Return to Transcripts main page
State of the Union
State of the Union: Best Political Team on Television
Aired April 19, 2009 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING: Here's what's still to come on our "State of the Union" report for this Sunday, April 19th, 2009.
President Obama, certainly making news at the Summit of the Americas, from shaking hands with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez to cautiously opening a diplomatic door to Cuba. The president's holding a news conference in about 45 minutes. We'll bring it to you live from Port-of-Spain in the nation of Trinidad and Tobago.
Was it torture or a legitimate tool in the war on terror?
Newly released memos spark a discussion across the Sunday talk shows. The best political team on television will be right here to break down the ethics and the practical effects of so-called enhanced interrogation.
And a after a cold day on the Chesapeake Bay, a warm pub on the Virginia coast is a perfect respite from the rough weather but not from pretty tough opinions on the decisions being made right here in Washington, D.C.
That's all ahead on this hour of "State of the Union."
Fourteen years after Oklahoma city, an act of domestic terrorism that stunned the nation, the Obama administration's top anti-terror official says the United States is now more prepared to deal with threats from within and abroad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAPOLITANO: I think we're at a greater state of readiness, that 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: But outrage mounts over the president's decision to make public long-secret memos detailing waterboarding and other jarring interrogation tactics used during the Bush administration. Even some critics of those tactics say releasing the memos makes America less safe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Showing the outer limits is a huge tactical and strategic mistake, done for political reasons, and has hurt our nation's ability to defend herself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENSIGN: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And as Congress comes back to work this week, the White House says it's still eager to work with Republicans and insists it's not to blame for the continued partisan divide.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: When you're the party of no; when you're the party of never; when you're the party of no new ideas, that's not constructive. So my recommendation is we'll work with people of all sides, ideology, to get things done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: As you can see, as always, we've been watching all the other Sunday shows so you don't have to.
Let's bring in the best political team on television, as we do every Sunday at this hour, and break down the day's big stories.
Joining me, two of our favorites here, Washington Democratic political strategist and CNN contributor James Carville, here from New Orleans -- nice to have you in town today -- and CNN political contributor and Washington fellow at the Claremont Institute, Bill Bennett.
Gentlemen, thank you for being here.
Let's start with this controversy. Pretty remarkable, the language being used by all sides of this debate over whether it was right for the administration to release these torture memos.
The president and the campaign said he would close Guantanamo Bay; he would stop waterboarding; he would stop the tactics at issue.
But releasing these memos has set off a firestorm of debate, including the former CIA director, Mike Hayden. General Mike Hayden was out on Fox News today, and he says, look, when you hear about waterboarding; when you hear about slamming somebody repeatedly against a wall, sure, that's jarring, but what he says is that, in the critical days after 9/11, those tactics led to information that helped America thwart attacks.
Let's listen to General Hayden. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER CIA DIRECTOR MICHAEL V. HAYDEN: The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And, James, by extension, what he says is releasing it tells the terrorist what to expect if they're caught.
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, if any terrorists didn't know we were waterboarding, they'd have to be utterly clueless. We had a whole campaign about waterboarding.
Secondly, General Hayden -- he starts outs by a piece in The Wall Street Journal and he goes on Fox News. If I were advising him, I would say, you'd probably want to go a little more mainstream and sound more like an intelligence professional than -- than he's coming across.
There's a big debate whether this stuff works or not. There are many people that say it -- the intelligence it produces is not good. He says it is. I think we should have a debate as a country about whether or not this stuff actually produces good intelligence.
KING: But, Bill, do we need to see -- I think James is right; we should this debate; we should have a debate about every issue, but do we we need to see these memos to have the debate?
BENNETT: No, we don't need to see these memos. And I don't think it does much to disparage General Hayden. I think he's a very honorable man, a professional. Also, current head of CIA, Leon Panetta, was opposed to the release. The head of Defense Intelligence -- the Defense Intelligence organization, Dennis Blair, was opposed to this.
This was the politicos at the White House getting control of the situation.
You're damn right this stuff works. That challenge has been put out there. This is information that we got Abu Zubaydah, from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, that kept American cities and American people from being hurt.
Now, I don't think it's torture, but I don't care if you do call it torture. And by the way, the president of the United States still has within his power the ability to do this.
Now, these -- these efforts to distance themselves from the Bush administration, I understand. All administrations do this. But when they start getting to the point where they start endangering our national security and saying, we're just going to leak everything, that's too far.
One last point. Nancy Pelosi, Bob Graham, Jane Harman, Jay Rockefeller all were briefed on these very techniques and methods, and all approved them in 2002 and 2003. It's a little hypocritical -- more than a little -- to turn around now.
