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State of the Union

State of the Union: Best Political Team on Television

Aired June 21, 2009 - 11:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And the next hour of "State of the Union" begins right now.

As demonstrators again take to the streets in Iran, a leading voice on foreign policy here in the United States says Iran's supreme leader upped the stakes by declaring the protests must stop.

LUGAR: The leader, Khamenei, perhaps made a grievous error by making that the issue. In other words, he could have called for another election or for reforms or various other things.

But in his speech on Friday, comprehensively, he said now out in the streets, you are indicating opposition into the state, the regime itself. It's not a question of Mousavi or Ahmadinejad. It's me and the Supreme Council.


KING: The Iranian government accuses Western nations, including the United States of inciting the protests and meddling in its affairs. A chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee says she's been assured that U.S. spy agencies are not involved.


FEINSTEIN: I can say this, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no interference with the election, there has been no manipulation of people following the election. These questions have been asked as late as this past week. People in the clandestine operations who would know this and in a formal setting. And that's the answers we were given.


KING: And as we watch more drama in Tehran today, the debate about whether President Obama should be more forceful in supporting those risking their lives, continues.


GRAHAM: This regime is corrupt. It has blood on its hands in Iran. They have killed Americans in Iraq, innocent Iraqi people. Now they're killing their own people. Stand-up with the protesters. That's not meddling, that's doing the right thing.

DODD: The worst thing that we could do at this moment for these reformers, these protesters, these courageous people in Tehran is allow the government there to claim this is a U.S. led opposition, this is a U.S. led demonstration.


KING: As you can see, we have been watching all the other Sunday shows, so maybe you don't have to. Let's bring in the best political team on television as we do every Sunday at this hour to break down the big issues. Joining me here in Washington, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile and conservative radio talk show host and CNN political contributor Bill Bennett.

And Bill, let's start with that very point, the debate. Most Democrats are saying the president has the tone just right. Many Republicans are saying no. He needs to go even further. He has said the world is watching, the president has. He has said what he sees now from the regime now is unjust. What more should he say at this moment?

BILL BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He's gotten a little better. He needs to condemn what the government is doing. He needs to say at no uncertain terms, this is very disappointing, as far as I'm concerned. This was the president to whom the whole world was looking. Remember when Barack Obama speaks, the young people of the world listen. This is a president about hope, he's about the future. This is a guy who was a community organizer. He missed it. He missed the opportunity. He was reckless. He behind Angela Merkel who condemned this. He was behind Sarkozy who condemned it. He was behind journalists who condemned it, people like David Ignatius and Jim Hoagland in the "Post" tonight. And finally, he was behind the Congress of the United States, including his own party who used the word condemnation. We are the last best hope of Earth. He is the president of the United States. If he will not side with these young people against a religious autocracy that is beating the hell out of people, what is the point of being the moral leader of the free world?

KING: Pretty strong words, Donna.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well first of all, I think the president has struck the right balance in terms of being able to hold back until all of the facts out there. And I'm not talking about what we witnessed over the weekend in seeing the government crack down on the people.

But initially, John, this started off as Senator Feinstein said earlier on your show, this started off as a challenge to the election. And now, it's a challenge to the states itself. And I think the president initially had the right tone in saying, let's wait until we see what happens in terms of internal affairs of a country that is counting their votes before we interfere with their own processes.

Look, if the United States is seen as showing its so-called fist at a moment when the people themselves are speaking out, it could have the adverse effect of rallying those individuals against the United States and not against their government. So I think he struck the right tone.

Now, individual citizens of the United States, people like myself, Bill and everyone else, we have every right to condemn it. The president has condemned it as well. He also used Dr. King's words in saying, the arc of the universe bends toward justice. And I think he is sending the right message to the people of Iran that the United States stands with them. KING: Are we seeing here something we have seen before in the sense that the statements are still not where you would like them to be? I believe, and let me stop for a second, you believe the president should say, if you are out on the streets, I stand with you? We stand with you. Is that what you're looking for?

BENNETT: If you look carefully at the statement, it's a nice invocation of King and other great people. But it's still a dial tone. It's still, we are watching. We're an observer. We're a witness. He should be a participant in this. He absolutely should be. And the fist should be the fist of the Statue of Liberty. That's what this country stands for.

And by the way, I would go even further and disagree with the quote you ran of Senator Feinstein. She's been reassured we're not doing anything. We should be doing something. We should be giving these people phone cards and duplication machines and access to Internet that they don't have and cameras and cell phones that the government can't block. We should be on the side of freedom, and not on the side of this, our supreme leader, as our president keeps referring to.

KING: Whether he's right or wrong, and that debate will continue, are we seeing something we have seen before? We were just having a conversation down in the newsroom and I was reminded by one of our producers, remember back when the Russian action in Georgia and the tensions there were going on and Senator McCain who is out this morning on one of the shows was very critical from the beginning. Senator Obama was more cautious.

And as developments unfolded, President Obama's rhetoric, then Senator Obama's rhetoric, did grow to be more strong. Are we seeing the same kind of thing where he is initially cautious and reserved, and then over time, he moves. And if the answer is yes, as you say it is, is there anything wrong with that?

BENNETT: Yes, there is, because the word besiege reentered our vocabulary before the weekend. These are these armed thugs that the government employs. They were using them much earlier in the week. Yes, you have to call the situation as you can see it. By the way, this argument that Chris Dodd is using, that we will be accused of meddling, we have been accused of meddling. We will be accused of meddling anyway. Britain has been accused of it and the and other countries have been accused of it.

At last then if you're going to be accused of it, make it worthwhile and make it positive. The language -- the last thing that is odd to me is all these people in the Democratic Party sounding like Pat Buchanan. You know, the isolationism, stay out of it. It's their issue. Let's see how this situation evolves. Is it not clear who the good guys and who the bad guys are in this?

BRAZILE: You can, we can sound as tough as --

BENNETT: Principle. BRAZILE: As the last administration. But the goal here is to allow these people to continue their protest, not just of the election, which I still believe was very fraudulent given the information that we have learned, but also to give the administration enough wiggle room to also pursue their goals, which is to ensure that Iran does not continue their nuclear ambitions.

We have twin goals here. And I think the administration has really put aside this need to just come out and sort of increase the level of volatility in a situation. But rather in a very calm way, this president inserted --

KING: One of the reasons the administration officials say the cautious approach is the right approach is because this isn't just about the election. Iran is a very volatile place in the world and as you know, we have been trying to get them to stop, scale back their nuclear program for some time.

I was quite surprised this morning, we were having this conversation with our Senate guests who were in earlier, Richard Lugar has been one of the leading voices on foreign policy in the Republican Party for quite some time. He is not as critical as many Republicans and as you are of the president. But I put the question to him, what if Iran out of this crisis, decides it needs to change the dynamic and it suddenly says we are ready for the high level dialogue, send over Secretary Clinton or tell us where to meet. We are ready to sit down. I was surprised when he answered.


LUGAR: Yes, it's totally improbable and the reason is, this regime now is under fire. This is not a stable regime in which two people suddenly sit down with the United States. They may not be able to impose their will. This is all about in the streets. But in direct answer to your question, of course, we really have to get into the nuclear weapons. We have to get into terrorism of Iran in other areas of the Middle East.


KING: So Donna, if Iran called next week and Senator Lugar says he thinks that's very improbable, but he says if they did call and say we're ready to sit down and talk about the nuclear program, the administration should say yes. As a member of the party that stood for civil rights, stands for human rights, would you sit down with them now or would you say we saw what you did to your people in the streets, sorry, you don't deserve that. BRAZILE: We can continue to condemn the violence that's taken place in Iran as well as the president as stated many times, continue to find ways to talk to them. We have multiple goals, once again, with regards to Iran. It's not just the United States would like to see the protesters succeed and their goals now of transforming their country. But it's also in making sure Iran is not a nuisance in the Middle East and Iraq and Israel and other places around the globe. BENNETT: Well again, I think the policy is feckless, pusillanimous, it's gutless, but it's also witless, I think. And it's not about a macho posture. It's about getting what we should be after, which is human rights for all human beings and also getting these results that we'd like if and when conversations take place.

Do we really think these guys are serious, talking about the end of nuclear weapons? Ahmadinejad has said that paper has been torn up. Now we have seen the nice approach Barack Obama has taken in his presidency. Are we further along with Iran or not? And the point of making it clear who we are and what we stand for, I think it is much more likely with a bully as it's almost always the case with a bully, that you'll get more by being strong rather than being so tactful.

KING: As we're having this conversation, I'm being told that the president has given a media interview I believe I'm told with a Pakistani outlet in which he has said we need to stand behind peaceful demonstrators.

KING: Is that better?

BENNETT: That's better.

KING: Is that enough?

BENNETT: In a couple weeks, he may have it.

BRAZILE: I disagree. I think the president's approach -- and most foreign policy leaders agree -- that he has taken the right approach. I mean, Henry Kissinger was another one who came out and said the president of the United States, at this moment, can condemn the violence, can support human rights, support freedom. At the same time, we have to keep those diplomatic channels open.

BENNETT: Diplomatic channels with Iran. I mean -- fine.

KING: Before we move on to domestic issues, I want to talk about how we're learning about so much of this. There are so many restrictions on journalists in that country. It's not a free and open country to begin with. It's very hard to get in. You have to apply for a visa. You get your visa. When it's over, they tend to ask you to leave.

We have a correspondent on the ground there who can't report live for us today because he has to ask for permission before he can report and he has been denied that permission. And so we are Facebook, Twitter, videos posted on YouTube and other social networking sites. That's how we're learning about this, culturally -- culturally.

