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Analysis of State of the Union; Interview with Jim DeMint; Interview With David Plouffe

Aired January 24, 2012 - 22:50   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. As I said, we're going to midnight in our post-State of the Union coverage. With us now, is one of President Obama's sharpest critics, South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint.

Senator, thanks very much for being with us.

First of all, the moment where Gabby Giffords entered the chamber, you were in the room. What was that like?

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It was -- it was really touching. And to -- for her to be there with Jeff Flake and the cheers, obviously, our hearts and prayers continue to go out to her. And it was one of those wonderful moments there on the House floor.

COOPER: In terms of what the president had to say, was there anything there that you really agreed with? Is there any room you see for compromise, for getting things done this year?

DEMINT: Oh, Anderson, he said a lot of wonderful things. And it would be wonderful if it was true. So there were things there that I certainly agreed with, but when he talked about us being more energy secure one week from killing the Keystone Pipeline, talking about building manufacturing jobs in our country when I talked to manufacturers and they know that Obama care, Dodd-Frank, all of the regulations are killing manufacturing jobs, so it was hard to take him seriously.

I think Americans are going to have to ask themselves are they better off now than they were $4 trillion ago? This was -- sounded like this first speech to the nation. He's trying to run from a record of broken promises, and we're going to have to hold him accountable.

COOPER: You wrote an op-ed in the "National Review" today. And you basically write, the president's eroding middle-class values. To use your words, quote, "For the last three years, those values have only been punished." Do you support the president when he says people who make more than $1 million a year should not get lower tax rates or special subsidies than they shouldn't pay a lower effective tax rate than middle class Americans?

DEMINT: Yes, no one should get tax breaks and subsidies, and a lot of us for years have been trying to get President Obama, first Senator Obama, to go with a low, simple flat rate and take out those subsidies and loopholes. We're all for that.

But then the president comes back and offer special loopholes to his choice of manufacturers. He wants to pick winners and losers. We just need a simple tax rate that allows our companies to compete. So we agree with the concept, but that's not what the president has been doing.

And he wants to punish people who earn $1 million a year. Anderson, people who earn $1 million a year in our country average doing it one or two years. And there are not too many people like Warren Buffett, so to build a policy around Warren Buffett doesn't make any sense.

The things that he has done has made it harder for our economy to sustain middle-class jobs. So it's hard for me to sit there and listen to him.

And frankly, Anderson, the biggest point of the speech for me, it was irresponsible for him not to recognize the dire circumstances our country is in because of the debt. When he ends his first term, we're going to be $5 trillion more in debt when he got here. The euro is close to collapse, and he spent most of his speech making more promises from government. That's really just irresponsible.

And again, he said some wonderful things. And I'd love to cheer for all of them, but what he says doesn't match up with what he's been doing for the last three years.

COOPER: Senator Jim DeMint, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

DEMINT: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: It is the top of the hour, 11:00 here on the East Coast. Want to quickly welcome viewers here and around the world who may be just tuning in. Special 360 coverage of President Obama's State of the Union speech tonight and the Republican response.

It is the president's third State of the Union speech. A lot has happened since his first. This time, though, he's speaking on the verge of his campaign for re-election. Campaigner-in-chief as well as commander-in-chief tonight. The speech tonight had elements of both.

The moments just before it were especially touching, as we just talked about with Senator DeMint. The president greeting Gabby Giffords. Just a year ago, she was fighting to survive a gun shot wound to the head. She has made remarkable progress but it is still ongoing and she's stepping down to focus on it. This is going to be her last State of the Union as a congresswoman.

As for the speech that followed, it was a call to action to a House and a Senate who have gotten precious little done lately. In just a moment, we'll talk with senior adviser David Plouffe from the White House who, along with David Axelrod, was the architect to President Obama's victory in 2008.

First, though, here are some of key moments from tonight's speech.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are not going to settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Where we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.

I intend to fight obstruction with action and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.

So let's agree right here, right now, no side issues, no drama. Pass the payroll tax cut without delay. Let's get it done.

Send me these tax reforms and I will sign them right away.

Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.

Send me a bill that creates these jobs.

So put them in a bill and get it on my desk this year.

We subsidized oil countries for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the tax care giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable and double down on the clean energy industry that never has been more promising.

For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.

Let there be no doubt, America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.

Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same. It's time to apply the same rules from top to bottom. No bailouts, no hand-outs, and no cop-outs.

So if you are a big bank or a financial institution, you're no longer allowed to make risky bets with your customers' deposits because the rest of us are not bailing you out ever again.

Now you can call it class warfare all you want, but asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.

Now I recognize that people watching tonight have different views about taxes and debt, energy and health care. But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right about now. Nothing will get done in Washington this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that. Because Washington is broken.

Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?

I'm a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believes. The government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves and no more.


COOPER: Some of the key moments from tonight's speech.

