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Rahm Emanuel on CNN's "State of the Union" Transcript

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THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm just getting started! I don't quit. I'm not tired. I'm just getting started!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Testing time for President Obama. Nearing a critical decision about troop levels in Afghanistan and deep into tough negotiations on health care. We go inside the deliberations with the president's point man, White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don't even have an election finished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The Afghan political crisis and the fight against Al Qaida from a pivotal voice in Congress. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry is visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan and shares his firsthand assessment.
Then, our "American Dispatch" from Alaska. It is breathtaking and struggling. The recession arrived here late, but it is now making a painful mark.
This is the "State of the Union" report for Sunday, October 18th.
We begin this Sunday with one of the most powerful men in Washington. He's President Obama's gatekeeper, determining who gets access to the Oval Office, and he also plays a key role in virtually every decision the president makes. The White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, welcome to "State of the Union."
EMANUEL: Thanks, John.
KING: I want to begin overseas. There are reports that we are getting, hearing from U.S. officials, Western officials who have met with him and also on the ground, that President Karzai is resisting the findings that the fraud in the election was significant enough that there should be a runoff. In the view of the president of the United States, does President Karzai have a choice? Must there be a runoff?
EMANUEL: Well, first of all, what President Karzai must do and the process there is a credible and legitimate election or result, more importantly, for the Afghan people and for that government going forward, whether that's through a runoff, whether that's through negotiations. The process will be determined by the Afghan people. The result, for us and for the president, is whether, in fact, there's a credible government and a legitimate process; the Afghan people then think, this has worked, it's processed through. It's more important for the Afghans to come to that conclusion than what we say they have to do, because it's important for that government, whatever result or whatever process it takes, that the end result has a legitimate and credible government for the Afghan people.
KING: So at this point, since we do not view the prior election and the U.N. does not view the prior election as legitimate, is that then -- is the choice then a runoff election or a negotiated power sharing agreement with Mr. Abdullah?
EMANUEL: John, you've seen in the papers, you see the reports that are coming from Kabul. There is basically two roads there, or two basically processes. One is another runoff election between the two top candidates, or a negotiation between those candidates. But the end result must be a legitimate and credible government to the Afghan people. That's what's important. It's the Afghans making a decision about what type of government they're going to have and what road they're going to take to that point.
KING: And this plays out as the president faces a decision of enormous gravity, whether to send thousands, tens of thousands of more U.S. troops. Will the president wait and delay that decision until after you have a clear picture of the political situation?
EMANUEL: The review's going to continue to go on. That's not in question. The question, and one of the central questions of that review -- so we will continue. We've had five meetings. There's another set of meetings this week and the following week.
The question, though, and one of the questions is at the heart is -- and even General McChrystal's own report says -- the question does not come how many troops you send, but do you have a credible Afghan partner for this process that can provide the security and the type of services that the Afghan people need?
And you know, here in Washington, we want to have a debate, and you can't -- we would love the luxury of this debate to be reduced down to just one question, additional troops, 40,000. This is a much more complex decision. Even the general's own report and General Petraeus' own analysis says the question, the real partner here is not how much troops you have, but whether in fact there's an Afghan partner.
And when you go through all the analysis, it's clear that basically we had a war for eight years that was going on, that's adrift. That we're beginning at scratch, and just from the starting point, after eight years. And there's not a security force, an army, the type of services that are important for the Afghans to become a true partner.
So that is the question. And what I think it would be irresponsible -- and it's clear that as I saw the clip earlier, Senator Kerry said -- Senator Kerry, who's now in Kabul in Afghanistan noted, that it would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country.
KING: Whether the president sends more troops or not, how are we going to pay for this? Even if he does nothing more, there will be 68,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan at the end of the year, maybe a little more than that, without a decision to increase them. Will the president have to request emergency funding to pay for that, or is that (inaudible)?
EMANUEL: It will be part -- I mean, if we did this, it would be part of what we have to do as we've done both for our Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the past. It would be part of that process.
KING: But the president said in April, he had hoped not to do that anymore. The president sent a letter to the House speaker, and he said, "this is the last planned war supplemental." And he said, you know, in the past, after seven years of war, the American people deserve an honest accounting of the cost of our involvement in ongoing military operations. Is this something that candidates can say one thing or a young president can say another thing that you learn that sometimes you can't ...
EMANUEL: No, I mean, one of the points is, is, what is the cost if we took this approach? And that's been part of the discussion.
The first part of this discussion, John, has been about the fact that, where are we, what is the context, what is the assumptions built into this? One of the things that has been analyzed in all this is that, you know, and people would like to reduce this down and would like the luxury that, you know, send more troops, as if that's all that it takes.
You have to have a policy. It's important -- the policy is as important to protecting the troops as the equipment they have. And an analysis of where we are, what happened.
You have literally got into a situation, is there another way you can do this? And the president is asking the questions that have never been asked on the civilian side, the political side, the military side, and the strategic side. What is the impact on the region? What can the Afghan government do or not do? Where are we on the police training? Who would be better doing the police training? Could that be something the Europeans do? Should we take the military side? Those are the questions that have not been asked. And before you commit troops, which is -- not irreversible, but puts you down a certain path -- before you make that decision, there's a set of questions that have to have answers that have never been asked. And it's clear after eight years of war, that's basically starting from the beginning, and those questions never got asked.
And what I find interesting and just intriguing from this debate in Washington, is that a lot of people who all of a sudden say, this is now the epicenter of the war on terror, you must do this now, immediately approve what the general said -- where, before, it never even got on the radar screen for them. That -- everything was always about Iraq.
This is where Al Qaida is based. Not just in Afghanistan, it's clear that they're based in Pakistan. What is the relationship between the Taliban? Are there different grades of a Taliban? That is what the analysis is going on in the situation room, and I think the comfort for the American people is the president will not be rushed to making a decision without asking firm questions and challenging the assumptions behind those questions.
KING: A quick break with the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. When we come back, we'll bring the debate home, domestic issue. Will health care reform pass this year, and what about the record federal budget deficit? Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: We're back with the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
You are deeply involved in this health care negotiations on Capitol Hill. Right now, behind closed doors in the Senate -- this is a story from the Washington Post today. "Small group now leads closed-door negotiations." And it quotes the president, from candidate Obama saying, we will have these discussions televised on C- SPAN, everybody will be at the table, we'll do this in an open and transparent way. Why does it have to be done behind closed doors?
EMANUEL: Well, John, first of all, I mean, you know very well that this has been -- the entire health care process has been fully public and...
KING: This is the most important part.
EMANUEL: And everybody is going to continue to be involved. We went up to have the first set of a series of discussions. You saw all the hearings. Many people said, you know, cover the hearings in five separate committees that had those discussions or discussions happening then, both at the hearing level, and also...
KING: So as you negotiate now...
EMANUEL: ... as you negotiate in private. But that doesn't mean that you can't have what's going on.
The key point in this debate about health care, John, isn't what's going on in a sense of just these negotiations -- those are key -- is what, at the end of the day, will the result achieve what I call the four C's. That is, are we going to control cost, expand coverage, give people choice, and competition in the system. And that's the goal the president set out. We went up there. You had two committee chairmen, as well as the Senate majority leader there. Everybody knows these issues that we're discussing.
KING: You have another stop, so I'm going to interrupt you, because you have another stop to make and my time is limited. In the C's, controlling costs...
(CROSSTALK)
EMANUEL: I was actually getting close to be (ph) a senator (inaudible) filibustering for a second.
KING: You were filibustering quite well. You're very good.
One of the controlling cost elements here is competition -- excuse me, here -- is would you have the public option. And on the Senate side, you know, it's harder to sell in the Senate, because you have more centrists involved. Is this an acceptable public option to Rahm Emanuel, the Olympia Snowe trigger plan, maybe with a combination of Tom Carper's proposal to let the states do it?
EMANUEL: Breaking news, John. Doesn't matter whether it's acceptable.
(CROSSTALK)
KING: It does matter whether it's acceptable, because you'll have to sell it on the House side.
EMANUEL: No, here's the deal. As you saw the president say in the joint session to Congress, he believes a public plan, a public option is important to competition. Because in many parts of the country, a single health insurance industry has 80 percent, 70 percent of the market. Let me go -- finish. It is also parts of -- that parts of the country where premiums are the highest. So if you don't have competition, an insurance company has the run of not only premiums, but what kind of health care you have.
And so the president believes in it as a source of competition. He also believes that it's not the defining piece of health care. It's whether we achieve both cost control, coverage, as well as the choice that...
(CROSSTALK)
KING: Is a trigger good enough for the president?
EMANUEL: The president of the United States will obviously weigh in when it's important to weigh in on that. There are key members of the Senate that want a public option. The Senator Snowe, who's also important, would like to see a trigger. But what's implicit in the notion of a trigger is that you should always have available that option of having a public plan to bring the type of competition that brings downward pressure on prices and price-effective health care costs.
KING: The way the Senate Finance Committee bill is paid for is a fee on these Cadillac insurance plans. And your friends in the labor movement say, no way. That what happens is you'll put a fee on the insurance companies, and they will backdoor that by passing the costs onto the consumers. Gerry McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says we "all worked for these people. We worked for Obama. What do we get for it? We not only don't get anything for it, we get a slap in the face." They say that it's a backdoor way of violating the president's promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. Will that be in the final bill?
EMANUEL: First -- one of the first things the president did when he got into office, was ensure the largest middle class tax cut in history. Because middle class had basically saw their incomes...
(CROSSTALK)
KING: But why does a labor leader call it a slap in the face?
EMANUEL: Well, that's his position. In fact, he spoke -- the president spoke to this in the joint session.
But I want to go back. Remember this -- the middle class received the largest -- one of the largest tax cuts in one of the first things he's done in the 45 -- in the first 45 days of his office.
Second, this is basically one of the ways in which you basically put downward pressure on health care costs. The president believes, as he said in the joint session, that while he opposed this originally, thinks that -- and based on the analysis -- it is helpful in getting costs under control. And it hits the insurance companies and the high expansive and expensive plans.
KING: We have a $1.4 trillion deficit this year. I know the president has said he will cut it in half in his first term. Health care reform will be deficit-neutral is the president's position, and yet...
EMANUEL: More than deficit-neutral, John.
KING: And yet...
EMANUEL: John, wait a second. Wait a second. More than deficit-neutral.
KING: You say it will help bring the deficit down.
(CROSSTALK)
EMANUEL: Also, let me make a point up here, which I think -- I really want to make this point. When the prescription drug bill was passed, in the '80s -- I mean, rather, in 2005.
KING: In the Bush administration.
EMANUEL: Yes, in the Bush administration, there was no pay-for. It was charged on the credit card. And it run up costs as far as the eye can see, basically for about $850 billion. This bill, somewhere will be about $850 billion, $900 billion, fully paid for, done within the health care system, and it brings down the deficit. And it's the first step, if you want to control...
KING: Except...
EMANUEL: As you know, John...
KING: The administration has asked the Senate to do this...
EMANUEL: ... if you want to control health care costs...
KING: ... $250 billion Medicare fix to doctors. The administration has asked the Senate to do that outside of health care reform. And right now, there is no way to pay for it.
EMANUEL: Yes, but, John, in fact is -- the president -- this is one of the gimmicks that was done year after year in Washington...
KING: So why do it now? If it's been done year after year, why not end it?
EMANUEL: And the president's budget, in fact, he included it in his budget when we negotiated that and we passed the budget. The first year, it's paid for.
What happens is, everybody says, you know, don't worry about it, and then they just pass it on. We've made a difference.
But the first piece of controlling the deficit is health care. I will also say the next step, is also important, is paying pay as you go. In the 2000 era, starting in 2001, the discipline of the '90s that led to a surplus was pay as you go. That was eliminated, basically allowed to lapse. And we passed three tax cuts, a prescription drug bill that led to $5 trillion of red ink run up -- the biggest red ink run-up in the shortest period of time in American history. Literally over half the nation's debt is accumulated in the last eight years.
KING: I traveled 40 states in the last 40 weeks, and people often use language for which you and I are known for using, mostly in private, not often in public, when they come to the issue...
EMANUEL: I didn't know you were a fellow traveler, John.
KING: They're watching Wall Street and they see the stock market going up, and many of them think that's a good thing, but they also see 9, 10 percent, if you go to Michigan, 15 percent unemployment. And they see this past week Citigroup gets $45 million in government bailout money, pays $5.3 billion in bonuses. Bank of America gets $45 billion in their taxpayer money, pays out $3.3 billion in bonuses. Is there anything the president can do about this?
EMANUEL: Well, one -- yes. And the level is -- and one of the issues is -- I mean, I think the American people have a right to be frustrated and angry, in this sense -- when the financial markets and the financial system had frozen up to a point that literally one of the reasons the economy was literally going towards a depression, literally head first. There's a one out of three chance we were going to get a depression. That basically the system came, and they only people -- the only place that you could actually resolve this situation was the government, which required the taxpayers putting up $700 billion. That as soon as stability was achieved, and things had a sense of normalcy, what are some of the titans in the financial industry do? Is they're literally going and fighting the very type of regulations and reforms that are necessary to prevent, again, a crisis like this happening.
And it's -- you know, as somebody who has literally sat once and was in Congressman Barney Frank's committee, the Financial Services Committee, that they're literally in that short of order, they assume everybody else has, you know, basically short-term memory problems around here.
The notion that they came, and I -- and I -- and the president understands, and it's why he's spoken to this, why the American people are frustrated. Not only do they come for a bailout, but in this short period of time where they have a level of normalcy because of what the government did to help them, they're now back trying to fight consumer offices and the type of protections that will prevent another type of situation where the economy is taken over the cliff by the actions taken on Wall Street and the financial market. And that is what's frustrating people.
EMANUEL: What's also frustrating to the American people, and the part on the bonuses, and I understand, as a former member of Congress representing people, is that while they see these bonuses going back and three see that as part of what the banks pay, is in fact -- there was an article the other day in the USA Today, incomes are at their 18-year low.
So while they're struggling to try to make ends meet, save for their retirement, pay for health care costs that are going up 10 percent next year, according to the Hewitt Associates, provide for their children an education -- while they're struggling to make ends meet, Wall Street is back doing what Wall Street did.
They have a responsibility to the whole system. And it starts with not fighting the financial regulatory system and the reforms that are necessary to protect consumers, homeowners, and others. They have a responsibility to come to the table and understand that taking -- that the risks that they took, took the economy to a place, it was near a depression, which we hadn't seen since literally the '30s.
They have a responsibility to be part of the solution, not part of being the obstacle and the forces, which is what the president is facing both on health care and the financial system, is fighting the very special interests that have vested interests in keeping the status quo and their friends up on Capitol Hill, who have actually been their advocates in keeping the status quo.
KING: You need to go, and so I'm going to ask you one more quick question. I let you answer that because I could see how important it was to you and I didn't interrupt you. I've known you for...
EMANUEL: That's so much like a family discussion.
KING: I've known you for 17 years, and we've been through a lot of campaigns together, you practice hardball politics with relish. I'm trying to get behind the curtain and understand why your White House has decided that it is in its interest to have this, boom, with our rival, FOX News, Anita Dunn, one of your staff, calls it the -- the communications director, the wing of the Republican Party. why?
EMANUEL: Well, no, it's not so much a conflict with FOX News. But unlike -- I suppose, the way to look at it and the way we -- the president looks at it and we look at it, is, it is not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And that's a different take.
And more importantly, does not have -- the CNNs and others in the world basically be led and following FOX, as if that -- what they're trying to do is a legitimate news organization in the sense of both sides and a sense of value (ph) opinion.
But let me say this. While it's clear what the White House and what Anita said, I mean, the concentration at the White House isn't about what FOX is doing. Its concentration is about, what does it take to make sure the economy is moving, creating jobs, helping the economy grow, making sure that we responsibly withdraw from Iraq, making sure what -- the decisions we make on Afghanistan, we ask the questions before we go ahead first into putting 40,000 more troops on the line and America's reputation, its most treasured resources, its young men and women, and its resources. That's what's occupying the decisions and the time in the White House.
KING: I know you would rather be home with your children, I will let you go.
EMANUEL: Absolutely.
KING: Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, thanks for coming in to STATE OF THE UNION.
EMANUEL: Thanks, John.
KING: And when we come back, should the president send thousands of more troops to Afghanistan? And should he at least wait? You heard Rahm Emanuel's view. When we come back, one of the most powerful voices in Congress is in Afghanistan. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's chairman, John Kerry, next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: You just heard the White House perspective on the question of what's next in Afghanistan. Should there be more troops? What happens with the dispute over the contested election? We also have the views this morning for you of a very powerful voice in Congress, who is in the ground -- on the ground in Afghanistan, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, John Kerry.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KING: Senator Kerry, thank you for joining us from the ground there. First, I want your assessment of the political situation. How soon do you think they could administer a runoff election in Afghanistan?
KERRY: I'm told by the authorities here that they could do it in two weeks. And I accept that. I think it could be done in two weeks.
KING: What do you think the United States, the United Nations, and the international community need to do to make sure that what happened last time doesn't happen again? How do we strengthen the administration and the integrity of that election process?
KERRY: Well, I think it's critical -- obviously, in any emerging democracy, there are going to be a certain number of difficulties. I think they've done a good job, frankly, over the last months and weeks of isolating what those difficulties were. and of throwing out the votes that needed to be thrown out. But if there is indeed going to be a run-off, then we want to try to do it as effectively as humanly possible. One of the things that was lacking last time, particularly in the south, was adequate security.
KING: Do you believe we should just step back from this, or is the best thing now going forward to try to encourage negotiations? There has been some talk of maybe a power-sharing arrangement. President Karzai would then bring Dr. Abdullah into the government somehow. Is that a good approach?
KERRY: I think it's entirely up to President Karzai to make -- assuming he gets reelected, if he is, then he has got to make decisions about what the make-up of his government is going to be. That doesn't mean we just stand by, no. I don't accept that. We have too much at stake here, our troops are on the line. We have people in harm's way in this country. And they're making great sacrifices.
And we have a responsibility to make certain that the government here is a full partner in our efforts to be able to be as effective as we can be. So before the president makes a decision about the numbers of troops that ought to come here, I believe it is critical for us to be satisfied that the reform efforts that are absolutely mandatory within the government here are in fact going to take place and be fully implemented.
This struggle here in Afghanistan, and the goals of the president that he has defined with respect to al Qaeda and the stability of the region, those goals will not be achieved by just the United States military or the numbers of troops here.
