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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Interview With David Plouffe; Interview With Lindsey Graham; Interview with Michael Bloomberg
Aired January 25, 2009 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: I'm John King, and this is "State of the Union."
President Obama takes office on a wave of goodwill. But how can he keep the political math on his side? We'll hear in a rare interview with his presidential campaign manger, David Plouffe.
From the economy to the war on terror, the new president wants Congress to back his plan, but will lawmakers buy in? We will ask one of the Senate's leading Republicans, Lindsey Graham.
And in an exclusive interview, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has some advice for President Obama about fixing the economy.
That's all ahead in this hour of "State of the Union."
Thanks for being with us this morning. We begin today with the man Barack Obama singled out for high praise on election night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: To my campaign manager, David Plouffe. The unsung hero of this campaign, who built the best -- the best political campaign I think in the history of the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now as President Obama gets to work here in Washington, David Plouffe not on the White House staff, but still a key player in selling the president's agenda, trying to turn the grassroots movement that won the election into a powerful governing tool. David, thanks for joining us on "State of the Union."
For two plus years, you're in the war room throughout the campaign, in all the big meetings. I want to get your perspective now from the outside looking in, your impressions of the first week and the changes between a candidate and a president.
PLOUFFE: Well, I think it's just been an outstanding week for the president and the country. I think many of the things he talked about in the campaign were beginning to see manifested itself here. And recovery plan that's really focused on the middle class and small businesses, but doesn't put aside the hard choices in energy and health care that are going to help us create jobs today, but are going to be the engines of growth tomorrow. Making government more open and accessible, rebuilding that trust with the American people. So I think it's been a terrific week.
The inaugural address, obviously, I thought was terrific and sent a clear message to the country about the challenges and how we are going to tackle them. And I think much of what he has done this week, you know, is really fulfilling those promises he made to the American people about how he was going to govern.
KING: As he tackles those challenges, he begins -- look at our latest poll -- 78 percent of the American people have a favorable opinion of the new president. That's a great blessing, but does it also put you on a perch of such high expectations that you think, how can we meet these?
PLOUFFE: Well, I don't think you're going to see the administration paying too much attention to polls day-to-day at all. But I think the American people are very realistic about the challenges we face. They are sober about them. They realize it's going to take a long time to dig us out of this economic hole. In many respects, they don't want it to go too fast. They want a slow, steady recovery, and I think they're going to give the president time.
What's great the American people, I think the private sector, everyone is committed to banding together here to try and bring about the change we need to get our economy and our country back on track.
KING: You mentioned the changes and his promises, delivering in the first week on his promises. One of his central promises was to change the way this town does business, and with great fanfare on his first full day in office, President Obama pulled the senior White House staff together and announced their pay would be frozen, and he also signed some orders imposing what he said were the strictest rules in history to limit the revolving door, lobbyists coming in and out of government. Let's listen to the president.
That video froze there. But what he did is he said no lobbyists, we're closing the revolving door. He said all who serve in his administration will be bound by these new rules. And yet, within 48 hours, we learned that his choice to be the number two at the Pentagon, William Lynn, a former lobbyist for Raytheon, gets a waiver. How can you say all who serve in my administration will have to abide by these rules, and then in your first week of office, say except this guy?
PLOUFFE: Well, as we said during the campaign, no standard is perfect and you retain the right to make exceptions. He is uniquely qualified in a critical position in government.
But I'd like to focus on not that one exception, but the general rule. These are the most far-reaching ethical reforms we've ever seen in Washington. No one who works in that administration, including Mr. Lynn, can then leave and lobby the administration. It was, I think, a remarkably far-reaching set of proposals, and I think it is going to rebuild trust. Even something like the reinvestment and recovery act. On recovery.com, when this act passes, the American people are going to be able to track every dollar that's spent. And I think that's very important, rebuilding trust. There is -- people are disconnected from their government in Washington in many respects. And I think we want to rebuild that connection so they have stake in these big debates that are going to influence the future of the country, but also complete transparency and openness in terms of how the government is operating and how we're spending their tax dollars.
KING: But an example like that can help undermine it, gives your opponents, your critics to say, look, he didn't really mean it. That's the same old Washington that he promised to change. When you say that one exemption, is that it, or will there be more exemptions as we go forward?
PLOUFFE: Well, I'm not in the government, as you know. But I think what the American people are going to focus on is the large standard, and I think they realize that there can be an exception from time to time.
But that has never happened before. A president has never said that no one who works in his administration can then go out and lobby it. And that's a fundamental change in the way this town works, and they desperately need it.
KING: Want to take you over -- as we continue the questions, I'm going to walk you over to the map here and bring it up. Because your new job, outside of government, is to use the grassroots network. You have at your disposal 13 million e-mail addresses, 4 million cell phones that you can text-message, 2 million active volunteers. You had them to do this, which was quite extraordinary. 53 percent of the vote turning, and I just want to show your viewers quickly, if they don't remember this from the campaign, look at these blue states out here in the West. If you go back in time, that was how -- those were Bush states before; they are Obama states now.
