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State of the Union
Interview With New York Congressman Joseph Crowley; Interview With Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell; Interview With New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez
Aired January 04, 2015 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Dana Bash, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: The situation has devolved into one which everyone is talking, but no one is listening.
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BASH: The NYPD buries the second police officer killed in a deadly ambush, but will it lay to rest resentments between the officers and City Hall? We will go live to New York, where thousands of officers join from around the country.
Then: The U.S. punishes North Korea for the Sony cyber-attack. Is it enough? Senator Robert Menendez on the new sanctions.
And a new year, a new GOP Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I had hoped to make him a one-term president, and he had hoped to defeat me last fall.
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BASH: Senator Mitch McConnell returns to Washington as majority leader. He tells us what he has in mind for divided government.
Plus, two new members of the House join the senator responsible for preserving the hard-won Republican majority.
And a congressman's satirical novelty on the NSA surveillance program, how much of it is reality?
This is STATE OF THE UNION.
Good morning from Washington.
The funeral for New York City police officer Wenjian Liu begins in two hours. Liu and his partner, Rafael Ramos, were murdered two weeks ago by a man claiming retaliation for the killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City. Police officers from around the country are in New York to pay respects to their fallen comrade.
We want to go now to CNN's Miguel Marquez, who is outside the funeral home where Liu's service is being held.
And, Miguel, I understand the funeral director is expecting thousands of people to attend?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're expecting at least as many as last week who attended Rafael Ramos funeral, up to 25,000 police officers.
Inside the funeral home where today's service will be held, there will be about 600 people in that. This is going to be an outpouring of grief like New York and the police department has never seen, to have two of these in a row like this.
All of this, there was a lot of tension between the mayor and his own police force. The police commissioner releasing a memo to his own police department, saying, this is about grieving, not about grievance, and that -- mentioning specifically, when officers turned their back on the mayor as he spoke last week, that that was -- quote -- "It stole the valor, the honor, the attention that rightfully belonged to the memory of Detective Rafael Ramos' life and his sacrifice."
I can tell you that things seem to be a little cooler here today. The mayor and the commissioner walked into the wake yesterday. They were saluted by several officers as they walked in. The mayor has met with all the police unions here in the last week. And things seem to be moving in a much better direction here. We expect the funeral to get under way at 11:00, and then, by 1:00, Wenjian Liu will be on his way to his final resting place -- a sea of blue here in Brooklyn -- Dana.
BASH: Unfortunately, we see it again this weekend. Miguel, thank you very much.
And we want to talk more about tensions between the police and the mayor's office.
We have Congressman Joseph Crowley. His father and grandfather were members of the NYPD. He's going to join us in a moment.
But we also have former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.
And, Mr. Kerik I will start with you.
You wrote a pretty powerful wow kind of piece in "TIME" magazine this week talking about the war waged on the homeland. I just want to read part of it. You said: "If you listen to some in the media, purported civil rights leader Al Sharpton, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and others around the country, over the last several weeks, you're forced to believe that nearly all of America's local and state police are out to kill minorities."
You went on to say: "It's a lie that has the potential to rip America at its seams and cause damage far worse than any attack on our country, including that on 9/11/2001."
You were New York City police commissioner in 2001. You saw what it really meant to have an attack on the homeland. Isn't this a little much?
BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: I don't think so, because you have 700,000 police officers in this country, maybe a little more. Plus, you have the federal law enforcement community.
For that entire community to be labeled racist, for people to say that they are targeting minorities, they're harassing minorities, and all based around two incidents, two, that had absolutely not one shred of evidence that those two events were based on race, I think it's bizarre, and I think it hurts the society in general. I think it hurts the country.
And I think it has to stop, and, hopefully, I think what we're seeing now, what we have seen the last couple days between the NYPD and the mayor, hopefully, it's coming to an end.
I want to bring in Congressman Joe Crowley, who is at the site, who is going to go to the funeral.
Congressman, I want you and our viewers to listen to what Mayor de Blasio actually said last month, talking about what he tells his own biracial son and how he deals or should deal with police officers there. Listen to this.
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BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: Because a history still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we have had to literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers, who are there to protect him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Congressman, you are the son and grandson of New York City police officers. Did that make you angry?
REP. JOE CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: Well, I think in light of what had taken place, rhetoric was very high, I think, by the mayor, I also think by others as well.
