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State of the Union

Interview with Hillary Clinton

Aired February 07, 2010 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: I am Candy Crowley, and this is "State of the Union."


CROWLEY (voice-over): An exclusive with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her take on the pressing national security and global challenges facing Americans. On the evolving threat from Al Qaida.

CLINTON: They are more creative, more flexible, more agile. We just have to stay alert.

CROWLEY: And personal reflections from her first year as the country's top diplomat.

Which is harder, Middle East peace, or negotiating this wedding?

Plus, insight and analysis from three leading political reporters.

This is the "State of the Union" report for Sunday, February 7th.


CROWLEY: We begin with the world around us. In the year since the Obama era opened, has Al Qaida gotten stronger? Is Iran any less of a threat? Can the Afghan president pull his country together so U.S. troops can come home? And who will save Haiti? This and more in a wide-ranging interview with the woman at the center of U.S. diplomatic efforts, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We sat down at the State Department and began with terrorism and the Al Qaida threat.


CROWLEY: First of all, thank you so much. It's an honor to have you on this first show.

So I wanted to talk to you first about the past month. We have seen a would-be terrorist frighten a lot of people on a plane over Detroit, we have gotten an Osama bin Laden tape, and we have now been warned by the U.S. government that it is certain that there will be an attempted attack on the U.S. or on America the next one to six months.

Is there a reason Americans should not look at that and think, the risk factor is up?

CLINTON: Well, Candy, first of all, congratulations on your new show.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

CLINTON: I really wish you well. You have a lot to contribute to Sunday morning television.

I think what is fair for Americans to think is that we have had a continuing threat from Al Qaida and related terrorist organizations over many years now. It hasn't gone away. We have contained it. We have worked very hard to do so. But over the last six months, we have seen attacks foiled, people arrested and charged. So that you have to be constantly vigilant. And that's what everybody working in this government at all levels attempts to do.

In the last month, because of the high-profile attempt on the airplane, people's attention became very focused. But a bin Laden tape is nothing new. It comes and goes depending upon when he decides to do it.

But I think it's really important for people to just go along with their daily lives. I mean, you can't be deterred or discouraged or fearful about what is happening. And we just have to do everything we can to keep America safe.

CROWLEY: Can you give me a feel for it? Is the risk higher? Is Al Qaida stronger now than a year ago?

CLINTON: It's very difficult to make that kind of assessment, because they have always been plotting against us. I was a senator from New York on 9/11. I was honored to serve the people of New York until I took this job. I thought about it every day. I got intelligence every day. Somebody was thinking about that, or we picked up information about a plot there.

So to me, who has followed this very closely since 9/11, I don't see them as stronger, but I see that they are more creative, more flexible, more agile. They evolve. You know, they are, unfortunately, a very committed, clever, diabolical group of terrorists who are always looking for weaknesses and openings. And we just have to stay alert.

CROWLEY: If they are more agile and more clever, are there more of them? And doesn't that sort of add up to more risk?

CLINTON: I don't know if there are more of them. We have certainly degraded their capacity in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We know that. As the president said the other night, we have killed and captured a significant number of Al Qaida's top leadership, as well as people in the Taliban organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan who cooperate with them.

We see some new areas of threat emanating from Somalia and Yemen, but whether that's now in the cumulative greater or whether because the numbers in Afghanistan and Pakistan have decreased, it's about the same, but with the unfortunate fact that they are committed to killing and destroying innocent people in their own countries, as well as around the world, including the United States.

CROWLEY: While we are in that region, let me ask you about Afghanistan. U.S. troops cannot get out of there unless there is a stable Afghan government. Hamid Karzai as of this point does not have a full cabinet. They are now trying to bring in not just foot soldiers, bring them back into the fold, not just Taliban foot soldiers, but some higher-ups. Do you have any doubt in your mind that Hamid Karzai can get his act together and put together a stable government?

CLINTON: I think that the strategy that the United States and more than 44 countries are pursuing in Afghanistan obviously requires that we have a good partner in President Karzai and the Afghan government.

That doesn't mean that we will always do what he wants or we will do what he want, but we do expect to see a level of competency and capacity.

CROWLEY: Have you seen it?

CLINTON: Yes, actually there are -- there are areas of very positive cooperation. He may not have a full cabinet, but the cabinet members he has are people who many of us view as honest and effective, productive. We work with them on a daily basis. The defense minister or the finance minister, people who are really producing results for Afghanistan.

I spent a lot of time with President Karzai, most recently about a 90-minute, one-on-one conversation in London. I think he has really stepped up since his second inaugural address. He laid out a road map there. He is trying to follow that road map.

But I always remind myself that what, five or six years into a new nation that has no history of democracy, let's be realistic about the kind of support that this new government and the president needs. So I think we have to put this into a more balanced perspective. It's neither as bad or as good, just like most of life and most of the situations that I deal with around the world, and I think we have developed a much stronger understanding and partnership in the last year going forward.

CROWLEY: So no doubts that Karzai is the man to pull this together?

CLINTON: Well, he is the president of the country, and I very much respect the authority that he has. He has asked for help, most recently at the London conference, but he also has his own ideas, as do the Afghan people. So in any relationship with any country -- think of some of our oldest allies like France or England -- you are not always going to get 100 percent agreement. But you work with the leaders and you work with the people. We are not yet turning the corner, but we are, you know, sort of inching our way forward to being able to do so.

So I think on balance, we are in this with, you know, people and countries who are committed to the same outcome.

CROWLEY: Shall we leave the Karzai doubt question on the table?

CLINTON: Well, I mean, I don't agree with any other single leader in the world. I mean, I don't -- I mean, obviously we have a lot...

CROWLEY: I just think that's a little different from -- are you a little worried that he is not going to be able to pull this off? And I pursue it only because that's the only way U.S. troops are going to get pulled out.

CLINTON: Well, but, see, I think that we have looked at President Karzai through a lens that is not rooted in reality. I mean, we do business with leaders all the time, some of whom are great American allies, that have a lot of questions raised about them. But we do an assessment, what is in the best interest of America? What is in our national security? What advances our interests and our values? What keeps Americans safe? And so, why should we take one leader out and put him apart from all the other leaders we deal with and raise all those doubts, instead of saying, look, we've got work to do and we're doing it. We're doing it day by day, and I think we're making progress.


CROWLEY: Next, Secretary Clinton talks about the uphill effort to engage a nuclear Iran and North Korea.

Plus, they honeymooned in Haiti, and now she is secretary of state and he is the United Nations envoy to Haiti. The Clintons, her role and his.


CROWLEY: Now, part two of my interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


CROWLEY: I want to bring your attention to something that President Obama said in his inaugural, a little more than a year ago.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will extend our hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.


CROWLEY: Has Iran unclenched its fist?

CLINTON: No. CROWLEY: How about North Korea?

CLINTON: No, not to the extent we would like to see them. But I think that's -- that is not all to the story. Engagement has brought us a lot in the last year.

Let's take North Korea first and then we will go to Iran. In North Korea, when we said that we were willing to work with North Korea if they were serious about returning to the six-party talks and about denuclearizing in an irreversible way, they basically did not respond in the first instance. But because we were willing to engage, we ended up getting a very strong sanctions regime against North Korea that China signed on to and Russia signed on to, and right now is being enforced around the world.

CROWLEY: Did the extended hand of the U.S. help in any way that you can point to?

CLINTON: It did, because -- because we extended it, a neighbor like China knew we were going the extra mile. And all of a sudden said, you know, you are not just standing there hurling insults at them. You've said, all right, fine, we're willing to work with them. They have not responded, so we are going to sign on to these very tough measures.

Similarly in Iran. I don't know what the outcome would have been if the Iranian government hadn't made the decision it made following the elections to become so repressive, but the fact is, because we engaged, the rest of the world has really begun to see Iran the way we see it.

When we started last year talking about the threats that Iran's nuclear program posed, Russia and other countries said, well, we don't see it that way. But through very slow and steady diplomacy, plus the fact that we had a two-track process -- yes, we reached out on engagement to Iran, but we always had the second track, which is that we would have to try to get the world community to take stronger measures if they did not respond on the engagement front.

