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State of the Union: Best Political Team on Television

Aired May 24, 2009 - 11:00   ET


KING: Thanks, Howie.

And here's what's still to come on our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, May 24th.

KING: At the top of our agenda, the clashing perspectives on national security put forward this past week by President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney. We'll discuss that and much more with James Carville and Mary Matalin, who are only seen together here on STATE OF THE UNION.

The president's first act in office was to order the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, but now even members of his own party are balking at moving the detainees. We'll discuss all the angles of this complex issue with three members of the best political team on television.

And as millions of Americans head out for a holiday weekend, the president is preparing for a trip to Las Vegas, where some say he shares the blame for the tough economic times.

That's all ahead on "State of the Union." Where to put the suspected terrorists now held at Guantanamo Bay and other national security questions are dominating this Sunday's political debate. Assessing this past week's Obama/Cheney showdown, the Bush administration's first homeland security secretary takes issue with Mr. Cheney's most dramatic claim.


KING: You had the intelligence. You served in a very sensitive position in those days after 9/11. Do you believe we are less safe today because of steps taken by President Obama?

RIDGE: I do not.

KING: You disagree with Dick Cheney, then.

RIDGE: Yeah, I disagree with Dick Cheney.


KING: In the Gitmo debate, the Senate's number two Democrat says fears of bringing suspects to prison here in the United States are exaggerated.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), MAJORITY WHIP: We have successfully tried terrorists in the United States. As I sit here today, we have 347 convicted terrorists secure in our incarceration, in our facilities. We know that they can be tried and held safely. I'm sure the president will be able to work this out with members of Congress.


KING: Firing back, the Senate's number two Republican says President Obama's rationale for closing Guantanamo Bay is it helps terrorists recruit is dead wrong.


SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: This is a false charge. In fact, it's palpably false. 9/11 hijackers didn't do their deeds because of Gitmo. The people that blew up the Khobar Towers or first World Trade Center, they didn't sit around and say, gee, there's Gitmo down there because it didn't exist.


KING: As you can see, as we always do, 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 every Sunday at this hour. Joining us from their spectacular home in New Orleans, the site of many great political debates, our James Carville and Mary Matalin.

Guys, I want to get straight to the debate. And Mary, you're close to the former vice president. Tom Ridge, who served in the Bush administration, says he agrees with Dick Cheney on some things in the security debate but not to that most dramatic charge, that the changes put in place by President Obama has made us less safe. Tom Ridge says Dick Cheney is wrong.

MARY MATALIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, to the extent you went on in that interview and asked the governor about the substantive disagreements with Dick Cheney, he agreed, he said Dick Cheney was spot on about relief, the necessary relief of the effectiveness memos, what the intelligence -- people who are gathering the intelligence, what did they find and what attacks did it thwart, how many lives were saved?

He said that was spot on. He went on to agree with the vice president on Gitmo and releasing the detainees. So further on substance, it's not clear where the governor disagreed, and it would be difficult for him to disagree because as you pointed out, Tom Ridge was the first homeland security secretary. Dick Cheney had the homeland -- what was then called homeland defense portfolio and had a hand in bringing the governor there.

And the governor and Dick Cheney together put in place and developed many of those policies. So, I'm not clear substantively where Tom Ridge disagreed with Dick Cheney.

KING: James, I want you to jump in on this debate. And as you do, I'm sure you've seen all of the commentary. Some say Dick Cheney's not even arguing with President Obama, as much as he might be arguing with the final couple years of his own administration. JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's pretty clear that he is, and what he's arguing for is the early Rumsfeld/Cheney doctrine that the United States is stronger when it acted alone and not in conjunction with its allies and took a unilateral approach to foreign policy and defense.

Certainly the vice president is entitled to that opinion. It's a long-held opinion of his. And I certainly welcome him into the debate. However, I agree with Governor Ridge that the fact that we can engage our ally, the fact we can have a foreign policy that's multilateral and still protect ourselves, and that's this debate, is the former vice president and the former secretary of defense had a very singular view of the world, and that is the United States is strong when it acts alone.

And a lot of people take issue with that, but they are certainly entitled to foster that position and people like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh are certainly entitled to agree with that position. It's a healthy debate for the country.

MATALIN: The problem with that position, John, as James just stated, I don't know if he didn't watch the vice president or didn't read his speech, but the vice president did not in any part of that speech refer to how do we engage with what allies at what time.

What he was saying in that speech and will continue to say is that if you retract or undo the policies that were put in place after 9/11, if you return to a 9/10 mentality of law enforcement, we will be a less safe place. The evidence where we're unsafe is we were hit on 9/11.

There wasn't anything in that speech about unilateralism, nor was that in Obama's speech, for that matter. We're talking about specific policies on the gathering of intelligence and the -- where the detainees are going to be staying going forward. Those -- that's what the speech is about right now, specific policies that need to stay in place so we can assume -- so we can presume a safe position going forward.

