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How Will State of the Union Affect Elections?

Aired January 28, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the State of the Union address. Does President Obama have the best ideas for getting you a better job or a raise?

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Americans are tired of us squabbling. They want us to get things done.

ANNOUNCER: Or do Republicans have the stronger case for revving up the economy?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are not going to raise taxes.

ANNOUNCER: How will tonight's big speech affect the 2014 midterm election?

On the left, Van Jones. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Representative Xavier Becerra, a member of the Democratic leadership and Republican U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, along with Representative Steve Israel, who's leading the effort to elect more Democrats to the House, and Representative Greg Walden, who's leading the effort to elect more Republicans.

As we await the State of the Union speech, is there any hope for action? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

First, in the CROSSFIRE tonight, a Democratic congressman and a Republican senator. In tonight's State of the Union speech we should expect in a word, defiance.

President Obama will reportedly tell Congress, "I've got a pen and a phone. Your services are no longer required."

But he's been defiant for years, blaming Republican obstructionists and congressional dysfunction for getting in his way. Remember "I will not negotiate"?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, and considering we recently got a bipartisan deal on a budget, Monday's agreement on a farm bill and new movement on immigration reform, shouldn't the president applaud Congress for its progress instead of vowing to work around it?

JONES: OK. You might -- he might defy some expectations tonight. We'll have to see. But first, we've got some -- some breaking news. Senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta has just gotten the first excerpts from the president's speech tonight. What's he going to say, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I hope I don't have to respond to everything that S.E. said.

CUPP: Please do.

JONES: I'll take care of that.

ACOSTA: I'll let do you that. I'll let you do that, Van, exactly.

Yes, the White House in the last few minutes has released excerpts of the president's State of the Union speech. We obviously don't have the complete speech to read to you. But going to what S.E. was just talking about a few minutes ago, that defiance that the president is going to be showing, the White House might use the word "determination" to see action over the next several months because of potential inaction up on Capitol Hill.

Let me read to you a quote from the president's speech tonight. It goes to this promise of more executive authorities -- more executive actions in the coming year. Quote, "What I offer tonight is a set of concrete practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I'm eager to work with all of you, but America" -- here's the key part -- "does not stand still and," quote, "neither will I."

A couple of other items to point out. We've learned in the last several minutes that the president will announce new retirement savings accounts that Americans can put their money into out of their paychecks. The president will talk about that tonight.

He'll also make an impassioned plea for immigration reform. But I'm told by a Democratic source he will not hammer Republicans over the inability to pass immigration reform. He wants to keep some space there for Republicans to bring something to his desk -- S.E. and Van.

JONES: Great. Well, it sounds like he might be defying some expectations already.

CUPP: We'll see.

JONES: We will see. In the CROSSFIRE tonight we've got California Congressman Xavier Becerra and U.S. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Welcome to both of you.

Big night, big night for everybody. This town is buzzing. And I want to start with you. We know that the president is excited about the minimum wage increases. It polls really, really well. He's taken action already. Are you willing to support, yourself, the president tonight when he calls for the minimum wage for hard-working Americans going up to $10.10?

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think what we should -- obviously, what he's decided to do is take a pen and make that decision by himself on federal contractors, which I think is bad because you cannot create an artificial floor for wages without the prices of whatever it's creating going up and technology then taking the place of some of those lower wage -- let me -- let me -- let me share this with you.

When I worked at the movie theater I used to sell the tickets. Because of technology and because of the higher minimum wage, technology now takes the place of that job. So when you walk into the theater, instead of a guy working there, you buy your own ticket through a computer.

What we should have a serious conversation about is how we can help people re-establish their positions.

JONES: Come on. Are you saying you don't think that Americans who work hard every day deserve a raise? Are you against giving Americans a raise because of your experience with the ticket machine?

SCOTT: I know you're a highfalutin fella and everything, but let me explain this to you. Let me explain this to you. The way that we help people get raises is by making sure that they have better skills.

JONES: Minimum wage doesn't matter?

SCOTT: One of the reasons why I have a skills act that I'm working on...

JONES: Which I'm for.