Having gone through the end of the Cold War and having watched the Soviet Union collapse and (inaudible) what are we learning? How is it different this time?

BENNETT: You know, I remember, about three years ago, someone saying that the great face of freedom, the great threat to tyranny is not the 6'5 Marine coming over the hill; he's a pretty serious threat. But it's some guy in Stanford with eyeglasses working on the latest technology.


It really is a threat to all these regimes, all this technology. It started with the computer, which the Russians did not, even though they had this educational success, to some extent, they didn't want to give their kids computers in the old Soviet Union for fear that, you know, they would find out things they weren't supposed to.

Technology is a great -- is a great aid in the open society. You know, sunlight is the best disinfectant. And these things that I don't know how to use, some of them...


... I catch up. I'm always one step behind.


Just when I learned BlackBerry, they go to Tweeter or Twitter.

KING: I'm with you.

BRAZILE: Well, no, this is clearly helping the organizers, the protesters communicate with one another at a time when the government is cracking down on the leadership. And this will not just revolutionize the situation in Iran but all over the globe. When people are searching for freedom, they now know how to use the Internet and other social networking tools to communicate with one another.

KING: All right. Stand by. Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, stay with us. We're going to come back after a quick break. We'll talk about issues here at home: health care, the economy, the ambitious Obama agenda. Can he keep all those promises?

Stay with us.


KING: We're back with CNN contributors Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett. I want to bring things home, mostly to the home front, and discuss this president's very ambitious agenda.

Because we are on day 153 of the Obama presidency. That means there are 194 days left in 2009. And the president wants this to be a year of big achievement.

Let's start with Middle East peace. He said some months ago a major goal for this year is to get the Israelis and the Palestinians back into a peace process, at the table, making progress. The president also just has said he wants major changes to how we regulate the financial system in this country, and he wants them this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I've called for tough new common-sense rules of the road that punish abuse and reward drive and innovation in the financial sector.

I expect a bill to arrive on my desk for signature before this year is out. We are going to make sure this kind of crisis does not happen again.


KING: As he waits for that legislation, we know he wants immigration reform. He wants climate change. But he's also said a signature item this year must be dramatic health care reform. And as the president says, it must be now.


OBAMA: Let there be no doubt. Health care reform cannot wait. It must not wait. And it will not wait another year.



KING: Donna, you know the math. You've seen what's happened in recent days, here in town, with how to pay for the health care debate; how can we get there?

It is only day 153. We all need to sometimes take a breath. We rush to score things by the minute sometimes in this business. But when you look at how much he set out to do, is it time, with 194 days left in the year -- congressional recess is built into that schedule -- to start saying this might have to give; maybe that can wait?

BRAZILE: John, I believe that we can reform our health care system and we can do it this year. The Congress has had well over 16 years to look at these issues.

And there's no question that, with millions of Americans losing their health insurance, thousands losing their homes just to stay healthy, going into bankruptcy, there's no reason why Congress cannot put a real, serious health reform bill into place this year.

They agree on many of the goals. They just have to figure out how to pay for it. And they also have to decide if they are going to choose the public option, which many of us believe will keep the private insurance companies more honest and will provide better care and more options to those who have lost their health insurance.

BENNETT: I had two Bills on my radio show, Bill Kristol and Bill Frist. Bill Kristol said, too many difficulties; they're not going to get it through. Bill Frist says he's got the numbers and he can get something through if he wants it.

Look, as you can tell, I'm very disappointed with the president on the Iran thing. But I'll give him credit for this. It's a very big agenda. It's a transformational agenda. But he has to -- he has to pick and choose, I think, at least, where he puts his time.

You can have 20 things on the table. But presidential time is crucial time on the phone, talking to people.

And I think the Democrats, now, looking at this health care thing, which is in more trouble, I think, today than it was two weeks ago; main event, the Congressional Budget Office figures, that $1.6 trillion, or whatever it is, and still you don't have everybody covered, the main goal of the bill, is a problem, which means he has to take his time. If he takes a lot of time on health care, because that's the centerpiece, then he doesn't get to do time on other things.

But I think the plan is in very serious trouble.

KING: And let's stay on that point, on the health care point, because I was struck, this morning -- we had a great group of senators on, among them Chuck Grassley, who's the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee. He's also up for re-election next year.

His state was where the Clinton-Obama health care debate played out in the Democratic primary. So he knows the people of Iowa want something done. And even though the costs are way up, he said -- and he spent most of the past week in and out of Democratic chairman's office with other Republicans, trying to figure this out -- Chuck Grassley said he is still confident you can get a big deal, a big plan, accessibility, affordability for everybody this year.


GRASSLEY: We feel that we will be able to put together a bipartisan plan that will do what everybody wants to do, accessibility and affordability. And we'll be able to pay for that.