KING: I don't want to spend our whole time on this, but does it give you any pause?
Leon Panetta is a friend of yours. You worked closely with Leon Panetta. He's the head of the CIA now. He, like President Obama, says, change the policies; I don't like the policies; I want to go in a different direction, but he didn't want the memos out.
CARVILLE: Right. Well, he has to represent the CIA agents. And there was great fear. You could see, when they were asking permission, I think they were mocking the Justice Department, like saying, can we put an insect in a cell? Well, I live in a subtropical climate. What would be unusual is a jail cell without an insect. If I walked in my house in New Orleans and didn't have to squish a cockroach, that would be an unusual day.
And I think that the CIA knew -- you could tell by what they were asking for, that either they were uncomfortable with this or they were, like, mocking -- there was something very weird here. And I think we need to get to the bottom of this. Because this is causing great (inaudible)
I think Leon is representing -- it would be terrible for the morale of these people. They were obviously scared they were going to be prosecuted for this.
BENNETT: Or they were asking because they feared just what's happened. They were asking so they could get approval so that, when Congress then changes its mind and tries to nail these guys...
CARVILLE: Something tells me that, if somebody wanted to put a cockroach in a jail cell, that they'd probably...
KING: Let's move on. We had Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, on the program earlier today. hand her department put out a report, just a bit ago, talking about the threat of terrorism here in the United States, domestic terrorism.
And in that, they talked about the potential, they believe, for right-wing extremist groups to launch attacks, to go over the line from protesting things to launching attacks. And they specifically mentioned the possibility these -- this could come from anti-abortion groups or anti-immigration.
(UNKNOWN): Yes, yes.
KING: I want you to listen to Secretary Napolitano.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NAPOLITANO: The very edge of the extremist groups that have committed violent crimes -- they've committed bombings and the like. And that's 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?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Bill, she says they have intelligence and active investigations of this possibility. Do you take her at her word?
BENNETT: She wouldn't give you one bit of evidence. You asked her for the names of any groups, any organizations. You pressed her on it -- nothing.
When they put out a report on certain left-wing organizations back in January, there were some specifics. There are no specifics here, except they target veterans. They say look out for veterans being recruited and look out for people who are opposed to abortion and immigration.
Boy, I better check my mail. I better check, you know, my -- my bathroom. This was a real overstep. She almost has apologized for this. I know they have to realize they went too far.
I hope the secretary of homeland security realizes that radical Muslims in this country, people who were associated with Al Qaida, are a much more serious threat than people who oppose abortion and illegal immigration.
KING: Did they make a misstep here?
Bennie Thompson, who's a Democrat...
BENNETT: Right, right.
KING: ... the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said, you know what, you have to be careful here because, you know, whether you agree or disagree with these people, they have every right to have their opinion and to speak their opinion.
And he was afraid they were using too broad of a brush here.
CARVILLE: Look, I do think people have a right to speak their opinion. However, it's not unheard of that you have the right-wing extremists participate in violence. It's not unheard of that you have anti-abortion people participate in violence.
By the way, Look at Oklahoma City. I think it would be derelict of the FBI, or Homeland Security, or somebody else not to be looking at what the Klan did, back in my part of the world. So, again, there's a big divide between the pro-life people in, I guess it was, Vandenberg (ph), Indiana and Evansville, having a meeting and people blowing up clinics. There's a big divide between these tea-baggers and somebody blowing up a federal building. BENNETT: Yes, big divide.
CARVILLE: But I think that the government has to be aware of this, just like you've got to be aware of left-wing groups.
BENNETT: I would agree with a lot of that, but the problem is this report didn't make that distinction. This report opened that gap very wide, not very narrowly, and it said, look out for these people, the people I've described. Basically, most conservatives would fit most of those descriptions. That's really outrageous.
CARVILLE: Yes, I don't think these people that Sarah Palin talked to are a danger to the United States. But I do think that there are -- there are violent people on both sides of the political spectrum, and you've got to...
KING: At the end of the conversation, I put to her -- I gave her a chance to answer Vice President Cheney, former Vice President Cheney, who sat here a little over a month ago, I guess, and said, you know, he believes these policies, including closing Gitmo, changing the interrogation tactics -- he believes that makes Americans less safe.
She said flatly, no, and they're at the business of this every day. Was the vice president out of line?
BENNETT: I don't think he was out of line. I think he was right. I said that last time you asked me about it. And I think this contrition tour that we saw -- that's what The New York Times called it, "Hillary Clinton's contrition tour," going around the world apologizing" -- again, they want so much to have this distance between themselves and the Bush administration, they are going supine before all these countries of the world.