The essential ingredients, frankly, as important as anything, is the ability of the government of Afghanistan to deliver at the top, all the way down to the local level; and secondly, the ability of the international community to bring the civilian sector in underneath the military effort in order to provide an improvement in the quality of life and opportunities for the people of this country.
Those are critical components of counterinsurgency strategy. It would be very hard, I think, for the president to make a commitment to X number of troops, whatever it might be, or to the new strategy, without knowing that all of the components of the strategy are indeed capable of being achieved.
KING: Well, let me ask you a little -- more questions about that then. You've had meetings with General McChrystal and his deputies there on the ground.
KING: Before you left Washington, you said you were very wary of the prospect of sending maybe 40,000 more troops into the situation in Afghanistan.
After the face-to-face contact with the generals, are you more comfortable with their plan?
KERRY: They answered a lot of questions. And obviously, General McChrystal is a very impressive leader. Not all of the questions have been answered. And some of the assumptions that General McChrystal is making, and he acknowledges this himself, are based on the other two things I talked about.
And so this mission is not defined exclusively by its military component. And we've got to make certain that the other pieces, again, I say, are achievable. And I'm not yet convinced that we're there.
KING: Not yet convinced. You have, in the past, many times raised the Vietnam analogy, saying your worry was that then-Defense Secretary McNamara and General Westmoreland, would keep asking for more troops without examining all of the big underlying questions.
Are you convinced that General McChrystal is not General Westmoreland?
KERRY: Absolutely. I think General McChrystal is asking the questions about the underlying assumptions. This is not Vietnam in that - many respects.
We are here in Afghanistan because people attacked us here, in the most significant attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor. We are here because there are still people at large who are plotting against the United States of America. And we are here because the stability of this region is of critical strategic interest to the United States.
I think most people agree on that. So the -- the basic assumptions here are very, very different from what we experienced years ago in Vietnam.
In addition to that, I think the general is very, very carefully looking at the other components of the mission that he has set, i.e., what will the government of Afghanistan be able to deliver? And how does he work around it if they don't?
And secondly, how much and how fast can we get a civilian component in here to do the build part, after we clear and hold, and then ultimately transfer to the Afghans?
And that's another assumption that people are looking at very carefully. What are the Afghans themselves capable of doing with respect to their army? How fast can they be trained? How capable will they be? What kind of transition can take place?
These are all the kinds of questions that are appropriately being asked now.
KING: We had Senator McCain in here last week. And you know his opinion, but I want to share it with our viewers and get your reaction to it. I asked him the question, what will it take in Afghanistan to succeed? Listen to Senator McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Do you think the United States can win in Afghanistan with fewer than 40,000 more troops?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: I do not. And I think the great danger now is not an American pullout; I think the great danger now is a half-measure, sort of a -- you know, try to please all ends of the political spectrum.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: I don't think the president has any intention of doing that. I think he is going to make his judgment about what kind of mission he's going to set. And then he is going to make, I think, a solid judgment about what it's going to take to accomplish that mission.
You know, I have great respect for John McCain. He and I served in the same war. We both have searing memories about what happened when politics took over the decisions of that. So I respect his caution about it.
But I'm convinced that the review the president is going through is exhaustive; it's thorough; and I'm absolutely confident the president is not going to make a decision remotely connected to politics. He is going to make a decision based on the national security interests of our country and of what he thinks it takes to achieve the mission that he defines to meet those interests.
KING: A quick break, but when we come back, more with John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations, who is on the ground in Afghanistan. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Let's continue our conversation, now, with Senate John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Let's get your assessment of the threat. What is the threat now, in Afghanistan, of Al Qaida and the Taliban to the United States?
General Jones was here a few weeks ago, and he said probably fewer than 100 Al Qaida operatives currently in Afghanistan. What is the threat?
KERRY: It's a several-fold threat. It's the threat of the failure of governance, which is empowering Taliban to be able to recruit people because of their dissatisfaction and distrust, not essentially because they agree with the Taliban.
But if the Taliban gain sufficient footholds in parts of the country, most people, I think, make a judgment that that is an opportunity for Al Qaida to take advantage of their alliance and therefore create, conceivably, a sanctuary or training ground for terrorist activities in other parts of the world.
We have seen that. That is their modus operandi. And that's what we have to worry about. That's the threat, insofar as the Taliban might or might not present a challenge to us. I don't think they're about to take over the country. Al Qaida is not essentially here today. It is in northwest Pakistan and in some 58 or 59 other countries in the world.
But we need to also guarantee that the Taliban and our own presence don't become a destabilizing factor with respect to Pakistan and their efforts to fight against their own Taliban as well as other extremist groups that threaten their government.
And they are, as we recall, a government with nuclear weapons, a government with a major number of troops lined up on the border with India, and a government that, for a number of other reasons, I think has national security interests for the United States.
KING: Help us, Mr. Chairman, understand that delicate and difficult balance. Do you worry, for example, that, if the United States were to add 30,000, 40,000 more troops into Afghanistan, you would be roughly, then, with U.S. and NATO troops, where the Soviets were back in the old days of their incursion into Afghanistan?
And some say that that would cause so much instability in Pakistan, the giant U.S. presence, that you would be doing more harm than good.
KING: Do you share that assessment?
KERRY: Well, I don't share the beginning -- the beginning basis of the premise in which you asked the question.
I don't think people here in Afghanistan are viewing the United States now in the same way that they viewed the Soviet Union, not at all.
Yes, there is, however, a legitimate question about whether or not a certain number of troops, depending on their mission, might drive people into Pakistan, and thereby present further difficulties in the western part of that country or even fuel the extremism there.
That is a legitimate question. And it is raised by a number of Pakistanis, and it's one of the reasons why I wanted to come over here to talk to people on both sides of the border about that perception.
KING: Help the American people understand -- best-case scenario, how long will U.S. troops be in Afghanistan, 10 years, 20 years, more?
(LAUGHTER)
KERRY: Well, I hope it won't be that long, obviously. And I have -- you know, I'm trying to think about a mission that doesn't touch those kinds of time frames. My hope is that we can define a mission, here, that will achieve what we need to do to meet our national security interests. That's what this is about.
And we have to define them very, very carefully. I think the president was correct in focusing on Al Qaida and on focusing the stability of the region and of Pakistan itself. And our mission, in so much as it takes into account the Taliban, is really focused on that.
What we need to figure out is how rapidly and how effectively can we create a transfer to the Afghans themselves. And, you know, I don't have an answer to that, sitting here with you today.
KING: I want to share with you an assessment by the commander of the VFW back here in the United States and get your comments on it. Tom Tradewell, the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars said this.
"In battle, weaknesses are exploited and attacked, which proved to be the case during the Vietnam War. North Vietnam correctly perceived that the United States government did not possess the political will to complete the mission. And that perception became reality.
"In Afghanistan, the extremists are sensing weakness and indecision within the United States government, which plays into their hands, as evidenced by the increased attacks in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. I fear that an emboldened enemy will not intensify their efforts to kill more U.S. soldiers."
Is there weakness and indecision in the United States government? Is the commander of the VFW right?
KERRY: I -- I respectfully disagree with the judgment that he makes about -- at this point in time. Look, obviously, if you exhibit weakness or indecision, or if the United States were to suddenly pull out of here, it would disastrous, in terms of the message that it sends. Nobody is talking about that. That's not what's on the table here.
What we're trying to figure out, so that we don't repeat mistakes of the past, is not just committing people in -- putting them in harm's way and endlessly asking our military to deploy and go out and fight if we aren't certain that we're giving them the mission that, in fact, is achievable and that the American people will in fact stay committed to it.
That's part of what has to be tested here. A lot of us have tough memories of what happens when the country loses that will.
So, you know, I want to understand this as well as I can. I don't think -- I think the president -- and look, it would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country, when we don't even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we're working with.
And when our own, you know, commanding general tells us that a critical component of achieving our -- our mission here is, in fact, good governance, and we're living with a government that we know has to change and provide it, how could the president responsibly say, oh, they asked for it; sure, here they are -- and we know that the two critical schools of counterinsurgency aren't going to stand. That would be irresponsible for a president of the United States.
And no commander-in-chief should be, you know, cornered into making a decision that isn't based on a responsible assessment about what is possible and what the American people are prepared to commit to.
I think this is being approached in an entirely responsible way. General McChrystal told me that, even if the commander in chief made the decision tomorrow to put those troops in here, many of them wouldn't even begin to start the flow here until next year, because that's the way it works.
So this is not a situation where someone here is being deprived today or tomorrow or the next day. This is a situation where I think people here are being protected by a smart way of making policy.
KING: Let me try to bring you home, Senator, before we let you go, for a couple of questions about domestic policy here in the United States. The Senate Finance Committee bill to pay for its health care reforms adopts a proposal similar to one you advocated. It's not exactly the Kerry proposal, but it would put a fee on those "Cadillac" insurance plans.
And many of your friends in the labor movement have said, you know what, you're going to put a fee on the insurance companies and they're going to pass that on to the consumer. Gerry McEntee, a labor leader, who helped you when you were running for president, says it's a slap in the face of the American worker. And they view it as a violation of the president's promise not to raise taxes on middle- class Americans.
Is Gerry McEntee right? Is that a slap in the face of American workers?
KERRY: Well, I have great, great respect for Gerry McEntee. He's a good pal of mine, and I appreciate enormously his concern, and I share his concern for workers who might be affected if the threshold were to stay too low. I don't believe the threshold will stay too low.
And we're -- we've already raised it, actually, partly. We have adjusted to some of his concerns and other people's concerns. And I hope we can still raise it a little further to a different level.
But here's what I'm convinced of: If you get it at the right level, I believe what happens is, it doesn't get passed on because those insurance companies actually have a strong incentive to be competitive with the other companies that are going to be in this new exchange that is created.
KING: Senator John Kerry, there, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Up next, we head to Alaska. It's a breathtakingly beautiful state, and its isolation often protects it when the national economy takes a turn for the worst. But just as winter arrives, so does recession. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: As you know, in our travels, we often look at the mixed signals from the economy. The stock market goes up, but so, too, does unemployment. This week, we went to far away Alaska. Look at this. The unemployment rate a year ago was 6.7 percent. It is up to 8.4 percent now. Every resident of Alaska gets an annual check from the state because of oil revenues. Last year it was over $2,000. This year down because oil revenues are down. In our "American Dispatch" this week from Anchorage, we wanted to take a first-hand look at the rugged beauty that makes Alaska so different yet also at the pain of a recession that's all too familiar.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KING (voice-over): Alaska takes pride in its natural beauty and the geographic isolation that makes it very different from what folks here call the lower 48.
NEAL FRIED, ECONOMIST, DEPT OF LABOR, ALASKA: Our economy really beats to a very different drummer than the sort of the average American economy, if there is such a thing.
KING: State economist Neal Fried says the numbers don't lie. Tourism is down, trade is slumping, unemployment climbing.
FRIED: Now we're part of it like the rest of the country is. We appear to be more attached and we're being more affected by this recession than we've ever been in prior recessions elsewhere in the country.
KING: With jobs so scarce, Brad Gillespie says the state is taking new steps, including an online warning to discourage people who lost jobs elsewhere from migrating to Alaska.
BRAD GILLESPIE, ANCHORAGE AREA ALASKA JOB CENTER: We have a fair number of people that think Alaska is the promise land. They have maybe misconceptions about what's up here, and they load up their family and head out on the Alaska highway and we want to encourage them to not do that until they have something lined up before they get up here.
KING: Sharon Phillips is a regular here, out of work for nine months now.
SHARON PHILLIPS, UNEMPLOYED RESIDENT: I put in for probably -- oh, probably ten jobs, eight or 10 jobs a week. I get interviewed for about four a week and I'm still unemployed. There's usually about 70 or 80 people that apply for most jobs. We've been here 27 years, but this is probably the worst I've ever seen the economy anywhere since I've been alive.
KING: Sharon's unemployment benefits run about $450 a month. She says others have it worse.
PHILLIPS: My husband also works for the state so we're making it, you know? I see so many people -- I see more people out on the streets. I see more people homeless. It's going to get worse with winter.
KING: Demand for a shelter is increasing and at this one in Anchorage, the faces reflect the higher toll on native Alaskans. So does the activity at the Cook Inlet Tribal Council job center. Unemployment among native Alaskans is around 20 percent. And with winter approaching, employment and training director Carol Wren worries it will go higher.
CAROL WREN, COOK INLET TRIBAL COUNCIL: They face a lot of other challenges that other individuals may not face. We look at education levels, they're usually lower. Poverty rates, pregnancy rates, some of those thing, so I think that it's going to be a little rough for folks here and into the future. I think we're just starting to feel it here.
KING: The tribal center has benefited from federal stimulus money and so has the state government. But Republican Governor Sean Parnell said he would prefer longer term health for Alaska, like approval of new oil and gas leases.
GOV. SEAN PARNELL (R), ALASKA: Outer-continental shelf development means 35,000 new jobs. The problem with stimulus funds is that they're great when they come in, but it's horrible when they're gone, so it's a dependence that gets created that doesn't lead to any more freedom or prosperity in the long run. I'd like to see more policy geared towards investment and job creation rather than propping up the states along the way.
KING: Looking ahead, the governor worries next summer will be another tough tourism season and that a recession that came late to Alaska will linger too long.
PARNELL: Alaska tends to trail the rest of the U.S. when it comes to the economy. So when the rest of the economy is headed out, it takes Alaska some time behind it. When the national economy is heading down, we trail.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
KING: A breathtaking sunset. As you know, one of our goals is to get out of Washington as often as we can. We've made it our pledge on "State of the Union" to travel to all 50 states our first year. So far, 40 weeks, 40 states including Alaska, Maine and West Virginia. Where should we go next? You can e-mail us, stateoftheunion@CNN.com and tell us that why should come to your community.
I want to say good-bye to our international audience in this hour. But up next for viewers here in the United States, Howard Kurtz gets Michael Wilbon's take on Rush Limbaugh's now defunct bid to buy into an NFL franchise.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING (voice-over): Media scrutiny derails Rush Limbaugh's bid to become an NFL team owner. Journalists fare on the analysis of the controversial radio talk show host's comments. "Washington Post" sports columnist Michael Wilbon shares his view. Plus the White House isn't backing down from its criticism of FOX News. Smart strategy or a signal of a more combative relationship between the president and the press? In this hour of "State of the Union," Howard Kurtz, as always, breaks it down with his "Reliable Sources."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: From the moment we learned that Rush Limbaugh was part of a group bidding to buy the St. Louis Rams, I knew the pundits would come charging onto the field and debate his fitness as an NFL owner. And there was an added twist to this high-decibel argument. A bogus quote about slavery attributed to Rush that started with a book, made it to Rupert Murdoch's Australian newspaper last month and then to ESPN, CNN, MSNBC and some major newspapers.
KURTZ: Now that the media furor has prompted Limbaugh to withdraw from the group (inaudible) by the football franchise, this question remains -- should a penalty flag be thrown on some of the journalists who tackled this story?
I spoke earlier with Mike Wilbon, "The Washington Sports" columnist and co-hosts of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption."
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KURTZ: Mike Wilbon, welcome.
WILBON: Thank you, Howie.
KURTZ: Let me play for you something you said on "Pardon the Interruption" soon after the news broke that Rush Limbaugh was part of a team trying to buy the St. Louis Rams.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WILBON: I don't know whether Rush Limbaugh is a straight up bigot or he simply plays one on TV and radio, but he is universally reviled by black people in this country.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, maybe a straight up bigot, universally reviled by black people. In retrospect, do you think you went a little too far?
WILBON: Universally reviled by African-Americans. That's no surprise. Anybody who wants to walk down any boulevard in predominantly African-American communities will find that out very, very quickly, Howie. No, that assessment is a very easy one to make.
KURTZ: But when you say he may be a straight up bigot, you're saying he doesn't like black folks.
WILBON: He may be. I mean, if you listen to what he says on his show -- and I stopped a long time ago, and I can't tell you specifics of what he said. Meeting him in person is one thing. I have. Communicating with him one-on-one is one thing.
His radio persona, which is all that most people have of Rush Limbaugh, particularly black people in this country, that's a different perception. And I would not back away from that comment at all.
KURTZ: All right. Let's talk a little bit about this alleged "slavery" comment.
Now, this was purported to have been said some years ago by Limbaugh: "Slavery built the South. I'm not saying we should bring it back, I'm just saying it had its merits."
Let me briefly run through the chronology here. This was published in a book about three years ago. It made it on to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, and then it was picked up once the Rams story broke by Bryan Burrwell and "The St. Louis Post-Dispatch," Drew Sharp in "USA Today," CNN's Rick Sanchez, and then you mentioned it on your ESPN program.
What happened then?
WILBON: I did. I got an e-mail.
Again, I have met Rush. And while there's not necessarily a relationship there, we know how to reach each other. He reached out and said hey, didn't say this, do not believe it, don't know how this got started, although I'm trying to trace the origin of this statement. Don't believe that. It doesn't reflect what my beliefs are about slavery.
And I read the e-mail, e-mailed him back, and we had an exchange. Then I said I took him at his word.
I was not going to be able to sit down and verify everything that is said, because as you know, Howie, there's a lot out there that's said that is attributed to Rush. I have listened to his show. I've heard a lot of things. I'm not sitting there with a notebook writing them down.
KURTZ: Right.
WILBON: So, I cannot verify that he said that.
KURTZ: But in this case there's no evidence that he made this particular "slavery" comment. Do you think you should have checked before putting it on the air?
WILBON: No question. And I told Rush that. That's a journalistic no-no.
But, if I had checked and found out the information that we had basic access to every day on deadline, I might have done it anyway. Still, that's wrong and a journalistic no-no, and I said that to him.
KURTZ: All right.
Let's take a look at what Limbaugh had to say about this whole slavery business and the coverage of his now-defunct bid to be part of the Rams ownership. Let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This kind of stuff, this reporting, mal-reporting, lying, repeating the lies while also saying "Limbaugh denies," repeating the made-up quotes, the blind hatred -- and believe me, the hatred that exists in this is found in the sportswriter community. It's found in the news business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Does he have a point?
WILBON: He had a point in that smaller area about that quote. Let's not make it seem like Rush Limbaugh has not insulted black people on his radio show. He's done it for years and years and years.
And it's not just black people that know that, Howie. I mean, the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, knows it. Otherwise, he wouldn't have made the statements he made.
Jimmy Irsay, owner of the Colts, he knows it. Otherwise, he would not have come out and said publicly, "I would not vote for this guy."
