(CNN) – Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, told CNN Sunday it was "irresponsible" for President Obama to have been seen "laughing and joking" with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas on Friday.
"This is a person who is one of the most anti-American leaders in the entire world," Ensign told CNN's John King on State of The Union. "He is a brutal dictator and human rights violations are very, very prevalent in Venezuela. And you have to be careful."
"When you're talking about the prestige of the United States and the presidency of the United States, you have to be careful who you're seen joking around with," he also said.
Chavez - whose anti-U.S. rhetoric has included calling former President George W. Bush the devil - announced Saturday he is considering naming an ambassador to the United States, signaling a potential shift in the tense relations between the two nations.
Speaking to reporters Sunday in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Obama brushed aside criticism of the appearance, saying, "It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States."
"Even with the imaginative crowd, I think that you would be hard pressed to paint a scenario where US interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela," he said.
Also appearing on CNN, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, downplayed the moment between Obama and the Venezuelan leader, saying, "all the president did was shake his hand like George Bush [did]."
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago (CNN) - President Barack Obama concluded the 34-nation "Summit of the Americas" Sunday by calling it a "very productive" meeting that had proven hemispheric progress is possible if different countries are willing to set aside "stale debates and old ideologies."
He cited a potential thaw in relations between the United States and longtime adversaries Cuba and Venezuela, but said the ultimate test "is not simply words, but deeds."
Leaders did not "see eye to eye" on some important issues, but the meeting proved it is possible to "disagree respectfully," the president said.
Speaking to reporters before returning to Washington, Obama highlighted the importance of using American diplomacy and development aid in "more intelligent ways."
"People of religious beliefs, many, believe that the sacred relationship between a man and woman is the only threshold for marriage. I respect that point of view. However we are living in a society of civil laws - we separate church and state," Paterson told CNN's John King.
"We are not trying in anyway to disrespect anyone's religious belief. We are to trying to, in anyway, make people believe what we believe about the validity about same sex marriage," Paterson added. "We are trying to get them to accept that in our society the laws should protect people equally."
Paterson announced last week he will introduce legislation that would allow same-sex couples in the state to enter into civil marriages and enjoy the same rights afforded to heterosexual married couples.
The legislation would give same-sex couples 1,300 to 1,400 rights that don't exist unless a couple is married, Paterson said.
(CNN) - Howard Kurtz examines how the cable news networks covered the 'tea party' gatherings last week.
(CNN) - Mary Matalin, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, sharply criticized former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage Sunday for his comments about the CIA's Bush-era interrogation techniques.
In an interview with the English language service of Qatar-based network Al Jazeera last week, Armitage said: “I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would’ve had the courage to resign. But I don’t know. It’s in hindsight now.”
In response, Matalin told CNN's John King on State of The Union: "If Richard Armitage, as the number two guy in the State Department, didn't know [about the interrogation techniques], not only is he devoid of courage, he is completely incompetent."
Armitage's comments came after the Obama administration released once-secret CIA memos revealing authorized interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and slapping.
"We know he has no courage," Matalin said in response. "This is the man who leaked Valerie Plame's name, knew he leaked it, let the president spin and the administration spin in the wind for two years. Many of his colleagues spent hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars, a valued colleague of his, his life is ruined, Scooter Libby, and he was the one who did it and let nobody know the whole time."
Armitage admitted he was the main source for the leak that identified Valerie Plame as a CIA intelligence officer. He said then he wanted to make his role public, but held back at the request of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald who was investigating the case then.
Armitage also told the New York Times he made an “inadvertent mistake,” adding that he was following President George W. Bush’s instructions to cooperate with Fitzgerald’s investigation.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - A former head of the CIA slammed President Obama on Sunday for releasing four Bush-era memos, saying the new president has compromised national security.
Michael Hayden, who served as former President Bush's last CIA director from 2006 to 2009, said releasing the memos outlining terror interrogation methods emboldened terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.
"What we have described for our enemies in the midst of a war are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al Qaeda terrorist. That's very valuable information," Hayden said during an appearance on "Fox News Sunday."
"By taking (certain) techniques off the table, we have made it more difficult - in a whole host of circumstances I can imagine - for CIA officers to defend the nation."
But Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said certain techniques should not have been allowed in the first place. McCaskill called them "a great recruitment tool for those who want to do harm to our country."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Senior White House adviser David Axelrod on Sunday suggested the "Tea Party" movement is an "unhealthy" reaction to the tough economic climate facing the country.
Axelrod was asked on CBS's "Face the Nation" about the "spreading and very public disaffection" with the president's fiscal policies seen at the "Tea Party" rallies around the country last week.
"I think any time you have severe economic conditions there is always an element of disaffection that can mutate into something that's unhealthy," Axelrod said.
Axelrod appeared to backtrack when pressed on whether the movement is unhealthy.
"Well, this is a country where we value our liberties and our ability to express ourselves, and so far these are expressions," he said.
"The thing that bewilders me is that this president just cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people," Axelrod argued. "I think the tea bags should be directed elsewhere because he certainly understands the burden that people face."
Democratic strategist James Carville disagreed with Axelrod on CNN's "State of the Union" when John King asked him if it's unhealthy for "an American to go out and hold a sign and say 'I think my taxes are too high.'"
Carville said, "No." He called the Tea Party movement "harmless and damaging to Republicans."
(CNN) - Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano continued to defend her agency's recent report warning of right-wing extremist groups, saying the U.S. has active intelligence suggesting such groups are actively targeting disgruntled veterans.
"The report is not saying veterans are extremists, far from it," she told CNN's John King Sunday on State of The Union. "What it is saying is returning veterans are targets of right wing extremist groups that are trying to recruit those to commit violent acts within the country. We want to do all we can to prevent that."
The agency's report, "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," was published last week and said right-wing extremist groups may be using the recession and the election of the nation's first African-American president to recruit members.
Prepared in conjunction with the FBI, the report was distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement officials. Mainstream media picked up the story after it was reported by conservative bloggers.
In the interview with CNN, Napolitano did not name particular groups the report was referencing, but said "Some of them indeed want to do what happened in Oklahoma city, that is commit violent acts within the homeland."
The Homeland Security Secretary also expressed regret that in "the politicization of everything that happens in Washington, DC," some have taken offence to the report.
"But when you read the report, what it was saying is that, look, we have a threat of terrorism within our own shores and one of the groups being targeted to see if they will be aligned with that are some of our veterans," she said.
Napolitano also said the report's language is "is consistent with other reports that have been issued before."
They were issued before Obama was president and they are being issued now and meant to give people what is called situational awareness and they are certainly not intended to give offense, far from it."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Meghan McCain warned a group of gay Republicans Saturday that there was "a war brewing in the Republican Party" – a war between the past and the future.
"Most of the old school Republicans are scared s***less of that future," she told a gathering of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay and lesbian party members.
The 24-year-old daughter of former GOP presidential candidate John McCain pushed back against critics upset over her comments to CNN that she wanted President Obama to succeed, and played down her recent headline-grabbing feuds with conservative commentators Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. "I did not expect my frustration with what I perceive to be overly partisan and divisive Republicans to cause a national incident," she said.
"I feel too many Republicans want to cling to past successes...I think we're seeing a war brewing in the Republican Party," she said. "But it is not between us and Democrats. It is not between us and liberals. It is between the future and the past...
"I am concerned about the environment. I love to wear black. I think government is best when it stays out of people's lives and business as much as possible. I love punk rock. I believe in a strong national defense. I have a tattoo. I believe government should always be efficient and accountable. I have lots of gay friends. And yes, I am a Republican," she told a cheering crowd.