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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Eliot Engel, Ron Johnson; Interview with Geoffrey Pyatt

Aired May 4, 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: Ukraine on the cusp, the U.S. economy on the move -- maybe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Today: Ukraine tilts toward civil war, weighted with East/West tension.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If, in fact Mr. Putin's goal is to allow the Ukrainians to make their own decisions, then he is free to offer up his opinions, but it can't be done at the barrel of a gun.

CROWLEY: The U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, joins us with a view from Kiev. And then Senator Ron Johnson and Congressman Eliot Engel on the stakes and choices for the Obama administration.

And an April hiring spree, with the U.S. creating more jobs than at any time in two years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are all good middle-class jobs.

CROWLEY: Translating those numbers for Main Street with economists Mark Zandi and Stephen Moore and "New York Times" economic reporter Annie Lowrey.

Plus:

ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER: I was banning Mr. Sterling for life.

CROWLEY: Race in America.

And renewed questions about Benghazi.

MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: How many more taxpayer dollars are we going to spend trying to prove a political point?

CROWLEY: This week's flash points for our political panel, Ana Navarro, Gwen Ifill, and Donna Brazile.

This is STATE OF THE UNION. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Good morning from Washington. I'm Candy Crowley.

Ukraine remains on edge today, with increased violence in the eastern part of the country. I will get to Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in Kiev very shortly, but, first, two people who have recently been to Ukraine, Congressman Eliot Engel, ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Senator Ron Johnson. He heads the European Affairs Subcommittee on the Senate side.

I want to start out with something that the president said. As you know, he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and had a presser with her and came out to warn President Putin of more sanctions in the offing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The Russian leadership must know that, if it continues to destabilize Eastern Ukraine and disrupt this month's presidential election, we will move quickly on additional steps, including further sanctions that will impose greater costs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: It seems to me -- and let me start with you, Congressman -- that the everything that the U.S. has done, the West has done to this point begins with, if this continues, we're really going to do something harsher.

What is the definition of disrupting these elections in -- later in May?

REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: Well, the elections are scheduled for May 25. And I think it's very, very important that the elections go smoothly. Putin is trying everything he can do to disrupt the elections.

And I think what President Obama is trying to do is work in conjunction with our European allies. They are much more reluctant to do anything against Russia because they rely on Russia for their energy needs.

CROWLEY: They're tied with...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ... more than we are, right.

But the question is, I think if you look at what's going on in Ukraine in the eastern part right now, you can pretty much predict that elections there are going to be a little tough.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Well, it really is spinning out of control. And, you know, the sad fact is, sanctions haven't worked. All the devaluation of currency, the devaluation of the stock market occurred before the sanctions were ever put in place. Basically, that all happened right after the Russian parliament authorized use of force. And that's when all that devaluation occurs.

So, all the sanctions and the threats of sanctions really have had very little effect. And that's unfortunate. Vladimir Putin is only going to respond to action, strength and resolve. He's not going to respond to words. And that's certainly what we hear when we go over to Ukraine.

CROWLEY: But action is limited. When Americans hear action, they think, oh, we're going to send troops or do something, which is clearly off the table and is not going to happen. Would you agree that the sanctions thus far have failed to move Putin?

ENGEL: I would say that the sanctions so far have graduated, have been gradual, and I think they will continue to be gradual.

CROWLEY: Have they affected Putin's behavior?

ENGEL: Well, I think they have affected his behavior. I mean, he has all these troops poised at the Ukrainian border. He hasn't crossed the border yet.

I have to think that part of his calculation is that, if he does that, all bets are off and sanctions would kick in. Look, I'm for sanctions. I think it's sanctions that brought Iran to its knees, because it hurt their economy, and they're negotiating with us now. And I think Putin has to understand that, if he continues this nonsense, sanctions will bring his economy to its knees.

His economy right now is floundering. He really cannot afford to be so -- too wise about this.

CROWLEY: But, probably, I think the point that some Republicans are making that want stiffer sanctions now and in fact more -- some weaponry to go to the Ukrainian government, is that perhaps the Russian economy has been hurt, and there are -- there are signs that has happened, but it hasn't affected Putin.

So sanctions that hurt Russia aren't much good if they don't move Putin.

