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State of the Union

Interview with Rick Scott; Interview with David Plouffe; Interview with Lindsay Graham

Aired March 25, 2012 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: The shooting death of a Florida teen ignites national outrage and scrutiny on matters of race and the law.



PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this.


CROWLEY: The Trayvon Martin case with Florida governor Rick Scott.

Then health care, Republicans, and 2012 with senior White House adviser David Plouffe.

Senator Lindsay Graham on this stubborn 2012 Republican primary season and the meaning of the Santorum victory in Louisiana with two Washington bureau chiefs, USA Today's Susan Page and Mike Duffy from "Time" magazine.

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

First, though, our news of the day, former Vice President Dick Cheney is recovering from heart transplant surgery at a northern Virginia hospital.

Joining me now for the latest from the hospital is CNN's Athena Jones. Athena, do we have any idea how long he might be there?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand that most heart patients who go through a surgery like this end up staying in the hospital for about a month, certainly several weeks while they're under observation. I should mention, though, that Vice President Cheney at 71 is on the upper end of the age range of people who get heart transplants, at least according to the International Society of Heart and Lung Implantation. Most people who get these transplants are in their 50s. And so his age could play into how long he's kept here under observation, Candy.

CROWLEY: And certainly this is not the first time, as we all know that he's been hospitalized, maybe the most serious as far as I can tell, but nonetheless, he's had a long history.

JONES: Absolutely. He's had five heart attacks over the course of his life. The first one back in June of 1978 when he was just 37 years old.

We know that in 2001 he had a pacemaker implanted, and he was also hospitalized more recently back in June of 2010 when he had what's called a left ventricular assist device or an LVAD which is put in as part of in-stage heart failure treatment. It helps the heart pump. And it's the kind of device that's used as a precursor often to this sort of heart transplant, Candy.

CROWLEY: Athena Jones, covering the Dick Cheney heart transplant story. Thank you so much. On to our show. George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida, told authorities he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin bringing into focus a seven-year-old Florida law that reads in part, a person has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do to prevent death or great bodily harm.

Since stand your ground was enacted in Florida, the an number of Florida cases found to be justifiable homicide was nearly tripled from an average 12 a year to 33.

This week Florida Governor Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor to oversee the Martin case and created a task force to review the stand your ground law.

And joining me now for an exclusive interview Governor Rick Scott from Florida.

Thank you, sir, for joining us.

SCOTT: Good morning.

Well, I want -- you just feel -- your heart goes out to that family. I had the opportunity to meet with the parents Thursday night to let them know that I appointed a new state attorney and introduced them to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents that are working on the case. And you're just -- you know, your heart goes out to them, because you just no family ever imagines this could ever happen to their child.

CROWLEY: You must have -- with the stand your ground law, which may or may not apply to this case, but certainly you must have had questions about the state law before you appointed this task force.

SCOTT: What you want to make sure is you just -- you want to make sure everybody feels comfortable with public safety in our state. And so as you know, I put together a task force led by my lieutenant governor who's African-American and I'm going to have different elected officials appoint individuals, but we'll look at all of it.

But the first thing we're going to do is really do a thorough investigation to see what happened here. We've -- no one can imagine this happened to their family. We've got to find out exactly what's going to happen. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement state attorney Angela Corey, is going to do a great job knowing what happened and make sure justice prevails. We have to do that.

CROWLEY: Governor, does this look like a race thing to you?

SCOTT: Well, you know, there's nothing I know about that. I know we'll find that -- I think we'll find that out in the investigation. You hope it's never the case, but we'll look at all these things and find out what happened. We're going to do -- there will be a thorough investigation, justice will prevail. We have got to make sure there's justice for Mr. Martin's family and also justice for George Zimmerman.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, one of the things that -- one of the criticisms has been it took more than a month for anyone to really notice this case, and that includes you, because this week was when you appointed -- or switched attorneys and when you appointed the task force. Why did it take you this long?

SCOTT: Well, first off, I don't have the authority to appoint a new state attorney unless the existing state attorney withdraws.

CROWLEY: You could have pushed them out sooner.

SCOTT: Everything you do in life, I would love to do things faster, and you get more information and you see about problems faster. So, I would love to do things faster. The right thing happened here. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will do a thorough investigation. They're known for that. Angela Corey is a very good state attorney who I have known for a long time, she will do a great job.

CROWLEY: And finally you mentioned George Zimmerman, the man who admitted to police that he shot, claims it was self-defense. There are various things that tell us that was not the case. There have been death threats against him. Is there some -- does the state feel that it needs to protect him while this case moves on or do you know where he is? What do you know about Zimmerman?

