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CNN Larry King Live

State of the Union Analysis

Aired January 23, 2007 - 00:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam speaker -- the president of the United States.

KING: George W. Bush delivers his next-to-last State of the Union address to the Congress full of a lot of would-be presidents. And an American public that believes he's moving the United States in the wrong direction. Did he say what he needed to say? Will his works make any difference?

Reaction from two high profile White House hopefuls, Democratic Senator Barack Obama and former vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Plus a whole lot more next on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

The next to the last State of the Union address by President George Bush is history and we begin our portion of this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE with Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, who has formed an exploratory committee for a 2008 presidential run. Anything surprise you tonight?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) IL: No, I don't think there were any surprises. I think that the president had some serious proposals on health care and energy. I don't think they went as far or as comprehensively as I would have liked but I thought they were legitimate proposals and I think that the Democrats need to step up and offer to work in a constructive way with the president on that. I thought that he talked about with his commitments to dealing with AIDS in Africa and malaria. And I think he deserves great credit for that.

But obviously, the bulk of the speech was devoted to Iraq. And what you saw in the House of Representatives' hall was a real skepticism, I think, on both sides of the aisle about this escalation of troop levels. I don't think that he persuaded either the majority of Congress or the American people that it's the right approach to take.

KING: Did you see Senator Webb's response?

OBAMA: I'm sorry, did I see Senator Whose response?

KING: Webb.

OBAMA: I did see Senator Webb's response and I think that Senator Webb is an excellent spokesman on this issue, not only because he himself served, but more importantly, his son is serving right now.

And this is not somebody who takes these issues lightly. He believes in service to our country. He believes in America's mission around the world. But he also recognizes that the strategy that we pursued has not worked and that the president from the start has taken us down a path that has ended up being destructive to our national security, as opposed to promoting it.

KING: Senator, is -- in the upcoming campaign, is Iraq the overriding issue?

OBAMA: I think that for the country as a whole, Iraq is going to be the most immediate and pressing issue. But I think the country also feels a host of pressures on health care, on energy, on education. I think we are at a crossroads domestically as well as internationally, and so over the next two years, part of what we are going to be needing to do is to have a serious conversation about how we can unify around some serious approaches to these problems.

In some cases, they may require sacrifices. In some cases they may require some tough decisions. The point, though, is that it's going to have to be based on facts and pragmatism, not on ideology and rhetoric. And that's, I think, what the American people are hungry for.

KING: Are you ready, senator, for what you're about to undertake?

OBAMA: Well, I think my wife and I discussed obviously the enormity of running for president. And what we have concluded is that it is important if I believe that I have some unique capacity to bring the country together to at least step forward and offer myself up to the American people.

Those are a series of conversations between my wife and supporters that are still taking place on February 10th. We will have made a final decision.

But I can assure you my life is pretty good right now, Larry. I don't feel compelled by personal ambition. If I choose to do this, it's because in some way I think I can make a unique contribution.

KING: In a sense, whoever runs for president, is saying I'm the best person for this job.

OBAMA: Well, I think you shouldn't run if you don't believe that. And I won't run if I don't believe that I have a vision and the leadership capacity to create a better future for our kids and a better future for this nation.

KING: Senator Clinton, by the way, has decided to reject public financing for her campaign. Are you going to do the same?

OBAMA: Well, you know, this is something that, obviously, we are going to have to take a careful look at. I'm a big believer in public financing of campaigns. And I think that for a time, the presidential public financing system works.

Unfortunately, because funding has diminished relative to the cost of campaigns, I think you will see a lot of people opt out. And even as I support public financing, I think it's very important for Democrats to be competitive in the general election. That's a decision we are going to have to make.

KING: In an op-ed piece in today's "Washington Post," Dick Cheney's daughter Liz described your possible opponent Senator Clinton as hemming and hawing about her vote for the war resolution and lacking steel in the spine. Can you comment on that?

OBAMA: Well, I did not read the op-ed myself. I think that people made decisions to vote for this authorization. Many of them have expressed regret. I'm proud of the fact in 2002 at a time when I was on the brink of running for the United States Senate I called it as I saw it which was that I didn't see strong evidence of weapons of mass destruction. I thought this would get us bogged down in a war that would not improve our national security, which wouldn't provide us with a clear exit strategy.

