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Budget Battle; Interview With Senior Presidential Adviser Dan Pfeiffer; Interview with Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington; Who is the White Widow?

Aired September 26, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The rhetoric over this potential government shutdown, it's about as civil as the comments section in YouTube.

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The national lead, closing down the government, not a popular idea with the public, but Republicans say they have another card up their sleeve. But a defiant President Obama says he will not be blackmailed into negotiating.

The world lead. She's a British mom and she's believed to be in the al Qaeda-linked group that seized a mall in Kenya, slaughtering dozens. Now Interpol is putting out an international wanted alert for the mysterious woman known as the White Widow.

And the pop culture lead. How will we know where New York's hottest club is anymore? "Saturday Night Live" returns this weekend without Stefon. Bill Hader sits down with us to talk about his exit from the show and what he's got planned next.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the national lead.

For about a week now, we have heard how horrible a government shutdown might be. Parks will close, no paychecks for troops, yet another example of D.C. dysfunction, this one with real consequences for people.

But now it seems there's possibly a decent possibility that it just won't happen. Just to recap, the House passed a spending bill to keep temporarily the government running, but they stripped out all funding for Obamacare. That bill is now in the Senate, where the Democrats who run things will almost certainly put the Obamacare funding back in to that legislation within the next couple days, and then kick it back to the House.

If Congress doesn't pass the spending bill, the government will shut down Tuesday, but today, the House GOP is signaling that it has a backup plan to avoid that while still delaying the implementation of Obamacare and it's centered around the debt ceiling that we are going to hit in three weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have no interest in seeing a government shutdown, but we have got to address the spending problems that we have in this town. And so there will be options available to us. There's not going to be any speculation about what we're going to do or not do until the Senate passes their bill.


TAPPER: So Washington, D.C., might be able to avoid a shutdown next week while setting itself up for another titanic battle over the debt ceiling. President Obama again today said there's no way he will cut a deal to raise that debt limit.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To suggest America not pay its bills just to try to blackmail a president into giving them some concessions on issues that have nothing to do with the budget. I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America.



TAPPER: And joining me now is senior adviser to President Obama Dan Pfeiffer.

Dan, thanks so much for joining us here on the set.


TAPPER: I want to play something from Ted Cruz's speech -- you might have heard something about it -- earlier this week.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: The complexity is so much, what it's causing more and more small businesses to do is just stay small. Just avoid Obamacare altogether because they can't decipher the rules and regulations, so they know if they don't have 50 employees, they can get out from under it.


TAPPER: Obviously, you oppose defunding Obamacare which is what Senator Cruz wanted to do, but let's talk about the idea of whether or not Obamacare is fully ready. We keep reading about these glitches, about the exchanges in different states and D.C.

Just today, the Obama administration announced that certain small business exchanges will be delayed one month. The Obama administration delayed the employer mandate one year. Is it possible this health care law is not yet ready? PFEIFFER: No, we are absolutely ready.

Here's our principle. Our principle is to make sure that it's done right. Where there are things we can improve, we look to improve them. Take the health care small business thing you are talking about this morning, which is -- that's not a delay of the exchanges. On October 1, you can talk to folks on the phone. The only thing that's being delayed is the Web site. And there's no deadline on the back end.

So, what we're making sure is the experience people have is the right experience. We're doing it in a time that makes sense.

TAPPER: It does seem odd though this health care bill that passed so long ago, the deadline , October 1, and now businesses -- the Web site's not up, the businesses can fax it in, as if this is like 1994. I guess the question is, can you understand why some people in the public might say, God, it doesn't sound like they have their act together?

PFEIFFER: Well, look, starting on October 1, people are going to be able to go to these marketplaces online, compare plans. They will have access to plans they have never had before. And when people see that, they are going to see this is going to be a consumer experience unmatched by anything in government, also in the private sector.

The process for applying for affordable health care is going to be tremendous compared on its own, but also compared to what people are dealing with right now.

