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Last Word: Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Brandy Ovanek

Aired May 10, 2009 - 12:00   ET


KING: Mixed economic signals this week as the overall unemployment rate went up, but the pace of job losses slowed down. Are the Obama administration's efforts 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 much more.

And she's a mother and a wife serving in Iraq. On this Mother's Day, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Brandy Ovanek gets the last word. All head on this hour of STATE OF THE UNION.


KING: 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.

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, first of all, 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.

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.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Are you saying there's no Al Qaida in Afghanistan right now?


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.


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.

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. To 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.

And gentlemen, you just heard General Petraeus on the program. That is as optimistic as I've 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 that they left the room with a lot less support than they came into the room with. So you're not nearly as up beat as General Petraeus?

CORKER: Look, General Petraeus is a folk hero in our state and I'm one of his great fans and 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 what our mission in Afghanistan ought to be and I thought 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 say some probing by the Senate and Congress and I think we're going to want to see - we want to see this mission articulated. I think the weakness right now is, what does it mean to make Afghanistan a place that is not a safe haven for al Qaeda, especially when you hear General Petraeus talk about the fact that al Qaeda is actually in Pakistan, which is what we all know.

KING: And how about that, Senator Casey, just 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 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 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.


ASIF ALI ZARDARI, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: I'm thankful for the support that I got, for the people of America to give their tax dollars to us but I need more support.


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 that they are going to begin doing is billing us from their military what they are 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 and 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 and 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 trip from al Qaeda to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. 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 has passed the Senate 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 -- We cannot just have a war in Pakistan. You have to begin to build up the country itself so they can govern effectively even as they fight the Taliban.

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 and better than the Pakistani government has allowed us to do in previous efforts to provide economic aid.

KING: Senators Casey and Corker, I want you both to stand by, when we come back we'll get some insights into 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 test 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 have 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 -- I mean, 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 half a million 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. 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 of the cover of this week's TIME magazine, "Endanger 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 time line through here to go through what has happened. This is -- goes back 17 years to 1992. And you can 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. You know, 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: Well, 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: John, 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 2010.

KING: And should the...

CASEY: A lot of time between now and then.

KING: 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. KING: Incredibly diplomatic there from Senator Casey. He's auditioning for secretary of state if the administration goes on, a little bit here.


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 has 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. 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 this 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 Arlen fine.

But let me just say, John, after 30 years of service, if you see me -- I hope that's not 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 and Senator Bob Casey. Gentlemen, thanks both for coming in. I guess that experience on the Foreign Relations Committee makes you very diplomatic. Thank you both.

And as we just heard from Senator Corker, a lot of advice for the 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 hear their unique political insights, Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin who is 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.

(CROSSTALK) 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?

MATALIN: 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.

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: 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.


WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: To me, 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.


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 here. I could spend all day with two of my favorite ladies and favorite moms.

KING: but 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 and Mary Matalin, thanks much for coming in this morning.

And don't forget coming up right here at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, FAREED ZAKARIA GPS, takes a comprehensive look as always at international affairs with world leaders, policy experts and journalists. This week, Fareed has an exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama.


DALAI LAMA: Out of desperation, out of hatred, out of anger, out of frustration violence took place. So therefore, violence does not come from sky, violence does not come from guns alone. Ultimately it (inaudible) motivation, emotion. So unless we tackle emotion, destructive emotion, we cannot stop violence.


KING: More of that fascinating conversation just ahead. Stay tuned for FAREED ZAKARIA GPS coming up at the top of the hour right here on CNN. Up next, a very special guest joins us all the way from the battlefield this Mother's Day with a message from her two young children back home. You won't want to miss this. Stay with us.


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

Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis are on the move, fleeing a region where Army forces say they are cracking down hard on Taliban militants. The military lifted a curfew for several hours today allowing those civilians to escape. Pakistani officials say as many as 200 militants were killed in a 24 hour period.

Pope Benedict is in Jordan as part of a visit to the Middle East. After celebrating mass in Amman, Jordan this morning, he traveled to the banks of the Jordan River and blessed churches on the spot where many Christians believe John the Baptist first baptized Jesus.

Cool, damp water is helping tame a wildfire in Santa Barbara, California that has burned nearly 9,000 acres. Evacuation orders have now been lifted and residents are now returning home. Firefighters say the blaze is about 40% contained. It has destroyed or damaged nearly 80 homes and buildings. Those are the headlines on STATE OF THE UNION.

A shot of the capitol there on this Mother's Day, Sunday, here in Washington, DC. Twenty three newsmakers, analysts and reporters were out on the Sunday morning talk shows today. But only one gets the last word.

That honor today, a very special treat goes to Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Brandy Ovanek. She's on duty in Iraq on this Mother's Day. Since she joins us now from Iraq, staff sergeant, let me start by saying Happy Mother's Day to you.

SSG BRANDY OVANEK, USMC: Thank you, sir.

KING: You don't have to call me sir. You can call me John. That would be just fine. Let me ask you a question we put to the generals all the time. You're serving in Iraq now. By next Mother's Day, most U.S. combat forces including you, staff sergeant, are supposed to be back home here in the United States. The big question, are the Iraqi Army and security forces up to the challenge of replacing U.S. troops as you begin to draw down. The generals say increasingly the answer is yes. Do you agree?

OVANEK: Yes, sir, I do. I definitely do.

KING: And how do you see it there?

OVANEK: I'm sorry?

KING: And what evidence of that do you see while you're there serving in Iraq?

OVANEK: I still can't understand you.

KING: I'm sorry you can't hear me. Let me shift gears, actually. I know you can't be with your children because you're serving your army overseas. Your children Maggie and Parker would have very much liked to make you breakfast at home. We do know that they made you a card. I'm going to show it on the screen here and we can bring it up, "Happy Mother's Day, wishing you a very happy mother's day, remember it's the little things in life that matter. We love you mommy and cannot wait for your return. Missing you, always, your family, Chris, Maggie and Parker."

I'm wondering if you have a Mother's Day message to your family back home.

OVANEK: Well, I just want to thank them for the cards and I definitely miss them as much as they seem to be missing me and also just a Happy Mother's Day to my mother and family in Johnstown, Pennsylvania as well.

KING: Well, we know your children and husband miss you very much and the reason we know that is because we have them standing by on the line and we want to give them an opportunity to say to you what they might have said to you at breakfast had you been home. Come on in guys. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Happy Mother's Day.

OVANEK: Thank you, dear.


OVANEK: Is that Parker or Maggie?

M. OVANEK: It's Maggie.

OVANEK: Hi, Maggie, thank you. Thank you for the card.

M. OVANEK: You're welcome.

KING: Is Parker with us?

M. OVANEK: Yes, he is.

KING: Now, tell me guys, what would you have made your mom for breakfast if she were home?

M. OVANEK: Probably a couple of pancakes with berries on the top.

KING: Pancakes with berries on the top. I bet you can't get those in Iraq, can you, staff sergeant?

OVANEK: No, sir.

KING: Tell me, we're having a nice moment here and I'm glad to have it. You're one of the new face of the United States military. More and more women and more and more mothers serving overseas. How hard is the challenge?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy mother's day, mom.

OVANEK: It's hard but it's -- thank you, buddy. It's definitely a challenge but we've been preparing for it. We had enough preparation for the deployment. It definitely wasn't a surprise that the hand over to the husband for the duration of my deployment was an easy transition.

KING: And tell me in this new day of better communications, including the communication we're enjoying right now with your husband and children on the line, is it easier to communicate with them on a regular basis as opposed to, say, five or 10 years ago in.

OVANEK: Oh, definitely. It's much easier. A few years ago when I deployed, I was lucky if I talked to my children -- at the time, just my daughter, once every two to three weeks. And now I could call or e-mail every day if I wanted to. It makes it much easier.

KING: We have about a minute time left. I'm going to do the right thing and just be quiet. I want your family to jump in and take the last bit of time we have and just have a bit of conversation and say hi to mom. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, sweetie.

OVANEK: Thank you, John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on. Here's Parker.



OVANEK: Hello, Parker.


OVANEK: Thank you, buddy.

P. OVANEK: You're welcome.

B. OVANEK: You would have made me breakfast this morning, huh?

P. OVANEK: Yeah.

KING: So Parker and Maggie, tell mom what you're going to do today on Mother's Day.

B. OVANEK: What would you have made me?

P. OVANEK: We're going to make pancakes with berries on top.

B. OVANEK: You better call your grandma's.

P. OVANEK: And a hot cup of coffee.

B. OVANEK: I love you guys.

M. OVANEK: Love you.

KING: You have a few more seconds left, staff sergeant. Anything else you want to say to your children or your mother or anybody back home state side?

B. OVANEK: Just that I love everybody and I miss them and can't wait to see everybody.

KING: All right. Staff Sergeant Brandy Ovanek serving us in Iraq. We thank you for your time on this Mother's Day. We hope -- we know the technology doesn't always work perfectly but we hope getting a quick chance to say hello to your husband and children made your day a little bit brighter overseas and we wish you the best and best of luck in the weeks and months ahead.

B. OVANEK: OK, John, thank you very much.

KING: Thank you, you take care.

And on this Mother's Day, we return from one remarkable mother to another. When we come back, we'll take you out to Los Angeles to meet one woman who is doing everything she can for her son. You'll see her struggles up close next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We've spent a lot of time in our travels out of Washington looking at how the recession has increased unemployment. The brighter the state on the map here, the higher the unemployment rate. Another impact is homelessness. The brighter the state, again, the higher the rate. Homelessness also on the rise in a bad economy. This week, we went to Los Angeles. I want to show you one statistic in the middle here -- 20 percent to 43 percent, the data is a little shaky, but 20- 43 percent of homeless are in families headed by a single mother.

It is a remarkable statistic and you might think all of these single mothers have been thrown out of work. Not all. Some are still in the workforce, but without a roof over their head.


KING (voice-over): Up early to beat the L.A. traffic to get Jacob to school on time and then to the office. Ruth Martinez is a working mother and something else you would never guess.

RUTH MARTINEZ, HOMELESS: We went to the movies to go see the movie "The Soloist" and there's a lady sitting next to us and a very nice lady and I turn to my son and I go, little does she know that we're homeless. She thinks of us just like regular people. Little does she know that we have curfews and after the movie, we have to run to the car to get back by curfew.

KING: Curfew because Ruth and Jacob live here in the family wing of the Los Angeles homeless shelter.

R. MARTINEZ: This is our room.

KING: Their tiny room comes with strict rules. No TV, no lights on after 10 p.m., but no complaints from a grateful Ruth Martinez.

So tell me about the first few days.


KING: No, before that.

R. MARTINEZ: Well, we were living in my car. And a couple people at my job knew what was happening and they tried to help but it was 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 don'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.

R. MARTINEZ: It's just crazy. I was embarrassed because a 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. RUDY SALINAS, PATH DIR. 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 Salinas sees it every day, the changing face of homelessness.

SALINAS: 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 5 that are struggling for the same resources that a 40-year-old man may be trying to go through so they have somewhere to sleep at night. In my eight years of doing this, I never came across as many people who told us that they have been homeless before.

KING: Some have just lost their jobs. Others like Ruth Martinez are still working but have been evicted after falling behind on the rent or because their landlord faced foreclosure. Salinas works for PATH, People Assisting the Homeless, which runs the shelter where Ruth finally found a room and where she will celebrate Mother's Day.

KING: What are you going to do for her on Mother's Day?

JACOB MARTINEZ, HOMELESS: Make her something.

KING: What are you going to make her? It's on Sunday, you know.

Residents can stay six months. If they have jobs, they are required to set aside money, 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 every time. Whatever I have on me, if I have a couple of dollars, I give it to him. Even though I'm homeless, I'd rather give my last few dollars to a person who needs it more because I've been there.


KING: Happy Mother's Day to Ruth Martinez and Jacob. I bet she loved the flower. We'll be here again next Sunday and every Sunday at 9 a.m. Eastern for the first and last word in Sunday talk. If you missed any part of our program, tune it tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern. We'll showcase the best of today's STATE OF THE UNION. Until then, I'm John King in Washington. Have a great Sunday. Happy Mother's Day to all of the moms out there. For our international viewers, "African Voices" is next. For everyone else, "Fareed Zakaria GPS" starts right now.