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STATE OF THE UNION

Interview With New York Congressman Steve Israel; Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain; Ted Cruz Running for President?; The ISIS Threat. Aired 9-9:30p ET

Aired March 22, 2015 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:09] GLORIA BORGER, CNN ANCHOR: Unchartered territory. Is there a break in the U.S./Israeli bond?

And is Senator Ted Cruz about to green-light a 2016 White House run?

This is STATE OF THE UNION.

Senator John McCain on escalating tensions between Israel and the U.S. Congressman Steve Israel on religion and politics. New fears about the reach and influence of ISIS. And Ted Cruz, he's all in for 2016.

Good morning from Washington. I'm Gloria Borger.

The U.S./Israeli relationship at a crossroads. First, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the possibility of a Palestinian state during his reelection bid, but after he won, he walked back his comments. And now President Obama says the U.S. is evaluating its options.

Joining me this morning is Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

The president says he's reevaluating. He clearly was unhappy with what Bibi Netanyahu said about the Palestinian state during his campaign. Let me play for you something the president said to The Huffington Post.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... at his word when he said it wouldn't happen during his prime ministership.

And so that's why we have got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don't see a chaotic situation in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: Senator, are we at a dangerous point here in relations between U.S. and Israel?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think that's up to the president of the United States.

Look, there was a free and fair democratic election, the only nation in the region that will have such a thing. The president should get over it. Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President. It's time that we work together with our Israeli friends and try to stem this tide of ISIS and Iranian movement throughout the region, which is threatening the very fabric of the region.

The least of your problems is what Bibi Netanyahu said during an election campaign. If every politician were held to everything they say in a political campaign, obviously, that would be a topic of long discussion.

But the point is, is the J.V., as the president described them, is just moving over into Yemen. We see this horrible situation in Libya. We see ISIS everywhere in the world. We see the Iranians now backing the Shia militias in Tikrit, where they're going to -- where they're going to massacre a number of Sunnis.

And it is -- the guy in charge is a guy named Suleimani, who -- who imported -- excuse me -- I will catch up here -- Suleimani moved thousands of copper-tipped IEDs into Iraq and killed hundreds of American soldiers and Marines. And the president of the United States is praising the mullahs and their behavior in the region.

This is one of the more Orwellian situations I have ever observed.

BORGER: But you called the president's response to Bibi Netanyahu a temper tantrum. Why is it a temper tantrum if Netanyahu ostensibly rejects during his campaign the very basis for decades of American policy heading towards some kind of a peace process? Should the president just sort of pay no attention to that?

MCCAIN: I think the president maybe shouldn't like it, but thousands are being slaughtered by ISIS. And the Iranians have now taken over the major capitals of Lebanon, Syria, Beirut, and Baghdad. There -- and it pales in significance to the situation which continues to erode throughout the Middle East and it puts America at risk.

Bibi's rhetoric concerning an election campaign pales in comparison as to the threat, the direct threat, to the United States of America of ISIS. This is -- the president has his priorities so screwed up, that it's unbelievable.

BORGER: Well, he's also apparently considering signing a U.N. resolution calling for a Palestinian state. What would be your reaction if he did that? And should he even be considering that?

[09:05:01] MCCAIN: Of course he shouldn't be considering it. And, second of all, if he does that, then -- and it would be approved by the U.N., then the United States Congress would have to examine our funding for the United Nations.

It would be -- it would be a violation because of the president's anger over a statement by Bibi, by the prime minister of Israel. It would be -- contradict American policy for the last at least 10 presidents of the United States.

BORGER: So you think this is something the president in no way, shape, or form should do?

MCCAIN: Which is more important, Gloria, a statement made by a politician in the heat of a campaign or the wholesale slaughter that is going on throughout the Middle East?

The president at the same time is praising the ayatollahs. At the same time, he has got this idea of this Faustian bargain with the Iranians, who are on the march. About a few days ago...

BORGER: I'm going to...

MCCAIN: Could I mention, a few days ago, David Petraeus said that Iran is a greater threat in the Middle East than ISIS is.

BORGER: Right. I'm going to get to Iran.

MCCAIN: And I agree with him.

BORGER: I'm going to get to Iran. I'm going to get to Iran in one moment.

MCCAIN: Sure.

BORGER: One more thing that angers the president about Bibi Netanyahu, before we get to Iran, is the way he campaigned and said that the Arabs are coming out in droves.

And the president told The Huffington Post that this gives ammunition to folks who don't believe in a Jewish state. Do you think that statement by Netanyahu was kind of over the line?

