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Interview With David Axelrod; Interview With Senators Alexander, Mikulski

Aired March 28, 2010 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: It's over. Congress has gone home to start explaining and campaigning for November. That nastiness, the threats, the vandalism we have watched this past week seems to have subsided. And the victorious administration says it is important not to gloat. But as this photo released by the White House demonstrates, it is hard not to. The Republicans say the administration may be celebrating but most Americans are not. His critics keep using the word arrogance to describe President Obama's handling of health care reform. With a different president, it is was the Democrats who chafed at what they called arrogance in victory.


GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is like earning capital. You ask, do I feel free? Let me put it to you this way. I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.


CROWLEY: Listen to President Obama this week.


OBAMA: They are actually going to run on a platform of repeal in November. You have been hearing that. And my attitude is, go for it.


CROWLEY: It took John McCain and Sarah Palin one day to take up that challenge.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am confident that I am here reflecting the view of the majority of American people by saying, right, Mr. President, we are going to go for it.


CROWLEY: Does this sound like a new tone to you? I am Candy Crowley and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

This morning, a question of civility with the president's chief adviser David Axlerod, senior senators Lamar Alexander and Barbara Mikulski.

Before we can discuss the issue of civility, we have to address the question of whether what was reported actually happened. Sarah Palin doesn't think so.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Hearing the news reports lately, kind of this ginned up controversy about us, common- sense conservatives, inciting violence because we happen to oppose some of the things in the Obama administration--


CROWLEY: FOX's Sean Hannity had more than doubts.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: And this is denied by a lot of people. I am not seeing the videotape that confirms this yet. If anyone has it, send it to me, I want to see it, of racial slurs, anti- gay slurs being made at the tea party movement. Do we have any evidence that corroborates this at all?

CROWLEY: Two FOX reporters responded that they had seen no evidence. So we begin by trying to set the record straight. There is video. Watch Congressman Emanuel Cleaver as he approaches the man on the left. Cleaver confirms that this man spit on him. He confirms that this is the man whom Capitol Police detained. Cleaver chose not to press charges. From where they were positioned, CNN microphones did not pick up racial epithets.

As for anti-gay slurs, a CNN producer heard the word "faggot" yelled at Barney Frank more than once in the House Longworth Building. The producer cannot say for sure whether it was coming from one person or more.

These things happen. The question is, what to make of them? Is this a sign of political discourse gone terribly wrong or does Eric Cantor, the number two Republican in the House, have it right?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), WHIP: It is reckless to use these incidents as media vehicles for political gain. To use such threats as political weapons is reprehensible.

CROWLEY: For the White House view, we begin with my exclusive interview with President Obama's Senior Adviser David Axelrod. We spoke yesterday afternoon.


David, thank you for joining us.

I want to show you a couple of things just to go to Congressman Cantor's point that came out as fund-raising letters last week. The first one from the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Tim Kaine, who wrote: "Democratic offices have been vandalized." He closes by saying: "Please chip in $5 or more." Then we get this Mitchell Stewart, Organizing for America, an outgrowth of the Obama campaign. You know it well. Starts out in saying: "Members have had death threats. Democratic offices have been vandalized." And it ends: "Please donate $25.00 or more."

Interpret those fund-raising pleas to me as anything other than milking the situation as the Republicans have charged.

AXELROD: Well, look. I -- I think -- you know that great scene from Casablanca where the -- the police captain says, I'm shocked to find there's gambling going on here, when they're handing him his gambling money? I mean, I don't -- I think the Republican Party has been -- has been very active in exploiting sentiment around this for --


AXELROD: -- for organizing purposes. Well, I think there was a great deal of outrage about some of the things that were said and done. And there are a lot of people who support the Democratic Party who believe in what the president and the Congress has done, and were sort of taken aback by words like "Armageddon" and calls to action of the sort that we saw on the Republican side.