And what I really do appreciate is the ratcheting down of the rhetoric at this point in time, and right now the focus here today on these police officers who sacrificed everything to protect the citizens of our great city, in police officer Liu, as well as police officer Ramos, and I'm proud to be here today to stand with their families.
BASH: Do you agree with Bernie Kerik here, who says that it's that kind of language that stoked or at least pushed somebody to -- who was not mentally stable to get a gun and basically assassinate the two men, one of whom's funeral is going on behind you?
CROWLEY: I think that the police department of New York City, and I think police departments, many around the country, are not what they once were.
And I think what's reflective here, when my father served some 50-some-odd years ago, it was a different police department. Today, it's a much more integrated police department. More than 50 percent are of minority and female. And I think it's reflective of the two individuals who gave their lives here serving the people of New York City.
It's not the same police department, and I think tactics have changed. That's not to say, though, that there's not the perception out there that we have to deal with that maybe justice isn't being divvied out equally. I don't agree with that. I think that, more and more, we see in America equally distributed justice.
But I think the perception out there needs to be dealt with.
BASH: And that's a very good point.
I want to ask you about that. There is a perception out there in black communities that they do have to be careful, and they are being told to use caution and even more than that when they have an encounter with police officers. Do you understand why they feel that way?
KERIK: Yes, they under -- they feel that...
KERIK: They feel that way because there are people out there that are inciting that language.
The reality is, in New York City especially, there's been an 85 percent reduction in homicides and in violent crime, primarily in the black community. They have been the benefactor of all the law enforcement programs that were put in place since Rudy Giuliani back in 1994.
They are the ones -- especially back then, you had African- American women placing their babies in bathtubs at night to prevent them from being shot in random gunfire. That doesn't happen today. The city has changed. The crime reduction is enormous.
BASH: Having -- but having said that, you and I don't know what it's like to be a black American. Can you see from their perspective that, despite strides, there still is a long way to go?
KERIK: I don't think there's a long way to go. I personally -- I don't see it.
I was a cop. I was a very aggressive cop. I know thousands of cops that weren't racist. Is there racism in this country? Yes. But to label the entire police department and every cop, local, state and federal in this country as a racist is bizarre.
BASH: Congressman, what do you say to that?
CROWLEY: Oh, I don't disagree with the last part. I don't think every police officer in America is racist.
I think that there are great police officers, wonderful men and women who sacrifice daily to protect the citizens of our great country. I do think there are bad apples in every walk of life, whether it be in politics, or the clergy and certainly in the police department as well.
To root those bad apples out is part of what we need to do. But I think it's also have the opportunity to have a conversation. I saw "Selma" last night, the movie that came out, very powerful, only 50 years ago, where we saw tremendous abuse.
I agree that doesn't exist on the same scale today. But I do think that we have to have that conversation because of a perception within some communities that there's not equally distributed justice in our country.
And I think that's something that needs to be talked about, for the sake of the police officers who protect us as well, helping to make their job an easier job, not a more difficult one.
BASH: The scene that people remember from the funeral of the first police officer, Rafael Ramos, was a lot of police officers turning their backs and to protest the mayor.
This time, the police commissioner has sent a letter to the NYPD saying, please don't do this. Do you think that that's the right call, Congressman?
CROWLEY: What I believe is that we should focus on the families of these two slain officers, as I said before, members of the NYPD who gave the ultimate sacrifice in protecting all New Yorkers, and on their families, respecting their sorrow, their grief. That's what the generosity of New Yorkers are about today.
That's why there's such an overwhelming outpouring of support for these families we're seeing in so many, many ways. And I think that's appropriate.
BASH: And you have gone so far as to say you believe that Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, has blood on his hands. Do you believe that the officers attending this funeral today should show their protest, and this is the forum to do that? KERIK: Personally, no, I don't think so.
This is about the family. This is about the loss of a New York City cop. They should pay his family and him the respect. I didn't disagree -- I didn't agree when they did it the first time. I would like to see it not happen today.
BASH: Bernard Kerik, thank you for your insight.
KERIK: Thank you.
BASH: Congressman Joe Crowley, appreciate it.
CROWLEY: Thank you.
BASH: And we want to remind our viewers that CNN will have live coverage of officer Liu's funeral throughout the morning.
But when we return: Will new sanctions keep North Korea from launching another cyber-attack? Senator Robert Menendez, top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, is here next.
