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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

Sound of Sunday

Aired January 17, 2010 - 11:00   ET

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


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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: It's 11 a.m. Eastern, time for "State of the Union's" "Sound of Sunday."

Six government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say, including two U.S. officials leading the recovery efforts in Haiti, two former presidents of the United States, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

We've watched the Sunday shows so you don't have to. We'll break it all down with our exclusive Sunday duo, James Carville and Mary Matalin, and the best political team on television.

"State of the Union," "Sound of Sunday" for January 17th.

President Obama's point man for the humanitarian crisis in Haiti acknowledges complaints from search-and-rescue teams and medical organizations, saying they can't get clearance to fly in. Dr. Rajiv Shah says those in charge of the Port-au-Prince airport are balancing the need for more boots on the ground with the dire shortage of food, water and medicine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAH: We have 30 teams from around the world on the ground, approximately 30 teams. Each of those teams is 70-plus individuals. They have dogs and assets and specialized equipment. They work around the clock. And our teams from the U.S. were the first teams to get in. They set up a center that allowed the others to know where to go and to work in a more coordinated way.

You know, that -- obviously, you always want more. And we have a number of teams on standby in the United States. But we were even told by the Haitian government that -- and we're -- that we need to balance that -- the degree of that versus food and rations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The Army general leading the military response says things are getting better by the day and says he can't put a timeline on the American deployment to Haiti.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEEN: We're going to be here as long as we are needed. What I have on the ground right now is a thousand -- approximately a thousand military personnel. I have more coming today, two more companies out of the 82nd Airborne Division. In the coming days, I'll have Marines coming off of the (inaudible), and then we have a Marine landing battalion which will have some critical enablers to clear roads.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: On all the news shows this Sunday, a remarkable site. Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, side by side, launching a new effort to help the people of Haiti.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: One of the things I am concerned about is that, on these -- during these crises, all kinds of fake charities spring up that take advantage of people's good will. And we're safe haven. We will make sure the money is accounted for and there's transparency and properly spent.

CLINTON: I would define success as setting up a network quickly to get the food, water, medicine and security and information people need, and then, as quickly as possible, resuming the path they were on before the earthquake to build a strong, modern country.

I think they can do it. I agree with you. I won't feel successful if all we do is get them back to where they were the day before the earthquake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Haiti isn't the president's only worry this Sunday. He heads, this afternoon, to Massachusetts, where Democrats are worried about losing the Senate seat long held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy. Republicans smell a major upset and say, in any event, the tight race sends a national message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY., SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The important thing to remember, though, is that this is, in fact, a referendum on the national health care bill, which the Democrats, in secret, are trying to work out now. They have arrogantly ignored American public opinion all the way to this point, and they're trying to get their members to continue to ignore public opinion one more time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Joining me now, here in Washington, where you can only find them right here together, on "State of the Union," Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville and Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Mary Matalin. Welcome.

MATALIN: Good morning, John.

KING: Congratulations on the Saints, all the way to the NFC championship game.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: I take back everything bad I ever said about Reggie Bush, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

I really apologize, Reggie. You were great yesterday.

KING: I want to start on a serious note. And I'll just hold up the front page of the papers as we go through them. This is the New York Times this morning, every newspaper across the country dealing with Haiti crisis. "Officials Strain to Distribute Aid to Haiti as Violence Rises."

That's the take in the New York Times.

You just saw, there, the two former presidents, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, coming together to raise money for this cause, a reprise of what Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush did after the tsunami in South Asia.

We'll get to politics in a minute. But just assess the moment, especially as two people who moved back to New Orleans after Katrina to make a statement of your own.

CARVILLE: Well, one thing I really want to say is this, the sense that, you know, Katrina hit New Orleans -- when Katrina happened, as we like to say, and there was a lot of attention and a lot of things and then everybody went on to something else and, sort of, nothing happened after that. That's not true. A lot has happened in New Orleans. A lot good has happened, and this city is much further along today than it was three -- three years ago. And I think that's very important for people to remember.

Certainly, there's going to be a time when we, CNN primarily, leaves Haiti. We've done a sterling job of covering that. But I think what President Clinton said is so true is, if we just go back to the way we were the day before the earthquake, that would be insufficient. This is an opportunity, maybe, to do something to help the Haitians build even a better country. And I think that's important.

But it's very important for people to know that New Orleans has made enormous progress even though the cameras left.

MATALIN: Which, by the way, CNN still has a bureau there and still does go down on a regular basis and chart the progress. I want to pick up on something else both the presidents referenced, which goes to this point, after the cameras leave, the rebuilding; the healing goes on.

Eighty percent of Haitians are catholic. They lost their cathedral. They lost all the parish churches. They lost their archbishop, their priest. They lost nine seminarians.

So the Catholic charities -- we're talking about what relief -- Catholic charities, Catholic relief are not just doing the rebuilding and the infrastructure; they'll be doing the healing, the spiritual healing that needs to undergird the physical healing going forward. And both the presidents referenced that.

