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State of the Union

Interview With Said Jawad; Interview With Congressmen Boccieri, Coffman, Hunter

Aired July 04, 2010 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: It is July 4th. Do you know what your lawmakers are doing? Odds are walking in a parade. What they are not doing is passing a bill the Pentagon chief said he had to have to fund the president's troop buildup in Afghanistan.


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: We begin to have to do stupid things if the supplemental is not passed by the 4th of July recess.


CROWLEY: They may have to do stupid things. Congress left without a final Senate vote. The House did act, but not before an unambiguous signal to the president. There is growing angst that Afghanistan is an endless war. The worry came in a form of an amendment that required a clear plan for a troop pullout. The amendment failed, 162 to 260, but 153 of the votes for a firm timetable came from Democrats. Those are his guys.

Today, president's Karzai's man in Washington, Ambassador Said Jawad. Then three congressmen who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Representatives Duncan Hunter, Mike Coffman and John Boccieri.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: McChrystal didn't kill enough bad guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope General Petraeus can make sense out of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iraqis need to stand up and die for their own Iraqi freedom.


CROWLEY: Then, it's election year. All politics all the time with Julie Mason and Chris Cillizza. I am Candy Crowley and this is State of the Union.

General David Petraeus formally assumed command at a 4th of July ceremony in Kabul this morning. One of his first steps was a visit with Afghan President Karzai and a call for cooperation. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: I am reminded that this is an effort in which we must achieve unity of effort and common purpose. Afghan and international, we are part of one team with one mission.

This is a tough mission. There is nothing easy about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: Achieving unity of effort with people on the same side is not as simple as it sounds. Here in Washington, it's been open season on Afghan President Hamid Karzai.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no doubt that the central government is weak, that it is not as effective as it should be, that there is corruption.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's very weak, but he's the best we've got.

MCCAIN: Karzai is not doing the things we want him to do. I don't think there's any doubt about that in many respects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are dealing with this guy, President Karzai, who's corrupt and incompetent and fixed the last election. I don't want American forces there forever defending a guy like that.


CROWLEY: Joining me now is President Karzai's ambassador in Washington, Said Jawad. Thank you so much for being here.

Tough words, and I know you hear them here, and I know they hear them in Afghanistan. I want to talk first about the corruption allegation because something new has come up in the past couple of weeks, and that is the allegation that people who are politically connected are kind of getting the fix in and not being prosecuted, and some arrests are being prevented, that there is some clearing off of files of people who are suspected of corruption. And it's beginning to hurt in this sense -- a committee in Washington denied $4 billion for the Afghanistan government. It was headed by Nita Lowey, a congresswoman, and she had this to say why she did not want to send the aid. "I do not want to appropriate one more dime for assistance in Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists."

What -- I mean, can you respond, first of all, to the allegation that people with political connections are getting off?

JAWAD: That's not true. We have prosecuted a number of high- ranking officials in the Afghan government, and that process will continue. Every Afghan government official, high-ranking official is now required to declare his assets. There is a lot of misinformation. For instance, that report by Nita Lowey that came out was related to the flow of cash out of Kabul airport. The fact is that out of the $19.6 million (ph) that the United States is giving to Afghanistan in the past three years, only $1 billion (ph), which is 5 percent of the U.S. money, has been given to the Afghan government. So, yes, there is waste the way contracts are given in Afghanistan, there is corruption, but a lot of it has nothing to do with the Afghan government. It is the contracting system.

CROWLEY: What is worrisome, I think, to Congress, to Americans, is that it's not, oh, there's corruption in government, because governments do have their corruption parts, it's that the president is corrupt. That he, you know, he was corrupt from the election on. He is trying to help his friends. And that is more difficult, because this is the man that we need to have stand up his country so U.S. troops can leave.

JAWAD: Again, there is no evidence whatsoever. President Karzai is the most hard-working president in Afghanistan. He is the most sincere partner the United States has in Afghanistan and the region. He is probably one of the very few presidents in that region of the world that hardly has $50,000 in his bank account. And there is presence of the intelligence, there's presence of many institutions of the United States and NATO countries in Afghanistan, why don't they come up with a clear evidence of any corruption involving of the president or his family?

CROWLEY: Let me move to the issue of competence, because that is the other thing that people go after. President Karzai took office in 2002. It is now 2010. June has been one of the deadliest months of the entire war. One report we have is that roadside bomb attacks have gone up 94 percent from last year in the first four months of this year. The Afghan army is in no shape right now to stand up for its country. Electricity still can't be delivered into some of those rural regions. It just doesn't seem to be gelling here. I mean, if you can't do it after nine years, how are you going to do it after 10?

