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Interview With Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta; Building Trust Between Communities and Police; Ranking President Obama

Aired November 30, 2014 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Fasten your seat belts. More Americans fly today than any other day, in a year when increasingly popular unmanned drones are an increasing threat in the wild blue yonder.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's tough to sit and wait and not know what's going to happen, but we're hopeful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to make it to Chicago today, right, guys?


CROWLEY: Our interview with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, the man in charge of seeing you get there, and get there safely.

Then, post-Ferguson, black and blue, the mistrust between minority communities and the cops -- police chiefs from around the country join us for a candid conversation.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to Chuck, our military is on a firmer footing and looking ahead to the future.


CROWLEY: Who he's going to call? Picking the next secretary of defense to help write his foreign policy legacy. Our roundtable on how the president's twilight years can stack up against history.


Good morning from Washington. I'm Candy Crowley.

The FAA released records this week detailing 25 incidents where small drones came within feet of crashing into a commercial airliner. Considering a flock of geese is enough to bring down a jet in New York City into the Hudson, this new report details a very real and concerning threat to air travel.

With me now, Michael Huerta, head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

I know you're working on regulations for these unmanned drones, but can you describe to me your perception of the threat at this point to commercial airliners?

MICHAEL HUERTA, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION: Well, unmanned aircraft has both great potential as a use for things like surveillance of power lines and so forth, but we care about first and foremost maintaining a safe aviation system.

So how we integrate them into our national airspace system is done with safety as our paramount concern.

CROWLEY: But, right now, their -- the regulations, supposedly, you should not be flying one of these higher than 400 feet, et cetera, et cetera.

HUERTA: Correct.


CROWLEY: Go ahead.


You should not fly them any higher than 400 feet. You should not be anywhere near an airport. And you need to maintain line of sight if you're using them for personal uses. And a big part of what we need to do is educate people on what the rules are.

There are rules, there are laws that govern how we fly things within our national airspace system, and this technology is evolving and the regulations are evolving with it.

CROWLEY: So, you know, those are the rules and regulations, and yet we have increasing reports by -- the FAA says, look, we're getting about 25 a month that pilots are seeing, commercial and private pilots are seeing, at heights far above 400, 1,000 feet, 2,000 feet.


CROWLEY: This drone that we have, one of the most popular Christmas gifts this year.


CROWLEY: So, what is the threat to an airliner? Because, again, we saw geese...


CROWLEY: ... force Sully Sullenberger to land that plane in the Hudson... HUERTA: Sure.

CROWLEY: ... because that's how damaging geese were. How damaging is one of these?

HUERTA: Well, the thing that we are most concerned about is to ensure that any aircraft in this system do not come into conflict with one another, they don't crash into one another. And...

CROWLEY: But you can't see these.

HUERTA: Well, these are very high-performance aircraft, and they are difficult to see. And this is one of the big challenges. And so that's why the rules require that people stay away from airports.

Now, we have been working with the Model Aeronautics Association, with the modeling community, with clubs, so that we can educate people, because these are not your typical pilots that may be flying one of these for the first time. And they may be unfamiliar with the rules.

And so a big part of what we're doing is educating people on those issues.


CROWLEY: But can you afford to wait? Is, like, educating people -- I mean, we're still educating people about how to drive a car and how to -- and, meanwhile, you have a lot of amateurs who love to put a camera on something and fly it up there.

I'm trying to get a sense of your sense of the danger should one of these get sucked into the engine or hit a prop plane and a propeller. That -- that's serious.

HUERTA: That is certainly a serious concern. And it is something that I am concerned about.

That's why we are very focused on education. That's why we're also focused on enforcement. We have enforced hundreds of these cases, where we have seen someone operating one of these things carelessly and recklessly and posing a danger to aircraft, and that can't happen.

CROWLEY: Some of the criticism has been that a 2012 law said, we got to get regulations for this. You were tasked with that, and commercial folks can't fly them right now.

