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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

Interview with Ned Walker, John Negroponte

Aired August 4, 2013 - 12:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: An uneasy weekend beneath the shadow of a terrorist threat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Today a suspected plot prompts a global warning to Americans far from home. Take care. Senator Lindsey Graham joins us for a talk on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Edward Snowden in Russia, and crisis in Egypt.

Then, House Intelligence Committee member, Adam Schiff, on whether these security warnings justify the breadth and depth of spying by the National Security Agency.

And, see you in September. Congress takes a month long break, leaving nearly every important piece of business undone. The man spear heading the drive to get more Democrats elected to the House, Congressman Steve Israel, joins us.

Plus --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sit down and shut up.

CROWLEY: Seriously, what are the chances September will be any better? Our power panel is ready to sit down, but they won't shut up. And --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going with this tight end because he's going to have my tackle.

CROWLEY: The National Football League moves closer to a first down on equality. Our interview with the woman who would be ref and what players are thinking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I know is she's wearing black and white stripes and she's got the hat on. And she's the one with the whistle. So, I've got to be really nice to her.

CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley, and this is STATE OF THE UNION.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (on-camera): In what's being called an unprecedented event, some extraordinary precautions are underway across the Muslim world right now. The U.S. has also issued a worldwide travel alert, essentially warning Americans to keep their heads down. 22 U.S. embassies and consulates are closed. The epicenter of this concern is Yemen, home base for al Qaeda's Arabian affiliate.

U.S. officials say the government there is on high alert. At least a dozen tanks are deployed near the U.S. embassy. Some U.S. military forces are on a higher state of readiness, and officials say the threat is greater than it's been in a long time.

CNN's Becky Anderson is here, standing by near the shuttered U.S. embassy in Abu Dhabi, Jim Acosta is at the White House. Starting with Becky. Describe the situation as it has been, unusual? Would you have noticed anything had you not known about the shuttering of the embassy?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Probably not, actually, and that's a very good point.

It's 8:00 in the evening here. The embassy is about a mile away from over my left shoulder. It's the end of what would be the first day of the working week. But the embassy is closed. The U.S. Marines secured this facility, they are outside today. You're not to do any filming outside, but that is normal as an order from the authorities here anyway.

So aside from the fact the staff aren't there, you wouldn't know there had been any further sort of warnings or problems around that embassy today. They say they are doing it out of an abundance of caution, but they go on to say on their web site, it is possible we may have additional days of closings as well, depending on our analysis. One European ambassador here in Abu Dhabi told us that he thinks the U.S. are erring on the side of caution to a certain extent, given what happened in Benghazi last year, and the current turmoil in Egypt and Syria, but no staff working. What should be the first day of the working week here in Abu Dhabi at the embassy.

CROWLEY: I'm curious, Becky, about any street talk about this. Is this a known security alert to just regular folks living there?

ANDERSON: Yes. It's been widely reported in the press here, not just in the UAE, but across this Gulf region. Do remember, security is absolutely paramount. These are hubs for international travelers, and you'll know and those who have traveled in this region will know that there are an enormous amount of people internationally traveling through these international hubs. Security here, you'd have to go back a very long way to think of any specific terror attack or activity in this, the GCC region, but as I say, security is always paramount here, given that the business of this region is an international one. People on the street not saying anything more than they would normally, the security situation is as it ever would be, but certainly this story is being widely reported.

CROWLEY: And certainly U.S. embassies are among some of the most heavily guarded institutions across the Middle East and elsewhere.

ANDERSON: Absolutely. You'll see U.S. Marines guarding them, as you would in the very large embassy in London, for example, or indeed in Rome. But absolutely, these are not fortified facilities, but they are very well guarded. And then you have got the security in the UAE, which is as I say, you know, for those who run these regions and those who are in administration here, security absolutely paramount.

CROWLEY: Let me turn to Jim Acosta. He is standing by at the White House. Jim, the president, what has the activity been at the White House over the weekend?

ACOSTA: Candy, the president, according to White House officials, he has been getting regular briefings on this threat, and White House officials have been saying over the last couple of days that what they're on the lookout for at this point is some kind of attack that could be carried out in the Arabian Peninsula or the attack could be stemming from elements inside the Arabian Peninsula. Specifically, they're looking at al Qaeda or affiliated groups.

And Candy, just look at what some of the key lawmakers on the Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees have been saying on the Sunday talk shows today here in the United States. They are talking about what they describe as a threat coming from credible information about a major attack. One key senator from the Intelligence Committee said that this is the type of chatter that they were hearing before September 11. And Adam Schiff, who is a House Democrat on the Intelligence Committee over there in the House, was talking about a timing as to Sunday, and that gives you the when, but the problem for the White House and this administration, Candy, is that they don't appear to have any specific information about the where, as to where the attack might take place. So that is why we saw on Saturday, yesterday, Candy, the president's national security adviser, Susan Rice, convening what they call over here at the White House the principals meeting. That is essentially his heavy hitters, people like Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, his new ambassador over at the U.N., Samantha Power, and the CIA director, John Brennan. The president was briefed after that meeting, and we're expecting him to get further briefings as the day goes on, Candy.

CROWLEY: My thank to Jim Acosta and Becky Anderson.

We want to move on now to republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Senator, first, as you watch this unfold, what does it -- what is your general impression here? This looks -- if you're an ordinary American, looks pretty scary.

GRAHAM: Well, I had a briefing with the vice president. It is scary. Al Qaeda's on the rise in this part of the world. And, the NSA program is proving its worth yet again. But we need to reevaluate where we're at in light of these threats. Sequestration has to be fixed. If this happens a year from now, intelligence community and military will be less capable.

AFRICOM needs to be beefed up. That's where the war is going. We're about to withdraw from Afghanistan. I don't want Afghanistan to become Iraq where we withdraw all of our troops and terrorism comes back. You know, western Afghanistan is the safe haven for al Qaeda. So, I appreciate what the administration is doing. They're taking the right approach to this. Benghazi was a complete failure. The threats were real there. The reporting was real. And we basically dropped the ball. We've learned from Benghazi, thank God, and the administration is doing this right.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, when you look at this map of U.S. embassies that are closed or consulates or missions, 22 of them, most of them across the Muslim world, when you hear this global warning to all Americans to take care, what do you think that says since the mission of a terrorist is to terrorize. In some sense, do you feel like they've already won? This is kind of a balance, isn't it?

GRAHAM: Well, it is a balance. Shutting down embassies makes sense going out of this. The goal is to drive us out in Mid East. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Nusra, all of them have one thing in common, they want to drive the west out of the Mid East and take over this Muslim countries and create an al Qaeda tight religious entity in the place of what it says today.

So, this is an effort to terrorize us, to drive us out of the Mid East. And if we ever take the bait and try to come home and create fortress America, we'll have another 9/11. So, we have to show resolve, but we have to be smart. I'm going to Egypt with Senator McCain very soon here. I know it's dangerous, but we need to be there with our diplomats giving the unified message to Egypt.

Do not let these people drive us out of the Mid East. Do not make us abandon our friends like now Yemen, Israel, the king of (ph) Jordan. We can't let them get away with this. We have to stand up to them. And finally, after Benghazi, they're on steroids. They attacked our consulate. They killed an ambassador.

A year has passed, and nobody's paid a price. After Benghazi, these al Qaeda-types are really on steroids, thinking we're weaker and they're stronger.

CROWLEY: Senator, I want to talk to you about the Egyptian trip and some other things after the break. But quickly, when are you leaving for Egypt?

GRAHAM: Very soon. And to the members of Congress who want to reform the NSA program, great. But if you want to gut it, you make us much less safe, and you're putting our nation at risk. We need to have policies in place that can deal with the threats that exist, and they are real, and they are growing.

CROWLEY: OK. We're going to talk to you right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We're back with the Republican senator, Lindsey Graham. Senator, we have this global worldwide alert to Americans to stay safe and watch how they travel and watch where they go. We have all these embassies closed down, including the one in Egypt. And you and Senator McCain are going there.

So, I want to know if there's any extra precautions being taken. It just seems like kind of a dual message here.

GRAHAM: Well, I hope they are. And if you're going to pick between the two of us, Senator McCain is far more valuable than I am. But, we've got a call from the president, Secretary Kerry, the message that the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood is to get out of the streets, back into the voting booth.

