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The Situation Room

Biden Prepares For High-Stakes State Of The Union Address; Judges Nixes Temporary Delay On $83.3 Million Trump Defamation Tab; Uvalde Massacre Report Released, Independent Investigator Says D.A. Hampered Effort; White House: Biden "Prepared" For Hecklers, Some GOP Members Dismiss Speaker Johnson's Call For Decorum. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 07, 2024 - 18:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, be sure to tune in for special coverage of President Biden's State of the Union address. I'll be back here along with my esteemed colleagues, Dana Bash and Erin Burnett, Abby Phillip and a cast of thousands, 8:00 P.M. Eastern on CNN.

Our coverage continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we are learning some of what President Biden will say tonight about the State of the Union. Details on that and why there's so much focus on how he delivers his message to Congress and to the country.

Also tonight, there's breaking news on Donald Trump's $83 million defamation judgment and what a judge just ruled on Trump's request for a temporary delay.

And in Uvalde, Texas, parents of murdered children erupted grief and anger at a new report on the massacre at Robb Elementary where 19 children and 2 teachers were shot and killed.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just three hours from now, President Biden will address a joint session of Congress. It will be his third State of the Union message since taking office and could be the most consequential speech of his presidency.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent M.J. Lee is over at the White House tonight for us. She's got the very latest of what he plans to talk about. I understand, M.J., the White House has already released a few excerpts.

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We are just getting in the first excerpts of president's speech tonight and they are pretty insightful in telling us about some of the themes that the president will hit on and the tone that president is going to use. So, first, on the issue of reproductive rights, this is what the president will say. He'll say, in its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court majority wrote, women are not without electoral or political power.

No kidding. Clearly, those bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women in America, but they found out when reproductive freedoms was on the ballot and one in 2022, 2023 and they will find out again in 2024. If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose I promise you I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land.

Again, this, of course, Wolf is an issue that White House and campaign officials believe to be incredibly politically salient and is a motivating factor for voters. So, clearly, the president wants to use this evening to tap into that political energy.

And on another section, on the theme of protecting democracy, this is what the president will say. He'll say, my lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy, a future based on core values that have defined America, honesty, decency, dignity and equality, to respect everyone, to give everyone a fair shot, give hate no safe harbor.

Now, some other people my age see a different story, an American story of resentment, of revenge and retribution. That's not me.

There is no question, Wolf, that he is talking about former President Donald Trump here. Even if that section doesn't specifically name Donald Trump, this is the kind of language that we have heard him use before to describe the former president. It is really fascinating that he is choosing to describe Trump as some other people my age, because, as you know, he has battled a lot of concerns about his own age, but it is clearly decided that to go there on Donald as well works politically.

We're also told by the White House that the president is going to refer to the economic recovery as the greatest comeback story never told. It's really fascinating that he is trying to signal that he's not getting enough credit for the recovery since the peak of the pandemic.

BLITZER: Important excerpts already released. M.J., who has the first lady invited to attend tonight's address with her?

LEE: Yes, Wolf. for any State of The Union address, if you look at the guests that are invited by the first lady, you can get a really good sense of the political and policy priorities for the president.


Tonight is going to be no different. If you take a look at a few of the guests that are invited, for example, on the issue of mission to protect reproductive rights, we have Kate Cox and Latorya Beasley. Obviously, Cox is a Texas mother who was denied an abortion in Texas and put up a legal battle, and then Beasley is the woman from Birmingham, Alabama, who is getting IVF treatments and had to pause when the Alabama Supreme Court ruling came down.

There's also Jazmin Cazares. That is related to gun violence, of course. Her sister was killed in the Uvalde shooting. And, clearly, we are going to see the president once again call on Congress to take action on gun violence.

And, finally, another example, a Swedish prime minister is going to be in audience as well. Sweden, of course, joined NATO just today and strengthening that NATO alliance has been a huge part of the - resident's foreign policy.

And this is going to be an interesting opportunity for the president to make that contrast between himself and Donald Trump, given what the former president recently said about NATO countries that he says are not paying enough, basically saying Russia should do whatever they want to those countries.

