Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Growing Anti-Government Protests in Several Muslim Nations Turn Violent; State Employees on the March in Wisconsin
Aired February 18, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, deadly shots ring out and cries for freedom. Growing anti-government protests in several Muslim nations turn violent. The White House says it's very worried about the situation in Bahrain, Libya, and Yemen right now.
Plus, teachers and other state employees are on the march in Wisconsin. And over a dozen lawmakers are on the lam. We're following the showdown over the budget and union workers' rights and whether president Obama should stay out of it.
And former Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele takes on democrat Donna Brazile on the threat of a government shakedown and who it would help or hurt. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Candy Crowley, and you're in 'THE SITUATION ROOM."
Just one week after the fall of Egypt's president, a day of prayer in the Muslim world triggers new anti-government protests across the region and deadly violence.
Bahrain is especially volatile right now after security forces fired guns and tear gas at a few hundred demonstrators. We are told several people were killed and dozens injured. CNN's Arwa Damon was close to the scene of the clash when it happened. Arwa, what's going on there right now?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, the situation has calmed down at this point, but it was fairly intense with that small group of around a few hundred demonstrators deciding that they wanted to take back Pearl Square and coming face-to-face with the military and police cordon outside.
They tried to advance on that location a couple of times. They were driven back, by they say, live ammunition and pellet bullets, but they continued, stopping at some spots, praying, and then moving forward.
And then take a listen to what happened:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAMON: Are you willing to die for this? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, absolutely. That's why I'm here. Is there something wrong with dying for our country or for our rights? (inaudible).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DAMON: Point, Candy, where tear gas was fired, complete chaos thereafter. People running away. We saw a number of people being thrown into the back of ambulances. The tear gas really having a strong impact, also we heard it being fired into a residential neighborhood nearby. The government seeming to impose a no tolerance policy when it comes to allowing the demonstrators to take over any part of the streets. Candy?
CROWLEY: Arwa, a couple of questions here -- and one, the first here is that one of the representatives from Bahrain appointed especially for this has said that the shooting and the government action been proportional to the demonstrators. Can you speak to that?
And we also know there are reports of violence and demonstrators -- demonstrations at the hospital where the wounded went. What did you see at the hospital?
DAMON: Yes. Candy, that has been a big issue of dispute, the amount of force that the government has used, with the government standing by the statement that it used minimal force and it took the actions necessary to ensure not only stability of the nation, but, more importantly, the stability of the economy here.
That, of course, greatly disputed by the demonstrators, by doctors, and medics at the hospital who firmly believe that the government came down with an unnecessary heavy hand, causing a number of casualties, and ambulance medic telling us that four people were killed today at the hospital afterwards. Of course, more scenes of tragedy and chaos. We saw them there last night as well. The demonstrators, though, are insisting that the more force the government uses, the more determined they are to keep this up. The government has come out saying that now is the time for dialogue between the various parties. But as to whether or not that is going to bring about an end to these wave of demonstrations, well, that simply remains to be seen at this stage.
CROWLEY: Arwa Damon out of Bahrain for us tonight, thank you so much.
In Egypt, massive crowds packed into Cairo's Tahrir square to celebrate President Hosni Mubarak's ouster one week ago. It was billed as a day of victory, but Egyptians also are trying to put the country's military caretakers on notice, that they better follow through with democratic reform.
Our CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is in Cairo. A massive demonstration today, Ben, but not entirely a celebration. There was a message.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is more a celebration than anything else. I mean, even though President Mubarak stepped down a week ago, from the racket in the streets of Cairo, would you think that it was five minutes ago. We've had fireworks going off all evening, horns honking, people just jamming into Tahrir square.
People are obviously concerned that the military isn't getting the message that there has been a revolution, that people continue to demand fundamental change in the way this country is run, but by and large, what we're seeing, really, is a feeling of rebirth of Egypt. People are proud about this country like they haven't been in years.
Now, just a while ago I was down in Tahrir square. I spoke with one woman Lehla Mahmud (ph) who brought her entire family to the square to witness history in the making. This is what she said:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEHLA MAHMUD: We're here to celebrate because we never believed that we could come this far. We're very proud of our country, and we wanted the world to see this. And the revolution is not over. We still have a lot of demands, and I think we're on our way there. And I'm very optimistic for this country, and I think everybody is feeling it, and there's so much -- so much energy, and it's positive energy. And we feel united for once.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WEDEMAN: And other people I spoke with, however, said that they are concerned about the continued presence in the Egyptian government, in the higher military council that runs the country, of people too associated with the old regime. One man said he wanted to see the head of that higher military council, the minister of defense, Mohammed Tantawi, to leave and hand over to a younger military officer who he said would serve the people better. Candy?
