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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview With Mike Rogers; Interview With Nancy Pelosi; Interview With Jim DeMint

Aired June 26, 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: Did the president get it just right? A Goldilocks moment for his plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Today, too many to soon or to few too late? With House committee chairman, Mike Rogers, and House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: I don't see any reason why our troops couldn't come home sooner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Then Tea Party hero Senator Jim DeMint on his 2012 litmus test.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEMINT: If a presidential candidate who is not willing to say we have to balance our budget should not be president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And the politics of it all with former Obama deputy press secretary Bill Burton and former Bush speech writer Michael Gerson.

I am Candy Crowley, and this is State of the Union.

Citing gains on the ground against the Taliban and the virtual disappearance of al Qaeda in Afghanistan President Obama said this week he will bring 10,000 surge troops home by the end of this year, and another 23,000 by September 2012, almost 70,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan, twice as many when the president took office. Still the drawdown decision was seen as defeat for military commanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES AFGHANISTAN: The ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation, if you will, in terms of the time line, and then what we had recommended.

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: It was more aggressive and it has more risk than you know I was originally prepared to -- than what I recommended.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, Republican congressman, Mike Rogers. Mr. Chairman, thank you for being here.

ROGERS: Candy, thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: You heard the commanders, despite what General Petraeus and Admiral Mullen just said, they're onboard. Are you?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, I hope that there is a change in the second part of the withdrawal before next year.

CROWLEY: The 23,000 expected out by September.

ROGERS: What the military commander said is give us two fighting seasons at the surge level. And the fighting season in Afghanistan goes from about May through October. In the first fighting season, they are in the middle of the first fighting season. And the Taliban keeps arguing and keeps communicating to the Afghans we're winning, they're going to leave, be careful who you support.

So by announcing it now right in the middle of that first fighting season, I think we have done more harm to our ability to leave Afghanistan a place that can defend itself. And at the end of the day, that is the goal, that their police, that their army can deal with the Taliban once we leave.

In order for that to happen -- and I supported the president when he called on the surge last year, we believed you could break their back in this, in the next fighting season, those 23,000 troops, Candy, have to start leaving right at the beginning of the fighting season...

CROWLEY: So by June you have to begin a withdrawal, basically?

ROGERS: Should be significant if you are going to hit that 23,000 number next year alone. That means you give up ground. It puts more burden on the troops that are left behind. And by the way, that's why the commanders -- and this should be conditions based, not politically based here at home.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, you do have, speaking of politically, some Republican presidential candidates who say I think we ought to get out of there quicker than 2014. I think we can do this more speedily than the president envisions. Do you have a lot of concerns, as you do about the president's plan, with some of your Republican colleagues who are running for president?

ROGERS: Well, I -- if we do this correctly, we can leave before 2014. But by surging up -- and remember, the surge didn't -- the final part of the surge did not get here until January of this year. So it hasn't even been a full year at surge strength in Afghanistan. In this political mess, well I've got a 2012 campaign, which unfortunately I think this was more written by the political shop than it was by the Pentagon.

CROWLEY: OK, let me just stop you, because people say this sort of thing all the time and that is the gist of what you are saying is the president made the decision involving U.S. troops and the safety of those who remain behind based on his desire to get re-elected? Is that what you are saying?

ROGERS: I think it's very hard to come to any other conclusion when the time line is exactly in line with the 2012 election, with the commanders on the ground saying don't do this.

CROWLEY: But again they're onboard now. ROGERS: Well, they also work for the president directly. As they said, very carefully worded if you listen to them. It is more aggressive than we thought was safe to do. It was -- it's too soon.

The people who drafted the plan -- and again, I supported the president in the surge, which was not necessarily all that politically comfortable here in the United States. But at the end of the day, if we leave Afghanistan with a safe haven, we have done nothing except accept the pre-9/11 mentality.

And the time line is just too darned close -- I am a former FBI guy, and coincidences are one thing, but the fact that it lines up to have those troops out before the first debate of 2012 is concerning to me mainly because the conditions on the ground have not changed.

And now this notion that they are going to negotiate with the Taliban, sends a horrible message to the Afghans that have been cooperating with the United States that, gee, we can't beat the Taliban, we're going to negotiate with people who by the way, said that your girls couldn't even be taught how to read.