MCCAIN: I think that politicians make statements.

BORGER: OK.

MCCAIN: I know that Israel is our most reliable ally. It is the only place where you will see a campaign where statements are made by one side or the other.

You have to put it in perspective of this incredible threat to the entire Middle East with ISIS on the march, with the Iranians on the march, with thousands of people being slaughtered and killed, and young women being...

BORGER: So, you think the president -- you think the president is letting his personal feelings toward Netanyahu get in the way of important policy issues?

MCCAIN: I am convinced of it.

BORGER: OK.

MCCAIN: I am convinced of it, because, either that, or he is delusional. I am not sure which.

BORGER: OK. Well, let me get to Iran, which we need to talk about, because there is -- there are nuclear negotiations going on, some movement over the weekend.

Senator Kerry said that -- sorry -- Secretary of State Kerry said there has been some progress, as did Iran's president. From what you know about the progress, is this something that you think is getting towards a deal you might be able to live with?

MCCAIN: I don't think they will reach a deal that we can live with, because, as Henry Kissinger testified before our committee, we have gone from eliminating Iran's capability to develop a nuclear weapon to delaying it. And that, of course, is unacceptable to most of -- to most of us.

And I would imagine it may be enough to have enough votes in the United States Senate to not approve of it. And we will insist on approval and not going to the United Nations.

BORGER: Well, let me -- let me ask you this. This week, I'm sure you know that President Obama himself sent a New Year's message to the Iranian people, which spoke a little bit about this pending deal. Let me -- let's take a look at it, and then I will have you comment at the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The weeks ahead will be critical. Our negotiations have made progress, but gaps remains.

And there are people in both our countries and beyond who oppose a diplomatic resolution. My message to you, the people of Iran, is that, together, we have to speak up for the future we seek.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: What do you think about that message? Was he referring to people like you when he said there are people who oppose a diplomatic resolution?

MCCAIN: I'm sure he was. And I wish he had spoken to the people of Iran in 2009, when they rose up against a corrupt election and he refused to speak out on their behalf while they were chanting "Obama, Obama, are you with us or are you with them?"

Again, does anyone -- does he believe that anyone in Iran is able to speak up? Are they able to speak up for anything that the mullahs disagree with? They're either jailed or killed. Again, this is a view, a world view the president has which is totally divorced from reality.

BORGER: Well, let me -- some could say that you and other senators were interfering in a way with the president's negotiations when you were one of 47 senators who signed the letter to Iran's leader saying that Congress needs to approve any deal that Iran enters into.

Did you feel in any way, shape or form before you signed on the dotted line -- you have run for president yourself -- that this was undermining the commander in chief before you even knew what -- what he might be thinking of?

[09:10:12] MCCAIN: What -- what triggered it, Gloria, was the president's announcement that, no matter what Congress voted as far as ratification of this agreement -- and, clearly, it's so important it deserves the approval or disapproval of Congress -- he immediately announced that he would veto any resolution from Congress. That's what triggered the letter and the events that took place.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Should it have been written to the mullahs? Yes.

MCCAIN: Well -- well, I think that the mullahs ought to know that Congress will play a role. And we will do everything in our power to make sure we do play a role because we think that's our constitutional obligations.

BORGER: I mean, but you criticize what Obama did with the video. Isn't what you guys did the same thing as Obama did, trying -- talking to different segments in Iran, to a degree?

MCCAIN: Well, we were talking to the leaders who are hanging people every day who disagree with them. And he was supposedly speaking to people who have a voice in Iran. And they don't. And no human rights observer will tell you that they do.

BORGER: Well, let me change subjects on you for a moment, because you were also in the news this week.

MCCAIN: Sure.

BORGER: We have a fight in the United States Senate over the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be attorney general. It's in limbo now. It's in procedural limbo. It's now part of an unrelated fight over abortion.

And now there's an open brawl, I would have to say, on the Senate floor about whether the delay was racially motivated. Let's take a listen to what your colleague Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said, and have you talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), MINORITY WHIP: Loretta Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be attorney general, is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar. That is unfair. It's unjust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: Senator, it wasn't just Dick Durbin. The head of the Congressional Black Caucus joined him in saying that this delay was racially motivated.

What's your response?

MCCAIN: My response is that you can't erase history. These same Democrats led by Senator Durbin filibustered Janice Rogers Brown, the first African-American to the seat on that court -- on that court. They filibustered Miguel Estrada.

