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Senators Rand Paul & Angus King, and Robert Gates on "State of the Union"

Senators Rand Paul & Angus King, and Robert Gates on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - February 10, 2013

CROWLEY: Then our political panel on the State of the Union watching and the new chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee.

Plus, the high price of a penny. I'm Candy Crowley and this is State of the Union.

Joining mow now from his home state of Kentucky, Republican Senator Rand Paul. Senator Paul, thanks for joining us morning. You are going to deliver the Tea Party response to the president's State of the Union. Why is that needed? You have got an R behind your name and so does Marco Rubio, who is going to deliver the Republican response.

PAUL: I think it just shows that there is a movement in the Republican Party, that has been very vocal, I think particularly in the 2010 election, there was a big movement that helped us win elections. There's a lot of energy that still comes from the Tea Party, and while they consider themselves mostly to be Republican, they occasionally will chastise even the Republican establishment. So they want an independent voice.

CROWLEY: Well, is that what you intend to do, to chastise the Republican establishment?

PAUL: No, but I think really there are some things that I will emphasize maybe Marco doesn't.

CROWLEY: Like what?

PAUL: Doesn't mean that we necessarily disagree.

I don't know. I haven't heard his speech yet. But I would say that there are things that I will talk about -- you know, the president likes to talk about a balanced approach for things. We'll talk, for example, about a balanced budget and how that would be good for the economy. The president likes to say everybody needs to pay their fair share, which means he wants to raise taxes. I'll talk about the Republican message which is we believe you stimulate the economy by reducing taxes, not revenue neutral, I mean really reducing taxes, cutting corporate tax in half, cutting the personal income tax, and the fact that you actually sometimes bring in more revenue when you cut tax rates.

CROWLEY: Well, as you know, you are joined by fellow Republicans, some of whom are not particularly associated with the Tea Party in your quest for what they call real cuts and not just cuts in the growth. I want to get back to Senator Rubio, again because you're both delivering these responses to the president. He was on the cover of Time magazine as the new face of the Republican Party. He has Tea Party support.

I wonder when you look at that and you look at the Republican Party, do you and he represent different parts of the Republican Party? Are you therefore rivals? Who is the face of the Republican Party right now?

PAUL: I don't think anybody gets to choose who is the face is or say you or someone else is the face. I think we do the best to promote what we believe in. One of the things I have talked a lot about that there haven't been many other Republicans talking about is that we shouldn't send foreign aid or money to people who are burning our flag and chanting death to America. So I think I do represent a wing of the Republican Party who doesn't want to send good money after bad to Egypt, or to several of these countries. I would put strings on the money that goes to Pakistan. I would say to Pakistan, you don't get more money until you release the doctor who helped us get bin Laden.

So there are things that distinguish a lot of different Republicans. It doesn't make them bad, or me right or them wrong, what it means is that there is a Tea Party wing that is interested in not sending money to people who are not acting like our allies. CROWLEY: Does it also give aid and comfort to Democrats who see what is clearly a split in the Republican Party, so much so that it requires two responses to the State of the Union?

PAUL: You know, I think to me I see it as an extra response, I don't see it necessarily divisive. You know I won't say anything on there that necessarily is like Marco Rubio is wrong. You know, I don't always agree, but the thing is this isn't about he and I, this is about the Tea Party, which is a grassroots movement, a real movement with millions of Americans who are still concerned about some of the deal making that goes on in Washington, they're still concerned about the fact that we are borrowing $50,000 a second.

None of the things I ran on as part of the Tea Party have been fixed. We're still going down a hole as far as the debt crisis looming. And so we really have to still talk about spending and we want to make sure there is still a voice for that.

CROWLEY: One of the things that is always sort of looked for in the State of the Union Address is the fill in the blank question, the State of the Union is -- what? What will you say the state of the union is?

PAUL: Well, I think it's still robust in the sense we still have greatness as a country. But there's a lot of things that beleaguer us, and I think the debt is the number one. I think the debt is costing us a million jobs a year. The economy slowed in the last quarter. I really that think we have to do something about how enormous government is. And the way Tea Party folks see this, is we see it like our family budget. I have to balance my budget at home, why shouldn't government?

We don't understand these other explanations. We don't understand all these people --the president is now caterwauling about the sequester, so are many Republicans. Tea Party people are saying the sequester is a pittance, it's just a very much even the beginning. $1 trillion and we're increase spending $9 trillion. So really even with the sequester, spending goes up $7 trillion or $8 trillion over the next 10 years. We're not getting close to scratching the surface of the problem.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about some Kentucky politics. You have said I believe that will support Senator Mitch McConnell who is up for re-election in 2014. Do you believe he will face a Tea Party challenge?

PAUL: I think it's unlikely. I haven't heard any Republican challenger come forward. I don't know, but I haven't heard of any challenger coming forward.

CROWLEY: And I want to play for awe an ad that American Crossroads, this the Karl Rove group, a Republican group, released February 6th. And it's about Ashley Judd, the actress and the activist, she was quite active in the president's campaign. And she has been mentioned frequently as perhaps a Democratic challenger to Mitch McConnell. Here is part of the ad. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Ashley Judd, an Obama following radical Hollywood liberal who is right at home here in Tennessee, I mean Kentucky.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: When you see an ad this far out from a Republican group, it says to me that maybe Senator McConnell, who is a Republican leader in the Senate, is in a little trouble. Is he at this point looking weak?

PAUL: You know, when I heard Ashley Judd might run for office, I thought maybe it was parliament, since she lives in Scotland half of the year. But no I think really that part of politics is making sure people know who you are running against. Ashley Judd is a famous actress, she's an attractive woman, and presents herself well and from what I understand is articulate. But the thing is, she doesn't really represent Kentucky. I mean, she was a representative for Tennessee last year, she lives in Tennessee. So, yeah, I think you do need to make sure people about know that so people don't think she's really from Kentucky or lives here.

CROWLEY: And a couple of questions just on -- we have got some confirmations coming up. We have the Lew confirmation for Treasury secretary, Hagel for Defense, as well as Brennan for the CIA. Are you going to vote against any of those men?

PAUL: I'm most concerned about Brennan. And I'm going to demand answers this week. Senator Wyden asked can they do drone strikes in the United States? And Brennan went on for five minutes talking about optimizing transparency and never answered the question. Until I get an answer...

CROWLEY: You mean drones strikes...

PAUL: ...whether or not you can an American citizen in America -- in America, that's what Wyden can you kill an American in America with only the president's word? And he never answered the question. So I'm going to demand an answer to that question. But I also don't think -- I think it's very unseemly that a politician gets to decide the death of an American citizen. They should answer about the 16- year-old boy, Al Awlaki's son who was killed not as collateral damage, but in a separate strike. They've never answered that.

I think you should be tried for treason. If you're an American citizen, you go overseas, you take up arms -- I'm probably for executing you, but I would want to hear the evidence, I would want to have a judge and a jury. It can be fairly swift, but there needs to be a trial for treason. The president, a politician, Republican or Democrat, should never get to decide someone's death by flipping through flash cards, and say do you want to kill him? I don't know. Yeah, let's go ahead and kill him.

CROWLEY: All right. So we'll put that as a question mark for John Brennan at the CIA and yes for the other two?

PAUL: Well, I haven't decided really. Hagel has been really struggling, and...

CROWLEY: Thanks.

We will check back in with you later on then on those. Thank you so much, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. We will look for you Tuesday night.

Our next guest is one of two independents in the senate. He has been called a bridge builder and problem solver, he has questioned both John Brennan and Chuck Hagel during their confirmation hearings. Not bad for a guy who has been in office 38 days. Angus King of Maine is up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It won't be smooth. It won't be simple. There will be frustrations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: President Obama speaking Thursday at the House Democratic retreat in Northern Virginia. Those comments, delivered five days before the State of the Union Address, are intended to rally the troops ahead of a busy legislative schedule.

Joining me now, Maine independent Senator Angus King. Senator it is very good to see you here in your first couple of months up in the U.S. Senate.

One of the things that as an independent you have talked about is being that bridge between Republicans and Democrats to try and get some work done up there. With that in mind, I wonder if you would talk to me about what tone you would like to see the president take on Tuesday night at the State of the Union. There's been a lot of talk, as you know, post election about how he's more aggressive now, seems much less willing to deal with Republicans.

KING: Well, I think he -- you know, the mathematics is he still has to got deal with Republicans. I mean, if you've got Republican House, a Senate that has a Democratic majority, but the way the rules work, the Republicans have substantial power and a Democratic president. As Bill Clinton would say, it's arithmetic. And I don't know whether you use the word conciliatory. I think you use the word diplomatic. I mean, my father used to say you can disagree without being disagreeable. And I think that's a tone that he has to take: confident, and strong, and yet at the same time being open to other ideas and compromises and getting the work done.

CROWLEY: How have you felt that he has done towards that end since the election? Do you agree with the commentary that the president has been -- seemed much less willing to want to deal with Republicans. Do you agree with that?

KING: Well, you've got to put yourself in his shoes a little bit. He came in talking very much about bipartisanship and working together and all of that kind of thing, and he didn't get very far. He got zero votes on health care. He got very few votes on the stimulus package, if any, from one or two from Republicans, I think three in the Senate.

And so I think he was a little was ready to take a more aggressive stance. He won the election pretty solidly and he feels -- who am I advising the president of the United States, that's like giving Ted Williams batting tips. But he -- it seems to me strong, confident. But a strong and confident person also listens and is willing to make compromises when the time comes.

The other thing that I've noticed, Candy, being around the Capitol now for a couple of months and you mentioned 38 days, there's sometimes gratuitous I call it name calling, just partisanship for partisanship's sake. And in my experience, nobody has a monopoly or good ideas, nobody has a monopoly on solutions and the aggressive stuff -- those are bad guys and we are good guys, I just don't think that moves the ball very far.

CROWLEY: If you were writing the president's speech, how would you describe the state of the union?

KING: I think I would describe the state of the union as strong and getting stronger. Having been through a tough time in American history in terms of two wars, a major recession, but the economy does seem to be coming back. I think the lowering of GDP in the last quarter was something of an aberration. Ironically I think it has to do with congress' failure to deal with entirely fiscal cliff issue, but housing is up, manufacturing is showing a little sign of life, so I would say the state of the union is strong, but as is always the case, we've got more to do.

It's no accident that the framers started the constitution using the phrase, in order to form a more perfect union.

CROWLEY: It can always get better, right?

KING: There is always work to be done.

CROWLEY: OK.

Let me -- I want to move you one to the subject of drones. You were quite outspoken, particularly when you questioned John Brennan, the CIA nominee to be director of the CIA, particularly about the targeting of Americans who may have joined and be deadly terrorists, but nonetheless are still American citizens, by these drones. I know that you think that there should be someone other than just the president and a small group of people deciding who they kill, particularly when it comes to American citizens. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about that. But read you something from an editorial this morning.

It was in the Chicago Tribune. And in part, it said this -- one more layer of oversight reduces the advantages of immediacy and surprise. We don't want drone operators hoping their targeted terrorist will stay on a rooftop in Pakistan while a court in Washington debates whether it's appropriate to eliminate him.

What's your response to that? KING: Well, I think that misunderstands what the circumstances are. If you're talking about an immediate strike, then that's a commander in chief job and I'm certainly not questioning that, but on the other hand, my understanding is, and this isn't based on classified information, but generally available information, that often these strikes are planned weeks in advance. The moment of the strike may take place because of intelligence that the person is on a rooftop or wherever they are, but the identification of the individual as a member of a terrorist group, as an imminent threat to the interest of the United States, that's not -- there is some time involved there. And in fact that is what provoked me to ask the question I did of Mr. Brennan.

And here is a case -- this may not -- I don't know how often this is going to happen, but I agree with Rand Paul. The fifth amendment says that no person shall denied life, liberty or property without due process of law. It says that. And it's pretty clear. It applies to Americans. And that's what we're talking about here, American, not foreigners. Even those these are Americans that may have committed treason by signing up with another country or another group against us.

But I think --it just makes me uncomfortable that the president, whoever it is, is the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and the executioner, all rolled into one. So I'm not suggesting something that would slow down response, but where there is time to go in and submit it to a third party, that is a court, in confidence, And get a judgment that, yes there, is sufficient evidence here, that just feels to me like that's -- it's not full compliance with the fifth amendment. There are those who say these people should have a whole trial. I don't believe that either.

KING: But I think some independent check on the executive is healthy for our system.

CROWLEY: And final question with less than a minute left. I wanted to ask you about gun control. Maine, a big hunting territory for so many people, I know that you agree with a lot of things that are being suggested there on gun control. Are you against an assault weapons ban or for it?

KING: I would say I'm skeptical. I am leaning against it, simply because what I want to focus on is the functionality, not the looks, and I've seen folks -- you can take exactly the same mechanics of a gun and change the stock from a wooden stock to a folding stock and put something on the barrel, and suddenly it meets the definition of an assault weapon. But it do anything differently. It doesn't shoot faster, further, anything else.

CROWLEY: Got you.

KING: I think what we really need to do is focus on what will really work. And to me that's universal background checks and perhaps limits on magazine size.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much. Senator Angus King -- certainly a conversation that's going to go on for awhile. We appreciate your time this morning.

What is the right number of troops to leave in Afghanistan? A conversation with former defense secretary Robert Gates is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: The White House says that drone strikes even against American citizens are "legal, ethical, and wise." Earlier, I sat down with Robert Gates who served as defense secretary for both Presidents Bush and Obama and asked him if he had any concerns about the increased use of stealth fighters.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GATES: Actually, no. I'm a big advocate of drones. When I was the director of Central Intelligence in the early '90s, I tried to get the Air Force to partner with us in building drones. And they didn't want to, because they had no pilots.

When I became secretary, I had a little more say over how the Air Force spent its money. And we significantly ramped up the number of drones. Drones are immensely useful in two respects. First of all, for reconnaissance, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, because they can dwell over a target for an extended period of time.

So you get pattern of life and you can really see what's going on. So they're an immense asset from an intelligence standpoint.

From a strike standpoint, they are very precise. And so the same thing in terms of being able to dwell, they can wait until a target is by himself or a facility is abandoned or something, if they're going to strike it.

And if they see people moving into the area, they can hold off. And because they can see it all, the people who are driving -- are driving the drones, so you can -- you can far more easily limit collateral damage with a drone than you can with a bomb, even a precision guided munition, off an airplane.

CROWLEY: You're not saying that innocent people are not -- do not die. GATES: No, but I'm saying that you have, first of all, the numbers, I believe, are extremely small. And second, you do have the ability to limit that collateral damage more than with any other weapons system that you have.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the idea of targeting Americans -- al-Awlaki is the one, obviously, that has been the most out there, known terrorist. We understand that. He said hateful, violent things on the Internet against the U.S. He was obviously associated -- a big player in al Qaeda. He was, nonetheless, an American citizen.

And as we're led to believe, how this works, it's the president who okays a kill list. And that would include American citizens. Should that be sort of a broader authority?

GATES: I think that the idea -- you know, we have this foreign intelligence surveillance court that approves the use of electronic surveillance on American citizens. So you have an independent person, a federal judge, outside of -- outside of the executive branch...

CROWLEY: But this is for surveillance, right?

GATES: And this is for electronic surveillance. Something similar, whether it's a panel of three judges or one judge or some -- something that would give the American people confidence that there was, in fact, a compelling case to be -- to launch an attack against an American citizen, I think just as an independent confirmation or affirmation, if you will, is something worth giving serious consideration to.

I think that the rules and the -- and the practices that the Obama administration has followed are quite stringent and are not being abused. But who is to say about a future president?

And so I think -- I think this idea of being able to execute, in effect, an American citizen, no matter how awful, having some third party being -- having a -- having a say in it or perhaps some -- informing the Congress or the intelligence committees or something like that, I just -- I think some check on the ability of the president to do this has merit as we look to the longer term future.

CROWLEY: When it became known that the Bush administration was using enhanced interrogation techniques on certain folks that had been captured, the outrage was immediate. And yet we have the U.S. targeting an American -- an American citizen and killing an American citizen and we see that the use of drones is widely approved, really, by the American people. And there hasn't been much until recently out of Congress.

Why do you -- how do you account for the difference in reaction to those two things? Are they entirely separate? Or is that a curious thing?

GATES: How about politics?

CROWLEY: I'll go for that. And in what way? GATES: Well, I think that at a certain -- by a certain point, virtually nothing President Bush did was going to win approval by anybody. And anything he did was condemned from the surge to various other things. And I just think that that certainly plays a part in it. And particularly a lot of our political leaders have no problem talking out of both sides of their mouth when it comes to issues like these.

CROWLEY: What's your biggest concern post-2014 about Afghanistan's future?

GATES: I think it's very important that we maintain some kind of serious residual presence in Afghanistan for training the Afghan forces and/or counterterrorism.

I think that kind of residual presence is absolutely critical, first of all to signal the Afghans we aren't abandoning them as we did after they drove the Soviets out in the early '90s or the late '80s, but also as a message to the Taliban and to the neighbors that we're not walking away, either.

CROWLEY: But you know, you were -- after the Iraq war, you were around for the -- much of the war on -- in Afghanistan. So I feel like you have a pretty good feel on what enough forces would be. Is 3,000 too little? Do you have any sense of that?

GATES: Well, I guess the way I would put it, just instinctively, is I strongly believe 3,000 is too little and 30,000 is too many.

CROWLEY: So, somewhere between 3,000 and 30,000. But err on the side of too many.

GATES: Finding the Goldilocks number.

CROWLEY: Right. GATES: When I say 30,000 is too many, I think, first of all, in terms of the costs for us, but also in terms of the tolerance of the Afghans themselves. So it's more a political question than it is a military question.

CROWLEY: And finally, we're coming up to the State of the Union. You know how this works; everybody wants to hear a certain thing, depending on which department you're in. From the point of view of the military, from the point of view of the world at large and America's place in it, what do you look for when the president gives his speech Tuesday?

GATES: Well, I -- it's hard to say sort of off the top of my head. I think that clearly I would like to hear something about let's figure out a way to avoid the sequestration on the budget, which I think will be catastrophic.

And because so much has already been cut over the next 10 years in the military, and so I think -- I think something about how we're going to try and get our financial house in order and how we can avoid the sequestration, particularly on the -- on the defense side.

CROWLEY: Secretary Gates, it's really good to see you again and I appreciate your time. 

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