BENNETT: I don't think that puts us in a position of strength. I will give Barack Obama credit, he passed the test on that piracy thing. A lot of conservatives will praise him. I will. Now he's got a situation in Iran where he said there would be no preconditions. We now have an journalist over there, an American journalist over there. What is he going to do about that?
KING: What should he do?
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, let me back up. No one has done more irreparable harm to the reputation of the United States than this administration. And this president and this secretary of state are having to clean up a very big mess in terms of the image of this country that was left by the past administrations. And I congratulate their effort to try to do this. It's not going to be able to be done overnight.
KING: Is the tone OK with you? In the "New York Times" he points out... CARVILLE: You know, like anything else, I would be open to maybe you can adjust it some. I think it's the experience that goes on, maybe there's some language, but there's no doubt that the United States have to engage in some kind of an offensive around the world to get our reputation back in order. We have suffered from it. No one can argue that reputation that we've suffered mightily.
BENNETT: There may be magicians, but nobody -- nobody has done more for more Muslims in the history of the world than George Bush, liberated 50 million Muslims.
KING: John Madden is retiring, but I can still --
BENNETT: Yes, I want the job.
KING: You'll get a chance after the break. You'll get a chance after the break. We'll be back with much, much more from James and Bill, including the president's encounter with Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas. And as we go to break, we should note, still standing by for President Obama. He's going to have a press conference right there in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. We'll go live to it when it begins. We'll be back on STATE OF THE UNION.
KING: We're back with CNN contributors James Carville and Bill Bennett. As we continue this discussion, I believe we can show you, there you are, right there, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. This is the ending of the Summit of the Americas. The leaders will all assemble for the class photo right there on that site. A short time after, President Obama will hold a press conference. We'll take you live to that event.
Among the highlights of this summit, a friendly encounter, friendly looking anyway between the president of the United States and the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. He has been a nemesis of the United States for some time. He called George W. Bush a devil. You see the two of them there shaking hands and smiling at each other. I put the question to two senators this morning, Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, John Ensign, Republican of Nevada.
Was that an appropriate scene for the president of the United States?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENSIGN: You have to be careful. When you're talking about the presidency of the United States, you have to be careful who you're seen joking around with. I think it was irresponsible for the president to be seen kind of laughing and joking with Hugo Chavez.
KLOBUCHAR: All the president did was shake his hand, just like George Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Bill Bennett, is there any harm? You want to be nice, you want to be friendly. A handshake and a smile doesn't mean you're changing policy.
BENNETT: Remember the old, meaning the handshake shows that I have no weapon. You know, it's the open hand. One incident, OK, what's the other hand doing in the back? I don't like to make a big deal out of these things, but, again, there's a certain tic developing in this crowd.
We get that happy handshake, we get the bow to the king, we get the contrition tour. Can these guys -- can President Obama and Hillary Clinton go to other countries and somehow not defer to people who are who say they're our sworn enemies or people who are oligarchs or people who violate human rights all in the interest of separating themselves from George Bush?
Again, calling the U.S. arrogant, acting as if we are something to apologize for, how about this business -- he wouldn't even defend Kennedy when they attacked the Bay of Pigs. They brought up the Bay of Pigs. Barack Obama wouldn't even defend his role model, Kennedy. There's too much of a knee jerk to criticize the United States and not defend it and it's growing.
KING: Do you worry about that a little bit? You were the architect of the Bill Clinton different kind of Democrat campaign that was specifically modeled to counter and fix the Democratic Party that was viewed as too soft. Not just on taxes but too soft on national security as well.
CARVILLE: The thing I have to confess, I worked for the opposition down there so I'm hardly a fan of Chavez.
CARVILLE: He's anything but a small "D" Democrat. You know how many times you see somebody, stick your hand out, shake your hand, but --
KING: There's a bigger argument building.
CARVILLE: this probably can be -- they've got a lot of repairs to do here. There are probably going to be time for adjustment here. I don't know and I don't know the circumstances around the picture and I'm sure this thing will be dissected a zillion times.
I would not make too much of it. And they're just looking -- sometimes you just see things to criticize, but there's going to come -- there's going to come a time and I think this administration knows it and I think they're going to find a spot and be pretty tough on something and I'll expect it to come.
BENNETT: Fundamentally an honest man. You've heard him say "adjustment" here about three times and he's right. They need to adjust this. Remember Jeane Kirkpatrick. I remember when she came in the Reagan administration and said we are tired of being kicked around by other people and apologizing to other nations.
