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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Haiti's Orphans At Risk for Trafficking; Obama's First Year
Aired January 26, 2010 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, thousands of children are lost, left without parents or families, many living on the streets or in camps. New fears in Haiti that vulnerable orphans are going to be targeted for illegal adoptions or child trafficking, possibly even being used as servants, even sex slaves.
What's being done?
Plus, all eyes focus on the president's first State of the Union address -- a 49 percent approval rating. A do or die vote over his health care bill and questions over whether a $787 billion stimulus is working.
Can he convince an increasingly anxious country that he's getting the job done?
We'll talk about it next on LARRY KING LIVE.
A program reminder before we swing into things. Tomorrow night is the State of the Union address. It will begin at 9:00, preempting us. So we'll be on at midnight and 6:00 p.m. Pacific time. And among our guests will be Senator John McCain.
So LARRY KING LIVE will be at midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific tomorrow night, following the State of the Union and CNN's political team discussing the State of the Union.
We're going to go to Haiti.
And we begin with Christiane Amanpour, our chief international correspondent and the host of "AMANPOUR," seen every Sunday and it's -- and over the weekend, in fact, Saturdays and Sundays on CNN -- Christiane, you just got there this week.
What's your overview of this, after a two week occurrence that has developed into a nightmare?
What's your read?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST, CNN'S "AMANPOUR": Well, the thing is it, it's getting better, if you can say that, in certain instances. Obviously, we've heard, since the earthquake struck, of all the difficulties getting the food, supplies and medications out to the people. That is getting better, whether it's here in Port-au-Prince or out in Jacmel, on the southern Caribbean coast, or in Leogane.
The military operation to try to facilitate the airlifts, to provide security and to get the supplies out is expanding.
But it's still not enough to meet the needs of every single person. And right now, the big issue for many people is still getting enough food and clean water, although many individuals -- many people here in Haiti, many businesses are doing their best, also, to give free food and water.
But the big issue is shelter, because so many of the buildings, certainly in Port-au-Prince, have been either destroyed or damaged. And what they want is huge kind of industrial strength tents, like we see in many other disaster areas, where the U.N. and other organizations come in and put up these huge, green tents where whole families can be live, where there can be sanitation, where it can be hooked up to water. There's a million people or so who need homes. And people are worried about what happens when the rainy season sets in and what happens when the hurricane season sets in. And just to give these people some shelter and someplace to live.
KING: Christiane, if the word normal can be used -- I don't know if it can be used -- when -- when can things be back to an approximation of normal in Haiti?
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, in every disaster, the most incredible thing is how small pockets exhibit traits of normality so quickly. So that in this city, right now, the traffic is congested. Right now, in many parts, along many roads, commerce is -- is freeing up, whether it's the people who sit on the side of the roads making, selling or -- or baking food and selling that, as well, whatever it might be.
But on the -- on the whole, this is a major emergency situation and, therefore, it is nowhere near normal, whether it's in -- in shelter, as I said; whether it's in getting enough food or water; whether it's in the government being able to function and show it's in charge and get its message out; whether it's for the children, who have no school. School just stopped the day of the earthquake. Hundreds of schools around the country -- the three main universities, colleges -- were either damaged or destroyed. And according to the education minister, this education system is in total collapse.
So children, many of whom have been separated from their families, either because their parents have died or because they don't know where they are, many, many are left alone, traumatized. They have, really, no recourse -- they can't even go to school, because school isn't open -- to have some kind of familiar surroundings, some kind of -- of way of soothing their stress and giving them, at least, a sense of normality.
So it's going to take months and months and months to get out just of the emergency phase. And then you have the major reconstruction and development phase. And that's what people here are hoping will come -- come true and come forth, according to all the promises that have been made to them, even after the cameras leave.
KING: You're an expert on governance and how they operate or fail to operate.
How is the government of Haiti operating?
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, so much has been said about their lack of capacity even before the earthquake. It's not a sound state, Haiti. There's an elected government. It's a fragile state. Over the last several years, it was beginning to make progress in -- in association with the United States, which had really had been looking at Haiti for the last year. More businesses were coming here. There was more investment. One of the main industries, which is the garment industry, was beginning to really thrive. It was, as we say, on the verge of thriving.
There's special U.S. Congressional legislation, which allowed, you know, tariff-free -- duty-free imports of clothes into the United States. It's a big boon for -- for employment here and -- and for the economy here. That now has to get back on its feet again.
