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Interview With John Brennan; Interview With Senators Nelson, Shelby

Aired May 9, 2010 - 09:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: This was the week of cliffhangers. It took authorities 53 hours to capture the alleged Times Square bomber with no time to spare. Federal agents were moving in on his apartment just as he was getting on a plane at Kennedy Airport. Lose even a few minutes and he would have been headed for Dubai.

In the Gulf of Mexico, it is still a cliff hanger. B.P. is placing a heavy bet on crews working with a four-story containment dome. If it works, the oil leak may not be the catastrophe we fear. But word now is it's not working and if it fails, catastrophe is the word.

All on a week when the stock market took a dive that turned stomachs. What's happened to finance reforms, immigration and energy policy?

Today, one of the president's top counter terrorism advisors, John Brennan, then, two Gulf Coast senators, Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama and Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People all up and down the Gulf Coast are in an absolute panic right now.


CROWLEY: And we look at the politics of it all with Chris Cillizza and Amy Walter. I'm Candy Crowley and this is "State of the Union."

Faisal Shahzad was just minutes away from escaping the United States when authorities took him off the plane. One word cropped up again and again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Number one, for the second time, we were lucky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Being lucky can't be our national security strategy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, we were lucky and I think it was good police work. It was a combination of them both.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), OHIO: Yes, we've been lucky but luck is not an effective strategy for fighting the terrorist threat.


CROWLEY: Joining me now is John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism. Welcome after a really busy week, I know.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Catch us up to date on the case of Faisal Shahzad. Have you found a link between this alleged Times Square bomber and any terrorist groups? BRENNAN: Well Candy, first of all I want to wish a happy mother's day to all the mothers out there, many of them serving on the front lines in defense of this country. Also, happy mother's day to my wife and mother.

The case is still involving, ongoing investigation. Mr. Shahzad is in custody. He is being cooperative as far as responding to our questions. It looks like he was working on behalf of the Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan, the TTP, as the Pakistan Taliban. This is a group that is closely allied with al Qaeda. They have been responsible for a number of attacks in Pakistan against Pakistani targets as well as U.S. targets. But this is something that we're taking very seriously. The investigation is ongoing. We are learning more and more every day.

CROWLEY: Well, this is scary then, because what you are telling me is that the Pakistan Taliban has moved from sort of a regional target, reaching into the United States. What is our counter to that?

BRENNAN: Well the TTP has been training with, operating with, planning attacks with al Qaeda for a number of years. It was formed several years ago. It is dedicated to the same type of agenda that al Qaeda has, which is a murderous one, to kill innocent civilians. They have operated inside of Pakistan. They have pledged to carry out attacks in other areas of the world, including the United States here. So I think what this incident underscores is the serious threat that we face from a very determined enemy. And we have to remain very vigilant. And we have to do everything in our power to prevent them from carrying out successful attacks.

CROWLEY: So far, you know, you could say we have been lucky. We have been talking about the Christmas Day attempted bombing aboard the airline, we're talking about this Times Square. These were people who did not put together effective bombs.

So in that sense, we were lucky. Aren't you dealing now with if there is a 12-person conspiracy and they are running around the United States, you have 12 different shots of getting some kind of information -- if it is one person with a backpack or with a car with explosives in it, how can you prevent all of those from happening? You can't, can you? BRENNAN: It is a very difficult challenge. And because of our success in degrading the capabilities of these terrorist groups overseas, preventing them from carrying out these attacks, they now are relegated to trying to do these unsophisticated attacks showing that they have inept capabilities in training. So this is a challenge that every day, we have to remain on our guard. They are trying to find vulnerabilities in our defenses. And we have been very, very successful because of the tremendously courageous and brave work that Americans are doing throughout the world.

CROWLEY: Was Shahzad trained do you think or taught how to put together a bomb in Pakistan? Is it looking like that?

