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State of the Union

Interview with David Axelrod; Interview with Elijah Cummings; Interview with Marco Rubio

Aired April 22, 2012 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Mitt Romney finds some footing, and the presidential race knots up. Today...


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth.


CROWLEY: The president's populous pitch with Obama's senior campaign strategist David Axelrod.

Then, a rising Republican star clams up on the issue of whether he'd be on the Romney ticket.


RUBIO: The last thing he needs are those of us in the peanut gallery saying what we would or would not do. So here's what I know, I know Mitt Romney is going to make a great choice for vice president.


CROWLEY: My exclusive interview with Senator Marco Rubio.

And the Secret Service sex scandal with Congressman Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Plus, CNN's senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and Jeff Zeleny of the "New York Times."

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

The economic headlines were ominous as the numbers came in mixed. Retail and car sales are strong, but initial jobless claims falling since last year have jumped about 6 percent in the last three weeks. March sales of existing homes fell 2.6 percent and factory output slipped in March after rising in February.

Then there was this iffy forecast for Europe from the managing director of the International Monetary Fund.


CHRISTINE LAGARDE, MANAGING DIRECTOR, IMF: We are seeing light recovery blowing in a spring wind, but we're also seeing some very dark clouds on the horizon.


CROWLEY: If, as the economy goes so goes the election, then it was a worrisome week for the president's re-election team.


CROWLEY: Joining me now President Obama's senior re-election strategist David Axelrod. David, good to see you.

AXELROD: Good to be here again.

CROWLEY: Let me show you and our viewers the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey this week on who has good ideas to help the economy. And it said president Obama 34 percent, Romney, 40 percent. How do you account for that?

AXELROD: Well, I account for it by the fact that people don't know Mitt Romney very well yet. They see businessman. They hope he has new ideas. I think when they -- but, Candy, I think here is the point when they find out what his ideas are, slashing taxes at the top for the very wealthy, cutting Wall Street loose to make its own rules, cutting the investments we need to education, research, development, energy, the things we need to grow, they're going to think this is very familiar. We tried this. This was a big failure.

CROWLEY: But on the other hand, he has been pummeled for the last six months, and you all have joined in when you found an opportunity to do so. I think people are pretty aware that he's a multimillionaire...

AXELROD: But the truth is he hasn't talked -- he's been very critical of the president. And one of the most interesting things in polling this week was in your own poll and it was people were asked -- who supported Obama is it a pro-Obama vote or anti-Romney vote, 75 percent said pro-Obama.

They asked the same question of Romney, only a third of his voters said they were voting for him. It was the lowest number that you have recorded in all the time you've been doing this. And the reason is he's run a purely negative campaign, purely negative in the primary, purely negative in the general.

So he hasn't really been eager to spell out these ideas. When he does, I think people are going to judge them for what they are, which is backward looking and a repeat of what got us into this mess in the first place.

CROWLEY: And a last poll for you, this is on how things are going in the country today among all Americans. 43 percent said well, 57 percent said badly. It's better than before, but if 57 percent of the country continues to say things are going badly, how steep of a climb is that for getting a president re-elected?

AXELROD: I think everybody recognizes we had had deep problems that welled up over years that are going to take a while to deal with, and they want to know we are moving in the right direction. It is hopeful that the last quarter in terms of job creation was the best we've had in six years. The last quarter in in terms of manufacturing was the best we've had in two decades.

People get that things are moving in the right direction. And the last thing people want to do is go back to the same policies that bankrupted the country, punished the middle class, and put our economy into a tailspin.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to a lot of headlines we have seen in the past week. The GSA scandal, the Secret Service scandal. Let me ask you personally, you spend a lot of time with these guys during your time in the White House. Did this stun you?

AXELROD: Yeah, I was surprised by it.

You know, people being what they are, you're never totally surprised. In any organization, things can go wrong.

I must say in my experience the Secret Service has been completely professional, so impressive. I always felt like they were willing to do anything to protect the president and the people around the president, and so this was really disappointing.

Obviously we have to get to the bottom of it, but those problems should not denigrate the efforts of so many who do such a good job.

CROWLEY: Did you ever get a cultural party hearty kind of feel from them?

AXELROD: I may be too old to pick up a whiff of that. I generally went down and collapsed in my hotel room when we were traveling so I didn't get a sense of that. But honestly, what I got a sense of was very intense concern about the safety of the president, the people around him, very, very professional.

So -- but this was disturbing obviously. We have to get to the bottom of it. Six people have already separated from the Secret Service as a result of it. I think we will get to the bottom of it.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you in the broader sense, so you have got the GSA, you've got the Secret Service scandals, you had sort of an ongoing thing about government money that was given to Solyndra, solar power company that went bankrupt and how they got the backing that they did. You've had Fast and Furious, the ATF scandal that Eric Holder has been working on.

