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President Delivers State of the Union Address

Aired January 28, 2008 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to the CNN Election Center. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer.
We're counting down to President Bush's last State of the Union address. One hour from now, the president will go before the U.S. Congress, and he will also be going before Americans who are deeply worried about their economic future. But this speech comes as all eyes are also out on the campaign trail right now. And, this hour, we will talk a lot about the presidential race and what's happening. We have reporters at the White House, on Capitol Hill, and out on the campaign trail.

Plus, I will ask candidates what they think the state of the union is right now.

We will get to the State of the Union in a moment, but, first, there was a bombshell of sorts out on the campaign trail today.

Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux. She's watching this story for us

You're covering Barack Obama. And he got a huge endorsement today from not only one, but two, yes, even three Kennedys. What happened?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you really cannot overstate the power of this picture. Really, whatever happens with Barack Obama, whether he loses or wins, this is really a seminal moment for his campaign.

You see the person who is called the lion of the Senate, this Democratic icon, passing the torch to Barack Obama, obviously elevating the stakes here and certainly energizing his support.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We know the true record of Barack Obama.


KENNEDY: There is the courage. When so many others were silent or simply went along, from the beginning, he opposed the war in Iraq.


KENNEDY: And let no one deny that truth. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)


MALVEAUX: Wolf, what you're hearing is really a thinly veiled swipe at both of the Clintons who made an issue of this the last couple of weeks saying they believe Barack Obama had been inconsistent with his position on the Iraq war. Ted Kennedy as well as other Democrats, some leaders in the party, quietly and some even publicly suggesting that the former first couple stepped over the line, crossed the line the last couple of weeks with some rather ugly politicking. And that is what you also heard earlier today, Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, after that rally over at American University, where you are in Washington, you had a chance to sit down with Barack Obama and speak about this Kennedy endorsement. What did he say?

MALVEAUX: Well, he said this was really something that had been in the works, a process of trying to earn his endorsement for about a year or so that the two had talked. He had fought very hard for this. And he said it really wasn't after his Iowa victory that Senator Kennedy felt that there was a real shot at this possibly happening for Barack Obama.

It was after that moment he really sensed that there was a sea of change, and that perhaps he could move forward, and that he was going to go ahead and endorse him -- Wolf.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that Senator Kennedy felt that I was tapping into a spirit in this country of thinking big, dreaming big, trying to bring the American people together, trying to get young people reengaged in the process of remaking this country.


MALVEAUX: And the hope is, Wolf, is that Kennedy's endorsement will give him the kind of gravitas that he needs with the Democratic establishment. That certainly is the hope. Also, Kennedy has a very strong relationship with the Latino community. That is something that Barack Obama is likely to lean on going into Super Tuesday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to share your interview with Barack Obama later this hour.

Suzanne, thanks very much for the good, hard work.

Senator Hillary Clinton took her campaign to Kennedy country herself today. Instead of talking about the endorsement she didn't get, she told a crowd in Springfield, Massachusetts, she's looking forward to the speech she will hear tonight. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the day may be beautiful, and the heavens are smiling on us because tonight will be the last time George Bush ever gives a State of the Union speech!


CLINTON: It has been a long eight years, hasn't it?


CLINTON: I don't know about you, but when this administration started way back in 2001, I spent a lot of time yelling at my TV set.


BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Jim Acosta. He's in Springfield, Massachusetts. He's watching this story for us.

All right, so both U.S. senators from Massachusetts, John Kerry and Ted Kennedy, they have endorsed Barack Obama. The governor, Deval Patrick, of Massachusetts, he has endorsed Barack Obama. She's there because Massachusetts is a Super Tuesday February 5 state. They must be, the Clinton campaign, so disappointed, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And today was really a study in body language when it comes to Hillary Clinton. We were all watching the monitors at the Clinton campaign event in Springfield today.

And it seemed just as Ted Kennedy was walking up to the podium down in Washington, D.C., Hillary Clinton decided to walk out to this cheering crowd here in Springfield, almost as to say that she couldn't bear to watch what was happening down in Washington, or if you want to put a positive spin on it, that she was trying to put on a brave face and show the Democratic Party that she can disregard what's happening in Washington and move forward.

But the Clinton campaign is quick to point out that they do have a couple of Kennedys on their side, one being the son of the late senator from New York, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. And tomorrow they will be putting their big gun out back on the campaign trail. Bill Clinton will be campaigning down in New Jersey. So, it will be interesting to see how the comeback kid comes back from what went down, down in South Carolina -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We will see what the tone of his comments are as well.

All right, Jim, thanks very much.

I want to go up to Jessica Yellin right now. She has been on the campaign trail doing an excellent job for us. But she's now made her way back to Capitol Hill. That's her beat. Normally, she's our congressional correspondent. All right, set the scene for us. Less than an hour, 53 minutes or so from now, the president of the United States will be delivering his final State of the Union address. What are you picking up where you are right now, Jessica?

YELLIN: Well, I will tell you, Wolf, in addition to the president being here, both Senators Clinton and Obama will be in that room together.

And they have actually been up on the Senate floor together for the first time this new year, since all of this campaign drama has unfolded. We understand that Senator Clinton was actually greeted by Senator Kennedy in the Cloak Room when she went for a vote today. They had a brief hello. I'm told it was very civil, this according to somebody in Senator Kennedy's camp. And that was, in fact, the first time they spoke since the endorsement or even before the endorsement.

Senator Kennedy, I'm told, actually reached out to Senator Clinton prior to the endorsement, but never had the chance to talk to her. He had to break that news that he was going to endorse Barack Obama to her husband. So, the first time they connected was today. And then of course we're told Senator Kennedy and Barack Obama are hoping to sit together at tonight's State of the Union -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin will be watching all of this. She will be inside the Congress for the actual State of the Union as well. We will be speaking to her throughout the night.

Let's get to the best political team on television right now.

Joining us, our own John King, Gloria Borger, Jeff Toobin.

You're from Boston, Massachusetts. The Kennedys endorse Barack Obama. How big of a deal is this?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it will certainly help in Massachusetts, although he already had much of the establishment.

The question is what signal does it send to other old guard Democrats, many of whom were with the Clintons because they thought she was going to win. And how hard will Ted Kennedy push the labor unions, some of which are John Edwards'? This could be even more of a factor as Edwards fades.

Some of the industrial, the blue-collar unions are with John Edwards. If he starts to fade or in the Super Tuesday states where he cannot spend money, if Ted Kennedy is willing to get on the phone and push. The question is, is it just Ted Kennedy? If it is, then it's a powerful day today, a day of great images, and then they go and fight state by state.

If he can call up other members of the Senate and say, look, let's do this.

And I'm told by some old friends in Massachusetts that his calculation was, A, he was furious at Bill Clinton, and, B, he has decided Hillary Clinton cannot win the general election. That is his calculation, one of the reasons he decided to do this. So, could be a big deal. We will learn more about it in the coming days.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Ted Kennedy has always liked Barack Obama. He's a friend of the Clintons. I think Bill Clinton upset him with what he felt campaigning that went over the line in South Carolina.

I think he had some conversations with the former president that did not make him very happy. And I think in the end this is going to help (sic) Hillary Clinton. Not only will he appeal to members of unions, but also the Latino vote. He can have a real influence there. They can park him in California for a while. They can put him up in New England. And he can really make a difference in a race that's going to be fought congressional district by congressional district.

BLITZER: Because the delegates are giving out proportionate to those congressional districts.

BORGER: Exactly.


BLITZER: On the Democratic side, it's not winner take all if you win the state.

BORGER: So, they can strategically place Ted Kennedy whenever they think he's going to do them some good.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: And, certainly, it's good news. The question is, how good?

But the thing that is worth remembering is, given all the good news that Barack Obama has had in the past several days, South Carolina, the Kennedy endorsement, he really needs good news because he's behind on Super Tuesday. If you believe the polls, he's behind in probably 20 of the 22 states. He's ahead in his home state of Illinois and he's ahead apparently in Georgia.

But that's a big mountain to climb in a very short period of time. So, yes, it's good news, but he needs a lot of good news.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by, because we're going to have a lot more to talk about throughout the course of this night.

But what I hear all three of you saying, and we will talk about this more, it's still hers to lose, basically, right now, if you have to look ahead to Super Tuesday. This contest could go on for some time. Not necessarily going to be over with on Super Tuesday.

