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Standing By For Trump's First Speech to Congress. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:21] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Inside the White House right now, the president who promised to radically change Washington is getting ready to head to the U.S. Capitol, to give one of the most important and challenging sales pitches of his career.

I'm Anderson Cooper with this special edition of AC360.

We are less than an hour away from President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress. It's a high stakes opportunity to reframe his presidency after a chaotic start and with his approval ratings at a historic low.

When he speaks in the House chamber tonight, Mr. Trump's words and tone could go a long way toward determining how much of his ambitious agenda actually gets through Congress and how many of his campaign promises he can actually keep.

Let's check things out with Wolf Blitzer, who's standing by -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, the president is signaling a dramatic shift on his signature issue of immigration. He personally told me and other news anchors today that he believes the time is right to pass a new comprehensive immigration bill. It could allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay here in the United States legally. We may hear more details on that in the speech. That's coming up.

Also tonight, the president will renew his call to Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare, but it's not clear if they'll give GOP lawmakers the direction they are hoping for as they struggle with details that Mr. Trump admits are complicated.

As the president addresses national security challenges, tonight, a senior White House official says Mr. Trump now believes that North Korea is potentially the greatest threat to the United States.

Jake Tapper is with us right now.

Jake, president was pretty honest saying his messaging so far has not been very good. He gives himself a "C." What's he need to do tonight?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I think it's fair to say that President Trump is really -- there's two different sides to him. One is the deal maker, who wants to get things done, and we heard President Trump be that kind of deal maker when he was talking about wanting to have a compromised immigration bill, when he told us and other anchors earlier.

And then there was the president who is king of the Republican base, king of the Trump voters, and we have seen a lot of that president, as he has begun his term with very, very high approval ratings with those Republican voters and historic lows with Democrats and independents. The president has talked about how this will be a speech of unity, and an opportunity perhaps he hopes and his staffer hopes a moment of reset, where he can reach out to his critics in Congress and throughout the country, as we know he has majority disapproval.

Republicans I know in the chamber want leadership when it comes to Obamacare, on surrounding and getting behind the bill that the secretary of health and human services has been working on with members of Congress to push forward as a replacement to Obamacare. Democrats are looking for olive branches, outreach to them. Will he offer something along the lines of childcare? Will he offer an infrastructure bill? Will he talk about paid family leave?

We will see.

BLITZER: Huge challenge for the president tonight.

Let's go to Dana Bash. She's inside the Capitol for us working her sources.

Dana, what are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake was just talking about the Democrats. Certainly, they are expecting that there will be some outreach to them, but their reaction and the optics for them sitting in the chamber for the first time in eight years, listening to a president who is not of their own party, they are very cognizant of that. In fact, both Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, have told their rank and files to be restrained and to be dignified in their responses, and, you know, it's -- the goal is to not have an infamous moment like we had several years ago when Republican Congressman Joe Wilson said "you lie" to President Obama when he was in the chamber.

But, you know, it's not just about decorum, it's also a way for Democrats to try to signal to Trump voters that maybe they are not so bad, and here's what the Democratic leader said to myself and to a few other journalists who are in her office today that was sort of on this note as she talked about the fact that she tells her rank and file to think of Donald Trump as the boyfriend of a friend who is a jerk. She said it's like telling your friend the guy she's dating is a jerk. You can't tell her that, she has to find out for herself. If you tell her right up front, you'll lose a friend and we don't want to lose any friends. So, that's the way she's looking at this.

One last thing before I toss back to you, Anderson, they are going to be showing a symbolic case for women and perhaps the woman who did not become president. I think we have a picture of the House Democratic women, there you see many of them are going to be wearing white.

[20:05:04] White the color of the suffragette movement -- Anderson.

COOPER: Dana, was Nancy Pelosi watching Jon Stewart on Colbert last night, because that was basically his whole riff?

Anyway, let's go to the White House for the newest information about the president's speech tonight. Jim Acosta is there.

What are you learning, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. You recall the president's inaugural address, that sounded very dark at times. He talked about American carnage, a phrase that he coined during that inaugural speech.

It looks like the president is looking for a tone reset tonight. Consider this excerpt that was just released by the White House from the president's speech to a joint session of Congress tonight. We'll put it up on screen.

It says, "The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts, the bravery to express the hopes that still our souls and the confidence to turn those hopes and dreams to action. From now on, America will be empowered by aspirations, not burdened by fears."

So, a big change in rhetoric from the inaugural speech, if that excerpt there carries the night. Now, one of the big problems that the president is facing in the months ahead is what to do about Obamacare, repealing and replacing Obamacare.

I am told by a source tonight that the president is expected to throw down the gauntlet to Democrats on Obamacare. We're told the president will say to Democrats that Obamacare is failing and that this is not a program that should be fixed by one party alone. He will remind Democrats that they passed Obamacare on their own to problematic results.

The source says the president will try to frame it as an appeal for bipartisanship.

Anderson, that is something we rarely ever hear from Donald Trump -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. We will see what he says.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

Let's check in with our panel.