Do you think that the totality of that hurts the president?

AXELROD: Do I think that the GSA problem is concerning? Yes. And the president was furious when he learned of it. Obviously we've revamped the whole operation as a result of it. But is it emblematic of our administration? Absolutely not.

Candy, we've imposed new strictures relative to waste and inefficiency and fraud that have saved tens of billions of dollars on travel, on printing, on leases, on fraud.

Our Medicare, our health care fraud unit over at the Justice Department and in HHS has recovered over $10 billion. Those prosecutions are up 70 percent. We are saving taxpayers money all the time.

CROWLEY: To the extent that this is -- that these are scandals as we see them in Washington, do you think -- and we've had -- I want to play quickly for you, this is Jeff Sessions, a Republican, and what he had to say. He was talking specifically about GSA and the Secret Service.


SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: I don't sense that this president is showing that kind of managerial leadership.


CROWLEY: So if you take this, is it fair to say, listen, the president is the guy in charge?

AXELROD: People will judge him based on his record. I think in your own poll he had a big edge in strong and decisive on all those leadership qualities. Part of it is we've been through some big things. We ended a war. We dealt with an oil leak of epic proportions. We've brought bin Laden to justice -- we've been involved in a lot of things that required very strong management, very strong leadership, very strong coordination and oversight. And I think people will judge him on the totality, not these transient stories.

CROWLEY: If this were happening in a Republican administration, would you be one of the first guys out there going hey, this guy is in charge.

AXELROD: Maybe, although I must say that the stories that stick are the ones that are really emblematic and reflective of an administration. These are not.

Look, in any organization I would venture to say that every once in a while someone does something wrong at CNN. And -- not you, of course, but -- and then the question is how do you deal with it. Do you deal with it firmly. Do you learn from it. Do you put in systems to prevent those things from happening in the future. And the answer in this case is yes. That's what we've done.

We've been more aggressive on demanding efficiencies, on attacking waste than I think any other administration has.

CROWLEY: It's also come to light that since last July, Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, who has a very tough job, and we all understand that, has -- it's cost the government $860,000 to fly him back and forth every other weekend, or however often he goes, to his home in California. Does that disturb you at all?

AXELROD: Well, look, Leon's family is out there. I understand that. He's serving the country. He's also the Defense Secretary and that puts some certain security risks around him that almost no one but the president endures. So, you know, I think...

CROWLEY: Tight government times you can see how people might look at this, certainly you're rivals, look at this and say, wow, this is a lot of money, most people when they get a job they move to where the job is -- and their families.

AXELROD: Understood but Leon is doing an important job for the country, really a service to the country at the age of 73 after a long career. He followed Bob Gates at the request of the president. I don't think people are going begrudge him going home and seeing his family.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me -- I want to give you a flash from the past with a couple of sound bites from the president in the campaign.


OBAMA: Well, what we need is a comprehensive immigration approach.

I want to solve the problem, not use it as a political football.

We've got to fix a broken immigration system.

That's a priority that I will pursue from my very first day.


CROWLEY: OK, the president at other times during that campaign, which I covered fairly closely, said I'm going to get immigration reform in the first year. Now we're almost four years in and he has said, OK, I'm going to get it in the first year of my second term. Why should the Hispanic community or the country at large believe it's going to happen next year?

AXELROD: Well, because the president has tried to get it. He has initiated those actions and here is what happened, Candy. I was --


AXELROD: -- wait one second. I was in the room when he called together Republicans and Democrats who have been active for immigration reform in the past. To his credit, President Bush pushed for immigration reform. In the Senate 11 members supported it, those members and members in the House who have been supportive in the past, were there along with Democrats.

And the president said I will work with you to get this done. Not one of those Republicans was willing to stand up and work with him to pass a bill. We tried to pass the DREAM Act through the Congress. It was blocked by the Republican legislature --

CROWLEY: Isn't that the nature of Washington?


CROWLEY: Isn't that the nature of Washington is you --

AXELROD: The nature of Washington, Candy is not -- the nature of Washington is not monolithic opposition to everything the chief executive wants to do as a political strategy. And that is what happened here. It was disappointing.

I believe when the president wins re-election in the fall, there will be a new opportunity to get this done. Hopefully, we can get something done beforehand, but to say because you have an implacable group of Republicans in the Congress, who simply aren't going to let that move, that the president hasn't kept his promise, is a little bit disingenuous.

CROWLEY: So how can he keep his promise if he gets re-elected in January, if, as we think may happen, you will see a smaller margin in the Senate for Democrats and perhaps the continuation of Republicans in the Congress?

