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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pre-State Of The Union Coverage

Aired February 12, 2013 - 20:50   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome in our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're continuing to monitor the breaking news out of Southern California. We've been following a standoff, a shoot-out with a fired police officer, an accused killer Christopher Dorner. We'll bring you the new details as they happen. Stand by for that.

But right now we're getting closer and closer to the president's "State of the Union" address. He makes his big entrance just a little bit after the top of the hour, takes that familiar walk through the House chamber shaking hands along the way. We'll bring you his speech live along with the Republican response by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

First, let's go to Capitol Hill. CNN anchor Jake Tapper is standing by. Set the scene, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Wolf. We're watching members of the House and Senate mingling as they prepare for President Obama to come into the House Chamber. We're expecting the president to be assertive this evening and focus like a laser, his aides say, on the middle class and the economy, growing the nation's economy through the middle class.

Although we also learned that the president this evening will announce that at this time in one year, 34,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan will be back here in the United States.

Dana bash, our chief congressional correspondent, is inside the chamber. She just had a moment with a VIP who was there, who is the guest of Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, and the Democratic House member that succeeded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

Dana, what can you tell us about that encounter with former Congresswoman Giffords?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She and her husband Commander Mark Kelly are sitting about three rows behind us. Literally as you were coming to me, she was waving. She seems to be excited to be here. The reason she is here is because of her to try to get her former colleagues who are milling around here waiting to hear from the president, to agree to some new form of gun control.

So it certainly is an eerie moment I have to say because it was a year ago when she was down on the floor and being helped up by her colleagues as a member. Now she's up in the chamber trying to lobby her colleagues to try to stop gunmen from doing what they did to her.

TAPPER: In the chamber, there are many families, survivors of the Sandy Hook Newtown massacre. If you look down and see members of the House and Senate with green ribbons. Those are the ribbons that are for memorializing the victims of Sandy Hook. Wolf Blitzer is in our CNN studio monitoring it all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jake, thank you. Let's get the latest on what's going on right now as far as the president of the United States is concerned, our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin is standing by. We've got a preview of what the president's going to tell the nation.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. The president, as Jake says, will drive an aggressive message on the economy. His fourth pivot back to jobs in the last three years taking tough lines with the Republicans on both debt and taxes.

Sources tell me he'll spend significantly less time on foreign policy and he will hit some policy notes that will strike emotional chords among his supporters. Among them, he'll outline a presidential commission to talk about voting rights, setting standards across the nation to make voting access easier especially for urban and minority voters who struggled this last election.

And he'll also get behind some legislation that will give women greater access to equal pay supporting that equality message he hit in the inaugural. Wolf, Sasha and Malia will not be there tonight. They don't really go out on school nights -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I guess that what happens. The speaker of the House, you see John Boehner together with the vice president, Joe Biden. The vice president is also the president of the Senate.

Chris Cuomo is standing by. He's got some analysis and contributors who will be dissecting the president's words.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Wolf. We have strong minds and big voices with us tonight. Let's start with former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm and of course, former Speaker Newt Gingrich. The easy one, what is the state of the union, governor?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), FORMER MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: The state of the union is progressing. I think he's going to say he's going to be right on the economy. I want to count the number of times he says middle class and jobs. If we don't talk about the economy after this speech, then he will have missed the boat.

CUOMO: Do you agree, Mr. Speaker?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think the governor's right that the country is worried first about jobs, second about the long- term economy and third about the size of the deficit. And the country's going to look for comments on those three. That will be the heart of how the nation judges this speech.

CUOMO: If he has to say the nation is progressing and if he has to prove that he can make jobs that's a very tall order, isn't it? Let's put that to Gloria Borger. I'll start with you. Often politics is about playing scared. He doesn't want to lose tonight.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He's not scared. You know, this is a different president from the one we saw in the last inaugural. He's won -- I mean, in the last state of the union. He's won re-election, he feels he can get a lot done, he feels like he has the upper hand over the Republicans there.

He feels this is his moment. They don't think they're being overambitious, but the tone they want to set is, I'm going to reach out to you, but you know what? You need to reach out to me.

