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


Location: Washington, DC

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.


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.

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