BASH: The Obama administration is punishing North Korea for the cyber-attack against Sony, with economic sanctions targeting government leaders, including officials involved in the country's arms trade.
With me now is Senator Robert Menendez, the outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate.
Senator, let's just start with -- with that. Is sanctions, the kind that the U.S. has now put on in North Korea,is that enough?
SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, Dana, that's a good first step. And those steps were envisioned in the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act that I introduced this past Congress.
But I think we need to go beyond. And I -- as I wrote to Secretary Kerry, I really do believe that we need to look at putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, which would have far more pervasive consequences.
You know, the one thing I disagree with -- with the president on is when he characterized the action here against Sony by North Korea as an act of vandalism. Vandalism is when you break a window. Terrorism is when you destroy a building. And what happened here is that North Korea landed a virtual bomb on Sony's parking lot, and ultimately had real consequences to it as a company and to many individuals who work there.
So I think there has to be a real consequence to this. Otherwise, you will see it happen again and again.
BASH: Have you heard back from the secretary of state about your request, demand to put North Korea back on the state sponsor of terrorism list?
MENENDEZ: I have not. And I look forward to engaging him when he appears before the committee in the new year.
BASH: I'm sure you do.
Speaking of engaging, let's turn to Cuba and the fact that the White House, the president announced just a couple of weeks ago the idea that they were going to expand for the first time in over 50 years relations with Cuba. These talks and this deal that was brokered was going on for more than a year.
You were the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You are of Cuban descent. Were you engaged in these talks?
MENENDEZ: Oh, absolutely not. I knew nothing about them.
And this is a problem not only as it relates to Cuba, but Iran, this secret diplomacy in which witnesses come before the committee and you ask them questions about what's happening, whether it be about Iran or Cuba, and you don't get a straight answer. And now you find out that there was in one case a year-and-a-half, in another case over a year of engagement.
That's going to be problematic for the administration as it appears before the committee again and again.
BASH: And, I mean, what was your reaction? How furious were you when you found out about this yearlong push, secret push that included not just the president, but the pope, to get these -- the detainee Alan Gross released, but also, more importantly, an agreement to open up relations?
MENENDEZ: Well, Dana, it's less about me and whatever lack of information I was given, as someone who is both the chairman of the committee and one of a few Cuban-Americans in the Senate and on the Democratic side.
What it really is, is about the 10 million people in Cuba who got a bad deal, because what we did here is, we exchanged one innocent American for three convicted Cuban spies, including one that was convicted for conspiracy to commit murder against U.S. citizens, who were murdered by the Castro regime, and, secondly, we got nothing in terms of democracy and human rights. We got nothing about political freedoms.
As a matter of fact, on New Year's Eve, Cuban activists and dissidents just simply wanted to hold in Revolution Square an opportunity for one minute for Cubans to come forward and speak about what they thought their country should be in the future. And those activists were arrested before they even got to the demonstration.
So, here you are, you know, a week or two after the president's announcements, in which human rights activists and political dissidents are arrested for simply speaking about what their vision of Cuba should be tomorrow. We don't know about any of the 53 dissidents that supposedly -- political prisoners that were supposedly going to be released.
And we don't know about this supposed person that we had as an asset, because I think the reason we haven't heard about who that person really is, there's speculation as to who he is, is that they overplayed his importance.
BASH: Senator, let me just stop you there, because I want our viewers to hear what the president said right here on this program to Candy Crowley about the reason he wants to change things vis-a-vis Cuba.
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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For 50 years, we have tried to see if we can overthrow the regime through isolation. It hasn't worked. If we engage, we have the opportunity to influence the course of events at a time when there's going to be some generational change in that country. And I think we should seize it. And I intend to do so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Senator, doesn't he have a point? Can you sort of take aside your understandable history and personal view of Cuba and look at this country as a place that the U.S. does need to sort of get on with and that this is a 55-year-old policy that just hasn't worked?
MENENDEZ: Well, a couple of points.
Number one is, you know, we have had engagement with China over 50 years. We can't talk about democracy and human rights being better in China. Same thing with Vietnam for nearly, what, 20 years now.
So, when we engage countries like that, we maybe have an economic interest, but we cannot hold them up as the standard of how we promote democracy and human rights. And, look, Cuba's been engaged by Europe, Latin America, Canada for decades, and they haven't created one iota of human rights and democracy.