TAPPER: The president's approval ratings, according the a new poll out today from "The New York Times" and CBS News, are at 43 percent, the lowest since March 2012. Do you think Obamacare is part of the reason?

PFEIFFER: I don't spend time a lot of worrying about public polls.

TAPPER: You have your own internal polls that you worry about. Is that accurate? Is the...


PFEIFFER: Well, I think that -- let me put it this way, is that our focus is on implementing this law, giving people access to affordable health care, making sure it works.

I'm not worried about the politics of this today, tomorrow, five days from now. I don't care what the Gallup daily track says, the CNN poll. What we're worried about is five years from now, 10 years, 15 years from now, people who never had health care have access to it, it has become part of the fabric of how we provide -- part of the fabric of the social contract in this country.

TAPPER: OK. Well, let's talk about the policy, and not the politics of it.

President Obama said something this morning. I want to unpack it. Let's play a little of that.


OBAMA: They said that these rates would come in real high and everybody's premiums would be sky high, and it turns out, lo and behold, actually, the prices came in lower than we expected. They said this would be a disaster in terms of jobs. There's no widespread evidence that the Affordable Care Act is hurting jobs.


TAPPER: I think one of the issues here is that when this plan was being sold, it made it sound as though there wasn't going to be any sacrifice.

Obviously, people who didn't have insurance and now are going to have insurance because states expanded Medicaid because of Obamacare, they are now better off because they now have some sort of health insurance. But individuals who had insurance in other ways might have to pay more to pay for them, or they might suffer in other ways.

For example, in speaking of the effect on jobs that President Obama talked about, he very carefully said there was no widespread effect on jobs, but there are specific examples. UPS says Obamacare is raising costs. Home Depot, Trader Joe's, Securitas -- that's largest provider of security guards. I'm sure you read the story in today's "Wall Street Journal."

They are kicking part-time workers off their plans. SeaWorld is cutting part-time hours. It's hurting some people. Now, maybe overall, you can make an argument, and I'm sure you would, that, overall, it's good, but how do you take issue with the fact that there are individual companies that are deciding to make full-time workers part-time workers, and that hurts them?

PFEIFFER: Well, I think let's compare what's happening now with what's been happening for 10 years, long before Obamacare was even something that was possible to be law, is companies were dropping health insurance. The tens of millions of Americans have had their health insurance dropped, many of them in small businesses, long -- because health care costs were skyrocketing.

Since the passage of this law, the growth in health care costs has dramatically slowed.

TAPPER: It's still going up, but you are saying it's going up at a lower rate?

PFEIFFER: Historical lower rate.



Let's talk about the battle going on right now with Republicans. Obviously, well, first of all, what's going to happen? What's your take on what's going to happen? The House Republicans, is President Obama talking to Speaker Boehner at all about this government shutdown which would come next week, October 1?

PFEIFFER: Well, he spoke to the speaker last week. We will be in touch with congressional leaders going forward.

But, really, whether we shut down or not is a decision that is entirely within the hands of Speaker Boehner and the Republicans.

TAPPER: OK. So the Senate passes a bill that funds the government until November, let's say. Sends it back to the House. The House says, OK, we won't demand defunding Obamacare, but let's take away the tax on medical devices or let's delay this provision of Obamacare, the individual mandate. Would President Obama be willing to sign that?

PFEIFFER: He would not be willing to sign it, and the Senate couldn't pass that.

Speaker Boehner's job is to pass laws, not bills that have no chance of being law. If they include something that he knows for a fact cannot pass the Senate, then he is making a decision to shut down the government. That decision has consequences and he will be -- the House Republicans, because they -- and this is something Speaker Boehner said he thought was a bad idea until the Tea Party at the behest of Ted Cruz decided to demand this.

And so now we're following this path that could lead to a shutdown and even more dangerously to a default in a few weeks.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the default, because the treasury secretary said it could be catastrophic if we defaulted on our debts. Why isn't President Obama negotiating as he had in the past? In the past, he negotiated on the debt ceiling. Now he's refusing to. If it's going to be catastrophic, why not get in there, roll up your sleeves and try to negotiate?

