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Rice And Power: Game Changers On Syria?; Obama Picks Rice As National Security Adviser

Aired June 5, 2013 - 16:30   ET



ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are exclusive images of Michelle Obama last night, speaking at an exclusive fund- raiser hosted by a lesbian couple at their tony Washington, D.C. home. She was giving an impassioned speech on one of her favorite topics, children.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: They are counting on us to give them the chances they need for the futures they deserve.

MCPIKE: But one woman in the crowd wanted to talk about something else, gay rights.

It's hard to hear, but that's Ellen Sturtz. Sturtz is from the activist group GetEQUAL. She interrupts the first lady to ask her why the president hasn't signed an executive order that would bar a company that does business with the federal government from discriminating for sexual orientation or gender equity. It didn't go over well with Mrs. Obama or the crowd.

MICHELLE OBAMA: I don't care what you believe in, we don't -- wait, wait. One of the things that I don't do well is this.


MICHELLE OBAMA: I can take the mike, or I'm leaving. You all decide.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need your husband to sign this.

MICHELLE OBAMA: All right, you guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, no, please don't leave. No.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't understand.

MCPIKE: She made her way back to the podium to make her point.

MICHELLE OBAMA: So let me make the point I was making before. We are here for our kids. (APPLAUSE)

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Someone in a sense verbally got in her face, and she didn't like it.

MCPIKE: Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun Times," and she's covered the Obamas for years.

SWEET: I think Mrs. Obama is very disciplined. She rarely goes off script. She rarely puts herself in a position where she could have something happen unexpected.

MCPIKE: The first lady's unscripted response was different than how her more practiced husband tends to handle hecklers, like he did just two weeks ago during a major foreign policy speech at National Defense University.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is part of free speech, is you being able to speak but also you listening. And me being able to speak.


MCPIKE: A softer touch maybe than Michelle's tough talk, but today, the White House gave her performance a rave review.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's my personal opinion that she handled it brilliantly.


MCPIKE: Now, that event last night was a private fundraiser, and we're seeing hecklers come out more and more at those events. But Jake, when you and I travel around the country and go to campaign events, you see hecklers there all the time. And the interesting thing for journalists is you can see how the powerful people respond to them. It's also kind of jarring for everybody in the audience, as well.

TAPPER: Yes. And in Michelle Obama's defense, it's very uncomfortable when you're trying to give remarks, and somebody won't let you finish. It's rude.

MCPIKE: It's rude, but it shows how they respond, how they roll out of things. So for us, it's very interesting.

TAPPER: Indeed, indeed. Of course. Anyway, thank you so much, Erin McPike.

Vice presidents attend a lot of funerals. It's in the job description. But when you have served in Washington as long as Vice President Joe Biden has, it's a sad fact that a lot of those funerals are for your friends and former colleagues. Today, Vice President Biden had to eulogize yet another compatriot, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg who passed away on Monday. Donning a yarmulke for the service at a synagogue in Manhattan, Biden said good-bye to his friend in the old Irish style, matching every tear with a drop of humor. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One day I'm breaking my neck to get to the train. I am like those old commercials, running for the airplane. Jumping over chairs. I'm carrying my bag, which seems like my staff deliberately loaded down with weights to slow me down.


BIDEN: And I swear to God, true story, I get up, conductor says, "Hey, hey, Joe, Joe, hold up, don't worry. You're okay. We're holding for Lautenberg."




TAPPER: Senator Lautenberg was 89 years old. He was the last World War II veteran in the U.S. Senate. And he served five terms for the state of New Jersey.

There are reports that some Obama political appointees are using secret e-mail accounts to conduct government work. The White House has denied this is the case, saying e-mail addresses are simply, quote, "private, not secret." But the Associated Press said these accounts have the affect of complicating efforts to turn over e-mails to Congress or to reporters who made Freedom of Information Act requests. For #youreit today, send us your best invented secret private e-mail address for an Obama administration official. Say Tweet us @theleadcnn. Use the hashtag #redacted.

Coming up, does a new potential crew in the White House mean a change in policy on Syria? Samantha Powers' past could hold clues on whether she'll push the president to get involved.

Plus, that immigration bill Marco Rubio helped write. Well, he now says he might not vote for it. What's the deal?


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper. Now some breaking national news.

