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Post-State of the Union Analysis; Democratic Response

Aired January 31, 2006 - 22:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And so the president wraps up his speech, Paula. About 51, 52 minutes, the president interrupted repeatedly, mostly by Republicans but very often by Democrats as well as he made several important points including the need to get the United States and the American people less addicted to oil in his words.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The president clearly playing to a strength tonight. That is on the issue of national security where he has enjoyed considerable leads over Democrats until recently. But this speech being done at a time when you have the public increasingly critical of the war, with some Americans, majority of Americans actually asking for American troops to come out of Iraq.

It will be interesting to see whether this turns anything around for the president. These certainly are things we've heard him talk about before, fiercely defending NSA wiretapping, but we also have to be honest that the Democrats, according to polls, have not given the American public a unified voice or any alternatives to really consider here.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Ten days ago the president's political guru Karl Rove told the Republicans we're going to run this campaign on national security. They won mid terms in 2002 on that issue. I think they won the presidential election largely on it.

The strongest part of the president's speech was defending the controversial warrantless wiretaps where he used the same kind of approach he's used in this field before. I'm going to protect this country. I'm not going to let us sit back to get hit again. We've protected the country from future terrorist attacks. By implications, my critics will not be as strong on this issue.

The other thing I'd mention is the other huge applause line from Republicans came when the president's cited the confirmation of Justices Roberts and Alito. That to me more than anything else was the most significant event today, the swearing in of Alito, because it told the conservative base that has been with him from the beginning, I really am your guy, forget Harriet Miers.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, what did you think?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If somebody had said to me what kind of speech do you think the president is going to give tonight? I would I have said I think he's going to give speech. He's going to talk mostly, more than half the speech was over terrorism, Iran, Iraq, foreign policy. The rest of it was sort-of paragraphs around other things.

But they billed it as something different, which is interesting to me. They billed this speech as he's going to talk about health care, the things that really matter to the American people. Not that Iraq doesn't matter. But we were led to believe he was wants to do something on domestic policy. We all said how, he has no money and his poll numbers are low. But it is striking to me that this is the speech I would expect him to give.

His administration rises and falls on Iraq and foreign policy.

BLITZER: John King?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How much he has trimmed his sails. This is a president that came into office after a contested election, had the biggest tax cuts, sweeping tax cuts, since Ronald Reagan.

He hoped to move from that to Social Security reform and then to overwhelming tax overhaul, a simpler tax system. 9/11 obviously interrupted him. You have a more humbled George Bush with much more modest initiatives tonight.

I spoke to somebody who was in the room with him earlier today, he said that he understands this is not revolutionary and he likes to be revolutionary, but the president knows he has to play small ball. That's a baseball term. The president knows that's what he has to do because of his weaker political standing.

BLITZER: Let's quickly get the assessment of our White House correspondent, Dana Bash. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you heard Candy say that the White House did talk about the fact that the president would mention domestic initiatives, but they also were trying to give us a sense that he is going to try to connect with the American people and perhaps in the whole refrain of keeping America competitive and also the refrain towards the end a hopeful society.

Those are two ways that the White House hoped the president was going to try to let the American people know that he understands that they are feeling not so good about the way things are going and to talk about, particularly on what they're calling here the competitiveness agenda, about the fact that he does understand that it's important for the United States to keep a leading role.

It's sort of a cheerleader kind of thing without giving specific initiatives. That's what you heard the president do tonight.

BLITZER:: As the president shakes hands and greets various members of The House and Senate as he walks out, we're standing by. We want to remind our viewers, Paula, that the Democrats will have their moment, a few moments at least, the response, the newly-elected governor of Virginia. You met with him today, Tim Kaine.

ZAHN: A lot of questions were asked why he was the one chosen to deliver the response, a man after all who has only been in office some 18 days.

The House Minority Leader said for a very good reason. He's symbolic of a Democrat who was able to win in a red state. This is a guy who has been very successful in gaining bipartisan support for various projects he's taken on. He conceded to us today in a briefing that while he will not talk specifics about Iraq tonight, because he didn't think that was appropriate, he certainly will pose some very pointed questions about the prosecution of this war.

GREENFIELD: I want to come back to one point that both John and Candy made. A year ago, fresh from his re-election, the president threw down a very bold notion. We're going to actually radically change Social Security. It obviously did not fly.

His proposal tonight was to create a commission on entitlements. Now, weather Democrats or Republicans do it, the general feeling I've always had is that announcing you're going to form a presidential commission is about the least dramatic, most typically let's-kick-the- can-down-the-road-a-little-bit, move you can do. And to go from a bold, I'm-going-to-touch-that-third-rail, to the standard Washington response of let's have a commission, may, John and Candy, be a measure of what you folks were talking about, the difference in what the president is going for domestically.

CROWLEY: He's out of money, literally, and out of political capital. This is a difficult box for him to maneuver in terms of domestic policy. Let me add about Tim Kaine. I talked to someone today who was in on the final decision. I said what was it, why him? And they said, listen, the clinching thing was, he is willing to talk openly about his faith and his values. Really important for Democrats.