ENGEL: Well, I think, again, none of us know really what's in Putin's calculation. I agree. We do need sanctions. I think we do need to consider giving military aid to Ukraine.

We need to let Putin understand that any disruption -- and I think Merkel and Obama said that -- any disruption of the May 25 elections would bring a response from us.

CROWLEY: What is your definition of disruption in this case? I want to ask both of you.

Senator, what's your...

JOHNSON: We're seeing it right now.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: As far as elections are concerned.

JOHNSON: We're seeing it right now.

I mean, we are seeing, you know, these Russian sympathizers, and I would say really Russian agents in many respects, taking over administration buildings, fomenting unrest. And now we're really seeing this erupt into real violence. People are dying. And that's exactly what Vladimir Putin wants.

He wants to destabilize not only Ukraine, but he's been really undermining those breakaway republics for years, because he doesn't want to see successful democracy on his borders, because that destabilizes Russia, or certainly threatens his power.

And that came -- that's what this is all about. It makes no economic, rational sense for Putin to be doing what he's doing. He's only doing it to consolidate his own power. And we have to recognize that. So, nobody is talking about combat boots on the ground, but he's amassing tens of thousands of troops. We're sending a couple hundred in.

And I think what we really need to strengthen NATO.

CROWLEY: NATO, right.

JOHNSON: Yes. We need to show some training exercises. And we really should some provide defensive weaponry, anti-tank weapons, to Ukraine.

CROWLEY: Right. And I wanted to ask you about that, because this is the first time I have heard you -- perhaps you have said it before, but that you do think we ought to consider giving actual lethal weapons to the Ukrainian government, because, in essence, people who argue for this say, look, we're not going to go in and help them. They should at least have a little more wherewithal.

Everyone understands that they can't beat the Russian army, but, nonetheless, when you're trying to kind of crush this pro-Russia uprising, maybe some lethal weapons would help Ukraine at this point.

ENGEL: Well, I think it would, but I think that that's not it.

Look, our -- our NATO allies, the ones who were the former Soviet Bloc countries and former Eastern Bloc countries, they're scared to death. They think that, if Putin gets away with this, they may be next.

We have in NATO Article 5, which says an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all. NATO -- the equation of NATO since the fall of the Soviet Union has really been that Russia would be cooperative. If Russia is now going to be an adversary, the whole calculus of NATO needs to change.

And, by the way, the U.S. provides most of the military aid to NATO. The countries are supposed to do 2 percent of their economy for the military if they're NATO members, and they haven't. Only three or four countries have. So, it really means that we're going to have to work in conjunction with NATO, because, if we don't, then the NATO alliance is dead.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Let me ask you just to stand by with me, because do we have Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on the phone. And I want to see. Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.

I wanted to ask you first, what is your understanding right now of the situation in Eastern Ukraine?

GEOFFREY PYATT, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, Candy, right now, I mean, Ukraine is a country in mourning.

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk was in Odessa today. He made the point that violence there on Friday was a tragedy not just for the city of Odessa, but for the whole country. And I would say, having spent some time in Odessa just three weeks ago and spoken with a broad range of political and civil society leaders, there's nothing that I heard and saw while I was in that city which would explain what transpired on Friday night.

And I think it suggests that somebody wanted this violence to explode the way it did. And I think, at this point, the whole country is trying to figure out what happened, how to pull together, and how to make sure that those who are trying to divide the country will not be successful.

CROWLEY: Well, Mr. Ambassador, it's probably no time to beat around the bush. Do you believe that Russia and President Putin are behind what turned out to be, I believe, the bloodiest day thus far in this back-and-forth?

PYATT: Well, we certainly believe that Russia is exercising influence across Eastern Ukraine.

We don't have evidence of the Russian role in what -- the tragedy that transpired on Friday. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk used some very strong words today, talking about the role that he believes that Russia played.

And this is something that we hope an impartial and systematic investigation will be able to get to the bottom of very quickly.

CROWLEY: And when you're talking about the tragedy that happened Friday, you mean when pro-Russian demonstrators were pushed into, back into the government building they were occupying, apparently by pro- Ukrainian protesters, and then the building was set on fire, and more than 40 people died. That's what you're talking about, correct? PYATT: That -- partially, yes, but also the fact that you had pro-unity demonstrators who were targeted by pro-Russia activists, some of whom appeared to have weapons, guns.

