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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Yanukovych Flees Kiev; Governors Panel

Aired February 23, 2014 - 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: Food for thought this Sunday morning -- four of the last six presidents were governors first.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Today, from New England, the Midwest and the southwest, hear them roar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is time for Washington to focus on the few things that the constitution establishes as the federal government's role. Get out of the health care business. Get out of the education business.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is good economic policy. Let's increase the minimum wage in Connecticut and let's do it together.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One out of eight jobs created in the United States was created by businesses right here in Indiana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Missouri is a low-tax state. Sixth lowest in the nation. And we like it that way.

CROWLEY: The governors of Texas, Connecticut, Indiana, and Missouri join us to talk minimum wage, Obamacare, and the death penalty.

Then, he's stepping out. Different somehow and also sort of the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of us are from New Jersey. And so, you know what that means. What that means is if you get it, you are getting it right back.

CROWLEY: Chris Christie returns to the town hall. Barack Obama abandons entitlement reform, and the meaning, if any, of Ted Nugent's not-quite-apology. Our panel takes it on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether I feel about slavery, whether I feel about integration.

CROWLEY: Scandals Joe Morton salutes the five major Oscar nominations for Black actors and filmmakers but yearns for the colorblind casting call.

This is STATE OF THE UNION. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (on-camera): Good morning. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. We will get to our governors in a moment, but first to a historic change sweeping Ukraine right now. A president ousted, a prominent opposition leader free, and a political landscape altered, all after a deadly week of clashes. Ukraine media says this surveillance video shows the country's president, Viktor Yanukovych, fleeing the capital of Kiev. His political archrival, Ukraine's former prime minister, has been freed from prison. There are so many questions now, maybe some of them unanswerable. CNN's Phil Black is on the ground in Kiev for us. Phil, let me take advantage of your background covering Moscow and Russia for us. We haven't heard from Putin. I cannot imagine that the ouster of the president is something that he is going to stay quiet about.

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You wouldn't think so, Candy, no. I mean, President Putin's been busy the last couple of weeks hosting the Sochi winter Olympics. We'll see what happens after the closing ceremony tonight, but you'd expect him to have a bit to say. We know that Moscow very much watches Ukraine in its (INAUDIBLE), but we know that President Putin doesn't like revolutions.

Generally, he believes they spread instability and he especially doesn't like them right on the Russian border because the theory is that a popular uprising like this could inspire something similar in Moscow. We already know that Moscow has said they will not be delivering the next installment, a $2 billion installment of what was supposed to be a $15 billion aid package to help the Ukrainian economy.

They say they're going to wait to see the new government, see what its policies are. But you can bet the policies of the new government here, they are not going to be pro-Russian, Candy.

CROWLEY: And just quickly on the streets, and we can hear in the background that there are still folks in the square, how is this perceived? Is this perceived as a -- I know it's perceived as a victory for the Ukrainian people, but is it perceived as a U.S. victory, a Russian victory, or do they not think in those terms?

BLACK: I don't think the people here are thinking in those terms. They're grateful for the support that they've received, but they're also not thinking in terms of victory just yet either because this is still a revolution in progress. Viktor Yanukovych has fled to the east of the country. He still got a lot of support there. It's not clear how hard he's going to fight to still be a dominant political force in this country.

But also, the mood here, it is not one of revolution or celebration just yet despite the rapid events of the last 24 hours. People are still in mourning. They are grieving. They are still thinking about the people who were gunned down on the streets around this square just a few days ago, Candy.

CROWLEY: Phil black out of Ukraine, Kiev for us, thanks so much. The nation's governors are here in Washington for their winter conference. They are dining at the White House tonight, meeting with the president tomorrow. We thought it was a perfect opportunity to talk with four of them about how they could get things done when Washington can't seem to.

Joining us is Connecticut Democrat, Dan Malloy, Missouri Democrat, Jay Nixon, Texas Republican, Rick Perry, and Indiana Republican, Mike Pence. It is good to have all of you here. Used to be when the NGA met you all cross-pollinated and got great ideas about what was working and it might be a little more partisan, at this point, I think, as Washington certainly is. But I wanted to see if you picked up anything sort of watching other states.

One of the big stories this year, of course, has been Colorado legalizing recreational use of small amounts of marijuana, as well as Washington State. When you look at it, big pot of money there with taxes, states can always use a little more money, have any of you looked at it and thought, you know what, this is something I'd consider?

