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Republican Response

Aired January 27, 2010 - 22:20   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president of the United States wrapping up a very substantive, detailed 70-minute or so State of the Union address.

He got into a lot of specific details about what he wants to do on domestic issues, less specific on all sorts of foreign policy or national security issues. But he made it clear his number-one priority is the economy and getting people back to work, jobs, jobs, jobs.

His number-one legislative priority, he opened up his speech by saying, was passing a new jobs bill in the Congress. The president was warmly received by the Democrats, but you saw a lot of the Republicans not necessarily applauding or standing up, and so many of the Democrats did.

This was a carefully written speech reflecting what the president had in mind. He is walking out right now.

Let's listen in a little bit as we hear what he's saying to members as he -- as he leaves the floor of the House of Representatives.


OBAMA: Which way am I going?



OBAMA: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great to meet you, Mr. President.

OBAMA: Thank you so much.


OBAMA: You doing all right?



OBAMA: There you go. God bless you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Congressman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to see you.


BLITZER: All right, he is making his way towards the door. You saw him signing a few autographs. He has got a lot of Democrats -- these are all Democrats, by and large, who are standing there waiting to try to shake the president's hand and congratulate him on the speech, the president of the United States, very, very popular with these folks who are waiting.

You saw a lot of the Republicans just get up and start leaving the floor of the House of Representatives, but these are the -- the most supportive of the president's legislative friends. They are still there.

Some of them want autographs. Some of them want a picture. Some of them want to just say, thank you, Mr. President.

Once he leaves, by the way, there will be a five-minute moment between that and the Republican response. The governor of Virginia, the newly elected governor of Virginia, a rising star in Virginia, Bob McDonnell, he will deliver the Republican response from the floor of the House of Delegates in the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. He will have an audience there. He won't just be looking into a camera, as the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, did not that long ago, and did not necessarily arouse and excite a lot of people.

But they are hoping that the governor of Virginia will do a better job this time, the Republicans, and he will have about a 10- minute address, we are told, responding to some of what the president had to say.

As we -- as we await the president getting ready to leave, the chamber has basically cleared out, except for those folks who are waiting, and who are trying to shake the president's hand.

Dana Bash is inside. She was inside throughout the State of the Union address.

Give us a little bit more of the color in there, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, you mentioned the fact that -- that the Republicans were a bit subdued.

And I will tell you, we were talking right before the speech about the fact that the Republican leadership said that, you know, they should not have another "You lie" moment. And, boy, did they listen. I didn't even hear any booing, which is something that we have heard from Democrats when Republican presidents have spoken, and certainly from Republicans when Democratic presidents have spoken.

It did not happen at all. They were pretty much silent when the president talked about things that they very much oppose. But one other moment. When the president talked about that spending freeze, I had a clear line of vision to some of the, for lack of a better term, old bulls, the Democratic chairmen who simply do not like that idea at all. They are philosophically opposed to not spending at a time when they think that it is important to do that, when jobs need to be created.

And they were stone-faced, absolutely stone-faced. It was a good example, I thought, of how hard it is going to be for president to get both Democrats and Republicans to change the way he talked about tonight.

BLITZER: I want to go from the floor of the House of Representatives to the floor of the House of Delegates at the Virginia State Capitol.

And you can see over there the governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell. He is now walking in, getting ready to deliver his GOP response to the president. It's interesting that they selected the newly elected governor of Virginia. He is very popular right now. He is a rising star in the Republican Party.

He is one of three winners, Republican winners in statewide contests over the past few months in Virginia, New Jersey, and now, most recently, in Massachusetts, that has a lot of Republicans all excited about the opportunities they might have in the midterm elections coming up in November.

So, you can see these two chambers, the chamber on the U.S. Capitol beginning to empty out, almost completely empty right now, still some people in the gallery, some on the floor.

But you see the crowd there. These are mostly Republicans. There are a few Democrats, although I don't think there are any Democratic legislators who have come into the House of Delegates in Richmond to participate in this. This will strictly be a GOP, very friendly crowd for the governor of Virginia.

As we await his response, I want to bring John King into this conversation, because there was a moment when the president made some remarks about the most recent Supreme Court decision lifting basically 100 years of restrictions on campaign financing.

And there was a response from one of those justices, John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It was one of the moments of remarkable theater tonight, Wolf.

And, as the viewers watch this scene in Virginia, it is worth noting, Bob McDonnell just won on the back of independent voters. Barack Obama, the first Democrat to win Virginia since Lyndon Johnson. The Republicans seat victory by this new governor as, as you noted, a chance to have the wind at their back suddenly in the midterm election.

You are back to the State of the Union address. You are always watching, who is clapping, who is sitting, who is grunting or groaning? As Dana noted, no boos tonight.

