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CROSSFIRE

Will State of the Union Agenda Be Enacted?; Democrats Afraid of Obama?

Aired January 29, 2014 - 18:28   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, selling the president's State of the Union agenda.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because when women succeed, America succeeds.

ANNOUNCER: Are the voters or members of Congress paying attention?

OBAMA: Tell Congress to make this happen. Give America a raise.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Mo Elleithee, who helped shape the message for the Democratic Party, and Sean Spicer, the message chief for the Republicans. Opportunity agenda or a road block for job creators? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: And I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, both political parties' top message men.

One of President Obama's biggest applause line last night: reminding America that women still earned 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. It seems pretty nonpartisan to say it's time to close the pay gap.

But watch this video closely. Not everyone was very excited about it. Keep your eyes on House Speaker John Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Women deserve equal pay for equal work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUTTER: You might have noticed it took Speaker Boehner some time to figure out that, if you're having a woman giving your State of the Union response, you better stand up and applaud the very policy that says she's worth just as much as a man. Not just bad optics. Republicans have a real policy problem here. One example, the Paycheck Fairness Act. Republicans refused to let it pass.

S.E., it's great that Republicans picked a woman last night. She did a great job giving the State of the Union response, but I guarantee you that women across the country would rather have equal pay than a woman giving the State of the Union response.

CUPP: Well, I appreciate your kudos to Cathy McMorris Rodger. I think she did a great job, too. And I hate to point it out, but women in the White House make 87 percent of what their male counterparts do, so it feels a little like lip service.

CUTTER: Well, you know what? On that, I know that personally. And for equal work, women and men make the same amount. And the one person who's out there calling for paycheck fairness, equal pay for women, is the president. So it's hard to criticize him there.

CUPP: OK. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, the communication directors for both parties' national committees: Mo Elleithee for the Democrats and Sean Spicer for the Republicans.

Mo, let me start with you. I heard some Democrats today saying that they liked everything the president said last night, of course, no surprise, but they didn't give them a pass forward. He gave a long laundry list of the things that he wanted and basically said make it so.

Well, you know, we all know what he wants. We're all clear with that. The same things he wanted last year. But without saying what he's willing to give up, or Democrats room to compromise on some things? What did he say last night that got us closer to accomplishing the things that he wants?

MO ELLEITHEE, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, look, I -- first of all, I don't know that the president uses his speech as a place to negotiate with Republicans. State of the Union speeches are typically an opportunity to lay out the agenda.

CUPP: But he could have.

ELLEITHEE: Well, I don't know -- considering that the Republicans -- every time the Republicans, he tries to sit down with the Republicans to negotiate, they actually walk out of the room.

CUPP: ... says he will not negotiate more often than not.

CUTTER: On shutting down the government.

CUPP: And credit rating.

ELLEITHEE: Well, shutting down the government, most people are with him on that point, but look, what he did last night, actually, I think, was the exact opposite. I think he laid out a path forward on actually how to get a lot of this stuff done. CUPP: Tell me.

ELLEITHEE: Working with Congress when Congress would be willing to work with him. But there are a lot of times when he can work with the private sector, when he can work with governors, when he can work with state legislatures to get things done. We're all kind of in this together. I know that's a bit cliche at times. But at the end of the day we are, and not everything does have to be done with Congress because Congress won't do it.

SEAN SPICER, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I think what we actually saw last night was the White House recycling program.

CUTTER: Yes.

SPICER: Speech after speech, State of the Union after State of the Union, it's literally cut and paste the same action items year after year. Sounding better, sounding, you know, proposal after proposal, what you literally can go back to 2009, 2010, 2011 and say he literally said the exact same thing, and nothing has happened.

(CROSSTALK)

CUPP: Change it up.

CUTTER: You're making the point.

ELLEITHEE: Republicans have actually said no and stood in the way.

CUTTER: Many of these programs are Republican programs. Why are Republicans against job training to ensure that people are getting...

CUPP: Stop.

CUTTER: Or better education so people are graduating.

SPICER: There are 150 bills sitting on Harry Reid's desk right now that create jobs or ease regulatory burdens on companies that are trying to hire people, and yet not one of those was referenced last night as a way to move forward. The president wants to act.

