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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY
Interview with Kim Beazley; Interview with Geoffrey Pyatt; Interview with Lukman Faily
Aired April 20, 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: On Easter Sunday, prayers for modern- day miracles from the depths of the Indian Ocean to the chilly waters of the Yellow Sea.
Today, in Jindo, South Korea, bitter anger and heartbreak among families waiting for news as murky waters and heavy currents hamper efforts to find nearly 250 passengers missing since a ferry capsized Wednesday. And with 11 ships and 12 planes and a sophisticated underwater device, the Australian-led search for Malaysia Flight 370 ends day 44 the same way as the others, empty-handed.
DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, MALAYSIAN TRANSPORT MINISTER: I appeal to everybody around the world to pray and pray hard that we find something to work on over the next couple of days.
CROWLEY: For how long with how much can this go on? Reconsidering the search with the Australian ambassador to the U.S., Kim Beazley.
Plus, the U.S. sends more nonlethal aid to Ukraine, but stops short of the weapons it requested. Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, joins us with the hopes and fears in Kiev as it faces a border threat from Russia.
Then, Iraq's ambassador to the United States goes Boston strong -- Lukman Faily on his tribute to this country and hope for his own.
And eight million sign-ups for his Affordable Care Act.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there's a strong, good, right story to tell.
CROWLEY: The president joins his party's midterm battle to keep the Senate in Democratic hands.
This is STATE OF THE UNION.
CROWLEY: Good morning from Washington. I'm Candy Crowley.
The scene is unbearable to watch, and the numbers are staggering. Rescuers in South Korea are bringing bodies to shore as distraught relatives hold out hope that anyone could still be alive from a sunken ferry filled mostly with high school students. Officials released transcripts of ship-to-shore radio communications during the ferry's final moments.
Let's bring in Paula Hancocks in Jindo, South Korea.
Paula, what do these communications tell us about those final moments?
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, these conversations between an unidentified person aboard the Sewol ferry and two radio towers, the destination radio tower and the radio towers closest to where this ferry actually sank, and the most interesting part that we can see from it at this point is how quickly this ship appeared to list and then to sink.
Now, this is based just on the transcripts available to us. But it appears as though the distress signal, the first distress signal went out at 8:55 a.m. on Wednesday, and then by 8:56 a.m., so just one minute later, the person on the Sewol said -- quote -- "The ship rolled over a lot right now, cannot move" -- end quote.
So, just one minute after the distress signal was put out, very quickly, the person on the Sewol said that people could not move. Throughout the next half-hour, he said that -- he or she said a number of times, the passengers are unable to move. They were asked whether or not the life rafts had been put out, whether the passengers were on the rescue boats, again, saying that they could not move.
So what this really tells investigators at this point is that this ship, this 68-ton ferry, did actually list significantly and very quickly -- Candy.
CROWLEY: And, Paula, we also know, at least from the survivors, that there was no announcement to abandon ship. In fact, it seems to me the reports were that, quite the opposite, that many of these passengers were told to stay. Do the transcripts tell us anything about that?
HANCOCKS: Yes, we understand from the -- from the actual vehicle traffic services themselves, they asked at 9:12 a.m., did the passengers board life rafts or rescue boats?
The person on the Sewol said, no, they haven't yet. They can't move because the vessel has listed, again, at 9:18 a.m. saying once again, we cannot move. We are able to stand by holding on to the wall. Then, at 9:23 a.m., the VTS said, please broadcast and tell the passengers to wear life jackets.
At that point, the unidentified person in the bridge in the Sewol said, we are unable to broadcast. And then it was 9:38 a.m., less than one hour after the first distress signal, according to these transcripts, that the transmissions ended -- Candy.
CROWLEY: Sounds like the big question now is, why did it take so long to come up for -- with that emergency from there?
So I know lots and lots of days ahead of you. Paula Hancocks, thanks so much.
We want to move now to another tragedy taking place under the surface of the sea. It has been seven weeks since Flight 370 vanished. Now Malaysian and Australian officials say they might have to regroup.
