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Words Obama Won't Say; Immigration Fight Blocks Homeland Security Funds; 2016 Presidential Politics

Aired February 22, 2015 - 08:30   ET


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: President Obama vows to defeat ISIS but says this is critical.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.


KING: Critics say the commander in chief doesn't get the threat.


JEB BUSH (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: We definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies.


KING: But what can they do differently?

And it's deadline week in the showdown over funding the Department of Homeland Security. Republicans are trying to block the President's immigration policies.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: We don't have the votes to pass it in the senate.


KING: So will they blink or risk an agency shutdown?

INSIDE POLITICS the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters now.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning.

With us to share their reporting and their insights: Julie Pace of the Associated Press; Dan Balz of the "Washington Post"; Lisa Lerer of Bloomberg Politics; and Robert Costa of the "Washington Post".

Can you win the war against ISIS without calling the enemy radical Islamists? President Obama says yes.


OBAMA: All of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.


KING: The President's many Republican critics though say he won't beat the enemy until he better defines it.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: To call it violent extremism and not to call it radical Islamic jihadis just goes to show that the President is once again underestimating our enemies.


KING: Why, Dan Balz, are words so much a big part of this debate? One assumes over time it will be military action, it will diplomacy, it will be some form of on-the-ground persuasion of people who live in that part of the world that might get to turn on ISIS but why is this become so much about what the President says not what he does?

DAN BALZ, "WASHINGTON POST": You know, without making this a pun, we're in a theological argument here. And in some ways it seems like a side argument to the real question, which you post which is, what is the right strategy to go after them? But I think part of this is the enmity that has built up over years between left and right, in particular between conservatives and the President over the way he talks about a lot of things.

KING: And this past week, we went off when I'll say the bridge, if you will, when Rudy Giuliani at a private fund-raising dinner in New York says this about the President. "I know this is a horrible thing to say" -- and he should have stopped right there when you know it's a horrible thing to say you should stop -- "but I did not believe that this president loves America."

Again, you can say why doesn't the President talk more about radical Islam, why doesn't the President do this, or why does he prefer to lead from behind. That's a fair debate, Robert Costa. Is it smart for Republicans to get into the "He doesn't love America" conversation?

ROBERT COSTA, "WASHINGTON POST": Certainly to question the President's love of country is a territory no one wants to wade into it. And you don't see many Republicans embracing that rhetoric. But it was interesting to see Governor Scott Walker didn't really contest it. He was given a chance at the dinner to do so. He did not. He was given a chance in a television interview the next day and he did not. And so Republicans are grappling with what are they going to be

in the post Obama era? They have to present an alternative. They have to come up with new vision in leadership. But they're still in many ways focused on the President and criticizing him.

LISA LERER, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: I think that was a mistake for Walker. I'll say it. Like I think you show strength by being able to say this person is my ally, he's my friend but he's wrong. And this is an early test for him. There's going to be a lot of people in the Republican Party who're going to say a lot of things. And, you know, how viable these candidates are particularly in a general election will depend on their flexibility and their ability to distance themselves in a sort of polite way.

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Absolutely. And we see this in a campaign after a campaign. There's a person who introduces you, when you're out in a state there's a surrogate that says something on TV. You're going to be put in this position a lot.

Just generally, when it comes to Republicans I think that this really speaks to one of the challenges that they have had which is that they don't agree with what the President is doing on foreign policy in particular lately but they are having a really difficult time saying what they would do. In the absence of their own policies, they're criticizing his rhetoric or they're criticizing his broad approach and the themes that he's talking about. At a certain point if you want to run the country, you are going to have to put forward policy.

KING: If you want to run the country, Governor Scott Walker's excuse for what he said is he didn't want to judge Giuliani. Presidents have to make judgments every second of every day including who they hire and who they fire, who they put around and who they trust. That requires character judgments. So we'll see if Governor Walker this is a teachable moment that some candidates get early in the races.

