Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
State of the Union Excerpts Soon; Surviving on Two Gallons of Water; Interview with David Axelrod
Aired January 27, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick, thanks very much.
Happening now, President Obama only a few hours away from facing a divided Congress and a worried nation.
Can he find the words to put the country and his administration back on track?
We standing by for the first exips -- excerpts of the State of the Union Address.
Also, this hour, tough questions about the speech and the stakes. I'll speak live with the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod. I'll also speak with the number two Republican in the House of Representatives, the minority whip, Eric Cantor.
Plus, a Haitian man says two gallons of water helped him survive two weeks in the rubble. It's one of the most remarkable survival stories yet from the quake zone.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It all begins right now. The best political team on television is in place to cover a major milestone for President Obama -- his first formal State of the Union Address. This president now feeling the weight of economic and natural disasters, ongoing wars and political defeats.
We're going to take you right into our prime time coverage of the speech and the Republican response with all of our political analysts and contributors -- Ed Rollins, Alex Castellanos, James Carville, Gloria Borger. They're all here. More will be coming over.
Let's go to John King, though, first -- John, you and I just flew into New York. We were in Washington. We had lunch over at the White House with the president of the United States. The restrictions -- I want to be up front with our viewers, what we can report, what we can't report. But to make a -- to make a long story short, it was a fascinating opportunity that all of us had to get some insight into what he will do and won't do tonight.
It should be no surprise to our viewers, the emphasis is going to be not on health care, but on jobs. JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: On jobs, jobs, jobs. And the president will try to make a downpayment on fiscal constraints and deficit reduction. To echo your point about the constraints on us as reporters, this is a tradition. Past presidents have done it.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
KING: It's very gracious of the president to sort of share his thoughts and his staff to share his thoughts on where they are at this moment.
It's quite interesting. The president feels more comfortable than in the past. This will be the third time in this hall, the House chamber, for a joint session speech -- the first one that is officially the State of the Union Address. And, yet, obviously well aware of the significant challenge he faces -- the health care reform, as the White House believes, somewhere around the two yard line.
But the question is, can they punch it in?
And what can they do in this environment, post the special election in Massachusetts, where you have a new Republican senator coming into town?
And the most interesting point I came away from is that this president believes -- and his staff believes -- that it's not their policies. They believe they've lost the connection with the American people because of a dissatisfaction with the system and all the partisanship in Washington. They seem to have the believe that if he can reestablish -- try to rebuild his political capital, which they all acknowledge was spent in the past year, and start to rebuilding a connection with the American people, that things will improve.
What is most striking about that is it's directly the opposite of what senior Republicans will tell you. They believe the American people have turned on the substance of the Obama administration, not the communications of the Obama administration.
KING: So it's a very big night for the president.
BLITZER: It's striking that they don't think they've yet made the case for health care reform -- comprehensive health care reform -- as it was originally envisaged. It -- it's also striking to me that they really feel, over there at the White House, that Washington right now is broken.
KING: Washington is broken and that that is what the president believes and his senior staff believes is fueling the political discontent -- again, not specific disagreements with his policies -- or at least not broad specific disagreements with his policies, but the sense that he was the candidate who looked different, who promised to make it different, who promised to be bipartisan, who promised to bring Republicans in and -- and that that has not happened. And, therefore, he is being blamed for it now that he's in charge.
The one sense you come away from these conversations with, Wolf, I would look tonight for the president trying to get his own footing back and trying to break the mold. Number one, to say, look, this is everybody's fault in Washington, Democrats and Republicans. But as the leader of the Democratic Party, I'm responsible for the Democratic part of this broken conversation in Washington.
And, number two, look for a challenge to the Republicans. It will be interesting to see what the president does here. But if they're going to get health care done, they're going to have to either do it all among Democrats, which most Democrats say they don't want to do because of the dicey politics, or find a way to broker a deal with the Republicans.
How will the president handle that question tonight?
It's a huge challenge.
BLITZER: It's going to be clear that priority number one for the president right now is getting this jobs bill through Congress and taking a breath, if you will, on health care reform, because that's not moving right now.
We -- we did learn the president tonight will flatly ask Congress to repeal "don't ask/don't tell," that allows -- that prevents gays from serving openly in the United States military.
