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State of the Union

Third Round of U.S. Bombing in Iraq; Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain; Legacy of James Brady

Aired August 10, 2014 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: The president thrusts the U.S. back into the skies over Iraq, but for how long?



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is clearly very, very ineffective, to say the least.


CROWLEY: As the third round of bombs falls on ISIS targets in Iraq, we talk exclusively to Senator John McCain on the threat to U.S. shores.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can help, we can advise, but we can't do it for them, and the U.S. military cannot do it for them.


CROWLEY: The president's first national security adviser, General Jim Jones, and Zalmay Khalilzad, former ambassador to Iraq, weigh in on whether it's too late to save Iraq.

And then:


SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: And we're hopeful of having, after November, a new Republican majority in the United States Senate.


CROWLEY: Primary season is almost over. So our political roundtable will survey the political landscape for November's midterms.

And remembering President Reagan's press secretary -- the legacy of Jim Brady.


Good morning from Washington. I'm Candy Crowley.

American fighter jets slicing through Northern Iraqi airspace this weekend targeting Islamic militants and their arsenals. President Obama says he will not put an end date on this operation.

I want go to CNN correspondent Anna Coren live in Irbil.

Anna, is -- is there any sense the humanitarian crisis is easing and are the airstrikes doing anything to hold back what has been a pretty consistent ISIS march forward?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, we are getting reports that those humanitarian aid drops are reaching the Yazidis, that religious minority that are trapped on Mount Sinjar.

You have to remember they fled to that mountain several days ago with a lightning advance of ISIS. ISIS considers the Yazidis to be devil worshipers. And they know that they were facing slaughter; 40,000 of them fled to this mountain. They have had no food, no water or shelter.

And, you know, I have to point out, it is excruciatingly hot here. They have been going like this for days. There have been three humanitarian aid drops from the United States. The British have also delivered humanitarian aid a few hours ago.

And the French foreign minister, he has arrived a short time ago, and he will be overseeing the delivery of French aid, but certainly it's getting to people. We understand that, with the U.S. airstrikes, they have managed to set up a bit of a safe passage with -- the Kurdish forces have set up this safe passage for people on the north of the mountain.

For those on the south, they are trapped, and the situation, we understand, is dire. Now, the airstrikes, they are working, they are effective. There are reports that dozens of ISIS militants have been killed. The injured have been taken to hospitals in Mosul, but we have to take into consideration, Candy, that ISIS, with its lightning advance, has taken over at least a third of Iraq's territory.

So is the United States just holding ISIS where they are or are they going to push them out? That is really the big question. But as we heard from President Obama yesterday in that press conference, he said that it's up to the Iraqis, the Iraqi lawmakers to really fundamentally push out Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that was certainly inferred, so that an inclusive, unified government is formed, with a leader considered acceptable to all the religious and ethnic sects here in Iraq, because, as we heard from President Obama, there will be no U.S. troops on the ground here in Iraq, Candy.

CROWLEY: Politically and militarily, some really high hurdles there. CNN's Anna Coren, thank you so much this morning. We appreciate


Earlier, I spoke with Senator John McCain. He supports the president's actions, but says Mr. Obama needs to go much further.

"These actions are far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS poses," McCain says. "The threats in the region have grown, and now directly threaten the United States."


CROWLEY: Welcome, Senator McCain. We appreciate your time this morning.

Let me start out by quoting your initial reaction to the president's plans in Iraq. And that was that it was pinprick and that it was almost worse than nothing. You feared that he wouldn't follow through on what he said he was going to do. There have been now three U.S. -- separate U.S. airstrikes aimed at ISIS forces in Iraq. Are you reassured?

MCCAIN: Three airstrikes, one taking out a Howitzer, and I'm not sure what the other two did.

Meanwhile, ISIS continues to surround these people. ISIS continues to make gains in Syria, destabilizing Lebanon and Jordan, even into Turkey, the -- nearing Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan. Look at what has happened over the last few weeks since the crisis began.

While the president has continued to say this is an Iraqi problem, this is an Iraqi problem, but it's a United States problem and it is a threat to our national security. And I say that with the full backing or the quotes from our director of national intelligence, our secretary of homeland security, the director of the FBI, and even the attorney general of the United States.

