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Public Statements

CNN "Newsroom" Transcript: Inauguration Day

Interview

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BANFIELD: Oh, Pete King, I was going to say, I like your picture but don't give up your day job. You're a fine congressman. I'm not so sure about photographer.

Let me get to the business here. There were a couple of things that were said after the president's speech. Some people called this a very forceful and liberal inaugural address and some of your fellow Republicans said this.

I'm going to start with John McCain. He said that he would have liked to hear more outreach while Ohio Republican Rob Portman tweeted this. "My disappointment was that in the speech I think the president missed an opportunity to talk about where we can find common ground."

And then Steve King the Republican from Iowa tweeted this, "Awesome and shockingly liberal address. An epic realignment."

So, some people said not at all, other people said what I just read. What's your take?

KING: Well, you know, the president won the election, so he's certainly entitled to pursue his agenda.

I thought it would have been more effective, though, if he had spoken more in thematic terms. By being as precise as he was, he was really laying out a liberal agenda which is usually what's done in a State of the Union.

You know, going back to Ronald Reagan's first address, he was saying that, you know, government is not the solution; it's the problem. Those are general statements.

I thought the way he got specific yesterday made it more of a, again, almost campaign type of address. I mean, parts of it were very good. He's an excellent speaker, obviously.

But even, for instance, the way he was sort of distinguishing the issues, implying that Democrats care more about disabled kids than Republicans do or he's not going to turn his back on the sick elderly.

Well, you know, no one wants to do any of those things, so I thought he could have found some way to be more constructive. Maybe he felt that the time for that is gone, but, you know, he's going to have a State of the Union speech coming up on February 12th. That's where he can really lay out his agenda.

I thought last night -- yesterday, he missed an opportunity. I'm not as critical as some of the others may be. I think it would have been better for him if he had tried to reach out a bit more.

BANFIELD: So, you know, I guess if the president thought that he was giving an address that could look forward to changing the partisanship that is just paralyzing Washington, it didn't take but a minute for the tweets to come out with a completely different perspective.

What else could the president have said -- listen, I'll tell you. I didn't do the counting myself. I'm going to credit "USA Today" for this. He said the words, "our journey is not complete five," times.

He said, "we, the people," five times. He said the word "together" seven times. What should he have done differently that would have assuaged the kinds of tweets that we saw right afterwards?

KING: I think he should have done more to say there's honest disagreement. There's honest disagreement. We have strong views. Let's try to find more of a common ground.

He didn't really acknowledge the honest disagreement. It was, somehow, there's the voice of reason and there's the shrill cries on the other side. So, I think he should have gone more to say, hey, there's people who honestly disagree with me.

Now, there's some people who are never going to agree with him, but I think he would have made more progress if he had acknowledged, again, the honest disagreements, if he had even perhaps mentioned John Boehner's name or Mitch McConnell's name the way President George H. W. Bush did with Speaker Jim Wright back in 1989.

It's just a gesture honoring day which is more of a unifying day. You can still make the case, but do it in a more magnanimous way.

But, again, he won the election. Yeah?

BANFIELD: Yeah, I was just going to say, Congressman, that, you know, sometimes I wonder if words matter at all at this point given the climate in Washington, D.C.

And I only say this because I'm trying to, at the same time, look at the criticism of the exact same speech. The conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, called this a "harshly ideological, aggressively partisan speech more appropriate for the campaign trail. His address reads like a liberal laundry list."

While at the same time, Scott Peters, a Democrat from California, said, you know, this is a call to action and a reminder that we have the ability to do a lot if we work together.

Bernie Sanders saying it's inspiring in its basic theme that we're in this together.

I don't get it. I just don't get it, how you people who all do the same job -- I understand partisanship. I just don't understand hyper- partisanship.

KING: Yeah, you know, well, there's really no place for hyper- partisanship, but there are real honest positions. The country is divided.

I mean, even though the president won a big victory, he still got only 51, 52 percent of the vote. The Republicans still kept the House. So, there is still a divided country.

And, again, I think if he can try to find the common ground -- listen, there are some people who are never going to listen to him. But, if he wants to get the people on his side to bring pressure on Congress, I think if he showed more of a sense of outreach, I think that would have brought more people over to his side.

Instead, those who are watching it who disagreed with him will still disagree. But, if he had, again, I think, extended -- I hate to use the term "the olive branch" -- it may have -- I'm not saying it's going to win over the partisans in Congress, but it could win over some of the supporters, some of the people out there who are more independent-minded who can bring pressure on their representatives on both sides.

Like, for instance, I thought he should have done more to emphasize that he was willing to make some sacrifices on his side when it comes to entitlements because, if we are going to have any progress, Republicans are going to have to move on our issues, but also the president is going to have to move on the issue of entitlements, on Medicare and Social Security.

And, again, he really, if anything, just seemed to dig in hard defending those programs as they are. Now, that was the impression he gave. Now, maybe he's willing to make concessions, but it would have been helpful, I think, if he had indicated that willingness up front.

BANFIELD: It's always good to hear from you and I have a feeling with the big decisions that lay ahead just in the next couple of months, Congressman, that you and I'll be talking again. Thank you very much for your time.

KING: And, Ashleigh, if you're lucky I'll take a picture of you.

BANFIELD: This time, there's this little thing called focus. I just want to let you know in advance. Just hit that thing first.

Pete, thank you.


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