PFEIFFER: Well, what -- the House Republicans are not asking for negotiation. It's a negotiation if I'm trying to sell you my house and we are just debating the price of it. It is not a negotiation if I show up at your house and say give me everything inside or I'm going to burn it down.

The Republicans have provided a laundry list of essentially ransom demands of things that were essentially the Romney agenda that was rejected by voters that they know can't pass in normal circumstances. They say give us these things or we will blow up the economy.

We're not going to participate in that because that has dramatic consequences for how we govern going forward.

TAPPER: You saw -- and this is the final question. You saw today a new Bloomberg News poll indicating that the American people support by a 2-1 margin its right to require spending cuts when negotiating the debt ceiling.

I understand that Keystone and other provisions that the Republicans are talking about attaching to the debt ceiling are not related, but why not cut some spending?

PFEIFFER: The Republicans -- we are for cutting spending. We're for reforming our tax code. We're for reforming our entitlements.

What we're not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest. We're not going to do that. So, if they want to have a discussion about how we reduce our deficits, how we help the middle class, how we give them a better bargain, lift the debt ceiling, take the full faith and credit of the United States off the table and let's have a discussion.

I don't think -- that's not a particularly complicated thing. What they're doing is unprecedented. Imagine a scenario years from now, different Congress -- we agree to their demands now. A year from now, maybe they want to privatize Medicare. Maybe four years from now, there's a Democratic Congress and a Republican president, and the Democrats come forward and say, if you don't raise taxes to levels that you don't want, then we're going to cause the economy to blow up.

We cannot live in a world where one-half of one branch of government can extract their demands that have been rejected by voters and can't pass under normal circumstances or they are going to blow up the economy.

TAPPER: But Senator Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling.

PFEIFFER: He did. And he has discussed that. But what he did not do is say, give me X, give me 100 percent of what I want, or we are going to default. That changed in 2011 with the House Republicans.

TAPPER: Do you acknowledge that President Obama bears any of the responsibility for this crisis in Washington right now or do you really view it that the House Republicans are entirely responsible?

PFEIFFER: I believe the House Republicans are entirely responsible.

TAPPER: One hundred percent?

PFEIFFER: Yes, absolutely.

TAPPER: All right, senior adviser to President Obama Dan Pfeiffer, thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it.

PFEIFFER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, it's Republican vs. Republican. Will it be a fight to the death? I will ask one Republican leader coming up.

And later, Interpol activates a global trip wire to catch this woman -- why counterterrorism officials say the White Widow poses a worldwide threat. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Returning to our national lead, the president says he is not budging.


OBAMA: I will not negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America.



TAPPER: But the House, well, they're not rolling over either.


BOEHNER: Now, the president says, "I'm not going to negotiate."

Well, I'm sorry, but it just doesn't work that way.


TAPPER: Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the House Republican Conference chair, joins me now.

Congresswoman, thanks for being here.

You heard Dan Pfeiffer, the president's senior advisor, just then talking about how he sees these negotiations. He said that when it comes to the debt ceiling -- which, of course, is a different crisis than the government shutdown, the debt ceiling things -- you and your colleagues are presenting a laundry list of ransom demands that Romney supported and voters rejected. They include in addition to the one- year delay of Obamacare, blocking net neutrality regulations, approval of the Keystone Pipeline, blocking the EPA from regulating ash waste from coal-fired power plants.

None of this has any obvious connection with the national debt. Why use something so critical for leverage on these issues that you can't get support for in the Senate?

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASHINGTON: Well, first of all, it's completely unrealistic for the president to say that we're not going to negotiate over the debt ceiling, that he thinks somehow that we should be just giving him another blank check to continue these record deficits. He's had trillion dollar deficits every year and what we are putting forward, we are proposing reforms that include spending cuts, spending reductions as well as pro-growth policies that will get our economy growing again.

