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Interview with David Axelrod; Interview with Reince Priebus; Interview With Senators Boxer, Hutchison; Interview with Anders Fogh Rasmussen

Aired May 20, 2012 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Character, capitalism and controversy. Just another week on the campaign trail. Today, who will define Mitt Romney?


BIDEN; Romney made sure the guys on top got to play by a separate set of rules. He ran up massive debts in the Middle-Class laws.

ROMNEY: The centerpiece of this campaign is quite clearly character assassination.


CROWLEY: Exclusive interviews with Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod and Republican National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus. Also, spending cuts, tax cuts and what do women want in 2012 with Senators Barbara Boxer and Kay Bailey Hutchison? Plus, an exclusive interview with NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen on the exit from Afghanistan. And chewing over the week with Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times and CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent, Dana Bash. I'm Candy Crowley, and this is State of the Union.

While Vice President Biden questioned Mitt Romney's business credentials on the stump, the Obama re-elect team pumped out a small buy ad with a big bite, attacking Bain Capital, the equity firm Romney founded.


(UNKNOWN): They've made as much money off of it as they could. And they closed it down. They filed for bankruptcy without any concern for the families or the communities.

(UNKNOWN): They're like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us.


CROWLEY: Within hours, Camp Romney was up with a web ad of its own and a story of its own.


(UNKNOWN): SDI almost never got started. When others shied away, Mitt Romney's private sector leadership team stepped in.

(UNKNOWN): Building a dream with over 6,000 employees today.

(UNKNOWN): If it wasn't for a company like Steel Dynamic, this county wouldn't have a lot.


CROWLEY: Joining me to discuss this week's take of two steel mills and other campaign adventure, Obama Campaign Senior Adviser David Axelrod. David, thanks for joining us from beautiful downtown Chicago. We appreciate it. I want to...

AXELROD: Beautiful to be here. Thanks Candy.

CROWLEY: I want to start -- I -- I wanted to start out with something that Mitt Romney said, characterizing what your advertising is about.


ROMNEY: The purpose of the president's ads are not to describe success and failure, but to -- somehow to suggest that I'm -- that I'm not a good person or not a good guy.


CROWLEY: And do you quibble with that? Is not the gist of the ad that you all put out about Bain Capital, Romney's former firm, that he is a rich gritty guy who doesn't care about the middle-class?

AXELROD: No I -- that -- I do quibble with that. The point of the ad is to look at his business record. The only credential that Governor Romney has offered the people of this country for running for the presidency is that he was a businessman. He never talks about the fact that he was governor of Massachusetts. Because when he was governor of Massachusetts, they went from 36th to 47th in job creation and it was a -- a pretty much of a disastrous period.

So that he doesn't talk about. He talks about being a businessman and hints that somehow the things that he did there prepared him to lead the country and its economy. And so it behooves us to look at what exactly he did. And the fact is that he wasn't about job creation. And he and his partners have acknowledged in candid moments, our job wasn't to create jobs. It was to create wealth for ourselves and our partners.

CROWLEY: And it was to find places for the...


AXELROD: ...any -- any -- by any means necessary. CROWLEY: Well, it was to find and -- you had had success stories, you will agree to that, but he -- I mean what they are saying is, look this was a private equity firm, an investment firm. We invested in businesses. We wanted them to succeed. Some of them did and some of them didn't. Doesn't that tell you that this is a guy with a business background...

(CROSSTALK) AXELROD: Candy, but here's the point.


AXELROD: Some -- some of them did...


CROWLEY: ...make businesses tick.

AXELROD: ...and some of them didn't, Candy. But he always walked away with money. And that was the point. The point was that he didn't think -- they didn't fail with the company. They didn't -- they didn't embrace the failure. They loaded that company, GST Steel with debt and then they bankrupted the company. Moved, by the way -- the company was in Kansas City, they filed for bankruptcy in North Carolina so that they could vacate some of their obligations to their workers. So the workers lost health care benefits and -- and some additional benefits that they were -- that they had negotiated for. That they were promised.

And -- and -- and Governor Romney's team walked away with at least $12 million. That is not -- that is what -- that's what Vice President Biden was referring to. It is not right when you have two sets of rules where the guys at the top prosper, no matter what happens and the workers down the line bear the brunt of it. That's the kind of -- of dislocations we've had in our economy. It's what concerns people about where we've been.