Joining me now is David Plouffe, senior adviser to the president and his campaign manager four years ago.

Mr. Plouffe, thanks for being with us. There were certainly some conciliatory moments in the speech tonight. Overall, though, it was pretty clear this is a president running for re-election. He says he intends to, quote, "fight obstruction with action."

For all intents and purposes, moving forward, is the president basically running against a Republican-controlled House?

DAVID PLOUFFE, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Not at all. Listen, we'd rather get a lot of things done with them so that we don't have that opportunity. We're going to -- as the president said he's not going to abide inaction. So if things aren't getting done, he's going to take action himself where he can. And there is like energy, housing, protecting consumers. But there's a lot of areas, tax cuts for the middle class, our manufacturing sector, working on natural gas. Some education reforms.

There's a lot of places where in a normal political environment, you would have common ground between both parties, and that's what we're going to focus on. There'll be a campaign later this year. There'll be a time for that. Right now, we've got to focus on building an economy that's more durable for the middle class, where we're rewarding hard work and responsibility and where everybody does their fair share.

COOPER: But a lot of Republicans are already saying that the president really didn't speak much about the debt at all tonight.

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, they were sending out press releases sadly before the speech. Hopefully they listened because within that speech where there's a lot of common sense ideas, mainstream ideas, that would make a lot of sense in terms of job creation, energy, manufacturing and the right way (INAUDIBLE) on the debt.

The president was very clear about this. He's already signed into law over $2 trillion in savings, willing to carefully do more, saving, even to look at Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security if a guarantee for seniors is protected.

There's only one way, Anderson, to close our deficit. Only one way. And that's for more Republicans, and some are starting to, but to have more Republicans say the wealthy need to do their fair share. And that's what you need to do and we're going to continue to make that case everywhere we know how.

COOPER: We heard the word fair tonight, and the president kept making the point that -- saying everyone should get a fair shot as long as everyone does their fair share. What does fair mean to this White House, to the president?

PLOUFFE: Well, first of all, it means in things like skills and education, investing in manufacturing, that everybody has a fair shot in that there are skills and jobs in the educational system we need to allow people to compete. In terms of fair share, it's that -- we have a tax code that doesn't allow, you know, millionaires, people making $50, $60 million a year to pay less than a middle class worker.

The president outlined tonight the Buffet rule where he says if you make over $1 million, you shouldn't pay less than 30 percent in taxes. Now what we need to do is get tax reform more broadly so that we can lower rates, we make the tax codes more simple. So, you know, the size --

COOPER: But he talked about --

PLOUFFE: Your account -- yes.

COOPER: You talk about tax reform and making it more simple, there were an awful lot of tax credits suggested tonight, that seems to me that make things more complex, no?

PLOUFFE: Well, listen, there are some tax credits, even in tax reform, you're going to keep in place to spurge out growth in manufacturing. I think the goal of overall tax reform obviously is to make things more simple for the American people and more fair. It also has to produce revenues towards the deficits. And that's the stumbling we've had these last year or so.

The president has proven willing to cut spending, even in programs, you know, in better times, he believed strongly in. Willing to tackle things like in entitlement reform. We need the Republicans to join a growing number of Democrats here in Washington to do the right thing and ask everybody to do their fair share, as the president outlined tonight with the Buffet rule.

COOPER: I'm not sure if you heard the Republican response from Indiana governor, Mitch Daniels. He referred to President Obama's, quote, "constant disparagement of people in business." And he also -- referred to the president's, quote, "extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy."

What's your reaction to that?

PLOUFFE: Well, I preferred Governor Daniels' very gracious remarks at the beginning of the speech. Those lines don't -- you know, to me, don't resemble reality at all in terms of President Obama's record and vision. We've partnered with the private sector in any number of ways, from saving the American automobile industry, to rescuing the financial industry at a time of great crisis, which we get a great, you know, political cause. And so looking at partnerships with community colleges to produce skills. So we're working every day with the private sector to do the smart things, to build an economy that's going to work for more middle class people.

So we're going to look for every opportunity to work with Republicans. And again, as the president said, if they're not going to join him, he's going to do everything he can to make sure that the manufacturing and energy and skills and education, we're doing every we can to build that more durable economy that works for more middle class Americans.

COOPER: David Plouffe, appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

PLOUFFE: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Let's bring in our panel, chief political correspondent and host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," Candy Crowley, senior political analyst David Gergen, chief national correspondent -- chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, political analyst Roland Martin, former Bush White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, and -- do we still have John King? Yes, we've got John King in there.

John, John, let me start off with you. It does seem when you talk to whether it's Senator DeMint or David Plouffe or folks on the -- on the left or the right, they are on completely different planets.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's a good way to put it, on completely different planets. Look, elections matter. And if the American people hear anything tonight, it's contrast they will deal with in this election.

