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State of the Union

Interview with Asa Hutchinson; Interview with Senator Lieberman; Interview with Steve LaTourette, Mick Mulvaney

Aired December 23, 2012 - 09:00   ET



CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: The NRA steps into the gun debate and House Speaker Boehner gets tripped up on the fiscal cliff by his own party.

Today in the aftermath of Newtown, the National Rifle Association offers a safe school plan.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NRA: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

CROWLEY: Our conversation with NRA point man Asa Hutchinson. Also, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman on the culture of violence. Then the GOP's civil war.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Not the outcome that I wanted, but that was the will of the House.

CROWLEY: Republican versus Republican on the fiscal cliff with Congressman Steven LaTourette and Mick Mulvaney. Plus, weighing in on all of it, our political panel. "USA Today's Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page, CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein and Michael Duffy, Washington Bureau Chief for "Time" magazine. I'm Candy Crowley. And this is STATE OF THE UNION.


CROWLEY: Nine days after the mass shooting deaths in Newtown, the president of the National Rifle Association joined the gun debate.


LAPIERRE: I call on Congress today to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.


CROWLEY: In a similar vein, lawmakers in a growing number of states including Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota, Virginia and Oregon has said they will consider laws allowing teachers and school administrators to carry firearms at school. The NRA says they are moving ahead to have their national model school shield program in place to any schools that want it. Joining me now to talk the dangers, the benefits and the backlash is program's director Asa Hutchinson. Thank you, sir, so much for joining us. One of the things that struck me listening to Wayne LaPierre is that there was no mention of any gun control in favor or in opposition, so I wanted to get you on the record. Will the NRA oppose any attempt to put new gun laws in place?

HUTCHINSON: Well, that's a separate debate. And my responsibility is school safety, and I think that's where the debate should center. We've got to act in a very urgent fashion to protect the children. My responsibility is to convene a high-level panel of experts that can develop a model program for our schools, new tools that they can use that will help protect our children. And one of those options should be armed guards who are trained, but that should be an option for the schools. One of the tools that they can utilize, but that's the debate. It shouldn't be on new legislation as much as it should be on what to we need to do to protect our children in school safety. And that's my focus.

CROWLEY: Well, debate, as you know, has a way of shaping itself, and you are working for the NRA. So I'm trying to find out if there's anything in terms of gun control. We know what's out there, sir. We know that there's people who want to reinstate the ban on certain kinds of semi-automatic assault weapons. We know that people want to try and ban some of those ammo clips that can shoot as many as 100 and up of bullets in a very short time. We know that there are those that want to close the loophole so that even if you buy a gun from a private owner, you have to go through a background check. Are any of those acceptable to the NRA?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I'm not going to speak for the NRA on that issue. I'm just saying that ...

CROWLEY: But don't you speak for the NRA that's -- I'm just a little confused.


CROWLEY: You don't work for the NRA, they don't pay you?

HUTCHINSON: I'm an independent consultant for the NRA that's designed to focus on school safety. That is my mission. Now, what I will say in terms of further gun control legislation is that that is the wrong part of the debate. I think the focus should be on school safety. You can have bans on assault weapons or whatever weapons you wish, and it's not going to protect from a violent person. It's going to take someone who has security in the school. Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer as his weapon. And so let's not focus on the weapon as much as our response capability and safety of the children. And that's simply my responsibility, and that's what I'm going to do and we're going to take the best experts in across the country to give these options to the schools.

CROWLEY: So, without speaking for the NRA, do you personally think that there is any place for further restrictions on guns, particularly these high capacity guns? HUTCHINSON: That's a debate that will take place. What I'm saying it is, it's not the solution. I want to look for solutions for safety in schools, and that's not the solution. That's the wrong debate to have if you want to talk about protecting our children. We have one-third of our schools right now of the 23,000 schools that have armed guards. Should the other two-thirds have armed guards? I certainly think it's an option that they should consider. It's not a novel approach, but it's a safety approach. But there's other things that should be done. And what I am going to be doing is looking at those options for the schools. CROWLEY: You can understand that people would listen to the NRA's response and say, we want to focus on school safety , an effort to kind of move the debate, and people saying, wait a second. You know, to put more guns into the schools seems like exactly the wrong answer, that more guns is the wrong answer.

