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President Barack Obama Meets With Congressional Leaders; Republicans Versus Republicans in the House

Aired October 2, 2013 - 23:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a CNN special.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We had a nice conversation, a polite conversation.

TAPPER: Behind closed doors. A conclave at the White House. The four top leaders of the Congress that helped drive us into shutdown meeting with President Obama. Did they work out their differences?

BOEHNER: The president reiterated one more time tonight that he will not negotiate.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: My friend, John Boehner, I repeat, cannot take yes for an answer.

TAPPER: Well, that went well. All sides emerging just as dug in as before. What is the end game here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to ask the group.

TAPPER: Our guest Congressman Devin Nunes calls his fellow Republicans lemmings with suicide vests for their refusal to fund Obamacare along with the rest of the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't understand the strategy.

Congressman Nunez This is SHUTDOWN SHOWDOWN.


TAPPER: Good evening, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to this special half hour of CNN, "SHUTDOWN SHOWDOWN."

We are coming to you live tonight from the nation's capitol. The only city in America where you have to work this hard to get absolutely nothing accomplished. We are coming up on 48 hours since the government partially shutdown. And if you are a furloughed government worker, do not bother setting your alarm tonight. This mess will not be any closer to a resolution when you wake up. You can be forgiven if you got your hopes up. Earlier tonight, the four top leaders in Congress went to the White House to meet with President Obama behind closed doors. So how did it go?


BOEHNER: The president reiterated one more time tonight that he will not negotiate. We have got divided government. Democrats control the White House and the Senate, Republicans control the House. We sent four different proposals over to our Democratic colleagues in the Senate. They rejected all of them.

REID: I thought that they were concerned about the long-term fiscal affairs of this country. And we said we are, too. Let's talk about it. My friend, John Boehner, I repeat, cannot take yes for an answer.


TAPPER: OK then. A GOP congressional source told our own Dana Bash that the meeting only involved the principals, no staffers. There was no talk of any potential compromises for this specific fight period.

The president demanded a clean continuing resolution to reopen the government as soon as possible, complete with funding for Obamacare. Speaker Boehner's response, not going to happen.

So is it time for a grand bargain to put the nation's fiscal House in order? There are whispers of that on the hill tonight. But what would that even look like?

Let's bring in Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of California who as we just heard, has been pretty critical of his own party's strategy here and two of CNN's finest who have been covering the story, chief political analyst Gloria Borger and chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Congressman Nunes, I want to start with you. Obviously, you are not a supporter of Obamacare in particular. But why would you call your fellow Republicans lemmings with suicide vests? What's the issue here?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you for having me on.

A few months ago, back in my district and in Washington I started hearing this strategy that was laid out that shutdown the government, don't fund Obamacare and don't stop until Obamacare has ended. And I thought from the beginning that that was really -- couldn't be done. And it's really just a matter of math.

TAPPER: Right. You don't have the Senate and you don't have the White House.

NUNES: Right. And you would need technically, it is not even, you know, what some of my constituents were saying, we only need five senators. Well, as the folks here in Washington know, you need 60 votes just toned debate. It took 60 votes to implement Obamacare. And I just don't think as long as there's a guy named Obama in the White House that you're going get rid of Obamacare without a veto. So, assuming you got the 60 votes, assuming President Obama vetoed the bill which he would, you then need 67 votes in the United States Senate and 290 votes in the House.

So it's just a matter of math. It was a silly strategy from the beginning. And this whole lemming issue came up because one of my colleagues who I was having a direct conversation with decided to leak it outside of the room and so I walked out. And they asked me about it. So that's how it got out public.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But you said it, right? I mean, lemmings.

TAPPER: You think it's bad for the Republican party?

NUNES: Yes, it's crazy. I don't understand the whole point, the whole strategy. Most Americans don't understand it. But look, I have supported it. I will support our leadership. Because part of this problem in this whole group they refer to, this has been ongoing for three years where they have continued to block our leadership for three years to get 218 votes.

TAPPER: The lemming caucus. You are talking about the tea party caucus.

