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Countdown to the President's Speech

Aired January 25, 2011 - 20:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We're one hour away from the president of the United States delivering the State of the Union address before a joint session of the United States Congress.

Pretty soon people will start walking in to the House of Representatives on the floor. Members of the diplomatic corps, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, members of the United States Supreme Court, and of course the senators and the representatives, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives, and the still Democratic majority, albeit a smaller one, in the United States Senate.

This is an important speech for the president. He'll speak for probably around an hour. Almost all of it will deal with domestic issues -- jobs, jobs, jobs, the U.S. economy. He will touch on some foreign policy issues like Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran. But most of the speech will deal with the bread-and-butter issues, what's facing the United States right now and how to improve the economy.

We have our reporters and our analysts. They are all standing by. Let's walk over to some members of the best political team on television.

And Candy Crowley, you're here right now. What does the president of the United States need to accomplish in this one speech tonight?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He -- I mean politically speaking, he needs to bring back the independents who are already beginning to drift back to him as we're seeing in the polling. I think this is a speech that totally and -- sort of reminding them of the Barack Obama that they voted into office.

I think that's the most important thing he needs to do. Because these things about well, we're going to freeze this or freeze that, by tomorrow morning, there will be 23 other ideas on the table. So I think this is about the totality of the speech and the feel of it, frankly.

BLITZER: David Gergen, the president invited you not that long ago, only a few weeks ago to come in with some other elder statesmen, if you will. People who have experience. You served four U.S. presidents, Democrats and Republicans.

You're not going to tell us what he said to you because it was off the record. But tell us what advice you gave the president.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I actually -- I do want to protect him. And by the way, I also talked to Republican leaders about things like this. But the point was, I felt that what he did in Winston-Salem a couple of months ago in talking about a U.S. competitiveness was a very, very important theme.

And that I did think that for too long we've neglected the question of how jobs are disappearing and what we need to do at home in science and math in getting our kids trained up and stopping this outflow of jobs.

And we had a long discussion about that. And I'm very delighted tonight that he is -- that he is going to build upon that theme. I think he does need to change the conversation. I think that both a political speech -- but it's a pivot in his administration. Two years of fighting what he inherited.

Now what stamp is he going to put on the future? This is why he needs a big theme tonight.

BLITZER: I know, Eliot Spitzer, the president has been studying Ronald Reagan, how he did it, how he connected with the American public. He's been studying Bill Clinton, how he connected, all of us remember Bill Clinton.


BLITZER: When he used to say I feel your pain. That's one area that I think he himself would acknowledge he needs some work.

SPITZER: Well, he -- traditionally the first two years did not do well connecting emotionally with the public. On the other hand, his speech at Tucson was even -- the setting was obviously one of mourning -- was one where we looked to him and we felt that empathy. We felt the sympathy. He did reach out to the public.

Since Election Day in November when he suffered the shellacking that he described, we have been going back to him. I describe it partially to buyer's remorse now that we're beginning to see what the Republican Party really stands for. But also of course, as David has said, he has been pivoting very much more towards the middle, striking themes that I don't necessarily agree with.

But he -- because he has been embracing the Republican agenda, but he has been moving very quickly to the middle, getting back those independent voters. And the tone tonight will be very much that he is the centrist. He will govern and say to people come to me, let me lead this nation back to the middle where we need to be.

BLITZER: His job approval numbers have certainly gone up.

SPITZER: Absolutely. BLITZER: Since the shellacking that the Democrats took in the midterm elections.


BLITZER: In early November. Joe Johns has been taking a closer look at some of those numbers.

Joe, walk us through because he's doing relatively well right now.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: He has, but he's had a very tough slog, if you look at it, Wolf. Obviously it all starts right after he was inaugurated.

Let's talk about February of 2009. The president has very high approval ratings. And then after that he starts having problems. It's the summer -- it's a summer of discontent in 2009 the Tea Party emerges. It doesn't help him.

We move on to December. That's when the health care debate begins. It doesn't help him again. Over to March when he signs the health care. Another tank. Finally, it really hits the skids with a 42 percent rating. That of course is in September, September 23, 2010.

That's a period when this president of the United States is facing a lot of problems from Republicans criticizing him going up to the midterms. A lot more problems from liberals who say he is not doing enough.

Today 55 percent, pretty good for this president. Let's see just how he compares with some other presidents. In fact, all the presidents over the last 30 years, he is doing pretty well.

The one thing most interesting about this chart is that the most iconic figure in politics during this period is Ronald Reagan. He had the worst numbers at this point in his administration.

This president is ahead of all the other Democrats, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The only people he's behind is the two Bushes, Bush 41, Bush 43. Both had foreign conflicts, one before, one after.

So that's how it goes, Wolf. The big question in all of this is trending. Which way were these presidents going? Were they going up or were they going down, and whether Barack Obama can maintain the momentum he's got right now?

BLITZER: He certainly has some momentum right now, but that could change mighty -- mightily quickly, if you will.

Joe Johns, don't go too far away.

John King is up on Capitol Hill. He's watching what's going on.