CROWLEY: So it -- I -- I want to move you on since you've mentioned Vice President Biden, to something that he talked about in Youngstown, Ohio.


BIDEN: My mother and father believed that if my brother or sister wanted to be a millionaire, they could be a millionaire. My mother and father dreamed as much as any rich guy dreams.


BIDEN: They don't get us. They don't get who we are.


CROWLEY: Do you understand why some people listen to that and do believe that the Obama campaign is engaged in class warfare? That this was very definitely...


CROWLEY: attack on the rich?

AXELROD: Here's the point. We -- we believe strongly, and most Americans do that we -- we -- we honor success, we celebrate success. But we want everybody to have a fair chance at it, a fair shot at it. And the question really is moving forward, what kind of economic policies do we want? If Governor Romney says that his business experience informs him about how he's going to move forward, look at that business experience and ask if episodes like GS Steel are the ones that -- that -- that we want governing our economy.

We want an economy in which people can get the education they need and the training they need. We want an economy where there are good middle-class jobs available and not one where those jobs -- where wages are cut, benefits are cut and people can't live a good and...


CROWLEY: This happens to a lot of businesses...


AXELROD: While -- while...


CROWLEY: This happens to a lot of businesses does it not? And it has happened over the course of time. That businesses -- this was in a particular bad time for the steel industry as you know. And -- and -- and isn't failure every much as instructive as success in terms of giving you an idea of...

AXELROD: Candy. Candy.

CROWLEY: ...what makes.


AXELROD: Candy can you -- can you -- and let me -- And I know -- let me ask you a question. Do you -- if you were a worker at that steel mill and you lost much of what you worked for over a period of decades and your -- your pension it turns out was underfunded by $46 million. Your pension system. And you then watch the people who loaded your company with debt walk away with a profit while you were left without what you thought you had earned.

Do you think that that -- would you feel that was fair? Would you feel that was right...


CROWLEY: If I were that person, I -- I certainly wouldn't...


AXELROD: Of course. Well I think that's....


CROWLEY: ...I feel about it, you know sort of is not at all germane. I was just wondering if you... (CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: No, but I think that you...

CROWLEY: ...think that that isn't a businesses experience. I mean Romney's job as you said...


AXELROD: Well I -- I...


AXELROD: Well I -- I -- I think that Romney's -- Romney's -- look I -- I absolutely -- if you asked me was Romney good at making money for himself and his partners? Yes. If you ask me whether I think that outsourcing of jobs, off-shoring of accounts, bankrupting companies and profiting off those bankruptcies are a prescription for building the American economy, and is good -- is a good vision for our future, the answer to that is no.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me move you to the other thing that happened this week, which was the New York Times report that a proposal before one of these super-PACs, in this case a fairly wealthy conservative, although he says he's -- he's listed as an independent, that perhaps they would bring up Reverend Wright in a series of ads timed for the Democratic Convention. I want to play you some of the response from -- from Democrats to that.


(UNKNOWN): If Rickets wants to do that, if the GOP if they want to do that, well then guess what? You're now putting Mormonism on the table.

(UNKNOWN): Should we look at the leaders of Mitt Romney's religion and examine whether they affected his politics? Fair question isn't it?

(UNKNOWN): Then we have to say that what are the views on the church that Mitt Romney put forth. The views that black people were subsidiary to and inferior to white people.


CROWLEY: So David, simple question in the last 30 seconds we've got. Do -- does the re-elect committee repudiate the idea that Mormonism should be on the table?

AXELROD: Absolutely and we have right along. We've said that's not fair game. And we wish that Governor Romney would stand up as strongly and as resolutely consistently to -- to -- to refute these kinds of things on his side. Instead he's amplified them in the past. And he's put logs on that fire. And that's not leadership.

(CROSSTALK) CROWLEY: He did repudiate the -- the...


CROWLEY: ...the Reverend Wright thing though, correct?

AXELROD: Tepidly at -- tepidly and reluctantly he did. But in February he actually raised the issue and said it was fair game. So you know the problem is you have to be consistent in your position. And you have to be genuine and firm in your -- your -- you can't be grudging in your position or you send the wrong signals. And I think...