KING: Let's focus on Gitmo and where those detainees go. James, there are a number of Republicans who are suddenly confident that maybe, maybe they can get this president to change his mind and not close Gitmo down because they see Democrats cutting off the funding and saying Mr. President, until you have a plan of where to put them, you're not getting the money.

CARVILLE: Well, look. I think the president was -- a little bit, looking at his remarks, he was a little bit irritated that he was left with this problem, just like a lot of things in the last administration that were not very well thought out. And it's going to take a while to unwind. But the idea that somehow or another we house some of the most dangerous people in the world in the United States.

Somebody pointed out we had 400,000 German prisoners here. And the idea that this nation is incapable -- we have Manuel Noriega jailed in the United States. The idea that we're incapable of taking care and incarcerating dangerous people flies in the face of history.

Now it's going to take some time to go through each one of these cases. But it's a big mess that the president left with and it's going to take a while for it to unwind and that's a result of policies that were frankly not very well thought out when they were instituted and that's part of his job is to figure out how to do this.

He's a superb constitutionalist. He's a very thoughtful, judicious man and I think given the time, he'll be able to do this. And by the way, John McCain wanted to close Gitmo. President Bush wanted to close Gitmo, also. So, I don't know where the argument is. Moe people say it should be closed. It's going to take us awhile to do this.

KING: Well, the argument from Senator McCain is put the plan forward first, at least have a plan to deal with the detainees and then announce the date you are going to close the gates. Go ahead, Mary.

MATALIN: The reason that President Obama cited as this being a mess is he said it was a legal mess. The reason it's a legal mess is because his supporters on the left have brought all these legal challenges because they think the civil rights of brutal terrorists are greater than the security rights of innocent Americans. That's why it's a mess. It's his left point that's making it a legal mess.

As for detaining these prisoners in our country, the problem is not that they'll break out. The problem is prison radicalization, which is what we just saw in the thwarted plot on the synagogue in New York. At least two of these terrorists, these domestic terrorists, were converted and radicalized in prison.

So, even if the detainees don't break out, that they could convert and radicalize other prisoners who do get out and can do domestic terrorist plots, that's the problem. That's why we don't need them in our shores. Gitmo was very well thought out. And to spend money to close it and endanger us, it just doesn't even pass the common sense test.

CARVILLE: Again, we have prisoners of war in this country, we have some of the most dangerous ideological people. The United States in the 21st century is perfectly capable of incarcerating safely, the bad people in the world.

KING: I like watching this all play out inside your home. I'm enjoying this quite a bit. Let's shift. Mary mentioned the courts. Let's go to the choice the president has to make in this next week. We are told to expect him to name his first pick for the Supreme Court. He has the vacancy with Justice Souter retiring. And he was asked by C-Span this weekend if his wife and his two daughters are telling him, you have to pick a woman. He said no. Michelle Obama is actually telling him to make the best choice. Don't worry about that. Senator Barbara Boxer was here on the program earlier today and she left a little wiggle room, but she made it pretty clear she thinks it should be a woman. Let's listen.


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe have crossed party lines, have written to the president, said Mr. President, there's only one woman on the court and there are eight men. Frankly, if it were reversed, I'd be saying appoint a man. You just need that point of view. But, of course it's got to be the best possible person. And we think there are so many great qualified women out there.


KING: So, Mary, I guess your husband is not going to be on the Supreme Court. Who should President Obama pick? You want a woman? I know you're a Republican. But should he pick a woman?

MATALIN: Not on the grounds that you need that point of view. You don't need a point of view. You don't need some jurist that's an activist or apathetic or whatever the language that Celeste uses. You need -- if there is a woman that is scholarly and is interpretive of the Constitution as a leader, fine. I'm not against it. I just don't think you start from the premise of gender or race, you start from the premise of what do we want on the court, somebody who looks at the laws and applies the laws, not someone that makes up the laws. And if he does what he said, he's going to do that, that's going to be his point of departure, his merit question, then I think the Republicans will give him the swift conferencing that he wants.

CARVILLE: I'm pretty sure he's not going to appoint anybody like an Alito or Roberts, be they a man or be they a woman or be they anything. And I'm also pretty certain that this president is probably the most qualified president that we've ever had to make this selection.

You know, as a constitutional law scholar at the University of Chicago, which is an absolutely top-ranked law school. And I'm sure he's going to give it a lot of thought. I, for one -- my only observation is, is that all of these judges are all former appeals court judges and they have a sort of judge's view of the world.

I kind of like the idea some people have had, suggesting that maybe he should go outside the federal judiciary. And, you know, I think that would be something that he might want to look at. He probably will.