CARVILLE: One point on that (inaudible) about 93 percent, I believe, of all the money that goes to Catholic charities actually goes to the people in need. And they are well-positioned to deliver that kind of aid down there.

KING: And one of the things, for anybody watching at home, if you go to CNN.com/impactyourworld, we have vetted a lot of these charities that are out there asking for money. The Catholic Charities is on that list. The Bush -- the ClintonBushHaitiFund.org is what the two presidents are doing.

But if you're having a question -- if somebody calls you, sends you a letter, is that legitimate, there are places to look to vet those charities, the Catholic Charities among them.

Both of you have worked closely with presidents who have dealt with this before. I went to Haiti in 1994 with the military, when President Clinton, in those days, restored the Aristide government to power.

At that moment, we heard a lot of what we're hearing now, that we can't just deal with the immediate challenge; we have to make Haiti a viable, productive country. And yet, the day before the earthquake, 80 percent of its people lived in poverty; 56 percent of them lived in abject poverty, meaning they make less than a dollar a day.

Does something like this -- you mentioned the New Orleans experience. Will this, in your view, get the world's attention?

Because this isn't just poverty; it's dysfunctional government and it's governments that have poured millions in foreign aid in and you don't see much of a result.

MATALIN: We do have -- this does give us an opportunity, a word one is loath to use relative to a tragedy, but what happened in Katrina and what historians will tell us, in general, is that, as hard as it is for cultures to change, they can change after a tragedy of this magnitude.

We do not use our aid dollars wisely or productively relative to poverty eradication. We don't even do it well here. One of the things we found in Katrina -- again, a silver-lining opportunity -- is, when you're starting from scratch, you can make great progress. Our charter schools are leading the country in closing the gap. So if there is an opportunity here to try anew, to have a laboratory, to adjust how we provide poverty aid, this is it. And we should look anew at it. Because just giving money does not change the culture and won't improve the future there.

CARVILLE: And they're proud people. Look, Toussaint L'Ouverture, I think, was the man's name, the slave revolt in 1791. It was after us. It was a successful overthrow of an existing colonial government in the new world.

And so there -- and I've run across many Haitians -- a large Haitian community in my -- they're a very proud people. And, you know, yes, we can hope -- certainly, we can hope, because what they were doing obviously wasn't working very well. I mean, President Clinton had a long, emotional attachment to Haiti and the Haitian people. And I'm glad to see that he's back down there.

But hopefully something -- but they do -- they're very proud people and they've got a pretty colorful history. And let's see. Maybe things will get better.

KING: Let's talk about the remarkable moment. Because it is a tragedy like this that brought the two former presidents back into the White House. And I went over there yesterday to interview them and also to watch this event. And It's quite a scene.

And it reminds you of the gravity of the moment, when you see the current president of the United States walk out of the Oval Office with two when who spent eight years working in that office and living in that building.

And when I was sitting with the two former presidents, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, one of the things, inevitably -- and, Mary, even very close friends of yours have said, isn't this ironic in some sense that George W. Bush, who did suffer such a political price for the government's response to Katrina, the first time he emerges after a year of the Obama administration where he has deliberately kept a very low profile, is to take this lead role in responding to a natural disaster. So I put to President Bush the question of, you know, did you give President Obama any advice based on your experience in Katrina?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I think that once you've been president, you shouldn't gratuitously offer any advice to your successor. If somebody asks you what you think,you tell them. Otherwise you just show up when you're asked to help.

BUSH: People love to point fingers. But what people should focus on in Katrina is how the American people responded to help a neighbor in need. And the same situation here. And whether it be the tsunami, or whether the earthquake in Pakistan, or the tornadoes that hit during my presidency, there was always an outpouring of support. And all I want to do and Bill wants to do is to be a part, to lend our hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: Do you know, they -- it was not pleasant certainly. It's always painful when these things turn political. They've already turned political. This will be political. We were pummeled by Katrina. But both presidents 41, 42, 43, they understand that, to separate the politics from what they can do to help. I love the dynamic just from an historical perspective. President Daddy Bush, Poppy Bush, and brother Clinton now, stepbrother Clinton, doing work during tsunami recovery. And now the two brothers doing this recovery. It's nice when the club is used for such a purpose.

KING: And talk about that, because you guys have unique perspective having worked so closely with presidents, having spent a lot of time around the Oval Office. It is a unique club. And we saw that sort of offhand. But I was struck in the Rose Garden yesterday when President Obama was thanking them.

He said, you know, we were just talking in the back about what to do. In the back is the Oval Office. It is one of the most sacred places in our democracy. And a place that each of the three president, and any president just reveres when you're in the building.

Talk about the uniqueness of that.