The government -- its buildings -- were collapsed. Many, many members of the government were killed. It's -- it's barely reconstituted itself in a former police headquarters near the airport. And the big complaint, though, is that the government is not showing to the people that it's in charge, that it's not getting out there and delivering its message.
I spoke to a former Haitian prime minister who said that on the day of the earthquake or afterwards, I would have asked the United States or the international donors to give me six huge tents, put them outside of the destroyed and damaged presidential palace, let the people know that we're here, we're operating, we have a situation room...
AMANPOUR: We can tell people what we have to do, divide the city up into sectors and look like we're in charge and actually do things. That -- that hasn't actually happened yet.
KING: And that's Christiane Amanpour on the scene in Haiti.
Thank you so much.
There is nothing more important in our lives than children, isn't it -- aren't there?
Nothing. Well, with possibly thousands of children left without parents or families, there is a growing concern that Haiti's orphans are at risk for -- get this -- child trafficking.
Who's protecting them?
Find out, when we come back.
KING: Joining us now to talk about the risk of child trafficking and abduction in Haiti after the earthquake, Lisa Laumann, associate vice president for child protection at Save The Children. Also, Maggie Boyer. She's communications director for World Vision in Haiti.
And CNN's own Anderson Cooper.
All right, Lisa, how worried are we about child trafficking in this tragedy?
LISA LAUMANN, SAVE THE CHILDREN: Well, Larry, we were worried about and we -- and we're worried now. I will say that there are a lot of stories out there -- a lot of rumors and a number of organizations -- UNICEF, Save The Children, World Vision -- are trying to follow them up. To date, we haven't really found evidence that any of these stories are true, but that doesn't mean that children are not at risk.
So we think it's very important that -- that all humanitarian actors remain very vigilant.
KING: Maggie, it is quite a danger, isn't it, since so many children are scattered around, we don't know if their parents are living or dead.
They're certainly open to this, aren't they?
MAGGIE BOYER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, WORLD VISION: That is correct, Larry. Before the quake, there were about 380,000 children labeled orphans in Haiti. And you can imagine that number has increased since the quake. So World Vision is certainly mindful of that number and working very hard to keep a track -- to keep track of those children and -- and -- and ensure their well-being.
KING: Maggie, by the way, is coming to us via that Skype gadget, which is amazing how it works -- Anderson Cooper, have you seen any evidence of this at all in your reporting?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We've looked into it. We were given a heads up on two allegations -- two stories that were floating around. UNICEF kind of turned us onto them. We investigated both of them. They did not -- we did not get any evidence of any kind of trafficking in those two incidents. We've certainly talked to UNICEF and Save The Children, who say they are clearly on the lookout. And what's really important, Larry, is that now, a lot of these organizations really want to start tracking, to try and get their -- their hands around how many orphans there really are, who really is an orphan, who may have other family members that they're just separated from, who want to take care of them.
But we also saw this in the wake of the tsunami in Sri Lanka. There were a lot of concerns and a lot of rumors about child trafficking. We investigated those. It was very hard to find actual evidence of it.
But, Larry, Haiti does have a history of not just child trafficking internationally or going to the Dominican Republic, but also internally. But kids are sold, often, or given by poor families to other families living in the city. And those kids will -- will grow up as domestic servants working for a family. So that's something that's a form of trafficking, which happens right here in Haiti and it happened long before the earthquake.
KING: Lisa, how -- how does trafficking work?
Give us the modus operandi.
LAUMANN: Well, it's difficult to say, obviously, because it's a -- a clandestine form of activity. But often, traffickers are people who are known in communities. They develop relationships. Often, the kind of trafficking that happened in -- in places like Haiti, the brestovac (ph) or restavec (ph), in French, stay with phenomenon is something that happens when a family feels that it can't care for its children adequately and it sends them to what it presumes to be a wealthier family in another area to provide domestic service in exchange for food and shelter and clothes and possibly an education.
What happens often, however, is that the terms of -- of the child's living there are not very well -- they're not monitored at all. They're not very well established. And children are often treated harshly. Sometimes there's violence. Sometimes they're not provided the entitlements that they think they're entitled to. And sometimes they're sexually abused.
Often, they are -- they are caused to leave those families before they turn 15, which is the age at which they should be legally paid. And then they go on the streets.
KING: And how much -- how much sexual slavery, Maggie, is involved in this?
