Return to Transcripts main page
STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Interview With General Petraeus; Interview With Senators Corker, Casey
Aired May 10, 2009 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: I'm John King, and this is our "State of the Union" report for this Sunday, May 10th.
President Obama meets with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan and says he's getting promising signs from both about their commitment to fighting Al Qaida and the Taliban. But are they up for the job, and what is the job for U.S. troops in the region? We'll talk with the man in charge of the U.S. military effort, General David Petraeus.
Mixed economic signals this week as the overall unemployment rate increased, but the pace of job losses slowed down. Is the administration's effort to pump up the economy starting to have an impact? Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee are here to discuss that and a whole lot more.
And we'll go to Los Angeles on this Mother's Day for an up-close look at the changing face of homelessness.
That's all ahead in this hour on "State of the Union."
A live picture of the White House on Sunday, Mother's Day, here in Washington, D.C. President Obama met this week at the White House with the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan, reiterating the U.S. goal to help disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaida and its allies in the region.
But while Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari both pledged their full cooperation in the fight, there are deep concerns at the White House and in Congress about whether their governments are capable, capable of defeating the militants.
I spoke a short time ago with the man in charge of the U.S. military efforts in the region and the head of the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus.
KING: General Petraeus, welcome back to "State of the Union." I want to start with the offensive under way by the Pakistani military in Pakistan. It took a long time for you to convince Pakistan to get about this. And I'm starting at the map so I can pull out and show our viewers the area we're talking about, the Swat district up here, right in here.
Just a basic question for you, sir. This offensive has been under way for quite a bit of time now. How effective is it?
PETRAEUS: Well, let me say, I'm not sure I accept the characterization that you said. This is Pakistan's offensive, and it was galvanized by Taliban action, certainly not by American rhetoric or encouragement.
What has happened in this case is that the actions of the Taliban in breaking the agreement that was reached for Swat, and then moving into other districts of the Northwest Frontier province, these have served as a catalyst, really, for all of Pakistan. And you now see all of the Pakistani political leaders, including opposition figures, you see the Pakistani people and you see the Pakistani military determined to reverse this trend and to deal with the Taliban threat, ultimately, in Swat Valley.
KING: And how effective do you think it is being -- and let me ask in the context of -- this is a military offensive. They are going in there and bombing and pushing them out and attacking them, but I would not say this is out of the Petraeus counterinsurgency playbook. So do you worry at all that these gains will be short-term, not lasting?
PETRAEUS: Well, the true test in counterinsurgency -- and I can tell you that in our dialogue with Pakistani leaders this past week, there is a clear recognition of the concept of counterinsurgency operations, of employing all the tools of government, a whole of government approach. And over the past year, for example, there have been a number of actions that reflect the kind of, if you will, learning and adapting that our own forces have taken -- gone through in recent years as they have carried out operations in Bajaur and Mohmand and so forth. And this will be the challenge, I think, is to bring all of the assets of the government of Pakistan to bear to help their military as it goes in and conducts operations, which inevitably already have displaced citizens, and certainly will displace more of them over time.
KING: When you were here, sir, with Ambassador Holbrooke a few weeks back, both of you spoke openly about the trust deficit between the United States and the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military that has played out in recent years. After the conversations of the past week, how much of that has been repaired and still how much of it do you have?
PETRAEUS: Well, I think the conversations here were quite productive and positive. In fact, I think most participants assessed after the conduct of the trilateral meetings that not just the rhetoric, but even the substance exceeded expectations. So I think they're very helpful. I think they were truly unprecedented in the way that some of the individuals on either side had never even met each other before, and then we had good bilateral conversations with each of the leaders and their delegations as well.
But this is a process. It continues. The trust deficit, if you will, is something that stems back to us dropping Pakistan in the wake of the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan. It lasted for years, and it will take months and years to reestablish the kind of trust and bonds and partnership that are necessary to move forward.
And of course, it's not just the United States. This is the entire world. And it is with a government that has been in office, the first really truly democratically elected Pakistani government in some time, elected just nine, 10 months ago.
KING: When you were here, you said that the United States would not go into Pakistan unless it saw something compelling. This has been a sensitive issue. As the Pakistani military has put pressure on the Taliban, have there been any occasions in the past few weeks where you have had targets of opportunity that have caused U.S. forces to go across the border?
