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State of the Union

Interview With Sen. Durbin; Interview With Congressmen Rogers, Ruppersberger

Aired May 22, 2011 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: The Gang of Six becomes the Gang of Five. And a divide measured in years rattles the sturdiest alliance in the Middle East.

First that bipartisan group of senators trying to find a solution to the debt problem fell victim to partisanship when Republican senator Tom Coburn walked. He wrote in an op-ed -- the lack of leadership and initiative in the Senate is appalling. It is not realistic to expect six members to pull the Senate out of its dysfunction and lethargy.

And on the international front, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu up close and personal, publicly rejected President Obama's starting point proposal for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines. Because these lines are indefensible.


CROWLEY: Appalling and indefensible. But are they insolvable equations?

Today, the congressional impasse over taming a ferocious U.S. debt with the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin.

Mideast promise and peril with leaders of the intelligence committee, Chairman Mike Rogers and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger.

And then presidential politics right and left with Republican Dick Armey and Democrat Ron Klain.

I'm Candy Crowley and this is State of the Union.

We begin this morning here with a budget impasse in Washington. Joining me from Chicago, one of the five remaining members of the Gang of Six, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Senator, thanks for being here. Let me just ask you right off the bat, do you have any indications that Senator Coburn will come back?

DURBIN: No, we don't. I hope he will. But here's what it boils down to, after more than four months of intense negotiation, we followed the bull Bowles-Simpson deficit commission guidelines. We put everything on the table, and we cut the deficit by more than $4 trillion over 10 years. We were ready to announce as far as I was concerned and then Senator Coburn said no, I'm not part of this and then walked away.

The question is whether senators on both sides of the aisle, Democrats, Republicans will step up and say don't stop. We need to do this together. We need to sacrifice and make concessions on both sides if we're ever going to solve this national problem.

CROWLEY: Now Senator Coburn in his op-ed hit the senate itself pretty hard, as others have -- by the way, The Washington Post had an article about the, quote, "do-nothing Senate." Senator Rand Paul is talking about how the Senate doesn't do anything. Certainly there have been fewer votes to this point this year than there were last year.

And here's some of what Senator Coburn said when he was arguing, just put the darned budget on the floor, put deficit reduction on the floor. Let's work it out, let's have a big public airing of what's going on. And he said this in that same op-ed, "if we continue to avoid tough choices we will lose control of our economic destiny and go down in history as the Senate that lost America. Our epitaph will read never before in the field of legislating was so much ignored by so many for so long."

This week that we're ending up, the Senate voted on something it knew would not pass and that is taking away loopholes for oil companies. Next week the Senate is going to vote on two things, we think, that will not pass -- the Ryan budget plan, as well as the president's budget plan. Why bother? Why don't you all just get out on the floor and do something that matters, that will come to something?

DURBIN: Well, we should. And we will. Just remember, when Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, called the small business research bill, which was really a bipartisan from the start, it broke down on the floor because everyone wanted to offer amendments, particularly from the other side, on unrelated issues. So that's been a problem.

But here is the bottom line, Candy. If we're going to do our job, we have to do it together. Democrats can't do it alone, Republicans can't do it alone. That's what I hope...

CROWLEY: But you know they say that, too, Senator Durbin. And it just gets so frustrating I think for people to watch this because Sunday after Sunday, I have people come on and they go, we've got to work together and if the Democrats would only do this and the Democrats come on and say if the Republicans would only do that. And meanwhile you keep taking votes on things that aren't going to pass. DURBIN: But Candy, what we need this week is for a bipartisan group of senators to step up and tell us, now the Gang of Five, we want to sit down with you, we want to proceed with you in a bipartisan way to deal with this deficit.

We have the framework, not only the Bowles-Simpson commission, but the work we've done, we should not abandon all the work we've put into it, it needs to be a bipartisan starting point and we are making that offer to both caucuses. And I hope they'll take us up on it.

CROWLEY: So what you mean is you're saying we need more senators to come join this group? I'm not sure what you're saying.

DURBIN: Yes. Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying.

If we can have Democratic and Republican senators saying don't quit, don't stop, we need to continue this effort, I think that's the kind of push that can bring us together in a bipartisan basis.

Sure, we're going to have a debate on the floor but let's have a good starting point.

CROWLEY: And do you believe that the Senate Democrats, or Democrats at all, will come up with a budget plan? I mean the Republicans do have one out there, Ryan's plan. But the Senate Democrats don't have one. Will you ever?

