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Preparing for "State of the Union" Speech

Aired January 20, 2015 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're standing by for President Obama and his state of the union address.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: This year, we expect him to say some things he's never been able to say before.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's heading back to the capitol hoping to seize momentum played in the game. His popularity is up. But the new Republican run Congress is ready to pounce.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since I only got two years in office, I'm kind of in a rush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, Barack Obama tries to grab the nation's attention before the candidates for his job steal the spotlight. He's more determined than ever to claim credit for the economic rebound.

OBAMA: We are entering into the new year with a new confidence that America is coming back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is on a collision course with GOP leaders, only weeks after the new Congress was sworn in.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We were taking our oath of office with the ratio in veto threat. Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN's coverage of the state of the union address and the Republican response from a new rising star in the party.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are going to make a squeal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His legacy, their agenda, and your future are on the line right now.

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


COOPER: And good evening. Thanks for joining us. An exciting night in the nation's capitol. The president inside the White House right now soon to leave for the capitol to deliver his second to last state of the union address.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Anderson Cooper in Washington with a special edition of "AC360."

We are less than an hour away from the president's big entrance. He's prepared to tell the nation that the economy is the strongest it has been since he took office. It's been road testing his themes, using the line America's resurgence is real.

And Wolf, I think we're likely to hear that phrase again tonight.

BLITZER: We certainly are, Anderson. The president heads in to the speech on an upswing. Poll show Americans are more satisfied with the economy than they have been years. That's certainly boosting his popularity. New poll shows approval rating is now back up to 50 percent. For the people who feel left out of this recovery, he will outline new tax credits, other proposals to benefit the middle class and he'll propose tax increases on the wealthy to pay for all of it.

He's reviving, in effect, that tax debate. Even though he faces more opposition than ever in Congress with Republicans now controlling both the house and the Senate for the first time in his presidency.

More cover to Jake Tapper. He has got more for us from the big themes we're following tonight.

Jake, what are you hearing? How is the president approaching tonight's speech?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, two interesting things. One is, as you mentioned, he comes to this state of the union with the economy on a huge upswing. It's the best economy since he's been president. GDP, up. Unemployment down. The Dow Jones up. The deficit is down. He has a lot to talk about in terms of how good things are getting and as you know with all things in politics and finances, it's the trends. Things are going in the right direction.

On the other hand, Wolf, this is the toughest room he's faced in the state of the union. It is the first time he'll face both the House and the Senate in Republican control. So at the same time, he has all these things he wants to talk about that are great. He's also facing a very skeptical crowd and the fact that Congress was sent here by the American people in no small part because many people don't like what President Obama is doing.

BLITZER: You and I, we've covered a lot of these presidential addresses, the state of the union addresses. What do you specifically looking for tonight?

TAPPER: I'm going to be looking for the areas where there might be some agreement. I think the question is right now, President Obama has staked down this position, a very populist progressive position on taxes. He wants to give tax cuts and tax credits to the middle class. He wasn't to raise taxes on more affluent Americans.

Are people in the Congress, are the people in that chamber, do they think this is just politics, President Obama doesn't want to actually get anything done or do they think President Obama is just, this is his first offer but behind the scenes, people are negotiating, there will be tax reform. President Obama's just saying what he wants but a deal can be made.

That's what I'm going to be looking for. Are there areas where this Republican congress, both chambers controlled by Republicans and this democratic president can actually get something done?

BLITZER: We're getting some new information from our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He is joining us from the White House right now. New information on the president's speech, right, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The White House is sort of scratching its heads and the folks here are trying to figure out now what do they do about those impromptu moments that you sometimes see during a state of the union address? You'll recall that you lie moment from several years ago when the president was giving the state of the union address. Well, something not quite the same but an unrehearsed moment may occur and we're expecting it during the state of the union speech.

Democratic source tells us that democratic congresswoman Gwen Moore's office, she has been in touch with the White House about a plan. She says that she and roughly 50 other members of Congress all house members at this point plan to hold up pencils in solidarity with "Charlie Hebdo" newspaper magazine in France after those brutal attacks in Paris.

But this is not a coordinated effort with the White House, Wolf. We do expect the president to talk about the attacks on "Charlie Hebdo" in Paris, but as part of this overall emphasis on finding terrorism and rooting out violent extremism. According to our source, the White House did not wave off the congresswoman for bringing this pencil in doing this and they did ask for a list of other lawmakers who might participate. So, it should be a stirring moment.

BLITZER: Yes. Could be very, very dramatic. Stand by. We're getting more information on this. Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She is up on Capitol Hill statuary hall. That is where all the members walk by her basically.

What are you thinking up. I see you have a special guest.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I do. There are few people know more about the threat of terror to this country and around the world than Dianne Feinstein.

Senator, thank you very much. First, let me just ask you about what Jim Acosta was reporting that in solidarity with the people of France, members of Congress going to hold up pencils? Do you have a pen ready? SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I have a pen in my purse, so

I'll hold it up too.

BASH: Talk about what you want to hear from the president, using the platform he has tonight with regard to the threat of terrorism to Americans.

FEINSTEIN: Well, I think the first thing is that we're going to meet that threat. And then the way in which we're going to meet the threat, which is really with cooperation of our allies. I think we really need to form a bigger multinational cooperative intelligence sharing, plan making, mission carrying out group of allies because the Middle East is deteriorating. We now have terrorist groups throughout North Africa and there's a metastasis.

BASH: And on that issue, you tweeted today that you believe that it is possible that people in the U.S. embassy in Yemen should evacuate. Will they be evacuated?

FEINSTEIN: Well, when it comes to this, I really believe it's better to be safe than sorry. I really believe it's better not to risk the fact that Yemeni troops guarding the embassy default and something bad happens to our people.

BASH: The shadow of Benghazi.

FEINSTEIN: The shadow of Benghazi, no question about it.

BASH: Senator, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you.

