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Interview with President Barack Obama; Obama on Higher Education Reform; School Shooting Reunion

Aired August 23, 2013 - 08:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And, is this the end for San Diego Mayor Bob Filner. Today, he is expected it resign as part of a deal with city officials. So, what happens now with the sexual harassment lawsuit and are taxpayers going to be stuck footing the bill?

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: We need some good stuff on this Friday. You are about to meet a high school basketball star from Georgia always dreamed of playing college ball even though he was born without a left hand. Zach Hodskins just got some very good news. It will make for a very good edition of good stuff today.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: He's got some skills with the hand over. That was great.

First, we want to get to our NEW DAY exclusive, face-to-face with the president. Polling shows over 80 percent of Americans believe that college is the best way to improve your circumstances. And the president agrees.

One thing he also agrees with is that the cost of higher education is simply just too high.

So, what can he do about it? He told us. Take a listen.


CUOMO: Let's begin why you're here in Syracuse, why you're doing this particular bus tour. What do you believe you can do to help lower the costs of college and give families who are struggling a chance to afford an education?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, couple things we're going to do. Number one, we want to create a new system of ratings for colleges so that parents and students know what schools graduate kids on time, are a good value for the money, lead to good jobs.

The second thing we want to do is to work with colleges who are doing some really interesting things to figure out how do you reduce costs? Can you help young people graduate a little faster? And then the third thing we want to do is build on something we've already done which is to try to help students manage their debt. We've got a program right now where you never have to pay more than 10 percent of your income.

CUOMO: No question that the key to it is costs. The numbers of your own -- income 16 percent, college education costs are going up by well over 200 percent. How do you make them stop when they hold all the cards?

OBAMA: Well, when you look at public colleges and universities, part of what's happened is state legislatures have dropped their support. So, the universities, rather than thinking about how do we save money and do more with less, they just pass on automatically those costs to students.

And we've got to put some pressure on state legislatures. If you are serious about training a great workforce in your state, then you have invest in state universities and colleges and not just invest in prisons which is part of what we did over the long period of time.

Now, one last element to it, once we developed the rating systems, part of what we're going to argue to Congress is that we should tie in some way the way federal financial aid flows to schools that are doing really well on this and not so much on schools that aren't.

So, if a school has a higher default rate than it does a graduation rate, then we should give them a chance to improve, but, ultimately, we don't want kids settled with debt. We want them to actually get a degree and be able to get a good job.

CUOMO: But when we say it's a priority. That's when you're going to say this matters the most. This is the new reality for our economy, is what you know.

OBAMA: Exactly.

CUOMO: You then tie it to the treasury rate. You make sure that students are going to borrow at a rate much higher than banks get, right, because our government is effectively allowing banks to loan money to whomever they want and borrow themselves at about zero percent.

Why not make this the new home mortgage, treat it like that, get the rates lower so that the students don't pay the most, more than banks, more than homeowners?

OBAMA: Chris, actually right now because of the deal that was cut, they're not going to be borrowing at a higher rate than your mortgage. That had had happened because Congress hadn't acted.

CUOMO: Right.

OBAMA: They hadn't done anything.

Now, the key here to understand, though, is that the student interest rate needs to stay low. But if you're borrowing $100,000 and you're a teacher and you're making $35,000, then whether the interest rate is 3.5 percent or the interest is at 6 percent --

CUOMO: You're under water.

OBAMA: You're going to be underwater. So, what we need to do is to figure out how can you come out with less debt in the first place and keep those interest rates low. And that is achievable. But to do that, everybody is going to have to work together.

CUOMO: Families certainly need the help. That's for sure.

Let me ask you about some of the emerging situations -- most recently, Syria. You have seen the images. You know the situation very well. Do you believe at this point you need to investigate in order to say what seems obvious, which is that the U.S. needs to do more?

OBAMA: Well, we are right now gathering information about this particular event, but I can say that unlike some of the evidence that we're trying to get earlier that led to a U.N. investigator going into Syria, what we have seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern. And, you know, we are already in communications with the entire international community. We are moving through the U.N. to try to prompt better action from them.

And we've called on the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the site because U.N. inspectors are on the ground right now. We don't expect cooperation given their past history.

And, you know, what I do believe is that although the situation in Syria is very difficult and the notion that the U.S. can somehow solve what is a sectarian, complex problem inside of Syria sometimes is overstated.

CUOMO: But delay can be deadly, right, Mr. President?

