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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

State of the Union: Best Political Team on Television

Aired May 31, 2009 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KING: And here's what's still to come on our STATE OF THE UNION report for this Sunday, May 31st.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been praised and attacked all morning. Is there any doubt she'll be confirmed for the Supreme Court?

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican Ed Gillespie are here to look at all the angles.

This week, President Obama will leave for a trip to the Middle East. What can he really expect to accomplish in this war-torn region? We'll ask three members of the best political team on television about the prospects and challenges in the Middle East.

And finally, with bankruptcy looming for General Motors, an inside look at how their engineers are designing the cars of the future.

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

KING: Even most Republican critics think the president's Supreme Court nominee will get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. But the Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, tells us it's too soon to rule out using the Senate's arcane rules to block the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: To predict in the same week that the nominee is put forward a filibuster is putting the cart before the horse. We have no earthly idea whether that would be appropriate at some point in the process. We've got a lot of cases to read and a lot of background to check.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: On the substance, many Republicans say their early impression is that the president's pick is a judicial activist whose rulings are influenced by her Latino heritage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUTCHISON: It troubles me to hear someone say something like the court of civil appeals is -- or the court of appeals is where we make policy in this country. It does trouble me to say that one type of old person versus another one is going to make a different or better decision. Those are troubling, but I think she will have the chance to explain that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The Democrats say Sotomayor's record proves she walks a careful line in balancing her personal history and her professional duties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: And as long as you put rule of law first, of course it's quite natural to understand that our experiences affect us. I don't think anybody wants nine justices on the Supreme Court who have ice water in their veins, but you can't let that experience supersede rule of law, and she hasn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And as they research her record, the Republicans who get to vote for our against Sotomayor's confirmation say outside conservative voices, who were quick to label her a racist, are out of line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: This is an important thing. We should not demagogue race. It's an important issue in our culture and our country. We need to handle it with respect that it deserves and the care that it deserves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As you can see, we've been watching all the other Sunday shows, as we like to put it, so you don't have to.

Let's bring in the best political team on television as we do every Sunday at this hour and break down the issues. With me here in Washington, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and the former White House counselor for president George W. Bush and Republican National Committee chairman, Ed Gillespie. Thank you both for being in this morning.

Let's start -- I want to start with the whole debate about walking back. The president of the United States came out on Friday to try to walk back or redefine something Judge Sotomayor said several years ago. Now, here is what she said -- "I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." That was a speech she gave. And she said more in that speech and we'll get to that.

This morning, I put that question. Why would the president of the United States come out and say, well, if given a chance, she would reword that or choose her words for carefully? Senator Amy Klobuchar says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KLOBUCHAR: I see this as part of her own experience. What she's basically saying -- maybe she could have chosen different words -- but what she's basically saying is, your experience matters. And she went on to say that you have to look at this as a whole, that she has to bring her experience to bear, but also the law to bear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Donna Brazile, Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, says she doesn't see anything wrong with what the judge said, so why did the president of the United States come out and essentially say, well, she should have probably said it this way?

BRAZILE: Because, John, her one sentence in an eight-page speech was taken out of context, and it was taken so far out of context that I think the White House was obligated to try to put it back in context. So for people who will not read her speech, they would understand what she was trying to say. And in fact, she goes on to say that one's experience should not be the sole judge of how the law is applied. The law is the law.

And I think the speech on balance is a very correct assessment. And she makes some inferences to other cases, especially in the past.

But, you know, what has happened now, John, is the old political game here in Washington, D.C., where, you know, the critics are trying to score points. They're not reading her speeches. They're trying to find soundbites. And it's unfortunate, because this is a woman of impeccable character and intelligence, and I would hope that the Senate would have an opportunity to read not just her speeches, but her entire rulings.

KING: To Donna's point, politics is a funny business, and things sometimes do get taken out of context. Shocking, isn't it? But she does go on in that speech -- have you read the entire speech?

GILLESPIE: I haven't read the entire speech, but I think I know where the other comment...

KING: She goes on to say, I'm a human being, I'm not perfect, but I know I have certain biases in my life and I try to deal with them every day and I try to look at the law. Sure, I'm not perfect, but I try to leave -- I try to make sure most of them are out and follow the precedents and listen to the guidance of the Supreme Court.

A statement like that comes jumping out, why? Why would people seize that one sentence?

GILLESPIE: Well, it was also consistent with President Obama's use of the phrase -- use of the term empathy, and it implied -- it played into a notion that this is going to be a judge who's going to have personal feelings play a role in judgment.

And, look, when people come to a court and before a judge or a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, they don't want feelings to play a big role, because, you know, what if I am an Asian- American employee with a Latina employer and I have a case? Well, you know, a Latina empathizing with the Latina employer shouldn't side against the Asian-American employee in that instance. So I think that's the concern. When it comes to judging, we do need to set aside these, you know, any personal feelings.