AXELROD: You know what? I think a lot of Republicans in Congress want to cooperate and know better, but they're in the thralls of this reign of terror from the Far Right that has dragged the party to the Right. In your own polling and other polling, you see the Republican Party has really moved out of the mainstream.

In your poll, the president is winning among moderates by 41 points. And there's a reason for that, because Governor Romney and the Party has gone way out to the right. I think that these folks are going to recognize when they lose this election that that was the wrong path to take, and now is the time for a season of cooperation.

We're not going to agree on everything, because that's why we have two political parties. But we shouldn't reflexively disagree on everything, just for the sake of politics.

CROWLEY: And finally, I'm sure you know, Joe Manchin, senator from West Virginia, who had this say when he was asked by the "National Journal," whether he was planning on supporting President Obama this time around, he being a Democrat:

"I am just waiting for it to play out. I am not jumping in one way or another. I am worried about me. I've said it's not a team sport. You need to go out and work for yourself."

Do you have anything you'd like to say to the senator?

AXELROD: Well, look, I'm not going to -- he'll make his own judgments. I think he was very candid there. His concern is about his own political well-being. He's running for the Senate in that state. We didn't win the state the last time. It's going to be a tough state for us again, and he's making a political judgment about himself.

I would hope that the country's interests will enter into it as well, and that ultimately he will be supporting the president. And obviously a lot of people are -- in all that poll talk, we didn't mention the fact that we're nine points ahead in your poll, we're six points ahead in that NBC poll. And there were 13 attributes tested in that NBC poll. The president led on 12 or 11 of those 13, including and most prominently advocacy for the middle class, which is really central to this election.

CROWLEY: Thank you. I just have to add our Poll of Polls had it a dead-even race, actually. But when we put all the polls from this --

AXELROD: So your poll -- do you think your poll was inaccurate? The CNN poll is inaccurate?

CROWLEY: I would never attack our pollster.

AXELROD: Well, I wouldn't either.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much for your time.


CROWLEY: Freshman Senator Marco Rubio joins Mitt Romney tomorrow in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. Is it a job audition? My exclusive interview with Senator Rubio is next.


RUBIO: Three, four, five, six, seven years from now, if I do a good job as vice president -- I'm sorry.


RUBIO: You guys all got that, right?

RUBIO: As a senator --



CROWLEY: Florida Senator Marco Rubio is a rising star in the Republican Party and a Tea Party favorite. His Cuban immigrant background may be appealing to Latinos, a group that Mitt Romney needs if he wants to win the presidential election.

I sat down with Senator Rubio yesterday in Miami.


CROWLEY: First of all, thank you for doing this. RUBIO: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Let me start out with a Florida question that I want you to write large in terms of the Romney campaign.

In 2004 George Bush won 56 percent of the Hispanic vote here in Florida. In 2008, President Obama won 57 percent, so roughly even.

Right now given the positions that Mitt Romney has articulated that he stands for in terms of immigration and other issues, do you see him pulling these kind of numbers this year? RUBIO: I expect him to do better than how he did in 2008, but you have to work on it. And let me explain. I think what those numbers show --

CROWLEY: But right now, today, he couldn't pull those kind of numbers.


RUBIO: Well, the election is not -- well, the election is not today. I think we just got out of a primary cycle and now that's why we're going to have a campaign, where each side's going to tell and try to convince people to vote for them.

I think what those numbers explain is what I know instinctively to be true, and that is that Americans of Hispanic descent, especially in Florida, are swing voters, that they're willing to vote for Republicans or Democrats on an election-by-election cycle. The number one issue in the Hispanic community -- let's be clear -- is economic empowerment.

CROWLEY: Which is a great pitch, but when you look at how Hispanics now feel about it, there's a 40 percent gap. I mean, that beats the gender gap any day, a 40 percent gap between Hispanics who say they favor President Obama versus Mitt Romney.

Candidate Romney has said he's for eVerify, making employers go through a system to check to make sure that their employees have papers. He is for what he calls self-deportation, which is basically making life so miserable for illegals that may be here, you know, no benefits, no jobs, the eVerify, that they self-deport.

He's talked about, of course, supporting a fence. He is against in-state tuition for the children of illegals, illegal children, and he's against the DREAM Act. That just does not seem to me to be an agenda as regards illegal immigrants that can stand and win him votes in the Hispanic community.

RUBIO: But I think that's where people make a mistake. You see, this notion that somehow in order to appeal to Hispanic voters you have to support illegal immigration is just not true.

CROWLEY: Well, but he's -- this comes across, does it not, as anti-immigrant?