CROWLEY: Ben, let's go right next door to Libya. I know you have several sources there. We are told that there are more demonstrations today. Can you fill us in on what you heard?
WEDEMAN: Yes. It does appear that the eastern part of Libya is more or less in open revolt against the government of Colonel Gadhafi. We did speak to several people in Benghazi who say as many as many as 50 thousand people are camped outside the main courthouse there. One source I spoke with in Benghazi said that the Libyan police, the army, are simply not on the streets of the city.
However, he said there are three Libyan Army tanks outside the courthouse, but in fact the demonstrators are in contact. They are speaking with the crews of those tanks, and there's been no violence, at least this evening. The source said the city is quiet.
He did say he went to the local hospital, the Al Jala Hospital. He said that the hospital is full of dead and wounded. We've heard from other medical sources in Benghazi that as many as 50 people have been killed since Tuesday when demonstrations took out -- took off in the eastern part of the country. So, a very unstable situation, but it's -- it's extremely difficult, Candy, to get really hard and fast information from there given the very repressive nature of the Libyan regime. Candy?
CROWLEY: Ben Wedeman in Cairo, tonight. Nobody better to cover this constantly changing story in the Middle East. Thanks so much, Ben.
The U.S. Military has a lot at stake as the anti-government protests play out in the Middle East. We will take a tour of where American troops are the most threatened. Plus, huge protests and angry politics in Wisconsin. Why president Obama is trying to influence the state's budget showdown.
And a controversial vote to block funding for health care reform. Could be a factor in whether there's a government shutdown.
CROWLEY: Thousands of angry public workers packed into Wisconsin's Statehouse today to protest a bill they say will cripple their union. 14 democratic State Senators are in hiding right now in a dramatic bid to stall the bill. Republican Governor Scott Walker has ordered state troopers to try to round them up. He insists the bill is needed to help ease the state's huge budget shortfall.
Many schools have been forced to close because so many teachers are taking part in the protests. This four-day long showdown is not only paralyzing parts of Wisconsin, it is adding to budget tensions here in Washington. We want to bring in our Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry.
The President and republicans are at odds over what's going on in Wisconsin, and they have got enough to argue about right here, so what's -- what's the big deal here?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right, Candy, and House Speaker John Boehner really raised the stakes today by putting out a tough statement charging the president and his allies are whipping up what Boehner called Greece-style protests in Wisconsin. Boehner is charging this is going to undermine any effort to find bipartisan solutions to solve the budget crisis, not just in Wisconsin but all around the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PROTESTERS: Kill the bill. Kill the bill.
HENRY: Think this is just a narrow budget fight in one state? Think again.
BARAK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally seems more like an assault on unions. HENRY: The president knows Wisconsin is round one in the national battle for control of the budget message. So he sent his outside political team, "Organizing for America", to help build even larger crowds. And union officials are vowing to take the protests to Ohio, Indiana, and other big 2012 political battlegrounds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wisconsin is just a start.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just a start, just a start. You'll start to see it all over the country, and, as I said, this is payback for some of these, you know, folks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: Labor officials charge teachers in Wisconsin are being unfairly targeted for deep cuts. They get smaller raises, pay more out of pocket for pensions and health care and lose collective bargaining rights for both. Wisconsin's Republican Governor Scott Walker, staring at a $3.6 billion state deficit, says he needs to cut somewhere, and he's getting air cover from House Speaker John Boehner who, like the president, knows Wisconsin is really just a proxy for their own showdown coming March 4th, when funding for the federal government runs out and a possible shutdown is looming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOEHNER, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: He was elected to lead, not to sit on the sidelines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: Boehner aides privately tell CNN they believe Democrats are trying to stop Walker because they are worried he and other governors will be able to, "pull a Chris Christie" as in the Republican in New Jersey who faced down unions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have two choices. To either stand up and do the right thing, to speak the truth and speak it bluntly and directly, or to join the long parade of leaders who have come before us and failed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: White House aides note that in his interview with a Wisconsin station, the president did stay leaders at all levels will have to make tough choices.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Everybody's got to make some adjustments to new fiscal realities. We had to impose, for example, a freeze on pay increases for federal workers.