We're all a product of our upbringing, our experiences. Let me say I think it's great, by the way, it's a moment in history of the United States for the first African-American president to appoint the -- nominate the first Latina judge, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't have some vigorous questioning of this nominee.

KING: And one of the...

BRAZILE: And Justice Alito, we might bring back what he said during his confirmation process, where he talked about his immigrant background. And, again, to Ed's point, it doesn't shape our lives, the fact that we might be a different race, a different ethnic background, but it is a part of who we are. And as Americans, we should all be proud of that. KING: Then let's move -- let's move -- when we get to the hearings, one of the words that will come up -- and we're already beginning to hear it in the prequel (ph), if we will, is activist judge, someone who uses her power on the bench to write laws, to make laws, as opposed to interpret what did the Congress mean or what did the legislature mean and how should I match this law up with that law and make peace as we go forward?

Here's something she said back -- this is back in a panel discussion at Duke University back in 2005, that even she knew was going to raise eyebrows. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOTOMAYOR: The court of appeals is where policy is made, and I know -- and I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don't make law. I know. OK. I know. I know. I'm not promoting it. I'm not advocating it. I'm -- you know.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You know, Donna, that's going to get her in a bit of trouble with people who think, no, that's not what a judge does. The judge reads the briefs, reads the law, goes back to the precedent, and makes a decision.

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, she was explaining the difference between an appellate judge and a district trial court judge, and she's been both. And she was trying to put it in context and stating the obvious of how the two different jurists come to their conclusions.

Again, she was framing it within the law. And her comment, once again, in this YouTube generation, was taken out of context. What she was explaining was how these various courts make their decisions.

KING: I read that entire transcript, of that discussion, and I don't know that that's out of context. She did talk about a whole lot of other things and she was talking to people trying to decide should I be a clerk at the district court level or a clerk at the appeals court level, but she did say that, Ed, and she did know that it was -- what she was saying was risky.

GILLESPIE: Yes, clearly. And I think it's -- I take exception to Donna -- I think it's pretty much in context, that whole clip. And the fact is, this is the biggest concern.

I think at the end of the day, you know, the notion of gender and identity politics is probably going to fade in these hearings, and this will become more of the issue in these hearings, which is are you going to be a justice who brings to bear your view of what ought to be as opposed to what the law is, and make policy from the bench, as she clearly indicated is her proclivity.

BRAZILE: But we're going to look at the 3,000 rulings that she has...

GILLESPIE: Yes, sure.

BRAZILE: ... that she's made. The 98 rulings on discrimination where she rejected 78. For those who are out there throwing these scurrilous attacks on her character, saying that she's a racist, she rejected 78 of these claims. Of the 10 that she accepted in terms of racial discrimination, nine were approved by the entire court. So, I think people need to look at her rulings, look at her life, and not just judge her by two or three sentences, in I'm sure a lot of speeches.

GILLESPIE: And we're in agreement on that. That's my point, I think that this last clip and getting to what's underneath that is going to be more of the focus of the hearings and looking through these rulings.

KING: Let's look at one of the cases. Let's look at one of the cases. And the numbers you just cited are dead on. In most discrimination cases, she has rejected the plaintiff's claim of discrimination. The one that will become a big case is this case, Ricci versus Stefano. It's the New Haven firefighters case. Twenty white firefighters sued because they took the city firefighter exam that the city said was to determine promotions, and after they took the test and passed the test, only white firefighters passed the test, and so the city said never mind, we need to go back and do this over again. We need to go back and come up with a new test.

Now, during the hearings, Judge Sotomayor's court sided with the city, upheld the rejection of the white firefighters' lawsuit. The case is now pending at the Supreme Court.

She said this during the hearings. "If your test is going to always put a certain group at the bottom of the pass rate so they're never, ever going to be promoted, and there's a fair test that could devised that measures knowledge in a more substantive way, then why shouldn't the city have an opportunity to try to look and see if it can develop that?" Essentially, sorry, gentlemen, you don't get your promotion. We're going to send this back to the city so they can try again.

You have been in this environment, trying to help a Supreme Court nominee get confirmed. Affirmative action can be a difficult, divisive issue. Where is that one going?

GILLESPIE: Well, that is going to be a focus -- it will be interesting to me to see because it's also, obviously, on appeal to the Supreme Court.

KING: Right.

GILLESPIE: And, you know, it's conceivable she may have a hard time answering it given that it is a current case going forward. But she's going to be pressed on this, and I have no doubt she has -- you know, there's jurisprudence underlying this, you know, that's going to be explored. And I think she is going to need to explain it.

BRAZILE: Well, let's say what this case is not. It's not about racial quotas or bean counting. This is -- the case is about the government's ability to enforce the law of the land. Title VII, equal opportunity, equal justice under the law, not some arbitrary test that's given to figure out if, you know, a group of employees should be promoted.

And the City of New Haven determined that it was more prudent to follow the federal law than to come up with their own type of test as to who should get promoted. So I think it's a much more complicated case than what her critics out there are saying about the case itself.

