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State of the Union
Interview With Janet Napolitano; Interview With Senators Klobuchar, Ensign
Aired April 19, 2009 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: I'm John King, and this is our "State of the Union" report for this Sunday, April 19th.
President Obama travels to Latin America and pledges aggressive action on drug violence and illegal immigration. We'll talk about his plan to secure the U.S./Mexican border in a Sunday exclusive interview with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The Obama administration reveals Bush-era memos detailing interrogation tactics against terror suspects. A clear break from the past or a move that puts Americans at risk? Senator Amy Klobuchar and John Ensign are here to debate that and more.
And as America prepares to mark the 40th Earth Day, we check on the health of an American treasure, the Chesapeake Bay, from the deck of a crab boat and through the eyes of a man who has worked the water for nearly 50 years. That's all ahead in this hour of "State of the Union."
A live picture of the White House there on a Sunday morning here in Washington. President Obama will be returning there later today, wrapping up a four-day visit to Latin America. He is scheduled to hold a news conference during this program, and we'll bring that to you live when it happens in Trinidad and Tobago.
It's been a remarkable trip for the president. Overtures from Cuba, cordial talk with a long-time nemesis Venezuela and difficult decisions about escalating drug violence along the U.S.-Mexican border. The administration also warns of a potential home-grown threat from right-wing extremists. A perfect time for a Sunday conversation with the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Welcome.
NAPOLITANO: Thank you.
KING: Fourteen years ago today on this morning, Americans were shocked by a tragedy in Oklahoma City. The first time -- there was no Department of Homeland Security -- the first time many Americans used the term or heard the term "homeland security." And people in that city will gather today, and I believe we have a live picture of it, for a commemoration marking the 14th anniversary.
As we reflect on that day 14 years ago, it is your job now to keep that from happening again. Are we at a greater risk of domestic terrorism events like that today or lesser? NAPOLITANO: I think we're at a greater state of readiness. The threat of terrorism, whether from a foreign source or domestic sources, is now just -- it's with us. We have to acknowledge that. We have to minimize the risk of it and we have to be ready to deal with it. And I think, with the Department of Homeland Security, all the changes that have occurred since Oklahoma City, since 9/11, there has been improvement.
KING: As you know, a recent report from your department raised a lot of eyebrows and caused a bit of controversy, because in that report, you said this, that the Department of Homeland Security assesses that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat. The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join the extremist groups during the 1990s, because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war, is being replicated today.
Is being replicated today? You have active intelligence that tells you people coming back from Iraq, coming back from Afghanistan, who might be mad at the military, who might simply have post-traumatic stress disorder are being actively recruited by extremist groups?
NAPOLITANO: Certainly. And our department is not the only department that has made that comment. The FBI has made the same comment; other groups have made the same comment.
Here is the important point. The report is not saying that veterans are extremists. Far from it. What it is saying is returning veterans are targets of right-wing extremist groups that are trying to recruit those to commit violent acts within the country. We want to do all we can to prevent that.
KING: But when you say will attempt, who are these groups? What do they want to do?
NAPOLITANO: Well, it's a number of groups, almost far too numerous to mention, regrettably so. But some of them, indeed, want to do what happened in Oklahoma City. That is, commit violent acts within the homeland. And again, Department of Homeland Security, we were stood up because of a terrorist act, 9/11. But that came on the heels of Oklahoma City, which was a domestically caused terrorist act. So one of our missions that Congress has given us and that we do is try to keep everybody informed what are the kinds of things that can lead to an act of violence, but, in this case, where are groups recruiting.
KING: As you know, veterans groups and some conservative critics of the administration have raised hell, excuse my language, about the use of the term, about veterans there. What specifically do you see happening? And you're talking active investigations where a veteran comes home, how do they reach out to you?
NAPOLITANO: Well, a number of ways. There can be a number of ways of doing it. It can be word-of-mouth, it can be the Internet, all kinds of ways to reach out.
That's why the Obama administration wants to work with returning vets and make sure they've got healthcare, education opportunities, job opportunities, all the like so that they do not become a target of these extremist groups.
And again, you know, I regret that in the politicization of everything that happens in Washington, D.C., some took offense. But when you read the report, what it was saying is that -- what it was saying is, look, we have a threat of terrorism within our own shores, and one of the groups being targeted to see if they will be aligned with that are some of our veterans. Let's make sure we prevent that.
KING: Do you regret the politicization or do you regret the choice of words by your department? Could it have been written better to maybe reduce the politicization?
NAPOLITANO: It could -- in retrospect, anything can be written differently to prevent politization. But I think any fair reading of the report says this is very consistent with other reports that have been issued before. They were issued before Obama was president, they are being issued now. They are meant to give people what is called situational awareness, and they are certainly not intended to give offense, far from it.
