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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

State of the Union: Best Political Team on Television

Aired July 12, 2009 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Welcome back.

Now the sound of Sunday, where we fill you in on all of what's been happening on the Sunday talk shows.

The leading topic today, health care reform. Here on STATE OF THE UNION, I asked the president's health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, ,what she thought of a proposal by House Democrats for a surtax on the wealthiest Americans to help pay for reforms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Just to be precise, you're open to Charlie Rangel's proposal.

SEBELIUS: Well, I think everything is on the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Republicans were quick to shoot down that surtax proposal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), WHIP: At least 55 percent of the income that would be generated by this surtax directly hits the entrepreneurs who run these small businesses. It would be a job-killer. It would be exactly the wrong thing to do any time, but especially when we're in the middle of a recession.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But many Democratic senators are ruling out another proposal that would tax employee's health benefits.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY), FINANCE COMMITTEE: I think what we've learned over the last week that on both sides of the aisle, people do not want to tax the benefits, Democrats and Republicans.

And given what the House has done, given that a majority of Democrats are against taxing benefits, no, I don't think that's going to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The other big story in the Sunday conversation, the revelation that shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the then-vice president, Dick Cheney, ordered the CIA to withhold information from Congress about a secret intelligence program.

Democrats and even some Republicans were critical of the former vice president. And Republican Senator Judd Gregg said that both parties shared at least some of the blame.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGG: This national attempt by some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to basically undermine the capacity to protect and develop intelligence is, I think, going to harm us in the long run.

Now, yes, this is wrong. But if somebody told the CIA not to inform the appropriate members of Congress on information they should be the informed of, that's wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As you can see, we've been watching all of the other Sunday shows so you don't necessarily have to. Joining us here in Washington, two political pros that you'll only see together right here on STATE OF THE UNION. The Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, James Carville, and the Republican strategist and CNN contributor Mary Matalin.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

MATALIN: Morning, Wolf.

BLITZER: Your former boss, the former vice president of the United States, you saw that front page New York Times. Let me put it up and show our viewers. "Cheney is linked to concealment of CIA project," "Congress was in dark." Panetta, the current CIA director is said to have oversight panels of direct orders.

How big of a problem, potentially, is this for the former vice president?

MATALIN: It's a big problem for the administration.

BLITZER: The Obama administration.

MATALIN: This is very suspect timing. The president's agenda is almost in shambles. His numbers are dropping. Isn't it coincidental they gin up a Cheney story. What The New York Times is saying in that story is they're accusing the vice president of telling -- of ordering the CIA to not tell the Congress about a program that didn't exist.

It wasn't operational, it was never operational. Further, there's a reason -- which he had every right to do, even if it was operational. There's a reason that executive branch withholds information, which they're entitled to do, because when it leaks it renders said programs ineffective or inoperative.

And right now Barack Obama is threatening his first veto on the same issue. What is the -- how many people get to know what at what level? Because the more people that know, the more it leaks, and -- as did our surveillance program, our finance tracking program, and then the enemy knows what it is.

I'm not saying in any way or suggesting that that story is true. But, again, the timing of it is highly suspect, accusing the vice president of ordering something stopped that didn't exist while the administration is fighting with the CIA.

BLITZER: The timing of the story is related directly to Leon Panetta apparently telling Congress, you know what, there was this very secret program, we don't know what it was. But the then-vice president told the CIA, don't share this information even with the leadership of the House and Senate.

CARVILLE: And I think the word is "fully operational." It might have been 98 percent operational, I mean, Washington, that's a great kind of a statement.

I think what is going to happen here is that every week something like this comes up, I don't think that Leon Panetta, he has been a pretty fiercely independent guy, I don't think he would be part of any kind of "conspiracy" to sort of try to save the president's agenda or anything like that, but I do think that Eric Holder and people are now giving some serious consideration and to look into this.

And does anybody think this is going to be the last one or that we know almost certainly there is going to be more revelations? It might be perfectly legitimate what they did, but there are enough questions being raised where it's going to be very hard to take this thing away...

BLITZER: And, Mary, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, is obviously very, very concerned. Listen to what she said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think you weaken your case when you go outside of the law. And I think that if the intelligence committees had been briefed, they could have watched the program, they could have asked for regular reports on the program, they could have made judgments about the program as it went along.

That was not case because we were kept in the dark. That's something that should never, ever happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: She doesn't know. No one knows. No one knows what program they're talking about. No one knows what "not operational" means. But it was within the law -- it is within the law -- it exists within the law, as you noted in the earlier hour, for the executive branch to withhold anything they want, which I'm going to predict right here and now that this president is going to do at some point in time.