What would President Bush have to say tonight to impress Barack Obama? Listen to this.


OBAMA: If I heard that from him, that would inspire me, because it would indicate that you can always teach an old dog new tricks.


BLITZER: The Democratic presidential candidate talks to us and tells us what he wants to hear from the president tonight, less than an hour from now. Barack Obama's interview with our own Suzanne Malveaux, that is coming up. You're going to want to see it.

And John McCain and Mitt Romney, they are slugging it out right now on the eve of the Florida primary. We are going to hear from John McCain and ask him if it's something personal.

And candidate Mike Huckabee has his own view on the state of the union. He's calling it -- and I'm quoting now -- "trouble." My one- on-one interview with Mike Huckabee, that's coming up as well.

Much more of our coverage from the CNN Election Center right now after this.


BLITZER: We're get to our one-on-one interview with the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in just a moment.

First, though, a quick check of what to expect in the president's State of the Union address. That's coming up in about 45 minutes.

Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Ed Henry is standing by.

You're getting a lot of information from briefers over there. What should we be looking out for, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's interesting.

The irony has not been lost on officials here at the White House that, for years, they touted a good economy, didn't get a lot of credit because of problems in Iraq. Now things are getting a little better in Iraq and they're not getting credit in large part because the economy has turned sour.

So, the president will be talking a lot about the economy. First of all, he's going to push this $150 billion stimulus plan, tell the Senate they have got to get this deal done. Secondly, he's going to warn them not to load it up with more provisions that we saw Senate Democrats do today.

What's behind that is, from a substantive standpoint, White House officials say they're concerned that, if this bill gets either delayed or derailed, in the words of the White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, that the relief is not going to get to people who are hurting right now. From a political standpoint, I can tell you, there are allies of this White House right now, Republicans, saying that, if Democrats slow this stimulus plan down, they're going to pay a big political price in November, because people, voters, are going to be very upset -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much. Stand by. We will be checking back with you.

We're also told, by the way, the president will declare that the state of the union tonight remains strong. We will watch out for that. That's coming up.

Let's get back to the bombshell, though, right now out on the campaign trail. Senator Ted Kennedy, the flag-bearer, shall we say, of liberal Democrats, he says he feels change is in the air, and he's given his political blessing to Senator Barack Obama.

Senator Obama himself tells us just how that endorsement came about.

He spoke with CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.


MALVEAUX: Senator Ted Kennedy, who's an icon of the party, longtime friend of the Clintons, endorses you over Hillary Clinton. He says that you offer hope, you offer inspiration.

Is there any position that you take on an issue that's different than Hillary Clinton that won him over?

OBAMA: You know, I think you would have to ask him that.

But you heard his speech today. I don't think this was an endorsement against anybody. I think that Senator Kennedy felt that I was tapping into a spirit in this country of thinking big, dreaming big, trying to bring the American people together, trying to get young people reengaged in the process of remaking this country.

And I think that that excited him. And I am extraordinarily humbled and thrilled to have his support.

MALVEAUX: Take us behind the scenes a little bit. The voters -- obviously, this is one of the biggest endorsements that you could get. What did he say to you?

OBAMA: Well, you know, we had been talking for the last year.

Before I made my final decision to run, I sat down with him. And, you know, he was not committing to any endorsements, but he did make a point, which I think was quoted somewhere, where he said you know, these opportunities don't come around that often to change the country.

And, since that time, we have been in periodic conversations. I have given him updates about the campaign. And I think, after Iowa, he starred to believe that maybe this was a possibility to really make big change in this country and eventually decided to come my way.

MALVEAUX: Senator Kennedy borrowed a line from Senator Clinton, saying that you're the one who would be ready day one to be president.

A lot of people are suffering, with the economy. What do you think is the biggest problem with the economy now, and what would you do day one as president to fix it?

OBAMA: Well, it's hard to say what it will be like in January of 2009.

What I would do right now would be to get an economic stimulus package with tax rebates of the sort that have already been discussed by the president and Congress, refundable, so that they're hitting low- and- moderate-income workers, who are most likely to spend and recirculate that money in the economy, but also to extend unemployment insurance.

We have got a lot of folks out there who have been unemployed for a long time. Providing extra unemployment insurance puts money in their pockets that they will spend. It also allows them to continue their job search. Those are the short-term things that we can do, as well as trying to stabilize the housing market.

I have proposed a $10 billion foreclosure fund to help families avoid foreclosure. But we have a long-term structural problem with this economy. And it's a combination of atrocious regulation by the Bush administration, where they didn't provide oversight in the credit markets and the mortgage markets. We have to strengthen that.

A tax policy that has been skewed towards the wealthy and towards well-connected corporations and lobbyists. We need to change that tax code, so that we're providing tax relief, middle-class tax cuts, to ordinary Americans. And we have got to have an energy policy that stops spending $1 billion a day overseas, and instead starts investing in clean technologies that can provide jobs for the future.

MALVEAUX: Let's talk a little bit about obviously Super Tuesday coming up. There's a significant Latino population that you need to win over in California, other key states. In Nevada, we saw Clinton took about 64 percent of the Latino votes, you about 20-something or so. What can you offer that is different than Hillary Clinton in terms of trying to reach out and serve Latino community?

OBAMA: Oh, I think, when the Latino community knows about my track record, I get their votes.

When they know that I started off organizing on the streets of Chicago, in the shadow steel mills that have been closed, bringing Latinos, blacks, and whites together, that impresses them. When they find out that I sponsored and worked on provisions like the DREAM Act or driver's licenses in the state legislature, before anybody was talking about them at federal level, they're impressed by that. When they find out that I was one of a handful of senators who actively worked on comprehensive immigration reform, not just this year, but the previous year, and that I stood up for a humane and intelligent immigration policy in a way that, frankly, none of my other two opponents did.

MALVEAUX: You will reform immigration? Will that be a priority?

OBAMA: Oh, absolutely. And I have said that I will start working on it in my first year in office, because it's -- we have to stop using this as a political football and instead actually solve the problem.

But the point is that one thing I have shown myself to be is unafraid to deal with issues that I think are important in ways that bring people together, as opposed to dividing them. And that, I think, will benefit not just the Latino community, but all of America.

MALVEAUX: Last question: President Bush is giving his State of the Union address. Obviously, you inspire many people. That's what they say. President Bush has an approval rating of 34 percent. You will be in that audience tonight. What does he need to say to inspire you?

OBAMA: Well, I think that what would be wonderful for the president to talk about is how he recognizes that many of his policies may not have worked the way he wanted them to, but that he is committed over the next year to doing two things, one, putting the next president in the position to end this war in Iraq in a responsible way, number two, to really dig down and figure out how do we strengthen the economy, not just for the wealthy, not just for corporate profits, not just for Wall Street, but for ordinary working Americans.

If we can if I heard that from him, that would inspire me, because it would indicate that you can always teach an old dog new tricks. But whether the president actually is willing to take a clear-eyed look at some of the problems, both internationally and domestically, it's hard to say. My guess is probably not.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Senator.

OBAMA: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much.


BLITZER: Senate colleagues and presidential rivals. We will be watching closely Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. They're in the same room for the State of the Union address. Tonight, they have come back to Washington for that. Senator John McCain is not there. He's still out on the campaign trail.

As we count down to the speech, we're also counting down to tomorrow's Florida primary. It's critical for McCain and Romney and the other Republicans. We're going to show you who has what at stake.

Plus, the escalating war between Mitt Romney and John McCain -- they're battling it out over Iraq, the economy and a lot more.

Stay with us. We're at the CNN Election Center.


BLITZER: Thirty-four minutes until the president addresses the nation in the joint session of Congress, his final State of the Union address. We're standing by for that.

Our crews are also watching last-minute preparations by John McCain and Mitt Romney for tomorrow's Florida primary. Polls show those two are running neck and neck, incredibly tight right now. Their campaign has developed, though, into a really rough and personal edge.

Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, one thing I think we should really give Governor Romney credit for, he is consistent. He has consistently taken both sides of any major issue. He has consistently flip-flopped on every issue.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's known for some things which frankly are not conservative Republican kind of movements, but instead have pulled the nation -- would have pulled the nation to the left, and I just don't think that those liberal answers are what America is looking for, not for the Republican Party, or for any party, for that matter.


BLITZER: It's getting ugly out there in Florida.

Let's go to Florida. Dana Bash is watching the story for us, only hours away from when they go to the polling stations, although they have been voting absentee ballots for weeks now.

But this is getting very, very intense. It could be a long night for all of us tomorrow night, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It could be, because it seems to be so close between those two men that you just showed. And that word that Mitt Romney used, he did that by the way barely after the sun came up here in Florida, the L-word. It's about the dirtiest word you can use in the Republican lexicon, especially in a Republican primary like here in Florida.

But that just goes to the heart of how intense it is between these two men. We're getting reports tonight about so-called robo- calls, or what is called push polling against Mitt Romney, some calls saying that he supports talking to Fidel Castro, which is a very bad thing if you're running in Florida, and also saying that he supports taxpayer-funded abortions.

Now, the McCain campaign denies that. But this is the kind of thing that is going on in the last minute here. But, Wolf, if you cut through all of the noise, if voters here can do that, what you have at its core is a really interesting race between McCain and Romney, because each is trying to play to his strengths.

John McCain is saying that this race is and should be about national security. He says, I am the man who can be and will be the best commander in chief, really trying to stay on that topic.

Mitt Romney is saying, no, the issue that is the most important one before our voters and our country is the economy. And he says, I'm the best person on this issue. So, it's going to be fascinating to see which of these two men, which of these two issues prevails tomorrow here in Florida -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

And, you know, we can't forget that Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul, they are still on the ballot as well. We will watch this closely tomorrow...

BASH: They sure are.

BLITZER: ... all, all day and all night. We may be in, by the way, for another long suspenseful night of vote counting in Florida. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is keeping track of the latest polls. If these polls hold up, we might know -- might not know for hours and hours tomorrow night. We might have to wait the old fashioned way for them to actually count the votes in the state of Florida.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And we have actually been there and done that. Take a look at our poll of polls of Republican primary voters in Florida. This is an average of four polls taken since January 19th -- the South Carolina primary. Now, take a look at this.

McCain and Romney neck and neck for first place in Florida. A real showdown between those two candidates could be a long night. Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee, they're tied for third place in Florida. So that, too, could be an interesting count. You know, a McCain victory in Florida would be particularly significant, because only registered Republicans are allowed to vote in the Republican primary. So that would be a way for McCain to prove his bona fide is with the Republican Party base.

If Mitt Romney were to win Florida, it would be a clear signal that the conservative base of the party is not happy with John McCain, and the Arizona senator could be facing a full-fledged conservative revolt on Super Tuesday led by Mitt Romney. And I suppose if Rudy Giuliani were to win Florida, what we would have on our hands would be yet another comeback kid -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I'm struck by that number at the bottom of the screen. Unsure, 11 percent. That could be the difference right there between McCain and Romney, the unsure 11 percent. We'll watch tomorrow night with you. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Let's take a closer look at the state of Florida because we're going to be learning a lot about it. Tomorrow, we're going to be learning a lot about the geography as we did South Carolina and Iowa. Now, the state of Florida, which is obviously a much bigger state than all of those others.

KING: Wolf, geographically, economically, ideologically, this is the most diverse state any of the presidential candidates have had to compete in. And as we watch the results come in tomorrow, a few quick tips on things to watch.

First, watch right across here. This is the panhandle of Florida, Georgia, Alabama. This performs in voting patterns much like the south. So you want to look at places like this to see where they vote. Pensacola, John McCain trained as a Navy pilot. Right over here, it's a small population wise, the military communities here, but all sorts of conservatives here.

Let's shrink the map a little bit. All the way across here, the capital of Tallahassee over to Jacksonville. Watch the results. We're coming right here in Duval County. Five percent of the state's population. We want to see Mitt Romney and John McCain are having a fight right here for conservative votes. Romney wants traditional Republican conservatives. McCain wants military veterans, military retirees. Jacksonville will be a huge fight.

BLITZER: A lot of bases there as well.

KING: Right. And another place to watch across the top here is the Huckabee factor. We talked about the Fred Thompson factor in South Carolina, how he hurt Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee, Christian evangelicals, you'll find them up here. If he is to have an impact in Florida, it is likely to come in this part of the state.

Now, there's a saying in Florida that the further south you go, the further north you are. Meaning, all the transplants from New York from the north, tend to live down here. This is Miami-Dade, 14 percent of the state population, a place where Rudy Giuliani and John McCain are fighting it out. Romney has some strength in the Cuban- American community, but if John McCain, in a close race, is going to beat Mitt Romney --

BLITZER: Hold on one second. We'll tell our viewers to take a look as we're talking. The President of the United States is now leaving with Laura Bush the White House and both daughters and the future son-in-law as well. We're told they're going over to Capitol Hill to get ready for the president's final State of the Union address. We're going to watch this motorcade and watch his arrival up on Capitol Hill in a few minutes. As you know, John, when you leave the White House in the presidential motorcade, you drive to Capitol Hill, you don't have to stop for the red lights. KING: Yes.

BLITZER: It will be very quick. All right. I interrupted you, but go ahead. You're talking about Miami-Dade.

KING: We'll get to this quickly because of the short drive. But consider the irony, George Bush going up for his last State of the Union address on the eve of the critical Republican primary in the state that made George Bush president eight years ago. But down here, there will be a huge fight along the coast here. Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach County -- this is where Rudy Giuliani had hoped to do well. He is struggling. This is critical for John McCain.

BLITZER: A lot of Democrats there, but there are plenty of Republicans as well.

KING: Plenty of Republicans, and how the Republicans turn out in these counties, they are moderate areas where McCain and Giuliani are in a fight. McCain essentially needs to hurt his friend, Rudy Giuliani, to win the state by doing well here.

The other place to watch, the I-4 corridor right here. This is the most populous area. This is where in a general election, this is the swing area of Florida. From Orlando down over to Tampa, Mitt Romney is perceived as particularly strong over here. McCain has to limit his margins.

And the last area I want to show you is down here. Mitt Romney has spent a lot of time in southwest Florida. A lot of people from the Midwest have settled down here. The Michigan native, Mitt Romney, has concentrated down there. So it is a fascinating state, Wolf. It is by far the most diverse state we have watched these candidates compete in. And as we watch the results come in tomorrow night, we're going to have a few different places where we can use those markers to see how the candidates are doing.

BLITZER: All right. And we're going to be -- all the polls in Florida will be closed by 8:00, so we'll be covering it live.

All right. You're looking at some live pictures. Hillary Clinton is walking into the chamber right now with Senator Joe Biden, who used to be running for president. He's not running anymore, but he is still a United States senator. We're going to watch all the arrivals. We're going to watch the president, first lady get ready for the address tonight. We're going to see who's sitting with the first lady up in the gallery as well. They always have some special guests. The president will be making reference to those special guests as he continues his speech. That's coming up at the top of the hour, about 25 minutes or so from now.

Please be sure to watch CNN tomorrow night for complete coverage of the Florida primary. I'll be joined by the best political team on television. Our coverage starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. That's when the polls closed, but it could be a long night. The suspense intense as the polls indicate it will be tight. He hopes to be giving the speech this time next year, but what would Mitt Romney say tonight? Listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The State of the Union is good, but somewhat unstable and somewhat fragile right now.


BLITZER: My one-on-one interview with the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. That's coming up.

Plus, Romney rival Mike Huckabee. He calls the State of the Union, and I'm quoting now, "troubled." I'll ask him why. The president of the United States says it's strong. Stay with us here at the CNN Election Center.


BLITZER: Members of the Senate, members of the House, they're walking into the House of Representatives chamber for the president's State of the Union Address. Twenty minutes, they'll be followed in by the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the diplomatic corps, members of the cabinet, and finally we'll hear those words, Madame Speaker, Madame Speaker, when the speaker is already up there with Dick Cheney, but the president will be introduced, the president of the United States.

We're watching all of the excitement on Capitol Hill right now. We'll get back there in a couple of moments. His would-be successors, though, will be watching to see what President Bush says tonight about the State of the Union. But they have their own very strong views and what kind of shape the country is in.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is joining us from Miami. Governor, the State of the Union, we're focusing on it right now. Let's talk about some specific economic issues. First, the weakening dollar. What would you do about that if you were president?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's not a candidate for a quick fix. It's really something that requires a long-term solution. It really speaks to the world's view about America's competitiveness. Now, what's going to have to happen is first we're going to have to deal with our massive entitlement and federal government overspending so that people recognize that we're going to bring our balance sheet in order.