So, this, again, is just going be one of the many opportunities that we expect the president to seize on, to try to draw that contract between himself, and Republicans and Trump. Wolf?

BLITZER: These are all so important themes that the president will be addressing tonight. M.J. Lee at the White House, thank you very much.

Let's discuss what's going on with Minnesota Democratic Senator and former Presidential Candidate Amy Klobuchar. Senator, thank you so much for joining us.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me get right to the State of the Union right now. What do you think President Biden needs to do tonight? How high are the stakes?

KLOBUCHAR: Stakes are high, but this president is up for it. I think I've heard he's looking forward to this speech very much. I know that he is a seasoned leader and that's going to come through. And he did a great job last time. Even when they were heckling him, he rose to the occasion and showed his strength.

I think it's going to be -- as you have read from these excerpts, it is a story of a president who is defending freedoms, while there are those who are trying to take them away. On the Republican side, it's going be a stories of someone who is standing up and defending democracy while others would diminish it.

And then it's the economic story, yes, it is about the recovery and how far we've come since the pandemic with the unemployment so low and with wages up and the like. But it is also, I hope, a future-oriented speech. And I believe you're going to hear that.

What we have done on prescription drugs, what more we need to do on prescriptions drugs to bring the costs down, plans on housing, childcare, things that are on people's minds right now, bread and butter issues. So, I'm very much looking forward to the speech, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be an important speech. Should the president -- Senator, do you think the President should draw on an explicit contrast between himself and Trump in the address tonight? And if not tonight, when?

KLOBUCHAR: The most important thing about this address be that it is future-oriented and clear to the American public. But I think you're going see those contrasts right there.

You already heard some of the excerpts. And I think you don't even need to tell people that Joe Biden has stood up for a woman's right to make her own health care decisions, instead of having politicians do it. And if we didn't believe that before or after the Dobbs decision and the Donald Trump judges that made that decision, look at that IVF ruling out of Alabama, where now they're saying they can make decisions about if you can even start a family.

So, I would expect he will be talking about that in the context of the ramifications from that Dobbs decision that has so torn our country apart and brought people to the polls from states from Kansas to Ohio to Wisconsin.

BLITZER: As you know, Senator, in poll after poll, recent polls, the president's age has been a major concern for voters, even among many of his own supporters. His allies are urging him to bring high energy to tonight's speech. But even if he does that, is it enough to change voters' minds on this sensitive issue?

KLOBUCHAR: I have to say, I smiled when I heard that excerpt. I hadn't heard the part about talking about people of his age. I think it's going to be very clear, and he made this case last week a number of times, that the other candidate in this race, Donald Trump, isn't far from his own age, the issue is who's moving our country forward with forward-thinking ideas, who wants to bring us backwards on women's choice to make our own decisions. This is not just back to the 1950s our party is bringing us. It's back the 1850s. So, I hope we hear that from the president. To me, it's about ideas and moving forward and seasoned leadership that ended the chaos that we saw with Donald Trump.


BLITZER: President Biden is also set to announce tonight a new port in Gaza for desperately needed life-saving humanitarian aid, and there has been, as you know, some backlash over his handling of the Israel- Hamas War. Does he need to go further than that, given how dire this crisis has become and how angry a lot of voters out there are?

KLOBUCHAR: First of all, the port is going to be very important. We know that there is a humanitarian crisis going on in Gaza. There are children who need food. So, I'm very glad that he has stepped up and made sure that not only are we airlifting food in, but this temporary port is opening.

The long-term is the most important, and that is getting to release of the hostages and a ceasefire. And I hope he makes that very clear, as well as his support for the long-term two-state solution. So, I would expect we are going to hear about that.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right. The former president, Trump, he focused on border security and illegal immigration in what is called his prebuttal to the State of the Union address tonight. But as you know, Trump helped tank the bipartisan border security deal in Congress. How should President Biden tackle this issue in his speech tonight? And is there a backup plan in the absence of that legislation?