John King, I mean, we've heard a lot of speeches like this. You know, I can't tell you how many nights we have been here when the president is making his first speech to a Joint Session of Congress.

Does it really matter what he says?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. We've heard a lot of these speeches but never from this president, who's a very different president. He's never done this before. He's never been in government before. He's never dealt with these challenges before.

Let's see the territory first. Donald Trump is winning so far in the sense that he's dominating not only the political debate here in the country, but the political debate around the world. He is the political debate in this country and the political debate around the world. That's a good position to start in, a position where he's the center of attention.

Now, the question is, can he manage that agenda going forward? And part of that is doing something he's never done before -- dealing with the outside crowd, the outside game, the people at home, trying to convince them to stay with him, keep what he's got, try to bring some new people in, and then the people in the room.

What are the short-term challenges? He says he wants to be a man of action. He wants to repeal and replace Obamacare. He wants to have a major tax reform bill and he wants to make progress on his immigration agenda, which includes building a wall, increased enforcement.

On those issues, he has to be a Republican president. So, we're going to hear a lot of talk tonight about reaching out. He has Ivanka's childcare proposal in the speech. That's a way to reach out. He talks to what Jim just read about, put these trivial fights behind us.

But his main goal is to get his campaign agenda passed. Democrats aren't with him on that. His big challenge tonight is keep his Republicans so that he can pick up the phone and call somebody like a Senator Santorum who disagrees with him on this issue or that issue in the Republican family, and say, I need you on this one.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think it's as much Democrats as you point out as it is his own party. I mean, you know, you have --

COOPER: That he's reaching out to.

BORGER: That he needs to reach out to in that room. I mean, if Donald Trump is a populist, he's got trouble with movement conservatives like Rick Santorum over here because they believe that part of the solution they have been seeing for replacing Obamacare is starting a new entitlement program, which they don't want. Tax credits to people, not based on income, but tax credits to pay for your health care, which they think is an entitlement program and they wouldn't be wrong about that, by the way.

So, he's got a lot of reaching out to do to his Republicans, particularly when he spoke about immigration earlier in the day to news anchors and said, wait a minute, I'm looking for -- you're shaking your head, OK. I'm looking for -- I'm looking for a pass on legal status. (CROSSTALK)

COOPER: -- to reach out to you. And what about on immigration?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, the way I look at Donald Trump is, he speaks to the audience in front of him.

COOPER: At any one time.

SANTORUM: At any one time. Everyone says he's great, he's a TV guy. No, he's not. He speaks to the audience in front of him. That's what he did at the inauguration. Everybody said, well, he's speaking to the nation.

No, he was speaking to the audience out there that was here for him. And now, he's speaking to the audience in front of him, which is the Congress of the United States. And, I mean, I've been talking about this, I saw this one coming. I mean, this is not an ideological guy. This is a man who wants to make a deal, he wants to get things done, and he's already tipping his hat, particularly on immigration.

COOPER: I remember a couple of Republicans saying that during the primary.

SANTORUM: And you're going to see it tonight. I think you're going to see it tonight. That he's going to go out there and say, look, we can make deals, and, you know, I'm going to open up and try to get some compromises done.

I'm concerned about that. I'm concerned about it with health care. I don't like what's going on in the House right now. I'm concerned about it when he talks about immigration. So, yes, I think he's got some convincing on both sides.

[20:10:01] DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Speaking of the folks in the room, he's making a mistake, because the way you move the folks in the room is to speak to the larger audience. The great opportunity of these speeches -- you know, Wolf said it's a great challenge. It's also a great opportunity. It's -- you have 40 million people watching you, there's no filter, and you can -- and it is an opportunity to reset. But --

COOPER: You think filter has been President Trump's issue?


AXELROD: Well, it's interesting you say that, because when he says, "The time for small things is over, the time for trivial fights is behind us," he ought to go back and look at his Twitter feed where a lot of these trivial fights take place. When he says -- when he says that he has communications problems that he gives himself a "C," which I thought was extraordinary for Donald Trump to give himself a "C" on anything, the real problem with communications with Donald Trump is that even when he's doing something to serve his message, he tends to divert it with trivial fights. And this is a chance to be more disciplined. COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. As we stand by for the president's speech, we'll talk to one of his most vocal critics, Senator Bernie Sanders. He'll be in the audience, of course, tonight. He'll join us live after this quick break.


[20:15:01] COOPER: And we are back for the special edition of AC360, counting down to President Trump's first big speech to Congress. Several senators who competed for President Trump's job, of course, will be in the audience tonight, including Bernie Sanders, former candidate for the Democratic nomination, with Dana Bash at the Capitol.


BASH: Thanks, Anderson.

And thanks for joining me, Senator. I want to start by asking about an excerpt from what we expect to hear from the president tonight, the White House just released it. And he -- the president will say the time for trivial fights is behind us.

What's your reaction?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Yes, this is a man who has been attacking Muslims. He's been attacking Latinos. He has been attacking the media. He has been attacking judges who ruled against him, and now, he has concluded that the time for trivial fights is behind us.

Well, I hope he's right. We have some enormous problems facing this country. We've got a middle class in decline. I hope he will tell us tonight he's not going to give huge tax breaks to billionaires.

