Roundtable I: State of the Union

Rep. Tom Cole, Rep. Keith Ellison, Stephanie Cutter, Nicolle Wallace, and Jonathan Karl.
23:40 | 02/10/13

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Transcript for Roundtable I: State of the Union
Good morning, and welcome to "this week." Mr. Speaker, the president of the united states. The state of our union. Theottom line is this, people, we got a lot of work to do. President obama takes the stage. How will congress respond? Washington has to deal with its spending problem. I've had enough of it. Plus -- please remove that woman. -- Drone war drama. A new civil war in the gop. ♪ California ♪ and when have you heard presidential prospects talk like this? They were probably more insightful. I'm probably the healthiest fat guy you've seen in your life. We take on all the week's politics right now. Hello again. Here in the northeast, we are still digging out from that massive blizzard. New york, spared the worst. More than three feet in parts of connecticut and massachusetts. 40 million people affected. Over 350,000 homes without power. Abc news will keep an eye on that all day long, and right here we're grateful that everyone on the powerhouse roundtable able to make it in. Planes, trains and aubs through the storm. We have a packed week of politics around the table. Abc's chief white house correspondent jonathan karl, republican strategist nicolle wallace, obama deputy campaing manager stephanie cutter, both white house veterans and from the congress representative tom cole and keith ellison, democrat of minnesota. Let's get right to you, jon karl. You've been digging into the white house. What are their plans for the state of the union? The white house, the president wants to see this, the headline coming out of the speech as it was about jobs and the economy. That's going to be the focus here. They're a little stung by some of the criticism of the inaugural for not focusing on jobs. Of course. They would argue it's not fair, but that's -- so this is going to have new initiatives on infrastructure, on education, on clean energy, and it's going to be all about the middle class expanding the middle class and a big warning on this, the automatic spending cuts that are scheduled to go in effect on MARCH 1st. I do want to talk about that. That sequester across-the-board spending cuts. How about the tone? One of the things we've seen from the president since his re-election since is fairly confrontational across the board. I don't expect to see much of a change on that. On one issue even though proposing new initiatives that will cost money, not massive new stimulus, but he will make what white house officials are describing as a progressive case for deficit reduction, that that still needs to be done even entitlement reform, and the progressive case is if these programs continue to grow out of control, they crowd out other initiatives, other priorities that are, you know, that progressives hold dear on education, on infrastructure, you know, social programs. Well, one of the other things we'll see, congressman ellison, you and several other members of the democratic caucus will bring guests into the chamber victims of gun violence. That's right. As a matter of fact, young man named semi rahiman, who lost his father in a tragic event in minneapolis will join me and jim langua languagevin and our colleagues, about 30 members who are inviting victims of gun violence to be in the gallery looking forward to them being with us because they -- they're witnesses to the need for sane, sensible reform in the area of gun violence prevention. Congressman cole, what's your sense of what can get done on that this year? Gabby giffords wilalso be in the hall also on tuesday. It seems to me reading the tea leaves, that some kind of consensus is building around universal background checks with the assault weapons ban likely to go nowhere. In the assault weapon ban, you're absolutely correct. Look, it starts in the senate and we'll see what harry reid can get done. Most of the key players, nra ratings including the majority leader, chairman leahy, six democrats up in states that the president got 42% or less in. I don't think they'll be too enamored with him, so I think that pushes you toward things like background checks and the house, it's going to be tougher. I mean that's just the reality of it politically. So I would expect something to be done. I think there's going to be a lot of hearings but probably more in the mental health area, potentially in some of the background check areas, but anything that hints towards national regs won't make it and anything that really materially makes it more difficult for people to exercise second amendment rights won't happen. I tell you, I don't agree. I hope that -- I think the odds of something happening are determined by the determination of people who push those things. And when the folks are going to be joining me and jim langevin, we don't want to take the rights of owning a gun away. I own a gun myself, but I do believe when you have 20 dead first graders, we need action in this country and I'm -- most nra members agree. Let me bring in stephanie cutter. Where the president puts emphasis on tuesday night, I heard jon karl say, I think that's right, big focus on jobs. One thing you are seeing is president obama's approval rating coming in at 52%. That has if about where that's welcome back president bush had it his second term. President clinton below. How do you have him handle the rest? He will do what he has been doing. You use the word "confrontational." I would use a different word. They will be very familiar themes. The economy will be central and how we can grow it. So everybody can participate. Fair shot, pay your fair share but other things that he does lay out, he'll lay out the looming deadline on the sequester and toh choices we have to make around it and consequences if we let the sequester go into effect and, you know, cuts to some pretty critical programs, so i think the state of the union is always an important moment in a presidency, not just another case for the people