CUOMO: So as we sit here, we see that more and more people are coming in. We saw the vice president's wife there. Others are starting to come in. Gloria smacked my assertion aside. Often with politics, you don't want to lose. So what is the line tonight for the president so he must do that so he's not seen as failing?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he has to avoid being boring. If he goes on and labored in a sense we've heard this before, that's a danger for him. This is an opportunity, too. Good presidents have gone in -- Bill Clinton especially took advantage of the state of the union.

Newt will remember this. He had his popularity go up 10 percent. In this speech, President Obama is not trying to lift his own ratings. He's trying to mobilize his base, just as he did with the inaugural.

CUOMO: John, build on it for me.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mobilizing his base because he knows he can't change minds on the other side. That's one of the problems. I think the state of America outside of Washington is still anxious about the state of the recovery.

Is it fragile? Will we tilt back into recession? But the state of Washington even as the president gets a new beginning tonight, the first "State of the Union" of his second term, it's still divided. Can the president change any minds on the other side? Probably not which is why you gin up your own base.

CUOMO: And often, it becomes about an issue that may not be seen essential at the time, to witness what we've been dealing with all day today in Northern California. This subject allegedly Christopher Dorner and what that means in this manhunt.

Speaker, let me ask you. An issue like that and you have the kids from Sandy Hook and their families in the audience tonight, does it make that issue come into the gun violence?

GINGRICH: I think violence is something all Americans are worried about. Although the specific example you're using tonight of a former Los Angeles police officer, nothing proposed would have changed that. He would have passed any identity check. I'm glad to see mental health is much more on the table than it was a year ago. I'm glad to see gangs are being looked at. The 80 percent of the killings in Chicago are gangs. But I do think something may move this year.

And there is a desire on both sides of the aisle to find something, which combines mental health, gangs, and I think better identification checks.

CUOMO: Chief justice of the Supreme Court coming down right now. The entire Supreme Court will be in attendance tonight. Justice Kennedy, Judge Breyer, all coming down tonight. That's why they have their robes on.

To build on this point, when an issue reaches a flashpoint, you have a situation like today. A cabin on fire, a police officer seemingly hunted down. Is that enough to make the emotion of an issue exceed the intelligence of it?

GRANHOLM: Absolutely. This is a cumulative thing. This might not be exactly fit a round peg into a round hole for the proposals, but it is cumulative. Every single day we're seeing more and more of these stories. You'll see people stand up with black arm bands. There will be a sense of emotion around this issue. He won't spend a lot of time on it, but that issue will carry some emotion.

CUOMO: Thank you, Governor. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We just saw the justices come in, not all of the justices. Several of the Republican named justices did not walk in. They're not present. The Chief Justice John Roberts is there. Justice Kennedy is there. The Democratic justices who were nominated by Democratic presidents are there as well.

We're waiting for the cabinet about to be introduced. Jake Tapper is up on the Hill. Jake, very interesting who is there, who isn't there. We're watching this unfold.

TAPPER: One justice that was guaranteed -- here is first lady Michelle Obama walking in right now. She's guaranteed to get applause from everybody, a bipartisan warm welcome for the first lady of the United States. There she is. She's greeting Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president's wife.

Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent, is there. Dana, tell us what it's like in the room right now.

BASH: As you said, there is definitely a warm welcome. I'm sitting right over where the Republican side is and not only are the Republicans clapping for Michelle Obama. I can see several of the Republican lawmakers with their cell phones out taking photographs, and they're smiling and clapping. So she is definitely somebody who has a bipartisan adoration I think that's

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, the President's Cabinet.

(APPLAUSE)

CUOMO: The Cabinet is coming in right now. They just announced them. There he is, the newly minted secretary of state, former Democratic senator of Massachusetts, John Kerry, now secretary of state, followed by the secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, the Attorney General Eric Holder.

All of the Cabinet will be there this evening except for one member. There's always one member who is designated to be in the bunker should the worst happen. And that member this evening is the departing energy secretary, Steven Chu. So if the worst happens prepare for President Steven Chu.

Wolf Blitzer, back at CNN headquarters, and already -- already saying that he welcomes President Chu.