PENCE: No.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Two nos? Why not?

PENCE: Well, I don't support legalization of marijuana and that's been my position for a long time and will continue to be. But I'll tell you, there is some common ground that you see at the National Governors Association and it's the focus that Mary Fallon and others and we here in Indiana -- placed on workforce development. We've initiated in the Hoosier State an effort to make career and vocational education a priority in every high school in the state of Indiana.

And at the National Governors Association, it seems to be a recurring theme that making sure that we have not only the best educated, but the best skilled workforce is a pathway toward higher wages. It's a pathway toward a growing economy and in the Midwest it's a pathway toward a real renewal of the industrial Midwest.

CROWLEY: Right. So, I get that you all would be definitely be cross-pollinating on what's working and I do actually want to get you on the economy, but first, let me get you all to chime in. We got two nos here. On recreational use of marijuana, I know recently medicinal use --

MALLOY: We decriminalized small amounts, but we didn't legalize. And we do -- we have moved forward with medical marijuana and I think that's about as far as we go. I want to be very direct about how you ask the question. I don't think tax revenue should have anything to do with the discussion about whether you legalize marijuana, quite frankly. They are two distinct issues.

CROWLEY: I just thought it might make it enticing. MALLOY: Yes. But let's not be enticed down that road because of money. It just doesn't make sense.

CROWLEY: Can't imagine that marijuana use recreationally sells as legalizing in Missouri.

NIXON: Not so much. (LAUGHTER)

NIXON: But medicinally, I think folks are beginning to see if there are things which the medical community can help on and has specific ways -- and I think our legislature and our people might consider that, but I think to move beyond that at this point is I would say a bridge too far but that bridge has not yet been built.

CROWLEY: And Governor Perry, if I understand you correctly, you would consider the medical use of marijuana --

PERRY: Actually, what we've done in the state of Texas is about a decade ago, we started looking at adjusting the penalties for criminal use of marijuana. What we've seen is our prison populations have gone down. As a matter of fact, even President Obama and Eric Holder looked at Texas and said, you know, what they are doing there with their drug courts, and it's something that, you know, I think other states are looking at.

But we have about 96 percent population in our prisons now. California, I think, is over 160 percent population of their prison. So, they got a real overcrowding problem. I think part of it goes back to not making thoughtful decisions about who you're sending to prison and what for. The idea that a kid has one marijuana cigarette and you send had him to prison where they can learn to really be a hardened criminal is not thoughtful public policy.

Use these drug courts, put intervention programs into place, shock probation, and keep those young people on a track to be productive citizens rather than ending up in our prisons.

CROWLEY: I think you all may end up being a big advertisement for state's rights and state decisions. And, one of the things I wanted to sort of short (ph) out with you, Governor Malloy, is post- Newtown. Connecticut enacted even stricter gun regulations at the state, and they were already pretty strict. So, you're up there in terms of how your gun laws are seen as some of the strictest in the nation.

These three gentlemen, Democrat, two Republicans, have states that really have a gun culture in what's seen as a positive way in how it's handed down from generation to generation, hunting, skeet shooting, that kind of thing. Does anything or any of the looser laws on guns in these states hurt Connecticut?

MALLOY: I think we have a federal problem in the sense that we are rejecting the idea that we should have tighter controls on who has a gun. Universal background checks would make everyone safer in their states and in mine. It is a starting point. We should not be assigning or allowing folks who have mental health challenges currently to acquire guns.

We should not have a system that allows people who have extensive criminal records to get around --

CROWLEY: But I don't think any of you all would disagree with that. Would you agree that there need to be more federal regulations?

MALLOY: Well, background checks is what we need.

PERRY: Certainly not -- the Second Amendment pretty much is a good amendment. And we support it in the state of Texas. The restrictions that you've seen states like Connecticut -- when you think about the northeast, that was the Silicon Valley, if you will, of gun manufacturing. And you're seeing those manufacturers leaving the northeast because of the taxation, the regulations, and just the attitude towards manufacturers of weapons.

PERRY: As a matter of fact, Governor Bentley, was announced on Monday, Remington is moving 2,000 jobs being created there in Huntsville. Governor Haslam in Tennessee welcomed Beretta into his state. We invited Magpool into Texas. So, you're seeing a shift of these manufacturers out of states that don't want them there. And I think that is an appropriate move and an appropriate conversation for us to have.

