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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Interview with Neal Katyal, Ken Starr; Panelists Discuss Religion

Aired April 8, 2012 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Santorum says it's halftime. But for Romney versus Obama, game on.

Today... (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Women are over half this country, and its workforce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Jobs and the gender gap, with Democrat National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Then what the polls tell us with Democratic strategist Mark Penn and Republican strategist Linda DiVall.

Health care and immigration engaging the Supreme Court, with former Solicitor General Ken Starr, and former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal.

Plus an Easter Sunday conversation on religion in politics with Pastor and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLEAVER: If you believe that the president is a Christian, why would that be -- you still come to the belief that he's trying to destroy religion?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Republican strategist Ralph Reed...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RALPH REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Congressman, is it similarly wrong then for Democrats to say that the Republican Party is engaged in a war on women?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network.

I'm Candy Crowley, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. In an election expected to center on the economy, both parties got something to chew on this week, 120,000 new jobs were added to the economy in March, but that was way off the 200,000 expected. Unemployment dropped a tenth of a percent, but economists say that's because some people quit looking for work.

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney called the report weak and very troubling. The president said there's a lot more work to do. Joining me now from Miami, Florida, is the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Thank you, Congresswoman, for joining us on this holiday weekend. I want to start out...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You're welcome.

CROWLEY: ... with the jobs report. You heard Mitt Romney describe it as weak. We've heard various economists describe the recovery as sluggish. How would you describe this latest jobs report?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, because we've now had 25 straight months of private sector job growth, more than 4 million jobs created, and where actually at this point in our recovery, we've created seven times more jobs than at the same point in the recovery in 2001, I'd say we're making slow but steady progress.

And like the president said, we have got a ways to go, we need to keep pushing. But what's really bothersome to me, Candy, is that it almost seems like my Republican colleagues in Congress and Mitt Romney are rooting for economic failure.

I mean, they've been hyper-focused on one job, Barack Obama's, for really the last two years. And we all need to be pulling together to focus on moving the economy forward for the middle class and for working families.

And Mitt Romney's plans, the Republican budget that they just put out in the House, they're focused on making sure that millionaires and billionaires can continue to do even better. And that's a pretty huge contrast.

CROWLEY: Let me -- you know, Republicans would disagree that they're rooting for a bad economy, and in fact they go out of their way to say, listen, we welcome any progress, but this isn't fast enough.

I want to read you something that Reince Priebus, your counterpart at the Republican National Committee, said on Friday. "Over three years ago, President Obama projected that the unemployment rate would be below 6 percent by now thanks to his stimulus. But the stimulus failed and unemployment has been far above that level ever since."

Is that legitimate criticism because in fact that is what the president's economic folks projected with the stimulus that was passed? WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Again, that's another example of where the Republicans just refuse to acknowledge that we've made -- that we've made progress. We have made significant progress, even in manufacturing...

CROWLEY: But it was your benchmark -- it was the president's benchmark. And is holding him to that fair?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That's -- what Reince Priebus and other Republicans are saying is -- ignores the fact that the president inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression and had a need to focus on making sure that we moved as far as we could as fast we could. The Recovery Act, as much as Republicans can repeat over and over that it failed, it didn't fail. It created and saved more than 3 million jobs. And now...

CROWLEY: But it failed to do what was promised. Isn't that...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No. No, no, no, I...

CROWLEY: I'm just trying to see if you think that is a legitimate criticism?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, I don't think it's a legitimate criticism. In fact, it succeed in jump-starting this economy, which the purpose of infusing that $787 billion. I mean, we needed to give the economy is shock to the heart.

We needed to make sure that we didn't lose millions of teachers' jobs and first responders like firefighters and police officers. We needed to invest in our infrastructure because we have got crumbling roads and bridges, and people just jam-packed on roads teeming with traffic.

That's what the Recovery Act did. And it helped jump-start us to the point where we've had 25 straight months of job growth in the private sector. Remember, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month, Candy, when the president took office thanks to the failed policies of the past that he inherited from the Bush administration. So...