BOYER: You know, I think when children are abandoned or separated from their families and not in the care and affection of their -- of their parents, they are exposed to all kinds of dangers, including sexual exploitation, which, of course, is -- is not unheard of in -- in Haiti. We have seen some statistics suggesting that up to maybe a third of our young women, especially in the city (ph), do suffer some kind of sexual violence.
So it is -- it is -- it is a danger here, even before the quake. And there is no reason to think that those numbers have -- have decreased.
KING: Anderson, how do we know an orphan is an orphan?
When you see a little child on the street there, how do you know if the parents are living, what the situation is?
Is the father living, the mother dead?
How do you know?
COOPER: Well, you don't really know. I mean you -- you can talk to them, but oftentimes they are simply separated and they will tell you, you know, I heard my mother died, but I don't know. I mean, people just disappear here, Larry, in the earthquake. You know, a mother goes out to buy something at the store, the store collapsed on her, the child hasn't seen her, but has heard through -- through stories that she's dead.
So there really needs to be a system in place. I know UNICEF is working on it; Save The Children, as well. I'm sure the Red Cross will be involved in trying to identify and -- and basically catalog all these unaccompanied minors out there, with the aim of reuniting them with parents, if parents are out there; reuniting them with other family members; or figuring out you know what, these kids really are orphans and will need some sort of an orphanage here or some sort of international adoption.
KING: We'll take a break.
When we come back, we'll ask if -- if adoptions maybe are taking place that shouldn't be adoptions.
Don't go away.
KING: Lisa, is it possible that a lot of children are being adopted haphazardly?
LAUMANN: Larry, we don't actually know. We know that some children have left Haiti already to go to other countries. I understand that the children who have come to the United States so far were children who were in the process of adoption and so far along, that there was almost no question or no question at all about what their status should be.
I think the -- the concern now is that we not rush to adoption and that we not rush to the assumption that these children don't have parents or don't have extended families that might want to care for them. Adoption may be an important and necessary option for them down the line, but it's -- but the first thing that we need to do is -- is make sure that if they have family that is out there, if there are neighbors and community members who want to and have the capacity to care for them ethically and responsibly, that we're -- that we're in a position to let that happen before it's too late.
KING: Maggie, I know that you met with the president and first lady of Haiti.
Did you discuss the possibility of this problem with them?
BOYER: Larry, I did have the honor of meeting the president and the first lady this morning. And I did have the -- the opportunity to bring up to them World Focus' concern -- World Vision's concern with the well-being of children.
And I am glad to report that the first lady was already aware of that and is working on an initiative. And World Vision is looking forward to perhaps assisting with them over the coming weeks and days, especially the first lady's office, about this initiative concerning children.
And, Larry, can I just add one more thing?
BOYER: Just one of my colleagues from earlier, the Haitian prime minister had, in his daily meeting with heads of agencies, he made it very clear, in no uncertain terms, a couple of days ago, that any hasty adoptions are not likely to succeed. The government has granted some expedited adoptions, but those were already in process and they were done on formal requests from -- from embassies here.
So I -- I do think the government is aware of the danger of hasty adoptions, though the impulse is certainly understood. And I don't mean to impugn those who would want to -- to do that. I understand the impulse of wanting to help children.
But just to clarify, the government is aware of this problem and is very, very much on task about not allowing that to happen.
KING: Anderson, I'm trying to get a picture of this.
Are there a lot of children just running loose?
COOPER: You come across kids all the time who are identified as being on the run. You go to General Hospital -- I met a little boy named Johnny who was five years old, didn't know his last name. The nurse there told me he had no one watching over him. She was particularly keeping an eye on him.
I met a restovac (ph) girl in another hospital out by the airport. I was in a church. They had about 20 kids who they identified as orphans. They had made a list telling me all these kids were up for adoption. It was very unclear whether they wanted some orphanage here to adopt them or -- or, I mean, there was even an indication they were willing to let me just these kids.
So there's a lot of kind of kids kind of floating around in odd -- ad-hoc groups, with maybe some adults -- some locals looking after them. But they really need to be watched over in a much more, you know, organized setting by -- by international groups, by Haitian orphanages and really get a -- a sense of how many there are and exactly what their needs are.
KING: Thank you all very much.
The State of the Union is coming up tomorrow night. All eyes will be on President Obama. He gives his first State of the Union speech.
What is he going to say, what should he say?
An outstanding panel to discuss it, right after this.
KING: Joining us now to discuss President Obama's first State of the Union speech, Ben Stein, the economist and former presidential speechwriter, also a columnist for "Fortune" magazine.
Penn Jillette, the magician, actor, author, producer and well known libertarian. There he is.