This has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with trying to get legislation through which would prevent -- or help prevent this horrible issue of sexual trafficking that is going on. And also I will add to that, I will not vote for her because she has said she would uphold the president's unconstitutional executive orders concerning immigration.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But what did you expect her to say? Senator, what did you expect her to say? You know, she's a nominee of the president.

MCCAIN: Yes, sure.

BORGER: She said that it was reasonable. Wouldn't you expect the president's nominee for attorney general to have looked into what the president did and then say it was reasonable? I mean...

MCCAIN: Gloria, I'm very quaint and old-fashioned. I expect people to tell the truth when they testify before a congressional committee when their nominations are there for congressional -- senatorial approval.

I expect her to tell the truth.

BORGER: Well, maybe...

MCCAIN: And if the truth is that she supports -- she supports it, then -- and she calls them reasonable -- then I cannot support her nomination, because they are not constitutional.

BORGER: So, why not have just a vote and have it not tied up in all these -- this other rigmarole that it's tied up with? Why not just call for a separate vote on the Senate floor and have it either stand or fall?

MCCAIN: I totally agree. And we offered -- Senator Cornyn offered a very reasonable compromise, which I will -- that has to do with shifting the funding to the Appropriations Committee. And that was turned down.

BORGER: OK. We won't -- yes.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BORGER: OK.

MCCAIN: It's a little arcane, but it -- we have offered compromises.

BORGER: OK. OK.

Well, let me -- I'm going to have to do one last switch of subjects on you...

MCCAIN: Sure.

BORGER: ... because CNN has confirmed this morning that Senator Ted Cruz, a colleague of yours from Texas, is going to announce his candidacy for the presidency tomorrow morning at Liberty University.

Do you think Senator Cruz is somebody who could lead the Republican Party to victory against Hillary Clinton?

MCCAIN: If the Republican Party nominates him, I do. He is a valued member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He and I are friendly, and I think he is a very viable candidate.

BORGER: That's not an endorsement though, is it, Senator?

MCCAIN: No. You know, Lindsey Graham is my -- is my -- the one I think that knows best about national security.

[09:15:07] BORGER: OK.

Thanks so much, Senator McCain. Thanks for being with us from Arizona this morning.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.

BORGER: And next: Is the strained relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama dividing American Jews?

Congressman Steve Israel is here to talk about that up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: The open split between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu prompted Republican Congressman Steve King to say this on Friday to Boston Herald Radio.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: Here is what I don't understand. I don't understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BORGER: And with us is Democratic Congressman Steve Israel, a member of the House leadership, who took great personal offense to what King said.

Congressman, I want to read you to something you tweeted. You said -- and I quote -- "I don't need Congressman Steve King questioning my religion or my politics. I demand an apology from him and repudiation from the GOP."

Have you gotten either, Congressman?

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Still waiting, Gloria.

Look, I lean to the right on U.S.-Israeli relations. I'm a staunch hawk on those issues. I escorted Bibi Netanyahu into the chamber and out of the chamber. And I really do not need lessons from people like Steve King on what it is to be Jewish or a Democrat.

You know, Steve King, who said that America is a Christian nation, should not be lecturing Jews about how we should be Jewish. You know, Steve King doesn't know what chutzpah is.

(LAUGHTER)

ISRAEL: But Steve King lecturing Jews about how we -- defining Jews and talking about how we can't be Democrats or Jews -- and Jews at the same time, that's chutzpah.

BORGER: Well, there is another larger issue that you raise, I think, that Steve King raised, and that is that -- the question of whether, if you support the president over Bibi Netanyahu as an American Jew, that, somehow, that means that you are not supportive of Israel?

How do you personally feel about that?

ISRAEL: Look, that great Talmudic scholar Steve King is weighing -- going into areas he knows nothing about.

The fact of the matter is that I choose to support Israel because it's good for the United States. I have had disagreements with the president on Israel. And my leadership on Israel is based on one thing, and that is that a strong Israel is a secure America.

But I haven't seen Steve King at any of the hearings to increase funding for the Iron Dome or the Arrow systems. Steve King wasn't with me when I went to Israel, as a Democrat, when the rockets were flying from Gaza from Hamas. He didn't show up then.

And so I'm not going to take lectures from Republicans like Steve King about how to support Israel.

BORGER: How do you feel about Bibi Netanyahu's treatment of the president?

ISRAEL: You know, everybody needs to just take a deep breath and step back.

Bibi Netanyahu has said -- and I fully agree with him -- that the most important strategic asset that Israel has is bipartisanship in the United States Congress. He is right about that.

