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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

Interview with Pete Souza; Interview with Senators Joe Lieberman, Diane Feinstein and Lindsey Graham

Aired April 27, 2009 - 20:00   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 our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, April 26th.

Tonight a special look at President Obama's first 100 days in the White House, including unique behind-the-scenes accounts and images. White House photographer Pete Souza joins us with some never-before- seen photographs of the new administration.

The release of top secret memos on CIA interrogations has thrust Mr. Obama into one of the most sensitive debates of his presidency. Three key senators, Joe Lieberman, Diane Feinstein and Lindsey Graham, on whether this undermines national security and what should happen next.

Plus, strides and missteps. Two of the best political strategists assess the first 100 days. Appearing together only on STATE OF THE UNION, Mary Madeline and James Carville, on the first chapter of this historic presidency.

That's all ahead on this hour of STATE OF THE.

Live picture of the White House there on a Sunday in Washington. Again, we should remind you in about 30 minutes a briefing there on the swine flu outbreak in Mexico and what is happening here in the United States to deal with it. We will take you to that live in about 30 minutes at the bottom of the hour.

Few journalists, in fact, few Americans, have had the opportunity to witness history in the making like our guest Pete Souza. He covered Senator Barack Obama's race for the presidency and now he has the good fortune of being the official White House photographer, unparalled access to the intimate private moments of the first family and the big decisions facing this new president.

Pete Souza, thanks for joining us. So I want to put up some of our images as we go forward, because you've brought to share with us today some never-before-seen photos. But I want to start with one image, as we were looking.

This particular image, and I'll hold it up here then we'll show it on our screen, we can show it around the room, President Obama leaning back in the chair, reflecting, he almost looks like he's, you know, taking a time-out there to rest in his office.

What is this? Tell us about this picture. And is there any time -- as you tell us about this picture, is there anytime when he says, you know, Pete, not now, don't take that. PETE SOUZA, CHIEF OFFICIAL W.H. PHOTOGRAPHER: This was taking during an economic meeting, and I think he was just listening to the advice being given and was reflecting upon it.

KING: Just reflecting upon it. This is a pensive president? How would you describe that?

SOUZA: You know, I think he has a range of emotions like we all do.

KING: And here's an Oval Office shot of the president in shirt sleeves, hands on hips, looks like he's getting to business there. Rahm Emanuel across the table. These are two very interesting guys. You get to see them every day. I know you're not here to reveal any state secrets, but how does the president -- what's the interaction of these two?

SOUZA: Well, I think they interact together a lot during the day, and as a matter of fact at the end of the day he has one last meeting with his chief of staff.

KING: And when you have access to these moments, what are the ground rules on Pete Souza?

SOUZA: The ground rules are I try to photograph everything that -- you know, every meeting that the president does. I mean, I'm smart enough to know that if he's having a one-on-one meeting with the head of state, I let them have some privacy. So it's sort of like I'm still trying to get used to, you know, how to move and when to stay and when to leave.

KING: How to be almost invisible.

SOUZA: Yes.

KING: Here's another shot here of Rahm on the phone, and the president is obviously waiting for the results of a phone call, having a little meditation in there. In a moment like that I want to -- you're in this room, say, the chief of staff is making an important phone call, the president is in the chair relaxing.

How does Pete Souza decide what am I going to put in the lens here?

SOUZA: Well, this was right when they were trying to finish up the stimulus package. And I think he was -- I think Rahm was talking to -- I don't, I can't remember if it was the speaker of the House or -- so it was just a -- you know, a moment at the end of the day, I make a few pictures, and then I let them have their conversation.

KING: And here is a fascinating shot here. This is, I believe, Air Force One, and you're literally peeking through the door. You get a shot through the door. I assume you're leaving them alone. You said you leave people alone at some point and then you decide to get this image.

Tell us about that. A lot of people want to know about this relationship. SOUZA: This is -- well, I mean, they meet on a regular basis. And I think there's mutual respect for each other. That was on Air Force One on the way to France.

KING: This is the president walking out, I assume, from one of his primetime news conferences? I've been...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I've been in the White House and they introduce him from that holding room and now he comes to go down the hall?

SOUZA: Right. That's at the -- his first primetime news conference.

KING: And what's it like right before that door opened and he walks out that door? How is he getting himself ready? That's a big moment. He's going to give an opening statement, he's going to field questions. The world is watching.

SOUZA: You know he likes to walk around the blue room and look at the paintings. There's a painting of Thomas Jefferson and that for -- you know, both news conferences I think he's gone and looked at just before he's walked out.

