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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Tony Blinken; Interview with Benjamin Netanyahu; Interview with Senators Cardin, Barrasso

Aired April 27, 2014 - 09:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): No trade with Japan. Putin stays put. And Israeli Palestinian peace talks fall apart.

Today, when the world's only superpower talks, does anyone listen?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of my jobs as president is to worry about a bunch of different problems at the same time, and not just pick and choose which problems that I have the luxury to worry about.

CROWLEY: Obama foreign policy: a conversation with the deputy security adviser, Tony Blinken.

And coming up empty -- a U.S. effort to rejuvenate Middle East peace talks fails nine months after an optimistic beginning.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months.

OBAMA: We didn't anticipate that we were going to solve it during the course of a six- or nine-month negotiation.

CROWLEY: We talk to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Plus, the 50,000-foot view of U.S. policy and global realities with Senate Democrat Ben Cardin and Republican Senator John Barrasso.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Thank you, all, Thank you.

CROWLEY: And our political panel parses Clinton world, Boehner's immigration signals, and the politics of race.

This is STATE OF THE UNION.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: President Obama is in Malaysia, part of his four-nation tour of Asia. He has wanted to increase U.S. focus on that part of the world since taking office. But other hot spots from Ukraine to the Middle East keep getting in his way of his foreign policy agenda.

Joining me now, the president's deputy national security adviser, Tony Blinken.

Thanks for joining us again, Tony.

TONY BLINKEN, U.S. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: Looking at this week, no trade deal with Japan, which the U.S. is pushing very hard for, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, where the secretary of state has focused intensely for nine months, fall apart, and Mr. Putin still has his troops sitting on Ukraine.

If you look at this week, what you're hearing from critics is that the U.S. power to sway the events of the world has declined. Regardless of whether you blame President Obama for that or whether you say it's the nature of the world, it's how it now works, would you agree with that premise?

BLINKEN: I wouldn't.

And I think this week actually demonstrates it. First, look what's happened in Asia, with the president leading the effort to rebalance our relationships in Asia, all the different lines of effort that we have been working on over the last five years, strengthening our alliances with our core partners, building the institutions in Asia, developing trade and commerce, so that we open up markets to Americans, resituating our defense posture.

Every single line of effort, we're stronger now than we were five years ago, as well as working the relationship with China. At the same time, we have global responsibilities. The president was advancing this agenda in Asia at the same time, as you said, we had Ukraine.

Russia a week ago signed onto road map to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine. Unfortunately, it hasn't lived up to the commitments it made. So the president in Asia convened by phone all of the senior European leaders and got them to agree to a very strong statement from the G7, and this week additional sanctions to put the pressure on Russia.

CROWLEY: So there will be -- and I want to talk about Ukraine in a minute, but I first want to follow up and say, look, if you take the broader view, and you look at Assad in Syria still in power years after the president said, this guy has got to go, if you look at the Egyptians, who staged two coups, over initial U.S. objections, during the Obama administration, the E.U. wasn't initially on board with some of these sanctions.

Even Britain failed to come with the U.S. in some of its efforts. So, it just looks as though the ability to persuade allies has become less and less. Are those not failures?

BLINKEN: I don't think that's the case, Candy. I think, today, we saw the president announce a major basing agreement in the Philippines that is...

CROWLEY: But those aren't the problems of the moment.

I think that's what I'm trying to say.

BLINKEN: Well, let's look at -- sure.

CROWLEY: If we had -- with Syria, and we wanted to -- there was an effort to get Britain to go along with us into Syria, and Britain didn't want to go. There's just -- that's our closest ally.

BLINKEN: So...

CROWLEY: It just seems, as we move on to the big problems, I'm not saying no forward movement here. I'm just saying when you look at the big problems that have -- we face.

BLINKEN: Take Syria.

When we were focused on Syria, it was to get the chemical weapons out of the country. As we speak today, 92 percent of the chemical weapons have been removed.

CROWLEY: But he's still killing people at will. Right?

BLINKEN: Yes, absolutely. The humanitarian...

CROWLEY: He's winning.

BLINKEN: The humanitarian situation is bad and the standoff with Assad is bad.