(END VIDEO CLIP) HENRY: But Republicans like Boehner say, look, the president started this week at a White House news conference saying he wants an adult conversation with republicans about how to pay for all these federal government programs. Now he's ending the week trying to expand some of these protests in Wisconsin. That may make it harder in fact for both sides to come together. Candy.
CROWLEY: Thanks, Ed Henry, at the White House.
There is even more reason to believe that a government shutdown will happen March 4th. The Republican-led House today approved two controversial amendments to the bill, to slash government spending for the rest of this fiscal year. One would bar federal agencies from spending money to implement the new health care law, and the other would block all federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst Gloria Borger.
You know, we - we have sort of this pre-game blame game going on -
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We do.
CROWLEY: -- with each side blaming the other for a shutdown that seems increasingly likely.
What are the - what makes the difference here? What's the X factor in all of this?
BORGER: Well, it's those Republican freshmen. It's a huge class, as you know, 87 Republican freshmen.
We did a little digging today, and our crack research director Rob Yoon tracked down the fact that 34 of them have never held elective office at all before, Candy, so no experience here, but they came here to cut government.
Then we did a word cloud, a little bit of a word cloud, and you can see the things that - we tried to figure out what they did before they came here. Business owner, lawyer, physician, you see there. There are, among them, a pizza parlor owner, a mortician, a dentist, a Christian youth camp director, an auctioneer and a former car dealership owner, and these people are not beholden to anybody, they say, except their constituents. A lot of them say, you know what? I don't care if I get re-elected.
So sometimes, for example, they voted with Barack Obama and the Democrats to not fund the engine for the F-35 fighter, which is something their leadership had approved. So they're independent and very hard to predict.
CROWLEY: And they're not playing by the rules.
BORGER: They are not playing by the rules. Well, what are the rules? You know, we know, of course, that they're not going to end up having the last word, at least in this round of fights, because no matter how many budget cuts they do - they do approve, particularly for the 2011 budget that they're talking about right now, it still has to go to the Senate. Senate Democrats wouldn't agree with it. The president has - has threatened to veto.
But, overall, these are people who say we came here to shrink the size of government. That's what we're going to do. And I think in some way, Candy, it might be very useful to the president and to those who are working on some kind of entitlement deal because they're going to - they're going to vote for that because that will help shrink the deficit and the debt.
CROWLEY: So, you know, the - the problem is it does put them at odds with their leaders because, you know, yes, they were brought to Washington to cut the deficit.
CROWLEY: But we also know that they were brought to Washington to do something.
CROWLEY: Is shutting down government doing something?
BORGER: No. Shutting down government is not, and that's what John Boehner has said, and that's what Barack Obama has said, and that's what the Treasury Secretary has said.
But these are people who want to make a point, and sometimes, as you know, Congress is a crisis-activated institution, so if you create a crisis, then maybe the sense is they'll do something.
The interesting thing to me in watching this politically is that there's nothing leaders can really do to buy their loyalty.
BORGER: They can't say to them, OK, we're going to give you a committee chairmanship in four years, or we're - we're going to raise money for you back home to make sure that you get re-elected. We'll help you with your political action committee.
For lots of these people it's sort of, you know what? I'm not sure I'm going to be here in two years. I'm not sure I want to be here in two years. Lots of them say, you know what, I had a better job before I came here.
CROWLEY: I'll go back to the pizza parlor.
BORGER: So I can go - I can go back to my very happy business which made me some money, and I came here to do this, and that's what I'm going to do, so there's no way you can force me or even cajole me to do what you want. CROWLEY: It's (INAUDIBLE).
BORGER: ... made it fun.
CROWLEY: Oh, yes. They have.
BORGER: It's a beautiful thing to watch.
CROWLEY: It is. It is.
Thanks so much, Gloria Borger. Appreciate it.
Not every lawmaker in the House actually sleeps in the house when they come to Washington. Some prefer - I'm sorry. Some prefer cots in their offices, but is that at your expense?
Plus, should the media have access to critical documents in the case of alleged Arizona gunman Jared Lee Loughner? The decision is in the hands of a federal judge.
And at least 20 people dead, another 200 injured as bloody clashes worsen in the streets of Libya.
CROWLEY: President Obama wraps up his West Coast Win the Future Tour.
Our Liza Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM.
LISA SYLVESTER CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Candy.