KING: He's not from Washington. Whether you're a Democrat or Republican, the American people don't like Washington right now.

ZAHN: I was struck by a couple of points that I thought the president tried to achieve tonight. On one hand calling on Congress to work together on specific issues, and yet a little bit later on the speech saying, quote, yet there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure.

GREENFIELD: He needs to challenge his critics on Iraq because he needs to turn the volume of the Iraq debate down. His numbers started to sink when the Democrats started to get emboldened, when the Iraq war critics got emboldened. John Murtha gave them more standing, although any questioned his plan to bring the troops home immediately. But if the president has to turn this around, the president has to get people feeling better about Iraq and better about their health, economics, security. To do that he has to scare the critics to quite down. BLITZER: The president, one of his major themes was the United States must remain engaged internationally, cannot build barriers, can't become protectionists, must be internationalist, has to avoid this isolationism, which is popular among many conservatives, many Republicans and some Democrats, as well. It was a challenge that he threw out, Jeff Greenfield, to Democrats and Republicans.

GREENFIELD: It's -- there is an isolationist strain in America that goes back to George Washington's farewell address. It rises and falls with different parties. But you know, he also had to defend elections in the most recent elections haven't looked so good. The Palestinian Authority and Iran.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to stand by. The Democratic response, the governor of Virginia Tim Kaine, we'll bring that to you right after this short break.


BLITZER: We're back in THE SITUATION ROOM waiting for the Democratic response to the president's State of the Union address. We just heard the president a short while ago promising to stay on the offensive in the war on terror and outlining what he call as better path for America's economic future.

ZAHN: And Virginia's brand new Democratic governor Tim Kaine, in the job for all of 18 days, will take issue with the president's vision for the nation. He is due to speak shortly from the Governor's Mansion in Richmond. When that happens we will go to him live. In the meantime?

BLITZER: Let's go to CNN's Anderson Cooper, he's up on the hill. Anderson, I'm curious on your thoughts, you were from your vantage point up there.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Obviously the president talking about a lot of policies, a lot of proposed projects. Whether or not he is actually able to deliver on any of them, as we all know from past State of the Unions, often presidents come forward proposing an awful lot of things.

As you pointed out, Wolf, this president does not have the money or the political capital to deliver on a number of them. I've been reading a lot of blogs during the president's speech. A lot of them pointing to his term the U.S. is addicted to foreign oil from places in the world that are very unstable.

He put forward a number of proposals to try to wean the United States off that. But he's done that in just about every State of the Union and the addiction certainly remains, Wolf.

ZAHN: One thing, Anderson, that I was fascinated by was clearly the president had one eye on setting the agenda, another firmly-placed on the mid term elections and issues, obviously the Republican party thinks will bring out the voters. BLITZER: We're going to hear within the few seconds from the newly-elected Democratic governor of Virginia. He was designated to deliver the Democratic response. This is a very important statement for the Democrats and it's symbolic they asked governor Kaine to deliver it. He's going to be speaking from the executive mansion in Richmond.

GOV. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: My fellow Americans, good evening.

I'm Tim Kaine, the governor of the commonwealth of Virginia. And it's an honor tonight to give the Democratic response to President Bush on behalf of my commonwealth, my fellow Democratic governors and the Democratic Party.

I worked as a missionary when I was a young man and I learned to measure my life by the difference I can make in someone else's life.

Coretta Scott King embodied that value. And tonight, as a nation, we mourn her passing.

Our faith and values teach us that there's no higher calling than serving others.

Our federal government should serve the American people. But that mission is frustrated by this administration's poor choices and bad management.

Families in the Gulf Coast see that as they wait to rebuild their lives. Americans who lose their jobs see that as they look to rebuild their careers. And our soldiers in Iraq see that as they try to rebuild a nation.

As Americans, we do great things when we work together. Some of our leaders in Washington seem to have forgotten that.

I want to offer some good news tonight: There is a better way.

In Virginia -- and other states -- we're moving ahead by focusing on service, competent management and results. It's all about bringing people together to find common-sense solutions to our common problems.

That's how we in Virginia earned the ranking of America's "Best Managed State."

You know, no matter what political philosophy you hold or what state you call home, you have a right to expect that your government can deliver results.

When there's a crime or a fire, you expect that police and firefighters have the tools to respond. When there's a natural disaster, you expect a well-managed response. When you send your children to school, you expect them to be prepared for success. And, you have a right to expect government to be fiscally responsible, pay the bills and live within its means.

Tonight we heard the president again call to make his tax policies permanent, despite his administration's failure to manage our staggering national debt.

Over the past five years, we've gone from huge surpluses to massive deficits.

Now, no parent makes their child pay the mortgage bill.

Why should we allow this administration to pass down the bill for its reckless spending to our children and grandchildren?

There's a better way.

