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State of the Union

Interview With National Security Adviser General Jones; Interview With Senator Kyl

Aired February 14, 2010 - 09:00   ET


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


CROWLEY (voice-over): A high-stakes assault on a Taliban stronghold. We'll go inside the latest military offensive in Afghanistan with National Security Adviser General James Jones. Then, reaction from the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, Jon Kyl, on war strategy, the push for a bipartisan jobs bill, and health care reform.

And insight and analysis from three leading political reporters.

This is the "State of the Union" report for Sunday, February 14th.


CROWLEY: When President Obama assembled his national security team shortly after the election in 2008, nobody questioned the credentials of our next guest. A former commandant of the Marine Corps, served as commander of the United States European Command, and former special envoy for Middle East regional security, and a title I think he probably loves best, a United States Marine for over 40 years. He now serves as national security adviser to President Obama, General James Jones. Welcome.

Thank you so much for coming in.

JONES: It's nice to be here.

CROWLEY: Well, we have a big offense going on in Afghanistan. It has been going on a little over 24 hours, I think, in Marjah. Can you give me a situation report?

JONES: Yes, I think it -- obviously we are in the initial phases, but it's going very well. It's an important moment in time because this is the first time that we really have put together all of the elements of the president's new strategy and the directions that he gave to his commanders, and also the accommodations and the discussions we have had with allies, 43 nations involved in the country.

And what it does is bring together not only security operations, but also follow-on economic recovery packages, better governance at the local and regional level, a much bigger Afghan face on this. I think six or seven months ago, we were operating with for every one U.S. soldier, one U.S. soldier, we had maybe -- maybe 10 U.S. soldiers, one Afghan. Now it's two Afghans for every one U.S. soldier. So much more -- much more of an Afghan face on this.

And before we even started this operation, we consulted with the local elders and the village leaders and the shurahs (ph), and received overwhelming approval for our goals.

CROWLEY: And isn't that, in fact, almost the second part of this operation, is maybe more important or at least has the longest lasting affect, and that is after you have cleared the area, you are moving in essentially another government, another sort of way of life that you hope will take hold?

JONES: Well, instead of clearing the area and leaving as we frequently did in the past, we now have -- our plans call for clearing the area, holding the area, and then providing some building for the people there, better security, better economic opportunity, better governance, more of an Afghan face. And then eventually transitioning to full Afghan sovereignty in those -- in those provinces.

So what's going on in the south is really a big story, I think, because I think we will be successful. I think they have a very solid plan. President Karzai has endorsed it. And so we are all very anxious to see the results here.

But I think that the other thing that your viewers would like to know is that the integration -- the highest levels in our structures now, we have a senior civilian and a senior military commander working side by side to make sure these things all work well together.

I have been doing this for about five or six years, and this is the first time that I have seen this cohesion exist both at the national and international level that brings in what I call the elements of a three-legged stool -- security, economic recovery and good governance and rule of law.

It's not going to happen overnight. But the people of the region will see a much more permanent presence than they ever have in the past.

CROWLEY: So this -- I want to ask you about this, because so much depends on the existing Afghan government, the existing Afghan military and police. And I wanted to read you something that was out of the New York Times yesterday from their reporter on the scene. Which says, "Despite years of work, the Afghan army cannot sustain itself in the field, the police are loathed in nearly every place they work, and the government of Mr. Karzai has only a few serious worldwide rivals in corruption and graft."

This does not sound like a recipe for winning over the hearts and minds of their own people. There has to be something that gives you hope here, but there is so many things out there -- Mr. Karzai's brother, open secret that he is a drug lord there; there has been corruption and graft; the army has not stood up in so many places. What makes you think they can do it now?

JONES: Well, in the first place, we have a much more robust commitment as a result of the president's decision. And it's much more integrated in terms of the army and the Afghan governance system.

We have made it clear that in President Karzai's second administration, that he will be held to a standard that really requires him to attack these problems that we know have existed for a long period of time. He has committed to doing that. We participate and watch very closely who the appointees are that he makes at these very important positions, the governors, the cabinet and so on. And our judgment is that so far, things are -- things are better in that regard. Now, corruption-- CROWLEY: What makes you make that judgment? I mean, what palpably--

JONES: We know the people--

CROWLEY: -- have you seen that shows you that the president stepped up?