KING: Another -- in that same report was this line here, on the threat of extremism at home. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
The Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee has taken offense with that language. He says, well, wait a minute, are you singling people out just for their political views? Because we are having a conversation that is based on this gift of free speech. So if I'm an anarchist, if I oppose abortion -- there are many things that I could believe or anyone out there could believe that you would find horrible. I'm allowed to think it, I'm allowed to say it, as long as I do anything wrong...
KING: Who are these groups? Do you have active investigations of anti-immigration groups or anti-abortion groups, you believe that they are preparing to conduct terrorist attacks?
NAPOLITANO: Well, without going into ongoing work, let's just point out to history. And we'll take the abortion, for example. Of course, people have different points of view about abortion. The last thing the Department of Homeland Security is about is infringing on anybody's constitutionally protected rights. On the other hand, at the very edge of the debate, at the very edge are the extremist groups that have committed violent crimes. They've committed bombings and the like.
And that is where you cross from constitutionally protected free speech, freedom of assembly, all the rights we cherish, into homeland security and law enforcement. When is that right not being exercised, it's being abused. KING: A controversial decision this past week to make public top-secret memos from the Bush administration about the interrogation tactics, about waterboarding, about slamming people into walls, tactics that make you recoil when you read them. There's a big debate, though. Even the current CIA director, Leon Panetta, did not want them made public. He thought that was not fair to the people in the intelligence community. You were in those meetings. What was your vote, and do you see any harm in releasing them?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think the content of those meetings is for the actual participants. But I think the release of them is very consistent with what President Obama said during the campaign and how he is conducting his government. It's about transparency. It's about accountability. And he released them.
And on the other hand, he said to those CIA employees who were following what the Department of Justice told them they could do, they would not be subject to further prosecution, because it's also about closing this chapter so we can move on to the future.
KING: As you know, there have been a lot of objections, including the man who held your job in the Bush administration, Michael Chertoff. He says this. "You're giving terrorists insights into things they need to prepare for, and they do prepare. And the second thing is you're sending a message to our allies that we're not reliable in terms of safeguarding confidential information."
That's Mike Chertoff, the former secretary of Homeland Security. General Hayden, the former director of intelligence has said the same thing, saying that this makes us less safe, putting this information out there. Are they wrong?
NAPOLITANO: What I can say is, look, people can differ on this, but when you look at it overall, when you look at the information that was already in the public domain, when you look at the great public need for accountability and responsibility and transparency here, and when you look at our desire to close the book on this regrettable chapter and move the country forward, it was imperative, really, that the reports be released.
KING: I want to get to the discussion about the border and other issues, but before we take a quick break, I want to give you a chance. Vice President Cheney, former Vice President Cheney was right here, sitting there a little more than a month ago on this program. And he said, because of the changes your boss, the president of the United States, is making in anti-terror policies and that you are implementing, that the American people are less safe, in his view. Can you look the American people in the eye this morning and say not only is he wrong, which I assume the administration would say, but that the Americans are more safe because of the changes?
NAPOLITANO: I can look you in the eye, I can look the American people in the eye and say, every day we think about the safety of the American people. We think about protection from terrorist acts abroad, we think about protection from terrorist acts internally. We believe that you don't need a Guantanamo to improve the safety of the American people and to minimize the risk of terrorist acts.
KING: Much more to discuss with the Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Up next, we'll take her over to the magic wall. Secretary Napolitano will walk us through the president's plan to tackle illegal immigration and the drug war along the U.S./Mexican border.
KING: We're back with the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano. And a major challenge for the secretary is the U.S.- Mexico border, some video of it here, because of the drug wars, the violent drug wars with the Mexican cartels.
I want to show a little bit of history of the fence you see in this video along the thing. George W. Bush came to office as an opponent of a border fence. But because of the changing politics, in October, 2006, signed legislation that creates a fence along the U.S.- Mexico border.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This bill will help protect the American people. This bill will make our borders more secure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Senator Obama voted for that legislation, Barack Obama in the United States Senate. But during a presidential debate in the 2008 campaign, he suggested he was having second thoughts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There may be areas where it makes sense to have some fencing. But, for the most part, having border patrols, surveillance, deploying effective technology, that is going to be the better approach.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So the question is, what now? Will the administration finish the construction of the fence or will it decide there are other ways to limit illegal immigrants from coming over? And more importantly, Madam Secretary, at the moment, drugs coming over and weapons going from the United States into Mexico?
I want to play a little video. We went down to the border recently. And this is your state. You were the governor of Arizona. This is the fence, as you see it play out, a helicopter tour.
You see some trucking activity along the border here. The fence takes many shapes, as you know. And let me stop the video for a second. And you look right here, there is a double fence.
