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State of the Union Analysis; Democratic Response

Aired January 28, 2008 - 22:02   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, with those words, the president of the United States completes his final State of the Union address in this, the final year of his presidency.
The state of our union, he says, will remain strong, the president speaking for almost an hour in a carefully crafted speech about half on domestic, economic issues, about half on foreign policy issues.

We are going to watch him as he continues to walk through this room and get ready to leave.

Jessica Yellin, you are in the House of Representatives right now. You listened from inside the gallery. What was it like?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was quite a scene to watch them all so up close.

I saw a lot of enthusiasm, surprisingly, a special enthusiasm when the president talked about his fight against greenhouse gasses, and that he wanted an international agreement on this, quick response from both Senators Clinton and Obama.

I saw at one moment, it appeared that Barack Obama was peering over at one moment to see if Senator Clinton had stood to applaud for something. You know, there is always this politics of who stands up, but, you know, a very civil evening. I have not seen them all night, Wolf, shake hands. They're so close together. And neither has greeted the other -- very interesting dynamic.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed.

You know, John King, as you watch this annual event, sometimes, the Republicans are standing and the Democrats are sitting. I don't think we necessarily saw the Democrats standing and the Republicans sitting, although, when the president did defend his comprehensive immigration reform, more Democrats stood than perhaps Republicans.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That was the one moment where the Democrats definitely outweighed the Republicans in applause.

Wolf, you know, over the next year, there's going to be a great debate about the Bush legacy. You just saw one quick snapshot of it there, as he was making his way past the Supreme Court, Justice Samuel Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts. That is one Bush legacy. You get a long list of other proposals tonight, his proposal to make his tax cuts permanent, Social Security reform, Medicare reform, that education proposal you just mentioned. He knows full well none of that will be done in the -- heading into a presidential election year. It simply will not be done.

But the president's job in a State of the Union is to lay out an agenda.

BLITZER: He's signing autographs and he's shaking hands with a lot of members.

Gloria, what did you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought that tonight's State of the Union was really conciliatory in tone, Wolf.

You know, this is a president who has done a lot of battles with this Congress. And, tonight, what he did was, he delivered, essentially, a domestic laundry list of things that a president can do, like vetoing bills with pork-barrel spending, and -- and restated his commitment on the war, and a lofty goal, Wolf, a Mideast peace agreement, in which he sounded an awful lot like Bill Clinton, who, of course, tried.

BLITZER: Tried and failed in his final year to achieve it then.

I spent some time over at the White House today. And I can tell you, the president is energized by the possibility, Jeff Toobin, that he could achieve a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians this year. If he does that, that would be a huge item for his legacy.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: It certainly would. And, of course, it does not require the assent of Congress. It is something he can do his own, without the Democratic majority in Congress.

I was struck by one phrase that -- he says, we are spreading the hope of freedom. That struck me as a lot more modest a goal than what he expressed in his second inaugural address, where he talked about the elimination of tyranny on Earth, which was, you know, so ambitious.

Spreading the hope of freedom is a lot more modest goal, and I think a recognition of how difficult his second term has been in spreading freedom, even in Iraq, much less in the whole world.

He is exchanging some pleasantries with members as he walks out, signing autographs.

Maybe we can just listen in and eavesdrop a little bit, hear what he is saying.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks a lot. Appreciate it. Great speech.

BUSH: Thanks.

Enjoyed giving it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was obvious.

BUSH: Thanks.

Mac, how are you? You did well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, great job.


BUSH: We talked about it.


BUSH: Where is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's from the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great job with it, Mr. President.


BLITZER: All right, you heard him say, "I enjoyed giving it" when somebody said, "Great speech, Mr. President."

He's getting close to that door.

Ed Henry is over at the White House.

What did you think?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I thought it was interesting.

A lot of times before a big speech, you know, White House officials say, don't expect anything new. And then there is some sort of surprise. And it's because they wanted to set very low expectations. In this case, beforehand, they set low expectation. And I think the president met them.