They just found a hospital... CROWLEY: But even Secretary Gates has said look there's always political ends to wars like this. And you need a political end and you are not going to be able to do it unless you bring in the Taliban. Now they have to renounce violence and et cetera, et cetera, but you can't do it any other way?

ROGERS: Well, here's where I disagree. I look at Colombia was a great example. They never negotiated exactly with Najar (ph), what they did was come up with a program to take low-level fighters and reintegrate them into society. They are the ones that take the brunt of it, they're the ones that strap on the suicide bombers. They are the ones they send into the main units of the United States marines, and they don't fare very well when they do that. Those are the ones we can whittle away.

And when the commanders, mid level and senior level commanders of the Taliban start seeing that their troops are abandoned them, now you are in a much better place to break their back.

Think about it, they bombed a hospital this weekend. A hospital. Women and children were slaughtered by the Taliban. You are going to sit down and negotiate with these folks? They never lived up to an agreement. The Pakistanis tried in '08, the Russians tried it when they were there. George Bush tried it in '05. It has never worked.

And to think this is going to work now to justify a pullout, I am very concerned about the gains that we made in Afghanistan.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to a different topic in the final couple of minutes. You are one of eight Republicans to vote to authorize the U.S. action, which is already taking place in Libya as part of the NATO contingent. Do you sense, as Senator McCain does, that there is an isolationist trend inside the Republican Party?

ROGERS: Well, I think confusion has led to the events of this week. And I would argue this should be one of the most embarrassing moments for this administration going into the week, the fact that they had Republicans and Democrats all over the map on something that I believe if the president has shown leadership, presented his case, and I believe that there are national security interests in Libya and in a very limited, defined role, there are things that we better be concerned about. They have weapons systems and other things.

So what I think happened, Candy, is that lack of leadership, that lack of explanation, his believing he doesn't have to come to congress led to only eight Republicans and a host of Democrats in a very confusing message of should we cut off funds or shouldn't we cut off funds. He could have avoided all of that with some leadership.

CROWLEY: Let me call you on something here and that is that you say that you see politics at play with the president having the surge troops pull out for the election next year, September next year for the November election. And now we have Republicans who are seen as the party of strength, the party that supports U.S. military, maneuvers overseas, here you have most Republicans voting against the president of the United States who is a Democrat, who has put U.S. forces behind NATO forces, they are not as far as we know in any kind of mortal danger, U.S. troops, why is that not an election year vote? When it is totally atypical of the Republican Party not to support a mission like this?

ROGERS: Well, again, the president hasn't made the case. And I do believe he was in violation of the Wars Power Act. If you like the Wars Power Act or don't like the Wars Power Act, it is the law of the United States of America. He has stood up and said I don't have to follow that law.

So what you saw was lots of Republicans saying, hey wait a minute, this is -- this is serious business when you put your military men and women at risk for the United States of America, and if you are going to do that, you better have us all on board, all by I mean the American people, United States congress. The president, in defiance of all of that, just stood up and said and said I don't have to follow the law. I'm not coming down to justify it, and I think it was a horrible mistake.

I think if he made his case -- and remember, I supported the president up front on Libya, because I do believe there is national security issues that will directly impact the United States if we don't get it right. We at least should have a seat at the table. And I am not advocating for boots on the ground. I think the limited role we're playing in Libya is appropriate. But we do bring some unique capabilities to that fight, and we can do it in a very limited way and protect our national security interests.

But by him not making that case, I think he has got people all over the map, and you saw what I thought was an embarrassing moment for the administration this week that I think we could have avoided. CROWLEY: Congressman Mike Rogers, chairman of the intelligence committee. Thank you for joining us this morning.

ROGERS: Candy, thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: Up next, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi takes on the president's Afghanistan plan and her Republican colleagues over the debt ceiling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: Leader Cantor can't handle the truth when it comes to ending tax subsidies for big oil, corporations that send jobs overseas, and the like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me today from the U.S. Congress, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Madam Leader, thank you for joining us.

PELOSI: My pleasure.

CROWLEY: It's good to see you.

I want to ask you first about Afghanistan. You were disappointed in the president's decision, feel that troops should be -- more troops should be drawn out of there faster, and you promised to continue pressuring the president. In what form does that pressure take place?

