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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with John McCain; Interview with Reince Priebus

Aired March 16, 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: Good morning. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

We're following two breaking stories, the disappearance of Malaysia Air Flight 370 and the 239 people on board, and the crucial vote in Crimea on whether it will realign with Russia.

Senator John McCain landed this morning in Washington, following a trip to Ukraine and he will join us.

But now to the very latest on the search for Flight 370. Malaysian authorities say that search for the missing jetliner has entered a new phase.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The search area has been significantly expanded and the nature of the search has changed. From focusing mainly on shallow seas, we are now looking at large tracts of land encompassing (ph) 11 countries as well as deep and remote oceans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Other highlights from this morning's news conference with Malaysian authorities, 25 nations are now involved in the search. Malaysian investigators are examining the jet captain's flight simulator, which was taken from his home.

The plane's pilots did not request to fly together. Malaysian authorities also say it is possible the plane was on the ground when some signals were sent and the CEO of Malaysian Airlines says there were no hazardous materials on board.

I want to bring in CNN's Atika Shubert, who is in Kuala Lumpur.

Atika, what can authorities expect to get from the confiscated flight simulator from the pilot's home?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know exactly what kind of a flight simulator it was at his home. It did seem to be something that you could sort of -- that he constructed himself, a sort of homemade flight simulator.

What investigators will be looking at is basically what was he doing with this flight simulator? Was there any path similar to the one that we now know the plane actually took?

So these are the kinds of details that they'll be looking for but we don't have any indication yet of what they found. All that we know is that they've taken that simulator out and they are currently investigating.

But obviously the very fact that this appears to have been a very deliberate path set by somebody on that plane means now that investigators are now specifically looking at the crew, the pilots, of course, the air stewards on board but also passengers.

And also they are looking at ground crew, anybody who was helping that plane get up into the air. These are all leads that they're all looking at now, Candy

CROWLEY: And so it says to me, if they're still looking at all of these leads, that while they may have strong suspicions that it was someone in the cockpit or had to be someone in the cockpit, that they really don't at this point have not narrowed it down in any way, shape or form.

SHUBERT: No. They made it very clear in this press conference that they have not narrowed it down at all. They say they are talking to all of the different ground crew, all of the -- looking into the profiles of everybody on board. So it is very much a blanket investigation at this point.

And to add further to that, they are also, of course, widening the scope of the area that they are looking at. As you mentioned, more than 20 nations now being asked about satellite -- any satellite data or radar data that they may have of this plane flying through.

That, of course, will be very sensitive, particularly for those countries in the North Asia Region stretching from North Thailand to Kazakhstan, very sensitive area.

CROWLEY: Atika Shubert in Kuala Lumpur for us, thanks, Atika.

I'm joined now by John Negroponte, a former ambassador and the first person to serve as director of National Intelligence, a position created in the post-9/11 era, and John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Ambassador Negroponte, I want to go to you first. Using, putting on your intelligence hat here, what right now are U.S. intelligence agencies looking for, doing, fearful of?

JOHN NEGROPONTE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: Well, first of all, it is quite surprising this has gone on that long.

Secondly, I'd say it is also a surprise that we haven't really gotten any information from any other country. And I think presumably the plane flew over a number of them. And I think that they, like the Malaysians themselves, who are, after all, in charge of the investigation, are pretty much a tabula rasa. They're really starting from the beginning. There's, I don't think, anything definitive out there and I think everything we've heard so far is more of a theory and a hypothesis.

And there's nothing yet that's been concrete enough to fill in behind those initial suspicions.

CROWLEY: You can't go down just one road yet.

NEGROPONTE: I don't think so. We do know from the reporting from our Barbara Starr that intelligence officials do think the most likely is that someone inside the cockpit did this, that they had to be experienced --

NEGROPONTE: Well, having been the director of National Intelligence and having spent a number of years dealing with intelligence, I'd be wary of putting forward just a single hypothesis like that.

I mean, for all I know, we're going to wake up tomorrow and there's going to be some very startling new fact, totally contrary to all the prior speculation, that is going to help explain this event more easily.

CROWLEY: And so if you look at it from a -- obviously the first thing anybody thinks these days when anything happens with an airplane is there had to be terrorism at play. And there is a difference between somebody involved in a criminal activity or somebody who may be intent on suicide or a hijacking and a terrorist activity.