Her plight has captured the sympathy of people all across the country, even the world. Now 10-year-old Sarah Murnaghan may be getting a new shot at life. Sarah has end-stage cystic fibrosis. If she does not get a lung transplant, she will die. Yet, there is a policy in place in the U.S. that prevents children younger than 12 from getting adult organ transplants. Her parents took on those rules and the government, and they won. At least for now.

I want to bring in national correspondent Jason Carroll. Jason, explain what the judge is doing in this case.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, let me say from what the parents are saying when I spoke to them this afternoon, this is a huge or what could be a huge legal victory for the family and for Sarah Murnaghan, who as you said, has been struggling, trying to get a lung transplant. Earlier today, they filed a lawsuit.

So, let me just backtrack a little bit. They filed this lawsuit in an attempt to get -- prevent Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from enforcing this policy that prevents children under the age of 12 from receiving lung transplants, being put from the children's list onto the adult list. So, what they did was they filed this lawsuit, and just within the past hour or so, they got the results of what the judge has said. The judge, they say, has ruled in their favor.

We're still trying to get the exact language of what the judge is saying here, but I do have something to read to you here. It says, "Federal judge Michael Bailson of Pennsylvania has ruled in favor of a 10-day temporary restraining order, telling the secretary of Health and Human Services to direct the organ procurement transportation network to cease application of the under-12 rule as to Sarah Murnaghan."

And here's another part of this that is very important. If there's another child in this judicial district in Sarah's circumstance, he would consider and probably grant a temporary restraining order for them if presented to him in court. This is a huge legal victory for the family. When I called Janet Murnaghan in the hospital room just about an hour ago, she said the entire family, Jake, is jumping up and down.

This is what they basically wanted all along. They basically wanted Sarah to have the same opportunity to compete, if you will, for a lung, that adults have. So now for the next 10 days she will, according to this judge's ruling, be put on the same list as other very sick adults who are trying to get a lung transplant. She'll be matched with blood type and some other factors as well. Her parents believe that she will now be put on the top of the list. And so, in the next ten days or so, if a match can be found, there is a possibility that Sarah's life could be saved.

TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll, thank you so much.

Let me bring in CNN legal analyst Paul Callan, who's on the phone. I'm looking at this ruling from the United States District Court, eastern district of Pennsylvania. Give us just the bottom line on this, if you would, Paul. What does this mean? Will this likely end up meaning that she will get this lung transplant she so desperately needs?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST (on the phone): Yes, you know, I think it does indicate that there's a high probability that she will get the lung transplant. And for her, this is the most wonderful thing you could imagine. It's going to save her life. But I suppose the thing you have to look at when you step back and look at the bigger picture is how will it affect the entire process of organ procurement and transplant? And that's where it's a much more complicated question. I mean, right now, we have a system where there's a board called the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, and they work in conjunction with another organization, a not-for-profit that is called the United Network for Organ Sharing, and they try to use medical standards to determine who qualifies and who doesn't qualify.

Now, the reason kids under 12 didn't qualify was because there hasn't been a lot of medical research about whether these things work effectively in children in that age category. So of course because she gets the lung, somebody who is older may not get the lungs. And I think for that reason, the government has tried to sort of kick these to not-for-profit organizations that are run by people doing the scientific testing to decide objectively who should get it and who shouldn't. Because, my word, when you see a 12-year-old who needs a lung, we know what decision we're going to make as human beings in that situation.

So I don't know ultimately, Jake, where -- whether it's going to upset the apple cart in terms of this system that's been put in place to make sure that decisions are based on science and objective analysis as opposed to emotion in deciding on an organ transplant.

TAPPER: All right, Paul Callan, CNN legal analyst, thank you so much. We'll keep you up to date on the story as it develops.

Coming up on our Politics Lead, Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, threatens to vote no on his own immigration bill. Why? That's next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. In our "World Lead," the shuffle today at the White House could have implications that go beyond political posturing. You're shocked, I know. Susan Rice does not need the Senate's stamp of approval to become President Obama's national security adviser.

And for the sake of argument, let's assume Samantha Power is confirmed by the Senate as the next ambassador to the United Nations. With their new roles, could we see a change in the president's policy?

Joining me now is Richard Cohen, a left leaning columnist for the "Washington Post," whose latest column was titled "Cold Hearted Liberals Have Abandoned Syria." Richard, thanks so much for joining us. It's not like the president is averse to turning down advice on Syria. He rejected a plan before from Panetta and Clinton and others to arm the rebels.

Do you think it's possible that these two who have spoken so much about preventing genocide and slaughter of innocents, do you think it's possible that Rice and Power could change course on Syrian policy? RICHARD COHEN, OPINION WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I doubt it. I think the policy has been set. I mean, certainly been set by the president. He's already unhesitatingly overruled the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the CIA director on providing arms to the Syrian rebels. I can't see him proving because of his new appointees.

I don't see what they bring to the table that hasn't already been brought to the table. In fact, he's had Denis McDonough on his staff who is now the chief of staff in the National Security Council. So I don't see these appointments as game changers. I just think they're personnel changers.

TAPPER: This is related to what you wrote in your piece yesterday, that people who would typically want to push intervention have decided not to do so in Syria. We know Susan Rice has not been pushing prevention in Syria although she did so for Libya. Why do you think that is?

COHEN: You know, the truth is I'm dismayed. I mean, there's this Iraq syndrome, such as that anything that we do is going to wind up in some sort of quagmire. It's like we're back to the Vietnam syndrome. I don't see Syria as Iraq all over again. I would like to see the United States intervene. Two years ago, I wanted the United States to provide arms to the Syrian rebels, the moderate rebels.

My battle cry is not on to Damascus. My battle cry is let's save lives if we can and we could have. It may be too late now, but supplying arms is not such a big deal. We know how to do that, sifting the bad guys from the good guys. We're pretty good at that, too. We'll make mistakes along the way, no question about it, but you've got 80,000, at least 80,000, maybe 100,000 dead.

This huge refugee catastrophe taking place in the Middle East, everything is spinning out of control, and the least effective player in the whole region is the United States of America. It's kind of preposterous. It's also kind of appalling.

TAPPER: Richard Cohen, one last quick question, which is if you look at polls, especially the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, of what Americans want to do regarding Syria, you see that what's actually happened, military action about the same, 13 percent in March, 15 percent now, 11 percent then and now for arming the opposition and 48 percent humanitarians assistant in March, 42 percent now. Basically what we have seen since March is just fewer people who want even humanitarian assistance. You could argue President Obama is doing more than most Americans want.

COHEN: Well, I could argue that he's showing no leadership. If he showed some leadership, the American people would understand and would follow him. I don't think -- you never see population as a whole take a lead. I don't remember American people clamoring for action in Bosnia and it worked, or in Libya, and it worked. In fact, the American people didn't clamor for action in World War II. Roosevelt had to lead the country into the war with the help of the declaration of war from Germany. If you're going to rely on the people to do it, you'll wait forever.

TAPPER: Columnist, Richard Cohen, thank you so much for coming and sharing your views.

Coming up, what's the president's relationship like with Susan Rice and Samantha Power? I'll ask his former Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton. That's coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. The "Politics Lead" now, keep your friends close and the friends that took a hit for your administration even closer. President Obama is circling the wagons and moving two allies up the ranks. The embattled ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, moves to the White House as national security adviser, and former National Security Council aide Samantha Power will take her place at the U.N. if the Senate approves of the pick.

Let's bring in our political panel to talk about it, former White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, the vice president of Foreign and Defense Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, Dani Pletka, and Jeffrey Goldberg from the "Atlantic." Jeffrey, the 1994 Rwandan genocide turned Rice, she says, into an impassioned activist. Yet you say in a recent column or today's column that people who want intervention in Syria should not expect that from her.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, "THE ATLANTIC": Yes, I don't expect it at all. I think she doesn't see this as Rwanda and moreover, the president doesn't see it as Rwanda. That's what counts here the most. One of the things that they're extremely worried about and Susan Rice shares this fear is that intervention in Syria could lead to something that is even worse than the Assad regime, which is the eventual establishment of an al Qaeda safe haven.

At this point, you have Sunni extremists and Shii extremists fighting each other and the White House is very, very careful about wanting to get in deeper and I think she's going to echo that feeling the president has.

TAPPER: Is that the wrong move, Dani?

DANIELLE PLETKA, V.P. OF FOREIGN AND DEFENSE POLICY, AEI: No, absolutely. First of all, an al Qaeda safe haven, if we don't do anything, it's going to become an al Qaeda safe haven. Everybody is working on the premise we can stuff the genie back in the bottle, but it's all going to be OK as long as the United States stays out. They can keep killing each other. Up towards 120,000 people have been died. I'm not sure what is a genocide if this isn't one and the idea that we're going to have a peaceful outcome as long as we keep our finger out of the pie is ridiculous.

TAPPER: Bill, you're a friend of Dr. Susan Rice and ally of her as well. She talks a lot, as does Samantha Power, about learning lessons from past genocides that the United States sat back and let happen. She was very affected when Rice was at the National Security Council during the Clinton years, and she regrets that. Is she right here? Is the idea that intervention might actually lead to something worse the correct call or is she just doing what she did back in the '90s?

BILL BURTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think there's a straw man here. I don't think that anyone is saying that everything is going to turn out just fine if nobody does anything. I think any outcome is probably going to be pretty messy. The question is whether or not the United States should be in the position of arming the rebels, some of which are very dangerous elements of that region.

So I think that when Ambassador Rice talks about taking prudent steps and making sure that we're doing everything we can to protect American interests and not inflaming the situation the way that is not helpful, yes, that is probably the most prudent thing to do. If you look at what happened to Libya and the way we were able to build a coalition and force Gadhafi out, that worked.

Yes, it took a long time, and yes, it was a long, brutal regime, but at the end of the day, there were no American boots on the ground and we weren't putting arms in the hands of people who shouldn't have them.

GOLDBERG: The other issue here is that it doesn't really matter what they think. Their hand might be forced at some point. Syria, the government is going to miscalculate. They're already testing the use of chemical weapons to among other things test the west's tolerance for the use of chemical weapons. That might force the president's hand.

If Israel gets dragged in, if Syrian missiles start landing in Israel, the U.S. is going to get dragged in. If Jordan becomes further stabilized, Jordan, a key American ally that's absorbing now half a million Syrian refugees, we're going to get deeper in whether or not they want to. So they're predisposed to staying out, but events are pulling us closer.


PLETKA: If the standards are the ones that Bill brought up about Libya then we were brought in because the president said he wasn't going to sit by and see the Libyan people mowed down from the air by Gadhafi's forces. OK, where's that standard for Syria? If we built a coalition on Libya, which we didn't, but we followed on one, where is that on Syria? So much has happened. Chemical weapons have already been used. We have crossed the president's own articulated red line.

TAPPER: About the use of chemical weapons.

PLETKA: About the use of chemical weapons. How much more does he need to test? Does he need to kill 10,000 people with chemical weapons or is 500 OK but 10,000 not OK? And how does the rest of the world see this when the president of the United States says something so clearly? Here is my red line. This is a game changer and then it happens, and he does nothing. Forget about Syria. What do the Iranians think? TAPPER: Bill, I'll let you have the last word.

BURTON: Well, the question is, how many arms is OK to put my hands of dangerous extremists. I think that's what we're dealing with right now. When you're looking at the situation, you see that there is a civil war happening in that country, the United States has to ask itself, at what point are we arming the people who could do damage to the United States itself?

TAPPER: Do you think, Bill, as somebody who knows all the players involved, President Obama, Samantha Power, Dr. Susan Rice, do you think that Rice and Samantha Power will have any influence on making the president more inclined to intervene in Syria or at the end of the day, is his mind basically just where his mind will be and it doesn't really matter so much what Power and Rice are pushing?

BURTON: No. I think that the people around the president, particularly his national security apparatus, do have a big impact on how he sees situations and what information gets to him, and he's considering, but Jeff is right. At the end of the day, the president's hand could be forced by events happening in the region.

TAPPER: All right, thank you so much. Jeff Goldberg, Bill Burton, Dani Pletka, appreciate it.

Bill Burton will be back here again sometime soon, I hope. We haven't had you in a while. Hash tag, you're it. We asked you earlier to send us your best secret private e-mails for Obama officials. In honor of Jakeblueoo that's making fun of his signature, and can'tfindreceipts@irs.cov.

Make sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadcnn, and check out our show page at for video, blog and excerpts. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over into the able and willing hands of one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. Mr. Blitzer, over to you.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.