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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY
Arizona Congresswoman Targeted by Gunman
Aired January 9, 2011 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: I'm Candy Crowley and this is a special State of the Union. Today Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is fighting for her life. The Arizona Democrat was apparently the target of a gunman who shot 18 people, six fatally at a public forum Giffords was holding yesterday at a Tucson grocery store. Giffords was shot in the head and is listed in critical condition but doctors are optimistic about her chances of survival. Four others are listed as critical, five are in serious condition.
Among the six deaths: a federal judge, a nine-year-old girl and a Giffords staffer. One suspect was arrested, the motive for the attack still unclear.
Congresswoman Giffords was reelected last November and was beginning her fifth year in the U.S. Congress. A member of the Blue Dog Coalition, she's known at a centrist. Last year Giffords served on the House foreign affairs, armed services, and science and technology committees. Her husband, Captain Mark Kelley is a veteran of Operation: Desert Storm and a NASA astronaut. He's scheduled to command the Space Shuttle Endeavour in April.
Thursday Congresswoman Giffords was on the House floor taking part in the read of the Constitution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, D-ARIZ.: The First Amendment, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof of or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: For the latest on this developing story we want to go to CNN's Susan Candiotti who is in Tucson, Arizona. Susan, give us the latest on the congresswoman and anything you have on the others in the hospital.
CANDIOTTI: Good morning, Candy. As the sun is coming up in Tucson the latest information we have on Congresswoman Giffords is that she remains in critical condition.
Now, 10 of 12 people who were shot are being treated at this particular hospital. Of all of those who were shot, five are in serious condition, five are in critical condition. And the thing is, we don't know much information about any of the other people who are being treated here. We've only been receiving specific information about Congresswoman Giffords. Hopefully that will change as the day goes on, probably due to privacy reasons involving the families involved of the other people who are being treated here at this time, Candy.
CROWLEY: And I see an all too familiar scene behind you with these makeshift memorials, which we always see in scenes like this that sore disastrous.
CANDIOTTI: That's right.
CROWLEY: What can you tell us about what's going on outside the hospital and elsewhere in Tucson?
CANDIOTTI: Well, as we wait for another update on the conditions, which we expect in a couple of hours from now, we're left for now to see this kind of indication of what people feel the outpouring of support they have for those who are here at the hospital, being treated but also to memorialize those who lost their lives. So for example, we see photographs of federal Judge John Roll who was killed along with the 9-year-old little girl as well as an example. And we not only have this impromptu memorial set up or tribute but also have been impromptu vigils that have taken place, one last night outside Congresswoman Giffords office, there will be another in a couple hours from now at her synagogue here in Tucson and another service of the sorts later tonight set up by an 18-year-old supporter of hers who voted for her for the very first time last November.
CROWLEY: And Susan, I may be asking an impossible question of you. I know you got in there late at night and haven't had just a whole lot of time on the ground in front of the hospital, people say well, you know, Arizona and they have lax gun laws, you're able to carry a weapon and yet the shock there to me comes through on the screen, that this sort of violence has happened. When you're talking to people, what is their initial response?
CANDIOTTI: Oh, they can't get over it. It's shock, even though what you point out. I can note, however, that as a result of that perhaps there is a lot of extra security here at the hospital. They have police officers posted right inside the front door and throughout the building because of what has occurred. The sheriff here saying he's not taking any chances.
CROWLEY: Susan Candiotti in Tucson with us, thanks very much. Appreciate it.
Joining me now our CNN chief medical correspond Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He is himself a neurosurgeon. We had two doctors speak to this case, one early and another last evening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. PETER RHEE, UMC TRAUMA CENTER: She is in critical condition, the neurosurgeons finished operating on her and I can tell you at the current time period I'm very optimistic about recovery.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us where she was shot, extent of her injuries.