And you're absolutely right about the Tenth Amendment in the states. I know these governors will make decisions that are best for their citizens. Now, we compete against each other and that's good.

CROWLEY: Let me -- I've got to wrap this section up, but we'll come back to it, because I know (INAUDIBLE) but I got to ask you a quick wrap-up question, and it just really takes a yes or a no. I'm not even going to ask you to raise your hands. Would any of you here today like to rule out running for president in 2016? Governor Pence? Would you rule it out?

PENCE: I haven't spent one second thinking about any job other than the one --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: -- so much quicker than that, yes or no.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: You're the self-described dark horse. Do you disagree with that?

PENCE: I'm focused on Indiana, Candy.

(LAUGHTER)

NIXON: No.

CROWLEY: No, you won't rule yourself out?

NIXON: I'm focused on Missouri.

(LAUGHTER)

NIXON: And plus, Secretary Clinton, you know, we're hopeful that she gets in. And if so, we'll look forward to working with her, but we really do have a lot to get done in the next three years in the show-me state.

CROWLEY: OK. You have a lot to get done in Connecticut, I know, but yes or no.

MALLOY: I am not going to be a candidate for president.

CROWLEY: You see? How hard was that?

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: We'll be right back. And when we return, the president makes his case for upping employees' pay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now, there's a bill before Congress that would boost America's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. It's easy to remember, $10.10. That bill would lift wages for more than 16 million Americans without requiring a single dollar in new taxes or spending.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The governors give us their bottom line on the minimum wage, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Back with our governors, Dan Malloy of Connecticut, Missouri's Jay Nixon, Rick Perry of Texas, and Indiana's Mike Pence. Governor Nixon, I wanted to give you a quick thing because you wanted to say something in particular --

NIXON: I'm (INAUDIBLE) Missouri's Second Amendment, but the bottom line is after Newtown and the other disasters, we've moved forward in mental health area. Second most folks train in mental health first aid, 29 mental health liaisons out there, pilot projects to make sure that folks that show up in emergency rooms don't just end up in jails, back and forth. I think a lot of states are doing that exact thing.

While Washington talks about kind of what size of gun or what type of gun, it does absolutely nothing. We're actually on the ground out there trying to interact with young folks who have mental health problems much earlier and empower people to help them.

CROWLEY: I want to move you to the death penalty issue. I am interested in it because I keep reading things -- actually, we have three states where the death penalty is still legal in Connecticut now. I know you don't have the death penalty. But I've been reading more and more articles that say the death penalty is beginning to fade. It will eventually sort of adrift (ph) out by attrition, you know, because of the problems with the drugs now, because Europe won't sell them.

We've had some executions that did not go well and that people are beginning -- the numbers are changing. I know you have an execution set for next week. Drugs have been an issue with this particular education -- with this particular education execution. A, is that execution going to go as planned as far as you know? And, B, do any of you agree that the death penalty is on the way in?

NIXON: We're moving forward that execution and we'll continue to enforce the ultimate penalty. It's a serious business. We treat it very seriously. Both in my time as attorney general as well as now as governor I've been involved in those. I think it's really important. Two things. Number one, each of these cases are individual. I mean, the death penalty is not a broad issue.

And that's why you have juries involved and courts involved in individual decision. And second thing I ask everybody in the media is to remember the victims as these things move forward. I mean, I think there's just so much attention on both the process as well as the offender as you get near the end and they try to make them stars.

There are families out there that have to suffer sometimes 10 or 15 years before that ultimate punishment is meted out. And I would just ask everybody to continue --

CROWLEY: Like this murder took place 25 years ago, the one that's the scheduled execution, because I know you take an opposing view here.

MALLOY: Well, listen, you know, Connecticut decided that we didn't want to have a death penalty any longer, to go to your point. There are a number of states that have taken that step over the last few years. And so, we're quickly approaching majority of the United States citizens that live in states that don't have the death penalty.

It is a state's decision and they get to make that decision. I can tell you that we have our lowest homicide rate in -- we have our lowest crime rate in 46 years. We have substantially lowered homicides over the last few years as well. We're very proud of that fact. In fact, I think we have a lower homicide rate than everybody at the table.