And, most disturbingly, there seems to be evidence in social media that some of the police in Odessa may have been complicit in allowing the violence to explode out of control way it did. That's something which Prime Minister Yatsenyuk spoke to today. And I see that he's already brought some major changes in the security leadership there in Odessa, which I think reflects the deep concern about the role that the security establishment played in Friday's violence. CROWLEY: Mr. Ambassador, the ongoing fear here is that President Putin, with these clashes and with the movement of Ukrainian forces trying to quell some of this violence, he now has the excuse he needs to move in. Is that the consensus there?

PYATT: Well, not at all.

We hope that Russia will play a constructive role. It's important to remember the other -- the more hopeful event that happened over this long -- over this long May Day weekend was the release of the detained OSCE diplomatic military observers in Slavyansk.

Russia played a decisive role in accomplishing that. It demonstrates that Russia has influence and can play a constructive role when it wishes to do so. And we hope that that's very much the approach that they will take in the days ahead.

But this is an extremely delicate situation, and certainly the extraordinary violence in Odessa on Friday has made the situation more fraught.

CROWLEY: All right.

And, finally, Mr. Ambassador, this looks like a civil war. It certainly sounds like a civil war. Is there any reason to believe that that's not what we're watching unfold?

PYATT: No, I think -- I don't see that yet, Candy.

What I see is a society which is facing extraordinary -- extraordinary threats and division, but where the dominant opinion in every public opinion survey from every Ukrainian I talk to is, how can we get our country to pull together again?

Clearly, there are forces that are trying to deepen division. And, sadly, some of those forces seem to be coming from outside the country, from Russia. But the dominant mood in the country is, how do we end this violence and how do we pull the country together again?

CROWLEY: Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, thanks so much for your time today.

PYATT: No, good talking to you.

CROWLEY: Thanks.

So, back to you all.

You see these pictures. You heard the ambassador. What does the U.S. do next? I feel like there are not a lot of arrows in this quiver. Right?

JOHNSON: Well, let me first say that we have got an excellent ambassador in Ambassador Pyatt, doing a really good job, very dedicated. One thing we have to understand is how effective Russia has been in terms of propaganda war. When we were there, I was asking, what are they -- what are they lying to Ukrainians about? They're telling them that they're going to -- that Kiev is going to be -- Kiev is going to be spending -- or sending death squads to pull people out of their homes.

They say they're going to be forced out of their Russian orthodox, Ukrainian orthodox faith and into Catholicism.

CROWLEY: Propaganda war.

JOHNSON: So, the propaganda is incredibly effective. We need to counter that in a far more robust fashion, because we have pretty well stopped our efforts the providing information.

(CROSSTALK)

ENGEL: The most -- the most important thing -- I met with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk when I was there.

The most important thing that they're looking for is, those elections on May 25 have to happen, and they have to happen so that the Ukrainian people can exercise their free will. It is so important. Putin's role, obviously, or his game is to try to disrupt them and then say that they're irrelevant, and that they're therefore invalid.

But we really cannot let him -- let him do that. And, again, Putin has to understand that sanctions will follow, tough sanctions on their banking sector, on their mining sector, on their financial sector will follow, just the way we did it for Iran, if Putin doesn't stop his nonsense.

CROWLEY: To both of you, a final question.

If Putin decided tonight to roll those tanks across the border from Russia into Eastern Ukraine, what stops him?

JOHNSON: Nothing will stop him. That's -- this is hindsight, but when Prime Minister Yatsenyuk was here just asking for pretty reasonable request of some small arms and ammunition, as a sign, as a sign of strength and resolve to support for Ukrainians, now, unfortunately, we didn't provide that.

And, again, nobody can predict exactly what would have happened, but I think it's that type of weakness that has given Vladimir Putin the -- the -- certainly the signal that he can continue to do these things with impunity. We have got to change the calculus.

ENGEL: What stops him is, he understands that, if he were to do that, tough sanctions would follow, both from Europe and from the United States.

I think that President Obama is starting slowly so we can be in conjunction with our European allies. But he has said there will be tough sanctions if Putin continues this nonsense.

CROWLEY: I want to quick ask you about a question that's out there in Nigeria, where, in mid-April, about 270-something, I think, Nigerian schoolgirls, teenagers were kidnapped by a terrorist group that is opposed to Western education, who think Western education is evil.