Millions of black people know this, which is why they feel about Rush Limbaugh the way they feel. This is not arbitrary. People just didn't pick out Rush Limbaugh and said, oh, let's be mad at Rush because of nothing.
KURTZ: Right. But on this point -- on this point about the slavery, and there was also another alleged quote for which there is no evidence about saying something nice about James Earl Ray, I don't think it's enough to come back the next day and say, well, here's Rush's denial. I think if you don't have evidence to back it up, you need to retract it and apologize.
But let's talk about something that Rush Limbaugh did say famously.
WILBON: And by the way, I agree with you why I did that.
KURTZ: You did, but not everybody has done that. I just wanted to make that point.
Let's talk about something Limbaugh did say famously six years ago when he was briefly an ESPN commentator, and that was about Donovan McNabb. And he said, "I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well."
A lot of people pointed to that as evidence that, well, he's some kind of racist. Wasn't he really talking there about the media?
WILBON: It's his interpretation. That is not in the top 300 things that I would object to, that I would find objectionable or offensive that Rush Limbaugh has said of somebody of African-American descent. So, I mean, that was one thing that people who, in the sports context, all of a sudden were exposed to Rush Limbaugh who may not listen to his show, may not be as familiar with him, and went, wow, this seems a little off center of what we normally hear. And they held on to that.
Again, that is not probably in the top thousand things, if I can go back and chronicle the shows, that I would find offensive of his comments.
KURTZ: Right. Well, he said a number of things over the years, inflammatory things that I disagree with. But when this whole debate erupted about, you know, was he fit to be even a minority owner in the St. Louis Rams, I'm thinking the National Football League, Michael Vick gets to go in the National Football League. There are a lot of owners and players who have done things that are not exactly stuff we heed praise on.
WILBON: I would agree with you there, Howie. My take on his whole ownership bid was this: The market will determine whether or not you wind up being an owner. And if the club you're trying to get into, if its members say, no, we don't want you, you have to live with that.
Rush Limbaugh is out there every day judging, passing judgment, turning thumbs up or thumbs down on whether somebody is fit or worthy to be involved in some activity in this country. He is subject to the same rules, if you will, in that context. And in this case, the market said no, it didn't want to sell what Rush was buying. And he has to live with that, and I would defy anybody to tell me that that's not fair.
KURTZ: But to what extent -- I've got about half a minute here -- did the media uproar over this -- and it's being debated on every cable show and every sports radio show -- contribute to a climate where the NFL just felt it could not touch Rush with a 100-foot football field?
WILBON: Plenty.
KURTZ: Couldn't let him on the football field, I should say.
WILBON: Plenty, Howie, just like he helps -- remember, Rush is the media. Rush is mainstream media. So, just like any other debate, Rush and his conversation on his show contributes to that same sort of...
(CROSSTALK)
KURTZ: And he loves to stir up controversy.
WILBON: Yes, he does. That's what I'm saying.
You can't all of a sudden say, wait a minute, I'm outside of controversy, when you help create it every day, and very successfully and very smartly, by the way, for those who listen to Rush's show. No, you can't then say the rules don't apply to me.
I don't think, to be fair, that Rush is saying that. In our conversation, that that was not what I sensed. So he, again, put himself out there, subject to national debate, and the debate said no, we don't want it.
KURTZ: Right.
Well, the St. Louis rams story is over, but the controversy very certainly is not.
Mike Wilbon, thanks very much for joining us.
WILBON: Thanks, Howie.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
KURTZ: And after we taped that interview, CNN's Rick Sanchez apologized for using the "slavery" quote. A little late, but good for him. MSNBC's David Shuster also retracted the quote but offered no apology.
Coming up, the media gets swept away by the balloon boy who wasn't.
But first, Fox fallout. Last week on this program, Anita Dunn ripped into Fox News. Beck and O'Reilly fired back. Much of the media world weighed in.
Did the White House wind up giving Fox a boost?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: There's no other way to put it. Our program went viral this week. My interview with Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, was picked up by so many Web sites, blogs and cable shows, that I quickly lost track. And it wasn't hard to figure out why.
Her blunt attack on Fox News sparked a debate about the president and the press, about political hardball, and, of course, about Fox itself.
We begin with what Anita Dunn said right here and the sharp reaction at Rupert Murdoch's network.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANITA DUNN, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: What I think is fair to say about Fox, and certainly the way we view it, is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party. Take their talking points, put them on their air. Take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that's fine, but let's not pretend they're a news network the way CNN is.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: So, if you're going to be in a seat of power in Washington, if you're going to be in the White House, and then you want to pick an ongoing fight with Fox News, number one, it empowers Fox News, no doubt about it.
MONICA CROWLEY, PH.D., MONICAMEMO.COM: It is an abuse of power when you're the president of the United States to use the White House and the full weight of the White House to single out a single news organization and castigate them and try to delegitimize that.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: Here is the map of New York, and the enemy is right -- got to go down 6th Avenue. There's Times Square. The enemy is in this building right here.
That is the enemy. Look out, America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, are the White House attacks actually helping Fox News?
Joining us now in New York, Marisa Guthrie, programming editor for "Broadcasting & Cable" magazine. And here in Washington, David Brody, White House correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, and John Aravosis, the founder of AmericaBlog.com.
John Aravosis, Fox is just reveling in this. Did Anita Dunn's attacks have the unintentional effect of actually give Fox News a boost?
ARAVOSIS: Oh, I'm sure it gave Fox News a boost with its own viewers, but that's not really the point. The point was Democrats had finally had enough with Fox being a political operation, not a news network. And frankly, I applaud the Obama administration for speaking out, because during the election they catered to Fox.
Obama went on O'Reilly after Fox pushed the madrassa story about him growing up in Muslim schools, which is false. They still went on Fox. So, I think Obama bent over backwards to try to help them, and now they finally said...
(CROSSTALK)
KURTZ: Well, and to help himself as a candidate.
ARAVOSIS: Sure.
KURTZ: David Brody, Chris Wallace, on "Fox News Sunday" this morning, saying the White House wouldn't give that program to anybody, on any subject. But does this now enable Fox to position itself as the only news outlet that gets under the administration's skin?
BRODY: Well, sure, to a degree. And the ratings will increase, and the White House will look petty in the short term.
But look, I mean, if you're in the White House's shoes, if you will, what are you going to do here? I mean, you've got three million-plus folks watching Beck every night, as well as O'Reilly. And, of course, a couple of million and change in the middle with some other folks. I mean, look, they understand that they've got to have some sort of strategy to combat this.
KURTZ: But do you hit Beck and O'Reilly and Hannity for specific things they've said, or do you slam the entire network, which includes reporters?
BRODY: Well, here's the issue, Howie. It's not just Beck, O'Reilly and Hannity. What Fox seems to be doing -- and take the czar story, for example. They'll take the czar story in that 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. hour, and then 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with some of their main day side anchors, that will also be the theme of their coverage as well.
KURTZ: They drive certain stories.
BRODY: They drive...
KURTZ: And I'm going to come back to that.
But first, let me ask Marisa Guthrie, is there a downside for Fox when a top White House official says it's not a real news network and just spews Republican talking points?
GUTHRIE: Well, they're not -- Fox News doesn't thrive on access from the administration. They're the opposition. They thrive on agitation. So, there hasn't been any downside in this debate, in this fight at all.
I mean, as Roger Ailes said, don't pick a fight with people who like to fight. And administrations have tried to do this going back to Grant and Washington. I mean, it's not -- you're never going to win this battle. And you're just going to, as your other guest said, look petty doing it.
ARAVOSIS: I don't think that's totally true, only because I think it depends how the politician does it. The Bush administration was very effective, I would argue, at controlling the media, at kowtowing them and saying we cut off access, we're not going talk to you.
It depends how well the politician does it. And in this case, I think Fox has, as David said, had a bit of an agenda. Fox created its own protests and then covered its own protests, Howie.
KURTZ: Well, we talked about that on this program.
Let me play something that Glenn Beck said on his radio show this week, and I want to get your reaction on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BECK: When they're done with Fox and you decide to speak out on something, the old "First they came for the Jews and I wasn't Jewish," do you really think they're going leave you alone if you want to ask a tough question?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Do you find that Holocaust reference offensive?
BRODY: Well, any time you invoke the Holocaust in any sort of context, you run the risk of offending quite a few people. So, you know, obviously it's going to be subjective.
Howie, I think what's going on here -- and this is the big media story going forward -- you know, has the White House, by doing this, in essence created a new frontier here? In other words, if there's a Republican administration in 2012, 2016, or beyond, will that Republican administration call out MSNBC on the other side?
KURTZ: Well, on that point, wait a second. Last year, when Ed Gillespie was the Bush White House's communications director, he complained -- I wrote it down here -- about blatantly partisan talk show hosts like Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann and said that NBC News seemed to be blurring into the more liberal pundits on MSNBC. So, this is not unprecedented. That didn't get that much attention.
BRODY: Right. No, you're absolutely right. And I think this is the problem going forward. I mean, in essence, they've opened up a can of worms here, because what you're going to see in the future is, this could just go to what we've talked about all of the time, that some of the journalism going on Fox and MSNBC and other places can be a problem.
ARAVOSIS: The problem, I would argue, is that I think Fox opened a can of worms by finally going too far. Even opinion journalism on the other networks doesn't get into this, we're going to root out the communists in the Bush administration, and here are the names, and here's a blackboard with Mao's picture on it.
Fox, I think, has gone too far. Beck talked about poisoning Nancy Pelosi. Yes, it was a joke. Who in opinion journalism jokes about killing the Speaker of the House? They're going too far.
BRODY: But Olbermann and Maddow have also gone pretty far, too. I mean, in other words, you can make...
ARAVOSIS: Absolutely not to that degree, no.
BRODY: Possibly not. Possibly not.
ARAVOSIS: Olbermann is strong in his views, but you watch Keith do his special comments, and he is strong about the Bush administration. He may say that he's thought they committed war crimes, he doesn't talk about poisoning Bush, he doesn't talk about, we're going to have a McCarthyite investigation of the administration. They've gone too far.
KURTZ: Well, let me jump in here, because last hour Rahm Emanuel talked to John King, and John asked him, the White House chief of staff, about this offensive against Fox, the White House not backing off.
Let's take a look at Emanuel's comments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMANUEL: It's not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And that's a different take. And more importantly, is not have the CNNs and the others in the world basically be led and following Fox, as if that -- what they're trying to do is a legitimate news organization in the sense of both sides and a sense of valued opinion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Marisa Guthrie, do you think Rahm has a point when he talks about CNN and others following Fox and the suggestion here Fox kind of helping to set the news agenda for everyone else?
GUTHRIE: Well, I think you certainly saw some of that with the ACORN story. Fox was first with that. And...
KURTZ: And it was a legitimate story, as it turns out.
GUTHRIE: And it was a legitimate story. So -- but I think what's missing from this is that, you know, this is a president -- and where this is really backfiring -- is this a president that campaigned on a platform of unity. He has made a point of reaching across the aisle. He has said he wants to talk to the wider world. He has been celebrated for that intention, and he can't talk to Fox News.
I mean, he can talk to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but he can't talk to Chris Wallace. So, I think it really undermines his unity credibility. And if he's not on the network and administration officials aren't on the network to counter some of the stereotypical caricatures, then, you know, where do you go from there?
KURTZ: Well, Anita Dunn did tell me that the president would go on Fox eventually. She certainly didn't set a date.
But, you know, you have rhetoric like Sean Hannity saying the White House is keeping an enemies list here. This, of course, in reference to the Nixon White House, which actually wiretapped and audited some journalists. But clearly, the White House has made a decision here.
My two cents is we appreciate Anita Dunn coming on this program. She was delivering a message which we saw reinforced this morning by Rahm Emanuel. And if they want to punch back against Hannity or Beck for certain things they've said, absolutely, that's their political right. But by going after the channel as the opposition, as Anita Dunn put it, I question what the White House gets out of that.
Let me turn to Rush Limbaugh, who was on "The Today Show" this week. He's got his own media offensive going.
I want to play some comments when he was asked about his comment earlier this year that he wants Obama to fail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your critics say it's unpatriotic.
LIMBAUGH: Oh, it's quite the opposite.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then why don't you say it that way? Is it for ratings?
LIMBAUGH: I just did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, but...
LIMBAUGH: I do every day. I say it every day.
I -- when I now say I hope he fails, it's to tweak the media. I know how to do it. I know how to yank their chain. I know how to send them into insanity. I know how to make them spend the next two days talking about me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: John, he's right. He knows how to yank the media's chain.
ARAVOSIS: Yes. He unfortunately yanked the NFL's chain, too, and lost his franchise.
I mean, that's the problem with Rush. You know, live by the excess, die by the excess. He likes to shock people. He also likes to use racially-tinged language -- I'm being polite even calling it that -- to shock people. And now the fact that that stuff's bitten him in the behind, he's saying, oh, look at me, the victim.
KURTZ: Limbaugh on the cover of "Newsweek" earlier this year. Does the liberal press play into his hands as some try to tear him down? I mean liberal pundits and liberal-leaning news organizations.
BRODY: Well, sure. And I also think there's a double standard. It's this moral supremacy double standard.
You know, he's a conservative. He's been outspoken. And so, therefore, you know, they're going to hold -- look what they did on the whole prescription drug story with him.
I mean, you know, it was like, wow. Wait a minute. He's a conservative, he's a Republican, and he's got moral problems? Oh, we're going to have issues with that.
KURTZ: Although that would have been a story for any major radio talk show host.
BRODY: Yes, but they made a huge deal about it.
KURTZ: OK.
Marisa, Rush Limbaugh seems to be more accessible these days. I mean, he goes on "The Today Show," he was on -- he cooperated with "The New York Times" magazine cover story. He e-mails reporters for Politico and elsewhere when they ask for his comment.
Is he trying to break into the mainstream here, not just in football terms, but in media terms?
GUTHRIE: Well, I think he is in the mainstream. I think, you know, the mainstream media covers him. And the White House has tried to make him the face of the Republican Party.
So, I mean, he's already in the mainstream, but, you know, you can't use a comment like -- you know, compare a football people to the Crips and the Bloods and court controversy, and make that your shtick, and then, you know, when it comes back to bite you be surprised. I mean, he knew that this was going to happen. And (INAUDIBLE) got squeamish and let him go, cut him loose. And I'm sure he expected that.
KURTZ: Right. Well, I don't know if he expected that, but clearly, he knows that when he throws out this inflammatory language, that the debate will be -- will revolve around Rush Limbaugh. And I'm not sure that's an entirely bad thing for Rush Limbaugh.
We've got to go.
Marisa Guthrie and John Aravosis and David Brody, thanks for stopping by.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, up, up and carried away. Should cable news have poked more holes in the story of a 6-year-old floating in a runaway balloon over Colorado? And should TV shows keep putting this strange family and their stressed-out son on the air?
And later, CNN's Soledad O'Brien on special challenges for journalists of color and on her latest assignment chronicling the Latino experience in America.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.
President Obama's chief of staff says the key issue in determining a new strategy in Afghanistan is whether or not there is a legitimate and credible government in Kabul. Speaking earlier on the program STATE OF THE UNION here, Rahm Emanuel said that issue must be settled before the president decides whether to deploy more U.S. troops.
A suicide bomber strikes in Iran. At least 29 people are dead, ,including the deputy commander of the elite Revolutionary Guard, and four other top commanders. The bombing happened during a conference today in the southeastern city of Sarbaz (ph).
The speaker of Iran's parliament blames the United States. A State Department spokesman says the accusation is completely false.
Hurricane Rick is churning up dangerous surf off Mexico's Pacific Coast. The hurricane is now a Category 5 storm, with top winds of 180 miles an hour. Forecasters expect it though to lose steam as it heads for Baja California later in the week.
Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION.
KURTZ: It's all too easy to make fun of what cable news did on Thursday afternoon. It took the country on a heart-stopping ride with the tale of a runaway hot air balloon that we were told had a 6-year- old boy inside. Except, as we now know, it didn't.
And the story has been blown now in a very different direction, from a happy ending melodrama, to a reality show family behaving strangely, to now the likelihood of criminal charges. But if you were anywhere near a TV on Thursday, you were most likely transfixed by what was happening in the Colorado skies, even as the anchors were operating on very few facts.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Pretty hard to believe that a 6-year- old boy is inside this, but this is basically what we're getting from officials in Larimer County right now.
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: We believe there is a little boy in this balloon, and it's been flying now for about an hour, at least. It was attached in this father's back yard and now it's going around in circles.
KURTZ (voice-over): What a relief to find out hours after the thing came down that Falcon Heene had been hiding in the rafters of the family's garage. Then the hours and hours of yacking began, and people realized that the father had already made a spectacle of himself on "Wife Swap."
RICHARD HEENE, "WIFE SWAP": Wait a second. Did you not sign up to swap lives with another woman? Did you? Did you?
SHEREE SMITH, "WIFE SWAP": Listen...
HEENE: No, I'm talking. I asked a question. Did you or did you not -- there you go.
Jesus. You're impossible! What I'm telling you right now, that I need you to pass out these flyers!
KURTZ: And this was bizarre. Hours after learning that their son was not dead, the parents began hitting the TV circuit from "LARRY KING LIVE," to the morning shows on ABC, NBC and CBS.
HEENE: He's asking Falcon, did you hear us calling your name at any time?
FALCON HEENE, RICHARD HEENE'S SON: Mm hmm.
R. HEENE: You did?
MAYUMI HEENE, FALCON'S MOTHER: You did?
R. HEENE: Well, why didn't you come out?
F. HEENE: You guys said that we did this for a show.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: What did he mean, we did this for the show?
R. HEENE: I have no idea.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: What did Falcon mean when he said we did this for a show?
R. HEENE: Well, first of all, let's clarify he's 6. And I don't know that he really understood the question that was being asked.
F. HEENE: No, we had...
R. HEENE: One of the guys told him it was for some TV show, so that's what he was referring to.
SAWYER: You had said, "We did this for a show"?
R. HEENE: I think he's queasy.
Should we take you to the bathroom or something?
F. HEENE: Yes.
R. HEENE: OK.
M. HEENE: OK.
R. HEENE: Go, buddy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Boy.
So, should television have been more cautious from the outset? And are journalists now turning this whole thing into a circus?
Joining us now in Chicago, Phil Rosenthal, media columnist for "The Chicago Tribune." And here in Washington, Lisa Bloom, legal analyst for CNN; and Dana Milbank, who writes the "Washington Sketch" column for "The Washington Post."