MALLOY: Well, listen, you know, Connecticut decided that we didn't want to have a death penalty any longer, to go to your point. There are a number of states that have taken that step over the last few years. And so, we're quickly approaching majority of the United States citizens that live in states that don't have the death penalty.

It is a state's decision and they get to make that decision. I can tell you that we have our lowest homicide rate in -- we have our lowest crime rate in 46 years. We have substantially lowered homicides over the last few years as well. We're very proud of that fact. In fact, I think we have a lower homicide rate than everybody at the table.

Having said that, it is a state's decision. We made a decision. Our legislature decided and I think most citizens of Connecticut are happy to move forward.

CROWLEY: Do you see down the line in either Indiana or Texas any chance that the death penalty would be removed from law in those states?

PENCE: I don't see that prospect in the state of Indiana. I support the death penalty. I believe justice demands it in our most heinous cases.

But I think what you see in high relief here is a part of the American experiment that explains a lot of the prosperity and success our nation has had for more than two centuries and that is to allow states to have the freedom and flexibility to craft policies, whether it be in the area of criminal justice or whether be in the area of economic policy, in the area of education, in the area of health care, I would argue that will allow the states to be those laboratories of innovation and to reflect the values and the ideals --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Same for Texas, I would assume.

PERRY: Absolutely. Let me to say, I think Jay articulated the death penalty position as well as anyone that I've heard in a while. The fact is -- and I think Governor Malloy agrees with this strongly, as I know Mike does. When it gets back to -- I trust Jay Nixon. I trust Governor Malloy. I trust Mike Pence. To make decisions in their states, along with their legislature and their people, substantially more than Washington, D.C. When it comes to health care, when it comes to education, when it comes to transportation policy, these four governors sitting at this table substantially know how to deliver services better, more efficiently and to keep their citizens happier.

CROWLEY: Which brings me to the minimum wage, which I wanted to ask you about again. I think we have two yes, let's raise the minimum wage, and two not, but I'll let you all speak for yourself. The president wants to raise the federal minimum wage. It's an election year. That's always a good election issue for Democrats.

In the end, the CBO sort of came out with this kind of mixed report saying, well, it would cost about half a million jobs by 2016. On the other hand, it would raise about a million people out of poverty.

MALLOY: Well, you know, the CBO has also said that Obamacare will save $1.5 trillion over the near term in health care costs. I actually think they're right about that. They actually have said that all that we've done to bolster the economy is created over five million jobs or supported five million jobs. I happen to agree with that. My hunch is that some of my Republican colleagues won't agree with those CBO reports. So, I think there's room for debate about this. Let me say this, Connecticut has raised minimum wage by 45 cents. We did it on January 1st. We're going to do it again next January 1st. We're going to eventually get to $10.10 by January 1st of 2017. We know that in our state, almost 60 percent of people earning a minimum wage are women. Nationally, only 12 percent of people earning minimum wage are teenagers.

We know that the vast majority of people earning the minimum wage are, in fact, trying to raise a family and we believe that we should have a minimum wage that's at least as high as it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation.

CROWLEY: You don't necessarily need the feds to do it because you're doing it in your state.

MALLOY: We are going to do it in our state.

CROWLEY: I'm sorry because I got to move you on, but I wanted to ask you, because you're going to get a chance to talk to the president tomorrow. And so, I want to know if you have something -- there's some Q&A, anything in particular that you all want to bring up to him?

PENCE: Well, I think the basic message is more freedom and more flexibility, Mr. President, whether it'd be in the area of health care, whether it'd be in transportation or in education. I truly believe that the cure for what ails this country will come more from our nation's state capitals than it ever will from our nation's capital. You know, I served out here for a dozen years.

I understand Washington and I see the gridlock and we've seen it before. But in the little more than 12 months, I've served as a governor. I'm absolutely convinced that empowering our states to innovate and reform -- Indiana's economy is on the move right now. 42,000 new private sector jobs in the last year. We're now the lowest unemployment rate in the Midwest. It's because in Indiana, we've been advancing balanced budgets, right to work, we've been cutting taxes, we've been promoting education reform. Let's let our states innovate and this economy will come roaring back.

CROWLEY: Any arguments that you all would like as much flexibility as you can get. You guys got maybe 15 seconds.

MALLOY: Well, you know, there is this other issue out there, and that is that in the downsize in the military, we want to make sure that reserve and National Guard is protected in our country. I'm going to have that discussion with the president tomorrow. We cannot shrink that force the way that it is being proposed out of the defense department.

CROWLEY: As always, not enough time. Governor Malloy, Governor Nixon, Governor Perry, Governor Pence, thank you all. Have a good rest of the week. White House dinner --

What happens when an evening rock star doesn't help on the campaign trail? Our panel is next on the Texas governor's race, Chris Christie's resurgence, and President Obama shying away from entitlement reform, that's next.

CROWLEY: Joining me around the table, Democratic strategist Peggy Lee, "Washington Post" national political correspondent, Robert Costa, and "National Review's" senior editor, Ramesh Ponnuru.

So this week we have seen a candidate for governor in Texas, Greg Abbott, get tied to Ted Nugent who have -- who he happened to be campaigning with him and Ted Nugent just said some horrible -- I'm not going to repeat thing about the president that he should never have said. And let's face it he seems misogynist. He has written songs about jail bait. He has admitted to having sexual relations with underage -- I mean so this is not exactly what you want your campaign to be cloaked in.

The question though is, has Greg Abbott, who is the gubernatorial candidate, been damaged. Wendy Davis, who's the Democratic -- who is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, she said this isn't about some aging rock star way past his prime who simply needs to go away. This is about Greg Abbott. It is about his character, his judgment, his values when he stands on a stage next to someone like that and refers to him as his blood brother. Any damage here to Abbott's campaign?

COSTA: I don't think so. I think what happened -- this is Texas. I think this is good batting practice for Republicans nationally. They're going to have to deal with a lot of figures like Ted Nugent this year. But at least for Republicans this was not a candidate making these kinds of statements. This was a surrogate.

(CROSSTALK)

PENNY LEE, FORMER DIRECTOR, DEMOCRATIC GOVERNORS ASSOCIATION: But when you have silence, that is also an endorsement of what you are saying. And for Greg Abbott not to have stood up and not to have recognized that this was as despicable of language as it was and only later on said something who really speaks volume and people are going to look that as the character, but it's also going to go larger because Ted Nugent isn't just about Texas. He speaks for a lot of candidates that are there -- that are (INAUDIBLE) adhere to the second amendment issues (INAUDIBLE). So they're going to use this as a foil nationally so it does have some implications.

CROWLEY: Ramesh, it does -- it just also brings up the question, what are you responsible for as a candidate?

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Right. You were saying they happened to be campaigning together. That was -- that was Abbott's choice. Right? He tied himself to Nugent and he didn't, I think, strongly and forcefully enough repudiate his comments. And I think he could have done that and still had a strong position. I think he's had had a very good couple of months here, largely because Davis is not a particularly strong candidate. And I think he (INAUDIBLE) this one.

LEE: Yes. Unlike John McCain who in a way when the woman said, I am terrified of Barack Obama because I think he is an Arab," and he immediately denounced him at that event. Greg Abbott stool silent. COSTA: The question is not only, is it an appropriate course? Ted Nugent's comments were inappropriate. The political fallout (ph) will there be any in the lone star state? I doubt it.

CROWLEY: Yes. He's probably lucky he was in Texas (INAUDIBLE). Let me ask you about Chris Christie, had a town hall.

COSTA: I was there.

CROWLEY: You were there. Tell me about it.

COSTA: I mean Chris Christie is clearly under fire with this the bridge episode but when I was there, in Middletown New Jersey, 90 minutes, not one question about the bridge. All the anger in New Jersey is about the Sandy. So I think Chris Christie right now is still out (ph) of (ph) trouble (ph) but he could emerge from his (ph) entire period actually stronger I think I head of 2016 because is he getting vetted now.

CROWLEY: Right and the fact is that Republicans don't like the media and if you can beat the media at what Republicans think is their game that makes you stronger.

PONNURU: I think this town hall and the lack of questions on Bridgegate suggest that this really is more of a media obsession than it is a New Jersey story. I think it actually strengthens Christie in another way, too, because it means that if he runs for president, he falls back less on his personality, which is now a mixed bag, and has to do more on some substantive issues which I think is where he need to go anyway.

CROWLEY: Possibly he could -- he could go back. He's gone down in the poll, we know that.

