Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
State of the Union Reaction; Tucson Shooting Victims Remembered
Aired January 25, 2011 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And Wolf thanks very much.
Good evening, everyone. Welcome to this special hour-long edition of "360".
Our coverage of the President's State of the Union; you've been telling us what you think of the President's speech, flash polling it's called, instant polls.
Right now the early grades are in. We're going to have them for you in just a moment. People telling us whether President Obama's efforts tonight made them feel better or worse about the country's direction and whether he's got the answers they seek.
We're also going to show you how people reacted to the President in real-time tonight, phrase by phrase, moment by moment. It's always fascinating. Dial testing it's called, registering their approval and disapproval. We'll have that coming up in this hour.
Tonight, the President called on lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to help him rebuild the country, retool technology and reboot education. He promised to do that while tackling the deficit, reforming the tax code and winding down two wars.
He painted in broad stroke -- strokes but as John King mentioned, it was a very political speech, positioning himself in the center of contentious debates by -- between the left and the right. Mr. Obama appeared tonight in a House chamber rocked by an assault on one of its members, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
We're going to have a late update tonight on her condition as well as the complete breakdown of the speech and the Republican responses. Both responses, there were two, one of the -- the official Republican response, one was on behalf of the Tea Party Express. Now, in case you missed the speeches, we're going to be playing you key moments throughout this hour.
But first let's give you the flash polling, instant polls and our own Joe Johns who is covering it all.
Joe what are people saying?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this appears pretty much to be as expected. What we did was we polled 5 -- 475 Americans. The vast majority of them, of course, were Democrats, because as you know, or might be able to figure out when a Democratic President gives a speech to the country, particularly a State of the Union speech, more Democrats tend to watch that speech than Republicans.
And here are the results. The first question, and perhaps the -- the most important question related to positive or negative reactions to the speech after the President finished speaking. There you see it right there.
The numbers we have from these 475 Americans who watched the speech: 52 percent came away with very positive opinions of the speech; 32 percent came away with very somewhat positive opinions of the speech; and 15 percent came away with negative reactions.
Graphic number two, we asked a question about opinions of President Obama's policies, before and after the speech. Before the speech, the respondents basically said they were in favor and thought positively about the President's policies, 61 percent to 37 percent. After the speech it went up, fairly dramatically 77 percent to 18 percent.
And now the third graphic. President Obama's speech made you more optimistic or less optimistic. There you go, fairly dramatic there; 77 percent said more optimistic; 19 percent said more pessimistic.
So in a nutshell, that's what we know from our flash polling. This of course is polling of more Democrats than Republicans who watched the President's speech this evening. A fairly positive reaction there, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, we're also are going to have the dial testing which is always fascinating. People watching the President's speech in real time, reacting phrase by phrase. We're going to play that for you a little bit later on. Tom Foreman has that.
As I said, we're on throughout this hour bringing you reaction to President Obama's message and also taking a close look at what was in the speech and the Republican's response.
Do the numbers add up? Do the claims fit the facts; we're "Keeping Them Honest". To help you judge in case you missed the speech here's a -- a big chunk of the President's address. Here are some of the highlights.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At stake right now is not who wins the next election. After all, we just had an election. At stake is whether new jobs and industries take root in this country or somewhere else, whether the hard work and industry of our people is rewarded. It's whether we sustain the leadership that has made America not just a place on a map but the light to the world.
And we are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again. But we have never measured progress by these yardsticks alone. We measure progress by the success of our people. By the jobs they can find and the quality of life those jobs offer, by the prospects of a small business owner who dreams of turning a good idea into a thriving enterprise.
By the opportunities for a better life that we pass on to our children. That's the project the American people want us to work on. Together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was President Obama.
Tonight, a lot to talk about. We're going to be talking as well about the two GOP responses, the official one from Congressman Paul Ryan and the Tea Party version from Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.
Let's get started with the -- the longest intro on television: Eric Erickson, editor-in-chief for RedState.com is here; Democratic strategist and former Obama pollster, Cornell Belcher; Candy Crowley, host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION"; former George Bush press secretary, Ari Fleischer; political analysts, David Gergen and Gloria Borger who is down in Washington; and Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, as well.
David, this was the President's first State of the Union address since the so-called shellacking in the midterms. How do you think he did?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Ironically, the -- the shellacking may have really helped him in this, his presidency. I think he's pivoted off where he was. I think he was a bit -- he gave a very different speech tonight than what he gave last year.