CROWLEY: Let me ask you...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... we've made a good amount of progress. We just know we've got a long way to go.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about gas prices now, over $4 a gallon on average. We all know that when gas prices go up, consumers spend less, and companies tend to hire fewer people simply because their overhead has gone up. Do you worry that these gas prices, should they stay here will inflict some damage on what I think you still admit is a fairly weak recovery?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, as a representative of my constituents, I worry anytime there is an impact on their wallet and on their bottom line. And obviously higher gas prices does that. But that's why I'm really glad to see President Obama focused on an all of the above energy strategy.

Because, you know, previously under the Bush administration, and what the Republicans now under Mitt Romney want to continue, is a "drill, baby, drill" strategy, which is not a strategy, it's a bumper sticker.

And it's also sticking our heads in the sand that we're going to be able to continue to rely on our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels for eternity when we know that those are finite.

And so we've got to -- while we have the most domestic production that we've had, you know, ever, we also need to focus on investing in biofuels and alternative energy sources like wind and solar so for my children and my constituents' children, we can have an abundant source of energy that's renewable for years to come.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to...

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And in fact, gas prices over the long term.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to one of the Democrats' favorite subject these days, and that is what they call the Republican war on women. Again, from the Republican National Committee, a spokesman there said: "It is downright pathetic they," meaning Democrats, "would use a term like war when there are millions of Americans who actually have engaged in a real war. To use a term like that borders on unpatriotic."

The "war on women," I understand that you disagree with a lot of the policies that have come out either at the state level or things that have been said on the floor, but do you think "war on women" actually helps the dialogue? Is it a little overstretched?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I think we need to look at what Republicans are saying about the policies towards women themselves. So look at what Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska just said in her state the other day where she said, if Republicans don't think that our policies are an attack on women, they need it on go home and talk to their wives and daughters.

Because the policies that have come out of the Republican Party, saying that we should have to have a debate again over contraception and whether we should have access to it and it should be affordable, saying that like Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, you know, he tried to quietly repeal the equal pay act. Women aren't going to stand for that.

Governor Walker just signed a bill that repeals the equal pay law that they had in Wisconsin for years. You have Republicans that have engaged themselves for the entire Congress on trying to redefine rape as only being forcible rape, defunding Planned Parenthood and family planning programs.

I mean, the Lilly Ledbetter Act -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which put teeth behind the notion that women deserve equal pay for equal work, that was the first bill that President Obama signed in to law. The overwhelming majority of Republicans serving in Congress voted against it.

So the focus of the Republican Party on turning back the clock for women really is something that's unacceptable and shows how callous and insensitive they are towards women's priorities.

CROWLEY: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who, of course, heads the Democratic National Committee, it's always too short of time. Please come back.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Always is. Thanks. CROWLEY: Swing voters, Latinos and women are key to winning the White House, and you can bet the presidential candidates are looking at the polls for answers even though they might not admit it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You didn't need a poll to know that it wasn't a sure thing.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's one poll that's ridiculous.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We started off about, what, 15 points down in the polls, now we're leading in the polls. Thanks, you guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: George Gallup conducted his first public opinion poll in the 1930s and almost eight decades later, business is booming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitt Romney in this match-up, 48 percent, you'll, see to Obama 47 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our new poll shows president right now with a double digit lead over both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how the president is handling gas prices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The candidates want you to know that they are not preoccupied with polls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: I've never had much faith in the pollster that did those polls, so he's not proving to be particularly accurate over the years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: But behind the scenes, campaigns poll constantly on the candidates and the issues. Can you believe the numbers?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're scientific because they're random samples.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Part of drafting a questionnaire is looking at a series of questions so that you can determine what you can reasonably rely upon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Strategist Linda Divall and Mark Penn on what the poles say about the battle for the White House next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining us now, Mark Penn, democratic strategist and worldwide CEO of Burson Marsteller Public Relations firm; and Linda Divall, Republican strategist and president and CEO of American Viewpoint Public Opinion Firm.

Thank you both for joining us. I want to show our viewers this is independent votes in swing states.