BASH: Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Dana, tonight, the president faces something he's never faced before during the six years in office as Jake Tapper mentioned, Congress totally controlled by Republicans.

Our Tom Foreman is in the virtual studio. Tom, going to be a tough crowd.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Anderson, when the president walks through those doors in less than an hour, he will be bringing some ideas that will make the opposition growl in this lion's den.

He wants to talk about making college more affordable, he wants to talk about helping out people in the middle class with their homes and all their basic expenses and he wants to help them with the idea of having more time off with medical needs to take care of family members or themselves.

If he had the Congress he started with when it was controlled by the Democrats, all of that would be really in play. Look at the numbers there in the house and the Senate, how much the Democrats dominated in 2009. But that was then. This is now. Watch those numbers change. This is

the Congress he's facing with the Republicans remarkably in control. And what that means is that all those ideas that he is trying to talk about really appear to be political show pieces. Very little chance of them coming through here. Maybe you can do something with executive action, but the Republicans will be pushing their ideas, expanding the keystone oil pipeline, rolling back his executive action on immigration. And of course, chipping away at Obamacare.

They may not be able to do any of that because he promised to veto and vigorously fight a lot of their initiatives. So what do we wind up with if that's really how this all plays out?

The simple truth is that it goes that way in the end, we probably have three choices coming out of this continue. Maybe, maybe they can figure out a way to compromise. Or we get more of the gridlock that we've known or most likely, everybody in here starts looking at a way to punt it off to the 2016 presidential election. We'll have to see which one of those options comes into play once the president finishes speaking tonight -- Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, thank you very much. Tom invented the virtual studio, you'd think he could get himself a better seat. It is not a very good location there.

I'm join by our chief international correspondent John King, Gloria Borger, chief political analyst and Michael Smerconish, CNN host of "SMERCONISH."

Thanks for being with us.

And we are looking at the president in some sense is unbound. I mean, this is his second to last state of the union. Traditionally, the presidents had used this to try to pivot a message, try to redefine themselves, just try to define what they are going to do in the last two years.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And the question is with a looser president, the more active president, and the improving poll numbers, can he sell it?

Now, we start this progress essentially in two parallel universes as the president has this proposals tonight. And after an election which he got thumped with Republicans and all that success, Tom just showed you, he wants to come in and say, let's raise taxes and let's have the government write rules for new middle class tax -- middle class in the college grants and the Republicans say no. Republicans, we just had an election about that, about you and your power. But the president thinks going forward, he can divide the parties.

The question isn't so much about tonight. The important part for the president tonight is to make the case of the American people, not the hostile crowd in the Congress. If he can sustain it, Anderson, if the numbers keep going up, will they get a deal in two weeks? No. Will they get a deal in two months? No. But as we get closer to 2016 and the Republicans are looking at keeping that Senate, they have to look at seats in New Hampshire, seats in Pennsylvania, seats in Illinois, seats in several other state, Iowa, that tend to go blue in democratic presidential years.

And so, the political calculation will kick in. Right now, the Republicans is going to say Mr. President, you forgot the election results. The question is over time, can you sustain it?

COOPER: Well, Jake Tapper raised this point earlier, Gloria. Is the president, is this kind of an opening gambit for negotiation or is it setting up a political fight for 2016?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think both. I think it's absolutely both.

The election he hasn't forgotten is the election of 2012. And on that election, he ran on middle class economics. And he doesn't have the sort of soggy tent of the recession hanging over his head anymore. So what they're doing is this sort of post-recession pivot over at the White House, going back to the agenda that was really successful for them, talking about the middle class. And saying to the Republicans, OK, show us what you've got. Here's what we've got. Show us what you've got. And they're putting it out there. Not all of it is going to be hugely popular, particularly with the wealthy in this country, but that's not who the president is talking to this evening.

He's talking to middle class families who have not seen their wages go up. And he is trying to say, you know what? We have to deal with this wage inequality in this country and here's my ideas for how we're going to deal with it. OK, Republicans, your turn.

COOPER: We heard an awful lot last year's state of the union. I went back and looked at that about working together. I wonder if we hear the same thing, does that really mean anything?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: I think it's obligatory. I think for the drinking games, you have to say that at least three times, but I don't think he is going to say and mean it.

I'm interested on the body language tonight. He hasn't look recently like a guy who has tail between his legs because he did get slap (ph) in the recent election. Instead, he is someone who took executive action on Cuba, someone who took executive action on immigration.

I think the challenge for the president, Anderson, is to cloak himself in the recent positive economic news and put some distance between the midterm election and where he stands now.

COOPER: And Cuba is definitely going to come up tonight. Obviously, dream act as well. They both the executive actions he has taken on.

BORGER: Sure. He hasn't acted, as Michael is saying, he has an active like a lame duck. When you talk to people in the administration, they're saying and Jay Carney can talk about this more, we feel a little more urgent about things coming now because we've got two years left but really one year left to try to get anything done. And by the way, set the table for 2016 for the democratic nominee. I know it's early but this is what this president is doing.

KING: And recent history tells you, (INAUDIBLE). But if you look further back in history, there is some precedent. Remember, when there was money, when you had a growing economy, that means there's more money in Washington. Bill Clinton was able to do some with the Republican Congress. You give some, you get some. When there was more money, Ronald Reagan was able to do business with the democratic Congress. When you give some you get some.

These are not -- there is not been a long history of giving and getting compromising an old-style backroom deals between this president and these Republicans. But we'll see with the improving economic numbers, the president says we are turning a page, we will see if that changes the climate in Washington.

BORGER: And you know, the public is less pessimistic now and that helps every elected official when the public is less pessimistic. So what the White House is gambling on to saying, look, OK, you guys we can work with you on certain things even if we're opposing you on other things.

COOPER: Still ahead tonight, dueling special guests. We are going to be in the chamber. How White House and Republicans are filling seats in the audience to try to make statements about a very hot topic.