What about the threats that are out there -- and you say there are very few -- would sort of raise your hat to this?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I think the government is doing well to investigate not only the pilot and the co-pilot, but all the passengers.

Secondly, it really caught my attention at the very beginning of this story that the co-pilot -- that these two ladies stepped forward with photographs of him, having allowed them in the cockpit, and then the pictures that were taken afterwards.

So it suggests a bit of laxity of discipline up in the front of the airplane. I thought that was striking. But I think all doors and all possibilities in my mind are still open.

CROWLEY: When you look at the idea of people -- apparently the folks that were using stolen passports, not much was turned up there.

Does that surprise you?

NEGROPONTE: Well, and they happened to be Iranian nationals, if I'm not mistaken. It's potentially a surprising matter as well. But I think that's another reason to scrub the backgrounds of all of those individual passengers.

CROWLEY: And is it -- would it be unusual, do you think, for this to have been -- I think some of the -- one of the reasons that some people think, it's not terrorism, it has to be something else -- is that there's been no one going, "We did this, by the way, we did this," because the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. And this is a mystery that hasn't been solved.

NEGROPONTE: To be honest, I just have no idea.

CROWLEY: And I think that's where most -- and who is working on what at this point?

I did talk to a source at the CIA yesterday who said we're pinging everybody we know. We're pinging agencies that we work with. We're pinging sources.

And what other things are being done on the U.S. side?

NEGROPONTE: Well, we have good -- we have good relationships with the country of Malaysia. I'm sure they're sharing with us quietly all the information that could help us follow up leads. We have large databases. We have great expertise about aircraft. I think there's much that we can contribute to the investigation.

But we got to remember, they're the ones who have got the lead in carrying this thing out.

CROWLEY: Well, it was their plane and it was -- they were the point of departure.

What do you make of this idea that, oh, well, maybe they landed it somewhere and they're retrofitting it with bad things or going to use it as a big missile?

NEGROPONTE: Well, its another --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: It seems farfetched.

NEGROPONTE: It's pretty wild, I would say.

CROWLEY: Yes.

NEGROPONTE: It's pretty wild.

CROWLEY: I guess -- somebody said to me last night, well, I would have thought it was pretty wild for people to learn how to fly a plane and fly it into buildings in New York, so you can't totally rule it out.

But does that sound improbable?

NEGROPONTE: Well, that means that they would have had to land on an airstrip that's capable of accommodating that size of aircraft or, even more importantly, be able to take off from it. I suppose you can land on a relatively imperfect field, but then how do you take off again?

I mean, there are a lot of questions that would occur to me that I would ask the intelligence analysts to take a look at.

CROWLEY: So going forward, the interest of the U.S. in this, obviously you want to be helpful in any kind of aviation accident, because we have obviously had planes -- 777s and all of that.

But in terms of just what we would want to explore going forward --

NEGROPONTE: Well, there are multiple -- we have multiple interests in this.

First of all, aircraft safety, airline safety, is there some flaw in the maintenance of that airplane? Is there something wrong with the procedures at the Kuala Lumpur airport?

Secondly, the issue of terrorism: was there a terrorist act? If so, by whom and so forth? So those are at least two very important interests, among others.

CROWLEY: Right. Let's hope we get some answers.

I want to turn now to John Goglia, who's joining us from Miami.

Thank you so much. I want to use your expertise looking at accidents in the past and ask you a couple of questions about what we used to refer to as the black boxes, the data recorders that record the voices in the cockpit, as well as some other things.

Is it -- it seems to me that whoever did this, if it was done deliberately, tried very hard to get rid of any data that would tell you what happened.

Is it possible to make those black boxes, those data recorders, not work, if we were to find them?

GOGLIA: Well, it is possible...

CROWLEY: Is it?

GOGLIA: -- to make them not work. And a knowledgeable crew could interrupt the electrical power to the circuitry and then -- and cause the box to stop. They would have to know the location of that circuit breaker. And off the top of my head, I don't remember where it is, if it's in the cockpit or if it's down below in the electrical power center. But it is possible in flight to get to the circuit breakers and interrupt the power.

CROWLEY: And how long -- what is the time span for finding those?

GOGLIA: Well, if it's in the water, if it's in the ocean... CROWLEY: Right.