CROWLEY: Is it still U.S. policy that we want Assad out? Is that still...

BLINKEN: Assad has forfeited any right he has to leading his country. And it's clear that he -- that there is no way that Syria can find peace and stability with Assad in power.

CROWLEY: So U.S. policy is we want him gone?

BLINKEN: We're working -- we're working with other countries. We're working with the moderate opposition in Syria to build the pressure on Assad as we speak.

CROWLEY: I want to move you to Ukraine.

All Western allies are on board with new sanctions. Is that correct?

BLINKEN: That's correct.

CROWLEY: As a result of those phone calls?

BLINKEN: That's correct.

CROWLEY: What is the thing that's going to hurt President Putin the most?

BLINKEN: Look, step back and look at what's already happened as a result of the actions Russia has taken and the steps we have taken in response, led by President Obama.

The economic isolation of Russia is growing every single day. Its financial markets are down 22 percent since the beginning of the year. CROWLEY: But you don't want to punish the people of Russia. You want Putin to move away from the Ukraine border, and he's still there.

BLINKEN: He has a very hard choice to make, Candy. He had a compact with his people. And the compact is this: I will deliver economic growth for you if you remain politically compliant.

Right now, he's not delivering growth. And the pressure that we're putting on him, in coordination with other countries around the world, is forcing that choice on him.

CROWLEY: It may be, but, as you know, his popularity -- at least according to some polls. And let's face it. We -- Gallup has not been in there, so we're not totally sure.

BLINKEN: Right.

CROWLEY: But we're seeing that his popularity goes up because it's seen as, hey, the West is trying to push us around again.

So, the question remains, it may be hurting Russia, but it doesn't seem to be moving Putin. So, in the new round of sanctions, what will move Putin?

BLINKEN: As of -- starting this week, in coordination with our allies and partners, we will be exerting additional pressure on the people closest to him, the companies that they control, the defense industry. All of this is going to have an impact.

CROWLEY: Put some additional pressure. You going to freeze their accounts?

BLINKEN: Well, stay tuned. We will see in the coming days as we -- as we roll out these sanctions.

But the point is this, Candy. Crimea is already becoming a dead weight on Russia. You're right. In the initial moments, there's nationalism, and that boosts his popularity. But they are spending billions and billions of dollars to prop up Crimea.

At some point, the people are not going to like that. All of this is creating a dynamic in which what Putin has promised to his people, which is growth and prosperity, cannot be delivered because of...

(CROSSTALK) CROWLEY: How long before you think it's going to hurt Putin himself? Is there something in these new sanctions that goes directly at him?

BLINKEN: We have to be deliberate about it. We have to be determined about it.

CROWLEY: Does he have bank accounts you can freeze? BLINKEN: There are lots of things that are going on around him, the people who are around him who matter to him who are going to be affected by these sanctions.

But, more than that, it's the Russian economy. The growth progressions for the Russian economy as a result of these sanctions are heading in to below 1 percent. Again, over time, this has a significant impact because he can't deliver what he promised to his people.

CROWLEY: And is time of the essence here? Do you need him to do it in a week or two weeks. Are you willing to wait him out and to exert further pressure on the Russian economy?

BLINKEN: We need to be deliberate about this, and we need to do this in coordination with our partners.

What we're also doing, Candy, that is very important is increasing the support for Ukraine. Over the next week...

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about that, because I want to...

BLINKEN: Yes.

CROWLEY: Because I know that you're giving nonlethal aid and have given nonlethal aid and sort of upped it almost every week, it seems.

What they would like is lethal aid. They would like weapons, armaments of some sort. Have you ruled out sending any lethal weaponry to the Ukraine government?

BLINKEN: Two things.

First, we're focusing on where we can be most effective, the economic assistance. Over the next week, the IMF program is going to go forward. And we're looking at, all told, between the IMF, between us, between the World Bank, other countries, $37 billion over two years. That's going to have a dramatic impact on strengthening...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: How about the weaponry they want, because I have to -- let me just -- I want to read you something that the Ukrainian prime minister said, which was that he believes that Russia is trying to start World War III.