Lisa Bloom, everybody now saying the media jumped to conclusions. If you had been on the air while that balloon was still racing across the sky, would you have said let's take a break and we'll come back when we no more?
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. In fact, I was on the air on HLN for two and a half hours, following it live on Thursday afternoon. At that point, it was a dramatic human interest story very much like Baby Jessica down the well in the 1980s.
We had a child apparently at risk. We had amazing video of the balloon floating across the sky. We, like everyone else, were following it. Then when the balloon landed and the child was not in it, it became more interesting of a story. What's happened to this child?
KURTZ: But when you look at it in retrospect, the anchors were going and on about this poor 6-year-old boy inside the balloon.
BLOOM: Well, and now we've been going on and on about this poor 6-year-old boy in a very different way. I think there's a real concern about this family, about a father with apparently such an anger problem, that a child, by his own story, would have been hiding for four or five hours silently, a 6-year-old boy hiding in the rafters from his father's anger. So, it's turned into a very different kind of a story.
KURTZ: This whole story is starting to make me angry.
Dana Milbank...
DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": We have a cup here if you need it, Howie.
KURTZ: Do the cable news channels look foolish now that we know the balloon was empty and the sheriff is saying he is going to file criminal charges, unspecified criminal charges, at some point in the future?
MILBANK: Well, in retrospect, I suppose. But I don't think we can say that anybody did anything wrong in terms of the media coverage. They did exactly what they were supposed to do, which I happen to think tells us everything that's wrong with the media culture.
This is exactly what's expected of them. We want our news immediately now. It's more important to get it right away than to get it right. And that's not the fault of CNN or Fox or any of the Web sites doing it, it's just what people have demanded. And this is what you're going to get.
BLOOM: But we didn't get it wrong. We reported accurately what we knew at the time. In fact, we were very careful to say...
(CROSSTALK)
KURTZ: You say we knew what we knew at the time. We didn't know.
BLOOM: Well, we knew that the police had been called and that two little boys had said that their third brother was up in the balloon. We didn't know if he was in there or not. We knew that the balloon was floating across the sky and the other child was missing. That's what we knew.
MILBANK: It's incomplete. This happens on all the time. On September 11th, we, for a brief while, thought the nation was under attack because the Coast Guard was having a drill on the Potomac.
KURTZ: You're referring to the anniversary of the September 11th attacks this past couple of months, back this September.
Let me turn to Phil Rosenthal.
Should the anchors during those heart-stopping hours -- and everybody I was watching was just gathered around television, just -- you know, their jaws were dropping at this drama. Should they have at least qualified that they didn't really know whether or not there was a boy inside that balloon?
PHIL ROSENTHAL, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, I think they probably should have. I think you played a clip that indicated they did.
The only thing I would say is that when it became clear there wasn't a child in the balloon, you heard all these guys saying -- you know, who hadn't necessary been front and center -- saying, you know, when this was going, "I was doing the mathematics calculations, and I had some questions about this, whether this was even possible," or "The way it was flying, it was pretty clear to me there was not a child aboard."
And I would have liked to have heard a lot more of that when it was going on. On the other hand, no one who was glued to their sets and watching this narrative play out can say it was overplayed because it was so captivating.
KURTZ: No, I certainly don't think it was overplayed. And yes, you're right, the networks were bringing on hot air experts, literally.
Lisa, what does it say to you that hours after this poor Falcon Heene went through this ordeal, they go on "Good Morning America," the kid throws up, and then they proceed to do an interview on "The Today Show" and the kid barfs again?
BLOOM: That's right. Now, keep in mind, this is from Colorado, so this is the predawn hours they're doing this morning shows...
KURTZ: It's 4:00 in the morning, yes.
BLOOM: ... with the child. And the second time they bring a bowl so the child can throw up into it. I mean, I think that shows the lack of regard for this child. That only enhances to me the concern about his child hiding from his father's anger in the rafters silently for so many hours. And I think that's why this story does have some interest.
Like Octomom, we have a couple of factors here. We have a parent who apparently is not paying close enough attention to his child, to put it mildly. And we have a gross waste of government resources. And I think that's what gets people angry and very involved and upset about this story.
KURTZ: It seems that the family, regardless of what actually happened -- and let's make it clear, no criminal charges have been filed, although the sheriff, whose name is Jim Alderden, in Colorado was having a news conference at 1:00 Eastern today. CNN will carry that live.
But regardless of what actually happened, it seems these parents were very, very interested in having this family be on TV.
MILBANK: Right. I mean, they were already on "Wife Swap," and now...
KURTZ: "Wife Swap" is a reality show. This is the ultimate reality show.
MILBANK: Right. They have created a new reality show.
You know, I think there's two episodes here. One is the frightful time when somebody thought the kid's in the balloon. I would actually like to say I was in a House hearing on Afghanistan, so I...
KURTZ: You were oblivious.
MILBANK: I came out into this completely bizarre world. But then what happens after the fact? And you can fault the press for dragging the kid out there, but I think this is a story about the parents and the child, not about the interview.
KURTZ: But that's an interesting question. I would like to throw that to Phil Rosenthal.
Should any of these programs just say no, we're not going put these people on, we're not going enable this, we're not going to be part of the circus?
ROSENTHAL: I don't know. You know, you talk about the parents, you name your kid "Falcon," you're not necessarily looking out for the kid's concerns.
I would say as far as the resistance to putting them on the air, you know, the thing is it's a story, and people wanted to see how the story played out. And now they wanted to see a happy ending. Now they kind of want to see an unhappy ending. And I think that -- you know, it plays into, again, the overall arc of this story.
Should they say no? I don't know. And the real question isn't whether the media screwed this up. Clearly, the sheriff's department seems to be having trouble deciding what to make of this.
KURTZ: Right. It's kind of odd to have a sheriff come out and say we're going to file charges, but we're not going to tell you exactly what they are or when they might be filing. It's just an unusual circumstance.
BLOOM: And it's also tough for we in the media to criticize people for showing up for interviews when we're the ones hounding them to do the interviews. Doesn't it?
KURTZ: Yes. Well, that's my point. I mean, there were all kinds of bookers and producers camped out on that lawn. Let's face it.
All right. Let me get a break here.
When we come back, more hot air discussion of the balloon story.
KURTZ: And we're back talking about the hot air balloon saga, which seemed to go from life and death drama to soap opera.
Lisa Bloom, it kind of reminds me of the runaway bride story. Remember Jennifer Wilbanks? Everybody on television because said she was kidnapped, and it turned out she had cold feet and walked out on her wedding.
BLOOM: Yes.
KURTZ: I mean, we kind of enjoy in a kind of sick way when these stories turn into something else.
BLOOM: Well, I think we've seen a real blurring of the line between reality shows and news. I mean, look at the Anna Nicole Smith story. She was a reality show star, and then we in the news followed her story after that show was over.
Jon and Kate.
KURTZ: Jon and Kate.
(LAUGHTER)
BLOOM: Same thing.
And these are people, the Heenes, who have been trying to sell reality shows, have been on two reality shows, and who maybe did it for the show, as little Falcon said. So, we've completely obliterated the line, I think, in this story.
KURTZ: And speaking of the line with reality shows, Phil Rosenthal, this woman from "Wife Swap" who was on that show with Heene -- Sheree Silver is her name -- she's been making the TV rounds.
What does she know about this? It just seems like it is kind of a surreal thing now where you can't tell what's real and what's staged for the cameras.
ROSENTHAL: Yes. Well, I mean, if you watch the footage from "Wife Swap," you begin to wonder just how real that reality was. It seems almost like a performance piece.
You know, you talk about perhaps being a little more disciplined about booking interviews and that sort of thing. Where I think the real discipline has to come is in creating these reality shows.
You know, it seems to be the only talent you really need to have these days, or skill or thing that makes you unusual, is an unusually high threshold for embarrassment. And these guys were clearly playing into that, even if it had been a real, regular news story and it played out exactly the way everyone thought it did at first.
KURTZ: You have to be impervious to shame.
And you know what drives me nuts, Dana, is these child psychologists who got trotted out, and they've analyzing -- they've never met this family and they're analyzing, well, they seem to be acting out, well, there weren't any real tears here.
I just don't understand we...
(CROSSTALK)
ROSENTHAL: Well, there's a lot of money in being Dr. Phil.
KURTZ: Dana?
MILBANK: Yes, there is.
ROSENTHAL: It's a lot of money.
MILBANK: I mean, we've talked about a line or blurring a line. I would submit that there really is no line anymore and that news has become entertainment.
KURTZ: Or infotainment.
MILBANK: Yes. I mean, this is just one example of it.
Think about all the important thing that are going on with health care, with Afghanistan, with Iraq. And the fact that we're all -- I mean...
(CROSSTALK)
MILBANK: Of course. We belong doing this, but everybody else talking about this, it's -- I mean, who's going to step back and actually tell us what news is?
KURTZ: In the half-minute we have left, shouldn't we be embarrassed that we've been sucked into this vortex?
BLOOM: Here's the bottom line. The balloon boy story got enormous ratings, and I have said many times I would love to see more international coverage of the important issues in the world.
KURTZ: Right.
BLOOM: That's not going happen until the viewers decide that's a priority to them, and they're going to tune into it, and tune in less to stories like balloon boy or Anna Nicole or Jon and Kate.
KURTZ: And not just when the balloon was in the air, but the aftermath which has now gone on for several days.
BLOOM: And it's going to keep going on, I predict, Howie, for the next week or so as more revelations come out about this family and as charges come.
KURTZ: Lisa Bloom, Dana Milbank...
ROSENTHAL: Look, the important stories get covered.
KURTZ: They do get covered. But sometimes...
ROSENTHAL: The important stories get covered.
BLOOM: Not enough. Not enough.
KURTZ: ... they get overshadowed.
We have to go. Thank you all for stopping by.
After the break, "Latino in America." CNN's Soledad O'Brien uses her own story and many more in the network's latest venture into racial and ethnic reporting.
We'll talk with her next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: Journalists of color often face a special set of challenges in their own careers, as well as in their reporting. Few understand this better than CNN's Soledad O'Brien, whose father is from Irish and from Australia, and whose mother is black and Latina and from Cuba. That may explain why she took on the series "Black in America" and why this week she anchors and reports the two-part program "Latino in America," which is also a new book.
I spoke to her earlier from New York.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
Soledad O'Brien, welcome.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, FMR. "AMERICAN MORNING" ANCHOR: Hi. Thank you.
KURTZ: Now, you write in this book that during the Obama campaign, you started on this project, and that your editorial meetings were uncomfortable and even unpleasant. You say people hesitated to have frank discussions about race.
Why is that?
O'BRIEN: Because I think people would rather have a fork stuck in their eyeball than talk about race. I think people feel very defensive on all sides. I'm not saying white people or black people. I think across the board, people are judged on what they say about race.
And so I think even in editorial meetings, that's exactly what happens. So, nobody says anything, which is, as you know, in any editorial meeting is the worst thing that can happen. You actually have to have very frank conversations about race.
KURTZ: Right.
O'BRIEN: But I think everyone was very worried about speaking frankly about what beliefs that they held very close to their hearts.
KURTZ: It is a sensitive subject, obviously, and therefore a very interesting one.
You have something in common with the president. Your parents were not able to legally get married in the state of Maryland, and I guess this left you with some confusion about your identity, because you write, "Was I black; Latino; White, pretending not to be white; black, pretending not to be black?"
This is something you had to sort out in your life?
O'BRIEN: You know, it really wasn't for me. Those were the questions that people would think and sort of put on to me.
My mother -- as I say, my dad did, I thought, a very brilliant thing, which is to explain to me all of the time from the time I was tiny what I was. My mother used to say all the time, "Don't let anybody tell you you're not black. Don't let anybody tell you you're not a Latina. Don't let anybody tell you you're not Cuban."
And so, my identity had always been very much all of the above. I didn't think it was something that had to be this or this or that. And so, when people would put that on me...
KURTZ: And yet, did news organizations try to pigeonhole you? For example, when you got to the NBC affiliate in Boston, you were a TV writer, and you say, "I was the other, the person tapped to cover the community," meaning black and Latino stories, which you say were not as important.
O'BRIEN: Oh, they absolutely weren't. I mean, you could tell, because they were always in the D block. And also, the stories weren't thoughtful, nuanced stories, they were community stories, meaning there is a health center opening up in Roxbury. And the fact that they were sending me, who was the youngest person and least experienced to go cover it, was a pretty good indication of what they thought about it, plus where it was in the lineup of the newscast.
But the bottom line I think is, and as a journalist of color, I think sometimes you sort of navigate, how do you both tell those stories that -- frankly, I'm good at telling those stories because I know the people who are part of that story. But also, I want to tell...
KURTZ: But you don't want to be...
(CROSSTALK)
O'BRIEN: ... the Iraq story. You know, at the time, we were in the first Iraq War, and I remember the people who were going to get promoted were the people who were working on that story.
So, how do you navigate that? You know, what has happened is those stories about race, about communities have actually -- people now realize that those are actually really important stories. And so things, I think, have flipped. You get to tell those stories and those are the most important stories.
KURTZ: Didn't an executive actually ask you to change your name?
O'BRIEN: Yes.
KURTZ: From?
O'BRIEN: Not at NBC. No, no, no.
We never really got that far. I mean, he didn't offer out any solutions, but when I was looking for my first reporting job early on, a million years ago, I was. I was told -- what he said was, "'Soledad' is a very tricky name."
O'BRIEN: I said, well, I grew up in an all-white community. People really didn't have problems with my name.
I did the typical Long Island girl, you know, S-O-L-I with a heart, E, because I was 15 and that's what you do. So, people didn't really have problems with my name. My nickname was Solie, and that's what I was called.
KURTZ: Right.
O'BRIEN: I think he felt that people wouldn't be able to handle my name.
KURTZ: I am glad you stuck with it.
Now, when you got your first on-air job, and this was at the NBC affiliate in San Francisco, you heard people in the hallway talking about the new affirmative action hire, maybe she didn't deserve to be there, and that, of course, was you.
O'BRIEN: That was me. Yes.
KURTZ: But is the flip side of that, in some ways, you know, when you got to the weekend "Today Show" or CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING," did it help you a little bit?
O'BRIEN: You know, I think that, at the end of the day, you just have to me good. On both fronts, you have to put your head down and do the work, because if you can't do the work, it's not going to help you at all. And if you can't do the work, regardless of how you've gotten there, it's not going to get you.
So, my strategy has always -- my mother used to say, you know, better to get into Harvard because you're black than not to get into Hartford because you're black, which was very realistic for her; right? Unthinkable the things she did not get to do because she was black in this country.
KURTZ: Right.
O'BRIEN: Her point being, don't worry about the "affirmative action" label. That is the way it is. Now what you need to do is go and beat everybody on stories and do a great job.
KURTZ: That's a good motivation.
O'BRIEN: And really, what happened to me in San Francisco, after that conversation, I ended up becoming the bureau chief in San Francisco after a very rocky start.
KURTZ: I guess you proved yourself.
But now, when word got around town -- around the country, I should say, that you were working on this series, did you hear from other Latino journalists?
O'BRIEN: Oh, yes, absolutely. Oh, absolutely, yes.
Yes, I think people are really interested and intrigued by this project, partly because of the way we do them, that the scope is so big. And we're only going to be able to tell a tiny, you know, sliver of some of the stories, obviously, in the Latino community.
KURTZ: But did some of these journalists want you to do stories that they, for whatever reason, were not be able to do themselves?
O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely. We got tons of help.
I mean, think about that. That never really happens. People don't call up and say, I've been working on this story, this is an amazing story, you should do this story. I mean, that's an indication of how sometimes these stories are never told.
We -- whenever there's a hate crime, we fight to get those stories on TV. Regardless of whether you're talking about a hate crime against Latinos, a hate crime against people who are gay, whatever hate crime, against people who are black, because sometimes people like those stories to be, eh, who wants to tell that story?
KURTZ: Right. Right.
O'BRIEN: And we go into meetings saying, this is an important story. So, it was important for us to do the she Shenandoah story, for example.
KURTZ: I've got half a minute here.
Do we in the media sometimes make too much of race, whether it's the Duke rape case, or the Skip Gates arrest, or Rush Limbaugh trying to buy the St. Louis Rams? That becomes sort of nitroglycerin for journalism?
O'BRIEN: You know, I think that's an interesting question. It's hard to give a right answer to that, because I think some people like to say race doesn't matter.
I remember in the O.J. Simpson case, people used to say that to me all the time, that it's not about race. And it is about race.
You're talking about the court system? Of course it's about race.
So, I think being an American is about navigating those conversations about race. This country has such a really incredible racial history. And it cannot be denied. You can't just say, oh, it doesn't matter.
And it also isn't everything. So what is it? I think we're constantly trying to figure that out.
KURTZ: We will look forward to your navigating through this tricky subject.
Soledad O'Brien, thanks very much for joining us.
O'BRIEN: Thank you for having me.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
KURTZ: And "Latino in America" premiers on CNN this Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, with part two on Thursday night.
Still to come, paparazzi problem. Arnold Schwarzenegger tries to terminate the practice of photogs chasing down celebrities. Maybe he should have warned his wife.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: You may recall a controversy over the summer about The Washington Post Salon. This was a plan for off-the-record dinners at publisher Katharine Weymouth's home, underwritten by corporate sponsors for $25,000 a pop.
A big black for my newspaper, no question about it.
"The New York Times" reported yesterday on a possible contradiction involving The Post's editor, Marcus Brauchli. The paper, The Times, had quoted him as saying he didn't know the dinners would be off the record and thought reporters could make some use of what they learned from influential guests at these dinners, which never happened.
Now The Times has a letter in which Brauchli says he knew the proposed dinners would be off the record. Brauchli says The Times reporter just misunderstood him, that he hasn't changed his account, and that he should have fought harder against this idea.
I've got more details on this at WashingtonPost.com.
Finally, Arnold Schwarzenegger may have signed a law this week cracking down on excesses by the paparazzi chasing celebrities, but where does this incident fall? TMZ snapping photos of Maria Shriver driving while holding a cell phone, violating a state law signed by her husband.
The governor vowed to take swift action against the lawbreaker. His wife has apologized.
And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning, your interview with Rahm Emanuel last hour, not backing off the White House criticism of Fox News as not being a real news organization. Rahm telling you that CNN and other organizations are sometimes following Fox in the news business.
