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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY
Interview with Richard Durbin; Interview with Peter King
Aired May 5, 2013 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: A widening circle in Boston and a changing political calculus in Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY (voice-over): Today, the Boston bombing case, where it stops, we still don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The people I've spoken to in the investigation, most of them are operating on the presumption that others are involved.
CROWLEY: The scope of the terror plot. Plus, why a new gun law could still happen and immigration reform may not. With the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin, and House Homeland Security Committee member Republican, Peter King.
Then, as we learn more about the how, what about the why?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Was there something that happened that triggered radicalization?
CROWLEY: The roots of radicalization with our expert panel.
Plus, a Republican senator accuses his own party of tanking legislation for a political win while the president insists he's still got game. I'm Candy Crowley. And this is STATE OF THE UNION.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY (on-camera): Effective immediately, U.S. customs and border protection agents will have real-time updates to the student visa status of every foreign student entering the U.S. Authorities allege two of the three people suspected of hiding evidence for the accused bomber were in violation of their student visa requirements.
Authorities say one of them went to Kazakhstan in December but was allowed reentry to the U.S. in January because customs officers didn't have access to the information. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee tells CNN, quote, "This represents a serious hole in our national security." Does it?
Joining me now is the number two Democrat in the Senate, Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois. Thank you, senator, for being here. When you look at the last kind of three weeks of information and you've heard everything from the FBI drops the ball, here's a huge hole, why did this happen, what are your questions?
When you look at the totality of what we know so far, what are your questions about how the U.S. intelligence agencies and, of course, law enforcement agencies reacted both before and after the bombing?
DURBIN: Candy, here's what I know. We're going to have a thorough investigation. We're going to try to determine whether there's more we could have done to protect America and to have thwarted these terrorists before they acted. I expect that to go on for a period of time. CROWLEY: Sure. But is there something that troubled you -- is there anything in particular that you look at and think, whew, we've got to get to the bottom of that?
DURBIN: Yes. I can tell you what troubles me. The current immigration system in America is broken down. What we've got to do is change it. I've been sitting for more than three months with a bipartisan group of senators talking about a variety of issues, including making America safer.
The immigration reform bill that will start this week in the Senate Judiciary Committee is a bill that will make this a stronger nation, not just at the border with Mexico, and will strengthen that, but also the very points you made in the lead-in, that we need to track the visas coming into the United States, the visitor visas, the student visas, so that we know not only when they arrive but when they leave.
And to make sure that we enforce that system by having coordination between the different branches of government. That is not working today. We need immigration reform to make that work.
CROWLEY: Why isn't it working? When I first heard this story that said, ok, from here on out, customs officials must check and will be allowed to check the student visa status of the people trying to come in, I'm thinking, isn't that what customs is for? Aren't they supposed to be doing that?
It is incomprehensible, I think, to people that that information is available, and yet, the very people at the front lines who say, yes, come on in or hang on a second and go to that room, don't have the information they need. And, you know, 9/11 was, you know, more than a decade ago. So, how is that possible?
DURBIN: It's hard to believe 12 years after 9/11 we're having this conversation, but you put your finger on it. There is not enough coordination between these different agencies so that we know someone should not have been re-admitted to the United States. Our bill addresses that directly. We have up to 11 million people coming forward to register.
So, we know who they are. And that is going to make us more secure. I mentioned the border security. We're also dealing with this whole exit/entry visa issue. And we're having verification in the workplace. At the end of the day, immigration reform starts to do things that should have been done long ago and makes it an absolute priority of this government.
CROWLEY: I want to play you something that one of your fellow Gang of Eight members put together this immigration reform bill that's going to get marked up in Senate Judiciary Committee. This is Marco Rubio and something he had to say about the bill and the need to further enhance border security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) VOICE OF MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: This bill will not pass the House. And quite frankly, I think may struggle to pass the Senate if it doesn't deal with that issue. So, we've got some work to do on that front.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: So, basically, what he's saying is the bill as is might be in trouble in the Senate won't pass the House. Is that kind of thing helpful as you all sort of move forward trying to bring your colleagues on board?