And just today, actually, the Joint Economic Committee came forth with a report that showed some of the proposals that we are considering, putting into this package, tax reform, the one-year delay of Obamacare, Keystone which is 20,000 jobs in and of itself, would help get our economy growing, get people back to work, and ultimately, would help us pay down the debt because of the revenue that it would increase to the federal government. TAPPER: Well, that's not directly related to the debt per se in terms of spending, but I understand your point about growth. Why do you call this President Obama's debt? Congress is the one that spends the money.

MCMORRIS RODGERS: It is President Obama over the last five years that has been -- that has been adding these trillion dollar deficits every year to our debt and it needs to stop. And the Republicans are going to insist before there's any increase in the debt ceiling, that it be accompanied with the spending cuts, with the reforms that are going to help change that trajectory so that we don't continue down this path.

And look at history. You look at President Clinton, President Reagan, you look at President Bush, the debt ceiling has often been used as that opportunity for Republicans and Democrats, White House and Congress to negotiate the way forward, and to work to bring down the debt that we have accumulated in this country.

TAPPER: Well, you guys are the ones who pass the appropriations bills, you guys are the ones who just voted for more of those farm subsidies going to rich farmers.

MCMORRIS RODGERS: We just passed reforms to the farm bill. We have -- unfortunately, the Senate has been not passing a budget. This was the fourth year in a row that the Senate hadn't even passed a budget. It's been a big frustration of ours. They've passed zero appropriations bills.

We started out this year, it was the Republicans who led the effort for "no budget, no pay", to -- as a leverage to get the Senate to actually write a budget. We have been so frustrated because that is very fundamental to governing, that you get a budget in place and to your point, the federal government is basically -- much of it is running on auto pilot. The spending continues without that budget.

And so, that's why these negotiations that we're having right now, it's so important that we negotiate over raising the debt ceiling.

TAPPER: Let's just -- we only have a couple minutes left. I just want to ask you, if the Senate sends back the house bill without the defunding of Obamacare, and Speaker Boehner puts that forward because he doesn't want to shut down the government and he says we'll try to negotiate when it comes to the debt ceiling in a few weeks instead of with this government shutdown, will you defy him or will you go along with that?

MCMORRIS RODGERS: Well, we're going to continue to push the Senate to have this debate over the funding of Obamacare, a delay of Obamacare. It is very important. The American people want that.

We saw the polling just today that 57 percent of the American people would like to see this law either repealed or delayed. They see that it's having a negative impact on their lives. So, we're going to continue to push the senate to have this debate because premiums -- I just heard, you know, Dan say that premiums were coming down. You know, the president promised that premiums were going to come down $2,500. They're going up $7,500.

And people, we're told if you had a health insurance plan that you liked or doctor that you liked, you'd be able to keep it. It's not true.

I was home earlier this week. People are panicked as they see how this law is being implemented.

So, we are going to continue to push the Senate to have this debate.

TAPPER: One last thing, Congresswoman. Here's Senator John McCain, here's what he said about tying Obamacare funding to the budget.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I campaigned all over America for two months everywhere I could, and in every single campaign rally, I said and we have to repeal and replace Obamacare. Well, the people spoke.


TAPPER: The people spoke. So did the Supreme Court. Why are you still pushing this?

MCMORRIS RODGERS: Well, because the people continue to speak and we need to listen to the American people, and the American people want to see this law -- they want to see us delay, they want to see us repeal parts of this law, and even President Obama has said that it's unworkable. We saw in early July that he delayed the employer mandate. We saw today where he announced -- President Obama announced they were going to delay the online exchange for small businesses, where they could enroll, because it's not ready.

This law isn't ready for prime time. We need to get it delayed. We need to continue the debate over how we ensure that people, Americans, have access to quality and affordable health care, but it's not this law.

TAPPER: Are we going to have a government shutdown next week?

MCMORRIS RODGERS: You know, the Republicans do not want to see the government shut down.

And we took action in the House. I'm proud of the fact that we have passed a bill that would keep the government open. There's two bodies in Congress for a reason. We're waiting for the Senate to act.