Number two, we're going to have to make sure that we're playing a level playing field around the world right now. We're not with regards to Chinese that manipulate their currency and don't owner our intellectual property rights. Number three, we, as a nation, are going to have to take out embedded taxes from our products so we can be more competitive around the world. Number four, we got to get our tax rates down. Our tax rates are high relative to those of other industrialized nations. These are the kinds of fundamental changes that are going to have to be made for us to have the kind of, if you will, strength in our balance sheet as a nation that people around the world will value the dollar and think that our future is brighter than our past.

BLITZER: What would you do about the housing crisis right now, making sure that people who have their homes can actually stay in their homes?

ROMNEY: Well, one piece the Federal Reserve did, which is get interest rates down. Number two, we're going to have to stand behind people who can make the early payments, the original payments that they've agreed to, allow them to stay in their homes. And that's by loosening the restrictions of the Federal Housing Administration so they can guarantee more loans, larger loans, loans for people who weren't able to put down as large of a down payment but where people, nonetheless, are able to make the original obligation payment schedules so that we can keep those folks in their homes. We just don't want to have more foreclosed homes being taken away from people.

BLITZER: Are there any economic policies that President Bush pushed forward over the past seven years that you would seek to undo?

ROMNEY: Well, one that I'd seek to adjust is the Medicare part D. I strongly believe that Medicare part D should include a prescription program for seniors, but it's a very complicated program. It added a multi-trillion dollar obligation to the nation's balance sheet, and we got no reform of Medicare as part of the deal. And there really needs to be a more fundamental reform of the Medicare program, make it simpler for seniors to understand, honor our promises to seniors, but whittle back the extraordinary entitlement obligation and liability, which confronts the country.

We're going to have to make adjustments there because adding to entitlement obligations and liabilities is something which is one of the reasons why people who look at the dollar are concerned about our long-term future.

BLITZER: And finally, Governor, what is the State of the Union today as you see it?

ROMNEY: Well, the State of the Union is good, but somewhat unstable and somewhat fragile right now. Particularly, as you look at our economy. Right now, we could go past a tipping point and fall into a recession. That hurts a lot of people. This is not just about stock portfolios or even 401ks. It means, people are worried about their retirement income. It means people are worried about their jobs.

At the low economic end, it's really, really tough. And so, fighting a recession from happening is a very important thing. That's why the president's stimulus plan is a good step forward. I'd do more on that regard. That's why the Federal Reserve is taking appropriate action. But we're at a point where we need a president, and we've got one, and I'm glad he's taking action and not leaving this for a later day.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: And there he is, Barack Obama. He's already in the chamber. He and Hillary Clinton, two sitting U.S. senators, they've come back to Washington to watch, to watch and to listen to the president's State of the Union address. The president and the first lady, by the way, they have just arrived up on Capitol Hill. They're in a holding room getting ready to walk in to be introduced.

But there is Barack Obama. You're seeing him with Congressman Jesse Jackson, junior fellow member of Congress from Illinois. They're very good friends. Jesse Jackson, Jr., a big supporter of Barack Obama. There's Hillary Clinton. She's walking in. I believe she's walking in with Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York State. You see Senator Joe Biden, right next to Hillary Clinton as well.

This is an opportunity for a lot, a lot of the senators to get back together and spend some time. At least three U.S. senators right now are running for president -- Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. They've spent a lot of time out on the campaign trail. Not much time recently in Washington, but two of the three are back tonight to hear the president's final State of the Union address, and they will be in the audience together with the others. John McCain facing a tough primary tomorrow in Florida. He didn't come back to Washington. He's still campaigning very, very vigorously right now.

All right. We'll continue to watch what's happening on the floor of the House of Representatives. We'll go back there momentarily. You're going to want to stick around, by the way, to hear what's coming up right after the president's State of the Union address as well as the Democratic response.

CNN's Anderson Cooper will be getting reaction from four of the leading presidential candidates. He'll be speaking with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney. All of them will join Anderson as part of the special coverage tonight right after the president's State of the Union address and the Democratic response. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're only about 13 minutes away from when we'll hear, though, are words Madame Speaker, the president of the United States. The president will be walking into this chamber. A joint meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Jessica Yellin is inside watching this. You've got a front-row seat upstairs in the gallery, Jessica. Give us a little flavor of what it looks like, what it feels like. YELLIN: It feels like church after a very busy morning. I mean, everybody is here just greeting each other. So happy to chit chat. Barack Obama, you know, these seats are first come, first serve. There's not assigned seating here, so you sort of go where you want. Barack Obama has taken a seat off to one side next to Ted Kennedy, as we know who has endorsed him. Claire McCaskill and then Nelson, three of the senators who have gotten behind him.

When he walked in, what a slowdown there was in the aisle. Everybody gathering around him. Some giving him a thumbs up, hugs, exceptionally warm greeting. It was some time you saw before Senator Clinton arrived, but she's also getting a thumbs up and high fives from some of the same people. She has not yet taken a seat, but you could see her. I don't know if you have a picture of this, but she's wearing --

BLITZER: We're watching it. We were just watching her live, getting a lot of hugs and giving a lot of hugs, Jessica.

YELLIN: Yes. You can see her. Everybody seems to be in high spirits tonight. They haven't been in this chamber for some time, you know. And I can tell you when they first arrived on the Senate floor earlier today, that was the first time they had, you know, come face to face in some time. We're told Barack Obama got exceptionally, exceptionally warm greeting there as well.

BLITZER: All right. There we see the vice president and the speaker of the House. They'll be sitting up on the podium. They're effectively in charge -- the vice president of the United States is the president of the Senate. The Speaker of the House is the Speaker of the House.

And there's Hillary Clinton. We're going to continue to watch, show you these pictures. This will be the final State of the Union Address for President Bush. He'll tell Americans what kind of shape he thinks the nation is in. That's coming up momentarily. But from threats abroad to an ailing economy at home, those who want to take his place in the Oval Office have their own views on where things stand right now.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. Let's talk a little bit about the State of the Union right now on this day. The president, in earlier addresses to Congress, spoke of an axis of evil. He included Iran, Iraq, North Korea. If you were president, would you talk about an axis of evil against the United States right now?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I'd probably talk about an axis of opportunity that the United States is in a unique position to try to provide real leadership to the world. We need to do that by having a very strong defense. We need to beef up our military forces to say, look, we don't intend to let anybody push this country around. We want to make you think long and hard about engaging us in a military operation. Hopefully we'll have the kind of strength that would cause us not to have to use it.

But I also think there's an opportunity to bring other nations of the world together, to realize that terrorism is not just the fight of the United States. Fighting this whole Islamo-fascism movement is the responsibility of every same peace-loving person on earth, regardless of their religion, regardless of their geography, regardless of where they are as a nation state.

BLITZER: Are Iran and North Korea still part of an axis of evil?

HUCKABEE: Their leadership is. I think sometimes we need to make sure that we separate that not everyone within their country or culture hates us. You know, let's not forget than on September 11th, when many people on the Arab world were marching through the streets and celebrating the fall of the World Trade Centers, in Tehran, the people were lighting candles and holding vigils.

There are still a lot of ordinary people in Iran who care for the United States and have warm feelings toward us, even though Ahmadinejad is anything but our friend. In fact, I think, he represents a level of evil. His hatred toward Israel, his hatred toward the United States is evident. But it doesn't mean that that's reflected all through the rank and file of the people of Iran.

BLITZER: How far would you go, Governor, to promote democracy in the Middle East?

HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think democracy is a commodity that we can export, that we can go and force it on people. You have to have a hunger and a desire and a deep, intense passion to want it. The United States maybe can help by maybe encouraging it, but it's not our responsibility to go and impose it on people.

And that's one thing as president I would be very careful about. I would never feel it's the responsibility of the taxpayers of America to go and to take our money, and rather than build up the strength of our own democracy, the strength of our own freedom, simply to impose it upon people who may not be ready for it or may not be clamoring for it.

But if there are people who do clamor to shake off the bounds of tyranny, it's one thing to be able to be helpful to them, but we can't do it for them. They have to be willing to do it for themselves like other countries who are Democratic countries, because that's when it really does work is when people are willing to make great risks and make great sacrifices in order to be free.

BLITZER: And finally, Governor, because we're out of time, what is the State of the Union as you see it today?

HUCKABEE: I think it's troubled. I think anything saying less than that would be dishonest. The fact is we've got serious economic issues with two million homeowners facing foreclosure. There are a lot of Americans who are in real jeopardy of losing their jobs, in part because our trade agreements are unbalanced and unfair. We've got to have free trade, but it's got to be fair, enforced on both sides. We've got to be able to bring this country back together so that we are fighting the same war, not fighting each other. And those are things that I think require the kind of leadership that I'm prepared and willing and frankly, anxious to bring to America.

BLITZER: Governor Huckabee, thanks very much for joining us.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be back.


BLITZER: And later this week, the candidates will face off in our presidential debates. It's an important event, just days before Super Tuesday, February 5th. They're in California. You can watch them right here on CNN. The Republicans debate Wednesday night at the Ronald Reagan Library. The Democrats debate Thursday night at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. Both of these presidential debates begin at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And you're looking at some live pictures of Capitol Hill right now as the dignitaries continue to be introduced. Right now, members of the diplomatic corps, members of the Cabinet, right there. They're coming in. Where does President Bush's popularity stand as he prepares for his final State of the Union address?

We're going to show you his approval numbers and how it compares to some of his predecessors. Much more of our coverage. Six minutes and 20 seconds to go until the president of the United States walks into that room. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: As we countdown of the State of the Union, we're looking at President Bush's approval ratings compared to two predecessors. Take a look at this.

Mr. Bush began his term with a 57 percent approval rating. It spiked to around 90 percent right after 9/11, but it began to drop after that, ending up where it is right now in the low 30s or so. Bill Clinton also began his term near 60 percent, but he left office six points above that number. Ronald Reagan started with the approval of only half of the country. He left office with a 63 percent job approval rating.

Let's walk over to the best political team on television. Get some analysis of what we're seeing not only in the State of the Union, John King, but also in the country as a whole. The Supreme justices of the Supreme Court, by the way, are walking in right now as we can see.

This is a speech that the president carefully, carefully considers. He's going to be speaking for about 45 minutes, more or less, with applause. But they work really hard on this, and they do a lot of drafting and redrafting and a lot of rehearsals.

KING: As you know, well, it's months in the making. All the agencies submit their proposals to get to the State of the Union. It's very tough for this president tonight. They are two priorities. He wants to make the case that he was right about Iraq and that you have to have success in Iraq, and that he needs the support of the Congress and the American people. Funding when it comes to congress, the public support if he can get it. And the short term, obviously, focus will be on the economy. The bipartisan stimulus package, trying to get it through.

It's a remarkable moment, though, Wolf. This is not the presidency. This is his final State of the Union address, and you just reminded that this is not the presidency that George Bush thought it would be at the very beginning. 9/11 had a lot to do with that and so many other things as well.

There's Laura Bush, of course. This is just simply the big picture moment. George Bush came to office saying he was the compassionate conservative. He was going to reach across the aisle and work with the Democrats. He will leave office viewed as a polarizing figure, and as you just noted, with his poll numbers in the 30s.

BLITZER: There's the first lady with both daughters, Jenna and Barbara. They are there. Lynne Cheney is there as well up in the gallery. They've got some VIP guests they've invited. The president will be speaking about some of those guests as has become tradition in the State of the Union events addresses, Gloria.

It's a moment where Democrats, Republicans, liberals and Conservatives, they get together and to a certain degree they pat themselves on the back.

BORGER: Right. Because this is our government at its best. But I think this is also a test for the president this time to show the Congress and the country that in fact he's still relevant. We have an unbelievable election going on, Wolf. And the president has to say, look, what I'm doing right now in this White House still matters to you in the country, and that working with the Congress we can make a difference. And expect him to hold out an olive branch to this Congress, Wolf. You know. He has not gotten along well with Congress.

BLITZER: The cabinet has just been introduced including Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State. All the members of the cabinet will be there except for one, Jeff Toobin. The Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, he's not inside. At least one member of the cabinet has to be with that football, that so-called nuclear football away from there. God forbid, if anything horrible were to happen, he got picked tonight to stay in his home and watch this on television.

TOOBIN: It's a grim rotation that they have to do every time. The entire order of succession cannot be in one room at the same time, even as well protected as this one is. The secretary of interior won or lost as the case may be today.

BORGER: I was talking to a member of the White House staff about this. It's not something they have to do cavalierly. Because they have to decide who is going to be mentioned in the speech, who is important to be there. Whose feelings won't be hurt by saying you're going to be this evening so it's really something to think about in the process of elimination, Wolf.

BLITZER: There you see some of the members of the Cabinet walking in. I remember speaking with a member of the Clinton administration Cabinet, Dan Glickman, he was secretary of agriculture. He once had the responsibility. He said they took it really seriously. They briefed them. They had buttons there. They had a lot of security. It wasn't just some symbolic event. They took it very, very seriously. They watched it very closely. I'm sure Dirk Kempthorne, the secretary of the interior will be getting all of these briefings as well. Momentarily within a few seconds you're going to hear you're going to hear the majority floor services chief announce Madame Speaker followed by Wilson Livingood, the House sergeant at arms, he will introduce the president of the United States. The president will walk in. There will be tumultuous, shall we say, a lot of applause. This is about to happen right now. You'll see the doors open.

And once those doors open the dual announcement will begin as we await the president as he's walking in. And see still members of the Cabinet walking in. Ed Henry is our White House correspondent. You've seen some of the excerpts. You've seen some of the briefings that have been coming out. Briefly, give us a little flavor of what you're looking for.

KING: I think the bottom line is that there is really nothing new in a major way from this president as you know, he is a baseball fan. He used to own the Texas Rangers. He has long said he doesn't like to play small ball. He likes to swing for the fences. A few years ago we saw a big social security reform plan. That fell flat. The fact that he's playing small ball is a reflection of the political reality. He has a tough Democratic Congress. If he came up with any big initiatives tonight, they will probably be swatted down this year, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're told about half of the speech, which as John just was reporting, was very, very carefully drafted over long periods of time. About half of the speech will deal with foreign policy issues, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat potentially from Iran. The president will address that. The other half will deal with domestic issues including, including the economic situation right now.

Ted Kennedy, you just saw Senator Ted Kennedy. He made news today by endorsing Barack Obama. Jessica Yellin is inside that room right now. I may interrupt you momentarily, Jessica. But go ahead, give a little bit of the atmosphere inside.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Senators Clinton and Obama are seated at the same level about 10 feet away from each other. Senator Clinton walked over to talk to someone and Kennedy, who is seated to one side of Obama, reached his hand across Obama to shake Senator Clinton's hand. At that moment it seemed natural for Obama to do the same, but he looked away. The other senators seated around Obama all shook Senator Clinton's hand while Obama turned away and talked to Claire McCaskill who was on the other side of his row.

It seemed a somewhat awkward moment, but, you know, that's the politics I guess of the state of the union address during a presidential year.

BLITZER: There will be plenty of awkward moments as we await the arrival of the president. If he hasn't yet, he will be leaving within seconds the holding room and make his way to the House of Representatives, the floor, where he will be introduced. It will take him several minutes to walk up to the podium where he'll be standing in front of the vice president, Dick Cheney, who is the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. This is an event that the president clearly looks forward to.

I had a chance to spend some time with him today with other anchors and reporters over at the White House. And I can tell you he is not feeling nostalgic. He wants to - as he maintains, he sees this final year in office as a sprint. He has got a lot to do. As we await his arrival he's confident he can get some of the things achieved including, and he's going to make reference to this in a speech tonight, including an Israeli/Palestinian agreement. Which he's going to devote a lot of personal energy to over the course of the next several months. Just back from the Middle East. Let's listen.

All right. He's about to walk in. And you can see the doors beginning to open as the final members are there. He's waiting now for the announcement. Let's listen.

BARRY SULLIVAN, MAJORITY FLOOR SERVICES CHIEF: Madame Speaker, the president of the United States.

BLITZER: So there he is, the president, he's walking into the House of Representatives, getting a standing ovation even before he says a word. John, King, as we see the president walk in, there's always interesting moments. I remember a couple or three years ago when he gave a big hug to Joe Lieberman. You remember that.

KING: He did. He gave a kiss to Dick Gephardt one time, a kiss on the cheek after one speech after 9/11, I believe. This is always a big moment for the president of the United States. He knows that he is viewed as a lame duck in Washington. But as you just noted, he's not a quitter.

And it's also remarkable, Wolf, we have back-to-back two-term presidencies. That is pretty rare in American politics. You had Bill Clinton serve for eight years. Now George W. Bush for eight years. He's walking into a Congress that not only is asking who will the next president be to walk down this aisle, but also what will happen there?

I mentioned earlier that Bush will leave office a polarizing figure. That's not all his fault if you will, to use the word fault. The Congress has been so evenly divided.

BLITZER: Let's listen briefly, if we can pick up some of the sound as the president walks in. Because we might get something interesting.

Meeting with the Supreme Court justices right now. In the front of your screen you see to their backs members of the Joint Chief of Staffs. There it is. A good picture of two colleagues, Senator Barack Obama and Senator Ted Kennedy. They made news today Senator Kennedy endorsing Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Gloria, you've watched a lot of these events over the years. And the president has got a tough assignment tonight.

BORGER: Yeah, he does, Wolf. He's got to let it be known that he is still the president of the United States, despite the fact that there's a really contested and interesting election going onto see who his replacement is going to be. He's in the 30s in the polls, Wolf. He has to prove that he can still govern.

BLITZER: He'll be introduced right now once again. And then he will begin his remarks. But there's always a lot of applause for these kinds of events.

And I know that yesterday and today the president was very, very busy rehearsing over at the white house with the teleprompter, rehearsing this speech. He didn't do it on Saturday. He took the day off and relaxed a little bit. But the speech has been prepared for sometime. And the president wants to make sure it's delivered precisely the way it should be delivered. Let's see how he does in the course of this, over the next 45 minutes to an hour or so.

That's the gallery of the first lady watching. And I guess we can just listen in. I think this is about to die down, the applause.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, Members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Seven years have passed since I first stood before you at this rostrum. In that time, our country has been tested in ways none of us could have imagined. We faced hard decisions about peace and war, rising competition in the world economy, and the health and welfare of our citizens.

These issues call for vigorous debate, and I think it's fair to say we've answered the call.


Yet history will record that, amid our differences, we acted with purpose. And together we showed the world the power and resilience of American self-government.

All of us were sent to Washington to carry out the people's business. That is the purpose of this body. It is the meaning of our oath. It remains our charge to keep.

The actions of the 110th Congress will affect the security and prosperity of our nation long after this session has ended. In this election year, let us show our fellow Americans that we recognize our responsibilities and are determined to meet them.

Let us show them that Republicans and Democrats can compete for votes and cooperate for results at the same time.


From expanding opportunity to protecting our country, we've made good progress. Yet we have unfinished business before us, and the American people expect us to get it done.

In the work ahead, we must be guided by the philosophy that made our nation great. As Americans, we believe in the power of individuals to determine their destiny and shape the course of history. We believe that the most reliable guide for our country is the collective wisdom of ordinary citizens.

And so, in all we do, we must trust in the ability of free peoples to make wise decisions and empower them to improve their lives for their futures.

To build a prosperous future, we must trust people with their own money and empower them to grow our economy. As we meet tonight, our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty. America's added jobs for a record 52 straight months.

But jobs are now growing at a slower pace. Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined.

At kitchen tables across our country, there is a concern about our economic future. In the long run, Americans can be confident about our economic growth, but in the short run, we can all see that that growth is slowing.

So, last week, my administration reached agreement with Speaker Pelosi and Republican Leader Boehner on a robust growth package that includes tax relief for individuals and families and incentives for business investment.

The temptation will be to load up the bill. That would delay it or derail it, and neither option is acceptable.


This is a good agreement that will keep our economy growing and our people working. And this Congress must pass it as soon as possible.


We have other work to do on taxes. Unless Congress acts, most of the tax relief we've delivered over the past seven years will be taken away.

Some in Washington argue that letting tax relief expire is not a tax increase.

Try explaining that to 116 million American taxpayers who will see their taxes rise by an average of $1,800. Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm. I am pleased to report that the IRS accepts both checks and money orders.



Most Americans think their taxes are high enough. With all the other pressures on their finances, American families should not have to worry about the federal government taking a bigger bite out of their paychecks. There is only one way to eliminate this uncertainty: Make the tax relief permanent.


Members of the Congress should know, if any bill -- raises taxes reach -- reaches my desk, I will veto it.


Just as we trust Americans with their own money, we need to earn their trust by spending their tax dollars wisely.


Next week, I'll send you a budget that terminates or substantially reduces 151 wasteful or bloated programs, totaling more than $18 billion. The budget that I'll submit will keep America on track for a surplus in 2012.

American families have to balance their budgets; so should their government.


The people's trust in their government is undermined by congressional earmarks, special interest projects that are often snuck in at the last minute, without discussion or debate.

Last year, I asked you to voluntarily cut the number and cost of earmarks in half. I also asked you to stop slipping earmarks into committee reports that never even come to a vote.

Unfortunately, neither goal was met.

So, this time, if you send me an appropriations bill that does not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half, I'll send it back to you with my veto.


And tomorrow I will issue an executive order that directs federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on by Congress.

If these items are truly worth funding, Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote.


Our shared responsibilities extend beyond matters of taxes and spending. On housing, we must trust Americans with the responsibility of home ownership and empower them to weather turbulent times in the housing market.

My administration brought together the Hope Now alliance, which is helping many struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.

And Congress can help even more.

Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, modernize the Federal Housing Administration, and allow state housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to help homeowners refinance their mortgages.


It's been a difficult time for many American families and, by taking these steps, we can help more of them keep their homes.

To build a future of quality health care, we must trust patients and doctors to make medical decisions and empower them with better information and better options.

We share a common goal: making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans.


The best way to achieve that goal is by expanding consumer choice, not government control.


So I propose ending the bias in the tax code against those who do not get their health insurance through their employer. This one reform would put private coverage within reach for millions, and I call on the Congress to pass it this year.


Congress must also expand health savings accounts, create association health plans for small businesses, promote health information technology and confront the epidemic of junk medical lawsuits.


With all these steps, we will ensure that decisions about your medical care are made in the privacy of your doctor's office, not in the halls of Congress.


On education, we must trust students to learn, if given the chance, and empower parents to demand results from our schools.

In neighborhoods across our country, there are boys and girls with dreams. And a decent education is their only hope of achieving them.

Six years ago, we came together to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, and today no one can deny its results.

Last year, 4th and 8th graders achieved the highest math scores on record. Reading scores are on the rise. African-American and Hispanic students posted all-time highs. Now we must...


Now we must work together to increase accountability, add flexibilities for states and districts, reduce the number of high school dropouts, provide extra help for struggling schools.

Members of Congress, the No Child Left Behind Act is a bipartisan achievement. It is succeeding. And we owe it to America's children, their parents and their teachers to strengthen this good law.


We must also do more to help children when their schools do not measure up. Thanks to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships you approved, more than 2,600 of the poorest children in our nation's capital have found new hope at a faith-based or other nonpublic schools.

Sadly, these schools are disappearing at an alarming rate in many of America's inner cities. So I will convene a White House summit aimed at strengthening these lifelines of learning.

And to open the doors of these schools to more children, I ask you to support a new $300 million program called Pell Grants for Kids. We have seen how Pell Grants help low-income college students realize their full potential.

Together, we've expanded the size and reach of these grants. Now let us apply the same spirit to help liberate poor children trapped in failing public schools.


On trade, we must trust American workers to compete with anyone in the world and empower them by opening up new markets overseas.

Today, our economic growth increasingly depends on our ability to sell American goods and crops and services all over the world.

So we're working to break down barriers to trade and investment, wherever we can.

We're working for a successful Doha round of trade talks. And we must complete a good agreement this year.

At the same time, we're pursuing opportunities to open up new markets by passing free trade agreements.

I thank the Congress for approving a good agreement with Peru. And now I ask you to approve agreements with Colombia and Panama and South Korea.


Many products from these nations now enter America duty-free.

Yet many of our products face steep tariffs in their markets. These agreements will level the playing field. They will give us better access to nearly 100 million customers.

They will support good jobs for the finest workers in the world, those whose products say, "Made in the USA."


These agreements also promote America's strategic interests. The first agreement that will come before you is with Colombia, a friend of America that is confronting violence and terror and fighting drug traffickers. If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere.