The -- none of these things, however, should overshadow the magnitude of the things that have happened this week. In an environment in which people are so cynical about getting things done, we accomplished a -- a landmark health insurance reform. We reformed the student loan system and took unwarranted subsidies away from banks, and gave them to kids of middle class families and..


CROWLEY: And I -- I don't think anybody argues with that.

AXELROD: -- and we've signed an arms control -- we announced an arms control agreement, the first major one with the Russians in many, many years. This was a week of progress. And so we shouldn't get detoured into the intramurals here.

CROWLEY: No. And I -- I agree with you. It was a great week. And you all have a lot to tout here. But the big action this week post the passage of this bill was some really nasty, and sometimes dangerous politics. You know, bricks thrown into windows.

It was used as a fundraiser for Democrats who blamed Republicans and their rhetoric for inciting some of this. And -- and the point of this really is, is there a way to tone this down? Were not Democrats also kind of milking the situation for political purposes? This is a political town.

AXELROD: I don't think if anybody who listened to the debate on Sunday in the United States Congress would say that -- that Democrats were using rhetoric comparable to Republicans. We weren't talking about Armageddon We weren't -- we weren't--

(CROSSTALK) CROWLEY: Well, Armageddon is different than a brick through the window.


AXELROD: -- talking about -- we weren't talking -- well, but the thing is that one thing leads to the next. If you use incendiary terms, and then people respond with acts, then, you know, there -- you have to look at cause and effect. I quite agree with you. I think we should tone it down. I think, you know, one of the most-- (CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: -- one of the -- one of the most moving things I saw, Candy, this week was the end of the Senate debate on reconciliation when Senator Gregg was in the leadership position for the Republicans, and had outreached to the Democrats, Senator Conrad and Senator Byrd, and -- and Senator Reid back to the Republicans.

And then there was a minute -- moment of silence for Ted Kennedy. And I thought it was a reminder to all of us that before we are Democrats and Republicans, we are Americans. And we can compete vigorously. But at the end of the day we all love this country. We all are trustees of its future. And we ought to work together.

CROWLEY: In your view, were these Democratic fund-raising letters OK -- fund-raising off the nastiness, and the bricks and the threats, and then all that, were they OK?

AXELROD: I think that they were within the parameters of -- of acceptable fund-raising. I -- I would rather there were not events around which to send out missives like that. And I know at the end of the week that Governor Kaine, the Chairman of the Democratic Party, reached out to the chairman of the Republican Party and said, let's issue a joint statement urging a change in tone. And unfortunately Mr. Steele, the Republican chairman, felt he -- he couldn't join in that.

CROWLEY: Does the -- does the president have a role in that? Could the president bring that down? I ask because he went and said to the Democrats, sometimes there are things more important than politics.

AXELROD: Yes. Yes.

CROWLEY: It's the right thing to do. And he argued--


CROWLEY: -- that's why people should vote for this bill. And the next day he went out and he said to the Republicans effectively, bring it on, come on--

AXELROD: Well, look--


CROWLEY: -- let's fight it out.


AXELROD: No. No. Understand--


CROWLEY: Is that appropriate? AXELROD: Understand what he was saying is he believes in the advance that this represents. It will bring security to people who have insurance, and it will bring insurance to people who don't at a price they can afford. It's good for this country.

And, you know, millions of small businesses this year will get tax credits for health insurance for their employees. Kids with preexisting conditions will get coverage for the first time. They won't be excluded any more. And what he was saying was, if people really want to repeal those things, then go and make the case to the American people. After all, that's what elections are for.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you in -- in just sort of the whole tone thing. As you know, the president campaigned on changing the tone in Washington. Forty-one senators, Republicans, wrote him and said, please don't do a recess appointment with Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. They think that he is a union plant, if you will. They think that he will do check card. They -- they think he is bad for this board.

And yet the first thing the president did, of course, was to go ahead and do that recess appointment. Was that necessary?

AXELROD: Well, the -- he made a series of recess appointments because, Candy, we are in a position where the Republican Party has taken a position where they're going to try and slow and block progress on all fronts whether it's legislation or appointments.

Just to make the comparison, at this point in the Bush administration there were five appointees who -- on the floor of the Senate who had not been approved. When the president -- that President Bush made 15 recess appointments.

We have 77 appointees who have -- who have not gotten a vote because they've been held up by -- by the Republican party. Some of them are in very sensitive positions in Treasury, and Department of Homeland Security. And on boards like the Labor Relations Board that -- where there -- there are a huge number of -- of vacancies. Now--


CROWLEY: Even when the -- President Bush did it, it was seen by Democrats as a very in-your-face sort of movement.

AXELROD: We have a -- look, the Senate has a responsibility to dispose of these nominations. The average wait for the people who are appointed in these recess appointments today -- they've been waiting seven months for a vote in the Senate. There's never been anything like this, Candy.

And what we have to do, if we really want civility; if we really want to have bipartisan cooperation, then let's not try and throw a wrench into the -- into the functioning -- smooth functioning of government.

You know, Senator McConnell was quoted, a couple of weeks ago in an interview, as having told the caucus, from the beginning, we're going to try and stop everything; we're going to oppose everything.

We've had -- in a number of instances, there were filibusters to hold up appointments for weeks. And then when they finally were broken, a majority of Democrats and Republicans ended up voting for the nominees. It was just an exercise in obstructionism.

That's not good for the country. It's certainly not fair play.

So I think it was -- it was necessary, unfortunately, for the president to do what he did. Other presidents have had to do it as well.


CROWLEY: Much more of my interview with David Axelrod later in the hour, but up next, we'll talk incivility and politics with two veteran senators.


CROWLEY: In the weeks and months leading up to Tuesday's signing of sweeping health care reform legislation, Republicans and Democrats cited polls.

Republicans said the American people opposed the president's plan. Democrats said health care reform would be accepted once people saw the final measure.

Well, now, for the first time, we have poll numbers showing the response after the final showdown on the House floor.

CBS polling that indicated approval at only 37 percent before the vote now shows an uptick in approval to 42 percent, with 46 percent saying they disapprove.

A Quinnipiac University poll shows a similar result, with 36 percent approval before the vote rising to 40 percent afterwards; disapproval still high but with a similar drop.

Whether that trend continues may have a lot of impact on what happens in November. A third poll released today by The Washington Post shows virtually no change.

When we come back, incivility and politics with two senior members of Congress.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Republicans are looking to this year's midterm elections to retake control of Congress, while Democrats hope to hold on to their majorities in both the House and the Senate.

With so much at stake, can we expect to see more of the ugly discourse that emerged over the past week?

Joining us from Baltimore, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, and in his home state of Tennessee, Republican Senator Lamar Alexander.

Senators, thank you both.

I want to start with you, Senator Alexander, and go to the bite, the sound bite, if you will, that David Axelrod was talking about which he said, sort of, led to some of the real excesses that we saw recently. This from John Boehner.


REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We're about 24 hours from -- from Armageddon, 24 hours from -- from members casting a vote on one of the biggest bills they'll ever vote for in their careers.


CROWLEY: Now, the word "Armageddon" and his use of it -- Congressman Boehner also talked about how a Democrat from his state was a dead man for this vote, talking politically.

Is this over-it-top rhetoric that incites the kind of brick- throwing, butane gas line cutting sort of thing that we saw this past week? Is that over the top?

ALEXANDER: Well, I mean, in the South, where I am today, that's a very mild political speech. I mean, it's certainly milder than the president going out to Iowa and saying, let's go for it, if you want to repeal the bill.

I mean, look, this is a passionate debate about the future of health care. And, in the United States Senate, where Senator Mikulski and I serve, it was conducted in a very civil way.

I mean, there's no doubt there has been -- the anger today is more visible. You can go to any Web site and see ugliness. It used to be beneath the surface and it's on top now, and it ought to be condemned.

But there's also a lot of real anger out there about the direction of the country. And we need to respect that and then conduct ourselves in a civil -- in a civil way, which I think we United States senators are capable of doing and did do this week.

