Return to Transcripts main page


Clinton Promotes ObamaCare; Obama Says Not My Red Line, World's Red Line

Aired September 4, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Good to have you with us. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's Wednesday, September 04. You're watching the "LEGAL VIEW" and we have a very busy show for you.

Let's get started with something that's just about to get under way. President Obama is yet again, he is out with the big guns helping to explain some of his policies. And this time we're not talking about Syria. That's been all morning. Now it's about health care. Your health care -- in fact the health care of the country.

This is what is happening right now. The former president, Bill Clinton, is just about to take to that microphone at the front of the room, and this is at the Presidential Center in Little Rock. This is his presidential library.

He wants to break down the affordable health care act into bite-size and easily-swallowed bits and pieces. You may know it as ObamaCare because that's what it's commonly referred to as.

So how badly is it needed that he breaks it down? Apparently, really badly. A Kaiser health care poll just last month found that 44 percent of American people think that ObamaCare doesn't even exist any more, that it was repealed or that it was actually struck down by the Supreme Court.

That didn't happen, actually quite the opposite. But here's something that might be just as troubling. Sixty-seven percent of people in America say that they have little or nothing about health care exchanges, which is basically the backbone of the whole system of ObamaCare.

And, by the way, those health care exchanges, the backbone of the entire insurance system for the country, they get going October 1st, so we're not even a month away from this.

But in the end this Gallup poll really tells the story. Forty-one percent of people are on board with the law, 49 percent disapprove. But some of those 49 disapprove because they wanted it to go even further, not that they wanted it to go away.

So that's why the White House is reaching out to the guy they like to now call the "Secretary of Explaining Stuff," pretty remarkable explanation for a guy, but you know something? It was only a year ago at the Democratic National Convention where the "explainer-in-chief" actually did just that, started explaining some of the policies of the Obama administration, including ObamaCare.

Our Athena Jones is standing by live right now. Athena, we were expecting the "explainer-in-chief," or at least the "Secretary of Explaining Stuff," to get under way right around this hour.

Set the stage for me in exactly who is in that audience, and maybe why we, out here in the TV audience, are even more important.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're at the president's presidential library. There are a lot of folks from Arkansas, Arkansas legislators, folks from the state department of health, people who go to the Clinton School of Public Service, and groups affiliated with The Clinton Foundation.

And so that room, we're looking at about -- I was told they expect about 250 people, so a very small audience when really the audience is the nationwide audience.

Of course, the president, this president, the White House, the Obama president -- excuse me. President Obama has come to the former president because they believe he's someone who has served as a great salesman for this administration's policy.

You mentioned the DNC. He's also appeared all of a sudden as a surprise in the briefing room in December of 2010 to help push a tax cut deal the president had reached with Republicans.

So they've come to him often. They're hoping that now he can reach a larger audience and explain this policy, explain to people not just what is coming with ObamaCare with these health exchanges, but talk also about what is already in place, things like allowing young people to stay on their parent's health care until they are 26, allowing free preventative care.

That's one other thing. They're hoping that he can help push this case to this audience. This is a man who we know can speak very passionately. He can sometimes be wonky, also longwinded.

And this is something that President Clinton has been following and working on, and pushing for, the importance of quality, affordable, accessible health care. He is going to make the case that this is important for the economy as well.

Back to you.

BANFIELD: So, you know, this is the time, Athena, when, you know, a lot of people who have jobs with health care across the country know that the open enrollment season -- you hear those buzz words and you know you have to take action.

This is effectively the open enrollment season for the country. It's six months, starting October 1st, so this is a critical push that you're about to see.

Athena Jones, thank you for your wrap-up. And you know what? Bill Clinton, if you ever covered the Clinton White House, you know one thing for certain, he is always late, and he is late this morning.

So I tell you what we're going to do. We have a lot of other very important news that we have to get to. We're going to watch that live picture and as soon as the former president comes out to start making the case and explaining to you very carefully what he believes the most important principles are for you with regard to ObamaCare and your involvement in it, we're going to get you right back there.