He did not really unveil anything that dramatically new. As you noted, he does have high hopes on Mideast peace. And I think, in fairness to him, you have to also point out he has a much different picture in Iraq.

One year ago, at the last State of the Union, he was defending a very controversial surge policy. Democrats were lining up to have all kinds of votes to change that policy. In one year, the Democrats have basically lost all those votes. And the president has seen some dramatic security gains on the ground.

But let's face it. He still doesn't have a lot of political reconciliation within the Iraqi government. And he's only talked about bringing home 20,000 U.S. troops. There's still about 140,000 that will remain. So, a lot to go still in Iraq, of course, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the Democrats were not standing, necessarily, John King, when the president was making all those references to the success of the surge, as he pointed out, and what -- what his plans are for Iraq.

KING: And think back to what the president just said there. Everyone says, is this president relevant? Is he a lame duck? What he just said about Iraq and what he just said about taxes and the economy will be the defining debates of the presidential election, once we know the Democratic and the Republican nominees.

The president says, the surge is working. The president says, some of you might not believe that, but al Qaeda does. That was a direct reference to the Democrats and, of course, two of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, Senators Clinton and Obama, sitting in the audience.

The president also talked about making his tax cuts permanent. And he made a joke directly aimed at Bill Clinton. He said this. Others have said they would personally be happy to pay higher taxes. I welcome their enthusiasm and I'm pleased to report the IRS accepts both checks and money orders.

Bill Clinton has gone around the country saying, I'm a wealthy man now. I should pay higher taxes. That was George Bush's only direct reference -- and it was very indirect, actually -- to the presidential campaign.

And, Wolf, you know hem well. He loves politics. He would have loved to have played a little bit in the campaign. But he knows that's not his job, not in that place.

BLITZER: And I think he is thinking, looking ahead to what, if any, role he will be playing in this campaign over the next year, once there is a Republican candidate, whoever that might be.

TOOBIN: Think about the Republican Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Think how difficult it's going to be for the Republicans to display George Bush in a way that helps their -- their chances in the fall.

He is so unpopular now. They never mention him during the campaign. He never comes up in the Republican debates, unless you or one of the other people, moderators, ask about it. He is gone from being 90 percent approval rating to close to a political pariah. That is quite a fall.

BORGER: Wolf, there are already discussions actually going on about just what role George Bush will play in that convention. But there was one other interesting thing to me tonight. And that is that the president did sort of lay out an agenda for future congresses. He said, what this body didn't do, what we couldn't get done, was immigration reform and curbing entitlement spending.

Whatever you think of George Bush, these were two big issues that they tried, they tried and failed. And he made it very clear that this is going to be the work of future congresses and future presidents.

And there is no doubt that he feels that that was a huge missed opportunity, that comprehensive immigration reform that he and Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy, they all got together. They worked out what they thought was a deal. He said, I will see you at the signing ceremony. And, at the end, it collapsed.

And you know what? He tends to blame Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, for going on -- he likes to call it vacation as the bill was about to be considered, which allowed radio talk show hosts and others who oppose this to go on the offensive.

KING: Well, sitting in Florida tonight, not in the House chamber, is John McCain who, of course, was the architect, with Senator Kennedy, of that bill, Wolf. And I am willing to bet $1 or more that Senator McCain was wishing the president had not brought that issue back up, because Senator McCain has not changed his position.

But it has hammered him among conservatives. And Florida is the one state where he may break even on that issue. Perhaps his position is slightly a net plus. But that is where Senator McCain has been so damaged among conservatives. And even he has changed his emphasis. He still says a guest-worker program, still say treat those here illegally humanely.

But now he says -- the man who was the leading -- leading the charge for -- quote, unquote -- "comprehensive reform" now says: I get the message, border security first.

He doesn't really want to talk about it.


TOOBIN: The rhetoric that George Bush uses on immigration is still so different from the Republican candidates for president. He talks about being humane.

You never hear Romney or -- talking about McCain, talking about humanity these days.

BLITZER: And, as we continue to see the president, he is signing a lot of autographs out there. People want to see that George Bush autograph. I guess they're collecting it for themselves, maybe for their kids and grandkids.

The specific reference he made was: "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."

BORGER: And what George Bush did was create a fault line in the Republican Party. And it's about immigration.

BLITZER: All right, let's take a quick break.

When we come back, we're going to get the Democratic response from the governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius.

She will be speaking for the Democrats -- right after this.



BUSH: 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.



BLITZER: The president speaking about the situation in Iraq in his State of the Union address that just wrapped up.

Within a few seconds, we are going to be hearing the Democratic response from the governor of Kansas, Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

John King, is she a potential vice presidential candidate we're going to be listening to?

KING: She is. And we are told she's going to endorse Barack Obama in the next several days. She's from a red state, a Republican state, in the middle of the country.

Interesting. We had that sound bite from the president on Iraq coming into the discussion, Wolf. Governor Sebelius is one of the governors who has complained most forcefully about the heavy use of the National Guard in Iraq. Remember the tornado in Kansas several months ago. She said her Guard was not ready, was not prepared, because it had been deployed to Iraq so many times. So, it will be interesting to hear what she says.

BLITZER: And we're going to go to the governor's mansion in Topeka, Kansas, for Governor Sebelius.

Kansas, by the way, is one of those Super Tuesday states, the February 5 contest. So, we will be listening very carefully.

And now let's listen to the governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius.

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), KANSAS: Good evening. I'm Kathleen Sebelius, governor of the state of Kansas. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to speak with you tonight. I'm a Democrat, but tonight it really doesn't matter whether you think of yourself as a Democrat or a Republican or an independent or none of the above.

Instead, the fact you're tuning in this evening tells me that each of you is, above all, an American, first.

You're mothers and fathers, grandparents and grandchildren, working people and business owners -- Americans, all.

And the American people -- folks like you and me -- are not nearly as divided as our rancorous politics might suggest.

In fact, right now, tonight, as the political pundits discuss the president's speech, chances are they'll obsess over reactions of members of Congress.

"How many times was the president interrupted by applause? Did Republicans stand? Did the Democrats sit?"

And the rest of us will roll our eyes and think, "What in the world does any of that have to do with me?"

And so I want to take a slight detour from tradition on this State of the Union night.

In this time, normally reserved for a partisan response, I hope to offer something more: an American response, a national call to action on behalf of the struggling families in the heartland, and across this great country; a wakeup call to Washington, on behalf of a new American majority, that time is running out on our opportunities to meet our challenges and solve our problems.

Our struggling economy requires urgent and immediate action, and then sustained attention. Families can't pay their bills. They're losing their jobs, and now are threatened with losing their homes.

We heard last week and again tonight that Congress and the president are acting quickly, on a temporary, targeted stimulus package. That's encouraging. But you and I know that a temporary fix is only the first step toward meeting our challenges and solving our problems.

There's a chance Mr. President, in the next 357 days, to get real results, and give the American people renewed optimism that their challenges are the top priority.

Working together, working hard, committing to results, we can get the job done.

In fact, over the last year, the Democratic majority in Congress has begun to move us in the right direction -- with bipartisan action to strengthen our national security, raise the minimum wage, and reduce the costs of college loans.

These are encouraging first steps. But there's still more to be done.

So we ask you, Mr. President: Will you join us? Let's get to work.

We know that we're stronger as a nation when our people have access to the highest-quality, most-affordable health care. When our businesses can compete in the global marketplace without the burden of rising health care costs here at home.

We know that caring for our children so they have a healthy and better start in life is what grownups do. Governors in both parties and a large majority of the Congress are ready, right now, to provide health care to 10 million American children, as a first step in overhauling our health care system.

Join us, Mr. President. Sign the bill and let's get to work.

Sitting with the first lady tonight was Steve Hewitt, the city manager of Greensburg, Kansas. Many of you remember Greensburg, our town nearly destroyed by a tornado last year.

Thanks to Steve's efforts, and hundreds of others in our state, and across the country, Greensburg will recover. Folks rolled up their sleeves and got to work, and local, state and federal governments assisted in the effort.

But more than just recover, the Kansans who live in Greensburg are building green, rebuilding a better community for their children and grandchildren; making shared sacrifices, and investments for the next generation.

Greensburg is not alone. You and I stand ready -- ready to protect our environment for future generations and stay economically competitive.

Mayors have committed their cities to going green; governors have joined together, leading efforts for energy security and independence; and the majority in Congress are ready to tackle the challenge of reducing global warming and creating a new energy future for America.

So we ask you, Mr. President: Will you join us? It's time to get to work.

Here in the heartland, we honor and respect military service.

We appreciate the enormous sacrifices made by soldiers and their families.

As governor of Kansas, I'm the commander in chief of our National Guard. Over the past five years, I've seen thousands of soldiers deployed from Kansas. I've visited our troops in Iraq; attended funerals and comforted families; and seen the impact at home of the war being waged.

We stand ready in the heartland and across this country, to join forces with peace-loving nations around the globe to fight the war against terrorists, wherever they may strike. But our capable and dedicated soldiers can't solve the political disputes where they are, and can't focus on the real enemies elsewhere.

The new Democratic majority of Congress and the vast majority of Americans are ready -- ready to chart a new course. If more Republicans in Congress stand with us this year, we won't have to wait for a new president to restore America's role in the world and fight a more effective war on terror.

The last five years have cost us dearly -- in lives lost; in thousands of wounded warriors whose futures may never be the same; in challenges not met here at home because our resources were committed elsewhere. America's foreign policy has left us with fewer allies and more enemies.

Join us, Mr. President. In working together with Congress to make tough, smart decisions, we will regain our standing in the world and protect our people and our interests.

I know government can work to benefit the people we serve because I see it every day, not only here in Kansas, but in states across the country.

Because I see it every day, not only here in Kansas, but in states across the country. I know government can work, Mr. President, because, like you, I grew up in a family committed to public service.

My father and my father-in-law both served in Congress; one a Republican and one a Democrat. They had far more in common than the issues that divided them: a love for their country that led them from military service to public service; a lifetime of working for the common good, making sacrifices so their children and grandchildren could have a better future.

They are called the greatest generation. But I believe, like parents across America, that our greatest generations are still to come, that we must chart a new course, at home and abroad, to give our future greatest generations all the opportunities our parents gave us.

These are uncertain times, but, with strength and determination, we can meet the challenges together. If Washington can work quickly together on a short-term fix for families caught in the financial squeeze, then we can work together to transform America.

In these difficult times, the American people aren't afraid to face difficult choices.

But, we have no more patience with divisive politics.

Tonight's address begins the final year of this presidency, with new leaders on the horizon and uncertainty throughout our land. Conditions we face, at home and abroad, are results of choices made and challenges unmet.

In spite of the attempts to convince us that we are divided as a people, a new American majority has come together. We're tired of leaders who rather than asking us what we can do for our country, ask nothing of us at all.

We're Americans sharing a belief in something greater than ourselves, a nation coming together to meet challenges and find solutions; to share sacrifices and share prosperity; and focus, once again, not only on the individual good but on the common good.

On behalf of the new American majority -- the majority of elected officials at the national, state and local level, and the majority of Americans -- we ask you, Mr. President, to join us.

We're ready to work together, to be the America we have been and can be once again.

Thank you for listening. God bless and sleep well.

And, in the morning, let's get to work.

BLITZER: The governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, giving the Democratic response, the Democratic Party's response to the president's State of the Union address.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at CNN Election Center in New York.

Anderson Cooper continues our coverage right now -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thanks very much.