JAWAD: United States came to Afghanistan because Afghanistan provided a basis for Al Qaida to operate against Afghan people primarily and the rest of the world. This was a shared fight by the Afghan people, Afghan leadership and the rest of the world. If Afghanistan were fully functioning, there would be no need for the international community to be in Afghanistan. So, we have accomplished a lot. Today many accomplishments--


CROWLEY: It seems like we are going backwards here. I mean, if killings are up, roadside bomb attacks are up, we can't get out of Marjah at this point because there has not been the appropriate backup to come in and set up a government. So can you see why the American people would think, this is never going to end?

JAWAD: The American people did not come to Afghanistan to fix Marjah. They came to Afghanistan because they were attacked as part of the 9/11. That (inaudible) is still evident. We are facing an enemy in Afghanistan, with the threat not only to the Afghan people, to your freedom, to your country and to the rest of the world. Collectively, we as a humanity, as NATO countries in Afghanistan, the U.S. have not succeeded to fight terrorism effectively for many reasons. Lack of proper cooperation in the region, lack of full commitment on the part of the NATO partners and other things. That is not the fault of the Afghan people. If we had a fully functioning system in Afghanistan, there would be no need for the rest of the world to be there. It will take some time. We have made a lot of progress, but the enemy is brutal (ph). The threat of terrorism is still imminent.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you in the final minute we have left two quick questions. Is the U.S. deadline of beginning to pull out troops in July of next year helpful to Afghanistan?

JAWAD: No. Frankly not. For two reasons. First, if you overemphasize a deadline that is not realistic, you are making the enemy a lot more bold. You are prolonging the war. If that deadline should be realistic, that deadline should be based on the reality on the ground, and we should give a clear message to the enemy, to the terrorists who are a threat to everyone that the United States, NATO and Afghans are there to finish the job. If that's not the feeling, we lose the support of the Afghan people and also make the neighboring countries who have an interest a lot more bolder to interfere in Afghanistan.

CROWLEY: And quickly if I could, talks with the Taliban. President Karzai has said he does want to try to bring them into the fold. Just a very quick status report.

JAWAD: Well, we have built a strong national consensus on that issue. I think our regional countries, Pakistan, are becoming a lot more cooperative. We are very much looking forward to implement this. We cannot kill every bad guy in Afghanistan. We are opening the political process for them to join the Afghan people and the Afghan government to build a new Afghanistan.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much. Ambassador Said Jawad, we really appreciate it. Happy 4th of July to you.

JAWAD: Thank you. Thank you.

CROWLEY: When we come back, an up-close look at the military and political landscape in Afghanistan and Iraq.


CROWLEY: General Petraeus arrives in Kabul with the troop surge nearly complete. By Labor Day almost 100,000 members of the U.S. military will be on the ground in Afghanistan. As U.S. troops arrive in Kabul, they are coming out of Iraq; 32,000 combat troops will leave Iraq by the end of August. The total left behind will be half the number in Afghanistan.

Iraq is in a delicate place. Al Qaida is still active and the country remains divided by Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. There is sectarian violence still, but it is way down. Iran continues to try and exert its influence.

Iraq had a democratic election in March but no one emerged with a clear majority. The former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, held a two- seat edge over current prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. The new parliament met for the first time three weeks ago. It has yet to name a president who would then name a prime minister who would then try to assemble a government. Today Vice President Biden is in Baghdad meeting with Allawi and al-Maliki, trying to finally get a stable government in place.

Over 4,400 Americans died in Operation Iraqi Freedom; total cost to date, about $748 billion. What did the U.S. accomplish in Iraq and can it succeed in Afghanistan?

When we come back, a conversation we had earlier. Three congressmen with special perspective on this. They served in both countries.


CROWLEY: Joining me now are three lawmakers who speak from experience when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan. Congressman John Boccieri flew C-130 cargo planes during his four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has 16 years of service and is currently a major in the Air Force reserve.

Congressman Duncan Hunter joined the Marines a few days after 9/11. He served three combat tours, once to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq, including to Fallujah during some of the heaviest battles of the war, joining up as a lieutenant. He is now a captain in the Marine Reserves.

And Congressman Mike Coffman joined the Army when he was 17, eventually transferring to the Marines. Rising to the rank of major, he saw combat during Desert Storm in 1991. He returned to serve in Iraq in 2005, where, among other things, he helped support the elections there.

Gentlemen, it's a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much.

