(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR (voice-over): This morning on "This Week."
(UNKNOWN): Madam Speaker...
AMANPOUR: On the eve of the State of the Union...
(UNKNOWN): ... the president of the United States.
AMANPOUR: ... we assess the state of the presidency. For Barack Obama, it's been a year of highs...
OBAMA: We are done.
AMANPOUR: ... and lows.
OBAMA: ... take a shellacking like I did last night.
AMANPOUR: And this week is another defining moment for him, as he talks to the country.
OBAMA: Jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010.
AMANPOUR: But what will he say? And what should he say? This week, the state of the presidency, starts right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Good morning. As President Obama enters the second half of his term, he's grappling with making the economy grow and creating jobs. Americans are overwhelmingly demanding in poll after poll that the president and Congress work together on the big issues.
Today, we'll hear from three top retiring senators with records of working across party lines, independent Joe Lieberman, Democrat Kent Conrad, and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. We'll get their perspective on the state of the country and the state of this president.
We begin with ABC news senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper and our "This Week" cover story.
TAPPER (voice-over): We all know what the president will say about the state of the Union. It's what presidents always say about the state of the union.
OBAMA: Our union is strong.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Our union is strong.
CLINTON: ... is strong.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: ... is strong.
REAGAN: The state of our union is strong.
TAPPER: But what about the state of the Obama presidency? What about the state of Obama? Just two-plus months ago, after what he called a shellacking in the midterm elections, it seemed as though President Obama might now be in a crouched posture as the Republican House of Representatives takes office.
OBAMA: It feels bad.
TAPPER: But he's not feeling bad now. His poll numbers are up. Job approval is 54 percent, up 5 points from last month and 8 points from his career low in September. Perhaps even more striking, while in September Americans split 50 percent to 48 percent on whether President Obama understands the problems of people like you, that number is now overwhelmingly positive for the president by an 18-point margin, 58 percent to 40 percent.
AXELROD: The economy is growing. It is beginning to create jobs at a steadier and steadier clip. And I think the cumulative effect of all of that is positive and people are feeling better.
GIBBS: The American people would like to see Democrats and Republicans sit down at a table, be it here, be it there, and work through important solutions to the problems that face the American people. I think that's what the president wants to continue to do.
TAPPER: So more bipartisanship in action and tone.
GERGEN: Much of his bounce has come among independents. They are up the most sharply, and that's the group that was sort of soured on him. I think turning back toward the center, the kind of things he's done, working with Republicans across the aisle in the lame duck, you know, bringing -- sending signals that he really does want to work with the business community, and then the Tucson speech was judged to be extremely effective and resonated so well with the public.
TAPPER: But how much bipartisanship is truly possible? The Tucson shooting seems to have just delayed the fighting. House Republicans voted to repeal the health care law just one week later.
(UNKNOWN): And a motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.
TAPPER: The White House suggests the smart politics will be those who reach across the aisle.
AXELROD: I think those who make the honest effort to do that will have support, public support. Those who don't, won't. And that's a great motivator in this town.
TAPPER: And the White House seems to be clearly signaling a new day, especially for the business community, part of which may come from the appointment of centrist Democrat and former JPMorgan Chase executive Bill Daley as new White House chief of staff.
So out with the old rhetoric, as seen on "60 Minutes" in 2009...
OBAMA: I did not run for office be helping out a bunch of, you know, fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.
TAPPER: ... and in with the new tone, a business-friendly tone.
(on-screen): On Tuesday, you'll hear the president talk about what he calls his competitiveness agenda and the importance of increasing exports.
(voice-over): As he discussed with Chinese President Hu Jintao last week, with a touch of the late-night cable TV pitchman.
OBAMA: We want to sell you all kinds of stuff. We want to sell you planes; we want to sell you cars; we want to sell you software.
TAPPER: That was accompanied by a Wall Street Journal op-ed by the president talking about getting rid of dumb government regulations that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs.
On Friday, the president announced a new presidential council on jobs and competitiveness to be chaired by the CEO of GE, Republican Jeffrey Immelt.
GERGEN: The State of the Union is an enormous opportunity for him to continue this -- this rebound, this comeback, because he's -- he's got chance now to really provide a theme for his presidency for the last two years. He's in one heck of a lot better shape than he was only a few weeks ago, but no one should underestimate the barriers that are still in his way.
TAPPER: The unemployment rate is stubbornly high. Tough decisions need to come about the national debt. And the new Congress is full of Tea Partiers who are wary of any new spending.
(on-screen): Where does President Obama think the state of his presidency is?
GIBBS: Jake, I -- I don't know that he spends a lot of time separating the state of the country and where he is in his presidency, because his task is -- the task that he has before him and the task that he'll bring to -- to the next two years is helping our economy continue to recover. Obviously, there are aides inside of here and outside of here that spend time worrying about the president's political standing.
TAPPER (voice-over): Indeed. Aides to the president have already started the process of preparing the paperwork for the president's re-election campaign. And White House senior advisers Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod are leaving the Casa Blanca to work on the campaign.
