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Brownback, Priebus, McMorris Rodgers and Maloney on "State of the Union"

Brownback, Priebus, McMorris Rodgers and Maloney on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - April 15, 2012

CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley. And this "State of the Union".

But first two breaking stories we're following. A series of attacks across Afghanistan and a deadly tornado outbreak here in the United States.

We want to begin with those tornadoes that tore through the Midwest and central plains overnight. Authorities say at least a dozen twisters touched down across four states in the northwestern Oklahoma town of Woodward, five people including two children died from injuries related to a suspected tornado.

Twisters also decimated Thurman, Iowa where about 75 percent of the homes were damaged or destroyed. And in the nearby town of Creston, Iowa, tornadoes forced the evacuation of a hospital that was damaged.

Dangerous as it is, there are some people who actually chase tornadoes, one of them is Jeff Piotrowski, who joins us on the phone from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Jeff, I imagine you had a sleepless night following these tornadoes. Tell us what you've seen.

PIOTROWSKI: Well, we started off yesterday early around noon in Woodward, Oklahoma and that's because of the collision of the draw line and the jet stream and we had, you know, high risk -- storm predictions right now high risk out for, you know, Bradford, Oklahoma for a tornado outbreak and extreme weather event has been publicized for a couple of days.

But we started in Woodward, followed tornadic storms from Woodward into the 3:00, 4:00 time and chased those storms all the way to Wichita, tracking tornadoes all the way across that area including in the city of Wichita last night around 9:30 where we witnessed tornado actually touch down southeast of Wichita and went over toward McCollough Airforce Base.

But I take this in our area what we witnessed over 20 tornadoes just on our one single tornadic storm across there. I talked to other chasers that witnessed literally 10 to 20 large tornadoes in central and Northern Kansas as well as southwestern Kansas so it was a very rough afternoon and night.

CROWLEY: Jeff, from your experience, put this on a scale for us both in terms of the numbers of tornadoes and in the force of those tornadoes.

PIOTROWSKI: Well, we don't have the damage assessments yet of course from the National Weather Service, but there were definitely going to be on the upper scale. These are significant tornadoes. We want to remind you by significant tornadoes EF-3 to EF-5.

Do I think -- I don't think there was any ER-5s yesterday but I do think there's probably quite a few EF-1s, 2s and probably 3s. And we'll have to wait and see if there were any EF-4s or 5s.

But these were some significant tornadoes. What made yesterday so extremely dangerous is that those tornadoes, these storms were moving anywhere from 50 to 70 miles per hour at times with quarter to half mile wide tornadoes on the ground covering a lot of ground in a very short amount of time.

CROWLEY: At 50 to 70 miles per hour, are these tornadoes still alive as we say? Where are they headed?

PIOTROWSKI: Right now the storm system is now turning to what we call a squall line. And so you have a large squall line across a multi-state area. There is another risk today from Minnesota all the way down into to east Texas. Ahead of the squall line there still could be some tornadoes along the squall line and damaging winds is a high probability with this system as it's very large scale, jet stream very powerful, a lot of strong winds. So still could still be tornadoes again this afternoon for like I said from Minnesota southward down to northeast Texas eastward there ahead of this cold front draw line.

CROWLEY: Storm chase Jeff Piotrowski sounds like we'll be talking to you again later in the day. Thank you so much.

PIOTROWSKI: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Now Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Governor, I know you're in Topeka getting ready to take a look at what has happened overnight in your state. But give me a thumbnail sketch of what you know now.

GOV. SAM BROWNBACK, KANSAS: 97 tornadoes touched down at various times throughout the state. About 40 percent of the state at one time or another had a tornado warning. But people heeded it, no fatalities that we know of as of now. There is quite a bit of damage. But god was merciful. It looks like we had made it through the initial look without a fatality.

CROWLEY: In other words, pretty remarkable, 97 tornadoes. To what do you attribute the fact that at the moment so far as we know there are no fatalities? Some injuries, I understand but no fatalities.

BROWNBACK: I really think people took the warnings and they took it very seriously. We had more notice on this system than you normally do. You normally are looking at a couple of hours notice.

Well, this one had really almost two days notice. It was remarkably accurate on the quality of the system as far as its ability to produce tornadoes. People took it very seriously, acted, prepared. And grace of god, and it really is just amazing to have that many tornadoes and hopefully looking like this right now, no fatalities.

CROWLEY: And when you're looking for -- what are your weather forecasters telling you in terms of what's ahead or is it over?

BROWNBACK: You know, the system still is around, the nature of it. But most of it has passed through. These developed because you get this mixture of high energy, moisture and then winds coming from directions that can produce the swirling. So you can get those indexes, but they do move through and this one by and large moved through.

But, we're at the time of year where these systems can develop significantly and quickly and we're in tornado season.

CROWLEY: And what happens now as far as your concerned? What's your next task? What's the task of the government? And what should people do who have perhaps had homes destroyed?

BROWNBACK: We're doing damage assessments even now to get first light and people are flying and looking at that. We will do damage assessments. We'll help people with debris removal. We'll see what all is needed for emergency shelters for individuals. And, you know, frankly too, just thanking, congratulate people for really acting prudently and preparing and showing that that's really the course to go when you get these tornado warnings.

CROWLEY: Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, a busy day ahead of you. Thank so you much for taking some time. Get back to us after you get your tour of the state to see what happened. Thank you.

BROWNBACK: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Let's go now to CNN's Susan Candiotti. She's in Wichita, Kansas.

Susan, I know it's awfully hard to cover four states that are suffering from tornadoes from one spot. But tell us from your perspective what you know.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Candy. Good morning.

Well, certainly the governor really made the point here, people here had much more time to prepare than they have in the past. And so here in Wichita, clearly this was the most populated area of all of the spots that were hit by those 97 tornadoes that ripped through this state.

And I'm in the area here in Wichita where probably they suffered the most damage. And fortunately, again, no serious injuries.

Mobile home park, you can barely see it over my shoulder there, because it is still closed off to the public, but there are about 100 mobile homes back, there only six of them destroyed and, again, no serious injuries. Nevertheless they are doing at this hour a third and a fourth check of that area to make sure that everyone is accounted for. They believe that everyone is safe back there.

So now it's just a matter of making assessments now that the sun is coming up and to make sure that they find out how much damage there is throughout this particular area.

We can tell you that they had a bit of a scare at the arena here in Wichita last night where there was a concert for country singing star Miranda Lambert. They kept everybody inside. And she tweeted about it this morning, saying "Wichita rocks. Thanks for coming out and we all made it through the storm."

Back to you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Wow, sounds like there was some luck at least last night. Susan Candiotti in Wichita for us. Thank you.

Now to the other breaking news. The U.S. embassy in Afghanistan in Kabul is on lock down after a series of explosions in what appears to be a wave of coordinated attacks across the country. CNN's Mohammad Jamjoom is in Kabul. Mohammed, tell us what you know.

MOHAMMAD JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, this series of coordinated attacks began around 1:15 p.m. local. Now NATO's international security assistance force told us that the U.S., the German, the Russian embassies as well as government facilities in this part of the city that has a lot of diplomats in it were targeted in these attacks.

They did provide assistance to Afghan security forces initially. Now they say they are happy with how Afghan security forces have handled these operations today.

Now, we also heard that the Taliban has claimed responsibility for these attacks. The Taliban in a text message to local journalists took responsibility for these attacks and other attacks in the eastern part of the country including a suicide attack targeting an airfield in Jalalabad where there are U.S. service members based.

The Taliban says that they dispatched tens of suicide bombers to different locations inside the capital today. They are claiming this a success. NATO's ISAF is saying, however, they don't know of any casualties.

The spokesman for the U.S. embassy here in Kabul says that U.S. embassy was put under lockdown, as is standard protocol in these types of incidences. That they did hear gunfire and explosions in the area, but that all U.S. embassy staff are accounted for at this hour -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Mohammed Jamjoom in Kabul, thank you so much for that update.

Joining us now by phone from Kabul is Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Thank you for joining us. What can you add to our information about what's going on there?

CUMMINGS: There have been several attacks throughout Kabul and a few other places in Afghanistan. Our initial reports indicate that insurgents took up positions in mostly in unoccupied buildings outside of the Green Zone.

The attacks, of course, as reported earlier, the U.S., German, British embassies and then some ISAF and government Afghanistan facilities which are inside the Green Zone, of course, took indirect and direct fire.

But, again, this is from outside the Green Zone. So they did not breach the Green Zone at all. I think what's good about this is the way the Afghan national security forces responded to today's attack very quickly. And we're also getting some unconfirmed reports right now that they have actually captured a number of the attackers and possibly a planner of today's attack. And actually one of the reports indicates that they captured two possible suicide bombers before they reached their targets.

So I think the good news out of this today is how the Afghan national security forces responded to today's attacks here in Kabul.

CROWLEY: ISAF spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Cummings. Thank you so much for being with us this morning. We will be back at you.

We're also on the phone with the embassy there, the U.S. embassy. We want to talk to Ambassador Ryan Crocker. We will have him coming up later in the hour to update us on the circumstances in Kabul. Be sure to monitor the breaking stories throughout this morning here on CNN.

Next up, Obama versus Romney with RNC Chair Reince Priebus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Mitt Romney still has primaries to go, and a restless Newt Gingrich on his right, but that is the least of it. He needs to preset for the fall and that means wooing those lukewarm conservatives who don't trust him, emphasizing that part of his agenda and candidacy he thinks will appeal to moderate swing voters while trying not to go too far one way or the other, feeding into the rival-fueled wrath that he is a man without a set of core values.

Joining me now to discuss the presumptive nominee's spring and summer agenda is Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus. Good morning.

PRIEBUS: Hey, good morning.

CROWLEY: Let me -- I want to start out with something that is going to happen on the Senate floor tomorrow and that is the so-called "Buffett rule" that would have a minimum tax for millionaires.

And I want to show you and our viewers a Gallup poll recently that said, talking about adults nationally, 60 percent favor the "Buffett rule," 37 percent are opposed. Forget arguing it doesn't help with us the debt, it doesn't do this. Politically it appears that you're on the wrong side of this.

PRIEBUS: You know, I don't think so, Candy. I think that people, once they see what this is all about, and once they see what this whole strategy of Barack Obama is all about, it's all about dividing and conquering.

I mean, let's face it, listen, this is -- and we all know what this is. This is a shiny object that Barack Obama wants the country to look at, which, as you know, if you added up every dollar of revenue that this little rule would put into place, if you took every dollar over a year, it would add up to paying for 11 hours of the federal government.

So I think the bigger question is, why is it that the president is using all of this time, 23 public appearances, Air Force One, bringing it on the floor of the Senate when these same Democrats haven't proposed -- or, excuse me, haven't passed a single budget in over 1,100 days? I mean, come on.

CROWLEY: But he must be doing something right since 60 percent of the -- my point is that politically you all seem to be losing this argument. That there's a fairness issue here that people look back and say, why shouldn't millionaires pay more in taxes?

PRIEBUS: Well, part of the problem here, Candy, is that it's not just -- we're just not talking about millionaires, we're talking about small businesses pass-through, S corporations. We're talking about a president who promised that he would get the economy back on track. That he would lower unemployment below 8 percent.

We've had 38 straight months of unemployment over 8 percent. The deficit he said he would cut in half. I mean, the point of this is, here we are talking about one single tiny alteration of the tax code which he said that he would reform completely, that amounts to 11 hours.

This is Obama's strategy. Look over here at this shiny object here. Don't look at the big picture, an economy on the brink that I didn't do a thing about and made things worse. That's what this is about.

CROWLEY: Let me just point out, because Democrats are very sensitive to this, that the president did not himself say, hey, listen, unemployment will stay under 8 percent. It was his soon-to-be economic advisers that drew up a report. But I understand your point.

PRIEBUS: It said 6 percent by now, to tell you the truth.

CROWLEY: By now in that projection.

PRIEBUS: Right. And we're talking about 11 hours of revenue. This is where we've shut down Washington, D.C., to talk about 11 hours of revenue while millions of people are out of work.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about your presumptive candidate, Mitt Romney, who said on Friday, listen, I'm not going -- I need an extension on my tax returns due -- is it Monday, the 17th of April.

I just wonder if that is a good move for your nominee because you know the Democrats are going to pound him. Why not get this stuff done and put it out there? He's a wealthy man. We all pretty much know how much he's going to pay in taxes.

And you saw how much he got hammered during the primary for not putting out his taxes. Don't you think this is a bad mistake?

PRIEBUS: Well, talk about irony, coming from the Obama administration, that won't talk about Solyndra. That is going to plead the Fifth on this GSA debacle. And now another shiny object, let's talk about tax returns for Mitt Romney.

First of all, Mitt Romney released... (CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: ... about the idea.

PRIEBUS: First of all, Mitt Romney released his 2010 tax returns. He released the estimate to the 2011 tax return. What we're talking about is an extension to file paperwork. And what's -- but worse than the irony here is the tactic.

Again, what I just said, the tactic of this president, to talk about tax returns and a "Buffett rule," when in reality he has -- we have bigger issues to talk about.

And this election won't come down to the timing of a tax return. This election will come down to the state of this economy and how Barack Obama failed this country.

CROWLEY: But given all the things that Mitt Romney has on his plate, it seems to me this is an easy one. Put the things out there.

PRIEBUS: Well, first of all, he did put out the estimate for the 2011 tax return.

And this is -- and when you run for president -- just so that the viewers understand; you know this -- but the type of the rigorous financial disclosure requirements when running for president are so expansive and vast that if you were to look at what John Kerry, John McCain, all of these other presidential candidates have revealed, Mitt Romney is going to do the same thing.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the course of the campaign as it moves forward. We got this presumptive nominee, but you also have two other men still in this race, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. How much of a problem is this, given that this season is pretty rushed now.

You don't have time to sit around all summer and wait for the convention to make something official. And yet you do have folks still running against him.

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean we haven't officially declared a presumptive nominee yet, out of respect for Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich, you know, obviously, I think it's --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: You haven't officially declared it but you're kind of out there thinking it.

PRIEBUS: Well, sure. I mean, Mitt Romney had a great month and he's clearly on a pathway to be the presumptive nominee and we're going to have a unified party when this is all said and done. And the reason we're going to have a unified party is that, no matter where fit in, Republican, conservative, independent, this is not, Candy, about the future of the Republican Party. I can promise you that.

I think people around this country know that this election is about the future of America, and we want to be able to tell people that you can work hard, you can play by the rules and you can still live the American dream, but we need to have a Republican in the White House.

CROWLEY: Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus, a busy man. Come back and see us.

PRIEBUS: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Gender politics and a sex scandal involving secret service agents up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Joining me now is Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State and Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York. Thank you both for joining us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for having us.

CROWLEY: I want to start out with a topic that I said at the end of the week, OK, enough and that is the whole, you know, the mommy wars, the war on women or whatever you want to call it. And let me start with you.

Do you think that the Republicans -- we know the Republicans in the form of Mitt Romney has a 20-point gap between the women who support President Obama and women who support Mitt Romney. What do you think is wrong that accounts for that 20-point gap?

RODGERS: As the Republicans are able to rally around our nominee, Governor Romney, I believe you're going to see that gap close. It --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: How?

RODGERS: Because the policies that Governor Romney are going -- is promoting. They are the policies that are going to help women succeed in this country -- and all people in this country succeed. President Obama's policies are the ones that are failing, Americans failing women. You saw in 2010 where the Republicans actually won the women's vote. It was the first time since Reagan.

In some ways you could say that it was American women that stood up and said, President Obama, we don't like your policies. And whether it's health care and the fact that women make 85 percent of the health care decisions, the economy, the debt, you have seen where women are really -- they are rejecting the policies of President Obama.

CROWLEY: Congresswoman Maloney, it's true in fact that the Republicans made inroads in 2010 and what we've seen is that, since January, where Mitt Romney trailed President Obama among female voters by 5 percent, it's grown to 20 percent. What do you think accounts for that?

MALONEY: I believe that women will turn out in droves to vote for President Obama in this election because they realize how much is at stake.

CROWLEY: And because women do tend to vote Democratic since the early '90s, I think.

MALONEY: For good reason: because of the policies that Democrats put forward to protect women, children and families. When President Obama took office this country was shedding 700,000 jobs a month. We are now in the 25th month of job creation and job growth.

And when you look at the Republican initiatives, not only on the federal level but in the state houses across this country, their attempts to roll back and assault the rights and programs and services of women is absolutely stunning in its scope and appalling in its indifference to women. And to pretend that that does not exist is to double down on that indifference to women.

CROWLEY: Let me move you on, because there's a couple of subjects in the news that I wanted to get your take on. First of all, we have a new poll out, "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll -- now this is among Republicans and Republican leaning independents.

And the question was do you think the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting or not.? Fifty-five percent of Republicans say wasn't -- is not worth the cost. Now we know that Democrats have turned sour on this war a while back.

So now an overwhelming majority, it would seem to me, of the public is against this war. We're now having these bomb explosions in Kabul today. We have the specter of the embassy sort of hunkered down there. Is it time for you all to begin to push for an earlier end to the war than the president envisions.

RODGERS: Well, it's been a tough 10 years in Afghanistan. I think it's important that we remember the reason that we're in Afghanistan, was it goes back to nine and 11 (sic) and the attacks that were made on -- the terrible attacks that were made on this country.

We've seen certainly some successes -- when I talk to our military men and women, they can point to the successes and, you know, think about the opportunities for women right now in Afghanistan.

And I think it's so important that we continue to stand for human rights for women all around this world, and that's a key to defeating terrorists.

And I don't think that we can ignore the fact that there are those terrorists, Al Qaeda, that continue to threaten America and threaten freedom around the world. And so I've supported President Obama in his approach in winding down and making that smooth transition in Afghanistan, but I think everyone is getting tired of the war. (CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: If I can get you to answer quickly, because I want to move you on to one more subject.

CROWLEY: But is it time to push for a quicker removal of those troops than the president wants?

MALONEY: I certainly do believe so, but we have to plan for what we're going to leave there. I agree with former Secretary of State Kissinger that we should try to get all of the countries around Afghanistan to come together and agree that this will be a neutral zone and keep peace in that area.

We have to have a plan when we leave of the stability and the continuation of stability and anti-terrorism. We have to remember why we went in there in the first place.

CROWLEY: And for the two of you, we also have this breaking news about the Secret Service, they had to pull back 11 members that have been down in Colombia with the president doing some of the advance work.

They were not his body men but they went ahead of him. They had to pull them back. The Secret Service said this in a statement: "The nature of the allegations against these 11, coupled with a zero tolerance policy on personal misconduct, resulted in the Secret Service taking the decisive action to relieve these individuals of their assignment."

So they sent new ones in, brought the ones down there home. But there are allegations of, you know, engaging with prostitutes. Nothing illegal as far as we know right now. What do you make of that? Should Congress look into it? I know you're on the Oversight Committee.

MALONEY: I think we should look into it, but I think believe we should always stand up for American values. And one area we have worked together is in combating sex trafficking.

And the leadership that our country has taking in rating countries on how they respond to protecting innocent girls and boys from being abused is admirable. But we have to stand up for our values and the laws of our country.

CROWLEY: How big a problem is this for the administration or is this an isolated -- we're taking care of it kind of thing?

RODGERS: Well, it's certainly unfortunate. We never like to see these kinds of situations. We need to hold these people to the highest standards -- the highest ethical standards. And we need to look into exactly what happened and take the appropriate action.

CROWLEY: I wish we had more time. I hope you will come back. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and, of course, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, appreciate your time this morning. MALONEY: We thank you for not having to ask the question, where are the women? So you are bringing women into your show. So thank you.

CROWLEY: Thank you, we try. We try. Thanks so much.

When we come back, we'll be joined on the phone by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: As we reported earlier, there have been a series of explosions across Afghanistan, particularly in Kabul. We want to go now on the phone now with me, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you for joining us. We had heard earlier that you had put the embassy on lockdown because of these explosions. Is that still the case?

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AFGHANISTAN: That is still the case. I'm not sure for how much longer because the Afghan national security forces pretty much have the situation under control in Kabul now. Still some reports of a couple of terrorists out there, but I think this one is clearly winding down.

CROWLEY: And is it your understanding, from what you've heard from Afghan authorities, that some of the perpetrators have either been killed or captured? What can you tell us about that?

CROCKER: Again, as you can imagine, in a situation of multiple attacks, it can be a little bit confusing out there. But what we are hearing from the Afghans is that they have been successful in killing and capturing the terrorists who have perpetrated these attacks while suffering relatively few casualties of their own.

I think they have acquitted themselves very, very well, very professionally. And it has been all Afghan security forces, not international forces.

CROWLEY: And we know that in some way, shape, or form the Taliban has claimed responsibility for this, saying that it's the beginning of a launch, an assault. Do you have any reason to believe that is or is not true?

CROCKER: Well, the Taliban are really good at issuing statements. Less good at actually fighting. My guess, based on previous experience here is a set of Haqqani Network operations out of North Waziristan and the Pakistani Tribal Areas. Frankly, I don't think the Taliban is good enough. CROWLEY: Mr. Ambassador, one final question and that is, you and I have spoken before about the feeling in the U.S. that we need to end this war more quickly than the president currently has in mind.

We talked about that in the wake of a number of things that have happened there. I think this will likely add to that with the specter of the U.S. embassy being, you know, locked down so as to avoid the danger in the streets of the capital of Afghanistan.

What is your response to what I'm certain will be a feeling like, here's just more proof that we need to get out of there?

CROCKER: Candy, I see it in exactly the opposite way. Attacks like this demonstrate why we need to be here.

Again, we have seen a very professional performance by Afghan security forces. They are able to deal with events like this on their own. A clear sign of progress. And, you know, that's how we do get out responsibly as they take over.

But it also shows there's a very dangerous enemy out there with capabilities and with safe havens in Pakistan. To get out before the Afghans have a full grip on security, which is a couple of years out, would be to invite the Taliban, Haqqani, and al Qaeda back in and set the stage for another 9/11.

And that, I think, is an unacceptable risk for any American.

CROWLEY: The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker. Thank you so much for your time. Stay safe there, sir. We appreciate it.

CROCKER: Thank you, Candy. I just would add one thing. We did not suffer any casualties, mercifully. But there were attacks throughout this country.

CROCKER: And a number of innocent Afghans were killed and wounded by these terrorists. And our hearts go out to them and their families. Their families, they are our partners . They are our allies and we mourn their loss.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Ambassador. We appreciate it. 

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