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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
President Bush Delivers State of the Union; Interview With Illinois Senator Barack Obama
Aired January 23, 2007 - 22:24 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: If you're just joining us here on CNN or CNN International, good evening, everyone.
Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama joins us in just a moment to weigh in on the president's message.
First, a very quick read on it from CNN's John Roberts over in the Capitol Building, John King in New Bern, North Carolina, Candy Crowley, and Bill Schneider.
Candy, what stood out to you from the president's speech?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What stood out to me was the portion on Iraq, when he basically just pled with Congress for a little time for the new strategy: Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work.
The president also admitting, this is not the war we went into, but it is the war we are in. So, that, to me, right there was the hub of the speech.
COOPER: John Roberts, quickly, what was your impression?
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of skepticism on the part of a lot Republicans, Anderson, on a couple of issues.
The issue of Iraq, the troop increase there, they're feeling the same way that the Democrats are about it. Also, on the issue of immigration, when President Bush was talking about immigration reform, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher refused to get up on his feet and give him a standing ovation.
So, what I noticed, being inside the -- the hall tonight, was the fact that there was a lot of unease everywhere in the room about how to proceed forward in Iraq. That said, though, it does look like the president is reaching out to Democrats. But don't forget, back in 23001, he pledged to do the same thing, and didn't. So, you have got to wait and see how this one is going to go -- Anderson.
COOPER: John King, about 30 seconds.
Anything fresh from the president tonight?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, if you just listened to Senator Jim Webb and if you're reading all the statements of reaction from the Democrats, it is clear the president did not change any Democratic minds on Iraq.
Both Democrats and Republicans think, because public opinion is so against this war, he will not turn the public's opinion. The big challenge tonight, they say, was to stop the defections in the Republican Party to buy himself a little bit of time. We will see, in the next few hours and day on Capitol Hill, whether the president made any progress on that front.
COOPER: Bill Schneider, your take.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This was not a harsh or partisan speech. The president ratcheted down some of the anger. I think it was fairly generous. He struck a good tone when he welcomed the first woman speaker of the House of Representatives.
I thought he -- he did try to reach out to Democrats -- his philosophy certainly conservative, some new proposals in there. He talked for the first time about climate change. He treated it as a reality. But I'm not sure...
SCHNEIDER: ... it will make a big breakthrough here.
COOPER: Bill, we will talk to you and everyone else, our panel, throughout these next two hours.
With us now is Senator Barack Obama, Democratic senator from Illinois, who recently set up a presidential exploratory committee.
Senator, thanks for being with us.
What did you actually like in the president's speech tonight? Did you hear anything that you would be eager to support?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Well, a couple of things.
Look, the -- the president recognized that health care and energy are two critical issues facing the country. And I think he put forward some serious proposals, not necessarily ones that I would have put forward. But they're serious ways to engage the problem.
And I think the Democrats should be constructive. We should sit down with the president, and say that we are ready and willing to sit down and see if we can make progress on those two critical issues. So, I think that was -- that was an area where we could get some work going.
I think, as was stated earlier, the pall over the room was Iraq. And I would agree with some of your commentators earlier that, from my perspective, at least, I did not see the president charting out a new course that would persuade either myself or the American people that -- that we're going about this thing in the right way.
COOPER: We heard an argument from this president tonight that we have heard often in the past.
Do you believe the president's argument that fighting terrorists in Iraq will keep us from fighting them here at home?
I think the -- the president's logic is flawed. And I think that this enterprise has been flawed. The question now is, moving forward, how can we make sure that our troops have a mission that helps to stabilize Iraq, but start bringing them home?
And it's interesting. Over the last two weeks, we have had countless hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee across the political spectrum. And what's striking is almost total unanimity on the belief that this strategy that the president is pursuing, in escalating troop levels, is not going to work, and that, in fact, we should be doing the reverse.
