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Bill Clinton To Help Describe Obamacare To The Masses; New President, New Strategy?; Cruz: I Will "Speak Until I Can No Longer Stand"; Political Panel

Aired September 24, 2013 - 16:30   ET




In our Politics Lead, while Senator Ted Cruz talks til he drops on the Senate floor against Obamacare, President Obama is calling in the big guns in the hopes of doing what he has yet to fully accomplish, convince the American public that Obamacare will work. In just a few minutes, President Obama will sit down with former president Bill Clinton for a conversation about health care in the U.S. at the Clinton Foundation Summit here in New York.

Brianna Keilar is at the White House for a preview. Brianna, you want an interview with President Obama. I want an interview with President Obama. He's giving one to President Bill Clinton to discuss Obamacare. Why?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, because he needs some help, certainly, and because Americans like Bill Clinton quite a bit. He has high approval ratings, he's an effective messenger, he connects. And President Obama really needs help explaining this program, still unpopular. You look at a recent poll, an NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll from earlier this month, and it asked how well do you understand the new health care law? By a ratio of more than two to one, Americans who were surveyed said that basically they didn't understand it very well.

So we saw Clinton being the key surrogate for President Obama during the election, trying to bolster his economic policies. And now you see President Obama doing the same thing, looking to Clinton for that, only this time on this still-unpopular health care reform law that I'm sure Clinton may remind people he wishes he had been able to have during his presidency.

TAPPER: I believe actually it was 10 years and one day ago that he introduced -- President Clinton introduced his failed health care law.

What are we expecting at this event today? Is it just going to be a bunch of leading questions and "Well, I'm glad you asked that, Bill," and the kind of spoon-fed event we're expecting?

KEILER: Well, I have been told -- I think that when you're dealing with former President Clinton, there is certainly some unpredictability here --

TAPPER: That's true.

KEILAR: I am told it's going to be unscripted, but it will be actually Hillary Clinton introducing the two men. And then you will be seeing President Obama and President Clinton having this discussion. I suspect you're right, there will be a lot of leading questions. But some of this is just going to be explaining things to people, because as you saw, a lot of them don't understand the program. They don't understand, for instance, that those health care exchanges where some Americans will be able to purchase individual insurance policies, that those open here in a week. That's why we're seeing this ramp-up.

It's also, Jake, sort of the one-two punch. This is the one; two is going to be on Thursday when President Obama heads to Maryland for a health care event to make the case again. But that's going to be more like a campaign-style event.

TAPPER: All right. Brianna Keilar at the White House, thank you so much.

Let's bring in our political panel. Here in New York, editor and publisher of "The Nation," Katrina Vanden Heuvel. CNN contributor and writer for "National Review" online, Reihan Salam. And senior political writer for Politico, Maggie Haberman.

So nice to be in New York to see you guys in the town in which you live. Maggie, what do you make of the Bill Clinton/President Obama health care thing? Is this actually going to be able to get out to the people and do any of this explaining stuff, as President Obama hopes?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I think to the extent that it's possible, it will, but I think there is so much noise right now. You have, as we know on the Senate floor, you talked about Ted Cruz is making his sort of theatrical play against it.

Hillary Clinton actually stepped up today and talked about it, about two hours ago. She made a very, very impassioned speech at CGI during a panel in defense of Obamacare and really criticized Senate Republicans and House Republicans in a way we haven't really heard her do in now many, many years when she was at State.

So I think if there's a chance of it breaking through, it's because both Clintons are pushing it out. But no, I think ultimately there is so much noise surrounding this, people still don't understand it, and I don't think this is going to make a huge difference.

TAPPER: Reihan, I wonder, do you think that Ted Cruz is helping the cause of defeating Obamacare? I guess it's not really officially a filibuster because the vote is going to happen no matter what tomorrow, but he's going to speak until he drops. Is that helping the cause of undermining this health care bill and having it defeated or defunded? Or is it, as Maggie refers to, noise?