The Egyptian military must move more aggressively toward turning over control to the civilian population, civilian organizations. The military can't keep running the country. We need Democratic elections. The brotherhood needs to get off the streets and back into the political arena and fight your differences there, and we need to put Egypt back to work. If this continues, it's going to be a failed state. That's why we're going.

CROWLEY: Well, senator, as you know, the brotherhood can't get back to the voting booth until elections are called, which haven't happened.

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: The U.S. has been working its military connections very, very hard.

GRAHAM: Right.

CROWLEY: Trying to use the leverage of U.S. aid saying you need to set up elections. You need to stop attacking these protesters. And I want to read you something that General Abdel-Fatal al-Sisi said, he's the Egyptian defense minister, he's the commander of the armed forces. He did an interview, I believe it was with "The Washington Post." And, he had this to say about the U.S. "You left the Egyptians. You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won't forget that." He is talking about the fact the Egyptians didn't like the Morsy government, and you did nothing to try to correct the direction of the Morsy government. So, this does not sound like the group that is listening to any leverage the U.S. perceives it has with them.

GRAHAM: Well, he'd better start listening if he wants this relationship. The relationship between the United States and Egypt is very important to us. It's the center of the Arab world in general.

CROWLEY: It doesn't seem like it's that important to them, though.

GRAHAM: Well, it's important to people around in the streets demanding, you know, a better life to the general. Democracy is messy. The Morsy government did screw up big time. They went down the Islamic cultural road rather than creating jobs, and the military had to intervene. The one thing that's not sustainable is a military takeover of Egypt.

They promised new elections. They need to deliver. The Muslim Brotherhood needs to get off the streets so the economy can start anew and reorganize and have a political contest, not a contest to violence. I don't want to abandon Egypt. To the general, Senator McCain and myself stopped an effort to cut off aid.

I want to keep the aid flowing to Egypt, but it has to be with the understanding that Egypt's going to march toward democracy, not toward a military dictatorship. And that's the message we're going to send to the Muslim Brotherhood. The only way you're going to be part of Egypt is to allow Egypt to get back to work, stop playing politics. That's the message.

This is a key moment in the history of Egypt, but the narrative in the Mid East needs to change and it needs to change quickly. We abandoned Iraq. It's falling apart. We're talking about leaving Afghanistan. We'd better be smart enough to leave a residual force in Afghanistan to deal with the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CROWLEY: I've got no time left actually, but I can't let you go without a political question.

GRAHAM: Sure. All right.

CROWLEY: You picked up another opponent for the Republican primary. All of them are coming at you from the right and say that you are too quick to compromise with Democrats. Your quick response to that.

GRAHAM: I'm going to keep being a social and fiscal conservative that focuses on our national security, takes care of interests at home, like the port of Charleston, working with my state officials, and be a conservative like Ronald Reagan who will sit down with a Tip O'Neill to solve Americans' problems. I'm conservative, but I do want to solve problems. I'm going to Egypt because my country needs me and Senator McCain in a bipartisan fashion to speak to the Egyptian people about their future and our relationship. I will continue to be Lindsey Graham, a solid fiscal and social conservative who wants to solve problems. I think that's the future of the Republican Party.

CROWLEY: Senator Lindsey Graham, we will watch that race with great interest. Thank you so much. Safe journey.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

CROWLEY: When we return, President Obama sat down with the president of Yemen and said the terrorists are retreating.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we've seen is al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula or AQAP moved back out of territories that it was controlling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Today, we are on alert for an attack in Yemen. The latest on threats to American interests from a member who's seen the intelligence with his own eyes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Joining me now, Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Thank you, congressman for being here. I want you to clear up a couple of things from me that I think people must be sort of mulling over in their head. From what you have seen in terms of intelligence reports and what you can tell us, which I understand is limited, how imminent is this threat and how great is this threat?

SCHIFF: Well, I think we know a lot more about the when than the where. And you can tell that from the breadth of the closures across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. But the when was very specific in terms of a Sunday. Obviously, that may continue and the closures may continue. The travel warning is more extensive.

But this is not the usual kind of chatter, not the more generalized death to the Americans or death to great Satan, but had to be corroborated or come from very reliable sources to take this kind of action. So, I think we're doing what's necessary to protect our people. We're also protecting our sources. And, I think that's exactly the right step.