So we subverted, in my view, the standards that are important for us to uphold globally in a way that we could have -- if you're going to make a deal with the regime, then get something for it. But at the end of the day, they got absolutely nothing for giving up everything that the Castro regime wants to see and has lobbied for.
BASH: Is the president just naive here, or is he, as you said, being secretive on this, just like he has been on Iran?
MENENDEZ: Well, look, I -- both because of history and engagement over 22 years in the Congress, I understand that this -- the Castro regime only changes out of economic necessity, not ideological change, so that it reduced its army, it accepted the American dollar, the most hated symbol in the revolution, it even accepted some degree of international investment, all which previously had been rejected by the regime, out of economic necessity. So if you understand that economic necessity is the way in which
the regime ultimately creates some change, then at a moment in which it was facing the great difficulties, because Venezuela, its patron, is about to no longer be its patron, it seems to me that what we did is throw an economic lifeline without getting any political or democracy opportunities.
BASH: One last question, real quick. This is now in your lap, in Congress' lap. Do you see any scenario where the money for a new embassy in Cuba or an ambassador will actually get passed or confirmed?
MENENDEZ: Well, we already have an operating interests section, which the administration could easily convert to an embassy.
An ambassador, I would think it would be very difficult to get an ambassador confirmed.
BASH: Senator Robert Menendez, thank you very much. Happy new year.
MENENDEZ: Thank you. Happy new year.
BASH: And the new year brings a new Congress with Republicans firmly in charge.
Next up, incoming Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on his congressional bucket list and whether 2015 will mark an end to gridlock in Washington.
BASH: The 114th Congress opens this week with Republicans in control of both the House and the Senate.
I recently sat down with the incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and asked what he thinks the message the voters sent to Washington is by electing a GOP Congress.
MCCONNELL: I think the American people had two messages.
They were certainly upset with the president and wanted to express that opposition to what he's been doing, but they also want to do something about the dysfunction in Washington. They -- I'm not sure they know exactly who is responsible for it, but they want it to stop.
And so I think the message from the American people is they'd like to see a right-of-center, responsible conservative governing majority. That's what the speaker and I tend to provide. And, hopefully, we will have enough followers to do that.
BASH: What's your top goal as Senate majority leader?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think jobs and the economy are clearly what the voters are concerned about.
They are tried of inaction. They want us to act. And what does acting mean? Just to give you some examples, it won't surprise you, things like approving the Keystone pipeline, which would put a lot of people to work almost immediately, trying to do everything we can to push back against this overactive bureaucracy of the current administration that's created much job loss, for example, in my state, in the mining industry, coal mining industry.
They're also after agriculture through what they call the waters of the U.S. regulation. We need to do everything we can to try to rein in the regulatory onslaught, which is the principal reason that we haven't had the kind of bounce-back after the 2008 recession that you would expect.
BASH: What do you think the first thing that will reach his desk that he doesn't like will be?
MCCONNELL: Oh, gosh, I don't know.
MCCONNELL: Look, you know, he obviously has doubled down on defending Obamacare. We think it's a terrible piece of legislation. We're certainly going to be voting on that, if we can put either repeal or take out pieces of it, like destroying the 40-hour workweek, the medical device tax, the individual mandate.
All of these are highly unpopular with the American people. And we will be voting on things I know he's not going to like. And I hope we can put them on his desk.
BASH: Let's talk about your relationship with the president.
MCCONNELL: You know, the first two years, he had huge majorities in the House and Senate. The last four years, he controlled the Senate. They guaranteed he never got anything he didn't like.
Now he needs to talk to us. And that's good, because when the American people elect a divided government, they're not saying they don't want anything done. What they are saying is,they want things done in the political center, things that both sides can agree on. We talk about the things where there may be some agreement.
BASH: There has to be some level of trust, right?
BASH: Is there? I mean, do you trust the president as a negotiating partner?
MCCONNELL: You know, the only agreements that have been made during these years on a bipartisan basis, I negotiated, the December 2010 two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, the August 2011 Budget Control Act, and the December 31, 2012, fiscal cliff deal. So I'm not opposed to negotiating with the administration. In
those particular instances, the president sort of picked the vice president to do it. So, I don't object to negotiating with him. I have done it in the past.
BASH: How often are you speaking to the vice president these days?
MCCONNELL: I, you know, see him from time to time.
BASH: You were able to negotiate with the vice president because the president said that was OK.
MCCONNELL: Yes. Well, you know...
BASH: He gave the green light.
