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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Interview with Jill Biden; Interview with Sean Penn
Aired January 23, 2012 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Tonight, as President Obama prepares his State of the Union, the second lady of the United States on the state of the military. Jill Biden, a very personal view of America's troops and the families they leave behind.
JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It was hard for our family especially during the holidays when, you know, we'd look down the table and Bo was not there.
MORGAN: An exclusive interview with one very unexpected interruption.
That is your husband landing.
BIDEN: It is? How funny is that.
MORGAN: Plus Sean Penn, the questions he thinks Americans need to ask.
SEAN PENN, ACTOR, DIRECTOR, HUMANITARIAN: What do we stand for as a community? What do we stand for as a country and what do I stand for in my house, with my family?
MORGAN: His thoughts on the race for the White House.
PENN: I don't want to see a narrow-minded leadership encourage a narrow-minded Congress.
MORGAN: And his Hollywood life.
Ever wake up and think, gosh, I wish I was George Clooney?
PENN: Sure, don't we all?
MORGAN: Good evening. On the eve of the State of the Union, it's my great privilege and pleasure to sit down exclusively with the second lady of the United States, Jill Biden. We're meeting here at the Wounded Warriors Hope and Care Center in Camp Pendleton just north of San Diego in California.
And Jill Biden joins me now.
Welcome. BIDEN: Thank you.
MORGAN: Well, thank you for bringing me. It's such an amazing place.
BIDEN: It is.
MORGAN: Tell me about what you've been doing here?
BIDEN: Well, this morning, I went to -- the Marines took me to a village that they had constructed like an Afghan village. And they did a live fire and -- to show me what it was like with the Marines went through or are going through as they go into Afghanistan. And then I went and I looked at the place where they teach them how to handle bombs and IEDs and talk to all the Marines in there. So it was a pretty intense morning.
MORGAN: When you are that close and they're firing live ammunition, what's the difference between that and everything you've read or heard about it?
BIDEN: Well, I think it made me realize just what our servicemen and women are going through. And you know I see them a lot before they go and I see the -- I see a lot of wounded warriors. But then to get into the mindset of what it looks like and smells like and feels like is pretty incredible, to see what these men and women and the courage that they have and the resilience to go into these villages. And not knowing what they're going to encounter.
And it's pretty incredible. And seeing -- and I met with the women Marines who go into the villages and so they meet with all the women in there and try to meet their needs. So it was intense.
MORGAN: You've had a personal interest. Your son, Bo, fought in Iraq. What was that like for you as a parent to actually see a son go to war?
BIDEN: Well, I think it was really tough for our family, to have Bo deployed, that whole year was very tough. He has two small children and of course just like every other service member, I mean, he missed their birthdays and Christmas, and I like to -- the way I can relate it is that it was hard for our family, especially during the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, when, you know, we'd look down the table and Bo was not there, and we'd all try to pretend like, you know, we were having a great holiday, but it really does create an empty space in your heart.
And that's why I think when I go to visit the military families, a lot of times, I think I really connect with the military moms because I know what they've gone through. And I know what it's like to have a child, and even though he's -- you know, he's a grown man, but you know he's still my child.
MORGAN: How much harder is it that your husband is one of the decision-makers to go into war, to go into battle zones? BIDEN: Actually, that's one of the best things about it for me because I know that Joe truly wanted to get out of Iraq and he wants to get our soldiers out of Afghanistan as soon as they can be pulled out. And so I -- one of the reasons I wanted my husband to run for president in the first place is I wanted -- I knew Joe would fight to get out of Iraq. And so for me, when we joined with the administration with Barack and Michelle, I knew that, you know, it's a dream come true that now we're out of Iraq and we're moving towards moving out of Afghanistan.
MORGAN: As a mother, in the position of having a son out there, what did you find were the most difficult things to deal with, when you're talking to all the other families? What are the things you most relate to in terms of the problems or the issues that arise when you have a loved one who's at battle?
BIDEN: I -- you know, I think -- well, with the Wounded Warriors, when -- my son was not wounded, but when they come back, you know, the mothers sort of pull me aside and you know talk to me privately about, you know, I never thought my son would come back like this and, you know, make these comments to me.
And I feel like, you know, I just hug them and that's what I thought about, too. I mean what if my son comes back and he's been in battle and he's been wounded? And -- so -- and to be raising children and to be by yourself. I know when my daughter-in-law was by herself and we had a big snowstorm and one of the neighbors came by and quietly just shoveled, you know, the her snow out -- shoveled the snow out, never said a word, you know, never went to the door and said, look what I've done. I mean that's the kind of thing that --
MORGAN: It's so important, isn't it, to have --
BIDEN: It's so important.
MORGAN: To have people just to worry about --
BIDEN: To understand, yes.
MORGAN: I read something you said that really resonated with me, which was that, the families don't wear the uniforms.
MORGAN: In most cases.
MORGAN: And so they can be almost in visible as military families?
BIDEN: Yes. Yes.
MORGAN: If they had a badge saying my husband or my wife is at war.
BIDEN: Right. Right.
MORGAN: It would be so much easier for them, especially in America where there is such a pro military sentiment amongst most the population. But without that, they're kind of on their own.
BIDEN: Well, that's why Michelle Obama and I created "Joining Forces," because we felt that all Americans needed to be aware of the sacrifices of the families, and that's why we appeal to all Americans to commit to an act of kindness, and go to your strength, do whatever it is.
You know if you're a baker, to make something to take over for a family or just like that neighbor did. I mean that was such a kind gesture, just to do it and not want any thanks, just out of the goodness of his heart.
MORGAN: What was the day like when Bo came home?
BIDEN: That was, you know, a wonderful day. We were all so excited that he was coming back. And -- I mean you can hear, you know, how uplifting it was. And I think his children -- they wouldn't let go of his clothing. They just -- you know, they were hanging on to his legs and just hanging on. And they just didn't want to let go of him. That was joyous.
MORGAN: We're on the eve of the State of the Union. What would you say the State of the Union's military is right now? You've spent lots of time now with people in the military who are serving and families and so on. What do you get an overall sense of the mood, the atmosphere amongst people in the service is right now?
BIDEN: Well, I think that -- I think they're uplifted because I think that they know that this administration truly has their back and we're -- they are a number one priority for this administration, to take care of them. And the four of us are committed. You know it's me and Joe and Michelle and Barack. And we're all out there working hard for our military, whether that means getting jobs, improving education, working on wellness, all of us are taking a piece of it.
And I think -- so I think the military know that we're behind them 100 percent.
MORGAN: Obviously, if the Democrats win the next election, then Joe could face a number of other big decisions, involving sending troops to war. Describe for me what it's like to be with somebody that has to make decisions like that or have to live with the daily -- let me give an example.
What was it like for your family when the raid on Osama bin Laden took place, because clearly, the upside was huge. The downside, as President Carter was telling me the other night, equally huge. Tell me what that experience was like.
BIDEN: Well, I knew something was going on because Joe was at the White House for two days before. You know he was barely home. And of course he couldn't tell me what was going on. But I remember -- and the kids were on the phone with me, like, mom, what's going on? So they knew but -- that something big was happening.
But you know, I was waiting for Joe to come home that night, after they had announced it on TV. I saw it with everybody else. And I put on my bathrobe and I went downstairs, and it was 12:00 at night. I was waiting for him to come up. And I opened the door and down by our gate, people had gathered and they were singing "God Bless America."
BIDEN: And that was one of the highlights, I think, of the last three years that, you know, Barack did what he said he was going to do and all Americans -- I could see on the TV people the cheering and you could hear it all over the neighborhoods. And that was truly a highlight.
MORGAN: What were Joe's first words when he came through the door?
BIDEN: Gosh, I don't remember. I just remember running out and hugging him and saying thank you.
MORGAN: What a moment.
BIDEN: Yes. It was really --
MORGAN: I mean for him --
BIDEN: Truly a moment.
MORGAN: For the administration and for America and the world.
BIDEN: Yes. Yes.
