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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Sound of Sunday
Aired November 29, 2009 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING (voice over): I'm John King and this is "State of the Union."
It's 11 a.m. Eastern, time for "State of the Union's" "Sound of Sunday."
Seventeen government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say. Key senators from both sides of the aisle and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates. We've watched the Sunday shows, so you don't have to.
We'll break it all down with Donna Brazile and Ed Rollins, the best political team on television. "State of the Union's" "Sound of Sunday" for November 29th.
(on camera): As President Obama prepares to announce his new Afghanistan strategy, key members of his own Democratic Party warn he must strike a difficult balance, persuading the American people that sending more troops now is the key to getting out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REED: I think he has to make a speech that shows that all of our efforts are pointed to our reduced presence in Afghanistan, but I think he has to also indicate again and again how critical this is to our national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: But a key Republican senator says one thing the commander in chief must not demonstrate is a weakening of U.S. resolve.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JON KYL, R-ARIZ.: You cannot signal that they are going to be doing their part, but then, as soon as it's inconvenient for us to stay, we begin to leave. Because that's exactly what we've done in the past. That's exactly what they fear.
I talked to a bunch of tribal leaders out in Kandahar. That's what they feared. They want us to make sure that the job is done before we leave. And that's why I think all of this talk about an exit strategy is really dangerous. It tells the Taliban just to lay low until we leave, and it does not encourage the Europeans, for example, or other NATO allies that this is a cause worth sending their troops to support.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Another leading Republican says the president would be smart to set aside the health care debate and focus on what he sees as the two more urgent priorities, the war and the economy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LUGAR: But we're not going to do that debating health care in the Senate for three weeks, through all sorts of strategies and so forth. The war is terribly important. Jobs and our economy are terribly important. So this may be an audacious suggestion, but I would suggest we put aside the health care debate until next year, the same way we put cap-and-trade and climate change, and talk now about the essentials, the war and money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: As you can see, we've been watching all 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, and break down the key issues.
In our New York bureau this morning, Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Ed Rollins. Here in Washington, senior correspondent Joe Johns, senior White House correspondent Ed Henry, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile.
Let's start with the debate you heard in the opening of the program.
And Ed, you're out of the room. I'll go to you first. What is the single biggest challenge for the president of the United States when he speaks to the nation Tuesday night, Ed Rollins?
ROLLINS: There has to be real clarity. Why are we there? How long are we going to be there?
And equally as important, what is the mission and how is the mission different now than it was two years ago or four years ago?
You know, Democrats have to be convinced. The president's party is certainly very divided on this issue. I think he'll have the Republican support he needs, but at the end of day, if this is not a bipartisan effort, long-term, they won't get the resources and the funding to make it work.
KING: Donna Brazile, to Ed Rollins's point, the biggest, toughest sales job is to the left, the anti-war left of the Democratic Party.
How does the president convince them either to support him or at least keep quiet their criticism? BRAZILE: Well, John, after eight years, public support for this war has diminished across the board, not just with the left, but across the country and even across the world, where we depend on troops from other countries to help us in Afghanistan.
The president gave a very thorough speech back in March, laying out our objectives. He said it was to dismantle, disrupt and destroy Al Qaida. He also talked about the Afghan government.
I think the president needs to update us on what has occurred since March that requires to send more troops, more civilians, and how will this be different than, say, what it was two years ago or even in the near future?
So I think this is a very important speech to not just convince the left but to convince the country that this is an important use of our resources.
KING: Well, Candy, jump on in, but first let's listen to one of the independents in the United States Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who obviously votes with the Democrats most of the time, but he is making clear even before the president speaks he thinks sending 30,000 more troops is a bad idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNARD SANDERS, I-VT.: I've got a real problem about expanding this war, where the rest of the world is sitting around and saying, isn't it a nice thing that the taxpayers of the United States and the U.S. military are doing the work that the rest of the world should be doing?
So what I want to see is some real international cooperation, not just from Europe but from Russia and from China.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Not happening in the Russia and China department.
How much -- how complicated does it make it? This is an enormous challenge anyway, but when you have people out there saying, you know, look, why are we doing this; why is it all our men and women, all our money?
CROWLEY: Well, and what's interesting is that, when the president campaigned and when he was the nominee for the Democratic Party, he said the reason we can't get their cooperation is because we're go-it-alone; we're always, you know, off -- we don't consult them.
And so now he's had a year where he's become the most traveled freshman president of any president. So is France going to step up to the plate? Is Germany going to step up to the plate? Is NATO going to step up to the plate? Maybe they will, and then he can say, you see, it worked. Maybe they won't. Because they have been -- they may send troops there. The question is, are they going to send combat troops? Because I think what people object to is that the U.S. is always the combat brigade.
KING: And so you're the senior White House correspondent. How much do they view that, the NATO credibility test -- never mind the sales job at home, but will they have specific commitments of real troops, not 20 guys to be there for six months or 50 guys to train guys for six weeks. Will they have real combat troops?