CROWLEY: Senator Mikulski, I want to get your take on this, too. And I just do want to play a little bit of the president's response to Congressman Boehner before I -- I get to you.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They called the passage of this bill Armageddon -- Armageddon, end of freedom as we know it.

So -- so after I signed the bill, I looked around to see if there were any...


... asteroids falling or...



CROWLEY: So Senator Mikulski, where is this line that we're looking for?

You know, what incites illegal things like, you know, the destruction of personal property, the threat? What incites that? I mean, did you object to what Congressman Boehner said?

MIKULSKI: Well, first of all, what I objected to was words like "baby-killer," words like, "You lie."

Candy, I'm really concerned about how we're perceived both in our own country and how the Congress is being perceived around the world. If we don't take ourselves seriously and act in a serious way, we're not going to be taken seriously by the American people.

I have a suggestion. Let's go back to the three Rs, respect, rules of engagement that promote decorum, and, number three, stop the rewards system that enables you to raise a lot of money after using outrageous and bizarre behavior.

CROWLEY: Well since you brought that up, what did you think of the Democrats who did go out and fundraise off of this and they sent out letters saying there are threats from the right and from conservatives and so send us money. Didn't they also sort of bring this and sort of throw more fire onto this?

MIKULSKI: They did. Well let's go back to the institutions, both the Senate and in the House. I think it was most magnified in the House, but the Senate has been doing this. And there has been a general deterioration of normative behavior, outrageous behavior, the floor with signs and charts, language that's used in a very outrageous way.

I think that's got to stop, when you have words being shouted out against the president. A shout-out against someone who voted as a matter of principle. Bart Stupak holding banners up from the banners of the Capitol, edging on the crowd, edging on the mob.

I think we are now over the edge. So let's come back, treat each other with respect, return to the rules of engagement, but streamline the rules. I think the filibuster as we know it is out of date and let's stop rewarding outrageous and bizarre behavior.

CROWLEY: I want to get Senator Alexander's comments about the filibuster. I imagine he would disagree, but I just want to pin you down a little bit, Senator Mikulski. So you would agree that it is over the top for Democratic institutions and Democratic campaign organizations tied to the president to be fundraising off of these attacks, it's just stirring the pot?

MIKULSKI: I think it's stridency, whether it is from the right or the left. We need to lower the decibel level. But we are seeing this all through our country with what's happening with this kind of win at any cost culture where you've got parents yelling at coaches, even on -- we could go through a whole series of other things where this winning at any cost rather than how we operate with each other I think is having a serious effect. And it is having a serious effect on our children and I think it has serious effect when people around the world look at us. We really look like we are cheapening and denigrating ourselves.

CROWLEY: Senator Alexander, when you look at the fundraising letters, when you look at some of the things that have gone on, have Republicans -- we see Senator Mikulski saying yes, they're over the top fundraising by Democrats. What is the Republican culpability on this? What about the baby killer, what about the hanging banners over the edge and sort of playing to the Tea Party crowd, over the top?

ALEXANDER: Well, sure. We shouldn't have over the top actions. I mean, it's just as wrong for Senator Reid to call President Bush a liar as it is for a Republican congressman to call President Obama a liar. It was wrong for to run a full-page ad about General "Betrayus." That's over the top. We need to tone it down in this country and have a civil debate and respect one another. Rudyard Kipling's advice is pretty good. If you can keep your head when all around you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, a little more of that would be good advice for our country and especially those in political leadership who are supposed to be setting an example.

CROWLEY: We need to take a quick break here, but next, we do want to turn to a big student loan change that was overshadowed this week by the debate over health reform.


CROWLEY: Before we continue with Senators Mikulski and Alexander, a look at an important change that got little notice in the strum and drag of the week. Tucked into the health care bill is a sweeping overhaul of the student loan program. Here is how it worked for more than half a century. Borrowers could get college loans either from banks or from the federal government. In return for administering loans to students, the private banks received hefty government subsidies, around $8 billion a year.