MORGAN: You can only imagine.
MORGAN: Is it moments like that that make all the obvious hardships that come with your life now? There are lots of pluses but lots of minuses. Is it for moments like that everything seems worth it?
BIDEN: Yes. For sure.
MORGAN: Let's take a little break. I want to come back and talk more about the vice president.
MORGAN: I'm very interested about how he wooed you. Through an advertisement he saw.
BIDEN: Well --
MORGAN: Hold your fire. BIDEN: OK.
MORGAN: I want to hear about this.
MORGAN: Back with the second lady, Jill Biden.
Jill, tell me about your husband. And I'm fascinated about this story that he basically got his eyes on you when he saw a picture of you in an advertisement. Is this true?
BIDEN: Well, part of it is true. I had met him once before. And we were in a crowd and it was at a fundraiser. And -- so then I guess he saw my picture somewhere and he said, that's the kind of girl I'd like to date. And I knew his brother. So his brother said, I know her because I was in college at the time with -- and his brother was there. And so Frank called me and got my number and Joe called, and said, you know, this is Joe Biden. And would you like to go out? And --
MORGAN: Where was your first date?
BIDEN: We went to Philadelphia to the movies.
MORGAN: Do you remember the film?
BIDEN: No, I don't.
MORGAN: Was he so mesmerizing you didn't even -- didn't look at the screen?
BIDEN: You know, I -- well, you know, I went out with him because -- I actually had another date that night that I canceled and just because I thought he would be interesting to go out with. Just -- I said, this is one time I want to go -- you know just once. But I went out with him and I was really charmed by him. And at the door, he was -- you know how guys are usually trying to make their moves and he didn't.
MORGAN: He was a gentleman.
BIDEN: He was a gentleman. He shook my hand. And I remember going upstairs and calling my mother at 1:00 in the morning, and I said, mom, I finally met a gentleman.
MORGAN: Did you really?
BIDEN: Yes, I did.
MORGAN: And do you think the guy that you ditched that night has any idea that you ditched him for the later vice president?
BIDEN: No. I doubt.
MORGAN: What are the qualities about Joe Biden that you think make him fit to be vice president of this country?
BIDEN: Well, I think he has a strong character. I think he's passionate about helping people. I think he's decisive. And he's -- he's smart.
MORGAN: People say probably the biggest compliment about you is that you've carried on working, unlike most people in your position in history, you've actually continued, and teaching is your great passion.
MORGAN: Tell me about that full press when you decide to go on, because many people wouldn't have done that.
BIDEN: Well, when we were elected, I said to Joe, you know, I have to continue to teach. And he said, I think you should. And then we talked with Barack and Michelle, and I said to Michelle, you know, I really want to teach, I want to keep at it. And she said, you have to do what you love. And so four days after the inauguration, I was in the classroom.
MORGAN: And does it -- is it strange teaching when you're the vice president's wife? I mean do you get the same kind of treatment that other people do, do you think?
BIDEN: You know, a lot of my students don't really realize that I'm second lady because they don't either expect it or maybe they haven't watched the news, I don't know, but I can go whole semesters when somebody will say to me, you know what, I saw you on the TV and you were with Michelle Obama, and I screamed to my mom, look, there's my English teacher. And my mother said, no, it isn't. But -- so those things happen to me frequently.
MORGAN: Critics of America right now focus on education as one of the big problems.
MORGAN: Would you go along with that? Do you think there is a lot more to be done now with education?
BIDEN: I do. I think a lot more needs to be done. But I knew when we joined this administration that it was a focus of Barack's and I knew he would work hard to keep it better and he has. He's kept his promise. And so I feel very comfortable that we're moving forward and things are getting better.
MORGAN: What have been the best and worse things of being the vice president's wife in the last few years?
BIDEN: The best things are, I think that I have a platform and I can do so many things just like you mentioned, with one of the best nights was of course --
MORGAN: I tell you what. Let me stop you.
MORGAN: Because I think we're going to --
MORGAN: That is your husband landing.
BIDEN: Is it? It is. How funny is that.
