NOW with Alex Wagner | February 11, 2013
>>> this past election president obama won 126 more electoral votes than mitt romney , and he intends to make clear in tomorrow's staflt union that the math adds up to a mandate. based on conversations with democrats close to the president, politico's writes "less a presidential olive branch than a congressional cattle prod ." while his second inaugural address outlined a moral argument for the president's social priorities, the state of the union will see a return to jobs, the economy, and the middle class . against the back drop of congressional debate over deficit reduction and the sequester, president obama will call for more public spending offset by savings and new revenue. the president's decision to shift focus back to the economy isn't surprising when you take a look at public polling. the economy, jobs, and the budget deficit are at the top of the list for budget concerns. legal immigration and strengthening gun laws ranks 17th and 18th respectively. the new strategy may reflect a decision to strike while republicans are on their heels and plagued by internal conflict . for the third year in a row, the gop will not present a unified front in their response to the state of the union . in 2011 when the republican party chose paul ryan to give its official response, the tea party issued its own rebuttal.
>> instead of cutting, we saw an unprecedented explosion of government spending and debt. it was unlike anything we've ever seen before in the history of the country.
>> last year a gop response by mitch daniels had competition from the herminator.
>> in a word i heard the speech, and it came across as a hodge podge of little ideas.
>> this year senator marco rubio will deliver the republican response, while rubio was once the standard bearer for the tea party , the group is still opting for its own rival rebuttal from the man who said this after the past election.
>> there is one compromise i would be in favor of, and that's that all spending should be cut.
>> joining the panel now to discuss is msnbc contributor ari melber and jake sherman. jake , what are the optics here? ran paul on cnn said to me i see it as an extra response, but it doesn't really project party unity to have different responses to the president.
>> i think if john boehner and mitch mcconnell had their choice here, they would have one person going forward with the response. you know ran paul is not likely to give his remarks over to the party of the vetted. he is not coordinating with them on message. this is where the party is right now. the party has two different factions, and as much as they want to say they're together and they have they're together on cutting spend and on not raising taxes , there is a conservative beening that ran paul represents that's not going to go along with the party's pulpit.
>> there's been a lot of thundering and complaining -- i don't know if thundering is really --
>> classic thundering.
>> there's been some complaining by folks on the right that the president needs to stop campaigning. you know, he is going to make three stops after the state of the union , and he needs to get back to the work of legislating, and i don't work at the white house . if i had to channel what they might be thinking, it's, a, the campaigning thing and the public mandate seems to be working pretty well so far for me, but who do you want me to talk to? your guys can't even get plan b passed.
>> yeah. it's a classic beltway criticism that doesn't have any content. this gop house, as you documented, has spent a lot of its "governing time" doing basically made up message events, like trying to rig health care dozens of times, which is not a congressional activity. it's a political activity. i think the president has been very clear about trying to negotiate and govern in town, but he is the president. he is going to lead and reach out to people around the country.
>> and if we're being fair about sort of political motivations or strategic motivations here, jonathan, we read those pew numbers. the president spent almost two months since the election talking about innovation and gun control and not really focused on the economy. major garrett writes, "the uncharacteristically early white house preview of the speech suggests as a sense of internal -- suggests a sense of internal nervousness. in the past week some democrats have warned mr. president he risked losing touch with economic concerns as he dealt repeatedly with guns, immigration, and climate change."
>> well, as weave seen over the weekend, excuse me, that, you know, the president is going to talk about the economy. if the stories in the "new york times" and washington post are to be believed. the president hasn't taken the eye off the ball on the economy. the president like everyone m white house is watching they know where the country is. they know what the country cares about and they know what the country supports. when it comes to immigration and gun control and the economy as the election prove, the american people are on the side of the president, not overwhelmingly but they are certainly more with the president than they are with members of congress who are standing in the way of the president getting anything done, which is why he is in "campaign mode" because if congress isn't going to work with you, then at least get the american people to get congress to pay attention to work with you.
>> i want to add one thing here. it doesn't matter if he goes to every city in the country and spends his entire state of the union talking about spending on infrastructure and things of that nature, but the republican-led house is not going to go along with that. this is really an act in futility.
>> dwoent know how. to be honest, we don't know how much of the speech is going to push for infrastructure spending. god forbid we have better infrastructure spending. the economic piece is difficult for the president given the recovery has been really slow. we have the numbers from january. long-term unemployment has held steady. that is a lot of people who have been out of work for six months or more, and it is at its lowest rate since june 2009 . that's a long-term number. the short-term and sort of standard unemployment numbers haven't budged considerably, and so the president does -- is in a tricky position in terms of highlighting an economic plan that legislatively may go nowhere, and if you talk about what he has done so far, there's a sense of perhaps malaise among the american public.
>> in many weighs it shouldn't be a surprise that he is expected to talk on so much about jobs and the economy because that remains the biggest issue on everyone's mind. we have a recovery. we do have one. it's been very slow, and it's been -- it's had these lurchz lately because of everything that's happening with the fiscal cliff and, you know, on top of all that, if you look beyond just these past few years, the story of wage growth and income growth especially contrasted with what happened in the stock market . it is sort of a tale of two economies right now. you know, this is our biggest issue. in a way -- you know, this is -- the continuing narrative of what he inherited and it's also one reason he may be focused on the social issues is because ironically it may -- he may feel like it's easier to leave an imprint with those things than it is with the economy. who knows what's going to happen?
>> it looks like it's going in the right direction.
>> you haunt the halls of congress, jake . the ghost of christmas future . what is going to happen with the sequester? we saw some -- we have some sound from the sunday shows. it seems like each side is digging in its heels, and it's now really the blame game more than nelgs. let's play a little bit of sound from the leadership and congress.
>> what we do need is more revenue and more cuts.
>> the president accepted no spending cuts when, in fact, the fess cal cliff deal 45 days ago. you get no spending cuts back then. then you're going to get no revenue now. snoo what the president is proposing for the rest of this year at least is that we deal with the sequester the same way we have the first two months. evenly split between revenue and cuts.
>> he just got his tax hike on the wealthy, and you can't in this town every three months raise taxes.
>> so revenue and cuts versus no revenue or the cuts. that seems to be the parties are locked down into their positions.
>> i think you're going to see the next couple of weeks how seriously republicans can hold that line. if you start seeing defense contractors lay off tons of people and people's districts or you see, you know, economic fall-out from these huge cuts in the pentagon which both parties have said they want to avoid, you might see republicans open to revenue. there are republicans on the record saying that they would look at revenue to block these cuts, the sequester. john mccain said that the other day. republicans to exact a political victory here need to get spending cuts. i mean, they settled for a deal in the fiscal cliff that was not good for party leaders. they are going to hold very, very tight on that, and, by the way, after the sequester --
>> do you think that tea party response is almost sort of covering their bases there? i mean, the tea partiers get to say we had a strong message and held tight to our values. you know, these moderates went and made deals with the president. we're not to blame. if you -- in effect trying to sort of head off primary challenge if one is going to come up in 2014 .
>> that's the question. ran paul is playing a tough game. he has a personal history with mcconnell, who supported, you know, his challenger down there originally, and now he is trying to come out and do what cantor has done, which is get credits for making noise, but ultimately to jake 's point, what you have here is a little bit like if you have ever been in a relationship with someone who threatens to break up with you, and it's a tool.
>> happens all the time.
>> and it's a tool, but then when the bluff is called, that person doesn't actually want to break up, that's a lot of what's going on with the republicans. i don't mean to put them on the couch, but it's not that they don't have some of these feelings. they have these feelings about smaller government. we have already shrunk government for several years. we have lower discretionary spending than we've had under george w. bush and what do we have now? the question what do they want? close military bases , right? gut medicare . something they talk about, but isn't actually popular when you, what, literally cut medicare .
>> then when you end up cutting medicare . in terms of the sequester, if and when the president does address it tomorrow, is not supposed to focus on the defense piece, but on the nondefense piece. the programs that target, you know, young mothers, children. interesting the fact that he is not going to sort of the middle on this one, which is to say to talk at length about the defense cuts, but really the harm to low income families is definitely a choice.
>> defense cuts, there's a lot that can be cut without weakening our country. there really is. that is an enormous, enormous, you know, chunk of revenue, as everybody knows . this is -- it would all be easier if we had more growth. that's the overwhelming story here. it's like if you have more growth, everything is better. you know, everything is lighter. it's sunnier. there's more tax income to get revenue from. everything is easier. that's what we need to focus on. more than anything else.
>> watering the plant. not pruning it.
>> we're going to break on that. coming up, the boem administration refines a controversial bush era national security tactic and in the process sidesteps a few others. we'll discuss drones and the obama- bush doctrine conundrum