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President Obama's State of the Union Address, Antoinette Tuff Attends State of the Union Address; Gingrich's Secret Note from Clinton

Aired January 28, 2014 - 20:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: The president is returning to the capital of gridlock with new priorities, old frustration and the clock ticking on his second term.

OBAMA: The greatest nation on earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a new call to action, to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

OBAMA: I believe this is the defining challenge of our time.

ANNOUNCER: Republicans are ready to fire back as the mid-term election year takes off. They have a fresh face to make their case. And White House prospects to blast the president.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: He says, "Well, it's hard to get Congress to do anything." Well, yes, welcome to the real world.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's coverage of the State of the Union address. The Republican response. And the issues shaping the battle for Congress. His vision, their challenge, your future.

The 2014 campaign is under way right now.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is almost that time on Capitol Hill. President Obama will take center stage surrounded by his strongest allies and toughest critics.

I'm Anderson Cooper in Washington. Welcome to a special edition of AC 360.

We are now about an hour away from the president's big entrance for his State of the Union address. He'll leave the White House very soon, head to the capitol, where many of the nation's most powerful people are arriving right now.

It is a rare moment when Washington comes together. The president may invite a bit of confrontation with Republicans tonight just months before the critical midterm elections.

Let's bring in Wolf Blitzer with more on what to expect tonight -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, we're told the president will threaten to use his executive powers more often when he feels blocked by Republicans in Congress. He'll also make a new push to close the income gap of the country.

Look for the Republican response by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers to be heavy on criticism of Obamacare. That's the main talking point that the GOP has in terms of their battle for Congress.

We'll also get reaction from two outspoken Republicans and possible 2016 presidential contenders, Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. They'll join us after the president's speech.

And we'll have the first reaction from Americans who watch the president's speech in our exclusive instant poll.

We have new specifics of what the president will say tonight.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He's got the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama will be making the case to the American people for expanding opportunity for all Americans. And he's going to be talking about tackling income inequality, calling it the defining project of our generation, according to excerpts released by the White House.

But he's going to be putting on Congress on notice, Wolf, that either they will have to cooperate and send legislation that he can sign that will accomplish that objective or he may be striking out on his own and seeking some executive orders that will fit the bill.

And just take a look at this excerpt that was released by the White House that goes to this thrust of the president's speech tonight. It says, quote, "I'm eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

So basically putting Congress on notice there. A couple of -- a couple of examples is what he's going to be doing with executive orders. We've already heard about one today. That is raising the minimum wage for new federal contract workers. But one thing he's also going to be doing tonight, talking to sources who are familiar with this speech, he's going to be creating a new federal retirement savings program that people can contribute to out of their paycheck.

We'll hear the president talk about that tonight.

As for legislative priorities he's going to make another impassioned plea for immigration reform according to sources that we talked to who are familiar with the speech. But one thing he is not going to do, he is not going to hammer Republicans over that inability to pass immigration reform in the past. This has been an issue that has eluded him over the last several years even since he was a candidate for president.

Also in this speech tonight I'm hearing from a source who is familiar with the address this evening, the president will mount a defense of Obamacare, but at the same time he will also address the concerns of Americans who are -- who are worried about how the program will affect their health insurance.

And finally, this is always a big surprise for everybody, the designated survivor, the Cabinet member who will not be at tonight's State of the Union speech, that is going to be secretary of energy, Ernest Moniz. He will not be there tonight for security reasons -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They've got to keep someone away from the Capitol.

Jim Acosta, it's cold out there at the White House.


BLITZER: It's cold in all parts, a lot of parts of the country right now. A lot of freezing weather, a lot of school closings. We're monitoring that as well.

John King is here with the magic wall.

You've got a closer look at some of the challenges the president is facing.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he's trying to sell his agenda to the Congress and to the American people. He's also trying to rebound from a political slump.

Let's look at the president through the years. You start in 2009, this is job approval rating. You see him dip below 50 there.

Here's where he starts 2014 giving this speech at 43 percent of Americans, when you combine all the national approval polls, 43 percent of Americans. That's a -- not a horrible number. He's been a bit lower. But in a midterm election year you want to be as close to 50 as possible.

Here's one of the great dichotomies of the Obama presidency. We'll leave it out there. The unemployment rate has dropped in recent months. Normally the president goes up. This president has not. That's frustrating to the White House. One of the reasons is a lot of people don't feel the economic recovery and the president is going to talk about that tonight.

A little historical context, Wolf, presidents at the sixth year mark, Richard Nixon was at 27 percent, a bit of an aberration. That was Watergate. He was about to leave the presidency at that point. Ronald Reagan was at 64 percent. And yet in this year the Democrats regained the Senate. Bill Clinton in 1998 was at a very strong 59 percent, the Democrats had a very good midterm election year, defied the historical trends.

These two are what a lot of Democrats are thinking about. George W. Bush is at 43 percent in 2006, Republicans had a miserable midterm election year. Democrats gained 30 seats in the House.

President Obama speaks tonight at 43 percent, Wolf, heading into an election year in which you'd have to say at this moment Republicans are favored to keep the House majority, perhaps to get the Senate. So the president is not only trying to sell his agenda, he's trying to get that number back up around that line 50.

BLITZER: That will encourage other Democrats to support him as well.

All right. John, thanks very much.

Anderson, you've got some special guests.

