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Awaiting Obama's Final State of the Union; Secretary of State To CNN: U.S. Sailors To be Released Soon; Iran Holding 10 U.S. Sailors; Supreme Court Justices Arrive. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired January 12, 2016 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:16] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're following breaking news, as President Obama prepares to deliver his last state of the union address. Iran has taken ten American sailors into custody.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And we are just learning about some surprises in the president's speech that the White House has kept under wraps.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the White House right now is preparing for the biggest speech of his last year in office. Soon he heads to the capitol to face the nation, and hear the words that remind the world that he's still in charge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, Barack Obama's final state of the union address, a moment of history and high emotion for a president with more work to do and more fight left in him.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We do have to feel a sense of urgency about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's raising to build his accomplishment before time runs out.

OBAMA: We have an agenda, and we know it works.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grappling with urgent threats to America's security.

OBAMA: We cannot and will not succumb to fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And competing for the spotlight of the candidates who want his job.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's all talk. It is all words with this guy.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think President Obama gets the credit he deserves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN's coverage of the state of the union address, the Republican responsible, and the issues dominating the presidential campaign.

OBAMA: I actually think I'm a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first votes of 2016 are less than three weeks away, the final Obama state of the union address is just minutes away, and the president's legacy is right on the line, right now.


COOPER: And a big night here in Washington. At the White House right now President Obama facing a new international crisis. It is a major distraction to say the least, as he prepares to heads to the capitol to deliver his last state of the union address.

I'm Anderson Cooper with special edition of AC 360.

We are less than an hour away from the president's entrance in the House chamber, and his administration is scrambling to deal with the potentially flash point between the United States and Iran.

U.S. officials say Iran has seized two Navy ships in the Persian Gulf, taking ten sailors on board into custody. The ships apparently enter Iranian water for a brief period of time.

I want to go right to our CNN pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr with more on the breaking story.

What is the latest, Barbara?


What we are told by senior administration officials that now there is a plan for these U.S. sailors to be transferred back to the United States at first light, that Iran plans to let them go, but would not do it during the hours of darkness, the Iranian Navy typically doesn't operate at night. Not very safe procedures there. So at first light we expect the sailors to be brought out into the middle of the Persian Gulf and transferred to a U.S. Navy warship in international waters. It is not clear whether the U.S. will get these two small patrol craft that the sailors were on. We will be waiting to see what happened at first light - Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Barbara, we are going to follow that closely.

Of course there are questions tonight about whether the president should tweak his state of the union address to reflect the breaking news out of Iran.

Wolf Blitzer, you spoke with the White House communications director. What did she say?

BLITZER: That's correct. Jen Psaki, Anderson, the president's communications director tells me there's no plans to add this incidents to the president's speech. Of course that could change. We do expect the president talk about the Iran nuclear deal. He certainly considers that to be a major accomplishment of this administration.

And Jake Tapper is with us. Why did he decide, Jake, to go ahead and may avoid discussing in the state of the union address these ten Americans?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are number of reasons. One of them according to a White House official with whom I spoke, is they do not see this event as having a hostile intent. They say that the sailors are being well treated and we have received assurance they will be released. So that's their view. Perhaps it's spin, but that's on the face why they say they're not going to include this in the speech.

We have heard calls from the Republicans, including the house speaker Paul Ryan to update the American people on the status of these sailors. But as of now, the White House does not seem to feel that that's necessary, that perhaps it would be elevating the matter, perhaps it would be exacerbating. And of course, it cannot be ignored, it is a somewhat embarrassing and unfortunate event to be happening while the president is giving his state of the union address.

BLITZER: Yes. To put it mildly.

Jim Sciutto, the president certainly doesn't want to anything that could aggravate the situation, make it even worse for the ten sailors, nine men, one woman.

[20:05:02] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. And there are two pieces of timing here. There's the state of the union address tonight, and in a few days we have expected the implementation of his signature Iran nuclear deal, which he is expected to tout tonight in his speech.