REIHAN SALAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, one thing that happened today is the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page, which has taken a leading role in the charge against Obamacare, issued a really harsh denunciation of Ted Cruz. But what it says is that look, we'll let him do his part. If by some miracle this succeeds in convincing the president to sign something that actually undoes his central domestic policy, more power to him.

But it was really, really harsh, which tells us that conservatives who are staunchly opposed to Obamacare are divided over Cruz's tactics. He's alienated a lot of people. I think the best case scenario for him is he makes some stunningly articulate case and then maybe wins some friends in the course of that. But I think he's just earned a lot of enemies on the right, the people who should be his strongest allies.

TAPPER: You know what's interesting, Katrina, is of the opposition to Obamacare in the latest CNN poll -- it was from May -- 54 percent opposed, like 42 percent support the law. But of the 54 percent who oppose, 16 percent thought the bill wasn't liberal enough. There is this core group of progressives who don't like the bill because it didn't go far enough. It wasn't single payer or whatever. And that's hurting the president's cause to a degree. He's not communicating effectively with them

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE NATION": No. This bill has not been communicated to the American people effectively. But the history of social reform in this country -- take Social Security, for example -- if something flawed is passed, sure, a lot of people would like Medicare for all or single payer. But a bill is passed, and then it's built on. It's reformed. It begins to include people who were left out at the beginning, like migrant workers or African- Americans in Social Security.

What's so interesting to me about the Clinton/Obama meeting today, the irony that Bill Clinton -- sorry, Bill Kristol's memo. You remember that memo in 1993 -

TAPPER: I don't.

HEUVEL: -- which was we got to kill Clinton's health care plan because if we don't, the middle class will see in government activism, in a government program, the security, the economic security, that they seek, and they will stick with this program.

What you see in Ted Cruz today is fear on the floor. It's fear that if this plan is passed, it will never be repealed, and it will become part of the economic decency and dignity of the middle class of working people in this country.

SALAM: Well, I think that fear comes from the fact that I think many people actually agree with you. They saw this program as something that was kind of a Trojan horse. Something that was never going to work as it was legislated, that the arguments made on its behalf were frankly faulty, and that it was going to have to expand enormously, that it would have to lead to something like single payer for it to work. That was the anxiety and the sense actually there was a lot of dishonesty in selling the law. And that's something I actually think (INAUDIBLE) goes to the benefit of Cruz and other critics of the law as well, the idea this is a rickety structure that is going to fall apart. And now you have resistance from organized labor, harshly criticizing aspects of Obamacare that weaken their relative position as well.

So, I think that this could go one of two ways. The question is, will Republicans unite around a real alternative, and that hasn't happened yet.

HEUVEL: There is no real alternative. All we see is resistance. We've see resistance -- and by the way, there is this coverage of this as if it's who's up, who's down, and lives are in the balance. I mean, his is the first opportunity -- both houses of Congress have passed it, the Supreme Court has said it is constitutional -- for millions of Americans to have a chance. Perhaps it's flawed, but a chance to get some health care. And I think that should not be lost.

SALAM: We're not going to settle that here. I think there are a lot of people very concerned about what it will do to employment levels, what it's going to do to economic growth, and who believes that there are ways to increase insurance coverage that are going to be lower cost and more effective --

TAPPER: I want to bring in Maggie for one second, which is -- I think Katrina makes a good point, which is the substance of the legislation, the substance of the law has kind of fallen by the wayside as the likes of you and me cover the who's saying nasty things about Ted Cruz and what was Ted Cruz like at Harvard Law School and that sort of thing, playing into the weaknesses of political reporters. I don't want to blame you.



TAPPER: Just everyone you know.


TAPPER: But I do wonder, it is preventing or at least crowding out -- this is what I mean by noise, when Maggie used the word noise before, it is crowding out some of the coverage of things that are not great about the bill. At least right now, looking at firms that are taking people, making them from full-time to part-time so they don't have to give them insurance, other steps along those lines.

HABERMAN: There are legitimate -- I understand Katrina's point. There are legitimate concerns about implementation, and this is what Reihan is talking about. These are very serious. And there is -- in terms of Bill Kristol's memo, you still hear that today. When you begin - which would pejoratively described as an entitlement program, but any kind of social welfare program -- it is hard once it is in effect to bring it back, to get people off of it. Anyone will make that point.

