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State of the Union

Interview With Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA); Interview With Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ); Interview With Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA); Interview With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Interview With U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 05, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Down to earth. The U.S. shoots down a suspected Chinese spy balloon monitoring U.S. military sites.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told them to shoot it down.

TAPPER: What specifically was the Chinese government looking for? And how might the incident affect the U.S.-China relationship.

The vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Marco Rubio, joins me ahead.

And making his case. President Biden gears up to address a divided Congress...

BIDEN: The State of the Union and the state of our economy is strong.

TAPPER: ... ahead of an expected 2024 bid. How will he make his pitch?

I will speak to Cabinet Secretary Pete Buttigieg next.

Plus: debt dilemma. Biden and Speaker McCarthy plan another meeting, as Democrats wait for the GOP to put their cards on the table. Are these the members that could come to a deal and avert financial catastrophe? The bipartisan chairman of the House Problem Solvers Caucus will join me in moments.


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is deflated.

The U.S. military is recovering the remnants of a 90-foot-long suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down just off the South Carolina coast on Saturday after an F-22 Raptor's AIM-9X missile popped the balloon after its weeklong mission gathering intelligence over the United States and Canada. Defense Secretary Austin said yesterday that President Biden on

Wednesday ordered that the balloon be taken down as soon as safely possible, and that, to avoid any risk to Americans, the Pentagon waited until the balloon drifted just off U.S. soil to act.

Underlining the embarrassment of this all for President Biden on the eve of the State of the Union address, a senior administration official acknowledged that the U.S. believes the Chinese government was able to maneuver the balloon and was using it to try and monitor sensitive sites across the country.

The Chinese government is responding to the downing of their balloon with -- quote -- "strong dissatisfaction and protest" -- unquote -- accusing the U.S. of overreacting to what they claim was a civilian aircraft that veered off course by accident and warning they reserve the right to -- quote -- "make further unnecessary reaction" -- unquote.

But the Pentagon said a similar spy balloon had been spotted flying over Latin America. This incident prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a long-planned visit to China this weekend, unraveling months of cautious outreach and pushing the two nations closer towards a collision.

And joining me now is the secretary of the Department of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg.

Mr. Secretary, good to see you. Thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it.


TAPPER: So, the -- this suspected Chinese spy alone entered U.S. airspace eight days ago, two Saturdays ago, in Alaska. Once it became clear that this was not an accident, why did the U.S. not shoot it down then?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, the president gave instructions to have it handled, to have it shot down in a way that was safe.

As, you may have seen, there's reporting now that the debris field that was created by this balloon when it was shot down was about seven miles' long. And so any time the military is considering an operation like that, they have to consider the safety of the American people.

The president called for this to be dealt with in a way that balanced all of the different risks. That's exactly what happened. The military did a terrific job. From our perspective in the DOT, of course, our main concern is the safety of the national airspace.

This thing was above where flight operations happen, and so any debris would have passed through that national airspace. Look, the FAA works very closely with the Pentagon, in this case, had to do ground stops on those airports on the Eastern Seaboard, close off some of the airspace to make sure that everything was safe and secure during the operation.

And, as you know, the operation took place without any damage or injury to any American lives or property.

TAPPER: Obviously, that's great that there were no Americans hurt by this.

But is it acceptable that there were eight days that the spy sat -- spy balloon was over the United States, then Canada, then again over the United States, from Idaho, Montana, all the way through the Carolinas for day after day?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, as the U.S. has communicated, it's not acceptable at all that China sent this object into our airspace.

But in terms of how to handle it, that's something that was done based on assessment of the risks, making sure that there was no risks that outweighed the risks in terms of any damage that would come, and it was handled appropriately.

TAPPER: So, you say there was a seven-mile debris field over the Atlantic Ocean where it was shot down.


Can you tell us what, if anything, has been able to be recovered? Obviously, there's a lot of interest in getting the material, getting the debris and being able to conduct intelligence operations of our own, of the United States' own, against the Chinese for this balloon.

BUTTIGIEG: I really can't. And anything on the tactics and the timing and the manner of it ultimately, of course, comes to the Pentagon.

I'm just glad that there was no damage or threat to U.S. aviation operations, and that this operation took place, was done in a very effective, excellent way, as you would expect from the American military, without any consequences for Americans on the ground.

TAPPER: So, obviously, there are a lot of concerns being expressed by senators and governors. The balloon may have flown and gathered intelligence over sensitive parts of the United States' infrastructure.