GOGLIA: -- the signaling device that's located on the unit has about a 30 day battery. So it's going to ping. And I hate to use that word, because it's been so misused recently.

CROWLEY: Right.

GOGLIA: But it emits a sound that can be heard quite a distance in the water. But it only lasts for about 30 days. CROWLEY: One of the things that we're learning now, is at least U.S. folks looking at this think it's -- you know, if it's in the water, it's more likely in the Indian Ocean, which is about 11,000 feet, on average, a little over that.

What is the difficulty at that depth?

GOGLIA: Well, it is quite difficult, but it's not impossible. We have done many recoveries in deep water, the U.S. and others. And look at Air France out in the middle of the Atlantic.

So when the wreckage is located, the box will be recovered.

CROWLEY: And if someone were to enter this cockpit -- because I've been trying hard to figure out how solid those doors were on Malaysian Airlines. And I haven't been able to find that out yet -- anyone tell me with any definitiveness.

So if someone were in there holding a gun to the pilot's head, directing him to do things, internationally, is there any sort of training for pilots to say, look, if it's a hijacker and he tells you to do this, that or the other thing, fake him out and do this.

Would it be possible for a pilot to pretend to be doing what a hijacker with some knowledge is asking?

GOGLIA: Well, if the hijacker can understand navigation, it makes it difficult for the pilot...

CROWLEY: Yes.

GOGLIA: To go someplace else. All bets are off. There's all sorts of possibilities what would happen in that scenario.

CROWLEY: Yes, there certainly are.

While you're looking -- when you look at this, the Malaysian government has now concluded that this was a deliberate act, that these were deliberate things that maybe only could have been done by someone who understood this plane, which would be the folks in the cockpit.

When you look at the things that have come in now, the things that we think we know for sure, where do you see would be your first avenue of investigation? GOGLIA: Well, in any investigation that we conduct in the United States, and in the West countries that are familiar with accident investigations, everything that we've talked about today, that you've mentioned today, would be happening on day one or day one-and-a-half. They would be running in parallel to one another.

The police investigation would have been looking at the pilots, would have been looking at their financial records. And meanwhile, the accident investigators would be using their expertise to look at the airplane and try to locate it. This investigation has started very slowly and pieces have been added to it...

CROWLEY: Right.

GOGLIA: -- that should have been started as one event.

Now, all of these countries are signatories to the international treaties that cover the police work, that cover the accident investigation work on the ICAO, which is part of the U.N. I mean these things -- this is not new. These procedures have been around for a long time.

So it's a little disheartening and tragic that it has taken so long for this investigative process to finally get to today, which is where we would be in day one or day one-and-a-half anywhere else.

CROWLEY: John Goglia, thank you so much for your expertise on this matter. Ambassador Negroponte, as always, we enjoy having you here.

Thank you.

We're going to continue to follow this story and have an update on the search for the flight shortly.

But when we return, John McCain has returned from the Ukraine, saying they need military assistance to defend against the Russian invasion into their country.

He just got back hours ago.

He's joining us now exclusively.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: A turning point in Ukraine: voters in the country's Crimea region are casting ballots on whether to become independent or rejoin Russia. Senator John McCain is just back from Ukraine and joins us now.

I know you're sleep deprived, so I especially appreciate your being here.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: This vote is taking place today. MCCAIN: Yes.

CROWLEY: And everybody I've talked to says they're going to vote to re-annex themselves to Russia.

I want to play you something and get your reaction. Former Secretary Gates had this to say last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, FMR. SECY. OF DEFENSE: I do not believe we're going to -- he's -- that Crimea will slip out of Russia's hands.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: He thinks Crimea belongs to Putin and that's it.

MCCAIN: Well, I think in the short term, clearly now with the overwhelming military superiority and the actions that Putin has taken, you can't say that there is anything but a fait accompli.

But having said that, that doesn't mean that we somehow say, OK, you can have -- you, Vladimir Putin, can have a major part of a country that you -- that your country itself signed an agreement in return for Ukraine's returning their nuclear capabilities, that they guaranteed the territorial integrity of it.

And by the way, could I just make one comment about the so-called referendum? We have a wonderful ambassador representing the United States in Ukraine. He and I have a bet. I'm saying it's 70 percent of the vote to join Russia. He's saying 80 percent of the vote. We'll see what happens.

