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STATE OF THE UNION
Interview With Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb; Interview With Tennessee Senator Bob Corker; Interview With Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. Aired 9-10:00p ET
Aired April 19, 2015 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: The White House blinks in the standoff with Congress over Iran.
And is same-sex marriage the GOP Achilles' heel?
This is STATE OF THE UNION.
Senators Bob Corker and Benjamin Cardin on what Congress wants in the Iran nuclear deal, former Senator Jim Webb on whether he will run for president, and the fight to free an American journalist Jason Rezaian from prison in Iran.
Good morning from Washington. I'm Jim Sciutto.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress have been demanding a say on the details in the Iran nuclear deal, and now they are going to get it. The Senate is set to pass a bill that gives Congress oversight of any final agreement. President Obama, who fought congressional involvement aggressively for months, now says he will support the measure.
Fact is, with a veto-proof majority in the Senate, he likely had little choice.
Joining me now, the lawmakers who crafted that compromise bipartisan bill, Senate Foreign Committee Chairman Bob Corker the panel's top Democrat, Senator Ben Cardin.
Senator Corker, I would like to begin with you. And thanks very much for taking the time this Sunday morning.
In his press conference on Friday, the president, and we were listening very closely, at a minimum did not give an explicit commitment to that phased removal of sanctions on Iran. And this had been, to this point, a commitment from the president. He used the language "lessened," but wouldn't talk about it being phased in.
Is the president, in your view, capitulating to Iran on this issue?
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Well, Jim, it's hard to know. One of the things that people may not know is that four times
over the course of the last since -- 2010, Congress has put in sanctions. We put them in place. But, with that, we gave the president what is called a national security waiver.
And so, today, unilaterally, he has the ability to negotiate any deal that he wishes and go straight to the U.N. Security Council to have it implemented. What Senator Cardin, myself and so many others have said is that we want to understand, Jim, whether he just said is the way that it is or not.
So, before -- before he is able to lift the sanctions that we put in place, we passed a piece of legislation out of the committee and hopefully across the floor and to the House, we passed a piece of legislation that allows us first to see all of those details, to stop the president from just lifting those sanctions without us having time to go through them to give us the opportunity...
SCIUTTO: Are you saying that you would stop him from lifting those sanctions if it was not phased in over time? And this is a key issue for our viewers...
SCIUTTO: ... because the issue here is, if they are not phased in, then in effect the U.S. loses its leverage with Iran to keep them honest on honoring the deal.
CORKER: Well, Jim, again, unless we have this piece of legislation that becomes law, there is no ability to do that. And there is no ability even for Congress to understand what the real arrangement is.
As you know, at present, right now, the leadership in Iran is telling their citizens one thing. Our president and others are telling us another. The only way we will ever know what are the details, understand what is in the classified annexes is for us to pass these pieces of legislation that are before us, because, otherwise, we may never know until way after the fact exactly what the agreement is.
So, look, I think it's very important, yes, that the phased -- the sanctions be phased, so that we see how Iran is behaving, and whether they are actually living up to the arrangement, that we are building up trust. But, no, to alleviate those on the front end obviously just gives them immediately more money to conduct terrorist acts throughout the Middle East and to continue the hegemony that they have been involved in for the last several years.
SCIUTTO: So, let me ask you this. Your compromise bill passed committee 19-0. Our reporting is that it has a veto-proof majority in the broader Senate. So, assuming that becomes a reality and it passes and you then have this oversight, without a firm commitment to, one, a phased relief of sanctions, but also the other remaining issue here is access to the sensitive nuclear sites there, military sites such as Parchin, as well as fessing up, in effect, to past weaponization work, past military work on a nuclear weapons program.
Without those commitments in a final deal, will the Senate reject the final nuclear agreement?
CORKER: Well, again, Jim, we will see.
CORKER: This first piece that Senator Cardin and I are working on at least gives the Senate and the House of Representatives an ability to have a say, to see the deal in advance, to pause the sanctions lifting until we have the opportunity to do that, and to make sure that, if there is a deal, it's complied with.
So, that's what is before us now. The actual content of an agreement will come before us later. And we will have the opportunity to discern these things that you are asking about right now, all of those things. I mean, one of the biggest concerns that people have is that Iran -- Iran today has the ability through covert action to do anything that they wish.
And there's lots of questions right now, when you start teasing out the details from Secretary Kerry and others. What are our abilities to -- on an instant, to get into these facilities, to know what is happening? Are we going to go back to exactly what happened under Saddam Hussein, where they kept moving the ball, where, for months and months and months, we didn't have the ability to get in.
And we are very concerned that may be where we are going, not to speak of the immediate sanctions relief that you just mentioned. But none of this will matter until we pass this piece of legislation that actually allows us to know.