HUTCHINSON: Certainly. That is a concern that's expressed. Again, you go back, though, through history. President Clinton started the cops program where you have resource officers who are armed in the schools as a result of that. There is partial funding, but it's very limited, it's cut back, it's insufficient, obviously. It's going to take over $2 billion if you put a federally funded program for an armed person at every school. I think there's voluntary programs you can look at if you have trained people, and we want to set up a model training for this. But it always should be an option that the local school board finally makes the decision. So I can understand skepticism, but I think that school safety is the debate. I think it is terrific that the NRA is willing to fund experts and solutions that will be provided free of cost to the schools ...

CROWLEY: Let me ...

HUTCHINSON: ... to hopefully create a voluntary program.

CROWLEY: It's a little bit more than skepticism. I want to read you two reactions to what the NRA had to say. The first from Mayor Michael Bloomberg who said "They, (meaning the NRA), offered a paranoid dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe. The NRA's lobbyists blamed everyone but themselves for the crisis of gun violence." And this is from Senator like Chris Murphy, he is from Connecticut, the new senator and he tweeted out "Walking out of another funeral and was handed the NRA transcript, the most revolting, tone-deaf statement I've ever seen." Can I get your reaction to that reaction?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I live by my own statement, and I hope that they will look at those as well. But they want to focus the debate on new laws and new prohibitions, and I'm saying that's the wrong debate. That's their solution. I believe a better solution is school safety initiatives, one of those options being an armed presence that we have in one-third of the schools. If you have an option of sending a child to a school with an armed presence who are trained that can protect the children or a school that doesn't have that option, right now the polls show in America that most people would select the more secure school, the one that invests in security. So let's help these schools, and let's don't have a false debate that's not going to increase safety in the long term for the most precious commodity in our society.

CROWLEY: Well, I think that the debate certainly can be a holistic one, but to take guns out of the debate seems naive at this point, listening to the public debate. You know, yes, it has to do with school security, but it also has to do with guns, it also has to do with mental health, it has to do with any number of things. And it seems to many people that this sole approach by the NRA does not take reality into consideration, that is, that some of these high capacity magazines, some of these big guns are killing our children and killing people on the streets.

HUTCHINSON: Well, Candy, you're right in the context that there should be a broad debate. Actually, the mental health issues is a central part of it. I think the comprehensiveness of our databases and the information we have in regard to that is an important part of it. Obviously, the violence in video games has been raised. And so, there can be all of that debate. It's very appropriate. And some of those issues can enhance safety. I have one singular focus, and it's something that shouldn't be neglected. And that's where I think the debate in America has been confused, is that we're going to come out with mandatory laws that every school has to have a teacher with a gun. I don't think teachers go to get their education to do that. They want -- that's why you need to have separate resource officers ...

CROWLEY: Got it.

HUTCHINSON: ... and armed guards that can have that protection.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you one final question, and that is, where does this end? Let's say, fine, you know, people want to put armed professionals inside schools to protect children. Well, There was a movie theater that was shot up in Aurora, there was a shopping mall that was shot up in Tucson. Where does it end? Can you just arm every place that a gunman might -- might go? But, you know, police -- police officers, whatever. It seems it's never ending.

HUTCHINSON: You're right. It's a problem that we have in our society, and you know, movie theaters are actually making those decisions. Many of them have retired police officers, off-duty police officers. Malls have the same thing. So should we say we're not going to have the same type of protection when our children are going to school?

So certainly there's going to be some schools, and there's going to be some parts of society that are going to say, we don't want to do that investment. We'll take the risk.

But let's look simply at the schools right now, what our focus is, and I think this initiative for enhanced safety is the right direction.

CROWLEY: Is that the kind of country that you want for your children and your grandchildren, just armed people outside any number of public institutions?

HUTCHINSON: Well, what I wouldn't want would be someone carrying a terribly large weapon outside of a school, but I think when you have a trained officer -- for example, what's more sensitive than our airplanes? People resisted having weapons on airplanes, but I oversaw the federal air marshals. And it's a deterrent. No one sees that weapon, but they're protected on that airplane. And it is a huge, positive impact on safety.

Schools are a sensitive environment as well, but you can provide safety and security with armed, trained personnel, without putting fear in anyone.