And so, this is part of what the concern is about starting it. These are real concerns. Nobody is 100 percent certain how this will go; even people who support this bill will say this is not a perfect bill, but it does more good than harm.

SALAM: These programs are hard to reverse whether they work well or not. It's amazing when you look at the legislative history of Medicare, when you look at what they anticipated it would cost versus what it in fact cost, it's hard to imagine that people would have so blithely embraced it had they known. I think that's very well taken.

But I think that's the real concern here. Are we seeing history repeat itself? And I think the concern that some conservatives have is that a scorched-earth approach rather than offering a real viable alternative to Obamacare means that you're actually just going to get Obamacare rather than a real alternative. So that's where Republicans failed to unite.

TAPPER: Last word, very quickly.

HEUVEL: To me, the fundamental showdown is one, lives are in the balance but also, it's about the role of government in our lives. Creating a more fair, decent country, and one with less inequality. We should be talking about expanding -- not entitlements -- but programs like Social Security, Medicare, which are social rights at a time when poverty is rising and inequality is growing.

TAPPER: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Reihan Salam and Maggie Haberman, thank you so much. We didn't have time to get to international affairs. Well, next time maybe.

Stay right here. A lot more to talk about coming up in the hour.


TAPPER: Senator Ted Cruz is still on the floor of the Senate speaking until he can speak no more. We're also waiting for a sit-down between the current president and former President Clinton and Iran's president will take the podium any moment at the U.N. A busy hour continues coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Returning to our World Lead, when you think of an Iranian leader taking the mic at the United Nations you tend to picture something like this. U.S. delegates so turned off by the propaganda being spewed that they pack up their things and leave. That's what happened back in 2010 when the last Iranian president blasted America and Israel with the global gathering.

But there's a new sheriff in town and he's pledged to usher in a new era of U.S. and Iranian relations. I guess we'll see. Let's go live now CNN correspondent Reza Sayah who is in Tehran. Reza, here in the U.S., all eyes have been on President Rouhani, what he says and does at the U.N. How closely are the Iranians tuned in to all of this?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, they are watching this very closely and they're watching it with optimism. In fact, we haven't felt this much optimism in Iran in a very long time. Remember, the Iranian population is one of the most sophisticated and educated populations in the region. They know that they have a lot to gain if U.S./Iranian relations improve and the source of their optimism has been their new president, Hassan Rouhani, which remarkable is that he's only been in office for about eight weeks, but consider what he's done in those eight weeks.

He's become pen pals with President Obama, exchanging letters. He's pushed for better relations with the U.S. He's released scores of political prisoners and his office has even tweeted happy New Year to the community -- the Jewish community in the world. So the big issue that remains is the nuclear program. What's encouraging a lot of people is Iranian leaders are signalling that they're prepared to make concessions. They signalled that perhaps they're willing to suspend uranium enrichment at 20 percent, which would seemingly make it impossible for them to make a bomb.

They've also signalled the possibility of accepting broader inspections of their military facilities but naturally, they want something in return. They want to be treated as equals. They want the rights to enrich uranium and obviously, they want an easing of those tough economic sanctions. Will that happen? It's not clear at this point but there's certainly a lot of hope and optimism that these two countries will get together and improve relations after a very long time -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Reza Sayah in Tehran, thank you so much.

Wolf Blitzer took "THE SITUATION ROOM" to the United Nations. Wolf, we're about to hear from the Iranian president. Tell me, you have covered -- I think you covered some of these when it was the League of Nations. Tell me how important you think this speech is in particular compared to previous speeches from Middle Eastern leaders.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": I think this will be indicative of whether or not he wants to continue a more olive branch tone, shall we say, little bit more flexibility, little more moderation than Ahmadinejad, his immediate predecessor. We all knew what he was going to say long before he said it. There's a certain degree of mystery now. What is he going to say, this new president of Iran.