There's Malmstrom Air Force Base and nuclear ballistic missile fields in Montana, if you look at the map there, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

Is the assumption that the balloon was able to gather sensitive information and transmit it back to the Chinese government?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, the U.S. has stated that steps were taken to prevent any problems in terms of intelligence collection.

Remember, we are talking about a country that has a space program. So, I don't know all the ins and outs of what this balloon was doing or what its capabilities were. I do know that, when the president gave the order to have this handled, the military gauged the different risks and the different benefits of different approaches, made the decisions that they did, brought this thing down without incident.

TAPPER: Right.

But the presumption has got to be that the Chinese were able to gather intelligence hovering over the United States for day after day, especially over some of these sensitive sites.

BUTTIGIEG: I'm sure there's a similar presumption about what spy satellites do. That is well outside of my lane. I'm just glad that nobody was hurt as this thing came down.

TAPPER: When did the Biden administration first learn about this balloon, this spy balloon, entering U.S. airspace?

We're told it first did so, it first entered U.S. airspace over Alaska two Saturdays ago. Is that when the Biden administration learned about it?

BUTTIGIEG: I really can't speak to that.

What I can speak to is the great cooperation we have between the FAA and the Pentagon to make sure that, when you have a special military operation like what it took to bring down this balloon, that it happens without any threat to American luxury property.

TAPPER: Lastly, on this topic, will there be consequences beyond shooting it down? Will the Chinese government be -- sanctions -- or sanctioned or penalized in any way?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, the U.S. has made clear this is an unacceptable intrusion into American sovereignty.

And I think you can expect that any further developments will be in -- appropriate in response to what happened.

TAPPER: So, President Biden is going to be delivering the State of the Union address on Tuesday. He's going to have a new person sitting behind him, the new Republican House speaker, Kevin McCarthy.

Anything President Biden wants to get done over the next two years, other than the executive actions, will have to go through Kevin McCarthy. Should we expect the president to lay out a long list of things that are never going to happen under a House Republican leadership, or is it going to be about ways and places where Republicans and Democrats can work together, areas where there are common interests?

BUTTIGIEG: I'm really looking forward to the State of the Union, because, first of all, there are so many accomplishments to talk about. And many of those accomplishments happened on a bipartisan basis.

You remember, there was a lot of almost snickering when the president took office saying that it would be possible to deliver historic infrastructure legislation, historic economic legislation, and do it on a bipartisan basis. But that's what happened.

And so I think the hand continues to be outstretched to anyone, including anyone across the aisle, who's prepared to work with us to get things done. But let's talk about what we have to show for that even just in the two years that the administration has been here, we just saw the latest round of job numbers that came out, record low unemployment, the lowest we have had in more than 50 years.

And, usually, when unemployment is that low, inflation is going up. Right now, inflation is going down, along with unemployment. We're talking about the most jobs created under any president in this period, matter of fact, the president creating more jobs in two years than you have seen typically in four, and coupled with things that Republicans often say that is very important to them, like deficit reduction, historic reduction of the deficit, to the tune of $1.7 trillion under this president.

You look at what's been done in two years, and I think the president is going to be going into the State of the Union speech with a context of extraordinary, historic accomplishment.

And with that, I think, is a wind at our back, even with a House that is now, of course, in the hands of the opposite party, to say, OK, what else can we get done for the benefit of the American people, first and foremost, to keep this extraordinary economic growth going, and then to deal with other priorities that matter to people, whether they are in red blue or purple areas?


TAPPER: So, just a few days ago, the chief of staff, Ron Klain, left the White House.

And in his farewell remarks, he referred to President Biden running for reelection in 2024. He will be 81 on Election Day in 2024. Republicans such as Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley are already seeming to make a generational argument. Whether that's aimed at Biden or Trump, it doesn't really matter. They're both in advanced years.

You made a similar generational argument when you were running against Joe Biden for president yourself. Are you worried that it could work in 2024?

BUTTIGIEG: Generational arguments can be powerful. As you said, I have used them myself.

The most powerful argument of all is results. And you can't argue -- at least, I would say you can't argue with a straight face that it isn't a good thing that we have had 12 million jobs created under this president. And, by the way, a lot of the jobs are in manufacturing.

As somebody who grew up in the Industrial Midwest, it's been so moving to see hundreds of thousands of good-paying manufacturing jobs being created, including in rural areas, small towns in places like Tennessee and Louisiana, and Georgia and Indiana, the kind of growth that benefits the entire American people.