We have 28 million people who have no health insurance. I hope he will tell us tonight that he's not going to throw 20 million people off of health insurance.

BASH: The other thing that President Trump said today to reporters is that he thinks that the time is right for an immigration bill, a compromise, said he wouldn't go as far as a path to citizenship, but perhaps legal status.

So, the question for you is, is that something you think you can work with the president on?

SANDERS: Well, I have believed forever we need comprehensive immigration reform. I believe we need a path towards citizenship. What I am very nervous about, Dana, is this president trying to divide us up by going after undocumented people, by turning one group of Americans against another.

So comprehensive immigration reform, absolutely, the right thing to do.

BASH: Even if it doesn't have a path to citizenship?

SANDERS: Well, let's -- you know, the devil is always going to be in the details and I think we're going to work that out. I happen to believe that there should be a path towards citizenship.

BASH: Speaking of working together, the president is also apparently going to talk about reaching across the aisle on a few issues, one of them is infrastructure. You have said, at least right after the election, you called the president's proposed plan a scam, but then have since said, well, maybe it is something you can work with him on.

So, where do you stand on this infrastructure situation?

SANDERS: When I -- you know, if you remember several years ago, I introduced legislation calling for a trillion dollar infrastructure plan, which would put about 13 million Americans back to work in decent paying jobs. I'm glad that Mr. Trump has proposed a trillion dollar plan, so the idea of investing heavily in rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our water systems is exactly the right thing to do.

BASH: So, this is something you can work with him on?

SANDERS: The idea is the right thing to do. The question is, how you pay for it? You don't pay for it, I think Trump is talking about, by giving huge tax breaks and tax credits to Wall Street and billionaires. That's not the way you pay for it.

But I would hope that we can come together to come up with a reasonable funding plan, which rebuilds our crumbling infrastructure and puts a whole lot of people back to work.

BASH: I also want to ask you about the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. In a speech tonight, CNN has learned that President Trump is expected to address recent anti-Semitic incidents and threats to Jewish sites like cemeteries.

What do you think he should say? What do you want to hear from him?

SANDERS: Well, all you have to say is this is reprehensible behavior, that in America we will not tolerate racism of any kind, we will not tolerate Islamophobia, we will not tolerate anti-Semitism.

Remember, before he ran for president, Donald Trump was the leader of the so-called birther movement, which was a racist effort to undermine legitimacy of our first African-American president.

I would hope that he learns that's not where America wants to go, that we will not tolerate anti-Semitism or Islamophobia or racism, sexism, or homophobia. America is beyond that. We don't need a president who tries to bring back those issues.

BASH: I just want to ask about the moment for you. Your stop went through the presidential campaign. Now, here you are on the other end as a member of the United States Senate preparing to hear President Trump address the United States Congress. What's going through your mind about this moment?

SANDERS: Well, what's going through my mind is, I am a United States senator today, and I'm trying to do the best I can for the people that I represent in the state of Vermont and working people throughout this country. And what's going through my mind is that I have very serious concerns about the direction of a Trump administration that wants to throw people off of health insurance, do away with pre-existing conditions, ignores climate change, hasn't said a word about the fact that college is so unaffordable to millions of people. Those are the issues I'm focusing on nationally.

BASH: Senator Sanders, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

[20:20:01] Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Yes, Dana, we're getting closer to the president's speech. We're learning more about what the president will say and why it may feel different tonight.

Stay with us.


COOPER: And welcome back.

We are several minutes away from the President Trump addressing the joint session of Congress. There you see Steve Bannon obviously waiting for the president outside -- the president's vehicle at the White House, waiting to make the short drive over to the Capitol for tonight.

I want to bring back in the panel as we await to see the president leaving.

Jeffrey Lord, what are you expecting tonight? I mean, it seems like there's a lot of talk about perhaps some sort of a change of tone. We heard, you know, the anchors who were there today were told about a possible, you know, deal on immigration of some sort. Is that for real or --

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To pick, if I can, on Senator Santorum's point. He's beaming at me here, wanting to see if I'm going to confess to something.

Two things about Donald Trump. He is a deal maker, and he's a salesman, and you're going to see both of those things in play tonight. One of the interesting things, I think, is that he has in common with --

COOPER: Ronald Reagan.

LORD: Thank you, thank you. Wild guess.


LORD: Who was a union president, and as a --

[20:25:03] COOPER: I knew you weren't going to say Marine Le Pen.


LORD: Who was a union president for Screen Actors Guild for seven terms, was a superb negotiator, so that when he would stand up as a new president a few days after his swearing in and give a press conference and talk about Soviet's (INAUDIBLE) the right to lie and things presidents of the United States didn't say, there was a gasp in the room.

What he was doing in retrospect was opening up his negotiating position, the evil empire came a little later, but all in the same aspect. What I have here from the White House is a list of 25 different accomplishments in several different areas. So, he's going to talk about, one, what he's accomplished already, and, two, the bold agenda thing. And then the third thing that I think --

COOPER: Wait, the White House sent you this chicken scratch? Are you kidding?


