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Biden to Deliver High-Stakes Address; Olivia Dalton is Interviewed about Biden's Speech. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 07, 2024 - 06:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, right now the Biden White House putting the finishing touches on the president's State of the Union speech. We're told that President Biden has been working into the night to get it just right.

Joining us now from the White House is Arlette Saenz.

Arlette, good morning. Thanks so much for being here.

Take us inside the White House. What are you hearing from his advisers about how the speech is coming together?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, President Biden is expected to spend the day putting the finishing touches on this speech. He often works up until the last minute. But it really caps off months of preparation by his team to identify the priorities that he -- the policy priorities that he should discuss and also craft a message to convince voters that he's prepared for a second term. I'm told that in addition to working with the senior advisors, the president, once again, consulted presidential historian and author Jon Meacham. That's someone that the president has often turned to for these high stakes speeches.

And it really comes as the president is expected to lean heavily into this argument relating to economic populism. The president is expected to speak about raising taxes on corporations, trying to raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent and also raising the corporate minimum tax, which is currently 15 percent, to 21 percent.

The president is also expected to talk about efforts to lower costs for everyday Americans in their lives. That will include a push to really focus on lowering prescription drug costs specifically. He's expected to call on Congress to expand the ability for Medicare to negotiate drugs from 20 drugs to 50 drugs in one year.

The president is also expected to focus on the issue of reproductive rights. That is something that Democrats really feel will galvanize voters heading into November.

He is also expected to talk about Ukraine. That's something that he has wanted to see Congress pass aid for. There's - then there's also the issue of border security. Big questions about how the president will address that after Republicans had scuttled a bipartisan border deal. The president has urged them to act, but we have yet to see whether the president will actually implement any executive actions as he has been considering on that front.

And then there's the unity agenda. Something that the president has touted in his past State of the Union Addresses and will be a focus again today. Of course, democracy and protecting freedoms will be one of those overarching goals. It's a centerpiece of his campaign and also expected to be a huge topic at today's State of the Union.

And if you take a look at the guests that will be sitting in the first lady's box, that really highlights the priorities that the president has in this speech. That's expected to include Shawn Fain, the president of the United Auto Workers, a group that endorsed him just a few months ago at a time when the president is trying to show this pro-worker stance to American voters at a time when former President Donald Trump is also trying to court that group. There will also be Kate Cox, who is that Texas mother who had to seek an abortion outside of her state as she faced a life-threatening pregnancy. The administration is also inviting a couple who was going through the IVF process in the state of Alabama. There's a host of other guests that will also be featured in the first lady's box.

But really this speech offers the president with the opportunity to tout his accomplishments and lay out his vision for a second term. We'll see if he tangles once again with Republicans as he did last year.

HUNT: Sure.

SAENZ: Some in his party would like him to show a little bit more of a fight in this campaign.

HUNT: All right, Arlette Saenz for us at the White House.

Arlette, thank you.

This, of course, a big opportunity for the president tonight. What can he make of it?

Let's bring in our panel. Republican strategist, former RNC communications director, Doug Heye, former White House deputy press secretary in the Obama administration. Bill Burton, Sarah Longwell, she's a republican strategist and executive director of the Republican Accountability Project, she's back with us, and former ABC News White House correspondent Ann Compton, who we are so grateful to have this morning.

Ann, let's kind of stick with this big picture theme for President Biden. You've watched so many of these addresses. The stakes tonight for President Biden as we head into what's arguably one of the most, if not the most, consequential election we've had certainly in our lifetimes.

ANN COMPTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS (1975-2014): It's always in a presidential election year the stakes are really much higher and its -- it's a minefield because of a slip, a problem, a misstatement, a bad moment can do much more damage than all of his wonderful rhetoric and all the reaching out.


I also think that President Biden knows how toxic they relations are in that chamber, and he ought to be prepared to take the high road and show kind of -- Americans that, look, you can trust me. I'm - I'm your guy. I've got your back. And building that sense of things, like many of his predecessors did, Reagan and Obama, tried to exude that kind of sense of, stick with me, we're going to get through this.

HUNT: So the high road, Doug Heye, Bill Burton.

Doug, you had a lot of experience in Congress. The -- do we think that the high road is what voters are demanding right now? This might be a question for you, Bill, too. Like the sort of swing voters. High road, yes? High road, no?

