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State of the Union

Interview With Congressman Van Hollen, Congressman Baird; Interview With Tom DeLay

Aired March 07, 2010 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: It has become Washington's most overused and least believable word.


OBAMA: My Republican friends.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-TENN.: My Democratic friends.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV.: Where was my friend from Kentucky?

SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN, D-ILL.: There are friends on the other side.

SEN. AL FRANKEN, D-MINN.: My good friends from the other side.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: My friend from North Dakota.

(UNKNOWN): John McCain, my good friend.


CROWLEY: These friends are locked in a world-class death match.


REP. STEVEN C. LATOURETTE, R-OHIO: Mr. Etheridge from North Carolina moves that the House concur in the Senate amendment to the House amendment to the Senate amendment with an amendment. And I said, boy, that is really a procedural mouthful. And you know what it means? It's a procedural way to screw the minority, the Republican party in this house--


CROWLEY: These friends aren't friends. I am Candy Crowley, and this is "State of the Union."


CROWLEY: Today --

VAN HOLLEN: What we saw is in fact a very calculated and cynical strategy to try and bring the work of the American people to a halt. CROWLEY: The man in charge of helping Democrats get elected to the House this fall.

And a retiring Democrat who may say no to his party's pleas to vote yes on health care reform.

And then, Tom DeLay, the Hammer, the man Republicans used to ram through President Bush's agenda.

DELAY: I would have loved to be right in the middle of that health care reform fight.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CROWLEY: Everyone calls it the end game. The president says he wants an up-or-down vote on health care reform before he leaves on a trip for Asia. That leaves ten days, a ten-day deadline. But we passed this way before.


OBAMA: I am confident that both the House and the Senate are going to produce a bill before the August recess.

This window between now and the August recess, I think, is going to be the make-or-break period.

I never believe anything is do or die. But I really want to get it done by the August recess.

We may not be able to get the bill out of the Senate by the end of August or the beginning of August. That's OK.

My strong hope is that we get health care done by the end of this year.

Here is what I ask Congress, though. Don't walk away from reform, not now, not when we are so close.

I therefore ask leaders in both Houses of Congress to finish their work and schedule a vote in the next few weeks.


CROWLEY: If health care is going to get to the president is the next ten days, it will happen because Democrats like Chris Van Hollen convince Democrats like Brian Baird to support the measure. So let me start with you and the basic question, is health care going to pass? Do you right now have a mortal lock on 216 votes?

VAN HOLLEN: I believe it will pass. Do we have a mortal lock? No. Because people are still looking at some of the changes that are being made to the bill. The president of course sent Congress a letter with some additional ideas based on the bipartisan summit he had. So until people have a final product that they are able to look at and the Congressional Budget Office, our referee on budget issues, says whether or not this will do what the earlier bills did, then I think it's going to be hard to get people to commit. But I think the trend is in the right direction, because people see that the status quo is absolutely broken. They are seeing these skyrocketing health premiums around the country, they are seeing that people continue to lose their health care coverage every day, whether it's because of costs or because they lose their job and then they lose their health care. So if you ask people now, I think do you want us to stop and walk away, the clear answer is no.

CROWLEY: I will get back to that point in a second. But as one of those who is not committed at this very moment, you voted no on the House bill the last time around. What is it about the Senate bill that you all will be voting on through this reconciliation process that makes you even consider voting yes?

BAIRD: Well, the first thing is, I want to absolutely agree with Chris. There is no question that we need to reform. The current system, the rising costs, the numbers of uninsured, the ability to be rejected if you have a preexisting condition, is absolutely unacceptable. We have to do something. And I actually applaud President Obama and the Democratic Party for taking this difficult challenge on.

The House bill, you know, I think I'm in a place where many Americans are. They see the need for reform. The question is, is this the best way we can do reform? And it is very complicated. It will be expensive, though to its credit, both bills, the House bill and the Senate bill, will be largely paid for and actually reduce the deficit over time.

CROWLEY: So if you are convinced of that, why don't you just say, yes, I am going to vote for it?