BORGER: But how did he treat the president? ISRAEL: It does Israel no service and it does the United States

no service to make it a partisan football.

BORGER: But, to get back to my question, how do you believe Bibi Netanyahu treated this president by coming before the Congress, being invited by John Boehner, whom, I might add, is going back to Israel? Do you think that Netanyahu is essentially throwing his lot in with Republicans, to a degree?

ISRAEL: You know, there's the personality and then there's the policy.

Look, Ronald Reagan provided $8.5 billion in sophisticated AWACS weaponry to the Saudis, and people said, oh, my gosh, this is a major division between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel back in the 1980s. Who cares?

What counts is the substance. And on the substance, the relationship between the United States and Israel has never been closer on military and strategic and intel issues.

And, Gloria, let me give you irrefutable proof.

BORGER: But let me just say, John McCain just said that President Obama is throwing what he called a temper tantrum against Bibi Netanyahu and that he ought to get over it. Do you disagree with -- with McCain about the president and his relationship with Netanyahu?

ISRAEL: I do not believe that it's helpful to that strategic asset, the bipartisan relationship between Israel and the United States, for people to begin toss -- using Israel as a political football, to reduce Israel to a sound bite, to talk about who called who and who's angry at who.

What counts is, are we providing Israel with the critical security equipment and technologies they need? And on that, we are. I would remind John McCain that, when the rockets flew from Hamas to Israel, it was in fact President Obama who asked Congress to support $225 million in emergency funding for the Iron Dome system.

It was the Congress who supported that supplemental request. Four Republicans voted against it. Four Democrats voted against it. That's not a hemorrhage in the relationship between the countries.

BORGER: But are you, as a leader in the House Democratic Party, are you worried about an erosion of support among Democrats for Israel, given this sort of current rift in the relationship between the two leaders?

ISRAEL: Not at all, because there's no evidence of it. The fact of the matter is, on -- in Congress, there's no erosion of support. Every Democrat, except for four, supported Iron Dome funding. Every Republican, except for four, supported Iron Dome funding.

And I don't see that erosion anywhere else throughout the country. Have there been flash points between -- between the United States and Israel in the past? Show me a president since Harry Truman, I will show you those flash points.

What counts and what we need to do is get back to the fundamentals and stop thinking about the drama. There's all this drama now about the president waited two days to call Bibi Netanyahu.

BORGER: Yes.

ISRAEL: It reminds me of my Jewish mother in Phoenix, Arizona, saying, you know, you had to wait two days to call me?

(LAUGHTER)

ISRAEL: Who cares whether it's two days, one day? What counts is, are we supporting Israel, providing them with the security they need? And on that, it does Israel no service for Republicans to make it a partisan football. And it does Israel no service for us to get caught up in the hype and the drama of personalities. What counts is the policy.

ISRAEL: OK. Thanks so much, Congressman Steve Israel.

And always call your mother, of course. Thank you so much.

(LAUGHTER)

ISRAEL: Of course, Gloria. Thank you.

BORGER: A dozen years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, thanks to ISIS, the conflict is still not in the rear-view mirror.

Two Iraq war veterans now serving in Congress are right here. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: Twelve years after the Iraq war, America has pulled out combat troops, but there are almost 3,000 so-called advisers back in the country helping to train and bolster Iraqi forces to battle ISIS.

I'm joined now by Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard -- she served two tours of duty in the Middle East -- and Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who served as an Air Force pilot in Iraq.

Thank you both for your service, and thank you for being here this morning.

Before we get to Iraq and ISIS, let me just ask you about the story we have been talking about this morning, which is Bibi Netanyahu, Barack Obama, and how that bad relationship could well impact the peace process and bring it to a -- to a dead halt.

Let me start first with you, Congressman Kinzinger.

Do you feel this is a dangerous place we're in right now? REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: It's not a good place, but I

think the peace process seemed like it was at a halt long before Netanyahu ran for re-election. And so, you know look, it's always surprising to me when the president is upset about election rhetoric because it always happens.

BORGER: It's so open. It's so out there, right?

KINZINGER: Yes. And so it will be interesting. But at the end of the day we have a very strong relationship that will be maintained.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I agree.

I mean, if you look at Congress, you look at some of the resolutions and pieces of legislation that are put forward, both Democrats and Republicans from all sectors of the ideological spectrum are by and large united on the importance of continuing the strong U.S./Israel partnership. When you look in the past as well, when there have been differences between the leaders of our two countries, we've always been able to overcome that and continue to move forward with that shared objective.