You cannot win World War III if the Western allies, including the U.S., have said, hey, we're not coming in, and you can't get lethal weapons.

BLINKEN: The vice president was in Ukraine just a week ago. He announced additional nonlethal security assistance to Ukraine.

We have been providing that assistance. We have also worked with Ukraine since before this crisis to help professionalize their military. But here is the bottom line. We could send weapons to Ukraine. It wouldn't make a difference in terms of their ability to stand up to the Russians. What would make a difference...

CROWLEY: Well, they can't win, but they might be able to do more than they're able to do now.

BLINKEN: But what would make a difference, what will make a difference over time is professionalizing their military. We have been working on that since before the crisis.

We will have a program to do that with the new government when it comes into office after May 25.

CROWLEY: Two quick questions, last one on Ukraine.

Now pro-Russian activists in Eastern Ukraine are holding Western observers from a lot of different countries. Does that change your calculation at all?

BLINKEN: Well, I think it just underscores that what Russia is doing in Ukraine directly or through its proxies is brutal, it's cynical and it's dangerous. The very observers...

CROWLEY: But it doesn't change your -- your approach?

BLINKEN: No, it only adds to the fact that we need to take further action. And that's exactly what the president worked to do with our European partners on Friday.

CROWLEY: And if there is unity between Fatah and Hamas, and they go ahead with this unity government that they're talking about, will the U.S. halt aid to the Palestinians?

BLINKEN: You know, what President Abbas announced the other day was an intent to work over time to get some kind of unity government. We have heard that before.

Let's see what happens. Let's see if they actually deliver on it. They haven't in the past. But our bottom line is very clear. There are clear principles that any Palestinian government has to adhere to: recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, respect past agreements. Any government has to do that.

CROWLEY: You would consider cutting off aid?

BLINKEN: If the government didn't do that? Yes.

CROWLEY: Tony Blinken, thank you for joining us this morning. We always appreciate your time. BLINKEN: Thanks very much, Candy.

CROWLEY: When we return: President Obama's hopes for Middle East peace suffer a major breakdown. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joins me live. He's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now is Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Prime Minister, as always, we thank you for being here.

I want to start with the fact that Israel is involved in its annual commemoration this day of the Holocaust. And in advance of that, Palestinian President Abbas issued a statement calling the Holocaust -- and I quote here -- "the most heinous crime in the modern era." He expressed sympathies for the victims of the Holocaust.

What do you make of that?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, I try to reconcile that with the fact that he embraced just a few days ago the Hamas terrorist organization that denies the Holocaust and openly calls for a new extermination of the six million Jews in Israel.

So, President Abbas can't have it both ways. He can't say the Holocaust was terrible, but at the same time embrace those who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another destruction of the Jewish people.

I think probably what he's trying to do is damage control. I think what President Abbas is trying to do is to placate Western public opinion that understands that he delivered a terrible blow to the peace process by embracing these Hamas terrorists. And I think he's trying to wiggle his way out of it.

CROWLEY: He is also quoted in today's "Jerusalem Post" as talking about this new unity government with Hamas, and saying: "The government reports to me and follows my policies. I recognize Israeli, and so will the government. I renounce violence and terrorism, and I recognize international legitimacy, and so will the government."

So, essentially, he's saying: This is still going to be my government. It still is going to follow what I have observed and what I have said.

What do you make of that, and do you believe him? And, if you do, is it enough to bring you back to the table? NETANYAHU: Look, I will not, as the prime minister of Israel, negotiate with a government that is backed by the Hamas terror organization committed to our destruction.

Neither would you. You designate Hamas, the U.S., as a terrorist organization. It sends thousands of rockets into Israel. It sends scores of suicide bombers. It praised the murder of a father of five the other week on the way to a Passover dinner, praised it. They praised bin Laden when he was alive as a holy warrior and condemned the United States when you killed bin Laden.

This is one of the most preeminent terrorist organizations of our time. And, obviously, the U.S. abhors it, as we do. And nobody expects us to negotiate with a government that is backed by it.

Now, the statement that, well, I will put forward, even though I'm -- I'm in national unity with Hamas, I'm putting forward in the front office more respectable people, we know that gambit. It's the back office/front office gambit. In the back office, the mafia sits. In the front office, you have respectable lawyers.