RHEE: She was shot in the head. Gabrielle Giffords's condition was very optimistic and she was following commands. She was through and through on one side of the head. It went through her brain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you say optimistic are you optimistic for a full recovery or too early to tell? RHEE: We cannot tell what kind of recovery but I'm about as optimistic as you can get in this situation. RICHARD CARMONA, FORMER SURGEON GENERAL: The congresswoman is in critical condition. I've spoken to the trauma team. She has a very severe wound, he's cautiously optimistic there is a possibility she can survive. But make no mistake, this is going to take a little while to see how she does after her surgery. She could need more surgery. There are lots of complications that occur with problems like this, and so you know, she's in our thoughts and our prayers, and we're all hoping the best for her. But I've been taking care a lot of people like this before. I know how difficult a path it is to recovery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Again, our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us now. Sanjay, I think probably what surprised us about that first news conference from the trauma surgeon who said we're cautiously optimistic is that first of all there have been those false reports that she had died so it came as a shock hearing a doctor say he's optimistic. Second of all, I think when we hear point blank range, 9 millimeter shot to the head it just seems impossible hearing that, that this can be an injury that, a, one can survive and b, one can survive intact. Is this possible?
GUPTA: It is possible. I've seen that myself, Candy. There's lot of civilian type of gunshot wounds to the head. There are so many different factors that can really determine exactly how someone's going to do exactly, where the bullet hit.
We know a couple of things very important here. First of all she got to the hospital very quickly. That's an important factor. It was described as a through and through injury, or in and out injury, Candy. The significance of that, if the bullet goes in and then goes out, the energy of that bullet is still being dispersed into the air as opposed to being dispersed into the brain. If it goes into the brain, stays there, all that energy, all that momentum, the velocity just in the brain and it can cause significant swelling and injury to the brain. So those things help.
Also she was talking when she got to the hospital. These are details that we're hearing, Candy. She was actually able to communicate when she got to the hospital, very good sign there and then certainly what Dr. Rhee said immediately after the operation that she was able to follow commands, very important as well.
So it is possible. It varies from patient to patient, injury to injury, but it happens, especially in a civilian setting as opposed to a war zone setting.
CROWLEY: And tell me the second doctor also talked about the long road ahead. What do you watch for -- this is a critical time, it would seem to me, when a lot can go wrong and then maybe later you think okay, there's survivability and what's ahead so what is ahead.
GUPTA: It's a very good point, Candy. Right now, you're sort of talking about the binary, is a patient going to be able to survive or not but in the longer run, it is more about sort of function. I just want to show you quickly if I can, Candy, on our brain model here.
First of all talking about that through and through injury the idea it might enter somewhere and exit because the brain is, you know, you have a convexity to the brain here so that can happen, and there could be some bleeding in that area but that can be obviously taken care of during surgery.
The concern is that area that was damaged, the brain is like a fluid medium almost and it can start to have swelling as a result of just being hit like that, the injury itself, and that swelling it's so important to monitor over the next few days really, and that involves simple things like having the patient wake up, wake them up and say, have them follow commands, hold up two fingers on one hand, the other hand, wiggle toes, things like that that gives an indication of what the higher brain function is but it's also monitoring blood pressure, checking for bleeding and things like that.
So it's done in intensive care unit. She may still be with a breathing tube even but these things as she progresses and improves hopefully you start to taper back.
CROWLEY: Sanjay, thanks. I know you were here very late last night. Thanks for getting up this morning and being with us. We'll talk to you later in the day. Appreciate it.
GUPTA: Thank you.
CROWLEY: When we come back an update on law enforcement's investigation into the shooting and concerns about potential security threats from members of Congress.
CROWLEY: Welcome back to this special edition of STATE OF THE UNION. Joining me now, CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.
Jeanne, what is the latest on the investigation?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we understand at this point in time that the suspect, Jared Loughner, still is not cooperating with authorities. A law enforcement source says there's no indication that his parents are not cooperating, but cannot tell me to what extent they are.
Search warrants were executed last night at the home where Loughner lived with his parents and also of a vehicle. And I'm told that evidence collection at the scene has now been completed.
They are, of course, looking for surveillance tapes. They have one from the supermarket where the shooting took place, in that apparently I'm told by law enforcement you see the suspect in the store, and there is this second individual that they are looking for.
You see the picture there. He's described as a white male between 40 and 50 years old. He's wearing a dark blue jacket, blue jeans. They want to find this man. They want to talk to him.
It is unclear at this point in time exactly what connection he might have to Loughner but they want to find out at this point in time. They haven't found him yet -- Candy.
CROWLEY: So we have no idea, I mean, it seems to me there are probably cameras everywhere and there are probably individuals hanging out in front of those cameras. Why this particular guy, do we know, have any idea?
MESERVE: We would presume it had to do with his proximity to this individual. I don't know any more than that. I don't know if there was some conversation perhaps captured on the video camera -- Candy.
