HH: I open our State of the Union coverage with Jake Tapper of CNN’s The Lead. Hello, Jake, how are you?
JT: I’m great. If it’s loud here, it’s because I’m in the very acoustic-challenged Cannon House Office Building, and there are nine million people set up here, and so I apologize for that. I want to listen to your interview with Frederick Forsyth.
HH: I know. That’s a treat. He’s in London, and he’s just, his new Kill List is a terrific book. You opened The Lead today by talking about drinking games tied to the State of the Union.
HH: It would be a, it would be a pretty safe one is the drinking game was tied to the word Benghazi, wouldn’t you say?
JT: Well then, you would be sober. Yeah, you’d be the designated driver.
HH: All right, so that’s, we agree. Now yesterday, I am reading on Mediaite that yesterday, Jake, you said of Republicans that they can sometimes get a little rabid on the subject of Benghazi.
JT: Well, I specifically was referring to, this was all just in the context of, that I thought it was an important issue, and that we were talking about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talking about it, because she addressed it very briefly yesterday. And I said that sometimes, I feel like some Republicans are a little rabid on it, because you know, there are all these conspiracy theories and things that don’t turn out to be true in terms of stand down orders and things like that. But I find it very serious. I still think it’s a very serious issue. And then I also said that I thought that on some level, and I’m equating or equivocating, or making equivalence or anything like that. Some liberals are flippant about it. They act as though this isn’t a serious issue at all. It’s just some crazy Republican conspiracy theory, and I don’t think that, either.
HH: You see, all I really want to know is what did the President do and order that night, and what did the Secretary of State do and order that night. And would you agree with me, Jake Tapper, we don’t know the answers to those questions?
JT: I don’t, but I do believe that there has been some, you know, there has been answered some people like the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense about some of those questions, but yes, I do not have a definitive answer about a lot of the particular details. That’s true.
HH: Is pushing for that timeline with the degree of specificity that one normally associates with major national security fiascos of the sort that trailed Iran Contra, or of the sort that trailed any number of national security…is that rabid? Or is that good journalism?
JT: No, I don’t think that’s rabid at all. I still think there are a lot, I wasn’t saying that all questions on this have been settled or answered. I certainly don’t think that. My point is that I think sometimes, some of, and you know, I’m not talking about anyone in particular. I think that some questions about this are just beyond the pale. I mean, some of the conspiracy theories out there early on in this were along the lines of President Obama was sitting, watching the whole attack in real time from some drone, and then telling AfriCom to stand down, don’t send anyone there, and just things that didn’t make any sense, and that there was no evidence of. And I just remember I was digging a lot, and especially in those months after the horrific tragedy, and trying to find out as much as I could, and you know, a lot of the leads just went cold because they just weren’t true.
HH: Yeah, I just go back to the timeline. Tonight at the State of the Union, Oklahoma Representative Jim Bridenstine is…
JT: Yes, he’s bringing Tyrone Woods’ dad, yeah.
HH: Charles Woods. Is that rabid? Or is that good theater?
JT: Well, I mean, I think it’s a Lenny Skutnik. It’s, you know, Lenny Skutnik is, as you know, the tradition was started in 1982 when President Reagan indicted Lenny Skutnik, who had dived into the Potomac to rescue passengers from a plane that crashed, and he brought him in and heralded his bravery and his heroism. And since that time, people have, presidents, particularly, but have used guests to honor heroes or make a point about a policy. And I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with bringing the father of a Navy SEAL who died in the service to his country.
HH: Yeah, I think that’s going to underscore that many questions remain which are legit. But now I want to turn to your opening interview with Arne Duncan. Now that was like watching a Specter C130 gunship arrive loaded with clichés. He had more clichés per minute than have ever been displayed on a CNN interview. And I know they offered him, and you kind of have to take a cabinet member. But do you think he was real? Or was he a hologram?
JT: He wanted to talk about education reform, and he wanted to talk about the bipartisan accomplishments of education reform. And you know, this is a constant frustration of people who want to get a message out, and then I interview them, and I don’t necessarily want to talk about what they want to talk about. This happened with, I had the governor of Michigan on Friday, came on the show, and he wanted to talk about immigration reform and what he is focused on in Michigan. He wanted to talk about creating jobs, and I wanted to talk about other things having to do with internal divisions in the Republican Party. I was up to my, you know, nefarious media tricks, and you know, people want to talk about what they want to talk about.
HH: Do you, are you familiar with the Common Core controversy, Jake?
JT: You know, I know a little bit about it, but not enough to really, I certainly don’t have an opinion on it, but it’s certainly something that I need to know more about. Your take is what?
HH: Well, Arne Duncan comes on, he talks about how everyone can agree on education, and I watched the whole thing. You’re my show prep for the show. And I found it fascinating that just two months ago, he told a group of state school superintendents that it was fascinating that opposition to the Common Core state standard had come from “white, suburban moms”…
HH: “…who all of a sudden, their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were,” a tremendously divisive, partisan, dismissive, angry, below the belt gut punch. And then he shows up on Jake Tapper’s The Lead, and he’s all happy talk about everyone. It’s sort of classic Obama administration. They say let’s all get along, and then they knife you.
JT: You know, it’s interesting, I thought about asking him about Common Core, but one of the things I wanted to do was also talk to him about the test results that came out December indicating that America test scored, American high school student test scores were stagnating, and while certain Asian countries were skyrocketing, even though we spend much more per pupil than they do. And it comes out, and you know, the other thing that’s one of these things that you grapple with as an interviewer, and you know this, Hugh, is when you only have a few minutes, do you follow up with somebody that doesn’t answer your question, or do you move onto the next question?
HH: Exactly, yeah.
JT: And you know, I did this with Governor Snyder of Michigan, and I did this with Arne Duncan, is that I tried to get, I tried to go back and get him to answer the question, and ended up sacrificing time on another question, because I tried to get him to double back. And maybe I shouldn’t have done it, because when they don’t answer, the truth is, I mean, you must grapple with this, too, when they don’t answer the question the first time, often they don’t answer the question the second time, either.
HH: That’s it. You give up and you move on. And I just think, though, it’s emblematic of the entire speech tonight. Rob Portman was an excellent guest with you. He rattled off five different things on which bipartisanship is available, including the XL Pipeline and natural gas. And the President tonight will demand bipartisanship like he always does, wind-up doll style, and then they never do it. They’re the most partisan group of people, and I think just legitimately, Reagan and Bush were not this partisan, George Herbert Walker Bush certainly wasn’t, but this is the hardest core group of non-negotiating, my way or the highway partisans that we’ve seen since Jimmy Carter, and they don’t get called it, Jake.
JT: Well, what I thought was interesting, so Rob Portman, the Senator from Ohio, says that he was trying to get passed, trying to get passed legislation, a Medicare means test. That’s in Obama’s own budget. He wanted higher premiums for people making, wealthier Americans. I think the figure is $175,000 dollars a year or more, paying higher premiums for Medicare, I believe he said Part B and Part D. This is in Obama’s own budget. And Portman said on my show that he couldn’t get it done. He couldn’t get it accomplished, even though it’s in Obama’s own budget.
HH: Yeah, he quoted a senior White House official saying it’s not going to happen, because it’s all smoke and mirrors with these guys. It’s all a fraud. But I’ll watch after the speech tonight, because I’ll be on JetBlue at the lounge at Long Beach watching, and we’ll see what your group of analysts, are you doing post-speech analysis, Jake?
JT: I’m doing the post-speech. We’re going to, hopefully, we’re going to get Senator Ted Cruz.
HH: Oh, that would be fun.
JT: And so we’ll talk to him. We’ll also talk, I’m doing a show at Midnight, or 9:00 your time out there in California.
HH: Well, I’ll be on JetBlue watching.
JT: …talking with Senator Begich of Alaska.
HH: Well, if Arne Duncan walks by, don’t forget Common Core, white, suburban moms, how nice bipartisan is that? Jake Tapper of The Lead, always a pleasure, I’ll talk to you soon.
End of interview.