Also, as the president prepares to leave the White House, there is late word that tonight he will talk about one of most sensitive issues of his term. We don't know if he'd go there tonight. But turns out he will. We'll talk about that.


COOPER: Welcome to the special edition of "AC360."

We're back in Washington counting down the president's state of the union address. Lawmakers are arriving at the capitol. The cameras actually get turned on inside the house chamber very soon. We'll get our first glimpse of the first lady and her special guests. There's a lot of them.

At the White House, the president's motorcade is ready to take him on a short drive to the hill. And the these final minutes before the speech, we get new insights about what the president will say tonight in the hour ahead.

Let's check back with senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, what are you hearing?

ACOSTA: Well Anderson, as you know, the White House has been rolling out these spoilers over the last couple of weeks talking about what the president will be laying out in his speech tonight. But there's one thing that they did not tell us about in advance and that is race relations in Ferguson.

I talked to a democratic source briefed on the president's speech tonight. The president will talk about Ferguson in the broader sense, and he is determined to see relations improve between minority communities and law enforcement, that we're not there as a nation just yet. But he is also expected to say according to this source that many of our police officers around the country are doing their job and they are doing their job well.

And it is worth noting that the president will have an LAPD, a Los Angeles Police Officer in the first lady's box later tonight. A pretty good bet he'll point to the officer during this portion of the speech.

And the White House, we should also mention, Anderson, on the subject of race relations, announced earlier today that the president is going to Selma in March, some of course the site of the historic march 50 years ago in 1965 that led up to the passage of the voting rights act -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Jim, a lot to look forward to.

Let's bring in CNN political commentators, Van Jones, S.E. Cupp, Jay Carney and national security commentator Mike Rogers.

Van, what do expecting to hear from the president on the race tonight. Does it surprised you that he would bring up now in the speech?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it doesn't. You know, last year, we had a lot hurt that came out on the question of race. This year should be a year for healing. He will also talk about we're not as divided on solutions as people would think. You had a Republican governor in Ohio sign a bill to say that if a police officer takes someone's life, an independent outside prosecutor should come in. Bipartisan support. No problem. People agree on solutions black and white on that.

Another set of solutions, a lot of people when they're marching, they're concerned about over incarceration, the prison system gobbling up too many black lives. President doesn't like that. Polls doesn't like that. You know who doesn't like it? Rand Paul doesn't like it. Chris Christie doesn't like it. Newt Gingrich doesn't like it. Grover Norquist doesn't like it. A bunch of Republicans are also concerned that we've given too much power to the prison system.

If the president asks Republican support on that, he would get it. We're divided on the causes but we are united on the solutions, black and white, Republican and Democrat. I hope he speaks on that tonight.

COOPER: Jay Carney, I mean, you were in the White House with the president. How carefully does he approach the topic of race in this country? We've seen in the past a very careful approach. You were in the inside.

JAY CARNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Well, he approaches it carefully because he knows that when he speaks about it, it's different than when past presidents had spoken about it. He's the first African-American president. And he knows that it is important he speak both to that personal experience and to African-Americans around the country, but that he also speak to every American. And what's also significant about Barack Obama speaking on race is

that he speaks about it independently. Never in my time there and I went up with him four times for state of the union addresses, did he ever consult his aids or at least listen to his aids.

COOPER: Really?

CARNEY: And aim to talking about these issues. He always knew what he wanted to say and he would tell us what he would like --

COOPER: Was that the only issue that he really did that?

CARNEY: Well, I mean, he has very firm opinions on a number of issues. But this was one where there was never any question that he was going to come to the decision that he was going to come to. He would listen to us, but he would often not take our advice.

COOPER: It's interesting, S.E., because he has received criticism by some of the African-American community for not discussing race enough.

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. It's hard to win on the issue. And I think we've seen out of a number of leaders whether mayor of New York City, the governor of New York City, the governor of Missouri, when leaders speak on this issue, you know, they lose half an audience no matter what. It's really just difficult to tread water, walk a fine line and say something reasonable but meaningful.

And so a lot of times, you have it's a very heated topic and you have criticism coming at you. And so, maybe you're a little more cautious than you'd like to be or maybe you're a little more aggressive than you probably should be.

So it's going to be interesting tonight to see what kind of tone he strikes. Is it defiant? Is it aggressive? Is it solemn? You know, he could go either way and I'm sure he's thought very hard about it, to be deliberate tonight.

COOPER: And that's one of the things. I mean, if he does talk about it, there are some who would say, well, he's being aggressive even just by talking about it.

JONES: Yes. Well, and that's one of the big problems that we have here. Because it's a topic that's just below the surface in so many conversations but nobody wants to give it, nobody want to be seen as playing the race card or being a racist. And so, it's very, very tough to get good answers.

However, I do think that the country is ready now for some solutions. You've got a lot of pain out there, but you also have a lot of good folks who want to work.

COOPER: We have a lot more to talk about with our panel. I want to go back to Wolf -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, the president and the first lady are getting ready to leave the White House. You are looking at live pictures there from just the south lawn of the White House. They'll be getting into their limousine to head up to Capitol Hill and get ready for this major address, not only with the nation, but indeed to the world. The whole world will be watching, hearing what the president has to say.

Let's go to our chief international correspondent, Dana Bash. They are getting ready up on the hill. I take a lot of members have already arrive. You do have another special guest.

BASH: That's right. The members are about to file into the chamber. I do have a special guest, the man who is in charge of the very important tax writing committee on the receiving end of the tax proposals. Paul Ryan, thank you very much Mr. Chairman.

When the president in first day of office, unemployment at 10 percent. Now 5.6 percent, basically cut in half. Can you give him some credit for being a good steward of the economy in that respect?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think last week's job reports show that paychecks are shrinking. I think we've got a long, long ways to go. We have got about 92 million able bodied Americans who are not working right now. So look at labor patients participation right, meaning, able body, people not in the workforce, add that to the jobs number and it doesn't look very good.