DURBIN: I'm glad that Marco Rubio was part of this dialogue and this negotiation. I can tell you at the end of the day that there were parts of it he didn't care for, parts of it I didn't care for. We reached a compromise, which is the nature of politics if it's going to be successful. I'm sure that Senator Rubio feels as I do. We have the basics here.
Are there elements where we might see some improvement? Of course. But we've got to really stand by the basic agreement. I have friends of mine, incidentally, who look at it from the viewpoint of Democrats and from the left and say, there are things we'd like to see changed in it too, but we've got to basically stick to the standard of what we've established, what we've agreed to over the last three months.
CROWLEY: So, let me ask you about something that is going to come up, and that is a push by the LGBT community, lesbian and gay community, saying, you need in the idea of bringing partners over, once the partner is in the U.S. or is an American citizen, that that right needs to be expanded to same-sex couples.
We're told that Senator Leahy probably will bring that up as an amendment to the bill in committee. Is that going to happen? Are you going to support it?
DURBIN: Well, I'm a co-sponsor of that measure that Senator Leahy has offered as free standing legislation. The senator will have to decide whether to offer it in his own committee, where he chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. I happen to believe that it's consistent with the position we should have marriage equality, and therefore, recognize marriages between people from the same gender.
Now, this is a hot issue. It's a contentious issue. If we can find a way through this to protect that basic right of an individual and still pass immigration reform, that's what I want to achieve. Can I add a footnote here?
DURBIN: The Supreme Court has taken up DOMA.
DURBIN: And that decision on DOMA may preclude this whole conversation. They may help us reach the right place in this whole conversation.
CROWLEY: Sen. Rubio among others has suggested that if this is an amendment to immigration reform, it will tank reform. As I understand it, the eight of you have agreed to kind of stick together and be against anything that might upset what you hope will be a coalition for passage. So, you're now talking about free standing legislation, which is different than an amendment. Is that the way to go?
DURBIN: Well, let me just say, we did not have a specific agreement among the eight of us about this particular issue as to whether --
CROWLEY: So, you would vote against the other?
DURBIN: Well, I would just say that I support this, and I hope that we can find a way through it that preserves immigration reform. We have two very important issues before us here. I hope we can get them both done. We may face a choice at some point in the future.
CROWLEY: And let me ask you just as a final question. Gun control, we saw Senator Harry Reid bring it off the Senate floor when it was defeated. We've seen the NRA down -- having its national convention in celebration of that, in part. Can you tell me where, as the number two Democrat in the Senate, the guy who counts votes, do you foresee gun control resurfacing on the Senate floor? This year.
DURBIN: I hope that we'll bring this measure up again. The Manchin/Toomey bipartisan approach for universal background check to keep the guns out of the hands of convicted felons and people so mentally unstable they shouldn't own them is still sound policy. Now, the National Rifle Association can go to Texas and celebrate defeating that measure, but they certainly shouldn't celebrate when they look at the carnage that takes place virtually every day in America because convicted felons have guns.
We stand with law enforcement. We believe this measure should be brought to the floor again. Senator Reid has put it in a procedural position where it can be called on a moment's notice. What we need to see is a change in political sentiment within the Senate. We need to pick up five more votes, and that's quite a task, I might add, as whip in the Senate, but we can do this. I hope the American people don't give up. I know the president hasn't given up.
CROWLEY: So, you're basically counting on public pressure on those who voted against it so that you couldn't get a bill passed, essentially. Thank you so much, senator.
DURBIN: Listen, the American public -- thank you.
CROWLEY: Go ahead, Sen. Durbin. I didn't mean to interrupt you. Go ahead and finish that last thought.
DURBIN: No. I was just saying that the American public opinion is so overwhelming. It's not a matter of pressure. It's a matter of individual senators understanding their responsibility to make this a safer nation.
CROWLEY: OK. Thank you so much. Senator Dick Durbin, good to have you on.
When we return, the president says law enforcement didn't drop the ball on the Boston terror investigation. We'll ask a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee. Peter King is next.