KING: As you know, the American people and people around the world, those are pictures of the president at work. It's a president who's a very athletic and very energetic guy, and he has a new partner.

I want to show this picture because I find this to be a fascinating picture. The president running down the hall with his new jogging partner there, Bo.

What does it like, now, to add this to the diversity of your work at the White House?

SOUZA: This was way back about a month ago when they had a secret visit with the dog to introduce the dog to the girls, and the president just started running down the hallway in the east wing with the dog. And as I was shooting this photograph, I -- there's a famous picture of Bobby Kennedy running along the beach with his dog. And that's sort of what came to mind as I was shooting that photo.

KING: And there were some photos, I don't have them in front of me, because you've just shown them with us, they've never been seen before, so I'm going to ask our people to put them up on the screen one at a time and ask you to walk through them with us.

One I know is the president -- I'll let them go, but here it is, here on this monitor over here, the president looking out a window. You see the Washington monument there in silhouette, hands on his pockets, obviously reflecting on something, and you're giving him some space, but also capturing the moment.

What does this tell us?

SOUZA: This is a -- in the greenroom of the White House just before an event in the east room. And he actually got there a little bit early, and -- you know I think he was waiting to go out and just started looking out the window towards not only the Washington monument, but beyond the Jefferson Memorial.

KING: There's a picture we showed -- you shared it with us and we showed Valerie Jarrett earlier in the day -- of the president and the first lady dancing in the east room. Very expressive there, a big happy smile on the president's face.

There's an energy in the White House, you see Secretary Vilsack. This is the governor's ball at the White House there. Tell us about following the couple and the energy.

SOUZA: Well, this was the first kind of big formal event at the White House, and Earth, Wind & Fire was the band. And I think the president was singing along to the music. And I think, you know, their intention is to bring some fun to the White House, too.

SOUZA: You are the official photographer now for President Obama. You were in the same role at the end of the Reagan administration. A very different president from a philosophical and ideological standpoint, but like Obama in some ways, a tall guy, a little bit lanky, liked to do athletic things.

I want to show our viewer the two pictures here side by side. President Reagan at the resolute desk. Here's President Obama at the resolute desk. They used the same desk. This was John Kennedy's desk.

But one of the style differences here, Pete, is that Ronald Reagan would never sit at the desk without the jacket on. President Obama here in a more casual moment. But what are they -- just give your -- you've watched history with both of these men. How are they alike? How are they different?

SOUZA: I mean I think you hit the nail on the head. I think President Reagan was very formal. I think they're both comfortable with themselves, which makes them, you know, great photographic subjects. The presence of a camera and behind the scene situations didn't seem to both either president, which, you know, is good for me.

KING: And we asked you -- we wanted to end this conversation by asking you, what's your favorite? And you picked this photo. I want to put it up on the screen for people to see. It is what we would call the presidential head butt, I guess. And you see this looks like a freight elevator, if I have it right.

And you see staff off to the left in the picture there and the president is smiling playfully. The first lady is smiling playfully. She has -- I guess it's chilly on that elevator. She has borrowed his jacket.

Tell us, a, about the moment and b, why it's your favorite.

SOUZA: I have lots of favorite photographs. Your staff asked me to pick one, which is like, you know, impossible to do but I chose this one because it's a genuine moment. I mean it was chilly in the elevator. He took his coat off, put it around his wife's shoulders, and then, you know, there's this private moment going on between the two of them, and yet the staff doesn't quite know whether to look or not look.

And you see the one Secret Service agent on the right kind of sneaking a peek. And it's just a complete storytelling picture, which I think also is a very genuine moment.

KING: And as you have this unique perspective on history, if you read things you've written in the past between jobs in the White House, you talked about being with Ronald Reagan the day of the Challenger explosion, and at one point, alone with him and having some conversation with hem.

How about this president? Are there times when all of a sudden you look around and you realize, well, Mr. President, it's just me and you? What's -- what are the conversations?

SOUZA: You know I let him initiate any conversation. I -- I am not there to, you know, take up his time in conversation. If he starts to talk to me, I'll obviously respond.

KING: And so let's end the conversation with tell me what it's like, you walk into a room, there's a meeting, there's a lot of activity around the president of the United States. You pull up your camera, you're looking through the lens.

In your mind, what is it that Pete Souza has to get?

SOUZA: You know, I look at my job as a visual historian. I mean I'm trying to document the presidency for history. Certain photographs gets released now, we're showing a bunch this week that we want to get out right away, but the most important thing is to create a good visual archive for history. So 50, 100 years from now, people can go back and look at all these pictures.

