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The Sound of Sunday

Aired August 30, 2009 - 11:00   ET


KING: And I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.


KING (voice-over): It's 11:00 a.m. Eastern, time for STATE OF THE UNION: SOUND OF SUNDAY.

Fourteen government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say -- the former vice president of the United States and the former colleagues who knew Senator Ted Kennedy best.

We've watched the Sunday shows so you don't have to, and we'll break it all down with James Carville and Mary Matalin, and the best political team on television.



KING: He was one of Senator Ted Kennedy's closest friends, asked by the family to speak at the memorial service. But if you think Kennedy's death will change votes in the health care debate, especially on the controversial question on a public question, Senator Orrin Hatch says think again.


HATCH: I don't think so. But let me tell you, you know, you are talking about one-sixth of the American economy. And a lot of people don't seem to realize that. And you're -- you're talking about having the federal government take control of health care.


KING: Also this Sunday, the bipartisan tributes to Senator Kennedy give way to a crackling debate over national security. Remember when Dick Cheney said here on STATE OF THE UNION that President Obama was making Americans less safe? Now the former vice president is attacking the administration's new investigation of Bush- era CIA interrogations.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I think it's an outrageous political act that will do great damage long-term to our capacity to be able to have people take on difficult jobs, make difficult decisions without having to worry about what the next administration is going to say.


KING: The Democrats are aggressively firing back, defending the administration's investigation and questioning Cheney's credibility.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, Dick Cheney has shown through the years, frankly, disrespect for the Constitution, for sharing of information with Congress, respect for the law.

CANTWELL: I'm saying this investigation is very appropriate. No one is above the law. And this is not a political process. This is a legal process.


KING: As you can see, we've been watching all the other Sunday shows so maybe you don't have to.

With me here in Washington, where you can only find them together right here on STATE OF THE UNION, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville, and Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin.


KING: Good morning. Happy last Sunday in August.

Let's start with, again, provocative words from your former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, saying that this decision to go back and have a special investigation of the CIA interrogations during the Bush days, not only does he say it is a bad idea, but he says it is a political calculation by the president and his team.

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's despicable politics. It's a dangerous policy. It's part and parcel of the systematic gutting of the intelligence community, which is our number one first defense against these terrorists.

Senator Cantwell saying this morning, this is a matter of law and no one is above the law, she is referencing Holder's decision to launch a criminal investigation, a preliminary investigation to lead to a criminal investigation of the implementers, the intelligence gatherers?

Here's the law. Here's the history. That -- those cases which the CIA referred to the Justice Department was fully and completely investigated. not by Bush appointees, but by career professionals, the creme de la creme career professionals in the detainee abuse task force in the Eastern District of Virginia.

They looked at all of them and they sent out formal declamation memoranda which said they declined to prosecute and they gave reasons for every single one that they declined to prosecute. One who was a non-CIA person, a contractor, was convicted. And he is serving time. Fully investigated. So not only are they again demoralizing the CIA, they are dissing their professional prosecutors. He's accusing them of prosecutorial misconduct.

So this has been vetted. It has been investigated. It has fallen within the law. And it's so you can say, what's new? The only thing that's new is politics. So of course it's political.

KING: Come in on that point, she says despicable politics. As you know, if you talk to Democrats, they will tell you that Leon Panetta, a friend of yours, the CIA director now, that he's not happy about this either.

CARVILLE: No, he's -- first of all, it's bad politics. The public doesn't want this. But there is a Republican view of the Justice Department, that's the Alberto Gonzales pick, is that you put a flunky in there, and he does everything that you tell him to do.

There's a law that says the attorney general acts independently. This attorney general, the White House is not particularly happy about this, but this is an independent Justice Department as opposed to an arm of the political operation in the White House. They've appointed a guy that is going to look into this, he is a professional. He's actually a Republican. I suspect that the more desirable outcome would be that he decides to do nothing. But there's also, you know, a lot of people in this country like General Petraeus, like Tom Ridge, like the whole United States military, like the FBI, who thinks that these policies don't make us safer.

And that's a discussion we need to have because there's a whole weight of real opinion in the national defense world that the policies of the past administration actually are more dangerous to the United States. And we need to have that discussion.

KING: Let's continue to discuss this. Hold on, because I want to hear more from the former vice president, because to your point that you say it's an independent attorney general, he made this decision, the president did say back in January he didn't want this to happen, but what the former vice president says is in -- this is my word, not his, that malarkey. If the president didn't want it, he could have stopped it.


CHENEY: The president is the one who bears this responsibility. And for him to say, gee, I didn't have anything do with it, especially after he sat in the Oval Office and said this would not happen, then Holder decides to do it so now he has backed off and is claiming he's not responsible.

