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Special Event

State of the Union: Republican Response Focuses on Education, Health Care

Aired January 27, 2000 - 11:15 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine giving the Republican response in about 15 minutes, focusing mostly on education and health care.

Bob Franken, you were watching. You were listening. Why did the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, ask these two senators to deliver the Republican response to the president's State of the Union address?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actually, you could read a lot into this. These are two voices of Republican moderates, particularly Susan Collins, but Bill Frist, too. And of course, Collins, however, talked about the same Republican opposition to some of the proposals of the president. Of course, she emphasized education.

And the big fight between the Republicans and the Democrats has been whether, in fact, the money that is passed out to local school districts should include federal policies or whether the money should be distributed under local and state auspices with few restrictions.

Now we get to Dr. Bill Frist, Senator Frist, Republican from Tennessee. He is the only physician in the Senate, as we heard just a moment ago. He talked about the various health care proposals. But underlying it is the debate over how much control there should be in the private sector, how many choices there should be for the people who take advantage of these programs, and how much should, in fact, be controlled by the federal government. It's a classic debate.

There's also the question about patient care reform and the fight over how much role lawyers should have, ultimately. That fight we had last year. We can expect it this year.

Wolf?

BLITZER: OK, Bob Franken, stand by. We're going to have to take a quick break right now. When we come back, we'll get analysis from Cynthia Tucker, Bob Novak and Jeff Greenfield,as well as our senior White House correspondent, John King.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage of the president's State of the Union address and the Republican response.

Cynthia Tucker, the Republican response, a brief Republican response, but a very kind and gentle speech, 15 minutes by these two senators, focusing in on education and health care, two issues, of course, high on the agenda of the American people. How did the Republicans do in responding to the president's 90-minute State of the Union address?

CYNTHIA TUCKER, "ATLANTA CONSTITUTION": Well, mercifully, they were much briefer. I think the most interesting thing here, Wolf, is that we saw the issues the GOP Congress believes it's most vulnerable on, health care and education. And they wanted to be sure to present a very moderate, temperate response on those issues. They did not, by the way, take issue with the president's proposals for dramatic new spending.

Let me also mark what I think is another fairly dramatic shift that we're seeing in this political climate. Bob Novak talked earlier about the fact that the president seemed to want to create a utopian society. Well, in fact, with these budget surpluses, with broad prosperity, I think the American people are much more open to that kind of idea.

Tonight the president actually mentioned ending poverty. George Bush talks about poor people, helping the poor. That's a fairly dramatic shift. During the Reagan years, we didn't talk about helping the poor. The poor were blamed for their own plight. But I think that Welfare reform, with poor people working, the decrease in crime, the poor are not believed to be out there on the streets bashing people in the head -- the American people are much more amenable to this idea of helping the poor, so both Republicans and Democrats are now talking about it.

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let me respond to that. Of course, Cynthia, Lyndon Johnson was talking about eliminating poverty in 1965 with the Great Society...

TUCKER: Yes, but...

NOVAK: ... and of course, it...

TUCKER: ... then we dramatically shifted away from that, Bob.

NOVAK: Well, I think they tried through the whole administration. That was one of the problems. But that's another debate. But the problem is that the Republicans tonight were playing on the Democrats' ground. I submit if the Democrats -- if the Republicans are going to go to the country on the issues of education and health, saying "These are the issues," they are done because the Democrats can always beat them on the issues.

Now, I'm -- I like -- Senator Collins and Senator Frist are very attractive junior members of the Senate. Senator Frist at least was critical of the president's health plan. Senator Collins wasn't even critical of the health plan. I think the Republicans are terrified. They are terrified that they are thought of as mean-spirited, unable to cope with this very daring president. And so they have been Clinton-ized. They try to act as much like Clinton as possible.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: I would make one other point...

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield.

GREENFIELD: ... about these -- yeah, these responses, in general -- they're impossible. They never work, not when the Democrats are out of power, not when the Republicans are out of power. They've tried to do production values. They tried to do little documentaries. With the possible exception of when Governor Christie Whitman stood in the New Jersey statehouse and looked vaguely like some authority figure, you simply can't match the panoply of presidential power with anything.

I mean, this looked like kind of a local news team being friendly because I think Bob's right about this, they didn't -- they were worried the Republicans frighten people on these issues. I mean, I think the -- frankly, the party out of power probably ought to figure out a different thing to ask television to do other than coming right after a 90-minute speech filled with all this, you know, pomp and circumstance, and then coming out and inevitably looking like the weaker party.

BLITZER: All right, I want to thank Jeff Greenfield, Bob Novak and Cynthia Tucker.

I want to go to John King over at the White House.

I couldn't help but notice, John, and I'm sure all of our analysts noticed, as well, that the Republicans decided to focus only on education and health care. I didn't hear any Republican discussion of tax cuts, which I thought were once very high on the Republican agenda.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tax cuts remain very high on the Republican agenda, but they also know that is an issue being litigated in the presidential campaign right now. On Capitol Hill, the Republicans eager to show they want to be activists, too, on the two issues the president focuses on the most, education and health care.