This is a Mexican city here. You see a barrier, then a little bit of a strip, the Border Patrol patrols in here, and then another fence there. That is one way we monitor the fence. But as I shrink that down and play it out a little bit more, as this plays out, let me just ask you, will you finish construction of the fence?
When you were governor, you were a skeptic of the fence. You said, build a 50-foot fence, somebody will build a 51-foot ladder.
NAPOLITANO: Right. And I think you could even see from this, we're talking thousands miles of this terrain. And I think, actually, President Obama has it right. Some fencing in some areas makes sense, but you have to combine it technology and boots on the ground. There is really no substitute for the boots on the ground.
And so we will complete the amount of fencing that the Congress has appropriated money for. We're only a few miles short right now. And all of the contracts have been let, the construction basically either has been begun or is just about to begin. It's just a couple of miles left.
But my view is that you need a system at the border. You need some fencing but you need technology. You need boots on the ground. And then you need to have interior enforcement of our nation's immigration laws inside the country. And that means dealing with the employers who still consistently hire illegal labor.
KING: On the issue of the drug cartels, the Mexican government has placed a lot of the blame on our side of the border. Number one, the demand for the drugs here in the United States, but number, two the availability of weapons, in states along the border area, being then smuggled across, especially assault-style weapons.
Before we get into the politics of it, yes or no, you were a former governor, a former prosecutor, would reinstating the ban on assault weapons and other regulations to get those assault weapons out of the stores in the United States, would that help reduce the violence with the drug cartels?
NAPOLITANO: I'm skeptical that it would, in part because there are large stockpiles of those assault weapons already now in Mexico.
But the plain fact of the matter is, you know, that's a congressional action which, as you know, would be very controversial and we need to act now. I mean, the homicide rate in northern Mexico went through the roof last year, over 6,000 homicides, 550 of them were law enforcement and public officials who were assassinated by the drug cartels.
So we can't wait for any legislative action. We have got to work now and actually do more to enforce the existing law, which we can do, because it is illegal to export arms from the United States into Mexico. And that is where we're going to focus.
KING: If you look at the recent testimony by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, he says that he believes there is a risk to the Mexican government, could collapse if these cartels continue and all of this violence. And that there are parts of the country that they don't control.
Is Mexico -- is it like Afghanistan and Pakistan? Are there parts of the country that the central government simply does not control because of these cartels?
NAPOLITANO: No. I think that that is an incorrect assessment. It's because the federal government of Mexico is going after the cartels, it's because the strength of the state that has caused the uptick in violence within Mexico itself.
That being said, we have an enormous stake in this. This is our neighbor. We have millions of people who live alongside that border. That border area needs to be safe and secure. And, of course, the drugs that are smuggled across our border go literally into every state of the country.
KING: Right. And this is a map of where illegal immigrants live in the United States. Before I get to this issue, Senator McCain, again, your senator from Arizona, when you were governor and now as homeland security secretary, he says there may be time to put some troops down here. What is the trigger?
NAPOLITANO: Yes, he is talking about National Guard. And I think that's an important distinction to make. And that is to make sure that you are backing up your civilian law enforcement appropriately so that you always have enough manpower down there.
Several of the governors down there have asked for the National Guard to be redeployed to the border. When I was governor, I asked that the National Guard be deployed at the border, and it was for two years. It's something that the Obama administration is actively considering.
KING: Actively considering.
NAPOLITANO: Actively considering, yes.
KING: What is the trigger?
NAPOLITANO: I think it's an assessment. Where would they go? What would they do? How long would they be there? Because you don't want to just throw National Guard at something. You've probably got to say, well, what is the operational plan and how will it help us solve the problem we're trying to deal with?
The problem we're trying to deal with is prevention of illegal immigration and illegal narcotics into the United States, and to prevent the spillover violence from northern Mexico into the United States while, at the same time, assisting the federal government of Mexico in its battle against these cartels.
KING: The administration has said it would like to move ahead on comprehensive immigration reform. That it would include some legal status for the millions who are in the United States illegally.
We went down to your state recently to explore this issue. And a man you're very familiar with, the Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio, we asked him, because of all the controversy about him rounding up illegal immigrants and some people aren't illegal immigrants, we asked him if he had a message for you and for the president of the United States.
And this is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTRY, ARIZONA: I want the president, I want the politicians to say, we are going to enforce all of the illegal immigration laws and if you come into this country illegally, you're going to be prosecuted and put in jail.
Let them say that. I'm waiting for them to say that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A lot of Democrats in Congress want to you investigate him. They think he is over the line. He says he is just enforcing the law and the problem is the federal government.
NAPOLITANO: Well, you know, Sheriff Joe, he is being very political in that statement, because he knows that there aren't enough law enforcement officers, courtrooms or jail cells in the world to do what he is saying.