KING: How much does it matter to you that the guy at the end of the lens is an African-American, and you know, they didn't have cameras for some presidents, if you went all the way back in time. But there has never been an African-American man in the lens of the official White House photographer.

SOUZA: Well, certainly, you know, you feel a sense of history, there's no question about that. But when I look at him, I look at him as the president. I don't look at him as an African-American president. I look at him as the president.

SOUZA: Pete Souza, the official White House photographer, we are grateful for your time and your insight today, and sharing these many gifts. They're remarkable pictures a president -- in picking a staff, the president could have done any better for picking a photographer.

SOUZA: Thanks for having me.

KING: No, Pete, thank you very much. Did President Obama's decision to release the so-called torture memos threaten national security? We'll ask three key senators about calls for investigations and prosecutions. And we'll get their assessments on the first 100 days. Just ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you can think about what Washington, D.C. was like 50 years ago or 60 years ago, and the notion that I now will be standing there and sworn in as the 44th president, I think is something that hopefully our children take for granted, but our grandparents think are still stunned by it. And it's a remarkable moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Do you believe the president of the United States has made America less safe?

RICHARD CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I do, and now he's making some choices that is in my mind will in fact raise the risk to the American people of another attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Vice president Dick Cheney there on this program just about a month ago.

President Obama's election mandate was to fix a struggling U.S. economy, but as he starts his 97th day in office today, national security challenges are front and center. A debate about whether releasing Bush administration terror policy memos was a blunder and whether some of the Bush officials should be prosecuted.

And fresh violence in both Iraq and Pakistan will test new administration's military and the diplomatic strategies.

Joining us to talk about this and assess the president's first 100 days, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the chairwoman of the select committee on intelligence, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the independent, former Democrat, and from South Carolina Republican senator, Lindsey Graham.

Chairwoman, I want to start with you on the vice president's point. You heard the vice president said there he thinks the new administration is making the American people less safe.

He also says that there are other memos not released to the public that prove his point that these controversial interrogation tactics used in limited circumstances actually produced intelligence that saved U.S. lives, including preventing an attack in your home state of California, the city of Los Angeles. Is he right?.

SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I've received those memos. I asked him for then and he sent them to me. They are classified memos, so I won't go into them. That's the reason why I believe the intelligence committee is the oversight agency for 16 intelligence agencies, including the CIA.

It is our responsibility to do oversight. We have access to the classified information, and we have set upon a course, a bipartisan course, with a program, scope approved by the committee to review the conditions of detention and the techniques of interrogation of each of the high-value detainees.

We estimate that will take six to eight months. My hope is that the public debate quells, that we have an opportunity to do our work, the committee will consider it, and then we will release most likely findings and recommendations.

KING: Findings and recommendations. I want to get to the other senators, but to the vice president's point that he believes those documents would show that the tactics worked, saved lives.

FEINSTEIN: It's very hard to tell on the face, because you have to go into who learned what at the time. Now, I can go into some -- one, at least one specific case, and it's very uncertain. So we need to find these things out, and we need to do it in a way that's calm and deliberative and professional, because I think all of this on the front burner before the public does harm our intelligence-gathering.

It does harm America's position in the world, and President Obama has worked so hard now to open a new page, to go to so many countries, to say that America is now on a different course. Let us do our work, and let us do it the way it should be done.

KING: But Senator Graham, you and Senator Lieberman opposed releasing these memos, even though you were critics of the interrogation tactic. You thought it would undermine the mission of the United States, for now the mission (INAUDIBLE), but now that some are out, does the vice president -- former vice president have a point? If some are out, should all be out?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, here's my concern, is that as -- one, I think it was a mistake to release the techniques that we're talking about and inform our enemy as to what may come their way. I like what Senator Feinstein said, to go through it.

And I -- there's no doubt in my mind that you may have gotten some useful information out of these techniques, but the other side of the story is very real. The more America embraces these techniques like waterboarding that comes from the inquisition, the harder it is to get allies to go with us into the Mideast to fight the insurgents.

You inflame the population. Our enemy uses these images against us to say that these techniques have brought about no good, or no information is wrong. But also to say that it's been a net positive is wrong. There's a way to get good information in an aggressive manner to protect this nation without having to go into the inquisition era.

I believe you can do both.

KING: And what about going forward, Senator Lieberman? The president, in releasing these memos -- you didn't like that he did.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Right.

KING: The president's message was let's look forward, not look back. But then the president himself said I'll leave this up to my attorney general as to whether anyone should be prosecuted.