Again, the public will never see, never see the classified annexes. And I think, on their behalf, they want someone, they want Senator Cardin, myself, our colleagues, the 98 others who will have the opportunity to do this, to actually see those details prior to the sanctions being relieved, to be able to debate those, and certainly to be able to make sure that they comply.
So, look, the first step is a process that puts Congress back in place. And, again, Congress has given that away already. Four times since 2010, we have given the president the unilateral ability to put in this place through the U.N. Security Council. And now we are saying, these details are important. These details concern us. These details could destabilize the Middle East, could threaten Americans.
And so now we are saying we want to reinsert ourselves back into this process. And without this legislation that Senator Cardin, myself, Senator Menendez, Senator Kaine, so many members on our committee have put in place, without this legislation, we will never have that opportunity.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about this big picture. You have been involved in this from the beginning. I have been reporting on the negotiations for the last two years.
Big picture issues beyond the details, in 2012, during his campaign, President Obama said his demand would be that Iran end its nuclear program. In the current agreement, they keep all their nuclear sites. They're modified, but they keep all the sites, even sites that were secretly manufactured to avoid Western knowledge of those sites.
Those are all going to remain, no matter how these final details are worked out in the next couple of months. Do you believe that the Obama administration wants this agreement more than Tehran and, because of that, it's giving up too much?
CORKER: So, look, Jim, there has been a concern all the way that Iran has kept its position and we have continued to move towards -- towards it.
And I think that's why you saw the overwhelming vote this week in the Foreign Relations Committee. So, look, I am concerned about Arak, but I think we can deal with it. I am concerned about Fordow, but I think we can possibly deal with that. I am concerned about Natanz. I think we can deal with that.
Even though, in every one of those cases, we said that those were going to be very different than they have ended up, per the verbal talking points -- again, and we don't have anything in writing yet -- what concerns all of us, I think, the most is the covert actions.
We have been told that the negotiators on behalf of Iran could pass a lie detector test that they never were past military dimensions. And what that means is, even the negotiators in Iran are unaware of the activities that Iran has been dealing with because most of that happens through the IRGC. It's a separate entity that has so much to do with the terrorist activities and the nuclear file.
So, we're concerned that if the negotiators don't even know on behalf of Iran all the things that Iran has been doing, how are we going to know? How are we going to have the ability to get in and on snap inspections get into the military facilities, make sure that covert operations are not under way.
So, Jim, this is of significance, huge significance, the biggest geopolitical arrangement that possibly will be entered into. And, right now, the president has absolute free hand to implement, because Congress gave him that ability through national security waivers.
What Senator Cardin, myself, so many others on the committee, people like Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Kelly Ayotte off the committee have been pushing for, for some time is our ability on behalf of the American people to make sure that this is transparent, that we see it, that Iran is accountable, and that we have the ability to enforce this.
I think this is a minimum that we ought to be doing. I am thankful that it looks like we are at least beginning in a very strong position to move it to the floor, and I hope it will become law. [09:10:00]
SCIUTTO: Senator Corker, I want to turn to domestic politics.
The president on Friday was his most -- most forthright, you might even say angry, when discussing the continuing delays in approving the nomination of Loretta Lynch, his nomination for attorney general.
I just want to pray a brief -- brief clip of the president's sound on Friday. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's gone too far. Enough. Call Loretta Lynch for a vote. Get her confirmed. Put her in place. Let her do her job. This is embarrassing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: We have seen its Senate at its most bipartisan this week with regards to the Iran bill. In your view, is the president right? Is this embarrassing?
CORKER: You -- and I am having difficulty hearing you. You talking about Loretta Lynch?
SCIUTTO: Talking about Loretta Lynch.
CORKER: Is that what you just asked?
SCIUTTO: We were quoting the president, who called it embarrassing.
SCIUTTO: He's demanding that Congress put her to a vote.
SCIUTTO: What I was going to say is that we have seen the Senate as its most bipartisan on the Iran bill.
SCIUTTO: This is arguably the worst of Washington partisanship.
Do you agree with the president that this is embarrassing it has taken so long to get this vote?
CORKER: Well, we have a couple things that are happening on the floor. And I think this is going to be resolved in the early part of this week.
There is a human trafficking bill that passed almost unanimously out of committee. I would think every American would want to make sure that we are doing everything we can domestically to deal with human trafficking. It's a huge issue here in Tennessee, and I know it is in every other state across the country.
And so, over a detail, a found -- a detail that was found after it passed out of committee, it has been held up. And so what has happened is that and Loretta Lynch are being held together. My sense is, over the next 48 to 72 hours, that is going to be resolved, and we will move on to this Iran issue.
There's so many other things. Senator Alexander passed unanimously out of committee this week an education bill. We have trade promotion agreements that Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden dealt with. So we have a number of things that I think are getting ready to hit the floor.
This logjam that you are talking about over this nominee likely will be worked out in the beginning part of this week once the human trafficking piece is worked out with it.