The larger story and the more damaging story and why I think the Obama administration is walking into a buzz saw here is what Eric Holder is suggesting he is going to do in this week's Newsweek, to backwards prosecute and investigate these people -- these intelligence gatherers will have such... BLITZER: Those who were involved in the interrogation techniques -- the harsh interrogation techniques. I want to play for you what John Cornyn said earlier today. He is the Republican Senator from Texas. James, listen to this because this is exactly on the point that Mary was just making.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: This is a terrible trend and I hope that this attorney general listens to the president who says we need to look forward, not backward. This is high-risk stuff because if we chill the ability or the willingness of our intelligence operatives and others to get information that's necessary to protect America, there could be disastrous consequences.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And take a look at this cover of the new issue of Newsweek magazine. You can see it right here. I'll show our viewers. "Holder versus Bush." "Torture and the attorney general's moment of truth."

You know, it's a problem right now for the president of the United States who says he doesn't want to look back, whereas he wants to look forward. But if Eric Holder says there should be a special counsel named to investigate these interrogation techniques, that's clearly looking backwards.

CARVILLE: It's not going away. And there is going to be more -- does anybody think that these stories are going to stop coming out? Of course they're not going to stop coming out. And if Eric Holder says, look -- and I don't know how this is going to come out. But I don't think that the president -- I don't think the president's chief of staff, all the people in the White House really want to deal with this.

But if the attorney general says, you know, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the United States, in my view, this is a potential violation of that law, I cannot not do this, I don't -- that seems to be a position that he's moving toward.

Perhaps there's some kind of a middle ground here where we can find out what happened and, you know, the president has the power to pardon people , any number of things can happen. But I don't -- the momentum of this thing is starting, you can just feel it starting to move.

If this is the last story we see, probably this thing will just -- will recede a little bit. But if there are two, three more stories on top of this, as most people think is quite likely, the momentum of this thing is going to continue the build.

BLITZER: Because as you know, there has been discussion of having separate investigations of the Justice Department lawyers who authorized the harsh interrogation techniques, what some call torture, and now this investigation of either CIA employees who were involved in the interrogation, or because I'm told that most of them, if not all of those who actually interrogated these three suspects engaged in the waterboarding and other techniques, were contract employees. They weren't CIA officers. They were contractors from outside who were brought in to actually do the interrogation.

MATALIN: They're -- nobody was off books. The attorney general, the president, the entire administration takes an oath to protect and defend. Protecting and defending in the case of this enemy, this asymmetrical war that we're in is intelligence. It's the key. And they are undermining our ability to gather intelligence by going backwards and investigating and prosecuting the intelligence-gathers, the lawyers who render the opinion.

It is politicization and criminalization of political (INAUDIBLE), and every time -- I come back to the timing. Every time they get in trouble, which the president's poll numbers are slipping and his health care and global warming initiatives are under assault, they dredge up a Darth Vader story so they can say that they're...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I guess the question is this, James. At a time when the president is trying to get health care reform passed, got an economic stimulus package that may or may not be working the way he thought it would, enormous international headaches whether in two wars, Iran, North Korea, all sorts of other issues, is this what you want to see the administration...

CARVILLE: I don't think -- I don't think the administration wants to deal with this, all right? But these stories keep coming out. Apparently there are any number of people that think that laws might have been broken. You can't suspend, you're supposed to protect and defend the Constitution.

If you're the attorney general, he pleads that laws were broken, they've got to do something. But I don't think that -- President Obama or people say, gee, we want to deal with these stories right now. They got -- they don't need anything else. They came in and got a pretty full plate here.

But these stories keep coming and people -- and there are going to be more stories coming. And we don't know the extent of them. What I'm saying is, is that in all likelihood, this is going to continue.

CARVILLE: There's going to have to be a way to deal with this and whether it's the attorney general or they are going to appoint a special prosecutor or they're going to get a federal judge or commission or something like this, but this stuff is not going to go away.

BLITZER: Mary, hypothetical question. If the current Vice President Joe Biden said you know what, there's a very sensitive intelligence program that is under way right now. I'm going to go to the CIA and tell Panetta and company, don't share this information with the top eight leaders of the House and the Senate Democrats and Republicans because it can't go out. Would it be OK for Joe Biden to make that unilateral decision?

