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The State of the Union; Interview with Senator Mark Udall of Colorado; Interview with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky; Snow, Ice and Traffic Danger in South

Aired January 28, 2014 - 23:00   ET


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for American families, that's what I'm going to do.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's coverage of the State of the Union Address, the Republican response, and the issues shaping the battle for Congress. His vision. Their challenge. Your future.

The 2014 campaign is under way right now.

OBAMA: It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're here in a snowy Washington, D.C. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

We heard a sweeping call by President Obama tonight for a year of action that would bring greater opportunity to all Americans. He laid down a marker to Republicans, promising to use his executive power to act on his own if Congress stands in his way.

We have a lot ahead this hour as we dissect the State of the Union address, and the Republican response.

Republican Senator Rand Paul is standing by to join us live here in our studio. He went online with some tough reaction to the president. Now, he's here to keep on firing back. That interview only moments away.

Right now, we're also crunching the numbers from our exclusive instant poll of Americans who watched the president's speech. We're getting ready to bring you the first results. We're going to show you the responses from our focus group in Iowa, the highs, the lows, and the issues that made the biggest impression.

Before we dive deeper into the president's speech, some breaking news we're also following -- a weather emergency in the South. Snow and ice are causing chaos from Texas into Alabama and Georgia. Thousands of people are trapped on the roads in cars and school buses. Some have been stuck for hours and hours. There are car wrecks everywhere.

In Hoover, Alabama, 4,500 students are being forced to spend the night at schools. It's a very dangerous situation, apparently no end in sight right now. We're staying on top of this story, as well.

Also, getting back to the president's State of the Union address, listen to the president describing his hopes for the American people and his goal of working with Congress.


OBAMA: For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. It's an important debate, one that dates back to our very founding. When that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy, when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States, then we are not doing right by the American people.


Now, as president, I'm committed to making Washington work better and rebuilding the trust of the people who sent us here. And I believe most of you are too.

Last month, thanks to the work of Democrats and Republicans, Congress finally produced a budget that undoes some of last year's severe cuts to priorities like education. Nobody got everything they wanted, and we can still do more to invest in this country's future while bringing down our deficit in a balanced way.

But the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not new crisis. And in the coming months --


But what I offered tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I'm eager to work with all of you.

But America does not stand still and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do.



BLITZER: Strong words from the president of the United States.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill with Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent. You have a Democratic senator with you, who is up for re- election. I wonder if he thinks this is going to help what the president said or hurt his chances.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly what I'm going to ask him. I'm here with Senator Mark Udall. As you said, he's up for reelection in November.

What do you think of how the president did and specifically how your constituents are going to view that and what it might mean for you?

SEN. MARK UDALL (D), COLORADO: I think Coloradoans love the president's optimism. That's what we are as Westerners.

I think they liked his discussion of opportunity. He said opportunity is who we are, and in particular, if you think about Colorado, when he said when women succeed, America succeeds. You could hear a lot of applause coming from Colorado.

So, it was a Colorado kind of speech tonight, is what it was.

BASH: Senator, you have made no secret that you are annoyed, to say the least, about the problems with Obamacare, and specifically, how much more that's made your life difficult as somebody on the ballot this year.

What did you think about the speech and how that might have helped or not?

UDALL: Yes. I've said, look, why didn't you implement this, why didn't you get ahead of it? Saying sorry isn't enough.

So, my approach is, let's make this new health care law work for Colorado. We can't go back, the old system wasn't working. I though the president leaven it with a little bit of humor tonight, but he made it clear, if you've got ideas, and we all do, let's improve the health care system in our country. When we do, we lift everybody. To have Americans who don't have health care hurts our economy, of course, hurts those families and hurts those individuals.

So by what he said tonight, did he go far enough or do you think he needed to go further for your taste or more specifically, for your re-election promises?

UDALL: Well, when it comes to Colorado, we've got to make this law work. And I'm going to continue pushing the president to make some additional changes, to look at expanding the individual market time frame so you can sign up over the next couple of years. There are some things we can do. Saying sorry isn't enough. We've got to make this --

BASH: Is he a liability for you, the president back home?

UDALL: When the president comes to Colorado and talks about, about the energy approach, we've got lots of natural gas and solar power, that resonates with Coloradoans. When he talks about making sure our veterans are treated properly, that resonates --

BASH: Does that mean you're going to campaign with him? Or are you going to have him campaign with you side by side?

UDALL: We are going to be running a strong campaign based on Colorado's interests and Colorado's future. My job I think is to protect Colorado's way of life. We've got a wonderful way of life.

BASH: That was not a yes or no. Yes or no?