I just -- I think he's trying to duck the responsibility for what's going on here. And I think it's wrong.


KING: Is that what he's doing, James, ducking the responsibility?

CARVILLE: Well, again, if you're Cheney, Alberto Gonzales is your model attorney general, because what you do is, is you put an attorney general in that was what the -- and Nixon did the same thing. There's just a different view of the way the Justice Department operates. And that's the vice president's view. We know what he views as a sort of model Justice Department. We saw it in action.

MATALIN: These were not Bush appointees. These were the creme de la creme, organized in a detainee abuse task force who sent out formal declamation memoranda. They said there was insufficient evidence of criminal content -- intent, insufficient evidence of criminal conduct, insufficient evidence of subject involvement, and low possibility or probability of conviction.

The Justice Department does law. The president does policy. Dick Cheney was being characteristically restrained. This is an act of presidential cowardice. This is a security policy. Clearly these interrogations were offered every bit -- almost every bit of information that we have, have saved endless attacks, anthrax attacks, the Brooklyn Bridge, a second wave mass casualty in Los Angeles, sleeper cells.

They discovered 70 trained for Western attacks that we didn't previously know. They learned the finances. They learned the network. They learned the philosophy. They indispensably worked. It is no accident that we were not attacked for the next seven years.

It is policy. It is the president's, as the commander-in- chief's, job and obligation to keep us safe. So it's an act of presidential cowardice to just say, I'm going to let Holder make this decision. These were not Bush appointees. So you can make the Gonzales point again. But they were career prosecutors.

CARVILLE: And, Mr. Durham, who is a career Republican, look at that, and maybe say -- again, there's a different thing. You have got Vice President Cheney, we will be greeted as liberators. You've got General Petraeus. You've got Ridge. You've got the entire United States military. You have the FBI.

In that instance, who do you trust to protect the country? Some people say we'll trust Cheney. Some people say the military and FBI...


KING: What about -- what about Orrin Hatch? What about Orrin Hatch? He was here and he's a conservative. But he is not known as a partisan flamethrower. And he served on the Intelligence Committee a long time. And he agreed with the vice president's point about politics. But he said the biggest concern to him was that a CIA guy faced with a decision in an interrogation is going to take the timid course out of fear of being investigated down the line. Does that give you pause?

CARVILLE: Well, what happened was, as I understand this, and it will come out is, the people that asked for the guidelines, that followed the guidelines, are not here. What apparently -- and who knows, like I said, this is not very good politics for the Democrats.

But, again, if you don't believe in a politicized Justice Department, as the Republicans obviously do, then the attorney general and these people are going to pursue this. I hope that it comes to nothing because it's not going to be good politics. This is not good politics for Democrats at all.

MATALIN: Systematic gutting of the post-9/11 policies that have kept us safe. He -- it's not just a revelation of all of these documents. He has moved -- this president has moved the interrogation, the intelligence-gathering from the CIA to the FBI, which is the -- the FBI collects evidence for the purposes of prosecuting after the fact. Intelligence in the security mode is for collecting intelligence before a terrorist attack.

So now the FBI -- this is 9/10. That is how we got to 9/11 in the first place. And it's going to be housed, overseen by the National Security Council, which is non-operational. One has to ask, what is Jim Jones doing in a non-operational role housing the interrogation process? Systematic gutting of our number one line of defense against terrorists.

CARVILLE: Again, I just say, as a Marine, I have to say the idea that a commandant of the Marine Corps is gutting national intelligence is...

MATALIN: That the president...


CARVILLE: It's doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But...


MATALIN: Jim Jones is the head of the National Security Council inside the White House. It's a non-operational arm.

CARVILLE: Right, right, I just don't think that the former commandant of the Marine Corps and the former commander of all NATO forces would, quote, "gut national security."

MATALIN: One hopes not.

CARVILLE: But that's my view and I'm entitled to it. I may be wrong.

KING: Let me make a pivot, and it's a pretty big one, but let's make a pivot to the health care reform debate here in Washington when Congress comes back from this August of town halls.

Now some have said with the passing of Senator Kennedy, maybe that will change the mood, the spirit, and maybe it will get you votes for the public option. The public option, Senator Orrin Hatch says no, Senator Maria Cantwell was here this morning. She said Republicans should think again.


CANTWELL: I would say to my Republican colleagues that when you think about how you control costs and you think about what a public option can do in controlling costs, it's a very key component to it.


KING: Any chance?

CARVILLE: I agree with Senator Hatch.

KING: You agree with Senator Hatch on what point?