But I agree (INAUDIBLE). All things being equal, I think he would appoint and should appoint a woman to the Supreme Court. Right now I know there are probably more women in law school than there are men and there are any number of talented people in -- that the president can choose from that are women. I think it would be a good choice. (INAUDIBLE). KING: Going to ask you two to stand by. We're going to work in a quick break. James Carville, you're going to get an angry-gram from your former boss, Bill Clinton, on saying Barack Obama is the most qualified that you've seen in your lifetime to make this pick.


CARVILLE: Yes, I know I will. And you -- he taught at the University of Arkansas Law School. I apologize, Mr. President. Thank you...


KING: See, I let you clean that up, clean that up before the break. You guys stay right there. We'll be right back with you.

Don't forget to tell us what is the headline in your Sunday paper. Go to the Facebook page and let us know. We'll include it in our conversation. We'll be right back with James and Mary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're back with CNN contributors James Carville and Mary Matalin. They're joining us from their beautiful home in New Orleans, Louisiana. We've asked our viewers what they're reading on this Sunday morning. And Matthew J. (ph) tells us on Facebook he's reading this article in National Journal by our friend Ron Brownstein about what he calls the regionalization for the Republican Party, "For the GOP, a Southern Exposure" is the headline here.

I want to discuss that with you, Mary and James. The rebound -- or the plans to rebound by the Republican Party. As we do so, I want you to listen to something Colin Powell said this morning, the former secretary of state, the former general. Of course, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney have suggested that has he left the Republican Party or that he should leave the Republican Party.

Colin Powell says this.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Rush will not get his wish, and Mr. Cheney was misinformed. I am still a Republican. And I'd like to point out that in the course of my 50 years of voting for presidents, I have voted for the person I thought was best qualified at that time to lead the nation.

Last year I thought it was President-now Barack Obama. For the previous 20 years I voted solidly for Republican candidates.


KING: Mary Matalin, is this whole debate over who is a real Republican and who is not, does that help the party?

MATALIN: Well, it does to the extent that sooner or later we get past the personalities and we get to the policies and the principles that underlie them, that undergird them.

If Colin Powell, who is an iconic figure, and Americans revere and respect him for his military service in particular, when he supports Barack Obama, one presumes he's supporting those principles and policies.

Those are liberal principles and they spawn liberal policies. The road forward for Republicans is not to be liberal-lite, it's to offer a choice, not an echo. I'm going -- I'm pre-Reagan, let the record show, the principles -- the conservative principles that go back to the beginning of time, our founders.

This debate is a long one and it always is taking place vigorously when we change through any new paradigm. What is the scope and the role of a government in a free state? Those are big principles, big ideas, and that's how we should go forward. And anybody who agrees with those ideas should be in the party. If you don't agree with those ideas, you can be in the other party.

KING: James, I want you to -- before you jump in, James, I just want you to listen to add to the debate, Governor Ridge, we talked to earlier about security. He was on the program. As you know, two-term governor of Pennsylvania, a moderate on some social issues.

I asked him about the same kind of things. And he says he likes Rush but that he thinks Rush needs to temper his language. Let's listen.


KING: You have used those terms, need to be less shrill, less judgmental. Who is being shrill, who is being judgmental?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, I think a lot of our commentators are being shrill. I mean, I don't disagree...

KING: Rush?

RIDGE: Yes, I think -- listen, Rush Limbaugh has an audience of 20 million people. A lot of people listen daily to him and live by every word. But words mean things, and how you use words is very important.

KING: I want to be clear. You think Rush is among those being too judgmental, too shrill.

RIDGE: Well, I think Rush -- Rush articulates his point of views in ways that offend very many.


KING: So, James, what do the Republicans need to end this personality, Rush versus this guy? They need an election, I guess.

CARVILLE: Yes, they do. And, you know, my friend and my mentor Mark Shields once said that political parties are like churches. Figure out what party is trying to drive out the heretics and which party is trying to get the converts. And all of the people that they drive out that they say are heretics, we're glad to take them as converts.

And I think that's part of the problem, is, I'm not the member of a movement, I'm the member of a political party that I'm glad to say that embraced its people of some different ideologies and tries to get things done.

And the Republicans, right now, consider themselves -- a lot of them consider themselves part of a movement more than a part of the Republican Party. Senator Jim DeMint said he would rather have 30 real conservatives than 52 -- or 51 that are not that conservative.

One commentator very briefly observed that if they continue their policies, he'd be lucky to have 30. I think they're going through a time where they're trying to figure out what they are and they have some that want to start up an inquisition and they have some that want to start up a -- you know, a bunch of missionaries. We'll see which way it goes. MATALIN: John, if we had 30 good conviction conservatives, they'd have a magnifying force. Look what Dick Cheney has done in just a couple of weeks with one strong cogent voice.