BRENNAN: He has trouble back and forth in Pakistan a number of times over the years. He returned to the United States in February. And it is again looking like the TTP was responsible for this attempt, that he had worked with the TTP over the past number of months when he was in Pakistan. But again, this is an ongoing investigation. We're trying to learn as much as we can. Pakistani authorities have been very cooperative with us. And so we are sharing information with them. But we are determined to uncover all of the different elements of this plot and those who are responsible.

CROWLEY: Are there other Shahzads out there? Are they in the United States? I mean, this was an American citizen that was a naturalized citizen. Are there others like him out there similarly trained with that kind of connection?

BRENNAN: I think over the last six or eight months, we have seen Najibullah Zazi, David Headley, these are individuals who have roots in that region who travel back and forth. And I think it shows at al Qaeda, the TTP and other groups are trying to take advantage of individuals who may have been able to come here to the United States, in some instances like Mr. Shahzad, acquire U.S. citizenship and exploit them for their agendas. This is something we have to remain on guard against and we are doing that every day.

CROWLEY: And how do you do that though? This seems to me so difficult. You are talking about one person who may be an American citizen.

BRENNAN: Yes and that's why we have this redundant security perimeters and capabilities in place. We were able to stop Mr. Shahzad before he was able to leave the country. Tremendous work by FBI, law enforcement, homeland security to identify who was responsible for the attempted act in Times Square, find that individual and stop him before he was able to leave this country in the span of a little over two days.

So this was I think a remarkable illustration of how capable now our system is. After 9/11, there has been some tremendous work done, in the previous administration as well as in this administration. And so what we have put in place is a system where we have the capabilities to stop people overseas. If they are able to come into the United States, also find them. CROWLEY: What about al-Awlaki? Have you been able to find any connection between Shahzad and al-Awlaki? And what can you do about a person who uses the Internet basically to reach out to some of these people and tell them to go ahead and do things like this?

BRENNAN: Well the Internet now is the arena that that terrorist groups are trying to exploit to propagate their message, to reach out, to identify individuals, recruit them, contact them. And so Mr. al- Awlaki has been over the past number of years, spewing a lot of this venom internationally via the Internet. And his messages are resonating with some individuals, unfortunately, who also adhere to this distorted agenda.

CROWLEY: Well he's had exchanged e-mails with at least two of the people that we know of that have made attempts here in the U.S. BRENNAN: We know that there are a number of people who have reached out with Mr. al-Awlaki and Mr. al-Awlaki has been in contact with him.

CROWLEY: How about Shahzad?

BRENNAN: Well, we're still looking at all of the information that is now becoming available to us. But Mr. al-Awlaki has been able to, through his sermons on the Internet, and his rhetoric, to have this appeal to this group of individuals who have unfortunately been attracted to this very distorted and perverse Islamic message that is anything but Islamic. It is just a murderous agenda.

CROWLEY: Other than killing him, there is no way to stop this Internet connection?

BRENNAN: Well, we are working very closely with the Yemeni officials. I returned from Yemen last week. I've been out there about three times since I've come into this position. We are working with them. We are trying to build up their capacity so they can attack this threat that they have within their own borders. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is targeting not just United States but also targeting Yemeni officials, Saudis and others. And this is something that we are very concerned about it. But we are getting good cooperation from the Yemenis.

CROWLEY: Two quick questions in our final moments here. One, motivation, has Shahzad talked about that? Was it indeed drone attacks, the loss of civilian life as they seem to think some of these drones have done?

BRENNAN: What we have been able to understand so far is that he was captured by this murderous rhetoric of al Qaeda and the TTP that looks at the United States as an enemy. And what we are trying to do is to determine now exactly who helped him, who worked with him and making sure that we are able to uncover and then to address successfully these individuals who are trying to carry out other attacks. Making a lot of progress, I'm confident that we are going to make additional progress and uncover those individuals who collaborated with them.

CROWLEY: Do you see more arrests inside the United States? BRENNAN: I see that there's an ongoing investigation that is uncovering information that will help us understand what we faced in Times Square and what else might be out there still.

CROWLEY: And final question, why is there not a kind of Amber Alert? You were out there in a dragnet looking for Shahzad over a very intense period of time. Why is there not something that could alert the ticket tellers at the airport, the train stations. Look, we are looking for a guy with this name and this basic description, instead of asking airlines to update their information every two hours?