SCIUTTO: Senator Bob Corker, thanks very much for joining us this Sunday.
CORKER: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: I want to turn now to Senator Ben Cardin. He is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, partner with Senator Corker in that Iran bill.
But, Senator Cardin, if I can, just before we get to Iran, I want to touch on what Senator Corker ended with there, his belief that the Loretta Lynch nomination will be resolved in the early part of the week. Do you believe the same thing? Is there a commitment from Democratic and Republican leadership to move this forward?
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, I agree with President Obama. It's -- Loretta Lynch should have been on the floor for a vote well before now.
This is the longest any attorney general nominee has had to wait. And it's outrageous. She should be confirmed. This is a critically important position to have a confirmed attorney general that the president has nominated. So, I think it's outrageous. It should have been done well before now. It shouldn't be connected to any other issue.
SCIUTTO: Senator Harry Reid has threatened to force a vote using parliamentary procedure. Will he have to do that? Or do you sense the Republican side finally wavering on this and it's going to move forward?
CARDIN: As you pointed out, Jim, we had a good week on bipartisanship with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote. We are hopeful that the Loretta Lynch nomination will be brought to the floor.
There has been absolutely no reason about her qualifications that would prevent this nomination from going forward. So, I am hopeful it will be up this week.
SCIUTTO: Let's turn back to Iran now.
This is something. This was an interesting -- it was good bipartisanship to have the Senate's Democrats and Republicans working on this, but this is something that frankly the president fought for months. He considered it an intrusion into his privilege here to negotiate what he called not a treaty, but a political agreement with a foreign country.
But you had Democrats there, yourself included, voting 19-0 on this out of committee. Do you believe you have undermined your president on this issue?
CARDIN: Oh, no, no, no, not at all.
In fact, I think America is stronger today as a result of the vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. We are on path to have much more unity between Congress and the White House. I think the president is in a stronger position now to deliver the type of diplomatic solution that prevents Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.
That's our objective. It's a very simple objective. Iran cannot be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. And I think, this week, we are on path with a stronger position because we have a bipartisan support for how Congress should oversight that agreement, and the administration is in agreement.
So, it's not unusual to have any administration disagree as to what role Congress should play in any of the work that they are doing, but I think we have worked out the right way, the right way for a thoughtful review by Congress to look at sanctions, since we imposed the sanctions, as to how those sanctions will be handled.
SCIUTTO: Now, I have got to tell you, Senator, one of the difficulties covering this nuclear agreement is that it seems like the tale of two agreements.
After the political agreement a couple weeks ago, the Iranians talk about a certain agreement back home. U.S. officials talk about another one here, and they seem to be at loggerheads. And on one of those key issues, which Senator Corker talked about and I know you have a strong opinion about as well and the president has said he strong opinions about, and that is how sanctions relief is done.
Is it done immediately, is it done phased in? And the president frankly did not give a straight answer on that on Friday. He seems to be allowing for a lot of wiggle room there.
I have to ask you the same question I asked the Republican senator, Corker. Will the Senate reject a deal that gives immediate sanctions relief, as opposed to phased-in sanctions relief, on the sanctions that the Senate and Congress passed in recent years with regards to Iran's nuclear program?
CARDIN: Well, Bob Corker and I have worked very closely together to get the legislation that is moving through Congress to the president and signed.
It's not a vote on the merits of an agreement. We don't know what is in that agreement until we see it in June. What has been agreed to on April 2 was a framework. We need to see whether we accomplish our purpose. And our purpose is to have ample time before Iran could break out to a nuclear weapon, that we have full inspections so we can find out if they are cheating, because we don't trust Iran, and be able to take effective action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state.
That's the objective of the diplomatic agreement. If that can be achieved, we have accomplished a great deal in keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state, a game-changer in the region.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this before I let you go, because Senator Corker there said that, over time, he has watched the president move closer to Iranian positions over the two years of these negotiations, that the Iranians, in effect, started here, and the president's position has been moving closer, including on the basic issue of its program remains.
All these nuclear sites remain, modified, but none of them dismantled. I wonder if you agree with that assessment. Is -- does the Obama administration want this deal more than Tehran, and are they showing that? Is Tehran taking advantage of that in the negotiations?
CARDIN: No, I would disagree with that.
Look at what has been accomplished over the last many months. We have kept not only Iran's program in check. There has actually been a reduction of their capacity to be able to produce the nuclear materials for a weapon. The framework agreement has been adhered to by Iran. Many people thought that would not be the case. Now it's -- we need to make sure that they cannot produce a nuclear weapon and we have the right to inspect to make sure that we know what they are doing.
SCIUTTO: Senator Ben Cardin, thanks for having -- taking the time this Sunday morning. Great to have you on.
CARDIN: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: While the U.S. enters the final station -- stages of these negotiations with Iran on a landmark nuclear deal, an American journalist remains in Iran's most notorious prison on spying charges which his employer, "The Washington Post," calls absurd. I will speak with his brother later this hour.