So we must come together, pass this agreement, and show our neighbors in the region that democracy leads to a better life.


Trade brings better jobs and better choices and better prices. Yet, for some Americans, trade can mean losing a job. And the federal government has a responsibility to help.


I ask Congress to reauthorize and reform Trade Adjustment Assistance, so we can help these displaced workers learn new skills and find new jobs.


And I ask Congress to reauthorize the Reform Trade Adjustment Assistance so we can help these displaced workers learn new skills and find new jobs.

(APPLAUSE) To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology.


Our security, our prosperity and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil.

Last year I asked you to pass legislation to reduce oil consumption over the next decade, and you responded. Together, we should take the next steps. Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions.


Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions- free nuclear power.


Let us continue investing in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels to power the cars and trucks of the future.


Let us create a new international clean technology fund which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources.

And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases.


This agreement will be effective only if it includes commitments by every major economy and gives none a free ride.


The United States is committed to strenghening our energy security and confronting global climate change, and the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology.


To keep America competitive into the future, we must trust in the skill of our scientists and engineers and empower them to pursue the breakthroughs of tomorrow.

Last year, Congress passed legislation supporting the American Competitiveness Initiative, but never followed through with the funding. This funding is essential to keeping our scientific edge. So I ask Congress to double federal support for critical basic research in the physical sciences and ensure America remains the most dynamic nation on earth.


On matters of life and science, we must trust in the innovative spirit of medical researchers and empower them to discover new treatments while respecting moral boundaries.

In November, we witnessed a landmark achievement when scientists discovered a way to reprogram adult skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells.

This breakthrough has the potential to move us beyond the divisive debates of the past by extending the frontiers of medicine without the destruction of human life.


So we're expanding funding for this type of ethical medical research. And, as we explore promising avenues of research, we must also ensure that all life treated with the dignity it deserves.

And so I call on Congress to pass legislation that bans unethical practices such as the buying, selling, patenting or cloning of human life.


On matters of justice, we must trust in the wisdom of our founders and empower judges who understand that the Constitution means what it says.


I've submitted judicial nominees who will rule by the letter of the law, not the whim of the gavel. Many of these nominees are being unfairly delayed. They are worthy of confirmation, and the Senate should give each of them a prompt up-or-down vote.


In communities across our land, we must trust in the good heart of the American people and empower them to serve their neighbors in need.

Over the past seven years, more of our fellow citizens have discovered that the pursuit of happiness leads to the path of service. Americans have volunteered in record numbers. Charitable donations are higher than ever. Faith-based groups are bringing hope to pockets of despair with newfound support from the federal government.

And, to help guarantee equal treatment of faith-based organizations when they compete for federal funds, I ask you to permanently extend Charitable Choice. (APPLAUSE)

Tonight, the armies of compassion continue the march to a new day in the Gulf Coast. America honors the strength and resilience of the people of this region. We reaffirm our pledge to help them build stronger and better than before.

And tonight I'm pleased to announce that, in April, we will host this year's North American Summit of Canada, Mexico, and the United States in the great city of New Orleans.


There are two other pressing challenges that I've raised repeatedly before this body, and that this body has failed to address: entitlement spending and immigration.

Every member in this chamber knows that spending on entitlement programs -- like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- is growing faster than we can afford.

We all know the painful choices ahead if American stays on this path: massive tax increases, sudden and drastic cuts in benefits, and crippling deficits.

I've laid out proposals to reform these programs. Now I ask members of Congress to offer your proposals and come up with a bipartisan solution to save these vital programs for our children and our grandchildren.


The other pressing challenge is immigration. America needs to secure our borders. And, with your help, my administration is taking steps to do so. We're increasing worksite enforcement, deploying fences and advanced technologies to stop illegal crossings.

We've effectively ended the policy of "catch and release" at the border. And by the end of this year, we will have doubled the number of border patrol agents.

Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy.


This will take pressure off the border and allow law enforcement to concentrate on those who mean us harm.

We must also find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally. Illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved, and it must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals.

(APPLAUSE) This is the business of our nation here at home. Yet building a prosperous future for our citizens also depends on confronting enemies abroad and advancing liberty in troubled regions of the world.

Our foreign policy is based on a clear premise: We trust that people, when given the chance, will choose a future of freedom and peace.

In the last seven years, we have witnessed stirring moments in the history of liberty. We've seen citizens in Georgia and Ukraine stand up for their right to free and fair elections. We've seen people in Lebanon take to the streets to demand their independence. We've seen Afghans emerge from the tyranny of the Taliban and choose a new president and a new parliament.

We've seen jubilant Iraqis holding up ink-stained fingers and celebrating their freedom.

These images of liberty have inspired us.


In the past seven years, we've also seen the images that have sobered us. We've watched throngs of mourners in Lebanon and Pakistan carrying the caskets of beloved leaders taken by the assassins' hands.

We've seen wedding guests in blood-soaked finery staggering from a hotel in Jordan, Afghans and Iraqis blown up in mosques and markets, and trains in London and Madrid ripped apart by bombs.

On a clear September day, we saw thousands of our fellow citizens taken from us in an instant.

These horrific images serve as a grim reminder. The advance of liberty is opposed by terrorists and extremists -- evil men who despise freedom, despise America and aim to subject millions to their violent rule.

Since 9/11, we have taken the fight to these terrorists and extremists. We will stay on the offense. We will keep up the pressure, and we will deliver justice to our enemies.

We are engaged in the defining ideological struggle of the 21st century. The terrorists oppose every principle of humanity and decency that we hold dear.

Yet, in this war on terror, there is one thing we and our enemies agree on. In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny.

And that is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to the people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.

And that is why, for the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom. (APPLAUSE)

In Afghanistan, America, our 25 NATO allies and 15 partner nations are helping the Afghan people defend their freedom and rebuild their country.

Thanks to the courage of these military and civilian personnel, a nation that was once a safe haven for Al Qaida is now a young democracy where boys and girls are going to school. New roads and hospitals are being built. And people are looking to the future with new hope.

These successes must continue. So we're adding 3,200 Marines to our forces in Afghanistan, where they will fight the terrorists and train the Afghan army and police.

Defeating the Taliban and Al Qaida is critical to our security, and I thank the Congress for supporting America's vital mission in Afghanistan.


In Iraq, the terrorists and extremists are fighting to deny a proud people their liberty and fighting to establish safe havens for attacks across the world.

One year ago, our enemies were succeeding in their efforts to plunge Iraq into chaos, so we reviewed our strategy and changed course.

We launched a surge of American forces into Iraq. We gave our troops a new mission: Work with the Iraqi forces to protect the Iraqi people, pursue the enemy in his strongholds, and deny the terrorists sanctuary anywhere in the country.

The Iraqi people quickly realized that something dramatic had happened.

Those who had worried that America was preparing to abandon them instead saw tens of thousands of American forces flowing into their country. They saw our forces moving into neighborhoods, clearing out the terrorists and staying behind to ensure the enemy did not return. And they saw our troops, along with provincial reconstruction teams that include Foreign Service officers and other skilled public servants, coming in to ensure that improved security was followed by improvements in daily life.

Our military and civilians in Iraq are performing with courage and distinction, and they have the gratitude of our whole nation.


The Iraqis launched a surge of their own.

In the fall of 2006, Sunni tribal leaders grew tired of Al Qaida's brutality and started a popular uprising called the Anbar Awakening. Over the past year, similar movements have spread across the country.

Today, the grassroots surge includes more than 80,000 Iraqi citizens who are fighting the terrorists.

The government in Baghdad has stepped forward as well, adding more than 100,000 new Iraqi soldiers and police during the past year.

While the enemy is still dangerous and more work remains, the American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago.


When we met last year, many said that containing the violence was impossible. A year later, high-profile terrorist attacks are down; civilian deaths are down; sectarian killings are down.

When we met last year, militia extremists, some armed and trained by Iran, were wreaking havoc in large areas of Iraq.

A year later, coalition and Iraqi forces have killed or captured hundreds of militia fighters. And Iraqis of all backgrounds increasingly realize that defeating these militia fighters is critical to the future of their country.

When we met last year, Al Qaida had sanctuaries in many areas of Iraq. And their leaders had just offered American forces safe passage out of the country.

Today, it is Al Qaida that is searching for safe passage.

They have been driven from many of the strongholds they once held, and over the past year, we've captured or killed thousands of extremists in Iraq, including hundreds of key Al Qaida leaders and operatives.

Last month, Osama bin Laden released a tape in which he railed against Iraqi tribal leaders who have turned on Al Qaida and admitted that coalition forces are growing stronger in Iraq.

Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working. But, among the terrorists, there is no doubt: Al Qaida is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.


When we met last year our troop levels in Iraq were on the rise. Today, because of the progress just described, we are implementing a policy of return on success, and the surge forces we sent to Iraq are beginning to come home.

This progress is a credit to the valor of our troops and the brilliance of their commanders.

This evening, I want to speak directly to our men and women on the front lines, soldiers and sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen. In the past year, you have done everything we've asked of you and more.

Our nation is grateful for your courage. We are proud of your accomplishments.

And tonight, in this hallowed chamber with the American people as our witness, we make you a solemn pledge: In the fight ahead, you will have all you need to protect our nation.


And I ask Congress to meet its responsibilities to these brave men and women by fully funding our troops.


Our enemies in Iraq have been hit hard. They are not yet defeated and we can still expect tough fighting ahead.

Our objective in the coming year is to sustain and build on the gains we made in 2007, while transitioning to the next phase of our strategy. American troops are shifting from leading operations to partnering with Iraqi forces and eventually to a protective over-watch mission.

As part of this transition, one Army Brigade Combat team and one Marine Expeditionary Unit have already come home and will not be replaced. In the coming months, four additional brigades and two Marine battalions will follow suit.

Taken together, this means more than 20,000 of our troops are coming home.


Any further drawdown of U.S. troops will be based on conditions in Iraq and the recommendations of our commanders.

General Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown could result in, quote, "the disintegration of the Iraqi security forces, Al Qaida- Iraq regaining lost ground, and a marked increase in violence."

Members of Congress, having come so far and achieved so much, we must not allow this to happen.


In the coming year, we will work with Iraqi leaders as they build on the progress they're making toward political reconciliation.

At the local levels, Sunnis, Shia and Kurds are beginning to come together to reclaim their communities and rebuild their lives. Progress in the provinces must be matched by progress in Baghdad.


We're seeing some encouraging signs. The national government is sharing oil revenues with the provinces. The parliament recently passed both a pension law and de-Baathification reform. They're now debating a provincial powers law.

The Iraqis still have a distance to travel. But, after decades of dictatorship and the pain of sectarian violence, reconciliation is taking place and the Iraqi people are taking control of their future.


The mission in Iraq has been difficult and trying for our nation, but it is in the vital interest of the United States that we succeed.

A free Iraq will deny Al Qaida a safe haven. A free Iraq will show millions across the Middle East that a future of liberty is possible. A free Iraq will be a friend of America, a partner in fighting terror and a source of stability in a dangerous part of the world.

By contrast, a failed Iraq would embolden the extremists, strengthen Iran and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies and our homeland.

The enemy has made its intentions clear.

At a time when the momentum seemed to favor them, Al Qaida's top commander in Iraq declared that they will not rest until they have attacked us here in Washington.

My fellow Americans, we will not rest either. We will not rest until this enemy has been defeated.


We must do the difficult work today so that, years from now, people will look back and say that this generation rose to the moment, prevailed in a tough fight and left behind a more hopeful region and a safer America.


We're also standing against the forces of extremism in the Holy Land, where we have new cause for hope. Palestinians have elected a president who recognizes that confronting terror is essential to achieving a state where his people can live in dignity and at peace with Israel.

Israelis have leaders who recognize that a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state will be a source of lasting security.

This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do and I will do everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year.

The time has come for a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side by side in peace. (APPLAUSE)

We're also standing against the forces of extremism embodied by the regime in Tehran.

Iran's rulers oppress a good and talented people. And wherever freedom advances in the Middle East, it seems the Iranian regime is there to oppose it.

Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, and backing Hamas' efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land.

Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range and continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium, which could be used to create a nuclear weapon.

Our message to the people of Iran is clear. We have no quarrel with you. We have respect your traditions and your history. We look forward to the day when you have your freedom.

Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear. Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment so negotiations can begin. And to rejoin the community of nations, come clean about your nuclear intentions and past actions. Stop your oppression at home. Cease your support for terror abroad.

But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops; we will stand by our allies; and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.


On the homefront, we will continue to take every lawful and effective measure to protect our country. This is our most solemn duty.

We are grateful that there has not been another attack on our soil since 9/11. But this is not for the lack of desire or effort on the part of the enemy.

In the past six years, we've stopped numerous attacks, including a plot to fly a plane into the tallest building in Los Angeles, and another to blow up passenger jets bound for America over the Atlantic.

Dedicated men and women in our government toil day and night to stop the terrorists from carrying out their plans. These good citizens are saving American lives, and everyone in this chamber owes them our thanks.


And we owe them something more. We owe them the tools they need to keep our people safe. And one of the most important tools we can give them is the ability to monitor terrorist communications.

To protect America, we need to know who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying and what they're planning.

Last year, Congress passed legislation to help us do that.

Unfortunately, Congress set the legislation to expire on February 1st. That means, if you don't act by Friday, our ability to track terrorist threats would be weakened and our citizens will be in greater danger.

Congress must ensure the flow of vital intelligence is not disrupted. Congress must pass liability protection for companies believed to have assisted in the efforts to defend America. We've had ample time for debate. The time to act is now.


Protecting our nation from the dangers of a new century requires more than good intelligence and a strong military. It also requires changing the conditions that breed resentment and allow extremists to prey on despair. So America is using its influence to build a freer, more hopeful and more compassionate world.

This is a reflection of our national interests. It is the calling of our conscience. America opposes genocide in Sudan.


We support freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma.


America's leading the fight against global poverty with strong education initiatives and humanitarian assistance. We've also changed the way we deliver aid by launching the Millennium Challenge Account.

This program strengthens democracy, transparency and the rule of law in developing nations, and I ask you to fully fund this important initiative.


America is leading the fight against global hunger. Today, more than half the world's food aid comes from the United States.


And tonight, I ask Congress to support an innovative proposal to provide food assistance by purchasing crops directly from farmers in the developing world, so we can build up local agriculture and help break the cycle of famine.


America is leading the fight against disease. With your help, we're working to cut, by half, the number of malaria-related deaths in 15 African nations. And our emergency plan for AIDS relief is treating 1.4 million people.

We can bring healing and hope to many more. So I ask you to maintain the principles that have changed behavior and made this program a success. And I call on you to double our initial commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS by approving an additional $30 billion over the next five years.


America is a force for hope in the world because we are a compassionate people. And some of the most compassionate Americans are those who have stepped forward to protect us.

We must keep faith with all who have risked life and limb so that we might live in freedom and peace.

Over the past seven years, we've increased funding for veterans by more than 95 percent. And as we increase funding...


And as we increase funding, we must also reform our veterans' system to meet the needs of a new war and a new generation.


And, as we increase funding, we must also reform our veterans system to meet the needs of a new war and a new generation.


I call on Congress to enact the reforms recommended by Senator Bob Dole and Secretary Donna Shalala so we can improve the system of care for our wounded warriors and help them build lives of hope and promise and dignity.


Our military families also sacrifice for America. They endure sleepless nights and the daily struggle of providing for children while a loved one is serving far from home.

We have a responsibility to provide for them. So I ask you to join me in expanding their access to child care, creating new hiring preferences for military spouses across the federal government, and allowing our troops to transfer their unused education benefits to their spouses or children.


Our military families serve our nation. They inspire our nation, and tonight our nation honors them.


The secret of our strength, the miracle of America, is that our greatness lies not in our government, but in the spirit and determination of our people. When the federal convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, our nation was bound by the Articles of Confederation which began with the words, "We the undersigned delegates."

When Gouverneur Morris was asked to draft a preamble to our new Constitution, he offered an important revision, and opened with words that changed the course of our nation and the history of the world: "We the people."

By trusting the people, our founders wagered that a great and noble nation could be built on the liberty that resides in the hearts of all men and women. By trusting the people, succeeding generations transformed our fragile young democracy into the most powerful nation on earth and a beacon of hope for millions.

And so long as we continue to trust the people, our nation will prosper, our liberty will be secure and the state of our union will remain strong.


So tonight, with confidence in freedom's power and trust in the people, let us set forth to do their business. God bless America.