SCOTT: Well, you've got to make sure there's due process. You have got to make sure there's due process for somebody that's accused of a crime. You've got make sure they're safe. CROWLEY: Which he hasn't been accused of yet.

SCOTT: He has not been accused. You have got to make sure no one feel uncomfortable that's not been accused of a crime. So if he feels unsafe, then we'll make sure nothing happens to him.

CROWLEY: Has there been any request of that sort?

SCOTT: Not at the governor's office.

CROWLEY: Not that you know of.

OK, do you expect charges in this case?

SCOTT: I'm not sure. We have to wait and see what the facts are.

CROWLEY: Let me move you on to the state of Florida and a Republican ad for you that caught our eye that's running in the state.


ANNOUNCER: Governor Rick Scott's cutting the red tape, getting government off the backs of businesses. Over a dozen new pro business initiatives passed by Governor Scott and Republican legislators.


CROWLEY: Let me tell you the political interpretation in Washington of this spot and that is you have two years before you would run for re-election, so the reason this spot is out there is that there is a worry that your approval ratings will be a drag on the Republican ticket this year and the presidential race. Would you like to disabuse me of that?

SCOTT: Well, I mean, I think what my job is to get the state back to work. I mean, that's what I ran on. And that's -- if you look at what we've done -- we've had two sessions so far. We've reduced taxes, we've reduced regulation, and the state is getting busier again.

You know, clearly -- you know, whoever wins this fall in all races whether it's the presidential race in Florida or in our other races, is going to depend on how they perceive the governor and how they perceive -- that ad talks about what we've done and the Florida -- and the Republican Florida legislature because we have a majority in both.

CROWLEY; So why did you run that ad?

SCOTT: Well, to get our message out. We have unemployment has dropped considerably. We're at a three-year low. We're talking to companies all the time about getting them to come to Florida.

This week Embraer is adding a research design center in Florida. 7-eleven is adding a whole lot of scores in the Jacksonville area, came back, they haven't been there in 20 years.

It's part of telling our message that Florida is absolutely open for business.

CROWLEY: We should add that your numbers actually have gone up in the approval rating. You're still sort of below water as they say, but nonetheless they have improved.

I wanted to ask you about the unemployment rate. It is the lowest it's been in three years, 9.6 percent, which isn't anything to brag home about but nonetheless it is lower than it's been this three years. But then this month job creation fell like 36,000 jobs lost in Florida, which is the biggest monthly loss of any state. What happened?

SCOTT: Well, you don't -- the numbers don't make sense to me. We have 24 workforce boards and we track every month how many jobs they filled. They filled 35,000 jobs. We're at a -- when I came into office, 568,000 people were on unemployment, now it's about 360,000. So, we're making progress every month. So I know -- those numbers -- we dropped 0.3 percent unemployment that month and lost jobs. I'm not sure--

CROWLEY: Haven't figured that out yet. SCOTT: But, you know, I assume that February will be different and we'll see what happens over the year because we had a great 2011.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you -- I want to move you to the Republican race just to get -- you haven't picked -- endorsed anyone publicly yet. Do you think it's time? We saw Jeb Bush come out and say Mitt Romney. Time to bring the party together. Do you feel that it's time for this Republican race to end?

SCOTT: Look, I think it's great. We're learning more about these candidates every day. I think the race is great. I think that if it goes on, we're going to learn more about all the candidates that are up there. It creates a lot of interest. It looks like we'll have a nominee by the time of the convention which, of course, will be in the great state of Florida.

But I think it's great they're having a race.

CROWLEY: But you know, all of the figures sort of run against that. When you look at what has happened to Mitt Romney and to Newt Gingrich and to Rick Santorum over the time, it has been that independents, who are quite valuable in Florida as you know are walking away from these candidates at this point, that this has become damaging to the image of the Republican Party because it has been so fierce.

And that the theory being there has to be some time for making up this image deficit.

SCOTT: You know what I think? I think the election is going to be about one issue. Tell me what the job picture is going to be. Whoever has a plan that the American public believes is going -- I won my race because they believed I had a jobs plan. That's why I won. That's why I won. That's who is going to win this fall.

Whoever has -- when you go to the ballot, you're going to say, who is going to make sure that there's a greater chance I'm going to have a job next year? That's who is going to win.

And I believe the Republican nominee will be that, but, you know, whoever -- that's what they're going to have to do. I'm glad that now they are talking about jobs. I don't think they talked about jobs enough in the early primaries. It was a lot of other issues.

