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State of the Union
Interview with Mark Udall; Interview with John McCain; Interview with Elijah Cummings
Aired June 09, 2013 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: Chances are pretty good that the feds have got your number and the one you've called.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Today, tracking down bad guys versus protecting the civil liberties of everyone else.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can complain about Big Brother, but when you actually look at the details, then, I think we've struck the right balance.
CROWLEY: Democratic senator, Mark Udall and Republican senator, John McCain, on government spying and the balance between security and privacy.
Plus, the search for who decided to give extra IRS scrutiny to groups with Tea Party or patriot in their name.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The indication is they were directly being ordered from Washington.
CROWLEY: This Sunday, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings, gives us his take on who knew what when.
And is any work getting done? Our panel on the impact of multiple controversies on the nation's agenda and the Obama legacy.
I'm Candy Crowley, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.
CROWLEY (on-camera): The breadth of the federal government's data gathering took many people by surprise this week, but not my first guest, Democratic senator, Mark Udall, a member of the intelligence committee has been worried about this for years what we should say you are restricted in what you can say since you sit on the intelligence committee, you have knowledge you can't share with us.
So, I know you're being careful with your words, but there are things out there. So, let me first ask you. The president says I think when you look at this up close, we have a balance. Let's take this one program at a time. There is the gathering of the so-called phone metadata, which is information about information. So that is -- you know, what number called, what number for how long. It seems as though nearly every phone used by a U.S. citizen has been gathered up. Is that a correct assumption?
UDALL: Candy, I come from this at the start acknowledging that terrorism is still a real threat, that we have to protect the American people. At the same time, I also believe the bill of rights is one of the most powerful tools or even weapons that we have in this fight. As you pointed out, I have called for a number of years now for the intelligence community to be more forthcoming about the amount of data they're collecting on Americans.
And in particular, you talked about metadata. The fact that every call I make to my friends, to my family is noted, where I am, the length of it, the date, that concerns me, particularly, because Americans didn't know this. That's why I'm calling for a reopening of the Patriot Act. That's why I'm calling for a wholesome debate all over the country.
Maybe Americans think this is OK, but I think the line has been drawn too far towards we're going to invade your privacy versus we're going to respect your privacy.
CROWLEY: But, senator, there are no names attached to these numbers. These are numbers only that a computer searches through for weird patterns for something out of the ordinary. You know, this person calls this person, calls this person. That kind of thing. So -- and as I understand it, people are not, at this point, looking at this. This is going -- been gone over by computers.
And that if the U.S. wants to listen-in on any phone calls, they have to go back to a court. Is that correct?
UDALL: The concern I have, Candy, is you're right. But if you think about that block of data, when you call, where you call, you can extrapolate a lot of what's going on. And we have contracts with the phone companies and we understand they're going to keep these records, but phone companies can't charge you, jail you, prosecute you, essentially, incarcerate you. So, there's a different standard here.
I expect the government to protect my privacy. And it feels like that isn't what's been happening. Again, there's a line, but to me, the scale of it and the fact the law was being secretly interpreted has long concerned me. I'm glad we're having this debate. I'm very worried, by the way, about the leaks. I abhor leaks.
I wish the administration had been more transparent. But, again, this is an important discussion. We value our privacy as Americans. It's a part of our freedoms and liberties.
CROWLEY: What's the danger now that this -- what information we have seen in public is out there? What's the danger of knowing that the NSA is gathering up all phone information in the U.S. and that it has an internet program to get information from foreigners? What's the harm? UDALL: Yes. My concern is this is vast. We haven't -- it hasn't been proven that it works. Uniquely valuable intelligence hasn't been proven to disrupted plots. And finally, it's only another step to take that computer data and involved human beings and further taking a look at it. It's the scale of this that really concerns me and the fact that the American public doesn't know about it.
The American public decides this is OK, then that's where we could be. But right now, it's been basically a secret program. The law hasn't been shared in the way it's being applied. That's what I've been pushing for the last two years.