BRENNAN: Well, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did push out a lot of information to law enforcement officials throughout the country. This was happening in a very fast-paced environment. We were able to get his name on the no-fly list. And because of the system that's been put in place, we were able to find him, get him, and prevent him from leaving the country. So again, it was a success.

CROWLEY: Right. Just barely, though. Shouldn't there be in place some sort of mechanism that you could immediately alert people? And this was a guy, after all, who paid cash for a one-way ticket to Pakistan in the final minutes.

BRENNAN: Well, that's right, in the final minutes, and so we acted very quickly in those final minutes. And again, we were working on a very compressed time period here, so things were moving very quickly. There were a lot of people involved in this. We didn't know where he was in the United States. Could have moved in any number of directions. So I think what this demonstrates is that the system was able to push information out and take appropriate action.

CROWLEY: John Brennan, counterterrorism adviser and homeland security adviser for the president, thank you so much for joining us.

BRENNAN: Thank you very much, Candy.

CROWLEY: Up next, we will talk about the Times Square bomb plot as well as the latest on the massive oil spill with two Gulf state senators.


CROWLEY: Welcome back to "State of the Union," I'm Candy Crowley. Joining me now from his home state of Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and from his home state of Alabama, Republican Senator Richard Shelby. Thanks both. I want start with you, Senator Shelby about what we are now learning from the White House. They strongly suspect and believe that the Times Square bomber had ties to the Taliban in Pakistan. This seems to me to be a whole new front in the war on terrorism.

SHELBY: Candy, I believe you are absolutely right. This expands our concern and our challenge, because if Pakistan and a lot of people are safe havens there for training of terrorists and we are finding that out, we've got another big road to go down.

CROWLEY: Senator Nelson, what does this mean for U.S./Pakistani relations? I mean, if they will not go into these areas where the training is taking place, is the U.S. justified in going in?

NELSON: The Pakistani government is increasingly aggressive on this because they are finally realizing that their whole government is threatened by this. But the underlying problem here is that young men are being radicalized and that's not only young men that live in other countries.

But that now we see young men that live in our own country and that are American citizens. And that's one of the biggest problems that we've got to try to nip in the bud in order to protect ourselves on a constant basis every day.

CROWLEY: Well Senator Shelby, isn't that -- that to me is the problem. It's one thing if you have a grand conspiracy involving 12 people and three planes. It is another thing if you can get a single person and fund them and bring them into the U.S. and send them to a random mall or Times Square or whatever. Isn't it really now down to a matter of luck or is there something in U.S. policy that can change, that will protect against this new threat?

SHELBY: Well I don't know if we can -- we can do everything we can to protect. But there will be some things that will slip up on us no matter what. But you are absolutely right. They're not big groups now that are doing the work, at least not trying to carry out the terrorist attacks as we see. But look at the Christmas Day thing that came into Detroit. He was by himself. We were lucky there. We were very lucky in New York, an individual. So if they keep doing this and they fan out all over the country, we are going to have deep, deep challenges ahead in terrorism work.

CROWLEY: Senator Nelson, does something need to change in U.S. anti-terrorism policy to confront this new front in the war?

NELSON: Well, it is changing daily. We are continuing to tighten the noose on al Qaeda which is over in Pakistan and being successful. Number three, number four, number five don't have a very long life longevity.

But getting back to this radicalization, we're going to have to have clerics who understand true Islam help us in teaching what is the accurate teachings of the Koran. Because when these guys are told to go blow themselves up and go blow innocent civilians up, that's not what the Koran teaches.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, were you satisfied with the way the entire Times Square event played out in terms of how the administration and local law enforcement responded?