What we have to do is target the real evil-doers in this business, the employers who consistently hire illegal labor, the human traffickers who are exploiting human misery.
And yes, when we find illegal workers, yes, appropriate action, some of which is criminal, most of that is civil, because crossing the border is not a crime per se. It is civil. But anyway, going after those as well.
But the notion that you're going to fill every prosecutor's time, every law enforcement official's time, and that's literally what he's talking about, on immigration, he doesn't answer the other question, which he has been criticized for, by the way, in Maricopa County, because he is not going after murders, armed robberies, other more serious crimes, because he is so focused on this one.
KING: You have a very busy plate. We're out of time here. But will this issue -- do you want it dealt with this year, do you want the Congress to act this year or maybe push it down the road because of the more significant challenges you have at the moment?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I look forward to the president and the Congress making an agreement about when they want to take it up. And I think that those initial steps will be taken this year. And we'll be prepared to offer policy choices informed by reality, what it would really take to enforce the border. KING: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, thank you.
KING: And you just heard Secretary Napolitano's views, and the administration's views on the controversial decision to release those long secret documents about the interrogation of terror suspects. What do key lawmakers think? That and more with two United States senators, Nevada's John Ensign, and Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, next.
KING: New overtures from Cuba, Venezuela, torture, immigration, all thorny issues Congress will confront as a result of the president's actions and travels this past week. Here to talk about those subjects and more, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada. He joins us from Las Vegas.
And, Senator Ensign, let me start with you where we just left off with Secretary Napolitano. She says she would like the administration and Congress to come together and deal with illegal immigration. And many in the White House say, let's do it this year. Is the Congress ready to go down that road again?
ENSIGN: Well, we have a lot of big issues, including health care reform, that are going to take up a lot of the time, especially in the United States Senate. And the House can act a lot more quickly than the Senate in this, a very complicated issue. And we have to get it right.
And the secretary, you know, talked about something I thought that was pretty important. She talked about the employers and, yet, the Democrats have blocked us on renewing E-Verify. That's the most effective program that we have to make sure that employers are complying with the law.
And so I hope that the secretary of homeland security is really serious if she wants to have interior enforcement in the United States, where we're actually making sure that people are complying with the law, including employers that we do continue with the E- Verify program that has been so incredibly successful.
KING: I want to bring Senator Klobuchar in, but before I do, if the Democrats give you an extension of E-Verify, will you go out round up votes among conservative Republicans for giving legal status to those who are here illegally?
ENSIGN: Well, this isn't a quid pro quo type of situation. I actually believe, John, in comprehensive immigration reform. I wish we would have passed it a couple of years ago and there would have been a couple of simple amendments that if we would have been allowed to offer, I believe would have -- the immigration bill would have passed with 70 or 80 votes.
Those two amendments, one would have included having a lot more interior enforcement the secretary talked about, that we don't have enough officers, we don't have enough interior enforcement in the United States to make sure that our laws are enforced. And that was one of the amendments that we wanted to offer.
And then the second thing was, because it's the most controversial, we should have taken the whole amnesty portion out of the bill. You would have had seven or eight years with people with legal status in the meantime that could have shown that the program was working, that we were securing the borders, which is absolutely critical for a common sense immigration policy to be put in place.
We have to have our borders secure. And we could have proven that this program was working over seven or eight years and then you could have dealt with the issue of whether they were going to be given permanent legal status or not.
But take that part out of the bill, which is, by far, the most controversial part of the bill, and I believe that the bill would have passed overwhelmingly and I think it will pass overwhelmingly right now in the U.S. Senate if that is taken out.
KING: I don't want to spend our entire conversation on this because there is so much more to cover, but should it be done this year or should you say, you know what, Mr. President, we have the economy, we have the health care debate, a lot of other things going on, let's wait a while?
KLOBUCHAR: I think it's worth discussing. When you look at what happened last time, I think a lot of what happened last time was the American people had lost faith that there could be order at the border.
And when you look at what President Obama is doing, what Secretary Napolitano is doing, you're starting to see a lot more action there. And I think the American people say, we want to see some order at the border, we want to know that the laws are going to be enforced with the employers, and then they are willing to talk about earned citizenship in those kind of things. So we have to make sure those things are happening first.
KING: Let me ask you about something that is dominating a lot of television news programs this morning, it's on the front page of the newspapers today, these fascinating pictures of the president of the United States standing around smiling and joking with Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela.
They are at the Summit of the Americas. Senator Ensign, Senator -- I mean, President Chavez says he wants to send his ambassador to the United States. He gave President Obama a book. Is that a good thing? Is it a good thing to explore that opening or should President Obama have said, you know what, you called George W. Bush a devil, go away?
ENSIGN: Well, it's not just what he talked about with George W. Bush. This is a person who is one of the most anti-American leaders in the entire world. He is a brutal dictator, human rights violations are very, very prevalent in Venezuela.
And you have to be careful. When you're talking about the prestige of the United States and the presidency of the United States, you have to be careful who you're seeing joking around with. And I think it was irresponsible for the president to be seen kind of laughing and joking with Hugo Chavez.
This is -- you know, this is a person along the lines with Fidel Castro and the types of dictatorship that he has down there in Venezuela and the anti-Americanism that he has been spreading around the world is not somebody the president of the United States should be seen as having, you know, kind of friendly relations with.
KING: It's -- there's no harm in being polite in an international forum. But is...
ENSIGN: There is no...
KING: ... there a risk -- now, Senator, hold on.
Senator Klobuchar, come in, is there a risk in the picture if, from that point forward, Venezuela goes off and says -- you know, holds oil hostage or does something that makes it look anti-American, as the senator just said?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, first, look what the president is doing here at the Summit of the Americas. He is reaching out to all of these countries, just like he did at the G-20, I think, very effectively, reaching out to Cuba in a way, putting the past behind us, moving forward.
But when you look at what happened here, George Bush shook Chavez's hand. And this is not a good guy. He has, as Senator Ensign explained, been brutal. He has done things that we do not accept in our country. And all the president did was shake his hand just like George Bush.
And basically when he talks about sending an ambassador here, these are very incremental steps. When President Obama has talked about reaching out to people, so we at least, we are talking to our enemies. It's sure a lot better way to go than we did in the last eight years.
KING: I want to talk about these -- the release of these torture memos. Just this morning the former CIA director, Michael Hayden, was on "FOX News Sunday." And he is outraged about this, as many who served in the intelligence community are. And he said this.
"At the tactical level, what we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al Qaeda terrorist." Making the point that we undermined the ongoing effort to keep the United States of America from being attacked.
Senator Ensign, a mistake to release these memos or has the president already broke with the policy, what is the harm?
ENSIGN: Well, the harm is, is that if we ever return to those policies, one is that they can train against them now. To have them public allows al Qaeda to train against them. I mean, do we really think that having advanced interrogation techniques is something that we don't want to use if we find Osama bin Laden? ENSIGN: I mean, the fact that al Qaeda is still an active terrorist organization in the world, if we need advanced interrogation techniques to use against some of these operatives to keep America safe, that is exactly what we should do.
And then secondly, what the president has done is he has sent kind of a fear throughout the intelligence community that they could be prosecuted in the future. And that is exactly the kind of fear that paralyzed the intelligence community prior to September 11th.
So I think America is less safe because of the release of these memos. This was absolutely the wrong policy for the Obama administration to put out.
KING: I want your views on this, and I want to tell our viewers as I seek them that you're just back from a trip, including to Vietnam, with John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
And while you were in Vietnam, you saw the site where Senator McCain was shot down as a pilot. And you saw the prison cell where John McCain was tortured. That is now a place where Americans can go and be reminded of what happened to Senator McCain.
Was the administration making a mistake to put these memos out there for people around the world to say, that is what the United States did?
KLOBUCHAR: I don't believe so, and for several reasons. First of all, these memos, the things that were contained in these memos, are already in the public eye. We have heard countless reports about these kinds of tortures. Everyone knew that waterboarding had been going on, and the administration admitted that it was going on.
So President Obama took those two factors into consideration, as well as the factor that he had decided that we weren't going to be doing this anymore. So that is why those were released. And he made very clear many secret intelligence documents would continue to be secret.
The other piece of this, contrary to what Senator Ensign said, is that the president has made very clear the operatives, the people doing this work, the front line agents will not be prosecuted. They were simply doing what they were told to do.
And as a former prosecutor, I understand this from a police officer's, agent's perspective. They are out there doing their job every day. They have got to rely on lawyers and people to tell them what is right and what is wrong.
The president is changing that policy and he has made very clear that he is not going to prosecute these front line agents.
KING: Iowa has legalized same-sex marriage. Vermont has legalized same-sex marriage. The governor of New York State wants to legalize same-sex marriage. And, Senator Ensign, Steve Schmidt, who ran the McCain campaign in 2008, says he thinks it's time for conservatives to drop their opposition to same-sex marriage.
What do you say on that point? Should the Republican platform and should Republican politicians, whether they be governors or United States senators, drop their opposition to same-sex marriage?
ENSIGN: Well, you know, what we're seeing again is that the courts, instead of legislatures, have decided this issue. And I think that you're probably going to see it legalized in a lot of the states and eventually it will sweep across the country.
But that's not a position that I support. I believe that marriage should be defined as that between one man and one woman. You want to do what is ideal for children and all of the studies show that the ideal for children is to be in a household with a father and a mother.
