Return to Transcripts main page

STATE OF THE UNION

Interview With White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough; Interview With Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum; Interview With Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego; Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Interview With California Congressman Adam Schiff

Aired January 25, 2015 - 09:00   ET

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


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: ISIS strikes again amid a new round of upheaval in the Middle East, and President Obama takes the world station.

I'm Michael Smerconish, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SMERCONISH: Good morning from Washington.

We're following breaking news overseas, ISIS issuing a new ultimatum after beheading one of two Japanese nationals it held captive. The terror group is demanding the release of a convicted terrorist imprisoned in joining.

Joining me is White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

But, first, I want to go to CNN's Will Ripley in Tokyo.

Will, who is the terrorist that they want ?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sajida al-Rishawi, who failed to detonate her bomb in a 2005 attack on a series of hotels in Jordan that killed about 60 people.

She's a very high-value prisoner for the Jordanian government. So here in Tokyo, while Prime Minister Abe is saying that they are in discussions with the Jordanian government -- he had a phone call with the king of Jordan yesterday -- he stopped short of saying whether there are any serious discussions about the release of a convicted terrorist in exchange a single Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto.

Goto's mother, who recognized his voice on that video that was uploaded yesterday, says that she's very fearful for her son's life. She could see in his face that he knows that there could be some very, very difficult and devastating things to come if ISIS' demands aren't met, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Will Ripley, thank you.

Denis McDonough, nice to have you here. You're pulling the full Ginsburg today. I appreciate your time.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I guess so, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MCDONOUGH: Thanks for having me, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Should that exchange be made? Should that kind of a swap be entertained with terrorists?

MCDONOUGH: You know our policy on that, Michael. We don't -- we don't either negotiate or make exchanges or pay ransoms.

We think that results in just more cash floating around with these very hateful characters who will just have more ability to ply their trade.

SMERCONISH: Should family members be permitted to entertain their own negotiations with hostage-takers?

MCDONOUGH: I just want to be clear here that we're in very close touch with the families.

They understand the strength of the president's feeling on this. And, obviously, the president understands the strength of their devastation, as some of this has transpired over the course of the last several months. So, we will continue to remain in close coordination with and consultation with the families.

SMERCONISH: You know that there -- there have been some criticisms made by family members who say that they -- they were held back by the administration from participating in negotiations that they wanted to pursue. That's why I ask the question.

MCDONOUGH: I'm very familiar with the criticisms. And I'm very -- I also want to be very clear that I'm neither going to divulge our conversations with them or get into a negotiation with anybody else through you on this show.

We're going to continue to work very closely with these families because this is an issue of grave concern for us.

SMERCONISH: As you know, I like to say my day job is that I answer phones for a living. I entertain telephone callers from across the country on SiriusXM each and every day.

MCDONOUGH: Yes.

SMERCONISH: I want to convey to you that I'm hearing a sense of exasperation about world events from callers. They open up newspapers and watch televisions every day and they see a new hot spot, and they wonder, have we reached a tipping point where no U.S. policy is going to be capable of maintaining order worldwide?

What would you say to them?

MCDONOUGH: I would say a couple different things. One is, what we're seeing is, obviously, with the democratization

of media, the ability for even the most nefarious actors in the world to reach out and, through very social media outlets, get their story in front of us. That exacerbates their ability to terrorize us. I recognize that.

Second, the resolution of all these situations, Michael, is going to be dependent on those people on the ground, Muslims in many cases, Arabs in other cases, taking the steps that they need to resolve the situations on the ground.

We cannot be an occupying force in a place like Yemen or in Syria and hope that we will be responsible for bringing this, as you say, chaos to an end. We ought to train them, the security forces. We ought to press their political leaders to come up with political resolutions on the ground.

And the third thing we're going to do is, where there is a threat to us -- and you I have had this conversation going back to 2007 -- we will take action to protect the American people. This president has done that. He will continue to do that.

SMERCONISH: Earlier today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- and I think I have the quote that we can put on the screen, but he said, "I will go anywhere I'm invited in order to enunciate the state of Israel's position and in order to defend its future and its existence."

Who does the White House blame more, Boehner for extending the invite or Bibi for accepting it?

MCDONOUGH: The White House doesn't get into blame games on these kinds of things.

Let's take a step back. This is the most important relationship we have in the world. This is something that ought to be and will continue to be, as far as we're concerned, above partisan politics. This is a relationship, given its importance, that stretches across many different things, from values straight through intelligence cooperation to defense and security assistance.

That's the kinds of things that we will be focused on in this regard. That's why we think also we ought not get involved in their politics. That's why the president thinks it doesn't make any sense for us to meet with the prime minister two weeks before his election.

SMERCONISH: Did the president invite this action by Congress through his executive actions and his statements in the State of the Union that he won't hesitate to exercise veto ability?