Let me just -- I want to start with something -- as you know, General Petraeus was testifying before the Senate the other day. Obviously, he got confirmed. He's going to go after there as a commander in Afghanistan.

And we cut up a couple of things that he had to say, and I want to start with that.


GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS (USA), COMBATANT COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Over the last 12 weeks, the number of innocent civilians killed in the course of military operations has been substantially lower than it was during the same period last year. Since the beginning of April alone, more than 130 middle and upper-level Taliban and other extremist element leaders have been killed or captured, but six months ago we could not have walked through the market in Marjah, as I was able to do with the district governor there two months ago.


CROWLEY: He also said, well, Marjah is going much slower than we thought it would. I should add that June was the deadliest month of the year. When you listen to that part of his assessment, does it match up with how you see things going?

COFFMAN: You know, it really doesn't. Because I think what we were told by General McChrystal, or at least in what he's said publicly about Marjah being a bleeding ulcer, and we've had reports that the government's piece, that the Afghans were supposed to do as a follow-on simply didn't happen. I think General Petraeus is trying to put a positive spin on it because he needs the support of Congress. He needs Congress to pass a war supplemental so they can continue with the operations. And so I think that there's a gap between what General Petraeus is saying and what is happening on the ground. But I think that General Petraeus is going to do a great job in Afghanistan for us.

HUNTER: But there's still no argument, though, that Marjah is better now than it was five years ago, for instance, or even, you know, three years ago. So Marjah is better. It just didn't work out the way they planned it. And I think one of those reasons was McChrystal didn't kill enough bad guys, frankly. I think we, kind of, went in soft, and we tried to make friends. The Marines did have some intense fighting, but we didn't go in hard and heavy like we did in Iraq, in the Anbar province.

And I think that that came back to bite us. Because, as soon as we moved out, the enemy just moved back in again. And we see that happening over and over. BOCCIERI: One thing that's clear, at least among us three here, Candy, is that we all agree that we have one commander in chief in the country, and that's the president of the United States. We respect his decision to move McChrystal out and move General Petraeus in. Success in Afghanistan is going to be identified by the government standing up and making sure that there is security in those outlying provinces; there is stability, economic stability.

And you know, quite frankly, when the Taliban rolls in, those folks on those outlying areas are for the Taliban. When the Americans roll in, they're for the Americans. Until we have a strong, stable central government that can execute justice, we're going to have -- it's going to be a challenge.

CROWLEY: Let me review something because it goes to this point. It's from Peter Galbraith, who's the former U.N. representative to Afghanistan. And he wrote, talking about President Karzai, "While President Obama describes his Afghan counterpart as the democratically elected leader of a reliable ally, saying it doesn't make it so. President Hamid Karzai heads a government ranked the second most corrupt in the world, where power rests with thousands of warlords, power brokers and militia men. While some may hold elected or appointed positions, this is incidental to their exercise of power, which depends on the number of armed men at their disposal or because of the wealth they have been able to accumulate.

"Karzai holds his office not as the choice of the Afghan people, but as the result of a massively fraudulent election, as he himself now concedes."

This guy has to somehow put this country together or we can't leave. Am I right?

BOCCIERI: Well, the strategy -- the strategy is to make sure that not only our troops have everything in resources that they need, in terms -- to execute and win, but to make sure that the Karzai government is -- ends the corruption and provides stability, at least in these outlying regions where we find that there's been holding grounds for these Talibans and the terrorists.

HUNTER: Karzai has a certain influence in Kabul, in Bagram, in Kandahar, in the bigger city areas, but his influence on the outlying areas, almost like it is here, on, you know, basic needs that the Afghan people have, is almost zero. They don't care whether it's Karzai or somebody else. We have to get the regular Afghan people to believe in our mission over there, to trust us, work with us.

I don't think they really care who their president is, to a certain extent. But they want to be invested in that, but Karzai is not going to help get, you know, trash picked up or make sure that your home isn't broken into.

COFFMAN: I think this nation made a terrible mistake in relying on nation-building as a principal tool for achieving our national security interests. And I think what the Bush administration did initially was great. We gave air logistical and advisory support to the anti-Taliban forces after we were attacked on 9/11. But after they achieved victory, instead of using our leverage to say you need to reach out to the anti-Taliban Pashtun elements of the country and form some governing coalition that fits the political culture of the country, we pushed them aside, superimposed a political process on them, gave them the government that we wanted them to have, and we are defending that government today.

And so I hope that General Petraeus can make sense out of this. At the end of the day, it's the Afghans that have to win the war for Afghanistan and not the United States.