NUNES: Well, it's not the tea party caucus. Not at all. It's a lemming caucus. These guys who meet privately. They are always conspiring. It's mostly just about power. And it's just gotten us nowhere.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But if that's the case, and if they are lemmings, and if you actually understand simple math that you can't get this done, then why not be more aggressive? I mean, I know there is sort of growing number of people like you who want to pass a clean bill to fund the government and just move on.

TAPPER: A clear majority of the Republican party in the Houses, right?

BASH: It seems that way. So, why not put your vote where your mouth is?

NUNES: Well, because if you, well, first of all, you have to vote on what's in front of you.

BASH: Why not John Boehner can put whatever he wants in front of you.

NUNES: Yes. So if you want to do that and start bringing down rules basically is what you're talking about, you are talking about doing the same thing that got us in this mess in the first place. So, the leadership made a decision to take the position that we are going to take the Ted Cruz strategy and we are not going to fund the government until we get rid of Obamacare.

BORGER: Why do you think Boehner did that? I mean, his original inclination, back last spring, was we are not going to do that.

NUNES: He said in March exactly the votes aren't there. It doesn't make sense. We will keep voting against Obamacare, but we're not going to shut down the government.

BORGER: Exactly. So then, why the change of mind?

NUNES: Because we had the majority of Republicans who had went home and gave some indication to their constituent that is there was some magical way to get rid of Obamacare by not funding the government. That's why this happened. I have a responsibility to tell the truth to my constituents, and that's what I've been doing.

TAPPER: And you, again just to reiterate, you would like to repeal Obamacare.

NUNES: Well, I mean, I have been one of the leaders on health care. And I think that's actually one of the problems in the Congress right now, especially with this Cruz strategy, is that I would have respect for people if they were coming up with solutions to our nation's health care problems. Because if really the problem is debt and people worried about Obamacare because we are going to go bankrupt and we have $17 trillion in debt. You guys know all the talking points.

But it's true. We have a debt problem. But the debt problem was here before Obamacare, Obamacare made it much worse by throwing more people onto Medicaid. And Medicare is going broke for our seniors. So some of us, myself, Senator Coburn, Paul Ryan, Senator Byrd, we actually put out where every American with a plan that every American would have health care. Every American would have health care. And, you know, now all of a sudden people are attacking me for being pro Obamacare? I don't think so.

BASH: Can I just ask you? You said you are obviously upset with the strategy, you think that John Boehner was forced into this, which you know, let's face it I think he was. Candidly, are you supporting John Boehner the strategy because if he relents he's toast?

NUNES: No. I think it's this.

BASH: Honestly you don't think so?

NUNES: For three years we had problems getting 218 votes. So, John Boehner said OK, we will take this Ted Cruz strategy. You guys went out for two months, you made this commitments. We will take it. We'll implement it. And now, here we are, it's fully implemented.

BASH: You can pass this with bipartisan support. Why not, if you know that the votes are there with Republicans and Democrats, why not say to the speaker, put this on the floor, get bipartisan support, have it pass that way and move on. NUNES: Because you still have Republicans in our caucus who believe that if we continue down this path and we stay firm and we hold tight, that Harry Reid and President Obama are going to relent and we're going to be able to --

BORGER: Do you believe that at all?

NUNES: Absolutely not. I don't believe it.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Ted Cruz for a second just because you raised him. Because the House is following a strategy a lot of people feel that Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, suggested. Because Dana and Gloria, you guys have been doing some reporting. There was a meeting today of Republicans in the Senate, and a lot of Ted Cruz's colleagues I think are even less happy with him than you sound.

BORGER: Well, they handed it to him. I was told that they were meeting, and that most Republican senators I was told by Republican source in the room spoke out against him. And this is what one source said to me. Cruz was completely unapologetic about that ads that he is featured in on the Senate conservative fund Web site that attack other Republicans. That's what they're mad about. He sees himself as the only truly pure Republicans. His colleagues are furious. He has no successful strategy but has managed to generate grassroots support.

TAPPER: That's a Republican senator who told you that?

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: But here's the thing. A Republican senator who told you that anonymously. He wouldn't give his or her name and this seems to be one of the issues.