They want to use them for delivering packages and looking at crops over, you know, thousands of acres, and they can't do that, and they say the delay is making this more dangerous, because you got a bunch of amateurs out there, you know, flying wherever they want.

HUERTA: Well, that actually illustrates the balance that we have to achieve. Yes, there are proponents of unmanned aircraft, and they really

see huge potential of this technology. And, for them, we can't move fast enough. What they would like to see is free and open use of unmanned aircraft as soon as we can get there.

On the other side, you have pilots, commercial pilots, general aviation pilots, who are very concerned that these are difficult to see, they don't really have a good understanding of how they interact with other aircraft. And a bedrock principle of aviation is a principle called see and avoid. The pilots take action to avoid one another.

And so it's for that reason that we have a plan for a staged and thoughtful integration of unmanned aircraft, where we look at lower- risk uses first, and then gradually work to others.

CROWLEY: Before we get to air travel today, because I do want to ask you about that...


CROWLEY: ... on your busiest day...


CROWLEY: ... look, you can't help but look at these drones and think, suppose a terrorist wanted to do some real damage. At this point, it's a possibility, it's a feasibility. What are you doing in that -- on that score? Does that enter into your thinking?

HUERTA: Well, security is always a concern.

And one of the things that -- we're going to be publishing a rule-making later on this year that really looks at the qualifications of the operator, the certification of the aircraft, and really...


CROWLEY: This is the one that will require a pilot license for drone operation?

HUERTA: Well, I can't say what is going to be in it, but, broadly speaking, what we are looking at are all the questions relating to how we certify the aircraft and what are the qualifications of the operator, as well as what uses they can be put to.


Let me ask you about today. You wake up this morning, you're the head of the FAA, and you know it is the busiest travel day of the year, because everybody may not go to Thanksgiving at the same time, but they sure do come home pretty much at the same time.

HUERTA: Yes, they do. CROWLEY: What is your biggest -- what's on your mind the most on

this day? I know the generality is get everybody home safe, but what do you worry about most?

HUERTA: Well, the big thing that always creates a lot of uncertainty in the system is weather. Fortunately, we have a very good weather day today. It should be great flying conditions throughout the whole country.

A little bit of rain in the San Francisco Bay area, but they need the rain in San Francisco, so that's probably a good thing. We're expecting a little over 46,000 flights today, and at very high loads. And so what that means is, airplanes will be crowded. Get to the airport on time because you are going to have crowds that you're going to have to get past for security, checking your bag and all of that. But it should be a good day.

CROWLEY: And in your -- when you say 46,000 flights, how many at the same time? Like, what do we -- when we see that and are going to show to our audience the...


CROWLEY: ... what the air traffic looks like, at one -- at any given time, how many planes have you got in the air, commercial?

HUERTA: Well, it will build throughout the day.

And a typical -- this is -- the load you're going to see today is about 15 percent higher than you would see on a typical Sunday, so the patterns are going to be a little bit different, but first thing in the morning, you will see a lot of flights, late in the day, as a lot of people want to spend as much time as they can with their family and friends.

But it will be a very, very busy day. But, you know, I think that as long as everyone gets to the airport on time, and as long as we are working closely with the airlines, which we are, to ensure that we're well-coordinated, everyone should get there on time.

CROWLEY: And we should say to handle that traffic, you do have some new highways, as they say.

HUERTA: Well, there's a couple of things.

Every year for holidays, the Defense Department releases a lot of airspace to us. And that enables us to actually plan different highways in the sky. Also, over the last year, we have been making a lot of investments in making the existing highways much more efficient.

And that's a big thing, because this program, our NextGen air traffic control program, enables us to have much more efficient arrivals and departures at busy airports. Here in Washington, we just rolled out some new procedures that, collectively, will save airlines about 2.5 million gallons of fuel a year. (CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Oh, so the prices for tickets probably will likely go down, right?

HUERTA: Well, they will certainly be more efficient, but -- and the airlines are always looking to reduce their costs.