We should start drawing down our troops, redeploying them to fight in Afghanistan and other places, and to put pressure on not only the Iraqi government, but on other regional powers, to come with a political solution.
COOPER: You favor, as you just said, this phased redeployment, along with regional diplomacy, and a cap on the number of U.S. troops.
We just saw one of the bloodiest weekends for both U.S. forces and Iraqi civilians. How can limiting U.S. troops or -- or pulling them out, redeploying them, actually reduce violence or prevent a civil war from breaking out?
OBAMA: Well, look, I don't think we're going to stem all the violence anytime soon. But the key to dealing with the violence is making sure that Sunni and Shia and Kurd sit down and recognize that they all have a stake in preventing total meltdown.
What's preventing some of that conversation from taking place is the belief that we are going to be able to hold this thing together. And, as a consequence, there are a number of parties that are acting irresponsibly. We have to be sending a signal that the dynamic needs to change; we are not going to be there in perpetuity.
And that doesn't mean there aren't some serious, significant risks involved. It just means that it's probably the best of the bad options that we have available to us at this point.
Obviously, in 2002, in the run-up to this war, I feared that this would be an open-ended commitment. I, as a consequence, was strongly opposed to the war.
The president is correct that we are now in it. Where he's not correct is, is that we should somehow compound the mistake that he made when we went in there in the first place.
COOPER: You know, the White House argues, look, they have a new strategy. They have a new commander, a man they want to be the commander, General Petraeus. If this is the -- really the final chance, as Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on, why not give them time to see if it works?
OBAMA: Well, look, Anderson, the problem is, is that six months ago I sat in a Senate foreign relations hearing, listening to Ambassador Khalilzad, the ambassador for the United States to Iraq, tell us that we needed about six more months.
Each six-month period seems to bring a new plan and a new approach. At some point we've got to make a decision that the responsibility is on the Iraqi government to make sure that they're coming up with some sort of political solution to this problem, and so far at least we have not been willing to hold them accountable. It's time for us to change that strategy.
COOPER: Your critics will say that a phased withdrawal or a cap on the level of troops is sort of arbitrary and that it's not a strategy for winning. Do you see it as a strategy for winning or is it a strategy for domestic politics here at home?
OBAMA: No, I think what's critical is for us to change the strategy in Iraq, because the president's right, we have important national security objectives that have to be met in the Middle East. That's part of the reason that, despite being opposed to the war, I nevertheless have resisted any kind of precipitous withdrawal.
And I think that one of the things that's important in this conversation is to make sure that those who support the escalation of troop levels aren't allowed to suggest that somehow the alternative is either an escalation or an immediate and complete withdrawal.
What we are saying is we can provide logistics, we can provide training, we can provide counter-insurgency support. We want to keep our forces in the region. What we can't do is continue the approach that does not ensure the sort of political solutions that are needed in Iraq.
COOPER: The president, talking about a lot of other issues. The president he talked about a number of other issues, gasoline, trying to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, energy, immigration.
Do you believe that he -- there was a lot of talk about reaching out across the aisle. A, do you really believe that talk? Or is that the kind of talk we always hear from politicians? And is there really anything the president can get done from the things he talked about tonight?
OBAMA: Well, as I said, I think his proposals on health care and energy are legitimate approaches from his perspective to deal with these issues. They're not approaches that I would take, but I think it's important for us to have these conversations with him and see if we can work together.
I would hope that he is serious about it. I would argue that in the last State of the Union, he said that we had to overcome our addiction to foreign oil and, unfortunately, we didn't see any significant follow-through from there.
So this time may be different. He's going to have some difficulties moving things forward, obviously in a Democratically controlled Congress, but I don't think that we should obstruct conversations to see if we can find some common ground.
COOPER: In recent days, a conservative magazine published rumors that were picked up by another cable news channel, that you attended a madrasah as a child in Indonesia. CNN did its own investigation. We sent a reporter to the school, found out it's a public school; it's not a madrasah.