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

KING: Let's listen to Mr. Holder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I will not permit the criminalization of policy differences. However, it is my responsibility as the attorney general to enforce the law. It is my duty to enforce the law. If I see evidence of wrongdoing, I will pursue it to the full extent of the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Are you comfortable with that? Do you think this should be pursued and if you rile our the interrogators, saying they were told, they were following orders, they were acting on legal advice that what they were doing were right, what are we talking about here? Are we talking about the CIA director? Are we talking about the attorney general in the previous administration? Secretary Rumsfeld? Somebody in the White House?

LIEBERMAN: Yes -- no, it's not clear who we are talking about, and I think it is a mistake. I go back to what the president said at the beginning, it's time to look forward. These are top-secret documents. These are lawyers, you can disagree with them, but in my opinion they were trying to do what they thought would protect our country.

And here's the most important point. This whole debate is moot. President Obama has prohibited these tactics from being used in interrogations. So what do we gain -- well, what do we gain first by releasing the memos? But secondly, what do we gain from indicting lawyers for their opinions, if that's a possibility here, or holding a so-called truth commission?

The reality is it will poison the water here in Washington, it will achieve nothing. It will make it harder for the president to do some of the big things he wants to do for the country. Not just get the economy going, but get some Republican support for health care reform, energy independence, and education reform.

So let the intelligence committee do its work. That should be the end of t.

KING: And one of the questions in the political debate, as you well know, there are people out there saying, wait a minute. We have all these politicians and largely Democrats now saying, you know, investigate, truth commission, investigate.

We had no idea. A timeline released by your committee, Senator Feinstein, says, and this is backed up the former chairman of the House intelligence committee and then CIA director Porter Goss, Pete Hoekstra -- a select members of Congress were briefed, were briefed, way back at the beginning, including now Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

And the timeline by your committee says that they were briefed on the use of waterboarding on three detainees, Abu Zubaydah, Rahim al- Nashiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This -- now Speaker Pelosi says no way. She was told there were legal -- legal opinions written, but not that the tactics had been used.

Is she telling the truth?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I can't comment on that. I wasn't there. Just four people were briefed. The full committee, including myself, were briefed in September of '06. Now, that's four years later or so. So there is a big gap.

I am really strongly opposed to just certain members being briefed on something this seriously. It seems to me the whole committee should be briefed at a given time. We've been very good at retaining security and I think it's a real disadvantage to the system just to have a few people briefed, because it really is a notification. There is no real discussion.

When you deal with the whole committee, everybody fires back questions, there's a discussion, there's a dialogue, and I think a point of view emerges.

KING: Well, if -- to Senator Feinstein's point, Senator Graham, if the committee, the intelligence committee is going to look into this, and you all think that's the more responsible, measured way to do it, should the committee also look into whether Porter Goss or Nancy Pelosi is telling the truth about what came up at those briefings?

GRAHAM: Well, I'll leave that up to the committee, but the point it, if a member of Congress was read into this program, does it matter? Yes, I think it matters.

It's clear to me that the people who were devising these interrogation techniques were not trying to commit a crime against an individual person. They were trying to create tools for our intelligence community to get information to prevent what we all thought was going to be an imminent attack.

The Geneva Convention did not apply until 2005 to the war on terror. So I don't -- I can't conceive of a statute that you could prosecute anyone under, because their endeavor was not to commit a crime, but to look at the law and come up with aggressive interrogation techniques, to get information from an enemy that we all thought was coming after us again.

So, however, if you think what they did was a crime and you read someone into it, they're part of the crime. So I think it's ridiculous to say the lawyers were trying to break the law. They were trying to interpret the law to protect the nation, and any member of Congress that was read into the program, I don't think they have any culpability either, because what we were trying to do was defend the nation, not try to conspire to hurt somebody individually, but techniques to protect us all.

KING: I want to move on to other big challenges facing the country right now, but before we do that, and before we take a quick break, early in the Bush administration, the criticism in Congress was they never pick up the phone, they never consult us. You know, we got some pretty smart people up here. We can help you.

I'm told that in this decision was anguished. The president came in, inclined to release them, changed his mind a couple times during the debate, and then came back in the end and decided to release them. At any point in that process -- I'll start with you, Senator Lieberman -- anybody from the White House pick up the phone and said, what do you think?

LIEBERMAN: They did not. And I can tell you, listening to what Lindsey said, looking at these decisions that were made early in the Bush administration, or remembering that it was immediately after 9/11/01 that was worried about attack imminently, I'm proud to be the chairman of the Senate homeland security committee.

Our enemies are out there planning and plotting to attack us every day. So as we think about what we want to release, how much information we want to make public, what kind of mud fight we want to get into about something that happened seven years ago, we better remember that and focus on our security today, not back-biting and vendettas from a time past.