UDALL: We'll see what the president's schedule is. We'll see what my schedule is. But Coloradoans are going to re-elect me based on my record, not on the president's record. Not what the president has done, but what I've done and how I stood for Colorado. That's the case I'm going to make Coloradoans.

BASH: Wow, one more chance, you're not going to say yes or no, are you?

UDALL: We'll see what the schedule allows. I'm running for reelection. Not the president, in Colorado.

BASH: Wolf, I think that's our answer. Back to you.

BLITZER: Well, he wouldn't be the first Democrat up for re- election who has a busy schedule when the president comes to his or her state. We saw Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, they were busy when the president came to that state. They have tough reelection campaigns themselves.

All right. Let's get a little different perspective, maybe a significantly different perspective. Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, is joining us right now.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Glad to be here.

BLITZER: In a nutshell, did you love the president's speech?

PAUL: Well, you know, I was a little bit underwhelmed. If you were listening to him, you might have felt like, well, gosh, everything's fine. The country's thriving again. Twenty million people are either out of work, under-employed or given up looking for work. Twenty million people, if you measured it like we used to measure, 13 percent unemployment.

I mean, we have a lot of problems. I think there needs to be a debate in our country how do we create jobs? I didn't hear anything new from the president.

BLITZER: He outlined a whole series, he said if you're not going to work with him, Republicans, he's going to take executive action in a dozen areas and do it alone by himself. You have a problem with that?

PAUL: It didn't sound very conciliatory.

The other thing is, is the one part of our country that is thriving, that is creating jobs, probably the biggest industry that's creating jobs, he did mention, oil and gas. But the problem is, what he didn't mention -- I'm going to raise taxes on oil and gas -- exactly the wrong thing you don't want to do on the one industry in our country that's really doing pretty well.

BLITZER: He was talking about the oil industry. He talked about $4 billion that they get in tax breaks which he says they don't need. He wants to invest in natural gas, in solar, in cleaner energy.

PAUL: Yes. But you think we ought to be thinking about where are the job -- where is the job creation right now? It's in the oil and gas industry. So, on one hand, he brags about it. On the other hand, he says I'm going to punish them for their success. That's where the jobs are being created.

We should do the opposite. We should lower taxes on any industry, but really all the oil and gas industry, as it's doing well, and let it do better.

BLITZER: He announced on increasing the minimum wage, the federal contractors would get an increase immediately to $10.10 an hour, which is not a huge amount of money by any means, but it's a little bit more than the current minimum wage. Are you with him on that?

PAUL: If you increase the price of something, you'll get less of it. So, all of the studies, virtually all of the studies show that if you increase the minimum wage, you get higher unemployment, particularly teenage unemployment, particularly black teenagers --

BLITZER: Do you believe in a minimum wage?

PAUL: Well, I think when you look at raising it, all of the studies show that if you raise it, you get more unemployment. So, really, the market place does a better job at determining what --

BLITZER: So, there shouldn't be any federal minimum wage?

PAUL: I'm not sure I'm saying that. But I think what I am -- I'm not sure I have an answer as far as whether there is a right or wrong --

BLITZER: You're a United States senator. You thought about whether or not there should be a federal --

PAUL: Not necessarily. But what I have thought about is raising the minimum wage causes more unemployment. When we have 20 million people out of work, I think it's a bad idea to raise it.

And the good way to look at this is, see, he looks at it from an emotional point of view. He says, well, more money is good. Well, yes, why not make it $15 an hour? Because people acknowledge that there is some price at which it does cause unemployment. Why not make it $50, or $100 an hour?

BLITZER: Well --

PAUL: There is a point which the price does cause unemployment. But every -- every increase, there is some point, and some unemployment that will be cause --

BLITZER: But there's a philosophical division you have there, that you're not sure you even support a minimum wage?

PAUL: Well, the discussion really isn't about whether you have one or not. The discussion right now is incremental increase.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Obamacare, the Affordable -- you're a physician. You heard the president outlined the millions of Americans who are now benefitting from Obamacare, because if they had preexisting conditions, they can get insurance right now, that cannot be taken away from them. You're with him on that as a physician?

PAUL: All right. Well, he didn't mention that more people have been cancelled than have gotten their insurance. He bragged about Kentucky, my state, had the governor to pat him on the back. But the people signing up in my state in Kentucky are getting Medicaid. In fact, they sent my son a Medicaid card.

So, really, I don't know if it's a great advantage to sign a lot of people up for free health care. We really aren't signing people up to pay for health care. We're signing people up -- the rest of the working people have to pay for. And this may well bankrupt hospitals in our state.

