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Obama to Take Action Without Congress; "I Don't Believe In The Politics Of Envy"; Winter Weather Advisory For 140 Million; "To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn"

Aired January 28, 2014 - 16:30   ET



Sticking with politics now, it's a little late for new year's resolutions, but tonight the chief executive of the United States will lay out his vision for the year ahead, right behind me here on Capitol Hill. And just hours before the president delivers his fifth State of the Union address, the White House has revealed their plan, through an executive order, to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 for new federal contract employees.

The question remains: what more can President Obama really get done in the year ahead, if he decided to go it alone.

Joining me now, former White House press secretary to the Clinton administration, Dee Dee Myers, and CNN contributor and Republican strategist Kevin Madden.

Kevin, we've -- I'll start with you. We've heard a lot about Republicans talking about like, "Oh, what is he talking about? We have a Constitution."

Now if you put up the numbers of how many executive orders this president and the previous two have issued, President Obama, 167 in the first five years of office. President Bush, 197. Clinton, 238. So there you have the context. Obama has actually issued far fewer executive orders than his two predecessors.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't even think it's the number. And quite frankly, you know, not all executive orders are the same.

TAPPER: Right.

MADDEN: It's the way that this president is now saying he's going to use them, which is in a very confrontational way and also in a way that sort of goes against the central premise to his 2008 campaign, which was that he was going to be able to change the way Washington worked and be able to bring people together.

In many ways, the way he's doing it now and the way he's going to announce he's going to use it tonight is sort of an admission that his central promise during that campaign, the central -- central part of his brand is actually -- you know, he hasn't lived up to it. So I think that's where it becomes more problematic. TAPPER: Do you think that's fair?

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, no. It will shock you that I disagree with my friend Kevin, but look, I do think he's going to move more toward executive orders and other kinds of executive action that presidents can take.

I think all presidents learn that, if you -- if you hitch your entire wagon to the possibility of getting things done in a confrontational Congress, you're not going to get anything done. And the voters expect you're the president of the United States. Don't tell us what you can't do. Show us what you can do. I think that's what the president's been building up. This is a year of action. There are other things he can do.

And by the way, you know, the 535 members of Congress, half of whom are Republicans, are not the only people in Washington or America. That is not a sign of bringing people together.

So I thin look for the president to reach out in the business community; look for him to reach out to, like, college presidents, which he's done; look for him to bring everybody together around Congress and say, "Now can we move forward together?"

MADDEN: Well, in that instance, too, I think those are two declining attributes that he used to have that really used to serve him well during the State of the Union address, which is the sense of people have a personal approval of him. And then also that he had this ability to, in speeches, really mobilize public opinion. Over the last few years, both of those attributes have declined tremendously, and it leaves this president in a much different position than past State of the Unions.

MYERS: But I think he's got to find a new tact, and I think that's what we're seeing now. He can no longer lash himself to Congress like Ahab in "Moby Dick" and hope that things change. It's not going to change in the short term. Although I think he's going to send an olive branch to Congress and say, "Let's do together the things that we can do. Let's reform immigration. Let's move forward on the -- raising the minimum wage. Let's put people back to work. And the things I can't do with Congress, I'm going to do with the rest of the American people."

TAPPER: Let's talk for a second about the pageantry of this evening. You both have experienced it, you from the White House, you working for Speaker Boehner. It's a -- it's a weird tradition, just on its face. If you knew nothing about the State of the Union, and you came and kind of watched it, all of the weird applause moments and the president gets 75 moments of applause, you know, "the State of the Union is strong." "Woo!" everybody claps. On its face...

MADDEN: It's like an arranged marriage. There's not all the revelry of a wedding really, where two people want to be together.

MYERS: You know, I think the most interesting moment is the walking in. You see the members, Republicans and Democrat -- and the Republicans and...

TAPPER: They camp out.

MYERS: They camp out. Reaching out for that one moment. And how excited then, when the president looks at them, touches them, acknowledges them. It suggests the pageantry of American politics in the best sense. I think that's the most fun.

TAPPER: And the weirdest -- I think the strangest position to be in is to be the vice president or the speaker of the House, and you just have to sit there, looking intensely interested the entire time, staring at the back of the president's head, never revealing anything.

MYERS: And the camera is on you at all times.