MCDONOUGH: You know, I want to not pretend that I could somehow explain any motive for anybody else but the White House.

Let me tell you about the things that we have done on Iran and why the president thinks Congress acting now will undercut that. We have isolated the Iranians over the course of six years. We now have robust international multilateral sanctions in place and we have very aggressive bilateral sanctions in place.

That's leading to Iran being isolated, its economy being in tatters, its ability to export and sell oil at near -- near record lows. So, we're going to continue to do that. We can maintain that international unity by pressing through these last several months of negotiations.

Congress should just give us the time to let those negotiations play out. It doesn't make any sense for them to prematurely act on legislation that the president will veto if it's going to risk maintaining this international unity. So, Congress should let us finish this job.

SMERCONISH: One final foreign policy question. Does the passing of King Abdullah mean the administration now will release the 28 pages pertaining to the Saudis and September 11?

MCDONOUGH: Well, this is obviously an issue that you have been working on for some time. And this goes back across administrations.

We're -- the president will be visiting Riyadh to express our condolences and to underscore the important issues that we have going on in the region. I'm not going to get involved in the 28 pages now, Michael, any more than I did before.

SMERCONISH: I got a feeling from the State of the Union that it was a victory lap of sorts and that it was the president saying, hey, the metrics are all on our side, whether it's unemployment, whether it's gas prices, whether it's the Dow, whether it's the deficit, but there's a funk out there in the country, and I want to convince people, especially those in the middle class, that it's OK to start being more optimistic about the economy.

Is that what he was really trying to do?

MCDONOUGH: Well, the president did tick through several things that we have made progress on, unemployment from 10 down to 5.6 percent, 10 million people with now access to health care, health care costs at the lowest level in more than 50 years now for four years in a row, more energy production, be that clean energy, or be that oil and gas, in this country than ever before.

That's leading to new jobs. So, there are good data. But the other thing the president said is, there's a big unfinished piece of business. And you put your finger on it. Middle-class families like the ones you grew up in Doylestown or the ones I grew up with in Stillwater, Minnesota, have not seen the kind of wage growth that they deserve.

Wages have been stagnant now for three decades. So the president laid out a plan the other night that said, let's make sure that the wealthiest few give back a little bit, that we invest in things like child care, like training, like community college, and make sure that we're making -- we're going to keep the good jobs that we have here and bring more of them back home. That's what the president is going to do. He won't trim his

sails on that. The middle class deserves a shot at this now. The crisis having been passed, now we have got to get at the one remaining issue, which is, how does the middle class get the fair shot that they deserve?

SMERCONISH: Final question.

You may have grown up in Minnesota, but your folks are from Boston. Have the McDonoughs soured on the Pats?

(LAUGHTER)

MCDONOUGH: Well, my dad was a big Pats fan going back a long, long time. But I have got a lot of stuff on my plate right now, Michael. I'm a Vikings fan.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: Have you talked to the president about it?

MCDONOUGH: I haven't talked to him about it in the last...

SMERCONISH: Big sports guy.

MCDONOUGH: He's a big sports guy. I haven't talked to him about it in the last couple days. He's been on the road, as you know, in India.

SMERCONISH: Yes, a lot on his plate.

Denis McDonough, thank you.

MCDONOUGH: Great to see you, Michael. Thank you.

SMERCONISH: You too. Thank you for that.

When we come back: strained relations with Israel. Why does America's closest Middle East ally now seem more like a frenemy?

And, later, what's making the hit film "American Sniper" strike a chord with U.S. moviegoers?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Relations between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appear to have hit a new low, while the collapse of Yemen's government is likely to make the U.S. fight against terror an even tougher challenge.

Here now, Congressman Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, and Jon Huntsman, former governor, U.S. ambassador and Republican presidential candidate.

Governor, let me start with you.

You're a civility guy. You're the co-chair of No Labels.

JON HUNTSMAN JR. (R), FORMER UTAH GOVERNOR: I'm a results guy, a problem-solver.

SMERCONISH: Nothing wrong with that. And so, too, is Congressman Schiff.

HUNTSMAN: Yes, he is.

SMERCONISH: But with regard to what's just taken place on this extension of an invite to Bibi Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu, I say to myself, did partisanship just jump into the realm of foreign policy?

HUNTSMAN: Well, it's unfortunate.

First of all, the prime minister has a very important message to bring to the American people. I think there is nothing is more important right now than the nuclear development in Iran and the implications for the region and the world.

He's beloved in Congress. And he can speak any time he wants. But the way in which the invitation took place, the partisanship kind of slipping into foreign policy, I think is a really bad precedent. It's bad statecraft. It's bad politics.

