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Gridlock on DHS Budget; Growing Up John Gotti Jr.; Interview with John Gotti, Jr; Tensions Boiling Over Ahead of Bibi's Speech; Carly Fiorina: The Anti-Hillary Clinton
Aired February 28, 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 HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. Thank you for joining us.
Crisis averted for at least one more week. Or is it? After a nail biting showdown on Capitol Hill last night the House and Senate agreed on a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, but only for seven days. It's gridlock in action, a dysfunctional display but at least it keeps hundreds of thousands of TSA screeners, border agents and others who keep us safe on the job and paid for a few more days.
DHS funding has been held hostage because of a group of conservatives in the House want to add a provision to the funding bill that stops President Obama's executive action on immigration. Democrats and some Republicans have pleaded with them to give it up. But still the fight goes on.
With me now is exactly the person that I want to talk to about all of this, the nation's first ever secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge. Governor, I know that you, too, disagree with what the president is doing via executive action on immigration. But is this the way to go about opposing his plan?
TOM RIDGE, FMR. DHS SECRETARY: You know, Michael, the cocophony inside the beltway for the past couple of weeks reminds me of an expression I think we all heard from our parents and our teachers when we were kids, two wrongs do not make a right. The president is wrong I think he has exceeded his constitutional authority, I think my Republican friends are wrong in holding the department hostage, these men and women go out daily to try to make us more secure and safer and withholding their paychecks to send a message to the president of the United States is wrong.
So I'm hopeful that at the end of the day my colleagues in the House will embrace a full bill, full funding for the balance of the year, and then engage the president one on one, executive legislative, do it the old-fashioned way. Send it to legislation to get at this immigration problem and let's do it the way we have historically done, build some compromises that are very much the art of politics and the art of governing.
SMERCONISH: You know, you run and won a couple of elections yourself. In fact, I don't think you ever lost one. The political optics of this are horrible for the GOP because to me at least it seems that they are saying "well, we oppose the president's amnesty so what are we going to do, we're going to cut border patrol agents."
RIDGE: You know, Michael, I think - the perspective is something I'm afraid some of my friends on the hill, my Republican colleagues, look, you and I both know that 300 plus Americans outside the beltway have a lot of things on their mind. They want to keep their job, they want to save a few bucks to take the family to dinner, they got bills to pay, et cetera, et cetera.
The only thing they are really focused on after the 2014 election is the Republicans won the House, and the Republicans won the Senate so debates over cultural rules, debates over appropriations. That's all the inside the beltway stuff. If we can't get this done, and demonstrate that we are capable and confident in our own ability to govern the ultimate damage is to our reputation.
Remember we promised we weren't going to shut down the government and we're flirting with it now and that just does not play well outside the beltway.
SMERCONISH: You know, governor, CNN is now reporting that Speaker Boehner may face a coup, that there are a number of conservatives within the House, part of that very conservative caucus that he can't contain, who are calling for his ouster and there could be a move in that regard. What should happen relative to the leadership in the House?
RIDGE: Well, first of all, I think at the end of the day this band of conservatives nipping at John Boehner's heels are just flat wrong. This is one of the toughest most challenging positions in our political system in our system of governance. He is trying to lead them. He understands and takes a much longer view, not only in terms of dealing with immigration but a longer term view over the responsibility of the Republican Party in control of both chambers of Congress to govern.
And I think it would be folly on their part to undermine his efforts to try to bring them together to fund DHS and get on with the bills of legislating, get on with the business of dealing with this issue as we've done historically, send the president some legislation. By the way, the president is obviously unable and unwilling to lead, Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton worked out a compromise on welfare.
Remember Papa Bush 41 worked on foreign policy issues, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill solved tough problems. We don't have a president that wants to engage the Congress, wants to be part of that effort to solve national problems. I want my Republican Party, don't worry about John Boehner, come together and send the president. Let's start addressing some of these problems the old fashioned way, keep sending him some good legislation, let him veto it, let him explain to Americans why the Republicans had a good idea but it wasn't good enough for me.
SMERCONISH: You know, I'm glad, governor, that you're focused at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue because it does occur to me that the president has been AWOL for the last several days, as this has played itself out. What could he have done, what should he have done, trying to get together the leadership of the House to put this aside?
RIDGE: I think Michael, again, he's - I'm respectful of the office of the president. He is my president, even though quite obviously I didn't vote for him. But I think from day one he's pretty much demonstrated his point of view when he told Eric Cantor and John Boehner a couple of weeks after the 2008 election, "hey, I won," what the president has forgotten maybe would have been helpful has he held a governorship or something, he represents the people that voted for him, the people that voted for his opponents and frankly the people that didn't vote.