John, the president -- every president usually gets a nice little bump in the ratings right after a big State of the Union address. I assume the president will as well.

JOHN KING, HOST, JOHN KING, USA: They are counting on that at the Obama White House, Wolf. And to Joe's point, 55 percent approval rating is a good place for a president to be. Any time you're above 60 as you start to head into the election cycle, the political guys, whether Democrats or Republicans, will tell you above 50 is the place to be.

But the other key thing to watch, Wolf, is a simple question in presidential politics, a defining question in American politics. When you ask the American people, is the country on the right track. And that number is still in the negative. However, it is beginning to move.

The American people are slowly becoming more optimistic about the economy. And if they get more optimistic about the economy, that is the president's leading indicator heading into reelection. And that his leading charge tonight.

To say yes, the Republicans now control the House of Representatives. Yes, the Republicans have more power here in Washington. And yes, I'm going to have to do business with them. And so the politics of the moment and the necessities of the moment are going to require a focus on deficit reduction, some spending cuts.

But he will passionately make a case, and this is the big butting of the heads if you will at the moment that he has to have some new spending to compete in the economy, to make the economy not only better next year, but better for the next generation.

And that is a defining challenge for the president to try to win the confidence argument, to win the trust argument tonight which is a big reset night in American politics. The president saying trust me, not them.

BLITZER: And John, you and I both know that the president is bracing for what some White House officials call howling from some of their liberal base in the Democratic Party as a result of some of the so-called budget cuts he is going to be putting forward. Tell our viewers what we're talking about.

KING: Well, in many ways, politically, Wolf, they're hoping for howling from the left, to be honest. They're the Democratic White House. But they hope for howling from the left when the president actually -- he won't have many specifics tonight. He will talk about a five-year spending freeze.

The Republicans will say that's not enough. But we will get the president's budget over the course of the month and they will consolidate some government, I'm told. They will cut some popular programs, I am told. And I know you know this is -- and then they expect liberals to say what are you doing, Mr. President? You're supposed to be on our side.

Now they'll have to deal with that. But they know the bigger pressure for cuts will come from the Republicans. And that's part of the president's goal tonight, Wolf. He will say I'm the reasonable guy in the middle. The left doesn't like everything, nor does the right.

BLITZER: All right, John, stand by.

Let's go to White House, our senior correspondent Ed Henry. He is getting excerpts of what the president say.

Ed, I know they have worked really hard, the president's speech writers, his top aides. But the president of the United States, he has personally been involved in crafting what is probably going to be a nearly one-hour speech.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He is, Wolf. In fact, top aides say this is a president who kicks back a lot of drafts, puts his fingerprints all over these kinds of big speeches.

And as you and John were talking about, one president he's going to be borrowing a little bit, at least from, is Bill Clinton. If you look at this excerpt we've already gotten, the president refers to that shellacking in the election and says, quote, "With their votes, the American people determined that govern willing now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans.

"We will move forward together or not at all for the challenges we face are bigger than party and bigger than politics." Trying to send the signal as Bill Clinton did in 1995. He gets the message from the election, but also maybe a little bit of a challenge to the Republicans. They share the responsibility to govern.

Now one other quick note about another president he's been relying on is Ronald Reagan. Now why is that? Aides say that over the holidays, the president was reading a biography of Ronald Reagan by Lou Cannon, in part because of that optimism we saw in Ronald Reagan's State of the Union addresses and throughout his presidency.

And we're going to hear a lot about that tonight when the president talks about competitiveness, about how he believes the United States is ready for what he's going to call tonight a Sputnik moment to rise to the occasion.

Well, what's the other thing Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan have in common? Both of them faced a tough midterm elections, had huge challenges after the first two years, but they both made adjustments and they both got reelected, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ed, stand by because this is going to be a fascinating night. There's a lot of strange developments happening in the U.S. Congress tonight.

For the first time, at least I know of, there will be not -- the members will not sit Republicans on one side, Democrats on the other side. They're going to be sitting together. It's what they call date night on Capitol Hill. Some very strange odd couples.

They're getting ready to sit next to each other. We're going to watch that.

Also something else. Not just one Republican response tonight from the official Republican responder, if you will, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, but a second one from a Tea Party supporter and activist, Michele Bachmann. She'll be giving a separate Tea Party response to the president.

Only CNN will carry all of this live. Our coverage will continue right after this.


BLITZER: The United States Capitol. Always a beautiful sight, especially on this night when all the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, they're invited to attend the president's State of the Union address together with other distinguished guests as well.

This is Statuary Hall, live pictures you're seeing right there. Sort of like the red carpet version of what's going on on Capitol Hill. The members will walk into the House floor through that area right there. You see reporters standing by, camera crews.

Our own Jessica Yellin is somewhere in there as well.

Jessica, tell our viewers where you are, what you're seeing, and what's going on.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm at the very far end here near the doors where people will actually walk in and take their seats. As they're walking by, a lot of them stop to tell us who they're sitting with. It's been a big theme, the bipartisan seating as you know.