Look, it is a bogus thing. We used to call it plebecide in the days of Hitler and Stalin. It is a done deal. And we have to -- so any more speculation about --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: It makes things even harder, does it not? I mean what happens now? We know it's ginned up, but it gives Putin more sway.

MCCAIN: First of all, let's -- it's important to say what's happening now. I predicted once Ukraine went the direction it did, that Vladimir Putin would not let Sevastopol go. That means taking Crimea.

There's a couple of things going on right now. One, the Russians just took a place where the gas supply comes into Crimea. Gas and water have to come from outside Crimea.

Second of all, there's 4,000 Ukraine soldiers, military people, in bases throughout Crimea that are still surrounded by Russian troops. There is a place called Theodosia that has 600 Marines there. These Marines have said they're not going to surrender. So this thing is not quite -- CROWLEY: Ukraine Marines.

MCCAIN: Yes, Ukraine Marines -- excuse me, Ukraine Marines.

And finally, could I just say, no, there is no contemplation of U.S. military action but there is a whole lot of things that the United States of America can do.

CROWLEY: What will move Putin then?

MCCAIN: In the short term, I'm not sure what will.

One other aspect of the present situation: you've just shown on CNN there's demonstrations in Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. The question now is does Putin move into Eastern Ukraine and assert control over there, which I'm not sure why, since he has achieved much of his objectives?

Or does he leave it alone and let the Ukrainian people alone?

One of his problems is that if the people of Russia see a thriving, economically strong Ukraine on their border, they might be -- and he's worried that they may be infected with the same disease.

But the United States of America, first of all, has to have a fundamental re-assessment of our relationship with Vladimir Putin. No more reset buttons, no more tell Vladimir I'll be more flexible. Treat him for what he is.

That does not mean re-ignition of the Cold War, but it does mean treating him in the way that we understand an individual who believes in restoring the old Russian empire.

CROWLEY: Practically speaking, what does that matter? How do you treat him?

MCCAIN: Well, I think economic sanctions are a very important step. Identify these kleptocrats and -- look, Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country. Its kleptocracy, its corruption, it's a nation that's really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy. And so economic sanctions are important.

Get some military assistance to Ukrainians, at least so they can defend themselves. Resume the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Look at Moldavia and Georgia, both of whom are occupied by Russian troops as we speak, a path towards membership in NATO.

There's a myriad of steps that we can take. And it will be very interesting to see to what degree our European friends will join us, who are dependent on Russian energy supplies.

CROWLEY: Isn't that part of the problem, is that the economies are intertwined in many ways. First of all, there's some Russian money from the elite, certainly does help out in real estate and a number of things in Europe. MCCAIN: In saying that, in the long term, we should be working to get energy supplies to Ukraine and other countries in Europe.

We are an abundant now energy exporter. We should be using that -- if it is a long-term strategy, we should be figuring out right now.

CROWLEY: Two questions and then you say can so in terms of helping Ukraine with weaponry or whatever defense things that they need, I know that you want that. There was a report that the president had not -- I'm not sure if he rejected is or is reviewing it.

Have you spoken to the president? Do you have reason to believe he'd turn that down? Or do you think they're willing to do it?

MCCAIN: I've spoken to John Kerry. I did not speak to the president. They are giving it serious consideration.

Look, that doesn't mean American boots on the ground, although maybe delivering some humanitarian supplies by U.S. aircraft, military aircraft, in Kiev might have a kind of beneficial effect.

CROWLEY: PR --

MCCAIN: -- yes, in many respects. But we need to give long-term military assistance plan, because, God knows what Vladimir Putin will do next, because he believes that Ukraine is a vital part of his vision of the Russian empire and we need to understand that and act accordingly.

And again, no boots on the ground. It is not the Cold War over again. But we can do a lot of things.

CROWLEY: Big help.

MCCAIN: Yes.

CROWLEY: And let me ask you, because just the tone and some of the things you've said lead me to believe that you do agree that Crimea is gone and that now it is about protecting the rest of Eastern Ukraine.

MCCAIN: Candy, I hate to say that, because obviously it has an effect on those brave people in Ukraine, including those 4,000 that are in bases in Crimea.