CARVILLE: And I think that the president, when he comes back, it's evident, there are not going to be Republican votes for this. And so then the Democrats are going to have to forge a bill and present the president with several different options as a way to go forward. But no, Senator Kennedy's death is not going to change this. They never had any intention of being for anything. And so they'll just have to proceed from that basis. But no, I like Senator Cantwell, I like Senator Hatch, too. He's been on my radio show. But in this instance, he's right.

MATALIN: Well, the notion of renaming this bill, it's just -- they need to retract it. Renaming it would, dare I say, be like putting lipstick on a pig. There's many places where Republicans would join with Democrats to cut costs, cutting costs of insurance. Maria Cantwell thinks only a public option will do that. They never talk about the obvious decrease of cost for insurance companies would allow interstate competition.

So then small businesses could pull for an economy at scale or you can have comparison shoppers so patients and consumers could compare. That's how you get competition or tort reform, which Howard Dean said this week of course we'll never have because you're holding on the trial lawyers. There's lots of ways to cut costs besides a public option.

They have got to drop public option, they've got to drop abortion, they've got to drop the advance care consulting, they've got to drop the competitiveness research council. They've got to drop that big stuff, go for incrementalism and you know, Senator Kennedy did get stuff done. He got SCHIP done with Hatch, he got portability done with Kassebaum. Go back to some incremental targeted reform.

KING: What is your view? People ask the question what would Teddy do? What is your view? Would he lobby the conservative Democrats in the Senate and say, hey, stand up for the public option or would he count the votes and go to the speaker and say the House has to give on that.

CARVILLE: Senator Kennedy would know -- everybody knows there's not going to be any Republican votes.

KING: What about Democratic votes?

CARVILLE: Let me just make a point. Eight years they were in office. Family premiums went from $6,000 to $12,000 a year. If you follow them, they will be $24,000. So following them is not an option. I think Senator Kennedy said that. It would have been evident to him very early in this process that they are going to have to forge something within the Democrats. That's what the president is going to be faced with when he returns from vacation.

I think he would have liked his instinct to be bipartisan. He was what we call at his heart a unity community Democrat. He liked to bring people together. It's evident this will not happen. It's evident that the White House and the Congress is going to present him with several options. Whatever option it is, it doesn't matter. It's not going to get any Republican votes. And they know that now.

KING: Let's take a quick break, quick break. We'll be back with more of James and Mary. And when we com back, among the things we'll talk about, their reflections on their hometown now. They live in New Orleans, Louisiana, four years after Katrina. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with CNN political contributors James Carville and Mary Matalin. I want to return to the subject we started with, the CIA investigation now of the Bush era interrogation tactics because as we were speaking in our first block, we always watch the other Sunday shows. And Senator Dianne Feinstein, she is the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on intelligence so her voice matters in this debate, she said she understands why people are upset and might want to look at the interrogation tactics of the Bush days but she is also questioning the attorney general's timing.


FEINSTEIN: I was horrified. So I understand the attorney general's reaction. However, I think the timing of this is -- is not very good. The Intelligence Committee has under way now a total look at the interrogation and detention techniques used for all of the high-value detainees. We are well along in that study. And I'm trying to push it along even more quickly at this time. We are not going to be deterred from completing this study. And candidly, I wish that the attorney general had waited.


KING: Leading Democrats saying we're doing this, we're doing this in private, let us finish and then decide what next.

CARVILLE: She makes a good point. Again politically this is not a very comfortable thing. And I think what Senator Feinstein is saying is once they open this up, people are going to say I am going to take the Fifth Amendment or congressional committee and she would have preferred to finish that. I completely understand what Senator Feinstein is saying. The attorney general probably takes the view, as do other people, that we believe that there's a reasonable chance that laws are broken, but we can't turn our backs on it. But this is not, I don't pretend that this is good politics for Democrats at all, but the attorney general is an independent entity in this instance.

MATALIN: I will say again, it's a 5-year-old report. Its policies are no longer in place. Every CIA director including this one disagrees with this decision. The professional prosecutors have been accused basically of prosecutorial misconduct. Terrible legal precedent, terrible policy to roll back, terrible for the demoralization to the CIA, plus this is delicious.

We've paid for one investigation. We're paying for these multiple investigations. Now we are going to pay to reinvestigate what we have already investigated and Panetta just said this week, he disagrees with all of this, he's going to pay for the defense of the very people the government is prosecuting again. It's completely the theater of the absurd.

KING: Let me jump in because the former vice president, Dick Cheney, makes the case that this investigation will further undermine security. But there are competing voices in the debate. John McCain, who I don't think he likes this investigation, but he said just a short time ago that those tactics, those interrogation tactics have hurt America.


MCCAIN: I think that these interrogations, once publicized, help al Qaeda recruit. I got that from an al Qaeda operative from a prison camp in Iraq who told me that.