KING: Quickly, you're the chairwoman of the committee, you're investigating these matters anyway. Did they pick up the phone and call you?

FEINSTEIN: No, they did not.

KING: Was that a mistake?

FEINSTEIN: Well, if they had, I probably would have said, as I said, let us do our work first. Since the first two cases have already been done, let us do the rest of it before anything is released so that at least the intelligence committee can see everything in context and make some decisions.

KING: All right. Much wore with our Senate guests in just a moment. We asked them to lay out the stakes and the tough choices facing the United States in three major hot spots -- Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

STATE OF THE UNION will be right back. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I do say in all candor that it was a bad beginning. It was a bag beginning because it wasn't what we promised the American people, what President Obama promised the American people that we would sit down together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: On a scale of 1 to 10, sir, how confident are you, 10 being fully confident, that you will meet that deadline that all U.S. troops will be gone at the end of 2011?

GEN. RAY ODIERNO, COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: As you ask me today, I believe it's a 10. That we will -- we'll be gone by 2011.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with our three senators, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, independent Joe Lieberman, and Republican Lindsey Graham.

That was General Odierno on this program Easter Sunday morning. Since then, as you're all aware, there's been an uptick, as the military would call it, in violence across Iraq, in Mosul, Baquba, including in Baghdad. And on the front page of the "New York Times" today, Iraq resists pleas by U.S. to placate Hussein's party.

Essentially Nouri al-Malaki, the prime minister, has not, at least if you believe U.S. officials, reached out to former Baath Party members, and said it's time to move on, it's time to reconcile.

Senator Lieberman, to you first. Are you worried at all of the combination of those things, more violence and the slower pace of political reconciliation will knock the U.S. timetable off track?

LIEBERMAN: Sure I am. I'm concerned about it. And incidentally it's why I'm so grateful that President Obama did not yield to the calls for a precipitous rapid withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. He's got to set a timeline, it's based on conditions on the ground, and what's happening now shows that all that we've sacrificed so much and worked so hard to gain is not quite set. So we need to be careful here.

But I think Prime Minister Maliki has really done a pretty good job at reconciling a lot of the divisions in Iraqi politics. The Sunnis are much more involved than they used to be. I know that there's some problems with former leaders of what was basically Saddam Hussein's party.

We ought to encourage Prime Minister Maliki to try to bring them in as well. So they all can be united at what seemed to be some remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq that are carrying out these brutal bombings against Shiites. This is an attempt by al Qaeda to try to stimulate sectarian conflict again in Iraq. And neither Prime Minister Maliki or the American forces and the Iraqi forces could let that happen.

KING: And if that challenge was not great enough for the military to deal with and the president to deal with, Senator Graham, you also have this expansion of the Taliban influence inside Pakistan. And Admiral Mullen was just there. He's due back for a White House meeting on Monday, administration officials say they have some big decisions to make based on what Admiral Mullen tells them.

There are now more U.S. troops heading into Afghanistan. And the question to you is, if Pakistan is in such trouble, and you have the Taliban on the move inside Pakistan, is it time for the president to slow down the deployment of U.S. troops in Afghanistan? Will they be at risk on the other side of the border? Or will we need perhaps more troops because of the uncertainty in Pakistan?

GRAHAM: I would counsel the president to do what General Petraeus and others in the region tell him about troops. There is a provision in the supplemental that's coming up in about a month that provides economic aid to Pakistan and $400 million to help them create a counterinsurgency program.

I've been talking with administration officials, Republican parties leaders to see if we can break some of that money out and pass it as a stand-alone provision soon, to show the Pakistani people and government that we're with you, to give them some money to accelerate their counterinsurgency program, give them some money to provide economic aid to their people.

The people do not want the Taliban to run Pakistan, but the economy in Pakistan is on its knees, and we've got to get the Pakistani army focused on the insurgency as well as the government.

The threat to Pakistan is not an invasion to by India. It's insurgents, the Taliban, and others, destabilizing the country and I think we need to be all in in helping Pakistan.

As, too, Iraq, in 2011, I hope we will have a strong contingent of Americans there training their air force, their navy. It is in our long-term best interests to have an enduring relationship with the people of Iraq, militarily and otherwise.

KING: Admiral Mullen says Pakistan could be at a tipping point. You see the intelligence.

GRAHAM: Yes.

KING: Is the Taliban, Senator Feinstein, a threat to the government, the central government in Pakistan?

FEINSTEIN: In my opinion, yes. I also think that these bombings, the size of the bombings in Iraq are a real danger signal. And I think that Mr. Maliki has to step up to the plate on this. And it's going to be very interesting in the next few weeks to see how he handles this.

If these bombings continue and there is an escalation of violence, I think it jeopardizes everything the United States is trying to do.

With respect to the Taliban, and particularly in both Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, I think the takeover of the Swat Valley, the movement up north, is a very serious thing. The fact that despite -- the fact that we provide money for the Pakistani military, they have done nothing to stop this Taliban advance.

I think it causes me great concern that Pakistan may be in very deep trouble, and I would think that -- and most of us I think do agree that Pakistan is sort of ground zero for terror today, that this thing has to get sorted out and sorted out quickly, or you can lose the government of Pakistan. And Pakistan is a nuclear power, and that concerns me very deeply.

KING: A grave issue there. I want to close on a lighter note. And that is, as we approach the 100-day mark, we are in a political environment where people are making assessments.

I want to take you, Senator Lieberman, back to something you said when you were campaigning for John McCain at the Republican national convention. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: Senator Barack Obama is a gifted and eloquent young man who I think can do great things for our country in the years ahead, but friends, eloquence is no substitute for a record, not in these tough times for America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We've been discussing a number of tough issues and there are many more, Senator. Has he proven you wrong, Barack Obama, in his -- first 100 days?

LIEBERMAN: First, John, let me thank for you running that tape.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Tape is a dangerous thing.

LIEBERMAN: I have no regrets about supporting John McCain. And really -- what I said then, I meant. Barack Obama is extremely gifted, coming in at a very difficult time. I was thinking particularly about Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror. And McCain, of course, great experience, bipartisan record.

Once the election was over, I said I'd do everything to support -- Barack Obama is president. He's our president. I have, but I'll say this, I've been impressed by what he's done. He is a young man, but he's extremely gifted. He has acted with strength, I think, and purpose in Iraq and Afghanistan, rebuilt some of our relations around the world, and acted very boldly here at home on the economy where we particularly needed him to, particularly with the stimulus package.

So it's early, but I would say he's off to a very good start. Maybe the most important thing he's done overall is that he's restored the confidence of the American people in the American presidency, and he has raised their hopes about the future of our country.

That is critically important.

KING: We're out of time. I want to give Senator Graham and Feinstein one sentence each.

Senator Graham, to you the question is, what does the Republican Party need to do in the second 100 days?

GRAHAM: To stand up for fiscal responsibility, work with the president to make sure we end Iraq right, win in Afghanistan, and stabilize Pakistan. Be a partner where we can, loyal opposition where we need to.

KING: There's a question as to whether you want to be the next governor of California.

FEINSTEIN: Well, let me answer the prior...

(LAUGHTER)

No, you said in a sentence, so give me an opportunity. I think the Republican Party should stop being the party of no. This is a president well elected by a large number of people.

He has had a very strong first 100 days. He has traveled the countries abroad, he's turned the page, he's opened a new day. He's taken strong executive actions. He's put together programs. He's delved into the economy, and I would hope the second 100 days would find more Republican cooperation.

KING: And when do we get the answer to that other question?

FEINSTEIN: You'll see.

KING: You'll see. OK. Great. We're out of time.

Senators Feinstein, Lieberman and Graham, thanks so much for coming.

And up next, Mary Matalin and James Carville, and both canceled (INAUDIBLE) crisis. Their take on the challenges and the 100-day mark. It's something you'll see only right here on STATE OF THE UNION. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon in New York. More "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King just ahead. First a quick check of your headlines.

The Obama administration has declared a public health emergency in response to the growing number of swine flu cases here in the U.S. None of the cases confirmed -- has been confirmed so far have been fatal. Mexico is the epicenter of the outbreak with more than 80 deaths blamed on swine flu.

Pakistani security forces have launched a new offensive against Taliban militants. The Pakistani military says at least 31 militants, including a commander, were killed. The fighting comes after the Taliban pulled out of a neighboring region only 60 miles from Islamabad.

Tornado watches are on again tonight in the southern plains. Search and rescue crews spent the day combing neighborhoods in Oklahoma hit hard Saturday by several tornadoes. Twisters touched down last night ripping off roofs, tipping over trailers and downing power lines. The tornado also damaged homes in eastern Kansas.

I'm Don Lemon in New York. "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We've added a sharp and occasionally spicy political team to our STATE OF THE UNION report. The only place you'll see these tested strategists together on TV is right here.

And joining us from New Orleans, our newest CNN political contributor, Republican Mary Matalin, alongside our long-time contributor, Democrat James Carville.

I want to get from both of you -- good morning from Jackson Square. It looks beautiful there this morning. A little breezy. I want to get from both of you your 100-day headline, your assessment, but first I want to share with you the assessment of somebody we got to know in the last campaign. That is the Alaska governor, Sarah Palin.

She says of this of the first 100 days, the former vice presidential nominee. "For now, Obama's back-pedal on the bipartisanship promise just makes him look insincere. At some point, Obama will need Republicans on his side. He'd be smart to spend his second 100 days making up for the serious snubs of his first."

James Carville, does Sarah Palin have a point?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you know, I'd rather go with Senator Lieberman's point who supported Senator McCain, and I completely agree with him. Without going through a recital of all the accomplishment -- the signature accomplishments of this president is, we have a restoration of confidence in this country.

People are feeling better about the country. And that's a magnificent achievement. I thought that Senator Lieberman did a good job of bringing that out. And I would prefer to go with his definition of the first 100 days than Governor Palin's.

KING: And what does Mary Matalin think at this point? If you look at the numbers, Mary, this president does have about two-thirds of the American people approved his job, even a higher number like him as a person and like the imagery of this presidency. What do you think? MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, he's maintained his personal popularity, but -- which is on par with his predecessors, but what he's lost after starting out with record-setting approval ratings which included a goodly amount of Republicans, a lot of independents, he has lost that support. Because what he is not is what he was perceived to be in the campaign, a centrist.

He's spent more than all of his predecessor since the beginning of this country. He's expanded government, the greatest in two generations, so he's not a centrist. He's also not post-partisan. It's not just that he demonizes his opponents, which is old politics, he kneecapped his own guys.

He's got Valerie Jarrett as the liaison -- your former guest, as liaison to MoveOn.org, who's running ads against moderate Democrats. He's not a centrist, he's not post-partisan, but he is -- elections have consequences. We lost, fair and square, and let's -- that's what this debate is about. I hope Republicans can rise to the challenge and oppose him and stop some of this expansion.

KING: I want to talk about some terror policy in a minute, but since you raised that point, Mary, that you lost and you hope Republicans rise to the challenge. I want you to listen to something that your friend and your former colleague in the Bush White House, Steve Schmidt, said the other day about the decline of the Republican Party. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It is near extinct in many ways in the northeast. It is extinct in many ways on the west coast, and it is endangered in the mountain west, increasingly endangered in the southwest, particularly with Hispanic demographics, and if you look at the state of the party, it is a shrinking entity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Mary, Steve Schmidt says the leadership vacuum has him thinking they're in the "Lord of the Flies" phase of the Republican Party. What's the road back?

MATALIN: You know, one of the advantages of age, I didn't think I'd ever brag about this, but I'm much older than Steve, and I've been through this before. And we will come back. The Republican Party brand is irrefutably ruined, but that's because they lost their connection to conviction conservatism, common sense conservatism.

We've been here before and we've come back not only strong, but to ascend to the majority. And there are many -- and there's a good nucleus of smart, fiscal conservatives, strong defense, back to basics, personal liberty Republicans who will restore the brand and re-associated with conservatism as we know it -- Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, you know who they are. So the advantage of being aged is that you've been through it a couple two or three times.

KING: James, I want to ask you on this... MATALIN: You've been down, honey, you've been down.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: If age confers any wisdom, our combined age would make us very wise, but look, I think Steve is a very bright guy. He came to my class at Tulane, of course, as you know, Speaker Gingrich did, too.

But I think there's a lot of people are trying to get on to the hood of the Republican Party because, as Ross Perot said, it really needs some fixing, and there's a lot of different voices. We're going to have to see what emerges.

But while all of that is going on -- and the deal is, this president is enjoying a 69 percent approval rating. He's getting things done left and right. He's got any number of things to deal with, and I think he's off to one heck of a start here. And it's understandable, because the Republicans all have a cacophony, because they're not doing very well right now.

KING: Mary...

MATALIN: It's not a cacophony. You know, John, can I just add to that? We keep looking and all the pundits like to look at his top number, which is high, but as I said earlier, comparable to his predecessors, the danger spots for this president.

I'm just looking at all the polls and they're 100 percent consistent on this. It's an 80 percent issue that people of all stripes across the aisle are concerned about the rapid and expansive growth of government that his president has ushered in. That's not an old idea. It's not a stale idea. It's not a Republican obstructionism.

People just do not like how fast and how far this president has gone. That is an 80 percent issue. So he may -- he may be at 60 percent but concerns over the things that he's done so far, and that doesn't even include his foreign policy problems, so you know he's got some undercurrents of issues here in his first 100 days.