sitting in the room but the country of the tough choices we have to make and I think he'll make it. Nicolle, a cautionary tale on the state of the union. social security without having his own party on board. That's a lesson for any president, but I think president obama did the republican party a huge favor by delivering an inaugural address that was historically combative. He did not deliver the kind of inaugural address people are accustomed to in recent history. Instead he came out in a really spirited way, I wouldn't call them fighting words, but spirited defense of an aggressive progressive agenda. I'm told by staffers from marco rubio's office that he had a certain kind of response to the state of the union in mind, he tore it up and started again. Republicans now are ready to i think go toe to toe with a very spirited president who I think is ready to advance a progressive agenda. I think this will help republicans really, you know, match spirit with spirit and make a conservative case. You know, marco rubio's response, you know, the expectation for some of this, a chance for him to showcase his immigration plan but I'm told rubio's response touches very little on immigration. This will be a very confrontational speech taking on the president. It will touch on immigration but it is not immigration speech. The same things that you describe there, he'll talk about the middle class and talk about same things you talked about how to bring opportunity to every corner of the country so I think it will be a battle of ideas. Which is great and what it should be. I just want to take one note on the inaugural address. You know, it has been described as a speech with a list of progressive ideas, but if you actually look at what the president talked about, that's not progressive, that's actually the center of the country right now, whether it's gay marriage or climate change. Immigration, you've seen how far we've been able to move the immigration debate. That's where the country is, and I think as republicans are trying to remake themselves and points, they need to rze where the country is. Where the country is but one thing we've seen in those issues like guns and immigration, climate change, very low on people's priorities now, economy front and center. That's what the president is going to be focused on. You all mentioned the sequester that is coming up, as well. I want to dig into that a little bit. It seemed like when the sequester was proposed back in 2011, it was proposed because no one wanted or expected it to happen. Take a look. The whole idea of the sequester was to make sure that both sides felt obligated to move off rigid positions. The sequester is ugly, it was designed to be ugly because we didn't want anybody to go there. The very idea of those automatic cuts is that they are so unacceptable, that few of us will want to see them enacted, and most of us will be willing to compromise in order to avoid them. What a difference a year makes. Congressman cole, it's gone from irresponsible to what seems like inevitable. I think it is inevitable, quite frankly. But for the president -- this was a presidential suggestion back in 2011, an idea and yet the president himself hasn't put out any alternative. Republicans twice in the house have passed legislation to deal with it, once as early as last may, again, after the election in december and the senate never picked up either bill, never offered their own thing. Now we're at three weeks out and folks are worried. They ought to be worried. On the other hand, these cuts are going to occur. Now, the real choice here is simply do you want cuts to be redistribute other ways, which is the sensible thing to do or do you want to let this happen? I think republicans are quite prepared to negotiate on redistributing cuts. You're saying all cuts. Republicans are -- look, absolutely none. The president accepted no spending cuts back in the fiscal cliff deal 45 days ago. So you get all -- no spending cuts back then. Then you're going to get no revenue now. Well, tom, the problem with saying this is the president's idea is that you voted for the budget control act. I voted against it. We wouldn't have ever been talking about the budget control act but for your party refused to negotiate on the debt ceiling something that has been routinely increased as the country needed it. You use that occasion -- that is not the case. You used that occasion in 2011, august to basically say, we are going to let -- we're going to default on the country's obligation or you'll give us dramatic spending cuts. That's how we got to the budget control ago. Let me tell you, the bottom line is this sequester will put a million people out of work, no, 600,000, excuse me, got to get my numbers right, 600,000 people out of work, and this is going to increase unemployment, it's going to increase the deficit because people paying taxes means that we're lowering the deficit. It's going to do -- it's going to do everything opposite to what your party says that they want. It's going to create uncertainty, it's going to increase the deficit. It's going to increase unemployment. That's why we put out proposals to deal with -- it's going to be a problem. -- Deal with the key -- we don't have a presidential proposal. We don't even have a proposal from the president. You got a proposal from the caucus. Let me tell you about the ballots again. I don't think you speak for the president, so let's see. Jon karl, take that up, the question. President has given a couple of speeches where he wants a balanced approach, but no line-by-line proposal on the table right now. Yeah, and there's been internal debate in the white house on this. I got to tell you at the white house they seem like there will be eventually will be a compromise to avert the cuts. Not before -- NOT BEFORE MARCH 1st. The pressure comes, negative consequences, I see zero chance of a deal on this. I don't see any chance and republicans did a great job of saying this was the president's idea, they appointed bob and clearhe president's idea, but I talked to republicans and not just the radical house guys