He has caused the president to reverse his policy on releasing detainee photos. He has raised the issue of Gitmo, what do you do with these detainees. He has pushed the president back into having military commissions. One strong voice has a magnifying force.

Conservatives in the -- the Republican Party cannot go forward as being liberal-lite. Who Rush offends are command-and-control central big government people, or soft power people, or redistributionists. Who he educates and inspires are conviction conservatives and he gives them the courage and the articulation to be able to stand on those principles.

And that's how we've won and that's how we'll win in the future.

MATALIN: conservatives and he gives them courage and the articulation to be able to stand on those principles. And that's how we've won in the past and that's how we'll win in the future.

CARVILLE: We call them the RNC, somebody said the Rush Newt Cheney Party. And then of course the RNC of Michael Steele and you can take your pick. That's pretty much what's being offered.

MATALIN: We like vigorous debates. We know who we are.

KING: Let me turn this on a softer note at the end here. You're joining us from your beautiful home where you live with your girls but you both spent a lot of time in the White House, during both Bush presidencies, Mary, in your case, James, during the Clinton presidency, in your case, and President Obama was asked about this in a C-SPAN interview this weekend. What is it like after this rigorous campaign? When you pick your family up, your two young girls and you have to move into the pressure-packed White House, some think. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: One of the things we've found, actually, is that the white house has been terrific for family life compared to some of our other previous situations like campaigns because we're all in the same place. I've got this pretty nice home office, and I'm home for dinner every night just about that I'm in town, and I can read to the girls and they can tell me about their day.


KING: You have both had the distinct privilege of wandering the parts of the building where most Americans will never go. Take us inside.

CARVILLE: Well, let me start with -- I think David Axelrod told me one time during the campaign one time he picked up Obama at a Chicago airport and they were driving in and he was talking about how much he missed his children. And I think that's true of any politician. And campaigns are much more brutal on a family than you're right, being in the White House. They have living quarters up there. They're nice. I don't know if I'd call them luxurious, but they're nice. And the kids -- he is home in time for dinner. And he spends more time with his children. Obviously, like us, the Obamas have two young daughters, and when you don't spend time with them, it's upsetting. So I tend to agree with that. What about you, honey? MATALIN: It's upsetting to you, too, when you're not here. Both of us. The homey part of the White House is pretty homey. James is right. It's not luxurious but it's homey. The Bush twins brought the Obama girls up and showed them their bedrooms and I'm sure they made it their own version of cozy. I remember in Poppy Bush days the dogs would be running through the West Wing and it has that homey -- just like our dogs are running around here with apologies to our viewers who are hearing them clanking around.

But it is homey, and he put in -- and I love the garden, and it's tough but we can say that it's really hard to pick up your children at that age and move into a new city to make into a new school with new friends. And it looks like they're making the best of it and more power to them. Our prayers are with them. Parenting is as tough as being the president.

KING: Mary Matalin ...

CARVILLE: Campaigns are just not good for -- they're not good for families.

KING: They're not good for families. There's a bumper sticker in that, isn't there? James Carville, Mary Matalin, always a pleasure to have you here together only on STATE OF THE UNION and a wonderful treat to venture inside your beautiful home there. Having been there, it is a spectacular place. And thank the girls for being so polite and the dogs. They were just fine.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

KING: Thank you guys. Enjoy the weekend.

We're standing by for the shuttle landing, Atlantis expected to land in less than 20 minutes. Straight ahead, we get out of Washington and head to counter of John O'Groat's Diner in Los Angeles. Perspective this Memorial Day weekend from three Iraq War veterans whose thoughts frequently turn to friends who didn't make it home.


On this Memorial Day weekend, it is worth remembering U.S. troops are still actively fighting in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So for our diner segment this week we wanted to focus on the true meaning of Memorial Day. So we wend out to Los Angeles and met with veterans out here and before we get to the piece let's just remind our viewers at home, these are the U.S. troops casualties so far, the deaths in Iraq, more than 4,300 now in Afghanistan, approaching 700, you see almost 5,000 total. California being the nation's largest state obviously has a high number in that toll; 463 troops from California have died in Iraq, 68 in Afghanistan. We wanted to sit down with these men who have served, three veterans who have served in Iraq, and ask them how have they been treated now they are back home. And many say their thoughts often turn to friends who didn't make it back.


KING: The war you served in became pretty unpopular here at home politically. How do you feel you have been treated?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went to school. When I got out, I dealt with the younger population because a lot of students didn't know veterans who served. So, that brings it more real for them. They just watch it on TV and here is some guy who served who is participating in class and having a different point of view.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you come home permanently disabled, and it all depends on your disability, of course, mine being absolute blindness, you have to be creative and see where you can acquire the resources and the vocational rehab that you're going to need in order to get back to the workforce. I'm vet getting very, very positive assistance in being able to get the vocational rehab out of the Long Beach V.A., which has done me good.