BORGER: But it was your colleague, Steve King, who sort of said, you know -- raised the question of whether American Jews are --

KINZINGER: I can never understand what Steve King says...

BORGER: Yes.

KINZINGER: ...especially in this case. But you know, look, I think it's very obvious that we can have, you know, folks in our parties that say different things on both sides. But it's a united Republican and Democrat on the issue of Israel.

BORGER: And you know, I originally wanted to have you folks on the show because it is 12 years since the Iraq war began. And the story this week that seems to be growing is what's going on there and the growth of ISIS growing more powerful and more deadly, launching attacks in Tunisia, in Yemen. This morning we got word that they're calling for beheadings in the United States.

Are you concerned that the scope of this problem has grown so much while a solution to ISIS seems to be slipping away?

GABBARD: I think that's exactly the point is that as we look at this threat of ISIS and Islamic extremism conducting these violent acts of terrorism, not only in Iraq and Syria, but as we're seeing now in other parts of the world...

BORGER: Right.

GABBARD: ...and on soft targets like we just saw in Tunisia, it goes back to the underlying question which is what is our strategy to defeat this threat. We have to go back to recognizing that this is a military component, absolutely, to being able to defeat this threat. But there also has to be an understanding of the sectarian civil war and the political solutions that will be necessary to do that as well as the ideological element that's allowing ISIS to continue...

BORGER: Sure.

GABBARD: ...to grow, to continue to recruit not only in the Middle East but all of these foreign fighters who are going there.

BORGER: You know, we've been training Iraqi forces for years.

KINZINGER: Yes.

BORGER: As you two know better than I do, and they greatly outnumber ISIS, yet they can't seem to even take back Tikrit, right, from ISIS. So, the question is do you foresee a day in the near future when the Iraqi forces would actually be capable of driving ISIS out without U.S. combat forces there with them?

KINZINGER: Possibly, but let's - look (ph), so when I left Iraq in '09 --

BORGER: Possibly is not definitive.

KINZINGER: Well I know. That's all I can give you because when I left Iraq in '09, we had the war won.

I mean, Iraqi forces were actually acting well. We had the military component figured out. And when I was flying, we were like finding bad guys and doing mop-up operations.

I went back just six months ago as a congressman and to see what happened there is disappointing. So, with Iraqi forces, look, when we left in 2011 Maliki basically made the force a secular force for Shias (ph), had leadership folks that were in there that had no ability to lead troops. And so what happens is leadership melted away in the face of ISIS. And as any low level soldier is going to do if their leaders run they're going to run too. So, that has got to be fixed --

BORGER: So, it's because we didn't leave a residual force?

KINZINGER: I think a residual force is important but I think we lost the ability to influence Iraqi military they became secular.

BORGER: And then the question is, can we get it back?

GABBARD: The residual force I think is a side bar point. The underlying issue there is exactly what you mentioned, the fact that starting with the Bush administration, continuing now, the United States has supported propping up this Shia-led Iranian influenced government in Baghdad that has completely oppressed the Sunni people creating this oxygen for ISIS to be able to come in and tell them, look, we'll help you --

BORGER: What's your option? Who else do you back though?

GABBARD: Well, this is where we should empower each of the different people. We shouldn't be choosing sides and funding and propping up the Shias versus the Sunnis... BORGER: Right.

GABBARD: ...in the sectarian war.

KINZINGER: Well, I agree with that. And you know, keep in mind up until the residual force. (INAUDIBLE) this is why -- not to continually revisit history but this is why it's important to talk about why pulling the residual force out was bad was because we disengaged politically with Iraq too. And once we disengaged politically Iran engaged and also you had the sectarian impulses that engaged. I mean, it takes awhile to get this right.

[09:35:00] BORGER: And let me just read to you both something that David Petraeus said this week that kind of struck me. He commanded troops as you well know during the surge in 2007 to 2008.

Here's what he said. He said, "It is impossible to return to Iraq without a keen sense of opportunities lost. This includes the squandering of what we in our coalition and Iraqi partners paid such a heavy cost to achieve." This has to have a lot of meaning for both of you.

You say you were just back. How do you respond to what the general said? Do you feel the same way?