HENRY: They believe that they're going to get up to 10,000 of those combat troops from NATO. We'll see whether it -- it follows through.
And that is key and critical because the president is probably only going to send, we hear, about 30,000 to 34,000 U.S. troops. So to get to the 40,000 that General McChrystal wants, you need those NATO troops to make the difference.
That will be big. And the other key will be what the president kept saying when I interviewed him in China a couple of weeks ago, was end game, end game, that we've got to have the Afghan army stand up; they've got to take responsibility.
And Candy and I were speaking a few moments ago about how this sounds like President Bush, 2005, 2006, "As the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down."
Well, you know what? Here we are, almost into 2010, and while it looks like Iraq is going to finally take over, maybe by the end of 2010, there's some real uncertainty about, when the U.S. finally leaves, can they really stand up, several years later.
So the same may hold true for Afghanistan. How do we really know whether they can stand up?
KING: I want you to listen, before you jump in. Evan Bayh -- this is a guy from a conservative state. He's a relatively moderate to conservative Democrat. Of all of the Democrats you'd think would be with the president, you'd think guys from Indiana like Evan Bayh would be. And it's clear that he wants to be, but even he understands the dicey politics here. He says send more troops, Mr. President, but don't -- maybe not give the generals everything they want.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EVAN BAYH, D-IND.: I think the president and the secretary of defense have to show some deference to the generals' recommendations. But these are just recommendations. They're not the 10 commandments, after all, Chris.
You'll remember General Westmoreland, in Vietnam, wanted more troops, even at the end. I think -- wasn't it General MacArthur, in Korea, wanted to drop nuclear weapons on China. You don't always go with the recommendations of the battlefield commander. You take them into account and then make the appropriate decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I'm guessing, Joe, the White House just sent "Memo to Senator Bayh: Say whatever you want, but please don't add Vietnam in the back half of your quote."
JOHNS: That's absolutely right. And the -- the other thing that's really funny about this is Obama is the guy the left voted for. And Obama said, on the campaign trail, that Afghanistan was the problem.
Now he's, sort of, moving into that realm and actually owning it. And the fact of the matter is he's probably never going to get a certain portion of the left on his side, either in the Congress or out in the country.
All he can really do, right now, is make a justification based on reasonableness about what you've got to do at this point, going forward, in the hopes that you at least explain your position to the middle and realize that the certain segment is just not going to go for war, period.
KING: And, Ed Rollins, some conservatives have used the word "dithering." We've been waiting now more than 90 days since General McChrystal's recommendation arrived to when the president will make his decision.
Now Republicans are saying, Mr. President, we will support you as you send more troops. But listen to Senator Lindsey Graham -- essentially, the Republicans now laying down a new threshold, saying, "You better sound tough."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: We'll be evaluated by some pretty tough characters in the world as to how we handle Afghanistan. This is not just any place on the planet. This is the place where the Taliban took control after the Russians left, aligned themselves with Al Qaida and attacked this nation and killed 3,000 Americans.
And I hope the president will tell the world, our troops and anybody listening Tuesday, that will never happen again with this new surge of forces.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So, Ed Rollins, how do you do it, as a president with a divided country, say, I'm sending in 30,000, maybe 35,000 more troops, but the reason I'm doing that is because it means we can get home sooner?
ROLLINS: Well, we can get home sooner. The critical thing here, and unlike Iraq, there is no real army in Afghanistan. I mean, there's 50,000, 60,000 troops that wouldn't be put into real battle at this point in time. We've got to train 5,000 a month for at least a year to get to the 134,000 mark, which is now updated from -- we were going to do that four years ago.
We've got to build an army there to 250,000, 300,000, 400,000, some people think, that they've never had before. Iraq had an army that we dismantled foolishly, but you can at least go get soldiers and bring them back.
ROLLINS: Here, you have an uneducated population. You've got the competition with the Taliban offering the same kind of money and basically saying every day, who do you think long-term is going to be here? Us or them? Do you want to be part of the Afghan army or do you want to be part of our group that has been here and we will be here. That's a long, hard battle and I think to a certain extent, that's what the president has to say is that we're going to get in there. We're going to hold them accountable. We're going to make sure they build their own army because if they don't build their own army, there is not going to be any success here. We're not going to stay there indefinitely.
KING: Quick break. Our group will stay with us. We're going to take a quick break here. When we come back, we'll talk more about the dicey politics as the president prepares to make that big speech to the nation Tuesday night about sending tens of thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Stay with us.
KING: Back to our Afghanistan discussion in a moment, but first this breaking news just in to CNN. The Iranian state news agency is reporting that the Iranian government has authorized the construction of 10 new industrial-scale uranium enrichment facilities, a dramatic expansion of its nuclear program and a dramatic defiance of the United Nations Nuclear Agency which has called on Iran to suspend that program. The Iranian news agency saying the decision comes only days after the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency censured Iran over its program. It says it now has approved the construction of five uranium- enrichment sites that have already been studied and proposes five additional sites for construction. The decision, the state agency saying, made during a cabinet meeting today, headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Donna Brazile, this is, shall we say, not the way the Obama administration and the world were hoping Iran would go.