CARVILLE: I don't think that we're -- first of all, I don't know because there is a lot of damage that has been done to the reputation of the United States, and part of this president's job -- and I think he's doing it very well -- is to repair some of this damage.
And as you go along, you get better at it. But I think our image is apparently better and I think the previous administration deserves a lot of blame for damaging the brand of the United States. I think most people agree with that.
BENNETT: Image is one thing. Reality is another. Substance is another. Things that need to get accomplished is another. That will be the test.
CARVILLE: And the reality is they didn't really accomplish very much.
KING: We started this conversation talking about the debate over torture memo. David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, is on another Sunday show, CBS, I believe, this morning, and the question was put to him about these people who are saying, releasing these memos makes the United States less safe. Let's listen to David Axelrod.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR ADVISER TO OBAMA: We are absolutely confident that we have the tools necessary to get the information we need to keep this country safe. And we don't believe and the president of the United States does not believe that this is a contest between our values and our security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Pushing back, James Carville, against the critics, but is the fact we're in this debate, is it helpful when the president wants to do so much on health care, overseas, everything else?
CARVILLE: Look, we're going to get into a lot of debates here. And I think some of this stuff is just getting started, if you will. Again, if somebody didn't know that we were water boarding, they'd have to be the most clueless person on the planet. I mean, there was a discussion of this.
CARVILLE: You know, we put -- we put Japanese to death, certainly -- I mean, when they did it to our people, and if anybody waterboards any American, then I think we ought to respond appropriately, if you will.
BENNETT: The interesting thing, and I say this objectively, without any partisan bite to it, is how many different things they are doing. I mean, I don't know if this is good political strategy or not. James may have a better sense of that. They are all over the place. When I have someone call my radio show in the morning and they say, I want to complain about Obama, I have no idea what they're going to talk about. It could be any of 50 things. I mean, you know, they are all over the place: travel, foreign policy, domestic policy.
The question you raised earlier on your show by Frank Sesno, should they be focusing on the number one issue, the economy, and just focus like a laser, I don't know. But I'll tell you, one thing it has done, I guess, and maybe this is an advantage their side, is divided the critics, because people all are after different pieces.
KING: Well, a subset of the economy debate is taxes. And Republicans have used...
KING: ... ... higher taxes against Democrats for some time. There were a bunch of events around the country this past Wednesday which was tax day, April 15th, and a lot of people turned out to say they oppose this administration, they think, you know, it's going to raise taxes too much. They're arguing against the priorities of the Obama administration.
Mr. Axelrod, who we just heard a moment ago, senior adviser to the president, was asked about these tax day rallies, tea parties on CBS, and he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FACE THE NATION")
AXELROD: I think any time that you have severe economic conditions, there is always an element of disaffection that can mutate into something that's unhealthy.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: James Carville, is it mutating into something unhealthy for an American to go out and hold a sign and say, I think my taxes are too high?
CARVILLE: No. And I love David Axelrod. And I -- by the way, most Democrats I know are delighted with this. We couldn't get enough of this coverage. I mean, when a guy comes up and he says, how many of you make under $250,000 a year? And they go, yes, you're getting your tax cut, and then they booed him.
This was -- I think if anything it was harmless and somewhat damaging to Republicans. I couldn't -- the more that we cover this thing -- and the average age at these things had to be 72.4. I mean, they had every old crank in the country out there. Then they would put a couple of like kids on the front of it.
But, please, let's cover this more.
BENNETT: That's a smarter response than Axelrod's, but I don't think accurate, yes.
KING: The specific -- you have a senior adviser to the president of the United States saying it's unhealthy. BENNETT: Terrible.
KING: They were just -- they were out protesting.
BENNETT: This goes right into the Napolitano thing. Unhealthy? What's the next thing, federal agents looking down at us? Look, people want to let off steam, they let off steam. These things were mostly very positive. The problem was, as we say in philosophy, insufficient options.
Media coverage, different network coverage on this was just horrible. But I wish they had had a little more focus to them. But I think that will happen. Right now, Barack Obama, we're in the first 100 days, he's blocking out the sun. I mean, the guy, everything he does, it's all about Obama. The Republicans will have their moment.
CARVILLE: I wish we would have covered it more. I wish we had (INAUDIBLE) because anybody...
BENNETT: We covered it all morning. We covered it all morning.
CARVILLE: I just think -- I think this was a -- if I'm a Republican I would say, God, let's gets away from this thing as fast as we can.
BENNETT: I don't think so. When it's linked to taxes and higher taxes, it's a good debate, it's a good day for us.
KING: James and Bill with us this morning. Thank you both for being here. And remember, as we let them go, they'll continue their conversation, trust me. We should mike them into the green room. You get a lot of fun out of that.