The question is, from outside of government, how do you keep this stimulus debate that's going through Congress, and you had some people saying, no, Mr. President, we don't like that spending. How are you going to use that to move the map out in the states as this happens, and will you use that money -- Kent Conrad will be on this program a bit later. He is the Budget Committee chairman. He says he wants to help the new president, but he doesn't like some of the things in this bill. John Kerry, a chairman in the Congress from a blue state, Massachusetts, says he doesn't like some things in this bill. Will you use that network against Democrats during these policy debates?
PLOUFFE: It's a nice-looking map, first of all.
KING: Thank you. We like it.
PLOUFFE: Having looked at it, the blue.
But I think that, first of all, I think it's a little bit misunderstood. What we're trying to do is to -- we have found that millions of Americans were part of the campaign, and our hopes is millions that weren't who may agree with the president on an issue like energy or health care want to get involved in building support, educating and having conversations. It's going to be great for democracy if these debates aren't just Washington senators. If in states and communities all across the country, people are talking to their neighbors and their colleagues and their family members about energy and health care and economy.
And so we look at this as a way to connect people to democracy, a way to build public support. But it's I think -- the notion that somehow this is going to be a weapon aimed at individual members of Congress misses the purpose. And our hope -- this is trial and error, obviously. It's never been done before. But we know the interest is there. We know people know these are unique times. They want to be out there participating in their democracy and helping to build support for things like the reinvestment recovery package. His ideas on energy and health care that are not only going to create jobs here and now, but these are the jobs and the innovation that are going to keep us strong as a country for decades.
KING: You ordered a postmortem on the campaign, and from that comes Organizing for America, this new project of yours. Five hundred pages, is that about right, in this postmortem?
PLOUFFE: Well, a lot of data to look at.
KING: So my understanding of it -- my copy must have been lost in the mail; I haven't received it yet. My understanding from talking to some people is that you've identified pretty distinct groups from the election, and there are Democrats and then there are Obama Democrats, new voters who came to play and participate because of their affinity for Barack Obama, not necessarily the Democratic Party.
As you go forward, how do you bring them into the Democratic fold? Or do you worry -- you leave that to the next guy to worry about and you worry about Barack Obama?
PLOUFFE: Well, it's a good question. If you look at our support, we had a lot of people who hadn't volunteered before. Half of the people who contributed and volunteered to our campaign had never done so before. A remarkable statistic. A lot of independents and Republicans.
So Organizing for America, the work they are going to be doing does not have an electoral aim in mind. It is to build support out there for these issues, and, again, connect America to these debates in Washington. So my great hope is that someone who didn't even help us in '08 and who may not vote for us in 2012 says you know what, but on energy, I agree with where President Obama is trying to lead the country, I am going to pitch in, in my community. We want this to be a very open entity.
KING: And to what degree, and tell me where the line is between using this money you raise independently outside from your supporters, and you've been sending e-mails since -- through the transition and even since the election -- how do you intersect that with federal tax dollars? Where is the line where you say we can promote the president here, he can do things with WhiteHouse.gov, resources here, but we can't cross this line?
PLOUFFE: Well, obviously, lawyers, as they always are in Washington, have been involved in all of this. And so we have clear bright lines, and obviously, the organizing of people out there, a lot of the communication is going to be done for Organizing for America. But, obviously, we want a message that is consistent, and to make sure that when we are out there talking about the economy or energy or health care, we are doing it in a way that's consistent with what President Obama is articulating to the American people.
KING: I assume you're one of the outside guys who has his e-mail address for the new BlackBerry?
PLOUFFE: I think the e-mail list needs to remain a Washington mystery.
KING: I want to bring you in, David Plouffe, before we say good- bye, this is the magical moment. We put this together from thousands of submissions of individual photographs. This is our photosynth, as we call it, of the inauguration, and it's a collage, essentially. It's multi-dimensional. You can go around, you can come closer, you can go farther away from the inauguration. I want you to show me where David Plouffe was on inauguration day. If I can get this to come back out a little bit. Sometimes it's a little fussy. There we go.
Show me where David Plouffe, the perch you had. You managed the campaign. You're the architect of the successful victory. Where do you get to sit on inauguration day?
PLOUFFE: Well, we were fortunate enough, my wife and I, to sit just a couple of rows behind the Gores and the Clintons, right in this area.
KING: Right up here.
PLOUFFE: Right in this area. And it was a remarkable sight, not to just be on the podium, obviously, but to be able to also have that vantage point of the wonderful mall and the millions of Americans who were gathering in a real spirit of unity and a belief that they have a stake in the future of their country. So it was -- it was a magical moment.
KING: We thank you for joining us on "State of the Union." We hope we'll come back as we watch the next four years unfold.
PLOUFFE: Thanks, John.
KING: David Plouffe, thank you very much.