MATALIN: It is within the part of the law for him to be able to do it. He would have to be very, very selective and I don't think politically you would want to withhold it from the top eight. But it depends on what it is. And in this case, we don't know what it is. We know that it wasn't operational. The reason that these stories keep happening, they are not just happening, Wolf. They're being manufactured for political reasons. This whole Panetta range of stories, panoply of stories, was a cover for Nancy Pelosi.

BLITZER: It's a very serious charge you're making against Leon Panetta, the CIA director, that you're saying he is involved in a political operation against the Republicans.

MATALIN: It's a very serious charge he made against the vice president. I am saying that the House intelligence fans or proponents with Nancy Pelosi started saying, misquoted or misrepresented Leon Panetta's views by saying he said CIA mislead Congress.

Then they walked that back and said, no, they won't mislead Congress and then in the middle of that, the story just comes out that, accusing the vice president of not telling Congress, ordering the CIA not to tell Congress about a program that did not exist, was not operational.

BLITZER: Wrap it up, James.

CARVILLE: I just got to come back and say, the story said it wasn't fully operation. I don't know about 99 percent operational and I don't think Leon would do anything that would hurt his country. I think he's an utterly honorable man. I have spoken and by the way and received a fee and all disclosure on a couple occasions at the college out in Monterey Bay. BLITZER: The Panetta Institute.

CARVILLE: At the Panetta institute. I don't think that he --

BLITZER: That was before he became CIA director.

CARVILLE: Before he became CIA director, yes.

MATALIN: Nor would the vice president, the former vice president do anything other than what was in the best interest of this country. So, if you're suggesting that Leon wouldn't and somebody else would, I hope that wasn't your suggestion.

CARVILLE: We have an investigation and we'll find out. Maybe everybody is right. MATALIN: Meanwhile, while we're investigating, Wolf, the CIA is saying I am not gathering intelligence, I'm not doing anything, I don't want to put my family through this. I don't want to be prosecuted. You can indict a ham sandwich in this town and if they feel that's what's going to happen to them, their efforts to gather intelligence from our security is going to be greatly chilled.

BLITZER: But you admit, they should do it lawfully and legally.

MATALIN: I'm 100 percent, 110 percent confident the vice president and the former administration did everything within the confines of the law.

BLITZER: Guys, go away, we have much more to talk about with James and Mary. Senator John McCain just said whether or not he would endorse his former running mate Sarah Palin in 2012. We're going to tell you what he had to say. Much more with Mary and James on "State of the Union" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to our CNN contributors James Carville and Mary Matalin. I want to talk about the Governor Sarah Palin in a few minutes, but let's talk about health care reform right now and listen to what Kent Conrad said to us here on "State of the Union" earlier, very significant statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONRAD: Everything does have to be on the table. You can't negotiate properly without that rule in place, but I don't think the House proposal, as I've heard it, will be what's part of the final package.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That House proposal that Charlie Rangel, the Democratic chairman of the Ways and Means Committee wants is additional taxes on the richest Americans, people making more than $250,000 or $300,000 a year to pay for health care reform so that 30 million or 40 million others might be able to get it.

CARVILLE: You know, a lot of things are going to be on the table. But something to remember here is that they're closer to this than we've ever been in American history.

BLITZER: Health care reform.

CARVILLE: Yes, they're closer to it. I think we're going to have a report out, Senator Dodd's committee, is going to report out a bill on Tuesday. The House has that. There's this great sort of thing out here that this thing is going down, it's going down, it's going down. Maybe it's not.

And I think that secretary of health, Secretary Sebelius is correct. I think that Senator Conrad is correct and my sense is this probably won't end up, but there's going to be a lot of proposals. Remember you have to have a House version, you've got to have a Senate version and then you have to have a committee to do that and you have to revote that. So it's a long ways away, but right now they're closer than anybody's ever been.

And I guarantee you one thing, I know these guys. There's not going to be any vacations this summer. And I think the president is going to do a lot of things. I think there is going to be a lot of things.

BLITZER: The president can't get it done now, with 60 Democrats in the Senate and a lop sided Democratic majority in the House, they'll probably never get done, right?

MATALIN: Yes, close doesn't count in hand grenades and health care reform. I mean, close to what, getting what done?

If you take a step back, where we -- why health care is stalled as is the global warming initiative goes, this is not happening in a vacuum. The mishandling of the stimulus and even before that excellent recruitment in the past two cycles of conservative Democrats now some 70 in the House, some 15 in the Senate, they're the ones, Republicans are joining us with them to stop what is an unprecedented cost and unprecedented direction of the government.

