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STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY

The President's Moment; The Threat to Winter Olympics; Interview with Steny Hoyer, Tom Cole

Aired January 26, 2014 - 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: The president's moment and terrorist threats to the winter Olympics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Today, in a critical year for policy, politics and legacy, Barack Obama needs a change-up.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to working with Democrats and Republicans.

CROWLEY: Somehow, we don't think so. This Tuesday, the president's state of the union speech. A workable agenda or a campaign playlist? We talk to white House senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer.

And, oops, they did it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You must all be very conscious of tone and choice of words when we communicate.

CROWLEY: In search of women and minority voters, the linguistically challenged grand old party plots its own course for 2014 and beyond. Republican senator, Rand Paul, joins us with his view of the state of the union, his party, and the 2016 presidential race.

Then, if last year was the most unproductive Congress ever, raise your hand if you think this year will be any different. The art of the doable with two members of the House leadership, Democrat Steny Hoyer and Republican Tom Cole.

Plus --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It only takes one suicide bomber to get in to cause a real problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would not go and I don't think I would send my family.

CROWLEY: Russia's Olympic-sized security questions grow. We talk with their man in Washington, Ambassador Sergee Kislyak.

This is STATE OF THE UNION. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (on-camera): Good morning from Washington. I'm Candy Crowley. Two days before President Obama heads to Capitol Hill for his state of the union address, new polling underscores the tough environment he faces in the second year of his second term.

Joining me now, Dan Pfeiffer. He is senior adviser to President Obama. Dan, let me start out with the new ABC/"Washington Post" poll which found the president's approval rating at 46 percent. Half the country disapproved of how the president is handling his job. CNN had a poll of polls taken before this one which was lower at about 43 percent. What does he -- it seems to me that's the first thing he needs to do is change the public's opinion before he can move forward on anything.

PFEIFFER: Well, look, I think the public ended 2013 very frustrated. We had had a shutdown, a near default and the problems with the healthcare.com website. I think all of us in Washington, the president included, need to do what we can to restore trust in the people. That's what the president is going to begin on Tuesday night, when he was going to do was lay out a series of concrete, real, practical proposals on how we restore opportunity for all Americans.

He's going to do that by looking for ways to work with Congress where he can but act on his own where he can.

CROWLEY: Well, the thing is, and I know that trust, even before he became president, Candidate Barack Obama talked a lot about people not trusting their government and how impossible it was to get anything done when Americans look and think, no, they're never going to do that. So isn't sort of restoring that item number one on the agenda?

PFEIFFER: I think we need to ensure the American people that we can get something done, either through Congress or on our own because what they want are answers. Now, they're out there working hard, building their businesses, showing up to work every day, playing by the rules, and they expect the same from Washington. The president was to lead in that direction.

CROWLEY: With numbers like that, how can he have any more success this year than he had last year? I want to show you some of the proposals that were in the president's 2013 speech last year that have gone nowhere, increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to preschool, immigration reform, gun control legislation. None of that has happened because the year took control of the agenda.

Some of itself inflicted, lot of it from the outside. Why can't the president get anything more done with less of an approval rating than he had at the beginning of 2013?

PFEIFFER: Well, I'd say a couple things. First, our hope is to build on the progress of the -- the bipartisan budget agreement that was passed in the fall. It's unrealistic for any president to expect the Congress, the opposite party, to rubber stamp the agenda. It's unrealistic for us to expect -- for Congress to expect that the president will sign their agenda, but let's find areas where we can work together.

Now, in some of these areas like preschool, we've made some progress. The budget deals has some money, allows us to start that initiative. On guns, we put in place more than two dozen executive actions to try to address --

CROWLEY: Are all these things in his speech this year? Is this a re-push?

PFEIFFER: He's going to continue pushing for those things. You're going to hear new things. But you're also going to hear from his is this is supposed to be a year of action. So, he is going to walk in every way he can with his pen and his phone to try to move the ball forward.

CROWLEY: And there's always that sort of -- it's kind of a threat -- hey, Congress, work with me or I can do a lot of stuff administratively.

PFEIFFER: Well, I don't think it's confrontational. It's let's find areas to work together. There were some items right before Congress we can do together, passing immigration reform, extending unemployment benefits for 1.6 million Americans, patent reform, innovation act -- motivation our economy, the farm bill. There are things they can get done.

But we're not -- the president can't -- is not going to tell the American people that he's going to wait for Congress. He's going to move forward in areas like job training, education, manufacturing, on his own to try to restore opportunity for American families.