KING: He will do that straight out and he has been under more pressure from gay and lesbian Americans and others who support that policy to be more aggressive in pushing that policy. He will ask the Congress to repeal "don't ask/don't tell" tonight. He will also tell the Congress that comprehensive immigration reform is still a top priority.
The interesting question and the expectation is no -- the interesting question is will he put any pressure on the Congress?
Remember, last year, it was pass health care and pass health care this year. The president did not get that goal -- did not get that critical wish. And they are much more reluctant at the White House this time, understanding, A, the new political math; and, B, we are closer with each passing minute to the midterm elections. And that makes a lot of Democrats very reluctant. Never mind the Republicans, it makes Democrats reluctant to touch sensitive issues like immigration and gays in the military.
BLITZER: All right, John, stand by, because we're going to continue this conversation.
KING: All right.
BLITZER: I want to bring in some members of the best political team on television -- Ed, if you -- you listen to what the president says and what he thinks and some of his top advisers, it's clear he feels totally frustrated by the -- the balloon, if you will, of Washington, DC
He needs to get out there and speak to people, as he did during the campaign, which I think is something Ronald Reagan used to feel, as well.
ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's all -- it's always good to get out and get a feeling. But I think the bottom line is Washington isn't any different than it was a year ago. He had promised to make it different. But what is different is the Democratic unity is broken.
ROLLINS: Democrats themselves are very concerned. Republicans are unified. A year ago, we were flat on our tail. Today, we basically feel our strategy has worked, that we've stood up to them. But more important, they're the ones in disarray. They're the ones that are fighting among each other. And I think he's got to bring them back and make them feel good about (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: Is it possible for moderate Republicans right now, Alex, to cooperate with this White House in the second year, given the influence of some of the more conservative elements, especially the radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, if you will?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's absolutely possible, if the president...
BLITZER: It's impossible or possible?
CASTELLANOS: It's possible if the president moves toward the center. If he was the uniting Obama that he was during the campaign, when, for example, he supported pay as you go budgeting. But, you know, the worst thing in the world that happened to Barack Obama, he got 60 seats in the Senate. He got a Democratic controlled House. He's had to move left to take care of them. He's now freed from that. You know, the Massachusetts election now says he needs to reach across the middle and work with Republicans. But he's got to move toward the middle. If he does that, he'll find Republican support.
BLITZER: But he did get a vote of confidence today. During this luncheon, John and I and some other anchors had over there at the White House for the staff at the White House. The president still likes the decision making process there -- James, should he?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, and I think he's got a talented staff. But -- but -- the problem -- I don't mean to be kind of a smart aleck here, but if Washington is broken, he's president of the United States and his party is in charge of Washington. And so I think, fundamentally, people are going to say that we agree, Mr. President...
CASTELLANOS: But you've got the car keys.
CARVILLE: ...and what are you going to do to correct it? CASTELLANOS: Right.
CARVILLE: Yes, you have the keys. I mean he's not a -- a minor play in -- in the City of Washington.
BORGER: Well, and that's why he's got to talk tonight to his own Democrats inside that chamber, because he's got to unite the Democrats. Then he's got to talk to Independent voters outside the chamber. But his own Democrats are looking for some leadership from him, particularly on where they go on an issue like health care, which is now just sitting out there waiting to either die or be revived.
BLITZER: It's going to be sitting for -- for a while, I guess.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by.
We are only just beginning.
We have a lot more coming up -- more information coming out of this luncheon that we had over at the White House. That's coming up.
Also tonight, look for a tiebreaker, if you will -- that's what we're calling it -- at the State of the Union Address -- one that actually involves, yes, ties. Since 2000, every president has worn a red tie or a blue tie when giving his annual address before Congress. The tally so far, by the way, five blue ties, five red ties, if you count Mr. Obama's red and white striped tie last year.
Who knows, maybe he'll wear a red and blue tie this year.
Stay tuned. We'll be watching fashion, as well as politics.
We have a lot more coming up. There are also other important stories we're working on, in Haiti and elsewhere.
Our coverage of this important day continues, right after this.
BLITZER: We're hours away from the president's State of the Union Address before a joint session of the United States Congress. We'll have complete coverage coming up. The president will make his way from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other. That's a beautiful shot of the U.S. Capitol right now.
Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- a big day, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed.
With the hundreds of billions of dollars this country has spent since 9/11, here's something to think about. The United States is not prepared to protect itself against the threat of WMDs, at the same time that Al Qaeda seems intend on launching another large scale attack against this country.
A bipartisan commission appointed by Congress is giving both the White House and Congress failing grades for not coming up with a rapid response to deal with disease outbreaks from bioterrorism or providing enough oversight of security and intelligence agencies. The chairman of that panel says the U.S. No longer has, quote, "the luxury of a slow learning curve when we know Al Qaeda is interested in biological weapons," unquote.
It's not very reassuring that this report comes on the heels of that failed attempt to blow up an airport bound for Detroit on Christmas Day, after which President Obama acknowledged that our intelligence agencies didn't connect the dots.
And Osama bin Laden is back, praising that attempted bombing near Detroit in a new audio recording. Bin Laden says it was a heroic act meant to remind us of the 9/11 terror attacks and he warned that more attacks against this country are coming. Intelligence officials worry that Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula, which claimed responsibility for the Christmas bomb attempt, may have trained other suicide bombers to board other airports. Last week, Britain elevated its threat level to severe -- the second highest level. And at the same time, American officials have described what they're calling an unusually high number of people on the no fly list trying to board planes bound for the United States.
So here's the question: Has the United States done enough to protect itself against another major terror attack?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog -- --, Wolf.
BLITZER: Lots of -- lots of worry out there, I can tell you, by high ranking officials.
All right. Thanks very much, Jack.
In the ruins of Haiti right now, quake victims are looking for any source of hope they can cling to. The story of a man pulled from the rubble yesterday is truly remarkable. One doctor even calls it exhilarating. The man says he had been trapped since the day the quake struck -- a full two weeks.
We're going to go to Haiti for some live reports coming up.
But first, some background on what has happened from CNN's Karl Penhaul.
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): From the ruins, another survivor. Thirty-one-year-old street vendor Ricot Duprevil says he was entombed when the quake struck. His right thigh was smashed, but he says he survived on water from a two gallon jug that was just within reach. CNN couldn't independently verify all details of his story, but what we do know is Haitians pulled him out Tuesday from rubble where they were scavenging. U.S. Army medics searching nearby buildings in downturn Port-au-Prince treated him.
SPEC. ANDREW POURAK, U.S. ARMY MEDIC: I couldn't even get a reaction out of him initially. We kept trying to ask him what hurts or anything and he kind of just kept flailing his head.
SPEC. NELSEN WHITNEY, U.S. ARMY MEDIC: Yes, he was apparently so dehydrated that he couldn't speak, his mouth was so dry. So it was kind of our first indication that he might have been there for a while.
PENHAUL: We met Duprevil two hours after his rescue at this U.S. field hospital. Surgeons were working to fix his broken leg. Haitian American doctor, Henri Ford, was one of the team treating him.
He translates Duprevil's story of survival.
DR. HENRI FORD, TREATED DUPREVIL: And after the earthquake, I was in (INAUDIBLE) 12. Everybody started running, so he decided to start running. And he actually tried to take asylum in a place -- in -- in one of the buildings and that building collapsed. And what kept him alive was the fact that he was facing a two gallon thing of water. And he would actually ration it out.
So he was completely trapped. He could not move. There was no room for him to do anything other than breathe and get some water.
PENHAUL: Duprevil told me he spent his ordeal thinking about his wife and four children. He said he asked God not to let him die without telling them good-bye. Then on Tuesday morning, he says he drank his last drop of water. But his luck had not quite run out.
FORD: Some people started to go through the rubble and they noticed that he was alive. Then he screamed and they were able to see that he was alive and they dug him out of there.
PENHAUL: There are only a handful of documented cases of people being trapped and surviving any natural disaster for so long. Duprevil's sister has arrived. She confirmed to doctors here her brother had been missing since the day of the quake.
Doctors say they were unable to do full blood tests, which may have thrown up more clues about how long he had been trapped.
The U.S. Combat medics who initially treated Duprevil, that building already damaged by the quake fully collapsed Tuesday afternoon. They say there were scavengers nearby, but do not know if Duprevil was pulled from that same building.
Dr. Susan Briggs is head of the field hospital and a disaster veteran. She's keeping an open mind and says she tends to believe Duprevil's incredible tale. DR. SUSAN BRIGGS, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: We don't know the circumstances, other than what the patient tells us. He clearly had dust, had been under the rubble, whatever the time period. People who are entombed -- meaning they're almost in a cave -- have variable amounts of survival. It's a different entity than what we normally say after 72 hours.