KING: Quick time out. Much more on the substance and the politics of the Sotomayor nomination when we come back with Ed Gillespie and Donna Brazile. We've got to take a quick break here.

We want to get you in on this conversation. Go to our Facebook page. Let us know what you're reading in your Sunday paper, and what questions you want me to ask our contributors. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The United States Capitol there. Look at that blue sky. A glorious Sunday. It's about time. It has been raining a lot here in Washington, D.C. It's a beautiful morning right now. Once again, I'm joined by Donna Brazile and Ed Gillespie.

Ed, in that building this coming week Judge Sotomayor will make her first courtesy call. You go up and meet the leadership, you go up and meet the key Republicans on the Judiciary Committee.

When Justice Alito -- now-Justice Alito was nominated, you were in that role, helping the White House round up the votes.

GILLESPIE: Yes.

KING: What is it like in those first private meetings? Do they come right out of the box and say, what about this case, what about that case? Or is it getting to know you? GILLESPIE: It's more getting to know you. They want to get a sense -- it's a lifetime appointment, and the senators know they'll be able to get questions asked, especially the Judiciary Committee members. And we went broader than that with both Alito and Roberts.

But it's more a sense of who are you. And they want to get a sense of -- you know, you're going to be there for a lifetime appointment, we want to know a little bit about you. So there is some give and take. It has been -- it's helpful -- I think mostly helpful to the nominee if you sit and listen, because it's an early warning system as to what you can expect to hear in the hearings.

KING: Well, one thing we expect to come up a lot, before the hearings and perhaps during the hearings, is this allegation in the early hours, right after the nomination, from Rush Limbaugh and then Newt Gingrich looking at the comment we were talking about earlier, looking at this judge's record, and coming to the conclusion that she is a racist.

It's pretty strong language to use in any case. Earlier this morning, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat of California and a member of the Judiciary Committee, fired back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FEINSTEIN: I think that is an absolutely terrible thing to throw around. Based on that statement, that one word, "better" than, to call someone a racist I think is just terrible. And I would hope that Republicans would not do this because this does not add any light to the debate. It only adds a kind of visceral and terrible heat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Donna Brazile, a number of Republicans on the committee and the Republican leader today, Mitch McConnell, have backed away from that, saying that's not the language they want to use. In an odd way -- I know you don't like the language. In an odd way, did those critics, by calling her a racist, do the White House and Judge Sotomayor a favor, politically?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I was surprised that they would use that line of attack against Judge Sotomayor. She is an incredible person, incredible life story, has more experience on the federal bench than any nominee in the last 100 years.

So, I would hope that they would take an opportunity to look at her record. But the Republicans in the Senate, to their credit, and Republicans in general, have not made that kind of incendiary comment regarding this judge.

And I would hope that the public would understand that this is just a group of entertainers, you know, spilling their guts. But this has no bearing on the Republican Party or the Republican senators.

KING: As someone who has had very senior positions in the Republican Party, worked inside a Republican White House, A, helpful or hurtful? And how do you deal with it?

GILLESPIE: Not helpful, and you deal with it with the way the senators have, which is -- there's always the voices on the outside are going to be much more visceral than those who are actually in the positions of casting the vote and asking the questions.

And I think it's very important in this discussion that we do recognize the historic nature of this nomination, but at the same time, I've had friends in the Republican Party say, well, we should give her a pass because she's a Latina. That's not right either.

This is a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States. We need to give her the respect of asking the tough questions, give her the opportunity to respond to some of these questions about those video snippets and put them in her -- you know, let her explain exactly what she meant.

So I think you'll see, as we saw in the hearings, I thought it was unfortunate when some members on the Democratic side of the committee personally attacked and questioned Judge Alito's character, then Judge Alito's character. I don't believe Republicans will resort to that and they'll keep focused on the issues, as they should.

BRAZILE: And they've promised a fair and civil hearing, senators on both sides. And I think that is what the American people expect, as well.

KING: This is sometimes a process cloaked in mystery in that a president says, I can't ask about a specific case or I don't have a litmus test on abortion or a litmus test on that issue, and yet, Donna Brazile, in the early hours, it wasn't just people on the right murmuring. A lot of people on the left were saying, we've looked through all of this record, we've read all of these pages, and we can't find anything about Roe V. Wade, anything about a right to privacy; Senators, you must ask her if she agrees with Roe V. Wade.

And of course the White House says that's out of bounds, and then the political operation at the White House starts making calls to people, don't worry, the president didn't ask her about it, but we know she's with us. Huh?

BRAZILE: Well -- but let me just say on the pro-choice side of the political spectrum, they are naturally concerned, but they're not uneasy about her nomination. They're concerned because there's no track record. And the record that they've seen would lend one to believe that she might be on the other side of the equation.

I think it's important that the Senate raise this issue of right to privacy and where she -- her judicial philosophy and temperament on this, but I don't think it should be a litmus test at all.