But the other thing is I've been asking especially some of the Republican members about what the president plans to say tonight, spending obviously and reining in spending is a major theme for the new Republican class in the House.

And the president plans to announce that he would like to freeze nondiscretionary spending, nondefense discretionary spending for five years at the next year's level. So I have asked these Republican members, is that good enough for them? And to a person, those I have talked to say no, not nearly good enough.

Freezing spending at its current high rates, in their view, their words, is not enough of a compromise. So already a fight shaping up between the Republicans and the president. But he is offering an olive branch, and in some ways that's really all he needs to do to knock off this year and this debate. But it will be a feisty debate going forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're only about 15 minutes away from when we can actually go inside and see what's happening on the floor of the House.

Jessica, don't go too far away. If you see somebody really cool walking in or you see one of those odd couples walking in together holding hands, you'll grab them, you'll talk to them, you'll let us know.

YELLIN: Will do.

BLITZER: We'll put them on television as well.

Jessica Yellin is outside of the floor of the House of Representatives at Statuary Hall.

Ali Velshi is here with us together with members of the best political team on television.

Ali, it's all about jobs tonight.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The economy is by far the biggest issue for three years on Americans' minds. Unemployment is at the top of that. Our national unemployment rate is 9.4 percent. But the reality is even that number doesn't encompass most of the unemployed in this country.

So I've taken the map of the country and I've divided it up. Those states that have an unemployment rate that is 1.5 percentage points higher than the national average are the ones you see here in red. Those with a percentage point -- an unemployment rate 1.5 percentage points lower than the national average are the states in green. Everything else is about the same as the national average.

Take a look at Michigan right below me, or Rhode Island in the east. These are states that have suffered from the long-term decline in manufacturing jobs in this country.

Take a look at the other red dots. You've got California, Nevada, and Florida. What do they have in common? They were all states where there was a great deal of property speculation, and there were a great deal of jobs involved in construction that have all been lost.

Look at these states in the middle, the mountain states going all the way down almost to Texas. These are states that are a little bit more diversified. These are states that have education. They've got nursing jobs, they've got other health care jobs. They've got oil prospecting, transportation jobs, accounting jobs.

The reality is that unemployment across this country is different depending on where you live. If you are dependent upon manufacturing, old-fashioned American jobs, unfortunately, regardless of what everyone will tell you, it isn't -- those jobs are not coming back right now.

We have faced too many challenges from China on that. The reality is we have to find new jobs in alternative energy, in traditional energy, in education, and those are states that are succeeding.

We'll have to see what the president says about that. No doubt he will touch on those topics.

BLITZER: All right, Ali, stand by.


BLITZER: Because we have more information that you're going the share with our viewers as well.

Eliot, I know you're going to go pretty soon, but quickly, the only way really to create millions of jobs is to get the economy roaring once again. The president is going to come up with some ideas. But how does he do that?

SPITZER: Well, look, I think that's the problem. He has said to his own staff how do we get this economy booming. Fiscal policy is out because Congress really won't spend more money. Monetary policy is out because interest rates are at zero.

The only answer is innovation. That's why if you read the text to the speech that is now being distributed, on page three, at least the version we have, innovation crops up. Creativity, innovation, technology. That is what the president wants to tell the American people.

We must transition to a new foundation for our economy. That will be a slow process, but he wants to help make that happen by investing -- that will be the word he uses -- in technology and education and R&D and infrastructure. That is the way he will say this economy will become one that will grow creating millions of jobs down the road.

BLITZER: And Eric Erickson, you know that when Republicans hear the word investing, they think big government spending.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Very much. It is the exact same rhetoric he used in the stimulus plan that the Republicans didn't very much like, which still those funds haven't entirely been spent. And some of this reflects the words in the stimulus.

The 5 percent freeze or the 5 percent spending freeze, it was, I guess, a 3 percent spending freeze he called for in last year's State of the Union address. A lot of these things in the size. And he's not touching, neither are the Republicans for that matter -- touching defense spending. All of them should be touching defense spending and cutting that budget as well.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Maybe what he should do is call it research and development because then we all love how corporate America loves their R&D dollars. And they will -- maybe if you call it that, the Republicans might actually buy into it.

Look, we can sit here and ask the question, what is the government going to do? But you've heard Republicans say for two years government can't grow jobs. And so it's interesting that we keep asking of a president what are you going to do to grow jobs when the opposition says government can't grow jobs. Then I hear Republicans then say we have to grow jobs. So I'm saying OK, guys, which one is it? Because if you can't do it and private sector can do it, then what are you actually saying?

ERICKSON: Keep government out of the way.

GERGEN: Yes, but I want to disagree with the notion that Republicans can't embrace his competitiveness agenda. Five years ago there was a big -- the National Economies of Science and Engineering came up with a great big report, proposed a competitiveness agenda for the United States.

George W. Bush embraced it and proposed it and a Republican Congress voted for it overwhelmingly. It is not true that Republicans will not support this.