But, next, the Democrat who could challenge Hillary Clinton for the party's presidential nomination, former Senator Jim Webb, when we come back.
SCIUTTO: Hillary Clinton is heading to New Hampshire after soaking up the spotlight during her first week on the campaign trail in Iowa.
But the Democratic field is not complete. And fact is, there are members of her own party who are far from ready to crown her the Democratic nominee.
Joining me now is one potential rival for the nomination, decorated Vietnam veteran, former secretary of the Navy, and former senator, Jim Webb.
Senator Webb, thanks very much for coming on this morning.
JIM WEBB (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Thanks for having me. Good to be with you.
SCIUTTO: We took note. You have been in Iowa and South Carolina, two states hold very early presidential contests. No accident there.
Have you decided whether you are going to run for president?
WEBB: No. We are looking at it and looking at it hard.
I think the reality, obviously, I have been independent all my political career. It's how I could work comfortably in the Reagan administration and then comfortably serve as a Democrat. But we're never going to have this financial leviathan machine that is going to pull in $2.5 billion, as some people do.
I'm never going to have a political consultant at my side whispering what I should say or how I should dress or whether I ought to go to Wal-Mart or not. But what we do have is long experience on the issues in and out of government, strong beliefs about where the country needs to go, and I think the kind of leadership that -- where we can govern and we can pull in people who love our country and try to develop some strong positions on fairness at home and common sense and foreign policy.
SCIUTTO: That sounds to me like an election pitch.
WEBB: Well, that's what we would be offering, from a much different perspective.
I think, when you get the political commentators at a table, one of the first things they talk about is, can you raise $1 billion? And I think what the average person in our country is looking at is, can you lead, and how do you get to a position where you can connect your views in an environment where billions of dollars are coming in, particularly since Citizens United?
So, that's what we're looking at. And those are the evaluations we have to make.
SCIUTTO: Are you leaning towards running?
WEBB: We had a good visit to Iowa. I will be going back in about a week. And it's -- as you know, it's a state with highly intelligent citizenry when it comes to politics.
I have a cousin who lives in Cedar Rapids who told me he met four presidential candidates one day when he was out watering his yard.
SCIUTTO: That's great.
WEBB: So, it's a good place to see whether the message can...
SCIUTTO: There are four times -- there are four times that many on the Republican side, so it's conceivable.
SCIUTTO: You talk a lot about leadership here, but in past public statements. Does Hillary Clinton have that leadership quality that you are talking about?
WEBB: I think her discussions with the voters, people are going to decide. They're looking real hard at everyone. I think we have got a lot of incumbent fatigue in the country. And I think people are looking for fresh approaches in terms of how to solve the problems of the country.
SCIUTTO: So, you don't believe -- you don't believe that she has that leadership...
WEBB: I wouldn't make that judgment. I think that's what this process is all about.
SCIUTTO: Would you support Hillary Clinton if she does win the nomination?
WEBB: I am focusing on what we will be trying to do here.
And there's -- I think Secretary Clinton has plenty of opportunity to sit here and give you her thoughts. And, by the way, before we -- before we get about -- too far away from the moment here, I would like to give you a reaction to the interview you had with Senator Corker.
SCIUTTO: This is on the Iran deal.
WEBB: Yes. SCIUTTO: And just to summarize for our viewers, Corker and
Cardin, Democrats, successfully passed a compromise bill giving congressional oversight.
Senator Cardin said, we don't trust Iran. Senator Corker said, he believes that Obama administration has given up too much, although he hasn't seen the final details.
Do you agree with that assessment?
WEBB: Well, I think, when we look at the Iran situation -- first, I worked with Bob Corker on a lot of issues when I was on the Foreign Relations Committee, and particularly during the Arab spring, when the administration was going into Libya without coming to the Congress.
There are three things we need to look at with respect to the Iran deal. The first is, I don't believe that you can have a legally binding international commitment without the full consent of the Congress, not the oversight that they are offering in this bill, although I would say I think he has made quite an -- quite an accomplishment by getting this bill through the committee in the form that it is.
SCIUTTO: You believe it needs approval as it were a treaty?
WEBB: Specific approval.
And I said this when the Bush administration was putting together the strategic framework agreement in Iraq in '08. I said it when President Obama said he was going to have a binding legal arrangement with respect to climate change. You cannot do that without the specific consent of the Congress.
WEBB: And, secondly, with respect to Iran itself, we need to look at this region. As you know, there are three major power centers in the region, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.
And since our invasion of Iraq, Iran has gained a much stronger foothold in terms of that balance of power. So, we don't want to be sending signals into this region that we are acquiescing to the situation where Iran might become more dominant.
And, thirdly, as they said over and over again in your interview, we don't know what is in this, the particulars. So, it's vitally important that Congress come forward and examine this agreement in detail and get a vote.