OBAMA: There is no doubt that when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale and -- again, we're still gathering information about this particular event, but it is very troublesome.

CUOMO: Strong proof they used them already in the past.

OBAMA: Then that starts getting to some core national interests that the United States has, both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region.

This is something that is going to require America's attention and hopefully the entire international community's attention.

CUOMO: Senator McCain came on NEW DAY very strong on this. He believes that the U.S.'s credibility in the region has been hurt.

That a situation like Syria, he believes, there has been delay and led to a boldness by the regime there.

That in Egypt, that what many believe was a coup wasn't a coup. That led to the problems that we're seeing there now.

Do you think that's fair criticism? OBAMA: Well, you know, I'm sympathetic to Senator McCain's passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily difficult and heartbreaking situation.

But what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of what is in our long-term national interests. You know, sometimes what we've seen is that folks will call for immediate action, jumping into stuff that does not turn out well, gets us mired in very difficult situations, can result in us being drawn in to very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.

We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long- term national interest, even as we work cooperatively internationally to do everything we can to put pressure on those who would kill innocent civilians.

CUOMO: The "red line" comment that you made was about a year ago this week.

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: We know since then there had been things that should qualify for crossing that red line.

OBAMA: Well, Chris, I've got to -- I've got to say this. When we take action, let's take the example of Syria. There are rules of international law.

And, you know, if the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it. Do we have the coalition to make it work?

And, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account.

CUOMO: You don't believe we've seen enough?

OBAMA: Well, this latest event is something that we've got to take a look at. But keep in mind, also, Chris, because I know the American people keep this in mind, we've still got a war going on in Afghanistan. You know, we're still spending tens of billions of dollars in Afghanistan.

I will be ending that war by the end of 2014, but every time I go to Walter Reed and visit wounded troops and every time I sign a letter for a casualty of that war, I'm reminded that there are costs. And we have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted, somebody who has lost credibility, and to try to restore a sense of a democratic process and stability inside of Egypt.

CUOMO: It doesn't have to be military, of course. I take your point, Mr. President. When you look at Egypt, it's an example of that. Senator McConnell is saying, hey, I think it's time to vote on the aid.

OBAMA: Right.

CUOMO: And whether or not you give it. That's a nonmilitary measure that can make a difference.

OBAMA: You know, my sense with Egypt is that the aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does. But I think what most Americans would say is that we have to be very careful about being seen as aiding and abetting actions that we think run contrary to our values and our ideals.

So, what we're doing right now is doing a full evaluation of the U.S./Egyptian relationship. We care deeply about the Egyptian people. There was a space right after Mr. Morsi was removed in which we did a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of diplomatic work to try to encourage the military to move in a path of reconciliation.

They did not take that opportunity. It was worth it for us to try that, despite folks who wanted more immediate black and white action or statements. Because, ultimately, what we want is a good outcome there.

CUOMO: Is it safe to say that we have a shorter time frame now in terms of what the U.S. can use as a period of decision in Syria and Egypt?


CUOMO: It's a more abbreviated time frame now?



CUOMO: All right. So, let's bring in Republican strategist Ana Navarro from Miami, and former aide to President Clinton, Democratic strategist, Mr. Paul Begala from Washington. Both are CNN political commentators.

Thanks for being here. Good to have you.

Ana, let me come to you with this. There is the idea that the president will get friction resistance on this plan in Congress that the Republicans won't like it, they won't like the scorecard, as Senator Rubio said. They won't want to deal with funding.

Explain this to me from the Republican perspective. How can either party not see the reality of having to help students and bring lending in line with how they help banks and how they help people with mortgages? How can they not see that?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, I think both parties see the reality and I can tell you from Marco Rubio, who I've known since he's a young kid, Marco -- just like the president -- also graduated from college with an enormous debt. It took him 16 years to pay over $100,000 of debt after he graduated from law school.

So, I think it's something that he, like President Obama feels very personally. There is a lot of common ground.

There's also right now a bipartisan bill introduced in Congress, in the Senate and in the House, with Republican and Democrat support -- it's called Students Right to Know Before You Go -- where they want to do a lot of what President Obama is saying. Put a lot more information online, easily accessible, available, for parents and students so they know what kind of value they're getting.

The problem, the part that is problematic is tying financial aid to those metrics imposed by government and having bureaucrats decide that. That kind of big government intervention is where he will run into trouble. But if they want to find common ground, there is places to do it. That bill in Congress right now is one.