MARTIN: Well, keep in mind the same Republicans opposed the -- budget council in terms of folks who actually -- the deficit commission, I'm sorry. They opposed that even though it was one of their ideas. And actually the health care bill, we actually came up with, you hear Republicans say, even Bill Frist said it was originally a Republican idea. So they have a history of actually opposing things they liked before.

SPITZER: I would just totally agree with David. I was going to quote from George W. Bush's speech to the nation which he relied upon the same language of competitiveness, , innovation and investment in R&D, just as President Obama will today. This is a bipartisan understanding about how you must transition our economy.

BLITZER: And he'll talk --

SPITZER: There is no disagreement about this.

BLITZER: He'll talk tonight about a new age of Sputnik for those of us old enough to remember what that word means.

SPITZER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right.

MARTIN: What is that?


MARTIN: What is that?

BLITZER: Hold on. Roland, we're going to teach you -- we're going to teach you all about that.

The first family, they're getting ready to leave the White House. I hope we have a live picture of the South Portico. Yes, there it is. The family will be getting ready to leave the White House. I believe that's the North Portico of the White House. There will be the motorcade getting ready to leave to drive down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the other end, to Capitol Hill, where the president will be delivering the State of the Union address momentarily.

There is Jessica Yellin, Statuary Hall.

Momentarily, the vice president of the United States, who also happens to be the president of the Senate, he'll be introduced. Other guests will be introduced.

Our special coverage will continue right after this.


KING: Live picture there of Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.

I'm John king in Washington. Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the president's State of the Union address.

A big night here in Washington. He will be in the House chamber now under Republican rules. Statuary Hall always the scene of great theater. Members of the House and the Senate, other dignitaries walk those corridors and enter the House chamber.

You see a large media presence as well there. I'm right now across from the United States Capitol on the balcony of the Cannon House Office building with our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.

And, Gloria, as we watch the drama and the theater unfold, it's important substance that begins tonight. We won't settle any of these big debates tonight. But you heard David Gergen, Eliot Spitzer, and others from the last segment arguing about can the president -- the Democratic president sell the Republicans on these new investments he will call them. They will say no, sir, it's more liberal spending.


KING: But about the economy, on a competitiveness agenda, can he sell the Republicans at a time many Republicans would probably say maybe, but with the Tea Party forces they say no?

BORGER: No. You know, it's interesting you should ask this. I was talking to a senior White House adviser today and I said just that. The Republicans are going to say you're spending too much money. We need to cut money. And his answer was, let the American people decide whether expanding the educational system is wasteful.

Let them decide whether they're doing that for their children's future is wasteful, or whether we ought to do it now. So it's an argument it's clear that the president is really willing to have within a framework of fiscal responsibility.

KING: And the president is convinced, I am told, that if he can sell the American people that he is serious about some cuts.


KING: That he comes across as credible when it comes to cutting spending and deficit reduction, he believes he can make a play to national pride. Saying if we don't make these investments, we will fall behind China, behind India, behind other in the global economy.

The question is, can he make that case to the American people and then get about the nitty-gritty what we haven't seen only in the lame duck session in the tax cut deal.

BORGER: Right.

KING: Can this president negotiate, not just position himself with the American people, but negotiate with this new Republican?

BORGER: Well, and here's another question. Can he -- can he make the connection for the American people between all of this and their jobs and the fact that unemployment remains above 9 percent.

You know, he's got to soar in this speech. It's the State of the Union. He's got to appeal to the good in all of us and say yes, we're all about the future. But on the other hand there are a lot of people sitting out there out of work. And they have to believe after hearing this speech that the president is talking about a way to get them out of the mess they feel that they're in.

KING: And as we go back to Wolf and the rest of our colleagues in New York, Wolf, that is the big challenge for the president. He wants to be uplifting. He wants to be more confident. But he also knows in a country with more than 9 percent unemployment, he cannot promise a job to anyone out there who is unemployed.

So he is trying to begin a game of very important chess if you will with the Republicans that he can be upbeat, but he needs to be careful because of the fragile state of the economy.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And there will be plenty of battles in the weeks and months to come.

Guys, stand by.

I want to bring in CNN's newest, newest host, Piers Morgan who is watching all of this.

How unusual is this State of the Union address? You've got a perspective as someone who has come from overseas. Give us a little unique --

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT: I think it's quite at the right time because in Britain of course we have the Queen's speech. We don't have a State of the Union. And with the "The King's Speech" getting so many Oscar nominations today it's focused back on what we have in Britain.

In a funny way, reading the Obama speech just now, it reminds me of the primary purpose of the queen's speech or a king's speech. And that is to restore confidence in your country. Whatever has gone on in the year before, and it's been to him personally and for the country, one hell of a shellacking. This is the time that President Obama has to say enough is enough. We have to put this negativity behind us, and we have to start beating our chests to be the America that we were.

Because I haven't seen America be this vulnerable in my lifetime. And he is quite right to accentuate I think the threat, but also the opportunity that is coming from China and India and other countries.

America's got to do business with these countries. America has to create jobs in this country to export to those countries. And reinvent the wheel of its business economy. And I think he is right. I think it's a good speech. It's an inspirational speech. I think the Sputnik analogy is a good one. Because when that happened, America was left behind.