Joining me now, the Australian ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for being here this morning.
One of the things, I think, that has gotten a lot of play here is what your prime minister, Tony Abbott, said to "The Wall Street Journal." "We believe that search will be completed within a week or so. If we don't find wreckage, we stop, we regroup, we reconsider."
What does that mean?
KIM BEAZLEY, AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think a week or so brings us to about three or four days from now, maybe a little less.
Regroup and reconsider, regroup would be I guess to look at the kit, see whether there needs to be additional elements added to it. It will be to look at the search to that point, see whether or not they're satisfied that the area searched has been searched as much as it could be. Look at the math that went into making a calculation on the pingers. Look at the math that was associated with the handshake estimates, and keep going.
CROWLEY: And, by the handshake estimates, it's the signal from the plane to satellite.
BEAZLEY: That's to satellite.
CROWLEY: So is there any thought now that, perhaps, the pinger estimates, that is, hearing the ping and saying, OK, let's narrow the search area down, is there a thought that the -- those estimates were wrong, and it could be someplace else? And is there any thought that perhaps they weren't pingers from the plane?
BEAZLEY: Well, on the first point, I'm not sure, of course. I'm not intimate with the research.
BEAZLEY: But from what one can discern, they had a very high level of confidence that they had got the right areas associated with the pings.
I think, in their minds, that the pings from the aircraft were good, in terms of it reflecting the fact they had discovered the area where it was located. I mean, I think, if you -- if you cast your mind back, it was a set of pings that were picked up over a long period of time, a couple of hours. There is nothing there that it could be, other than that sort of recorder. So there's no other planes gone down in the area. So logic has driven them to this spot.
And, by that same logic, though, they may widen that spot and say -- I mean, it may take a very long time -- but that, OK, we thought it was -- we'd narrowed it down, but perhaps, you know, it's over here or, you know, further south or east or whatever it happens to be.
If, among the things you thought could be reconsidered, let's say the search area's expanded or, you know, shrunk. Who decides that? Is that an Australian decision? Is that some sort of international decision? What happens? How does that work?
BEAZLEY: Well, the Australians have responsibility for the search. So it would be an Australian decision.
But we would obviously talk to the Malaysians about it, talk to the Chinese, talk to all the other governments involved, and keep them, as we have been, well-informed about progress and calculations and where it is we're headed. There's nothing secretive about this.
This is, one, an area we're all a bit humble. None of know exactly what ought to be done. So, you're going to be in a mode of constant consultation.
The thing that the Australian government has said is, from the outset, they will keep going on this. And we're not -- at the outset, before we had the pings, there was an assumption that this could take months. And that was made clear by Angus Houston, among others, at the time.
And it was taking months in an environment in which we were prepared to take months. So, we will just keep going.
CROWLEY: So, are you prepared to take months in so far as the aerial and the surface water search is concerned?
Is there -- is there at some point you're going to look and say, look, we don't -- the ships and the planes, at least the ships that are not attached to underwater devices, the search for debris is over here; it's so scattered that we can't be of use?
BEAZLEY: Well, obviously, you may well choose to scale it down. But I don't think you can ever quite say that.
You know, we lost a cruiser back in World War II. It's begun to feature in some of your stories. I see that, the Sydney. Now, that was a battle, massive amounts of debris you would expect to see on the surface, all of it gone. Three months later, on Christmas Island, a shrapnel-dotted Carley float with the corpse of an Australian sailor on it shows up. That's about 1,000 miles away.
The debris travels quickly vast distances here.
But you have almost a dozen ships and a dozen planes out there. At some point, there has to be a decision made, like, we cannot put -- and I'm assuming, over a 60-year search, that you didn't...
CROWLEY: ... every day have...
BEAZLEY: No, no.
CROWLEY: ... these kind of assets focused on it.
And I'm just wondering how that decision gets made, where maybe you turn it over to a private contractor and pay for somebody to be out there all the time looking.