SCOTT: ... which the House has already passed, one of the things that we can do is we can help people get the skills necessary so that they get the type of job that pays them more.

JONES: You are way too smart for me. I'm going -- I'm so simple. Are you going to support the $10.10 minimum wage for Americans? Yes or no? Simple answer.

SCOTT: I'm going to make sure that every American has better skills so that they don't have to worry about the minimum wage, that they get to set a wage for themselves based on their expertise...


CUPP: Let me get the congressman in here. Congressman, even if I agreed with the economics of raising the minimum wage, which I don't, it seems to me like a political gimmick that doesn't really address the gaping, glaring holes in our economic recovery: tax reform, entitlement reform, Obama care. These things are costing us, in the future, billions. Why is the president's big idea for economic recovery raising the minimum wage?

REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: If you're making about $15,000 a year, you've got a family, that's a big idea. If you're trying to make sure that you don't have to leave an eight-hour job and then go to the food pantry so you can feed your family, that's a big idea.

S.E., there are a lot of Americans who are working every day very hard, not 16- and 18-year-olds selling tickets at a movie theater, who are actually trying to live off of the minimum wage. And it's time we gave people respect. We're -- rewarded work and say if you're going to work 8 hours a day, you're going to work a full day's work...

CUPP: I'm glad you brought -- I'm glad you brought up young people, because there's 16.3 percent unemployment rate among youth. You are making it harder for people to hire more of those young people by raising the minimum wage.

BECERRA: S.E., that's the argument the conservatives always make.

CUPP: No, that's economics.

BECERRA: and by the way, every year we continue to see more and more people working, and 8 million more Americans working in the last four years. And there are a lot of those folks who are making very small salaries.

And so what we're just saying is let's reward work again. Let's do what my -- what we did when my father was working. My father had about a sixth-grade education, was a construction worker most of his life. He put four kids through college.

CUPP: Yes, but that position -- I bet his boss -- shouldn't employers make the decision to reward their employees?

BECERRA: No, his boss was working with his employees made the decision. He made a pretty decent salary.


JONES: Let me bring this -- Hold on a second. Here's what I don't understand. It seems to me that you guys don't think the minimum wage is a good idea. Would you call for repealing the minimum wage?

SCOTT: Here's what we know.

JONES: America's listening. Are you...

SCOTT: Here's what I will tell you. Mr. Becerra is fantastic because he has a Stanford education and a Stanford law degree. When we put people on the path to getting a better education, we know that they get a better wage. When we give them the skills necessary, when they earn the skills necessary, there's something like the Skills Act, we know that they earn far more than the minimum wage.

But the conversation that we're having this year on the minimum wage is an election-year conversation for one reason, because 3 percent of Americans earn the minimum wage. Half of those folks actually get a tip, so they actually earn more than that.

JONES: They don't need a wage.

SCOTT: No, no. Here's my point. Here's my point.

JONES: No, they don't need a raise. Do you agree with that?

SCOTT: Let me finish.

BECERRA: Senator -- Senator, $7.25 an hour.

SCOTT: Do you mind? I didn't interrupt you.

BECERRA: All right. Go ahead.

SCOTT: So if we seriously want to have that conversation about increasing people's take-home pay, why don't we go to Obama care, where we see the 40-hour work week decimated? Why not restore those -- that 25 percent of people's pay in pursuit of a better life?

JONES: I can't believe...


BECERRA: We can deal.

SCOTT: ... Obama care.

BECERRA: Let's deal with this.

SCOTT: Do it together?

BECERRA: Let's work on that law which today has helped 12 million Americans get health security, but let's not deny to people who work every day hard for eight hours, 10 hours a day, a chance to say, "I can live," instead of having to go to a food pantry to go feed the kids after putting in a full day's work.

We don't reward work anymore. We used to reward work. It's time we respected people who are willing to put in a hard...

SCOTT: I rode the buses a couple of weeks ago around my city just to have a serious conversation with people who are struggling to make their ends meet. What they did not ask for was a handout.

BECERRA: That's all they wanted.