BASH: So when the president talks about the fact that the economy is doing better?

RYAN: It is better. It just is not anywhere near where we need it. And that's why I think the last thing you have to do is hit a big tax increase. Like we're told the president is going to be proposing, look, the problem we have with the current economy is wages are stagnating. People aren't getting the opportunities they need. We have 45 million people living in poverty. There's a long ways to go. We shouldn't be doing some victory lap here.

BASH: But that's the kind of thing we are actually going to hear from the president, about wage stagnation, about really helping the middle class now. So he's actually going to propose some things that you support, expanding the earned income tax credit, things like that. Is there room for compromise as many.

PAUL: I want to. I want to find common ground. What I'm hoping for is less partisanship, less posturing, less speaking fights at the republicans and more of a way to find common ground. There are things I think we can come together on for the good of the American people, to get this economy growing and I hope he focuses on that kind of tone instead of picking fights with congress. He seems to be doing, I'm worried about that.

BASH: OK. I have to ask about Mitt Romney. He made pretty clear he's probably going to run again. Do you think he should?

PAUL: Look, I'm for whatever Mitt decides. I think he'd make a fantastic president. I don't want to get out ahead of him because I don't know what he's going to do and frankly, I don't think he's made his mind up yet. BASH: Would you be on the ticket with him if he get the nomination

again or do you want to stay here?

PAUL: It is just way, way too soon to speculate. I've got an important job to do right here in Congress. I got to focus on that.

BASH: OK, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Appreciate it. Back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thanks very much again.

You know, Jake, the president seems very confident right now. You wouldn't know that only, what, early November, the Democrats, they suffered a shellacking in the house and the senate. But right now, he is moving full speed ahead on a whole host of issues despite the opposition from the Republicans.

TAPPER: Well, and there are Democrats and supporters of the president who will tell you that that's one of the reasons they think in addition to the improving economy and the improving perception of the economy, why President Obama's poll numbers have now gotten back to 50 percent. And for the first time in a long time, he is above water, so to speak, that he is actually doing things forcefully, even if the American people disagree with them, for instance, polling indicating that they disagree with the executive actions taken on immigration reform.

But the fact that he is taking positions and taking strong positions, the Cuba policy, for example, that's one the American people support. And while it's not of utmost importance to most Americans, it is something that he's done that's strong and as we saw during the George W. Bush administration, if you show strong leadership, in the Reagan administration, even if the public disagrees with something you're doing, they will reward you with admiration for the leadership.

BLITZER: And it's certainly paying off, at least in the short-term right now in these polls, but I think it's largely because the economy, at least seems to be improving.

TAPPER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Stand by. I want to go back to Anderson -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Wolf, we are learning which cabinet member was tapped to stay home tonight in case a disaster strikes and an Obama White House insider reveal what is the president is doing in the final moments before he faces Congress and the nation.


COOPER: And welcome back. You're looking at a live shot there of the White House. We're closing in on President Obama's big entrants for the State of the Union address. We'll get to eavesdrop, of course, on his remarks as he walks through the crowd and see what kind of reception he gets with the new Republican controlled Congress. The president is going to leave the White House, head to the capitol just minutes from now. We're told the speech is finalized, ready to go. Tonight, of course, now you at home can weigh in on the president's

remark in real time with our instant digital dial test. Here's how it works. Just go to and click agree or disagree throughout the president's speech. The results will look like this with lines going up and down, representing the positive and negative reactions. Democrats, Independents, Republicans will show the president's high and low points later tonight. We'll also bring you an instant telephone poll of Americans who watched the president's speech to get an instant reaction to how he did, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Anderson, it's going to be fascinating to see the results of that. I want to go back to Dana Bash. She's on the statutory hall on Capitol Hill. The members are walking in. I know you're grabbing members as they are coming in, but give us a little bit of the lay of the land. What's going on up there?

BASH: Well, I'm in what's call statuary hall, and this is a room right off of the house floor. So, this is, as you said, the place where we're going to see senators who are gathering as we speak in the Senate chamber to walk over as a body. We're going to see members of the Supreme Court and others as they make a sort of precession over to the House chamber. But one thing I want to show you, which we got exclusive access to is the room that the president is going to come to when he gets to the Capitol and waits for the actual speech. It is a ceremonial room in the area that the speaker, the House speaker, John Boehner, controls. And what's really fascinating is that this is a room that John Boehner usually uses for dignitaries, for foreign leaders when they come and visit.

Right now, everything has been cleared out except a desk and a chair for the president and all of his entourage, his security and so forth to be in there with him. So, that is where the president actually sits and waits before you here that now - the famous, Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States and we all see him walk down into the House chamber.

BLITZER: He'll not be walking by you. Dana, everybody else basically was going to be there is going to be walking by you, but not the president of the United States. He's got his own little entrance over there up on Capitol Hill. Stand by, Dana. We are looking once again at these live pictures from the White House, the president and first lady that are getting ready to leave the White House to make that short drive to Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill.

Jim Acosta is over at the White House. Hold on a second, Jim. I want to go back to Dana for a second. What do you got, Dana?

BASH: That's right. I was telling you that this is where members of the Supreme Court come down. And we are seeing them. Chief Justice John Roberts, and Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and so forth. They're making their way in. They are currently not wearing their robes, which is how we're used to seeing them dressed. They usually do wear them when they are actually in the chamber, so they'll go in, they'll get dressed, they'll be in the attire that they're usually in for the protocol for this kind of address.

BLITZER: How many Supreme Court justices did you have a chance to count? How many they were?

BASH: You know, while I was talking to, I only saw about six of them, but I could have missed some because they've started to walk by before. I should tell you that the vice president and members of the Senate are coming by as we speak. So, hey Mr. Vice President. How do you feel about addressing the Republicans? The president doing so?