I think that's driving up the interest in this whole potential shift in U.S./Iranian relations. As you know, you have been reporting, there was no handshake, no meeting, no encounter between President Obama and President Rouhani, but they're both leaving it open for down the road and there will be a meeting Thursday between Secretary of State John Kerry and the Iranian foreign minister here at the United Nations.

So things are happening. Let's see which direction it moves. We will have live coverage of Rouhani's speech and as you know, the president of the United States is going to be having a conversation with the former president, Bill Clinton. They will be introduced by Hillary Clinton. Not every day you see this kind of get-together. They will be talking about Obama care, where we go from here. We'll have a lot coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

TAPPER: Coming up in "THE SITUATION ROOM" just about 8 minutes away. Thanks so much, Wolf. The current president, as Wolf mentioned, is sitting down with his predecessor, Bill Clinton to talk about his signature piece of legislation, Obamacare.

Meanwhile, Senator Ted Cruz still on the Senate floor, speaking until his legs fail him, trying to stop it. Stay with us. We have much more coming up.


TAPPER: Much going on right now in this hour. Just take a look. We have the Liberian president speaking at the U.N. We're waiting for the Iranian president to come. We also have President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama at the Clinton Global Initiative. Any second they will be interviewing one another about health care. Then Senator Ted Cruz is on the Senate floor speaking against Obamacare, all coming up right now. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We are monitoring three major events at this hour. We'll be waiting to hear Iran's president speak for the first time at the U.N. General Assembly. That's the president of Liberia there.

Meanwhile, President Obama just arrived at the Clinton Global Initiative where he will sit down with former President Clinton in an effort to sell Obamacare. They're showing a clip in the middle. That's the Clinton Global Initiative thing at the Clinton Foundation Summit in New York.

On the right of the screen, you see -- that's appropriate, I suppose, on the right of the screen, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, still going on the Senate floor in an effort to suck the funding out of the health care law.

Let's bring back our panel, editor and publisher of "The Nation," Katrina Vanden Heuvel, CNN contributor and writer for the "National Review Online" Reihan Salam, and senior political writer for, Maggie Haberman.

You guys are so good. We made you stay here to give us your closing thoughts on these events of the day. Maggie, I'll start with you. Ted Cruz, the significance of this, if anything.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, "POLITICO": The significance of this I think is you're seeing Republicans in D.C. who are right now much more concerned about preserving their own brands than worrying about the larger Republican brand. This is not bad for Ted Cruz back home in Texas.

TAPPER: It's fantastic.

HABERMAN: Pretty good for Ted Cruz back home in Texas, but this is very problematic for national Republicans and congressional Republicans who do not want to be dealing with this right now.

TAPPER: I want to go to you two quickly, about 20 seconds each on Rouhani. What are you looking for?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE NATION": I think the election of a moderate Iranian president is a historic opportunity, opening, for the U.S. to engage Iran. It is in the U.S. national security interest to do so. It will lead to more diplomacy, political settlement, is the real best way to reset U.S. engagement with the Middle East.

TAPPER: So you have faith in him.

HEUVEL: No, I don't have faith. I go back --

TAPPER: You have hope?

HEUVEL: I go back to what Reagan said about Gorbachev at a different time in 1985. I don't say trust but verify but I say test, test the resolve and what is the alternative, Jake? What is the alternative to diplomacy? War with Iran would be apocalypse now in the Middle East and would endanger the very interest we are trying to resolve through political settlement. Iran will be an ally in trying to resolve Syria, too.

TAPPER: Reihan, we have to have you back, I'm sorry because right now Hillary Clinton is introducing the president. We're going to take that live. Of course, we'll have you on again soon. Thanks so much for watching. Here is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: They're both left-handed. They both love golf, a game that does not often reciprocate the love they put into it. They both are fanatic sports fans and go to great lengths to be in front of the TV or on the side of the court or the field. They both are master politicians. Each of them has only lost one election. They are both Democrats. They have fabulous daughters. They each married far above themselves and they each love our country. And so please join me in welcoming number 42 and number 44, Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama.