Secretary Napolitano & Majority Leader Hoyer on "State of the Union"

Secretary Napolitano & Majority Leader Hoyer on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - September 12, 2010

CROWLEY: Joining me now here in Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and current CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. Mouthful all.

Let's talk about this preacher in Florida, because I think what amazes me is we all sit back and go, this is like (INAUDIBLE) in the middle of Florida, and the next thing we know, there are protests and approaching riots in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, a bit in Indonesia. I don't get that.

NAPOLITANO: Well, I think what we have to understand is that we all recognize that this minister is a little small church, in part it's a creation of the media, but it goes across the Internet and across the globe as an accelerant, and they don't appreciate that we are a country with freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, this is just one small minister who we all disagree with on a values basis. But it, boy, gets interpreted aboard very differently.

CROWLEY: But then wouldn't the president and the secretary of defense, and the secretary of state, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, had been better off to try to contextualize this for people?

CHERTOFF: Well, I think it's difficult, because part of the problem is the media jumps on top of the story, it does get on the Internet, and, of course, that is very hard to calibrate the context on the Internet.

And I think the political leaders have to make a judgment about whether they can continue to ignore it in the hopes it goes away or whether they have to address it.

TOWNSEND: You know, and, Candy, I was in Afghanistan when this story began to break. I was in Kabul with General Petraeus, General Jim Stavridis, the supreme allied commander of NATO, and I will tell you, it doesn't -- they don't understand, the way this story is reported, that this is just representative of 50 people in Gainesville, Florida.

I mean, General Petraeus and I lived through Abu Ghraib, right? It's a criminal act -- an isolated criminal act, horrific, but the pictures went around the Internet and inspired protests. And not only are our soldiers at danger when that happens, but also our diplomats.

And so you understand our leaders feel an obligation to try and do whatever they can to protect our people who are serving this nation overseas.

CROWLEY: So what is the answer? Because there is freedom of speech running up against what the administration felt was making a very real threat, not to just to U.SD. service-people, which is bad enough, but to Americans in general. Because, I mean, there are countries have laws against what they term hate speech. Do we then -- do we begin to curb freedom of speech?


CHERTOFF: Yes, I don't think we can do that. I don't think we can do that. I think what you have to do is you have to fight bad speech with good speech. And that means people who have contrary points of view, and more tolerant points of view have to get out there and talk about it.

Part of the responsibility of the media is to cover that, again, in context, and not to give a disproportionate amount of time to people who say extreme things and ignore the people who say more balanced things.

CROWLEY: And can you give us some sense, Madam Secretary, of the activity -- I don't even know the real word for it, that did you see an uptick in worrisome incoming intelligence as a result of this single person in Florida and the media coverage of it?

NAPOLITANO: Look, we are always dealing with ever-evolving types of threats. And some of them are international in derivation; some of them result from U.S. persons. It is a very dynamic threat environment. One of the things we have been focused on is really getting preparation for and the ability to respond to threats of any kind outside of Washington, D.C., spread across the homeland, into state and local hands, empowering them; more information-sharing, more resources to them.

Because we are never going to be totally immune from threats. And as the president indicated on the clip that you just showed, look, at some point somebody may get through even all of the protective layers that we have created.

CROWLEY: Let me move to sort of a more general look at national security at this point, and in homeland security in particular. We had a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll asking people, are we safer from terrorism now than we were before 9/11? Interesting to me that about 36 percent said, OK, we're safer, about 37 percent, we're about as safe, and 27 percent, less safe. So pretty even, less safe, more safe.

Is this a sign of the times, really? Is this just accepting what you all see as reality? That there is a danger there, period, and we need to live with it?

NAPOLITANO: Look, there are threats now, and as I said before, we live in a global ever-changing threat environment. The key thing is to do everything we can to minimize those threats, to be able to anticipate and intervene early, but also to empower communities and individuals on how to respond if something were to happen.

CHERTOFF: Candy, and I think part of the problem is the threat is changing. The enemy adapts as we adapt, and that's an ongoing process. So what people are seeing now is it's no longer just South Asia, where we were focused on over the last several years. It's Yemen. It's Somalia. It's now North Africa.

And that's alarming to people, because what they see is it's becoming more diffuse. And that's, I think, an issue we are going to have to deal with over the next few years.

TOWNSEND: See, Candy, I think some of what you are seeing in the poll data is, while I think there is no question over the last nine years the American government has made the American people safer, and we have not been attacked, the answer is I've also seen in the last year, the Christmas Day attempt, the Times Square attempt, Zazi Najibullah in New York on the subways.

And so I think people have a sense this may actually happen, despite all of the efforts and all of the money we've spent, this is a very determined enemy. And I think that's part of what is reflected in the polls.

CROWLEY: Well, and exactly. Isn't it just that? That we are talking about home-grown. So I think there was this sense, at least before the attacks in Britain, from British nationals, that, well, this is where the land of the free, people love being here, our citizens wouldn't turn on us, and guess what, some of the scariest attempts have been the enemy within.

CHERTOFF: But we have to put it in perspective, though, because although there has been an uptick in the number of what we would call home-grown cases, as an absolute percentage of the population here, and even of the Muslim population, it's very, very small.

But we are a large country. And even a very small number of people, a small percentage can be a significant number of people. And so some of the sense we had perhaps that this was a European problem, home-grown terrorism, I think we're now realizing we have got to deal with that issue in our own communities.

NAPOLITANO: Yes, that's right. The United States, we are not immune, and we do see U.S. persons who, for whatever reason, have been radicalized to the point of violence, maybe violence in the name of Islam. And, you know, they travel to the FATA, they train, they learn the tradecraft, they come back.

And that is something that is relatively new in kind of the known threat stream that we have been dealing with. But it's not unique, nor was it unanticipated, really, that that could occur.

TOWNSEND: And I think we ought to -- again, putting this in context, let me claim some success for the secretary and the former secretary. The answer is, if we have reduced al Qaeda from a 9/11- type massive spectacular attack, to the idiot with the bomb in his underwear or the guy that screws up the bomb in Times Square, you've been pretty successful over the course of your administrations at reducing their operational capability.

CROWLEY: We are going to take a quick break, but we will be right back, and a little on the search for bin Laden. Stick with us.


CROWLEY: We are back with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend.

I want to go back to the homegrown terrorism fight. And you have warned us it's not quite as -- you know, it's not someone in every corner plotting against their country, but nonetheless this seems to be the shifting of what we thought was, OK, over some place in some foreign land, people are plotting against us. Now it could be this individual who feels some sort of affiliation with Al Qaida or who has a personal gripe.

So how is that fight different than the fight against an organization like Al Qaida, and what has the U.S. government done to shift that arena?

NAPOLITANO: Well, it means that, first of all, it's more dispersed. Secondly, you know, a big conspiracy, you have opportunities to intercept, to hear about, to learn about ahead of time. When you have individuals or small groups, that's much more difficult.

And thirdly, our ability to collect intelligence is much more limited when U.S. persons are involved than, say, internationally.

And so, you know, there are all kinds of different things that go into play. And I think what Michael said is right. We're not talking about huge numbers all across the country, but what we are talking about is an ever-evolving threat that has not kept the United States immune. There are U.S. persons now involved. And that means the Department of Homeland Security itself has had to evolve.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, because there's been this talk. We heard the president asked about Osama bin Laden, and of course he would still like to find him.

But when you look at this new homegrown threat and you look at someone like Anwar al-Awlaki, who's more dangerous?

Who do we really actually need to go and find?

Is it Awlaki, who has ties to the Fort Hood shooter, who has ties to the -- at least was inspiring to the Christmas Day bomber -- sorry, to the Times Square bomber -- and had also had ties with the Christmas Day plane hijacker.

CHERTOFF: There's no -- there's no doubt about the fact that, symbolically, bin Laden is still in a class by himself. But I do think you make an important point. Over the years we have eliminated or incapacitated the operational leaders. And now of course we see replacement leaders come up.

And taking out that level of leadership is a critical part of the strategy. Because they are the most experienced planners. They are the people who have the ability to put together the schemes and train and launch the attacks. And so while we'd all like to get bin Laden, the fact is getting these operational leaders is a critical part of success.

CROWLEY: And Awlaki is on the Internet. I mean, he's...


... you know, e-mailing people back and forth. I mean, why is this so difficult? I mean, he's on a list, apparently, that we want to go get him and yet he's, kind of, it seems to me, hiding in plain sight in some ways.

TOWNSEND: That's right. And that's been true for years. I mean, Awlaki has been a target of the U.S. government over the last nine years. But he's smart. Remember, when we have been able to take effective operational action at a tactical level, mostly these people have been in unsettled areas, in rural areas.

We understand now from reports -- when you say he's hiding in plain sight in the middle of the city, it makes it operationally more difficult.

And when you talk about bin Laden, I'd only add, it's more than symbolic to me. He is used for recruitment, training, fund-raising. And quite frankly, the American people have a right to retribution. I mean, let's remember, there were 3,000 Americans killed. And there is a really important, sort of, moral calculus here. I think both will remain at the top of the target list.

CROWLEY: Awlaki, would you concede, is more dangerous, at this point -- if you take away the symbolism -- seems more dangerous, a more immediate threat than bin Laden seems to be?

NAPOLITANO: Well, he's certainly a active recruiter, and particularly his use of the Internet, his use of language, his ability to reach out to Westerners, including Americans, and attract them into -- into the movement -- yes, he's very dangerous.

CROWLEY: Let me -- in our closing moments, I want to talk about Fran's and my favorite discussion we had once. And that's about this advisory system and the orange levels and the yellow levels and -- which, as far as I can tell, have remained the same for years.

Have they not lost their effectiveness?

You called for a study to look into this. You've had that study. Is anything going to change?

NAPOLITANO: Well, it might, in the sense that -- and Fran was actually on the study committee, so thank you for that, Fran. Because what we realize is that the colors themselves weren't exchanging or giving people information.

And as I said earlier, one of our chief goals is to make sure that the citizenry of the United States and communities know what's going on and know what to do if something were to change.

CROWLEY: Might you get rid of that?

Because, to me, it's, sort of, like a sign that says "Flood Area," right, because it's just there all the time.?

NAPOLITANO: Well, don't -- don't drive through that.


I mean, that's the point. So, yes, we have forwarded some recommendations based on what the subcommittee came to us for into what's called the interagency process. Michael knows what that means. And...


CROWLEY: ... it takes a long time?

NAPOLITANO: It means it's being considered because it's important and it's going to affect a lot of different things.

CROWLEY: So you can see it changing?


TOWNSEND: And, Candy, you know, to your point, you know, walk through the airport. We've been at orange. This has been, as Michael will remember, a pet peeve of mine. You shouldn't put this system up a level to something like orange if you're not prepared to say what it's going to take to bring it back down, because, to your point, Candy, the system then loses credibility.

And that was why I was glad to help co-chair that study.

CROWLEY: What do you think?

Has the system, as it's now set up, lost its usefulness?

CHERTOFF: Well, let me go back to how it got started. The genesis of this system was that, operationally, sometimes you need to do different things depending on the threat level.

So, for example, when you go to orange at the airport, you do different things in the back part of the airport.

That -- it's important to preserve that, because that has a real operational impact. Then, of course, when it was first initiated, it wasn't made public. I remember someone ran out immediately and announced that people complained that the government was keeping it secret. And so, in the interest of transparency, it became public.

The question now is whether we want to calibrate so we don't have quite so many levels. One of the things I think both Secretary Napolitano has done it and I did was we tried to explain, when we did make a move, here's why we've made it, rather than just move it up or down without -- you know, a very opaque set of explanations.

CROWLEY: Because now it pretty much just sits there.


CROWLEY: I mean, hasn't it been orange for years?


NAPOLITANO: Well, but let's recognize, and as Michael said, look, at airports, it means something very different than, say, at shopping malls or in homes.

And so there are different levels, in a way, or different things that are happening based on the actual threat. And so it is complicated, but the basic point is to get information to people so that it's operational so they know what to do. And whether it's colors, whether it's colors associated with other things, whether you tweak the system or totally amend the system, that is all -- that is what is under consideration.

CROWLEY: And I literally have about 30 seconds left with you all, so I just want a quick answer to what I think everybody asked on 9/11. Are we safer?

CROWLEY: And do you expect that, at some point, we're going to get unlucky?

NAPOLITANO: I believe we are safer. I believe, however, that there is no 100 percent guarantee.

CHERTOFF: We have reduced the risk. We have not eliminated the risk.

TOWNSEND: Safer, but I think, in all likelihood, we will get attacked. Despite best efforts, they will -- they are determined to get through.

CROWLEY: Fran Townsend, Michael Chertoff, Janet Napolitano, thank you all so much for joining us.

Up next, we're going to turn to politics. Have the Democrats done enough to maintain control of the Congress?


CROWLEY: The economy is struggling. Many voters are skeptical of health care reform and worried about federal responding. It's a recipe for Democratic disaster in the midterms. What's a president to do?


OBAMA: Between now and November, what I'm going to remind the American people of is that the policies that we have put in place have moved us in the right direction, and the policies that the Republicans are offering right now are the exact policies that got us into this mess.


CROWLEY: But a new Quinnipiac poll finds 60 percent of registered voters disapprove of the way congressional Democrats are handling their jobs. Still, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has his game face on: "Our candidates are energized and not hanging their tails between their legs. They are confident" -- perhaps in some part because the same polling shows 59 percent of Americans also disapprove of the way congressional Republicans are doing their jobs. A pox on both their houses.

A conversation with Congressman Hoyer when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now is the Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer.

Congressman, thanks so much for being here.

HOYER: Candy, always good to be with you. Thank you.

CROWLEY: I want to start off with what I think is going to occupy your fall, and that is these Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire in January.

The Democratic position and the administration's position has been we want to keep them for the middle class, and any household making $250,000 or above, we're going to repeal them.

So what you have here now is the argument, no, bad time; there's not enough jobs out there; you can't create jobs by essentially raising taxes, even if you want to call these rich people.

I want to introduce into this argument something that Peter Orszag wrote. Now, he, of course, is the former director of the Office of Management and Budget for the president. And he's talking about the idea of this huge deficit versus the huge jobs deficit.

"In the face of the duelling deficits, the best approach is a compromise, extend the tax cuts for two years and then end them altogether."

And by extending the tax cuts, he means for the rich; permanent ones for the middle class. How about that?

HOYER: Well, Candy, first of all, we need to realize what is going to happen was put in place by the Republicans in '01 and '03, to meet their budget numbers. They had these taxes go up for all Americans. The president has said; we have said we absolutely, in this troubled economic time, are not going to allow families to have a tax increase, period.

Now, families, as you say, we referred to as the $250,000 and under people, which is 98 percent of America. And we don't believe that their taxes ought to go up. CROWLEY: But what about a compromise here?

HOYER: Well, compromise has been very tough to get, as you know, Candy.

CROWLEY: But are you open to it?

HOYER: Sure, we'll...

CROWLEY: Do you think the Democratic...

HOYER: We'll talk about compromise, but we don't believe -- I don't agree with Mr. Orszag or others who believe that a tax cut on the richest Americans are going to have any affect on the economy.

CROWLEY: OK, then what about...


HOYER: ... we gave 98 percent of America, as you know, tax cuts in the Recovery Act.

CROWLEY: So a lot of people make the argument, look, this isn't going to create jobs if we allow these tax cuts to expire for the rich. Then why not get behind a payroll holiday?

HOYER: Well, of course we did on the FICA tax, as you know, passed legislation that it's in place that gave small businesses, if they hire people who are unemployed, a tax holiday, as you point out.

And not only did we give that, but we gave $1,000 bonus if those people are on the payroll a year from now.

So we have done things of that nature. We've done a number of things in the House of Representatives to spur job creation, job growth. Unfortunately, we've had trouble getting them through the Senate.

One of the bills that we absolutely want to get done this coming four weeks is to provide for dollars for small business to get loans to expand their businesses.

CROWLEY: To ease the credit?

HOYER: We've passed that twice, and it's still sitting in the Senate. We hope that they'll pass it.

CROWLEY: When it comes to this -- these tax cuts for the wealthy, do -- you're a smart guy. It seems to me one of two things is going to happen here. Either you take this off the table, because your own Democrats are out there going, oh, no, don't want to do this. You've got more than a handful of Democrats in the House saying this is not a good idea.

So you either need to take it off the table and deal with it after the election or come to a compromise. What's going to happen? HOYER: Candy, one -- well, what's going to happen is, A, we're going to see what the Senate can do. As you know, the House is -- we've got over 400 bills pending in the Senate that have passed, 70 percent of them with 50 Republicans, so non-controversial; they're just sitting in the Senate.

So one of the things we're going to do -- and I've talked to Senator Reid about this -- we're going to see what the Senate is going to do. Then the House will make its determination...


CROWLEY: Because the art of the doable, and you might go along. HOYER: Sure.

CROWLEY: And you know the Senate's going to come up with a compromise because that's the only way...


CROWLEY: ... they get anything done.

HOYER: But, again, our policy is, we are not going to allow the Republican policy of increasing taxes by having these taxes expire.

HOYER: Which was Republican policy, we are not going to allow that to happen for the middle income Americans, working Americans.

CROWLEY: You have spent your break in 11 states, 20 candidates. We are now looking at some fairly well-respected political pundits saying Democrats might lose as many as 60 seats. What's the problem out there?

HOYER: Well, I think those pundits are wrong. Number one, we are going to hold the House. We're going to win...

CROWLEY: But you are going to lose seats?

HOYER: We are going to lose seats, probably. I think that's undoubtedly, historically...

CROWLEY: Twenty-four, 34?

HOYER: I am not going to speculate on a number, Candy. But we are going to hold the House. As I say, I have been to -- as you said, I have been with 20 candidates, 11 states over the last two-and-half weeks. Our candidates are feeling good.

And what is going to happen is, people are going to compare not the perfect, but the alternatives. As Joe Biden likes to say, they are not going to compare us with the almighty, they're going to compare us with the alternative, an alternative that wants to go back to the exact same Bush policies, according to Mr. Sessions, their campaign chairman, which led to high deficits, the worst job performance of any administration since Herbert Hoover, and extraordinary reduction in wealth of our country, and the stock market tanked.

CROWLEY: But can you stave off disaster for Democrats...

HOYER: Absolutely.

CROWLEY: ... when you have Democrats who don't particularly want to talk about health care reform, and those who voted against it are -- actually have ads out there for it, who don't much want to talk about the stimulus program and how much it costs?

Is it enough to say, yes, but the Republicans got us into this mess? I mean, that's not much of a bumper sticker.

HOYER: Well, you have -- the American public is smart, and they pursued a vote in 1992 that elected a president. He put in place a program, they were somewhat skeptical, as you recall. But they became very enthusiastic when they saw how well that economic program worked, opposed by every Republican.

Then the -- in 2000, a new administration came in, said their policies were going to work. In fact, they failed and gave the worst economy in 75 years. So people are going to compare the failed Bush policies, which the Republicans say they want to return to. That's a quote, not a supposition.

CROWLEY: But you agree it's a bit -- right now you could say we are on a path, we're moving forward, it's going to get better, but it's kind of a weak hand to go into November with?

HOYER: Well, I think in fact that things have gotten better. We have had four quarters of economic growth. The stock market, Dow, S&P, Nasdaq, up now over 60 percent. Things are getting better, 2 million, 3 million, 4 million jobs have been created under the Recovery Act.

So, yes, we are not where we want to be. We want to get those 8 million jobs back that were lost under the Bush administration, so we can get people back to work. And we are going to continue to focus on policies, which is what the president said in Cleveland when he gave his speech about investing in infrastructure and creating jobs.

The other thing, Candy, I want to mention, is we have an agenda, not just for the balance of this year, but an agenda for the coming years, and that's the "Make It in America" agenda.

People are concerned and fearful they're not going to be able to make it in America. And one of the things they believe is we need to make things in America. We need to manufacture things in America so people have the availability of good-paying jobs with good benefits.

So our "Make It in America" agenda is going to be one of the hallmarks as we move forward. And frankly when you look at the Clinton administration's creation of 21 million new jobs in the private sector as opposed to George Bush's 1 million, you see that there is a real contrast. CROWLEY: And just quickly, on a matter of strategy. We know that there has been much made of the fact that eventually your money does run out and you have got to save who you can and toss some others overboard. When are you going to begin to toss some of your weaker Democratic candidates overboard in terms of money?

HOYER: We don't think we have weak Democratic candidates right now.


HOYER: Candy, I'm not done. You didn't expect an answer to that. Clearly we will look at, and if there are candidates that are very substantially behind, and they can't make it, clearly we will have to make some tough judgments. But with all due respect to my good friend Carl Hulse, who I think is a terrific reporter, that decision has not been made, as Chris Van Hollen made it very clear. And in fact, Betsy Markey, who was one of those, Frank Kratovil, one of those mentioned in Carl's article, are absolutely top priorities for me and for our party. Betsy Markey is tied in the polls. Frank Kratovil is slightly ahead. So these candidates are in very good shape, and they are going to win.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much.

HOYER: Thank you, Candy.


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