There was an interesting article today, an op-ed by Nicholas Kristof in "The New York Times," in which, in part, he said: "While there has been a major international search for the missing people on Malaysian Flight MH370, there's been no meaningful search for the even greater number of missing schoolgirls."

We have heard Secretary Kerry say this is terrible. The Nigerian government is apparently not doing much to help find these young women. We're told they're being sold to be wives of some of these terrorists.

It does seem -- and -- and Kristof spoke to the father of one of these girls, said, we need the U.N., we need the U.S. to do something. Is there something the U.S. can do?

JOHNSON: Well, one thing, I believe the U.S. who has been way too silent on the brutality, the lack of human rights in the Muslim world for women.

And I think that's one of the roles I think the Senate Foreign Relations Committee can play there, is hold hearings, highlight that, so that Americans, so the world sees this type of abuse. So it really is -- it's about communications. It's about awareness.

ENGEL: One thing that's true, the whole world looks to the United States, whether it's in Africa, whether it's in Ukraine, whether it's in Asia. There's no substitute for the United States.

And we -- my belief is that we need to be active and engaged. It doesn't mean boots on the ground. But there's so much that we can do.

CROWLEY: We could gather an international force, saying, find these girls. It's 270 teenage girls.

JOHNSON: Yes, America has to lead. And that's what's missing now. We simply aren't taking that leadership position across the world. And that makes the world a very -- much more dangerous place.

ENGEL: Well, I think we are taking a leadership position, but we do have allies. We have to work with them. I think we're doing it. And I think Putin understands that. CROWLEY: Congressman Eliot Engel, Senator Ron Johnson, thank you both for coming by today. I appreciate it.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

ENGEL: Thank you. CROWLEY: April was the strongest month for job growth in two years, but wages are stagnant, and the first- quarter growth was almost zero. Is the glass half-full or half-empty, and that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The grit and determination of the American people are moving us forward. But we have to keep a relentless focus on job creation and creating more opportunities for working families.

There's plenty more that Congress should be doing, from raising the minimum wage, to creating good construction jobs, rebuilding America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: That was President Obama on Friday, careful to not celebrate a victory lap or anything else over the strongest jobs showing in more than two years.

I have got my wise guys around the panel here, Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, also the author of a new book titled "The Wealth of States," "New York Times" economic writer Annie Lowrey, and Mark Zandi, chief economist from Moody's Analytics.

Thanks, all.

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Thank you.

CROWLEY: So, just a great -- better than forecast, right? So, everybody was all excited, and it was the best unemployment rate since the president took office, the best jobs figures in two years.

And then, at the end of April, so about the time this was all happening, ABC News/"The Washington Post" took a poll and asked people how you would -- how would you describe the economy? Excellent, 29 percent, not so good or poor, 71 percent.

Then you say, again, NBC News/"Wall Street Journal," what best describes your family's financial situation? Getting ahead, 21 percent, have just enough to maintain, 56 percent, falling behind, 22 percent.

So, 78 percent either think they're just barely holding on or they're failing.

STEPHEN MOORE, SENIOR ECONOMIC WRITER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, Candy, I will tell you another amazing poll that came out about a month ago.

Half of Americans say that the recession never ended. And what that means is, they just aren't feeling the effects of this recovery. Look, we got a good jobs report this week. We're all breathing a sigh of relief over that, but let's not forget we also got a really god- awful GDP report for the first quarter, very, very low.

CROWLEY: Gross domestic product, which was 0.1 percent, right?

MOORE: Yes. Look, that was backward-looking. And I think things are looking up, but we're still way too slow to get the kind of wage growth that Americans want.

CROWLEY: What pumps it up?

ANNIE LOWREY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, the unemployment rate is still really high.

The more that you see it come down, the more that is actually going to help with wages, because employers might start feeling a little bit of pressure to start increasing incomes. I think it's absolutely true your average family has actually seen wage declines through the recovery. That hasn't changed yet.

MOORE: Yes.

LOWREY: Maybe it will, hopefully soon, because I do think there's some pretty good evidence that growth is picking up.

But it remains that, even if the trends are good, the state of the economy is still not great, by any means, still really high unemployment, still fairly slow growth.

ZANDI: Yes, but we had a big hole to dig ourselves out of, right?

LOWREY: Yes.

ZANDI: The peak unemployment rate was 10 percent. And here we are now at 6.3.

Now, we're very, very close, I think, to getting to a point where the labor market will be tight enough that we will start to get wage growth. And once we get wage growth, then I think people's attitudes and perspectives on the economy will shift.

MOORE: Although one of the negatives -- and this was a great jobs report -- but one of the negatives about it, Candy, which you all at CNN reported on, was another big decline in the number of working- age Americans in the labor force.

And this has been a very strange trend that we have seen over the last four or five years. It's weird, because, as the economy picks up and there's more jobs, you think you would see more people entering the work force. We have seen the decline. We're still -- this recovery -- I always go back to the Reagan recovery as a comparison. We're still $2 trillion behind in terms of GDP of where we were in the '80s. So, it's still a pretty, pretty flimsy recovery.

CROWLEY: And you heard the president, the sound bite we played coming in. Well, what we really need is an increase in the minimum wage.

Would that help?

LOWREY: Well, I think it would help the people that it would help, but it's a fairly limited policy.

MOORE: I agree.

LOWREY: Right?

There are 300 million Americans. The White House thinks this might help about 20 million. Other people think that it would help fewer than that. And it just doesn't look likely. I think there's a lot of movement in the states. A lot of states and cities are raising their minimum wages.

And that's going -- that's going to have an effect at the folks on the bottom. But it's not helping people who are unemployed. It's not helping people in the middle of the wage distribution, necessarily. So it's a fairly targeted policy.

MOORE: Because only 4 percent or 5 percent of Americans make the minimum. The real issue is, how do you get middle-income wages...

(CROSSTALK)

ZANDI: You know what would really help is immigration reform. That's going to be very key.

MOORE: Yes.

ZANDI: Because I think our biggest problem...

CROWLEY: Really? All -- unanimous yeses here?

(CROSSTALK)

ZANDI: Exactly what Stephen was talking about.

I mean, I'll tell you, my view, five years from now, our problem isn't going to be unemployment. It's going to be a lack of qualified skilled labor. And the only way to address that in a reasonable way is immigration reform. We need more skilled and educated...

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: There was a big story this week that the American -- the American economy, two stories about two companies. One was what happened at Toyota. I don't know if you know. Toyota moved out of California. Where did they move to? To Texas. There is a real recovery going on in a lot of these Southern states, like -- I mean, Texas is actually booming. Rick Perry is running around the country saying, we should make America more like Texas.

The other interesting story is what happened to Pfizer. I don't know if you followed this one, but Pfizer is now, an iconic American company, saying they may move to Europe to be their headquarters.

What's going on there? If you ask me one thing I could do to really help the American economy, get our corporate tax rate down, so companies aren't moving to Europe or moving to China, but they're coming back here.

(CROSSTALK)

LOWREY: To be fair, corporate balance sheets look really good.

MOORE: They're good, yes.

LOWREY: They have a lot of capital to deploy.

And I think that if they felt like the economy was doing a little bit better, if people were spending more, some of that would happen domestically.

ZANDI: And, you know, the other thing that would really help is infrastructure. We need more infrastructure spending.

MOORE: Pipelines.

ZANDI: Yes. Well, that would help.

(CROSSTALK)

ZANDI: No, we need all kinds...

(CROSSTALK)

LOWREY: Pipeline...

(CROSSTALK)

ZANDI: That goes right to the cost of doing business. And if we can bring down the cost of doing business here, in addition to the tax rate, then that lays the foundation...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: But when you say infrastructure, it is read by a lot of people who think the government spends too much money as government spending. That's how they read infrastructure.

ZANDI: There's a lot of private capital out there that wants in on developing our infrastructure, our telecommunications network, our ports, our rail.

MOORE: That's true.

ZANDI: And all we have to do is figure out a creative way. And I think we have got those ways, and bipartisan ways, of marrying private capital with government some support. And we will be off and running. MOORE: Candy, you cannot talk about this American economy and what's happened the last five years without talking about the energy revolution.

It is -- if you took out the energy boom that we have seen in oil and gas development over the last five years, there would be no recovery at all. Almost -- virtually the oil and gas industry business has been carrying the American economy on its back.