CUOMO: Good.

BOLDUAN: Paul, I want to bring you in on this, as well, because part of the problem, I guess, for the president is that he's also saying he needs Congress to help him with this. So, we talked about it with John King, that I want to get your take on this. Kind of the question of, why now? What is the political advantage here because I am assuming there is to bringing this up, this college affordability.

I'm working for you and these guys might not be working for you kind of politics right before they head back to these big budget battles in the fall.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not only heading back to big budget battles but kids are heading back to school. I spent a big part of the summer, actually touring Major League Baseball parks. But near those parks, we would go and visit colleges so that my Billy, who is a senior high school now, can start and look and choose his college.

Let me tell you, you go to these schools -- Billy would tour the facilities and look at the ball fields and then he'd go buy a t-shirt. I would look for the pharmacy and buy a Valium.


BEGALA: It's killing middle class families and the president is right in sync with the heart of middle class. He said, Chris -- and I have to say -- your interview was terrific. It was filled with news. I don't say that because I like you, because I don't. I like Kate. I'm not so big on you, Cuomo.

But he is right where voters are. People are looking at this saying the only way I can earn a living, where my kids can earn a living that can support a family is to get a good education, and that is slipping away from us.

BOLDUAN: Right, Paul. But at the same time, he also knows that he's asking Congress to come together on major issues that are his priorities for a second term. Like immigration, like avoiding a government shutdown, all of these things. So, why pile this on when he knows the politics of this and how his relationship has been with Congress, why pile this on now?

BEGALA: Well, because I think he believes it is at the heart of what he calls this better bargain for the middle class.

This year, I can imagine, and very frustrating for the White House. You know, it began with the president being inaugurated for a second term and giving a very strong State of the Union Address.

And then, so many other things, important things, but that were not part of that middle class better bargain that came up. Whether it was having to respond to the tragic case of Trayvon Martin or really horrific scenes we're seeing in Syria, or Egypt or all the -- the Supreme Court rulings on voting rights and on gay rights.

But his heart -- he has for years been talking about this and I think it's wonderful that he's now back to it and trying to push to Congress.

You know, most of the media hasn't covered very much, but the president has spent most of the summer advocating for this better bargain for the middle class. And that's where voters are and it's where the president is, I just wish it were where my Republican friends were.

CUOMO: Well, but you know, it's an interesting dynamic.


CUOMO: And I want to come to you to respond to this in this way. You know, the president spent a lot of time banning Congress, not really owning a lot of the situation except to call it frustration on his part. What do you think that does to help the situation going forward when people hear what the president says, which is it's all you guys, not me. I mean, how is that going to help the compromise?

NAVARRO: Nada, nothing, zero, zilch, you know? I mean, there's a reason why the man can't get anything through Congress because, you know, all he does is stand up on a podium and bash Congress.

And he spent the first term without really doing any outreach and then he did some charm offensive at the beginning of the second term, but the truth is that he doesn't have many Democrat or Republican allies in Congress to carry heavy lifts for him. That's a problem. That's why we saw the gun bill flail to death and we're seeing the immigration bill, which was thought up by Congress, drafted by Congress and the strategy to pass it through the Senate was a Congressional strategy.

That's still an ICU but breathing on its own. And he's got to let Congress do its own thing and support from the outside. That's why I go back to saying, Mr. President, focus on this bill that's already introduced, that got bipartisan support. Listen, when you see Marco Rubio and Senator Wyden on the same bill, you better believe that it is a broad appeal bill and something that's got the entire nation worried, like education, like financial aid for students.

So, figure out the political realities. You're not going it be able to push Congress. You're not going to do it by bashing them. You're not going to do it by feeding them. It's almost too late now, and Congress has a very hard time getting their act together, much less coordinating with the president. So, let Congress do its thing and support from the outside, would be my advice.

CUOMO: All right. Good advice. Ana, thank you very much, Ana Navarro. Mr. Paul Begala, who likes Kate Bolduan, like everybody else in my family.


BOLDUAN: There you go. Be Switzerland (ph) on this, Ana.


NAVARRO: Chris, do you fish alone? Do you go fishing alone?

CUOMO: Sadly, I have to do a lot of things alone, Ana. It's one of the problems with having no friends.


CUOMO: No. I fish a lot with my brother, I fish a lot with my kids.

BOLDUAN: I do love that you watch our entire show, though, Ana.