CARVILLE: Again, that's General Petraeus' view. That's Admiral Blair's view. That's Tom Ridge's view. That's the whole military, anybody who did this in the military would be court marshaled on the spot. It's a difficult time in the nation's history. It seems the absolute weight of opinion is that these things made us less safe.

CARVILLE: But, again, the timing of the attorney general -- and I'm interested to see what Senator Feinstein's committee reports. I think every American is. And these are some difficult things. But if the attorney general believes -- and we don't know if we said all this, there could be new evidence, it could be any number of things -- it's in the hands of a Republican, a person who is an expert in this kind of stuff, hopefully, my hope is in three months he comes back and says that we are not going to pursue this.

MATALIN: There is no new evidence. When the prosecutors decline to prosecute --

KING: What about Senator McCain's point though that he is telling the truth?

CARVILLE: He said operatively in that sentence, once it was publicized. That's the whole point. All the things that were found to be startling in the just-released report didn't happen. So a guy brought a drill into the room. You know why that was scary? Because if you look at the al Qaeda handbook, they actually use the drill. The guys who brought the drills in those sorts of tactics and used a Mideast accent because these guys know we don't do things like that. They water boarded and they got all the aforementioned information. They did sleep deprivation. So you want to have a moral discussion, what is the greater morality? Saving thousands of lives, thwarting dozens of attacks or the civil liberties of brutal, high-target terrorists.

KING: Let's tie this one up. If I were to somehow lose my mind and decide to run for something, I would come to you two --

MATALIN: We would say you lost your mind.

KING: I would come to you two for advice. You're both very experienced and skilled at running campaigns. The big question now is if the Massachusetts legislature changes the law and allows for an interim appointment for Senator Kennedy's seat until there's an election for a replacement, many say that if they change that law and create the interim opening, there will be pressure on his widow, Vicki, to take that temporary seat. I want you to listen to two of Senator Kennedy's best friends.


HATCH: Sure, I think Vicki ought to be considered. She's a very brilliant lawyer, she's a very solid individual. She's certainly made a difference in Ted's life. Let me tell you. And I have nothing but great respect for her.

DODD: If Vicki wants to do it, I'm in her corner. She expressed to me her own sort of reluctance do that. But she could change her mind. If she did, I'm for her.


KING: Gee whiz, media making this story up or is there a compelling argument to say if it's five or six months, maybe a little longer, you know what, we know you don't want to be in politics but go cast your late husband's final votes.

CARVILLE: I think it would be great and for me of course because actually she's from Louisiana, Crowley, Louisiana, which is a wonderful town in southwest Louisiana. She is a remarkable woman. She obviously knows politics. And if the Massachusetts legislature changed this and they changed the law and let her serve through 2010, I think it would be a wonderful thing. I think it would be great. But you know what? It's up to her. She said before that she doesn't want to do this. But some people change their minds. And I think she would be the person that most people would feel very good about her finishing out her husband's term.

MATALIN: Of course changing the laws is naked, flagrant politics, but it is Massachusetts and her brother was our wedding photographer.


MATALIN: She's a wonderful --

KING: I met him, nice guy.

MATALIN: Very cool, wonderful family. I don't know what difference it would make. Nobody knows her political views. It's if Massachusetts wants to do it.

KING: Let me ask thank you in closing, my two favorite residents now of New Orleans, Louisiana. The "Times-Picayune" on Friday, "We're counting on you, Mr. President."

The president said he would go there, there are some soon this year. There are some who are saying why hasn't he been there already? But take me to your hometown in the sense of four years later, what's right? What's still wrong? And is there something the president can do tomorrow, next week or next month to help out?

CARVILLE: First of all, I'm a democrat, this is a Democratic president. I would describe myself as slightly miffed that he hasn't been down yet. But he says he's coming down before the end of the year. We're hospitable people and we certainly will welcome him. He's had any number of cabinet people and they've been very, very helpful.

I would describe things as -- I can honestly say -- we moved down in June of 2008. You can start to feel the progress now. And people would be wrong to think that nothing is happening in New Orleans. Things are happening. And they are really good things happening. We now have agreement on LSU Tulane Medical School, big construction project.

We have a Final Four coming, we have the Super Bowl coming, more restaurants open now than there were before the storm. Streets are being rebuilt. It's a work in progress, but there has been progress. I promise you that.

MATALIN: Let me say as a conservative something good about this administration. The Women of the Storm who grouped up after Katrina early on hooked up with Janet Napolitano, way before he was even -- Barack was even the nominee. And they got Napolitano to understand the necessity of clearing up roadblocks, red tape. And she has been down there a number of times and she has freed up the fights with FEMA and the new FEMA director is good. And the woman that's in the White House, Janet Woodka, is good. So they have a team that loves New Orleans, is focused on it.

It would be nice if he came, symbolic, but it's better that these women of the storm, the other citizens groups got focused, got focused on those who needed to be focused on it. And the beautiful thing about this is the absolute explosion of citizen activism to get so many things done from the women of the storm to education. Our own Walter Isaacson, exponential growth in education reform.

CARVILLE: But the big gaping holes, like the coastal restoration, there's not a sense of complacency, but we have made some progress. We are making progress on the levees. Senator Boxer put in an important piece of legislation that improves drainage in New Orleans. So not complacency, but there has been progress, no doubt about it.

KING: James and Mary, thanks for coming in. I should say to everybody, they have a beautiful home in New Orleans. Nice enough to invite me into it, Professor Carville did. And he is right about the restaurants, we had a great meal after my visit there. Thanks for being here.

Up next, we get out of Washington and head together to the Sooner State, Oklahoma for a great meal and a great discussion on the economy, health care and the role of government.


KING: We ended our travels this week in Boston for Senator Kennedy's funeral but we began in a state that overwhelmingly supported John McCain for president. In fact, Oklahoma delivered Senator McCain's widest margin, the president's widest margin of defeat, 32 percent. That's an anomaly when you consider the national results. So in this struggling economy, how has Oklahoma fared under an administration it clearly didn't want?

KING: We will get to that, but first I want to tell you, if you ever visit Oklahoma City, you must go here. This is the memorial to those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing back in '95. It is an incredibly solemn place, remarkably well done, an amazing and wonderful tribute to those killed on that horrific day back in '95.

And we were honored to spend a few minutes there at dusk, as you can see. It is a breathtaking place and worth visiting to remember that horrible tragedy.

Now, in Oklahoma, here's the statewide -- unemployment rate is 6.5 percent; 18.5 percent of the residents are uninsured, no health insurance. That means only seven other states have a higher percentage of their residents without health insurance.

So, in that context, we sat down for a light meal at Earl's Rib Palace in Oklahoma City, to see if the president has convinced anyone there that his policies are the right ones for Oklahoma and the nation.


KING: How's the economy here?

(UNKNOWN): The economy is -- fairly strong. It had some limits where some of the businesses have reduced some of their benefits, and a lot of businesses have cut the raises for this year. Our hospital is that way. So that's, kind of -- pretty common in the area.

(UNKNOWN): I work in a public library. We're not feeling the economic downturn, but yet we're experiencing more people coming in to see us because of their own financial issues.

KING: They come to the library because they're not spending money on books? (UNKNOWN): Right.

KING: OK. How about you?

(UNKNOWN): I'm pretty much in the same boat. You know, I recently was laid off, but that's because I was in the mortgage industry, you know, so I feel it really depends upon what department you're working in, what type of job you're working in.

KING: This was not a good state for candidate Barack Obama. Anyone at the table vote for Obama?


(UNKNOWN): I did.

KING: You did? One -- so we have one Obama voter.

Let's talk, a little bit, about what's going on in Washington. This week the administration put out a new budget review. And back in February, they predicted unemployment would be about 8 percent, and then we'd have a $7 trillion deficit over 10 years.

Now they say, no, unemployment will be probably over 10 percent for the rest of this year and into next year, and the deficit's going to be $9 trillion over the next 10 years.

What does that tell you about the country?

(UNKNOWN): It's going to affect every single household in America. You know, I just feel like we have to strap down and we have to know what our limits are.

KING: Do you, as someone who supported the president, do you think he needs to scale back some of his agenda because of those numbers, the debt?

(UNKNOWN): Probably, to be a little bit more conservative and be a little bit more cautious about what he's walking into. Of course, he inherited part of that, so, you know, he's not totally responsible, but, yet, needs to be mindful of the decisions he's making.

(UNKNOWN): I think they're getting involved in areas that they really don't have any business. The government is getting larger instead of less into the people's business.

KING: Do you assume that they will do something big in health care this year or do you think, because of what's happened in July and August, that one's gone off the rails?

(UNKNOWN): We pray not. I'm not only employed by health care but I use health care also. I'm a diabetic, and so I'm on both sides of health care. And I just don't see that the government has the ability to get into health care the way it would need to be if they're going to control it like they think they want to.

KING: What do you think? Do you want Washington to do something about health care or leave you alone?

(UNKNOWN): I would like assistance, but, at the same time, I would like to be able to make my own choices.

KING: The central theme of the Obama campaign was, "I'll change Washington."

Seven months into the administration, does Washington look any different to you? (UNKNOWN): Change was a good marketing tool. That word "change" alone is what did it. You know, I would love to see change. I would truly love to actually see changes, you know. But right now, I think everyone's throwing everything all at one time on the table. And there just has to be better organization.

(UNKNOWN): I think it does look different, because we have a new justice on the Supreme Court. And so she brings a whole different perspective to the legislative -- I mean, the judicial side of the government.

(UNKNOWN): It's just leaning the other way right now. It just seems that it went from leaning one way, and now it's leaning the other. Our church prays for the government and the president every time we meet, and hopes that they get some -- some knowledge, some insight. And we're going to continue. And we hope that we can -- we can make a difference.


KING: Great folks and a nice meal at Earl's. We thank them all.

And up next, Ted Kennedy called it the cause of his life. With the summer recess coming to a close, will Congress return to Washington with real solutions to health care?

The best political team on television standing by to answer that and much more.


KING: Joining me now from Washington, senior political analyst Gloria Borger, senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash, and, from Martha's Vineyard -- ooh, he's the lucky one -- White House correspondent Dan Lothian.


Let's get right to the former vice president, back in the news today, talking about this attorney general's decision, Attorney General Eric Holder, to have a special investigation looking into whether the Bush era CIA interrogation tactics violated a law.

The vice president says it's bad policy, bad politics, and he thinks it's the president's fault.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: We had the president of the United States, President Obama, tell us a few months ago there wouldn't be an investigation like this, that there would not be any look back at CIA personnel who were carrying out the policies of the prior administration.

Now they get a little heat from the left wing of the Democratic Party, and they're reversing course on that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Dan, how does the White House answer the vice president saying, you know, the president, A, could have stopped this, and, B, he says it's disingenuous for the president now to say, well, that's Eric Holder, the attorney general, and he made this decision independent of the White House.

LOTHIAN: Well, that's -- that's exactly what they're saying, John.

They've been very careful not to weigh in on this issue, saying, instead, whenever they're asked about what the president's preference would be or whether this, sort of, goes back on what the president had promised, that this really is an independent decision that was made by Eric Holder, in fact, the spokesman, deputy spokesman, saying that the president, when he picked Holder to do this job, that he picked someone who he knew would be independent.

And when we asked whether or not he supports the decision, he says the president supports Eric Holder making that decision, John.

KING: Interesting distinction.

LOTHIAN: Exactly.

KING: Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the committee, the Intelligence Committee, says, this morning, I understand Eric Holder's outrage, but, you know, we have an investigation under way. Why didn't he wait?

BASH: Well, some of that is a turf battle. Because Senator Feinstein has been -- has the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has been working on this for months and months, and will continue to do that.

So part of it is that. But the other part of it is that she is talking to people over at the CIA. And guess what? I'm sure she is hearing some of what Dick Cheney and other Republicans have been voicing, which is that there really is a fear that there will be a chilling effect on what goes on in the interrogations going forward in terms of going after terrorists, there's no question about that.

BASH: What is so interesting to me is what Dan was talking about, the politics of this inside the administration and good cop/bad cop. I mean, how could the White House really say with a straight face, you know, we don't really have anything do with this?

I mean, you know, maybe it is possible that they just let the attorney general do his thing, but it's just kind of hard to believe with something at this level, especially something that the president promised or at least suggested that he didn't want to do, that there wasn't a discussion about it.

BORGER: The person left hanging out there in all of this is the CIA director, Leon Panetta. Here's a guy who goes into the CIA and tries to improve morale. He goes to the White House or sends his emissaries to the White House and says, the last thing we need is a prosecutor to start investigating the behavior, who were doing what they thought they needed to do to save lives post-9/11 and were given legal memoranda saying that in fact they could do these things.

And so he has got a real problem here inside his own agency. I think the big question that remains unanswered here is whether we are talking about those agents who actually did the interrogations or are we talking about possible prosecutions of the people above them who gave them the orders, whether they were at the Justice Department or somewhere else who gave them the orders saying it is OK to do X, Y, and Z.

And my guess is you're not talking about prosecuting the agents in the field who thought they were just doing their job.

KING: And there is a spicy political argument about this, but there is a very important policy question. And Orrin Hatch was on the show this morning. He is a veteran of the Intelligence Committee. And he said his fear that an agent is in a room doing an interrogation, and you get to a very difficult point where you have to decide how aggressive to be, and in the back of the mind, this agent is going to think, I'm going to be investigated for this if I do this. And so Senator Hatch says his fear is that agent will be too timid.


HATCH: If our people are too timid to get out there and do the things that have to be done because we have -- we have -- and I believe in oversight. That's what the Intelligence Committee should be all about. But if we're too timid, we're not going to be able to protect this country. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Dan, if you are working in the Obama White House, they won the last election, but looking back at what happened to John Kerry, looking back at how Republicans have used the argument that Democrats view terrorism as law enforcement, they're softer than we are, they have to be somewhat sensitive to the political argument playing out that this policy, their policies, and now this investigation are going to make Americans less safe.

LOTHIAN: Well, they certainly hear that, John. And there is that concern out there that there will be this chilling effect, as pointed out. That if there is an agent sitting down, wanting to gather some kind of information, will think twice as to how they will do that.

But you know, there is also this other knock against the CIA that we saw this week, is that this agency, which the president has signed off on, this new agency, so-called HIG agency, which will now in essence push the CIA out of the interrogation business, at least in leading it, where now the FBI will be taking the charge, where this will be happening at FBI headquarters.

We are told that the CIA is on board with this, but certainly some see this as yet another slap to the CIA and this administration trying to take more control of the process.

BORGER: You know, this is not a good political issue for President Obama, either. I think he wishes it would just go away, because when you look at public opinion polls, it shows that a majority of Americans do not believe in prosecutions for these people.

And so it's going to be a tough political thing for this president if his Justice Department and this prosecutor recommends prosecutions. It's not something the president really wants to talk about when he has got health care he needs to talk about.

BASH: Which is exactly why he's not talking about it, and he'll let the attorney general do it.

BORGER: Right.

KING: Let's take a quick time out on that very point. We'll take a quick break, then we're back with Dan, Gloria, and Dana, to talk about health care, the health care debate here in Washington after the death of Senator Edward Kennedy. Stay with us.


KING: We're back with CNN's Gloria Borger, Dana Bash, and Dan Lothian, who is on Martha's Vineyard.

I want to move on to health care. But first, right as we head into the break, a little proof, we always say, in this hour, we watch so you don't have to. BORGER: I got an e-mail. We were having the discussion about the CIA interrogations. Got an e-mail from a senior administration official who makes the point, saying that the attorney general and the president have said explicitly that those who were acting within the parameters of the Justice Department guidelines should not be prosecuted.

So what we're talking about is, those agents who were just doing their jobs according to the rules, according to the president and the attorney general, off-limits for prosecution.

KING: All right. We're glad they're watching. And if that senior administration official wants to come in and explain in more detail next Sunday, we'll make some room. That's a promise.

Let's move on to the health care debate, because one of the big questions, anyway, was what would the president do after the August recess? What would the lesson learned be from all of these town halls? And is there support for the public option? And how are they going to pay for it? And can they bridge the disagreements among the Democrats? And some have thought maybe the death of the legendary Ted Kennedy, whose issue was health care for so long, maybe that would change the substance of the debate, not just the tone of the debate.

Senator Orrin Hatch, one of Ted Kennedy's best friends, was here this morning. And he said, you know what, this is not about Ted Kennedy, it's about the president providing better leadership.


HATCH: I think sooner or later the president has to weigh in and he has to carry the ball. Frankly, I think he has left too much up to Rahm Emanuel and Axelrod and the others, who are brilliant people, I mean, I have a lot of regard for them.

But he's going to have to weigh in. But let me tell you, he's going to have to realize that you're not going to get this big, broad Democrat high -- big spending bill. You're not going to get Republican support for it.


KING: Dan, do they have any different strategy? The president has deferred to the Congress so far, to the Democratic chairmen and the speaker and the majority leader, saying, you guys write the bill and then you'll call me when you need my help. Do we get any sense that with the clock ticking, they're going to do things differently?

LOTHIAN: Yes, I talked to a senior administration official about this, and I was told that nothing really changes. That the president, when he gets back, will be fully engaged. And they believe as engaged as he was before.

You know, for weeks I've been talking to Robert Gibbs and asking him questions about whether or not there would be more involvement from the president, and he always points out, well, the president has been very involved. There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes.

But as you pointed out, I mean, there is a lot of criticism, that the president needs to get more involved in the nitty-gritty. From the White House's perspective, they believe that he had been fully engaged and will continue to do that.

KING: Quickly on this point, because I want to move on to other things. But it's an interesting point.

KING: They says he hasn't evolved, he's had these meetings, but even Democrats on Capitol Hill, they don't translate it that way.

BASH: Many Democrats would agree with what Orrin Hatch said about that the president needs to get more involved. And it's not about meetings. He's certainly -- he's had umpteen meetings with Democrats and Republicans at the White House and other places. The issue is, what do you want, Mr. President? Where are your bright lines? What do you want in terms of specifics? Get involved to end what has become an increasing civil war in your own party. This isn't about Republicans. It's about getting his fellow Democrats to come together and that's where many Democrats say they really need his leadership, especially coming into the fall about what he wants so they can help negotiate the compromise that Ted Kennedy was able to do so many times on this issue.

KING: I want to turn to the funeral last night and the burial ceremony in particular at Arlington National Cemetery. Dusk was turning to dark, and the archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was reading a letter that Ted Kennedy wrote in his final days to the pope.


CARDINAL MCCARRICK: Shortly before he died, Senator Kennedy wrote a very moving letter to the holy father and took advantage of the historic visit to the Vatican of President Obama to ask the president if he would deliver it personally, which Mr. Obama gladly did. A couple of weeks later, the pope replied with a message of concern --


KING: What did you take away from that? He said in that letter to the pope that he was an imperfect man, that he had many flaws, and that he wandered away from the church's teachings on occasion, but he always found in it his roots to return and to guide in his life. It was an interesting moment.

BASH: It was. It was almost like a final confessional. We knew that Senator Kennedy had written that letter, one of the last letters that he had written and gave it to the president to personally deliver. But Senator Kennedy's aides, nor the Vatican, would disclose what was in that letter. And we also did not know until that dramatic letter at the grave site last night at Arlington that the pope actually responded. And it was -- we talked many times in the past several days about Senator Kennedy's faith and the fact that he had a deep Catholic faith and the fact that that really did drive his policies. But the fact that he had a complicated relationship with the church because of his position supporting abortion rights. And so I think he wanted to try to make peace with the Catholic Church as the highest level with the pope, and that was such an unbelievable moment to hear those final words from Senator Kennedy and then to hear the response from the pope.

KING: Speaking at his own burial.

BORGER: I think he delivered his own eulogy, exactly. And there were lots of folks saying, why didn't we hear more about health care? Why didn't we hear more about his fights against poverty, the death penalty, to end the war? Well, we did. But we heard about it in Senator Kennedy's own words and he talked about being "committed to do everything I can to achieve access for health care for everybody in this country." So he literally spoke from the grave. And it was kind of a stunning, stunning moment.

KING: Jump in, Dan. LOTHIAN: I was just going to say though this was not the first time that we've heard Senator Kennedy through the words from that letter talk about how he was imperfect. I mean, time and time again, whenever he would stumble throughout his life, he was always willing to sort of step up and talk about that, how he was not perfect and how as a human being, that he would stumble, but that he would pick himself up again. So this was just sort of summarizing again in that letter at the end of his life what he had been saying now for years.

KING: Dan's right on that point. It was a major theme of the weekend, the redemption and the get up if you're knocked down qualities of Ted Kennedy. When we come back, we're going to take a break. When we come back, what we call our lightning round. Two issues, we'll give our correspondents two sentences. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back for our lightning round and John McCain was among those who gave a passionate statement about Ted Kennedy's life at the Friday night memorial service. And not exactly Ali-Foreman, Ali-Frazier, but he did say that he loved the idea of being on the floor with Teddy Kennedy and sometimes having a good old fight.


MCCAIN: Ted and I shared the sentiment that a fight not joined was a fight not enjoyed. And irresistibly, when we were both drawn into a debate, we had no particular interest in, but which suddenly looked like fun.


KING: So who is it next time, John McCain's down on the floor itching for a fight, who is the successor?

BASH: You know, I hate to say this, but there really isn't. There are people like Pat Leahy who have been there for a long time, but you know, he enjoys his partisanship maybe a little more than Ted Kennedy does, did. So I think most of Ted Kennedy's colleagues would tell you that there really isn't anybody.

BORGER: I agree. There is no more joy in Mudville. There is no more fun like that on the Senate floor in politics. It's become so polarized and so serious in the battles.

KING: OK, it's the lightning round. Dan, you're in Massachusetts. We had Marvin Haggler growing up. Who is the next middleweight?

LOTHIAN: Believe me, the answer is pretty easy. His shoes were bigger than Shaquille O'Neal's. I don't think anyone can fill them.

KING: OK, that's good. Let's listen to two friends of Ted Kennedy on whether his wife should take his temporary appointment, if there is one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HATCH: Sure, I think Vicki ought to be considered. She's a very brilliant lawyer. She's a very solid individual. She certainly made a difference in Ted's life, let me tell you, and I have nothing but great respect for her.

DODD: Whatever Vicki wants to do, I'm in her corner. She knows that. And she has expressed to me her own sort of reluctance to do that. But she could change her mind. If she did, I'm for it.


KING: Yes or no, if the interim appointment is created?


KING: Yes?

BORGER: The women of the next generation.

KING: We've got to go. Dan Lothian, thanks very much. I'm John King. Dan says yes. I'm John King, this is "State of the Union."