KING: When was the last time you were in Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: September -- September '04.

KING: September '04?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last time I was was 2008.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 2008? And yours was 2005?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mine was January 2006.

KING: January 2006. Are you reasonably confident it's time for U.S. troops to come home, or do you think it's too early, too risky? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If everything has dwindled down to the minimum and that country can defend its own itself, no be it. There's no reason our sons and daughters should be in harm's way at this point in time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was there in 2004 and 2008, it was day and night when I was out there. You know, I was used to getting attacked three or four times a week, you know, and last time I was out there, the base I was at hasn't been attacked in over a year.

KING: About two-thirds of the American people think the war in Iraq was a mistake. Does it bother you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With all due respect to them, they're entitled to their opinion. That's fine and dandy. And unless they find themselves in our boots, leave it at that.

CPL. JORDAN EASH, USMC: I went out there to fight, and people -- sometimes I think these people forget that they flew a plane into the World Trade Center and killed thousands of people, innocent people.

KING: Those people weren't from Iraq.

EASH: All I say these guys flew a plane into our buildings and I hope I'm out there fighting so hopefully when my kids grow up they won't have to go through the same experiences I've been through.

KING: You guys all served in Iraq when George W. Bush was the commander in chief. We have a new president now. Does that make any difference?

(UNKNOWN): No. You -- you uphold the oath no matter who's in office, whether it's a Republican, independent or Democrat.

KING: What does Memorial Day mean to you guys, now that you've seen it firsthand, an experience that most Americans will never have?

(UNKNOWN): A lot of people use all these holidays, Veterans Day, Memorial Day and whatnot as a day of relaxation. But let's not forget we have our sons and daughters in harm's way. And those -- some of those have not come home. Better yet, they came home in a casket draped in a flag. That flag will always fly at my house, Veterans Day, Memorial Day weekend, and that's to honor those who have served this country. It's not a day of celebration. It's to honor those who have served our country.

KING: Our thanks to John O'Groats diner and those three brave men who served their country. And again, this image to remind you of the point Jesse just made, there, at the end. Memorial Day, yes, there will be barbecues and everything else, but it is designed to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

We'll be right back with the best political team on television. And of course, we're also watching the space shuttle, due to land in just a few minutes. We'll bring it to you live. Stay with us.


KING: A live picture, there on your screen, of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. It is making its way back from space over the Pacific Ocean, right now, on its way to Edwards Air Force Base in California with a seven-member crew.

This has been a 14-day mission. Remember, the drama of this mission making spectacular repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope.

I want to show you, here on our map, this is Google Earth, and this is a live dot right here. This is the trajectory of the shuttle right now. If you watch that dot as it moves, what it is doing is it is coming in; it is now in the earth's atmosphere, as you can see the picture on TV.

And here's how it would normally come. And most days it would land here at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Instead, though, because of weather, thunderstorms in Florida, its destination is here, the backup landing strip at Edwards Air Force base in California.

CNN correspondent John Zarrella joins us now from Miami. John, you've seen so many of these. What are we watching here in the final moments?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, NASA is showing us pictures coming in from the heads-up display. That's what the astronauts are looking at, Scott Altman, the commander and Gregory Johnson, the pilot, as they are coming in over the California coastline, there, a clear shot of the Shuttle Atlantis.

And as you mentioned, they extended this mission a couple of days. They really wanted to go back to the Kennedy Space Center because, every time they go to Edwards, it costs them $2 million to prep it at Edwards and then ferry it across the country on the 747 back to Florida. It costs them a couple of weeks of prep time getting ready for the next mission.

So they try, as best they can, to come back to Florida. They delayed two days waiting for the weather to clear, but just too many thunderstorms out there in -- all over Florida -- in fact, here as well, today, to allow them to come back to Florida. So they'll be landing at Edwards in the Mojave Desert on what they call Runway 22, which is a hard surface out there. John?

KING: Let me show our viewers. John, stand by for me.

As you watch Atlantis come down, here is the strip John was was talking about, through the satellite imagery, here, from Google Earth. This is out at Mojave Desert, at Edwards Air Force Base. And as you watch, now, let's go back to a live picture of the shuttle coming in.

It is descending at a rate of about 250 feet per second. I'm going to pause for a minute, and let's listen to the conversation between the crew and mission control.

(UNKNOWN): Atlantis copies. (inaudible) KING: Twin sonic booms just heard at Edwards Air Force Base. You see the picture of this coming in.

And, John Zarrella, help our viewers understand. This is a multi-multimillion-dollar spacecraft that, at the moment, is a glider.