TAPPER: No scratch, no revealing of any emotion whatsoever. I mean, when you talk to people before they attend this, have they ever expressed to you like an eagerness to get on TV the way that...

MYERS: Oh, yes. People camp out there all day, partly just to touch the cloak, just to be part of it. And partly, yes, they hope that constituents back home see them on TV or that there's some moment where they're immortalized.

MADDEN: The rank-and-file members go back to their office, back to their district and say, "Did you see me? Did you see me?"

The rank-and-file members, they love it when they go back to their district and they say, "I saw you on TV during the State of the Union." It is one of those rare times, and that's one of the reasons that we do put such an emphasis on it. It is where the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) gather around the televisions here and see the Congress and the president all at once about the direction of the country.

TAPPER: Do you have a favorite State of the Union moment? It's not a State of the Union but President Clinton, his joint address to Congress in '93 when the teleprompter messed up.

MYERS: That was not my favorite moment.

TAPPER: And he had to ad lib, like, seven or eight minutes of it, because they had the wrong speech in the teleprompter.

MYERS: They had the wrong speech in the teleprompter. And he -- we could tell something was wrong, because he kept going down to his notes. He's very comfortable with teleprompters, also very comfortable with prepared text. And he kept looking down at his notes and trying to ignore the teleprompter. And he said later it was going like this because the operators were trying to find where he was and whizzing up and down. Nonetheless, he didn't miss a beat, and no one really knew about it until afterwards.

MADDEN: And one of the impressive stories about Bill Clinton, as I remember, was that one speech where he must have ad libbed. The longest speech, the longest State of the Union that had ever been given. During the speech, everybody from the back can see the teleprompter, and they could see that he was ad libbing probably three to four paragraphs for every paragraph that was actually written. That's quite impressive.

MYERS: But the best part about that was all the pundits afterwards, the speech went 89 minutes. And they all said, "Oh, it's a disaster, it's a horror." And later the Nielsen ratings revealed that the audience increased every quarter hour throughout the speech, and they had one of the best audiences of any State of the Union. So...

TAPPER: Don't listen to talking heads except these two right here. Dee Dee Myers and Kevin Madden, thank you so much.

MYERS: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the speech is expected to pump up the liberal voting base in a midterm election year, but is the president's plan to attack economic inequality an up? We'll talk to his former point man on the economy next.

Plus, yes, yes, I know what you're all saying in Buffalo: stop whining, southerners. But when ice and snow hit in places ill- equipped to handle it, entire cities are now shutting down.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, live from Capitol Hill.

Just hours before the president's fifth State of the Union address, in our money lead now, many Democrats are hoping tonight's speech will be the start of fiscal blast for a revamped populist agenda for the White House, one that pushes for economic change without the controversial focus on raising taxes on the wealthy that we've heard in years past. So what would a plan like that look like?


TAPPER: And joining me now is Larry Summers, professor of Harvard University, former director of the National Economic Council under President Obama and former treasury secretary to the Clinton administration.

Mr. Summers, great to see you, as always.

I want to start by asking you about Tom Perkins. In a letter to the "Wall Street Journal" this week, Perkins, who's a legendary venture capitalist, as you know, a self-described multimillionaire. He compared the attacks on the so-called 1 percent, the wealthiest Americans, to a looming progressive Kristallnacht, an allusion to the night of broken glass attack in November 1938 that put 30,000 Jews in concentration camps.

He writes, quote, "I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its 1 percent, namely the Jews, to the progressive war on the American 1 percent, namely the rich."

Now Perkins later apologized for the Kristallnacht allusion, but he defended the rest of the statement on Bloomberg Television.


TOM PERKINS, VENTURE CAPITALIST: I think the rich as a class are threatened through higher taxes, higher regulation. Any time the majority starts to demonize a minority, no matter what it is, it's wrong.


TAPPER: Now, let's move past the Kristallnacht thing, since he already said he was sorry; he regretted it. Do the rich feel besieged? Is there a war on the wealthy right now?

LARRY SUMMERS, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY: I'll let the wealthy speak for -- speak for themselves. You've got to have some perspective here. Franklin Roosevelt said of the wealthy, "They hate me, and I welcome their hatred." Top tax rates on the wealthy in this country in the 1950s were 90 percent.

For most of the Reagan administration, they were well above where they are today.

President -- President Kennedy sent the FBI to investigate steel executives, because he didn't like a price increase that took place in the steel industry. You have to keep some perspective.

I mean, forget talking about Andrew Jackson and the like on where the rhetoric in recent days is, compared to where it's been through much of our history.

TAPPER: Do you ever hear rhetoric from the other side, from progressives that makes you feel uncomfortable? Obviously, you've expressed concern about the wealthy rhetoric just now.

SUMMERS: Sure. I think we've got to find a middle ground here. I don't believe in the politics of envy. I think if we had more great entrepreneurs, like Steve -- like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, yes, we'd probably have more inequality, but we'd be a better country.

But it seems to me that the central point is that we need a much more inclusive prosperity than we've had and it doesn't work for the country, it doesn't work for the legitimacy of our institutions when most of the benefits of economic growth are going to a very small fraction of the population.

People like Mr. Perkins and it seems to me the right concern for any president, the right concern for any political leader is with the average incomes of those in the vast middle. And on that standard, we've got to do better and as we think about doing better, looking at where the success is, those at the very top and thinking about how that success can be shared to a greater extent seems to be a necessary imperative.

TAPPER: President Obama last year called for an increase in the minimum wage. This year he's going to do it again. He also issued an executive order increasing the wage for incoming federal workers. That affects a small number of people. No current contracts, as I understand, just future contracts. Is today's executive order just for show?

SUMMERS: No. I think it has an important demonstration effect. I think it is an expression of values. It may affect contracting at some point in the future. But, look, it's not nearly as important as raising the minimum wage would be, raising the minimum wage would lift people out of poverty. Raising the minimum wage would quite likely contribute to raising demand in the economy by transferring funds to people who have a higher propensity to spend and that would contribute to reducing unemployment.

Look, at a certain point, there's no question, conservatives are right that minimum wagers disruptive. But is it really the case that we should have a minimum wage in the United States that is far below where it was when Richard Nixon was president?

TAPPER: Mr. Summers, before you go, I just want to make I understand something. You just said you agreed with conservatives calling for an increase in minimum wage disruptive. So you believe --

SUMMERS: No, Jake. I said that raised to a certain point. If we had a minimum wage of $25 an hour, I have no doubt that it would disrupt employment enormously. These things are all questions of degree and the crucial point about what President Obama has proposed is that you're not even getting the minimum wage to the level that we had when that fiery liberal Ronald Reagan was president.

TAPPER: All right.

SUMMERS: You're not even getting it to that level where Richard Nixon had it when he was president. That's why I think we can be pretty confident that increasing the minimum wage to this point will help people and won't disrupt the economy.

TAPPER: All right, thank you for clarifying. I appreciate it. Larry Summers, thanks so much for your time.

When we come back, he talked the talk and in front of Congress he walked the walk. Is there any songwriter as influential as Pete Seeger today? A look back at his life in our Pop Culture Lead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Live from Capitol Hill. In other national news, parts of the south are bracing for a night of slick roads and temperatures in the 20s. Now, before you, Yankees and Midwesterners, roll your eyes, keep in mind that many of these areas get snow like maybe once a decade so they don't have the resources to battle the elements.

This map shows you exactly where the so-called once in a generation winter storm will do its worse. Snow is already causing commuting nightmares in Atlanta, Georgia. People trying to rush home to beat the worse of the weather, have been stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. And for those worried the traffic might cause them to miss their flights, well, we've got good news and bad news. Your flight was probably one of the more than 3,000 cancelled today nationwide because of the nasty weather.

Let's go now live to meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, who is braving the winter chill of, believe it or not downtown Atlanta. She's not in Ohio. She's not in Maine. She's in downtown Atlanta. Jennifer, for some people out there, they are seeing all of this snow, is that the equivalent of a unicorn running through an Atlanta backyard?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it definitely doesn't happen very often. You can hear the emergency vehicles behind me. This is something that just doesn't happen every day down in the south. It's been about through years since Atlanta has seen a significant snowfall and you have to remember, last time this happened in Atlanta, it happened on a Sunday night.

So on Monday morning nobody went anywhere. People stayed home from work. People stayed from school. Today everyone went to school. Everyone went to work and then at noon it started snowing so everyone tries to hit the road at the same time creating incredible gridlock across the city. Roads are already slick. We've seen cars slipping and sliding right here in front of the CNN Center.

I'm going to dig down a little bit and show you that we haven't seen a lot of accumulation, about an inch and a half, maybe 3 inches, some isolated amounts have been about 3 inches in some locations so that's significant for the south and it's going to continue as we go through the next couple of hours.

Let's go through the forecast maps because I want to show you, we do have those winter storm watches and warnings all across the Deep South, anywhere from Southeast Texas through Louisiana and up the Southeast coast. There's the snow. It looks like it will be ending in Atlanta, the next hour or two.

Montgomery is getting the snow. Freezing rain from New Orleans to Mobile including Charleston, Savannah getting in on the action and this is going to push out as we through late this evening and then by 9:00, it should end for Atlanta. Push off the east coast by rush hour tomorrow morning.

It should be moved out, but the problem is going to be, Jake, when all of this freezes tonight. It's very slushy here in Atlanta, sort of that wet slush as you know and then when temperatures get in the mid- 20s tonight. It is going to be a mess early in the morning. Luckily though we will be warming up a little bit.

There is your ice accumulation over the East Coast. Myrtle Beach and Wilmington could get an inch of ice and we know that can bring down power lines and also create those power outages. So that's also a big concern -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jennifer, I was in Greece during a snowstorm. They had not had a snowstorm in something like 30 or 40 years, and that country was completely ill prepared. They had no idea what to do. Nobody could drive and they had no de-icing fluid at the airport. I assume even though it's the south, you're a little bit better prepared than that?

GRAY: Yes. We're a little bit better prepared. I know they are focusing mainly on the interstate. So a lot of the side streets have not been touched. We have been outside the CNN Center in downtown Atlanta for the past five hours and we have not seen single sand truck or salt truck plow, nothing. You can hear the tires spinning as they are passing.

TAPPER: All right, maybe Greece can send some salt to Atlanta, some angry drivers out there in Atlanta, Georgia. All right, Jennifer Gray, thank you very much.

The Pop Culture Lead now, to everything turn, turn, turn. Still it is a painful passing. Today we say goodbye to an icon, a man Bruce Springsteen called the father of American folk music. Pete Seeger, he sang for everyone, from migrant workers to sitting presidents and the words etched on his five-string banjo summed up the high ideals he lived for. This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender it says.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here with more. Tom, this is a folk hero, but let's be honest, he had a very complicated past.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, honestly, Jake, this guy who withstood the test of time not once but over and over again.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Pete Seeger did not like being called a folk musician and yet his songs connected with millions of folks inspired by working people for almost a century he saw music as a way to spark movements.

PETE SEEGER: If you love your country, you'll find ways to speak out to do what you think is right.

FOREMAN: Born to a politically active family, Seeger's simple views sometimes led to a complicated life. As a communist before World War II, he praised Joseph Stalin and the soviets with "The Time We Are Alive With the Nazis." After Pearl Harbor, however, he was drafted and joined the Army.

He would later renounce some of his radical views. Still, 1950s he was hauled before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. The fallout crushed what had been a wildly successful commercial career with his folk group "The Weavers" and even as album sales plummeted, his activism never waivered. He opposed Vietnam, supported civil rights and labor movements. His key strategy, get people to sing along with your ideas and they might start believing.

SEEGER: The best music that I ever made in my life was when I could get the folks, young, old, conservative, get them all singing.

FOREMAN: Even late in life, Pete Seeger kept at it, opposing the Iraq war and supporting environmentalism and making music, or as he said, making a difference one note at a time.


TAPPER: Tom, what do you think has taking up the mantel of Pete Seeger in this generation?

FOREMAN: To be honest, you could name a lot of people who have been around for a long time like Bob Dylan, people like that, but honestly any young singer today who is singing music that they consider socially conscious, even if they weren't a fan of Pete Seeger, they owe a debt to him -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thank you so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I will be back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern with Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper for CNN's live coverage of the "State of the Union" address, and at midnight Eastern, 9 p.m. Pacific, I'll be anchoring a special wrap-up of CNN's "State of the Union" coverage. My guest will be Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He's in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.