CARVILLE: You know, I remember when President Clinton was there, and people would call, and I was sort of outside, he would say, you go in there and you tell him such-and-such, you know, I said, all right, you know. So you would sit outside the thing and (INAUDIBLE) the presidency, you get in there, you go, how are you doing today, sir? How is everything going? And you're just completely -- one of the problems with that Oval Office is for anybody, no matter who you are, you know, and people say, you have to be able to speak the truth to power, that is much easier said than done.

Somehow or another, (INAUDIBLE) today, and is everything fine. And you know, it's like, whoa, man. And it does have an intimidating presence. But at the same token, it's a very kind of a interesting place, the history, anybody is cognizant or aware of it. The president is there, and when people go in there, they are aware of it.

MATALIN: Above and beyond the presidencies, and it's so -- the pause, it refreshes to see them all come together. But the world gets to see anew what they know. But the way Americans -- the whole international community has come in. But the way the Americans and the service-people and -- are overnight bringing relief, bringing food, bringing medicine, and making it better, it's what America does.

KING: Have you talked to George W. Bush much in the past year? Because we haven't seen him publicly. And it's the first time I've seen him. You're in the White House. You're in the Map Room, a historic room within the White House. And he was saying, you know, I haven't missed the limelight at all, and I don't miss you guys in the press corps, and off-camera he was his old sort of joking self.

The two of them, great interaction between the two of them. They're both -- I think the experience as governors makes them different as politicians in the sense that they're just sort of backslapping guys.

MATALIN: That's a really good point. If you've been a governor, you have a different perspective on retail politics and how to interact. They're working really hard on the library. Laura Bush is working on her projects, 42 and 43 are doing some other activities together. And what he said is true, they have a lovely, lovely home there. And there is life beyond back there, the back room.

KING: Will this slowly bring him back into the public spotlight or will he pick and choose his moments?

MATALIN: Wow, I don't -- I can't speak for him on that. But I don't see any headlong rush to want to get back into this, particular these politics.

CARVILLE: Well, President Clinton is, in a sense -- I mean, understand that Clinton Global Initiative and all that, they're having to have a lot of things I think to deliver something like one-third of all the pediatric AIDS medication in the world. And so they're like on a hamster wheel. I mean, they're moving all the time. And this Haiti thing is just one more thing. I can see, you know, Doug, Ben, and Justin Cooper (ph) and those guys, saying, oh, God, they never get the chance to stop.

I think they -- in some ways it was easier when they were in the White House. KING: I think it's interesting, as we elect younger presidents, we have younger former presidents. And so these guys have a full life ahead of them in some ways, years ahead of them when they leave the White House.

We are going to take a quick break with James and Mary. When we come back, Mary noted there have been some politics already in the wake of the Haiti earthquake. We'll discuss more of that, and the big consequential Senate race in Massachusetts when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with James Carville and Mary Matalin. Mary noted earlier in the last segment that it is perhaps inevitable in these days of 24-hour cable and polarized politics that somebody makes politics of just about every situation, even the tragedy in Haiti.

Within hours of the earthquake, as we were trying to assess how many killed, what are the needs, we hear things like this from the left.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, "COUNTDOWN": As we are reminded of what health care reform really means by an awful message of nightmarish reality from a place, a place this time not so very far away. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Somehow there from the left linking Haiti to the health care debate here in the United States. And then we hear this from the right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW": Yes, I think in the Haiti earthquake, ladies and gentlemen, in the words of Rahm Emanuel, we have another crisis simply too good to waste. This will play right into Obama's hands, humanitarian, compassionate. They'll use this to burnish their, shall we say, credibility, with the black community, in the both light-skinned and dark--skinned black community in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So I sat down yesterday with two presidents who know quite a bit about polarized politics, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. And I ran those remarks by them and they said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: They should keep politics out of Haiti.

CLINTON: I think when people see us together, look, they know we have differences, even though we're friends, and what I -- the only political thing I hope that comes out of this is if people keep their differences of conviction but they treat their neighbors as friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Why can't we go 48 hours after a tragedy without somebody trying to connect the dots to something perhaps you can't connect the dots to?

MATALIN: Because we live in a political world. And I just want to say Rush Limbaugh, his philanthropic endeavors are legendary. He gives more in a year than most of his opponents can give in a lifetime. But he has political impact that exceeds that.

KING: So if you are such a giving person, why just give that up for your critics? Do you agree with him that it's Obama...

MATALIN: He's on for 15 hours a week. I'm sure he talked about other things. Please stop giggling about this. The notion that I keep -- it's hard for conservatives to extricate politics from this when Katrina was used, and now that we live there, continues to be used as a political football.

Could we? Should we? Maybe yes. But politics is human nature. And there is always -- it's always going to be attached to it. And to the extent that we can have politics and we can continue our humanitarian effort, you know, we can walk and chew gum in this country. CARVILLE: First of all, at the absolute danger of sounding like a corporate suck-up, I was proud of CNN. I think our network -- I mean, I've just got to say this. Anderson and Sanjay Gupta, I mean, there is no -- we were the go-to network. We were there. This was a very, very proud time to be affiliated with CNN. All right, now -- and I mean that.