ZARRELLA: Yes, that's exactly right. There are no engines any longer, no power, no propulsion. So, once they fire their jets to reenter the earth's atmosphere, from that point on, the space shuttle is literally just a glider, another reason why they can't come to Florida, because it's not like an airplane. You can't dodge thunderstorms. You're on our trajectory and you're coming in and your trajectory is your trajectory.

So, here, obviously, we can see, John, absolutely clear blue skies out in California, excellent weather for the landing. You can see the sun glistening off the space shuttle there. Lining up now on the runway for this final approach into Edwards Air Force Base this morning. John?

KING: We're in the final minute of this approach. John, take about 15 seconds, before we watch the last bit in silence, to explain the significance of the Hubble repairs.

ZARRELLA: Yes. You know, Hubble has had five repair missions now. They spent about 35 hours in space preparing it. The hope is that all of these repairs and upgrades will give the Hubble Space Telescope another five to 10 years life expectancy.

I know one astronaut -- there you go; the wheels, the gears are down -- told me that Hubble is a 1,000 times better instrument today than when it was first launched. Now, here we are on the final, about to touchdown.

(UNKNOWN): Main gear, touchdown.

Nose gear, touchdown.

KING: It is a spectacular and a welcome sight, Space Shuttle Atlantis on the ground, Edwards Air Force base, California, after 14 days in space.

You see the chute, the shuttle coming -- slowing down as it makes its way up the runway.

(UNKNOWN): This marks the 53rd shuttle mission...

KING: Fifty-third shuttle mission, you just heard Mission Control saying there. The Hubble Space Telescope repairs, the most dramatic, most dramatic mission, as part of this journey into space.

You see the chute falling there, the shuttle gliding to the end of the runway.

John Zarrella, before we let you go, one more time for our viewers, because they had to land this out in California, they will now put this beautiful -- although it's a bit of a used vehicle -- on the back of a 747 and bring it back to Florida, at what cost?

ZARRELLA: Well, they're going the prep it, and it costs about $2 million to go ahead and prep it, and then the ferry across the country back to the Kennedy Space Center. Then they'll start prepping Atlantis for its next mission. John?

KING: Spectacular sight, a full stop there.

(UNKNOWN): ... Atlantis, wheel (ph) stop Edwards.

KING: "Wheel stop Edwards," you hear Mission Control and the flight crew talking to the crew there. Atlantis is home safely after a mission in space that included a 13-day mission, 5.3 million miles approximately in space.

(UNKNOWN): ... expand our knowledge of the universe.

KING: Let's just listen in for a second.

(UNKNOWN): Thank you, Houston. It was a thrill from start to finish. We've had a great ride. It took a whole team across the country to pull it off. Our hats are off to you all. Thank you so much.

(UNKNOWN): There are no post planning deltas (ph). We'll meet you on page 5-3 of the entry checklist.

KING: The crew will now go through their entry checklist before they depart the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Again, Atlantis home after a dramatic mission that included spectacular space walks and repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope. A 5.3 million miles space, ending in the desert in California. The crew of Atlantis is home.

We're going to take a quick break. Our coverage here on STATE OF THE UNION will continue in just a moment.


KING: Welcome back. Joining me now in Washington, CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns, senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Let's start with the big debate over wither now when it comes to Guantanamo Bay. The president says he will still keep his promise to close it, but he's back on his heels a bit. His own Democratic Party ripped out the money to close it down, saying, Mr. President, you'll get your money when you show us a plan to bring them home.

Dana, there are some Republicans, and if you listen to Jon Kyl this morning, they seem to think perhaps they can push Obama into changing his mind.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I mean, I don't think that's likely to happen ultimately, but right now the Senate went home, Congress went home for an entire week on record effectively saying we're not going to close Guantanamo Bay, because not only did they reject the money that the president requested to do that, but they also went on record saying, right now you're not allowed to bring any of the detainees there onto U.S. soil.

So there's not really not much they can do.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's my question about Senate Democrats. Maybe you can answer this, but they all supported Barack Obama during the campaign when he said, I want to close Gitmo. Did they think the prisoners were just going to vaporize?

BASH: No, they didn't. I mean, they didn't, but here is the intense frustration among Democrats on Capitol Hill with the president, and that is, they understand that it's going to be tough. They understand that it's going to -- you know, that ultimately you're probably going to have to bring some of these detainees to the U.S.

But the idea that he basically left them hanging in the political wind by asking for money, forcing a debate in Congress without having a plan and letting Republicans, you know, roll right over them, that is why they're frustrated.

BORGER: It's about him trying to do too much at once?

BASH: It's about the process.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a really tough job, too, when you think about it. I mean, this president ran on this. But on the other hand, when you sit down in the Oval Office and they start bringing those eyes-only reports by your desk and you're looking at who is actually locked up, somebody is telling you this is a motley crew.

