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Government Shutdown; Interview With Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador

Aired October 1, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: a SITUATION ROOM special report, "Government Shutdown."


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will not negotiate over Congress' responsibility to pay bills it's already wracked up.


BLITZER: On day one of the shutdown crisis, President Obama isn't buying a new offer from Republicans. We're standing by for a House vote right now.

We're also looking beyond the toxic politics to the very real danger to Americans if this shutdown drags on. And we will meet the freshman Republicans who is seen as one of the architects of the shutdown showdown. Some say he and his allies are on a political suicide mission.

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

The government shutdown is now 18 hours old. And no matter who you blame, the American government is being held hostage right now.

Closed signs are plastered on national monuments, parks here in the nation's capital and across the country closed. About 800,000 federal workers are on furlough, meaning they are not getting paid. They don't have jobs for now. Some restaurants are offering them free food because they don't know when they will see their next paycheck.

The shutdown is costing the U.S. economy at least, at least $200 million a day, probably more. And there's no end in sight to this manmade, not natural, manmade disaster. You can see and feel the anger out there. Veterans refused to let barriers keep them out of the World War II Memorial here in Washington even though it was officially closed. Millions of Americans are fuming at their elected officials.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's never about doing what's right. It's about Republicans vs. Democrats. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What they need to do is take a pay cut themselves, OK? And leave us alone, because we're are the ones running this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bunch of jerks up there running the show up there and it's not fair.


BLITZER: All right. There's efforts under way to try to deal with this shutdown, efforts apparently not going very far.

Let's go to our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's standing by. Jim Acosta is over at the White House.

Dana, first to you. What's the latest? Because there's a new Republican offer on the table, an offer that the White House now says they will veto.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. On the House floor right now they are debating a series of bills, piecemeal bills to fund very specifically parts of the government, the National Park Service, District of Columbia and veterans.

The White House though already is saying no. They issue a veto threat and we already have a response to that from the House speaker's spokesman, Michael Steel. And I will read it for you.

He said: "How does the White House justify signing the troop funding," which the president did in the last couple days, "but vetoing similar measures for veterans, national parks and the District of Columbia? The president can't continue to complain about the impact of the government shutdown on veterans, visitors at national parks and D.C. while vetoing bills to help them. The White House position is unsustainably hypocritical."

That again from House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman, but it might not even get to this whole question of a veto threat, because this might not even make it off the House floor. The House again run by Republicans. And the reason for that is because they have set this vote up in such a way that they will need two-thirds majority for these to pass. That means they will need significant Democratic help. And if you listen to the way Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader, talked about these ideas, it looks like that's not going to happen. Listen to what she said.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we don't have that sound bite from Nancy Pelosi. But we can get the gist. You want to just give us the gist?

BASH: Exactly. She said it was pathetic. She said it was subterfuge. And she said that what House Republicans are trying to do is throw some crumbs at us and then take away the pie.

The whole idea from Democrats' point of view is that they believe that what House Republicans, their new strategy, which this is new, they sort of came up with this or announced it earlier today, is to fund the parts of the government in and around the agencies that would fund Obamacare. Fund the agencies in and around the things that maybe are the most dangerous politically and in terms of optics and symbolism, like the national parks, like veterans, but not do things like make sure children who are trying to get cancer treatment are not turned away at clinical trials, which apparently is going on right now.

That's why Democrats are insisting that they're going to stand their ground. They say simply the only thing they will go for is an entire bill funding the entire government with no strings attach, which as you heard mentioned earlier from John Boehner they say that is hypocritical and unsustainable. We still have a standoff.


BLITZER: Yes, the standoff continues.

Interesting, yesterday both sides were willing to fund the payment for U.S. men and women serving in the military, but they're not willing to go further as far as veterans or civilian Defense Department employees, at least for now, the Democrats rejecting that idea.

Dana, stand by.

I want to go to the White House right now. Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is over there.