BEAZLEY: Well, a decision would obviously be taken by the search coordinators.
In the way in which we talked about a little earlier, that would be done obviously in consultation with the other parties that are involved in this.
And if the didn't air search might be adjusted. But when you say that you're going to reconsider all things, obviously, that's one of the things you're going to consider. You may well also consider bringing in other underwater search equipment. All of these sorts of things will be on the table if nothing is found in the next few days.
CROWLEY: And there's also -- as the last question -- one of the things under -- understood at this point is that each country is paying for its own assets that are in the region. At some point, might that change?
BEAZLEY: Well, that's the norm for search efforts like this. And I would think that that would be -- that would persist.
The question would be, who would pay for private contractors, if more private contractors were brought in? But that would be a decision taken by the Australian government in an environment of great generosity. We have responsibility for this. I think there's an assumption on the Australian part that they will bear the burden.
CROWLEY: Ambassador Kim Beazley, thanks for spending some time with us this morning. Appreciate it.
BEAZLEY: Thanks for having us.
CROWLEY: Coming up: the mission to avoid an all-out civil war in Ukraine. I will talk to U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt about the unraveling situation on the ground.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Three days after an international pact was brokered with the goal of easing tensions in Ukraine, there's no indication that's actually happening.
I want to bring in Geoffrey Pyatt. He's the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, joining us now from Kiev.
Thank you so much, Mr. Ambassador.
Let me ask you straight up. Russia's saying, listen, we don't -- we don't really have any power over these separatists who have taken over Ukrainian government buildings on the border with Russia. Do you believe that? GEOFFREY PYATT, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, we believe that Russia has influence over some of these groups.
And we hope they will exercise it to try to make the Geneva framework a success. We're convinced this is the best chance that we have got to achieve a diplomatic de-escalation of this crisis. And we're working hard at it.
CROWLEY: I know you are.
I think the question is, what next if it does not work? Do you see this, let's say, a civil war breaking out at least long in those Eastern border areas? Do you see Russia moving in? And what has the U.S. got to offer here?
PYATT: Well, Candy, let me say this.
I'm actually just coming from a meeting with Foreign Minister Deshchytsia and the ambassador who heads the OSCE special monitoring mission, along with my E.U. and Russian counterparts.
And I think we all reaffirmed today in this setting our collective commitment to trying to make the Geneva framework a success. There are obviously some real challenges at this point, including some new violence this morning in Slavyansk in Eastern Ukraine.
But we also believe that there has been some progress. I'm seeing reports this morning that at least one of these government buildings now has a Ukrainian flag flying over it. And the OSCE has monitors on the ground who are reaching out, engaging with local political elites, seeing if there's a way to de-escalate the crisis.
So, right now, we're planning for success. On your question about civil war and violence, you know, what I hear from Ukrainians across the board, and especially on this Easter holiday, is a desire to bring everybody together.
There are obviously efforts from small, isolated groups to stir division. But that's not what I hear from most Ukrainians, including, I should add, Ukrainians in the East.
CROWLEY: Is it really small groups? Or is -- is it Russian- activated, because President Putin would very much love to see strife, so that he can use the same excuse he used when he took over in Crimea and say, well, I just came in to protect Russian citizens?
PYATT: Well, Candy, the reports that we're getting, including from the OSCE monitors, make clear that we're really just talking about a couple of hundred of people at most of these sites.
And the polling data (AUDIO GAP) thing, which is that Ukrainians want to be part of a unified, prosperous, politically stable country. There's obviously -- there's obviously some reason for unhappiness, especially economic problems in the East. We have been very impressed by what Prime Minister Yatsenyuk has done. He and acting President Turchynov gave some important remarks on Friday night, where they talked about what the government is prepared to do in terms of additional authorities for local governments, deepening democracy, completing the process of democratization that was begun here after independence from the Soviet Union.