AXELROD: ...he's sent the wrong signals.

CROWLEY: And yet you all did put out a fund raising letter on this suggesting that Mitt Romney was going to use it. Suggesting that Republicans would use it. Although the -- the super-PAC in question said we're not...


AXELROD: Candy we put out a fund raising letter because we're facing about $1 billion of super-PAC spending. This was one gentleman who was willing to write a $10 -- I'm sorry $10 million dollar check potentially to fund this campaign. That was the proposal. And we're facing that all over the country. Karl Rove has a $25 million campaign up right now with undisclosed money, money we don't know where it came from, running negative ads. And that is what we're trying to combat.

He got one $10 million anonymous donor.

AXELROD: Our average donation is like $55. It would take 181,000 of those donations to match the one anonymous donation that Karl Rove got. And that's why we went and reached out to our folks, because we need to combat this kind of tactic.

CROWLEY: OK. David Axelrod, it's always great to have you on. I appreciate it.

AXELROD: Thanks, Candy. Good to be with you.

CROWLEY: The Republicans' playbook for defeating President Obama: the economy.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Where we're headed under this president is an economic decline, and what it is going to take is to have a president who is willing to lead and to fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: But highlighting a faltering economy may not sit well with Republican governors in some key swing states, that, with the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Plus, the breaking news from Libya that the Lockerbie bomber has died. Stay with us.


CROWLEY: I am joined by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Let me start out with where I left off with David Axelrod, and that is these outside super PAC groups. You all spent about a day- and-a-half trying to distance yourselves from the notion that Reverend Wright would be brought up by one of these fabulously wealthy people that want to come in and have their say-so in an election in the form of TV ads.

Isn't there just a huge problem here for you all as you move forward that you don't have or are not supposed to have control over what goes up on the air in your name?

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, I think both sides have the same problem, and I think... CROWLEY: You have a lot more super PACs than they do, I mean, money-wise.

PRIEBUS: Well, we don't know who has got what and how it's all going to shake out. Certainly Obama spends every night raising, you know, tons of money, whether it be with George Clooney and Hollywood elites or people on Wall Street that then he vilifies the week later.

The reality is -- though, is that Mitt Romney repudiated this particular issue. And what's amazing about it to me, like you pointed out, a day-and-a-half spent and that the media and that The New York Times would pick up on a proposal to perhaps do something in regard to a particular subject.

I mean, this thing is so strung out, and to take a day-and-a-half talking about this. You know what, I think it's...

CROWLEY: Well, you know how that works. I mean, and this was a big...

PRIEBUS: Oh, I know how it works.

CROWLEY: ... issue.

PRIEBUS: I know how it works. It's the Democrats and Barack Obama that want the story out there. He wants this story to play out in the media because for every day that David Axelrod and this president don't have to talk about their broken promises when it comes to jobs, the debt, and the deficit, and the more time they can spend talking about talking about hypotheticals that may or may not come true, is a day that they want to win on. So, look, this president has got a bigger problem, and his problem is, no matter what he puts out there, no matter what distractions he puts out there, he can't change the truth and escape the reality of where we are in this American economy. And it's no good.

CROWLEY: You know, Mitt Romney has to go through -- there are a lot of battleground states, and obviously that is the message: this economy is still bad, we spent a lot of money, still bad, I can do this better.

And yet you have states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Iowa, all battlegrounds to some degree or another, with Republican governors who are out there going, hey, the economy is getting better.

How are you going to synthesize Republican governors in states where they're trying to do some good things, where the economy is improving, with Governor Romney coming in and saying, oh, by the way, the economy really is horrible?

PRIEBUS: Well, first of all, it all starts at the top. And I think the reality is, is that this is going to be a referendum on whether or not Barack Obama fulfilled the promises that he made to the American people. And I get your point, but the reality is, things could be much, much better if we had a president that actually could make a promise and follow through on a promise. And you have got someone like Mitt Romney who spent his entire life making promises, keeping promises, understands how businesses work, understands how small businesses work, helped save hundreds of businesses, companies like Staples and Sports Authority, and others.

So no matter what David Axelrod may say, President Obama's private business experience hasn't seen the inside of a lemonade stand. And so I think it's time to put someone in the White House who understands how job creation works in this country. And that's Governor Romney.

