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Interview with David Plouffe; Interview with John Barrasso; Interview with Don Baer, Michael Gerson

Aired January 20, 2013 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Candy Crowley from the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Today, three more hours to four more years.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ask them what's more important, doing whatever it takes to get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade.


CROWLEY: Guns, taxes and immigration: the president signals a second term with more bite than bipartisanship. The tone and the task with Senior Obama adviser are David Plouffe.

The Republican take with Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, head of the GOP policy committee.

Also, spotlight on the inaugural speech with presidential wordsmiths Don Baer and Michael Gerson.

And the party lines with former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, USA Today's Susan Page and CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

I'm Candy Crowley and this is State of the Union.

Good morning. On a historic Sunday here in Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama will take the oath of office for his second term after this morning in a private ceremony at the White House. The constitution requires that he be sworn in by noon, January 20.

Vice President Joe Biden was sworn in a short time ago with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor administering the oath.

The president and vice president have just arrived at Arlington National Cemetery where they will place a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns. We are going to bring that ceremony to you live when it begins.

President Obama's public swearing-in takes place tomorrow on the west front of the U.S. Capitol. We are told that his inaugural speech he will not include any new proposals or call out, if you will, any of his political opponents. Arlington that's your, you see the president and vice president in what has become a tradition which is to go the Tomb of the Unknowns of and, of course, pay homage to those that make day like this possible.

So there you have it, what has become a traditional inaugural day activity, a salute from the commander in chief and his vice president at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Joining me now, Don Baer who is a former chief speechwriter for President Clinton. Good to see you, Don. And Michael Gerson, former head speech writer for President George W. Bush, now a columnist for the Washington Post.

Going from something that needs no words back to what is going to happen on this podium behind us tomorrow. It strikes me how beautiful the ceremony is because everything that was -- that is enshrined there as the sacrifice, is what makes today and tomorrow possible. So, it's nice sort of symmetry, I think, for presidents to do this.

But let's talk about the times right now and what this president, because every inaugural speech is particular to the times and the person, what does this president do tomorrow?

BAER: He -- this is a progress report, right? It's many things. It's a national mission statement, but it's also a progress report, right? He is midway through his presidency at this point.

You know, and every -- every new presidency is like a newborn baby, right, there's great potential. All anyone can see in it is what the opportunity is. You get to this point, it's like an adolescent, this is the teenage years. And you have already seen some of the problems. Now how do we go forward, both for this president and as the nation?

The country right now really requires it be brought together around some sense of common purpose, but it' not enough for that just to be a statement of unity. This has to be a statement of direction, of forward momentum, about where we are going to move and how he is going to move us there as president.

CROWLEY: And how do you do that Michael, if where the president wants to move the country is not necessarily conducive to the kind of unity that he needs move it, meaning that there are Republicans who think that some of the things he has been talking about recently are not thing these want to have happen?

GERSON: Well, I think you have to address the divisions of our country and then transcend them in some way by calling attention to the values that unite our country and move us forward.

You know, when I worked on our first inaugural address, I went back and read all of the previous inaugural addresses. And many of the best among them are speeches of unity. They call attention to our common values. They put this moment in the context of history. And they show some democratic grace. I think the president -- right now, we have a very small politics. That's an opportunity for a speechwriter and a president, in this case. If you give a large, generous speech, I think that you call attention to your own largeness in this political system and you can -- I think that's good thing for the president to do.

CROWLEY: Or do you, Don, at this point? This is a president pretty rough on Republicans for the last six weeks or so, in terms of some very, very sharp rhetoric. So if he goes up there and now says can't we all just bring together and the country if he does that does it then ring hollow? How do you bring truth to those words?

BAER: You know, this is a new, feisty Obama that we are seeing since the election, that's for sure. And there's a lot of question about who he will be as he moves into the second term. You know, there's a lot of talk now about Lincoln's second inaugural, which I think by all standards is the gold standard and the greatest of the second inaugural addresses that we know.

CROWLEY: Because?

BAER: Well, I think because it came at probably the pivotal moment of maximum peril for the nation. And it was a real statement about how we could be larger as a democracy and re-embrace those who had been against the country and come back together.

But I have been looking at Franklin Roosevelt's second inaugural, 1937, which is interesting, because it was a very can candid, honest progress report about what had not yet been accomplished coming out of the Great Depression but it also was a statement of how we had to come together, use self government as the most noble expression of democracy and move ourselves forward in very precise terms, if you go back and look that the speech.

So there is very real room for President Obama now to say to the country, these are the things that will are left undone that we, together, must find a way to do

CROWLEY: Michael, as a speechwriter first, who would you look at to kind of -- who's analogous at this point for President Obama and his speechwriters to look back? And just tell us, first you and then Don, how do you write that sentence that gets engraved, you know, on some granite somewhere 50 years from now?