CROWLEY: I want to turn to Haiti for a minute. We are in there with a lot of people. They are doing a lot of talking, and what they are finding is Haitians saying we wish the American government would come in here and take over, because they don't think their government is capable in the post-rescue period of rebuilding Haiti. What is wrong with that idea?

CLINTON: Candy, I am very proud of what not only our country has done, both our military and particularly our civilians and our new USAID administrator, Raj Shah. Everybody has just stepped up and performed admirably. So have other countries. This has been a global response.

But the fact is, there is a legitimate government with authority in Haiti, despite the fact...

CROWLEY: A really weak government. CLINTON: Well, the fact is that we were working with them before the earthquake. One of my goals as secretary of state, which the president agreed with, was for us to work with that government and try to help them implement a national development plan. And we have spent a lot of time on that.

In fact, what is so tragically ironic, is that literally the night before the earthquake, on PBS there was -- "The Newshour" had a segment about the progress that was being made in Haiti, under this very same government. Unfortunately, all of that was, you know, upended by the earthquake.

What we are doing, along with our international partners, is to work with the Haitian government so that there is a mechanism for coordination. They have to be part of it because they have the legal authorities. Unless a government or a bunch of governments is going to occupy Haiti, which would have all kinds of very unfortunate implications, we have to help support the Haitian people and their government.

There is a lot of talk going on, a lot of conference calls flying back and forth. The trip that I made to Montreal for the conference. And I am confident we are going to come up with a system.

CROWLEY: U.N. envoy to Haiti, whom you may know...

CLINTON: I do know him.


CROWLEY: I am just curious how that works exactly? Does he give you reports? Does he call up and say, hello, Secretary of State? And really, who is the boss here?

CLINTON: Well, you know, he was appointed, again, months and months ago, and was working on the private sector. He had brought hundreds of business people from around the world to sign contracts to employ people in Haiti. And now he has been asked by Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon to continue and enhance his role because of the earthquake.

He talks to the people who I work with. He doesn't, you know, it's not me. It's Raj Shah and Cheryl Mills and the other teams...

CROWLEY: He doesn't say, give me the big kahuna here?


CLINTON: No. I mean, he talks to people who are really working on this 24 hours a day. Obviously, we talk about it, too. We have a special place in our heart for Haiti, having gone there during our honeymoon many years ago, and it's a place that is captivating. The people are so resilient, and they deserve so much better than what they have gotten over their history. And I think Bill is committed, as I am, to doing everything we can. CROWLEY: If you were to say to the American people, this country is the most dangerous to Americans and to the U.S., where is that country?

CLINTON: You know, Candy, in terms of a country, obviously a nuclear-armed country like North Korea or Iran pose both a real or a potential threat.

CROWLEY: And you're convinced Iran has nuclear...

CLINTON: No, no, but we believe that their behavior certainly is evidence of their intentions, and how close they are may be subject to some debate, but the failure to disclose the facility at Qom, the facility to accept what was a very reasonable offer by Russia, France and the U.S. through the IAEA to take their uranium, their low- enriched uranium and return it for their research reactor -- I mean, there's just a -- it's like an old saying that if you see a turtle on the fence post in the middle of the woods, he didn't get there by accident, right? Somebody put him there.

CLINTON: And so you draw conclusions from what you see Iran doing. But I think that most of us believe the greater threats are the transnational non-state networks, primarily the extremists -- the fundamentalist Islamic extremists who are connected, al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, al Qaeda in the Maghreb, I mean, the kind of connectivity that exists.

And they continue to try to increase the sophistication of their capacity, the attacks that they're going to make. And you know, the biggest nightmare that any of us have is that one of these terrorists member organizations within this syndicate of terror will get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction. So that's really the most threatening prospect we see.


CROWLEY: Up next, Secretary Clinton on the Obama administration's policy of engagement, where it has and has not worked. Also personal reflections after a year as the nation's top diplomat.


CROWLEY: We continue with my interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.


CROWLEY: When you look at the biggest success in the past year for the open hand, where is your -- I mean, the Middle East is still pretty much a mess despite some really bright minds over there trying to work it out. We talk about Iran and North Korea and others. Where is there success of specifically engagement?