So, get done, close to getting what done, I don't know. There's plenty of things that could be done. We could just take the segment and target these initiatives, a segment that's not insured, insure them, put in some market base reform, but don't do what we've done for the only other public option which is Medicaid which is 12 times the cost of what it was estimated to be at this. We don't have the money. That's not going to happen.

BLITZER: Because some people, including some Democrats, are beginning to say, you know what, we've seen this movie before, Hillary care back in '93.

CARVILLE: Everybody is assuming that this thing is not going to pass. It may not. But that assumption may be to the benefit of this administration. There is more movement here. Look, and this thing is not going to stop. This is going to be some pretty high drama here in the next couple of months.

CARVILLE: And there's going to be -- there is a lot of events that they've got planned, there's a lot of things they're going to do.

I promise you, these guys are working 16 hours a day. They've got this. They've moved the energy bill out of the House. I mean, it's not happening overnight, you know, but it -- these things and process, let's see which way they go.

I know a lot of people are sort of glad the president is back from his trip. I mean, he has sort come back -- there's a lot to do, a lot of Democrats -- this is true, a lot of democrats are always nervous, I don't deny that.

But the Republican Party is doing a good job of blowing itself up...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And Mary makes a good point, there are 60 or 70 of these so-called Blue Dog...

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: ... very conservative Democrats who very often will align themselves, at least some of them, with the Republicans.

CARVILLE: But they can be -- this is making -- this is legislative process here. This is coming out -- this is coming out of the -- Senator Dodd's committee. There's a lot to be done. It's a long way off, but they've moved it further than anybody else has so far. And who knows?

BLITZER: Let's talk about Governor Palin for a few moments. She was interviewed by CNN, Drew Griffin, earlier in the week up in Alaska. And she said this when asked, you know, why she decided to resign later this month as governor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R), ALASKA: I'm certainly not a quitter, I'm a fighter, and that's why I'm doing this, to go out there and fight for what is right without the constraints that have been surrounding me in these final months.

I can't see me being totally out of public service because that is within me and it is the way that I'm wired. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Does she really have a national political future as a potential Republican presidential nominee?

MATALIN: She has a national political future, absolutely. She has a present national political cause...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I mean, she is very popular with a lot of Republicans. But could you see the day when she is the Republican presidential nominee?

MATALIN: The presumption here was that this was a 2012 move. What she has said repeatedly and no one wants to accept is that she wasn't getting her job done there because of all of these frivolous things and she had to prioritize her family. Who amongst us has not had to quit jobs we loved or take jobs we don't like because we have -- we cannot afford the cost of government service.

Does she have a big voice? Do people listen to her? Do the polls say this didn't hurt her? Yes. I've never seen -- never, ever, ever seen such a political "Lord of the Flies" for nothing of her own initiation, it was a political stoning, it was the worst thing that I've ever seen in 30 years of politics, the way she has been treated. I think she has handled herself admirably and she has a resident audience out there who is going to listen to her. What she does with that, we shouldn't presume that it is going to be 2012. No one can do anything or have any strategy for 2012 until 2010.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: She's still a very young woman, she's only 45 years old.

CARVILLE: Look, I just -- Fred Barnes -- "Beetle" Barnes of The Weekly Standard, says she's done for president. I hope that Fred is wrong. Peggy Noonan wrote this -- I don't know, it's really savage...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Former Reagan speechwriter.

CARVILLE: Former Reagan speechwriter, all of the conservatives, it seems to me, are sort of ganging up on Sarah Palin.

I think every Democrat sort of wants her out there. I mean, if she wants to come and do fundraisers in these states, that's fine. You're right, the Republicans have responded very well to her. And I don't know of a Democratic operative that doesn't wish her well...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Listen to John McCain earlier today, because he was asked whether he would endorse Sarah Palin in 2012.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Ronald Reagan didn't endorse George Herbert Walker Bush, his own vice president, until the year of the election. I mean, it's just way too early. But I'm confident she would make a fine president. The question is, is what's the whole political scenario?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: Exactly smart and exactly right. Our old friend, departed Bob Teeter, said, you can't have a strategy until you can have a strategy. Anybody that has a 2012 strategy before we see the outcome of the 2010 midterms and what happens with these ill-fated legislative overreaches of this president is crazy. There's not a 2012 strategy right now.

Does he describe federalism better than most Republicans? Yes. Does she have a good record on energy? Yes. I mean, she'll be a big voice. I don't know anybody who would pick any 2012 nominee at this point. It would be goofy.