For the record, here's the President at the end of the week. He didn't mention Giuliani. He's talking more generically about politics. But I suspect he had Giuliani's comments in mind when he said this.


OBAMA: It's not about the back and forth of politics. It's about doing things that make people's lives better. It's about doing things that make us confident that America will continue on this upward trajectory that began so many years ago. It's about making this nation we love more perfect.


KING: He loves America. Look at that. Shocking, right?

PACE: Yes. There were also some comments earlier in that speech on Friday where he was taking jabs at Republicans talking about their doom and gloom predictions that hasn't really come true on the economy. But that's the sentiment that he was saying there at the end is the feeling that he wants to leave people with that we should be in this altogether. That despite how difficult our politics are we should be able to grant some of these basic principles.

BALZ: I think when he says some of those things he does it in a way, as you pointed out, earlier in the speech he took his jabs and that's not an uncommon thing for this president. He dislikes a lot of the Republicans as much as they dislike him at this point.

KING: They are under each other's skin, shall we say.

BALZ: Yes.

KING: And they will be, I think, until the very end.

One of the questions when he gets into this debate about does what the President say matters is how he defined the enemy, how he describes the enemy matter is can he lead the country. Can he bring the American people with him?

If you look at the polling, the American people are actually in a pretty muscular mood at the moment. Our CNN poll: 47 percent of Americans said send U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS. There was a CBS poll that had that number at 57 percent.

The question is, as you said Julie Pace, as the Republicans criticize the President, what would they do differently? Some say he just has to talk tougher, maybe lead a coalition. You have others -- you have those not running for president, John McCain; one may be running for president, Lindsey Graham -- saying this will have to involve ground troops.

One governor we're watching is John Kasich from Ohio. Will he or won't he? We're not quite sure. But he was in South Carolina this last week and he said this to our Gloria Borger.


GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I'm just suggesting to you that at some point in dealing with ISIS, you mark my words, whether John Kasich you ever hear from him again, at some point it will require boots on the ground to deal from the world to be able to deal with this problem. I would rather deal with it sooner than later.


KING: That's specific and it's muscular. He says boots on a ground with a coalition but including, Dan, he says U.S. troops.

BALZ: I think it's an important point which is as Julie said, a lot of Republicans have been very critical of the mistakes that have been made, of the slowness to respond, the misunderestimating the threat but have not been willing for the most part to step forward with a clear alternative to what the President is doing. LERER: I think it's pretty hard for them. We're in the very,

very, very early stages of the Presidential campaign and we're involved with a very difficult, very complicated, very fast-changing international situation. You know, if I were a Republican candidate, advising a Republican candidate, I'm not sure that you would want to articulate a very fleshed-out plan of what to do because things are -- in six months could look pretty different.

KING: And you have the authorization of force debate playing out which all the candidates will be asked about, several of them. Senators Cruz, Rubio and Paul are going to have to vote on.

Then this week there's also the deadline at the end of the week -- the funding for the Department of Homeland Security runs out. Is there an off ramp here in the sense that Republicans say they don't want to give the department money until the President backs off his immigration executive action? The President says no way. Our own poll shows if they shut down the department or close parts of the department, Republicans will be blamed, 53 percent.

There's a case in the courts right now, the administration is going to ask for a stay. A Texas judge said you can't implement these policies. The administration will try to get that overturned. Is there an off ramp if the administration says, you give me the money, you fund the department and we will not take any of these executive actions until we get the final word from the court? Can they shake hands and agree on that?

PACE: I think they could if the administration were willing to agree to that. I think the legislation -- I'm sorry, that lawsuit is possibly the off ramp. Because they could allow Republicans to say we are going to just fund DHS and let this be played out in the court and not worry about shutting down the government -- or shutting down the DHS and having to deal with the political implications of that. But I think that is still very much being worked out among Republicans right now.

KING: You could see Boehner and McConnell cutting that deal. Can you see their Tea Party conservative members agreeing to that deal?

