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President Obama Meets With Congressional Leaders; Interview With New York Congressman Peter King

Aired October 2, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report, government shutdown. The breaking news. We're waiting for congressional leaders to leave the White House and tell us about their meeting with the president that's under way right now.

Was there any hint of compromise? Stand by to find out.

The House speaker's next move is key to this crisis. We're asking voters in John Boehner's hometown if he's been doing the right thing.

And his pushback against the speaker. Speaker Boehner and the Tea Party. Republican Congressman Peter King on the shutdown disaster.

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 breaking news we're following in hour, congressional leaders now meeting with President Obama inside the White House. We're waiting for them to come out and give us a sense of what happened behind closed doors.

Republican leaders went in sounding skeptical about the president's invitation to talk on this, the second day of the government shutdown. In a new interview, President Obama is standing behind his refusal to negotiate under Congress passes a bill to open the federal government.

Let's go to our senior without correspondent Jim Acosta. He's watching all of the very latest.

Are we getting any clues whatsoever what may be going on inside, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not just yet, Wolf, but the dramatic meeting is under way between President Obama and congressional leaders. We caught just a glimpse of House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi entering the West Wing of the White House White House the last 30 minutes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were also heading into the doors of the White House within the last half-hour, and what we are seeing basically right now between the White House and the Capitol Hill is a stalemate. They are right now at a standoff, an impasse over whether to pass a clean continuing resolution that would end this government shutdown. We heard some of this expressed by President Obama earlier today in an interview with CNBC where he said he was exasperated with House Republicans. He said he feels like he has to break the Tea Party fever here in Washington and that Wall Street should be worried about the debt ceiling that's basically going to be hit by the U.S. on October 17 and that the U.S. could potential go into default on that date.

All of that he says could be avoided if House Speaker John Boehner, in the words of the president, goes against the wishes of the most conservative members of his party and passes a spending bill to keep the government open. Here's what he had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The only thing that's stopping them is that John Boehner right now has not been willing to say no to a faction of the Republican Party that are willing to burn the house down because of an obsession over my health care initiative.


ACOSTA: Now Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is also in that meeting. The White House did say earlier today that he would be warning congressional leaders of what potentially could happen if the nation goes into default on October 17.

That's sort of where things stand right now. This government shutdown that is now into day two is basically putting the country on a track where now this crisis over the shutdown is going to merge with a looming crisis, a looming deadline for the debt ceiling. That is what the White House is concerned about, that sort of perfect storm, that Washington dysfunction double whammy hitting the nation all at once on October 17. It's something the White House and this president really wants to avoid.

But at this point, he says he is not negotiating, not negotiating with Republicans in Congress on anything that does not involve a continuing spending resolution that is not attached to other ideological provisions as he likes to put it. He says he will only do something, only sign something into law that just keeps the government running and nothing else. Then he says he will move onto other issues, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta over at the White House, thanks very much.

The microphones we have been showing our viewers, microphones outside the West Wing of the White House in the driveway over the White House, we expect congressional leaders to emerge from the meeting with the president, walk down that little driveway over there, go to the microphones and tell us what was going on inside.

We also know the president is already assuming this is going on for a while. He's already canceled two stops on his upcoming visit to Asia that was supposed to begin this weekend. Let's see if he cancels the whole trip. In this high-stakes game of chicken, House Speaker John Boehner has the power to end or extend the shutdown crisis. His next move could depending on the political pressure he faces here in Washington as well as back home in Ohio.

CNN's Joe Johns is in Boehner's backyard with the Cincinnati skyline behind him.

Joe is joining us now.

What's going on over there? How are they reacting, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, John Boehner comes from one of the most Republican districts in the state of Ohio, so people here are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But talking to people here, it's pretty clear that both Republicans and Democrats are quite annoyed right now with all the politicians in Washington, and that includes the speaker of the House.


JOHNS (voice-over): This is where John Boehner came from, working- class Cincinnati. He's been in Congress since 1990, now at a pivotal moment in Washington, and in a bitter battle Obamacare. House Speaker John Boehner has a 48 percent unfavorable rating, which is an all-time high in CNN polling.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Nobody knows what the rules are.

JOHNS: At Andy's Cafe, which Boehner's family owned, the shutdown was no big deal, though government growth and bureaucracy are still an issue. But when I asked Jim Brigger if that means he is with Boehner and the Tea Partiers in Congress, he wouldn't say.

JIM BRIGGER, RESIDENT OF OHIO: The government is way too big and they need to reduce the size of the government. However you want to take that, you take it that way.

JOHNS: In Boehner's district, they were more blunt about it.

IRENE BOEBINGER, RESIDENT OF OHIO: When John Boehner lived here, he gave the message that he was completely for the people, for the citizens of the country. Since he's been in Washington, I don't know, it just seems like sometimes he goes completely the other direction, sometimes he stays with us.