Secondly, you're right. How -- it looks like there could be some kind of thing -- because most people's thing is not political. Rush says we shouldn't send government aid there. Well, any American would feel pride like the hospital ship going or these helicopters giving water to these people. I mean, you know, at some point maybe people look at something, you know, entirely differently.

Maybe -- I mean, people always ask me this, does Rush really mean that? Or is that just a show? I have no idea. MATALIN: If they ever, ever were able to quote Rush in context or not distort what he is saying -- and that Robert Gibbs, the president's press secretary, on a -- day after day, event after event, stands up there in the world's greatest bully pulpit and distorts what Rush Limbaugh has to say, it's the president of the United States versus Rush Limbaugh, a radio guy. And once again, James has distorted what he said. Because that's what they do. That is what you guys do, to be able to debate with Rush, you distort what he says.

CARVILLE: Again, we just showed the clip. But I mean, if he says what he says, he doesn't -- he likes saying it. What I would like to know, what people really want to know, does he really believe that we shouldn't be sending water there?

MATALIN: Did he say that? Did he say that?

CARVILLE: He said we shouldn't say government aid, we should send private aid.

MATALIN: He did not say we shouldn't send water there.

CARVILLE: Well, that's government aid.

KING: Let me -- I want to move on to this Massachusetts Senate race, which is hugely important. But I do want to make this one point. As you take issue with Rush, I just -- and from my proud position in the middle, what about trying to connect this to the...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I think that Anderson and Sanjay Gupta, I'd much rather be with a network of Anderson and Sanjay Gupta than somebody who comes out and says this has something to do with the health care debate, absolutely. I have no problem with that.

KING: This does have something to do with the health care debate. This, more than anything happening in the country right now, has a lot to do with the health care debate. This is The Washington Examiner. "The president of the United States will go up to Massachusetts today." My first paying job in life was delivering this newspaper, The Boston Herald, to the people of Dorchester, Massachusetts. "Stark choice, Brown-Coakley." This is Ted Kennedy's seat in one of the bluest states in the United States of America, James Carville. I got an e-mail overnight from a Democratic operative up there that said, quote, "we are cooked."

Are the Republicans, a little-known state senator going to take Ted Kennedy's seat? And if so, dramatically complicate the president's effort to pass health care reform?

CARVILLE: Let me tell you something. I was involved in one of these things in 1991 in Pennsylvania. And it could happen. And if it does happen, the last place that I'd want to be is at the Wednesday morning staff meeting in the White House.

Look, we have a country of 10 percent unemployment, there is a lot of anger out there that has manifested. By the same token, I think the president, the new ABC poll has his approval at 53, which was the same where President Reagan was. They lost a bunch of seats in 1982. I remind people we are not going to win three elections in a row.

KING: If the issue is Obama and health care in the race, would you send the president of the United States up there on the final Sunday or would you want to keep him out of it?

CARVILLE: Got to send him up there.

KING: Got to send him.

CARVILLE: Yes, I mean, it looks like -- and by the way, if some way this thing turns around, and I talked to people on the ground in Massachusetts this morning, I talked to people in the White House this morning, and yes, it's a very serious situation. I think more people think we're going to lose than win. But there's some -- there's a slight, slight bit of sense that maybe this thing could come together right at the end.

KING: I want you to come in. But as you do, I want you to listen to a little -- play a little more of this now from Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who can barely contain his glee that you have a competitive race in Massachusetts on the issue of health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SOUND EFFECT)

MCCONNELL: ... outcome Tuesday, we know that in the most liberal state in America, you're going to have a close election for the United States Senate because people in Massachusetts don't want this health care bill to pass.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's about the 60th vote for health care, but it's also about an early test of the mood in this midterm election year.

MATALIN: You know, they once said of Mike Tyson, he hits you so hard he changes the way you taste. If we win a seat in a state that's 12 percent Republican on the signature issue of the Obama agenda, health care, this will change the way politics tastes, even if we don't win -- if we win, it will be apocalyptic for the Democrats. That we got this close is nothing short of cataclysmic. This agenda is going to change.

It's health care, and it's also something you said. It's not the Kennedy seat. The notion of entitlement, the arrogance of jamming down the nation's throat something that two-thirds of them don't want -- not only do two-thirds of them oppose health care, they intensely oppose it. And we're jamming it through paternalistically and saying, well, they'll like it after it's in place. That sense of entitlement, that arrogance, that -- Kennedy's seat, it's the people's seat, it's the people's government. And this is -- this race is emblematic of everything people don't like about the fundamental transformation agenda of this administration.

KING: Let me ask you a question, James Carville. You're a...