SCIUTTO: To be fair, we don't know the final details, but we know a fair amount about this agreement. We know, in the most basic terms, that all the nuclear sites are going to remain. There are going to be modifications, fewer centrifuges.
The military site, the secret military site will no longer be spinning uranium, but it will keep those centrifuges. These, if we look back a couple of years, are pretty significant concessions on the part of the Obama administration. When you look at the basic outline of this agreement, is it a good deal?
WEBB: Well, again, we know our interpretation of the outline of the agreement.
SCIUTTO: Well, that's another problem, right?
WEBB: And we see that Iran has given its interpretation, which is another reason why we need to really scrub this whole idea.
And the other thing that I keep coming back to is, when we go back to the time that I was in the Pentagon in the 1980s, and we were talking about the SALT agreements and the reduction in nuclear arms with the Soviet Union, both sides had nuclear weapons. And we were talking about a .
And the end result of this could well be our acquiescence in allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. We don't want that. I don't -- I'm not -- I don't think the Iranians really want that, because, if they look in this region, they're going to see that you're going to have proliferation.
But we need to really be on top of this. And I think the piece that Secretary Kissinger and George Shultz wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" summed it up about as well as it could summed up.
SCIUTTO: Well, they criticized the agreement. They said that it was too much of a concession.
Who is right? Are Shultz and Kissinger right, or is the Obama administration right?
WEBB: Well, on the side of the Obama administration, Bill Burns, who -- former deputy secretary of state, is one of the great diplomats.
SCIUTTO: Key negotiator.
WEBB: One of the great diplomats. He wrote a very fine piece on the other side.
The questions that Kissinger and Shultz raised about verification and what was on the other side are really important. That's why the Congress needs to scrub this and give specific approval, if -- and I am saying as someone who potentially could be in -- obviously in the executive branch, but I think it's healthy for the country.
SCIUTTO: I want to move across the border from Iran to Iraq.
This was not a good week in the fight against ISIS. You have ISIS nearly taking over Ramadi, the largest city in Western Iraq, Sunni-dominated Western Iraq, assaulting the Baiji refinery -- this is a key piece of infrastructure there, and carrying out -- or claiming to carried out an attack on the U.S. Consulate or close to the U.S. Consulate in Irbil, which we know is one of the most secure places in Iraq.
Is the U.S. losing the war against ISIS?
WEBB: Well, first of all, I think, as you know, my son fought in Ramadi as a Marine enlisted rifleman. And I was in Afghanistan as an embed journalist in '04.
SCIUTTO: A lot of Americans died in Ramadi, 75 in one two-month period.
WEBB: Yes. And that period -- my son was there '06-'07, was a lot of very heavy fighting.
We have to look at the conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere in the region through the Sunni-Shia eye, as well as simply from the American perspective eye. And we need to get the countries on the ground over there to step up and help sort this out. I'm not -- I wouldn't say that the United States is losing over there.
But you are seeing a continuation actually from the sectarian violence that began when we invaded and then from the Arab spring which kind of threw everything up in the air again.
SCIUTTO: Is the coalition losing then? It doesn't sound like they're winning based on that.
WEBB: Well, I think, clearly what you are seeing is the greater influence of Iran. You know, even if you look at the -- what we call the Iraqi military, the dominance of the Shia in the Iraqi military and of the other groups that are fighting alongside it in places like Tikrit, which is another reason why we don't want to spend the wrong message into the region with the strategic framework agreement that we are looking at.
SCIUTTO: Senator Jim Webb, when you make your decision on 2016, will you come back here and tell us yea or nay?
WEBB: You will know.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much for joining us on a Sunday.
WEBB: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
SCIUTTO: Hillary Clinton rolls out her presidential campaign in Iowa. Republican White House hopefuls slam her in New Hampshire. Our political panel on what this tells us about the race for 2016 right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[09:35:00] SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: As I was coming up, I was a little startled because I could have sworn I saw Hillary's Scooby-Doo van outside.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I'm starting to worry that when Hillary Clinton travels there's going to need to be two planes, one for her and her entourage and one for her baggage.
CARLY FIORINA, FORMER HEWLETT-PACKARD CEO: Like Hillary Clinton, I too have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe, but unlike Mrs. Clinton I know that flying is an activity and not an accomplishment.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And the reason she can't be here today, is because you can ask questions. This listening tour is something out of North Korea. Would you like to meet the dear leader and ask him anything he would like?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Well, it was game on in New Hampshire this weekend with nearly all of the Republican presidential hopefuls (INAUDIBLE) voters in that state that will hold the first primary of 2016.
Joining me now, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for "The New York Times," and CNN political reporter, Sara Murray, who just joined us this week. Great to have you onboard.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Happy to be here.
SCIUTTO: So, we see the Republican candidates, are they trying out their lines for 2016? Is this sort of a testing theater for the best anti-Hillary line?
MURRAY: I definitely think this is where they start trying out their lines, especially with so many of them together, too, they can kind of judge up (ph) the competition, see who has the best zingers for the moment.
SCIUTTO: Is there a risk here, Peter, though that you make it all about Hillary? What about --you got (ph) 16 potential candidates there. They have to find a way to burst through the pack as well.
PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, they are all going to agree on the Hillary part. That's not a very complicated thing.
It gets complicated when they start to disagree with each other, and where do they actually differ? Where does the Republican Party today fit when it comes to political environment on foreign policy and domestic policy? What are they going to do on health care? What are they going to do on Iran? That's when you see the rubber hit the road and we have not gotten there yet.
SCIUTTO: And it's early. New Hampshire -- on the Bush issue in particular because there's a disagreement even within that family you might say. Jeb Bush asked how he to deal with conservatives about the family dynasties. He said he has to work hard to shake that but his own brother, George W. said, that he's going to be running against him to some degree or his legacy that's a factor (ph).
MURRAY: Yes. I definitely think that's true. You are seeing Jeb Bush trying to say, look my brother's foreign policy is not my foreign policy. My family's foreign policy is not my foreign policy.
It is hard to get away from that. He is going to have to answer for the decisions that his family made whether he thinks that's fair or not. And I think the other can get (INAUDIBLE) is when you see what Jeb Bush did, the coverage of what Jeb Bush did in New Hampshire. You are not reading about his zingers against Hillary. You're reading about him having to answer for the rest of his family and that puts him in the tough position.
SCIUTTO: What is his answer to that question, Peter?
BAKER: Well, you know, his answer is I am my own man, and that's -- and he is obviously. He's not the same as his brother.
I think it's important to remember that but when he has a foreign policy team that includes a lot of veterans from his brother's administration he invites questions about that. When he has his brother's secretary of state and his brother's secretary of state James Baker makes comments publicly on Israel or Iran, Jeb Bush has to answer to that. It's a complicated position for him to be in and -- none of the other candidates on the Republican side has to deal with it in the same way.
MURRAY: And I think that is an excellent point, when you are surrounded by the same advisers that your brother had it gets more difficult to say, there is a lot of day light between us in terms of our policies.
SCIUTTO: The other dynasty candidate is Hillary Clinton, of course not a brother but a husband in office. Rate her first week?
MURRAY: I think, actually, Hillary Clinton's first week went pretty well.
I think the fact that when you are seeing these candidates make fun of her for going to Chipotle, that's a sign that she didn't had any major mishaps in the campaign trail if that's their biggest (INAUDIBLE) point.
SCIUTTO: You see Carly Fiorina there on the miles travel argument here. This is going to be a substantial one. What are her accomplishments as secretary of state?
SCIUTTO: What's the answer to that question?
BAKER: Well, it's a good line actually and why I think you'll hear more from the Republicans because in fact, a lot of times she talks about her time in office. It is about process rather than results because the results are sort of muddied at best.
BAKER: Quite obviously things are not great with Russia right now. Obviously this Iran deal is complicated and may or may not be something she wants to brag about or have any association with. The trade deal that the president is negotiating she started in some ways as secretary of state complicated inside her party where many liberals and progressives and unions are not that happy with it.
So, it is in fact, I think, a large -- obviously come back to Libya and Benghazi. So, obviously she wants to talk about a broader sense of, we restored our place in the world after the disastrous Bush administration, that's her line. The question is whether she can get away with that without having sort of detail and more concrete accomplishments.
[09:39:19] SCIUTTO: Peter and Sara, stay with us. We're going to come back right after this break. When we come back, will same-sex marriage be the flash point of the Republican presidential race?
SCIUTTO: And we are back with Peter Baker and Sara Murray.
Sara, one question that seems to have gotten all the Republican White House hopefuls is same-sex marriage and in particular would you go to a wedding or a same-sex marriage even. You were able to ask Ohio Governor John Kasich about this in South Carolina.
Let's listen to his answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I don't go to a lot of weddings. I go to weddings of people I am close to. And in fact, I have a friend who is gay, who asked me, if I would go to his wedding. And I said, well let me think about it. And I went home and I said to my wife, you know, my friend is getting married. What do you think? Do you want to go? She said, oh, I'm absolutely going. I called him today and said, hey, just let me know what time it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: So, Governor Kasich is going to go. We saw Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor, said he would go to the reception. Marco Rubio said he would go.
How are they threading this needle here?
MURRAY: You know, I think this is a good side of who Governor Kasich is governor is as (ph) he's (ph) running (ph). But also some of these Republicans saying, look, I can have my positions and I don't have to go around, pushing them on other people necessarily. I can still respect friends and love my, and support my friends even though they know how I feel on this issue/
And I think that Governor Kasich, Marco Rubio and I would probably put Jeb Bush in this camp, too, fall in this group of Republicans who are hoping that the court will just take care of this for them this summer and they won't have to deal with it.