(CROSSTALK) RUBIO: And I think Governor Romney is doing a good job of it. Here's been my suggestion. Other than only just talking about what we're against, you have to talk about what you're for. And what I have said consistently is that the Republican Party is and must become and continue to be the pro-legal immigration party. We have to make very clear we support legal immigration.

RUBIO: The vast majority of Americans of Hispanic descent are...

CROWLEY: But the problem is...

RUBIO: Are legally here.

CROWLEY: ... illegal immigration, is it not?

RUBIO: Sure.

CROWLEY: I mean, I think everybody support legal immigration. That's part of the American dream.

RUBIO: It does matter how you talk about the issue. It starts by recognizing that the vast majority of people who are in this country illegally didn't come here to steal from the American government. They are in search of jobs and opportunity. They are doing what most people would do if their children were hungry and their family were suffering.

And that is just about anything you have to do in order to provide for your family. You go down to Homestead, Florida, here and you talk to migrant workers that may be here without documents. They would tell you they wish there was a functional guest worker program, and that the reason why they can't return to their country is they're afraid they won't be able to come back next year when they're needed.

CROWLEY: But honestly they haven't been talking about guest worker programs really so much as they have been talking about fences and in-state tuition being denied to the children of illegals who, as you note in your bill that you're working on, had absolutely -- you know, very little choice in coming here. Is that a sustainable position?

RUBIO: Well, again, you have to have immigration laws. And they have to be enforced. That doesn't mean that because you support the laws that you don't recognize the humanitarian aspects of the immigration problem.

For example, the case of the children that you have just outlined to me is very real. We have a case here in Florida of a young woman who came when she was 4 years old. Here name is Daniela Pelaez. She's the valedictorian of her high school this year. She has a 6.8 GPA. She has been admitted to Dartmouth as a -- to study molecular biology. And she has a deportation order. And the vast majority of Americans would tell you it just doesn't feel right to deport a valedictorian who is here in an undocumented status through no fault of her own. CROWLEY: Your plan that you're working on, as I understand it, suggests that these children of illegal immigrants that were brought here illegally could -- if they went to college and got a degree or to a vocational school and finished those courses, could achieve legal status, correct?

RUBIO: Right.

CROWLEY: Not necessarily citizenship. Although they could go on and get citizenship in the regular order of things, correct?

RUBIO: It allows you to get an immigrant visa through one of the existing visa programs.

CROWLEY: But you could stay in the country...

RUBIO: While you're waiting, that's right.

CROWLEY: ... while you're waiting for your non-immigrant status as well as for U.S. citizenship, correct?

RUBIO: Right.

CROWLEY: The presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, had in this to say in South Carolina.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have indicated I would veto the DREAM Act if provisions included in that act say that people who are here illegally, if they go to school here long enough, get a degree here, that they can become permanent residents. I think that's a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist those that have come here illegally ultimately return home, apply, get in line with everyone else.


CROWLEY: Which would seem to put him at odds with what you're suggesting.

RUBIO: No, because -- it doesn't. Because what he's describing is the existing immigration system, and he's describing how the DREAM Act would circumvent that. The way the DREAM Act would circumvent the existing immigration system is it would create a special category that allows you to get into the immigration process.

All this does is award a non-immigrant visa to these kids who find themselves in this very difficult circumstance. At some point in the future they would have no more or no less rights than anybody else in the world. They wouldn't be getting any preferential treatment. They would be just like any other non-immigrant visa holder who may decide to access the legal immigration system.

CROWLEY: But his point, it seems to me -- and I don't want to spend our whole time on this, but his point, it seems to me, is that he thinks that people ought to go home and apply and not stay here. And that has been the conservative criticism of this plan, which is, gee, it just sounds like kind of a two-tier pathway to citizenship.

RUBIO: Well, I think what he was describing, again, was the DREAM Act. And the DREAM Act does create a special pathway to citizenship.

CROWLEY: But so does yours, doesn't it?

RUBIO: No, it doesn't. All it does is it gives...

CROWLEY: But they can stay here and become citizens.

RUBIO: But that's not immigration. That's a non-immigrant visa. In essence they would have the same -- there are two pathways. There's a non-immigrant visa pathway which exists for people who are going to be here for a defined period of time, they can renew it.

CROWLEY: That you would give to them.

RUBIO: Right. And they could renew that. But that's -- you can never turn that into residency and then citizenship.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), CHAIRMAN, BUDGET COMMITTEE: This year we're offering again our "Path to Prosperity."


CROWLEY: Paul Ryan put out a budget that was passed by the House. Would you be comfortable if you were running this year, running on the specifics of the Ryan budget?

RUBIO: Well, understand that, look, now the House is going through the process of defining the specific cuts. And I think there will be disagreement about what we should be cutting or not cutting. But that's...

CROWLEY: Do you disagree...