That's proved to be the case. But at this point what the American people are really are looking forward to is leadership getting our troops home and stabilizing the situation and that's what I'm going to be focusing on over the next several months.

KING: And senator, how does Iraq, how does it all end?

OBAMA: I don't think we will have an optimal solution. One thing that's very important, the president in the State of the Union kept on mentioning the need for resolve in order to achieve victory.

And one thing I have to insist on, the American people have been extraordinarily resolved. More importantly our troops in the field have done an outstanding job and have shown outstanding resolve. But no matter how resolved we are, if we are taking the wrong road, we are going to see bad outcomes. And right now we have taken a wrong road and I don't see the kind of victory that I think the president still imagines, some sort of Jeffersonian democracy.

I think the best that we can hope for right now is that with considerable investment of time and energy and resources, that we can help the Iraqi government stabilize itself but we can only do that if it wants to stabilize itself. It's got to want it.

And that means combinations between Shia, Sunni and Kurd that have not been forthcoming. I think the only way to not change the dynamic is not escalate troop levels but to actually start beginning a phrased redeployment to send the signal to the Iraqis, we are not going to solve this problem militarily. You have got to come together and make some political accommodations.

There are risks involved in that strategy but, frankly, Larry, I think it has a much better chance of succeeding than this one. And I would add that most of the foreign policy experts that heard the last two weeks in the senate foreign relations committee agreed with my assessment, and that included not just those opposed to the war but some who supported it as well.

They felt at this point is send a signal to the Iraqi government that they have got to come to a political accommodation. And we don't do that by escalating troop levels.

KING: Senator, we will be seeing a lot of you along the trail. Good luck.

OBAMA: Larry, always a pleasure to talk to you.

KING: My pleasure. Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois.

And we will be back with the former vice presidential candidate, Senator John Edwards and a panel and lots more. Don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: We went into this largely united in our assumptions and or convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way.


KING: We will have an outstanding panel join us in a couple of minutes. We will spend those minutes with John Edwards, candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, former vice presidential candidate in 2004. Anything in this speech surprise you?

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I was actually very struck by the president talked a lot about domestic policy, focused on Iraq, of course. But at the end of speech when he pointed out some of the people in the gallery and talked about Wesley Autrey, this great hero who saved another person's life in New York, you sort of felt, for the first time I thought in the speech, this sense of goodness and decency and I think what so much of Americans want to feel about themselves, their country. And I suspect about their president.

And it just reinforced for me what I think will be a huge issue going into the next presidential campaign, which is Americans want to trust their president.

KING: You do, admittedly, have an uphill fight, do you not?

EDWARDS: Me specifically?

KING: Yeah.

EDWARDS: I don't know about that. I think I started in a pretty good place, Larry. All of the public polls show me ahead in Iowa. Basically tied in New Hampshire, which are the two places that seem to be most dominant in the nomination process.

But that's at the very beginning. One difference between me and some of the others is I have been through this. I know the maturity and the depth and the seriousness that's required in a presidential campaign, both the primary campaign and general election. And most importantly, what's required in the Oval Office.

So I see this as just we are all walking up to the starting line. I like the place from which I start. But people are going to judge us based on what we stand for and there are differences in what we stand for and that's the way it should be.

KING: Senator Clinton's rejecting public financing for her campaign. Are you going to do the same?

EDWARDS: I am. I strongly support public financing of all -- mandatory public financing of all of our campaigns. We need to get the money out of politics.

But until that happens, until that becomes law, we cannot continue on this course that we are seeing now with this president. Escalation of war and eroding of America's leadership in the world and these messes we have in energy and health care and so I think there's a great deal at stake for America and the world and we have to compete.

And I intend to compete. So the answer is yes. I will do the same thing Senator Clinton's doing.

KING: Why won't the troop increase work, in your opinion?

EDWARDS: Because it fundamentally misunderstands the issue. We have had four surges before this one. Four escalations before this one. None of them worked. What's happening in Iraq is until Maliki and the Shia-led government let the Sunni in so that they feel a buy into a unified Iraq, nothing is going to change.

And that's the undercurrent. Are there other things going on? Of course. Militias are playing a role in fomenting violence. Terrorists are playing a role in fomenting violence. There is no question about all of that.

And do we need to do more to trade Iraqis to provide security on the ground? Of course, we do. But none of that changes the underlying dynamic, which is until Shia-led government let the Sunni in, we are going to continue to see violence.

And the theory that putting more American troops on the ground, which in my judgment just enables the bad behavior we have seen from Maliki and Shia-led government in excluding the Sunni, the idea that that's going to solve the problem is nonsense and it also ignores the fact we need negotiate and deal directly not just with our friends, the Saudis, the Jordanians and the Egyptians, we need to engage directly with the Iranians and the Syrians, at least in my judgment.

KING: Thanks, John. We will be seeing a lot of you.

EDWARDS: Thanks Larry. Thanks for having me.

KING: Senator John Edwards with us from Coral Gables, Florida.

Joining us now in Washington is Amy Holmes, Republican strategist, speechwriter for former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Ed Schultz, host of the Ed Schultz - nationally syndicated on the Jones radio network. Billed as America's number one progressive talker. He was a guest tonight to be at the hall.

And John Roberts, CNN senior national competent, anchor of THIS WEEK AT WAR.

Amy, you're a speechwriter. I'm asking you to be now a reportorial judge. How good was that speech?

AMY HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I thought George Bush knocked it out of the park. I thought it was a terrific speech. It was conciliatory, yet confident. And I think tonight the American public got to see politicians, politics at its best. There was no Democratic booing. Some prognostications where the Democratic-controlled House and Senate would be a lot rowdier than it was. I thought the opening from Pelosi to Bush and back was classy.

So tonight I think both parties showed themselves for at least the next 24 hours to be worthy of the voters.

KING: Ed Schultz, what did you think?

ED SCHULTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I thought the president tried to strike a conciliatory tone, and I thought he achieved that. I think that he hit a home run when it came to talking about biofuels and ethanol and clean coal technology.

He's giving the Republicans something to work on. Will he get some support across the aisle on that one. But it's still Iraq and it's still a very dogmatic approach what he wants to do with Iraq. And I think the Democrats, there's a lot of consternation right now on how to stop this surge and this escalation.

And there's also a tremendous fear that this is not going to be the last escalation. So as far as the chamber was concerned -- and I have been in a few of these, been fortunate enough to be there -- there wasn't the thunderous applause on the Republican side for the president at all.

KING: John Roberts, what you do you think?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was inside the hall at the time. And I agree, it was not the thunderous applause that we have seen in State of the Unions past. The actual sharpest in terms of decibel levels applause is when the president welcomed the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. That was the type after applause we were used to hearing.

That said, though, I agree with Amy that I think it was a good, solid speech on the part of the president. I think he hit a lot of the right notes he had to hit trying to forge this idea of bipartisan. But as Barack Obama said in a statement right after the speech, what's important is how the president works with Congress.

Don't forget, Larry, back in 2001, the president was all about bipartisanship. He reminded us on the campaign trail how he worked with Democrats so well in Texas and how he wanted to come to Washington to change the tone. And by many people's measure, he then decided to go it along the next five years. Even talking with some Republicans in Congress, they were upset about the fact that the president didn't really even consult with them. He just kind of did what he wanted and told them this was what he was going to do and he wanted their support.

KING: Amy, Ed and John, all will be back with us for the last three segments of the program. We will be back with Senator Lindsey Graham and announced candidate Governor Bill Richardson. Don't go away.


KING: Joining us now in Washington is Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, member of the Armed Services Committee. He's a colonel, by the way, in the Air Force reserves.

And here in L.A. is Governor Bill Richardson, Democrat of New Mexico, who set up an exploratory committee for a 2008 presidential bid, former ambassador to the United Nations and former secretary of energy. All right, Bill, what did you make of the speech?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NM: Well, I will start with the things that I did like. I'm glad he talked about the need for a comprehensive immigration plan, finally, with possibly a Democratic Congress.

I liked that he mentioned Darfur and the Sudan. I was just there, Larry, and we got a cease-fire going but that's a case of great human misery. I'm glad he brought attention to it. On the other hand, when he got to talking about energy independence, climate change, health care, meaning the words were the right words but the solutions almost nonexistent.

Ethanol is important but you also, when you become energy independent, you need to deal with solar, wind, biomass. I think what is needed is a man on the moon effort to reduce our dependency, which is now 65 percent imported oil.

KING: We will get to Iraq in a minute. Senator Graham, what did you think?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SC: I thought the president explained the best I have heard him in a long time the consequences of failure in Iraq to the overall war on terror.

I agree with your two previous guests the tone was good. He asked the country to give this new strategy a chance. He believes in it. General Petraeus believes in it. And I think we would ask to give it a chance. To condemn it as a failure before it is even implemented would be a mistake. So he talked about a lot of things but at the end of the day, we were only listening about Iraq.

KING: Do you think it is going to work, governor?.

RICHARDSON: No. And Larry, on Sunday I announced my candidacy for president. That same day a 20-year-old Native-American kid from New Mexico was killed in Iraq. And, you know, like every American, I want to give the president a chance. I want him to succeed. But what he's proposing is just not going to work. Twenty-thousand additional troops, it's a quagmire. Our military, our bipartisan Iraq Study Group says that we have got to reverse course and he is not listening.

So I was very saddened that he talked about this nightmare scenario. Well, the nightmare scenario that he does not want to happen with terrorism coming in is happening now with virtually a civil war, our credibility around the world is really down.

An increase of the troops is going to bring more sectarian violence. And American troops are at risk. And this Maliki government, Larry, is not listening to us. They do not seem to be interested in reconciliation. They are not accelerating the security that needs to happen so I'm frustrated there.

KING: Senator Graham, how do you counter that?

GRAHAM: I would say the Maliki government is eight months old. It took us from 1776 to 1889 to write our Constitution, defeat the British. It was five years before the Germans and the Japanese held their first election after the end of World War II. The Maliki government is not perfect but standing up for principles that's will make the Middle East a better place and make us more secure. They are beginning to change.

I don't know what it's like every day to wake up in a country where you're afraid to go to work never knowing if you're coming home. If you embrace democracy in any form, they try to kill your kids.

Withdrawal will mean failure. It will isolate the moderates. It will embolden the extremists. General Petraeus has a new plan, that's much more than just sending more people to do the same thing. It's putting the Iraqis in the lead.

But nobody can bring about a democracy with this level of violence. The Iraqi political leadership needs some breathing space. We need to get control of the capital. We are making some progress.

The failed state scenario of Iraq is yet to unfold. If it ever unfolded, it would be chaos for us for years to come. Iran would be the biggest winner.

So I believe this new strategy has a chance to work. I cannot guarantee its success but I can promise you this, if we have a failed state in Iraq, we will be back in a bigger war.

KING: Governor Richardson, why didn't we see the insurgency and length of it coming.

RICHARDSON: Because we were blind. Maybe it was poor intelligence. The president told us there were weapons of mass destruction. That's not the case. There was a link to al Qaeda. That was not the case. I totally disagree with Senator Graham. What this policy is breeding, I believe, is a Maliki government that is isolated. Yes, it's only eight months old and it's not reaching out. It's not bringing the other two ethnic groups into a national reconciliation talk, it's not accelerating its security.

The training is enormously slow. The president of the United States was snubbed by Maliki and we are trying to help him at a meeting in Istanbul. In addition, Larry, we asked the Maliki government to help us apprehend some Iranian terrorists, and Maliki didn't want to do it. I don't understand why we don't exert more leverage on this government.

KING: Let me hold you right there. We'll be right back with Senator Graham and Governor Richardson and we will also have Congressman Kucinich and Congressman Hunter, both of whom are actively involved and running for the presidency. Don't go away.


BUSH: Ladies and gentlemen on this day at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. Let us find our resolve and turn events toward victory.



KING: Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico remain with us.

Joining us Representative Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, chairman of the newly organized House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Domestic Policy. He is an announced candidate for his party's nomination.

And Congressman Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, has formed an exploratory committee for a presidential bid. He's ranking member of House Armed Services Committee.

The president spoke about a lot of things tonight, one is which was immigration.

Let's watch this clip. And then we will get the thoughts of our guests.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals.


BUSH: We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country, without animosity and without amnesty.



KING: Well, Congressman Hunter, can you do it with no amnesty, but no animosity?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: Well, Larry, I think we have got to enforce the border first.

This -- this nation is like a house that has no sides to the walls. Right now, we have got people flooding across in mass fashion; 155,000 of the people we caught coming across the southern border last year did not come from Mexico. They came from every country in the world, some from communist China, a few from Iran and North Korea.

We need to build the border fence, which works in San Diego. It knocked down the smuggling of people and narcotics by more than 90 percent. The new law that the president signed extends it across Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas for more than 700 miles.

Let's build that fence. Let's get some sides on the house. Then, we can adjust the front door. But, right now, we need to tell people, if you want to come into America, knock on the front door. The backdoor is going to be closed when we build the fence.

KING: Congressman Kucinich, what do you think?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we have to realize, the number-one problem is that companies on the north of the border are looking for cheap labor.

If we enforce the labor laws, we are going to go a long way towards dealing with the problem of illegal immigration. But, for the people who are here who have been taxpaying citizens, there has to be a path to legalization. We have to make it possible for people to be able to join American society, because they are already taxpaying citizens.

So, I think that our immigration policies have to also be attuned to who we are as a nation. America has always gained by reaching out to people from different countries. And the problems at the border should be able to be resolved, without scapegoating the very people who have joined this country and have been productive citizens.

KING: Governor?

RICHARDSON: I remember, one of my first years in Congress, I heard President Reagan say, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall," the Berlin Wall. I think this wall that the Congress passed is a disaster, a terrible symbol. It's not going to work. They didn't fund it.

What we need is more border security guards, more technology. But we, also, as the president said -- and I am going to defend him here -- he said, we need to deal with the 12 million undocumented workers in this country, without amnesty, I agree, with a legalization plan, tighten border security, punish those employers that knowingly hire illegal workers.

I think this is real opportunity, the president reaching out to a Democratic Congress, to pass a comprehensive immigration law, which we need to do. I need it at the border of New Mexico. I have dealt with this. I had an emergency order in New Mexico.

I agree with Congressman Hunter. The flow of people and drugs, it's illegal. It must be stopped. But let's do it in a sensible way. I hope that the Republicans listen to their president. If they do, we will have a comprehensive immigration law.

KING: Senator Graham, will you listen?

GRAHAM: I'm a big supporter of a comprehensive reform. It's the most emotional issue that Republicans deal with.

We have 12 million people who have come here illegally, but they came here to make their life better. The border has to be better secured. We have to control why people come -- and that's to get jobs much better here than you can get anywhere else from the other countries -- and -- and have a compassionate, firm way of dealing with the 12 million.

We all know they are here. We look the other way. We benefit from their labor.

Amnesty, no. But a chance to make yourself right with the law, without destroying families, yes.

KING: Duncan Hunter, is the increase of troops in Iraq, is it going to work?

HUNTER: You know, I think it's going to work, Larry.

There's no military plan in the world that comes with a guarantee. But I have looked at this plan. I have looked at the Baghdad plan, with the two Iraqi battalions out front, an American battalion backing them up.

And the point is that the reinforcements who are going to Iraq to effect this plan are already moving. You have already elements of the 82nd Airborne crossing the line from Kuwait. They are now in the war- fighting theater. After the plan is being implemented, troops are on the move, combat is taking place, it's not the time for the American Congress to be fractured over the plan.

And I would think, you know, when we had the Normandy invasion, there was enormous problems. If we would have had a little change in the weather, tens of thousands of troops would have died. We didn't pull Eisenhower's plan back, and tear it to pieces in Congress. Probably, most congressmen would have thought it wasn't going to work.

This plan is being implemented right now. Let's get behind the mission, support the forces that are there. I think we do that by sending our voice out from these shores with one voice. And that's to support what the commander in chief is already implementing.


KING: Congress Kucinich, what do you think?

KUCINICH: Well, it -- it's pretty obvious the whole situation in Iraq is a colossal failure. America has to take a new direction. And that direction is out.

Now, I have indicated to the president today I'm willing to help him. I have put a 12-point plan together that calls for the following, that the United States has to declare to the world community that we are going to end the occupation, and we're going to close our bases, bring our troops home.

Simultaneous with that, we need peacekeepers and security force to help provide security for the Iraqi people. We need a program of reconciliation and -- and reconstruction and reparations, and give the Iraqi people control of their oil again.

This -- only this is going to help lessen the insurgency. It's our occupation that is fueling the insurgency. The world is waiting for an American president to come forward who is going to take a new direction, embrace the world community, talk to people, negotiate with Iran and Syria.

We need a regional solution. And we need to do this, so the region doesn't become unstable.

Larry, the president tonight was setting the stage for an attack on Iran. We have to take a new direction in Iraq. And we have to reconcile with the world community...

KING: I'm running...

KUCINICH: ... and stop this cycling of war.

KING: I'm running out of time.

Governor Richardson, are you full up and going?

RICHARDSON: Well, I am on my second day.

We had great response to our announcement through the Internet, and we got a lot of contributions, a lot of volunteers. But it's a great way to learn about the country. There's a lot of fund-raising, though, that -- it's like two elections, one with the voters and one with fund-raising. KING: Senator -- Senator Graham, you're the only one here tonight not running.


GRAHAM: And that's good for the country.



GRAHAM: The country has enough problems without me running for president.


KING: Thank you all very much, Senator Lindsey Graham...

GRAHAM: Thank you.

KING: ... Governor Bill Richardson, Representative Dennis Kucinich, and Congressman Duncan Hunter.

We will be back with our panel. Don't go away.


BUSH: If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country. And, in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.



KING: Our panel returns, Amy Holmes, the Republican strategist, Ed Schultz, the famed radio talk show host.

Joining us, J.C. Watts, the CNN political contributor and former Republican congressman, Paul Begala, the CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist -- he was a counselor to President Clinton -- and John Roberts, who is at Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill, CNN senior national correspondent and the anchor of one of the best shows on television, "THIS WEEK AT WAR."

Gentlemen and ladies, right after the speech, CNN and Opinion Research Corporation started polling people who watched the speech. Forty-one percent had a very positive reaction. Thirty-seven percent are somewhat positive. Twenty percent had a negative.

But the very positive reaction to past Bush's State of the Union speeches has been higher, although not by a whole lot.

What do you make of that, Paul Begala?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, he -- it's putting too much on the president to -- to do it all in one speech.

But you're right. Last year, if I -- if I recall, very positive was about 48 percent, which is, you know, a whole lot better, actually, than -- than he's doing now.

The problem is, this will be driven by facts on the ground. I mean, I actually thought the president was not at his best tonight. I have seen him do better. But it just doesn't really matter. What matters most are the facts on the ground.

And the argument that he's making is that the facts on the ground will ultimately be determined by the will of the American people. If we have the stomach for the fight, we will win.

Most Americans believe that the facts on the ground will be determined by the will of the Iraqi people. We have got plenty of stomach. And -- and, good lord, we have sacrificed 3,000 of our finest heroes in this effort.

And we just don't think the Iraqis have the stomach for the fight, Mr. President.

And I think that's probably what is holding those numbers down...

KING: J.C...

BEGALA: ... because he's making the wrong argument.

KING: J.C. Watts?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Larry, I thought the president struck a good tone tonight, in -- in a very different venue for him over the last seven years of his presidency, been in a -- dealing with a Democrat majority in the House and the Senate.

But, again, I thought he had a good tone. But I thought the most critical thing about the speech was, I think the president did a very good job -- and we talked about this a little bit, Larry, last night on your show -- I thought he did a very good job in laying out the consequences of failure.

And I don't think he does that enough. I just think you have to keep reminding the American people of what we are up against. And, then, you know, there's a lot of good things happening. I think he touched on some things. I still think it is going to be tough for the president to be bold in a legislative or a domestic agenda here at home, because, you know, you have got a short period of time to do it.

The Democrats, you know, they are not going to allow him to do a whole lot. They are going to give him a minimum of what he's wanting to get, a maximum of what they want. And, then, the Republicans being as fragile as they are, I don't think he can continue to -- or he can give the Democrats a great deal, in order to get them to cooperate, without losing the balance of those Republicans that's out there.

KING: By the way, we will get the comments of Amy Holmes and Ed Schultz right after the break.

A reminder: The State of the Union speech will be repeated at the top of the hour.

Don't go way.


BUSH: I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal: Let us build on the work we have done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years.





BUSH: The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons.



KING: Well, John Roberts, our CNN senior national correspondent, was that a direct warning to Iran?

ROBERTS: The president has been rattling sabers with Iran for quite a while now. He did it with his speech on Iraq. And he continues to do it at every opportunity.

They really do believe that Iran is meddling in Iraq. They -- they -- they don't really have the facility to really be able to deal with it on the ground, because Iran has got itself so well-ingrained with the al-Maliki government.

They have been sort of, you know, biting off a little bit around the edges with raids on a compound that was run by al-Hashimi (ph), who is the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. And, then, you will remember there was that raid in Irbil.

But -- but, Larry, they -- short of invading the country, according to the some analysts that -- that I have talked to, and some writers that I have read, they don't really have much of an ability to be able to do anything. And, of course, no one wants to see the United States invade Iran. No one wants to see it attacked militarily, because of the political consequences.

And you hear it up on Capitol Hill. Democrat Joe Biden warned Condoleezza Rice, when she was before his Foreign Relations Committee, got out the finger, and said, if you're thinking about going into Iran, you are going to provoke a constitutional confrontation with this committee.

KING: Right.

ROBERTS: So, the president wanting to talk tough, but the Democratic Congress wanting to check him at every step along the way.

KING: Amy Holmes, you think they are thinking about it?

HOLMES: Invading Iran? No, I don't think that that is on the table.

But who I think he was really talking to is the Iraqi government. And it is going to be up to the Shia Maliki to be talking to Iran. It's a thorny issue. Some Democrats, they have said that they want dialogue with Iran and Syria. I think what that would do would be to elevate Iran's position in the region. And we don't want to be doing that.

We saw them meddling in Lebanon today, almost bringing down a government. But, again, I think that message is really being sent to the Iraqis, more to the American -- than the American public.

KING: Ed Schultz?

SCHULTZ: How about one war at a time? Holy smokes. Now we're talking about Iran? How about negotiating with Syria and how about negotiating with Iran?

Larry, no one has really explained this troop surge. Why didn't General Abizaid bring this up in testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee in November? All of a sudden, there's a 180 by some generals. And Petraeus made a very compelling case for what he wants to do on the Hill today, but the fact is, we are short on military leaders thinking this is a good idea.

And I think the Congress, seriously, the Democrats in the majority, have got to exercise every constitutional authority they have to make sure that we are doing the correct thing, because we have done a lot of things wrong. And to base this next move on a theory and to talk about Iran has got a lot of Americans very, very nervous.

KING: J.C. Watts, does he have a point?

WATTS: Well, I think he's got a point, in this sense, Larry, when he says that we have done some things wrong. I think the cause has been right, but I think it's been poor execution, in many respects.

Yes, I have heard several times throughout today, here on CNN and other shows that I have listened to, to kind of see what people are saying. And, several times throughout the day, it's been mentioned that the Iraq Study Group said we should not -- or they did not support a surge. Larry, on page 73, they said this -- and I quote -- "We could, however, support a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad or to speed up the training and equipping mission, if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines that such steps would be effective."

That's a part of the plan. That's what the president has laid out: Send in more troops. Send in more troops. Put the Iraqis in the forefront, knocking on doors in Baghdad. Put a ring around Baghdad. Keep the insurgents out. Put more troops on the border in Syria and Iran. Keep them out of the fight. I mean, that's a part of plan.

And I think the president has laid that out on several different occasions. I think he needs to do it more, however.

KING: Paul Begala, is that...

HOLMES: I would agree...


KING: And Amy agrees.

Paul Begala, is that a strong point?

BEGALA: Well, everything J.C. says is a strong point.

But let me beg to differ, as strongly as...


BEGALA: ... as he makes his point, which is this. The president...

WATTS: You mean I am passionately wrong, right?


BEGALA: That's right.

The president has a hope, not a strategy, right? He has tried three times before to surge troops into Baghdad to make it peaceful. And, three times, the violence has escalated as the troops levels have -- American troops levels have escalated.

This is why, as Ed Schultz points out, just a few months ago, General Abizaid was testifying, and he said, more troops in Iraq would be counterproductive.

The problem is, the president is making this an American military problem and an American military solution. The truth is, this is an Iraqi problem that requires an Iraqi solution.

What if the Iraqis don't want to have a country? What if they are just hell-bent on killing each other, the way we were here in America in the 1860s? There was no force in the world that was going to stop us from slaughtering each other in the 1860s. And, right now, the president has inserted our troops in the middle of a three-sided civil war.

HOLMES: But we know that this isn't just a discrete civil war between the Iraqi Shia and the Iraqi Sunnis. And I think that the president was very strong tonight in reestablishing himself as commander in chief.

And even Joe Biden said, before he announced for president, that we can't have 365 congressmen being commander in chief, and treating Iraq like a Tinkertoy. What the president laid out tonight -- and I thought it was very strong -- is that he is reiterated the Bush doctrine, which is building democracy in the Middle East.

Now, you can agree with that or disagree with that, but that is his vision for the region. And he explained that we can't allow this country to descend into civil war.


KING: I have got to get a break. We will come back with more.

We will check in with John Roberts again right after this.



BUSH: Tonight, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of my own, as the first president to begin the State of the Union message with these words: "Madam Speaker."



KING: John Roberts, you were there. That was a nice, classy touch, wasn't it?

ROBERTS: It really was.

And, from my vantage point there, as well, you could see Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the House, sitting way in the back, three rows from the end. And he -- he had some polite applause for the -- the speaker of the House. But you had to know that that was just killing him.

And, about an hour ago, he was hanging around up here. We -- we have moved, by the way, to the Russell, rotunda in the Russell Building.

He was hanging up here to go on television, looking a little lonely, just, you know, sort of leaning against the...

KING: Yes. ROBERTS: ... the wall there. And you just got to know that, after being in that position of power for as long as he was, Larry, that tonight was just killing him.


KING: It's a brutal town, isn't it, Paul?

BEGALA: It is, Larry.

I was thinking the same thing about our president, how, five years ago on this day, 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush's job approval rating was 84 percent. And I thought, you know, the -- the -- the arrogance that comes with that kind of power, and how he would say, and his -- his minions would say, that his opponents were weak, that we were cowardly, that we were not patriotic, we didn't love America, how they went after Max Cleland, my friend who left three limbs on the field of battle in Vietnam, and they challenged his courage.

Boy, how the mighty have fallen now. Our president is at 34 percent. He can't even get support out of his own party. And, you know, the -- the -- the worm turns. And I do think he is going to be a victim of the arrogance that he showed, not only just to my fellow Democrats, but even to his fellow Republicans.

SCHULTZ: And that San Francisco liberal, Nancy Pelosi, is polling at 51 percent, far above anybody else in Congress.


WATTS: And that's quite amazing that the numbers are as high as they are, Larry, when you consider the fact that, you know, Democrats, generally, they have talked in general terms about being against the war.

And I think it is quite interesting that the numbers, that Nancy's numbers, that Speaker Pelosi's numbers are where they are, and we have yet to see a plan put forth concerning Iraq.

Now, the president, you might not like his plan, but it is not a plan to be against his plan. And that's what we're seeing.


SCHULTZ: There's a plan, though, J.C. Redeployment is a plan.


KING: Amy -- Amy -- Amy...


WATTS: Yes, it -- it is, and...


HOLMES: J.C. hits on a very strong point.

Democrats are divided. And let's not forget, you have six senators running in '08. And each one of them is going to have their own plan to be trying to become president of the United States.

But the public is in a sour mood. The Democrats like to point out President Bush's disapproval numbers. Well, Congress is only getting a 34 percent approval number, the exact identical number as President Bush. And I think that's why, tonight, you saw Democrats being cautious, being conciliatory towards the president, and not booing him, and listening politely through the end of his speech.

KING: All right.

Thanks, all, very much, Amy Holmes, Ed Schultz, J.C. Watts, Paul Begala, John Roberts. Thanks for staying up late. Get a good night's sleep. You all did yeoman-like work this evening. And we sure appreciate it.

This has been a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE, airing at midnight Eastern, 9:00 Pacific.

And we now will repeat the State of the Union, beginning with the aforementioned Ms. Pelosi.