I think that's where efforts are going to focus at this point. There is -- there is an apparent effort from outside to try to stir division, as you say. But I'm convinced that those who are trying to stimulate separatism, who are preaching violence, are not going to find resonance, because that's not what I hear from the people of Ukraine in terms of what they want.
The people in the East would like to hear more from Kiev, and Kiev is trying to provide that.
CROWLEY: One of the things we also know is that the government in Kiev has, in fact, asked the U.S. for some weaponry. Now, the U.S. has given nonlethal aid, and -- but so far has not responded or given any lethal aid.
So we have Ukraine here outnumbered and outmanned by anything the Russians may have. We are offering support and some nonlethal aid to them. But what are they to do if there is a movement across the border from Russia, which is not a -- you know, an off-the-wall kind of thing to think about happening?
Should we not at some point say, here is the wherewithal you need to help defend your land?
PYATT: Well, Candy, I think the fact is that the geography, the balance of power is such that there is no military solution to this crisis. It has to be solved through diplomacy.
That's something that Prime Minister Yatsenyuk himself says. The government has asked us for nonlethal military assistance. And, as you noted, Secretary Hagel, the Pentagon had some additional announcements last week in terms of additional assistance that we are providing, nonlethal assistance.
But the fact is, militarily, as Crimea demonstrated, Ukraine is outgunned. And so our efforts have been focused on diplomacy, focused on economic support. I should say, I believe the strongest answer, the best answer to aggression from Russia at this stage is, first of all, an economically prosperous Ukraine, a Ukraine that's moving forward with support from the international community, and, most importantly of all, successful, freely contested democratic elections on May 25.
There is no better answer to Russia than Ukrainians coming together and voting in those polls on the 25th of May.
CROWLEY: Finally, we're learning that the U.S. is going to do some training exercises in Poland and Estonia sort of designed to reassure some of those NATO countries that the U.S. is there for them militarily. It's going to involve about 150 U.S. soldiers, which -- we're told, to take place over two weeks.
When we have allies in the region who are looking at 40,000 Russian troops along the border of Ukraine, already with a history of taking over a part of Ukraine, how much reassurance is 150 U.S. troops doing training exercises?
PYATT: Well, Candy, I would say I think we have a fabulous partnership with our European allies here. We have the same strategic objectives vis-a-vis Ukraine.
And over the long-term, the thing that's going to make Ukraine stable and an effective partner for all of the Europeans is this free trade agreement which will be implemented beginning from next month, and then also hopefully over the next couple of months the full implementation of the European Association Agreement that Prime Minister Yatsenyuk signed in Brussels last month.
So, I think, as we work with the Europeans, they share the same approach that I described as -- as U.S. policy, working to make a Ukraine which is politically stable moving forward, moving to a closer institutional relationship with Europe. And that's something that the majority of Ukrainians seek and something which we believe strongly no outside power should be in a position to try to thwart.
CROWLEY: Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, thank you so much for your time this morning.
It has been one year since the Boston Marathon bombings. Thousands will be Boston strong tomorrow when the race begins.
One of those runners is the Iraqi ambassador to the United States. And before he laces up his running shoes, he's going to join us.
CROWLEY: That is Copley Square in Boston. Tomorrow will be the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The annual race kicks off tomorrow morning.
When two bombs exploded near the finish line last year, Lukman Faily was serving as Iraq's ambassador to Japan. He ran his first ever marathons there to raise money for 2011 tsunami victims' families. Now serving as the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, he is set to run the Boston Marathon tomorrow.
Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for being here. FAILY: Thank you for having me.
CROWLEY: Why is it important for you to run the Boston marathon tomorrow?
FAILY: It's a sign from the Iraqi people to our American friends that we will need to stand with each other. And we will always work to -- with each other, to fight against terrorism. CROWLEY: So this is symbolic to you?
CROWLEY: And there's -- there's a lot -- I read an article, I think, that you wrote for the Boston paper sort of comparing Iraq's run toward democracy with a marathon.
FAILY: It's a marathon run, it's a long review, we need to prepare our minds, our bodies for it. And we also have to be aware of the objective. It's not easy to achieve, but when you achieve it, you feel great.