BRAZILE: Well, just 24 hours ago, everyone was applauding the fact that the IAEA had rebuked the Iranians for the developments in Qom. Now this will give the administration perhaps and others the ammunition, I hate to use that word, but hopefully the impetus to go to the United Nations and to finally propose those tough sanctions. But we have to keep China and Russia onboard. That's the key to having any successful strategy before we look at the other options involved in trying to halt their nuclear program. KING: In an odd way, Candy, does it help the president? Russia and China have been saying give them time, give them time, give them time. When they do something like this does it give the president of the United States say --
CROWLEY: Well sure, it gives him saying, look, they haven't responded, I've been the one out there, I've opened my hand saying if you'll just come into the family of nations. And I think all along what this administration is calculated is, if they do these things with places likes Iran or North Korea and say you can come into the family of nations and here's how, and if they don't do that that they can then go back to some of these nations.
And really, it's not just Russia and China. It's France and people that do business in Iran that have been reluctant to impose the sanctions. They can go back and say we tried it. We went out there, we extended our hand. We gave them a pathway and they haven't done it and now you've got to come with us and do these sanctions. I think this is the stick to the carrots that they've been holding out there.
KING: And Ed, how do they assess the Iranians in the Obama White House. When North Korea does things like this, eight times out of 10 times whether it's the Bush administration, even back to the Clinton administration, now the Obama administration that they're just trying to get attention, that they're just sort of show boating on the world stage. Is it the White House calculation that Iran is different? That they are dead set serious on expanding this program?
HENRY: They believe so. And that's why the president in recent days has been saying look, when he was inaugurated as president there was no consensus about how to deal with Iran. And as Candy is saying, they believe this shows that maybe they are, you know, bent on making sure that they can continue this nuclear program.
That is going give fuel for the White House to continue to say, look, we've reached out. We've extended the hand. The president of the United States wrote letters to the government, to the religious leaders, trying to reach out and they have consistently pushed back. And so this gives them more fuel to say it's time to get tough before the U.N. and that is the key as you said with China and Russia. They supported this IAEA resolution. Will they support sanctions before the U.N.? These kinds of moves might suggest China and Russia finally will.
JOHNS: All of the choices are bad here. On the one hand, you have China and Russia actually who have a lot of business interests in Iran and on the other hand, kind of like the idea of a country sticking its finger in the eye of the super power United States. They got off to a wrong start.
There are a lot of people who say the United States should have gone the route of trying to destabilize this regime at the very beginning rather than finding itself in this position because all of your choices are bad. The thought of going in and bombing nuclear facilities is just terrible. The thought of trying to create some type of a dialogue with a country that's been playing sort of push me/pull you, it's all really tough for this administration. And somehow or another, they're going to have to unravel it in a peaceful way where the rest of the world looks at the United States and says, OK, I'm satisfied with that. Tough choices. KING: And Ed Rollins, a test of the president's toughness. Is it not? His critics say he bows to the emperor of Japan. He wants to negotiate with North Korea and he wants to negotiation with Iran. Now he's sending more troops into Afghanistan, which is even some conservative critics will say good for you, Mr. President, maybe you took longer to get there than we wanted you to. Now he might have a stronger showdown with Iran.
ROLLINS: We drew a line in the sand and they walked up to the line and kicked the sand into our face. They're not afraid of us. They watch CNN International and other entities. They know we're in two wars. They know we're bogged down. We know that the choices are very difficult. But at the end of the day, they're not afraid of us. They're not afraid of their own people and they basically have subjected them to cruelty and lack of governance. And I think to a certain extent, unless we can push the most severe sanctions on them and we take some other action, we're going to have to basically live with them having nuclear weapons and I don't think that's good for their neighborhood and I don't think our ally Israel is going to basically tolerate that very long.
KING: Our assessment there, that news just into us, Iran building new uranium enrichment facilities. We'll continue to track that story. Right now, we're gong to take a quick break here on STATE OF THE UNION. When we come back, we'll get back to Afghanistan and the president's big decision next Tuesday night, his big announcement, sending upwards of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and the challenge of trying to sell that to a very skeptical American public. Stay with us.
KING: Let's get back to the big political challenge facing the president as he makes a major policy announcement about Afghanistan. Joining us in New York is Ed Rollins, our CNN political contributor and Republican strategist. Here with me in Washington, Joe Johns, Ed Henry, Candy Crowley, and Donna Brazile.
Let's look at the polling to underscore the president's very tough challenge. "USA Today"/Gallup poll asked the American people, how is President Obama handling Afghanistan? And look at these stunning numbers. Approval rating, 35 percent, down 21 points from July when it was 56 percent. Disapproval of how the president is handling Iraq now at 55 percent, up nearly 20 points from 37 percent in July.