BAIRD: Well, I would have approached it perhaps a good bit differently. I would like to see us start and say, what are the things we can agree on? I think most Americans agree that you should not discriminate against preexisting conditions. I think it makes a lot of sense to be able to buy policies across state lines, so you have competition and you can carry your policy with you if you move or lose your job.

The complexity I think worries a lot of people. And when you read these bills, they are very long, very complicated, because they build on an existing complicated system. And it's not really a system. It's a hodgepodge of Medicare A, B, D, Medicaid, state programs, SCHIP et cetera. That worries a lot of people, and frankly, it troubles me.

CROWLEY: Congressman, you are retiring. And one of the things that we have heard out there is that the pitch to retiring Democrats is, take one for the team here. We really need your vote. We have got some problems with those who -- who have problems with the abortion language, so go ahead and take one for the team. How does that pitch strike you?

BAIRD: It has no impact on me whatsoever, and here is why. I spent 23 years of my life delivering health care. I was a neuro psychologist before I came to Congress. That was the career and profession I chose because health care matters so much to me. So at the end of the day, to say, well, do this for political reasons or don't do it for political reasons, makes no difference to me. The only thing I care about is this the best policy we can do under the circumstances for the American people?

CROWLEY: Congressman Baird is concerned about some things that are not going to change in this bill, as he just articulated, so you know, what do you say to get this vote here?

VAN HOLLEN: First, I would not ask Brian to vote for this just for the team, and I have not asked him to do it. I mean, I've asked Brian to look at the bills, as he has, and I am sure he will wait until the Congressional Budget Office comes back with its analysis. That's what we would expect of any member.

CROWLEY: His complaints were not about the budget.

VAN HOLLEN: But when it comes to things like preexisting conditions, these bills prohibit discrimination based on preexisting conditions. And what became very clear at the White House discussion is that the Republican alternative does not prohibit discrimination on those things. They create a high risk pool, which has been tried in many states. But the problem is, it hasn't worked successfully.

We do have exchanges. We have exchanges that have a referee on the field, just like the federal employees health benefit plan that members of Congress use. That's the model we have so that people can have that choice and that competition.

So I believe that a lot of the issues that Brian has raised are addressed in the bill, and what has to happen is, as the change, the most recent changes the president has made or suggested or incorporated, I hope it will meet his tests. But on those two points that he raised, these bills are a lot better off than the status quo. They make Americans a lot better off than the status quo.

CROWLEY: So you're nodding. So are you ready to vote yes?

BAIRD: No, what I want to say is, Chris is absolutely right. You know, you have got a system -- again, it's not a system -- a hodgepodge, an amalgamation of prior programs that doesn't work very well.

Chris is absolutely right, this is an improvement. It's, as they say in Spanish, menos mal (ph), less bad, for sure. The House bill was better than the status quo. I think the Senate bill is better than that.

My problem is, I still see a number of difficulties with the whole structure. And my personal struggle, quite frankly, is could we not do this in a much more elegant, simple, direct, straightforward way? I think we could. I doubt I am going to get a chance to do that, so the difficult choice for some of us is to say, this is not the bill I would write by a darn sight, but it's certainly better than the status quo. What would we do if we don't have this option? CROWLEY: You would vote against it if you come to the conclusion that you don't like it, even if it meant health care went down?


CROWLEY: OK. I want to --

BAIRD: Let me clarify that. The problem is, if I think we could come up with a better solution, OK, than just to say health care reform goes down and therefore nothing ever happens, that would be a tragedy. And so that's the choice. I don't think this bill is what I would like to see us do if I could -- if I ran the universe, as it were, but I don't get to do that. So the status quo is unsustainable.

VAN HOLLEN: Just on that point, though. I mean, for example, I wish we had a public option going forward. I think that would create even more competition.

CROWLEY: Public option out, by the way? Because there is a lot of pressure because of reconciliation. You could slip it in if you wanted into the fixes. Are you going to do that?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, my understanding is that although there was clearly a majority on the House side to do it, it's not clear at all that there is a majority in the Senate to do it. And obviously if you -- so if there is not a majority in the Senate to do it, obviously you cannot incorporate it in the final bill.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me -- another one of your problems, and a congressman that you will both recognize. I just want to play a little bit from him.