In the meantime, it has been a very busy day for American presidents. For the second straight day now, lawmakers and key Obama administration officials are debating of course what you've come to know now as this possible impending U.S. military attack on Syria.

At the same time, President Obama arrived in Sweden a short time ago, the first stop of a trip that's going to take him to Russia for the G- 20 summit, and he held this joint news conference with the Swedish prime minister.

And Mr. Obama wasted no time, perhaps because the press corps wouldn't let him, addressing the Syrian regime's suspected use of chemical weapons against hundreds of its own people, its civilians.

And in doing so, he talked about that red line. That red line that's come up now. The red line that came up a year ago, and said specifically this red line was not set by him, but instead, was set by the world and, effectively, set by Congress when they signed those laws into action.

So for more on this, our chief political analyst Gloria Borger is in Washington, D.C. Gloria, this was such critical language and it is not the first time that we've heard this language.

In fact, we're starting to hear this language from all the key players in the administration. It began live on this program yesterday when Nancy Pelosi came out from a meeting with the president and used that line. And then it happened with Secretary Kerry.

Tell me how critical this line is.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: What the president is trying to do is depersonalize all of this because he's gotten an awful lot of criticism from people in the United States who are saying, look, this is about your credibility, this is all about your words, this is all about you.

Ad the president is saying no, no, no, it's not about me; it's about the world's credibility, and the world drew the red line.

I mean, he is president of the United States, The buck stops with him. He made it very clear, and this was also important in that press conference he did this morning. It seemed to me very clear that he would take action no matter what Congress decided, that he had determined that it was the right thing to do. But, you know, he also tried to say, look, it's not just about me; it's also about the rest of the world, and we can't sit by and watch it.

BANFIELD: All right, Gloria, just hold that thought for a moment. I want our audience to be able to hear specifically how he worded that and how he explained it not long ago. It was actually about an hour- and-a-half ago.

Have a listen to the president in Stockholm.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.


BANFIELD: OK, so, Gloria, I said we were going to Stockholm, but we almost just did and that is what is so intriguing about this.

BORGER: Right.

BANFIELD: Those were his prior comments when he personalized it like you just explained, my calculus.

So the critical notion of what he said in Stockholm, you just mentioned it, depersonalizing it. What is this? Is this legacy? Is this forcing Congress's hands? Is it forcing the world's hands? Or all of the above?

BORGER: I think it is all of the above. And I think, look, he is facing a very difficult vote in Congress, Ashleigh. This morning, one of the lead progressive groups came out against the use of force in Syria. One of the lead conservative groups, these are outside groups, came out against the use of force in Syria.

He knows whenever he personalizes things, particularly with this Congress, particularly with some Republicans in this Congress who haven't exactly "friended" him over the years, shall we say, so what he is trying to do is remove himself from this and say it's about the world, not just about me.

But I think, honestly, Ashleigh, I think that is very difficult to do for him. He is the president. He did say what you just showed. He did say there is a red line. There were reports that some in the administration were a little bit surprised when he actually drew at that clearly.

But he does want the support of the world with him. And we've all noticed, particularly after vote in Britain, that he's had a tough time getting it. So he is trying to say to everyone, look, I'm not alone in this. You know, you are out there with me. You guys are all signatories to this treaty against chemical weapons, right, the rest of the world?

BANFIELD: He's so very alone, though. I have to be honest with you, as he made that case.

But, listen, I wanted to ask you, and I'm going to return to this red line issue in a moment. I think it's really the issue of the day.

But he went on to go deeper, and he mentioned a few other things that might hearken Americans, American legislators and perhaps even the global players. And he said, we may not be in imminent danger, and you'll have to pardon my paraphrasing here, we may not be in imminent danger from a Kosovo, Syria, Rwanda, but our security is affected in a profound way; our humanity is affected in a profound way.