Well, the president renewed his push for education funding before an audience of Intel workers in Oregon, arguing that despite the growing fiscal crisis, investment is needed for the country's future. His proposed budget for 2012 includes an 11 percent hike in federal education spending.
Also today, Intel's CEO was named to the president's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, she is turning down a bid for the open Senate seat in her home state of Arizona. A spokesman for the secretary says she's focused on the job the president has asked her to do, protecting the American people.
Senator Jon Kyl, the second ranking Republican in the chamber, just recently announced he wouldn't seek re-election next year.
And the federal judge in California is hearing arguments today over whether search warrants and booking photos of alleged Arizona gunman Jared Lee Loughner can be released to the media. A number of news organizations are requesting the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Loughner is charged in the deadly shooting rampage that critically injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last month.
And the Vatican has announced that the coffin of the late Pope John Paul II will be exhumed for his highly anticipated beatification ceremony in May. It is also warning the thousands of people expected to beware of those who claim to be selling tickets for the event on the Internet since tickets are not required.
The ceremony will move the late Pope one step closer to sainthood - Candy.
CROWLEY: Wow. So you don't need tickets, but somehow they're selling them on the Internet?
SYLVESTER: No, no. They're saying that that would be a scam, that if people hear about tickets being sold on the Internet, don't believe it. That's a scam.
CROWLEY: Just go.
SYLVESTER: You don't actually need tickets to go.
CROWLEY: Thanks so much. Lisa Sylvester.
President Obama is urging several Mideast nations to show restraint in their response to anti - anti-government demonstrators. We are following new crackdowns in Yemen and Libya.
And we're investigating who is really behind the brutal attacks we've seen against some protesters. Are dictators bringing in thugs from other countries to do their dirty work?
CROWLEY: Anger is rising against two of the longest serving leaders in the Arab world.
Thousands marched in Yemen against President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The protests turned violent when Saleh supporters plunged into the crowd, waving daggers and throwing rocks.
Mohammed Jamjoom marched along with some of the anti-government demonstrators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the biggest crowd we've seen of anti-government demonstrators so far this week. As of now, about 1,500 demonstrators marching through the streets of Sana'a, demanding regime change, saying they want this government out, chanting first Mubarak, now Ali.
By the looks of it, this crowd very emboldened, ready to keep marching, saying they want their freedom. They want change.
Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN, Sana'a, Yemen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Pretty amazing stuff.
We also saw growing protests and violence in Libya today. Thousands took to the streets to support - to show their support for and opposition to strongman Moammar Gadhafi.
At least 20 people were killed in Libya's second largest city during clashes with security forces. We have late word from that city that more than 50,000 demonstrators are camped out for the night.
We want to bring in our CNN's Brian Todd. Brian, you've been looking into who's behind the violence we've seen in Libya and in Bahrain.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Candy, and in Bahrain and Libya, as you've seen, forces confronting the protest have not hesitated to use violence, and we're hearing that a key reason for that could be that some of the enforcers aren't even from those countries.
TODD (voice-over): In Bahrain, protesters are fired on. In Libya, reports that the scale of brutality is even worse, with security forces killing scores of demonstrators, wounding hundreds. And there are concerns over just who is doing the dirty work.
In Bahrain, an opposition leader says this about the people confronting them.
ABDUL JALIL KHALIL, LEADER, AL-WEFAQ PARTY: You know, the police, they don't speak Arabic.
TODD: In Benghazi, Libya, we have an eyewitness account that there were men armed with stones and knives on the street from the neighboring country of Chad. CNN has not been allowed to report from Libya, and we cannot independently confirm this information.
Are the rulers of Bahrain and Libya outsourcing their enforcement? I asked analyst Simon Henderson about Bahrain.
SIMON HENDERSON, WASHNGTON INSTITUE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: Foreign mercenaries or foreign recruits to the Bahrain security services are seen to be crucial. They're the ones which are providing the - the manpower.
TODD: Bahrain's royal family is Sunni Muslim, and Henderson says they want to confront the mostly Shia crowds with Sunni enforcers from Pakistan, Jordan, even former officers who worked for Saddam Hussein's security forces in Iraq. And he says there's another reason they've been bringing in foreigners.
TODD (on camera): Is it thought that the people coming in from abroad are going to be more willing to hit these people and - or even shoot them? HENDERSON: Recruits from abroad owe their living, owe their livelihood, their residence in Bahrain, to the Bahrain government. If the Bahrain government says to them go and hit that person, they will say yes, sir.