KING: Donna, a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill are saying, to Bill's point, we got a little off the tracks this week; we need the president to get more involved. If the president gets more involved, might it be smarter to get more involved by almost -- not going around the Democrats, but making sure that, when you have any conversation, that Chuck Grassley and the Republicans who are interested in a deal are in the room or do we do this like stimulus and like the budget so far where you have a Democrat deal, and then you go see if the Republicans care.

BRAZILE: Well first of all, John, I think the president has tried throughout his 153 days to reach out to Republicans. They may not agree with the president but he is reaching out. But he has sat down with Senator Baucus and Grassley and many others, Dodd, to ensure that some kind of bipartisan reform comes out of the Congress. Now we all know that in the Senate itself, this past week, Republicans offer 400 amendments. One amendment would even change the title of the bill. So we cannot allow trivial items to block health care reform. But I do believe that there's an honest attempt by Senator Grassley and many others to have a truly bipartisan strong health care bill this year.

BENNETT: It's filled with traps for the president though. Again, the thing that the Congressional Budget Office said was if you go with a plan, they guessed at what the details would be, would be $1.6 trillion and you wouldn't cover all the uninsured.

How do you pay for this thing? If he says you've got to pay for it by raising taxes, that's going to be a big problem for him because he doesn't want to concede that to the Republicans right now. And the amount of taxes would be very, very large.

So then on the other hand, there's the coverage question. He does have problems with Republicans on his right. But he has also got problems with people like Kent Conrad and Max Baucus who disagree on a lot too. So there's a lot to be worked out. My guess is he's going to put his shoulder to the wheel at least in terms of time because I think this is the centerpiece if other things flounder a little bit because of that, he has to accept that.

KING: I want to close our conversation by noting what day it is, it's Father's Day. And during the last day, I got a little message here from my daughter, Hannah, 12-year-old, Hannah King. She is beautiful. She said happy father's day. Nothing from her brother yet, which means he is sleeping probably. But the president of the United States had a big event Friday at the White House focusing on fatherhood. And he delivered a message to fathers out there. This president trying to use the bully pulpit to send a message.


OBAMA: If we want our children to succeed in life, we need fathers to step up. We need fathers to understand that their work doesn't end with conception. What truly makes a man a father is the ability to raise a child and invest in that child.


KING: A lot of things you do take issue with this president, I bet you like every word of that.

BENNETT: I sure do. There are two words in Latin, I think we're all Catholics here, aren't we or used to be. We're all Catholic schooled. Pater is one word and genator (ph) is the other and they both mean father. Genator (ph) is the biological act. But what he is saying there is pater, the one who takes care, takes responsibility.

By the way, he is almost uniquely suited to speak to this. He seems, by all accounts, not seems, is a fine husband and fine father. And boy, do we need more of that. We had 40 percent out of wedlock births in this country, 40 percent. Something like 75 or 80 percent in the African-American community. Nobody can be happy about that. No one can speak more eloquently to it and I think have more people listen than Barack Obama.

KING: We talked about the culture of communication earlier. How does having him in the White House saying that change our culture? BRAZILE: Well, you know, he took this dialogue beyond the White House gates this week and gone into the community here in Washington, D.C. Bill said that he's uniquely qualified. The president constantly reminds his audiences that he grew up without that father's image and that father's image in his life. And that presence and what impact that has had on him as a man and as a father himself. So I applaud the president for what he's done and what he's always I think he's committed to doing. And let me just say happy Father's Day to both of you and to my 79-year-old father down in Louisiana, who I'm sure in a minute after his church will be doing some father-like duties and cooking for his children.

BENNETT: I'm going home to balloons and hugs, I hope. I trust.

KING: Amen.


KING: You deserve it.

BENNETT: And church.

KING: And church. Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, thanks for coming in today. And after a short break, we'll go from the Beltway to the ballpark to the home of the Cleveland Indians. And since it's Father's Day, we'll talk to three dads going to the ball game with their kids. And guess what, peanuts, cracker jacks and some serious concern. Stay with us.


KING: As we were just discussing, it is Father's Day. And I can tell you firsthand, as much as I love my work, there is nothing like the joy of being a father. And I want to show you a little treat here. I don't do this very often, but this is Noah and Hannah King. This is a long time ago on a vacation up in Bar Harbor, Maine. We're having a little fun there. Every parent thinks about putting their kinds in the stocks every now and then, but note that face, this is a joke. We are having fun.

One of the things every father likes to do is I think anyway, most fathers, I know I do, is take their kids to the ballpark. And this right here is picture a few years back in what I call heaven, Fenway Park. Noah King and Hannah King, this was in April. As you can see, we're bundled up. It can be cold at Fenway.