And I think it's going to put a real damper on what traditionally is the head-of-state-to-head-of-state relationship. That governs foreign policy and it will for some time. And I think that -- that has been forgotten in all of this.

SMERCONISH: And, Congressman, should those who oppose the way in which this was handled who are in Congress, perhaps yourself, nevertheless attend that address when it takes place in March?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes, we should.

But I agree completely with the governor. I think this was a terrible mistake by the speaker. It used to be the -- at least the goal that politics ended at the water's edge. Now it only begins there. And I think for us to extend an invitation two weeks before the Israeli election gives Israelis the impression we're trying to meddle in their politics.

And I also find it extraordinary that a head -- a world leader would be invited before the Congress effectively to lobby in favor of a bill that the president opposes.

I just think it's harmful to the U.S./Israel relationship. And I think it was a very ill-considered decision by the speaker.

SMERCONISH: In your capacity as a former United States ambassador, indeed to China, What kind of a precedent has just been set here?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I can't remember historically where this has ever happened before. So I can't point to you where this -- this has happened.

I think the implications are fairly profound. I think it's going to impact the head-of-state-to-head-of-state dynamic in a relationship that is terribly important. The U.S. and Israel have a very important and special relationship. We have regional matters to take care of. We have a free trade agreement. We're close people to people.

And the Iron Dome cooperation has been very good recently. So, there's a lot to champion in the relationship. And I just -- I have to think that this is not representative of a good trend between the two of us.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Schiff, in your capacity as a member of the Intel Committee, allow me to ask a question about Yemen.

It seems as if Yemen is the Afghanistan of pre-September 11. In other words, this now is ground zero for the terrorist activity. What is it about Yemen? What was it about Afghanistan? I ask that question so that we can anticipate what will become the next breeding ground for al Qaeda and ISIL.

SCHIFF: Well, Afghanistan is a very good object lesson for us. Many people are urging us to move in a more full-throated way into Yemen.

We have seen, after a massive occupation, a very long occupation of Afghanistan, that a large American troop presence on the ground is not necessarily the answer. So, I think there is a natural and understandable resistance to jumping too hard, too fast.

And for that reason, I think a lot of the criticism of the president is wrongheaded. At the same time, there is a very real risk here, if the Houthis try to run this country, that you could see a dynamic take place much like we saw in Iraq, where, if the Sunni tribes in Yemen feel that they're being ruled by a Shia clan with the support of Iran, they're going to be thrown into the arms of AQAP.

And this will be an opportunity undoubtedly for al Qaeda to exploit. And so there are certainly some lessons to be considered in Afghanistan. But there are also some very, very vibrant warning signs about the course of action in Iraq recently that we need to pay attention to in Yemen.

SMERCONISH: You need a scorecard, gentlemen, to keep track of what's going on in the Middle East.

Iran is an enemy in many respects, yet joining us in a battle against ISIS, yet supporting the Houthis in Yemen. What I often hear from people is, they say, there's nothing we can do about it. We ought to stay the heck out of it.

There's an isolationist trend, I think, in the country, Governor. You would say what to those folks?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I would say that's a very bad trend. There is a role for the United States because good governments

don't exist right now in the region. So, what gives rise to a lot of the bad behavior and a lot of the transnational problems we're experiencing? It's illegitimate regimes.

So, whether it's Libya, whether it's Syria, whether it's Iraq, whether it's now Yemen -- Saudi Arabia is now going through a new transition with the new king -- they have got to look at the region and say, things are not working so well for us.

Where does the world look for the kind of leadership and the kind of capacity-building that can work and lead toward legitimate governments? I'm not sure that there are too many other places, other than the United States. So, there is a role for us to play not only on the security side.

And I'm not talking about more troops into the old places where we had been in the past, but we do need to secure the environment, such that our interests are protected. And we do have to work with the local regimes in building capacity toward legitimate, good, transparent governments.

That's the problem today. And that's leading to ungoverned territories, where you see a lot of the bad behavior take place, and I think a lot -- a lot of the bad behavior generally that we're seeing in the region.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Schiff, as you well know, the president cutting short his visit to India so that he can pay respects in Saudi Arabia. I get the impression that that is more than "I happen to be in the neighborhood."

Speak to the relationship with the Saudis, please, and its importance.

SCHIFF: Well, it's a key relationship. And I'm glad the president is making the trip. I think it's a very good call.

Saudi Arabia is in a period of transition in its leadership. Happily, it looks like that the new leadership will carry on many of the policies, the close relationship with the United States that we would like to see. And I think that's very positive.

In particular, the deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, is very -- Western-educated, close to the United States, very strong in counterterrorism efforts. So, I think there will be a continuity in the relationship that's important at a time when Saudi Arabia is under enormous strain, with Iran reaching greater influence in places like Yemen through the Houthis and places like Damascus, in Iraq as well.