A very unapologetic speech from the president defending the role of government in the economy. You just went through those tax credits with David Plouffe. The president defending his health care law. Every Republican candidate for president says let's repeal it. The president defending those financial regulations passed up for the meltdown. The Dodd-Frank bill. Every Republican running for president says they would repeal it.

You could go on and on and on. Government aid to keep teachers on the payrolls. Government aid to keep certain manufacturing incentives in place.

An apologetic defense of the government, having some hands on the leverage of the economy from the president and then from the Republicans saying he's not spending enough time on the debt, and Mitch Daniels, who's -- to pick up my notes here -- their benevolent protection. He says the president believes in a government with benevolent protections.

So a very clear contrast, Anderson, that we will go through between now and November. I respect David Plouffe, but he was being a little too cute there by saying the campaign can wait. The campaign is already well under way. COOPER: Right. And Ari and Paul Begala, I don't know which of you guys is from Mars and which is from Venus, but it does seem --


COOPER: You know, like you both speak -- see the same set of facts and interpret them completely differently.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, I'm from Texas and Fleischer is from New York, and which one is the liberal and which one is the conservative? The whole world has gone mad, Anderson.

I'm struck, though, at how -- at both sides, but more Ari's side. There's whole greed -- conservatives were tough when I was a kid, and now they're a bunch of wimps. The president called for a 30 percent tax rate for millionaires and billionaires. Thirty percent. I mean that's hardly Marxism. That's hardly class warfare. And what a contrast.

And he was so careful doing it, like, I don't want to, you know, I don't know want to disrespect wealth, and there was Steve Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, sitting in the first lady's box. Contrast that with, say, Newt Gingrich who says that poor people lack a work ethic. And he says the NAACP would rather have food stamps than paychecks, or Mitt Romney who says the president wants an entitlement society, not an opportunity society.

Those guys are demonizing poor folks and working people every day. And we in the media don't call them on it. We don't say, well, that's class warfare. But if Barack Obama says the obvious, that a fairer America would ask Warren Buffet to pay a higher tax rate, or Mitt Romney, a higher tax rate than a secretary, that's class warfare.


ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, here's why Paul is from both Venus and Mars.


FLEISCHER: The problem is that President Obama has governed so far from one side. He -- can't even bring Democrats on board his own ideas. Let alone Republicans. On the stimulus, when that was passed, the president was at the height of his popularity. He still lost almost a dozen Democrats in the House because they thought they were spending too much money on something that wouldn't work.

Health care reform, 38 Democrats in the House voted no on Obamacare. Why? Because it wasn't even close to the center, it wasn't even close to the center left. It was so far over. Let alone, of course, all the Republicans who voted against it.

The president had the biggest majorities, almost Watergate size majorities, in the Congress. He didn't pass then those repeal of the Bush tax hikes. He extended them. So the problem is, the president likes to blame and complain about everything that came before him. But when it comes to doing the hard work of governing, he just likes to give speeches.

That's the difference but then I think that's what Republicans heard tonight and why there is a sense that he work with us to get things done.

COOPER: David Gergen --


COOPER: David Gergen, you worked with a lot of Republicans, a lot of Democratic presidents on both sides of the aisle. Is this president so far from the center?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's a remarkable contrast between the way Bill Clinton handled his last State of the Union after losing the Congress to Republicans versus what Barack Obama did tonight.


GERGEN: And others have made this point, but Bill Clinton when he came into that last State of the Union went to the center. He said basically the era of big government is over. And he then talked about how to shrink things down.

Barack Obama has doubled down in his speech on using more government, what Republicans would call the nanny state, creation of a nanny state, and it's gone the other way. We'll have to see how it works. I think he -- I think Barack Obama helped himself with his base tonight. We'll have to see how it goes over with the rest of the country. Republicans are going to have to -- boy, there's sure going to be a good -- big premium now in Republicans finding people who can argue well because this is going to be a very interesting fight.

COOPER: We're going to have more with Roland and Candy and Gloria Borger, and all our -- all our folks here. We got to take a quick break.

Let us know what you think. As I say, we're on until midnight. A lot to talk about. We're on Facebook, Google Plus, add us to your circle, Follow me on Twitter, @Andersoncooper.

Up next, the results of our exclusive dial testing. This is always fascinating. A group of undecided Democrats, independents, and Republicans all watching the president's speech in real time, reacting to the president's message with dial testing. We'll show you the results when we come back.


COOPER: Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords tonight, she has come so far in the last year. No one who knows her believes she wont continue her recovery from the head wound she suffered a year ago. She needed help standing for some of the ovations from her Republican colleague and the Arizona delegation, Congressman Jeff Blake. Her presence, one of the highlights of the evening.

Joining us now to look at how some of the speech's key moments were received by undecided voters across the political spectrum, Tom Foreman, who watched the address in the media lab here at Time Warner Center.