LORD: That was from the president. He scanned it over.

COOPER: Right, right.

LORD: One other thing that I think is going to be interesting, the conservatives, I think, will be looking for is there will be -- today, I already heard Sean Hannity play a radio montage on his radio show of the response to President Obama's first State of the Union, which was, in essence, glorifying.

You were not on there, you would be pleased to know.

So I am sure that tomorrow, if there's a lot of negative take on this, this will be juxtaposed with conservatives saying, you see? This is what David Axelrod brought and this is what Jeff Lord brought.

COOPER: You have chicken scratch, I assume that's not from the White House.



JONES: Look, I think it's going to be interesting tonight. You actually have, if he is this great deal maker, seems to me he's just erratic, but if this is what you say, he's got a very interesting audience tonight. He has two divided parties.

On the one hand, we talk a lot about the conservatives and the populist division of the Republican Party, he's also got a divided Democratic Party. You have a people who are a part of the resistance who say no, no, and never, never, there were big protests today in front of the White House, and they are saying to -- they're going to be looking at those Democrats saying, we don't want to see you crack a smile. We don't want to see a giggle. You better not do anything, because we don't want any motion towards Trump.

And you have others saying, listen, we've got to actually govern here. So, he -- how he chooses to navigate this is going to be very, very important.

At the same time, there is a trust deficit with this president. His speech, look, teleprompter Trump is often wonderful, Twitter Trump is often terrible. We don't know when the speech is done how long before we hear from Twitter Trump.

COOPER: Just briefly, Jennifer Granholm, I mean, to Senator Santorum's point, it is very confident he is addressing the people in the room and they leave and new people come in the room and there's a different message.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, and as David Axelrod pointed out earlier, his audience really is to the folks in America, even though he thinks it's reacting to the people in the room and only way to move his agenda is if Congress moves with him. His favorability, his personal favorability has to go up after this, because if it continues to be 12 points under water, which is what it is now, he's not going to be effective in fighting any of those deals.

COOPER: We're minutes from the main event. Vice President Mike Pence making his entrance soon. We're also standing by for the president to leave the White House any moment. A lot more ahead.

Stay with us.


[20:32:20] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We're 27 minutes away from Pres. Trump's speech. There you see Jared Kushner and his wife, the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, entering the vehicle. We're about to see the president. Steve Miller, also the adviser. Jim Acosta is standing by also at the White House.

Jim, as we continue to wait to see Pres. Trump as he makes his way to for his first speech in Congress. Do we know much about what he's been doing today, in terms of -- or how long he's been working on his speech, who else has been having a hand in it?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has been preparing his speech for some time. Some of this was going on even at Mar-a-Lago a couple of weeks ago, so this has been a work in progress. We just saw Steven Miller, who is the White House policy director here, and he was very instrumental in crafting this speech, as well as Steve Bannon, the chief strategist to the president who we saw a few moments ago. We also saw Kellyanne Conway, and Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump. Nearly, all of those names have had a hand in this speech even the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, have been involved in the writing of this speech more so than ...


COOPER: His wife, first lady, Melania Trump, entering the presidential limousine. And, once they are secured in there the motorcade will start making the short drive to Capitol Hill. I'm sorry, continue Jim, I just wanted to jump in.

ACOSTA: No, that's fine. I think what's interesting about this is you recall before the inaugural speech the White House was going to great lengths to say that the president really wrote that speech himself. We found out later on that was not the case. Steven Miller had a big hand in writing that inaugural address. What's very interesting about tonight's address, Anderson, given Steven Miller's involvement is this big surprise that we heard today that the president is going to signal this willingness to sign on to a compromised immigration bill.

Keep in mind Steven Miller worked for former Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is now the Attorney General. They are two very big critics of illegal immigration, very tough critics of immigration -- when they were up on Capitol Hill in the seat that they were involved in this speech, I think tells us, Anderson, that perhaps the president had more of an influence, more of a say, more of a final say on what's going into this speech tonight, given the fact that he's going to be throwing out this olive branch to both parties in Congress on this very difficult issue of immigration.

COOPER: And Jim, I'm not sure if you can see what our audience is seeing, David Axelrod, looks like Pres. Trump is maybe reading his speech or going over it or talking to somebody about something that's on the paper. I assume that's the speech.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, well, look, I mean most presidents are tinkering. I mean, Bill Clinton was famous for this, he was doing full edits on the way to the speech. But, you know, for Donald Trump, who is more of an improvisational speaker, this is not necessarily the easiest task. And the more he familiarizes himself with this copy, the better he's going to do, so it's probably a good thing from his standpoint that he's looking the thing over.

[20:35:17] COOPER: I believe Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump were in the vehicle with him. Sorry, that -- he was, I guess going over the speech with. Jeff Zeleny is standing by over on Capitol Hill. Jeff, what are you hearing about what we will hear tonight from sources?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, as this motorcade makes its way here to Capitol Hill, one thing that will be the elephant in the room, if you will, is Russia and this investigation that is going on in the Intelligence Committees, in the Senate and in the House, as well. I am told by sources that the president will not directly fight about this, engage about it, but he will say this I'm told, one small reference to Russia in the excerpts. Anderson, he says this, "America is willing to find new friends and to forge new partnerships where shared interests align." Find new friends and forge new partnerships. He may talk about existing friends and partnerships, as well. That's an interesting line there, but Anderson, the whole idea of Russia certainly will be hanging over his speech tonight, as he's being investigated even as he pushes his proposals, Anderson.