CROWLEY: Asa Hutchinson, who is heading up the NRA's school safety program. Thank you for your time this morning, sir.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: There's not much where the president and the NRA see eye to eye, but violence and the media may be one. Up next, a culture warrior in his own right, Senator Joe Lieberman.


CROWLEY: Joining me now is Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Senator, thanks for being here. Let me talk first about the NRA and its safe school program. How does that strike you as the first statement coming out of the NRA? LIEBERMAN: I have found the statements by the NRA over the last couple of days to be really disheartening, because the statements seem to not reflect any understanding about the slaughter of children that happened in Newtown, Connecticut, just a little more than a week ago.

It was a kind of hunker down. They could have made the same statement -- they did make the same statement after earlier acts of mass violence.

And, you know, no one is saying -- here's what bothered me. The NRA spokespeople have been willing to deal with every possible cause of gun violence, except guns. They're right that there's a problem for our society, how do you spot a child or a person who is troubled before they become a killer? What's the influence of violence in our entertainment culture on people? But it's obviously also true that the easy availability of guns, including military style assault weapons, is a contributing factor, and you can't keep that off the table. I had hoped they'd come to the table and say, everything is on the table.

What this does mean is that the kind of new regulation of guns that President Obama and Vice President Biden and a lot people would like to see enacted early next year is not going to happen easily. It's going to be a battle. But the president, I think, and vice president are really ready to lead the fight.

It's going to take the American people getting organized, agitated, and talking to their members of Congress. CROWLEY: Do you think the NRA still has the clout it once did? To -- because they have several times been able to rally their folks on Capitol Hill to vote against extension of the gun ban, things like that.

LIEBERMAN: We'll see. I mean, I think this situation is different than the other acts of mass violence, Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, because here, you know, those 20 beautiful innocent children slaughtered, hit multiple times with bullets from that assault weapon.

So we'll see. But I'll tell you this. The strength of the NRA is that more than half of the adults in America have guns, own guns, and have them in their homes. And we have to convince them that none of the proposals will take their guns away. The proposals will make it harder, hopefully impossible for people to buy assault weapons, and as you said earlier, will close some of the loopholes to make sure that people who are in Wayne LaPierre's term, bad guys, don't have the opportunity to buy guns.

CROWLEY: I think actually the number of households who own a gun has gone down a bit, but there are still a lot -- a heck of a lot of guns out there.

I want to read you actually on another part of this argument, and that is about the culture and about these video games. We now at least believe that this shooter, in fact, did like some of these violent video games.

This comes from the general counsel of the Entertainment Consumers Association, who said we agree with the Supreme Court's decisions, and the volumes of scientific research which all clearly state that there is no causal link between media violence and real- life violence.

Do you agree with that?

LIEBERMAN: I don't agree with that, and I don't know what Supreme Court decision that person is thinking of.

CROWLEY: It was a free speech case.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, but I mean, obviously, there's a free speech question, but I've spent a lot of time on this. And most of the research that I've seen done shows that involvement, particularly intense involvement with violence in the entertainment culture does make people more aggressive.

Now, obviously, everybody who plays violent video games doesn't become a killer, but there are -- there's a vulnerable part of our population out there that is affected by them. I would say to the entertainment culture just as I said to the NRA, take your blinders off, take your earplugs out.

LIEBERMAN: Twenty kids just got slaughtered, and we have all got to come to the table not defensively and acknowledge that these are not just other people's kids, they could be our kids and grandkids next time. So, I think the entertainment culture has to accept some responsibility.

You know, in almost every one of these cases of mass shootings, it's the same pattern. A young man, troubled, reclusive, almost always involved in some kind of violent entertainment media gets guns and then kills a lot of people. We have got to stop it.

CROWLEY: There's a lot here I wanted to ask you about, and I want to move on to Senator Chuck Hagel, a man you know. We are led to believe that he may be the person that President Obama wants to lead the Defense Department when Secretary Panetta leaves. You may know that a number of Jewish organizations and some folks up on Capitol Hill have objected already to the idea of Hagel saying he has had a number of anti-Israeli votes, that he has said things they perceive as anti-Israeli.

Has Chuck Hagel in your opinion disqualified himself because these various stances from becoming Secretary of Defense?