COSTA: House Speaker Boehner is under pressure to fight the President's executive action and that's why he continues to articulate this hard-line message on immigration reform. At the same time I think Julie's exactly right. The court decision -- the judge in Texas gives Republicans now to kick the ball down the field and say we'll revisit the debate at a later time.

KING: Dan, a lot of Republicans argue they took the blame when the government shut down last time. They took the blame at that moment but when Election Day rolled around they did quite fine.

BALZ: They absolutely did, but it was the new senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who said no more government shutdowns on the day or so after the election. KING: Mitch McConnell's credibility on the line as we go into

the final days of the stand off over homeland security. We'll keep an eye on that.

Up next Jeb Bush makes clear he's not his brother or his father when it comes to questions of war and peace. But something looks familiar very familiar.

First though, Joe Biden in a familiar place. You saw his hands- on moment this past week. Yes, at the swearing in of the new Defense Secretary. It earned him his place in "Politicians Say and Do the Darnedest Things" and his place in the late night funnies.


DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: Top ten things Joe Biden said at this moment.

Number three, "Ever heard of a second, Second Lady?"

Number two, "I don't have a time machine but I do have a hot tub."

And the number one thing Joe Biden said at this moment, "In the words of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I'm not 100 percent sober."



KING: Welcome back.

There was a big speech from Jeb Bush this past week laying out his views on foreign policy. And along the way he felt compelled to make this point. "Yes, I know, both my father and my brother are former presidents."


BUSH: I recognize that as a result my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs, sometimes in contrast to theirs, but I'm my own man. My views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences.


KING: Here's a question though, in conjunction with that speech Jeb Bush put out a list of the people he would look at for foreign policy advice, those who are in his circle of advisers. Well, look at some of these names.

He says he's his own man but to just take a few. Jim Baker, chief of staff, treasury secretary, secretary of state in the Reagan and his father's Bush administration. Paul Wolfowitz, number two at the Defense Department in the George W. Bush administration, a key architect of the Iraq War. Tom ridge, the first secretary of homeland security, former Pennsylvania governor but a key ally of his brother, George W. Bush. And General Michael Hayden, he was the CIA director in the George W. Bush administration.

Not on the list and this is noteworthy, Jeb Bush doesn't consult Dick Cheney. He does talk to Condi Rice from time to time, the former secretary of state, but she was not on the list put out by the campaign. The former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld not on the list. Colin Powell not on the list.

Robert Costa, here's the question. Jeb Bush says he's his own man whether it's foreign policy you want to consult people how have experience. But in the Republican primaries the Bush name is a great asset in some ways but also a liability in others, right?

COSTA: It is. I think the question is for a lot of these Republican voters we talked to in Iowa and New Hampshire, he is his own man. But what kind of man is he? And it was interesting to see that speech in Chicago, it echoed a lot more of his father's foreign policy, his temperament when it comes to global affairs and his brother.

I think you're going to see Rand Paul, however, he sees an alley. He sees an alley up to the nomination because you have all of these hawks crowding the space in the race and not a lot of noninterventionist voices. Maybe Paul could find traction.

KING: What is he supposed to do, Dan, in the sense that his brother and his father are the last two Republican presidents? Is he supposed to say well, I can't have anyone who worked with them so I'm going to get foreign policy advice from four guys off the subway? I mean he pretty much has no choice there -- right?

BALZ: It's a great point. I mean whenever you run for president you reach back into prior administrations for people who have experience. And where can he go? Two Bush administrations to do it -- so, it's inevitable that he's going to depend on them.

I think the question is how much more like his father is he than his brother? I think he wants to be more like his father, but these are difficult times. And the problems that he's dealing with today are similar to the problems that his brother dealt with more so than the problems that his father dealt with. His father was at the end of the Cold War. This is a new era.

PACE: And I think to link what we were talking about before the break, one of the challenges that he's going to have as he tries to lay out what he would do differently than President Obama is that if he does talk about boots on the ground, if he does talk about military intervention in the Middle East, who does that harken back to? It harkens back to his brother. How does he separate to what his brother did to what he would do if he's talking about getting more deeply involved in this region?