STUPAK: We say we will maintain current law, no public funding for abortion. We will not compromise that principle or belief.


CROWLEY: Now, I know you are going to argue that there is no public funding for abortion in this bill. But let's get beyond that. Congressman Stupak believes that there is funding. How do you get around this particular issue? Because he could take up to a dozen Democrats with him and that begins to get into dicey territory.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we are going to continue to work with Bart Stupak, and those members for whom that was the biggest concern. Because you have in the Senate pro-life members like Senator Casey, Senator Nelson, all of whom were clearly satisfied that the way the Senate did it met our objective of making sure that no public funds can go to abortion.

The issue is what can you use your own money for? In other words, right, right now today, if you want to go out with your own money and purchase a health care plan, you have that option.

VAN HOLLEN: And so --

CROWLEY: Sure, and we know he would argue if you give them a subsidy, you really are subsidizing abortion coverage, so the fact of the matter is he is not convinced by that argument. So have you lost Stupak and the other or so other congressmen that would go with him?

VAN HOLLEN: I don't think we have lost -- well obviously Bart Stupak as of today says he is not satisfied. We will continue to explore ways to get it done. But as has been made clear by the parliamentarian under the reconciliation process, the majority rule process, there are limits to the changes you can make in the Senate bill. So this is going to be a discussion, and we are going to be engaged in that dialogue for some time until we get it done.

CROWLEY: I would love to be in on the discussion, so invite me anytime. Let me ask you, if you are both comfortable with the notion that a bill which encompasses one sixth of the economy is going to e passed or may be passed out of Congress and signed by the president that is all Democratic, that not a single Republican vote, a Democratic president, is that a comfortable place for you all to be?

BAIRD: Let me put a mark on that. I oppose the House procedure. When the bill came up before the House, I felt we should have allowed the Republicans to offer amendments, we did not. And I think that was a mistake. It's part of why I voted no on the rule.

Having said that, you know, when you watch the president's summit, time after time after time he said to the Republicans is there anything in this you would agree with, and they dodge the question. You know if you don't have -- Tom DeLay was on "Dancing with the Stars," we don't have a dance partner. We don't have someone on the other side who is seriously willing to say if you do these things, you will have our support. And the reason is they see it as such a potent political weapon. And so they're taking the health care --

CROWLEY: No Republican in the Senate or the House has any interest in getting health care to the uninsured or in getting --

BAIRD: No, I am not saying that. What I am saying is I think at this point they are not willing to even come a little bit of distance to try to find common ground because they are so eager to have this as a political weapon in the fall. And that's terribly unfortunate. If that's the case, and if a handful of people in the Senate can tie things up with record numbers of filibusters, you are left relatively no choice. But let's be clear about two things. One, the choice you're left with is a majority vote which I think most people think is how we ought to do things anyway, and secondly the Republicans used reconciliation multiple times including for the mother of all deficit increases, the Bush tax cuts.

CROWLEY: Sure. I mean, without arguing reconciliation, because I think that's -- we have sort of argued that before and parties tend to switch sides depending on whether they're the minority or the majority on how they feel about it, but the fact of the matter is that this is a humongous bill that is going to change a segment of -- it's going to touch every American household and not a single Republican is going to vote for it. And I think it is hard for people to believe that every Republican up there is not the least bit interested in helping Americans get health care.

VAN HOLLEN: Nobody has said that they are not the least bit interests, but what we've said is put your plan on the table. And they did put their plan on the table. The Congressional Budget Office has looked at it. It's available on the Internet. Everybody should take a look at it. It only covers an additional 3 million people over the next 10 years, compared to over 30 million people that are covered by House and Senate under the president's plan.

It does not prohibit insurance companies from denying people based on preexisting conditions. Back in September when the president addressed the Congress, all Republican colleagues stood on their feet and clapped when the president said he wanted to make that prohibition real.

It's not in their plan. And that's what became very clear at the White House. And so I would ask the alternative question, are we really going to say that just because Republicans are not going to support a plan that advances the cause of health care reform that we are going to say, oh, time-out, we are not going to do it.