You put those three clusters together and they say there are some real problems here. We need coalitions and bipartisan work on foreign policy to defeat ISIL, on health care, on immigration, and what the president has failed to do, not just last several days but I think for the past six plus years is to engage, understand - it's - governing is tough. Compromises are difficult. There is a give and take to the process, and I don't think whether he thinks he is above or beyond it, which is disappointing he is in the middle of it.
It's one thing to have the title of president, the job is tough. And that means you got to mix it up, you got to engage. Unfortunately he has failed to do that in most of these critical issues over the past several years.
SMERCONISH: Governor, stay with us, on the threat of ISIS here, this week we saw Americans arrested trying to board planes to join ISIS, extremists threatened the Mall of America in Minnesota. I want to bring in CNN global affairs analyst and former U.S. delta force commander Lieutenant Colonel James Reese.
Colonel, ISIS, they are savages but they are savvy. Might they seek to exploit this political dysfunction taking place in the United States?
LT. COL. JAMES REESE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Michael, good morning. Do I think they will try to? Yes. Do they have the ability right now? No. They don't have the reach right now. They would like to get it. But this exploit or this friction point within our government right now could cause an aspect of where a lone wolf could have an effect on this because right now as the governor said we've got unfortunately our great people of DHS who we're supposed to be doing their jobs, trying to figure out what bills are going to pay at the end of the week when they are cut off of money if we don't pass this bill.
SMERCONISH: Colonel, just to pay attention to the newspapers this past week in the United States is to perceive that ISIS is on the ascent. I'm referring to that alleged threat against the Mall of America. I'm referring to the outing of the identity of jihadi Johnny. I'm referring to the three from Brooklyn, the incident in Canada as well. Is that a proper perspective that indeed things are picking up a pace for ISIS?
REESE: Well, I'm not sure I'd say that, Michael. I think what you see right now is ISIL is having some degradation done to them in Syria and Iraq fear of war for them right now. The beauty is ISIS has several theaters of war they're working in but it also shows that they are continuing to try to recruit, bring people in and what I find very interesting about the three men picked up in New York is, they are from the Uzbekistan background. Uzbekistan has a terrorist group called the IMU, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Bad dudes and especially guys that were part of Al Qaeda early on. So it really shows ISIS reaching out and grabbing these other elements to bring them under their wing.
SMERCONISH: Governor Ridge, there has been a debate playing itself out since a cover story in the "Atlantic" began a week ago talking about whether there really is a religious motivation on the part of ISIS. I'm sure you're familiar with it. I'd love to get your reaction to that issue.
RIDGE: An extraordinary job identifying the root motivation, the ideology around ISIL. Basically combining the notion that Mohammed might have been a prophet but he was also a general and his means of destruction involving crucifixion, beheading, the kind of activity we see ISIL engaged in now.
I think at the end of the day we need to accept the fact that this is a permanent scourge, that they are not going away for a long time. And one of the fascinating things and I suspect the Colonel agrees with me is that the threats to the malls that existed since I started looking at threat streams many, many years ago. But the fact that they are able to elevate it through social media and through the replay of the videos on TV in large measure helps them to advance their cause of creating a level of anxiety directed toward critical pieces of our infrastructure and potential destruction.
We're in this for the long haul and again, this is what we talked about the president's leadership before. I think the colonel would say this is not a JV team. They're pretty sophisticated. They're stretched a little bit but I do think as I've been reading some of these reports, if you take a look at and listen to, read that article you know they are in for the long haul. We just have to deal with them. They are not JVs, they are very sophisticated. They may be stretched but we better never got back into that body count notion that we're winning because we're killing more of them than they are of us.
You and I have watches, they have time. And if it takes them a decade or two decades to achieve their goal and that's the caliphate, that's absolute control, and the fight against infidels, it's a religious war to a certain extent but basically Sunni, Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, if you don't subscribe to their radical interpretation, their radical interpretation of the Koran, you are an infidel. To that extent, if you don't believe in their religious practices, you are the infidel and you are potentially subject to the horror associated with how they deal with you.
SMERCONISH: Colonel, take my final 30 seconds and react to what the governor, the secretary just said.
REESE: Yes, I mean, I do agree with the governor on a couple points. One, the mall pieces we've watched for years when I was in the service and even now. We see these pieces and these other threats that they want to try to go against our critical infrastructure.