CROWLEY: And what can you tell us about the suspect? What are we learning about him?
MESERVE: Well, you know, the sheriff said last night that he appeared to be unstable, unbalanced. We've dug a little bit into his background here, and found that indeed he has had some trouble in his past.
He dropped out of high school. He'd had brushes with the law, we're told, over drug paraphernalia and also vandalism. He tried to enlist in the Army. He was rejected for privacy reasons. The Army won't tell us why.
And he was going to a community college, but he had repeated brushes with the law there, and eventually left. He withdrew from the college back in October.
There also are some YouTube postings, a lot of them rambling, hard to decipher but perhaps some prescient things there. In one posting he says: "My final thoughts, Jared Lee Loughner. Most people who read this text forget in the next two seconds the population of dreamers in the United States of America is less than 5 percent."
Also on MySpace on January 9th posted something which said: "Good-bye, friends, dear friends, please don't be mad at me. The literacy rate is below 5 percent. I haven't talked to a person who is literate."
But there's no -- nothing here that indicates a direct threat towards anyone, a reference to district 8, which was the congresswoman's district, but there is nothing here that gives a clear signal that this man was planning anything violent. Back to you. CROWLEY: Other than some -- certainly some signs of a troubled mind. Jeanne Meserve, our homeland correspondent, we thank you so much.
Joining me now, Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI, and William Pickle, former U.S. Senate sergeant-at-arms. We want to begin though first with two statements, the first from Gabrielle Giffords after her office was vandalized last year, the second from the Pima County sheriff last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIFFORDS: The rhetoric is incredibly heated, not just the calls but the e-mails, the slurs. So things have really gotten spun up and you've got to think about it, our democracy is a light, a beacon really around the world because we affect change at the ballot box and not because of these, you know, outbursts of violence in certain cases.
SHERIFF CLARENCE W. DUPNIK, PIMA COUNTY, ARIZONA: It's not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that's the sad thing of what's going on in America. Pretty soon we're not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: First of all, let's talk about whether it is true that it is more dangerous now to work in public office than it was 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Is it?
WILLIAM PICKLE, FORMER SENATE SERGEANT-AT-ARMS: Oh, I don't think there's any doubt that there is. You know, today's environment is one where, because of the electronic medium, the Internet, the availability of information, and the ability of people who are mentally unstable or sick, or who are just mean, the ability for them to make an impact on society is there.
And they have the weapons, the tools, the means to do it. And a lot of these people are truly sick. And I think -- we don't know the results of the investigation yet, but I think you're going to see some startling news come out.
CROWLEY: And that's intriguing and I want to ask you why you think that. But let me ask to you, Tom, just to sort of continue on this string. And that is, do you see a direct link, not necessarily in this case because we don't know, but is there a direct link between political dialogue, not what you see in the movies or what you can get on the Internet now, but between political dialogue of politicians and of activists and the upswing in threats?
THOMAS FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't think you can say that in this case, Candy, for sure yet. You know, we have the reading that he posted on YouTube and some of the other incidents in his life indicate that he was not mentally stable or not normal to some extent. But we don't have an indication of whether he had left leanings or right leanings or was following the political discourse and that's what exactly inspired him. Most of his writings are basically gibberish.
So you do have a situation where it could be somebody that's just, you know, wants to attack a celebrity, you know. We had in December the specials about John Lennon's murder and someone that's deranged can look at that as if they murder somebody that's a public figure, whether they be in the media or whether they be a political figure, they're going to become famous, they're going to become, you know, inspired by events to become famous.
CROWLEY: And which is it? I mean, you were up there for a very long time. I'm sure you knew about a lot of threats and you have to sort of, you know -- what's, you know, a common threat, if there is such a thing or a non-dangerous threat, because the fact of the matter is, Ronald Reagan was shot because somebody was trying to impress Jodie Foster. So that doesn't make sense.
PICKLE: You know, we have almost 310 million people in this country. And you remember from your days at the White House the threats and the questionable phone calls, letters, inquiries are enormous.
We do have many people who are sick on the streets today in this country. We have all these competing interests. We try to protect the rights and the privacy of individuals, and at the same time try to protect these institutions. President Reagan is a great example. You had a man who was fascinated, that's a mild word, with Jodie Foster. There are many people out there like him. We don't know what makes this fellow Loughner tick. I'm sure the FBI and other security organizations who are doing this investigation will determine that.