So in our travels this week, knowing that it was going to be Father's Day, we decided as we were out in Cleveland, we decided, where can we catch fathers? Well one thing you do if you're a father is you take your kids to the ballpark maybe early so you can watch batting practice. So we went to Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians play there. We grabbed three fathers, one of them an Indians fan, one of them a Brewers fan -- it was a Brewers game. One just on vacation from North Carolina. We wanted to talk about the economy, we wanted to talk about health care and we wanted to talk about being a dad.


KING: That's how people used to define the American dream, the next generation always does better than the last generation. Is that in doubt?

JOEL BRODMAN, OHIO RESIDENT: Somewhat. But it always turns around. It always does. The economy always turns around. It might be five years. You might have to go to college. You will be going to college to get a job. That's one thing that's changed. You must go to college to get the first.

TOM NOWAK, WISCONSIN RESIDENT: Similar, but maybe not better. Out of school in '83 and that was a real tough job market then as well. Some guys struggled for awhile finding a job. I think college grads now will have that same problem.

KING: Does that scare you all, looking at these guys?

JEFF LANDRY, NORTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: You know what, I've got a kid here who's 13, that's going to college. My 529 has suffered and his 529 has suffered. And this little guy down here, Adam has suffered. I think people's attitudes quite frankly have changed. I think we're probably more similar to my grandmother from the Great Depression where I think people are going to be a little bit more conservative financially, not taking the risks that they once were. I think people are going to tighten up a bit, maybe not be those pesky Americans spending every nickel they have.

KING: Let me ask you about health care since that's the big thing they're debating in Washington right now. Does that hurt your family budget, rising health care costs and do you trust Washington, the politicians to help you?

JOEL BRODMAN, FINDLAY, OHIO: I don't trust them. I don't trust politicians. I want the same (INAUDIBLE), a choice. I mean, I understand there's so many people without insurance, but I just like the choice. I wouldn't want the government to run anything, anything.

KING: You like what you've got?

BRODMAN: I like what I got right now, yes.

TOM NOWAK, NEW BERLIN WISCONSIN: I'd be concerned if there was a totally public health care system. You know, hybrid, I think, there could be some merit to that. It's also a business owner and seeing, you know, 19.7 percent rate ups in our health care insurance over the last couple of years that it will get to the point where one can't provide health insurance to their employees.

JEFF LANDRY, WAKE FOREST, NORTH CAROLINA: My take is that what we need to be doing in America is figuring out what works, what doesn't. Maybe from the states that are already testing, beta testing, if you will. I know you are from Boston. That area. They already have some -- what's working there, and then take that national if it's working. KING: It's Father's Day weekend. I want you each to give me a reflection on being a father in the context of being at the ballpark and what this means in terms of being a father and taking your sons to the ballpark.

LANDRY: I'm on vacation. And we made a decision to come up to a baseball game, Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, which is very American. And the NFL Hall of Fame. This is for the next three or four days. And I have my three boys and my wife here. And it's going to be a great weekend. And I'm proud to be an American as you can see from my shirt.

NOWAK: I think baseball is just such Americana. And nothing better than playing catch (INAUDIBLE) in the front yard or the backyard. And it's fun, so.



KING: Nothing better than playing a little catch. Hard to disagree with that. We want to thank those three dads. We want to thank their families. We also want to thank the Cleveland Indians for their hospitality. While we were in Cleveland this past week, and I hope all dads get a chance to play catch or at least spend some time with your sons and daughters today.

We'll be back in just a moment with three members of the best political team on television.


KING: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. You're looking at live -- I'm sorry, tapes here of a protest in Washington, D.C., earlier today. You see the pictures there. These are those who believe the election in Iran was stolen from their candidate, Mr. Mousavi. They are demonstrating here in Washington. These pictures on Wisconsin Avenue, near Georgetown a short time ago here in the nation's capital.

Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. Joining me now here in Washington, senior political analyst David Gergen, senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar.

Let's begin with the pictures we just saw right there. And one of the questions at the moment as we watch this unfold and these protesters are out again in Tehran, which is most significant today after the supreme leader told them do not, no more protests in the streets, they are out again and many around the world are asking, what is the role of the president of the United States, what should he do?

And there's a debate in Congress back and forth about all of this. And the question is, Gloria, so far, is he hitting the right tone as we see this debate play out?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think there may be some disagreement at this table about that. I think that, at the beginning, the president was very careful not to insert himself in this argument, which he considered and the administration considered to be an internal political argument.

But at this point, if the violence ramps up. And again, John, we don't know if that's going to happen, but if the violence ramps up, I would expect to see a change in the president's tone. He did do an interview this morning as you spoke about earlier on Pakistani television. And I think it was more of the same although he has started to invoke the American civil rights movement.

And so he's talking about the demonstrations in Iran in terms of morality, right and wrong, justice and injustice.

KING: And on Capitol Hill we saw resolutions on the floor. We've seen a bit of a split in the Republican Party. Some conservatives saying, yes, it might be risky, Mr. President, but the role of the United States is to step out and say something. And others say, you know what, it's a tough one.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's being hit very hard by some Republicans in the House and some in the Senate. John McCain in the Senate, Mike Pence in the House, who say he has a moral responsibility to do something here.

But on the other hand, he's getting some back-up from Democrats. Congressman -- or, pardon me, Senator John Kerry saying, it would be an enormous mistake to interject the U.S. into this, calling sides.

So yes, there were these two resolutions that provided some cover. It said that it supported the Iranian people who were embracing democracy, but some of the language was watered down from what you saw from some of the Republicans who were really hitting President Bush. But both of these passed unanimously in the Senate, almost unanimously in the House.

And so it allowed Congress to go on the record, Republicans and Democrats, and say, this is our word on this.

KING: So you have watched this, David, as an adviser to presidents and as a journalist in this community, and now as a senior statesman, as we might say, how is he doing?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's a tough call. I would concede that. But I do believe that, John, now what we're watching is a Tiananmen Square unfolding in slow motion. And it's sort gradual to Tiananmen Square.

And I don't think the president is restricted to he intervenes or he doesn't intervene. There's a more creative solution and that is for him to organize a concert of nations to stand up together in favor of democracy and human rights and against the violence that we are seeing.

In that sense, it seems to me that the White House has been cautious to a fault. And it's surprising, because after the Cairo speech, one would have thought he was donning the mantle of international leadership. And this passivity, in effect, this caution sort of empties the Cairo speech of some its meaning.

BORGER: Well, I don't think it's necessarily passivity. I mean, I do think that he's being careful and I do think that there is a plan that they are watching very carefully to see if more violence erupts, then I think you take it to a different level.

I think it would be interesting, for example, if they have the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as a woman, become the de facto spokesperson for the United States given the fact that so many women in Iran are out there on the streets.

KING: I was struck, I sat down in Washington earlier this week with members of an Israeli delegation that was here for very significant talks with the Obama administration. And they were -- this is a conversation on anonymity, they were harsh. They said his reaction was soft, it was too timid, that as the leader of the free world, he needed to stand up.

And yet the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was asked today, do you second guess the president of the United States and how he has handled it? And he said, no. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I'm not going to second guess the president of the United States. I know President Obama wants the people of Iran to be free. He said as much in his seminal speech in Cairo before the Muslim world.

I've spoken to him a number of times on the subject. There is no question we'd all like to see a different Iran with different policies.


KING: David, the big issue is what happens in Iran, what happens to these protesters, is the regime stable, but to the question of people around the world watching our president, the president of the United States, handle this, what does it mean?

GERGEN: Well, I think that you're going to find that the world is divided. There are people who support the president very strongly, Netanyahu, there are a lot of international experts who support him. And it's not -- it is a close call about how to do this. I believe that it's a moral question and that he has a moral authority that's really important and for him not to exercise that moral authority is surprising. I think it's disappointing. I understand why it's so hard. But I think people around the world are going to be uncertain if they are courageous in their own country. Will he be there for them?

BORGER: I will give you this, David. I think it's really interesting because some people say that the mere fact that Barack Obama is there and gave the speech he gave in Cairo actually helped instigate what's going on now right now in Iran. And for him to sit back is a problem. However, you don't hear people saying we want to hear more from Barack Obama. You don't hear Iranians saying we want Barack Obama to insert himself into this, right? It's delicate.

KING: As we were discussing this this morning with the senators, what struck me is No. 1, Dianne Feinstein was here. She's the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Number one, she said she's been assured there are no clandestine operations going on in Iran funded by the United States. But then I asked her the fallout of the Iraq question. Do you trust what you are being told? Do we have good intelligence? Not that they're not telling you the truth, but do we have good intelligence inside of Iran? And her answer was disappointing.


FEINSTEIN: I don't think our intelligence candidly is that good. I think it's a very difficult country in which to collect intelligence right now. So, I think our ability to get in there and change the course of human events is very low, to be very candid with you.


KING: One of the promises, Brianna, after Iraq and weapons of mass destruction was to do a better job, to get more people in on the ground. A leading member of Congress says we are failing that test at the moment.

KEILAR: Yes, no, that was really interesting, coming from Senator Feinstein saying that intelligence isn't that good. I think that is something that certainly we are going to be hearing more of, John. But can you tell me a little more of what she said. I have to say, I missed part of it.

KING: her point was we don't have anybody on the ground. We don't have eyes and ears of our own on the ground. And therefore, most of the things -- everyone from the president of the United States to any member of Congress are saying are based on what they see on television. They are not getting anything -- they don't know anything beyond what we know, I guess.