JONES: We know the people. We have been there for a long time. We know who these people are before. When he names them, he is consulting with the international community to make sure that we don't do anything silly here, and as a result, there are some ministries that are really well led and functioning that are essential to the future of Afghanistan. Governors are paying more attention to what it is they are supposed to be doing.

I completely agree with the observation that of all of the institutions that exist, the ones that have to work, that we have more work to do on the police force. But having just been in Afghanistan, coming back last Friday night, having been down in the region where these operations are taking place, having visited the Afghan army training centers and talked to our commanders, both national and international on the ground, there is a new sense of confidence and optimism that we can, in fact, do what we say we are going to do, simply because the Afghans themselves as a result of the time lines that I think that the president has laid down, really have a sense of purpose now that this is their country, this is their destiny that we are talking about, and we don't want Afghanistan to be a protectorate of the international community for the next 30 years.

So we're not going to -- we're never going to get perfect here, but we are looking for what is good enough to give the Afghans a chance to determine their own destiny. And I think this operation is the kickoff, really, to that success story.

CROWLEY: The testing of that theory. Let me ask you about Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the president, again. No one disputes that this man is a major leaguer when it comes to drug trafficking. And yet he continues to operate in Afghanistan. I read a lot of what you said in the past couple of years even when you have said the drug trafficking which fuels the Taliban is one of the things that has to be cracked down on. Why hasn't this man been picked up? Have you urged the president to pick up his brother? I mean, I don't -- I think a lot of people are confused why he is allowed to operate. JONES: Well, one of the ancillary benefits of where this operation is being conducted is in the heart of Helmand province, and that is the center mass of the drug production. Happily, last year, for the first time in several years, the poppy production went down, and wheat production went up. So we will see what happens this year.

But as to the -- the President Karzai's brother, I have had a number of conversations, as have many others, with the president on this issue. And -- President Karzai, that is -- and he has assured me and others that if compelling evidence exists to prosecute or make an arrest or otherwise have to remove his brother from his position, he would do so. But--

CROWLEY: You don't think there is compelling evidence?

JONES: Well, there is -- there is -- I have asked this question on our side also. Under the rule of law, under the rule of Afghan law, is there compelling evidence where this man could be prosecuted? And it's -- it's -- it's -- when you put people -- when you ask that direct question, you get different answers.

Now, I fully understand the perceptions, and perceptions sometimes are even more important than reality. And I think the president is going to have to face this perception and decide what if, in fact, he wants to continue to operate under the perception that his brother is, in fact, what people seem to believe he is.

But as far as hard proof, I would assume that if they had it, that they would have done something about it. But it's an open issue and a fair question.

CROWLEY: I asked Secretary of State Clinton this last week, and it's a quick question because we have to go to break here. Just yes or no if you can, is there any doubt in your mind that Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, is up to this task which you are now putting in front of him, which is to win the hearts and minds of people of his own country?

JONES: I personally met with the president in Munich just over a week ago, and I had over the five or six years that I have known him, I have had the best meeting with him in the -- I left more confident now than I have been at anytime in the past.

CROWLEY: General James Jones, he's going to stick with us. We have to take a quick break. When we come back, we are going to talk about terrorism. Whether civilian trials should become military tribunals and a number of issues, so stay with us.


CROWLEY: We are back with national security adviser General James Jones. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, is the administration going to put that trial into a military tribunal?

JONES: I don't know the answer to that because -- CROWLEY: Are you considering it?

JONES: It's -- the whole thing was under review. We have a process. I think the attorney general is leading that process. The president has spoken out on this issue that we have to pay attention to the local community in New York in particular that expressed serious concerns with that.

Having said that, it's important that this gentleman be brought to trial. He has been in the custody since 2003. There is no doubt that he is a very, very bad person, and a leader in the first degree of some of the worse things that have happened to us in our history. He is in confinement. He is under control, and the likelihood that he will see the light of day anytime soon is very remote, but we have to let this process play itself out in terms of where and when this trial will take place.

CROWLEY: What is your best advice on this? Where would you like to see him tried as the president's national security adviser?

JONES: Well, I think the important thing is that he is under control, he is not going to be able to prosecute anything like this, hopefully ever again. But I think that it's the role of the other departmental roles here in the agenda and the attorney general is a member of the National Security Council. And he has to -- they have to give their best advices on how to prosecute these types of individuals. We have a long record of prosecuting terrorists in federal courts with great success.