GERSON: Well, this is the most formal of all the speeches the president gives. You are trying for high rhetoric in a speech like this. And they don't all succeed. There have been 16 second inaugurals, not too many of them are memorable, except the most memorable in American history.

BAER: And the ones that Michael and I worked on.

CROWLEY: Yes, of course.

BAER: But I do think that you can't really write for granite, you try to come up with really memorable lines. But you also try to put it in a broader context. Where is this moment in the context of -- the broad context of American history and the great purposes of American history? And I think the president does need to address, in a forthright manner, the profound polarization in our society, a polarization that makes common purposes difficult, a polarization between congress and the president that produces gridlock and polarization of opportunity in our country, where there's stalled mobility at the bottom of our country, durable problems about the opportunity of the nation, the promise of the nation, those would be very rich themes for a president to address.

You don't have to do it in a Pollyannish way, you can do it in a very forthright way and make, you know, historically memorable points about those issues.

CROWLEY: And just quickly how, at the end of it, will the two of you judge how good or how eh a speech it was?

BAER: I will be looking first for the length. We always tend to writ second inaugurals way too long. I think shorter is better here. And honestly, I will be looking to see whether he is able to call for common purpose but to do it in a way that isn't too blousy and out there and timeless but is, in fact, timely, speaks to this moment and speaks to the people today in this country and also the leaders here in Washington who have to move us forward.

CROWLEY: Last word, Michael?

GERSON: I will just say that if he seeks to use the speech for leverage, political leverage, it will be small. If he writes a large, generous speech, he will actually gain leverage in the system, because he will put the system itself on a different plane than himself and the presidency.

CROWLEY: So he can set the tone and kind of grease the skids for all these ambitious things he will outline in the State of the Union?

GERSON: America is bigger than these small fights we have been having.

BAER: That would be the right thing.

CROWLEY: Michael Gerson, Dan Baer. We have like unanimity here of what we think he ought to...

GERSON: We can agree what can possibly go right?

CROWLEY: That's right, exactly. Thank you both so much for your time.

When we returning the second term and what it bodes for the White House. We are our interview with senior White House adviser David Plouffe.


CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley on the National Mall in Washington. Joining me, senior White House adviser David Plouffe.

David, thanks for being here on this special morning.

PLOUFFE: Thanks for having me, Candy.

CROWLEY: So tomorrow's speech, tonally explain it to me in a word or two.

PLOUFFE: Well, I think it's going to be a hopeful speech. I will let the president speak for himself, obviously. But what he is going to do is I think remind the country that our founding principles and values still can guide us in a changing -- a modern world.

He is going to talk about the fact that our political system doesn't require us to resolve all of our disputes or settle all of our differences, but it doesn't (ph) compel (ph) us to act where there should and is common ground. He is going to make that point very clearly.


CROWLEY: ... some unity.

PLOUFFE: Sure. But he is also -- and I think these speeches need to be viewed as a package. We have a State of the Union just in three weeks. So in the inaugural address he is really going to lay out his vision for his second term and where he thinks the country needs to go in the years ahead, the values undergirding that, and then obviously a detailed agenda and blueprint in the State of the Union. So we view these speeches as a package.

CROWLEY: Let me talk to you about the president's tone between the election and now in light of the fact that he does want to talk about things we can do on common ground. And these are just a couple of the things that he said at a White House news conference recently. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Republicans in Congress have two choices here, they can act responsibly and pay America's bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.


CROWLEY: So there was that. There was his reference to, well, listen, you need call people on Capitol Hill, because if they are against my gun legislation, they care more about the NRA than little first graders.

These -- you know, you talk to Republicans and even some Democrats are sort of push-away things, and there is a lot of talk about the president is now decided bipartisanship is not possible and he is going to come out, sort of that stronger, look, here is what I want, and push it through.

PLOUFFE: Well, first of all, we think bipartisan is eminently possible. In fact, at the end of the year...

CROWLEY: But is it if you suggest that your opponents don't care about first graders being killed?

PLOUFFE: Our point was we are trying to enlist the American people in these debates. The only way change is going to really happen and we make progress is the American people. It's one of the lessons of the first term. They need to be involved at center of this and pushing here.

Support for, you know, clip legislation, universal background checks, balanced deficit reduction, huge majorities, even in the Republican Party. So the point is, the barrier to progress here in many respects, whether it is deficits, measures to help economy, immigration, gun safety legislation, there's huge support amongst all independents, Democrats and Republicans, throughout the country.