PETRAEUS: No. And I think we have been unequivocal in saying that this is not about us putting combat boots on the ground. This is about us providing assistance, as we do numerous nations around the world. A bit more robust in this case, certainly, but we provide some training assistance, we provide ammunition, we provide spare parts, help with maintenance systems, processes. But a lot of these very similar to the kinds of security assistance programs that we have around the world, albeit this one more robust, and also in the form of the coalition support funds, significantly additional funding.
KING: As this focus now is on the Taliban, give me your assessment of Al Qaida. It has moved, essentially, its headquarters from Afghanistan into Pakistan. With all the focus on the Taliban right now, is this allowing Al Qaida a chance to regroup? And let me ask it in this context. If Al Qaida in Afghanistan was at a 10 in its operational capability on 9/11, how would you rate Al Qaida on that same scale now, as it is based in Pakistan?
PETRAEUS: I don't want to get into that kind of numerical ranking, but I think it's worth going back and looking at the history, of course. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we expelled the Taliban and Al Qaida and the other elements of the so-called syndicate of extremists that had found sanctuaries and safe havens in Afghanistan. They eventually relocated into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and some of the other areas of the border regions.
But I think it's very important to note that those organizations, Al Qaida in particular, has sustained some very serious losses over the course of the last six to 10 months or so, and there is a considerable concern among those leaders because of the losses that they have sustained.
KING: I want you to listen to something that the Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, told our Wolf Blitzer a couple of days ago, when he put the question to him, are there still Al Qaida in your country? Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you saying there's no Al Qaida in Afghanistan right now? HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: No Al Qaida based in Afghanistan.
BLITZER: So who are you fighting against?
KARZAI: That's the thing, that's why we say that the war on terrorism is not in the Afghan villages. That it's in the sanctuaries, it's in the financial support system to them, it's in the training grounds. And it's beyond Afghan borders. That has now been established by the U.S. administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: No Al Qaida at all in Afghanistan. Is that an exaggeration, General Petraeus, or is that true?
PETRAEUS: No, I would agree with that assessment. Certainly, Al Qaida and its affiliates. Again, remember that this is, as I mentioned earlier, a syndicate of extremist organizations, some of which are truly transnational extremists. In other words, don't just conduct attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and India, but even throughout the rest of the world, as we saw in the U.K. a couple of years ago. They do come in and out of Afghanistan, but the Al Qaida -- precise Al Qaida, if you will -- is not based, per se, in Afghanistan, although its elements and certainly its affiliates -- Baitullah Mehsud's group, commander Nazir Khaqani (ph) network and others, certainly do have enclaves and sanctuaries in certain parts of eastern Afghanistan. And then the Afghan Taliban, of course, has a number of districts in which it has its fighters and its shadow government, if you will, even.
But I think, no, I think that's an accurate assessment, and that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan -- that very, very mountainous, rugged terrain just east of the Afghan border and in the western part of Pakistan -- is the locus of the leadership of these organizations, although they do, again, go into Afghanistan, certainly, and conduct operations against our troops, and have tried, certainly, to threaten all the way to Kabul at various times.
KING: President Karzai was quite adamant in that interview with Wolf that he wants the air strikes to stop. He believes the air strikes are not taking out terrorist elements, and instead are killing civilians in his country and fomenting anti-American sentiment. Will the air strikes stop?
PETRAEUS: Well, he and I had a good conversation about this yesterday, actually, John. I thought it was important to discuss this with him. I heard that interview. There is no question, and we have all agreed for some time -- and General McKiernan, in fact, put out tactical guidance to this end, as did the Central Command headquarters -- that we have to be very, very sensitive that our tactical actions, our tactical employment in battles and so forth of close air support and other enablers does not undermine our strategic goals and objectives. PETRAEUS: And we reaffirmed that in our conversation yesterday. We'll certainly relook this yet again in the wake of this latest incident, although as the joint press release that was put out by Afghan and U.S. authorities in Afghanistan after the initial investigation of the latest situation in Farah province in western Afghanistan affirmed that Taliban bears enormous blame for this latest incident by apparently forcing civilians to stay in houses from which they were engaging our forces with heavy-fire RPGs, and quite effective fire, as the term is used.
KING: General David Petraeus, thank you for your time this morning, sir, and best of luck to you.
PETRAEUS: Good to be with you, John. Thanks.
KING: The assessment of General Petraeus there on the situation in Pakistan and over in Afghanistan. But what do members of Congress think of this administration's approach to the problem? We'll talk with two senators who met with the presidents of both Afghanistan and Pakistan up next.
KING: In addition to President Obama, the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan met with members of Congress, including a luncheon with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Two of them join us now. Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who joins us from Boston this morning, and Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, here with us in our studio.