CLINTON: You know, again, I would say that this has been a very successful year for the following reasons. First, it's almost hard to remember how poorly much of the world viewed the United States when President Obama came into office. And both his election and his persona combined with the approach we took of seeking to find the basis for engagement on mutual respect and mutual interests, has really created a much more open, receptive atmosphere.

We are working in many difficult situations in every continent, but I think we are being received in a positive way, which gives us a better chance to find common ground. Now, I am, you know, fairly realistic about foreign policy, and, you know, countries don't just give up what they view as their interests in order to make nice with you. You know, it takes a lot of effort.

But I really feel that the engagement was the first stage. We had to change the mindset of not just leaders, but of their populations. We are moving towards a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, something that has been a high priority with us. We have reset our relationship. The Russians have been very positive in discussions about sanctions on Iran, and on many other important matters.

I am not sure that would have been predicted a year ago. We do have a very comprehensive engagement with India, with China, with other big countries from South Africa to Turkey to Brazil, and we are working together in areas of mutual interests or where the United States can be a facilitator.

So I think that when I look back on this past year, I see a lot of positive trends. Now this has -- this year, 2010, has to be a year of implementing and building on the positive foundation that we have built.

CROWLEY: A quick question on health care, which seems to be stalled, which -- and that's probably the best we can say about it. Are you getting deja vu watching this?


CLINTON: Well, it's really hard. It is a complex issue that touches everybody about which both people and interests have really strong feelings. But I have not given up yet. And I know the White House has not given up. And I don't think a lot of the members of Congress have given up. So I am not sure that this last chapter has been written.

CROWLEY: Call anybody on the Hill, or have you talked to the White House, are you dispensing the wisdom of your time trying to figure this out?

CLINTON: Well, when I am asked, I am very happy to respond. I mean, it's not anything I have direct responsibility for, but I have had a number of conversations and both in the White House and on the Hill and with others who are playing a constructive role. And I, like I think many Americans, hope that there can be a positive outcome.

CROWLEY: So I want to do a quick lightning round with you. First of all, Colts or the Saints? CLINTON: Oh, you know, I don't answer football questions, because to be honest, I don't follow it. Now if my husband were sitting here, he would give you a very long exegesis as to why one team was better than the other. But I'll just leave it to see what happens at the Super Bowl.

CROWLEY: In between talking about Haiti, he doesn't say, I need you to root for...

CLINTON: Not -- well, no, because neither of them are our teams. I mean, there is not a New York team, I mean, we're -- you know, so, we are just interested observers.

CROWLEY: Who are you watching the game with? Or are you on the phone with foreign leaders?

CLINTON: Well, if they call me, I'm on the phone with them, otherwise it will be, you know, my family.

CROWLEY: And finally, just as the mother -- recently the mother of a groom has -- as the mother of a bride, have you found that dress yet?

CLINTON: Well, if you don't tell anybody, Candy, we are still looking. Yes, and it's a new status for me being an MOTB. But I am very proud to have that status.

CROWLEY: Good luck on the search, that's all I have to say...

CLINTON: Thank you, but your...

CROWLEY: ... as you know, it's...

CLINTON: You know, your son, you didn't have to go buy a dress, so that's good.


CROWLEY: Exactly.

CLINTON: That was not part of the...


CROWLEY: So no Chelsea dress either?

CLINTON: Well, I don't have a dress yet, no, and Chelsea doesn't either. But you know, we're working on it.

CROWLEY: Oh, my goodness. Well, good luck. And is it -- do you think it's -- which is harder, Middle East peace or negotiating this wedding?


CLINTON: Well, I'd probably call it a draw about now. (LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Well, good luck with both, actually. I really appreciate your being with us.

CLINTON: And good luck to you.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

CLINTON: You're welcome.


CROWLEY: When we come back, a reported rift between top members of the Obama inner circle, at odds over the 9/11 terror trials and a stand-still on health care. Frustration grows among Democrats looking for a way forward. What's happened and where's it all going? Insight from three top journalists, next on "State of the Union."


CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley, and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.

The Northeast is digging out from a historic winter storm. Snowfall reached two to three feet in some areas, crippling transit and knocking out electrical power for thousands.

Cities hard-hit by the storm hope to be up and running by tomorrow for the start of the work week.