But I will tell you we have to also remember that ISIS, whatever you call them, they are killing more Muslims than they are killing westerners. I mean, it's tragic. And as I talk to my folks throughout Jordan and Iraq and I see it, I mean, they hate these people. And they do not subscribe to Islam, whether you agree with it or not, there is a point of humanity where they are just killing Muslims left and right over there. And how they are bringing these people in, you know really from a younger aspect, just because it's excitement and it's the call of duty type of game on the television show.
Once they get out there it's really not. So some bad people. I agree it's going to take several years and jihadi John is on the (INAUDIBLE) hit list and he will go down.
SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you both. Secretary, Governor Ridge, man has got a lot of titles and he's earned them all, Colonel James Reese, we thank you both.
Coming up, company's coming, not everybody is rolling out the welcome mat. On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to Congress. Professor Allan dershowitz and Jay Street's Jeremy Benami will discuss whether the visit is in the United States and Israel's best interest.
And who are the real presidential contenders and who are just the pretenders? Those are the stakes at the big conservative gathering, CPAC going on right now in Washington. I'll speak to the only GOP woman who is eyeing the job, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina joins me live.
Plus, when he talks about family, he's not talking about your average family. John Gotti Jr. joins me for an exclusive interview he says to set the record straight about life in the mob.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back, for decades John Gotti was the most notorious mobster in America. The ruthless god father of the Gambino crime syndicate, the largest, most powerful mafia family in the nation. Gotti's son, John Jr., not only shared his father's name but allegedly carried on as acting boss when the law finally caught up with John Gotti Sr.. Who beat the wrap so many times he was known as the Teflon Don.
Today, I have a rare opportunity to get an inside look at the fascinating world of the mafia. In an exclusive interview with John Gotti Jr. who now says he is out of the life, a different man than his father. In his riveting new book a tell-all "Shadow of my Father," Gotti tells the whole story of life in a mobster family. John Gotti Jr. joins me now.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SMERCONISH: Let me tell you what comes clear from reading the book. You continue to idolize your father. At some level do you also blame him, do you hold him accountable for the fact -
JOHN GOTTI, JR., SON OF JOHN GOTTI SR.: No.
SMERCONISH: Let me just finish. The fact you went down that road for a significant portion of your life.
GOTTI: Well, from a father's perspective and you being a father yourself, you would say well, how could you? How could you? I sort of feel the way my father may feel right now. My son doing MMA fighting. Something I don't want him to do. I - it's a strain on my heart to watch him. Yet my father looking at me I guess he felt that I wanted this really more than he wanted it for me.
I wanted to be in that world. And I guess he said that look, this is what he wants, I believe in this life wholeheartedly. I think it's no different than H.W. Bush bringing his son to politics. He believed. He believed he was a Republican card carrying member, he believed in the political world, he believed that he could make a change in politics. While my dad believed he was a card carrying hoodlum. He believed in the streets, he believed in the policy of the streets. He thought that this is the way that it should be. We're right, they are wrong. That being said why not.
SMERCONISH: Everything that I know about the mob I learned from watching movies and reading your book. You correct me where I'm wrong. I thought guys couldn't get out. How did you get out?
GOTTI: Well, in actuality you could do anything you want to do. OK. Now, you make a decision in your life and you could say it's no longer for me and I want to move on with my life.
SMERCONISH: They let you go or only if you are John Gotti Jr.
GOTTI: Look, that's my prerogative. My prerogative to say "OK, I'm done. I'm moving on." Their prerogative is a accept it or b, act on it. Now, at the time in 2006 of my trial, when all this noise was being made about that two years - that I had walked away, and that now it's being profiled more and more at the trial, there was a death threat. There was a death threat, a conspiracy to kill me as a result of my leaving the life which you can't leave the life.
But in my case in actuality I could have left the life because my father's power is absolute. And -
SMERCONISH: Right. You are John Gotti's son so you can leave the life. Maybe somebody else who is not John Gotti's son couldn't. Let me ask you something else. I don't understand this. It seems that most of the guys end up dead or in jail. So why is it so intoxicating for street guys to nonetheless pursue the life? Do they all think well, that's them but it's not going to happen to me?
GOTTI: I'll tell you from my viewpoint. From my viewpoint, being around my father, it was intoxicating. When he walked into a room he owned everything that was in that room. I just would look at him in awe. I was star struck. Every time I saw him even in the house in his bath robe. I was star struck by the guy. (INAUDIBLE) himself. He was always erect, he was always proper. He always had his hair coiffed right. He looked right. He said the right things.
SMERCONISH: Brioni (ph) suits, 2,000 a pop.
GOTTI: Outside of the home, yes. (INAUDIBLE) He always comported himself like I believed the man should comport themselves. He was a tough guy, a tough guy's tough guy. And he had - his ethics I liked. I liked the things that he stood for. He would say "john, you don't do this. You don't do drugs, you don't do that."