LIEBERMAN: I wouldn't -- I served with Chuck Hagel. I worked with him on some things. I like him and I respect him. I wouldn't say that his votes disqualify him. But if I were in the Senate on the Armed Services Committee and he was nominated, I would have some really serious questions to ask him, not just about Israel, but to me, the most significant foreign policy challenge for President Obama and our country and the world in the next year or two is Iran and it's nuclear weapons program. Chuck Hagel has had some very outlying votes on that. He's been...

CROWLEY: He's wanted to establish communication with Iran.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, he's been consistently -- I think in that sense anybody who has tried to communicate with Iran has run into a brick wall, and Chuck Hagel has consistently been against economic sanctions to try to change the behavior of the Islamic regime, the radical regime in Tehran, which is the only way to do it short of war.

So, in fact, as I look at Chuck Hagel's positions on Iran, they seem to me to be quite different than President Obama. Now, President Obama obviously has earned the right to nominate whoever he wants, but I think this will be a very tough confirmation process. I don't know how it would end, but there are reasonable questions to ask and that Chuck Hagel will have to answer.

CROWLEY: And finally in our last minute I need you to solve the fiscal cliff problem, but specifically we all know that the speaker left. He couldn't get his caucus to join him on his backup plan, and he said "hey, Mr. President and Senator Reid the majority leader in the senate, it's up to you to fix this." What is Senator Reid's next move? Should Mitch McConnell get into this? How does this play out?

LIEBERMAN: Well, Candy, I will tell you in the aftermath of House Republicans rejecting Speaker Boehner's so-called Plan B, it's the first time that I feel that it's more likely that will go over the cliff than not. And that -- if we allow that to happen, it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history, because of the impact it will have on almost every American -- taxes up, programs cut, probably sending us back into a recession.

So the ball is now clearly with the Senate. Senator Reid and Senator McConnell have the ability to put this together again and pass something. It won't be a big, grand bargain to take care of the total debt, but they can do some things that will avoid the worst consequences going over the fiscal cliff.

I can tell you that talked to a lot of Republican colleagues in the Senate who are favorably inclined toward the idea it to protect the middle class from the tax cuts, let's raise taxes on people over 250,000, and let's stop those terrible cuts in defense, homeland security, education, et cetera.

CROWLEY: Not much time left.

Senator, after 24 years in the U.S. Senate you are retiring, but you still have work to do. So I'm not going to say good-bye to you now, because I imagine we might speak to you again before the end.

LIEBERMAN: We might. You see all of this. I told my colleagues they're just doing it to make sure that those of us who are retiring this year work every last day of our term. We're going to spend New Year's Eve here I believe.

CROWLEY: Thanks for the cheery note. Thanks so much, Senator Lieberman. Good to see you.

President Obama is calling on the holiday spirit to avoid the fiscal cliff.


OBAMA: Everybody can cool off, everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols.


CROWLEY: But it may take more than divine inspiration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Six weeks after his unanimous re-election as speaker John Boehner faced a mini mutiny in his own congress, 21 Republicans indicated they would oppose his backup plan to keep tax cuts in place for everyone making less than a million dollars. Anyone making more would see a tax hike.

The speaker saw the setback as a semantic problem.


BOEHNER: Listen, there was a perception created that that vote last night was going to increase taxes. Now, I disagree with that characterization of the bill, but that impression was out there. Now, we had a number of our members who just really didn't want to be perceived as having to raise taxes, that was the real issue.


CROWLEY: With that, the speaker pulled his Plan B from the House floor, told the president and Senate Democrats they needed to come up with something to avoid the fiscal cliff, and then he took off for Ohio with a parting blast at the president that went off to Hawaii.


BOEHNER: And he refuses to challenge the members of his party to deal honestly with the entitlement reform and the big issues that are facing our nation, that's why we find ourselves here today.


CROWLEY: The holiday season is beginning to seem a lot more like groundhog day. When we return, long-time Boehner ally and fellow Ohioan Steven LaTourette and a leader of most conservative House Republicans South Carolina Mick Mulvaney.


CROWLEY: With me now, Ohio Congressman Steven LaTourette and South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney. Thank you both for being here. You are one of those Republicans, Congressman Mulvaney, who said -- signaled at the very least and probably said outright I'm not going to vote for the speaker's plan. It strikes me that you want to stand on the principle, you're fighting for a principle, no tax increases for everyone, and the net result will be tax increases for everyone.