SHELBY: Well basically, we were all lucky, very lucky. But as Ben said before, luck shouldn't be in our policy. We've got to be more diligent. We've got to do more training. We've got to realize that individuals are dangerous by themselves, especially when they have had training. The fact that a lot of people weren't killed on Times Square or in Times Square or also on the plane Christmas Day, we are very fortunate there. But something is going to happen and we are not going to be so fortunate, so we've got to be more diligent. We've got to recognize it's not just big groups or lots of people on one hit day, it's individuals spread out all over the country.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, Senator Nelson, let me pause right here. We have to take a quick break but when we come back, we are going to talk about that oil spill in the Gulf.


CROWLEY: Yesterday, a significant setback in the battle to contain the oil in the Gulf. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had been hopeful about B.P.'s latest effort.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We should know by the end of the weekend whether it is successful or not.


CROWLEY: Thursday night, workers began lowering a concrete and steel box from the deck of the supply boat, Joe Griffin. B.P. describes this as lowering a four-story building a mile down and setting it on the head of a pin.

That, in fact, was accomplished, Friday night. The plan was to then attach a pipe to be used to pump the oil to tankers on the surface, thereby recapturing 85 percent of what's leaking. But in fact, ice-like crystals formed in the containment vessel clogging it up and making it too buoyant. They have now moved the dome away. The oil continues to spew. B.P. said Saturday, it needs 48 hours to study the problem.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I wouldn't say it's failed yet. What I would say is what we attempted to do last night didn't work because these hydrates plugged up the top of the dome.


CROWLEY: We will talk about this with Senators Nelson and Shelby in a moment.


CROWLEY: We are back with Florida Senator Bill Nelson and Alabama Senator Richard Shelby. First to you, Senator Nelson. We are looking at this -- it's not even an oil spill in the Gulf, it is an oil gusher in the Gulf which keeps going and creating this huge spill that's coming toward the Gulf Coast and may eventually hit Florida.

What I'm wondering is and what I want to play for you first, talking about the damage that might be done and who might be responsible for it. This is an interview with our David Mattingly and the CEO of B.P.


TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BRITISH PETROLEUM: We are the responsible party. We are going to clean this up, fully and completely. And we have said very clearly where there are legitimate claims for business interruption, then we will be good for them.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Legitimate claims for long- term, short-term.

HAYWARD: Legitimate claims.

MATTINGLY: How many years are you prepared to pay fishermen for a bad catch?

HAYWARD: I said legitimate claims.


CROWLEY: So does that reassure you whatever damage might come to Florida in terms of tourism or fishing will be covered by B.P.?

NELSON: No. If they get this thing contained in the next few days, that's one thing. And maybe what he said would be true. But if this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf Coast and it's going to get down into the loop current and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida.

And you are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, to our fisheries, very possibly disruption of our military testing and training, which is in the Gulf of Mexico. And so when I pressed the B.P. CEO on that statement that you just played, his response was above his limited liability of $75 million, which is the statute, he says, well, we will have to work that out.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, there is a move in part from Senator Nelson to kind of raise the limit of liability that B.P. would have for this. It's now at $75 million. So is that doable in the law? It sounds to me likes ex post facto, like changing the law in the middle of something happening.

SHELBY: Well you raise that point and that's a good one. On the other hand, B.P. is responsible for this. And responsibility covers everything, not just a limit on it like the law says today. I'm sure there are ways to get around this. A lot of this could have been prevented. I don't know where the regulators were on this. They certainly were asleep.

Secondly, where is B.P.? Were they trying to do this on the cheap? This reminds me in a sense like a big truck on the Los Angeles freeway with no brakes. In other words, no safety. You know if you don't have this backup safety, one, two, three, whatever it is, sooner or later, there could be a gusher as you say, oil all over the Gulf. It's still pumping every day by the thousands of barrels. This is going to do irreparable damage to our marine life and our beaches and our way of life. And if we don't stop it, let's hope and pray that this dome works. If it doesn't work, I don't know where we go.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, let me ask you -- I'm going to put this to both of you. First, to Senator Shelby, since you brought it up. It always gets down to this. Whether it is Wall Street or oil companies, Capitol Hill says, where were the regulators and why wasn't there a regulation? But you all are in charge of the regulators, aren't you? So can't we ask, where was the U.S. Senate, where was the House of Representatives? Why didn't they see this coming?