The greater point that he was trying to get to there being it may not be about what's going to happen to us personally here, perhaps in America tomorrow, but security is a long picture.

BORGER: Well, and if you're making the case, eventually -- I mean, if he were to lose this vote, for example, he has to make the case that this is in the national interest and the president can act when the national interest, the national security, is affected.

So he is going along a two-prong process. On the one hand, trying to make the case to Congress, and say, I'm giving you this vote on authorization because I believe it's the right thing to do.

But also going down the other road and saying, look, if you don't give me the authorization, continuing to make the case that this is clearly in the national interest and that he believes he has the authority to act alone if that's what he decides to do.

And I think it's pretty clear he does feel that way.

BANFIELD: Boy, has he had his critics, though, in Congress. Just yesterday, Rand Paul almost freaking out about the fools' errand that it would be to go to Congress.

Make it quick, Gloria. I've got to -

BORGER: And now he has got a resolution in Congress that is very, very narrow, and for some people, like, say, Senator McCain, it might be too narrow. For some it won't be narrow enough, right? So we still have this whole resolution to work out.

BANFIELD: We'll have Jim Sciutto who's going to comment on that a little bit later.

Gloria, thank you and thank you for keeping such close attention on that.

And, as I said, Jim Acosta is coming up because he's been traveling with the president. He's live in Stockholm, Sweden.

Jim, one of the issues that we just looked at were the words from August of 2012 of the president when it came to the red line and that personification, that personalization of what that red line meant to him.

Take me to today, how he used that verbiage and actually how he has changed it and how he has now shaped that argument, please.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Ashleigh, for the last week we've heard the administration talk about flooding the zone with Congress.

He is really upping the ante really is the best way to put it, overseas, with respecting to getting international cooperation for some sort of strike against Syria.

He knows that he's been stymied at the United Nations by Russia, which has basically blocked any kind of action at the U.N. Security Council.

And so the president is basically saying this is not just my red line; this is the word's red line. And here is how he put it.


OBAMA: First of all, I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line.

The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war.

Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty. They set a red line when it indicated that, in a piece of legislation entitled the Syria Accountability Act, that some of the horrendous things happening on the ground there need to be answered for.

And so when I said in a press conference that my calculus about what is happening in Syria would be altered but the use of chemical weapons, which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong, that wasn't something I just kind of made up.

I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it. That's point number one

Point number two, my credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line, and America and Congress's credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important.

And when those videos first broke and you saw images of over 400 children subjected to gas, everybody expressed outrage. How can this happen in this modern world?

Well, it happened because a government chose to deploy these deadly weapons on civilian populations.

And so the question is, how credible is the international community when it says this is an international norm that has to be observed?

The question is, how credible is Congress when it passes a treaty saying we have to forbid the use of chemical weapons?

And I do think that we have to act.


ACOSTA: Now what is important about all of this, Ashleigh is that of course this is the president's red line, he drew the red line a year ago, and when Syria, in the view of the Obama administration, crossed that red line earlier this summer, that is when they started talking about arming the Syrian rebels, and in this most recent incident on August 21, when the Obama administration says Bashar al assad's forces crossed that line again, that's how we got to where we are right now.

So, the president understands all of that, but he knows he is not getting much cooperation out of the United Nations, he is trying to get it out of that Congress. So basically he's at this point now where he has drawn this red line, he's the one who's going to have to enforce it, but he needs more folks to go along with him unless he wants to basically violate everything that he has said in the past about having Congress involved when it comes to using force overseas and having the international community involved when it comes to using force overseas.

So he is making this hard sale, and just hours before Rosh Hashanah begins around the world, Mr. Obama talked about the Holocaust, essentially, during that press conference. He said to the people of Europe, you're familiar with what happens when the international community finds excuses not to act. And then the president went to a synagogue here in Stockholm to pay tribute to a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of lives during the Holocaust. So, the president is making a very hard sale over here in Europe.