CROWLEY: Can it be done in a year before troops begin to withdraw?

BOCCIERI: I don't know. It's a very difficult proposition. At the end of the day, success, though, is going to be identified whether the Afghanistan government can stand up and provide basic necessities for the folks in outlying areas.

HUNTER: I don't think so. I was just there on Memorial weekend. This one-year deadline is weighing down on every commander's shoulders, from the lieutenants to three-star generals. It's weighing on everybody. They all know they have one year prior to this withdrawal date. I think it's going to be tough. I don't think we can do it in a year.

CROWLEY: We will be right back with our three congressmen to take a look at Iraq as U.S. troops begin to withdraw.


CROWLEY: We are back with three U.S. Congressman, Democrat John Boccieri of Ohio and Republicans Duncan Hunter of California and Mike Coffman of Colorado. Thank you again for being here.

Let me move from Afghanistan to Iraq this way. A lot of this counter-insurgency idea was winning hearts and minds. Did we win hearts and minds in Iraq? By the end of August, supposedly all combat troops -- about 30 -- a little over 30,000 more combat troops -- will come out, leaving about 50,000 noncombat troops there. So, when we leave, are the Iraqis going to feel positively about America? Because you get that sense that the answer is no.

BOCCIERI: It's a very difficult terrain in Afghanistan, much different than that of Iraq. You know, there is ethnic tribes that are specific to different regions of the country, that, you know, it's very difficult to suggest that they are going to embrace a nationalistic spirit when they are closely aligned to their ethnic tribe and their province more so than the nationalistic spirit. So I think that's one of the major blunders that we made going into Iraq, was suggesting that they were going to embrace some nationalistic spirit. They are more aligned closely with their province and their ethnic heritage.

COFFMAN: I think we could have done regime change without having gone into Iraq in a major nation-building exercise that we've done. We have set up a constitutionally elected government in Iraq that is truly representative, I think, of the people. However, it's a Shia dominated government. I fear it's going to be probably closer to Iran, the interests of Iran, than the United States. And -- whereas before, although a despotic regime, it was a buffer to Iranian expansion.

HUNTER: Candy, let me just say this, let me just say, we won in Iraq. That's why we are going to have combat troops out of there. And we have had over a million men and women serve over there. They have achieved victory. You know, let's actually say congratulations to them. A lot of people don't agree that we should have gone in, but we went in, won, and we are leaving successfully. There is like 25 Marines left there now, that's it, 25 Marines in the entire country. That's victory, so we can, you know, see how that is and we can move on.

CROWLEY: Is victory just getting out? Let me go to Congressman Coffman's point, because here is something that came from the L.A. Times. The Iraqis describe U.S. embassy officials in Baghdad as obsessed with bringing an end to the large-scale U.S. troop presence in Iraq. They believe the embassy's single-mindedness has often left the United States veering from crisis to crisis here. Some U.S. military officers and western analysts have also criticized what they see as a failure to think beyond the planned drawdown to 50,000 noncombat troops by the end of August. The lack of focus may leave an opening for Iraq's neighbor and the United States rival, Iran."

Which goes to your point.

COFFMAN: Right. It does.

CROWLEY: And I mean, honestly, if we spent all this blood and treasure there, and then Iran becomes a big influence, isn't that failure?

BOCCIERI: What I'm really concerned about is after we leave, that there is this huge territorial grab. The Iranians from the central part of the country, perhaps Turkey from the northern half. And once the United States is out of that, I mean, the true identifiers of success are going to be whether the country and the government can stand up on its own, protect itself, and have an economy that interacts with the rest of the Arab culture.

CROWLEY: They've got no prime minister, no president, no speaker.

HUNTER: We're going to have troops there probably for the next five decades. We're going to have some American presence in Iraq--

CROWLEY: The president wants to have everybody out by the end of next year.

HUNTER: When he says everybody, we are still going to have support people over there, and we could have thousands like we have in Germany, like we have in South Korea. We are going to have an American presence there probably indefinitely.

COFFMAN: I think once we made the decision to go in, I think we had to bring -- we have to bring both conflicts to what I term as a just conclusion. But I hope we revert back to a national security policy of the 1980s, where we supported factions with any given region that shared our strategic interests without putting U.S. troops on the ground. And I think -- as opposed to the nation-building operations that we are engaged in today.

CROWLEY: We are -- we have been -- we're still nation-building in Iraq, we're nation-building in Afghanistan. Is that the appropriate use of the military? You say no.

COFFMAN: I say no.

BOCCIERI: I say no.


CROWLEY: So both of these wars, as far as you are concerned, went way beyond the military scope? BOCCIERI: Oh, absolutely. When you have military personnel running and executing elections, I mean, that's way beyond the training I ever received as a C-130 pilot, and I know these two gentlemen as well. And it's just beyond our scope.

HUNTER: We are trying to make Iraq into San Diego. It's never going to be San Diego. It's always going to be kind of the Wild West. That's how they are. Afghanistan is the same way. We are never going to make it like we are here, and they don't want to be like we are here in this nation. So let them do what they do naturally. Make sure they are not a threat to us. And that's it.

CROWLEY: Is Afghanistan right now a major -- or those in it, a major security threat to the United States, or are we just cleaning up what we broke?

HUNTER: I say yes. I say yes, because the biggest scare is the Afghan Taliban joining the Pakistan Taliban, and Pakistan's nukes getting into the wrong hands. Anybody you talk to from any administration, from the Defense Intelligence Agency to the CIA to the U.S. military, all say that is the worst-case scenario, and it's still possible. That's why Afghanistan has got to be stabilized to some extent, because you have Pakistan right next door, and it can easily destabilize Pakistan enough to where those nukes do fall into the wrong hands.

CROWLEY: Let me bring you back to the Iraq in our final moments. They don't have a government in place. They've had elections. But they had elections in March, and they're still arguing about who actually won and who has the coalition...

(UNKNOWN): Sounds like us.


CROWLEY: Well, in 2000, anyway.

If -- we're going to take the combat troops out. Is it possible the place will fall apart if we leave?

COFFMAN: You know, I think it is possible. But keep in mind that, after the 2005 election, their first national election in December of 2005, it took them quite a while to form a government after that, and it's taken them quite -- but there are a lot of negotiations going on. It's very important to have a government that's reflective of the ethnic and sectarian divides within the country, and I think that those negotiations are going on right now.

But the -- I think the Al Qaida elements are still alive and well, unfortunately, in Iraq, and they are trying to, through sectarian violence, keep this government from forming.

CROWLEY: Well, I don't get it. The whole point was to get rid of Al Qaida...

(CROSSTALK) HUNTER: This is like Bush versus Gore in 2000. Thank God that the Iraq parliament are arguing about this with words. They're not shooting at each other. Yes, there is violence.

CROWLEY: Well, they are shooting at each other.

HUNTER: Well, yes, but they aren't shooting at each other in their actual capitol. They're tying to work this out, trying to work through it. That's a huge step, a huge step for what this nation had three years, four years ago. I mean, it's a big difference. And I think it's progress.

BOCCIERI: A lot has been sacrificed, a lot of our blood and treasure...


BOCCIERI: ... from the United States, to give the Iraqi people the chance and opportunity to live free -- freely and have a government of their own fashion and their own design. That being said, Iraqis need to stand up and die for their own Iraqi freedom, and Americans need to start coming home safely, honorably and soon.

COFFMAN: And they have -- now they have 600,000 in their Iraqi security forces well capable of defending the own country.

I think President Bush said it probably best before he left office, when he said that the -- the history of Iraq, the last chapter will not be written for decades to come, in terms of whether or not it will be a stabilizing force in the Middle East as the first representative democracy, really, in the heart of the Arab Middle East.

CROWLEY: More than 4,400 U.S. service people died in Iraq; billions of dollars put in there. Was it worth it?

BOCCIERI: That remains to be seen. History is still being written.

HUNTER: Yes. Yes, we, you know, kept America safe.

COFFMAN: You know, I -- I wish we had not gone in, in the manner that we did, but that's hindsight and it's always 20/20. Once in, we had to make it work and we did in fact make it work, and our folks on the ground have acquitted themselves extremely well in that process.

BOCCIERI: Candy, let me just say, though, whether we agree with the war or not or whether we -- those troops that went over and fought only because our country asked them to go, they deserve the most respect and the most admiration for wearing the uniform for our country.

CROWLEY: And you all among them. So thank you for that. Thank you for today. All in all, would you rather be serving in the military or on Capitol Hill?


BOCCIERI: Sometimes it feels like it's the same.


CROWLEY: How about you?

HUNTER: I'm with John on that one.


COFFMAN: You know, I went back in the United States Marine Corps at age 50, after being retired for 11 years and took a combat refresher course, and that was pretty painful. I think I'll stay in the Congress for a little while. (LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: OK. At least physically, it's a little easier.


Congressman Michael Coffman, thank you so much for joining us. John Boccieri, thank you, Congressman. And Duncan Hunter, thank you very much. I really appreciate it. Happy fourth.

Up next, Democrats make a mountain out of Republican leader John Boehner's anthill.


CROWLEY: It began when Republican leader John Boehner talked to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review about the House-passed financial reform package.


REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: This is killing an aunt with a nuclear weapon. That could have been fixed, but that's not what we have here.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The leader of the Republicans in the House said that financial reform was like -- now I'm quoting here -- "using a nuclear weapon" to target an ant.


That's what he said. He -- he compared the financial crisis to an ant. He can't be that out of touch.



BOEHNER: President Obama travelled to Racine, Wisconsin, a city with 14 percent unemployment, and used his time there to attack me. Why isn't the president focussed on creating jobs that the American people are asking for?

And, Mr. President, what about the country? For someone who asked to be held to a higher standard, President Obama spends an awful lot of time making excuses and whining about others.


CROWLEY: Two words, mid-term elections. Politics, up next, with Chris Cillizza and Julie Mason.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, Julie Mason, White House correspondent for the Washington Examiner, and Chris Cillizza, managing editor of and author of "The Fix" blog on

Thank you all.

OK, Boehner and the president.


I mean, our cup runneth over this week, let's face it.


You know, I'm a little speechless here because it's clear to me that Democrats have done everything but write the Republicans a memo saying, we're going to make the election about how you're on the wrong side of everything, and then they keep saying things like this.

MASON: Like what? I'm sorry.

CROWLEY: I'm sorry -- Boehner and the whole...

MASON: Oh, yes, like the ants, and using the nuclear weapon against an ant.

CROWLEY: Yes, like the Wall Street financial meltdown was an ant. Now, it's an election year. It may sound like a stupid argument, but it proves a larger point to Democrats.

CILLIZZA: I think that it's -- I think that -- here's the issue, is -- is this election about big, quote/unquote, "big" things, the economy, health care, the environment; President and Obama and the government; is there too much government intrusion, or can you make it about smaller things, which is John Boehner; Joe Barton, lest we forget the famous/infamous Joe Barton apology to BP; Michael Steele, who I know we're going to talk about.

CILLIZZA: Can Democrats create out of those series -- those thousand points of light...


Can they create, kind of, the solar system of, hey, you want to give these guys -- you want to give them control back? Remember what they did and look at what they're saying and what they're going to do?

It's -- you know, the White House says this a lot; this is going to be a -- a choice, not a referendum. We'll see.

CROWLEY: Well, and isn't it that?

I mean, look, they don't want -- the Democrats don't want to talk about a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, which it is. They don't really want to talk about health care, except for in some districts. So don't they have to talk about, "Remember these guys?"

MASON: That's right. That's right. And Boehner and Barton are giving them so much. But at the same time, outside of Washington; outside of their home districts, Boehner and Barton are not well-known names. These are not guys you can really hang the party on. The Democrats are going to try, and you see Obama trying to personalizing it. But he didn't say the name Boehner when he talked about the economy last week. He just said the "Republican leader in the House." You know, you don't even have to know who it is.

CILLIZZA: I think Julie is exactly right. Remember, for years, it was -- for years, it was "Nancy Pelosi." And people said, enough.

MASON: And it still is.

CILLIZZA: And it still is, but she's at least better known now because speaker of the House. People said, "Who is that?" You know, people don't...


We get in this mode of assuming what people know. Forget their own congressmen; they know the leadership of the two parties. Polling suggests that's not the case.

So, yes, Barton and Boehner as representative of something larger. It's about John Boehner from Ohio, Joe Barton from Texas. It's about this is what the Republican Party really thinks about things when they're not trying to sell you on getting back into control.

MASON: It's a potent argument. It really is.

CROWLEY: It is. Because it does -- and it fits into -- it seems to me that this is going to be an "us versus them" election. We used to call it class warfare.

MASON: Base versus base -- that's what it's coming down to, the Democratic base versus the Republican base, and what do you believe in? It's not even personalities this year.

CILLIZZA: Just real quickly, Candy, on that point, I do think that one thing that's overlooked with this Tea Party movement. We spend a lot of time talking about. It's really, kind of, a populist movement more than it is a conservative or a liberal movement. These are people who think the government is too involved; they need to give power back to the people.

It's very much -- if you listen to what the Tea Party said and what John Edwards said on the campaign trail in 2008, there is not that much differential. Big business has too much power; the government has too much power; we need to take things back.