AXELROD: It feels right to me. This feels like the right time.
TAPPER: And for President Obama, this feels like a pivotal time. For "This Week," I'm Jake Tapper at the White House.
AMANPOUR: And the question remains: Will the president find bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill? Joining me now, Senators Joe Lieberman, Kent Conrad, and from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison. All three have recently declared they will not be seeking re-election.
So thank you all for joining us this morning. Let me ask you, Senator Lieberman, what will you be listening to from the president at the State of the Union? What does he need to say?
LIEBERMAN: Well, the president listened to the results of the election in November, and that's -- that's the right thing to do in America. Elections have consequences. And since then, he has really reconnected to the vital center of American politics and, I think, to the American people.
And the way he reconnected was through the remarkable accomplishments of the lame-duck session and then an extraordinary unifying speech in Tucson. I think he's got to keep that going.
So I think the mood of the State of the Union has to be both unifying and confident, optimistic that we can do things if we work together. I think the main focus really has to be on, how do you keep growing jobs and at the same time deal with the biggest long-term threat to America's strength and our economy, and that is the debt?
And I hope the president will really be hands-on and say he's ready to take political risks if we are to get America's books back in balance for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
AMANPOUR: Senator Hutchison, do you think the president can convey that -- that message of unity and confidence to move forward?
HUTCHISON: I think he can convey the message. But I think the question, Christiane, is, will there be a follow-through? Will he really get his regulatory commissions to cut back on the regulations that are hurting the growth of business? Will he agree to some changes in the Obamacare which is keeping people from hiring?
I can tell you, I'm all over my state. That's what I hear. They're not going to hire people if they are looking at these big fines and big expenses in the health care bill.
So I think he's -- if he really is going to follow through with a message that I'm sure will be good, with action that shows that he really means it, that's when we will have a -- a true way forward.
AMANPOUR: Senator Conrad, what does he need to say?
CONRAD: Well, I think three things that are at the top of my list and I think on the tops of the lists of many Americans. Number one, growing the economy and jobs. Number two, as Senator Lieberman referenced, the debt threat. That's got to be taken on. And, number three, I believe reducing our dependence on foreign energy, because I think all three of these are deeply related. And I hope that he will come out and be specific about what his plans are in each of these areas.
AMANPOUR: We talked a lot about bipartisanship. And clearly, that is the will of the American people. Everywhere you look, everywhere I go in the country, people say that they want their leaders to work together. You three senators have records of working across party lines, and yet you're retiring.
Let me ask you why you're doing that. First of all, Senator Lieberman, why are you retiring? Is it because it's too tough a battle to win re-election again?
LIEBERMAN: No. It's really because, for me, it's time for a change. At the end of this term, I will have served 24 years in the U.S. Senate, 40 years in elective office. I've run 15 campaigns in Connecticut. I want to try something different. I want to begin a new chapter of my life.
I've loved service in the Senate. I feel good about what I've been able to accomplish working across party lines. But I must say, I'm excited about a new chapter and new opportunities. I'll always want to be involved in public service in whole or in part, working on the causes to which I've devoted a lot of my public life, including particularly national security.
AMANPOUR: If you think you could have won, why not -- now the battle is being joined for issues that you care deeply about, like the economy -- why not stay and fight this battle...
LIEBERMAN: You can always find a reason to continue, you know? But I think you've got to know when it's time to -- to move on.
I was not -- I believed I would have won re-election. Obviously, it would have been a tough campaign. But, you know, as I said, so what else is new? I've run -- almost all my campaigns have been tough. That's not the reason why I didn't run. I didn't run because I want to try something different.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you -- before we were talking about a sense of contentment that you all three felt, so let's get beyond that and I want to ask you, Senator Conrad, you know, in your state, Democrats in Congress are becoming an endangered species. They may, in fact, become extinct in the next round of elections. What is it about the Democratic message that seems not to be selling or not to be being bought in the heartland?
CONRAD: You know, it's very interesting. What I hear all across my state are three words: Enough is enough. When you put together TARP, of course, which was done under the Bush administration, but it sort of all runs into the same reaction by people, and you add stimulus, and the auto bailout, and the health care bill, it just struck people that there was too much coming from the federal government, and so people wanted to make a change. AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you, Senator Hutchison. First of all, in a new report today in the New York Times, they say that, in fact, TARP will cost maybe $28 billion to the taxpayer, instead of the $700 billion. They say that bailing out the auto industry will cost maybe in the end about $15 billion, rather than the many tens of billions were put in.
What about you? You yourself have been facing -- even though you're a reliable conservative -- Tea Party competition in Texas. Are they outflanking you?
HUTCHISON: You know, I -- I think the Tea Party has done a good thing in awakening America to the problems that we are facing and saying we can do something about it. And I appreciate that.