CARVILLE: I think if the Republicans think it's already won, I would just say, let's...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Well, let's let the election happen. Let's -- absolutely let's let the election happen, and everybody in Massachusetts, my home state, Democrat, independent, Republican, everybody should get out and vote in this special election.

Let me ask you this question in closing. Long-time Democratic strategist, if Paul Kirk, who is the temporary -- the interim senator right now in that seat, if Brown, the Republican, wins, and wins by a convincing margin, and they try and hurry up and pass health care before they swear the new senator in, does Paul Kirk owe the Democrats his vote or does he owe the people of Massachusetts, if a Republican wins, respect for their decision?

CARVILLE: Well, he is the legally-installed senator from Massachusetts until such time as the new person takes over. Would he take a lot of heat? Would the Democrats take a lot of heat? Yes. This is a political calculation that they would have to make.

KING: If he asked you, James Carville, what should I do, vote yes or say wait?

CARVILLE: I would say as long as you're there, you have a vote. But understand that you're going to take a lot of heat from a lot of people. That's just what you'd have to balance.

MATALIN: More bad advice from Carville. If they slow-walk the certification and they warp speed the vote, that is it. That is it. We will win the House for sure and probably take over the Senate.

CARVILLE: Well, they've already won two, so let's wait and see what happens.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let's wait and see what happens. That's good advice. And we'll share that advice. Let's wait and see what happens, put it aside. I have a lot of friends still at home in Massachusetts, a lot of family members who get to vote in this race. And I can tell you, it's an interesting time in Massachusetts. Thank you, James and Mary.

Up next, a check of today's top headlines. Then more "Sound of Sunday."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Rescue crews in Haiti are finding more people trapped alive under mounds of rubble five days after the earthquake hit. Today a New York rescue team pulled out two men and a girl who were pinned under a collapsed grocery store. Aid continues to arrive there. And the secretary general of the United Nations is surveying the damage today.

In Iraq today, Saddam Hussein's cousin, known as Chemical Ali, was sentenced to death for his role in a poison gas attack in 1998 that killed thousands of Kurds. He's already been sentenced to death three times for other atrocities committed during Saddam Hussein's regime. His execution in those cases has been delayed for political reasons.

President Obama and the first lady are attending a church service in Washington at this hour. The president is expected to make remarks shortly, and we'll carry those live when he does speak.

Those are your top stories here on "State of the Union." Up next, the best political team on television standing by to break down more "Sound of Sunday," including my interview with former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Joining me now in Washington, CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns, senior White House correspondent Ed Henry and senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Let's start with the response to the hurricane. "This is Why Haiti Matters" by Barack Obama, a cover story for Newsweek magazine, the president writing an essay for them on why Haiti matters. You see the earthquake devastation here.

Obviously, this is an urgent humanitarian challenge for the president.

But, Ed henry, they also seem acutely aware that people are watching, perhaps a legacy of the political price President Bush paid for Katrina, tick-tocks on "the president was in this meeting," "he took this call," "he dispatched this person." I want you to listen to Rajiv Shah. He has just been installed as the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development; barely on the job, he has to deal with this challenge.

As he assesses the need, he's also quick to give the boss credit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAH: But the president, immediately after this happened, pulled the Cabinet together and -- and ordered a swift, aggressive and comprehensive and coordinated response, and that's what we've been in the process of doing.

Our goal and our metric of success is really to do more every single day, and exponentially more, in terms of the delivery of services, the delivery of commodities, and especially as we open up these other routes, as we get greater military capabilities and transport and logistical capabilities, and as we secure a real partnership and cooperative working relationship with a range of partners.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I mean, first and foremost is the challenge, the devastation, the humanitarian challenge. I don't want to make any bones about questioning that. But they seem also acutely aware, politically.

HENRY: Yes, because, beyond change, of course, one of the other big issues this president ran on was competence, that had not been on display, they alleged with Katrina, the war on Iraq, mistakes, et cetera, and that government had to be not necessarily bigger -- and we can debate whether it has gotten bigger, because it clearly has -- but it had to be more efficient. And that's one of the things that Barack Obama promised.

So when you talk to top White House aides, they say they learned lessons from Katrina; they want to be all over this, even though it's not even technically on U.S. soil. It's a neighbor. And they want to help.

And, secondly, I would also compare it back to what happened on Christmas Day with the unexpected terror incident. They were caught perhaps a little flat-footed. They faced a lot of criticism. They were maybe slow to react. But then they were very quick to turn it around and say, we're all over it. And they didn't want to have a repeat of what happened on Christmas Day. They wanted to be all over this.

BASH: And I think that you really got to the heart of it when you were asking President George W. Bush about the fact that, right now, politically, in this country, anybody who has even looked at a poll or talked to anybody who could potentially vote knows that there's incredible distrust when it comes to big institutions.

And this is a chance -- a horrible, horrible, reason, but it is a chance for the Obama administration to show that the government can work. And, of course, as you said, it was the ultimate irony that you were talking to George W. Bush about that.