The exciting thing about this is that we're at the very beginning stages of an incredible boom in oil and gas development. I mean, within four or five years, the United States of America, believe it or not, could be a net exporter of oil and gas, rather than an importer.

So, so much of the growth in the economy is really in these states like North Dakota and Texas and Oklahoma. And you just can't talk about the economy without talking about that.

ZANDI: Can I make a broader point, quick point?

A year ago, if we were sitting here, we'd be talking about deficits and debt and the political vitriol and the gridlock and the government shutdown. Here we are talking about immigration reform, infrastructure, corporate tax reform, energy revolution.

MOORE: Yes.

ZANDI: The whole conversation has changed.

MOORE: Good point.

ZANDI: And I think that is a reflection of the state of the economy. We are now thinking about growth.

CROWLEY: Better, right.

Let me -- as a final question -- I have got less than a minute -- so, when you -- when George H.W. Bush ran for reelection, when people look backwards at his loss, they saw the economic recovery coming in June, but it was not enough to save him in November.

Right now, the American people have zero confidence in this economy. How long might it take to turn that around? Is there any hope that, for Democrats, looking for a much better economy, that, by November, it will look good enough to change their fortunes?

LOWREY: I think that, actually, the Democrats are going to be helped a lot more by the current state of the economy than people quite realize. The trends have been pretty good. They have been pretty stable. You know, we got that really wonky Q1 GDP number, but I think that might get revised away or caught up. And -- and I think that they will be very buoyed by the fact that there's just pretty consistent growth.

CROWLEY: Trajectory. (INAUDIBLE).

ZANDI: Here's a (INAUDIBLE) forecast for you, Election Day 2016 is November (INAUDIBLE) 2016. I can give you time of day, 2:00 p.m. Eastern we'll be back at full employment.

MOORE: I think it's still - it's going to be too slow for the Democrats in November. It's still, look -- one month's jobs growth does not make a recovery. I remember talking about the summer recovery four years ago, what happened to that?

CROWLEY: Thank you so much Stephen Moore, Mark Zandi, Annie Lowrey. We'll have you back in 2016.

When we return, issues of race, has it become the third rail of U.S. culture?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a general rule, things don't end well if the sentence starts, let me tell you something I know about the Negro. You don't really need to hear the rest of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: That was president Obama last night's White House Correspondents' Dinner here in Washington. With me around the table on the wings Ana Navarro and Donna Brazile, both CNN political commentators. In the middle Gwen Ifill of "PBS," also the author of "The Breakthrough Politics and Race in the Age of Obama."

I have to say I thought that was a great joke because there is truth in that. It was almost him saying, you don't have to listen beyond that. And so I think my question to you all today, it's the first time we've had the talk about this is, what was the point of this week and the NBA and for that matter the rancher in Nevada? Did it move us forward?

GWEN IFILL, MODERATOR AND MANAGING EDITOR, "WASHINGTON WEEK": I have to say my favorite piece of the clip is the cut to the - well the black tie, white people, all laughing nervously at the joke.

(LAUGHTER)

Which gets exactly to the heart of this problem here, is we are so uncomfortable when we talk about race and that we are happy when someone goes so far over the pale, when someone is so ridiculous that we can all agree that it's offensive, that we can all agree he's racist otherwise we don't want to call anything that. We want to pretend that the black president means we are beyond racism.

So it's interesting to me how worked up we get about Cliven Bundy, how worked up we get about Donald Sterling for a good reason. But how worked up we don't get about Donald Sterling's housing discrimination or Cliven Bundy's squatting on federal land.

CROWLEY: In fact you made the point to me when we were talking about it that we don't punish actors. We punish the sayers...

IFILL: That (ph) exactly (ph).

CROWLEY: ...who vocalize something. It seems to me that we focus so much on the hole rather than the doughnut.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I think - I think the lesson of Cliven Bundy, the lesson of Sterling is that racism still exists but racism is not acceptable. And you can be a racist but you better not let anybody know about it because if they do, you're going to pay a price and you should. Because society is not going to look the other way and we're not going to pretend that because you're rich or because you're there (ph) or because you're a political figure it's not happening. There is a cost to racism and it's something that needs to be (INAUDIBLE) out.