CROWLEY: I want to switch the topic slightly to politics and we take a lot of our political cues from those late-night shows, including "Saturday Night Live," where I think you sometimes can get into what is in the ground water out there. And this was from last night's "Saturday Night Live."


FRED ARMISEN, ACTOR: Finally, after decades of effort, we will have real health care reform even though as I have said, it may not be popular or viewed favorably by Americans, or what the people want us to do.


CROWLEY: So the question here is -- and the president came close to saying it himself, not just the person playing the president, are Democrats willing to vote for this bill at the cost of their own seats? Because your job is to get Democrats elected. This still shows that people would like health care reform but they don't like this particular health care reform? VAN HOLLEN: Well what we're fighting, Candy, as you know is that people do like the individual elements of the bill. What they have concerns with is the overall package. It's also partly because of the back and forth in the process. For example, when the Senate put that Nebraska deal in there, understandably people were upset. I mean, that was a ridiculous deal.

CROWLEY: They were upset before, though. They don't like the size of the bill. They don't like how much it costs. And yes, they like the elements of the bill but it's the totality of it that has turned people off. And you have to sell that this November. In all of these swing districts, and you know from swing districts your congressmen are going to have to sell this, and it looks like a very uphill climb particularly if you're going to have a jobless rate of 9.5.

VAN HOLLEN: But at the end of the day, people are also facing these skyrocketing premiums. They are all getting their notices right now saying if you do nothing, your family could go bankrupt, your small business is in trouble, the federal government is in trouble. It's absolutely unsustainable.

And then they look at last year when the economy was really down and see that the health insurance companies made record profits in a year when everybody else was struggling, and at the same time dropped 2.7 million Americans from their rolls.

And it's very clear that right now you have a system that is controlled and run by the insurance companies and people do not want that. So I think at the end of the day, we are going to be able to make a very strong case that you cannot continue with the status quo and the Republicans have not presented a viable alternative for change.

CROWLEY: Let me give you the last word here, and that is that even the White House believes unemployment will be around 9.5 or so in November. You've got a health care bill that right now looks unpopular. It's a tough, tough sell to say, well the economy would have been worse had we not done something. What is your short answer to how difficult it's going to be for your brethren who are running for reelection?

BAIRD: Let me put a human face in the debate. A friend of mine has kidney cancer. He lost his job through no fault of his own. The economy turned around. His entire life now is focused on trying to find a job that has a health insurance plan that will cover him for his health needs. His whole life, our Democratic bill, would try to correct that. Now again, I think it's much more complex than I would have favored it. But for that person relative to his situation, he understands why their needs to be a reform.

CROWLEY: OK, I have to leave it there, Congressman Baird, Congressman Van Hollen, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

And when we come back, Tom DeLay on the Democrats and their problems.


DELAY: I think what they're doing wrong is because of their arrogance.



CROWLEY: Tom DeLay is arguably one of the most effective and inarguably one of the most controversial House Republican leaders in history. First as the House majority whip and then majority leader, DeLay earned the nickname the Hammer for his strict enforcement of party discipline. Forced out of his leadership post after his 2005 criminal indictment on charges to conspire to violate election law, DeLay was also admonished multiple times by the Ethics Committee. He eventually resigned his seat and returned to Texas. He is a political consultant now, but not much else has changed. I caught up with Tom DeLay in his home town of Sugarland, Texas. DeLay's case is still in the courts. He is still controversial.


CROWLEY: You know, I want to first sort of talk about, the view has got to be different from here, watching things happen, as opposed to being in the midst of it. When you look at what is going on in Congress and all this talk about how it's never been as bad as it is now, do you buy that?

DELAY: No. I don't think it has changed much at all.

CROWLEY: What about the tone of things? Do you think it has gotten nastier or does that not seem to have changed?

DELAY: Well, I think obviously for me, the tone has gotten nastier. The criminalization of politics is nastier. It used to be just ruining somebody's reputation. Now they want to put you in jail and bankrupt you and destroy your family.

CROWLEY: What is the status of the case now?

DELAY: Well, we have been sitting for four years in the appeals courts. The district attorney of Travis County knows that they can't win this case. They indicted me on laws that don't exist. So they are keeping it in the appeals process.