If I would get angry, cursed in front of my mother, "hey pal, something wrong with you?" No, nothing wrong with me. He'd shoot me a look. He did everything right. Now, don't get me wrong, when he was hanging around the boys he had a volcanic temper. I'm sure you could hear him on tape, some choice words, that was the other John. But the John that I seen in the house was really, he was to me perfect. He was perfect. He was beautiful.
SMERCONISH: True or false. You got to kill somebody to get made yourself.
GOTTI: Nonsense. Hog wash.
SMERCONISH: True or false, when you're made you got to burn a picture of a saint. You write about this in your book.
SMERCONISH: In your hand at some private ceremony.
GOTTI: Right. That's true.
SMERCONISH: Your father called your mother butch? As in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
GOTTI: Absolutely. Yes.
SMERCONISH: How did she feel about you going into the life?
GOTTI: She never knew. She never knew. He denied, denied, denied. He denied, you know. I guess he had his reason, he definitely has reasons because in my house, as in my home, my father's home as well that was not her business. OK.
However, I am her baby, just like my sons are my wife's babies. He always denied it to her and said you don't know what you're talking about. One time in "The Post" in 1993, there was a big picture of me on the cover and a bull's eye on me that I was about to be killed. I guess through an informant they leaked out that this conspiracy to kill me.
And my mother, she would never go see my dad (INAUDIBLE) without me. Never. I come home, I race to the house actually to get her, hope she didn't read "The Post." And she's gone. I ask my boss, "where's mommy?" I don't know. Didn't see her. Or my sister. Where is your mother? I find out she's in Marion, Illinois. She goes right to Kennedy airport, she jumps on a plane.
SMERCONISH: To confront him.
GOTTI: To confront him. "How could do you this to my son? I buried a son already. My son Frankie died in my arms in the street. How could you do this to me? How could you do this to me?
SMERCONISH: I know it's painful. I do want to ask you about Frankie. You were 16, he was 12.
SMERCONISH: He is on a mini bike. A neighbor hits him. He's gone. Your brother. And soon thereafter the neighbor disappears. Presumably your father killed him. Or had him killed.
GOTTI: I couldn't answer that because way before me and look, as I had answered in the book, as I had said in the book, if the you knew my father, he's not letting you hurt somebody close to him without hurting you.
SMERCONISH: But doesn't that violate the code. I thought that civilians never got caught up in this. If it were inadvertent, if it were an accident, as hard as it would have been to forgive, why didn't that take place?
GOTTI: Maybe it was something - again, if my father did do this, it's something that again, a piece of his heart was cut right out. Nobody heard the tears. My father soldiered up. The moment Frankie died my father says now is a time for crying. Don't cry again. Leave it. That was his expectation of me. I couldn't deal with it like my father.
SMERCONISH: Yes but you heard him crying.
GOTTI: I wasn't half as strong as my father. OK. I couldn't deal with it the way my father did. He did. He let his tears out and that was at the end of it. However, I would hear him through the vent crying in his den.
SMERCONISH: The air vent.
GOTTI: My room was attached to his den. So right there. Inches apart. I would hear my father. So but at that point he would say basically his expectation is you got to soldier up and move on in life. Again, that being said knowing the kind of man my father was, he loved you, he loved you to a fault. If someone hurt you they had a problem.
SMERCONISH: We're going to continue this conversation after a quick break. I want to show a clip of John Gotti Jr. visiting his late father in prison and telling him he wants out of the mob. The real life showdown between a father and son. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SMERCONISH: Welcome back. Continuing now with my exclusive interview with John Gotti Jr., and the fight that he waged with his father the Dapper Don. John Gotti Jr. says he reached a point where he wanted out. That's not so easy when dad runs America's most powerful mob syndicate. Things can get complicatd.
Look at this fascinating video seldom seen of the last discussion between father and son.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFED MALE: John wants closure. I said Joseph, that word is not in my vocabulary. That is over educated, under intelligent. (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: John, tell me about that scene. What's going on?
GOTTI: That was the final visit between my father and I. That was the visit I was telling you about that Judge Parker allowed me, the first time I touched my father in probably 7 1/2 years.
SMERCONISH: No glass for this visit.
GOTTI: No glass.
SMERCONISH: Because everybody knows it's the final visit.
GOTTI: First time in 7 1/2 years, no glass. At the beginning you don't see what's off camera is very emotional for me. He is telling me basically don't give them the satisfaction. I began to cry. And he is saying don't give them satisfaction. Don't give them the satisfaction. Because he is a tough guy to the end, my father.