This is turning into, as we had predicted for a long time, a regional conflict which does pose a threat to the security of the United States of America, and launching three strikes around a place where a horrible humanitarian crisis is taking place, meanwhile, ISIS continues to make gains everywhere, yes, is clearly very, very ineffective, to say the least.

CROWLEY: Well, it's been less than two days and three strikes. But I don't know -- because I know you're traveling -- whether you got a chance to hear the president's news conference yesterday.

But I want to play you something that he said in response to a question. And, first, he said that he would not give an end point at which point he would stop the airstrikes against ISIS targets, and then he had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: We have to make sure that ISIL is not engaging in the

actions that could cripple a country permanently. There's key infrastructure inside of Iraq that we have to be concerned about.

So there's going to be a counterterrorism element that we are already preparing for and have been working diligently on for a long time now.


CROWLEY: So he's talking about counterterrorism plans that they have been working on. He has sent U.S. airplanes over there for three missile strikes, which he says we will not put an end to. We are going to protect Irbil, one of the towns that you mentioned.

So, does it not sound to you like this mission is larger and more toward what you're talking about?

MCCAIN: The president made it clear that this was to avert the humanitarian crisis that they were taking these actions and to protect American military personnel that are in Irbil and Baghdad.

That's not a strategy. That's not a policy. That is simply a very narrow and focused approach to a problem which is metastasizing as we speak. Candy, there was a guy a month ago that was in Syria, went back to the United States, came back and blew himself up. We're tracking 100 Americans who are over there now fighting for ISIS.

ISIS is attracting extreme elements from all over the world, much less the Arab world. And what have we done?

CROWLEY: So, what do you suggest, Senator?

MCCAIN: We have said this is a -- quote -- "Iraqi problem."

Pardon me?

CROWLEY: Well, yes, what do you suggest? What is it militarily that you would do? As I understand it, you're not suggesting boots on the ground. What would you do?

MCCAIN: I would be rushing equipment to Irbil.

I would be launching airstrikes not only in Iraq, but in Syria against ISIS. They have erased the boundaries between Iraq and Syria. I would be providing as much training and equipment as I can to -- as I said, to the Kurds, and I would do a lot of things that we can not have to wait for Maliki to leave there.

And I would be giving assistance to the Syrian -- the Free Syrian Army, which is on the ropes right now because we failed to help them. And this all goes back to a number of steps the president took, including a failure to leave a residual force in Iraq.

CROWLEY: Senator, I hear you, but I think, when Americans hear you, they see someone who wants to get America engaged in a part of the world that, frankly, Americans are tired of in terms of having U.S. involvement.

They are now looking at a force that is using American equipment that we left in Iraq for the Iraqi army against people we now want to protect. Doesn't that speak to a need for the U.S. to be pretty careful about who it gives weapons to?

MCCAIN: Well, obviously, when we -- I think when the president of the United States proudly announced that the last combat troop was out of Iraq, that, by the way, it's not a matter of whether, it's a matter of when Bashar al-Assad will be leaving power, and all those other statements about how the war is -- conflict is winding down, all of which have turned out to be false, because there's a vacuum of American leadership all throughout the Middle East, not just -- look at the Israeli-Hamas situation and others.

But the fact is that there's no leadership. And decisions have consequences, and the consequences of our failure to leave a residual force and our announcement that we are leaving the area in a vacuum of leadership, especially in that part of the world, we are paying a price for it.

And we could have avoided it, and it is not inevitable. It's not like an earthquake or a hurricane. These things happen because of decisions that are made. And, again, I don't view the president stating that he's protecting American troops and trying to prevent a humanitarian crisis as an intervention that will have any effect whatsoever on the activity.

ISIS, in the last few weeks, while we have been waiting for a change from Maliki, they now control the two major dams in Iraq. They have the possibility of flooding parts of the country and cutting off energy. Meanwhile, ISIS is moving towards Irbil. This is a cataclysmic -- this is a possibility of a cataclysmic scenario.

And the president says that he's going to protect American troops and try to prevent humanitarian disasters. That's the extent of his policy. There is no policy. And so, therefore, there's no strategy, so, therefore, things are going very, very badly.