But he's not the lone gunman. There are many other people out there in this society who are capable and at some point could do something like this.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you about what's feasible in terms of protecting public officials. This was something from Brad Sherman as a congressman from California who said in The Wall Street Journal today: "I hate to put this in the newspaper, but we don't have any security. The word 'balance' implies your life is a compromise between constituents and security, but most of my colleagues, there isn't any balance. You just get out there."
I think my question is we can't protect, you know, almost 500 people, because the truth is, one guard wouldn't be enough anyway. So what is there to be done in terms of enhanced security, anything?
PICKLE: I'm going to be a little cynical here. You can't do anything. You know, the very nature of being a public official is one where you need to press the flesh. You've seen it at the White House with the president. You have to get out and touch people. You have to be seen. You have to hear them. And at the same time you want as much exposure as you can possibly have. You know the shots from rallies. You want the crowd close, you want them up close next to the candidate. That's not going to end. We are going to fall back in to being complacent again. I hate to say that, but we will. But you're right, we do not have the resources to protect 535 congressmen and senators.
CROWLEY: And Tom, something caught my eye, this is from the U.S. Capitol Police in an advice to members of congress. They said that members should take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal safety and security.
FUENTES: That's a wonderful statement. It means nothing. You know, what is reasonable? Call the police and say I'm going to be holding a rally in a parking lot could you put a couple police officers out there to watch me? I've been telling members of congress to hire their own private security at their own expense when they appear in public. You know, so that's kind of a cover yourself statement.
CROWLEY: But you have spent a long career in issues like this. If you were to advise a member of congress in any district in America, what they should do when they go to a public event, what would you tell them to do?
FUENTES: Well, I think reasonable would be to try to have some police officers out there that somebody can't walk up with a handgun point blank and shoot you the way this happened yesterday, but even then, you have people with long range rifles that have the training and they could be shooting from half a mile away and do the same thing, if you have someone out in public.
We saw the rallies last year, I believe with President Obama speaking in public, and individuals walking around with assault rifles draped over their shoulders, so I mean, people that have the training can kill somebody half a mile away with the right fire power.
CROWLEY: And so some things like I have to halt this but some things are impossible to protect against. You can always be safe, you can always take reasonable things but...
PICKLE: Candy, this is impossible to stop, until candidates stop campaigning, these things tragically are going to continue to happen.
CROWLEY: OK. William Pickle, former U.S. Senate sergeant at arms thank you so much for coming.
PICKLE: Thank you.
CROWLEY: Tom, thank you.
Up next, we'll hear what House Speak John Boehner had to say this morning about the Giffords shooting with our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: We have some new information regarding yesterday's shooting in Tuscon. Authorities have now revised the number of people shot in the attack, it now stands at 20. Didn't seem it could get much worse but there you go.
Joining me of course CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, congressional reaction I think has been like most of the nation shocked but interlaced with whoa.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, shaken to the core I think is probably - and I think you definitely got that sense from hearing for the first time from House speaker John Boehner this morning. In fact, we have a live picture of what he directed, he directed that the flags over the House to be lowered to half staff to honor Gabe Zimmerman who he said was killed in the line of duty. He of course was the aide to Gabrielle Giffords.
And Boehner he said an attack on one of us is an attack on us all. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOEHNER: To the members of the House and their staffs, I ask that you, on this Sabbath day that we keep Gabby and her staff in our thoughts and prayers. Public service is a high honor, but these tragic events remind us that all of us in our roles in service to our fellow citizens comes with a risk. This inhuman act should not and will not deter us from our calling to represent our constituents and to fulfill our oaths of office. No act, no matter how heinous must be allowed to stop us from our duty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So a sense of resolve there obviously from the house speaker, but you were talking with the previous guest about security concerns among house members. I got to tell you, that was among -- after in addition to the pure sadness about what has happened, fear, fear among aides I talked to, members of congress saying that they just are worried this will have a chilling effect on them doing the basic tenet of their job which is getting out and talking to their constituents.
CROWLEY: Well, and what are you hearing about - I mean, you also heard them say we can't protect, we don't have the means to do it and the ability to protect every single member of congress cannot be given armed guards, body guards.
BASH: Exactly. And that's the reality. Interestingly, Jim Clyburn, who is now the assistant Democratic leader in the House, member of the leadership was on another news program this morning. He said, look, this is not the time to cutting congress's budget 5% which already passed the house because of the security concerns. We need money to beef it up.