but prominent republican senator this week told me that he loves the sequester because it's actually -- real cuts. I want to bring that to nicolle wallace. I think that's a widespread sentiment. On the other hand, hear from the white house and democratic operatives that may say that's all well and good but republicans will get blamed. The country is pretty strongly in support of big cuts, of bloated federal government and I think if you take it to the whole country, that would include the defense budget. I think that no one is interested in cutting anything that would impede our military readiness. No one wants to take anything at all from any of our troops on the front lines but to say that in the entire pentagon budget there isn't an iota of room for cuts like this for meaningful cuts would be lying. This is significant. You have republicans saying the pentagon budget can be cut without jeopardizing national security. Not all of them. You have people like john McCAIN -- DESCRIBE THE FALL BUT and publicly, saying that there is room to cut the -- as long as you don't -- as long as you hold harmless with everything that deals with troop readiness, that deals with troops on the front lines and military families but there's plenty of room in the procurement budgets, there's plenty of room for reforms and for -- I want to come to that in a second, but the problem wille, I think for the white house, broadly and for the country is the point that congressman ellison makes, you hit the sequester right now, that is goign to have a real economic impact right away. Absolutely, absolutely, and i think you'll hear the president most likely talk about that on tuesday night, tuesday night. We can't have any more self-inflicted wounds on the economy. The economy is poised to take off. If we do the right things. Having massive across-the-board cuts to some critical programs I mean you're talking about education, health care, that things that actually we need, cops, to make this -- the economy grow. A couple of things, one, the president does have a plan on the table, fortunately deficit reduction plan that's been on the table for almost two years, balanced deficit reduction and cut $2 trillion out of the budget, balanced revenue and entitlement reform. That's on the table, it's been on the table. Number two, where the country is, like, the country believes we need to do something about deficit reform. If you look at the exit polls from the last election, upwards of 60% people coming out voting for the president, voting generally. Things that we need to reduce our deficit and in a balanced way. Balanced means everybody pays their fair share. That includes revenue and right now it's 3-1 in terms of cuts that -- it's not exactly where the republicans were six weeks ago, taxes were going up by law. The only question were you going to negotiate a good package, save as many bush tax cuts as you could. We eventually got there with no cuts from the president. Now these cuts are coming by law and it's law that the president signed and advocated, and he's put no real proposal on the table with all due respect, and the reality is the cuts are going to come. Now, we'll sit down and renegotiate where they're going to come from. We think we can do a lot better job -- can we just -- mechanism -- meant to be an enforcement mechanicism. The fiscal cliff on new year's day, you'd have high-income people who already have a lot of discretionary income seeing taxes go up. That's not going to hurt the economy. This thing is going to put 600,000 people out of work talking cops, we're talking teachers, pink slips will be going out. We're calling that -- this is why we need to negotiate this thing and not just say it's going to be sequester or our way. We actually passed -- come on. -- Legislation -- how many did you -- not many. Remember why we did this in the first place. We did this not because we wanted the cuts to go in place. Nobody wanted these cuts to go in place. This was an enforcement mechanism for congress to come together, finally come together to pass deficit reform, deficit reduction. These across-the-board cuts is not going to get us there because it's going to strangle our economy, slow growth which will increase the deficit and -- the choices that people are making here are across-the-board teachers or asking oil companies to pay their fair share. That's what -- the victims of the sequester, it's so funny to hear democrats cry about the sequester. Democrats control the executive branch, they control the senate and they're in a position to negotiate with republicans who have put out two packages of alternative cuts so -- take those -- well -- -- in the senate in response. That's not take it or leave it. That's like the process. They haven't been able to pass anything, the president hasn't proposed anything with three weeks away. We acted in may of last year. We in december. Senator reid is not saying he will pass a budget out of the senate this year. But I want to bring this back to jon karl because when you look at the sequester coming in on MARCH 1st, IT SEEMS LIKE EVEN The bigger hammer is 3 1/2 weeks LATER MARCH 27th, THE ENTIRE Government runs out of money. The last time they shut down was 1995 and did backfire on the house republicans. Yeah, we faced a government shutdond not long after that had to deal with the debt ceiling yet again, so it seems to me the real battle -- like I said, there's zero chance the sequester deal will happen BEFORE MARCH 1st. Those automatic spending cuts will go in effect and you will start seeing notices on furloughing employees and be on notice they may be furloughed but the real battle over the funding of the government and a chance for those automatic cuts to be rejiggered. One of the things you're seeing right now, and this is against the backdrop of the republican party coming out of the last election talking about where they'll go in the future and how they'll be seen by the public and you guys mentioned marco rubio on the cover of "time" magazine called right there "the republican savior" put out a tweet saying "there's only one savior here, and