BLITZER: You know, and as far as her running in 2012, a lot of Democrats say, yes, bring it on, we hope she runs. But you know what, we've heard that before, sometimes be careful what your wish for. (CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I guess -- I know this, as somebody on CNN, I really wish for it. I think she's utterly compelling. I did a class at Tulane on the 2008 election, and we probably talked about her as much or more than the presidential candidates because she is compelling.

I find it interesting that the most brutal attacks on her come from conservatives. I think most -- (INAUDIBLE) people have to take the chance of it. We might be wrong, but I think most Democrats that I talk to wish her well.

BLITZER: We'll be seeing a lot from her, hearing a lot from her, reading a lot about her, reading from her, as well. She has got a book coming out, right? She is going to surely be doing speaking engagements. And she's probably going to be doing television.

MATALIN: She is probably going to be supporting and advocating and raising the specter of these kind of conservatives who can beat the kind of recruits that you put in...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Governor, don't pay attention to Beetle Barnes or Peggy Noonan.

MATALIN: That's right.

CARVILLE: Get out there and come on CNN, we'd love to have you here.

MATALIN: Come on out.

BLITZER: Sure she will. All right. Guys, thanks very much, James and Mary. You see them together only here on STATE OF THE UNION.

We have much more conversation with the best political team on television. Coming up, straight ahead, we'll get the view from outside Washington as John King talks jobs and health care over lunch over at Howard's Cafe in San Francisco.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer. And this is STATE OF THE UNION. John King is off today, but he did find some time earlier in the week to sit down, to enjoy some coffee and a meal and to listen to what's on your mind as Washington debates the price of health care reform and whether the economy needs more stimulus spending.

John sat down for a meal over at Howard's Cafe in San Francisco and the conversation focused on the harsh realities of living through a tough job market.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The unemployment rate here was 11.5 percent here last month. Higher than the national average. Why?

BRIAN LEE, SAN FRANCISCO: I have been unemployed for about four months now. And in my industry, which I'm an Oracle database administrator, it's mostly about downsizing and consolidating the resources in a company. So, in terms of my company, we got bought out by another company because they're trying to consolidate their assets. And then, of course, the ensuing layoffs happen and I happened to be one of those.

KING: And what's the job market like right now?

LEE: It's pretty rough.

LEE: I've been searching pretty actively now for the last four months. I've had maybe about five interviews with a couple call backs. None of them were anything that I would really want.

KING: Do you ever remember it this bad?

CHRIS GRUNDSTROM, SAN FRANCISCO: I understand a lot is going on and a lot being shipped off shore, you know, manufacturing jobs and the like.

KING: Now, is it when you think about whose fault that is. Is that something you blame the governor or you blame the president or is it just one of these tides in the economy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's the entire world's fault. I think our economy is based strongly around the consumption of goods that we don't really need.

KING: Do the politicians share any of the blame? One of the criticisms is that they passed a big stimulus bill but that the money is not making it into job creation maybe as fast as it could.

LEE: Well, the stimulus package just got recently released so I think it's going to take a little more time before we can actually see the effects of it. So I'm knocking on wood, I'm hoping that it will trickle down to me, but as of yet, no.

KING: If you have health insurance, raise your hand. Nobody at the table has health insurance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have Healthy San Francisco, I never used it, which is a government-run health program.

GRUNDSTROM: Actually, I have it right now because I'm on disability.

KING: On disability again.

GRUNDSTROM: It's minimum, but if I need something, I could probably get it.

LEE: Can't afford it being unemployed and, you know, especially with health care costs these days. I think it would be like $300 or $400 a month.

KING: So, again it comes back to an issue of trust when Congress, Speaker Pelosi from this area say we're going to pass major health care reform. We're going to get universal or near universal coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then do it. Stop talking about it and just do it. You can do it. Every other country in the Western world does it. We're the wealthiest nation yet millions of people who don't have insurance and it's so sad.

KING: How do we pay for that?

GRUNDSTROM: With all the influences, political influences in the world now, it's nearly impossible to even come out with something even partly workable. There are just too many political interests.

LEE: I feel like at the bottom they're trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip. We just don't have that much to give, especially, I barely have enough to live on. So where am I going to get the money for health care and social services? I can barely support myself.

KING: Do you think the federal government can afford health care reform right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard a statistic the other day that 60 percent of bankruptcies are caused because of medical bills. My mother personally has held onto a job that she doesn't even like just because she has health insurance. And I think that for the nation's psyche, it's horrible.

And if you're going to try to do something like that, taxes, once again, are going to have to be raised and they're going to have to be raised a significant amount and I don't think people are going to be very happy about it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Our John King at a diner out in San Francisco where it's pretty tough like this across so many parts of this country.

Up next, what can the Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor expect during this week's senate confirmation hearings. Three of the best political team on television, they are here getting ready.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer and this is "State of the Union." John King is off today. Here are some stories breaking this Sunday morning. Four U.S. marines have been killed in Afghanistan's dangerous Helmand Province. Military officials say the marines died yesterday in two separate bombings. A fifth service member died in the U.S. from wounds suffered in an attack last month.

A source confirms to CNN the CIA withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress on direct orders from the then Vice President Dick Cheney. The source says CIA Director Leon Panetta has informed lawmakers about Cheney's role and has stopped the program. Efforts to contact Cheney for reaction have been unsuccessful, at least so far.

Confirmation hearings for the supreme court nominee Sonia Sotomayor kick off tomorrow morning here in Washington. Democratic supporters say they'll push back against Republican opponents who paint her as an activist judge. If confirmed, Sotomayor would become the first Latina on the high court. You can catch all action right here. Our special coverage begins at 10:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning. All of that and more coming up on "State of the Union."

You're looking at live pictures of the U.S. Capitol, a beautiful Sunday here in the nation's capital. Tomorrow, the hearings will begin, the confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. History will unfold. Welcome back to "State of the Union."

Let's talk about that and more with our senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin, our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry and our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. They'll all be here with me tomorrow getting ready to assess what's going on on these hearings. Here are some poll numbers, Jeff. Let me start with you. We asked in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, should the Senate confirm Sotomayor to the Supreme Court? Forty-seven percent said yes, 40 percent said no, 13 percent were unsure.

Then we broke it down, Democrats, Independents and Republicans, 68 percent of Democrats said yes, 42 percent of Independents said yes and 26 percent of Republicans said yes. Looks pretty close there. I don't know how close it is going to be in the Senate barring a bombshell.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It certainly, with all respect to the poll, I don't think it matters very much. The key number here is 60, there are 60 Democrats in the Senate. The last time a nominee of the president's, a president's nominee lost when his party controlled the Senate was Abe Fortas in 1968. That is a long time ago. Barring some disaster, it seems virtually certain she will get confirmed.

BLITZER: And even though I don't even know if any Democrats were even thinking of not voting for her and it's unlikely that the Republicans will try to filibuster, give on the fact that the Democrats now have 60 votes.

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does seem unlikely to filibuster for a big reason, which is that this could backfire on the Republicans if they push it too far. Coming out of the last election, they did not do well with Latino voters. If all of the sudden they start filibustering or even just in the confirmation hearings appear that they're beating up on grilling too hard a Latina nominee, the first one to the high court, it could very much boomerang on the Republicans. So that's why the democrats are not sort of taking it for granted, if you will, but they think they have this one in the bag and the Republicans are pretty much admitting it. BLITZER: But Jeff Sessions, who is the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, like all the other Republicans say, you know what, she may get confirmed, but it's our responsibility to ask some serious, tough questions.

Listen to what he said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: In her -- a number of her speeches, for example, she has advocated a view that suggests that your personal experiences, even prejudices -- she uses that word -- it's expected that they would influence the decision you make, which is a blow, I think, at the very ideal of American justice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The whole notion of, as the president said, he wants a justice who is empathetic, who's got the empathy for average folks...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Or who at least understands average folks' life. Listen, I think there's three things at play here. The first, as you saw in that poll, that Republicans are resistant to this nomination, so Republicans on Capitol Hill feel a need to ask these questions. And some genuinely are very skeptical of her approach to this.

But Republicans will tell you privately that they don't plan to filibuster. And they also -- I don't think you are going to see a lot of nasty. I think you'll see a lot of, you know, judicial discussion about what the role of the justice is. You'll hear a lot about activist judges, which is why it will be good Jeffrey's here, because I think we're going to hear a lot of legal stuff...

(LAUGHTER)

... and not a lot of that, you know...

BLITZER: And, Jeff, hold your thought for a second, because I'll play this other clip of what Jeff Sessions said. Because I think Candy's absolutely right. We're going to hear a lot of discussion of the philosophy of -- of Supreme Court justices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I am really flabbergasted by the depth and consistency of her philosophical critique of the ideal of impartial justice. I think that's a real expression of hers.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right, Jeff, explain what he's talking about.

TOOBIN: Well, there are a lot of code words involved. Whenever you hear people talk about privacy, they're going to be talking about abortion. When they talk about impartiality, they're going to be talking about affirmative action.

And there is a real split on the court about whether it is permissible for a university, for an employer to use race as one factor in giving out a government benefit. We saw it last month with the New Haven firefighters case where they said, no, it was not permissible in that circumstance.

Chief Justice Roberts clearly is making it a signal attempt of his -- of his tenure to get rid of racial preferences. Sonia Sotomayor believes in racial preferences. I think that discussion about whether fostering diversity is something that the government should allow and the court should permit is going to be a big part of this.

BLITZER: And her big supporter, Chuck Schumer, from her home state of New York -- he's pretty optimistic. Listen.

(LAUGHTER)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER: I believe she'll be approved, and I think there's a very good chance she's going to get as many, if not more votes than Judge Roberts got, which was 78. She has wowed people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TOOBIN: He can't help but be...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: He's not exactly the most objective. But go ahead.

TOOBIN: He's a good salesman, obviously; he -- for whatever he's pushing on any given day. And in this case, he's got a product that's very likely to sell. So he's pushing that.

And this is going to be very likely a "W" that President Obama can put in the column. And then he needs to move on to the economy, health care, all those other subjects where it's not going so well.

TOOBIN: If you get less than 78 votes, you know what they call you -- but you get more than 50? They call you "Justice."

(LAUGHTER)

It doesn't matter how many votes you get.

BLITZER: And if there's no filibuster. You need 60, plus the vice president, Joe Biden. I assume he would vote to confirm here, to break a tie.

HENRY: Clarence Thomas got 52. He has the same vote as Justice Alito.

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: This a life-time appointment, so there's no doubt that -- the significance. And, you know, a lot of people, though, are saying the Republicans, what they're doing now, is not necessarily setting the stage to try to defeat her; they're looking to the next Obama nominee that could come down the road.

CROWLEY: Sure, because, on both those issues, she doesn't change the balance of the court, at this point. And so this is not one of these "let's take this to the mat because a lot of things change, if we do upset the current balance by four."

So, you know, the fact of the matter is, I don't know anybody on Capitol Hill that I've talked to that doesn't believe that she's going to get confirmed. And I think you're right about setting the stage. The next one begins -- you begin to look at those numbers pretty closely.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by. I want to just remind our viewers, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, tomorrow morning, we'll be here. We'll be covering this hearing. The history of this next Supreme Court justice will take place. You'll see it all unfold throughout these coming days, right here on CNN. Stay with us for that, 10:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow.

Much more with Jeff, Ed and Candy. We'll talk about the CIA. What's going on right now -- and the former vice president, Dick Cheney. Lots more, right here on "State of the Union."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Justice Department has just reacted officially to this front page story in today's Washington Post, the front page story, "Probe of Alleged Torture Weighed: White House has resisted inquiry suggesting that Eric Holder, the attorney general, may recommend that a prosecutor be named, a special counsel to investigate the CIA's interrogation of terrorist suspects."

Here's the statement that the Justice Department just put out. "As the attorney general has stated on numerous occasions, the Department of Justice will follow the facts and the law with respect to any matter. We have made no decisions on investigations or prosecutions, including whether to appoint a prosecutor to conduct further inquiry."

As the attorney general has made clear, it would be unfair to prosecute any official who acted in good faith based on legal guidance from the Justice Department.

All right, let's parse these words, significant words. Jeff Toobin, what does it mean? TOOBIN: Well, it means that they are thinking about prosecuting Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, the people who were giving the directions about how to conduct the war on terror.

Now, they're a long way from prosecuting anybody, but, you know, Barack Obama said during the campaign he wants an independent Justice Department. He's about, perhaps, to discover what that means. They may create a problem for him by getting involved.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because the way understand what's going on is that, yes, there was a Justice Department legal memorandum authorizing these harsh interrogation techniques of suspected Al Qaida suspects, but -- and the CIA and the contract employees who have engaged in these interrogation techniques, they did have that legal authorization from the Justice Department.

BLITZER: But what's under investigation, apparently now is that they went beyond what was even legally authorized by the then-Bush Justice Department in going further in using these techniques.

HENRY: Right, and were they acting in good faith, as you said in the statement, or did they go beyond that line? But then also as Jeff says, were the architects of this entire policy, the people behind the legal memos saying it was legal when maybe they knew very well it was not but they wanted to push this forward, should they be prosecuted?

The big picture here though is when you read that "Washington Post" story closely, it sounds like people close to Eric Holder putting out a little trial. This is how Washington works a lot, where they say, he's leaning this way, White House, attention to this story, because they need to show they're independent.