Tom, was there anything that really -- that the Republicans -- well, actually, what did you see tonight? How did they react?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you, Anderson. Down here at the Time Warner media lab, it really was interesting.

Here is this group of a mixed, about even, independents, Republicans, and Democrats and the whole deal. Most of you -- hold you hands up for a minute here. All of you who came in here tonight more or less undecided on who you want to vote for. We see a pretty good crowd there. Some, even though they have some affiliations here, I'm guessing the Republicans probably don't want to vote for President Obama. And many of the Democrats probably do, but nevertheless, there's a lot of uncertainty about it.

But as you watch the dial testing here, Anderson, as you watch these lines go by, we had, you know, the red for the Republicans, the blue for Democrats, the yellow for the independents, watch one of the most dramatic changes we saw all evening and it came when President Obama talked about the Bush tax cuts.


OBAMA: Right now, we're poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.


FOREMAN: And look at the numbers fall off there, the Republicans fall right off the cliff. The independents not far behind. Democrats kind of like the idea. You're one of the Democrats here tonight.


FOREMAN: The idea of dealing with these tax cuts and getting rid of the Bush tax cuts, you like. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why, I believe the Bush tax cuts were put in for the rich. And getting rid of these tax cuts will help the poor.

FOREMAN: You really think that's an effort that's well worth taking.


FOREMAN: Now you're an independent. And how did you feel about that? Because Republicans and independents, Republicans really fell off the cliff when he went after those. Independents, not as much, but still you aren't as warm as Democrats. What do you think about that idea?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a great idea, I think it will help to balance things out and again it goes right back to responsibility. Actually helping -- actually being realistic and looking at where we need help.

FOREMAN: It's an interesting question, the idea of responsibility. Let me talk to a Republican back there. You, not so thrilled at this idea when you saw that. I'm assuming you're one of those who dialed way down?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, yes, I think not necessarily just taxing the highest earners more isn't necessarily going to -- going to solve any problems at all. And in a climate needs to stay where people want to put their money at risk and not take their money out of the game. Be a, you know, right people -- you want people to keep their money, you know, not punish the achievement if they're -- if they happen to do well.

FOREMAN: That was a theme we saw a lot on the dial testing, Anderson. Just sort of a general sense. The Republicans more or less saying that they wanted sort of more accountability. Democrats saying they wanted sort of more concern from the government about people by and large.

And independents, really interesting. One thing I noticed, Anderson, independents by and large, whenever the president said something that would seemingly be just -- you know, sort of inspirational, things are getting better, the independents just did not like that.

And we talked to some of you around that whole idea. And one of the things that the independents said, was by and large they just don't believe it. They don't believe things are necessarily getting better and they don't like hearing the president say that when they're not convinced -- Anderson.

COOPER: That is interesting. Was there anything that the Republicans liked better than the Democrats and independents?

FOREMAN: Yes, they did. You know what's funny in this whole thing? I kept watching seeing will there be any points at which the Republicans rise up. Democrats by and large went to a fairly high level and stayed there almost the whole time. Little fluctuation. Republicans, however, beat them out when the president talked about education.


OBAMA: Grant schools flexibility to teach with creativity and passion. To stop teaching to the test. And to replace teachers who just aren't helping kids learn.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOREMAN: So this idea, you're a Republican, right? This idea of saying, you know, you've got to hold teachers accountable, make them do a good job. Is that because you like education or because you like the idea of accountability?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, well, it's both. Particularly so for America for it to maintain its standing in the international community and to -- and to develop that to tradition of excellence that America has over the years. And then --

FOREMAN: You think that's what this is about?


FOREMAN: Yes. Yes. Because I will say interestingly enough, that the change, Anderson, right after he said that and got off the accountability part, and he started to talk about aid programs to basically to teachers and students, then it reversed very quickly. The Republicans quickly started saying, no, not more government programs, and the Democrats liked it more.

A really interesting group down here in the Time Warner media lab, Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, appreciate it. Thanks very much. And our thanks to all those who participated.

Like most political speeches, there were passages tonight that were tailor-made to make a point. Warren Buffett's secretary who pays a higher tax rate than he does reportedly was a guest tonight. She was there to drive one of those points home.


OBAMA: Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you're earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn't get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn't go up. You were ones struggling with rising costs and staggering wages.

You're the ones who need relief. Now you can call this class warfare all you want, but asking a billionaire to pay as least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.


COOPER: Well, let's bring back our panel. It is interesting to, you know, hear him say most Americans would call that common sense. But again, the divide is so great now that the definition of what is common sense, no one really on the left or right seemed to agree on it.

GERGEN Sure is. I have to dell you something, my observation, I mean -- I'm curious how Candy is feeling, I talk to a lot of affluent people, and I've had many of them are prepared to pay higher taxes. They're not -- you know, they're not all against this. What they will do, though, they will do that if it's for a partisan deal or the government cleans up its act and stops wasting money as they see it.