COOPER: Yes. We're joined again by Gloria Borger, chief political analyst, also Jon Favreau, the former Barack Obama speechwriter -- great to have you here -- and Karen Hughes, who's with Burson- Marsteller right now, former Bush campaigner adviser, former White House communications director as well.

Jon, I understand that you just came from the White House. You were kind of looking over the speech. There are a lot of different audiences for the speech. There's progressives within the president's party, there are Republicans who he has to try to work with particularly on immigration reform, there's a lot of different audiences for this.

JON FAVREAU, FORMER OBAMA SPEECHWRITER: I mean, I think the president's main audience is the American people. This will be as State of the Unions tend to be a unifying speech where he will lay out his vision for the country. And as he said, wherever he can work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress he certainly will.

COOPER: But last year there was some -- there was a laundry list of items that he wanted progress on. We just did the checklist. Not a lot of them were actually accomplished.

Do you see that happening tonight as well?

FAVREAU: I think what he's going to show tonight is a flurry of action. So I think that there are going to be plenty of ideas that he -- that he can do on his own through executive authority. I think there's going to be ideas he believes he can still work with -- with Congress on like immigration reform. And then I think there are other initiatives that he can take, you know, working with business leaders throughout the country, governors, mayors. And so I think that he's going to be showing a real agenda of action tonight.

COOPER: Karen, do these nights matter? I mean, we in the news business make a big deal about it. I mean, does it really have an impact? Do people remember the speech a few days later?

KAREN HUGHES, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I think the night that the speech happens people feel good about the proposals, feel good about the policies. The next morning they wake up and I'm not sure how much it impacts their lives. So I do think this speak is particularly important for President Obama.

COOPER: Because --

HUGHES: He had a bad 2013 as you mentioned. Most of his initiatives did not get passed. So we'll hear a lot of the same things tonight that we heard last year. He had a disastrous rollout of the health care Web site and reforms. And so I think it's particularly -- the clock is ticking. And he's -- at this point in the presidency you start to feel like you've not been able -- you realized some of the promises you've made that you've not been able to deliver on.

And you think about that litany. And so I think this is his really last best chance to deliver to a big audience a speech that sets forth a vision for the country.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, the complaint about this president has been that he doesn't follow through. And I think the disastrous rollout of Obamacare was an example of that. What he's got to do is go to the American people. There's a large caucus out there among the American people that's like let's just get it done caucus.

And what these executive actions are all about is the president saying, OK, if I can't work with you I'll go around you. If I can work with you I'll try and work with you. But he's got to show that he's a man of action.


COOPER: Well --

HUGHES: But also I would say there's something a little petulant about that to me, almost pitiful, that the president of the United States, the occupant of the most powerful office in the world is going to say, I'm going to make a few phone calls and sign a few orders. I think that's really limiting his ability. He's the leader.


FAVREAU: He's the leader --

BORGER: But presidents always do that. I mean --

FAVREAU: Presidents take executive action all the time. I mean, President Bush, you know, issued far more executive actions than this president has. And so I think --


BORGER: Reagan issued the most of all, right?

HUGHES: But they don't make themselves to say well, basically this is all I -- FAVREAU: And he won't limit it at all. No.

BORGER: I don't think -- I don't think he's limiting. But I think when you compare him to the -- sort of transformational President Obama who came into office versus the president now --

HUGHES: Will his ideas tonight be big enough to address the big issues?

BORGER: Well, but then there's -- but then there's reality. And --

COOPER: Well, how much do you think, Jon, that, he will try to kind of go for a theme rather than individual actions? I mean, talking about income inequality, thinking about trying to grow middle class as opposed to point A, B and C?

FAVREAU: Well, I think point A, B and C will be in service of the larger theme, which is, you know, expanding opportunity for the middle class. I think that is -- you know, the White House has been talking about that theme. I think the president is going to be talking about how to create more jobs, how to create more good jobs, and how to actually make sure those jobs pay. So that if you're working hard you can succeed in this country.

And the ideas there, some he's going to be able to take on his own and some he's going to need Congress for.

BORGER: And I think he's got to convince the American public not to be so pessimistic. You know, for the last 10 years, more people have thought we're on the wrong track in this country --

COOPER: Is he pessimist? I mean --

BORGER: -- than on the right track in --

FAVREAU: He is not. He is -- he is always optimistic.


COOPER: I knew you'd say that.

BORGER: I've never met a pessimist --

FAVREAU: Big surprise.

HUGHES: Hands up and giving up and going --

BORGER: I've never met a pessimistic president.

HUGHES: -- as opposed to rising and rallying to meet our big challenges.

COOPER: Well, we will see. We are about 51 minutes away. A lot more ahead.

Jake Tapper is on Capitol Hill -- Jake. JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Anderson.

Coming up, President Obama will be heading into the lion's den here on Capitol Hill. We're standing by for his exit from the White House. We'll bring that to you.

Plus I'll talk to another hero who will have the rare honor of sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama in the box, watching the State of the Union address in person. This is a woman who prevented a school shooting by talking to the would-be shooter and telling him that she loved him.

More on that after this quick break.


TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's coverage of the president's fifth State of the Union address.

I'm Jake Tapper. I'm standing in Statuary Hall yards away from where President Obama will deliver his address at the end of the hour and we're just minutes away from when House Speaker John Boehner will gavel this joint session to order.

Those who watch the joint session, watch the State of the Union address know that every year there is a special box full of heroes and others that the president wants to honor, individuals who have touched the lives of Americans throughout the previous year.

One of those sitting in the box with the first lady this evening is a woman named Antoinette Tuft. There was one less school shooting this year because of Antoinette Tuft. A woman who changed the history of events, changed the course of events, saved children's lives because of her bravery and her compassion.


ANTOINETTE TUFF, GUEST OF THE FIRST LADY: Oh, he just went outside and started shooting.

TAPPER (voice-over): The now familiar popping sound. First responders at the ready and a school full of children running for their lives. Scenes now imbedded in our collective memories. There have been more than 15 American school shootings since the last State of the Union.

Tonight the capitol's House chamber would be too small to fit the hundreds of children put on lockdown at one point or another over the last 12 months. But seated next to the first lady this evening would be Antoinette Tuff. A woman who knows their fear all too well.

TUFF: Don't worry about it. I'm going to sit right here so they'll see that you're trying not to harm me, OK?

TAPPER: Last August the administrator came face to face with Michael Hill, a 20-year-old man who entered her Atlanta Elementary School with 500 rounds of ammunition and a gun.

TUFF: He had AK-47 dressed in all black. And to be honest with you, first I thought it was a joke.


I'm like OK. But when he opened up his mouth to allow me to know that it wasn't.

TAPPER (on camera): What did he say?

TUFF: This is not a joke. This is for real.

TAPPER: Did you think you were going to die?

TUFF: I knew I was going to die. So at that time I started calling on the one that only know -- the only one I know is God. God, what do I do? What do I say and how do I say it so that this young man don't take all of our lives today?

TAPPER (voice-over): And then she found her words and an inner strength she'd been building up for this moment.

TUFF: Well, don't feel bad, baby. My husband just left me after 33 years.

TAPPER (on camera): When did you realize that you had a moment where you could reach him?

TUFF: There was not a moment. During the whole ordeal I was terrified. There was not a moment that he allowed me to know that I was actually reaching him.

TAPPER: When you started sharing with him your personal struggles --

TUFF: Yes.

TAPPER: -- that must have had an effect on him.

TUFF: It did. I understood his pain. I had been there with that pain myself.

TAPPER (voice-over): Being newly single after three decades of marriage had left Tuff crushed and searching for answers. On that day, with that gunman, she says she found them.

TUFF: I knew his pain. I knew what it felt like. Because I was right there. And I knew that that day I needed to be an angel for him just like God sent angels for me during my time.

TAPPER (on camera): When you see other school shootings taking place, and there are unfortunately constantly school shootings, what emotions do you feel when you see them?

TUFF: Sadness, overwhelming, hurt and pain, because I know what they're about to go through. And I know what it feels like. TAPPER (voice-over): And now Tuff is paying it forward once again, recounting her ordeal in a new book called "Prepared for a Purpose."

(On camera): It could have been the worst day this country has seen in terms of school shootings.

TUFF: Correct.

TAPPER: Why wasn't it? What happened that made it a story of heroism and connection instead of a tragedy?

TUFF: Well, you know, I think God prepared me for that purpose. And that was one of the reasons why I wanted to write my book. I think God prepared me for that day. But it didn't start that day. And so that's why I wanted to write my book to allow people to be able to see that in that, God prepares us for a purpose.

TAPPER (voice-over): Tonight Tuff will serve as a reminder of the bravery within our nation's schools, a job that continues to require new applicants each day.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: But you did great.

TUFF: Oh, Jesus.



TAPPER: A remarkable woman.

Most of Washington's top power players are gathering in one room right now. We'll get our first look inside the House chamber in a matter of minutes.

And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will join us. The co-host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE" has a great State of the Union story to share. It involves former President Bill Clinton and a secret note he passed to Gingrich moments before his speech. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're back with our coverage of the president's State of the Union address. When the president walks outside the White House in a matter of only a few minutes it will be 17 degrees outside here in Washington.

Snow and ice, though, have paralyzed much of the south. It's a very dangerous situation. States of emergency have been declared already in Alabama and Georgia.

We're monitoring the situation for you as we wait for the president's speech.

We'll see the VIP arrivals tonight as they happen inside the House chamber. Here's a preview of where they will be sitting. The Vice President Joe Biden, the House Speaker John Boehner, they will be seated directly behind the president on the podium. The president's Cabinet, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, seated near the front of the room. Hagel, by the way, is one of eight new Cabinet secretaries since last year's State of the Union.

The Supreme Court justices are seated next to the Cabinet members. Justice Stephen Breyer has attended 18 of the last 19 speeches, more than any other sitting justice. The Joint Chiefs of Staff are seated next to the Supreme Court justices. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, is expected to be here tonight.

Directly behind the Joint Chiefs are the members of the Senate, with Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell seated toward the middle of that group. House Democratic and Republican leaders are in the middle of the room. Look for Eric Cantor and Nancy Pelosi here.

And up above the first lady and the speaker of the House, each have their own box with a group of invited guests. President Ronald Reagan, as you know, began the practice of inviting guests to sit in the House gallery back in 1982 -- Anderson.

COOPER: I want to bring in somebody who has personal experience on this night. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the host of CNN's "CROSSFIRE. "

You've got a great story from the State of the Union with Bill Clinton back in 1996.

NEWT GINGRICH, CNN HOST, CROSSFIRE: Yes, we had been through the big fight. The government was closed. It was a real brawl. And he comes in, he walks up, and you'll see he gives each, the vice president and the speaker, an envelope. And he gave me a second envelope. I open it. It said, Speaker Newt Gingrich, from William Jefferson Clinton, you're right, I resign.


I broke up laughing. I showed it to Gore, which Bill Clinton turned and said oh, I gave you the wrong envelope.


But that's the sort of stuff that broke the ice and let us get beyond fighting to working.

COOPER: I'm always interested when you watch these speeches how, you know, Democrats stand up and Republicans don't. Was there ever a moment -- I mean, do you, like as they're saying it, do you ever think, all right, this is one I'm not going to stand up on?


COOPER: Did you plan it all out?

GINGRICH: And you're always weighing in your mind. First of all, you have to be nice because you're the host. And it's a national event. Second, you can't stand for something so outrageous that your own side will kill you.


On the other hand, you can't -- you know, if he recognizes a military hero everybody stands automatically.

COOPER: Right.

GINGRICH: And normally the -- you know, the vice president is in his party. So you have this Jumping Jack routine.

COOPER: Did you ever have a thing where you were like halfway up and they're like oh no, no, no. I'll stay.


GINGRICH: There may have been one or two occasions. I had more occasions where I thought to myself, I can't believe he's saying that.


GINGRICH: That's what I had.

COOPER: All right. We've got a lot more with our panels ahead. We're standing by for President Obama's departure from the White House and the first arrivals inside the House chamber. This will be our last break. We're going to bring you all the State of the Union action without any commercials from here on in. Stay with us.



DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, HISTORIAN: In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on September 11th, when President Bush went before the Congress in 2002, he defined the Axis of Evil, meaning Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an Axis of Evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.

GOODWIN: Axis was such a loaded word, however, because the Axis powers in World War II had been Italy and Germany and Japan. The idea that the world was now divided into Axis powers and Allied powers seemed to suggest a war coming on, which indeed was the truth.

BUSH: And it's both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom's fight.


BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures over at the White House. The president and first lady, they are getting ready to leave White House. They'll be driving down Pennsylvania Avenue, getting up to Capitol Hill momentarily.

We're going to watch the president every step of the way. Once up on Capitol Hill he'll go into the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address.

Getting closer and closer and closer to that momentarily. We'll hear the speaker of the House gavel that chamber into session. It's going to be a huge event. We're watching it step-by-step by step.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right. Wolf, let's go to the crowd from "CROSSFIRE," S.E. Cupp, Van Jones, Stephanie Cutter and Newt Gingrich, we spoke to moments ago. Probably some talk tonight about immigration reform. It does seem like that may be possible this year. What does that look like and what needs to happen for some sort of immigration reform to actually take place?

GINGRICH: I think Speaker Boehner has made very clear that he is going to produce immigration reform in the House. I suspect they'll get it done by June or July.

COOPER: Piecemeal --

GINGRICH: -- going to have to figure out a way to conference with the Senate. But I think if the president is willing to take 80 percent of what he wants he can get something signed this year and it will be a very substantial step towards immigration reform to make the system dramatically more workable.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CNN CROSSFIRE HOST: I think that that's right. I think that there is a real possibility we could get immigration reform done. House Republicans are only at the principle stage. It took them a year to get at the principle stage, laying out principles for reform. I hope that they will move a little faster over the coming months. The bipartisan bill is a good bill. It probably puts the greatest reforms in place for immigration reform in generations.

COOPER: The toughest part, though --

CUTTER: -- is citizenship!

COOPER: The road to citizenship. Will that be -- is that part of your 80 percent you see?

GINGRICH: I think what you'll get is a path to legalization and then beyond legalization you have other steps that are there that are in a complicit in getting a legal resident permit. I think you'll see substantial steps in those directions.

CUTTER: But I think you have to make sure as you're making steps in those directions you're not creating a second-class of citizens. They've made clear for children of immigrants they will get citizenship. But for adults, we just have to make sure we're not creating this second-class of citizens in terms of being a resident but not on the track for citizenship. VAN JONES, CNN CROSSFIRE HOST: To me, there are a couple of big deals here. First of all, people say President Obama is not a leader, he can't lead. He has led the country on this question of immigration and Republicans are finally following. They're following slowly. They're stumbling, halting, but he's actually setting leadership goals out there and getting country to move his direction.

I think the other thing that's so important is the humanity of this huge growing section of our country is now finally fully embraced by the majority of Americans. The president is not out there on a limb on this. People hate the heart break of seeing people who have been here helping to build this country, helping to make America better, be broken apart, being sent away.

All of this is stuff that President Obama has been speaking about for a very, very long time. His leadership is now being follow and respected by republicans.

COOPER: S.E., are now optimistic this can get done this year?

S.E. CUPP, CNN CROSSFIRE HOST: Well, what I think is amazing. I mean, today just today we got word that House republicans led by John Boehner are coming to where the president is trying to take them on immigration. We got word today that there might be an agreement on a farm bill. A month and a half ago, we got word that there was agreement on a budget.

So it strikes me as odd, the Democrats on the panel can't even lament the fact the Republicans have been slow to the table. But it strikes me as odd that tonight in light of all of that Congressional action, the president's going to take a defiant tone and say, you haven't done enough. I'm going out there on my own. I'm working around Congress. When we have those three pieces of real progress just in the last month and a half --

COOPER: On that Molotov cocktail hate to have to pass.

CUPP: Saved by the bell.

COOPER: We'll leave that flaming here for a while. We'll come back to it, Wolf and John?

BLITZER: All right, Anderson, good discussion. John King is here with the magic wall. The House of Representatives is it in play. What's going on?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Less likely than right after the government shutdown. Remember the conversations then when Republicans were taking the blame for the Republican shutdown, everyone thought perhaps the Democrats would get the majority back. Let's go back in time a little bit. I want you to look at all the blue. Look at the blue. I'm going to circle areas.

This is just after President Obama won his first election. This is what the Congress looked like. The House of Representatives, these are House districts in 2009. Look at the areas I'm circling. I want you to watch something. That is early 2009. This is what happened after the 2010 midterms. Again look at all that blue, look at all that red.

This is the Republican takeover of the House in 2010. They've built on it since then a bit, Wolf. Here's where we stand at the moment, 234 Republicans to 201 Democrats. It takes 218 to have a majority. Here's what we're going to do. Most of these districts, 435, are not competitive anymore. They're simply not. They are either Republican or Democratic districts.

If you take out the rest of them and assign the reliable republican and reliably democratic districts, about 50 districts in the country at this time are competitive. That number will shrink closer to Election Day. Of the 50 roughly evenly divided. Here's why most people think republicans will keep house. Number one in a mid- term year especially the sixth year the president's party almost always loses. Historical average around 30 seats! No one predicts that to happen. But look what has to happen.

If you give all the reliably Republican seats to John Boehner and the Republicans he only needs 8 of the 50. He only needs 8 of the 50 competitive districts and he's speaker again. Most people think they'll go well beyond that. Over here and you look here, Nancy Pelosi needs to win 43 to make that happen. She has a much Steadier hill to climb in a year that should be leaning Republican.

Again after the government shutdown it was a different calculation. The question is can it change. If you look at the map at the moment you have to assume very much that it stays in Republican hands and actually the Republicans could increase their majority.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much. Let's go back up to Capitol Hill. Jake Tapper is standing by -- Jake.

TAPPER: Wolf, if you look one second from now, House Speaker John Boehner, good to see you, sir, all timing in here through statuary hall to watch the president speak. We had Secretary of State John Kerry walk by just a few minutes ago. A lot of members of Congress come here really early to get those chose seats on the aisle so that when President Obama does come and shake the hands he takes maybe 5 or 10 minutes to get down to the days to where he speaks they do get a moment with President Obama.

You would not believe how many members of Congress literally spend hours in there waiting in these choice seats. But the big dogs like Speaker Boehner come when they want to. We're a few minutes away from President Obama speaking and addressing the crowd. Dana Bash is inside the chamber right now. If she is connected she can set the scene for us, although I don't think we can get a picture of her. Dana, are you there?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Jake. I am inside. Right now you certainly have what tends to be every year kind of the mix and mingle. Something that frankly you would see at a cocktail party without the cocktails -- TAPPER: I want to interrupt for one second. We're watching President Obama and the first lady leaving the White House and I'm going to go to Jim Acosta who is on the lawn of the White House, the north lawn -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that's right. You can see the president and the first lady climbing into their limousine now to head over to the White House. The motorcade should only take a couple of minutes to make the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue.

And Jake, I can tell you all this conversation that everybody's been having in the last several minutes about immigration reform and executive orders, that is one thing the president cannot do by executive orders, which is why you're going to hear the president according to sources I've been talking to make a real soft pitch tonight for immigration reform so as not to irritate Republicans.

He wants to create the space according to the source so Republicans can find a way to get immigration reform to his desk. But as for those executive orders we've been talking about this all night, I'm hearing from a source familiar with this speech there could be as many as a dozen executive orders announced by the president tonight.

So yes, this is a defiant, a determined president who has seen a lot of inaction up on Capitol Hill in the minds of people here at the White House, which is why he's saying this is a time for action. You're going to hear that from the president tonight. Also want to point out, Jake, after the speech he'll be selling it.

In Maryland, he'll be talking about efforts to raise the minimum wage according to a source I've been talking and also in Pittsburgh he's going to be talking about the federal retirement savings accounts he'll be announcing tonight, another measure that he'll be ushering through by executive order -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, I believe President Obama will also be going to Wisconsin shortly after he's in Western Pennsylvania. Let's go back to Dana Bash who is inside the chamber. Dana, tell us about the scene there what you're witnessing.

BASH: Hi, Jake. As I was saying, it is sort of typical for the moments before the state-of-the-union starts. There's certainly a feeling of anticipation in the hall. But I was saying before it almost feels like people mixing and mingling at a cocktail party without the cocktails at least on the House floor, looking at a lot of members holding pieces of paper in their hand. It looks like they're reading versions of the speech, which they all have on an embargo basis.

I have to stop and tell you I can see something I don't think the cameras can pick up. That is what is happening in the gallery where guests of members of Congress are sitting. There are a lot of guests including members of the military and so forth, but pop culture has arrived in the Congress on this day -- one of the stars -- TAPPER: Members of the Supreme Court are walking by right now for those watching at home and seeing these august individuals. Here is Supreme Court Justin Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Good to see you. We saw the Chief Justice John Roberts walk by just a few minutes ago. Here is Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan and other justices of the court walking by.

Of course, they sit in the chamber and they tend to not react, stand up and applaud and cheer. In fact, Justice Antonin Scalia has voiced concern about going to these speeches in the past because he says it feels more like a pep rally. Dana, I'm sorry, go back to you. Please continue.

BASH: It makes what I'm about to describe even more surreal and bizarre because who I'm looking at right now is Willie Robertson, one of the stars of "Duck Dynasty." and he is here as a guest.

TAPPER: I'm sorry to interrupt. You're discussion one of the stars of "Duck Dynasty" but do I have the vice president and the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Vice President Biden, good to see you. Leader Reid, how are you? Good to see you, sir. Mr. Durbin, how are you doing? Good to see you. Mr. Bennett. We have all the senators coming in now. Now you know we're getting serious. Supreme Court justices, members of the Senate, things are getting serious here. Dana, I'm sorry, you were talking about one of the stars of "Duck Dynasty."

BASH: I'm emphasizing this not because I think it's necessarily important, but because I want to set the scene for what's happening. He is here, Willie Robertson, not just is he sitting in the gallery, but I have seen a steady stream of congressmen make their way up the stairs up the gallery to come and greet him, to take pictures with him.

You're sitting there with members of the Supreme Court, the majority leader, the vice president and a lot of members are just interested in coming and taking a picture with somebody who is a star of "Duck Dynasty." It is definitely something I have not seen in my many years of covering state-of-the-union address.

TAPPER: It's interesting. This year we have as we mentioned before special guests. Senator Portman, how are you? Good to see you. We've had special guests of the president since 1980. Senator Casey, how are you doing? Senator Booker, Corey Booker of New Jersey, pride of New Jersey. Kelly Ayotte, Senator Blumenthal. We have what are called the Lenny Skutniks, the president brings in the heroes.

This year we have members of the House Republican Party bringing individuals like Sean Hannity, Reagan economist, Hart Laugher, one of the fathers of one of the Navy SEALS slain in Benghazi, Tyrone Woods and then of course as you mentioned, Willie Robertson, Dana Bash. Wolf, I don't recall that tradition ever happening before. It seems to be new this year.

BLITZER: There are always new traditions that start developing. We're going to see the speaker momentarily. He's going to call the House to order, Jake, as the senators come in. You see the vice president there in the middle of the screen together with Harry Reid the majority leader. They're all just chatting amongst themselves as they get ready for the introduction of others who are going to be coming in including members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Supreme Court justices, the diplomatic corps.

They will be coming in at some point. The sergeant of arms will introduce of course the president of the United States. By the way, the first lady will be escorted into the gallery. It's called the executive gallery, but there you see the vice president. He was a member of the Senate for more than three decades. So he knows he's very familiar with this tradition. He used to sit there as a senator, but now he'll be sitting behind the president of the United States for the president's fifth state-of-the-union.

This is the eighth time, by the way, the president has addressed a joint session of Congress. There's Harry Reid, the majority leader. There you see the House chamber, the president's motorcade is about to arrive. The president and the first lady, they made that short trip from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue up Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill. Now they're arriving.

When the president travels not just one or two cars, a bunch of cars, a lot of motorcycles, they make that quick trip up from the White House to Capitol Hill. There we see that motorcade arriving right now. Once the president is here he'll go upstairs, get himself ready. He's got his speech, and he's been preparing for this night for a long time. The president knows this is a very, very important opportunity for him, not only to address the members of the House and the Senate but also to address the American public and in fact the international community.

People are going to be watching all over the world and there will be a significant portion of the president's speech devoted to several key international issues, including Afghanistan, including Iran, including what's happening in Syria and elsewhere. There is the vice president and the speaker, John Boehner. He's about to gavel this session into order. The House Speaker was being tough earlier in the day saying the president should be very, very careful with these executive orders.

He says if he tries to ignore the will of the Congress in Boehner's words he's going to run into a quote brick wall. So there will be some tension. There's no doubt about it. But there is some collegiality as the senators are walking and you see some of the senators, John Cornyn of Texas and Senator Roy Blunt in the middle of the screen over there. Anderson, I want you to help pick up some of the coverage.

COOPER: It's interesting to me how Jake Tapper has become the maitre d' on Capitol Hill. I feel like he's taking drink orders and people slipping him tips. I don't know how he got that location. It's the weirdest thing I've seen tonight. We're back with our panelists, John King, Gloria Borger, John Favreau, former Barack Obama speech writer and former campaign adviser (inaudible) Marcella. What does tonight mean for those candidates seeking re-election for particularly for the Senate in 2014? There are a number of people, high profile races. Is this president going to be out? Do they want him campaigning for them?

KING: The basic answer is no. He's already gone into a few states where they have not had scheduling conflicts.

COOPER: How does that impact tonight and what he has to say?

KING: Well, this is the split among Democrats. When the president's talking about income inequality, most of those Democrats will be happy to hear that. They believe it if you campaign thematically on jobs. Will all of them want to vote for exactly what the president wants maybe not? They think economic inequality, fighting for jobs helps them.

The fact that Jim Acosta is reporting the president is open to signing some changes in Obamacare will help them. Most interesting thing is the Republicans are going to step back. The Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, don't like it. They're going to step back and let the Democrats complain. The Mary Landrieu's, Mark Pryor's, Mar Begich, let them come forward and say we have to change Obamacare and try to go beyond what they want.

If Republicans handle this correctly they want the Democrats to put the pressure on the president. The question tonight is, the main thing is watch the 43, 43 percent approval, if he can get that to 48, 49, Democrats will suddenly be more friendly. If it stays down in the low 40s they're going to walk away.

COOPER: In terms of messaging tonight, in terms of what he has to say, does he do something to try to help those candidates even those who don't want him out there campaigning for him, John?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think issues like the minimum wage are so broadly popular in the public. They poll very high. I think the Democrats will back them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But also red state Democrats who is a very popular issue is the minimum wage. Many Americans want that to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the most interesting thing will be what he does or does not say about health care reform. People are mad. They're not being able to keep their plan that they liked. Not being able to go to the doctor that they liked and a lot of Democratic Senate incumbents are very nervous about that.

BORGER: The majority of people still say now, keep it and fix it. They don't want to get rid of it at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By fixing it they mean they want to be able to go to their doctor and the plan and costs.

BORGER: They don't want to throw it out.

COOPER: I want to bring in Dana Bash who's watching the scene there. Dana, in terms of your vantage point what are you seeing and who are you seeing?

BASH: As you just saw from Jake's Maitre stint the senators are on the House floor milling around greeting their brethren in the House. One thing I am noticing, a couple of years ago a tradition started for members of both parties to come kind of as dates. And that is now continuing unofficially. For example, I'm looking down and I see John McCain, senator from Arizona, Republican, who walked in with Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat from New York. So they're sort of doing it on their own even though there's no real form decision to do this in a bipartisan way.

Historically what we had seen is Democrats sitting on one side, Republicans on the other. So you saw when the president said a Democratic president said something Democrats liked, one side stood up and vice versa. That I think will look different now.

COOPER: Will Jake Tapper be the one actually announcing the arrival of the president of the United States tonight? Has he now taken on that role as well?

BASH: I would not put anything past our Jake Tapper. It's entirely possible, Anderson.

COOPER: It's interesting, Dana, also for those people who don't know, we mentioned this a little bit earlier, there are members of Congress who spend five, six, seven hours just trying to reserve a seat on the aisle so they can kind of grip and grin the president of the United States as he passes by.

BASH: Absolutely. It's a tradition we have seen for years and years.

COOPER: I guess the question is, do they not have anything better to do today?

BASH: I've actually done stories on some of the Congress men like Elliott Engel from New York. He does have better things to do. He kind of does his work. He sets up shop on the House floor. They're not supposed to do this, Anderson. They are told, you're not allowed to save seats but they do it, anyway. Someone like Elliott Engle told me he's been here for decades representing his district in New York.

And he says that he hears more from his constituents that they saw him shaking the president's hand whether it was George Bush or Barack Obama than anything else he does. So maybe it's worth the hours. It's not just seven, eight hours. Sometimes it's like 12 to 15 hours they set up shop here.

COOPER: They actually spend 15 hours waiting?

BASH: Sometimes even longer. I heard an unsubstantiated report there was one member who came last night.


BASH: People spend longer waiting for an IPhone, though.

COOPER: Can they go to the bathroom?

BASH: It's not like a filibuster. They can walk around.

KING: Just slip Jake a 50.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't try to save a seat on Southwest Airline that is long.

COOPER: There's the guy from "Duck Dynasty" -- joined by the CROSSFIRE crowd. Before we went away, S.E. had said we were talking about immigration reform. I think you wanted to respond.

JONES: You said it was a Molotov cocktail being thrown into the middle of the room. This president has gone above and beyond the call of duty. Every speech he reaches out, he tries to make common cause and unfortunately, you have a part of this Republican Party, the Tea Party that has decided from the very beginning they were never going to work with him. So I think people who are Democrats and people who are independents are actually proud to see this president.

He is not the prime minister. He doesn't have to govern only through the legislature. The president of the United States, we have three coequal branches. He should be doing everything he can to help this country. He is going to do that and I think people are proud of him for doing that.

GINGRICH: Other than the fact until two days ago I couldn't convince van that the Chicago Bears were not going to win the Super Bowl and he's not much more in touch with reality here. The fact is, if this president has this power, what a dereliction of duty. He's had five years to do all these things --

JONES: He was busy saving the economy, saving the auto industry, winding down two wars. He had other things to do. Now he's going to continue to do other good things for America.

CUTTER: I find it interesting that you are defending the productivity of Congress. I think you stand alone in this country in defending that. I also think that we're all aware that presidents use their executive authority all the time. In fact, in President Clinton's second term, when you were speaker, when things weren't getting through Congress he used his executive authority all the time to continue moving country forward. That's what the president is talking about tonight. If Congress won't act, I will. But we can be stronger when we're together in making these actions come together.

GINGRICH: I don't object to presidents being presidential. Ronald Reagan came, in and he did a whole bunch of executive orders the first year. I just think it's amazing that in the fifth year, suddenly Obama jumps up and goes I have a pen. What did he think he had the first four years? CUTTER: There have been plenty of executive actions. Over the last five years. This is how we fixed the dream act so that young kids who came here.

CUPP: By executive order, but look, I love you, Van. You know I do. But are you serious?


CUPP: Remember the state-of-the-union where the president scolded the Supreme Court in front of them? This president has not gone above and beyond to harmoniously bring the Congress or the country together. He has taken opportunities to divide the country. He's going to do it again tonight and polling shows --

COOPER: Let me bring in the other panel over here. In terms of his relations with Congress, do you think he has made inroads?

BORGER: Well, he's trying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Worse relations in Congress of any president I can recall in my lifetime. He doesn't get along with democrats even. He doesn't socialize with them. He doesn't reach out to them. He doesn't invite them to work with him on policies.

COOPER: Does that matter?

KING: Yes, it matters. He has tried of late. He has done more of it. He has said he's the father of two young children in the first term he put his priority on that, spent less time with Congress. They have done more socializing of late. Should it matter? Probably not. People should do their jobs whether or not they're buddy. Has it mattered historically in Washington? Yes. When there are difficult issues with President Clinton sparring over a lot of things, even impeachment. You make a few jokes, build relationships.

It helps get through the hard things, build a level of trust. We're about to test that with this president specifically on the immigration issue. If the Republicans move this forward and sent him in pieces or in one bill almost everything he wants but it's a path to status not citizenship, does he veto that because he wants the political issue or does he take it and then say I want more and we're going to campaign on that. But I'm going to take this great compromise that people have put in front of me.

BORGER: I think every president develops at a certain point a certain amount of disdain for Congress. Whether you have it when you come in or you behave it on the way out. The relationship gets frayed. There's no doubt about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even when you were one of them before.

BORGER: But I think with President Obama, the pros than been that lots of members of Congress believe that he had it when he was in Congress and that's why he left the Senate because he wanted to be president. And the Senate wasn't good enough. And there's a sense he never liked them very much.

COOPER: Written a huge numbers of speeches for this president and looked over the speech tonight, what do you watch when you watch the speech tonight? What is going to be in your mind for things to look for maybe our viewer?

JONES: I actually would not say he will have a defiant tone. I think it's much more of a determined tone. I think he's going to be reaching out to Congress wherever he can. As he actually made the case for his leadership and the fact that Republicans could come around on immigration reform.

HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: The joint session will come to order.

COOPER: Let's listen.

BOEHNER: -- to escort the president of the United States into the chamber! The gentleman from Virginia, Mr. Cantor! Gentleman from California, Mr. McCarthy. The gentleman from Oregon, Mr. Walden! The gentleman from Oklahoma, Mr. Langford!

COOPER: Just a procedural talk now.

BOEHNER: Gentlemen, woman in North Carolina, Ms. Fox!

KAREN HUGHES, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTRO: He made a point of reaching out and calling for civility and respect. He made the very optimistic speech about the need for American leadership in the world. And he actually complimented his critics in Congress and said some of the criticism had been constructive and it helped. We've not heard that kind of rhetoric from President Obama. We certainly didn't hear anytime second inaugural.

JON FAVREAU, FORMER OBAMA SPEECHWRITER: I think he's spent many speeches calling for civility. As President Bush knew calling for it doesn't make it so.

COOPER: You expect tonight to hear him reaching out?

FAVREAU: I think he'll definitely reach out. I know he will. Reach out to both parties and real will he urge members of Congress to work with him wherever he can. He'll cite Republican ideas as models of working together in cooperation. I think it will be very similar.

COOPER: John, does that matter reaching out in a speech like this?

KING: I'm sure in part because they're about to run campaign ads beating up the president, beating up his agenda. If he can position himself some way you seem more real like the person in the middle it can help. I'm fascinated moments like this John and Karen can give insights, these guys whether they're Democrats of Republicans they're competitive people. You don't get to be president of the United States without being a fiercely competitive person. Now you're at a low.

When you're standing up there and know you're at 42, 43, what is it like as a competitor to stand there and President Obama is going to be looking out at some of his fiercest critics but also the few friends he has in the Congress. That to me how you step up to this moment and try to turn night a moment of opportunity to me is the big challenge.

COOPER: Let's watch with that in mind. I want to go back to Wolf.

BLITZER: We're awaiting the first lady of the United States. She'll be introduced, go up to the gallery where she will have her own special invited guests. Escorts will be bringing the president of the United States into the chamber. The moment is getting closer for the president to deliver his state-of-the-union address. Jake Tapper is standing right outside the House Chamber -- Jake?

TAPPER: Wolf, as you see right now you see the second lady, Dr. Jill Biden, making her way into the chamber right now. Most of the dignitaries who are going to attend are already inside. Where Dana Bash is, our senior, I'm sorry, our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana, what is the mood, what is the scene right now? Looks like a lot of people who haven't seen each other in a long time catching up.

BASH: It does. At this point everybody is sitting in their seats. The anticipation is much different. You can see everybody standing and applauding as they're anticipating the President coming in. Look, so many of these people have been here before. But one thing I want to point out is that many of these house republicans who the president has clashed with, they're relatively new.

The majority of the House Republican caucus is relatively new and that has shaped a lot of the atmosphere here. And it is in the hopes of John Boehner going to be changing as people kind of settle in to understanding in his caucus how things work and how they need to be more on the offense. He even told us this today on the offense on their issues and not so much the party of no.

TAPPER: That's right. And House Speaker John Boehner has talked about how he did not approve of the tactics to cause the government shutdown last year, but he let the caucus do what they wanted to do. And he hopes they have learned their lesson in terms of tactics that work and tactics that don't work. Wolf Blitzer, this is one of the most challenging things for a House speaker and a Vice President to do is to sit and be expressionless for an hour plus speech as the president delivers the state-of-the-union every year.

BLITZER: Yes. But at some points, Jake, as you know you'll see the vice president. He'll be applauding, the speaker won't be applauding. At some point you'll seat speaker standing together with the vice president. Other points, one sitting one standing! Here members of the United States Supreme Court. They are now walking in. This is a tradition that has always been interesting to see how many of the nine Supreme Court justices, including chief justice, John Roberts right there, how many actually come to hear the president of the United States to deliver his state-of-the-union address. There's Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.