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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
State of the Union Address & Democratic Response
Aired February 2, 2005 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's live coverage of the State of the Union address and the Democratic response. Reporting from Capitol Hill, Wolf Blitzer.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
President Bush is on Capitol Hill, getting ready to deliver what will be his sixth address before a joint session of the United States Congress, his fourth specific State of the Union address since elected president of the United States.
You're looking at live pictures now, the floor of the House of Representatives, where all the members, or at least most of the members of the House and the Senate will gather, together with the diplomatic core, the military leadership, and other guests. The first lady will be up in the gallery, together with some special guests that the White House has invited for tonight.
The centerpiece of the President's address tonight will be Social Security reform, a sensitive subject, a very difficult subject. The president will lay out several options he wants the U.S. Congress to consider over the next several months. He wants reform, though, he says. This year, this year is the year, he says, will be the reforming of Social Security.
Already, the vice president of the United States is there, together with the speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert. You're looking now at the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, U.S. Air Force General Richard Myers is there, as well.
All of these guests who have come here, together with the audience that will be watching around the country, indeed around the world, want to hear specifics on domestic issues as well as foreign policy issues.
Our senior White House correspondent, John King, is watching all of this from his vantage point over at the White House.
John, you've been thoroughly briefed on what we will hear from the president tonight.
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is an enormous challenge. This president enters his second term without the traditional post-election honeymoon in the polls. He has to convince the America public and the Congress to revamp what they call the third rail of American politics, Social Security. And the president will do so by saying it is time to not make it simply a government program but to allow younger Americans, and he will define that as those under the age of 55, to invest some of their Social Security money in private accounts.
The Democrats oppose him vehemently on this. Republicans are a bit nervous, quite a bit nervous about touching this issue. The president has to rally the American public behind this if he has any hope of getting through the Congress this year.
There are other domestic initiatives, as well. But the other big challenge for the president is he's to reinvigorate support, American people's support, for the mission in Iraq. A majority now ay it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq.
The president will say the elections prove -- this past Sunday's elections in Iraq prove that the mission in Iraq is on the right course. But he has to convince the American people not to listen to the Democrats, who now say let's have a timetable for bringing home U.S. troops.
And as the president makes that case tonight, he will use much less confrontational rhetoric than we have heard in State of the Union speeches past. There will be no "axis of evil." He will talk about Iran. He will talk about North Korea. But he will try to do it, Wolf, in a much more diplomatic manner. This is a president trying to reinvigorate support for his second term agenda and thinking about his legacy.
BLITZER: John King at the White House. Thanks, John, very much.
We're going to be joined throughout our coverage tonight by our two analysts. Victoria Clarke is here with us as well as Paul Begala. They will be joining us. We'll get their thoughts on what the president needs do tonight in his State of the Union address.
Much more coverage coming up right after this short break.
BLITZER: We're only moments away from the president's arrival in the House of Representatives, where members of the Senate and the House are already gathered to warmly receive this president, who was just reelected.
The U.S. Constitution asks the president, in fact requires the president to brief Congress on the State of the Union. Article II Section 3 says this: "He," referring to the president, "shall from time-to-time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary, and expedient."
As we look at the speaker of the house and the vice president of the United States, who's also the president of the Senate, get ready for the arrival of the president. Victoria Clarke, you worked for Republican administrations. You worked for the Republicans. You know what the president needs to do tonight in order, for example, to get his Social Security reform passed.
VICTORIA CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: I think he needs to do a few things. One, I think he needs to provide some context of the dramatically different world we find ourselves in, both from a national security perspective and from an economic security perspective.
And secondly, I think he has to provide some pretty clear blueprints, not highly detailed micromanaged lists but some pretty good blueprints of how we thinks we should tackle it.
And finally, and I think this is a part people will be very eager to hear, his willingness, his eagerness to work with Congress to enact these kinds of meaningful reforms.
BLITZER: He's going to lay out some options and he's going to suggest, "I'm willing to work with Congress. Come work with me."
CLARKE: Absolutely. It is adult time, and we have an obligation to the American people to work on these things together.
BLITZER: Paul Begala, you said, maybe facetiously, that for you, a State of the Union address is more exciting than a Super Bowl.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": That's heresy in my native Texas, but I lost my pro football team when the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee, so what the heck?
It's because it's the first time -- a few times, rather, all year -- the president gets to speak to the people he works for directly, unmediated by knuckleheads like me. He gets to tell us what his priorities are. The power to set the national agenda is one of the most important powers a president has.
And the things I'm going to be looking for are first in tone. Is he speaking as a divider or a uniter? Democrats are very skeptical about his willingness to reach across the aisle.
Secondly, Tori points out the right question about policy. Is he being specific? Is he saying, "I'm for one, two, three and four"? Or is he just going to hand the ball off to Congress and say, "You make the tough decisions."
I mean, politically, this is a guy who's 50 percent, even with a triumphant reelection. He hasn't budged an inch. He is a good 10 points below what Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were when they started their second terms, and yet, he's trying to do one of the most difficult things in American politics, which is mess with Social Security.
BLITZER: You worked for Bill Clinton when he delivered his first address before a joint meeting of the Congress. That was on healthcare. And there was a huge technical glitch right at the beginning.
BEGALA: There was. It was actually his second address. The first was on the economy and then later on healthcare, and what had happened is we had loaded the economic speech, the old speech, into the teleprompter. So he got up there to give his speech, and he didn't have it in the teleprompter. The hard copy we'd given him was in 12-point type, tiny point. And I'd taken away his glasses, Wolf, so he couldn't read it. I didn't want the budge in his coat.
So the poor guy stood there for nine minutes and delivered a speech about the nation's healthcare system and how to reform it without a note, and he had practiced so hard and worked so hard on the speech that he was able to pull it off.
And finally we caught up with him. I asked him what it felt like. And he said, "You know, I thought, 'Well, God, I guess you're testing me. OK, here goes."
And that's the kind of confidence the president needs.
BLITZER: The president -- this president, Tori, has been rehearsing this speech, as all presidents do, and he seems to have it down by now. He feels very comfortable.
CLARKE: I think he's very comfortable in his skin. We see, he's very, very relaxed about this. As Paula said, this is about setting an agenda. He feels comfortable doing that. He knows it is his responsibility. He feels comfortable setting the agenda and laying out some very, very ambitious goals.
He's willing to use political capital, unlike some people, including some people in this town, who don't use one iota of their political capital for meaningful reforms.
BLITZER: The president believes, and I know this on good authority, that if he doesn't set the agenda, his enemies will. Presidents believe that. This president believes it. That is sure.
And for those of our viewers just joining us, we're watching, we're waiting the arrival in the U.S. House of Representatives of the president of the United States to deliver what will be his fourth State of the Union Address. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer here on Capitol Hill.