Tanya Acker, political analyst and Huffington Post contributor.
And Stephanie Miller, host of "The Stephanie Miller Show" on the radio.
OK, Obama is going to propose a partial freeze. He's announced that already. He'll discuss it, I guess, at length tomorrow night.
What do you make of it, Ben?
BEN STEIN, ECONOMIST, COLUMNIST, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Well, I've seen it before. I've seen it many, many times before. It amounts to a rather small fraction of the federal budget. The -- that cat is already out of the bag. The deficit is going to grow and grow and grow and grow unless they raise taxes by repealing the Bush tax cuts.
I'd like to see -- I think he's going to have to repeal the Bush tax cuts. And, frankly, I don't see any way out of this, basically, except inflating away the deficit. It's just a real crisis. Both Republicans and Democrats got us into it.
KING: Penn, what do you make of it?
PENN JILLETTE, LIBERTARIAN: Well, I'm -- I'm really looking forward to hearing a speech by someone who is involved in innovation, knows America's place in the -- in the world market and has fiscal responsibility. And I hope that Obama is listening very carefully when Steve Jobs speaks tomorrow.
I don't -- I don't know. I mean, it seems we're in big trouble. And the good news is that it seems the American people are realizing that when -- when you're in debt horribly, that maybe it's best to stop spending a little bit.
KING: President Obama, Tanya, dismissed John McCain during the campaign when McCain proposed a freeze. Obama said it would be like taking a hatchet instead of a scapel -- a scalpel, rather.
Here's what McCain had to say today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that the president understands now how serious this problem is and that it requires hatchets and scalpels. It requires a hatchet to bring it under control and it requires a scalpel to eliminate the wasteful and unnecessary spending.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And John McCain will be with us tomorrow night when we follow all of the following, following the State of the Union. We'll be on at midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific.
All right, Tanya, what do you make of all this?
TANYA ACKER, POLITICAL ANALYST, CONTRIBUTOR, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Well, I mean, look, I think the president is certainly bending to a political reality, which is that people now are as concerned about this issue as they are about anything else on the domestic agenda. During the campaign, certainly, people were really worried about health care. They were worried, frankly, about a lot of the things that a now very much endangered health care bill, I think, would have spoken to.
But right now, they're worried about dollars. They're worried about unemployment. They're worried about a deficit and the long-term consequences of that on the economy. I think that it's important that the president be responsive to that.
KING: Stephanie, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, everyone is hitting at the president, who retains his popularity base, by the way. But last night on this show, Robert Reich, the secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, said a freeze right now makes absolutely no sense.
How do you respond to that?
STEPHANIE MILLER, HOST, "THE STEPHANIE MILLER SHOW": Well, I got called a chirpy apologist for the president today on my radio show, Larry. But once again, I have a love/hate relationship with Ben Stein.
First of all, we, Republicans and Democrats, did not get us into this deficit. The Bush administration got us into this deficit. But I agree with Ben, significant reduction is going to require tax cuts. The -- the rich are going to have to pay their fair share, like they did under Reagan...
KING: You mean tax increases.
MILLER: ...your hero is Reagan and Eisenhower...
STEIN: You mean tax increases.
MILLER: ...where the tax rates...
KING: You mean tax increases.
MILLER: ...were much, much higher.
MILLER: You know, so...
STEIN: You said tax increases.
KING: You said tax cuts.
You mean tax increases, right?
MILLER: Tax increases, yes.
MILLER: I'm talking about the top 1 percent paying their fair share.
KING: All right.
MILLER: And I'm saying, Larry, that, you know, under their conservative heroes, Reagan and Eisenhower, the tax rates were much higher. So, yes, I'm a little -- I've had it kind of up to here with the bipartisanship. I think we've got -- we've gotten nothing from Republicans. And, you know, I agree with you...
MILLER: ...I think he keeps trying. And, you know, I think to have significant deficit reduction, which I think we need, you're going to have to have the rich pay their fair share.
KING: Do you think the president is going rightward, Ben?
STEIN: I think he's going rightward...
KING: To the right?
STEIN: ...after the election in Massachusetts. But I'm sorry to say I agree with your friend and mine, Robert Reich, that we are still in a very serious recession. I think any gesture toward cutting off federal stimulus at this particular juncture is a mistake. This economy is very weak. It needs all the stimulus it can get.
KING: Penn, why is the election of one senator in Massachusetts calling all -- causing all this upheaval?
