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State of the Union; Michael Steele Speaks Out; Moscow Bombing

Aired January 24, 2011 - 20:00   ET


ELIOT SPITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Eliot Spitzer.


Tomorrow's President Barack Obama's second State of the Union address, and he faces a vastly different political landscape than in 2010. The president took a shellacking in November, but showed strong leadership in December's lame duck session.

SPITZER: With anticipation of his speech dawning in D.C., here are the questions we will drill down on tonight.

As the president makes his speech, there is a new Republican speaker of the House sitting behind him. Will the president be able to govern when the Republican agenda is driven by the desire to make him a one-term president?

Also former party chairman Michael Steele set out to unify Republicans. Two years later he leaves the party with the majority in the House, but badly divided between the inside the beltway establishment and Tea Party insurgents. Can Republicans build on their electoral success when they can't manage to speak with one voice?

And finally, a bomb detonated at Moscow's busiest airport today, leaving at least 35 people dead. The bomb exploded outside the airport security perimeter, targeting vulnerable travelers waiting to check in. In an increasingly small world, is anyone safe anywhere at all?

But first, our lead story.

PARKER: The president comes into the State of the Union address tomorrow with the political wind at his back, his poll numbers have been rising since December's lame duck congressional session. His speech in the aftermath of the shooting in Tucson was well received.

So can the president build on his momentum and can the Republican Party come together in response?

SPITZER: Here with us tonight to look at the political landscape the president finds himself in tomorrow night are Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville and Will Cain, host of "Off the Page" on the

And, gentlemen, welcome to you both.


SPITZER: All right. James, let me start with you. What is the one message that the White House wants the public to take away from the speech tomorrow, knowing that speeches like this are long and laborious, a lot of applause?

In five seconds, what does the White House want the public to remember?

PARKER: Five seconds.

SPITZER: Because that's what we're going to remember.



CARVILLE: Jobs, jobs, jobs. If anything -- anything that's not about jobs is an utter waste of time.

PARKER: All right. Well, that's succinct.

SPITZER: All right.

PARKER: I think you were maybe two succinct. You know, James, you came up with the --


PARKER: You came up with the slogan for President Clinton.


PARKER: It's the economy, stupid. Can you make a sentence for --

CARVILLE: I think it's -- yes, it's jobs, stupid.


PARKER: It's jobs, stupid.

CARVILLE: Right now it's all -- it cannot be any clearer. The public is concerned. Only the people that are concerned about the atmospherics of who is sitting where are people in television that already have a job.

The country is anxious. People don't have work. People that do have work are scared they're going to lose that job. They're not working enough hours. And this president has got to drill down. And I think he will. And everything else is just -- this is what this is about plain and simple. Nothing else is on people's minds right now. PARKER: All right, Will, tomorrow night after the speech, the Republican Party -- two different Republicans are giving two different responses. We've got Paul Ryan, who is the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He is giving the official GOP response. Then you've got Michele Bachmann, who is giving her own, Congresswoman Bachmann.

And then today Eric Cantor comes out. He's of course the majority leader in the House to say Paul Ryan is giving the official address, Michele Bachmann is not.

CAIN: Right.

PARKER: So we've got some division here. We've got some awkward moments. What is going on and can the GOP lead when they're so divided with that?

CAIN: You know I think the divisions, Kathleen, all boil down to the second question underneath what James said. What James said is uncontroversial, and we all agree. Yes, jobs, OK. The economy. That's what this message should be about.

But the question is how? How do you create jobs? And there the divisions will start. There are the division between the Republicans and the Democrats and the divisions within the Republicans.

The president's message will be, by the way, how do you create jobs more? That's the message. That will be his them. More. More spending, more crony capitalism. He'll package it uniquely and different. He'll say -- he'll call them investment. He'll talk about his new high council on business with his buddy GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. But it will be about more spending.

SPITZER: OK. Before --

PARKER: So investing is the new word.

CAIN: Yes.

SPITZER: But before we let Will give the rebuttal, before the affirmative arguments have been made, James, how do you think -- because it is the critical question. How will the president persuade the public that he understands how to create jobs in the private sector without its becoming, as Will said, the public's fear of just excess government spending?

CARVILLE: Well, I don't -- you know, again, we're going to say tomorrow night I think this business council, I think he looked really good with (INAUDIBLE). I think that was a really smart thing that they're doing. I think they're going to (INAUDIBLE) people understand the relationship between infrastructure and jobs, he's going to talk about that, presumably he will.

I just think -- you know, Michele Bachmann, not only is she selected by the Tea Party is the give the Republican response, she delivered a Supreme Court justice. She's really become the intellectual center of gravity in the Republican Party. I mean whoever delivered a Supreme Court justice? Nobody but her.

And who's been selected to give an alternative State of the Union? Nobody but Michele Bachmann. I think this woman need -- we need to keep an eye on her.

PARKER: Explain what you mean by that, James.

CARVILLE: She's not a rising star -- well, look -- I mean, Justice Scalia went to the Tea Party behind closed doors at the request of Congresswoman Bachmann. That's a real powerful thing to get a Supreme Court justice there. She is the first person that, you know, I know of, but she was selected by the Tea Party to give the alternative to the president's State of the Union.

She is in Iowa. I'm scared she might challenge Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin, as Jim DeMint called, the most influential Republican since Ronald Reagan. It looks like these two are really -- not emerging, but are real stars in the Republican Party.