People are being introduced. Dignitaries, various dignitaries will be introduced, including members of the president's cabinet, the diplomatic core, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and eventually the president we will hear in those very famous words, Mr. Speaker, as they say, the president of the United States.
Ed Henry is over on Capitol Hill as well as Statuary Hall. You watched all these members, Ed, walk in. Give us a flavor of their mood.
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. We saw Vice President Cheney just a few moments ago walk past all of us here Statuary Hall, that historic room where they have to pass to get to the House Chamber flanked by a bipartisan group of Senators, a little bit of bipartisanship on this night. As you know, after this speech, it will be a lot of partisanship.
A very interesting moment, though, also I spoke briefly to Senator John Kerry, the Democrat who hoped to give this speech tonight, instead he's not.
I asked him what he's expected. All he said was, he held up a copy of the speech that he had in his hand. He just waved it in the air. He was all smiles, no bitterness.
And let's talk briefly about the Democrats tonight, we'll hear the official response first from Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. He will focus on domestic issues, zero in on Social Security, say there is not a crisis.
Then we will hear from the House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. She'll focus on foreign affairs and mostly focus on how she believes the president now coming out of the Iraqi elections needs have an exit strategy in terms of getting U.S. troops home from Iraq.
And finally, John King mentioned the new dynamic here with a little bit of growing Republican rift. It's a not a surprise that Democrats will be hitting the president hard. But coming into his speech, in the last 4 years, the president had this Republican Congress behind him on almost all his agenda, because they were united behind getting him reelected. Now that he's been reelected, he is a lame duck. And you're hearing concern among Republicans here on the Hill about Social Security, specifically because the president does not have to face the voters in 2006.
But all of the House and Senate Republicans, at least all the House Republicans and one-third of the Senators have to face the voters next year, Wolf.
BLITZER: You were looking at Justice Steven Breyer, one of 9 U.S. Supreme Court justices. And the only one coming who is actually coming into this House of Representatives to be present for the President's State of the Union Address.
Now, members of the cabinet led by the new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice walking in, all of the members of the cabinet, with one exception, they always leave one member of the cabinet behind, God forbid some sort of tragedy should occur. As part of the continuity of the government, one member of the cabinet is always elsewhere in Washington so that everyone, members of the legislative, the executive and the judicial branches of the U.S. government are not all in one place. That's a matter of concern, especially at this time of post 9/11 terror concerns.
The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld walking in. Saying he's going to stay, at least for part of this second term. He clearly wants to stay on. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, though, getting ready, right after this speech, she'll be heading to Europe and then Middle East, Israel, the Palestinian territories for some meetings.
John King is still with us up at the White House. The president is going to will announce, what $350 million for the Palestinians in his address tonight, to help this new leadership of Mahmoud Abbas get going?
KING: That's right Wolf, $350 million in economic assistance and other financial assistance. He will ask the Congress to approve, and approve quickly. And he will also promise that his administration will now stay sustained and committed.
You mentioned Dr. Rice, Secretary Rice going to the Middle East, there is a conference in London soon. Many in Europe say in the first Bush term he would not stay engaged in the Middle East peace process. Now that Yassar Arafat is gone from the scene, Mr. Bush very much likes Mahmoud Abbas. He says he is ready to engage. Of course, the key test will be down the road with many asking still, will he push Israel as hard as the Palestinians. Mr. Bush, though, will send a signal tonight that it is one of his top priorities in the international arena in term two.
BLITZER: Sitting next to the first lady tonight, 2 women, one an Afghan woman, another an Iraqi woman, both of them have been invited. They voted in their respective elections. The president will make mention of that in his address pointedly.
This is very important for this president, for this administration, for so many members of the U.S. Congress that there have now been elections in Afghanistan, elections in Iraq. He will refer to the elections that recently occurred in the Palestinian territories. He'll also make mentions of the elections, at least the second round of the elections in the Ukraine.
The president is about to be introduced. So, let's pause and listen to this introduction of the president.
WILSON LIVINGOOD, HOUSE SERGEANT AT ARMS: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.
BLITZER: As the president walks in, you'll see several members with ink on their index finger, a symbolic act that they took. Just as Iraqi voters had to dip that index finger into a well of ink north to show they had voted, in an act of symbolic support for the Iraqi elections many of the Republicans members have done the same. The president greeting Democrats and Republicans. He's followed as he walks in by the leadership, the Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist behind him. Nancy Pelosi, you will see her, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives as well.
The president making his way to the front. This is a moment that the president clearly enjoys. We heard earlier today when we were over at the White House, he finds this room, he thought it was once challenging and intimidating. But once he gets inside, he says it looks a lot smaller inside and feels so more comfortable with so many people surrounding him that the image would project on television.
This president feeling very comfortable going into this speech, clearly encouraged by the elections in Iraq last Sunday, which was seen I think we'll find to have a spillover effect on all of these other issues he will raise tonight.
Torie Clarke, as we wait for the president to get up there, he's about to get over there. But it's a clear, he thinks he's going to have a positive spillover effect from the elections in Iraq and will spill over to other issues as well.
Let's listen of the president, once again, is introduced by the speaker of the House of Representatives. There are carefully scripted words that must be uttered. This is a responsibility that Dennis Hastert has now as the speaker, as the leader of the house.
The Vice President Dick Cheney is up there, because he is president of the United States Senate.
So, let's get ready. The applause eventually will wind down.
But Torie, while we have a second, do you think the president is right to be encouraged that the Iraqi elections will help him on other issues as well?
CLARKE: Absolutely. No matter what you think about the decision of going into Iraq, the symbolism and the power of what the Iraqi people did on Sunday was phenomenal. And it wouldn't have happened without the United States, it wouldn't have happened without his leadership. And I think he sees this as a real opportunity to build on that success.
BLITZER: Paul Begala, and we're getting ready for the president to be introduced once again, the Democrats are giving him a standing ovation. This is, obviously a moment that all members appreciate.
REP. DENNIS HASTERT, (R-IL) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Members of Congress, I have the high privilege the distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, fellow citizens:
As a new Congress gathers, all of us in the elected branches of government share a great privilege: We've been placed in office by the votes of the people we serve.
And tonight that is a privilege we share with newly elected leaders of Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine and a free and sovereign Iraq.
Two weeks ago, I stood on the steps of this Capitol and renewed the commitment of our nation to the guiding ideal of liberty for all. This evening I will set forth policies to advance that ideal at home and around the world.
Tonight, with a healthy, growing economy, with more Americans going back to work, with our nation an active force for good in the world, the state of our union is confident and strong.
Our generation has been blessed by the expansion of opportunity, by advances in medicine, by the security purchased by our parents' sacrifice.
Now, as we see a little gray in the mirror, or a lot of gray...
... and we watch our children moving into adulthood, we ask the question: What will be the state of their union?
Members of Congress, the choices we make together will answer that question. Over the next several months, on issue after issue, let us do what Americans have always done and build a better world for our children and our grandchildren.