KING: So how does it work when you're making your pick? The president you worked for was the son of the president who nominated David Souter. And as you know, many conservatives think, whoa, where did we get that?

GILLESPIE: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I mean, you know, they thought he was going to be -- you were one of them, OK.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: You thought he was going to be more conservative than he was. So, knowing that history, especially it being so personal for President Bush, how are you sitting in the room when you have that list. Are we going to pick Roberts or Alito or this guy or that guy or this woman? How do you...

GILLESPIE: Well, that's...

KING: ... weed through the -- where's the surprise?

GILLESPIE: And that's why the paper trail becomes so important.

GILLESPIE: It's also one of the reasons that the senators want to get a measure of the person, also. You know, are you going to have the backbone to not be buffeted by political winds when you go on the court?

And to this question about Roe, you know, Roe is still -- there are still cases to come before the court that are derivative of Roe, and so I suspect you will hear Judge Sotomayor, in the hearings, in the same way Justice Alito and Justice Robert said, you know, I can't render an opinion of how I will rule in the future on a case relative to Roe; I can give you my views on stare decisis; I can give you my views on -- you know, on activism and my philosophy.

And so it is a little bit of trying to read some tea leaves in this process.

KING: And one of the key questions -- there is a process question that's important. We try to focus on the substance and what her record is and what's in bounds and out of bounds, but there are important process questions, one of them being when will this vote be?

And Republicans have said, you're right, Mr. President; she's been on the bench 17 years. That's a lot of paper. We need some time. We need some homework.

The White House wants hearings quickly; vote in July. Most Republicans are saying, no, no, no, let's take some time, as long as we have a judge confirmed, or not, by early October, when Justice Souter will step aside.

Here's what Jeff Sessions said this morning. He's the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. And he knows Senator Leahy, the chairman, wants to do this in July, but Senator Sessions says...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-ALA.: I think that's rushing it. I believe that she has over 3,000, maybe 4,000-plus opinions that need to be examined. And I think there's no need for us to do that. We do need to do it by October. That's when Justice Souter will be stepping down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRAZILE: I think that the average time between a nomination and confirmation is, what, 70, 72 days? So, I think there's enough time for the Senate to get their act together and to compile all the information that I've compiled over the weekend to read on...

GILLESPIE: It's pretty impressive.

BRAZILE: Well, take it home and read it...

(LAUGHTER)

... over a drink, as I did.

(LAUGHTER)

It will go down easy.

But Justice Sotomayor should be able to hear the cases that the Supreme Court will decide if she's confirmed. So I would hope that they would, you know, go ahead and set this process in motion.

KING: You were one of the guys, in the Bush White House, saying we can do this in 60 days; we can do this in 70 days. So can...

(CROSSTALK)

GILLESPIE: Well, they took -- they took 70 days to get to the hearings for -- to get to the hearings for Alito, and so 60 days is the norm between -- for the last three nominees, it's been 60 days from nomination to hearing, I believe -- not the confirmation; I think, the hearing.

And so, I think, with then-Judge Roberts, he had 327 cases, I think. She has 3,600. That is a lot of law to review and to look through. And so I don't -- I don't think it's extraordinary for Republicans to say we should take our time on this and do it right, which is what, by the way, Chairman Leahy was saying about Roberts and Alito.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: She's been confirmed twice since being nominated the first time to serve on the district court by President George Herbert Walker Bush. I think it's important to state that she was nominated first to the bench by a Republican president.

WILL: It's one of these funny things in Washington. People see it a little differently when their guy either is or isn't in the White House. Funny.

(LAUGHTER)

Out of time for today. Ed Gillespie, Donna Brazile, thanks for coming in.

When we come back, we'll head to the Pop Diner. It's in Queens, New York. We'll find out what people think about their neighbor from the Bronx, Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Central Park in downtown Manhattan, right there, beautiful New York City on a Sunday morning. That's where we went this week. We decided to go up to New York City. Why? That is the hometown of Judge Sonia Sotomayor -- also, a big debate about same-sex marriage in New York, right now.

So we went up to New York for the week. Let's punch it up right here. She is from the Bronx, but we went and had a beautiful lunchtime conversation just across the city in Queens. This is the Pop Diner. Now, I want you to watch as the faces unfold. You will see a remarkably diverse group in the Pop Diner.

And why is that? Because, in Queens, there are approximately 138 languages spoken. Fifty-four percent, a little more than half, speak a language other than English at home. Almost 50 percent of the population of Queens was born outside of the United States and has the largest Colombian, Ecuadorian and Peruvian population in New York City -- a diverse crowd, you can see.

We wanted to sit down for lunch and ask folks what they think about the girl who grew up poor in the Bronx, who now might be on the Supreme Court, and some other issues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Let me start with the big issue in the news this week, which is the president's first pick for the Supreme Court. We're in Queens. She's from the Bronx. Is that OK?

(UNKNOWN): Absolutely.