NAVARRO: Expert fisherwoman, Kate Bolduan, gave you very good advice today. Don't fish alone.

CUOMO: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.


CUOMO: I'll take you Ana.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

CUOMO: Have a good weekend. Thanks a lot.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you both.

CUOMO: Thanks a lot for joining us. Appreciate it.

BEGALA: Great interview, Chris.

CUOMO: Yes. Too late, Paul.

Coming up, the lighter side of President Obama's life. We get a peek in the life of the White House. Why he believes that his daughters just not quite sure that he's cool anymore and what may be the real reason behind the -- why the first family bought a second dog. BOLDUAN: And (INAUDIBLE) coming, I guess.

There's also a lot of news developing at this very hour, so let's get straight to Michaela. Good morning.

PEREIRA: Every father faces it at some point.


PEREIRA: Exactly. All right. Let's take a look at the headlines now.

A wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park has exploded, more than tripling in size just over the past 24 hours. Right now, the fire has scorched some 63,000 acres. It is threatening homes, hotels, camp grounds in the area surrounding the park. That fire is only at one percent containment. California's governor has declared a state of emergency in the region.

A 19-year-old student helicopter pilot and his flight instructor pilot being hailed as heroes for their quick thinking. They spotted a brush fire, one in the morning, endangering homes in Bend, Oregon. Keaton Snow and instructor, Jay Bunning, first called 911 then they flew really low buzzing the neighborhood hoping to wake the residents in homes below with the noise of their chopper and alert them to the fire and that is exactly what happened.

The jury resumes deliberations this morning in the trial of Ft. Hood massacre suspect, Nidal Hassan. They deliberated for three hours Thursday asking the judge to review testimony from a police officer who shot Hassan and ended that rampage in 2009. That left 13 people. Hassan acting as his own attorney. He could face the death penalty.

Two suspects who allegedly plotted to kidnap and kill at least one Las Vegas police officer are now under arrest. According to police, suspects David Allen Brutsche and Devon Campbell Newman plan to hold the officer in a makeshift jail, try the officer for treason and civil rights violation and then execute their prisoner. Police say Brutsche and Newman are members of a sovereign citizens movement and do not follow U.S. law.

And I'd say give this man a margarita. Singer, Jimmy Buffett, shows off a 350-pound tuna he reeled in off the coast of Nantucket. The 66- year-old Buffett was relaxing between concerts in New York when hooked this six-foot long beauty on Wednesday. His handlers swear it is not a publicity stunt. Why do you say that? He is the producer of a new musical set to open on Broadway in October and it's called, what, "Big Fish."


PEREIRA: You don't think that's going to somehow maybe mild play into --

BOLDUAN: I don't know why we're not playing "Fins."

PEREIRA: Are you another Buffett --

BOLDUAN: Come from a long line of Buffet fans.

PEREIRA: Really?

BOLDUAN: What do they call them?


PEREIRA: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Margaritaville, right after nine o'clock.


PEREIRA: Are you buying?

BOLDUAN: I'm buying. Every Friday. You'll see me.

OK. Let's get straight to Indra Petersons keeping track of the latest forecast. Good morning, Indra.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Good morning. Perfect conditions for Margaritaville.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

PETERSONS: Yes. Something beautiful weekend. Who doesn't love sunshine and couple of margaritas out there, right? We're talking about a cold front that was here yesterday producing thunderstorms in the northeast. Well, that is sagging to the south, still looking for rain in the mid-Atlantic for another day, and eventually, into the southeast.

But, wow, what does it leave behind? Gorgeous weather. Temperatures into the 70s into the northeast. Now, in the southeast, yes, you're still going to have some scattered afternoon thunderstorms but nothing like what you saw the last several weeks. And yes, it gets better from here, because high pressure. We've been waiting for this all June, July, even August.

It's finally going to build in, meaning drier air into the area, so conditions will be improving. Here's the temperatures I'm talking about. You're making plans for the weekend. I mean, look at this, temperatures below normal into the northeast. Gorgeous out there, we're loving this and it looks like it's going to stay at least for a little bit more. Importantly, everyone in the southeast can actually do something else other than walk around with umbrellas.

BOLDUAN: There you go. A change in uniform, at least.



BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Indra. All right. Coming up on NEW DAY, 18 women are accusing him of sexual harassment, and until now, he has refused to step down. Is this the day that San Diego mayor, Bob Filner, finally calls it quits?