Do you think that's true?
KING: Do I think it's true that we're following Fox? I certainly hope not here at CNN.
We try to cover all sides of the news. He said both sides. I think we try to bring all sides, and you'll see a lot of that in our next hour.
But there's no question the White House, once it settled on this strategy, it has decided to dig in its heels. And it is essentially saying that Fox is out there with a partisan opinion and they don't consider it a news organization.
Some Democrats, Howie, think it's risky. We'll see.
KURTZ: And a lot of people at Fox News seem to be enjoying it because it brings more attention to that channel.
All right, John. We're handing it back to you.
KING: Howie, you take care today.
I'm John King, and this is "State of the Union."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING (voice-over): It's 11 a.m. Eastern. Time for STATE OF THE UNION "Sound of Sunday." Thirteen government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say. The White House chief of staff, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a trusted presidential friend and adviser. We've watched the Sunday shows so you don't have to.
We'll break it all down with Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile, the best political team on television. STATE OF THE UNION "Sound of Sunday" for October 18th.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
A direct message this Sunday from the White House to Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Move quickly to resolve the dispute over major election fraud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMANUEL: There's basically two roads there or two basically processes. One is another runoff election, where between the two top candidates or a negotiation between those candidates. But the end result must be a legitimate and credible government to the Afghan people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And the president's chief of staff is in full agreement with the leading congressional voice on foreign policy. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman says President Obama should delay the decision on adding more troops in Afghanistan until that Afghan political crisis is settled.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don't even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we're working with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Labor leaders who helped the president win last year's election don't like how the leading senate proposal pays for health care reform. One went as far to call the proposed fee on generous insurance plans a slap in the face to America's workers, but a top presidential adviser insists that's not the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: Analyses of this have suggested otherwise, that the bulk of it is not going to hit middle class. This is a tax on insurance companies, a fee on insurance companies, on high-end policies and everyone agrees it will help lower the growth and health care cost.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: One place you won't see a White House official this morning is on "FOX News Sunday." Some Democrats say the administration boycott as a risky strategy, but top presidential advisors defend it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMANUEL: It's not so much a conflict with FOX News, but unlike, I suppose, the way to look at it and the way the president looks at it and the way we look at it, is it's not a news organization so much as it has a perspective and that's a different take.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: As you can see, we've been watching all of the other Sunday shows so maybe you don't have to.
With me in Washington, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Donna Brazile. The host of "Morning in America" and CNN political contributor Bill Bennett. And from Boston, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential adviser David Gergen.
Thanks all for being with us this morning. Let's start with this irony, I will call it. And David, we'll go to you first since you're not in the room, that the massive election fraud in Afghanistan has somehow created this opening now where the White House believes it has more time to make the decision about Afghan troop levels, whether to increase Afghan troop levels. As you know, David, some conservatives have said this president is not being deliberative. Does this give him the space?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: John, I think it may give him a couple of weeks while they try to get through this crisis of whether they're going to have another election or whether they're going try to put together a coalition government, but I must say I respectfully disagree with Senator Kerry if his point is we have to wait until we know who the new president is going to be and what the government's going to look like.
If they have another election, as the United States is urging, that election, it won't take place until some time in early November and it is widely believed that the results will not be counted until some time in January.
To wait that long is to invite a total turnaround defeat in Afghanistan as General McChrystal has made clear. General McChrystal's report right in the beginning has said that time is of the essence, that we must reverse the momentum now and if the implications of this are we may wait as long as January, I just think that there's going to be an uproar to decide not to decide is to invite defeat.
KING: And Bill on that point, to decide not to decide as David put it to invite defeat, what is the window? How long does it give them? They're originally planning the end of October, first week or so of November.
BENNETT: Well, they certainly can't take as long as David described. I think David's right. I would put it even a little differently which is this whole argument about we have to wait for the resolution of who is in charge, why is that the case? Isn't the Taliban our enemy? Isn't al Qaeda over the border, coming in, being invited and urged to be our enemy? Wasn't this a matter of our security? Isn't that what the president said?
He had talked about this being a war of necessity and not a war of choice. It's now becoming not clear what choice he's going to take. Look, either side, Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah are on our side. They don't want us to leave. As another Kerry, Bob Kerry wrote in "The Wall Street Journal," no one in a responsible position is asking us to leave.
Finally, if the rationale that we shouldn't bring in more troops until all of this is decided because it's critical what kind of government they have, why do we have any troops there at all? They are changing the rationale for why we are in Afghanistan. What's really going on here is a dither, a big dither, indecisiveness. It is costly and it is going to get worse unless they make up their minds and lord knows I think they're going to make up their minds and pull out and not give McChrystal what he want.
KING: Donna, I want you to come in, but first, I just want to make clear by playing this bit of sound from the White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, it's not just Senator Kerry who thinks because of the political crisis, the president should wait. The chief of staff seems in full agreement of that theory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMANUEL: It would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether in fact there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRAZILE: Well, Rahm is absolutely right that we need a credible partner because if our troops, and they've done a great job over the last eight years -- if they clear the territory where the Taliban, you know, is clearly hiding or in charge, we need to have a credible government presence to help us hold that territory and to rebuild the kind of infrastructure you need to win the hearts and minds as General McChrystal has said of the people, the Afghanistani people. That's important. That's an important part of our strategy.
We are at an important crossroads and I don't think the president is going to recommend that we pull out, but what he must do is to convince a war-weary public that our continued engagement in Afghanistan is important to our strategic interest, to our national interest and of course to regional interests because Pakistan is involved.
This is not about dithering. This is not about indecisiveness. This is about looking at a comprehensive strategy and getting it right. We spent eight years. We didn't have a strategy for victory and now we're paying the price and this president is going to get it right.
KING: One thing it is about, I think we can all agree on is it is a snapshot of a presidential leadership. This is a big decision for any commander-in-chief. And this one comes at a time where some have been writing, as we've been talking for months here on this program, is he trying to do too much at once?
Now there's a theme that is he tough enough? Many people saying he needs to be like Lyndon Johnson, he needs to crack head. That question was put to David Axelrod, one of the president's close friends and closest advisers, this morning, is the president tough enough?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AXELROD: I think if the president weren't tough, we wouldn't be where we are vis-a-vis trying to deal with the economy, two wars and so on. Remember, what he inherited here. He walked in the door. We had the worst economy since the Great Depression. He had to take immediate steps to pull us back from what many thought might be a Great Depression. He had to sort out in Afghanistan a war where we had seven years of drift and no policy and he's passed a series of things that are going to move this country forward from children's health care.
(END VIDEO CLIP
KING: David Gergen, for a president who as a senator was harshly critical of the last commander-in-chief for how he conducted the war in Iraq, for how he lost the support of the American people through a mismanagement of that war and through strategic decisions that candidate Obama and Senator Obama said were based on ideology and not on any national security interests, what are we learning about this president now?
GERGEN: I think we're learning to support part of what David Axelrod was saying is that he is bold. He has been willing to take on these tough challenges. He has taken on health care, something that so many other presidents have failed at. He's tried to re-engage in the Middle East, something that other presidents have found as a graveyard of their hopes.
So I think he gets high marks for trying big things, tough things, but the issue that is now sort of rattling around Washington, as you say, John, is he tough enough in the crunch when you've got to get the decision made, for example, to withdraw our missile defenses that George W. Bush had planned in Poland and the Czech Republic was widely seen as, well, that's part of a deal that he must have made with the Russians on sanctions in Iran.
And so it's probably -- it may be a very smart thing if we can get it cracked down on Iran. So we announced we're going to withdraw the missiles and lo and behold, we don't have any deal. The Russians sort of throw it back in our faces when Hillary Clinton goes over here in the last few days and says, we're not in favor of sanctions and the Chinese are backing out, too.
I think in international relations, just as at home, it is important for people to know that the president of the United States speaks with great authority and if you cross him or if he doesn't punch it through that you can, there's a power game and people begin to get a sense, they can roll you. And that isn't exactly where you do not want to be as president and I do think there is some growing danger of that perception setting in.
KING: Do you agree with that? John Bolton, the former U.N. ambassador, look, he's a conservative, he's a harsh critic of this president. Bill, he writes in "The Los Angeles Times" that he's no Harry Truman. He might not even be Jimmy Carter.
BENNETT: Well, I'm very worried about it. David cites the Czech Republic issue. But what about Maureen Dowd's column today? Vaclav Havel, why won't the president see the Dalai Lama? Because the Chinese government asked him not to see the Dalai Lama, the first president in modern history not to see the Dalai Lama. We read in The Washington Post yesterday that they're going to soften their posture toward Darfur.
You know, this is another example. My concern is not only that he's not tough enough. I don't think he's compassionate enough when it comes to real issues of human rights, take the issue of Iran. But I think the decisiveness is missing.
By the way, when people talk about failure in Afghanistan, Afghanistan is one heck of a lot better off than it was when we found it. As Christopher Hitchens said, this is one the first cases in history of a country being bombed out of the stone age. The Taliban were running that country, they are not running that country now.
Yes, there are questions of governance, and what government is going to be in power, but I take it by the very terms that the president laid out in March, this is still our war and our war to win. And we've got to win it.
By the way, Kerry said in your interview, I don't know if caught it, there was a lot going on, he said indecisiveness is very costly. It sure is, Senator, and President.
KING: All right. We're going to take a quick break. Donna Brazile, Bill Bennett, David Gergen, we'll be joined by more members of the best political team on television. We have a lot more to talk about, don't go anywhere.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: We're back with CNN's Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, and David Gergen. Also joining us now, national political correspondent Jessica Yellin, senior political analyst Gloria Borger.
You know, we have this hour so we can have some fun and so we can also dissect some of the great sound of Sunday. Here's something I find both interesting and perhaps a little fun. You remember Arlen Specter, longtime moderate Republican senator from the state of Pennsylvania. He's a Democrat now. He has a primary, which may explain why he is so anti-Republican, talking about health care.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "FOX NEWS SUNDAY")
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: On the Republican side it is no, no, no. A party of obstructionism. This is no longer the party of John Heinz and Mac Mathias and Lowell Weicker. You have responsible Republicans who had been in the Senate like Howard Baker and Bob Dole and Bill Frist who say Republicans ought to cooperate. Well, they're not cooperating. Bob Dole reportedly wouldn't even return a telephone call from a Republican leader who wanted him to back off. Take a look at the absence of any Republican plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Jessica, this is not only not your father's Oldsmobile, apparently it's not Senator Specter's old Republican Party.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Can you imagine if you played that clip for him 10 years ago, he would deny that he could ever be that person. I mean, it's a remarkable shift. But he is mouthing the Democratic talking points right now, which is, this is the party of no, the Republicans are the party of no, and it's because they've been very effective with their no and they're getting very strong.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, he has got run to the left, so he's running to the left right now. He does have a primary in a state where the left is very left. So that's where your going to see Arlen Specter. You know, he is known, if anything, as a pragmatist, and that's exactly what you saw right there.
KING: Well, let's continue the conversation, but first, to be fair to the Republican Party, I want to bring in the voice of Senator Jon Kyl, the number two in the Republican leadership, who says, you know what, we have a lot of ideas, we're just in the minority, nobody pays attention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "MEET THE PRESS")
SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: We've offered alternatives that do not rely upon a big government takeover and a public insurance company, but rather use the market that we have today, focusing on patients and trying to ensure that we can both bring down cost and increase access to care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So, Donna, you want to say they're the party of no. They want to say, no, we're just the party of not what Obama wants.
BRAZILE: Well, let's look at what the American people want. The American people would like to see their premiums not rise each and every year, and they've already heard from the health insurance company -- companies that they will have an increase in premiums next year.
So the truth is, is that the Democrats now have a benchmark by which to come to an agreement. We're in the endgame now, and if the Republicans have any additional ideas to offer as amendments in an alternative, they should put it up now because Democrats are going to bring this to the floor pretty soon.
BENNETT: I've just got to pause on the Specter thing.
(LAUGHTER)
BENNETT: (INAUDIBLE), but there's some movie where the priest says, my son, your conversion is now complete.
(LAUGHTER)
BENNETT: But we are no longer the party of Mac Mathias and Lowell Weicker. Holy smokes!
BORGER: That has been that way for a long time.
BENNETT: I have got to stop going to the Reagan Library and go to the Weicker Center, where is the Weicker Center, by the way, where all of us conservatives gather? No, the conversion is complete. Kyl is absolutely right.
And you know, we would like to ask some other questions about the health care program, such as if it passes, will Congress subject itself to it? Why won't they do any tort reform in this? Why won't they let people buy health insurance in other states?
My question about the Baucus thing, and boy, it really was interesting with Olympia Snowe because now the focus is back on the Democrats, is the Baucus thing, the beginning -- or is it the beginning of the unraveling?
KING: I want to bring David -- David, come into the conversation. But first, I want you to listen. I was in Alaska this week, it's a fascinating state, has a new senator, Mark Begich, who replaced Ted Stevens, and Mark Begich is a Democrat. He is the former mayor of Anchorage. And he was talking about how difficult it is. He says the Republicans are winning by saying, you know, don't vote for what Obama wants. He says they're winning the message because the Democratic caucus is so complicated and diverse. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARK BEGICH (D), ALASKA: I think they're pounding away on that narrative. And obviously when you pound away, enough people, it starts to resonate. And I think we have -- as Democrats, we're so diverse in our caucus now. I mean, think about it. Here I am from Alaska. You take me and I'll go all the way over to Bernie Sanders from Vermont, and you're talking about a pretty wide extreme from either level, much different than the Republican caucus today.
And I think that creates its own friction and one of the challenges we have as Democrats is, what's our message? And how do we make sure that we're reaching the right message with what we're doing?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Are they reaching that right message, David Gergen, or are the Republicans at the moment winning the message war?
GERGEN: Well, John, they're making -- the Democrats are achieving momentum, as Donna says, in the Senate and the House, but they have not really cracked public opinion. A variety of polls show that the country is extremely divided. Some actually show more people are against this health care reform than are for it.
I want to go back to this question of where the Republicans are just for just a second. Donna, the tort reform -- the malpractice point that Bill Bennett brought up is actually very popular in the country. I think it would be a worthy edition.
But to Bill, the Republicans are having a hard time getting on the radar screen with the public about sort of something like malpractice, which is a winning argument for them, in part because there seems to be a vacuum of -- and voices on the Hill are not very strong, instead, they're drowned out by many of the conservative talk show hosts.
And has that not become a problem?
GERGEN: For Republicans, that they can't get their own message out about policy because they're so caught up in a lot of the -- the kind of dialogue and rhetoric of the -- of the conservative talk show hosts?
BENNETT: A quick answer, conservative talk show hosts, yes, God forbid that they -- they should be listened to.
(LAUGHTER)
But, no, I think it's a matter of priorities, the short answer.
Look, first, stop the program that we think is going to do so much damage. Seventy-five percent of the American people, or 78 percent, like their plans. And a lot of people, especially the independents, which is one reason things are shifting, are very worried about -- about this stage.
Once you defeat this plan, then you can go forward with -- with plans. Coburn-Ryan is a plan. Even Wyden-Bennett -- you know, Bob Bennett of Utah and Ron Wyden, a Democrat, is a better plan.
BORGER: You know, why don't Republicans, then, if they really want to get something done on health care, call the White House's bluff and say, here are the six things we agree with you on; they're in your bill; let's get together, let's pass one health care bill; then we'll talk about the next.
Why don't Republicans do that? Because there is plenty of stuff that they can agree on, particularly on insurance reform?
BENNETT: Well, I don't think there are six things. There may be -- there may be a couple of things.
(LAUGHTER)
BORGER: OK, five.
BENNETT: But, no, I think -- I think you've seen that agreement; you've heard that agreement from a number of Republicans about the need to...
(CROSSTALK)
BORGER: No, but they haven't pushed it. They haven't gone out there.
BENNETT: Because all the means, I think, are different, and because there is disagreement. There's -- there's not a unified...
(CROSSTALK)
KING: Quickly?
YELLIN: But Democrats had an important shift this week when the insurance industries came out with plans attacking this premium, saying that this plan is going to cost more. You heard the president go after the insurance industries. It was a gift to the Democrats. I think it will make momentum shift.
KING: When we shift, we'll come back -- outrage over bonuses on Wall Street. You're outraged. The White House says it's outraged, too. We'll talk the economy, when we come back. Don't go anywhere.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: All right. We're back with our group. We're having a spirited discussion. Let's move on to the issue of bonuses. Obviously, a lot of big banks got money from the bailout funds, two in particular. Citibank got $45 billion. It paid out, this past week -- said it would pay out some $5.5 billion in bonus. Bank of America gets $45 billion in your money, taxpayers' money, says it will pay out $3.3 billion in bonuses.
When you travel the country, trust me, people use very foul language when this subject comes up. I put the question to the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, this morning. Shouldn't people be angry?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMANUEL: I think the American people have a right to be frustrated and angry, in this sense. When the financial markets and the financial system had frozen up to a point that, literally -- one of the reasons the economy was literally going toward a depression.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: He went on to say these same Wall Street industries, Jessica, are now fighting the regulatory reforms that the administration says are vital.
YELLIN: That's right. And after Rahm was on your show, one of his aides e-mailed me to say, we want to make the point even stronger. They want to say that they find it, quote, "outrageous that these same banks were bailed out by the American people and are now spending all this money on lobbyists to kill the consumer agency."
The bottom line is this administration is going to try to shame the banks into controlling their bonuses. They don't have very much power to force it. They have to shame them, and then use that as momentum to get these financial regulatory reforms through Congress, in an election year, which will be a very popular piece of legislation, they hope.
And unlike health care reform, where the president sent principals to the Hill, the Treasury Department has sent 618 pages of actual legislative language to the Hill, saying, "This is how we think. Wall Street needs to change. These are the protections we think consumers need."
I had a meeting at the Treasury Department this past week, and they've made it clear that this is their key issue, going forward, and that they are going to be very specific with both House and Senate about what should be in this bill.
KING: Well, let's talk about the power of the anti-bonus message, but I also do want to note, for the record, the administration now voicing outrage. Remember back, months ago, when there were some in Congress who wanted to put restrictions on bonuses in legislation. It was the same administration that said you can't do that.
BORGER: Right. And the president -- it's interesting the e-mail used the word "outrageous." Because it's the same word the president used after the AIG bonuses...
YELLIN: Right.
BORGER: ... came out, and -- and the president, you know, stirred up something in Congress which still sits there, because it was unconstitutional to stop these -- to stop these bonuses from being issued.