I'm not sure 5% is going to get them what they need to protect everybody but you're already hearing some of that. And another note looking ahead, we did expect a pretty partisan vote in the House this coming week on Wednesday, it was supposed to be a vote to repeal the health care bill, it's not going to happen now. They've decided they're going to postpone all legislative action and I'm told that really anything that they will be talking about will be related to this Arizona shooting.
CROWLEY: Yes, it will be interesting to see when they get back down to business if anything has changed or how they approach it.
Dana Bash our senior congressional correspondent thanks for coming on.
BASH: Thanks, Candy.
CROWLEY: Two leading senators reflect on the Arizona tragedy, we will talk with Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Lamar Alexander when we come back.
CROWLEY: Joining me now from Springfield, Illinois, Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin, and in Maryland (ph), Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, Lamar Alexander.
Senator Durbin, first to you, just since this is the first we've spoken to you, when did you hear about this incident and what do you make of it?
DURBIN: Well, I heard about it yesterday afternoon like most Americans did. And of course my thoughts and prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords and all the persons that were injured in any way.
There are two things I'd say, Candy, as I've listened to your program, which has had excellent coverage. The first is we live in a world of violent images and violent words. But those of us in public life and the journalists who cover us should be thoughtful in response to this and try to bring down the rhetoric, which I'm afraid has become pervasive in our discussion of political issues.
The phrase "Don't retreat; reload," putting crosshairs on congressional districts as targets. These sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response.
And I think that we all have an obligation, both political parties -- and let me salute the senior senator from Arizona, John McCain, whose statement yesterday was clear and unequivocal that we are not accepting this kind of conduct as being anywhere near the mainstream.
CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, let me just follow up before I get to Senator Alexander. And that is, when you talk about, you know, putting -- putting those that you want to defeat in crosshairs, sort of, graphically, you know, on the Internet, you're talking about Sarah Palin here. And I guess that the undertow -- and certainly it's not an undertow on the Internet but the undertow with politicians now speaking publicly is, well, the Republicans and the Tea Party and Sarah Palin have gone way too far in their rhetoric. It's been violent rhetoric and therefore this sort of thing happens. Are you making that direct connection?
DURBIN: I don't think you could ever make that direct connection, but don't we have an obligation, those of us in public life and those who cover us to say this is beyond the bounds? It may be constitutionally permissible, but it shouldn't be acceptable rhetoric. We shouldn't invite it on the radio talk shows or the TV, at least without comment. We ought to say that just goes too far.
CROWLEY: And Democrats are -- do you think Democrats are as guilty of ratcheting up?
DURBIN: I don't want to point those fingers, other than to -- I don't want to point those fingers, other than to say that we understand how vulnerable everyone is in this culture, and those of us in public life even more vulnerable. And we owe it to our own in both political parties to have at least the good sense and common decency, when people say these outrageous things, to say, "Wait a minute; that just goes too far," whether it comes from the right or from the left.
CROWLEY: Senator Alexander, do you take issue with anything Senator Durbin just said?
ALEXANDER: Well, I -- no, I don't. First...
CROWLEY: I'm sorry. It was a little unfair of me. Let me have you first respond to the incident, of course. Let me have you do that first.
ALEXANDER: Well, I was thinking, listening to your show, too, listening to the Congresswoman read the first amendment, perhaps our most apprised amendment on the floor of the House this week, how what was happening yesterday in Tucson was exactly what the first amendment was about, peaceable assembly and a right to petition the government.
And that's such a fabric of our American life that we have to, that we have to continue it. And, of course, we want civility instead of incivility and of course we don't want violence, but I think, in all of the talk about this, we have to be very careful about imputing the motives or the actions of a deranged individual to any particular group of Americans who have their own political beliefs.
I mean, what we know about this individual, for example, is that he was reading Karl Marx and reading Hitler and burning the American flag.
CROWLEY: So I don't -- I don't think, and certainly Senator Durbin can speak for himself, but that he was attaching Sarah Palin's famous -- now-famous crosshairs ad of those congresspeople that she wanted to see defeated with this particular -- for instance, I think that the general notion is that some of this rhetoric and the talk -- and so much of our talk in politics does revolve around ammunition and guns and drawing a bead and, you know, that kind of thing, that that sort of stuff does lead to this type of thing, not this specific thing.