it's not me" and a lot of pressure on marco rubio. You've seen several coming out with speeches where the party should be. We've got to stop being the stupid party. I'm serious. Time for a new republican party that talks like adults. I would argue that a more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy. The average american is not thinking about and trying to wonder about where the republican party is. They're thinking about how to make their life work. Your leader in the house right there, eric cantor, where is this debate headed? I think it's a good debate for the republican party to have. When you lose an election, you ought to be a little bit reflective and ought to think back and ought to begin to say, what do we need to do differently? We didn't do badly in the election, but the president won with less than he was elected in '08, lower popular vote, lower electoral vote. We held the house, we have 30 governors. The idea this is some existential crisis is overdone, I think, but we didn't win so what do we need differently. I like what we're hearing and like the direct line that governor jindal took because i think we have -- we can't be too -- yeah, we nearly were in the fiscal cliff and could have triggered a big tax increase. I don't want to be stupid but you also need to be principled and consistent in your values and I think we are. And, you know, we'll see what happens in the next year or two. And marco rubio does seem to be rising to the top of the heap. Yeah, look, he's everything we need and more, he's modern. He knows who tupac is. He is on social media. He's part of the sort of -- he has all the blessings of the old political establishment. He's close to the younger bushes. He and jeb bush and george p. Bush create what I call that axis of enlightenment when it comes to immigration. I mean, he's got the policy. He's in touch with I think the lives of ordinary people and he's a very accessible guy. He talks about being a working dad and juggling his own priorities. You're shaking your head on tupac. You know, I think all of this stuff is just surface stuff. It's like lipstick on a pig. The bottom line is the republicans have a core values problem, not who knows who tupac shakur is. Let me just say, I don't want to gloss over his credentials and I think when it comes to immigration reform, president obama has stolen from rubio. Rubio has a piecemeal approach to the immigration stuff. I mean -- president obama took pieces of that piecemeal approach. Well, bottom line is, I think where the country is, we want more aggressive, more direct reform on immigration reform than marco rubio is talking about. I think he's behind. I think he's fragmented on the issue, and I think that, you know, the republicans are looking for anybody -- not just -- we are in the fifth year waiting for the obama immigration plan. It was supposed to be unveiled within 100 days after his election in 2008, so the president has prettily skillfully used the issue but hasn't led on the issue. We're still waiting for a bill. Now, rubio is leading with some risk to himself which I admire. Look, I think we'll get there but the real leadership on immigration isn't coming out of the administration but the senate. The president put out an immigration plan in the first term. I was there, I helped work on it. Obviously it was an issue in this past election. Republicans have come a long way, even compared to where we were just six months ago, now they're talking about being for the d.R.E.A.M. Act and now marco rubio is talked about earned citizenship for undocumented ts. That's a big step forward for republicans. I hope he can bring the rest of the party along and I think that you're seeing a lot of movement on the republican side on immigration for very basic reasons. The change in demographics in elections, and that's fine. I'm glad they're coming -- i don't care why they're coming. They're just coming towards the president on immigration and hopefully we can get something done. I want to get to one more issue before we take a break. Another potential 2016 contender for the white house, chris christie of new jersey. He started out the week opening up about his weight on "david letterman" making jokes about it. A former white house doctor took issue and said she was worried about his health, connie mariano, and then he gave this press conference. This is just another hack that wants five minutes on tv. If she wants to get on a plane and come to new jersey and ask ifants to examine me and review my medical history. I'll have a conversation with her at that time. Until that time she should shut up. We called her and had a fairly heated conversation, a republican not voting for him. We're laughing about it but chris christie talking about this for a very good reason. This will be a serious issue if he decides to run for president. It is, but I've got to make two points here. This reminds you of what lincoln supposedly said about grant and grant's drinking problem. You know, christie is the most popular republican in the land. You almost want to say, find out what kind of doughnuts he likes and then ship him a case of them fine. Give him a break, but I will say this, if he seriously takes on the issue of his own and weight, remember, mike huckabee first became a national figure of arkansas when he dealt with his own weight, lost 100 pounds, and if he kind of turns this into a national version of "the biggest loser" a political version of "the biggest loser" christie can gather more support. So many americans relate to what he is dealing with. So many of us are ovweight. A lot agree with him in that press conference right there. But if you're going to run for president, my advice is for him to stop telling people to shut up. he says -- from new jersey so that's new jersey for, you know, give me a minute. But I think if he puts his on "letterman" which was a very skillful political move, turning your own vulnerability into something you make fun of before anyone else does is political genius but then it didn't take him 24 hours

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