So, Saudi Arabia feels very beleaguered at the moment. It's an extraordinarily important relationship for the United States. And these personal matters, like the president's trip, really have an impact. So this is an important relationship.

And one last point I would make on that is, Saudi Arabia is going to be critical in not only -- not only cutting off some of the financing to groups like ISIL, but also in attacking the ideological struggle going on condemning the perversion of Islam that we see in ISIL.

Saudi Arabia is one of the leading authorities in terms of Islam, as well as the Sunni leadership in the region. And so they're going to play a vital role.

SMERCONISH: And, finally, I would be derelict in my duty if I didn't ask you.

Mitt 3.0, can that dog hunt?

HUNTSMAN: We will see. The technology has not yet been developed.

(LAUGHTER)

SMERCONISH: Well said.

Thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate your being here.

HUNTSMAN: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: His bid for the 2012 presidential nomination failed.

Next, I will ask former Senator Rick Santorum why he thinks he can win in 2016.

And, later, on this 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill's death, his grandson reflects on what made the British prime minister a giant among world leaders.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: Many of the Republican Party's 2016 presidential hopefuls are in Iowa this weekend courting the conservative faithful.

One of them, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, joins me now from Sioux City.

Great to have you here, Senator.

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Thank you, Michael. Good to be with you.

SMERCONISH: You know, in 2012, you won 11 states, including Iowa. If Mitt is not in this thing, it would seem that, by rights, you're the front-runner, and yet you don't appear to be treated that way. Why is that the case?

SANTORUM: I -- why don't you ask the reporters?

I don't really care whether I'm treated like the front-runner or not. We're out working to deliver a message, like we did yesterday in Des Moines, that, for us to be successful as a country, the Republican Party needs to step forward and be a unifying party in America, has to be a party that not just is pro-growth, but also pro-worker, to -- to help those who are struggling and hurting, and systematically doing so in America.

And, so, front-runner, whatever, it doesn't really matter. If you have a good message, and you deliver that message well, and you have a background and experience that back it up, I think things will work itself out if we decide to get into this race.

SMERCONISH: The message that you're best known for is usually a message on social issues. It seems that this cycle is going to be a cycle determined largely by foreign policy matters and also by economic issues.

Make the case that Rick Santorum is prepared on both of those.

SANTORUM: Well, really, there isn't anybody else who's looking at it that has any kind of significant national security experience.

And, as you know, Michael, because you covered me when you were in Philadelphia on the radio program, we talked often about national security because I was on -- eight years on the Armed Services Committee, where I was a subcommittee chairman for all of those eight years, worked in a very strong bipartisan level, never, in fact, had an amendment to any part of the bill that I brought to the floor that was ever amended without bipartisan support from my ranking members.

So we always did it in a way that was above politics. And I think that's very helpful. Secondly, I authored two major pieces of national security legislation, foreign policy legislation, interestingly enough, one on Syria, a rather important place, again, a bill that was offered and opposed by President Bush when I offered it. In fact, he vehemently opposed it.

And within three years, he signed it, came around to the position that I had taken. The next one was on Iran. And this in particular was on the Iranian nuclear program. Again, President Bush opposed it, in fact fought me on the floor of the Senate. Joe Biden and Condi Rice fought me on the floor. Rice sent a letter opposing sanctions on the Iranian nuclear program. And within six months, they both flipped their opinions, and it passed unanimously in the United States Senate.

So, if you want to look at leadership, leadership that fought both parties, that had a good, prescient view of what was going on in the future and had people come around to our point of view, I think we have a pretty good track record on that.

SMERCONISH: Senator, you were joined yesterday at Congressman King's event in Iowa by a whole host of potential Republican candidates for the presidency.

Someone who was not there is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He said something Friday night in San Francisco. I would like to show it. I know you will be able to hear it. And then you can respond to this.

Roll the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Immigrants are an engine of economic vitality. We need to find a way, a path to legalized status for those that have come here and have languished in the shadows. There's no way that they're going to be deported. No one is -- no one is suggesting an organized effort to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Is he right, Senator, that immigration is the engine of economic vitality?

SANTORUM: I would say -- in fact, I talked about this extensively yesterday -- immigration can be, if immigration is done the right way.

There's a -- Barbara Jordan, who you know very well, chaired the last immigration panel that was put together to try to find a bipartisan solution to immigration reform back in the '90s. And she made the comment, which is absolutely true, that immigration policy in America has to put America and American workers first.

And so, yes, there are -- there is -- are changes to our immigration laws that need to be made that focus the immigration policies on where we need certain skills or certain people to come to this country to help gin up and encourage our economy.