(CROSSTALK)
KING: But, David, if you're working in a White House, as you have, and you think you're doing the right thing -- and, obviously, the Dow's gone up, and that's a good thing, but unemployment's also going up, and then the bonuses are going on -- as an administration, how do you deal with the mixed message of the economic data, if you will, when you understand that it affects your political standing, whether it's your doing or not?
GERGEN: Very carefully. Very carefully.
(LAUGHTER)
This is a delicate matter. There's a balance to be struck here. If the administration allows the populism, it's there, and -- and these banks may think they're home free, but they're still on probation with the American people, as you found, John. And there's a lot of -- a lot of populist anti-bank sentiment still out there.
The administration wants to make -- should want to make sure that doesn't go too far, in regulations that are excessive, that in effect, dampen the competitive capacity of the American financial system.
At the same time, they've got to make sure that these banks don't act irresponsibly. And I think the idea of shaming them into, sort of, showing self-restraint has some merit to it.
I think what Rahm Emanuel said, I thought -- I thought was pretty measured, today, because he's -- if the banks -- you know, Goldman Sachs, now, is sitting on a ton of money, but a Bank of America and Citi and Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan -- if they all, sort of, engage in large-scale bonuses now, just after this, when Main Street is still hurting so much, it's going to deepen the divide between Wall Street and Main Street in ways that could come back and really hurt Wall Street.
And this is extremely important to the financial future of the country.
KING: I want to bring Bill and Donna in on this point, but as I do, I want to reinforce David's point about Main Street and how there's a disconnect.
I was in Alaska this week. I went to a job training center in Anchorage. The unemployment rate there is now 8.4 percent. And one of the problems they have is, not only are there no jobs in Alaska, but they say that people from other states, where the unemployment rate is higher -- 15 percent in Michigan, for example -- are coming to Alaska because they think there are jobs there.
Listen to Brad Gillespie. He runs that job training center.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRAD GILLESPIE, ANCHORAGE AREAS ALASKA JOB CENTER: Just last week, one of my staff said that we had an R.V. pull into our parking lot here, and a family of 10 got out, and the parents came in straight from the highway and started looking for work through the job center.
GILLESPIE: And that's a tough way to come to Alaska when you don't have anything lined up and particularly with us headed into the winter season.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: So you have Americans who will get in their RV and drive from the lower 48 to Alaska looking for work and they pick up a newspaper and the banks that got their tax dollars, six or eight months ago are now handing out bonuses.
BENNETT: Well I think something needs to be said, you know often said about people in Washington you should get out and you get out of these features which is a good thing. Some of the folks on Wall Street need to get out too and hear this, listen to this. Now I think I'm not one for a whole lot more regulations out of Washington on this and one of the things I do is I talk sometimes to these boards on Wall Street as others here do. They are in shock and not awe. Shock and disappointment and anger at Obama. They just can't believe how they're being vilified by them so they're going make this their number one priority, too.
But they had a lot of neighborly and priggishness that we saw on display last year, and they can behave a little better within their own rules, they can set better rules themselves, it seems to me and be more comfortable. Nevertheless, there are contracts and there are reasons why you pay people bonuses and one of them has to do with increasing the return which is also a return of America.
BORGER: But how about paying them salaries?
BRAZILE: And why not use any additional money to provide jobs by lending the small businesses that we all know will create jobs if they're given money from these banks.
My problem with giving the banks a lifeline, John, is that they didn't extend the same line of credit to the American people, to mom and pop on Main Street, the people that you visit each and every week.
This is what the administration and the Congress forced these banks to do because we still have a lot of leverage with the TARP money that is still available and still out there and they still owe us.
They still owe the American taxpayers this money and let me just say one other issue and this goes on credit cards. I pay my credit card bills every month because I know these banks, they're greedy, but they are now raising fees and interest rates because they know Congress has put the damp on them being able to do this. And they say well we need 15 months to get our system together. But they're already increasing the rates. That is absolutely wrong. Main Street should revolt. They should tell the administration and Congress to act now to curb these excesses on Wall Street.
YELLIN: And they're spending a huge amount of money on lobbyists to keep these rights so that they can keep increasing the rights.
BRAZILE: The American people should revolt.
KING: The American people might need a better lobbyist. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to talk more politics. And get this, if you look at the polling right now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a higher favorability rating than President Obama. Does that mean anything? We'll be back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning. A suicide bomber strikes in Iran. At least 29 people are dead including the deputy commander of the elite revolutionary guard and four other top commanders. It happened today in the southeastern city of Sarbaz. The speaker of Iran's parliament blames the United States for the bombing, but the State Department says the accusation is completely false and it is condemning that attack.
Pakistan's military says it killed at least 60 insurgents in its massive ground operation against the Taliban. This is day two of that offensive. It's taking place in the tribal region of south Waziristan, the power base for militants operating in the tribal region.
The sheriff in Larimer County, Colorado, says he expects criminal charges will be filed in the so-called runaway balloon saga. He's holding a news conference at 1 p.m. Eastern. CNN will carry that event live and then "Fareed Zakaria: GPS," "Amanpour" and "Your Money" will be seen in their entirety. Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION.
Back now with our panel, Jessica Yellin, Gloria Borger, Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, and David Gergen joins us from Boston.
Let me tell you at home, you wish you could listen in during the breaks. It's very interesting. All right, let's have a little fun here. We have enough time. Let's talk some fun. New polling out this week, a little then and now. President Obama, his former rival and had now his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Back in January, the president's favorability rating was 78 percent, stratospheric. Secretary Clinton was 65 percent. Fast forward to now, the president at 56 percent, still not bad, but down quite a bad. Secretary Clinton, 63 percent. She did a number of interviews about very important subjects, don't get me wrong. She talked about Iran, she talked about the Middle East, she talked about her travels overseas. But she was also asked about NBC's Ann Curry, what about an election down the road?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Will you ever run for president again, yes or no?
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: No.
CURRY: No?
CLINTON: No, no, I mean this, is a great job. It is a 24/7 job and I'm looking forward to retirement at some point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: David, let me start with you. Do you take her at her word this she'll never run for president, no?
GERGEN: I don't think so. It's inconceivable at this point, but I must say, Gloria will remember this, in these polls, I remember when Colin Powell was a lot more popular than George W. Bush and we had a little fun with it on television. But it also caused Colin Powell some problems in the White House. People over there weren't terribly appreciative of the fact this he was more popular than the president and made governing a little tougher and created some, you know, some rift there. I just -- I just say that, I don't know whether we'll see that yet or not, but I can tell you that it caused problems back then.
BORGER: Except lots of people in the White House now, David, are former Hillary people, too. Most notably the chief of staff.
GERGEN: There may be somewhat fewer number of those by the end of the first term.
BORGER: Right. But it's interesting because I do think in terms of their relationship, at least, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, from everyone I've spoken with both in the White House and Hillary Clinton people, the relationship itself is closer than anybody ever thought.
And that I'm told that at a meeting with other cabinet members, the president pointed to Hillary Clinton as sort of the model cabinet member. She's doing a brilliant job. This is the kind of cabinet member we need. It's just -- this relationship has evolved so tremendously, and I believe she's also popular because she knows her job.
KING: Let me ask from your perspective, Bill, she is so polarizing...
BENNETT: I'm deeply moved.
KING: For her, whether she runs again or not, she was such a polarizing figure and the arch enemy of conservatives. In this job, how she's handled herself in the cabinet, is she making a positive impression?
BENNETT: I don't think she's making enough of an impression. I see the interviews. I just wish we actually heard more from her of a decisive nature.
BENNETT: I wish she spoke as clearly as she just did and answered that question, where she said no about other things.
I wish she'd get the president to meet the Dalai Lama, wish she'd speak out about Iran like she did during the campaign, and speak out on other things. She's got strong views, and my guess is, views probably closer to some of us than Obama's.
BRAZILE: Well, clearly, if you look at the polls, one of the reasons why she is doing better in the polls is because 35 percent of Republicans support the job that she's doing. She's an asset to the administration. She's done a lot of work and improved our relations with other countries and strengthened our ties. So I would hope that the president, in the coming debates on Iran and Afghanistan, would use her more.
YELLIN: But, remember, when Senator Clinton came into power as the senator, she was quiet for the first year. She kept her head down. She learned how it works, and then she started emerging and became very forceful.
This is how she does it. She sits; she focuses, and then she starts speaking out. We'll hear more from her.
BORGER: And, you know, you can't say that it's not right to have a public debate on Afghanistan with all these leaks of General McChrystal's report, et cetera, and then say that Hillary Clinton should be out there, talking to us about what she believes. Because I think she's, kind of, old-fashioned enough to believe, having been at the White House once before, when her husband was president, that those debates ought to stay in the room.
BENNETT: She can explain it to him privately, but strongly.
BORGER: Don't you think she does? Don't you think she does?
BENNETT: I think she's got a strong personality; that's what I think.
(CROSSTALK)
BENNETT: And I think she could make her...
(CROSSTALK)
KING: Come on in, David. I know it's hard when you're not in the room. Jump in.
(CROSSTALK)
(LAUGHTER)
GERGEN: No, what I -- I want to come back to what -- Gloria is right on Afghanistan. She needs -- the debate needs to be more inside the room than it has been.
But I think Bill Bennett's point is well taken, that she has been very muted as secretary of state, and that she has not been what many of us expected.
I think she's been very close to the president personally, but she has not exercised that sort of a strength that comes with being the chief foreign policy spokesperson for the administration.
(CROSSTALK)
GERGEN: Much of that conversation has been reserved to the White House.
The people who have taken the lead have been basically the president and, more recently, Jim Jones on Afghanistan. And this -- she, as secretary of state, has not been in the more traditional role we look to, for a George Shultz, say, or a Jim Baker or a Henry Kissinger, who's out there on the front line, helping to formulate and is the architect of American foreign policy. That has not come through yet.
KING: All right. We need to take a quick break. And I want to note for the record, as James Earl Jones would say, this is CNN.
(LAUGHTER)
But, up next, a special extended lightning round: the White House versus Fox News.
BENNETT: It's not the same.
(LAUGHTER)
KING: No, it's not.
(LAUGHTER)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: All right. We'll call this an extended version of our traditional lightning round. We'll give our players here a little bit more time than normal because we want to discuss an interesting subject.
Normally, in this hour, we play for you sound not only from our program but from other Sunday programs. At this moment, I want to give you not a guest on another program, but listen to one of the anchors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": This week the Obama White House turned up the heat on Fox News. Communications director Anita Dunn called us, quote, "opinion journalism masquerading as news."
We wanted to ask Dunn about her criticism, but as they've done every week since August, the White House refused to make any administration officials available to "Fox News Sunday" to talk about this or anything else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Donna Brazile, you're an analyst here but you're also a leading Democrat and a Democratic strategist. Why does the White House want to pick this war?
BRAZILE: Well, John, I don't always agree with the White House. And on this one here I would disagree. Look, I understand that Fox has, you know, a very opinionated show. I made the rounds before becoming an analyst and contributor here at CNN, and I used to enjoy going on Fox because, after I did that round of fighting, I would come on CNN and feel like, oh, I can take a bath now.
(LAUGHTER)
But the truth is that the White House is, I'm sure, tired of the falsehoods, the lies, the smears that's been going with that network, and they've decided not to play.
KING: Smart, Bill?
BENNETT: No, not smart. Was it Mark Twain who said don't get into fights with people who buy ink by the barrel?
Also, having the spokesman do this, attack Fox, who says that Mao Zedong is one of the most influential figures in her life, was not...
(CROSSTALK)
BENNETT: No, it isn't. It isn't a small thing; it's a big thing.
(CROSSTALK)
(UNKNOWN): ... she is quoting Lee Atwater.
BENNETT: No, she was not quoting Lee Atwater. Lee Atwater had quoted Mao Zedong on a point, negatively...
(UNKNOWN): She was being ironic.
BENNETT: She was not being ironic. Read the speech. If you read the whole speech you will see...
BRAZILE: I have it, actually.
BENNETT: ... two major influences in her life, Mother Teresa and Mao Zedong.
Now, look, I am not a right-wing nut, and when people go after Obama and say "socialism and Marxism," I say, take it easy, you know, calm down.
But when she stands up, in a speech to high school kids, says she's deeply influenced by Mao Zedong, that -- I mean, that is crazy.
(CROSSTALK)
BRAZILE: She cited him.
(CROSSTALK)
KING: David, I want you to jump in here, and I want you first to listen to Rahm Emanuel. I asked him about this, this morning. I said, "Why?" Here's what Rahm says.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EMANUEL: Well, it's not so much a -- a conflict with Fox News, but unlike -- I suppose, the way to look at it, and the way the president looks at it and we look at it, is it's not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And that's a different take.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: If you take that, it's not a news organization; it has a perspective -- that's their view -- why not get their voice into the debate on that network?
GERGEN: Well, cut two or three things. First of all, I sense that maybe Rahm Emanuel was trying to gently walk back from this fight today. You know, he's very pugnacious, as we all know. He's very colorful in his language when he wants to be. He chose his words very delicately to not create a headline.
I think they realize they've gotten themselves into a fight they don't necessarily want to be in. I don't think it's in their best interest. I totally agree with Donna Brazile on that.
But where they go from here, I'm not sure. I -- from my perspective, the faster they can get this behind them, the more they can treat Fox like one other organization, the easier they can get back to governing, and then put some people out on Fox.
I mean, for goodness sakes -- you know, you engage in the debate. What Americans want is a robust competition of ideas, and they ought to be willing to go out there and mix it up with some strong conservatives on Fox, just as there are strong conservatives on CNN like Bill Bennett.
GERGEN: They need to be mixing up, because that's what produces -- that's what creates our public understanding and public enlightenment, a fair, honest, a vigorous debate about issues and stay away from the personalities. Dwight Eisenhower taught a long time ago, when you have a disagreement with people out there, don't get into the gutter with them and get into a pissing contest with them because you'll wind with up at the White House getting hurt.
BORGER: You know what, I think it's a really risky strategy for them, but I think in the end what's going to happen is they're just going to pick their spots they appear on FOX. Will they go on Glenn Beck? Probably not, OK? Will they go on Sunday morning on Chris Wallace? Maybe they will eventually.
YELLIN: Eventually.
BORGER: I think it's sort of --
KING: During the campaign he sat down with Bill O'Reilly. That was the way they brokered a truce.
BORGER: He certainly did and it was probably good for Obama to do that.
YELLIN: FOX got a few heads. FOX went after a few administrative officials and they had to resign. And I think the White House, administration, was very angry, upset, and wanted to draw a line in the sand. They pushed back.
KING: If there were grounds for them to resign, is that FOX's fault?
YELLIN: Well, no, but the administration caved to some extent. They also saw the politics of it. They were very angry.
BENNETT: Are we going to drop MSNBC, even occasionally CNN? I mean really, are they going to cleanse the networks? Which is the network here which is perfectly objective?
BRAZILE: But you know, FOX has also dropped the administration, they have refused to cover some of the president's speeches.
BENNETT: They're conservative, there's no doubt about it.
BRAZILE: So let's not give FOX this halo effect.
BENNETT: They admit it, unlike the other guys.
BRAZILE: No halo.
KING: No halo here, just some fun Sunday discussion. David Gergen, Jessica Yellin, Gloria Borger, Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile, thank you all so much. When we come back, we go outside the Beltway to Wasilla, Alaska. Do you remember the name of that town? We have this week's diner discussion on the economy, health care, and the check of President Obama's job performance, the president's job performance, not the former mayor's -- so far.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Alaska was our travel stop this week, our main mission to look at the economy. But as you know, we're always on the lookout for a good meal and good conversation. For that, we decided to go to a small city that became famous during the presidential campaign. Wasilla, Alaska, is the hometown of former Governor Sarah Palin. We should note nearly 20 percent of Alaskans lack health insurance and look at this, Lyndon Johnson was the last Democrat to carry the state. That was back in 1964. So as you can tell, it's a conservative state and a place where folks are more than a little skeptical that Washington, D.C., has all the answers.
We got a good taste of that at Wasilla's Matsu Family Restaurant, along with a great halibut sandwich.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KING: How is the economy doing here? The unemployment rate in Alaska has gone up a little bit, still behind the national average but starting to creep up. Are you worried about that?
ZINA EGBERT, OWNER, MATSO FAMILY RESTAURANT: Of course, yes, I'm worried.
KING: Does it affect the business?
EGBERT: Yes. Before we had more business. Right now a little bit is down because people don't have enough money to pay, you know. We try to save prices down, put more money because people don't have money to eat. I'm upset because a lot of people don't have a job. People come for job and ask like 50 people I have applications every day almost. I feel sorry for people that do have kids.
DAVID NEWLON, NORTH SLOPE OIL OWNER: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm doing really well, but I have lots of friends that have lost their jobs. I work on the slope and there's -- it's pretty much a downturn up there. There has been quite a retraction up there. I always -- Alaska always has a lag, a two or three-year lag. I think we're just starting to see this lag, this winter is going to be a lot tougher than last winter.
KING: Should the government be doing more? There was a stimulus plan right after Obama became president. Some people liked it, some thought we couldn't afford it. Is it time to do more on that front or just let the thing run its course?
DAN KING, SEMI-RETIRED: I think the stimulus package I think obviously helped a lot of people, but I think it's short term. I think long term the government needs to let the economy take care of itself.
KING: While we're on the point of what the government should do, there is a big debate in the town I work in right now about national health care reform. Do you want Washington to help you here, lower the costs, regulate insurance companies, talk about preexisting conditions, or, again, should that be a state by state issue or for you to fight out with insurance companies?
NEWLON: I'd rather have it state by state. I don't believe New York knows what Alaska needs or Alaska knows what Virginia needs or Alaska knows what Michigan needs with 20 percent unemployment.
D. KING: Why do we always have to reinvent something for the population? Congress has a health care plan that they subscribe to. What's wrong with the whole country subscribing to that health care plan? Or take the VA? The VA has a great health care system. There's a lot of people that don't understand it maybe, but once you get through the red tape and get into the health care system itself, it's second to none. And why do we need to reinvent it? Let's adapt it to make it work for everybody.
KING: Do you have health insurance?
EGBERT: I have on the business.
KING: How are your costs? Going up?
EGBERT: Too much money, we pay a lot, $25,000.
KING: Obama didn't win this state, obviously. But about nine months in, how is he doing? Disappointed? Surprised? About what you expected?
EGBERT: I don't see nothing too much changed.
KING: You don't see change.