TAPPER: All right. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, thanks so much for talking to us. We appreciate it.

MCMORRIS RODGERS: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next, is she an innocent woman or a mother secretly planning terror attacks? A new red alert for the so-called "White Widow". How dangerous is she and what do police think she was plotting next? And later, it's almost go time for the new cast of "Saturday Night Live." I ask "SNL" alum Bill Hader what they're in for and how the show will survive without Stefon.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Now, it's time for the world lead. She's the woman known as the "White Widow". She is now the subject of a worldwide alert.

At Kenya's request, Interpol issued a wanted persons notice for Samantha Lewthwaite. She is the British mother accused of having ties to terrorists and there's speculation about her possible involvement in the Nairobi mall attack.

CNN's Matthew Chance has more on what we know about Lewthwaite and why Interpol's action raises new questions.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Samantha Lewthwaite, a 29-year-old Muslim convert from Buckinghamshire. Already in Britain, she's been dubbed the "White Widow", a reference to the fact she was married to one of the British suicide bombers, Jermaine Lindsay, who attacked London in July 2005.

At the time, she condemned her husband's actions, describing them as abhorrent, saying she had no advance knowledge of his plans. Shortly afterwards, she appears to have skipped the country with her children and for some time, she's been wanted by the Kenyan authorities for her alleged links to al Shabaab and al Qaeda.

Residents in her hometown of Aylesbury have been watching unfolding developments in Kenya with despair. One former local chancellor told me he can barely recognize the girl he says he knew personally.

NIONAM HUSSEIN, FORMER COUNCILOR: If you say to me a quiet suburban town, a mother with a number of children suddenly becomes the biggest kingpin in -- for A.Q. franchise in Africa, how does that make sense?

CHANCE (on camera): You think she may have deceived you?

HUSSEIN: I don't know. I'm being perfectly honest. I don't know.


TAPPER: Let's go live now to CNN terrorism analyst, Paul Cruickshank. He's in London.

Paul, there's no evidence that the so-called "White Widow" had anything to do with the Kenyan mall attack, at least none that we know of. So, explain what's behind this new alert.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, that's absolutely right, Jake. The Kenyans have not offered any evidence to prove that she had a role in this attack and al Shabaab on what appears to be its official twitter account has denied that any women at all were involved in the attack. So, this may actually be linked to the intense media speculation over the past few days, that that's the reason that the Kenyans are perhaps taking this step now.

Western intelligence believe that she's played more of a sort of logistical role, a fund-raising role for al Shabaab in the region rather than a front line fighting role, Jake.

TAPPER: What do we know about her last known whereabouts?

CRUICKSHANK: What we know about her last known whereabouts is late 2011, there was a raid on a safe house in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast, and she actually managed to evade capture. They didn't get her.

One of her associates was arrested and he's now on trial in Mombasa for a plot in late 2011 to attack a Nairobi shopping mall and also hotels in Mombasa, Jake.

TAPPER: And how much stock do investigators put into this claim for the al Shabaab Twitter account denying that any women were involved in the Kenya attack? It's a Twitter account and who knows if they're telling the truth?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, this is the very same Twitter account which released an audio statement from the leader of al Shabaab last night, Mukhtar al-Zubeyr.

So, experts are increasingly convinced this Twitter account is authentic despite many doubts this week over the authenticity of other Twitter accounts used by the group, Jake.

TAPPER: Paul Cruickshank, thank you so much.

Let's check in with our political panel in the green room right now.

Kevin Madden, Congressman Peter King says he has never heard such vile, profane, obscene things as the phone calls coming into his office since he started publicly slamming Ted Cruz. This is a man from New York who works in Washington, D.C. Do you buy that?

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, the Washington part, forget it. It's the New York part. I mean, has he ever even been -- he's from Long Island, right? Has he ever been to a Rangers/Islanders game? I mean, that is much worse.

TAPPER: That's what I was thinking, hockey or football.


TAPPER: Coming up, the politics lead.