This is about jobs. In our state it's education for your child, it's jobs, and keep the cost of living low. That's what's important. CROWLEY: So can I just extrapolate from that? We are seeing improving economic figures in your state, but nationwide that certainly is going to benefit the president this fall.

SCOTT: Absolutely. But in the end it's going to be, tell me what you're going to do to make sure our country is the number one place in the world to build businesses. That's how you get a job.

I'm doing that in Florida. We're going to make sure Florida is the number one place in this country if you want to build a business.

CROWLEY: At least I know you will have activity in August...

SCOTT: We're going to be busy.

CROWLEY: ... with the convention. Thank you so much, Governor Rick Scott.

SCOTT: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: We appreciate your time.

President Obama's health care reform is more than just a law. It's a rally cry for the right.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: "Obama-care" defines the Obama presidency, and it is the number one reason why Barack Obama should not be returned to office for a second term.


CROWLEY: But that may be a fight Obama's team can't wait to have. David Plouffe, a senior adviser to the president, is next.


CROWLEY: The Supreme Court is set to take up a challenge to President Obama's health care law. Probably not what the doctor ordered in an election year. When President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act two years ago, the debate did not end, it went on.

It goes before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It has been on the campaign trail from the beginning.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the things we're going to repeal right out is "Obama-care."

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We absolutely have to repeal "Obama-care."

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will repeal "Obama- care" and I'll kill it dead on its first day.


CROWLEY: Of particular interest to court and campaign watchers, that provision in the health care law that requires Americans to buy health insurance and fines that's who don't.

A high court ruling against the individual mandate would be a sizable blow to the president's signature issue, but it won't be all that helpful to former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney either.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As many have noted in both parties, the individual mandate provision of the president's Affordable Care Act bears striking similarities to the individual mandate that was put in place in Massachusetts.


CROWLEY: A high court ruling is expected in June. Senior Obama adviser David Plouffe is next.


CROWLEY: Joining me now is senior White House adviser David Plouffe.

David, thanks for joining us. A big week for you all, watching the Supreme Court, at any rate. Not much you can do but have your folks argue your case. But let me ask you, what happens to health care -- the health care law, if the Supreme Court should decide that the federal government cannot mandate that someone buy health insurance?

PLOUFFE: Well, the arguments haven't even started, they start tomorrow, so I don't want to put the cart before the horse. I think it's important to step back and say most of this law obviously doesn't take effect until 2014, but important parts of it already have.

You have over 2 million kids between 21 and 26 on their parents' health care. We've got over 5 million seniors getting over $600 of prescription drug relief. You've got people getting preventative care.

So this law is making a difference already in really important ways. We believe that Democratic and Republican appointees to the bench have upheld the law, including two very important conservative jurists. So we are confident that this is going to be upheld.

But what we're focused on right now is making sure this law gets implemented properly. And it's making an enormous difference for millions of families and children.

CROWLEY: OK. But to the question, if a mandate is thrown out, that's one of the primary ways you were going to fund a lot of this. What happens then? Does the whole thing get thrown into question in terms of being able to actually carry it out?

PLOUFFE: Well, again, I don't want to get ahead of the court. We haven't even had arguments yet much less a decision. Obviously the mandate is an important part of...

CROWLEY: You have got to be thinking...

PLOUFFE: ... of the law. Well, I don't want to get into -- you know, we're focused right now -- obviously our solicitor general is going to put forward a very powerful case for why this law is constitutional and why it's important.

And I think where the American people are right now is they don't want to refight this battle again. Let's implement this law. Let's make sure we improve it as we can, give states as much flexibility as they need.

But this law is making a difference in terms of cost, in terms of preventative care, seniors saving money on prescription drugs, kids getting coverage, very, very important progress for the American people.

CROWLEY: Let me break this down. I don't want to bicker with you, so I'll let the ABC News-Washington Post poll on health care do that for me, which is the question was what action should the Supreme Court take? Uphold the entire law - 26 percent. Throw out the entire law - 42 percent. Throw out the individual mandate - 25 percent. That is not the overwhelming kind of support that you're talking about.

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, I have seen a lot of polls on this, as have you. When you ask people should we go back to square one? People don't want to do that.

CROWLEY: Right, but they want to throw out parts of it. You're right, there are some very popular things in this.

PLOUFFE: There are very popular things in it.

CROWLEY: But overall it's been problematic.

PLOUFFE: You know, you saw a campaign on Friday, out with the most active tweet in the world, around I like Obamacare.

We are going to -- and by the way, I think by the end of this decade, if this law is fully implemented, we're going to be very glad they called it Obamacare, because the reality of what is happening here is so different than what the opponents claim. You're going to see more people covered, you're going to see savings in the health care system, you're going to see free preventive care for people, you're going to see women treated equally in the health care system.