DURBIN: Well, I can tell you that Senator Kent Conrad has his -- Democrats on the Budget Committee together in principle, but he will say, and I want to say, that's not enough. In terms of passing a budget on the floor of the Senate, meeting with the House and working it out, we need to have bipartisanship. We need some Republican buy- in in this. We need to both sit down, both parties sit down and find some accommodation. That's what four months of negotiated has been all about in the Gang of Six.

CROWLEY: There is also the vice president's group out there looking for some way, although in much fewer dollars saved as far as we can tell looking from the outside in. Which of these three things is most likely to happen, senator? The Biden group comes to some agreement, the Gang of Five or Six comes to some agreement, or the U.S. defaults on its debt?

DURBIN: Well listen, the last option is totally unacceptable. A default on the American debt can plunge us into another recession with even more jobs lost and businesses failing. Those few -- and I think totally irresponsible members of congress who say, it really doesn't make any difference if we default, are being irresponsible with one of the most significant economic issues we're going to face.

What we need to acknowledge that no single group, Gang of Five or Six, Joe Biden, can come to this conclusion. But maybe, just maybe, bringing together the best ideas of all of them we're going to find a solution to this problem.

CROWLEY: So you don't see the Biden group coming up with anything, or even the Gang of Five or Six, or if you get more people, the gang of 12 or whatever, you think it is going to be some conglomeration of those two things that pops up on the floor?

DURBIN: I want to say this at the outset Vice President Biden has already had some positive reaction from both political parties to his early negotiation. He could lead to us a successful conclusion here, but I think he's likely to take into account a lot of other arguments being made.

I really believe the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, which I voted for is a great starting point because it put everything on the table and it was bipartisan and it was real. At the end of the day there were real dramatic cuts in our deficit which everyone wants to see.

So let him use that framework, let him be the spokesperson, the mediator. And I think with his leadership we can come to a positive conclusion.

CROWLEY: So why not take that deficit commission report, Bowles- Simpson, write it up into legislation, put it on the floor and do what Senator Coburn suggests, add, subtract, do whatever the senate's will is? I think people don't understand why you've got to have these little groups.

So that's what you want to have happen?

DURBIN: I'm with you completely. I'm with you completely. Even as we negotiated in this gang of six, we understood that whatever we put on the floor is open to amendment. There will be other ideas, some good, some bad, some controversial and some politically difficult. But we have to walk through the process. Rand Paul is not wrong. This is ultimately going to be a debate on the floor of some of the most important economic issues of our time.

And incidentally, that's why we were elected.

CROWLEY: Well, good -- yeah, and time's a wasting, Senator, as you snow. I mean, whatever Timothy Geithner is doing at Treasury department, he says he can mix things up enough to keep us from defaulting even though we're already through the debt ceiling, until August. But you only have until then.

And I guess some of the commentary also this week has been that there's not a lot of pressure out there about this debt ceiling issue. And what I wanted to ask you first is when you were out and about talking to your constituents, do they say to you, hey, I want you to vote to raise the debt ceiling? Is it a big issue out there?

DURBIN: Almost no one. Almost no one brings it up. You really have to be deep into the policy issues that are involved here.

But I'll tell you, everyone talks about creating jobs and getting this economy moving again. Whether or not we're dealing with the foreclosures in the Chicagoland area, businesses struggling to hire more people, people understand this economy is fragile and I know -- and I hope your listeners and viewers know, that if we default on our debt as several irresponsible congressmen have already called for, we are virtually going to find ourselves in a position where we jeopardize this economy.

CROWLEY: For which there is some bipartisan consensus at least because that's what others are saying on the Republican side as well.

Well, good luck to you, senator. Another week coming up of business, we hope. Thanks so much, Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois. We appreciate it.

DURBIN: Thanks, Candy. CROWLEY: Up next, how can President Obama get the Mideast peace process back on track. We'll ask the top two members of the House Intelligence Committee.

CROWLEY: Joining me now, two top members of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan; and the ranking Democrat, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland.

Thank you both for being here. Big question of the week of course is, did the president go too far when he said the words "1967 borders" -- with "land swaps," he also included that. But did he unnecessarily stir up Israeli anxiety?

ROGERS: Well, I think so. Those are really delicate subjects that should be on the table for negotiation behind closed doors. But now he has drawn a line in the sand. And if you're Abbas, do you come down from those '67 borders? And if you're Netanyahu, how do you come down from the '67 borders knowing that you have to do that for defense? I think it is a bad strategy to try to negotiate in public.