CROWLEY: And you are moving along that road in Iraq. Your country having parliamentary elections.
FAILY: The fourth elections.
CROWLEY: And the fourth elections and the first since U.S. troops left. So it's -- it's an important election, and there's a lot of worry about it, at least as I read it, because you have had a lot of violence the first -- a lot in the most in several years in Iraq. So some of those -- some of the polling places will not be open where the fighting against terrorism is the heaviest. Can you have a complete democracy when terrorism is such a part of the daily life there?
FAILY: We're on the first part of democracy. We can't say we have full democracy at this moment. As you may know democracy takes time for institutions, culture to be created. What we have here is determination of the Iraqi people. The percentage of participation looks like about 60 percent. This has been (inaudible) for the last few years -- for the last few elections. High participation. Even those who are for example in Anbar, who have been displaced internally, we're extremely keen for them to participate in their out of place -- whether they are in the other provinces and others. So we are determined to get the buy-in of everybody in the upcoming election.
CROWLEY: As you approach these elections, compare it to when U.S. troops left Iraq, is Iraq more or less safe on this election?
FAILY: What we have -- in comparison to the elections, even before, we always had campaign by the terrorists al Qaeda and their affiliate. In trying to disturb the election and trying to dissuade people from participation. So we always anticipated that. And this election (INAUDIBLE) -- if you compare us to before the troop withdrawal, the participation is still high. Everyone's keen for parliament to be the only place for resolving the political differences. So in that sense, I think we are in the right trend. We are cementing a new culture of democracy in Iraq.
CROWLEY: You wrote -- when you wrote in the "Boston Herald" recently. One of the things you said was, "on the security front, Iraq needs American equipment and expertise as well as strategic coordination and intelligence cooperation." What does that entail? And do you have any sign from the Obama administration that it will be forthcoming?
FAILY: The administration has been very supportive. It has been understanding the challenge we have, the scale, the depth of the challenge. We are new in developing our own infrastructure and creating the security and military infrastructure.
The U.S. troop, when they left, a lot of expertise left with them. So we have new challenges. We also have a new situation in the geopolitics of the region in Syria. So in a way, the administration has been understanding. What we're after is full U.S. support, not just administration. Congress, others, as well, to understand and appreciate the delicacy and the importance of Iraq in relation to security.
CROWLEY: And finally, what do you make of fears that I've seen written in a lot of different places that Iraq may well become the next Yugoslavia, will be broken up into bits, that the Sunni Shiite and Kurdish to the north that it is just so impossible to bring together, this will become three different nations.
FAILY: Well, we had this story about 10 years ago. We were told that the -- with occupation, with American presence, with sectarian war. And so this is not new to Iraq, this story. However, 10 years with four elections and everybody is adhering to democracy has proven that we are somewhat safe of that issue.
We have challenges, and we have major challenges in relation to getting the right social harmony in the society. In relation to democracy and being the only tool and not bullets being it. So we have challenges. However, are we back to the 2007-2008, turf wars and neighborhood wars and civil war? No. What we have with state of flow. We have rule of flow and we have terrorism trying to get around that.
CROWLEY: Ambassador Lukman Faily, first of all, we wish you luck at the Boston marathon, and certainly, we wish your country luck in its next elections later this week.
FAILY: I look forward to that. Thank you very much. I look forward (ph). Thank you. Thank you.
CROWLEY: In the noon hour of this program, I'm going to talk to two Iraq war veterans about the suicide epidemic that is now affecting their ranks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we do a pretty -- a very good job of taking that citizen soldier and making a warrior out of him. We aren't doing a good job of taking that warrior and reintegrating him back into society.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: But up next, the president opens his push for 2014 Democrats. Our panel is next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud. I don't think we should apologize for it. I don't think we should be defensive about it. I think there's a strong, good, right story to tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Joining me around the table, Mo Elleithee, communications director for the Democratic National Committee, political handicappers, Stu Rothenberg of the famed, "Rothenberg Political Report," and Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee.