TODD (voice-over): Analysts say in both Libya and Bahrain, it's the police and other security forces, not the armies of those countries, using foreign-born enforcers. In Libya, analysts say Moammar Gadhafi de-fanged his army long ago, suspecting army officers of trying to overthrow him.
Who's cracking down now in its place? I asked Marc Ginsberg, former U.S. ambassador to Morocco, who says he's met with Libya's intelligence leaders.
MARC GINSBERG, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO: He's imported security support from Sudan, as well as from Pakistan, and his intelligence advisers have received significant intelligence support from former KGB officials who are part of the eastern bloc countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, as well as from Belarus.
TODD: We contacted the Libyan embassy here in Washington to respond to that. The ambassador would not comment.
Now, on the accounts of foreign enforcers in Bahrain, I spoke with a senior Bahraini official with knowledge of that situation. He said they don't hire Iraqis. He says the king has in recent years weeded out most of the foreigners from the police force. He says he can't guarantee that there's still not some in there, but he says if there are Pakistanis and others among them beating protesters, this is his quote, "It has to be investigated," - Candy.
CROWLEY: But you're - you're hearing that should things get worse in Bahrain, they may bring in other external forces.
TODD: That's right. One analyst told me that if the Bahraini royal family is severely threatened by this unrest, that they may ask the Saudi government to send in the Saudi National Guard to help them quell the protesters.
I asked a senior Bahraini official about that. He said we hope it never comes to that, and I said well, what if it does? He said we hope it never comes to that. He didn't really deny it.
CROWLEY: The kind of answers we're getting these days, aren't they?
CROWLEY: Thanks so much. Thanks, Brian.
The violent political upheaval surging across the Middle East could have serious implications for U.S. security and military interests in the region. CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is here with more - Chris.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Candy. You know, each of these protesters have their grievances are unique to their own particular country, but, taken together, these countries form sort of an informal network that the U.S. uses to protect shipping lanes, to increase security and to go after terrorists.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Waves of protests have toppled some governments and forced concessions from others, but each country presents unique concerns for the United States.
Take Yemen. U.S. intelligence officials say the al Qaeda group based there has become the number one threat to America. The U.S. spends hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, trains Yemen's counterterrorism force, and is allowed to use drones to go after terrorists.
Yemen's protesters have already forced the president to step down at end of his term. New leaders may not be as cooperative with the U.S. on counterterrorism.
Then there's Djibouti. Thousands of protesters are demanding the president step down, but he's allowed the U.S. to use his country as a hub from which it trains other country's security forces. American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are all based there.
There have been violent protests in Bahrain, and more peaceful demonstrations in Kuwait. Those two nations, along with countries like Qatar and the UAE, have agreed to accept American missile defense systems designed to counter any potential threat from Iran.
JAMES CARAFANO, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: If you string all that stuff together, you actually have across the region going from Israel through the Gulf Coast states, you have a much more robust capability to kind of counter the Iranian missile threat.
LAWRENCE: Bahrain is also home port to the Fifth Fleet. Dozens of U.S. Navy ships that patrol hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean and protect a big part of America's oil supply.
LAWRENCE: That includes all that Saudi oil that comes out of the Strait of Hormuz, all the way over to the shipping lanes in the Suez Canal.
Now, the U.S. has never depended solely on any one country, but having a seaport is the difference between say, you know, going 5,000 miles cross country with everything on your back, to just running down to the local 7-Eleven - Candy.
CROWLEY: Chris, all of that is why they keep telling us this is a complicated situation. It really is.
Thanks so much.
CROWLEY: From the Middle East to protests in America's Midwest. We'll check in live on the budget showdown that's rocking Wisconsin and keeping kids home from school.
Plus, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on what he really thinks of the Tea Party Movement.
And Michael Steele versus Donna Brazile on today's House vote on health care funding. Democrats are saying Republicans need to watch their language.
CROWLEY: Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is brushing off the fact that he was booed during a recent gathering of conservatives. A number of young people walked out in protest when Rumsfeld took the stage. They reportedly were supporters of the Tea Party favorite, Congressman Ron Paul.
I asked Rumsfeld today about that incident and his take on the Tea Party.
DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think the Tea Party people have brought a lot of energy into public life and public affairs, and it's a - a good thing that people are energized and active.
In my adult life, I have seen the Republican Party declared dead and over probably four or five times, and it hasn't been. And what's going on now is some energy into it, and that's a good thing, and I like to see people involved in public affairs and - and bring in fresh ideas and - and what have you.