I think that, if I had run, I would have won. It would have been a tough race, for sure, but I thing I would have won, because I think my record is good, and it is to be effective and get things done.
But I do think there is such a strong feeling that America has not been going in the right direction, and I think people are looking for a change. That's not why I didn't run; it was a personal decision for me. I commute every week. I have two young children. And the time was right for me.
I'm excited about a new future, and I'm excited about turning it over to someone else. But I think that the Tea Party, all if all, has done a good thing for America.
AMANPOUR: And yet they say that -- I said, you're a reliable conservative, by all indicators -- they said that you personally signify everything that the Tea Party is fighting. What on Earth do they mean by that, particularly when it comes to issues such as spending cuts and the things that everybody's talking about right now?
HUTCHISON: Well, I think that's a misrepresentation of my record. I am a reliable conservative. There are some people who say that, of course. I mean, I read the blogs, and it gets kind of depressing, frankly, to read those blogs.
But, all in all, I have support of Tea Party people. I do have the support of many of the leaders of the Tea Party. And I don't think there is a Tea Party spokesman that speaks for everyone, but I have a good relationship with the Tea Party.
And, yes, there are people who think that maybe I fought too hard for Texas in spending areas, but I think I'm elected to support my state, and I have supported every spending cut, every overall spending cut. And I think we're going to have to be doing a lot more of that in the next few weeks because we all agree.
And I didn't support the stimulus. So I think that was a -- way too much spending. But we all agree now, it must be cut.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you again about this idea of centrists or moderates or at least people who can work across party lines. LIEBERMAN: Yeah.
AMANPOUR: There was a collective wail of -- of -- of sadness when all of you three decided that you wouldn't seek re-election. Is that idea of working across party lines also endangered and possibly extinct, particularly with you leaving? How many more will be left?
LIEBERMAN: Well, I hope it's not extinct. In fact, I think part of the reason why the president is doing better is that he reached out across party lines in the lame-duck session and the Republicans reached back to him. And as a result, we passed a very strong tax cut. We repealed "don't ask/don't tell." We did the START treaty.
So, look, I think part of the reason why the American people have lost some of their -- our characteristic confidence in recent years is not just the terrible recession, but the fact that, when they turned to their government in Washington, what they saw is people having partisan mud fights, not thinking about what they could do for them, the American people.
And I think when we begin to act in that way, working across party lines, coming to the center to get things done, then it not only gets things done, but it increases the characteristic American optimism and confidence.
To raise the GDP, I've been saying, we've got to raise the GDC, the gross domestic confidence. And I think we've done that. The president has led the way, and Republicans have partnered with him. I hope we can keep it going.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask a little bit about these spending cuts. The Republicans have talked about $100 billion in -- in the first fiscal year alone. Some of the Tea Party's candidates have been saying just this past week that they want even deeper cuts, much, much bigger cuts, putting them at odds, it seems, with their own leadership. How is that going to resolve itself, Senator Conrad, do you think?
CONRAD: You know, I was part of the president's fiscal commission that made a proposal, really, a very sweeping proposal, to reduce the debt by $4 trillion over the next 10 years and much more than that over an extended period of time. I think that's what's required, a balanced plan that does, yes, have spending cuts. We had $1.5 trillion of spending cuts in the fiscal commission's plan, but you're going to also have to deal with the entitlements, Social Security and Medicare, and the American people right now...
AMANPOUR: And the military?
CONRAD: ... the American people reject all of those. The American people say, don't touch Social Security, don't touch Medicare, don't cut defense. That's 84 percent of the federal budget. If you can't touch 84 percent of the federal budget -- and, by the way, they also don't want to touch revenue -- you're down to 16 percent of the budget at a time we're borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we spend. So, you know, there needs to be leadership to help the American people understand how serious this problem is and that it's going to take a lot more than cutting foreign aid and taxing the rich. You're not going to solve the problem that way.
AMANPOUR: And one last issue I want to talk about, the tone, civility, a huge amount of speculation and attention on the seating plan for the State of the Union. Apparently, some senators and congressmen already choosing their seating mate. So all of you -- Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who are you going to be sitting next to?
HUTCHISON: I do not know.
AMANPOUR: Who's your date?
HUTCHISON: I have -- I haven't been there. I don't have a date.
CONRAD: Kate, I'm available.
HUTCHISON: ... find a place to sit -- sit down.
AMANPOUR: Senator Conrad says he is available.
LIEBERMAN: You know, when I was in high school, I always waited too long before the prom to ask for a date, so I haven't done that yet, but...
AMANPOUR: You've got two days. Tell us now.
LIEBERMAN: I'm going to be on the phone today. Incidentally, in our committee, the Homeland Security Committee, Susan Collins and I have been having our members sit without regard to party. In other words, we're not just -- we're not two warring camps facing each other.
And this is -- this is symbolic, but it -- but it sends a good message. We've really got to do more of this.
AMANPOUR: Have you picked a date?
CONRAD: I just asked Kay.