And I think, when you look at that, when you look at what America was up against when President Biden took office, and what has been delivered, again, just in these first two years of this administration, let alone what's possible as we actually start entering more and more, for example, of the construction phase on the infrastructure law, I think those results are going to continue to accumulate and people will toss whatever argument they can into the mix that they think is going to benefit them the most.

But, at the end of the day, you can't argue with the extraordinary accomplishments, more than almost any other modern president, that President Biden has achieved, again, under the toughest of circumstances.

TAPPER: Speaking of the Industrial Midwest, you recently moved from a Republican-leaning Industrial Midwest state, Indiana, to a Democratic- leaning Industrial Midwest state, Michigan.

Senator Debbie Stabenow announced that she is not going to be running for reelection. You and your husband and two kids have residence in Michigan. Are you going to be seeking that Senate seat?

BUTTIGIEG: No. But I really...

TAPPER: No, you're not, period?

BUTTIGIEG: I'm planning to vote in that election as a resident of Michigan.

But, look, the job that I have is, first of all, I think the best job in the federal government. It can be really tough and demanding, with all of the problems that the transportation system has confronted, but also incredibly rewarding.

And I'm proud to be part of an administration that is doing more on transportation than has happened in my lifetime, and then some. Not since the Eisenhower administration have we had this much going on in terms of fixing roads and bridges in this country. Not since Amtrak was created have we done more to improve rail service in this country.

This job is taking 110 percent of my time. And, obviously, I serve at the pleasure of the president. But as long as he is willing to have me continue doing this work, I'm proud to be part of this team.

TAPPER: All right, Secretary Pete Buttigieg, thanks for being here this morning.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

TAPPER: Republicans were sharply critical of Biden's initial response to the Chinese balloon. Has that changed at all? Senator Marco Rubio is next.

And could they be the key to averting a financial crisis? The Republican and Democrat who head up the House Problem Solvers Caucus, they're coming up.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

Many Republicans reacted with outrage after President Biden waited for the suspected Chinese spy balloon to leave the continental United States before shooting it down, for safety reasons, they said, at the Pentagon's guidance.

Joining us now is the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us.

So you have said the President Biden should have shot the balloon down earlier. The defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, said -- quote -- "After careful analysis, U.S. military commanders had determined to downing the balloon while over land posed an undue risk to people across a wide area due to the size and altitude of the balloon and its surveillance payload."

And, as you heard Secretary Buttigieg just a few minutes ago said that the debris field after the balloon was shot down was about seven miles' long.

Should President Biden have ordered that it be shot down anyway, regardless of that risk?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): No, not regardless of the risk.

First of all, they can track these things. I would hope you can track a slow moving balloon that clearly is headed here, as you can see from its trajectory. I think that's one of the things we will learn this week, is how soon, how late into January did they already know that there's this high-altitude balloon and what its trajectory was and where it was headed, and why didn't they take action at that time?

That's number one. I think the other thing that we need to know about it and understand is, why did it take so long for them to disclose this to the American public? I don't think the trajectory of where this balloon was going was a mystery. I think, pretty early on, they probably -- because of the prevailing winds, because of the direction that it was headed, I think it was pretty clear that this thing was going to enter the Northwest in Montana, in Idaho, move its way down the Midwest and exit the Eastern Seaboard just off the Carolinas.

I mean, that's an unprecedented flight path. And why did it wait until Wednesday to notify -- or Thursday to talk about it the American people, knowing people were going to be seeing this thing?

TAPPER: As the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, do you know, has the U.S. recovered any parts of the Chinese spy balloon? Has the -- and did the monitoring of the balloon during its journey, as far as you know, yield any worthwhile information for the U.S.?

RUBIO: Well, we won't know that until we get to a secure setting this week in Washington. And, probably, most of that is something we won't be able to disclose in any great detail, other than to say this.

And that is that they're going to try to recover this. Apparently, it's in shallow waters. We will see what they recover from it. But I don't think the technology or the existence of these things is a great mystery. I think what's embedded here is a clear message. It's not a coincidence that this happens leading up to the State of the Union address, leading up to Blinken's visit to China.

The Chinese knew that this was going to be spotted. They knew that we were going to have to react to it. They flew it over military installations and sensitive sites across -- right across the middle. I mean, look at the flight path of this thing. It's a diagonal shot right through the middle of the continental United States.


And the message embedded in this to the world is, we can fly a balloon over airspace of the United States of America, and you won't be able to do anything about it to stop us. They calculated this carefully with a message embedded in it. And I think that's the part we can't forget here. It's not just the balloon.It's the message to try to send the world that America -- we can do whatever we want, and America can't stop us.

TAPPER: What information do you think the spy balloon might have gleaned as it traveled?

I know, it's over -- the fear is that it was over some U.S. military installations. I'm also wondering if infrastructure was probably part of the surveillance task at hand.

RUBIO: Well, again, it would be speculation, other than to tell you that those things usually at that altitude, and what they're doing is probably trying to collect on signals, on electronic information that's transiting that they can pick up on.

There are various other means that they can do that as well. And that's why I go back to the whole point of the message. There are probably other ways that China could acquire whatever they acquired using this balloon. I may be wrong. There may be some unique attributes to it that I'm -- that I'm not aware of yet, but we will learn more about this week.

But I think, more than anything else, beyond just the ability to collect information, it is the ability to send a clear message, and that is that we have the ability to do this, and America can't do anything about it. If they're not going to be able to stop a balloon from flying over U.S. airspace, how is America going to come to your aid if we invade Taiwan or take land from India or take islands from the Philippines and Japan? And I think the fact that they would do that leading up to State of

the Union, leading up to what was then Blinken's scheduled visit, none of that is a coincidence. So, we need to understand clearly there was messaging behind this.

TAPPER: But you -- so you think that -- first of all, I guess there are two parts to a question I have following up on that.

One is, the Pentagon says that they know of the Chinese doing this at least four other times, previously once at the beginning of the Biden administration, three times during the Trump administration. It seems to be you're saying -- oh, you're saying, no, that's not true?

But, in any case, is the -- what's the difference?

RUBIO: No. No, what I'm saying -- OK.

Well, the difference is this. Are we aware, have we seen the Chinese fly these balloons in the past? Yes. I think there's even been Twitter pictures of it flying at one point off the coast of the U.S. down south somewhere. The existence of the balloons is not a mystery to people in that field.

What we have never seen, what is unprecedented, and whoever the source was at the Department of Defense would have to acknowledge this, what is unprecedented is a balloon flight that entered over Idaho and flew over Montana, over all these sensitive military installations, air force bases, ICBM fields, right across the middle of the country.

That has never happened before. That is unprecedented. That it flew briefly over some part of the U.S. or continental U.S., that's one thing. But what we saw this week, it's unprecedented. And that's why everyone's reacting the way they're reacting. We have never seen this.

So, this is no comparison to anything that may have happened up to this point.

TAPPER: Your colleague and friend Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina accused President Biden of -- quote -- "dereliction of duty" by allowing the Chinese spy balloon to fly across the U.S.

That's a pretty strong accusation. Do you agree with it?

RUBIO: Well, I think the dereliction of duty begins with this.

Why not, on Tuesday or Wednesday -- you know people are going to see this. At some point, you're going to have to disclose it. And they probably didn't want to, because they didn't want to have their hand forced on canceling this Blinken visit. And so they didn't -- so they didn't want to have to talk about it.

But why didn't the president go on television? He has the ability to convene the country in cameras, and basically explain what we're dealing with here and why he's made the decisions he's making and what they intend to do. I don't understand, once they went public with it, knowing the amount of interest this was going to generate, presidents have the ability to go before camera, go before the nation and basically explain these things early on.

And his failure to do so is -- I don't understand that. I don't understand why he wouldn't do that. And that is the beginning of dereliction of duty. And the second is, we have to act swiftly on these things. I think that's part of the -- one of the things the Chinese are trying to message.

And that is, the U.S. had to see this coming and decided they couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it early on, and now had to wait until this thing went across the middle of the country. And what are we going to do the next time this happens? Are we going to allow it to fly through here again, and shoot it down once it gets to the East Coast?

I mean, these are questions the White House needs to answer. And I don't think these are partisan claims I'm making. I think there would be a broad agreement that we need to know moving forward what our policy is going to be with regards to this.

TAPPER: So, as you noted, Secretary Blinken did cancel his trip to China after it was disclosed that this balloon was flying over the U.S.

What additional consequences should there be for the Chinese government now?

RUBIO: Well, I think the first consequence has to be -- we have to decide, what are we going to do the next time one of these things heads this way? Because I don't think it'll be the last time. I think you will see it again.

Beyond consequences, I'm not sure there should be a direct individual consequence. I think the broader relationship between the U.S. and China to anyone who has any doubts about it, now the bottom line is here. And that is, we are now -- China has been for some time and will be the primary strategic adversary of the United States.


And we should be focused on it, because what they're trying to do is create a world in which they are the most powerful nation, and the United States is a great power in decline. That is -- that is what they believe to be the case. That is what they are working on.

And we have to determine whether we're going to allow the world to head in that direction or not. And then there's all sorts of things we need to do, from how we're postured militarily in the Indo-Pacific, all the way to what kind of companies do we allow to operate in the United States and spy on us, because we have invited them in?

Because they're in our infrastructure, in our telecommunications infrastructure, because they're buying land, because they're buying farmland, because -- because they're wiping out key industrial capabilities of this country. There's all kinds of things that need to be discussed when it comes to China, because this is the issue of the 21st century. TAPPER: The Chinese government says, now that the U.S. has shut down that balloon, they reserve the right to use whatever means they want to deal with any similar situation.

There's even talk in "The Global Times," which is basically a Chinese mouthpiece, that shooting down what they say is a civilian balloon sets a dangerous precedent and they might shoot down U.S. civilian apparatuses.

What do you make of that? Are you -- are you fearful at all of this escalating?

RUBIO: Listen, if we were to fly anything over China, they're going to shoot it down. They're going to shoot it down, and they're going to hold up -- and they're going to take pictures of it, and they're going to go bonkers about it.

So I don't know what statement they're making. You can't -- you can't fly anything over China now anyway. I mean, if we were to do that, if we were to fly a balloon over China -- if the Goodyear Blimp flew over China, they'd shoot it down. So, it's a -- it's a -- it's what they do over there. It's silly talk.

Bottom line is, I think that's -- that's what -- that's what we should expect anyways.

TAPPER: All right, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, thank you so much for joining us today.

Really appreciate it, sir.

RUBIO: Thank you.

TAPPER: Their whole mission is to solve problems in a bipartisan way. Can they make it work in a very divided Washington?

That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy both had positive things to say after an initial meeting on the debt ceiling.

But they are not negotiating yet, while the White House pushes Republicans to go on the record about what exactly they want to cut in terms of spending.

On Capitol Hill, many believe my next two guests could be key to striking any deal having to do with the debt ceiling.

Joining us now, Democrat Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania. They are the heads of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

Thanks to both of you for being here.

Congressman Gottheimer, let me start with you, because you have said both sides need to have constructive conversations about America's long-term fiscal health.

Well, what does that mean exactly? Are you saying that Democrats should, need to accept some spending cuts in order to avoid a default? And, if so, what cuts are you willing to support?

REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): I mean, I think it's irresponsible not to have the conversation, just like it's irresponsible to default on our responsibilities as a country and put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk, which is exactly why Brian and I and the Problem Solvers Caucus are working on this.

We understand that we have to have a conversation about the long-term economic and fiscal health of the country and make sure we raise the debt ceiling. So, obviously, we're not going to have the debate and negotiation here.

But I will tell you, Jake, we're hard at work on it. We have got a task force on it. And we believe we have got to actually take action, because putting people's 401(k)s and the full faith and credit of the United States and our standing of the world at risk is unacceptable.

TAPPER: Congressman Fitzpatrick, a major hurdle in this debate is that Republicans in the House cannot even seem to agree among yourselves on what you want.

What specific spending cuts would you like to see as part of any debt ceiling deal?

REP. BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-PA): Thanks for having us, Jake.

What I would like to do -- and this is my proposal. We will see where we ultimately land with our bipartisan group that Josh referenced. I would like to go right at the 1917 debt ceiling law itself that established the debt ceiling.

Rather than have a numerical dollar amount, which doesn't make any sense -- we just end up raising it every other year -- is convert it to something like a debt-to-GDP ratio, a number that could be agreed to, have a cure period thereafter. And if that cure does not occur, certain guardrails go up on discretionary spending.

We have two problems right now, Jake. We have a risk of default. We cannot allow our country to default under any circumstances. We also have a debt-to-GDP ratio that exceeds 100 percent. That's occurred two times in our nation's history, World War II and now.

And that threatens the valuation of our currency and risks our competitiveness with China, and we see how big of a threat that is. So, that's the solution that I would like to advance. As Josh mentioned, we have a group that's working day and night on this right now.

It reminds me a lot, Josh -- I'm sorry -- Jake, of the infrastructure negotiations. We worked in the background. We let the White House work with our Senate counterparts. It ended up not working out. Our solution ended up what the -- what was signed into law.

So we're doing that same work in the background now.

TAPPER: And, Congressman Gottheimer, President Biden and Speaker McCarthy met at the White House for more than an hour over the last week. They agreed to keep talking.

If their negotiations fall through, is that what you are doing, working on a Plan B that actually will become law, as Congressman Fitzpatrick just suggested?

GOTTHEIMER: I mean, our hope, of course, is that leadership and the White House are able to work something out.

Obviously, you saw Social Security and Medicare taken off the table this week. There's progress, and there's hopefully progress in all discussions going forward, but we have to keep -- keep working, because the worst thing that could happen is we get to a point this summer where, suddenly, we can't raise the debt ceiling and the full faith and credit of the United States is at risk and we don't pay our debts.


That's unacceptable. You can't not pay your bills. So, that's why Brian and I and the Problem Solvers Caucus are at work at that, hopefully coming up with a solution that's a backup plan or one that the White House turns around and leadership turns around says, yes, that's a good idea, let's go with that one.

But, as Brian said, that's exactly what happened in the infrastructure package. We worked last Congress, with just a four-seat majority, to get so much done, whether we're talking about everything from gun safety, to building ships in the United States, to helping our veterans, and supporting law enforcement, all of that done in a bipartisan way.

We believe we should keep talking and make sure we try to make progress here.

TAPPER: And, Congressman Fitzpatrick, the point that Congressman Gottheimer just made is a cogent one, because the margin is so tight in the House.

Speaker McCarthy can only afford to lose four Republicans on any one vote. We have seen the Freedom Caucus and the MAGA caucus and others forcing McCarthy's hands on any number of issues, taking advantage of that.

There are more than a dozen Republicans in the Problem Solvers Caucus. Is your group willing to take a lesson from the Freedom Caucus, flex your muscles, play hardball, band together, withhold your votes, in order to get what you want?

FITZPATRICK: Yes, we're going to do whatever is in the best interest of our country, Jake.

If you look at what happened with infrastructure, it was the Squad that had defected on that vote. Myself and 12 of my colleagues, Republican colleagues, ended up putting that bill over the finish line. Those weren't just extra padding votes. They were outcome- determinative votes.

Of course, we're prepared to do it. It's this precise structure of government, Jake, that our Problem Solvers Caucus lives for. This is the reason we exist for tight margins and divided chambers to make sure that, instead of gridlock, we actually come to the center and build consensus solutions, two-party solutions. That's what we believe in.

TAPPER: So, you're willing to break with Republican leadership, if need be, and work with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, for example, if it's the only option to prevent the default?

FITZPATRICK: Well, we can't have a clean debt ceiling increase, Jake.

We're going to let the speaker and the president -- and, by the way, they had a great meeting, from all measures. Both were very complimentary, not just right after the meeting, but, the next day, I was at an event with both of them.

So, we're going to let them do their work. We don't want to undermine anybody. But what Josh and our group do together is, we don't negotiate in public. We work everything out. We have a failsafe option in the backdrop that will be ready to go to make sure that we get this job done.

TAPPER: And, Congressman Gottheimer, President Biden's State of the Union address this week is likely going to double as a reelection pitch.

He will be 86 years old by the end of his second term, should he get one. Do you have any reservations about Biden being the Democratic Party's nominee in 2024?


And I think, this week, what you're going to see -- and I'm looking forward to it. I, in my old life, was a speechwriter, so I'm anxious for all those speechwriters right now. But what's really important is laying out agenda for our country and for these -- for the next year. And, as Brian said, fixing the debt ceiling is a key part of this, but also working together and showing that we can come together, even in a narrowly divided government like we're facing now.

We showed how much we can get done. We have a lot to get done, from opioids to mental health issues to immigration, to more affordability for the country. So, I'm hopeful what we see -- and Brian and I will be sitting together -- what we see is a strong speech for the country. Country first here.

TAPPER: And, Congressman Fitzpatrick, I know you're a fan of the superior football team the Philadelphia Eagles when it comes to the Super Bowl.


TAPPER: Was there any difficulty working with a Giants fan, Congressman Gottheimer, during that period where the Eagles so ignominiously stomped the Giants? Did that create any tension?

FITZPATRICK: Jake, it was a fun game to watch, wasn't it?

