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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

Sound of Sunday

Aired December 6, 2009 - 11:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING (voice-over): It's 11 a.m. Eastern, time for STATE OF THE UNION "Sound of Sunday." Ten government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say. Fourteen members of President Obama's national security team, the head of the senate intelligence committee and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain. We've watched the Sunday shows so you don't have to. And we'll break it all down with STATE OF THE UNION's exclusive duo James Carville and Mary Matalin and the best political team on television. STATE OF THE UNION "Sound of Sunday" for December 6th.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You might call it a full court Sunday press by the president's national security team. The goal, building support for Mr. Obama's troop escalation in Afghanistan. The White House national security adviser says that while some troops, some troops should begin to come home in 2011, the American people need to understand the mission will go on a lot longer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: The strategic interests in south Asia that should not be measured in terms of finite times. We are going to be in the region for a long time. We want it to be -- we want this relationship to be as we had with all struggling democracy. We want to be helpful and we want to transition from more of a purely military relationship to a civilian relationship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With the surge comes more risks and with more risks the defense secretary says more casualties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: The casualties will probably continue to grow at least for the time being. This is what we saw in the surge in Iraq. What happened in Iraq is what we anticipate we'll have here. We'll have an increase in casualties at the front end of this process, but over time it will actually lead to fewer casualties. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: One leading anti-war Democrat says President Obama made a fundamental mistake, trying to please everybody.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, D-WIS.: I'm afraid that the president's idea which is to just set a date when we may start withdrawing troops gives nobody anything they want. It doesn't give the Afghan people a belief that we're actually leaving. It doesn't give the American people any confidence that we have a plan to finally end this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And here on the home front as the president prepares for a rare visit to Capitol Hill this Sunday, the Senate's number two Democrat has a message for those who believe efforts to reform health care are stalled.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN, D-ILL.: We are down thanks to Senator Harry Reid's leadership. We are down to two major issues, abortion and public option, and I think we're coming to closure on those issues. We're likely to come to a vote on the abortion question maybe by tomorrow. The president is going to come in and urge us to bring this ball across the line, to finish this as he should. This is an historic opportunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As you can see, we've been watching all of the other Sunday shows so maybe you don't have to. Joining me now where you can find them only together right here on STATE OF THE UNION, Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville and Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin. Thanks for joining us before you go off to the Saints-Redskins game, I want to make it noted that we have a New Orleans team here.

MATALIN: Are you talking about Monday night football?

KING: No. My Patriots got spanked. I give you this week. We'll see you in the Super Bowl.

Let's talk very serious issue, the president's national security team blanketing the shows. Secretary Clinton engaged recording three interviews yesterday. General Petraeus out and General Jones right here with us today. A very difficult strategy to sell, James. Let's start on the left. You just heard Senator Feingold essentially saying Mr. President, a timeline that we don't think is a hard timeline, troop escalation that we don't think is necessary.

CARVILLE: Well, look, first of all, I think that there's a lot of relief in the White House. I expected a much greater reaction from the left and the Democratic Party that we got. And I think at the conclusion of this week in terms of the whole Afghanistan speech and everything, you talk to anybody over there and they are in a relief mode. And I think unlike some of the other things they did, they were very good this morning. They put people out. It wasn't just all typical Democrats. So this was a difficult decision, very difficult and people are going to be very happy about it at any level. But given where they are to where I thought they would be and where they thought they would be, I have to say if I'm in the White House, I feel pretty doggone good this Sunday after a whole week. I really do.

KING: Do you agree with that?

MATALIN: Well, what's the -- I don't know -- yes, I suppose, but I don't think of it as a political issue, although there are obviously politics attendant to it.

It essentially was, although a discordant speech, it's hard to reconcile this is for the security of the whole world, but we're going to get out in 18 months, but it's solid policy. It's a reassertion of the Bush doctrine. Every strategic element is from the Bush doctrine. The tactics are from the Bush surge. So it's solid policy.

There are enough troops. There will be over 200,000 when you count the contractors and what Secretary Clinton got from NATO and you add it all up. It's good, solid policy and what's the number one rule of politics? Good policy is good politics.

CARVILLE: I guess a lot of people, I'd be one of them, I'm not so happy that there's a lot of our people over there. If you look at what happened when the president took office, we had 50,000 of our young people over there. He immediately increased it 20,000 to 70. Now we're going to go up to 100,000 and by the way, if this thing -- if this war goes perfectly and name a war that ever does, we'll have 70,000 in 2012. We'll still have 20,000 more people than when he took office. Having said all of that, I do think he had a good week this week in explaining what he was trying to do.

KING: You say a good week in explaining. One of the challenges here when you have a country divided and his own party opposed to him is to speak with clarity and consistency. I want you to listen to this and tell me is the Obama war team passing the test?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: What the president's direction to the commanders on the ground is very clearly. We want this to move. We want it to move quickly. We want to show urgency about our aims here and we do expect to start this transition in July 2011, and I think everybody's very clear about that.

