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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Rand Paul; Interview with Angus King; Interview with Robert Gates

Aired February 10, 2013 - 09:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Politics, policy, and theater. It's State of the Union season in Washington.

Today, President Obama readies his State of the Union message, a chance to lay out details of an aggressive second-term agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And our economy grows when everybody is getting a fair shot and everybody getting a fair shake and everybody playing by the same rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: A prequel with Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who will deliver the Tea Party response to the president.

Then an independent voice in a partisan senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The Fifth Amendment is pretty clear: no deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process of law, and we're depriving American citizens of their life when we target them with drone attacks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Our exclusive with Senator Angus King of Maine and former Bush and Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates with the case for drones and the future of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, FRM. DEFENSE SECRETARY: I strongly believe 3,000 is too little and 30,000 is too many.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Then our political panel on the State of the Union watching and the new chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee.

Plus, the high price of a penny. I'm Candy Crowley and this is State of the Union.

Joining mow now from his home state of Kentucky, Republican Senator Rand Paul. Senator Paul, thanks for joining us morning. You are going to deliver the Tea Party response to the president's State of the Union. Why is that needed? You have got an R behind your name and so does Marco Rubio, who is going to deliver the Republican response.

PAUL: I think it just shows that there is a movement in the Republican Party, that has been very vocal, I think particularly in the 2010 election, there was a big movement that helped us win elections. There's a lot of energy that still comes from the Tea Party, and while they consider themselves mostly to be Republican, they occasionally will chastise even the Republican establishment. So they want an independent voice.

CROWLEY: Well, is that what you intend to do, to chastise the Republican establishment?

PAUL: No, but I think really there are some things that I will emphasize maybe Marco doesn't.

CROWLEY: Like what?

PAUL: Doesn't mean that we necessarily disagree.

I don't know. I haven't heard his speech yet. But I would say that there are things that I will talk about -- you know, the president likes to talk about a balanced approach for things. We'll talk, for example, about a balanced budget and how that would be good for the economy. The president likes to say everybody needs to pay their fair share, which means he wants to raise taxes. I'll talk about the Republican message which is we believe you stimulate the economy by reducing taxes, not revenue neutral, I mean really reducing taxes, cutting corporate tax in half, cutting the personal income tax, and the fact that you actually sometimes bring in more revenue when you cut tax rates.

CROWLEY: Well, as you know, you are joined by fellow Republicans, some of whom are not particularly associated with the Tea Party in your quest for what they call real cuts and not just cuts in the growth. I want to get back to Senator Rubio, again because you're both delivering these responses to the president. He was on the cover of Time magazine as the new face of the Republican Party. He has Tea Party support.

I wonder when you look at that and you look at the Republican Party, do you and he represent different parts of the Republican Party? Are you therefore rivals? Who is the face of the Republican Party right now?

PAUL: I don't think anybody gets to choose who is the face is or say you or someone else is the face. I think we do the best to promote what we believe in. One of the things I have talked a lot about that there haven't been many other Republicans talking about is that we shouldn't send foreign aid or money to people who are burning our flag and chanting death to America. So I think I do represent a wing of the Republican Party who doesn't want to send good money after bad to Egypt, or to several of these countries. I would put strings on the money that goes to Pakistan. I would say to Pakistan, you don't get more money until you release the doctor who helped us get bin Laden.

So there are things that distinguish a lot of different Republicans. It doesn't make them bad, or me right or them wrong, what it means is that there is a Tea Party wing that is interested in not sending money to people who are not acting like our allies. CROWLEY: Does it also give aid and comfort to Democrats who see what is clearly a split in the Republican Party, so much so that it requires two responses to the State of the Union?

PAUL: You know, I think to me I see it as an extra response, I don't see it necessarily divisive. You know I won't say anything on there that necessarily is like Marco Rubio is wrong. You know, I don't always agree, but the thing is this isn't about he and I, this is about the Tea Party, which is a grassroots movement, a real movement with millions of Americans who are still concerned about some of the deal making that goes on in Washington, they're still concerned about the fact that we are borrowing $50,000 a second.

None of the things I ran on as part of the Tea Party have been fixed. We're still going down a hole as far as the debt crisis looming. And so we really have to still talk about spending and we want to make sure there is still a voice for that.

CROWLEY: One of the things that is always sort of looked for in the State of the Union Address is the fill in the blank question, the State of the Union is -- what? What will you say the state of the union is?

PAUL: Well, I think it's still robust in the sense we still have greatness as a country. But there's a lot of things that beleaguer us, and I think the debt is the number one. I think the debt is costing us a million jobs a year. The economy slowed in the last quarter. I really that think we have to do something about how enormous government is. And the way Tea Party folks see this, is we see it like our family budget. I have to balance my budget at home, why shouldn't government?

We don't understand these other explanations. We don't understand all these people --the president is now caterwauling about the sequester, so are many Republicans. Tea Party people are saying the sequester is a pittance, it's just a very much even the beginning. $1 trillion and we're increase spending $9 trillion. So really even with the sequester, spending goes up $7 trillion or $8 trillion over the next 10 years. We're not getting close to scratching the surface of the problem.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about some Kentucky politics. You have said I believe that will support Senator Mitch McConnell who is up for re-election in 2014. Do you believe he will face a Tea Party challenge?

PAUL: I think it's unlikely. I haven't heard any Republican challenger come forward. I don't know, but I haven't heard of any challenger coming forward.

CROWLEY: And I want to play for awe an ad that American Crossroads, this the Karl Rove group, a Republican group, released February 6th. And it's about Ashley Judd, the actress and the activist, she was quite active in the president's campaign. And she has been mentioned frequently as perhaps a Democratic challenger to Mitch McConnell. Here is part of the ad. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Ashley Judd, an Obama following radical Hollywood liberal who is right at home here in Tennessee, I mean Kentucky.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: When you see an ad this far out from a Republican group, it says to me that maybe Senator McConnell, who is a Republican leader in the Senate, is in a little trouble. Is he at this point looking weak?

PAUL: You know, when I heard Ashley Judd might run for office, I thought maybe it was parliament, since she lives in Scotland half of the year. But no I think really that part of politics is making sure people know who you are running against. Ashley Judd is a famous actress, she's an attractive woman, and presents herself well and from what I understand is articulate. But the thing is, she doesn't really represent Kentucky. I mean, she was a representative for Tennessee last year, she lives in Tennessee. So, yeah, I think you do need to make sure people about know that so people don't think she's really from Kentucky or lives here.

CROWLEY: And a couple of questions just on -- we have got some confirmations coming up. We have the Lew confirmation for Treasury secretary, Hagel for Defense, as well as Brennan for the CIA. Are you going to vote against any of those men?

PAUL: I'm most concerned about Brennan. And I'm going to demand answers this week. Senator Wyden asked can they do drone strikes in the United States? And Brennan went on for five minutes talking about optimizing transparency and never answered the question. Until I get an answer...

CROWLEY: You mean drones strikes...

PAUL: ...whether or not you can an American citizen in America -- in America, that's what Wyden can you kill an American in America with only the president's word? And he never answered the question. So I'm going to demand an answer to that question. But I also don't think -- I think it's very unseemly that a politician gets to decide the death of an American citizen. They should answer about the 16- year-old boy, Al Awlaki's son who was killed not as collateral damage, but in a separate strike. They've never answered that.

I think you should be tried for treason. If you're an American citizen, you go overseas, you take up arms -- I'm probably for executing you, but I would want to hear the evidence, I would want to have a judge and a jury. It can be fairly swift, but there needs to be a trial for treason. The president, a politician, Republican or Democrat, should never get to decide someone's death by flipping through flash cards, and say do you want to kill him? I don't know. Yeah, let's go ahead and kill him.

CROWLEY: All right. So we'll put that as a question mark for John Brennan at the CIA and yes for the other two?

PAUL: Well, I haven't decided really. Hagel has been really struggling, and...

CROWLEY: Thanks.

We will check back in with you later on then on those. Thank you so much, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. We will look for you Tuesday night.

Our next guest is one of two independents in the senate. He has been called a bridge builder and problem solver, he has questioned both John Brennan and Chuck Hagel during their confirmation hearings. Not bad for a guy who has been in office 38 days. Angus King of Maine is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It won't be smooth. It won't be simple. There will be frustrations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: President Obama speaking Thursday at the House Democratic retreat in Northern Virginia. Those comments, delivered five days before the State of the Union Address, are intended to rally the troops ahead of a busy legislative schedule.

Joining me now, Maine independent Senator Angus King. Senator it is very good to see you here in your first couple of months up in the U.S. Senate.

One of the things that as an independent you have talked about is being that bridge between Republicans and Democrats to try and get some work done up there. With that in mind, I wonder if you would talk to me about what tone you would like to see the president take on Tuesday night at the State of the Union. There's been a lot of talk, as you know, post election about how he's more aggressive now, seems much less willing to deal with Republicans.

KING: Well, I think he -- you know, the mathematics is he still has to got deal with Republicans. I mean, if you've got Republican House, a Senate that has a Democratic majority, but the way the rules work, the Republicans have substantial power and a Democratic president. As Bill Clinton would say, it's arithmetic. And I don't know whether you use the word conciliatory. I think you use the word diplomatic. I mean, my father used to say you can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think that's a tone that he has to take: confident, and strong, and yet at the same time being open to other ideas and compromises and getting the work done.

CROWLEY: How have you felt that he has done towards that end since the election? Do you agree with the commentary that the president has been -- seemed much less willing to want to deal with Republicans. Do you agree with that?

KING: Well, you've got to put yourself in his shoes a little bit. He came in talking very much about bipartisanship and working together and all of that kind of thing, and he didn't get very far. He got zero votes on health care. He got very few votes on the stimulus package, if any, from one or two from Republicans, I think three in the Senate.

And so I think he was a little was ready to take a more aggressive stance. He won the election pretty solidly and he feels -- who am I advising the president of the United States, that's like giving Ted Williams batting tips. But he -- it seems to me strong, confident. But a strong and confident person also listens and is willing to make compromises when the time comes.

The other thing that I've noticed, Candy, being around the Capitol now for a couple of months and you mentioned 38 days, there's sometimes gratuitous I call it name calling, just partisanship for partisanship's sake. And in my experience, nobody has a monopoly or good ideas, nobody has a monopoly on solutions and the aggressive stuff -- those are bad guys and we are good guys, I just don't think that moves the ball very far.

CROWLEY: If you were writing the president's speech, how would you describe the state of the union?

KING: I think I would describe the state of the union as strong and getting stronger. Having been through a tough time in American history in terms of two wars, a major recession, but the economy does seem to be coming back. I think the lowering of GDP in the last quarter was something of an aberration. Ironically I think it has to do with congress' failure to deal with entirely fiscal cliff issue, but housing is up, manufacturing is showing a little sign of life, so I would say the state of the union is strong, but as is always the case, we've got more to do.

It's no accident that the framers started the constitution using the phrase, in order to form a more perfect union.

CROWLEY: It can always get better, right?

KING: There is always work to be done.

CROWLEY: OK.

Let me -- I want to move you one to the subject of drones. You were quite outspoken, particularly when you questioned John Brennan, the CIA nominee to be director of the CIA, particularly about the targeting of Americans who may have joined and be deadly terrorists, but nonetheless are still American citizens, by these drones. I know that you think that there should be someone other than just the president and a small group of people deciding who they kill, particularly when it comes to American citizens. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about that. But read you something from an editorial this morning.

It was in the Chicago Tribune. And in part, it said this -- one more layer of oversight reduces the advantages of immediacy and surprise. We don't want drone operators hoping their targeted terrorist will stay on a rooftop in Pakistan while a court in Washington debates whether it's appropriate to eliminate him.

What's your response to that? KING: Well, I think that misunderstands what the circumstances are. If you're talking about an immediate strike, then that's a commander in chief job and I'm certainly not questioning that, but on the other hand, my understanding is, and this isn't based on classified information, but generally available information, that often these strikes are planned weeks in advance. The moment of the strike may take place because of intelligence that the person is on a rooftop or wherever they are, but the identification of the individual as a member of a terrorist group, as an imminent threat to the interest of the United States, that's not -- there is some time involved there. And in fact that is what provoked me to ask the question I did of Mr. Brennan.

And here is a case -- this may not -- I don't know how often this is going to happen, but I agree with Rand Paul. The fifth amendment says that no person shall denied life, liberty or property without due process of law. It says that. And it's pretty clear. It applies to Americans. And that's what we're talking about here, American, not foreigners. Even those these are Americans that may have committed treason by signing up with another country or another group against us.

But I think --it just makes me uncomfortable that the president, whoever it is, is the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and the executioner, all rolled into one. So I'm not suggesting something that would slow down response, but where there is time to go in and submit it to a third party, that is a court, in confidence, And get a judgment that, yes there, is sufficient evidence here, that just feels to me like that's -- it's not full compliance with the fifth amendment. There are those who say these people should have a whole trial. I don't believe that either.

KING: But I think some independent check on the executive is healthy for our system.

CROWLEY: And final question with less than a minute left. I wanted to ask you about gun control. Maine, a big hunting territory for so many people, I know that you agree with a lot of things that are being suggested there on gun control. Are you against an assault weapons ban or for it?

KING: I would say I'm skeptical. I am leaning against it, simply because what I want to focus on is the functionality, not the looks, and I've seen folks -- you can take exactly the same mechanics of a gun and change the stock from a wooden stock to a folding stock and put something on the barrel, and suddenly it meets the definition of an assault weapon. But it do anything differently. It doesn't shoot faster, further, anything else.

CROWLEY: Got you.

KING: I think what we really need to do is focus on what will really work. And to me that's universal background checks and perhaps limits on magazine size.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. Senator Angus King -- certainly a conversation that's going to go on for awhile. We appreciate your time this morning.

What is the right number of troops to leave in Afghanistan? A conversation with former defense secretary Robert Gates is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The White House says that drone strikes even against American citizens are "legal, ethical, and wise." Earlier, I sat down with Robert Gates who served as defense secretary for both Presidents Bush and Obama and asked him if he had any concerns about the increased use of stealth fighters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GATES: Actually, no. I'm a big advocate of drones. When I was the director of Central Intelligence in the early '90s, I tried to get the Air Force to partner with us in building drones. And they didn't want to, because they had no pilots.

When I became secretary, I had a little more say over how the Air Force spent its money. And we significantly ramped up the number of drones. Drones are immensely useful in two respects. First of all, for reconnaissance, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, because they can dwell over a target for an extended period of time.

So you get pattern of life and you can really see what's going on. So they're an immense asset from an intelligence standpoint.

From a strike standpoint, they are very precise. And so the same thing in terms of being able to dwell, they can wait until a target is by himself or a facility is abandoned or something, if they're going to strike it.

And if they see people moving into the area, they can hold off. And because they can see it all, the people who are driving -- are driving the drones, so you can -- you can far more easily limit collateral damage with a drone than you can with a bomb, even a precision guided munition, off an airplane.

CROWLEY: You're not saying that innocent people are not -- do not die. GATES: No, but I'm saying that you have, first of all, the numbers, I believe, are extremely small. And second, you do have the ability to limit that collateral damage more than with any other weapons system that you have.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the idea of targeting Americans -- al-Awlaki is the one, obviously, that has been the most out there, known terrorist. We understand that. He said hateful, violent things on the Internet against the U.S. He was obviously associated -- a big player in al Qaeda. He was, nonetheless, an American citizen.

And as we're led to believe, how this works, it's the president who okays a kill list. And that would include American citizens. Should that be sort of a broader authority?

GATES: I think that the idea -- you know, we have this foreign intelligence surveillance court that approves the use of electronic surveillance on American citizens. So you have an independent person, a federal judge, outside of -- outside of the executive branch...

CROWLEY: But this is for surveillance, right?

GATES: And this is for electronic surveillance. Something similar, whether it's a panel of three judges or one judge or some -- something that would give the American people confidence that there was, in fact, a compelling case to be -- to launch an attack against an American citizen, I think just as an independent confirmation or affirmation, if you will, is something worth giving serious consideration to.

I think that the rules and the -- and the practices that the Obama administration has followed are quite stringent and are not being abused. But who is to say about a future president?

And so I think -- I think this idea of being able to execute, in effect, an American citizen, no matter how awful, having some third party being -- having a -- having a say in it or perhaps some -- informing the Congress or the intelligence committees or something like that, I just -- I think some check on the ability of the president to do this has merit as we look to the longer term future.

CROWLEY: When it became known that the Bush administration was using enhanced interrogation techniques on certain folks that had been captured, the outrage was immediate. And yet we have the U.S. targeting an American -- an American citizen and killing an American citizen and we see that the use of drones is widely approved, really, by the American people. And there hasn't been much until recently out of Congress.

Why do you -- how do you account for the difference in reaction to those two things? Are they entirely separate? Or is that a curious thing?

GATES: How about politics?

CROWLEY: I'll go for that. And in what way? GATES: Well, I think that at a certain -- by a certain point, virtually nothing President Bush did was going to win approval by anybody. And anything he did was condemned from the surge to various other things. And I just think that that certainly plays a part in it. And particularly a lot of our political leaders have no problem talking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to issues like these.

CROWLEY: What's your biggest concern post-2014 about Afghanistan's future?

GATES: I think it's very important that we maintain some kind of serious residual presence in Afghanistan for training the Afghan forces and/or counterterrorism.

I think that kind of residual presence is absolutely critical, first of all to signal the Afghans we aren't abandoning them as we did after they drove the Soviets out in the early '90s or the late '80s, but also as a message to the Taliban and to the neighbors that we're not walking away, either.

CROWLEY: But you know, you were -- after the Iraq war, you were around for the -- much of the war on -- in Afghanistan. So I feel like you have a pretty good feel on what enough forces would be. Is 3,000 too little? Do you have any sense of that?

GATES: Well, I guess the way I would put it, just instinctively, is I strongly believe 3,000 is too little and 30,000 is too many.

CROWLEY: So, somewhere between 3,000 and 30,000. But err on the side of too many.

GATES: Finding the Goldilocks number.

CROWLEY: Right. GATES: When I say 30,000 is too many, I think, first of all, in terms of the costs for us, but also in terms of the tolerance of the Afghans themselves. So it's more a political question than it is a military question.

CROWLEY: And finally, we're coming up to the State of the Union. You know how this works; everybody wants to hear a certain thing, depending on which department you're in. From the point of view of the military, from the point of view of the world at large and America's place in it, what do you look for when the president gives his speech Tuesday?

GATES: Well, I -- it's hard to say sort of off the top of my head. I think that clearly I would like to hear something about let's figure out a way to avoid the sequestration on the budget, which I think will be catastrophic.

And because so much has already been cut over the next 10 years in the military, and so I think -- I think something about how we're going to try and get our financial house in order and how we can avoid the sequestration, particularly on the -- on the defense side.

CROWLEY: Secretary Gates, it's really good to see you again and I appreciate your time.

GATES: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Up next, the northeast begins digging out from under several feet of snow, an update on this weekend's monster storm when we come back.

And later, New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez's troubles seem to be mounting. Can he ride out the political storm?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's headlines. President Obama has just issued an emergency declaration for the state of Connecticut. The entire northeast is beginning dig out from up to three feet of snow. At least nine deaths are blamed on a storm that pounded the region this weekend. Power crews are working to restore electricity to about 400,000 resident. But all major airports are starting to resume flights after more than 5,000 were canceled because of the blizzard.

The Los Angeles police chief says he is reopening an investigation into the termination of former officer Christopher Dorner. Dorner is still at large, suspected in the killings of three people. The search for him has focused on the San Bernardino mountains after his abandoned pickup truck was found burning there.

In a manifesto, Dorner declared war on LA police and their families for his 2008 firing. And this just in to CNN, a report commissioned by the family of late Penn State coach Joe Paterno is disputing allegations that he covered up child sex abuse by Jerry Sandusky. The report, released this hour, calls the findings of an earlier investigation conducted on behalf of Penn State, quote, "factually wrong, speculative and fundamentally flawed."

In a separate letter to former Penn State players, Joe Paterno's widow Sue said her husband was a moral, disciplined man who never twisted the truth to avoid publicity.

Those are your headlines. When we return, are any of the president's nominations in peril? Our political panel is up next.

CROWLEY: Joining me around the table, CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta; Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Democrat from Illinois; Kay Bailey Hutchison, the former Republican senator from Texas; and Amy Walter, the national editor of the Cook Political Report.

Thanks, all, for being here. We have to start out with the State of the Union, because it's coming, and it's an annual Washington show. What do you expect to see?

HUTCHISON: I am told and hope that the president is going to pivot to the economy. I was disappointed in the Inaugural speech that the number one issue in America right now, jobs and the economy, was hardly mentioned.

I think now we've got to talk about the debt, the deficit, getting America's fiscal house in order, and create jobs for, I mean, almost 8 percent of our population who don't have them.

CROWLEY: Congresswoman, you got a little bit of a preview in the retreat, where the Democrats were. What's your sense of what the president tonally and substantively, what we expect from him?

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, first of all, I think it's going to be very optimistic. I hope the president does talks about the successes of the economy, creating nearly 6 million jobs, the fact that actually discretionary spending is at the lowest levels since 1976, and that we have reduced the deficit by about half that we need to do.

But he's going to talk about the new initiatives to make the economy work for everybody, investments, growth...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Investments, but also spending.

SCHAKOWSKY: ... the middle class.

CROWLEY: So I mean, therein we immediately see the Republicans seated.

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, except that when we talk about creating jobs, we're talking about deficit reduction, that the least emphasized method of reducing the deficit, we talk about spending, we talk about revenue, growth, and he wants to emphasize that we need to make investments in infrastructure, in education, in manufacturing, in clean energy, and we're going to hear about that.

WALTER: And, of course, the cloud hanging over all of this is the fact that there is this discussion about, oh, in what, two- something weeks, the entire budget could be turned on its head with this so-called sequestration, right?

Across the board cuts, and we have the two sides that seem as far apart as ever on this issue. That is going to have a real impact both on the politics of what is going on in Washington, as well as the economy.

ACOSTA: And I was struck by your interview with Rand Paul, who said during that interview that sequestration was what he called a pittance. That's a lot of money and you have the defense secretary and John Brennan, lots of people saying that this sequestration is a threat to the nation's security at this point.

And yet Rand Paul is calling this a pittance. He's offering the tea party response to Marco Rubio, which shows you that the Republicans still have this ideological pull against them. There is still the threat of being primaried.

And so it's going to be interesting to see just how far they are willing to go in this process.

CROWLEY: On a political -- purely political note, and not policy, what is going to be most interesting to you as you watch this?

SCHAKOWSKY: I think it's the fact that the president is going to be speaking directly to the middle class right now. This is what you can hope is going to better your life right now. You know, the -- the issue about the -- the deficit and the debt, we cannot have government fixing its budget problems by making it worse for American families, for senior citizens, for businesses, and that's what austerity does, that's what sequester does, make it worse.

WALTER: I'm going to look at immigration, because this is an issue where, had the president brought this up a year ago, year-and-a- half ago, you would have seen Democrats stand and clap and a lot of Republicans sitting down. I think now when he talks about immigration reform, everybody is going to stand up, a realization of what the -- about what an election means.

CROWLEY: Exactly.

HUTCHISON: One of the best things about not being in the Senate anymore is not having to sit in that room and either stand up and clap every 15 seconds or sit on your hands for the whole thing.

(LAUGHTER)

HUTCHISON: And just I wish so much that we would have a moratorium on standing and let everybody listen like the people outside the country are.

WALTER: I love that idea. HUTCHISON: And I think...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Me too, but I think the genie is out of the bottle.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Let me -- before you answer, I want to play something. This was Dr. Ben Carson. He is a world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon out of Johns Hopkins. He was at the Prayer Breakfast. And he was talking about the idea of, you know, weaving the bible into some objections he appears to have with the president's approach. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. BEN CARSON, DIR. OF PEDIATRIC NEUROSURGERY, JOHNS HOPKINS: When I pick up my bible, you know what I see? I see the fairest individual in the universe, God, and he has given us a system. It's called tithe. Now we don't necessarily have to do 10 percent, but this principle, he didn't say if your crops fail, don't give me any tithe, he didn't say if have a bumper crop, give me triple tithe. So there must be something inherently fair about proportionality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Well, so this was really interesting, number one, for the venue, number two, for the person doing this. Not a -- I mean, he may be a political person, but it was the first time I have seen him on the national stage. What did you think of that?

HUTCHISON: Well, it reminded me of the prayer breakfast I went to when Mother Teresa was talking and Bill and Hillary Clinton were sitting there, and she was talking about how bad abortion is. And it was so uncomfortable in the room watching that.

And I'm told that the Prayer Breakfast with this gentleman was the same. But I think his -- his other point, his main point was political correctness has just gone beyond bizarre, and we have got to come down to reality here and people have got to be able to kind of relax and talk about how they want to talk, and, you know, I just thought it was a great message.

CROWLEY: Did you find anything offensive with -- well, certainly it's America, he's entitled to his opinion. A lot of the talk was about was this the right place to do it? And there was lots of applause from Republicans who said, finally somebody stood up and said it.

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I think that there is a political correctness that he was trying to use to appeal to a conservative audience. I think it's really -- not really an appropriate place to make this kind of political speech and to invoke God as his support for that kind of point of view. But I think most of all the kind of message that he was giving shows a real empathy gap of where the American people are right now, and I think it's reflective of where many of the Republicans and tea parties are right now, that we need to have an economy that works for everyone.

CROWLEY: I'm going to move you all along to something and that is Senator Menendez, because this seems to keep bubbling. Just in brief and so many things out there, but in brief, what has been alleged is that the senator did a lot of things at least on the surface that look like they might have been inappropriate, intervening on behalf of a big donor who also seems to be under investigation. That's the broad brush of it. I want to first play what the senator has said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D) NEW JERSEY: It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a website can drive that type of story into the mainstream, but that's what they have done successfully.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Now from The New York Times Saturday, instead of trying to protect Mr. Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, the senate majority leader Harry Reid needs to remove his gavel pending credible resolution by the senate ethics committee of the swirling accusations of misconduct.

Is Senator Menendez in -- in trouble or at least in danger of temporarily losing, because he just became the chairman of this committee?

ACOSTA: I had a chance to ask Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about this at a news conference a couple of weeks ago, and Senator Reid is giving no indication whatsoever that he is going to take the gavel away. And while Senator Menendez is right about some of these allegations, some of the others that popped up in the conservative news site, the Daily Caller, there have been -- there has been no evidence to come out to corroborate those accusations. But the fact that Senator Menendez cut a $58,000 to pay for some flights that he took on behalf of a political contributor...

CROWLEY: Almost two years late.

ACOSTA: Almost two years late, and did not put them on his disclosure form is a problem for him.

CROWLEY: And two weeks ago is one thing. Now -- and you -- I mean The New York Times calling for a Democrat to remove a Democrat from a committee is fairly noteworthy.

WALTER: Let's say New Jersey doesn't exactly have the best record when it comes to ethics in government. And what The New York Times has seen is what many people who live in New Jersey or the New York region have seen, which is they're sort of a drip, drip, drip with the New Jersey politician that starts off looking like one thing and then it turns into a much bigger story that obviously was the case with Bob Torricelli, the former senator who ended up resigning and then we learned a lot about what he got from a very big donor of his.

This is really where the question is. Can the ethics committee really dig into the relationship between this big donor and Menendez, who, by the way, is also a donor to Republicans and who's also a donor to super PACs. So this goes back to the heart of our issue with electoral politics. Money plays a big part.

CROWLEY: I've got 15 seconds. Should Senator Reid remove temporarily Senator Menendez?

HUTCHISON: I think you have to get to the bottom of it first. I do think that he's got to have a chance to stay, look, here's what the facts are and I am going to keep the gavel or there has to be a quick investigation, It can't drag on and on and on.

But I think he's had a fair chance.

CROWLEY: OK. I want to thank all of you for joining us this morning. Come back and we'll talk a little more slowly and maybe a little longer. Thank you so much.

Last year, the U.S. mint made over 6 billion pennies and for more than one cent each. Why not ditch it and round to the nearest nickel? Find out next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: And finally, a Sunday math quiz. If the cost of producing and distributing something is twice as much as you can get for it, why bother? Which brings us to making sense of the U.S. penny. Last week, Canada, producing its pennies for much more than their face value, stopped minting and starting melting.

Former Arizona congressman Jim Kolbe tried for years to get the U.S. congress to do the same because pennies are expensive to make, virtually worthless to have, and time consuming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM KOLBE, FRM. ARIZONA CONGRESSMAN: If you add up the time at every convenience store of fishing out those pennies and making the change in that, and you multiply that by the hundreds and tens of hundreds of millions of transactions a year, you're talking about timewise a tremendous amount of savings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And as the chairman of the council on economic advisers under George W. Bush put it, "when people start leaving a monetary unit at the cash register for the next customer, the unit is too small to be useful." Still, the penny remains in play. For starters, there is the arguable contention that everything will cost more because stores will round up their prices. Then there are the pro- penny forces, including a penny preservation lobbying group started by a big zinc company. Did we mention pennies are more than 97 percent zinc.

And frankly there's just no political push against the penny. A poll last year, funded by the zinc industry, found that even though many Americans give away, lose, and otherwise ignore pennies, 67 percent want to keep them away.

Professor Ray Lombra testified in 1990 for the pro-penny lobby. He actually thinks the economic case for getting rid of pennies is stronger now, but he doesn't see it happening under this particular president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY LOMBRA, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: I can't imagine a former member of congress from Illinois is going to lead the way to get rid of the Lincoln penny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Sentimentality aside, after all Abe and his monument are also on the $5 bill, the economic case for a penniless U.S. grows more compelling, giving ex-congressman Kolbe hope.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KOLBE: The polling is very clear that when people find out about the savings they're going to make it's substantial and they're willing to make this kind of a change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: According to Kolbe, not minting pennies would save the U.S. treasury about $45 million a year. And while we're on the subject, switching from the paper dollar to a dollar coin would save $178 million a year. And a nickel now costs a dime to produce. A quarter for your thoughts?

Thanks for watching State of the Union. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Head to CNN.com/sotu for analysis and extras. And if you missed any part of today's show, find us on iTunes. Just search State of the Union.

Fareed Zakaria GPS is next.