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State of the Union: Best Political Team on Television

Aired May 10, 2009 - 11:00   ET


KING: Here's what's still to come in our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, May 10, 2009. The Pakistani army is in a pitched battle with the Taliban as terrified civilians flee the conflict.

Did the White House summit with presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan gain or lose crucial political support for what many now call President Obama's war?

We'll take about that and much more with veteran political observers Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett.

Plus, last night, the capital's press and politicians were entertained by the first comedian. Tough crowd. Mr. Obama hasn't had much luck in the past with jokes. We'll get a review of last night's performance from a trio of pretty tough critics.

And we'll meet a mom doing right by her three kids despite today's tough economic times. It's a very different kind of Mother's Day story. That's all ahead in this hour of STATE OF THE UNION.

After months of frustration, the U.S. general leading the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban says Pakistan is now aggressively doing its part.


PETRAEUS: 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: But there are still many critics in the administration and in Congress, not only with Pakistan's commitment but also with Afghanistan.


CORKER: 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 President Karzai's response was a non-response. 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. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, here in Washington this past week, the Afghan president demanded an end to U.S. air strikes. The White House says it will be more careful, but says it has told President Karzai it won't take that option off the table.


GEN. JAMES JONES, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think he understands that we have to have the full complement of our offensive military power when we need it. We have to -- we can't fight with one hand tie behind our back. But on the other hand, we have to be careful to make sure that we don't unnecessarily wound or kill innocent civilians.


KING: As you can see, as always, we've been watching the other Sunday shows so maybe you don't have to. Let's bring in the best political team on television, as we do most Sundays at this hour, and break down the day's big headlines and issues. With me here in Washington, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile; and the Claremont Institute's Washington fellow, radio host and CNN political contributor Bill Bennett.

And welcome. Happy Sunday. Let's start with General Petraeus, more upbeat than I've heard him in months about Pakistan's commitment to the fight. But you heard Senator Corker who says from not only Hamid Karzai, who he was criticizing there, but also Pakistan's president, when they met with the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he came away from it feeling quite uncomfortable that these two leaders, Bill, are up to the challenge.

BILL BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, starting at the other end, you know, you can't create the leaders that you're going to have in other countries. You often have uncertain allies, you often have fallible and very imperfect people.

I was struck by it, too, listening to your interview with him, when he talked about flippancy and so on. Obviously, the president of Afghanistan shouldn't be flippant to senators of the United States who, when the United States is bringing them so much aid.

Nevertheless, what troubles me here for the long run is whether there will be a loss of support for the effort. And here I think President Obama has actually been pretty good on Afghanistan and Iraq, and my worry right now is more than his base will start to oppose him on this. So far, he has stood up.

But, you know, as George Bush said, and think as Barack Obama has said, and certainly recognized, this is a long war, this war against global Islamism -- Islamic terrorism. And it's going to take a lot of patience.

It's probably going to take more casualties, as well, unfortunately. But I was a little troubled to see the reaction being, well, you know, we wish people would be more cooperative. Again, imperfect world.

People wanted to get rid of Musharraf, right, John, right, Donna? And now you have got Zardari. Well, you've got them acting like a military country now, like, you know, you've got a general in charge.

Well, they crushed the Taliban in the Swat Valley but it's not over.

KING: And does -- assess the president's challenge for me. Let me ask it that way. I worry sometimes that, you know, with -- "worry" might not be the right word. All of the attention on the economy, rightly so, on the first 100 days, rightly so, trying to get off the path on climate change and health care, do you think the administration -- spent some time on it in this past week, but overall in the 100 days-plus, is there a fear in your mind that the American people maybe take their eye off the ball?

And if things do go bad for a week or more, it could more of a political problem because it seems to have receded?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the good news is that the president has put some experienced people in the region, Ambassador Holbrooke, of course, who has been talking to these leaders.

He accompanied both the president and Afghanistan and Pakistan to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers. I was glad to see that lawmakers had an opportunity to sit down with these two leaders to get an assessment themselves of just what's going on in the region.

We've committed to spending $7.5 billion over five years in Pakistan to help with not just civilian aid, but to train their military. And remember, this is a country of 170 million people. They have nuclear arms. And we need to put some focus on that northwest region and not allow the Taliban and the other extremists to rule that land. We've seen a great deal of civilians now evacuate in that area.

BENNETT: Interestingly, when you had -- is it Howard Berman who is the chairman of the committee that was grilling Holbrooke and the others, they gave him a pretty tough ride in that hearing. It looks to me as if the president is right now closer to David Petraeus' view than he is to many House Democrats. We'll see how that develops in the future.

KING: And let's talk about the complexity of the challenge, because Iraq, as complex as it has been, is one country. We have relative progress there right now, we believe, and what used to be called by President Bush the central front of the war on terror, this administration does not use that term anymore, General Petraeus in the White House would tell you the stroll front of the effort is now in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.

But when we were talking about this earlier with senators Casey and Corker, Senator Corker made an interesting point. I want you to listen how he assesses, maybe if things go well in Pakistan, you're not solving the problem. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORKER: 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 Qaeda ends up in another place.

Again, I understand the threat, but I'm not sure that we have yet articulated what the endgame is for us.


KING: Senator Corker's broader point was if you start to succeed in Pakistan and al Qaeda spreads and flees somewhere else, will we make an effort in Somalia, in Yemen, in other places where al Qaeda might seek refuge?

Are the American people prepared for that?

BENNETT: This is an intellectual conceit, it's very interesting, I think we first used this in the drug war, we used to talk about the half-full balloon, when you press down here, does it go other places?

You know, people would say, are you going to fight demand or supply? And the answer was, you've fight it in all places at the same time. And that's what you have to do against this -- this global war against Islamist terror, fight it at all times as well.

Yes, you pushed down in Afghanistan, and they moved into Pakistan. I was interested to hear on your show General Petraeus backing up Karzai saying there's no more al Qaeda in Pakistan. I don't know...

KING: Afghanistan.

BENNETT: Yes, in Afghanistan. In any case, they move, and we know they can move freely on that border which means you have to stay tough on it.

On that business about using U.S. military, keeping that option open, people have to realize the Taliban is expert at gathering innocent civilians into their ranks so that when there is an attack they can claim how many civilians have been killed.

BRAZILE: And Bill is making a key point, and that is civilians. We know from our experience over the last couple years that the strength of the al Qaeda movement is that they're able to co-op, whether it's tribal leaders or civilians, and they're able to, you know, get these certain areas that they control.

We have to have a multi-front approach to fighting this, and not just use military strength, but that's one of the reasons why the president has put a lot of emphasis on diplomacy, working with the local tribal leaders, working with civilians and humanitarian assistance.

BENNETT: One more thing, if I may. Just got to show the hypocrisy of the Taliban on this opium business. I mean, they do have to get after that poppy, that opium. The Taliban making profits off of this, which is absolutely against every dictate of Islam, it's impossible.

KING: I want to change the subject a bit. Vice President Cheney -- former Vice President Cheney has been very critical of this president. On this program, started a debate in which he said President Obama is making the American people less safe.

He has been very critical of them closing Guantanamo Bay and changing and outlawing some of the enhanced interrogation tactics, as they called them. The vice president was out again this morning, and Bob Schieffer put the question to the vice president, do you have any regrets for using waterboarding, slamming people against walls, other enhanced interrogation techniques, any regrets? Here is the vice president's answer.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: No regrets. I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that we saved thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives.


KING: It is helpful for him to be out?

BENNETT: I think it's fine. I mean, George Bush is not out. He is out. I do think there are things to fault. He get attention for the things he says. These are important issues. And I think -- I said last time I was on the show, you know, when you build a gallows, be sure you know whom you're going to hang.

Nancy Pelosi said she didn't know about all of these interrogations, didn't approve, doesn't appear so. It appears she did know about them. So we should see.

But this is a very important business. Look, I think on the moral question, it's not hard. If interrogating these guys through waterboarding saved the lives of thousands of Americans, it is absolutely justified.

KING: Bill just raised a point...

BRAZILE: I don't think it's ever justified. I don't think torture is ever...

BENNETT: Saved the lives of thousands...

BRAZILE: I don't think -- if we're a country of laws, and that is our principle...

BENNETT: It wasn't against the law, Donna.

BRAZILE: Well, according to a legal memo written by a staff person who might be in trouble now because he wrote something that was erroneous. I don't think it's ever justified.

BENNETT: The question of waterboarding, whether it's torture or not, is at least a debatable proposition.

KING: I want to come to the point that Bill just made about Speaker Pelosi because she was not speaker at the time but she was the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee in the House. And her own administration, this is the Democratic administration now, the CIA and this administration sent a report to Congress that is saying she was at briefings where they were told that these tactics were being used. She has said that she did not know they were being used and she has said, I believe, on another occasion that they discussed that these tactics had been made legal or were legal. She was not aware they were being used. The former speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich, this morning, had this to say about Speaker Pelosi.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: She's now changed her story again and said, well, she's been reassured they were all legal. So, initially she didn't know about it, had not been briefed, then she'd been briefed but it wasn't clear. Now she's been briefed and in fact had been told the it was all legal so she didn't worry about it. I think she has a lot of explaining to do.


KING: Donna Brazile, does the speaker of the House have a credibility problem here?

BRAZILE: I think the speaker, as well as others involved on Capitol Hill, should explain what they know and exactly -- let some of the memos they've wrote to the various government agencies also come to light.

I don't think we would shift the emphasis from an administration that put itself above the law to now members of Congress and what they knew and when they knew it. But if that's going on the game, then I think members of Congress will also have to fully disclose what they knew, as well.

BENNETT: Well, that's fair enough. I mean, don't shift the emphasis, but if there's going to be all this indictment of the Bush administration, all this indictment about their actions and their procedures, let's look at what everybody's involvement was. Let's look at what was said to the Congress and what they approved. You want to open up this can of worms, let's open the whole can.

BRAZILE: And I support opening up the can.


KING: All right. We have agreement on something. We're going to take a quick break. Donna and Bill are going to stay right here and you stay right where you are. A lot more to talk about, including highlights from last night's star-studded White House Correspondents' Dinner. The president's pretty funny. We'll be right back.


KING: We're back with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and CNN political contributor Bill Bennett. One of the big debates, Bill you know it well from your radio show and from other conversations including those we've had here is how should the Republican Party find its way out of this wilderness? We'll call it that. I know you've seen this happen before in the past.

As part of this debate, the vice president, the question was put to the vice president today about Rush Limbaugh, his role in the party, and some of the criticism of Rush, including criticism from Colin Powell, who says, you know, if Republicans would just stop listening to Rush. Let's listen to Dick Cheney.


CHENEY: In terms of being a Republican, I go with Rush Limbaugh, I think. I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican.


BENNETT: I hadn't heard that. I saw Colin Powell on Friday at the Jack Kemp memorial service, by the way, which was beautiful. It was just the ministers and the children. And I offered to Colin, I said, would you like me to be a mediator between you and Rush? I said, I know you both, I like you both. He said, oh, no, you guys have to -- I said, what do you mean "you guys"? Have you left? Is there some announcement here? Look, Rush is not the leader of the Republican Party.

KING: Did he answer your question?

BENNETT: No, he was just -- small talk. But he is the leading -- obviously the leading talk radio guy. But we have -- we have to go through 15 more cover stories in "Time" and "Newsweek" about how the Republican Party -- you got one there.

KING: I've got one here, I'll take it out for you.

BENNETT: The Republican Party is dead, it's never coming back, it's an endangered species. Anybody, read some history books, you know, these things happen in American life. We are better off than we were in '64, in '74, and in 1992.

BRAZILE: Well first of all, I think --

KING: Colin Powell, that's who I asked first.

BRAZILE: I hope he remains a Republican because I think we need leaders in that party who are intelligent and capable of carrying on a dialogue with the majority of the American people, and he is someone who's very admired by the majority of Americans. You poll Rush Limbaugh, Colin Powell, my money is on Colin Powell. But the Republican Party abandoned its own principles during this last decade and I think they're having an internal discussion about what kind of party would it like to be in the 21st century. I ran into Meghan McCain and I have to tell you Bill, she's refreshing, she's honest, and she's a face that could help them galvanize young people and independents.

KING: You mentioned McCain. Her father is also out on television this morning. And Dick Cheney on a radio show last week said we shouldn't moderate. There's been a whole debate, do we need a more moderate Republican party? Now you can define that and debate that in 100 different ways, depending on this issue. But the former vice president said we shouldn't moderate, so that little bit was played to John McCain this morning. Here's what he said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I don't want to moderate either. I think our policies, the principles of our party are as viable today as they have in the past. In all due respect, previous administration, by letting spending get completely out of control, by betraying some of those principles of our party, cost us a couple of elections. And maybe I didn't do a good enough job communicating with the American people.


KING: If you listen to that last part there, Bill, from Senator McCain, this is a view shared by many, many Republicans that, look, you say historical cycle. A lot of Republicans think, you know what, the end of the Bush administration in particular was really bad for us. Spending was up, the war was unpopular. All we need is distance from George W. Bush and then we'll be fine. Is that right?

BENNETT: No. You also need a program, you know a set of ideas, John. I agree on that. But, look, it's going to be relatively easy to develop those ideas because I think those lines are being drawn in Washington. We are drawing lines in Washington. Democrats are in charge of everything and we shall see. You know, accountability time is here for the Democrat Party and we shall see. But one thing the media could do, some of the media, is to move the debate off Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. This is probably not the future of the Republican Party. It could talk about --

KING: You don't think Governor Palin is the future of the Republican Party?

BENNETT: I do not. You could talk about a Paul Ryan or a Mike Pence. We could talk about Bobby Jindal. It could talk even about a Jon Kyl or a David Petraeus. There's a lot of talent in this party. But I understand why a lot of the media wants to focus on Palin and Rush, because they can get the numbers against the Republican Party. But we shall wait. Our time will come again.

BENNETT: And I've got to tell you just quickly because you mentioned this, I was in New York meeting with some CEOs, Wall Street, this isn't my crowd, I don't run in that circle, the bewilderment at the Obama administration. A lot of people supported Obama but they said they vilify us, they talk about, you know, our banks offshore, as if they're illegal, they talk about us doing this and that. They were kind of shocked. I had not seen this before.

BRAZILE: Shocked? They should be shocked that more of us are not throwing our shoes at them given the dismal state of our economy that they just went out there to make a buck.

BENNETT: These are not people who did anything illegal. These are not people who, you know, are getting bonuses unjustifiably. These are people who run very big companies and hedge funds. A guy who runs a hedge fund said I am villain number one. I run a hedge fund that profits 8 million people. That's a reasonable argument.

BRAZILE: First of all, I agree with you. We should move beyond personalities and get to what's the vision of the Republican Party.

BENNETT: Absolutely.

BRAZILE: And is it inclusive.

BENNETT: Absolutely.

KING: And we don't throw shoes here on STATE OF THE UNION.

BRAZILE: Not my shoes. My shoes are too expensive.

KING: I want now -- we're going to play rate the comedian, OK? You're both very funny when you want to be. The president last night, it was his first big Washington dinner. If you're in that room it was an array of Hollywood and Wall Street and Washington, an odd mix toy might say.

But the president was pretty funny. Here's the president talking about his first hundred days.


OBAMA: I'd like to talk a little bit about what my administration plans to achieve in the next hundred days. During the second hundred days, we will design, build and open a library dedicated to my first hundred days. It's going to be big, folks. In the next hundred days, I will learn to go off the prompter and Joe Biden will learn to stay on the prompter.


KING: He also said his second hundred days is going to be so good he'd get it done in 72 days, I think, I believe. He's not known for off the cuff jokes, Donna, but he was pretty good last night.

BRAZILE: I thought he was excellent. It was a wonderful program. A little bit too long, but it was still a great problem. I hope in the second 100 days we stop the loss of jobs and home foreclosures and bankruptcies because I think that's what the American people want. They want a government that works for them and not against them.

BENNETT: Ability to laugh at yourself. Ability to tell a joke on yourself. When he said I'm glad you're all here and you all voted for me. Very funny. Playing into what conservatives criticize, saying a memorial to my first hundred days, hold the lantern on your own problems, it was I think quite effective.

KING: Well, let me turn your subject to another person who told a joke at last night's event. I don't know if we have it to play. I hope we do in a second. But the president was very funny. Poked fun at himself, poked a little fun at John Boehner, a little fun at the Republicans, a little fun at us in the news media.

Wanda Sykes came on next, she was giving a very funny routine. Then she said something about Rush Limbaugh, we've talked a little about it, that many thought crossed the line. Because Rush is on record saying he thinks Obama is way left of center, socialist policies and that he wants that to fail, criticized for it even by some Republicans. But what Wanda Sykes last night said rolled some eyes. Let's listen. She compared Rush Limbaugh to the 20th hijacker.


WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: The me that's treason. He's not saying anything differently other than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You might want to look into this. I think may be Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker but he was just so strung out on Oxycontin he missed his flight.


KING: You two politely debate the issues here all the time. You both always say let's not keep it personal. Rush is fair game. He's in this debate. He pokes fun at people. Was that over the line?

BRAZILE: No. It was funny. She thought it was funny. Some people thought it was funny. Some people did not think it was funny. So, I'm not going to debate whether or not a comedian said something over the line. She'll be criticizing me tomorrow. I'm leaving it alone.

BENNETT: Way over the line. I hope he fails was the next line, I hope his kidneys fail. What the hell is that? Can we -- I understand the dislike of Rush, the disapproval of Rush by liberals. But can we at least put some decency in our remarks? Michael Savage was criticized rightly for saying to a gay caller, I hope you die. You do not talk about people like that. You never talk about people like that. She was way over the line. This is why Elaine Bennett and I did not go to this dinner. We went twice and twice we had to leave because of remarks by comedians.

I'm for vigorous debate and exchange, but I don't care who you're talking about, and there are people I strongly dislike in this world, you don't go beyond decency and she went way beyond that. "I hope his kidneys fail." Come on.

BRAZILE: She was ...

BENNETT: Joking.

BRAZILE: ... trying to make fun of somebody who makes fun of everybody, Bill.

BENNETT: I understand that.

BRAZILE: He has said some things, Bill, I tell you, I won't repeat because Rush Limbaugh, he has -- he gives everybody the blues, including many Republicans.

BENNETT: He has said things in the past for which I have criticized him. But when it gets to the point liberals will not criticize their own when they step over the line, then they're out there way over the line.

BRAZILE: We criticize our own. We're not perfect.

BENNETT: I'd like to hear somebody step up on this one.

BRAZILE: What's the point?

BENNETT: What's the point? Just say that's too much.

BRAZILE: What's the point? She is an entertainer.

BENNETT: So is Rush an entertainer but you're happy to criticize him.

BRAZILE: Of course.

BENNETT: What would have been too far? What would Wanda have said that would have offended you, anything?

BRAZILE: Of course. Of course.

BENNETT: Like what? She said I hope he dies.


BENNETT: I hope his kidneys fail.

BRAZILE: No. She was making fun of Rush Limbaugh and Rush Limbaugh makes fun of everybody else.

BENNETT: I'm sorry, I know what it means to be made fun of and I know what it means for someone to say I hope you die.

KING: I'm going to call a time-out here because the last thing I want is a divide between you two. So I'm going to call a little time out here. You both have very strongly held opinions on this one and did it in a polite way, which is the way we like debates here on STATE OF THE UNION.

In just a moment, we'll break down today's news and yes, we'll take another look at last night's press dinner with CNN's best reporters.

But straight ahead, my favorite part of the program. Where I get to leave Washington and hear from people just like you. This week we met three women who don't think the recession has bottomed out. We'll be right back.


KING: For our travels this week, we went all the way across the country out to the State of California right down here into the Los Angeles area. One of the things we wanted to check on with people is how do you feel about the economy? So we sat down for breakfast, and this is where we started the discussion because it's been a week of mixed signals. The national unemployment rate, of course, this is way back 1998, 4.6 percent, now this past month up to 8.9 percent. Many people believe that number will go higher in the months ahead. Yet there is optimism about the economy. Because if you look at this chart, you see the job loss rate month by month, nearly 750,000 lost in January, 700,000 lost in March. The last report, 539,000. Still a lot of jobs lost but fewer jobs than the month before. So, some say maybe the economy has hit bottom and is bouncing back.

KING: That's the question we put to three mothers at our diner in L.A.


KING: Have we hit bottom? Is the economy coming back?

ROBIN LEACH, LOS ANGELES: I don't think it's hit bottom in general. I think hopefully real estate wise we've hit bottom and hopefully that fuels some of the comeback.

STEPHANIE JELINEK, LOS ANGELES: I don't think we have hit bottom yet. I think the aerospace industry is going to be hit be hit harder. I think real estate is going to unfortunately continue to drop. I'm in the health care industry. I think there's going to be massive layoffs.

JENIFER MCINTOSH, LOS ANGELES: I see it every day. We have a business in the city of Compton and we're actually going to close the doors probably starting today, we're going to start packing up and moving on. The woodwork business, the rent is going up, utilities. And we have clientele, but it's not coming fast enough.

KING: So more optimistic, less optimistic or not sure?

MCINTOSH: I'm less optimistic, I believe. But you never know from day to day. And also along with that, I'm an accountant and I have clients and their money isn't coming in, which affects my money. I don't no.

LEACH: Not so much optimistic but always hopeful, you know. It looks pretty bleak all the way around, but, you know, keep working, keep doing what you've got to do. We're working on our MBAs and so hopefully that will be something that makes things more marketable and we can combine industries. And so, you know, not necessarily optimistic but always hopeful.

JELINEK: Concerned, concerned. I'm in the health care industry and I've have actually taken on a part-time job because the raises just aren't there. So I've taken on a part-time job. I've got kids in college. My concern for them is are they going to have a job after this great college education? I have a son graduating Saturday in the design industry. Who knows what's going to happen?

KING: So, we have an African-American president. That's history. A city has had problems time to time with race relations. Are they better, are they worse, did it make no difference at all?

LEACH: I think people are more happy or a little more -- a little less stressful -- strained, and so I think relations are a little less strained because everyone is in this hopeful mood.

MCINTOSH: I definitely believe that we're more visible to other people, other groups, but at the same time, I'm not going to say that racial sense is gone because we now have Obama. People discriminate just not on race. I see gender discrimination. I see homophobia.

JELINEK: I don't think having an African-American president versus a white president -- I don't think it makes a difference one way or another. People are just frustrated. They're angry. I don't think it makes a difference what color you are. If you're moving ahead and this person isn't, they're just angry. There's just anger everywhere.

KING: How many of you are mothers? Three mothers at the table. This is Mother's Day weekend. What are you doing Mother's Day to celebrate? Or who takes care of you on Mother's Day maybe is the better question.

LEACH: I was going to say, we'll see what the children have in mind. Just spending time with family. Nothing special.

MCINTOSH: Same thing. I'll be spending time with her and the rest of our family at the house. Not going out. Don't want to fight the crowds.

JELINEK: We've had two birthdays this week, so we're doing two birthday parties, Mother's Day and a college graduation on Sunday. So we're doing the big party in the back yard. Mimosas, you know.


KING: Happy Mother's Day to the ladies and our thanks, as well, to the fabulous folks at Pam's Diner for treating us to great conversation and a fabulous breakfast.

If you'd like to know more about what we learned this week in California, my column featuring two courageous women struggling to raise their kids without a place to call home. You can find that on

Next on STATE OF THE UNION, right back here to Washington, D.C. Three of CNN's best reporters join me to analyze all the news from the Sunday talk shows. Stay right there.


KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.

Hundreds of thousand of Pakistanis are on the move fleeing a region where army forces are cracking down hard on Taliban militants. The military lifted a curfew for several hours today allowing civilians to escape. Pakistani officials say as many as 200 militants were killed over the past 24 hours.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in Baghdad on a one-day visit to Iraq. She met with Iraqi lawmakers and called for greater intelligence cooperation between the United States and Iraq. Pelosi is also meeting with senior U.S. officials and U.S. troops.

Pope Benedict is in Jordan as part of a visit to the Middle East. After celebrating mass today in Amman, he traveled to the banks of the Jordan River and blessed churches on the spot where many believe John the Baptist first blessed Jesus. That and more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

Live picture of the White House there on this Mother's Day in Washington. And joining me here in studio, senior White House correspondent Ed Henry. That's his office you just saw. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr and foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty. Thanks all for coming in.

Let's start with the major challenge. We spent so much time in the first 100 plus days talking about the economy and health care and domestic issues. But this past week, the president spent a lot of time with the president of Afghanistan, the president of Pakistan. And one of the questions you all know well, the administration is faced, is the government of Pakistan stable enough with the Taliban insurgency? President Zardari out this morning answering questions, that question was put to him. Can your government survive? Here's his answer.


PRES. ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PAKISTAN: We have a threat, yes. Is the state of Pakistan going to collapse? No. We have 180 million people. Their population is much more than the insurgents are, but we do have a problem.


KING: A problem. But he says he's going to survive. Ed, how much faith does President Obama and his team have in President Zardari, or are they trying to do their business through the Pakistani military?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Bush had and President Musharraf, this president trying to break -- support Musharraf at all costs when he was president, during the Bush days. It's very interesting when we were pressing Robert Gibbs this week, Jill was with us and saw it at the White House, about how much are you behind Pakistan and how much are you behind Afghanistan.

Robert Gibbs would say things like we support the democratically elected governments of those countries. They're very careful, this administration, not to get too close to President Zardari in Pakistan or President Karzai in Afghanistan. That's by design. They don't want to get too close to them. They don't know what the future holds in either country. KING: So Barbara, how does that complicate things if you're the pentagon? Are you dealing with civilian leadership in Pakistan or are you just going all through the military?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's the problem. You have two sides in Pakistan. You have Musharraf, at least you have one guy. He might have been a strong man, but you can deal with one guy. Now they don't know who to deal with.

STARR: Day to day, it shifts. And the Pentagon's problem is they have put all their eggs in the basket of General Ashfaq Kayani, the head of the Pakistani Army, the current guy who basically runs the Pakistani military.

And if this strategy that he's got, which is putting hundreds of thousands of people out of their homes to find the Taliban, if that doesn't work, it's going to get very, very tough.

KING: And so, Jill, it was not long ago that Secretary of State Clinton was telling Congress, you know, we don't is have a lot of faith this these guys, we're not sure we can trust them. This week she said a new beginning, they seem to be back on track. Is that for public show or do they truly believe there's been a turnaround?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think it can change in two weeks. I was looking at that mortal threat to the welfare and security of the united states and the world. Those are the words of Hillary Clinton coming out just a couple of weeks ago. Now, how can it shift to the point they say, hey, he's doing a pretty good job? I mean, I think what they're trying to do is convince Pakistan that the Taliban are an existential threat to the existence of Pakistan.

And it is not clear from anybody there at that point that they really believe that. They are still focused on India, and that's the problem. There troops are over protecting against the threat from India that they think will happen. But the U.S. believes is a threat from Pakistan that's going to get them from within. So, you have to change the mind-set.

KING: We have spent seven-plus years in this country asking one question at times -- where is bin Laden? Since 9/11. The president of Pakistan was asked this question in an interview this morning on NBC, and this has been a frustrating one as we all know from the White House perspective, the State Department perspective, the military perspective, where is bin Laden? President Zardari says he may not be worth searching for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRES. ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PAKISTAN: I've said before that I don't think he's alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You believe that.

I have a strong feeling, and I also have reason to believe that because I've asked my counterparts in the American intelligence agencies and they haven't heard of him in seven years.


KING: That's not consistent, Barbara, with when you ask U.S. military officials. They say they have a hard time locating him but they still believe he's alive up in those hills somewhere.

STARR: This is pretty convenient for the Pakistani leader to say this. The best guess of the United States, the best intelligence is he's alive, he's in Pakistan, he's in that frontier region, hasn't moved around much in recent years, hasn't been any real credible intelligence. But Pakistan's never going to admit he's there. Even when they find him, somehow he'll be found somewhere else, perhaps, for public consumption. But the best information is he's there.

HENRY: When you take a step back from all of this, beyond the pressure on the ground in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, the war on terror broadly, there's pressure from this president with fellow Democrats on the Hill. This week, David Obey, a very senior Democrat, holds the purse strings saying basically, this president has a year in Afghanistan before we start maybe cutting off money. Now some people think there's some bluster there and that's not really going to happen. But clearly there's pressure within the president's own party about sending more troops to Afghanistan, funding all of this, as he's winding down the war in Iraq.

STARR: Political pressure to do that. At the same time, the security situation is just simply not getting any better. If you talk to some senior military officials they will tell you both in Afghanistan and Pakistan they have to effect some sort of positive change in six months. They feel the clock ticking.

KING: And Jill, this is one of the fascinating Washington parlor games but it has enormous world consequences in that when you have Secretary Clinton, no shrinking violet, she brings in Dick Holbrooke to be the special envoy to Pakistani, not a shy guy. There's a big question, can all these egos get along, not to mention all the guys who work at the White House? How is it going so far? You're the one who sees it behind the curtain.

DOUGHERTY: Remember just not too long ago we were talking about a team of rivals and can they all work together. And so far there haven't been any big blowups but it's early. They're still putting together that strategy. And now here's kind of the crunch. They've gotten the strategy out on Afghanistan, Af-Pak strategy, and they've gotten the key people together and now the key people have to go and do something. And are they actually going to deliver? And all of this is happening in the midst of enormous threats to the Pakistani government, the Taliban moving, et cetera, so it's not clear that there might not be fissures opening up in among those people as we go along and see what they think should work is actually working.

KING: Much more to talk about with our three correspondents. We will be right back in a moment. We'll take a short break from serious news, yes , we have a little more serious news but then a little break, we're get your take on last night's star-studded press dinner.


KING: We're back with CNN's Ed Henry, Barbara Starr and Jill Dougherty. Let's turn this whole debate - we were talking about terror overseas. There's a home element of it in the sense the president decided to close down Guantanamo Bay. And even some Democrats, you mentioned David Obey before the break, a lot of them are saying he put the cart before the horse and now you're going to close Guantanamo Bay without first having a plan in place, where are those people going to go, many of them suspected terrorists?

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was out this morning on television and he essentially made that point that maybe the president should have thought twice before closing Gitmo.


CHENEY: Some talk on the part of administration about putting them many the United States. I think that's going to be a tough sell. I don't know a single congressional district in this country that's going to want to say, gee, great, they're sending us 20 al Qaeda terrorists.


KING: On that point, the administration, as much as it likes to dispute Dick Cheney, can't because you have Democrats standing up saying, whoa.

HENRY: Exactly. Not in my back yard. Nobody wants these 240 or so detainees from Gitmo dumped into the United States. They also have to deal with the policies of what kind of trials will they have. And I understand there was a very quiet high-level meeting Thursday night in the Situation Room at the White House. Top level officials trying to figure out about detainees policy because if you remember, the first week, in addition to closing down Gitmo, the president also ordered they were going to suspend all the Bush military tribunals.

Now being told they're maybe going back to and going back to the military tribunals with some changes to give the detainees some rights. They are going to say that's a compromise, that's an improvement but you're going to have the Dick Cheneys of the world saying we told you so, the tribunal system was not so bad, you need to deal with these bad actors. And you've got the left, the ACLU already coming out and saying, why are you bringing back what they believe is a flawed, what they believe a flawed military trial system?

And so they are sort of caught in between as they try to govern. Because the first week it was popular to come out with an executive order. Now it's a lot harder, what do you do with these detainees?

DOUGHERTY: And you know, John, there's another part of it, which is, let's say they don't come to the United States. They are talking to the Europeans and other allies about having them go there.

DOUGHERTY: But I've been talking with some diplomats from that area and they're saying, look, we'd want to know details, who are these people? How many people? And they have to go through each case. It's not like they can en masse shift them, you know, any place.

They have to go through each individual case. And that takes time.

KING: Any buzz at the Pentagon that maybe Gitmo might be open past this one year in the executive order?

STARR: Well, the silence is deafening, of course, because they are figuring that this is just not going to be that easy.

And of course, you know, they have returned a lot of detainees to their so-called home countries. Right now one the biggest insurgent leaders in southern Afghanistan is a man who spent time in Gitmo who was released in December 2007 and is back in the battlefield and he's now topping the list of the guys they want to get again.

KING: Well, a sober remark like that makes it hard for me to make this next segue. I'm going to go from that very sober footnote there to, let's laugh a little bit. We were at this dinner a little bit, it's the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. And we always see whether the president can deliver a funny speech.

This president has made some mistakes when he has tried to joke in the past. But he was very funny last night, including a reference to his formal rival, now secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Let's listen to President Obama.


OBAMA: Which brings me to another thing that has changed in this new warmer, fuzzier White House...


OBAMA: ... and that's my relationship with Hillary. You know, we had been rivals during the campaign but these days we could not be closer. In fact, the second she got back from Mexico, she pulled me into a hug and gave me a big kiss...


OBAMA: ... told me I had better get down there myself. (LAUGHTER)


KING: There was a time in the campaign where I might believe that.


KING: What do you think?

DOUGHERTY: You know, as I was going into the dinner, one -- a person from, let's say, that -- from the State Department, said, yes, you know, there is going to be a line about Hillary and Mexico. And I thought, whoa.

But even the line, "my relationship with Hillary," gets a laugh. But so far, you know, I guess you'd have to say, they are getting along OK. She's over there all the time meeting with the president and vice president, and so far no fireworks.

KING: Kumbaya?

STARR: You know, well, this is the one year time of year I get to not be about combat boots and M-16s, you know?


KING: Right, and rifles.

STARR: Get out the black dress and the high heels. I want to say, I think it was all about the fashion. I mean, how many of us three hours earlier where were wearing our T-shirts and flip-flops? The president set a new fashion standard for the entire Washington scene. No longer the little black bow tie with the tuxedo. This was the very cool, dark tie look.

HENRY: What were you wearing, which designer?

STARR: Well...



STARR: It was whatever was zipped up in the closet. And it looked really good.

KING: Ed Henry on fashion.



STARR: ... me on fashion. HENRY: I thought when the president joked about Sasha and Malia are grounded because you can't take air force one for a joy ride to Manhattan, that was a pretty good joke.

KING: That's the one way to make fun of yourself and make fun of your mess-ups...


KING: ... is a good way to get by in Washington. Ed Henry, Barbara Starr, Jill Dougherty, thanks for coming in. Have a great day.

And up next, homeless and undocumented, one family's struggle to make ends meet in this brutal economy.


KING: Without a doubt, one of the impacts of this recession is an increase in many big cities in homelessness. Let's look at a demographic map and look at this, the brighter the state, the higher the problem with homelessness.

You see California, bright, probably not a surprise in some ways. It's the nation's largest state, not unexpected, it would have the most unemployment -- homeless, excuse me. Seventy-three thousand people on any given night in L.A. County are said to be homeless.

Twenty to 43 percent are in families headed by a single mother. And this is a growing problem. And look at this, this is the impact of the recession, more than four in 10 of the adult homeless were employed within the last year.

We told you earlier this morning about a working mother dealing with the challenge of raising her son being homeless. Now we want to introduce you to a woman with three children and a very different issue.


KING (voice-over): It is an aging motel in a North Hollywood neighborhood that has seen better days. For Dina Acevedo and her three daughters, this tiny space is home for now.

DINA ACEVEDO, HOMELESS MOTHER: I'm homeless because we cannot afford for an apartment. We don't have any place to live. I was living in a violent domestic relationship.

KING: The child support payments cover the costs. And she gets help with food from her church. If she could find work, she could afford a bigger place, but Dina Acevedo is in the United States illegally.

ACEVEDO: They request all of the time the right papers to work. It's very hard for me. I'm used all the time to feeling overwhelmed, desperated (ph), because my girls deserve, you know, another lifestyle.

KING: Dina applied for legal status years ago, but was told her paperwork was lost. So she is waiting again, told it will take at least a year, also waiting for low-income housing.

ACEVEDO: They say I'm on a waiting list and I'm always on a waiting list and I don't have any resort.

KING: So she tries to make this feel as much at home as possible. Macaroni and cheese lunch cooked in a kitchen shared by other guests, posters lining the walls of the cramped room, and in the tiny bathroom, two little surprises.

(on camera): Now this is Sleepy?


KING: And this is Kimberly?


KING: What is turtle in Spanish?


KING: Tortuga?

(voice-over): By next Mother's Day, she hopes to have her work visa, and a bigger, better place for the girls.

ACEVEDO: I want one day to go to college because I don't want that they have the problems that I have in my life. And I came to this country thinking a better life. If I cannot do it for me, I want to do for them, because they deserve it.


KING: Happy Mother's Day to Dina and hello to those three remarkable young girls, and their cute turtles.

We would like to welcome back our international viewers to this STATE OF THE REPORT for this Sunday, May 10th.

President Obama meets with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, says he's getting promising signs from both about their commitment to fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban. But are they up to the job? And what is the plan for U.S. troops in the region? We'll talk with the man in charge of the U.S. military effort, General David Petraeus.