WASHINGTON (CNN) - The war in Afghanistan dominated the Sunday conversation, and the spirited debate reflected the stakes of the choice President Obama will make in the coming weeks.
“An error of historic proportions,” was Arizona Senator John McCain’s take on the consequences should the commander in chief refuse to send at least 40,000 more troops. “What the hell are we doing there,” was the retort from anti-war Democratic Rep. James McGovern.
Significant, at least to us, was California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein’s characterization of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as “crackerjack.” It wasn’t too long ago, on “State of the Union,” she mentioned the need for an Afghanistan timetable; but Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” she said “I don’t know how” Mr. Obama could reject his commanding general’s recommendations.
Also significant was how a Saturday night speech by the president added gay rights – and specifically same-sex marriage and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” – to the Sunday agenda. One instant lesson: Getting a “yes or no” answer on whether a senator would vote to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act isn’t necessarily easy!
Because at CNN "we watch the other Sunday shows so you don’t have to," let’s get this week's “Sound of Sunday, beginning with the divide over Afghanistan:
Sound of Sunday: AFGHANISTAN
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), on CNN’s “State of the Union”
KING: “Well, do you think the United States can win in Afghanistan with fewer than 40,000 more troops?”
MCCAIN: “I do not. And I think the great danger now is not an American pullout. I think the great danger now is a half-measure, sort of a - you know, try to please all ends of the political spectrum. And, again, I have great sympathy for the president, making the toughest decisions that presidents have to make, but I think he needs to use deliberate speed, and I think he needs to adopt a strategy which he has basically articulated last March and before.”
KING: “And if he adopts what you consider to be a half-measure and says 10,000 more troops or 20,000 more troops, can General McChrystal stay on as the commander in that capacity or do you believe that that would be a rebuke to his leadership?”
MCCAIN: “I don't - I really don't know, because I'd have to see exactly what the plan was and General - the one thing about our military leaders, they have a spirit that's indomitable, but I think to disregard the requirements that has been laid out and agreed to by General Petraeus and Admiral Mullen, I think, would be an error of historic proportions.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), on CNN’s “State of the Union”
“I have urged the president to act with deliberate speed because Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal and General Petraeus have said the situation is deteriorating. Just over the last several days, as you know, week or so, we've lost 10 more brave young Americans. And the longer we delay the decision, the longer it will be before we provide them with what the needed resources are.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), on ABC’s “This Week”
“Should we stay there for 10-12 years, general, I don’t think so. I don’t think the American people are up for that or want that. But I think...I don’t know how you put somebody in who is as crackerjack as General McChrystal, and gives the president solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations. If you’re not going to pull out, if you don’t want to take the recommendations, then you put your people in such jeopardy.”
Rep. James McGovern (D-Massachusetts), speaking to the press today
“I think a lot of it has to do with the fraud in the last election. I think my constituents, I think people all over the country are saying 'what the hell are we doing?' Our men and women are dying for a government that is making deals with warlords and druglords, that stuffed ballot boxes in the last election. I mean, we have to draw a line in the sand here and tell Mr. Karzai that there are consequences to his behaving irresponsibly.”
Sound of Sunday: GAY RIGHTS
It is no secret that gay and lesbian Americans who supported Mr. Obama in last year’s elections have been frustrated at what they perceived as White House reluctance to act quickly and boldly on many of their biggest policy concerns.
So it was sure to be a interesting event when Mr. Obama agreed to address the big annual dinner organized by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights organization.
Mr. Obama’s remarks drew standing ovations. Some highlights:
President Obama, in an address to the Human Rights Campaign Saturday night
“I've required all agencies in the federal government to extend as many federal benefits as possible to LGBT families as the current law allows and I’ve called on congress to repeal the so-called defense of marriage act and to pass the domestic partners benefit and obligations act.”
Continued remarks on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
“We cannot afford to cut from our ranks people with the critical skills that we need to fight any more than we can afford for our military's integrity, to force those willing to do so into careers encumbered and compromise by having to live a lie. So I'm working with the pentagon, its leadership and the members of the house and senate on ending this policy, legislation that has been introduced in the house to make this happen, I will end don't ask, don't. That’s my commitment to you."
Neither Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan nor Robert Casey of Pennsylvania would answer the first time around when I asked if they would vote to repeal DOMA. And there was several Sunday exchanges underscoring the emotional and divisive politics on these issues.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), on CNN’s “State of the Union”
“Well the challenge for me is we have had on the ballot and there's been passage in Michigan of a law prohibiting gay marriage. So I think for a number of us, that becomes a challenge in terms of what has happened in terms of voting in our states.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania), on CNN’s “State of the Union”
“John I've said in the past I don't think that's the way to go.”
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), on NBC’s “Meet the Press”
“I think [President Obama] will and he can, I think has to be done in the right way, which is to get a buy in from the military which I think it now possible. The other militaries in the west, the British and other western armies have ended this discriminatory policy. We can do it successfully, but it ought to be done with thoughtfulness and care, but it ought to be done with a buy in from the military.”
Sunday Sound: H1N1 FLU VACCINE
Assistant Surgeon General Anne Schuchat, on CNN’s “State of the Union”
“I think parents are wondering, is this something new? Has it been fully tested? What I can say is that everything we know right now suggests a very good safety profile for the vaccine.”
Sound of Sunday: The Kicker
Before we go, a couple of lighter moments:
Sen. John McCain on his former running mate, Sarah Palin from CNN’s “State of the Union”
“With a high-pressure situation, there are always tensions that develop within campaigns. And there were clearly tensions between Steve Schmidt and people in the Palin camp. There's - there are fundamental facts, though, that cannot be denied. When we selected or asked Sarah Palin to be my running mate, it energized our party. We were ahead in the polls, until the stock market crashed. And she still is a formidable force in the Republican Party. And I have great affection for her. Will Sarah and I - did we always agree on everything in the past? Will we in the future? No. But let's let a thousand flowers bloom. Let's come up with a winning combination the next time.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), on President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize, from NBC’s “Meet the Press”
“If he can successfully turn around Afghanistan, deter Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, I will build a book case for him to put it in. It depends on what he does.”
Enjoy the week.
–CNN's John King