Pick one. Pick one. And say, "As an olive branch I will tell Harry Reid to act on one thing."

Or let's do this. Let's actually do something that Democrats and unions and everyone else agrees, pass the Keystone Pipeline. Put tens of thousands of people back to work with benefits, and then everybody can win. We get people back to work. The Democrats get something. The unions get something. Why is that controversial?

ELLEITHEE: I don't even know where the begin with all that, Sean.

SPICER: Just say yes.

ELLEITHEE: Time and time again the Republican Party has stood against every single one of the proposals that he talked about last night. You all have proposals, bill out there that you call job creating. Not one of them is proven to actually create a single job. And frankly -- frankly...

SPICER: Keystone Pipeline.

ELLEITHEE: We see the Republican record on job creation compared to Democratic record on job creation, I certainly don't want to take a lesson from you guys.

SPICER: Right now we're at the -- right now...

ELLEITHEE: You created more jobs under this president than we did as opposed to losing jobs under the Republican president.

SPICER: Right now we're at a 36-year low in terms of labor participation, meaning less people are actually trying to find a job entering the labor force. In 36 years...

ELLEITHEE: Fine.

SPICER: ... 347,000 people last month alone gave up looking for work.

CUTTER: So you're kind of making our point.

ELLEITHEE: Yes.

SPICER: The president needs to...

CUTTER: That the proposals -- OK, let's talk about the -- you seem to think that we live in a monarchy of some sort. But I want to talk about something that your boss said last night.

The president made it clear that he wants to work with Congress. If Congress would work with him. On many of these proposals Republicans put out, but as soon as the president gets involved, they turn their back.

But if Congress is not going to work with the president, the president's not going to wait. He's going to move forward using his executive authority.

Now, presidents have used their executive authority a lot in the past. Look at the numbers up on the screen. Bill Clinton 238, George Bush 197. Barack Obama at this point in his presidency, 167. Yet your boss, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican Party, said it was childlike. Who are you calling a child? President Bush, President Clinton or President Obama? Because they're all using their executive authority?

SPICER: For the first two years this president did have a Democratic Congress, the Senate and the House to get everything he wanted done.

CUTTER: And we got a lot done.

SPICER: I think when you're going out and chastising Congress after not wanting to reach across the aisle and work with them and saying... CUTTER: You know that's not true. That's not true. That's not true.

SPICER: Obama care was the classic example of shutting...

CUTTER: And those were Republican ideas.

SPICER: ... and try to fix it.

CUTTER: Those were Republicans ideas and they walked away.

SPICER: That's just not true.

CUTTER: It's based on a Massachusetts plan, which was Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich, our co-host.

SPICER: Nobody who was involved in the Massachusetts plan says it's part of the Massachusetts plan. No one who was involved in Congress says it was...

CUTTER: There was plenty of outreach. At the end of the day, they walked away.

CUPP: I'd just like to point out that, in the past two months, we've got a deal on the farm bill. We've got movement on immigration reform. And we had a budget deal all without the president. So maybe it's time the president stays home and lets Congress get to work.

But Mo, Republicans are not the only folks going after the president. This is from a letter sent to Harry Reid this week from two labor unions, representing a million workers combined, expressing serious concerns about dropped coverage under Obama care.

They write, "It would be a sad irony, indeed, if the signature legislative accomplishment of an administration committed to reducing income inequality cut living standards for middle income and low-wage workers."

When you start bleeding from your base on your signature piece of legislation, what's your Plan B?

ELLEITHEE: That is an absolutely false premise, because of the fact that I would -- I would challenge you to find one single Democrat, one single progressive that says, "Let's repeal the Affordable Care Act."

CUPP: That's not what I asked.

ELLEITHEE: Well, you're talking about bleeding from the base. Our base is...

CUPP: These unions complained about submitting requests to fix these problems. For three years they were ignored and denied.

ELLEITHEE: And what has the president said? He's said time and time again that, as this law gets implemented, we will work with anyone and everyone to continually strengthen it, as opposed...

CUPP: They don't feel like that's true.