AMANPOUR: I know. All right. Well, we'll see you two sitting together. And you with Senator Collins.
LIEBERMAN: I hope so.
AMANPOUR: All right. Thank you so much.
And up next, I'll take an inside look at some of the new Republicans in Congress, their agenda, and how they view the new calls for civility in Washington. And later, our roundtable, with George Will, Paul Krugman, Matthew Dowd, and Donna Brazile, so stay with us.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back.
As the new right came to Washington and took the reins of power in the House, we were with them. We followed two new Republican House members and a freshman senator, all swept to power by the Tea Party.
This week, we -- will President Obama's opposition -- that's what they'll be -- and we talked to them about the changes they're looking for and the unexpected shift in tone they've encountered since they arrived.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): As President Obama arrived in Schenectady, New York, this week for a speech at a General Electric planet, coming down the steps of Air Force One behind him was the new Republican congressman from nearby Kinderhook, Chris Gibson. Just over two weeks in office...
OBAMA: Chris Gibson...
AMANPOUR: ... and Gibson, a former Army colonel, was getting a shoutout from the commander-in-chief.
GIBSON: As we go forward, I'm looking for more from the president that he listens to the will of the American people.
AMANPOUR: That will swept Gibson and a sizable band of what you could call citizen legislators into office last November, men and women with little or no political experience, dentists, ranchers, even a reality TV star and a restaurateur, all intent on shaking up politics as usual.
SCHILLING: You can just call my Bobby Schilling. That's -- I'm the pizza guy.
AMANPOUR: The president now must work with a Congress of freshman members, like Bobby Schilling, the new representative from Rock Island, Illinois. A Tea Party candidate and a father of 10, Schilling beat out a Democratic incumbent, winning over voters who shared his frustration with Washington.
SCHILLING: Washington has lost complete touch with us, the little guy. Bobby Schilling, running for Congress. AMANPOUR: One of his primary targets: the president's health care bill.
(on-screen): The health reform bill?
SCHILLING: Yeah, the health care takeover, the job-crushing health care...
AMANPOUR: But you call it the job-crushing health care takeover.
SCHILLING: The job-crushing health care takeover.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): On the Senate side, the president now faces competition from the likes of the gentleman wielding a bowling ball.
LEE: You're cramping my lateral (ph).
AMANPOUR: He's the new junior senator from Utah, Mike Lee.
LEE: That's how it's done.
AMANPOUR: The Tea Party upstart who fired the shot heard around the Republican establishment when he bowled over the GOP incumbent in the primaries last June.
(on-screen): Tea Partiers have been described as revolutionaries, as rabble-rousers, as those who have come to upturn and upend the current system. Is that what you've come to do?
LEE: I don't think it should be thought of as particularly revolutionary for an American to say, let's require our Congress to balance its budget. If that's revolutionary, then call me that.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): When Lee, Schilling and Gibson arrived in Washington to take office at the start of the month, they had momentum.
SCHILLING: We're here to get this thing back on track.
AMANPOUR: Even though they were still learning about the other side of the aisle...
SCHILLING: What's really amazing is the fact at just how normal the people you see, you know, like even Nancy Pelosi, just -- you know, just a regular person when you see...
AMANPOUR (on-screen): What did you think, she was the devil with horns?
SCHILLING: Well, you know, no, but, I mean, you see a totally different person, kind of like when we see you on TV.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Some were still learning their colleagues' names...
LEE: That's Patty Murray, Democrat from Washington.
AMANPOUR: ... and figuring out where they were going to live.
(on-screen): Because I think you're going to be sleeping right here.
GIBSON: Yes, this is the air mattress.
AMANPOUR: That's a pretty good one, right?
GIBSON: Yeah, and there's the sleeping bag back there.
AMANPOUR: You've got your clothes.
GIBSON: Yeah. Thirty seconds, I can be right down there, and I can get the rest I need, and I'm back to work.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Work was what they came to town to do, and they were getting down to it.
LEE: I've staked out a pretty clear path for what I want to accomplish this year. It's a plan to get a balanced budget amendment.
GIBSON: I co-sponsored a couple bills already.
AMANPOUR: Even the hoopla surrounding their taking office -- the oaths...
(UNKNOWN): I do.
AMANPOUR: ... the photo-ops, the receptions -- barely slowed their stride as they ran off to cast their first votes.
GIBSON: Thanks. I'll be back.
AMANPOUR (on-screen): What vote is this one?
SCHILLING: This is for the congressional offices to take a 5 percent budget cut.
AMANPOUR: Right. Now, it's nice. It's symbolic. It's not going to make a big dent where you need to, right, to we reduce the deficit, the debt, all of that?
SCHILLING: Well, you know, but it's called leading by example.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): But just days later, on a sunny Saturday morning, their energy and enthusiasm was stolen by a gunman in Tucson. Their colleague, Democratic Congressman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, was shot in the head; 13 people were wounded; 6 were dead. And while no one wanted to believe politics motivated the shooter, the ramifications rippled throughout government.