PARKER: But, James, that is a closed door to the press, but I think all Congress people are invited to attend the justices' presentation. And it is to the Tea Party caucus. So these are lawmakers.


PARKER: These are not just, you know, random Tea Party people.

CARVILLE: I understand. But she got a Supreme Court justice to show up there. That's pretty --

PARKER: Well, she did indeed.

CARVILLE: That's a lot of power. Yes. My hat's off to her.

SPITZER: I want to pick up --

CARVILLE: My hat is off to her.

SPITZER: I think it goes to the heart of what the president is going to be speaking about. James, you are right. It's going to be job. It's going to be infrastructure. It's going to be education spending.

And I guess the question I have for you, Will, is when you look at everything from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System that President Eisenhower built to the response to Sputnik, those infrastructure projects, don't you agree that is in fact what has made it possible for us to expand as an economy and become the dominant world economy?

CAIN: I think it's helped contribute, Eliot. But the difference between your belief and my belief is the government doesn't give out jobs in my belief. They create the conditions for jobs.

Look, tomorrow night your network, every other network will be filled with tables of pundits who analyze the speech up and down. The mistake that will be made is they will call what the president is doing with this new council with Jeffrey Immelt a tack to the center. A triangulation.

This is not a move to the center. President Obama -- the announcement of President Obama has never been pro-business versus anti-business. Is President Obama's antipathy is towards open markets and free competition. He believes the way to profits and jobs is through subsidies, giving it to businesses, he's investing in different types of businesses.

We believe -- conservatives believe you create conditions for jobs.

SPITZER: Well, James, do you want to respond to that?

CARVILLE: Yes, they create a condition. The greatest job- killing bill in the history of the United States was financial deregulation, which was all the conservatives saying this could be a great thing.

They almost took the world into a depression. The truth of the matter is, is that businesses and the economy needs things like infrastructure and investments, they need to improve education. They need a talented workforce if they're going to do this kind of thing. And hopefully the president understands that.

Why the Tea Party is off hoo-hawing and reading the Constitution and god knows whatnot, I hope he's in there focusing on what really matters to people.

SPITZER: Will, I want to give you two examples and ask whether you think that these are things that in today's environment would be supported because they would build our future.

One would be Pell Grants to permit kids to go to college and the other the GI bill to permit returning veterans to go to college. I mean I think those are the sorts of education subsidies that the president is going to be talking about.

James, am I right about that? I mean, do these fit into what you support or not?

CAIN: Listen, here is the deal. Education -- there is no doubt that we need a reform in education. But that doesn't necessarily, Eliot, mean that we need to invest a ton of more money in education. Right now we spend more money per capita per student in the United States than most wealthy nations.

But our education doesn't perform up to the level we should expect. The reform in education has much more to do with how much we spend.

SPITZER: There's no question. Well, James --

CARVILLE: Let me tell you something. If you're getting ready to go to college and your parents just lost their job, a Pell Grant is a mighty attractive thing to you. Maybe to a pundit in Washington who's already graduated from college it's not much, but to somebody who want answer an opportunity to go to college it --

CAIN: The question, James, isn't whether or not the Pell Grant helps people go to college. The question is, will it help them do any better on their math scores?

SPITZER: Look, Will, I mean I hate to say that this isn't an either or. I think this president has done -- James, tell me if I'm wrong. This president has done more to begin to reform education with Arne Duncan and the "Race to the Top" than any president I can remember.

But he's also recognizing we need to let kids pay for it. So it seems to me this president is doing the sort of education reform and investment we need. That's what I imagine he'll talk about. You can't really be against that, can you?

CAIN: I am for reform in education. I don't necessarily think that means let's ramp up the budget for the Department of Education. I think we need to introduce school choice. I know it sounds cliche for conservatives to say that. But I truly believe that's the way to reform in the education sector.

SPITZER: I'm for it. I'm for it. That's not really a controversial position.

PARKER: Here is the question I have. Where we keep talking about investing, which is just the new word for spending. So we're talking about more and more spending. How do you get that through a Congress when we're actually trying to find ways to cut spending?

CAIN: That's right. How do you do that with the president who's given a nod to cutting the deficit? Where does he plan to cut? Just tell me. He's ramped up the war in Afghanistan. He created a stimulus bill that ramped up every single discretionary budget. He has no interest in touching entitlements. Where exactly will he give a nod to the deficit?

SPITZER: Well, look, I think James and I -- James, you want to?

CARVILLE: Let me give you an example. Medicare part D that President Bush which only unfunded entitlement in the history of the United States that was designed by the pharmaceuticals. That's spending.

If you have a crumbling bridge and you fix the bridge, that's investment. If you have -- if you fix the energy grid, that's investment. There's a difference. One is a one-shot thing that improves the nation as a whole. The other is unfunded liability.

CAIN: That's also, James -- listen, I want to make that agreement right now. Now on when talk about Social Security and Medicare, we will no longer call that investment, right? We will only call that sheer spending. CARVILLE: Social Security is self-funded.


PARKER: It's a good distinction. I think we should stick with it. Yes.

All right. James Carville --

CARVILLE: Yes. It is. Social Security is self-funded, as is Medicare. It is a funded liability as oppose to prescription drug benefit.

PARKER: All right. Hate to cut you guys off. You're wonderful. James Carville, Will Cain, thanks as always for being with us.