COOPER: Jeff, we're seeing here the vice president now entering the Capitol Chamber. Let's go over to Wolf and Jake.

ZELENY: We got to go.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ACHOR: The vice president of the United States who is also the president of the Senate, there you see he's walked in, he's been introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives. There's the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, they will be up on that podium right behind the president of the United States. This is a moment, Jake, for the vice president, as well.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And Vice President Pence has had already, as president of the Senate, a historic role, he was called to break the tie, a 50/50 tie for Pres. Trump's education secretary, Betsy Devos, the first time in American history that a vice president cast a tie breaking vote to endorse a -- I'm sorry, to confirm a cabinet official, so that role as president of the Senate has already come in handy for him.

BLITZER: And there we see other members of the Senate and the House of Representatives greeting the vice president. He sat a decade himself, Jake, in the House of Representatives, so he knows something about this.

TAPPER: That's right. He was a member of the Republican leadership, went back to Indiana, where ultimately he did run for governor and win, and he potentially would have run for re-election, we don't know, because he was tapped to be the vice presidential nominee for Pres. Trump.

BLITZER: Yeah. They are going to be welcoming others. Hug for the vice president ...

TAPPER: They are very good friends. You don't often see a hug from that dais, but that's a legitimate hug. They've known each other for a long time. I guess Paul Ryan has been in the House now for 18 years. So, something like that.

BLITZER: I want to quickly go to Jim Acosta, you got some news on the speaker, what are you learning, Jim?

ACOSTA: Well, I'm told by sources close to the House Speaker that they've been coaching him, as well, for tonight. You recall during the Obama administration House Speaker Paul Ryan had to show a bit of a poker face as he was sitting behind the president. I'm told that aides have been sort of jokingly nudging him to say, you know what, tonight you can go ahead and smile a little bit to show your support for a president who is now from your party. Of course, this may be one of the few moments we'll see a lot of smiling Paul Ryan, says he's going to have a lot of trouble herding those Republican cats on Capitol Hill to get behind issues like taxes and Obamacare, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good point. You know, Jake, there's a Republican leader in the House. That would be the Speaker, Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, but right now the president of the Senate is the Republican vice president. There will be a Republican president. The Democrats, they are clearly in the minority.

TAPPER: One of the worst times for the Democratic Party in modern history. Interesting thing about Speaker Ryan you might remember, there was a lot of tension between him and Pres. Trump during the campaign. Speaker Ryan said after it was clear Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee that he didn't endorse him. He took him about a month. There's Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, two other Republican critics of Pres. Trump. But ...

BLITZER: I want to just point out that John McCain and Lindsey Graham, they'll be at the CNN Town Hall with Dana Bash tomorrow night.

TAPPER: So, but here are some others, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida. We see a lot of people ...

BLITZER: Hold on one second, I quickly want to go to Dana. Dana, you've got some numbers of the justices of the Supreme Court, not very far away.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Justice Breyer, nice to see you. And five members of the Supreme Court are walking by me. In fact, we are told that three are not coming. Three of them are Justice Alito, Justice Thomas, and Justice Ginsburg, none of those three is expected to attend. So we have five who are here because, of course, we don't have the full nine, there is still a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

[20:40:03] BLITZER: You know, Jake, it's interesting, five of the eight Supreme Court justices will be there. The Diplomatic core will be there, Representatives from the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be there, the senators, and House members. And a lot of Democrats, I don't see a lot of Democrats boycotting this event tonight, as about 60 of them from the House of Representatives did on the inauguration.

TAPPER: That's right. And we see right now members of the Senate spilling in. This is the House Chamber in which Pres. Trump will address this joint session of Congress, and that is where they are all coming into and you see there, Susan Collins of Maine, she is something of a maverick by the definition of this Senate, in the sense that she voted against Betsy Devos, we were just talking about the president's pick for Education Secretary. There's Sen. Ted Cruz, also one of Pres. Trump's nemesis during the campaign, although he's been very positive and agreeable during the actual Trump presidency. There we see some Democrats, of course, Ben Cardin, Al Franken, and Ron Wyden of the Democratic Party in the Senate. BLITZER: We're going to see a whole bunch of Democratic House Members, women, wearing white tonight. Our viewers are going to see that. You see it a little bit already. And it's sort of an act of support for women's issues, suffragette, a lot of the women in the suffragette movement in the early 1900s wore white and we're going to see a lot of Democratic House Members wearing white.

TAPPER: It's an act of support. I think it's also fair to call something of an act of defiance. I mean they are not wearing these pink hats that we saw during the women's rally a few weeks ago, but along those lines. I think it's meant to send a message to Pres. Trump.

BLITZER: But they don't want to do away with, for example, Planned Parenthood, funding for Planned Parenthood, that's an important issue that they're hoping that by wearing white they are reflecting that.

TAPPER: That's right. We just saw Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's been facing something of a controversy, having agreed to talk to some reporters to push back on a "New York Times" story about the Trump team and the FBI, some people saying it was not appropriate of him to do that. His fellow chairman, his vice chair, Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, saying he had grave concerns about the independence of the investigation, given the fact that Sen. Burr, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, did that on behalf of the White House while an investigation is going on. Not just at the FBI, but also by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

BLITZER: The president of the United States and the first lady, they are driving over from the White House to Capitol Hill right now. Anderson, they should be arriving momentarily.

COOPER: Yeah, Wolf, Jake, thanks very much. We're continuing to follow, about 18 minutes away or so.

You know, John, one can't underestimate the power of seeing the president of the United States, any president of the United States, particularly Pres. Trump, in this chamber speaking to both Houses. I mean, it is a, obviously, you know, there's a lot of pomp and ceremony to it, but it's an important night for those people who don't view Donald Trump as their president. This is one step, perhaps, toward making people understand.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Words matter on a night like this, what the president says tonight will matter inside the room as he tries to negotiate some big issues, especially in the weeks and months ahead, big issues, various Republican issues. But pictures matter, too.

And this is a picture, David Axelrod at the table, you know, most of the Obama years you at least -- we had a Democratic president, Democratic vice president, even when the Republicans took the House back, you had Speaker Paul Ryan, early in the Obama years that was an all Democratic picture. Now we have an all Republican picture, this is an all Republican Washington. That's an obligation, an opportunity, it's also a burden. The Republicans now have to deliver, they won the election.

But, yes, if you're someone sitting at home, you didn't vote for Donald Trump, you can't believe this, you're saying never, never, never, this is the president of the United States.

Tonight he stands and does a solid job, not a state of the union, because it's the first year, but addresses the American people, a chance to lay out his agenda and just, again, show his supporters out there it's an amen moment, there's our president standing up there. To those who didn't vote for him, there's a point where he's the president, going to be the president for 203 more weeks at a minimum.

COOPER: And (inaudible) we're seeing the president's motorcade, by the way, arriving at Capitol Hill.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah, I mean it's also an important for him an moment for him to see the expanse of government, the cabinet officials there, the Supreme Court, all of the members of government that he's going to have to work with to get his agenda passed. So you wonder sort of what that all mean for him.

I talked to a Republicans across the country in terms of what they want to see. They said they want to see a serious president. In a lot of times we've seen a president who doesn't take, you know, take to Twitter and sometimes on serious way and they want to see a president who recognizes that this is a somber moment, a sobering moment, as well. They also want to see him explain the why of some of his policies. Why does he want to raise the defense spending by 10 percent? Why does he want to build a wall? He always sort of relies on campaigns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... the why and the how ...


AXELROD: ... which I think is a lot more difficult.

HENDERSON: But will it be convincing the sort of why of it?

AXELROD: To John's point, most presidents do get a bounce out of these speeches just ...


AXELROD: ... by having this unfiltered dialogue with the American people. It doesn't last forever, but it does give you, if you're looking for a reset, it's a great way to do it. And several times to the -- during the Obama presidency it worked for him that way, he give a jobs speech to Congress in the -- at the (inaudible) of his administration and the fall of 2011, it was the beginning of his path back to re-election. So these are important speeches.

[20:45:27] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: We had watched Donald Trump time and time again at big rallies, and he gets his energy from these rallies, and he campaigns so well at these rallies, it's what got him elected. And I'm so curious to see him in this chamber tonight, because many times one-half of the audience will stand, the other half will sit. Sometimes you'll get boos from the audience, and sometimes you won't. And the question is, will he be goaded to a degree to go off the prompter as he did when they tried to keep him on the prompter towards the end of the campaign? Because this is a man who loves the interaction with the audience, and it's a different kind of audience tonight.

AXELROD: No ad lib. No ad lib.

COOPER: I mean, as you guys know, I mean he calls out people in the audience often, he responds to individuals in the audience.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A couple things. First of all, the people who are not in that room who he won't be able to see, need something in us (ph). You do have some people, they love Donald Trump, they're giddy about this, but you still have a lot of people who are afraid. There's stuff going on right now when it comes to communities that are full of immigrants, people are literally afraid to leave their homes. People are afraid to go to school. They need to hear something from this president that is reassuring. You do have -- you have a whole -- frankly, in that room you're going to have Jose Antonio Vargas, he's u undocumented. He's going there as a guest of Pelosi to sit there and represent those kinds of people.

COOPER: Jose Andres the chief is like -- he's going to be there as a guest. He suing -- I mean he's being sued by Donald Trump, and there's countersuit ...

JONES: This is the most important speech of this presidency, period, because this is ...



COOPER: More than the inauguration?