Obama 48, Romney 39. So how did Romney lose the independent vote?

MARK PENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think will this is a significant reversal. I think Romney through the primaries has been beaten up by the others, seen as removed from kind of the middle class average voter, has trouble with women now, with Latinos. Boy, I think he's entering the general election how kind of a totally beaten up candidate and this poll is a reflection of that.

CROWLEY: And he's not the first candidate to arrive beat up. And, you know, the very nature of the swing voter is that they swing. So is there anything in this that gives you hope that he can get them back, that Romney could get back some of the swing voters?

LINDA DIVALL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, certainly. Number one, it's early April. Number two, when you look at with registered voters, the margin becomes much closer. Thirdly, this is not a typical and a very competitive Republican primary that our nominee tends to go down.

CROWLEY: I want to talk about women. You bring them up, Mark. In this same poll, again, this is swing states, and this is the women vote: Obama 54 percent, Romney 36 percent. Is he being tainted from some things fellow Republicans have done or is it something about Romney?

PENN: I think when you look at it, it's mostly about the Republican Party, but Romney has failed to distinguish himself from the pack. I think when you had the dust up about contraception, I think women said, wait a minute here. This party, this Republican Party and whoever is the nominee, is going to be driven by an agenda that is socially way too conservative for me in these times. And I think that shifted a lot of voters.

CROWLEY: And the contraception argument for Republicans, they wanted it to be seen as a separation of church and state issue. And instead it seems that the Democrats have framed very well this sort of war on women. And it looks as those it really has hurt it.

DIVALL: Well, I don't think it's just how the Democrats have framed it, I think it's somewhat the inept handling of the Republican Party on the issue. Having said that, if you look at what happened in 2010, Republicans were very competitive and in fact won the vote with women voters.

So I think there's an important lesson here. When we get the focus back on the economy and the focus on President Obama's record, things change very dramatically with the women's vote.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you -- we've had soccer moms, we've had security moms, we've had waitress moms, what are the moms this season. What's the target voter here?

DIVALL: Well, as you well know, there is no monolithic group that describes the female vote. I would probably look at two or three.

One are what I would call Medicare Grandmas who are more concerned about the fate of their children and their grandchildren in terms of the jobs that they will get and their ability to pursue the American dream as I talked about earlier.

Second, there are what I would call Wall Street Blues women. Those who are very worried. They work a job, their husband works, they're worried about their benefits being cut back, they're worried about their retirement security and their 401(k) losing steam. The ability to continue to save money and provide for the future is being taken away for them as they pay for additional college for their kids.

Try to deal with the day to day stress of living. And always lurking around the corner is the concern that a benefit will be cut or one or the two of them may lose their job.

PENN: Oh, I think she's got some excellent groups. I would expand it for women. I think there are four key groups in this election we should look at. Record numbers of independents, almost 40 percent in some polls. Record numbers of Latino voters, probably break 10 percent. Record numbers of voters making over $100,000, a new college educated professional class that Obama did very well with and needs to do well with again. And finally, the over 60 electorate will for the first time be probably five points bigger than the youth electorate 18-29.

CROWLEY: Those Baby Boomers keep getting older, don't we?

PENN: They do. And they keep voting. CROWLEY: Let me move to Latino voters, because we've also seen -- first, I want to put up from our exit polls from 2000 on forward for Republicans.

George W. Bush in 2000 got 35 percent of the Latino vote. Followed by against George W. Bush 44 percent, which is a sizable number for a Republican. John McCain dropping back down to 30 percent.

And I want to show you what the Pew Center most recent Pew Center poll shows between President Obama and Mitt Romney -- 68 percent of the Latino vote, Barack Obama; 23 percent, Mitt Romney.

That is not -- I mean, that's the biggest growing demographic you've got. That's a huge problem. What has caused this big drop? DIVALL: Well, again, you have perceptions of the Republican Party on the immigration issue that are very much hurting the Republican Party here. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that those numbers will not provide you a pathway to a winning coalition.