The barrier is there are factions here in Congress, Republicans in Congress, who are out of the mainstream. And so we need to bring the American people into these debates.

CROWLEY: Do you need to bring the American people into these debates by suggesting evil motivation by your opponents? I think that's what -- you know, it's hard to see a president calling for unity when he is suggesting that people who disagree with him don't disagree with him on policy but disagree with him because they care more about the NRA or they don't care, in the case of the debt ceiling, whether the country falls into recession again. Is that the way to go about this?

PLOUFFE: Well, on the debt ceiling, it is the truth. Think about this, Candy. For the first time in our country's history...

CROWLEY: Just reminding people that the president himself, when he was in the Senate, voted against the debt ceiling, so these people that he is suggesting want the country to go into default are doing the same thing he did when he was a senator, I know he has changed his mind.

PLOUFFE: Well, he -- no, absolutely not. He did vote against. He has spoken to that. Said, you know, that was a political vote, and he has learned from that. But at the time, Congress wasn't threatening to say, we are not going to pay our bills unless we get what we want, deeper cuts in Medicare than are required, or we're going to tank the economy.

I mean, this is not -- this false equivalence needs to stop. The barrier to progress here is not the president. We need more Republicans in Congress to think like Republicans in the country who are seeking compromise, seeking balance, because we are poised here to really grow.

If Washington can do its part and not get in the way, our economies continue to grow, we can make big progress.

CROWLEY: So is this a president that we are going to see, hey, he is reaching out more than he did in the first term or is this a president who largely has said, no, I need a larger army, I need to use my campaign machinery and rally the people who voted for me behind causes? Which president are we going to see?

PLOUFFE: It's not an either/or. I mean, well, obviously, we are going to seek common ground with Republicans in Congress...

CROWLEY: Where is that?

PLOUFFE: ... whenever we can. We think it is going to be around balanced deficit reduction, measures to grow the economy and help the middle class.

CROWLEY: Gun control?

PLOUFFE: We think on immigration -- gun safety, sure. I think there are 60 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House, if votes will come up, for some of these gun safety measures, like clips, like universal background checks, absolutely.

There is a consensus in America on this and I think we can get there here on Capitol Hill.

CROWLEY: Let me -- as you know, there are a lot of Democrats out there voicing -- looking at this package the president wants on gun control measures. Let me just read you one of them.

This is Mark Begich, who I know you know, a Democrat from Alaska: "I think they have got a long haul here," he's talking about you all. "To be frank, I feel like it is going to be hard for any of these pieces of legislation to pass at this point."

So it's not just Republicans we are talking about, it's Democrats as well, a lot of them up for re-election. You know this very well, how tough it is in some of these states, swing states, or Western state, interior Western states, where it's very difficult, it's a difficult call.

Is the president on the phone with them saying, here's why you've got to come with me?

PLOUFFE: Well, we are going to make our case. We are going to make our case directly to lawmakers. We are going to make our case, the vice president, the president, other members of the cabinet, to the public. Because I think in almost every state in the country, right, this is a tough issue, for some Democrats, some Republicans.

Like a lot of issues we are dealing with, immigration, how we reduce our deficit, strong feelings. But we do think, as you look at the public on some of these measures, I think Newtown has changed the debate. Sadly, it took a tragedy like that.

But you're seeing a lot of people, by the way, Democrats and Republicans think differently about this issue, post that tragedy. And so I think it's going to take a lot of work, it's not going to be easy.

But we think we can get to a point where we get -- as we said, I think there are 60 votes in the Senate, 218 votes in the House, if the process can just play itself out and we can really get votes on some of these things we think. But it's going to be hard work.

CROWLEY: What's, as far as you're concerned, the window in a second term for a president to get something done? We generally hear 14, 16 months and then he's kind of in lame duck status.

PLOUFFE: I don't believe that. I mean, let's just look where we are right now. We're not like casting about the -- you know, roaming the halls of the White House looking for things to do in a second term.

CROWLEY: No, but...

PLOUFFE: We have...

CROWLEY: ... you have got your peak of your power in the second power.

PLOUFFE: Well, right, but, you know, whether it is immigration, deficit reduction, measures to help the economy, energy, gun control and safety, immigration, these are all stacked up right now.

So this is going to take us, you know, well through the year. So no, we look at this as the challenges and opportunities are enormous. The economy is still too weak, we have got a lot to do. It's not like Washington is just going to shut down.

So we look to have a very...


CROWLEY: Surely not the first 16 months.


CROWLEY: But you can see that there will be a point at which people begin to look at...

PLOUFFE: Well...

CROWLEY: ... 2016 and where do you think that is.