Ed Henry, they knew at the White House they were facing all of this criticism, conservatives saying you're dithering, Mr. President. the general has given you his recommendations. They believed they needed a long, well-thought-out deliberative process. But do they now see these numbers and say, we think our process was right, but we may have paid a political price?
HENRY: Sure, absolutely. Because it appeared that, you know, violence was increasing while the White House was weighing all of the different options. And what is also interesting is at the beginning of this process, we knew that the options essentially were, you know, 20,000 on the low end, 30,000 in the middle, 40,000 if you did the full McChrystal.
After this long process they winded up with the middle approach, which is at the beginning a lot of people expected they probably would do, try to split the difference. I think the other difficult issue -- and there's another "USA Today"/Gallup poll that basically asked the American people, what should President Obama do? Thirty-nine percent say, begin to withdraw, 37 percent say, increase by 40,000. A split.
And these are the tough decisions that you're elected president to make. The American people, frankly, don't know what to do next. You're paid the big bucks to come up with the tough decision and, frankly, deal with the consequences because they're not certain this is going to work.
KING: Well, on that point, let's listen to some of the American people. I was out in Montana for this week's diner segment. This was a question I asked -- I've been in 45 states. It's a question I ask just about every one of them. Essentially, who is the enemy in Afghanistan? Should the U.S. -- should we send more troops? Should we bring troops home? This is Steve's Cafe, Helena, Montana.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we need to bring our boys home, actually.
GEORGE JENSEN, OWNS LANDSCAPING COMPANY: I would like to see them come home too. The thing is, is that we're not going to win either one of the wars by force. It's going to have to be winning the hearts and the minds of the people. Now how do we get from point A to point B because it has been -- totally the ball has been dropped seriously ever since the start of these things.
STEVE VINCELLI, OWNER, STEVE'S CAFE: How do you back a government without a fair -- that can't even do a fair election? How do you continue to put your money into that debacle like that when you don't even know -- if you would lead well, will it ever last? It seems like everything goes corrupt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So, Donna Brazile, how does the president -- pretty fair- minded people there, all of them said, look, he inherited this, the problems in both Iraq and Afghanistan started under President Bush, but he's the boss now. And they see the corruption in the election, they see the opium trade, they see eight years and billions of dollars and they say, you know what, bring the troops home.
How does the president convince them to sign back up?
BRAZILE: Well, I think the most important thing is the president once again defined the objective. What is the objective? The war should have an objective. When we focused the last two-and-a-half months on the troop level. Once we know what the admission is and the objectives, then the troops should help define the cause of the campaign.
I think we've spent so much time focusing on the wrong thing and trying to win over the situation in Afghanistan, and it is important that we focus simply on training the Afghan army, trying to hold those provinces, and those areas where we believe the Taliban is putting their minions in, and then bring our troops home. But I don't think the president can announce an endgame, because I think would undermine our campaign there. So it's a tough call.
CROWLEY: He needs to come out and draw that line from Afghanistan to the United States of America and say, you know why we're here? Do you remember 9/11? Do you remember al Qaeda? Our mission, as he described early spring, is to seek and destroy and get rid of al Qaeda, to a certain extent, the Taliban when there's overlap there, which there is a lot of it.
So he needs to remind people that this isn't about propping up Karzai. This is not about the Afghan government. I mean, that's obviously an element you've got to strengthen, but it's not about that, it's about us. And if he can't make that connection, then he has got a problem.
HENRY: And by the way, if this still continues to spiral downward, next door you have Pakistan where they have nuclear weapons. So...
BRAZILE: And bin Laden.
KING: And to that point, Joe, have the American people -- do our presidents, do our members of Congress, do us in our business, do we spend enough time constantly reminding people? Because even if things go perfectly in Afghanistan, most of al Qaeda is on the Pakistan side.
So essentially U.S. forces in Afghanistan are the fire department that if Pakistan does its job, al Qaeda can't come across the border seeking refuge.
JOHNS: Absolutely. We don't necessarily do that good a job, and here's what I mean. So much of this has been about process and the words that have been used. I've seen all of these articles about whether this president has a foreign policy based in realism. There has been all of this talk about counter-insurgency, which might be the better idea, versus counter-terrorism, which sounds like the better idea.
So it's very difficult to sort of put this in a person's kitchen where they live and explain to them the stakes for you, the American public. This is the challenge also for the president to try to lay in it on the line, as we've already said here, and say, this is what's in it for you, more safety, more security at home, trying to stabilize this region and getting out in a reasonable period of time. It's the words they use, in part.
KING: So, Ed Rollins, how much more difficult is this challenge because the world is a more fragmented, fractured, less predictable place than when you were sitting at Ronald Reagan's side in the early -- at the end of the Cold War?