Gentlemen, you just heard General Petraeus on the program. That is as optimistic as I have heard him, especially about Pakistan, in some time. You were both at the luncheon with the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan. And after that luncheon, Senator Corker, you said this, to the Washington Post. "My guess is they left the room with a lot less support than they came into the room with." So you're not nearly as optimistic as General Petraeus.
CORKER: Well, look, General Petraeus is a folk hero in our state, and I'm one of his great fans, and when he talks, I listen. He was in the same meeting, and there was just an air of smugness, flippancy when serious questions were asked. I asked about what our mission in Afghanistan ought to be, and I thought that President Karzai's response was a nonresponse. And when I pushed him further, he basically said, look, this is your mission, which made me feel that our partnership there was not quite I think what Americans would like to see.
So my guess is that you're going to see some probing by the Senate and Congress. I think we are going to want to see some -- we want to see this mission articulated. I think the weakness right now is what does it mean to make Afghanistan a place that's not a safe haven for Al Qaida, especially when you hear General Petraeus talking about the fact that Al Qaida is actually in Pakistan, which is what we all know. KING: And how about that, Senator Casey. A simple question first. The challenge is enormous, but do you trust -- are these the two leaders to get the job done, or are they too weak or just too unwilling to do what it takes?
CASEY: Well, John, I was in the same meeting, and some of the concerns that Bob raises are very well founded. Because I think it may go back to that old line I guess from President Reagan, trust but verify. And the only way we can verify is to continually evaluate what the Pakistani army and their military forces are doing to push back the Taliban and to defeat them.
If they achieve that goal over time, then I think the trust that we must have will be a lot more solid than it is now. So there's a lot to play out here, but one of the real challenges in the near-term is not just the military engagement, but this refugee crisis, which seems to be spreading across parts of Pakistan because of the -- because of the military conflict. But we have to continually evaluate the representations that they make and see the evidence of their progress against the Taliban.
KING: One of the representations made while in this country from President Zardari of Pakistan was how he needs more money and he needs it now. Let's listen to President Zardari.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN: I'm thankful for the support that I've got and thankful for the people of America to give their tax dollars to us, but I need more support.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Senator Corker, grateful for American tax dollars. They want $10 billion more. That's what the administration is asking for, for Pakistan over the next five years. Do they deserve that money, given the track record? If you go back through the Bush years and the Musharraf years, billions of dollars sent to Pakistan, and pretty hard to account for it.
CORKER: Well, I think, look, the fact is that we are going to have to support Pakistan. I know one of the things they're going to begin doing is billing us from their military, what they're doing against counterinsurgencies there. The fact is that we find ourselves -- and this is one of the questions I have -- how big is our footprint going to end up being? We're in Iraq now. We're seeing some problems as we begin to draw down. We're in Afghanistan. Certainly there have been concerns about our relationship with the army and the ISI in Pakistan itself. Where is that going?
But at the end of the day, we're going to be in a position as a country to have to support Pakistan in some way, in large ways. And we're going to have to figure out a way, though, to verify, as you mentioned earlier, that what our money is doing is actually furthering a cause that we all believe in. That, obviously, has been less than the case in the past. KING: Senator Casey, how weak is the U.S. hand here? There's a great sensitivity to putting U.S. boots on the ground in Pakistan. We know it occasionally happens with Special Forces, but the military doesn't like to talk about it. You have the drones going in there up in the northern region of the country. But we're just sending money to Pakistan and hoping -- hoping that they do what is necessary inside their country. Pretty weak hand?
CASEY: Well, no I think we have a strong hand for a couple of reasons, John. One is I think President Obama has set forth a strategy which you can clearly articulate in the line that you just used in the lead-up to this interview, where you talked about President Obama focusing on the threat from Al Qaida, to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaida. It's very important we're clear about that being the objective.
But this can't just be military help on our part or the military campaign by the Pakistani army. This has to be a comprehensive effort, including the legislation that passed the Foreign Relations Committee and should pass the whole Senate and the Congress, the Kerry-Lugar bill, which provides economic aid and other aid for development. That's critically important here if this is going to be solved. We cannot just have a war in Pakistan. We have to begin to build up the country itself so they can -- they can govern effectively even as they fight the Taliban.
CASEY: If we do that, I think it's a great investment in our national security to provide the kind of economic aid. But as Bob Corker said, you have to be able to follow the dollars better than we have over time and better than the Pakistani government has allowed us to do in previous efforts to provide economic aid.