JOHNS: It's also very important for this administration and the country to realize what could happen if they're not on top of this. You have security issues on the ground which are tremendous there, the borders, the border not just with the Dominican Republic, but the fact that people can come to the United States.

And we know the experience, with the Marielitos coming from Cuba; we know the experience of the Haitian boat people. And if we get a mass migration of people in this kind of trouble, the Obama administration could really end up struggling with some very difficult issues.

KING: It's a great point. And you see the powerful pictures out of Haiti. And you also see a powerful image in Washington that I think is a reminder of the gravity of this and maybe the new model.

I'll show our viewers the pictures. When President Obama walks out of the Oval Office yesterday with two gentlemen who worked in that office for eight years apiece -- Bill Clinton served as president for eight years, succeeded by George W. Bush for eight years -- and this appears to be, Dana, the new model, in the sense the current president turning to the former presidents.

You sat down with Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush just after the tsunami. I sat down with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, now, after the hurricane. Whoever is in the Oval Office seems to think this is the way to, A, help raise money, but, B, perhaps insulate yourself a bit, too.

BASH: Absolutely, there's no question. It's -- it allows President Obama and any president to insulate themselves, but also -- I mean, the fact that they have even the opportunity to do that is pretty remarkable. The fact we have so many former presidents who are so young and so active that they're able to -- to form this club -- and it is a club -- and to use them to show it's not just about me, this is not a partisan thing.

BASH: George W. Bush did this very late, of course, after Katrina. It took a while for him to pick -- to call on his father and to call on President Clinton to do this. President Obama is just using Bush's playbook, which I'm sure they don't want to hear at the White House.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: We have seen a lot of Bill Clinton since he left the White House. He has the Clinton Foundation. He has been very active. He's active politically as well.

George W. Bush has largely disappeared, for the last year, by choice. He has chosen not to talk about his successor and not to do too much public speaking -- a little bit, but not too much public speaking. And in the course of the interview yesterday, he made light of that that, that, yes, he was happy to be back in the White House, but...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I frankly don't miss the limelight. I'm glad to help out. But there's life after the presidency, is what I've learned. And I'm going to live it to the fullest. And this is part of living it to the fullest, to help other people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He has always been, like him or dislike him politically, very comfortable in his skin. And it was interesting to see -- he looked a little older, but he looked quite fit. But he was relaxed in the chair.

And, Ed, you -- you know, you covered him for a bit. You know, "I frankly don't miss the limelight."

You know, I think I take him at his word.

(LAUGHTER)

HENRY: I really do as well. And what a dramatic difference from his vice president. I mean, Dick Cheney has been out there. His -- Dick Cheney's daughter has been out there on this program, pushing hard against this administration. It's very clear that George W. Bush will not say it publicly but he disagrees vehemently with his vice president, in terms of getting yourself out there, staying in the limelight.

But I would also note, there's probably another benefit, which is that he's eventually going to have a memoir coming out. And keeping yourself out of the limelight for a while and then flooding it with some media interviews at some time will probably sell a few more books down the road, too.

JOHNS: And the other thing that comes to mind, too, is the juxtaposition of these three presidents. You see George W. Bush and the, sort of, unpopularity that he walked out with. And then you look at Barack Obama and see how his approvals have just, sort of, tanked. And you say, you know, being president is a very tough job.

And then you look at Bill Clinton, you see a president who sent the military, in 1994 -- you were there; I was there -- to Haiti, and now you see a completely different set of challenges for Barack Obama, dealing with the very same country.

So it's, kind of, fascinating watching that interview.

HENRY: Yes, and when President Bush told you that all they really talked about was a briefing on Haiti, I'm not quite sure I believe that. I think they, you know, in fairness to them, they just like to keep the confidence of what really happens in the Oval Office. But these men have such a unique idea of the challenges on terrorism, on Afghanistan, on a tragedy like this in Haiti. And those conversations have to be unbelievable.

KING: And it's a treat when you see the president of the United States -- and having covered Bill Clinton and George W. Bush for so long, it was a treat -- horrible circumstances, but a treat to see both of them again.

And when we come back from the break, I'll pick up on this point. When the interview was over with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, President Bush jumped up to his feet, gave President Clinton a little bit of an elbow and said, "Ask him about Massachusetts."

Why? Because the Republicans think they might be able to win in a Democratic state. We'll pick up there when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with CNN's Joe Johns, Ed Henry and Dana Bash, turning our attention to politics.

The president of the United States will head to Massachusetts this afternoon to campaign in this race. It is the -- to win for the seat once held by the late Edward M. Kennedy. And it is viewed, right now, as a toss-up. And the Republicans believe they have the momentum, in one of the bluest of blue states. Everyone watching this, not only because of the implications for the health care debate but for the signal it sends about the 2010 midterm elections.