CROWLEY: But you would admit that the president has in fact during his term created jobs when we were hemorrhaging jobs when he started?

PRIEBUS: Mitt Romney has created -- has helped create more net jobs in the state of Massachusetts as governor than Barack Obama has helped...

CROWLEY: He has a pretty bad...

PRIEBUS: ... net create in the entire country.

CROWLEY: He had a pretty bad record at least in terms of the 50 states in job creation. He was down near the bottom while he was governor.

PRIEBUS: Well, not only did he help create more net jobs than Barack Obama, he helped save the Olympics, he helped save companies out there that were hurting, and the fact is every state has its own unique challenges, Candy, and we all know that.

I mean, Wisconsin has different challenges than Tennessee. I mean, we have different laws there than Alabama. So every state is different. But as far as Massachusetts goes, in a vacuum, they're much better off with a Mitt Romney governor than many others.

And so I would say this, if David Axelrod and this president want to make this campaign about jobs, which is what we want it to be about desperately, and we're going to keep going back to that, there's no chance that Barack Obama wins the presidency in November if the issue is jobs.

CROWLEY: Is there anything at all that you give the president credit for in the last three-and-a-half years, something he did good?

PRIEBUS: Well, certainly I mean, I think we're all grateful and blessed that bin Laden is not alive anymore, and we give him that. But, you know, when it comes to this country's long-term economic safety and long-term economic health, he has failed in regard to capturing...

CROWLEY: But it's better now, is it not, than when he took office?

PRIEBUS: Oh, no, absolutely not. I mean, we have...

CROWLEY: You don't think the economy is better now than when he took office and everyone was tearing their hair off and jumping off cliffs?

PRIEBUS: I think it's all relative. I think that people out there across the country that can't fill up the gas tank because gas is too expensive, they can't buy a full set of groceries, if you look at what's happening in Greece, in Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean, I mean, we can all live -- we can all whistle...

CROWLEY: He can't help what's happening in Greece, can he?

PRIEBUS: What I'm saying is, we can't keep whistling past the graveyard. We have the debt king for a president, who has added $5 trillion to the debt, who has not done a thing about getting the deficit under control as he has promised. He hasn't followed through on those promises.

And while we may whistle past the graveyard today, the day is coming when I believe that the debt bomb facing this country is going to be a big problem for us. And we need a person like Mitt Romney in office that can do something about it.

CROWLEY: Quickly. As of a year ago, more than half the babies born in the U.S. were minority. What is the implications of a majority minority as we call it, for a party that is still seen and still is in reality largely white and largely male?

PRIEBUS: Well I -- I think we've had great successes when it comes to the Hispanic communities across America. You look at Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval, I think the governor of Puerto Rico. But it's not just messengers, I get it. As party chairman, it's our job as well to get into the communities to do our Social Victory Centers, to do our -- our campaign headquarters in places like Kissimmee and Hialeah and -- and actually the metrics on the ground matter.

Which is making sure that we're going door-to-door, getting ballots in -- in the municipal clerk's office and checking our success with what we're doing on the ground.

CROWLEY: I've got to run, I'm sorry. I hope you'll come back.

PRIEBUS: Well that's a big question to close with.

CROWLEY: It is a big question to ask at the end, I know that.


CROWLEY: Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Party. Thank you...

PRIEBUS: Thank you.

CROWLEY: ...for being on the air. Next up, pushing tough decisions past election day could cripple the economy. So why won't someone in Washington do something? Plus, breaking news from Libya. The Lockerbie Bomber has died. Stay with us. CNN's Nic Robertson joins us in two minutes.


CROWLEY: Some breaking news. The only person convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has reportedly died. Joining us by phone from London is CNN's Nic Robertson. With this death, Nic, do secrets of Lockerbie and who was behind it, die with him?

ROBERTSON: Well, Megrahi always said he was innocent. Always said that he would prove his innocence before he died. Was never able to do it. It always appeared that it was unlikely that one person could have been behind such a complex operation and that other elements of the Libyan regime were involved in ways we still don't know. One of the people who would know, would be Abdullah al-Senussi the head of Libyan Intelligence.