CROWLEY: And, Senator, the result of this going very, very badly, when you say -- and this is a direct threat, I know others are saying that, too -- but when Senator John McCain says ISIS is a direct threat to American security, what people hear is to the American homeland. What is it that you mean? Where is that direct threat?

MCCAIN: Well, these people that are coming to fight on the side of ISIS are returning to their countries in Europe. And there's 100 of them that we are tracking in the United States.

As I mentioned to you already, one was in Syria, came back to the United States, and then went back to Syria, and blew himself up. Mr. Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, when he left our Camp Bucca, the camp in Iraq, said, see you in New York.

If you read what they're saying, we are the enemy. They want to destroy us. They are getting stronger all the time. They have attracted 1,00 young men from around the world who are now fighting on their side. This ISIS is metastasizing throughout the region. And their goal, as they have stated openly time after time, is the destruction of the United States of America.

And it's not John McCain that's saying it. It's the director of national intelligence, director of the FBI, the secretary of homeland security, and lately the attorney general.

CROWLEY: Senator McCain, lots of people, when we have you on, often say, why do you have him on so often? And we say because he answers our questions, because he expresses his views quite clearly.

And very often, what we get back -- and I think you get it on Twitter, too -- is, that's just John McCain. There isn't a thing this president could do that John McCain would approve of when it comes to foreign policy.

Your reply?

MCCAIN: Well, my reply is that there are a number of things that the president has done foreign policy-wise that I have not only approved of, but supported.

If I look at the world in January of 2009, and I look at the world today, I can tell you this, Candy. It's very, very different. And I believe that's because, when the United States of America withdraws from leadership from the world, it creates a vacuum, and bad things happen.

And, by the way, I predicted what was going to happen in Iraq. And I'm predicting to you now that if we pull everybody out of Afghanistan, not based on conditions, you will see that same movie again in Afghanistan.

CROWLEY: Senator John McCain, thank you so much for your time this morning.

MCCAIN: Thank you, Candy.


CROWLEY: Still ahead, if not in, then the U.S. is at least back over Iraq. At what risk? Two key voices from the last Iraq war give us their take.



GEORGE H.W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Allied air forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait.

BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ordered our forces to launch a cruise missile attack on the Iraqi intelligence services. GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American

and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq.

OBAMA: Today, I authorized two operations in Iraq, targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians.


CROWLEY: President Obama becomes the fourth U.S. president in a row to intervene with military force in Iraq, although he may be the most reluctant of the bunch.

Joining me now, General Jim Jones -- he was the president's first national security adviser -- and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq under President Bush.

Thank you so much for joining us. You are familiar faces over all the years that the U.S. has been trying to kind of get it right in Iraq.

General Jones, first to you a military question, if you can answer, with that background, and that is, what's the risk now to the U.S. with these flights, humanitarian and missile strikes?

GEN. JIM JONES (RET.), FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think, on the humanitarian side, it's probably -- probably a low risk in terms of where the refugees are.

We do have people -- masses of people moving and, you know, seeking safety. And so I think we can probably do humanitarian drops pretty safely.

CROWLEY: And why are they so -- it's interesting, because we were told that there were 40,000 or so people, refugees up on this mountain...

JONES: Right.

CROWLEY: ... being chased by ISIS. And we're dropping 8,200 or something MREs. Why is it so -- you think of these huge planes. Why is it such a small amount?

JONES: Well, it can be more.

And I think one of the things we mastered over the years, going all the way back to Iraq in 1991 with the Kurdish refugees, we mastered the art of precision dropping, so you're not -- you're not wasting a lot of food, and it's not falling into the wrong hands.

So, we can be more precise, but we have enormous capacity to drop as much as we need to.

CROWLEY: And, Mr. Ambassador, let me talk to you about the situation right now in Baghdad. We have heard the president say over and over again, we need to

have a coalition government in there, and once we have all the various factions or most of the various factions in Iraq together, we can be more useful. How realistic is that?

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, the idea is a good one, obviously. If you have a unified government, led by someone who is competent and can bring the Iraqis together, great.

CROWLEY: Well, there you go.


CROWLEY: What could be better, right?

KHALILZAD: But I think the chances of getting that and getting it immediately is not very good.