For the first time since the 1970s, voters in New Orleans have elected a white mayor. Louisiana's Democratic lieutenant governor Mitch Landrieu cruised easily to victory last night with two-thirds of the vote.

Landrieu is continuing in his family's political dynasty. His father, Maurice Moon Landrieu was the city's last white mayor. His sister, Mary Landrieu, currently serves as Louisiana's U.S. senator. He'll take office in May from outgoing Mayor Ray Nagin, who was prevented from running due to term limits.

The focus in New Orleans today, though, is strictly football. For the first time ever, the New Orleans Saints will play in the Super Bowl, facing off against the Indianapolis Colts tonight in Miami. Super Bowl XLV is expected to draw a TV audience of about 800 million people worldwide.

Those are your top stories here on "State of the Union." Up next, three top political reporters look at the major stories from this week, including Sarah Palin's big speech last night at the Tea Party convention.


CROWLEY: Joining me now in Washington, Chris Cillizza, White House correspondent for The Washington Post, Jane Mayer, staff writer for The New Yorker, and CNN's senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

I am not sure what I owe you all for leaping over 30 inches of snow and -- but...


BASH: ... for your first day.

MAYER: Thanks for having us.

CROWLEY: Thank you very much. Thank you. I'm delighted you're here. I can't help myself, and neither can you. I want to start out with Sarah Palin...


... who last night gave this big old well-received speech at the Tea Party, and had this to say.


FORMER GOV. SARAH PALIN, R-ALASKA: Treating this like a mere law enforcement matter places our country at grave risk, because that's not how radical Islamic extremists are looking at this. They know we're at war, and to win that war, we need a commander in chief, not a professor of law standing at the lectern.



CROWLEY: So, true story, last night, Dana and I, because apparently neither of us had anything better to do, were watching this. And she e-mailed me as I was e-mailing something else, both with the same message, "2004 called and they want their issue back."

CROWLEY: It seems to me that all of this talk about the economy, the economy, that this other issue has slipped in about how this administration is treating those suspected terrorists and the trials in New York?

CILLIZZA: You know Candy, I think what is interesting about it is that it's an issue that waxes and wanes with the American public. In the years after September 11th, without any pressing attack or threat of the attack, as an issue, it dropped off. People didn't cite it as much. It wasn't on their mind as much, but now with the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as well as the attack, alleged attack, attempted attract in Detroit, it's now back on peoples' minds more.

And Sarah Palin is playing to a very, very passionate strain -- not clear how big yet, but a passionate strain within the Republican Party. But also more broadly in politics, that says the Obama administration is handling this in a sterile analytical way, and they need to go out there and say -- to quote Sarah Palin, her theory on terrorism, we win, they lose. Some people see it in that stark terms. And as you know in politics, if you can fit it on a bumper sticker, it is usually better than if you can't.

MAYER: You know, it makes a great sound byte, for sure, to be able to talk like that. But she has a knack for encapsulating exactly the problem, which is when she says we need a commander-in-chief and not a law professor.

She is suggesting what the Obama administration would say is a false choice. The president is not only the commander in chief to here defend the nation from any kind of threat, but he also is the defender of the Constitution. He takes an oath -- he swears an oath to uphold the Constitution, and the Constitution, unfortunately for her, requires that inside of America, you read any suspect, you take their rights. They have a right to remain silent, they have a right to a lawyer, they have a right to due process. It's not -- there is not an alternative legal system that exists out there where you could just snap...

CROWLEY: I was going to say there is the Constitution and the politics.

BASH: Right, exactly, and the problem is that what Sarah Palin said last night is resonating big time, especially among the president's fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill.

This past week, I spent a lot of time talking to Democratic senators in the hallway, listening to what they were saying on this, and there is deep, deep concern about what the president is doing. And somewhat on the policy, the whole idea of trying these suspects in civilian courts, but much more on the politics.

They feel that -- many of these Democrats feel that this is a losing issue and there is a lot of blame that they are pointing towards the Obama administration for not explaining this well. I talked to one source who said that look, they actually may have the policy on their side, but they did virtually nothing from the perspective of Democrats who have to actually run, many of them, in 2010 in November, to actually explain that this is something that they feel that is a necessary thing to do. Because Republicans are very much getting the better of Democrats and of the administration, because you could hear it from Sarah Palin.