Before we get to Massachusetts, our latest national numbers. The CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll, "registered voters' choice for Congress," 48 percent say they plan on voting, right now, for Republicans; 45 percent Democrat. Back in November, those numbers were a little more than flipped, 50 percent for the Democrats back in November, only 44 percent.

So Republicans nationally have momentum. They believe they have momentum in Massachusetts, which is one reason the president of the United States is trying to urge people in Massachusetts, vote for the Democrat, Martha Coakley.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We know where Martha Coakley stands. She'll be your voice and my ally, which is why the opponents of change are pouring money into your state. They believe that, by defeating Martha and replacing Ted Kennedy with her Republican opponent, they'll be in a position to tie up the Senate and prevent a vote on health insurance reform, financial reform and other issues so important to working families of Massachusetts and the nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: So a lot of hyperbole in politics, but what the president just said there, the Republicans believe, if they win this race, they can tie up the Senate, prevent a vote on health care reform and other issues.

That happens to be a fact, right?

BASH: That happens to be a true fact, as they say.

(LAUGHTER)

And, look, the Democratic leadership has been at the White House. They've already been working at breakneck speed to try to find a solution to health care and to come to a deal so they can push it through quickly.

Because, frankly, health care has just gone on too long politically, never mind Massachusetts.

But Massachusetts, even in the past -- we've been talking, you know, among ourselves, over the past several days, the dynamic and the atmosphere and the fear that has now really swept through the Democratic leadership and especially people who are thinking about, oh, wow, how do we deal with health care, is remarkable.

And I've been talking to people this morning, and they say, look, if the reality is that they have a Republican from Massachusetts and they have now 59 seats from -- in the Democratic Party, there is a very likely possibility -- I was told by one person who is focusing on this -- that health care could die, that the options are so limited, if you go through many of the options, which -- it's a little sausage- making this morning, but it is -- that it is possible that that could happen.

HENRY: In terms of that fear, I was told very reliably that a couple of the president's top advisers have told senior Democrats they think Coakley's going to lose.

Now, there may be some hyperbole in that. It may be about scaring the base, you know, turnout, if she's going down. But the way I'm hearing it is that there is real genuine fear inside the White House that she is going to lose. That's going to have dramatic implications, not just on health care but beyond.

Think about the budget fights ahead; think about climate change. Anything else the president wants, without 60 votes -- and I'm told there was a conference call on Thursday night, big Democratic donors, people from the White House, and the donors were screaming that the White House had to get more involved. And the next day they announced the president is going to Massachusetts.

JOHNS: I've heard that Barney Frank, you know, the Congressman we all know from Massachusetts who really knows Massachusetts politics like the back of his hand, has said health care's in real trouble if -- if Martha Coakley loses.

But when you look at this -- you were just talking about the situation on the ground, the environment.

JOHNS: There are a lot of factors here. One of the factors is just trying to fill the shoes of Edward Kennedy. When you have a giant like that walking out the door, sometimes people don't get that enthused, that inspired about the next person down the line.

I'm also told she hasn't helped herself. There are some real questions about whether she is a strong candidate. So, there is a lot involved there besides just, say, health care.

KING: And the Republican, Scott Brown, is running a campaign not unlike the campaigns of Bill Weld, when he ran for governor, and Mitt Romney, when he ran for governor. Two Republicans who were successful in a Democratic state by saying, enough of them, it's time for something different. There is an arrogance to the Democratic Party. They think they know what you want.

So as we watch Massachusetts play out, just to continue the conversation, without a doubt, if the Republican wins, a huge deal. But even just a close race, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, says, sends a message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: The important thing to remember, though, is that this is, in fact, a referendum on the national health care bill which the democrats in secret are trying to work out now. They have arrogantly ignored American public opinion all the way to this point and they're trying to get their members to continue to ignore public opinion one more time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is such a -- if it were not for Haiti, we would be spending this day talking about one year from the Obama Inauguration, and what a change in our political conversation, from a president near 80 percent, a Democratic Party with big majorities and tons of energy, to a Republican Party looking at 2010 and saying, bring it on.

HENRY: Yes, and the president is doubling down, too. Because now he's going to be there on the ground today. Democrats will be able to crow if he helps Martha Coakley pull it out and say, look, he has still got some staying power, but what if she loses despite all of this pushing?

BASH: Yes, and look, Mitch McConnell is right. There is no question, they would not be anywhere near this situation in the state of Massachusetts, I can't emphasize that enough, that a Democrat could lose, but talking to people on the ground I know that I have been talking to, they say that one of the big issues is her and the knives are out for her specifically. And they feel like she is a bad candidate.

And I just want to say, one thing she said in the past couple of days, she said that Curt Schilling is a Yankees fan. Now...

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Now let me just say that I am just simply just married to a diehard Red Sox fan and I'm not trying to represent a whole state of them in the Senate, I even know that.

(CROSSTALK)

HENRY: ... leads Red Sox Nation. This means the Yankees are back, I'm happy.