Number one, it is possible that Maliki might go, but he could be replaced by someone who is not as competent in terms of bringing people together, not as competent as we would like in terms of leading Iraqis in a military effort. It will take him a while to put a cabinet together. It will take him a while to put the program together.

CROWLEY: Well, when you say a while, this man -- as we know, Maliki has been in there for some time. The U.S. is very unhappy with him.


CROWLEY: So, what are we talking, years?

KHALILZAD: Well, definitely months that -- to put -- not only select someone, but he then puts a program together. He puts a cabinet together. He gets to know his job, so...

CROWLEY: Lots of waiting.

KHALILZAD: ... it's not a magical solution that tomorrow there is a government and everything will start working.

CROWLEY: And so, if you can't get this magical solution, General, then what happens? Because we heard Senator McCain say, we can't wait. These folks are on the march, this is a direct threat to the homeland.

Where are you in your thought about how much of a threat this is and whether waiting is dangerous?

JONES: Yes, I think time is not on our side. It certainly isn't on the Iraqi side.

I believe that the -- they need to come up with a new prime minister very quickly, and hopefully it should not be al-Maliki. CROWLEY: But, if they don't, is there an argument for we have

got to do...

JONES: But the second thing, I think, is that new prime minister needs to reach out very quickly to the Kurds and the Sunnis and anyone else he needs to, to talk about how we're going to reconcile this country, which the current prime minister has failed to do.

And you do that by giving the Kurds things that they have always wanted, Kirkuk, for one, and Sunnis their own area. And there's a lot of ways to do that quickly. And then the third thing that has to be done quickly, I think, is to start neutralizing ISIS or whatever we want to call them these days.

To me, they're terrorists and they're murderers and they're thugs, and they don't deserve a proper name, but we know who they are and we know they're growing. I think Senator McCain is correct in his estimate of over 10,000 in Iraq and 40,000 in Syria, but this is -- this should not be, in my view, a U.S. battle alone.

CROWLEY: Well, back to -- absolutely. That's one of the questions I wanted to ask. Where's -- let's just look at the neighborhood. Where is Jordan? Where is Turkey? Where are -- where are others? This is not just a threat to the United States.

KHALILZAD: Well, I think one of the things that we need do is to move quickly to internationalize the effort, I think, with Turkey, with some of our European allies. Even some Arabs need to be brought in.

I think this is a moment for the president, for the United States to exercise leadership that has been a deficit in exercising leadership in the last couple of years in particular. This is an opportunity.

And I think what has happened already the last couple of days has provided a positive image of the United States again coming to the help of people in need.

CROWLEY: Dropping food, dropping water.

KHALILZAD: Dropping food, dropping water.

And also it has boosted the morale of the Kurds. Even limited as the action has been, it has had a positive effect. We need to build on that, especially with regard to internationalizing.

CROWLEY: In the time I have left, just briefly, is it possible that Iraq, as we know it, can't be put back together?

JONES: I think it's going to be hard to do. It doesn't mean that it can't survive as a state, but I think it's going to be -- it's going to be a different -- a different state with -- with more power to the -- to the regions.

CROWLEY: More autonomy for the Kurds? JONES: Exactly.

And, if I could, Candy, I think it's absolutely critical that -- that the United States come to the Kurdish aid. The Kurds have been our best friends for years. Yet we still list them as a -- three terrorist organizations, which is, in my mind, ludicrous.

And, second, I have had an e-mail this morning from Kurdistan. And they need weapons. They need to be able to fight ISIS with the weapons that ISIS has, which is the weapons that they captured from us. The Kurds are our best friends in the region. We cannot let Kurdistan fall to ISIS. That would be a strategic disaster.

The other group that I would say is oppressed and needs our help is the MEK, which is another oppressed minority in Baghdad that several thousand of them are stranded. And we should -- we should act more compassionately towards those groups.

CROWLEY: Mr. Ambassador, to wrap it up, so it sounds as though what I'm hearing is, perhaps -- we have been reluctant to give weapons to the Kurds, seeing them as part of Iraq, but perhaps this is the beginning of the splitting apart of Iraq, that Iraq as we know it is over.

KHALILZAD: Well, I think the only way to keep Iraq together is a kind of a confederal arrangement between Kurdistan and Baghdad, where Baghdad agrees that the Kurds could export oil, they could acquire their own weapons, they could control their own airspace.