And up next, with Democrats now in charge of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, what's it like for Republicans in this town? We'll talk with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
Plus, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's advice for the new president.
Also, from defending President Bush's war policy to speaking for President Obama, Howard Kurtz talks with the Pentagon's point man for the press. And right here on State of the Union, the debut of entertainer will.i.am's film diary of this historic inauguration. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: This nation has come together in a way that it has not for some time. I think the message that the American people are sending us now is they want us to work together and get to work. I think we ought to let Senator Clinton, who is obviously qualified and obviously will serve, get to work immediately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Senator John McCain taking some of his fellow Republicans to task there for briefly delaying Hillary Clinton's confirmation as secretary of state.
Welcome back to "State of the Union."
And with us now from his home state of South Carolina, John McCain's good friend and Republican colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham.
Senator, thanks for joining us this morning on "State of the Union."
GRAHAM: Good morning.
KING: I want to get straight to an issue that I believe has piqued your interest. You have said, like your friend, Senator McCain, "I want to work with the new president." With great fanfare -- and I just talked to his former campaign manager about it -- on Wednesday, Barack Obama says he will have the toughest lobbying restrictions of any president in the United States' history, and yet then we immediately learn, within hours, that the number-two at the Defense Department will get an exemption from this, Mr. Bill Lynn, who was a lobbyist for Raytheon.
David Plouffe says this is an exemption, you have to do it from time to time. Do you see it as that, a necessary exemption, or do you see it, from a president who promised to change Washington so dramatically, as hypocrisy?
GRAHAM: Well, I'm not so sure it's hypocrisy. It's just reality. The fact is that there are a lot of talented people who have been in the lobbying business that could serve the country well, and I guess every rule has a goal, and that's to show the government's going to be run differently. And Mr. Lynn has a resume that shows he could serve in a very important role now, so it's just the reality of policies versus governance.
KING: So a promise, perhaps, you think Barack Obama should not have made?
GRAHAM: Well, no, I applaud him for trying to change the culture of government, but, also, people like me, you have to understand that, as you try to create new policies and new images, you've got to also govern the nation. And I think Mr. Lynn is very good at what he would be assigned to do, so I'm willing to let it go if he's willing to make the waiver.
KING: I want to talk to you now about the big debate here in Washington and in your home state. And I want to show you some newspapers from your state as I do so.
This is the Sun-News this morning, talks about the stimulus plan and the economic debate. In the State newspaper, there are conversations, as well, about some economic projects.
I want to start with the $700 billion bailout bill for the financial sector. You voted for it when George W. Bush was president and said that it was critical to stabilizing the economy. Then when the vote comes up for the second installment of the money with a Democrat in the White House, Barack Obama, you vote no. Why, sir?
GRAHAM: Yes. It had nothing to do with Barack Obama. The money was used to -- to be lent to automobile companies. And I can promise you this, John, that if we had known on the first -- the first vote for the first $350 billion money would have not gone to banks but would have gone to the big three automobile companies, you wouldn't have passed.
And I thought it was a breach of trust as to how the money was going to used. And I want assurances it's going to go to deal with the underlying problem, and that's the mortgage problem, home failures in this country, not car failures.
KING: You're a fiscal conservative from a fiscal conservative state, and yet I want to show you the Sun-News again, "Revised stimulus shines on I-73." So there are -- in every state, there are people saying, "Great, we want some of that money," $825 billion or more for stimulus on top of the $700 billion for the financial bailout. Where is the limit here? Or can you support a government that keeps printing money?
GRAHAM: Well, if you keep printing money, you're going to create inflation. I can support a stimulus package that has robust tax cuts that will help people create jobs in the near term and the long term. I can support government spending, if it will create a job in the near term.
I-73 is probably not going to get included in the package because it would be an earmark, but there are projects in South Carolina, throughout the nation, when it comes to bridges, roads, water, sewer projects that would help our economy and improve the quality of life in the short term.
So stimulating the economy to create a job in the first 18 months on the spending side I would support, if it's a merit-based project. Cutting taxes to create jobs now that will sustain themselves over time I would support. The private sector can't do this by itself; that's why the government has a role here. KING: Is the president's plan as it now stands acceptable to you? Or do you see things in there that either won't stimulate the economy or, many say, delay the spending two, three years down the road, won't create jobs in the short term?
GRAHAM: Well, the House plan is a nonstarter for me because only about 13 percent of the money is spent in the first year. The president said he wants 75 percent of the spending to hit the economy within the first 18 months.
I think it would be good to have a summit of Republicans and Democrats with the administration, looking at, how do you cut taxes in a way to create jobs now and sustain job creation? And if you're going to spend all of this money, make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck and it stimulates the economy in the near term, because every dollar, John, is borrowed.
The people spending the money are not going to be the ones paying it back. It's going to be your kids and your grandkids. I'd like to get together in a room, Republicans and Democrats, and figure this out.