JONES: It is not a cliff. It's a -- it's a glide slope and so certainly the president has also said that we're not leaving Afghanistan.

GATES: This is a transition that's going take place and it's not an arbitrary date.

KING: Where's the end of the ramp? If the beginning is 2011, where's the end of the ramp? Is that 2015, 2020?

JONES: Well, the end of the ramp will be predicated on exactly how much progress we're making.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: There's no timeline, no ramp, nothing like that. Again, I think it is very important to note as many have observed, this doesn't trigger a rush to the exits.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A lot of people are pretty confused about is there a ramp? Is there no ramp? Does July 2011 mean something or does it mean bringing home 500, 1,000 guys and saying we're starting to come out.

CARVILLE: Again, as I pointed out earlier, what it means if they start in 2011 and Secretary Clinton is a diplomat and speaking from the State Department vantage point is you're still 20,000 more than you started, even if it is.

So I think there's a little bit of confusion in people's mind. It's understandable that we'll just start withdrawing everyone from Afghanistan. The only thing they're talking about if it goes well ideally we'll start drawing down from the 30,000 and that's pretty difficult to communicate.

MATALIN: The confusion is attendant to his necessary politics. He had to put in the timetable to ameliorate the pressure from the left. But he and conservatives and hawks are sympathetic to this. He had to put political pressure on Karzai. He had to instill that sense of you ship up or -- you shape up or we're shipping out. The way we had to do that in Iraq, to Maliki, we had the same situation. You had a back door and he did -- went in and did Basra. So he had to balance it. The reason there's all this confusion here is because this speech was more overtly political than it needed to be.

KING: You mentioned -- hang on one second before you jump in because you mentioned the political challenge here at home. And James made the point, and I think it's a valid point, that the reaction from the left has not been as visceral or vocal as it might have been, certainly not as much as it was in the Bush administration. I think we can probably figure out why.

But let's listen, this is the number two Democrat in the United States Senate who also happens to be Barack Obama's friend from Illinois. Let's listen to him talking about the president's policy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DURBIN: I'm skeptical as to whether 30,000 more troops would make a difference. We have over 200,000 now when you count NATO forces, American forces and Afghan military forces. But I think at this point the president is moving forward. The thing that I find encouraging you probably find discouraging and that is the fact that he's said to the leader of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai, there's a limit beyond which we would not leave American troops. We're not going to make Afghanistan a protector of the United States. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Washington translation is I don't like peas, but the president said eat my peas I think is what that is, isn't it?

CARVILLE: Of course it is. We're eight years into this war. Under the best case scenario, we're going to be 12 years into it and we're still going to have 70,000 of our young people over there.

I don't know if that makes me a liberal. I don't find that prospect to be very cool. We may not have a choice, but this is already the longest war in our history and people don't seem to be very upset that it's going to go on forever. Frankly, I am. I don't know if there's a way out of it, but it doesn't seem to me to be a very nifty situation.

MATALIN: The problem for the Democrats is they've bashed Bush, strategy and tactics for so long and now they have to embrace them because they're the only ones that do. This is not an isolated Afghanistan -- excuse me, honey -- eight-year war.

When we remember the infamously intercepted messages between Zawahiri and Zarqawi, the central front of the extremists were -- was moved to Iraq. When Iraq went better, then they moved back to Waziristan, Swat Valley, Horn of Africa. And now they're situated between Pakistan.

And the doctrine is no safe havens and we go after those who provide a harbor. That's the doctrine.

So this is not eight years in Afghanistan. It's eight years into something that took 80 years to develop to the point where it threatened our security.

CARVILLE: Again, first of all, we've accomplished none of our strategic objectives in Iraq. We've strengthened Iran in the process, but we're still going to be 12 years into a war. It's not a very happy prospect. It may be a necessary one.

MATALIN: And what's the alternative...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: ... homeland security, where we have to be 100 percent?

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: The alternative was -- is that, if we would have kept the focus on Afghanistan and not Iraq, we'd probably be a lot better off. But that -- that's what I think, and a lot of people agree with that.

KING: You want -- you want to take that before we go to break?

MATALIN: No, because it's -- it's idiocy, and it does not -- I'm not calling you an idiot. I'm saying these terrorists, insurgents are mobile. They -- the five-paper strategy, which it wasn't exactly -- they go to Iraq. We decimated the leadership. We broke them up. It's a different fight now, but it's the same threat to us. And it's a mobile fight.

KING: As we can see, the disagreements over Iraq continue. I think they will until, maybe, we're gone from the planet.

Mary and James, stay with us. When we come back, we're going to switch to politics, including this question. Sarah Palin says she might have a job for James Carville. What do you think it is?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with James Carville and Mary Matalin. You will be heading out to FedEx field for the Redskins-Saints game. The president of the United States is going up to Capitol Hill.

Rare that the Senate is in on a Sunday, even more rare for the president to go up and meet with Democrats. He's trying to get them to make progress on health care reform.

I want to show you some numbers. How is the president handling his job? Forty-eight percent approval rating now. That's down from 55 just three weeks ago. Disapproval at 50 percent; that's up from 42 percent.

So the country, essentially divided, 48 percent, 50 percent, approve, disapprove, of the president of the United States, James, at about the 11-month mark. The first year's hard.

CARVILLE: (OFF-MIKE) but I think he had one of his best weeks. And if we go -- we go to the first of the year, he's got the -- I think the jobs thing that everybody is now saying we're going to move into positive territory, maybe, by March, so he's got a lot of momentum there.

He passes the -- would be the first president to pass health care. He's got a decision-making process. He's made a decision in Afghanistan. I think that the fever has broke here. I really do, and I'm not being a --I'm just not being a spinning Democrat.

I think, if they get health care, the whole take of the first year is, hey, at the end of the day, he really had a pretty good year. And I think that's -- I think this thing is getting ready to change; this fever has broken, and I think he's going to start to moving up now. I think the jobs number is huge.

KING: The fever's broken?

MATALIN: It is good that we didn't lose as many jobs as we have been losing, but, to the extent that he'll be able to take credit for it, when his chief solution for it, the stimulus, is so disapproved of and only 30 percent of it's gone out the door -- the fever may have broke own the left, but the opposition, including independents, is in a fevered state for this president. That -- getting below 50 percent in the first year, falling as far and as fast as he did, getting the intensity of the opposition, not just from the right and Republicans but from independents, does not bode well for the 2010 midterm.

So maybe the left's not as cranky as they can be, but that doesn't mean that you have -- you have a good political landscape for the midterms.

CARVILLE: Look, will we lose seats in 2010? Of course, we'll lose seats. But right now, he's going to have some real accomplishments to points to. And we'll start creating jobs and this thing is like -- it looks pretty good right now and it looks like it could get better, in the fact that only a quarter stimulus has been spent and there's more to be kicked in next year.

Most people say that bodes pretty well for the president. I mean, for the first time in a while, you hear Democrats talking about, hey, stars could line up decently for us. That wasn't the attitude before the Friday's job number came out.

MATALIN: You know, it's a pipe dream. Stimulus money are not sustainable -- that's not sustainable growth. The job growth has been in public-sector jobs. CARVILLE: No, but, if we have a big increase in manufacturing jobs -- I'm not going to (OFF-MIKE) the details of the jobs number, but to say I can see...

MATALIN: ... which is part of economic recovery that the nation does on its own after inventories are depleted. He could exacerbate and extend and create a double-dip recession. Yes.

CARVILLE: He could, and that would be good for you, but I don't...

MATALIN: No, it would not be good for me...

CARVILLE: ... also -- also, we could move into positive job growth next year and people will give him credit for it.

KING: You mention all the serious substantive issues, Afghanistan; he's dealing with Iran, still; health care, the economy debate and there are many others to come.

Much of the past 10 days or so has been spent on what in some ways is a distraction and one of these Washington dramas, but in another way, it's a pretty serious question.

Two people who were uninvited walked into a state dinner with the president of the United States and the prime minister of India.

We ask our Facebook friends and Twitter friends every week, what would you like to ask our guests?

And here's what Kate A. wanted to ask James and Mary. "I'd love to hear their takes on the party crashers, given that they're part of the social fabric of D.C." You have both...

(LAUGHTER)

You have both been around the White House a lot, in two Republican administrations here; in the Clinton administration and other Democratic administrations here. You what it's like to get in the building.

When this happened, what does it tell you? Where's the problem?

MATALIN: It's very curious because, going in and out of the White House for over 30 years, you know all the Secret Service. They don't let you in. They'll talk to you, talk to you, talk to you. It's a mystery.

And it does suggest a looseness which is dangerous to the president. He seems not to care, but maybe -- you know, one hopes that the looseness doesn't go to the larger issue of competence inside the White House.

KING: He says he has faith in the Secret Service. I don't know that he says he doesn't care.

One of the questions here is, James, you know, we're going to go --just this winter, there will be 50,000 guests at 29 holiday parties at the White House, 50,000 guests at 29 holiday parties.

You've been through this. Even though they know James Carville when he walks up, in the Bush days and the Clinton days, my experience here in Washington, even H.W. Bush days, my first few years here in Washington, there is a staffer from the White House with a clip board. They check your name. They look at your driver's license, even you just saw them yesterday.

KING: And then they send you to the Secret Service where you take all your stuff off and you run through the thing. The White House and the service say those staffers weren't there.