ROLLINS: Well, the lesson I learned from Ronald Reagan is you can't do it in one speech. No matter how brilliant this speech is on Tuesday night, you have got to go out continuously and convince the American public of why you're there, particularly when you need the support of the Congress.
The biggest problem this president has today is he has got so much on his plate. He has a -- he speaks Tuesday. He has a job summit on Thursday. He's going off the following week to do Copenhagen, get up the Nobel Peace prize. Then we're into Christmas parties and all the rest of it. And there's nothing sustained. And then you have the health care being battled on the congressional front.
So I think the bottom line here is that he has got to basically realize he can't do it in one speech, it has to be a sustained effort. It's an educational process. And the educational processes is, we are going to build them an army and once they have an army they can defend themes and defend the region, then we can back away.
That is what we did in Iraq, that's what we want to do there. That's going to take a couple of years and the moment we basically start waving the white flag, though, we'll lose that battle very quickly.
KING: And even as the president tries to sell this policy and rally support, one of the big questions will be, how do we pay for it? And we're going to talk to David Obey, the House Appropriations Committee chairman, later in the program. He says, let's have a special tax so that everybody knows that's the war tax. That's what it has cost.
Carl Levin is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he doesn't go that far, but he does think -- he does think we need to raise revenues to pay for war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FACE THE NATION")
SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: We're in the middle of a recession, we're probably not going to be able to increase taxes to pay for it. In the middle of this recession, I don't think you're going to be able to successfully or fairly to add a tax burden to middle-income people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Not to middle-income people, but he says maybe a surtax or higher on upper-income people to pay for the war.
KING: Do we want to get into a taxist debate, paying for the war debate in the middle of the policy debate?
HENRY: In the middle of a debate about how to raise taxes to pay for health care, it gets very complicated. But I had sources in early October who were in the room when the president brought Congress in to talk about his deliberations on Afghanistan. They're going to be coming back this Tuesday, including David Obey, Carl Levin, some of these key players. And back in the meeting in early October, I am told that David Obey stood up and said, Mr. President, if you escalate this war further, you're going to make it likely that we can be up into Afghanistan for up to 20 years and it could cost $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
David Obey is the chairman of the House Spending Committee. He knows how much this costs. And to get to Ed Rollins point, I'm not sure that the American people understand the stakes, not just the human cost, but how this is breaking the budget. And as you made the point earlier, this was inherited by this president and clearly, President Bush did not find ways to pay for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, et cetera, but now this president needs to find a way to pay for it because when you add it up with health care, the stimulus, et cetera, we're going broke.
CROWLEY: I find it very hard -- what $30 billion a year, I saw somewhere -- to send those additional troops. This Congress is not going say to this president, no, we're not going to give you money. It's not going to happen. There are enough Republicans and enough moderate Democrats and left Democrats who think we ought to go ahead and put those troops in. He's going get this money.
The question is, like, do they want to tax the rich as they do want to tax the rich for health care reform as well. It's an OK battle to have right now because there really is a populist strain going on in the country that goes, yeah, tax the rich. You'll hear the Republicans fighting it, but it's not an up popular idea. I don't think the White House seems that crazy about the idea in this instance.
BRAZILE: They have not weighed in on this discussion, but leading Democrats and I think others will raise the question, John, simply because we need to put it on the table. Look, we've spent almost $1 trillion so far in these two wars. We know that the Afghanistan war has not been properly resourced but at the same time what it will cost as in terms of the lives of our brave soldiers and what it's costing the American people in terms of our tax dollars. So we have to have this debate and I hope we can have it in an honest way so that the American people know exactly what the cost is.
JOHNS: The thing I wonder about is how in the world are you going to sell something like that on Capitol Hill? You think of these two words, war tax. On the left, people are going to hate the war part. On the right, the people are going to hate the tax part. And what do you have? You have the middle, but that creates what I've always called the Halloween coalition where the wings just hate it. The people in the middle vote for it and it's shot down.
BRAZILE: Security is not cheap.
KING: The Halloween coalition. Write that down. We're going take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to shift gears to politics, including there's a committee to draft Dick Cheney, the former vice president, for president next time around. No kidding. Stay with us.
KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.
Struggling homeowners will find out tomorrow morning what additional steps the Obama administration is planning to take to help them avoid foreclosure. Administration officials are expected to announce a new initiative to get long-term help for borrowers who are trying to modify their loans. The Treasury Department says the plan will provide more resources for homeowners and demand more accountability and transparency from banks.
Investigators in Russia are calling a deadly train derailment an act of terror. At least 26 people were killed and another 100 injured when an explosion caused several cars to jump the tracks Friday night. Several passengers were still unaccounted for. Investigators say they found elements of an explosive device including a crater under the tracks where that train derailed.
Investigators in Florida are hoping to interview Tiger Woods and his wife today about the golfer's mysterious car accident. Two previous attempts to meet with them have failed. Woods was treated for minor injuries when he crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and then a tree outside his Orlando-area home early Friday morning. Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION.