GABBARD: I think Adam is of the same mind as I am. In our hearts every day we carry with us this incredibly high human cost of war. The friends who we lost there who didn't get to come back home, and it's for me why I feel so strongly about it. As we look at the future, as we look at the question that we're dealing with right now about the United States' role in defeating ISIS, in defeating this Islamic extremist threat is that we don't repeat the same mistakes of the past, that we truly understand who our enemy is, what's driving them so that we can come to a clear and effective strategy to defeat them and protect the American people.

BORGER: Well, is that you're feeling when you went back?

KINZINGER: Oh, yes, I mourned it. I mean, it was a heartbreaking to see, you know, a 13-year-old girl with her siblings that are younger than her because she lost her parents to ISIS. I mean, that kind of stuff is heartbreaking.

But as Tulsi said, and I agree we do have to be clear about the real enemy in this. And I think as General Petraeus said, we have -- the Shia militia is an issue, the Iranian influence in Iraq is an issue, and that's why it's important for us to step up because Iraq is literally looking out and saying, we've got to survive. And that's why they're reaching to Iran. But Iran -- Iran's help doesn't come without a very steep price.

GABBARD: And I think the question of how we step up is really what we're - what we're considering here. And when we look at the Sunni tribesmen who came to Washington just I think about a month ago saying, we need your help, we need arms, we need weapons to able to fight against ISIS. We look at the battles that are going on right now in Tikrit and what we expect will happen in Mosul, and the fact that unless there's a plan for the Sunnis to take charge of these towns, of these Sunni dominated communities, we're not going to see ISIS diminish in Iraq.

BORGER: Well, thanks to both of you for being here this morning.

GABBARD: Thank you.

BORGER: Thank you again for your service.

KINZINGER: It's an honor. Thank you.

GABBARD: Thank you. Aloha.

BORGER: And Ted Cruz about to be the first candidate to officially jump into the 2016 presidential race. Our political panel will weigh in next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:41:44] BORGER: Things are ramping up for 2016 already.

A senior adviser to Ted Cruz tells CNN that the Texas senator will announce his 2016 presidential run tomorrow at Liberty University in Virginia. Can other Republicans and Hillary Clinton be far behind? I don't think so.

Joining me around the table, CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, and Donna Brazile, also a CNN political commentator.

Ken Cuccinelli, you're a friend of Ted Cruz. Can you tell us why he's doing it now and why he's doing it at Liberty University?

KEN CUCCINELLI, PRESIDENT, SENATE CONSERVATIVES FUND: Well, I don't know that I can speak to now except that to your comment on the way in here, this is going to start rolling out. Whether he may be official tomorrow, but others, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush have been -- Scott Walker have been running unofficially anyway. So, that particular part of the timing isn't as interesting to me as announcing at Liberty is to me.

BORGER: Why?

CUCCINELLI: Because I think Senator Cruz is probably one of the leaders, if not the leader in the movement conservative leg of the Republican coalition. This looks to me like a play to compete with Huckabee among the more socially focused conservatives, evangelical conservatives certainly it being Liberty University.

BORGER: Ana Navarro, there's a lot of wings to the Republican Party as we know. It's a very broad and deep field this time. And as we say, Rand Paul is going to get in. Huckabee is going to get in. Now you've got Ted Cruz getting in.

I recently spent some time with Governor John Kasich of Ohio who is kind of at a different wing of the party and he was in New Hampshire this week. I spent some time with him in South Carolina. Listen to what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: When I ran in 2010 I received self- identified conservatives 80 percent of their vote. I can't think of anything that's more conservative or more right in terms of what America's about than opportunity for everybody.

BORGER: Do you think this is a problem for the Republican Party?

KASICH: I will tell you this. If somebody comes into Ohio and they're extreme, they're not going to win. I mean, we don't operate that way in Ohio.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there goes Ohio for Ted Cruz.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: Wait, I mean -

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: ...would like to think so.

BORGER: But no Republican has won the presidency...

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: That's right.

BORGER: ...without the state of Ohio.

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: And no Republican has won the presidency without being a conservative - without running as a conservative since Barry Goldwater.

BORGER: Yes. But he -

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: But Democrats have won in the last several elections. Those 18 electoral votes...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: ...to Virginia.

CUCCINELLI: But those two Republicans didn't run as conservatives.

NAVARRO: I think - I think what you're seeing is, you know, with Ted Cruz and John Kasich who are on different sides of the spectrum in the Republican Party is that we are going to have a lot of different flavors. This is going to be the Baskin Robbins of primary. And I think it's going to be frankly a fun one.