So I think that the important thing right now, what we can control is implement this law well, make sure that we continue to try to educate people about what's in the law, and obviously you know, the Supreme Court process will play out.

CROWLEY: So why do 42 percent want to throw it -- want the Supreme Court to just throw this law out?

PLOUFFE: Well, again, I think that -- we've had hundreds of millions of dollars spent in propaganda against this law, just a torrent of money distorting it.

CROWLEY: It's a sales job, you say.

PLOUFFE: And the law has not impacted yet. But by the time we get to the middle of this decade, it's not going to matter what you or I say. Everyone is a health care consumer, and I have a great deal of confidence people will see what this is and what's it not, and it's made a big impact in their lives, a positive impact. The things they were told to fear don't come into fruition. It's going to be a very positive thing, not just for the country, most important, but I think it's going to be an important political accomplishment as well.

CROWLEY: Is the president going to open up part of the Strategic Oil Reserve and let some of that out to try to bring down gas prices?

PLOUFFE: Well, he's spoken to this. Obviously, we are - the country has done that previously. We had to do it last year because of the situation in Libya. I am not going to add to that today, but obviously it's an option that still remains on the table.

But our focus, the president toured the country this week to talk about an all-of-the-above energy strategy. We have oil exploration here at an eight-year high, 13 percent more exploration happening on public land. So we're doing a lot of production. But our political opponents want to leave it there. This president--

CROWLEY: If we're doing a lot of production, why would you even consider opening up the Strategic Oil Reserve?

PLOUFFE: Well, again, a lot of factors go into the reserve. And you know, not just, you know, there is not a political division. It's you know, are there supply disruptions?

CROWLEY: Are there?

PLOUFFE: Well, again, I don't want to -- I don't want to get into that decision. But--

CROWLEY: The reason I ask, though, is that you all have pretty much argued it's not a supply problem, that it's the market and it's the speculation, it's what's going on in the Middle East. And yet you're considering opening up the Strategic Oil Reserve.


PLOUFFE: What I'll say is we're not taking that off, that option off the table. But listen, there are supply disruptions right now in places like Sudan. You still have oil not at its peak in places like Libya. Obviously the sanctions are working, the crippling sanctions the president has put in place are working in the Middle East and that's strangling the Iranian economy and oil. But there is no doubt that what we have to do in this country, we have to use less oil. The president, not with Congress, with the auto makers, has put in place fuel efficiency standards. What does that mean? Middle of next decade, average car in this country, 56 gallons -- 56 miles a gallon. Going to save the average family $8,000 and save us billions of barrels of oil.

CROWLEY: The average family right now is more worried about the immediate problems. PLOUFFE: Of course they are, but what we have to -- Candy, we've been having this discussion for decades. You've been covering this issue for decades.


PLOUFFE: OK? We all have in politics, OK, it's been going president after president. The question, are we finally going to have an energy strategy, not one that's centered in the last decade, but one that is an energy strategy which is doing all we can here to get oil and gas out of this country, but also wind and biofuels and solar and next-generation vehicle.

CROWLEY: Let me play for you -- this is the Trayvon Martin case. Let me play for you the reaction from a couple of Republican candidates. Now, mind you, all of them said this is a tragedy and we need to look into this, this shouldn't have happened. But in referring to the president saying if I had a son, he would look like Trayvon, a couple of -- a couple of the Republican candidates.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white kid who had been shot, that would be OK because he wouldn't look like him? That's just nonsense. Dividing this country up -- it is a tragedy this young man was shot.

RICK SANTORUM, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: And then, this, it is -- again, politicizing it. This is, again, not what the presidents of the United States do. What the president of the United States should do is try to bring people together, not use these types of horrible tragic individual cases to try to drive a wedge in America.


CROWLEY: Your reaction?

PLOUFFE: I don't think there's very many people in America that would share that reaction. You know, this is - this Republican primary at some points has been more of a circus show, a clown show. And those two comments are really irresponsible. I would consider them reprehensible.

I think the president spoke movingly about this tragedy, as a father, made it clear that there's an investigation going on. So I think those comments were really hard to stomach, really, and I guess trying to appeal to people's worst instincts.

CROWLEY: David Plouffe, senior adviser to the president, thanks for coming by.


CROWLEY: The voting goes on for the Republican Presidential nomination and not everyone believes the outcome is inevitable.


SANTORUM: He doesn't provide the clear choice that we need in order to win this election.

GINGRICH: For a guy who has been dead since June, I'm doing fine. And I have no incentive to get out of the race.