CARVILLE: You know what, they're right. And this is not a minor issue. We're a great nation and people have the right to expect that when the president has a state dinner that there's some process by which people are checking them in. I think that Ms. Rogers should have gone to Capitol Hill. She is the social secretary. She needs to be less social and more secretary to be honest with you.

I'm one that says, you know, look, is this the end of everything? Is it like a little warning sign? Yes, but it is embarrassing for a great nation not to be able to control the guest list at a state dinner. There's no other way to say it.

MATALIN: Well said.

KING: Well said. All right, let's move on. I'm a member by nature, I guess, of my long tenure here in Washington, D.C. and one would hope a bit for my work, a member of the Gridiron Club, which is a great group of journalists. And we had our winter dinner last night. And the spring dinner's a big deal. The president comes and I'm one of the few TV guys, but Tim Russert was ahead of me. Judy Woodruff was ahead of me. There's a great group of TV people now in the club.

But we have our winter dinner, which is a much more low-key affair. But Sarah Palin was there last night. Barney Frank, both very funny speaking to this dinner. It's usually off the record, but they decided in the Twitter age to allow us to do some reporting.

Here is one of the things that I Tweeted last night as Sarah Palin was speaking. She said this. "If I need a bald campaign manager, I guess all I'm left with is James Carville."

Now I want to show side by side, Steve Schmidt was the McCain campaign manager and he had a falling out with Sarah Palin. They have some disagreements. You see Mr. Schmidt on the left, Mr. Carville on the right. I want to start this one with Ms. Matalin because one of those gentlemen is your husband and one of them is your friend. Good joke from Sarah Palin?

MATALIN: Do, do, do, do -- who would I rather spend a day with, Steve or James? I don't know. I've got to think about it. The bullet and a raging Cajun, that's a duo, huh? What was the question? Sorry.

KING: Good humor?

MATALIN: She's a -- again, this is why people have a difficulty processing her. She is a feminine feminist and she's a funny feminine feminist and that's a lot to pack into a beautiful package.

CARVILLE: I think she helped us out last night. I do. People do these things and she had some good lines, some funny lines. Came to my class at Tulane, he was out, he's a good guy, it was a good joke and hey, if I had to spend a little time with Sarah Palin, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.

MATALIN: Every show you're saying how beautiful Sarah Palin is, can we get your vote?

CARVILLE: I maintain from the day she was picked that she's superbly and uniquely unqualified to be president.

MATALIN: She's funny, she's smart.

CARVILLE: I agree, she's funny.

MATALIN: Her book tour's been flawless.

KING: Just funny though? One of her other jokes was that I want to make a big announcement for you, my next stop is Iowa, see you at the Barnes & Noble between noon and 3:00. As your Democrats sit around and say who's going to be the president's challenger in 2012? Do you put her at the top of the list or near the top of the list? CARVILLE: I'll put her at the top of the list in Iowa. I think if she runs for president, the expectation will be that she'll win Iowa just given the nature of her support and everything else. Look, do I hope she runs for president? Of course. The Democrat in me is fine with the Democrat in me, but the CNN contributor in me is just dying for her to run for president. We just can't talk about it enough and the public can't get enough.

MATALIN: They want to keep looking at her.

CARVILLE: She's compelling as she can be. There's no doubt about that. The camera -- you can't not talk about her.

KING: It's early and so in some ways, these conversations are silly, but at this admittedly very early date, serious player?

MATALIN: She's a serious player. She's had great impact on many issues, not least being health care and she does it through unconventional means, Facebook. She's had something horrendous taken out of the health care legislation. She's spoken out on Afghanistan. She's unconventional. But like Afghanistan, our own elections here, we have to go through 2010 and we'll have a decidedly different terrain and make up after those elections.

KING: We'll talk about this in the days and months ahead. I will say, I talked to the governor at the end of dinner. I said bearable or enjoyable because this town hasn't always been nice to her. She said she had a very good time. So maybe we'll see her back. Mary Matalin, James Carville, enjoy the game. Who is going to win?

CARVILLE: (inaudible).

KING: Up next, three of the best political team on television here to break down much, much, much more of the "Sound of Sunday." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining the discussion here in Washington, CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns, senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry and national political correspondent Jessica Yellin.

Let's get back to where I began with James and Mary which is the sales effort now under way to convince the American people and allies, maybe even enemies around the world, about the soundness, the White House, would say of the president's new Afghan strategy. 30,000 more troops begin to draw down in July 2011. The national security team out in force today. Is this message consistent?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: It is not a cliff. It's a glide slope, and so certainly, the president has also said we're not leaving Afghanistan.

GATES: This is a transition that's going to take place, and it's not an arbitrary date. CLINTON: We want to show urgency about our aims here and we do expect to start this transition in July 2011.

KING: Where's the end of the ramp? If the beginning is 2011, where is the end of the ramp? Is that 2015, 2020?

JONES: Well the end of the ramp will be predicated on exactly how much progress we're making.

PETRAEUS: There's no timeline, no ramp, nothing like that. Again, I think it's very important to note as many have observed, this doesn't trigger a rush to the exits.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ed Henry, you've covered the White House, clearly, the timeline was important for two standpoints. Some say politically to tell the president's critics on the left who don't want this escalation, it will be temporary. And the White House would tell you more importantly to put pressure on President Karzai, that this is not open ended, we're not going to be there for 20 years. You better get your act together. In listening to that, has it complicated the sales pitch because the big question is is it set in stone? 2011, we start to come out, or does it depend? ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Look, John, mistakes were made this morning, OK? I don't know how else to put it. They're clearly not quite on the same page. I think the devil will be in the details. You're hearing that from Dick Durbin and other top democrats about how quickly we're going to get out.

HENRY: But also how quickly we're going to get in.

Because I think that's a part it that hasn't been covered a lot.

The president -- a big part of the sales pitch, as well, was that we're going to get this surge in so fast that we're going to do it faster than the military originally planned, even than General McChrystal wanted. He wanted to get these troops in over the course of a year. We're going to get them in within six months.

I've been talking to top people at the Pentagon who think that is super-ambitious. They think they can make it, but they're not sure. It might actually be eight or nine months to get in, something in that time range. So I think on the way out and in the way in, there are a lot of questions.

YELLIN: And that's why the sales pitch is somewhat irrelevant, because the facts are going to unfold the way they'll unfold, regardless of what the president wants.

We've seen it in Iraq; we see it with these events. The military determines most of these decisions in the end. If these guy had all said, today, the exact same words, we would be hammering them for being in such lockstep that they were -- sounded like they were all on the same talking point, so... JOHNS: And what's hilarious about this, too, is, when you look at the media, you look at politics, the one thing we're all not very good at conveying is gray areas and uncertainty. And this thing is absolutely full of it. It was full of it from the very start.

So if they can all get together and have a message meeting, where they all say we don't know what we're doing...

(LAUGHTER)

... that might be...

(LAUGHTER)

KING: You talk about there's a lot of gray times sometimes in these tough policy and political decisions. I want you to listen to something that the end sounds pretty black and white but also pretty striking.

This is Russ Feingold, one of the anti-war Democrats in the Senate, who doesn't like the president's plan because he thinks the president tried to please too many people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FEINGOLD: I think the best thing we could do would be a real timetable, a flexible timetable that says, look, we are going to continue this for a reasonable period, but it is not the top priority in going after Al Qaida. It is certainly not the top priority for the people of the United States, given our economic problems.

So from neither an international nor a national level does it make sense to put so many resources into a place that doesn't even involve our basic national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So it's that last part. The president said this is critical; our security is at stake. And you have a leading anti-war Democrat saying "a place that doesn't even involve our basic national security."

HENRY: Right.

KING: Just about anybody else would say that's where they launched the 9/11 attacks from. Is senator Feingold going to cause the president some problems there?

HENRY: John, you're right. I mean, I was at West point, and you can close your eyes, and I was struck by the fact that, as I listened to President Obama speak, it could have been George W. Bush saying some of those same words.

He went to 9/11 almost immediately. He talked about the threat from Al Qaida. And in fact, I had some frustrated Democrats the morning after saying this sounds like a speech Dick Cheney would give. And what I find interesting is that, this week, the president is going to be going to Oslo, Norway to get the Nobel Peace Prize -- I double-checked this -- the first time a peace prize winner has sent 51,000 more troops to war in their first year in office.

But having said that, Democrats like Russ Feingold should not be surprised. This president was very clear in the campaign that Afghanistan was different from Iraq, that it was a war of necessity.

And it's not new for him to use Bush-style rhetoric on this one point. He talked about the threat of 9/11, as Jessica was mentioning, about terrorists getting safe harbor there to plot and plan 9/11. And so it should be no surprise to Democrats. They're, sort of, shocked, shocked, shocked that he wants to beef up Afghanistan. He talked about how it was under-resourced throughout the campaign.

YELLIN: Feingold represents what Dean called the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. You can always rely on him to be a critic. Nothing's liberal enough.

The president does have a challenge, in our short attention span era, to remind everybody why we're in Afghanistan. It's going to be an ongoing challenge unless and until there's something awful that happens.

KING: Do you think they will be as aggressive in trying to stop the funding, especially in the later Bush years, the Democrats, with a Republican president, say, we're going to try to stop the funding. Now, they were unsuccessful, but will they try that with a Democrat in the White House?

JOHNS: It's -- it's very hard to see that happening, you know. I mean, there were a number of members of the Congressional Black Caucus who were very highly critical of the president's speech last week, nonetheless talking about how they really would like to get to Oslo for the peace prize and so on.

So -- so they'll go back and forth and back and forth, but the problem is really splitting with the president on something this important. It's very difficult to see them shooting it down.