This weekend I was at the RNC retreat in Boca and many of these potential 2016 candidates showed up. I can see their stump speeches getting better. It's fun to see them courting the voters, visiting the early states. You know, for all of us who are political junkies, this is spring training. And it is a fun, good process that makes candidate better.

[09:45:04] BORGER: Speaking of fun, and I have to go to our Democratic -

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: I had a fun watching - I had fun watching the Republicans, trust me.

BORGER: So, this morning we all woke up to read "The Boston Globe"...

BRAZILE: Yes.

BORGER: ...which called for Elizabeth Warren to run and to challenge Hillary Clinton. I want to play you -- I tried that a little bit with Elizabeth Warren during the mid-term elections and asked her if she was going to run, and here's what she said to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I'm not running for president.

BORGER: OK.

WARREN: I am not running for president. I am not running for president.

BORGER: But if Hillary didn't run you might give it a shot?

WARREN: I am not running for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER: What about that, Donna?

BRAZILE: Well, the senior senator from the great state of Massachusetts, she's not running. I mean, she has made it very clear to a lot of people that she's not running. But that hasn't stopped Democrats from just about every wing of the party to calling upon her to, you know, throw her hat, throw her gloves in the ring.

She would make a fantastic candidate. She's the only one talking about the middle class families, the struggles of young people. I think she would be able to capture a lot of - (CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Why didn't she run? Is it the women's groups who are saying to her, no, this is Hillary's turn?

BRAZILE: You know, I think she has made a decision that she wants to be in the Senate. She wants to continue to champion those issues for the middle class. And you know what? There's time for her to run at some point -

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: Let me tell you something. If I was a Hillary Clinton supporter and I think they should -- people should be begging, pleading, sending money to Elizabeth Warren to run because it's going to make it a more interesting campaign.

Right now -- if you remember 2008, everybody was titillated by the Obama/Clinton primary that stretched out until what? June.

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE).

NAVARRO: On the Republican side McCain wrapped it up in February and there was nothing going on and nobody was paying attention to that.

I think number one Hillary Clinton needs the practice. We've seen she's not at the top of her political game with the book rollout and this email scandal. And you know, it's going to be boring.

CUCCINELLI: Well, look, can I make...

BORGER: Yes.

CUCCINELLI: ...a positive comment about Elizabeth Warren?

Hopefully the tape is not running. And for the record, I don't read "The Boston Globe." So, I'm glad to know about the editorial but she is tapping into something on the left that you're also seeing Ted Cruz tap into on the right and that is sort of an honesty and a sincerity with what they believe and not shying away from it. And I give her credit for that. I mean, if you look back to the Cromnibus debate in December you have elements of both...

BORGER: Don't say Cromnibus. OK.

CUCCINELLI: ...parties that were saying, hey, look, this special deal for Wall Street we're sticking in here. This is not only bad...

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: ...it's wrong.

BORGER: So, why don't Republicans start talking about Wall Street? CUCCINELLI: Oh, no, no. You will see that. And you of course

pay more attention to the left but - except to hit us on (ph) the (ph) right (ph).

BORGER: That's not true. That's not true.

CUCCINELLI: You know, I'm no John McCain fan, but you were pretty tough on him. But --

BRAZILE: He can handle it.

CUCCINELLI: Yes, he's been through tougher than that. But look -

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER (ph): He likes it. He's been through worse.

CUCCINELLI: Look...

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: ...and this is a good kind of populism. This is legislation for all-Americans not for special interests. And it's interesting -- one thing that this president has proven in the political size is that running to your base works.

I mean, Romney won independents by eight points and lost the election because so many people in the Republican base stayed home. I think the reason for "The Boston Globe" editorial and for disenchantment on the left is they're just not that happy. Obama left activists are not happy with Hillary Clinton and she is not going to motivate Barack Obama -

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: I don't think - I don't think this is an anti-Hillary vote. The folks who are supporting --

CUCCINELLI: Some of it - some of it is.

BRAZILE: This is a -- this is a group of Americans who want to see a change in the way we operate both on the left and the right. And they think Elizabeth Warren can capture the middle.

BORGER: Before we - before we leave this morning I know Ana wants to talk about a piece that was in the "Washington Post" that was a very lengthy article about Columba Bush and her life as she grew up and her abusive father. And the question, I think, we were talking about in the greenroom before is this just now part of the territory for any family when somebody runs for the presidency?