GIBSON: I think it was very appropriate for us to pause for that week and to really take measure of the event.
AMANPOUR (on-screen): How has that affected the atmosphere here?
SCHILLING: It changed things, the tone a little bit here.
AMANPOUR: Will it increase any civility between the different parties?
SCHILLING: Yeah, you know, I think the -- the one thing that's been missing the last couple years is the -- there's been really no true debate. It's been, you know, one side kind of pushes through whatever they want.
LEE: Everyone involved in the process would rather see a more civil discourse, one that focuses on the issues and the policies at play, the things that affect the American people.
AMANPOUR: One small example of that new tone, the Job-Killing Health Care bill...
... their job-killing government takeover of health care.
AMANPOUR: ... is now at least referred to differently.
BOEHNER: ... destroy jobs in America.
AMANPOUR: But Congressman Schilling isn't backing down.
SCHILLING: You know, it's still a job-killing bill. It's a job- crusher. You know, call it what you will.
AMANPOUR: And neither is Senator Lee.
LEE: The sure wins (ph) if we who have been elected change what we do just because of what he did.
AMANPOUR: Events in Tucson delayed the House vote on repealing the president's health care bill, but this week, it passed.
SCHILLING: I think what we have to do is start over, and that's what we're doing now.
AMANPOUR: The repeal is unlikely to make it through the Senate, so for now, the law is safe. But what about those deficit-reducing deep cuts Republicans are talking about?
(on-screen): So tell me where the big cuts are going come.
SCHILLING: The big thing is, is we have to look at everything. I'm not the expert yet.
GIBSON: Nothing should be off the table.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): And the Republicans now face a president whose approval ratings are on the rise, thanks in part to better economic numbers and the speech he gave at the memorial in Tucson.
OBAMA: The hopes of a nation are here tonight.
AMANPOUR (on-screen): You guys came in raring to go, raring to push back. Is it going to be more difficult for you now, given that his standing is -- is being raised dramatically in the country?
SCHILLING: As long as President Obama is doing what's good for the United States of America, I hope his -- his -- his favorables go to 100 percent.
LEE: I certainly don't think it changes my agenda or the agendas of those who are elected along with me this year. Presidential polling numbers wax and wane over time, and that doesn't change the way we push forward.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): And those improved ratings are also due to continuing tax cuts, a plan the president initially resisted.
GIBSON: He listened to the American people, and he compromised on something that was very important so that our economy was able to move forward.
SCHILLING: He's starting to have to shift to become more of a moderate, which is good.
AMANPOUR: But just how much the president will have to shift in order to work with this new Congress remains to be seen.
AMANPOUR: For now, a shift to the center. And when we return, our roundtable takes up the presidential pivot to job creation. George Will, Paul Krugman, Matthew Dowd, and Donna Brazile, after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARCUS: Absolutely they are going to pivot on job -- to jobs, jobs, jobs.
(UNKNOWN): They thought that they could pivot onto the economy.
TAPPER: President Obama would make a hard pivot.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... hard pivot to fixing the economy.
KURTZ: ... president tried to pivot from the cost of war to rebuilding the economy...
(UNKNOWN): ... which is a very awkward pivot.
(UNKNOWN): ... questioning, wondering whether or not President Obama can pivot.
OBAMA: We now have to pivot and focus on jobs and growth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Now that the pivot has arrived, joining me to discuss it, our powerhouse roundtable, with George Will, economist Paul Krugman, political strategist Matthew Dowd, and Donna Brazile.
So, it's happened. And President Obama has named Jeffrey Immelt as head of a new council on jobs and competitiveness. Impressed?
WILL: With the Immelt appointment?
AMANPOUR: With the whole pivot and the appointment particularly, in fact.
WILL: Well, yes. Yes, it's paid off in the following number. The percent of the American population that identifies the president as a liberal has declined 10 points in two months. That's astonishing. And it's a response to his big political problem that was revealed in 2010 elections, that is, Democrats have been losing blue-collar white voters since the 1960s. That's white voters with no college education, basically. In 2010, he lost them 2 to 1, and there was no gender gap, men and women alike, a record loss, and this is the way to get them back. AMANPOUR: You're seeing red, frankly, aren't you, Paul, over this?
KRUGMAN: Not exactly. It's kind of sad. I mean, it's -- the whole competitiveness thing is a bad metaphor.
AMANPOUR: Why? America is all about competition.
KRUGMAN: Because -- no, it isn't. The country is not a corporation. You know, a CEO who manages to lay off a large part of his workforce and increase profits is a success. Well, America has managed to lay off a large part of its workforce and profits are hitting new records, and that is not a success. So these are not similar.
The idea that we are reassuring blue-collar workers by appointing to a not very important, but still a symbolic government post the CEO of a company which has most of its workers outside the United States, earns most of its profits outside the United States, and is now these days more of a financial firm than it is a manufacturing firm, in reality, was a major recipient of bailout funds -- you know, it's -- now, all of this may be a way for Obama to find a more business- friendly way to sell more public investment, which is a good thing.