Sure, I want everybody to have health insurance. I want to take care of people. I consider it my obligation as a physician, both personally and for religious reasons, to take care of people, and I do. And I'm part of a large group of physicians who always have.

But I don't think the government providing it and doing it is a good idea and I think it's going to backfire and less people will have insurance.

BLITZER: You're a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. And one area I suspect you do agree with the president when he said he would veto legislation in Congress that imposed new sanctions on Iran right now during the six-month period when we're testing them to see if they are really going to deal with this nuclear issue. You're not with the other Republicans who say you will vote for new sanctions.

PAUL: I've been for sanctions. I have voted for sanctions in the past, to try to get the Iranians to negotiate. I think while they're negotiating, and if we can see that they're negotiating in good faith, I don't think it's a good idea to pass sanctions while we're in the midst of negotiations.

However, the one thing I would have done differently than the president is I would have delayed the release of sanctions until after we had compliance. So, I would have had at least several months' delay where we can see that we're getting compliance --

BLITZER: But the Iranians wouldn't have done anything if there wouldn't have been a quid pro quo, if you will.

PAUL: Yes, maybe. I'm not sure exactly whether it would have been.

But my preference would have been for at least some delay, to show compliance before we remove controls.

Now, they also argue that they can reapply the sanctions. I think the bottom line is we should give negotiations a chance. My hope is that sanctions will avoid war. We've been involved in two long wars in the Middle East. And I think it would be best if we can do anything possible to try to avoid another war now.

BLITZER: Senator Paul, thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

So, Rand Paul, the Republican of Kentucky.

Anderson, back to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Joined by John King, our chief national correspondent, Gloria Borger, chief political analyst.

Will tonight's speech, three, four days from now, will it be remembered at all except for that moment with Cory Remsburg, the wounded Army Ranger, ten tours of duty, an extremely difficult recovery that --


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think all Americans should tip their hat to the president for ending his speech with that, because number one, it's very moving.

Now, it's smart for the president. You end on a high note. You end on rallying. You have, you know, politically, everybody in the hall supporting the president's speech.

But, look, we are out of Iraq, we're coming out of Afghanistan. Whether you're a Democrat or Republican or somewhere else in the political spectrum, this country should be embarrassed if it forgets the 25, 30-year challenge of helping those veterans. Not just Cory Remsburg, but the tens of thousands like him who either need physical help, mental help, other help. We cannot forget that.

So I think the president ended brilliantly there.

Did the speech change anything? We'll see as we go forward. I think the president spoke confidently, which is hard to do when you were at 43 percent. I thought his performance as a politician as selling himself was above the bar. The early reaction you just heard the Democratic senator talking to Dana Bash about, well, we'll see if the president comes to my state, I'll have to check my schedule.

You know, one of the unique things in American politics happens very rarely, is that Mitt Romney carried more House districts than Barack Obama in the last presidential election. That's why no House Republican is afraid of this president. They think they're going to keep their majority. I don't see the math changing.

COOPER: It is interesting to watch that moment with Cory Remsburg, because it is a prime example of people actually being united in support of something and those moments are few and far between.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And it kind of reminds us of how base and partisan our politics are, and here is Cory Remsburg fighting for us, true sacrifice.

I think what the president was trying to do and his speechwriters were trying to do is raise the level of discourse at the end of the speech and say, look, this is who we are, this is what we should aspire to be like, like Cory. We should be like him, and here we have been wallowing in our partisan politics and look at this young man who represents -- or that we should represent, and we're your elected officials and we don't rise to that occasion ourselves.

COOPER: We're going to take a break. There's much more ahead.

In addition to the State of the Union coverage, we are following major breaking news across the South where snow and isles have created gridlock all afternoon.

Plus, we'll check in with our focus group in Iowa. Some of the president's lines tonight got a strong reaction. We'll show you the high points, low points and some of the surprises.

And we're getting to rollout the first results of our exclusive instant poll of speech watchers. Did they like what they heard? Find out, ahead.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're going to get back to our coverage of the State of the Union in a few moments. But there's breaking new. Take a look at this -- this is a snowy Washington, D.C. The president just wrapped up his State of the Union address.

Meanwhile, the Southeast is in trouble right now. Dangerous weather conditions are creating a desperate situation for literally millions of Americans. The governors of Alabama and Georgia have already declared a state of emergency. Schoolchildren are trapped in schools because snow and ice have caused dangerous conditions on the roadways.

On the roadways, people ran out of gas and were forced to ditch their cars and walk.

Let's check in with CNN severe weather expert, Chad Myers.