PENHAUL: (on camera): Doctors say they will now keep the man's leg in traction for the next several hours, x-ray the fracture and later set it, possibly with pins. The entire treatment could take more than a week.
(voice-over): A week in a hospital will seem like a heartbeat compared to 14 days and nights buried under rubble. Duprevil's story may be another example of Haitian true grit -- another example of how the impossible can rise from the ruins.
PENHAUL: Now to be frank with you, Wolf, we did take a little bit longer than normal to put this story together, because we really wanted to pin down the facts as best we were able to.
For what reason?
Because now, 14 days after the earthquake, people are really reaching the limits of human survivability under an earthquake under any circumstances. In fact, there are only a few dozen -- or only a dozen or so documented cases of anybody being trapped in any natural disaster and surviving this long. But the end result, we found from our reporting, was, to the best of the doctors' belief, the story is true that this man spent 14 incredible days under that rubble -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. And he had two gallons of water to help him survive. If there are others who are still alive, they might be alive because they have access to water or other drinks or some food. So that's why the hope continues.
Karl, we're going to check back with you.
Thanks very much.
We're also going to check back with Anderson Cooper.
He's in Haiti.
We're going to make sure we watch this story, as well.
We're standing by to go back to the White House. The senior adviser to the president, David Axelrod, will be joining us live in just a few moments. He'll brief us -- give us a little preview of what the president plans to say tonight.
BLITZER: At the U.S. Capitol, some members are already inside the chamber. They're getting ready for the president's State of the Union Address. They want good seats. Some have been in there for a few hours already.
We'll go back there live in just a few moments.
David Axelrod -- we'll speak with him, the president's senior adviser.
But let's check in with Lisa Sylvester right now.
She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Lisa, what's going on?
SYLVESTER: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his predecessor, Henry Paulson, faced sharp questioning on Capitol Hill today. They testified about the more than $180 billion government bailout of insurance giant AIG. Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike vented rising public frustration over big bonuses returning to Wall Street, while most Americans are feeling the effects of the recession. Geithner argued that the consequences would have been, quote, "catastrophic," had AIG and other firms been allowed to fail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY PAULSON, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY: Today, Congressmen, we have, after everything that was done, all the resources, we have 10 percent unemployment. I believe we easily would have had 25 percent unemployment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: And in the Belgian city of Liege, emergency workers are digging through rubble after a five story apartment building collapsed today. Officials say at least three people are missing, one person is confirmed dead and 21 were injured in the collapse. The collapse is believed to have been caused by an explosion due to a gas leak.
And a source close to Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, says the couple is legally separated. Last week, John Edwards admitted he fathered a child with Rielle Hunter, a videographer who worked on his campaign. He admitted to the affair more than two years ago, but denied that he was the infant's father, saying the relationship ended before Hunter became pregnant.
And People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says -- you know, the four-legged star of Pennsylvania's groundhog day festival -- that he should be replaced by -- get this -- a robot. PETA argues that it's unfair to keep the animal known as Punxsutawney Phil in captivity and subjected to those bright lights and crowds each year. But the president of the group that organizes the festival says the animal is "treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania."
The next thing you know, somebody is going to want to get an exclusive interview with Punxsutawney Phil to see what he thinks about all this.
BLITZER: Yes. I mean there was a movie made about him at one point. I suspect that's an issue that will continue in Pennsylvania.
Lisa, thanks very much.
All right, we've got a lot going on. Only about three-and-a-half hours until the president's State of the Union Address. We're going to get a preview from his senior adviser, David Axelrod.
We'll also get a look at how the Republicans see all of this. The number two Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, he's standing by live, as well.
BLITZER: The president of the United States in the White House right now. He goes before Congress and the nation later tonight, in about three-and-a-half hours, at a crossroads in his presidency. We're counting down to his State of the Union Address. That's coming up. We'll have complete coverage. But let's go to the White House right now.
Joining us is the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod.
David, thanks very much for coming in.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Is it far fair so say that the president's number one legislative priority right now is passing a job bill?
AXELROD: Well, I think jobs are his priority, legislative and otherwise, because, you know, we lost seven million jobs in this horrific recession that began in the beginning of 2007. We've had the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The steps we took earlier this year have kind of tied off the bleeding, but the devastation remains.