KING: And Senator Corker, any concerns on your part? We're sending more U.S. troops into Afghanistan. It is clear the biggest problem at the moment is across the border in Pakistan. Is the Pakistani government strong enough? Is it weak, as some administration officials have questioned in recent days? And if there are significant stability problems in Pakistan, do we have enough troops on the ground in Afghanistan to deal with what could be a nightmare?
CORKER: Well, look, the major entity in Pakistan, as everyone knows, is the army. And, you know, there's no doubt that the government is weak. It's been weak for a long time, and the entity that we have to deal with there and need to deal with, is the army.
I agree with Senator Casey that we certainly need to do more in the area of economic aid and development in that regard. I mean, we need to win the hearts and minds of people there.
My question with our strategy is, if it's about Al Qaida, does that take us into Somalia and to Yemen? And I just think we need to step back and look -- we've got folks in Africa right now training against Al Qaida there. I think we need to step back and look at this overall issue, because it's not unlike a balloon that you squeeze. And when you put pressure in one place, Al Qaida ends up in another place. I think these are things that all of us, Senator Casey, myself, and others need to be looking thoroughly at, as this whole issue of the supplemental comes forth. Because, again, I understand the threat, but I'm not sure that we of yet articulated what the end game is for us. And these fine young men and women in uniform deserve for us to be able to have the ability to articulate what our end game is here.
KING: Senators Casey and Corker, I want you both to stand by. When we come back, we'll get some insights into some political issues, including the party switch of Arlen Specter, one of the top GOP senators. We'll be back with Senators Casey and Corker, right after the break.
KING: We're back with Democratic Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.
Senator Corker, to you first on the economy. You're on the Banking Committee. The administration put out the stress tests last week, and they think this is potentially a turning point, that most banks are in pretty good shape. Some banks need a little bit more help in the capital department, but they don't think more taxpayer money. Are they right? Have we turned a corner in the financial sector?
CORKER: Well, there are glimmers of hope. I met with Treasury and the Fed the evening they put these out. We obviously are going to want to get behind the data a little bit, but, look, I think it was a positive step. I know that it's being pooh-poohed by many, but there will possibly be additional government dollars. Now, I think that hasn't fully been said, and I think that what we've got to be concerned about as we move into the future is not causing TARP to be codified so that it's there forever. And that's one of the things the Treasury secretary has asked for as a resolution ability down the road.
So hopefully, not much in the way of government dollars. It looks like -- for instance, GMAC looks like a definite for about $11 billion in need in the very near future -- but hopefully either through converting to common equity or many of the private offerings that were very successful this week, we're going to see a real difference in our financial institutions, and I actually -- I'm feeling better about it, I really am.
KING: Feeling better from Senator Corker. Senator Casey, you represent, of course, one of the big industrial states, one of the hardest hit states in this recession. I want your sense, when you have a week where the unemployment rate goes up -- it is now approaching 9 percent -- but people cheer the fact that the economy lost fewer jobs last month than the month before. Still more than 500,000 jobs lost last month. When you go home to Scranton, are the businesses and the blue-collar workers, are they telling you we've hit bottom or do they still see it getting worse before better? CASEY: Well, John, on the good news front, we're hearing from business people and small-business people especially that some -- a lot of inventory, I should say, is moving off the shelves. That's a good sign.
But when we describe, we use language like the unemployment rate is a lagging indicator. That gives no hope and doesn't reflect the reality that so many people are living through. If you lose a job or your home or your hopes and your dreams, these economic statistics don't mean much. So we have a long way to go, and I think we have to continually focus on the job numbers, even as maybe the financial sector numbers or other data improves.
I was questioning Chairman Bernanke of the Federal Reserve this week, and in focusing him on the question of the unemployment rate over time and the job loss. And we've still got a long way to go there. And that's why we have to continually focus on these strategies.
I think the recovery bill was a very important pillar in this strategy, but the work that has to be done on our financial system is still playing out. The stress tests, I think, give us a sense of where we are, but there's still a lot of work to do.
KING: I want to talk politics for a minute with both of our senators. As I do so, I'm going to get up and walk over to the wall, but also show you the front page, the cover of this week's Time magazine. Endangered species, it says of the Republican Party. That's your party, Senator Corker. And as we discuss it, I just want to play this little timeline through here, to go through what has happened. This goes back 17 years, to 1992, and you see the line here. The red is the Republicans. The Republicans in the minority here, minority here, minority in the governorships in 1992.