SANTORUM: This is the most important speech because this shows I'm a serious person in the White House, I have serious proposals, I have ideas, here's where I want to take America. He has -- he's done it in bits and pieces, (inaudible) as we know he stepped on his message repeatedly. He certainly didn't do that in the inaugural address. Here is where he can prove to the American public that he can reach out to the other side, he can lead this country, he can bring this country together, and he can do it in a serious fashion. And that's why I said he's going to speak to this audience, because he needs, as you said, he needs to get that kind of rapport going with this audience to the American public to see. They will respond to him.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: There will be a ton of people out there that are fact checking every word that he says, and this particular speech, he better not continue this habit of his of exaggeration and lying and being the showman without anything beneath, so he ran on being a jobs president. What is he going to point to that he's either going to do or has done? Is he going to claim credit for GM, and Ford, and Chrysler, things that have been in the motion, or is he really going to level with us and tell us what he's going to do?

The "Washington Post" is keeping track of his promises. On October 22nd he wrote a contract with America where he listed 60 things that he would do in the first 100 days. Of those 60 things, 45 haven't been touched. All right, it's day 40. What are you going to do to complete the promises that you said you would do?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Aside from the 25 things that he's going to lay claim to that they put out tonight, one of the interesting moments I thought the other day, president is always entertaining the nation's governors for a couple days and this culminates in a state dinner. And if you noticed the other night when the president got up to give his traditional toast, when he was done he pointed out into the audience and called out Gov. McAuliffe of Virginia, a former DNC chairman, a close friend to the Clintons, and said I've known something -- I've known Terry for years. He's a terrific guy. Terry, come on up here and give the response. Meaning, he's reaching out to do deals, if you will, with the governor of Virginia. He's looking at these 535 people and seeing 535 sets of deal makers, some of them with more leverage than others and that's what he's going to focus on.

BORGER: But the governor of Virginia said, I don't want to give up my Medicaid money, and that's what you want to do to me. And if you get rid of it to the states in Obamacare, so you can make nice, but to a certain point these are elected officials. All of these people sitting in this audience, and that's the other difference, this crowd.

SANTORUM: ... that's ...

BORGER: Right.

SANTORUM: ... the perception of public has of who this man is. You're not going to make a deal in one gesture.

BORGER: Right.

SANTORUM: But it's the perception that this is a man who can work with the other side.

JONES: I want to hold you to this, though, senator. If, in fact, he gets up there and he does what some people are afraid of, he decides to freelance. He decides to and -- we're sitting here in an hour and a half or two hours with a president who has stepped in it. Once again, what will Republicans say then? Are they going to continue to excuse everything he does no matter what it is?

[20:50:22] SANTORUM: Well, maybe this is the reason for the 80-minute speech that we're about to hear. So -- or too exhausted.

(CROSSTALK) SANTORUM: ... simply will he have the energy to do it.


SANTORUM: Well, there's a price to every president.

COOPER: Jim Acosta is standing by with some more details of some the language in the speech, Jim.

ACOSTA: That's right, Anderson. There has been an a little bit of debate in the Trump administration over whether the president should continue to use the term Radical Islamic terrorism. I'm told by a senior administration official that the new National Security Adviser to the president, H.R. McMaster, retired general, was urging the president heading into this speech that he should avoid using that phrase because it does alienate Muslims around the world.

We're told that the president said no, I am going to use that phrase. So we are going to hear that from the president tonight in his speech. But I'm told by a senior administration official that this was not a big clash between the president and his new National Security Adviser, it was a discussion. And that perhaps in the coming days after tonight speech I'm told, we might hear a settle shift in rhetoric is how it was described to me, coming from the president on this issue in the coming days, Anderson.

COOPER: It would have been startling had the president suddenly stopped using that phrase. Which -- because, I mean he made such a big deal of it during the campaign, attacking ...

ACOSTA: That's right.

COOPER: ... then Pres. Obama and Hillary Clinton as well, though Clinton had used the phrase. I mean, it's -- it would be stunning if he actually did a 180 on this.

ACOSTA: It would be a stunning, a reversal, as perhaps the president's shift on immigration that we're going to be hearing tonight in this joint speech to Congress, but, Anderson, I will tell you that, yes, out on the campaign trail 9in again, the president said repeatedly that he is going to call this threat as he sees it and what it is, and describes it as radical Islamic terrorism. Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster when he was serving in Iraq felt, he learned up close and personal in dealing with the Iraqis that that kind of language just alienates the people you need to work with to fight this war on terrorism. So it sounds like a discussion that's going to be a working progress between this new National Security Adviser and the president, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Jim Acosta.

AXELROD: As I hear this -- one thing that occurs to me is, while there are many people who are looking for him to reach out to broaden his circle and so on, there's also a danger for Donald Trump.

COOPER: Right. AXELROD: Because he goes too far, he plays -- he deals away the card that his supporters most appreciated, which was that he's outspoken, he's edgy. He speaks his mind. So I think there is a need for outreach, because he's sitting there, stuck in the low 40s, and he needs to expand his base, but he needs to do it with care. If he makes a compete 180 on stuff, there's going to be -- people are going to get whiplash.

SANTORUM: But he also wanted a businessman who could get things done. So don't -- there's a great anticipation within the base that Donald Trump for all the bombast was a guy who was going to cut deals and make Washington work. So that's got to be part of ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's what's so difficult.