SCIUTTO: Is that a consistent position to say, well, I am uncomfortable with it but I would go myself? How do they balance that for voters who, (INAUDIBLE) minority (ph) but there are voters who don't respect the issue of gay marriage?
BAKER: Yes, it's a great question.
It reminds me of what Republican candidates used to get tripped up on when they were asked, what would you do if your daughter or your granddaughter had an abortion? And some of them will say, well, I would support them. Of course I love my daughter. I love my granddaughter. And suddenly they were, you know, caught in this trap between the personal and the policy.
And I think now this question has been out there -- it's going to be the question all of them have to find an answer to and see if they can distinguish themselves. Senator Santorum said he would not go to a same-sex wedding. He would be consistent with his policy preferences and we will see how the others answer.
SCIUTTO: Are they out of step with the 2016 presidential electorate?
[09:44:57] MURRAY: I mean, they definitely are out of step with what the majority of Americans feel.
I think the majority of Americans are over this. And I think that they say, look, this is my personal belief. I personally believe it's wrong. I think it will be interesting to see how they thread the needle on the campaign. Obviously Rick Santorum has taken a harder stance from the rest of them. If they go out there and say, this is how I personally feel about this. And then the court decides it for them, they might just say, hey, well, the court made the decision same-sex marriage is legal. Let's not talk about it anymore.
SCIUTTO: I mean, there's 18 months to go -- is this going to be a major issue November 2016? Or do you think it will be settled by then and...?
BAKER: Well, we're going to see the court decision in June. That may change. I do think it would be something that you can hear Democrats using against a Republican nominee if they seem to take too strong a (ph) position (ph) against it for a general election audience.
And you remember Mitt Romney he came out against same-sex marriage in the 2012 campaign, and then it was a last year for him -- heard him talk about it. It was not an issue he ran on because he did see that there was a political downside to it.
SCIUTTO: Is the Iran deal, and we are talking about that a lot now, is that going to be an issue as we get closer to that day or would that be -- of course depends on what happens in the next two months. But does that remain in the political consciousness?
MURRAY: I absolutely think you're going to hear candidates talking about this. I mean, one of the things they talked about a lot in New Hampshire was the failures of President Obama's foreign policy and this gives them a real anchor to go at the president and also to go at Hillary Clinton over this issue.
SCIUTTO: Does the Obama -- do they run against the Obama foreign policy, Peter?
BAKER: The Republicans?
BAKER: Certainly they do.
The question is whether Hillary Clinton does and that's the harder trick for her, right? Because obviously she has ownership over certainly the first term of it anyway even in places where she disagreed with him like on Syria, even in some extent on Russia. She is going to have a harder time trying to make the case to the audience that, yes, I didn't really agree with all of the things the president did. And I would have done things differently if I were president, and Republicans are going to jump all over that for obvious reasons.
SCIUTTO: Well, that Russia reset button picture from 2009 is going to be -
BAKER: That's -- you're going to see that a lot in the next 18 months.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much. Sara Murray, welcome to CNN. Peter Baker, great to have you on.
MURRAY: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: An American journalist arrested in Iran last summer and awaits trial now after being charged as a spy. His brother talks about the fight to free him when we come back.
[09:50:00] SCIUTTO: "Washington Post" reporter, Jason Rezaian, has been in prison in Iran since his arrest last summer. This past week he was charged with spying.
Although U.S. officials have condemned his imprisonment, Rezaian, a dual citizen is subject to Iranian law. As Jason Rezaian waits trail his brother, Ali, is fighting for his freedom.
Ali Rezaian, thanks very much for joining us.
Before we get to your brother's case I want to play a portion of a conversation that he and his wife had on "ANTHONY BOURDAIN'S, PARTS UNKNOWN." This is just six weeks before he was imprisoned. He talked about their life in Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JASON REZAIAN, "WASHINGTON POST" REPORTER: As print journalists, our job is difficult but it's also kind of easy because there's so much to write about. You know, the difficult part is convincing people on the other side of the world that what we're telling you, we're seeing in front of our eyes is actually there. When you walk down the street, you see a different side of things. People are proud. The culture is vibrant. People have a lot to say.
ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST: Jason Rezaian is the "Washington Post" correspondent for Iran. Yeganeh, his wife, and a fellow journalist works for the UAE based newspaper "The National."
Jason is Iranian-American. Yeganeh, is a full Iranian citizen. This is their city, Tehran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Of course now he's nowhere resembling home. He's in Evin Prison, Iran's most notorious prison reserve for political prisoners, the worse criminals.
What's the last contact you and your family have had with him and what's your sense of his condition now?
ALI REZAIAN, BROTHER OF JAILED JOURNALIST JASON REZAIAN: So last time I spoke to him was actually in July before he was taken. His wife was able to speak to him this week. They had a short conversation on the phone.