So, what are we going to do? He's a constitutional law professor so he's going to approach it with reasonableness and balance. The third question though is timing, and that's the critical question for everybody in the country. Chief Justice Rehnquist used to say, you have to worry about the times you're in, the national security threat to the country, before you start relaxing or tightening civil liberties. That's what's going on here.

BORGER: But there's a public education component to this, and this is how...


KING: About this? About this -- the...


BORGER: Right.

KING: Excuse me for interrupting. But what about our backyard? That's the public education component to this. BORGER: Exactly, and this is what President Obama excels at, which is the public education. And somehow in all of the work that they've got going, the health care, energy, Supreme Court nominee, economics, somehow they kind of missed this one.

BASH: Right. And you see...

JOHNS: Well, but they can change the subject, too. The Supreme Court will change the subject and then we'll be talking about something completely different.

BORGER: But the Republicans now have a good issue. They do have a good issue.

KING: They have an issue. The court nomination will buy him some time, though, I suspect.

Let's move on to another big controversy on Capitol Hill, and that is, what did Speaker Pelosi know and when did she know it about waterboarding or enhanced interrogation techniques?

Last week, a number of Republicans, grassroots conservative leaders and the former speaker -- the Republican speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, said she needs to go. She has so confused this and convoluted this and accused the CIA of misleading Congress that she needs to step down.

Well, today listen to Newt Gingrich. He has changed his tune a bit.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think all she has got to do is go to the floor of the House and apologize. She ought to say she exaggerated, what she said was not true about the CIA, what she said about the CIA that Thursday is flatly false and dishonest and she ought to apologize to the country on the floor of the House and to the CIA for having said it.


KING: And on a scale of 1 to 10, the likelihood of that happening is?


BASH: I think it's not even on the scale, it's so low, in the negatives. I mean, because look, I think what's interesting in terms of the dynamic inside the Republican Party is that last week right here, John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, really sidestepped the idea of actually investigating Nancy Pelosi.

By the end of the week, after that man, Newt Gingrich, pushed and pushed and pushed, House Republicans basically reversed themselves and decided to have this vote. Now, obviously, it didn't go anywhere. It was for political theater. But the fact that they seem to be -- at least inside the House Republican leadership, whether they like it or not, being forced to listen to Newt Gingrich, that to me has been one of the very interesting dynamics that has come out of this whole tug of war with Pelosi.


JOHNS: Go ahead.

BORGER: The last thing Republicans want is for Nancy Pelosi to go. She has become a terrific target for them. Their game plan was always not to attack Barack Obama directly because he's really popular, but to attack Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

And guess what? She just played into their game plan. So they don't want Newt Gingrich calling for her to leave. They really don't.

JOHNS: And the former speaker's credibility is also in question here. We know that he has been famous for the kind of language that gets everybody excited. We also know that he quickly gets accused of partisan politics.

Do they want this to go to the pure issue of partisan politics among people in the country or do they want to keep it on the issues of facts and analysis?

KING: Well, you mention -- you seem to be suggesting that he might be playing to the Republican base a bit. That was also the topic for another interesting conversation this Sunday morning. Former Secretary of State, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell, remember he was the Republican who said he was supporting Barack Obama for president, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney have said, well, maybe he's not a Republican any more. Colin Powell says he is. And listen.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by or you can build on the base. And I believe we should build on the base because the nation needs two parties, two parties debating each other. But what we have to do is debate and define who we are and what we are and not just listen to dictates that come down from the right wing of the party.


KING: Now eventually we'll actually have Republican candidates on the ballot in this thing called the midterm election and even two gubernatorial elections this year. But in the meantime, we have this virtually every day back and forth.

BASH: We do. And it's not going to change until this sort of theoretical conversation about where the Republican Party is going to go until the voters actually decide. Voters, most importantly, within the Republican Party. Whether it's primaries as you said or House races or Senate races and then ultimately in 2012 for that. And until then, you're going to have this very interesting, very vibrant debate that is, basically, a theoretical one.

JOHNS: The last time we had this debate was about the Democrats. Ten, 12 years ago people were saying look at what shape they are in. The Republicans have totally taken control and so some of this is cyclical, you know.

What happened in the Democratic Party is a lot of people thought it moved too far to the left, so a bunch of people like blue dogs started moving to the middle on particular issues and then you had a national debate that changed substantially.

When you see people like Tom Ridge in your interview and Colin Powell now speaking out, sort of addressing conservative questions, that's the party talking about how much and whether we move a little bit more toward the middle to get a larger proportion of the votes.

BORGER: And we're really not going to know who is going to lead the Republican Party until someone steps up and leads the Republican Party. And coming out of the 2010 elections, as you mentioned it, could very well be someone outside of Washington, a governor, a new senator, somebody like that, a fresh face because that's clearly what the party needs. KING: Fun to debate until then. Dana Bash, Gloria Borger and Joe Johns, thanks for spending some time with us this morning on "State of the Union." We'll be right back.