RUBIO: ... debate.

CROWLEY: ... with some of it?

RUBIO: Well, you know why it's unfair to criticize the Ryan budget for anyone? There's nothing to compare it to. Where is the Democrats' budget? The president's budget is not -- if we put the president's budget for a vote today, I predict that maybe one, maybe no Democrat would vote for it. That's what happened last year.

I think it's unfair to attack the Ryan budget, for anyone to attack it when they don't have a budget of their own. Now let me say this about the Ryan budget, it is a serious endeavor to deal with the pressing issues of our country, primarily the fact that we are going to lose Medicare if we don't reform it.

And here is where the demagoguery comes in when people attack anybody who designs -- or has any designs for changing Medicare. So let me be clear in my position. I will never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt people like my mother who is on Medicare today.

CROWLEY: In addition to the Medicare changes that he suggests in his budget, there are also cuts in many domestic programs, deep cuts because there are very few things that you would describe as tax increases, to hunger and nutrition programs. It's going to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to claim child tax credits. The system becomes more complicated for them. Is that the sort of values that you would run on now?

RUBIO: Well, that's the recommendation of a committee in the House. That has to be fully vetted and debated in the House.


RUBIO: And I think there are alternatives. I'm always wary, and I'm not being critical of the Ryan budget, because I think that's part of the debate, and when you tell a committee you have got to find X number of dollars to save, you are going to see reductions in domestic spending.

I think we always have to be careful about impacting our safety net, because I think there's a proper role for a governmental safety net to help those who cannot help themselves.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a final couple of real political questions. One is, can you tell me the main difference between George W. Bush's administration and what Mitt Romney is proposing?

RUBIO: In terms of?

CROWLEY: For Romney, just a big difference. Is there a big difference you can...

RUBIO: Yes, well, I haven't gone through the comparison. I think the presidents serve in different times with different challenges. And so certainly I think George W. Bush, in my opinion, did a fantastic job as president over eight years facing a set of circumstances during those eight years that are different from the circumstances that a President Romney would face.

CROWLEY: Jeb Bush, a mentor, your colleague, says that he really hopes if Mitt Romney comes to you and asks you to be vice president that you would say yes.

RUBIO: Well, that's very nice of Jeb. I hope he'll say yes if a future President Romney asks him. You know...

CROWLEY: And he, in fact, indicated he'd certainly look at it.

RUBIO: Yes. Well, that's good because I think he'd be a fantastic vice president. But let me just say this about the vice presidential process. Up until now it has all been theoretical. We have a nominee now and our nominee, Mitt Romney, the leader of the Republican Party, has a vice presidential process in place.

And I think from this point moving forward I think it would be wise for all Republicans to kind of respect that process, myself included, and say, moving forward we're going to let his process play itself out.

He has been a great decision-maker throughout his career in both the private sector and in politics. He's going to make a great choice.

CROWLEY: Sorry. Do you still stand by, I wouldn't accept it if he offered it?

RUBIO: Yes, I'm not going to even discuss the process any more. I'm going to be respectful of the process he has put in place. And I think that...

CROWLEY: That's kind of different though than what...

RUBIO: No, I think...


CROWLEY: ... saying before.

RUBIO: ... it's fair. I think the fairness in it is he now has a real process in place. He has folks that he has hired and has asked to go through a vice presidential process. The last thing he needs are those of us in the peanut gallery to being saying what we would or would not do.

So here's what I know, I know Mitt Romney is going to make a great choice for vice president. And I know Mitt Romney is going to make a great president for this country.

CROWLEY: OK. I just know how this is going to get translated. It's going to get translated that you've backed off saying, I would not accept the offer.

RUBIO: No. What I would characterize it as is, I'm not going to discuss it anymore because now there's a real process in place and I want to be respectful of the process that he's working on.

CROWLEY: OK. But you know how that's going to be interpreted.

RUBIO: He has a process and we should respect that process.


CROWLEY: Senator Rubio hits the campaign trail with Governor Romney tomorrow. His advice to the presumptive nominee, keep selling American enterprise.

When we return I ask the senator a question on lots of people's minds.


CROWLEY: Do you want to be president some day? Do you think about that?



CROWLEY: After our interview, Senator Rubio and I took a walk in the Florida humidity where he talked about his Catholicism and why he says he doesn't dream of being president.


CROWLEY: Let me ask you, I know you have a book coming out and we'll get some of these answers, do you -- a lot has been made of about your religion or the churches you have been in, Mormon at one point. We know that you enjoy evangelical services, but you're catholic.


CROWLEY: Is that the religion you identify with?

RUBIO: Yeah.

CROWLEY: Is there a particular one, or do you just like...