JILLETTE: Well, I don't know. You know, I'm -- I'm from Massachusetts and I was there when they voted for McGovern instead of Nixon. And I think here, they're maybe seeing that putting through a absolutely -- an indescribable health care thing, with a lot of added taxes to the middle class, is probably not a good idea. And I think that maybe American citizens know more than politicians about what you should do when you're deeply, deeply in debt -- and that's stop spending money.
MILLER: But, Penn, it...
KING: Tanya, he's going to...
MILLER: It's going to...
KING: ...is he going to...
MILLER: ...it's going to cause deficit reduction. The health care plan is going to reduce the deficit.
JILLETTE: Well, I know...
STEIN: The deficit is going to reduce the deficit because they were going to raise taxes on rich people, which is not necessarily a bad idea. But it will -- that was -- that was going to reduce the deficit.
ACKER: But that's actually not the only thing that the health care plan does. I mean, just to step back for a second to talk about Massachusetts.
Yes, Scott Brown ran a magnificent campaign. Yes, Martha Coakley ran a terrible campaign. But, you know, the notion that somehow this suggests that the entire country has shifted I think is just not exactly accurate.
MILLER: That's right.
ACKER: I think that what we need to do is to (INAUDIBLE)...
JILLETTE: But isn't that Obama that believes that?
ACKER: I mean, and well, hang on a second...
KING: One at a time.
KING: One at a...
KING: Let her finish.
ACKER: One second. One second. One second. We forget that there were tens and tens of millions of people who, on election day, notwithstanding the enthusiasm a lot of us had for this president and this administration, there were tens of millions of people who said that they wanted Sarah Palin to be the number two person with her finger on the button.
So the idea -- yes, this president has always had some opposition. They're very mobilized now. And I think that he is going to have to mobilize. And I agree with Stephanie. You know, the time for bipartisanship may be past. He's going to have to set his own agenda.
KING: More on this when we...
MILLER: And hold...
KING: ...when we come back.
MILLER: And hold that (INAUDIBLE).
KING: Don't go away.
Hold it, hold it, hold it.
We'll be right back.
KING: Stephanie, as a liberal, do you have a fear that your president is now a centrist?
MILLER: Yes, I do. I was going to say that the polls back up what we've just been talking about in Massachusetts. This was not about health care reform. They have health care in Massachusetts, which Scott Brown voted for. This was about we don't want to pay for the rest of the country's. That's the way he successfully framed that issue.
So the fact that the media has picked up this story, this is a rejection, they did poll by poll, that I just went through today, Larry, on my show. This was not about rejecting Democratic policies or health care reform. I think we're taking the wrong message.
A year ago, Larry, the public was very clearly behind health care reform with a strong public option. I think what's happened is the president has lost control of the debate and allowed the Republicans to lie about it and to frame the issue and to scare people. And he's got to take that back tomorrow night.
KING: Penn, what do you want to see him say tomorrow night? What do you want him to see?
JILLETTE: I just want to ask, if it doesn't show that, if Massachusetts doesn't show that, then why does Obama think it shows that? He's the one that's changing course. I didn't write the speech tonight. I'm not the one -- I mean, it's Obama himself that said --
STEIN: The "Wall Street Journal" had a detailed analysis of the vote, asking people in exit polls their motivations for voting as they did, and they said just the opposite of what Stephanie said, which is that health care was an incredibly important event for them, in their minds, and also they just didn't like the Obama program. I agree he's popular personally, but they don't like the Obama program.
ACKER: But they have the health care program that we're trying to get passed. And beyond that, you've got to look at who the voters were, who the voters were who were showing up at the polls, who was energized to show up at that election. It was Scott Brown's folks. He ran a great campaign. Martha Coakley, she slept. She fell asleep at the wheel. And now we're sort of taking her laziness as some sort of national referendum on a Democratic platform. And I think that's over-reaching.
KING: Penn, you were saying?
JILLETTE: I'm just saying I don't know what Stephanie means. It's Obama that's changed his course. It's not we saying he should change his course. He actually is. So apparently what he thought happened in Massachusetts is different from what you thought happened in Massachusetts. And I think he has a better view of it than you do.
MILLER: Well, I beg your pardon, you think he has some information I don't have?
JILLETTE: I think Obama might know more than you. I like him more than you.
MILLER: I beg your pardon.
JILLETTE: I'm sorry.