GERGEN: It underscores, John, just how complicated this is going to be after these protests are over. What's the next chapter going to look like? If the president now goes and tries to negotiate with a regime that will be seen as increasingly illegitimate around the world, that complicates negotiations. And on top of that, he really doesn't know what's on the ground, doesn't have that kind of intelligence, how do you monitor an agreement if you do negotiate something?

BORGER: Right and by the way, we don't know depending on who ends up running Iran, we don't know whether Mousavi would be any different than Ahmadinejad in terms of negotiating with us. But one thing you're not hearing...

GERGEN: I think things have changed in that regard. The president made a mistake by equating those two, Ahmadinejad and Mousavi.

BORGER: Publicly, you think? Well, maybe publicly, but that may be privately what they are telling him.

KING: All right, a quick time out here. When we come back, all three of you stay with me, something else we don't know about. Will health care reform get passed this year? We move to the domestic front as you continue to watch these demonstrations here in Washington, D.C., we'll shift from Iran to the Obama domestic agency. STATE OF THE UNION will be back in just a second.


KING: Joined once again by CNN's David Gergen, Brianna Keilar and Gloria Borger. I want to get to the specifics of the health care debate in a minute. But first, I want to put the umbrella up, if you will, of the political climate we are in. The NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll this past week asked is President Obama taking on too many issues and not focused on the important ones? As you know, here in Washington, people say too many issues at once, he can't handle all of this, the system will collapse. Well the American disagree. Is he taking on too much? Yes, 37 percent, no, a resounding 60 percent.

And yet, when you go into the policies and you ask about are you worried about what's happening in Washington, you see some support for the president softening. Are you concerned about government intervention right now across the board, 69 percent say they are a great deal or quite a bit concerned, 17 percent say there's some, just some concern, 13 percent say very little. So David, if you're a Democratic president, your popularity is still high but you're beginning to see out there, if you're at 69 percent of the American people have a little jitters about the reach of government, that's a lot of Democrats and Independents.

GERGEN: It is, John. And in some ways, I think if you're a Democrat sitting in the White House like Rahm Emanuel, it says let's step on the gas and get this done as quickly as possible before we see more of it. Let's get it done while we are reasonably strong. But by come October, November, we may be down farther.

But it does suggest that the Republicans have and especially the moderate Democrats, these are going to be the turn people. They are going to watch those numbers, you well know, especially in the middle West and say can I afford to vote for something that's losing support quickly in my own district.

KING: And where you work, Republicans see this and they're trying to stoke it more every day. Too much government, too much spending, can't afford it.

KEILAR: They certainly are. And yet the Democrats will also point to, and just in general, Democrats and Republicans who say something needs to be done, for instance, about health care which is the big thing we're looking at on the Hill right now. So on one hand, you have Americans saying they are concerned about government involvement, but polling also show they want something done about health care, that a lot of them are even willing to pay more tax dollars to do something about it. And so there's a bit of a paradox as well for what they're hearing, and so Democrats are pointing to that as backing up what they want to do.

BORGER: You know, they're hugely conflicted, as they always are, when you cover a health care debate. Which is on the one hand, people want universal health care in this country, they think it's probably a good idea, they would like the government to get involved. On the other hand, they're afraid it is going to affect them. If they like their health care, they don't want that to change, and they're worried about how to pay for it, because they know that the way to pay for health care reform is by raising taxes. And no matter which way you raise taxes, somebody is going be upset about it. So now if the public wants it, they don't want to pay for it and they don't want to lose what they have.

GERGEN: We saw a lot of this same kind of conflicts in the polls back when the Clintons tried to reform health care...

BORGER: Absolutely.

GERGEN: ... a lot of support for it, as Gloria said, but a lot of concerns about it.

And one of the things this White House has done, which has been very smart, is to put the emphasis on getting costs down.

You know, you'll keep your plan; we're going to get the costs down. In the Clinton years, the emphasis was on getting more people covered. And a lot of people who already had coverage really got worried and got scared.

It really does allow Republicans a window, at this point in time, though, John, especially with health care stumbling out of the gates, because, with these big question marks, still, of how to pay for it and whether there's going to be this government-run insurance plan or is it going to be a co-op; what is it going to be, it allows Republicans to really look at those concerns people have.

Is this going to be bureaucrats making decisions? Is this going to be a complete government takeover? Is the government going to get in the way of your health care?

And so it really does allow them to -- to push that point of view.

KING: And to that point, the goal at the beginning -- the Democrats run the show, Democratic president, Democratic Congress, is universal coverage. We're going to bring everybody under the umbrella; we're also going to change the way we do the system. We're going to have an emphasis on wellness. We're going to have this radical change at once. Supporters and critics use the term "radical."

Chuck Grassley -- we talked about him earlier. He's the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee. If you're going to pay for health care, it has to go through that committee.