CROWLEY: Yes. Yes. I'm always looking for them to reduce my costs, actually.

HUERTA: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: So, well, Michael Huerta, head of the Federal Administration -- Federal Aviation Administration, thank you for dropping by.

This is the guy that wants to get you home safely.

HUERTA: Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: So, thanks.

Ahead: Cops feel the heat after a grand jury decides not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Some of the country's top police chiefs are next.


CROWLEY: Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson resigned yesterday, five days after the grand jury decided not to indict him in the killing of Mike Brown, four months since that shooting have laid bare the divide between law enforcement and black and brown communities around the nation.

With me now, a view from the blue, Deputy Police Chief Malik Aziz, chairman of the National Black Police Association, former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Chief Thomas Manger of Montgomery County, Maryland, suburban Washington, and, from Detroit, police chief James Craig.

Gentlemen, thank you. Welcome all back to the show. I really appreciate your being here.


CROWLEY: If you are police chief, and you are told the grand jury is about to come out with its decision on whether to indict or not, what is -- and let me throw this to you, Chief Craig, to bring you into the room and ask you, what is your first move when someone says we're getting a grand jury decision tonight?

CRAIG: You know, the first thing I'm going to do is what I have done in other places that I have had an opportunity to work, is, I'm going to meet out with those key leaders in our community. You know, like in Detroit, we have a police advisory board. We

had that in Los Angeles. I started in both Portland and Cincinnati, and talking to those key leaders, getting a pulse of the community. But it just doesn't start then. It really starts long before that time.

And that's about building up trust. And so I have had the great opportunity to open those lines of communications. That's the real key for me.

CROWLEY: Was it inevitable that there would be violence the night of the indictment, which, by the way, was announced at night?

THOMAS MANGER, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND, POLICE CHIEF: I think it may have been inevitable in Ferguson, with the facts and circumstances you had there.

I don't think it's inevitable in every community. What Chief Craig talks about is developing those relationships. And you do that well ahead of time. I mean, that's a relentless activity that you do day one, when you start either as a police officer or as a police chief. You need to start building those relationships.

MALIK AZIZ, CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL BLACK POLICE ASSOCIATION: Yes. And I'm going to agree with both chiefs there. Community trust starts years in advance, decades even.

And what you didn't have was that ability to regain the trust of the community, because it doesn't look like they ever sought it. So I think the violence was going to happen in places like Ferguson, but it won't necessarily go to any other city who has developed those relationships with the community at large.

You can't do that overnight. You don't have a few hours to develop lasting, trusting relationships. You have to get on the job. And each predecessor before you and each successor after you, they must carry on that kind of community trust and rebuilding, because all it takes is one incident to set you years backwards if you don't have that trust built up.

CROWLEY: Commissioner Kerik, let me ask you in a slightly different way and posit this.

Do you think, had the police in some way, shape or form told the officer's story -- remember, we didn't hear from the officer. We got "sources say" -- had they said, look, an investigation is ongoing, here's what the police officer tells us, they might have mitigated some of this all along, because the first thing, no offense, the police tend to do when there's something that's one of their own is immediately close up and not say anything.


CRAIG: Hey, Candy?

KERIK: I disagreed with that from the beginning.

I think, within the first 24 to 36 hours, once they have a basic synopsis of what happened -- and they will know that -- and let me stop for a second, because whatever information you get initially within that first hour, two hours, 99 percent of the time is wrong.

So you want to wait until you get all your facts together 24, 36 hours, and then you go out publicly and you let the public know, you let the community know, this is what we believe happened. And I think in this case, had they done that, I think they would have been a lot better off.

CROWLEY: Go ahead, Chief Craig. You're trying to get in here on that one?

CRAIG: Right, Candy, I was just going to -- it causes me to reflect back on my time as Cincinnati's chief.

Now, it's no secret that Cincinnati had a civil unrest in 2001, and then from that a consent judgment, but a contract with the community. And during my time as chief there, we had a tragic situation where a white officer shot a 16-year-old suspect who was armed with a gun.