HENRY: There are some Democrats on the Hill, though, saying, at least, let's have the budget vote to send the troops before we leave for the holidays, and they want to do that because they know, if you -- if you delay the budget vote until next year, the troops will already be in place, and then Democrats will be in the position that they were with the Bush administration: do you want to take the money out of the hands of the troops who are in the field? That's a very unpopular political vote in an election year of next year.

And I asked the top White House aide last night, are you going to give them that budget vote this year? I didn't get an answer. It's a very difficult one for this White House.

YELLIN: The other issue is the Democrats are using this as leverage. There is enormous pressure on so many of these Democrats to get more money for jobs in their districts. And they're using this -- they're using health care, using everything they can to refocus the president on funding jobs right now, and that's where the pressure is going to be going for.

KING: And that's where we'll come back. When we come back from the break, we'll focus on the home front. The president's on his way to Capitol Hill to talk health care. He's got a big jobs speech in the week ahead. Much more from our panel, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is "State of the Union." Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is responding to President Obama's new war strategy in Afghanistan. In an exclusive interview on CNN's "Amanpour," President Karzai he says it will take at least two years before Afghan forces begin taking the lead in security operations. He urged patience from the international community, saying, if it takes longer, quote, "They must be with us." President Obama makes a rare visit to Capitol Hill this afternoon. He'll meet with Senate Democrats and urge them to work out their differences on health care reform. Key sticking points: the government-run public option and abortion. Those are your top stories, here on "State of the Union."

A shot of the Capitol building, there. President Obama will be up there in just a few hours to sit down with Senate Democrats, urge them to get going on health care reform.

Back with us here in studio, Joe Johns, Ed Henry and Jessica Yellin.

Dianne Feinstein was here this morning, the Democratic senator from California. And I said, what one thing do you need the president to help you with?

I was thinking maybe she'd say the public option or maybe she'd say this dispute over abortion. Instead, she focused on math.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If you needed the president to solve one problem today to help things move forward, what would it be?

FEINSTEIN: Well, to get 60 votes.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, if we have 60 votes, we move and it gets done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does the magician president have 60 votes up his sleeve?

YELLIN: That's what a top White House official tells me what he'll do today is go in there and say whatever you need to do, get it done. It's sort of the Bill Clinton message we heard when he was up there a few weeks ago saying you have your differences, don't squabble over the details, get it as good as you can get it. This is imperative.

HENRY: Whatever it takes. And I think one thing to keep an eye on where the ball seems to be moving is this notion that a public option perhaps could be taken over by some sort of non-profit entity. I've heard this for weeks where people inside the White House, the president has been taking a close look at it, even having somebody like Blue Cross Blue Shield take it over, trying to convince at least a couple of Republicans like Olympia Snowe look, this is not going to be some government behemoth. It's going to be run by a non-profit. We'll see whether it flies or not, but that's where the ball is right now.

YELLIN: You're so much more efficient.

JOHNS: I just love the story of substituting the idea of the government employees' health plan, putting that in there and giving that to everybody because it's kind of delicious, the attack ads at the end of day. Such and so voted against giving you the public the same health insurance plan that Congress has. So it creates a little bit more risk and makes this all sort of a ball in play kind of situation for the midterm election.

KING: I've been struck by how much I've seen this movie before in the sense that you have Democrats now trying to squeeze savings out of Medicare and Republicans rushing to the floor saying oh, my god, you're going to ruin the health care system for older Americans. Flashback, 1995, Newt Gingrich comes up with a proposal to save $270 billion for Medicare. Democrats reacted with fury and anger, saying the Republican proposals would increase costs for beneficiaries and damage the quality of their health care. Same script, different party.

HENRY: Now there are reforms to Medicare. Now they're, as you say, squeezing savings out and I think it has flipped and Democrats are being a little hypocritical here because they need to get some savings and need to have some cuts in Medicare in order to make all the math work because the president has laid out all these different parameters about cutting the deficit and all that and it's not easy to put it together. YELLIN: Both sides are being hypocritical. The Republicans say they want savings and cuts, except not the ones the Democrats are proposing because they want to oppose the bill. So it's just a mess is what it is.

HENRY: I thought Washington was going to change.

YELLIN: Change is going come, just not here yet.

KING: Another big issue for the president always, but this week he will give a big speech. They've been debating when to try to do, the stimulus plan is out there, it has its many critics as you know, but the unemployment rate down from 10.2 to 10, but the president knows he needs to do more on jobs. And one of the questions is where do you find the money to pay for any new initiatives? I asked Senator Jon Kyl, the number two Senate Republican earlier saying hey, in that TARP program, the bailout program, there's a lot of money. I think it's $189 billion that has yet to be spent. Would you support, as the White House wants and Democrats in Congress want, using some of that money for a jobs program?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KYL: Take some of the unspent stimulus money, that's what it was supposed to go for. It's clearly not doing its job. The TARP money that's returned to the Treasury is supposed to be used for retiring our debt, or not allowing our debt to continue to rise as it has been. I think we'd like to see that -- the TARP money applied to the debt and use this unspent stimulus money to more directly create jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ed, what are we going to hear from the president? Because he wants to spend roughly a trillion over 10 years on health care. People say Afghanistan will cost $30 to $40 billion a year. It could get to a trillion over the next several years. What has he got? How much can he spend?