(UNKNOWN): I think it's a great idea. I'm -- background, Hispanic, so I feel very proud of her -- not only that; that shows again that, you know, this is a land of opportunities. You know, she came a long way from zero to come to a Supreme Court.

KING: What do you think, sir?

(UNKNOWN): The first time I hear her name, but I think it's a good chance for other minorities nominated and probably I will she will be...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: And diversity is important? You think diversity on the court's important? (UNKNOWN): I think that would -- would help.

(UNKNOWN): It's time to hear a voice of a woman who's of multiculture, OK. And her predecessors have made decisions on their -- based on their own prejudice, whether they want to admit it or not.

KING: Is there a particular issue that you think is particularly important for the Supreme Court, or an issue you think is going to come up in the Supreme Court in the near future, where you think adding a different voice, a woman's voice, a Latina voice...

(UNKNOWN): Absolutely. Abortion rights.

KING: Abortion rights?

(UNKNOWN): Um-hm.

KING: Why?

(UNKNOWN): A woman should have the freedom to choose what she wants to do with her own body. And I understand that's her position.

KING: May I ask you about another issue that's big in New York state right now and could become an issue for the Supreme Court, and that is same-sex marriage? Is that something you support or oppose?

(UNKNOWN): Well, it's something that I support. Yes, I support.

KING: Is it hard for you? It seemed like you had to think about it, like if you think about, maybe, if I asked you this question 10 years ago, would your answer be different? Is it...

(UNKNOWN): It would -- yes. Well, I understand, legally, when two people live together, they should have the same rights as heterosexual couples. I think we have some more important issues than this, you know, at this moment.

KING: How about you, sir?

JASON LAM, QUEENS, NEW YORK: For me, it's kind of (INAUDIBLE), so (INAUDIBLE) and for me, I'm not the side that -- for either side. But for same-sex marriage, I might (ph) oppose.

KING: You oppose it.

LAM: I oppose it.

MARCIA EVANS, QUEENS, NEW YORK: I'm in favor.

KING: Would you have been 10 years ago? I mean, this...

EVANS: Yes.

KING: ... is one of those issues that -- you would be.

EVANS: Yes. Human rights across the board. And if homosexuals want to have the same experience as many heterosexuals, they're miserable being married, join the party.

(LAUGHTER)

(UNKNOWN): That's what I said.

KING: An optimist take on it. I like that.

Let me ask you, lastly, about the number one issue in the country, which is the economy. Is the economy getting better or worse? Are we in a rut?

EVANS: This catastrophe from the Bush regime and Dick Cheney regime could never be cleaned up in one term, more or less two terms. But I think there is some improvement. And I have been personally affected, I'm out of work, so.

KING: Still out of work.

EVANS: Yes. I was part of Wall Street.

KING: Are you more optimistic now than if I -- say, two months ago as things get better?

LAM: Yes. That's for sure.

KING: How about you?

ANNA ARROYO, QUEENS, NEW YORK: I think the economy is more stable now than six months ago.

KING: Not great but more stable.

ARROYO: No, not great. I think that Obama is doing the right thing, and it's going to take longer than four years, you know, to fix the disaster that the Bush administration left.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: A great group there and great hospitality from the Pop Diner in the Elmhurst section of Queens. We're going to a short break. When we come back, three members of the best political team on television join us to break down all of the big developments this Sunday, including, of course, the president's nominee for the Supreme Court. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning. The Senate's top Republican is distancing himself from comments by conservatives branding President Obama's Supreme Court nominee a racist. Earlier on STATE OF THE UNION, Senator Mitch McConnell says he does not share that view of Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

McConnell said he finds her life story absolutely impressive. He also says he has better things to do than be the speech police.

General Motors is poised to file for bankruptcy protection tomorrow. The automaker's board of directors met yesterday to decide just how to proceed. The outcome of that meeting was not announced, but there is a news conference scheduled for tomorrow.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has arrived in China for two days of talks with Chinese leaders. China is America's biggest creditor, holding $768 billion in U.S. Treasury securities. Geithner says he hopes to develop closer ties with China on economic issues similar to the type of ties the United States enjoys with the G7 European countries.

That and much more ahead on STATE OF THE UNION.

To the West Coast, a beautiful shot of San Francisco on a Sunday morning. Last Sunday in May as we prepare to move into June. Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm joined now by our senior political analyst David Gergen, he joins us this morning from Boston. And with me here in Washington, senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash and senior white house correspondent Ed Henry.

Let's begin with the Supreme Court nomination and the tone, the, some would say, unfortunate tone right out of the box. I had the Senate majority (sic) leader, Mitch -- minority leader -- excuse, Republican leader Mitch McConnell on the program this morning. Asked him, of course, about Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, rushing pretty quickly to say Judge Sonia Sotomayor is a racist because of things she has said or rulings she has made.

