Dems, Republicans Hear Different Things In Speech

Ken Rudin, political editor, NPR
Rep. Chris Chocola, former Republican congressman from Indiana
Rep. Judy Chu, (D-CA)

Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) provides her take on President Obama's second State of the Union speech, and former Republican Rep. Chris Chocola offers his perspective on whether the president's call to reform corporate taxes is just window dressing.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Rahm Emanuel is off and then on again in Chicago. Michele Bachmann is off to Iowa and off-camera. And George Allen wants another go in Virginia. It's Wednesday and time for a rerun edition of the Political Junkie.

Unidentified Man #1: I have the distinguished honor of presenting to you the president of the United States.

Unidentified Man #2: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.

Unidentified Man #3: ...Speaker, the president of the United States.

President RONALD REAGAN: You and I stand on the shoulders of giants.

President LYNDON JOHNSON: I will be brief, for our time is necessarily short, and our agenda is already long.

President BILL CLINTON: Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our union is strong.

President GERALD FORD: But today we have a more perfect union than when my stewardship began.

President GEORGE H.W. BUSH: The hand remains extended. The sleeves are rolled up. America is waiting. and now we must produce.

Unidentified Man #4: Good night, God bless you.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: Every Wednesday, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us to review the week in politics. Last night the president tacked toward the middle in the State of the Union. We'll get reactions from the Progressive Caucus and from the Club for Growth.

The Tea Party delivered its own SOTU response and took the party chairmanship in the first-in-the-nation primary state. A familiar face and a memorable quote resurface in the Virginia Senate race. And good news to report: Representative Gabrielle Giffords' condition has been upgraded to good.

Later in the program, the Akron mom who faces jail time for fudging her address to get her kids into a better school. But first, Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And as usual we begin with a trivia question. Hey, Ken.

KEN RUDIN: Hi, Neal. I didn't hear Howard Dean's scream in the beginning. I didn't know if this was the right show or not.

CONAN: Right show...

RUDIN: I thought I was on the wrong show or something. That was, of course, great...

CONAN: Moments of the State of the Union address of the past.

RUDIN: Of the past. Okay. You mentioned that George Allen says he wants to regain the Senate seat that he lost to Jim Webb back in 2006. Here's the trivia question: Who was the last person to lose a Senate race but win the rematch against the same opponent?

CONAN: So if you think you know the answer, the last person to lose a race for the United States but win the rematch against the same opponent, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Of course the winner gets a fabulous no-prize T-shirt.

But Ken, we talked about George Allen is back. This, well, this was a race that, six years ago or four years ago, I guess, he was a prohibitive favorite to win.

RUDIN: He was, and as we say all the time on this broadcast, that he was measuring the drapes for the White House. Many people thought he was among the frontrunners, if not the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.

And then in his August rally - and the Democrat, Jim Webb, a former Republican, former Navy secretary, didn't get in the race until February of 2006. The Democrats just couldn't come up with anybody of substantial reputation to run against Allen.

And then at this rally in the summer, August of 2006, George Allen had these words to say.

Former Senator GEORGE ALLEN (Republican, Virginia): We care about fact, not fiction. So welcome. Let's give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.

CONAN: And that, of course, was a young man of Indian extraction who was working for the Webb campaign, recording everything George Allen had to say at one of his rallies.

RUDIN: On a cell phone, and that changed the way that these new reporters can now make campaign news, just by the use of a cell phone.

So basically that once enormous lead dwindled to nothing. Allen lost in an upset. And now he's back. Now, the problem is, is that the Republican Party has changed since 2006.

It's moved much more to the right. He now has a Tea Party challenger by the name of Jamie Radtke, who says that George Allen is nowhere near conservative enough, he was soft on earmarks, soft on Bush spending excesses, and Eric Ericson(ph) of redstate.com is one of the people who has endorsed Radtke.

So it looks like this could very well be a rematch, but we still don't know what Jim Webb is going to do. Webb has not announced. He's not raised that much money. He said he'll announce one way or the other next couple of months.

Just one thing to update, another rematch people have been talking about in Missouri - Jim Talent against Claire McCaskill. Talent is now telling people he will not run. Ann Wagner, one of the finalists of the RNC chair race a couple of weeks ago, is the likely Republican candidate for that seat.

CONAN: But speaking of the Tea Party, the chair of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, Michele Bachmann, delivered the Tea Party State of the Union response message last night. We're going to be talking about the president and his message a little bit later in the program. But this was interesting.