CROWLEY: But you know to Gwen -- Gwen's point there wasn't a cost to some of the things that this NBA owner did when it came to housing and trying to get minorities out of his housing complexes. There wasn't any of that, so it does seem to me that when someone says something so blatantly racist, it's like low-hanging fruit we'll (ph) go, oh, this is terrible. But when it comes to how about the education gap, how about income disparity, how about, you know, any of these multitudes of things that we could be talking about.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Here we are having a conversation about race 60 years after the brown versus board of education decision, 50 years after the landmark civil rights legislation, probably the most significant piece of legislation in the 20th century in terms of eradicating barriers. And still we have barriers, we have structural impediments that keep African-Americans, Latinos and other Americans from truly achieving the American dream.

It's because we like to talk about the superficial, and we like to use the old language of the 19th century and we're afraid to figure out in the 21st century how we end these so-called glaring problems in our society that requires policy decisions, and nobody wants to talk about policy.

NAVARRO: It also requires, Donna, consistency. One of the things about this NBA L.A. Clipper thing that most bothered me and I think has not gotten as much attention, is that he had been given an award by the L.A. branch of the NAACP and was about to receive another lifetime award.

BRAZILE: Correct. NAVARRO: They had, what, you know, sold themselves for a few bits of silver. They were trying to -- this guy knew he was going to do what, whitewash his record by giving donations?

BRAZILE: And then the chair has stepped down which is a good thing. The NAACP is in the business of promoting justice and equality for all people. They're not in the business of promoting bigotry, and I don't understand the policy behind the donation or what was being awarded to Mr. Sterling, but the point is, Candy, is that in the 21st century, we haven't figured out the language yet, we haven't figured out the policies. And therefore, we have to constantly go back to the past to see if we could reach some conclusion about the future.

IFILL: Well and if I could say just one more thing to something that Ana said which is, it's not OK to be a racist if nobody knows about it, it's not OK for racism to be practiced as long as you don't say it out loud. We are in this interesting position of punishing people for speech in a society that prizes free speech and yet not punishing them for actions. And I do think what we have underlying the outrageousness is a lot of problems which are unaddressed and which speaks to the things that Candy was talking about.

When you talk about education, you talk about who is getting good education and who is not and how much that falls along racial lines, who is incarcerated, who is not and how much that is the president's talking about, falls along racial lines, who gets opportunities and who doesn't. I don't think that that is insignificant and it's just something we don't seem equipped to deal with unless someone says something outrageous.

CROWLEY: And - can I (INAUDIBLE) this and if we have it and I think we do. Paul Ryan got himself into a bit of trouble when he talked about the inner city and after a visit that he made there he was talking about poverty and the inner city and a culture of people who didn't want to work or that kind of thing.

So he was immediately jumped on. This week he went to talk to a congressional black caucus to further explain and then he came out and said one thing and I want to play you Elijah Cummings who is in on the meeting right after hearing Paul Ryan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: The point I've been making all along is we are marginalizing and isolating the poor in our communities and we need to stop that doing that as a country.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: He says that he's done a tour of the United States and learned a lot and I think it -- still has a lot to learn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

IFILL: Politicians are almost the worst people to have this conversation, because what Paul Ryan was to doing is what we say we want him to do was get out of his bubble and see. Now if you don't have -- if you don't agree him basically you don't agree with his budget, you think his budget is going to harm your constituency like I'm sure Elijah Cummings believes. He's not going to accept that as an acceptable thing for Paul Ryan to do. So that's about politics. It's not about what he was attempting to do which broaden the conversation, the thing we say we want.

NAVARRO: I'm not - I'm not comfortable though lumping (ph) Paul Ryan with this other conversation.

CROWLEY: I'm not trying to do that at all. Actually my point was has it become the third rail of culture, because, you know, Paul Ryan is now like every word that comes out there is the fear that you will say something that's going to be deeply offensive.

NAVARRO: And that's true and you know what -- but we need more Paul Ryans if you ask me. I am very grateful and happy that Paul Ryan is going to some of the Latino centers and he has been touring the country and learning more.

CROWLEY: Right.

NAVARRO: That's what we want out of our politicians for a long time.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Was sort of my point.

NAVARRO: They live in their own little world in Wisconsin, while he's been out all over the United States in some of the poorer communities and yet he was inarticulate but Paul Ryan is one of the good guys and he's trying to make positive things.