MULVANEY: And the reason that I was no on Plan B was that I was never convinced and still not convinced that the Senate was ever going to take it up. People seem to assume in these discussions that all the House had to do is pass this bill and it would be the end of the discussion. I believed from the very beginning and continue to believe that the president has no interest at all in not going over the cliff. He wants to go over the cliff. Everything I've looked at, everything I've seen coming out of the White House and out of the Senate--

CROWLEY: Why help him?

MULVANEY: What choice do we have? Passing Plan B the other night would not have changed the outcome. We were going to go over the cliff before. We're going to go over the cliff now because it's what the president wants. You cannot negotiate with someone who does not want to negotiate.

CROWLEY: Do you share -- I know you don't share his outlook on what you should have done with Plan B. Do you share the outlook that the president is not interested?

LATOURETTE: Well, I don't know if the president's not interested. I don't think the president has been serious. And we've done nothing.

CROWLEY: He did win.

LATOURETTE: No, no, no. He was serious about campaigning. He did win, and that's what Plan B was all about. The speaker made it clear. So, look, the president is the president. Nothing we can do about that, that's a fact. Also, taxes are going up on every American. That's a fact. But where the president has not been serious is the other side of the equation. He's all about taxes. He has this mandate, he says, on taxes. But the spending cuts that need to get us out of this mess, he hasn't been serious about those, and then that's unfortunate. And so, you know, I think where Mick and I may be part company is that this needs the big deal. I'm OK to say, president, you won. You can tax these rich people you seem to dislike so much, but, you know what? Come up with some spending cuts. We're borrowing a trillion dollars a year, and he's not.

CROWLEY: So, let me -- I want to show you one of our latest CNN/ORC polls, and the question was which party should compromise more? 53 percent thought the Republicans should compromise more, 41 percent said the Democrats. So it's not just that the president won. You've seen poll after poll. They are going to blame Republicans if their taxes go up. Do you really -- you don't want anyone's taxes to go up, and yet, you are admitting here, saying here, look, I think everybody's taxes are going to go up.

MULVANEY: I don't think it's a question of who should compromise more. We recognize the fact that in order to get to a compromise, both sides have to get on something they don't want. But the question, I think, is who is supposed to lead? I mean the president is the president. We talked about -- in fact, he just won an election and that's fine. It's not what Steve or I would have wanted, but it's the world we live in.

But shouldn't he be leading? Shouldn't the Senate be passing...


CROWLEY: He went to -- almost 500,000, 440 or something, I can't remember exactly. But he said, OK, let's lift the ceiling on those who will keep their taxes in place ...


CROWLEY: ... from 250 to 4-something ...

LATOURETTE: I've got to tell you , the president talks about a balanced deal. He has yet to propose one. And when the debt ceiling came up a year ago in August, he and the speaker were working on a big deal. This doesn't require just a tax equation.. This requires a big deal. And the only thing the president put on the table is chained CPI, which is $300 billion over ten years. And if you're looking ...

CROWLEY: It's adjusting how the cost of living is done for Social Security.


LATOURETTE: Yeah, we're borrowing a trillion, first of all. Second of all, this whole tax brouhaha -- we're fighting that on their turf. Raises $90 billion a year. That would run the government from the end of the fiscal year September 30th to Columbus Day. This is a bigger problem than that.

CROWLEY: But here's the thing. Yes, there was that -- the big deal that they seem to be so close to that you now want, but isn't the thing that scuttled that deal House Republicans?

LATOURETTE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Listen.

CROWLEY: Wasn't it that the speaker couldn't get you all behind him?

LATOURETTE: Nope. Nope. Nope.

CROWLEY: You all loved that deal?

MULVANEY: I am with Steve on that. No, no. Just we weren't the ones -- look, the deal -- what's on the table right now from the White House? Not the short-term fix the president offered the other day, but the big deal that we're talking about, which you just mentioned a few seconds ago. It was a dollar in tax increases for every 80 cents of spending reductions. What happened to the three to one deal, where is the five to one deal, where is the famous ten to one deal that was so popular during the questions on the Republican primary for president? Where have those deals gone? They're gone. The president was widely documented as having said during the first round of these discussions when he said, when Boehner said, well, I put $800 billion on the table. The president said, well, I get that for free, because I won the election. That's not a negotiation. The president is not serious about preventing us from going over the cliff. Candy, think about it. What happens if we go over the cliff? We get rid of the Bush era tax cuts, which the Democrats have never liked in the first place, and we've got the military, which is the holy grail to many folks in their party. So, I don't know why we are automatically assuming the president doesn't want to go over the cliff. I believe his actions, not his words, his actions say we're going over.