BASH: And by the way, Curt Schilling, who -- for people who may not know, was a former player for the Red Sox, he is going to be campaigning for Scott Brown. But I actually -- since you're a Massachusetts boy, I know that you have been making calls up there, what are you hearing?

KING: I got an e-mail from a Democratic operative last night that said, quote, "we are cooked." Other Democrats are not quite so dire. But it is a remarkably close race and, again, in a state that is so -- the DNA of Massachusetts, you would think, is to vote Democratic. But it has done this before when voters are upset.

There are more independents, unenrolled voters in Massachusetts right now than there are Democrats or Republicans. So this can happen. And I should bring in -- maybe next week we'll bring in for the "Sound of Sunday," there are six King siblings in Massachusetts who get to vote in this election. I don't get to vote in this election, but there are six Kings up there who do and I'll do a little focus group there.

But what is the message here? If it's a nationalized election, is the president making the right call to go or does that further nationalize it or do you figure no choice?

JOHNS: Well, it's fascinating, he has to go no matter what happens with Coakley because if he doesn't go, he wasn't able to affect the conversation at all. It would be -- it would look terrible if the president didn't do this, especially with the 60 votes in the Senate hanging in the balance.

On the other side of the equation, is he going to get blamed or are people going to say, well, it's just that mid-term effect, you know, now that we're moving into the time when the disaffected voters are more likely to go to the polls? Which is sort of -- the suggestion is...

(CROSSTALK) KING: Got to call a quick time-out here because we're standing by. President Obama is at a church service in Washington. We'll carry him live. In the meantime, got to sneak in a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You're looking there at a Sunday service at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church here in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. As you can see, the president of the United States among those on hand for the service, the first lady, Michelle Obama, as well. The president will speak in just a short time. And when he delivers those remarks, we'll bring them to you live.

And we should make this programming footnote because of that, we're going to continue our conversation here with Joe Johns, Ed Henry, and Dana Bash. We will not go to the traditional STATE OF THE UNION format at the top of the hour. We'll continue our conversation until we hear from the president of the United States.

We were talking a bit before the break about health care reform and also before that about the uniqueness of having the two former presidents come in to help President Obama raise money. And it is a very serious cause. They want to raise now tens of millions of dollars, as much as they can, to help the people of Haiti.

But it's also an interesting moment to see these two very different men. Both former governors, both southerners, if you think of Texas as in the South, anyway. And alike more ways than many people might think, even though they're so different ideologically. All of us Sunday hosts got to interview the two former presidents. And Bob Schieffer, in his own Texas folksy way, said, are you guys friends?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB SCHIEFFER, HOST, "FACE THE NATION": Do you think of yourself now as friends?

BUSH: Yes, I do.

CLINTON: Me too.

SCHIEFFER: And did you talk often?

BUSH: I don't know about often. But I did -- I called him. He didn't call me because he knows how busy a president is. I called him and we chatted on occasion.

CLINTON: I was always pleased when he called me. I tried -- I'd make it a practice never to bother the president. I don't call President Obama, either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So if you're the current president, you're allowed to call the former president, but if you're the former president, you're not allowed to call the current president, if I read the code right.

BASH: The rules of fight club are you don't talk about fight club.

(LAUGHTER)

HENRY: Yes, I'm not sure, you know, everyone agrees with President Clinton's view of it because sometimes he is seen as meddling a little bit. He seems to be casting it as, he likes to stay out of the limelight, we'll see if that holds true for the next year or so.

But I do think in fairness to them, you know, I think for someone like President Obama, you can get as close to the unvarnished truth from two people like this more so than almost any other person who can advise you, because they have been through this.

They know about the noise from the media. They know about the noise from your own party's base. And they know sometimes you have just got to make some tough decisions that a lot of people in the country are not going to happy about. And frankly, that has happened very often in this first year for Barack Obama that maybe has defined the first year.

Having to send over 50,000 more troops to Afghanistan, something he didn't expect to do, having to, you know, take over some of the auto companies, things like that have really beaten down his popularity. And year number two is largely going to have to be about recalibrating to maybe bring back some of that popularity heading into this midterm election.

JOHNS: It's also fascinating, when you look at these three presidents and the two that you were in the room there with, the notion that, when we read about them and we look at their histories, Americans out in the country might sometimes get this, sort of, cartoonish view of them on the right or the left, the talking points and so on.

But these are people who have a very different perspective when you sit down and look at them and understand how they could very well relate.

Of course, I've spent more time talking, personally, with President George W. Bush than I ever did with Bill Clinton, but it's really interesting to -- to just catch the dynamic of that little conversation you had with them. It was -- it was amazing.

KING: Right, and the three of them are interesting politicians when in a church setting, all of them familiar in a church setting. And sometimes they sound very different in the Oval Office or the Rose Garden than they do when standing in a church pulpit.