CAIN: Thanks. See you, James.

SPITZER: Coming up, as a young man, Michael Steele studied for the priesthood. He chose politics instead with the mission to save the Republican Party. Did he? I'll ask him when we come back.


SPITZER: Our next guest is the controversial former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Michael Steele was ousted this month after two years of scathing criticism, often from members of his own party. Now he is free to speak his mind on everything from health care reform to the State of the Union.

Michael Steele joins me tonight to debate and maybe defend the state of the Republican Party.

Michael, thank you for being here.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: It's good to be with you.

SPITZER: So the past couple of days a veritable civil war has broken out in the Republican Party. You have the Tea Party. I'll give you your chance. The Tea Party is taking over in three states, and more importantly, I think from the perspective of the public, Paul Ryan, who had been anointed to give --

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: -- the response to the president's State of the Union, now faces competition from Michele Bachmann, who says no, Paul Ryan doesn't speak for the Republican Party, Michele Bachmann does.

How can the Republican Party speak to the public if it is riven by this sort of internal conflict?

STEELE: Well, there's not an internal conflict, number one. Controversial? Who me? I was not controversial. SPITZER: Right. All right. That's what they say.

STEELE: That's not -- no. But, you know, the reality of it is look, the party has -- the party has emerged on a bigger stage now. When you take where we were two years ago, three -- two and a half years ago, party out of power, no real connection with the American people, we reestablished that connection, largely due to the strength of the Tea Party movement in the country which was born out of its frustration with government and the Obama administration and the direction the country was going.

So I think both those voices are going to be important for the nation to hear. Michele's and Paul. Paul represents the policy that the leadership is going to be moving forward and addressing the Obama agenda. And I think Michele represents the grassroots voice within the party that wants to hold the establishment both right and left, Republican and Democrat, accountable.

SPITZER: So you're saying this is really a very clever strategy to play the inside-outside game. Paul Ryan can be the insider. Michele Bachmann will stoke the flames of the passion the Tea Party on the outside.

STEELE: I think --

SPITZER: And somehow you'll benefit from both.

STEELE: Well, I think -- yes, I think that there is some synergy there. Now the question is, how do you -- how do you convey that message in a way which you don't get into this controversy that we see now that's trying to get brewed up here that there is a split within the GOP.

I think the Republican leadership is going to set the pace and the tone along with the president starting tomorrow with the State of the Union. I think the Tea Party -- the wins that we have seen in state parties around the country over the past week, I welcome those. I have been saying that was going to happen and invite more and more people to get involved at that level.

SPITZER: I think it's an interesting critique and an analysis you set out. But I would say the danger that I would see is somebody who played on the field of politics for some period of time is that the Tea Party itself is getting less popular to a poll that just came out shows that its negatives, its unfavorables is up to 52, pretty high. And in fact --

STEELE: But that doesn't matter. That doesn't matter.

SPITZER: Why not?

STEELE: I mean -- you have a negative of what? Individual? A group? I mean it's not an organized structure. It's not like the GOP or the -- the Democrats.

SPITZER: Well, let me -- I hear what you're saying but let me finish. But two of the candidates who were really Tea Party voices last November were big loser, Christine O'Donnell and then Angle in Nevada. So I think if you look --

STEELE: Yes, but look where else they won. Everybody on the left focuses on, you know, Nevada and Delaware as if that was the be all and the end all.


STEELE: And the signature of the 2010 election. I mean there is 63 new members of the House sitting in the chamber tomorrow night. And a significant number of them were backed and supported by -- and are Tea Party candidates.

SPITZER: Look, Michael, you may very well be right and I am one who has actually applauded the Tea Party because it is grassroots politics even though I disagree vehemently which much -- what it stands for.

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: It's grassroots politics, that is what we want to see in the campaign.

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: But I would say this. As a cautionary note from your perspective, don't you worry that the metaphor will be 1964 where Goldwater --

STEELE: No, no.

SPITZER: -- really the voice of the far right, or on the other side McGovern in '72? Either Freedom Party.

STEELE: Because what they're -- Eliot, what they're talking about is sound policy. They're talking about no more sending.


STEELE: No more debt and deficit, lower taxes, growing the economy through small businesses and entrepreneurs and not, you know, government programs.

SPITZER: Right. OK. Let's talk about this. All of those are things that sound good. But I want -- you raise policy.

STEELE: They sound good because they are good.

SPITZER: Well, people know I love policy. I want to sort of drill down to see what those words mean.


SPITZER: Because the Tea Party and the "Pledge for America" was certainly the defining document into the November campaign. STEELE: Right. Right.

SPITZER: When you parsed it and said where are you actually going to close the budget gap? And then this is mirrored in something put out by the Republican Study Committee just last Friday.

If I take those formal statements of the Republican Party as the template for what you stand for, there is no cut in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, or defense. $2.3 trillion out of $2.5 trillion comes from discretionary spending.


SPITZER: Which means you are going to slash dramatically spending in education --

STEELE: We don't know any of that.

SPITZER: That's what you suggest here.

STEELE: We're not suggesting anything. The president -- who is going to present the budget to the Congress? Is that going to be the president or is that going to be --

SPITZER: No, no, I'm taking your budget now for a minute.

STEELE: Well, what I'm saying is let's get the president's budget before the people. Remember, we don't have a budget.