MCCONNELL: The vice president is not a free agent.
BASH: Well, exactly.
MCCONNELL: He does whatever the president asks him to.
BASH: That means you have the sense that they will unleash the vice president and allow him to --
MCCONNELL: I don't know, that will be up the president to decide who he wants to use.
BASH: You famously at the beginning of the Obama presidency said that your political goal was to make him a one-term president. What's your goal, now that he's just got two years left but now you're going to be the majority leader and it's your legacy, too?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think you can say both of us came up short. I had hoped to make him a one-term president and he had hoped to defeat me last fall. I think what the American people are saying is they want us both to still be here. They want us to look for things to agree on and see if we can make some progress for the country.
BASH: And you feel like you can do that?
MCCONNELL: We're going to find out.
BASH: Expectations are pretty high.
BASH: You know, for the last six years, you know, we've heard that things can't get done for conservatives because you only have one chamber. Now you have two. I know you still have a Democrat in the White House but now you have two.
So, given that, how much of a balancing act do you have pleasing conservatives but also looking ahead to 2016 for Republicans and making the Republican party a party that can elect nationwide a Republican president? Is that a tough balance?
MCCONNELL: Look, with we need to do both. We need to both look for areas where we can make some progress for the country and obviously to do that we're going to need some Democratic senators because we need 54, not 60 and we're going to need the president of the United States.
There are other areas where we're not going to agree. What I hope Senate Republican will present to the country is a conservative right-of-center governing majority, serious people elected in serious times to try to get results.
BASH: When is the bourbon summit going to happen?
MCCONNELL: Well, I think it will happen. The people in the industry in our state are sure hoping it's going to happen.
BASH: I'm sure. The question is what bourbon are you going to choose?
MCCONNELL: That's why I told -- that's why you picking among my three daughters, which one I love the most.
BASH: Sounds like you have to have a taste test.
MCCONNELL: Yes. We're going to have some kind of draw it out of a hat selection for the bourbon.
BASH: That sounds very diplomatic. Thank you...
MCCONNELL: Thank you.
BASH: ...and congratulations again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Let's bring in three members of the new congress, Democratic Congresswoman elect Debbie Dingell of Michigan, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. He is in-charge of making sure the Republicans keep their senate majority in 2016. And Republican Congresswoman elect Barbara Comstock of Virginia.
And I'll start with you on what your leader said. He was pretty positive about getting things done, but you are also going to have three or four likely presidential candidates. So, it's not so easy to get things done when you have people with their own agendas in your caucus, huh?
SEN. ROGER WICKER (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, I don't know about that. I think they'll be interested in accomplishments. So, from that standpoint the more things we can put on the president's desk in a bipartisan manner and it will have to be bipartisan with 60 votes required in the Senate I think the better we'll all look. So, I think we're into accomplishments and governing. BASH: And Congresswoman elect Comstock, I have to ask you about
one of your first jobs will be when you all come in this coming week and that is the whole -- I'm not sure people realize the whole House has to elect the speaker of the House. John Boehner needs 218 votes. Will you be one of them?
REP. BARBARA COMSTOCK (R), VIRGINIA: Yes. And I expect, we voted in our conference in November, and we, it was near unanimous. I think there was one weak voice that didn't say, that may have said nay. There hasn't been a campaign or any phone calls that anyone has received, so I expect that will move forward very smoothly.
BASH: He'll be safe.
And I'll ask you, you have a very unique perspective coming in. You are the first woman in history to be elected to a seat vacated by your husband, who is living. A lot of times the wife takes over when their -- when their spouse is deceased. So given that, how do you transition as sort of with the Dingell legacy coming in?
REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: Well, first of all, I'm not trying to fill my husband's shoes. They're too big and I don't think that anybody could fill them.
BASH: You've got your own shoes.
DINGELL: I've got my own shoes.
DINGELL: And I actually know both of the people at this table and respect them and that they've been friends and I hope that what I can bring is I've had a strong history of bipartisan relationships. Barbara (INAUDIBLE) out of the hospital and many people know that John was in the hospital she cared that I was OK.
I think we're all human beings and we've got to build trust between each other. I think the American people are tired of the partisan bickering in this country. All the freshmen -- most of the freshmen that I have met have heard that as a message. And I think people want to work together to find solutions for this country.