BANFIELD: Gosh, Senator Kerry even hearkened back to Hitler and made that connection, compared Assad to Hitler just in the last few days.

I want to do a bit of an angle here, and only just a quick note to this, because it is connected, Jim, and that is that President Vladimir Putin - I don't know whether we can call this softened, or at least opened a door here today with the Russian press, but he did suggest that he is willing to perhaps take a closer look. My words, not his.

And in that, what I heard President Obama say, perhaps he hadn't been fully briefed on that news yet was that we hit a wall in progress on the Russian relationship. I'm always hopeful that Putin will change position. I will continue to engage with him. Do we feel like that will go any further today, or is it business as usual as he continues to sort of plod through Stockholm on his way to Russia?

ACOSTA: We will see, one thing that we did hear last night is that despite what the Obama administration said about the president and President Putin not getting together at all during the G20 summit, they did say the two leaders will now meet what they call on the margins. Which is sort of a new diplomatic term that I hadn't hear before. Usually they talk about pull asides where the two leaders may go to the side and talk for a but. Now they're talking about them talking on want margins.

One thing that is important to point out about what Vladimir Putin said about whether or not the United Nations comes back with proof of whether Bashar al Assad's forces are responsible for that CW attack That is not in the U.N. mandate. Ban Ki-Moon has said that the U.N. is only going to be looking at whether or not chemical weapons are being used. So I talked to some administration officials who sort of feel like the President of Russia may have set a false standard here that will not be met in the U.N. inspection process and therefore give them an out when it comes to this whole issue of whether Assad's forces are responsible. So, no question, the president is still pretty suspicious of Putin's motives, and I think that's going to continue right into the summit, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Maybe those on the margins meetings will include a sharing of some of those intercepts that the president assures shows us show a chain of custody of chemical weapons and the administration in Syria before and after the attack. Who knows what on the margin meetings mean? Jim Acosta, excellent work, and I hope you're getting some sleep. It's a beautiful picture --

ACOSTA: We'll find out.

BANFIELD: -- behind you. Okay, Jim Acosta live for us in Stockholm with the president.

You heard both Gloria, and Jim and all talking about the fact that Congress is still undecided if they will back any kind of U.S. military strike on Syria. The leaders from both parties are on board. They're behind the president's plan and they've asked their membership to be behind too, but is that enough? Will it work? We're going to have some of the latest details after the break.


BANFIELD: Welcome back, it is officially 22 minutes past 11:00 on the east coast, and that means that William J. Clinton is late for his own presidential center address. I only say that because we're waiting at the front of that room. The former president who is now being called "the secretary of explaining stuff," we're expecting him to explain very, very critically Obamacare. Why now? Because we are just a month away from open enrollment, the six month period in which the country effectively just about anyone above the poverty line has the opportunity to get into those healthcare exchanges and buy health insurance is you don't already have it, or risk a penalty. You might call it a tax because that's what the Supreme Court Chief Justice called it, but you risk having to pay a naughty fee if you don't have insurance.

And here's the problem: so many people across the country do not understand Obamacare, that the administration has now effectively done a big information push, and president Clinton is kicking that off with a big explainer at the Clinton Presidential Center. That is his library in Little Rock, and we're still waiting for the explainer of stuff to show up.

So, as soon as he does, we will take you there live so that you can hear exactly how he explains the new healthcare law.

In the meantime, should we or should we not be involved in Syria's civil war? This is a big question right now in Washington and around the world as the Senate considers a bill that would give the green light to a military strike against the Syrian regime. Here is the CNN chief international security correspondent, Jim Jim Sciutto.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The revised authorization limits strikes against Syria to 60 days with an option for a further 30 days. It explicitly bans U.S. troops on the ground but it would permit a rescue mission if needed.

The bill comes after Secretaries Kerry and Hagel and General Dempsey, three veterans who know the immense cost of war, delivered an impassioned case to senators that the limited military action is right and necessary.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Are you going to be comfortable if Assad as a result of the United States not doing anything then gases his people yet again, and the world says why didn't the United States act?