We're not going to buy that trick. We will not negotiate with a government backed by Hamas, unless Hamas had changed its position or unless Hamas said, oh, I'm willing to recognize Israel.

But Hamas, including after this pact with Abbas, is saying the very opposite. It's saying, Israel is going to be destroyed; we will continue the terror campaign against Israel.

This is the partner that President Abbas has now joined. And I call on President Abbas, tear up your pact with Hamas. Recognize the Jewish state. Come back to a real peace process.

CROWLEY: One of the criticisms, Mr. Prime Minister, has been that, prior to this, when you were dealing with Abbas, you had said, look, I don't know who I'm supposed to negotiate with. There's Hamas and then there's Abbas and Fatah.

So, now there's a unity government, and you still don't want to talk to them. So, there's criticism here that this was an excuse for you to walk away.

NETANYAHU: Sorry, Candy. Whoa.

CROWLEY: Go ahead.

NETANYAHU: No, Candy. No, no. I'm sorry.

I heard that. I hear people write that up, but, in fact, it's the very opposite. I said right from the start, I said, look, I could wait until President Abbas recognizes -- represents the entire Palestinian people. But, in this case, we will wait until eternity, and we won't have peace.

So, I chose deliberately, openly, specifically, and explicitly to negotiate with that part of the Palestinian people that said it was willing to make peace with Israel. I said, we're not going to try to include the other part that seeks our extermination. And that's what I did.

I have been very consistent on this. Now that he's joined them, I say this. Look, unity for peace is good. Unity with Hamas that seeks to exterminate Israel, the opposite of peace, is bad. I have always been consistent on this.

I negotiate with those who are willing to make peace with my country. I will not negotiate with those who seek to exterminate peace with my country, whether they sit in the front office or the back office. That's not where I'm going to go. CROWLEY: So, as I understand you, what you're saying is: First, for me to come back to the table in any way, shape or form, Hamas or a representative -- a top representative of Hamas would have to renounce violence and recognize Israel, or Abbas will have to not have a unity government.

Is that how I read you?

NETANYAHU: I think that's a fair -- that's a fair summation.

Either Hamas disavows the destruction of Israel and embraces peace and denounces terror, or President Abbas renounces Hamas. If one of those things happens, then we can get back to the peace negotiations. I hope that he renounces Hamas. I hope that he gets back to the peace table, as I have just said.

CROWLEY: Do you need the United States...

NETANYAHU: The ball is in his court. It's his decision.

CROWLEY: Do you need the United States to broker an ultimate deal?

NETANYAHU: I think the United States has been indispensable in all the peace negotiations that we have had up to now.

It doesn't obviate the need for genuine, direct contact between the parties, but it can help a lot and I appreciate Secretary Kerry's unbelievable efforts. They don't always succeed. And, unfortunately, President Abbas made sure of that by embracing Hamas.

But I have to credit John Kerry for his efforts. I still hope that we will find a way to peace. You know, if we can't get it through a negotiated agreement because of the composition of the Palestinian government, then we will seek other ways.

I'm not going to -- I'm not going to accept a stalemate. I won't accept a Palestinian state that is another Iranian offshoot of Iran firing missiles into our cities. This is what has happened with Hamas and Gaza. But I do seek a two-state-for-two-peoples solution. If I can't have it right away with a Palestinian -- this Palestinian government, then we will seek other ways.

I'm -- I called on my cabinet ministers today, and I said, we're going to take time out now for reassessment and try and figure out alternative paths to peace. But the simplest way to get back to the peace process is have President Abbas renounce the pact with Hamas and come back to negotiations.

CROWLEY: Mr. Prime Minister, finally, in September of 2012, you told me that you thought Iran was probably six to nine months away from being able to have full nuclear weapon capability. Where is it now?

NETANYAHU: I didn't say weapon capability. I said nuclear- enriched material. CROWLEY: Nuclear-enriched, yes, sir.

NETANYAHU: That is fissile material for a bomb.