Senator McConnell said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: I've got a big job to do, dealing with 40 Senate Republicans and trying to advance the nation's agenda. I've got better things to do than be the speech police over people who have who are going to have their views about a very important appointment which is an appointment to the United States Supreme Court. So, I'm not going to get into policing everybody's speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He's not policing the speeches, Dana, but Republican senators like Mitch McConnell and, first and foremost, those on the Judiciary Committee not happy here. Put in a bit of a box, weren't they?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They were. And, you know, I have got to be honest, what Senator McConnell said, that surprised me, because pretty much, you know, five or 10 minutes after we heard what Newt Gingrich said -- or what he, you know, tweeted, saying that -- suggesting that Sotomayor is a racist, I called one of Senator McConnell's top aides and I said, what do you think? And the line I got was almost exactly what you got this morning, which is, it's not his job to police other people's speeches. I refer you to Senator McConnell's very own statement.

And that surprised me because he made a tactical decision to not go the way of some of his other colleagues, really distancing themselves from those remarks. And he decided he was basically not going to go there.

That was a tactical decision to do and an interesting strategy because, you know, he definitely let it hang out there, the idea that some Republicans are saying that she's a racist and that's their prerogative.

KING: The White House think this actually plays to their benefit somehow?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does, because they think what it shows more than anything is that leaders like Senator McConnell are afraid to push back against Rush Limbaugh. And it sort of proves a political point they've been trying to make if you take a step back from the nomination battle.

The second point I'd make is that White House officials at the end of this week are feeling pretty confident that at the confirmation hearings they'll be able to explain these comments that the judge made in a fuller context.

And when you do read the whole speech, as I know you have, you can see that she talks about ethnic identity and how there's this dichotomy in this country where you're told to sort of promote your heritage, whether it's Puerto Rican, it's Irish, it's Italian, but then at the same time you're told that it's a melting pot and that justice is color blind and that you should leave that at the door.

And she said, there's a tension there, and that's something the White House is confident they can talk about at the hearings and explain better because, frankly, Justice Alito said the same thing practically in 2006 about his Italian-American heritage.

KING: So, David Gergen, how frustrating -- you've worked inside a White House at key moments and followed the political parties for quite some time. You're Mitch McConnell or you're Jeff Sessions and you're trying to develop a strategy for dealing with this historic nominee, and trying to figure out where you can oppose, or how tough you can be, and you have Rush and Newt out there saying racist right out of the box.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a tough one. And every party has its extremists, its red-hots, and you -- they -- especially in this day and age when you make waves by speaking up in a sharp and often ideological way.

It makes it hard for the Republican senators who want to cool it. They know that after five days after this nomination had been announced that the White House now is in a very, very strong position. It has got a candidate who is popular, who is winning widespread support around the country, and it has got some of his own brethren, some of its cousins, saying things which are going to be a turnoff for Hispanics and for women.

This puts the White House in a very strong position. I think the White House made a mistake by backing off as far as it did on Friday about what she said about a wise Latina woman making a good justice, and perhaps a better justice.

GERGEN: I happen to think that what we know about diversity is that organizations perform better when there are diverse voices at the table. When different -- both genders are represented and there are ethnic differences at the table, high-performing organizations have moved very swiftly now to embrace the idea that diversity leads to better decisions. It may not be one person at the table is a better person to make a decision than the other, but it's the collection, it's the group that makes better decisions.

I think the White House is in a very strong position to argue the Supreme Court over time will make better decisions with more diversity on it.

KING: And as the process goes forward, and I want to talk -- and we'll have a break first -- but in a minute, I want to talk about some of the substance for her decisions. But in terms of a process argument, David, how complicated has the president made his own task here, in that when he was a senator, he supported a filibuster for Justice Alito. He said he thought John Roberts was eminently qualified, highly qualified, and then voted no.

GERGEN: Well, I think that he has certainly made it quite legitimate for Republicans to hold tough hearings, to ask tough questions, not to go overboard with the rhetoric, but to ask tough questions, and for a number of Republicans to vote no if that's what their choice is.

I think the problem for Republicans, again, is if they line up uniformly in hostility to the first Hispanic woman to be nominated for the court, they risk paying a terrible price with the biggest and fastest growing minority in this country.

KING: And, Ed Henry, do they understand there is an Obama standard that Republicans will use now as this goes forward?

HENRY: There you go again, John King, using the president's record against him.

(LAUGHTER)

HENRY: I mean, certainly it's going to make it -- they realize it makes it a little awkward that he was there with John Kerry and others filibustering against Justice Alito. But I think they are going to make the argument, as Paul Begala did earlier on this show, that look, the president certainly supports the option of a filibuster out there if you feel strongly about it, but in this case, they are going to make the argument she's eminently qualified, and her personal story rises to the level, and when you look at her cases, the substance of it shows she should be confirmed and there shouldn't be a filibuster. But it is going to be awkward.