EGBERT: We have to wait a couple more years.
NEWLON: I'll be honest. I'm no fan. I think Obama, his view is that the government can do it better with greater oversight, and I just would prefer less government is better government. And I don't agree with some of his views on a lot of issues.
D. KING: I was excited when with he was elected and he's our president, and I think we should support him. And I have, but I am starting to question some of the things he's doing, especially in our role as a leader in the world. He doesn't want to be seen as the leader of the free world. He wants to be a part of a consortium that leads the free world. And I don't know if that's the right place for us to be, at least right now.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
KING: A great meal and a great conversation. We're told when the famous Sarah Palin stops in her hometown restaurant there, she gets the French Dip sandwich.
KING: We'd like to welcome back our international viewers. I'm John King, this is STATE OF THE UNION.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I'm just getting started! I don't quit. I'm not tired. I'm just getting started!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Testing time for President Obama. Nearing a critical decision about troop levels in Afghanistan and deep into tough negotiations on health care. We go inside the deliberations with the president's point man, White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don't even have an election finished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The Afghan political crisis and the fight against Al Qaida from a pivotal voice in Congress. Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry is visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan and shares his firsthand assessment.
Then, our "American Dispatch" from Alaska. It is breathtaking and struggling. The recession arrived here late, but it is now making a painful mark.
And he says the president's spending will crush our economy. The top Republican on the Budget Committee, New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg gets "The Last Word."
This is the "State of the Union" report for Sunday, October 18th.
We begin this Sunday with one of the most powerful men in Washington. He's President Obama's gatekeeper, determining who gets access to the Oval Office, and he also plays a key role in virtually every decision the president makes. The White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, welcome to "State of the Union."
EMANUEL: Thanks, John.
KING: I want to begin overseas. There are reports that we are getting, hearing from U.S. officials, Western officials who have met with him and also on the ground, that President Karzai is resisting the findings that the fraud in the election was significant enough that there should be a runoff. In the view of the president of the United States, does President Karzai have a choice? Must there be a runoff?
EMANUEL: Well, first of all, what President Karzai must do and the process there is a credible and legitimate election or result, more importantly, for the Afghan people and for that government going forward, whether that's through a runoff, whether that's through negotiations. The process will be determined by the Afghan people. The result, for us and for the president, is whether, in fact, there's a credible government and a legitimate process.
KING: At this point, since we do not view the prior election and the U.N. does not view the prior election as legitimate, is that then -- is the choice then a runoff election or a negotiated power sharing agreement with Mr. Abdullah?
EMANUEL: John, you've seen in the papers, you see the reports that are coming from Kabul. There is basically two roads there, or two basically processes. One is another runoff election between the two top candidates, or a negotiation between those candidates. But the end result must be a legitimate and credible government to the Afghan people. That's what's important. It's the Afghans making a decision about what type of government they're going to have and what road they're going to take to that point.
KING: And this plays out as the president faces a decision of enormous gravity, whether to send thousands, tens of thousands of more U.S. troops. Will the president wait and delay that decision until after you have a clear picture of the political situation?
EMANUEL: The review's going to continue to go on. That's not in question. The question, and one of the central questions of that review -- so we will continue. We've had five meetings. There's another set of meetings this week and the following week.
The question, though, and one of the questions is at the heart is -- and even General McChrystal's own report says -- the question does not come how many troops you send, but do you have a credible Afghan partner for this process that can provide the security and the type of services that the Afghan people need?
And you know, here in Washington, we want to have a debate, and you can't -- we would love the luxury of this debate to be reduced down to just one question, additional troops, 40,000. This is a much more complex decision. Even the general's own report and General Petraeus' own analysis says the question, the real partner here is not how much troops you have, but whether in fact there's an Afghan partner.
And when you go through all the analysis, it's clear that basically we had a war for eight years that was going on, that's adrift. That we're beginning at scratch, and just from the starting point, after eight years. And there's not a security force, an army, the type of services that are important for the Afghans to become a true partner.
So that is the question. And what I think it would be irresponsible -- and it's clear that as I saw the clip earlier, Senator Kerry said -- Senator Kerry, who's now in Kabul in Afghanistan noted, that it would be reckless to make a decision on U.S. troop level if, in fact, you haven't done a thorough analysis of whether, in fact, there's an Afghan partner ready to fill that space that the U.S. troops would create and become a true partner in governing the Afghan country.
KING: Whether the president sends more troops or not, how are we going to pay for this? Even if he does nothing more, there will be 68,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan at the end of the year, maybe a little more than that, without a decision to increase them. Will the president have to request emergency funding to pay for that, or is that (inaudible)?
EMANUEL: It will be part -- I mean, if we did this, it would be part of what we have to do as we've done both for our Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the past. It would be part of that process.
KING: But the president said in April, he had hoped not to do that anymore. The president sent a letter to the House speaker, and he said, "this is the last planned war supplemental." And he said, you know, in the past, after seven years of war, the American people deserve an honest accounting of the cost of our involvement in ongoing military operations. Is this something that candidates can say one thing or a young president can say another thing that you learn that sometimes you can't ...
EMANUEL: No, I mean, one of the points is, is, what is the cost if we took this approach? And that's been part of the discussion.
The first part of this discussion, John, has been about the fact that, where are we, what is the context, what is the assumptions built into this? One of the things that has been analyzed in all this is that, you know, and people would like to reduce this down and would like the luxury that, you know, send more troops, as if that's all that it takes.
You have to have a policy. It's important -- the policy is as important to protecting the troops as the equipment they have. And an analysis of where we are, what happened.
And what I find interesting and just intriguing from this debate in Washington, is that a lot of people who all of a sudden say, this is now the epicenter of the war on terror, you must do this now, immediately approve what the general said -- where, before, it never even got on the radar screen for them. That -- everything was always about Iraq.
This is where Al Qaida is based. Not just in Afghanistan, it's clear that they're based in Pakistan.
KING: A quick break with the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. When we come back, we'll bring the debate home, domestic issue. Will health care reform pass this year, and what about the record federal budget deficit? Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: We're back with the White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel.
You are deeply involved in this health care negotiations on Capitol Hill.
Right now, behind closed doors in the Senate -- this is a story from the Washington Post today. "Small group now leads closed-door negotiations." And it quotes the president, from candidate Obama, saying, we will have these discussions televised on C-SPAN, everybody will be at the table, we'll do this in an open and transparent way.
Why does it have to be done behind closed doors?
EMANUEL: Well, John, first of all, I mean, you know very well that this has been -- the entire health care process has been fully public and...
KING: This is the most important part.
EMANUEL: And everybody is going to continue to be involved. We went up to have the first set of a series of discussions. You saw all the hearings. Many people said, you know, cover the hearings in five separate committees that had those discussions or discussions happening then, both at the hearing level, and also...
KING: So as you negotiate now...
EMANUEL: ... as you negotiate in private. But that doesn't mean that you can't have what's going on.
The key point in this debate about health care, John, isn't what's going on in a sense of just these negotiations -- those are key -- is what, at the end of the day, will the result achieve what I call the four C's. That is, are we going to control cost, expand coverage, give people choice, and competition in the system. And that's the goal the president set out. We went up there. You had two committee chairmen, as well as the Senate majority leader there. Everybody knows these issues that we're discussing.
KING: You have another stop, so I'm going to interrupt you, because you have another stop to make and my time is limited. In the C's, controlling costs...
(CROSSTALK)
EMANUEL: I was actually getting close to be (ph) a senator (inaudible) filibustering for a second.
KING: You were filibustering quite well. You're very good.
One of the controlling cost elements here is competition -- excuse me, here -- is would you have the public option. And on the Senate side, you know, it's harder to sell in the Senate, because you have more centrists involved. Is this an acceptable public option to Rahm Emanuel, the Olympia Snowe trigger plan, maybe with a combination of Tom Carper's proposal to let the states do it?
EMANUEL: Breaking news, John. Doesn't matter whether it's acceptable.
(CROSSTALK)
KING: It does matter whether it's acceptable, because you'll have to sell it on the House side.
EMANUEL: No, here's the deal. As you saw the president say in the joint session to Congress, he believes a public plan, a public option is important to competition. Because in many parts of the country, a single health insurance industry has 80 percent, 70 percent of the market. Let me go -- finish. It is also parts of -- that parts of the country where premiums are the highest. So if you don't have competition, an insurance company has the run of not only premiums, but what kind of health care you have.
And so the president believes in it as a source of competition. He also believes that it's not the defining piece of health care. It's whether we achieve both cost control, coverage, as well as the choice that...
(CROSSTALK)
KING: Is a trigger good enough for the president?
EMANUEL: The president of the United States will obviously weigh in when it's important to weigh in on that. There are key members of the Senate that want a public option. The Senator Snowe, who's also important, would like to see a trigger. But what's implicit in the notion of a trigger is that you should always have available that option of having a public plan to bring the type of competition that brings downward pressure on prices and price-effective health care costs.
KING: The way the Senate Finance Committee bill is paid for is a fee on these Cadillac insurance plans. And your friends in the labor movement say, no way. That what happens is you'll put a fee on the insurance companies, and they will backdoor that by passing the costs onto the consumers. Gerry McEntee, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, says we "all worked for these people. We worked for Obama. What do we get for it? We not only don't get anything for it, we get a slap in the face." They say that it's a backdoor way of violating the president's promise not to raise taxes on the middle class. Will that be in the final bill?
EMANUEL: First -- one of the first things the president did when he got into office, was ensure the largest middle class tax cut in history. Because middle class had basically saw their incomes...
(CROSSTALK)
KING: But why does a labor leader call it a slap in the face?
EMANUEL: Well, that's his position. In fact, he spoke -- the president spoke to this in the joint session.
But I want to go back. Remember this -- the middle class received the largest -- one of the largest tax cuts in one of the first things he's done in the 45 -- in the first 45 days of his office.
Second, this is basically one of the ways in which you basically put downward pressure on health care costs. The president believes, as he said in the joint session, that while he opposed this originally, thinks that -- and based on the analysis -- it is helpful in getting costs under control. And it hits the insurance companies and the high expansive and expensive plans.
KING: We have a $1.4 trillion deficit this year. I know the president has said he will cut it in half in his first term. Health care reform will be deficit-neutral is the president's position, and yet...
EMANUEL: More than deficit-neutral, John.
KING: And yet...
EMANUEL: John, wait a second. Wait a second. More than deficit-neutral.
KING: You say it will help bring the deficit down.
(CROSSTALK)
EMANUEL: Also, let me make a point up here, which I think -- I really want to make this point. When the prescription drug bill was passed, in the '80s -- I mean, rather, in 2005.
KING: In the Bush administration.
EMANUEL: Yes, in the Bush administration, there was no pay-for. It was charged on the credit card. And it run up costs as far as the eye can see, basically for about $850 billion. This bill, somewhere will be about $850 billion, $900 billion, fully paid for, done within the health care system, and it brings down the deficit. And it's the first step, if you want to control...
KING: Except...
EMANUEL: As you know, John...
KING: The administration has asked the Senate to do this...
EMANUEL: ... if you want to control health care costs...
KING: ... $250 billion Medicare fix to doctors. The administration has asked the Senate to do that outside of health care reform. And right now, there is no way to pay for it.
EMANUEL: Yes, but, John, in fact is -- the president -- this is one of the gimmicks that was done year after year in Washington...
KING: So why do it now? If it's been done year after year, why not end it?
EMANUEL: And the president's budget, in fact, he included it in his budget when we negotiated that and we passed the budget. The first year, it's paid for.
What happens is, everybody says, you know, don't worry about it, and then they just pass it on. We've made a difference.
But the first piece of controlling the deficit is health care. I will also say the next step, is also important, is paying pay as you go. In the 2000 era, starting in 2001, the discipline of the '90s that led to a surplus was pay as you go. That was eliminated, basically allowed to lapse. And we passed three tax cuts, a prescription drug bill that led to $5 trillion of red ink run up -- the biggest red ink run-up in the shortest period of time in American history. Literally over half the nation's debt is accumulated in the last eight years.
KING: I traveled 40 states in the last 40 weeks, and people often use language for which you and I are known for using, mostly in private, not often in public, when they come to the issue...
EMANUEL: I didn't know you were a fellow traveler, John.
KING: They're watching Wall Street and they see the stock market going up, and many of them think that's a good thing, but they also see 9, 10 percent, if you go to Michigan, 15 percent unemployment. And they see this past week Citigroup gets $45 million in government bailout money, pays $5.3 billion in bonuses. Bank of America gets $45 billion in their taxpayer money, pays out $3.3 billion in bonuses. Is there anything the president can do about this?
EMANUEL: Well, one -- yes. And the level is -- and one of the issues is -- I mean, I think the American people have a right to be frustrated and angry.
And I -- and the president understands, and it's why he's spoken to this, why the American people are frustrated.
Not only do they come for a bailout, but in this short period of time where they have a level of normalcy because of what the government did to help them, they're now back trying to fight consumer offices and the type of protections that will prevent another type of situation where the economy is taken over the cliff by the actions taken on Wall Street and the financial market. And that -- and that is what's frustrating people.
What's also frustrating to the American people, and the part on the bonuses, and I understand, as a former member of Congress representing people, is that while they see these bonuses going back and three see that as part of what the banks pay, is in fact -- there was an article the other day in the USA Today, incomes are at their 18-year low.
So while they're struggling to try to make ends meet, save for their retirement, pay for health care costs that are going up 10 percent next year, according to the Hewitt Associates, provide for their children an education -- while they're struggling to make ends meet, Wall Street is back doing what Wall Street did.
They have a responsibility to the whole system. And it starts with not fighting the financial regulatory system and the reforms that are necessary to protect consumers, homeowners, and others. They have a responsibility to come to the table and understand that taking -- that the risks that they took, took the economy to a place, it was near a depression, which we hadn't seen since literally the '30s.
They have a responsibility to be part of the solution, not part of being the obstacle and the forces, which is what the president is facing both on health care and the financial system, is fighting the very special interests that have vested interests in keeping the status quo and their friends up on Capitol Hill, who have actually been their advocates in keeping the status quo.
KING: You need to go, and so I'm going to ask you one more quick question. I let you answer that because I could see how important it was to you and I didn't interrupt you. I've known you for...
EMANUEL: That's so much like a family discussion.
KING: I've known you for 17 years, and we've been through a lot of campaigns together, you practice hardball politics with relish. I'm trying to get behind the curtain and understand why your White House has decided that it is in its interest to have this, boom, with our rival, Fox News, Anita Dunn, one of your staff, calls it the -- the communications director, the wing of the Republican Party. why?
EMANUEL: Well, no, it's not so much a conflict with FOX News. But unlike -- I suppose, the way to look at it, and the way we -- the president looks at it and we look at it, is, it's not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And that's a different take.
And more importantly, it does not have -- the CNNs and others in the world basically be led and following FOX, as if that -- what they're trying to do is a legitimate news organization, in the sense of both sides and a sense of a value opinion.
But let me say this. While it's clear what the White House and what Anita said, I mean, the concentration at the White House isn't about what Fox is doing. Its concentration is about, what does it take to make sure the economy is moving, creating jobs, helping the economy grow, making sure that we responsibly withdraw from Iraq, making sure what -- the decisions we make on Afghanistan, we ask the questions before we go ahead first into putting 40,000 more troops on the line and America's reputation, its most treasured resources, its young men and women, and its resources.
That's what's occupying the decisions and the time in the White House.
KING: I know you'd rather be home with your children. I will let you go.
EMANUEL: Absolutely.
(LAUGHTER)
KING: Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, thanks for coming in to "State of the Union."
EMANUEL: Thanks, John.
KING: And when we come back, should the president send thousands of more troops to Afghanistan? And should he at least wait? You heard Rahm Emanuel's view. When we come back, one of the most powerful voices in Congress is in Afghanistan. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee's chairman, John Kerry, next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday.
Suicide bomber strikes in Iran. At least 29 people are dead, including the deputy commander of the elite Revolutionary Guard, four other top commanders. It happened today in the southeastern city of Sarbaz. The president -- the speaker, excuse me, of Iran's parliament blames the United States for the attack. A State Department spokesman though says that accusation is completely false and the department is condemning the bombing.
Authorities say an Air Force pilot whose F-16 collided with another fighter jet over the Atlantic most likely died instantly. The search for Captain Nicholas Giglio has now shifted to a recovery mission. Investigators believe Giglio's jet was pierced by a second F-16 during a training exercise Thursday night near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The other pilot was able to land safely.
The sheriff in Larimer County, Colorado, says he expects criminal charges will be filed in the so-called runaway balloon saga. The sheriff is holding a news conference at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll carry that live for you right here on CNN.
Then "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS," "AMANPOUR," and "YOUR MONEY" will be seen in their entirety. Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION.
You just heard the White House perspective on the question of what's next in Afghanistan. Should there be more troops? What happens with the dispute over the contested election? We also have the views this morning for you of a very powerful voice in Congress, who is in the ground -- on the ground in Afghanistan, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, John Kerry.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KING: Senator Kerry, thank you for joining us from the ground there. First, I want your assessment of the political situation. How soon do you think they could administer a runoff election in Afghanistan?
KERRY: I'm told by the authorities here that they could do it in two weeks. And I accept that. I think it could be done in two weeks.
KING: What do you think the United States, the United Nations, and the international community need to do to make sure that what happened last time doesn't happen again? How do we strengthen the administration and the integrity of that election process?
KERRY: Well, I think it's critical -- obviously, in any emerging democracy, there are going to be a certain number of difficulties. I think they've done a good job, frankly, over the last months and weeks of isolating what those difficulties were, and of throwing out the votes that needed to be thrown out.
But if there is indeed going to be a run-off, then we want to try to do it as effectively as humanly possible. One of the things that was lacking last time, particularly in the south, was adequate security.
KING: Do you believe we should just step back from this, or is the best thing now going forward to try to encourage negotiations? There has been some talk of maybe a power-sharing arrangement. President Karzai would then bring Dr. Abdullah into the government somehow. Is that a good approach?
KERRY: I think it's entirely up to President Karzai to make -- assuming he gets reelected, if he is, then he has got to make decisions about what the make-up of this government is going to be. That doesn't mean we just stand by, no. I don't accept that. We have too much at stake here, our troops are on the line. We have people in harm's way in this country. And they're making great sacrifices.
And we have a responsibility to make certain that the government here is a full partner in our efforts to be able to be as effective as we can be. So before the president makes a decision about the numbers of troops that ought to come here, I believe it is critical for us to be satisfied that the reform efforts that are absolutely mandatory within the government here are in fact going to take place and be fully implemented.