KLOBUCHAR: You know, I hope he ask the Republicans once again to support that border agreement that would give a president emergency powers at the border, an agreement that was supported by the conservative border guards down at the border, an agreement that was negotiated with the conservative and Democrats that is just so important for our own homeland security.

And I don't know what he's going to say about it. I'm sure he's going to bring it up because he still wants to get it passed. The other alternative he remains is that he has said he'll do what he can. He has tried that before. The true answer, and Donald Trump himself has said this when he was president, that Congress must act. Congress must do something. It was right there in front of them. And I hope they look at it again so we can get it passed.

BLITZER: Senator Klobuchar, thanks as usual for joining us.

KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Wolf, it was great to be on.

BLITZER: I appreciate it.

Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we'll have more on the president's focus tonight on the Middle East and Ukraine. We'll go live to Israel for a reaction to the planned American-led mission to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza and we'll also have a live report from the frontlines in Ukraine where troops are hoping the president's call on House Republicans to pass a new military assistance bill for Ukraine doesn't go unanswered.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Before the break, I spoke with Senator Amy Klobuchar about plans the president is expected to announce tonight for getting more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is joining us from Tel Aviv right now. He's got more on that. Jeremy, what more do we know about this port on the Gaza Coast that the president will announce tonight?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Well, there has been discussion for some time now about creating some kind of a maritime humanitarian corridor, but Gaza doesn't have a deep sea port. And so the U.S. stepping in here to build what is essentially a temporary floating port that includes a pier off the coast of Gaza in the Mediterranean Sea.

This will be coordinated with Israel, with the United Nations, and with Cyprus, where the humanitarian aid is likely to go at first and be checked by Israeli security officials.

Now, this is not an immediate solution to the rampant and growing hunger that we are watching unfold in Gaza. U.S. officials say that this is expected to take weeks at a minimum before it can actually take place.

In the meantime, the United States is still airdropping more aid, but U.N. officials, even as they said that this is a good move on the U.S.'s part, they said the need is for the U.S. to ramp up the pressure on Israel to open up more land routes into Northern Gaza. That is where the need, of course, is most acute.

BLITZER: As you know, Jeremy, today marks five months since the October 7th Hamas terror attack against Israel. Is there any hope for a ceasefire by the start of Ramadan this Sunday? As you know, President Biden was initially hopeful for a ceasefire this past Monday, but that clearly didn't happen.

DIAMOND: It clearly did not. And right now, Wolf, talks very much appear at a standstill. As much as there was a lot of optimism last week as progress seem to be happening in these negotiations, now, it seems like both sides are kind of pointing fingers, both saying that there are different sticking points at issue here. But, clearly, things are not moving in the direction that they need to in order to get a deal in place by Ramadan.

Of course, Israeli officials have warned that if there isn't a deal in place by Ramadan, that they could move forward with a major military offensive in Rafah, and at the moment, it doesn't appear like that deal will materialize.

Now, a Hamas delegation has been in Egypt for the last few days but they left today with no clear breakthrough in place. Israeli officials for their part say that they still need a list of hostages from Hamas about who would potentially be released under this agreement.

But now we understand that a top U.S. official has actually been in the region. My colleague, Alex Marquardt, reporting that CIA Director Bill Burns has been in Egypt, he's also been in Qatar, working to see if a breakthrough is possible but, again, the clock very much ticking down. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, let's hope that breakthrough happens. Jeremy Diamond in Tel Aviv, I appreciate it very much.

From Tel Aviv, let's head over to Ukraine, where what President Biden says about U.S. military aid to Ukraine and how Congress responds is, of course, a matter of life and death for those on the frontlines fighting off the Russian invaders. But running out of the ammunition to do it is unfolding right now.

CNN"s Nick Paton Walsh is on the frontlines for us. He's joining us live right now.


I know you've been talking, Nick, with soldiers on the ground there. What are they hoping President Biden says tonight about aid for Ukraine? And we hear some sirens going off in the background.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're in Odessa, which has been under constant attack pretty much every night, to be honest, over the past weeks. And sometimes those attacks do indeed get through because of the lack of air defenses that is paid for by American money.