MORGAN: It's actually the vide president landing.
BIDEN: How funny is that.
MORGAN: So let's keep the camera rolling, actually, because this interview has just been interrupted by Vice President Biden coming over our heads and wrecking his wife's interview.
MORGAN: Nice plane, though.
BIDEN: Yes. It is a great plane.
MORGAN: Where were we? I remember. You said the best and worst moments.
BIDEN: The best and worst things. So I've been given a platform and I said I would never waste one day of it. And I've tried to hold true to that. So look at me today. Look at where I am with the Marines at Camp Pendleton and the things that I have seen. And I've been able go to the refugee camps in Kenya and fight famine, help fight famine.
And I've been able to work on, you know, my love, education, and work for community colleges for all Americans to look at what opportunities they can have. So I think that's probably the best things that every day is like a best day. I mean there are down times --
MORGAN: What's been the worst day so far?
BIDEN: The worst day. You know the worst day is a personal kind of thing. It was three weeks before we were elected. And within a span of four days, my mother died, my son was deployed to Iraq, I had to bury my mother, and then I sort of had to pick myself up and get out on the trail again. So that was the worst time for me.
MORGAN: You've got a pack of Rottweiler Republicans scrapping it out now for the right --
BIDEN: That's your description.
MORGAN: Yes. Yes. Mine. Mine.
MORGAN: Scrapping it out to have the right to take on Barack Obama and your husband. Are you guys ready for the fight that's coming?
BIDEN: Yes. I think we're ready. It wasn't easy the last time. And I -- but I think we're ready. We're looking forward to going out and campaigning. I think this is my 13th campaign. I'm a veteran campaigner. And as are, you know, the other three principals. We're going out, you know, talking to Americans, seeing what's on their minds. So we're all looking forward to it?
MORGAN: Final question, what does being an American mean to you?
BIDEN: Being -- I think it means, you know, having traveled around to other countries and I think the aspect of freedom is really important. And I've seen it in --you know, with the refugees, I've seen it going to Iraq. And I just -- and just hearing from so many military families. And -- so I think it's having that aspect of freedom.
MORGAN: Jill Biden, thank you very much indeed.
BIDEN: Thank you. Thank you.
MORGAN: That was the second lady of the United States, Jill Biden.
Coming next, I'll sit down with Sean Penn and ask him for his take on the State of the Union.
MORGAN: Sean Penn is an actor's actor. He's been making movies for over 30 years. He's been Oscar nominated five times and he's won twice. He's just as well-known for his passion for politics and for putting himself on the line for his causes.
And Sean Penn joins me again.
Now, welcome back, Sean. PENN: Thank you.
MORGAN: I always like to talk to you after you've had your coffee.
PENN: Yes. It's a good day.
MORGAN: Feel like it revs you up a bit. Gets you steaming before we get into politics. The State of the Union is going to be tomorrow. What are your thoughts about the State of the Union right now in America?
PENN: Well, it's interesting, you know, when we -- in watching the state of the political landscape or the media political landscape -- with the Republican debates. We -- what happened with Newt Gingrich, with all of that coming out, almost had the effect of branding a seriousness to these candidates because it was kind of the -- the country had shown it is so fed up with not dealing with the issues of jobs, that in some kind of way that juxtaposition seemed to benefit a perception that is still rather empty.
Because the job issue is not a discussion on television, it's a life issue in the home. The country has been so invested in these wars abroad and really seems to have lost track about what a -- what a constitutional America is and what a unified America is.
MORGAN: I mean when you heard Newt Gingrich exploding with anger at the CNN debate about this apparent focus on what he says is his private life, let me ask you, it's a complicated issue, the issue of a man's character or his private life in relation to his fitness to be president of the United States.
Do you care? Do you care about any aspect of a politician's private life?
PENN: I think the only great skill that he has is in responding to such things or inflaming such things in attacks on others, so it's really gone into his wheelhouse. But, again, it's just this cheapening of it where the issues themselves, and we always hear it, let's stay on the issue, let's stay on the issue. I think that this country has always been that most poised to be the aspiration of any country.
MORGAN: Do you feel proud to be an American right now?
PENN: Well, yes, I do, because I have -- I always have had a great belief in the possibility here. And I think the fact that we are in a country, whereas individuals, we can still dream, that we can still talk about it as a possibility, it is something to be proud of. In practice, I think that, you know -- but it's -- that's one of the discussion points, you know, when people are -- somebody says, I'm not -- I'm not proud, someone, you know, answers it in the contrary way and I understand that, without considering that a lack of patriotism.
I think that sometimes if we are less than proud, if we're not -- if those moments don't occur, then we're just not thinking. MORGAN: Lots of things have happened since we last sat here. Not least of which troops coming out of Iraq finally. You must have been pleased to see that?
PENN: Yes, I mean I think it's a complicated situation. You know I would have much -- would have been much more pleased had we waited and seen the Iraqis do as the Egyptians are struggling to do, as the Libyans have done and in Tunisia, where you -- you know, I believe that the Arab Spring would have gotten Saddam Hussein out of power by this time, as well we would have saved a lot of American lives, a lot of American dollars, and killed a lot less Iraqi babies.
MORGAN: And the clear evidence to suggest that might have been the case is what happened in Libya, where Gadhafi was just as bad a guy as Saddam Hussein. He'd been in almost longer, in fact, that Saddam Hussein had been in power. It was all about oil. And in the end he was taken out by his own people. No lost American life whatsoever.
PENN: Yes. Yes. And you have this great possibility in Libya because it's only six million people, it's non-sectarian, you have foreign countries that have frozen Libyan assets, they're not concerned about criticism of their constituents by releasing funds because they're Libyan's people money, they were stolen by Gadhafi in the first place, and you've got deep natural resources not only -- and great tourist sites and beaches and the oil, of course.
So I think that that Libya can be an epicenter for something. And there's no doubt that the United States support of the NATO action there was a brilliant military success.
MORGAN: Very very different to how American military operations have been conducted in relation to despots and so on in the past. It may be paving a new way for American foreign policy, no longer the world's policeman but -- you know, the country that goes around backing up people either to have their own natural uprisings or a concerted NATO effort, where the pressure and the responsibility doesn't hang just on America.
PENN: Exactly. And then also Libya is a great example because the interim leadership had been committed to turn the revolution over to those who fought and they were sending those revolutionaries to leadership councils. And it wasn't the kind of theft of the revolution that they're experiencing in Egypt.
MORGAN: What people would say who criticize you, they would say, it's very well, Sean Penn, saying get out of all these places, blah blah blah. If he was president and you had Ahmadinejad in Iran, and developing nuclear weapons, was it clear intent this publicly states to obliterate Israel, what would you do as president to stop him?
PENN: Look, I always thought that when 9/11 happened that I would have loved to have seen George Bush, let the American people and the world know, this is inexcusable and these people are going to die, and we're going to kill them. We're not going to kill anyone else. And if I do it illegally, I'm not going to corrupt your Constitution to do it, I'll go to jail.
We're going to take care of that. But we also have to realize that C-4 explosive existed when I was a kid and so did the Koran and you didn't have any suicide bombings, for example, in Iraq, no history of it. Now it's rampant.
So what happens? If you take people's hope away, if they believe tomorrow can't be a better day for themselves, their family, their religion, their country, then of course you're going to have hopeless acts happened whether on the smaller scales or like 9/11.
I think that, you know, there is -- this administration has had a couple of extremely successful military campaigns. They also had, I think, using the U.S. military, a very successful criminal accountability campaign in Pakistan.
MORGAN: So you're not a pacifist, are you?
MORGAN: It's wrong to characterize you in that way?
PENN: Yeah. No. I -- you know, I'm an aspiring pacifist. I would like to think that one day that my children will live in a world where that insanity of killing other people to solve problems will be archaic and obsolete. We're not there yet.
But what we're doing really is allow in allowing very wealthy people to make sheep of us, because they know that we feel weak if we're not represented by a gun. And we are losing the American courage to stand up against the bad guy without one.
And so what's happened is we get pushed around. And we believe that these wars make sense, because they give us an identity. It really speaks to the disconnect or the exploitation between a kind of wealthy class and the military industrial complex and the corporations, that are so behind every one of the candidates that we have in power.
And it's not the candidates' fault. It's this system that we let happen. It's something that we -- we can change. I look at, for example, where I work in Haiti. If I believe it's possible in Haiti to turn that country around -- God knows I do. I know it is going to work in Haiti. Then turning this country around should be butter. But it is going to take more courage of the mass.
Like, for example, I think we talked briefly last time I was here about the Occupy Movement and how something is in the air now. I believe that there is a chance. And I do think that, you know, we do have a president who has, as President Clinton had -- at least they represent an aspiration of intelligence and conversation, that whether or not we agree with the sitting president, it's not an embarrassment.
MORGAN: Let's have a break. Let's talk more Obama, talk a bit more GOP and Haiti. And also a dash of George Clooney, because no segment is ever complete without a dash of George Clooney. Shall we agree, Sean?
PENN: I'm right with you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's stayed true all these years to his word to help the Haitian people. And it's truly remarkable, you know, to have that dedication and be so diligent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That's a public service announcement for Sean Penn's non-governmental organization, the JP Haitian Relief Foundation. Sean Penn is back with me now. Come to Haiti in a moment, Sean.
Just pick up again on the Obama and the GOP race, because obviously America is facing a big decision come November. One of the things I've noticed -- it's been quite interesting about the GOP race is that all the Tea Party candidates have, one by one, fallen by the wayside.
And yet, as they have done, most of the other candidates have stepped up ever more right wing rhetoric, particularly on social issues like abortion or gay marriage or so on. What have you made of that double pronged phenomenon?
PENN: I think that you're seeing the more experienced candidates hanging in and -- and then adopting that kind of fundamentalist position they feel is most sellable now, but that the -- that the candidates that have fallen out were just amateurs among amateurs.
MORGAN: When you see somebody who is running to be president in your country, say they would try and make gay marriage illegal again, that they would try and -- that they wouldn't believe in abortion even in the cases of rape and incest -- when you hear them say that, and they genuinely say it with conviction -- someone like Rick Santorum, he means this stuff and he might be president. When you hear that, what do you think?
PENN: I think the same thing when something happens, whether it was part of the initial campaign commitments of President Obama or maybe something that fell short of that or changed afterwards, that, first, we have to be a country of -- of the people.
We first have to say, OK, the president is not -- unless somebody's telling me that they're a dictator -- now, I don't want to see Rick Santorum be president because I would like to see people in trouble in this country getting out of it. I would like to see -- you know, I don't want to see a narrow-minded leadership encourage a narrow-minded Congress.
But the -- getting hung up, whether it's Rick Santorum, Barack -- President Obama or anybody else -- again, I think this is part of how we get thrown. You have to kind of -- you have to look at the map and you have to put the calculator next to the map. Say, here's how we are going to build it. Here's how much it is going to cost. Here's how much it's going to benefit people. And not get torn because this one wants to paint it red and this one wants to paint it blue.
So some of these issues, until we can put our money in bridges instead of bombs, you know, stop killing people all over the world with agendas that are corporate, not political, start putting money into our education system, which we know is broken -- and we talk about it as though somehow that's less damning than terrorism.
If we worry that they're going to get into our computers, but we're not paying attention to the fact we're not getting nutrition of thought into our children's brains, we don't need the Chinese or al Qaeda to kill us. We are going to commit suicide.
So I -- you know, I think Rick Santorum is a fanatic. That's not -- but that's just my opinion. Let him run for president and no matter who the president --
MORGAN: Even though you disagree with him on these core issues, do you have more respect for somebody like him, who at least is consistent on his principles, even if you don't agree with him, than somebody like a Mitt Romney, who is a legendary flip-flopper, apparently changing his principled positions for political expediency?
PENN: Yes, if he told me -- if Rick Santorum said that here's what I'm going to do, I'd be much more likely to believe him than many others. It's the reason I wouldn't support him.
MORGAN: Yes. But do you have more respect for politicians who at least are true to themselves?
PENN: This is again where words get into our conditioning. Respect -- do I respect somebody who would sit beside me and tell me he wouldn't respect my daughter's choice, no, I don't think I would respect him.
MORGAN: Let's turn to Haiti. Everybody knows your commitment to Haiti. It's been quite extraordinary. I've spoken to many people who tell me details about the commitment you have down there, the amount of time you spent there. No one's better placed to give a proper perspective of where Haiti now is, having survived this catastrophic disaster.
Where are they now?
PENN: Well, in two years, they've gotten to the point where they were able to, against a lot of odds, select a leadership of the people. I think they have a decisive president. They -- there's a kind of miracle that's been pulled off in the last two years, which is the same miracle you could just as fairly say was a disaster or too slow moving.
But to go there, to have been there all this time, to think back to where it was two years ago, not only in terms of the beginning of the development of infrastructure, the clearing of rubble, building of homes that's begun, but also in this spirit of the people and the kind of -- and the kind of -- the way in which they've gotten over the trauma enough to be the leadership now.
MORGAN: I think I asked you this last time. I am going to ask you this again because it still fascinates me, why somebody like you, Oscar winning superstar, not short of a few dollars, has no need to do this, and certainly not the amount of time you spent -- what really motivates you, Sean Penn, to dedicate so much of your time to this cause?
PENN: You know, I remember seeing an interview with Paul Newman many years ago, where he was asked, you know, what is it that's kept you in this marriage, in love with Joanne Woodward for all this time. He says, you know -- the answer was something like, as it turns out, we're still in love with each other.
As it turns out, I ended up in Haiti at a moment where -- I didn't intend to stay there for a long time, but at a moment -- and with a team of people who recognized gaps. We were very quickly learning about things we hadn't previously experienced. And we saw that we could be useful.
My organization now employees 1,000 people a day, 300 permanent staff. And we're 95, 96 percent Haitian, the staff. So I -- increasingly, I am a bystander, an observer in a Haitian organization, that, while an NGO, is really modeled to be moving towards absorbing itself into -- first of all, into total Haitian leadership and so on, but the training implementation that's going on --
MORGAN: It's hard, isn't it? It's still hard there. It was hard before this happened. So it's tough battle. But I think everyone salutes you, Sean, for the stuff you do there. I like the fact you are sounding more optimistic than the last time I spoke to you. It's always good if that's the way the grass is growing.
Let's have a little break, come back and talk movies. George Clooney, we haven't talked about him yet. I want to know if you're jealous of him. You can be honest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: He didn't just dip his toe into the humanitarian pool. He dove in head fist. And he's been swimming in those waters for the better part of the last two years.
He wasn't a doctor. He never ran an NGO. He didn't speak the languages. It has been arduous and frustrating and dangerous. But his work has never wavered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: George Clooney giving Sean Penn a humanitarian award at the VH-1 Critic's Choice Awards. Sean Penn's back with me now.
I mean, pretty nice words from George Clooney. I would imagine you have fairly similar things to say about him. He's another actor who I think has shown real commitment to causes he believes in.
PENN: Yeah. He's -- I think he's an extraordinary guy. I think he's one of the few guys whose talent and intelligence earns him charm and wit. He's kind of one of those -- I think that's why, you know, he's so celebrated. He's put it all -- he's got the whole package and has been very shrewd about where to put his energies and where to put his focus on the things that he's committed himself to.
Yeah, I admire him enormously.
MORGAN: Ever wake up and think, I wish I was George Clooney?
PENN: Sure. Don't we all?
MORGAN: Well, I do.
PENN: I wish that I could keep my humor as well in difficult moments as I see George do.
MORGAN: He's brilliantly cool, isn't he, under pressure?
PENN: Yes. And I think that he's got a humility. He just doesn't take himself -- that part of himself, which is the celebrity, and all of that -- he refuses to take it seriously.
MORGAN: Do you think he has a chance for an Oscar for "Descendents."
PENN: Absolutely, from what I hear. Having been in Haiti, I've seen none of the movies. But from what I'm hearing on the street, he has a very good chance.
MORGAN: I liked it. I thought it was a very, very interesting role for him to play, a big departure from his normal stuff. He showed he's got range as an actor, which --
PENN: My mother saw it and loved it. But I'm behind on my movies.
MORGAN: What other tips does your mother have for Oscars, given you've been stuck in Haiti?
PENN: What tips does she have?
MORGAN: Any best actress tips?
PENN: No, my mother is -- she's an extraordinary actress herself. No, she's very opinionated. So the tips are not those I can share here.
MORGAN: So you don't see many movies then? PENN: No. I haven't been seeing -- the last couple of years, I haven't seen hardly anything. I'll get the odd DVD and see something. But no, I haven't seen too much.
MORGAN: What are you working on movie wise yourself? Anything?
PENN: Yes, I have some things that I'm playing with and some things I will be doing. Right now, it's kind of scheduling around my new day job in Haiti.
MORGAN: I mean, it really is, isn't it? Because the fact that you -- it's such a short answer, for you at the peak of your acting powers -- I mean, you must -- I fret to think about how many scripts you get sent. But to have the willpower to just say no to all of this stuff, to turn down 15 million dollars offers and so on, I mean, this can't be easy?
PENN: Well, I think you're going a little high.
PENN: But the -- no, it is easy. Like as I say, I have a couple projects that I plan to do. There's an obligation here that isn't just a choice. It's -- it's -- it's very difficult to explain. But I feel that if I could just get everyone to see it, to what's happening there, to see the connection to the United States -- and there's a big -- this is a big challenge, to be able to explain, to articulate, what that lifeline is between these countries.
You can do it if you talk about things, as I have talked about, for example, do we -- we're looking at a new environmental responsibility in this world. Do we want manufacturing to come with a very small carbon footprint from an hour and a half from Miami or do we want it to come from China?
What's good for this country? There's so many -- so many of those. But it goes to something much deeper. And it goes to that very thing that will expose why parents might be very, very committed to -- parents at large -- very committed to saying I want my kids in school; I want you to do your homework; I want -- but really so cut of and without the time to consider the kind of education that kids are getting.
Some of this comes from the disconnect of comfort. And I don't mean that everyone in America has money. Clearly not. But there are comforts here that we do have to appreciate. For example, the idea that you could get your kid to an emergency room if the fever is at a certain -- at -- which in Haiti, this is unheard of.
You can't clean water and Aspirin, much less an emergency room. You just wait to see if they die. And what's come of that culture is exactly what fed -- it intermingled with the consciousness here and the great strengths that we still do have to offer a culture like that. We might just get our mojo back as a country.
MORGAN: Amid all this, Sean, is there any room for love in your life?
PENN: Yes, there is. You know, there's always room for love in a person's life.
MORGAN: Anyone in particular?
PENN: Well, I'm madly in love with my daughter and my son. And --
MORGAN: That wasn't quite what I was getting at.
PENN: No, I understand that. I know. I would not want to bring focus or controversy on a person outside of this room. so --
MORGAN: Do I detect there's a certain little twinkle in your eye today?
PENN: Did you?
MORGAN: That suggests that maybe --
PENN: Fair enough.
MORGAN: Nothing you want to talk about?
MORGAN: Exactly. I wouldn't expect you to. Sean, it's been a pleasure, as always.
PENN: Thank you.
MORGAN: Keep fighting the fight. Good to see you.
MORGAN: Tomorrow night, President Obama delivers his third State of the Union Address. And CNN's special coverage begins at 8:00 eastern.
On Wednesday, I'll be back with exclusive interview with the one and only Alec Baldwin. "30 Rock," his movie career, his politics, even that words with friends altercation on a plane. Nothing is off limits. Alec Baldwin is always outspoken, unapologetic and -- let's face it -- bloody funny.
And he'll be here for the hour Wednesday night. That's all for us tonight. Now "AC 360."