But, unfortunately, the current legal immigration system is not that. We bring a little over a million people a year into this country on average over the past 20 years. And most, the overwhelming majority are folks who are lower-skilled or unskilled. And as a result of that, they are filling up a labor pool where, as you know, Michael, there's not a booming growth of unskilled labor jobs in this country.

And we're bringing people in who -- who will compete against a lot of American workers. In fact, since 2000, the number of American -- of native-born Americans working in the workplace has gone down. There are fewer Americans working today who were born in America than there were 15 years ago.

SMERCONISH: What I have always said -- what I have always...

SANTORUM: All of the net new jobs created are going to people who were not born here, because they're willing to work for lower wages.

SMERCONISH: What I have always said is that the same type of individual who will risk it all to come to the United States, even illegally, has those same traits and characteristics that make him or her an entrepreneur.

React quickly to that, because I want to move on to something else. SANTORUM: Well, I would say if you, again, you look at the skill

levels of the people who are coming and the jobs that they are taking, they're not necessarily -- they aren't entrepreneurial jobs.

They may end up eventually, the next generation, et cetera. But I would just suggest that the reason you're seeing median income dropping, the reason you're seeing wages stagnating is because we have record levels of -- of legal immigration.

I'm not saying shut it down. But I will tell you, the last time we had this kind of surge in immigration was the great wave between 1880 and 1920. And after that great wave, there were two bills that were passed, 1921 and 1924, and they both passed almost unanimously in the House and Senate.

Why? Because they put politics aside and they did what was best for the American worker.

SMERCONISH: The Senate voted this week 98 to one that climate change is not a hoax. If Rick Santorum were still in the Senate, would you have supported that?

SANTORUM: Is the climate warming? Clearly over the past, you know, 15 or 20 years the question is yes. The question is, is man having a significant impact on that, number one.

And number two, and this is even more important than the first, is there anything we can do about it? And the answer is, is there anything the United States can do about it? Clearly, no. Even folks who accept all of the science by the alarmists on the other side, recognize that everything that's being considered by the United States will have almost -- well, not almost, will have zero impact on it given what's going on in the rest of the world.

SMERCONISH: So, is your answer do nothing?

SANTORUM: Again -- well, the answer is do something. If it has no impact, of course do nothing. Why would you do something and -- with the -- with people admitting that even if you do something, it won't make a difference?

SMERCONISH: Senator, thank you for being here.

SANTORUM: My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: Chris Christie was among the other potential 2016 candidates who addressed the Iowa freedom summit. How the New Jersey governor fared with this uber conservative audience? Next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you for -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: It's great to be back in the great state of Iowa.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I've heard a lot of stuff before I came out here to the summit, and I've heard -- I -- don't they know I am from New Jersey?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: God bless the great state of Iowa.

BEN CARSON, JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL PEDIATRIC NEUROSURGERY DIRECTOR: I always feel so welcome when I come to Iowa.

CARLY FIORINA, FORMER HEWLETT-PACKARD CEO: Like Hillary Clinton, I too have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles. But unlike her, I've actually accomplished something.

SANTORUM: It's great to be back in Iowa. Where (INAUDIBLE) the sweater vest was born.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Is Hillary a new Democrat or an old one?

DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESSMAN (ph): I am seriously thinking of running for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Those are some of the 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls who spoke at Saturday's Iowa freedom summit. The gathering was also notable for who was not there, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney no shows.

But CNN's Peter Hamby was on hand and joins us now from Des Moines.

Peter, I want you to know that, I, too, like the Donald, am seriously considered running.

Does anybody believe him when he says it?

PETER HAMBY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Shocking.

No. He's not running for president. This is probably the third or fourth time by my count over the years where Donald Trump has floated his name for president. He's always good at getting media attention wherever he goes. But reporters who write that he is serious are contributing to the problem and encouraging him. And (INAUDIBLE) Sarah Palin said similar things over the weekend that she is interested in running for president.

The back story there, Michael, is that she went into the Marriott Des Moines bar the other night and a bunch of reporters asked her if she was interested and she said, sure, why not? And so she wants people to know that she is interested in being interested so people write stories about how she's interested. But neither of these folks are going to run for president.

There are two kinds of candidates at the event tomorrow, there are people who are serious about this, who are hiring staff, raising money and laying groundwork in Iowa and there are people who are there for the free media attention.

SMERCONISH: How much of a pivot to the right did Chris Christie make? I think that's the real substantive question that I wanted to ask.

HAMBY: Yes, I think for reporters that was kind of the most interesting angle of this event because, as you mentioned, of those establishment candidates, Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney were not here. Christie, plays in that same lane but decided to come out here, kissed Steve King's ring and made a play for the conservative base.