And, indeed, President Zelenskyy himself was here just yesterday and subject of, I think it's fair to call it, a near miss, where some kind of missile appears to have landed about hundreds of yards away from him, and a Greek official delegation that were visiting here with the Greek prime minister. So, I don't quite know what we're going to hear behind us in the coming hours.

But back to your question, Wolf, look, it is a matter of life and death. They are already, in some cases, out of shells. We were with a tank unit that hadn't fired for 72 hours because they have to conserve ammunition for very important moments. We've heard medics who say, look, you know, this is a matter of how many people are going to die until we eventually get some kind of external assistance.

I mean, yes, ordinary troops don't spend their entire time thinking about Speaker Mike Johnson and exactly how he can conjure this through, if indeed he feels the obligation to do so. But it is remarkable how Ukrainian troops on the front line facing death seem to have an almost intimate grasp of the dysfunctionality of Republican politics at the moment. And it's something that's being harshly felt here, certainly.

We're near the frontlines, near Avdiivka, a town that Ukraine pulled out of voluntarily over two weeks ago. But they said they'd be able to hold the defensive line a number of villages back. That is looking very precarious right now, with some suggestions that one of the main villages they're trying to hold there is almost over half in Russian hands.

Why is that important? Well, if Ukraine can't hold defensive lines, I suggest maybe they lack the equipment to do so, maybe their strategic planning, their defenses have been poor, and maybe too that Russia has the momentum here, has the personnel.

We've seen extraordinary signs of what they're willing to sacrifice for tiny gains here. Yes, there's elections coming forward in Moscow, in Russia soon. Vladimir Putin looking to rubber stamp his administration again. But, ultimately, it is a precarious moment here for all of Ukraine, one that, for me, has felt like Ukrainians slowly beginning to lose hope.

You've got to bear in mind, Wolf, the fact they've been able to hold on now in their third year is because of that western assistance, because of the munitions, the weapons, the money that has enabled Ukraine to hold Russia off quite against everybody's expectations.

That money, with some European exceptions, nothing like the kind of assistance they need and would have got from the United States, is beginning to run out, and in some cases has run out, and that's changing the tide of the war.

And so I think people are desperately looking to President Biden tonight here to see if he can do something. Is it Russian assets that are frozen that could be potentially used to help Ukraine? Who knows? But, ultimately, it's urgent, and it's changing people's lives here now. And the security of Ukraine, the freedom of Ukraine, Ukrainians say, is it European and an American security question, possibly the most urgent one on the plate right now of President Biden. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, very, very urgent, indeed very precarious situation unfolding. And we're told both Ukraine and Israel-Gaza will be major themes later tonight in the president's State of the Union address.

Nick Paton Walsh, stay safe over there, we'll stay in close touch with you.

There's more breaking news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including two Trump court cases, including on the Monday deadline he's been trying to get extended for coming up with $83 million in damages for defaming E. Jean Carroll. What the judge in that case just ruled, we have details and that will be coming up right after this.



BLITZER: We have breaking news on two of the trials facing former President Trump and we start in New York where a federal judge just denied his attempt at a temporary delay on coming up with the more than $83 million he owes the E. Jean Carroll defamation case.

Kara Scannell is covering all of this for us. She has the latest. What does this mean now for the former president, Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the judge hasn't ruled on the big ask, and that is Trump asking the judge to delay him having to post this money, or even a smaller amount of the judgment, for 30 days after the judge decides Trump's post-trial motions to try to lower the damages amount overall, Trump had made those motions, asked the judge rule on them by Monday, this past Monday. The judge did not do so.

So, then yesterday, Trump's lawyer said, well, when you do rule, can we have three days in order to finalize our bond and get everything together? Today, the judge is saying, no, you cannot have three days once I rule. He reiterated that he's not ready to rule yet on the big question, but he said he would not give Trump more time, because, in part, this is all of Trump' fault for filing this request pretty late in the game.

The judge writing, Mr. Trump's current situation is a result of his own dilatory actions. He has had since January 26 to organize his finances with the knowledge that he might need to bond this judgment. The court ordered expedited briefing and assured the parties that the motion would be decided as promptly as was reasonably appropriate. But due to the delay in its filing, the court notified that it could not render any decision as quickly as Mr. Trump requested. That remains true today.

The judge also noting that Trump has not provided any information about how costly it will be for him to get a bond, something that could be relevant in this decision. So as of now, Donald Trump still needs to post his $83.3 million by Monday. Wolf?

BLITZER: And if he doesn't post the$ 83 million, by Monday, what happens?

SCANNELL: Well, then E. Jean Carroll's team could move to try to enforce this judgment.


That would require some additional steps as well. Trump has previously, in another case, the other big New York case, said that he could come up with a $100 million bond, so it's possible he will be able to cobble this together. But we're going to wait and see how close to the wire this comes down to.

BLITZER: We shall see. Kara Scannell in New York for us, thank you very much.

And that development is taking place as the special counsel, Jack Smith, has responded to Trump's latest motion to dismiss the classified documents case down in Florida. He calls Trump's immunity claims, and I'm quoting now, outlandish, and says that they are aimed simply at delay.

Paula Reid is with me here in THE SITUATION ROOM with the latest. To be clear, this is a separate immunity claim from the one that the former president is making in some of the other issues.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're talking about the classified documents case where he allegedly mishandled classified materials after leaving office. He's claiming that presidential immunity should shield him in that case.

Now, that sounds familiar. That's because that's exactly what he's doing in the other federal case, the January 6th election subversion case. At least in that case, he was in office at the time of his alleged efforts to subvert the election, but he has lost to the trial court on that issue, lost to the appellate court. The Supreme Court has said they're going to take up that issue of immunity, which will help him delay that case.

But now that he's trying this in the Mar-a-Lago case, the special counsel is not having this. They are saying, quote, such a claim is not only unprecedented, it is entirely without basis in the law. Immunity claims here are so wholly without merit that it is difficult to understand it except as part of a strategic effort to delay.

And we know, of course, the Trump legal strategy is to delay in both of these federal cases because if the former president can get these pushback, if he's re-elected, he can make them go away, have Jack Smith dismissed, and then also have these cases dismissed.

They're also asking here, notably, for the judge to label this as, quote, frivolous. That is significant because if Judge Cannon does that, which would be surprising, it would block his ability to continue this litigation.

BLITZER: Very interesting, and the thrust of Trump's legal team is delay, delay, delay as much as possible.

Paul Reid, thank you very much for that.

We have more on the State of the Union address coming up soon, but coming up next, there's more breaking news. Parents are outraged at a shocking new report on the Robb Elementary School shooting. We'll have a live report from Shimon Prokupecz. He's standing by in Uvalde, Texas. That's next.



BLITZER: We'll return to our coverage of tonight's State of the Union address in just a few moments. But, first, there's more breaking news we're following. Parents in Uvalde, Texas, are angry at a new report that clears local police of wrongdoing. It contradicts previous investigations by the Justice Department and others into the attack when 19 schoolchildren and 2 teachers were killed.

Shimon Prokupecz has followed this story since the tragic 2022 shooting. He is joining us now live from Uvalde. So, what did this report find, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, certainly -- Wolf, I should say to you, that this was certainly a surprise to everyone to hear the investigator that was hired by the city to do this investigation. He came out saying that officers acted in good faith that there was no wrongdoing, that there was no violation of policy, even at one point saying that one of the officers showed measurable strength.

This was just completely shocking to the families. That investigator, Jesse Prado, he was hired by the city, he has 25 years of experience, I tried to ask him some questions about how he came to his conclusions. Take a look.


PROKUPECZ: Sir, why won't you answer our questions? You're free to speak now. Your report is complete. You're an independent person. You were paid a significant amount of money to do this. Speak. Tell us how you could come up with this. I have read it. I have read it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You read the report?

PROKUPECZ: Well, whatever you said, I have and I saw, that every single officer you have exonerated, every single officer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got to get going.


PROKUPECZ: And that's the thing, Wolf, that was so shocking. All of this that every police officer that he investigated from the city of Uvalde, he exonerated. He specifically used those words in his report and in the testimony that he gave to the city council here a short time ago.

BLITZER: Shimon, what was the reaction of the families?

PROKUPECZ: They're shocked, upset. Many of them were crying. They just couldn't believe what they were hearing. Take a listen to some of what they were saying in the city council hearing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How dare you? How dare you? There were multiple law enforcement officers from multiple agencies that stood by for 77 minutes as children and teachers died. And I'm not going to stand by it.


PROKUPECZ: And so, Wolf, now the big question is what happens. This report essentially clears these officers from any kind of disciplinary action. The families want accountability. They want some of these officers that were in the hallway in the moments after the shooting fired. It now seems that that is going to be very difficult for the city to do because of this report.

BLITZER: Shimon Prokupecz, thank you for your excellent, excellent reporting for us on this important story. I appreciate it very much.

Just ahead, we're counting down to President Biden's State of the Union Address, but former President Trump is already responding to it, and he promises, and I'm quoting him now, a play-by-play of Biden's speech tonight. We have details. That's next.



BLITZER: Former President Trump is already hammering President Biden's State of the Union Address, and despite peddling countless lies himself, Trump says he will give a real-time fact-check of the president later tonight.

Kristen Holmes is joining us from West Palm Beach near Mar-a-Lago with details. Kristen, the former president has already had plenty to say today about tonight's speech.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. He actually issued a video straight to camera edited blankly video going on about immigration, calling it his prebuttal to Biden state of the union address.

He also hit Biden for the economy. Of course, as we know, both immigration and the economy are the two issues that Donald Trump wants to be campaigning on in November.

Now, as for tonight, he has said that he's going to be watching from his Mar-a-Lago home live tweeting -- not tweeting, sorry, True Social posting on his social media. Obviously he has done this before, but this has more significance this time because now he is the presumptive Republican nominee.

The thing we'll be watching for Wolf is just what trend lines he hits. What is he going to go after Biden for in all as we head into November? I want to point out one thing. His super PAC has already been attacking Biden all day today, launching a new ad that will just run for this 24 hours, hitting Biden over his mental acuity and fitness age, and even at one point asking if Biden could make it through another presidency.

So, we know Speaker Johnson has called for decorum for respect. That's within the chamber. I think it's unlikely you're going to see that from the former president himself, Wolf.


BLITZER: Kristen Holmes on the scene for us down in Florida, thank you very much.

A senior White House official tells CNN, President Biden is prepared for another possible round of hecklers at the State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress later tonight. And as Kristen just said, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said today, House members should, quote, need to get back to decorum, his words. We're going to see in a few hours if lawmakers agree.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Ashley Etienne, former communications director to Vice President Harris and a 2020 Biden campaign senior adviser. Also with us, CNN political commentator Kristen Soltis Anderson.

Kristen, let me start with you. Do you think President Biden would actually welcome another chance to spar with Republican members in the audience tonight?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He sure might. You know, last year, most people kind of forget the first 20 minutes of the speech, which I found to be a little bit low energy, a little bit not really headline-making, but it was at moment when he began to spar and had those back-and-forths over things like Social Security that he really kind of came to life. And that's the thing everybody saw the day after. So I'm assuming that

for Biden, something like that, if he handles at the same way he did last time, would play to his advantage rather than a speech that is a little sleepier or more low-energy.

BLITZER: We'll see how he does tonight.

You know, Gloria, what stands out to you from what we're learning about what to expect from the president's speech?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, what stands out to me, Wolf, is that the White House seems to be raising expectations about this speech. You know, usually when you're in the White House and you want to spend something you kind of say, well, you know, we're going to do this, we're going to do that, but, you know, the White House chief of staff found the record as saying this is a particularly big moment. This is the start of the campaign.

And so I think they're raising expectations about how Biden is going to be energetic and how his agenda, you know, will be clear and how he'll be able to take on those Republicans if they do jeer him. But I think they want to put a message out there that this is a feisty president. And, you know, to me the way he delivers this speech is almost as important as what's in it.