DIVALL: So it is incumbent upon the Republican Party to do a better job of embracing the Hispanic/Latino vote. I mean, they're very entrepreneurial-oriented. They're very family-oriented. They place a high emphasis on education. There's no reason why the Republican Party and its candidates can't do a better job of appealing to them.

I think you also have to look at some key Senate races: New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona. Those three states will be very important for the presidential coalition, but also very important in terms of control of the Senate and Republicans must do a better job with the Hispanic vote.

CROWLEY: Sure. Probably more in the Latino vote than any other vote I can see, that's where a downballot really begins to be affected in states. Sometimes you can run a race that has got nothing to do with the top of the ticket, but the Latino vote may be a real exception here.

PENN: Well, but what happened here is that Romney, who has been -- found himself with moderate positions on a lot of issues, took rather harsh and conservative positions on immigration.

And so I think quite the opposite from where President George Bush was, where his immigration position seemed more moderate, Romney has now put himself in the more isolating component of that. And I think along with his Romney-Ryan budget, are probably his two biggest errors giving him problem going forward.

CROWLEY: I want to ask you one last question about the number two pick. Throughout history, I think we would look, and we would say, oh, the LBJ pick for Jack Kennedy maybe brought him Texas.

Do you think that it matters, certainly if you get a bad vice presidential candidate, people might vote against you, but does it matter one way or the other if a presidential nominee picks someone who fills in his geographic weakness or picks someone who fills in his perceived policy weaknesses?

DIVALL: I think the number one criteria for any presidential candidate picking a vice presidential choice is, can that person step in and do the job of president from day one should that circumstance arise?

And I think one thing that happened in 2008 is that increasingly as you got closer to Election Day, there were many people that doubted that had Sarah Palin could do that job. So first and...

CROWLEY: Oval Office ready.

DIVALL: So first and foremost, yes, is that person ready to be president of the United States? And then second is probably, do no harm.

CROWLEY: Right, right. Yes, because you might vote against someone who has a bad number two, but would you vote for someone because they had a great number two?

PENN: Well, typically number twos don't make a big difference. Could make a difference in a state. Could make a difference with a particular group. A lot of people have talked about Rubio. But there's one thing we definitely agree on here. Sarah Palin was one of the most disastrous V.P. picks in history.

She turned off a lot of college-educated voters who might have considered voting for the Republican Party. And that's why Democrats got and Barack Obama got an unprecedentedly high vote among college- educated, over-100,000 voters.

CROWLEY: And we'll see if he can keep them this time around. Mark Penn, Linda DiVall, thank you both so much for coming.

DIVALL: Thank you.

PENN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: My thanks again to Mark Penn and Linda DiVall.

Ahead, President Obama says he's confident the Supreme Court will uphold the health care law, but his comments about the justices are drawing some heat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I think what we have here was a direct effort by the president to intimidate the court during a time when they're making a decision on one of the most important cases in the history of the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining us now from Waco, Texas, is Baylor University President Ken Starr. He served as the U.S. solicitor general under the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations. And here in Washington, Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general for the Obama Administration.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for taking your time today. I want on play something for you that President Obama said earlier when he was talking, and specifically, actually, about the health care ruling. We heard the arguments. We expect a ruling maybe in June. And I want to play for both of you what he had to say about the Supreme Court.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Ultimately I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically-elected Congress.

And I would just remind conservative commentators that for years what we've heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint: that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: What do you think of that statement?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL: Well, I think what the president was saying was something that I think a lot of us feel, which is, you know, for example, I went to law school in 1992, and the great idea that conservatives had at that time was this idea that the unelected judges shouldn't be making national policy unless a case on constitutional grounds is really clear, that something is clearly unconstitutional. Otherwise it should be left to the political branches.

And I think it's surprising that now we see the new conservative movement really resorting to the courts to do what they haven't done at the legislative ballot box.

CROWLEY: Ken, do you agree with that assessment? There was a huge kind of outcry when the president said this and people said, well, wait a minute, that's why we have the balance of powers, the court does look at laws.