MILLER: I want to wait, Penn. I want to wait until tomorrow night and see exactly what the president is going to say. But I agree with you, I think the lesson from Massachusetts is that the health care bill is not liberal enough. The American people, in poll after poll, have wanted a robust public option. That's not in any of the bills anymore. That's been in every poll for a year.
STEIN: With respect, that is not the polls that I'm reading in the "Wall Street Journal" or the "New York Times." I question what polls you're reading there.
MILLER: Ben, for a year, 65 or 70 percent of the people have wanted a public option.
KING: What does America want?
STEIN: America wants a public health policy that covers very poor people, but does not disrupt life in America. They want the government to concentrate on jobs.
KING: They want no disruption, no sacrifice, and everybody's covered?
STEIN: I didn't say no sacrifice. In fact, I've said all along, on your show and many others, I'm perfectly fine on raising taxes on well-to-do people like Stephanie. But I'm very much against breaking up the whole barnyard.
KING: Where is the status -- my late friend Henry Lewin, in Las Vegas, used to say, money is not the only thing; health is three percent. Penn, what is the value of health? What does it mean that someone can't get a prescription? Isn't that a blight on the country?
JILLETTE: There is nothing more important than health. I don't think that anybody in this debate -- I haven't heard anybody say that people should be unhealthy and suffer and miserable. The question is, how do we help people? And there is more than one answer to that. And I think that you should always consider more freedom.
I think that maybe letting insurance companies sell across state lines, letting there be actual insurance with deductibles that are assignable, letting individuals have the same kind of tax breaks on insurance policies that they would have if they had it through their insurers, try to do other sorts of things. I don't think anyone is saying that people should just get sick and die, although that's a cool position.
STEIN: No one is saying that. The Republicans aren't saying that. The Republicans want health care for everyone, too. They just want --
KING: Never passed a bill in 75 years.
STEIN: Nixon proposed that in health care and the Democrats killed it.
MILLER: How do you get health care for everyone if there is no meaningful competition, if the insurance companies can do exactly what they've been doing now and there's no competition?
KING: We're going to discuss the stimulus package when we come back.
KING: Don't forget, all week long, CNN is breaking down how the 787 billion dollar stimulus money is being spent. We're calling it the Stimulus Project. You can get more in depth information about it all at CNN.com/Stimulus. What do you make of the stimulus, Ben? You're the economist on the panel.
STEIN: It doesn't seem to have produced much in the way of results. It must have produced some results. You can't spend that much money without it producing some results, but the results, let us say, to be charitable, have been difficult to measure.
Back to our friend Stephanie's point, a simple basic way to get health care for everybody and avoid the moral horror of people not being able to have health care is to write checks to people to be able to buy insurance policies. It's that simple.
KING: The Nixon plan.
STEIN: The Nixon plan.
KING: Back to the stimulus plan. Penn, do you think it's working?
JILLETTE: I don't know. I just don't think when you're in debt spending money is the right thing to do. I know that people are a lot smarter than me, but I don't think they're a lot smarter than everybody. I think letting individuals have that money back, not take it away in taxes and redistribute it, is a really good idea. I don't believe the government is smart enough to know where to put money.
ACKER: Except trickle-down economics does not work, has not worked, is responsible for great deficits. So I think the whole notion that all we do is let nobody pay taxes and the economy will rebound, I just think that's counter-factual.
In terms of whether or not this stimulus is working, and in terms of whether or not it will work in the long run, we all knew last year it was going to take time for some of that money to work its way through the system. Perhaps, if we really want to invest in the country, see about making a difference, we've got to realize, you don't always get -- things don't turn around in two months, three months, five months. Sometimes you've got to let things work through the system. So I think it's too early to say right now.
KING: Before Stephanie gets in, let me get a call in. Stephanie, you respond to it. Alexander in Louisiana. Hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry, how are you?
KING: Fine. What's your question.
CALLER: Here's my question. The president addresses health care and he's ridiculed. He gets the most discussion that there's been on health care in some 70 years. He addresses and tries to make attempts to reduce spending, and he's ridiculed on that as well. How does the president really move forward to create a win-win situation, so we can stop playing the blame game, and really get some change in America? What does he have to say tomorrow night to get everybody on the same page?
KING: Good question. Stephanie?
MILLER: Well, let me give you a little tip. No matter what he says, the Republicans will be against it. They've already written the speech. This is the problem. They have tried -- he has tried bipartisanship, Larry, for a year. This is my point. They have said -- they have said they want to break him politically. They are not going to give him any help.