PELOSI: Well, it wasn't really pressuring the president, it was making sure that the Afghanis did what they were supposed to do in the bargain so that the president's timetable can be honored and perhaps facilitated. What I had said was that, really, it's time.

We have been there nine-and-a-half, almost 10 years. For the first seven-and-a-half years, the Bush administration did nothing. They had no plan. President Obama has a plan. He has announced the good news that we will be gone by a date certain.

He has -- I had hoped that they could take more troops out sooner for a number of reasons. The lives and limbs of our precious treasure, first and foremost, the cost to the taxpayer, but also the message to the Afghan people, the Afghan government that they have to do their part of this and the sooner the better. And the sooner they do, the sooner our troops will come home.

CROWLEY: And beyond rhetorically, is there a way to pressure - I mean, obviously you could remove funds, which I'm assuming...

PELOSI: Oh, no.

CROWLEY: ... you would be against.

PELOSI: Yes.

CROWLEY: But is there some way that you feel you can make that pressure felt?

PELOSI: Well, I communicate with the president of Afghanistan. I was there this spring. I met with the ambassador this week. And our message continues to be we want to see progress.

Now, when I was there this spring, really for the first time I saw progress, the plans that the president had put in motion are showing benefits, whether it's the training of their forces, be it police force or military force, that's really moving along in a much better way. Whether it's anti-corruption initiatives, we have great people in place to help with that.

But I see progress being made and that the framework that President Obama has, if it moves more quickly, I don't see any reason why our troops couldn't come home sooner. The longest war in our history.

CROWLEY: It is. And the fact is that if it goes the way the president's plan is laid out, there will likely be two times as many troops in Afghanistan in November when he runs for re-election as there were when he took office. Is this the foreign policy you expected when candidate Obama was campaigning?

PELOSI: Well, what I said at the time was the American people are weary of this war, we will do anything to protect our people. How is it our national interest to stay there? Can we do it a quicker, better way? Not in haste, but with some plan to come home?

And the president has put that into place. He has evaluated what the challenge is. I commend him for the capture, the apprehension of Osama bin Laden. This was a very, very big deal. He connected the dots. He got it done. And he now has a plan for Afghanistan.

Yes, now I would have hoped we would have had a way to bring our troops home sooner, but that depends on actions taken by the Afghanis as well. I think we sent him (ph) a clear message.

CROWLEY: Do you think that the president -- since there will be twice as many troops in Afghanistan when he runs for re-election as there were when he first ran, do you think he will pay for this in his liberal base? Do you think they hold it against him?

PELOSI: Well, I certainly hope not. I think that he has taken us on a course to end this war. He is finishing the war in Iraq. The -- he is the president. He has a plan, and that's something that we have not had before.

I think that our progressive base, of which I consider myself proudly a part, is -- will turn out for the president because...

CROWLEY: Despite some disappointments?

PELOSI: Well, in other words, unless you want to run for president yourself, you are never going to have it all your own way. And as a base of its nature, God bless the base, is of its nature, dissatisfied, persistent, relentless, and that's a good thing.

The president has a different role. We do too in Congress. But I would hope that the base could influence, if not make the decision, influence the decision, and I think they have. The president has taken out more troops than some others wanted him to do.

CROWLEY: Madam Leader, let me ask you to stand by a minute. We are going to take a quick break, and when we come back, the debt ceiling.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Back now with the leader of the Democrats in the U.S. House. Madam Leader, thank you for being here again. Is it time for the president and the Republican speaker of the House to sit down together and work out some sort of deal to raise the debt ceiling?

PELOSI: Well, let me just say this, there won't be any agreement for such an agreement -- unless the House Democrats are part of that. Unless the speaker comes to the table with 218 votes. But I think that the president has been involved. He's talked about bipartisanship. He's talked about balance in what we do. The obstacle has come because Leader Cantor has walked away from the table because he doesn't want to deal with special interests tax subsidies and the need for them...

CROWLEY: They don't want -- the Republicans don't want any tax increases in the debt ceiling?

PELOSI: Well, it's not a question of tax increases.

CROWLEY: Sorry, they don't want any -- yes, right, they don't want changes in revenue.