Perhaps the biggest clue to his importance to Megrahi and the whole Lockerbie bombing was when Megrahi was released from Scottish jail three years ago, it was Abdullah al-Senussi, the head of Libyan Intelligence who was waiting at the steps of the aircraft to take him in a car and drive him away. So Abdullah al-Senussi is still alive. He's in custody. Perhaps he will one day tell the whole truth. But perhaps Megrahi has taken some of the secrets with him to the grave if he is in fact dead, as many people are saying right now, Candy.

CROWLEY: Nic Robertson on the death of al-Megrahi, the only convicted criminal in the Lockerbie bombing so many years ago. Joining me now is California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer and Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. They will be -- you see them both there. Good morning ladies, thank you so much. I wonder Senator Boxer, I know that you have -- have -- have been involved in the release of Megrahi, had wanted to look more into this. As far as you're concerned, has justice been done in the Lockerbie case?

BOXER: I don't believe so. And I wasn't for him being extradited. I have listened to the families. They feel some type of closure, but they also believe that there are more leads that have to be followed. And one thing we know about our country, we'll come after you. So we need to keep on searching. We really do.

CROWLEY: Senator Hutchison, do you similarly agree that there is more to be done in what was such a hellacious thing? It's history now to some of the folks listening, but you know it still was an ongoing case to so many.

HUTCHISON: Absolutely it was. Because it -- it was an outrageous act. The fact that no one else has been convicted. That we didn't have that kind of opportunity to really find out. That he was actually let out of prison early I think does leave a lot of questions, I agree with Barbara 100 percent.

CROWLEY: Senator Hutchison, Senator Boxer stick with us, we'll be right back with more after this.


CROWLEY: Joining me again, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison respectively from California and Texas. Thank you again both. I want to talk to you about what is going on on Capitol Hill, which appears to be really pretty much nothing in terms of final results. Senator Boxer first to you. Senator Hutchison wrote an op- ed recently I think this Wednesday about the number and the sheer amount of tax breaks that will expire at the end of the year if Congress doesn't do something about it.

And -- and in there she wrote, "There has been a conspicuous lack of urgency from both the president and congressional Democrats about addressing these tax increases." And -- and here she is talking about the health care tax increases that are going into effect, "As well as the tax increases that will happen if nothing is done to maintain the tax cuts. The White House strategy seems to be. one -- do nothing until after the November election. Two -- blame a government shut down and economic meltdown on Congress if it doesn't approve higher taxes before the end of 2012. I wanted to get your response?

BOXER: Certainly. Well we are absolutely going to look at these tax cuts. Because the Democrats believe it's very important to ensure that the middle-class and the working poor have their tax cuts renewed and maybe even have deeper tax cuts. But we are also for fairness and justice. And we believe people earning over $1 million, multi- millions don't deserve to have another tax cut, don't need it and -- and a lot of my people in California say they don't want it.

So there's a lot of other things that are on our plate also. And we need to move forward with jobs, jobs, jobs. And I will say something very positive here. Kay Bailey Hutchison and I may not agree on everything about who should get a tax cut and how much it should be, but we do believe in creating jobs, and we worked together on the FAA bill. She was a key voice there. I'm on that committee. She's the ranking member. And now I'm the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and she's a very key ranking member in negotiating an agreement on highways, roads, transit, and you know that will be 3 million jobs.

CROWLEY: Which is great except --

BOXER: So, yes, we have to approach it all.

CROWLEY: Except for the problem here, Senator Hutchison, isn't it, that you all both agree that something has to be done to address these tax increases that are going to happen if Congress doesn't do something, and yet we have a stalemate, and it seems to me that's always the case. That everybody says, oh, we agree on the ultimate goal, but we can't agree on how to get there, and the country just gets this feeling that the entire process has broken down.

HUTCHISON: Well, first of all, I want to say thank you to Barbara and agree that we are working together to lead our country in building the infrastructure and the planning capability for our highways and roads. She's taking the lead on that as the chairman of the committee, doing a great job.

But on tax cuts, honestly, we do have a disagreement with the Democrats in Congress. Right now, 50 percent of the people in this country don't pay taxes, and so you are taking care of the working poor with that.