KEN STARR, FORMER SOLICITOR GENERAL: The president should be mindful of the fact that a number of federal judges, including at least one whom he appointed to the federal bench, voted to strike down the law as an invasion of the powers of the states in the sense of Congress having exceeded its powers to regulate interstate commerce.

It's a serious issue. Reasonable minds can differ about the issue. And I think it's unfortunate for the president of the United States to be politicizing the process, especially when the decision is now under consideration, the case is under consideration by the court. I think it's an injudicious comment.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the court in terms of outside influences.

CROWLEY: There's -- speaking specifically on the Arizona immigration law, the question to -- in this poll was how should the Supreme Court rule on Arizona immigration law? And it will hear the case coming up at the end of this month.

Sixty-one percent of Americans said they should uphold it; 31 percent said the court should overturn it; and 8 percent I'm not really sure.

So when you look at this stuff, does any of this touch the Supreme Court? Because we tend to think of them as these nine people that are cloistered somewhere and they don't know about public opinion polls and they don't know about what the president said. But they do, don't they?

KATYAL: I think they do know about these things, but these are nine extraordinarily smart, competent people who know what they think.

CROWLEY: Ken, do they listen to any of this? Are they aware of it? Does it influence them?

STARR: I think it would surprise you how insulated the judges and the justices are and certainly can be.

That's the whole idea of the judges having life tenure to serve, as Article III of our Constitution provides, during good behavior. And John Paul Stevens stepped down after a very distinguished career at the age of 90. And that's not that unusual. Justices are in their 70s right now.

So they have that wonderful glorious virtue called independence. And so at their best, they will just give their best independent judgment as to what it is that the law provides or the Constitution means.

Do they sometimes succumb to political pressure? Perhaps. But at their best, they're independent. That was the design at the founding of the American republic.

CROWLEY: Let me move you on to this immigration case. And this is specifically the Arizona law, portions of which have been -- there's been an injunction against them going into effect.

One of those provisions allows law enforcement to question someone about their legal status in the country. Another one of those provisions says you should -- you have to carry your immigration papers with you all the time.

Is this a small case or is this a case where it really could affect all of these other immigration laws? Because it seems to me the question right now is one of law enforcement, but the larger question is, is this any of the state's business?

KATYAL: Right, exactly. And what the federal government is saying is, look, it's not just Arizona, this law, S.B. 1070; it's every state, every locality could create their own individual immigration law.

And the framers...

CROWLEY: But they didn't create law; they created enforcement, correct?

KATYAL: Exactly. And the framers devolved that power larger onto the federal government. They gave it plenary power. And so what the federal government is saying here is, if you can give any state or locality the power to enforce laws, federal laws, that really does interfere with the federal government system.

CROWLEY: Is this about federal government reach or state's rights?

What do you think the immigration case is about, Ken?

STARR: I think it's about parallel enforcement. Very frequently in our law, Congress will contemplate that states will have their own enforcement system that is supporting or supplementing, paralleling federal law.

And I think parts of the Arizona law are exactly that. The law enforcement provisions, you know, checking for identification and the like, I think, are likely to be held to be appropriate parallel enforcement.

It's very clear from the immigration laws that Congress contemplates a role for the states in enforcing federal law. And that's not unusual.

There are parts of the law, though, that I believe are quite problematic. And in particular, the provision with respect to individuals who are undocumented seeking work -- Congress saw fit not to make that a crime, not to make that any kind of civil defense, to rather have a very important system of employer sanctions, but not employee sanctions. And I feel that's problematic.

CROWLEY: Do you in general agree with that?

KATYAL: I certainly agree with -- I think Judge Starr has nailed it on the head when he said that those provisions that make certain things criminal are really likely to go down. I think that those are very hard to defend.

CROWLEY: And let me just, as a wrap-up question to you both, who would you like to next see on the Supreme Court?

KATYAL: I think that the Democratic field has a number of really interesting people, including Merrick Garland, who sits on the D.C. Circuit right now.

This is a man, I think, who's respected by both parties and someone who I think deserves a very serious look.