And that could have been a tragic situation. The wounds in Cincinnati were closing, but still somewhat open. But the key was that Cincinnati does a great job, and has, getting out in front of it, talking about the incident. And, in this instance, because it was involving this 16-year-old, I went as far -- two things I did.

I went for the first time and visited with the mom of that 16- year-old. That probably was one of the most challenging things I have ever had to do in my policing career, to talk to a mom about her dead son, a son that we shot.

But more importantly was the fact that I invited the family in to look at a video. It was a video of the incident. We had not one incident that came from that. So I know that communication's key, trust is key. And they believed in the department, they believed in the chief, and so that goes a long way moving forward.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you all what effect Ferguson has had, if any, on your relationships in your city between the police and minorities or in the squad room itself.

MANGER: Well, it's had -- I think it's had an impact in just about every police department in this country.

And the good news is that, you know, with as many outreach activities that we engage in on a regular basis with all segments of the community, this really gave it a shot in the arm. And we had people contacting us, saying, hey, you know, we'd like to talk, have this conversation.

And -- and Ferguson started a lot of conversations about policing. And, so, we had folks reaching out to us, inviting us to come speak with them. And so that -- I think there's been at least that positive aspect of what Ferguson has done to police departments around the country.

CROWLEY: Have you noticed the same thing? But have you also -- has there been any increased tensions?

AZIZ: Well, of course.

I mean, this magnified the greater whole of the United States. It was across social media. It was on every media station. It played out in conversations across the United States in every segment that I have seen.

The -- this marked a third turning point. The Rodney King, the 911, and now Ferguson sparks a national conversation on police shootings, police interaction, community engagement. The conversation has restarted.

And so there's no backtracking. You have to either step up to the plate and believe in a real and true community policing philosophy, or you will get left behind. And that's what you have seen in Ferguson, inability to -- what the commissioner was talking about, the inability to get out front, failing to get out front, failing to build community relations, failing to let the public at hand know what actually occurred, and not expecting that a candlelight vigil will turn into a protest, turn violent, and you are still left in the dark because you haven't even started your planning.

So it's marked a greater turning point for us in law enforcement.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, Commissioner, because you -- I'm going to have to take a break soon, but I wanted you to lead us into the next part of our conversation. And that is about this relationship and establishing this relationship.

When you look at the statistics there, you can sit back and say, I understand exactly why the black community looks at the, you know -- percentage-wise, there are more young black men in jail than young white men.

Nationwide, more black males are killed by police than white males. It goes on and on and on. And the first place justice begins it on that street. And Ferguson looked like a -- to the minority community, looked like a failure.

Can you understand, coming from a minority community, how these figures, you would look at and think, they're targeting our kids?

KERIK: Yes, I can. And I get it. I understand it.

And I think that's one of the things that's going to come out of here, as the chief was talking about. That's the lessons, that's some of the lessons that's going to be learned, how we communicate with the communities.

I think there's a bunch of lessons that come out of this, how we get that information out to the community, how we deal with the community in advance, how we respond to incidents like this.

I was extremely critical of the department's response in that first day, how they came out. You know, there was actually a peaceful protest, and they came out, I think, aggressively, too aggressively in the aftermath.

When it wasn't a protest, and it was an outright riot, I think they could have been a little more aggressive. I think these are all things that we can learn from this. And the key is a dialogue with the community, the real community leaders, because, in this situation, I don't think anybody would disagree, you may have had some relationship with the community and the real leaders, but a lot of this, you know, a lot of this chaos and the arson and the burglaries and robberies and shootings in the protests came from outside.

So it's extremely important that this -- this intervention between the police and the community happens up front.

CROWLEY: Let me -- I got to take a quick break here.

When we come back, we know communication is one of the keys, they think, here, and we hope police departments everywhere are listening to that, as well as the community. We want to talk about some other steps right after the break.