BASH: Well, that's nice to hear. We're going to talk a little bit more about that after the break. We're going to squeeze one in and we're also going to talk about the Republicans' number one goal despite what you just heard about working together, they want to unravel the president's agenda. How is that going to work? Stay with us.
BASH: Congress returns this week with Republicans firmly in control. They will have 246 seats in the House, their largest majority since 1928 and 54 seats in the Senate. A big gain but still short of the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles namely a filibuster. I want to return to our panel here and start with you since we're
talking filibuster and the Senate majority. Fifty-four is certainly a lot, but not, never mind filibuster proof, it's not veto proof. Given that, is it the right sort of idea to go down the path of putting pieces of legislation on the floor, sending it to the president, that you know he's going to veto?
WICKER: Well, we're going to send him legislation that gets bipartisan support. For one thing the House has already been sending for the last two years bipartisan legislation, about 300 bills, 50 dealing with job creation.
So, we're going to send the president the Keystone XL pipeline bill. It will be supported by quite a number of Democrats. I think the Iran legislation also, and then I think McConnell mentioned taking little bits of Obamacare for example, the medical device tax, the 40- hour work week, all of those things will be sent to the president with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, and we'll see how the president reacts to that. But also it will be an opportunity for the first time in nearly (ph) six years for the American people to see how their elected senators actually feel about these issues.
In the past it's been all about Harry Reid preventing votes from coming to the floor. You're going to see the Senate working five days a week, working on Fridays, like the rest of America has to do, and...
BASH: God forbid.
WICKER: ...and actually sending (ph) legislation looking at amendments, debating them, voting on them. The American people at the end of the day will have an idea how their senators feel about these issues and we'll see if we can send some things to the president that he will sign. We hope so.
BASH: Let's just break down a couple of the specifics that you just mentioned.
Congresswoman-elect Dingell, the Keystone pipeline. Do you think the president should sign that or veto it?
DINGELL: I'm waiting to hear what the president's actually going to tell us about Keystone. I myself have not decided how I'm going to vote on it. I think it does have the potential to create jobs but I haven't heard what the administration's official position is. And I think what the president tells us is going to be very important.
BASH: You have not had a chance to vote obviously because you haven't been in there on what the House has voted on like 50 times, which is repealing Obamacare. I know the senator talked about doing things that are sort of, you know, more incremental than that, but still you know the president's going to veto most of what you send, doing away with or at least changing his signature law, so why waste time trying if you say you want to get things done, coming in now?
COMSTOCK: Well I think it's important to focus on things that do have that support. On the Keystone Pipeline, you have the teamsters, the Tea Party, and the chamber all support the Keystone Pipeline. That's a pretty unique coalition. Getting that passed, I certainly hope the president will sign it because it creates jobs.
We have other bills like that that and a lot of the jobs bills. You know, something like the medical device tax which is related to both jobs and health care. You have dozens of I believe Democrats...
COMSTOCK: ...who support that in the House as well as the Senate.
We have things like Charter School Bill that the House has passed before I've been there, that have again dozens of Democrats on board. So, there's lots of good policy that's good politics and actually will give the president an opportunity if he wants a legacy of success to support these kind of jobs bills and then we'll also deal with things like Obamacare because we have to speak for the people who elected us. And the regular order of Congress is now to debate these issues, not to have Harry Reid or somebody in committee hold it up but to be getting these issues out in front of the people.
I do support repealing Obamacare, but I also support any type of health care that we can get that will make it easier for people, veterans, we have a veterans health care bill, getting that out there.
BASH: You talk about debate. There is one thing that the House did not debate last year and that's the immigration. Listen to what Senator Lindsey Graham told me about the issue of immigration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: We have video problems but the gist of what he said is that if Republicans in the House and Senate fail to act in a responsible manner, it severely hurts Republicans' ability in 2016 and then the chances of winning the White House for Republicans simply won't happen.
Do you agree with that? Do you need to actually deal with immigration reform specifically the undocumented --
WICKER: Well, I think we need to deal with immigration reform but I do think it's a major policy change like this needs to be done through legislation. That's what you learn in sixth grade. The House has to pass it, the Senate has to pass it and the president signs it.
BASH: Right but let's just talk politics. He did it. He did what he did on executive -- with his executive action because the Congress didn't move. So -- WICKER: Well --
BASH: But given your job to keep Republicans in control, and obviously I'm guessing you want a Republican in the White House, do you need to move forward on this issue once and for all?