And at that meeting you hear saying closure. I sent him a message. I'm looking for some closure, dad. I want to take my time, forfeit some monies and go to jail, and I want to be there for my kids.
SMERCONISH: And I want to get out of the life.
GOTTI: Well, that's closure. Closure is you got to walk away completely.
SMERCONISH: And didn't want to hear that.
GOTTI: He is having a hard time because it's like being a quitter. To him it's like you know, again, man chooses a path, doesn't matter, some point in your life you feel it's the wrong choice, a man's to be a man has got to follow that path to the end.
SMERCONISH: Here's the hard part that I have understanding this though, again seeing how many guys end up dead or in jail, you know, why a father doesn't say "yeah, get the closure, leave this life." That I don't understand.
GOTTI: I guess he was too much a man. I guess that he - you know, as I had written in the book and I believe this, as much as he loved us, I think it was second to the life. I think he loved -
SMERCONISH: You think his family was second to that family.
SMERCONISH: To the Gambino family.
GOTTI: He loved us differently but his whole life was about the streets. His whole life was about that chase, the streets. I believe you know, he just - it was so in him that there is no way he was going to change.
SMERCONISH: Do you work today?
SMERCONISH: What do you do?
GOTTI: I write. A book, wrote screen plays, the movie.
SMERCONISH: But is that what puts food on the table? Is it buried somewhere?
GOTTI: No. Believe me. We can do the math. They tried to in trial three make it a money case and blew up this (INAUDIBLE) and said follow the money. I told them let me know when you're done because you're going to see there is no more money. Every case, every prosecution, it costs you a significant amount of money.
SMERCONISH: How was your mother in accepting that the family was second to the life?
GOTTI: I don't think he quite put it like that to her.
SMERCONISH: Right. But she had to have known.
GOTTI: She knew what she married. My mother knew what my father was. He was a rough and tumble kind of guy from the moment she met him. She was 17. He was 19. They were kids together. They lived together very young. From the time they met they were together. And you know what, she knew. I would tell (INAUDIBLE) she would complain about my father and argue and fight. I said "ma, is this something new? I mean you're telling me so at some point he changed? No. So he's always been this way, right. Friday and Saturday nights, he's home. He comes home with you. Sunday he has dinner on the table. He has dinner with all of us on Sunday. The rest of the week you don't see the guy. Your whole life has been like that. He rolls in at 4:00, 5:00 in the morning and he rolls out at 11:00 and he's gone. You don't see him again.
That's the way -- you see him in the morning. Butch, get my vitamins. Get this, get that. That's it. Bring your socks out for him, he puts his socks on, he puts his sweat suit on, jump in the car and drive to the club, and he had someone had his clothes laid out waiting for him. And that was it, the barber to do his hair. And you saw him at 4:00, 5:00 in the morning.
SMERCONISH: You told how he gets out of jail, the car pulls up, you're a young boy, he acknowledges you and he has to ask you a question. What does he want to know?
GOTTI: What he wants to know -- we never seen the house. We lived in 311A Street in Brooklyn. And from there, my father went to prison and we moved to Canarsie. So, now, my mother told him where the house was.
I would tell the kids in the block I have no father as far as they were concerned. I would say you know my dad's doing construction. He used to tell us that he was in Louisburg that he was building the wall. And when we'd walk in to visiting room, Angelo Ruggiero would be there, Mickey Paradiso, Frankie DeCicco, they were all visiting them, like reunion time. And the would say, yes, yes, me and Uncle Frankie, and me and Uncle Angelo building a wall. We've got one more wall to build, and I'm coming home.
I go home and tell everybody my dad is doing construction. He'll be home soon. It's almost done. Yes, yes, and everybody in the block began to doubt. He doesn't have a father, she is a single parent.
SMERCONISH: Until the car pulled up.
GOTTI: It's -- you know what? It was a March, we had snow on the ground and on the block playing with the kids. And this beautiful black -- I'm sorry charcoal brown Mark IV Lincoln Continental pulls down the block. Light tint on the windows. It stops, slows by me and the window rolls down. He goes, "Hey, Dad," he used to call me dad. I said, "There's my father." Everybody is in shock.
He says, "Where's the house?" I pointed to the one with the green awning. I see it. And the car pulls away.
Everybody began to come out of their houses and in Canarsie at the time, you had about 13 steps and then you had -- I guess the top, the porch up on the top. They were all standing on their porches and the car pulls into the driveway and he gets out.
SMERCONISH: And he walks in like he's been there his own life.