PLOUFFE: We are getting way ahead of ourselves, but I don't think in the spring of 2013...

CROWLEY: Well, it's a big agenda.

PLOUFFE: ... you know, people are going to be sitting around saying, well, we are not going to do anything until 2017. That is just not the way things work today. CROWLEY: Finally, just for this year, do you see immigration reform passing and being signed this year? Do you see some form of gun control passing and being signed this year?

PLOUFFE: Well, there is no reason that immigration, first, shouldn't pass. I think there is a huge consensus, business community, Republicans around the country, the faith community.

PLOUFFE: So, obviously, the legislative process has to work its way through.

But, you know, this is the moment. The stars seemed to be aligned to finally get comprehensive immigration reform. So we would expect that.

I think on gun safety, we have a very good opportunity. You know, with avenue gee very good opportunity. You know, we took some executive actions, obviously, but there's a lot that congress needs to do here. And so again as you mentioned, it is going to be a hard battle, but we are confident. And that's one reason we want to stay in communication with the American people, because I think they are going to demand action here.

CROWLEY: Where to next?

PLOUFFE: For me?


PLOUFFE: Well, I'm going just going to enjoy this week. This is a special moment for all of us who started this when no one gave us a chance. It looked -- even we thought we had very little chance to win. Six years ago today, we were just starting our primary campaign. And so this is a remarkable journey and we are all going to just treasure this week.

CROWLEY: Hope so. Enjoy tomorrow, David Plouffe, senior White House adviser. Thanks.

PLOUFFE: Thanks.

CROWLEY: Next up, we are going to talk to Senator John Barrasso about where he sees areas of compromise.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: We're looking at a live picture of the White House. Actually, the president and first family are not there right now. We are told they are at the Metropolitan AME Church in D.C., paying tribute in a special service to Martin Luther King Jr. As we know, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday tomorrow. It coincides with the public inaugural festivities. Today here in Washington, we are having the official inaugural activities, and that is the swearing-in of both the vice president, which has already happened and the president, which will happen in the 11 am hour.

I am joined now by Republican Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming. He is the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee and as they might stay in Wyoming, this is not your first rodeo this inaugural?

BARRASSO: No, Candy, this is actually the ninth time I'm seeing a different president come into office. My dad took me to John Kennedy's inauguration when I was 8. We come every time, Republican and Democrat, because of this great country. My dad, as a guy, had to quit school in the ninth grade, fought in the battle of the Bulge. And spent his life pushing wheel barrels of heavy wet cement. So we've gone from pushing cement to now in one generation pushing legislation. But we always want any president to succeed, to do well, that means America does well and Americans do well.

CROWLEY: You know, it's interesting that you mention that because there was a poll recently that CNN took and the question was do you hope that President Obama's policies will fail? Republicans, 52 percent said yes. Independents, 28 percent said yes. Democrats 4 percent.

So 52 percent of Republicans in this poll said they hope President Obama's policies will fail.

BARRASSO: Well, there is a difference between policies and the person. The president, to me, has -- really has a big problem with spending. He is addicted to spending. And those are policies that will hurt our country long term. We need to focus on getting people back to work, focus on jobs, the economy, the debt and the spending. That's what will improve the quality of life for American families and for hard-working taxpayers. People feel they want to get value for their tax dollars and they are not getting it now, Candy.

CROWLEY: It might be a distinction without much difference, though, if you have people saying I want him to fail. And you are saying, well, it is policies, we I don't like his policies. And if they go in place certainly you don't want those poll cities to fail.

BARRASSO: This is a time of divided government. We have re- elected majority leadership in the House and we have a re-elected president but it's time to divide a government you can actually do big things for the country.

CROWLEY: So, what big things? What big thing is going to get done?

BARRASSO: Specifically, have to deal with the debt, we're at $16 trillion. You want to continue with the social safety net: the good, the bad and the ugly parts of that, you have to have a vibrant economy. You have to have growth of the economy. But I need to see policies that will actually do that. We don't see them now. CROWLEY: I spoke with David Plouffe in the segment before this. And he said that he is confident that there are enough votes in the House. And there are there requisite 60 votes in the Senate to pass universal background checks for gun owners and limiting the clips, those high- capacity magazine clips that I can fire of so many rounds to 10 and under. Do you think that's so? Do you think congress would pass a ban on those clips with ten or over and a universal background check is that going to happen? BARRASSO: No, I don't think it will. And Candy, that gets beside the major issues this face American families which are jobs and the economy...

CROWLEY: But don't you think American families looking at...

BARRASSO: ...and the debt and spending, that's where people are focused, that's the big anxiety of this country.

CROWLEY: Sure, I agree with you, but as you know, you deal with a lot of things up there and at the White House, people and their families deal with a lot of things, and one of the things out there are is gun control of some sort, something that addresses Newtown, whether it's gun control or better access to mental health. And so you know the president is going to push that.

BARRASSO: As doctor, as a doctor I can tell you the president's essentially ignored the major issues of mental health and violence in society in the media and video games and he has focused so much on what may be happening at gun shows or on gun shelves at gun stores that I think that he is failing to try to really find a solution to the problem of the tragedy of Newtown.

No one wants that to happen, but the legislation that he is promoting, David Plouffe, may have said they have 60 votes, I would really welcome the opportunity to have a fair and open debate on that on the floor of the United States Senate, but I don't think Senator Harry Reid even brings it to the senate floor because he has six Democrats up for election in two years in states were the president received fewer than 42 percent of the votes. And he doesn't want his Democrats to have to choose between their own constituents and the president's positions.

CROWLEY: What about immigration? Seems too me that that is something in the interest of the Republican Party that you all would like to see get passed, some kind of immigration reform. Will that happen this year?

BARRASSO: You know, I mean, I'm child of immigrants. That is the history of this country. Immigration is good and important for our country. Legal immigration needs to really be modernized. Marco Rubio is working on that. We need to find ways. You know, we are educating so many people and then telling them to leave the country who are from other countries. You know, go back, we don't want you here. We have issues of labor that we need additional labor. We need to deal with immigration. And I think we will, Candy.

CROWLEY: And, quickly, you're on the committee that will listen to testimony from Secretary of State Clinton this week on Benghazi and what she knew about it. What else -- we know that there was a breakdown somehow in getting appropriate security to Benghazi. What else do you need to know?

BARRASSO: Well, the president promised right when this happened that people would be brought to justice. Where is the justice?

CROWLEY: Well, they did fire -- there were people punished in -- at the State Department, I mean, what else do you want?

BARRASSO: Well, I mean, I have seen the videos and the surveillance cameras and the things from the drones. There were people, terrorists who came into essentially U.S. territory, our embassy, our consulate, and murdered Americans. And that's who the president said was going to be brought to justice.

So far, as of today, there are no suspects being questioned, nothing is done and it's four months later.

CROWLEY: But is that a secretary of state thing?

BARRASSO: Well, let's ask her that. I want to know what lessons have been learned so that the new secretary of state will not put people in that position again. And I want to know what she was doing. Did she give any orders during this whole process? Take a look at it from before, during, and after the attacks.

CROWLEY: OK. And finally, what do you make of the tone of the president since the election when it comes to issues like the debt ceiling? He has said that Republicans were more interested flood throwing the country back into recession. Talking about gun control, saying, you know, ask -- you should call your congressman and ask why they are against us, is it because of the NRA, and they care more about them than they do about first graders.

What do you make of the tone of the president at this point?

BARRASSO: The president, Candy, seems so fixated. The president seems so fixated on demonizing Republicans that he is blinded to the opportunities as well as the obligations that he has to deal with the big problems of this country on debt and on the entitlements.

CROWLEY: And you have those same opportunities on the Republican side as well, correct? BARRASSO: I continue to want to work together. The president, if he hits the reset button, like did he with Russia, it's time to hit the reset button with Republicans and really look for solutions to the major problems. And divided government is the perfect time do it, Candy.

CROWLEY: Senator John Barrasso, thanks for joining us this morning.

BARRASSO: Thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: Coming up, the next four years with former Senator Russ Feingold, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, USA Today's Susan Page, and CNN's Ron Brownstein.


CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama's second term begins in a little more than two hours from right now, when he will be taking the oath of office in a private ceremony at the White House. Joining me here to talk about that second term: former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, USA Today's Susan Page; our own CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein.

Thank you all for being here. Let me talk first about just the general tone in Washington now, because we have had a pretty rough six weeks, both on the Democratic side, the president's side, and the House side. And from what we hear, he is going to be up there talking about unity tomorrow. What will it be the day after?

RUSS FEINGOLD (D), FORMER WISCONSIN SENATOR: Well, I think things are moderating. I think the president's tone will be terrific. People know he won the election on a decisive basis. And I think people on the Republican side are seeing that being confrontational and obstructionist is not going to work for them either.

So I am little more optimistic than maybe you are about that.

CROWLEY: But you think Republicans...

FEINGOLD: Well, both sides. Both sides. I do say that.

CROWLEY: Because the president has been pretty tough, Mr. Speaker.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, the president has been -- but I think that there is a desire that extends beyond that. I did a show with Tavis Smiley and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, who is the new head of the Congressional Black Caucus, was on the panel, talking about poverty.

And we worked out an agreement that she is going to go to her Congressional Black Caucus and ask those 42 members to go to 42 Republican districts for three days and I'm going to ask Republicans to then go -- to match up and go to the 42 districts. So you actually would have a genuine dialogue for six days in which members from both sides are sharing ideas.

I think you need that kind of fundamental structural innovation in order to break out of the current bitterness and to get to a better -- but I think people want to do that. I think they're sick of the constant fighting and obstruction.

CROWLEY: I think you certainly know that from the American public, and it's that whole thing, you can't meet in the middle if you don't know where the other person is coming from.

GINGRICH: That's right.

CROWLEY: And so, Ron, when you look ahead, I talked to David Plouffe earlier, he said, look, I think we're going to get -- I think we've got 60 votes in the U.S. Senate for, you know, bringing down the capacity of those magazine, I think we've got 60 votes for universal background checks.

But it doesn't sound like that, even when you talk to some Democrats.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, the positive example of a second term is something both Speaker Gingrich and Senator Feingold lived through. It was 1997 where the country returned divided government, a Democratic president with a Republican Congress. And they were able to come together on a big agreement on the budget in 1997.

I mean, they kind of looked at each and say, what are we going to do? We're going to wait four years, try to wait each other out? There is no alternative but working together. And I think if you -- you know, that is the positive kind of precedent that you could point to.

On a lot of these issues, it's going to be hard. I mean, gun control is obviously an issue that historically has divided both parties. And traditionally red state Democrats have voted against it. In the past, in 1994, they were able to pass it because they could compel blue state Republicans to fill in those votes.

Immigration, I think the prospects are better. I think there is going to be an issue where there are going to be a large number of Republicans, especially in the Senate, who see an incentive in getting something done. And the question will be can John Boehner bring up yet another bill in the House that a majority of House Republicans are likely to oppose. And (INAUDIBLE) the speaker's (INAUDIBLE) how many times you can do that and remain speaker?

CROWLEY: Let me get Susan in and then I'll have you answer that question.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: You know, I hope the senator and speaker are right that this is the time we should be optimistic. I have a hard time seeing it. Contrast this tone with what we saw four years ago when Barack Obama was inaugurated in the first time -- the first time, and there was a great swelling, I think, of hope that he would be able to break the partisan gridlock, that there would a new kind of politics.

We haven't seen that. In fact, we see President Obama moving toward a more traditional kind of politics, which is much more confrontational on issues including the debt ceiling, including gun control.

I think immigration is an issue on which there may well be a political consensus. But I think it's hard to see the two sides coming together in a significantly new, bipartisan way on most of these other issues.

CROWLEY: On some of the -- you know, on the debt, on gun -- immigration is in the interest of the Republican Party to get off the table.

FEINGOLD: Before this candidate -- the last candidate for president, the last two candidates for president on the Republican side, George Bush and John McCain were for comprehensive immigration reform. There's enormous support among Republicans in my state for immigration reform and it's just something that's essential to the economy as well as so important to so many other people in our country.

So I am really actually more optimistic about that than just about anything

CROWLEY: You guys are a happy pair today.

GINGRICH: Well, no, look, I think that Susan made a key point. But remember this is not just the president and vice president, and the congress as though it is all binary. There are 537 elected officials in this city. They can do lots of different things to create different environments.

When Calista and I left the inaugural in 2009, the president had given three great speeches, one here just before the election in Northern Virginia, one at Grant Park and then the inaugural address. I said, you know, if he governs like those three speeches, he will be Eisenhower. And he will split the Republican Party.

Three or four weeks later, he sits down with Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, they passed $780 billion in stimulus with no one having read the bill. And the Republicans go got it. I mean, the speeches were irrelevant.

The president tomorrow is going to sound right, okay? If he follows through on tomorrow's speech, he has a chance to be Eisenhower. I don't think he will. I think he wants to be Roosevelt in his second term. But that's neither here nor there.

If congressional Republicans can reach out on issues -- take the case of gun control, I think the House judiciary committee ought to hold hearings in Chicago. This is the president's hometown. The mayor is the president's former chief of staff. They have very strict gun control. And they are the murder capital of the United States, they had 516 dead last year.

Now I think having a hearing on what happened before we rush into the next, you know, panacea, would be a very useful exercise on a non- partisan basis.

BROWNSTEIN: This idea and the other idea the speaker talked about about members of the black caucus going into kind of Republican districts is kind of fascinating, because part of the problem we have is that our disagreements have been sorted out into the two parties almost precisely. I mean, they are really representing very different Americas at this point. 80 percent of the House Republicans are in districts that are more white than the national average in their population, two-thirds of Democrats are in districts that are more non-white than the national average.

I mean, the republican coalition in this last election, 90 percent of Mitt Romney's votes came from whites in a country that's now almost 40 percent non-white. And, you know, you kind of look up and down at these issues and they are representing very different coalitions that don't feel a great affinity for one another or -- and so it requires a kind of leadership in some ways for the leaders to lead their voters, I think, toward accepting the reality that we are a closely divided country and none of us are going to go away. Either we are going to stalemate, or we're going to find ways to bridge our differences.

CROWLEY: Let me ask all of you to stand by. We are going to take a quick break. When we come back, I'm going to talk a little bit about foreign policy and maybe just a tiny bit about 2016.


CROWLEY: We are back with former Senator Russ Feingold, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and the stellar Susan Page and Ron Brownstein. Thank you all for being here.

I want to play you -- this is a couple of bits of the president talking about al Qaeda and terrorism.


OBAMA: al Qaeda is on the path to defeat.

War in Afghanistan is winding down. al Qaeda has been decimated.

al Qaeda's on the run and bin Laden is dead.


CROWLEY: So my question out of this is Algeria. Northern Africa has now, for a long time, we heard about Yemen and Somalia, places like that, but now we're hearing about Algeria, Mali. What -- it seems like it has become or been allowed to become a very dangerous place. FEINGOLD: This is something I worked on in the senate, on the Africa subcommittee and been working on for the last couple of years. North Africa is a very dangerous place in the terms of the growth of al Qaeda. The guy that masterminded this thing, Mokhtar Belmokhtar is operating out of Mali, but he's an Algerian. And he was one of the people -- one of the people that went with bin Laden in Afghanistan back in the early 90s 3,000 Algerians who came back to Algeria, created a group that is metastasized into basically al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. And they are coordinating with groups in Mali. I believe they are coordinating with groups in Nigerian Boko Haram, with al Shabaab in Somalia, with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and these are all -- if we think this is an isolated incident, if we say, well, the hostage thing is over and we can move on now, we are making a terrible mistake. We have to have a national conversation about the nature of this threat and the fact that they are coordinating and that this thing is not done.

CROWLEY: So, al Qaeda is not on the path to defeat. al Qaeda has not been decimated. al Qaeda is like whack-a-mole? We may have chased them out of Afghanistan?

FEINGOLD: Al Qaeda is definitely has been hurt in other places, but is definitely on the rise in North Africa. And we are not used to dealing with that part of the world, but we have to get used to it. We have to learn about it and have a serious, sustained attention.

They have sustained attention. We don't have it on this subject. And we need to

CROWLEY: Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Yeah, I don't think it's like whack-a-mole, I think it is like a virus. And I think we haven't had any honest epidemiology. Last night at a movie called "America at Risk" where we went through case by case by case the refusal to take seriously how -- this is bipartisan, by the way, the first briefing I got on this was in December of 2001 at the CIA. And they said, look, we are trying to hunt down 5,000 people in al Qaeda. There is a potential pool of 65 to 100 million recruits. And what we're doing is setting up a narrowly focused Iraq, Afghanistan worldview when they're spreading across the whole planet from the Philippines to frankly the United States.

And I think we greatly underestimate how many places you're going to have trouble in the next decades.

PAGE: But you know, we know something about the response that the administration is going to have. It's going to be different from the one we had the first time around. After 9/11, it's not -- we're not going to be invading Iraq and Afghanistan with U.S. troops, we're going to have a very different approach.

PAGE: We know that because that's President Obama's preference and that's the preference of the people he has put now at -- named as secretary of state and secretary of defense.

It's a different U.S. response. It's going to be much more limited, more strategic, more dependent on drones.

FEINGOLD: And, frankly, a superior approach because what happened to the Bush administration is he decided to invade Iraq, a country that wasn't even on the list of al Qaeda, completely distracted us from this growth that the speaker talked about.

This has been going on all over the world, but somehow we focus on a country-by-country basis. President Obama, I think, gets it on this. And he is appointing people who understand the delicate nature of trying to look at the inner connections and I'm very pleased about that.

CROWLEY: And, well, I agree with Susan about what the U.S. would not and would do in Mali and Algeria and all of that. Can it -- can be distracting to a domestic agenda if things start to blow up overseas.

BROWNSTEIN: Sure. And that's one of the challenges you face in a second term. I mean, the longer you hang around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, you know, the odds start rising against you that bad things are going to happen in the world that you're going to have to deal with, whether it's something like this or Iran. I would also say the issue in Africa is going to be more acute going forward because Africa kind of looms as part of this changing energy equation. Much more energy opportunity.

There will be more kind of Western investment potentially developing the energy resources that would create more vulnerability to these kind of things. So it is clearly going to be on the agenda.

And, you're right, I mean, you know, as you -- the term -- as the term extends for a president, the chance for things to go wrong in the world rises for them, too.

FEINGOLD: Well, and part of the problem is, we think of it, things will go wrong, we can't just can't focus on domestic issues. We can't be taken by surprise like we were on 9/11. That was the problem. We were having things like impeachment trials and so on instead of realizing that bin Laden was active. We need to be as focused on foreign issues as domestic issues. I know that...

CROWLEY: Are we?

FEINGOLD: No, I don't think we are.

GINGRICH: No, we're not. And this is a bipartisan problem because nobody wants to think deeply enough about what's going on. We talk about the Iranian potential nuclear weapon. Pakistan is probably building more nuclear weapons than any other country in the world right now. Pakistan is a very fragile system which could disintegrate at any time. We're not prepared for that.

The whole challenge of the Persian Gulf, we're not prepared for that. The level of violence in Syria. I think it's accurate to say that by appointing the secretary of state and the secretary of defense that he has, John Kerry and Hagel, they're communicating accurately a minimalist approach to the world. And that's a -- you can make a case for that.

But neither, neither of them nor the president have a positive vision of how you're going to deal with a worldwide virus that is increasingly destabilizing the planet. And that's what's happening from Pakistan through North Africa to Syria and I think potentially in Europe and the United States.

CROWLEY: I have less than a minute here, so I need one-word answers from you. Joe Biden made a bit of a slip up, we think, yesterday talking about how happy he was to be president of the United States. 2016, is there any doubt in your mind that Joe Biden is there?

PAGE: Joe Biden would be happy to be president of the United States and he is -- I think he is planning to run, if possible.

CROWLEY: Quickly.

BROWNSTEIN: I think he wants to, but I'm not sure that he will.

GINGRICH: Why not?

FEINGOLD: The American people deserve a break from presidential campaigns.


CROWLEY: Oh, there's one in every crowd. Ron Brownstein, Susan Page, Newt Gingrich, Russ Feingold, thank you all so much this morning.

GINGRICH: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Next up, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Lincoln, Atchison, one of these names is not like the others. We'll have the story of a man some say was president for one day. We're counting down to the Second Inauguration of President Barack Obama.


CROWLEY: Today is the seventh time in U.S. history that Inauguration Day falls on a Sunday. Each time the president to be has opted for a private Sunday ceremony, sometimes followed by a Monday repeat for the public.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Exception, the newly elected Zachary Taylor, who, for religious reasons would not be sworn in on Sunday. It left a hole in history. Twenty-four hours without a U.S. president. But don't go telling that to the director of the Atchison County Historic Society in Kansas. He says on that Sunday in 1849, when President-elect Taylor would not take the oath of office as the 12th president, James Polk, the 11th, was no longer president, and his vice president, George Dallas, was also gone, that left the country in the hands of the third in the line of succession, the senior member of the Senate.

CHRIS TAYLOR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ATCHISON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY: Well, David Rice Atchison, of course, was the real 12th president of the United States.

CROWLEY: Chris Taylor is in charge of what he calls the world's smallest presidential library, a tribute to the 24 hours the late senator from Missouri spent as President David Rice Atchison. It's a nanosecond in history, also etched into Atchison's gravestone. A great little asterisk, except almost universally historians say Atchison was never president.

DON RITCHIE, U.S. SENATE HISTORIAN: It is a conceit, actually. Atchison used to joke about it. Atchison's term had come to a conclusion as well. And so he wasn't sworn in until the Congress met on Monday. So, he didn't take his oath of office either as a senator or as president. In case of emergency they would have turned to the incoming president, Zachary Taylor.

CROWLEY: Without Twitter, Facebook, or CNN, news of emergencies traveled a lot slower in 1849, so there was no reason to explore the power vacuum at the time. In fact, Atchison slept most of the day, tuckered out by a lot of last-minute business in the Senate. Some things never change. Still, some of Atchison's friends reportedly could not resist.

RITCHIE: Apparently, that night some of his colleagues in the Senate woke him up in the middle of the night to ask him to appoint them his secretary of state and other members of the cabinet.

CROWLEY: All in good fun, it seems, but out in Kansas they have got their story and they're sticking to it. And even if you're not a believer in the legend of the 24-hour presidential term of David Rice Atchison, today, of all days, you should at least think of his legacy.


CROWLEY: And apparently, the story of David Rice Atchison is history that will never repeat itself.

Thank you so much for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in on the National Mall in Washington. Head to for analysis and extras. And if you missed any part of today's show, find us on iTunes. Just search "State of the Union."