LERER: It's going to be pretty tough. I mean one fascinating number in our most recent poll of New Hampshire voters was that a lot of the voters saw Jeb Bush is particularly strong on fighting terrorism. And I don't know how much terrorism fighting there is in Florida, but it doesn't seem like that's traditionally something that's associated with, you know, being a governor. So there already is this image of him. He basically has to construct a new image over something that's already there and that's a tough thing to do.

KING: He's raising a lot of money. He's building his network. He obviously has the old Bush network plus his own Florida network. You can't say there's a front-runner right now but you have to put him up there as at least maybe the establishment front-runner.

Tough week if you're Chris Christie. He woke up and he read the "Washington Post", Mr. Balz (inaudible) this is. Maybe he read the "New York Times" and he saw that people are saying, well guess what, Governor, you're losing some of the big donors. You're losing some big network staffers. Is there pressure down on Chris Christie?

He thinks he has the power personality, he can wait a bit longer. But isn't there a ticking clock here?

BALZ: There is. He and his folks around him want to think that they have more time, that this will play out more slowly, that there is, as they said in these stories, a lot more donor availability out there than just the Bush network or just the network that Jeb Bush is getting, but he is under pressure now.

I mean John, you know, there are ebbs and flows in these situations. Can he come back? Certainly he can come back, but he's in a different place today than he was two months ago, six months ago and under much more pressure to be able to show some forward motion.

LERER: And his failure, perhaps, to be more aggressive with donors, to woo donors, I mean I'm sure many of us, I certainly have heard whining from donors for several months that Christie wasn't doing enough, wasn't calling them enough. It really creates an opening for Scott Walker who was up in New York himself this past week meeting with donors.

So you have to think it's not just about Jeb versus Christie. There are all of these other people out there who are angling for any advantage.

PACE: It's a real example of how things can change. I mean certainly we are very early and Chris Christie is not out of this by any means. If you look back at 2012 there was a real push for Christie to get involved.

And if you talk to people who worked for Obama and worked for him before the 2008 election there was talk maybe he should wait a little while. Maybe he was too young. If you catch a wave, if there's a moment sometimes you just have to seize it even if you'd prefer to maybe wait another four years.

KING: It's one of the reasons Bush has his foot on the accelerator. He things once he got in, just keep your foot on the accelerator try to make it harder for the others to get in. Let's turn quickly to the Democrat, Hillary Clinton. Bad

headlines this week: a story about the Clinton Foundation taking money again from foreign governments. They stopped doing that at the President's insistence when she was secretary of state. Then they started taking it again.

Now there was a statement from the foundation late in the week after there was some controversy saying that if she runs -- hello, if she runs officially, that they'll most likely go back to the former practice. Why, Dan? Why is it that the Clintons have this -- I'll call it a blind spot -- when it comes to money? They don't need the money from the United Arab Emirates, from Saudi Arabia. The Clinton Foundation's doing just fine.

BALZ: The Clintons have been raising money for 25 years and they never stopped. There is always a new bucket to raise money for. I think many people were shocked to see that they were back, raising from foreign governments.

They've tried to maintain this idea that she is a private citizen. She's not in government. She's not a candidate. But she is the closest thing that the Democrats have to a lock on the nomination and every step she takes is seen not as a private citizen doing work but as a politician.

KING: They just seem to think that she's in such a formidable position that this is not going to change the mind of anybody whose vote she needs. Yes, it may harden the people who already don't like her, sounding like Hillary Clinton is (inaudible) but they just seem to think this doesn't matter -- it's a media story, not a voter story?

LERER: I mean I think there are two words that we have to say in this conversation -- Lincoln bedroom -- right. This plays into the existing narrative that you were talking about, that you were talking about of the Clintons that they just want to collect cash. And it's damaging.

And when you combine that with all the paid speeches she's been doing and the series of reports over the summer about how much money she was collecting for those speeches it does help further this Republican attack -- line of attack. I think it's so confusing.