They're about two months away. And they'd like -- they'd like to be -- to stay two months away. They have been under terrific sanctions pressure. There was an interim deal. Now they're seeking a deal that would keep them more or less where they are. In other words, they will be a few months away -- or they might be set back a few months from producing enough nuclear material for a bomb.

And, in exchange, they will have all the sanctions removed. That's a terrible deal. It would keep Iran as a threshold nation that is capable of crossing the nuclear threshold at the time of their choosing within weeks or months. That would endanger the entire world. It would endanger you.

They're developing intercontinental ballistic missiles to put nuclear bombs on those missiles for you. Don't let it happen.

CROWLEY: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thank you for your time this morning.

In the noon hour of this program, I will have a response from a top official in the Palestinian government.

But, when we return: President Obama says the international community must stand firmly in opposing Russia in the Ukraine. Does he have the sway to make it happen? Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Ben Cardin and John Barrasso with their take next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: With me now, senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland and Senator Barrasso, Republican from Wyoming, both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Thank you for being here.

BARRASSO: Thanks for having us.

CARDIN: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Lots of foreign policy floating out there. So I want to start with Israel and the Palestinians. Another -- and I don't know who anywhere is surprised that talks broke down because it's sort of the message of our time. Is it time for the U.S. to spend less time in the Middle East because it has been pretty intensive for nine months particularly -- using Secretary of State John Kerry's time. Is it time now to pivot to other places of more importance which certain lip includes the Pacific where the U.S. economic future is?

CARDIN: We've got to do both. We got to be very active in Asia as the president is just coming back from Asia and has (ph) rebalanced Asia, very important to the United States. Middle East is very important to the United States. So we have strength to be able to be very active in moving forward with the peace process in the Middle East and to also deal with the problems around the world. CROWLEY: But you know, Senator Barrasso, there are problems in the Middle East and it's very important. But we're now less dependent on foreign oil, just speaking strategically. We're less dependent on foreign oil, but more than that, the problem really is in Syria and our relationship with Iran, not primarily Israel and the Palestinian dispute. And if you settle those Middle East peace talks and you got an agreement between the Palestinians and Israel, it doesn't settle Syria and it doesn't settle Iran.

BARRASSO: And Iran continues to be a huge threat to the people of Israel and specifically I think we have not progressed with the Iranian peace agreement that the president has been focusing on, specifically 83 senators have written to the president about what needs to be in an agreement. I doesn't seem like they're coming back to that, so nuclear armed Iran to me continues to be the bigger pivotal point in that area of the world.

CROWLEY: I must be reading different things than you are. There was an editorial today I believe in "The New York Times" about all the progress being made and that Iran has, in fact, cut back on its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium and on its ability to make it. Is that not so? Is that not where this deal is going?

CARDIN: I think Iran is very important, that we continue to put (ph) -- keep the pressure on Iran. We don't know yet. We're in the process in negotiating an agreement. It's important that Iran does not have the capacity for a breakout of a nuclear weapon within weeks or months as the prime minister indicated. So that's have a very important part.

But let me get back to your previous question. I talk to leaders in the Middle East -- a lot of Arab leaders all the time. They are concerned about the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. I think what Mr. Netanyahu said, we need to have two states, one representing the Palestinians, one representing a Jewish state. So it's important that we keep focused on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

But also Syria, as you mentioned, is an area, we have to continue to make sure not only that they don't have chemical weapons, but that we have a government that's responsible to all the people in Syria.

CROWLEY: You all - I hope heard Tony Blinken he was on earlier in our show, who said, all the allies are on board Western Europe and others. And there will be new sanctions this week. Here is what we know. The administration keeps saying and other western partners keep saying it has really hurt the Russian economy, but it hasn't budged Putin. So do these sanctions have to be more aimed at the man himself, and what would that look like, a sanction against the man himself?

CARDIN: Well, you need to have sanctions against those who are the closest to President Putin.

CROWLEY: Some of the sanctions earlier did, right? CARDIN: Absolutely. They do. They're specific to individuals who are in the elite class of Russia, that have great influence on Mr. Putin. They're paying a price. They need to be involved in international commerce and we're making that much more difficult. There is a price that's already been paid and it's having its toll.