BLITZER: It's absolutely a good point.

You know, Ashley, who does President Biden most need to reach tonight?

ASHLEY ETIENNE, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR VP HARRIS: Yeah. No. I think one of the most important audiences tonight, Wolf, are going to be those undecided voters, i.e., Nikki Haley's voters that are looking for a home. On Tuesday, both Trump and Biden sort of solidified their base absent an endorsement from Nikki Haley, those voters are up for grabs.

So I'm going to be watching to see what the president says so those folks, how does he bring them into the fold, right? You know, from a political perspective, he's got, we would say he has to do a persuasion message, right? He's got to draw the contrast between him, Donald Trump and the GOP, and that's what the president plans to do tonight.

And the Republicans in that regard have pretty much written a speech for him. No action to close the border, no action to lower costs for the American people, no action to support our allies that are at war, and then no votes on IVF.

So, the team Biden are ready for tonight. I think that he's got the right message and then he is well-positioned to draw in those voters.

BLITZER: Kristen, I'm curious, what's more important for President Biden tonight, selling the American people on his specific policies or proving that he's still physically up to the job.

ANDERSON: I think it's the latter. I think he has to prove that he's physically up to the job because for the most part, his policy agenda is either stuff he's going to do through pen and phone or its stuff that's going to die a slow death in Congress, stopped by Republicans.

BORGER: Right.

ANDERSON: So policy things he talks about I think are less important for his electoral prospects than proving to these voters who you might call the double-haters, the ones who really don't like Donald Trump. They're not excited about the prospect of voting for Donald Trump in November. But they really have a lot of deep misgivings about Joe Biden's ability, his mental acuity, his stamina. That is what is going to be under the most scrutiny tonight.

BORGER: I do think the double haters, as we call them --

ETIENNE: I love that.

BORGER: -- are going to be really important and, you know, in looking at the excerpts that we've gotten of the speech, one thing that was fascinating to me as well, he doesn't mention Donald Trump by name. He's contrasting their visions for the country. He's going to be positive, optimistic.

Donald Trump said the other day, America is dying, right?

And he said now some other people, my age see a different story. You know, an American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution. That's not me.

And I think that's a really important message because they want this to be a choice election and don't forget Donald Trump has effectively running as an incumbent. And so Biden wants this to be a choice and he wants to make that very clear tonight, what that choice is going to be.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting actually because in his prebuttal, Trump really went after President Biden, repeatedly calling him crooked Joe and the people that surround him, they are radical left Marxists, and fascists, and communists and socialists.


This is what the former president is saying in this prebuttal.

ETIENNE: I mean, from my perspective, every time -- you can -- you can always tell when Donald Trumps in trouble, when his back is against the wall, because then his rhetoric becomes more divisive and divisive. But here's the thing I'm going to be interested in watching in terms of the president. And I know that they're very excited and anticipating.

The Republicans are asking the American people, their closing argument is, are you better today than you were four years ago?

The president is ready to answer that question and will answer that question in the speech tonight. Four years ago, 1 million Americans had died from COVID, 2 million women had dropped out of the workforce. My kid was, you know, take -- was going to school remotely, right?

It was a terrible time for America. We were on the heels of the president's first attempt at cheating the election.

So the president's ready to answer that question. He's going to fan out how the cabinet fan out and continue to answer that question over the next 30 days.

BORGER: You know, Kristen, you probably know more about this than any of us, which is this notion that some folks in the White House are talking about the sort of Trump amnesia, that people in your focus groups -- I don't know if you see that.


ETIENNE: Absolutely.

BORGER: But they need to remind people what it was like under Donald Trump.

ANDERSON: Well, I think you're right at there are people that look back on the Trump era and they do get the answer to that question is, in some ways they sort of look back pre-COVID, that they don't blame Trump for COVID. And so they say the economy was good before all that happened. And maybe I want to go back to that.

And so, for me, the person who's got a really interesting challenge tonight is Senator Katie Britt of Alabama, who's giving the Republican response. Let's not very many people stay tuned into watch this, but clips again will make their way around. And she's a young rising star in the party.

How can she present maybe something that is a little bit more optimistic than what we are likely to see from Trump on social media?

BLITZER: What do you think, Ashley?

ETIENNE: No, I think that's absolutely right. I mean, the challenges, how do you -- how do you answer this full throated record of accomplishments from the president? How do you counter that?

So that's what I --

BORGER: Well, you say people don't feel it. That's what they'll say.

ETIENNE: Yeah. Yeah.

BLITZER: And I think what James Carville said many, many years ago, going into an election, it's the economy, stupid. I think its still as the economy.

ETIENNE: Sure, and immigration.


BLITZER: Immigration very important. BORGER: And abortion.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, thank you very, very much.

Up next, we'll take a closer look at the long tradition of having presidential guests attend the State of the Union Address.



BLITZER: We showed you earlier, the guest, the first lady will have with her for tonight's State of the Union Address. Guests attending the address is a time-honored tradition that goes back decades.

Brian Todd is joining us.

Brian, the presidential guests at State of the Union Addresses have provided some unforgettable moments over the years. Tell us about that.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. There have really been some enduring stories to come out of these moments, and it took a president from Hollywood to come up with ingenious idea to have notable guests in the first lady's box at the State of the Union Address.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of United States!

TODD (voice-over): Ronald Reagan started the practice of having illustrious State of the Union guests with his address in 1982. And he had one of the most memorable guests of all time.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: In the midst of a terrible tragedy on the Potomac, we saw again the spirit of American heroism at its finest.

TODD: Just two weeks before that address, Lenny Skutnik, an obscure federal government employee, had jumped into the icy Potomac River to save a woman's life after an Air Florida passenger plane slammed into a bridge and plummeted into the water.

"Time Magazine" later reported the Skutnik was unnerved when First Lady Nancy Reagan sat down next to him in the House gallery for the State of the Union Address, that he hadn't expected to be called out by name, and that he was so stunned when he was that it took a shove in the back to get them to stand up.

TIM NAFTALI, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Ronald Reagan understood drama. Ronald Reagan understood theater. And from that moment on, presidents have invited guests and made that guests story part of the State of the Union Address.

TODD: One of the most controversial presidential guests, the late conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who then President Donald Trump had in the box for his 2020 State of the Union Address. Trump not only acknowledged Limbaugh --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Rush Limbaugh, thank you for your decades of tireless devotion to our country.

TODD: But he surprised the teary-eyed broadcast by having First Lady Melania Trump put the Presidential Medal of Freedom around Limbaugh's neck, right then and there, a spectacle that led to some blowback because of Limbaugh's previous, often disparaging characterizations of minorities and the LGBTQ community.

NAFTALI: He took the Reagan-esque human moment and turn into a polarizing moment. Rush Limbaugh was a polarizing figure for Americans.

TODD: It was a doubly emotional moment for Limbaugh because at the time, he had been diagnosed with lung cancer, he died the following year.

At that same address, Trump, ever the showman, surprised Amy Williams and her children by reuniting them on the spot with Amy's husband, Army Sergeant Townsend Williams, who'd returned from Afghanistan.

TRUMP: And we couldn't keep him waiting any longer.

TODD: Then, there are celebrities invited, like rock star Buno, who was President Biden's guest last year, honored for his humanitarian work.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, CO-AUTHOR, WASHINGTON POST'S "EARLY 202": It's a twofer for the president that they get to seem like they know famous people but also they get to highlight an issue that that famous person is associated with and advocates for.

TODD: Now as for the potential pitfalls of having a notable guest in the box, historian Tim Naftali says, when a president and the White House aides are vetting a guest, they do have to make sure they know the full background of that person, that there aren't any surprises attached to that individual because these days, he says, within minutes of the State of the Union Address that persons name is going to be splashed across social media -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, I remember all of those special moments indeed. Thanks very much for that report.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'll see you tomorrow, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for "CNN NEWSROOM". And later in the day, 06:00 p.m. right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT starts right now.