KING: We have failed sometimes to translate Trump. But I don't mean that critically. When you talk to voters and he says he's going to build a wall and Mexico's going to pay for it, they don't think Mexico's going to pay for. They think he's going to be tough on immigration. When he said in the campaign I'm going to ban Muslims, they understood. You can't have a religious test this is America, but they knew he's going to be tough around refugee policy.

The voters learn to translate him. Now we'll see what happens in policy and implementing and whether he can do this as he governors. But during the campaign the voters go it much more quickly than those of us who live in this county used to people speaking a certain way. He's different. He doesn't speak our way, so we need to worry about that, too, on our side.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But that's a difficulty he has with this speech, also, because what we're talking about is a conventional speech. And Donald Trump is not known for giving conventional speeches, and his supporters don't want him to do that.

COOPER: Here the Supreme Court justices entering, Wolf, Jake.

BLITZER: Justices, Robert, Breyer, Kennedy, Sotomayor, and Kagan today are there. Justices Alito, Thomas, and Ginsburg not expected to attend. Jake, it's always important that the justices of the Supreme Court attend these joint sessions of Congress.

TAPPER: That's right. It was one year ago this month that Justice Scalia passed away. His seat still not been filled. We should point out that his widow will be sitting in the president's box, Maureen McCarthy Scalia, and of course we are still waiting to see what happens with Judge Neil Gorsuch, who has been nominated by Pres. Trump to fill that seat.

BLITZER: The first lady is about to go up to the gallery with her invited guests, representatives, members of family, and Melania Trump will be there and it's -- and we're going to see her walk through that door very, very soon.

Jake, this is symbolic. The guests that they decided to invite for tonight. [20:55:17] TAPPER: It's a tradition that began in 1982 when Pres. Reagan brought a hero who jumped into the icy Potomac to rescue a woman who had just been in a plane crash, Air Florida flight 90, Leonard Skutnik was his name. And since then, this tradition of having a Skutnik, as they're called here, has been going on for years and years, and now the opposition party has their Skutniks as well.

I know Pres. Trump will have some individuals whose families have been victimized by undocumented immigrants who have committed heinous crimes. In addition, some Democrats, their Skutniks are individuals, there were two teenagers, for example, whose mother was deported for the act of faking a social security number is now in Mexico on her birthday. So people in politics reaching out to individuals who illustrate the policies and positions they hold dear.

BLITZER: Yeah, this will be the first time that we will see the first lady, the new first lady of the United States, Melania Trump walk in for this important occasion, and this will be something that we will all watch very, very closely to see how she deals with her respective guests, including Jessica Davis, and Susan Oliver, widows of Detective Michael Davis, Deputy Sheriff Danny Oliver who were killed in 2014 in the line of duty in Sacramento.

Also, one of their guest Jamiel Shaw Sr. his son Jamiel Jr., 17 year old high school football star, was killed in 2012 by an undocumented immigrant. So we will see that.

There's the first lady.

TAPPER: The first lady of the United States. The second first lady in United States history to have been born in another country.

BLITZER: We saw Ivanka Trump and Jared her husband in there as well. Manu, you're up there, right? Manu Raju, I think he's inside the gallery.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yeah, that's right. Wolf Blitzer, I'm sitting right by where Melanie Trump has just walks in with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump right behind them. We're expecting as part of the president and first lady's guests, it includes some victims who have been victimized by illegal immigrant killing of police officers in California, two widows who were victimized by that attack, as well as the widow of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a part of the guests was exactly (ph) five people that the first lady and the president are bringing in.

But right now, a pretty raucous reception here in this room on the Republican side. But on the Democratic side, Wolf, not many Democrats are cheering right now for Melania Trump, many just watching politely, but that really rolling -- we're seeing that from Republicans right now, a sign that the president's speech may be received in a more partisan manner with Republicans sitting up one side ...

BLITZER: There's Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, her husband, Manu ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, the president's cabinet.

BLITZER: These are members of the president's cabinet who have already been confirmed by the United States Senate. There are other members of the prospective cabinet who have not yet confirmed ...

TAPPER: Secretary of States, Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Elaine Chow who is the Transportation Secretary and it turns out the (inaudible), the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.


BLITZER: Dana Bash is up on the hill for us as well. Dana, you have some more information?

BASH: That's right. As the cabinet is walking in, I can report to you that the designated survivor of the cabinet official is known who did not come is David Shulkin, he is the newly confirmed V.A. Secretary. He is the person who the Trump administration designated to not come tonight, to be outside the Capitol in the case of an emergency. That comes to me from a senior administration official. So, that's -- an interesting choice, because he is somebody who is widely respected and liked by Democrats and Republicans.

BLITZER: Yeah, there we see members of the cabinet, including Sec. Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, there's Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, Jake, who is of course the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

TAPPER: That's right. And we saw earlier Ivanka Trump sitting with her husband Jared Kushner. Jared Kushner who is senior adviser to the president but not sitting with his fellow White House staff, he's sitting with his wife and the members of the Trump family who are here. Some of the other members of the Trump family are not here, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump who are running the family business. I believe they are in Vancouver for a hotel opening this evening.