BORGER: But within this meeting.

TAPPER: No. But I'm just saying the people in this town, I hear a lot of Republicans who are willing to criticize Ted Cruz. I'm not talking about you obviously because you just did it on TV but willing to criticize Ted Cruz but not put their name to it.

BORGER: I think you'll see more and more, actually, as this goes on.

BASH: You know this. There's a reason for that. The reason that they are not willing to put their name to it is because they don't want to get a primary. He is incredibly powerful and popular. Am I wrong? I mean, you were just talking about the fact you heard it back home this summer.

NUNES: Look. I think Ted Cruz is one of the best politicians that's come around in a long time. He has able to rally the base. He has got a lot of money he has generated. There is a lot of consultants making money off this and there is lots of TV ads going on. The problem with it is, it's one thing to be good at politics. It's another thing to be not good at strategy.

TAPPER: Why are you not worried about getting primaried?

NUNES: Well, look. My whole career I have made a career of just being honest with constituents, trying to come up with solutions to America's problems and putting them out there and trying to explain those to my constituents and trying to work on those issues.

BORGER: What do you think of this piecemeal strategy that the House Republicans have had, which is refund the government --

TAPPER: But go after the parts that we put on TV.

BORGER: Piece by piece.

TAPPER: So you're throwing up kids with cancer, veterans affairs, the parks. The world war II veterans.

BORGER: Take away all the unpopular cuts.

BASH: You voted for it all.

NUNES: Now that we have made the jump, set ourselves on fire and made the jump, we are now in the valley of death. We decided to go into the valley. We have to run together. We have to stay together in order to fight the onslaught that's coming from the White House.

BORGER: Interesting our metaphors here. Don't you think that seems crazy?

In the valley of death.

BASH: Isn't it interesting you're calling it setting yourself on fire in the valley of death and you are running on fire in the valley of death voluntarily just to stick together.

NUNES: If you don't have 218 votes in the House --

BORGER: But Dana keeps saying you do.

NUNES: No. If the Republican party does not hold 218 votes in the House we have nothing. And that's what this group, this small group in the House has been blocking us for three years. And I am not going to be like them.

TAPPER: How many of your fellow House Republicans agree with you?

NUNES: Two hundred.

TAPPER: Really? I mean, a lot of people have been coming up to you and saying at a boy or I agree with you?

NUNES: Nobody likes to criticize fellow Republicans, especially myself. But this is a case where somebody decided to leak, you know, private conversations. And so I was forced to basically come out and defend myself. BORGER: And tell what you really believe to be the truth. I mean, so what does this do to the Republican party? I mean, here you are kind of split open in public, disagreeing. You say you have 200 votes to do something they are not going to do.

NUNES: Well, the key was we should have had this fight on the debt ceiling, not on the CR, not on the appropriations bill.

BORGER: Not on funding the government.

NUNES: Not on funding the government, right. So especially even if you were going to do it on funding the government, you don't pick the same day that Obamacare's rolled out. Because one thing that we know about this White House, and we know about Harry Reid in the Senate, is they are going to use everything that we give them, which is they're going to easily say, well, the reason we are having these problems is because the Republicans shut the government down.

TAPPER: Stick around. Stay there. Nobody go anywhere. We are going to take a very quick break.

Coming up, if the president made it clear that there will be no negotiating while the government is shut down, where do Republicans go from here?

We will continue our discussion with Congressman Nunes coming up next.


TAPPER: A standoff with no end in sight. Who will blink first and do Republicans have a strategy for what comes next? " Shutdown Showdown" continues right after this.


TAPPER: Welcome back to CNN's special government of the government shutdown. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are almost into day three of the standoff now. The good news both sides actually met at the White House this evening. Bad news, all they seemingly did was butted heads.

May right-wing Republicans seem to have all their chips on delaying Obamacare if they can't defund it outright. But President Obama along with his liberal allies in the Senate, well, they refuse to fold. And they are not playing with House money. They're playing with yours.

So, does Congress have an end game here? Do they even know how to end it? Let's bring back in Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of California along with our own Gloria Borger and Dana Bash.