First, we must be good stewards of this economy and renew the great institutions on which millions of our fellow citizens rely.
America's economy is the fastest growing of any major industrialized nation.
In the past four years, we have provided tax relief to every person who pays income taxes, overcome a recession, opened up new markets abroad, prosecuted corporate criminals, raised homeownership to its highest level in history. And in the last year alone, the United States has added 2.3 million new jobs.
When action was needed, the Congress delivered, and the nation is grateful.
Now we must add to these achievements. By making our economy more flexible, more innovative and more competitive, we will keep America the economic leader of the world.
America's prosperity requires restraining the spending appetite of the federal government.
I welcome the bipartisan enthusiasm for spending discipline.
I will send you a budget that holds the growth of discretionary spending below inflation, makes tax relief permanent and stays on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.
My budget substantially reduces or eliminates more than 150 government programs that are not getting results or duplicate current efforts or do not fulfill essential priorities.
The principle here is clear: Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely or not at all.
To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century.
Under the No Child Left Behind Act, standards are higher, test scores are on the rise, and we're closing the achievement gap for minority students.
Now we must demand better results from our high schools so every high school diploma is a ticket to success.
We will help an additional 200,000 workers to get training for a better career by reforming our job-training system and strengthening America's community colleges.
And we will make it easier for Americans to afford a college education by increasing the size of Pell Grants.
To make our economy stronger and more competitive, America must reward, not punish, the efforts and dreams of entrepreneurs.
Small business is the path of advancement, especially for women and minorities.
So we must free small businesses from needless regulation and protect honest job creators from junk lawsuits.
Justice is distorted and our economy is held back by irresponsible class actions and frivolous asbestos claims.
And I urge Congress to pass legal reforms this year.
To make our economy stronger and more productive, we must make health care more affordable and give families greater access to good coverage and more control over their health decisions.
I ask Congress to move forward on a comprehensive health-care agenda with tax credits to help low-income workers buy insurance; a community health center in every poor county; improved information technology to prevent medical error and needless costs; association health plans for small businesses and their employees...
... expanded health savings accounts...
... and medical liability reform that will reduce health-care costs and make sure patients have the doctors and care they need.
To keep our economy growing, we also need reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy.
Nearly four years ago, I submitted a comprehensive energy strategy that encourages conservation, alternative sources, a modernized electricity grid and more production here at home, including safe, clean nuclear energy.
My Clear Skies legislation will cut power-plant pollution and improve the health of our citizens.
And my budget provides strong funding for leading-edge technology, from hydrogen-fueled cars to clean coal to renewable sources such as ethanol.
Four years of debate is enough. I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy.
All these proposals are essential to expand this economy and add new jobs, but they are just the beginning of our duty.
To build the prosperity of future generations, we must update institutions that were created to meet the needs of an earlier time.
Year after year, Americans are burdened by an archaic, incoherent federal tax code. I've appointed a bipartisan panel to examine the tax code from top to bottom. And when their recommendations are delivered, you and I will work together to give this nation a tax code that is pro-growth, easy to understand and fair to all.
America's immigration system is also outdated -- unsuited to the needs of our economy and to the values of our country. We should not be content with laws that punish hardworking people who want only to provide for their families...
... and deny businesses willing workers, and invite chaos at our border.
It is time for an immigration policy that permits temporary guest workers to fill jobs Americans will not take, that rejects amnesty, that tells us who is entering and leaving our country and that closes the border to drug dealers and terrorists.
One of America's most important institutions -- a symbol of the trust between generations -- is also in need of wise and effective reform.
Social Security was a great moral success of the 20th century, and we must honor its great purposes in this new century.
The system, however, on its current path, is headed toward bankruptcy. And so we must join together to strengthen and save Social Security.
Today, more than 45 million Americans receive Social Security benefits, and millions more are nearing retirement. And for them, the system is sound and fiscally strong.
I have a message for every American who is 55 or older: Do not let anyone mislead you. For you, the Social Security system will not change in any way.
For younger workers, the Social Security system has serious problems that will grow worse with time.
Social Security was created decades ago, for a very different era. In those days, people did not live as long, benefits were much lower than they are today, and a half century ago, about 16 workers paid into the system for each person drawing benefits.
Our society has changed in ways the founders of Social Security could not have foreseen. In today's world, people are living longer and therefore drawing benefits longer. And those benefits are scheduled to rise dramatically over the next few decades. And instead of 16 workers paying in for every beneficiary, right now it's only about three workers. And over the next few decades, that number will fall to just two workers per beneficiary.
With each passing year, fewer workers are paying ever- higher benefits to an ever-larger number of retirees.
So here is the result: Thirteen years from now, in 2018, Social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. And every year afterward will bring a new shortfall, bigger than the year before.
For example, in the year 2027, the government will somehow have to come up with an extra $200 billion to keep the system afloat. And by 2033, the annual shortfall would be more than $300 billion. By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt.
If steps are not taken to avert that outcome, the only solutions would be dramatically higher taxes, massive new borrowing or sudden and severe cuts in Social Security benefits or other government programs.
I recognize that 2018 and 2042 may seem a long way off. But those dates aren't so distant, as any parent will tell you. If you have a 5-year-old, you're already concerned about how you'll pay for college tuition 13 years down the road.
If you've got children in their 20s, as some of us do, the idea of Social Security collapsing before they retire does not seem like a small matter. And it should not be a small matter to the United States Congress.
You and I share a responsibility. We must pass reforms that solve the financial problems of Social Security once and for all.
Fixing Social Security permanently will require an open, candid review of the options.
Some have suggested limiting benefits for wealthy retirees.
Former Congressman Tim Penny has raised the possibility of indexing benefits to prices rather than wages.
During the 1990s, my predecessor, President Clinton, spoke of increasing the retirement age.
Former Senator John Breaux suggested discouraging early collection of Social Security benefits.
The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recommended changing the way benefits are calculated.
All these ideas are on the table. I know that none of these reforms would be easy. But we have to move ahead with courage and honesty, because our children's retirement security is more important than partisan politics.
I will work with members of Congress to find the most effective combination of reforms. I will listen to anyone who has a good idea to offer.
We must, however, be guided by some basic principles:
We must make Social Security permanently sound, not leave that task for another day.
We must not jeopardize our economic strength by increasing payroll taxes.
We must ensure that lower-income Americans get the help they need to have dignity and peace of mind in their retirement.
We must guarantee that there is no change for those now retired or nearing retirement.
And we must take care that any changes in the system are gradual, so younger workers have years to prepare and plan for their future.
As we fix Social Security, we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.
Here is how the idea works:
Right now, a set portion of the money you earn is taken out of your paycheck to pay for the Social Security benefits of today's retirees. If you're a younger worker, I believe you should be able to set aside part of that money in your own retirement account, so you can build a nest egg for your own future.
Here is why the personal accounts are a better deal:
Your money will grow, over time, at a greater rate than anything the current system can deliver.
And your account will provide money for retirement over and above the check you will receive from Social Security.
In addition, you'll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children and -- or grandchildren.
And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away.
The goal here is greater security in retirement, so we will set careful guidelines for personal accounts:
We'll make sure the money can only go into a conservative mix of bonds and stock funds.
We'll make sure that your earnings are not eaten up by hidden Wall Street fees.
We'll make sure there are good options to protect your investments from sudden market swings on the eve of your retirement.
We'll make sure a personal account cannot be emptied out all at once, but rather paid out over time, as an addition to traditional Social Security benefits.
And we'll make sure this plan is fiscally responsible by starting personal retirement accounts gradually and raising the yearly limits on contributions over time, eventually permitting all workers to set aside 4 percentage points of their payroll taxes in their accounts.
Personal retirement accounts should be familiar to federal employees, because you already have something similar, called the Thrift Savings Plan, which lets workers deposit a portion of their paychecks into any of five different broadly based investment funds.
It's time to extend the same security and choice and ownership to young Americans.
Our second great responsibility to our children and grandchildren is to honor and to pass along the values that sustain a free society.
So many of my generation, after a long journey, have come home to family and faith, and are determined to bring up responsible, moral children.
Government is not the source of these values, but government should never undermine them.
Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be redefined by activist judges. For the good of families, children and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage.
Because a society is measured by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, we must strive to build a culture of life.
Medical research can help us reach that goal, by developing treatments and cures that save lives and help people overcome disabilities.
And I thank the Congress for doubling the funding of the National Institutes of Health.
To build a culture of life, we must also ensure that scientific advances always serve human dignity, not take advantage of some lives for the benefit of others.
We should all be able to agree...
We should all be able to agree on some clear standards. I will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts and that human life is never bought or sold as a commodity.
America will continue to lead the world in medical research that is ambitious, aggressive and always ethical.
Because courts must always deliver impartial justice, judges have a duty to faithfully interpret the law, not legislate from the bench.
As president, I have a constitutional responsibility to nominate men and women who understand the role of courts in our democracy and are well-qualified to serve on the bench, and I have done so.
The Constitution also gives the Senate a responsibility: Every judicial nominee deserves an up-or-down vote.
Because one of the deepest values of our country is compassion, we must never turn away from any citizen who feels isolated from the opportunities of America.
Our government will continue to support faith-based and community groups that bring hope to harsh places.
Now we need to focus on giving young people, especially young men in our cities, better options than apathy or gangs or jail.
Tonight I propose a three-year initiative to help organizations keep young people out of gangs and show young men an ideal of manhood that respects women and rejects violence.
(APPLAUSE) Taking on gang life will be one part of a broader outreach to at- risk youth, which involves parents and pastors, coaches and community leaders, in programs ranging from literacy to sports.
And I am proud that the leader of this nationwide effort will be our first lady, Laura Bush.
Because HIV/AIDS brings suffering and fear into so many lives, I ask you to reauthorize the Ryan White Act to encourage prevention and provide care and treatment to the victims of that disease.
And as we update this important law, we must focus our efforts on fellow citizens with the highest rates of new cases: African-American men and women.
Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief in equal justice, we need to make sure Americans of all races and backgrounds have confidence in the system that provides justice.
In America we must make doubly sure no person is held to account for a crime he or she did not commit. So we are dramatically expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction.
Soon I will send to Congress a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their side.
Our third responsibility to future generations is to leave them an America that is safe from danger and protected by peace.
We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy. And chief among them is freedom from fear.
In the three and a half years since September the 11th, 2001, we've taken unprecedented actions to protect Americans.
We've created a new department of government to defend our homeland, focused the FBI on preventing terrorism, begun to reform our intelligence agencies, broken up terror cells across the country, expanded research on defenses against biological and chemical attack, improved border security, and trained more than a half million first responders.
Police and firefighters, air marshals, researchers and so many others are working every day to make our homeland safer, and we thank them all. (APPLAUSE)
Our nation, working with allies and friends, has also confronted the enemy abroad with measures that are determined, successful and continuing.
The al Qaeda terror network that attacked our country still has leaders, but many of its top commanders have been removed.
There are still governments that sponsor and harbor terrorists, but their number has declined.
There are still regimes seeking weapons of mass destruction, but no longer without attention and without consequence.
Our country is still the target of terrorists who want to kill many and intimidate us all. And we will stay on the offensive against them until the fight is won.
Pursuing our enemies is a vital commitment of the war on terror. And I thank the Congress for providing our service men and women with the resources they have needed. During this time of war, we must continue to support our military and give them the tools for victory.
Other nations around the globe have stood with us. In Afghanistan, an international force is helping provide security. In Iraq, 28 countries have troops on the ground, the United Nations and the European Union provided technical assistance for the elections, and NATO is leading a mission to help train Iraqi officers.
We're cooperating with 60 governments in the Proliferation Security Initiative to detect and stop the transit of dangerous materials.
We're working closely with the governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and nine other countries have captured or detained al Qaeda terrorists.
In the next four years, my administration will continue to build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time.
In the long term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder.
If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror, and that terror will stalk America and other free nations for decades. The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror and replace hatred with hope is the force of human freedom.
Our enemies know this, and that is why the terrorist Zarqawi recently declared war on what he called the "evil principle" of democracy.
And we've declared our own intention: America will stand with the allies of freedom to support democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.
The United States has no right, no desire and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else. That is one...
That is one of the main differences between us and our enemies. They seek to impose and expand an empire of oppression, in which a tiny group of brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life. Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens and reflect their own cultures.
And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace.
That advance has great momentum in our time, shown by women voting in Afghanistan, and Palestinians choosing a new direction, and the people of Ukraine asserting their democratic rights and electing a president.
We are witnessing landmark events in the history of liberty. And in the coming years, we will add to that story.
The beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian territories are now showing the power of freedom to break old patterns of violence and failure.
Tomorrow morning, Secretary of State Rice departs on a trip that will take her to Israel and the West Bank for meetings with Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas. She will discuss with them how we and our friends can help the Palestinian people end terror and build the institutions of a peaceful, independent, democratic state.
To promote this democracy, I will ask Congress for $350 million to support Palestinian political, economic and security reforms. The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace is within reach, and America will help them achieve that goal.
To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom.
Hopeful reform is already taking hold in an arc from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain. The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.
To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder.
Syria still allows its territory and parts of Lebanon to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region.
You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act. And we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom.
Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve.
We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing and end its support for terror.
And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.
Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom, especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honored in Iraq. That country is a vital front in the war on terror, which is why the terrorists have chosen to make a stand there.
Our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we do not have to face them here at home.
(APPLAUSE) The victory of freedom in Iraq will strengthen a new ally in the war on terror, inspire democratic reformers from Damascus to Tehran, bring more hope and progress to a troubled region, and thereby lift a terrible threat from the lives of our children and grandchildren.