MAYER: The situation is that the Obama administration allowed these decisions to be made by the attorney general.

CROWLEY: Let me interrupt just because interrupt because the ins and outs, I just wanted to point out Jane Mayer's article in the "New Yorker," which does do the ins and outs, so I'm just going to like establish to tell us how they came to this decision. It's a great article. You should read it.

MAYER: Well, I mean, he is very frustrated, the Attorney General Eric Holder because basically he is up against two big myths right now. One myth is that what the Obama administration is doing is any different than what the Bush administration did in terms of prosecuting terrorism.

The Bush administration prosecuted and convicted something like 150 terrorists in the criminal courts here, and three down in military commissions.

BASH: That is those people we've heard of, Richard Reid, the biggies.

MAYER: And put them away for life. And so they are doing much of the same thing as all previous administrations have done. And the track record, there's a complete myth that the military is somehow tougher and more efficient than America's courts. The track record is bad in the military commissions. They have convicted three people, one for life and two for a matter of a couple months who are freed now.

CILLIZZA: Just very quickly on the political. I think that in some ways, Dana is right, I think. There is real trepidation among many vulnerable Democrats about this. But I just wonder if they are fighting the last 2004 election, too. I looked before we came on, 2008 exit polling, among people who were very worried about another terrorist attack, John McCain won 54 to 43. Among people who were somewhat worried though, Barack Obama won 51-48.

National security and terrorism has been a fading issue for Republicans over the last few years. Now, that may well be because it hasn't been as the top of the mind. But I think if Republicans are depending on solely on this, solely on national security and terrorism to get them back in the majorities, it's not enough because you know what, look at any poll and the economy is by far the overarching issue.

BASH: And that's what the White House -- I talked to somebody at the White House last night who said if you look at the polling, I think 60 something percent of Americans think that the Obama administration is actually doing the right thing, has the right approach.

MAYER: The one issue where they completely are losing out is on trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City. And the numbers are just upside down for them.

CROWLEY: I just want to throw in one thing because their whole -- the premise that they tried to sell was it is important for people to see American jurisprudence at work, that we give people fair trials. Now I want you to listen to Robert Gibbs last week on the show with John King.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to meet justice and he's going to meet his maker. He will be brought to justice and he is likely to be executed for the heinous crimes that he committed in killing and masterminding the killing of three how 3,000 Americans. That you can be sure of.


CROWLEY: So there is that whole innocent until proven guilty. And then there is -- and this is not the least of the statements that have been made. They have also said, well, you know, if he's -- what if he's found guilty? Don't worry, we will just lock him up. Well then what is the point here? We've got a dual signal from them on this.

MAYER: They have done, I think people would tell you from the Hill, both Democrats and Republicans, a poor job of salesmanship on this subject.

BASH: And that's an understatement.

MAYER: Part of the reason is Eric Holder, the attorney general, sees his job as he wants to be an a-political attorney general. He thinks especially after the last administration, it's important not to be seen as political. But the White House was divided about the subject, about what to do with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, was not keen on trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian courts, especially in New York City. And so you have not seen, I think, the full effort of the White House behind this.

BASH: And the one thing I would add to what you said, Chris, about the polling from the last election, that that might be true, but that was before Scott Brown, and that was also before you had Christmastime when everybody was scared to death because all of a sudden you had a guy with more than fire crackers in his pants.

And Scott Brown was able to use that and combine it with the way the administration wants to try these guys, and to say you wait a minute, you really want them to have the same rights that you do? And you talk to anybody in the Brown campaign and they will tell you that was blockbuster, that was off the charts. And that's why the Democrats are more concerned.

CILLIZZA: One of the most important things, I think, just to plug Jane's piece again, one of the important things in the piece is Eric Fehrnstrom who many of us know, who worked with Governor Romney when he ran for president, who was deeply involved in this campaign, says that the national security was critically important. Scott Brown had some level of military background. He essentially said I think we should not treat these people as somebody who shoplifted. We should treat them as enemy combatants. And that played to that populist image.