GOTTI: He's beautiful. He is Tony Curtis with muscles. He's beautiful. His hair jet black, he's got chocolate brown overcoat on, chocolate brown suit, and matches the car and he looks amazing. He grabs me by the back, he said, come on, let's go in the house. We walked in that was his first time seeing that house. Yes.
SMERCONISH: John Gotti Jr., thank you. Appreciate very much you being here.
GOTTI: Thanks for having me, sir.
GOTTI: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Fascinating stuff. I've got to take a break.
But coming up, the war within: American Jews sharply divided over the controversial visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week.
And from secretary to CEO -- former Hewlett-Packard boss Carly Fiorina eyeing a possible 2016 presidential run. She'll join me to weigh in on the red hot political headlines.
SMERCONISH: Welcome back.
The relationship between the United States and Israel has never been this tense. With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just days away from making a controversial speech to Congress, tensions sort at a boiling point.
And among American Jews, there is a war within. J Street bills itself as the political home of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement. This week J Street ran a full page ad in "New York Times" against the speech by Netanyahu, saying his speech was a prop for his election campaign in Israel. Netanyahu has accused the White House and other world powers of rolling over, and allowing Iran to develop a nuclear bomb.
And more conservative Jewish groups like AIPAC stand firmly behind Netanyahu.
Let's dig into this with both sides. Joining me now is the president of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, and attorney Alan Dershowitz, who's been friends with Netanyahu for more than 30 years, will be meeting with him this week and will attend the speech this week.
Jeremy, let me begin with you. The ad says he is using it as a prop for his campaign at home. But the response from Prime Minister Netanyahu was to say, wait, Congress has an important role to play in this issue and I'm coming to influence the Congress. What's wrong with that?
JEREMY BEN-AMI, PRESIDENT, J STREET: Well, I think one of the things he could have done is delayed the speech until after his election. That's what you call for in our campaign over the last few weeks. If the interest at stake here is a serious discussion of Iran policy, there are ways to do that in a closed door setting, there's ways to do it through back channels, there's ways to do it after the election. This kind of appearance has been used in the past by the prime minister as a campaign ad and that's where you inject the partisan agenda that defeats your policy agenda in the long run.
SMERCONISH: Professor, why not delay the speech for a month?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL, EMERITUS PROFESSOR OF LAW: Because the deal might very well have been struck by then. You know, we're told by John Kerry it's too early to criticize the deal, but once the deal is made, we'll be told it's too late.
Let's look at the big picture. This is the most important foreign policy decision of this century, giving Iran, which is the greatest exporter of terrorism, nuclear weapons to put on their ICBMs will change as President Obama said, will become a game changer. Liberal senators like Senator Menendez and others oppose this. David Brooks of "The New York Times" opposes this. Henry Kissinger, "The Washington Post" editorial page, so many well-regarded liberals and conservatives think this is a bad deal, particularly the sunset provision.
Let's give Prime Minister Netanyahu a chance to make his case. Congress has equal power in foreign policy to the president. The speaker of the house was entirely within his power to invite him. Let everybody come and listen.
I would like to ask Jeremy Ben-Ami whether he supports the boycott of Israel by some liberal Democrats or whether he would join me in urging everybody to come, listen to the speech, then make up your mind to see whether or not this was good or bad for the United States and for Israel.
Jeremy, what do you think?
SMERCONISH: Go ahead, Jeremy.
BEN-AMI: Well, I think the issue isn't giving Iran nuclear weapon, Alan. I think that we can agree and I think President Obama agrees with all leaders of the P5-plus-one that the goal of this entire enterprise is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And the question isn't whether or not the president or in some way through this deal other countries are trying to help Iran get a nuclear weapon, it's whether or not this is the best way to prevent it.
If there is no deal then Iran will proceed unimpeded towards a nuclear weapon. If there is a deal, then we've got at least 10 to 15 years of very strict intrusive inspections, real limits, sanctions that remain in place and are gradually reduced. This is the best way to achieve our shared goal of having no nuclear weapons for Iran.
SMERCONISH: Professor, I'll give you the floor back in a moment.
SMERCONISH: Jeremy, I do want to ask the question, though, of Jeremy, Professor Dershowitz' point, should Democrats because they are the ones who are in opposition to this, stay away from the speech or do you agree with the professor, Jeremy, that everyone should attend?
BEN-AMI: Well, it's an individual decision for members of Congress to make. That's not the issue.
The issue is whether or not this speech has actually set back Israel's national interest. Has this speech done damage the way it was concocted to the U.S./Israel relationship? That's what the former director of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, just said in intensely detailed interview saying that nobody's done more damage to the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship than Prime Minister Netanyahu. And the way that he's gone about his relationship with the White House and that's the problem with this speech.