Look, he didn't say substantively (ph) very much different what he usually does when he goes to conservative events like CPAC, he's gone to Iowa almost a dozen times, he talked about how, yes, he has differences with Republicans. You're never going to find someone who agrees with you 100 percent of the time but he did stress his pro life credentials.

He talked about how no one ever thought a governor who was opposed to abortion rights would get elected in New Jersey. And he said, look, I won. I won 51 percent of the Hispanic vote, 20 percent of the African-American vote. I can win. So, he kind of pivoted to a message of electability.

And one other thing that was interesting, Mike, a dreamer, a protester stood up and interrupted him during his speech which actually gave him a great useful foil for this crowd because, you know, he did his whole shtick where he attacks the protester and criticizes them. And as you play the sound he said, don't you know I'm from New Jersey? And the crowd ate it up. So, he got a very good reception, probably the best he could have hoped for for a crowd like that. It was a pretty good introduction for him on that side of the Republican Party out here, Michael.

SMERCONISH: What kind of a message was Jeb Bush sending? What kind of a message was Mitt Romney sending in not being there? Are they saying, we're not going to compete in Iowa?

HAMBY: I think Jeb Bush is sending two messages. One is that his politics on immigration reform specifically don't gel one bit with Steve King's and many of the Republicans who spoke yesterday and many of the people that I talk to in the audience.

And, secondly, he wants to lower expectations in Iowa. No one wants to show too much leg too early and become the front-runner because if you're the front-runner, you're probably going to lose if you're a front-runner this early. So they are interested in Iowa. Jeb Bush's people are but they just want to take it slow and steady.

Romney's case is a little bit different because he's only been kind of in the race, so to speak, for a few weeks now. So he's, you know, still in the space where he's trying to figure out if he's actually going to run. He's hired a few people to help on a volunteer basis but he's still figuring it out. And Romney sort of confronts a little bit of the same problem.

I think he probably has a little bit more goodwill with the Republican base both Iowa and elsewhere than Jeb Bush does at this point because he's been the nominee and been the standard bearer for the party. But he still got to figure out if he's actually going to run.

SMERCONISH: When I watched yesterday I thought to myself, this is an illustration of where it went wrong, in my opinion, for the GOP last time because if you go in there and you placate that crowd and you hit them with all the applause lines, you're dealing yourself a death knell in a general election if you win the nomination. Just my two cents.

Peter Hamby, thank you for your report. We appreciate it.

HAMBY: Thanks, Michael.

SMERCONISH: When we come back, "American Sniper" hits its mark. We'll talk with two Iraq war veterans who now serve in Congress about why the new film has sparked such strong reactions among Americas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be surprised if I told you that navy has credited you over a 160 kills?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mm-hmm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you ever think that you might have seen things or done some things over there that you wish you hadn't?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that's not me. No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's not you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was (ph) just (ph) protecting my guys. They were trying to kill our soldiers and I'm willing to meet my creator and ask for every shot that I took. The thing that haunts me are all the guys that I couldn't save.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper" shattering records at the box office and becoming a cultural phenomenon. It's also fueling a nationwide debate about the legacy of the Iraq war and the troops who fought there.

With me now Republican congressman, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, and Congressman Ruben Gallego, Democrat from Arizona. Both of these gentlemen, Iraq war veterans and we thank you for your service. Congressman Kinzinger, what is it about this movie? I mean, this

is making more of an impact I would argue than even "The Hurt Locker" or "Lone Survivor". Both extraordinary movies in their own right.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: It's the most realistic movie I've seen in terms of like really bringing me back to Iraq, for instance. I saw it and I just -- you know, what really drew me into this movie was how you see Chris is very drawn to go back, that like I have to go. There's more I have to do. There's more I need to do. I've always felt that.

In fact there's not a day that goes by now where I don't think about it and I don't -- you know, you miss the brotherhood of it. You think about all the things you could have done. And it was just -- it was fantastic. I mean, just quickly, I remember meeting with a veteran myself a few years ago and he just said -- and I said, you know, what's going through your mind? And he goes, I just want to go back. He had been injured, had two purple hearts and he said, I just -- I left my brothers and sisters there. I want to go back. So, it was the most realistic at just capturing that essence of what the Iraq war felt like. So, I think it was great.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Gallego, I think the reason that it struck a chord with me is because the movie sparked the conversation not only about war but, I don't know, 40 -- 50 percent of this movie is about family dynamics, PTSD. And I know you've been saying that the country needs that kind of a conversation to talk about the social, the familial dynamics of what we've asked these men and women.

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, I think, one of the most important thing to remember is that when we go to war, we are actually bringing our families with us. And sometimes in some dynamics it's actually more difficult for our family members when we're at war than when we -- than the actual soldier or marine in combat because we actually have full 100 percent knowledge.