AMANPOUR: But is it more than just symbolism and looking business-friendly? I mean, Immelt, in a -- in an interview with the FT before he was named, talked specifically about manufacturing, how you just couldn't rely on services industry to -- to continue this bubble and burst sort of economy, that you really needed to make things in order to be competitive and to create jobs.
DOWD: Presidencies primarily are about perceptions of the American public and what you do with those perceptions communications- wise. This president, I think, has probably had the best 45 days of his presidency, his entire presidency. This is the only time in his presidency where he's actually been on the rise. Every other part, from Inauguration Day, he was falling. He's on the rise.
He's done a number of things that I think have told the business community and the economic community and people that make jobs he's going to be consistent, which he did with the tax cuts in signing (inaudible) extended them, and he's going to provide confidence.
And I think whether you like Immelt or not or whether you like Bill Daley or not as chief of staff, it did send a message to the business community that I'm going to give some level of competence on the economy. And what you do today -- he's done all the regulatory stuff. He's done all the policy stuff. It hasn't really moved the economy. What the country needs now is a sense of confidence that he's willing to do that, and I think that's what he's done.
BRAZILE: But the economy has shown some improvements. And I think what the president can do on Tuesday is to take us beyond the crisis that he inherited. We've heard for two years that the economy was going off the cliff. Now with have an opportunity -- the president has an opportunity to talk about the road to revival, to rebuilding America's infrastructure. It will take private investment, as well as some more public investments, I believe. But this is a great opportunity to show that he can bring diverging opinions together, people who might have different beliefs and different backgrounds, but he has one single goal, and that is to create jobs for the American people.
WILL: But, Donna, now, you say the economy is improving, and it is, and that's what's depressing. That is, the recover began 20 months ago in June 2009, and unemployment seems extremely resistant to this.
AMANPOUR: ... where they're trying to actually kick-start from emergency rescue of the economy to doing -- putting...
KRUGMAN: I think that's all symbolism. The reality is -- the strategy is to hope that the natural forces of recovery finally start to kick in on the job market, as well as on industrial production and profits, which has been happening for a while, and then to try and get some longer-term things that will help the economy. There really isn't a job strategy here at all.
DOWD: Well, and I don't think we can underestimate the power and the need of the president to focus and to resonate on symbols. Symbols are important. It's what he talked about big time in Tucson. It wasn't just about, "Here's what I want to do" or "This is what happened, this tragedy that happened." It was symbolic. It was American values.
And I think today -- we've lowered the tax rates as far as they probably can be lowered. He's done -- he's put as much money as he can -- I know Paul would like him to put more money -- I think that he can reasonably with the deficit in order. And now it's time to focus on the symbols and the confidence in the American public.
AMANPOUR: But beyond symbols, isn't -- aren't American corporations sitting on something like $2 trillion of cash? Doesn't -- doesn't he need to coax that out of them? And won't that create hiring?
KRUGMAN: They're sitting on no more cash than you would expect them to, given weak demand. I mean, consumers aren't spending. Corporations are not saying -- you know, if you actually look at what they really say when you ask them about their prospects as opposed to when they're lobbying, they're not sitting on that cash because they're afraid of government regulations or because they're afraid of taxes. They're saying, why should I expand my plant when I can't even sell the capacity, you know, that I've got right now? So it's not...
AMANPOUR: So what's the solution, then? KRUGMAN: Well, the solution would have been a new New Deal or would have been a really big -- or quantitative easing from the Fed or all these various things or, you know, stuff turns up. And basically the solution right now is, we're waiting for this gradual natural healing process to take place.
WILL: Twenty-four months ago, they thought there was going to be a New Deal. The assumption going in was that there had been a crisis of confidence in capitalism that would open the way for government to have much more latitude for activism. It turns out what happened was a crisis of confidence in government, which was in no small measure blamed for the recession, so that...
KRUGMAN: I agree. That's how it played out. It's not clear...
KRUGMAN: ... was right, but that's how it played out.
BRAZILE: But without that public investment, without simulating the economy, more Americans would have been in poverty, more state and local governments would have had to lay off teachers, and firefighters, and policemen.
So I think the president and the Democrats, who once controlled half that Capitol, they had the right priorities at the right time, but this is a different era and the president has to show he has a plan to create jobs for the future.
DOWD: Well, what I think is interesting is, the presidencies are founded on the idea that you have the power and the ability to communicate to the vast majority of the American public. When your numbers drop, you no longer have that power, and you no longer have the ability to fashion policy when you don't.
This president, I think, has finally learned that he is not going to be judged on a number of liberal or progressive legislative accomplishments, which he had a ton, more than any president in recent memory. He had health care. He had a number of things on investment packages. He had all that. And his numbers didn't move; they actually fell.
Until he shifted -- elections have consequences, and he shifted to a set of policies that was more in tune with where the American public was. His numbers have risen. Now he has the power of the pulpit again.