I think right now he's preparing. It's been such a long time with no information. We're expecting we might get some more information about the trial and the charges coming up, and I think it's really tough on him.
SCIUTTO: Physically, he's having a lot of problems.
REZAIAN: You know, he's had a lot of problems. He's had issues with his back. Issues with several infections that went untreated for months.
In addition to that, he's really depressed. He's been there for nine months. He knows it's twice as long as any previous western journalist.
SCIUTTO: Part of the torture and I have spoken to other prisoners there is the psychological torture of just not knowing how long you're going to be there or what even the legal process is.
REZAIAN: Yes. You know, I mean, they'll set up a deadline and they'll say this is going to happen and then it doesn't happen. Or there will be something in their laws that says within a week or within two months something should happen. There should be a trial or a trial date should be set and then that day just goes by.
He knows what those are. He knows when they're supposed to happen and it's just torture on him every single day.
SCIUTTO: He's now going to be charged with spying. Charges which you and the U.S. government say are spurious at best.
SCIUTTO: What's the basis of the charges?
REZAIAN: Well, you know, we really don't know yet. There was an article in an Iranian newspaper which is claiming that he introduced some people nine years ago to each other and, you know, communicated with them. That's about it.
SCIUTTO: Introduce to -- we're talking about -- we're not talking about he introduced spies. We're talking about well-known Iran analysts, right?
REZAIAN: Yes. People here in the United States who have moved from Iran, you know, whether they're think tanks or they're journalists those kinds of things. And you know, there's no evidence he had access to any secret material, anything like that.
SCIUTTO: What do U.S. officials tell you about his case? Do they keep in regular contact? Do they make promises? Do they give you hope? Do they say we're fighting? How do they handle you when you ask, what's happening with my brother?
REZAIAN: Yes. Because of the diplomatic contact that's going on, it's been much more frequent in the last say three months, four months.
So what we hear from the state department is, you know, we've been able to communicate with him. There's a judicial process in Iran that needs to go through. We try to remind them that there are laws over there and have them remind the Iranians that they're just not following their own laws.
SCIUTTO: I had the pleasure of meeting your brother in Iran in 2009 covering the election protest. I interviewed him at the time, and I have asked Iranian officials about his case, and that's the answer that they will come with saying that we have a judicial process, we have to follow the judicial process. But the fact is this is very much about politics.
I mean, one of the reads here is that the hardliners in Iran are punishing or embarrassing the more moderate factions. Do you feel that you and your family and your brother have been caught up not just between U.S. and Iran, but within Iran, a political conflict inside Iran?
REZAIAN: I mean, you can't help but think that.
I mean, you know, the uniqueness of the case, the fact that it's gone on for so long. It's so different than any other cases without any evidence against him to hold him for nine months without a trial. There's got to be other things going on but things he doesn't control. It's completely absurd.
[09:54:54] SCIUTTO: Your brother, as you know, co-wrote and was featured in a documentary about his second visit to Iran to reconnect with his father's homeland, that's his background.
Let's take a look at that documentary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We chose an old shed for the ride back to town.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). My mother is from Chicago (ph). (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the best thing for you in Iran?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The best thing that I wish for is (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: This is part of your brother's story, your family's story, your father from Iran. This is part of your heritage. This is one of your home countries, right? Do you feel conflicted emotions about that?
REZAIAN: You know, I think we were growing up really influenced by the Iranian culture, there were so many relatives around, and it's difficult for me as half Iranian to look at it and see what's happening.
SCIUTTO: Do you feel betrayed?
REZAIAN: I haven't put my trust in the country as much as Jason did. Jason certainly feels betrayed by the country, by the legal system there which he believed should protect him with the rights of an Iranian citizen, which is, you know, what we've asked for all along.
SCIUTTO: How is your mother doing in all this?
REZAIAN: You know, I don't know how she holds up. She lives overseas by herself since my father passed. SCIUTTO: In Istanbul?
REZAIAN: Yes, in Istanbul.
She wants some clarity, too. She's waiting to her when the trial will be and at that point, I think, she's going to -- want to go to Iran to be there with him.
SCIUTTO: An anniversary, second -- should have been the second wedding anniversary of Jason and his wife. Difficult for his wife as well.
REZAIAN: Oh, absolutely.
You know, they petitioned the judge to have a special call or to be able to see each other on their anniversary, and it was denied. So, you know, things like that keep on coming by. His birthday, my son's birthday, things that he's missed for the last nine months. He's spent almost half of his marriage in jail.
SCIUTTO: Ali Rezaian, thanks very much. We wish you and your family the best, and your brother the best.
REZAIAN: Thank you very much.
SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.
[10:00:06] SCIUTTO: Thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION this Sunday. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.
And "FAREED ZAKARIA, GPS" starts right now.