CROWLEY: Now, the DNI has said this program has, in fact, thwarted terrorist attacks. Mike Rogers of the House Intelligence Committee said he knows specifically of an attack that was thwarted through the phone program now we're talking about. You don't believe that? You haven't seen that as a member of the intelligence committee?
UDALL: I think the data is unclear. There's clearly indications that the 702 program, the so-called prism program that you're aware of --
CROWLEY: That's the internet program -- but it's on foreign entities.
UDALL: It surveils foreigners and foreign entities. But, by the way, that sweeps up Americans as well. We could have the another conversation about that. But it's unclear to me that we've developed any intelligence through the metadata program that's led to the disruption of plots that we could have developed through other data and other intelligence.
We ought to, again, have that discussion. It's hard for me to sit here without further declassification this information to make the case, but I'm not convinced that the collection of this vast trove of data has led to disruption of plots.
CROWLEY: We heard the president say this week, no one is listening in on your phone calls. Let me just take that one step further. Is anyone recording the phone calls of Americans around whom there is no suspicion?
UDALL: On the metadata program, the 205 program -- excuse me, Candy, it's 215. A lot of numbers flying around. On 215, everything I know is that it's metadata being collected. On the 702 program, the so-called prism program, content is being intercepted and Americans are being swept up in that program.
And I've been calling for a clear policy there as well, but my focus this week has been on all the phone records that are being accumulated without Americans knowledge.
CROWLEY: One of the things we went back and looked at was the FISA court that was set up to make sure that when the government wants to go specifically look at something that they have court approval for it. There were almost 1,800 applications for authority to conduct electronic surveillance last year. Forty of them were modified by the courts, but none of them were turned down. What does that say to you about the court?
UDALL: The court is operating under the law. The court is operating under the direction, if you will, of the law. The administration works with the court. My concern isn't so much with the court, but it's with the law and the way it's being interpreted and the way in which the NSA then collects millions of records on a daily basis of Americans calls. That's where my focus is.
We could, if we change the law, Candy, then direct the FISA court to operate in a different way. It is one of the checks and balances that's in place, but I think the ultimate check, the ultimate balance is the American public understanding to what extent their personal phone calls are being collected, even if only in this category of metadata.
CROWLEY: Finally, senator, the problem I think with discussion about security and safety is nobody wants to be the person that says you can collect this much information, but not this much. And then, to find out that had we just collected a little more we could have stopped something. How do you take that on when, as you say, if you want to reopen the Patriot Act and figure that out?
You don't want to be the guy that says don't collect the information that later we learned would have been useful.
UDALL: Yes, but I also don't want to be the guy that as President Adams did put the alien and sedition acts in place and they were later seen to be an overreach. I don't want to be the guy that in turn Japanese-Americans as World War II began. I don't want to be the guy that approved the warn (ph) as wiretapping at the Bush administration.
There is a balance here. We've proven that we can be safe, but we can also respect our civil liberties and the bill of rights. That's why this discussion is so important. That's why I'm proud to be an American. We're able to have these debates. The intelligence committee ought to be confident they can make the case and prevail. But let's have the debate, let's have this discussion, let's not have this law interpreted secretly like it has been for a number of years now.
CROWLEY: Senator Mark Udall, thank you for joining us this morning.
UDALL: Thank you, Candy.
CROWLEY: When we return, government surveillance immigration reform and so much more. Arizona senator, John McCain, is next.
CROWLEY: Joining me now is Republican senator, John McCain. Let's go to the subject du jour and that is these two programs connected by the NSA, one which as far as we can tell, sweeps up every phone number in the U.S. and records what number calls what number for how long and where.
And then, this second program that is supposed to leave Americans out of it that is bringing in foreign intelligence and then collating that and looking for patterns. Anything bother you about this?