CROWLEY: Not as great a success in military tribunals, as a matter of fact. Doesn't that argue against a military tribunal?

JONES: Well, I don't think it argues for or against them. I think that we have obtained information from terrorists who have been prosecuted by military tribunals and in the federal courts. People in our system, whether they are in the military tribunal or in the federal courts get a lawyer, and the lawyer advises them from the time he is there, that's our system.

But I don't think that there is a -- I think the decision -- the best advice will come through the attorney general's office, and then we will make a decision as to where this trial takes place.

CROWLEY: The Christmas Day alleged bomber on the plane over Detroit, would you have gotten more information out of him had he been treated as a criminal of war and handed over to the military?

JONES: Candy, I don't think so. I have done some research on this and the evidence shows that he has been very cooperative, both before when he was read his rights and since then, and prosecutors have no doubt that they are going to have a successful prosecution. So I think much has been made of this, obviously, but at the end of the day we take every one of these instances and we learn from them. And I think we will draw from the after action report of the Detroit Christmas Day --

CROWLEY: What do you drew from that? Should he have just been treated as a war criminal, do you think?

JONES: I don't know. In this case, I think that the information that we're getting and that he is providing, now that he has counsel that he is still providing is certainly satisfying.

CROWLEY: As a general rule, would you have preferred --

JONES: I think as a general rule, what we learned is that we will be able to move -- we should move much more quickly to have an integrated team arrive very quickly to make the best judgment possible as to which way we should proceed in the future. Having studied this pretty carefully, and being aware of what happened both before he was read his rights and after he was read his rights in this particular case, we are getting the information that we need.

CROWLEY: I want to get to Iran, but a quick political question. One of your colleagues at the White House, the homeland security advisers suggested that criticism of how the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial would happen, how the bomber, alleged bomber was treated, is political. One of the leaders of the criticism of course has been former vice president, Dick Cheney. Do you think that the criticism of how this administration is handling terrorist activity is political?

JONES: I would rather focus on the fact that our national security is not a partisan issue.

CROWLEY: Is the criticism hurting?

JONES: Well, what we want to make sure is that the people out there in the field exposing themselves, taking risks and trying to do the job as best they can under the rules that they have been told that they must operate, do the right thing and make the right decision and know that once they do that, they are going to be backed up.

CROWLEY: But if a former vice president comes out and criticizes, do you find that to be political, do you find that to be helpful?

JONES: You know, if it's informed, then that's one thing. But it's important that people understand that we have a sitting vice president who is very much involved in the day-to-day operations of our national security, he is a member of the National Security Council. Has access to all of the information. And I just think that what was done in this particular case will prove out to be the right thing in terms of how it happened.

Now, the fair issue is people can have different views.

CROWLEY: Do you consider the former vice president's information informed?

JONES: I don't know what his -- I don't know what his information is. I just -- I just would ask people to consider the fact that these are very serious issues for our country, and that when we take them on, we take them on in a respectful way. We consult and share with both sides equally of the political spectrum, and we will continue to do that. And on the National Security -- National Security Council, we can't do it any other way.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about Iran. The president said recently the door is still open toward negotiations. I believe you made a similar statement in December. Why is the door still open? We have spent a year with overtures to Iran. The last time we heard, they were still moving towards nuclear armed capabilities. Why in the world would the door still be open? JONES: Well, the best solution is that Iran would in fact see the offer that's on the table for what it is, that is supported by much of the world community, and that it gives them a chance to show their peaceful intent with the regard to the use of nuclear power.

It is puzzling, to say the least, as to why they have not accepted this offer. I know that Iran is going through some difficult times internally. We know that the world is moving towards the next set of persuasive powers to show them the error of their ways in the form of sanctions, and -- but the right thing to do is to hope that Iran will, in fact, agree.

CROWLEY: But they haven't.

JONES: They haven't.

CROWLEY: Right. They haven't done it. Is China on board, is Russia on board right now?

JONES: We have extremely good overall support in Europe, in the Middle East.


JONES: And with the Russian -- with the Russians. And China is obviously is a rising power and a power with global influence. Has been extremely good with us in terms of North Korea in terms of sanctions. This is a--

CROWLEY: But not on board there.

JONES: -- same kind of issue, it's proliferation, and I would have to think that as a responsible world power, that China will see -- apply the same standards on proliferation in the Middle East--

CROWLEY: But they are not there yet on Iran?

