Skip to main content

John King: Party politics and press parties

  • Story Highlights
  • Taliban advances in Pakistan have the Sunday talk shows buzzing
  • Comments by Afghanistan's Karzai in D.C. leave two senators unimpressed
  • Who is a true Republican? Former Vice President Cheney shares his thoughts
  • President Obama cuts loose with the jokes, as D.C. relaxes on Saturday night
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

Editor's note: John King, CNN's chief national correspondent and "State of the Union" host, examines the news made in Sunday talk and offers up this Monday morning crib sheet on what to watch this week in politics. Please note that all quotes are from rush transcripts and are subject to change. If you'd like to receive a sneak peek of next week's news in your inbox every Sunday, you can sign up for the "Political Ticker newsletter" at

CNN's John King talks with newsmakers about the hot topics in Washington in the past week.

CNN's John King talks with newsmakers about the hot topics in Washington in the past week.

It was an odd Washington weekend: a Sunday of sober talk about the challenges ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan following a more relaxed Saturday night.

President Obama made his debut at the annual press club Washington dinners with a comic performance well-received by a packed ballroom of journalism, political and entertainment luminaries.

Nervous eyes on Asia

This weekend, humanitarian relief workers reported civilians fleeing the Swat region of Pakistan, as the Pakistani military continues what they say is a major offensive against the Taliban.

Gen. David Petraeus was a guest on CNN's "State of the Union," and although the administration has been pressing Pakistan for weeks to take more aggressive actions, he said the operation was born of growing disgust across Pakistan at Taliban tactics. See map of Pakistan, Swat region

"The actions of the Taliban in breaking the agreement that was reached for Swat and then moving into other districts of the Northwest Frontier province -- these have served as a catalyst, really, for all of Pakistan. And you now see all of the Pakistani political leaders, including opposition figures, you see the Pakistani people and you see the Pakistani military determined to reverse this trend and to deal with the Taliban threat, ultimately, in the Swat valley." -- Petraeus

Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan seemed to be everywhere in Washington: Meeting with Obama, lunching with congressional leaders and appearing on a host of television programs.

'State of the Union'
John King reinvents Sunday talk: more time for more politics.
Sunday, 9 a.m. ET

Both Petraeus and Zardari said Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was in no danger of falling to the Taliban, and Zardari scoffed at the concept that the radical Islamic insurgency in the countryside would topple his government.

"We have a threat, yes. Is the state of Pakistan going to collapse? No. We are 180 million people. The population is much more than the insurgents are, but we have do have a problem." -- Zardari on NBC's "Meet the Press"

The first of thousands of additional U.S. troops reportedly arrived in Afghanistan last week. On Sunday Karzai gave an indication of how difficult their task will be, repeating an earlier statement that airstrikes against the Taliban must cease because of the toll on Afghan civilians.

"It's an important thing that America recognizes that civilian casualties are the biggest concern in Afghanistan and a damage to the effort against terrorists." -- Karzai on "Meet the Press"

The conversation also turned to al Qaeda and particularly Karzai's statement that the terrorist organization was no longer based in Afghanistan. I asked Petraeus if he thought this was an exaggeration.

"No, I would agree with that assessment. ... They do come in and out of Afghanistan, but the al Qaeda is not based, per se, in Afghanistan, although its elements and certainly its affiliates ... certainly do have enclaves and sanctuaries in certain parts of eastern Afghanistan." -- Petraeus. Read more about what Gen. Petraeus had to say

Zardari had a clear opinion when asked what he thought has become of the elusive leader of al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden

"I have said before that I don't think he is alive" -- Zardari on "Meet the Press"

Domestic political reaction

One of the primary reasons for the presence of the two presidents in Washington was to persuade Congress to continue support to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Reviews from two senators on the Foreign Affairs Committee were mixed at best.

"There was just an air of smugness, flippancy when serious questions were asked. I asked about what our mission in Afghanistan ought to be, and I thought that President Karzai's response was a nonresponse. And when I pushed him further, he basically said, 'Look, this is your mission,' which made me feel that our partnership there was not quite I think what Americans would like to see. So my guess is that you're going to see some probing by the Senate and Congress." -- Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, on "State of the Union"

"I was in the same meeting, and some of the concerns that Bob raises are very well founded. Because I think it may go back to that old line I guess from President Reagan, 'Trust but verify.' And the only way we can verify is to continually evaluate what the Pakistani army and their military forces are doing to push back the Taliban and to defeat them." -- Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, on "State of the Union." More from the senators on Karzai

State of the economy

This was one of the few weekends recently where the conversation wasn't completely dominated by the economy, but that didn't mean it wasn't on people's minds. Corker also serves on the Banking Committee and saw both progress and some lingering challenges in last week's administration stress tests of the nation's banks.

"Well, there are glimmers of hope. I met with Treasury and the Fed the evening they put these out. ... I think it was a positive step. I know that it's being pooh-poohed by many. But there will possibly be additional government dollars. Now I think that hasn't fully been said. And I think that what we have got to be concerned about as we move into the future is not causing TARP to be codified so that it's there forever." -- Corker on "State of the Union"

Guantanamo fallout

There was fresh criticism of the administration decision to close the detainee facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as critics questioned the soundness of that choice and whether the administration should at least have a clear plan first for where detainees will be moved.

"This is nuts. This is crazy. These are not American nationals. We have no obligation to keep them here. They ought to go home. Are the home countries saying: I will not take my own citizen? The idea [is] that we'll put alleged terrorists on welfare and have you pay for them and me pay for them." -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on "Fox News Sunday"

"There has been some talk on the part of the administration of putting them in the United States. I think that's going to be a tough sell. I don't know a single congressional district in this country that's going to say, 'Gee great, they're sending us 20 al Qaeda terrorists.' " -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney on CBS' "Face the Nation"

The subject of interrogation techniques came up again. Cheney was asked whether he had any doubts about the methods, such as waterboarding, used in the post-9/11 period.

"No regrets. I think it was it was absolutely the right thing to do. I am convinced, absolutely convinced that we saved thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives." -- Cheney on "Face the Nation"

Republican political future

The former vice president was no less direct when the topic turned to the future of the Republican Party and -- in particular -- whether he agreed with former Secretary of State Colin Powell that the party would be better off without the influence of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

"Well, if I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh, I think. My take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican." -- Cheney on "Face the Nation" Read more of Cheney's comments

There was quite a bit of intense discussion about Colin Powell, Rush Limbaugh and the future of the Republican Party, much of it stoked by this weekend's edition of Time magazine -- a cover that simply shows a Republican elephant and the words "Endangered Species."

One example of the discussion comes from Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and conservative radio talk show host Bill Bennett on "State of the Union":

Brazile: "You poll Rush Limbaugh, Colin Powell, my money is on Colin Powell. But the Republican Party abandoned its own principles during this last decade, and I think they're having an internal discussion about what kind of party would it like to be in the 21st century."

Bennett: "One thing the media could do, some of the media, is to move the debate off Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. This is probably not the future of the Republican Party. It could talk about --

John King: "You don't think Gov. Palin is the future of the Republican Party?"

Bennett: "I do not." Read more from the Brazile-Bennett discussion

Just for laughs

I'll just give you a few of President Obama's best lines from Saturday night's "Press Prom" and let you click on the links below to see the videos, the photos and the reams of copy devoted to Washington's big night out.

"Sasha and Malia aren't here tonight because they're grounded. You can't just take Air Force One on a joy ride to Manhattan. I don't care whose kids you are."

"Another thing that's changed in this new, warmer, fuzzier White House, and that's my relationship with Hillary [Clinton]. You know, we had been rivals during the campaign, but these days we could not be closer. In fact, the second she got back from Mexico, she pulled into a hug and gave me a big kiss. Told me I'd better get down there myself."

"Finally, I believe that my next hundred days will be so successful I will be able to complete them in 72 days. And on the 73rd day, I will rest."

For more on the fun, check out the following:
Journalists, politicians and stars mingle
Obama teases Republicans, Clinton
Obama draws big laughs
President and comedian?
Dinner dish from

All About PakistanAfghanistanAl QaedaNational EconomyGuantanamo BayRepublican PartyBarack Obama

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print