CROWLEY: I'll let you make that point when we come back and wrap it up. Because I got to take a quick break. You guys are going to stick with us.

When we return, wrapping up this conversation and returning to Benghazi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This is the smoking gun that shows they were consciously trying to manipulate the evidence.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. Why aren't we talking about something else?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: I am back. My best gal pals, nana -- nana? OK (ph).-

(LAUGHTER)

NAVARRO: Ana and Donna.

CROWLEY: And Gwen Ifill. Donna, I want you to put a button for this moment on the talk about race.

BRAZILE: I would hope that in this historic year of celebrating so much progress that we can have some way of talking about what change looks like in the future, how we address the growing demographics in our country, the multiculturalism. Diversity is a strength of this nation, it is not a deficit. It is an asset and we should be honoring, you know, programs that provide inclusion and people who understand that to grow our economy, we're going to have to have a diverse work force as well. It's a broad issue, that's all.

CROWLEY: In our next show, we'll decide how to do that.

BRAZILE: Absolutely (ph).

IFILL (ph): We've got ideas.

NAVARRO: I have to tell you I got to give you kudos and the team on this program kudos, because as we know, the Sunday shows are dominated by white men. Not this program, not today certainly.

CROWLEY: Thank you, ma'am. I want to move on to Benghazi because it is back in the news. It actually never really left the news. But there is some new information that came from a memo from Ben Rhodes who is a deputy national security adviser to the president and -- in which he talks about, look, the point of these Sunday shows, he's speaking to Susan Rice, is to show that this was about a videotape and not in a, you know, resurgence of terrorism. That is a huge -- it's not a quote.

And so this week we have had had John Kerry subpoenaed by one committee for not handing over information, and we now have an independent -- or an investigation, a special committee, to investigate Benghazi. This is what Harry Reid had to say.

Oh, I'm sorry. Here's what he said, "For Republicans to waste the American people's time and money staging a partisan political circus instead of focusing on the middle class is simply a bad decision. While Republicans try to gin up yet another political food fight, Senate Democrats will remain focused on fostering economic growth for all hard-working Americans."

BRAZILE: There were five protests across the Arab world in four cities, 50 protests across the world in general. The talking points, I mean, I have read the Benghazi report two times. If they want to write another report, fine, but the American people want us to try to figure out solutions to problems, not just keep relitigating the old problems.

Four Americans tragically died. Hillary Clinton has taken responsibility, Barack Obama has taken responsibility to beef up security. What are the Republicans trying to do in trying to relitigate this? That's Ben Rhodes' memo, because I see White House talking points from time to time, I admit that, too. It was 20 paragraphs, two sentences. Stuff that the CIA told them to put in. I don't understand what the big fuss is. But if they want to fight it, let's fight it and let's keep fighting something else. NAVARRO: The big fuss for Republicans is that for all of this time, this White House has said that it was not involved in developing those talking points and that it was not about covering up a failure of policy. Look, what's done is done. The politics of this, we were in the midst of an election. We're not going to undo those election results. But if politics was played with something involving national security and the lives and deaths of four Americans, yes, it is worth getting to the bottom of - (CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: The Senate committee didn't get to the bottom of it. I read --

NAVARRO: They didn't know all the information. That's the point of this memo. That this memo was never given to congress.

CROWLEY: I'll give the last 30 seconds to Gwen who is -

(CROSSTALK)

IFILL: I'm happy (ph) to be silent (ph). I will just say this if this weren't about politics we will be talking about the 200 plus missing girls in Nigeria, we'll be talking about the outbreak in South Sudan. There are so many important issues around the world which involves people's lives, helpless people's lives that can use a little attention.

CROWLEY: I agree with you there. And the Nigerian girl story is just...

BRAZILE: Chilling.

CROWLEY: ...chilling. Absolutely we're all going to agree on that. Gwen Ifill, Donna Brazile, Ana Navarro thank you guys so much.

NAVARRO: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Fareed Zakaria starts at the top of the hour. But first we're getting reports that hundreds of pro-Russian activists have stormed up police headquarters in Ukraine. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Thanks for watching. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Be sure to set your DVR to STATE OF THE UNION if you can't be here live. And if you missed any part of today's show find us on iTunes. Just search STATE OF THE UNION.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," is next after a check of the headlines.