SHELBY: Well, we are not in charge of the regulators. We have oversight of the regulators. The Executive Branch is in charge of the regulators.

CROWLEY: But, you know, it doesn't take much to see that it is possible that oil could leak when you've got an oil rig in the ocean. Couldn't there have been hearings saying well exactly what sort of safety measures do you have? How do you know they are working? I mean, there weren't those kind of hearings? Now we have 12 hearings coming up. But it is after the fact.

SHELBY: Candy, you make a good point. This should have been done long ago, every step. We get about 30 percent of our oil now out of the Gulf. We have hundreds of drilling platforms now. There will probably be more. But we should never sacrifice safety, safety of our marine life, safety of our people, safety of everything to something on the cheap. This was probably done to save money and look where we are today.

CROWLEY: Senator Nelson, the same question to you. Where was the U.S. Congress on this?

NELSON: Well you are exactly right, Candy. Big oil wants its way. They have been trying to bully their way to drill off the coast of Florida, had the Florida legislature going to let them drill three miles off the coast of Florida in state waters.

Big oil has had its way among the regulators. There has been a cozy relationship between the regulators and MMS. You remember all those stories back in the mid part of this past decade. Sex parties, all kinds of trips.

CROWLEY: But shouldn't Congress have some responsibility?

CROWLEY: That's what I'm getting at--

NELSON: You are doggone right, Candy. You are doggone right. That's exactly right. And that's what a number of us have been calling for. And we could never get to first base, because big oil would flex its muscle and call in its votes, and we could never get anything done. And tragically, it is going to take this disastrous oil spill to finally clamp down on them.

CROWLEY: Senator Shelby, last one to you. Has big oil bought its way into easy regulations?

SHELBY: Well, it's a good point that you make. I hope not, but big oil is there, and we should never, ever drill anywhere where there is not backup of safety many times. And this could have been prevented in the Gulf.

CROWLEY: Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, Florida Senator Bill Nelson, I thank you both for being here. Have a good weekend.

NELSON: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: Coming up, we turn to politics and look ahead to some key primaries that could offer some hints on what to expect in November. Chris Cillizza and Amy Walter are next.


CROWLEY: We are going to turn to some hot Senate primary races with our political panel next. So here is a quick primer. In Utah, one of the Senate's most conservative senators, Robert Bennett, a three-term incumbent, lost his bid to be the Republicans' nominee in the November elections. And May 18th, there are some other primaries giving heartburn to veteran lawmakers.

In Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, a senator for 30 years. He's up against Congressman Joe Sestak. Sestak routinely reminds state Democrats that Specter was a Republican until about a year ago. President Obama is expected to campaign for Specter next week. And Specter can use a boost. The latest polls show it's too close to call.

Senator Blanche Lincoln is seeking her third term as the Democratic senator from Arkansas, but she is in a hot primary race with the more liberal Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter. Lincoln spent five times more than she raised in April, and President Obama has endorsed her. A Mason-Dixon poll released this week shows Lincoln with a 12-point lead over Halter.

And there is an open race in Kentucky's Republican primary, where Senator Jim Bunning is retiring. He supports Tea Party favorite Rand Paul. Paul is the son of former Republican presidential candidate and Texas Congressman Ron Paul. A recent poll shows the younger Paul up by 12 points over Trey Grayson. Grayson, seen as the establishment candidate, was endorsed by Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.

Can these anti-establishment candidates pull it off? And if they do, can they win in November? Questions for our political panel, the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Hotline's Amy Walter, next.


CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, Chris Cillizza, author of the Washington Post blog The Fix, a must-read, and managing editor of And Amy Walter, editor in chief of the Hotline, yet another must-read. You guys keep me busy in the morning. I want to first play you Robert Bennett. I mean, this is just astonishing to me that Robert Bennett, senator for 18 years, won't even be his party's nominee in his state. I just want to play a little bit from last night.


SEN. ROBERT BENNETT (R), UTAH: The political atmosphere obviously has been toxic. And it's very clear that some of the votes that I have cast have added to the toxic environment.