Then, of course, came the big Republican sweep in 1994. The Republicans took the majority in the House, the majority in the Senate, up to 19 governorships at that point. This was the Republican heyday, just after 1994.
Fast forward to 2000. George W. Bush wins the White House, and Republicans pick up at the governor level. Parity, 50/50 in the Senate. A smaller majority for Republicans in the House at that point after 2000.
And let's forward now to where we are in 2009. Look at this, a much smaller, Republicans now back in the minority in the House, back in the minority with just 40 Senate seats. 22 Republican governors now across the country.
So as I come back, Senator Corker, just like to ask you this question. I've been covering politics for 25 years. Usually when we use the term "circular firing squad," it has been about Senator Casey's party. The Democrats have not handled their struggles very well over the years, but it seems Republicans now are in this internal war, pointing at each other when the party needs to be rebuilding. You're a former mayor, not just a United States senator. What's the way back?
CORKER: Well, I think that, look, we've been the party of common sense and sound judgment, I think, in most years in the past. I may offend some folks, but I think a lot of people, even though they may disagree with Republicans, have always looked at us to act as grown- ups as it relates to things like fiscal issues and other kinds of things.
I think we've lost that to some degree. We certainly, I think, need to lead by solving problems in these common-sense ways. And I think that we cannot just be against -- although I am concerned about the overreach that's taking place right now on many issues. And certainly, look, I'm a deal guy. I want to see good things happen, but part of our job is to help keep bad things from happening.
But again, we've got to create alternatives. We've got to talk with the people.
I saw, John, during the General Motors/Chrysler debate, if you will, the American people will respond overwhelmingly to good common sense, to talking about issues as they are. And while many people feel they're in the wilderness today because of this economic stress, I believe that if we as Republicans can walk them through and show them the way that we can regain our majority -- so, look, this is not as much fun as it was two weeks ago when we at least had 41, but I think that will change, and certainly we all want this president to be successful. It's important for our country, but helping him be successful might be enlightening in some ways of policy that hopefully will take our country ahead in a positive way and not a negative way.
KING: Senator Casey, the latest Democratic vote is now Arlen Specter, the former Republican. He is now a Democrat with you from the state of Pennsylvania. The president is behind him, the vice president is behind him, the Senate majority leader is behind him. Your Democratic governor is behind him. There are other Democrats, though, who are outraged about this. Congressman Joe Sestak was right here in the studio last week. He is considering a primary challenge against Arlen Specter, and he says, what's going on here? Barack Obama promised to change politics as usual, to stop bowing to the establishment, and he says, here's a guy, who, since becoming a Democrat, has voted against the Obama budget and said he wants Republican Norm Coleman seated in Minnesota in that disputed Senate seat. Is Arlen Specter a Democrat?
CASEY: I think he is, but as you know, in our party, we have a lot of diversity, a lot of different points of view. But, John, this is a process. This will play out over time. We have a primary for this Senate seat next May, May of...
KING: But should in a primary -- excuse me for interrupting, Senator, but in a primary, should President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Reid, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the governor of Pennsylvania be saying, stay out, we'll help this guy raise money, we're going to beat you. We have all the powers that be are now behind Arlen Specter, who has been a Democrat for a week?
CASEY: Well, there will be expressions of support for Senator Specter, but I don't think anyone in our party should ever dictate to a candidate. That's really up to that candidate, to run or not run.
But I think in this case, it may not seem it now, it may seem a little divided now, but there will be -- I think there'll be consensus. Because the objective here by 2011 is to have a Democratic senator in that seat.
But the prime objective today, tomorrow, and for the next several years is to help President Obama figure out more and better ways to get the economy out of the ditch, to focus on healthcare, energy, and education. If we do that, I don't really care how the politics play out and what the personalities are. We have to help President Obama get this country moving, and I believe this development is an indicator of that. Senator Specter's support of the recovery bill, which I think is very important.
KING: Incredibly diplomatic there from Senator Casey. He's auditioning for secretary of state if the administration goes on.
CORKER: That's right, there you go.
KING: Let me ask you a question in closing. We're out of time, but one of the Republicans out quite frequently, to the surprise of many, has been the former vice president. He came in here, Dick Cheney, about six weeks ago and said President Obama is making the American people less safe. He's been on the radio this past week getting involved in a debate within your party about what next, and he'll be back out today.
Is Dick Cheney being so visible helpful or hurtful?
CORKER: I think it's important for everybody who has the ability to communicate ideas to be involved. I don't really give editorial comments about whether people are being positive or negative.