CROWLEY: There are also reports out there that there's a team of terrorists is already in place. From what you know, is this a single target event or is the fear that it's a multi-target event?

SCHIFF: Well, I think, given the breadth of the closures, you can tell there's concern about seeing something like we saw a year ago where there were riots and attacks at multiple embassies around the world. There has to be a lot of concern as well with the recent prison breaks in Libya, Iraq, and elsewhere where a lot of al Qaeda figures were released.

So, we have a lot of things coming together, including the significance of the end of Ramadan, that would raise our concern, but all of that would not be enough without having some particularly specific information. So, you know, I think we're taking the precautions we should.

We obviously have our military forces deployed in a different way than we did a year ago so that they can take rapid action if necessary. But the concern is a broad one. Hopefully, we'll fend off this attack.

CROWLEY: Senator Graham just told me that he thinks that these threats are yet another reason for those who have been critics of the national security agencies, the depth and the breadth of their intelligence collecting. It should show that that depth and that breadth should stay there. You've been a critic of the sheer reach of the NSA. Does this make you change your mind?

SCHIFF: It doesn't, and I think you have to be very careful about how much you represent that any particular program has contributed to our security. And I know Senator Graham said that this shows that we need to continue these particular programs, but if you look at the one that's most at issue here, that's the bulk metadata program, there's no indication, unless I'm proved wrong later that that program which collects vast amounts of domestic data, domestic telephony data, contributed to information about this particular plot.

And I think that with respect to any of the NSA programs, we need to ask ourselves three questions, we need to ask whether it's constitutional, whether it's effective, and whether it's structured in a way that minimizes any unnecessary imposition on our privacy. And if you look at that third criteria, I don't think the metadata program can survive in its current form.

I've been urging the NSA for some time to restructure the program so that the telephone companies hold on to their own data. There's no reason for the government to obtain all that.

CROWLEY: OK.

SCHIFF: We can still go to those companies when necessary.

CROWLEY: Joining me now, two men who know the region all too well. Former Ambassadors John Negroponte and Ned Walker. You' also worked for DNI, or head of the DNI, so you bring the intelligence angle, as well. First of all, from your experiences in the Middle East and in the intelligence community, what's going on here?

JOHN NEGROPONTE, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, we can't say for sure because we're not on the inside, but my guess is that there is information, credible information about plotting to carry out some kind of major attack in the Middle East region. We don't know where, but it seems to me that that's what is indicated here, and probably against some kind of American installation or American interests.

CROWLEY: Or Western, we're told, as well. But this is, I'm assuming there is always somebody plotting something.

NED WALKER, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT: Yes, but this one has got to be a little bit more specific. And also, when you have something like this, you're trying to get everybody cooperating or running in the same direction. I've closed down embassies when I was the secretary, and it was very difficult to convince the ambassadors to actually close it, even though they were instructed by the secretary of state, because they aren't aware of the threat, and they think it's an overreaction. So you have got to get people's attention, and that's what this has done.

CROWLEY: So you think this is -- obviously since this kind of widespread closing of embassies is unprecedented, as far as we know, that this is also an attempt to wake up allies as well as expats and U.S. citizens working abroad.

WALKER: And our embassy people. If you have constant threat all the time, and that threat becomes the normal, it's no longer a threat. You're not alert.

CROWLEY: So one of the questions I haven't been able to get answered, and maybe you can do this for me, is at some point, you have to stop. At some point you have to say, well, let the embassies open. You cannot constantly close them. So let's -- if today, we hope, goes by without any major thing happening, and Monday goes by, and Tuesday goes by, why wouldn't the terrorists be sitting there going, let's just wait until they open the embassies again?

NEGROPONTE: This is a dynamic situation. And presumably, new intelligence will come in. In fact, just the fact of having announced this worldwide travel alert and the closing down of the embassies in the region, I think, might stir the plotters to communicate with each other in ways they might not have otherwise, so I'm sure that we'll gain further--

CROWLEY: (inaudible) of the hive a little bit.

NEGROPONTE: Could be, that's right, making the birds flutter. I think -- I think you'll get further indications of what's afoot over the next days.

CROWLEY: So in essence, this time could be used to get the specificity about when and where that is -- seems to be lacking right now.

NEGROPONTE: Perhaps. Yes.

WALKER: That's definitely one reason.

CROWLEY: Let me play you something. This was the president during his second campaign, his re-election campaign. And we just pulled a couple of soundbites from various places. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Al Qaeda is on the path to defeat.

Al Qaeda is on the run.

Al Qaeda is on its heels.

Al Qaeda has been decimated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Al Qaeda apparently has closed 22 U.S. embassies and missions, prompted a worldwide warning to travelers overseas. Talk to me about the strength of al Qaeda right now.

NEGROPONTE: I used to think they were down, but not out. That would be the phrase I would have used. Today I'm not so sure they're down anymore. And I think there have been a number of things that have happened of late that have given them a new lease on life. One is the continued turmoil in the Middle East, in Syria and Egypt and so forth, and the other have been these massive prison breaks that have taken place in Iraq, in Syria, in Pakistan, and in Libya, I believe. So -- and let's remember, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, in Yemen, owes parts of its origins to a major prison break that occurred in Yemen in 2006.

CROWLEY: So new people out there that have been hardened al Qaeda operatives for some time.

WALKER: It's also the fact that Americans are doing a better job. We had 26 people that were on the most wanted list maybe a few months ago. Now they're down to 22, because the drone strikes have killed off a lot of their terrorists. Now, they can replace them, but this is a message to them, that they cannot run or hide in the final analysis.

CROWLEY: Is it a message to them? Do you think -- because the message is, there is some danger here, we need to close things down.

WALKER: Well, good. If they close it down, then we don't have a threat, do we? You know, the idea is to get them so concerned that they have to close things down. They have to retreat to Bora-Bora or whatever it is. Then they become less of a threat. But also it gives us, as the ambassador was saying, more time to deal with the threat.

And do you think the political (inaudible), as the ambassador pointed out, that the Arab spring has, while we hailed it as democracy is taking over, it has just opened up -- Libya, you could just go down the line of some of these countries where all of a sudden, al Qaeda sees ways to grow.

WALKER: These were dictatorships, and as soon as you take the lid off, it is going to release a lot of pent-up pressures. Yes, I mean, there is a lot more instability in the Middle East today than there was under Mubarak or Gadhafi or so on. Doesn't make it better in those days, it just makes it different.

CROWLEY: A different threat. I want to turn just in our final couple of minutes, to Egypt. Which is proving kind of problematic. The military ousted the democratically elected leader, President Morsy, who is now in the slammer someplace. And we have a sort of a civilian installed government. The U.S. keeps saying, oh, we're working our military contacts, we're very close to the military. Nothing happens. In fact, the military is now increasingly critical of the U.S. What is the answer here?

NEGROPONTE: Well, first of all, I think some of this is just the natural consequence of the way Mr. Mubarak was removed from power, which I think was going to inevitably lead to a period of considerable instability. And then the prior government in Egypt wasn't sufficiently inclusive. So they're still working their way towards some kind of a democratic outcome. And, again, a reminder that nation building and democracy building is not something that can happen overnight. It's a long, drawn-out process.

CROWLEY: It sounds like we might not be as angry with the Egyptian military as our public statements might indicate.

WALKER: You know, there has been a tendency to glorify the Muslim Brotherhood as if it was some kind of a great organization. This is--

CROWLEY: It did win a democratic election. WALKER: What kind of an election? Come on. It was put up -- rushed into an election before there was any ability of the opposition parties to organize.

CROWLEY: We were kind of all for it in the U.S., were we not?

WALKER: Sure, we were. I didn't say that we weren't. But I mean, I'm not altogether convinced it was a good idea. We should have slowed it down. We should have had a more -- more in place in terms of a base for democracy, which they didn't have.

CROWLEY: I have to stop it there, but we've already discussed -- you'll probably be back several times for the next couple of months. Former Ambassador John Negroponte, former Ambassador Ned Walker, thank you so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

CROWLEY: When we return, Democrats stay on message, but is it the right one?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: I'm joined by New York Congressman Steve Israel. He's the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which is a kind of a long way of saying that he's in charge of trying to take over the House next year in those elections.

Congressman, thank you for joining us. We had some jobs figures that came out this week. Unemployment, the jobless rate did come down, but when we looked at the larger picture of what's going on in the jobs market, we see that there's only about 63 percent labor participation. We see that 8.2 million workers are involuntarily working part-time, and we also see that many of these jobs that are being created are low-wage jobs. Is this the kind of economic picture that you can sell next year? ISRAEL: What we have to do is have different priorities than the priorities the House Republicans are giving us right now. In their attempts, their relentless attempts to obstruct the president, to obstruct Democrats from solutions, they're actually obstructing Democratic growth.

Candy, I had the best answer to your question yesterday. I had a town meeting in Oyster Bay. And one of my constituents, a guy named Brook Dixon (ph), said, Congressman, I'm trying to start a small business to create jobs. Why can't those members of Congress do what a small business has to do? Why can't they listen to the customer? I'm hopeful that in August, House Republicans will listen to the customer and choose solutions rather than obstruction.

If you listen to the Republicans, my final point, if you listen to what the Republicans are saying, they're going to come back in September and double down on obstruction that hurts the economy, continuing to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They've done it 40 times. They're going to do it again. And now they're talking about shutting down the government unless they get their ideological objectives. We think there are better priorities. CROWLEY: Sure. Let me say that probably the customers of some of these Republicans are quite different than the customers at your town hall meeting, because it's a pretty diverse country. But I wanted to ask you about Obamacare, because we had the head of the IRS was up on the Hill, and he was asked about his own health care program in comparison to Obamacare, and here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WERFEL: I prefer to stay with the current policy that I'm pleased with rather than go through a change if I don't need to go through that change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: This guy was appointed by -- he's the acting IRS commissioner. This can't be helpful.

ISRAEL: Well, I can't speak for him. I can speak for me. As a member of Congress, I'm going to go on the exchange next year. I'm going to shop for my insurance in the marketplace. By the way, in my state, New York, they've announced the exchanges. Premiums are going to go down 50 percent. So I will be on the exchange pursuant to the law.

I'll tell you what I will not do. I will not agree with Republicans in repealing the Affordable Care Act and putting insurance companies in charge of insurance, in charge of health care. I will not give insurance companies free rein to tell a woman with breast cancer that I represent that her breast cancer is a preexisting condition. I will not do that.

CROWLEY: Congressman, let me bring in our roundtable here. Artur Davis, he is a former Democratic congressman from Alabama. I'm sure you know more than others that he switched to the GOP over a difference in economic policies, among other things. Anita Dunn, she is former White House communications director for President Obama. Alex Castellanos and Donna Brazile, both are CNN political commentators.

Let me just extrapolate what we just heard from Congressman Israel, and that is that the election next year, barring some big deal breakthrough and the economy goes booming is, the economy would be much better if the Republicans just weren't standing in our way, vote Democratic. Yes?

CASTELLANOS: I think that's what the congressman would love to have, but if you go out there and ask in America, do you think Congress is so unpopular because they've not done enough or because they've done too much? It's too much. They've put the country in tremendous debt. That was a consensus. They have -- retirement plans, Social Security are all bankrupt. Medicare. All these things. So we actually want Washington to do more. Washington isn't spending and taxing enough. If that's the Democratic message, it's not going to work.

CROWLEY: I think their message is you're standing in the way of Obamacare, you're standing in the way of more jobs.

CASTELLANOS: That's what they'd like it to be, but there is another side.

DUNN: And there is, but I'm sure Alex would be shocked to hear that I disagree with him.

CASTELLANOS: The first time.

(LAUGHTER)

DUNN: And, Candy, I think it's an important issue. I think the conventional wisdom, for example, has been that Obamacare as a 2014 issue potentially hurts Democrats. If you look at what's happening right now, Obamacare is hurting the Republican Party that has an enormous split between those who say that they won't fund the government past September 30th if there's any funding for implementation -- the Ted Cruz wing -- and then people like Tom Coburn, and -- who are actually now being accused of being too moderate. And, you know, at the end of the day, the economy is only going to grow if serious people will sit down and work together.

DAVIS: Let me jump in for one second.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: The irony of this recovery is that it's exactly the kind of recovery that, when I was a Democrat, we used to complain was a Republican kind of recovery. And here is what I mean when I say that. If you're an American who's doing very well, frankly, this recovery has been pretty good for you. If you're someone whose income is primarily derived from stocks, if you are someone who owns a company, your profits are up. A lot of companies' profits are up. But if you're a middle-class American, if you are a working-class American, this recovery has not been terribly good for you, and that's the irony of it. Barack Obama and the Democrats have to go into 2014 frankly making the kind of case that, when I was a Democrat, we say these Republicans only --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Congressman, I want you to know I hear you. But I am going to -- Donna Brazile for some reason is uncharacteristically quiet here. I'm going to draw her out.

BRAZILE: No, I'm listening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's much smarter than me.

BRAZILE: Look, I'm in the choir here, and I'm just listening to the other congregants. But the truth of the matter is, is that Democrats are going to campaign on an economy that is still recovering from the greatest recession since the Great Depression. We're going to campaign, I believe, on the fact that we're trying to end the sequester, which is stalling economic growth, and we're going to campaign on the fact that Democrats have pro-job growth policies. We're not going to sit around and wait for the Republicans to continue to put breaks on the economy at a time when middle class families are struggling.

CASTELLANOS: One thing we can agree on, I think, is that the Republicans have never been very good at playing the shut down the government card. It has actually never helped. We're going to hold our breath until you, the voter, turns blue, is not good political strategy.

CROWLEY: Which is probably why it's not going to happen.

CASTELLANOS: Yes, probably won't.

CROWLEY: But it's a great sort of thing to hit (ph) for the Republicans.

ISRAEL: Candy, may I?

CROWLEY: Yes, Congressman, go ahead.

ISRAEL: Thank you. Two of these points. Look, we're not going to campaign on the fact that the Republicans are chaotic and that the Congress is broken. We're campaigning on the fact that their chaos and the broken Congress is hurting the economy. They left for a six- week recess. They couldn't even pass a highway bill. You don't pass a highway bill, that's fewer contracts for highway companies. That's lower paid checks for highway workers. They couldn't pass a farm bill based on bipartisanship. That's a tougher deal for rural economies. And so the fact of the matter is that their chaos, their extremism is hurting the economy.

And we should pass a budget in September instead of shutting down the government. My final point. We should pass a government -- pass a budget that is solutions based, that reduces debt in a balanced way, that is fair to the middle class, protects rather than privatizes Medicare, and creates rather than costs jobs. If we can do that and cooperate, the economy will be better.

DAVIS: If you talk to so many people who are running businesses, so many people who are working in mid-sized (ph) companies, they'll tell you that there's a big challenge in this economy, and frankly, it's not the things we've been talking about this morning.

The challenge in this economy is that there's so much uncertainty. There's a regulatory environment that keeps getting bigger and bigger. Ordinary people who are having to make business decisions day in and day out, worry about the uncertainty. They worry about the fact that Washington seems to not get the fact that predictability is important.

Context (ph) to (ph) Obamacare. So many families right now, so many people in the business world worry that Obamacare is going to change the state of play for them. That makes it tougher for them to hire.

(CROSSTALK) CROWLEY: 30 seconds, Anita, real quick.

CASTELLANOS: Poor Congressman Israel seems to forget that Harry Reid didn't pass a budget for four years, and somehow the country moved alone.

CROWLEY: True that, Anita.

ISRAEL: But we did now.

(CROSSTALK)

ISRAEL: We have a budget.

(CROSSTALK)

DUNN: -- is traveling to talk about a better bargain for the middle class. He's talking about what we need to do for middle class families. And right now, the Republicans have been very busy voting for the 40th time to repeal Obamacare. I think the American people get choices, and there is a clear choice.

CASTELLANOS: Do you think Washington has the answer to any of America's problems? No one believes that anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Congressman Steve Israel, thank you so much for joining us.

ISRAEL: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Donna, Anita, stick around. I think you're going to like this next story. I went down to the New Orleans Saints Training Camp to check out a woman who's about to break into the all boys club in the NFL. You guys might like it too.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Training camps are under way, the start of the football season is approaching and some day soon there may be a different look to the NFL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Are you ready for some football? And while we're at it, is football ready for this?

So he's going to have that tackle on double-double.

When you think about perhaps being an official in the NFL, what do you worry about as a female?

SARAH THOMAS, FOOTBALL REFEREE: I think the biggest concern I have as a female is making sure that my uniform fits the right way. And other than that, it's just I'm out there just like one of the guys, you know. I've got a job to do just like they do.

CROWLEY: Does that sheer, you know, mass of guys out on the field worry you?

THOMAS: I don't work in fear, Candy. I have a job that I've got to do and manage the line of scrimmage, the line judge position. And with experience comes just that. You know, being able to read the play, whether it's a pass or a run, or if it's a busted play, being able to get out of the way.

CROWLEY: If there's an opening in 2014, Sarah Thomas has a good chance to become the first female full-time NFL official. But breaking the grass ceiling has never been her goal.

THOMAS: The guys that I officiate with, they understand that, yes, I'm a female. And individually we're all different, regardless of race or gender. And I understand that being a female, there's going to be some focus on that. But collectively we're one when we're on that field and we're all out there trying to strive for the same reasons, same goals, to work the perfect game.

CROWLEY: Still, you can't help but notice, right? Have you surprised anybody when you first come onto the field and they find out later you're female?

THOMAS: Well, if I'm around the guys and I'm the only one out here wearing mascara and lipstick, so they kind of pick up on it pretty quickly when they hear me talk. But, you know, I've had a lot of people say I told you that was a girl when I left the field and had my hair down or something. So those are the games I want. I want to go unnoticed just like the other six guys on the field.

I'm going to go with this tight end because he's going to have my tackle.

CROWLEY: At the New Orleans Saints Training Center, they tend to see Thomas' turf-breaking role in black and white.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty cool. For a country that speaks so much about equality, to have women not only officiating the game but at the highest level.

JIMMY GRAHAM, NEW ORLEANS STAINS TIGHT END: All I know is she's wearing black and white stripes and has a hat.

RAMAN HARPER, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS SAFETY: No problem, as long as she's making the right calls, which nobody is going to agree with them. Everybody hates officials and she'll just be hated like the rest of them.

DREW BREES, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS QUARTERBACK: I think it would be hard for a coach to yell at a female official maybe like he would a male official. And that's just being - that's just being honest.

CROWLEY: There are going to be people that are going to judge you as a female. THOMAS. You know, the bad call is going come and hopefully there's enough good calls out there that precede it. That way when it happens, we're human. And regardless of gender or race or whatever it may be, we are going to make a mistake.

CROWLEY: For a story that may or may not happen for more than a year, Thomas is being pushed aggressively to the media by the NFL. In truth the organization could use a gridiron makeover. In recent months players have been involved in a murder-suicide, charged with manslaughter in a DUI, picked up on concealed weapons charges, accused of racism, arrested for murder.

It says to me that the NFL is trying to put out a good story. Would I be wrong to kind of look at this as a --

DEAN BLANDINO, NFL VICE PRESIDENT OF OFFICIATING: I think it's a -- with diversity, it's a (INAUDIBLE) NFL, so this is right in line with our values. I think Sarah has worked her way to this point and it's just - it's a nice by-product for the NFL, that she's a female. And it's a great story, absolutely.

CROWLEY: We're not sure, although you look like you are on a path to becoming an NFL officiant but it won't be until at least 2014 so in my mind I wonder why they're putting her out there now.

THOMAS: I really -- I can't answer that why they're putting me out here now. I was told I needed to do it, so here I am.

CROWLEY: Other people's agendas are just that. For Thomas the focus is the same as it's always been, officiating the perfect game.

THOMAS: All right, give me the line, give me the line.

CROWLEY: Line judge 153 is ready for some football, and it sounds like football is ready for her.

WALT COLEMAN, NFL REFEREE: She's just going to be another one of those terrible guys that's out there, that's calling the game, that screws up the game for us, you know. And so she's just going to be like the rest of us.

CROWLEY: Viva equality.

COLEMAN: That's right. She's just going to be a striped shirt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Next up, an update on our top story. Unprecedented precautions are in place as intelligence officials say Al Qaeda may be planning an attack at any time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: President Obama spent his 52nd birthday at Camp Davis, where he continues to receive updates on the 22 U.S. embassies and consulates closed due to security threats. Sources tell CNN that unspecified plots are in the final planning stages by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Officials say the closures may continue. CNN, of course, will continue to monitor the situation throughout the day. Thanks for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.