CROWLEY: Has the elongated process put the White House out of the Republican's reach? Republican senator Lindsey Graham is next.


CROWLEY; Joining me now Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Good to have you with studio.

GRAHAM: Glad to be with you.

CROWLEY: I want to start with a couple of your colleagues, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum talking about the Trayvon Martin case, both saying it was a tragedy. But going out after the president saying that he is raising the race issue by saying if I had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin.

CROWLEY: Do you have a problem with that comment?

GRAHAM: Well, I don't think it was overly helpful to the debate. We all know there's a racial component to this and when the president highlights it, I don't think it adds a whole lot. But nobody suggests that the president is insensitive to the 17-year-old if he had been white.

So I think the criticism by our guys was a little off-base and I don't really think the president added a whole lot by interjecting himself into it. So this is a situation that's very emotional, and justice will be done.

It's good that we're looking at the actions of the man in question because the young man who lost his life wasn't armed and apparently running in the other direction, not exactly a classic self- defense case in its initial impression.

CROWLEY: Let me move you on to some other things that are going on out there, in particular there's a Republican primary race.

GRAHAM: You noticed?

CROWLEY: And one of our colleagues, a close one, as a matter of fact, Senator Jim DeMint, was out the other day talking about Mitt Romney.

I'm sorry. We don't have that sound but what he said was, "I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee."


GRAHAM: It was pretty big.

CROWLEY: That's pretty big. Where is Lindsay Graham on this?

GRAHAM: Oh, I think when the primaries are over Romney will be the nominee. Fiscal and social conservatives will unite and form a bond with libertarians and independents. And we'll win the White House if we can run a good fall campaign. Won't be easy, but I like our chances.

The president's three-and-a-half years haven't produced a whole lot in terms of good policy, "Obama-care," the stimulus package. None of his big issues have seemed to work very well and gas prices going through the roof. And so I like our chances, but it will be Romney. The elephant hasn't sung yet, but she's warming up.

CROWLEY: So and he's your guy and you're happy?

GRAHAM: Well, you know, I haven't endorsed anybody but I think -- yes, I'm very comfortable with him. The other two candidates have run phenomenal races. Rick keeps exceeding expectations, but, you know, Romney won five delegates in Louisiana. He will get to 1,144.

The last thing I want is a brokered convention. I want us to come out of Tampa united behind Romney, conservative socially and fiscally working together with libertarians and independents to take back the White House before it's too late.

You know, "Obama-care" is going to the Supreme Court. If for some reason there's an Obama second term, this thing becomes etched in stone, "Obama-care" does, and the only way you can repeal it is to get back the White House.

CROWLEY: So let me talk then, since you bring it up, about health care. As both a court watcher, you're a lawyer, as well as a campaign watcher...

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: How does -- I mean, this is certainly the nexus of the two.

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: How does this affect the debate in 2012 if the Supreme Court says, listen, this individual mandate forcing people to buy health insurance for themselves or face a fine is OK with us. What if it's -- the whole law stands? GRAHAM: Well, you know, I think a lot of Democrats hope that the law gets stricken down, that the mandate is ruled unconstitutional because the political issue sort of is watered down.

I don't know what the court is going to do. From a political point of view, this is a -- this is probably the centerpiece of the debate in the fall, the proper role of government. Did the "Obama- care" live up to its billing the way it was passed in the dark of night behind the 60th vote, behind closed doors. The process was bad. The substance is going over like a lead balloon.

You know, the vice president whispered to the president when they signed the bill two years ago, this is a big "f-ing" deal. Well, now it has become a big "f-ing" mess for the Democratic Party and the country as a whole.

So the court could say that the power to tax, defined as a tax, and Obama would be -- could actually win the argument that the fine is really just a tax and we're going to tax you to create a centralized health care system.

I think the public will not like the substance anymore if the Supreme Court agrees with the Obama administration on the tax.

CROWLEY: But, as David Plouffe pointed out, there are some very popular parts of this bill, that you can keep an adult child on for longer now if they don't have insurance, that children cannot be denied insurance simply because they have a pre-existing condition. It has helped seniors with prescription drugs. There are a lot of places and a lot of things that people like about this law.

GRAHAM: Sure. Let's take those things that we all could agree on and sit down and pass a bipartisan bill, actually negotiate in a bipartisan way to get a bill that's not going to bankrupt the country, that's not going to drive up premiums.

It was supposed to lower premiums by $2,200 a person. They are $2,500 a person and climbing. No employer is going to hire robustly until they know what the health care cost is going to be.