But on the other hand, we've got 25 million people will go into paying the AMT. These are middle-class people who are working every day, trying to do a little better for their families. They're going to go into the AMT at the end of this year if we don't address it, if we don't keep these tax cuts that we have had in place. It is going to increase the tax on capital gains and dividends, on energy. We already see how high the energy costs are. It will increase the cost of energy. Small-business people need to be able to plan, and they are scared to death to hire people when you've got the Obama taxes and fines coming into place at the end of this year, plus an increase in everybody's taxes. And they're not hiring, and that's what's causing our employment to be so low. We want to hire people.

CROWLEY: I think what you and Senator Boxer are both saying is that you do agree with your parties' main line on these issues, and I get that. And I want to posit something actually via David Brooks, who wrote an op-ed on Friday about Congress and said today, "leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it. A gigantic polling apparatus has developed to help leaders anticipate and respond to popular whims. Democratic politicians adopt the mindset of marketing executives. Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right."

Do you think politics has become too election-driven, too poll- driven, and that it impedes remarkably great people -- you know, I know you both, I know a lot of people on Capitol Hill -- and it is mystifying to people why there cannot be some coming together in something so important as the budget process. Do you agree with the Brooks column?

BOXER: Well, let me take a shot at this. Let me tell you what I agree with. I agree with the fact that we're not meeting each other in the middle. I agree with the fact that why do we need to fight over passing a Violence Against Women Act and have the House over there instead of taking our bill that was a bipartisan bill, start a big fight, leave women out. We don't need that.

Why do we need to be in this conference on the highway bill that I mentioned before, where 3 million jobs are at stake? The House could have worked with us, picked up the Senate bill, and passed it.

So I don't think it's so much poll-driven as it is just a decision -- and this is my view, and, of course, Kay is going to disagree with it -- but it is backed up by two scholars who just wrote a very independent study, they're nonpartisan, that said the Republicans simply are in their corner, they won't move forward. Now, I think what I hear coming from Kay is some kind of crisis about tax cuts when we agree we're going to renew a lot of those to the middle class. And by the way, in the House, they are taxing the working poor. That's the Ryan budget.

CROWLEY: Senator, I'm going to have to give you the last 20 seconds here on that.

BOXER: Sorry.

HUTCHISON: Yes. Candy, look, the Congress, both the House and Senate, rejected the Obama budget 100 percent. Not one Democrat even voted for it because it had so many tax increases. What we're looking for is a way forward, leadership from the president, that would provide us a way to go forward, create jobs, keep taxes low on our small businesses, make sure they have the opportunity without strangling regulation to get this economy going again. That's why I am supporting Mitt Romney, because he has had the ability to see the private sector work. It's not big government that's going to create jobs. It is the private sector, and we need to take the shackles off. That's what we're talking about here.


CROWLEY: Senator Hutchison and Senator Boxer, I have to leave it there. I hope you will come back. I so enjoy having you.


HUTCHISON: Thank you. Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: Next up, Vice President Joe Biden in attack mode?


BIDEN: I resent the fact that they think we're talking about we envy -- it's job envy, it's wealth envy -- that we don't dream.


CROWLEY: And later, when does a commencement address become a stump speech? Hint, in an election year.


CROWLEY: Here to hash out the week that was in politics, New York Times political correspondent Jeff Zeleny and CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

CROWLEY: I want to start by putting a period on the story that you wrote this week which is the consideration of a proposal by a super PAC that would bring up Reverend Wright again, timed to go with the Democratic Convention. In all the aftermath of that, did someone win on this and someone lose, or is this just another one of those summer squalls?

ZELENY: I think it's a summer squall but it really shows that this is not potentially good for either campaign. The Romney campaign wants to talk about the economy and they have a bunch of potential renegade super PAC and wealthy Republicans who mean well, who want the same outcome, but they're not on the same message perhaps.

And for President Obama, of course, independent voters may find it a bit distasteful to bring up Reverend Wright, but we did talk about Reverend Wright again this week, so it's not necessarily a win for him either. But it just sends the message that the campaigns are not in control of their election.

BASH: Big time. I mean, look at Romney's first ad this week. It was positive. It was really on the issues, what he would do on day one. You know, it might be a little bit too cute by half in that he can do that, and he can still have side shows talking about things like Reverend Wright.