ELLEITHEE: That has voted over 40 times to kill it. If you want to talk about bleeding from the base, let's talk about bleeding from the base. We saw three different Republicans -- or four different Republicans...

CUPP: You're not going to answer my question.

ELLEITHEE: I have answered your question.

CUPP: You haven't answered my question. This isn't a political problem for you that a million labor workers have decided that they haven't been heard on fixing Obama care?

ELLEITHEE: What you've got are folks that want to work with this White House to continually strengthen a law that is already...

CUPP: That's not the tone I'm setting.

ELLEITHEE: I've read the letter, S.E., and time and time again we have seen that the base is appreciative of the fact that we now have more people who have affordable health care than we did before this bill. And they sure as heck don't want to see us repeal it.

CUPP: All right. We've got to take a break. Democrats are spinning the president's speech as a rousing success, but next I'm going to ask Mo why some of the most vulnerable Democrats are running away from Obama as fast as they can.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUPP: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Mo Elleithee and Sean Spicer.

President Obama spent today in Maryland and Pennsylvania, reciting the greatest hits from his State of the Union speech. He's going to Wisconsin and Tennessee tomorrow, but some Democratic candidates don't seem interested in being seen with him.

Mary Burke, who's running for Wisconsin governor and would get a huge boost in prestige and name recognition by appearing with the president of the United States is too busy to greet Obama tomorrow. This is part of a growing pattern.

Senator Kay Hagen of North Carolina was also too busy to attend an Obama event in her state this month. Even more embarrassing was Democratic Senator Mark Udall's uncomfortable non-answer last night when CNN's Dana Bash asked him if he'd campaign with the president in Colorado.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That was not a yes or no. Yes or no.

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

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

UDALL: We'll see what the schedule allows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: Mo, these Democrats are basically giving Obama the political equivalent of, "I might have to wash my hair that day." Isn't this embarrassing and worrisome for you guys going into 2014?

ELLEITHEE: No.

CUPP: Tell me why not.

ELLEITHEE: Well, it's January. Now, look, if you want to see an example of a candidate who's fleeing from party leaders, look at Governor Rick Scott down in Florida, who just last weekend had the chair of his party's committee, Chris Christie, the next great big hope of the Republican Party, and they were sneaking in and out of back doors.

CUPP: You were turning this around on Republicans and not answering my question, but you just proved my point. If you think that's a problem for Christie...

ELLEITHEE: I think...

CUPP: ... why is that not a problem for Democrats?

ELLEITHEE: The president -- I think you're going to see the vice president. I think you are going to see the first lady. I think you're going to see Dr. Biden out there campaigning for Democrats proudly across the country, in a whole host of different ways. If I -- I suspect you're going to see a lot more of them than you will see John Boehner out there considering that 36 percent of Americans -- let me be clear about this.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: There isn't a House member that wouldn't die to have the speaker come into their district. In fact --

(CROSSTALK)

ELLEITHEE: That can be said about Democrats hoping that John Boehner --

SPICER: There's a list (INAUDIBLE) that don't want him to show up in their state.

CUPP: I mean, this is just delusional. Democrats themselves saying --

(CROSSTALK)

ELLEITHEE: Let me be very clear, 36 percent of Republicans, of Republicans --

CUTTER: Right.

ELLEITHEE: -- approve of the job Republicans in Congress are doing. When two-thirds of your own party's base says they don't like the job you're doing, that's the real base problem.

CUTTER: And I do want to talk about Republicans here a little bit. I know that's a shocker to you.

SPICER: I love to.

CUTTER: Eighty percent of Americans don't trust Republicans in Congress to make good decisions for the country. Democrats in Congress poll better, the president polls better. Even the Affordable Care Act polls better.

CUPP: The Affordable Care Act.

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Great, we can admit -- real popular.

CUTTER: -- want to kick out incumbents. You guys are in charge of the House. You're the incumbents. That means you.

What miracle are you expecting for this to be a good election for you? What's the bar of success for you?

SPICER: Right. Well, there's a couple things. One, the bar of success should be when you look at Congress, you've got to remember your party controls the other chamber of Congress, the senate. We're on the verge of taking that over. We're on the verge of expanding our majority in the House.

CUTTER: Oh, really? With those numbers? You think that's going to happen.

SPICER: If you want to talk about approval numbers, at the end of the day, this is like any other game, the numbers matter at the end. I think you're going to see us grow our numbers in the House and take back the Senate.

So if there's any problem, I would say if you're a Democrat, how bad are your policies and how bad is the White House that you can't, if that's your -- if you look at the situation and say Republicans have these problems and you're going to lose seats and probably lose the Senate, you have really --

CUTTER: You're going to get that 80 percent number down, that 80 percent of Americans that -- (CROSSTALK)

SPICER: It's like any poll that's happened, when you start looking at any individuals, first of all, there's a -- I think in a bipartisan way, people look at Washington and say I want to get things done. But when they look at the individual policies that Republican members are passing, they're very proud. When you look at the number of Republican governors around the state --

CUTTER: Come on.

SPICER: -- around the country, rather, every single Republican governor in this country, the unemployment rate went down last month.

ELLEITHEE: And the president of the United States saw the unemployment rate go down. Let me point this out about your Republican governors, the three states that lost the most number of jobs last month were all run by Republican governor, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maine.

CUPP: I want to get you both of the record. Are you predicting that Democrats take the House?

CUTTER: I think the Democrats have a shot at taking the House.

(CROSSTALK)

ELLEITHEE: Absolutely.

CUPP: In November.

CUTTER: Not one piece of evidence that Republicans are going to do well next November, not one piece.

ELLEITHEE: American people disapprove of the Republican Party by a significant amount and they approve the Democratic Party by a 2-1 margin in some polls.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: Even our base.

SPICER: Huh?

CUTTER: Even our base.

CUPP: All right.

SPICER: Well, there isn't a pollster or a pundit in town that thinks that you guys have a shot of picking up the House. I have a better chance --

CUPP: It's fantasy land.

SPICER: -- of winning the Powerball twice tonight. And that's not even possible. ELLEITHEE: The biggest challenge we've got is because of how you guys redrew the lines.

SPICER: The Senate is statewide, my friends.

CUPP: All right.

ELLEITHEE: I will put money on that today. We will hold the Senate.

CUPP: I have a question for Sean.

SPICER: Yes.

CUPP: I watched the responses --

SPICER: So, I get to ask you a question.

CUPP: No, no. Get a show. Then you can.

No, I watched the Republican responses to this State of the Union last night.

SPICER: Which one?

CUPP: I was struck by Mike Lee's response and in particular something he said that was music to my ears. Here's what he had to say about inequality. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: It's denying citizens their right to define marriage in their state as traditionally or as broadly as their diverse values dictate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUPP: Mike Lee just opened the door, gave permission to Republicans to accept gay marriage if they want to. Is the RNC with him or against him on that?

SPICER: At the RNC, we follow a platform that our delegates pass every four years. Our platform is very clear. We're a party of traditional marriage, we're a pro-life party and we're going to continue to be one until our delegates change that. It's something that our base feels very strongly about.

CUPP: So, did Mike Lee take you off message there?

SPICER: Mike Lee -- I mean, our -- there's a difference. Our policies and our platform are very surround and that's what the majority of the party believes. Do I think we can be welcoming to those who don't agree with us on every issue? Absolutely.

We are going to grow our party by additions and multiplications, the chairman says. And that means if you don't agree with us on every issue, but you know where we stand and we're going to stand firm on those principles and those policies.

CUTTER: If you just said that's what you're base wants, isn't Mike Lee -- I'm not an expert on this, but isn't Mike Lee the head of the Tea Party? Isn't the Tea Party your base?

SPICER: No, the Tea Party isn't --

CUPP: He's a Tea Party member.

SPICER: He's a Tea Party member, the Tea Party is an important part of our party. It is important. I think it's -- and, frankly, anyone who believes this is entirely a Republican thing is sadly mistaken as we saw in 2010 and other times. There's a lot of independents and there's a good number of Democrat that make that up.

It's a -- and I would welcome more Tea Party, more independents and a lot of Democrats that want to come and help grow Republican ranks are always welcome.

(CROSSTALK)

ELLEITHEE: What Shondra (ph) says that the Republican Party's current, I understand your delegates can change it at some point, but they haven't shown interest in doing it any time soon. The Republican Party's current position is anti-marriage equality. The Republican Party's current position is anti-employment nondiscrimination in moving that legislation forward. On issue after issue of equality, the Republican Party has been on the wrong side.

We are moving in a direction as a nation. We are moving -- history is moving us in a direction. And every time you are on the side throughout our nation's history, on the side of expand rights and giving rights to more people, you are on the winning side. When you are on the side of restricting rights for more people, you are on the losing side.

CUPP: But you congratulate Mike Lee then?

ELLEITHEE: Look, I think if more and more Republicans are out there saying, let's have a conversation about marriage equality --

CUPP: I think there are.

ELLEITHEE: -- I think we want to have that conversation.

CUTTER: S.E., you're one of them.

CUPP: I certainly am. Super.

CUTTER: OK. Stay here. That was a great segment. I wish we had more time.

Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you at home to weigh in on our today's "Fireback" question. Do you think 2014 will indeed be a year of action as President Obama says? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUTTER: We're back with Mo Elleithee and Sean Spicer.

Now, it's time for the final question.

Sean --

SPICER: Yes?

CUTTER: -- for you, on immigration reform, there are signs of progress. I will grant you that. But I remember a time when Republicans wouldn't even consider reform for undocumented immigrants across the country until a 10-foot wall was built.

But now, they are actually talking about legalization for undocumented immigrants. How far exactly are you willing to go on that?

SPICER: Well, I think border security is always going to come first. Rule of law is going to come first. We cannot create a situation where we pass a law --

CUTTER: Eleven million undocumented.

SPICER: But you can't document them or put a system in place and then say, oh, we didn't close the door to the border and then have another 11 come in the next 30 years. We tried this in the '80s --

CUTTER: We understand that. What about the 11 million undocumented?

SPICER: We -- that is a conversation that is starting. And as you put, our conference is meeting over the weekend. Starting to go down a path to talk about how we can create a system that ensures that we secure the border and don't create a second problem and recognize the issue that there are 12 million-plus people in this country illegally that have to be accounted for.

CUTTER: So you're not going to answer it?

SPICER: No, I'm saying that this is not a -- this is a serious problem --

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: Where you always get hung up is citizen ship to the 11 manager undocumented immigrants living in this country. That's where it always gets hung up. So, we just -- I'm asking you right now if you're willing to negotiate on that.

SPICER: Right. And I think it's a serious question that our side is taking this very seriously and working on an answer, but doing so in a way that doesn't say let's bring these people in to recognize them without closing the border off so we don't end up with the same problem again in 30 years.

CUPP: OK. My final question for Mo.

On the other side, Democrats have always made citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants a must, for any immigration bill, are Democrats ready or willing to accept anything less than citizenship for those undocumented immigrants?

ELLEITHEE: Well, I think it's pretty clear that we support the path to citizenship and want to see a pathway to citizenship and feel that it's an important piece. Now, I'm happy, I guess, to hear that Republicans are beginning to think about talking about this issue a little bit. In your summer meeting I think it was, not your most recent meeting, but last year's summer meeting, the RNC met and talked about immigration reform and didn't talk about this --

CUPP: Are you going to answer the question or talk about Republicans some more?

ELLEITHEE: Look, I'm going to talk about --

CUPP: Where are Democrats willing to move on that pathway of citizenship?

ELLEITHEE: I think what we have seen is Democrats are now saying we are willing to listen -- if the Republicans want to talk about this in a piecemeal approach, we will talk about it in a piecemeal approach, but we want to still see a pathway to citizenship.

SPICER: They did control the Congress for three years and didn't do anything.

CUPP: OK. Well, thanks to Mo Elleithee and Sean Spicer.

Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in our "Fireback" question, do you think 2014 will indeed be a year of action as President Obama says? Right now, 45 percent of you say yes, 55 percent say no. The debate continues online at CNN.com/crossfire, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

CUTTER: From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

And let's give a warm welcome back to Erin Burnett. She's back from maternity leave. I hope she has some tips for me.

Erin, welcome back.