CROWLEY: It has got to grind on you at some level as you maintain your innocence, and it's four years later, your case is still in court, unproven -- not proven and still going on. I can't imagine how it doesn't at some level make you bitter about politics? DELAY: No, I knew what I was getting into. I mean, I knew the state of play and the game. I thought, probably mistakenly, I could fight them off. I did for 11 years. And I thought that if I could beat them, maybe that would stop this criminalization of politics. Unfortunately, I see it's continuing.

CROWLEY: The Ethics Committee did find there was some rebukes in there, some public admonishments and that kind of thing. When you look back, do you think I should not have done this? This was clear I should not have done this?

DELAY: No, I don't agree with the admonishment. First of all, I think they abused their power. The Ethics Committee started this admonishment thing, and it destroys your due process. It's not a sanction of the House. It's not in the rules of the House. It's not even in the rules of the Ethics Committee. It's a warning letter that used to be sent to you privately, saying you ought to look out for what you are doing here and there. But now it's used as a sanction. Look at what is happening to Charlie Rangel.

CROWLEY: I was going to ask you--

DELAY: He was found by the Ethics Committee to not have violated the rules that he was charged with, yet they sent an admonishment, which is not a sanction, and the press picks it up and acts like he ought to serve time in jail because he got a letter from the Ethics Committee. But he never got to answer the Ethics Committee.

CROWLEY: He has now stepped down temporarily, he says, from the Ways and Means Committee, a big powerful chairmanship that he's--

DELAY: He should have.

CROWLEY: You think he should? Because you sounded a little bit like you were defending him.

DELAY: No, he should have, because Nancy Pelosi set the standard. When I was admonished, she called for me to step down, and demanded that I step down, called me corrupt. And it ought to apply to Charlie Rangel, too. It's the same thing happened to him. And then she tried to defend him. Now, you have got to be consistent. I don't agree with it, but you have got to be consistent.

CROWLEY: When you look at it, and I will give you a chance to -- you're doing some political consulting now, I am going to give you a chance to politically consult Nancy Pelosi and for Senator Reid. They have got a Democrat-controlled House, a Democrat-controlled Senate, a Democrat in the White House. And yet they are having some trouble getting health care through.

DELAY: I think what they are doing wrong is because of arrogance. They have huge majorities. We never had more than a 17- vote majority, and we got down to a five-vote majority at one time. Never did we have 60 votes in the Senate. And you would think you could pass anything and pass it quickly with those kinds of majorities. Why can't they? It's because they are going back in rooms and then telling the members, take it or leave it.

You can't do that. That's obvious. I invented something called grow the vote, because -- and we would get to an issue early on, before a bill was even introduced, and we would work through the regular process, and we knew which members were having problems, and we would take care of those problems, so that by the time it got to the floor, they wanted to vote for it because they had ownership of it.

Nancy Pelosi writes the bill, hands it to the chairman, and says get it out of committee in an hour, and we are going to the floor, we're going to debate it now, and I will break arms if you vote against me. That will come to haunt you and bring you down.

CROWLEY: She would probably disagree with that rendition of how she gets things done. And, in fact, she has been able to pass a lot on her side. It has really been the Senate side because of the rules and a number of other things. So when you say those sorts of things come back to haunt you, let's talk about the elections this November.

DELAY: Well, if the Republicans don't do anything, they are going to win seats. How many seats? I think we don't know yet. I don't think the Republicans are prepared to maximize their votes. I would have liked to see and I tried to do some of this when I left Congress, I would like to see more organization, more coordination, more communication on the outside in support of what the Republicans are doing.

We have no organization, nothing near what the Democrats have built over the last ten years. They have one of the most powerful political coalitions I have ever seen. But there is a rage in this country, and I have been sitting outside of D.C. for a long time, that I have never witnessed before. And we don't know yet what the impact of that is going to be.

CROWLEY: But we also see, when we poll that rage, if you will, that people are just as angry if not a little more angry at Republicans than they are at Democrats. And I look at this past week with Senator Bunning, and the holding up the unemployment benefits emergency legislation, because you know that one of the raps against Republicans is that it's an angry party of white men who don't really care about the unemployed or the uninsured, and it doesn't seem to me that the Bunning situation helped your cause.