They don't want -- and they don't want to be vilified, they don't want to treated as they're the ones who brought this on. They don't see it that way, it's a much more complex story. You know, so I think beating up on people who are affluent is wrong headed, and frankly I think they'd be prepared to do, I think, if some sensible Republican would come up with -- like the Simpson-Bowles plan.

COOPER: Candy, which the president backed away from --

GERGEN Yes, he did.

COOPER: Which -- there were --

GERGEN And the Republican candidates.

COOPER: Right. Everybody backed away from it.


COOPER: But Candy, I mean, is it just -- it can't be just a coincidence that on the day Mitt Romney releases his returns, this president is focusing so much on taxes, or is it a coincidence?

CROWLEY: Well, he was going to do that anyway, I'm sure that Mitt Romney, I mean, if you're trying to, you know, figure out their strategy here, I would assume that they put his taxes out, thinking they'd get buried by the State of the Union address. Instead, they kind of dovetailed into it.

GERGEN Yes, backfired.

CROWLEY: And I think --


GERGEN That's back fire.

CROWLEY: It just backfired, you know. I mean I think they felt the story would go away, but instead, it kind of just feeds into it.

And I think David on David's point, he's right. People don't -- I mean people want to be wealthy. It's not like they -- you know, they hate wealthy people. They want to be a wealthy person. So I do think that there's -- there is some danger in vilifying those who make more money, et cetera. I also think what's interesting here is that Republicans have been talking for a year about tax reform. And the president spent most of the speech saying, good, well, everybody thinks we ought to have tax reform, the problem is what the Republicans want is -- vastly this is a huge surprise to you, I know. One, a vastly different form of tax reform than what the president was talking about.


COOPER: Go ahead, Roland.

MARTIN: Anderson, remember in the debt ceiling when the president talked about offering, it was 3-1 in terms of cuts, compared to revenue. GOP still say it no. You've that take place, so the issue is not, to David's point, people out there saying I want to pay more, I want to make sure that there are cuts.

The problem is that the GOP has made it clear. Absolutely no increases, no taxes whatsoever. So that's why you have this whole back and forth. And so for the president to make that point again, and what did he say? We went through that whole deal. Where did it get us? Exactly what did we get out of that -- out of that conversation?

And so at some point, Republicans and Democrats have to say if I'm going to give a little bit, you have to give a little bit. But it simply can't be hey, I want no increases whatsoever, total cuts. That's what the president said, I'm sorry, that's not going to happen.

COOPER: But Gloria, on the campaign trail against Mitt Romney or whoever, this whole notion of fair taxation is something we're going to hear a lot about.

BORGER: Right. Well, it is, and what was interesting about the debate the other night when Mitt Romney had already admitted that he paid around a 15 percent rate, Newt Gingrich made the point, it's unearned income. Newt Gingrich made the point that that rate should be zero, and that Romney should not pay any taxes on that unearned income, and even Romney disagrees with him on that.

So this is a huge split right now between these two parties. And there is a split within the Republican Party, I would also say. But going back to the point that David or Candy was making about Simpson- Bowles. The president had an opportunity to really grab the mantel of tax return and run with it and he did not do that.

Now when you talk to people in the administration and they have this plan, the question is, OK, are you going to set up some legislation now that's going to propose major tax reform? Are you laying down a marker? Is this just a campaign plan? And I think what it is the marker. They're saying 30 percent, let's be fair.

Millionaires should pay at least that. Let's see what the Republicans come up with. And I think that's going to be the framework of the debate.

COOPER: Paul, why did the president back away from Simpson- Bowles?

BEGALA: Well, from what I understand back at the time talking to some of his aides, that he thought that should be the end product of a negotiation. So it's he -- it would like Lucy in the football.

If he embraced it, as soon as he embraced it, it would no longer be Simpson Bowles. It would be left-wing Keynesian socialist Obamas. And so while I think that probably where he wanted to go, he didn't want to poison the well by embracing it at the start of the negotiation. I'd say, at the beginning of his presidency, he was a pretty terrible negotiator. I think he's pretty -- pretty good now. He's gotten better at that.

So I do -- I think he had a kind of a little slack for that just from game theory. I think that it would have actually made up less likely to get to Simpson-Bowles, which I think the president would like to get to if he embraced it early.

GERGEN I agree with Paul's last point. Leadership is about seizing the initiative and trying to persuade people. It's not about I'll wait until the end of the negotiation and maybe it will come out my way.


COOPER: But up to now he's nowhere.

GERGEN I think it's one of the worst mistakes of his presidency was not to seize Simpson-Bowles.


GERGEN We'd be far better off.

FLEISCHER: And Anderson.

COOPER: We've got to take a quick break, but quickly Ali.

FLEISCHER: Well, come back after the break.