And I agree, we're like kids in the back-seat on the stimulus. Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet? It is working. You're not going to turn this economy that George Bush left you around in a year. You're just not. It is working. And Ben's right, we can argue about how many jobs it's created, but it is working.
STEIN: All presidents get ridiculed. That's it. That comes with the territory. It's part of the job.
All presidents get ridiculed. That's the name of the job. You get ridiculed and some people love you and some people hate you.
KING: Will he get a big boost tomorrow night?
JILLETTE: What could Obama say that could make Stephanie not like him?
MILLER: What could he say that would make me what?
JILLETTE: What could Obama say that would make you not agree with him?
MILLER: He would have to come and pee on Larry's desk. I don't know.
JILLETTE: Absolutely, that's my point! I'd be all for him.
KING: They've taken us down to the dredges. They will be back, which shows you the kind of Chutzpah we have. David Gergen is standing by. He's advised many presidents. He worked for Lincoln. We'll ask about his advice for the president in his first State of the Union tomorrow.
John Avlon will be with us too, columnist of the "Daily Beast." All ahead.
KING: Now let's go to New York, John Avlon, columnist for the DailyBeast.com, and author of "Wingnuts, How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America," and in Boston, David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst and former presidential adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.
We'll start with David, who has been around many of these States of the Union. How important are they? How lasting are they? What effect do they have?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: First of all, Larry, it's hard to bounce off that report from Anderson Cooper and those pictures from Haiti, isn't it?
Larry, not many have been memorable. Occasionally, a president can find his footing when he's in trouble. Ronald Reagan, after two years in the White House, lost seats in his second year, and then came back in that next State of the Union and gave a strong rallying cry, and it really helped his presidency. Bill Clinton did the same thing after his first two years in office.
So there are times. I think this is -- for this president, this has to be a moment when he relaunches his presidency. Clearly, the CNN polls that are out today show we're a very divided country right now. A lot of that glow is gone. People aren't sure they want to follow him. There will be a lot of people who will tune him out tomorrow night, others won't give him the benefit of the doubt. Even so, he has this special moment, and it's the most important moment he's going to have this year to reframe his agenda of what he's trying to do as president and get people to rally behind him, and finally -- finally take charge as a leader.
KING: John Avlon, what are you expecting tomorrow night?
JOHN AVLON, "THE DAILY BEAST": I think we're going to see a president who is back and focused on a lot of the messages from the '08 campaign. Remember, he campaigned as someone who would transcend the old divides, left and right, black and white, red states and blue states. A lot of his actions have fallen short of those very high hopes people had.
He needs to reconnect with moderates and the middle class, the folks who determine who win or lose elections in this country. And I think one way he's going to do that is by talking about the deficit. Bill Clinton is the virtuoso master of the political pivot when it comes to State of the Union Addresses. He famously said, the era of big government is over in one of his State of the Unions. I thin President Obama should say the era of play to the base politics is over. He needs to send that message to really become a unifying figure again, and attract independents back to his cause.
KING: David, do you expect a big announcement tomorrow? Do you expect something that's going to be the headline Thursday morning?
GERGEN: There's no indication of that. The White House has been leaking out in very intentional ways aspects of this, help for the middle class, a freeze on some spending. Tonight, we learn there is going to be a freeze on salaries inside the White House, that sort of thing.
There is some talk about he may push tomorrow night for a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the military. That will be a surprise, because I think most people think the headline out of this speech is going to be about jobs and deficits. And so far, Larry, there's no indication that he's going to have any surprises on jobs. And on deficits, he's already received a couple of body blows in the next couple of days.
KING: John, do you expect any surprises?
AVLON: I think what David said -- I think this is going to be a laser beam on the middle class. But the deficit point is very important. It's not popular with his liberal base. But, you know, if you want to understand the anger of independents, the reason why they voted by margins of two to one for Republicans in Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, got to look at the deficits.
The reason those offend people so much and anger them is because middle class families, families all across this country have to balance their checkbook. And they're offended by the idea, in this time of manic recession, that big government and big business seem arrogantly exempt. They're allowed to balance their books on the back of the taxpayers. That's why this issue is so important. And that's why the president, I think, needs to return to those things of the campaign.
KING: But didn't they reelect George Bush with big deficits?
GERGEN: Yes, but in the midst of the war. At the time, he was still the warrior president, and a lot of people rallied behind him because of that. That's not what this president has going. He's effectively drawing down the war in Iraq. I think he's pursuing the right strategy in Afghanistan. But he's not getting a lot of credit for that.