BOLDUAN: And a new Batman is coming, everyone. Superman movie and Batman and Superman movie is in the works. It'll hit theaters in the summer of 2015. And wait until you hear who has agreed to play the part of the Caped Crusader.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY, everyone. A powerful reunion that you'll only see on CNN. A Georgia school clerk is being praised as a hero after that riveting 911 call where she convinced a gunman to surrender to police. Last night on "AC 360," Antoinette Tuff met the 911 dispatcher who talked her through that extraordinary call. Martin Savidge is at the CNN center in Atlanta with more on this. That is one hug those women were really, really waiting for.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely, Kate. Good morning to you. You know, Antoinette Tuff really is a walking inspiration. But, you know, as we know, and she'd be the first to tell you, she didn't act alone. So, now, we get to meet that other voice and she is something, as well. Listen.


SAVIDGE (voice-over): It was an amazing moment only on CNN. For the first time, Antoinette Tuff, the coolest, calmest hero you've ever heard meets the 911 operator who had been the other voice at the other end of that emergency call.



SAVIDGE: Kendra McCray said, like everyone else, she was in awe of Tuff.

MCCRAY: She is a true hero.

SAVIDGE: The two women recalling for Anderson Cooper the horror of that day.

MCCRAY: She said he's right here at the door and it's like I can see him through, just her words.

SAVIDGE: But their fear was never evident in the 911 call that has riveted America.

TUFF: He just went outside and started shooting.

SAVIDGE: Tuff reveals the man's first shot was into the floor, just a few feet away.

TUFF: He actually took the shot to allow me and the other person that was in there to know that this was not a game and that he was not playing and that he was serious.

SAVIDGE: She also knew the lives of 800 students hung in the balance.

TUFF: You start seeing all this movement and he actually went to that door with the gun drawn to start shooting. Then I started talking to him and say, come back in. You know, just stay in here with me. Don't go anywhere. Stay in here.

SAVIDGE: And so began one of the most frightening and fascinating negotiations ever recorded.

TUFF: He said to tell them to back off. He doesn't want the kids. He wants the police. So, back off.

SAVIDGE: The scariest moment, Tuff says, was watching the man methodically load the gun.

TUFF: He had bullets everywhere on top of magazine. So, I knew when he made the last call that he was going to go, because he had loaded up to go.

SAVIDGE: Yet, instead of feeling fear or anger, Tuff said she felt compassion, recalling her own personal heartbreaks, even contemplating suicide.

TUFF: I had been in that devastating moment when all of the things happened to me. So, I knew that that could have been my story.

SAVIDGE: Just before her CNN interview, Tuff got another surprise, ironically, over the phone, from the president of the United States.

TUFF: He just wanted to let me know that he and his wife and his family were very proud of what I had did and everybody wanted to thank me.

SAVIDGE: Tuff gives all credit to her faith believing her role was part of a heavenly plan.

TUFF: I feel like I helped somebody in need, that God was able to use me, and it was an honor to be able to be used.

SAVIDGE: The suspect had walked in with an assault rifle ready to kill, but in the end, was no match for a bookkeeper armed with love.

TUFF: I've never been so scared in all days of my life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Me, either. You did great.

TUFF: Oh, Jesus.


TUFF: Oh, God!

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can really hear there, I mean, the strain this has put on you. TUFF: Oh, yes.

COOPER: That moment when the police finally came in and he was taken out, what, what goes through your head? What goes through your heart then?

TUFF: When I see that police officers put their hands on him, you know, and they were all surround him, I knew I could just like breathe.

COOPER: And go to the bathroom.

TUFF: Yes. And go to the bathroom.


SAVIDGE (on-camera): Yes. What a moment. I mean, we all took a deep breath after that was complete. She had so many catch phrases that I think we're going to remember and they're probably going to appear on T-shirts. One of them that stands out, "push past the pain." It is such a good line -- Kate and Chris.

BOLDUAN: Good line. And her compassion for the gunman which, really, they say that won him over. That was what helped him kind of listen to her. Such a good lesson for everyone. So powerful.

SAVIDGE: Hmmm. Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: Great stuff, Martin. Thank you so much.

SAVIDGE: Thanks.

CUOMO: All right. Coming up on NEW DAY, more of our exclusive interview with President Obama. We're going to hear what the president has to say about heroic school clerk, Antoinette Tuff and his surprise for her.

Also, a peek into the life in the White House these days.