I think we have a misconception in some ways here in Washington about why and how Scott Brown won. He didn't just win because of health care. He won in a lot of ways, the populism, that national security, that I understand, meanwhile the people in Washington, they are continuing to do things that make no sense in keeping you safe. Critically important piece of it that a lot of people miss that Jane didn't.

CROWLEY: Hang on with me a second, they are going to be back after the break and we are going to switch gears. President Obama unveils his new budget saying the federal government is cutting back in these hard times, just like American families are. Really? We'll talk it over with our panel.


CROWLEY: We're back with Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, and CNN's Dana Bash.

I -- this is just my sound bite of the week. You know, you just -- you listen to things and your ear starts to burn. This is from President Obama about the budget.


OBAMA: ... to hold Washington to the same standards families and businesses hold themselves. It's time to save what we can, spend what we must, and live within our means once again.


CROWLEY: OK, you know (inaudible) but somehow, are they saving what they can in this budget? What is this budget about? Is this a -- a political year budget? Are they really saving?

CILLIZZA: I defer to Dana, but I will say -- let me -- let me talk about the politics of it. It is a political-year budget. I always think it's funny when people say, well, the election it's in nine months, nobody's thinking about it. That is not, in fact, the case.

Politicians think about politics all the time. And this White House, however -- for however they would like to be perceived -- is a political White House.

I think the Obama administration wanted to send a message, we are not just free-spending Democrats, we do not think the government should just take over everything. We are going to freeze domestic spending. We are going to cut programs, because we understand that you're worried about the debt.

Now, cutting where they've cut, the budget is still this massive thing that most people can't even perceive of. So whether they get the political benefit of it or not, I don't know, but it clearly has a political tinge to it.

BASH: Right. Oh, there's no question the political tinge is -- is the middle of the road. That's what they try to do, to at least say that they're doing something about -- about spending by freezing some of the domestic programs, which really made the liberals unhappy, which made them at the White House think that they were doing the politically right thing, and -- and still -- and still not freezing money on defense and so forth.

But I think that, as Sarah Palin said last night, how's that hopey-changey thing going? I mean, it was... CILLIZZA: Channeling Sarah Palin.


BASH: No, I mean, it was effectively trying to address that kind of -- of -- of feeling out in the country, is that what's going on in Washington isn't -- hasn't necessarily been the hope and the change that -- that people who voted for the president to come to.

CILLIZZA: Nevertheless, from the -- from the Brown campaign, is people voted for change, but they don't like the kind of change they've gotten or they don't feel they've gotten adequate change. So amazingly what got President Obama elected is exactly what Scott Brown used to get himself elected as opposition to the president's agenda.

CROWLEY: Jane...

MAYER: Well, and the problem's the economy is just not feeling good enough to people yet. And so -- and the problem for Obama is that half the economists say you need to spend more and -- and -- and do more stimulus, which would then, of course, increase the deficit further.

CROWLEY: Let me go a little arcane Washington here, because I think there's a bigger story. Senator Richard Shelby, the senator from Alabama, has now put a hold -- that is, made it so that all of the nominees that the president has on the slate for the Senate to consider, it can't come up in the Senate. Why? Because he's got a couple of things he wants done in Alabama first.

The White House went crazy on Friday and said this is exactly what people hate about Washington. Talk to me a little bit about that. What's the attitude?

BASH: Well, first of all, when you add it all up, it's 70 Obama nominees, which is no small number, right? And what he specifically wants -- he said it's about national security, because as we've been talking about, national security is suddenly back on the political front-burner.

But it's very parochial. He wants Air Force tankers, he wants them to be built in his home state of Alabama, and he wants an FBI counterterrorism building to -- to -- to get to work. He wants it to actually -- he wants them to build it in his home state of Alabama.

MAYER: Which the FBI does not want. I mean, there's a word for this, which is pork, right?


BASH: Right, it is. It was an earmark. It was an earmark.

MAYER: It's just like pork spending.