CROWLEY: He's going to get a bit of a do-over here if he wants it at AIPAC. But did you think it was like a bold move to sort of state it as clearly as he did even if it wasn't all that different from past presidents? Or was it a diplomatic mistake?

RUPPERSBERGER: I think only time will tell. I think there's -- clearly the president has to state, number one, that Israel is our ally and we will always support them, that Israel has to have security. They have to have the ability to defend themselves.

Now I assume that he made this move to get the peace talks moving again, but only time will tell. So we all need to see what the president says in the AIPAC speech today so that he'll clarify those issues.

But there's no question it has caused great concern on my constituents in the Jewish community.

CROWLEY: And, you know, the problem is, I think, that the other half of the people I talked to said, this is like pie in the sky. They're nowhere near talking to one another much less, OK, where do we start? And part of the problem is that now Fatah and Hamas have joined forces, if you will, or they have come to an agreement, and Hamas doesn't recognize Israel's right to exist, and the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist group. So aren't we just kind of talking about something that we are nowhere near? Can the U.S. ever say, fine, Hamas is now part of the equation? ROGERS: Well, they would have to have fundamental changes and I don't see it anywhere on the horizon. And, again, that was the problem about establishing those borders and much of those borders are in place because of the security concerns for Israel.

And so now you have somebody who doesn't want you to exist, who now believes the standard is the '67 borders. I don't even have to negotiate down from there, I just get to negotiate up from there. That's why I thought this was such a colossal mistake for negotiations.

And I just wish the president hadn't done it in public. All of those discussions can happen behind closed doors. That's what negotiations are about. But when you lay it on the table like that, you dig people in to saying that's my -- I will get no worse than that position.

Well, it's unacceptable for Israel, and of course if you're Hamas, the fact that Israel exists is unacceptable as well. Dangerous.

CROWLEY: So really, we're just -- it seems to me that we are extraordinarily -- it seems to me Middle East peace talks are stalled always -- is a headline somewhere in any decade I've ever covered politics, which has been a while. And it seems to me now they're just more than stalled. They're nonexistent and further apart.

And we also seem to have what seems to me a not-great relationship between the prime minister of Israel and the president of the United States. What's your take?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, first thing, the issue of Hamas is clear. How can you have a negotiated agreement with Hamas or any country who would not acknowledge the existence of Israel? That has to be done.

On the other hand, there is a situation where the talks have stalled and I -- again, I assume only time will tell that this is what the president was doing to make this an issue.

But in the end, Israel is not going to agree with any agreement -- peace agreement, if they cannot defend their borders, they have the right to defend themselves, and to make sure that those countries that they have an agreement with.

And you cannot deal with terrorists and that is Hamas. So that has to be dealt with or there will not be an agreement.

CROWLEY: I want to talk more generally about the Arab spring, because that was actually the focus of the president's talk. And here was some of the commentary that came out talking about the president and the new U.S. policy -- or the same U.S. policy, however you want to look at it. It came from the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

Writing: "Most people have realized that what the U.S. does or does not do is no longer important because people took matters into their own hands and decided their own future. So why should people care what President Obama says? America is no longer an issue."

Is that the net result of an Arab spring where you see the people themselves, which we have applauded, taking over, saying, we want our over government -- and in fact, not many of them have taken over yet, but nonetheless, saying we want our own government, isn't our influence, in one of the most vital areas of the world, on the wane?

ROGERS: Well, if you don't make decisive commitments up front, if you don't have a clear policy throughout, this is exactly what's going to happen. And that is one of our concerns with administrations dealing with the Middle East crisis as they came up.

The one standard they applied to Libya, they're not applying to other countries. And that inconsistency does cost us friends and allies in the future. I'm hoping that the president takes the next few weeks to straighten out and make a solid commitment, and take out the rises and lows in his Middle East policy so that we all understand what it is.

If you ask, I think, the average American today, what is our policy in the Middle East? I think we'd be -- all of us, including me, would be hard-pressed to say I understand what it is. I think the president can get through this, but it is going to take a serious step and clear leadership.

He doesn't have to say, I'm going to fix this country this way, but we have to have clear plans and operations and commitments as we go forward so we don't have this conclusion so our influence won't wane.

CROWLEY: And just quickly before we take a break, since he brought up Libya, have you seen any sign that what we want out of this, which is a cracking of Gadhafi's inner circle, is actually anywhere closer to happening?

RUPPERSBERGER: At this point, no. I think the opposition is not as strong as we thought. NATO has been aggressive in dealing with the no-fly zone, but I think we have a long way to go. And I applauded the president in saying we were going to put boots on the ground.

We cannot be the sheriff for the rest of the world. We need to support these other countries for democracy and the issues important to our best interest, but we cannot have -- be in Afghanistan and leave Iraq and yet be in other areas. We can't do that.

CROWLEY: Stick with me a bit. We will continue our conversation shortly. But when we come back, a check of the top stories, and then, what to do about the billions of dollars in aid the U.S. gives to Pakistan.


CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories. Deadly violence today in Baghdad as several bombs killed at least 13 people and injured 67 others. Iraqi authorities say a mixture of car and roadside bombs targeted civilians as well as U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

At least three Afghan police officers were killed and four others wounded when suicide bombers attacked a traffic police office in eastern Afghanistan today. The police chief of the country's coast province said the attackers parked the vehicle near the building that was full of explosives.

One person is dead after a tornado ripped through the town of Reading, Kansas. The storm also destroyed 20 homes and damaged 200 others.

Meanwhile, residents in the Mississippi River community of St. Martin's Parish, Louisiana have been told that a mandatory evacuation is on hold. The Associated Press is reporting that the delay is because officials said the river is expected to crest at a lower level than previously thought.

A no-go for Mitch Daniels in 2012. The Indiana governor says he will not seek the Republican presidential nomination. In a late-night e-mail to supporters, Daniels said, "if you feel that this was a non- courageous or unpatriotic decision, I understand and will not attempt to persuade you otherwise. I only hope that you will accept my sincerity in the judgment I reached."

We'll talk presidential politics later this hour with former house majority leader Dick Armey and former Joe Biden chief of staff, Ron Klain.

And astronauts on the Space Shuttle Endeavor took their second spacewalk today. The crew performed some key maintenance work. Later today, the astronauts will speak to students at an Arizona school.

And those are today's top headlines.

Shortly after 9/11 the U.S. enlisted the Islamabad government to track down and uncover terrorists and their plots inside Pakistan. To aid in the effort and as an incentive, the U.S. has given Pakistan some $20 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2001. So when U.S. forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in a House outside Islamabad where he had reportedly been living for five years there were big questions. There still are.

In a letter to Secretaries Clinton and Gates Tuesday, five Democratic senators wrote, "it is incongruous to be providing enormous sums to the Pakistani military unless we are certain that it is meeting its commitment to locate, disrupt and dismantle terrorist threats inside its border."

It is a bipartisan feeling to the U.S. is giving money to elements in the Pakistani government that are either hostile or incompetent. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. BOB CORKER, (R) TENNESSEE: Most of us are wanting to call time-out on aid until we can ascertain what is in our best interest.

SEN. JAMES RISCH, (R) IDAHO: I have a real difficulty explaining to people back home in Idaho what we're doing spending billions of dollars in Pakistan, particularly on civilian matters when they don't like us.


CROWLEY: Pakistan can go elsewhere for what it wants, strengthening alliances the U.S. would rather not see flourish. China said recently it will provide 50 or so fighter jets to Pakistan.

Up next, more of our conversation with the two top congressmen on the intelligence committee.


CROWLEY: We are back with the two top members of the House intelligence committee, Congressman Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger. Thank you so much.

Let us talk a bout Pakistan.

So it seems to me there are two choices here for the money we give Pakistan in our relationship -- there will either be repercussions for incompetence or down right hostile views toward American policy, or it will be business as usual. Which one is it going to be?

ROGERS: Well, I'm -- there might and third option there. I mean, they are a fairweather friend at best. But remember, they put troops into the tribal areas at our request and they took thousands of casualties. They have arrested some hundreds of people in the settled areas of Pakistan, al Qaeda related members and Taliban. They provide a logistics hub for our soldiers in Afghanistan.

I would be very careful about just pulling the plug. It makes great domestic politics but I will tell you there are some very real consequences. I argue continue to build on the relationships that we have and continue to work on the Pakistanis that -- this should be the one embarrassing moment that maybe you become more transparent and more helpful than you had been.

CROWLEY: But isn't that business as usual? Like, OK, we don't want to slow down aid. I'm reading you. Am i right? Don't slow down aid, certainly don't cut off aid and say that's the last warning right there.

ROGERS: Well, I'm saying we wouldn't shouldn't slow down aid. I think there's probably -- we should start holding back a little money and improve our negotiation position in Pakistan, but I don't think we should cut it off. We have a lot of questions we need answered. But I wouldn't just go in with the suggestion that you're an enemy of the United States, we're going to cut you off completely. I think that would be pretty harmful to our long-term national security interests.

CROWLEY: Well, and for starters, they take supplies -- and that's where the supply route is into Afghanistan so we don't want to do that.

CROWLEY: But do you agree there needs to be a slow-down or pull- back of some of that aid in a more of a, you know, tit for tat approach to this rather than here's some money could you do this.

RUPPERSBERGER: First thing we need to see what is in the best interests of our country especially while we're in Afghanistan, with our men and women in the military.

The second issue that we have to deal with, did they hide bin Laden? It's one of two areas, either they were incompetent as you mentioned or secondly they were complicit. And we have to continue to investigate that issue. But we do need them as long as we're in Afghanistan.

Another issue, which is extremely important is that they have nuclear weapons. And if we -- if Pakistan goes very radical, jihad type of government, that can put the whole region at risk and the United States, because they have travel areas where they can train. So I think that we have to be wise in our decision here.

But I think it is a time to reset our relationship with Pakistan. They haven't been cooperating in the last couple of months as we would like them to do as it deals with the issue of terrorism. And I think by the fact that they are in a bad way, either they were complicity or they were incompetent and either one isn't good for them. And this is the time to reset the relationship.

CROWLEY: Just to button this up, do you all agree with what we've heard from various administration officials that so far, there's nothing they've been able to discover that suggests that Pakistan was complicit in hiding bin Laden's whereabouts. Do you agree with on the basis of what you have seen?

ROGERS: From the institutional and leadership perspective, the institution of the intelligence, ISI, and army and government. But I believe, and I think Dutch believes, and I think many believe that there were elements within those organizations that may have provided them safety and at least logistical support to some degree.

RUPPERSBERGER: And I would agree with Mike on that. But there's one issue that's important to show where the relationship might be going. Right after we brought bin Laden to justice, the Pakistanis had a raid and they were able to arrest one of the top al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. That was about two or three days after we brought bin laden to justice.

CROWLEY: So there's been some intelligence from inside that house that clearly has helped.

I wanted to turn to the general terrorist threat. And first of all, just ask you this, names that we hear over and over again. One is al Zawahiri, the supposed number two -- although he's not the interim leader of al Qaeda. And then al Awlaki who we assume is hiding out in Yemen.

Of the two of those, I'm assume the U.S. is targeting most, who do you most want?

RUPPERSBERGER: One of those. And you know what we can do more than one thing at a time. Our intelligence services ten years after 9/11 are doing some incredible work. What a committed bunch of folks.

CROWLEY: How about who's the most dangerous?

ROGERS: Well, I would think the al Awlaki from Yemen. And by the way, Mike and I just came back about three weeks ago from Yemen. Al Awlaki was an American-born. He knows our country. He's very smart. He's been recruiting a lot of what we call lone wolves or individuals in the United States to try to do terrorist attacks. He's been using the internet and he has a magazine that literally trying to get Americans to do attacks.

His focus, though, is the United States. And that's why I think he's so dangerous. Bin Laden and the other leaders of al Qaeda have been tied up in a lot of other areas -- Pakistan, Afghanistan. But when it comes to the United States I think he's the most dangerous and we have to focus on him with everything that we have.

The other thing I want to say, too, is that bin Laden, that puts us in a great position in the world. You mentioned earlier what is our reputation? I think people were wondering how strong, how powerful, do we have good intelligence. Well that was the best I've seen since I've been on the intelligence committee, the team work approach between the CIA, the NSA, the special ops, all coming together. And the message must be sent out now that's clear -- if you're going to attack Americans and kill us, we're going to find you and bring you to justice.

CROWLEY: And let me ask you two quick questions in our final minute. The first is, from what you know, both publicly and privately, about the strength of the Taliban, the strength of al Qaeda and the readiness of the Karzai government, is the U.S. -- will the U.S. be ready in July for a beginning of a withdrawal that is substantial?

ROGERS: Well, I think the details on the ground -- the ground combat conditions should dictate that. No artificial time lines should be put out there. It can be used as a rally call for the enemy. We see that they're trying to take advantage of this. They've had an increase in attacks. I would argue, this is an important -- that we have to break the back of this spring offensive of the Taliban if Afghanistan is going to be able to defend themselves and we get to come home. Don't put an artificial time line on it. It might be June, It might be May. It could be July. We shouldn't -- again, I think it is very dangerous to tell the enemy this is the day you have to hold on to and then we're going to leave.

CROWLEY: Let me turn to one of you for the final word, because I want to ask you about Iraq. Are you convinced enough about the stability of Iraq and its ability to withstand anything Iran might do to pull out the remaining U.S. forces, now some 50,000 by the end of the year.

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, clearly Iran is a serious issue. But we're not going to get into that. As far as your question with respect to Iraq, I think that we're in a position now to make a move. I think what we've done in Iraq and what we hope to do in Afghanistan is build up the security, build up their military, build up their intelligence units. And I think we're just about there.

Now we're going to have our intelligence people and we're going to have people on the ground there to work with them and win the hearts and minds of the people in Iraq, help them get jobs, work with them on this oil that they have so they'll have money and cash flow to help them build infrastructure in that country.

So I think we've come a long way there and I think we'll be able to do what we need to do. And our intelligence will let us know. We have great intelligence, let us know if there are hotspots and problems. We'll be there to consult and assist but not with boots on the ground.

CROWLEY: Congressman Ruppersberger from Maryland, my home state now. Congressman Rogers from Michigan, my former home state. Thank you so much for joining us.

Up next we turn to presidential politics. Mitch Daniels is out, Herman Cain is in, and Tim Pawlenty is all set to announce tomorrow. The latest on race -- on the race with former House majority leader Dick Armey and former White House insider Ron Klain.


CROWLEY: Joining me now, Ron Klain, former chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden, and Dick Armey, former Republican House majority leader.

Thank you both for being here.

So we've had some activity in 2012. Newt Gingrich we'll talk about a little bit later, had a not very good week. But most recently, Mitch Daniels overnight, sent a letter out. He, governor of Indiana, saying, you know what? My family can't take it. Does that move the race in any way, shape or form?

CROWLEY: Let's start with you, Congressman.

ARMEY: Well, it is certainly a big disappointment. There are a lot of us that were talking to Mitch and trying to get him to take this race on. My wife and I spent a good afternoon with him, and we have about two million activists across the country, and frankly, we're disappointed. Now obviously we have to start looking, and I was just saying this morning, maybe it's time to start drafting Paul Ryan.

CROWLEY: Oh, my goodness. Well, there's certainly a lot of concerns. We should say that you have been heavily involved in the Tea Party movement and come from sort of that section of the party.

Let me ask you, when the White House looks at this sort of thing, is this now background noise, or do they look and say, boy, Mitch Daniels, I mean, he's got a record, pretty good record in Indiana if you're a Republican. Is this a plus or a minus for Republicans?

KLAIN: You know what, Candy, last time I worked at the White House in the Clinton years, in 1996 we were certain that Lamar Alexander was going to be the impossible-to-beat Republican nominee. So I think at the White House, you have to be very careful not to worry too much about the other party's nominating process. You focus on what you can control, which is what the president's doing, building his campaign, reconnecting with the grassroots, activating those donors, doing things he needs to do to be a good candidate in 2012. And Republican primary process is just going to work out how it works out.

CROWLEY: And which -- since you brought this up, let me just interject here on the money, the money chase at this point. The president was out doing a lot of fund-raising, and the numbers are out, and the RNC has raised only about half as much money as the DNC. Does that worry you in any way, shape or form, when you look at trying to rev up the grassroots to try to change parties in the White House?

ARMEY: Actually, you know, in the grassroots movement, we have a saying -- hard work beats daddy's money. If you've got a good activist, energetic activist group, you're much better off than money. And frankly, my observation over all the years I've been involved, is politicians waste money on campaigns even as viciously as they do in governance. So quite frankly, they're better candidates if they have less money, because that compels them to go out and work like real people.

CROWLEY: On the other hand, you want to be the person with the most money.

KLAIN: Look, I think a lot of it depends on where the money comes from. And I think in the case of the Obama campaign in 2008 and again in 2012, it is going to be a grassroots movement. It is a grassroots movement of volunteers, of small-dollar donors, of activists, of people really connecting and moving voters.

It is going to be a tough campaign. I think the president goes into it very, very strong. He's done a great job, but it is a very closely divided country. It was a closer campaign than people remember it being in 2008, and I think it is going to be a hard fight in 2012. And there's no one in the White House who takes that for granted and no one in the White House who thinks this is a cakewalk.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about Jon Huntsman. He is the new kind of flavor of the week because he's -- everybody's heard a lot of talk about how Republicans look at the circle of folks that they know are going to get in and they're not satisfied. Jon Huntsman is now toying with it. I noted that he's going to have lunch with the George H.W. Bushes in Kennebunkport, Bush the father. Does that help him or hurt him in folks in your circles?