It's having its toll on the Russian economy. It's having its toll on individuals. There is now going to be a next round of sanctions. The good news is we have a unified international community. G-7 is unified in its resolve.

CROWLEY: And yet for all of that unity, the first round just didn't seem to face him at all.

BARRASSO: You know, when I was in the region this past week, Candy, visiting with leaders in that area. Sanctions need to be consequential. And what we hear are sanctions against individuals. I think we need to go further against that, sanctions against Russia in terms of their military activities, in terms of arms, in terms of finances, in terms of energy.

I have an editorial today with other senators in "The Washington Post" specifically about sanctions, not just about individuals, but also about Russia itself. And then what we need to do long-term in terms of an energy strategy to use our own energy resources as a geopolitical weapon against Putin.

CROWLEY: It's not, in fact, U.S. policy just opposing Russia and trying to push Russia back from Eastern Ukraine. It's also about bolstering up a very young government. The U.S. has been there with all kinds of aid, but Tony Blinken and others I've talked to give no indication that they will give Ukraine any lethal weapons.

And basically it's like they can't win so we can't really give them lethal weapons. And yet you have western observers being held down by pro-Russian forces. How does Ukraine help that situation if the U.S. doesn't help them with lethal weapons?

CARDIN: Well, our first priority is to build the Ukrainian economy. Because we know that they have to be able to deliver for their people. So the IMF arrangements to bolster the economy, to deal with the energy sector, to deal with the poverty issues in Ukraine is critically important. But we're also working with Ukraine in regards to their military capacity.

We're working to make sure they have a trained military. No we cannot have any -- there won't be an equal balance between Russia and Ukraine, but we can help them in helping develop the capacity to have a more effective military presence.

CROWLEY: But they have an immediate military need, do they not?

BARRASSO: They have an immediate military need. Their prime minister has told me that --what they have inherited from the last leadership is a hollowed out military where nothing shoots or flies or works. They need weapons and I think we should supply them antitank, anti missile weapons. In terms of the energy component of this, they're held hostage by Russia. Russia increased the price of natural gas 44 percent when the people of the Ukraine -- just this past month. So Putin continues to use energy as both a carrot and a stick, not just for the Ukraine, but also in the Baltics as well as in Europe.

CROWLEY: I've got about 30 seconds left. So let me get you to chime in. No lethal weaponry from the U.S. as far as you're concerned?

CARDIN: I think we're helping not necessarily supplying lethal weapons but we're helping militarily from the point of view of preparation. The key thing is that you can't believe anything that Putin says. So we have to be prepared. We have NATO responsibilities for the countries on the borders. So there is a presence that we have in that region.

BARRASSO: But right now worldwide our enemies don't fear us. Our friends don't trust us and when we show weakness, it emboldens people around the world who are our enemies, whether they're in Iran, Syria, Russia or North Korea.

CROWLEY: Is this the fault of the Obama administration or is this just a changing world?

CARDIN: I think President Obama has been very strong. I think there's no disagreement in Congress in the steps he's taking. Plus he's gotten international unity which is critically important. A leader not only leads by example but also brings others and President Obama has done that.

CROWLEY: Senator Cardin and Senator Barrasso, thank you for both so much for being here.

Next up, our political panel and wisdom courtesy of Hillary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: As men and women age, men are tired of the race. All they want to do is take a deep breath. They want to retire. They want to play golf. They want, you know, to just enjoy life, and women are raring to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: I wonder what she meant by that. And what does John Boehner mean by this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Here is the attitude. Oh, don't make me do this. Oh, this is too hard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Joining me around, S.E. Cupp, host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE." Programming note, it is scheduled to return to air Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern. Matt Bai, national political columnist for "Yahoo," and CNN political commentator, LZ Granderson. Thanks all.

We have to talk about the talk of this week. We have Cliven Bundy out west, hasn't paid grazing fees for his herd for 10 years. He becomes sort of a cause celebre with conservatives about government overreach, et cetera, et cetera. And then he makes remarks that -- interpreted by most anybody are racist. It makes its way and aren't we surprised in the political dialogue.

Here is what the DNC Communications Director had to say, by now we've all seen the repulsive racist and pro-slavery comments by uber racist Cliven Bundy, a man that Republican leaders like Rand Paul, Iowa frontrunner Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz and Rick Perry were recently holding up as the paradigm of individual liberty's struggle against the federal government. Turns out his defense of individual liberties were less than inclusive. So it's now in the political realm. Somewhere I saw it's sort of a godsend to Democrats.

S.E. CUPP, CNN CROSSFIRE HOST: Well, gosh, this story has been bizarre from start to finish. I was not a conservative that rushed to Cliven Bundy's defense. I'm a small government, as Republican as they come. And I think there's a role of civil disobedience. This was not it for me.

But the liberal giddiness over the conservative embarrassment the Cliven Bundy has become I think it's really bizarre as well. The left has Cliven Bundies of their own. I mean I don't know that what Cliven Bundy said is any worse than what Al Sharpton has said about Jews, Mormons, homosexuals. I mean the difference is that Republicans were embarrassed by Cliven Bundy. Democrats are still celebrating theirs.

CROWLEY: I'll ask you to jump in there.

LZ GRANDERSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: I would certainly say there's different ways of showing embarrassment. You can publicly denounce statements but still produce policies that actually kind of caters to the statements in the first place. So you can sort of kind of characterize it as, you know, the Republicans are embarrassed. But then you have policies that (INAUDIBLE) size minority groups. We have policies that attack the LGBT community, can you really say they have separated themselves from that mentality?

CUPP: So that's the other thing. Cliven Bundy is supposedly (ph) representative of the way all conservatives think. That's pretty intellectually lazy.

CROWLEY: But I do think -- you didn't say that but I do think, Matt, and correct me if I'm wrong, that Democrats do --

MATT BAI, NATIONAL POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "YAHOO NEWS": Don't bring me into this.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: No. I just want to say from a political strategy point of view...

BAI: Yes.

CROWLEY: ...is this helpful to Democrats to beat up on the -- to hang this on the Republican Party?

BAI: It's helpful to the extent that everything is about base politics that at least they think it is now. So it probably rally as certain segment. Look, this came from -- his comments came from "The New York Times" story. My old colleague Adam Nagourney did a terrific job on that story. But I'd tell you what struck me. I thought the race comments actually took away attention from something that struck me.

If you looked at that story, what struck me were the photos of guys with assault rifles lined up along that hill to defend that land. This doesn't happen in a vacuum. This happens because for years people in the media, people in politics, people in positions of power have ratcheted up this rhetoric about revolutionaries, about Tea Partyism, minutemen have made an explicit comparison between where we are and the 1770s.

I think there's a good chance it ends in violence. That was the thing -- that's the thing about this episode that frightens me more than the crazy comments that got blown up and became a political issue.

GRANDERSON: To piggyback off that though, could you imagine what would have happened if a black man and his supporters who didn't pay taxes stood in defiance of the federal government with semi assault rifles and weapons standing there, don't tread (ph) on me. If a black man was in that situation?

CUPP: The government really overreacted in this case, to take his cattle at gunpoint I think was a bit of an overreaction and a bit disproportionate. And I think there are -

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Didn't he owe a million dollars in taxes for ten years and they tried to work it out?

CUPP: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

CROWLEY: Eventually you know -- whatever. But I mean it wasn't like he was just some guy and suddenly the government came to take his land.

CUPP: Well, no. The recourse for Cliven Bundy would have been and should have been in the courts over years. This was again why I was not ever rushing to Cliven Bundy's defense. And now we have statements that are clearly repulsive. But there is -- there is a frustration that Bundy clearly tapped into about the encroachment of the federal government that is representative.

CROWLEY: Big federal government (INAUDIBLE) the big government sort of strike (ph).

I want to play you something -- the president was asked about race this morning at his news conference in Malaysia. The question, though, was about the L.A. Clippers owner who apparently allegedly is on a tape that TMZ put out saying racist things. We've yet to have proof that that's what it is. But the president was asked about it and here is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don't have to do anything, you just let them talk. We've made more enormous strides but you're going to continue to see this percolate up every so often. And I think that we just have to be clear and steady in denouncing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So basically the president taking this sort of calm, you know, being quite presidential, right? Like this comes up from time to time and it reminded me a bit of -- in the campaign when he would say, do I think people oppose me because I'm black? I do. Do I think some people favor me because I'm black? I do. And he seems to take that kind of approach here in his response to the L.A. Clippers.

CUPP: Yes. I think he tried to walk a fine line. And I actually like what he said. Stupid people say stupid things. But I'm a little uncomfortable weighing into this just yet. As you said, we don't know this is him on the tape. We have questions about his girlfriend's motives. Apparently the NAACP was said to honor this guy. I don't -- I don't really understand. There are a lot of strange moving parts in that story. I don't know.

GRANDERSON: Let me clarify it for you, money. If you follow the money, then it all starts to make sense. The NAACP has received a lot of money, donations from Donald Sterling. So he's already been sued and had to settle out of court many allegations in terms of him discriminating -- (INAUDIBLE) he owns property. And he did not rent to minorities and would say very disparaging things about minorities. This has been recorded for years --

CUPP: To be proven...

(CROSSTALK)

...why would the NAACP give him an award?

CROWLEY: Money.

GRANDERSON: Money covers a multitude of sins.

CROWLEY: I've got three minutes to cover two subjects so I'm going to give you your choice here when we respond. John Boehner -- saw (ph) on our open, is, you know, complaining about his conservatives or his moderates or those who oppose him trying to get some kind of immigration bill through the House. And my question is, really, what are the chances and what are the signals coming from him? Is he going to put it on the floor?

Or Hillary Clinton who is out and about this week talking religion and how women are better when they are older than men who are retired, and I get the feeling she's playing with us.

CUPP: This (ph) is a choose your own adventure.

CROWLEY: You can choose your own adventure.

CUPP: (INAUDIBLE) go ahead.

CROWLEY: Or both (INAUDIBLE).

BAI: I have written about them both and will many times. I find Boehner to be maybe the most interesting politician to watch. Do you remember, Candy, the old "Saturday Night Live" they (INAUDIBLE) sketch called one-man the demon and it was -- you might remember this was like, you know, heads (ph) went around and told them to do really mundane things. You would hear these voices saying, take a pottery class. Take a pottery class. I feel like this is Boehner, you know? He's got these voices always. It seems like he's really tormented in there saying, you know, appease the right, don't appease the right. Pass in the (INAUDIBLE). Pull back the debt ceiling. You know -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (ph): (INAUDIBLE).

BAI: I think, you know, he's really torn. Look he got the debt ceiling done with Democratic votes. He could get immigration done I think with Democratic votes. His thing is that he's always had to choose between is it the legislation or is the status and the harmony on his own party? And he never seems to choose a path for long and that frustration coming out is the inability to take a path and stick with it.

GRANDERSON: That seems kind of interesting, the idea that Boehner is not being a strong leader when he's often times critical of the president for not being a strong leader. The fact of the matter is -

BAI: (INAUDIBLE) a strong leader these days.

GRANDERSON: Well if you look at what happened in 2012, which I'm sure, you know, the Republican Party does, you got to do something to try to track the minority vote. You have to do something to try to apiece to the Latino vote. Immigration reform is the path to doing that.

CUPP: But Republicans don't believe that they will get a bump or credit for fighting for immigration reform from the Hispanic and minority groups. They don't believe that they'll get any -- that they'll get anywhere with that. And there is a lot of mistrust. There is not a lot of trust between Republicans and Democrats or Republicans and the president. So if you talk to Republicans and Democrats off the record in dark corners in a Capitol Building, they will tell you there is really is no incentive to move off the status quo. Republicans get to call Democrats -- and the (INAUDIBLE). Democrats get to call Republicans anti-immigrant. It's actually best in political sense to keep things the way they are.

CROWLEY: I got to run, but I'm going to take up my last question Hillary Clinton. I think she's keeping her options open and really enjoying playing the media with some carefully selective words. So I had to bring her in the conversation.

(LAUGHTER)

S.E. Cupp, Matt Bai, LZ Granderson, thank you guys very much.

CUPP: Thank you.

GRANDERSON: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts at the top of the hour. But first Pope Francis bestows a special honor on two of his predecessors. That's next.