The real -- Larry, I think, tomorrow night, more than anything else -- let's go to John's point about speaking to the middle class. I think he has -- a good leader is a good listener, and someone who can spend the message, I have heard what you're trying to tell me in the middle class; I hear your anger; I hear anxiety; I share some of it; now here's what we're going to do together, if you will work with me. And have a program that's credible, that's going to provide jobs and begin to bring these deficits down in a courageous way.
Frankly, in the last three or four days, when we have heard a lot of talk about the deficit, we've heard a lot of talk; we have seen very little courage.
KING: And we'll be right back with John Avalon and David Gergen. Don't forget, we're on tomorrow night, Midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific, John McCain one of our guests. Don't go away.
KING: Let's take a call for John and David. Valparaiso, Indiana, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry. I'm just wondering, is he going to focus at all on jobs and how he's going to put people back to work? I'm two years unemployed and he's talking about green jobs and everything. But I'm a former banker. You can't put us into green jobs. They're not retraining us. They want skilled labor. We're not skilled labor. Where are they go to focus on jobs for those of us that are already skilled? Where do they put us?
KING: Wouldn't you bet, John, that jobs is a big part of the discussion tomorrow?
AVLON: Sure, it absolutely will be. It's all about jobs and the economy at this point. The tricky thing is President Obama can't promise that government is going to create the jobs. What he can do is call for investment that can create new conditions. That's why the emphasis on green jobs, on building a green energy sector, that's clean and green, that can move us into the 21st century. But the economy and jobs are issues that -- big government spending for jobs runs against the deficit. So there's a difficult balance here.
What he's got to do is give those folks who have been out of a job for so long a sense of hope about the future again, a sense that they're on this like a laser beam and they're going to turn around the economy over the long run. KING: How much emphasis, do you think, David, on terrorism?
GERGEN: I think it's going to be a minor theme in the talk, Larry. it's not high on the radar screen. But I will tell you, in Massachusetts, Scott Brown made considerable use of terrorism in beating Martha Coakley. So I think the president will be making a mistake not to deal with it.
But he puts terrorism in the bigger picture of Afghanistan, Iraq, very importantly Iran, and Sudan. But I think the emphasis will be on the domestic side. If he just gives a long laundry list of all the things he faces, I think that's going to be a mistake. The people are going to tune out. You've got to be thematic in this address. You've got to say, here's the big thing.
Go back to the caller's question; I think this is the hardest problem the president faces because he cannot wave a wand. He cannot throw money at this and create a job for the woman who just called. It's just -- the government can't do that. What he has to do -- John is right -- is create the conditions in which investments improve, there's more credit in the markets and that's going to require a confidence that he's got a firm handle on these deficits to get spending under control.
If we don't get a handle on this, interest rates are going to shoot up and it's going to knock us right off our feet again. We're going to go right back into another recession. So I think he's got to come down hard on discipline and courage, which Washington has not shown. We're in a difficult moment for this country right now. People are hurting. Washington does not have answers. And Washington is rapidly losing the trust of all whole lot of people.
KING: How about Guantanamo? Do you think it might come up, John?
AVLON: I don't think Guantanamo is going to come up by name, no. But he will address national security and he should. It's part of the state of the union. We are at war. I think the fact that the president gets generally high marks on an issue like national security -- remember, our country was deeply divided when he came into office over the issue of Iraq and Afghanistan. In one year, one of his greatest accomplishments has been able to largely depolarize those wars.
There are folks on either side who aren't happy with the current status. But he has pursued a centrist course, with the reappointment, for example, of Secretary Gates, controversial among some, but sent a reassuring centrist message. And that's one of the reasons why he's been able to achieve what he campaigned on in that area.
GERGEN: It's interesting, Larry, he ran has a domestic president. But John's right, he gets his highest marks in foreign policy. That is where he is running more of a centrist administration.
KING: Yes or no from both of you; does he get a billing bump tomorrow, John?
AVLON: He'll get a big bump. He gives a great speech.
GERGEN: Doubt it, Larry, small bump. From his point of view, he has to hope it lasts.
KING: David Gergen and John Avlon, we thank you both very much. Don't forget, CNN will have major coverage tomorrow night, beginning an hour before the speech and continuing after with the best political team in broadcasting. And then we'll be on at Midnight to wrap it all up, midnight Eastern and 9:00 Pacific. And one of our guests will be Senator John McCain of Arizona. Thank you very much for joining us.
It's time now for Anderson Cooper and "AC 360" from Port-Au- Prince. Anderson?