SMERCONISH: Professor, when Susan Rice, Ambassador Rice, is using words like destructive to discuss the U.S./Israeli relationship, would you concede indeed significant damage has been done or do you believe it's repairable?
DERSHOWITZ: Oh, I think it's repairable. And I think we won't know until we hear the speech. The speech is going to be critical. If it persuades members of Congress to serve their constitutional function of checking and balancing a very bad deal and you know, it's very debatable this deal.
As I said, many, many good people, liberal Democrats, don't agree with Ben-Ami, and they think, within five or six years, the sunset provisions will begin to kick in and Iran will be guaranteed a nuclear weapon. If that's the case, let's see if Prime Minister Netanyahu can persuade Congress. If he can, then it will be good for the relationship.
People forget that Congress has as much power over foreign policy as the president does under the Constitution and must serve as a check and balance. And we will see whether or not Congress is persuaded that Jeremy Ben-Ami is right and this is the best way, or whether increased sanctions. Nobody wants to put the military option on the table except as an absolute last resort.
But increasing sanctions rather than giving them a sunset provision which will send a green light, not only to Iran but to Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt, all of which will start getting into an arms race.
Let's have this debate in front of Congress. Everybody, come and listen to the prime minister, then make up your mind. But don't boycott an American ally. A boycott is for people like Ahmadinejad, you walk out on bigots. But you come and listen to allies even if you disagree with the way in which this was set up. And reasonable people can have disagreement.
But come and listen, make up your mind -- based on the facts and based on the arguments you hear on both sides.
SMERCONISH: Jeremy, do we know enough about the deal to be taking such positions at this juncture?
BEN-AMI: Well, I think the broad outlines are becoming very clear, the broad outlines Iran is going to have the ability to enrich to a certain extent that is appropriate for civilian purposes only, there will be the most intense and intrusive inspection regime that has ever been imposed on any regime. And there will be a gradual loosening of the sanctions in return for actual compliance with the terms of the agreement. That's the broad outlines of the agreement. And it turns out that 84 percent of Jewish Americans support a deal like that that helps to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
And there are just as many Republican experts and foreign policy professionals and editorial boards who support that approach to dealing with the Iranian threat as oppose it.
And I agree there is a policy debate to be had. But the question here is whether or not the prime minister his ambassador and the speaker of the House injected partisan politics in an inappropriate way into the middle of the U.S.-Israel relationship in a way that damages that relationship for the long run.
SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, I think this was productive conversation, and I appreciate, Jeremy Ben-Ami and Alan Dershowitz, for having been here to have it. Thank you.
DERSHOWITZ: Thank you very much.
BEN-AMI: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Coming up, she's already positioning herself as the anti- Hillary Clinton among a pack of big name perspective GOP presidential contenders. She's making no apologies for it. Carly Fiorina joins me, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLY FIORINA (R), FORMER U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I will say this: if Hillary Clinton had to face me on a debate stage, at the very least, she would have a hitch in her swing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Welcome back.
As the 2016 presidential election draws near and the GOP field takes shape, there's a lone female emerging in the party, which has struggled over its lack of diversity.
Carly Fiorina is the former Hewlett-Packard CEO. This week, she had a prime speaking spot at the Conservative Political Action Conference known as CPAC, the comic con-like event which can catapult a potential presidential contender to political superstardom.
And she wasted no time going after another female, the presumed Democratic front-runner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FIORINA: Unlike Mrs. Clinton, I know that flying is an activity, not an accomplishment.
FIORINA: I have met -- I have met Vladimir Putin and I know that his ambition will not be deterred by a gimmicky red reset button.
Mrs. Clinton, please name an accomplishment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Carly Fiorina joins me now.
We'll come back to CPAC in a moment, but allow me to ask you about some of today's headlines.
The House Republicans narrowly averted stopping the funding of DHS last night, at a time when Jihad Johnny is on the front page of American newspapers.
Is this the right way to oppose President Obama on immigration?
FIORINA: Well, I think honestly, this has been a huge failure of leadership on both sides. This has been going on for months now. President Obama for his part knew how Republicans would react to his executive overreach. He could have invited leadership to the White House to talk through a solution. Of course, he chose not to.
On the other hand, GOP leadership knew as well this was coming for many, many months. And to your point, we cannot defund the Department of Homeland Security at a time when Americans are rightly concerned about our security.
SMERCONISH: Some House Republicans, the more conservative elements, are calling for the ouster of John Boehner as speaker. Are you supportive of Speaker Boehner continuing in that role?
FIORINA: Well, look, I'm not in the House or in the Senate. And so, that's a decision for congressional members to take on their own.
SMERCONISH: This week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes to speak to Congress. Do you worry about the president that might set? Could there be a day in the future where President Fiorina is going to be countermanded by a Democratically-controlled House that say, we're going to bring someone here without consoling you?
FIORINA: You know, I listened to your previous segment on this issue, and I believe the reason that Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming here is because he has tried to talk behind closed doors to the president. He has tried to say to him that this deal that the president seems determined to reach is a danger, not only to the region, but to the world.
You know, I remember sitting in Prime Minister Netanyahu's office five years ago, and what he wanted to talk about then was Iran. I believe he's coming here because he needs the American people and Congress to understand the dangerous path this president is on. I believe he is, in fact, trying to put pressure on the situation so that we can avert a terrible deal. And so that Congress steps up and does its job by passing bills for punishing sanctions and by playing the role they rightfully need to play. This deal is headed in a bad direction. And I think Prime Minister
Netanyahu has been consistent for at least five years on his views about such a deal.
SMERCONISH: A question of semantics, if I might. You know that the president refrains, refuses from saying radical Islam and the like. What's the verbiage? Here you are contemplating a run for the presidency. What's the word choice for which Carly Fiorina is comfortable and why?
FIORINA: Well, I think we have to acknowledge what the Islamic state wants us to acknowledge.
They are very clear that their goal is to return the world to a middle age state. They are very clear that a radical interpretation of Islam is at the heart of their political philosophy. They are very clear that they are perhaps misinterpreting portions of Islam, but from their point of view, they have the right interpretation of Islam and they are willing to slaughter Muslims, Christians and Jews, as well as to destroy priceless works of art and antiquity in order to return the world to the middle ages.
So, if we're not prepared to speak the truth about who they are and they speak the truth about who they are, then how can we possibly defeat them?
SMERCONISH: On a subject of ISIS, Scott Walker, potential opponent of yours, said something interesting at CPAC this week. I want to roll the tape. I think you'll at least be able to listen to it. Play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SCOTT WALKER (R), WISCONSIN: I want a commander in chief who will do everything in their power to ensure the threat from radical Islamic terrorists do not wash up on American soil. We will have someone who leads and ultimately will send a message not only that we will protect American soil but do not -- do not take this upon freedom loving people anywhere else in the world. We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Would you agree that was a blunder on his part to make a comparison between ISIS and union protesters in Wisconsin?
FIORINA: I don't think it was an appropriate comparison. I think he was trying to demonstrate he has fight and clearly has a lot of that, but ISIS is a unique threat in the world. We need to treat it as a unique threat in the world. We should not underestimate in any way their willingness to use whatever barbarous means are available to them to make their point and to win. And we have to have equal resolve and a clear eyed understanding of who they are and what their goals are. SMERCONISH: Another potential opponent of Carly Fiorina is Jeb Bush.
He came to CPAC yesterday, had some interesting words about immigration. Allow me to play that for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEB BUSH (R), FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: The simple fact is there is no plan to deport 11 million people. We should give them a path to legal status where they work, where they don't receive government benefits, where they don't break the law, where they learn English, and where they make a contribution to our society. That's what we need to be focused on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Is he right?
FIORINA: Well, I think what we need to be focused on right now is securing the border. It is the first and most important step. We obviously can and we obviously have not. We need to start there because the problem just keeps getting worse when we don't. We need to start there because ISIS has figured out we have a porous border just as the Chinese already have. I mean, we are being very naive if we don't believe that the state of our border is an invitation for trouble.
And finally, we need to secure the border first because unless we do that, people don't have any confidence in government's willingness or ability to do what it says it's going to do. And that lack of confidence and trust becomes corrosive to our ability to do bigger things.
SMERCONISH: We have just 30 seconds left between us. Is your gender an advantage in a race against Hillary Clinton because you could criticize her in a way that men couldn't? And no one could call you sexist?
FIORINA: Well, I'm not running because I'm a woman. I've never been a token in my life. But the facts are, I am a woman. And the facts also are that 53 percent of voters are women and more than half the nation, more the majority, in other words.
And it's completely reasonable to ask people to focus on results and accomplishments. I come from a world where results and accomplishments are what counts. I think the American people are frustrated with professional politicians because results and accomplishments somehow don't count enough.
And so, I'm going to continue to call on whoever the nominee is to say, what have you done for the American people? Talk is cheap and actions matter.
SMERCONISH: Carly Fiorina, thank you so much for joining us from CPAC. We will be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: Thanks so much for joining me. Don't forget, you can follow me on Twitter if you can smell Smerconish.
See you next week.