BASH: And you have members of the House, excuse me, the Senate and Democratic - Republican leadership coming by here as well. So this is the formalities, the protocol, this is the way it has been done for a very long time. And people here take pride in this. This is something that is a bipartisan thing. Hi, senator. That Republicans and Democrats in Congress have done for Republicans and Democrats in the White House. This is certainly something that is -- how are you, Senator? This is certainly something that they very much enjoy doing. Never mind the partisan nature that usually is going on here.

BLITZER: We're looking, Jake Tapper, we're looking at these senators walking in. You saw Kirsten Gillibrand among others, they're all walking in right now.

They are ready. They'll go to their seats. The Democrats will seat with the Democrats, Republicans will sit with the Republicans. Usually when the president says something to the Democrat, like they'll stand up and applaud and Republicans will sit and won't applaud.

TAPPER: More people who are less inclined to give President Obama standing ovations in this room than he's ever faced before because of the Republican takeover of the House and Senate. I'm also reminded, Wolf, of the fact as I saw Senator Marco Rubio walking in there that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, the Republican leader is going to have maybe five or six people in his caucus contemplating running for president and that could really complicate even further the president and other congressional leaders, state a desire to work together.

BLITZER: There's Elizabeth Warren. She just walked by. All those - those were the senators, there are 100 U.S. Senators. I don't know if all of them are going to be there tonight, but it looks like almost all of them are certainly going to be there and then there will be 435 members of the House of Representatives, those are the numbers who can actually vote. This is one of those nights that the pomp in circumstance, the tradition is really.

TAPPER: It really is quite, as former congressional correspondent, I can say, it really is --

BASH: Just so many --

TAPPER: It's a pretty remarkable night, just to see so many people all in one place. The executive branch, the legislative branch, the judicial branch all together coming together. Of course, we saw some Supreme Court justices. Others don't like to attend.

BLITZER: If there are six, that's a lot compared to recent years. Some of them weren't necessarily anxious to go.

TAPPER: Well, Scalia hates to go. I don't think he's gone since the '80s. He says he hates to bring his - to dignify it by going and then after President Obama called out the Supreme Court for one of their decisions a few years ago, Sam Alito, Justice Alito - as well.

BLITZER: Right. He was - you see the vice president there and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, they're walking in. They're walking in right now. I don't know if we're going to be able to hear what they're saying. You know what, let's just listen in for a second and see if we can pick up what the vice president is saying. I guess we can't. Dana, this is the tradition. You see the vice president, he's followed by Mitch McConnell. There's Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Orrin Hatch. All the senior members. They've not seniority. There's a tradition in the order in which they follow the vice president.

Let's not forget, Dana, the vice president among his responsibilities, he's president of the Senate.

BASH: That's right. He's president of the Senate and then you have the leadership. One thing I should point out is that Harry Reid, who is the Democratic leader, is not going to be here tonight. He had an accident exercising and under doctor's orders. They wanted him to be home, but one other thing I wanted to point out is over the past four years, a new tradition has sort of surfaced. Since Gabby Giffords was shot shortly before the State of the Union four years ago, members of Congress began to not come in a partisan way and we've seen that tonight as senators have walked by me. I've seen them walk in twos. Republican and Democrat.

The first year, it was planned. Everybody had a date. This year and the past couple of years, it's been more impromptu and the senators line up in the Senate chamber. They kind of choose each other, Republican and Democrat. So, you know, in these partisan times, still, it is nice to see that this tradition has carried on and it also makes it look less partisan when the speech is going on because it used to be kind of like a seesaw, Democrats stood up and applaud, and Republicans stood up and applaud, and now it's more of a mix.

BLITZER: You know, Jake, there is one member of the Obama cabinet who will not be in attendance. There's always one member of the cabinet for an emergency for whatever reason, the designated survivor as some call that individual. We now know who it is.

TAPPER: That's right. This has been going on since the 1960s since the fears of nuclear war with Russia. Although they've only started to make the name of that designated survivor public since the 1980s so whoever had Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on their designated survivor bingo, that's the designated survivor. If the absolute worst happens, Anthony Foxx would be president. A very obscure, but I suppose necessary tradition.

BLITZER: They take that very, very seriously. The Secret Service takes it seriously. The National Security Council, the designated survivor got those - all of those codes. It's all a pretty big deal right now. But let's take a look at these live pictures. Once again, on the bottom of the screen, the left part of the screen, you see the White House. That's the exit over there. We are waiting for the president and the first lady to leave the White House to drive up to Capitol Hill. But there's the shot already. The president in the Senate. That would be the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner. They're already up there, they'll be sitting behind the president, Jake, throughout his probably one hour State of the Union address.

TAPPER: That's right. And as the president and members of the cabinet come through Capitol Hill and onto --

BLITZER: There they are.

TAPPER: President Obama --

BLITZER: And the first lady.

TAPPER: Yes. Making their way to the presidential --



BLITZER: The president will drive it up.

TAPPER: Here we go, down Pennsylvania Avenue and to Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: It's a nice limo he's got.

TAPPER: Let's go out now to Jim Acosta, our senior White House correspondent. Jim, the president and the first lady are there. I suppose the president who is known for working on his speeches up until the last very possible moment has put down his pen. ACOSTA: He has. And I've been told, Jake, for a couple of hours now.

That this speech has been finalized and locked in place with the president. Dana Bash was talking about the secret room the president will be holding up on the Capitol. I'll see that secret room and raise it. The map room here in the

White House, president was rehearsing that speech in the map room of the White House earlier this evening, I'm told.

And this is a seven minute ride to the Capitol. This is not going to take very long. He's not going to be making revisions in that speech because the speech has been in place for some time now and I'm told for the last hour or so, he's really been just trying to clear his mind. That, you know, he is at peace with this speech that he's going to be giving later on this evening. He is not a Bill Clinton, I'm told, from one White House official. You know, Bill Clinton was known for making those last minute edits right up until the moment he walks into the Capitol and the speech is loaded in the prompter. The president is a bit more no drama Obama when it comes to that speech, Jake. TAPPER: And you know, it is an important point. The president worked

very carefully, I'm told, on this speech. He was writing it personally. He had a team of writers helping him, but he loves getting involved in that writing process and I think it's going to show when we see the final product. Stand by. I want to go back to Anderson right now. Anderson?

COOPER: Yeah, I mean Jay Carney, from your experience, what does the president do in those final hours before a speech like this?

CARNEY: Well, after the speech is done and after he's done a run- through or two in the map room, it's over for him. He goes up to the residence, to upper floors of the main house and spends some time with his family, with his daughters and his wife and basically relaxes and gets himself mentally prepared for the big speech. Then he comes down and when we head up to the Capitol and into the room that Dana was talking about, those moments are sort of filled with banter and joking and, you know, maybe should I change my tie, we would say maybe, you know, you should change your tie. Just something that keep it loose. Although as has been said, he's a pretty calm individual. He's --

COOPER: He doesn't get nervous before something like this.

CARNEY: And I think now especially year seven of his presidency, he's not anxious at all about it. He'll want to get it right. He'll know that it matters. It's an opportunity that he only has one more time in this presidency to speak to this many Americans and lay out an agenda. So he's serious about it, but he's not tense about it.

COOPER: Chairman Rogers, what's it like to be in the hall?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN ANALYST: You know, there's a lot of anxiety in there. First and foremost, most of those members will be hold by their local press immediately thereafter. So, they're thinking already, how do I react to what the president's proposals are, number one. And number two --

COOPER: And some of them had waited for hours to get an aisle seat so they can be seen.

ROGERS: Something I never understood, but some will wait three hours. There's no assigned seats. Everybody that's on the aisle had to wait a long time.

COOPER: Isn't there more they could be doing today?

ROGERS: Well, you would hope so.

COOPER: You would hope so.

ROGERS: Yes. So, the busiest members are always in the back left corner.


COOPER: But that's interesting. There is a lot of - there's anxiety in the hall because they know they're going to be called, they want to be able to respond.

ROGERS: Absolutely. And so you'll get, some of this, you'll get - you know, they'll get the speech, maybe pretty close to now. That it will be dispersed out to the members so a lot of them will be busy trying to read through it. Again, they'll all have responsibilities back home to comment on all the proposals, number one. And number two, if you look at the front, a lot of business is being done in the front. They are already talking about moving packages and other things. Believe it or not, when you get a senator in the room and a member - a chairman, they're likely in the room trying to grab each other's five minutes before the speech. To talk about something completely different.

COOPER: You know, we heard earlier from Paul Ryan who really did not want to give the president any credit on the economy, do you think this president deserves credit on the economy?

ROGERS: Well, I mean he's the president. He's going to get a little bit on the economy, but when you look at why, I think and it's really unfortunate, I think this was a big moment for the president he's going to swing and miss if the way he's laid this out presents itself. The middle class is in trouble, which I think is why he's focused on this. They've lost wages.

They're underemployed. They have lost actual real dollar value in their homes. It's a huge problem for the middle class and the upper class has done well and actually the lower class has actually moved up, but in the middle class, they're suffering in a way and the only relief they have is these gas prices. That is what actually I think --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But that's why it's simultaneously, it's impossible to simultaneously propose initiatives to help the middle class and then claim that your previous policies have helped the middle class.

COOPER: Jay carney, I want you to respond.

CARNEY: See, here's the reality that we're dealing with. When Paul Ryan/Mitt Romney ran for president and vice president, they promised that at the end of their first term, they would bring unemployment down below 6 percent.

BORGER: Right.

CARNEY: It's at 5.6 percent under this president at the beginning of year seven.

ROGERS: But 90 million people.

CARNEY: The economy is growing faster than it's grown since the 1990s, it's creating jobs faster than it's created since 1990s, and here's the central argument for I think this president as we move into 2016. In the last quarter century, the economy has grown faster, deficits to be cut or eliminated, it's created jobs all under Democratic presidents. The opposite has been proven under Republicans.

BORGER: So, here's the positive side of this, if you listen to what Mike Rogers is saying, even if the president swings and misses if he might do according to you, at least he's starting the debate over what should be done for the middle class.


BORGER: Talk about - you can talk about maybe middle class.


COOPER: Go ahead.

ROGERS: And I think that's wrong.

BORGER: I too, Anderson.

COOPER: One at a time. No one listens when he talk over each other. Gloria, finish.

BORGER: Thank you. So, you're not as worried about the deficit today as you have been, and perhaps, the Republicans and the Democrats will engage and this takes you on to the 2016 stage and into 2015 about what you can do for the middle class. What you can do to reform the corporate tax code so that it does move the debate forward no matter what to a degree, right?

COOPER: Right. And I should point out that the motorcade is starting to arrive now at the capitol. Chairman?

ROGERS: And again, I only disagree for this sense. The president raised the debt almost a trillion dollars. So when they say we are cutting the deficit, they exponentially raised the deficit and now they are trying to scale back, of which they still raised. They are still way ahead of when they started.

And number two, 90 million Americans are underemployed so the reason that people are nervous in the economy is because they haven't been included in this mix.


TAPPER: The president inherited the largest deficit in history. His predecessor, it's true. It's over a trillion dollars.

And the worst economic situation.

COOPER: I want to say -- .


VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I got to say there's something here at some point. First of all, you have a president that's going in there. There's a political defeat. There are economic victories here and the most important thing I think people need to realize is exactly what Gloria was saying. A couple of years ago, it was deficits, deficits, deficits. The chief party dominated the debate. This president, Elizabeth Warren, the progressives have changed the discussion now. We are talking about middle class and wages. We may have different ideas about what to do about it but it's much better for Democrats to have the conversation shaped about the middle class --


COOPER: Nobody listens when we are all talking. John King?

KING: The question going forward is what is the political climate look like in six months or so when you get to the point of can we make a deal? The chairman made an interesting point, he said that president is picking a fight. Certainly after the election, in which the Republicans won big, to come in and say, we're going to raise taxes and create programs that are ruled by Washington is going to anger the Republicans. However, however, the president knows he cannot afford his base to abandon him right now. That's what happened to George W. Bush. He got nothing done his last two years.

So, tonight, he gets Elizabeth Warren to jump out of her seat, tonight he gets the Democrats to jump out of their seat. He's trying to keep his standing up. The question is, does he get to a point where the Republicans can't get their middle class enacted without an Obama signature? The president can get his plan enacted without Republican votes? And so do they reach a point where they have to cut a deal? Tonight is the beginning of that --

COOPER: So, Michael, does tonight matter?

SMERCONISH: Tonight does matter and it matters for this reason. The economic metrics for the country I think have been headed in the correct direction for the last several years now whether you are looking at the Dow, whether you are looking at unemployment, whether you are looking at the deficit, whether you're looking at gas prices. Those are the facts. If it were Vice President Paul Ryan that we just heard interview and you asked him two years ago, would you take these numbers --

COOPER: Absolutely.

SMERKONISH: In January he said, heck yes, I would take these numbers, but the country hasn't felt it. The president is going to say tonight, and tonight is a night where we turn the page. And I think what he's trying to do is sell us out of the funk, that it's OK now to feel good about the economic direction of the country.

TAPPER: That's the one thing about it. They say these proposals are not serious. These are serious proposals, but in the following way. He's not coming out there saying we are going to start - Let's just listen in.

BOEHNER: Share a point as members of the committee on the part of the House press corps, the president of the United States into the chamber. The gentleman from California, Mr. McKirk (ph) -- VAN JONES: Procedural stuff --

BOEHNER: The gentleman from Louisiana, Mr. Scalese (ph), and gentleman from Washington State.

VAN JONES: The Republicans are a real danger here. Because the president is saying we'll start a big new welfare programs, he's saying we're going to get tax cuts to middle class people and the Republicans are going to jump on him and say he's terrible, he's engaging in class warfare. Ordinary people including the Tea Party have been frustrated. They call it party capitalism. We call it the one percent. They've been frustrated with the big folks dominating. This president is actually very smart. He's stepping out and saying I'm going to protect you from all of that. Now, the Republicans are in big danger tonight. They're going to only see him as some kind of a class warrior, when in fact he's actually - he's not doing left versus right, he's doing middle class versus --

BORGER: Van, but - Van, hang on. He had six years to implement some of his policies to help the middle class. Two of which Democrats had total control of both house.

VAN JONES: And he saved the economy with the stimulus bill.


VAN JONES: Great depression right now.

COOPER: We've got like two hours after to talk about this.


COOPER: Let's go back to Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, calm down over there. As Anderson said, we've got a lot of time later tonight to debate all of these issues. But right now, the president in the Senate, that would be the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden and the speaker of the house, John Boehner, they are going through some preliminary requirements announcing who is going to be doing what and where. At some point, they'll be introducing the diplomatic corps and they'll be introducing members of the joint chiefs, they'll be introducing the Supreme Court justices. Jake, they've got a whole thing to do before they actually introduce the president of the United States.

TAPPER: Sure, well, this goes back decades if not centuries in terms of the traditions in the House and Senate. And they take some very seriously. In fact, we have Athena Jones, our own CNN reporter inside the chamber witnessing all of this. Athena, tell us what you're watching.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake. Look, it's been a lot of energy in this room. It's packed as you can see. It's now calmed down a little bit as they begin to go through their preliminaries, but let's talk about the people who come very, very early. I heard someone mention a few minutes ago, people come several hours early. Well, Representative Eliot Engel, New York congressman, got here at 8:30 this morning. So, when all is said and done, he'll have been trying to hold a seat here for 12.5 hours before the president speaks. It's not just Eliot Engel, there are several others? Not surprisingly mostly Democrats folks like Texas Representative Al Green --

TAPPER: Dana, hold on. Hold on one second. I just want to tell our viewers right now, the second lady of the United States of America, Dr. Jill Biden, has shown up.


TAPPER: This is the diplomatic court. This is the diplomatic court --


BLITZER: -- the diplomatic corps. You are seeing them right there. The people that they are walking - the diplomats are invited - the diplomatic corps is the representative --

UF: Yes. She was a struggling family.

TAPPER: Very interesting big of information.

BLITZER: Yeah, that's interesting. If you follow this --

TAPPER: When you say he's the dean, he's been elected because of his leadership skills?

BLITZER: He's the longest serving ambassador in Washington, the ambassador from Djibouti. He's the longest serving ambassador. AS the result, when they introduced the diplomatic corps, he is the one --

UF: Mr. Speaker! The chief justice and --

BLITZER: Oh, now they are introducing the chief justices. That's why - at least for a second.


BLITZER: Because I'm curious - how many justices will actually be there tonight?


BLITZER: There you see. Justice Robert - you see Justice John Roberts is walking in.

TAPPER: Anthony Kennedy.

BLITZER: Anthony Kennedy. And --


TAPPERA: Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the authority team. BLITZER: Yeah.


BLITZER: Justice Kennedy right there, Justice --


TAPPER: They've got some big cases on their dockets.

BLITZER: Stephen Breyer.

TAPPER: In March, there are going to be hearing arguments on Obamacare.

BLITZER: Sonia Sotomayor in walking in.

TAPPER: And in April, on gay marriage.

BLITZER: Elena Kagan. There you see Elena Kagan as well. So, you've got a nice representation of the night.

TAPPER: Of course, Kagan and Sotomayor, two Obama appointees. I don't think they've missed one of these since getting the honor and be confirmed.

BLITZER: You know, I want our viewers to just get a sense of what we're going to be doing later tonight. We are going to have an instant digital dial test to measure viewers' responses to the president's speech as it happens. And I want Tom Foreman to join us right now. You're in the virtual studio. Set the scene, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, wolf, just as all these dignitaries are walking in, you too can be there in the room as of you with your opinion. Go to You can connect with the screen like this in moment by moment, you can tell us what you think or what the president is saying. We're going to take all that data when we're done and we will create lines like this that will run through our virtual studio that will give you a sense of exactly how you match up to the rest of the nation, independents, Republicans, Democrats, men, women, we'll have that later on, but this is how you can get involved. Wolf?

BLITZER: We see more special guests, Jake, arriving in the box. There's the first lady of the United States.


BLITZER: Michelle Obama. She's invited several important people to sit with her, to sit up there in the gallery together with Jill Biden, the second lady of the United States. There they are together in that --

TAPPER: Since 1982, Wolf, as you know, a lot of the people sitting in the first lady's box are people who are illustrating a point, or people that the president and first lady believe to be deserving of special recognition. You just saw behind the first lady, Alan and Judy Gross. Alan Gross was freed after five years of captivity in Cuba.

BLITZER: Athena, you are up there, you are in the gallery, you can see what's going on.

JONES: That's right. The first lady just walked in. She's very, very close to me. There's a guest I want to talk about with the overall theme of the president's speech tonight, which is middle class economics. It's the woman who's standing between first lady Michelle Obama and the second lady Dr. Jill Biden, a woman named Rebekah Erler from Minneapolis. And she's there to represent the fact that you can have two working parents and still be struggling in this economy. She, her husband lost his construction business during the downturn. They had to move from Seattle to Minneapolis. She ended up taking out student loans to go to a local community college and is now working now as an accountant. But she wrote a letter to the president talking about the rising costs of paying for needs of her family. And so, this is the kind of person.

TAPPER: You see the cabinet coming in. There's outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. He's on his last few days. We also saw Eric Holder, the attorney ..

BLITZER: They walk in, Jake. And according to seniority, the Secretary of State first, the Secretary of the Treasury second. When those cabinet positions were actually created, so you see what's going on.

TAPPER: Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, one of the longest serving members of Obama's cabinet. Most in the individuals in this cabinet were not in there in his first year.

BLITZER: There's Eric Holder, the attorney general of the United States. That's Secretary John Kerry shaking hands with Stephen Breyer, the Supreme Court justice. So it's an opportunity for all of these people to just schmooze a little bit, I guess, that's what they are doing as they wait the president of the United States.

TAPPER: Secretary Kerry, just back from France. President Obama spoke with the French Prime Minister Francois Hollande earlier today to talk about the latest in the investigation into those terrorist attacks and Hollande reportedly thanked the president for sending Secretary of State John Kerry last week.

BLITZER: Yeah, it's all very, very carefully scripted. All of this. And once again, you see Eric Holder and Chuck Hagel, the secretary of defense and the attorney general of the United States. There's Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, you know, you see some others coming in. You know, they - the White House chief of staff is technically a member of the cabinet as well.

TAPPER: Yeah, he's cabinet level position. The president also nominated - elevated the director of the Small Business Administration to be cabinet level position. BLITZER: And Samantha Power, you saw walking in, the United States

ambassador to the United Nations, also technically a member of the cabinet. So it's a big group. There you see them walking in right now. And it's only just starting. This is going to be a long night, but it's going to be an exciting night. Especially for those of us who love politics, who love foreign policy, national security, domestic policy. We'll see what we learn in the process. I don't know if there's going to be a huge surprise but we're told there might be a surprise or two in that speech.

TAPPER: Well, we know that President Obama, we have a copy of the speech and the embargo has been broken on the speech and we know if anybody is wondering what he's going to say about the State of the Union, he's going to say the shadow of crisis has passed and the State of the Union is strong. So an allusion not only to the State of the Union being strong, but the fact that the crisis - not that we're getting out of it, but that it's gone. It's passed.

BLITZER: Yeah. They always say the State of the Union is strong, even when it's not necessarily all that strong, but tonight looking back over these six years, it's certainly a lot stronger than when he took office. A lot of us remember, everybody remembers that the U.S. was in a great recession. Potentially could have been in a depression and take a look at the economy right now. By no means perfect, a long way to go, but certainly, so much better than it was six years ago.

TAPPER: And looking right now, you see Sylvia Burwell, the Health and Human Services Secretary, it's interesting to think of the people who were there last year as members of the president's cabinet who are not there this year. Both the health and human services secretary and the Veterans Administration secretary. General Shinseki, he, of course, stepped down or was asked to step down depending on your point of view after the very upsetting VA scandal with veterans in this country not getting the care that they deserve and now there is a new Veterans Administration Secretary, Robert McDonald.

BLITZER: Yeah, we saw the president's national security advisor Susan Rice. She's there. She's a member of the cabinet, at the same time, all of them are there. And just once again, Jake, remind our viewers who from the cabinet is not there tonight?

TAPPER: The Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is the designated survivor. The tradition dating back to the Cold War when there were fears of a nuclear war with Russia. I don't mean to laugh at that but it seems such a quaint time. In the '80s, they started making the name of the designated survivor public and the person has to be somebody who theoretically meets the constitutional requirements to be president of the United States. For instance, Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, who was not born in the United States, she could not be the designated survivor because she could not be president.

BLITZER: It's very interesting. There you see some of the Republicans. It's going to be fascinating to see how enthusiastic they are when the president is making a controversial statement. Probably not so much. On the other hand, the Democrats will be very, very enthusiastic. A lot of people will spend some time counting how many times the president will be interrupted with applause. You see Bob Menendez over there. He's not very happy, he's the Democratic senator from New Jersey with the president's Cuba policy. So this is a moment we're all waiting for.