We will succeed because the Iraqi people value their own liberty, as they showed the world last Sunday.
Across Iraq, often at great risk, millions of citizens went to the polls and elected 275 men and women to represent them in a new transitional national assembly.
A young woman in Baghdad told of waking to the sound of mortar fire on election day and wondering if it might be too dangerous to vote. She said, "Hearing those explosions, it occurred to me, the insurgents are weak, they are afraid of democracy, they are losing. So I got my husband, and I got my parents, and we all came out and voted together."
Americans recognize that spirit of liberty, because we share it. In any nation, casting your vote is an act of civic responsibility. For millions of Iraqis, it was also an act of personal courage, and they have earned the respect of us all.
One of Iraq's leading democracy and human rights advocates is Safia Taleb al-Suhail. She says of her country, "We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost, but most of all to the soldiers."
Eleven years ago, Safia's father was assassinated by Saddam's intelligence service. Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country. And we are honored that she is with us tonight.
The terrorists and insurgents are violently opposed to democracy and will continue to attack it. Yet the terrorists' most powerful myth is being destroyed.
The whole world is seeing that the car bombers and assassins are not only fighting coalition forces, they are trying to destroy the hopes of Iraqis, expressed in free elections.
And the whole world now knows that a small group of extremists will not overturn the will of the Iraqi people.
We will succeed in Iraq because Iraqis are determined to fight for their own freedom and to write their own history. As Prime Minister Allawi said in his speech to Congress last September, "Ordinary Iraqis are anxious to shoulder all the security burdens of our country as quickly as possible."
That is the natural desire of an independent nation, and it also is the stated mission of our coalition in Iraq.
The new political situation in Iraq opens a new phase of our work in that country. At the recommendation of our commanders on the ground and in consultation with the Iraqi government, we will increasingly focus our efforts on helping prepare more capable Iraqi security forces -- forces with skilled officers and an effective command structure.
As those forces become more self-reliant and take on greater security responsibilities, America and its coalition partners will increasingly be in a supporting role. In the end, Iraqis must be able to defend their own country, and we will help that proud, new nation secure its liberty.
Recently an Iraqi interpreter said to a reporter, "Tell America not to abandon us."
He and all Iraqis can be certain: While our military strategy is adapting to circumstances, our commitment remains firm and unchanging. We are standing for the freedom of our Iraqi friends, and freedom in Iraq will make America safer for generations to come.
We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out.
We are in Iraq to achieve a result: a country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors and able to defend itself.
And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned.
Right now, Americans in uniform are serving at posts across the world, often taking great risks on my orders. We have given them training and equipment. And they have given us an example of idealism and character that makes every American proud.
The volunteers of our military are unrelenting in battle, unwavering in loyalty, unmatched in honor and decency, and every day they are making our nation more secure.
Some of our service men and women have survived terrible injuries, and this grateful country will do everything we can to help them recover. (APPLAUSE)
And we have said farewell to some very good men and women who died for our freedom and whose memory this nation will honor forever.
One name we honor is Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, who was killed during the assault on Fallujah. His mom, Janet, sent me a letter and told me how much Byron loved being a Marine and how proud he was to be on the front line against terror.
She wrote, "When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him like I had since he was born. He just hugged me and said, 'You've done your job, Mom. Now it is my turn to protect you.'"
Ladies and gentlemen, with grateful hearts, we honor freedom's defenders and our military families, represented here this evening by Sergeant Norwood's mom and dad, Janet and Bill Norwood.
In these four years, Americans have seen the unfolding of large events. We have known times of sorrow and hours of uncertainty and days of victory. In all this history, even when we have disagreed, we have seen threads of purpose that unite us.
The attack on freedom in our world has reaffirmed our confidence in freedom's power to change the world. We're all part of a great venture: to extend the promise of freedom in our country, to renew the values that sustain our liberty and to spread the peace that freedom brings.
As Franklin Roosevelt once reminded Americans, "Each age is a dream that is dying or one that is coming to birth."
And we live in the country where the biggest dreams are born.
The abolition of slavery was only a dream -- until it was fulfilled. The liberation of Europe from fascism was only a dream -- until it was achieved. The fall of imperial communism was only a dream -- until, one day, it was accomplished.
Our generation has dreams of its own, and we also go forward with confidence. The road of providence is uneven and unpredictable, yet we know where it leads: It leads to freedom.
Thank you. And may God bless America.
BLITZER: And so the president of the United States speaks for about 53 minutes, interrupted some 61 times by applause, sometimes by both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans, other times standing ovations, applause only largely by Republicans. You saw the clear difference during many of those more controversial moments. And as the president walks away, that's Stephen Breyer, the Justice of the Supreme Court, that he is greeting there. You saw him give a litle hug to Joe Lieberman earlier as he was walking out, the moderate Democrat, once the vice presidential candidate.
The president clearly moving along. He had rehearsed his speech several times, and that was evident. But there was that moment at the end, Torie Clarke, where he got emotional. You could see him getting emotional. In fact, you could hear everyone in that room getting emotional when Janet and Bill Norwood stood up to remember their son, Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood at Flugerville, Texas. And then Mrs. Norwood was embraced by that Iraqi woman who had been brought there. That was a moment I think that everyone will always remember.
CLARKE: I got choked up watching it. And I was thinking about the first time we focused on someone in the first lady's box. A long time ago it was Lenny Stetnik who rescued people from the Potomac River from the Air Florida crash. He was a hero. Those two people were heroes. The mother of that young guy who died fighting for people like Sophia, the Iraqi human rights activist. It was an incredible moment.
BLITZER: As much as Janet and Bill Norwood were moved, no doubt, by that moment, they certainly would rather have their son back right now.
BLITZER: Paul Begala, you watched the speech closely. Give us some initial thoughts.
BEGALA: Well, first let me comment on that moment that, I think you're right, will be the most memorable moment of this. The Norwoods are from Flugerville. The president's voice caught as he said it, not because Flugerville is hard for him to pronounce, it's just a few miles north of Austin where he lived for 6 years. Austin, where his girls went to high school. He has got strong roots in that part of Texas. And he knows Flugerville like the back of his hand. And for a neighbor to die in the war and to look out and see the Norwoods there, there were real tears in the president's eyes. And I think the whole country was quite moved by that.
BLITZER: John King, you were listening and watching as well. This was pretty much what we expected on the substantive details, but he was pretty specific in many of the more controversial areas of Social Security reform.
KING: He was, Wolf. The president giving a tutorial, if you will, on the challenges ahead for Social Security. But make no mistake, that moment you're just dwelling on, if the president is going to get this country to rally behind him on Social Security, he needs to get the cloud of Iraq off his second term. The president very much wanted to use this speech to say progress is being made, but don't ask for a timetable just yet, support me and support the troops, we are making progress in Iraq.
And I think the moment you're all talking about right now, the poignancy and the power of that moment is very much part of what the president wanted and needed tonight in the sense that he needs the American people to have faith in the mission of Iraq. Anyone in Washington will tell you that is what is holding back the president's political standing right now.
Then he can take that tutorial on the road. He can try to sell the American people on changing Social Security. But not if a majority of the American people continue to oppose the war in Iraq and continue to start thinking it's past time to bring those troops home, because they will be there, probably 100,000 or more still there, when the president gives this speech next year.
BLITZER: The president still making his way to the exit from the House of Representatives. Five minutes after he leaves through the door the Democrats will have their chance to respond. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate.
John, I suspect that if the elections this past Sunday had not gone as well as they had, tonight would have been a very different night for the president.
KING: A very different night indeed. The administration believes those elections are a key psychological turning point, not only in Iraq but hopefully for the president and his political team. They believe here in the United States as well. And if they get that psychological turning point, perhaps they get more support for the policy, then the president, again, he's asking for $80 billion.
This war has cost much more in money and in human life than the administration believed it would at the outset when it told the American people it was going to war. The president needs to get that support back. And it's not just about Iraq, it is the big cloud, again, over his second term right now, one of the reasons he is at just 50 percent approval despite having just won a presidential re- election.
BLITZER: All right, John. Stand by. We're standing by also for the Democratic response. That's coming up momentarily. We'll also check in with the bloggosphere. Some of those who have been watching the blogs on the Internet. We will make sure that we know what is being said on the Internet as this speech was going on, what's being said right now.
You're looking at Andrew Sullivan. He's been watching this. And we'll go to him. We'll also go to Ed Henry, our congressional correspondent.
We'll take a quick break, though. When we come back, we'll have more, including the Democratic response.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures of the U.S. Capitol. On this night, the president delivers the State of the Union Address. Momentarily, the Democrats will have their chance to respond on domestic issues, including Social Security reform as well as foreign policy initiatives, including what's happening in Iraq. We'll bring you that live momentarily.
Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry was watching this speech tonight. What went through your mind, Ed?
HENRY: I think on Social Security, as John King mentioned, we finally did hear some detail from the president. But he also left the door wide open, showed a lot of flexibility. As he put it, he said he was open, quote, to anyone who has a good idea to offer. It was clear he was trying to reach across the aisle and point out that he is not going to be too ridged in this plan, he's going to leave the door wide open.
Also on gay marriage, a little bit of a surprise I think that he hit that social issue so hard. Some conservative activists coming out of the last election were concerned that in a recent interview the president seemed to be backing away from pushing for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but the president very clearly came out and said, quote, "I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage."
And finally, also the last time we had a State of the Union Address in an election year the president was very top heavy on the war on terror. I thought it was interesting that this time it took more than a half hour for him to mention al Qaeda. Instead, a lot on the domestic agenda. That is going to be what he hopes to be his legacy, as John king said, moving out of Iraq, moving on to Social Security, healthcare, tort reform, some of the domestic agenda, moving forward in 2005 and beyond -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ed. Stand by. We're standing by to hear from the Democrats as well. Let's hear from one Democrat, Paul Begala. Briefly on Social Security, the president basically laid out some options and said let's negotiate.
BEGALA: I think he said you deal with it. He laid out a bunch of very difficult options, raising the retirement age, cutting benefits, making more Social Security -- more progressive, that is, cutting benefits for wealthier retirees. But then he basically told the Congress, well, you handle it. I have a feeling the Democrats are not going to like that very much at all.
There is an unforgiving mathematics to Social Security, Wolf. And that is that the president has to have 60 votes in the Senate and he's only got 55 Republicans. And at least the people I talked to on Capitol Hill can name at least 4 Republicans who Republicans are worried about may jump ship. Collins and snow, the 2 women senators from Maine, Senator Chaffee from Rhode Island who's going to have a tough re-election in a very blue state, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. So the president's got his work cut out for him.
BLITZER: All right. So, let's listen to the Democrats. Their response, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: I'm Harry Reid from Nevada, the new Democratic leader of the United States Senate.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I'm Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives.
REID: Now that you've heard from the president, I appreciate your taking a few minutes with us as we give our views on how we can live up to the American promise.
I was born and raised in the high desert of Nevada in a tiny town called Searchlight. My dad was a hard rock miner. My mom took in wash. I grew up around people of strong values, even if they rarely talked about them. They loved their country, worshipped God, never shunned hard work and never asked for special favors.
My life has been very different from what I imagined growing up, but no matter how far I've traveled, Searchlight is still the place I go back to and still the place I call home.
A few weeks ago, I joined some friends of mine for a bite to eat at The Nugget, Searchlight's only restaurant. We were sitting down in a booth when a young boy, about 10 years old, named Devon, walked up to us.
Carrying a skateboard under his arm, he said, "Senator Reid, when I grow up, I want to be just like you."
Well, the truth is Devon could probably do a lot better. But the point still holds, and it's this: No one ever had to tell young Devon to dream big dreams. No one ever had to teach him that America is a place of possibility. He knows those things because they're borne deep in all Americans. In the coming year, I believe we can make sure America lives up to its legacy as a land of opportunity if the president is willing to join hands and build from the center.
It's important that we succeed. It's time that America's government lived up to the same values as America's families. It's time we invested in America's future and made sure our people have the skills to compete and thrive in a 21st century economy.
That's what Democrats believe, and that's where we stand, and that's what we'll fight for.
Too many of the president's economic policies have left Americans and American companies struggling. And after we worked so hard to eliminate the deficit, his policies have added trillions to the debt -- in effect, a "birth tax" of $36,000 on every child that is born.
We Democrats have a different vision: spurring research and development in new technologies to help create the jobs of the future; rolling up our sleeves and fighting for today's jobs by ending the special tax breaks that encourage big corporations to ship jobs overseas; a trade policy that enforces the rules of the road so that we play to win in the global marketplace instead of sitting by and getting played for fools. After World War II, through the Marshall Plan, we rebuilt Europe, and they went from poverty to an economic powerhouse. Today, we need to invest in our nation's future with a Marshall Plan for America to build the infrastructure our economy needs to go -- and to grow.
President Eisenhower did that in the 1950s with interstate highways. National investment created the Internet in the 1970s. We need to build the next economy, and we need to start now.
The 21st century economy holds great promise for our people. But unless we give all Americans the skills they need to succeed, countries like India and China will be taking our good-paying jobs that should be ours. From early childhood education to better elementary and high schools to making college more affordable to training workers so they can get better jobs, Democrats believe every American should have a world-class education and the skills they need in a worldwide economy.
Health-care costs have shot up double digits year after year of the Bush administration, and that's costing us jobs, costing us our competitiveness and costing families their peace of mind.
We need to make health care and prescription drugs affordable so that our families and our small businesses will no longer have to shoulder this dead weight.
Good, new jobs, world-class education, affordable health care -- these things matter.
Unfortunately, much of what the president offered weren't real answers. You know, today is Groundhog Day. And what we saw and heard tonight was a little like the movie "Groundhog Day" -- the same old ideology that we've heard before, over and over and over again. We can do better.
I want you to know that when we believe the president is on the right track, we won't let partisan interests get in the way of what's good for our country. We will be the first in line to work with him.
But when he gets off-track, we will be there to hold him accountable.
That's why we so strongly disagree with the president's plan to privatize Social Security.
Let me share with you why I believe the president's plan is so dangerous.
There's a lot we can do to improve Americans' retirement security, but it's wrong to replace the guaranteed benefit that Americans have earned with a guaranteed benefit cut of up to 40 percent.
Make no mistake, that's exactly what President Bush is proposing.
The Bush plan would take our already record-high $4.3 trillion national debt and put us another $2 trillion in the red. That's an immoral burden to place on the backs of the next generation. But maybe most of all, the Bush plan isn't really Social Security reform; it's more like Social Security roulette.
Democrats are all for giving Americans more of a say and more choices when it comes to their retirement savings, but that doesn't mean taking Social Security's guarantee and gambling with it. And that's coming from a senator who represents Las Vegas.
Sometimes important questions, like Social Security or the economy or education, get reduced to dollars and cents with the competing policies of political parties.
But really, these are questions about our old-fashioned moral values that don't get talked about much in Washington but matter so much to our country.
Are we willing to do right by our parents and take care of our children? Do we believe that big corporations with powerful lobbyists should get special favors and that the wealthiest should get special tax breaks? Or do we believe we are all God's children and that each of us should get a fair shot and a say in our future? Will we be able to tell young people, like Devon back in Searchlight, that America is still the land of the open road and that you can travel that open road to the place of your choice?
Even after the president's speech, the American people are still asking these questions. You can be sure that Democrats will continue to offer real answers in the months ahead.
Now, I'd like to turn things over to my colleague, the great leader of the House Democrats, Nancy Pelosi.
PELOSI: Thank you, Senator Reid.
Throughout our nation's history, hope and optimism have defined the American spirit. With pride and determination, every generation has passed on a stronger America than the one it inherited. Our greatest responsibility is to leave our children a world that is a safer and more secure place.
As House Democratic leader, I want to speak with you this evening about an issue of grave concern: the national security of our country. Any discussion of our national security must begin with recognition and respect for our men and women in uniform.
Whether they are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan or delivering humanitarian aid to the victims of the tsunami in Asia, our troops have the gratitude of every American for their courage, their patriotism and the sacrifice that they are willing to make for our country.
I have seen that sacrifice up close. I've met with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I've visited our wounded in military hospitals here and overseas.
Our troops not only defend us, they inspire us. They remind us of our responsibility to build a future worthy of their sacrifice.
Because of the courage of our service men and women and the determination of the Iraqi people, Iraq's election on Sunday was a significant step toward Iraqis taking their future into their own hands. Now we must consider our future in Iraq.
We all know that the United States cannot stay in Iraq indefinitely and continue to be viewed as an occupying force, neither should we slip out the back door, falsely declaring victory but leaving chaos. Despite the best efforts of our troops and their Iraqi counterparts, Iraq still faces a violent and persistent insurgency.
And the chairman of the National Intelligence Council said in January that Iraq is now a magnet for international terrorists.
We have never heard a clear plan from this administration for ending our presence in Iraq. And we did not hear one tonight.
Democrats believe a credible plan to bring our troops home and stabilizing Iraq must include three key elements:
First, responsibility for Iraqi security must be transferred to the Iraqis as soon as possible. This action is long overdue.
The top priority for the U.S. military should have been for a long time now training the Iraqi army.
We must not be lulled into a false sense of confidence by the administration's claim that a large number of security personnel have been trained. It simply hasn't happened. But it must. Second, Iraq's economic development must be accelerated. Congress has provided billions of dollars for reconstruction, but little of that money has been spent effectively to put Iraqis to work rebuilding their country.
Infrastructure improvements in Iraq are more than just projects; they give Iraqis hope for a better future and a stake in achieving it, and they contribute to Iraqi stability.
Third, regional diplomacy must be intensified. Diplomacy can lessen the political problems in Iraq, take pressure off of our troops and deprive the insurgency of the fuel of anti-Americanism on which it thrives.
If these three steps are taken, the next elections in Iraq, scheduled for December, can be held in a more secure atmosphere, with broader participation and a much smaller American presence. Just as we must transfer greater responsibility to the Iraqi people for their own security, we must embrace a renewed commitment to our security here at home.
It's been over three years since the attacks of September 11th. Our hopes and prayers will always be with the 9/11 families, who strengthen our resolve to win the war on terror. The pain and horror of that day will never be forgotten by any of us, yet the gaps in our security exposed by those attacks remain.
Despite the administration's rhetoric, airline cargo still goes uninspected, shipping containers go unscreened, and our railroads and power plants are not secure.
Police officers and firefighters across America have pleaded for the tools they need to prevent or respond to an attack, but the administration still hasn't delivered for our first responders.
The greatest threat to our homeland security are the tons of biological, chemical and even nuclear materials that are unaccounted for or unguarded.
The president says the right words about the threat, but he has failed to take action commensurate with it.
We can, and we must, keep the world's most gruesome weapons out of the world's most dangerous hands. Nothing is more important to our homeland security and, indeed, to the safety of the world. For three years, the president has failed to put together a comprehensive plan to protect America from terrorism, and we did not hear one tonight.
As we strive to close the gaps in our security here at home, we must do more to show our great strength as well as our greatness.
We must extend the hand of friendship to our neighbors in Latin America. We must work to stop the genocide in Sudan. We must reinvigorate the Middle East peace process. And we must bring health and hope to people suffering from disease, devastation and the fury of despair.
We are called to do this and more by our faith and our common humanity, and also because these actions will enhance our national security. Democrats are committed to a strong national security that keeps America safe, that wins the war on terror and that never again sends our troops into harm's way without the equipment they need.
In our New Partnership for America's Future, House Democrats have made a commitment to guarantee a military second to none, to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, to build strong diplomatic alliances, to collect timely and reliable intelligence to keep us safe at home, and to honor our veterans and their families by making sure they have the health care and benefits they have earned.
For those returning from military service, our newest veterans, Democrats are calling for a G.I. bill of rights for the 21st century to guarantee access to education, health care and the opportunity for good jobs. And we must protect and defend the American people, and we must also protect and defend our Constitution and the civil liberties contained therein. That is our oath of office.
A strong and secure America was our parents' gift to us. We owe our children and our grandchildren nothing less.
Thank you. Goodnight. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.