CROWLEY: We're now back with police Chief Thomas Manger, and Dallas Deputy Police Chief Malik Aziz, former NYPD Chief Bernard Kerik, and Detroit Police Chief James Craig.

Chief Craig, let me start this with you and then go to Chief Aziz.

And that is, there are also studies that show black officers have also, you know, shot minorities, have had complaints against them. And it makes me wonder whether this is about race or this is about power.

CRAIG: You know, that's a great point, Candy, because, in my -- my tenure, looking back, rarely do you hear outcry if it's a black officer that's involved in a shooting and the suspect is black.

It's always the reverse. And so it doesn't mean you can't follow the same steps. You know, when I look back -- and we talk about Ferguson today, and I think back about Detroit in the '70s and where Detroit came from in terms of building those trust-based relationships, it would not matter whether the officer was black or white, given in a city that's 80 percent African-American, but it certainly fuels it.

I think back about Malice Green in the '90s, in the early '90s, where Malice Green, a black suspect, was beaten by white officers. Certainly, that fueled a lot of anger, but there was no civil unrest. Now, of course, both officers were convicted as a result of that, unlike in the Rodney King affair, that, you know, the officers were acquitted.

But, that said, Detroit still didn't have any outcry. There was some peaceful demonstrations, of course. And even here in Ferguson, the dialogue has restarted, and, like most cities in America, we have had our protests.


CRAIG: But they have all been peaceful. And that's based on relationship.


And so, Chief Aziz, do you -- do you think this is -- look, a certain personality becomes a law enforcement officer, right? I mean, there just are. And so -- and there is the power to enforce.

AZIZ: You know, going back and echoing some of the things that the chief just spoke about, there has been a great mistrust and we still hang on to some of the vestiges of the pass, some of the policing tactics of the south still haunt us in many minority neighborhoods or diverse neighborhoods because the history of policing they have not always done the right thing, that fuels the fire.

So, in the new age of policing, when progressive chiefs come about, and then they say no longer will we have this bull kind of 1960s style of policing, where you don't matter, and you operate on a thin blue line, where it's us against them, that placates the problem. It exacerbates the problem in minority communities. And then when communities that are predominantly of color like Ferguson who is 65 percent or 70 percent African-American, yet only three of 50 police officers are black, diversity plays a key role in breaking down the barriers and those things that challenge the modern policing.

THOMAS MANGER, POLICE CHIEF, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND: It's interesting that you say certain personality is drawn to law enforcement. One of the responsibilities that all chiefs have is to make sure we're hiring the right people. And some of the characteristics that you look for should be those inner personal skills, the ability to communicate, empathy, integrity, those kinds of things that you can determine if a person has before you hire them.

We can - we can train people how to deescalate a situation. We can train people with racial, cultural, ethnic sensitivities. We can train people about the law, you know, knowing what you can do, what you can't do, how you're supposed to do things, but you want to hire the right people in the first place that have those personality traits that would make them good police officers.

AZIZ: Exactly.

CROWLEY: But it does matter - imagery matters.

Why are there not more African-American policemen in Montgomery county, in Dallas, in - I mean, even in Detroit, the majority or the -- it's not the majority but the plurality are white police officers. Why is that so?

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NYPD COMMISSIONER: You know what, Candy? It depends on the communities. You know, I know there are communities on the East Coast that have tried unsuccessfully to get more African- Americans into the departments, and it's -- sometimes it's a cultural issue. It's an anti-police issue.

Sometimes -- you know, in some of the harder-hit urban areas, many of the black males they have criminal records. They can't get past - they can't get pass the backgrounds. They can't get into the departments based on civil service and it depends on - it depends on the requirements of the department. They can't get in and -- but I would say there aren't many departments, and the chief is in charge of the major city chiefs now, there aren't many departments that aren't looking to make sure that their department represents their communities.

MANGER: You know, we have actually better luck getting African- American officers than Latino and Asian. I mean, if you want to reflect the diversity of your community, I'll tell you, we've got some real cultural issues but you have got to find folks that have this sense of service that, want to make their community a better place. Those are the ones you need to target to recruit and hire.