COSTA: Clinton doesn't have a rival out there making these points about the foundation. When is an ambitious Democrat going to get in this potential race, whether it's Governor O'Malley or Senator Webb or Senator Sanders and really start going after the Clintons? We've seen a Democratic Party that mostly is united around the Clintons and not questioning all these activities.

KING: That's a great point. It's interesting if somebody comes at this issue from the left, doesn't leave it just to the Republicans.

Up next, tomorrow's news today. Our great reporters share from their notebooks including the seeds or the path to a possible Chris Christie comeback.


KING: Let's head around the INSIDE POLITICS table and get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner.

Julie Pace.

PACE: The White House is trying to figure its strategy for dealing with Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to Washington in early March. And this has actually become a bit of a difficult problem for them because on the one hand they don't want to just cede the space to Netanyahu. He's got the speech to Congress and a big speech to APEC (ph).

On the other hand they don't want to get into this public tit- for-tat where you've got Netanyahu speaking and Obama responding. Right now it looks like the White House is going to go with essentially a cold shoulder approach, no meetings with Netanyahu, no big speeches by the President. But there is certainly some pressure from certain corners of this administration to be more aggressive, be more vocal, don't just sit back.

KING: We'll keep an eye on that -- the Israeli prime minister due soon.


BALZ: New Hampshire. We can't get to New Hampshire soon enough -- John.

KING: A little snowy.

BALZ: I was up -- very snowy -- I was up there briefly this past week. When you look at the landscape up there, we talk about a race that's wide open. I don't think we've ever seen a race in New Hampshire as wide open as this. There is nobody anywhere above anybody else. Somebody said you can throw a blanket over this field and they're all below 16 or 17 percent. No front-runner. Wide open wild race ahead.

KING: Up in New Hampshire, because if there was anyone who should receive the first David Broder reporting prize from the Rudman Center, it is Dan Balz, his former colleague.


LERER: So in 2008 Hillary Clinton ran on her resume and her experience -- not this idea of her being the first woman president. The result of that strategy, Obama became the candidate for open change and she became the candidate of the past. Her advisers have resolved to do it differently this time.

We're getting a preview of that new message starting next Tuesday when she addresses a conference of women in technology. There will be a series of events to follow before women's groups and audiences focused on women. I think it will be fascinating to watch how she talks about gender, leadership and family issues that have become a major tenet of the Democratic Party. And it will certainly give us a preview of campaign themes to come.

KING: Republicans have been saying she's hiding so here we go. We'll get Hillary Clinton back in the spotlight.


COSTA: Governor Christie has had a tough week and I think he can start to try to come back this coming week. He has a big budget speech in Trenton on Tuesday. And then he's going to try to go on a town hall, his first since last year and really get back to the contemporaneous Christie, the gregarious Christie that made him such a populist figure within the Republican Party and return to pension reform -- that issue that made him a star back in 2010.

KING: Interesting to keep an eye on that as well, Robert. Thank you.

I'll close with this. Marco Rubio is one of the more interesting calculations to make as he decides whether to officially join the 2016 Republican field. First there's the Jeb factor. Governor Bush, of course, is from Rubio's home state of Florida and many Rubio friends and allies worry, this is now secret. They're worried Governor Bush will soak up much of the state's Republican fundraising money.

Then there's the Scott Walker boom. The Wisconsin governor at the moment is dominating the space that Rubio wants in this race -- the next generation candidate acceptable both to the conservative base and to the Republican establishment. So will it be yea or nay?

Rubio's visiting the early nominating contest states this month to assess the terrain first hand. And he's been building his political and fundraising teams just in case. Now, the promises a decision by spring but he's facing some internal pressure now to make his intentions known a bit sooner. They hope by the end of March top aides say because the other candidates are getting so active. One ally involved in the deliberations sets the current odds at 60/40 in favor of Rubio running.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks again for sharing your Sunday morning. We'll see you soon.

"STATE OF THE UNION starts right now.