HENRY: He wants to try to do it as you say with unused TARP money so that he doesn't add to the deficit. What I'm told one thing he will lay out specifically is cash for caulkers. He's going to have tax credits to weatherize homes, just as he had cash for clunkers with the cars.

Now it sort of seemed very popular at first. There have been some reports suggesting it really didn't work as well. But they figure they get bang from the buck. You get some hire some people to weatherize homes in the winter and secondly, you make homes more energy efficient and plays right into him on the way to Copenhagen to try to get a global warming deal. In a small, small way trying across the country to get people to be more energy efficient.

JOHNS: Things we've heard before in a lot of ways and more scaled back because at the end of day, there is a real concern even over there about all of the spending. I'm seeing headlines now about whether the government is running government-run Ponzi scheme and that's the kind of message that you don't want as you move into a midterm election.

YELLIN: If you break down the substance also of what they're talking about, the stimulus has not all been spent, but most of it's been promised. So it's going out the door, just not yet. So they would have to be taking that pot of money away from someone who's expecting to get it or some entity and redirect it. The TARP money is out there. If you're not going to spend that, they would appropriate other money for a jobs program. It's almost, you know, six to one, half dozen another.

HENRY: The other thing that's interesting is that this president keeps doing these speeches. I mean think about Afghanistan this week. We talked about the speech at West Point. Within two days, a job summit at the White House. Then on Friday when he goes on Allentown, Pa., to show a "I feel your pain kind of thing." Tuesday, why is he giving this big speech? Well because the next day he's going to Oslo, Norway. He's going to be overseas. Before he went to Asia a couple of weeks ago, he gave remarks on the economy. They realize they can't take their eye off the economic ball.

KING: Look at these numbers I want to put up on the screen. We went to recovery.gov, that's the White House Web site. So where is the stimulus money creating jobs? There's a big dispute about this jobs saved, jobs created. On the left, you see a huge number, that's more than 300,000. Those are education jobs, essentially money that goes on states for the most part so they can keep teachers on the payroll because states are facing these budget cuts.

That much smaller number, 80,000, that's construction jobs. Well they sold this as a shovel-ready projects, we're going to put people to work. Where it has gone is mainly to keep people from losing their jobs, like teachers, police officers, fire fighters. Now some people would say there's nothing wrong with that, but that's not how they sold the bill.

YELLIN: And even the president has admitted shovel ready isn't all that it promised to be. You're pointing to one of the big reasons that Democrats in the House are angry, getting restless and putting enormous pressure on the president because they feel like there are not enough new jobs being created specifically in urban districts, in minority areas and people who are from the highest unemployment areas are getting so frustrated that they're demanding that those numbers change.

KING: OK we're going to head right now to break quick. When we come back our lightning round, "Saturday Night Live," big spoof on the White House party crashers. We're going have some fun.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Back for our lightning round with Joe Johns, Ed Henry and Jessica Yellin. It is irresistible, it's a serious security breach at White House, but it's also irresistible comedy. At the top of "Saturday Night Live" last night, the president, not the real president, but the president of the United States, trying to talk jobs, and getting distracted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED ARMISEN: Small business. We enacted measures...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

You want me in it?

(UNKNOWN): Oh, no, I want you to take it. Just take it.

ARMISEN: Oh, all right.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(inaudible)

So, here's the bottom line. I know that times are tough...

(UNKNOWN): Just the heads this time?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, when Joe Biden gives the thumbs down to the photo, you've got to do a redo.

(LAUGHTER)

You've got to -- it is a source of jokes all across the capital and on "Saturday Night Live," there? Are they laughing at the White House?

HENRY: They're really not. They want this story to end. It's dragged on a lot longer than they expected. But, look, there was a serious issue, here, in terms of security, number one.

Number two, there are now three Secret Services officers who are on administrative leave, likely to be fired. That's serious. And there's been a question about whether they've been scapegoated.

I think, to bring it back to the comedy, I mean, both sides, the White House, Secret Service have, sort of, been at odds over this. I think it's finally, to quote Max Baucus, time to have a happy, mature relationship...

(LAUGHTER)

... come together, here, and move on.

KING: Somebody was going to do it. All right.

(LAUGHTER)

HENRY: I'm setting you up. You wanted to talk about it. Go ahead.

YELLIN: I want to talk about Max Baucus going all Governor Sanford on us...

(LAUGHTER)

... the other story that's happening.