LEE: Sure. But the big question is, is there anything else out there. And that's what we don't know. So he is -- he is starting to get momentum back. He is going back into his town halls, which is his strength. But you will notice that here while he was in Washington he ignored the press, he refused to answer any questions when asked. He is not going to attend any dinner tonight with the president of the United States. So he's --

CROWLEY: He said his daughter's birthday is coming up. He's going to go home and have cake with her.

LEE: Yes. So he's being very shrewd and deliberate (ph) in making his comeback. So it is right but what we don't know is, is there anything out there. Are his words -- because he drew a red line.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Sure. I mean -

(CROSSTALK) COSTA: And there is still a U.S. attorney investigation going on. The thing for Christie right now is the Republican establishment still behind him. You didn't see Mike Pence or Rick Perry when they were at this table telling him to quit his chairmanship of the RGA. On Thursday Christie is going to be in Boston fundraising with Mitt Romney. The establishment is still there. I agree (INAUDIBLE) his whole political persona may now shift toward policy a little less of a grandiose personality.

CROWLEY: Let me -- I just want for show our audience the tweet that you put out because you did actually --

COSTA: I was the only reporter who's (ph) actually (ph) getting (ph) an exchange with him.

CROWLEY: You got an exchange with him and you said when you asked him about Bridgegate and you said, Christie glared at me, shook head and said, "people care about real problems," then left the building. And he may be right.

COSTA: I said governor, what's your take, not one question about the bridge? He seemed very angry about it in a sense. He said people are concerned about real problems. I think that's Christie's whole position right now. He thinks because of no questions at the town hall, he's evading a real kind of investigation problem right now, no subpoena for him, his aides are under subpoena. I think he thinks he can get stronger and passed this. But the thing for Christie though is, they'll (ph) step (ph) in (ph) his aid, a lot of his other aids, if they still take that fifth amendment, there are still a lot of looming questions. This is going to drag out.

CROWLEY: But I wonder if at some point -- I mean in New Jersey when one of those aides takes the fifth again and again and again, it is always headline news. You wonder how long it will be headline news, you know, going forward on the national scene.

PONNURU: Well, as Bob has demonstrated the media is obsessed with the story.

(LAUGHTER)

That's why Christie's going to -- Christie is going to run against Costa and ride that to the presidency.

CROWLEY: Exactly. Let me turn to Washington, D.C. where we all opined that it felt like August this week, so little is going on. Now they are on leave or vacation or recess, whatever you want to (INAUDIBLE) -- district work period. I'm sorry. But the president's budget we're learning bits and pieces of it. One of them is he is no longer going to do chain CBI. Basically he will not make any cuts in any entitlement program. He certainly doesn't do it in this budget so he backs away from last year's budget. At the same time, we have Republicans seeming pretty determined not to bring up immigration reform. To me, why? Because any touching entitlements makes the Democrats go crazy and fight with each other and anything about immigration makes Republicans fight about each other so they are in their safe places and they're never going to come out this year. Are they?

PONNURU: I would not think this is going to be a highly productive legislative year.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTA: No (INAUDIBLE) on either side.

LEE: Yes. We didn't think we were going to get any less productive than we did last year but we may set another record again for this year. I mean we are in shockingly an election year and during elections years oftentimes policy matters don't matter. So policy items don't come (ph) out (ph) (INAUDIBLE) -- so we're going to see -- you know, let's see what happens. I mean I think that there is going to be very small ball (ph) changes. I mean you heard the president even in the State of the Union talking about using pen and phones. We are in a small game battle right now or fight right now.

COSTA: I think Republicans feel boxed in. I think on immigration they know that the conservatives do not want to have any kind of comprehensive reform and on tax reform they aren't willing to budge on revenue. So this is a small ball year for House Republicans and Senate Democrats are certainly not willing to budge, and the president is not looking for a grand bargain on entitlements.

CROWLEY: (INAUDIBLE) to me it maybe makes it an even more anti- incumbent year, which we talk about all the time it (ph) never happens. But let's just pretend that voters really are fed up this time. Because you are going to watch Washington, D.C. do nothing but argue about stuff and get nothing done, whether it's minimum wage, whether it's immigration, whether it is tax cuts. Whatever it is brought up. Doesn't this feed into the, why do we elect these guys?