Now, if they are held for days, these sailors, if they paraded on Iranian television, listen, all bets are off for implementation, but they do have a plan to return them tomorrow. If that goes forward, this deal will go forward. And keeping in mind to this point Iran has kept its obligations under this deal. This return 90 percent or rather sent 90 percent of its enriched uranium out of the country to Iran as provided by the deal. It's begun to decommission the Iraq heavy water plant which is the second path to a bomb. If the AIEA confirms that Iran is complying with the deal, we are going to have implementation sometime on the weekend and that means lifting of all the punishing economic sanctions.

BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

I want to go back to Anderson.

Anderson, there's more breaking news.

COOPER: That's right. Breaking news to report on President Obama's speech itself, I want to bring in our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, what have you learned?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I'm told by White House officials and democratic officials that the president will push back on the rhetoric from Republican candidates on the campaign trail in his state of the union address tonight, and it won't be hard to figure out who the president is talking about. In a memo on tonight's speech shared by a democratic source with CNN, the president has been struck by the, quote, "doom and gloom peddled by Republicans."

The White House says President Obama will instead offer an optimistic vision of the future, urge Americans to fix the politics of this country. If compromise remains a dirty word in Washington, we're told, the president will say the louder more extreme voices will prevail. And so, judging by what democratic sources are telling us and White House sources are telling us Mr. Obama will call on all American to reject the politics of Donald Trump during the state of the union speech. It could be quite dramatic -- Anderson.

COOPER: We'll wait for that. Jim Acosta, thank you.

When President Obama takes any jabs at Republicans tonight, as Jim was just talking about. GOP senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio will be in the audience listening.

Our chief political correspondent Dana Bash is with Rubio on Capitol Hill right now - Dana.


And thank you, senator, for joining me. Appreciate it.

Let's start with what Jim Acosta was just reporting, that the president is going to take a thinly veiled swipe at Donald Trump, talking about the peddling of doom and gloom, warning about that even the Republican giving response, Nikki Haley, from your side, is going to talk about the siren call of angriest voices in the country warn against that. Do they have a point?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the point is that Americans are frustrated after seven years of Barack Obama. They feel like they are being left behind. This is a country many people they say they, we don't even recognize their own country. The last seven years of Barack Obama have been disasters for America. Whether it's our economy or standing in the world, and this is being reflected. Now, what I've said is it's important to acknowledge that frustration, but also understand that if we do what needs to be done, this country has a chance to be greater than it's ever been. And obviously, that's what I have focus my attention on.

BASH: Is it too hot on the campaign trail? You are out there.

RUBIO: Well, look. These elections always get this way. We have a vibrant republic here. We are going to have a strong debate. And these are important issue that is people are upset about. I mean, our economy is not producing good paying jobs. America's standing in the world and its reputation has diminished under this president. But that is why I'm running. We are going to change this as soon as I take over.

BASH: Let's talk about the breaking news tonight and that is ten sailors detained by Iran. I know you said earlier you think this is a symptom of the Iran nuclear deal. Why is that?

RUBIO: Well, first of all, I think they believe they can test this president. They're going to continue to test this president. Now, I don't know about this particular case, but what I said tonight was if in fact they release these sailors right away and release the boats right away, then we'll know it was just a misunderstanding. If they do not -- I hope they will, I want them to, but if they do not, and clearly, this is a further escalation and provocation.

BASH: Do you think the president should address this when he speaks to you all tonight?

RUBIO: Well, ultimately, these men and these sailors are in the hands of the Iranians. I think he should be cautious about how he addresses it until the situation works itself out. That being said, it should be abundantly clear, as I expect the White House as may clear to the Iranians and that is these sailors need to be released immediately.

BASH: There are three Republican senators running for president. You're the only one who is going to be here. You are the only one in town not on the campaign trail. Why did you think it was important to come?

RUBIO: Well, look. I think this is, at the end of the day, this is one of the things that the constitution asks the president to do, is to come before Congress and opine about the state of the union. And so, I thought it was important to be here. And that is why I am here today. We also had some important intelligence briefings that I need to attend earlier in the day. So we will see what the president says tonight. I doubt very much that he will change the trajectory of this country.

BASH: And it has nothing to do with the fact that you have been hit by your old mentor Jeb Bush for not being here enough in the senate?

RUBIO: As I am running for president, there will be votes I will miss until the campaign is over. But I'm missing them because I'm out there running for president so we can turn this country around and those votes and matter a lot again instead of just having the president veto every good idea that comes his way.

BASH: Ted Cruz, he, as you know is being hit by Donald Trump. John McCain, even questioned by his former law professor Lawrence Tribe, about whether or not he is eligible to be president.

RUBIO: He is eligible to be president. It's a total nonissue. It really is. I mean, we should be focused once again, on what matters here, and that is which Republican can win this nomination and turn this country around after the damage Barack Obama has. [20:10:09] BASH: He is eligible, you think, but do you believe it is

settled? Meaning, you believe it is eligible, but do you think that if he is the nominee it could end up being tied up in courts?

RUBIO: No. I don't believe he will be tied up in courts. Look, anyone can take you to court. The bottom line is Ted is a natural- born citizen. You can only by naturalized or natural born. And he wasn't naturalized. It's a nonissue. If Donald wants to spend his time talking about it, let him talk about it. But I'm going to focus on the future of this country.

BASH: You're a lawyer. Is it settled?

RUBIO: I believe it is.

BASH: Settled?


BASH: Thank you, Senator. Appreciate it. Thanks for talking me. Thank you.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right. Dana, thanks.

I want to bring in our chief national correspondent John King, our political commentator Michael Smerconish, chief political analyst Gloria Borger, senior political commentator and former Obama senior advisor David Axelrod.

David, you have been in the White House in these rooms when last- minute changes are made to his speech. Take us into the room. What's the debate going on about whether or not to talk about this Iranian issue?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR COMMENTATOR: Well, I've always been in room when incidents like this were being discussed in which officials in the room have a lot more information than they can share with the country. So I'm sure that's factoring into the decision. I think the discussion we just heard is right. I don't think they want to inflame the situation as it is on the verge of being resolved or elevated beyond its importance.

COOPER: Gloria, though, I mean, it couldn't be the worst timing for this president, not only right before his speech, but also just before Iran is supposed to get some sanctions.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Talk about stepping on your message. This evening is supposed to be a large speech, and I think it will be a large speech. The last thing the president of the United States wants to do is talk about something that gives Republicans an opening to say you know what? The Iranian nuclear deal is a disaster, which they're already saying, by the way, but - and he also doesn't want to get any kind of reaction from the audience, Republican side of the aisle, about Iran. And I'm sure he will get it to a certain degree, but this may add to the raucous nature of the Republican response, when he mentions that deal as an achievement in his administration.

COOPER: Michael, are you surprised the president is not going to talk about it? Earlier David Gergen was saying he has got to talk about the sailors.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm very surprised. I think he will be derelict in his duty if he doesn't make at least some passing reference to it. I think it is the issue of the day. I understand that in the scheme of things it might not warrant mention in a state of the union address, but for the fact that a speech is tonight. I don't know he can reference the Iranian deal without saying something about the return of these individuals tomorrow. We have ten Americans potentially in harm's way. He needs to say something.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's an awkward moment for the president. And David is right. And even Marco Rubio there, just breaking news, a voice of reason in the middle of the heat of political campaign, says you have to be careful. Until they are out, let's be careful. Let's be caution. Let's make sure this is resolved before we start saying provocative things. And yet, every state of the union contains what, a tribute to the men and women serving overseas. Every president does it (INAUDIBLE). So this president will do it tonight and not Segway at least quick mention. It is awkward there.