But Josh was a good sport, as he -- as he is about a lot of things that I one-up him on. This was no different.

So, Josh, we still love you, buddy.


TAPPER: All right, thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

And, go, birds. I think I speak for all three of us when I say, go, birds.


GOTTHEIMER: Thanks, Fitz.

TAPPER: The president might be calling for a rewrite on the China section of the State of the Union address.

We will get into it with my panel. That's next.



TAPPER: Welcome back the State of the Union.

I'm here joined by my august panel.

And, Congresswoman Jayapal, Let me start with you.

What is your reaction to this Chinese spy balloon scandal, controversy, whatever you want to call it? And do you agree with your colleague Congressman Adam Smith that President Biden ultimately handled it all correctly?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Jake, it's great to see you.

And, yes, I do agree with Representative Smith. I mean, I think that thing here was, the president prioritized the safety of the American people. That was his number one priority. It should have been.

But, also, the way in which the balloon was taken down allows us to retrieve the parts of the balloons to see what was actually in there. And I think that's also a really good thing. So, I think he handled it well. This is not the first time this has happened. It happened three times under Donald Trump. Nobody ever talked about it.

In fact, I saw that Defense Secretary -- former Defense Secretary Mike Espy said he didn't even know about it, he doesn't remember it.

TAPPER: Esper.

JAYAPAL: Esper -- excuse me -- said that he didn't even know about it, didn't remember it.

So I think this is -- the president handled it the right way.

TAPPER: I think you're thinking of Congressman Espy.



TAPPER: You have got the House on the brain.


JAYAPAL: I have got House on my brain.

TAPPER: You heard the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Marco Rubio, earlier in the show, basically saying he -- he has a lot of questions.

And one of them is, why did it take so long for President Biden to disclose this to the American people?

JONAH GOLDBERG, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE DISPATCH: Yes, I mean, look, I think we got to separate some things out.

First of all, I know we're stuck calling it a balloon. It's a drone. It's a spy drone, right? It just has a different motion, mode of transport. And, second, the military significance, intelligence significance of this really wasn't that big.

But the diplomatic and political significance of it was. And I think it's perfectly fair to ask these kinds questions. I mean, this thing -- I have been to Alaska many times. It flew over the heart of Alaska. There's a lot of unpopulated places you could have shot it down then.


And this is, like, what always happens when you catch a spy. Everyone knows that we spy on China and trying to spies on us. But when you catch them, it's embarrassing. It's a diplomatic and political thing that you have to deal with. And I think there's just a lot of unanswered questions still.

TAPPER: Do you think this overshadows President Biden and his State of the Union? KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, not at all, particularly

given that they have shot it down.

And, actually, if anything, just sort of watching the conspiracy theory mania crank itself up on the right wing, I was reminded, this is why we voted for Joe Biden, because imagine if this had happened under Donald Trump. It would be more hysteria.

And it is -- he was a grownup. He did -- he made a decision about what was right for the American people to keep people safe, the ability to capture what was left and to try to learn what we can from it.

TAPPER: You're shaking your head.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, look, I think it's a political -- I agree. On the military significance, intelligence significance, probably nil, on the political, geopolitical stage, a little bit embarrassing.

We had a three-story giant middle finger floating across America, courtesy of the Chinese government, right? And I think that's what really, really what's -- Americans take umbrage at, right, the notion that the Chinese can come -- come here to say, kind of F.U. We're going to do this, and you can do nothing, right?

And I think if the president would have come out early on and had a press conference, like Senator Rubio had said, and said, listen, here's what we know, we have shut off, we have jammed this, they're not collecting anything, we're going to shoot this down when it's safe, done a much better job messaging it, on the messaging part, I think America would have been much better off.

I think they blew it on that.

TAPPER: So I don't know if President Biden is going to bring this up in the State of the Union. Probably not, if I had to take a guess.

But one thing I'm sure he will bring up is the latest jobs numbers. Take a listen to the president on Friday talking about the latest from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


BIDEN: Next week, I will be reporting on the state of the union.

But, today, today, I'm happy to report that the state of the union and the state of our economy is strong. We learned this morning that the economy has created 517,000 jobs just last month.


TAPPER: I'm sure he prefers Brian Deese standing behind him than Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday night.


TAPPER: Do you think that President Biden is in a strong place? Or are there enough questions about his leadership that he's not?

JAYAPAL: I think he is in a really strong place.

And, look, I think, at the State of the Union, he should be a relentless salesman for what we have achieved over the last two years, the economy adding 517,000 jobs and bringing unemployment down to the lowest level since 1969, almost 11 million new jobs added under this president, plus everything that we are going to continue to deliver.

I mean, this is a president that actually delivered on infrastructure, right? We're building roads and bridges and taking lead out of water pipes across the country. We are reducing the cost of prescription drugs. We have seen already the capping of insulin at $35, of the hope that that gives people across the country, investing in clean energy.

And that's going to continue, by the way, through this year. Americans are going to start being able to claim those tax credits for their electric vehicles, for their appliances in their homes. So all of that is positive. And I think he should continue to focus on that, as well as laying out the vision for 2024.

TAPPER: Although, I mean, the president for -- for -- regardless of everything that the congresswoman just said, he's still underwater with his approval rating.

And there's a new "Washington Post"/ABC News poll out today saying that there's very little enthusiasm for a rematch of Trump vs. Biden. But, even so, Trump leads in the head-the-head.


So, first of all, I want to correct something about him not bringing up the balloon. I think he's going to come into the chamber in a balloon...


GOLDBERG: ... sort of Wizard of Oz style. It's going to be awesome.


GOLDBERG: But, no, look, I mean, the -- all -- all the buzz is that this is basically going to be the kickoff of his reelection campaign.

And I think he's got a real challenge. On the one hand, he got elected promising normalcy, unity, bipartisanship, all those kinds of themes. On the other hand, he often can't help himself from going hard at ultra MAGA super Republicans and all that kind of stuff.

And that's a balance he's going to have to strike in the State of the Union address. But, look, these job numbers are fantastic for him politically. I don't think there's any getting around that. And a State of the Union address always benefits a president.

FINNEY: You know, he always though, does a great job of, I think, when he talks about ultra-MAGA, that is the fracture in the Republican Party.

There are many in the Republican Party who actually agree. And so that tactic is more about moderate Republicans and independents. And I want to -- what the congresswoman said is so important, because there's internal polling that also shows -- and this is -- I'm just leading ahead to why this is important for 2024.

Republicans tend to do better on who you trust on the economy. One of the things we're seeing is that, the more people learn and understand these economic numbers, they trust Democrats more. They trust Joe Biden more. So it is -- absolutely, he should tout that economic record and continue to do so, because it does matter.


I think we're also going to hear him talk a little bit about some of the caring economy. We know, after COVID, that we need childcare, we need eldercare, disability care, our -- that infrastructure is not where it should be.

And I hope he talks about public safety in a way that brings us all into everybody in this country deserves to feel...


URBAN: She's already got the talking points for Tuesday. So that's great.


FINNEY: That was...


FINNEY: I wrote it myself.

TAPPER: The Arkansas governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, will be giving the Republican response.

What do you think she should say?

URBAN: Look, Sarah is a good friend. She's going to do a great job. She's a great -- she's -- she's great messenger.

I think she's going to talk about the things that aren't going so great in America, right? We have got a crisis at the border. Fentanyl continues to stream across the border. Americans don't feel so great about inflation. And right track/wrong track continues to be -- as you point out, the president's underwater, right track/wrong track still in the wrong direction.

So, if all these numbers are so great, why don't Americans feel great? And that's the issue. Why don't they feel better about their lives?


FINNEY: Well, for one, women would like their reproductive freedom back.


URBAN: OK. Good talking point. Stick to your talking points.


JAYAPAL: The fentanyl crisis has nothing to do with immigrants.

URBAN: No, it does.

JAYAPAL: I mean, 96 percent of fentanyl is seized at ports of entry.


JAYAPAL: And over 90 percent is brought in by U.S. citizens.

URBAN: But there is a crisis, correct? But there is a crisis, correct, Congress -- but there is a crisis, correct, Congresswoman?

JAYAPAL: So, it has nothing to with...


JAYAPAL: What we need to do is reform the immigration system.

I say this as the new ranking of Immigration Subcommittee.

URBAN: OK. Is there a crisis? But there is a crisis or not, is the question.


TAPPER: I will say, there is a crisis.

URBAN: OK, great.

TAPPER: So, that's the response. That's the end of that.


TAPPER: Coming up next, more on the State of the Union.

We will be right back.



TAPPER: President Biden is at Camp David this weekend working on his State of the Union address.

And you can watch that address right here on CNN Tuesday evening. Our special coverage begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

I will see you tomorrow on "THE LEAD." "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts next.