KRUGMAN: Yeah, I mean, look, I think the model is something like Clinton, who, in fact, mostly was just riding on a successful economy, which was successful mostly for reasons that had nothing much to do with him, but he was able to -- to be a very popular president by presiding over that, by providing competent management on those things you could control. I think that is Obama's model now. It's -- I'm not sure it'll be enough, because this -- we're in much deeper economic trouble than we were in the '90s. But given the realistic of political limits, you can't expect him to do too much.
AMANPOUR: We talk about symbolism, what the president needs to do. Politically, he's moved to the -- to the center. He's heeded the call of the people, so to speak. But when it comes to real solutions, how do you kick start and how do you make a dent in that 9.4 figure?
WILL: You don't. I had lunch this week with Austan Goolsbee, who was your guest a few weeks ago, and he said, look, people seem to feel that in the basement of the White House somewhere think there's an enormous switch, you go down and throw it, and jobs are created.
The fact is the terrible frustration in the White House must be that everything that really matters is beyond their control, which is how to create jobs. It's not going to happen because of the government.
AMANPOUR: We will pick that up in -- in a moment. When we come back, we'll have more with our roundtable on the state of the Obama president and what we expect in the State of the Union address, when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: While the people who sent us here have different backgrounds, different stories, different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: That was President Obama delivering last year's State of the Union address. Welcome back. Joined again by our roundtable.
George, I know that you have a great, great regard for watching the State of the Union on television.
WILL: A, they're overrated. The next morning, the country is still a complex continental country with muscular interests (ph) and politics is its own momentum.
Between Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson, no one delivered this in person. They sent their report to Congress in writing. But now we've turned this into this panorama in which -- in an interminable speech, every president, regardless of party, tries to stroke every erogenous zone in electorate.
AMANPOUR: Oh, my goodness.
WILL: And it becomes a political pep rally, to use the phrase of Chief Justice Roberts last year. If it's going to be a pep rally, with the president's supporters or whatever party standing up and braying approval, and histrionic pouting on the part of the other, then it's no place for the judiciary, it's no place for the uniformed military, and it's no place for non-adolescent legislators.
BRAZILE: It's a once-a-year opportunity to talk to the American people to remind us who we are and where we're going. This is an opportunity for the president to use scripture to give us a vision, because the Bible says, without a vision, a people will perish, and we didn't have that over the last...
AMANPOUR: So what is the vision? Because now or never.
BRAZILE: It's about jobs. It's about rebuilding America, making America competitive and strong again, and taking care of all our issues, both on the domestic front, as well as international.
DOWD: To me, the State of the Union -- and I'll agree in part with George and disagree in part with George on this -- they don't affect the American public. If you look at like approval numbers going into State of the Unions over the last 35 years and coming out, they do not move the numbers. Even Ronald Reagan, who was lauded as one of the best communicators in the history of this country, never moved the American public.
Barack Obama, another great speaker, did very well in Tucson. In last year's State of the Union, didn't move the numbers. But what is important I think in this is for him to continue to connect the dots with the audience in the Capitol and the people that surround people in the Capitol that he is going to keep doing what he's been doing since Election Day.
It's not the event in itself that matters, but it's how -- the cumulative effect of it. And if he continues to, one, talk about jobs and the economy, and then tie to it an increase in making our discourse better and talking to each other across party lines, if he does those two things, he will continue to rise in the polls.
AMANPOUR: There's been some preview of what he's going to say. What does he need to say to inspire confidence in the economy?
KRUGMAN: Oh, I don't think there's anything much he can do that will inspire confidence. I mean, what he's doing in the lead in is, is using this competitiveness, which is actually a tired old buzzword. But it's -- what he appears to be doing is signaling that he's not going to go for the full-out Republican agenda of slashing spending. He's actually going to make a case for more public investment.
And we're just -- you know, I think the main thing right now is what we're not hearing. We're not hearing him signing on to cuts in Social Security, which was something that was being floated for a while.
But, you know, and actually the whole thing -- that is -- political event, actually, doesn't matter. But it's an event that forces the president to signal what he's -- where he's going.
AMANPOUR: George, you talked about the braying and the pouting. And, obviously, there's been a huge amount of -- of -- of attention to the seating plan. Do you think the seating plan, which Democrats sit next to which Republican, and the new tone of civility is going to make a difference, going to last?
WILL: Well, if it, again, drains the pep rally aspect out of it, this will be fine. But as Matt says, the whole event does not matter.
AMANPOUR: Expect that...
KRUGMAN: I've got to say...
KRUGMAN: ... the juvenility of U.S. politics in this past year or so has just been amazing. And -- and, you know, I think about the fact that so much of this talk about Obama having an anti-business agenda has been just because, "Well, he doesn't treat us with enough respect." I never thought that "Ma, he's looking at me funny" would be a political rallying cry.