BASH: And let's (inaudible) be clear that when you talk about the idea of a filibuster, the fact that Mitch McConnell very clearly said he was going to leave that on the table, that is a political tactic, that is making a political statement, that is a symbolic move. Because even if Republicans decide to actually, quote/unquote, filibuster, the votes are almost certainly there to overcome that rather quickly. So, it would be a political statement rather than actually blocking Sotomayor from becoming a Supreme Court justice.

GERGEN: And to have a filibuster -- to have a filibuster, John, don't you think -- don't you think that they have to have an issue they can rally behind? And I so far don't see what that issue is, especially when they go to her judicial record.

Now, something may come up, and that's always the wild card in this. She may say something in the hearings. There may be something in her record that we don't know about yet that could be galvanizing, but right now I don't see the issue on which you could conduct a filibuster that would be understood well by the public.

KING: We'll take a closer look at the record when we come back. Stay right where you are. We'll be back after a quick break. We're going to bring you into our conversation. Go to our Facebook page, tell us what's the headline in your local paper. CNN "State of the Union" on Facebook.com. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Once again, I am joined by David Gergen in Boston, Ed Henry and Dana Bash here in Washington. On our Facebook page, a lively discussion about the cases Judge Sonia Sotomayor has decided over the years, the good and the bad. Of course, the political debate happening not only online, but it will be happening in the United States Senate.

We have looked earlier in the program at workplace discrimination, an affirmative action case, at a Second Amendment, a gun control weapons case.

I want to look now at a case that the White House believes will help make the case that you need more women on the Supreme Court. The case is N.G. and S.G. versus Connecticut. It involves strip searches on female students in a juvenile detention center. In this case, Judge Sotomayor on the appeals court dissented from two male colleagues who found some searches legal.

She said in that case, quote, "Our case law consistently has recognized the severely intrusive nature of strip searches and has placed strict limits on their use." And I should note, there is a similar case from Arizona now pending before the United States Supreme Court. Ed, I assume this is part of their case that of course we need more female voices on the Supreme Court. In the history of the Supreme Court, only four -- 110 justices have sat on the Supreme Court -- only four have not been white males.

HENRY: Well, certainly. And it gets to the empathy question. People hear that word thrown around by the president and other officials, what does that really mean? And they would point to this case as an example, because, as you note, she was dissenting from two male colleagues, perhaps didn't understand, and the case was a 13- year-old girl who was strip-searched at the detention center, and they make the argument at the White House -- we're going to hear it at the confirmation hearings -- that as a female, perhaps Judge Sotomayor really understood a little better, could put herself in her shoes. And that's where they want to say how you could apply the empathy question without saying that's the be-all and end-all, but that that could help her.

KING: Seventeen women in the Senate, that's not a lot, out of 100 senators, but it's more than if we were to go back four, five, six, certainly 10 or 15 years ago. Does that make a difference, Feinstein, Klobuchar among those on the committee?

BASH: You know what, I actually don't think it does, and in part it's because of the reaction that Kay Bailey Hutchison, the senator from Texas, had to your question to her about something that she has on her website, about the fact that she thinks that being a mother and being a wife and just being a woman really affects her life. She was very clear in saying, yes, but I'm a United States senator. I'm elected. I am not a judge. I am not a justice. That is a completely different point of view that somebody in that position has to take, and that is, you know, somebody that really sticks to the law.

And I just want to say that in that particular case that you pointed to, in Sotomayor's verdict here, she says, "Our case law consistently has recognized," not because of the way I feel. She specifically looks at the case law in here, looks at the law. At least that's what she says in this opinion.

KING: David, how much harder does it make it for Republicans to stand up to this nominee when many of them rushed to support Harriet Miers when President George W. Bush tried to name his friend and his former White House counsel, who -- I'm not -- I don't want to disparage (ph) Harriet Miers, whether she was or was not qualified -- many Democrats said she was not -- but Judge Sotomayor certainly has a much deeper legal resume.

GERGEN: Absolutely, 17 years on the bench, you know, more legal experience on the bench than any of the sitting justices had when they came there.

GERGEN: I think that's -- I don't think she and Harriet Miers were in the same league, frankly.

But I want to go back to this diversity question. In that controversial speech that Judge Sotomayor gave at Berkeley back in 2001, she herself pointed out that, when women have been appointed to the bench, that has made a difference in sexual discrimination cases; that when there were all male justices, they didn't tend to see sexual discrimination in the workplace, but with more woman coming to the bench, they have a different understanding. They have walked in the shoes.

As Clarence Thomas himself said, when he was confirmed, walking in the shoes makes a difference. And so it has made a difference in the sex discrimination cases.

And, by the way, you know, on the conservative side, everyone wants to search for impartiality in justices, but it's not a coincidence that the heart of the conservative bench, on questions like abortion, is made up of strong practicing Catholics, devout Catholics.

The four major conservatives are all Catholics. They see the world through the eyes of people who have had that spiritual education and training, and it's understandable they bring that.

So I think we ought to be very careful about saying someone is this or someone is that. All of us bring our experiences to bear, and it's the -- it's the totality; it's the diversity coming to bear around a table that makes for better decision-making. Because various points of views are all representative before the decision is made.