What I would like to see is a long-term commitment to the freedom and democracy and the assistance we can provide Ukraine, including, over time, regaining Crimea. That would be one of our goals. It is an integral part of that country.

CROWLEY: But it is not a short-term goal at the moment.

MCCAIN: I'd love to tell you otherwise.

CROWLEY: Senator John McCain, thank you. MCCAIN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Hope you get some rest.

MCCAIN: Thanks.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it. When we return, the search intensifies for Malaysia Flight 370, extending north to Kazakhstan in Central Asia and as far south as the Indian Ocean near the coast of Australia. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Colleen Keller, former operations research analyst for the U.S. Navy. She is a licensed pilot who helped find Air France 447 when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. And Steven Wallace, former director for the FAA's office of accident investigation who is now a CNN aviation analyst. Welcome.

So, one hardly knows where to start with this, because we know so little and it seems with each passing day, one of the questions I want to ask and either one of you can answer this, is over time, wouldn't everything -- let's say the plane is somewhere at the bottom of the ocean. What would they be looking for now? What survives on the top of the ocean?

STEVEN WALLACE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Well, typically what floats and as far as the recovery, Colleen is the expert on that. But the -- as far as what typically floats from an aircraft is -- in (ph) impact to (ph) the water kind of light and interior components. So like we had on day two, we had the Chinese photo which I think has been dismissed at this point because it was just too big to be a part of the structure (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY: Right. But eventually even those sorts of things eventually take on water and sink. Yes? Or will there always be --

COLLEEN KELLER, SENIOR AEROSPACE ANALYST: There will be things that float on the surface. It will be cushions, luggage, lot of luggage is found. Human remains will float back to the surface. So there was lots of debris from the Air France search and we were expecting the same from this.

CROWLEY: And what do you make of the fact that nothing has been seen? Other than we're in the wrong place.

KELLER: We're in the wrong place. I mean it's not a perfect search. It takes a lot of time to find these things floating but we -- it is a big, big ocean and we're just looking in the wrong place.

WALLACE: It is a uniquely challenging search, and this investigation has gotten off to a slow start. Organizationally, we don't have -- doesn't appear that we have a strong and independent investigation agency really running it. The best world's experts are there to help. I think only in the last couple of days have they really gotten more involved. Initially the information was just coming out in dribs and drabs and it was inconsistent, it wasn't being openly shared.

CROWLEY: And what about -- and I know you are talking about the Malaysian investigation has been a little troubled, at least as far as others are concern, saying give us this information because we've got the experts that can look at this and try to figure things out. And we're told it is a little better now. But what about the idea that all of this data that comes in? One minute we're told, oh -- the data shows that the plane went to 45,000 feet. And then it's changed in a minute to 23,000. Then somebody says, no. That couldn't really happen. So is there interpretation of this data? Because when you look at data, I think see right here it was this and that. Or is this an interpretive exercise?

WALLACE: I think there is interpretation. And how this airplane is certified (ph) to go to 43,000 feet it could fly a bit higher than that. And this is -- I understand the military radar is out of the end of its range. It is not like the airport is sending down a precise signal which it normally would do of altitude. So there's some calculation of that. So you're exactly right. It's very much subject to interpretation.

CROWLEY: So if you were out there now looking, what would your -- are they doing anything now -- they're now bringing 25 nations I think or pouring assets in going north and in going south. Is there more that could be done in terms of the search?

KELLER: Well, it is my understanding -- and I'm not part of the search but they're going to other means. They're looking beyond looking for surface debris and they're starting to look for electronic signatures of the aircraft. They're re-looking at the radar data.

CROWLEY: Tell me about electronic signatures?

KELLER: An aircraft will emit electronic transmissions. It could be cell phones from the pilots, from the passengers, it could be the systems on-board, the radios, the transponder, even if the transponder is secured, there could still be some signature that is possible to be detected. So I think they went back and they looked and they started seeing this additional data and that's what gave us the far-flung area that we are looking at now.

CROWLEY: And how do you search for that sort of thing?

KELLER: Well I think -- those things are picked up by satellite.

CROWLEY: Right.

KELLER: So they're beginning to look at other, you know, wider means of detecting the aircraft, which again, I don't know what data they're using.

CROWLEY: What do you most want to see? What do you most need to begin to make sense of this?