AMANPOUR: Well, when you say that -- but, look, and I keep repeating this, because I find it extraordinary, given the polarization of the debate. The vast majority of the American people say that they want -- the vast majority, Democrats and Republicans, up to 83 percent, that they want the president and the White House and the Congress to work together on these big issues. Is that -- will they heed the voice of the people?
DOWD: Well, it's interesting, Christiane, because the American public's been sending that signal for many years in a row. They sent it during Clinton's presidency...
AMANPOUR: So why doesn't anybody listen?
DOWD: They said it -- because it's much easier in the polarized nature of a lot of the -- of Congress and how it operates and the media, which sort of has a tendency to cede it to the people on the far left and the far right that can yell at each other. I do think it's a good thing that maybe some of them are going to sit together, though it kind of reminds me of my daughter's second-grade class. She doesn't like somebody this; we're going to seat them together and maybe they're going to get along. But in the end, I think it's a good step.
BRAZILE: Look, senators represent their states, representatives their districts. The president represents the entire country. An -- this is an opportunity to talk above the heads of the politicians to the American people to give them some confidence about the future.
AMANPOUR: Thank you all very much. We're out of time. And the roundtable will continue in the green room at abcnews.com/thisweek, where you can also find our fact checks in conjunction with PolitiFact. And when we return, ABC's John Donvan on the challenge of saying something new in the State of the Union.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back. As President Obama makes his final edits to the State of the Union address, he faces many challenges, as you've heard, the economy, war, and defending his signature achievement, health care reform.
But, as ABC's John Donvan tells us, one of his biggest challenge may be originality.
(UNKNOWN): Madam Speaker, the president of the United States.
DONVAN (voice-over): So they announce him by title, and everyone stands up, and they applaud, and he gets to have that lookout at everyone from on high moment, and that's got to be, you know, for a guy with any sort of ego, gratifying. You've arrived.
But then, the speech part, a tradition started by George Washington and then skipped by all intervening presidents who sent up written messages until 98 years ago Woodrow Wilson went back to once again delivering the State of the Union message by saying out loud, which all presidents have done nearly every year since then.
The speech part, really, doesn't it seem a little bit like homework to us and to him? Why is he preparing this particular speech right now? Because it's mandatory. It's expected by a certain date. It's an exam paper.
And it's as though for decades they've been sitting in the same study circle, carouseling around the same answers or non-answers, because after Nixon said...
NIXON: The United States will not be department on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving.
DONVAN: ... then Ford said...
FORD: These proposals and actions can reduce our dependence on foreign energy supplies.
DONVAN: ... then Carter said...
CARTER: Our excessive dependence on foreign oil is a clear and present danger to our nation's security.
DONVAN: ... and, at every stop, the same thing, as the spin has spun. OK, one more ride to show it's not just about oil. Ready? Reagan said... REAGAN: We must bring federal deficits down.
DONVAN: ... and Bush said...
GEORGE H.W BUSH: We must get the federal deficit under control.
DONVAN: ... another Bush said...
GEORGE W. BUSH: First, we must balance the federal budget.
DONVAN: And look who only last year said...
OBAMA: We do what it takes to bring this deficit down.
DONVAN: The challenge for him now is to say something new and to say it in a House that has just been handed to the party of his opponents. Traditionally, this is where presidents get all bipartisan all of a sudden in their State of the Union message.
Clinton in '95, when Republicans had just won the House in a landslide...
CLINTON: Now all of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, must say we hear you. We will work together to earn the jobs you have given us.
DONVAN: Bush in 2007, when the landslide went the other way.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on, as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there's work to be done.
DONVAN: Maybe, too, citizens don't care very much what is said in these speeches because the phrasings, the gestures, the theatrics are so very recycled, from naming the heroes in the high seats to the borrowings from scripture.
CLINTON: Reverend Robert Schuller suggested that I read Isaiah 58:12.
DONVAN: And if it's scripture that inspires, well, maybe we should take on this verse to temper expectations when he gets up there Tuesday night, Ecclesiastes 1:9, "There is nothing new under the sun." If he proves that one wrong, then it just might be one heck of a speech.
I'm John Donvan for "This Week."
AMANPOUR: And I'll be back with a special word on the passing of a statesman for peace and a warrior for the poor.
AMANPOUR: This week, the nation and the world bid farewell to a man President Obama called one of the brightest lights of the greatest generation. Sargent Shriver, the first head of the Peace Corps, died at 95 after a long battle with Alzheimer's.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: His legacy is written in the villages around the world that have clean water or a new school through the Peace Corps...
SARGENT SHRIVER: We're making an effort to improve education and the health services and the housing of people who are suffering under poverty conditions.
MARIA SHRIVER: For me, as his only daughter, perhaps his greatest achievement was showing us in our family how to show up in other people's lives and how to love unconditionally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And the Pentagon released the names of 18 servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past two weeks.
That's our program for today. Thank you for watching. ABC will have special coverage of the president's State of the Union address Tuesday evening. See you then.