Back with our panel. Ed Rollins is in New York. Joe Johns, Ed Henry, Candy Crowley and Donna Brazile here in Washington. Let's shift to some politics. There's a proposed resolution at the Republican National Committee, after the primaries this year and a little bit of strife within the party especially in a New York congressional race, there's a proposed resolution that some call the purity test for Republicans. And what it would do, it would set these standards to be a Republican candidate and to get party money.
We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama's stimulus bill. We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government-run health care. We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation. We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military recommended troop surges and we support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion.
I don't think it takes much to get the picture. If President Obama is for it, you have to be against it under the terms of the resolution on those big issues to get any funding. Ed Rollins, you're the Republican strategist in the group. A good idea?
ROLLINS: Well, it would be a much better idea if members after they got elected lived up to those issues. Any time the party --
BRAZILE: Say it, brother! ROLLINS: Any time the party sets a platform, candidates run on their own record and should have the freedom to go do what it is that they think is the best interest of their constituents depending where the district may be. Those are nice principles. They've been principles of the Republican Party for a long time, but the party basically ought to realize its role is not setting policy. Its role is raising money, getting good candidates, helping them be trained, getting good campaign managers. And once someone gets elected trying to hold their feet to the fire on some those of principles. But at this point in time, setting a litmus trust prior to them running I think is just kind of foolish.
KING: And Candy, the Republicans have the wind at their back right now. The country is concerned about the spending, history says they'll do well in an off year anyway. Is this the kind of thing they want to be debating?
CROWLEY: No. You know that there is a center inside the Republican Party that does not like all of the attention to Palin at which probably won't like the attention to Dick Cheney as a potential presidential guy.
CROWLEY: They also are not going to like this, sort of, you have to be this. But it's the debate within the party, and we keep seeing it over and over again.
It's purity versus that, kind of, big tent, you know, do we bring in people, and if they have an "R" after their name and they'll vote for speaker, and the speaker they vote for is a Republican, we're with them, or do you go for purity?
And the -- the ongoing feeling of the moderates inside the party is, if you go for this sort of purity, you're not going have a party, certainly not one that can win.
HENRY: And at a time when the -- one of the president's problems is that independent voters seem to be moving away from him, it doesn't seem like a sound political strategy to try to push independents out and say we're going to go further to the right.
JOHNS: There's a lot of scoffing out there, especially among Democrats, about this, you know, how ridiculous; why would they do that?
And I have to tell you, though, I mean, we were all around when they rolled out the Contract with America, which sounds a lot like some of these things.
And I know it's a different time. It's a different era, different president and so on, but you have to keep in mind that there's a segment of the population out there that will pay attention to this and respond to it in a -- in a fairly positive way. So I don't think...
CROWLEY: Contract with America had Newt Gingrich.
You have to have a person behind something to push this, and this is, sort of, an amorphous party thing, and that's not -- you've got to have a person.
KING: You've had debates within your party about these kind of things before, litmus tests and purity and the like. Do they help or hurt? BRAZILE: Well, John, I know what it's like to be in the wilderness, but I also know what it's like to have a flashlight and some leaders who are willing to put forth those ideas, whether it was Bill Clinton and Al Gore in the 1990s or Barack Obama, who just won last year.
I think it's important the Republican Party begin to harness a new generation of leaders to come up with ideas that will help ignite a new breed of leaders with the country. But to come up with these old tried ideas that have produced the kind of pain that we are now seeing, I don't think it's going to get them anywhere.
KING: You mentioned new generation of leaders. I don't think anyone, even Dick Cheney, would call -- cast himself as a new generation of leadership of the Republican Party.
But here it is on the cover of Newsweek, up here, Cheney in 2012!" That's an exclamation point. That's not a question mark, up here in the top (inaudible).
And there is a committee -- we got the release this past week -- the Draft Dick Cheney for President in 2012 Committee.
And here's what the organizer says, "The 2012 race for Republican nomination for president will be about much more than who will be the party's standard bearer against Barack Obama. The race is about the heart and soul of the GOP. There's only one person in our party with the experience, political courage and unwavering commitment to the values that made our party strong, and that person is Dick Cheney."
Now, his daughter Liz says she wants him to run, but he's not listening. On a scale of one to ten...
He didn't run when he was vice president and could have had the deck stacked in his favor. On a scale of one to ten, we think the likelihood of that is?
Not real likely, but, I mean, there are people out there who are going to say, "Look, he already ran the country for eight years," you know...
HENRY: There's a term limit.
HENRY: What did you say before, a Halloween (ph) poll (ph)... JOHNS: Right, right.
HENRY: ... you know, because people used to call him Darth Vader, and I think there's almost like a Darth Vader vacuum right now. The reason why he's even being talked about is there's a vacuum in the Republican Party, in terms of who is going to seize the mantle of leadership.
The only other person out there getting as much attention, perhaps, is Sarah Palin. And, frankly, there are a lot of Republicans who publicly might say, boy, she energizes the party, but privately believe she doesn't have the experience. Who's got the experience? Dick Cheney.
CROWLEY: Well, in the immortal words of Dick Cheney several weeks ago when this subject came up, "Not a chance."
So on a scale of one to 10, zero.
BRAZILE: It's time for a new generation of Republicans to take their seats at the table. I endorse that concept.
KING: Ed Rollins, to the vacuum point, do -- do things like this, which I assume you think is a little silly -- do they come up because we're, you know, a year into Obama; we're heading into the midterms; 2012 can seem very far off, but, boy, we do need things to talk about sometimes, don't we?
ROLLINS: Well, at this point in time, there was no Obama, four years ago. He was -- he as ranked number 99 in the United States Senate.
We will have a candidate. We will -- and obviously, re-elections are about the incumbent. And if this president falters and continues to falter, then I think you'll find a young governor or even an older governor who is going to come forth.
I think our next nominee will be one of our governors, a new one or an old one. And I think, at the end of the day, we do need a new voice. There's no -- there's no leadership in Washington that's going to step forward and be a presidential candidate.
I remind people who want to draft Dick Cheney -- and I've known Dick for a long, long time -- I ran a re-election campaign for Ronald Reagan against a very popular Walter Mondale, and we won 59 percent of the vote. You don't want to re-run the Bush campaign all over again, of 2000, 2004, 2008. We need to run the campaign against Barack Obama in 2012 with a new candidate.
KING: When I've spoken to him, he says he's enjoying his life. I would agree that the chances -- I would say negative five, maybe, on that one. (LAUGHTER)
All right, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, our lightning round, how to crash a state dinner. Stay with us.
KING: We're back for our lightning round. And unless you are hiding in a cave somewhere, you do know that a couple from Virginia somehow managed to crash a state dinner for the prime minister of India this past week.
Tareq -- there you see them, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, walking in -- that's out -- that's into the White House, there. They also not only got to pose with the vice president but the president of the United States.
They were not on the invitation list -- there you see them with President Obama -- and they went right through the security. Now, they did go through the magnetometers. The Secret Service says the president was not at risk, but certainly they were uninvited guests.
Ed Rollins, to you first, you've worked in the White House. The Secret Service says it is embarrassed. How did this happen?
ROLLINS: Well, certainly, was there a breakdown on the part of the Secret Service, and I assume it happened at the uniformed level. And they're first-rate people, but there was a breakdown.
And I think the bottom line is the way you stop this breakdown -- I wrote an article on CNN.com today -- you prosecute them. They basically trespassed. They had no right to be there. The Secret Service has a tough enough task without having people dress up and pretend they're important. These people want a reality TV show, give them one. It's called "Dealing with the federal prosecution system of the District of Columbia."
KING: Ed Rollins, a tough-on-crime mayor, there, from New York.
Now, Donna, you've been in the White House many, many times. Normally, for these events, there's somebody from the staff who is standing there with a clipboard, and it says "Donna Brazile," they check you, and then you show your photo ID, and then the Secret Service looks in your purse and runs everything through the magnetometer.
BRAZILE: I don't -- I don't know how it happened. I mean, John, this is going to require the White House social office, as well as the Secret Service, to go through everything that happened at that gate to find out, how did they slip by?
I've been to the White House on countless occasions, both in this administration and previous administrations, and I tell you, they check everything. So I was surprised.
But maybe -- I don't have a red dress. Maybe it's the red dress.
CROWLEY: You know, there are so many things, I mean, one of the things that I totally agree, where was the social office there? Why weren't they checking off names? Because then it's a dual job for the Secret Service. The Secret Service should be there screening these people, putting them through the magnetometer, looking in their purses. That's what they do, not checking them off the social list. So they had dual jobs there.
Plus, the fact they're dealing with important people and they don't want to, you know, do something that they shouldn't do. But it also brings to mind sometimes the simplest things don't get done. Checking the name, Hinckley was in a press pen without a press pass. There was a time and you may remember this. I think it was George Bush the dad when a band came in and there were 14 members of the band but 15 walked in. They found this guy sort of wandering around the White House counting noses. So it's always the simplest -- in fact, that first line, the simplest thing.
KING: We had a guy get on the international press charter once on a presidential trip that didn't belong on the trip. It wasn't the president's plane, but it was our plane and somebody said, who's that?
HENRY: And how did -- they got past the first checkpoint, but there are many other checkpoints when you go through the White House. And why someone didn't spot them, didn't double check where they were. That's why Tiger Woods' wife was so mad. He didn't take her to the state dinner. Everybody can get in now.
JOHNS: It's the first state dinner, too. All right, so you can say mistakes happen. But the bottom line I think here is that, while we all laugh about it and everybody's talking about it, there is a serious problem when a person can walk in and get within arm's length of the president of the United States because next time it might not be so, you know, no big deal, so funny.
HENRY: And the prime minister of India as well.
JOHNS: Right. It's a bit scary.
KING: All right, a time-out here. Ed Rollins in New York, thank you. Joe Johns, Ed Henry, Candy Crowley, Donna Brazile. Up next, we get out of Washington as we do every week to get a good meal. We head to Steve's Cafe in Helena, Montana, for a great meal and a wonderful discussion about issues that matter to you. Please stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: One of the big issues I bet many of you discussed around the Thanksgiving dinner table this past week was the struggling economy and whether you might have a little more or maybe a lot less to spend this holiday season. That was on our mind, the economy, whether people have money this holiday season as we visited the great state of Montana. One of the things we did was a sit-down with the governor who says first and foremost the American people care about jobs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BRIAN SCHWEITZER (D), MONTANA: I can tell you what people care about most and that's jobs. If there's a concern about three or four issues that are at the top and that's health care and climate change and the war, they all are second place to jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Second place to jobs. Let's take a closer look at the state of Montana, 6.4 percent unemployment, that's better than the national average which of course is in the double digits. Nearly 16 percent of Montana's residents lack health insurance. It has the highest military volunteer rate in the country. Steve's Cafe was our diner stop. It's in the heart of Helena. And our topics included the economy and the president's big decision about more troops to Afghanistan.
KING: As we get toward the holiday season, a lot of people are asking, has the economy hit bottom? Is it coming back? Will we see people spending and head into the New Year with more optimism? We're five months into a new business. What do you see?
STEVE VINCELLI, OWNER, STEVE'S CAFE: I think the economy, I don't think it's completely bottomed out in my opinion yet. I don't understand why the stock market is going up the way it does. It just seems to be responsive to news that is not really based on any facts sometimes.
KING: Not on the real world. You don't see it on the ground. Main Street is not experiencing what Wall Street is.
KING: Feel the same way?
ROBERTA KNAPP, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I do. And I think that the unemployment rate and that scene shows the real picture more than what the stock market is doing.
KING: Are you going to be a little more conservative this holiday season?
KNAPP: Somewhat. I probably won't spend as much, but I have a grandson and I'll spend on him all day long. KING: He's recession-proof.
KNAPP: Right. And I'm almost done shopping. I shopped early.
KNAPP: Because I expected them not to have as much and I wanted to get the things that I wanted ahead of time.
GEORGE JENSEN, OWNS LANDSCAPING COMPANY: Our company has definitely seen a downturn in business. I don't see the bottom yet. I think it's probably going to be even tighter next year. Our own family, we're going to cut back on spending considerably for Christmas other than the kids.
KING: People in my town look at this and they say, what do people think about health care? What do people think about the economy? What do people think about the Democrats and the Republicans? A broader way to look at it is to ask a bigger question, which is, is the country on the right track? Is America on the right track right now?
VINCELLI: We just seem to be spending too much money on entitlements and earmarks and instead of taking care of the core of the country and the people in the country.
KNAPP: Look at the bailouts and the people didn't cut their top- level salaries and bonuses. I think that had a lot -- a real impact on the average person, the everyday person.
KING: Is that the Democrats' fault? Is it the Republicans' fault?
JENSEN: It's both.
KNAPP: It's both.
JENSEN: The other half of this equation is we've got to stop being a consumer nation and start manufacturing. Because when we're buying all of our goods from overseas, we're going to go backwards until we correct this.
KING: So at this time of year when we sit around the table with our families and we reflect on what we're thankful for, are you less thankful because of all of these difficult issues? Are you more concerned?
JENSEN: Concern is the right word. Thankful, I'm thankful that I'm working, thankful that I still have a roof over my head that we're making payments on and that we're going forward. We're hanging on. And that's the bottom line.
VINCELLI: We had an unemployment rate about a point and a half a couple of years ago. Now it's over six again. So I mean, it's kind of relative. And when we were at 1.5, really there's no one there that you want to employ. We were down to we couldn't find good people. Now you can find good people again. KNAPP: And many people with college degrees who you think would be working for corporations or big companies are working in lower level jobs.
KING: The photo on the front page here of a member of your National Guard here. And if all goes as currently on the books, they'll be shipping out to Afghanistan.
KNAPP: Hope not.
KING: In the new year.
KING: You're shaking your head. You say hope not. It's been eight years. Do we need more troops there?
KNAPP: Sending more troops is not the answer to me.
VINCELLI: I agree. I do agree.
KING: Don't send more.
VINCELLI: No. I think we need to bring our boys home, actually.
JENSEN: I'd like to see them come home, too.
KING: We're a year after history. We elected our first African- American president. The Democrats picked up more seats in the House and the Senate.
KING: And there was this talk and the overriding promise of the presidential campaign was he was going to change Washington. Has he changed Washington?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think so.
KING: A little skepticism about changing Washington. A fascinating conversation. We thank everyone at Steve's Cafe in Helena.