Remember, we're standing by for President Obama's live press conference from the Summit of the Americas. He is in Trinidad's Port of Spain.
Next, you never know who you'll meet when you get outside the city. One of the participants in our weekly diner conversation is an author recommended by Oprah Winfrey. Stay with us, you'll meet her on STATE OF THE UNION when we come back.
KING: In our travels this week, we wanted to focus on the approaching Earth Day, the 40th time we've celebrated Earth Day so we didn't go too far from home. We were down in the state of Virginia, specifically over here, Northampton County and the town of Cape Charles. As you can see, this is the Chesapeake Bay, it is right on the southern tip of the Chesapeake Bay. Why we were there, we wanted to go out on the bay to get a sense of how the pollution is affecting -- these are crabs here, they are -- these are clams, excuse me, bait for the crabs offshore. We wanted to get a look at it there.
But we also came on onshore. This is Don Pierce. He lives in the northern bay in the town of Cape Charles, 972 full-time residents. They rely on tourism. They rely on visitors in the summertime. It's an interesting community. Barack Obama won that county in the election, but at Kelly's Gingernut Pub, fried pickles, crab cake, and fun conversation.
KING: Is the government's -- (INAUDIBLE) the new administration, is it helping, is it hurting, or does it not matter what Washington does?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it definitely matters what they do, but I don't think spending money we don't have is going to help too, too much.
GENE KELLY, OWNER, KELLY'S GINGERNUT PUB: The thing that really, really worries me, some of the initiatives that have been put forth, like raising minimum wage from $6.50 to $9.50 an hour, $9.50 an hour for a minimum wage person over here translates for me to a $14 cheeseburger.
KING: Let me get a sense with a show of hands. If you voted for Obama in November. That's one. OK.
(LAUGHTER) KING: You only get one vote, one hand.
But you voted for McCain?
KELLY: I voted for McCain. I was 100 percent a McCain guy, but that was where I...
KING: What did you do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ron Paul.
KING: We're about a week away from 100 days. Some people say that's a good time to, you know, take an early test of an administration. Other people say 100 days is meaningless. Has Barack Obama changed your lives or your community at all in 100 days for better or worse?
KELLY: There is no way he could change it in 100 days. He's the president of the United States. He's not my neighbor.
SHERI REYNOLDS, CAPE CHARLES, VA: He has changed mine. I teach full-time at Old Dominion University over in Norfolk, and having an African-American in the White House has changed the whole feeling of my classes. It truly has. I mean, I think that having African- Americans and other minority groups see what's possible is empowering beyond anything I could even conceive of.
KELLY: I think the jury is definitely still out, but I think he's -- I think he's definitely come back much more to the left than the way he ran, which is a normal thing. I think he's -- I think he's showing some signs that he is really leaning toward a much more socialistic view of things, a world view of things, rather than a United States' view of things.
KING: You're wincing a little bit when he says more of a socialist, leftist, you sort of had a little bit of a recoil.
REYNOLDS: Well, I've always been a socialist, so that's all right with me.
REYNOLDS: But -- you know, but I hear what he is saying, absolutely, yes.
KING: Let me end on this one. If you had five minutes, if the president walked through that door to have a beer in here or you had five minutes with him in the Oval Office, what would you say, what would you ask?
INGRAM: I'd ask him to trust the citizens of this country to make it right and not ask the government to take over and make the decisions for us.
REYNOLDS: I like what he said. I would say -- I would tell Barack Obama to spend more time in his garden that he's just planted and with that dog and to clear his head and remember the dream and try to clear away some of the dogma and the pressures that obviously come with that job.
KELLY: I'd say, don't worry so much about bailing out the big banks and General Motors and think a little bit more about bailing out some of the people that are not going to have any recovery from money that supposedly is going to trickle down to us.
KING: A fun conversation and fabulous food there at Kelly's. And for more on our trip to Cape Charles, Virginia, check out my weekly column on CNNPolitics.com.
And don't forget, we're standing by for the final event of the Summit of the Americas in the island of Trinidad and Tobago. A class photo of all the leaders, then a press conference from President Obama. A chance for him to get reporters' questions on these new overtures from Cuba and from Venezuela. A lot of important topics, you won't want to miss it. We'll go to that press conference from the president as soon as it begins. STATE OF THE UNION will be right back.
KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning. Iran's president says a jailed U.S. journalist should be allowed, quote, a full defense when she appeals her spying conviction. Roxana Saberi was sentenced to eight years in prison after a one-day trial that was closed to the public. CNN talked to her father this morning and he said she's become extremely frail in prison.
