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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

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We are at that point where there is little time to recover from mistakes, big or small. Joining me to assess the outlook for November, Democratic senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Thank you both for joining me this morning.

First to you, Senator Durbin, because we are seen polling indicating that in the battleground states as well as nationwide the president now seems ahead by an amount that is perceptible. As far as you were concerned, where are the biggest danger points for the president message-wise or campaign-wise as he moves forward?

DURBIN: Well, Candy the momentum has shifted in Obama's direction and that's a good thing from our point of view. We're not taking anything for granted, this is still a campaign with three presidential debates left, one vice presidential debate, and four or five events that none of us could predict on this Sunday morning show. So we're not taking it for granted, but we do have momentum coming out of the convention, and some of the problems and mistakes of the Romney campaign have given the president more traction in these battleground states with working families.

CROWLEY: And Senator Graham, to you, why to you think Mitt Romney is struggling so much? We've talked so much about the history of the numbers as it relates to unemployment or anything else and how it would seem that President Obama would not be doing well, and yet, Mitt Romney is the one who is struggling. Why?

GRAHAM: Well, to be honest with you, I think if history holds here and undecided voters break against the incumbent as they generally do, this is a very close race, and quite frankly, I like our position. You know the comment...

CROWLEY: Really?

GRAHAM: ...the president said we can only change from the outside -- yes, I really do. I think no one has ever been re-elected with unemployment over 7.6 percent. No one has ever been re-elected with an economy this bad and undecided voters break against the incumbent three or four to one. So, yes. But just -- we've talked about Mitt Romney's tax return. We've talked about his speech, the tape of his speech at a campaign -- fundraiser. We've talked about his dog being on top of the car, but we're not talking about or they're not talking about what they have done.

And this idea you can only change Washington from the outside, in the first two years of the Obama administration, they had 60 United States senators, a big majority -- Democratic majority in the House. They could do anything they wanted to without Republican help, and they did. The stimulus was supposed to have us at 6 percent unemployment. It has been a flop. It grew the government, hasn't create jobs.

Obamacare was supposed to lower premiums for everybody. This $2,200 per person higher, and people were not lose their health care -- guess what, they're losing six million or seven million people that have been displaced. They promised to reduce the deficit in half in its first term. This went up by 51 percent.

So, this is why Mitt Romney is in good shape. During the debates, we're about to focus on four years of Barack Obama, not everything just about what Mitt Romney may have said or putting his dog on the car.

CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, it is true that this president campaigned more than any other, although they all campaign on let's change Washington because everybody hates Washington, but this president, more than any other, has been one that said I'm going in there, and I'm going to change Washington, hope and change, hope and change, and now he says, you know what, you really can't change Washington. Is that a tack technical mistake do you think, or is it word play?

DURBIN: No, I think the president did not anticipate when the Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell said my highest priority, highest priority is not to deal with the recession, not to deal with the cost of health care, not to deal with what's happening on Wall Street, he said his highest priority was to make sure Barack Obama was a one-term president.

CROWLEY: But, again...

DURBIN: That really set the stage.

CROWLEY: He did have that Democratic Senate and Democratic House for half of his tenure.

DURBIN: And we faced a record number of Republican filibusters. Remember, when we had 60 votes, we also had a poor situation, a sad situation with Ted Kennedy going through cancer therapy, unable to attend, and then Robert Byrd in decline and finally passed away. So there were just a few moments when we had 60 votes.

But let me get down to the bottom line here. The bottom line is when the American people are asked this basic question, which of these two candidates, Obama or Romney, do you think is better prepared to move this economy forward in the next four years? Overwhelmingly they say it is President Obama. And you know why, because Romney's approach to politics and this economy as evidenced by his 47 percent remark writes off so many Americans, ignores the economic realities facing middle income families.

When he says he wants a tax break of $250,000 a year for the wealthiest people in America, it means middle income families will pay more taxes. They understand that. And they are not going to support a president who is going to make life even more difficult for those living paycheck to paycheck.

CROWLEY: Senator Graham, let me ask you, and I know you mentioned this as something that we've been talking about, but Mitt Romney did put out his tax return for 2011 this past Friday. He also put out a summary that was certified from his tax accountant saying, look, here's what I did in the last 20 years, showing that he paid taxes in each of the last 20 years.

You were really critical of Democratic leader, Senate majority leader Harry Reid who said, you know, I've been told he didn't pay any taxes. Do you think Harry Reid owes Mitt Romney an apology?

GRAHAM: No. I think all this stuff is just political fodder. Nobody is going to vote based on Mitt Romney's tax return. He gave 30 percent of what he earned away. He is doing -- he's a lot more generous than I am. I don't know about the rest of y'all two, but I'm sort of amazed at the generosity of the Romney.

CROWLEY: $4 million.

GRAHAM: And he has paid his taxes lawfully.

Yeah, but the bottom line, it's not going to be about this speech that he gave at a campaign fundraiser, and quite frankly it's not going to be about a 14-year-old comment that President Obama made about redistribution, it's going to be about you, your family. And let me tell you again, no Republican stopped Barack Obama from doing what he wanted to do in his first two years. He passed the stimulus, Obamacare. He got his major initiatives through on a party line vote, and all of them have failed.

The reason Republicans came back in 2010 and got the House and should have gotten the senate, we made our own mistakes, we should be in a majority in 2010 -- but we came back, roaring back, it's not because people all of a sudden became Republicans, it's because after the first two years of Barack Obama and this runaway tax and spend train, they wanted us to stop what was going on. And he said in 2009 if I don't get this right in three years, I'll be a one-term president. Well, the gas prices have gone up by over 100 percent. We've increased the debt by 50 percent. Unemployment at 8 percent for 37 straight months. The most sluggish recession. Nobody is hiring because the threat of higher taxes and overregulation. This is not a sound economy, and this is why Mitt Romney is going to win the race.

CROWLEY: Senator Durbin, let me -- my last question on the race in general because I want to ask you all about congress as well at leaving town and the unfinished business. But senator, is there not a point here that some of what's happened in the economy or what has not happened in the economy is on the president's doorstep and is that not something that voters should be looking at and, in fact, are looking at?

DURBIN: Candy, we've had 30 straight months, 30 straight months of uptick increase...

CROWLEY: Is it as good as you thought it would be? Is it as good as you thought it would be when Democrats passed the stimulus bill, when you passed the health care bill, when we talked about the summer of recovery, is it as good as you thought it would be right now where we are?

DURBIN: We were all hoping it would be better. We didn't realize the depths of the recession that the president inherited. But people feel positively about the future of this economy and this country. Jobs are coming back into the United States. We're seeing an increase in manufacturing jobs at a rate even greater than the last Republican president's administration.

And let me tell you what I think the bottom line here, the bottom line here is people understand Mitt Romney. They understand his values.

DURBIN: And they understand what he is offering is to go back to the same economic policies that created this recession.

Why are his income tax returns still important? Well, he doesn't meet his father's standard. His father set a standard in terms of disclosure. He hasn't met that standard, and there is something in those income tax returns he doesn't want America to see, so he has selectively been disclosing few things here and there. He is still...

CROWLEY: Well, but isn't this...

DURBIN: ... the first presidential candidate...

CROWLEY: ... sort of a matter of blaming...

DURBIN: ... in history with a Swiss bank account. Pardon me?

CROWLEY: But there's nothing that suggests that there's something illegal has gone on. I grant you, we haven't seen all of them for the past 20 years, but are you not, in effect, blaming the player when what you ought to do is blame the game? It is the IRS system, and he took advantage of it, which I do, which I assume both of you do?

DURBIN: But let me tell you why it's important, Candy. It confirms the suspicion of independent and undecided voters that Mitt Romney is out of touch with the average American and middle income family. And he doesn't have a plan that's going to help them have a better situation in the future.

It just confirms some of his earlier statements about his values and writing off 47 percent of the American people. That's why the income tax returns are so important. CROWLEY: And, Senator Graham...

DURBIN: The fact that he has a Swiss bank account, it's legal, but he is the first presidential candidate to ever have one.

CROWLEY: And, Senator Graham, you cannot dismiss the fact that people do vote on the basis of, does this guy or woman some year hopefully understand who I am? Does he understand the struggles I go through?

This is a man who has been wealthy from the moment he was born. This is a man who has said a lot of things that cause voters out there to go, whoa, he doesn't get me at all, including the 47 percent.

So you can say this is not going to be about tax returns. It's not going to be about this. But it is going to be about who this guy is, who people perceive Mitt Romney to be. Is it not?

GRAHAM: I think it's going to be about your bank account, not his Swiss bank account. It's going to be about your job, whether you have one, or you are afraid of losing it. At the end of the day, Mitt Romney and Ann Romney are two fine people.

At our convention you showcased who they are when the camera is not on, helping people in a way that just really touched my heart. No, this election is about the economy and the future of America.

After four years of Barack Obama, Obama economics, everything they promised hasn't come true. The stimulus, we were supposed to be at 6 percent. Why aren't we? "Obama-care," if you pass it, premiums will go down. They're going up. I promise you I'll reduce the deficit in my first term...

CROWLEY: But to the question, though...

GRAHAM: ... it has gone up 50 percent.

CROWLEY: But to the question, Senator Graham.

GRAHAM: (INAUDIBLE) and ask yourself, is President Obama's energy policies good for you and your family? Go to the gas pump.

CROWLEY: But isn't the question whether Mitt Romney...

GRAHAM: Go look on your 401(k)...

CROWLEY: ... would be any better?

GRAHAM: ... statement.

CROWLEY: But isn't the question, would Mitt Romney have done any better? And don't people look at him and think, he doesn't get me?

GRAHAM: Oh, that's what this is about, yes. He -- during the debates he will tell you, I'm about to repeal "Obama-care" and work with Democrats to replace with something that matters. I'm not going to have another stimulus package that grows the government, doesn't create jobs.

I'm going to give you certainty in your taxes. I'm going to take the EPA, this made it very hard for people to grow their business, and reform the regulatory side. I'm going to give you certainty in taxes. And we're going to stop spending money like a drunken sailor.

Yes, the debates will be about what he will do, but nobody wants to talk about what Barack Obama has done. We'll talk about Romney's tax returns...

CROWLEY: Well, we've got those debates to look forward to. GRAHAM: ... and the reason they want to talk about everything else but what they've done is because he has failed to deliver as he promised as president of the United States.

CROWLEY: I have to leave it there. Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Dick Durbin, thank you both so much for getting up on a Sunday morning, I appreciate it.

DURBIN: Thanks, Candy.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

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