RUDIN: Well, it is absolutely, and the fact is there was another Republican. I mean, there was a Republican response, and that was Paul Ryan, the congressman from Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. But the Tea Party Express went to Michele Bachmann, said, look, we want you to do a rebuttal as well.

And so she spoke to this - well, it was actually kind of interesting because CNN decided to broadcast it, and that's a very controversial decision, and if we have time, I'd love to talk about that.

But again, Michele Bachmann was looking at the Tea Party camera feed, not the CNN camera feed. So it looked like she was, like, off-camera. It was kind of an odd thing to watch last night.

CONAN: Well, we'll get back to Michele Bachmann in just a minute. But first we've got to talk about the mayoral race in Chicago, which is turning into - well, and a very appealing story.

RUDIN: Well, yes, appeal is exactly the word. Of course we all heard that on Monday an appellate court panel, by a two-to-one vote, decided that Rahm Emanuel did not live in the city of Chicago for the - did not reside in the city of Chicago for the past year as state law mandates -and he didn't. He was working as President Obama's chief of staff. He was living in Washington.

CONAN: Now, wait a minute. So Abraham Lincoln finishes his second term and wants to run for mayor of Springfield. He's ineligible?

RUDIN: Well, you know, the president is different and Congress is different. But this is - it's one thing to be a congressman and live in Washington. It's another thing to take a job outside of Congress, which is what he did.

You remember a few years ago, John Breaux wanted to run for governor of Louisiana, but they felt that because he was a lobbyist in Washington for five years, he was not a resident of Louisiana, as state law says.

So yes, state law seems to be against Rahm Emanuel's better interests, but most people feel that there's no way that they're going to push Rahm Emanuel off the ballot.

Yesterday the Supreme Court said: Do not print any ballots without Rahm Emanuel's name on it. We're going to take this up very, very soon.

Early balloting begins as early as Monday. So obviously there's a lot of - there's an urgency to this.

CONAN: Another state law in Illinois says you can't be penalized for going to work for the federal government, and apparently some say that only applies if you're a member of the military, but maybe working at the White House, well, that should be combat pay too.

RUDIN: Well, I think the feeling is they've never really clamped down on this kind of language. We saw in New Jersey, when Torricelli dropped out, and there was a replacement at the last minute, the courts said even though the law says no, we'll let it stand. Most likely Rahm Emanuel stays on the ballot.

CONAN: We have some people on the line who think they know the answer to this week's trivia question, and again, that is if we should have a rerun in Virginia, previous to that, who was the last United States senator to lose...

RUDIN: The last person.

CONAN: The last person.

RUDIN: To lose a Senate race.

CONAN: And then run again against the same person.

RUDIN: And beat that person.

CONAN: All right, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Mary Ellen(ph), calling us from Medway, Massachusetts.

MARY ELLEN (Caller): Hi, I'm a big fan of the show.

CONAN: Well, thank you.

MARY ELLEN: My guess is Al Franken.

CONAN: Al Franken, who - well, it might have seemed like six years that recount took, but...

RUDIN: Well, actually, no. I mean, Al Franken only ran for the Senate once, and that was in 2008, and when he beat Norm Coleman. Norm Coleman did lose for an earlier race, but there was no rematch there.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Mary Ellen, and for the kind words. Now, let's go next to - this is Eric(ph), and Eric with us from Birmingham.

ERIC (Caller): I'm going to say Lisa Murkowski from Alaska.

RUDIN: Well, let's see.

CONAN: She ran against Joe Miller.

RUDIN: It's hard to make that case as a rematch.

ERIC: But it happened.

RUDIN: It was - I think, well...

ERIC: Come on, let me get a T-shirt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: You know what? I'm not going to give it to him because it's just...

ERIC: Oh, come on.

CONAN: Did she run against Joe Miller before?

RUDIN: Who was the last person to lose a Senate race in a general election...

ERIC: You didn't say general election.

CONAN: (Unintelligible)

RUDIN: Well, okay. I don't want to end this contest, but maybe he does get a T-shirt.

CONAN: All right, you get a T-shirt for being clever, Eric, but not for the right answer.

RUDIN: For outsmarting me.

CONAN: All right, for outsmarting Ken. If we're going to make the bar that low, it's going to be a lot of T-shirts, Ken. All right, we're going to put you on hold, Eric. You're going to get a T-shirt.