BILL BURTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: I mean, look, I think that voters understand that we're now getting into the general election. And this - this election is about a choice between, you know, Joe Biden's vision and Donald Trump's vision. And I think that while people are tuned into cable news sometimes for the fight, I think what they want is to understand, well, what does this election mean for my family, right? Like, I don't think people are going to show up and vote because of all the things that Joe Biden has done. I think they're going to show up and vote because of where he's going to bring the country, right? Voters don't generally vote to say thank you, they vote to say, well, what's in this for me and my family.

HUNT: Right, what's next.

Doug, what do you expect tonight?

DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. Well, you know, one of the things, when Bill was working the Obama White House, I was in House leadership. And what you do when you're in the opposition is you prepare for everything that the president's going to say and you put out papers during the speech, after the speech, of the rhetoric of what the president said and what the reality is. And that standard - that's standard issue. But what House leadership can't plan for right now is, one, the slip-ups potentially at Ann referenced, and then also what Republican members may do.

And we've certainly seen this in the past. Speaker Johnson is telling his members, behave yourself. But there's a political incentive structure that we saw last year, we may see tonight, that if you jeer the president, if you heckle the president, you're getting your moment in the sun and your voters and the political incentive structure that you have, which is not wherever you say swing district member is, rewards that. And ultimately, the problem is, you get rewarded, but you also provide Biden with a real opportunity, if he lands a good counterpunch, that's one of the takeaways from the speech and that Republican members were rude. HUNT: So, speaking of what's rewarded these days, one of the people

who was an antagonist to Biden in his last speech last year was Marjorie Taylor Greene. We've showed kind of that moment a couple of times. But she has been getting some attention for something that she did on Super Tuesday at where she was talking to a British reporter who was very polite, I have to say, in her questioning. But just -- just keep in mind as we head into this big speech, this is going to be one of the guests at the State of the Union.

Watch this clip.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And can you tell me why so many people that support Donald Trump love conspiracy theories, including yourself? He seems to attract lots of conspiracy theorists.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Well, let me tell you, you're a conspiracy theorist and the left and the media spreads more conspiracy theories. We like the truth. We like supporting our Constitution, our freedoms, and America first. So, we're all done now. We're all done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about Jewish space lasers? Tell us about Jewish space lasers.

GREENE: No, why don't -- why don't you go talk about Jewish space lasers and really why don't you (EXPLETIVE DELETED). How about that? I'm (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks. Thank you very much.


HEYE: So, I have family that's British. That's not the technical term that you would say to a Brit. But also we're talking about her. This is the political incentive structure that she has. And she knew that going into it and she's being rewarded for it.

HUNT: Sarah, what do you think?

SARAH LONGWELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND PUBLISHER, "THE BULWARK": You know, I mean, every time Marjorie Taylor Greene sort of becomes the face of the Republican Party, and increasingly she is, it alienates those swing voters who do not want to be in coalition with people like Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz. And so if Marjorie Taylor Greene wants to be the face of the Republican Party and she wants to present the contrast to Joe Biden tonight, I'm all for it because I think he comes out on top.

Just one thing. I'll say for Biden that's really important is, the vast majority of voters do not watch the State of the Union. What I -- I do focus groups sort of after the State of the Union and check in with voters and see what they thought, most people are not watching it. What they're doing is they're getting vibes. And like the vibes need to -- for Biden need to be like, he was sharp, feisty, like that comes from headlines, that comes from a little tangling with the opposition. And so I think that's how he succeeds tonight, not by just knocking through the policy point.

HUNT: So maybe not so bad if he gets someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene heckling him from the floor?

LONGWELL: No, that's a win.

HUNT: Let me play a little bit because ultimately really this election is going to come down to independent voters in a handful of swing states. And a lot of independents and disaffected Republicans and some Democrats backed Nikki Haley in some of these primaries. We - we've collected some kind of reactions and some feelings from Nikki Haley voters that kind of illustrate a little bit of the challenges that both Trump and Biden face heading into this election.


Watch what they had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And its Trump vs Biden, what do you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no question, Biden. We cannot have another four years of that man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to vote for either one, Biden or Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it is not a sure thing that Donald Trump is going to win the general election because if you're a voter like myself, I'm going to write her in.

I think people were looking closely, you know, at the vice presidential candidate because it's a very probable possibility that they will be president by the end of the four years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will not vote for Mr. Trump. I - I'll have to decide about Mr. Biden. But I - I cannot -- his personal behaviors are highly offensive to me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that this country can do better than the choice that we've been given.


HUNT: Ann, what do you hear in that? And I would like to note, those voters, all women, first of all right, right, which is one of Trump's absolute biggest vulnerabilities.


HUNT: But what does Biden need to do to speak to those voters tonight?

COMPTON: Well, part of what he faces is what happens in the political landscape -- in the national, global landscape between now and November. No president, no candidate can control a war overseas at the -- some kind of disaster or violence here in the United States. So, the president, to appeal to people, at least to say that he's got his hands on the steering wheel and he'll be responsible about that, is, I think, probably the best -- the best that he could do.

BURTON: I would point out about the Nikki Haley voters, you know, if you look at that "New York Times"/Sienna poll, two-thirds of Haley supporters actually voted for Biden in 2020 and only nine 9 percent voted for Trump. So, to the extent that there's an opportunity to consolidate these voters, it's for President Biden. And I think that that's part of what his message has to be tonight. It's that, you know, I am the stable president who has a vision for the future, who has a plan for -- to lower taxes for the middle class, not just lowering taxes for the wealthy, and who can get us back to a place in the world where, you know, we're more safe and stable.

HUNT: Doug, let's talk for a second about the president's vulnerabilities here. Kathy Hochul, yesterday, the governor of New York, sent the National Guard to protect the New York City subways after a rise in violent crime. There's a congressman who invited the family of Laken Riley, the nursing student who was killed by an undocumented immigrant, to sit. Her family declined the invitation, but he's going to leave an open seat for her. I mean these are big policy vulnerabilities for the president. I mean how do you expect that to play out tonight?

HEYE: You know, when I'm outside of Washington, the two issues I hear about the most are Biden's age -- Biden can't do anything about that -- and the border. Biden can do something about that. It is overwhelmingly a vulnerability for this administration. And I think in Washington, they don't get it. Outside of Washington, Democrats get it more and more.

I was watching MSNBC for a little bit on Super Tuesday, and there was a panel of hosts, and they were all sort of laughing. Well, Virginia's a border state with West Virginia. So, of course they'd be secured (ph), worried about the border, ha, ha, ha.

Eric Adams gets it. Kathy Hochul is starting to get it. And if Washington -- if the liberal intelligence here (ph) that informs this White House can laugh this off or think they can, they - they're in for four more years of Donald Trump.

HUNT: I mean this is, I'd argue, a conservative paper, "The New York Post," and they've splashed exactly what you're talking about here.

HEYE: That is a massive in-kind contribution to Donald Trump's campaign.

HUNT: Right.

BURTON: I would point out though that murder is down. Violent crime is actually down in this country. Now, perception is reality for voters and President Biden has to address it, but he has a story to tell on it and he ought to.

HUNT: So, just to close this out, the other issue, of course, that the president is facing is the war in Gaza, Ann, and that's something that comes from inside. And there is a contingent of House Democrats who are very, very upset with the president and how he's handled this. There have been protests repeatedly at -- they've worked hard to kind of quell them in recent weeks, but he was interrupted a number of times. How -- if you were kind of thinking about what those members of Congress might be thinking about tonight, is it at all possible the president gets interrupted by someone in his own party? And what kind of impact would that have?

COMPTON: I'd figure he knows this. And he's got months ahead to try to do something, not only about the border, about Gaza, about taking so many of these - his own party, who are really after him, to do more. And as the point you keep making, to stand up and do more. That - that will make a difference. It won't happen necessarily tonight, but it will happen over the - again, as events in the world play out this spring, this summer. And then debates. I think we might have debates.

HUNT: Yes.

Bill, quickly on that. What do you think the president needs to do on this Israel situation if it comes up tonight.


BURTON: Well, look, obviously Democrats, in large swaths of the country, Minnesota and Michigan, showed that there's deep concerns about what's happening in Gaza. I think that we're closer and closer to a ceasefire. I think the president will talk about that tonight. And, you know, it's my hope that there's some resolution in the Middle East and it's much less of a political issue going into the fall.

HUNT: We'll see.

All right, speaking of the Middle East, we've got a developing story coming out of there right now. Hamas leaving Cairo with no breakthrough in talks to reach a temporary ceasefire. There were hopes for a deal by Ramadan. Negotiators had hoped to have a draft agreement this week. One official admitted, though, that hope is fading. A senior source says the delegation well resume negotiations next week. Just a reminder, Israel did not send a delegation to participate in this round of talks when Hamas would not provide a list of hostages still alive in Gaza.

All right, 45 minutes past the hour. Here's your morning roundup.

House Republicans have invited Hunter Biden to a public hearing on March 20th. It's the latest move to try to get their impeachment investigation of the president back on track.

The Pentagon is examining whether debris found by fishermen off the coast of Alaska is from a spy balloon. The discovery comes 13 months after a U.S. fighter jet shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon over Montana.

Charges abruptly dropped against three men accused of possessing stolen lyrics to "Hotel California" and other Eagles' songs. The Manhattan DA says communication between band co-founder Don Henley and his team were disclosed too late in the trial and would be damaging to the prosecution.

And then there's this. Later this month, the TSA is rolling out a new self-service screening system at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. The prototype has a video monitor that provides step-by- step instructions for passengers to screen themselves, get this, at their own pace. Once a passenger is cleared for travel, automated exit doors open so travelers can grab their belongings and get to their gates.

Guys, what could possibly go wrong? I mean people -- this is like the grocery self-checkout. Like, you're behind there, trying to - waiting for people to check out.

HEYE: Are we on the honors system on that.

HUNT: I mean, I don't know, but like -

BURTON: My experience is that the pace of most people is not that fast, unfortunately.

HUNT: I'm like going crazy just sitting here thinking about it.


HUNT: All right, thanks to all you guys for your contributions today. I really appreciate it.

Ahead here, Vice President Harris is heading back to her childhood home, not in California, but in any crucial battleground state.

But first, the White House deputy press secretary joins us live ahead of the president's State of the Union.




STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT": It's like the whole nation is ordering takeout and deciding, OK, we're going to do the Thai place again. Even though the noodles stick together in a weird cube, the shape like the box it comes in. As long as we all agree we're not getting the sweet and sour Nikki Haley.


HUNT: All right, like it or not, now Biden versus Trump in 2024. President Biden, of course, set to make his case during -- to the country during the State of the Union Address tonight, the day after Nikki Haley's exit from the presidential race. His campaign putting out this message to her supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL TYLER, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, BIDEN 2024 CAMPAIGN: So, if you agreed with Nikki Haley when she stood up to Trump for things like election denialism, for the chaos and division that he represents, there is, in fact, going to be a home for them in Joe Biden's campaign.


HUNT: All right, here with me now to preview Biden's speech to one of the largest audiences he'll have between now and November is Deputy White House Press Secretary Olivia Dalton.

Olivia, thank you so much for being here.


HUNT: So, what should we expect from the president tonight?

DALTON: Well, tonight you'll hear a clear, compelling contrast from the president in one of the biggest speeches he'll give all year, to one of the biggest audiences he'll have all year. And he'll really lay out a couple of themes, the importance of defending our rights and freedoms, not rolling them back. The importance of defending democracy here and around the world, not diminishing it. And continuing on the historic economic progress we've made over the last three years as a consequence of Joe Biden's economic agenda, which is really focused on building our economy, building it from the bottom-up and the middle out, not the top-down.

And I'll just say, no accident -- you're going to hear from the president, no accident that we've got 15 million new jobs, that we've got historic small business starts, that we've got the racial wealth gap down to the lowest, narrowest gap in 20 years. There's a lot of progress that we've been able to make, and he's going to talk about how to keep our foot on the gas.

HUNT: We've talked a lot, this morning, Congressman Pat Ryan, Democrat from New York, he's from a swing district, was here, saying, you know, he's been with the president. He traveled to Ireland with the president. The president can be fiery. He talked about the Irish in him. Are we going to see that from the president tonight? Because there seems to be a lot of interests in it from Democrats, people in the president's own party.

DALTON: The president is ready. He spent the weekend with his advisers, his speech writers, putting the finishing touches on this speech in Camp David. He is ready for tonight. He's ready to lay out a compelling case to the country. And he thinks he has a good story to tell, right? You know, it is just, as I said a moment ago, no accident that we are where we are. We've had the strongest post-pandemic recovery of any major economy in the world. That's not to say we don't have challenges, but the president has a plan to meet those challenges head on, and he's going to lay out the - what's -- the competing vision for that, right? A system that prioritizes special interests and the wealthy over the middle class and working-class Americans. Republicans who are focused on ripping away Medicare and Social

Security and making healthcare more expensive rather than continuing the progress that he's made to make it more affordable and bring down the cost of prescription drugs. Those are the kinds of things that the president is going to talk out and lay out tonight. And he's - he's ready for that.

HUNT: This is going to be one of the largest audiences he'll be able to speak to between now and November. He'll have the Democratic convention as well. But this is a significant moment in the re- election campaign.

Voters tell us they're concerned that he's too old to do the job. What can he do tonight to convince them otherwise?

DALTON: Well, I thought the -- he said it best when he told Seth Meyers last week that it's not the age of the person, it's the age of the ideas. And look, what have Republicans decided to focus on tonight?


Their rebuttal is going to be delivered by someone who is responsible for creating the turmoil we saw in Alabama, repealing Roe, overturning Roe, a right that existed for women in this country for 50 years, taking us back 50 years so that our daughters have fewer rights than our mothers did. That is what's at stake here. Antiquated ideas versus Joe Biden's vision for a future where we protect our most fundamental and sacred rights and freedoms in this country, where we protect democracy and our most fundamental ideals as a country. And we continue to keep our foot on the gas, on the economic progress we've made for -- made for real working people, not the wealthiest, not the special interests in this country.

HUNT: How big of a risk is it if he were to stumble tonight?

DALTON: Well, look, I think, you know, everybody is - there's always, in these moments, a desire to focus on the distractions du jour. The president is focused on one thing, and that's communicating clearly his vision for the country to the American people. He'll have one of the largest audiences tonight that he will all year.

And I want to just note that we are also doing some new things to make sure that we're meeting people where they are. This will be the first State of the Union that were - that we're live streaming on Instagram to make sure that we're reaching young people where they are. It will be the first time that on you can go and you can actually interact with tonight's live stream.

So, we're hoping that tonight will be a night where people are really able to tune in and focus on the president's message.

HUNT: Let me ask you about the war in Gaza. We were just reporting that no ceasefire deal has been reached. I know there was hope -- the president had said that he hoped it would happen by Monday of this week. Obviously, that has come and gone and it remains a very difficult life or death issue for many people in the - in the president's party. People in -- we saw this in Michigan with the uncommitted vote.

There are a number of House Democrats who are very opposed to what the president has been doing on this front. Are you preparing or have you prepared for possible disruptions from any of those people on the floor of the House tonight, or do you not expect that to happen?

DALTON: Well, the president certainly knows that there are intense and passionate feelings on this issue. And, you know, he has also been spending hours every day addressing this, working urgently toward a hostage deal, working urgently to expand the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. Certain you're going to -- certainly you're going to hear tonight from the president himself about his efforts in this area to secure the release of hostages, to secure a temporary ceasefire so that we can serve -- surge even more humanitarian aid.

Obviously, you've seen in recent days that we've begun airdrops of humanitarian aid into Gaza because we don't think that the aid that's getting into Gaza is nearly enough. Also continue to be extremely concerned about the level of civilian casualties in Gaza. This is a president who's working around the clock on this issue. Certainly not lost on him, the significance of this moment to communicate with the American public and with Congress about the urgency of also passing the national security supplemental so that we can get not just aid to Israel but surge humanitarian aid into Gaza as well.

HUNT: Has the White House or the staff at the White House, or the president himself, reached out to Rashida Tlaib, for example, who is Palestinian American?

DALTON: The president has engaged with the community on a number of occasions, and so have White House staff. So, you know, we know that there are significant and passionate feelings on this across the spectrum, and we've continued to engage in good-faith conversation with folks around that. But I think my message really today to you and to the country is, the president knows and feels very deeply. He's heard from the country about the range of views on this. And he's working night and day around the clock, not just to secure the release of hostages, but to make sure that we're doing everything that we can to, you know, address the situation in the region, to prevent further loss of innocent human lives, to surge humanitarian aid, to get hostages home and prevent this from becoming a wider conflict.

HUNT: All right, Olivia Dalton for us, deputy White House press secretary.

Thank you very much for your time this morning.

DALTON: Thank you, Kasie.

HUNT: It's going to be a lot on day for you, so I appreciate you starting it off with us.

DALTON: You too. Thank you.

HUNT: All right, I'll leave you with this.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, it's very special. Welcome to my Madison roots.


HUNT: Kamala Harris making a surprise stop at her childhood home in Madison, Wisconsin. She brought the current homeowner a gift bag and she gave her a tour. The vice president lived there for two years as a young girl while her parents worked at the University of Madison - of Wisconsin Madison.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it cool to be back here?

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is very - yes, it is. It's -- I don't remember the house as much as I remember the path down to the lake. And - and we would take walks and - but it's very special. Very special. And of course you guys have been so wonderful in allowing this intrusion into your beautiful place.



HUNT: All right, she shared these pictures on social media of her then - she was a child of immigrants.