MCCAIN: No, not really. Although, perhaps, we ought to review all of it again. I think we have to understand this issue in the context of what also has been going on. Americans suspicions have been aroused about the IRS problem, the idea of drones is an issue, Benghazi, the Associated Press.
There's a feeling out there, particularly, the IRS one that the government is getting too big and too intrusive, and then, along comes this issue. I don't think the 535 members of Congress should be briefed on every program that our government is engaged in. That's why we have intelligence committees. Second of all, there has been criticism on the part of people like me about us not doing enough.
The Boston bombers, obviously, were communicating with people. Obviously, they left and we either didn't know it or only one agency knew it. They didn't know -- so, it's a careful balance between individual liberty and responsibilities. I believe that the FISA court system is an appropriate way of reviewing some of these policies.
You pointed out that almost none of the proposals the administration has been overturned -- or turned down by the FISA court. That's either because they've made a strong enough case or the FISA court is a rubber stamp.
CROWLEY: Which is it?
MCCAIN: You know, I'm not sure. But I do believe that if this was September 12th, 2001, we might not be having the argument that we are having today. And, yes, perhaps, there has been some overreach, but to somehow think that because we are like having phone calls recorded as far as their length and who they were talking to, I don't think that that is necessarily wrong if they want to go further and they have to go to this court. Now, if this debate --
CROWLEY: Do you think most Americans were aware that every phone call they made with their name not attached, so their number and the number they called and the duration of that call and when it was called, and perhaps, where the call was from and to is recorded. Do you think Americans knew that?
MCCAIN: I don't think they knew that. I don't think they know a lot of things that the government is doing in our effort to counter --
CROWLEY: But you see how it kind of -- I mean, the people might look at that and go whoa, whoa, wait.
MCCAIN: As long as the source of the call, the people talking to, the subject of the call is only obtained through going to court. But they are recruiting people every day over the internet into their cause. Look at what happened to the Boston --
CROWLEY: Terrorists you mean?
CROWLEY: -- which is -- yes. But honestly, this program, the prism program as they call it, you know, looks for intelligence overseas, you know, via the internet wouldn't have caught Tamerlan Tsarnaev because it doesn't apply to people in the U.S. So --
MCCAIN: Mr. Awlaki was recruiting people through the internet and possibly through phone calls back and forth to the United States of America, but I don't claim to defend everything that the government is doing. But I am saying that the threat is growing, not diminishing in my view.
When you look at the things that are going on around the world, whether it be Iran, whether it be what's happening in Syria, Iraq unraveling, the whole Northern Africa in a state of near chaos depending on what country you're talking about, so I think the threat is getting worse. Now, --
CROWLEY: And worth the price to --
MCCAIN: Well, worth the price. It's a balancing act that we have --
CROWLEY: But is it the balances there at the moment?
MCCAIN: Well, it requires --
MCCAIN: I think it's entirely appropriate that we have Congressional review, that we have executive review. And we take the case to the American people to some degree as so what we are doing.
CROWLEY: Right. And do you think because there's been certainly DNI has pushed back very hard on the idea that these leaks are damaging, that terrorists are learning things from these leaks. So, how are we going to have the open discussion the president wants while the DNI is saying, you know, terrorists are running from this?
MCCAIN: Mark Udall was one -- made a very strong case for his view on this issue, and others members of the intelligence committees. We do place these responsibilities in the intelligence committee. That's what Congress does. They don't think 535 people should be involved.
But in this issue, and since it has arisen, maybe we ought to involve every member of Congress. But we ought to be careful that we don't -- are not discussing practices that we employ that would help the enemy evade our detection and apprehension.
CROWLEY: Senator Rand Paul called this surveillance -- the phone surveillance an assault on the constitution. MCCAIN: Right. Just prior to the Boston bombing, he said the battlefield was no longer in America. He's the only one that voted that Iran must not be just contained in pursuit of nuclear weapons. I disagree. And I think --
MCCAIN: Could I just say the Republican and Democrat chairs -- majorities, members of intelligence committee have been very well briefed on these programs. We passed the Patriot Act. We passed specific provisions of the act that allowed for this program to take place to be enacted in operation.