Do you think this is a sign of things to come? How much, I guess, did your middle name, your father's religious background, how much do you think that's going to be used against you by your opponents?
OBAMA: You know, when I ran for the United States Senate, right after the -- I won the primary, there were some political operatives that put up a web site that superimposed my face over bin Laden. And you know, full with the beard and the turban. We ended up winning that race 70 percent to 30 percent.
The American people are smarter than that. They understand that this kind of cheap politics that engages in -- in misinformation are not going to solve the problems of healthcare, education, you know, people's concern about pensions, the basic stuff that people are grappling with right now.
And so if I go ahead with the presidential race, what they're going to be listening for is a message of change, a message of leadership. If they think I've got a vision for the country that can help them secure a future for themselves and their children, then I think I'll do fine.
COOPER: Were you surprised the president didn't mention New Orleans, didn't mention the Gulf Coast?
OBAMA: I was surprised and disappointed. We're going to be having a hearing with the homeland security committee on Monday in New Orleans. It seems to have been lost in some of the debates here in Washington.
But when you listen to the folks in New Orleans and what they're still going through, I think it's important for the president to continue to show some leadership. It's been absent over the last several months.
COOPER: Senator Barack Obama, I appreciate your time. Thank you, sir.
OBAMA: Thank you, Anderson. I appreciate it.
COOPER: A lot more in a moment. Missouri Republican Senator Kit Bond, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, different voices, different opinions, you'll hear all of them here.
And later, how did the president play in Peoria, and Oklahoma City and Detroit? The first results from our early polling. We are crunching the numbers right now. We'll have some answers when this special edition of 360 continues live from Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security, we must.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: The majority of the nation no longer supports this war -- the way this war is being fought, nor does the majority of our military, nor does the majority of Congress. We need a new direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Senator Jim Webb of Virginia giving the Democratic response to the president's address tonight.
Like Senator Webb, Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri has a son in the Marine Corps. Sam Bond is getting ready for his second tour of duty in Iraq. That is a picture of them together.
Senator Bond joins us now.
Senator, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. We just heard Senator Webb, who like you, has a son serving in Iraq, saying that the majority of the nation and the military no longer supports the direction of this war and the president's strategy. Do you think that's true?
SEN. KIT BOND (R), MISSOURI: I don't think it's correct about the military. Certainly, there's been a great deal of controversy over the war. I would agree that everybody thinks we need a new direction.
And I think the thing that too many people are missing out is the president is giving us a new direction. Because he has involved the al-Maliki government, and he has told us that the al-Maliki government is going to take responsibility for the war, take over their responsibility, cut down on the Shia death squads, bring the Sunnis into full partnership, bring in the surrounding countries to help.
That's what I think everybody's looking for. That, to me, is the -- is the best way to resolve this successfully and make Iraq a stable country. So I don't know what the resolutions and the political crossfire is all about.
COOPER: Do you believe al-Maliki? Do you believe he really is serious about cracking down on -- on Shia death squads?
BOND: That's the best -- well, the reports are today that he has done so, and I'm the vice chairman of the intelligence committee. And they told us again today that they think this is now the best chance.
They think that al-Maliki and -- and Sunni and Kurdish leaders believe that they must act, because the time is running out. The president has said that our commitment is deep, but it's not unlimited. And if they don't come through and take over now, this -- the place may just dissolve around them, and they will have no government.
So I think that's -- I think that's very important that we at least give it a chance.
COOPER: You opposed the idea of a surge in Iraq. You were quoted in the "Columbia Daily Tribune" saying, "What good is that going to do? I've seen nothing so far that would push me to think a surge is a good idea."
You now support the president's new strategy. What happened? What convinced you?
BOND: Well, the president changed strategy. I -- when you talk about the surge, there are a lot of people are saying, well, let's -- for a lot of Democrats, a lot of Republicans said let's just throw more troops in.