CROWLEY: And how do you do some of that on your own? Have you identified specific presidential prerogatives that you are willing to --

PFEIFFER: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: As in?

PFEIFFER: Stay tuned for Tuesday night, but the president views the power of his presidency in two areas. His pen, which is executive orders, also the phone where he can do is he can pick up the phone, bring together American citizens, businesses to commit on key issues. One example would be we had a college opportunity summit a few weeks ago with over 100 college presidents came in to commit to expand access to college for hundreds of thousands of Americans.

CROWLEY: It's a bully pulpit --

PFEIFFER: Absolutely. We do that in big ways and some small ways.

CROWLEY: Something he could have done all along and has done in some -- PFEIFFER: Yes. And we're putting an extra emphasis on it in 2014.

CROWLEY: And I imagine, we're going to hear a lot about the middle class, a lot about what you all have been calling income inequality. Can you explain to me what that is? Because income inequality I think to some people is like, we're going to take some income here and we're going to put it over here. Is that the phraseology you actually want?

PFEIFFER: I think, you know, sometimes there's a tendency in this town to boil complicated things down to overly simple solutions. What the president has talked about throughout his entire career and all the seven years I've worked for him is the problem of shrinking opportunity for the middle class and for those (inaudible) joined it. That comes from the growing gap inequality between the wealthy and the less so, declining economic mobility, globalization, changes in technology. So, what he's going to talk about in this speech is how we deal with the problem, restore opportunity for all Americans.

CROWLEY: And let me focus in on that gap that you all have talked about it a lot. There was a 2013 poll -- 2013 study out of University of California Berkeley which found that in the years between 2009 and 2012, those beginning recovery years in the Obama administration, the top one percent of wage earners in the U.S. captured 95 percent of the income gains in those three years and that, again, during the recovery.

So, 95 percent of the top one percent, so that's increasing -- so far, it would seem to me that policies of the Obama administration have increased that gap.

PFEIFFER: This has been a trajectory that the country's been on for a very long time. This president has taken several key steps to try to slow that trend and reverse it. Passing the Affordable Care Act which will do as much to deal with inequality in this country so millions of Americans aren't one bankruptcy -- one illness away from bankruptcy.

The big fight we had over the fiscal cliff a couple years ago where for the first time in a very long time the president would get Republicans to raise taxes on the wealthy and protect tax cuts with middle class, to make our tax system more progressive, more fair, so they did more to reward work as opposed to wealth.

CROWLEY: It's kind of hard to argue about, OK, we've really got to do something when the first three years of the Obama administration actually increase that gap. That's sort of my point.

PFEIFFER: No. I think the president will lay out several steps on how we can deal with restoring opportunity for all Americans. The minimum wage that we talked about last year would do more to lift millions of Americans out of poverty. More good jobs, more skills for workers. There's a lot we can do. These are things that have had bipartisan support in the past. CROWLEY: Let me ask you something that's coming out now, about immigration and how the House wants to approach it. We know they want to approach it with separate bills as opposed to one big comprehensive bill. One of those that seems to be emerging has to do with those who are undocumented in this country where Republicans would propose those who came here as children, who did not have anything to do with the planning of that, would be given a pathway to citizenship.

Others would be given a pathway to legality, to legal status. Is that OK with the White House? Is that something you could work with?

PFEIFFER: Well, here's what I think. The president's been very clear about his approach that includes a path to citizenship. He supported the Senate bill that passed. He's --

(CROSSTALK)

PFEIFFER: -- is that let's see what the House puts forward. I think that this is progress for the Republican Party if they're going to move forward. Let's see what they have and see if we can get together and make some real progress on an issue that's been stuck for way too long.

CROWLEY: So, you at least would talk about it.

PFEIFFER: Let's see what they put forward.

CROWLEY: OK. Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser at the White House, have a good Tuesday night.

PFEIFFER: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.

For the second year in a row, my next guest will be giving his own response to the state of the union address, though, not the official one.

Joining me now, Senator Rand Paul. He is a Republican from Kentucky, much talked about, much in the news guy these days. Senator Paul, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to start off on something that Dan Pfeiffer said to me, kind of repeatedly and the White House has said over the past couple of weeks, and it's the idea of the president saying I want to work with Congress, but I do have a pen and a phone and I can do lots of things with the executive and administrative tools that are before me. When you hear the president talk about that, what does it say to you?

PAUL: It sounds vaguely like a threat and I think it also has a certain amount of arrogance in the sense that one of the fundamental principles of our country were the checks and balances that it wasn't supposed to be easy to pass legislation. You had to debate and convince people.