BASH: So -- so I think, politically, the reason why you heard Robert Gibbs go crazy at -- at the White House on Friday, because this is like political manna from heaven for -- for them, you know, of course they say they would rather have their nominees, but because the point that they have been trying to make, the point that the president has been trying to make since Scott Brown was elected is, wait a minute, Washington is frozen because all of a sudden we need 60 votes to do anything in the Senate, you know, never mind the fact that Democrats did the exact same thing when -- when Republicans were in the White House.

CILLIZZA: You know, it's -- it's an interesting political tactic to -- to talk about the filibuster. And it's clear the Obama administration, the president himself has decided that this is a place they want to go to.

He's been using it repeatedly. He talked about it when he talked to Senate Democrats. He talked about it at the Democratic National Committee meeting.

Usually, you would dismiss this -- this is the arcane of the Senate, but I think one thing it could be doing is, the liberal base of the party is absolutely irate at the idea -- to Dana's point -- "We have 59 votes in the Senate, and we can't get anything done."

This may be a way to try and energize what has been a very listless base thus far in his presidency in advance of the midterms, to say, "I'm fighting for you. I think this is ridiculous, too. Let's go and prove to Republicans how we govern and how we do things." Whether it works or not, it's -- it's a little bit of a triple bank shot, but...

MAYER: I think you can see from the numbers that it's got possibilities for them, though, because Obama's number -- he's still at like 52 percent, 53 percent approval rating. The Republican Party at this point, it's less than a third of approval rating, because people, voters apparently, you know, don't like this kind of childish game-playing going on, and they look at it as obstructionism. They want the problem solved.

BASH: And now this (inaudible) I was over at the DNC. They're having the winter meeting here in Washington. And I heard, whether it was a Democrat from Utah or South Carolina or Minnesota, heard that over and over again, frustration with their leadership in Washington, saying, "Wait a minute. We worked so hard, and 59 Senate seats isn't enough? Get our agenda done."

CROWLEY: Let me -- I'm going to now -- you know, we have to talk about this. One of my favorite parts in the Hillary Clinton interview was when I asked her, the Colts or the Saints? She said, "Oh, I don't watch football."

And I thought, "Wow, this is great," like no longer the politician, right? You know, when you're secretary of state, it's like, "Oh, I'll just talk however."

We -- we know, if -- if you look at this, this, of course, home of the Colts, 11 electoral votes, and then, of course, the Times- Picayune, nine electoral votes. The president we're told is going with the nine electoral votes in Louisiana, which is interesting. Go. Who's winning here?

CILLIZZA: OK, I see everything from a political perspective, so you have Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana, against Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, both Republicans, both talked about as potential 2012 candidates. I think neither of them will run. My personal thought: I would like to see Peyton Manning win.

(CROSSTALK) CROWLEY: You're going to have to tell -- you're going to have to tell the secretary of state who she works for or he works for.


CILLIZZA: ... when I run for president, I've given up the Louisiana electoral votes.

MAYER: All right. But, no, Democrats are almost completely aligned with Louisiana because of Katrina, because Katrina was the symbol of the Bush administration having big problems inside America that really sort of turned the tide against Bush, so they're...

BASH: And they're the underdogs.

MAYER: You know, and they are the underdogs, right.

BASH: Yeah, they're the underdog. They've never been to a Super Bowl. That, you know, coupled with the fact that they are New Orleans, and they need -- they need something good to happen to them, which is happening right now. And, you know, look, we all know Donna Brazile, and how can you be friends with Donna Brazile and not be excited about -- about New Orleans going...

CROWLEY: Or James Carville or Mary Matalin.


CILLIZZA: ... insufferable (inaudible) so that should be the argument against it.

CROWLEY: Exactly. Exactly. So maybe what we do is we watch and see who wins this game, and then we tie it to who wins coming up in November, whether it's going to be...

CILLIZZA: That's my plan.

CROWLEY: I think -- I think that we can, like, start an entire study based on this. And you all thought you could watch the Super Bowl without thinking about politics. It doesn't happen, not here at this table, anyway. MAYER: No way. Not in this town.

CROWLEY: Dana Bash, Jane Mayer, Chris Cillizza, thank you so much. I owe you. I'm going to come shovel out your driveways. I appreciate it so much.

And we thank you so much for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. For our international viewers, "World Report" is next. For everyone else, "Fareed Zakaria GPS" starts right now.