PELOSI: Well, yes, but what we're talking about here, some of the things that Leader Cantor can't handle the truth when it comes to these tax subsidies for big oil, for corporations sending jobs overseas or giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people in the country, and asking seniors to pay more for less to be on as they abolish Medicare.

CROWLEY: well, in the end I guess they refer to tax increases as subsidies, anything that changes the tax base or the tax rate for corporations or for individuals. But let me ask you...

PELOSI: But, still, make sure we understand, closing special interests tax subsidies is what they have walked away from.

CROWLEY: So you said that there will be no deal unless House Democrats are in on it, so as far as you are concerned, just because the president of the United States and Speaker Boehner come to some agreement, should they, you have to be sitting at the table as well?

PELOSI: Well, I have no objection as a former speaker myself to the president and the speaker trying to reach some level of agreement, some framework for how we go forward. That arrangement works if the speaker has 218 votes. If they expect Democrats to vote for the agreement, then Democrats will have to be part of the agreement.

CROWLEY: Mitch McConnell, the leader obviously on the Senate side, said I think I can safely say that this congress is not going to raise taxes so why are we still talking about it? Isn't there a point here? Because his point is even when Democrats controlled the House and the Senate and the president was in the White House they couldn't pass any kind of tax increase, they could not deal with any of the subsidies so why either bother to fight for it at this point?

PELOSI: Well, they could not pass them because the Republicans obstructed it...

CROWLEY: Right. And they still would, so I guess the point is isn't this sort of pointless?

PELOSI: No, it's not pointless, unless it's pointless to not reduce the deficit. This is a -- remind, this is a 10-year proposal. This will affect -- this isn't like the six-month agreement that they had with the continuing resolution. This is a 10-year proposal. And if we agree on values that say we are going to educate our children, we're going to respect the dignity of the retirement of our seniors, we're going to create jobs, we're going to do so in a way that reduces the deficit, you couldn't possibly just buy into the cuts without the revenue and the recognition for the need for growth so our timing is affected by that. So it's not about...

CROWLEY: So would you vote for a debt ceiling that has attached to it a package that has only spending cuts?

PELOSI: That would be very hard -- what would it accomplish? How much deficit reduction could you achieve? You cannot -- you cannot achieve what you set out to do if you say it's just about cutting. It has to be about increasing the revenue stream as well.

And there are many things can you do in terms of, again, special interests tax loopholes that the tax code is rampant -- is just full of.

Now let me just remind all this talk about tax cuts in the Bush years, the Republicans said tax cuts will produce jobs, they didn't, they produced a deficit, they produced a deficit...

CROWLEY: Along with two wars.

PELOSI: Two wars -- two unpaid for wars. Well, are these people not patriotic, they want their special interest tax cuts and they don't want to pay for the war in Iraq to protect our great country and our freedom? In the second year of the Obama administration, last year, more jobs were created in the private sector than in the eight years of the Bush administration under the regime of tax cuts will produce jobs.

CROWLEY: Madam Leader, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate your time.

PELOSI: Thank you.

CROWLEY: When we come back, Republican Senator Jim DeMint lays down the gauntlet for his fellow lawmakers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEMINT: Any member of the House or the Senate who doesn't understand we need to balance our budget probably shouldn't be there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Republican Senator Jim DeMint is not the most popular member of his party. He infuriated quite a few colleagues last year backing Tea Party candidates seen as either unelectable or unacceptable by establishment Republicans.

Still, DeMint's power with the Tea Party set could make him a player this year in the Republican primary for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEMINT: I'm telling every presidential candidate, if your name isn't on this list, don't come see me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The list is a pledge DeMint wants every presidential candidate to sign, launched by over 40 conservative groups this week, the pledge is shorthanded as cut, cap and balance. Those who sign promise not to support raising the U.S. debt ceiling unless Congress agrees to substantial spending cuts starting next year. Enforceable caps on spending, and a balanced budget amendment to the constitution.

Of the nine presidential candidates officially in the race, four have taken the pledge and one has said no. We'll hear Senator DeMint's reaction to that and much more next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

Senator, let's talk, right off the bat, about this pledge that you have signed, along with some other members of the Senate, the U.S. Congress and various groups. It's called Cut, Cap and Balance. So let me run through "Cut." It's calling -- you're going to oppose the debt ceiling until there are substantial spending cuts that would take effect 2012. Define substantial.