ARMEY: In our circles, having lunch with George H.W. Bush probably is a matter of little notice. Had he been having lunch with George W. Bush, who initiated TARP and some of the things that really got the blood boiling among our activists, I think it would be severely noticed.

Jon Huntsman, we don't know him well, but we do know that he has a bit of a record of supporting things like TARP and so forth, and that's going to always be problematic with our activists.

CROWLEY: Does it hurt him that he worked for President Obama as ambassador to China?

ARMEY: No. I would think most people would understand the point he made, when the president called upon him to serve, serve -- (inaudible) --we just watched I thought a very good discussion on foreign policy, and the thing that struck me was absolutely zero politics, domestic politics in the discussion. So I think our folks are sophisticated enough to understand that you rise above politics when you are dealing on behalf of your country internationally.

CROWLEY: Let me turn you to Newt Gingrich, because he had such a flamingly awful week, having seemed to have dissed almost every Republican in the House who voted for the Ryan budget. Gingrich seemed to go, no, very bad idea, particularly the Medicare part. I want to get into a longer discussion about Medicare, but how bad a week did Newt Gingrich have?

KLAIN: Well, I think Newt Gingrich had a bad week. I think the Republican Party had a horrible week. As his campaign was definitely set back by a lot of this noise at the front end, but what you saw was there's a litmus test now in the Republican Party. You have to be for taking apart Medicare to run for president. And if that's going to be the enforced position of the Republican Party on their candidates in 2012, I think they're going to have a very, very tough campaign.

CROWLEY: I want to pick up on the idea of a litmus test right after we take a quick break. And when we come back, how the Medicare fight will impact the 2012 race.


CROWLEY: We are back with former Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain and former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

I want to wrap up 2012 in this way. There is this great movement now, oh, there's nobody good in the Republican race. And you, by mentioning Paul Ryan, seem to me to be among those, that you're not happy right now with the folks who are flirting with or who have already gone into the race.

ARMEY: Well, we've seen some signs particularly I think Governor Pawlenty that he's willing to step up. But we understand the fiscal crisis this nation and this nation's government faces is so acute that somebody's got to stand up and take on the big issues. Paul Ryan has done that. He's taken a ton of abuse for having the courage to do so, even from within his own party.

But you know, I have said for years -- on for example the subject of Medicare -- it is always a debate that's governed by Republicans that don't dare and Democrats that don't care. At least now, we have a Republican that dares. He needs to be applauded, encouraged, and his work needs to be appreciated as serious professional work.

CROWLEY: I want to ask a button-up question, then back to Medicare. And my button-up question is, take off your Joe Biden Democratic hat. Is President Obama beatable, as far as you're concerned? Is there a vulnerability there that should bring in big Republican names?

KLAIN: Well, I think he's going to win. And you know, anything could happen in politics, of course, but I think you look at his record, you look at his skill as a candidate, you look at what he's accomplished as our president, you look at what he's inherited, where he's brought this country. I think President Obama's going to be re- elected.

But I do know, as I said before, no one in the White House takes it for granted. It is going to be a hard campaign, and he's going to have to go out there and win it.

CROWLEY: And where is the biggest vulnerability, do you think, for President Obama?

ARMEY: President Obama, we now know, I mean, he, right now he stands on this ground. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

ARMEY: We now know who he is. And I don't think you can sell President Obama, knowing who he is, to this country a second time. I just don't believe he's...

CROWLEY: And yet we've seen poll after poll that shows, despite the fact that people think the economy's on the wrong track, who do they blame? They blame George Bush. They don't blame President Obama. His approval rating is still above 50 percent. Why is that?

KLAIN: Well as -- well, as it should be. I mean, the president's created 2 million new jobs in the past 14 months, created more jobs a month than President Bush ever had. You know, he's turned the economy around. He inherited a horrible, horrible problem. And he's made tremendous progress on the economy, tremendous progress on jobs, tremendous progress on foreign policy.

You know, I think that's what voters see. It's a tough time in the world. It's a tough time at home. But the president's doing the right things. And, by contrast, the Republicans are embracing novel and bizarre economic doctrines. Ben Smith had a great piece in Politico this week about... (LAUGHTER)

... the -- the incoming Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty talking about taking us back to the gold standard. I mean, you know, when you compare that to what the president's doing, I think that's -- that's a good place for Democrats to be.