AZIZ: I think it's problematic in a lot of places the system is so subjective, even culturally, turning people away. And I think also African-Americans in this age in this time frame are teaching their kids to become something more than police officers or firefighters. They're teaching them and saying, become a doctor or become a lawyer. A lot of that plays into it too but we have plenty of qualified people able to be law enforcement officers and sometimes they get turned away at the door for the most subjective reasons you could imagine.

CROWLEY: Chief Craig, I'm going to give you a last question here, because I am totally out of time, which happens with you all, all the time, so I should have you on for longer. There was a picture that went viral this week of a young African-American, 12 years old, hugging a white police officer. I believe this was in Portland, Oregon. It was touching. It was lovely.

If you go online, you will see lots of mothers worried sick and the mother of this child, worried sick about what police will do to their young boys, afraid of what will happen to them. Please talk to those mothers right now about the relationship between black and blue.

CRAIG: Well, that picture -- that picture represents the vast majority of police officers in America.

When we talk about these anomalies, as I would like to refer to them as, this is not reflective of policing. What comes to mind for me here in Detroit, our Detroit police officers, not on an occasional basis but routinely -- we had a tragic shooting of a 7-year-old in September. Detroit police officers quickly placed her in the rear seat of that scout car and transported her to the hospital where she was treated. Had it not been for their decisive actions, that little girl might not live today. CROWLEY: Right.

CRAIG: So my point is that's the reflection, and these were white officers. If we just want to put race on it, but that that reflects what our police officers are truly about.

CROWLEY: Police chief James Craig, I want to thank you, coming to us from Detroit, and I want to note that here around the table, former NYPD commissioner, Bernard Kerik, Chief Thomas Manger, and of course Malik Aziz, all nodded when you said, "that is much more reflective of what police are doing than not." So, they agree with you. Gentlemen, thank you all. I really appreciate it.


CROWLEY: As President Obama looks to his final years in office, he's dealing with a Republican congress, a series of crises abroad and diminishing political influence. What a lame (ph) duck (ph) to do? Our roundtable is next.


CROWLEY: Here to discuss how President Obama's lame duck status stacks up with history, presidential historians, Richard Norton Smith and Douglas Brinkley. Also with us Karen Tumulty, national political reporter at "The Washington Post," and Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent at "The New York Times."

I want to start out by playing President Obama this week, pardoning the turkey shortly before Thanksgiving.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The "The Washington Post" recently questioned the wisdom of the whole turkey pardon tradition. Typically on the day before Thanksgiving, the story went, the man who makes decisions about wars, virus outbreaks, terrorism cells and other dire matters of state chooses to pardon a single turkey, plus an alternate. Tell me about it. It is - it is a little puzzling that I do this every year.


CROWLEY: So, he said in jest, sort of. Here is a man who, for six years, has made no secret about the fact that he doesn't like either the rhythms or the rituals of Washington, D.C. So, he has two years left. Can a man who doesn't like the rituals or the rhythms of Washington, D.C., make good on those last two years? Put it first - put it into history for me. Who has made good?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: A lot of presidents made good on their second term when you think about. Look at Ronald Reagan had the Iran-contra problem, but then he was able to do some incredible diplomacy with Mikhail Gorbachev, helping to end the cold war in its last years. I mean, Bill Clinton, his second term I was able to keep driving

on that idea of getting a budget surplus, getting rid of our deficit and by the end of his term, he wasn't (ph) very popular, Al Gore wanted to be seen with him but nevertheless he had an accomplishment there.

So, in foreign affairs, it's wide open and then you always have executive power, and you've seen a president now using the Clean Air Act of 1970, the provisions in it, to lay down executive orders on climate change, on stopping coal emissions or reducing them. So, there's an environmental legacy and they all sign these big national monuments on their way out. Greater (ph) (INAUDIBLE) -

CROWLEY: Like post offices on a much higher level, right?