SCIUTTO: Attempting to thread a political needle, the administration had something for both supporters and skeptics of military action -- for doves, strict limits on the scope and duration of any attack. For hawks, reassurance that the administration's larger strategy also includes strengthening the Syrian opposition.

But the administration faced hard questions from both sides. Senator Rand Paul demanding the president abide by the congressional vote, win or lose.

SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: If we do not say that the constitution applies, if we do not say explicitly that we will abide by this vote, you're making a joke of us. You're making us into theater.

KERRY: Senator, I assure you there's nothing meaningless and there is everything real --

PAUL: Only if you adhere to what we vote on. Only if our vote makes a difference.

SCIUTTO: From Senator McCain, long a supporter of more vigorous U.S. involvement, bitter criticism of the president's decision to delay military action as he seeks Congressional approval.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: When you tell the enemy you're going to attack them, they're obviously going to disperse and try to make it harder.


BANFIELD: And Jim joins us live now from Washington, D.C.. So, Jim, I almost wonder if this a day today game or a hour to hour game as the lobby effort to get members on board continues. Are you getting a feel for how today is in Washington?

SCIUTTO: I think the short answer is that it is too early to say, but you have some early indications in the Republican-controlled House. Right now the vote is 69 no, 26 yes, 75 unknown, 263 undecided. So there the vast majority is undecided and some of those minds could change over the next couple of days. In the Senate, Democratically controlled, 24, 10, and 70 undecided. And that despite the fact, as you say, that the leaders of both parties in the House and the Senate have called on their members to support the president on this authorization for military action. So it's early -- there was a sense of some momentum turning the president's way yesterday with Boehner and Cantor in particular coming out in public support, but really we've to a long way to go before we know for sure.

BANFIELD: So just quickly, I know you were watching along with me just moments ago, as the president made those live remarks with the Swedish prime minister, but he effectively brought Congress into a shame game saying this is not my red line, it is the world's red line, and they he for good measure added, and this is Congress's red line because they signed the deal that said under this Syrian issue, chemical weapons are wrong and actionable. Is that going to possible backfire though with some members of Congress saying don't push me?

SCIUTTO: Well, it is possible because Congress did say chemical weapons are wrong, but they didn't commit themselves to military action if they were used. I mean the administration throughout this has been trying to internationalize their case. One saying that the world is going to be watching, not just Syria -- Iran, Hezbollah, North Korea, even to see if the U.S. acts or does not act. And if the U.S. does not act, those countries will be emboldened to use these weapons or to attack the U.S.

But we saw today them also internationalizing the commitment in effect with the president saying I didn't draw the red line, the world drew the red line by banning chemical weapons. That is a question as to whether - because the world certainly didn't go as far as to say if they're used that merits military action that is considered internationally legal. So it is a stretch, but it's in keeping with their message here that this is about more than Syria, which they think is key, because the vast majority of Americans says they don't think military action is necessary, that Syria is not our fight.

BANFIELD: I need to go back and read the Syria Accountability Act and find out what exactly what that language says. But he certainly wanted to invoke that today. Jim Sciutto, by the way, become aboard, it's nice to have you on the CNN team. A brand new national security correspondent.

SCIUTTO: Thank you. It's great to be on the team.

BANFIELD: It's good to see you again from our ABC days.

SCIUTTO: A lot of old friends here.

BANFIELD: We will have a busy few weeks, I can tell. Thanks, Jim. Live from Washington. As the president's team tries to convince Americans that a strike is necessary, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll showing that they do have their work cut out for them because nearly six in ten oppose U.S. missile strikes, 36 percent for it, more than half against it. That support does go up if other countries get involved, but 51 percent are still oppose it.

A stunning development in the Ariel Castro story. The man guilty of imprisoning three girls for a decade now found hanging dead in his own prison cell. We'll have details of that after the break.