RUDIN: So the last person to lose a Senate race in a general election -oh, I hate Eric, but he's right - but to win the rematch against the same opponent in a general election.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's go next to Marty(ph), Marty with us from Cleveland.

MARTY (Caller): Well, I was going to say it was in the '70s. Metzenbaum beat Glen in a special election to replace Saxby, but then in the next, in the regular election, Glen beat Metzenbaum, but I believe that was in the primary, not the general.

RUDIN: That was in the primary. That's exactly right. But Glen beat Metzenbaum - Metzenbaum beat Glen in the '70 primary, and then the results were reversed in 1974, but those were the primaries.

CONAN: So, and it wouldn't have been the last person in any event.

RUDIN: Not the last person in any event.

CONAN: All right, Marty, thanks very much for the call, and let's see if we can go next to - this is Stephanie(ph) and Stephanie with us from Manchester in New Hampshire, the state that has the first-in-the-nation primary.

STEPHANIE (Caller): So my guess is Jeanne Shaheen, who was just recently elected to the Senate, having beaten John Sununu and having lost to him in 2002.

RUDIN: That is correct.

CONAN: Ding, ding, ding.

RUDIN: The answer right there.

CONAN: Congratulations, Stephanie. We're going to put you on hold and collect your particulars, as well as Eric's.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And then both of you are going to have to promise to send us a digital picture of yourself wearing your brand new Political Junkie no-prize T-shirt.

STEPHANIE: I'll do that, and she's my mom. So I'm particularly proud of her and happy that she won.

CONAN: Well, I'm not - wait a minute, families of those - of course you're eligible, Stephanie. Thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

RUDIN: Gee, how'd she know the answer to that?

CONAN: I don't know.

RUDIN: By the way, just for history's sake, the one before that - Robert Taft beat Howard Metzenbaum in 1970, reversed in 1976 in Ohio.

CONAN: All right. In the meantime, New Hampshire has elected, the Republican Party there, a Tea Partier as the party chairman. Could that make an effect when the first-in-the-nation primary rolls around in a couple of years?

RUDIN: Well, John Sununu, not the John Sununu who lost and beat Jeanne Shaheen, but John Sununu's father, the former governor who was the outgoing Republican state chairman in New Hampshire, said, look, you know, Jack Kimball, this Tea Party guy, is - we're going to lose the independent vote in New Hampshire, which is so crucial to our success, if you elect this Tea Party guy.

Jack Kimball, though, was elected over the Republican establishment in a vote Friday. Now, a lot of people don't know Jack Kimball, but we will know his name pretty soon because, as you say, it looks like February 14th, St. Valentine's Day 2012, will be the New Hampshire primary, and as Josh Rogers(ph) of New Hampshire Public Radio reported this weekend, as Jack Kimball is taking congratulations and talking to the press about claiming victory, he gets a cell phone call from Tim Pawlenty. So Jack Kimball will be a very familiar name. Why are you making the face?

CONAN: I was just going to say: But does the party chairman traditionally play a big part in the Republican primary?

RUDIN: No. As a matter of fact, a lot of people, John Sununu, a lot of people are saying you've got to stay neutral because there are going to be a lot of factions in the Republican Party, which looks like a wide open race for 2012. They're afraid that Tea Party people will only back Tea Party-backed candidates.

CONAN: We'll talk more with Political Junkie Ken Rudin in a minute. And up next, more reaction to the State of the Union from the right and the left. Congresswoman Judy Chu and former Congresswoman Chris Chocola join us. Stay with us.

RUDIN: Congressman.

CONAN: Did I say congressman? I was so worried about the Chocola. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Ken Rudin is with us, as he is every Wednesday afternoon. In the interest of bipartisanship and civility, we'll skip anything disparaging about him today. I think I already passed that. But it's game on next week. You can read Ken's column, download his podcast and take a shot at the ScuttleButton puzzle, all that at npr.org/junkie.

Last night, President Obama stayed firmly in the center with his State of the Union message. He called for a corporate tax overhaul, pleasing conservatives. He also called for new spending on infrastructure and education, which made many on the left happy. We'll get reactions from the Progressive Caucus and from the Club for Growth in just a moment.

So Democrats, Republicans, if you listened to the speech last night, did you hear what you wanted to hear? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Join the conversation at our website, npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Congresswoman Judy Chu, a Democrat who represents California's 32nd District. Congresswoman, thanks very much for being with us today.