WALLACE: Well, in all accident investigations, everything is on the table on day one. Here I feel like we're still kind of at day one so everything is on the table. Families I think have maybe drawn some glimmer of hope from the fact it appears this airplane flew for several hours. So I don't want to take that away from them.

CROWLEY: But is there a way that it could appear that the plane flew for several hours but it really didn't? WALLACE: So that's a very good question. I think, you know, possibly could the signal have been coming from someplace else? You know, this is where -- another example of where I think we need the best experts in the world to step forward and say, yes, this is correct, not just a conclusion that, you know, as we saw from the Malaysians, that it involves, you know, a rogue pilot or an intruder. Or something like that.

CROWLEY: I want to thank both of you, Colleen Keller, Steven Wallace, for your expertise on this. I'm sure you'll be back. This has been quite the story. So appreciate it.

WALLACE: Thank you.

CROWLEY: When we return, the search area is now 35,000 square miles. The USS Blue Ridge is searching. We'll talk with them next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Eight days since Malaysian Airlines flight 370 vanished. Malaysian authorities this morning said the search for the missing plane has significantly expanded covering 11 countries. The United States is 1 of 25 nations involved in the search. Joining me on the phone is U.S. Navy commander, William Marks. He is aboard the USS Blue Ridge in the South China Sea. Commander Marks, thanks so much for joining us. Where is the U.S. military -- what's your primary search area for the U.S. military?

COMMANDER WILLIAM MARKS, USS BLUE RIDGE (on the phone): Right now we have an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS Kidd. He is in the Southern portion of the Andaman Sea. Just to the northwest of the Strait of Malacca. The Kidd can search three to 500 miles a day. And in addition they have two MH-60 rescue helicopters on-board. Those will get anywhere from 100, 150 miles out from the ship and can cover another few hundred or thousand miles of searching area. In addition to those, we have a P-8 Poseidon and a P-3 Orion. Those are our long- range six-wing patrol craft. And they fly out of Kuala Lumpur. And that's where we get our big coverage. They can fly out about 1,000 miles, even 1,200 miles, do a search with three to four hours on station time and then fly back. So that's our big coverage here for the U.S. Navy and 7th fleet.

CROWLEY: And do you feel the need at this point for any additional U.S. assets or is it, you know, pretty much where we need it right now for what they're asking?

MARKS: I think we're about right about where we need it. 7th fleet is a large area. We have responsibilities from the International Date Line all the way to the India-Pakistan border. Then of course north all the way north of Japan, then south to Australia and beyond. We have 70 to 80 ships and submarines, about 100 aircraft. We have continuous 24/7 operation everywhere from Japan through the East China Sea, South China Sea, and of course in the Indian Ocean. So I think we're about right when you balance all of our responsibilities and the amount of area any one ship and helicopter can reach. CROWLEY: Commander Marks, sounds like a herculean task to me. Thanks so much for taking some time out to talk with us. We appreciate it.

MARKS: You're welcome. Thank you.

CROWLEY: I want to thank again both my guests here, Colleen Keller and Steven Wallace. Thanks for joining us this morning.

WALLACE: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Next up -- a win for Republicans on Tuesday in a special house election. Are they on a roll for the upcoming mid- terms? And did a Republican commission study a year ago put them on the right track?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: We know that we have problems. We've identified them and we're implementing the solutions to fix them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: A conversation with the Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Following Mitt Romney's defeat in 2012 Republicans looked into what went wrong when and among other things concluded the party needs to attract more minority and women voters. Republican National Committee ad releasing highlights that effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a Republican.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yo (ph) soy (ph) republicano (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I believe in opportunity for all. And I am a Republican.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: A part of that ad and joining me now Reince Priebus, who is chairman of the Republican National Committee. This is a long- term goal obviously...

PRIEBUS: Of course.

CROWLEY: ...reaching out to voters. But there have -- one of the other things that, you know, you have talked about is, the tone, how you talk to people, Republicans in the past, particular candidates have gone off the rails for saying certain things. And so with that in mind I know you're good friends with Congressman Paul Ryan. He was talking about inner cities and how -- he's done a poverty tour as you know and trying to come up with some solutions there. And he had this to say which was widely criticized. I want to play a bit of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: We have got this tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work. And so there's a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: You know Democrats took out after him and said this is code for black people are lazy, that, you know, African-Americans or Hispanics don't really want work. Was this as artfully phrased, is this the kind of thing you're talking about?