WICKER: I think the first thing we'll do is a strong border security bill. And frankly, that's why I think Speaker Boehner didn't take it up in the House last term is because he didn't have confidence that the administration would actually enforce the border security part of it. But I think once we do that, we will have a debate in this term of Congress about what to do with those children who came through no decision of their own and what's the best way to handle that issue. I think we'll have that debate.
BASH: And what do you think about that as a Republican, is it time to deal with this?
COMSTOCK: Well first of all I think we should deal with what people told us was the priority, which is jobs.
Every poll shows that every member of Congress can tell you that we should focus on jobs first. Then people have said the border security issue is why people don't trust this president. So, I think that should be the first bill. And I do think immigration should be done piece by piece and I think border security is very important. Until we do that, you can't have that discussion but I think that discussion will be a lot easier with a booming economy moving forward, and we need to have that be the top priority, not -- and the president wants people to be arguing, we're trying to find points of agreement.
BASH: And on that one of the things that the president and Republicans have said that they want to do as a point of agreement is free trade, more free trade agreements.
You are from Michigan where historically the unions have not liked these free trade agreements. Will you back the president on this?
DINGELL: OK I want to say three things very quickly. One, I wish we could get Republicans to say stop repealing Obamacare. There are thing that need to be improved and (INAUDIBLE) little things that you're going after and the Obama -- the health care plan is working. So -- and there is a coalition of business of -- in unions and a whole vast number of people on immigration that are screaming for immigration reform, just the way that you're saying on some of these other things. On trade, we've got some serious trade problems.
The fact of the matter is that there was bipartisan agreement in a letter of last year in both the House and the Senate on currency, and we've got a serious problem. The mother of all trade barriers is those that manipulate currency.
The fact of the matter is Japan has got the most closed market in the world, less than 6 percent of their entire market goes to Europeans, Koreans or the domestic auto industry. This domestic auto industry can compete with any automobile in the country but when you're -- when you are manipulating the yen as the Japanese do, it gives several thousand dollars per vehicle subsidy that is then used against the domestic manufacturers. We can compete against anyone but not the bank of Japan or the Japanese government. So --
BASH: They're going -- they're going to be mad in the control room but I can't go without asking you about Steve Scalise your number three Republican in the House who allegedly spoke to a white supremacist group in 2002. Do you think he should still be the House majority whip?
COMSTOCK: Well, I think the story has been -- that story hasn't been accurate. And actually I think when you look at his colleagues, Democrat and Republican alike from Louisiana black and white, people who've worked with him (ph) that he's a man of -- a good heart and good character. That has been my experience with him and I think now that the story has been found to be something else, I think those people who know him best and those people at home I think you're seeing that that story has gone away.
BASH: Barbara Comstock, Debbie Dingell, Roger Wicker, thank you all for joining us. This is a fabulous discussion. I could talk forever. Wait, I will when I see you in the halls.
Next up a veteran lawmaker takes on the NSA in a new novel. Congressman Steve Israel on whether his book is more truth than fiction.
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BASH (voice over): All eyes are on New York this morning. You're looking at a live picture from Brooklyn where the funeral for Officer Wenjian Liu is scheduled to begin in just over an hour. Liu and his partner Rafael Ramos were murdered two weeks ago by a man claiming retaliation for the killings of unarmed black men.
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BASH: New Yorkers are also mourning the death of three-term governor and liberal icon Mario Cuomo this morning. Cuomo catapulted to national prominence with his keynote address at 1984 Democratic National Convention where in his inevitable style he challenged Ronald Reagan's notion of America.
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MARIO CUOMO, FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR: Mr. President, you ought to know that this nation is more a tale of two cities than it is just a shining city on a hill.
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BASH: After that speech many called on Cuomo one of -- called him rather one of his nation's -- the nation's greatest orators and national Democrats begged him to run for president but Cuomo declined and remained loyal to New Yorkers. Funeral services are expected this week.
And with me now Congressman Steve Israel, eight-term Democrat from New York. And let me just start right there. How should Governor Cuomo be remembered?
REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: Thanks for having me on, Dana.
People like Mario Cuomo literally come along once every half century. He was the quintessential New Yorker who blended the toughest New York street smarts with a sense of spirituality and a deep scholarship which is why he really was one of a kind and will always be remembered as one of a kind.
BASH: And Congressman, the funeral that's going to happen in a little over an hour in New York City for the second officer gunned down last week, what do you think has been going on with the tension between the mayor and the police force? Do you understand the frustration of the police officers with the mayor and how do you see this playing out?
ISRAEL: Well, I think you just said the key word, understand.
I think both sides need to take a time-out and pursue a deeper understanding of each other. I agree with Commissioner Bratton that this is a day not of grievances but of grieving. And finally on this and this is what frustrates me, look, 95 percent of cops are professionals. They're well-trained. They are dedicated public servants. Ninety-five percent of New Yorkers know that about our police and respect them. We cannot allow five percent on either side to define the relationship between our cops and our citizens, and that's why cops are going back to work. They always do, and New York City is going to go back to work, it always does.
BASH: OK. I want to turn to your new novel. It is called "The Global War On Morris" a satirical book on the war on terror. I read it and I was -- I have to say I was laughing out loud. It's about a poor (INAUDIBLE) named Morris from Long Island who was accused falsely and imprisoned. Where did this idea come from?
ISRAEL: Well you know, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. And I would sit in these classified briefings with President Bush and Vice President Cheney and hear things that I knew were completely unbelievable, implausible, and you know, would make an interesting book maybe for a few people, which is why I decided to put it in satirical form.
And finally, I was sitting in an armed services committee hearing one day listening to a general apologize for the fact that the government accidentally spied on a group of peaceful Quakers who were planning a protest at a military base, not an act of terror, and I decided right then and there, this is the book. I'm going to take this innocent guy whose whole philosophy of life is don't make waves and have him become public enemy number one because a misguided NSA surveillance program. BASH: You know, you use a lot of real names from the Bush White
House. President Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove to name a few. I want to show our viewers what you have in your dedication.
"To former vice president Dick Cheney and to my dad who didn't particularly care for him." Explain that.
ISRAEL: Well, vice president does make a recurrent appearance in this book. Look, it's a parody, it's satire, good biting satire, exaggerates certain qualities and flaws, and that's clearly what this book does not only about the vice president but about many others, including some in Congress and many of my colleagues.
My dad was a very -- he was a hard-core Democrat in Phoenix, Arizona. I lost him two years ago. When I would do shows like CNN and other networks, he was my toughest critic. He would call immediately after those interviews and say, you know, you weren't progressive enough, you weren't liberal enough, which is why I dedicated this book to him.
BASH: You also sort of take on your own party in the book. Here is what you wrote about a senator whose not named from New York, but clearly depicting your own senior senator, Chuck Schumer.
"Caryn, even managed to get an interview with the Senator from New York, a man physiologically incapable of declining any request that involved a camera. He had a ravenous appetite for publicity and even when he consumed massive amounts, he still fell malnourished. Publicity made his heartbeat." Ouch! Have you talked to Chuck Schumer about this?
ISRAEL: I have. I have a very high respect and admiration for Senator Schumer.
Look, you could take that sentence and apply it to every single member of the United States Congress and every single member of the Senate, but some identities were changed to protect the innocent. In this case I'll let the readers judge.
BASH: You know, I have to say, I don't want to give too much away, but there's one part where there's kind of a yenta from New York, a Jewish yenta, who finds herself in a therapy session with a sleeper cell in Florida which is just almost too much to comprehend.
How did you find time to do this? Look, you're a representative of New York. You were in charge of trying to get the Democrats elected to the House, which I think you would admit didn't go so well in November. How did you squeeze in writing a novel through all that?
ISRAEL: Number one, it was therapeutic. I would go to these meetings in the White House with the president, vice president, come out and start writing. Number two, I wrote the entire thing on my iPhone and Blackberry in cars, on planes, and occasionally in very boring meetings. And since there were a lot of occasional -- a lot of very boring meetings, I was able to write many words.
BASH: Boring meetings in Washington? That was shocking.
ISRAEL: Hard to believe. That's right.
BASH: Congressman Steve Israel, thank you very much. Appreciate it. And we'll be right back.
ISRAEL: Happy New Year.
BASH: You too.
BASH: You're looking at a live picture from Brooklyn, New York, where the funeral for officer Wenjian Liu is beginning in just over an hour. Liu and his partner were murdered last month by a man claiming retaliation for the killings of unarmed black men. The New York police commissioner has asked officers not to turn their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio today.
Stay with CNN for continuing coverage.
And thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION this morning. I'm Dana Bash in Washington.
Deborah Feyerick picks up our continuing coverage of the NYPD officer's funeral.