JONES: But we are working with them.

CROWLEY: OK. My last question, and that is don't ask, don't tell. You said a couple of years ago, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. You thought it's the same place (ph). Do you still believe that don't ask, don't tell should remain the military policy?

JONES: I think that what Secretary Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff articulated in testimony is the right thing to do. I think the president has signaled his intent. This is a policy that has to evolve with the social norms of what is acceptable and what is not. It's particularly--

CROWLEY: So it's time to lift it? You think it is time (ph) now?

JONES: I think times have changed. I think -- I think I was very much taken by the Admiral Mullen's view that young men and women who wish to serve their country should not have to lie in order to do that. I have served my country in uniform since 1967, and in that period, we covered racial questions, racial integration. We've covered the integration of women in the armed forces. People suggested that that would be a national security problem if we did both of those things. It turned out to be, as a matter of fact, a force multiplier by doing those things. People -- and I grew up in a generation where they said if you integrate members of the gay community, that will be a national security problem. That will probably prove itself to be false as well.


JONES: So a lot of problems, a lot of difficult challenges to overcome. But I think if I judge the response of the population to this, this is an idea that we will solve and we will solve responsibly.

CROWLEY: Time has come. OK. General James Jones, can't thank you enough for coming.

JONES: It's my pleasure.

CROWLEY: We really appreciate your time. Come and stay longer next time.

We will find out the Republican view of all of this. Ahead, we will be talking to the No. 2 Republican, Jon Kyl, about all of this and pressing domestic issues, creating jobs. The Senate's second- ranking Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, up next.


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

Here are breaking stories this Sunday morning. Endeavour astronauts will stay in space longer than planned. NASA's extending the mission for an extra day so the crew can do more work on the international space station. Astronauts wrapped up their second space walk early this morning. They installed a new room to the station. Their two-week mission is scheduled to wrap up February 21st.

Skier Hannah Kearney wins the first gold medal for the U.S. of the 2010 Winter Olympics. She's one of two Americans on the medal stand for the women's mogul free style. Shannon Bahrke took the bronze. Kearney was the top qualifier in the event, but her win over silver medalist Jenn Heil was considered an upset. Heil was hoping to be the first Canadian to win gold at the Vancouver games.

Those are your top stories here on "State of the Union." Up next, one of the leading Republicans in the Senate, Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona.


CROWLEY: We are joined now by the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Jon Kyl of Arizona, who has the good luck to actually be in Arizona.

Thanks for joining us, Senator.

KYL: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: I wanted to start off, having just talked to General Jones, the president's national security adviser, who told me that he has more confidence now than he's ever had in President Karzai's ability to follow through with his part of the offensive that's taking on in -- that's going on in Afghanistan now, and that is to move his people in and to help rebuild an area that is stable without the Taliban.

How confident are you that President Karzai is the man that can do this?

KYL: I think I have to accept the judgment of General Jones. And I was at the same conference in Munich last weekend that he mentioned. Senator McCain and Senator Graham and Senator Lieberman had also recently been to Afghanistan. I was there earlier this year. And the situation does seem to be definitely improving.

There's a very good plan. We've got our folks in the theater now. They're in one of the toughest areas left, Helmand province. I was just east of there when I was there. But I -- just the short answer is, I think General Jones is right on top of it and I don't have any reason to dispute what he -- how he characterized the progress there.

CROWLEY: Another thing we talked about was "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." So to Obama, Mullen and Gates, all of whom believe it's time to repeal "Don't ask, Don't tell," we now ask -- we now add General Jones' name, who said he too thinks it's time. Is it?

KYL: Well, I respectfully disagree. I think he had it right the first time. It -- it isn't broken, doesn't need to be fixed. I tend to take my lead on things like this from my colleague, John McCain, who has talked about the fact that over 1,000 general officers have written a letter in opposition to a change in the policy which has seemed to have worked over the years.

CROWLEY: Senator, it's going to happen, though, isn't it; the votes are up there, aren't they?

KYL: I have no idea.

CROWLEY: You haven't counted noses yet?

KYL: No, I assume the process of getting some kind of a report prepared and testimony to Congress and all of that will take many months.