If "Obama-care" becomes fully implemented in 2014, it's going to bankrupt states. Medicaid expansion under this bill is dramatic, 31 percent of the people in South Carolina will be Medicaid eligible, a billion dollars more in matching funds for my state. It will wreck our state budget.

Watch for the court to strike down the Medicaid expansion as an overstep, by the Supreme Court. They could say the fine is actually a tax and we're going to wait to see how that happens...

CROWLEY: So they might keep the individual mandate.

GRAHAM: I think they will split the -- they might say it's too early to judge the fine because it hasn't gone into effect yet, it's really a tax. But they could say this Medicaid expansion actually is a federal government takeover of state budgets and strike that down. That's one outcome. I don't know what the court is going to do but the public doesn't like "Obama-care." They don't like the way it was passed and they don't like the substance. And it will be a signature issue for the Republican Party.

CROWLEY: Somewhat of a split issue, as the country is on many things, at this point. Let me move you on to a couple of overseas issues. One of them is Afghanistan. We heard two of the Republican candidates out there, Santorum and Gingrich, saying, look, it may be time to just get out of there. This was after the massacre by...

GRAHAM: And I shot back very hard at Newt. I like Newt. He's a smart guy, but listen to the general. We don't need a punch of politicians trying to create a military exit strategy. We're withdrawing from Afghanistan. The question is how. Do we listen to General Allen or do we listen to politicians who are trying to get a sound bite?

Rick Santorum has never said that. Romney would listen to General Allen. And here is my hope that President Obama will too. It is my hope that President Obama will follow General Allen's withdrawal plan in a strategic partnership agreement between us and Afghanistan. It's the last card to play.

I wish the president would do an Oval Office address and tell us why Afghanistan is important. It is the center of gravity in the battle in the war on terror. It's the place we were attacked from, where the 9/11 attackers had safe haven. It really matters that we get it right. And General Allen has a plan to bring us home with security honor.

And this counterterrorism that would be left behind in 2014 would be an insurance policy against the Taliban ever taking over Afghanistan. It would be a signal to the Pakistanis, quit betting on the Taliban. It would be telling the Iranians, America doesn't abandon its allies.

So I would like to, in a bipartisan way, support General Allen as he withdraws our forces, and support a strategic partnership agreement being negotiated by the Obama administration, which I think is the trump card to be played, the way to end the war with security and honor.

CROWLEY: To get that agreement.

GRAHAM: Yes, I hope so.

CROWLEY: OK. Senator Lindsey Graham, as always, we appreciate your coming.

Rick Santorum had a convincing win in yesterday's Louisiana Primary, but Mitt Romney still has a two to one lead in delegates. So can Santorum get enough broad appeal to win the nomination?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Mike Duffy, executive editor for and Washington bureau chief for Time magazine and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today joining me now for a little roundtable here.

OK, last night big win for Rick Santorum. He will pick up at least eight delegates. So is the race -- is this -- you know, is the race flopping on the deck of the ship and it's over or is there still a possibility here?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: He'll pick up at least eight delegates, you know. I mean, a big win, right, like 49 percent, almost got to the 50 percent point. But not a race we're paying a lot of attention to.

The last primary in the Deep South which is his home base, you know, the place where he's done well. I think you saw even Senator Graham on your show just now saying he believes that Mitt Romney will be the nominee. That's what Haley Barbour said yesterday.

These senior figure in the Republican Party who are not big Romney enthusiasts say this race is essentially over.

CROWLEY: And yet it goes on here. And I think if anybody for Santorum were sitting at this table, they would say, wait a second, he had a big win yesterday. It's your choice to ignore this. Why does it seem that -- okay, big win in Louisiana, but...

MIKE DUFFY, TIME: It does feel like we're about to roll the credits on this movie. But there are some things that are worth just mentioning really fast about Louisiana and Santorum. He went down there while Mitt Romney was in Illinois and he spent a lot of time with evangelical Protestant preachers and he's in churches preaching, praying. He's put together -- and I don't know that this matters in the long-term, but he put together a coalition, even if he's losing, of Catholics and white evangelicals Protestants that the Romney campaign, because their boss is a Mormon, is going to have to pay attention to as they try to unite this party, maybe as they pick a vice president and actually try to get those voters to the poll in the fall. So, that's a group of people that matters.

CROWLEY: So what you're saying is -- right -- so are you saying that Rick Santorum is now playing for number two?

DUFFY: No. I think he's trying to win by losing now. I just think he's trying to stay in as long as he can, maintain his influence, and trade for something at the end.

These guys don't know how to quit. It's not in them to quit.

PAGE: Playing for 2016. You know, a lot of Republicans think they had this big ripe opportunity to defeat President Obama. Now it looks like a tougher slog to November. Maybe they will still win but a tougher fight than they thought.

You know, Rick Santorum reminds me a little of Huckabee last time around where he did better than anybody expected. He appealed to the base of the party in a way the nominee failed to do so. And if Mike Huckabee had run this time around, don't you think he would become the nominee?

DUFFY: Mike Huckabee went on to become a talk show host, maybe that's what Rick Santorum...

CROWLEY: Maybe that's what he actually aiming at...

DUFFY: There's life after these campaigns even when you lose.

CROWLEY: There certainly are.

And I want to just point out the Gallup tracking -- daily tracking poll where Mitt Romney has hit 40 percent. I believe that's the highest point ever for him or for any candidate. Rick Santorum 26 percent, Newt Gingrich 14 percent, Ron Paul 8 percent.

How much damage has been done that -- let's just -- if Mitt Romney becomes the nominee, how much undoing does he have?

DUFFY: Well, he has a lot of work to do, there's no question, because the Republican primary has been damaging to its support among independents and moderates.

On the other hand, the president's poll ratings have fallen an little bit in the last couple of months as gas prices have begun to climb. And I also think the other factor here that is in Romney's favor, a little bit, is as the president begins to campaign and begins to get more overtly political, people see him once again as a political guy which isn't his normal strength. And I think he's narrowed the gap a little bit, but it's still the White House's race.

PAGE: Here is the challenge for Mitt Romney. I think he needs to be a better candidate than he's been in these primaries.

CROWLEY: So in some way they might be right, this long campaign might be helpful to him.

PAGE: You know, in that way maybe so. You know, you think about what is going to be the most critical moments, it's going to be the debates. Who has had all this practice debating, Mitt Romney.

CROWLEY: Hang on with. We will have more with Mike Duffy and Susan Page in a moment.

But unless you are living under a rock you have probably already heard about that Etch-a-Sketch this week. It got us thinking about some of our favorite political props. See if your favorite made our list.


CROWLEY: We are back with Mike Duffy and Susan Page.

Let's set up the general election. If you are the Republican nominee, where's the vulnerability of a president who appears stronger as the economy gets better?

DUFFY: Well, I think you could hear it in David Plouffe's comments to you a few minutes ago when he talked about gas prices. He was talking about, well, we're drilling here and drilling there. And he obviously was in Oklahoma over this week talking about part of the Keystone pipeline he was going to build after having said with some drama earlier in the year that he wasn't going to build the new piece.

So I think they really do feel vulnerable there when this White House is talking about drilling. That's just a good sign.

CROWLEY: Well, and plus, they talk about how -- they say all the time that the president has very little control over gas prices. The president has been on sort of a gas price tour for a while. And yet they're talking about maybe we could use some strategic oil reserve, you know, to put in to bring down the gas prices.

So, in some ways they argue against themselves. But it tells me that the gas prices striking a chord. PAGE: True, but I think there are two vulnerabilities for the president that are not gas prices. One is the level of unemployment. You know, it's falling, that's a good thing. It's still higher than for any president that's won re-election in modern times.

The other is this debate about the size and roll of government. And you got at it earlier in the show when you talked about the healthcare bill. Why do so many Americans say they think the mandate should be struck down? I think it's not because of the details of how the healthcare plan works, which a lot of people don't understand, it's a concern the government has gotten so big and so expensive and intrusive in people's lives. And that I think...

CROWLEY: Sort of a how dare the federal government tell me what to buy.

PAGE: Exactly. I think that is an issue that he has got to talk about.

Some of this expansion of government was a result of dealing with that economic crisis when he came in, but it's an issue that resonates with not just Republicans but with some independent voters, too.

DUFFY: And they made a bet last year when they said let's hurry this back to the Supreme Court and get it litigated. Let's do it right in the middle of the election year, which is a fairly high risk play in that if is tossed out before the end of the year, or some piece of it is tossed out by the court, that's going to give them a much bigger hill to climb in trying explaining why they need a second term.

CROWLEY: What do you make of Senator Graham saying, oh I think some Democrats would really like this mandate to get thrown out get thrown out because then they don't have to -- they can say, well, the Supreme Court, you know, ruled and they don't have to defend it?

PAGE: You know, those Democrats do not live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Maybe some Democrats at the Capitol just behind you may feel that way, but I can tell you that is not the sentiment of the Obama White House.

CROWLEY: So they really need this thing to be upheld.

CROWLEY: Except for, doesn't Mitt Romney -- if Mitt Romney is the nominee, isn't it mitigated a little bit, because here's a man as governor of Massachusetts said, yeah, everybody has to buy health insurance.