Last year was all about what the government is going to do for you. This year it's government's going to be your help mate but we've got to rely on progress --
COOPER: So was he reading old speeches from President Clinton? After President Clinton --
GERGEN: Well, I just -- I just think he's taking a new tack and I -- I applaud him because I think it's the right one. That we haven't seriously dealt with the competitiveness question in this country and getting our kids better educated. I thought Arne Duncan was -- he turned out to be like the most significant person in the room as the education secretary. When can you remember that?
I thought the failure of the speech came on the deficits.
COOPER: Not enough about it?
GERGEN: It -- it wasn't serious. It wasn't serious -- it wasn't a serious effort to come to grips with what is a towering problem. And you know, he's holding back. I -- I don't know why. I was -- I thought it was very cautious. He'd made some suggestions, implied things, but you can't say you can't feel (ph) really good about where -- where -- the fact we're going to solve these deficit problems after tonight.
COOPER: It does stand Ari -- in stark contrast to the Republican response -- for both Republican responses were -- deficits were front and center.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, yes I think when it comes to Republicanism it has found its message, it found its voice and that is we're being crushed by a deficit and crushed by a debt. And if you add up Paul Ryan's speech and Congresswoman Bachmann's speech, you know why Republican won 63 votes in the last election, 63 seats.
You put those two Republican messages together it's a very powerful movement in this country and a powerful fiscal movement to conservatism.
COOPER: Paul Begala in Washington, you had been talking about the importance of the President is talking about jobs. It was among the first things he talked about.
I just want to play another segment from the speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Paul, we haven't heard from you tonight. Did the President do in terms of -- of talking about deficit or talking about jobs what you wanted him to?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes on both counts. First off I -- I was on your show last night, I said, I was hoping to have a beer every time he used the word jobs. He used it 30 times, Anderson, so I'm hammered.
And by the way, he only -- I'm just kidding. He only used that five syllable monstrosity "competitiveness" once. Actually just "competitive" he dropped the "ness".
So he -- he was plain spoken, particular for Barack Obama, who in the past has been a little airy-fairy and professorial for me. He was very plain spoken and very specific.
In that little sound bite we just played, he was more specific about the deficit than Congresswoman Bachmann and Congressman Ryan combined.
He was placed -- David Gergen has been around and he knows the deficit deal will have to be done and cut and you can't make your opening move your final bid. I thought he did plenty enough on the deficit.
But he showed some specificity in his program. That's what people want. And it -- it was a bit of a laundry list, which I like. You know, when -- when you're feeling kind of naked, clean laundry is a good thing.
COOPER: Cornell, we haven't heard from you tonight. What did you make of it?
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I -- I think it's important to understand sort of -- I think if you look at the -- the long arc of -- of Barack Obama's narrative, he comes back to the central pillar time and time again, and that is we don't solve big problems in this country unless we bring people together.
He went to it in the Democratic convention in -- in 2004, no blue state, no red state. He did it in Iowa. In Jackson, Jefferson dinner, you know we've got to bring the new majority to come -- to come together and stop talk -- stop talking about his problems and solve them.
His central arc of his narrative has continually been bringing Americans together, bringing Americans together to solve a problem. I think he did that tonight. And -- and the other push back I will give a little bit on this, is that it's -- it's about the vision. I mean, I think he set out what his vision is. That he -- he set out tonight, he said, you know, this is the problem, and this is how we solve for the problem.
Now, I think the -- the deficit and all those budget fights, we know those are uncommon couple -- a couple of -- a couple months down when he -- when he lays it out. And I think he did a really good job of laying out the vision tonight and saying this is the challenge. The challenge is for us to win the future.
And then he laid out sort of how we win the future: Innovation, education, rebuild, and debt. I think he laid out a vision that most Americans can follow.
COOPER: Candy Crowley, in terms of this as a political speech, which all of the State of the Union speeches are political speeches. What does it show President Obama trying to do for the next two years?
CANDY CROWLEY, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it show what we saw him to do in some of the appointments he's made. And that is that he's, you know, this -- this is the centrist line, this was the reaching out to Republicans.
But -- but I -- but I have to tell you that, that yes, you know, the President certainly as a candidate talked about bringing Republicans and Democrats together. Republicans have talked about working with the President. You know what's going to make them work together? They're all going to get fired in two years if they don't do something. And they know that.
So they have a commonality of purpose here. So for all the you know great rhetoric that we hear and who's going to work with whom, they have to produce something for this country or somebody is going to lose big in two years.
So I -- I think that's what forces these people together rather than, you know, the rhetoric. Or you know any sort of intent, it's the fact of the matter is, they have to.
COOPER: Gloria Borger, he did seem to be trying to put himself in the center of -- between debates --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
COOPER: -- between the left and right. To say pointing out to Republicans they have some good ideas and we can adopt some of their ideas.
BORGER: Sure. Yes, he did.