And I heard some horror stories from my mom and my wife when we took some casualties at my platoon that didn't know whether I was dead or alive for a couple of hours. And that the amount of trauma it caused them. And then the reintegration. You know, I certainly had problems when I got back and there's a lot of other marines that I'm sure they had problems coming back. And I think it's a good conversation (INAUDIBLE) have about everything we can do to make sure that these men and women that sacrifice months and sometimes years of their life have an opportunity to, you know, to accomplish the American dream like anybody else.

SMERCONISH: Congressman Kinzinger, this movie has also sparked the conversation about the role of snipers. How do non-snipers in the military regard their brethren who are snipers? How do they -- how do they view that role?

KINZINGER: They're amazing.

You know, for years I've worn the name of Christopher Horton who was killed in Paktya, Afghanistan was a sniper. I've worn his name. They're fantastic people. I mean, people (INAUDIBLE) that says, you know, when you hear somebody say that snipers are cowards. They're hiding behind. Or here's one that wasn't. Here's one that was killed. They all are brave men and women that have done a lot of hard work.

So, look, they're -- you know, they're the overlords. They're the folks protecting us. They're the folks that are protecting the guys on the ground from threats they don't see. It's essential.

And for anybody that would attack a man or a woman in the military for the job they do. You see it in the movie, you know, where Chris has to do some things and he's not celebrating them. It obviously bothers him and it really gets to him, but he knows that he has to do that to save the lives of his brothers and sisters.

SMERCONISH: You're making reference obviously to Michael moored who sent an e-mail to "State of the Union" and to be fair to him in part the e-mail said, I said nothing of the film and certainly nothing about Chris Kyle in the message that I sent out. He also says this, there are only two movies about the Iraq war that have grossed over 100 million, mine and Clint's. Now, that would be an interesting discussion to have.

Congressman Gallego, do you want to add anything to the discussion about snipers?

GALLEGO: Yes. You know, snipers are a totally different breed of men. I got to serve with a rot of snipers and we unfortunately lost a lot of snipers. And that's (INAUDIBLE) once in a while and they're just warriors. They're great warriors. And they're just a totally different breed of military person.

And I think, you know, people that, you know, are in the infantry combat arms will understand that, you know, they're just -- they're awesome. They're great to have. But they're entirely different from the, you know, the door kickers like myself and a bunch of other guys, but they're great to have in combat with you.

KINZINGER: Can I say something real quick (INAUDIBLE)...

SMERCONISH: Yes.

KINZINGER: ...Moore? Your movie is in no comparison to "American Sniper." I would never see Michael Moore's movie. And "American Sniper" talks about American heroism and heroes. And we all know his tweet was referring to this movie even if he says it didn't have the name in there, maybe it was just randomly something else. We're not that stupid.

SMERCONISH: Can I -- can I share with you -- first of all, I want to say this. Chris Kyle is a patriot. I think Chris Kyle is a hero. I want to be clearly understood.

Something that troubles me about this story is the need for embellishment. I don't know why, whether it's Jessica Lynch, whether it's "The Tillman Story" and I can rattle off a number of these instances where there's just a hell of an underlying story of American heroism. Nevertheless, something along the way seems to get blown out of proportion.

Like in this guy's case, was he on the roof of the superdome picking off looters? Apparently not. Did he kill two people who try to steal his pickup truck? Apparently not. Then the Jesse Ventura aspect. I mean, say what you will about Ventura. Ventura served his country.

KINZINGER: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Why do we feel the need to make the story bigger?

KINZINGER: I'm not sure. And those details I don't know. I know that this seems to be a very accurate depiction of it. And this is great because America has been, you know, sports figures are our heroes now or, you know...

SMERCONISH: Right.

KINZINGER: ...or singers or whatever. We need true Americans that are willing -- and it's not even the fact of war, it's somebody that's willing to fight for and live for something beyond their own personal life.

I'm going to tell you the youth of America need examples like this even if you don't go into the military, it's the idea that life is about something bigger than you. And that's why I think this story resonates.

SMERCONISH: And Congressman Gallego, it doesn't hurt to have Bradley Cooper, you know, in the lead role, right? As Congressman Kinzinger says, we need more heroes like this and it helps tell the story.

GALLEGO: If I'm ever in a movie I would like to have somebody Bradley Cooper. Anybody tall, skinny and good looking. But you know, I think, we have to remember Kyle was a human being.

SMERCONISH: Right.

GALLEGO: And we are all human beings. We as combat veterans, we go -- we do some amazing stuff. But at the end of the day we're still human beings and we get affected by the war. And our families get affected by the war. And I think at the end of the day, that's what we have to remember. War is something that truly -- is a traumatizing thing to a young man or a young woman. And no matter what we do, no matter what movie or book we write, it's always going to show that and there's no way to deny that.