So we have a lot of work to do to get people back on the job and to raise the wages of people who have jobs -- bring a little security back into the lives of middle -- of the middle class in this country. And that is the focus of the president's attention.
BLITZER: He's got a huge challenge. If you'll -- if you believe the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, David, that came out today, we asked the effect of the president's economic stimulus bill on middle class Americans. Twenty-five percent said it helped them, 38 percent thought it hurt them, 36 percent said it had no effect. That's a huge challenge ahead of you. AXELROD: Well, look, the reality is we've had some -- we've had a very, very tough couple of years. And we knew when we passed the Economic Recovery Act that even though it would create millions of jobs, we had lost seven million and it wasn't going to immediately and instantly change -- change the course of people's everyday lives.
I also think there was a misimpression that the Recovery Act included money for banks and auto companies and that was not part of this. A third of it was tax cuts, mostly for the middle class and small business; 25 tax cuts. A third of it was help for people who are -- who had lost their jobs and help to the states so that they could keep teachers and policemen on. And a third were projects around the country that have put people to work rebuilding roads, bridges, waterways, railways, energy projects and so on.
That's the (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: I think a lot of people...
AXELROD: ...reaction and it's been very effective.
BLITZER: I think a lot of people confuse elements of the Recovery Act -- the stimulus package -- and the TARP package, which did go to bail out Wall Street...
AXELROD: There's no question about it.
BLITZER: ...and the banks. And they get confused on that.
AXELROD: No question.
BLITZER: The speaker, Nancy Pelosi, is now suggesting, in addition to a freeze on some government spending on domestic programs, the Defense Department -- that you should freeze defense spending, as well.
Are you open to that?
AXELROD: Look, we -- the reason the president drew this as he did is because we have very significant national security issues right now. We have one war we're winding down. We have the war in Afghanistan -- in Iraq. We have the war in Afghanistan, as well. And we've got this ongoing and very serious threat from Al Qaeda.
So we have to be mindful of that. There is no doubt that we have to be very flinty-eyed about spending wherever it is. And that's why the president was the first president to actually go in and kill weapons systems that the Pentagon said it didn't need that were just boondoggles and why he has reformed contracting over there that's going to save us a -- an enormous amount of money.
We do have to do those things.
BLITZER: I understand the president tonight will ask Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" law that prevents gays from serving openly in the U.S. Military. Walk us through how -- how you hope this will unfold.
AXELROD: Well, look, there is a position the president has held. He's been working with Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen. Obviously, it will take an act of Congress to do that. They will have to usher in that transition. And we're going to continue -- we're going to continue to get -- push to get that done. We don't feel it's a -- we don't think it's a just policy, but it's also not a good policy for our national security interests.
BLITZER: So that's a high priority right now, to get that repealed?
AXELROD: Well, it is a priority, but we have -- but the biggest priorities are economic, Wolf. And I want to make that very clear. As I said at the beginning, we have -- we have come through an incredibly difficult time for the American people and our first focus has to be how do we deal with the problems that people are encountering in terms of finding work, paying their bills, health care bills being among them, but also housing, college education, child care?
We want to make -- we want to lift some of the burden on hard- working people across this country who are doing everything right and they're falling behind.
BLITZER: So health care, right now, everyone should just step back, take a breath and not necessarily assume there's going to be significant movement, unless -- at least over the next several weeks?
AXELROD: Well, the president will address this tonight. He's not backing away from what is a -- one of those problems that has created enormous pressure on families, businesses and ultimately is a big, dark cloud on -- on -- on the federal budget. He's not going to back away from that.
But obviously, we -- we need a little bit of time here so that everybody can cool off and consider how to proceed in pushing this forward. And the president will give members of the other party another opportunity to participate in that process and to participate in the process of solving problems instead of sitting on the sideline and rooting for -- rooting for inaction or failure.
BLITZER: We're out of time, David.
One final question about reaching out and working with Republicans. I recently, the other day, had this exchange with Senator John McCain.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Has he ever called you over the past year and said, John, let's talk, let's work this out?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Never.
BLITZER: Not once?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, Senator McCain, he wants to work with Democrats on immigration reform, campaign finance reform. He's reached out.
Why hasn't the president reached out to Senator McCain and asked him, you know what, John, let's work together and come up with some solutions?
AXELROD: Actually, I sat in a room here in the White House with Senator McCain and President Obama and other leaders of Congress to talk about immigration reform. I sat in a room here to talk about at -- where Senator McCain was with President Obama and other leaders of the Congress to talk about Afghanistan.