A remembrance ceremony this morning in Oklahoma City, marking the 14th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building. The ceremony included 168 seconds of silence to remember those killed in what was at the time the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil.
Another tragic milestone tomorrow marks the tenth anniversary of the deadly shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves. The candlelight vigil planned tonight in Littleton. More news ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.
See a live picture there, that is the diplomatic center at Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The class photo at the closing of the Summit of the Americas. You might be looking, where is President Obama? Well, he came out, shook some hands, and he has now departed, we are told. We will continue to watch just in case he returns, but we are expecting President Obama short time from now to hold his closing news conference at the Summit of the Americas, a chance for reporters to ask him about new diplomatic overtures from Cuba, from Venezuela, and about his new policy helping combat drug violence along the U.S./Mexican border.
Joining me now to discuss this and more, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, CNN contributor Stephen Hayes, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard," and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger. Thank you all for being here.
And let's start with this Summit of the Americas. David Gergen, Hugo Chavez has been a thorn in the side of presidents of the United States. He called George W. Bush, for example, a devil. He shows up, smiles, shakes hands with President Obama, then gives him a book about how in his view Latin America has been exploited by the United States and other western powers. Where are we going here and if you're Barack Obama, where's the line?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, an interesting question is about the handshake, but I think before you get to that question, you have to say that Barack Obama came into office arguing that our relationships with Latin America in general had turned sour, that there was an awful lot of anti-Americanism, and that we had to begin forming new relationships and new partnerships. And I think he's trying to make good on that.
So, and the overture to Cuba that he is -- the loosening of the travel restrictions there I think is a down payment on that. And it's only natural that he's going to start speaking to Hugo Chavez. Having said that, the handshake itself, yes, right, I think most political advisers would tell the president, you know, it's fine to shake hands, hold the smiles.
This sort of big embrace, one can remember so well Jimmy Carter giving a kiss on the cheek to a Soviet leader, Mr. Brezhnev, and he got just a ton of criticism for that and it became in effect a metaphor for his presidency.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Pictures are worth a thousand words as the cliche goes, and I think it went a step too far. The perception is you didn't have to do this and double hands and -- it was just -- it was just too much for the president to do. It's one thing to say you're open, you're listening. That's great.
STEPHEN HAYES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think, also, there's a growing sense that what's happening, the actions behind the pictures are unsettling, too. I mean, for instance, not responding after Daniel Ortega went on this tirade for nearly an hour about the United States and its history, you know, what he says is the checkered history of the region.
Barack Obama then didn't really respond except to say, well, I'm glad you didn't blame me for this. Some kind of a bigger defense was more appropriate I think given the kinds of claims that were made. And I think this is -- the other bigger problem is this is really starting to be a longer pattern. We've seen this in this eagerness to engage, we've seen, I think, a tolerance for the kind of language that we should be speaking out against.
KING: David, you've been in the white house with both Democratic and Republicans presidents. This is a young president. We're still getting to know him. You mentioned the risk of the smile and all that. Are these mistakes? Are these inexperience?
GERGEN: I think there's some inexperience here. I think he's -- you know, I'm sure he's used to being in a thousand situations. Somebody comes up and smiles in a big way and you probably smile back almost inadvertently without fixing it.
But I think Steve Hayes has got a very good point. What the real test here is going to be in policies and in the actions. And I think Barack Obama has to somehow make a balance between being open, reaching out and also not surrendering or retreating on basic American principles and on showing some toughness. He's got to be willing to fight for some things and I think that's the broader question that it's opening up now both on domestic and international issues.
BORGER: Let me make the comparison though to domestic politics. Because this is a president who was reaching out saying I want to be bipartisan, meeting with lots of Republicans at the very beginning of his term, saying I want to hear what you have to say. But when push came to shove on the stimulus package, the president said, guess what? I won.
BORGER: And then he did what he wanted to do. He made some concessions to his own Democrats in domestic politics.
So you see the bit of the pragmatist in him there coming out. But I'm wondering how much of this isn't for show to say, OK, I gave you every opportunity, and then at a certain point he can pull back and say, sorry.
KING: Let's come home, 14 years ago on this day was the attack in Oklahoma City. It was the first time I think I ever heard the term "homeland security." It wasn't a department then. And it was -- America felt pretty safe.
A report came out from the new Department of Homeland Security not that long ago that said, you have to be vigilant about right-wing groups that might recruit veterans coming back from Iraq. They have weapons training. They have explosives training.
So they might be either disgruntled or perhaps have psychological scars of war that make them vulnerable. I brought this up with Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, earlier this morning.