I said, continuing to do the same thing and expecting to get a different result I believe is the definition of insanity. But when the president comes forward with a new strategy, which is to let the Iraqi government, which claims it is ready to do so, to take over, and play the lead. That's the only way they're going to resolve the insurgency, the Shia on Sunni conflict.
We need to help them, going after high-value targets, the al Qaeda and other international radical Islamists, but they're the ones that are going to have to take over.
Now they saying they're doing it, and the fact that they're saying they're willing to take on Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, it's about time we gave them a chance and told them, "All right, boys, you better produce, or you're going to have one heck of a mess on your hands."
COOPER: In State of the Union addresses, presidents often make proposals. We heard about immigration, Social Security reform, a tax code tonight. Often we don't see follow-through.
Given the divided Congress, what do you think the president really can accomplish on any of these other issues? Or does Iraq simply overshadow everything? BOND: I think, frankly, whatever we do on Iraq is not going to -- is not going to change what the president's doing. We could pass a resolution condemning Iraq or whatever it is. That would only embolden the enemy, dissuade our friends and -- and demoralize our troops.
So we need to get on with the business of government. I hope we can do something serious about entitlement reform, give seniors more chances and more opportunities, and means test Medicare so Medicare doesn't break our children and future generations. He said -- he said we ought to take it on. I would agree with him 100 percent.
COOPER: Senator Kit Bond, we appreciate your perspective. Thank you, sir.
BOND: Thank you very much.
COOPER: Before turning back to our team of CNN correspondents, let's hear a bit more from the president tonight on Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options, discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance for success.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joining me now, part of the best political team in the business, CNN's John Roberts, John King, Candy Crowley, and Bill Schneider.
Candy, do you think the president's speech swayed any of the undecided Republicans into supporting his new strategy?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it may have given them cause. But the White House didn't go into this thinking it would change minds so much as stop the hemorrhaging. They wanted to get to those Republicans that are still there, saying, listen, you've got to give us more time here. I guess we'll see when they start to begin to put these resolutions together.
COOPER: Was it about buying time?
CROWLEY: Certainly in Iraq, it was about that, saying give this some time to work, absolutely.
COOPER: John King, you know, in previous State of the Union speeches, President Bush dedicated roughly half the time to national security, the war on terror. It didn't happen this time. Why do you think the administration is placing a heavier emphasis on domestic policies? Is it just that there's not a lot of great stuff to sell on Iraq?
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that is one of the reasons, and Republicans were happy that the president didn't spend too much time on this speech in Iraq. What he did say was important. Will it succeed? We will see. I think Candy laid out the task pretty clearly.
But look, this is a president with two years left in office, Anderson. He is not going to get the big things he wanted. He is not going to get his tax cuts made permanent. The Democrats are not going to do that.
He is not going to get the big Social Security or the big Medicare changes he wanted. That is not going to happen, despite what the president said tonight, heading into a presidential election cycle.
Can he do business on healthcare, on education and on energy? He can if the Democrats want to pass things. Because he still would need to sign them into laws.
So the Democrats don't like this president. They don't agree with him on much, but they need him, and they want to produce in the next two years, too. So consider what the president said tonight on domestic issues essentially his first marker for the negotiations that will take place six, eight months from now when they get serious about these issues.
COOPER: Bill, what about Jim Webb's response? Was he the right person for the Democrats?
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he certainly drew attention to the Iraq issue, which is the issue Democrats want to call attention to. That was the issue he ran on. That's why he was once a Republican and switched parties and became a Democrat.
He was secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration. Who better to speak about that? And he has a son who's serving. I think he focused squarely on the issue Democrats want to talk about, Iraq.
COOPER: John Roberts, the president calling for Americans to cut consumption of gasoline by 20 percent in 10 years. Last year the president was talking about this country is addicted to oil. Now that they have this policy, is this a realistic goal or is this just more talk?
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: I think that the president would like to see the United States cut its energy consumption, particularly from a national security standpoint. But as you said, last year he had those words right there in the State of the Union, America is addicted to oil. Not a lot happened about it.
The only thing that really did happen was last summer, Anderson. When the price of gasoline went northwards of $3 a gallon, people started self-conserving, not driving as much. And that way you save gasoline.
But when there is plentiful oil, Americans will use it unless they are somehow mandated into an alternative. The increase in the amount of ethanol in gasoline is a good example.
I don't think you'd find anybody in this country, with the exception of people who run the oil companies who would say -- who would not say it's important to wean ourselves off oil.
It's just a matter of getting the wherewithal to do it, getting the conviction to do it all the way along the line, you know, talking the oil companies into thinking that it would be better off in the long run if they were to go with some other kind of fuel.
But right now, Anderson, there is still a lot of oil in the ground. The oil companies still have access to it, and as long as Americans want to drive to wherever they want to do whenever they want to go, you're not going to be able to do a lot to change those habits.
COOPER: Candy, once again, we heard the president talk about a guest worker program, the issue of immigration. I mean, it seemed at the time that he had more in common with Democrats in the crowd tonight than he did with some of the his Republican Party members on the immigration reform issue.
CROWLEY: On the immigration reform issue and on some of these other issues. So this is going to be really interesting, because you see, as '08 comes closer and closer, you've got Republicans who would like to be returned to Congress or who would like to run for president, beginning to put a little bit of distance between themselves and the president.
And then you have the Democratic Congress, which got elected because a lot of people thought Congress isn't doing anything. We need other people in charge. So you have a president trying to get something done in his last two years and not be irrelevant.
And then you have the Democrats who are trying to show they can get something done, so there may be more commonality of purpose between the president and the Democrats than the president and the Republicans.
COOPER: John -- John King, when you look at past State of the Union addresses, how does anything the president -- how does this one stack up? Did the president come across as a lame duck? Was -- was there energy there? Was there a sense of, you know, we're just kind of going through the motions? Or were these things people really believe changes can be made on?
KING: Anderson, we have not had a moment like this in American politics since 1995, when Bill Clinton had to talk up into the Congress after the Republican revolution of 1994, and then President Clinton, much like President Bush said, "I realize what happened in November. I recognize the change. I extend my hand." And then he did do some business with Republicans. And that could be a lesson.
President Clinton did do it when he was repudiated by the voters. And now President Bush has that same opportunity.
Fascinating to watch the president tonight. I was in touch with a leading Democrat and a leading Republican pollster during the speech by e-mail. They both said a very well-constructed speech from a political standpoint. The question is, can there be follow-through?
This president is a very proud man, also a very stubborn man. He had his game face on tonight, Anderson, but he recognizes his own difficulty.
Remember, he was around the White House for eight years when his dad was vice president, four years when he was president, now six years as president. He understands what deep of a political hole he is in, mostly because of Iraq, but also because ideologically he and the Democrats disagree profoundly on the big issues he hopes to get work done on in his final two years.
COOPER: John Roberts, realistically speaking, is this a speech anyone is going to remember tomorrow or the next day?
ROBERTS: I think they will remember it, Anderson, if something gets done. If they get an immigration bill, people may look back and say this -- this as the year when the president reached out to Democrats, who he had a better chance of getting an immigration bill with, and got it done.
But if nothing happens, if nothing gets done this year, a lot of Democrats I've talked to said that the president will probably get nothing done for the rest of his term. This will just be a footnote in history, that it would be the president's first State of the Union after the Democrats took control of Congress.
COOPER: John Roberts, I just want to ask you, who are all those people behind you? Where are you?
ROBERTS: We're in Statuary Hall, which is just off of the House chamber. This is an area, it's a smaller rotunda. The big Capitol Rotunda is just to our west.
These are a lot of freshmen members of Congress, a few senators and some other more veteran members of Congress. We're sort of standing around in lines, waiting to talk to some of the media outlets here about their impressions of the president's speech.
It will probably stay like this for another half hour or so, and then people will start to clear out. But this is always the center of attention during the State of the Union, and it's that way again in 2007, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. John Roberts, Bill Schneider, Candy Crowley, John King, we'll talk to all of you throughout this next hour, as well.
The president made a number of commitments tonight. He laid out a series of goals on energy and the budget. The question is, how well has he kept prior commitments? We're going to check the record.
We're also going to bring you a report card when the special State of the Union edition of 360 continues. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Let's fill in the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. When we do that, we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: President Bush earlier tonight with one of several new proposals in his State of the Union address.
Over the past couple of years, the president can claim credit for pushing through a prescription drug plan for seniors, tax cuts and tighter corporate ethics rules, but the list of things he's asked for and didn't get is even longer.
CNN's Joe Johns tonight, "Keeping Them Honest".
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You hear a lot about broken promises when the State of the Union speech rolls around. Truth is, the president's message to the Congress has never been about promises. It's a wish list. It's about recommendations to a coequal branch of the government.
So here's part of the Bush wish list that hasn't gotten done over the years.
BUSH: We must make Social Security financially stable and allow personal retirement accounts for younger workers who choose them.
JOHNS: Fixing Social Security just hasn't happened. If the president tried to do this, he may risk losing his Republican majority in Congress -- oh, wait. Too late.
The president has also focused a lot on energy independence in his speeches.
BUSH: This Congress must act to encourage conservation, promote technology, build infrastructure, and it must act to increase energy production at home so America is less dependent on foreign oil.
JOHNS: Another recurring recommendation from the president has been to make permanent the tax cuts passed during his administration. Here's what he said in 2004.
BUSH: What Congress has given, the Congress should not take away. For the sake of job growth, the tax cuts you passed should be permanent.
JOHNS: Never got done. The tax cuts are still scheduled to expire in three years. Now that Democrats are in charge of the Capitol, many say that won't change.
Other recommendations that haven't worked out -- medical malpractice reform, cheaper healthcare for people who change jobs, and one more that never quite stuck, though the administration and the Congress spent a lot of time on it, immigration reform.
BUSH: And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty, allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally, and reduces smuggling and crime at the border.
On that, too many of the president's own Republican allies said no way.
Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Of course, everyone watches the State of the Union address with different expectations and different eyes. We wanted to talk to two strategists to see their perspective. Democratic strategist Paul Begala joins me, and Republican strategist Mike Murphy.
Paul, let's start with you. What was your impression of the president's speech?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I just have a hard time seeing this moving the needle for him very much. That's an awfully tall order. I mean, the president is very well-known and very deeply disliked, mostly because of the war, but some of it personal.
COOPER: You're meaning moving the needle in terms of policies or moving the needle in terms of popularity?
BEGALA: Well, both, because the latter drives the former. The president's currency now is his -- the faith that the American people have in him, that is his -- his sense that he has a bond with the American people.
He once had one that was extraordinary. I mean, he stood up there a few years ago, he had 84 percent of the country behind him. Today he barely has 34 percent. And that has consequences.
I think -- let me give you one little example, a rhetorical thing. At the very beginning, he opened with this beautiful grace note to Nancy Pelosi, talked about how her father, Thomas D'Alessandro, had served in the House, and the daughter had grown up to become speaker. It was beautiful. You could see the Democrats just melting and you think Nancy Pelosi just thought it was so wonderful and gracious.
And then in the very next paragraph -- I have it marked here on the White House text -- he congratulated the new "Democrat" majority, as he said. Now, the White House transcript says "Democratic." There is a difference. My party's the Democratic Party.
But the sort of kook-like, not the responsible Republicans, but the fringe, the Rush Limbaugh crowd, likes to call my party the Democrat Party. They think it's some sort of insult or something. And frankly, I guess it is insulting.
Why would you do that when you're the president of both parties and the majority of your country now is affiliated with the Democrat Party? Why would you say that?
COOPER: Do you think that was intentional?
BEGALA: Absolutely. I guarantee it was. I'm 100 percent certain it was. It's sort of a bizarre article of faith on the right wing, that you can't call the Democratic Party by its name. It has to be the Democrat Party.
Well, he just threw away all the lovely goodwill that his speechwriters earned for him with that nice grace note that he began the speech with. I don't understand why he's so self-defeating. Maybe it's just arrogance.
COOPER: Mike Murphy, is that a good strategy?
MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think my friend, Paul, if that's all -- the biggest complaint, I think the president had a pretty good night. You have to look at the substance of the speech. What did the president do? He's in a tough political situation, and so he recognized reality, and he made a bipartisan outreach to the Democrats.
And he went into two areas where I think if both sides want to work together, if the Democrats will return his hand of bipartisanship with a hand back instead of a switchblade, things can happen.
Immigration reform, which the president had big trouble in the Republican base in the last Congress. He now has a Congress that's more supportive of that. I think there's a real chance there. And energy security, which is so much in our interest.
I think both areas, if both sides want to work together, things can happen. If not, nothing will happen.
The elephant in the room, though, was Iraq. And I think the president did a very good job of trying to explain the consequences of immediate failure in Iraq, and thereby make the case for give his plan a chance to work.
I think he bought some time, not much. He's in a tough political grind on this. He doesn't have a lot of support, but I think he brought realism into the debate, showed the alternative we faced, and asked for a little more time.
And I think on the Republican side where he's had some erosion, he'll get some time. And I think the Democrats are going to be boxed in. I don't think they really have a policy. They're not for cut and running.
Look at Webb's address. We're not for cut and run, but we're not for staying. Well, then what are they for? They can't really answer that question. They want to criticize the president. I think he bought a little time tonight.
COOPER: First off, 45 Democrats voted for the Reed/Levin policy, which is -- this was last year. Jack Reed, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne, Carl Levin, now the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, they had a proposal to re-deploy our troops in Iraq. Forty-five Democrats voted for it. That may be good policy; it may be bad. But he got 45 Democrats to support that.
Do you think 45 Republicans support President Bush' escalation? I don't.
COOPER: You don't think -- you don't think 45 do. I'm sorry, go ahead, Mike.
MURPHY: Now I think the president moved that needle some tonight. I mean, what all this policy boils down to is a key decision: do the troops stay for a while and eventually leave if the Iraqis, if they don't get their politics together? Which is essentially the Democratic position.
Or do they fight right now to try to bring order by taking on the militias and irregular forces on both sides? And that's the real crux. The president is the commander in chief. He's made that bet. He'll have a little time. It is impossible to fight a partisan war, though.
So the biggest problem he has is it's going to be very hard for him to sustain this policy as long as it may need to work without Democratic support. I do think he made his case to the country today and got himself in a better position than he was, but it's still going to be an uphill battle in the public opinion in the debate over Iraq.
COOPER: We're going to talk a lot more about military policy later later in our next hour, but Paul, it's interesting if you were reading Petraeus' testimony today on Capitol Hill, earlier today, the new American commander has not yet been confirmed, but it looks likely to be, it seems like he's arguing for getting all that surge of troops or the escalation of troops, whatever you want to call it, regardless of what the Iraqis do.
I mean, that's -- he seems committed to the strategy, regardless of whether the Iraqi military stands up or not. Do you think that's the message the American people are getting? And one they would support?
BEGALA: I think you're right. And I think what General Petraeus was saying was somewhat different than what President Bush is saying. I did notice that Senator Clinton from New York today said, "General, you may have written the book on the counterinsurgency," which General Petraeus just did. He updated it on his counterinsurgency manual. But she said, "This is not -- they've done by the book." In other words, the president's, in her eyes and in many Americans' eyes, failed political strategy in Iraq. It's not going to work.
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