Look, Arlen -- the change there -- I'll get back to that -- certainly was a little bit of a solar plexus blow. I mean, to say that it wasn't, it was.
But I don't think it had anything to do with the Republican Party. He was very transparent about the fact that on Friday, he met with his pollster. His pollster told him he could not win as a Republican, so on Monday, he came in and told Mitch he was going to be a Democrat.
Now, I like -- I like Arlen fine, but let me just say, John, after 30 years of service, if you see me -- I hope that isn't the case for me, but after 30 years of service, if you see me taking a poll and switching parties, give me a call, if you will.
KING: We need to end it on that. Senator Bob Corker, Senator Bob Casey, gentlemen, thanks both for coming. I guess that experience on the Foreign Relations Committee makes you very diplomatic.
KING: Thank you both.
And as we just heard from Senator Corker, a lot of advice for beleaguered Republican Party these days. We'll talk about the GOP's effort to rebound with CNN political contributors Mary Matalin and Hilary Rosen. That's up next. Stay right there.
KING: Joining us now to share their unique political insights, Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin, who's in New Orleans this morning. With me here in Washington, CNN Democratic political contributor, Hilary Rosen. Happy Mother's Day to both of you, ladies. Welcome.
KING: Mary, I want to start with you. If you look at the Sunday talk show landscape this morning, you'll see John McCain, Newt Gingrich, and your friend and old boss, Dick Cheney. And as we showed in our last segment, the cover of Time magazine this week is "Endangered Species." As you know, on the left, they're having a field day with the Sunday lineup, saying, great, if that's the face of the Republican Party, more of it. Let's have more to it, specifically to the point of the former vice president.
You know the debate he has stirred up over the past several weeks, beginning right here on "State of the Union." Helpful or hurtful for the Republican Party for Dick Cheney to be out there so much?
MARY MATALIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, if you consider the -- as I do, as most conservative do -- that Republicanism and conservativism are not necessarily synonymous, that when Republicans aspire and ascend is when they go back to what they do best, which is radical reform and being a party of ideas, as they did post-'64, as they did post-'92. When you have the people who best exemplify and represent those ideas getting (ph) and articulating them, like Newt Gingrich and Vice President Cheney, then that's a good thing.
MATALIN: You'll note whenever the Democrats attack Dick Cheney for being out or what he's saying, they never attack the ideas. There's never an answer for what he's speaking about, it's always just a personal attack.
Specifically, and I'm sure he's speaking even as we speak now about how really damaging and dangerous it was for this president to release the legal memos on the EITs, on the enhanced interrogation techniques. Very dangerous, very bad precedent and will come back to haunt this president.
So rather than have an argument about that, there's a personal attack on Dick Cheney, which means there's no argument against the ideas, which goes to what the Republicans need to do, which is to quit being an echo as Goldwater said, really the godfather of the conservatives and present a clear choice.
KING: Do you want to jump in on that one? Are they personal attacks or will you take on the ideas?
ROSEN: I think Mary's probably the best spokesperson the Republicans have right now, but the attacks on Dick Cheney have been fairly specific. I mean he, after all, I think came on to this network and said that he thinks that the president is making this country less safe.
So the responses back have been about where Americans feel that we have been less safe and that the more vulnerable and that President Obama, as we see from the polls, has been addressing that. And in fact, Americans now feel more safe under this president than they did over the last several years. I find that poll fairly remarkable.
KING: That is -- I want to jump in, I'm sorry to interrupt you, but I want to bring this because Hilary makes an important point. Mary, security, keeping you safe, has been the Republican Party's calling card. Before 9/11, but especially since, 9/11, if you look at the most recent CBS/"New York Times" poll, who is more likely to make the right decisions about keeping the nation safe, President Obama, 61 percent, Republicans in Congress, 27 percent. That is a stark turnaround and a problem for your party politically, isn't it?
MATALIN: Well, it is absolutely, it is irrefutably true that Barack Obama, particularly on his personal approval, when you ask those surface-skimming questions, he gets high numbers.
When you go deep into the policies, both domestic and foreign, there is a support you can call them conservatives, you can call them trust the verify, call them peace through strength, whatever you want to call them, those are hard security positions.
Smart diplomacy is not working. It's not working with Iran. It's not working with North Korea. It's not working with al Qaeda and what he's doing that is working making people feel and people can identify with is doing a enhanced counterinsurgency, if you will in Afghanistan, Pakistan, as General Petraeus talked about this morning. People understand that.