On Thursday, Congress eliminated loans from private banks, saving $61 billion in subsidies. That makes the federal government the only lender to students. It was already handling 88 percent of the loans. Part of the $61 billion will go to reducing the federal deficit, $36 billion will be used to plug a short fall in the Pell Grant programs and bolster scholarships for lower income students. This year, the maximum Pell grant award was $5,350. Without the law, the administration says the grant would have dropped to $2,150. With the new law it will grow to $5,975 by 2017. We will talk about all of this with the senators in a moment.


CROWLEY: We are back with Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski Republican Senator Lamar Alexander. I want to get to the student loan issue, but before I do, I want to wrap up the whole issue of the tone in Washington.

Senator Mikulski, the president has gone ahead and made 15 recess appointments. That is, appointed people who need Senate confirmation while the Senate is out. It is perfectly legal. Presidents do this. But we all know it is also a way for a president to push through controversial people that might not otherwise make it or that are being held up usually by the minority in the U.S. Senate.

How does that help the tone in Washington that the president has done a recess appointment to two very controversial labor people to the National Labor Relations Board in direct defiance, if you will, of a letter and a plea from 41 Republican senators saying, please don't do this. How does that help with the tone?

MIKULSKI: Well first of all, every president has used recess appointments.

CROWLEY: But you didn't like it when President Bush did it with John Bolton, for example, John Bolton.

MIKULSKI: Well, let me just say this. Every president has used recess appointments, whether it is Bush, whether it was Clinton, now, whether it is Obama. That's usually used when there has been something called a hold placed on a nomination for a very, very, very long time. Of those 77 appointments, yes, two might be controversial, but the other 75 were not. These were people needed to run the Treasury Department, Homeland Security Department and others.

This is why I think we have got to reform the institution. I think a senator ought to be able to place a hold on a nomination, but not do it for an indefinite period of time, nor without a name on it. We've got to streamline the procedures of the Senate that are holdovers, no pun intended, from an old century, modifying the filibuster rule, so -- returning to majority rule. Changing the hold system so a senator gets to exercise their rights, but doesn't get to hold up the functioning of government.

And I think if we did that and we actually all worked together, kind of a bipartisan group, we can -- we could move the institution ahead and return to these decorum and rules of engagement that I'm talking about. CROWLEY: Senator Alexander, it certainly doesn't, I don't think, help Republicans, make them feel warm towards the president to see these recess appointments. But doesn't Senator Mikulski have a point here, don't you just ask for it when you hold off on these confirmation votes ad nauseum and forever?

ALEXANDER: Well, that wasn't the Democrat's appointment where they held my nomination up for secretary of education 20 years ago.

The answer is no to your question. What it is called is checks and balances. And what the president has done here is throw fuel on the fire at a time when the civil -- when the debate about politics is a very angry debate to begin with.

He said, even though 41 senators said no and some Democrats said no, I'm going to put this guy in to the National Labor Relations Board who has indicated in his writings that he believes that by federal regulation, you can abolish the secret ballot and union elections, which is one of the major issues before the country.

What this is going to do is cause the election of a lot more Republican Scott Browns in November who are determined to come in and provide some checks and balances in Washington to stop the overreaching of the government. I mean, we have a Senate to provide advice and consent. I mean, we have a constitutional responsibility to keep the president from ramming things through like they did the health care bill, like they did student loans over the weekend, and like he is doing with this labor appointee.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, Senator Alexander, about the student loan program, which got changed inside the health care reform bill. Your objection to this is that you feel the federal government will be getting cheap money, but charging students higher interest rates, and, therefore, making money to pay for health care reform?

ALEXANDER: Well, that's exactly right. I mean, there are going to be 19 million students, and today there are 19 million student loans. 15 million of them are private, four million of them are government.

After July 1, you are going to go to the federal call center, one of four, or to the Internet, to get your student loan. And you are not going to be very happy because the federal government is going to be borrowing money at 2.8 percent, loaning it to you at 6.8 percent, overcharging you $1,700 on the average for a $25,000 loan over 10 years, and using the money to help pay for the health care bill and other government programs. In addition, it's going to be running up the national debt another half trillion dollars to get the money to make the loans. It is going to be throwing 31,000 people out of jobs. I mean, the Democratic -- I think we ought to hide the yellow pages from these Democrats, because it seems like if they can find it in the yellow pages, they think the government ought to be doing it.

CROWLEY: Senator Mikulski, do you have a similar objection? Because it is that the government will be getting the money at a cheaper rate than they are going to be charging students who need these loans. Is that fair?

MIKULSKI: Well, first of all, don't just go with Senator Alexander and his command of what he perceives to be the facts. You know, we would -- I am going to come back to the loan bill. But Senator Alexander and I work together on reforming higher education in the previous Congress, pre-Obama. You know, we did it because we actually met and practiced something called civil listening. He and I actually know each other, respected each other, and trusted each other, and listened to the validity of the concerns on both sides.

At the end of the day, we did have some disagreements, but for most of the day, we could move the reforms of higher education forward. Civil listening starting with respect.

Now, in terms of this bill, we cut out the middle man. That's what we did. We cut out the middle man called the banks where we were giving them lavish subsidies to process student loans. So what we Democrats wanted to do was expand opportunity, raise the Pell grants, more loans available at more reasonable cost and without increasing the federal deficit. So we cut out the middle man called the banks. They are really yelling and screaming all the way as they kind of continue to use the TARP money, and we are going to move ahead with more opportunity and less deficit. CROWLEY: Senator Mikulski, I want -- because we are so running out of time here, and I wanted to get to a question that's specific to a responsibility that you have in the U.S. Senate. And that is, the president's decision to stop funding, to end all funding for manned missions to the moon. Do you support that?

MIKULSKI: Well, I support astronaut safety. The No. 1 concern I have is wherever we go, whatever means is astronaut safety.

The other is, I think it is very confusing now, because we don't know what our space destination is, and, therefore, our space mission. I think we need a lot more fact finding. We need to know a lot more from the administration. But one thing we know, we will always do everything to keep our astronauts safe, whatever is the mode of transportation.

CROWLEY: I would love to follow up on space travel and the student loan, but we have run out of time. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Lamar Alexander, thank you so much for joining us.

When we come back, White House senior adviser David Axelrod on the deadline missed at Guantanamo Bay.


CROWLEY: Back to State of the Union. We are continuing our conversation with White House senior adviser David Axelrod.

Let me move you to some international issues, starting with Guantanamo Bay prison. We have a new poll out today that independents in particular we want to look at here. How many think Guantanamo Bay prison should be kept open? Right now, 77 percent of independents say keep it open. Used to be 50 percent said it. So a huge increase in those who say just keep it open.

CROWLEY: How close is the administration to its goal of closing Guantanamo Bay? And are you close to any kind of agreement with Congress where you can get the funds to do that?

AXELROD: Well, obviously those issues are related. We're continued -- we continue to be committed to it. And we continue to be committed to it because people like General Petraeus and others who are out in the field believe that it -- that the prison represents a -- on Guantanamo represents ultimately a threat to security and not a boon to security.

Obviously our goal is to process as many of the people who are there as possible, to try them, to dispatch them, to -- so that we have fewer there to worry about. But there will be some who have to be detained, and it's best that they not be in Guantanamo.

CROWLEY: So how much of the closing of Guantanamo Bay is tied to where the 9/11 suspects are tried, either civilian or military courts? Those two are inextricably tied, are they not?

AXELROD: Well, look, I'm not going to make -- I'm not going to make that link. Obviously there are complicated issues involved here. There are legislative sensibilities. And there are constitutional principles. And we want to reconcile all of those and come to the right conclusion that will have the greatest positive impact on our security.

And I expect, you know, sooner rather than later, we're going to resolve some of those issues. But the president remains committed to the goal.

CROWLEY: Right. Two-and-a-half months past your deadline to close it, are you within a month of doing it?

AXELROD: I'm not going to put a time line on it, Candy.

CROWLEY: This year?

AXELROD: But we've made great progress in terms of reducing the numbers of people there in terms of beginning the adjudication process with a lot of them. Remember, all of this was stalled for many, many years. And one of the things that we had to do was sort through the legal status of hundreds and hundreds of people.

We've done all of that work. We've made progress. And I believe we're going to get there. But it's complicated and we're going to work through it.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to U.S. relations with Israel. They've been fairly tense over the past couple of weeks because of an Israeli announcement that was going to put more settlements -- more units into East Jerusalem. There were 326 members of Congress wrote to the secretary of state and said we're a little concerned about this, if there are private concerns that the U.S. wants to take to the Israeli prime minister, they should do so. But publicly this week you've pretty much snubbed Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. No picture with the president, no dinner with the president, Netanyahu was here for four days. He was pretty much treated like a Third World country leader at this point.

AXELROD: I sure would...

CROWLEY: Is insulting him really the way to go?

AXELROD: I just dispute the premise, Candy. We were going to be away, as you know, and we canceled that trip because of health care. As soon as we canceled the trip, we extended the invitation to the prime minister. The president spent two hours alone with him. And you can't at once say concerns should be expressed privately and then say why did you meet privately with him for two hours.

We had a...

CROWLEY: No picture, that was...

AXELROD: We had a very...

CROWLEY: ... deliberate, wasn't it?

AXELROD: We were not interested in -- this was not about a -- this was not about formalities. This was not about a ceremonial meeting. This was a working meeting. This was a...

CROWLEY: Well, it's a nicety.

AXELROD: This was a working meeting among friends. And so there was no snub intended. Look, Israel is a close, dear, and valued friend of the U.S., a great ally. That is an unshakeable bond. But sometimes part of friendship is expressing yourself bluntly.

We have a deep, abiding interest in Israel's security. And we believe the peace process is essential to that. And we are doing everything we can to move that process forward.

CROWLEY: Two quick questions. First, still on Israel. We give Israel $3 billion in U.S. aid. If you are this upset with Israel, if you think Israel is impeding the peace process, and the inability to get down to negotiations, why not cut back some of that aid rather than cut out a photo op?

AXELROD: We are working our way through our concerns with our Israeli allies. We think we're doing it in the appropriate way. And I'm confident that we will make progress. But we're going to make it by being blunt and straightforward, as allies are, and use the appropriate channels.

CROWLEY: The relationship is tense, would you agree with that?

AXELROD: As I said, I think the relationship ultimately is strong. But we are -- we have an abiding interest in the long-term security of Israel and the region. And we're going to do what we can to provide leadership in that direction.

CROWLEY: And finally, with Russia, a new START agreement this week...


CROWLEY: ... announced. It looks like a warming of the relationship. Were you able to get from Russia a commitment to agree to sanctions against Iran?

AXELROD: Well, as you know, these discussions have been ongoing. And President Medvedev has been very forthcoming in terms of his views on what Iran is doing. And one of the most important developments in foreign policy over the last year has been this development of a better relationship with the Russians.

It was reflected in the START treaty. There were hard negotiations associated with it. There were some -- there were some tense moments back and forth. But there is a basis of trust there on which to move forward. And part of that has been built around this Iran issue.

So we're very pleased with the cooperation that the Russians have offered on Iran.

CROWLEY: Are they going to join in sanctions or not?

AXELROD: I believe we're going to have a strong regime of sanctions. When we began this process...

CROWLEY: With Russia?

AXELROD: ... Iran was -- and I believe the Russians will support them. When we began this administration, Iran was united and the world was divided in dealing with Iran. Now it's the opposite: The world is coming together and Iran is divided. And that's progress.

CROWLEY: David Axelrod, thank you very much.

AXELROD: Thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: Still ahead, why not winning the vice presidency is paying off big time for Sarah Palin.


CROWLEY: I am Candy Crowley and this is "State of the Union." Let's check on some of the stories breaking this Sunday morning.

A top White House aide is defending President Obama's decision to make 15 so-called recess appointments. Here on "State of the Union," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said Senate Republicans holding up the nominations forced the president's hand. Republicans are especially upset about the attorney of Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board. They consider Becker to be pro-union. In Iraq, a roadside bomb targeted a tribal leader in the western city of Qaim today. It did not kill him but it did claim the lives of five others. The tribal leader did suffer injuries, along with more than two dozen others.

The Tea Party movement is kicking off a new tour. It started yesterday with a rally in Democratic Senate leader's hometown of Searchlight, Nevada. The keynote speaker, Sarah Palin. The former Republican vice presidential candidate urged demonstrators not to back down in the aftermath of the health care reform vote.

CROWLEY: And speaking of Sarah Palin, up next, we look at the very lucrative business of being a former vice presidential candidate.


CROWLEY: It's been a busy week, a lucrative week for Sarah Palin. Her life has taken a very rich turn. When she was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin made $68,000 a year. As Alaska's governor, she jumped to $125,000. Had she become vice president, she would have jumped to $227,300.

But the election loss keeps turning into Sarah Palin's financial gain. It began with her autobiography that became the year's number one selling nonfiction book. Her advance was $1 million.

Her deal as a Fox commentator is confidential, but one industry insider claims Fox paid her half a million bucks up front, with the potential to earn more.

This week Palin signed what is reported to be an $8 million deal with the Discovery Channel. She will host an eight-part series about her home state of Alaska. It gives her that much more visibility, in an attractive and carefully controlled venue, leaving plenty of time for her to run for president in 2012.

But two years after she burst into the nation's consciousness, she's going to have to decide whether she can afford to cut back to a president's salary, $400,000 a year.

Up next, Vice President Joe Biden's been taking some lumps for his most recent verbal gaffe, but it turns out he's got lots of company.


CROWLEY: Health care reform took more than a year of debate, hundreds of speeches, expert input, unending analysis and a lot of political capital.

But Vice President Joe Biden, the reporter's gift who keeps on giving, boiled it down to six words.


VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.: This is a big (bleep) deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: The F-bomb seemed seriously out of whack in the East Room, but on Twitter, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs gave the sentiment a high-five, "And yes, Mr. Vice president, you're right."

But Republicans were ready to pounce.


FMR. REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It tells you the ego level and the, sort of, "look at us; look at us" attitude of this administration. He didn't say, boy, what a great moment for the country.



MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And his wingman walks up to him, right before he's going to speak, and says it in his ear, in the mike? Oh, my God.


CROWLEY: Yes, you've got to watch those whispered moments in front of a hot mike. Reminds me of the 2000 campaign rally, where candidate George Bush and his vice presidential choice Dick Cheney shared their feelings about a New York Times reporter covering the event.



FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Here's Adam Clymer, major league (bleep) from the New York Times.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Oh, yeah, he is, big time.


CROWLEY: So Vice President Biden is hardly the first major league politician to get caught saying something political incorrect, unfortunate, or just plain stupid. It's a bipartisan gaffe affliction. You say potato; I say potato; Vice President Dan Quayle didn't care how you said it, as long as you put an E at the end of it.


FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE: And add one little bit on the end. Think of potato. How's it--


QUAYLE: You're right, phonetically, but what else? There you go. (APPLAUSE)


CROWLEY: Let's face it. When the cameras are always rolling and the microphones are always recording, people are going to mess up. Sometimes all you can do is laugh.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: An editorial in the Los Angeles Times said, "In addition to his uncontrolled verbosity, Biden is a gaffe machine."

Can you reassure voters in this country that you would have the discipline you would need on the world stage, Senator?




CROWLEY: One last thing: If you really like vice presidential gaffes, you can watch them again on the Internet. Just be sure to thank Al Gore.


FORMER VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.


CROWLEY: Thanks for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.