Chad, you're in New Orleans where a layer of ice is covering the whole city. What's going on?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This is what New Orleans looked like, especially the bridges and the overpasses. All of that's, probably less than a quarter of an inch, but it doesn't take much, Wolf. You just can't drive on this at all. The bridges literally are closed. I-10 is close, all of I-10, from Lafayette over to almost the Mississippi line, closed tonight because it's really a bridge, all the way across there. It's either over a lake or over a bayou, and all of that completely shut down tonight.

But the desperate situation is in Atlanta, Georgia, right now. We have tens of thousands of cars that can't get to where they want to go. It is simply gridlock in Atlanta, Georgia, right now. My brother-in-law will spend the night in a Home Depot because it's the only place he could find open. He spent seven hours in a car and went three miles today. Finally, he said I can't go 11 more miles, I don't have enough gas. Where I can stop?

And he found a Home Depot that's going to be open, that's going to stay open. There are many shelters opening for these cars that simply can't go anywhere.

Once you get a layer or three of cars that have been abandoned, there's no way to get around them, even if the ice melts. And it's not melting at all. Temperatures are down in the teens. This is a desperate situation for many people in the city of Atlanta.

Also into Montgomery, into Birmingham, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Chad, stand by.

I want to go to Atlanta where we're hearing about the horrendous traffic you just described.

Victor Blackwell is in College Park, Georgia.

Victor, what is happening there?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm just south of Atlanta. And look, there are still people at this hour still in traffic. And these aren't people who have made it home and going back out. I just chose a vehicle at random and tapped on the window and asked, how long have you been in traffic? He said seven hours, from just north of Atlanta to where we are just south of Atlanta. That typically takes less than hour.

I went to the next person, four hours from downtown Atlanta. That's typically 30 minutes to maybe 45 on a rough day.

Let's talk also about the schools. There are students in not only according to a CNN affiliate here in Atlanta, but in a suburb who will have to spend the night at school.

The timing is the problem here. The government offices, the schools were shut down at the same time, flooding the streets with buses and government workers. So all those people were stuck on the roads and the buses at some point, late in the evening, had to go back to the school to drop them off, and if parents cannot make it there, they are having the students stay there for the night.

A very desperate situation, but we know the governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, is speaking right now, answering some of the tough questions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Victor, stand by. We're going to check in with you.

We're also getting reports, as you pointed out, people stranded all over the interstates and many of those back roads, as well. One of those who spent hours on the road and found herself stranded at a gas station near Alpharetta, Georgia, is Mhari Patterson.

Maury, you've been rescued. You're on the phone with us right now. What was it like?

MHARI PATTERSON, GEORGIA RESIDENT (via telephone): (INAUDIBLE) experience. I -- my company actually released me around 1:15 this afternoon to make sure we all arrived safely to our homes. I live in the city of Buckhead, which is south of our company's location, and I spent about six hours or so before I was able to make it to a nearby gas station where I spent an additional three to four hours there before my company sent out a mass email and had someone come and rescue me. So I'm now safe at home now, but it was certainly a long, adventurous day to say the least.

BLITZER: Is there food? What are some of -- a lot of people are stranded in their cars. Obviously they're in deep trouble, especially if they run out of gas, Mhari.

PATTERSON: Yes, we did experience that. There were several cars that were just abandoned. People were pulling off the side of the reason. Their cars are spinning. They were running out of gas, and a few of them were just a few miles of home, so they decided to walk instead.

I was able to get to the gas station, which they opened to all of us and let us come in there and they were serving coffee and things like that. So we were able to get into a warm environment and get out of the storm a little bit.

BLITZER: All right, Mhari. Mhari Patterson, we're going to stay in touch with what's going on in the South right now. It's a desperate situation. We'll update our viewers on that.

Let's get back to the coverage now of the president's State of the Union address. We have a closer look at our focus group of Iowa voters and how they responded to the president's speech tonight. We measured their reaction while they watched the actual address. The blue line represents Democrats, the red line for Democrats, the yellow line is for independents, and there were highs and there were lows.

Here's the president's highest moment of the night with Democratic voters. It happened at 9:46 when the president talked about women and equal pay for equal work.


OBAMA: It is time to do away with work place policies that belong in a "Mad Men" episode. This year, let's all come together, Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street, to give every woman the opportunity she deserves, because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds.



BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our Suzanne Malveaux. She's with that Iowa focus group in Des Moines.

Suzanne, that was surely a high for a lot of the Democrats.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it certainly was, Wolf. And I have to tell you, just being with this focus group this evening, there were a lot of laughs. I was surprised here, you know, people eating brownies. I think we're experiencing a sugar high here.