Max Baucus, a major U.S. senator, is admitting not only to having this relationship but is talking about it in these unbelievable personal terms, about how it's romantic and satisfying and -- do we need to know all this information from our elected officials?

(LAUGHTER)

TMI.

KING: TMI, Joe?

JOHNS: Yes, TMI.

But, you know, the one thing about the -- I mean, getting back to the White House issue.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNS: Getting back to the White House situation, the one thing it shows me is that, you know, when you have a new administration, there are always going to be some mistakes. It was their first dinner.

On the other hand, if you don't have the institutional memory from previous administrations, somebody there to say, OK, this is how we've always done it; this is why -- if you don't have the custom, you're just bound to have some problems like that, so...

KING: All right. Well, they'll have 50,000 visitors at 29 events in the next few weeks. So they'll get a little practice.

Joe Johns, Ed Henry, Jessica Yellin, thanks for coming in, and you for going a little bit rogue on us, there.

(LAUGHTER) Up next, our weekly diner conversation, talk of President Obama's new Afghan war strategy and the economy at the Frontier Restaurant in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In our travels this week, we headed down to New Mexico. It's a wonderful state; 7.9 percent unemployment rate right now, a little below the national average. Forty-seven New Mexico residents have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

How's the president doing? He won this state. His approval rating, right now, at 53 percent.

So we wanted to talk about the state of play, the Afghan decision, the economy, and the holiday season. Our scene, the Frontier Restaurant in Albuquerque.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Let me start by asking you about the president's big announcement this week to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan.

Do you think it's a good idea to pay much attention to that?

Are you worried that it's been eight years?

(UNKNOWN): You, kind of, forget that there's all this stuff going on overseas, and what the goal was. But if -- if it helps bring down Al Qaida, then, you know, I think -- I think it's necessary.

(UNKNOWN): I think that -- I don't necessarily agree with, you know, some of the issues that Obama, you know, has put forth. But I do agree with sending the troops out. We do need them.

(UNKNOWN): I think the 30,000 more troops going to Afghanistan is something that we were not really ready for. We weren't planning for this. I personally feel that it is necessary. If we don't do it, I don't think anybody else in the world is going to do it. So we find ourselves being the big police of the world.

KING: For eight years, the country, whether you supported him or not, got used to George W. Bush as a wartime president in Afghanistan and in Iraq. It just became familiar to see the president, under the Bush administration, talking about war.

When you look at President Obama, do you trust him as the commander in chief, in that role? Are you comfortable with him?

(UNKNOWN): Absolutely not.

(UNKNOWN): I just saw a bumper sticker that says "McCain and Palin." And then on this other side, it says, "Are you sorry yet?"

That tells us a lot. KING: How is the economy doing here? You know, people across the country say -- is it still getting worse? Has it bottomed out? Is it starting to get better? What's your sense?

(UNKNOWN): I think it's gotten better here. I mean, I don't -- I don't really, you know, know. But, you know, Black Friday came around and there was, like, lines outside of Best Buy and Home Depot and stuff. So, you know, I think it's gotten better.

KING: Some evidence it's getting better. You believe that?

(UNKNOWN): I think it's holding its own. I don't think it's getting worse. It may be improving slightly. But Albuquerque doesn't get affected often because of...

(UNKNOWN): I was just going to say that.

(UNKNOWN): Because we have a lot of government-related jobs. We have the base and the labs. So, you know, a lot of times, the economy is going gangbusters everywhere else, and we're sort of meandering along. So...

(UNKNOWN): And we're not a high-spending state, either.

KING: Do your views about the economy affect how you view the holiday season? Will you spend a little more this year than last year, a little less this year than last year because you're a little nervous or because you don't, maybe, have as much money in the bank or...

(UNKNOWN): Well, I don't really believe in spending money during the holidays anyway, just because, you know, I like giving gifts from the heart and not really, like, being materialistic about things. But who knows? Maybe.

(UNKNOWN): Probably putting more thought into it. But I don't have -- I don't have a lot of fears that the economy is going to, you know, tank tomorrow, so I don't think it's going to really affect what I do.

My husband, on the other hand, will probably affect what...

(LAUGHTER)

... what I spend. He doesn't like me to spend a whole lot of money, but...

KING: Why? Is he pessimistic about the economy or does he think he has a good excuse to tell you not to spend so much money?

(LAUGHTER)

(UNKNOWN): No, he thinks he has a good excuse to tell me not to spend a whole lot of money on -- on gifts.

(LAUGHTER)

(UNKNOWN): In my 17 years of practice, I believe this is the worst year ever, financially. It took a while for the crisis to get to me, and then I started finding out that we don't know, there were many patients who were not telling us that they had no insurance coverage and it was to provide them the same health care. So this is not a good year for us and I think we want to kind of stay back a little bit on the shopping.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: A wonderful conversation at The Frontier and trust me, the sweet rolls are to die for. We'd like to welcome back our international viewers.