And I think we began to give them some weapons. I think we need to build on that. as we are going to limit ourselves to airpower alone, we need to have people on the ground who can take advantage of the shift in balance as a result of degrading that we will do, and that's very important.

Similarly, I believe we ought to start working with some moderate Sunni groups to arm them. That's what worked in 2007-2008. And we need to do that. But we also need to keep pushing the Iraqis' political forces to come together to form a central government. And internationalize the effort, exercise that U.S. leadership that has been -- that is a key requirement for success.

CROWLEY: To lead.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, thank you so much.

General Jim Jones, thank you as well.

JONES: My pleasure.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.

JONES: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Congress may be home for their August sabbatical, but the matchup cards for the midterms are almost set, and Republicans are hopeful they can go wire to wire and reclaim the Senate.

Our roundtable handicaps their chances. That's next.


CROWLEY: Around the table today, former Virginia Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, now President of the Senate Conservatives Fund, Ted Strickland, former Ohio governor, currently at the Center for American Progress, Stephanie Cutter, host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE," and CNN political commentator, Kevin Madden.

We're just going to take a right-hand turn here or a left-hand turn (INAUDIBLE) which way you like to go. It does seem to me that we have spent the summer watching Syria or watching Ukraine, or watching Russia, now with all this attention back on Iraq. Meanwhile an entire set of primaries has gone on. And so, I thought you all are the perfect group to come together. Set the table for me. How are the midterms shaping up?

KEN CUCCINELLI, PRESIDENT, SENATE CONSERVATIVES FUND: It looks good for Republicans. I mean, in broad numbers terms we're going to gain seats in the House and the odds are we're going to take the Senate. And there are still some interesting storylines ahead from a primary perspective. Louisiana's primary is on Election Day, but otherwise, the Republican side as a general matter looks pretty good.


CROWLEY: You absolutely may.

STRICKLAND: The fact is that I don't think we're going to have a wave election this year. I think the Democratic Senate candidates are doing, many of them much better than we expected them to do. I think these races are going to be decided as an individual race, rather than some national sweep. And I think there's a very good chance that the Democrats will, in fact, hold onto the Senate, I certainly hope they do.

CROWLEY: I saw today somebody wrote a column, "midterm is about nothing."


CROWLEY: Which is sort of a status -- would be a status quo sort of nothing really changes.

CUTTER: I think what it is about, though, is that people are just angry at Washington, both parties. No one is escaping from this. You know, in the same poll that showed the president at 40 percent approval rating, Republicans were in the teens. Democrats were better than that but still, nobody's getting great ratings right now.

I agree with the governor, that this is not going to be a wave election. It's going to go race by race. With historical trends basically every historical trend against the Democrats, we're still managing to hold our own, and most cases we're tied or ahead, and that's, you know, evidence right there, this isn't going to be a tidal wave against the president or any type of referendum against the president. It's race by race.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Real quick I think this is why the Democrats should worry. The historical trend related to the mid terms that probably fits the best here is the fact that the president's approval rating is so low.

When the president's approval rating is this low his party tends to suffer at the polls. And probably the most - the most -- the number I think that's really driving the electorate, you're right, Stephanie, that voters right now are very restless, they are very angry. The right direction, wrong direction right now, right direction is only 22 percent. And I think as a result, you're going to see the president and his party pay the price at the polls.

CROWLEY: One of the things, let me just throw into the mix, because I do think that parties that are about to sort of lose in general some seats in election tend to say, this is all about the individual races. And the party about to win thinks it's about some broad-sweeping message that will propel them right into the presidential election.

So, there are a couple different kinds of elections. There is the sweep. There's the throw the bums out. And there's the status quo. Given the kinds of numbers we're looking at, 40 percent of the president -- approval for the president, what about the throw the bums out election, just incumbents really taking on (INAUDIBLE)?

STRICKLAND: If that's the case, then everyone's at risk and I do think the American people, as Stephanie said, I think they're very disgusted.

But the problem is, and this is from my perspective as a Democrat, the problem is people sometimes paint with a broad brush and because the House and the Senate is dysfunctional, they say they're all bad, but I think there are major differences between the efforts of the Democrats to move this country forward and the Republicans who, in the House certainly, have been quite obstructionistic and have been totally unwilling, Candy, to cooperate with the president in any way.

Take immigration for example, the American people want immigration reform. The Republicans won't even bring it up for a vote. The American people want an increase in the minimum wage. The Republicans won't bring it up for a vote. If these issues came to the House floor for a vote, they almost certainly would pass.

MADDEN: I agree with the governor in the sense that there is a very high level of exasperation amongst the electorate. I think where Republicans are better aligned though is that they have found themselves more in sync with voters that are tired of the way - the status quo in Washington, they're tired of the spending, inefficient government. The fact that this president is being judged so harshly by the public on just his levels of competence and whether or not he's up to the challenges, I think that is really going to bode very poorly, that's going to be a very difficult challenge for the Democrats come November.

CUTTER: Kevin, you have to agree that despite all of the historical trends running against the president, the Democrats right now, Republicans really haven't taken advantage of that in terms of message, of what they stand for, how they're going to move the country forward. They're spending their time suing the president than actually putting a proactive agenda on the floor of the House.

MADDEN: I would disagree with that because if you look at it --

CUTTER: And if they had taken advantage of it, why aren't they doing better in the poll?

MADDEN: I would disagree with you on that because I think if you look state by state, and you look race by race...


MADDEN: ...Republicans, the case that they're making is that they would do better on spending. (INAUDIBLE) they do better on --

CUTTER: Why aren't they winning?

MADDEN: They'll make a smarter government and also that the contrast that they're drawing on Obamacare is going to matter very - a big, great (ph) deal.

CUTTER: We've obviously talked about this a lot...

MADDEN: It's going to matter a great deal.

CUTTER: terms of Obamacare driving out the Republican vote but even Republicans are admitting that is not the issue that they thought it would be for the midterm election.

MADDEN: Well, Democrats are running away from the president.

CUTTER: Now they're searching - now they're searching for a message that's going to bring their voters out and they haven't been able to find it yet which is why they're suing the president.

CUCCINELLI: Look, going back to the governor's comment, if you looked at one person in Congress that American voters focus on, it's not the Republican -- it's not the House. It's Harry Reid blocking bill after bill after bill after bill that comes over.

You can call the House obstructionist all you want because you don't like what they're voting on but they're voting on 10 times as many things as the Senate. Harry Reid is blocking this and he is the lead blocker for the president, whose approval rating is so low in the sixth year of his terms that it is going to do harm not on a race by race basis but across the board, because of the utter failure of the policies, and it's evident to the American people.

STRICKLAND: But Ken, in a bipartisan way, the Senate voted to reform immigration. In a bipartisan way. It wanted to be brought to the floor for the House for a vote. And you know and I know that -

CUCCINELLI: The house?


CUCCINELLI: The bill that came out of the House last week?


CUCCINELLI: The Senate won't vote on that. So, you want to blame the House. The House passed a bill as --


CUCCINELLI: It was a bipartisan vote in the Senate.

CUTTER: If the House hasn't - if the House hasn't voted on the minimum wage, they haven't voted on equal pay, they haven't voted on college funding, they haven't voted on the basic tenets of how you build a middle class in this country. If anything, they're refusing to bring the bipartisan Senate bills to a vote.

CUCCINELLI: OK. Let's be real here. I'll make a very--


CUTTER: That's what I mean by Republicans not being able to find what their message in this election is, except for no.

CUCCINELLI: You say the way of building middle class is through government. You named a whole series of government directs the world. (INAUDIBLE). That is utterly wrong. The government has to get out of the way --

CUTTER: I do think that women make the same as men is important to helping women enter the middle class. I think that's not government in the way. That's government making sure they're bringing (ph) people equal opportunity.

CROWLEY: They're going to stick around for a little while. So coming up, normally media shy president did quite a lot of talking before he jetted out of town. More with our roundtable in just exactly what the president's trying to tell the country, next.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon everybody. Happy Friday. I thought I'd take some questions so with that, I'm going to take a couple questions.

Good evening. Today I authorized two operations in Iraq.

It makes us proud to be Americans as we always will be. So with that, let me take a couple questions. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So, three press conferences and one military authorization later, the president took off for Martha 's Vineyard.

We're back here with Ken Cuccinelli and Stephanie Cutter, plus Ted Strickland and Kevin Madden.

We were just - you know, our cup runneth over this week. The president that we tried to talk to for -- three press conferences. Explain that from a strategy point of view?

CUTTER: Well, I think any time a president is authorizing military strikes the American people need to hear from their president, their commander in chief, and I think that's what you were seeing this week. He was talk to the American people, he was talking to Congress. He wanted to make sure that the rationale for military action was perfectly clear. And, you know, I think he made that case.

CROWLEY: Think before Friday we saw at least two, before he even announced it, he was quite available.

MADDEN: Yes, I don't think it's because he likes talking to the press...


MADDEN: ...and I don't think it's because the White House really enjoys a lot of these high wire acts. I think it's given by necessity of -- and dictated by world events. And it is important any time that you have actions as important as this that the president tell his story before his opponents do.

CROWLEY: Tell me quite honestly -


CROWLEY: Right. Well, I wanted to ask you about the vacation thing. Quite honestly I haven't known a president that I've covered that hasn't taken heat for going off and taking vacation. It's a great political talking point but is it a real thing?

STRICKLAND: No, it's not a real thing. I mean, you know, George Bush went to cut brush and Ronald Reagan went to cut brush and Barack Obama is going to Ohio -


CROWLEY: Not quite Ohio.

STRICKLAND: But the fact is that (INAUDIBLE) this is not original with me but I heard someone say recently if the president walked on water, he would be criticized for not knowing how to swim.

This president doesn't get a break. He really doesn't. I mean, so he's - so he's playing golf, but he's still the president. He's still in touch. He is still having briefings, he's still in charge and there's nothing wrong with a few days' vacation.

CUCCINELLI: Yes. Look --

CROWLEY: I heard, "(inaudible) president get a break" and I thought here we go.

CUCCINELLI: Give me a break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Presidents don't get breaks.

CUCCINELLI: First of all, the media deals with people the way they deal with them, but this guy had a love fest to become the president, he's had better treatment - lighter treatment from the media than -- for presidents for a long, long time, including denying them access after saying he'd be the most transparent president ever and that just has not been the case and the media really hasn't, except on rare occasions, held him accountable for that.

I agree with the governor that any time a president goes on vacation they get this, especially when things blow up in the world, they get unfair treatment. That's true of both sides all the time


CUCCINELLI: And you know, I joke with some of my conservative friends who -- uh-oh, look at the president, playing all this golf. I'm like, what do you want him at his desk? I want him to play 36 holes a day. You know? And the reality is they all need, they're all going to take a vacation and sometimes things like Iraq are going to blow up while they're gone but the reality is, as well that when that happens, the American people expect the president back.


CUTTER: It's a convenient talking point for whoever is the opposition party.


CUTTER: I've made that talking point many a times when President Bush was going on vacation.

At the end of the day the president is always the president, no matter where you are. And if he's - if he's, you know, dealing with issues while he's on Martha 's Vineyard, which I guarantee you he will be, then so be it.

CROWLEY: So you heard it here first, we have bipartisan agreement that this whole (inaudible), the president is on vacation isn't terrible is phony talking point.

Thank you so much Stephanie Cutter --

CUCCINELLI: It's not phony because it works.

CROWLEY: OK. It's a good talking point but it's about nothing - it's a talking point about nothing.

Ken Cuccinelli, Ted Strickland, Ken Madden, thank you.

Did you know that the Reagans once kicked their press secretary Jim Brady off the campaign plane in 1980? That and other stories, remembering the life and legacy of Jim Brady, next.


CROWLEY Jim Brady died Monday at the age of 73. He was President Reagan's press secretary, both severely wounded in an assassination attempt in 1981.


On that day, journalist Al Hunt was on Capitol Hill. Joe Lockhart would later become bill Clinton's press secretary when the briefing room was dedicated to Brady and ABC's Ann Compton was covering President Reagan.


Earlier I spoke with them about that day 33 years ago and the legacy of Jim Brady.


ANN COMPTON, "ABC NEWS" WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was a day in which it was just so normal it was only 69 days into the administration and his deputy, Larry Speakes, well, Jim, I'll go in the motorcade. And Jim said, no, no, I'll go.