BLITZER: Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, responding to the president's address. Although it should be noted that their response was written long before they heard what the president actually said tonight. That goes with the territory. It always happens. The opposition party writes their response in advance of what the president actually says.
Torie Clark, we heard from the president earlier some surprisingly tough words, at least I was surprised. On Iran and Syria he wasn't very surprising, but on Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, words of encouragement to dissidents if you will, that was pretty surprising.
CLARKE: It was. I think we heard some things we were expecting and we heard some things we didn't expect. It was surprising to hear the president of the United States in the State of the Union send a strong message to Egypt, send a strong message to Saudi Arabia. That has not happened before.
And on a smaller level, I thought it was very interesting when he was talking about Social Security reform and trying to enact meaningful reforms, he was talking about Democrats who have made suggestions, Clinton, Breaux, I thought that was very, very interesting. And he ended his State of the Union Address, Franklin Delano roosevelt, and that was a very, very smart, strategic view on his part.
BLITZER: Paul, you're a good Democrat. It's always tough for the opposition party, in this particular case the Democrats, to have an effective response.
BEGALA: It is. But I was struck that Harry Reid very soft spoken, a sort of classic westerner. Think of the language he used. They said the president's plan was wrong and immoral. It doesn't sound like they're going to find much common ground. He talked about old-fashioned values, and he talked about how we're all God's children. This is the kind of language of values that Democrats have not always been very comfortable with.
Most importantly I think he laid down the gauntlet. I tell you right now, George W. Bush is not going to get the Social Security reform that he wants. He is going to have to peel off some Democrats. And Harry Reid looked like a very soft-spoken guy, but looked like a guy in a poker game that's got an awfully strong hand.
BLITZER: Let's hear what some of the people out there, millions of people out on the Internet are saying right now. We've invited 2 bloggers to join us, Andrew Sullivan, andrewsullivan.com. Anna Maria Cox from wonkette.com.
First you, Andrew Sullivan. You were watching the blogs as they were unfolding. What were they saying to you as the president delivered his State of the Union Address and as we heard from the Democratic response? ANDREW SULLIVAN, ANDREWSULLIVAN.COM: Well, a lot of them were doing what's called live blogging, which means that every few sentences they'd make some snarky comment or some outraged remark. And I include myself in that.
Unfortunately, a lot of it was extremely partisan and all the right-wing blogs thought it was brilliant and all the left-wing blogs thought it was dreary.
For me, I thought it was one of his less good speeches. I miss Mike Gerson, the great phrasing, the eloquence, the beautiful phrases of the previous States of the Union weren't quite there. But happily, the Democrats once again showed how incredibly lame they are, how vapid their arguments are, and I think that was also reflected in the blogs around the Internet.
BLITZER: Anna Marie Cox, what did you see? What did you hear? What did you think?
ANNA MARIE COX, WONKETTE.COM: Well, I guess what I saw -- whatever I saw and heard, I was vapid. But I think that clearly the image and the point that's going to be taken away from this speech is going to be the image of Laura Bush embracing the Iraqi voter. If Drudge doesn't already have that up on his page, he'll have it up in 2 minutes.
And it was a very powerful image. And there's nothing that I can take away from that, except to point out that it looks like the Bushes have taken something from Michael Moore's playbook. Because Michael Moore, to great effect in "Farenheit 911" used a mother's grief as an anti-war statement. And I think this just shows that the both sides can play that point.
SULLIVAN: But you also had 2 women, it was an amazing moment. It was much better than anything in the speech. You had a mother who had given her son to give this other woman the right to vote. And you saw them embrace.
And even in an accident that was kind of ironic, the dog tag got tangled up in the Iraqi woman's dress. That's how connected those 2 women were across all those miles. That's sort of beautiful.
COX: Or one could say it's a metaphor for the war itself. Although, no one actually died in the president's box. I mean, in any case.
That is Andrew's right. That is going to be the thing that people take away from the speech is that image. Not anything the president said, it's going to be that image.
BLITZER: And when she was raising her index finger, Andrew and Anna, when she was raising her index, she still had a little bit of that ink left from the voting. And when people -- we were looking at some of those Republicans, they had deliberately dipped their finger in some ink as well as an act of solidarity... SULLIVAN: This was something that we started on the blogs here actually. It was something that I raised and a few other people said it. In solidarity, let's do that. But what I loved about it was it wasn't just that finger, it was also Winston Churchill's victory sign that she gave. It was an incredibly unifying moment.
And I think far better than the rhetoric.
COX: Although the Iraqis have to be wondering if those people actually voted in their election or not. I mean, I would be concerned if I were them.
BLITZER: You know, we're just getting our instapoll, as we call it, CNN/USA Today Gallup poll. We started polling after the speech. Look at this, overall reaction to the address, very positive 60 percent, somewhat positive 26 percent, only 13 percent, Andrew, said they had a negative reaction to the president's State of the Union Address.
Are you surprised, at least in this initial CNN/USA Today Gallup poll, such a 86 percent were either positive or somewhat positive.
SULLIVAN: Well, that's a very vague thing to describe it as. I'm not sure what to make of that. It was -- the themes that he made, especially towards the end, I think, and foreign policy was very strong in that speech were very uplifting. And the images were very uplifting.
I don't think he did a very good job persuading people on Social Security. I think he's got a very hard sell on that.
So, I don't know what to make of that. But I don't think he did the job politically that he needed to do.
BLITZER: Let's take another poll that we have. We have a question, also, a very positive reaction to the State of the Union Address compared this one to earlier State of the Unions that this president had delivered. Last year, only 45 percent at a very positive reaction, 50 percent in 2003, 74 percent in 2002, 66 percent in 2001. That was the first year of his presidency. So, at 60 percent very positive. As we said earlier, 26 percnet somewhat positive.
Anna Maria, you -- are you surprised at these numbers?
COX: I'm a little surprised, mostly because, unlike in previous years, especially in regards to Social Security, Bush was very realistic, even downbeat about what kind of compromises and what kind of sacrifices people are going to have to make when it comes to Social Security reform.
In fact, one could say he'd been more realistic about Social Security reform than he was about invading Iraq, which I think is a really bad sign for Social Security reform.
SULLIVAN: But also, Wolf, the moment, as you pointed out, the elections in Iraq have changed the atmosphere here dramatically. And that must affect people's response.
BLITZER: I think it was a brilliant move on the president's part, speech writer's part, to have that finishing touch on Iraq and those 2 mother's clearly embracing. Whether that was scripted or not, it was an emotional moment. All of us will walk away with. And I'm sure all of the viewers will remember.
Anna Marie Cox of wonkette.com, Andrew Sullivan, andrewsullivan.com. Thanks to both of you for joining us as well.
Thanks to Torie Clarke over here with me. Paula Begala, thanks to you. John King, Ed Henry, all of our correspondents.
We're going to have to leave it right now from Capital Hill. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up next, a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." He's got a wide, all-star array of guests, Democrats and Republicans.
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