CROWLEY: In particular, his vote for TARP, his bank bailout.

CILLIZZA: You know, TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program -- I can't believe I got that right.


CILLIZZA: Thank you. Do I get extra points? That one I think is what kind of crystallized it. There were a lot of other things. Health care, immigration, his seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee. None of those things sat well with conservative voters, but TARP has really become a touchstone. We can talk about in some of the other races too, Candy, but Kentucky, it is a touchstone. It's really -- in Texas, the governor's race, Rick Perry labeled Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison "Kay Bailout," because she supported TARP. So it's really, for fiscal conservatives, for the Tea Party movement, that's become the rallying cry that the establishment -- even the Republican establishment is broken.

WALTER: And it says also so much more about -- this wasn't necessarily an ideological issue as much as it was a Washington issue, which goes to the TARP piece, number one. And number two, that Bennett was known as somebody who actually could work with the other side. The fact that he actually reached out to Ron Wyden on health care was considered by many of the folks in this room, you know, really a traitorous act.

And we also have to remember that this was 3,500 delegates. This was not the broad electorate here, and I think that really -- when we sort of go through all the rubble of this election, what we're going to come to the conclusion is that the primary process itself is responsible for all this polarization we see in politics. You cannot run, not even as a moderate, but even as somebody who is willing to say, you know what, maybe somebody has a good idea that's on the other side. For that, you will lose.

CROWLEY: Does that work equally on both sides?

WALTER: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: We've always talked about oh, if you're a Democrat, you've got to run to the left in the primary; if you are a Republican, run to the right. Are there Democrats -- I mean, you know, let's immediately talk about Arkansas.

CILLIZZA: Right. Absolutely. In Arkansas, you have Blanche Lincoln, who is a moderate within her party, has been skeptical of some of the things that the president has pushed, facing a challenge from her ideological left from Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter.

Now, Bill Halter in many ways is kind of the vessel for liberal interest groups to run. His record may be a little ideologically to the left, but he's -- this is not someone who is a down-the-line liberal.


CILLIZZA: Right, liberal in Arkansas is conservative in Connecticut. You're right.

WALTER: Exactly.

CILLIZZA: This is not somebody who fits that mold, but he is someone who's gotten millions of dollars from labor groups who do not like Blanche Lincoln. Her opposition to Employee Free Choice Act being one big thing. This is someone who has supported, and as a result, she is in a real primary.

The irony here is, though, of course is if she wins the primary, she is actually not that terribly positioned -- still a tough race -- but not that terribly positioned, because she is the moderate in this primary. You can't be a liberal Democrat and get elected in Arkansas.

CROWLEY: So I mean with the polarization, are we looking at a Tea Party problem? Are we looking at a policy problem or are we looking at an incumbent problem?

WALTER: I think it is absolutely an incumbent problem. I sat down with a Democratic pollster the other day and said that's really the issue. You cannot even underestimate the disgust that voters have with anything Washington.

CROWLEY: I feel like everyone says this a lot and then they all run out and vote for their guys.

WALTER: That's right. It's still tough. Remember, this last week, we had primaries where the establishment candidate, now there were some incumbents who won, who had challenges. Dan Burton in Indiana had I think it was a seven-way race, but he won 30 percent. That's the point -- no incumbents lost last week. So this coming, the 18th, we will see whether Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania, Blanche Lincoln, will survive tough primary contests.

CILLIZZA: One quick thing, Candy, to go back to Utah. Jim Matheson, just to show this isn't just a Republican. Jim Matheson, the Utah Democratic Party had their convention, too. Got them a lot less fanfare. Jim Matheson, a very strong, second district congressman, he is in having to go to a primary because he didn't get 60 percent of the vote. So there is a level of unrest that exists. They always say if you have rep, sen or gov before your name, regardless of what the latter is after, you are probably in trouble.

CROWLEY: Chris Cillizza and Amy Walter, stick with us. More politics when we come back.


CROWLEY: We are back with Chris Cillizza from "The Washington Post" and "The Hotline's" Amy Walter. Let's wrap up one of the May 18th primaries. Pennsylvania is such a great race.