STARR: I would say look at governors. Look at those who have served in the Cabinet and the like. I think bringing a different array of experiences, including a United States senator. There was great historical precedent for that.

But I'll leave to others naming the candidates because there are just so many very eminently qualified people, but beyond the federal bench, as able as the federal Courts of Appeals judiciary is.

KATYAL: And I think there's a number of really good people, but one other thing that the current Supreme Court is lacking are -- is political experience, and there are, on the Democratic side, at least two senators, Senators Whitehouse and Klobuchar, who would be just worth a look by the president if he is re-elected.

CROWLEY: It would sure be interesting to get someone not on the bench at the moment.

So thank you both so much for your attention, especially on this weekend, Neil Katyal and Ken Starr. We appreciate both of you.

KATYAL: thank you.

Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Up next, religion in politics. Is it a bad mix?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think there is in this country a -- a war on -- on religion. I think there is a desire to establish a -- a religion in America known as secularism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining us from Atlanta is Ralph Reed, founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. In Kansas City, Democratic Congressman Emanuel Cleaver -- he's the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a United Methodist Church pastor. And here in Washington, David Brody, chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Gentlemen, thank you all for joining us on, you know, a religious holiday for any number of religions this weekend, which is why we wanted to have this conversation.

CROWLEY: We were struck by, first of all, a poll. This is a Pew Research Center poll.

And the question was, to Americans, do you think there has been too much, too little or just about the right amount of faith and prayer expressed openly by politicians? And as of 2012, 38 percent, the plurality at least of Americans said too much. Too much religious faith and prayer expressed by politicians. Too little, 30 percent, right amount, 25 percent. That is up, by the way, by nine points from just two years ago. What has happened to kind of -- if I can extrapolate a little -- turn people off to the amount of public discussion we're having about religion?

Congressman, let's start with you.

CLEAVER: Well, it's becoming a political issue every two years and then for sure every four years we try to put God on the ballot. And I think that the American public is tiring of it.

Look, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution declares that there shall be no religious test. And so God did not burden the United States with diversity, but blessed us with it. E pluribus unum -- out of many, one.

And I think that we are a nation that does not have a national religion. In fact, the Bill of Rights says that we cannot even establish one. So I think the American public, for all those reasons, are saying we're tired of it.

CROWLEY: Ralph, would you agree? I know you work with a lot of groups to get out the vote efforts and getting people to register. And what is it that's turning folks off right about now?

RALPH REED, CONSERVATIVE AMERICAN POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Well, I think what the poll indicates, Candy, is something that's not new in American history, and that is a-- you know, for lack of a better term, a sort of historic antipathy for clericalism, that is to say a sense in which church and state would be intertwined, and that politicians would try to use religion for partisan or political purposes.

That's what they don't want to see. But there's a huge difference between that and the engagement of people of faith as effective citizens, you know, exercising the same God-given rights of citizenship as everybody else, to be registered to vote, to become involved in the political party of their choice, to vote, to turn out to the polls, to try to influence legislation.

CROWLEY: David, I think what -- if I can extrapolate from both of them, that the question here is not one of voting your beliefs. People clearly vote their beliefs whether they be religious or sectarian, whatever they happen to be. You're going to vote what you believe and for the person you think will best protect those beliefs or promote them.

But what we don't want is for religion to be used for political ends. Is that -- I mean, I think that may be what we're seeing.

DAVID BRODY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Well, sure, and I think that's some of the skepticism. The issue though -- let's take Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, for example, just a couple that we saw in the presidential sweepstakes here -- I call sweepstakes.

But, look, these two candidates, you cannot take their faith and separate it from their politics. It is who they are. So when you see Rick Santorum show up at a church on a Sunday morning, that's where he would be anyhow.

CROWLEY: Congressman, I want to play something that President Obama said. He was at the National Prayer Breakfast -- this was in early February, and he took some heat for this particular remark. Let me just play it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I'm willing to give something up as somebody who has been extraordinarily blessed, give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense. But for me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus' teaching that from to whom much is given much shall be required.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Congressman, what did you make of that remark? Is that using religion for political purposes or is that applying your religious beliefs to your politics?