And there is a real danger at the moment of it being left behind by China. And the answer is to get into China. I mean look at General Motors. They are shifting a lot of cars in China. Other American businesses have got to start creating and exporting to these countries and making them business partners.

BLITZER: General Motors is selling more cars in China now than General Motors is selling in the United States. And pretty soon, General Motors might be the number one car seller in the entire world. And it wasn't that long ago, David Gergen, when General Motors was, if not bankrupt, it was on the verge of bankruptcy.

GERGEN: We've gone from nearly 500,000 jobs in Michigan and the car industry to about 100,000 jobs in the car industry. That's the decline. That's what's really -- and I think as much as Americans are, is he up or is he down, I think they really care about this competition with China and these jobs disappearing. They understand it. And I think the president may change the conversation that we have not yet had a major conversation in this country about how to deal with this, and how to rebuild the jobs from the inside.

BLITZER: You know, Erick, I got to get your thoughts on two Republican responses tonight, not one, but two. One from the traditional, I guess the establishment Republican, even though he is a very popular conservative, Paul Ryan, the congressman from Wisconsin. But Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, she is going to give a second Republican or Tea Party response as well. We'll carry both of those live here on CNN. I believe we're the only television network that will take it all live. But how much of a problem is this for the GOP?

ERICKSON: I think it could be a problem for the GOP. And the way it's already being portrayed is that it's a problem for the GOP. There's a split there.

The fact is that the Tea Party movement is not part of the Republican movement and hasn't been. And, of course, it's going to want to say it feels victorious after November. The biggest issue I think that most people are missing is that, in effect, this is although completely different issues, this is analogous to the 1980s rise of the Christian coalition where you have grassroots Christian activists mobilizing to a force. We're now seeing this with the Tea Party movement taking on professional activists merging the grassroots and now they're becoming a force and an actual institution as opposed to this nebulous movement in the country.

MARTIN: The Tea Party may not be an elbow on the Republican Party, but they clearly are aligned with the Republican Party. It's not likely the Tea Party having significant conversations on the Democratic side. And so I would have, frankly, more respect for the Tea Party if they did not have a member of Congress giving their response because to suggest that she's an activist, she's not. She's a Republican member of Congress. And so, you do have frankly, I guess, Republican light, Republican serious in terms of these addresses. And so, frankly, it makes no sense to me. It's different if you say it's a grassroots movement if you have the grassroots speaking tonight and not Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

ERICKSON: That is the one curious choice is that Congresswoman Bachmann doing this who may wind up running for president, although I suspect the networks and the news wouldn't be covering it as much if it was just a grassroots activist as opposed to a member of Congress.

BLITZER: Well, there's clearly a significant element of the population, Candy, and you covered this, that likes the Tea Party. And based on what I could tell them, almost everybody who supports the Tea Party at least in these most recent midterm elections wound up voting on behalf of the Republicans.

CROWLEY: Yes, I mean, the fact of the matter is Michele Bachmann is a Republican. There is no Tea Party in the sense of the Republican Party, the Democrat --

BLITZER: There could be one of these days.

CROWLEY: Yes. But at the moment this is not a -- yes, right. It's just, you know, the problem here is that maybe if they picked a better name or whatever. But there's not a party. Michele Bachmann is a Republican. The people who were elected by Tea Party activists had an "r" after their name.


CROWLEY: And you're going to see them. Look, they have enough Republicans in the House to let some of them spin off and vote the way they would like to, even if it's not where the more traditional Republicans are going to vote. But the fact of the matter is this is another Republican response.

BLITZER: And I just want to remind our viewers the only place they'll see on television that speech live, Michele Bachmann's Tea Party speech will be right here on CNN.

I'll take a break. But a quick question. "The King's Speech." Academy Award winner?

MORGAN: Oh, without a question. To me the most powerful movie I've seen in a long time. And Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush and the others in it, outstanding acting. A great story. You cannot beat a great story. The king of England who had a stammer so bad he couldn't speak. And he finally has to make a speech to restore the country's confidence when they go to war with the Nazis. It's an amazing story.

BLITZER: I love that movie. But I loved "The Social Network."

MARTIN: He just said, beat America's chair. So I'm going for "True Grit."


I'm from Texas. I'm going for the cowboy movie.

MORGAN: I would like Colin Firth to win because everyone thinks he's me. So I get a kind of Oscar by default.

MARTIN: Or do you think you're Colin Firth?

MORGAN: That's more like it.

BLITZER: Maybe they'll make a movie, one day the president's speech. Very cool as well.

All right. They're getting ready to walk into the House chamber. We're going to cover it live. You'll see it all right here on CNN. Our coverage continues right after this.


BLITZER: All right. They're walking into the House chamber right now. They're getting ready. At the top of the hour, the president of the United States will be introduced with those famous words "Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States." But members are now coming in. And this is most unusual because Republicans and Democrats, they're going to be sitting next to each other in the aftermath of the Tucson shooting. They decided this was a good idea. It was -- it breaks tradition.

I want to show you a clip of what happened back in 2006 when President Bush was delivering his State of the Union address. Watch this, and you see what normally happens when he says something, a president says something. The Democrats will respond one way, the Republicans respond another way.


All right. So you saw the Republicans standing. The standing ovation for President Bush at that time. But then the Democrats were sitting.

Tonight, it's going to be different. And there are some extraordinary odd couples, political odd couples who have decided to get together. For example, Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York with Tom Coburn, the Republican senator from Oklahoma. Anthony Weiner is a very liberal Democrat from New York. Pete King, he's a very conservative Republican from New York. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, the two senators from Pennsylvania. John Boehner is now convening the House and some preliminary activities. Let's listen briefly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The United States Senate.


BLITZER: All right. So you heard the members of the Senate being introduced. They're walking in. Joe Biden leading members of the Senate because his official role is president of the Senate. In case of a tie, he breaks that tie. If it's a 50-50 vote, he gets to break the tie. That's the role of the vice president in the Senate. So he is number one.

You see Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, the Republican leader, the minority leader and the Democratic leader. And they're followed in by other Democrats and Republicans. Jon Kyl, Senator Pat Leahy, Senator Schumer followed by Senator Coburn. They'll all be walking in. This is part of the ceremony that goes on at these kinds of events.

Dana Bash is our senior congressional correspondent. She is actually inside the House chamber right now. They're walking in, Dana. Tell us what you're seeing.

VOPICE OF DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it is not only going to be a different visual, Wolf. I can tell you, I've been here for many years inside this chamber. It is a different vibe already. You felt it as soon as you walked in and saw members of Congress mingling.

I am sitting closest to what is traditionally been the Republican side of the aisle. And I'm looking at a sea of Democrats mingled in with Republicans. And there have been chatting back and forth. The people who had, as you mentioned, decided to pair before coming here, and even those who hadn't decided to pair.

I'll just tell you one thing I'm looking at that will probably interest our viewers. They probably remember the now infamous incident the last time President Obama was here when Joe Wilson, the Republican screamed "you lie." Well, guess what? I'm looking at him right now sitting next to two female Democrats from California on the Republican side. So that just gives you a sense of how different the vibe is. When this speech starts, it will obviously be very interesting to see. As you mentioned before, historically we've seen one side get up and applaud, one side sit down. How things change when Democrats and Republicans are sitting side by side. The dynamic will certainly be very different. It already is just in looking at the way members of Congress are talking to each other and chatting right now.

BLITZER: And you see, Dana, our viewers can see most of the members are wearing a ribbon. That is a ribbon in honor of those who died and were injured in the Tucson shooting. One member of the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, she was shot. She's recovering now in Houston. Six people though were killed.

There you see Senator Kerry and Senator McCain. Joe Lieberman, they're walking in as well. This is part of the tradition here on a State of the Union address night in Washington, D.C.

It was interesting. You already saw the president of the Senate. That's Vice President Joe Biden, the speaker of the House. John Boehner, they're up there. They will be sitting behind the president once he delivers his State of the Union address. At some points, no doubt Joe Biden will stand up and applaud. John Boehner will sit down. And we'll see if anything happens. I doubt if John Boehner would ever stand up when Joe Biden was sitting down. That would be extraordinary. But you never know what happens in these kinds of circumstances.

Piers Morgan is here with us. Is there a tradition besides the queen's speech or the king's speech in Britain? Is there anything similar to this?

MORGAN: I think you suggested the Conservatives and Labour Party that they would do this kind of thing. There would be a mutiny.

BLITZER: Date night when they would sit together?

MORGAN: I don't want to be cynical because the sentiment behind this is very laudable, and it's great to see this. I give it about a day, because it's going to be a moment when President Obama makes one of this dramatic pushes for applause, and it will look like most of the people are standing up and applauding, if you think about it. It's gone from half the room sitting down. So the whole room with people standing up with just a few sitting in between. It will look like he's getting a communal standing ovation. And when the Republicans realize that, I would imagine this experiment will be over.

GERGEN: It's interesting, Wolf, that the British parliament, you know, they have the two parties sitting across from each other. And when they stand to speak, they're more than a sword's point away. You cannot pick up a sword and hit the other guy. That's a long tradition.

MORGAN: They would like to. They love to.

MARTIN: I want to say, Wolf, when I heard Dana describe the two Democratic women sitting right next to Joe Wilson, I thought back to when I was in elementary school when you acted cool on the school bus. They would quiet all the guys down by having women sit right next to them. That's the first thing that came to my mind. So everything --

GERGEN: Did they ever quiet you down?

MARTIN: It didn't happen. It didn't happen. That was practice.

BLITZER: There you see Chuck Schumer, Tom Coburn. That's a political odd couple. There's the president and the first lady. They are now leaving the South Portico of the White House, getting into their limousine to make the short drive from the White House to the Capitol Hill. And they'll go up there.

The first lady has invited several important people to sit in her box up in the capitol, including Daniel Hernandez. He's that 21-year- old. Today is his birthday, intern, congressional intern who helped save the life of Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman. He was there on the scene. He applied pressure to her head as she was bleeding. And by all accounts, that certainly helped in allowing her to live.

Dr. Peter Rhee, the doctor, the trauma specialist who is there, you see members of the -- in the first lady's box right now. He's been invited as well. We saw him on television giving the briefings. And members of the Green Family, John and Roxanna, the parents of little Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old who was killed in that shooting rampage on that Saturday morning in Tucson. They are there. Others have been invited by the first lady as well.

They're making the short drive to Capitol Hill. We'll take a quick break and continue our coverage. We're only minutes away from the State of the Union address. That's coming up.


BLITZER: You saw the president of the United States leave the White House with the first lady just a few moments ago. A short drive from the White House to Capitol Hill. They're getting ready to arrive. We'll watch every step of the way. The dignitaries are walking into the House chamber. Not only members of the Senate, members of the House, but the diplomatic core, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Members of the United States Supreme Court as well. We're told the president's speech, most of it will deal with the economy and jobs and spending.

Joe Johns is here with us. And you've been looking at some of these numbers. And it's fascinating. Our brand-new poll, what's going on?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is fascinating. And one of the most fascinating things of all, Wolf, is the issue of deficit reduction. People on Capitol Hill, people all over the country love to say they're into deficit reduction. But the devil is in the details. And the question is always where will you cut? What's the most important? So in a poll we asked that very question.

We started with entitlements. What's the most important to you? Preventing cuts in social security or reducing the deficit? And it was very clear. Most people were interested in preventing cuts to social security.

Let's look at the next one. Same thing, entitlements. Medicare. You look at that number, surprising. Eighty-one percent say they're more interested in preventing cuts to Medicare than reducing the deficit. But you look at some other areas, and people say yes, I do want to cut them. But there are areas like foreign aid, 81 percent more interested in reducing the deficit than keeping foreign aid going. Of course, foreign aid only accounts for one percent of the federal budget. And then the last one, of course, is one that we wanted to check on, government pensions. Same thing. Sixty-one percent interested in reducing the deficit over government pensions. Of course, those people probably don't have government pensions. So it's a mixed bag, but pretty clear, Wolf. People don't know what to cut. They expect these people in Capitol Hill to figure it out.

BLITZER: They want their cake and they want to eat it too.

JOHNS: That's right.

BLITZER: Joe, thanks very, very much. All right.

The president of the United States is arriving. You see the motorcade right there. When the president travels, it's not just one car or two cars. I've been in those motorcades. It's probably 15 or 16 cars, including as you see an ambulance, God forbid, if that is ever necessary.

The president and the first lady, they're going to be going in. They'll be warmly received no doubt about that. The first lady will go up. Here is the speaker of the House with the vice president. Let's listen in briefly to see the business that they're engaging in right now.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: California, Mr. McCarthy. The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Hensarling. The gentleman from Texas, Mr. Sessions. The gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Price. The gentlewoman from the state of Washington, Ms. McMorris Rodgers. And the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Carter.

The gentlewoman from California, Ms. Pelosi. The gentleman from Maryland, Mr. Hoyer. The gentleman from South Carolina, Mr. Clyburn. The gentleman from Connecticut, Mr. Larsen. The gentleman from California, Mr. Becerra, and the gentleman from New York, Mr. Israel.

BLITZER: All right. He's announcing what's called the escort committee. These are the members who will escort the president of the United States. Once he is introduced, once he walks in, they will follow him. And here the vice president is going.

This is a very equal chamber. The House and the Senate equal, 435 members versus 100 members. But you see the vice president, he is now the president. He's acting as the president of the United States Senate.

David Gergen, let me bring you into this conversation. Because as I said, they want their cake and they want to eat it too. They want to cut, cut, cut.

GERGEN: That's right.

BLITZER: But they don't want to cut defense. They don't want to cut Medicare. They don't want to cut social security. There is nothing they can do about the interest that the United States government has to pay. So if you add up all of that, that's 80 or 90 percent of federal spending. They basically want to talk about 10 or 15 percent, what's called discretionary spending. And you're not going to do much in terms of reducing the deficit, reducing the national debt if you're just talking about that.

GERGEN: That's right. It's only a small piece of it. It's only really about 12 percent of the budget. So it's not very much. But there is a fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats and what to do. The president wants to freeze at the current levels. The Republicans are saying wait a minute. Over the last two years, you've increased the current levels by 25 percent. You want to freeze at a much, much higher level. We want to take it back to where it was before you started. That's a fundamental difference.

But I have to tell you, Wolf, now, I think we've all had time to scan the president's speech and Ryan's speech. It's not very many specifics. We're going to have some disappointments.

BLITZER: But there are Republicans, Erick, who have radical ideas in terms of cutting spending, for example, the new senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul. Basically wants to do away with the Department of Education, do away with the Department of Energy.

ERICKSON: Those aren't necessarily radical ideas. They've been around for 30 years.


ERICKSON: There is no reason we can't restructure things. In fact, the president says in his speech tonight they are going to restructure. We' got the strange idea in this country that when businesses hit hard times, they can restructure but the federal government can't. There's not necessarily a reason to keep the same cabinet departments we've had since George Washington.

MARTIN: But it's not just they when we talk about the politicians, it's also the people who send them to Washington, D.C. When you look at the CBS poll they laid out where they say, oh, no, we don't want taxes raised. But we don't want cuts made to our social security or Medicare benefits. And again, the American people also don't want their cake and eat it as well. So they're also part of the problem. We can't just sit here and say it's the 535 members in Congress.

BLITZER: Piers, let me just bring Piers in because they've had some radical cuts in Britain and elsewhere and Europe as well. And folks aren't happy about it, but they have no choice.

MORGAN: And here's a fascinating parallel. Britain has been through this exact kind of conundrum a few months ago. And David Cameron's government decided that they would go the Republican root. They would slash the deficit by cutting public spending. And today, this morning, out came the figures. The economy has shrunk by 0.5 percent. There's been a massive reaction against this.

Now, there are lots of excuses. They're even blaming the weather. The reality is if you do this you're taking a huge gamble with the strength of your economy. And you now have a clear divide between the Republicans and the Democrats. President Obama is saying freeze, invest, grow. Republicans are saying slash, don't invest, grow. One will win.

CROWLEY: You can't do anything about this deficit unless you do something about social security, Medicare and Medicaid. At a breakfast this morning -- and defense.

At a breakfast this morning with Speaker Boehner, he wouldn't say what he would go for in terms of social security, in terms of Medicare, like what sort of things. And that brings us back to what he called the educating of the public. He said the president's got to go out. I've got to go out. We have to tell people how bad this is, because it's not a matter of oh, let's just cut it. It's a matter if we don't cut it, these programs won't be here. So they have to sell it first before they can do it.

MARTIN: Wolf, this is the problem. This is what's going to happen. When you even say cut defense, members of Congress will then say, oh, no, that's jobs in my district. We saw it with GM. They cut dealerships. They said oh, no, that's jobs. Jobs is also now used as a way to stop cutting.

BLITZER: That's now the ambassador from Djibouti. He is the senior diplomat in Washington. He's the dean of the diplomatic core. That's why he gets introduced as he does and is allowed to walk down.


MARTIN: OK, I'm just checking.


That's a dean of the diplomatic core. Did you know that there was a dean of the Washington diplomatic core?

MARTIN: Not from Djibouti.

MORGAN: The only name I've heard before than Wolf Blitzer since I've been here.

BLITZER: I'm not even going to try to mention his name with all due respect to his Excellency, the ambassador for the Republic of Djibouti.

Members of the Supreme Court -- members of the Supreme Court -- I know where Djibouti is. But members of the Supreme Court are about to be introduced. And we're told of the nine members, six will come in there. There you see John Roberts who is the chief justice of the United States walking in. Three justices are not going to be there. Samuel Alito, for example, who was there, David, last year as you well remember. He decided not to come back this year.

GERGEN: Well, there was a feeling that the president attacked the court. And he did. He attacked one of their decisions. And you remember Sam Alito was a guy who shook his head. And that brought on a sharp exchange. There was some talk about the court not even coming this year. I'm glad they're there. It's a good tradition.

MARTIN: I think it's hilarious you can criticize Congress and the presidency, but you can't criticize the third branch of government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, but to be fair --

ERICKSON: They don't respond during the speech. And so at least the Republicans and Democrats can respond. And the court just sits there on its hands, by and large.

GERGEN: Exactly. Exactly.

BLITZER: But they don't have to come. Usually they come. There are times that no members of the Supreme Court come. And this time they come.

There you see the first lady walking into the box. Then you see Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of the vice president. She is there as well. She's got her special guests who are there as well. And we'll talk about them a little bit. But this is a special moment.

John King is up on Capitol Hill watching all of this unfold.

John, the guests that the first lady invites to sit in that box, it's really important because symbolically, it sort of underscores a theme that a president delivers.

VOICE OF JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does. And the president will talk about military families and how it's important the country stick with them at a time many people don't like to talk about Iraq and Afghanistan. There are military families there. But mostly, you will see the heroes of Tucson there, Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. The doctors who cared for her. It is an effort for the president to touch on it and pay tribute to the Tucson tragedy, but also to use the tragedy and the civility that came after it to pivot his agenda and try to ask this Republican Congress to work with him.

As you see, the president's cabinet coming in into the chamber now, as well. Wolf, Secretary of State Clinton there at the beginning. There's the cabinet. Ken Salazar, the interior secretary we are told is the designated cabinet member who will not come. Always one left out, God forbid in case of some tragedy. One member of the president's cabinet does not attend this speech tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there you see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as you say. Timothy Geithner, the secretary of the treasury right behind her. They come out in order of the -- when that cabinet position was created. The attorney general of the United States, you see right behind Robert Gates, the defense secretary. All members of the cabinet will be walking in. They are always there for these special occasions. A State of the Union address, it's not every day that the president of the United States delivers a speech like this, carefully crafted in every single way. Almost every word is considered.