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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Leon Panetta, Martin Dempsey

Aired February 3, 2013 - 09:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, HOST: What in the world is going on?

Today an Israeli airstrike deep into Syria, a suicide bomber at the U.S. embassy in Turkey and the president's nominee for Pentagon chief gets the third degree.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I would like an answer yes or no.

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE NOMINEE: Well, I'm not going to give you a yes or no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey on the Hagel hearings, world hotspots and Benghazi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: This is not 911. You cannot just simply call and expect within two minutes to have a team in place.

(END VIDEO CLIP))

CROWLEY: Then, the president's agenda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Comprehensive immigration reform.

Prevent something like Newtown or Oak Creek from happening again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: What about jobs? With former Obama policy adviser Melody Barnes, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Time magazine's Michael Duffy and "The Hill's" AB Stoddard.

And a Super Bowl Sunday conversation about football and kids with the MVP of Super Bowl XL Hines Ward. I'm Candy Crowley and this is "State of the Union." (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE CROWLEY: Joining me now Leon Panetta, secretary of defense, and General Martin Dempsey who of course is chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

Gentlemen, thank you both for being here.

We had some very interesting hearings on Thursday for your replacement. I want to play you just a little from those hearings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAGEL: As to the Iranian red line, Persian Gulf, some of the Iranian questions you asked. I support the president's strong position on containment.

By the way, I've just been handed a note that I misspoke. We don't have a position on containment.

REP. CARL LEVIN, (D) MICHIGAN: Just to make sure your correction is clear we do have a position on containment, which is that we do not favor containment.

HAGEL: We do not favor containment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: I'm sure you've seen the criticism of the nominee for your new job, and your old job and your new boss. How did you think Mr. Hagel did?

PANETTA: Well, you know, these hearings are tough, and especially when everybody is targeting you. I guess I was really disappointed that a lot of that hearing focused on the past as opposed to the challenges that a secretary of defense has to confront.

CROWLEY: You know Capitol Hill, though, if you got a record? I mean, what else do you move on?

PANETTA: No, I understand. But you also ought to talk about what a secretary of defense is going to have to face -- war on Afghanistan. We've got sequester problems and budget problems. We got serious problems in dealing with the challenges in terms of the Middle East on cyber. I mean, there are a number of areas that simply were not that well covered that deal with what a secretary of defense has to do and that concerned me.

CROWLEY: But nothing concerned -- this will be -- this man will be your new boss replacing Secretary Panetta. Is there anything in that hearing that concerned you? There are a lot of folks who thought he just doesn't seem prepared?

DEMPSEY: No, I had the same reaction Secretary Panetta had, which was I was more surprised about what wasn't discussed than what was. And in my context with the senator, Senator Hagel, and his preparations, I found him to be very thoughtful and very well prepared and very interested. And so if he's confirmed, I'm sure that we'll establish a very close working relationship.

CROWLEY: So you all thought he seemed well prepared?

PANETTA: I think -- I know Chuck Hagel. And I think he's got good experience with regards to public service. He understands the issues of the Defense Department. I think he'll be a great secretary of defense.

CROWLEY: I'm going to ask you about signals in Washington. General Michael Hayden, who I think probably both of you know is a former director of the CIA, was talking about incoming Secretary of State John Kerry, incoming if he is confirmed Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and here is what he had to say about the new team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HAYDEN, FRM. DIR. CIA: I think the new team thinks more like the president thinks when it comes to foreign policy. This is going to be a team that might not push back as much with regard to cuts or withdrawals or smaller footprints or reluctance to have big footprints into new areas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So, I want you to tell me what your reaction is to that. Do you see a new team coming in with a different attitude toward the president's policies?

PANETTA: No, I really don't. I mean, after all, the president is the person who makes policy with regards to foreign affairs and defense policy.

CROWLEY: Sure. But this was about pushback. And the suggestion, I think, is that you all do push back and this team might not.

PANETTA: Well, I've got to tell you, anybody who knows John Kerry and anybody who knows Chuck Hagel, and I've been with him in meetings and I've been with them in conferences, and I've been with then on issue debates, and they push back. Believe me, they push back on the issues. And I think that in the situation room, everybody has to give their honest views. And I think they won't hesitate to give their honest views.