Whether or not they're going to put out an ad or not, he can, you know, distance himself but it's still in the narrative.

ZELENY: And with respect to the chairman, this was a plan and a proposal. This was far down the track though. This was not just an idea floating out there. This proposal that we obtained, it was pretty far in the discussion phases.

CROWLEY: And very quickly, after the story appeared, it was nobody's plan and...

ZELENY: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: ... you know, they -- and let's face it, the Democrats are -- I mean, despite what David said, they were fund-raising on it, saying, oh, my gosh, they're coming after us, holy cow, when, in fact, nothing had happened.

ZELENY: Right. CROWLEY: So it was good for both bases, do you think? ZELENY: I mean, perhaps...


CROWLEY: Or bad for both?

ZELENY: ... in the short term. But, again, I just think it shows that neither campaign is really in as much control of this election as they would like. I mean, there are these outside forces that want to spend a lot of money and a lot of consultants who are eager to spend their money for them.

BASH: And the Republicans do make a good point, that any time the Obama administration is not talking about the economy, if they're attacking the Republicans for attacking them, that's OK with them.

CROWLEY: That's a good thing. I want to play you something that Marco Rubio, often thought of as possibly on a short list for vice president, but certainly a star in the Republican Party, had to say last night in South Carolina.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The strategy that this White House and this party is employing is a destructive one that pits Americans against each other, rich versus poor, men versus women. Never have we seen such an effort to divide the American people in an effort to win an election as we have seen today.


CROWLEY: So as I said, when we get to the superlatives and never, we are really heavy into an election season -- a General Election season which seems to me to have started nasty and early.

BASH: It doesn't feel like it's May, does it, if you get the feel of things like that. I think the beginning of what he said, he might have had a point. I mean, there -- certainly there's no hiding the fact that the campaign strategy in Chicago, the Obama world, is the populist message and the war on women. The fact that it's more than ever in history, maybe that is a little -- stretching a little bit.

ZELENY: And perhaps in the history since he has been in the Senate only a couple of years.

CROWLEY: Five minutes.


CROWLEY: I want to also try to put a period on one other issue that came up last week. And that is the president's personal support for gay marriage. This is something -- we saw the NAACP, first of all, come out yesterday and say, we also support gay marriage as a civil right, which is very important to President Obama because there were those in the African-American community who were not supportive, so to have this big prestigious group come out and say we're with him is great.

And this is what Newt Gingrich had to say yesterday.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's unfortunate that he's so political, but it eliminates any attack on Romney about ever flip-flopping when you have Obama flip-flopping on something that big, and doing it after the people of North Carolina voted no. It was almost like he was insulting the people of North Carolina.


CROWLEY: So he's talking about the fact that the president came out with his personal support for gay marriage even as North Carolina was saying, no, we're against it. Net gain or net loss for President Obama or net we don't know?

ZELENY: I think we don't know yet. But there's no question that the NAACP's support for this is very important. It gives this president and vice president a lot of cover among some black leaders and pastors and things. But we still don't know how this will affect the campaign in states like Ohio, these working-class voters who may not be as far along on this issue as the national polls are.

BASH: That's true, but if you just look at the way Republican leaders reacted to his change, the president's change, the fact that they stood back and they didn't want to touch it, they don't know, they think it might be a wash, because it's a 50/50 issue.

CROWLEY: Right. And it also depends -- even if it's a 50/50 issue, it depends on who actually votes only on that.

BASH: Exactly.

CROWLEY: So you never -- that's the other unknown.

BASH: Which is not a high note (ph).


ZELENY: The election is still about the economy.

CROWLEY: Exactly, exactly. I'm sorry it's so short. Come back. Jeff Zeleny, Dana Bash, thank you guys.

ZELENY: Thanks, Candy.

BASH: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: President Obama is talking about the next phase in Afghanistan, but will the U.S. have to foot most of the bill? (COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: The NATO summit is under way in Chicago, and topping the agenda, Afghanistan. Joining me now is NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Thank you so much for being here with us. With the end in sight, we believe, for Afghanistan, one of the things that is outstanding certainly in the minds of many Americans is, will other members of NATO besides the U.S. pony up the amount of money the U.S. would like to see to help keep Afghanistan stable after combat ends?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, SECRETARY-GENERAL, NATO: Yes, indeed. I am optimistic about fund-raising for the Afghan security forces because at the end of the day, it is less expensive to finance the Afghan security forces to do the combat than to deploy our own troops.