I am deeply worried about the budget. I think that the deficit is a - a danger to our country. I think it's going to damage our future, and I think it's putting our next generation at great risk, and - and we have to really be honest enough with ourselves and address it.
CROWLEY: You can see my interview with Donald Rumsfeld on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" Sunday at 9:00 A.M. and noon Eastern.
For many Republicans, the health care bill is known as Obamacare. Well, now some Democrats are taking offense at the term. We'll tell you why.
Plus, the power of unions now in jeopardy in Wisconsin and states around the country. Are they the latest casualty of tough budget decisions? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
CROWLEY: Lots of back and forth on Capitol Hill today over the appropriate name for President Obama's controversial Health Care Bill.
Joining us in today's "Strategy Session," CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. Also, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele. It's good to see you both.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you.
CROWLEY: I want to play you a little bit of what went on on Capitol Hill today. This is about health care reform, but, really, it's all about what's in a name. Let's take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DENNIS REHBERG (R), MONTANA: We call it what it is. It is Obamacare. It's a travesty. It is big government.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: It is meant as a disparaging reference to the president of the United States, and it is clearly in violation of the House rules against that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Huh? Isn't it just a tiny bit oversensitive here?
BRAZILE: No. Look, during the - the previous president, whenever there was disparaging remarks, you know, you have to take those remarks down.
Look, I understand why Republicans would like to name it after the president, and - and then to go out and demonize it. The truth is is that 85 percent of the American people receive their health care from private insurance. So I could call my health care Blue Cross, Aetna, whatever.
The truth is, this bill, hopefully it will continue to be the law of the land, will help people with pre-existing conditions get health - health care. It will lower premiums for Americans, lower the deficit. It's a good bill and I hope the Democrats will continue to fight for it.
CROWLEY: I have a question about that, but let - let me ask you, they do kind of mean it as a derogatory term.
MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Look, it think this is - this is hypersensitivity, you know, gone amuck here.
It is what it is. This is a bill that was fashioned by, produced, and ultimately signed into law by the president. This is his (INAUDIBLE) on it, number one. Number two, for the past two years we've calling it Obamacare, so this is not like all of sudden we woke up this morning and said, oh, gee, Obamacare. I spent two months on a bus calling it Obamacare, you know, in the last days of the - of the campaign.
The only thing that is disparaging here is what - what the bill does to the American people in terms of their entitlement to health care, their ability to pay for health care and the cost of the nation as a whole, and that's been the - the crux of - of the debate at the end of the day. That's the substance of it. Now you can get off from this - this crazy description of it.
BRAZILE: I want - I want to hope that we could have a conversation about the substance to find out what the Republicans -
CROWLEY: Adult conversation, that's what we're saying right now.
BRAZILE: -- and I don't -
STEELE: Right. An adult conversation.
BRAZILE: The Republicans want to repeal but have no replacement.
STEELE: That's not true, Donna.
BRAZILE: They have no plan to curtail health care spending.
STEELE: Again, not true.
CROWLEY: Wait, can I -
BRAZILE: They have no plan to - to reduce health care as a percentage of our GDP.
STEELE: Again, not true.
BRAZILE: All they want to do is to slam it, to - to denounce it and have nothing to replace it with.
STEELE: I think (INAUDIBLE) -
CROWLEY: OK. But can I just say - I want - I'm going to give you a chance to tell her why it's not true.
CROWLEY: Why not just own it. If it's such a great plan, why don't you go, you're right it's Obamacare.
STEELE: That's the point.
CROWLEY: He's the first guy that came in here and he's gotten it so that, you know, children can't have - you know, you can't deny a child health care for pre-existing conditions. He's gotten it so the parents can keep their 20-something children, why not just say, yes, it is Obamacare. BRAZILE: You know, Candy, because I don't think we have to name it in order to claim it. What we need to say is that it - it will help average Americans lower their costs, provide more access to people without health insurance and remove all these discriminatory practices by the private insurance companies.
STEELE: It's that - at the end of the day, Donna, you're still at the same spot, despite the litany of things that you've just laid out there. You don't answer the fundamental question which Congressman Rehberg and others in the Congress have been asking for the last two years. How much and who pays, and when you're talking about bringing people into the system, 30 million plus individuals into a health care system that is already in existence, you - you've got to figure out a way and you've got to lay out very clearly the costs - the costs to small businesses, the cost to those insurance companies, the cost to individuals.