DUFFY: And every time now that question comes up in the White House briefings, Jay Carney talks about Obamacare -- oh, I'm sorry, about Massachusetts, Romneycare, because he knows that in some way their fates are their constitutionality are tied. If we go down, he goes down. And so that -- you can see that they are concerned about that in the context of the fall campaign.

There is another possibility of course here that the court won't uphold it or toss it out, but it will simply punt it, simply find a way to sort of postpone some of its rulings until actually more of the law takes effect. And those arguments actually begin tomorrow.

CROWLEY: And there's an argument that if it hasn't taken effect there's nothing to rule on?

DUFFY: That's the -- we'll see if they go that route.

CROWLEY: Anything else that you look at? I mean, if -- we've seen that the president's fundraising numbers are down from '04 and that may be a high water mark who knows. But what relates to that? I mean, is it the independents sort of moving back and forth or is it just that hope is much easier to sell than policy?

PAGE: Right, I think that's exactly right. What a time it was in 2008. What a privilege it was to cover that campaign and how excited young people -- Hispanics, people who didn't always -- but don't always vote, not the most reliable voters were. A lot of them were small donors to the Obama campaign.

You know, he really needs to energize those groups that helped put him in the White House if he wants a second term.

CROWLEY: Susan Page, Mike Duffy, thank you.

President Obama makes his first trip to the Korean DMZ. What did he see through those binoculars? We have that and other headlines, next.


CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories. President Obama is in South Korea today where he had a chance to peer into North Korea. Across the border, North Koreans were marking 100 days since the death of Kim Jong-il.

Later at a joint press conference with South Korea's president, Mr. Obama said bad behavior by the north won't be tolerated.


OBAMA: North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or by provocations. North Korea knows it obligations and it must take irreversible steps to meet those obligations. On this, the United States and the Republic of Korea are absolutely united.


CROWLEY: President Obama is in Seoul for a two day international nuclear summit.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is in a northern Virginia hospital recovering from heart transplant surgery. The 71-year-old underwent the procedure yesterday. He was on a cardiac transplant list last October. And I talked to him about the possibility of having a heart transplant.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've got to decide on a heart pump now. I have got a piece of equipment inside me that supplements my heart. It works very well. I'm 14 months into the program and it's been functioning perfectly.


CROWLEY: A statement from the former vice president's office says "although Cheney and his family don't know the identity of the donor, they will be forever grateful.

The United States gave $880,000 to the families of people in Afghanistan killed or wounded in a shooting rampage that is being blamed on U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Afghan officials said the money includes $50,000 for each of 16 people killed, as well as $10,000 for each of six was injured.

This week on the campaign trail, the Etch-a-Sketch, that 1950s toy is enjoying a boomlet after a Romney adviser compared campaign strategy to the easily erasable slate. It got us to thinking about props and politics.

On Capitol Hill, charts and stacks of paper are, let's face it, readily available and the preferred prop for lawmakers, especially while arguing a proposed law is too onerous and complicated. And when spending gets out of control, nothing beats a pig prop. The newest porker on the scene, Mr. Favors, cradled in the arms of Senate candidate Mark Neumann, protesting, what else, Washington's pork barrel spending. In 2004, John Kerry flip-flops were all the rage among President Bush's supporters. Same song, different decade, in 1992 when then President Bush, the elder, accused Bill Clinton of waffling on his support of the Persian Gulf War.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH: You cannot waffle. You cannot make the White House into the Waffle House.


CROWLEY: And herein lies a political lesson, fight prop with prop. The Clinton campaign laughed it off and handed out fake Waffle House menus featuring rare delicacies, such as Iraq of lamb and pay raise souffle.

Another prop lesson, in 1988 Michael Dukakis rode in a military tank to prove his toughness, one of the most iconic misfires in political history. It was used to make him look weak.


ANNOUNCER: Dukakis opposed the stealth bomber and a ground emergency warning system against nuclear attack. He even criticized our rescue mission to Grenada and our strike on Libya. And now he wants to be our commander in chief. America can't afford that risk.


CROWLEY: And try as politicians do with flags and statutes and impressive backdrops, nobody can out prop a president. Start with that presidential plane, a sleek, impressive silent symbol of power.

And nothing supports the commander in chief vibe like a speech from an aircraft carrier. But even when you're president, the best props...


OBAMA: Oops. Was that my -- oh, goodness.


CROWLEY: ...can fall flat.

Thank you for watching "State of the Union." I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Find today's interviews, some analysis and web exclusives at our web site,

Fareed Zakaria GPS is next for our viewers here in the United States.