Let's listen to what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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, the 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Steve Hayes, it's her job, it is her job to keep the American people vigilant and on edge and to warn them. There might be one in that 100 who goes bad, but if they handled this right, veterans groups and a lot of conservatives have been after them on saying it could be a veteran.
HAYES: I think they've handled this very, very poorly in part because of what you just heard from her. She said there are too many groups -- too many numerous to name. We need some names. I mean, you need to be specific if you're going to make these kinds of charges.
We need the names of the groups. We need to know if you've seen people like this, if there's a pattern here, we need to hear about that. I had a phone conversation with an Iraq War veteran, who was severely wounded in Iraq, on Friday. We were talking about this very thing.
And he said, you know, it's sort of ironic to me that I went over there, I fought for my country, killed terrorists, I'm returning and I'm worried that my government thinks I might become one? That's a real problem perception-wise. Whether that's fair or unfair, that's a real problem.
BORGER: I think the problem is the singling out of one group. If there are too many groups to name, then don't name them. I disagree with you. I don't think you should give a list and say these are the folks we're looking at publicly at this point.
I think that's something they clearly have at the Department of Homeland Security. But why single out returning veterans...
HAYES: But there's a sense that that list doesn't exist, or if it exists, it's not nearly as big a threat as it suggested it was in the report.
GERGEN: I have no idea why they issued the report at all.
GERGEN: It's just very unclear. And it does seem to me, going back to the beginning, Barack Obama has actually been very good with the veterans. He showed that veterans are not a monolithic voting group, a lot of the young ones voted for him.
He had that big night at the military ball. Michelle Obama has been terrific with military families. It seems to me they ought to stay on that theme of honoring veterans.
And I think they could have let -- I don't think they needed to issue any report here, especially to single out right-wing types. I mean, it just seemed to me that was a little bit tone deaf.
HAYES: Well, I think -- and politically, as it relates to veterans, the mistake here is that it's their second mistake with regard to veterans, the first one being the attempt to potentially have some private insurance companies cover some of the veterans' health care. I know that has also resonated, the American Legion came out strongly against that.
KING: OK. We're going to have a quick break. We'll come back. We're awaiting the start of Barack Obama's press conference at the Summit of the Americas.
But straight ahead, today's Washington Post Outlook section has a political "Spring Cleaning" special. They've asked columnists what they would throw out from the American political system. Their answers ranged from West Point to the White House press corps. I'll ask for your picks when we come back.
KING: Let's continue our conversation with CNN senior political analyst David Gergen, CNN contributor Stephen Hayes, the senior writer for The Weekly Standard, and CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger.
Let's turn to the economy. And if you want to understand what has happened with all of the market turmoil over the last two years, pick up this week's Fortune magazine. You see this their annual Fortune 500. I'm showing you cover: "The worst economic performance in the 55-year history of the list."
Five hundred companies, earnings dropped 84.7 percent, nearly 85 percent. That is a big wow. And so, as the Fortune 500 suffers a bit, average Americans say, when will we hit bottom and bounce back?
Larry Summers, one of the president's top economic advisers, was out this morning. He said, things are getting better, but.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE SUMMERS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: It's going to be a long road. We've seen some more mixed statistics after a period when there were no positive statistics to be found. But it's a long --- it's a long road.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: David Gergen, a huge challenge. How do you communicate with the American people, you know, don't be pessimistic but don't get too optimistic?
GERGEN: Well, I saw a major economic leader this week, and I said, how is it going? He said, things are settling down, it's just unclear whether the emphasis should be on settling or down.
BORGER: Certainly no up.
GERGEN: Yes, well, that's exactly right.
And I think the administration and the country is beginning to face the fact that even as this bottoms out, it may stay at the bottom for a long time. And the idea of sort of bouncing back up as we usually have done in past recessions is receding from people's sense of where we're heading.
And that, I think, is going to -- a joyless recovery could be as difficult for this administration, politically and economically, as just going down. And I don't think anybody knows for certain just which way it's going to be -- you know, even where the bottom is yet. We're still waiting to see on that. Hopefully it's near.
I thought the other thing, John, just briefly, in this fortune piece was the CEO, the chairman of Wells Fargo, one of the major banks, really came out and blasted the government and blasted the TARP program in this issue in Fortune.
And he is representative of a growing number of people in the banking industry who are turning against this whole notion, and as we've seen with Jamie Dimon, too, of JPMorgan Chase, I think that may complicate the government's efforts to recapitalize banks and make the banks healthy.
BORGER: Well, they may start giving the money back, as we see that they all do want to give the money back.