He says he still thinks, this year, you can get a bipartisan deal, but he says everybody -- everybody -- may have to look down a little bit, shorten their sights, not do as much as they had hoped. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRASSLEY: We're in the position of -- of dialing down some of our expectations to get the costs down so that it's affordable, and most importantly, so that it's paid for.


KING: Now, there's a leading Republican saying, I think we can still do this affordable and paid for if we compromise our expectations a little bit. And yet a leading Democrat from a big state, California -- a lot of hospitals in trouble in the system, there. Dianne Feinstein, you wouldn't call her way-out conservative. She's not liberal but she's not way-out conservative. You know what she says?


FEINSTEIN: To be candid with you, I don't know that he has the votes right now. I think there's a lot of concern in the Democratic caucus.


(UNKNOWN): He doesn't.

KING: So if he doesn't have the votes, right now, your point -- Rahm Emanuel says, you know, step on the gas before we lose more people, but...

GERGEN: Well, I think that they've got to decide if they want to do this with Democrats only or are they going to try to do it bipartisan. And I think, increasingly -- well, a major turning point in this whole debate came earlier this week, this past week, with the release of the Congressional Budget Office measurement of how much this was going to cost.

And it was sticker shock written all over that. And it has sent a shock wave through the Congress. And I think that has put in jeopardy whether they can actually get it done this year with a robust bill.

BORGER: And I think they've made the decision that they'll -- if it takes only Democrats doing it, plus a few Republicans here and there, that's the way they'll do it. I mean, they want to get it done.

KEILAR: There does seem to be, though, a small group of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate who are meeting together, including Chuck Grassley, including Max Baucus on Democrat side; Bingaman, on the Democrat side, Rockefeller, as well; on the Republican side, you've got Olympia Snowe and Senator Enzi.

And they seem really intent on trying to work out some sort of bipartisan compromise. If you were outside of Max Baucus's hideaway this week, you see them going in and out. And we weren't getting really firm -- a really firm sense of how things were going. They were playing that, kind of, close to the vest. But what they've been doing is crunching numbers with the Congressional Budget Office. They got that $1.6 trillion price tag that really threw them for a loop.

And so, as you heard Chuck Grassley say, they're dialing things down. They're trying to find the magic recipe. If you put this in and it brings the price down...


... you know, how do you do that? But there's still big questions.

GERGEN: It's so interesting. Baucus is playing a really constructive role in this with Chuck Grassley. It's very interesting to see them.

KEILAR: Why are you so surprised?


GERGEN: Well, no, I just think he's -- I just think he deserves a lot of credit.

KEILAR: Yes, they do.

GERGEN: This pharmaceutical deal they cut yesterday...

KING: I need to call a time-out. We're out of time here. We'll keep watching it.

Straight ahead, a look at how advanced electronics are revolutionizing medical care and some hope, ultimately, medical costs. We'll be right back.


KING: We told you earlier in the program, in our travels this week, we went out to Cleveland, Ohio, to the Cleveland Clinic. They keep costs down while providing amazing health care. They also have been revolutionizing the use of technology in the health care debate.

Now, the president says that will save billions over time. The people at Cleveland Clinic say they're not so sure. They can't prove that yet. But without a doubt, they say the use of electronic records and other amazing advances in technology is dramatically improving patient care.


C. MARTIN HARRIS, M.D., CIO, CLEVELAND CLINIC: Hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart failure, asthma. We spend 75 cents of every medical dollar on common chronic diseases. Under the paper model, if you had high blood pressure, we'd see you in the office, check your blood pressure, give you medications, send you out, and you would probably come back 90 to 120 days later. But hypertension and diabetes are continuous diseases. You have them every day.

A transformed model would be one where we could interact with the patient on a more regular basis, really start to think about the patient in their home.

And what we need to do is we need to know something physiologic about that patient, one of their vital signs, their blood pressure, their pulse, their glucose reading.

So what we did was to find digital devices that do exactly that. So, if you just take this and clip it on the end of your finger, there?

KING: Any finger?

HARRIS: Any finger. That device captures that as a number, transfers it to their local computer at home, sends it over the Internet and puts it into the EMR that their doctor is using.

KING: There are some people who are afraid of you, and potentially the government, having all this information.

HARRIS: The real challenge that I think you're hearing is not about doctors having the information. It's about where might that information go in an unintended way. And so that's more a privacy and security question.

We are going to have to meet that challenge, and it's a forever challenge. We will have to make it better. We will have to make it stronger, going forward.

If you think about chronic disease, making it better, 50 percent of it is truly medical-scientific; 50 percent of it is human behavior. Are you going to do that extra exercise this week?

Our diabetic patients will frequently say, when we see their blood sugar getting better and we ask them, why are you doing better now, they won't say because it's the computer is better, what they'll frequently say is because I know my doctor is watching.


KING: I'd like to thank our friends at the Cleveland Clinic for giving us amazing access while we were there.