KING: I want to shift, in closing. We only have a minute or so left. But I want to shift because, tomorrow morning, a major American company, General Motors, once the hallmark of industrial America, is going to go into court in New York, Ed Henry, and file for bankruptcy. Chrysler has done this before.

How does the White House handle this?

HENRY: First I'd say that, you know, we're learning from two officials close to the talks, President Obama is going to talk, 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow, at the White House, just as he did with Chrysler.

As you said, the company moves forward, does the filing. The president comes forward, explains the rationale with his auto task force -- significance, of course, major, major impact in so many ways.

Politically, the president now has two out of the Big Three filing for bankruptcy on his watch. Obviously, the problems started far before he took office. He inherited this. But he now has to deal with it.

And the impact on the workers and the economy, more broadly -- I was talking to one of the officials close to the talks who said the workers at GM are not going to learn at 11:30 Eastern Time. They're going to learn when they show up at their plants and find out they're being shut down while all of this restructuring starts -- obviously, that -- a major, major impact in people's lives.

KING: And a major, major impact in Congress, Dana, which has to come up with some of this money. The United States, by the end of this, will be a $50 billion stakeholder. It used to be called "Generous Motors" for its benefits. Now many, in a derisive way, saying "Government Motors." BASH: Absolutely. And, you know, Congress showed, last fall, that they're not that interested in helping these auto companies. They basically punted on passing money for bailing them out. You know, we'll see now, and we'll also see if that money is actually needed. The last time this happened, they didn't need government money. They did it through -- through banks and other government sources.

KING: It's a major day tomorrow. We'll watch it all play out. Coming in today, Dana Bash, Ed Henry, David Gergen, thank you so much for spending some time with us.

And straight ahead, an inside look at what Detroit is dreaming up: how they design cars they desperately hope you'll be buying to help General Motors turn things around. "State of the Union" continues in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: As we were talking just before the break, General Motors will file for bankruptcy tomorrow. It is a dramatic move. To help give you a little historic context, we wanted to take you back in time 55 years. Take a peek at GM in its heyday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: On this day in American Progress, while the scurrying clock of history is striking 10, this Tuesday morning of November 23rd, 1954.

KING: That was then. This is now. General Motors is now a worldwide operation, but it is struggling. Let's take a look, just here in the United States. These blue dots we'll bring up here, these are GM plants. And GM has announced it will close 14 plants in the United States and around the world as part of its restructuring.

Like Chrysler, its dealers are at risk. Every yellow dot is a dealer. There will be huge closures. These are 200 or so that we know of so far. We expect another 1,200 as GM streamlines and shuts down.

They hope to emerge from bankruptcy as a leaner, meaner, more competitive company. And if they can, they think they can create the cars of the future.

We got a rare glimpse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(UNKNOWN): The vehicles that we remember in the past, the original Corvette and all those original Cadillacs -- they were all created here.

So this is one of our production studios. This is a production interior studio. You can see we're still working in clay. Clay's a great medium for us. Here's a sculptor working on a seat. You can see here, even a simulation of a grain like a leather grain that's simulated in the clay. This is an advance color and trim studio. What we have here are a couple simulation models. We're quite excited that there's a lot of neat technology and it's really moving from, kind of, a mechanical invention to electrical.

So this is the Volt interior. You can see (inaudible)

You can see two LCD screens. You don't have conventional gauges any more with needles. It's all in, kind of, your LCD screen, kind of, like, you know, your iTouch or maybe a BlackBerry.

Exterior color, strangely enough, takes a long time to develop. You can't just say, well, why -- you know, why don't we do a new color for next year?

It takes about three years in the process, and you can see, just looking at, kind of, different color samples, it, kind of, changes the personality.

So we're going to pop in here to V.R. V.R. is a three-screen environment.

(UNKNOWN): Excellent.

(UNKNOWN): It's a very powerful communication tool for us. We've got a lot of studios around the world who are large industrial design organizations.

This vehicle -- some of the work was done over in our Shanghai studio. We use this room constantly, actually, in our -- in our communication. As you know, every designer, they may have a great idea, but if they can't communicate it, then nobody will really know about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: We'd like to welcome back our international viewers to this hour, "State of the Union," Sunday, May 31st.

President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, this week, begins to make her case for Senate confirmation. Judge Sonia Sotomayor brings years of experience on the bench and a powerful personal story. But she faces tough questions about controversial statements and rulings on issues like affirmative action.

We'll look ahead to her confirmation hearings with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Some Senate Republicans are expressing concern that Judge Sotomayor will be an activist justice.

Are they prepared to filibuster the president's Supreme Court nominee? Senate's top Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is here to lay out the GOP confirmation battle plan. And later this week, President Obama will deliver a speech to the Muslim world in Egypt. That country's ambassador to the United States, Sameh Shoukry, gets "The Last Word." That's all ahead in this hour of "State of the Union."

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