SPITZER: Wait, wait, wait.

STEELE: The president didn't give us a budget for the last --

SPITZER: Here's the thing. I agreed with you about your political take. Maybe this is going to play out well.

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: But I'm now looking at something the Republican Study Committee --

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: The document that you guys put out.

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: Which says where are we going to cut.

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: $2.3 trillion over a decade. Over $200 billion. Let's see if we can actually put up on the screen. There is a chart that shows where we spend the money.

STEELE: OK. SPITZER: And it's going show you that you have -- here it is. Defense is $895 billion. The folks can see it.


SPITZER: Other discretionaries, $520 billion. That's an annual number.

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: But you're saying you're going to cut about $200 billion of that per year. That means spending on education, Pell Grants.

STEELE: Everything. Look. We are a nation --

SPITZER: You want to cut education like that?

STEELE: We are a nation that is hemorrhaging debt and deficit. And you cannot have an honest discussion about how we move forward and how we sustain growth into the future without burdening future generations, without putting everything on the table. And that's what the Republican leadership has said.

SPITZER: Michael, I agree with you 100 percent. But you're not putting everything on the table, and that's the point --

STEELE: They are.

SPITZER: Whoa. Whoa. Let's put that chart back up again because what the Republican Study Committee doesn't do, it excludes all defense spending from cuts, says no cuts in Social Security, no cuts in Medicare, Medicaid. It does all of it in that bottom right there.

STEELE: The only thing I can -- the only thing I can say to you is let's just wait and see. Study group notwithstanding, you know, documents that came out of the political, you know, noise of 2010 notwithstanding.

Let's see what the president says tomorrow, how the Republicans respond to that with their own proposals and cuts and solutions, and then we'll have a talking point. Because nothing gets set or moved forward until the president sets the pace and the tone.

SPITZER: Now look, Paul Ryan was all through the campaign season referred to as the budget whiz.

STEELE: He is. He is.

SPITZER: He is -- this is his committee. And so that's why finally last week I said ah-ha, we'll see what Paul Ryan stands for, what the Republican Party --

STEELE: Well, Paul Ryan isn't going to put it all out there right now. He's got to wait to see what the president is -- the president wants to do.

SPITZER: It sounds to me like you're rung away from this document.

STEELE: No, I'm not running -- I'm not running away from anything because I didn't write it. And I -- you know, they have set the pace on the policy for what they want to do. I said let's wait and see what the Republican leadership puts on the table in response to what the president says tomorrow night. And then we can have that discussion.

But a policy paper from two weeks ago before we even know where the president wants to go with his budget and what he wants to set as a priority for spending cuts doesn't necessarily open up that --

SPITZER: OK. Well, far be it from me to speak in defense of a Republican Study Committee document, but this is the official voice of the Republican House leadership. But anyway, let's move on from that. But you agree --

STEELE: I like the hook you're trying to make there, but it's not catching anything. So just -- you know.

SPITZER: A big fish, it's called the Republican Party anyway. All right. Let's move on. You made over the course of the November campaigns health care the sort of defining issue.


SPITZER: Repeal of Obamacare.


SPITZER: I want to talk at a pure policy level now about something.


SPITZER: We don't have a lot of time. Something about the individual mandate, which you said is a horror. Right? Everybody is against it. Now I want to quote today -- I'm not going to quote it, restate, a conservative columnist who said if we all want preexisting conditions to be covered, and we want somehow to have greater coverage, you must have an individual mandate because otherwise the people who don't pay are free riders on the system. We're merely saying to people pay your own freight.


SPITZER: That's the conservative view. Mitt Romney bought it. Conservative -- why is that logic wrong?

STEELE: I'm not saying -- I don't know if that logic is wrong or right. My argument on health care has always been the way this administration has approached health care was to just throw it all in there, and without any idea or recourse to spending and how we're going to pay for it.

Now you tell me how do you pay for adding 30 million or 50 million new people to a health care system?

SPITZER: I'll show you right now.

STEELE: How do you pay for it without raising taxes or without burdening small businesses?

SPITZER: I'll show you right now. One, the Congressional Budget Office -- and let's --

STEELE: The Congressional Budget Office is only as good as the information you put into it and you know that.


STEELE: You put in faulty information, you're going to get a faulty response.

SPITZER: Garbage in, garbage out, as you say.

STEELE: There you go.

SPITZER: But CBO, which has been looked to by both parties says it will save hundreds of billions of dollars. Because, and here's the critical reason, it will rationalize the delivery of health care. The people who are uninsured are getting health care.

STEELE: It was already rationalized. What do you mean? You're talking about catching 30 million people who weren't in the system. And the question before the country at that time by this president was well, we've got to bring these 30 million people in. So the next response was OK, how do you do that? That question was never answered. And then we got on to all this other stuff.

SPITZER: Here is the misconception. And I say this as somebody who, when I was in government, dealt with trying to restructure health care a little bit.

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: The people who are not covered by insurance right now -- I'm drawing a circle.

STEELE: Sure. Sure.

SPITZER: Are getting health insurance. They're getting it through the emergency room.

STEELE: Right.

SPITZER: They're getting it through the worst form of delivery because it's not rationalized, and everybody else is paying for it because the hospitals that give them that care have to be compensated. What this system does is says they -- these 30 million people -- will contribute and therefore everybody else not only saves money because their taxes and premiums can go down, but more important, the care of this 30 million receives will be rationally delivered --

STEELE: So how much are they contributing? And how come they weren't contributing before?

SPITZER: That's what the individual mandate is about. That's what the individual mandate is about. And that's why conservatives, including Mitt Romney, are for it. And that's why the logic of it seems overwhelming on both sides of the aisle.

Why is that logic wrong?

STEELE: Well, I'm not saying the logic is wrong. But the logic can be right, but the cost can be a real pain in the you-know-what.

SPITZER: (INAUDIBLE) saving money --

STEELE: You didn't show. You drew a circle. You're not showing me how you save any money. Where is the savings? Where is the savings? I see no savings. I see a circle with an arrow.

SPITZER: You -- Michael, you acknowledge the logic was pretty compelling. Let me just say this.

STEELE: Look, I'm all for logic. I want to know how much it's going to cost me and my family and my business.

SPITZER: All right. All right. We've reached a big --

STEELE: And that question has yet to be answered by this administration.

SPITZER: This is a good news interview because we agreed that we both like logic. And you agree to the logic of this. I just got to tell folks out there one more thing about you that I didn't know. You studied how to be a fencer.

STEELE: Yes, I was a fencer.

SPITZER: And you thought that fencing was a metaphor for life which made me a little nervous, you know how to put a knife in somebody.


STEELE: I didn't expect it to come around the other way, though.

SPITZER: Right. And you wear a glove when you do it so there are no fingerprints. All right. Michael Steele, thank you so much for being here.

When we come back, terror in Moscow with suicide bombing in Russia's biggest airport. As the death toll rises, we look for answers. Stay with us.


SPITZER: A terrorist bomb exploded at Moscow's busiest airport today, leaving at least 35 dead and 152 wounded. The explosion occurred at 4:30 p.m. local time at the densely packed arrival section of Domodedovo Airport.

PARKER: This video footage shows the smoke-filled terminal, including what appear to be bodies and luggage on the ground. State TV citing Russian authorities says the explosion was the act of a suicide bomber who stuffed a homemade device with small metal objects to make it even more deadly.

SPITZER: An American writer who writes for foreign policy in the "New Yorker" Julia Loffe spoke with a man who was inside when the bomb went off. Take a listen.


JULIA LOFFE, THE NEW YORKER: It's getting a little bit chaotic. People are coming in for their evening flights. Authorities have decided not to close the Domodedovo Airport, though there was some confusion earlier.

People coming off -- coming off the flights are saying that for a long time, pilots couldn't -- or authorities couldn't decide whether their planes were being rerouted or if they would land as Domodedovo scheduled.

There is one man who came out who said he was there at the time of the blast, his jacket and pants are covered in blood and hair and gore. But he reported seeing a man with a suitcase walk into the center between two planks -- people waiting for passengers to arrive and that he then exploded.


SPITZER: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev labeled the bombing a terrorist attack and convened an emergency meeting. Take a listen.


DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): We need to do everything we can to make sure all investigation -- investigative actions are carried out and all information is obtained.


PARKER: No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov took credit for the female suicide bomber attacks last March that killed at least 38 people in the Moscow metro. And the Chechens were also blamed for the 2004 bombings of two planes taking off from the same Domodedovo airport, killing at least 89. SPITZER: President Obama issued a statement today, quoting, and I quote, "I strongly condemn this outrageous act of terrorism against the Russian people at Domodedovo airport. I want to express the solidarity of the American people with the Russian people in the aftermath of this premeditated attack against innocent civilians.

PARKER: We'll be right back.


PARKER: Our next guest is President Barack Obama. Well, sometimes.


FRED ARMISEN, AS BARACK OBAMA: Let's take Hillary Clinton. You remember her. She ran against me in the Democratic primary. Told super delegates I couldn't win in a general election. Hey, she brought up William Ayers before anyone. Did I exact political revenge? No. I brought her in. Why? Because I keep it cool.


PARKER: OK. Our next guest is really long-time "Saturday Night Live" star Fred Armisen. And when we talked with him earlier, he told us about his new second home on cable's IFC Channel in a not so mythical city called Portlandia.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here is the chicken you'll be enjoying tonight.

FRED ARMISEN, COMEDIAN: You have this information. This is fantastic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. His name was Collin. Here are his papers.


ARMISEN: This is great. He looks like a happy little guy. He runs around. My friends, other chickens as friends? Putting his little wing around another one and kind of like palling around.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know that I can speak to that level of intimate knowledge about him. They do a lot to make sure that that their chickens are very happy.



Well, welcome back to America, Fred.

FRED ARMISEN, COMEDIAN: Thank you. PARKER: And I'm so glad that being -- wearing glasses is cool.


PARKER: Because now I can see.

ARMISEN: Yes, be proud. Wear them with pride.

PARKER: It's totally awesome. OK. So Portlandia --

ARMISEN: Are you nearsighted or farsighted?

PARKER: I'm both. Right now, I can't actually see you, but I can read.

ARMISEN: I'm a little worried. OK, OK.

PARKER: I'm everything. OK. So Portlandia is a place like as if a place like Gore won.


PARKER: Like the Bush administration never happened?

ARMISEN: Yes. It's very eco-friendly, very green, very socially conscious. It really does feel that way when you're there. Just everything is -- it's a lot of like you see the word eco-friendly everywhere, everything. And it even looks very green.

PARKER: So one of my favorite segments is where people are trying to shop for their dinner.


PARKER: Or they're in a restaurant ordering chicken.


PARKER: They want to know if the chicken is organic, if its free range. Ultimately, they kind of want to meet the chicken.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here is the chicken you'll be enjoying tonight.

ARMISEN: You have this information? This is fantastic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. His name was Collin. Here are his papers, OK?

ARMISEN: This is great. He looks like a happy little guy that runs around. My friends, other chickens as friends? Putting his little wing around another one and kind of like palling around?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I don't know that I can speak to that level of intimate knowledge about him. They do a lot to make sure that their chickens are very happy.



PARKER: That's what it's like?

ARMISEN: It's very much like that. But I also feel everywhere you go, restaurants they really explain to you all the time what's on their menu and where it was raised.

SPITZER: I got to ask, though, have you been to Portland before you did the show?

ARMISEN: Oh, a lot.

SPITZER: So this is really based in your experience there?

ARMISEN: Absolutely. I was visiting Carrie who does the show with me, Carrie Brownstein. And this is stuff we noticed early on.

PARKER: So you're a Portland kind of guy, is that what you're saying?

ARMISEN: I would say somewhat. Yes, I'm a sort of New York Brooklyn environment.

SPITZER: Here's what I don't get. Valley Stream, right?


SPITZER: Valley Stream is not Portland.

ARMISEN: It is not Portland. Very much not Portland.

SPITZER: How did this happen?

ARMISEN: It's kind of like, you know, when you go traveling, did you ever find that place that you just love? You just go there.


ARMISEN: And you can't even explain why. You know, like, this is a great -- I want to be here.

PARKER: Islandia, Portlandia.

ARMISEN: Yes, yes.



PARKER: So, OK, I have to ask you a question. I'm a mother. I have a son who's thinking of going to law school out there. Is that real? I mean, do people actually study in Portland? Is that possible?

ARMISEN: I think they look like they're studying, but they're really not. There's a lot of coffee, a lot of coffee cups. And newspapers. And I don't think there's any -- I don't know if there's any real studying going on.

PARKER: No real studying going on?


SPITZER: Everything.


SPITZER: When you're out there you get a sense everything is an affect. I mean, even this notion of discussing the fact that the chicken was raised the right way. They're killing and slaughtering the chicken one way or another. So it's a little disconnect here.


PARKER: But you've got that -- the chicken has had a good life.

SPITZER: And then they chop its head off.

ARMISEN: Yes, yes. I just think it's a matter of guilt. You want to not feel guilty when you're eating.

PARKER: You know what, you want your chicken to have had a good life. I do.

SPITZER: Is this a political statement by you or this is just --

ARMISEN: Not at all. It's a cultural statement more than anything else. And it's a -- for lack of a better word, it's a celebration of it. We're not really even making fun of it. We're just -- we embody a lot of those things. I am in many ways and Carrie is a lot like the people that we do on the show.

PARKER: OK. We have to talk about you as President Obama.


PARKER: I love the way you do him. You kind of get his little -- you know, his little expressions. It's not an exact replica of him. You just sort of get his little pauses.

ARMISEN: It's a version. And a lot of that stuff is the writers too, you know. Jim Downey is our political writer and Seth Meyers (ph) and John Mulaney (ph), they all -- they really do phrase things in a way to make it a whole piece.

PARKER: Except you're not black.

ARMISEN: I suppose that would be the case.

PARKER: Right. Is that a problem?

ARMISEN: No. He's a person.

PARKER: We thought we'd take a look at your last year's State of the Union address, both the president's and yours. Take a look at this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Madam Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans.

ARMISEN, AS PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Madam Speaker, Vice President Biden, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans.


SPITZER: Is there a political perspective that underlies the "SNL" imitations in the sense that regardless of who is in office, you guys will find that entry point and, you know, make fun, tweak, and do whatever?

ARMISEN: I want you to know that it's all done with love and admiration.

PARKER: Oh, sure.


ARMISEN: I promise you. I'll tell you why is because when you do someone negatively, when it seems like there's any hatred involved, the audience --

SPITZER: It doesn't work. That's right. It doesn't work.

ARMISEN: And they shut down.

PARKER: Right.

ARMISEN: As soon as they feel you've got anger, they're not interested.

PARKER: What about -- that mean doesn't work?

ARMISEN: Yes. I think that for the most part, mean doesn't work. Only because --



SPITZER: Humor and empathy, and you can make fun. You're exactly right.


SPITZER: But the point is, is there a political agenda under it? I'm not saying this in a critical way. Is there something during the Bush years that you wanted the public to sense or with President Obama or with Hillary, anybody? Is there any coherent political statement?

ARMISEN: None, none. It's always -- we try to step back from that all the time, the writers and everything. There is never a statement -- there's never anything we're trying to say. It's pure entertainment for the night.

SPITZER: Because humor has become such a part of our political conversation. You look at Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.

ARMISEN: Yes, yes.

SPITZER: Or arguably the most powerful political commentators out there.


SPITZER: Certainly for folks under -- I don't know, 30, 35, who get their news from those venues. It's that mix of sarcasm, irony and news sort of intertwined, you wonder whether "SNL" is part of this conversation where suddenly it all converges.

ARMISEN: I think it's part of the conversation, but we never think about it.


ARMISEN: We only ever think about is what is the audience going to like, what's going to serve the sketch.

SPITZER: So it's not a big left-wing conspiracy?

ARMISEN: Not at all. Not at all.

PARKER: All right. Fred Armisen, thanks so much for being with us.

ARMISEN: Thank you very much.

SPITZER: Thank you.

ARMISEN: Thank you.


SPITZER: Coming up, Jared Loughner today faced a federal judge in Tucson, entering a plea in this month's deadly shooting rampage. What he said may surprise you. We'll be right back.


PARKER: The man accused of carrying out the massacre in Tucson was in federal court once again today. So what's he saying? Not guilty. At least that's what Jared Lee Loughner's pleaded to charges he tried to assassinate Representative Gabrielle Giffords and two members of her staff.

SPITZER: Meanwhile, Loughner himself stayed silent. The accused killer shackled in his waste and the ankles smiled and chuckled to himself through the entire court proceedings. You can see his hair has started to grow back since his mug shot was taken more than two weeks ago.

PARKER: One thing the judge didn't rule on today was the prosecutor's request to move the federal case from Phoenix back to Tucson where the shootings took place. They're seeking a change of venue so victims and witnesses don't have to make the four-hour round trip to a Phoenix courtroom. Either way, Loughner is next expected in court on March 9th.

SPITZER: Meanwhile, Congresswoman Giffords continues to undergo treatment at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. But she hasn't been able to start rehab. Spinal fluid built up in her brain after she was transferred by air from Tucson on Friday. As of now, she remains in intensive care, but will be transferred to the hospital's rehabilitation center as soon as doctors determine she's stable.

PARKER: There is some uplifting news today. The families of 9- year-old Christina Green and Congresswoman Giffords' intern, Daniel Hernandez, will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama at tomorrow night's State of the Union address. Several of Giffords' doctors will also attend the speech. But her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, reportedly declined the invitation, choosing instead to stay with his wife.

SPITZER: Speaking of that speech, when we come back, the president tomorrow night faces a divided Congress and an anxious nation. How does he strike the right balance between compromise and conscience? We'll go behind the scenes with two presidential speechwriters who've been there, done that. Stay with us.


SPITZER: Inside the White House tonight, President Obama and his team are putting the finishing touches on the State of the Union address. The president gave a sneak peek of what he'll say in a video clip that was e-mailed to his supporters over the weekend. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My principle focus, my number one focus is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing, and we are creating jobs, not just now, but well into the future. And that's what is going to be the main topic of the State of the Union.


PARKER: But getting that message into words and into words that count is an art of its own. And no one knows that art better than our guest tonight. Michael Walden was director of speechwriting for President Clinton and has written four State of the Union speeches. His new book is "My Fellow Americans," which is a collection of presidential addresses. David Frum was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and has written two State of the Union addresses for the former president.

Gentlemen, it's great to have you here. Thanks so much.



PARKER: All right. Describe to us what is likely happening in the White House tonight. What are the speechwriters doing?

MICHAEL WALDMAN, FMR. SPEECHWRITER FOR BILL CLINTON: This is the last night of a month's long process. They're probably on their 20th draft. They're making change after change, and they're probably checking every word. Because when you write one of these State of the Unions, it's not only supposed to sound good, but each word costs money. If something is a priority instead of the priority, that's a billion dollar difference.

PARKER: Well, are they exhausted? Exhilarated?

DAVID FRUM, FMR. SPEECHWRITER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, different White Houses have different styles. The Bush White House, which where the trains ran very tightly on time, I think a little more tightly on time. The Clinton White House, right now, this would be a time for rehearsing. The key that George Bush would get better and better the more often you could put him in front of a teleprompter, and have him read it through once, twice, three times. And so those rehearsals which will be in the White House screening room, they were very important. I assume they may be at this late hour probably doing that.

WALDMAN: Bill Clinton would write standing up. And you had to keep track of his changes and feed them to the teleprompter for the next round.

SPITZER: That's my question. Did George -- President George W. Bush participate in the crafting of the words? We hear these stories that Bill Clinton was just a constant editor.


SPITZER: Was that part of the Bush White House?

FRUM: Bush needs to get more attention for how involved he was. He really cared a lot about words. And he knew they didn't come naturally.

There's a family story here. I think his father, who also is not artful with words responded by deciding words weren't that important. Whereas George Bush, because he maybe was a little more self- confident, they're very important, they're not his natural strength. But he would be involved. He used the sharp -- actually, in very --

SPITZER: One of these sharpies.

FRUM: He would then -- he would mark them up. He had a lot to say. He had strong visions of what he wanted to communicate. The Bush States of the Union were much shorter. They were focused. He -- the rule -- the thing that every State of the Union process starts with is somebody saying we don't want this to be a laundry list. And in the George Bush administration, that was actually to a great extent true, and his speeches polled much less well than the speeches that actually were just laundry lists.

PARKER: How long does the whole process take? I mean, when do they start working on the State of the Union address?

WALDMAN: Months in advance. For Clinton, it was two or three months in advance. And Clinton himself would pretty much scrub his schedule and do not much else other than work on it.

PARKER: For the last month?

WALDMAN: Yes, because it was a way of organizing the government. It's the one way a president has every year where he knows he's going to get the whole country listening. He can force the policy people to finally produce those ideas he's been demanding all year long. And it gives him a chance almost to think. I mean, with Clinton, he would reach out and talk to everybody who'd written a book that he liked that year. We had to do a dragnet for people to send in ideas. Again, it's a great window on the personality of who the president is.

SPITZER: Michael, let me challenge you. Between the two of you, you've written six of these great epical speeches.


SPITZER: There's a sameness to all of them. I hate to say it to somebody who's tried to give speeches occasionally. At the end of the day, the State of the Union has all this build up. The pundits are sitting around every night saying what's going to be (INAUDIBLE). Two days later, people have forgotten it. How often is there that memorable phrase that actually captures the public imagination?

PARKER: I think David can answer that question because he's famous for the most famous phrase.

FRUM: The phrasing is the least of it. The question is how do you succeeded in forcing the priorities of your administration. Here's where Michael is right. This is a forcing mechanism for the executive branch of the government. And if you can mobilize people and discipline them and force them to think, and force them to do -- there was actually "the era of big government is over" was a Clinton phrase, and that was very powerful, and for a while true.

PARKER: David, you are either famous or infamous for the words "axis of evil" in one of George W. Bush's speeches. That was -- that made big news. How hard was it to get those words into that speech? FRUM: It only took three people working a week and a half to do it so --

PARKER: Seriously, did you have to lobby for that?

FRUM: No, no. Look, in the Bush administration, it was a much -- sometimes people like the speechwriters had control of the asylum. There was much more agreement for writers in that administration. It was a very writerly administration. They drove a lot of it.

President Bush always liked big themes, big messages, big content. And he was a high stakes president. And that phrase, it had very high stakes attached to it. When you say something that people remember, you also are inviting people to judge you.

WALDMAN: It's pretty rare that any lines from presidents, whether State of the Union or not that we remember them. We only remember even a few lines from Ronald Reagan. But these speeches when they're done with kind of boldness and a bit of surprise can change the political environment.

Clinton in 1996 had just had this big government shutdown, the showdown with the Republicans. But nobody was really sure who won until he gave the speech and kind of outlined his vision for the role of government. And people loved it. And he went up 10 points in the polls. In a way, that's what President Obama has a chance to do, to kind of set out his vision of the role of government, not just this policy or that, but make it all come together. What is the economy supposed to look like? What's the role for government? How do we get prosperity? And then people won't worry about this word or that phrase.

SPITZER: You're right. He's much less the individual phrase. And even though I hate the word I'm about to use, it is controlling the narrative. It is actually integrating the various strands of what government is doing and why and letting the public and editorial writers and those will then transmit that message on to voters, understand what's going on up here for the president.

FRUM: Most people see the president in a clip of six, seven seconds, or seven seconds, maybe a couple of times a week. So to be confronted with him for a full hour, to see him as a human being. And suddenly, you know, maybe he's not the person you thought he was. These people don't rise in politics unless they have some ability to connect with people, if they're given the chance. And here's their chance.

PARKER: Peggy Noonan, the great speechwriter for Ronald Reagan used to study other great speeches throughout history. Did you all do that? Each of you, did you go back and look at how other people did it?

WALDMAN: Yes. There is a voice that any president has. And in a way, in the modern terms it came from FDR and Kennedy and Reagan. And you know, Nixon used to talk to the portraits. And we all thought that was kind of weird. But they all do. And the portraits talk back.


WALDMAN: And you talk in a way that the president, whoever the president is, is supposed to talk. And there's a -- the president has a sort of formality of voice of government. You have to find a way to put some showmanship and some kind of pizzazz in that at the same time. And it's not so easy. So far in these big speeches, President Obama hasn't quite found the voice to do it.

FRUM: You know, Ronald Reagan like Johnny Carson is always better than his material. When you read the speeches, you don't see the magic. Obama has, so far, I think underperformed his speeches. They read very well. But that emotional connection, maybe he's so cerebral, there's just something that is missing. Maybe that's the thing --

SPITZER: Of course, Tucson, was a uniquely emotional moment. So it almost cried out for us to reach out and hug him and feel that he was our confessor or our priest/rabbi. What is the headline the president wants to see Wednesday morning across the nation to capture that emotional connect?

WALDMAN: He's got to show that he is the president of the whole country with a plan for prosperity. See, that sounds like the cliches of the State of the Union.


WALDMAN: They just pop right out. But it's reaching out to the Republicans on some things and drawing some sharp lines where he is going to pick a fight. And it doesn't lend itself necessarily to a clear narrative other than that he continues to rise.

FRUM: He has to reconnect, too. That hope means something good. Real change, real improvement, and he has to -- the Republicans have been crowding him off the ice. They have been successfully representing him as a left wing person. He has to remind the country I'm not a left-winger, or if I am, I'm a left-winger, wants to work with others.

SPITZER: OK, we've got precious few seconds left. Very, very quickly tell the story of what happened to President Bill Clinton in 1993, I think it was.

WALDMAN: He walked up to give the speech launching his health care plan, and the wrong speech was on the teleprompter. It was the State of the Union from several months before. And without looking -- he had the wrong speech rolling in front of him. And he from memory gave the health care speech.

PARKER: All right. David Frum, Michael Waldman, I had to do it. Thanks so much for being with us.

FRUM: Thank you.

SPITZER: Be sure to join CNN tomorrow for a special coverage of President Obama's State of the Union address.

Good night from New York. "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.