Interesting quote I wanted to read you, Congressman, from your colleague Representative Marlin Stutzman of Indiana. He was quoted in the "Washington Examiner" talking about the end game saying quote "we're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

Now, you are not Congressman Stutzman so I can't hold you accountable for this. But that is not a very encouraging sign.

NUNES: Yes. Well this, I mean, Congressman Stutzman is a very good guy and a friend of mine. And I think this is part of the problem that some of us identified months ago because there was no end game to this strategy. There was no way once you got to shutdown mode and you didn't have the votes, which we never had the votes, then what were you going to do?

I think we had the moral high ground to fight on the individual mandate. Had we made that case and spent all this money and time and effort saying how come you are giving employers a break and not giving individual a break since Obamacare is obviously not ready to go primetime. I think we would have had some folks on our side. But instead with all of this politicization and personal politics where you are attacking other Republicans, it's made for with we're at now.

BORGER: Can I ask you, what is it like on the floor of the House now on the Republican side, where you're calling your colleagues lemmings. Are there any specific ones that you're talking about?

NUNES: Yes. So look, first off it's important to be fair here, the Democrats are giddy about this behind closed doors. I mean, they think that this is going to give Nancy Pelosi back the gavel. They are very cocky. They are very confident. I assume they are just looking at polling information. And they want to continue down this. They want to keep the government shut down as long as they can. And they are encouraging our folks to do it.

TAPPER: You think Democrats want to keep government shut down?

NUNES: Politically absolutely. I mean, they tell me so.

TAPPER: Democratic congressmen have said keep the shutdown going?

NUNES: Yes. Privately, yes.

TAPPER: Tongue in cheek, right?

NUNES: Tongue in cheek. But I mean, look. Democrats believe in big government. No question.

TAPPER: Right.

NUNES: But this is benefiting them politically.

BORGER: So can I get back to the Republican on your side of the -- like how bad is it? And who are the lemmings that you're talking about? And are you talking to them?

NUNES: No. I mean, there is nothing really to talk about. This is their strategy. We are giving them every --

BORGER: Who's they, though? I mean, who is they?

NUNES: I mean, look. You have to first look to the people who went against the speaker on the House floor to start off the Congress. I mean, that's the first group, right?

BORGER: Dana would tell us.

NUNES: Right out of the gate there was -- you know, we needed 218 votes and there was an attempt there to basically wound the leadership.

TAPPER: That was a worst coup attempt than was reported at the time.

NUNES: But here is why. Every Republican has a chance to run for speaker or for leader of the Republican party and there's a whole set of offices. They never challenged speaker Boehner. They never challenge leader Cantor. They don't do anything. And then they were meeting privately to create this spectacle on the House floor. They never vote for anything. And look, I disagree with leadership a lot. But, you know, I don't go out and publicly embarrass our entire conference at the beginning of the conference and that's what happened, you know, back in January.

BASH: To your point about Democrats right now, to be fair, if you look at the votes over the past two days since you have started this piecemeal approach, you guys have been united, even people like you who don't agree with the strategy, you have stuck with your leadership for better or worse. Democrats have lost 20, 30 votes on these --

TAPPER: Although not enough --

BASH: Not enough to put it over. But I want to ask you since we're being so candid and open and honest here at whatever time it is, what's speaker Boehner behind the scenes right now as he tries to hold it together.

TAPPER: And I'll help you out. You only have about 15 second.

NUNES: Well, look. Speaker Boehner is one of the -- the way you see him in public is exactly how he is in private and he is a good guy. And it is sad that a lot of folks have been attacking him when he is right now the leader been voted on unanimously in our conference but folks like to beat him up. And it's just unhelpful.

TAPPER: Congressman, we thank you for your candor this evening and being honest and open with the American people. Thank you so much.

We will be right back. Stay with us.


TAPPER: That is it for "Shutdown Showdown."

Thanks for watching. I'm Jake Tapper with Gloria Borger and Dana Bash.

Please join me tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. eastern for "THE LEAD."

"CROSSFIRE" starts right after this.