But they do not think, and Dick Cheney is 100 percent right, specifically the things that endanger our security are releasing our sources and methods of intelligence and impending the potential release of these detainee photos at the end of May. The ACLU is running our national security.
That, specifically, unequivocally will not make us safer, will endanger us as evidenced by what happened when photos were released before. So there's specific examples of where this is happening, and that people feel good about it because we have not been hit again is not evidence that that's the course that will keep us safe in the future. ROSEN: You know, Vice President Cheney had six years to prove to the American people that their torture methods actually did help keep people safe and they never did it and they're not going to be able to do it now. I heard General Petraeus say something fascinating this morning in your interview. What he said was, when they sat down and had these tri-lateral meetings last week with Pakistan and Afghanistan and the United States, that more progress was made in those meetings, in those few days than had been made in years in terms of understanding. That Ambassador Holbrooke and General Petraeus, who was not a Barack Obama appointee, he was a Bush holdover, that essentially what they're saying is, we're actually getting somewhere now with our efforts. And that, I think is something that's resonating. And that, I think, is due to this attitude.
KING: I want to shift our focus. Hilary and I, Mary, you're in New Orleans, safely out of the Beltway. Hilary and I were at this annual event in Washington last night, it's the White House Correspondents' Dinner. It was meant to have fun. The president came and he's a good performer.
ROSEN: We missed you, Mary.
MATALIN: I didn't miss you guys, sorry.
KING: The entertainment was Wanda Sykes, the very funny comedian. And she was very funny, and very pointed in her humor, but then she reached a point where many think she crossed the line. I want you to listen to Wanda Sykes last night and I want both of your reactions. She's talking here about Rush Limbaugh and his statements that he would like Obama's administration, which he calls liberal socialism, to fail. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: That's treason. He's not saying anything differently than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this. I think maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he just so strung out on Oxycontin, he missed his flight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Hilary Rosen, I know you're not a fan of Rush Limbaugh, but was that over the line?
ROSEN: You know, Rush Limbaugh gets by on theater, and when anyone holds him accountable for his words, when he says things like "I want this administration to fail and I'm proud of it," when he makes money of politicians, his defense is always, "Listen, you know, I'm as much entertainment as I am substance." Wanda Sykes, hitting right back in entertainment. I think it's fair game.
KING: Fair game to call Rush Limbaugh the 20th hijacker, Mary?
MATALIN: Well, I rest my case. It's a perfect example and it epitomizes what I just said about -- not that it's Wanda Sykes' responsibility or within her capacity to make an argument against what her Rush Limbaugh talks about every day, which is the essence of conservatism, she attacks him personally.
So it's just part of what the paradigm is when you confront conservative ideas. Just like the Democrats -- let me go back to the torture thing. Torture, this is not torture. What the enhanced interrogation techniques were, were legal, they were limited, they were used on water boarding, which has become -- completely blown out of context.
It was used on three people, which Nancy Pelosi knew about, she at least knew about Abu Zubaydah, which led us to KSM, which led us to thwart all those second wave attacks, which saved lives. So much of what made us safe, was classified, is now coming out in a way that is going to make us less safe in the future. So rather than take on those arguments, we call Rush Limbaugh a drug addict.
KING: I'm going to call time-out here, because we're over time. I could spend all day with two of my favorite ladies and favorite moms. We're going to have to call it quits for today, but we will have this conversation I suspect many times in the weeks ahead. Hilary Rosen, Mary Matalin, thanks for coming in this morning.
Look closely on the streets of America's major cities these days and you might be startled, especially on this Mother's Day. More women and families among the homeless. When we come back, we'll go to Los Angeles to meet a remarkable mother and see her struggles up close.
KING: One way to look at the impact of this punishing recession is to look at unemployment. The brighter the state, the higher the unemployment rate. Another way to look at it is homelessness. One of the ripple impacts of the recession has been an increase in homelessness. Look how bright California is, the largest state, the largest number of homeless people.
We wanted to get a better sense of how this plays out. So we went out to Los Angeles. Some call it the homeless capital of the world. More people on the streets and more of them leading families.
KING (voice-over): Up early to beat the L.A. traffic and to get Jacob to school on time. Then to the office. Martinez is a working mother and something else you would never guess.
RUTH MARTINEZ, LOS ANGELES: We went to the movies to go see the move (inaudible). And there was a lady sitting next to us, a very nice lady. I turn to my son and go, little does she know we're homeless. She thinks we live just like regular people. Little does she know we have curfew and after the movie, we have to run back to the car to get home by curfew.
KING: A curfew because Ruth and Jacob live here. In the family wing of a Los Angeles homeless shelter.
MARTINEZ: This is our room. And nothing big so we can kind of squeeze in.
Their tiny room comes with strict rules -- no TV, no lights on after 10:00 p.m. But no complaints of a grateful Ruth Martinez.
Tell me about the first few days.
KING: No. Before that.
MARTINEZ: Well, we were in the car. A couple people at my job knew what was happening and they tried to help. But it's easier to say, oh, I hear what you're going through, uh-huh, and they can get in their car and go to their house. But they won't know what it is to pick up your son and say, wow, where am I going to go now?
KING: Her husband had lost his job and took off. Ruth and Jacob were evicted after falling behind on the rent, living in her car, afraid to ask for help.
MARTINEZ: Just prayed and -- yeah. We just prayed. And I wasn't embarrassed because Hispanic Latina does not ask for help. The way I was raised, you put your pride to the side and do what you have to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not feeling uncomfortable sleeping in the street.
RUDY SALIS, PATH, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY OUTREACH: Would you be open to the idea or the possibility, not right now but in the future maybe staying with us so you have a safe place to sleep at night?
KING: Rudy Salis sees it every day -- the changing face of homelessness.
SALIS: Recently, I have noticed in certain communities in L.A. County an increase in the number of women with children, women with kids below the age of five that are struggling for the same resources that a 40-year-old man may be trying to get to so they have somewhere to sleep at night.
In my eight years of doing this, I never come across as many people who have told us they've never been homeless before.
KING: Some have just lost their jobs. Others, like Ruth Martinez, are still working but were evicted after falling behind on the rent or because their landlord faced foreclosure. Salis' works for PATH, People Assisting the Homeless, which runs the shelter is where Ruth finally found a room and where she will celebrate Mother's Day.
What are you going to do for mother's day?
JACOB MARTINEZ, RUTH MARTINEZ'S SON: Make her something. KING: It's Sunday you know.
J. MARTINEZ: (Inaudible)
KING: Residents can stay six months. If they have jobs, they are required to set aside money to build up enough for a rental property. Ruth is saving but makes an exception because of her new understanding of what it's like to be homeless.
R. MARTINEZ: When I get off that freeway. I see a gentleman there all the time. However long, if I have a couple dollars, I give it to him. Even though I'm homeless, I'd rather give the last dollar to a person who needs it even more than me because I know I'm going to be blessed.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KING (on cameras): Send out a Happy Mother's Day to Ruth Martinez and thank her for sharing her story with us. We wish her and Jacob the best. And we want to say good-bye now to our international audience for this hour.
Coming up for viewers in the United States, why does the press give so much coverage to President Obama's run-in with Vice President Biden this week? Howie Kurtz talks about that and a whole lot more.
KING: I'm John King, and here's what's ahead in our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, May 10th, 2009. Happy Mother's Day. The headlines are calling Republicans an endangered species. Is that the real story or just the way it's being portrayed by the press? Howie Kurtz takes up the question with three top political reporters in our RELIABLE SOURCES hour.
John Edwards' political future was destroyed by a scandal. Was Elizabeth Edwards the suffering spouse or a willing participant in a political cover-up? Howie talks to two correspondents who cover the gray area where gossip and politics meet.
And lately, it seems when former Vice President Dick Cheney is on the air, controversy follows. We'll break down what he said today with the best political team on television. That's all ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.
Time now as always to turn things over to Howard Kurtz and his RELIABLE SOURCES. And Howie, as I do so, here's "The New York Daily News." "Ham in chief. Comic Obama brings down the house."
That, of course, at last night's White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. The president was quite funny but also had a bit of a serious message.
KURTZ: Yeah, he is getting pretty good reviews, John, for his comedy stylings, but he had some serious thoughts that have not been replayed endlessly on the cable networks this morning. Let's take a brief look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There are extraordinary, hardworking journalists who have lost their jobs in recent days, recent weeks, recent months.
OBAMA: When you are at your best, then you help me be at my best. A government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts is not an option for the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What did you think, John, of the president paying tribute to a news business that is having a lot of difficulties right now?
KING: Well, his relations with the press will run hot and run cold. That happens in any administration. But it was nice of the president to acknowledge the hard times in the industry, especially the print industry.
And you know what? He sells a lot of newspapers and magazines, but I think he also said at one point we weren't eligible for a bailout.
KURTZ: Right, exactly. All right. We'll talk to you later, John. Thanks very much.