This summit is not a (INAUDIBLE) conference. But nevertheless, a number of countries have announced substantial contributions to the Afghan security forces, so I'm optimistic.

CROWLEY: So does France share that view? Does Germany share that view? You know, we get the feeling, and they have monetary problems of their own at the moment, spending problems of their own, but is your optimistic view shared by the individual members?

RASMUSSEN: Yes, indeed. Germany, for instance, has announced a very significant contribution to financing the Afghan security forces. This is a responsibility for the whole international community, not only NATO, not only ISAF. But, of course, NATO and ISAF countries will pay their fair share of the total bill, but countries in general in the international community have a responsibility and also have an interest in ensuring that the Afghan security forces maintain a capability to take full responsibility for security in Afghanistan after 2014.

CROWLEY: Mr. Secretary General, when you were on our show last, we spoke about Libya, and you said -- you called the attacks on Libyan civilians by their government outrageous and systematic, and said it's hard to believe that they would ever stop as long as Gadhafi is in power. Why isn't that same metric applied to Syria as far as NATO's response is concerned?

RASMUSSEN: There is a clear difference between Libya and Syria. We took responsibility for the operation in Libya to protect the civilian population because we had a clear mandate from the United Nations, and we got clear support from a number of countries in the region. None of these conditions are fulfilled when it comes to Syria.

CROWLEY: And I want to read you something that was said about the future of NATO as we move beyond Afghanistan. This was written by our Elise Labott, who is the CNN foreign affairs reporter, and she wrote, "The decade-long NATO involvement in Afghanistan has produced what some have described as collective fatigue among European allies and questions about whether NATO should be involved in conflicts outside of Europe's backyard."

What is your feeling? Should NATO, when it's necessary, be involved in conflicts outside Europe?

RASMUSSEN: They certainly know fatigue. On the contrary, you have never seen so many European forces deployed overseas and out of area than today. And in today's world, all allies realize that territorial defense of our populations and our countries may very well start beyond our borders, like in Afghanistan. We are in Afghanistan to prevent the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists, who can use that safe haven as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Europe and North America. So though territorial defense remains the core task of NATO, we realized that defense of our borders may very well start far from our borders in today's world.

CROWLEY: NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, we so appreciate your time, as always. Good luck to you up there in Chicago.

RASMUSSEN: Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: It is the end of a school year, and the beginning of a general election campaign. You know what that means?


OBAMA: Hello, class of 2012.




CROWLEY: It's graduation time in an election year, and you know what that means. A campaign trail running through commencement.


OBAMA: We can assume that there were founding mothers whispering smarter things in the ears of the founding fathers.


CROWLEY: Fresh off all that campaign chatter about the importance of the female vote, President Obama went to New York this week to toast the graduating class at Barnard, an all-women school.


OBAMA: I'm not saying the only way to achieve success is by climbing to the top of the corporate ladder or running for office, although let's face it, Congress would get a lot more done if you did.


CROWLEY: He railed against a cynical, off-point media, a gridlocked Congress, and ticked off a few of his priorities. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We developed more clean energy, so we could use less foreign oil and reduce the carbon pollution that's threatening our planet.

When there are rules that stop big banks from making bad bets with other people's money.

When insurance couples aren't allowed to drop your coverage when you need it most.


CROWLEY: 48 hours earlier, Mitt Romney was busy bonding with conservative Christian voters at Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, one of the most influential evangelicals of the 20th century.


ROMNEY: Today we remember him as a courageous and big-hearted minister of the gospel, who never feared an argument and never hated an adversary.


CROWLEY: Liberty is in Lynchburg, Virginia, which is, PS, a swing state.


ROMNEY: Strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of being blessed with. Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government.


CROWLEY: So far as we can tell, Liberty is Romney's only graduation ceremony this year, but to the president go the perks and a lot of invitations. When the season is over, the Bidens and the Obamas will have collectively delivered 11 commencement addresses. Eight of them in swing states.

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 website, "Fareed Zakaria GPS" is next for our viewers here in the United States.