We saw the veto threat. This was an idea that Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas, he laid it out 24 hours ago exactly here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The Republicans in the House picked it up. But all of a sudden, the president now through a spokesman saying he will veto any such piecemeal legislation. Jim, what's the reason, because they did go ahead and the president signed into law funding of U.S. men and women so they could get their paychecks from the military?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, talking to some White House officials about this and you're right. The White House has said the president would veto this if it came to his desk.

But their approach to this right now is that a piecemeal approach is not what is going to get the government up and running the way it should be, that these are last-ditch efforts by Republicans to dig in until the last minute until they eventually have to give up and do what the president wants them to do. And as I heard from a White House official earlier this afternoon, there's really only one option here for House Republicans, in the view of this White House and that is for House Republicans to go ahead and pass a clean continuing resolution to continue to fund the government.

Now, we should also point out that I am hearing from sources that the president and House Speaker John Boehner did not have any conversations today, as of right now. No word about what might happen later on tonight, but as of right now, no conversations. As you heard earlier today, Wolf, the president was really turning up the heat on Republicans, branding the shutdown that is here in the nation's capital and around the United States as "a Republican shutdown," talking about it as being hyperpartisan and even "strange." Here's what the president had to say.


OBAMA: One faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn't get shut major parts of the government, all because they didn't like one law. I know it's strange that one party would make keeping people uninsured the centerpiece of their agenda. But that apparently is what it is.

And, of course, what's stranger still is that shutting down our government didn't accomplish their stated goal.


ACOSTA: Now, one thing that the White House is also looking towards, and that is coming up in just a couple weeks from now, October 17, when the nation is scheduled to hit the debt ceiling and potentially go into default.

White House officials pointing to what the International Monetary Fund, official were saying earlier today here in Washington that it would be "catastrophic" for the United States to go into default on its debts. Meanwhile, the president's schedule is being affected by this government shutdown.

He's having to cancel an event tomorrow night. He is going to be holding an event, a political campaign-style event on Thursday to talk about this shutdown. So that's an indication that the White House is expecting this to go on for another couple of days. In the words of one White House official that I talked to, we just don't know when it's going to be over -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot going on. Jim Acosta over at the White House.

Dick Durbin, the senator from Illinois, told me just a little while ago he expects the president to invite the Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership over to the White House and get into a room and see if they can work this out. We will see if that is going to happen.

Meanwhile, a local synagogue is open to shutdown central, where furloughed workers can play political ping-pong, but it's not all fun and games. Up next, you're going to see how one federal employee and her family is coping. It's difficult.

Later, I will ask a House Republican if he's willing to give up his salary during the shutdown.

Do you have questions for Congressman Raul Labrador? Tweet them to us. Use the hashtag SITROOM.


BLITZER: Even if Congress doesn't pay its bills, federal workers have to pay theirs, and it's weighing on people who are furloughed.

CNN's Rene Marsh spoke with some of them.

What did you hear?


Wolf, while the lawmakers are playing politics on Capitol Hill, families dealt with the consequences of day one of the shutdown. They walked in to work today and a few hours later walked out with furlough letters like this one.


MARSH (voice-over): The lights are on early as usual at this Washington, D.C., home. But inside, the morning drill feels different for federal worker Natasha Rozier.

NATASHA ROZIER, CENSUS BUREAU: Because Mommy's going to work for a few hours, OK?

MARSH: Rozier, a Census Bureau employee, is essential to her 5-year- old daughter as she readies her and drives her to school in the nation's capital.

ROZIER: Have a good day.

MARSH: But the government considers Rozier on nonessential. And on day one of the shutdown, she, like more than 800,000 government workers, face being furloughed.

(on camera): What do you tell your daughter I guess at this point?

ROZIER: She's too young to understand what's going on. And I try not to -- you don't understand that finances is going to be a little difficult for mom and dad.

MARSH (voice-over): Minutes after arriving at work.

ROZIER: This in my hand is the notice of furlough that all employees were given this morning.

MARSH: And she's not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I came here to work today, and I'm not allowed to. I'm nonessential. None of us are. And I'm doing the walk of shame.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess it's kind of melancholy, a little numb.

MARSH: Federal workers left in droves and union members protested the government they say failed them.

PROTESTERS: We all are essential!


ROZIER: We pay our taxes, and we expect to come to work just like everyone else. And today we're here and not being able to go to work.

MARSH: Meantime, the shutdown also sparked outrage among veterans and lawmakers at the World War II Memorial in Washington. They found the open air monument barricaded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's nonsense that people can't walk -- obviously, you can walk here. If I can walk here, why can't I walk there?

MARSH: Some Republican lawmakers call the move spiteful.

REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: This is an arrogant thing here. It's arrogant and it's spiteful, and it comes from the White House, and I think directly from the president.


MARSH: All right. Well, some would call those lawmakers hypocritical considering they helped shut down the government.

The National Park Service closed all of its parks, including national memorials, because of the shutdown, but a spokeswoman said they will no longer hold people back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope they fix this and fix it soon. Rene, thanks very much.

The president is blaming Republicans for the shutdown, and they're blaming him right back. But who really set this crisis in motion? Some are pointing fingers at a freshman Republican and a group known by critics as the suicide caucus.

Brian Todd is joining us with more on this part of the story.

What's going on, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the suicide caucus is comprised of 80 hard-line Republicans who got the ball rolling toward a government shutdown.

But there is one man among them, a previously obscure representative named Mark Meadows, who is considered the architect of this strategy.


TODD (voice-over): He's been in Congress all of eight months. John Boehner's been there 22 years. But it's Mark Meadows, a former restaurant owner and Sunday schoolteacher from western North Carolina, who's put the House speaker in a spotlight he never wanted.

DAVID WASSERMAN, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: It's amazing that Mark Meadows could be the catalyst of this whole situation.

TODD: It started with a letter Meadows sent to Boehner in late August urging the speaker to use the threat of a shutdown to defund Obamacare. Tea Party powerhouses in both chambers of Congress supported him. He got 79 other House Republicans to sign his letter. And Boehner had to listen.

(on camera): We were told Congressman Meadows wasn't available to speak to us. He told that his intent was never to shut down the government, but he also made clear in an interview with a local affiliate in his home district just who and what tops his priority list.

(voice-over): Meadows said stopping Obamacare is priority number one and the people in his district come first.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I believe that I'm representing the will of the people. The overwhelming majority say that they don't want the bad effects of this law to be placed on -- in their lap, and so I'm fighting on their behalf, and believe that I'm representing them according to what they elected me to do.

TODD: And what the Tea Party wants him to do. Jane Bilello, a Tea Party leader from North Carolina, says they thoroughly vetted Meadows with an questionnaire and an interview before supporting his run for Congress last year.

(on camera): There are some who would argue that he's just too much in your back pocket.

JANE BILELLO, NORTH CAROLINA TEA PARTY: Our representatives, I don't care if they're Republicans, Democrats, independent. I don't care what they are. They're supposed to represent we the people. And they are supposed to adhere to constitutional principles. That's what we want. And that's what we are going to hold them accountable to.

TODD (voice-over): Now analysts say Meadows' hand is strengthened in his district and possibly beyond.

WASSERMAN: And that could open up possibilities for him, whether it's a future leadership role in the House, whether it's a statewide bid in North Carolina.


TODD: But analysts say he could be hurting the Republican Party's broader chances in 2016. By placing himself as the catalyst for the shutdown, he is drawing other Republicans into a perception problem nationally.

This may be good for Mark Meadows, analysts say, but it could hurt folks like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio in three years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you, Brian Todd reporting.

Up next, a key Republican responds to President Obama's tongue-lashing today.

Congressman Raul Labrador, he's standing by live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's get to a House Republican now who's joining us to talk about this government shutdown and some very strong words earlier today from President Obama.

Congressman Raul Labrador of Idaho is joining us from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: It's a pleasure to be on your show, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

We spoke earlier with Dick Durbin, the senator from Illinois, the Democratic whip.

He said he expects -- thinks it's very likely the president will call the Republican and Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate, invite them to come over to the White House, go into some sort of room and try to work this out. Have you heard anything along those lines?

LABRADOR: I have not heard anything about that, but I think that's a great idea.

That's what we have been asking the president. That's what we have been asking the senators to actually come and negotiate with us. So I think that would be a terrific idea.

BLITZER: I know you want to negotiate as far as keeping the government open or shutting it down, but what about on the debt ceiling? Are you ready to see that go up without any strings attached, as the president demands?

LABRADOR: I am not.

If you think about the debt ceiling, the debt ceiling, we need to make sure that we have something dealing with the debt, that we have something dealing with spending. We have a $17 trillion debt. We thankfully have been reducing the deficit over the last two years, since Republicans have been in power in the House.

But I still think that we need to do more. And if we don't do anything to change the trajectory of our debt and our deficit, it's going to be unsustainable for the United States.

BLITZER: Will you link Obamacare to the raising of the debt ceiling?

LABRADOR: I have never been in favor of linking. And this is just me. I'm just speaking for myself.

I have never been in favor of linking Obamacare to the debt ceiling fight necessarily or to having the fight over Obamacare with the debt ceiling, because I think that should be mostly about the debt, about the deficit, about mandatory spending. As you know, the biggest drivers of our debt are mandatory spending, all the issues that we're dealing with there. And I think it's necessary that we deal with entitlement reform when we deal with the debt ceiling.

BLITZER: Some of your Republican colleagues, like Peter King, Charlie Dent, and a few others, they're now saying they want to forget about, at least for now, as part of the government shutdown, because it's so painful to hundreds of thousands of Americans who have been furloughed -- they just want a continuing resolution, a clean piece of legislation to get the government working once again.

Are you increasingly moving toward that position?

LABRADOR: I'm not.

And, in fact, the entire conference is not moving towards that decision. If you saw what happened yesterday, Peter King and Charlie Dent tried to vote against the rule. And they tried to thwart the plan that we had here in the House of Representatives,and they got maybe three or four people to follow them.

The reality is that the majority of the Republican Conference is with me, that we need to have the fight here on the C.R., that we need to make sure that we have this discussion about Obamacare. But it's greater than Obamacare, Wolf. It's the failure of the Democrats to come to the negotiating table and negotiate with us.

Think about the last -- we have had four appropriations bills actually go to the Senate. And the Senate refuses to take them up. That's never happened in our history, where you have one house of the -- of Congress that refuses to take up proper appropriations bills that have been passed by the House of Representatives.

BLITZER: We asked our Twitter followers to send us some suggested questions. We got this one in for you, Congressman. "Do you feel that a government shutdown will harm the credibility and integrity of the Republican Party in the long run?"

What's your answer?

LABRADOR: I do not. I think, when the American people see that we're asking -- we are trying to be reasonable. We have been asking to keep the government open.

We haven't been talking about a government shutdown. It's actually been the Democrats who have been talking about the government shutdown. And I suspect that they looked at the polls and they believe in their mind that a government shutdown actually hurts the Republican Party. And I think that's why they have been so unwilling to negotiate with us.

BLITZER: Some of your colleagues have said they're going to forego their salaries while hundreds of thousands of other American federal employees forego -- lose their salaries. They have been furloughed.

Where do you stand on that? LABRADOR: I have asked the administration, the administrative office here in Congress to hold my salary until we are done with this government shutdown.

BLITZER: No salary for you. What is it, like $170,000, $180,000 a year? Is that what you make?

LABRADOR: Correct.

BLITZER: All right, so we will see what happens on that front.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

LABRADOR: It's a pleasure to be on your show.

BLITZER: Raul Labrador, Republican of Idaho, joining us.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Washington.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.