BORGER: But I think that the president is walking a very fine line here because when he was gloomy, as he was at the outset, when he tried to get his stimulus package through, we were all saying, oh, my God, the president is so gloomy, but he did that because he wanted to create the sense of urgency, as if we didn't already feel it, so he could get his economic package through.
Now he wants to give people a sense that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That what he is doing is working, except for one problem, he's not sure. They don't know. And they might have to come back and ask for a second stimulus package.
KING: And in the middle of this economic debate, we all know last Wednesday was tax day, April 15th, a day we greet gleefully. And there were some rallies around the country, people who think their taxes are too high and that this administration is going to make them even higher.
And they showed up in thousands of cities, and let's be honest, a lot of it was ginned up -- the incitement was ginned up by another network that decided to invest in that, but the people who showed up, the people who showed up were Americans saying, I think my taxes are too high, I don't like the administration's policies.
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, was asked about these TEA parties earlier today, and he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AXELROD: I think any time that you have severe economic conditions, there is always an element of disaffection that can mutate into something that's -- that's unhealthy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is it unhealthy, Stephen Hayes, to demonstrate?
HAYES: He's going to want to clarify that comment, I think.
I mean, to suggest that these tea parties are unhealthy, sort of, broadly, in a general way, I think, is -- is almost offensive.
I mean, there are plenty of tea parties -- we have an article in our magazine, Weekly Standard, about that this week, a tea party that, you know, where the reporter interviewed homemakers and people who are out of business, who said, look, I just don't want government doing as much as it appears it's going to be doing -- in a very, very healthy way, I have to say.
So I think you're getting into dangerous language when you make a comment like that. BORGER: I think -- I think, and I can't speak for David Axelrod -- I think he did misspeak to a certain degree.
I think what he's talking about is that people get angry when they're out of work and when they see their pension plans fall apart and that what he was talking about was anger. These was a lot of anger at some of these tea parties, but these are just people demonstrating for what they believe in. More power to them, right?
KING: All right. Let's close. It is spring cleaning time. I was in my garage yesterday, and boy, oh, boy, oh, boy, is it in need of help.
The Washington Post Outlook section put the question -- they asked all of their writers, do some spring cleaning; answer the question, "What can we live without?"
So we want to ask, if you could get rid of one thing in American politics, what would it be?
The Outlook section's entire list is on there. Tom Ricks, the great Pulitzer Prize winning defense writer -- he wrote, "West Point."
"Prom," John Green said. "Larry Summers," Naomi Klein said -- not so nice, there.
"Tenure," is one. "The White House Press Corps" is another suggestion. "Vice presidents" was another suggestion.
Gloria Borger, what would you get rid of?
BORGER: OK, I'm going to be a little longer-winded, but I would stop having politicians draw congressional districts. I would have it be determined by geography. Because that way, you'd have real elections in this country and you'd end up with less partisanship. Let's have real congressional districts.
HAYES: I think I could say, income-based taxes. I could say politicians themselves. I mean, there's so many things that I'd like to get rid of.
HAYES: Journalists, talking heads.
(UNKNOWN): Hey. BORGER: Hey, wait a minute.
HAYES: To be a little bit serious, I would say, at this point, the ACLU. And it pains me to say that because I have a big libertarian streak, but I think we've seen the ACLU, in recent weeks, get to the point where they have been arguing aggressively for prosecution of the people who have kept us safe from terrorist attacks and arguing equally aggressively to free some of the people responsible for the group that was part of these terrorist attacks.
KING: David Gergen?
GERGEN: I cannot understand why anyone would want to get rid of West Point, which has been a terrific institution, but equally, I have a hard time understanding trying to get rid of the ACLU. I think they've done a lot of good things for the country.
But I would love to get rid of the political posturing. I think we have so many serious questions facing us as a people that the arguments, now, increasingly over the last few weeks have -- every time something comes up, there is -- people now run to the barricades and start making all these political points instead of, sort of, sorting it through.
We saw this on these torture memos. You know, I thought those were very hard calls Barack Obama had to make this week, and I thought he actually came out in about the right place. But people on both sides have politicized, almost are trying to criminalize our differences. It does seem to me that makes it extremely difficult to get on with business.
KING: Spring cleaning from David Gergen, Stephen Hayes, Gloria Borger, thanks for joining us today. I appreciate all the insights.
And, remember, we're still waiting to hear from President Obama at the end of the Summit of the Americas, his press conference. We're told the president has arrived at the site. We're not sure exactly when the event will begin. You see the scene right there. We will bring it to you live.
And when we come back, also a look at Florida's beautiful river of grass.