LEE: But interesting -- that is different, is that you have 36 governor races. And so they are going to be talking about substantive issues. They are as you heard on your panel today talking about minimum wage, not on a federal level but on a local level. So people are going to engage in a policy matters but mostly on a state by state level and not with the, you know, federal issues at large.

CROWLEY: Sure but there are congressmen and senators in those states.

LEE: Right but they're going to drive the policy -

COSTA: Ramesh has written really ultimately about this. I think Republicans are going to be tested this year on policy. Can they offer an alternative on Obamacare that doesn't come across as another appeal vote? On social security and entitlements, can they come up with a new plan? Maybe they're not going to run in entitlements this year as much as they have in the past but they have to offer some alternative this election year beyond just being against the ACA.

PONNURU: I think that is a debate that there is going on the Republican side where some people just think you can just make this referendum on the president and Democrats and you can win that way. And as I have argued, I think it makes much more sense to say you've got -- you've got to be able to also say there is a better way to handle these problems.

CROWLEY: And if I -- in our last minute or so, if you had to make a guess what kind of election this is going to be -- like can you have a wave election when a whole bunch of Republicans or Democrats -- in this case it will probably be Democrats thrown out of office -- you can have an election that's all about local issues. Like Indiana decides on something entirely different. Or you can have an anti- incumbent wave. What's it going to be?

LEE: I will say it's going to be more on the anti-incumbent (INAUDIBLE) and you're also starting to see a lot of retirement especially on the federal level come in. So I think you're going to start to see people like done with Washington viral. But you have to have credible candidates.

COSTA: The way I frame is, 1996 plus Nugent. It's going to be like '96, not a lot of big ideas being discussed but we'll have a lot of discussion about side show issues as well.

PONNURU: A red state wave. And it could be a large wave where I'd want to see the evidence for that is Michigan. If Michigan flips the Republicans in the Senate that means it is bigger than just the red state reaction against the Democrats.

CROWLEY: I love it. You all answered it, in time and everything. Ramesh, thank you very much. Thank you, Bob. Thank you, Penny. Come back. It was fun.

And when we come back, actor Joe Morton from the hit show "Scandal" talks Hollywood and race.

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JOE MORTON, ACTOR: People are talking about hits, it is a great year for African-American actors, all these films, all these actors. But each one of them talk about the same thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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CROWLEY: His name is Joe Morton, but you may know him as Rowan Pope, Olivia Pope's father on the hit ABC drama "Scandal." The show won big at last night's NAACP Image Awards picking up best drama. Kerry Washington took home outstanding actress and earlier Morton was honored with best supporting actor in the drama series. With "Scandal" returning to TV this week, I caught up with to Morton about what makes this show stand out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORTON: The difference is that there hasn't been a black female lead on television in over 40 years. So Kerry's position as Olivia Pope on the show is huge, just on that alone, much less that -- I mean much more that she's now playing a character who is sort of fixing the scandals of people in Washington, D.C. she's not a teacher. She's not sort of a middle class personality sort of trying to, you know, fix the right and wrongs of teenagers. She's actually trying to fix people in Washington, D.C.

And then there's my character which is, for all intents and purposes, supposed to be the most powerful man in the United States behind the president and sort of doing all these machinations (ph) (INAUDIBLE) happen. So for the audience in general I don't think they've ever seen that before and for the African-American audience I think it is astounding because they've never seen images of themselves like that on television.

CROWLEY: In the end, do you think it matters to the story line?

MORTON: No. Because we never play it. We never play it at all. I mean it's just -- it just happens that I'm an American of African decent and so is Olivia Pope. But it's there. So in most of American mythology, the fact that you have a black character sort of talks about the history of this country, talks about a fabric that, whether it's pronounced or just subtly in the background, that's part of what this country is about. Race, for all intents and purposes, is not an easy conversation for us to have.

CROWLEY: It doesn't have sort of, you know, a constant conversation about race or it doesn't enter in, and yet it says so much...

MORTON: Exactly.

CROWLEY: ...by existing.

MORTON: Right.

CROWLEY: When you look at Oscar Sunday coming up, three black actors and a director are nominated this year. Do we take for granted that more progress has been made than has actually been made?

MORTON: All of films this year -- people talking about it, you know, it's a great year for African-American actors, all these films, all these actors, but each one of them talk about the same thing. They are either a film about slavery or they're a film about integration. So from a commercial standpoint all we are getting is the same story we've seen over and over and over and over again. I mean it's "Roots" but, you know, 12 years a slave is "Roots" but it's a much better Root. "42" is about integration but it's still about baseball somehow. But it's still about that struggle.

So it would be one on one hand really nice to see films that not only deal with that but deal with some other part of who African- Americans are in this country. We must have done something else other than struggle for civil rights. Yes, Martin Luther King existed and wasn't that wonderful, but there was - there must have been somebody else doing something else. So that's one part of it.

The other part of it is I think is that it is a really tricky road when you are an African-American actor and you are nominated for an award like a Golden Globe or the Oscars. The question in my mind always is what will Hollywood did with that. These awards are wonderful and I'm glad these folks were nominated, that's all terrific. But they, I think from a commercial standpoint, almost outprice themselves for work because now they have to be paid. How many writers other than other black writers are out there looking for a way to bring them into the "mainstream."

CROWLEY: And bringing them into the mainstream means really doing what in some ways, if I read you correctly, what in some ways "Scandal" has done for T.V.

MORTON: Yes, but even today there aren't that many, for instance, dramas on television that star a black male. I mean there was "The Unit," for a while. There were the things that come up, but nothing on a regular basis. So it becomes part of the, you know, the way you negotiate your way through Hollywood.

CROWLEY: Let's talk about actual D.C. politics...

MORTON: OK. CROWLEY: ...as opposed to Hollywood politics. I know that you're a supporter of President Obama.

MORTON: Yes.

CROWLEY: He's taken a lot of incoming in particularly from the congressional black caucus who is still supportive of him...

MORTON: Right.

CROWLEY: ...but feel that he has not fulfilled the hopes by and large of the black community over the course of his presidency.

MORTON: You know, years ago, I got a job playing a lawyer in a television show and the directing producer was black. And he had a hard time making the decision as to whether he was going to give me this lead role or not because he didn't want it to be looked at as a black show but at the same time he was going to give me this part. I think on some levels President Obama has the same problem. He's the president of the United States, not the president of the black community. So his responsibilities are far, you know, very wide and very wide ranging. So as much as he can do for the American people that obviously includes the black community, I think that it's unfortunate that they feel like he hasn't done enough when he has done a lot, I think.

CROWLEY: Is there any disappointment in (ph) you, having been a solid supporter?

MORTON: I think, yes. I think there's a bit of a disappointment. I mean one of the things that he talked about was that, you know, everything would be out in the open. And I was really looking forward to that. That there would be less kind of behind closed doors. So that was a bit disappointing but at the same time, you know, I have a 25-year-old son that's on my, you know, health insurance and that's because of President Obama. CROWLEY: I would be, you know, drummed out of the corps of fans of "Scandal" if I didn't ask you about Jake Ballad and how long you're going to let him get away with taking (INAUDIBLE)?

MORTON: Well the problem and the glory of working on "Scandal" is that we never know from episode to episode what's going to happen until we actually sit down and have a table read.

CROWLEY: You really don't know?

MORTON: I really don't know. I have no idea. So we'll see where this all ends up.

CROWLEY: It's been a fun ride, right?

MORTON: It's been great. It's been terrific.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Our congratulations again for last night's award. And just a word now about another political drama on Washington's must see list, Netflix's "House of Cards." At STATE OF THE UNION we'd like to highly recommend season two episode nine, if you want to know what Washington power couples tune in to (INAUDIBLE) on Sunday morning.

And P.S. these pictures with the SOTU team, actors Susannah Hoffman and Derek Cecil, and episode nine director Jodie Foster were taken the day we shot the scene in September when we were sworn to secrecy until February and they say journalists can't keep secrets.

Just ahead, there's been a deadly carbon monoxide poisoning at a New York mall. The latest on the dozens hospitalized and what may have caused that leak. And later, on Fareed Zakaria "GPS" an interview with the polish foreign minister the man who helped broker peace in Ukraine.

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CROWLEY: Thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Head to CNN.com/SOTU for analysis and extras including our getting to know interview with Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy. And if you missed any part of today's show find us on iTunes, just search STATE OF THE UNION. For you viewers in the United States, Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," is next right after a check of the headlines.