If Justice Department officials in private start telling the White House, people like Rahm Emanuel, we're thinking about launching watching this probe, and the White House says, whoa, don't do that, that would be really bad politically because the president wants to look forward, not back. That will blow up and all of a sudden it's not independent. It will look like collusion. So it looks like a signal is being sent by the Justice Department to the White House that they're thinking about doing this, and I think and the bottom line, the president -- his public comments are suggesting he doesn't want this because it's going to look like he's looking back instead of forward, people like Vice President Cheney could be prosecuted. This could blow up into a big, big political story.

BLITZER: And it also sets the stage that after this president is done, let's say there's a Republican administration, they could say, you know what, we're going to start investigating all the decisions that were made, controversial decisions made by the Obama administration.

CROWLEY: Absolutely, and that's what Republicans are arguing at the moment. Wait a second, wait a second, it was a legal document. Now again, we don't know exactly what's going on here. Does Eric Holder, has the Justice Department found evidence that they did go beyond?

BLITZER: The water boarding, for example, was authorized. Did they go beyond water boarding and do some other things?

CROWLEY: Whatever goes beyond water boarding. So I do think the larger picture is -- I think President Obama has not just hinted that he doesn't want it, I mean he's come out and said, you know, we can't be looking in the past. I don't really think we ought to be doing that sort of thing, and honestly if there's anything that would suck up the oxygen in this town, it's an investigation of Dick Cheney.

HENRY: Politically, the president has a lot of pressure from liberals in his own party saying you've got to find out what's going on.

BLITZER: He's got a lot going on right now and I think officials in the White House are saying, you know what, let's try to deal with health care and some other issues, national security issues as well. We'll see.

But the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jeff, Patrick Leahy, he went pretty far in suggesting that in fact the then Vice President Dick Cheney told the CIA don't brief the leadership of the House and Senate on a sensitive, classified, counter-terrorism intelligence program, that was unacceptable. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: If, as the "New York Times" says, we have the vice president of the United States telling people to break the law, that's a pretty serious matter. Either he did or he didn't. If he did, that's something we ought to know because I've been here with six administrations. Usually if something is done wrong by one and it's exposed in the next one, it tends to behave themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TOOBIN: We've got to keep our scoops straight. "The Washington Post" was about the CIA's possible misconduct. The "New York Times" was talking about Dick Cheney not instructing administration officials, perhaps, to mislead Congress. That is something that is a part of every Washington scandal, whether it's Iran Contra or Watergate, misleading Congress, and it's hard not to investigate it if there's good evidence that it took place.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, guys. Thanks very much. Just to remind our viewers, tomorrow morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, the confirmation hearings of Sonia Sotomayor. You'll see it live here on CNN.

In juts a few moments, we'll get the latest on the health care debate from the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. But straight ahead, a look at the real world reality of American health care reform from a caregiver on the front lines. "State of the Union" continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One of the constant refrains in the health care reform is this, one size doesn't fit all, meaning the challenges in a big city like New York are very different from those in a Native American reservation in the West, or as we saw up close in our "State of the Union" travels, the tiny, struggling coal towns of rural West Virginia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NURSE GLORIA TERRY, TUG RIVER CLINIC: Women whose husbands have worked in coal mines and some of the older coal miners who are still here retired, they come here to get care. What I'm going to do is have you lay your glasses there. Most of them have breathing problems and they have other problems like diabetes, hypertension. Are you having drug allergies? The lady that I saw today, she has some health issues, diabetes or hypertension. Anytime you have either disease, it's going to affect their eyes. I want you to just watch that light for me. And we realize that you lose your eyes very young. They're not going to be replaced. You can replace your leg, you can replace your arm, you can even replace your heart. But most of the time, it's very difficult to replace your eyes.

Hey, good girl, I'm glad you made it. You see the geography of how the roads are. It's not like living in Roanoke, Virginia where you can just walk down the street or take a cab or bus to a doctor's office. We have rural roads. This is rural care. My father was a coal miner and my husband was a coal miner. My father worked in the coal mines for 41 years before he retired. My husband worked in the coal mines for 20-some years.

We raised our kids and sent them to college while he worked in the coal mines. And I'm proud of it. We have cared for lots of coal miners. A lot of them have insurance if they're working in the coal mines that has a good insurance plan.

But if they don't, then we see them, anyway. I'd like to have a whole lot more money here, because we could do more of what we've been doing. I think this clinic came here in 1976. There are not a lot of primary clinics that have retained their status for that long, and I'm proud of us for that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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