The fact is that the president has tried to involve Republican members of Congress in the governance of this country. They have decided, instead, to -- to this point, to take the position that they're going to stand aside and root -- root for failure.
Senator McCain has a great history of political independence and he's taken courageous positions in the past. But in the last year, he -- his record is the most partisan in the United States Senate.
So, you know, one hopes that he'll change direction. And I know he has some political pressures at home from the right and he's probably feeling those.
But what we need now is for people to set aside politics and -- and get together to solve the problems of the country.
BLITZER: And that will be a message that the president delivers tonight.
BLITZER: ...thanks very much.
We'll have, of course, live coverage right here on CNN.
BLITZER: David Axelrod is the senior adviser to the president. We've got a lot more coming up, we'll get a different perspective from Eric Cantor. He's the number two Republican in the House of Representatives. Much more of our coverage after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It's the question we've been asking all week. How much is the $862 billion economic stimulus plan doing creating jobs? Is it helping you? CNN has assigned hundreds of journalists to dig deeper. We're looking at what our new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll finds as well. Take a look at these numbers. Over half of Americans, 54 percent, say the economic stimulus is helping bankers, 41 percent say it's helping business executives. When it comes to the middle class, though, the White House may be shocked to see this, only 25 percent say the stimulus plan is helping the middle class.
As our poll suggests, many of you do not say the stimulus plan is helping those who need help the most, the middle class and low income Americans. For those Americans in one small city, they're struggling with job and home loss, but still hopeful things may turn around. Our Mary Snow has this truly amazing story.
Mary, what have you found out?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a city that symbolizes the need for stimulus money. Wilmington, Ohio is it. It's unemployment rate is 15 percent after its biggest employer left last year. Yes, it's received government help, but as we found out, it only goes so far.
SNOW: The scene at this kitchen table is not something Andrew Michael every thought would happen. He finds himself not only lining up for free meals, the 34-year-old Air Force Vet also lives at this homeless shelter, a move that came after losing his job last year.
Did you ever think you would wind up in a home like this?
ANDREW MICHAEL, LOST HOME: Not at all. I always thought that that was a -- this was a place that I could have a job and keep that job. Always thought that I would have a home to live in.
SNOW: Michael lived with his father, but his father lost his job at the Wilmington Ohio's airpark along with more 8,000 others. DHL stopped operations here last year bringing shipping to a halt. Nearby businesses started to topple and continue to fall. In all, 10,000 people in this area lost their jobs. The head of the county's homeless shelter tells us she's seen the effects and is having a hard time meeting the demand. Denies Stryker-Grant is getting stimulus money through a grant, but not much, $200,000 spread out over three years to help keep people in their homes, but jobs, the only thing that would really help remain elusive.
DENISE STRYKER-GRANT, CLINTON COUNTY HOMELESS SHELTER: The frustration of continuing to refer them to places only to be told we have 500 resumes before you even walked in the door and the frustration of no opportunities.
SNOW: To create opportunities, Wilmington's mayor David Raizk applied for more than $61 million worth of stimulus projects. Of that, roughly $5 million has been awarded so far to a project to create jobs. It's focused on the downtown, and it's set to start this spring.
So how do you see this benefiting from stimulus money?
MAYOR DAVID RAIZK (D), WILMINGTON, OHIO: With the stimulus project, we'll be able improve our gutters and sidewalks.
SNOW: The hope he says is that improvements will attract businesses. In the immediate future, the project is estimated to create about 100 jobs.
RAIZK: They're going to be construction jobs, but it's something. It's something. You know, we -- we want jobs here of any type right now.
SNOW: To get thousands of others back to work, the mayor has set his sights on Wilmington's airpark and is hoping to redevelopment the airpark. $8 million in stimulus money is being used to retrain workers and he's optimistic Washington will come through with more aid if the airparks come back to life. But don't count Mary Houtaling out of that group. She runs a hospice which has been hurt by a drop in charitable donations. She helped put Wilmington in the spot light in 2008 when she asked then Republican presidential candidate John McCain to help save jobs in her town.
MARY HOUTALING, DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY CARE HOSPICE: Will you call for Senate hearings?