Now, that doesn't always work, obviously. We know that. I was raised by a single mom and that's -- you know, single moms can do a great job. But the ideal for children in all of the social studies that have been done out there is to be in a home with a man and a woman. And the government should strive for the ideal, for children especially.
KING: Do you want in on that one?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think the way to go is civil unions. But I do think when you talk about the Republican Party and the debates that are going on within the Republican Party on a number of issues, what I'm hoping is that they will get to a point where they will work with us on moving forward with this economy.
We have seen glimmers of hope of that. But I think that's the most important thing we need to focus on right now when I talk to the people in my state.
KING: Senator Ensign, Senator Klobuchar, to my left, is both the junior and the senior senator from Minnesota because of the recount. There is only one United States senator from the state of Minnesota. Former Senator Coleman has appealed the latest decision which he lost. Is it time for Norm Coleman to give it up and for Al Franken to come into the United States Senate so that Senator Klobuchar has a partner?
ENSIGN: Well, I think I have a pretty good perspective on this as I was in a very close race back in 1998 against Harry Reid. And I pushed it to the point when I thought, you know, when there was no hope in sight and even though I thought we had some really good issues. But Norm Coleman's case is a lot different than what I had back in 1998. He has some very legitimate issues. There are counties who counted the same kind of ballots differently and the Democratic counties were able to count the -- what looked like maybe votes that should have been thrown out. They were able to count them. In Republican counts and they were not counted.
All of those votes should be treated the same. And I at least think that his appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court should be heard. I believe it should be acted on as quickly as possible so that we can have a resolution to this.
But every vote needs to be made sure that it was counted and counted fairly so that the people of Minnesota know the next time that they are in an election that every vote does count but every vote is counted properly as well.
KING: So, Senator Klobuchar, when will this be over? And I assume you've told Al Franken that even if he wins in the end, you will still be Minnesota's funniest senator?
KLOBUCHAR: Well, all right, first of all, I would say this, and that is that Norm Coleman has a right to pursue his appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. But Minnesota also has a right to two senators. This has been going on for months now. Since December, our staff, I'm so proud of them, they've had double the case work. Everything from veterans benefits cases to people who have lost their Social Security checks to people who are trying to adopt babies in Guatemala that are stalled out.
Minnesota has that right to two senators. I'm hopeful the Minnesota Supreme Court is going to move very quickly on this. The law actually says in Minnesota that they have to set aside their other work.
Now, I had predicted this would be resolved when the ice melted on Lake Minnetonka, John. And the three-judge ruling came out, 42 minutes, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources declared the ice had melted.
Now I predict this will be done when Minnesotans are allowed to swim in our lakes, which is Memorial weekend.
KING: I will have you back in five or six weeks, Memorial Day weekend. I think my math is about right on that. It might be a little more. Amy Klobuchar, John Ensign, senators both, thank you very much for being here today.
And when we come back, we'll pick up our conversation on what might be a thawing relationship between Cuba and Venezuela and the Obama administration with veteran political strategists Donna Brazile and Mary Matalin. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.
The father of the U.S. journalist convicted of spying in Iran says she has become extremely frail in prison. CNN talked to Roxana Saberi's father this morning. She was sentenced to eight years in prison after a one-day trial closed to the public. She denies the charges and the family plans to appeal.
It looks a major diplomatic shift between the United States and Venezuela. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says he plans to name a new ambassador to the United States. In September he expelled the U.S. ambassador, prompting the United States to expel Venezuela's ambassador.
Mr. Chavez proposed restoring ties at the Summit of the Americas after exchanging greetings with President Obama.
KING: The administration is welcoming the move.
Congress faces a mountain of work when it reconvenes tomorrow after a two-week recess. At the top of the agenda, several hot button items, including health care reform, climate change legislation, and new financial regulations. That and more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.
A live picture of the White House again on this Sunday morning here in Washington. Here with us now to dissect the big top stories is Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Mary Matalin.
Ladies, welcome to STATE OF THE UNION. I want to start with the pictures we're seeing on the front page of the newspaper this morning. And what we talked about there is this friendly encounters -- encounters, plural, between President Chavez of Venezuela, President Obama of the United States.
A good thing, Mary? You worked for George W. Bush, a man President Chavez called "the devil."
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The diablo. Well, what could the president do? It would have been anti-American, at least, it would have been bad manners to toss apart his hand. I'm curious about Obama is making such a big deal through his European trip and all of these -- this South American trip.
It's not about relationships. They've maligned George Bush for having these personal relationships which he saw as a tool in diplomacy, and he is now practicing some evidence of trying to have a civil relationship.
Whether or not this approach is new -- this new approach, calling it new, is going to have any effect, remains to be seen. It's too early to tell. But there is no markers for reciprocity for Cuba, for Venezuela, for the Europeans. So it's too early to tell. It's his approach. He should be allowed to let it play out and see how it works.
KING: To Mary's point, Donna. Where is the line where you try to be nice? You say, we want things to be different if they can be productive. Where do you draw the line that says, I'll exchange pleasantries, I'll take your book, I'll even say, I'm open to a new relationship, but you must do certain things by this time to prove you mean it? DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's no question that the administration has set several markers in terms of the future relationships with our neighbors to the south. Climate change, economic sustainability, the president talked about stopping the narcotic trade.
President Obama met with several of the officials when he was at the G-20 summit. The presidents of both Brazil and Argentina were there. This was an opportunity for him to continue that dialogue to reset our relationships, and in some cases, repair those, but also to put out there what the United States intends to do in terms of rebuilding the economies of the south, as well as we repair our own.
KING: You just heard some of the debate about releasing those torture memos from the Bush administration in which you worked, Mary. A lot of people have said this is outrageous, this undermines national security.
But I want to read you the words of a former top Bush administration official. Richard Armitage worked under Dick Cheney at the Defense Department, then worked under Colin Powell at the State Department.
And when asked about torture by the Al Jazeera network last week, he said: "I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would have had the courage to resign. But I don't know, it's in hindsight now."
If Richard Armitage is outraged that it took place, why should people be outraged that a Democrat released the memos?
MATALIN: Let me answer the questions to Richard Armitage's courage. We know he has no courage. This is the man who leaked Valerie Plame's name, knew he leaked it, let the president spin and the administration spin in the wind for two years.
Many of his colleagues spent hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, a valued colleague of his, his life is ruined, Scooter Libby, and he was the one who did it and let nobody know the whole time. So we don't want to talk about his rectitude.
Further, on the substance of this issue, there were at the beginning of time, 30 briefings held for Hill members. No one protested. Not only did they not protest the CIA program and the nature of the techniques, they asked if they were tough enough.
If Richard Armitage, as the number two guy in the State Department, didn't know that, not only is he devoid of courage, he is completely incompetent.
KING: Does it say something, Donna, that the former CIA director opposed releasing these, the current CIA director, Leon Panetta, a Democrat, opposed releasing these, Mike Mukasey, the last Bush attorney general, who is not known as a political ideologue, he comes out of New York State, he was a pretty moderate -- tough prosecutor but moderate politics, he says this is a bad idea? When you hear voices like that, should maybe that have been a break to the Obama administration, saying, well, we don't want to do this?
BRAZILE: Well, I fully supported the administration releasing this. Look, the ACLU has been suing the United States for years to try to get these documents. Much of...
KING: That's a reason to release top secret documents? BRAZILE: No -- but, no, many -- look, I believe in transparency. I don't believe no one is above the law. And we clearly had some people thinking that they could write new laws to justify some of these heinous techniques.
But, look, President Obama struck the right balance in releasing these documents and, at the same time, said that there will not be any retribution to the civil servants, to the government employees who carried out the orders from others.
I also believe that Congress has a role to look at these memos to find out if anyone did break the law. Senator Patrick Leahy has often called for a truth in reconciliation commission or some form of commission. Perhaps there should be some inquiry.
But I think the president did the right thing in releasing these memos.
KING: In the 2004 presidential campaign, George W. Bush, in key states, Mary, that were critical in the end, used to have a line in his speech about same-sex marriage, opposing it, talking about the sanctity of marriage.
You worked with Steve Schmidt in the vice president, Cheney's office. He then ran the McCain campaign in 2008. And he says it's time for the Republican Party and conservatives to drop their opposition to same-sex marriage. Do you agree?
MATALIN: Well, let's be clear with about this. This Democratic president, the former Democratic president are not for same-sex marriages. So if this is some -- if we're the tool of the religious right, then you would have to say Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were the tool of the religious right.
Further, to be for the sanctity of marriage is not to be anti- gay. I share Steve's opinions. I'm a conservative, and freedom which means freedom from individuality, and, as Dick Cheney often said, freedom means freedom for everybody.
What needs to happen is it needs to continue in the democratic process. I don't think -- but -- but, above and beyond all that, Steve makes the further political point that this is sort of an age issue.
My husband's polling will show you're more likely to be anti-gay marriage as an older Democrat than a younger conservative. So it's -- and the second part of the political equation is, we've got big stuff going on here.
I cannot disagree more on the release of these documents. It's going to enfeeble our efforts to secure stuff. It's going to enable these terrorists. We've got that issue. We've got the economic downturn. It just shouldn't be the lead political effort.
KING: We're out of time on this day. I know you've got -- want to respond. I promise you much more time in the future. Let's take a quick look at what is ahead though as we thank Mary and Donna.
Up next, we go crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay to see the toll of pollution on an environmental treasure and on those who work the water.
At 10:00, Howard Kurtz talks about media coverage of the tax day tea parties.
At 11:00, James Carville and Bill Bennett break down the sound of Sunday. And at noon, New York Governor David Paterson gets "The Last Word."
STATE OF THE UNION will be right back.
KING: We decided to focus on our travels this week on the approaching Earth Day, the 40th time Earth Day will be marked. And we didn't have to go far to visit an environmental treasure. This is the Chesapeake Bay right here. As I pull this out, this is a report card on the Bay. And if it is yellow, it is bad. If it is orange, it is worse. Red, it is worse still. As you look at the bay, it stretches from Virginia, to Maryland, and up through the Washington, D.C., area. It is a debate not only about protecting the environment -- it is a debate, as well, as we found out, about jobs.
KING (voice-over): Leaving Cape Charles Harbor just after first light. The closest crab pots are more than four miles out into Chesapeake Bay. And Don Pierce know it is about to get rough.
DON PIERCE, CAPTAIN, BRI-STEFF: I don't know about the crabs. We ain't got there. But it is dangerous enough. Don't kill yourself.
KING: The angry comes fast, swells rising above the bow, crashing over the stern. Pierce flips the buoys and wraps them on the winch. Harvey Brown (ph) brings in the catch, the Chesapeake's coveted in crab. It is both methodical and dangerous work. More clams packed in as bait. The catch comes out and is separated. The trap returned to the churning waters. For 48 years, Pierce has worked these waters, lived off them, watched them change for the worse.
PIERCE: She's dying daily. Too much phosphorous, too much fertilizer, too much untreated waste.
KING: Nitrous, phosphorus, fertilizer, untreated waste, where is that coming from?
PIERCE: We, the people who live in the watershed of Chesapeake Bay, mainly. We, the people.
KING: Save the Bay has been a rallying cry for four decades, just about as long as the annual Earth Day event. Yet the Chesapeake Bay Foundation report card ranks it at 28th on a scale of 100, disappointing to those like Tommy Leggett and Jackie Harmon, who make restoring its health their passion.
TOMMY LEGGETT, CHESAPEAKE BAY FOUNDATION: I would say the bay is not winning. KING: And whose fault is that?
JACKIE HARMON, CHESAPEAKE BAY FOUNDATION: There are a lot of factors that are to blame. There's been limited funding. There have been several failed commitments by the EPA. There hasn't been stringent enough enforcement of laws. All those things coupled together with more and more people moving to the Bay every year makes it a very, very hard job.
KING: Most environmental groups see a friend in the Obama administration, but also competition in a time of tight resources and more and more focus on green jobs and new energy sources.
LEGGETT: Some of those things are actually going to help the Bay over the long term, so they don't trouble me, but of course the money pot is small and everybody's going to be grabbing at it.
KING: Don Pierce crabs and fishes a 190-mile-long stretch of the Bay and sees the danger signs up close.
PIERCE: We've had an algae bloom in the upper Bay that actually forms tide lines that turn green. And all this, when the water gets high is when we have most of our problem with our dead zones. And each year, our dead zones are getting bigger and bigger.
KING: Fewer crabs and narrow profit margins mean fewer jobs and more pressure to harvest even when it would be wiser to stay onshore.
PIERCE: Are you going to pay the mortgage or are you going to stay home and go so far in debt that you might lose everything you've got to the bank? It is a very tough way of life now. There used to be 60 to 70 boats in my little town. Now there's 20.
KING: And knowing what you know how now, if you had to make the choice again, would you it again?
PIERCE: Not at 15, 16 years old. When I was 16 years old, there was so many jobs that you could do. You could clam. You went to work at 6:00, you were done by 10:00, 11:00. You go to work at 6:00 now and you're still out at 6:00 that evening. Nope, definitely not. But it was the best job in town when I was a young man.
KING: Our thanks to Don Pierce there for an amazing day on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. We want to say good-bye now to our international audience for this hour. But coming up for viewers here in the United States, he's a conservative radio host who angered in his audience by supporting Barack Obama. Howie Kurtz talks to the outspoken and often controversial Michael Smerconish. Stay here.
KING: I'm John King and here's what's coming up on our STATE OF THE UNION report this Sunday, April 19th, 2009. Down in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, President Obama is meeting with the leaders of most of the nations in the Americas. Will his efforts there make a difference in relations with Cuba, Venezuela and others? We'll hear directly from the president during a live press conference later in the broadcast.
Congress returns this week and one Senate seat remains empty. The battle between Al Franken and Norm Coleman from Minnesota is heading for yet another court drama. Howie and two veteran reporters debate whether the media is ignoring this legal gridlock.
And a solemn ceremony under way this hour in Oklahoma City where 14 years ago at exactly 9:02 local time, an enormous explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 men, women, and children. This is CNN's STATE OF THE UNION.