CILLIZZA: People like Amy and I have been waiting for months for this to become the race it finally is. You know, when Arlen Specter switched parties last spring, Joe Sestak got in. We thought gosh, this was going to be a great race, party switcher.

Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter switched from Republican Democratic last year, has the support of the White House, has the support of Labor. Joe Sestak waited a very long time to go on television. This is a Philadelphia area congressman elected in 2006.

He waited, waited, waited. Now, he is on TV at significant levels. He is running an ad that I would urge, if you have not watched it, you should watch it. It not only has George W. Bush supporting Arlen Specter, back then a Republican. It also has a very brutal quote from Arlen Specter when he switched parties, essentially saying that he did so out of political opportunism, the exact wrong message.

CROWLEY: I thought that would come back.

WALTER: It revolves back around to the issue is not so much that Arlen Specter switched or is Arlen Specter a true Democrat. Because he still has high approval ratings from Democrats and he has the support of the president and that's going to be an interesting question here which is how much pull does the president have in a Democratic primary, a close Democratic primary?

But the bigger issue for voters is that quote that Chris is referring to where he says basically, yes, I couldn't win, so I switched parties. The only person he was looking out for was himself and not for the folks.

CROWLEY: An incumbent.

CILLIZZA: Absolutely right, which goes to everything we were talking about in the last segment. That's exactly what you don't want.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to a couple of other subjects and the politics of them. First of all, we had Brennan on at the top of the show who said, yes, it looks like there is a tie here to the Taliban in Pakistan. This has the power to change an election, not this right now but moving forward.

WALTER: We talk about elections as if they are going to happen tomorrow even though we always say, well, a lot can change between now and November. Now the trajectory we are on right now suggests very bad November.

For Democrats, the economy is not going to suddenly explode in a positive way between now and November. The one issue we don't know anything about of course is terrorism and traditionally, what we know is that in a time of crisis where the United States is under pressure from outside forces, we turn inward and things like incumbency are no longer so bad because we don't want to rock the boat in a time where people are feeling very anxious about our safety.

CILLIZZA: It is kind of a lurking political issue in its way. You know if you look at a poll that asks people, you know, what are your priorities, what's important, it's going to be economy, jobs, health care, immigration might sneak in there. Terrorism is going to be down there in the 3, 4, 5 percent.

The issue, Candy, is when it is put in front of us in a real way like the Times Square attempted bombing, it changes the way people perceive things, particularly if that happened anywhere near an election. All of the sudden, it reorients itself because again, the president has said this, every president since September 11th has said this. My priority is keeping the homeland safe. There is a reason that you say that. It's because that's what the American people prioritize over everything else.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. Let me also ask you about, we are going to get a Supreme Court nominee perhaps as early as tomorrow. Is this a big, old fight or does it really depend on whose coming or did the Republicans want to make -- it's a great way to get out the vote?

WALTER: Well listen, they want to make it a fight. Now it is a long way out from the election so I think it is more about fundraising, right. You can motivate the base in that way. I expect that we are going to see the same old partisan lines. And if we learn anything from the Bennett situation on Saturday, don't expect any Republican to support whoever the president puts forward because that will be one of those things that can be used against you in a primary.

CILLIZZA: I would argue that everything that happens in politics has to do with campaigns. Some people would say that is a myopic view. I can assure you however in an even-numbered year like this one, this will be freighted with politics.

Judges motivate the Republican base much more than the Democratic base, as Amy points out. There are interest groups on both sides of this who have it in their interest for there to be a fight because that's what they exist for. My guess is President Obama wants to pick someone that has the least probability of making a fight, because he knows an already excited Republican base doesn't need another poke in the eye to go out and vote against Democrats in the fall.

CROWLEY: Let me move you on to the oil gusher coming out. Is an energy bill dead, done, not going to happen this year?

WALTER: I cannot see that happening this year.

