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President Obama Set to Deliver State of the Union Address; Who Speaks For Republicans?

Aired January 25, 2011 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And happening now, a critical opportunity for President Barack Obama. Lots on the line right now as he gets ready to deliver his State of the Union report card to Congress and to the nation. We have details of what he'll say, and we're going to show you for the first time what it takes to put that kind of crucial speech together.

Also, a Tea Party torchbearer will make U.S. history with an extra response to the president. So, who is really speaking for Republicans? We will assess.

And Bill Maher brings his politically incorrect take on tonight's State of the Union address right into THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's a huge moment for President Obama. After a midterm shellacking, he's been forced to share power. But his poll numbers right now are on the rise. And just three hours from now, he will try for more momentum with a State of the Union address.

It's a chance to show Congress and the country that he's setting the agenda with the next election not that far over the horizon.

We're getting details about what the president will say.

Let's go straight to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's got the latest from the White House -- Ed.


What a senior official just told me is the president wants to not only build on that momentum you talk about, but he also wants to build on that speech he delivered in Tucson. This official saying that early in the speech, the president will make a reference to Representative Gabby Giffords not being in the chamber and is going to say, look, this is challenge to members of both parties, in the words of this senior official, to -- quote -- "lower your tone and raise your sights," that basically this official saying the American people right now screaming for both the president and the Congress to work together on some of these big challenges facing the nation.

Along those lines, this senior official told me that the speech will be very much focused on unity, where the president will also mention that shellacking in November that his party took in the election, but try to turn that around and say, look, in December, immediately after that, both sides worked together on the tax deal, on other issues, and that they can build on that yet again.

Also told finally that the president will strike a very optimistic tone, this senior official saying that what the president wants to try to do is have sort of a visionary speech here, big picture, several big themes on the idea of education and innovation, but not get into a laundry list like we have seen in other years of here's my $2 billion proposal on this, $3 billion on that.

Instead, he wants it very big picture. And he wants to issue a sort of challenge to Congress that it's time to come together, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed will be with us all night. Don't go too far away.

So what does it take to put together a State of the Union address?

Senior presidential adviser David Axelrod says because it's so all-encompassing, it's a very difficult speech to write. That task falls mainly to the chief White House speechwriter, Jon Favreau. In a behind the scenes video released by the White House, Favreau says he and the president worked together to craft the finished product. Listen to this.


JON FAVREAU, WHITE HOUSE SPEECHWRITER: After we got back from Thanksgiving, we just started a whole bunch of policy meetings. They involved just about everyone in every department, every agency in the White House. Years ago, speechwriters and presidents probably had it a little easier because all you had to do was deliver a written version of the State of the Union to Congress.

Usually, the way it's worked is I will write a little. I will send it to the president. He will write. He will sent notes back to me. And then we will just go back and forth with each other for pretty much the entire month of January.


BLITZER: The entire month of January. So can President Obama rise to the occasion?

Let's bring in our CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and the Republican strategist Mary Matalin.

Paul, you have worked in the White House. Mary has worked in the White House. How important are these State of the Union addresses? Can they really make much of a difference?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, I think they make a tremendous difference. It actually rarely makes a difference in the polls, but I have to say it did for President Clinton on more than one occasion. And here's why. It's the State of the Union address and then the budget. It comes together. And it should be seen as one seamless process. Here are his priorities and then here are his specific spending accounts. And that tells the country what his strategic vision is for the country.

It's incredibly important. We would start working on it in the Clinton White House in June, in July. In other words six months of the year, we had people working on the State of the Union address, because it was the most important policy proposals of the year. And also it was a chance to try to put a little bit of vision on it.

I have to say, if it was me, I would try to persuade this White House to get a little more specific and frankly a little less visionary. I think people, they have a vision of one thing, jobs. Just tell me how you're going to create jobs. And a little less highfalutin rhetoric may be in order for tonight.

BLITZER: I'm told, Mary, the president's speech tonight will be more thematic as opposed to a laundry list of ideas. He's going to try to do the big picture to get to the American public. A good idea?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as Paul has said often on this show, that this president needs a narrative, and he's presented a series of litanies, so in that case, he needs a narrative and a framework.

But he does, on the other hand, have a tendency to be too thematic, too detached. And people really are concerned with, as Paul just said, jobs, jobs, jobs. And they are also making the connection between the debt and the deficit and the crushing impact that has on jobs.

So, both sides tonight will have to make the connection between cutting, spending and increasing jobs.