NAVARRO: Frankly, you know, I think that piece went too far. I'm very disappointed with "The Washington Post." I've seen the same exact piece now in two other publications but never in a serious newspaper. I think it's tabloid journalism. We know that candidates are

going to get scrutiny and their spouses and family are going to get scrutiny. I will tell you scrutinize the candidate. Put him through the -- you know, through the sieve. Rake him through the coals. Look at everything he or she have done. And also look at what -- you know, what kind of first lady, first gentlemen the person that's with them might be, but do you have to go to a small village in Mexico and start digging into her painful childhood through an abusive parent, through an abusive father?

[09:50:11]

Do you have to question whether she's proud of being Hispanic? I know Columba Bush. She is proud of being from Mexican roots, having been born in Mexico. It's a large part of who she is. I think this is tabloid journalism at its worst. And I think it's really frankly going over the line. And it's the price that people are paying for going into politics and why more good people are not running for office. It's a darn shame.

BORGER: Ana, you're going to have the last word on that and I'm sure you'll be hearing from the reporters who did that story.

NAVARRO: She better not call me. I've got nothing good to tell her.

BORGER: Well, thanks so much Ana Navarro, Donna Brazile and Ken Cuccinelli.

And next up, what was it like to come out as a gay member of Congress in the 1980s? My conversation with former Congressman Barney Frank up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: I sat down earlier with former Democratic congressman, Barney Frank. He has a new book called "Frank, A Life In Politics From The Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage." In it he describes his long career in politics and coming out. I asked him about his early conversations about being gay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARNEY FRANK (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I knew that a book was about to come out that hinted he was gay. People ignored it but I didn't know that. And I went to -- and I said, Tip, a book is coming out that's going to say I'm gay. He said, Barney, don't let that bother you. They (ph) always (ph) spin (ph) that bleep (ph) about us. Don't pay any attention. And my response was, well, in this case it's true that (ph), you (ph) know (ph), I'm gay. He said, am so sad. And he (INAUDIBLE) said you could have had a career in leadership and that would destroy it.

And later Mike Barnicle, the journalist, a great pal of the speakers. And he met with him. And he said -- Barnicle said, oh, Mike, I'm sad. Barney Frank is also in politics. Barnicle said, what's happening? He said, well, I think he's going to come out of the room.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK: You know, Tip, was a very bright guy. People underestimated him. And he always got the music right but he had trouble sometimes with the words.

BORGER: But was it right?

FRANK: Yes and no. It clearly meant I couldn't be in leadership. Not that the other members who were homophobic. But when you're a member if you vote for somebody, that could be used against you in your district. As far as the voters were concerned and my colleagues in the House, I was presently surprised it had almost no negative effect. And you know, you get to the point --

[09:55:11] BORGER: Do you think they knew you were gay?

FRANK: Some did, most did not for a couple of reasons.

First of all, during that period, particularly under stress, I (ph) tend (ph) to (INAUDIBLE). For a variety of reasons I did not conform to a guy stereotype. Let's be honest, I was much too badly dressed from the standpoint of a lot of people to think I was gay.

BORGER: Do you think now that there are still closeted gay members of the Congress?

FRANK: Yes.

BORGER: And is it OK for a gay politician to remain closeted if he wants to?

FRANK: Yes. As long as he or she is supportive of legal protections. The issue that where they lose me is hypocrisy. What I think is unacceptable is to vote a certain set of rules as an elected official and then violate them yourself. But if you are a Democrat, Republican, whatever, and you vote to allow people to do what you do then I have no demand that you become public.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BORGER: More of that interview at CNN.com/SOTU.

But next up, what do President Obama and the 2016 presidential hopefuls have in common? They are all watching their brackets. March madness when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BORGER: How do we know March madness is here? President Obama unveiled his bracket on ESPN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not a pundit but I agree that Arizona has the best chance to upset Kentucky. But I don't think they quite pull it off.

BORGER (voice-over): 2016 presidential hopefuls are also getting in on the action.

So what do their brackets tell us? Well, they all showed early caucus state Iowa some love. No surprise there. Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Martin O'Malley picked Iowa State to make it to the final four. Jeb Bush picked the school to reach the Elite Eight as did Carly Fiorina.

Others are keeping it close to home. Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal picked LSU to win it all while Walker chose Wisconsin. And former Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley picked, you guessed it, Maryland.

Lindsey Graham joined many of the 2016 hopefuls and went with the odds picking heavily favored Kentucky to win the national title. But Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina chose a swing state school to win it all, the University of Virginia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[10:00:07] BORGER: And what about Hillary Clinton, her own contest might be around the corner. But as for March madness, she's having none of it.

Thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Gloria Borger in Washington.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts right now.