BRAZILE: And what is the cost of us doing nothing right now, Michael?
STEELE: But the question -
BRAZILE: The cost of us allowing people to go to emergency rooms because they have a toothache is costing those of us with health care more money.
STEELE: And we still contend, Donna, you do not have to upend the entire system to fix those aspects and parts of the system that do not work. You do not need to overhaul the entire system at an exorbitant trillion dollar cost to the American people to fix the specific areas that need to be fixed.
BRAZILE: Michael, whether you like the numbers that the CBO produced or not, the fact is this bill will lower our deficit over the next 10 years.
CROWLEY: Can I say one thing before we - because we've only got about 30 seconds. Because I think it's interesting that we are now arguing this. This is the law of the land, and we are arguing it and why is that? Is it - do Democrats see a real reason that this is going to go away? Do they see a way that Republicans (INAUDIBLE)?
BRAZILE: Those Republicans are retro. Every - they are so retro. Instead of going forward -
STEELE: Oh, my goodness.
BRAZILE: -- and fix it if it needs fixing. They want to repeal it because -
STEELE: We want that - Donna, that's exactly what we've been saying. We want to fix it. No, we want to replace it with something that actually respects the doctor/patient relationship.
BRAZILE: You know, Michael -
STEELE: -- that addresses the very things you're talking about.
CROWLEY: We'll we'll continue with our adult conversation here.
BRAZILE: They had six years.
STEELE: Talk about retro.
BRAZILE: They had six years to fix it. They didn't fix it. We've got a plan that moves the country forward. Reduce the deficit.
STEELE: Oh, my goodness, it bankrupts the nation.
BRAZILE: Bankrupt - Michael, nothing bankrupts the nation and you know that.
CROWLEY: OK. I'm in charge of this microphone. We'll be right back. Don't go away. We have much more with our "Strategy Session" just ahead, including a looming threat of a government shutdown. What will it mean on both sides of the political aisle?
CROWLEY: We are back with our "Strategy Session," Donna Brazile and Michael Steele. And just in case you think they do this just for the cameras, they argue during the whole break. I just want to tell you that.
OK. I want to talk about Wisconsin for a second. How is this all going to end? I mean, the fact of the matter is Republicans are in charge. They do have the numbers to pass this bill. They have a Republican governor that can sign this bill. How is it going to end?
BRAZILE: I think the Democratic leaders in the Senate will come back to the table when the governor says let's put it all back on the table. Let's sit down and have an adult conversation.
Candy, there's no way that the Republican government can get away with - with coming to office with a budget that was in balance, I'm talking about the budget for this fiscal year, which ends in July, give tax breaks and tax cuts, create a $132 million deficit and then wants to balance the budget on the backs of working people in Wisconsin. They have a right to protest, a right to be upset.
STEELE: Well, is it -
BRAZILE: They've already given blood to blood bank (ph), Michael.
STEELE: There's so much about what you just said is just totally out there.
BRAZILE: Oh, really?
BRAZILE: Say one thing. STEELE: Starting with the fact that the governor inherited what the governor inherited. This management by the previous administrations, years and years of negotiating a way the future of state workers, number one. And I can speak to that firsthand.
BRAZILE: So we're on scape - we're on scapegoat -
STEELE: The former (INAUDIBLE) governor of my state, I know what we inherited - I know what we inherited in terms of pensions, what we inherited in terms of unfunded mandates that are built into union contracts with the states and federal government employees (INAUDIBLE).
But this is the broader point. This is the broader point.
BRAZILE: They contribute to the health care.
STEELE: Most importantly, what's - what's being lost here is that the governor then candidate made it very clear what he was going to do. So all this whining and gnashing of teeth at the process of actually taking a scalpel to the budget and making sure that everyone has an opportunity to keep their jobs, to me it's a little bit misplaced.
And number two, the fact that this is being orchestrated out of the White House and the DNC to get the teachers and the state workers fired up and riled up. There's no adult at the table here for the government to sit down and talk to. They went to Illinois. All right. So -
CROWLEY: (INAUDIBLE). I've got to bring it in Washington.
BRAZILE: (INAUDIBLE) by Republicans, they make a fact just to prove their point.
STEELE: Let's put the adults in the room.
BRAZILE: Working people have get - they have already accepted furloughs, Michael. And the last and the previous budget they've accepted furloughs. They've accepted pay cuts in the previous furloughs.