SCOTT: Let me explain how that works, from their perspective. They say, "If I just had access to more skills, if I had a better education, if you could help me find those opportunities to get a..."

BECERRA: My dad had a sixth-grade education.

SCOTT: My dad had a third-grade education, so we can debate that.

CUPP: OK. We can rival educations and who had less. SCOTT: But I want to make the...

CUPP: Let me move the conversation forward, because I want to talk about what the president's definitely going to do in the State of the Union tonight.

As I mentioned, Congressmen, farm bill, immigration reform, budget. We've seen progress in all of these issues despite the president. Don't you feel a little dismissed when the president says essentially, "I'm going to go around you guys?" I mean, doesn't it seem like he's working around you instead of trying to work with you?

BECERRA: S.E., you left out about probably 90 percent of his discourse, which was I want to work with Congress, but what he said, which you've blown out of proportion is, but if Congress is not going to be able to walk and chew gum, then I've got to act.

CUPP: But Congress has proved that it can come together. Congress has come together.

BECERRA: I think the president is willing as on immigration. He's been waiting for the House of Representatives to match the Senate. He hasn't interfered, because Republicans have said, "Let us do the work in the House so he's let the Republicans try to work."

And so the president is prepared to work with Congress. But every time Congress falls on its face or, as Speaker Boehner said, is going to become a brick wall to the president's ideas, the president is saying, "I can't wait for Republicans to decide they want to move. I'm going to take action."

SCOTT: Let's take a look at the definition of a brick wall. It's called the Senate and Harry Reid's leadership. Two hundred bills passed the House, and they can't find the light of day in the Senate. Seriously?

JONES: Fair enough. Look, I want to give a mini thanks to Congressman Becerra and Senator Tim Scott. Good to have both of you back here. We will come back after these messages. And I'm looking forward to continuing the debate.


JONES: Welcome back. Our guests in the CROSSFIRE tonight are in charge of guaranteeing that their parties win the House this year. We're going to talk to them in a minute. First we're going to bring in John King. He's going to look at some of the stakes in the House races coming up in 2014 -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Van, S.E., let me set the table. Then you can have this debate with your guests.

Let's look at the House. One of the key dynamics as the president speaks tonight, is can the Democrats win back the House. Or are the Republicans guaranteed in keeping their majority? This is 2008, right after the president was elected in the 2008 election. Democrats did quite well in that election.

I want you to pay attention to some of these circles I'm drawing. They're not drawing any particular districts. It's just readings of the country. Look at all the blue inside those yellow circles. This is 2009. When the president took office, this is what the House looked like.

But look what happened in the mid-term of 2010. Look at all that red. That's right after the president's election. That was the Republican victory in 2010, which turned so many districts to the red and gave the Republicans the majority. So let's blank that out and come back to where we stand tonight.

As we head into the election season, the midterm season and the president gives his State of the Union, the Republicans obviously in the majority, 234 seats. Democrats in the minority now, 201. Remember after the government shutdown, Democrats were optimistic the tide was turning and that perhaps Nancy Pelosi could win the speaker's gavel back. Well, most of that optimism has dissipated. People now view this as a traditional nonpresidential party, meaning a Republican year in the midterm.

So, let's look at 2014. What we've done here, most House seats, most House districts are pretty safe. So, we've assigned those seats to their parties. The 50 most competitive districts you see on the map. The blue ones are Democratic districts. The red ones are Republican districts.

Of those 50 seats, if you take them out and just assign the others, John Boehner needs only eight of these 50. Look at this -- look how easy it would be of those 50 seats. Just winning eight of those 50 and John Boehner keeps the speaker's gavel. Republicans obviously think they'll do much better than that.

Here is why the hill is so steep for the Democrats and Nancy Pelosi. Of the 50 most competitive districts, she would need to win 43 of the 50, 43 of them. As you can see, a lot of those districts are red Republican districts in what shapes up to be -- at the moment anyway -- a Republican year.

So, the wisdom now in Washington is forget about the government shutdown, it is a Republican year at the moment. Most party strategists, even Democrats will tell you privately, they expect Democrats to make single digit gains. But it's not November yet -- Van and S.E.