Do you agree with that? ALEXANDER: Well, I'm not -- I'm not sure, Candy. I mean, as I said, this -- this individual -- what we know about this individual is that he read Karl Marx; he read Hitler. We know he was burning the American flag. Now, that's not the profile of a typical Tea Party member, if that's the inference that's -- inference being made.
I think, obviously, we're much better off in our country if we peaceably assemble, treat other with respect, show courtesy and condemn people who go over the line, and particularly those who do it violently as this individual did yesterday. Of course we could.
I agree that Senator McCain's comment was exactly right. We all agree -- all agree with that. So I think, in all of the -- it's tempting to say, well, this person might have been the result of this other person's comments, but I think we need to be very, very careful about imputing any of these actions to someone else.
CROWLEY: Let's -- let's cut that connection then, and let me just ask you as a question separate and of itself, is it over the line politically these days, given the kind of climate we're in, to be talking about or graphically showing a politician in the crosshairs or talking about taking them out?
Is that -- was it over the line, sort of, specifically, since it's now being talked about everywhere, with Sarah Palin's web ads about people that she would like to see targeted for political defeat?
ALEXANDER: Well, Candy, I think you're -- I think you're responsible, by bringing this up, of doing the very thing you're trying to condemn. I mean, you're making and implying a direct connection between Sarah Palin and what happened yesterday.
CROWLEY: No, I specifically said we need to tie it away from that.
ALEXANDER: By picking out a particular -- picking out a particular incident. Well, I think the way to get away from it is for you not to be talking about it.
CROWLEY: No, Senator Durbin did bring it up, so that's, kind of, why I am.
ALEXANDER: His own view of it.
CROWLEY: Yes, I just -- I guess -- look, I totally agree with you, Senator Alexander, that even by bringing it up -- and I don't know if you've seen the Web, but it is all over the Web now, so it's not as though this is, like, some new idea that I've come one suddenly standing here. And I think the question is -- and I agree with you that, when you get into a discussion of what's over the line and what's not over the line in terms of rhetoric, that that itself becomes something that incites people, but then how do you ever come to an agreement on what's acceptable political public conversation?
ALEXANDER: Well, you treat each other with courtesy. You know, on the floor of the Senate we try to do that. We have pretty emotional issues to discuss, but we still treat each other with a lot of civility. Most of the incivility doesn't come from people who are elected to public office. It comes from other people.
So I think, as Senator Durbin said earlier, we ought to cool it, tone it down, treat each other with great respect, respect each other's ideas, and even on difficult issues like immigration or taxes or health care law, do our best not to inflame passions.
CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, it's a difficult conversation, and you were the one that brought up what's being talked about a lot. How do you get to a point where you do not see something that could incite an unstable mind in an opponent's verbiage?
Because just the discussion itself can be used politically, as Senator Alexander points out.
DURBIN: But you know what Lamar said is exactly right. As long as our conversations between ourselves and members of Congress really are at a higher level and don't descend into even these images of violence or violent reaction, that helps to set the stage.
And then we have to ask those consistent with our constitutional rights who are engaged in the media to try to do the same. I -- that's the point I wanted to make at the outset here. We have to return this to, I hope, an era of civility in our conversation.
I'm not suggesting -- I hope no one is drawing from inference here any connection between specific language and what happened yesterday in Tucson, but let's step back and be honest about this. We ought to be a lot more civil toward one another and understand that ordinary political discourse never -- underline never -- should invite violence.
CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, Senator Alexander, let me ask you to stand by with me, and we'll be back with both of them right after this.
CROWLEY: We are back with senators Dick Durbin and Lamar Alexander.
Senator Durbin, first to you. We know that members of the leadership of both the House and the Senate do have security provided by Capitol Hill. I'm wondering if you think there needs to be -- this is to both of you, enhanced security for other members of Congress who don't have any security at all or is this the price of public life? DURBIN: Well, there is a price to public life because we are living a life in the open, meeting people all the time, strangers, and that's just the nature of what we do, whether in leadership or not.
But any member of Congress who even has the slightest suspicion that they're in danger should be able to turn to our own law enforcement within the Capitol and that law enforcement available in other sources to protect them.
But it is so difficult, when I think of walking in to crowds at different places, I never think twice about what might have happened, what might happen as it did yesterday in Tucson.
There's one other thing I might say, Candy, and I hope we don't miss this point. At some point we need to ask the question, how did this man with this history of mental instability end up with this weapon?
He had clips with him with 90 different bullets in them, only 20 victims, sadly 20 victims, but it could have been so many more yesterday. How did he go through the process and end up with this gun and with this ammunition? I think that's a legitimate question that needs to be asked as well.
CROWLEY: Senator Alexander, that is a question that always gets asked after incidents of this -- Virginia Tech, we also had a man that was unstable, although I don't believe he had been in any trouble with the law at any point.
But nonetheless when you look at this and you step back, do you sense that there will be any change in tone on Capitol Hill and do you see any effect on the agenda on what you all might be willing to look at now in terms of gun control or anything else?
ALEXANDER: Candy, for the next few days, obviously it's going to affect our agenda. The House of Representatives has already said they're not going to vote on repealing the health care law now. So we need to stop, pause, and reflect.
But then I think we're back to business. All the way back in 1968, when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, I remember that Governor Rockefeller of New York went back to California, started campaigning right away because he wanted to reassure the American people that people who want to be elected will be out with the people.
So I'm going to be at the basketball game on the front row. I'll be in the grocery store in a few minutes. I mean, we'll be out just like elected officials are supposed to be. And I hope what Dick Durbin and I can do when we resume work in a couple of weeks in the Senate is take up the issue of the debt that he did -- he stuck his neck out on that with the president's debt commission.
And I think the rest of us ought to follow his lead and try to use these next few months to work together on the biggest problem we've got, which is dealing with the federal debt. CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, one of the things obviously that's going to happen on the House side at least is the repeal of health care reform, which has been postponed this week, but undoubtedly will happen at some point.
I wonder if the two of you, starting with you, Senator Durbin, can agree it goes nowhere in the Senate.
DURBIN: At this point, I can tell you, having spoken to the Democratic Caucus, there are solid support within that caucus for maintaining the president's health care bill.
Now, we are open, we should be open...
CROWLEY: How about changing it around the margins there? Go ahead.
DURBIN: Well, of course, of course. Listen, the only perfect law that I know ever written was carried on stone tablets down a mountain by "Senator Moses." All of the other efforts that have been made in every legislature throughout history have been subject to review and should be.
And I'm open to that conversation but I don't believe repeal has any legs in the Senate at this point.
CROWLEY: Is there a specific provision would you like to see repealed or looked at?
DURBIN: Oh, there's one, of course, and that has nothing to do with health care directly but the funding of the program relative to small business expensing, so-called 1099 provision. I think there will be a change in that.
CROWLEY: OK. Senator Alexander, can you agree that the Senate will not in toto repeal the health care reform bill and what do you think is the next step for those Republicans that want to see it repealed?
ALEXANDER: Well, Republicans are going to vote to repeal it. Senator Durbin is correct, he counts the Democratic votes, he's the leader and they've got the numbers. So if they all vote not to repeal it, it won't be repealed.
One area I'd like to see us tackle, if it's not repealed, is the letter that the governors -- Republican governors wrote to the president this week saying the law requires us in our states, instead of cutting the cost of Medicaid, to maintain increasing the cost of Medicaid.
So we have this unfunded mandate, this bankrupting states in difficult conditions, yet the federal law says states can't take steps to reduce the costs of health care. That would be one specific change that we could make.
CROWLEY: Just quickly, Senator Alexander, because I'm out of time, and that is, did I understand you correctly, every Republican in the caucus wants to repeal health care reform in its totality?
ALEXANDER: Every Republican in the caucus voted against it. I haven't done a whip count. I'm not the whip on the Republican side like...
CROWLEY: I thought you might have an idea.
ALEXANDER: ... Dick Durbin is on the Democratic side. But my sense is Republicans will almost all if not all vote to repeal the health care law.
CROWLEY: Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Dick Durbin, thank you both so much for joining thus morning.
DURBIN: Thank you.
ALEXANDER: Thank you.
CROWLEY: We will talk with one of the Senate's new Republican members, Mike Lee of Utah, next.
CROWLEY: Joining me now from Salt Lake City, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.
SEN. MIKE LEE, (R) UTAH: Thank you.
CROWLEY: This is a sad way, a tragic way, to begin one's freshman year on Capitol Hill. But I wanted to first get your reaction and -- and let you comment on the news from Tucson.
LEE: Well, first of all, my thoughts and prayers go out to Representative Giffords and Judge Roll and their families as well as the families of the other victims. This is a tragedy, and I'm -- I'm very sorry for the losses that have happened there. This is not something that should happen in our society. And something that we want to prevent from happening.
CROWLEY: Senator, I don't know how often you check out the Internet which contains just about anything you might want to see and a lot of things you don't want to see. We have gotten some press releases with people calling on "the right" or conservatives or the Tea Party to condemn this violence. The Tea Party, in fact, several factions of it, were some of the first to come out and condemn what happened.
But I wonder what you make of the politics of trying to figure this out. In a sense, just even talking about this now, and the level of political rhetoric, becomes in itself a political battle.
LEE: Well, I think we all need to resist the impulse to turn it into a political football this is a tragedy. And it is disrespectful to the victims and their families to use it for short-term political gain. I don't think we can tie this incident to anything other than to a person that's either evil or mentally insane or some combination of both. And at this point it doesn't make any sense to turn it into a partisan political battle.
CROWLEY: It doesn't. And yet for some time even before this, there's been talk that the heated rhetoric has gone too far. That, in fact, you know that if people are mentally unstable as the sheriff said yesterday, they do glom onto things that aren't meant the way they are taken. But nonetheless the political rhetoric got to a point where everybody needed to step back.
Do you think the rhetoric from the Tea Party, from the left, from any place has been too heated and too much?
LEE: Well, any time you have political rhetoric that rises to the level of personal, you have a problem. And I think that doesn't make for good politics. It doesn't make for good statesmanship or good government whenever we have ad homonym attacks. If you are attacking a person rather than an issue, are you attacking policy head on, you're focusing on the wrong thing.
CROWLEY: And what do you make - I mean, there's lots of - and I think this will fulfill a lot of air time for a while, but there's a -- you heard in our previous two senators talking about what about some gun control here? Obviously, a different gun culture in the west than there is in the urban east. And so what do you make of that? Do you think there is room for a discussion about gun control, particularly when it comes to people who have shown signs of instability?
And immigration, the sheriff also seemed to sort of intimate that this had become so heated this talk about people who don't have their documents, illegal immigrants that that to just led to this kind of culture that influenced people to go out and do violence. Do you agree with that?
LEE: Well, I guess you raise two different questions. On the gun control issue, we have state and federal laws on the books that already prohibit person who's have been deemed mentally insane from owning and possessing firearms. I don't think we'll legislate our way out of risk associated with people who are insane or people who are bent on performing evil acts to kill another person. And to the contrary, I think there is abundant research suggesting that in cities where more people own guns, the crime rate, especially the murder rate actually goes down.
So as to the second question, about whether or not we ought to tone down the rhetoric, look, like I say, we can always all benefit by focusing issues back on the political issues rather than on the person. That's good for statesmanship, good for politics, good for government. It's not something that's necessarily going to prevent tragedies like this one which hopefully will be few and far between. But it's nonetheless a noble aspiration, one I aspire to.
CROWLEY: So, when we talked earlier to some people involved in law enforcement on Capitol Hill and protecting congress people who said that there has said there has been over the past decade increasing - increasing over the past two years, increasing numbers of threats against public officials. We have seen an increase in the number of specific categories of violence sort of nationwide, although not -- not across the board. What accounts for that? If it's not the political rhetoric, what is making things seem so much worse now in terms of the number or threat level?
LEE: I don't know. And I don't think anyone pretends to have the answer to that. And some have pointed to a breakdown in the family structure. Many people who engage in these activities come from families that have broken down in one form or another. I don't know anything about the perpetrator of this particular crime. So I won't try to speak to that. But there -- there does appear to have been an up tick in acts of violence. And I think that's unfortunate. It's something we need to work to address.
CROWLEY: Do you quickly worry about your own safety?
LEE: No, I don't. You know, no more than I did last week. This obviously draws attention to it, but it's not going to cause me to change the way I do business. I don't think we should be adding any barrier between a member of congress and her constituents. I think we live in a free society in which it's absolutely essential that our elected leaders have constant and open contact with the public. And tragic events like this one will not deter us in communicating directly with our constituents.
CROWLEY: Freshman senator, Republican Senator Mike Lee thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
Thank you all for watching State of the Union. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Up next at the top of the hour, for our viewers here in the United States, "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS."