in closing, that you raised. And let's start -- you went through the spending issues pretty well. If you want to come back to them, please do. But let's start with the immigration debate.

In the last campaign, you sparred with John McCain, who ended up winning the nomination, quite a bit, saying, you know, he was wrong on this path to citizenship or path to status, that people should get in the back of the line.

That debate's about to come up again. There are many, Governor Romney, who say, let's just pass that bill, you know, something like McCain, Kennedy, Bush; let's get it over with; let's get it done. The Chamber of Commerce says they want it. Put that behind you. It will help you, rebuilding among Latinos. What would you do?

ROMNEY: I have my own views about what I think that bill ought to look like. It happens to be consistent with what I said during the campaign.

I'm not going to impose, necessarily, that, on Eric Cantor, on anybody else. We can all talk about our views. But we should deal with the immigration issues right now. This is a high priority, urgent issue. And it's an issue that can also be demagogued, and it was demagogued -- probably on both sides of the aisle -- during the last election. And I think that's a mistake.

I think we should deal with this in a compassionate and concerned way. We are a party that welcomes legal immigration. We want legal immigration. It's been a great source of our nation's vitality. Illegal immigration, we oppose and we're going to end. And we ought to deal with that on an accelerated timeframe.

KING: Health care is another big issue that's going to coming up this year. You got beat up in the campaign a little bit by fellow conservatives who said, you know, your approach had too big of a government role. Is the Massachusetts approach that was passed under Governor Romney -- is that a good model for the nation?

ROMNEY: Well, I think so.

(LAUGHTER)

But I'm not going to impose, necessarily, my view on the National Council for a New America. We're going to exchange ideas, listen to people. I'll put forward my own perspectives. My own view is pretty straightforward, and that is that we can get Americans insured. We can get virtually every American insured with health insurance without having to have government take over health insurance.

KING: The president's going to try to move his plan while you're having this national conversation. And he has put in place the rules that will probably allow him to do it. Is he going to get his way on health care?

CANTOR: This issue of health care is way too big to be dominated or monopolized by one party. This applies to Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals alike. This is health care. This is everyone.

So I do think that it is a nuclear option. The president said to me he doesn't want to use that, but nor does he want to give us, really, any leverage. He said he doesn't want the Republicans to have veto power. I'm hopeful that that means we can work together. Obviously, the first 100 days, we have seen that bipartisanship and cooperation can be improved upon.

KING: Since the last election, a number of states have moved ahead with same-sex marriage proposals. Some have done it legislatively. Some have done it in other ways. Some has happened through the courts, which I know both of you think is the wrong way to do anything, whether it's same-sex marriage or anything else.

But, if, at the end of this conversation, you come to the conclusion that the consensus of the people you're talking to is to agree with what Steve Schmidt, John McCain's campaign manager, said, you know, the Republicans are viewed as intolerant because we want constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

If, at the end of this conversation, you think the consensus is, leave it to the states, which was Dick Cheney's position. That was Tom DeLay's position, be federalist and let state-by-state make these decisions. Are you both willing to support that?

ROMNEY: My view I've laid out before, which is you really can't have different marriage provisions in different states and then expect people to be able to move around the nation and have different rights in different states.

Marriage is a matter of national consequence. It's a -- it's a status. It's not an activity. And as a result, there should be a national standard. And my own view is that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.

KING: And so if five or 10 states go that way, do you need to have a constitutional amendment, a national referendum? How do you deal with it?

CANTOR: I think Mitt has made the point that there are federal implications; there are national implications to what one state does, in terms of the status of a married person in another state.

I share Mitt's views. I believe in conditional marriage between a man and a woman. It's been that way thousands of years.

CANTOR: And I believe that most of the American people, by far, apply or adhere to that principle. So I would continue to support the ability for us to say that's what a marriage means in America.

KING: As you go into this effort, you have an array of people: Governor Romney, Governor Bush, who was here today, Senator McCain, Governor Jindal, Governor Barbour. It's an impressive group. You're going to travel the country and you're going to listen.

As you launch this effort, anyone who picks up "Time" magazine this week and sees the 100 most influential people, will see two Republicans in that magazine. They'll see Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. Is that helpful, hurtful, indifferent?

CANTOR: You know, they are two individuals that have a lot of ideas, and our party should be about ideas. That's what this effort is about and the National Council for a New America, and that is what they're about. So I don't think any of us should have any monopoly on the ideas. And I know that there are some who like to make it all about personalities, but it's about ideas. It's about how we take this country forward.

ROMNEY: John, I'd like to have a lot more influential Republicans. I think there are a lot more influential Republicans than that would suggest. But was that the issue on the most beautiful people or the most influential people? I'm not sure. If it's the most beautiful, I understand. We're not real cute.

KING: Some Republicans when they talk of President Obama say, you know, he blocks the sun at the moment. He is the dominant figure in American politics. Everybody learns from the opposition. What are you learning from him?

ROMNEY: Oh, he's a very effective speaker. He's been able to communicate extraordinarily well with the American people, not just through his addresses, but also through the town hall process. He continues to campaign, if you will, even though he won. He is out doing the things he did before the election. He brought Axelrod into the White House. You know, when George Bush brought Karl Rove in, there were all sorts of fireworks about, wow, you got a political guy in? Well, I guess we've gotten used to that. He's brought in a political guy that helps manage the communication. It's worked extremely well. Communicating is a big part of leading a nation. I think he's done that -- I think he's done that well. But at the same time, I think he's making some very serious errors. I think, if you will, abrogating his responsibility for the stimulus and passing it along to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid was a mistake, and that's going to come back to haunt him. And I think the budget he has put forward really sows the seeds of economic distress down the road, which will also be a problem for him.

KING: What about you?

CANTOR: Listen, I agree. President Obama is a great communicator. We understand that. He's also been very adept at adopting the technology of today to access the youth vote, and the younger population in this country. That's the future, and I believe we've got a lot to learn.

The Republican Party can't keep doing things the way it always has, in terms of technology. And as you are beginning to see, we have a Web site, here, with this group called wethepeopleplan.org, that we are actively trying to engage in a much broader discussion with a much more diverse population in this country.

KING: Our thanks to Congressman Cantor and Governor Romney.

President Obama said, this week, he's gravely concerned about the situation Pakistan. We'll talk about the foreign policy challenges facing the administration with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union." Here are some stories breaking this Sunday morning. The number of H1N1 flu cases in the United States is climbing. The Centers for Disease Control now says there are 226 cases confirmed cases across 30 states. That brings the worldwide total to 853 cases.

U.S. health officials do say, though, they're cautiously optimistic the virus isn't as dangerous as first feared.

Jack Kemp, the former Republican congressman and vice presidential candidate died late Saturday after a battle with cancer. His close friend Bill Bennett says the Republicans have lost one of their great voices, one of the lions of the party. Jack Kemp was 73.

Those are the headlines on "State of the Union."

Later this week, President Obama meets with the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The two countries, as you know, have been a hotbed of Al Qaida and Taliban activity.

Here with some insight on the risks and challenges both of those countries pose for President Obama's foreign policy is Fareed Zakaria. He's the host, of course, of "Fareed Zakaria: GPS," right here on CNN, that program coming up at the top of the hour.

Fareed, let's talk first about Pakistan. And before I get your insights, I want to let our viewers refresh their memories of how President Obama assessed the stability of the Pakistani government it his prime time news conference this week. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, not because I think that they're immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan, more concerned that the civilian government there, right now, is very fragile.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Very fragile, Fareed. He will sit down with Pakistan's president. What is it that the Obama administration would like President Zardari to do?

ZAKARIA: Well, what he'd like them to do, or what he'd like the Pakistani government to do, is absolutely clear, which is to combat the Taliban and other extremist groups fully, frontally and in a sustained way.

Now -- now begins the problem. What is the Pakistani government? Is it President Zardari, who President Obama will meet with?

Well, he's the president, but does he really control the government?

The military really runs national security policy and has overruled President Zardari on a number of occasions on core issues. The military has shown less of an inclination to do this kind of thing.

So, now, how does President Obama get involved in that debate or division between the military and the civilian authority?

Does he side with one; does he side with the other?

Pakistan is a very complicated issue because we don't have any troops in there. We have to operate by remote control, through the Pakistani government. And so the question of how you manipulate it or how you influence it, to put it more charitably, is a very tough one.

KING: And as he poses those very tough challenges, across the border from Pakistan is Afghanistan. Already, some more U.S. troops heading in there at the direction of President Obama, 12,000 U.S. troops on the way into Afghanistan.

You have a fascinating conversation with the defense secretary, Robert Gates, on your program today. I want to play a snippet of it because you put the question to him that, by the end of the year, if things aren't so great, the commanders on the ground might say, we need more. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: A year from now, six months from now, you are unlikely to approve a request for additional troops in Afghanistan? SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: I would be -- I would be a hard sell. There's no question about it. I think we will have, between the American military commitment and our coalition partners, the ISAF partners, we will have about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. That's only about 10,000 shy of what -- of what the Russians had. And I think we need to think about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Fareed, does the situation across the border in Pakistan, the instability in Pakistan -- does that change the equation when it comes to the decision Secretary Gates and the president will have to make about U.S. troop levels across the border?

ZAKARIA: It absolutely does, John, because, in a sense, if you get everything right in Afghanistan and they just cross the border into Pakistan, the question is, what exactly have you solved?

But I think you've pulled, to my mind, the most interesting clip from that fascinating conversation. Gates is basically saying the number of troops we have in Pakistan -- in Afghanistan, that's it. You've got to figure out -- he's saying to his commanders, you've got to figure out how to make this work with what you have.

He was very influenced by the Soviet example. He referred to it on a number of occasions in the conversation, which suggests a real cold-blooded practicality, here, which is we're not going to keep throwing more troops into the situation.

ZAKARIA: Either this solves the problem or I'm guessing he's thinking we have to scale back and accept a very limited mission in the Af-Pak region, try to in some way, you know, contain the problem rather than solve it.

But to have the secretary of defense in advance of a circumstance he cannot know a year from now signal I really don't believe I'm going to be approving any more troops, and this was the first time he said it that unequivocally, is really quite extraordinary.

KING: It is. And I'll remind our viewers to keep watching for your program. But let's close, in our final minute, at the 100-day mark, we're asking people in the administration, what do you think is the most significant thing you've accomplished?

And I do so, I want to show a picture, not just of your book, "The Post-American World," but of perhaps of the best marketing campaign you could ever get, the president of the United States carrying your book.

And I don't do this just to help sell your great book, but inside the White House, when you ask them, why do people feel better? They say -- a little bit maybe they think the economy is coming back, but they say the American people, after watching this president travel the world, feel better about their country because they think their country is being viewed more favorably around the world. A fair point?

ZAKARIA: You know, John, I asked people on my program, what is his most significant accomplishment? And we're going to announce the results. But I will tell you what they were. The number one reason people -- the most significant accomplishment people wrote in was, he restored America's image around the world.

And I think it's more than that. And it gets to that picture with the book. I think people around the world really do believe that Obama gets it. He understands this new world. He understands that we're in a world where lots of other countries are doing well. They want a seat at the table. And I think Americans realize that this guy understands this new world.

You can call it a "post-American world," the way I do in my book, you can call it whatever you want, but everybody senses we're in a different world, with China and India rising, with Russia, you know, acting up in various ways, with countries around the world being very unwilling to simply sit back and be dictated to by the United States. And, ironically, the fact that Obama gets this post-American world allows him to exercise leadership in it in a much more effective way, I think, than somebody who came in and said, it's my way or the highway.

KING: Fareed Zakaria joining us in Los Angeles. Fareed, thanks for spending some time here on STATE OF THE UNION.

And if you're watching at home, remember, don't miss Fareed's entire interview with the defense secretary, Robert Gates. That's coming up at the top of the hour right here on CNN.

And still to come, we'll talk to one man who's considering taking on Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate primary. He is Congressman Joe Sestak. And guess what, he gets "The Last Word," next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Twenty-six newsmakers, analysts, and reporters were out on the Sunday talk shows this morning, but only one gets "The Last Word." That honor today goes to Democratic Congressman Joe Sestak, the first repeat "Last Word" guest on STATE OF THE UNION.

We appreciate your coming in, sir. The last time we had you here was to talk about the challenges in Iraq. This time we want to talk about your home state. Arlen Specter, a Republican senator, is now a Democratic senator. He switched parties.

He now wants to run for re-election as a Democrat. You are considering making that same race. I want to ask you on this day whether you will continue and possibly challenge Arlen Specter. And as you answer, I want you first to listen to Senator Specter this morning on CBS talking about he's more comfortable now as a Democrat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FACE THE NATION")

SPECTER: I was sorry to disappoint many people and, frankly, I was disappointed that the Republican Party didn't want me as their candidate. But as a matter of principle, I'm becoming much more comfortable with the Democrats' approach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: More comfortable as a matter of principle. Is this a principled decision or is this a political survival decision?

SESTAK: I don't know yet. I'm disappointed. First, I'm kind of disappointed in the Democratic political establishment in Washington, D.C. I think this last presidential election and certainly when I was swept in two years ago was about not reestablishing the establishment.

So I don't know what the deal is yet, but I do know this. We are very independent in the Keystone State. We want to make up our own mind of who should be running.

Second, with regard to whether he feels more comfortable, I think Arlen has to tell us not that it was too hard to run against someone and that he has actually left behind many good moderate Republicans in that fight to shape the Republican Party.

What I need to know is, what is he running for? And second, how will he use his leadership, which didn't seem to work in the Republican Party, to better shape us? If he has the right answer, so be it. We move on.

But I hate to tell you, we're in a very critical moment, John. Health care for everyone in an affordable, accessible way. Overseas, we are in a real challenge with Pakistan and Afghanistan as we redeploy from Iraq. Where is he on that?

Energy, education, is Pennsylvania -- it is such an elder state, how do we retain the youth there so we can be all we can be? That's what I have to hear. What are you running for? And that's what I got in for after I left the military three years ago.

KING: And as you -- listen, you mention you left the military, you're Admiral Sestak as well as Congressman Sestak, the highest- ranking former military official in the Congress.

You mentioned the establishment. President Obama ran promising to change the way Washington does business. He has now said Arlen Specter is my guy, I will raise money for him.

Senator Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, has said Arlen Specter is my guy, I will raise money for him. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which generally stays out of primaries, has said, Arlen Specter is our guy, we will raise money for him. Your governor, Ed Rendell, is a Democrat who says Arlen Specter is my guy, I will raise money for him.

Is that wrong? Is that politics as usual or is that President Obama's new way of doing things?

SESTAK: Here is what I know, I have respect for all of those men. However, I have to go back it my military experience of several decades. In it we always told the story of George Washington with the very small medal he gave, a small piece of purple ribbon, which later became the Purple Heart, was directed to be given only to an enlisted man, not an officer.

Because he wanted to demonstrate that the way to the top in this new American military, as our society, was open to anyone equally. There were no kings and there were no kingmakers.

So, my take is, I'll listen. I respect that. But when I got out of the military and wanted to get out of politics, someone said, you have got to tell the DCCC. I didn't know what DCCC was. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, I called them and they said, Joe, we don't want you in it, we've got somebody. They called me back the next day, said, we don't want you in it. I said, I wasn't calling to ask, I was calling to inform, in a very polite way, and I respect you. So that's my issue, is, the president has said he respects Arlen's independence and to disagree.

He'll respect mine if that is the case, I know that.

KING: We're short on time.

KING: So I want to put up a screen because I want you to address your answer to the president and those Democrats who say Arlen Specter is their guy, but also to Democratic primary voters in the state of Pennsylvania.

Do you think the person they want as their next United States senator for six more years is someone who, as Senator Specter did, voted yes on the bush tax cuts; yes to authorize force in Iraq; yes to confirm Chief Justice Roberts; yes to confirm Justice Alito; and just this past week voted no on President Obama's budget -- is that the kind of person you want to sell to the Democratic primary electorate in Pennsylvania?

SESTAK: No -- and the person who's sitting, as you and I speak, in Landmark (ph) Diner, in Upper Darby, Delaware County of my district, I think, would say the same thing.

Too many jobs have been lost for us to worry about somebody else's job who has switched parties. I don't know for sure it's about political survivability, but I know this. It's not about trying to maintain a legacy or somebody's job.

KING: Is he a good enough Democrat?

SESTAK: I'm not sure he's a Democrat yet. And that doesn't mean we don't want bipartisanship. My gosh, I won in a district that was 53 percent Republican, 36 percent Democrat. What I need to know is, what's the principles you're running for...

(CROSSTALK)

SESTAK: This is about ideals.

KING: We're about out of time, sir. So when do you need to know that before you make your decision, in or out?

SESTAK: In the next few months. Look, I learned something. We're respected for the power of our military and the power of our economy around the world, but we're admired for the power of our ideals. This is about what's right, not politics as usual.

Congressman Joe Sestak, thanks for being back for the last word.

SESTAK: Thanks for having me.

KING: And up next, we're going to take you inside the Washington war room for the H1N1 flu virus, where President Obama gets his information.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It was this time last Sunday when the government announced the first cases of H1N1 confirmed in the United States. Back then, it was just 20 cases in five states.

Let's take a look at how it developed over the course of the past week. You'll watch the states fill in as they go: California, Texas, as we come across more states filling in, as the week went on.

You see it 64 cases, 142 cases; there 160 cases. That's where we were when we went on the air this morning. Since then, 226 cases confirmed. That's plus-46 cases since this morning, not in 20 states any more; now in 30 states.

So we want to close this week, as this unfolds, by giving you an inside look at the secret room where the president and the rest of the government get their information.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: In government jargon, this is the sock, the secretary's operation center, the Washington war room for the fight for the H1N1 flu virus, the daily battle plan one of the many displays in the Department of Health and Human Services' high-tech video wall.

VANDERWAGEN: One can look at this as a war against disease. And we have a large battle space that is involved, our population throughout the country now. It's an international event, so it's a big battle.

KING (voiceover): And the battle Admiral Craig Vanderwagen of the Public Health Service expects to turn more urgent in the week ahead, upgraded, he bets, to a top-scale international pandemic.

VANDERWAGEN: Well, the World Health Organization will probably, in the next few days, say that we have reached their phase six. What that means is that, geographically, now, we have a dispersed transmissible disease. Doesn't say anything about the severity, but it says we have a worldwide event.

KING: And Admiral Vanderwagen projects most states here at home will eventually be shaded as well.

VANDERWAGEN: The transmission rates, right now, appear to be fairly brisk, which, and fortunately, they're mild.

KING (on camera): Have you had a piece of paper cross your desk that says this will be the number -- this is our guess at what this number will be two weeks from now?

VANDERWAGEN: And there are two or three different modelers. We have government modelers, but we also look to the academic world for competing models because they're all in this together. KING (voiceover): He won't share the numbers. He says the projections in these still-early days are unreliable. Good tracking is the key to solid projections. Closing schools is a local decision. This map allows federal officials to keep track.

And this one tracks shipments of antiviral drugs and other supplies to states in need. Green signifies delivery complete. Blue means still en route.

VANDERWAGEN: Well, we know that there are a half dozen states that were unable to make their purchases for anti-virals. So we're watching those states very closely.

KING: The setup here is a lesson learned from government failures responding to Hurricane Katrina. Every federal agency involved in the H1N1 response has a seat here, as well as outside partners like the Red Cross.

One week into the crisis, the sense here is the government's response has been a success so far. One challenge, though, is making the case all of this is necessary. In an average year, some 36,000 people in the United States die from the seasonal flu. But there is no war room to combat that.

VANDERWAGEN: This is a novel human virus. We have never seen it before. Therefore, immune systems are not geared to manage this very well at this point. Therefore, it could be very unpredictable.

The second thing is you may be aware that people who died in Mexico were frequently young people between 25 and 44. Now, the death pattern in a seasonal flu are those people at the -- either ends of the age spectrum whose immune systems don't work very well, very small infants or very elderly people.

So this is a very different potential event, where young people are affected. And since we don't know enough about this very new virus to be able to tell for sure what it's going to do, we have to act very aggressively to try and deal with it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We'll see you again here next Sunday and every Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern for the first and last word in Sunday talk. Until then, I'm John King in Washington. Have a great Sunday.

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