CROWLEY: Has the speaker lost control of the caucus?

LATOURETTE: Well, I'll let Mick speak to this one.

MULVANEY: No, and I get asked that a lot the last couple of days. I think that the vote on Thursday is being portrayed as a vote on leadership, and it wasn't.

It was a vote on a specific piece of legislation.

CROWLEY: Well, he couldn't get it done. I mean, isn't that at least a view into his leadership?

MULVANEY: Candy, what's not very widely reported, I think, is the broad base of opposition or at least the mix of the base of opposition. There were a lot of moderates who were against the plan on Thursday night. There was a lot of conservatives who are for the plan. This was not one of those fights that divided conservatives and moderates within the party. This was a legislation-specific vote and not a vote on leadership.

LATOURETTE: Well, and then I think John Boehner, who is a pretty good friend of mine, is an institutionalist. And he reached the conclusion that when you are faced within the intransigent White House, a Senate that doesn't seem to be able to get anything done, that we should save as many people as possible. And his argument was if you have, you know, a museum's on fire, there's 100 paintings in it, you can save 99 of them. Does that mean you shouldn't go in just because you can't save the 100th painting? And that's where we found ourselves the other night, and that's why I was happy to be supportive.

But you know, the reason that John Boehner has trouble managing the House Republican conference isn't a lack of leadership. It's because we have a lot of divergent opinions, and he lets people participate, which wasn't the case in the past.

CROWLEY: Right, and he's paying the price for that at the moment, because this clearly isn't what he wanted. Let me ask you, what's the strategy now in the House? Are you just going to let it go over the cliff? Is that it?

MULVANEY: It's up to the Senate.

CROWLEY: So yes, without Senate action, the House lets it go.

MULVANEY: The Democrats control the White House, they control the Senate. Where is their plan, where is their proposal?

CROWLEY: And have you been promised by Speaker Boehner that he will not put anything out there unless the majority of the majority in the Republican -- the majority of the majority of Republicans agrees with it?

MULVANEY: I have not heard that. LATOURETTE: No, I haven't either.

CROWLEY: That's been sort of one of those unwritten rules, so that's not--

LATOURETTE: The reason that it's unwritten is because it came about during the Hastert-DeLay administration, when you had to have the majority of the majority. Boehner hasn't operated in that manner. And if there was a deal that he thought could actually pass and achieve what needs to be achieved for America, and that is the revenue side plus the spending side, he'd put that on the floor and let the House work its will. And again, that's his greatest strength, it's also his greatest weakness, because that makes it a little bit difficult to run the House from time to time.

CROWLEY: Congressman LaTourette, Congressman Mulvaney, thank you for joining me this morning. Maybe we'll see you after Christmas. MULVANEY: Merry Christmas.

CROWLEY: Thank you.

We'll be right back.


CROWLEY: It was the week before the fiscal cliffmas, and all through the House, not a creature was stirring because they all left town.


OBAMA: As we leave town for a few days to be with our families for the holidays, I hope it gives everybody some perspective.

BOEHNER: The House would come back if needed. We're prepared to come back if needed.


CROWLEY: When we return, guns, the fiscal cliff and the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel.


CROWLEY: With me now, "Time" magazine executive editor Mike Duffy, "USA Today" Washington bureau chief Susan Page, and our CNN senior political analyst, Ron Brownstein, who also has a day job.