When the president mentioned that he wanted Congress to reverse that Supreme Court decision, to pass new legislation, because he said it would let a flood of corporate money into the elections, even foreign money into the elections, Samuel Alito, who was a George W. Bush appointee, you could see him shaking his head and mouthing the words, and perhaps those around him could hear them -- we were watching on television, of course -- "No, that is not right," well, one of the remarkable moments of theater, especially because, from the Supreme Court, you almost never see any response. They sit there with their hands in their lap.

BLITZER: All right, so we're getting ready to hear the governor of Virginia.

This is a very different kind of Republican response. Usually, the party in opposition, when they give their response, whether it is a Democrat or Republican, it's usually some political leader simply looking into a camera, reading the teleprompter, and it is very different than what the president of the United States has just done in the State of the Union.

But, deliberately, this time, the Republicans have gathered this crowd on the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates to -- to make it clear that he is not just speaking into a camera.

There -- it has been done before. Christie Todd Whitman, when she was governor of New Jersey, did it. She spoke before her legislature. Bill Clinton, when he was governor of Arkansas, did it in the '80s in a response to a Republican president's State of the Union address.

But this is going to give it a little bit more life, make it a little more different and, the Republicans hope, more interesting to sort of balance out, if they can -- they realize they can never balance the power, the prestige, the enormity of a presidential State of the Union address, but they're hoping this will give it a little bit more excitement and make it more interesting for the viewers to continue to watch the newly elected governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell.

He -- he got himself elected last November. And Republicans like him. And that's why they selected him, although I -- I suspect, if the newly elected Republican senator from Massachusetts, Scott Brown, if he had been elected a few weeks earlier, maybe he would have been giving this response.

But, right now, let's listen to the GOP, the Republican response.


GOV. BOB MCDONNELL (R), VIRGINIA: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Good evening. I'm Bob McDonnell. Eleven days ago, I was honored to be sworn in as the 71st governor of Virginia. I'm standing in the historic House Chamber of Virginia's Capitol, a building designed by Virginia's second governor, Thomas Jefferson.

It's not easy to follow the president of the United States. And my 18-year-old twin boys have added pressure to me tonight by giving me exactly 10 minutes to finish before they leave to go watch "SportsCenter."


I'm joined by fellow Virginians to share a Republican perspective on how to best address the challenges facing our nation today.

We were encouraged to hear President Obama speak this evening about the need to create jobs. All Americans should have the opportunity to find and keep meaningful work, and the dignity that comes with it.


Many -- many of us here tonight -- and many of you watching -- have family or friends who have lost their jobs. In fact, 1 in 10 Americans is unemployed. That is unacceptable.

Here in Virginia, we've faced our highest unemployment rate in more than 25 years, and bringing new jobs and more opportunities to our citizens is the top priority of my administration.

Good government policy should spur economic growth and strengthen the private sector's ability to create new jobs.


We must enact policies that promote entrepreneurship and innovation so America can better compete with the world. What government should not do is pile on more taxation, regulation and litigation that kill jobs and hurt the middle class.

It was Thomas Jefferson who called for "a wise and frugal government which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned." He was right.

Today, the federal government is simply trying to do too much. Last year, we were told that massive new federal spending would create more jobs immediately and hold unemployment below 8 percent.

In the past year, more than 3 million people have lost their jobs, and yet the Democratic Congress continues deficit spending, adding to the bureaucracy, and increasing the national debt on our children and our grandchildren.

The amount of debt is on pace to double in five years and triple in ten. The federal debt is now over $100,000 per household. This is simply unsustainable.

The president's partial freeze announced tonight on discretionary spending is a laudable step, but a small one. The circumstances of our time demand that we reconsider and restore the proper limited role of government at every level.


Without reform, the excessive growth of government threatens our very liberty and our prosperity.

In recent months, the American people have made clear that they want government leaders to listen and then act on the issues most important to them. We want results, not rhetoric. We want cooperation, not partisanship.


There is much common ground. All Americans agree that we need health -- health care system that is affordable, accessible, and high quality. But most Americans do not want to turn over the best medical care system in the world to the federal government.

Republicans in Congress have offered legislation to reform health care, without shifting Medicaid costs to the states, without cutting Medicare, and without raising your taxes.

And we will do that by implementing commonsense reforms, like letting families and businesses buy health insurance policies across state lines and ending frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals that drive up the cost of your health care.

And our solutions aren't 1,000-page bills that no one has fully read, after being crafted behind closed doors with special interests. In fact, many of our proposals are available online at, and we welcome your ideas on Facebook and Twitter.


All Americans agree that this nation must become more energy independent and secure. We are blessed here in America with vast natural resources, and we must use them all. Advances in technology can unleash more natural gas, nuclear, wind, coal, alternative energy that will lower your utility bills.