KING: I want to turn to a national security issue. During the campaign, both now President Obama and your friend, Republican nominee John McCain, supported closing the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay. President Obama has said he will do that within a year. Many believe that could make the United States less safe.
I want to read you something from one of your colleagues on the House side. Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, who is in the House leadership, says this: Quote, "Actively moving terrorists inside our borders weakens our security, raises far more questions than it answers, and is the wrong track for our nation."
Are you convinced the new president has a plan to deal with where those detainees go, how they are put to trial, in a way that will keep America safe?
KING: Or are you worried we could be more at risk, sir?
GRAHAM: Well, I hope he will choose a safer path. Why would you close Guantanamo Bay?
It's a well-run jail now, but it does represent image problems for this country. The battleground and the war on terror is not a location. It's not a capital or a particular country. Part of it is the moral high ground.
By closing Guantanamo Bay and relocating these prisoners, we get a chance to start over and prove to the world they are going to be housed under the rule of law, which I think is the law of armed conflict; detained in a -- in a humane way, and they will go to trial in a transparent way.
And no one would be held in jail unless there is competent evidence, with a check-and-balance system, where you have an independent judiciary agreeing with the military, yes, these people are, in fact, enemy combatants.
The president has talked about closing Guantanamo Bay, but he has not come up with a disposition plan. I believe that plan should include trials for war criminals and military commissions.
We can reform the commissions. But I think the military should try these people. And those not subject to going to trial but we know are enemy combatants, where you have an independent judiciary agreeing they are, in fact, enemy combatants, need to be held off the battlefield as long as they are a threat.
The worst thing we could do is criminalize this war. We're not fighting a bunch of criminals. We're fighting warriors committed to our destruction. And we need to get this right.
KING: Well, we're short on time, sir, but I want to ask you. The Pentagon, this past week, says it believes as many as 61 detainees who have been released from Guantanamo Bay are now back in the terrorism business.
They wouldn't quite explain how they came to that number, saying it's classified, sensitive information.
Do you believe that number? And if that number is anywhere close to true, aren't you concerned, in some cases -- and you're a JAG lawyer; you're in the active Reserves, in the United States military...
KING: ... that in some of these cases the CIA doesn't want to bring this evidence into court, and those people could be set free?
GRAHAM: Well, that's my biggest concern. You could have reliable evidence that the person is an enemy combatant but it not be subject to criminal prosecution.
I want a judge, an independent judge, to look at all these cases to make sure the military is making correct decisions. But at the end of the day, some people are going to be let go that go back to the fight. Some people have been caught in a net that was too large.
I want a process that will tell the world, no one's being let go or kept without a system that has checks and balances, based on a rule of law called the law of arm conflict.
And share the risks, President Obama. Allow the Congress to help you write this new system. Create a role for the federal judges so it's just not on your watch. Make sure that all three branches of the government have a say about how to go forward, so the nation can share the risk of letting people go and keeping them in jail.
The Bush administration pushed away too much. I stand ready, as a Republican member of the Senate, to help create a system where we all share the risk in making these very difficult decisions, adhering to our values and keeping us safe. KING: Senator Lindsey Graham, we're out of time, but one quick question before I let you go. You spent two years on the road with John McCain. After the election, you went around the world, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Pakistan with our new vice president Joe Biden.
KING: Who's the better travel buddy?
GRAHAM: Well, I learned to listen very well with the vice president.
Both of them have their unique way of keeping you entertained. I enjoyed both trips, and I wish the vice president well. And I will be traveling with my buddy John McCain in a couple of weeks. So I've had fun and learned a lot.
KING: Senator Lindsey Graham, thanks for joining us on "State of the Union." We will touch base with you in the weeks ahead. Thank you very much, sir.
And up next, my exclusive interview with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. You'll want to hear his questions about the new president's management experience. "State of the Union" will be right back.
KING: I'm John King, and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.
Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai is criticizing a U.S. military raid that he says killed 16 of his country's civilians this weekend. Karzai wants more control of U.S. military operations and says the killing of Afghan civilians is strengthening terrorism.
This morning federal investigators say there's evidence that the U.S. Airways flight that crash-landed in New York's Hudson River hit, quote, "a soft body." That's consistent with the pilot's account that the plane hit a flock of birds shortly after takeoff on January 15th. All passengers and crew members survived that crash.
And a viewing later, here on "State of the Union," musician Will.I.Am's new video of this week's historic inauguration -- all that and much more, starting right here on "State of the Union."
(inaudible) the inauguration, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among the special guests in that crowd of millions. A couple days later, I had the chance to sit down with him in New York, at city hall. We talked about that historic moment and the many challenges ahead.
KING: Mr. Mayor, thanks for joining us.
What difference does it make, if at all, on the streets of this city, for young kids, and older New Yorkers, to look up and say, we have an African-American president?
BLOOMBERG: I think that what is says is that the great American dream that I keep talking about, and which I believe New York embodies, that anybody can do anything. You need some luck, but if you work hard, you have a chance. And it just reinforces that.