DEMINT: Well, we're leaving that open so we can negotiate. But we need to do something that significantly lowers spending in the short term.

The second point, to cap spending is to put some controls on spending over the long term and guide it towards a balanced budget, which is the ultimate goal, is to pass a balanced budget amendment, allow states to ratify it and, then five years after it's ratified, it takes effect.

And then, like 49 states, every year, we have to make those hard decisions and balance the budget.

Candy, I am convinced, if we don't have that requirement, we're going to keep spending until our country becomes worse than Greece.

CROWLEY: And I'm convinced that what you have outlined here is not going to happen between now and August 2nd.

So what you're saying is, I don't care if the country defaults; unless we do this, I'm not voting for a debt ceiling?

DEMINT: Well, I do care if it defaults, but the fact is, Candy, we won't. If we never raise the debt ceiling again, we're going to pay our bills; we're going to pay Social Security.

CROWLEY: Why does everybody say differently?

Why does the Treasury secretary say this is going to be catastrophic? Why do economists say it will shape the market? Why don't you believe that?

DEMINT: Well, default will do it. But we won't default. We'll be going back to budget levels of about eight years ago.

I mean, we're not talking about draconian types of situations. But the worst scenario, Candy, if we blow through the fourth debt ceiling in this administration; if we add another $2 trillion of our debt without taking control of it, I think you're going to see the markets respond in a much worse way as people look in and realize that we don't have the will to stop this spending.

CROWLEY: But we're spending more than we were eight years ago.

DEMINT: We are.

CROWLEY: So, at some point, you're headed toward default if you won't raise that dealt ceiling, aren't you?

DEMINT: Well, if the president decides sometime in October or November that he is not going to pay our bills because he refuses to balance the budget six or eight years out, then I think Americans need to know that.

CROWLEY: Why shouldn't we just look at this and say it is another giant game of "chicken" by our legislators?

DEMINT: Well, we've got more revenue than we ever have. We're spending more than we ever have. We don't -- we don't have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem. The government is doing things that we can't do well. We're wasting billions of dollars. And we're not going to address that waste and fraud until we have to.

CROWLEY: The fact of the matter is that I haven't talked to an economists -- and perhaps you have -- that hasn't said you cannot get there by cutting spending unless you cause some real pain. There has to be some sort of revenue enhancement. There has to be tax hikes.

DEMINT: I don't agree with that. I do think we need to change our...

CROWLEY: There's a lot of economists that say this, people that really know what they're talking about here. I'm just trying to figure out why you think that's not so?

DEMINT: Well, because I've worked on this for years. There are things we can do with our entitlements to cut costs over time, begin offering younger workers different choices that costs less; things that we're doing here like education and transportation, that states can do better, we need to start making decisions of where those need to be done.

I was on an oil rig in the Gulf this weekend, and it costs over $600 million. It's been sitting there for months waiting for a permit. Thousands of jobs are on hold, but we won't do the things that create the jobs that create the revenue. We can create the revenue we need if we allow the economy to start going again, but the problem is this administration seems to be doing everything they can to make it harder and more expensive to hire people.

So revenues will come from economic growth. But spending cuts are essential in order to bring our budget into balance.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a political question. And you have said that, if there are Republican senators up for re-election next year who vote for an increase in this debt ceiling without these things that you've outlined, the Cut, Cap and Balance, you might go ahead and back a primary opponent to them that would.

Are you talking about Senator Lugar, Senator Snowe, Senator Brown? Would you consider -- if they went ahead and said we've got to raise this debt ceiling, you would consider running an opponent against them in a primary?

DEMINT: I have no plans to work against any incumbent Republicans. There are 23 Democrats up and I'm going to be involved in those races.

But what I do believe, Candy, is that any member of the House or the Senate who doesn't understand we need to balance our budget probably shouldn't be there. And certainly, a presidential candidate who's not willing to say we have to balance our budget should not be president of the United States.

CROWLEY: But you would not field -- field candidates against Lugar, Brown, Snowe?

DEMINT: I have no plans to recruit candidates against any of our incumbents.

CROWLEY: That's not exactly a definite no?

DEMINT: I'm not real definite.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: OK. We'll let...

(LAUGHTER)

We'll leave it there.

DEMINT: OK.

CROWLEY: Looking at the 2012 race now, are there any people in the race now, officially in the race now, that you absolutely could not support?

One of the things I'm thinking is Jon Huntsman just got in. We asked him -- he was asked about this pledge and he said, you know, the only pledge I really do is the pledge of allegiance.

DEMINT: Yeah. Well, I won't support any candidate who does not support balancing the budget.

CROWLEY: So Huntsman's out?

DEMINT: So, for me, he's out. And I think we've got a lot of good candidates. The more that I'm around them, the more confident I feel. I think, as -- as America gets to know them better, I think you're going to see a few strong ones come out of this field?

CROWLEY: Can you name names here? Who do you like?

DEMINT: No, I don't want to name -- because I'm not writing anyone off unless they write off the idea of a balanced budget.

CROWLEY: Well, you're writing off Huntsman, and my -- my guess is, probably, that would be Romney, who you supported before?

DEMINT: I like all of the candidates. But I'm going to keep an open mind. And the only litmus test I have at this point is really the balanced budget.

CROWLEY: But is there something that would propel you into this race, or have you pretty much said, I'm satisfied with this... DEMINT: I can't think of anything that would get me in the race. And so I am looking for another candidate who is willing to carry that burden.

But it's important. I think 2012 may be our last chance as a country to get this right. I'm really convinced that four more years of Obama will destroy our economy. I'm not saying that as a partisan but someone who was in business for years and talks to hundreds of businesses over a month. Everyone's coming in and saying they cannot do business in this environment.

CROWLEY: Texas Governor Rick Perry -- there's been a lot of talk. He's backed by a lot of Tea Party people, a lot of people saying he ought to get in. Would you like to see him get in?

DEMINT: I don't know that much about Governor Perry. He does seem to be bold. And so I'll need to look into it if he -- he decides...

CROWLEY: There's somebody in this race you like? I can tell.

DEMINT: Well, I like a lot of them, and I've started meeting with them, and thankfully, a lot of them are asking to come in and speak to me.

I'm working with people in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, to try to get a lot of people to hold back and not commit so we can see how they respond to this debt ceiling, the balanced budget and some of the things that we're going to face here over the next few months. I think we'll know who our candidate is by how they lead based on what we're doing here.

CROWLEY: Senator Jim DeMint, thank you so much. Come back. I have lots more questions.

DEMINT: Oh, good. I will. I'd love to. Thank you.

CROWLEY: Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Up next, Mitt Romney is leading the way in the Republican race, but will that lead to his nomination?

CROWLEY: The air of inevitability is a bit like the political version of fake it till you make it. Voters want to vote for a winner so act like one. At the very least you might scare off some of the competition.

In a Republican field of nine presidential nominees Mitt Romney is shoving his way to the front aiming beyond his immediate opponents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I cannot wait to debate him and say Mr. President if in fact you did look at what we did in Massachusetts, why didn't you give me a call and ask what worked and what didn't? And I would have told, Mr. President, what you are doing will not work. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: His campaign oozes confidence, telling Politico Romney's fundraising numbers this quarter will dwarf the competition. He will take time off from the Iowa/New Hampshire/South Carolina circuit to raise money from well-connected Americans in London.

And when President Obama visited Pittsburgh, Romney gave an interview to a local paper and attacked the president's economic policies.

The problem with frontrunner status is it also makes you everyone else's target. All things political next with Bill Burton and Michael Gerson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Bill Burton, former press secretary for President Obama, and Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for George W. Bush. Welcome both.

We have been talking about Afghanistan on this show today, and indeed all this week. How much sway does Afghanistan have a year from November? Take a guess, Michael?

GERSON: I think some of it depends on the outcome. I mean, if this is really undermining the strategy, and Afghanistan is a serious problem I think that does factor into an impression of weakness for the president, but it may not be that way because, you know, the question is whether the level of cuts is going to seriously undermine that strategy or not.

CROWLEY: Let me posit this, because I do think that it's possible looking at the polling that Americans if they saw Afghanistan imploding after we began to pull out, would go, okay, well, we tried.

Do you think if something goes wrong on the ground and we're still pulling out that it's a negative for President Obama?

BURTON: Well, I agree with Michael that the outcome is of course very important here, two things about this Afghan decision that are very important. One is that the president set forth a strategy. He showed success in that strategy, and was able to keep a promise the he'd made.

Number two, is the general incoherence you see on the GOP side on this issue. You have got people who like Mitt Romney who want to pull our troops out faster, Jon Huntsman wants to get our troops out faster, Tim Pawlenty wants to keep the troops in longer. And there is no real coherence to the why they want to do that or when they would get the troops out or why they would get the troops out.

So I think that as people start to think about what the choice is going to be here next November, they see President Obama who has shown strong leadership here and they see a group of Republicans candidates who don't really have a coherent foreign policy, But at the end of the day I do agree with Michael that what happens on the ground does matter.

CROWLEY: A lot of folks look at the -- what Bill is calling incoherence in the Republican Party, and saying look there is a seismic shift going on in the Republican Party, often seen of the most muscular of the two parties when it comes to defense matters.

Is there that? Or is this just specific to this president or this issue in Afghanistan?

GERSON: Well, I do think we saw in the Libyan debate, for example, that a lot of Republicans coming out against I think the president's pretty good strategy in this case just for political reasons, resulting in an odd alliance between the anti-war left and the anti-Obama right. And that I think is pretty dangerous for the country.

I think John McCain is correct to be concerned that there are serious undercurrents of isolationism which you see in candidates like Jon Huntsman moving forward here.

So Republicans are diluting an important part of their message. Tim Pawlenty is trying to restore that, he's trying to distinguish himself as a strong supporter of a kind of Reagan like internationalism. So it's going to be a debate within the Republican Party when under George Bush or John McCain, it really wasn't a debate.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to the debt ceiling just because that is occupying much of our time in Washington. The president is going to meet with the minority, majority leaders from the Senate tomorrow. What is the president's best move in accepting the premise that what is holding things up, what is holding up the deal is Republicans don't want to increase revenues in any way, shape or form?

BURTON: Well, I think that there has got to be a deal. And I think that Eric Cantor walking away from the negotiations was a very dangerous thing. And, you know, we can take him at his word that this was above his pay grade, and beyond his abilities, but if John Boehner isn't able to go in there and make a deal and actually make sure that the nation doesn't default on its obligations, then Republicans will end up owning this economy as much as the president does.

CROWLEY: And you know Democrats are going to do -- are going to do that, Michael. I mean, if -- look, I think they have to get a debt ceiling increase, because I don't think either side truly wants to see the nation default.

But the point that Bill is making I think is there as much danger in the next couple of days for Speaker John Boehner as for the president. Would you agree with that?

GERSON: No, I agree with that. I think it is going to be fascinating to see this unfold. The president has to decide whether he wants a deal or not, and join arms with Boehner, have an East Room signing ceremony, take some of these spending issues off the table, or whether he wants to be more traditionally Democratic, use entitlements and taxes on the rich as a cudgel against Republicans moving forward.

But John Boehner has a very divided caucus of his own in the House. If he gives too much he is going to need Democratic votes in order to pass a budget in the House.

And you know when people like Senator DeMint are saying no deal except under maximal circumstances. So it's a balance for both of them with what they want to do in the environment.

CROWLEY: And in fact, doesn't the president want the debt ceiling thing to go away, because I don't think people look at this and go debt ceiling, oh jobs.

It's very clear the American people want to talk about jobs. And there have been signals from the White House, let's get this done and move on.

BURTON: I think that's probably right, because you can't talk about some of the other things that you need to do in order to create jobs while you have got the debt ceiling fight hanging over you. So...

CROWLEY: Doesn't that sort of indicate, then, that the president might -- there might be some give there with the president, and he might say, fine, no tax, you know, no revenue enhancements or getting rid of subsidies just do it the way you've got it. BURTON: Well, I don't think the president is going to say just do it. He comes to the table with a principle position, and so does John Boehner and the Republicans. I think at the end of the day we'll find common ground, because the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling could just be too catastrophic for the American economy.

GERSON: The common ground could be revenue increases that are tax rate increases, that's a debate in the Republican coalition now. You're talking about tax breaks and other things like the ethanol subsidy that could raise revenue without increasing rates. That might be a solution.

People like Tom Coburn are supportive of those -- he's an ultra hawk on these issues. That could be a common ground.

CROWLEY: Let me move you to 2012. We talked about former Governor Romney now seems to be the front runner, certainly in money, certainly in some polling we've seen in Iowa and New Hampshire. So the ongoing premise is it will be Mitt Romney versus who? Who is the non-Mitt Romney in this race?

BURTON: It's hard to tell with the Des Moines Register poll out today showing Michelle Bachmann just a point behind Romney.

I mean, the polls are early. You know, at this point Michael Huckabee had 4 percent in the Iowa polls and obviously he went on to win. But the thing that is similar between a Bachmann or a Pawlenty or a Huntsman or a Romney is that they offer a pretty crystal choice with the president in November. Having signed on to the Ryan budget and all of the different things that it would do like essentially end Medicare in favor of tax cuts for wealthy folks and oil companies, I think that is going to set up the sort of choice that is going to make this clear to the American people, you know, who they pull the lever for next November.

CROWLEY: And, you know, we should say that he's right, Huckabee went on to win the Iowa Caucuses, but he didn't go on to become the anti-John McCain.

GERSON: I agree with that.

CROWLEY: So who do you see having the strength at this point to take on a frontrunner, albeit a rather weak one at that point?

GERSON: I actually think that there are going to be three people emerge here, Romney, the alternative to Romney, and sort of the tea party conservative darling who may be someone like Michele Bachmann, who is probably not going to be the alternative to Romney.

Tim Pawlenty really wants to occupy that ground, but I think Romney is in an increasingly strong position. He looks who are comfortable, I've seen him up in New Hampshire, than he did the last time around. He has gotten better at running, at what he does.

And the debate now is no longer really a health care debate, which would have hurt him a couple of years ago with Republicans. It's an economic growth debate, a jobs debate. And he's stronger on that.

CROWLEY: I'm going to have to unfortunately stop you both here. Michael Gerson, Bill Burton, thanks for joining us.

BURTON: Thanks.

GERSON: Thanks.

CROWLEY: Up next, a check of today's top stories, and then Nancy Pelosi's response to this personal question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: Leader Cantor can't handle the truth when it comes to ending tax subsidies for big oil, corporations that send jobs overseas, and the like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Time for a check of today's top stories. Authorities say six people are dead and others are still missing from Friday's tractor trailer truck collision with an Amtrak passenger train in Nevada. The driver of the truck slammed on his brakes and slid more than 300 feet before hitting the train which was carrying over 200 passengers. In Minot, North Dakota, the Souris River is cresting today, though inches lower than expected. As many as 4,000 homes are flooded and a third of the town has been evacuated. Water levels are expected to begin falling later this evening.

And Pakistani militants launched their second attack in the past two days targeting the country's police force. No one was killed in today's bombing, but Saturday's attack left 10 officers dead. That attack, according to the Associated Press, was carried out by a husband and wife suicide team.

Those are today's top stories. Up next, a side of Nancy Pelosi you may not have seen before.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We're lucky to get some great guests on this show, and sometimes we corral them into taking a few extra minutes for a Web exclusive we call "Getting to Know." The idea is to try to flesh out what the political world refers to as talking heads. The conversation is often funny, sometimes poignant, and always revealing.

This week we got to know Nancy Pelosi a little better. She was the first female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, but her mom, it turns out, had a different career path in mind for her only daughter. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Your mother actually wanted you to be a nun.

PELOSI: Oh, definitely.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: So I want to know from your perspective if that was ever a true consideration of yours.

PELOSI: No. No, it wasn't. I didn't want to be a nun. And I didn't want to be a congresswoman.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: You can see the rest of the interview and all of our "Getting to Know" segments as well as interviews, articles, behind- the-scenes moments, and more on our Web site sotu.blogs.cnn.com. We know that's a lot of dots, but it is worth the keystrokes.

Thank you so much for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Be sure to tune in next Sunday for a special edition of STATE OF THE UNION, "Making It in America." We'll talk about the state of the American dream with an all-star lineup. That's next Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

Up next for our viewers here in the United States, "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS."