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Interview With Senator Ted Cruz; Interview With White House Press Secretary Jay Carney

Aired September 30, 2013 - 18:00   ET


BLITZER: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report, the "Shutdown Countdown."

President Obama warns Americans about the consequences of a government shutdown only hours from now and puts the blame squarely on Republicans. I'll ask his press secretary Jay Carney if the president is willing to make any compromises.

Plus, a driving force in the shutdown showdown. I will speak with Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, get his reaction to the president's tough words.

And it's been called the suicide caucus, how a group of GOP lawmakers pushed the House speaker and the nation to the brink of crisis.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There are only about six hours left until a federal government shutdown and there's dwindling hope right now that the runaway train can be stopped.

Just a little while ago, President Obama accused House Republicans of holding the government for ransom.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election.

Keeping the people's government open is not a concession to me. It's our basic responsibility.


BLITZER: It's now up to the House of Representatives to make the next move. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted today to go ahead and approve a stopgap spending bill to keep the government running, stripping out any changes to Obamacare already approved by the House.

But House Republican leaders, at least for now, they are standing their ground. They're moving toward another vote on a new emergency spending bill with more add-ons aimed at gutting the president's health care law.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're going to move here in the next several hours to take the Senate bill, add to it a one-year delay of the individual mandate on the American people, and get rid of the exception for members of Congress. It's a matter of fairness for all Americans.


BLITZER: Unless someone blinks by midnight, some 800,000 federal employees will be furloughed, and certain government services will be suspended or delayed.

We're getting word from Capitol Hill right now of a possible revolt that is brewing among some members of the Republican Party, including a revolt against the Republican leadership.

Let's go immediately to our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

What's going on, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's going on is I have spoken to some moderate House Republicans who are working as we speak to stage what effectively would be a revolt to try to stop their own party from passing their plans.

Why? Because these moderate Republicans say they have had enough, they don't think it is the appropriate course to be passing yet another spending bill that they believe that the Senate is simply going to reject, which would ultimately end in a government shutdown. So, as we speak, Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a moderate, Peter King of New York, they are working the phones, others as well, Michael Grimm of New York, trying to get enough votes to stop this on a procedural vote.

Wolf, that procedural vote will happen within this hour, and we will see if they can do that. Just looking at the map of the Republican Caucus, they probably would need in the ballpark of 20 Republicans to go against their leadership and more importantly to go against the conservative base, who definitely would wage political war against them for doing this.

BLITZER: So basically what they would get presumably all the Democrats to vote in favor, but if you're saying 20 or 30 more moderate Republicans joined the Democrats, then they would be able to pass this procedure language which would allow the government potential to stay open? Is that right?

BASH: It would actually happen in the opposite way, in that what they would do is they get -- these Republicans would join Democrats in opposing the procedural vote, which would effectively stop House Republicans from bringing their plan up for a vote.

This procedural vote has to happen first. It's call the rule that sets the terms of the debate on the House floor. If that doesn't pass, then they're not going to be able to bring up this plan.

BLITZER: You will let us know what is happening . We will wait to see what happens. Dana, thanks very much.

Let's go to the Briefing Room over at the White House right now. The president's press secretary, Jay Carney, is joining us.

You want to react to this, what Dana just reported, Jay?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, Wolf, I'm fascinated to hear Dana's report, because I think it reflects that so much of what we have been seeing in these past days has been the result of an internal political struggle within the Republican Party, and especially within the House Republican Conference.

And remember that Speaker of the House Boehner initially indicated that he was pursuing a course of action that would lead to the passage of a clean continuing resolution, a clean bill that would fund the government without any extraneous political agenda items, but then he withdrew from that course of action under pressure from the Tea Party Caucus within the House Republican Conference.

And now, according to CNN's reporting and others, there is a movement of some more moderate Republicans within that conference who say -- who are saying simply that it's bad for the American people to go down this road and to shut the government down for a political, partisan reason.

We should get about the business -- Congress has two responsibilities, as the president said, to ensure that the government is funded, and to pay the bills of the United States. And we ought to get that done.

BLITZER: I spoke earlier with Republican Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, who said to me -- he said, you know what? He doesn't want to see a government shutdown. He would be open to voting in favor of a weeklong extension of this, a clean continuing resolution, as they call it, a clean bill without any Obamacare-related attachments, to allow at least the government, the negotiations to continue for a week and avoid a government shutdown.

Are you open to that, at least a short-term legislative initiative that would avoid hundreds of thousands of workers being furloughed tonight?

CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple things, Wolf.

One is, as I said in the briefing today, I can't really respond to ideas floated by individual congressmen and give an official position. Our view is that Congress needs to act responsibly to fund the government, not attach partisan agenda items to that bill, which would then shut the government down, but simply fund the government. And the bill that the Senate passed would do that for, I believe, six weeks, which does allow time for negotiations to continue over a broader budget compromise, which the president is very willing to do. What he won't do and what he thinks is irresponsible and reckless by House Republicans is allow for -- you know, to have these negotiations under threat of a shutdown or under threat of reaching the debt ceiling and throwing the economy into chaos.

BLITZER: We asked our viewers on Twitter to send some questions. Here's one that we got. "Will Barack Obama meet with Speaker Boehner before midnight to avoid a government shutdown?"

What say you?

CARNEY: Well, I don't have a meeting to preview for you.

The president said earlier today that he expected to speak with leaders of Congress today and in the future about this matter, and, you know, when we have more on that for you, we will provide it.

But here's the essential proposition, Wolf. The president is not asking for anything in return for the government doing -- the Congress doing its job. The Democrats aren't asking for anything from Republicans in return for Congress doing its job. The only party to these, to this debate right now that is asking -- putting demands on the table simply so that it does its job is the House Republican Conference.

We're not -- as the president said today, it's not a concession to the president or any president to keep the government open. It's not a concession to the president or any president for Congress to pay the bills of the United States, and not default for the first time in our long history.

BLITZER: Here's an editorial comment from "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page today. I will put it up on the screen. You can react to it.

"With President Obama's approval rating down and independents leaning toward the GOP, he figures his only chance to salvage a second-term domestic legacy is to restore Nancy Pelosi as speaker in his final two years. His best opening to make that happen is a shutdown or debt limit crisis that he will try to blame on Republicans. A shutdown is as much his strategy as it is Mr. Cruz's," referring to Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas.

Do you want to respond to that?

CARNEY: Well, I'm not sure who wrote that editorial, but it bears no resemblance to reality, Wolf.

Look, as we say all the time, the president is not interested in trying to achieve some political gain out of this. He's not running for reelection again. As I said earlier about the comprehensive immigration reform, a lot of people I'm sure on CNN and even in "The Wall Street Journal" have said passing that would be good for the Republican Party for its future politics.

You know what? The president hopes they pass it, and he will sign it into law, even of course if it benefits, as it might, the Republican Party in the long term. Doing the right thing, and keeping the government open, doing the right thing and ensuring that Congress pays its bills, I'm pretty sure that would be good for the Republican Party, whose numbers are not very good right now.

I think your poll shows Congress' approval rating at historic lows. And the president wants them to do that. The idea that we want anything but what is right for the economy and right for the middle class here is simply wrong.

The president -- I mean, here's another way to look at it. If the president were doing what the Republicans were doing, he might say, I will only sign a bill keeping the government open if Republicans agree to pass background checks at gun shows, and to improve that system, because obviously he would like to see Congress act on that, but he's not asking for that.

He would be saying, as president, I will not a law that raises the debt ceiling and I would let our economy default for the first time if I don't get that background checks legislation or some other thing that he wishes Congress would do. But he's not doing that. He's not attaching any conditions.


BLITZER: Will there be a shutdown tonight? Will there be a shutdown tonight?

CARNEY: I am, as is my boss, eternally optimistic that Congress, at the 11th hour -- that even House Republicans at the 11th hour will understand that the right thing to do is to pass a bill that funds the government and keeps it open so that we don't have all the negative effects that I and others have talked about today.

BLITZER: Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, thanks very much.

CARNEY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up in our special report, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, his response to the president's harsh warnings about the looming government shutdown. Senator Cruz will join us live.

And the small but influential group that pushed Speaker John Boehner to take a stand against Obamacare, we will profile what some are calling the suicide caucus.

So are you for or against the shutdown? Tweet us your thoughts. Use the hashtag SITROOM.


BLITZER: All right, so we heard President Obama just a little while ago accusing Republicans of holding the federal government hostage. Strong word, hostage, with a shutdown likely to happen in a few hours. Listen to this.


OBAMA: You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you're supposed to be doing anyway, or just because there's a law there that you don't like.

The American people send us here to govern. They send us here to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make their lives a little bit better, to create new jobs, to restore economic security, the rebuild the prospects of upward mobility. That's what they expect.


BLITZER: All right, let's discuss what's going on with a key player in this entire battle over the money for the federal government and Obamacare.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, is joining us.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Well, thank you, Wolf. It's good to join you.

BLITZER: The president paints a dire picture of what is about to happen after midnight tonight. Almost 800,000 federal workers, they're going to lose their jobs, they're not going to get paid, there's going to be all sorts of disastrous consequences.

Why not give at least a week or two weeks, an opportunity to let the government continue, and then you can continue these negotiations with the White House?

CRUZ: Well, look, Wolf, I don't want a government shutdown.

I don't think we should have a government shutdown. And the only reason we might is if Harry Reid and President Obama force one. You know, if you look at this process over the last several weeks, the House has been working trying to negotiate a compromise. And the problem has been Harry Reid and the president have refused to compromise.

They have refused even to talk. A lot of people have been commenting on the fact that President Obama is willing to negotiate with the Iranians, but he's not willing to negotiate with Congress.

BLITZER: All right, he says negotiating on Obamacare, he's not negotiating with a gun pointed at his head, he's saying.

CRUZ: Well, but let's be very clear how this has played out.

My view, as you know, is that I think Obamacare should be repealed in its entirety. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you don't have the votes. But you don't have the votes for that.

CRUZ: And so, in the spirit of compromise, when this thing started, we started with a compromise position, where is where the House of Representatives was, that it should be defunded. Now, that went over. That passed the House. They funded the federal government.

BLITZER: It failed in the Senate.

CRUZ: It went to the Senate, and Majority Leader Harry Reid said, no, absolutely not, no discussion, we vote it down.

It then went back to the House. And the House compromised again. They then came back with a one-year delay. Now, that was a compromise from defunding. And they funded the federal government again in its entirety.

BLITZER: But it failed again in the Senate.

CRUZ: But let's be clear. It didn't fail. Harry Reid killed it.

BLITZER: You didn't have the votes. But you didn't have the votes.

CRUZ: But it didn't fail spontaneously.

BLITZER: The Democrats all lined but. The Republicans were against.

CRUZ: Wolf, my point is the Democrats are not negotiating. They're not compromising on everything.


BLITZER: So what do we do at this late moment with only a few hours left? And a lot of people out there are going to suffer if the government shuts down.

CRUZ: Look, I will tell you, I think Harry Reid wants to force a government shutdown.

The House acted at 12:30 in the morning on Sunday. I think the Senate should have been called back in session on Sunday. Harry Reid decided to leave everyone home on their vacation on Sunday instead of calling us in to work.

I think Harry Reid affirmatively wants a government shutdown. I think that's unfortunate. We're seeing right now the House is compromising a third time right now. And Harry Reid has said, whatever you do, I won't talk to you, I won't compromise, my absolutist position is if every bit of Obamacare isn't funded, I'm shutting the federal government down. That's a mistake.

BLITZER: We have heard from our Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent, there's a little revolt brewing right now among more moderate House members, saying, you know what? This is too serious. We will have to fight Obamacare another day. We got to keep the government running.

I want to play some sound for you a few Republican -- Republican House members saying just go ahead and fund it for now. We will leave Obamacare for another day. Listen to this.


REP. SEAN DUFFY (R), WISCONSIN: But there's also an opportunity. Maybe we will have a week extension of funding, so we have more time to have this conversation. There are a number of different opportunities that we have.

REP. CHARLES DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: There are over 180, probably 190 members of the House Republican Conference who has a very serious sense of governance and who are the governing wing of the party. We have a few dozen who don't have that same sense of governance. We're just going to have get on with the business, pass a bipartisan bill, and keep the government running.


BLITZER: These are Republicans, House members who disagree with you.

You say, under no circumstances pass this legislation which doesn't have anything to do with Obamacare.

CRUZ: Well, look, I don't know those particular individuals.

What I can tell you is there are millions of Americans right now who are hurting under Obamacare, who are losing their jobs, who can't find a job, who are being forcibly put into 29 hours a week.

BLITZER: But why not fight that fight later and in the meantime not make these other Americans suffer?

CRUZ: Because this thing isn't working.

Wolf, why is it that the unions are asking to be let out? Why is it that millions of Americans are losing or at risk of losing their health care? I think the problem is Washington is not listening to the American people. But let me be clear.

I want to commend the House, because the House of Representatives is listening to the American people. And Harry Reid and President Obama's position is, we won't even talk. Now, let me point to something though that's a good sign. And this may have been missed in the coverage, but it's a good sign of Washington working the way it should.

Today, a piece of legislation was passed. The House of Representatives passed a bill Sunday morning that says, regardless of what happens, if there's a shutdown or not, we're going to fund the men and women of our military. Now, for weeks, President Obama and Harry Reid had been threatening the men and women of the military that their paychecks were going to be lost. And today Harry Reid did something good, something I praised him on the Senate floor for, which is he agreed not to block that bill. And so the Senate unanimously passed that. That will go to the president's desk for signature today.

That's a step in the right direction. That is ensuring that our soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines are not held hostage.

BLITZER: So at least there's a little bipartisanship.

I'm going to ask you, Senator, stay with us. I want to take a quick break, continue this conversation. There's a lot at stake, as you well know, right now.

Much more of our conversation with Senator Ted Cruz.

You have some questions for him, still not too late. Tweet us, using the hashtag SITROOM.


BLITZER: We're back with Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

All right. We're only hours away from a government shutdown that will be very painful. What would you do? You have got to do something. You're a smart guy. You know the math in the Senate. You know the math in the House. Give me an idea of how to avoid the pain of a government shutdown.

CRUZ: Well, look, I don't think we should have a shutdown. I think Harry Reid should stop refusing to negotiate.

BLITZER: But what do you want? Give us a realistic proposal that could have a chance of success.

CRUZ: Look, what I want is to keep the government running and at the same time to deal with the harms, the millions of Americans who are losing their health care, at risk of losing their health care, who are facing skyrocketing insurance premiums.

I want the American people to be treated the same as President Obama is treating big corporations and members of Congress. He's exempted them.

BLITZER: But, between now and midnight, they're not going to -- you're not going to resolve this.

CRUZ: Let me give you another strategy that ought to happen at the same time.

BLITZER: All right.

CRUZ: We saw today that a continuing resolution funding the military passed both houses unanimously. Now, the president listed all of these terrible things that will happen if Harry Reid forces a shutdown. I think we all to start passing continuing resolutions narrowly focused on each of the things the president listed. So, he said Border Patrol agents won't be paid. Fine. Let's pass a continuing resolution that funds Border Patrol agents.

He says that he plans to close every national park. Fine. Let's fund a continuing resolution funding the interior, keeping the parks open. Let's one at a time demonstrate the same bipartisan cooperation we saw today with the military and address all of these people that he's holding out as are going to suffer.

And if the president is willing to actually roll up his sleeves and work, we can deal with much of the downside consequences.

BLITZER: But, basically, you want to -- how many of those resolutions do you think you can pass between now and midnight?

CRUZ: Well, look, there's no rule that a continuing resolution has to fund every bit of the federal government all at the same time.

We should pick the top, the critical priorities, the areas where, if the Democrats force a shutdown, the areas where there will be the most pain and let's address that. Let's take them off the table. And I think the House tonight ought to pass several continuing resolutions.

I was glad the president made clear that, even if they force a shutdown, Social Security will continue, the military will continue, Medicare will continue, but we ought to address the other areas, the VA, a perfect example. The House should pass a continuing resolution funding the VA in its entirety, send it to the Senate. And I hope Harry Reid would show the same willingness to work that he did this afternoon.

BLITZER: All right, a specific proposal coming from Senator Cruz.

Thanks very much for coming in. We will see what happens. We will touch base with you again in the course of this evening.

CRUZ: Very good. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator Cruz for joining us.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I will be back 8:00 p.m., filling in for Anderson Cooper later tonight.

"CROSSFIRE," meantime, starts right now.