Representative JUDY CHU (Democrat, California): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And you're a leader of the Progressive Caucus. Are you worried the president tacked too far to the right?

Rep. CHU: I actually felt that President Obama set the right tone for turning our country around. I totally agree that we must out-educate, out-innovate and out-build other countries in order to maintain our economic global leadership.

CONAN: And as you listen to him, I know one of your great concerns, and among those of many in the Democratic Party, is Social Security.

Rep. CHU: Yes, it is a great concern. But I do believe that he is committed to ensuring that Social Security maintains its viability and that it's strengthened, actually, in terms of its long-term survival.

CONAN: Nevertheless, the president made it clear that programs supported by both parties are going to be on the chopping block. Let's listen to what he had to say.

President BARACK OBAMA: So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years.

(Soundbite of applause)

Pres. OBAMA: 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.

This freeze will require painful cuts.

CONAN: Painful cuts. What kind of painful cuts do you think the president was talking about last night?

Rep. CHU: Well, this is the one part of the speech that I was concerned about. I want to see what he means, and I also want to see what the impact is of this five-year freeze on the most vulnerable in our population. I know he said that they would not be hurt, but I wonder what that really means.

CONAN: Well, what, for you, would be off the board?

Rep. CHU: Well, I could not see huge cuts that would leave the most vulnerable without health care in particular. Some of our critical programs, make sure that our people are fed, for instance food stamp programs. But what does he mean with regard to those kinds of programs?

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Congresswoman, the simplistic - the view in Washington, perhaps simplistic, is that President Obama is looking at the role of Bill Clinton in 1996, moving more to the center because that's the way to win re-election, he has Bill Daley as chief of staff, things like that. Do you buy that argument? Do you see that happening? And if you do see it happening, have you heard complaints from fellow progressives?

Rep. CHU: Well, I think President Obama is being very pragmatic. He doesn't want to just hear himself talk. He wants results. And the proposals that he suggested last night do just that.

He is particularly pragmatic because he has a split Congress, and he also has an American public that is conflicted. So the whole point of last night was compromise.

I thought that the interesting thing was that he talked a lot about a Democratic agenda but one that he couched in centrist terminology. For instance, he didn't use the word climate change or cap and trade. They talked about 80 percent of America's electricity coming from clean energy sources in just 25 years. It's that sort of thing that I saw that gave me hope.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller in. This is Nicholas(ph), Nicholas with us from Cambridge in Massachusetts. And did you hear what you wanted to hear last night in the State of the Union message?

NICHOLAS (Caller): Hi, Neal. You know, I heard President Obama talk a lot about education and a lot about financing education and a lot about community colleges receiving a lot of funding for education.

But one thing that I think I wanted to hear that I didn't was just his position on providing funding to those who want to stay in college but can't because their colleges aren't willing to provide the rest of the bill. And they expect their parents, who really can't afford it either, to put forth money that they don't necessarily have.

And I really wanted to hear him talk about this in direct terms, as the previous person was just speaking about. And he used centrist terminology that really wasn't a nexus between the students and the rest of the government.

CONAN: So you wanted specifics on the cost of college education and on government subsidies?

NICHOLAS: Precisely and not necessarily subsidies but also including laws and regulations that would admonish the universities and colleges to assist in the payment of tuition and living costs so as to ensure that students actually graduate from college.

CONAN: Congresswoman Chu, we had a lot of generalities about education. Nicholas wanted more specifics.

Rep. CHU: Well, I actually thought that he addressed a particularly great step forward that we took, which was to take the profit that banks were making off of student loans, and we put that whole program into the federal government, resulting in lower interest fees on student loans, as well as more money for Pell grants.

NICHOLAS: And that was certainly a great idea, and I think the president did a good job of describing that. However, I really don't think that he actually stepped forward to articulate how that would lower the cost of college education for the average American or the average American family.

CONAN: Nicholas, thanks very much for the phone call. We appreciate it.

Congresswoman Chu, I just wanted to move to another subject, and that was the Bush tax cuts. The president again reiterated that those for the wealthiest Americans should not be permanent. Of course, he extended them for two years in December as part of the deal with congressional Republicans. This is something that progressives still find sticking in their craw.

Rep. CHU: That is true, and I think we were very heartened to hear him say that we cannot afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.

CONAN: Well, how are you going to make that fight again when the president's already backed down on it once?