KING: You're the CEO of a large and sometimes difficult to manage city.
KING: Before that you were a very successful CEO in the corporate world. Barack Obama has never been a chief executive. Only watching the first week unfold before us, but just what do you make of the man, when you watch how he makes decisions and who he's assembled around him?
BLOOMBERG: Well, the first thing he has to do is put together a great team. And what he has done that impresses me is he's reached out, different political persuasions, different ages, different levels of experience.
I think the reason that New York City has done well, or at least people seem happy with the mayor, is not me, but I've picked the best and the brightest.
Would it be better if he had more management experience? Yes, I suppose so. He's learning on the job.
But you know, virtually everybody that comes into being president of the United States learns on the job. There is no other comparable job. Only when you are running for re-election have you -- can you say to the public, "I know what it's about; I know I can do it, and I've demonstrated I can do it."
KING: You have spoken quite passionately and forcefully about what you call a crisis of confidence...
KING: ... in the economy. Can just having a new president -- there's enormous goodwill for him. His approval ratings are off the charts. Any politician would love to have them.
BLOOMBERG: Sure. Keep in mind that George W. Bush had a 90 percent approval rating at one point.
KING: At one point. So, just having sky-high approval ratings and a new boss in Washington, a new president in Washington, is that enough to deal with the crisis of confidence? BLOOMBERG: No, it's not enough, but it helps.
BLOOMBERG: I think people are optimistic. They're looking for leadership.
Of course, now he has to deliver. He ran on a campaign of change. And people say, well, sometimes he wasn't as explicit as to what those changes would be. And I've said, look, cut the guy some slack. The problems that he's going to face once he's president are not the problems that the country faced when he was campaigning. You don't know what the next, when you look around that corner, you don't know what you're going to find.
But I do think that it is a crisis of confidence. I do think the public wants to think that somebody's in charge.
What is going to get the public to spend again? To invest again? To be expansive and to take risks again? It is not sending them a check. I'm not so sure I wouldn't vote to send them the check if I were in Congress, but I'm not so sure that I'd rush to do it either. What this country needs to see is that we have a government that is addressing the key problems. And even if those problems have little to do with the economy, it sets that tone.
KING: The American people don't like this $700 billion bailout plan. They seem to have the belief that it was -- the first $350 billion, anyway, is money that went to the big banks, went to Wall Street, and has not flowed back to them, as they thought it was supposed to.
Barack Obama gets to spend the other $350 billion. If the phone rang and he said, Mr. Mayor? Mike, help me out. What would you do differently? What would it be?
BLOOMBERG: Well, number one, I don't think it's fair to criticize. I know the public does think, incidentally, the $350 billion just went to a bunch of rich banks. But until you get the banking system stabilized, you can't do anything else. So, it's unfortunate we're in that situation. I know it doesn't make good theater. It isn't good, a populist thing. But I think Paulson was right, and Geithner was a big part of that process. And Geithner is now the secretary of treasury -- or will be approved as soon -- and he's a very competent guy. I know he and Hank very well. They're New Yorkers. So, the first $350 was not misspent. I think the government probably could have done a better job of promising.
But you remember, it thinks the world was coming apart. We were having brokerage firms and banks going belly up every day. The market was gyrating up and down 5 percent a day. Didn't have a lot of time to do things. And everybody screaming, do it now, do it now, do it now. And then afterwards come back and say, you should have taken more time, you should have explained it. Come on, let's be fair.
I think if the president called me and said, what to do? I would focus on a handful of things that are doable and affordable, I think, and really would address the problem. Number one, Mr. President, you have got to be the leader on those issues that I just enumerated -- education, crime, immigration, health, terrorism, those kinds of things.
Number two, if we're going to make investments, you have to first open up the municipal market, the municipal bond market. Municipalities won't build bridges to nowhere if it's their own money. They know what's needed. Building infrastructure has to get down to the level of where the rubber meets the road. Even -- clearly the case in roads, but in everything.
KING: Do you have the confidence spending $825, $850 billion -- some say they'll have to do more than that -- that the Congress and the new president understand that at the level you're talking about, or do you think they're just going to spend money?
BLOOMBERG: You'll have to ask them. I think the politics are just spend money, that's sad (ph). I think if you ask Larry Summers, and Tim Geithner, there are some very smart people in government, and they'll have their views. But you'll certainly get a diverse range of views as to how effective these stimulus packages are. I am sort of the mind that you don't send checks out to everyone. You have to pick and choose.
KING: It sounds to me like you believe, or at least you're deeply worried that they're going to take a grab bag approach to this as opposed to a strategic approach to this.
BLOOMBERG: Well, I don't think there is any question they're going to do that. When they approved TARP, a friend of mine said to me that was just outrageous that they added on, I think it was like $150 billion of member items, or earmarks, whatever they called it. Every legislative body has a different term. And I said, I was just thrilled that it was that small a percentage. Usually, you have to bribe them with more.
KING: When we come back, Mayor Bloomberg gives President Obama advice on how he should handle some hot-button social issues. More "State of the Union" just ahead.
And later, Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile grade the president's first five days in office. Stay with us.
KING: The United States Capitol on a beautiful Sunday morning here in Washington. Welcome back to "State of the Union." Let's return now to my exclusive interview with the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
KING: Last time I was here, we rode the subway and we talked about the immigration debate. That was a while ago. BLOOMBERG: Subway is still there.
KING: To his credit, I believe you think, George W. Bush invested some capital in that issue and tried to get it done.
BLOOMBERG: Yes, I do.
KING: Couldn't get it done. Had Kennedy supporting him, had Senator McCain supporting him.
Now it's President Obama. Clearly has the votes in the House and the Senate.
BLOOMBERG: I hope so.
KING: It's an emotional...
BLOOMBERG: I'm not so sure.
KING: You're not sure?
BLOOMBERG: It's not a partisan thing. It is sadly a -- immigration tends to be, if you look at it, tends be a bipartisan, more geographic thing. You just pointed out that Bush and McCain -- and incidentally, Huckabee, a very conservative guy -- those were the three guys that really were willing to tackle the immigration issue. It was the Democrats, who you'd think, or you're certainly implying because Obama is a Democrat, new president -- would support immigration reform, they didn't.
So, you know, it's more where you come from. But I've always thought immigrants are our great strength. Some people think that they're a problem. I don't.
KING: In a tough economy, when there is anxiety, that's when more people say, well, we can't do this now.
BLOOMBERG: That's when you need it more. We need people from around the world who want to start a business. We need people from around the world who develop a new product and that sort of thing. It just isn't true that people who are unemployed will go take every job.
KING: Do you think he has such a long list of consequential issues, problems, to deal with, at home and around the world...
BLOOMBERG: Well, he wanted the job.
KING: He wanted the job. Do you think he will have the courage? Or will you push him if you don't see it, to do that and do it quickly?
BLOOMBERG: I will certainly push him. But I think in all fairness to President Obama, you have to give him some time. My advice to him, I talked to him a couple of weeks ago at George Mason University. He had given a great economics speech, and afterwards we were talking and I said, look, you've got to do this now. Now is the time to push. Now is the time when you have this honeymoon. A year from now, there's no honeymoon. It doesn't matter what party you are in. And it doesn't matter that the House and the Senate are in the same party. Everybody always says, oh, it's great, they'll all be in the same party.
There's traditional tension between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, between the executive and the legislative branch. That's healthy. It is part of the checks and balances of our government. He's got to do these things right now. And my advice to him is, number one, public education, fix that across this country. We've made great strides in New York, but --in New York City -- but the rest of the country, some places have, but not enough. And every kid, if they don't get a great education, they're not going to be able to compete in the world.
KING: In your private philanthropy, you have dedicated an enormous amount of resources to stem-cell research.
KING: And it's very important to you. With the stroke of a pen, as the chief executive, he could reverse the ban on embryonic stem- cell research.
BLOOMBERG: I assume...
KING: He has said that he'd like to see first if the Congress will do it because he thinks it has broader public support then. Is that leadership? As an executive, should he sign the executive order first and then -- the idea is a future president, a future Congress could reverse...
BLOOMBERG: You know, you can't walk in and say, "I'm a steamroller," and just do everything. We do have a democratic process, and he's got to bring Congress along, because let's assume he can do this one thing without Congress. If he could do it with Congress, then Congress will, perhaps, then be there with him on the next thing he can't do alone.
So that's a question of style. It's also a question of learning how far you can push. He's a young, new executive, and they all come in and think they can do everything, and they get a lot done. They let their lumps; nobody is suggesting that he's not going to have -- have problems. Nobody's suggesting he isn't going to make mistakes. He's a human being.
I think he'll be a good president. And I think the issue of bringing Congress along is a good idea, but you can't wait too long. Sometimes I think Congress doesn't want to be part of it. They want to be able to go home and say, "Oh, it was him, not me," but they're not going to make a big fuss and let it get done.
And he's got to -- there are some problems, because there's so -- there's no easy answers and there's no free answers -- that we've been unwilling to address.
KING: Let me ask you, lastly, an international question, because you've traveled the world quite a bit and you were most recently in Israel at a very troubling time there. For eight years, the Israeli government believed in George W. Bush they had somebody who would stand with them almost no matter what.
KING: What's their impression of this new president? And do they have concerns that perhaps he will not be as squarely in their corner?
BLOOMBERG: Well, I think the Israelis, after 60 years of having to, every single day, look over their shoulders to see if somebody is going to try to destroy them, probably are very sensitive, I think it's a nice way as to phrase it.
I did see today that Obama said that Hamas should not be tolerated, and I think he understands that there are certain countries that we have particularly close relationships with, they call special relations. Israel is -- is maybe our key -- and it's the only real democracy in that part of the world.
But through Israel, we have relationships with Egypt, who's sort of an ally, and Jordan, who's sort of an ally, and Turkey, who's sort of an ally, and Saudi Arabia. We depend on some of these countries for oil; we depend on them to provide stability in the region.
So if I were the Israelis, I would always worry, but I wouldn't panic. And I think that Barack Obama will turn out to be as big a friend of Israel, but, more importantly, of democracy and of peace.
And I think Obama is going to realize that it's -- it's complex, the world. We have -- there's the old story, my enemy's enemy is my friend. Sometimes you make deals because you agree on one thing and need them on that, even if you disagree on another.
And the real world is not so simple. It isn't that the good guys wear white hats and the black -- bad guys wear black hats. A lot of people wear gray hats. And sometimes you're partners with them; sometimes you're competitors; sometimes you're friends; sometimes you're enemies; sometimes you do things -- you go in the same direction. It's a marriage of convenience. Human relations, as -- as government relations, are complex and hard.
KING: Mayor, thank you for your time.
BLOOMBERG: Thank you.
KING: All the best.
BLOOMBERG: Thank you.
(END VIDEOTAPE) KING: Up next, Rush Limbaugh says he wants Barack Obama to fail. Well, how should Republicans react to the influential radio host? We'll ask Bill Bennett and Donna Brazile.
And later, musician will.i.am's video of the inauguration debuts right here on "State of the Union." You won't want to miss it. Stay with us.
KING: That last picture was Barack Obama being sworn in on Wednesday with considerably less fanfare, after Chief Justice Roberts jumbled the wording of the oath of office the first time around. It's actually the first time a president has been sworn in by a Supreme Court justice that he's voted against.
Here with me to talk about this historic week and a lot more, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, conservative radio talk show host William Bennett.
Thanks for joining us this morning.
One of the things we're going to do every Sunday is read the Sunday newspapers with people around the country. This one is from just up the road the Baltimore Sun. You see "First Steps" the headline there, and it has this montage of photographs going through the first five days in office.
Let's begin on that, and let me begin with the loyal opposition, first impressions on the first week. Anything you saw that you particularly liked? And anything you saw that you say, "Wait a minute"?
BENNETT: Yes, loyal opposition, indeed, and I hope it remains so. I like the fact that he allowed that strike in Pakistan, maybe ordered that drone strike in Pakistan, suggesting to some on the left who believe that this is a law-enforcement issue, not a war on terror, that it is, indeed, a war on terror and he continues to wage it. So good for him.
A lot of symbolic steps this week. The announcement of the closing of Guantanamo is an announcement of the closing of Guantanamo. It is not yet the closing of Guantanamo and the resolution of where those prisoners go, so we'll wait -- we'll wait and see.
I thought the stands on ethics were good, admirable, but then an exception is immediately made. I think they are wrong to confirm Geithner, and I think this will be an issue for every taxpayer audited by the IRS, by the way. But I think, more importantly, that the set- up (ph) now for the stimulus debate and the bailout debate.
Continuity is actually one of the themes this week. I know Democrats -- a lot of Democrats, I shouldn't say that, not all Democrats -- love to hate George Bush, but for the most part you're seeing a continuation of most of the major outlines of Bush policy. Some symbolic departures, whether they're real departures remains to be seen.
KING: Well, Donna, Bill mentioned stimulus. Now, I want to bring in another. This is all the way across the country, the Los Angeles Times. "Stimulus is looking less bipartisan."
This is a president who, in his words, says he wants to reach out to everybody, he wants to include everybody, but this stimulus bill was written by House Democrats, and the Republicans are saying, "If you want our ideas, Mr. President, you know, maybe you'll have a meeting with us, but why aren't they in the legislation? Why aren't you listening to us and changing his ideas?"
Is he -- is he off to a bad start in being too close to the Democrats?
BRAZILE: Absolutely not. First of all, he -- he has extended an invitation to the Republicans to be a part of this package. He's held two bipartisan, bicameral meetings. And this week, he will meet with the House Republicans to listen to their concerns.
The Republicans offered amendments in the committees. And I believe that the president is making a very important effort to get Republican support for this bill.
At the same time, we know how the legislative process works. Someone has to write the bill; someone must author the bill; and someone must introduce the bill.
BRAZILE: Of course, Democrats are in charge. While Democrats have enough votes to pass this legislation, it's the president who's setting the tone and telling the Congress that he would like to have a bipartisan bill.
KING: Do you think the chairman and chairwomen and the speaker of the House and the Democratic Party are as open to letting Republicans maybe write a few paragraphs as the president says he is, or are they saying, "We're in charge now; too bad, Republicans"?
BRAZILE: They are open, but, look, we know what will work and what will not work. We're not -- the Democrats are not going back to the trickle-down economic days. They're looking for ideas that will help invest in the American recovery, not going back to some partisan points.
KING: That sort of suggests that the Republicans don't know, right, if they know what works?
BENNETT: Well, you know, look, Republicans have to get what they can, frankly. We're not terribly strong, but we have to put -- put markers out as to what we believe in and hope we can get some of it in.
But I think the main point is that it's not a President Obama and the Republican Party. It's President Obama, Republican Party, and the House, and these House chairmen. I predict, again, he's going to have as much trouble, I think, with the Waxmans and the Conyers and the Barney Franks as he is with Republicans, particularly when we start talking about something like this.
KING: Let's listen to one problem or issue or confrontation -- you pick your word -- that he had this week with Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk radio host. And as you know, Bill, well from your own radio program, conservatives are trying to figure out just how to react to this. You're being polite and open-minded at the moment. Listen to this from Rush Limbaugh; it's, shall we say, more provocative.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIMBAUGH: I want him to fail. If his agenda is a far-left, collectivism, some people say socialism, as a conservative, heartfelt, deeply -- why would I want socialism to succeed?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Rush Limbaugh says he wants him to fail. This is Barack Obama's response, speaking to Republican lawmakers at one of those meetings Donna was just talking about. The president says this: "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done. There are big things that unify Republicans and Democrats. We shouldn't let partisan politics derail what are very important things that need to get done." An early showdown with Rush Limbaugh. Where does it go from here?
BENNETT: Not a good idea for the president to personalize it and talk about Limbaugh. Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer, as he will tell you.
Of course, when -- if you're talking about policies with which you disagree, you don't want them to succeed. The locution "I want him to fail" is not what you say the first week the man's been inaugurated. There's support for the president.
KING: A mistake, then, for Rush?
BENNETT: Everybody in general -- yes, but he did qualify it and say, "If he puts in left-wing policies." Anyway, you know, the rhetoric could be improved.
But I think the president then, pointing to Limbaugh, just gins that whole thing up again. If he's looking for bipartisan support, that doesn't -- remember, Bill Clinton used to talk about Rush all the time. It never helped Bill Clinton. It certainly -- it certainly helps Rush.
But this is -- this is not -- this is a side track. This is not where we want to go.
BRAZILE: 2.6 million Americans lost their jobs last year. Do we want this president to fail in trying to create or save 4 million jobs? Do we want this president to fail in trying to prevent more people from losing their homes? No, we don't. We want this president to succeed; we want every president to succeed because we're Americans. BENNETT: It's rhetorical. If he's doing the wrong thing, you don't root for it. If he's doing the right thing, sure. In general, you want to give him a lot of room to move, and Republicans don't have all the choices they would like to have, because the limitations here of power.
But I do think Barack Obama does -- does, by his statements, indicate he would like to have more consensus on this than a lot of us thought going in. And that's a good thing.
KING: You said a lot -- a lot of these first moves were symbolic. One of the things he did was reverse the Mexico City policy...
BENNETT: Yes, that's not...
KING: ... that allows U.S. taxpayer dollars to go to organizations around the world and here that give abortion counseling. That's -- that's not symbolic.
BENNETT: That's not symbolic; that's real. I think it's deeply regrettable. It happens. We've had it before as administrations change, but this is one clear demarcable (ph) difference -- demarcatable (ph) difference, and it happened on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Too bad.
BRAZILE: It happened the day after, but this will save -- this will save lives. This will allow organizations to give people age- appropriate information about reproductive health services. So this is about saving lives, not about destroying...
BENNETT: It may save some lives; it'll take other lives.
KING: Let's do it this way. Let's rate the first week from the left and from the right on a scale of 1 to 10.
BRAZILE: I give it a 10. Clearly, this was an exciting week in American history. President Obama has gotten off to a great start. And, of course, there are difficult days ahead, but he is leading with -- by trying to bring people together.
KING: If you lead with a 10, I don't know what you're going to do in the second week.
BENNETT: I'll give it a 7 1/2.
BENNETT: Yes. Yes, I'll give it a 7 1/2. Well, it was a great week. We were down on the mall or close to the mall. We were at Sixth -- Mrs. Bennett and I at Sixth and Pennsylvania. A lot of people asked to have their picture taken with me, with me. I said, "Do you realize who I am?" They said, "We're for you. We like you, Bill." It's that kind of week.
So, you know, the country needs to come together; it really does. We need to state our differences when we have them and, you know, that begins already this week. But we have a new president. He's the president of all the people.
And I liked the inaugural. I liked reaching back not just to King and to Lincoln, but all the way back to George Washington. That second half of that speech was the Book of Virtues, man. It was a great, great ending.
BRAZILE: And I would have taken a picture with -- with Bill that day.
KING: On subsequent Sundays, we're going to see how long this Kumbaya holds. Donna Brazile, Bill Bennett, thanks for coming in to join us this morning.
And coming up, we'll look at some headlines from around the country with "Reliable Sources" host Howard Kurtz. "State of the Union" will be right back.