CROWLEY: Let me sum up your -- one response I think you'll have, which is the president has spent way too much money for very few jobs.

And turning to the Medicare question, and that is the Democrats are keen on making Paul Ryan's Medicare proposal, which is to turn -- to subsidize people's, seniors', health care and let them go out into the private market and buy their own, that Democrats are just determined to make that a campaign issue because it's such a killer with seniors. Why -- why isn't that a campaign issue?

ARMEY: Well, with the Democrats, first of all, it's all about let's preserve that big-government program that keeps voting constituencies in our -- in our camp. With Paul Ryan, it's about how do we get a better health care for the American people?

Clearly, the best source of health care insurance is the private sector of the economy. And what Paul Ryan is saying, let's let everybody at all ages be free to choose to get -- acquire their insurance or continue their insurance in the private sector.

Medicare was born with coercions and prohibitions that forced people into the public health care system, Medicare, that didn't need to be. I'm a perfect example of it. I'm perfectly capable of having my own health -- health insurance, that which I've had all my life, except, like everybody else at the age of 65, the government -- the law says I -- the insurer can no longer insure me as he did when I was 64. That's -- that's...

CROWLEY: Because you have Medicare?

ARMEY: That's against my personal liberty, as well as loading the government up with all kinds of liabilities that they can't afford and will never be able to fulfill.

Paul Ryan is doing more to save grandma's health care than anybody I know right now because Medicare is going to go bust and bring the government to going bust if it's not attended to. And he ought to be applauded.

CROWLEY: And all -- all the figures do show that Medicare is killing us and that it's just -- it just exponentially grows. So it is a suggestion, at any rate, other than, you know, let's get rid of fraud and abuse.

KLAIN: Well, first of all, I don't think giving seniors the freedom to lose their Medicare is the freedom they want. And I think that the Ryan plan, the Ryan budget, which gets rid of Medicare, turns it into a voucher, and then gives $1 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans is any form of courage at all. It's just a choice to take money away from middle-class seniors and give it to the wealthy.

Now, look, Medicare has worked in this country for 50 years. The idea that now we need to get rid of it and replace it and send people off to the private sector, that's a big mistake. And one other thing about the Ryan budget -- you know, my friend Dick Armey here; he at least had the courage to touch defense spending. Paul Ryan's budget doesn't even touch defense spending. It's just a series of choices, a series of hard-right choices to push the country in the wrong direction.

CROWLEY: In our final moments here, Congressman, has this proposal for Medicare become a litmus test? It totally blew up Newt Gingrich's week when he seemed to be against it. Is it now the litmus test for I'm going -- we're going to support you or we're not?

ARMEY: No. What blew up on Newt Gingrich was, first of all, he assailed Paul Ryan, the only standing hero that the grassroots America has. And secondly, he came back again for mandate. People don't want the government to tell them, you must do this, especially...

CROWLEY: Litmus test or no? I gotta get a quick yes or no from you.

ARMEY: OK. No, it's not a litmus test.

CROWLEY: OK. All right. Thank you so much. Congressman Dick Armey, Ron Klain, thank you both so much for joining us.

ARMEY: Thank you.

KLAIN: Thanks for having us.

CROWLEY: Up next, one bright spot in what was otherwise a rough news week for marriage.


CROWLEY: And finally, a story about happily ever after, or at least happily ever longer. We thought you could use one in a week that was a banner time for public men behaving badly in private.


(UNKNOWN): Finding out your husband cheated and got her pregnant, that's a punch in the gut.

(UNKNOWN): The world's most talked-about accused sex offender, former head of the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Known as "the great seducer," the twice-divorced, married father of four has admitted infidelity.

(UNKNOWN): One in five men in America admit to cheating.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CROWLEY: Yikes. It's enough to make you run screaming from the altar. But no matter what they say, what you see on TV isn't always the reality, and we come bearing stats.

A report released by the U.S. Census this week shows marriages are now lasting longer and divorces are leveling off. Over half of married couples have been married at least 15 years. Thirty-five percent have hit the 25-year mark. And a lucky 6 percent are golden, with at least 50 years of marriage.

And even in politics where glory is fleeting, marriage doesn't have to be. Mitt and Ann Romney, high school sweethearts, married for 42 years. And despite his 1976 admission of committing, quote, "adultery in my heart," Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary in July. The Bush presidents and their first ladies, married for a combined 99 years.

And one more poll, this one of happily married couples who added up their success and say four kisses, three cuddles and one "I love you a day" keeps the divorce lawyers away. It is also less expensive.

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