CROWLEY: One of the things where there might be pushback, where we sort of looking ahead, is we're now hearing from senior types in the White House that they might not want any troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014. Right now, as you're looking at the situation, and you trained troops in Afghanistan, for both of you, but general since you trained troops over there, we never hear very good reports. I think the last sort of official one we saw was that one Afghan battalion of all of them was able to work without U.S. ground or air support.

Are Afghan troops and is Afghan security, including the police, going to be ready in 2014 to have no U.S. support? DEMPSEY: Well first of all, I've never heard anyone suggest -- no one has ever suggested zero to me. And I think that the ultimate number will be based on the mission and how deeply we want to be involved with their continued development, and also what they want. I mean, literally what the sovereign nation of Afghanistan wants.

John Allen has got a very well thought out campaign plan. As we look at the different options for both presence after '14 and how we get from here to '14. We're basing it on keeping three things in equilibrium. The campaign objectives which are very laid out in Chicago and Lisbon with our NATO allies. Retrograde, we have got a pretty significant challenge of getting ourselves out of Afghanistan in terms of equipment and force protection. And we'll keep those three things in equilibrium.

CROWLEY: 66,000 troops there now. What sounds to you all like a reasonable number at the end of 2014? What should the Afghan government be able to do with how many U.S. troops?

PANETTA: Well, look, the most important thing that's happened is that the Afghan army has become operational. They have developed their ability to provide security. We couldn't make a transition in the areas that need add transition, which involves over 75 percent of the Afghan population right now is in under Afghan control and under Afghan security.

We couldn't do that if there weren't an Afghan army that was becoming much more capable of doing their job.

If we maintain a 352,000 number, which is what we're trying to achieve, if we maintain that...

CROWLEY: For their forces.

PANETTA: And they become good, that is going to determine, then, the level of enduring presence that we will have once we reach the end of 2014.

CROWLEY: What's your feel for it now?

DEMPSEY: Well, my feel for it now is that the missions that we've accepted post '14 with the Afghan government and our NATO allies, which largely relate to the counter-terror mission, continuing to keep pressure on transnational global terrorism as well as the continued development of the Afghan security forces. My instinct that their development is moving at a pace and their acceptance of responsibility is moving at a pace that our numbers after '14 can be modest.

CROWLEY: What's that? Can you give me a number? What's modest?

DEMPSEY: No, I can't give you a number, because first of all, I'm not going to announce a number on CNN on Sunday afternoon.

CROWLEY: Why not?

DEMPSEY: Because I don't know the number. CROWLEY: Sounds reasonable to me.

DEMPSEY: No, I really don't.

Look, we're in the business of negotiating with ourselves. And John Allen, the mission and how best to accomplish it, trying to look two years into the future. We really don't have a number selected yet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: When we return, lingering questions about the attack in Benghazi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEMPSEY: You can't be every place. And I might remind you, it was 9/11 elsewhere in the world not just in Libya.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: And we are back with Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey.

Again, thank you, gentlemen, for being here. Let me ask you about Benghazi. First, you'll be testifying on Capitol Hill before you leave office?

PANETTA: We're working on that right now. Obviously they have asked us to testify and we're happy to do that. So we probably will have that opportunity.

CROWLEY: So one of the outstanding questions out there has been, why wasn't there someone to come help? Why didn't you -- we know that you did move ships closer. We know that the air base in Sicily, you brought in a strike force. Why didn't you -- in a seven-hour timeframe that this took place, why couldn't the strike force have said, even if you didn't know what was going on, just get closer, go as though you're going to go there and we'll let you know what we find out?

PANETTA: Because very frankly, intelligence did not provide any warning that this, in fact, was going to happen. I mean, we deployed. We knew there were problems there. We moved forces into place where we could deploy them quickly if we had to. They were ready to go.

But very frankly by the time we got the information as to what, in fact, was taking place there, just distance alone made it very difficult to respond quickly. That's just the nature of dealing with the Middle East.

CROWLEY: But when did you learn, if this was a seven-hour battle, we don't know when people died, and there when the ambassador died, but if this was a seven-hour battle, a U.S. strike force couldn't have gotten there in time to be of some service?

DEMPSEY: You know, it wasn't a seven-hour battle. It was two 20-minute battles separated by about six hours. The idea that this was one continuous event is just incorrect.