KING: Let me close on a lighter note, and that is, James, you are a friend of now secretary of state Clinton, you were trying to help her retire her campaign debt when she was Senator Clinton, running against now President Obama, and the Clinton campaign organization, trying to reduce its debt has put out a letter offering people who contribute three potential prizes.

One is a day with former president Clinton in New York City. One is tickets to the "American idol" season finale. And the third spend a weekend in Washington, D.C. with James Carville and Paul Begala.

Mary, you got the checkbook there?

MATALIN: Oh well, as you could see, I'd rather be at the Jazz Fest and the Zurich Classic, and the Bubba Gump Run, and good luck in Washington with your crazy -- your loony lefties.

CARVILLE: I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: That's a prize. What's the second prize, James?

CARVILLE: I always insist, with the last two words with Secretary State Clinton any conversation we have, and they've always been, yes, ma'am.

(LAUGHTER)

So whatever she wants, I'm delighted to do.

KING: James Carville, Mary Matalin, we are thrilled to have you back with us together. We will see you again on STATE OF THE UNION in the near future. Enjoy what was looks like a beautiful morning there in New Orleans.

During President Obama's time in office, we've traveled to 17 different states to hear your concerns and opinions. A unique perspective on the first 100 days form people we've been lucky to meet all across the country, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We launched STATE OF THE UNION the weekend of the Obama inauguration, promising to chronicle the big issues here in Washington but also to come see firsthand how those debates impact you.

Our first of 17 states in these 100 days was Ohio. We're on a factory floor and we asked the man about to make history to assess the many challenges and the moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING (on camera): You took your family to the Lincoln Memorial.

OBAMA: This is a good story. I love the Lincoln Memorial at night. We go and look at the Lincoln second inaugural. Sasha looks up and she says, boy, that's a long speech. Do you have to give one of those? I said, actually, that one is pretty short. And mine may be a little longer.

At which point then Malia turns to me and says first African-American president, better be good.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America, they will be met.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A hundred days, of course, is far too soon to judge whether this new president will get his way and whether his way will work. But in our travels to 17 states in those 100 days from Vermont, in New York, in the northeast, to Nevada and Arizona, out in the southwest, a fascinating look through your eyes of the many challenges, the uncertainty and right here early on, in Peoria, Illinois, of the pain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIBETH FEAGIN, FORMER CATERPILLAR EMPLOYEE: I don't want to be on unemployment. I have never been on unemployment before.

KING (voice-over): For John and Maribeth Feagin, a double whammy. Both worked at Caterpillar. Both out of work effective Friday. Three children, two cars and a mortgage.

JOHN FEAGIN, FORMER CATERPILLAR EMPLOYEE: If things really got that bad, I would probably volunteer to go back overseas. And that's pretty bad to say.

KING (on camera): You would volunteer to go to -- that's Iraq or Afghanistan.

J. FEAGIN: For my family, I would, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: One swift achievement in the first 100 days was passage of a $787 billion economic stimulus. The president signed it into law less than one month into his administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Just a few weeks later, a $75 billion administration plan to help millions of homeowners make their mortgage payments.

Another bold and controversial White House move, forcing the CEO of General Motors to step down as a condition for more government bailout money.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short term, will not mark an end but a new beginning for a great American industry. An auto industry that is once more out competing the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Speaking of the auto industry we have visited a handful of states with auto plants over the past over the past 100 days including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and down here in Spring Hill, Tennessee, many union auto workers told us they believe the president is overreaching.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRENDA CARTER, RETIRED GM EMPLOYEE: Yes, we need help from them. But to say that the president tells a company CEO that he has to leave, I just don't believe it. That should happen.

KING (voice-over): Make no mistake, Brenda Carter says she loves President Obama. But her concerns are proof of the risks Mr. Obama faces as he takes an aggressive role in the restructuring of GM and Chrysler.

The Lansing/Grand River assembly line. Modern, clean, and efficient. These Cadillacs among GM's best selling models. And yet this plant is down from two shifts to one. New cars just aren't selling.

(On camera): Scary times right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. For a lot of people.

KING (voice-over): To listen and to look around is to hear and see a way of life fading. "Generous Motors" was the favorite nickname when Brad Fredline was growing up. Both grandfathers retired from GM, his father, too.

BRAD FREDLINE, FORMER GM EMPLOYEE: You graduated on a Friday and by Monday you were working at the factory. You knew you had a rock solid job for 30 years. You buy a little place up north and you retire. Those days are gone I'm afraid.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: 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. Thanks for watching.

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