So Stu, despite the president's advice to Democrats running for office, his favorable ratings are in the low 40s. Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, also in the low 40s in approval. How good of advice is this, especially to vulnerable Democrats running in states that Mitt Romney won?
STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Well, it's good advice for Democrats running in Democratic districts, but they probably don't need the advice and you're exactly right, Candy. The problem is, there are a lot of Democrats running in senate races in states where Mitt Romney carried it. And defending ACA is really a dangerous game for those Democrats. They're trying to really finesse the race where they're running as independent Democrats not national Democrats talking about the president's premier national accomplishment. An issue, could be a problem.
CROWLEY: Mo, let me -- I want to play you the first ad that Mary Landrieu running for reelection in Louisiana for the Senate, this is the first ad she put out. It was in December.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hundreds of thousands of people across the country losing their current coverage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The administration under pressure to act fast.
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: What I said to the president is, you told them that they could keep it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Landrieu has introduced the keeping the Affordable Care Act promise.
LANDRIEU: I'm fixing it. And that's what my bill does and I've urged the president to fix it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Landrieu says president Obama needs to stick to his word.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: The truth is, you don't care if she runs that ad, right? As long as she returns to the Senate with a d by her name.
MO ELLEITHEE, DNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well look, I care about the fact that Mary Landrieu is in that ad she was promising people that she's going to fix and make the law work better, and the law is working better today, and more and more people are benefiting from it. And I think that's why you're going to see more Democrats take the president's advice and talk about the --
ELLEITHEE: Well here's the difference. Mary Landrieu is absolutely going to say and I think Democrats across the country are going to say, there is a difference between our side and their side. Our side supports this law, making it work better. Their side wants to take it away. People don't want that fight anymore, right? The one thing -- the one thing that is much more unpopular than the Affordable Care Act is repealing the Affordable Care Act and people are tired of the fight that Sean and his side keep pushing.
CROWLEY: In truth, Sean, there is some debate within the Republican Party now whether you ought to just drop the repeal part and start talk about changing it and fixing it.
I want to remind you of something your chairman said when he was on this show talking about Obamacare and the effects a couple of months ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: This issue is going to be toxic for the Democrats. And believe me, we will tattoo it to their foreheads in 2014. We will run on it and they will lose because of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Is that still what Democrats -- what Republicans are going to run on? Are you a one note party at this point?
SEAN SPICER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: It's clear that Obamacare is still the number one, number two, and number three issue going into this election. And the Mary Landrieu ad is typical of what we're seeing from races throughout this country. Whereas Democrats are running from it talking -- distancing themselves, talking about things they've done.
They won't talk about the fact that they were the deciding vote, that they were out there advocating for it, that they want to implement it. They're talking about how they can distance themselves from it. So in my opinion, I hope they take the president's advice, frankly, for our sake. But race after race, the reason that we're expanding the map that Oregon, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Virginia, are getting more and more into play is because it's working.
ELLEITHEE: First of all none of that is true. That those states are -- that Oregon, Virginia, New Hampshire are actually becoming more and more --
ELLEITHEE: But separate from that -- separate from that. Only three people. The only three places in the country where people agree with you that Obamacare is number one, number two, and number three issue. That's the Republican National Committee headquarters, the National Republican Congressional Committee headquarters, and the Senate committee headquarters. You guys and your consultants are the only ones the American people could not be more clear that they want to get back to talking about --
SPICER: I really hope -- I hope you do believe that. I really hope, hope that you believe that's true. Because I will -- I would love to -- I can't wait till I see Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Boehner -
CROWLEY: Let me ask you -- I mean look clearly in the Senate, the Democrats are going to give free reign to the folks. And (INAUDIBLE) we have to do to get reelected
ROTHENBERG: Sure. And that's what Landrieu's ad was. The subtext was, I disagree with the president on this. Don't (INAUDIBLE) us together. But on the other hand it's hard for me to believe the Republicans can run from now to November just on ACA.
SPICER: Well, look, the -- the number of Americans that are disappointed with Obamacare in the last Gallup Poll (INAUDIBLE) the Gallup Poll is 54 percent. The numbers of people and the stories continue. Just this week, we saw a number of widows in Alabama lose their insurance because of this. The stories continue of the number of people losing their doctors, their plans and their insurance rates going up through the roof.
ROTHENBERG: I agree with Sean that when you get additional anecdotes, Republicans will use that to make their point. On the other hand, I think the cake has been baked on ACA, Candy. I mean I don't think there are a whole lot of people changing their opinions now. While on the one hand, Republicans keep it simple, stupid. OK, they've got one message, you have one message, Sean, that's a fine message, you've got to talk about growth and jobs and what the president does or has not done. CROWLEY: Stu, let me get you to kick off a discussion about a specific race. Mitch McConnell. He is now, at least for this past quarter, been outraised by his Democratic opponent. He's polling terribly, both in approval and, you know, running fairly even with her. How much trouble is the Republican leader of the Senate really in?
ROTHENBERG: Well, I think the race is competitive. It's in play, one of the few opportunities Democrats have. I wouldn't oversell it for this reason. Right now, all the analysis, all the context is about the Republican primary. So people who support Matt Bevin, the Republican challenger to Mitch McConnell, will not say they're supporting McConnell in the general election. If those...
Republican voters who will support him against -
CROWLEY: And yet the approval ratings seem to at least -- I mean he's really low --
ROTHENBERG: Unpopular at the moment.
CROWLEY: And used to be that if you had a candidate who was below 50 percent, who was returning and was below 50 percent, he was toast.
ELLEITHEE: For all of the Republican bluster about the president's approval ratings or the ACA's approval ratings, both the president and the ACA are more popular in Kentucky than Mitch McConnell is. I mean he's in very, very real trouble in Kentucky. It is financially competitive, it is competitive in the polling. Alison Lundergan Grimes is running a fantastic campaign. I would be very surprised if he even returns as Republican leader. I'll be surprised if he returns to the Senate next year.
SPICER: Mitch McConnell will not only return, but he'll be the leader, a majority leader. And that's because -- I mean for all the talk about Alison Lundergan Grimes, the president's approval rating is low. Yes. She outraced him by a smidge in a quarter. His cash on hand is significantly higher.
CROWLEY: Twice as much.
SPICER: Right. This is -- as Stu pointed out. I mean I think this is a Washington parlor game when it comes down to it. Her approval ratings aren't great. She has not run a great campaign.
CROWLEY: Let me turn to Iowa where you had what looked like -- and Sean, you're talking about expanding the map. In one of the places they're now expanding the map is in Iowa. Which looked as though the Democratic candidate, Bruce Braley, would win. And then Bruce Braley went to fund raise. In front of some trial lawyers, he himself is a lawyer, he's also -- he's a congressman now from Iowa, running for Senate. He goes to Texas, he's fund raising in front of a bunch of trial lawyers, and he talked about if the Senate turns Republican, that meant that the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee would be Chuck Grassley who is a long standing Republican from Iowa. And here's what he said about Chuck Grassley.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BRUCE BRALEY (D), IOWA: You might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ELLEITHEE: Well, I think, Bruce Braley apologized for that comment. And most people move on. And here's why I think it's going to be enough because Bruce Braley actually has a long history of fighting for Iowa farmers and fighting for Iowans versus either of the two Republican candidates. Remember, these elections are contrast. And anyone that thought Iowa wasn't going to be competitive doesn't know the state of Iowa. But we do know that whomever he's up against opposes the farm bill, opposes -- or supports the Ryan budget which cuts funding for agriculture and rural communities. Whereas Bruce Braley has been in support of those things. So I think he'll do fine with that --
CROWLEY: Iowa is one of the top three agricultural states. When you start insulting farmers -
SPICER: This is sort of an inside Washington analogy. But this is like Martha Coakley insulting Fenway and Red Sox fans not knowing who Curt Schilling was. So I think your point, going to Iowa, insulting farmers. And then it was made -- here's the problem. It wasn't just one mistake. Then he posted a picture of a farm on his Facebook page that was from England. So he tried to dig himself out of the hole and dug himself...
...insulting farmers in Iowa is like insulting Red Sox fans in Boston. It doesn't work.
ELLEITHEE: If you all think that is going to trump your candidate's opposition for the farm bill and support for the Ryan budget that hurts the communities, then I think -- that's more insulting to the farmers than anything else.
(CROSSTALK) CROWLEY: Button this up, Stu.
ROTHENBERG: Where this race really is. It's a competitive race that leans Democratic because the president carried with 52 percent last time. Republicans have two credible candidates Mark Jacobs, the former CEO of Reliant Energy, and Joni Ernst, the state senator from the southwestern corner of the state.
You get an election where it's about the president and Bruce Braley is in big trouble. If it's about the Republicans and the Tea Party and the -- making about the Republican candidates, then Braley got a better chance. But it's certainly competitive with a slight Democratic edge.
CROWLEY: I want to ask you about a different race in our final minutes and that is West Virginia, something that you all have, believe is locked down in your column, in the Republican column.
There was a really interesting article, I think, from Sean Trende, who is a conservative who said, whoa, we may just be a little too optimistic about this race. And he set out an analysis, which basically said, I can see how Democrats actually might win some seats coming up. And here's how. And one of the things he said was, he would not be surprised to wake up the day after the elections and find out that the Democrat, Natalie Tenant, held on to the seat rather than the Republican you all are counting on.
SPICER: I think that's -- might wake up in a dream state, but that would be (INAUDIBLE). Shelley Moore Capito, you know, her family's been an institution in West Virginia. She's running a fabulous campaign. She representing the first district tremendously well. And she's a household name there because she's done a great job fighting for people of West Virginia. Natalie Tennant is tried before. Her husband ran against Shelley and lost. And this has become a family affair running against Shelley.
CROWLEY: One of the things is that you're also running against history here because West Virginia has a very firm tradition of putting Democrats in those --
SPICER: Right, and you look at Joe Manchin who just ran, a former governor who ran for the Senate. He's running as far as he can away from the Democratic Party. It might do well in state races and even (INAUDIBLE) the gubernatorial level. But when it comes to federal races it has shifted tremendously -
ELLEITHEE: I will say this. One of the things I like about the playing field for us this cycle and West Virginia's a good example of this, is the number of Republican House members that they are running for these Senate seats.
The Republicans in the House of Representatives are about the most toxic brand you will find anywhere in any poll. And the fact that these are the people, these are the people who are supporting the Ryan budget that are so out of touch with most Americans that are now going -- that they're trying to put up statewide, it is why places like Georgia, it is why -- in state after state after state, I really like our chances.
CROWLEY: I'm at the end here of my time. But I need the three of you to quickly give me what will surprise me the day after the election in terms of a Senate race.
ELLEITHEE: I think Democrats are going to pick up both really competitive Republican seats in Kentucky and in Georgia.
ROTHENBERG: I think probably Udall loses in Colorado to Cory Gardner in a race that three months ago we would have said he's off there -- off the table.
CROWLEY: Expanded (ph) map.
SPICER: I think New Hampshire, Oregon, Minnesota and Virginia all trend our way and we pick them up.
CROWLEY: I like your positive attitude. We'll bring you back if that happens.
SPICER: We'll pick up seats in the House, as well.
ELLEITHEE: Nothing like some Easter humor from you, Sean. I love it.
CROWLEY: Sean Spicer, Stu Rothenberg, Mo Elleithee, thank you all for joining us on an Easter weekend.
SPICER: Happy Easter.
CROWLEY: Up next, the Pope's Easter message.
CROWLEY: Thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.
Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," is next after a check of the headlines.