RUBIO: No. I'm a Roman Catholic, And I'm going to detail this in this book. And I think people will find that interesting. I have a lot of respect for the way, for example, some evangelical churches, especially the one we attend, have a relationship, the way they teach the written word. I have a lot of respect for that. And I enjoy that.

But we're Roman Catholic. And I have been. I've been baptized and confirmed. And when I was young, I was a kid, we had an experience -- all that's detailed. you have to buy the book to read the details of it, but yeah I'm a Roman Catholic.

CROWLEY: Do you want to be president some day? Do you think about that?

RUBIO: I don't. I haven't.

CROWLEY: Ever? Surely you must be, because you're just this wunderkind that sort of appeared on the scene. You are the -- you know, this is the Republican's Barack Obama. I mean...

RUBIO: Look, I get that, but I've never approached public service in that way. I think if you do it's a recipe for disaster. I have always approach it as the following -- if you have a job, if you're given an opportunity to serve and you do a good job, you will have opportunities to do other things. We just don't know what those opportunities are going to be. They may be outside of government. They may be in the not for profit sector. They may be in business. They may be in politics. I don't know.

But the biggest trap I have seen in politics is when someone goes into a position with the idea of creating a platform to run for something else it almost always ends up bad. So I deliberately don't think about what specific things this will lead to.

CROWLEY: Some people say, oh, this is a future president you block that out.

RUBIO: Maybe they mean of a condominium association. You know, there's real power there.

CROWLEY: I actually doubt that, but OK.

Thank you so much.

RUBIO: Thank you.

CROWLEY: I appreciate it.


CROWLEY: Later this hour I will have a preview of our online series called Getting to Know with Marco Rubio, but back in Washington we're learning more details about the Secret Service agents involved in that prostitution scandal. Has the Secret Service culture put the president at risk? I'll ask Congressman Elijah Cummings.


CUMMINGS: When I travel in my district, which is very diverse, a question that I hear almost every week at least once a week is are they keeping the president safe?



CROWLEY: Joining me now, Congressman Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which this week has had its hands full.

CUMMINGS: We've been busy.

CROWLEY: Yes you have. And not in great ways.

The Secret Service scandal with the prostitutes, you know, almost two dozen we're told and almost a dozen Secret Service men, do we now know the scope of what went on?

CUMMINGS: Candy, we don't know the full scope. The Secret Service, I believe, they're investigating themselves and they're doing I think a very good job. And they acted on it very quickly. They got in there within a matter of a few hours, got those folks out of there, took away their security clearance, and suspended them. Now we know that six of them are gone, and others are being investigated.

So -- but -- and they have it -- and the thing that Director Sullivan has assured us of is he will go wherever the evidence leads. And he has expanded his investigation from the initial 11, and that's why the most recent person who came up on Friday I think it was has been included.

So I think we're going to have to wait and see.

CROWLEY: And it is your understanding it's exactly what we've been told, which is a group of Secret Service men sort of barhopping, picking up women along the way, prostitutes along the way, coming back to the hotel, and it all came to light because of a dispute over money and how much they'd be paid.

CUMMINGS: That's exactly right.


CUMMINGS: And it's a sad situation, but, you know, our committee, the Government Reform Committee, we take this very seriously. This is our watch. The Secret Service is a phenomenal organization. It's an elite force.

And I have said to the director, look, it's not only important that you be excellent, but we also don't want people to even imagine, imagine that they can pierce the shield of the Secret Service because that's --

CROWLEY: Is that what bothers you most?

CUMMINGS: Not the most but it bothers me a lot because I know that there are a lot of folks who are perhaps looking for opportunities to do harm to the president or others that the Secret Service, you know, guard.

And you never know what they think that is a moment of weakness, Candy, that's the time that they may think that they can act. But I want to make sure that we get this matter resolved. I want it resolved fairly, I want it thoroughly investigated, and make any changes that might be necessary. CROWLEY: How do you change the behavior of folks? I mean, in some ways you -- you know, Senator Reid said this is just stupid, you know, and it's hard to fix stupid.

CUMMINGS: Yes, well, I think that you don't necessarily change behavior, but you certainly set the tone of what you want, and when --

CROWLEY: Surely they must have known that going down to Cartagena in advance of the president to set up security down there and movements down there, you probably shouldn't get drunk and pick up prostitutes. CUMMINGS: Exactly right, and I think we have some bad actors here. I don't think that we judge the Secret Service by its weakest link. They are gone, half of them, and I think others will be leaving shortly.

So, you know, you can't, you know, legislate people not being stupid, but certainly you can uphold the high standards of this organization. Keep in mind, the Secret Service has been around since 1865, and we're going to make sure that it remains the great organization that it is.

CROWLEY: So you're suggesting that the other -- there are now another six that are still on leave or have been suspended, whatever we call that, that you suspect may well resign or be --

CUMMINGS: I would not be surprised.

CROWLEY: OK. And let me ask you, will higher heads roll? That is, we know the supervisors that were down there and involved in this are gone, but what about the Secret Service director? How do you feel about him, because very often, when these things happen, GSA, something else you have been involved in, the head goes.

CUMMINGS: Yes. I'm very confident that what happened here was limited to these folks, but we'll find out. But the thing that impressed me about Sullivan is that he acted quickly. Keep in mind, the head of the region down there in South America was on that situation immediately.

CROWLEY: Immediately.

CUMMINGS: Got those folks out there immediately. And she, of course, was acting on behalf of Sullivan. So I think Sullivan has done a very good job. A lot of us on Capitol Hill, most of us have a lot of confidence in him, both sides of the aisle, by the way.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you as a final question, you have mentioned a couple times that folks in your district ask you with regularity about the safety of this president.

Do you have more concerns with the safety of this president because he's African-American than you would have had for, say, George Bush or those that --

CUMMINGS: First of all, let me say I have concern about all presidents and everybody that the Secret Service guards.


CUMMINGS: But the fact is that African-American people have always expressed concern to me about this president. They see, Candy, folk around this president with guns strapped on their legs. And they say, you know, how can that be?

And they're just -- they worry. They're concerned, but, again, I believe that the Secret Service is going to get through this. I think this is a time that they have to take a look at themselves.

By the way, the other thing we're doing is we're also going to be taking -- our committee is going to be looking at DOD. We're sending a letter to them, trying to figure out what role they played in all of this, too.

CROWLEY: OK. Thank you so much, Congressman, for stopping by. We really appreciate it.

CUMMINGS: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

CROWLEY: We will get a check of the top stories next.

And later the Tea Party and Senator Orrin Hatch live to fight another day.


CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories.

Iran says it has reversed engineered an American spy drone captured by its armed forces last year and has begun building a copy. U.S. officials have acknowledged losing the drone but they say it would be difficult to exploit any of the technology from the aerial vehicle.

China and Russia began their first-ever joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea. Chinese state-run media says the war games will include 16 Chinese vessels, submarines and Russian supply ships. The exercises will run through Friday.

In France, voters are casting ballots in the first round of a presidential election that pits President Nicolas Sarkozy against nine other candidates. The economy and jobs have been key election issues as France struggles to overcome a 10 percent unemployment rate.

A veteran Republican senator is forced into a runoff and a freshman Democratic senator is having doubts about voting for President Obama. We'll try to make sense of it with CNN's Dana Bash and "The New York Times" Jeff Zeleny.


CROWLEY: Joining me now Dana Bash, CNN's senior congressional correspondent, also here Jeff Zeleny from "The New York Times." Thank you both. I just thought it was interesting that this week we have Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, a freshman Democrat, who says he's not all that sure that he's going to vote for President Obama this year.

And then we have Orrin Hatch being forced into a runoff by the Right side of his party. Is there any kind of fall lesson we can take from either of those? Or are these just one-offs?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's self- preservation. I mean, that's really what it is. I think everybody is looking back at the last election, 2010, and realize that a lot of people got caught flat-footed.

In the case of Joe Manchin, I was down covering his election campaign when he was running a couple years ago. He's got to run again because of the circumstances there, and President Obama is so unpopular in West Virginia. He knows that. That's why he is saying that self-preservation. And in the case of Orrin Hatch, he worked very, very hard for a lot of months to try to avoid what is happening, but ultimately, he will probably end up winning that seat again, and it's because somebody who worked -- you know this, Candy, better than anybody, he worked for years across the aisle. The past year or so, two years, he has moved so far to the right, you wouldn't recognize him, and that's self-preservation.

CROWLEY: Would you agree? I mean, it's interesting to me because I think I looked at the Orrin Hatch convention numbers. If he had gotten 60 percent, he wouldn't have had to have this primary runoff. He came darn close. 42 votes away, I think.

I look at that as kind of an easing of the Tea Party influence, but others said, my gosh, he spent a gazillion dollars just to get into a runoff.

JEFF ZELENY, NEW YORK TIMES: I think it's an easing of the influence. But, I mean, the fact of the matter is, he had a clear warning sign from his former colleague, Senator Bob Bennett.

CROWLEY: Emphasis former.

ZELENY: Right. Who did not make it to this convention process. But I think across the board the Tea Party influence is probably easing a little bit, and it's more blended up into other concerns.

A presidential election year is about bigger things, and it's a bigger sort of electorate, if you will, than the midterms were in 2010.