PAUL: And so, there's a lot of things the president's not allowed to do. President's not allowed to write legislation.

He's not allowed to amend legislation. He's not allowed to initiate war. And he's not allowed to tell us when we're in recess and when we're not. I think the Supreme Court is going to rebuke him on the recess question and there still are some questions, whether or not he can amend Obamacare on his own or whether he should come to us.

He says, oh, well, it's hard to get Congress to do anything. Well, yes, welcome to the real world. It's hard to convince people to get legislation through. It takes consensus. But that's what he needs to be doing is building consensus and not taking his pen and creating law.

CROWLEY: Well, for instance, when Congress would not pass the Dream Act which aloud young children who were brought to this country illegally by their parents to stay in this country, he did that by administrative directive. He has done some things around existing gun control to try to kind of tighten things up.

He's done some things around climate change and climate control, particularly, when it comes to some of the carbon emissions. So, that's all perfectly legal, is it not?

PAUL: Well, yes and no. I mean, there's debate on some of those issues. What I would say is that the problem in Washington is, we need to find a way to compromise, but many people think, oh, you just need to split the difference on everything and that's compromise. To me, compromise is you need to narrow the issue until you get to an amount of the issue that you agree on.

So on immigration, maybe half of immigration reform, 80 percent of Congress agrees to. But to my mind, the Democrats are saying they want everything, citizenship, everything they can get, all at once or nothing whereas I think there's an in between where we could find work visas for a lot of the people that are here and normalize their existence as long as we do it and it's dependent on border security, there's a lot of things we can do, but the question is do we have to have everything the Democrats want or are they willing to go part way?

CROWLEY: Just listening to Dan Pfeifer, and now to you, it says to me that this year, as we all know, is a midterm election year. It's the third of the Senate, all of the house up for election or at least the seats there. The fact is it doesn't sound like much big is going to get done this year. PAUL: Well, actually, I'm a favor of trying to do something with the small things that we agree on. And I tell audiences all the time, if I'm in an audience that's half Republican and half Democrat, I say, look, we don't agree on every issue, but if we agree on three or four out of 10, why don't we thought it pass those?

One thing we could do and I've asked the president this directly, I think we can let companies, U.S. companies bring profit home from overseas, tax it at five percent, put that money into the infrastructure, and I think everybody wins. You lower tax rate, you get more tax revenue, and you're able to build infrastructure. That's a win, win, win situation. And it's a narrow focus. It's not overall tax reform, but when you narrow focus like that I think we could agree to things and get them done.

CROWLEY: I wonder if you can fill in this blank for me. I know you'll be giving your own state of the union response but give us a preview and fill in the blank. The state of this union is --

PAUL: Struggling, you know, stagnant, wanting to be better, you know, wanting more jobs.

CROWLEY: And is it doable that you all can get together this year? Just again, people sort of look at the field and say, big things are not going to happen. You may get your little things but you don't see anything big this year toward that.

PAUL: Well, we kind of fundamentally disagree on how you'd actually create jobs. The president thinks that you collect money from the rest of the country, bring it to Washington, and then we re- pass it out. That creates jobs. Well, what he misunderstands is that nine out of 10 businesses fail, so nine out of 10 times, he's going to give it to the wrong people. He gave $500 million to one of the richest men in the country to build solar panels and we lost that money.

I would give the money back to those who earned it in the form of tax reductions, and then I think it wouldn't be us choosing who the winners are. The marker place, the consumer picks the winners, and it'd be much more likely to create jobs that way.

CROWLEY: You have filed suit against National Security Agency basically aimed at that big metadata program where they collect information on phone calls made here in the U.S. and into the U.S. Have you gotten any democrats or any Republicans, for that matter, to join you in that suit?

PAUL: There are several Democrats who I talk with on a routine basis about trying to reform the NSA. I don't know if any of them are ready to be on the lawsuit yet. But on legislation, I am on legislation with Senator Wyden and Udall and Blumenthal to try to reform the FISA courts, to try to reform the NSA, to try to end some of this collection of records. But our court case will be historic because it will be the first time that a class action suit over 350,000 people are saying you can't have my phone records if the warrant doesn't have my name on it and it doesn't specify what you want them for and it doesn't accuse me of some kind of crime with probable cause.

This is an incredibly important debate over the fourth amendment. And so, I think our lawsuit will have great ramifications and I think it will make it to the Supreme Court.

CROWLEY: Your party this week again had sort of a fluff-up over a somewhat taken out of context remark, but nonetheless, it was attributed certainly to Mike Huckabee who I know you know and he said that Democrats were treating women like uncle sugar, like they couldn't control their own libido. It caused a stir.

He said it was out of context. Reince Priebus then said, listen, we got to watch our words and our tone as we try to bring in minorities and women to the Republican Party. Do you think it's a matter of words and tone?

PAUL: Somewhat. And I think also a lot of the debates we have in Washington and public generally are dumbed down, they're characterized, and we get to the point where we're talking about stuff and throwing stuff back in forth and we are never getting to the truth. You know, the whole thing of the war on women. I sort of laughingly say, yes, there might have been, but the women are winning it.

I've seen the women in my family and how well they're doing. My niece is in Cornell Vet School and 85 percent of the people in vet school right now are women. Over half of the young people in medical school and dental school are women. Law school, the same way. I think women are doing very well and I'm proud of how well we've come and how far we've come and I think that some of the victimology and all this other stuff is trumped up.

We don't get to any good policy by, you know, playing some sort of charade that somehow one party doesn't care about women or one party is not in favor of women advancing or other people advancing.

CROWLEY: I want to ask you, there's been a bit of a dust-up over some remarks you made this week which seem to suggest there was a way the government might halt aid to single women who receive government poverty funds if they keep having children. Can you explain to me what you meant?

PAUL: Actually, I said kind of the opposite. I said a lot of times government can't do anything about this but the number one cause in our country -- and I don't think you can debate this -- of poverty is having kids before you're married.

CROWLEY: Right.

PAUL: But I tell people over and over again, I can't make you get married. I can't do anything about that. But what I would say is that we shouldn't just give up.

The community, ministers, pastors, parents, grandparents, we need to be saying -- and this is maybe one of the most important things we ought to be saying that doesn't have a specific policy prescription -- but we need to be telling our kids that poverty is linked to having children before you're married and the institution of marriage is incredibly important, not just as a religious institution, but as an economic institution.

CROWLEY: So, you did not suggest that women who continue to have children that are receiving poverty aid --

PAUL: I didn't come up with -- it's kind of tricky to say exactly what I did say. I didn't come up with a policy prescription. I would say I mused about what are we going to do and does government have a role in it. And I mostly concluded by saying it's a community, it's a religious, it's a personal problem, but it is a problem and I mused about how you'd have a government policy but I actually came down saying it would be very difficult to have a government policy.

But many people have thought about this. It's just a matter of how you would institute a government policy that didn't create incentives to have more children. And, it's not that I'm against children. I come from a large family and I think we all -- you know, it's wonderful. But it needs to -- in the right context, it can lead to a great life. But in the wrong context, it really is -- can be a burden for those who aren't yet married.

CROWLEY: Senator Rand Paul, thanks so much for your time this morning.

PAUL: Thank you.

CROWLEY: CNN's coverage of the president's state of the union address on Tuesday starts at 7:00 p.m.

But when we return, safety fears for tourists and athletes at the Sochi Olympics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We have had conversations with the Russian government on protection of our citizens. Of course, if we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Next, an exclusive interview with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. on how his country is preparing for the --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Thank you so much for being here, Mr. Ambassador.

SERGEY KISLYAK, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Thank you for having me, Candy.

CROWLEY: Just straight up, the question is that these Olympics are going to take place, full speed ahead, in Sochi, which essentially is right next door toward to a war zone. Was it a mistake to choose that spot?

KISLYAK: It wasn't for several reasons. One, Sochi is as safe as the rest of Russia. Secondly, Sochi is pretty unique a place in terms of its geographic, climate, and very uniqueness in Sochi being kind of resort area on the warm sea and you can also do downhill skiing. So, it's wonderful place for Olympics, first. Secondly, it's not close to war zone. There is no war zone in Russia.

CROWLEY: Well, it is certainly close where a lot of terrorist activity takes place as recently as last week and the week before. That was my -- not an official war zone, you're right --

KISLYAK: I will tell you that the phenomenon of terrorism is global in nature. So, wherever you are, you might become a target of a terrorist. But, we do not take it lightly so we have good planning. We have excellent specialists who I have working on it. We have put up pretty strong team that is working to deny terrorists any chance of success. And I am absolutely sure that we are going to succeed. Us (ph) is going to succeed.

CROWLEY: And let me show you a recent poll, this is from Quinnipiac University. It's of Americans and they were asked about the likelihood of a terrorist attack at Sochi. Half of Americans thought it was very or somewhat likely that there would be a terrorist attack in Sochi. Your words of reassurance are?

KISLYAK: First of all, this is something that is going to happen in Russia. Absolute majority of people who will be at Olympics are Russians and they are pretty comfortable to go there and they know the country. They know the situation. That is the most important thing. I would tell you that out of 70 plus percent of tickets already sold to the Olympics, 78 plus percent of the tickets were sold in Russia.

CROWLEY: You're not worried about empty seats from overseas.

KISLYAK: Not exactly. Because even today, you cannot buy a ticket for most popular sports. You cannot buy ticket for opening ceremony, for the closure, for important hockey team games, and also for number of other sports. So, we are pretty comfortable and there will be two weeks to go before that so there will be many more.

CROWLEY: So, what we -- from what we have been told by a lot of intelligence officials here, as well as some members of Congress who are saying it out loud, the U.S. feels that there has not been enough of an intelligence exchange between the Russia and the U.S. over matters that the U.S. feels it could be helpful in sort of dissecting threats of that kind of thing. Why has that happened?

KISLYAK: It hasn't happened.

CROWLEY: You don't think that's so?

KISLYAK: I don't believe so, because I know that the cooperation is pretty good. I know that --

CROWLEY: Is it good enough?

KISLYAK: It's good enough. And you need to remember, it's Olympic Games that are being held in Russia. And we have pretty solid capabilities to deal with it on our own. We certainly rely on a lot of cooperation with the others, including the United States, and I'm rather comfortable about the quality of this cooperation. And also, what I hear from specialists, not people who are judging from outside, they're pretty comfortable with the level of cooperation that they are getting from Russian law enforcement. Moreover, they are saying themselves, even in public.

CROWLEY: And yet, when one U.S. official tells us that they learned about the threat that the so-called black widow or one or two of them had gotten into the Sochi perimeter, gotten past the Sochi perimeter, but they learned that from TV rather than from any exchange of information with the Russians. It just sounds like there's some tension there.

KISLYAK: I don't see any tension. I didn't feel any tension, first. Secondly, I'm not sure that they can confirm the risk of a threat of the kind you are talking about. There was a report of some notice that were given circulated as a kind of look-out information. It doesn't necessarily mean that there is an immediate threat.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me just try to clarify --

KISLYAK: Which is very normal precaution thing for law enforcement to do.

CROWLEY: Right. So, the thing that was interpreted as a black widow terrorist having penetrated the perimeter around Sochi, into Sochi itself, was not a "they're there." It was a watch for because these people might be there? It just came across quite differently.

KISLYAK: Well, I'm not working in law enforcement. So, had I worked in law enforcement, so I wouldn't be able to give you all the information that people have. But I'm telling you that all the matters that I've been taking in Sochi are good enough in order to ensure that there will be joyful, peaceful, and Successful Olympic games.

CROWLEY: Do you think that U.S.-Russian tensions over Iran, over Syria, over Mr. Snowden, over a number of things have in any way hampered cooperation toward making this the Olympics that you envision?

KISLYAK: Two points. One, I do not believe that we have tensions over Iran. We have different points of view how to best organize the process of coming to a political solution to the issue. But those are technical differences and we have enjoyed pretty good cooperation on these issues. And we work in six-plus-one format together, as one entity, which I believe is pretty unique and pretty good because that helps negotiating a solution.

Secondly on Syria, with all the differences that we have, we also have a lot in common. It's an understanding that any solution to the crisis need to be filed on political track. And as Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry who are working hard to bring about the peace conference that we had seen.

So, having said so, I would suggest that there is no impact of alleged differences between us or alleged tension -- there are differences, but there are no tensions because of this processes that could affect our cooperation on Sochi.

CROWLEY: And so, just one final word here to let you put a period on this, your message to Americans is that you believe these Olympics will be safe and happy and carry on as Olympics have.

KISLYAK: It's not only that I believe. I'm absolutely certain because we are doing everything that is needed in order to make sure it's going to be safe and it will be as safe as any other Olympics that can be held currently in the world.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much, Mr. Ambassador.

KISLYAK: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Appreciate your time with us today.

KISLYAK: Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: When we return, Congress has a full plate this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) MINORITY LEADER: We should be here passing unemployment insurance for starters. But working on all of the other issues like voting rights, immigration, and raising the minimum wage, a farm bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Yes. But how much of that is really possible? We'll find out next with leaders, Steny Hoyer and Tom Cole, plus, CNN's Dana Bash.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me around the table, Congressman Steny Hoyer, House Minority Whip and second in command to Nancy Pelosi; and Congressman Tom Cole, a deputy whip for the Republican Conference; also CNN's Dana Bash, chief congressional correspondent for us.

The only people more unpopular in Washington than the president at this point is you all.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

CROWLEY: And welcome.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Why is that?

HOYER: Well, because Congress I think is perceived as not very effective and not working well.

CROWLEY: Perceived that way or has it been?

HOYER: I think it is. I think that's the reality. My friend, Tom, before we broke, said, well, the Senate wasn't passing things. But the fact is frankly the Senate has passed most of the big pieces of legislation that we've dealt with and that we've come then -- and by pretty big bipartisan margins. And then the House has come at one stage or another to support those.

But the fact is generally I think the American public generalizes that Congress is not working.

CROWLEY: Let me to get you to fill us in on one thing. I want to ask specifically about immigration reform, which I recall saying last year was definitely going to pass. So I'm not going to say that this year.

But the House Republicans had been working on putting something on the floor and I wanted to get a sense of where it's going.

DANA BASH, SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: My understanding is the Speaker, along with some of his top lieutenants -- (INAUDIBLE) one of them -- probably working on a set of --

COLE: He's the master sergeant. I'm (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: -- a set of principles that he will deliver to and discuss with the Republican caucus at the retreat which is going to be this coming week.

And the idea is to deal with border security and some of the top issues of course for conservatives, but also to sort of dip a toe in the water to perhaps at least giving legal status to illegal immigrants.

But the most important thing is that he, the Speaker, understands that this is going to have to be done piecemeal and most interesting is that the president and Democrats have been saying, OK, we don't want to do it that way, but we're going the let you do it because they want to get as far as they can in order to try to meld bills between the House and the Senate and what's known as the conference.

CROWLEY: Why are you laughing? Is it going to happen?

COLE: Well, we'll see. Look, I think we've got a Republican retreat later this week. A lot of basic decisions will be made there. We've already moved about four bills through the judiciary committee, so there are pieces that are available to go to the floor. There's some other things that are still in progress. So I certainly think that items can pass here.

But I think the Speaker had it about right. It's going to be piece by piece, it's going to be step by step, it's not going to be the comprehensive full Senate approach and it's going to have to be very bipartisan if it's going to move.

CROWLEY: Now we can I think probably rule out some conservative Republicans who do not want a pathway to legalization.

So the question will be how many Democrats can you wrap around some of these bills? It is my understanding that one of these would suggest, yes, for children who are brought here, not of their own free will, but with their parents, they can have a pathway to citizenship but not -- the others would get a pathway to legalization, not citizenship.

Is that something you could work with?

HOYER: Candy, we're for that, as you know. We passed a DREAM Act in times past.

CROWLEY: Right. But what about --

HOYER: We believe that young people ought to be able to, who didn't do anything wrong, who came here, who have done well in high school or college, ought to be recognized on a pathway to citizenship.

The fact is that the Senate passed in a very bipartisan way a comprehensive immigration bill. Now what the president said and what we have said we would consider is if the Republicans can move forward with some aspects of immigration reform, that's fine. We can pass those.

We'll have to meet with the Senate that's passed a comprehensive immigration reform and see what comes out of conference.

But we strongly believe that it needs to be a comprehensive bill, not simply a piecemeal bill, because if you pass just the economic segments which we could support and not the other segments that give people confidence that they can continue to work, support their families and be here, that's not a bill that will fix the broken system.

COLE: Not a promising (INAUDIBLE) -- I mean, look, the Speaker's made a couple commitments to his own conference. The first one is I'm not going into conference (INAUDIBLE) doesn't have a Republican majority support. I'm not taking something out that doesn't have majority support. So I take him at his word, and I think that's the appropriate way to go.

But, look, this is a huge problem. And to call a Senate bill bipartisan, it is, but it was a minority of Republicans with an overwhelming majority of Democrats. You're not going to move a product like that through the House, you know, a minority of the minority in the Senate can't dictate to the majority of the majority in the House.

BASH: And Congressman, tell me if you agree with this, looking at the House big picture, particularly your conference, the Republicans. My understanding is, looking at it, is about 30 of you, based on the number of Hispanic voters in their districts, really want to have some kind of immigration reform. About 30 kind of could go either way. And most of the rest, it is a liability to do something that even goes towards legal status because of the whole idea that most of the districts are very conservative and their biggest fear is the challenge from the right. So that is the big problem that John Boehner has in trying to find some kind of consensus within your caucus.

Do you agree with that?

COLE: Well, I do, but also think this is a bigger problem in the sense that we have two fundamental American values in conflict here.

We are a nation of immigrants. We're proud of that. Frankly, there's no immigrant groups that have ever come to this country that hasn't contributed more than they've ever received back. So that's something we celebrate.

We're also a country of loss. That's how you unite 315 million Americans across the great continent. So those things are in conflict here. I think there's not going to be an amnesty bill, no doubt about that. Frankly, no one's put one on the table, in my view.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: (INAUDIBLE) going to be called that. That much --

COLE: Well, look, if you look at any of the proposals, background check, English, you know, requirement to have a job, all that sort of thing, you can say it's enough, fine, not enough, but it's not amnesty. So people who use that phrase I think mischaracterize whatever we're going to --

HOYER: Tom, if I can step in, though, first of all, a third of the Republicans of the United States Senate voted for the comprehensive bill, 68 people voted for it. The fact of the matter is it was comprehensive. It did have a path. It wasn't amnesty. It provided for working, paying taxes, and a long time, 10 years, and three additional years.

So that frankly when Tom says the majority of the majority has to be for something, comprehensive immigration reform, Tom, in my opinion would pass the House today. There are 218-plus votes in my view to pass that bill.

But you're locking up pieces of legislation because you have a hardcore majority of your party that will not be for it.

(CROSSTALK)

COLE: I didn't notice when you were in the majority you put a lot of bills on the floor. The majority of your conference wasn't for it. As a matter of fact, I don't recall any. Actually, John Boehner --

(CROSSTALK) COLE: -- did that on the fiscal cliff, did it on the violence against women. But the reality is that's just the way Congress works. The bill was in the Senate. It was, again, put on by the Senate.

HOYER: We have 218 Democrats for things we put on the floor. You've had great trouble in any of the major pieces of legislation doing that. Without Democrats you couldn't have passed most of the major legislation we passed. That's true of immigration reform and we need to pass it.

COLE: I suggest we've been bipartisan in our approach. We've been reaching out to you. Too bad you didn't do that when you were in the majority.

CROWLEY: You two will be running for re-election this year. And I want to ask you both a political question.

The first comes off this new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll and to you, Congressman Hoyer, the opinion the way President Obama is handling the economy, 43 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove.

Is he a drag on your ticket?

HOYER: No. What they disapprove of is the economy. And the president takes responsibility whether --

CROWLEY: Right. Does that mean that he drags Democrats at this point?

HOYER: I talked to a lot of people last night involved in the economy that think the economy is getting better.

I frankly think that the confidence that was built up by passing the omnibus appropriation bill is going to be helpful to the economy. I think we acted in a bipartisan fashion. I think that's good for the economy.

Now, in my opinion, we need to extend unemployment insurance, we need to get a minimum wage bill done, we need to address some of the other issues like comprehensive immigration reform that every economist says will grow the economy. But the failure to do that has been a drag on the economy, not because the president --

CROWLEY: Is it a drag on Democrats running for re-election?

HOYER: I think if you look at the same poll; Democrats are doing better than Republicans.

Neither of us are doing very well.

So to the extent that the economy gets better, frankly, and the president gets credit for that, I think we'll do better.

CROWLEY: To you, Congressman Cole, which political party do you think is more concerned with the needs of people like you? Democrats, 46 percent, Republicans, 37 percent. "Cares about people like you" is such a key indicator to how people vote for the president, and I suspect how they vote for their representative.

How are you all going to do this year?

COLE: Well, actually, I think we'll do better than those numbers suggest because I think some of the dissatisfaction actually is on the right where people think we haven't been conservative enough. Those folks are going to come back and vote Republican.

But the underlying point I think is a really serious one for both of us to think about. Look, I think the country is not in a very good mood. That really reflects on the president, reflects on the Congress. That's pretty normal.

But the amount of time this has gone on -- this has been for years now, not a matter of months or weeks. So it suggests that we do need to find some common ground, we do need to work together.

I'm like Mr. Hoyer here. I was very pleased to see us come to a common budget agreement between Paul Ryan and Patty Murray. I was very pleased to see us move to an omnibus.

I think we can go back to sort of what's called regular order on the Hill and move our appropriations bills through. I think that will raise confidence and frankly benefit both parties.

CROWLEY: I want to ask you both to stick with me, Dana as well. When we come back, I'll ask you if Speaker Boehner can survive another year from his caucus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Grew up around a bar, I mopped floors, did dishes, waited tables, tended bar. And you have to learn to deal with every jackass that walks in the door.

(LAUGHTER)

BOEHNER: Now trust me, I need all the skills I learned growing up to do my job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: I am back with a lot of nodding heads here with Steny Hoyer, Tom Cole, and Dana Bash. The speaker and his future, it was a great appearance on Leno, I thought.

BASH: Oh, it was. And I've been to the bar that his family owned and I think that he's right. I've also seen him try to wrangle people as he has done as one of 11 brothers and sisters. So I think all of that experience helps him.

I actually believe in watching your caucus that the experience that he had during the shutdown has made him much more powerful, and that the people who doubted him and who did not think that he was doing right by conservatives, looked at him and said, you know what, we followed our lead -- you followed our lead, more importantly, we wanted to take this to a shutdown, and you were right.

So I think that he has more power than he had before, ironically. He seems to me to be somebody who is determined to -- he's running for re-election. He wants to be speaker again. And I also think that, like, who else is going to do it?

COLE: Who else wants to do it? Yes. Yes, well, it's easier to deal with him in a bar because you can give him a drink. But in the conference, look, it's a very independent conference, it's a spirited conference. Half of them have been there three years or less.

But I agree with you about John Boehner. I think actually post shutdown, everything from the Ryan-Murray deal to the omnibus, he has led with a great deal of strength and a great deal of support.

It's interesting to me, and, look, people are allowed to vote the way they think, but nobody came to the floor, nobody spoke in conference against the Ryan-Murray bill or frankly against the omnibus.

So I think he's actually leading with a lot of strength right now and that tells me we perhaps could have a much more productive year than people might believe at this point.

CROWLEY: He'll be re-elected?

HOYER: We'll see. We'll see.

CROWLEY: I was just going to say, I know a couple of people you might name that want to be a speaker.

(LAUGHTER)

HOYER: Right, I probably could. We'll see. John Boehner has been unable to get his caucus to do, except in rare instances, what he believed, in my opinion, was the right thing to do.

I think he thought it was the wrong thing to do to shut down government. I thought it was bad politics. I frankly think he thinks comprehensive immigration reform is good politics for Republicans. He believes that the debt limit ought not to be put at risk.

The shutdown occurred because of the deal on the debt limit. That's the same thing that happened in August of 2011. We'll see whether or not he can get his caucus to vote to get the debt limit done, as I think many of his caucus believe ought to be done, put behind them, not precipitate another shutdown of government.

COLE: Here I wish the president would be more -- look, we negotiated a debt ceiling deal in 2011. I voted for that. But while we raised the debt, we reduced the debt long term. I thought that was the appropriate thing do. I think trying to find some way to link these things together is the appropriate thing to do. But in the end, nobody has defaulted on the debt in the history of the United States. Nobody did in October. I don't think we will next month either.

BASH: And, you know, I think that -- just to sort of put a button on what you're saying, what you're hearing now is the rub between trying to get members of Congress elected this year in a midterm election and people like John Boehner and others who are thinking about the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, bigger picture on a national level.

And they really do hit up against each other and contradict each other. This is going to be...

(CROSSTALK)

HOYER: Dana, I say it's the presidential wing arguing with the congressional wing.

BASH: Right. This is going to be a base election.

HOYER: The national wing with the parochial wing.

BASH: It's going to be a base election versus a national election, where you have to really broaden your...

HOYER: Right, yes.

CROWLEY: So I need one-word answer from all of you. Assuming Republicans win a majority still, maybe a slimmer majority, but a majority in the House, will Speaker Boehner remain Speaker Boehner?

HOYER: Tom would be more likely to have that answer than me.

CROWLEY: Yes, but you're a pretty good political observer.

HOYER: I think John Boehner has been a responsible leader. His party hasn't followed him. I think that has been a problem.

CROWLEY: Yes, no?

COLE: Absolutely. No question about it.

BASH: Yes.

CROWLEY: Yes. OK. Dana Bash, Congressman Cole, Congressman Hoyer, thank you all for joining us this morning.

HOYER: Thank you.

COLE: Thank you.

BASH: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: And thank you for watching STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.

Before we go, my dear friend and colleague, foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty, shown here being honored at the State Department, is leaving CNN after 30 years to, in her words, plunge full-time into Russian affairs, writing, speaking, blogging, teaching, and traveling through Russia.

Jill, we'll miss you.

Join us back here on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for coverage of the president's State of the Union Address. "FAREED ZAKARIA: GPS" is next for our viewers here in the United States.