CLEAVER: Well, let's keep in mind that that was the National Prayer Breakfast. I didn't see anything wrong with it in that environment. I think the trouble comes when we try to use it to separate us from others. In other words, religion becomes ethnocentric. We want to say that we are OK.

And all of us are still under construction, which means that we're not infallible. And the president's never said that.

I think we've gone way too far with all of this, the president's declared war on religion. That is absurd. The Chinese have declared war on religion. The Iranians have declared war on religion. And I think when we exaggerate things like that, it further polarizes the country and creates the thought that maybe we all need to be similar in our theologies, and I think that's doing damage to the Constitution.

CROWLEY: Let me, Ralph, ask you about this idea, because certainly the Republicans, ever since the whole problem with contraception and churches and whether church facilities should be forced to provide contraception in health care insurance, the Republicans have been pretty fast and loose with the words "war on religion."

Do you honestly think that Barack Obama as president, or the Obama administration in general, has declared war on religion? Those are pretty hot words.

REED: The question here isn't Obama's faith. The issue here are his policies. And when you, by the way, go before federal courts and say that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, when you're required to defend the laws of the Congress of the United States, which the president has signed into law, in other words, it's your obligation to defend federal law.

On case after case, religious churches, charities, educational institutions, this administration has shown either a total insensitivity to, if not outright hostility to the religious beliefs of millions of Americans. And it doesn't matter why. The point is, is that on issue after issue, they're just -- they've just been hostile to the First Amendment's rights to practice religious faith --

CROWLEY: Go ahead, Congressman.

REED: -- free from government restriction.

CLEAVER: Excuse me, Mr. Reed. Look, some Democrats called Governor Walker of Wisconsin Hitler. They likened him to Hitler and they held up posters. I'm a Democrat. I condemned that. Hitler killed 8 million people. Governor Walker is trying to kill a union. There is no comparison. And so that was wrong. We've got to quit exaggerating our political differences.

If you believe that the president is a Christian, why would that -- you still come to the belief that he's trying to destroy religion in this country? I think we've got to stop it. That is not doing this country this any good at all. And the truth of the matter is we know better. We know better, those of us who are in the public eye.

REED: So is it --

CLEAVER: We know that's not --

REED: -- so, Congressman, is it similarly wrong then for Democrats to say that the Republican Party is engaged in a war on women? Is that wrong?

CLEAVER: Yes, that is wrong. And I've never said it, not one time.\

(CROSSTALK)

REED: Then perhaps we could --

CLEAVER: What we need -- what we need is for you and me -- and I'm willing to do it, and I don't think you would, but when that happens, do what I do. I condemn it. If it's a Democrat, if it's my cousin, it's wrong. And I think we need to stop that. It is damaging the body politic and it's further separating the people in this country.

REED: Well, I think what I've said is the administration has shown an insensitivity, if not outright hostility. But you know, it's -- I'm certainly glad to hear what you're saying this morning, but the president's own senior advisers are saying that the Republican Party is engaged in a war on women and he's the head of the party. So I think, you know, there's a little bit of selective outrage here.

CROWLEY: Ralph Reed, David Brody and Congressman Cleaver, we'll continue in a couple minutes. I want to ask you whether Mitt Romney is ready to confront the misconceptions about his Mormon faith.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with Ralph Reed, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, and David Brody.

Mitt Romney is a Mormon. We have not had a Mormon president. I was intrigued by polling again from the Pew organization that showed the overwhelming number of non -- or a plurality of non-Mormons would describe Mormonism as a cult, whereas 90-plus something of Mormons describe it as a Christian religion.

Let me bring you in here just to ask you if you think Mormonism is a problem in the national election, should he become the nominee, which we believe he will? And what is he to do about it?

BRODY: Well, I think there are certain evangelical Christians who won't vote for Romney because he is a Mormon. Simple as that. But there is -- I mean, look at the polling, 29 percent, roughly -- Ralph has got the numbers on this, but about 29 percent of evangelical Christians during the primaries have voted for Mitt Romney.