COOPER: All right. All right.

We're going to have more from our panel. Also how did President Obama's speech play in Florida where unemployment is higher than the national average and where the Republican presidential candidates are bashing Obama's record on the campaign trail. We'll show you ahead.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of people barely get by or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot and everyone gets a fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.


(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Inequality was woven throughout the address. He called on Congress to pass the payroll tax cut without delay and to eliminate tax deductions and subsidies for those earning $1 million or more. He also called for tax breaks for companies that create jobs in the U.S. and retraining programs for the unemployed.

In Florida, where the unemployment rate is 9.9 percent and the primary is just a week away, the Republicans have been bashing Obama's record on the economy.

We find out how the speech played in Florida tonight. John King joins us now -- John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you mentioned the unemployment rate, 9.9 percent. It was 8.5 percent when the president took office.

I want to show you the map. This is Florida in 2008. It's always a swing state back. We have Ari Fleischer with us. It was the ultimate swing state back in 2000, Bush v. Gore. But look, in a blowout year for President Obama, Florida was close, 54 to 48. A little more than 2000 votes separated McCain.

Let's look at it now. You mentioned the unemployment rate going up. Back in 2009 when the president came to office -- I'm going to move this a bit. The darker the green, the higher the unemployment. It was 8.5 percent when it president took off. The unemployment rate now, you'll see some parts of the state lighter, but a lot of dark green. It's at 9.9 percent now. This is what the Republican candidates for president are hammering in a state that both one week from today -- and it's fascinating to look at the exit polls. How much of a role did the economy play? What do voters in Florida -- I know they'll be Republicans next time, but what do they think about the president's economic policy as we go forward? To win this state, the Democrats need some Republican votes or a Republican needs some Democratic votes.

Let's go back and look at the map from four years ago. You see the blue up here. This is the most important part of the state in a close election. The I-4 corridor from Tampa over to St. Petersburg. You saw earlier the green. You see blue. Blue, that's where Obama- care last time -- Independent voters, a lot of Democrats and Republicans who are swing voters. See the president up here. Most of this map was John McCain.

Anderson, down here is very important for the president. But again, a lot of retires from the north. Most of them Democrats, but it can be competitive in a tough election. If you blank it out, go back through the map -- I'll bring this out, come back to the demographics, look, poverty. The darker is the higher rate of poverty. Poverty an issue in parts of Florida.

The president talked about raising taxes on parts of the rich. The darker areas are where you find higher income groups. You see some down here in the south. Retirees here. A little bit up here. But as the president makes this case, he's in a state with a lot of swing voters. It's the most diverse state we will see in the Republican primary electorate so far.

Watch how the Republicans respond over the next several days to the president's State of the Union address. We know this state will be a key battle ground in the month of November. It's one of those states where the president has to say, I know the unemployment rate has gone up. Trust me. But one of the reasons all of the Republicans think it's open for them this year is it's tougher for the president to make the case because, at 9.9 percent, will the people listen to the president on economics or are they still open to saying we need a change -- Anderson?

ANDERSON: John, stick around.

I want to bring back to the panel, Candy Crowley, David Gergen, Paul Begala, Roland Martin, Ari Fleischer.

Ari, let me start off with you. I had to jump away before the break.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: In fitting in on the point John was making about if people were listening to Obama or if the economic circumstances stop them from hearing the message. When he was talking about raising the taxes on 1 percent, the issue here is we're a very aspirational nation. Everyone wants to be successful. The president is saying he'll raise every tax he can find on you. He's already raised the Medicare tax. He wants to raise the income tax. And now he'll take away all your deductions. The problem with that is he says, if Republicans do that and they back off the Bush tax cuts, he'll put Social Security and Medicare on the table, but no specifics. He said be specific about the tax hikes. Here are exactly the hikes that need to be raised. But then he's vague on Social Security and Medicare. So Republicans think it's a trap and it's not leadership.

The final point I'll make, Anderson, is the worst victim of that would be charity in America. The president previously said you should only get a 25 percent deduction instead of a 35 percent deduction for charity. Tonight, he went farther. This is news. He said a zero percent deduction for charities for those making $1 million or more. That's going to hurt a lot of charities if that were to go through.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Ari, I don't think that's clear on the charitable deduction. They did do it with --


FLEISCHER: He said no deduction.

BORGER: -- et cetera, et cetera.

FLEISCHER: He said no deduction.

BORGER: But in the details, in the detailed blueprint, charity is not listed.

COOPER: So why did he say it? (LAUGHTER)

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Anderson, and I sit here -- first, let's go back to what John King laid out. John King laid out the poverty rate in Florida. One of the things that has bothered me when I've watched these GOP debates is that doesn't come up, and we love to talk about everybody else. and what you're seeing is that a number of people who are sitting here saying I'm doing the best I can, and I'm still not getting enough, when the president talked about saying, let's stop giving people tax incentives who take jobs overseas, that's speaking directly to that. That's why I was amused earlier when Ari said there was nothing in the speech that he liked. I'm like, man, you can't even like that, saying let's support businesses that are here, let's stop telling people we're going to give breaks if you take jobs overseas.


MARTIN: No, no, no. But -- I think it is typical when we say, why can't we say, if you take American jobs out of the country, you don't get tax breaks. You don't get to write it off. How is that not fair?

FLEISCHER: What you're saying is that BMW that employs all those people in South Carolina should no longer employ people in South Carolina. The Toyota plant in Indiana, shouldn't employ Americans?

MARTIN: That's not what I'm saying.

FLEISCHER: Once you start playing that game in one direction, it's going to get played in the other direction. It's that simple, Roland.

MARTIN: No, I'm saying that if you choose to move jobs out of this country, you shouldn't get to write expenses off.

COOPER: David --


FLEISCHER: And that means -- and that means --

ROLAND: That's fair.

FLEISCHER: -- other countries are going to do the same thing and they'll say, we're not hiring Americans anymore, and BMW.


ROLAND: If you don't have a job in Alabama, you're concerned about that.


COOPER: David Gergen? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I want to make a brief point. The brief point is, Roland, there is a huge danger if you start monkeying around with the taxes that way, you're going to find American companies saying, fine, we'll move our whole company overseas. And we just won't be here. You've got to worry about that.

Let me come back to the Florida point. I kept wondering tonight, is the next effect of this going to help Newt Gingrich and his campaign against Mitt Romney. First of all, many Republicans watching this tonight would say, we have to put one tough debater in the ring against Obama. He's tough. He has a lot of arguments that appeal to people on the surface. The second thing is, juxtaposition of Romney's taxes coming out today, as Candy said, it backfired on Romney coming in. It's going to cause further sort of focus on Romney and his taxes at the very time he's trying to catch Gingrich in Florida.

"The Washington Post" just reporting they got new numbers out. Looking at white voters under $50,000 or less, which Republicans need to get in order to win this. Romney is unfavorable with the white voters with 29 percent. His unfavorable numbers have risen to 49 percent with that crowd.


GERGEN: So to have this compounded in, I would think, from the Republican dynamic, I would think this might help Gingrich.

COOPER: Let's talk about how it's going to impact the campaign trail, even starting tomorrow. We'll have a quick break. We'll have more with our panel coming up.

Even before the president began this speech tonight, the Republican presidential hopefuls were bashing what they thought he would say. We're going to hear what Mitt Romney had to say today.



OBAMA: Take the money we're no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt and use the rest to do some nation building right here at home.



COOPER: The GOP candidates, who want to take President Obama's place come November, wasted no time bashing his State of the Union speech. The criticism came hours before the president spoke the first word of his speech. Listen to what Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich said today.


MITT ROMNEY, (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight, we're also going to get treated to more divisive rhetoric from a desperate campaigner in chief. It's shameful of the president to use our nation to divide our nation. And someone ought to tell him, in order to put the economy back to work, everyone needs to be working. But more than anything, I expect the president will take this opportunity to take another victory lap. In the speeches, he tends to tell tall tales about an America thriving on his watch.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is why it's interesting to watch him, because he doesn't seem to operate in the same planet you and I do.


He has this -- a sort of a planet Obama somewhere out there.


COOPER: Let's bring back our panel.

John King, how do you think this plays out on the campaign trail -- oh, John King is not there.

Ari, how do you think it plays out on the campaign trail starting tomorrow?

FLEISHER: I think they quickly move beyond it. You have a Republican on Republican fight, so they're going to say the same thing about Barack Obama. What is going to make the difference in Florida is what Romney says about Gingrich and Gingrich says about Romney. They'll go back to basics.

COOPER: Back to basics. Paul, do you agree with that?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Mitt missed the opportunity. David's point is important. The number-one thing in these exit polls the Republicans want is someone who can defeat Obama. I think that definition is shifting. In New Hampshire, they saw it as Mitt Romney, but increasingly, they like the fire, the bombast, the aggressiveness of Newt Gingrich. At least the Newt Gingrich we saw in South Carolina. That's why the debate in Jacksonville is going to be critical. If I was advising Romney, I would say, they liked it a lot in South Carolina when Newt said, I don't just want to bloody the president's nose. I want to know him out. They like all that stuff.

BORGER: It's that kind of anger, though, that can sometimes really end up kind of aggravating voters who don't need any more anger in their lives? And you know --


BEGALA: In the general election.


BEGALA: Yes, it's caustic in the general, Gloria, I agree. But, in the primary, they seem to want it. BORGER: You saw Gingrich pull back in the debate the other night from being as angry as he has been, and we'll see what he does Thursday night with Wolf, because the anger kind of rallies the base, but it also can be unappealing, particularly when you see someone like Barack Obama, who is very sort of cool in his speech.

MARTIN: Anderson?


MARTIN: Anderson, one of the things we have to recognize with the GOP race is that you're going to see a different style of campaigning based upon the state that they're in. So those conditions on the ground also change that. I think what happened in South Carolina was different from New Hampshire. What happened in New Hampshire and South Carolina is different than Florida. So you actually see that.

What I want to see on Thursday is also, when you will see these candidates really begin to talk about the bread-and-butter issues of the working man and woman. That is college tuition, education. The president talked about immigration reform. You can talk about build a wall all day, but you're going to have to confront that. If you're a Republican, you have to deal with it or you're going to have a problem in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, even Florida if you don't confront what is happening with immigration in this country.

COOPER: Candy, you were going to say something?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Just back to the sort of Newt Gingrich being the embodiment of the fury that many Republicans have about the policies of Barack Obama. It's great. I think one of the things we saw in the last debate was Mitt Romney kind of ratcheting up his game and actively being quite aggressive toward Gingrich, but it doesn't quite work. In the end, Mitt Romney is not an angry guy.


And Newt Gingrich can do that a lot better. Newt Gingrich is the guy who says what you think of only when you're in the shower.


He's the guy that comes up with that stuff, you know, just right out of the box. That's not who Mitt Romney is. The more he gets away from that, the less effective -- gets away from who he is, the less effective he is.

COOPER: David?

GERGEN: I want to go back to Paul Begala's point. I think he was right saying, in the primaries opposed to the general election, Republicans are looking for a brawler. They want someone to carry the fight. Newt Gingrich is channeling a lot of that. The second point is I disagree with Roland in Florida being different from South Carolina. What's happened in the polls, it seems to be that the Republican race is becoming nationalized. The Gallup, nationwide, is finding it -- they put out a release today that said Mitt Romney's support is collapsing nationwide.

COOPER: right.

I have to take a break here.

Candy Crowley, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, Paul Begala, Roland Martin, Ari Fleischer, thank you all.

Up next, more results of our exclusive dial testing. How undecided Democrats, Independents and Republicans reacted to the president's message on jobs and on clean energy. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Tonight, a panel of undecided voters, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, reacted to what they heard in the State of the Union speech. It's called dial testing.

Tom Foreman joins us now with more from the Time Warner Media Lab.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson. Our group down here in the Time Warner Media Lab, an equal number of Independents and Republicans and Democrats.

How many of you have been irritated over the issue of gasoline prices in the past couple of years?

That's produced one of the biggest reactions in the whole speech when he talked about the idea of ending subsidies for oil companies. Watch.


OBAMA: We subsidized oil companies for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the giveaways --


OBAMA: -- to an industry that rarely has been more profitable and double down on a clean industry that has never been more promising.


OBAMA: Pass clean energy tax breaks. Create these jobs.


FOREMAN: Democrats seem to really like this idea.

You're a Democrat? Why do you like the idea of going after the oil companies like this?

UNIDENTIFIED VOTER: Because they get so many tax breaks, and the gas prices keep going up and up and up. So if they cut the tax breaks, maybe the prices will go down?

FOREMAN: You think that will make a difference?

Give me a Republican? Who is a Republican?

Republican, what do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't think there should be any particular industry that the federal government goes after for any reason. I feel like -- I like what they said about drilling capabilities, opening up some of the offshore capabilities that he mentioned.

FOREMAN: Sure. There seemed to be response from that.

The Independents seemed to like that idea a little bit, the idea of more energy in the whole thing.

But let's take a listen to another comment that the president made in a different part about how business is creating work.


OBAMA: Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s.


FOREMAN: You notice how the Republicans and Independents in particular fell off when the president said that things are getting so much better.

Why is that?

UNIDENTIFIED VOTER: Well, I didn't see anything that backed that up that it's getting better. It seemed to be a matter of opinion.

FOREMAN: You doubt the reality of that?

UNIDENTIFIED VOTER: I doubt the reality. I don't see it from where I am.

FOREMAN: Anderson, that's something we saw several times here. Whenever the president talked about how things are getting better and how things are OK, generally, Independents and Republicans, we saw a real fall-off.

Let me ask you one more question, one more time. How many of you came in here undecided before this all started tonight?

And how many of you feel closer to feeling decided about whether you will vote for this president or not in the next election?

So a little change. Maybe not much, but some.

All right, Anderson, so our dial test group took a look at it all and that's what they think.

COOPER: Tom, thank you very much.

More reaction from the State of the Union address tomorrow on "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien. She's going to talk to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and, at 2:00 p.m., Senator John McCain. That's "Starting Point" with Soledad, 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. eastern here on CNN.

That does it for this edition of "360." Thanks for staying up with us. If you missed the president's State of the Union address, you can see it in full, coming up next.