CROWLEY: Right. Let me -- let me turn you to our next favorite subject. As I say, our cup runneth over, here. This is Michael Steele, Thursday, talking at a fund-raiser about the war in Afghanistan.


REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN MICHAEL STEELE: Keep in mind, again, our federal candidates, this was a war of Obama's choosing. Well, and if he's such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that's the one thing you don't do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?


CROWLEY: Oh, dear. Well, jump ball here. I mean, there's so much...


I mean, wrong on the facts, wrong on the politics.

MASON: Just wrong, generally. But what would we do without him? We'd come on these shows and we'd just look at each other.


And now -- so now we're hearing the now-quarterly calls for him to resign. I don't know. I think -- I hope the party keeps him, not just for our own entertainment. What's his job? He's there to raise money, right, and he's been doing that.

They seem to find him an embarrassment, though. It will be interesting to see what they do with him.

CILLIZZA: Two things. One, I don't know if he intentionally made the "Princess Pride" movie reference, "Never engage in a land war in Russia."



But number two, I do think -- and we saw this with Bobby Etheridge, the Democrat from North Carolina, about a month ago, you saw from that shot it's clear that Michael Steele didn't know he was being taped. You know, the shot is -- the video is from behind a bunch of people.

But I don't know why politicians don't learn their lesson. You would think George Allen's example, "Macaca," losing the election -- he was going to be the presidential nominee -- would show them. They don't learn their lesson. When you talk in public at all, assume that people like us are eventually going to see it.

You know, to Julie's point, I'm thankful, but I'm confounded that it continues to happen.


CROWLEY: Just to, sort of, clarify, what was wrong with what Michael Steele said?

First of all, he called it a war of Obama's choosing, which...

CILLIZZA: It started under George W. Bush.


CROWLEY: ... 9/11, Taliban, Al Qaida.

And, second of all, though, I think heresy within the party was the suggestion that you can't win the war in Afghanistan.

MASON: Right, and that it was an unpopular war, when, really, at the time -- now it is an unpopular war, but at the time when we went to war, it had a huge majority of the support of the American people.

CILLIZZA: And slightly more dangerous for Steele, I think, than some of his other gaffes that Julie mentioned because those gaffes were directed at the Democratic Party; Democrats are saying things about -- this is directed -- the Republican Party still probably supports the war in Afghanistan considerably more than the Democratic Party. So you've got to be careful. You get out of step with those 168 committee members who make the decision about who the chairman is and you're in a little bit more dangerous water.

MASON: That's always been his position, though. He's always been an outlier with his own party.

CROWLEY: I want to move to immigration, but first, Michael Steele staying until January when his term is up?


MASON: Yes, but after that, who knows?

CROWLEY: OK. Immigration -- the president -- great big old speech. I didn't hear anything new, except where I thought this part was interesting.


OBAMA: Under the pressures of partisanship and election-year politics, many of the 11 Republican senators who voted for reform in the past have now backed away from their previous support. Reform that brings accountability to our immigration system cannot pass without Republican votes. That is the political and mathematical reality.


CROWLEY: The political reality also is he would have trouble with Democrats on this issue, is it not?

Was this intended to jump-start immigration or jump-start his base?

MASON: Well, we've seen -- there has been a Gallup poll, over the past several months, that has shown Hispanic support dropping, dropping, dropping, while black and white voter support stays the same. So this is part of that. Yes, fire up the base.

At the same time, it also gives an opportunity to walk a line between deploring the politics of Washington while engaging deeply in it. And we see him getting increasingly more partisan. And this immigration debate is another example of that.

CILLIZZA: The simple reality, I think, is that -- and the president knows this. The president is, at root, a political pragmatist. I think, you know, he gets a lot of criticism and credit for being, kind of, this high-minded ideologue. In a way, he's a pragmatist. He knows that nothing's going to happen here.

I though the clip you pulled is great he mentions the 11 senators. Of course, we all know one of them is John McCain, who was his opponent in 2008, the guy who started comprehensive immigration reform with Ted Kennedy, saw what that did to him, now is running an ad, "Complete the dang fence," running in favor...


But, I mean, I do think the arc of John McCain -- now, he has a Republican primary opponent who's running to his right. There's conflicts there. But the arc of John McCain, in many ways, is the arc of the issue politically, which is, people thought, OK, let's get it done; there is a desire from the American people. Well, the desire was not to get anything done in an election year, when health care has already been voted on; you've got a lot of -- economic stimulus, the Wall Street reform.

I can't imagine that they're going to pull it off in any meaningful way.