CILLIZZA: I revert back to my -- everything that happens in an election year is political. An energy bill after the health care vote, which many House and Senate members didn't want to take this year, they had to take this year -- the idea that they are going to vote on a somewhat controversial energy bill, it seemed to be to always be a long shot.

WALTER: But they can always find a way to turn it back around to what they want to talk about, which is Charlie Crist now having the opportunity in Florida saying, let's call a special session to look at drilling. Because remember, he supported it, then did not support it and then was against it and then was for it. So he can come back again.

CROWLEY: Keeping an Independent from being a Republican. Certainly, there cannot be a comprehensive energy bill that includes drilling in the ocean?

WALTER: Absolutely not. CROWLEY: Chris Cillizza, Amy Walter, thank you both very much.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: Up next, a chat of today's top headlines. Then --


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: That my own mommy has done for me. This is my mommy.


CROWLEY: Michelle Obama on Mother's Day.


CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley and this is State of the Union. Let's check some of the stories developing this Sunday.

White House Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan told me earlier this hour that authorities believe the Pakistani Taliban was behind last week's attempted Times Square bombing. Brennan said the failed attack underscores the serious threat the U.S. faces from a very determined enemy.

And former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke is warning that a successful terrorist attack against the U.S. is inevitable, and he says the country is not prepared.


RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM CZAR: This guy was almost successful. He just got the design of the bomb a little wrong. The guy on Christmas Day just got his bomb a little wrong.

We are going to have one of these attacks succeed, and I think what we have to start talking about now as a nation is what our reaction is going to be. Because the last time, 9/11 happened and we panicked. I panicked, everyone did. We overreacted. And in many ways, the things that we did were counterproductive. Other things we did were wasteful. Some things we did destroyed our own values system.


CROWLEY: You can watch the full interview with Richard Clarke at the top of the hour on "Fareed Zakaria: GPS."

Transatlantic and European flights faced further disruptions this morning as an ash crowd hovering over the ocean has limited visibility, closed airports across Spain, Italy and Scotland. Some flights were diverted around the cloud, and officials expect the affected areas to clear throughout the day. The problem began last month, when a volcano in Iceland erupted, sending ash into the atmosphere, virtually shutting down Europe's airspace for six days.

The NTSB is looking at what caused a Staten Island ferry to crash into a pier Saturday morning, injuring at least 36 people. Officials say the vessel had a mechanical failure and they will examine the maintenance records. Routine alcohol tests on crew members came back negative. The fairy is the same one involved in a 2003 crash that killed 11 people. The ship underwent multimillion dollar renovation before it was returned to service.

Top political rivals in Britain are meeting this morning in an attempt to resolve a deadlocked national election that failed to produce a clear winner. Members of the Liberal Democrats and Conservative parties are trying to hammer out differences on voting reform and foreign policy issues in order to form a coalition government. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose Labour Party lost its majority in Thursday's election, has said his party is willing to form a coalition.

President Obama delivers a commencement address this morning at the historically black college Hampton University in Virginia. It is his second commencement address this graduation season. Mr. Obama is expected to emphasize the importance of education and good citizenship. We will bring you the latest on his remarks in the next hour.

And those are your top stories here on State of the Union. Up next, our Mother's Day message from the White House.


CROWLEY: We close with our "American Dispatch," with the first lady at a White House Mother's Day tea. How do you adequately show appreciation for what a mother has done?


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: When you think about it and try to do the math, I mean, do 10 or 20 sleepless nights during high school equal a bouquet of flowers? Maybe some chocolates or a brunch? I don't know. I don't know. (LAUGHTER)

See, the mothers with teenagers really laughed at that one.


I don't quite know that yet.

This is my mommy. And she has always, always, always been there for me. And as our family have grown, she's managed to expand her love for all of us.

And raising our girls in the White House with my mom, oh, not going to do this -- is a beautiful experience. And the opportunity to have three generations living in the White House, it's beautiful, and I'm pretty sure the president's happy about it, too.



CROWLEY: Thanks for watching State of the Union. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. For our international viewers, "World Report" is next. For everyone else, "Fareed Zakaria: GPS" starts right now.