But, you know, one of the things when the president looked back at Boehner who said the some of a bar tender is the speaker of the House. There were funny moments when he talked about the work policies being more on the air of "Mad Men."

So, we have actually enjoyed this.

And I want to bring in Erin, first of all -- because women's issues is very important with you. You say you've worked with 14- year-old girls who have become pregnant. What did you hear this evening from the president dealing with human issues in the economy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think what I heard from him is that it is an issue that is important and it's something that we need to continue to work on. They need education. They need to have opportunities to do something as young women.

And we also need to be very aware of the fact that they are not learning things that will help them not get pregnant. And we need to be thinking about those things.

MALVEAUX: All right. Carolyn, I want to talk to you because you're a Republican and you had a very interesting story earlier today. You have been trying to get a job for a year and a half. You've gone to nine different temp agencies. Did you hear something from the president this evening that impressed you or changed your mind about his administration in helping you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hope so. I think that it's -- there's a lot of competition out there, and you know, it just makes it difficult to even -- and I have the hope that you're going to find something.

MALVEAUX: Did you think when he said look, people should get paid a higher minimum wage, is that something that would be helpful?


MALVEAUX: All right. I want to go to you, Warren, real quick here on the other side. I know we talked before about a number of issues, the economy, but also mental health and making sure those with disabilities are taken care of. What did you hear from the president tonight that impressed you?

WARREN DUKES: I heard first of all, talking about mental health issues. He's really concerned with gun violence. So, he's interested in wanting to do something despite the fact that the House failed to pass the gun law control.

So, my ask that he's still working on getting that issues resolved. A lot of people with mental health, sometimes when they get upset, they go to violence. So, he's thinking about ways of making sure gun violence is taken care off. I heard that clearly that he's going to be doing something about that.

MALVEAUX: All right. One last one, before you mentioned about the pen, the mighty pen. You wanted the president to use that executive order, moving around Congress to get some things done.

Did you think that he made his case?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Definitely. I think he heard me and other people who have said, you know, if Congress isn't going to do what needs to be done, what he can do by himself he needs to do. Stop waiting for them, because they're not coming along on the ride.

MALVEAUX: All right. Wolf, that's just a smattering, just even a sampling of the Democrats and Republicans who are listening this evening.

BLITZER: Stand by, Suzanne, because there are also some big lows in the president's speech. Lows for Republicans. One of the moments happened at 9:53 when the president talked about the economy and Obamacare.


OBAMA: For decades, few things exposed hardworking families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven't heard, we're in the process of fixing that. (APPLAUSE)


BLITZER: For independents, there was also a low at 9:49 when the president vowed to issue an executive order to raise the minimum wage.


OBAMA: In the coming weeks, I will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour, because if you cook our troop's meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Suzanne. She's with that focus group in Iowa. Those were both significant lows in the president's remarks, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: They certainly were. I want to bring in Shelly here, the discussion here. She's a Republican, not an Obama supporter.

And, Shelly, you talked about growing up on a farm in Iowa, that you grew up, your mom is a single mom. You don't believe in entitlements. You don't believe people should be given a helping hand in that way.

Was there something that resonated with the president? Because that really was a low mark for you and many other Republicans.

SHELLY JACOBI: It's not that I don't think people should be given anything. But people should be willing to take but give back. So, if you are going to give something, you should work for it and give back to your community or to the nation in a way that you can.

MALVEAUX: And a lot of people looked at the Obamacare and said that's not the way.

JACOBI: It may not be the way, but right now we need to try to work with it and see if any part of it can work and maybe what isn't working, we need to revise it and make some changes.

MALVEAUX: All right. I want to go to Jody (ph), because Jodi, you were one of the people that I spoke with earlier today who said you had a real problem with trusting the president, that you didn't think he was honest. Did you hear anything that changed your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) they don't give a lot of specific answers, and so I really wasn't sat feed, no.

MALVEAUX: Craig, I want to go to you. You're an independent. You're 25 years old, one of the youngest people here on the panel, part of the startup.

What did you think?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard the president talk a lot about the deficit and I'm glad that Congress is ready to pass a budget. But I still didn't hear enough how they're going to raise revenue. I didn't hear anything about corporations paying more taxes.

MALVEAUX: All right. Craig, Jody, thank you.

And, Wolf, just one of the things that the crowd said today was that these are Iowans, so they're very engaged. They're very excited. They would be watching if they were home and not part of this. But they said they want the basketball scores scrolled underneath, as well.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Suzanne, thanks very much.

Let's take a closer look at how the president performed overall tonight. We average the responses from Democrats, Republicans and independents into one green line that you can see hovering in the positive range. Compare that to his performance last year with our CNN focus group of Virginia voters.

The gold bar shows the president's overall score with those who watched the speech with us in 2013. On a dial that goes from 1 to 100, the president had an overall score of 60 in 2013. Tonight, he scored a 65, a slightly better response than he got a year ago, despite what's clearly been a tough year for the president.

Lots to assess, to dissect.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: And we're here with Gloria Borger and John King.

As you look at these numbers, anything jump out at you?

KING: I think what jumps out is that we learn over time, I remember in the Clinton days, when Paul Begala used to write these long speeches. Afterwards you would say, afterward you would say, why did they speak so long? They need an editor, this could be shorter. And then they get high marks from the American people, who I think, whether you agree or disagree with the president, this is part of our system. You take one day a year, one night a year, where you listen to what the president want do. And you hear what the opposition wants to do.

That's good for the system, no matter what your politics. And I think sometimes we get too cynical in Washington. So when people listen to the speech, they go up and down, largely based on their own politics. I don't think the president changed a ton of minds tonight. He may have opened some minds to some conversations, but I think that we sometimes do get too cynical to the idea that it's a good thing to the American people, regardless of the party, to listen to any president about what he or she eventually wants to do. BORGER: You know, I think the big question for me is whether the president can get his popularity up here, because that's what he's trying to do. That's what he was trying to do tonight. When you get going into the sixth year of a presidency, people have kind of set opinions about who this man is, what he can achieve, what Congress is like, what they can do together.

And the president tonight was trying to be optimistic and say, dare I say it, yes, we can. We can do it. And the question is whether the public now is so pessimistic and so cynical about politics that they just discount it and move on.

COOPER: Yes. We have a lot more from our panelists coming up. We're standing by for results from our exclusive instant poll of Americans who watched the president's speech. We are going to have more from that.

We're going to continue to keep you updated on the severe weather and chaos in the south. It is a nightmare out there for a lot of folks stuck on the highway now, who's been out there for hours and hours. It's snowing here in Washington.

More ahead.


BLITZER: We're just getting the first results from our exclusive instant poll of Americans who watched the president's speech.

Remember when the president is a Democrat, more Democrats are likely to watch the speech. So these numbers only represent Americans who watched the president's speech tonight. Take a look at the numbers -- 44 percent told us they had a very positive reaction to the president, 32 percent were somewhat positive, 22 percent had a negative reaction to what the president said.

Now, let's compare that to the previous State of the Union addresses. In 2013, 53 percent of the speech watchers had a very positive reaction to the speech. 2011, 52 percent were very positive. 2010, the percentage was 48 percent.

Tonight, we asked, will President Obama's plan improve the economy? Fifty-nine percent of those who watched said yes, 36 percent said no. Comparing that to past speeches in 2013, 65 percent said the president's plan would improve the economy. In 2011, 68 percent said the president's plan would improve the economy. In 2010, 67 percent felt the president's plan would improve the economy.

So, those are the initial instant poll results. We have Anderson.

Remember, this is a poll of people who actually watched the speech.

COOPER: As you said, it skews Democratic, because when there's a Democratic president, more Democrats tend to watch. We're joined by our panelists, "CROSSFIRE" hosts Van Jones, and S.E. Cupp. Also Paul Begala and Ana Navarro.

Great to have you all. We have not heard from either of you tonight.



COOPER: As John was pointing out, you were involved in a lot of lengthy speeches.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, yes, but I have got to stand up for Paul. I mean, I think there's a lot of things you can blame Paul for, but not Bill Clinton's lack of brevity.

COOPER: What did you make of the speech tonight and the numbers?

BEGALA: I thought it was great. Even as analyst, not as a Democrat, which I am -- the president has to resolve two hot internal debates between, first, those who wanted him to be more realistic and those who wanted him to be more optimistic.

A lot of the polling data says if you tell people things are really good, they tend to get annoyed. The president definitely sided with the optimists. It was a very optimistic speech. For a country that 62 percent believes we're on the wrong track, very optimistic.

My personal taste, I love that.

You know, and the second was analogous. Are you more combative or are you more conciliatory? Cooperative really is a better word.

COOPER: How did you --

BEGALA: I think he choose more cooperative. It's not -- this is election year.

COOPER: John Boehner has put a statement saying that, you know, there wasn't a lot of sort of reaching across the aisle.

BEGALA: You know, he may be right and you got to listen to his perspective, more important than mine. But he could have stuck his thumb in their eye many, many more times. So, a lot of opportunities, he had really gigged him. Frankly, a hack like me would have advised him to do it. But it's better for the country --

COOPER: It's like your Twitter feed.


NAVARRO: You know what? I actually think he did a lot of both. I think he balanced it out, he intertwined it, because there were something like a dozen threats of executive orders there that is something Republicans don't like. It really is shaking up the legislative process and the separation of powers.

But then he would intersperse in there, a shout-out to Marco Rubio, a shout-out to John Boehner, a story about the hero soldier. So, I think he spaced out the very bitter pills that were in that speech.

VAN JONES, "CROSSFIRE" CO-HOST: I think that's right. If you look carefully, this president on the most important issue, you have minimum wage. But besides that, you've got immigration.

And on that issue, he was not demagoguing this. He gave them a lot of room. He gave a shout-out to Rubio, he gave a shout-out to Boehner. That's important.

They say he doesn't have a personal touch, he gave them that respect. He also did not demagogue the issue, and that lets them move forward.

Now, for a president that's often accused of not being able to work the politics, on immigration he was brilliant tonight. He's absolutely brilliant tonight.

COOPER: But again, I mean, S.E., you joined on this -- other than that extraordinary moment of bipartisanship with the army ranger, I mean, which got the longest standing ovation, and justifiably so, is anything going to be memorable about this? Five days from now, will anybody remember anything about the speech?

S.E. CUPP, "CROSSFIRE" CO-HOST: No, and two reasons why. And I think the polling that Wolf just showed, where this was sort of the least rated of the last four State of the Unions, and even by a Democratic heavy audience. There's just so many times that you can promise to do stuff and not get it done, whether it's his fault or Congress. There's only so many times you can do that before people stop believing you.

And for the second reason that we all acknowledge, no one really thinks that a speech is a magical decree, that the speech means that all of a sudden magic is going to strike Washington and everything he asked for is going to happen.

COOPER: Well, do people remember these speeches other than the length of one?

BEGALA: Yes, they certainly remember the image, how the president looked. He looked confident and optimistic. But S.E. is right. But he set himself up to deliver without Congress. That's what's -- so this will be memorable. This president, who has used fewer executive orders at that stage as president than Reagan or Clinton or Bush has now set himself up for powerful executive action and he's going to take it.

NAVARRO: And I was trying to remember last year's speech and I had to go look it up, because the only thing I could remember was that my friend Marco Rubio got toast.


COOPER: Coming up, as we were just discussing the most emotional moment of the president's speech came, and if you missed it, you got to stick around for this, because it's really extraordinary. He introduced an American hero. There's probably not a dry eye in the House.

You'll see it, next.


BLITZER: It's snowing here in Washington, D.C. Check it out, the U.S. Capitol. Look at the snow coming down. Folks in Washington, D.C. are not used to that kind of snow. We'll have more on the snowy weather not only here in D.C., but elsewhere especially in the South, where it's getting very, very dangerous.

But let's check in on more of the results coming in from CNN's exclusive instant poll of speech watchers. Tonight, remember, when the president is a Democrat, more Democrats are likely to watch the speech. So, these numbers only represent Americans who watched the president tonight.

We asked, will President Obama's policies move the country in the right direction? Before the speech, 52 percent said yes. After the speech, that number was higher, 69 percent saying his policies would move the country in the right direction.

As compared that to past years. In 2013, 71 percent said Obama's policies would move the country in the right direction. Back in 2011, 77 percent felt that way. 2010, the percentage was 71 percent.

We also asked, how should President Obama deal with major issues? Sixty-seven percent said he should handle it with bipartisan compromise, 30 percent said he should act alone and make unilateral changes if necessary.

So, let's assess what's going on.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: And back with our panelists, Republicans and Democrats.

We were talking about whether this will be remembered five days from now.

JONES: And I thought what was interesting is that, she mentioned Rubio's speech, and there were a bunch of speeches tonight. I mean, one thing is very interesting is we had four responses from the Republicans.

COOPER: What does that say?

JONES: I think that says the Republican Party is --

CUPP: Have great intellectual diversity. (LAUGHTER)

JONES: Or I'll finish for myself and say, it's in total disarray and absolute chaos, and part of the importance of Obama saying that he is going to move forward is that he just can't hand the future of the country over to a dysfunctional party and a do-nothing Congress. And I think it was important for him to let --

CUPP: Having actually watched --

COOPER: There was the official Republican response. Rand Paul gave a response. You watched Mike Lee, the Tea Party response --

CUPP: Mike Lee, the Tea Party response.

Having watched two of the four, let me just tell you how united the Republican Party sounded. Finally, it's like the GOP remembered that we have a positive, hopeful, empowering message beyond just blame Obama. I have been waiting for this for five years. And in Mike Lee and Cathy McMorris Rodgers' responses, they both had the same hopeful optimistic message.

JONES: Why did they need four of them?


NAVARRO: Let me correct you. It was five. Because the two official GOP responses, one was in English by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and one was in Spanish by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. I think this is the first time in history that two official responses are given by women.

So, I think John Boehner had a war on male responders.


CUPP: Mike Lee ticked off not just proposals for reform, but the congressman and senators behind those proposals for reform. Answering the Democratic critique that Republicans never bring ideas, he actually opened the door for Republicans to come out in favor of gay marriage saying, inequality is denying citizens their right to define marriage in their states as traditionally or as broadly as their diverse values dictate.

This was a new message from Republicans, and I welcome it.

JONES: Well, first of all, I'm very happy that you were able to see almost half of your party's responses on a big night like that. I think it's a huge achievement on your part.

However, I also got a chance to hear Rand Paul, who couldn't even bring himself to say that Americans deserve to have a minimum wage.

So, is that a core value of your party that not having a minimum wage like most third world countries don't have a minimum wage --

CUPP: Most conservatives acknowledge that it will result in -- (CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: You guys do get out to "CROSSFIRE" tomorrow. Let's just clarify for people watching, there was the official response, there was the Tea Party Express response, which Mike Lee gave. Then there was the Rand Paul response, which Rand Paul gave.

BORGER: If the Democrats didn't have a president, who you have to rally around, I would say that there would be the liberal response. There would be the center Democrat third wave response, the progressive response.


BORGER: When you're not in power, right?

COOPER: We should point out that the moment that did unite basically everybody in this room, we mentioned it earlier, the most moving without a doubt of the entire evening, I want to show you some of it, it involved a true American hero.

I want to bring back CNN anchor Jake Tapper with that -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Anderson.

Yes, without question, this was the most moving moment of the evening. It involves a man that President Obama has met three times. Sergeant first class Cory Remsburg.

He's somebody through whom President Obama has seen the real human cost of war. He met Sergeant First Class Remsburg during the D- Day anniversary in the summer of 2009. Then later that year, Sergeant First Class Remsburg was hit by an IED near Kandahar. He was in a coma for three months. He had shrapnel in his brains, shrapnel in his right eye.

Less than a year later, President Obama was at Bethesda Naval Hospital and stopped by the bed of Sergeant First Class Remsburg, and saw a photograph of him with him from a year before, during the D-Day operation.

And it was then that President Obama was able to see somebody who had been healthy, and then somebody who had been wounded. They met a third time last summer. Cory was able to stand up and salute President Obama.

Here is a short moment from the speech when he recognized this American hero.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Day by day, he's learned to speak again and stand again, and walk again. He's working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

"My recovery has not been easy," he says. Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy. Cory is here tonight, and like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up and he does not quit.



TAPPER: At that moment, of course, Sergeant First Class Remsburg stood up and saluted President Obama, re-creating that moment from last summer when he stood and saluted President Obama. So President Obama saluting him back.

Many moist eyes in that room, Anderson. I think without question, it was one of the most stirring moments of the speech.

Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: Without a doubt, Jake, I mean, you wrote about the heroism of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and, Jake, there was that moment when the president said that the sergeant first class has done 10 hours. There was sort of a gasp. It's an extraordinary level of sacrifice for this young man.

TAPPER: Well, less than 1 percent of the country that does so much for the other 99 percent of it. That means that a lot of Americans and their families go through multiple, multiple tours and one of the reasons why so many veterans and troops face so many -- have so many needs for this nation to face.

I should point out, I heard from some veteran friends of mine who noted there was a lot of applause for Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, but they were the same people that were cutting some of the cost of living increases for current troops applauding for him, and a lot of them made the sentiment -- it's easy to clap, not as easy to take care of the men and women who put it on the line.

COOPER: And as you pointed out, though, the president also pointed out tonight that it's -- his father, Craig, and others in the community, have really been caring for this young man. An extraordinary story. We no doubt are going to hear more about in the days to come.

Are any of the lines from the president's speech trending online? We'll find out right after this break.


BLITZER: With over half the country on Facebook, it's a great measure of America's conversation. And tonight, this point really hit home.


OBAMA: And today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.


BLITZER: The conversation around, quote, "equal pay" spiked -- get this -- 33,000 percent during the speech, that's not a typo. It means the speech sparked a conversation in America that was not happening yesterday. Seventy-five percent of that conversation came from women, and most of the conversation was among women aged 35 to 54.

That's it for now. Thank you very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Our State of the Union coverage continues with CNN's Jake Tapper.