SNOW: She became a McCain supporter, Wilmington became a campaign issue. Barack Obama even made a stop in 2008 and met with Mayor Raizk, but the jobs still vanished, and these day she has little use for politicians of any stripe. She once viewed Washington as a white knight that could save jobs. How would you describe that white knight right now?
HOUTALING: He's parked his horse, put down his sword.
SNOW: While Wilmington struggles with businesses closing, there are some who refuse to give up. Take Eric and Sandy Wogomon. They opened a consignment store after they both lost their jobs.
ERIC WOGOMON, CONSIGNMENT: We felt there was a need. There is no other thing like that here in Wilmington.
SNOW: That needs says the Wogomons, includes people relying on selling clothes on consignment to get money for food, and there are plenty of stories, like the time a man needed clothes for a job interview and Eric dressed him for $15. When he later saw him on the street, there was good news.
WOGOMON: He says because of you, I got my job.
SNOW: The mayor says it's that kind of spirit that helped him do his job of being an optimist. He shows us cards and checks and random things that have been sent to him.
RAIZK: I try to maintain a close relationship with our state and federal partners to say, look, we need help, and they have responded. But, know, that doesn't mean that they responded as much as I would like, or anybody would like.
SNOW: Bottom line, when it comes to creating jobs, $5.1 stimulus project in Wilmington is expected to create 100 jobs. That work won't begin until this spring. Since our visit, Wilmington did get a bit of good news, DHL is in the process of donating the airpark to the community for redevelopment, so down the road that can be a source for jobs, but it's going to take a while.
BLITZER: And a lot of the communities in that area and elsewhere are going through exactly the same pain. The president is going to try to reassure them tonight in the state of the union address. Mary, thanks very much for that.
We got the view of the White House on what the president will be doing tonight. What about the Republicans, the number two Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, he's standing by live. We'll talk with him when we come back.
BLITZER: There it is, statuary hall up on Capitol Hill. A lot of reporters will be there, a lot of members of the House and Senate, as they get ready for the president's state of the union address just a little more than three hours away. When Republicans sit down to watch the president's state of the union address tonight they may be feeling better about where they stand politically given what happened in Massachusetts recently. Let's talk with the number two Republican in the House of Representatives, the Minority Whip, Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA), MINORITY WHIP: Good to be with you Wolf.
BLITZER: What's the most important think the president could say tonight that would encourage you to say you know, we didn't work together on a lot the first year but we're ready to work together the second year?
CANTOR: Wolf what I'd like to hear is that the president has listened and learned and heard the people of this country because over the last 12 months, they seem to have rejected the agenda that he and Nancy Pelosi and Leader Reid have been proposing here. I would like to hear him talk about kitchen table issues. I would like to hear him say, the answer is not in more government perhaps. The answer is in trying to get people back to work, to lift the environment of uncertainty and boost the confidence in working families.
BLITZER: His number one priority is getting the jobs bill passed. Are you on board? CANTOR: No, Wolf, you know, from the details that I know about his jobs bill, it seems to be more of the same. It seems to be more of the Washington programs and frankly Washington telling folks what's best for them and the kind of jobs we can create. We know that this country has become the prosperous place that it has because of the entrepreneurial spirit. We've got to focus on the job creators and make it easier for them to create the jobs they know how to create, not some recipe that Washington imposes on them.
BLITZER: Are you ready to work with him on a scaled-back, much more modest health care reform bill?
CANTOR: The real question is what is Nancy Pelosi ready and willing to do. We know their health care bill ran into a lot of trouble last week with the election of Scott Brown. Since then there's been no communication from the White House or Speaker Pelosi about how to work together. I met with Steny House several months ago and presented to him the Republican plan. That's a plan that lowers cost, and by lowers cost we institute reforms, put in place malpractice reforms, put in place the ability for people to purchase insurance across state lines. These are the kinds of things that I think will ultimately help people stand up to their insurance companies so we don't see the cases of denial of coverage, but you know what Wolf? The majority here is controlled by the Democrats. We stand ready and willing to talk but they have not even come knocking.
BLITZER: We'll talk to you after the speech as well, Congressman. Thanks for coming in.
CANTOR: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Eric Cantor is the number two Republican in the House of Representatives.
Mary Matalin, the Republican strategist, Paul Begala, the Democratic strategist, our CNN political contributors, we'll talk to them when we come back.
BLITZER: Let's get to the CNN political contributors, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, and our Democrat strategist Paul Begala. Look at this poll, our CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll. Are conditions the worst in your lifetime? 77 percent say yes, 22 percent say no. Knowing the numbers and the mood of the country, how can the president -- what can he say or do to reassure the Americans that he knows what he is doing?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the 22 percent were living through the great depression, and maybe he can talk to them and tell them how great things are, but I think it is exactly right.
BLITZER: But people tend to blame the president.
BEGALA: Of course they do. Here is what happened. Back in March I looked at the polling data and after the honeymoon that the president passed the stimulus package and only 31 percent thought we were moving in the right direction and that was out of whack and they are coming in the right direction, and now he is down from 59 percent to 49 percent, but the bottom line, he has to move the needle on jobs. He could give the best speech in his life and best political strategist, but if we look at 10 percent unemployment going into the elections the Democrats are in trouble.
BLITZER: How does the president convince the American people that we are moving in the right direction?
MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, he has lost everything that we can point to, but he has lost intangible thing, trust. People like to like the president, but they don't trust him anymore. They know he can give a good speech, but now they want to see something and they don't want to hear about stimulus and another jobs program and they don't believe the stimulus worked, and the numbers showed it as well. They don't believe they are jobs programs and they know what they need to incentivize small business and entrepreneurs and get access to capital and they know how to do that or what that means.
BEGALA: I don't think it is trust. I don't think that the problem is character and trust. In the mind of voters or in the real world.
BLITZER: Because they like him personally.
MATALIN: I didn't mean trust like some trust issues like we have had. It's not character, but trust. They do still like him, but even if they do not believe he has complete control of the agenda and listen to Eric Cantor, if we do trust him, we still have to deal with Nancy Pelosi.
BEGALA: Yes, a lot of people want to contrast him with the other Democrats, so I advise the president not to defend that. All he is doing is defending his ideas. The Republicans have their ideas and a health insurance plan, and Representative Ryan has put Medicare on vouchers which is a better defense for him as a whole.
MATALIN: Well, there could be an infusion of market mechanisms to help there as opposed to cost controls which are quality reducers, yes, we would lower costs, and we would maintain costs --
BLITZER: Do you like the voucher idea?
MATALIN: I like anything with a market mechanism to it. I also like government-run, how about this, high-risk pools, and we would be for reducing or eliminating pre-existing conditions, and a lot of places where we come together, but he has not reached out one time.
BLITZER: Mary and Paul are --
BEGALA: You are not going to come at 70 percent and not now.
BLITZER: And Mary and Paul will be with us throughout the night with our coverage. Standby. We will check in with Jack Cafferty and the Cafferty file and also with the team in Haiti to see what is happening there. Much more of the coverage as we await the president about three hours away, a joint session of the Congress and Senate in a state of the union address.
Let's get right back to Jack for the Cafferty file.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour Wolf is has the United States done enough to protect itself from another major terror attack? There are signs here and there that the possibility may be increasing.
Katja in Florida writes: "No we haven't. Our borders are sufficiently unguarded and the ports are wide open and the government is playing footsies with countries that would rather see all Americans dead. Our leaders are outdoing each other in ways to look stupid. I hate the say it, but another terrorist attack is a matter of time."
David in San Diego says: "We can't stop every attack forever without damaging our economy and way of life without repair." We may have already done that. "We have done too little to marshal international support for ferreting out terrorists and their training facilities, but we have done too much work of harassment of the people in our country."
Greg writes: "The fact that the only real attempt since 9/11 was stopped, that was the Christmas day attempt outside of Detroit, and all al Qaeda can do is to threaten that more are coming is proof that the United States has done almost enough. What is need now instead of a threat is a promise from president Obama that if there is another attack, a major Islamic city to be named later will be obliterated."
George writes: "Definitely not. Time to stop being politically correct, and start using the military technology to eliminate any and all threats."
M. writes: "No system will ever be perfect. I have no doubt that another attack on the United States will occur. As long as evil exists in the world, no matter how much technology or how much money we spend."
Michael says: "The U.S. is doing all it can to stop the terrorist from attacking short of stopping its involvement in the home countries of terrorists. As long as it constantly shaking the radical hives, it is due to get stung."
And Michael from Crystal River, Florida says: "Of course we are doing enough. Look at the deterrent that the administration has created. Terrorists will be arrested, given a court appointed attorney and will be considered innocent until proven guilty even if they have a bomb in their underpants. That ought to be enough to stop them."