CROWLEY: Welcome back. You are now looking at new video in to CNN showing the aftermath of an overnight attack into Syria. Syria's deputy foreign minister tells CNN the attack came from Israeli rockets and amounts to a declaration of war. Huge explosions rocked the Damascus suburb for hours. The Syrian says they will retaliate in their own time and way.
With me now is Congressman Peter King, he's chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on counter intelligence terrorism. He's also a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Thank you so much, congressman. I want to begin with Syria, because just when you think could it get more violent, could it get more chaotic, it does. So, my question to you is whether it is time for the U.S. to directly arm specified rebels.
KING: Candy, I have real concerns. The Reason i say that is that so much time has gone by, and unfortunately, to a large extent, al Qaeda elements have a lot of control within the rebel movements. My concern is that, by arming the rebels, we could be strengthening al Qaeda. So, whatever arming we do -- and obviously, Assad is evil.
And everyone is interested that he go -- but if we are going to arm the rebels, we have to make sure that those arms are not going to end up in the possession of al Qaeda supporters nor at the end game is al Qaeda going to be in a position to take over this movement, because --
CROWLEY: That's a pretty high bar, right? I mean, we put weapons into countries a lot and don't know where they're going to end up. Are you saying that basically it's just a bad idea for the U.S. to directly arm rebels?
KING: I'm saying that unless we know who exactly who they're going to -- generally who they're going to, it can be very counterproductive, which is why I believe the president turned down a proposal by General Petraeus and Secretary Clinton last year because he wouldn't be sure where those weapons are going. Hopefully, we've been looking at this carefully, and we have a better feel now, a better understanding of where the weapons will be going, but until then, I'm very concerned that we're just replacing one terrible dictator with a terrible ideological movement, which is aimed at our destruction.
CROWLEY: Let me move you now to the latest news out of the Boston bombings, which is that two foreign -- two students here on student visas, were one of them at least was allowed back in the country when, in fact, his student visa was no longer valid because he was no longer in school. The same holds true for another foreign student, although, he did not leave the country.
So, what we have here as far as I understand that is a customs service who brought somebody in because, for all they knew, this visa they were looking at was valid, but there is information available that it was not. And I think the question is how is it possible that the front line people at the border of the U.S. essentially don't have information when visas become invalid?
KING: First of all, there should be a way to correct this. Now, the problem they will tell you is there are 850,000 student visas, and there's an I-20 form which certifies whether or not that person is still in compliance with the requirements of the visa, whether or not he's still a credited (ph) student, and unfortunately, there's not appear the technology to marry them up, which I think is inexcusable 11 years after --
KING: September 11. That is one of the reasons you'll be given. Having said that, the secretary of Homeland Security and the department has said that starting almost immediately, every effort has to be made so that every student coming in now is going to be -- everyone coming in with a student visa, my understanding is going to be stopped and checked and examined at the airport, which could cause longer lines. I think that's something we have to do to --
CROWLEY: Not all of those students on that list are in violation of, you know, their student visas. So, it would just seem to me that it would ping somewhere, and the fact that the people who are in charge of letting people in or out of the country don't have access to that information seems to me kind of a government-wide failure, because you've been on the Homeland Security Committee.
I mean, isn't what customs knows and what it doesn't know sort of a part of trying to keep the country safe? It just seems like a sort of an across the board failure to even see that this was a problem.
KING: It was going to be a problem, and you have customs which is CBP customs and border protection, you have ICE, Immigrations and Custom Enforcement. Each of them has a separate -- one was the I-20 form, which shows whether or not the student is in compliance, and the other has the student visa. And Homeland Security should have been working more effectively toward making this technologically feasible.
Same with the visa exit. This has not been done technologically. It has to be done -- it is finally going to be done, but in the interim, it is going to cause some delays at the airport because the person at the airport is not going to know for certain whether or not that person is in compliance. That is going to be the short-term delay, but it has to be done.
CROWLEY: Yes. Probably should have been done like years earlier.
KING: I agree.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you, you are having a hearing in your committee about the Boston bombings. What do you want answered? What don't you know that you need to know?
KING: The new chairman, Mike McCaul, has scheduled his hearing. As far as I know, it's going to be the first hearing on Capitol Hill. My concern, Candy, is that when the FBI was told by the Russians to look into the older brother, they may have done the best they could under the guidelines they had available to them, but how can you determine, effectively determine, whether or not a person has become radicalized if you don't talk to people in his mosque, talk to his imam, because this is a radicalization stemming from the perversion of religion.
And to me, because of political correctness, I understand the FBI was not able to talk to anyone in the mosque to find out whether or not there were any conditions to lead them to believe that he was radicalized. Also, did they discuss it with the Boston police? Who would have better knowledge of what's going on on the ground than a local police force?
That's why in New York, we have a thousand police officers working on counterterrorism. And, Commissioner Kelly is not afraid to be politically incorrect. He does what has to be done to find out what's going on in the community.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you. Do you expect that there will be more arrests? Are there others out there that you believe are subject to arrest at this point?
KING: Well, I'm not -- this is not inside information. Just looking at this, generally, it's still impossible (ph) for me but not impossible. It's very difficult to believe that these two could have carried out this level of attack with this level of sophistication and precision acting by themselves, either without training from overseas or having at least facilitators here at home.
It's just, again, to have two bombs that went off almost perfectly, unfortunately, simultaneously, then there was a third one which also worked and the explosives, all that large amount of precursors. No, I think there had to be assistance, and that's why the FBI, I think, is going after this so vigorously and effectively. CROWLEY: And can you tell me, there are also going to be some hearings into Benghazi and what happened there, not your committee, it's Chairman Issa's committee. What questions do you have remaining about what happened in Benghazi, either the lead-up, the incident itself in which four Americans were killed or the aftermath? What's your main question?
KING: Main question, I would have, still goes back to the talking points as to why they would change, who changed them, and how does that relate to whether or not there was any element of a cover-up here, that the state department was asked to provide more security, did not provide it, and after the fact, come up with this cover story about a video and did not want to go into the fact about why there was not enough security there.
And, what are we going to do in the future? Because we have outposts around the world which vulnerable to an attack. What are we going to do to ensure that they have this security, and what is the chain of command going to be from those asking (ph) the security, and who makes the decision in Washington to whether or not to give them that security?
CROWLEY: Congressman Peter King, thank you for joining us.
When we return, trying to find a reason why they did it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: One of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States. In some cases, may not be part of any kind of network, but because of whatever warped, twisted ideas they may have may decide to carry out an attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Joining me now, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Jessica Stern, former national Security Council member for President Clinton, Suhail Khan, senior fellow for Christian and Muslim understanding at the Institute For Global Engagement, and David Gartenstein-Ross, director of the center for the study of terrorist radicalization at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy.
So, an esteemed panel here. The why I think is so important to get to eventually, you know, leave it up to investigators to figure out the how and the who. I think one of the things that struck me as I listened to more and more about the background, particularly, of Tamerlan, he reminds me a little bit of the Columbine High Schoolers.
There is an anger, and the anger finds a focus. Is anger at the -- the feeling of isolation, a major component to what we're calling self-radicalization?
DR. ZUHJDI JASSER, FORMER LT. COMMANDER IN THE U.S. NAVY: There's no doubt that at the end of the final step is a separation where they gets pulled into this violence. But what we're forgetting is this is the tip of the iceberg. How many incidents do we need like Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, or Nidal Hassan to realize that the isolation is in the final step of a pathway of radicalization that begins with an ideology.
These terrorists are a tip of the iceberg of global conflict between political Islam and the Islamic state, the dominance, that grabs the dreams of Islamic youth and tells them that the better society is one based on the Islamic state, the Koran as constitution, Sharia as law, and we see that oppressing (ph) hundreds of millions under Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egypt on and on versus the dreams of secular liberalism, of muscular liberalism that we need.
As Prime Minister Cameron after the 7-7 bombings said, you know, we've been ignoring that the battle of -- for the soul (ph) of Islam globally, internally within the youth and between society in the west and the east are Islamic dominance, that is, and we have to play offense instead of defense.
CROWLEY: So, what would you all say, when you are looking at, how do we identify -- I mean, here are two men who were able to do quite a bit of damage. As far as we can tell, they are not acting at the direction of anything, but certainly, under the influence of either the internet or maybe something happened in Russia when Tamerlan was over there. How do we go about identifying them or should it be about prevention?
JESSICA STERN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER FOR PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think we really have to ask why is it that some young people are vulnerable to that narrative? I mean, there has to be something about the individual that --
CROWLEY: And what is it? Do you have a theory? I agree with you.
STERN: I think that when we see people who are more or less self-radicalizing, and it may involve a trip abroad that may be part of the radicalization process, but there are two things to identify more with the global jihadi movement than to identify with their neighbors, and I think there is a personal vulnerability when we see this kind of radicalization in the west.
SUHAIL KHAN, INSTITUTE FOR GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT: I think that's exactly right. These are individuals who are engaging in these type of violent behaviors because they are radicalizing on their own.
And I think the key to really getting and stopping that is that law enforcement on the local level needs to partner with local communities, particularly, vulnerable communities so that there is a partnership whereby the local imams, religious leaders, and others are really preaching a message of inclusion of peace that really undercuts the terrorist narrative, that you are isolated, you're not part of the western society, and therefore, you need to become a violent extremist. KHAN: And that type of partnership really prevents from the very beginning on a community level a lot of these types of violent behaviors.
GARTENSTEIN-ROSS: I think these types of partnerships are very important. When we look at it from a law enforcement perspective, it's not clear to me thought that there was some sort of sign that could have prevented this. That will absolutely be investigated as it should be. There's already discussion as to whether or not there was intelligence failure here given that Russia warned the U.S. back in 2011. I went through and did a very comprehensive look at the timeline of Tamerlan's radicalization. I think there are signs in 2011 that he did have or was starting to adopt an extremist ideology, but at the same time, an extremist ideology isn't the same as a propensity to act and undertake violence. And we have lots of people in the U.S. who describe to a variety of extreme ideologies. They're not under surveillance, nor should they be.
CROWLEY: They're not necessarily militant. They're not necessarily thinking that the ends justify blowing up people at the marathon.
ROSS: Right. We neither have the resources to conduct surveillance on every one of them, nor in an open society would we want to. So that's, I think, part of the question when we look back and look at his radicalization, the fact that extremism and propensity for violence are two different things although, obviously, they're correlated.
JASSER: I think one of the things I would disagree with Suhail on is that we've had a failure of leadership in the Muslim communities because one of the problems is the narrative, and the narrative is imbalanced. And that many of the leadership in our community says, oh, there's no problem. These guys weren't even really Muslims. We don't have the narrative about victimization, America's biggest, America's anti-Muslim, anti-Islam, they're killing Muslims abroad. They're in Muslim lands. This narrative is not balanced by other Muslim leaders, the reformists that are anti-Islamist that believe in American liberty, and that imbalance creates a narrative that makes them feel that this society is not theirs, that they're visitors. I'm not saying we shouldn't have free speech, but we've not had a balanced narrative from the pulpit. Many of the imams come out of the Muslim brotherhood legacy ideology in America, and they have not allowed us to have diverse ideas protecting and defending Americans.
CROWLEY: Yet we did see in the very early days, when it was learned that these men had attended a mosque, a woman (INAUDIBLE) to the mosque and said we saw no signs of this. Had we seen any signs of this, we would have called the police. So we do see the face of Islam that is, you know, obviously the bulk of those who practice it. So the question is, you know, there's a fine line between a community in which you reach out and a community you're spying on, and it seems to me that, if you spy on and you're always in there going, who's doing what, that you create a distance for those folks who might otherwise help you. They begin to feel attacked. KHAN: That's why, Candy, the key thing is a partnership rather than trying to create a mentality of siege or suspicion for an entire faith community, there's over 6 million peaceful American Muslims in the country, you want to create a feeling of partnership and inclusion whereby -- and the facts spread this out. Whereby you see it in the last 10 years, all, nearly half of foiled terrorist plots have been foiled with the help of the Muslim-American community. Giving the law enforcement folks tips. Or you saw the Christmas day bomber for example where the father called law enforcement and said, hey my son, might be engaged in violent extremism. Something needs to be done.
CROWLEY: I want to sort of switch up a little and just ask you, you know, the younger brother is an American citizen, and I wonder if enough is being done to bring in those who have come from other countries, to make them feel a part of the American fabric. Are there too many here's this community, here's this community, here's this community?
ROSS: I want to say a couple of things. The first is with respect to the younger brother, the two of them seemed to have followed very different radicalization trajectories. When we look at Tamerlan, his radicalization trajectory seems to be ideological in nature. Not all radicalization is ideological. The younger brother was a pot smoker, a drinker, partier, a womanizer.
CROWLEY: He had friends. He can fit in.
ROSS: Well both of them had friends. I mean Tamerlan, if you look at him, he was actually -- fit in quite well as a boxer. He was extremely flamboyant, wearing furs, leather pants, silk scarves, things like that. And he went through a tremendous change. It seems they had two different radicalization trajectories. But I certainly in this wouldn't blame the U.S. for not doing enough to assimilate its immigrants. Where (ph) there's (ph) no signs that these guys were assimilation failures. And if you compare immigrants in the United States to European countries ...
... in Europe. They're much more well assimilated. There are exceptions, like the Somali community in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and a few other areas of ethnic enclaves, but I would not blame the U.S. for not doing enough to make them feel welcome.
CROWLEY: Jessica, let me bring you in on this. When you look at the totality of what you know right now about these two young men, were they impossible to spot? From a law enforcement point of view, because you certainly were on the Clinton administration, is there just not anything that is obvious that could have stopped this?
STERN: I do think that part of the issue, of course, as my colleagues have said, is that the Muslim community is the key. However, they were not radicalized in a mosque. They weren't displaying symptoms of radicalization in the mosque. They seem to have been much more active on the internet. We don't yet know exactly what happened in Dagestan, but it's very hard, if someone is doing this radicalization on their own on the internet for others to notice (ph). So it is a problem and -
ROSS: They were displaying radicalization in the mosque -
STERN: Not enough. Not enough -
ROSS: At first about Martin Luther King and the like.
CROWLEY: But you can't report everybody who has an outburst -
ROSS: There's a difference between, as I've said, between violence and radicalization, but they certainly did display trends of extremism.
JASSER: What you're discussing is the final steps, the violent outburst. The beginning steps of this mentality -- and I as an American Muslim, you know, I have three children, and I hope that they can embrace American liberty. That's why we have a Muslim liberty project that looks at promoting these ideas of American patriotism, nationalism (ph) and versus this over Islamo patriotism or Islamo nationalism that's global - part of the global uma jihad. We have to counter those ideas early on, and I think we need to, you know, hold accountable our Muslim leadership about these things because the solution, if it's going to happen, is going to come from within our faith community. The problem is not the violence. That's just the symptom. The deeper problem is the ideological drift.
CROWLEY: I have to stop it there. And I'm really sorry. I hope you all will come back. Because I think it's the why is always so important to see what we can do and how to spot what's going on when you've got somebody troubled in your midst. Thank you so much.
When we return, President Obama's second term slump.
CROWLEY: Sooner or later, the question comes to every second term president. For this president, it seemed like it was a little too sooner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you put it that way, Jonathan...
... maybe I should just pack up and go home. (END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: The president won the election handily, but his approval rating is down five points since early December and is now at 48 percent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Golly. You know, I think it's a little, as Mark Twain said, "rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point."
CROWLEY: He's right. This is not the end of the game, but a case can be made the president is in a slump. He started the new year staring down Republicans and winning a higher tax rate for the wealthy, but since then, the big rollout of his budget was all but ignored. There is no grand bargain in sight, and despite all the administration's dire warnings about those forced budget cuts, two months after they went into effect, 30 percent of Americans say the sequester is a bad thing. 17 percent say it's a good thing. 52 percent don't have an opinion.
Meanwhile, even supporters say Obama Care, that signature bill from his first term, is confusing and poorly sold to the public. 42 percent of Americans don't think it's still law, and half of the public doesn't understand how it will affect them. But worst of all for this president --
OBAMA: I haven't forgotten those kids. Shame on us if we forget them. Connecticut's shown the way, and now is the time for Congress to do the same. Colorado is proving a model of what's possible.
CROWLEY: Despite the horrific events of Newtown and the president's all-in approach, gun control failed to clear the Senate. Most Republicans and four Democrats stymied the bill, which was far weaker than the one the president originally wanted.
Here's the thing about politics. In time, almost anything can turn around, but you have to have enough time. Up next, political journalists, A.B. Stoddard and Jeanne Cummings on whether the president has enough time.
CROWLEY: Joining me at the table A.B. Stoddard, associate editor for "The Hill" and Jeanne Cummings, political reporter "Bloomberg News." It's good to see both of you.
Let's start with the president's mojo. How much time does he have left? Let's remind everyone it's an election year next year, to accomplish something, given that this is a president who has always talked about transformation and transforming a country.
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE HILL": I think that he's running out of time, and he knows that. The campaigns for the midterm election in Congress really began after the sort of final budgeting in late September, that's it. This is the window for summer the immigration reform and it's a window for a fiscal deal, and those are legacy makers for him. The gun control issue is not looking like it's going to be successful. If it comes up again this year and gets 60 votes in the Senate and gets out of the Senate, it's not likely to pass out of the House. That's something that's going to be a long marathon of a battle. But if he hopes for any kind of a budget deal and immigration reform, he'd better get cooking because we're really looking at only a matter of months.
CROWLEY: (INAUDIBLE). And people don't realize it, but then after the midterms, really it's off to the races for the presidential, and he really is a lame duck.
JEANNE CUMMINGS, DEPUTY GOVERNMENT EDITOR, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": Definitely. This is the year. I think things are more on track than they may appear. There are -- this week we're going to see the amendments come for the immigration bill. So that is on track. The Senate hopes to vote in June. There's nothing right now that is derailing that particular calendar. And that should fit with enough time for the White House to achieve it, if they can get it through the House. The House is taking a totally different tack.
CROWLEY: The Senate is the easy part.
CUMMINGS: That's exactly right.
CROWLEY: You know, do you think that the defeat of the gun bill was an object lesson? I mean, I thought, they'll pass something. And it just -- you know, even the more moderate, you know, no assault weapons ban, no limitation on the gun magazines.
CUMMINGS: It definitely was a wakeup call that, even though 90 percent of Americans were behind the expanded background checks at one point, it's still something could fail in the Senate. It was pretty surprising, and it was a wakeup call. When we talk about immigration, what we should keep in mind is that, you're right, the Senate is the easy part because the senators run state-wide. When you get into the House, after the redistricting, "Bloomberg" and "The Cook Political Report" went back and did some number crunching. The average House Republican comes from a district that is now 75 percent white. What is the incentive for them to do immigration reform? There's only down side to them. So the House is very, very hard.
CROWLEY: And I agree. I think, you know, we focus so much on the Senate that we forget that this is such a big lift over there. Let me play you something that Senator Toomey, one of the co-authors of the bipartisan gun control had to say about its defeat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAT TOOMEY, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: There are people on my side who didn't want to be perceived to be helping something that the president wants to accomplish it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: He tried to walk that back a little but, really, it's out there. So my question is, first of all, do you think gun control will come up again in the Senate because if it's not coming up in the Senate, it's not coming up in the house. Second of all, how much can you blame the president for failing to get gun control if this is what he's up against? It's not a question of mojo, but the question of make up the Senate.
STODDARD: Well I think the gun control bill, Republicans will tell you privately they can't do immigration and gun control. They can't do both. They're getting questions on gay marriage. This is just too much for them at once. And immigration reform is the political necessity not expanded background checks. And so they're going to give the president a win on something that they think is important to the survival of the party, in order to build a national coalition to win the presidency, again. But they don't have to monkey around with this other stuff right now. It's just too much at once. The problem is that the gun control bill is not only impossible in the House, it would need, as I said, it would need 70 votes in the Senate to go over to the House and actually make -
CROWLEY: To give it a big push.
STODDARD: Immigration is also taking on terrible water on the left and the right. It's not just the newly verbal, loud criticism on the right coming against the gang of eight and their bill. The left, as well (INAUDIBLE) the path (ph) to citizenship and the bill is too (INAUDIBLE) and taken together the opposition from both sides (INAUDIBLE).
CROWLEY: Jeanne, I just want to show our viewers the cover of "National Review" this week in which they call these immigration controversies his folly, "Rubio's folly." Is his political future - yes, which leads to 2016, at stake in the rise or the fall of this bill and in what way?
CUMMINGS: Well, I do think they are connected. If he is, it's at a point now where a victory, he needs a victory because he's so ties to it. And so he is now the face, selling it to Republican audiences. He goes on Republican talk shows and just gets skewered but he keeps going back and he keeps going back to try to make the case, to try to change the mind. If he were to pocket this, that's a big, serious policy accomplishment he puts in his briefcase for 2016. And that separates him from the rest of the pack.
CROWLEY: And if he doesn't pocket it? STODDARD: And if he doesn't Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Rand Paul and others who have designs on the presidency in 2016 will make sure that he is the RINO's wish when Republican candidate over on the left of the party and that they're representing the real heart and soul of the conservative movement and a defeat on immigration will be very tough for him.
CROWLEY: And RINO meaning Republican in name only, which is, you know.
STODDARD: Oh yes. Sorry. CROWLEY: Do you think looking at immigration reform, when you look at this. Now the gay issue that's going to come up this Thursday, it seems to me that Democrats are banking that it's not a poison pill. That Republicans are making a lot of noise.
CUMMINGS: They're wrong about that.
CUMMINGS: They're totally wrong about that. And the key -- one of the new players in the immigration debate is the evangelical community.
CROWLEY: Right (ph). They (ph) would (ph) back away.
CUMMINGS: That was really important to the Republicans to have that kind of cover and the evangelical community is being very active and very open and they are gone if that amendment passes.
CROWLEY: Do you agree?
STODDARD: I do. That's an essential part of the coalition.
CROWLEY: A.B. Stoddard, Jeanne Cummings. Thanks for being here.
STODDARD: You're welcome.
CROWLEY: When we return, Boston says thank you to the reluctant hero whose note to authorities helped capture the bombers.
A check of the headlines is next.
CROWLEY: Here's a check of the headlines. Syria's deputy foreign minister is calling an overnight air strike on the country a declaration of war by Israel. Syrian state television says the Israeli rockets hit a government research facility in the suburb of Damascus. Syria says it will retaliate against Israel in its own time and way.
Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai said he received assurances from the CIA that it will deliver continuing delivering cash to his office. Although the agency has been delivering bags full of money to Karzai for the past 10 years the practice sparked outrage after a "New York Times" report about the payments last week. Karzai says, the money is being used to pay salaries, help the war wounded and provide scholarships.
The Taliban is claiming responsibility for a roadside bomb that killed five U.S. service members in southern Afghanistan. The attack occurred Saturday in the Kandahar province. Two NATO troops were also killed Saturday when an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on them. A third NATO soldier died after an insurgent attack in northern Afghanistan. An enthusiastic crowd greeted Boston marathon bombing survivor, Jeff Bauman, at last night's playoff game between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bauman served as the Bruins' honorary captain. Bauman lost both legs in the bombing but was able to provide investigators with critical information that helped to identify the bombers. The Maple Leafs, by the way, won the game, 4-2.
Now, looking at live pictures of Andrews Air Force Base where President Obama will depart heading to Columbus, Ohio, this morning to give the commencement address at Ohio State University. One year ago this day, President Obama kicked off his re-election campaign at the same school. As many as 70,000 people are expected to attend today's ceremony and more than 10,000 students will get their diplomas.
Thank you 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, search STATE OF THE UNION.
Fareed Zakaria, GPS, is next for our viewers here in the United States.