Now, if members of Congress did not know what they were voting on, then I think that that's their responsibility a lot more than it is the government's.
CROWLEY: Let me move you to two other subjects I want to get you on. You were just out in Guantanamo Bay with the president's chief of staff and Sen. Dianne Feinstein. What are you bringing back from that? Are you read to now say we can take some of these prisoners and put them in a super max here in the U.S.?
MCCAIN: I have said that for the last five years, but we have to have a plan. And unfortunately, for the last four years, there was no specific plan. There was also resistance in Congress also. For example, a person you've had on this show a lot, Dick Durbin -- Sen. Dick Durbin said that there's a facility in Illinois that we can move them to.
We're going to have to look at the whole issue, including give them more periodic review of their cases.
CROWLEY: So, are you going to help develop a plan?
MCCAIN: Sure. Yes.
MCCAIN: Senator Lindsey Graham and I have been working with them. And we've been working with them for years. But they have been stuck because of various interests within the administration.
CROWLEY: So, you're no closer to having a plan or closing?
MCCAIN: I think that most Americans are more ready than they were some years ago. By the way, it costs $1.5 million per inmate per year to keep them in Guantanamo. I think my fiscal conservative friends might be interested in that.
CROWLEY: And finally, I want to know this subject very near and dear to your heart, you wanted to talk about Syria (ph). And you have received a message from some of the resistance groups there.
MCCAIN: Well, I got a call from General Idriss, the commander of the free Syrian army. Hezbollah is slaughtering people. This key city called Qusayr that the wounded have been removed to villages. They're now moving into those villages and massacring the wounded fighters. Hezbollah is fighting in many areas of Syria. The Iranians are in more. The Russian weapons are flying in.
It's a totally unfair flight and the slaughter is going on. And all of those people have said it's inevitable that Bashar al-Assad will fall, remember that? Now, he's winning. Thanks to the Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah.
CROWLEY: But with the Russians and the Iranians in there, couldn't you make a case, whoa, this is something the U.S. needs to stay out of.
MCCAIN: If you're willing to sit by and see tens of thousands of people massacred and tortured and mass raped and murdered, if you're willing to sit by and watch that, the greatest and strongest nation in the world is incapable of doing anything about that, if you accept that, yes.
CROWLEY: And really quickly, do you see any sign that the president is softening his stance on arming the rebel? MCCAIN: I think there's a review going on, particularly, with this involvement in Hezbollah. I mean, that's an invasion and the Iranians and the Russians being even stepping up their assistance, which is interesting. I think they ought to call the Geneva meeting in Munich, not in Geneva.
CROWLEY: Sen. John McCain, thanks for coming by.
MCCAIN: Thank you.
CROWLEY: Was the IRS' target of conservative -- targeting of conservative groups orchestrated by Washington? The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Darrell Issa, thinks so. His ranking member, Elijah Cummings, has a different opinion, and he is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R) CHMN., OVERSIGHT AND GOVT. REFORM COMMITTEE: This is a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters. And, we're getting to proving it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: That, of course, is the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sharing his thoughts last week about the IRS scandal. I am joined now by the committee's top Democrat. He is Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland.
Congressman, I find myself in the same situation I was in last week with Congressman Issa and that is that you have provided me with excerpts from interviews that the committee has done and nobody will give me the whole transcript. What is the problem here with you giving me the whole transcript or Congressman Issa, because it does -- in the end it kind of becomes everybody's version of the truth.
CUMMINGS: Candy, I have asked Chairman Issa to release those transcripts to the public. I want every syllable of those transcripts to be released. He's the chairman. Now, I can tell you, I understand that he agreed to release them a week ago. And, I guess you still haven't gotten them based upon what you just said.
CROWLEY: I haven't, but don't you have them, too?
CUMMINGS: We have them, but again, let me be clear. I wrote Chairman Issa on Thursday and I wrote to him this morning, I want those transcripts to be released. But he's the chairman of the committee. We're not in power. Now, if he does not release them, I will. Period.
CUMMINGS: But again, I have to --
CROWLEY: Can we have a deadline?
CUMMINGS: I'm sorry.
CROWLEY: Can we have some date by which we could get them do you think?
CUMMINGS: Well, I will talk to the chairman again. I've written him and begged him to release the transcripts. I want them released. The only thing I would say is I do want redactions of names of some people who are employees (ph), but other than that, I think every syllable should be released. And, I can tell you, I'm willing to come on your show next week with the chairman with the transcripts if he agrees to do that. But if he doesn't, I'll release them by the end of the week.
CROWLEY: All right. We will check-in with both of you then. Let me now put up for our audience with the caveat that these are parts of an interview that you all had released to us. And this is a Cincinnati IRS manager of the screening group. So, in other words, the folks that were picking out Tea Party applications for tax exempt status. This is their boss in Cincinnati and some of the Q&A with Congressional investigators.
Question, "in your opinion, was it decision to screen and centralized the review of Tea Party cases the targeting of the president's political enemies?" Answer, "I do not believe that the screening of these cases had anything to do other than consistency and identifying issues that needed to have further development."
Question, "Do you have any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to screen Tea Party cases?" Answer, "I have no reason to believe that." In some ways, this is reminiscent to me of some of the things that Chairman Issa gave me, which is there's really not a way that this manager could know whether there was White House involvement. So, this is their opinion.
But we still haven't kind of gotten to the -- the crux of the problem here, which is who wrote the BOLO, be on the look out for, that said look for Tea -- you know, names of Tea Party or Patriot? Who wrote that?
CUMMINGS: OK. Let's back up first, Candy. One of the things you did not say just now is that this man was the manager of the Cincinnati group that reviewed the exemption process.
CUMMINGS: Listen up now. He was a 21-year veteran of the IRS. And he was -- he described himself in the interviews in response to a Republican attorney's question as a conservative Republican. Very significant. He is a conservative Republican working for the IRS. I think this interview and these statements go a long way to what's showing that the White House was not involved in this. We knew that -- and this is the guy by the way, this conservative 21-year veteran of IRS is the same one who sent the initial case, the Tea Party case, up to the Washington technical office.
CUMMINGS: To have it reviewed. It had not been requested by the Washington technical office of IRS.
CUMMINGS: Very significant.
CROWLEY: Well, but even a conservative Republican in Cincinnati wouldn't actually know what the White House had on its brain or what - or even probably what the IRS and Washington had. That's my only point. But there's not a definitiveness to this in the sense that I'm trying to figure out if anybody in the interview so far has said I wrote the BOLO. That said pull out Tea Party applications? Who is that person?
CUMMINGS: Nobody. Again, it started -- this thing started with this guy -- it was started with a screener in his unit. The screener has -- it started with a Tea Party case, one Tea Party case in 2010 --
CROWLEY: Do you know what case that was by the way? It was just described as high profile. What does that mean?
CUMMINGS: High profile. That means it's a case that is unique. They believe that it would set precedent -- whatever decision they made would set precedent. And they wanted to make sure that it was handled in a way whereby whenever cases came behind it that were similar that they would be treated in a consistent way. This is very significant. And so the screener - a screener looked at this first case and then he takes it to his boss, the Republican conservative.
CROWLEY: Right. CUMMINGS: And he says, boss, you know, this looks like a high profile case. Here's an organization that wants tax exempt status, but they want to be involved in political activity.
CUMMINGS: His boss, the conservative Republican, says look, you know what? I'm going to send this up to the Washington technical office because we want to get it right. In his interview, Candy, he said over and over again I want it to be consistent. So that's how all of this got started. Period.
CROWLEY: Right. But there still was somebody somewhere after that wrote a BOLO and said, you know, hey, let's pull out the Tea Party. That's what I was trying to get to. Final question I have to ask you, and that is as far as you are concerned based on the information that you now have, which in its totality is greater than ours, is this case over? Have you solved the case of the IRS and how this came to be?
CUMMINGS: Based upon everything I've seen the case is solved. And if it were me, I would wrap this case up and move on to be frank with you. In other words, I think we need to make -- the IRS by the way, the I.G. made some recommendations. Those recommendations are being adopted by the IRS. We've got a new commissioner in -- acting commissioner.
CUMMINGS: Danny Werfel's doing a great job. I think we're in great shape.
CROWLEY: Changes but you think the investigation is over you know enough. Thank you so much. Congressman Cummings, we appreciate it. Have a good Sunday.
CUMMINGS: Thank you.
CROWLEY: When we return, are missteps putting the president's second term agenda at risk? Our political panel weighs in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If people can't trust not only the executive branch but also don't trust Congress and don't trust federal judges to make sure that we're abiding by the constitution, due process and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Joining me now, Amy Walter, national editor of the "Cook Political Report," former Virginia congressman Tom Davis and former Florida congressman Robert Wexler, Republican and Democrat, respectively. Thank you for joining us.
I want to start out by doing a little then and now with the president. And the first is the president talking about the Bush administration. And then second is the president just this past Friday. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide.
I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs, but my assessment and my team's assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: The oval office is really different than the campaign trail.
FORMER REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: You campaign in poetry, you govern in pose.
CROWLEY: Especially in day and times. But isn't this a problem for the president, or do you think everyone understands? Because clearly he had problems with, and it was -- warrantless wiretaps of the Bush administration, but this is a huge amount of information that they are gathering from you and me.
DAVIS: I think it's a problem for his political base because part of his base supported him on these issues and now it looks like he's kind of changed course on this. From a political point of view I think it hurts him in that way. I think the average American is probably not as disturbed about this. They're more concerned about the IRS and some of the other issues.
CROWLEY: He didn't really need his base, did he?
WALTER: Well and his base isn't going anywhere. I mean he has a trading range that's like this. He has everybody who's with him, his base is going to stick with him. The people who don't like him no matter what he does, he could come up with a cure for cancer won't like him. So I don't think he has to worry about that. I think the bigger issue for other politicians who are now beating their chest and hindering about this is, OK, so what would you have done? Would you have voted for something that either opens this up or restricted the ability to do this sort of surveillance? They wouldn't do that because they know it would be used against them in a campaign to make them look like they were soft on terrorism.
CROWLEY: This is a tough one for Democrats because I don't know if you heard Senator Udall at the top but he really worries the way -- the phone gathering metadata from the phone calls is way too broad.
ROBERT WEXLER (D), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Well, there are reasonable concerns, but I don't think this is tough for Democrats at all. The president has struck exactly the right balance between security -
CROWLEY: (INAUDIBLE) for some Democrats clearly.
WEXLER: Well, I consider myself a part of the Democratic base.
WEXLER: I'm perfectly comfortable with where President Obama has laid down that delicate balance. But, Candy, you also made a very important distinction that is note worthy. And that is that President Obama did make a change, versus the manner in which the Bush administration went about these things by requiring no longer using warrantless searches but employing the judicial system as it was approved by congress. And I'm not criticizing the Bush administration. That was after 9/11. It was a different period. But the president has in fact -- president Obama, followed through in terms of making appropriate changes.
CROWLEY: So if you look at the totality of what has hit us over the last month, OK, you have the IRS, we have the A.P. leaks investigation by the Justice Department the sort of ongoing questions about Benghazi and now this. Has there started to be an effect on the president's agenda or on congress's agenda? The question is are they getting worked out? WEXLER: If you ask me, the president's position will be largely determined by the economy. And that hasn't changed. Markets are out there either historic or near historic levels. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been pumped into the American economy in all different parts. Housing is back, the longevity of Medicare and Social Security is improving, the federal budget picture is improving. These issues --
CROWLEY: So that sort of an argument to do nothing, right? Things are improving.
WEXLER: Well no. It's an argument to continue along the moderated balance path that President Obama has pursued. But it's also an understanding that these issues as important as they are not going to deliver some kind of dramatic change to the president's ability to fulfill his other desires for the rest of his term.
DAVIS: (INAUDIBLE) bring this back and go over the president's base. He's not running again, so we need to understand that. But you do have a midterm -- the sixth year of his midterm, traditionally those aren't great times for administrations. And the fact that part of his base does get this effect it does have an impact on enthusiasm, turnout base. This narrative I think fuels the conservative base going back to the health care issue, the Obama Care and all of these other issues, how can they carry this out? So I think this is going to have ramifications.
WALTER: I think the other issue is regardless had any of these things happened, the president was already going to have a difficult time pushing an agenda through because of what happened in the last election. Look we have an incredibly polarized electorate. We have a Congress that now has very few members who sit in the opposite or wrong district. They don't have any incentive to support the president if they're a Republican. They don't have any reason to vote against the president and the House if they're a Democrat. You have red state Democrats who are up in the Senate who are very nervous about an agenda that the president was putting forward because they don't think it really relates to the issues in their state. So my point being I think there would have been -- this is a difficult time for the president regardless of what happened with all of these different issues.
CROWLEY: I'm going to give you a chance to chime in on this. I have to take a quick break, but it sounds a little bit like, hey, this is actually good for Republicans. Because what it does most of all is not deflate the president's base but inflate the Republican base. But we'll talk about that when we get back.
CROWLEY: We are back with Amy Walter, Tom Davis and Robert Wexler. Thank you. I promised you the first last word on the president, his power and how any of this if it does affects midterm.
WEXLER: Well I think Tom makes a valid point. Midterm elections give a second term president oftentimes great fits. However to the extent that the Democratic base has been somewhat put at ease or less than at ease with what's happening, this week Democratic base voters will see what the real Republican party unfortunately is still about in the immigration debate. And what they will find is a Democratic Party that's following through on its - on its pledge to reform in a very comprehensive way immigration, there will be moderate Republicans who standup with great courage for that goal but they will likely be a substantial amount of Republicans who think otherwise. So about the Democratic base, they will be reinvigorated this week likely whatever happens. If it passes, it's a legacy issue for the president. If it doesn't, it will probably fail because of the more extreme views in the Republican party.
WALTER: And that won't hurt the party -- the Republican party at the at all in 2014. In fact they can still pick up seats in 2014 without doing any of this. It's a problem for 2016. So the national narrative and the congressional narrative are very different.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very, very different.
CROWLEY: Parse it for us. How will it play out? I mean we could go back to many shows (INAUDIBLE) oh they're going to get immigration reform. They will have it by August. Now I'm thinking, I don't think so.
DAVIS: I agree with Amy, 2014, bad behavior can still be rewarded. You take a look at the house is structurally Republican. And that isn't going to change. In fact it's an advantage Republicans with (ph) slight pickups -- just taking a look at the landscape at this point. You've got seven Democratic seats in strong Romney states at this point. Republicans need six to take the Senate. So Democrats very much on the defensive. Any cracks in their coalition whether liberals, civil libertarians leaving or whatever and Republican enthusiasm close that gap.
CROWLEY: Just quickly. What about the notion of Republicans, "overplaying their hand"? I think you're seeing now more and more being sort of thrown at Darrell Issa from the Democrats, you know, and trying to sort of move -- saying the Republicans are just this -- all political things in a way that goes toward what they would like the narrative to be, which is remember these Republicans, they always go too far.
WALTER: The issue is not so much are they overplaying their hand and getting to the place where we were in 1998 with impeachment and things like that. The issue to me is that Republicans have yet to make the case for Republicans. They do a good job making a case against the president and Democrats. With their approval ratings where they are the need to - which are very low, Republicans they need to start making the case for who they are and what they want to get done. Unfortunately for Republicans I don't think that happens until 2016 when they have the -
CROWLEY: They have somebody to lead them out of the -- DAVIS: Well, in fact if they try to be who they are in 2014, it probably doesn't help them. They balanced government -- three-fourth of the time since 1980 we've had divided government. Voters vote to balance because they don't trust either party. My constituents elected me in 1994 to protect them from Bill Clinton. And then in '96, they reelected Clinton to protect them from me. They really like -
CROWLEY: There is a balance to life, isn't there? (INAUDIBLE)
DAVIS: They don't like either party, exactly.
CROWLEY: Let me just quickly because I don't have much time left. Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, had a vacant seat, Frank Lautenberg died. He could have appointed someone for a year and a half, put a Republican in that seat, really make Republicans here happy. Or he could have had an election, when Christie's election is coming up in this November that would have made Democrats happy because it would have turned out Democrats. Instead, he did something that made no one happy which is scheduling different time ahead of his election. What did the decision tell us about Chris Christie?
WALTER: Chris Christie is about Chris Christie. Now, every politician is about themselves. But Chris Christie is very much about getting elected in New Jersey. What he's doing is going to help him get elected in New Jersey. What he's doing, though, nationally in terms of a potential 2016 candidate, this does not help.
DAVIS: I agree with that. But look, I don't think we have any concept how difficult it is for Republicans in New Jersey. CROWLEY: Right. Exactly. So why would (INAUDIBLE).
DAVIS: He's taking every effort that he can to make sure that he's reelected.
CROWLEY: But this I guess was so transparent, what was going on. You've got the last word here.
DAVIS: Because the voters don't care.
WEXLER: I'm not quite so cynical. Yes, all the personal reasons, but he's actually doing what most Americans would view as good government. It makes sense. It's not so partisan. What's wrong with that?
CROWLEY: I love an optimist. Congressman Wexler, Congressman Davis, Amy Walter, thank you so much. When we return, after months of tension and threats of nuclear launches North Korea extends an olive branch to their neighbors to the south/ (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CROWLEY: Time to get you up to speed on the day's headlines. Police have identified the gunman in the Santa Monica, California shooting that left four people dead. 24-year-old John Zawahri killed his father and brother before carjacking a woman and opening fire on a public bus, Friday. Zawahri was later killed by police at Santa Monica College. Sources say the gunman had a history of mental health problems and they say there is no link to domestic or international terrorism.
At least 28 people are dead after clashes between protesters and the Libyan government backed militia in the city of Benghazi. The violence began Saturday when protesters attacked the militia's headquarters. Libyan authorities are calling for calm at least 55 people were injured in the fighting.
Signs of a thaw in tensions along the Korean peninsula. North and South Korean government officials today held their first talks in several years. On Friday, the North reconnected a hotline between the two countries that it had cut in a dispute over its nuclear program. The two Koreas are scheduled to hold more talks later this week.
President Obama and China's leader Xi Jinping have wrapped up a two day summit that the president described as terrific. The two leaders met in Palm Springs, California on a range of issues. They agreed to keep up the pressure on North Korea about its nuclear program, work together to prevent cyber attacks and limit the production of greenhouse gases.
Thank you all for watching STATE OF THE UNION. Head to CNN.com/SOTU for this week's web extra, the optimistic freshman class of the 113th congress. And don't forget to watch the season finale of ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN tonight at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific followed by the premiere of STROUMBOULOPOULOS taking you inside the words of pop culture, politics and sports. If you missed any part of this show find us on iTunes, just search, STATE OF THE UNION.
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