So there is a section out there that has no problem with Romney. Why is that exactly? Well, abortion is not their number one issue in these exit pollings. It's the budget, it's the economy, and Romney speaks to that.

Then there was another segment. These are the folks that are on the fence. These are the -- I'm not sure if I want to vote for Romney or not. And this is what I think is going to be the major problem for Mitt Romney in the General Election. That he doesn't have these 30 percent or so of folks that aren't sure about him.

Not sure if they trust him, and these are evangelicals, and the problem is, is that Romney has not reached out to evangelicals whatsoever in the primaries. It could very much come back to haunt him from an enthusiasm standpoint in the General Election.

CROWLEY: You had written that you believe that Rick Santorum was taking four days off over Easter, maybe preparing to pull from the race on the basis of that.

BRODY: Yes. Well, I think we'll see about that. I mean, I think we know about this meeting that happened in the last -- or actually, yes, in the last few days. There is a sense here at this point that this is more of a pivot moment now for the Santorum campaign.

They know they can't lose Pennsylvania. If they lose Pennsylvania, there's a whole 'nother conversation, but real quick, this meeting was really more about strategy. How can they go about defeating Romney in the future? Because so far they've thrown everything against the wall and nothing has stuck so far.

CROWLEY: David Brody, Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, and Ralph Reed, thank you all three very much. Have a great weekend.

REED: Thank you very much, Candy.

CLEAVER: Good to be with you.

BRODY: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: You heard it earlier. Some people are pretty teed off about the so-called "war on women." The game of politics and perception is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time now for a check of today's top stories. Two men have been arrested in connection with a deadly series of shootings in Oklahoma. Three people were killed and two others were wounded in the attacks in Tulsa Friday.

There is a new deal over the way the U.S. military operates in Afghanistan. The agreement is an effort to end Afghan anger over special operations night raids on local homes. From now on Afghan commandos will take the lead in those raids.

We tee off this week's "Campaign Trail" with something a little off-course, the all-male Augusta National Golf Club.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: If I were a member and if I were -- if I could run Augusta, which isn't likely to happen, but, of course, I would have women in Augusta.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Newt Gingrich tweeted: "I think Callista would be a great member #Augusta. Maybe she would let me come and play."

Rick Santorum via email: "I encourage Augusta to accept women members."

President Obama via his spokesman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He believes Augusta should admit women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: There are people who don't want Augusta to accept women members, but none of them are running for president. Talk about a courtship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It is a pleasure to be surrounded by so many talented, accomplished women, it makes me feel right at home, although usually I have got my wingman, Bo, with me.

SANTORUM: I think it's important that women both outside the home and inside the home are affirmed for their choices they make.

ROMNEY: I think the biggest change is that women would be able to look at their children and say that the future is going to be brighter than the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Did we mention that women vote in greater numbers and percentages than men? Historically Democrats have done better with female voters and Republicans have done better with male voters. Thus, the term "gender gap." This year for Republicans it's more like a chasm.

In 2000 George Bush lost the female vote to Al Gore by 11 points. As of late March, women prefer President Obama to Mitt Romney by a jaw-dropping election-losing 23 points. That is an eight-point drop for Romney, since January.

He is paying the price for a Republican dust-up with President Obama over contraception and freedom of religion, a sexist outburst from talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and a concerted Democratic effort to milk it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: War against women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: War on women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: War on women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Let's just say no matter what is to blame in the game of politics and perception, Republicans lost this round.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: If the Democrats said we had a "war on caterpillars," then every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a "war on caterpillars," then we would have problems with caterpillars. I mean, the fact that a matter is it's a fiction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: On the campaign trail these days, suffice it to say there is no war on women, there is a raging battle for women. There is time for Republicans to up their game. In election year 2012 they are just teeing up for the back nine.

Thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Find today's interviews, some analysis, and Web exclusives at our Web site, cnn.com/sotu.

For our viewers in the United States, "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS" starts right now.