And the nearest -- for example, the nearest aircraft -- armed aircraft, happened to be in Djibouti, the distance from Djibouti to Benghazi is the distance from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles.

There is some significant physics involved. And the time available, given the intelligence available, I have great confidence in reporting to the American people that we were appropriately responsive given what we knew at the time.

PANETTA: Candy, the answer to these things -- and, you know, we've learned some lessons, obviously, from what happened in Benghazi. But the answer is you have to develop host country capability there. Every embassy we have, the host country has to provide good security.

CROWLEY: But you knew Libya was really not capable at that point?

PANETTA: No, I understand that. But you have to be able to rely in part on their capability to provide security. Secondly, you've also got to be able to harden the facility so that, you know, it is well-protected. And thirdly, if none of that works, then obviously you've got to have a response team that's ready to respond.

But to do that, you've got to have intelligence that tells you this is trouble. There's a risk here. We can't -- this is not...

CROWLEY: You had an ambassador telling people that it was trouble.

PANETTA: This is not 911. You cannot just simply call and expect within two minutes to have a team in place. It takes time. That's the nature of it. Our people are there. They are in position to move, but we've got to have good intelligence that gives us a heads up that something is going to happen.

CROWLEY: The base in Italy is closer -- the air base in Italy would have been a closer team to send, a strike force, you know, right? So, again, why wouldn't you -- knowing that there had been an attack, not knowing how long it was going to go on, why wouldn't you, say, get on a helicopter, get on a plane, get on -- you know, I mean, you know, and I realize these are sort of basic questions for you. But I think people are looking and saying, couldn't they have sent something there?

DEMPSEY: Well, I'm sure we'll have a chance to answer these exact questions on Thursday when we testify. But the fact is we did exactly what you said. As soon as we knew something happened, the secretary gave us vocal instructions to begin moving forces to a higher alert posture and to make them with aircraft necessary to move them, and then, including the transit time to give him an estimate of how quickly we could have something there. We did exactly what you just said. But you can't be every place. And I might remind you it was 9/11 elsewhere in the world, not just in Libya.

CROWLEY: Sure. Would you agree that the consulate in Benghazi was woefully under-protected?

PANETTA: I think the secretary of state has indicated that they should have had more security there.

CROWLEY: Would you do anything different militarily knowing now what you know about what went on?

DEMPSEY: Well, we actually have. We have taken the Accountability Review Board results. We've partnered with the secretary of state in a review of embassy security around the -- especially around that part of the world, and we are taking steps.

CROWLEY: And would you now though in hindsight say we should have, could have, would have sent this group there, we might have been able to do some good if we had done X, Y, or Z?

PANETTA: No.

CROWLEY: So nothing, you would change nothing?

PANETTA: Look, and you know, I think in these situations, you have got to look at what we were facing, what we knew, what intelligence we had in order to respond. Admittedly, better intelligence about what was taking place there would have given us a heads up.

CROWLEY: Why isn't there better intelligence? It's not like the intelligence community is underfunded. And it seems like any time we come into something where it has been a tragedy, it's always the intelligence community. You've been there.

PANETTA: Yes, I know. I was director of the CIA.

CROWLEY: Yes, exactly.

PANETTA: I say this...

CROWLEY: So it seems like it's always the CIA's fault.

PANETTA: I say this without, you know, demeaning our efforts at intelligence, but the fact is we -- you know, there are areas in the Middle East where we do not have the kind of intelligence we should have in order to give us a heads up about these kinds of attacks. That's a reality. We've got to do better at that.

DEMPSEY: And you're discounting the number of things we do avoid with good intel.

CROWLEY: Well, obviously for a lot of reasons we don't always hear about those. So let me ask you about the Israeli strike deep into Syria. Did you know about that in Advance? And did anyone say bad idea, good idea? Or was it just -- I know that you were meeting with the head of the Israeli intelligence forces. Were you all informed?

PANETTA: I'm not going to discuss the details of that, of what happened or didn't happen there. What I will say is this, that we are concerned about the danger of sophisticated weapons like SA-17s and CBW, chemical and biological weapons, falling into the hands of terrorists. That is something we're concerned about.

And we do planning every day to try to make sure that we're in a position where we can make sure that doesn't happen.

DEMPSEY: The Israeli officer about whom you speak was in my office in preparation for a meeting with my counterpart from Israel, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, and not in any way related to that incident that was reported.

CROWLEY: OK. But you all can't tell what -- I mean, I'm assuming if you weren't informed you would tell me, so...

DEMPSEY: Yes, we're not...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ... the reverse is true, OK.

So you talked about the groundwork being laid. I mean, everyone talks about how Assad surely will fall at some point. And when that happens, how does the U.S. make sure that al Qaeda, or other terrorist organizations that might be loosely affiliated, don't get a hold of chemical weapons, don't begin to snap up all the weapons that are already there, as what happened in Libya in some cases? What is that groundwork like?

DEMPSEY: Well, I think what you'd want to -- what you'd expect us to be doing is teaming, collaborating, planning with our partners in the region. We have a NATO partner in the north in Turkey. We have a very strong partner in Jordan. And, of course, you mentioned Israel to the west. All of whom share common interests in making sure that these spillover effects don't affect them.

And that's what we're doing. We're planning. We've got options for any number of military contingencies. And we're maintaining both a deterrent and a preparedness posture.

CROWLEY: Do the military contingencies include U.S. forces or is there something that you see as a regional thing, securing the ground, as it were, in Syria?

DEMPSEY: Well, we are better when we operate with partners, especially in that part of the world. But of course any option we would probably be asked to provide at least the capabilities, no one else has. And we have some pretty extraordinary capabilities. CROWLEY: And intelligence gathering certainly would be one of them. But what about the use of force? Or the use of forces, I guess, at that point.

PANETTA: You know, a lot depends on what the situation is.

PANETTA: If Assad suddenly comes down, is it a permissive situation where there's a kind of peaceful transition to another form of government, which would be a very different situation than a hostile situation where there's chaos.

So we've got to be able to plan for every contingency in order to be able to ensure we are taking steps to protect that CBW so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands and try to ensure that these other weapons don't fall into the wrong hands.

CROWLEY: Let me talk to you about Niger really quickly, because North Africa becoming suddenly, at least to us suddenly, such a hot spot. I was talking to someone in the intelligence community recently who said, what we don't know is whether this is the last refuge of al Qaeda or whether this is a beachhead. Which is it, is this where al Qaeda is beginning to gather? Are we paying enough attention? Or is this sort of a last gasp, like the last place they can go. Have they been pushed there?

PANETTA: I think -- you know, you have got to look at the whole picture on al Qaeda. We've gone after core leadership of al Qaeda in the Fatah in Afghanistan. We've gone after them in Yemen. We've gone after them successfully in Somali. We were always aware there was AQIM in North Africa. And now we're focused on AQIM as a result, obviously of the French action. But we were also anticipating that we would have to move into North Africa to go after al Qaeda.

Wherever they are, we have to make sure they have no place to hide. Bottom line here is al Qaeda is our enemy and we have to make sure we go after them.

CROWLEY: And let me just finally -- I want to play you something from your predecessor as he was leaving office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, FRM. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined as General MacArthur so delicately put it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So first of all, do you agree with your predecessor on that? And second of all, give us your final thought as you prepare for your last month or so of your tenure. PANETTA: My sense is that the defense of this country has to be prepared to respond to any contingency. And I wouldn't rule out any action the president of the United States might decide needs to be taken against any crisis. So while I understand the concerns that Bob had, I just would not rule out any option in today's world.

We face a lot of threats today. I feel as secretary of defense I've been honored to serve at the Department of Defense. We have the strongest military power on Earth, and we're dealing with a lot of threats in today's world. The biggest concern i have quite frankly right now is the budget uncertainty on Capitol Hill, because if the sequester is allowed to go into effect, I think it could seriously impact on the readiness of the United States and that's a serious issue.

CROWLEY: And I would assume you agree with those parting words.

DEMPSEY: I couldn't agree more.

We face a true readiness crisis.

CROWLEY: OK, gentlemen, thank you so much for being with me. Thank you both very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: If Hagel is confirmed, Panetta is a happy short timer. I asked him about a departure date. He indicated he'd be home in California on or before Valentine's Day.

When we return, in his first term President Obama focused on health care, some thought to the detriment of the economy. Is he in danger of making the same mistake twice.

And later could a piece of equipment from the NFL's past protect its players today?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The economy, domestic policy and Republican head winds with The Hill's AB Stoddard, former Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, former Obama adviser Melody Barnes, and Mike Duffy of Time magazine up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: I am joined now by The Hill newspaper's associate editor AB Stoddard, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, former Obama adviser Melody Barnes, and Time magazine's executive editor Mike Duffy.

So, we now -- what have we heard for the last -- since the beginning of January, really, gun control and now immigration reform. And yet kind of rearing its ugly head this week has been the economy. We've seen that at least the figures we have now show that the economy actually shrank in the last quarter of last year. We see consumer confidence down, and the slight uptick in the unemployment figures in January, The economy still adds jobs, still not enough to dig into the unemployment rate. Does the president pursue immigration and gun control at the risk of not focusing on the economy?

BARNES: Well, I think the president has to take on all of these challenges. CROWLEY: But he didn't in the first -- in the first term when he took on health care, everybody said well why isn't he focusing on jobs?

BARNES: But a focus on health care is a focus on the economy and a focus on jobs as is immigration reform. If you aren't able to juggle many balls at the same time, you also aren't able to be president of the United States.

So what we saw this past week is the reality that political risk I think is the biggest threat to our economy right now. The president and congress have to take that on. Congress has to decide how they are going to move forward and to sequester or not. I think that was put in place as a way to try and push people towards the table. Hopefully they will come and join the president in doing that But he's got a multifaceted agenda and we have to move forward if we're going to stabilize the economy and move forward on growth.

CROWLEY: And yet a lot of things we were told that the president didn't get to in his first term such as immigration reform, he says well I had to focus on the economy. But nonetheless, Elaine, let me let you get in on this. And that is, does the president.

CROWLEY: I mean, he says it's really the Republicans that are standing in the way of what he'd like to do in the economy?

CHAO: I don't know how he can say that when he had control of both the houses in the legislative branch. He had control over the White House.

CROWLEY: But he doesn't now, and he's talking about now.

CHAO: From 2009 to 2010. He was able to get sweeping changes through to our economy, which actually, including, for example, "Obama-care," and also Dodd-Frank, which are actually having hampering effects on the...

CROWLEY: Dodd-Frank on regulation of businesses.

CHAO: Yes. They are having a dampening effect on job creation. I'm actually rather surprised that in his State of the Union -- in his Inaugural Address, that there was not a more magnanimous spirit shown, that there was not more of a graciousness, to focus on reaching out to the other side to work together.

He uses the words. But if you look at the agenda, it's very much a far left agenda item. And if you would look at the numbers, the report of this past Friday, I don't know how anybody can say that that was a good report.

So I think the president has to focus on job creation. He cannot do everything at one time. And clearly job creation is far, far less than what we expect.

CROWLEY: But is there a job creation effort out there anyway on Capitol Hill at this point? DUFFY: No, not at the moment, other than the broad economy, which is generally improving...

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: The budget and sequestration.

DUFFY: This is a week where, yes, the fourth quarter went down, but then the stock market also hit 14,000. So there's some buoyancy in the economy that certainly wasn't there last year. You know, this is Super Sunday, Candy. And I think the way to explain the political cosmos at the moment... CROWLEY: Oh, good, a football analogy.

(LAUGHTER)

DUFFY: Yes, and I know you guys were going to beat me to this football metaphor, I know you were.

(LAUGHTER)

DUFFY: Both parties are reading from different play books than they were before. You know, in the first four years the Republicans tried to stop pretty much everything that the president did. And whether they won or lost, they won politically on that. That was good politics for them.

It's not so much clear to me in the second term, you know, on immigration, on guns, whether a blocking the president's strategy is going to be a political win. I kind of think the public is with him now. You can see that in the polls. He has that -- this is kind of a golden hour for any second-term president. That first year, he has a lot of clout, a lot of capital, and he has a lot of room to spent it. We'll see how he does.

CROWLEY: But, A.B., is the economy just -- you know, the president said, look, it's recovering, is it something he can afford to look away from at this point?

STODDARD: No. And I think it's going to be a difficult balance for him. He needs to continue talking about the economy. If you look at the numbers from this week, it's very disturbing that just in anticipation of defense cuts in the sequester we saw such a shrinkage in defense spending.

It's going to have a considerable dent to consumer demand if this sequester goes through. That is going to be tough for the president to deal with. At the same time, because what Michael says, the public is with him on these other issues, there's a magic moment for immigration reform right now and for maybe gun control. Those are issues you have to push very hard on and you can't lose focus on.

But those Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states who he's asking for help on those two issues are also going to say come April, if these numbers continue to deteriorate, you have got to tell me what we are doing on jobs. You have got to start talking to Americans about the economy. CROWLEY: Before we -- I have to take a break here, but tell me quickly, what is there to be done about the economy that involves Congress at this point?

(CROSSTALK)

CHAO: I think a lot has to be done by the executive branch. I mean, basically the unemployment rate of 7.9 percent is deceptively low. We have over 8.5 million discouraged workers who have left the workforce. And basically we have long-term unemployed Americans who have been out of work for 26 weeks.

There are lots of things that this government can do, this administration can do to not hamper job creation, 157,000 net new jobs are created, that's not enough. We need 250,000 net new jobs created every month.

CROWLEY: Melody, you're next, I promise, got to take a quick break. But when we return, the vice president makes no promises on curbing gun violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: Nothing we're going to do is going to fundamentally alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down to 1,000 a year from what it is now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with our panel. I wanted to give Melody Barnes, a former adviser to President Obama, a chance just to push back a little if you want about the president and the economy.

Because although he says the Republicans are standing in my way, there also doesn't seem to be much that he's pushing.

BARNES: Well, I will say this, two things. One, the president has been and will continue to be focused on the economy and job creation. He has been focused on it since day one. That's why 6.1 million jobs over the last 35 months. That's why we see construction going up, housing prices going up, manufacturing going up. No one is pretending...

CROWLEY: But it's a weak recovery still.

BARNES: It is a weak recovery. And that's why, because of its fragility, that we have to focus on not getting the sequester that Republicans seem to be leaning toward, but in fact targeted investments and targeted cuts.

And at the same time, that directly relates to immigration. This is an economic issue. We're not going to deport 5 percent of our workforce. We have to make sure that we are working with business that wants this and an agricultural community that wants this, in addition to the immigration advocates that say that this is...

(CROSSTALK)

CHAO: ... financial issue with fiscal cliff, the president had no leadership to the issue. It was the Republicans who reached out to the vice president.

BARNES: ... and put forward a plan, and he had a plan. CROWLEY: Let me just move on because I am intrigued by Joe Biden's remarks up on Capitol Hill. You know, nothing we are going to do is fundamentally going to alter the possibility of another mass shooting. I think we all understand that, you know, nothing is foolproof. Or, he says, can we guarantee we're going to bring gun deaths down. This does not seem to me to be a great sales job.

CHAO: I think he's speaking the truth. I mean, this has been a horrible issue. I think there's a great deal of bipartisan concern on this issue. Joe Biden has a habit of sometimes speaking what's politically incorrect.

We hope that what will happen is that we will come into a better society, but we need to enforce the existing laws about gun control. And we are not doing that right now.

DUFFY: You can hear the ice cracking on one piece of this, which is the background checks. I mean, two or three weeks ago it wasn't there, but I think you can now see they may be able to get the votes, not on banning the sale of assault weapons, but there appears to be pretty concerted -- partly because I think the president has been so far pretty smart about organizing, it's not a long way from over, they may get the background checks at the gun shows that will leave be -- they will leave other loopholes in place for the sale of these weapons, but it's possibility now that there would be some...

CROWLEY: Parking lot with...

(CROSSTALK)

DUFFY: ...by the end of the summer.

CROWLEY: You see the prospects of -- I tend to agree here is that you sort of hear that possibly background checks at gun sales is doable but not a lot else.

STODDARD: No, that's true. That's the only area of consensus. And it will still take an incredible amount of political will and fight to get over the finishing line with background checks. In the south, particularly in a culture of guns, they are given as gifts to each other. They're not -- many of them will not be checked. But that's the one area you see it polling extremely well. I think the president will push very hard on it.

CROWLEY: And let me play for you real quick a Super Bowl ad that's going to play this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BOY: The NRA once supported background checks.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA PRESIDENT: We think it's reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show. No loopholes anywhere for anyone.

BOY: America can do this for us. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: This also leads me to believe if that's -- the mayors who do want assault weapons ban leaves me to believe that that's where they think their strength is.

DUFFY: Becoming a campaign for background checks.

CROWLEY: Right. Yeah. Exactly.

One last thing, I've got to move you on to immigration, because here's -- the conservative National Review editorial had this to say talking about Marco Rubio, he being one of those who put together this compromise bill up on Capitol Hill. "Rubio is wrong about how to go about repairing our immigration system, wrong to think an amnesty and enforcement bill at this time will end up being anything other than an unbuttered side of a half a loaf deal. And there is no reason to make a bad deal for fear of losing a Latino vote Republicans never had."

I think this is emblematic of what I'm hearing, which is conserve push back. The first thing was, oh, it's the time for immigration reform. We're going to do it. We're going to do it. And this last week has been nothing, but wait a second, not this bill.

DUFFY: Maybe it's happening that quickly. I think this is going to go on all year long. And when we get to fights, the fights are going to be really ugly about the details.

Just a real quick example, let's say you let 5 million to 10 million Americans become citizens, when do you let them vote? This election, next election? When? How many. And it's going to be a really interesting fight about -- that will be just as ugly as guns.

BARNES: But the reality is that there is a broad coalition that supports this. The Chamber, the business community, the agricultural community. You see Republicans -- Elaine's former boss is supportive of this and his brother. And I think that is what's going to push us forward, because our system is pathetic and broken, it's hurting our economy, not to mention the families involved.

CROWLEY; Melody Barnes, I have to cut you off. And I'm sorry. Come back next time we'll have more time.

Elain Chao, AB Stoddard, Mike Duffy, thank you so much.

President Obama said if he had a son, he's not sure he would let him play football. Hines Ward, Super Bowl LX's most valuable player, has an old school approach that may reduce concussions. We'll talk to him next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: He was voted the most valuable player in Super Bowl XL when his Pittsburgh Steelers bested the Seattle Seahawks and he won another ring in the Super Bowl three years later. When he retired after the 2011 season, he traded in his cleats for a pair of dancing shoes and won season 12 of "Dancing With The Stars."

Joining me now, Hines Ward former wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Thank you for bringing some of your expertise this morning to us, we really appreciate it. Let me ask you, I know that you have said that you though if players returned to the leather helmets of days gone by, that there would be fewer brain injuries. But they went from leather helmets to the ones you've got now to ameliorate the possibility of skull fractures. So you're trading one injury for another.

WARD: Well, I was just trying to be sarcastic in that sense. You know, if you really love the game and you're so passionate about it, if you put on a leather helmet maybe it would give you a different way to not lead with your head, to be able to tackle using your shoulders and your arms to bring a guy down. And I think that's been the main cause of concussions is guys leading with their helmets.

CROWLEY: Right. You yourself have both delivered hits and taken hits. I know, as you do, that the NFL Players' Association -- I'm sorry, that your peers voted you one of the dirties players in NFL history. This was post of time when you delivered a blindside hit and broke another player's jaw. So you've seen this from both sides.

Do you think you can change the rules, whether it's helmets or any other kind of rule to fundamentally change a game that has gotten more brutal, faster, all of these degrees. Do you think you can really change the game?

HINES: Well, you can change into the sense where you implement rules to teach guys how to go out and tackle people. But when you have two grown men that are big, fast, going full speed ahead and they collide, it's inevitable for your brain to shake a little bit. So when you have concussions, concussions will arise. When you've got two grown men colliding with each other.

CROWLEY: You know, the president gave an interview recently to the New Republic and he had this to say. "I tend to be more worried about college players than NFL players in the sense that the NFl players have a union. They're grown men. They can make some of these decisions on their own and most of them are well compensated for the violence they do to their bodies" Do you agree with that?

WARD: Yes, to an extent because in college they don't have the organization to look out for their best interest. Everything is about money. But when you make it into the NFL, it's ingrained in us as rookies that players say to other players, you can't make the club in the tub, meaning that you can't be in the training room if you want to make the team. And then from coaches saying have you ever heard about Wally Pipp, you know, the story about Wally Pipp, where he had headaches and then now Lou Gehrig comes into the lineup and that's the last you hear about Wally Pipp. So when you hear these stories going into the NFL why would you be honest and tell doctors that you have concussions and trying to do the right thing for players, they want to stay on the field and make as much money as they possibly can because you know the NFL is a short period of time.

CROWLEY: So, do you think that the NFL, itself, ought to do something about these head injuries and change the rules or not? Do you think you're grown men, make your own decisions. You want to get concussions that could lead to severe memory losses, well so be it.

WARD: Well, that is true. I mean, as players, we know what we sign up for. The NFL is not for everybody. Of course, you can play college football, but you have grown men out here playing football. And I think for the NFL, they're trying to do the right thing. It's just that football is a violent sport. As a football player, we know what we sign up for. I just wish that us knowing about it that the NFL can do something on the back end with providing guys with lifetime insurance for life. So, when they're able to leave the game 5, 10, 15 years after they left the game that they still have necessity insurance to go out and get the proper help that's needed.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, the president also said, hey, if I have a son, I'd think long and hard about letting him play football. I know you have a son, would you think long and hard about encouraging him to play football?

WARD: Well, I mean, that's a difficult thing. It would be hard for me to tell my son not to go after his dreams. For me, I always dreamed about playing in the NFL. And I know how dangerous it is. So, if my son, who walks around with the football said, dad, I want to play in the NFL of course, I will give him knowledge about the concussions and what not and be honest with me. But it's hard for me to tell a child not to go after his dreams and not to play in the NFL.

CROWLEY: And finally, let me ask you, we have some players currently on the field and certainly a lot of players that have retired that say, yes, they have suffered memory losses. Have you noticed anything about yourself taken as many hits as you have?

WARD: No. Currently, no. Usually they say -- you usually find signs 10, 15 years after you're done. I mean, you know, my body is going through a shock being that I played football my whole life and now I'm no longer doing that. So now I have to change-up my regimen and my body is like, hold on, you're not playing in the NFL any more.

So that's an adjustment itself, but knock on wood, so far so good.

CROWLEY: I need a two-word answer, who is going to win tonight?

WARD: It hurts me to say this, but I think Baltimore.

CROWLEY: All right, thank you so much Hines Ward. We really appreciate your time this morning.

WARD: Thank you, no problem.

CROWLEY: When we return on this Super Bowl Sunday, the intersection of politics and football.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And finally, are you ready for some football? Us, too. But before we go, we got to thinking, politics and football, they're not so different, you know.

George Allen is the namesake and the son of a Hall of Famer football coach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE ALLEN, FRM. U.S. SENTATOR: My father never had a losing season in the NFL, but he got fired a lot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Allen grew up around football, but grew older in politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: And so I went into something that was just much more stable and predictable, politics.

With less taxation, less litigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: A congressman, a governor, a senator, Allen like his father won more than he lost but he got fired, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: In this season, the people of Virginia, who I always call the owners of the government, they have spoken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: In between his last two senate losses, Allen fused his worlds in a 2010 book, a defense of conservatism titled "What Washington Can Learn From the World of Sports."

And when you ask, like a seasoned pro, Allen can find analogies everywhere.

A president dominating a political league and looking to run up the score.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: But clearly President Obama has an agenda.

OBAMA: We, the people...

ALLEN: And it's one that he wants to get as many of those touchdowns scored on those plays that he wants to run as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: A Republican Party hampered by too many penalties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: Well if you dawdle, you get a penalty. In Washington, delay of game seems to be the course of conduct. So they need to be moving the ball down the field.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And when George Allen looks at pro quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: He didn't go to a Southeast Conference team or some Pack- 10 team, he goes to Nevada-Reno. He's passed over in the draft by many other teams and now here he is with an extraordinary talent leading the 49ers into the Super Bowl and he's my pick to be the MVP.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: He sees Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: He ran for the U.S. Senate. He was running against the governor in his own party. So, it was kind of a, you know, an insurgent, upstart approach to have the temerity to actually think that he could knock off the governor, which he obviously did for the nomination and won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Despite the similarities, Allen has a clear preference. His book jacket notes, "the reason you like sports more than politics is because sports makes sense and Washington doesn't."

OK, now, are you ready for some football?

Thank you so much for watching State of the Union. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. Head to CNN.com/SOTU for analysis and extras. If you missed any part of today's show, find us on iTunes. Just search State of the Union. Fareed Zakaria GPS is next for our viewers here in the United States.