It was still somewhat new to Jim. We had known him first at Capitol Hill where he was a very creative king of thinking outside the box before people thought that way. And I think he brought that creativity and that kind of strategic thinking to the press secretary's job, which literally lasted 69 days for Jim Brady.

CROWLEY: His humor could get him into trouble.

AL HUNT, "BLOOMBERG VIEW" COLUMNIST: It could be. Ronald Reagan one time said that trees caused more pollution than cars. They were (inaudible) the campaign in 1980 and Jim looked at a forest fire and said, killer trees. And the Reagans (INAUDIBLE) --


CROWLEY: -- getting kicked off the plane.

HUNT: They did but they brought him back.

CROWLEY: Did he set a template in any way?

JOE LOCKHART, CLINTON W.H. PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I think he did, because I think it was his style. I used to review the transcripts of the briefing for one thing. I read through it and if I saw the word laughter after something, I said more than three or four times I knew it was a good briefing.

CROWLEY: Tell me a little bit about that day when you first learned that Jim, although it was kind of a funny time because at first everyone thought the president was fine.

COMPTON: Well, there was one thing we knew for sure, the minute we saw that video and you saw Jim Brady on the ground but he was moving. What we didn't know is how gravely injured the president was.

And you saw Nancy Reagan's statement when Jim Brady died saying she remembers sitting in a small room in the emergency room with Sarah Brady, both of them knowing their husbands were in critical condition and not knowing how the day would end.

CROWLEY: Well, Ann brings up an interesting part of this story, Al. He was not particularly Nancy Reagan's favorite choice for press secretary.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of the things that I am reading, none of which are true, and Nancy couldn't more - be more delighted and thinks he's absolutely handsome.

HUNT: She would not have picked him but you know something, Jim Baker and Mike Deaver went to a number of reporters and said, who should we pick as press secretary, and they all said, Jim Brady because we trust him. He's so good.

LOCKHART: I don't think a lot of people know this, but Jim Brady kept the title of press secretary. Larry Speakes who toiled long for President Reagan in that role was always the acting press secretary, and the buck stopped with Nancy Reagan and she said, no, that's Jim Brady's job.

CROWLEY: The post shooting Jim Brady, I often looked at him and saw him after a couple of times, you know, after the shooting, he did work with his wife, the Brady Foundation and the handgun control bill which President Clinton signed, the Brady Handgun Control Bill. So, it was a life that just was toughly lived. He got dealt a bad hand and he still -- you still saw Jim Brady come back and do something different but do it really well.

LOCKHART: We throw around the word hero a lot in our culture, but Jim defined it. He had something so tragic happen to him and he turned it into something so positive.

I mean, let's look at how tough the gun control debate is. Jim Brady got something done.

REAGAN: I happen to believe in the Brady Bill because we have that same thing in California right now.

LOCKHART: Jim Brady got a law passed that has saved lives.

JAMES BRADY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY, REAGAN ADMINISTRATION: How sweet it is. COMPTON: In his life after the shooting he bridged the gap

between Republican and Democrat. Those lines went before and how Washington, there's still a core of family and camaraderie and people who respect each other's opinions. And I think that kind of personification is exactly what Jim brought.

HUNT: I agree. I think he did that. I also hope we remember him not only for his great intelligence and his great dedication but his humor.

BRADY: The phone rings every two minutes or so and I find myself heading back towards the White House to put out a fire or to start one.

CROWLEY: Joe, I want you to talk to me about the day they dedicated the briefing room.

LOCKHART: Sure. It was my favorite day at the White House. We came upon the idea that the one way to honor the legacy of Jim and Sarah Brady and the work they've done was to name the room after them.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jim Brady is living proof that you can't kill courage, that it takes more than a cheap handgun to destroy a strong spirit.

LOCKHART: For everybody in that room, these reporters who had lived with him and loved him for -- me and my staff and you know, sort of the press secretary fraternity and the single most important thing is I have never seen such pure, unadulterated joy in another man's face that day, when he sat there with Sarah.

BRADY: Today I still miss some of you. It's good to be back.



CROWLEY: Thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Be sure to watch us each week at this time or you can set your DVRs so you won't miss a moment.

Fareed Zakaria, "GPS," starts now.