DELAY: No, I think he rallied people around him, to be honest with you. I -- it didn't help the Republican cause because the Republicans did not rally around him, the elected Republicans.

CROWLEY: So you think the problem here was not Jim Bunning but that people did not go stand by him?

DELAY: No, the rage against Republicans that's out there is they want to see Republicans stand on principles and fight for those principles.

CROWLEY: But do you -- it's not a mistake, you don't think, to fight for those principles really at the detriment to the people who are the most vulnerable in our society right now?

DELAY: Nothing would have happened if the Democrats would have just paid for it. People would have gotten their unemployment compensation. I think Bunning was brave in standing up there and taking it on by himself.

CROWLEY: But this particular time, you know, to halt peoples' jobs that were working on, public infrastructure jobs, to put in jeopardy peoples' unemployment benefits and their health care just was not exactly the right vehicle to make that stand. You don't think that's a PR problem at the very least?

DELAY: No, I really don't, if it's communicated properly. You know, there's -- there is an argument to be made that these extensions of these unemployment benefits keeps people from going and finding jobs. In fact, there's a study -- there's some studies that have been done that shows that people stay on unemployment compensation and they don't look for a job until two or three weeks before they know the benefits are going to run out.

CROWLEY: Congressman, that's such a hard sell, isn't it?


It's -- you know, to say...

DELAY: It's the truth.

CROWLEY: ... well, people are unemployed because they want to be?

DELAY: Well, it is the truth. And people in the real world know it. And they have friends that -- and they know it. Sure, we ought to be helping people that are unemployed find a job, but we also have budget considerations that are incredibly important, especially now that Obama is spending monies that we don't even have.


CROWLEY: When we come back, Tom DeLay on the power of the tea party activists. Also, his unlikely stint on "Dancing With the Stars."


CROWLEY: Let's continue my interview with the former Republican House majority leader, Tom DeLay. I spoke to him in his hometown of Sugar Land, Texas.


CROWLEY: Do you see any danger at all for Republicans with the tea party activists, many of whom don't have a "my party no matter what" view of the Republican Party; they don't necessarily even view themselves as Republicans? DELAY: No, I'm rooting for the tea party activists, mainly because -- and we saw it in the Texas primaries. I watched it very closely. The tea party activists ran a lot of people against Republican incumbents.

And it goes back to what you were talking about, where the tea party activists don't like what's going on, but they don't like the Republicans, either. And it was a real message to the Republicans that they better welcome these people in, because now they voted in the Texas primary, they are Republicans.

CROWLEY: If the tea party activists don't get a candidate that they like, isn't the danger for the Republicans that they just sit home. Aren't you really, sort of, splitting the party, at this point, rather than building it?

DELAY: No, I think it's a great opportunity for the Republicans, if they'll take it. They now have these people in their -- in their party. They ought to be reaching out to them and accommodating them and working with them.

CROWLEY: What about -- what about Tom DeLay's political future?

Is there -- have you ever thought "I might run for something again"?

DELAY: I'd probably have to get a divorce first.


Hopefully my political future is I'd get to go back on "Dancing With the Stars."


CROWLEY: That's so funny. Because so many people, when I said, well, do you have any ideas about what to ask Tom DeLay, they said, "Ask him about "Dancing With the Stars."

Why did you do it?

DELAY: I just thought it would be the greatest thing -- the best fun, and it was the best I've ever had. It was just amazing. I mean, it was a lot of work, and my feet killed me the whole time. And I broke both feet. But I just had the best time.

CROWLEY: And what about the image? What would you -- how would you like to reshape how people view Tom DeLay?

Do you feel compelled to do that?

DELAY: And you're going to think I'm crazy, but I really don't care.

(LAUGHTER) I am who I am and I did what I did and I'm proud of what I did. I'm proud of the Republican record. I'm -- I've had a great career. I've done the things I wanted to do.

The only regret I have is, as majority leader, I was starting us on agendas that actually would change the whole structure of our government and move us toward a constitutional government. I mean, my last agenda I was taking on, we had five bills passed out of the House limiting the jurisdiction of the courts to take on judicial activism.