Here in Virginia, we have the opportunity to become the first state on the East Coast to explore for and produce oil and natural gas off-shore.


But this administration's policies are delaying off-shore production, hindering nuclear energy expansion, and seeking to impose job-killing cap-and-trade energy taxes. Now is the time to adopt innovative energy policies that create jobs and lower energy prices.


All Americans agree that a young person needs a world-class education to compete in the global economy. As a young kid, my dad told me, "Son, if you want a good job, you need a good education." Dad was right, and that's even more true today.

The president and I agree on expanding the number of high-quality charter schools and rewarding teachers for excellent performance. More school choices for parents and students mean more accountability and greater achievement.

A child's educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her ZIP Code.


All Americans agree that we must maintain a strong national defense. The courage and success of our armed forces is allowing us to draw down troop levels in Iraq as that government is increasingly able to step up. My oldest daughter, Jeanine, was an Army platoon leader in Iraq, so I am personally grateful for the service and sacrifice of all our men and women in uniform, and a grateful nation thanks them.


We applaud President Obama's decision to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. We agree that victory there is imperative for national security.

But we have serious concerns over the recent steps the administration has taken regarding suspected terrorists. Americans were shocked on Christmas Day to learn of the attempted bombing of a flight to Detroit. This foreign terror suspect was given the same legal rights as a U.S. citizen and immediately stopped providing critical intelligence.

As Senator-elect Scott Brown has said, we should be spending taxpayer dollars to defeat terrorists, not to protect them.


Here at home, government must help foster a society in which all our people can use their God-given talents and liberty to pursue the great American dream. Republicans know that government cannot guarantee individual outcomes, but we strongly believe that it must guarantee equality of opportunity for all.

That opportunity exists best in a democracy which promotes free enterprise, economic growth, strong families, and individual achievement.

Many Americans are concerned about this administration's effort to exert greater control over car companies, banks, energy, and health care, but over-regulating employers won't create more employment, overtaxing investors won't foster more investment.

Top-down, one-size-fits-all decision-making should not replace the personal choices of free people in a free market, nor undermine the proper role of state and local governments in our system of federalism. As our founders clearly stated, and we governors clearly understand, government closest to the people governs best.


And no government program can ever replace the actions of caring Americans freely choosing to help one another. The Scriptures say, "To whom much is given, much will be required." As the most generous and prosperous nation on Earth, it is heartwarming to see Americans giving much time and money to the people of Haiti.

Thank you for your ongoing compassion.


Some people say they're afraid that America is no longer the great land of promise that she has always been. They should not be.

America will always blaze the trail of opportunity and prosperity. America will -- must always be a land where liberty and property are valued and respected and innocent human life is protected.

Government should have this clear goal: Where opportunity is absent, we must create it. Where opportunity is limited, we must expand it. Where opportunity is unequal, we must make it open to everyone.


Our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to create this great nation. Now we should pledge as Democrats, Republicans and independents -- Americans all -- to work together to leave this nation an ever better place than we found it.

God bless you, and God bless this great land of America. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: On the floor of the House of delegates at the Virginia state capitol, the governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, delivering the Republican response to the president's State of the Union address.

A little different this time, not just looking into a camera, reading a teleprompter, but doing that but having a live audience on the floor of the house of delegates to give that speech a little bit more pizzazz.

He's being well received now by those inside, largely Republicans, members of the legislature in Virginia, who have come to hear his speech.

We have a lot to digest. His speech, the president's speech. We'll be speaking live with the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod. Campbell Brown is here with the best political team on television.

We're going to Haiti. Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta are on the scene for us. We'll have all our fact check. All the facts are being checked by Tom Foreman and his team. We'll go to the stimulus desk. Ali Velshi is on hand. Soledad O'Brien is going through some polls. We'll have a flash poll. How did the president do tonight? She'll share some numbers with us.

And Jessica Yellin, our national political correspondent, is with a focus group in Columbus, Ohio.

As we watch the governor of Virginia leave the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates, we'll take a quick break. Our coverage is only just beginning.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our coverage of the president's State of the Union address.

We have now heard from the president. We've heard from the Republican governor of Virginia give the GOP response.

We're going through all the facts that were identified as facts today, doing a significant fact check. We're also going through the president's economic stimulus package to see whether or not the things he said tonight were, in fact, the real thing.

Ali Velshi, our senior business correspondent, is at the stimulus desk at the CNN Center.

Ali, the president made many references to the stimulus package what he calls the recovery plan.


BLITZER: In order to make the case, in order to make the case that the economy is getting better, thanks to the money that was appropriated.

VELSHI: Very interesting the way he said it, though. The exact words he used were that, "because of the steps we took, there are about 2 million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed." That doesn't mean new jobs. You remember that President Obama has been very adept at using the expression, saved or created jobs.

Now, we have been working on this here at the stimulus desk all week, talking to our researchers. It's very hard to verify what jobs weren't eliminated.

He referred to tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers and first responders. We've heard that out of the White House, as well. That's a reference to a number of workers who have had their jobs preserved because of state and municipal shortfalls in their budget. Those were made up for by the federal government, by the stimulus act. So again, unclear as to what's new and what's not new. What we do know is that recipients of stimulus money, all of these projects we've got in front of us that this desk is working on, have claimed that until the third quarter, the end of the third quarter of 2009, end of September, 640,000 jobs were created by the stimulus act. On Saturday, we'll have an update to that, but that's as far as we can verify.

The White House says that it's between 1.5 and 2 million jobs. The president did say in his speech tonight we are on track to add another 1.5 million jobs to this total by the end of the year. Again, unverifiable numbers, but the White House is getting closer to putting out the same number every time they make a statement or a speech.

BLITZER: I think that was the first time we heard specifically from the president saying that 2 million people are working today, thanks to that economic stimulus plan.

Now, Tom Foreman is taking a look at some of the other facts that were included by the president. What else are you finding?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, we were looking at what he said about taxes. Listen to this very strong statement from the president about tax cuts.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families. We cut taxes for small businesses. We cut taxes for first-time homebuyers. We cut taxes for parents trying to care for their children. We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college.


FOREMAN: Now it may surprise a lot of the president's critics out there to find that this really is a true statement. They, in fact, did cut this in the giant stimulus plan earlier in the year.

However -- however, the complaint of critics has been all along that there are people out there who didn't pay taxes in the first place who still got a tax credit. So they weren't really given a tax cut.

And beyond that, they say, there's a difference between an overall cut in the tax rate that lasts for a long time and people can count on, and a stimulus, which is a one-time cut or reduction that might help them for a little while. So, they would argue that that was also somewhat false.

We have other facts that we have to look at here that we'll get back to those as we go on this evening. That is one thing we wanted to look at, Wolf, and there are many more as we look at the Taliban and public health insurance. We'll get back to those later on.

BLITZER: All right. He also said that people earning more than $250,000 a year, they can expect a tax increase, among others. Stand by. We're going to go through all the facts with you and with Ali. Jessica Yellin is in Columbus, Ohio. She's been with a group, a focus group, to see what they think. We're going to check in with her as our coverage continues.


BLITZER: Our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, has been speaking with a focus group in Columbus. Let's go out to Columbus right now.

Jessica, what are they saying, because they were monitoring the likes and the not-so-much likes during the course of the president's speech.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some surprises here, some not-so-unexpected developments.

When the president talked about jobs bill, when he talked about tax cuts, when he talked about supporting the troops, almost everyone in the room, their dials went up. Those were big winners.

There were huge divides on health-care reform and also on the stimulus act, with Democrats approving and Republicans disapproving, independents in the middle.

The biggest surprise to me was when the president talked about hopefulness, when he talked about hope, independents went down. So the word "hope" triggered some disillusionment, it would with seem.

And I want to ask a couple of the folks in the audience here.

Diane, you were -- you're a Democrat. You were looking for the president to talk about jobs. Did he answer your needs?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought the speech was great. I just -- I'm wondering where this president has been all year, because he showed leadership tonight that I haven't seen all year. And I hope all the jobs things do go through.

YELLIN: OK. Liz, you're a Republican/independent, you say. You also wanted to hear about tax cuts for small businesses. He talked about it. Did you like what he had to say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it was a start, but I think that economic stability is the most important thing to small businesses adding jobs. They need to be able to rely on what their costs are going to be, and with so much impending legislation and taxes, that's hard to do right now.

YELLIN: OK. OK. You guys were much more critical before we were on camera, saying I hope that he follows through on what he said tonight.

I do want to play a quick piece of sound for you. This is the divide we saw on health-care reform when the president talked about health-care reform. Let's listen.


OBAMA: And it is precisely to relieve burden on middle-class families that we still need health-insurance reform. Yes, we do.

Now, let's clear a few things up. I didn't choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now, it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, as you can seem the Republicans there were -- the Republicans, as you can see, were the red line, independents the yellow, Democrats the blue. Democrats clearly very positive; Republicans not positive at all.

We'll bring you more results from this focus group room later in the evening, Wolf. I toss it back to you.

BLITZER: Democrats, Republicans and independents. We're going to check back with you, Jessica Yellin, in Columbus, Ohio, one of those key battleground states. The people there in that room, you can see they were twisting that dial, what they liked, what they didn't like so much. We're going to have more of that.

The best political team on television is standing by. Much more of our coverage coming up right after this.