BLITZER: Steven Chu, the energy secretary, the designated hitter, God forbid, in case of an emergency.

There you see the other members of the cabinet walking in, including some that are -- this will be one of their last official acts, including, of course, the Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Momentarily we will hear Paul Irving, the House sergeant-at-arms, announce that the president of the United States is coming in with those very famous words, Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States. Then the president will walk in.

And you see members of the Cabinet walking in, including, by the way, Denis McDonough, the new White House chief of staff, there he is right there, at the top of your screen. He is designated as a member of the Cabinet, the White House chief of staff.

There you see John McCain, Lindsey Graham, they're always together at these kinds of events. Not surprisingly. They're good friends, they're allies on so many of these issues.

This is a moment where so many members of the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, some of them actually try to sit together to demonstrate that there can be some bipartisan cooperation. We'll see what kind of reaction the president of the United States gets when he utters some of the famous words that he will be saying.

There you see, by the way, also behind Denis McDonough -- well, you see Eric Holder, the attorney general, right there. But -- but we did see Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to United Nations. The John Boehner, the speaker, Joe Biden, the vice president, they will be presiding over this session.

Chris Cuomo is watching it.

As soon as the members of the Cabinet, Chris, come in, the president will be introduced.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much, Wolf. Let's come back to our minds over here. You guys are all giving me these ideas for what you want to talk about. We hear from the White House that this speech is going to be effective because the president is doing what he's doing best, he is speaking to the people.

How tonight does he try to heal what is an obvious and maybe watershed type of hostility between Congress and the White House by going to the people?

John King, can he achieve that?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Can he achieve that? No, I don't think he can. I think the last four years tell us that. The president in excerpts released tonight will say that he promises that none of his proposals will add a dime to the deficit.

This is a president who four years ago promised to cut the deficit in half. And Republicans are rather apoplectic and understandably will show it tonight, saying, wait a minute, you added a trillion dollars to the deficit for four years now, you're going to do that. The divide is just steady here. The speaker talked earlier and the governor about the emotions of this gun thing. Put that question to Democrats in Congress. Especially Senate Democrats up in 2014.

Will a Mary Landrieu, will a Max Baucus, will a Mark Begich, will they support gun control measures? An assault weapons ban? Will the president pressure his own party?

One of the reasons you talk to the American people outside of Washington is when you have issues changing votes inside Washington. My question is, will he be pushing the gun issue, six months, nine month, 12 months from now? Or will he settle for expanded background checks and say good enough?

(CROSSTALK)

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's going to --

CUOMO: Please answer that question.

BORGER: He's going to end up taking half a loaf, I think.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I mean, the answer will be less than half.

CUOMO: Half a loaf?

BORGER: Yes. On --

CUOMO: What does that mean?

BORGER: Well, half a loaf on guns means that he'll accept universal background checks. KING: He won't get universal background checks --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: He already had those.

BORGER: He'll take that.

GERGEN: No, we got --

BORGER: And he may not get -- he may not get the high capacity magazine proposal that he wants. But the question is to the president, what is the president going to be willing to compromise on, what is he not going to be willing to compromise on? And my big question watching this evening is, the president was part of a or trying to be part of a grand bargain on entitlements? Let's see what he says tonight about whether that is still on the table.

GERGEN: The term he was going to speak to everybody trying to heal.

CUOMO: Yes.

GERGEN: In the second term he appears to have gone on a different direction.

BORGER: Yes.

GERGEN: As his inaugural address suggested, he's being much more aggressive, he's going after Republicans, and he's -- you know, he's hammering them at every chance he gets. That's why I think the speech is going to be aimed at his base, to mobilize the base to help him against Republicans.

CUOMO: So he goes at his base. He's asking the provocative question and saying I'm going to change the future for the legacy issues of entitlements.

Do you agree, Governor, that that's what the president will do and it will be successful bringing the people to his side?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM (D), FORMER MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: Well, I do think that he's going to talk to the people. His audience is, yes, Congress is there, but it is over the top of them. And the question is, he has said that he will compromise on entitlements. He's put a couple of entitlements on the table, but will the Republicans compromise on revenues? And they have said no way, no how.

The president has cut, cut, literally $1.5 trillion so far, $2.5 trillion worth of savings. The question is, can they come a little further to make sure there is a grand bargain? Because a bargain suggests that both sides are getting something.

CUOMO: Let me ask you this, Speaker. All of this intelligence coming at me, I'm absorbing very little of it. And that makes me like most people. Right? It's a lot of insider talk, how much was cut, the bargain, the loaf, the half the loaf, whatever Gloria was saying. So when you get to the president and trying to bring a simple message to the people, what do you think they need to hear right now?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, and first of all, all presidents speak to the country. No president would ever go into a State of the Union to talk to the Congress, because you're trying to move the country, and then through the country, get the country to move the Congress.

Second, I agree with David Gergen. This president has a very clear strategy. He intends to demonize the Republicans and to mobilize his base, and he intends to gamble that in 2014 he can win the House, keep the Senate, and have two years, the last two years of his administration fundamentally changing the country. And that -- it's a rational gamble on his part.

(CROSSTALK)

GRANHOLM: So I want to --

CUOMO: How can -- how can he just --

GRANHOLM: I mean --

CUOMO: How can he just dismiss that it's so -- he just wants to demonize the Republicans?

GRANHOLM: He wants to --

CUOMO: You don't believe that?

GRANHOLM: When we're done with this, I want you to outline the words where he's demonizing the Republicans. He may be demonizing people who will be obstructionists and that might be some of those Republicans, but if you're an obstructionist that means that you're not willing to forge a compromise.

GINGRICH: Or it means you're not lending anything that's stupid. I mean --

GRANHOLM: Well --

GINGRICH: It's OK to obstruct stupid things.

GRANHOLM: But you could argue that Republicans have --

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: He's compromised on taxes. And he already gave --

(CROSSTALK)

GRANHOLM: And the Democrats have already compromised on cuts. Both sides have already compromised. The Democrat arguably have compromised more on cuts if you look at dollars for dollars.

BORGER: But the Republicans aren't going to do anymore on taxes, I would think.

GRANHOLM: Well, then the Democrats are going to say we're not going to do -- that's ridiculous.

BORGER: That's the problem.

GRANHOLM: You can't do that.

KING: You can't do the math. You can't do the math.

GRANHOLM: Without both.

KING: Without Medicare, Social Security, and the big programs, and probably more at revenue.

GERGEN: Yes.

KING: And neither side will budge. Neither side will budge.

(CROSSTALK)

GRANHOLM: Well, see, I disagree with you on that.

KING: The president can't get Republicans to move on revenue and there are a whole bunch of newly elected Democrats who -- had to say they'd never cut Medicare.

GINGRICH: I think spending is actually secondary to the economy in terms of the American people's concern.

GRANHOLM: Yes.

GINGRICH: But I would urge people --

GRANHOLM: I'm so happy to hear you say that.

GINGRICH: But I would -- I would urge people to listen here tonight and see, does the president put a single specific major reform of Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, or in fact is this essentially a speech a lot -- almost a Clinton-esque speech. Lots and lots of interesting ideas most of which won't go anywhere but they will sound good, and he'll get a bump for about three days.

GRANHOLM: Look, it's Clinton-esque --

CUOMO: David Gergen, let me ask you something with some historical perspective. Representative Stockman said he's going to be live tweeting tonight. He said it's fat Tuesday as we move into the Lent, the Catholic season. He said tonight we're going to have binging of promises, of parades, of bad excuses. And obviously he's looking for it to be politically charged.

But historically speaking, what is the chance for this president to engage the people and start in a different dialogue to get away from all the left versus right hostility? GERGEN: I think that's one test that we should apply to the speech after we've heard it and does that -- does he step up to that, or does he, what I think he's going to do, all the signals coming out of the White House, is he's going to double down on the tone he set in the inaugural, which was a very combative tone.

And, you know, I would like to see him do just the opposite tonight. I happen to think this is his last chance to get a grand bargain. I think he has to change the tone of the conversation and he has to put some things on the table.

CUOMO: Let's get back to Wolf -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, the president is about to be introduced by the House sergeant-at-arms, Paul Irving, with those very famous words, "Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States." You see everyone standing right now. They're getting ready to hear from the president. He'll walk in, and then it will take a while before he gets up to the podium.

Jake Tapper is up on Capitol Hill watching all of this unfold as well.

Jake, this is one of those rare moments where you got almost everyone of importance in Washington in the same room.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: With the exception of Dr. Steven Chu, of course, the energy secretary. And here we are expecting the announcement, the famous words you were talking about just a few minutes ago.

BLITZER: Hold on a second. Here he comes.

PAUL IRVING, HOUSE SERGEANT-AT-ARMS: Mr. Speaker, the president of United States.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: You see the president. He smiles. All smiles. He's happy as he meets members of the House and the Senate, who have been waiting some of them for hours and hours for a prime position. He's being followed -- you see, Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the House, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. They are part of the official escort committee members of the House and Senate, the leadership who are there to bring the president into the chamber.

It will take him a while to get through this crowd. He's shaking hands with everyone he sees there. As I said, a lot of these people have been waiting for a long time just to get a shot with the president on this important historic night. Mandated by the Constitution that he should provide a report to the nation about the State of the Union. The president will tell us what he thinks the State of the Union is momentarily.

Jake, you and I have seen a lot of these State of the Union addresses. This is an important one because it kicks off the president's second term. TAPPER: That's right. He will set the table for his second term. He hopes he will, anyway. I do find it so interesting that there are members of the House and Senate that literally sit in those seats in the House chamber for hours upon hours just for this moment, so they can shake the president's hand. It's often the same members of Congress, Congressman Eliot Engel, the man with the mustache, we just saw a second ago, always sitting in the aisle.

Of course there are others who are in that chamber, Wolf, as you know, who are there to convey a different sort of message, not one of wanting to meet the president, but perhaps illustrating a policy point. We have, for instance, in the chamber sitting with the first lady, the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, the young lady who was shot the other day. We have others. There's the mother, Cleopatra Pendleton, with the First Lady Obama.

And of course others who were in Sandy Hook, victims of Sandy Hook. There is a teacher sitting next to the second lady. Kaitlin Roig who was a -- or is a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Dana Bash in the chamber. You have been studying the relationship between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, one that it had its ups and downs. And in the last couple of days some fiery rhetoric from Speaker Boehner -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Just want to mention that the president just made a point to reach out his hand and shake his old rival's John McCain's hand, as he was making his way towards the podium here.

Yes, on the issue of John Boehner, I was at breakfast with him this morning. And he was quite gruff when it comes to the president. A real personal term. He said that he doesn't have the guts or the courage to stand up to his own party, to the liberals in his own party in order to make a deal on big issues, particularly deficit reduction.

I talked to him even later in the day and I said, basically, are you calling the president a wimp? And he said, no, I just don't think he's able to do what it takes to stand up to them. So that's the kind of relationship or frankly non-relationship that these two men who are going to be sitting a foot away from each other have.

TAPPER: The president having just greeted all the members of the Supreme Court in attendance, including the two that he appointed to the bench, Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Now joining and saying hello to members of the military who are there. There's Ray Odierno, General Odierno.

Wolf Blitzer at CNN studios -- he's almost at the point, Wolf where he's --

BLITZER: Yes. These are member s of the Joint Chiefs, they are all there, the diplomatic corps is there, the Cabinet is there, the Cabinet and the senior White House staff there as well. You see the president. He's about ready to go up to that podium.

Jessica Yellin has been watching. She's been getting advanced word.

Jessica, what do you think about what's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, this reminds me of our -- we always describe the president as a cool, detached man. That's how the media likes to describe him. When you see him work the crowd, he likes to say, I enjoy having a good time. And you're reminded he's good at it. He can work a room when he wants to. He just doesn't like doing it all that often.

BLITZER: All right. Jessica, hold on. The speaker is now going to introduce the president. Shaking hands with the vice president. Shaking hands with the speaker. The speaker will introduce the president. Let's listen in as the formalities continue.