KING: It is Memorial Day weekend and while most important is remembering to honor those who gave their lives in combat and in wars, past and present, of course, it's also the kickoff of what some would say is the summer season. And that means people get out and travel.

And so one of the things that we ant to look at on this Memorial Day weekend is some of the key markers in travel. About 2.1 million Americans plan to fly this Memorial Day weekend. That's down a bit from 2008. Many families facing the crunch of recession not spending as much time and money on airplanes.

Another thing we look at on Memorial Day weekend always is this, vehicle travel. You notice air travel is down, but 27 million people are expected to travel by vehicle. That's up 2.7 percent from 2008, again, a reflection. Lower gas prices and the crunch of recession keeping people off airplanes.

Now in the week ahead, President Obama is going to travel out here to Nevada. We recently went out there because in this state, the unemployment rate, one of the reasons people aren't traveling as much, to or from Nevada is up to 10.6 percent. It's the seventh highest unemployment rate in the country.

As the president plans to go there, just after the Memorial Day weekend, he will find a city, Las Vegas, that is struggling and some think a little bit of it is his fault.


KING (voice-over): Luck of the Irish is the theme of Fitzgerald's Casino, but these are not so lucky times. Room prices as low as $26 a night tell you the recession is taking a toll on Vegas tourism. It was here at a cashier's booth where Judy Bagley learned first hand.

JUDY BAGLEY, FORMER CASINO EMPLOYEE: My supervisor came and said I had to close the booth and she was going to count me out and I was to go and meet with the manager and the director. And I went up there, they told me that my services was no longer needed and my job was eliminated.

KING: You had had it for how long?

BAGLEY: I had had it for a little over 28 years.

KING: Yet, not even a two-week notice. Judy was out the door in and in Nevada's growing unemployment line.

BAGLEY: It felt like I was more or less stabbed in the back after all the years that I had been there and I had been very loyal to the company and I never called in sick and I had very little discipline and it felt like a betrayal.

KING: But as more and more friends suffered similar fates, the sting became a little less personal.

BAGLEY: It's probably on the economy with the banks in bad trouble and things like that. This is not any fault of the casinos. It has not been this bad before. With all the foreclosures that's going on in the city and all over the state with the people being laid off and jobs eliminated --

KING: By the numbers, hardly a lucky time. Nevada's unemployment rate is more than 10 percent. The number of visitors arriving in Las Vegas by plane in march down nearly 12 percent from a year ago. And Vegas convention attendance down a whopping 30 percent.

Mayor Oscar Goodman is his city's biggest cheerleader. His office, a colorful history of the tenure in which Vegas has thrived as one of America's fastest growing cities.

OSCAR GOODMAN, MAYOR, LAS VEGAS: These are times which are completely different than anything I'd experience in my lifetime. I didn't see this coming and when it hit, it almost hit virtually overnight.

KING: Things got worse, the mayor believes, after a remark by the president three months ago during a dust up over how banks were spending federal bailout money.

OBAMA: You can't get corporate jets. You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime.

GOODMAN: I think that was a big mistake on his part. KING: The mayor sees the presidential visit this week as a chance to make amends.

GOODMAN: If I ask him the question, Mr. President, isn't Vegas a great place to do business as he's standing here in Las Vegas? I hope he says yes.

KING: This union hall, a big part of President Obama's Nevada victory, is now where Judy Bagley comes for job search help.

BAGLEY: How you doing, Linda?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, doing pretty good, hanging in there anyway.

BAGLEY: Used to go out to eat a couple times a week, we don't do that any more. I clip a lot of coupons to try to save money that way. I put in applications at some of the grocery stores here in town for cashier work. You put in an application and you've got like 150 to 200 people applying for the same job.

KING: Three months now while Judy Bagley says she's an optimist, she sees no signs her luck is about to change.

KING: Our thanks to Judy Bagley for sharing her story. And we'll keep an eye on the president as he makes his trip to Vegas in the week ahead.

We'd like to welcome back our international viewers to our "State of the Union" report for this Sunday, May 24th.

President Obama promises no dangerous terror suspects will be set free in the United States. But there is bipartisan anguish in Congress because the White House still can't say what will happen to detainees at Guantanamo Bay. We'll look for solutions with Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Republican Senator Richard Shelby.

In dueling speeches, the president defends his approach to national security and former Vice President Dick Cheney says America is less safe. The Bush administration's first homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge breaks down the competing claims.

And in his new book, he outlines how he thinks debt, deregulation and dark money bankrupted America. Democratic Byron Dorgan of North Dakota gets the last word.

That's all ahead in this hour of "State of the Union."