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CNN "State Of The Union With John King" - Transcript

Interview

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KING: And with us now are two Democratic senators who play key roles in foreign and domestic policy debates. With me here in Washington, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and back in his home state of Pennsylvania is Senator Bob Casey.

Welcome both of you back to STATE OF THE UNION. I want to start with the president's speech last night and this headline in one of the papers in Senator Casey's home state. The "Reading Eagle" says "Obama Vows to End Gay Ban in Military."

He also pushed for Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed back in 1996, and Senators, as you know, and let's inform our viewers, did say this, "The word marriage means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband as wife."

Senator Casey, you have voiced support for the Defense of Marriage Act. For marriage to be defined as between one man and one woman. Would you vote repeal it?

SEN. ROBERT CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: John, I think the key thing that we heard from the president last night was in a very focused way, that some of the policies that have governed with regard to -- governed our policy in the military on Don't Ask, Don't Tell aren't working right now. And I think that's critically important.

And he also mentioned that the hate crimes legislation at long last is moving forward. I was a co-sponsor of that.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: On the Defense of Marriage Act, would Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, vote to repeal it?

CASEY: John, I've said in the past, I don't think that's the way to go. But I do believe that some people in this country, who have argued from a different point of view have tried to use tactics like the constitutional amendment, which I think is a way to divide people and to demonize people.

We can move forward on a lot of measures but I am not sure there is a support yet for that. But I do believe we've made progress on hate crimes and significant progress if we implement a change on Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

KING: Senator Stabenow, would you vote to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act?

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Well, first, I think we need to start with making sure that there is domestic partners benefits for everyone involved in relationships. The hate crimes bill, as Senator Casey just said, is about ready to go to the president's desk.

And I also think we shouldn't be losing the great talent of anyone in the military, whether it's because of skin color or because they are a man or a woman or sexual orientation. So I think the president is putting the priorities in the right place.

KING: Why is this so hard? If I ask you, would you vote for a public option in health care you would say yes. If I asked you if you would vote to help out the autoworkers in your state, you would say yes. I asked you if you would vote to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, and you didn't answer the question. Why is it so hard?

STABENOW: Because the challenge for me is that we have had on the ballot and there has been passage in Michigan of a law prohibiting gay marriage. So I think for a number of us, that becomes a challenge in terms of what has happened in terms of voting in our states.

Now, I am a co-sponsor of the hate crimes and support eliminating the policies that discriminate among talented people in our military. I support making sure that there are legal protects for everyone. But I think the patch work of state policies now make it difficult and we all to have take another look.

KING: You both just listened to Senator McCain. As we talk about his proposals, I want to go through a little bit of time line to underscore the administration's position in what some might say is a bit of a shift. Back in March, the president announced his new strategy. He put a new commander in place and he spoke in very strong terms about what he called the clear threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal -- to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Five months later, more very strong language from the president, making clear that Afghanistan was not like Iraq, which he called a war of choice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe from which al Qaeda would plot to kill moral Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Yet last week on this program, the president's national security adviser gave an assessment that sounded much more measured and less alarming than the president's take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: The al Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies. I don't foresee the return of the Taliban. And I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in danger -- in imminent danger of falling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Casey, you were just there a couple of months ago. If you believe, General Jones, you could come to the conclusion that Vice President Biden and those who are arguing for a stable troop level and more of a -- use the drones, use the intelligence, that they're correct.

Senator McCain says that is naive and wrong and you need at least 40,000 more troops. Who is right?

CASEY: Right now what we have before us is not just a question of a troop increase or not and what the levels should be, but you a lot of other questions that are non-military. The key thing here is we have to get the strategy right before we talk about resources.

The president, and even General McChrystal in his report, talks at length about changing the strategy. There may be differences about how to do that but I think it's very important that we get the strategy right.

And Congress has a role to play here. We can't just point the finger at the administration and say, you have to get it right. We have to get it right in Congress as well. I don't think there is as much disagreement as some people want to make it. You heard from Senator McCain about the progress we've made in Pakistan or the Pakistani army has made great progress.

The key thing here, though, in two places, is that you have to have assurances over time that al Qaeda cannot have a presence in Afghanistan that destabilizes that country. And the same whether it's al Qaeda or related groups along their border and threaten Islamabad and Pakistan.

We've got make sure that that threat is dealt with.

KING: Some common ground, as Senator Casey. But Senator McCain also said that he believes we cannot win with at least 40,000 more troops and for the president to say no to General McChrystal would be a mistake, in Senator McCain's view, of historic proportion.

Is he right?

STABENOW: Well, John, from my perspective, what we are doing right now is assessing what's happening today in terms of strategy. Al Qaeda is a global threat. General Jones and his comments, talking about what's happening not just in Afghanistan but Pakistan and other places around the world.

What the president is doing right you now I think is a breath of fresh air, is assessing what is happening today based on the fact that seven weeks ago, there was an election where there are tremendous allegations of fraud. Part of counter insurgency involves a stable partner.

And they're now assessing what is happening with al Qaeda and Pakistan. We see what's happening even today in Pakistan. And what the strategy should be given the facts today. And frankly, the right strategy needs to be put together so it is a strategy that works for the people who are putting in harm's way. It needs to deserving of the sacrifice that they're making.

KING: We're short on time. Let's go quickly to a couple of health care question. The Congressional Budget Office this past week said if you included tort reform, malpractice reforms in health care, you could save $54 billion. This has been one of the big Republican complaints.

Now you're both having a hard time getting Republicans to come on board to this bill. Should the Democrats make this outreach gesture? Call their bluff if you think it's a bluff and say we will put significant tort reform in the health care reform. We will save money like you say, now you have to give us something.

STABENOW: Well, John, first of all, when you look at caps, my state has caps, on damages as they're talking about, and unfortunately, our doctors continue to see their premiums go through the roof. So it's a question of how to do that.

What we're doing this legislation is focusing on new technologies, for electronic medical records, information for physicians, ways to be able to cut down on medical care...

KING: Should I take that as a no?

STABENOW: I think there is a different way to come at it. The Republicans have a very traditional focus over and over again whether or not it's worked.

KING: Senator Casey, is that a legitimate way to reach out to the Republicans? Try to get them to board, give them something and then say but in exchange, we need your votes on other things?

CASEY: John, I voted in the summer on the Health Education Labor Pensions Committee for a health care bill. We add -- we accepted over 160 Republican amendments. We had lots and lots of outreach.

The time for acting is now. I think the vote this week in the finance committee will be critically important and then merging it with our bill. But I don't think the way to go is to limit the rights of Americans who are injured by negligent or intentional conduct. And the idea -- and I'm sure you could construct a strategy where you can save money but I don't want to support a policy where saving money on the backs of injured workers and adverse impact on their families.

A $250,000 cap on damages, in my humble opinion, is insulting to our system of justice. That is not justice as we have come to understand it.

KING: Senator Casey in Pennsylvania, Senator Stabenow, I'm sorry, we're out of time. We will bring you both back. You're both from critical states in the jobs and health care debate. We'll have you back as this move forward. You have my word on that.

Don't go anywhere because when we come back, answers to your questions about the spread of the H1N1 flu and the new vaccine. One of the government's top doctors right here to answer this next.

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