PRIEBUS: Well, I'm not sure. I mean, Paul said he thought it was inarticulate but quite frankly, I mean, Democrats are lying in wait to pounce on whatever might be off tone. But here's what I would say. Why was Paul talking about this? The reason he was talking about it is because he's devoted a large part of his life starting back when he worked with Jack Kemp on finding ways to tackle poverty, to free up capital, to create opportunities in urban areas around this country. He was actually touring the country with Bob Woodson, who is a civil rights leader, and he's coming out with a book as well on some ideas on how we can tackle poverty in this country. I would say that Republicans like Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, who are talking about this very issue is what is important to our party.

CROWLEY: I think you're absolutely right. But sometimes the language -- it isn't -- I don't even think that the critics question the motivation.

PRIEBUS: Right. So when Joe Biden says, you know, to free people up from the chains. And he makes -- we don't talk about that. But we talk about Paul Ryan who's devoting his entire momentarily at least, his entire life right now in this moment to talk about this issue. I mean Republicans around this country are talking about issues that affect everyone. Affect whatever race, whatever gender. I mean, we are the ones leading the way, I think, in this country on these issues. And so I commend Paul for his work that he's doing around the country.

CROWLEY: One of the last things on this I want to ask you about, Florida, 2013. You had a great victory this week. But CPAC, I know you attended, there were lots and lots of speakers. When you looked at the rundown, it struck me because you have done (INAUDIBLE) this push for minorities and for women. There were two women, main women speakers from the podium. And isn't that the sort of message when women look at the Republican Party, where minorities look at the Republican Party, they don't see themselves in it. And I know it's about issues and that you all have, you know, crafted issues and done as you mentioned Rand Paul and Paul Ryan are out looking for solutions and things you talked about with poverty, but these sorts of things, the words in the pictures matter. What can you do to correct that kind of thing? Because ...

(CROSSTALK)

PRIEBUS: Well first of all, I mean, we don't run CPAC but I thought it was a great week of, you know, talking about conservative principles and I think it's important for a party to go to places that we're strong and also go to places that we're weak. But what are we doing? We are doing things like this 14-state ad campaign, talking to everyone in every state, talking about what brings everyone in this country together around the Republican Party. About creating your own American dream.

Candy, it also means taking a national party like we did last year and historically changing the very nature of how we do business. We are putting people in every single battleground state across the country, every single community. We have a historic engagement effort in Hispanic, Asian and African-American communities not just five months before an election but for four years. This is what we do. We are a campaign committee. But one of the things we didn't do well in the past is communicate on a long-term basis in diverse communities across America. And what we're changing is that every day and every week, we're in these communities talking about the Republican Party. I think that's important. That's how you change things.

CROWLEY: You had a victory in Florida's 13th Congressional District.

PRIEBUS: We did.

CROWLEY: The Republican won replacing a Republican -- deceased Republican. What is the lesson that you drew from that? Because it's awfully hard, you know, sort of translate from March to November. But what's the lesson you drew?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, Obamacare is complete poison out there in the field. And so the lesson is going to be, number one, you have to hit your main target which is Obamacare. But secondly, David Jolly gave a positive vision. I mean he talked about tax reform, he talked about, you know, issues that are affecting a lot of seniors around the district that he represents. We had -- he had a position on Obamacare which was obviously positive for him. He had a positive message besides Obamacare. And we also had an effort that was cooperative with the RNC and the state party where we were taking some digital advances that we had made, some walking applications that we had put in the field, and our data was talking to our political field operation on a -- on a historical way for our party and it worked.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you quickly about Senator Ted Cruz who has been fund-raising for one of the outside groups. A conservative outside group that is working to defeat Senator McConnell, is that OK with you? PRIEBUS: Well I don't know much about it. I think Ted would probably differ with that comment. I think he's a member of the team and I'm a big fan of Ted's. I'm a big fan of our entire Republican field. We're going to have a good year this year and, you know, I think we're going to win the U.S. Senate and I think that bodes well for the future.

CROWLEY: I got to run. I'm sorry. But I hope you come back and join us.

PRIEBUS: All right. Thank you, Candy.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Appreciate it. Thank you all for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," is next after a check of the headlines.