SMERCONISH: Maybe he's got the answer to my question which is take a long, hard look at any one of us. And you know, there's going to be some stuff, right?

KINZINGER: Yes. I mean, you know, it's like almost in some cases the (INAUDIBLE) story. You know, like (INAUDIBLE) are getting bigger. But I'm not saying that's the case in his. I don't know the details. But look, all I know is an amazing hero and somebody we ought to really look up to, great American.

SMERCONISH: And a terrific story. Thank both of you. I appreciate your service, both of you. Thank you so much for being here, Congressmen Kinzinger, Congressman Gallego.

Next, my conversation with the grandson of Winston Churchill about the man who led Great Britain through its darkest hour and why he still matters today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of a man regarded by many as the person of the 20th century. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Sir Nicholas Soames is Churchill's grandson and has been a conservative party member of the British parliament for 30 years. Earlier I spoke with him about his front row seat to history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SMERCONISH: Sir Nicholas, thank you so much for joining us.

SIR NICHOLAS SOAMES, BRITISH PARLIAMENT: Hello, Michael.

SMERCONISH: We all know of his impeccable record as British prime minister. How was he as a grandfather?

SOAMES: Well, he was very affectionate. He was charming. He loved his grandchildren. He loved us being around the place as long as we didn't whistle, which is what he hated, and as long as we didn't interfere with his writing.

But apart from that we had a free run of the place. Of course, he built a paradise at (ph) Chartwell, a kind of Garden of Eden. And it was the most wonderful thing to play there in all those streams and rivers and pools and all the great walls he built and to be with him, but just as a very affectionate grandfather.

SMERCONISH: Sir Nicholas, you were in your mid teens when your grandfather, Winston Churchill, passed. Did you as a young lad recognize his stature, his place in history?

SOAMES: Well, I don't think I did, really. You see, I grew up at Chartwell from a very young age, the age of scratch to I went away to school when I was nine. And so I saw him all the time. I saw him every day that he was at Chartwell. And so to me, he was just a very loving grandfather.

I don't think I -- it ever occurred to me he was anything more than that. Although, I have to say that I went to my youngest brother's christening with my grandfather and I remember being amazed. (INAUDIBLE) there was thousands and thousands of people there who were cheering him and I couldn't -- I wasn't quite sure why. SMERCONISH: Your mother, Baroness Soames, Lady Mary Soames, had

a front row seat for 20th century history. Unfortunately she passed not too long ago. What memories were most pronounced for her having personally witnessed?

SOAMES: Well, I think my mother was the youngest of my grandparents' children. She grew up at Chartwell with my grandparents, elder siblings and all as it were (INAUDIBLE). And I think she was probably closest to them of all. And she accompanied my grandfather on many of his trips abroad. She was in the army during the war. She joined up when she was 18 years old and served in the anti-aircraft part of the gunners. And she was regularly accompanied by grandfather. So she met Eisenhower, Roosevelt, stayed at the White House with the Roosevelts, Stalin, Truman, all these great figures who are (INAUDIBLE) icons, great icons of the earlier days were familiar territory to her. And she was a very intelligence and clever woman in her own right. And she wrote very clearly about all this. It was always a source of great pride (INAUDIBLE).

SMERCONISH: Fifty years ago this weekend there was an unprecedented out pouring by the British people and for the next several days culminating with his burial. I think it's safe to say, Sir Nicholas, there was never anything like it prior and there hasn't been anything like it since.

SOAMES: Well, I don't think there really has. I mean, it was the passing of a man -- I marched in the funeral procession behind the gun carriage. And I remember seeing the faces of thousands and thousands of people literally stricken with grief. I mean, he was a person who had grown up, who they had grown up with, who had been at their side throughout the war which was only very recent for many people there. And so I think it was a very somber, dignified, and rather harrowing affair actually.

SMERCONISH: He played such a role in crafting his own legacy. I think, for example, the fact that he wrote a six-volume series entitled "The Second World War." Fifty years on would Winston Churchill be satisfied with his legacy?

SOAMES: Well, I hope so. He was not a very vein man. I think he would be very honored that people remembered him in the way they do particularly in your country where his memories (ph) are (ph) cherished (ph). I mean, here we have to keep alive the memory of Churchill. And part of this weekend and these celebrations this weekend will be to remind people of who he was and what he did.

Sir Nicholas Soames, what an honor to have you on the program and thank you so much as we honor the memory of your grandfather.

SOAMES: Lovely to speak to you again, Michael. Wonderful to talk to you, too. Thank you so much.

SMERCONISH: Thank you. Cheers.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SMERCONISH: In typical Winston Churchill fashion, the British

prime minister's epitaph reads, "I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me, that's another matter." Thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION.

I am Michael Smerconish in Washington. You can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS" starts now.