BLITZER: I took some notes because the president is going to say a lot, Paul, about how America can win the future, his words, win the future. That's going to be his theme.

But I'm reminded of when you worked in the White House. Remind our viewers where President Clinton -- he had a little issue back in 1994 when he was addressing a joint session of Congress. You remember that night.

BEGALA: I do. It was September of 1993, if memories serves, Wolf. It was actually his health care speech, not a State of the Union address, but the same format. He's standing there at the rostrum.

You see the video here. And he looks up to begin his speech, and it's the economic speech from seven or eight months ago. And it was a catastrophe. We had loaded -- I was one of the aides who goofed. We had loaded the wrong speech in the teleprompter accidentally.

And what really had happened was the technicians had loaded the economic speech in there, because we were so late delivering the health care speech to them. They had to had something to put up on those plates to make sure that they were working. And so by the time President Clinton got there, he's looking at those plates and he's saying, holy smokes, that's my economic speech.

And so he had to speak on health care to the Congress and the country and the world live with no notes for nine-and-a-half minutes, because his genius adviser, me, had taken his glasses away because they bulked out his pocket and he looked hefty enough as it was, frankly.

And so one of the worst moments of my life, I have to say one of the best of President Clinton's. I later asked him what it felt like to stand there and have to speak about the most complex domestic policy issue without any notes for nine-and-a-half minutes. He said, well, I looked up and I said a little prayer, and I said well, God, I guess you're testing me. OK. Here goes.

And that's why the kind of self-confidence you want in your president.

BLITZER: That's why a president or an anchor or anyone else reading a teleprompter, Mary, should always have a hard copy in front of him or her, and not simply rely on that teleprompter, because, you know what, people make mistakes, teleprompters can go bad or whatever.

But that's a lesson -- I hope the president when he shows up tonight has a hard copy of his speech with him, that Paul Ryan had a hard copy, Michele Bachmann has a hard copy, all the anchors who are covering all of this, they will have hard copies as well.

BEGALA: Also that they have something in their head so they know what they're talking about.


BLITZER: But you're right. Bill Clinton was unique in that area. He could do that. Not a whole lot of other people can.

Mary, you want to weigh in on that?

MATALIN: Well, really, I have never heard of anybody never coming with a hard copy.

But to credit all of our leaders who are in that position, they are so vested in these speeches that they are giving on these occasions, they have a huge hand in the writing of them. They're committed to the concepts. So I think, as gift of gab that Clinton had, it's true, most presidents would be able to get up there and say what they have to say in a rather eloquent way, given their vesting in the speech in the first instance.

BLITZER: Let me read to you John Boehner's statement that he put out today, the new House speaker, Mary. I will get your response, because the president is going to propose a five-year spending freeze on certain what is called non-discretionary discretionary funding, non-defense discretionary funding, meaning a small percentage of U.S. spending, because it does not include defense, doesn't include Medicare, doesn't include Social Security, doesn't include the interest on America's huge debt, but he's still going to propose it.

"At a time when," Boehner says, "when the treasury secretary is begging Congress to raise the debt limit, a freeze is simply inadequate. Rather than lock in the consequences of Washington Democrats' job-destroying spending binge, we pledged to cut spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels and impose real spending caps."

Is that a good idea, to just across the board cut spending let's say for teachers, for firefighters, for other worthy causes out there?

MATALIN: Yes, that's a good place to start, as is rolling it back. This used to be an annual message to the Congress. And it used to be the Monroe Doctrine and ending slavery. But now it's laying out legislative and political agendas.

So the president is putting out his first marker on this freeze. And the Republicans are going to putting down their first: No, we're rolling back to '08 levels. And let the fun begin. What's the winners here are the voters who said in no uncertain terms across the board you will stop spending and you will cut spending.

BLITZER: Guys, I know you're going to be with us throughout the night as well, so don't go too far away. Thank you very much.

Let's get to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It turns out, Wolf, that you can add politics to the list of things that women do better than men. And, by the way, that's a long list.

The Daily Beast reports on a new study that shows female politicians are among the most productive and persuasive ones in the country.

The research in "The American Journal of Political Science" is the first to compare the performance of male and female politicians. And it shows women do a better job at both securing pork for their home districts and shaping policy.

Between 1984 to 2004, women politicians won about $50 million per year more for their districts than men did.

And, as for policy, women sponsored more bills, attracted more co-sponsors than their male counterparts. The women politicians' bills also made it farther through the legislative process, got more media attention.

The authors say that this is because women do a better job at -- quote -- "logrolling, agenda-setting, coalition building and other deal-making activities" -- unquote.

They suggest women make better politicians because they have to. Consider that women hold less than one in five of all national elected offices, so the ones who make it to Washington, they better be pretty good.

The study concludes that in order to overcome any bias against women in leadership roles, these female politicians have to work even harder in order to just be seen as equals.

Sound familiar?

They call their study "The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect," a reference to the first African-American player in the Major Leagues. He was also one of the greatest that ever played.

The comparison here is that because of racism during Robinson's era, black baseball players had to be better than whites just to make it to the big leagues.

So, here's the question: Why do you think women politicians more effective than men?

Go to and share your thoughts. I'm through now with my hard copy.


BLITZER: You always have a hard copy, because you can't completely trust that teleprompter.

CAFFERTY: The prompters never fail here at CNN.

BLITZER: Sometimes.

CAFFERTY: We never, ever have problems with...


BLITZER: I have seen them fail sometimes.

CAFFERTY: Have you?


CAFFERTY: Oh. So have I.

BLITZER: Not often. They're very good, the operators.

CAFFERTY: So have I.

BLITZER: Thanks.


BLITZER: The message in tonight's State of the Union speech is the economy. Our Ali Velshi is standing by. He's got some numbers to prove it. And just two weeks removed from the Tucson tragedy, the president may not even mention gun control tonight. In fact, I'm told there won't be any specific reference to guns in tonight's address. Bill Maher standing by. We will speak with him live. He's always got some politically incorrect comments.


BLITZER: The president will certainly focus on the economy in tonight's State of the Union address. It's still the American public's main concern. We have the numbers to show just how far the economy still needs to go to make a comeback.

Our chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, is joining us now with more.

Fascinating numbers, Ali.


Look, what does everybody talk about? The economy. What in the economy? It is the unemployment rate, 9.4 percent. But it's not the same thing across the country. Let me explain to you. We have taken this map and we have taken states where the unemployment rate is substantially lower than the 9.4 percent, a difference of 1.5 percent.

Those are the states in green. The states in red, for instance, like Michigan right here, are a point-and-a-half or a percentage-and- a-half higher than the national average. So, here's the issue -- 9.4 percent is the national average. These states like Michigan have unemployment rates higher than that.

Why? Because typically they are manufacturing states. And we have seen a big decline in manufacturing. Or take a look at Florida below me. Take a look at California and Nevada over here. These are states where we had a development boom. Construction jobs have been lost. Other service jobs have been lost.

Look at the states in green, though right down the middle of the country, the Mountain states. Texas sort of just moved into the gray category. Everything that's gray or black is around the same as the national average. These are states that are doing well. They have got more diversified economies depending on education, jobs, medical jobs, health care jobs, oil services, transportation.

There are lots of areas -- accounting. There are lots of areas in the country that are growing. So the 9.4 percent, which you're going to hear the president's critics talk a lot about, is not a national problem. There are regions in this country that are doing substantially better. So if you're looking for a job, you want to combine some of these green states with states that in 2010 added job as opposed to lost jobs, and there is actually promise in this economy.

We have turned a bit of a corner here. The problem that continues for the president, Wolf, are the long-term unemployed, the 15 million unemployed, and the five million or so what we call 99ers. You know that expression. These are people who have unemployed for more than 99 weeks. They have run out of state benefits and federal benefits. And they don't have a logical job to go into.

What will we hear about that? What will we do about those people? Jobs is the number-one concern in this country.

BLITZER: And as bad as that 9.4 percent unemployment number is, the real -- so-called real unemployment number, what, is 14 percent or 15 percent.


VELSHI: Some say 17, yes.

BLITZER: When you bring in people who have had to take a job. They may have been making $70,000 a year, but now they're working for $20,000 a year, because that's the only thing they can do.


VELSHI: Or they have fallen off the rolls completely. So you combine those two, you could be at 14, 15, 16, 17 percent. That's a very serious number because it starts to reflect in crime. It starts to reflect in property values in cities going down. This is a national problem that has to be addressed.

BLITZER: Ali will be sharing more numbers with us throughout the night as well. Thank you.


BLITZER: We're just getting our hands on excerpts of the president's State of the Union address. Ed Henry is over at the White House. He's standing by. He has got the details next.


BLITZER: The White House has just released some excerpts from the president's State of the Union address.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's got some of them for us.

So, what is the White House saying?

HENRY: Well, it's interesting.

Obviously the context here is the White House traditionally puts these out before the speech to sort of build momentum, build enthusiasm for the speech and focus on what they want to focus, leave out parts that maybe will be more controversial.

This bit that they just released is about the economy. And aides say that's because most of this speech will be about the economy, domestic affairs, very little about national security. And the president tonight is going to declare flatly that this is this generation's sputnik moment. Now, he previewed that last month. But he's going into a lot more detail.

Here's a quick excerpt -- quote -- "At stake right now is not who wins the next election -- after all, we just had an election," the president will say. "At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country, or somewhere else. It's whether the hard work and the industry of our people is rewarded, whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map, but a light to the world.

"We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come back, roaring back," he says. "Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again."

But then he goes onto say, a lot of Americans, though, are still anxious about the economy. Unemployment is still 9.4 percent. So, to build on what Ali was just saying, you're going to hear the president very directly say, look, this is a challenge, issue a challenge for the American people to rise to this moment in our history, but acknowledge at the same time that he understands they're still very anxious. They're seeing Wall Street come roaring back, but, meanwhile, their paychecks are still, many people feel, stuck right now. And so he's going to try to address that head on, Wolf.

BLITZER: And is he going to suggest, as I have been told by some that he might, that the best way to create jobs is to get the private sector more enthusiastic and more willing to spend its own money to create those jobs?

HENRY: He will. Aides say, look, he's going to try to build on the fact that in December he was able to get that tax cut deal through with Republican support. It upset some people in his own party. There has been a lot of talk about the president moving to the middle. They're kind of irritated about that here. They don't like to hear that. They think too much has been made out of that.

But the fact of the matter is the president did move to the middle on that tax deal. And the argument the White House will make is, look, that created an atmosphere that maybe will get more people not just on Wall Street, but around the country, small business owners, hiring more people.

And in fact we would point out, in addition to having many people connected to the Tucson shooting tragedy tonight up in the first lady's guest visitor box, there will also be a lot of small business owners, people affected by the president's health care reform law.

And so he's going to be talking about how he believes that despite the criticism he, in fact, has been building this environment that will create more private sector jobs. They note more than a million private sector jobs have been created in the last 12 months -- not enough. And we haven't heard a lot about that, because the hole was so big when he took office that the fact of the matter is that a lot of people still are not feeling that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is at the White House.

I'm told the president has been spending a lot of time studying the speeches of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. He thought both of them could really relate to the American public, and he's trying to learn from their experiences and their ability to do those kinds of addresses.

Ed, don't go too far away, as I have been telling everyone.

Lawmakers have their dates to the State of the Union address, but is that enough to show any real bipartisanship? Guess who is here in THE SITUATION ROOM live? Bill Maher, he is coming up with his take.

And the Tea Party response coming from a congresswoman who is rewriting American history. We're going to show you how.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: You can see right there two hours and 32 minutes or so until the president's State of the Union address. Stay with CNN for complete live coverage, including the response from Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, and then the other response from Congresswoman, Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, representing the Tea Party movement.

But let's get a different take on what's going on right now as we get ready for the president's State of the Union address. The host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," the comedian Bill Maher is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's joining us.

Let me just point out, HBO, our sister network. Have to be above-board with all of that.

I'm told, Bill, that the president of the United States has decided, despite what happened in Tucson, he will not specifically talk about guns in his speech tonight. He's going to do that down the road in a future speech in a few weeks. But, tonight, the word gun is not going to be there. You think that's a mistake, don't you?

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Oh, I do. That's a real shame.

And it's always down the road. And it's always finding common ground with this president. And that common ground always seems to be the ground where the Republicans are already standing on. So, no, that's a real shame, because this was again an opportunity, similar to the opportunity Ronald Reagan had in 1981, when he was shot.

At a moment like that, maybe people would be willing to go along with a -- sort of a different point of view. Even Dick Cheney said that. Dick Cheney seems to be to the left of Barack Obama on the gun issue. So, I guess it's true. He has moved to the center. BLITZER: Well, and it's helping him in the polls. There's no doubt about that. You can see, in our most recent job approval number, 55 percent. It was in the 40s, low 40s, not that long ago. So this move to the center, it certainly seems to be helping him with the American public.

MAHER: Well, we don't know what's helping him. Maybe it's the fact that there was a tragedy. People tend to rally around the president when there's any sort of a tragedy.

Remember, after 9/11, Bush's approval rating was 90 percent or something. I don't think that was because he got a lot smarter after we were attacked.

Maybe it's because -- Obama's popularity hiked because people have now seen the opposition. They got a good look at Boehner. Maybe they don't like that. Maybe people don't like someone who cries at the drop of a hat. People don't like a crier, Wolf.

You know, women say they do, but they really don't. How many times have you really cried in front of your wife?

BLITZER: Me? Are you saying -- are you asking me?


BLITZER: A few times. I see a nice...

MAHER: Yes, a few times.

BLITZER: I see a nice movie that brings a tear to my eye, I hear about a good person who -- who got hurt. I heard about that 9-year- old little girl who was killed in Tucson, I started to cry. I'm not ashamed to say that. Those were pretty sad moments.

MAHER: Right. But John Boehner cries just because he wakes up being John Boehner. You don't do that.

Blitzer: No. I don't cry because I wake up being Wolf Blitzer. That's -- that's for sure. What do you think about date night?

MAHER: I think that during this speech...

BLITZER: Date night on Capitol Hill.

MAHER: ... Joe Biden, who is going to sit next to him, should hand him a box of Kleenex during the speech.

BLITZER: He's an emotional guy, John Boehner. You know, he's got -- he's got an incredible story. When you think about it, he was one of, what, ten kids growing up. His father had a little bar. They had a small House, one bathroom. And look, he's now the speaker of the House, second in line after the vice president to the presidency. So it's -- he's got an amazing story. And I can understand why he gets emotional. MAHER: Wolf, first of all, get over it. That was a long time ago. It's America. Yes, we understand. People can rise up from places of humble beginnings and make something great of themselves. Most of that is anecdotal. Statistically, people don't do that any more.

America is not, I don't think, even in the top ten or maybe we're tenth in social mobility. Social mobility means the ability of one generation to do a little better than the generation that proceeded them, that spawned them. That used to be known as the American dream. That is the American dream. But we're like tenth in the American dream.

BLITZER: All right.

MAHER: It's like Mexico coming in tenth in the Mexican hat dance.

BLITZER: The fact that they got -- they're going to be sitting Democrat and Republican together tonight, date night on Capitol Hill. Is that good or bad?

MAHER: Oh, I think it's going to solve all our problems, Wolf. Yes. When a madman kills people at the Safeway, the problem isn't guns or nuts. It's that we haven't been polite enough to each other.

Yes, if Barney Frank and Rand Paul are sharing an armrest, I expect all our problems to go away.

You know, of course, as always -- as always, Wolf, it's symbolism. That's all we know how to do. We don't know how to actually solve problems anymore. We just know how to attack it symbolically.

And also, I don't even think it's helpful on that level, because it's actually good to see the parties sitting apart from each other. Because then you see which one cheers or which one sits on their hands according to what the president says, and you get a real feeling for how they feel about him.

BLITZER: What's unusual tonight also, not only that they're going to be sitting next to each other -- they've got dates -- is that there will be the president's State of the Union address.

The official Republican response from Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, a rising star in the GOP of Wisconsin, the chairman of the budget committee. And then another response from Republican Congressman -- woman Michele Bachmann, who's representing the Tea Party Express. We'll carry all of that live here on CNN. I don't know about the other networks, but we'll let -- we'll let all of those speeches breath.

What do you think about the decision by the Tea Party to go ahead and have their own response?

MAHER: Well, I understand why they would. Who wouldn't want to? I don't understand the decision by CNN to air it. Why are you giving two -- why are you giving air time to basically two Republican responses? I mean, the Tea Party is the Republican Party. It's just a rebranding.

The Republican Party realized a couple of years ago they were very unpopular with the American public, possibly because all of their ideas had been miserable failures over the last 10, 20, 30 years. So they rebranded as the Tea Party.

Why don't you give equal time to the Democratic response, and then have Representative Anthony Weiner, who's from the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, why doesn't he get some -- some air time?

BLITZER: Well, I'm sure -- I'm sure he'll get plenty of opportunities. We'd love to have him in THE SITUATION ROOM. He can -- he can respond.

I will point out, the president will speak, probably, for an hour. Paul Ryan will speak maybe for 10 or 15 minutes. And Michele Bachmann's speech will be very short. So in terms of the amount of time that the response will be is nothing compared to what the president of the United States will deliver in making his message, as it should be, since he is, after all, the president of the United States. And this is the State of the Union address, although we will be getting some responses.

Give me a grade for the president right now, halfway into his presidential term, two years into this presidency. Does he get an A, B, C, D or F?

MAHER: Well, I mean, I guess I'd give him a C-plus at this point. Obviously, he had a lot to deal with when he started, when he came into office. You know, I used to say he was -- he was the maid after Led Zeppelin had been in the hotel room.

But you know, quite frankly, he's given up too much of, you know, what I'm calling this common ground. What he calls this common ground. And I don't really see that we have two policies on enough issues in this country.

You know, I keep reading in the newspaper, what would you like -- you know, different writers, what would you like to see the president say? Well, I'd like him to say, "OK, let's get rid of health care, the plan we passed, and let's have Medicare for all. Let's have a single-payer system." That should be the position of a progressive party in this country, if we had one.

I'd like to see him say, "We're pulling the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And not just there, out of Germany and Korea and Japan and all the places in the world where we have a far-flung empire. And while we're ending wars, we're also going to end the drug war. And we're going to take on the gun lobby."

You know, I'd like to see him do all this stuff. But we don't have a progressive party in this country. We have a right-wing party, and we have a center-right party. So to me, that's where all our problems come from.

BLITZER: Bill Maher, thanks very much for coming in, as usual, and we'll have you back.

Want to remind our viewers, Bill Maher, "Real Time with Bill Maher" airs Friday nights, 10 p.m. Eastern, right, on HBO, our sister network. Is that right, Bill?

MAHER: Always our sister network.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.


BLITZER: We're getting more insight, by the way, into the overall message of the State of the Union address, including some from the White House press secretary. Will it be enough? Details of what Robert Gibbs told me. That's coming up, as well.


BLITZER: Getting ready for the president's State of the Union address. Let's assess what we're about to hear with our senior political analysts, David Gergen and Gloria Borger, and our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. That's Gloria Borger. Candy Crowley was here, sitting next to David Gergen. We'll fix that the next time. But I think all of our viewers know who all of you are.

I spoke in the last hour with the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Let me play a little clip, and then we'll play off of that.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You'll see a significant decrease in government spending. As we decrease that spending, some programs will be cut even further as we increase investments in what is important to the American people: education reform, good teachers in our classrooms, an export initiative, clean energy manufacturing that creates jobs here in this country. The overall tenor, obviously, is a reduction in spending.


BLITZER: There's going to be a lot of emphasis, though, Gloria, on investments.


BLITZER: And Republicans say that's just -- that's just a euphemism for more government spending.

BORGER: Right. You know, the Democrats are saying you've got to invest to grow. And the Republicans are saying, "No, no, no. You've got to cut first, and then you can grow." And I think really the challenge for the president tonight is to connect this competitiveness argument he's making to people's lives and whether it will get them jobs in the future, Wolf. That's what people want to hear from the president tonight. They understand competitiveness, innovation, research and development, education. All of those things are important. But what will this mean for me today?

BLITZER: Candy, you had a chance to speak with the speaker, John Boehner, today, and he's got his own thoughts on what the president should or should not say.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: He'd like to hear about spending cuts. I know that won't come as a huge surprise to you. But as Gloria says, the Republicans are focused on what are we going to cut? And all this -- as you say, they look at these investments as that's just code for spending.

BLITZER: More spending. You think the president has got this balanced when he says he's going to talk about themes instead of specifics?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, Wolf, he's going to have to do both tonight. He's going to have to -- he wants to make a strong argument that this is our Sputnik moment, that we have to respond to the competitive challenge from China and other countries in a way we haven't if we're really going to create jobs over the long haul.

At the same time, he cannot ignore the deficits. And he has to be much more emphatic, and he has to really put some things on the table to succeed tonight with the American people to show he's going to sweat down, he is going to bring down the size of government. It's not just a freeze. He's going to bring down the size of government.

BLITZER: Gloria, can he show the American people he feels their pain, as Bill Clinton used to say, and as Ronald Reagan did so effectively? Can he show them he's not simply an elite intellectual, if you will?

BORGER: Well, he's going to obviously try and do that. I think what the White House hopes is that he builds on that moment at Tucson.

But you know, I also say, Wolf, I think the Republicans have to do something here tonight, too, in their response, and that is they have to tie their budget cutting and their emphasis on budget cutting to a positive vision for America's future also.

You know, you're going to hear talk about future -- America's future and how great we can be. I think you have to hear that from both sides and to get some realistic sense of what each side is proposing it can do.

BLITZER: I think we're going to hear some talk of American exceptionalism, how great America really is, and we shouldn't lose sight of that. CROWLEY: Absolutely we're going to hear that. I'm convinced of it, simply because this president, as he has for the past couple of months, had this, yes, I understand that the unemployment rate isn't where it is, that the housing market is just, you know, in the dump or remains there. But somehow he has to -- you know, people don't vote on who's making them the most depressed. They do need some optimism. But it has to be sort of laced with realism. And that's tough to do.

GERGEN: Yes, but I think, Candy, where his problem in part has been the last -- coming into the election in November, was that people didn't think -- a lot of Americans, especially white working Americans, didn't think he really shared their version of growing America.

CROWLEY: Right. No, exactly.

GERGEN: And he now -- and he now has to come back and push that now...


GERGEN: ... if he's going to reconnect.

BLITZER: He certainly did a good job at Tucson in that speech.

GERGEN: Yes, exactly.

BLITZER: And based on what I'm hearing, he's -- he's going to hit some similar notes tonight. But we'll watch him. We'll see and we'll assess. That's what we do. Guys, thanks very much.

The face of the Tea Party movement. The response. That's coming up. Is it rewriting history? We're going to show you what's going on.


BLITZER: A big change today, and after the president is done with his State of the Union address, two Republicans are holding different responses, raising the question of just who's speaking for the GOP. Brian Todd is trying to sort it all out for us. He's joining us from Capitol Hill.

All right, Brian, what's going on here?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Republicans may have to sort some of this out, too, you know, after the president speaks.

We're first going to hear from Congressman Paul Ryan. That's going to be the official GOP response. But then Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann is going to speak separately.

Now, Bachmann and the top GOP leadership say this does not signify any kind of a split in the Republican ranks, but many others have their doubts. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


TODD (voice-over): She's a legit political star, the Tea Party's torch bearer, set to give her own rebuttal to the president's State of the Union address. It's almost unheard of, because Republican Michele Bachmann's speech will be the third of the evening.

Bachmann is speaking right after congressman Paul Ryan gives the official Republican response. Bachmann says she's spoken with Ryan and the GOP leadership about it, that she's not in competition with Ryan, and that the media is misconstruing her intentions.

I asked CNN contributor John Avlon about that.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. There's no way it's in the interests for the Republican leadership to have Michele Bachmann being giving an alternate State of the Union response. And the media is flocking to this, because it highlights, A, divisions within the Republican Party. And the Republican Party can't like it, because it's a huge message confusion.

TODD (on camera): Michele Bachmann told CNN off camera that her themes will be making sure the government doesn't add to the budget deficit; no increases in taxes; the importance of acting within the bounds of the Constitution.

She said publicly she'll be looking for the specific spending cuts that the president proposes, and she'll call him out on government programs that she believes are job killers.

(voice-over) She may be making history with this speech, but does Michele Bachmann have much command of history? She recently said this about early American immigrants.

BACHMANN: It didn't matter the color of their skin. It didn't matter their language. It didn't matter their economic status. Once you got here, we were all the same.

TODD: CNN's Anderson Cooper called her out.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Irish immigrants didn't feel the same walking past storefronts with signs reading "No Irish need apply." And of course, enslaved Africans certainly didn't feel the same when they were brought here against their will.

TODD: No response from Bachmann's aides to that criticism.

This came shortly after Bachmann falsely asserted that President Obama's trip to Asia would cost $200 million a day. All from a woman who's considering a presidential run.

(on camera) Cumulatively, do all these things make her a legitimate presidential contender? JIM O'SULLIVAN, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": What they show is that, if she wants to be part of the 2012 conversation, she can be. Because she can -- we've seen she can raise money. She raised more than $13 million last cycle. She can control the media narrative to some extent. And she can talk about issues.


TODD: Even if a 2012 presidential run doesn't work, Michele Bachmann can still be a key player here on Capitol Hill. She founded the House Tea Party Caucus. She made news this week by inviting Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to speak to that group. She can position herself, he says, to be a major king-maker in the increasingly powerful Tea Party contingent here in Washington -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Brian's on the Hill.

Jack Cafferty is asking why are women politicians more effective than men? Your answers, that's coming up next.

Plus, where's the beef? Why the famous Wendy's slogan from the '80s is now coming to mind for Taco Bell.


BLITZER: We're right back with Jack with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: They did a study. And the question is why -- apparently, the study suggests that women politicians are more effective than men. We want to know why you think that is.

Ken in North Carolina -- these are pretty good, these e-mails, if I do say so myself. Ken in North Carolina: "You ever seen a nation send an all-woman army into battle against other women? You won't, because they'll go to war and be home in a week, knowing how to get all the work done without guns, bullets, and bombs. Women politicians, no different. They're good."

Daniel writes, "I think the study is biased, and it's hard to make generalizations in any case. We have good men politicians and bad men politicians, the same as we have good female politicians and Sarah Palin."

Ed in California: "Women are better survivors than men. A woman can outthink a man every time. Women are more honest, more blunt, and a lot more organized than men. They make better decisions. It's too bad politics has evolved as a boys' club. We all lose because of that."

Carol in Massachusetts: "They are? I'm looking around. Nope. Don't see that many effective women politicians. Very few men either. Effectiveness not gender-specific; it's person-specific." Kyle in California: "I think women and politics and business feel they have to prove themselves to be accepted. I honestly think women can do a better job than men, because they'll attack their responsibilities with more professionalism and commitment. That being said, I don't want to see either Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin elected president."

Alex in Washington writes, "Remembering my six credit hours of psychology, women are generally more willing to compromise to achieve half-a-loaf results without burning bridges in the process. Men generally see any conflict as an all-or-nothing battle where winning is more important than getting results."

Similarly, Debbie in South Carolina: "Women are more effective because they just get to work. We're not hindered by the 'mine is bigger than yours' mentality that men suffer from."

And Rod in Chicago: "Oh, brother, another great question, Jack. This place is like the trailer park of political blogs."

Want to read more? Go to the trailer park. It's at

BLITZER: Some good viewers out there. Good e-mails.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

Here's a question many people are asking right now. How much meat is in a chalupa? CNN's Jeanne Moos has details of a lawsuit you don't want to miss.


BLITZER: Here's a look at today's "Hot Shots."

In Tunisia, a man throws his bike over a fence that's protecting the interior ministry from riders.

In India, a street vendor sells Indian flags in preparation for the 62nd Republic Day.

In the Philippines, a demolition crew throws stones at residents refusing to leave.

And in China, look at this. A man walks through a tunnel of lanterns in place to celebrate the lunar new year.

"Hot Shots," pictures worth a thousand words.

Some meaty issues are at the heart of a lawsuit against Taco Bell right now. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Most Unusual" look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It sure looks like beef, but doesn't this story...


MOOS: ... ring a bell?

CLARA PELLER, ACTRESS: Where's the beef?

MOOS: They used to say it about hamburgers. Now a lawsuit is saying it about Taco Bell.

(on camera) What do you hope this lawsuit accomplishes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would like Taco Bell to stop referring to their products as beef products when, in fact, they are not beef products.

MOOS (voice-over): Not beef products?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give me something big.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With a bunch of beef!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The new 99-cent beefy crunch burrito.

MOOS: Taco Bell calls it.


MOOS: They even have a cartoon character.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take it from me, Commander Seasoned Beef.

MOOS: But a former Taco Bell manager came to this Alabama law firm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just simply didn't like what he saw Taco Bell doing, which was passing off this taco meat filling as beef and ground beef.

MOOS: The law firm took Taco Bell beef products to a lab. The law firm says test showed the meat mixture was less than 35 percent beef, instead of what they say is the 70 percent USDA standard.

(on camera) The stuff tastes good.

(voice-over) The lawsuit accuses Taco Bell of misleading advertising.

(on camera) Sorry. My mouth is full.

(voice-over) The lawsuit says internally Taco Bell doesn't call this beef. It calls it "taco meat filling," but the consumer doesn't see that label.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's really nasty.

MOOS (on camera): But Taco Bell had a meaty reply to the lawsuit. The company says it will counter sue.

(voice-over) In a statement, Taco Bell says, "We start with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef. Unfortunately, the lawyers in this case elected to sue first and ask questions later and got their facts absolutely wrong. We plan to take legal action for the false statements being made about our food."

(on camera) Do you ever eat at Taco Bell?


MOOS: Really?

(voice-over) He's no vegetarian, but if his test results are accurate...

(on camera) Well, you'd almost be all right if you're a vegetarian, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's closer to being a vegetarian than it is to beef.

MOOS (voice-over): After hearing about "taco meat filling," David letterman's executive producer tweeted, "We're about to find out where the Taco Bell Chihuahua went."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yo quiero Taco Bell.

MOOS: For the record, Gidget died of a stroke a year and a half ago. If you're wondering...

PELLER: Where's the beef?

MOOS: ... don't look at her.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...


MOOS: ... New York.


BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne.

Don't forget. I'll be back here in one hour for our special live coverage of the president's State of the Union address. That's beginning in two hours, as you can see there. The countdown clock continuing.

For me, though, that's it right now. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"JOHN KING USA" starts right now.