I wanted to reform entitlements every year, like appropriations, so that we could really get to entitlements and some day get rid of them. And we started that. We -- we actually cut spending for the first time since Ronald Reagan, a real cut in discretionary spending. We beefed up our security.

I mean, we did some great things.

CROWLEY: Now, look how excited you get about -- you know, talking about the things that you might have been able to do had you stayed. You sound a little bit like you might miss it?

DELAY: No, not really. I don't. You know, 22 years was enough for anybody, especially in the position that -- that's -- it's, you know, you're working 12 to 14 hours a day, scheduled every 15 minutes. I was getting exhausted, anyway.

So, no, I really don't miss it. Well, I shouldn't say it that way. I would have loved to be right in the middle of that health care reform fight.



CROWLEY: You can take the politician out of Washington; awfully hard to take Washington out of the politician.

Up next, we'll go to Iraq, where critical elections today could impact the withdrawal of U.S. troops. And later, a tribute to some real-life heroes who have risked life and limb in Iraq, as portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film "The Hurt Locker."


CROWLEY: In the face of threats and deadly bombings, Iraqis voted in their country's parliamentary elections today. The stakes are extremely high, not just for Iraq but for the United States and the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops. CNN's Arwa Damon is at a polling station in Baghdad where the polls have just closed. Arwa, how did it go today?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know Candy, give everything that happened here, we have to remember that at least 30 mortar rounds rained down on Baghdad in the minute before the polls were opened.

One really has to admire the Iraqis resilience, their determination, and their bravery. At this polling location. We saw around 50 percent turnout, which is considerable given what Iraqis potentially could have faced while they were heading out here. What you can see right now is the counting that is going on. This is obviously a very critical vote. And it is proving to be a much closer race than anybody had anticipated, Candy.

CROWLEY: Arwa, so much depends on this election, including whether the withdrawal of U.S. troops is going to happen on time by combat troops all out by the end of August. I was interested in your interview with Prime Minister Maliki who seemed to suggest he might want more time?

DAMON: That is right. And you know what was especially interesting about that was that up until that moment, the prime minister's at least public rhetoric had been very much one of the strong man, one of more trained security forces as being fully capable, he seemed confident that he would be able to stick to that time line. But here's the dynamic we have going on right now and that is a very close race, the outcome is unpredictable, different alliances are going to be formed. There are people who are not going to be happy with the outcome so the potential for violence and the potential for even more instability in Iran is still out there and it's still very a reality. And I think the prime minister is beginning to acknowledge that.

CROWLEY: All things considered, did this day go better than expected or worse? Do you have a grip on the total picture? DAMON: Candy, I think as far as I am aware, it went pretty much as expected. There was a fair amount of violence in the morning and people didn't come to the polls in the beginning. They wanted to wait and see how things are going to transpire, and then we saw people coming with their entire families. Then to say of course that as we've been reporting, we're guessing that turnout might end up being around the whole country and if we take into consideration the violence that Iraqis have suffered over the last seven years, we take into the consideration the risks that they took to come and vote, that really is something to be commended.

CROWLEY: What have you been able to gather on the streets and outside Baghdad? Are Iraqis looking forward to the removal of this troop? Is there a lot of pressure from the population in general for U.S. troops to leave.

DAMON: Look Candy, Iraqis have largely changed their attitude towards the U.S. forces. First we were viewed very much of being occupational forces, then it kind of shifted to sectarian violence. We were being viewed as the only people that many Iraqis could actually trust. Nobody here wants the Americans to stay forever but nobody wants them to leave until they can actually guarantee that their own forces can hold on to security because look, we are in 2010, and Iraqis want the same thing now that they wanted back in 2005. They want basic services. They want electricity and water and jobs, but still at the top of that list is security. They are still saying the country is not safe enough.

CROWLEY: Arwa Damon doing excellent work as always out of Baghdad. Thank you so much.

Let's check some of the stories breaking this Sunday. Philippine marines have killed seven suspected terrorists in the country's southwest. But a military commander says a Malaysian terror suspect long wanted by Washington managed to escape.

The marines are battling Islamic militants believed to have ties to al Qaeda. The insurgents are blamed for several attacks in the Philippines including a 2004 ferry bombing that killed 130 people. Afghan president Hamid Karzai is getting an earful from angry civilians in Helmand Province. Today he visited Marjah, the town NATO and Afghan troops recently took over from Taliban militants. Hundreds of elders complained to Karzai about government corruption and a lack of services. Karzai promised to be more responsive and to open schools and to start building roads and clinics. And those are your top stories here on "State of the Union." Up next in out "American Dispatch", what tonight's Academy Awards could teach us about vote counting in a tight race with several candidates.


CROWLEY: We thought explaining reconciliation was hard until one of our staffers, Jessica Rumbolt (ph), told us about democracy Oscar- style. There's a new voting process in place for the Academy Awards tonight, and election officials might want to take notice.

Fifteen U.S. presidents have been elected by less than 50 percent of the popular vote, including Bill Clinton twice and George Bush in 2000. It's been the same with the Oscars since 1945.

Last year, in the Best Picture category, Academy members voted for one of five films. The final tally is always a secret, but if it were close, "Slum Dog Millionaire" could have won with as little as 24 percent of the vote.

This year 10 films are nominated. But the Academy has figured out a way to make sure that tonight's winner, be it "The Hurt Locker," "Avatar," or a dark horse, will have more than 50 percent.

In theory, the top film might have only 15 percent of the votes, but voters this year are ranking their films in order of preference, one to 10, though they're not required to rank all 10.

The first-choice votes are split into 10 piles, one for each movie. If one film does not receive over 50 percent, the movie with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated and the second-choice votes for that movie are then counted and distributed to the nine films remaining.

If there's still no majority, the next movie with the lowest votes is eliminated and its second or third-choice ballots are counted and redistributed.

This process continues; another film eliminated; lower preferences counted and redistributed, again and again, until one film receives over 50 percent.

Is this complicated? It is. But there will be no hanging chads, no need for the Supreme Court, no pesky electoral vote.

And by the way, in 1945, the last time preference voting was used at the Academy, the winning film was "The Lost Weekend," starting Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, the first wife of Ronald Reagan, who won both his presidential elections with more than 50 percent of the popular vote. You see how we bring your world together for you?

Changing the mood just a minute in these hours before the Oscars, we wanted to focus on one of the favorites to win Best Picture.


(UNKNOWN): Laying on the charge, nice and sweet.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY (voice over): "The Hurt Locker" is the controversial story of a fictional explosive ordnance team in Iraq.

This week, Foreign Policy magazine uses its photo essay to pay tribute to the real teams who risk their lives diffusing those hidden explosives capable of killing so many civilians and military personnel.

Foreign Policy notes that 64 members of explosive ordnance teams have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.


CROWLEY: Publishers are strict people. And we took them very seriously when we were told Karl Rove's new book on the Bush administration would absolutely not be available until its release date next Tuesday.

So last Friday we sent CNN news assistant Charles Riley to scope out D.C. book stores, and he found a teller who said -- imagine this -- that he was in the business of selling books, and he sold us two of these.

So here's an advanced peek of a book designed to make money and influence history. In an age when the kiss-and-tell genre is more like kiss-and-backstab, Rove, whose political legacy is at stake, remains fiercely loyal to former President George Bush. He's also surprisingly affecting when the book broadens out to his own turbulent background, the divorce of his parents, his mother's erratic behavior and eventual suicide, the questions about the sexuality of his father.

And finally, Rove is Rove, uncompromising in his political beliefs, acute in his political observations, and brutal in his political rhetoric. There are scores settled here.

He reveals that, in 2004, he was most worried about former presidential contender John Edwards, a person of considerable skills but ungrounded and without much wisdom, inordinately in love with his looks, his voice, with himself.

Sizing up George Bush's 2000 competition, Rove writes of Al Gore, "He exaggerated, routinely made stuff up, and even lied. His convictions were not as strong as his political ambitions."

Rove may be retired from politics, but he has not put away the brass knuckles.

Thanks 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.