And as we listened to the president tonight discuss his policy agenda, a reminder of the great conflict of the Clinton administration. The country still believes in this president's policy proposals, according to the polls, but America's relationship with Bill Clinton, the man, is much more complicated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): We have come to know this president unlike any other. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST, 1998)

UNIDENTIFIED PROSECUTOR: You were alone with Monica Lewinsky, weren't you?

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it again depends on how you define "alone."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Controversy his constant companion, character questions following him around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER, 1998)

UNIDENTIFIED CHINESE WOMAN (through translator): I have a question regarding Ms. Monica Lewinsky. How did you apologize to Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The rigors of the presidency change its every occupant, Bill Clinton perhaps more than most.

CHARLES JONES, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: This has been, I think, the most breathtaking presidency that I can recall, and I've been studying them for a while. It's been the most sort of politically death-defying presidency.

KING: The Baby Boomer who avoided the Vietnam draft tested often as commander-in-chief. Early 1994, U.S. troops poised to enter Haiti.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We were gathered in the Oval Office at a time when -- I mean, I think he really faced a kind of decision that probably every president hopes he doesn't have to face, which is do you push the button and send troops in to battle.

KING: December, 1995, brought the government shutdown, a defining event that revitalized the Clinton presidency yet almost destroyed it.

PANETTA: He suddenly looked at Speaker Gingrich, and he said, "You know, what you want to do here I just can't agree to. And even if it costs me the election, I'm just not going to do it." And I suddenly -- I thought at that moment, he gets it. He gets it, that it's worth -- there's something worth fighting for that he might not be able to accomplish, but the fight is going to say a lot about who he is.

KING: It was then a young intern working in Panetta's office caught the president's eye. But Mr. Clinton would win reelection and be a year into his second term before the world learned the name Monica Lewinsky.

CLINTON: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.

KING: It took months of investigation and an unprecedented day before the grand jury before the president told the truth.

JONES: He has lowered at least the -- the set of expectations that we have of the president not only in what he did personally, but it -- it was, as well, how it was handled, in a sense to say "Everybody does it. All presidents have done it." And so that we were invited to be disillusioned.

KING: Yet for all the doubts about his personal character, the president's policy agenda remains remarkably popular. It is as if the American people see two Bill Clintons.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We're praying for you!

CLINTON: Thank you very much!

PANETTA: They know his strengths. They know his weaknesses. And as a consequence, they're comfortable with who he is. Yeah, sure, there are people that -- you know, that hate him, and there are people who -- who like him, but they all know him.

KING: He is a more solitary figure, his definitely off at college, his wife and vice president off campaigning. There are changes on the surface and within.

DAVID MARANNIS, CLINTON BIOGRAPHER: There's always this measure of anger in him, which will not go away.

KING: One constant is resilience.

REV. J. PHILIP WOGAMON, CLINTON'S PASTOR: The troubles of one day will -- will pass away, and you can face a new day. If you -- if you don't give up, then you're going to have more opportunities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Mr. Clinton will be just 54 years old when he leaves office a year from now, and he's already laying the groundwork for his next campaign, a busy final year and then an effort out of office to shape history's verdict of his eight tumultuous years.

Wolf?

BLITZER: John, that campaign begins tomorrow. The president's not going to be wasting any time, is he.

KING: He will not. He will go to Quincy, Illinois, in the heartland of America, to try to push his domestic agenda, and the timing is amazing. The vice president back in New Hampshire campaigning in the New Hampshire primary for president, the first lady campaigning in New York Senate, a remarkable political moment in the final year of the Clinton administration.

BLITZER: And he did manage to give a few political plugs to both the vice president and the first lady during the course of his speech.

KING: He certainly did, but one line the Republicans loved the most, the president's slip of the tongue. He's a great public speaker, but he was referring to the vice president's effort to make more livable communities. The president said the vice president had launched an effort to make more liberal communities. Watch for the Republicans to have a lot of fun with that.

BLITZER: There's going to be a lot of videotape excerpts of that little highlight, and the president probably knows it. John, is the president back at the White House yet?

KING: He arrived back at the White House just about five minutes ago. He's inside now. As you said, he will promote this agenda. The big question in the year ahead: Does because, with all his political skills, in his eighth and final year in office -- can he convince the Republican Congress to go along? Many here draw a parallel to 1996. People said nothing could get done in the election year. A lot did get done.

BLITZER: OK, John King over at the White House. Thanks for joining us.

This concludes CNN's coverage of President Clinton's State of the Union speech and the Republican response. Stay with CNN for a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE at midnight, Eastern. Among Larry's guests, House minority leader Dick Gephardt and House majority whip Tom DeLay. And at 1:00 AM Eastern, 10 Pacific, a special edition of CNN Newsstand will have more on the State of the Union and the reaction to the speech.

For everyone here at CNN, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Good night.

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