Rep. CHU: Well, he did make a pretty affirmative statement there in the speech, and we need to have faith that he will hold to that.

CONAN: All right, Congresswoman Chu, thanks very much for your time today, and we appreciate it.

Rep. CHU: Thanks.

CONAN: Judy Chu is a Democrat who represents the 32nd District of California, vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and joined us from her office on Capitol Hill. We appreciate her time, particularly they're voting today on Capitol Hill, so it's been difficult for her to squeeze us in.

With us now on the line is Republican Chris Chocola, the former representative from the 2nd District of Indiana from 2003 to 2007, now the head of the Club for Growth. And Congressman, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. CHRIS CHOCOLA (Former Representative, Republican, Indiana): It's good to be with you, thanks.

CONAN: And Chris Chocola, did the president march to the middle enough to get your support last night?

Mr. CHOCOLA: Well, you know, I guess it depends on your perspective. If you don't think that we have an impending fiscal crisis in our future, then I guess, you know, not talking about entitlement reform, not endorsing any of his own debt commission recommendations, talking about freezing spending at historically high levels is fine.

But if you believe that we do have an economic crisis looming in our future and that the real issues are the size of the deficit, the size of the debt, the size of government and the burden it puts on our economy, then I don't think there's any kind of view that would say the president went to the middle.

He talked about more government. He talked about more investment. He talked really in a way that he doesn't think there's a crisis at all.

So I think he missed an opportunity to be straight with the American people, to talk about the challenges that we face as a country and that we must meet together, but he really missed the opportunity.

He used some nice words, that's great, but, you know, in the end, State of the Union speeches are big events, but they're not really remembered. And so I think that this will really be kind of an inconsequential speech, ultimately.

CONAN: Well, as part of it, he did promise, and we're going to hear a clip from the president's address last night, he did promise to revamp the tax code.

Pres. OBAMA: So tonight, Im asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system, get rid of the loopholes, level the playing field and use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years without adding to our deficit. It can be done.

(Soundbite of applause)

CONAN: A simpler tax code and lower corporate taxes, presumably you would applaud that, as well.

Mr. CHOCOLA: Well, like anything, the devil's in the details. Those are all great platitudes. Those are all, I guess, general ideas that we could agree on, you know, his little caveat at the end being, I forget what he says, revenue neutral or not increasing the deficit, is good, as well.

But it all depends on what you're really proposing as tax reform.

As you know, there are several different ideas out there. We at The Club for Growth would advocate a pro-growth solution to tax reform, but that's not, at least historically what the president would chair. You know, I don't think the president moved to the middle last night.

I'm not being critical of him. I thought he gave a fine speech, but he is who he is. And one of the things that you had to admire about Barack Obama is that he believes what he believes. He doesn't waiver in his beliefs, and he articulates his beliefs well most of the time.

But last night, I think as a result of the 2010 election, as the congresswoman said before I came on, he's now using different words to describe the same things. And so, I don't think he's changed his view. He's changed his language in light of the political environment.

But, you know, I think that he did miss an opportunity to be straight with the American people about the challenges we face, but maybe he doesn't believe that we have the crisis that I think the voters believe we have, as they expressed at the polls in November.

CONAN: Let's go to a caller, and this is Mark. Mark with us from Charleston in South Carolina.

MARK (Caller): Yes. How are you doing there?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

MARK: Well, Mr. Chocola, I want to thank you for your service to our country. I formerly served as an intern in a senator's office, and I know it's not an easy job being a congressman. So I appreciate your service.

Mr. CHOCOLA: Thank you.

MARK: But as far as the State of the Union Address goes last night, I was very intrigued when I heard the president say that he wanted to essentially dissolve and merge some federal departments, and that was good for me. I'm a traditionalist Republican, and I'm not for, exactly, big government, but I'm not for no government, either. And, well, for me, as a Republican, that was good for me, 'cause I think the federal government is a bit larger than I'd like it to be.

CONAN: Congressman?

Mr. CHOCOLA: Well, there's no question, you know, the president used his smoked salmon analogy which was one of the more humorous parts of the speech, obviously. But, you know, there are probably endless opportunities to eliminate redundancy in government. Really the waste, fraud and abuse is criminal that goes on at every level of government. And you can look at every agency, including defense. There's wasteful spending at every level.

And so - but, you know, waste, fraud and abuse and eliminating redundancy are words that every politician of every party has used throughout time. And so, really, with these types of speeches, it's more important to see what happens - what people do rather than what they say.

And so I think the proof is in the pudding. I think really that one of the biggest questions is - what - not whether President Obama has moved to the center, but what are the Republicans going to do?

And, you know, I think Paul Ryan did a fine job last night in his response. I think he did lay out some of the challenges that we face, but it ultimately is what is the Republican majority in the House going to do. And I think the most important thing that they can do is to frame the debate, so people will understand the choice they have and when they vote for president in 2012, which I think is a rare thing that people understand the consequence of their vote very clearly.

I think 1980 was one of those votes. I think 2012 could be one of those votes. And then, we'll see what they do because for us to get real change, I think we're going to have to have a different president that will embrace the challenges that we face and actually address them seriously in the State of the Union Address rather than talk in platitudes and try to find language that we can all agree on rather than the actions that we can all agree on.

CONAN: Mark, thanks very much for the call.

MARK: Thank you.

CONAN: And we're listening to the Political Junkie, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let me reintroduce our guest. Chris Chocola, the former Republican representative from Indiana, now president of The Club for Growth. Ken?

RUDIN: Mr. Chocola, following up on the political conversation, we just - you just seemed to allude to, it seems like if you look at it the polling numbers - and, of course, polling numbers could change and they have been changing - but we do seem to see since the lame-duck session and since the horrific events in Tucson, the president's numbers moving up and some uncertainty among Republicans. Do you think that that is indicative of what the political situation is? Do you think that'll last? And a sidebar, what do you make of the Michele Bachmann decision to have her up as a speaker yesterday as well?

Mr. CHOCOLA: Well, you know, polling is polling, and it reflects a moment in time, and those times change. And so, you know, I think the president did a very good job in response to the tragedy in Tucson. I think he gave, you know, a very inspiring speech, and I think you'll see reaction to that with the public.

With Michele Bachmann, you know, it was her decision to do that. She certainly has the right to do that. She certainly has a role to play and a voice, and she delivers that voice very effectively.

And so I think the Tea Party movement wants to be relevant in government, and one of the great things about the Tea Party movement is it is regular citizens trying to figure out how do they participate in good government. And so certainly I'm not going to be critical on any effort to do that, to have a voice in the direction our country goes is a very good thing.

And so polls are polls. And the Tea Party I think is strong and effective, but, you know, two years from now is a long time. And, you know, that's going to be the more relevant information at that time.

CONAN: Congressman, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. CHOCOLA: Thank you.

CONAN: Chris Chocola, former Republican representative from Indiana, now president of The Club for Growth.

Here's some emails. One from Charles(ph) in Birmingham. The president failed to win the hearts and minds of the America people once again. Democratic strategists around the country believe this is a contest for voters in the middle of the political spectrum, but they fail to see that they have to appeal to middle class, working class Americans and convince them that we, the Democrats, are on their side. President Obama is miserable at this. He comes across as lecturing to a class, not connecting to his fellow Americans.

This from Eugene(ph) in Miami. What I heard was what I expected. The general tenor was much like the speeches that preceded these. It gave the country hope, but was lean on specifics. President Obama is an extraordinary orator so he gets a huge bump in style points, but every speech by every president will contain two things. It will offer hope when the collective mood is one of hopelessness, and it will lack specifics.

Ken, I know you specifically wanted to talk about what you asked Congressman Chocola about, and that was Michele Bachmann and the decision by CNN to run her reply.

RUDIN: Well, it seems interesting. First of all, though, I've heard criticism from the left saying that basically what you're doing is you're giving two opposing voices to respond to President Obama, which is very unusual.

And Republicans are complaining that by putting Michele Bachmann right after Paul Ryan, you're splitting the Republican opposition and making them look more disunified than ordinarily would be the case.

But we should also point out that the Tea Party and CNN are going to host a Labor Day presidential candidates debate in Tampa this September. So perhaps maybe CNN was trying to curry favor with the Tea Party. But I just thought it was unusual to see two opposing rebuttals, two rebuttals to the president's State of the Union.

CONAN: Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor. You can read his Political Junkie column and download his poscast and...

RUDIN: Podcast.

CONAN: Podcast. And even if you dare try to solve his scuttle button puzzle, all at npr.org/junkie.

Ken, we'll talk to you again next week.

RUDIN: Thanks, Neal.

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