CROWLEY: And, Julie, I think -- I agree with you. I think the chances that this is going to happen, immigration reform is going to happen this year, are zip-o. But has he satisfied his -- his Hispanic base by saying, well, see, I am trying to do something about it, but those darn Republicans?

MASON: They seem to appreciate it. They do. I -- the only criticism I've heard is from Hispanic conservatives who are joining lock-step with the rest of the Republican Party and saying this is purely political. CILLIZZA: And remember the context: Arizona, Jan Brewer. You know, the Republican governor passed the most stringent immigration law in the country.

There are Republicans who are concerned that this is Pete Wilson all over again, the governor of California who passed Proposition 187, basically alienating Hispanics from the Republican Party for a decade. They're worried that this could happen again in 2012.

CROWLEY: Chris Cillizza, Julie Mason, happy fourth. Thank you for coming.

Up next, a check of the top stories, and then memories of the Senate's longest-serving member, Robert Byrd.


CROWLEY: Now time for a check of today's top stories. A ship billed as the world's largest skimming vessel is testing its abilities in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship, called A Whale, is expected to play a major role in oil cleanup efforts. It's capable of separating oil from water and can skim about 21 million gallons of oil per day. That's at least 250 times the amount of oil that skimming vessels currently on the job have been able to contain.

Some 60,000 barrels of oil are gushing out of the B.P. well site, and about 40 percent of that is being captured. Last month President Obama said up to 90 percent of the oil should be captured within weeks. Calmer seas may finally make that possible.

Hurricane Alex's high seas and winds delayed the use of the Helix Producer, a ship that can collect about 25,000 barrels of oil a day. It is expected to be in place by Wednesday.

A top Lebanese cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, has died in Beirut. He was the spiritual leader of Hezbollah when it was founded in 1982. A sharp critic of the United States and Israel, Fadlallah used many of his Friday prayer sermons to denounce U.S. policies in the Middle East. He was also known among Shias for his moderate social views, including the role of women in Islamic society.

The man guilty of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland could live for at least 10 more years, according to the cancer specialist who testified last year that he'd be dead within three months. Professor Karol Sikora told a British newspaper that it, quote, "embarrassing" that Abdelbaset Megrahi outlived his prognosis.

Megrahi's release from prison last August sparked outrage in the United States when the Scottish government cited compassion grounds related to his terminal prostate cancer. The bombing of the Pan Am jumbo jet left 270 people dead.

World Cup mania meets the world of drugs. A replica of the World Cup trophy seized by Colombian police was made of cocaine. Investigators' suspicions were raised by the bad condition of the trophy's gold paint. The 14-inch replica, which was discovered at the Bogota airport, was packed, along with several Colombian team jerseys, in a shipment headed for Spain.

Those are your top stories here on "State of the Union." When we come back, remembering Robert Byrd, a story of redemption.


CROWLEY: Sixteen years ago I traveled with Robert Byrd to West Virginia to talk about the state he loved and the life he led, the good, the bad, and the ugly.


CROWLEY (voice over): He was a tour de force, almost worshiped in West Virginia for what he had done for the state. An enormously accomplished and courtly man, he told me then that he knew his membership in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s would follow him to the grave. It was in all the obits. But a man is more than a moment.


CROWLEY: Nearly 70 years after his association with the Klan, and at a time most lawmakers were holding back, Robert Byrd gave an early endorsement to the candidacy of Barack Obama.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Robert Byrd possessed that quintessential American quality, and that is a capacity to change.

CROWLEY: He served on Capitol Hill for 57 years, with 11 presidents.

FORMER PRESIDENT WILLIAM J. CLINTON: He was a country boy from the hills and hollows of West Virginia. He was trying to get elected. And maybe he did something he shouldn't have done, and he spent the rest of his life making it up. And that's what a good person does.

SEN. ROBERT C. BYRD, D-W.VA.: It's a blank check.

CROWLEY: Robert Byrd voted against the Iraq war and for comprehensive health care...

SENATE CLERK: Mr. Byrd, aye.

CROWLEY: ... two of his proudest votes.

BYRD: It is on the Senate floor that I have absolute confidence in myself, as a duck has when it's in a pool of water. It's in its forum.

CROWLEY: He loved the Senate, his wife of 69 years, his family, his little dog...

BYRD: There's only one Billy. That's Billy Byrd.

CROWLEY: ... and West Virginia.

BYRD: When I'm dead and am opened, they'll find West Virginia written on my heart.

CROWLEY: Robert Byrd taught Sunday school and Bible classes, and he believed in redemption.



CROWLEY: Thank you for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Have a very happy fourth of July.