CROWLEY: I want to show our viewers and show you all, CNN-ORC poll, and it compares the approval ratings of presidents in April of re-election year. And we see President Obama now is 49 percent, but if you go on down the line, everybody is 52 percent, 54 percent, 54 percent. So is that -- does that signal anything? I mean, is this a race? We get this feeling for a little while that, oh, President Obama seems to be on the mark. All of a sudden not so much.

ZELENY: He is not on the mark. His advisers know he is not on the mark. It's a very close election. And frankly, he is luckily he's at 49 percent, because within the margin of error, he is right at the 50 point. It would be much more worrisome for him if he was in the lower or mid 40s.

But look it's a tough election. And when you look down into these polls, people don't have the confidence that they had in him at the beginning of his term.

CROWLEY: Because conventionally, it's anything under 50 percent for an incumbent is not good news. BASH: No. Not good news at all. And not to mention the other number we are all watching is the unemployment number, and if you look at the historic statistics, presidents just don't simply don't win re- election with this kind of unemployment. But that is why you heard the president this week with his populist message because all of their internal polling when you look at independents, which is -- those are the people that need to be brought back into the fold, they feel that they are bringing them back sort of piece by piece with the populous message, with trying to appeal to women and other things like that.

CROWLEY: And this was the week of the Hispanics too. So they're going after all those folks that they need in huge numbers.

Let me ask you about this, I know you have been covering the Sullivan activity up on Capitol Hill, the Secret Service, as well as the GAO.

Do you think when you put -- when you put the -- I asked David Axelrod this, when you take these scandals of the Obama administration and you look at, you know, Fast and Furious with the guns ending up -- ATF guns ending up in the hands of the Mexican cartel -- drug cartel. There have been other things that have happened. Is any of this begun to kind of seep into the campaign, or has the president been able to hold this off?

BASH: It seems to me that he has been able to hold it off in theory, but it definitely it does not help him because it feeds into the same narrative that has been hurting Democrats two years ago, and it's still hurting them, which is Washington has run amok. Washington is completely broken. And every one of these narratives, especially ones that people can understand, like 17 day junket to the South Pacific for some bureaucrat, really, on money that I'm spending? That really hits home for people, and there's no way that ultimately combination of all can't hurt the president.

CROWLEY: Not to mention $17,000 to build bikes. But that's a whole other story.

What do you think?

ZELENY: And I think it feeds into this further narrative of the distrust of government. I'm not sure that they hold President Obama directly responsible for the Secret Service scandal. There are scandals on both sides. I mean, it's not like he himself was involved in this, but it's the taxpayers spending money.

I think the GSA scandal is a bigger deal, and it has -- if gives Republicans more ammunition for making some of these arguments that, you know, that this government is not spending your money wisely.

CROWLEY: Right. Jeff Zeleny, New York Times, our own Dana Bash, thank you very much.

ZELENY: Thanks, Candy.

BASH: Thanks, Candy. CROWLEY: Stick around and find out why I literally hitched a ride with a young and obscure Marco Rubio back in 1996. And would you believe his favorite music is hip-hop? Getting to know with Marco Rubio is next.


CROWLEY: Our website is full of on-line exclusives, including something called Getting to Know. This week I asked Senator Rubio about the music on his iPod. Here's a preview.


RUBIO: Well you know, I am a hip-hop fan from especially 90s hip-hop and some of the modern stuff has changed, though. One of my things that I have been discovering is that I'm a fan of Nicki Minaj, who is one of the hip-hop artists today, but she's not just a rapper, she also sings on her albums. And we have a local artist named Pit Bull as well who I am -- I know that sounds like an interesting name. He is actually very talented, and he is just involved in the soundtrack for Men in Black. So we're proud of him.

CROWLEY: I think I know that actually -- randomly I do happen to know that.

Tell me your first political memory.

RUBIO: My first political memory was probably was the '80 convention when Kennedy challenged Carter, and then afterwards the -- and the Reagan convention as well. So the '80s was kind of the time when I became aware.

I document a lot of this in my book, but my grandfather was a huge Reagan fan.

CROWLEY: And you also had somewhat of a role in the Dole campaign.

RUBIO: I did. And so did you. You were covering them here, and I think they were staying in Ball Harbor. He had an apartment here, and I was one of the guys that worked on the ground for the team. The advance crew. I drove the media van. I think we drove you around one time when you were covering them here. And then ultimately I landed a job running the Dole campaign in South Florida, and that was a great experience.


CROWLEY: Getting to know Senator Marco Rubio. He has certainly come a long way since driving a media van during the Dole campaign.

Go to our web site for more of my interview with Marco Rubio,

Thank you so much for watching State of the Union. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Fareed Zakaria GPS is next for our viewers here in the United States.