S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: I like that map.

VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Well, thanks to John King or should I say, no thanks.


CUPP: Don't blame the messenger.

JONES: Exactly. Well, listen, here's my view. Look, I think to win big in 2014, Obama has got to go big tonight. I've got a couple ideas.

Here's one. After Bush crashed the economy, millions of American homeowners were stuck with sky high mortgages. Now, we bailed out the big banks. We forgot about the homeowners.

With one stroke of a pen, the president could reset those housing bills to a fair rate, one stroke of the pen. Lifting that burden would instantly boost the economy.

Here's a couple more ideas -- Obama should lead a bipartisan charge to reform our massive out-of-control prison system. We're locking up way too many people and wasting too much money. He could lead a charger to stick to that.

The other thing he should do is fight for a real fair trade bill and not this terrible, awful, despicable, disgusting transpacific partnership which is going to shaft us worse than NAFTA.

CUPP: So, do you like it or no?

JONES: I don't like it at all. There's bold stuff he can do that would energize the economy and his base. He's got to do both for 2014. That's my view.

Now, you should be happy I'm frustrated with John's map. I'm going to get some paint and change it. But you, I think, have probably more problems than you know because one of the big issues that will come up tonight is immigration.

John Boehner is finally willing to follow the president's leadership. Boehner's willing to follow Reid's leadership. He wants to give undocumented immigrants a legal pathway to stay here.

How is that going to play with your party and your base? Isn't immigration going to sink you guys?

REP. GREG WALDEN (R-OR), NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE: No, I don't think so at all because it's a federal problem that needs a federal solution. Speaker Boehner said for a long time, we will move at the appropriate time, bill by bill, issue by issue, transparent, accountable.

The public will actually have a chance to read the bill. It won't be some big bill like --


JONES: But let me give you a tough question, I think people at home want to understand this. The big back breaker is, can the millions of people who are here working hard every day get legal status to stay? Most Americans say yes. Your base says no.

How are going you deal with that? Isn't that going to sink you guys? Come on, be honest about that. WALDEN: I'm always optimistic about these things, Van. Come on now.

First thing you have to do is not repeat the mistakes of the Simpson- Mazzoli bill back in '86. They never got control of the border. You never had security at the border, and as a result, we had all these people coming in.

The second thing, never fixed the visa system. Up to 40 percent of the people who are here undocumented overstayed their visas. That's why the prime minister of Ireland was raising the issue with the speaker and the president when he was here in March. We've got to fix those.


JONES: You think your base is going -- your base will support this.

WALDEN: If it's done right, absolutely.

CUPP: Well, let me take this opportunity just in case viewers missed it, to welcome Congressman Greg Walden and Congressman Steve Israel.

And, Congressman Israel, my question is for you. For Democrats running in 2014, I imagine they will be watching tonight wondering what agenda items they will have to own and disown as they run on the campaign trail. And we already know that vulnerable Democrats in red states are not too keen on running alongside Obama on every agenda item.

Are you coaching your Democratic candidates in those red states to stand with the president on every issue?



ISRAEL: We're coaching them to talk about solutions. We're talking -- we're talking to them about rejecting government shutdowns, rejecting more -- big subsidies for oil companies and to embrace solutions that strengthen the middle class and create an economy --

CUPP: Like Obamacare?

ISRAEL: -- where everybody does well.

Well, let me talk about that.

CUPP: Yes.

ISRAEL: Most Americans do not want to repeal Obamacare and go back to the days when insurance companies have free rein over your health care. They want it fixed and improved.

CUPP: Right.

ISRAEL: I want it fixed and improved. I do not want it repealed and most Americans do not want it repealed.

CUPP: Well, but, Congressman, it's one thing when Kay Hagan in North Carolina doesn't show up for an event with the president. It's another thing when Mary Burke, who I think most people have never heard of, running for governor in Wisconsin, decides she's too busy to show for an event with the president, when truly, she could benefit from some of that attention.

What's that about?

ISRAEL: It is true that the president's numbers aren't where he would want them to be. But house Republican numbers are a fraction of that. They were 13 percent job approval. If I wanted to run for re-election and my pollster told me I was at 13 percent job approval, I'd probably find something else to do with my time.

CUPP: OK, fair enough.

JONES: Fair enough.

Well, listen, let's talk about another issue that I don't think we talk about enough. The last election, a million more people voted for Democrats than voted for Republicans nationwide, a million more. It seems though that you guys are comfortable with that and you've created this old strategy of keeping this kind of gerrymandered grip on the House.

Don't you think that the politics that you have to now put forward to hold onto the House hurt you in the national election, on issues like immigration, et cetera?

WALDEN: Look, I think what Americans want is Washington to work. I think they want a more efficient government that doesn't waste their money. I think they want to see a private sector economy that grows. I think they want things like the Keystone Pipeline.

The president, if he's going to use his pen, get it out and sign the Keystone Pipeline and put 20,000 people to work in our trade unions building that pipeline.

You don't want jobs? Come on, man. Twenty thousand jobs --


JONES: First of all, those numbers are quite inflated. It's actually 4,000.

WALDEN: OK. So you think 4,000 jobs isn't enough?

JONES: I can give you 4,000 jobs without risking America's waterways and --


WALDEN: We need good paying jobs. That's the issue in Obamacare.

JONES: I've got a question.

WALDEN: Well, let me finish. If Obamacare is the issue and the president is the issue, I hope my colleague here will have his candidates do what the chairman of the Democratic National Party said, and that is they all ought to run on Obamacare.

CUPP: That's right.

WALDEN: How is that working?

I don't want to go back to the old system either. It was broken. We never had the opportunity to offer a single amendment.


CUPP: Go back to the beginning or go with Obamacare?

ISRAEL: You had the opportunity for five years to offer an alternative. But you have not --

WALDEN: No, we have --


ISRAEL: Yesterday, the Republicans did offer an alternative, by the way. The Senate Republicans offered an alternative, and "National Journal's" headline was you pay more.

JONES: Exactly.

ISRAEL: Do you support that?

WALDEN: So, what I don't superior is the lie of the year that said if you want your -- if you like your insurance, you can keep it. The American public was misled. And that's why the Democrats in these districts are going to lose and they are running from Obamacare.

The biggest outside PAC that Steve gets help from Majority PAC, tried to run an ad saying that Kirkpatrick blew the whistle on Obamacare. They had to take it -- I mean, she didn't blow the whistle.

JONES: You know, what's so interesting about this whole Obamacare discussion, is that now that you've got Republican senators coming forward, their fixes for Obamacare are worse. There's is if you have a health care plan, we can tax it. They're actually going to tax health care plans that have never been taxed before.

WALDEN: Obamacare does that, though.

JONES: No, they never tax employers.


WALDEN: There's a tax on premiums.

JONES: Not on employers. And worse than that, and worse than that, hold on, and worse than that, they're going to say that women have to go back to being -- what do you call it, a pre-existing women, that women can be charged more. So, your fixes for Obamacare are actually worse than Obamacare. What are you going to do about that?

WALDEN: Well, first of all, it's not my fix. That's the Senate plan. We're both in the House.

ISRAEL: We're waiting for your fix.

JONES: So, your fix --

ISRAEL: And we're waiting for your vision on how you grow a middle class. We're waiting for your vision on jobs.

You know, America used to be about big and bold. Eisenhower, Federal Interstate Highway System. Man on the moon program.

Now, the Republican prescription for our economy, a pipeline.

WALDEN: No, no.

ISRAEL: Can't we do better than that?

CUPP: They overwhelmingly don't support these big government solutions. They don't trust Obama on the economy, and they don't trust Democrats.


ISRAEL: -- to create jobs.

CUPP: Sorry, it's not us. It's the American people. They're not with you.

JONES: Congressman Steve Israel --


CUPP: All right. We've got to go.

JONES: I want to thank our guests, Steve Israel and Greg Walden. It's going to be a great night.

On the left, this is Van Jones.

On the right, I'm S.E. Cupp. Stay tuned.

More State of the Union coverage with Wolf Blitzer, coming up next.