CROWLEY: OK. I want to talk -- move to the jobs bill that has been moving through the Senate in various permutations. First we were told we had a bipartisan jobs bill, around $85 billion worth. Not -- not very much later we heard from Senator Reid, the majority leader, who said, wait a second, here's the jobs bill we're going to have. It has four key points in it that really are Republican-requested things, certainly in the past.

There's a $13 billion in tax credits for employers who hire new workers. There is help for small businesses so they can help write off the cost of major purchases. There is help for state and local governments to lower their borrowing costs and a one-year extension of the Service Transportation Act to build highways. I've never known a senator that was ever against that, on either side of the aisle.

Are you going to pass this bill? There's nothing in there, I don't think, that Republicans can object to, is there?

KYL: Yes, there is. And, for one thing, I'm very confused about -- in fact, I was a little embarrassed. I was answering a question at a press conference on 1:30 on Thursday about examples of bipartisanship, and I pointed to the Republican Grassley-Democrat Baucus bill that you alluded to as a good example of bipartisanship, and then found out about a half an hour later that, during their luncheon, Harry Reid had scrapped that, some said pulled the rug out from under Chairman Baucus, and come with this -- with this bill.

First of all, I do not support this expanded bonding authority. It's a subsidy to local government from the federal government at a time when we don't have the money to spend on that.

With regard -- the Section 179 expensing is a good proposal, but the proposal to target job creation by giving a tax break to employers who hire somebody who's been unemployed when they laid off people earlier is unfair to those who worked very hard to keep their workforce intact.

Much more sensible would be just to keep the tax rates exactly where they are for small businesses and not allow them to increase, as the president has proposed.

CROWLEY: But, Senator, isn't there a problem here for Republicans who had been for small-business tax cuts, who have argued that small businesses are where the jobs are created?

Here is a jobs-creating -- they hope -- tax cut for small businesses. And if Republicans come out against things that they have, at least in some permutation, wanted in the past, don't you really, kind of, feed into their claim that you're the party of no?

KYL: Candy, my response earlier was that this is not a proposal Republicans had made. We have a different small-business approach.

Now, the goal is the same. We believe that our approach would be more effective than spending the money that the president proposes to do it this way. I don't know whether Republicans will support this or not. All I was saying is that this was not what we had proposed in the past.

CROWLEY: OK. Fair enough. Do you think that there is room -- you know, we're in the new era of we're going to have open health care meetings and you all are going to be there with the president. I know you've been invited. I assume you'll probably be going.

Is there really room, or are you looking at this, as so many Republicans have said publicly, saying, this is for show?

KYL: Well, I don't know whether it's for show or not. But it's interesting that, just yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, there was a report that Speaker Pelosi had made the decision -- in fact, I'll quote it directly -- "Democrats have set the stage for reconciliation," she said.

And what that means is they've -- they've devised the process by which they can jam the bill through that the president has supported in the past without the Republican ideas in it. And her chief health care adviser, a gentleman by the name of Wendell Primus, said there's a trick, but I think we'll get it done.

Well, there is a trick. Reconciliation is not the process for comprehensive bills like this. It's, sort of, to balance the budget. And It would be -- some call it the nuclear option, to proceed that way.

I don't know why we would be having a bipartisan summit down at the White House if they've already decided on this other process by which they're going to jam the bill through that passed the Senate on Christmas Eve.

CROWLEY: Where do you think Republicans can give on health care?

What are you willing to say, this isn't a great thing, but I'll take that part if you will consider this part, be it malpractice caps or whatever?

What are you willing to give?

KYL: There -- there are a lot of polls. One of the most recent ones is the Rasmussen poll, which said that 60 percent of the American people want us to start over again. So it's not a matter of taking this or that out of the Senate-passed bill or the House-passed bill; it's a matter of starting with basic principles, going one step at a time, solving particular problems.

For example, everybody agrees that this jackpot justice system we have is broken and we need medical malpractice reform. You won't finds it in the House or Senate bills. Republicans would like to start with that. So if they're willing to...


CROWLEY: Is it practical, though, Senator? Because we're hearing Democrats going, we're not starting from scratch, and we hear Republicans saying, well, there's no sense in going if we don't start from scratch.

And now what it seems like is that we're going to have a partisan bickering about whether -- who's not being bipartisan. Is that where this is headed, do you think?

KYL: Well, it certainly would appear from the report -- as I said in The Wall Street Journal yesterday, the Democrats have already decided on this so-called nuclear option or reconciliation process.

If that's the case, then, obviously, it's pointless to talk because they've made up their mind and they're going to ram it through whether we like it or whether the American people like it.

CROWLEY: Senator Kyl, I wish we had more time. We don't, but I hope you'll come back. Enjoy Phoenix.

KYL: I will. Thank you.

CROWLEY: Thank you very much, Senator Jon Kyl, out of the beautiful state of Arizona.

When we come back, our panel is going to give their take on the day's major stories, including the chances of President Obama's renewed push for bipartisanship actually panning out.


CROWLEY: Joining me now in Washington, CNN senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, senior political analyst Gloria Borger and Julie Mason, White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner." Thanks, all, appreciate it.

OK, the terrorism has now reared its ugly head in the political way. We have been hearing about it for about a month. It seems to me -- Republicans are -- this is going to be one of their campaign year issues. Today, Cheney, Biden out talking about who knows what, who doesn't know what they're doing. Is this replaying an election that may not play for Republicans or is it helping?

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it can certainly help the Republicans. They think it will, at least. If you look at the whole -- I was looking at it yesterday, the weekly radio address the president does, it was again about the economy, he has been talking about fiscal sanity, et cetera, the last four or five weeks in a row.

Republicans, this weekend, again about terrorism, about war on terror. Susan Collins did it a few weeks ago. They have been hitting this issue hard because they do think it's a winner for them. And frankly, they believe, that's why former vice president Cheney is out there today -- they believe this president is not executing the war on terror well. Well, Joe Biden's response as the current vice president is basically like, we've adapted a lot of their policies. We're doing a lot of things they did -- GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Only better at it.

HENRY: Shocked when you thought about how they ran against the whole Bush/Cheney doctrine on all of this stuff and I think they are kind of -- in a way the White House is picking and choosing which parts of the Bush agenda they like. But on the other hand, I do think you've got to give the Obama administration some credit. As even Jon Kyl just did about what's happening in Afghanistan, for example, where it does appear that this administration is really taking the fight to the terrorists on the ground, and even Jon Kyl admitted that.

BORGER: Sure, I mean, this administration is essentially saying we are doing the same things and you are not giving us enough credit for it. Which is why, you were there I believe one night the other week, the administration hastily called reporters together and said we are getting more information out of Abdulmutallab, and he has been singing to us because there was the whole controversy over whether they should have mirandized him the way they did.

They made some mistakes. They admitted they didn't consult their intelligence chiefs enough. They have now made sure that that is going to happen, but they say, look, we are better than the guys before us, and don't try and say that we are not.

CROWLEY: But, it seems to me there are signs that the White House knows that it's kinds of around the edges made some mistakes?

JULIE MASON, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Yes, absolutely, and one of the fascinating things about today's point, counter point, with Biden and Cheney, is that the administration has not yet figured out how to respond to Dick Cheney.

They have tried to dismiss him. They have tried to belittle him and ignore him, but the point is when he speaks, it gives some credibility and credence to what the Republicans are saying. He's sort of like a powerful voice for the Republican party, even though he is not politically a popular figure in this country, and so now they send Joe Biden out and now they've found a way to respond to Dick Cheney. Because the fear was, if you take him head on and you respond directly to what he is saying, you are giving him consequence and more power than they want him to have.

HENRY: He wants back when former vice president Cheney made a big speech in Washington, you will remember the same day President Obama came out and gave a big speech about terrorism, and it was a big deal that this morning this White House decided to meet Cheney head on by putting out Joe Biden. That was no small measure.

BORGER: Isn't it so interesting though that Dick Cheney has become the Republican spokesman on national security? This is somebody who left political office with a popularity of what -- approval rating of low --

HENRY: Lower than the media.

BORGER: Lower than us. Low 30s, high 20s, and now Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin have both become real spokesmen in this sense on national security. It's very interesting.

CROWLEY: In a sense, does that help in the midterms, hurt them? He is a flash from the past.

MASON: It's true, but part of the problem is that where is the Republican leadership? Who speaks for the party? And that's the issue. And so here comes Palin and Cheney to speak for the party.

HENRY: And that's something the Democrats love. You are right. And then they think, look, put these guys out there, and the Democrats have taken their hits in recent months, but through all that, the Republicans have still not emerged with some big national leader, we are going back to Cheney.

BORGER: Here's an interesting thing because John McCain would be a likely person to be a leader on this, but don't forget during the campaign, John McCain was all about closing Guantanamo. And public opinion has completely flipped on Guantanamo. Now a majority of people want it closed. So the Republicans believe they have got a lot of steam on that issue.

CROWLEY: Another thing that says to me that the administration understands its made some tactical mistakes here is that the president is now involved in whether or not the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is going to be a civilian trial and where it's going to be. I mean, they are recognizing this was an error?

MASON: It's true, but where is the decision? You know, this ongoing indecision and the ambiguity about it and the mixed signals actually make it worse for the administration. You know, we used to kind of laugh at President Bush, the decider, but now the Obama administration could probably use some deciding.

BORGER: And the question is -- my question is should the president actually be deciding? Isn't this Eric Holder's decision?

CROWLEY: Well, it was Eric Holder's decision, but he is not a politician.

BORGER: But then you have to ask, why does this have to go up the chain of command that way? Shouldn't that have just have been settled below the president, and not should the White House have to sort of publicly say -- don't they have enough -- honestly they have enough to do.

HENRY: Well, that was Eric Holder's, right, was that he was going to be above politics, he was going to be a check in the White House and that this White House really wanted independence at the Justice Department, unlike, hint, hint, Alberto Gonzales. They were really trying to make a statement about the Bush administration. But now the White House getting more involved, you're right, is a signal that they realize this has not gone well for them and they need to get the president more involved.

BORGER: And that it's a political -- it's a signal that it's become a real political problem for them, and that's why they're -- CROWLEY: See if I can keep it to just sort of a one word round robin. This is going to be a civilian or a military trial in the end of the mastermind of 9/11?

HENRY: Probably military.

BORGER: I am really honestly not qualified, so I will guess and I would say it will end up being civilian.

MASON: You know, I think they're going to figure out a way to do a hybrid.

BORGER: I love her.

HENRY: Cop-out. CROWLEY: There is a master of hybrids, though, as you know. So you may be on to something, Julie. We are going to come right back with our panel, lots more questions about policy in D.C. and also in case you didn't know, it snowed in D.C. over the last seven days. How tough is this city actually? We'll be right back.


CROWLEY: We are back with CNN's Ed Henry, Gloria Borger, Julie Mason from The Examiner here in Washington.

So even with a snowstorm; no one's working; everything's shut down, Congress manages to confuse us.


We get a bipartisan jobs bill. Hurray. They come out and say, you know, a Republican and a Democratic senator, "Here's our jobs bill." And several hours later, the majority leader comes out and goes, no, we're not doing that one; we're doing this one.

What's -- que pasa?


MASON: What a bizarre story. And -- and Harry Reid, in trying to back Republicans into a corner on this issue and call their bluff actually makes it harder for the White House, which has been, you know, just absolutely spouting bipartisanship.

And then the White House, after Harry Reid did this, stripped the bill of the provisions that Republicans liked, the White House didn't disavow it. They said, well, this isn't the first bite of the apple; we're going to keep going in this process.

So I think who he really messed up with is the White House, not really so much Republicans.

BORGER: Well, there was a real nervousness, I'm told, that this was going to look like a Christmas tree bill that people had shoved provisions on it -- what a shock... (LAUGHTER)

... and -- and that it was doing to look -- it was going to look like they were a little porky, a little greedy. And so they stripped some stuff out of it.

However, this is a Democratic issue as well. The Democrats have an $85 billion jobs bill. Now there's a $15 billion jobs bill over in the Senate. And the Democrats want a more robust -- in the House, want a more robust bill. (CROSSTALK)

BORGER: And they're -- the Democrats in the House are feeling like, wait a minute, we walked out on a limb on health care; we walked out on a limb on energy; we walked out on a limb on jobs. And guess what? They're just sawing it off for us over there in the Senate, with -- with the White House just, kind of, standing there saying, OK...

HENRY: And the bottom line is that Rahm Emanuel's whole strategy on health care and a lot of these legislative issues was that a victory begets another victory and that you need momentum.

Health care, obviously, slowed all that down. And now they thought, OK, well, we'll put that on the back burner. The whole State of the Union was about back burner on health care; we're going to get back to it, but we've to get jobs out of the way. That's the number one priority, jobs, jobs, jobs. Now, if they can't get a victory on that, it's going to look like Democrats can't govern.

Whether it's Republicans blocking this or that -- they can make all these charges, but the bottom line is they have to start getting some victories.

BORGER: Well, but on the other hand, the Republicans, also -- this is, you know, pushing on an open door, the jobs bill. If they want to have credibility on health care and saying, we're going to -- you know, we tried to give the president something on health care, they have to get to yes on something, I think. And so...

CROWLEY: John Kyl didn't sound like they were getting to yes on the jobs bill...

BORGER: No, he...


CROWLEY: ... just off the top of my head.


BORGER: No, but I bet, in the end, they're going to have to get to yes on something, because then they lose all credibility.

MASON: Well, and if jobs are the priority, why are we still talking about health care? You know, we have this summit coming up that's taking all the air out of the room, you know, are the Republicans going to show up or not or what are they going to do?

And jobs -- you know, it's just -- it doesn't feel like the priority right now. It seems like we're still on health care.

And if they -- do you have any doubt that the Republicans have to show up to the... (CROSSTALK)

MASON: I don't see what's in it for them. I mean, they're sounding like they're trying to figure it out.

HENRY: Yes, but they have to show up...


HENRY: ... to add credibility to what you're saying, in terms of saying we're -- you know, they're trying to make the case they're not the party of no. If they walk out of this or never show up, that's a problem, obviously. They've got to show up.

BORGER: Well, yes, 90 percent of life is just showing up, right?



CROWLEY: And Ronald Reagan liked that, too, I remember.



CROWLEY: But, no, the picture is of all the empty chairs with the -- you know, Congressman Boehner, Senator Kyl...


HENRY: ... start calling on them. Oh, Boehner's not here? Well, what happened, you know? But...


MASON: It's another Democratic thing. Don't you think the Democrats have to get their act together before February 25th and agree on what they're going to say at this summit?

HENRY: But they've finally gotten a little momentum there in putting the Republicans on the defensive: are they going to show or are they not going to show?

And as John Kyl was alluding to, what Republicans are really afraid of is that they go there; they talk; they talk; there's no solution. Because they say it really didn't look like they were heading toward solution on jobs or health care in that Jon Kyl interview.

And at the end, the White House says, look, we tried with the Republicans; now we go reconciliation; now we do this maneuver, and now we jam it through; we gave the Republicans every last chance. That's what the Republicans are afraid of.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to Washington's favorite topic this past week. And by the way, we really did have a blizzard here. This is not just some (inaudible) little snow that happened.


But I want to turn your attention to Senator Durbin of Illinois and what he had to say about it.


SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN, D-ILL.: I never could get over the way people in this town react to snow. I'm convinced that infants born in Washington, D.C. are taken from the arms of their loving mothers right when they're born into a room where someone shows a film of a snowstorm with shrieking and screaming, so that those children come to believe that snow is a mortal enemy, like a nuclear attack.

We joke about it, those of us from parts of the country where we get some snow and know how to live with it can't get over how crazy the reaction is many times.


CROWLEY: OK. First of all, can I just say, 33 inches, you know, ain't nothing, even in Illinois.


But the fact of the matter is that this -- never try to book a show in the middle of a snowstorm. I'd just like to give you all that advice.


Because everyone's going, well, I don't know where they're going to be and the planes won't fly. And so he has a point here. But in the end, Washington spent an entire week without actually doing much, and I'm not sure they noticed.

HENRY: No, well, I think that was what Tom Coburn, the conservative senator from Oklahoma who is always saying, less government -- he, sort of, got snowed into his office and was telling people, "You know what? Congress didn't do anything and the world survived. It makes the case for smaller government."


BORGER: Well, the president got to work, right? So...

MASON: Yes, he just lives above the office.

BORGER: He was there at the office.

CROWLEY: And he's used to dissing D.C. in the snow. Julie?


MASON: You know, you'd think, with Congress out and everything, the White House could have seized the microphone and really turned -- turned some issues around for themselves, grabbed the message. But for everyone, it was just a dead week, couldn't get anyone on the phone. It was terrible.

CROWLEY: No, you couldn't.


MASON: You just really couldn't.

CROWLEY: So we are hoping -- and everyone's now bailed out. No excuses. You to show up for work.


MASON: Julie Mason, thank you so much. Gloria, Borger, as always; Ed Henry, thank you guys for showing up. Because that is 90 percent of life.


BORGER: Snow day.

CROWLEY: That's right.


Thanks for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.