I mean, it -- it -- in a way, it was sort of like what Bill Clinton did, which was to try and elevate himself in the view of the public above the partisan games. And I think that's what we heard from him tonight. We heard that vision that, you know what? I understand that maybe some of you want to repeal health care reform, but let's move on. It's not a perfect bill, let's fix it.
And he, you know, so -- so he was a President who was reaching out to Republicans saying I get what you're saying, I understand it, but I'm playing the long game here.
I care about the future of this country as do you. So we have to figure out a way to do this together, and I think it's something the -- the public will respond to.
On the Republican side, though, I think they could use a little bit more of that vision. We know they want to cut the deficit. We know they want to cut the budget. But what's that for? Where is the larger vision? And I think that's still the challenge for the Republican Party and maybe a Republican Presidential candidate would do that in the not too distant future.
COOPER: Erick Erickson, on your blog tomorrow what's the headline going to be?
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, what I said earlier tonight, that this is a President who believes in these big private public partnerships to get things done. And -- and that ultimately comes back to the open -- the open that's a conundrum (ph) here for Republicans.
He said there's the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our destiny is what makes this country great. That -- that's a fall back to Lincoln's line in 1856 on the campaign trail for John Freemont. That this country unlike any other every man can make themselves and that's the great divide here.
Republicans believe we have to get government out of the way for people to be able to make themselves. And the Democrats believe we have to have a government safety net strengthen for people to be able to make themselves. And you -- you're going to have this clash with -- with these policy differences.
For him to then go into Sputnik and his version of Sputnik is to make solar-paneled cells for house roofs, that kind of fell flat on me.
FLEISCHER: And -- and here's my beef with the speech tonight. He's not a new President anymore, this is his third State of the Union and it's time to judge him on results. And the fact is his policies are not working.
We heard a lot of the same policies in the speech that we did in the first two State of the Unions. He stressed the need for jobs, on the two prior State of the Unions this one, as well. He talked about high speed; he talked about what he calls investments, which of course is more spending.
But here's what he said in the 2009 State of the Union. He pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term in office. He's not even close. And he won't even get that done. He won't even come anywhere close to that. That's the problem of what's happening with President Obama's administration. Too much spending, too much debt and it's not working to get the economy going.
BELCHER: I -- I got to jump in here. Because the electorate for Republicans about deficits I think is -- is a little bit much. I mean, the truth of the matter is, that the economy is growing again, and it is moving in the right direction. All the economic indicators are beginning to move in the right direction.
Are we creating jobs at a high -- at a rate high enough? No, we're not. Are we creating jobs more than now than we -- than we saw -- at the beginning of his -- of his presidency? Yes we are.
I think when you look at the Americans growing more optimistic. The first time we're seeing the optimism numbers in the polling move up. And right now, we have a President with a 55 percent job approval at nine percent unemployment, which quite frankly is fairly remarkable. I think he's -- he is -- you know our policy -- his policies are working and I think American are feeling it.
COOPER: We've got -- we've got to take a quick break.
Everybody stick around. We're going to be talking to the panel throughout this hour.
Let us know what you think. Join the live chat right now at AC360.com. You can talk to viewers watching around the world.
Reaction from Republicans: not one, but two reactions tonight. We'll have that.
And later, tracking reaction to the President in real-time with our exclusive dial testing. What messages worked, which ones fell flat? Find out when our special coverage continues. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Last November, you went to the polls and you voted out the big spending politicians and you put in their place great men and women with a commitment to follow our Constitution and cut the size of government
I believe that we're in the very early days of a history-making turn in America. Please know how important your calls, visits and letters are to the maintenance of our liberties. Because of you, Congress is responding, and we're just beginning to start to undo the damage that's been done the last few years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That was Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota responding to the President's State of the Union address on behalf of the Tea Party. Her words carried on CNN and on the Tea Party Express's Web site. Her decision to speak tonight causing a stir within the Republican Party, which had an official response delivered by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-W), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE: We're at a moment, where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.
Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness and wise consumer choices has never worked and it won't work now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Back with our panel.
Paul Begala in Washington, what did you think of Michele Bachmann? I mean besides the fact that she may needed a teleprompter because she was looking off and was sort of disconcerting.
BEGALA: Yes, I was hoping for crazy, Anderson, but I didn't get it. I got corny which is fine, it was charming, it was -- but there was nothing there. There is no data there, nor by the way was there anything there from Paul Ryan, who -- who by all accounts a terribly bright man, but you couldn't have told from that speech.
Specificity is what I think people want. Ok, blah, blah, cut spending, blah, blah. Tell me where? Well, Mr. Ryan has told us he just didn't do it in his speech which I found intellectually dishonest. Here is what he wants to do. Privatize social security and put Wall Street in charge of it. He wants to -- kill Medicare as we know it today, make it a voucher program that insurance companies would be in charge of, which by the way would cut Medicare by 76 percent. Then he wants to raise taxes on everybody in America who makes between $20,000 and $200,000 but then almost eliminate taxes -- or completely eliminate them for corporations and almost eliminate them entirely for the wealthy.
Wow, that's specific and that's very courageous. But it is not I think in the main stream of America. But maybe that's why he didn't put that out in his speech today. But it's in his -- his budget plan that he's released publicly. I don't know why he didn't talk about it tonight.
COOPER: Erick Erickson, what did you think about the fact there were, in essence, two Republican responses.
ERICKSON: Well, you know, I -- I've been sitting here and chuckling during the -- during Michele Bachmann's response. And first of all, apparently the reason she was looking off camera is she was looking into the camera for the Tea Party Express and not into the other media cameras. So she's looking on camera for them, which probably strategically shouldn't -- it didn't work well.
But you know, there -- there was this big narrative from even Republicans but a lot of the media that this was going to be some sort of diametrically opposed speech to Paul Ryan that it was going to be a conflict and highlight conflict within the Republican Party.
I think their speeches played very well together. And -- and you may argue that Paul Ryan didn't have any substance but Michele Bachmann, in -- in her speech, here are a few suggestions for fixing the economy. Stop the EPA from imposing cap and trade. Support a balanced budget and agree to an energy policy that increases energy production and reduces dependence on foreign oil, turn back the 132 regulations put in place in the last two years.
There was some substance. You may not like the substance, but it was certainly there.
BELCHER: No, I don't think we did like the substance. But what I think is interesting if I flip this and I try to think, ok, if -- if I got a Democratic rising star, and -- and Ryan is a rising star in the Republican establishment, the last thing I want is for him to be overshadowed by a competing Republican, especially one who is a -- is a crazy quote, waiting, waiting to happen.
I think looks divisive. I think it looks like the speaker that -- that doesn't even have his own caucus under control.
You know, I -- I think this would be nightmarish if this happened to the Democrats. And I've got to think the Republican don't like this because it does look divide. Why -- why do we have to have two speeches and why one overshadowing someone who was, whether you like it or not, is a rising star in the Republican Party. ERICKSON: Judging about my e-mail I think the Republicans are very happy now.
FLEISCHER: August -- August of 2039 -- of 2009, when the Tea Party Movement is the one to led the effort against the Obama health care. The Democrats have underestimated the power of the Tea Party among independent voters, moderate voters and the American people.
And I love it when they keep doing it as they're doing it tonight, they turn up their nose and they speak with disdain about these Tea Party people. But the fact of the matter is, it's a broad based group, which as I said earlier, is responsible for a massive change in American elections.
There has not been a repudiation of the party in power since 1938 compared to what happened in 2010. And the Tea Party --
COOPER: We're -- were you surprised that the -- on President talked about Republicans and Democrats and addressed them in the speech. We're you surprised that he did not mention the Tea Party?
GERGEN: No, I don't think he had any cause to. Anderson, but I -- but I do think that the -- the Republican fears about having two speeches proved to be unfounded.
BORGER: Yes I agree --
GERGEN: Where they -- they had a one-two punch. And -- and I thought Ryan gave the better speech, but she made some important points. But I have -- but I have to tell you something. Neither side has really given us a bold, courageous, road map for dealing with the deficits.
Both are playing with the edges. You cannot solve these deficit problems just by dealing with discretionary spending. You've -- you've to get into health care in a serious way, you've got to deal with social security, and -- and nobody is willing to come up with a plan. They may talk about --
COOPER: Well, President Obama had that bipartisan Presidential commission.
COOPER: Is that just DOA?
ERICKSON: I've got to tell you, though, the one thing that I really liked out of the President's speech tonight and maybe I'll get criticized from Republicans for saying something nice, but the -- the idea of simplifying the tax code, because one thing that is driving jobs away, in addition to the Sarbanes-Oxley that the Republicans did and we are seeing this great flight of business going to London, to the stock exchange and to China -- the complicated regulatory system inside the tax code costing billions each year.
And the President's idea and the tax commission and Tom Coburn saying you know, what, get rid of the deductions that individual lobbyists go to Washington to get for individual companies make it simpler, spread the base out and lower the rate. That will bring jobs back to the country.
CROWLEY: In fact tax -- changing the tax code or simplifying the tax code and trade deals are the two things that Republicans cite repeatedly as here is where we can actually find some areas of agreement.
GERGEN: I agree but let me ask Ari this question, Anderson. Because Republicans have sort of said basically we don't like all this investment to become better -- more competitive and everything. It sounds just like more spending.
But Ari, didn't George W. Bush embrace this whole report on being more competitive that came out of the National Academies of Science and Engineering and put it forward and got it approved on Capitol Hill? Aren't -- aren't people in the Republican Party fundamentally for this?
FLEISCHER: You -- you bet that's one of the reasons that Paul Ryan is right, both parties have contributed to what's now is a crisis in spending.
GERGEN: But no, you are right. No, no, I'm talking about the competitiveness agenda.
FLEISCHER: Certainly some people have --
GERGEN: Didn't -- didn't George W. Bush -- didn't you know, I thought he came out in four square in favor of it.
FLEISCHER: But the point today is when you have a $1.4 trillion from deficit, you can't look at things from 2006 eyes or 2004 eyes. You've got to look at them with 2011 eyes.
GERGEN: So it's no longer important --
FLEISCHER: There's no longer --
GERGEN: -- if the teachers are going to teach science and math?
FLEISCHER: We can no longer afford a lot of the things we want and that's what got us into the deep hole we keep paying for all of the things that we like.
GERGEN: We can't get -- we can't -- we can't pay for teachers who are going to educate our kids on science and math, we can't pay for them? Are you really serious? FLEISCHER: Look, listen, what you're saying is, is you want to talk about specific spending increase, but I didn't hear President Obama talked about what specifics he would cut.
And this is the problem in Washington, the conversation always begins with the compassionate as measured by how much more money can we spend with this group or that group.
GERGEN: Educating -- educating our kids is not about compassion.
FLEISCHER: Well, I'd rather start the conversation with how we reduce the deficit and the debt. And then at the end of that conversation, if there's room for some spending then, take a look at it but we've got the order wrong in Washington.
GERGEN: Which -- would you -- would you be willing to take away the tax cuts for the top people in order to pay for new teachers in science and math?
FLEISCHER: Are you asking me if I'd be willing to raise taxes to redistribute income?
GERGEN: No, to -- to pay for teachers.
FLEISCHER: No, I want to have -- I want a tax policy that -- I want to have a policy that promotes growth in this country. And one of the interesting things that is going to be is to see whether that December agreement between Democrats and Republicans that have extended the tax rates indeed creates growth, we don't know yet. That's going to be the big question.
Frankly the future of the Obama administration can be found on the first Friday of every month for the next 16 or 17 months when unemployment comes up. If the unemployment does not drop, it doesn't matter if he's a 55 percent President. I predict he is -- that will -- that will drop, he's in a little bit of a bubble right now. It comes down to results.
GERGEN: But -- but we weren't producing jobs in the Bush administration. We've got a deeper problem.
FLEISCHER: That's not right David, 52 states -- first of all, we're no longer litigating the Bush administration. This is about 2011, 2012. But if you want to litigate it.
Well, 52 straight months of job growth between September 11, 2001 and 2003 when the economy grew again and then when the economy fell out. He came in with a recession and left with a recession, but 52 straight months of job growth in between -- because of tax cuts.
GERGEN: We had jobless recoveries. We have our serious problem in this country. FLEISCHER: If we had jobless recovery, why was the average unemployment rate under President Bush, 5.5 percent, when it was 5.4 percent for the eight years of Bill Clinton? They were virtually the same unemployment rates over the eight year averages. They give you -- the issue is with the $1.4 trillion deficit in 2011, where is the Presidential leadership? That's the question.
GERGEN: And President Clinton -- we had 23 million new jobs than George Bush's eight years, how many new jobs did we have in George W. Bush's eight years.
FLEISCHER: What's -- what's your point?
GERGEN: My job point is it's not blaming on George W. Bush. My job, my problem point is, we have a job machine --
FLEISCHER: And that's what we need to focus on.
GERGEN: -- no, no we have a job machine that has broken down, it's been broken for some years, we're not producing jobs since the year 2000. Since 1999, the net new job growth in this country is zero. Zero over the course of ten years.
In the previous ten years when Bush -- this is not a Democratic or Republican point, it is we're having a hard time producing jobs in this country. We're having a hard time competing. That's the point I was referring to.
COOPER: We've got to take a break. We're going to continue with this right after the break.
More on the State of the Union address. Did President Obama match the performance in Tucson just days after the shooting?
Also ahead the latest on Congresswoman Giffords' condition. There's been pretty much silence at least publicly from her doctor since Friday. What they told our own Elizabeth Cohen today? That is next.
COOPER: The Arizona shootings that cut short six lives 17 days ago were obviously front and center tonight, starting with the President's opening lines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we mark this occasion, we're also mindful of the empty chair in this chamber, and we pray for the health of our colleague and our friend, gabby Giffords.
It's no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious. We have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that's a good thing. It's what a robust democracy demands. That's what helps set us apart as a nation.
But there's a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passion and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater. Something more consequential than party or political preference. We are part of the American family.
We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed, that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children. And that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, the little girl President Obama was talking about was 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, obviously the youngest shooting victim. Tonight, Christina's family -- you saw them there just a moment ago -- sat with first lady Michelle Obama; her parents John and Roxana Green and her little brother Dallas.
Daniel Hernandez was also a guest. He's the legislative intern who gave first aid to Congresswoman Giffords after she was shot.
Giffords a big presence in the room tonight even though she remains in intensive care in Houston where she's waiting to begin rehab. Her husband Mark Kelly watched tonight's address at Giffords hospital room. This photo was released.
You can see the picture -- he's holding her hand. He's also wearing the same black and white ribbon that the members of Congress wore tonight in memory of the Tucson shooting victims.
Elizabeth Cohen joins me now from outside the Houston rehab facility where the Congresswoman will eventually move. Elizabeth, there hasn't been an official update on her since Friday. I understand you were able to talk to her doctors today. What did they tell you?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes they did let me sit down with her neurosurgeon, Dr. Dong Kim. And Anderson he said he's very pleased with her progress thus far. But he couldn't be more specific, because there is a blackout basically of news on her condition. They say they're not going to update her condition until she's able to leave the intensive care unit.
Now, I also got to speak on the phone with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. And she said that she talked to Mark Kelly today and Mark Kelly told her that either last night or the night before Gabby Giffords was able to watch television for an hour. And he was very excited about this and he said that it showed that she could have an attention span for that amount of time. And Anderson, I'm happy to tell you she was watching CNN -- Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Elizabeth, appreciate the update.
Tonight's State of the Union address came less than two weeks after President Obama's speech at a memorial for the victims. Many gave him high marks for his remarks in Tucson. Some people might have tried to compare tonight's address to that address. Obviously, very different crowds, very different events. Let's go back to our panel.
Obviously, I mean any kind of comparison seems kind of completely odd and inappropriate.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": You can't. That was a moment in Tucson. And he seized it and did really well with it.
This one I think was attempting to do the same thing in a legislative format basically and came across low key as opposed to passionate and, you know, emotional. This was an emotionless speech by and large.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY FOR PRES. G.W. BUSH: Well, Presidents have two hats they wear. One is the national healer, the one voice; moments like Tucson really make all Americans look to our President for inspiration. And President Obama provided it in Tucson.
The other hat, though, is the tough work of government that our founding fathers built a system where we are designed to clash. That's always going to be messy. Presidents must wear both hats.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And I agree with that. It really is -- it really is like comparing poetry to prose. How do you make the comparison?
ERICK ERICKSON, REDSTATE.COM: Well, you know, I also think it's interesting, Gallup released the memo it does every year and shows that more often than not, the President's poll numbers, they either hold the same or flutter down a little bit after a State of the Union. And that the public in particular and generally has no memory of what's even said in a State of the Union address within a couple of weeks of the speech.
Long-term, I think it's going to be more the actions of these guys than their words tonight that they speak. I mean I've had several e- mails tonight from conservative activists, who say you know, remember that Paul Ryan voted for Medicare part (INAUDIBLE) and TARP and capping CEO pay and other things and Michele Bachmann didn't. It's going to be, are the Republicans really committed to this new cutting spending and deficits and will the President work with them?
They don't really care -- according to these conservative activists I'm getting e-mails from -- they don't care what ultimately they come to as long as both sides get together and start actually cutting spending.
COOPER: Yes. Gloria Borger, you look back at State of the Union addresses over the last several Presidents, it's hard frankly to remember any of them other than "axis of evil" for President Bush perhaps and I remember President Clinton holding up a pen -- I can't even remember what the specific of it was, to line out a veto.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Some veto right.
COOPER: By tomorrow or the next day, these things tend to be forgotten.
BORGER: They do, except for those moments. And I think the White House would like to think of this as sort of the Sputnik moment, if we remember it that way.
But I think what they went out of their way to do this time, with a great degree of success, is to not make this just another laundry list of we're going to pass this or I'm going to do that or I'm going to veto this, although he did say he would veto earmarks.
They wanted to elevate it -- and I think coming after Tucson it's important -- to more of a philosophical discussion about how we can't kick the can down the road anymore. How we have to think about America's future.
I do agree with David, because I think it did fall short on the deficit question. But I also believe that they did succeed in showing President Obama to be somebody who can be philosophical about where he wants to take this country over the next couple of years and what we have to do to get in gear on that.
COOPER: Cornell, how do you think -- sorry, go ahead.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think what's important here -- and I'd be interested to see where David's on this -- I think what's important here, we won't remember any of that, but I think what was important here is he sort of framed what I think he wants the story to be for the next couple of years and that is winning the future.
Now we all sort of talk about sort of messages or staying on message. It will be interesting to see moving forward how -- we Democrats are awful in disciplining our message, but interesting moving forward talking about how we frame everything about winning the future, by the way, which I think is a really, really good tag line which is going to sort of -- that people can understand.
Why are we doing this? It's about winning the future. Why do we want innovations? It's about winning the future. Why do we want to rebuild the infrastructure? It's about winning the future. And to see if they can move forward and stick with that. I think that's the important part to take from that.
COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. Did the President's speech hit the right notes with the public? We assembled our own focus group that was watching in real time, dial testing. We'll find out where President Obama resonated most and what missed the mark. That's next on our coverage.
COOPER: Well, it certainly isn't just the pundit's reactions to the State of the Union that matters. There's also the public's, probably even more important. We assembled our own group of voters, registered Democrats, Republicans and Independents to find out which part of President Obama's speech rang true, which fell flat. And we had some pretty interesting technology to help us gauge the reaction in real time.
Tom Foreman joins us with that. What was the first point of real -- of sort of a split between Republicans, the Democrats and Independents?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first point had to do with energy policy. We had this group of several dozen people in the room put together by Mazlonski, Lance and Partners (ph). They put together the group in the room. Then we had about 1,000 people online through a group called Square Off.
They were all tracking along a little up, a little down. The minute he said that he talked about energy policy and he said, we have to pursue other alternatives, not so much oil. Take a look at this byte and watch what the numbers do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We need to get behind this innovation, and to help pay for it, I'm asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Not as easy to see there but --
COOPER: We've created a graphic that's actually rather difficult to see.
FOREMAN: If you see -- you see it really clearly. We can see it clearly up there. The Republicans just nosedived on that. And the Democrats went straight up. That was the first really big separation in there. Afterward, I asked some of them, why do you feel this way?
Republicans are like listen, no matter what ideas you have about the future, oil is today, you have to support it. Democrats kept saying oil is yesterday, we have to move forward. That's what we have to do.
COOPER: What about the issue of healthcare?
FOREMAN: Healthcare was the second big, big split in here and that's for obvious reasons. We talked about it on our show.
Let's take a look at what happened when we talked about healthcare.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now, I have heard rumors that a few of you still have concerns about our new healthcare law. So let me be the first to say that anything can be improved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Another big, big split there. And it's as you would expect, the Red is for the Republicans, Blue is for Democrats, Yellow for the Independents. And the Independents are tracking along that whole process.
COOPER: And obviously on the immigration issue.
FOREMAN: The immigration issue is where everyone agreed that it was a big deal. Look at what happened when he talked about immigration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Now, I strongly believe that we should take on once and for all the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our boarders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: You can see it happening right there. They're trending up at the end. They all sort of track together on that, but we know from our show and from all of our coverage here, that all three groups want to address illegal immigration for different reasons. Probably the most interesting thing in all of this, Anderson, overall is this.
If you looked at the aggregate, the Independents throughout this speech, although they tracked generally with the Democrats, they were always lukewarm. Even the Republicans periodically rose up and took over at the top for a while.
Well, I mean the Republicans rode up and took over the top for a while; so in the aggregate, the Independents were the most negative group about this speech.
FLEISCHER: There's one other thing he said I suspect united everybody -- it's one line I will remember. And that's where he talked about -- and he said this, that our campuses should welcome back military recruiters and the ROTC. I thought that was a welcome good thing to say. And I think --
ERICKSON: I thought it was the salmon line.
COOPER: I thought it was an interesting way -- I mean to me that was a very good example of a President who tries to tack to the center and finds compromise. On the one hand, he talked about gays in the military and was positive about the change in "don't ask, don't tell". And for those who maybe don't like the repeal, he brought up the idea of this allows ROTC to be opened and --
BELCHER: And I would sort of ask -- and I would ask how it tracked and if we pull that tracker. Because I was interested to see the on the "don't ask, don't tell", how that tracked with Democrats and Republicans. It's like a magnet -- that was a bifurcation of --
FOREMAN: By and large, the Republicans were very unhappy about that overall. But I will say this, to your point here, one of the things I thought was pretty clear from the Independent reaction, everything is the Independents, time and again, seemed to be looking for practical answers. As soon as something became theoretical, whenever he took off into sort of grand sweeping speech about the importance of our mission in the world and everything else, the Independents all turned off. They were certainly like, just solve the problem.
COOPER: I just want to play the sound bite on "don't ask, don't tell" since Ari mentioned it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Our troops come from every corner of this country. They're black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American. They are Christian and Hindu; Jewish and Muslim. And yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.
And with that change, I call on all our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Paul Begala in Washington, how do you think progressives listening to this speech, or the President's critics on the left would respond to what they heard tonight?
PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think they're going to like it, I do. There was this or that that was certainly calibrated to tack for the center or so forth. But you know, mostly progressives love this President. They want him to succeed.
I'd just speak for myself. I've worked for Bill Clinton -- a pretty moderate President. But a lot of Democrats were really bitterly upset with that tax deal he cut with the Republicans on December 6th of 2010. $81.5 billion of that deal went straight to the wealthiest two percent Americans, straight to people who make over $250,000 right to fat cats like Fleischer sitting there by you. It makes Democrats really angry -- make Democrats really angry.
But look what he did tonight. He came back and he talked about things that I think do unite Independents and Democrats. Maybe not Republicans but again, I thought the strength of the speech was that he was specific, he gave us a plan. I didn't want a vision, actually. I've got enough vision from this guy. I wanted a plan, a practical plan. And he seemed to give us that.
COOPER: That was Paul -- that was Paul "I'm living hand to mouth" Begala.
FLEISCHER: Paul is the only person I know who enjoys redistributing himself.
COOPER: Cornell, what do you --
BEGALA: Let me put this in context to pick it up with what Gergen was saying Fleischer.
FLEISCHER: You're done, Paul.
BEGALA: $81.5 billion -- $81.5 billion going to people who make more than $250,000 a year. Only $5 billion goes to the race for the top which even Republicans agree is a great idea to stimulate innovation and education. I mean there is something really wrong about that, when we can only find $5 billion for innovative education reforms and we can find $81.5 billion for people making over $250,000? Come on.
FLEISCHER: Well, Paul wants to re-litigate December. I mean Paul is the odd-man out. I'm saying that he was very successful in terms of who voted for it Democrats and Republicans. You talked about Independents wanting to get things solved and clearly that was one idea that brought people together.
But ultimately, we talked about it earlier, this will be the test. These policies work to get the economy going, to reduce the deficit, to shrink the debt and to create jobs. If they don't, we're going to have a one-term President. If they do, then chances are Barack Obama is going to be in a stronger position.
COOPER: Do you all agree with that, that it's all about jobs? That it's a good --
FLEISCHER: Jobs and the deficit.
COOPER: Jobs and the deficit.
BELCHER: Well, don't act like you guys don't have a stake in this, as well because again, it's not just Democrats governing now, it's now Republicans. So you all have to get something done as well on the side. I mean the no, no, no stuff can't go on.
The problem is that -- the deficit stuff, yes, that's as important, but what's the number one priority of Americans? Creating jobs and that's still sort of the narrative that Republicans have is cut, cut, cut. Still hasn't gone into sort of how does that lead to growing jobs.
What is your economic plan? Your economic plan can't simply be cut, cut, cut, because that's not creating jobs and in fact, it could have a negative impact on job creation.
FLEISCHER: I say yes, it can, can, can. The fact of the matter is, all the spending that's been done since the President came into office has not worked. And that's why I made the point three speeches in a row the President keeps making the same points if we only spend more, it's going to happen, it's going to happen. No evidence that that's working.
BELCHER: No, it's not when this President came in. We are now no longer in a nosedive.
FLEISCHER: And our nose still isn't very high. Our nose is still down low.
BELCHER: We're better now than we were two years ago.
ERICKSON: To speak to the larger issue and the differences between the two parties, the Republicans on the campaign trail said it's not the job of government to create jobs but to get government out of the way so the private sector can. And I think we're going to see this fight shape up between Republicans and Democrats.
And you know, back to the tax cuts. And you know David got into this while he was here and Paul has gotten into this, Democrats always campaigned on equality and it's always funny to me that the one group that they want to treat unequally are the job creators. They want to tax them more than everyone else when that money, according to the National Federation of (INAUDIBLE) Business --
COOPER: You're talking about millionaires.
ERICKSON: Yes. 65 percent of people with over $250,000 a year -- 65 percent are job creators are in that pool of money which is why Republicans don't want them --
COOPER: Wait, wait. Before we get a response -- Cornell will respond though right after this break.
We've got to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
COOPER: I had promised Cornell Belcher he could response, but we're simply out of time. So Cornell, sorry. Tomorrow night we'll do it on 360.
That's our report. Thanks for watching.
Up next, in case you missed, the State of the Union in full. Both Republican answers to it.
See you tomorrow.