Two years ago in Virginia, Democrats and Republicans worked together to reform our budget.

By focusing on results, we were able to keep the budget balanced, preserve our strong credit rating and protect the essential services that families rely on: education, health care, law enforcement.

States all across this country are doing this right now, as the federal government falls further and further into debt.

Think about what's occurring in education.

The administration's No Child Left Behind Act is wreaking havoc on local school districts.

Despite the insistence of Democrats in Congress that the program should be funded as promised, the administration has opposed full funding and is refusing to let states try innovative alternatives.

Now the Republican leadership in Washington is actually cutting billions of dollars from the student loan programs that serve working families, helping to get their children through college.

There's a better way.

Last year, governors from across the country worked together in a bipartisan fashion to reform the senior year of high school to make it serve our students better.

Many states are working to make high-quality pre-kindergarten accessible to every family.

Congressional Democrats have a plan to educate 100,000 new engineers, scientists and mathematicians in the next four years.

And in Virginia, Democrats and Republicans alike worked together to make record investments in education.

The results: more accredited schools, better student test scores.

Look at what's happening in health care. Skyrocketing costs are hurting small businesses and pushing millions of working Americans into the ranks of the uninsured. The White House has made efforts to cut Medicaid funds for our most vulnerable citizens. Our seniors were promised that the new federal Medicare drug plan would make it easier and cheaper to obtain their medication.

Instead, many have fallen victim to the program's poor planning. They find getting their medicine to be more complex, more expensive and less reliable.

There's a better way.

Health care reforms have to focus on making the system serve consumers better. Many states, following the lead of Illinois, have set up simple ways to help seniors purchase safe, American-made prescription drugs from other countries at a fraction of the price they would pay here.

And the administration actually fought against that Democratic effort.

In Virginia, we've worked to provide health insurance coverage for nearly 140,000 children who weren't covered four years ago.

And Republicans and Democrats alike have come together to fight the administration's efforts to slash Medicaid and push more costs onto the states.

The president called again tonight for our commitment to win the war on terror and to support our troops. Every American embraces those goals. We can -- we must -- defeat those who attack and kill innocent people.

While the images of the World Trade Center are seared in the minds of all Americans, so too are the memories of those who died on sacred ground here in Virginia in the attack on the Pentagon.

Our commitment to winning the war on terror compels us to ask this question: Are the president's policies the best way to win this war?

We now know that the American people were given inaccurate information about reasons for invading Iraq.

We now know that our troops in Iraq were not given the best body armor or the best intelligence.

We now know the administration wants to cut tens of thousands of troops from the Army Reserves and the National Guard at the very time that we're facing new and dangerous threats.

And we now know that the administration wants to further reduce military and veterans' benefits.

There's a better way.

Working together, we have to give our troops the tools they need to win the war on terror. And we can do it without sacrificing the liberty that we've sent our troops abroad to defend.

Our support has to begin here at home.

That's why we in Virginia -- Democrats and Republicans -- have reformed and enhanced our Department of Veterans Services to help our veterans and their family members access the federal benefits that they've earned.

And we're working to provide state re-enlistment bonuses to honor those Virginians who stay in service to commonwealth and country.

When it comes to energy, Americans are using more than ever, paying more for it, and are more dependent on the Middle East than ever before.

There's a better way.

Last summer, I joined Democrats in Washington and in other states and called on oil companies to share in our sacrifice and return some of their record-breaking excess profits.

Democrats at both the state and national levels are leading the way on energy reforms, calling for greater public investments for alternative, advanced energy technologies. These investments will promote energy independence, boost the nation's economy, create jobs and strengthen national security.

The failure of the federal government to implement and enforce a rational immigration policy has resulted in a confusing patchwork of state and local efforts.

Of course, we should welcome those who seek to lawfully join and contribute to our American family -- and we must.

But at the same time, we have to ensure that our homeland defense efforts begin with consistent federal action to protect our borders.

The administration is falling behind in other critical areas: preserving the environment, keeping our workplaces safe, protecting family farms, keeping jobs in America.

Our communities are then left to deal with the challenges and the consequences of these federal failures without a reliable partner.

But we managed to find a better way.

The better way is to focus on service. It's about measuring what we do in terms of real results for real people.

It's not about partisanship or political spin. It's about protecting the rights endowed by our creator, fulfilling the principle of equality set out in our Declaration of Independence, and ensuring that the light of liberty shines on every American.

If we want to replace the division that's been gripping our nation's capital, we need a change. Democrats are leading that reform effort, working to restore honesty and openness to our government, working to replace a culture of partisanship and cronyism with an ethic of service and results.

Our greatest need is for America to heal its partisan wounds and become one people. You know, those are words Thomas Jefferson expressed after he was elected president. And they ring as true today as they did in 1800.

Tonight we pray, earnestly and humbly, for that healing and for the day when service returns again as the better way to a new national politics.

We ask all Americans to join us in that effort because, together, America can do better.

Thank you for listening, and God bless the United States of America.


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