CROWLEY: Yes, indeed. Thank you all for being here. Let's just first talk about the fiscal cliff. Sort of off what we just learned from the congressmen. We're going over this thing. BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, with the failure of Plan B this week, there really are only two options. We're either going over the fiscal cliff, or the House is ultimately going to have to pass a bill that a majority of House Republicans oppose. And I think we all agree that the most significant thing we heard was that from Congressman LaTourette that John Boehner wasn't necessarily wed to what is known as the Hastert rule, the informal rule from the Hastert-DeLay era that says that the leadership will not bring a bill to the floor unless it has not only a majority overall, but support from the majority of the majority. It's clear that the Venn diagrams don't overlap. There's no bill that can get a majority of House Republicans that President Obama would sign. It's pretty clear after last week. So either we're going over the cliff, or they are going to have to pass a bill through the House primarily with Democratic votes.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: You know, I've long thought that we are going to have a deal, maybe not -- maybe a small deal, not a dig deal. I don't think that anymore after this morning. I think it's more likely we're going over the cliff. And the calculation is that the effect of doing that, the effect on the economy, the effect of the sense that Washington can't govern itself, is not so devastating that that is an unthinkable possibility on either side. I mean, that's what we heard from these Republican House members, that's what we're also hearing from the White House, that it is not so catastrophic that you can't consider going over the cliff.

CROWLEY: So we've been told all along, this is going to be horrific, we're going to go into recession. The unemployment is going to shoot up, and now, oh, it's not that big of a deal.

MIKE DUFFY, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, it depends on what happens. If they turn around very quickly and then find the votes to do something larger, then it won't be. But what's happened here this week I think that's important is we have gone from talking about a fairly large deal, $3, $4 trillion, that would really take some long-term sort of whacks at the deficit problem to talk about something really fairly small here over the next five or six days, just raising the taxes on -- and no real entitlement cuts.

LaTourette said when he left that there would be Republican votes in the House for this measure if there was a spending piece, and he said it had to be about 2:1. That is not on the table yet, so they have a ways to go, even to get to that arrangement, and so I think it will be, you know--


BROWNSTEIN: But the world on the other side of the cliff is probably more difficult for Republicans than Democrats, because as you pointed out in your question, if there is stalemate, taxes go up on everyone. You know, I mean, that would take it -- there are some people that say that's the best outcome, going back to the Clinton tax rates. The economy was pretty good in the 1990s. It takes a huge bite out of the deficit, and we're concerned about that, but on balance, neither side at least wants to do that today. But, you know, for Republicans, I think it's a tougher pill to swallow, and I think many people expect, as Michael is suggesting, that even if you go over the cliff, they will come back and then have to agree to extend the tax rates for everybody below some number.

CROWLEY: That debt deal turns out to have been brilliant or something.

PAGE: And you (inaudible) -- what starts to really matter at that point is the Simpson-Bowles commission, which President Obama didn't want to appoint, and then didn't pay any attention to, I think that suddenly becomes front and center. The blueprint for how we move again.

These two guys took on a task that we thought was kind of a fool's errand, what happens to these commissions, nothing. I think we go back to them.

CROWLEY: Let me talk just a second about that dynamic between Senator Reid and Senator McConnell, because now it's like, OK, ball is in your court, guys. Are these two capable of coming up with something that probably the Senate could pass, but more importantly, that the House would also pass?

DUFFY: Well, they are going to have to try by New Year's Eve here.

CROWLEY: Three days, four days.

DUFFY: It's interesting that Senator Reid said he would like Governor Neal Abercrombie of Hawaii to appoint the replacement for Daniel anyway. Obviously Reid thinks he's going to need that vote, which means they aren't sure they're going to be able to move that through the Senate. I think they probably will, but then it goes back to the House where they have this other problem.

But we have a Senate sort of chapter here before New Year's Eve and then it goes back. I'm not optimistic about either. I think this has gotten harder on both scores.

BROWNSTEIN: Look, we're dealing with parties that are operating in separate realities. The vast majority of Republicans won with 55 percent or above. They are kind of barricaded into safe districts. They are largely immune to the demographic currents that have made it so hard to win the White House. You have Democrats who kind of look at this and say, wow, President Obama gave up too much in his final offer when he went up to $400,000 on the taxes. And you know, both sides -- I mean, this is kind of we've had decades of polarization and you are seeing on the debt ceiling and this, it is just very hard to find the bridges between these parties that are representing very different Americas, very different coalitions.

CROWLEY: But they're also sort of looking at the possibility of going back to the minority and couple years in the minority tends to cure purists after a while.

DUFFY: You would hope. One thing that also did not happen this week is the Democrats really could not come to any conclusion about cuts in spending they would want to make. They made some offers, pulled them back almost within 24 hours. That party is as hard over on spending as the Republicans are on taxes.

CROWLEY: We haven't actually seen, we have watched and they're both arguing the other's issue. You know...

PAGE: We kept thinking a couple weeks ago, we said, just not time yet. They never do anything. We are now at the time. And it does not feel like anybody is moving toward a deal.

BROWNSTEIN: It feels like we're in a different era, you know, in the old days, even the '80s and 90s you came to the cliff and there was Bob Dole and Pete Domenici and George Mitchell and they found a way back. And now it is just much more difficult. The polarization is much more entrenched and it's just harder for these parties to come together, even when they feel the alternative is worse.

PAGE: They no longer feel like the alternative is worse. Now both sides seem to feel the alternative is better than what I'm going to get if we act in the next 10 days. CROWLEY: Let me ask you, I want to move you to guns real quickly. I mean this -- I mean, there's so much going on with the fiscal cliff, it's hard to imagine they're going to jump in to this gun debate really any time soon. I think people say, oh, we're going to act now on guns. Well, now is a relative term on Capitol Hill. When will that happen?

DUFFY: That can mean any time in the next decade. We saw the president try to buy some time this week by appointing his task force, putting Joe Biden in charge of it. If I'd had his first meeting, it was interesting that his first meeting was with cops. I'd suspect his second and third meeting will be with cops because there aren't a lot of other people to meet.

It'll be a long time, as Senator Lieberman said, before they actually we have -- what is required to pass something, that could be months.

PAGE: But look at the -- your interview with Congressman Hutchinson and the with NRA press conference on Friday. That made it clear that Americans agree that what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary is unspeakable and terrible and a tragedy. There is no consensus on what to do next. And that news conference underscored the fact that that divide has not gotten any narrower in the wake of that tragedy.

BROWNSTEIN: There is no consensus, but there has been no debate. And I think that's going to change. Democrats, I think, have been paralyzed by a myth. Gun control is is facing, you know, there is not as much support for gun control as there was 20 years ago, but the deterioration has been primarily among the groups that they are struggling with anyway. Within the half of the electorate that is open for voting for a Democrat, for president in particular, there is still significant support for gun control. Pew this week, two-thirds of minorities, 60 percent of college educated white women, gun control over gun rights, still an audience, not a consensus.

CROWLEY: OK, I have got 30 seconds. So I really need a yes or a no. If the president nominates Chuck Hagel to be the next Pentagon chief, will he be approved in the U.S. Senate?


PAGE: Yes.

CROWLEY: OK. Unanimity. Happy.

Happy holidays, thank you, all. Ron Brownstein, Susan Page, Mike Duffy, I appreciate it.

When we return, another Kennedy eyes the Senate seat in Massachusetts.


CROWLEY: Before we leave, a check of the headlines. South Korean officials say that rocket launched by North Korea earlier this month shows the reclusive nation has developed the technology to fire a warhead capable of reaching the United States. Despite international condemnations the launch was seen as a boost to the credibility of North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un.

Italy has pulled itself out of the debt crisis, according to outcoming Prime Minister Mario Monti. Monti is widely credited with saving Italy from a financial meltdown after stepping into the prime minister's role following the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi last year. Monti's resignation sparked concern that Italy may slip back into a recession.

President Obama and members of the senate will gather later today to say good-bye to one of their own, Senator Daniel Inouye, who has served as Hawaii's senator since almost since its statehood. Inouye died last week of respiratory complications. He was 88. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called on Hawaii's Governor Neil Abercrombie to quickly appoint a successor before the end of the year.

Ted Kennedy Jr., son of the late Edward Kennedy, is considering a run for John Kerry's Senate seat, that's according to his brother, former congressman Patrick Kennedy. The Boston Globe reports that Ted has reached out to family members, friends and some prominent Democrats including John Kerry about the possible run. He would most likely face off against former Senator Scott Brown who lost his seat to Elizabeth Warren in the November elections.

Thank you so much for watching State of the Union. Have a safe holiday season. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Head to for analysis and extras. And if you missed any part of today's show, find us on iTunes, just search State of the Union.

From all of us here at State of the Union, again, we wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season. Fareed Zakaria GPS is next for our viewers here in the United States.