STEELE: Years and years of mismanagement that caused the state -
BRAZILE: That is not true. You are maligning the former governor who left a surplus for this -
CROWLEY: Can I make this a larger discussion? Because we're having budget problems here in Washington, D.C. as well. If there is a government shutdown, who wins? Who loses?
BRAZILE: The American people will lose. The senior citizens who were loan (ph) government services. The veteran who relies on getting their payments and their health benefits. The people will lose. CROWLEY: Michael, the Republicans lost the last time they forced a government shutdown.
STEELE: They will - they will lose either way. If you - if you know - again, getting to your point about adults in the room. If the administration and the leadership from the Hill don't come together with a solid, grown-up plan to address the fiscal ills of this nation, the American people, you're right, will lose. And the reality of it is all the hyperventilating has to stop for people to be serious. You cannot have your cake and eat it to in this economic climate. Everyone is going to have to (INAUDIBLE).
BRAZILE: I think everybody is serious, Michael. But what they're not going to accept is for the Republicans to say basically we'll take care of the wealthy but the middle class -
STEELE: Oh, come on. This is not -
CROWLEY: We're going to - I'm going to have to -
BRAZILE: We have to - that is what Republicans think.
CROWLEY: We have a whole commercial you can argue.
CROWLEY: And I like to argue out in the door. We've got to stop. We've got to stop, guys. Thank you very much. Donna Brazile, Michael Steele.
And we also have to say that we'll be expecting the governor of Wisconsin to have a press conference at the top of the hour. We, of course, we'll cover that.
Now, new reports of deadly clashes between troops and protesters on the streets of Bahrain. Our Nic Robertson is standing by live.
CROWLEY: You might be surprised to learn that not every member of the House actually sleeps in the house when they come to Washington. Some prefer cots in their offices. But is it at taxpayers' expense?
Here's CNN's Jim Acosta.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, lawmakers are putting in some long hours up here on Capitol Hill dealing with important issues like the budget. But with so many members of Congress sleeping in their offices, critics complain the House is becoming like a hotel, where the lodging is on the house.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: After a long day on Capitol Hill, Republican Congressman Joel Walsh checks into what's become the cheapest hotel room in Washington - his own office.
ACOSTA (on camera): And how good a night's sleep is that? That doesn't look too comfortable, Congressman?
REP. JOE WALSH (R), ILLINOIS: I'm going to be honest, it's horrible. The couch is very uncomfortable.
WALSH: So it may get to the point where I've got to find the cot or one of those solo aero mattresses.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Walsh sleeps on the couch, saving his family the expense of finding a second home in the nation's capital, giving him more time to take care of business.
WALSH: I tend to be an active sleeper. A couple of times I've rolled off.
ACOSTA (on camera): You've rolled off the couch and -
WALSH: I've rolled off the couch to a thud.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But a liberal watchdog group isn't comfortable either and is calling for an investigation, accusing more than 30 lawmakers of bilking a fringe benefit on which members of Congress must pay taxes.
But this is nothing new. Republican Jason Chaffetz was showing off his cot to CNN two years ago.
ACOSTA (on camera): Something tells me your college dorm was bigger than this, Congressman.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: It was - my dorm was a little bit bigger, but I just throw down the sheet. I'm not much one to tuck it in. That's a well made bed right there.
REP. HANSEN CLARKE (D), MICHIGAN: A good mattress right here.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats are doing it, too. Even though freshman Hansen Clarke isn't sure how long he can take it.
CLARKE: Being here is not comfortable, right? I haven't had a good night's sleep since I've been here in Congress. This helps me stay focus on working on serving the people that sent me here.
ACOSTA: Walsh, a Tea Party Conservative, who turned down his own Congressional Health Care Plan welcomes any investigation.
ACOSTA (on camera): So let me ask you this, you don't want the federal health benefits, but you'll take the free housing?
ACOSTA: Is there -
WALSH: That will -
ACOSTA: Is there a contradiction?
WALSH: No, that will be determined. If this is free housing that I have to pay some tax for, I'll pay it.
ACOSTA: So far, there are only about a few dozen congressmen, not congresswomen, who are sleeping in their offices. That might have something to do with the fact that there are no showers in their office bathrooms, leaving the Congressional gym as the only place to wash up - Candy.
CROWLEY: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, fiscal crises and budget showdown from state capitols to the U.S. capital with the likelihood of a federal government shutdown seems to be growing every day.