This struggle here in Afghanistan, and the goals of the president that he has defined with respect to al Qaeda and the stability of the region, those goals will not be achieved by just the United States military or the numbers of troops here.
The essential ingredients, frankly, as important as anything, is the ability of the government of Afghanistan to deliver at the top, all the way down to the local level; and secondly, the ability of the international community to bring the civilian sector in underneath the military effort in order to provide an improvement in the quality of life and opportunities for the people of this country.
Those are critical components of counterinsurgency strategy. It would be very hard, I think, for the president to make a commitment to X number of troops, whatever it might be, or to the new strategy, without knowing that all of the components of the strategy are indeed capable of being achieved.
KING: Well, let me ask you a little -- more questions about that then. You've had meetings with General McChrystal and his deputies there on the ground. Before you left Washington, you said you were very wary of the prospect of sending maybe 40,000 more troops into the situation in Afghanistan.
After the face-to-face contact with the generals, are you more comfortable with their plan?
KERRY: They answered a lot of questions. And obviously General McChrystal is a very impressive leader. Not all of the questions have been answered. And some of the assumptions that General McChrystal is making, and he acknowledges this himself, are based on the other two things I talked about.
And so this mission is not defined exclusively by its military component. And we've got to make certain that the other pieces, again, I say, are achievable. And I'm not yet convinced that we're there.
KING: Not yet convinced. You have, in the past, many times raised the Vietnam analogy, saying your worry was that then-Defense Secretary McNamara, General Westmoreland, would keep asking for more troops without examining all of the big underlying questions.
Are you convinced that General McChrystal is not General Westmoreland?
KERRY: Absolutely. I think General McChrystal is asking the questions about the underlying assumptions. This is not Vietnam in many respects. We are here in Afghanistan because people attacked us here in the most significant attack against the United States since Pearl Harbor. We are here because there are still people at large who are plotting against the United States of America. And we are here because the stability of this region is of critical strategic interest to the United States.
I think most people agree on that. So the basic assumptions here are very, very different from what we experienced years ago in Vietnam.
KING: We had Senator McCain in here last week. And you know his opinion, but I want to share it with our viewers and get your reaction to it. I asked him the question, what will it take in Afghanistan to succeed? Listen to Senator McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Do you think the United States can win in Afghanistan with fewer than 40,000 more troops?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I do not. And I think the great danger now is not an American pullout, I think the great danger now is a half measure, sort of a -- you know, try to please all ends of the political spectrum.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KERRY: I don't think the president has any intention of doing that. I think he is going to make his judgment about what kind of mission he is going to set. And then he is going to make, I think, a solid judgment about what it's going to take to accomplish that mission.
You know, I have great respect for John McCain. He and I served in the same war. We both have searing memories about what happened when politics took over the decisions of that. So I respect his caution about it.
But I'm convinced that the review the president is going through is exhaustive, it's thorough, and I'm absolutely confident the president is not going to make a decision remotely connected to politics. He is going to make a decision based on the national security interests of our country and of what he thinks it takes to achieve the mission that he defines to meet those interests.
KING: A quick break. But when we come back, more with John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was on the ground in Afghanistan. Stay with us.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Let's continue our conversation, now, with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Let's get your assessment of the threat. What is the threat now, in Afghanistan, of Al Qaida and the Taliban to the United States?
General Jones was here a few weeks ago, and he said probably fewer than 100 Al Qaida operatives currently in Afghanistan. What is the threat?
KERRY: It's a several-fold threat. It's the threat of the failure of governance, which is empowering Taliban to be able to recruit people because of their dissatisfaction and distrust, not essentially because they agree with the Taliban.
But if the Taliban gain sufficient footholds in parts of the country, most people, I think, make a judgment that that is an opportunity for Al Qaida to take advantage of their alliance and therefore create, conceivably, a sanctuary or training ground for terrorist activities in other parts of the world.
We have seen that. That is their modus operandi. And that's what we have to worry about. That's the threat, insofar as the Taliban might or might not present a challenge to us. I don't think they're about to take over the country. Al Qaida is not essentially here today. It is in northwest Pakistan and in some 58 or 59 other countries in the world.
But we need to also guarantee that the Taliban and our own presence don't become a destabilizing factor with respect to Pakistan and their efforts to fight against their own Taliban as well as other extremist groups that threaten their government.
And they are, as we recall, a government with nuclear weapons, a government with a major number of troops lined up on the border with India, and a government that, for a number of other reasons, I think has national security interests for the United States.
KING: Help us, Mr. Chairman, understand that delicate and difficult balance. Do you worry, for example, that, if the United States were to add 30,000, 40,000 more troops into Afghanistan, you would be roughly, then, with U.S. and NATO troops, where the Soviets were back in the old days of their incursion into Afghanistan?
And some say that that would cause so much instability in Pakistan, the giant U.S. presence, that you would be doing more harm than good.
Do you share that assessment?
KERRY: Well, I don't share the beginning -- the beginning basis of the premise in which you asked the question.
I don't think people here in Afghanistan are viewing the United States now in the same way that they viewed the Soviet Union, not at all.
Yes, there is, however, a legitimate question about whether or not a certain number of troops, depending on their mission, might drive people into Pakistan, and thereby present further difficulties in the western part of that country or even fuel the extremism there.
That is a legitimate question. And it is raised by a number of Pakistanis, and it's one of the reasons why I wanted to come over here to talk to people on both sides of the border about that perception.
KING: Help the American people understand -- best-case scenario, how long will U.S. troops be in Afghanistan, 10 years, 20 years, more?
(LAUGHTER)
KERRY: Well, I hope it won't be that long, obviously. And I have -- you know, I'm trying to think about a mission that doesn't touch those kinds of time frames. My hope is that we can define a mission, here, that will achieve what we need to do to meet our national security interests.
KING: I want to share with you an assessment by the commander of the VFW back here in the United States and get your comments on it. Tom Tradewell, the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars said this.
"In battle, weaknesses are exploited and attacked, which proved to be the case during the Vietnam War. North Vietnam correctly perceived that the United States government did not possess the political will to complete the mission. And that perception became reality.
"In Afghanistan, the extremists are sensing weakness and indecision within the United States government, which plays into their hands, as evidenced by the increased attacks in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. I fear that an emboldened enemy will not intensify their efforts to kill more U.S. soldiers."
Is there weakness and indecision in the United States government? Is the commander of the VFW right?
KERRY: I -- I respectfully disagree with the judgment that he makes about -- at this point in time. Look, obviously, if you exhibit weakness or indecision, or if the United States were to suddenly pull out of here, it would disastrous, in terms of the message that it sends. Nobody is talking about that. That's not what's on the table here.
What we're trying to figure out, so that we don't repeat mistakes of the past, is not just committing people in -- putting them in harm's way and endlessly asking our military to deploy and go out and fight if we aren't certain that we're giving them the mission that, in fact, is achievable and that the American people will in fact stay committed to it.
That's part of what has to be tested here. A lot of us have tough memories of what happens when the country loses that will.
So, you know, I want to understand this as well as I can. I don't think -- I think the president -- and look, it would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country, when we don't even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we're working with.
And when our own, you know, commanding general tells us that a critical component of achieving our -- our mission here is, in fact, good governance, and we're living with a government that we know has to change and provide it, how could the president responsibly say, oh, they asked for it; sure, here they are -- and we know that the two critical schools of counterinsurgency aren't going to stand. That would be irresponsible for a president of the United States.
And no commander-in-chief should be, you know, cornered into making a decision that isn't based on a responsible assessment about what is possible and what the American people are prepared to commit to.
KERRY: I think this is being approached in an entirely responsible way. General McChrystal told me that, even if the commander in chief made the decision tomorrow to put those troops in here, many of them wouldn't even begin to start the flow here until next year, because that's the way it works.
So this is not a situation where someone here is being deprived today or tomorrow or the next day. This is a situation where I think people here are being protected by a smart way of making policy.
KING: Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- Senator John Kerry -- Senator Kerry, be safe in your travels, and we'll catch up with you when we get home.
KERRY: Good enough, thank you John, very much.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
KING: He was nearly a member of President Obama's cabinet. Now he's one of the most vocal critics of the president's spending plan. The Senate Budget Committee's top Republican, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire gets "The Last Word," next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Fifteen newsmakers, analysts and reporters were out on the Sunday morning talk shows but only one gets "The Last Word." That honor today goes to Republican Senator Judd Gregg who joins us from his home state of New Hampshire. Senator, good to see you again.
GREGG: Thank you, John.
KING: Let me start quickly where we left off with Senator Kerry. He says, and the White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel says until there's a resolution of the political crisis in Afghanistan, either run-off election or an agreement on power sharing, the president should wait and not announce his troop decision.
Others have said if the enemy is al Qaeda and the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan is irrelevant, make that decision. Where do you stand?
GREGG: Well our purpose in being there is to basically eliminate people who are threatening us. That's al Qaeda and the support that the al Qaeda gets from the Taliban. And if the general on the ground says he needs the troops, then if we're going to have troops in that country, we should give the general what he needs.
KING: One of the big disputes here in Washington is on the front page of one of your newspapers this morning. Here's the "Sunday News." "Out of work, short on time." It talks about New Hampshire families whose unemployment benefits are about to run out. This has been held up, extending the benefits has been held up because of a disagreement, procedural mostly, between Republicans and Democrats here in Washington. Will that be done soon and resolved?
GREGG: Yes, I think so. There's a legitimate pay for, which is what's critical. First, these type of benefits should be extended but they should be paid for. We shouldn't pass the bill on to our kids.
And there's a legitimate pay for that's been identified so I think we'll clear this up fairly soon and we'll be able to extend benefits. And it should be a two-chair effort. In states which have really severe unemployment, there's going to have to be a further extension. Places like New Hampshire which has unemployment, but not quite as severe, we should have the extension but it shouldn't be at the same level and the same extent of time as places where they're over 8.5, 10 percent unemployment.
KING: Let's talk about pay fors, the term you just used. We learned the other day that the operating deficit of the United States government in the current fiscal year will be $1.42 trillion -- $1.42 trillion with a "T." Now the administration says this, "The FY 2009 deficit was largely the product of the spending and tax policies inherited from the previous administration exacerbated by a severe recession and the financial crisis that were underway as the current administration took office."
Let me start quickly, your perspective on -- you almost joined this administration and you had some disagreements over issues like this. Is that fair, what they say?
GREGG: Well with, if you're going to get political about it, yes. But this deficit is driven by us. I mean, you talk about systemic risk. The systemic risk today is the Congress of the United States.
We're creating these massive debts which we're passing on to our children. We're going to undermine fundamentally the quality of life for our children by doing this. And the projections for the deficit for the next 10 years under the Obama budget are $1 trillion a year. Now you can't blame that on George Bush.
We're taking public debt from 40 percent of GDP, which is tolerable but still too high, up to 80 percent of GDP, which means we're basically on the path of a banana republic type of financial situation in this country.
And you just can't do that. You can't keep running these programs out and not paying for them. And you can't keep throwing debt on top of debt. And it's all really primarily a function in the long run at least of growing the government too much.
We're taking the size of the government from 20 percent of gross national product up to about 26 percent. We're not but I mean this administration is proposing that. That's not sustainable for the nation or our children and it means we will devalue their future. It will be hard for our kids to buy a car, buy a house, or send their kids to college. Standard of livings will drop if we keep this up.
KING: Let's go through a couple of the particulars. The administration wants to deal with this Medicare funding formula for doctors, and it asked the Senate to pass a bill. It's about $250 billion, and that bill will not be part of the health care bill because they want to be able to say the health care bill is deficit neutral.
But at least as of the other day, there was not a way to pay for the $250 billion and some conservative Democrats along with Republicans were objecting saying that's a sham. We can't say health care reform is deficit neutral if we don't pay for this.
GREGG: That's absolutely right. That's gamesmanship. The idea that you're going to add $250 billion to the debt over the next 10 years and claim that it's off budget in some ways so you don't have to look at it so you can go forward with a health care plan which is going to spend $1 trillion to $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
It's just a very bad way to manage your household, to say nothing of your government. It shouldn't be done. We should pay for this. Every year -- we've only done yearly fixes in this area, the doctor fix because it's a pretty difficult number to always pay for, but we have always paid for it. Now suddenly, the administration is suggesting we do a 10-year fix and we not pay for any of it. Wrong way to do it. It's going to create serious problems for us as a nation as we add this type of debt to our books.
KING: We're at a very delicate moment in the health care negotiations. The administration is trying to keep one Republican and some centrist Democrats on board in the Senate and trying to keep liberals on board in the House who don't quite understand what's going on across at the Senate.
I want you to listen to the perspective of a friend of yours, Arlen Specter was a Republican for quite some time. He left and he joined the Democratic Party. That was only a few months ago that he left the Republicans. But listen to his scathing take on your party's perspective in the health care debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPECTER: On the Republican side, it is no, no, no, a party of obstructionism. This is no longer the party of John Heinz and Mac Mathias and Lowell Weicker. You have responsible Republicans who have been in the Senate like Howard Baker and Bob Dole and Bill Frist who say Republicans ought to cooperate.
SPECTER: Well, they're not cooperating.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is Arlen Specter right about this party of no, his former party?
GREGG: Well, I suppose he has to call it something now that he has left the party. But I think that's unfortunate because if you look at the proposals, I have my own personal proposal that I put forward, which is very substantive, very comprehensive, Senator Coburn, Senator Burr have a comprehensive proposal. And then there's a bipartisan proposal that I'm a co-sponsor of with Senator Wyden and Senator Bennett.
All of these are very positive proposals which would accomplish significant health care reform, which would move us down the road in a very positive way towards getting everybody covered, bending the out- year cost curve and making sure people didn't lose insurance.
However, the present proposal which is on the table, which came out of the Kennedy-Dodd committee, which is now the Harkin committee, and the Finance Committee, is a huge expansion of the size of government. You're talking about taking the government and increasing it by $1 trillion to $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
And growing government at that rate is going to have a very debilitating effect, I believe, on our economy and specifically on health care that people get in this country because a lot of it -- a lot of people are going to lose, I believe, their present policies and be pushed into this public plan, which will inevitably be part of the final package I suspect in some form.
KING: Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, Senator, thanks for joining us today.
GREGG: Thank you, John.
KING: Take care, sir.
And up next, we head from New Hampshire to Alaska. It's a beautiful state and its isolation often protects it when with the national economy takes a turn for the worst. But just as winter arrives, the unemployment rate is on the rise.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: This is our 40th program on STATE OF THE UNION. And this week we've visited our 40th state, up to the great state of Alaska, look at the economy changing up there. September 2008, 6.7 percent unemployment. It's up to 8.4 percent now and still climbing. Every year, the state gives residents a dividend from the oil and gas revenues it takes in. Last year it was more than $2,000. This year down to $1,300. In our "American Dispatch" this week from Anchorage, a firsthand look at the rugged beauty that makes Alaska so different and yet also at the pain of recession that is all too familiar.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KING: Alaska takes pride in its natural beauty, and the geographic isolation that makes it very different from what folks here call the "Lower 48."
NEAL FRIED, ECONOMIST, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, ALASKA: Our economy really beats to a very different drummer than sort of the average American economy, if there is such a thing.
KING: But state economist Neal Fried says the numbers don't lie. Tourism is down, trade is slumping, unemployment climbing.
FRIED: Now we're part of it like the rest of the country is. We appear to be more attached and we're being more affected by this recession than we've ever been in prior recessions elsewhere in the country.
KING: With jobs so scarce, Brad Gillespie says the state is taking new steps, including an online warning to discourage people who lost jobs elsewhere from migrating to Alaska.
BRAD GILLESPIE, ANCHORAGE AREAS ALASKA JOB CENTER: We have a fair number of people that think Alaska is the promised land. They have maybe misconceptions about what's up here, and they load up their family and head out on the Alaska Highway and we want to encourage them to not do that until they have something lined up before they get up here.
KING: Sharon Phillips is a regular here, out of work for nine months now.
SHARON PHILLIPS, UNEMPLOYED ALASKA RESIDENT: I put in for probably -- oh, probably 10 jobs -- eight or 10 jobs a week. I get interviewed for about four a week and I'm still unemployed. There's usually about 70 or 80 people that apply for most jobs. We've been here 27 years, but this is probably the worst I've ever seen the economy anywhere since I've been alive.
KING: Sharon's unemployment benefits run about $450 a month. She says others have it worse.
PHILLIPS: My husband also works for the state, so we're making it, you know, but it's -- I see so many people -- I see more people out on the streets, I see more people homeless. It's going to get worse with winter.
KING: Demand for shelter is increasing, and at this one in Anchorage, the faces reflect the recession's higher toll on native Alaskans.
So does the activity at the Cook Inlet Tribal Council Job Center. Unemployment among Native Alaskans is around 20 percent, and with winter approaching, Employment and Training Director Carol Wren worries it will go higher.
CAROL WREN, COOK INLET TRIBAL COUNCIL: But they face a lot of other challenges that non-Native individuals may not face. You look at education levels, they're usually lower. Poverty rates, pregnancy rates, some of those things. So I think that it's going to be a little rough for folks here into the future. I think we're just starting to feel it here.
KING: The Tribal Center has benefited from federal stimulus money, so has the state government. But Republican Governor Sean Parnell says he would prefer longer-term help from Washington, like approval of new oil and gas leases.
GOV. SEAN PARNELL (R), ALASKA: Outer Continental Shelf development means 35,000 new jobs. The problem with the stimulus funds is that they're great when they come in, but it's horrible when they're gone. So it's a dependence that gets created that doesn't lead to any more freedom or prosperity in the long run. I'd like to see more policy geared towards investment and job creation rather than, you know, propping up the states along the way.
KING: Looking ahead, the governor worries next summer will be another tough tourism season and that a recession that came late to Alaska will linger too long.
PARNELL: Alaska tends to trail the rest of the U.S. when it comes to the economy, so when the rest of the economy is headed up, it takes Alaska some time behind it. When the national economy is heading down, we trail.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
KING: A beautiful place to see a sunset.
We'll be here again next Sunday and every Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern for the first and last word in Sunday talk. Until then, I'm John King in Washington.
- END -

Megan Grant | CNN Washington

1 Comment

was blago right in his book? did rahm want a seat holder inorder to get back in congress when obama world becomes atlantis?

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on October 18, 2009 2:20 PM.

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