BRINKLEY: Yes. I mean, it's still (INAUDIBLE) we just saw with the executive order on immigration, he still has a lot of juice left in him.


And Karen, what does he care whether -- this is a man in his, percentage wise, in the 43, 44, 45 percent. Does he care about that or just take the executive order route and moving on?

KAREN TUMULTY, WASHINGTON POST, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think he is very much looking toward his legacy at this point.

He came to Washington to sort of change the way it worked. I think he's given up on that idea. So yes, he's going to use his executive power. It's a - it's going to be a gigantic job just to implement the laws that passed in the first couple years of his term.

And finally you talk to people at the White House and they say that it is very important to the president before he leaves office to use the bully pulpit to sort of change the terms of engagement, so that no future presidential candidate could ever run as opposing gay marriage or as opposed immigration reform. Essentially he wants to leave behind a national conversation that has changed because he was here.

CROWLEY: Richard Norton Smith?

RICHARD NORTON SMITH, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: That's a lot harder to do. I would agree with Karen. In effect, he created his legacy early. He created his legacy with the Health Care Act, and now he's going to make sure that it is defended, well-defended and almost invulnerable to the next president, whoever it might be.

That said, you know, we're not talking about our fathers, let alone our grandfather's presidency. This is a dynamic office. This is not T.R.'s bully pulpit or FDR's fireside chats. In many ways a president's -- Harry Truman was the first president to pardon a White House turkey and I guarantee -- and he went out of office with a whole lot lower popular approval ratings than this president has at the moment, but in the end it doesn't matter what the popular approval rating is on the last day in office because guess what? We are the folks who are going to be the ultimate electoral jury...


SMITH: ...the historians who decided that Harry Truman wasn't near (ph) a (ph) great president.

CROWLEY: (INAUDIBLE) George H. W. Bush about that, too, out of office with that.


Peter, let me - let me turn this corner here and ask you whether you think the Hagel's firing is the beginning of the last two years and some new signal or just like, OK, we're not getting along...


CROWLEY: ...I need someone else.

BAKER: It's so interesting because it does sound and feel like George W. Bush, after his six-year midterm debacle, he comes out, he hands Donald Rumsfeld his walking papers and that does signal a shift.

I don't think this is the same thing. It's superficially the same. It's not substantively the same. Because the Rumsfeld firing signaled a change of thinking and a dynamic change in power structure within the Bush administration. I think this is more of a one-off.

I think Secretary Hagel and President Obama didn't necessarily click, Secretary Hagel didn't necessarily click with the White House staff. I think it tells us a lot about how they operate. I don't think it's a philosophical or ideological or power shift so much as it is he didn't work in this particular moment.

CROWLEY: So Karen, what's interesting here though is that -- really the commentary was kind of split along two lines. Oh, the president has to be more aggressive. Now, it is just not a guy that's ending war he should be starting one in ISIS. So, he needs somebody, you know, aggressive and what Peter is saying, which is, they didn't get along so it doesn't really mean much other than they didn't get along.

TUMULTY: But the job that Chuck Hagel was hired to do was in fact going to be pulling out of wars. And they - he -- they needed a Republican in that spot so that he could sell a smaller military to the Republicans on Capitol Hill. It turns out that that's not what the job turned out to be, not with Syria, not with ISIS, not with what's going on in Iraq.

CROWLEY: So let me ask you all, what will his replace -- if he can find one, what will his replacement tell us, if anything? Is this just OK, here's a guy I can tell what to do or is it possible there's a message about the next two years?

BRINKLEY: It's going to be somebody that you can get through congress, right, and that's going to be a big consideration.

I mean, Ash Carter is somebody that people are talking about that's doable but there's also some talk about Joe Lieberman perhaps or somebody else from -- that's on a lower level already within government. I'm reminded of Jimmy Carter having to get a secretary of state when Cy Vance quit and ended up getting Ed Muskie, somebody well known that could easily pass through the senate. I'm not sure the president wants to have a knockout fight over this. So, it has got to be somebody John McCain feels is palatable. Maybe somebody like Lieberman is that. Well (INAUDIBLE) matters.

CROWLEY: We all know Lieberman would be palatable to John McCain. I want to get you on the other side of the break so hang on. I also want to talk a little bit about what we originally touched on which is do the polls matter at this point to the president?


CROWLEY: Back with Peter Baker and Douglas Brinkley, plus Richard Norton Smith and Karen Tumulty.

I want to put up a calendar perhaps of the president's poll numbers since January, and basically he's flat lined. January, 45, November, 44. All in the low 40s basically, underwater. The president may not care about his current popularity, but it would sure help him get a couple jobs done if it were higher than that. What changes this for the president?

SMITH: You know, the problem is we're so polarized, and at this stage in this presidency and not just this presidency, this is a phenomenon. We have done something we have only done once before in our history. We've elected the last three presidents to second terms, and yet long before their term was over, we were eager to usher them out of office.


SMITH: The fatigue factor. Remember Clinton fatigue and Bush fatigue. I mean, it raises lots of questions about not so much how these individuals governed, but how we particularly in the media cover the modern presidency.


SMITH: Whether oversaturation is one of the real dangers. Whether we expect too much of our presidents to begin with.

BAKER: President Obama talked about that the other day at one of the interviews. He said the country is, in effect (ph), is tired of him and wants that new car smell. That was the phrase he used in terms of his successor. And I think -- he's saying the same thing I heard George W. Bush say - you heard him and President Clinton say, they get tired of you after six years and there is sort of a -- especially accelerated environment that we're in right now with Twitter and social media and cable television and talk road, we move on so quickly. BRINKLEY: The one place I think the president could bump up to

50 percent is if the economy takes off. I mean, we do have low gas prices now, Wall Street is humming but there's still - there's still a lot of people not feeling we're not totally out of that great recession. If at the end of his tenure he could say, I inherited the great recession and we are out of it now, then I think historians are going to look on President Obama as being very above average.

CROWLEY: And it will help Hillary Clinton too.

TUMULTY: Exactly. I was going to say the person to whom these poll ratings matter the most at this point is probably Hillary Clinton. And it was hard not to hear sort of a dig at her in that new car smell comment as well.

CROWLEY: So, in the end what is doable for him? Let's leave aside executive orders which we all know he can do, well, a court may decide that but (INAUDIBLE) what is feasible that we're looking at that's major? Is it the kind of - go ahead.

SMITH: Well, a lot depends on what the Republicans do. This president is historically unique. Six years into his presidency, he defines (ph) the opposition party more than he does his own, and by contrasting himself -- let's see what the Republicans in the Senate, for example, do. Do they follow the more extreme views of the Tea Party as expressed in the House? Do they appear to be obstructionist? If so, he could look a lot better and, frankly, he could pave the way for a Democratic campaign in 2016 that might be a little stronger than it appears right now. How he responds to the opposition will have a significant part in how we see these last two years.

BRINKLEY: And his nos can matter. Meaning (ph) he could say no to the keystone pipeline and become a hero to the environmental movement and say - two times in both of his inaugural speech (ph) about climate change, is a president that constantly is talking climate. He just did the big China climate deal. A no on that would give him an environment legacy that sort of coming up unexpectedly on us.

CROWLEY: To paraphrase another president, this president is still relevant.

BAKER: He is still relevant. Look, he is still relevant. As Douglas said about Reagan, about Clinton, the last two years do matter. You may be a lame duck. You still have room in foreign policy. We saw the other day they're pushing on this Iran deal and (ph) got (ph) another extension. We'll see if it gets anywhere. If it does - it's not quite the same thing as working with Gorbachev but it's close. There are opportunities there for him.

CROWLEY: Karen, I am going to have to owe you 20 seconds on the next show. Thank you very much. Douglas Brinkley, Peter Baker, Karen Tumulty, and Richard Norton Smith, we will be right back.


CROWLEY: Thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley.

And Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts now.