JOHNS: What makes Boehner tick? He comes from a Catholic family of nine boys and two girls, went to Moeller High School, a linebacker at one of the most famous football schools in a sport-obsessed state. His coach Gerry Faust is a legend on Ohio who went on to lead the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Faust told me: "I never found a better team player. He always put his teammates first and insisted on playing even when hurt." A former Boehner spokesman said he's driven by a refusal to give up.

TERRY HOLT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: We have seen John come back from trouble many, many times. He keeps chugging at it. He's a team builder, and because he's an eternal optimist, I think he can get up every day and go back to work in a very, very difficult circumstance.

JOHNS: So now for Boehner's constituents, the question is what he stands to gain in the shutdown.

JOHN O'CONNOR, RESIDENT OF OHIO: The last time they did it back in '96, when they reopened, it didn't improve anything or do anything else. We're back in the same mess right now.


JOHNS: Outside the Beltway, you get the sense that people really aren't losing any sleep over the impasse in Washington. The local newspaper "The Cincinnati Enquirer" has a blaring headline about a shutdown, but it's referring to the end of the season for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team that just lost their playoff game to the Pirates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns out there near Cincinnati, thanks very much.

Up next, we're watching the stakeout over at the driveway, the West Wing of the White House, congressional leaders, and we anticipate they will come out of their meeting with the president inside the West Wing, come to the microphones and speak to all of us.

Plus, closed signs are everywhere, and they come with a huge price tag. We're going to show how the shutdown is costing all of us.

And a dire new warning that homeland security is also at risk because of this government shutdown. Some lawmakers clearly are spooked.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Did you tell the president of the United States what you just told us? You scared the hell out of all of us. At least I'm scared.



BLITZER: We're waiting for the congressional leadership, Democrats and Republicans, to emerge from the White House. There you see the microphones there in the driveway. As soon as they walk out, tell us what's been going on in their closed-door meeting with the president, you will know as soon as we know.

In the meantime, let's bring in Congressman Peter King of New York. He's a Republican. He's called this government shutdown, like so many people out there, a disaster.

Congressman, if you were in that meeting, what would you say to resolve this crisis?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Well, first of all, I have been very critical of the Republicans.

However, I have also been very critical of President Obama for waiting so long to get involved. Now that they are in the room, I would try to see if they could put together a comprehensive agreement both on the continuing resolution and on the debt ceiling, so our country doesn't go through this.

If they could even find some way to call a cease-fire over the next few weeks and put elements on the table that have to be discussed, because, again, the president is going to be leaving. They have to get a process going. And it should be as encompassing as possible, because the debt ceiling is really the key issue here, and if this continuing resolution debate goes on, and the government stays shut down, and then we go into the debt ceiling, it will only add more pressure and it's going to be much more damaging.

BLITZER: Would you like to see, Congressman, what's called a clean continuing resolution, a clean bill that would end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling at the same time as part of a condition that both sides, Republicans and Democrats and the president, they would work out a whole bunch of other issues separate from these two issues?

KING: I would certainly want the clean C.R., the clean continuing resolution.

As far as the debt ceiling, I don't want to be undercutting John Boehner's negotiating position. If he feels that that's best for him -- I want to get the first thing done first. If they can do it all at once, fine, but really what I'm calling for now is a clean continuing resolution to open the government, get the government reopened and go from there.

If they can also tie that into the debt ceiling, that's fine, whatever has to be done to get it done.

BLITZER: We asked our Twitter followers to send some questions for you. Here's one that came in. Let me read it to you. "Does Representative King believe the Tea Party should be its own party and not part of the Republican Party?"

Go ahead.

KING: No, I do believe in the two-party system.

But I do feel that the Ted Cruz wing of the Republicans are very damaging to our party right now. That's up to us to resolve internally. I don't want fragmentations forming. Otherwise, we will end up like one of those French republics where they have 40 or 50 parties. No, to me, it's important that keep the two-party system if at all possible. But we should not be allowing the Tea Party to control what we do.

BLITZER: Tell us why you think Senator Ted Cruz has been -- I don't remember the word, disaster, whatever word you used to describe him.

KING: I think the precise word, I said he was a fraud, because he started this whole process, he was the one who was bringing pressure on Republicans, he's the one who is behind this whole effort to defund Obamacare and threatening to shut down the government and basically if the House did that, sent it over to him, it would work.

He knew this could never work, he knew that from the start. That is why this was a fraudulent advertising on his part. And he was basically just being a con men. And how the House Republicans allowed themselves to be suckered in by this guy is beyond me.

BLITZER: Strong words. I'm sure that he will respond at some point.

Congressman, how much progress are you making in bringing over other Republicans to your point of view? We know Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and a few others were willing to join you over the weekend and try to resolve this crisis, but what do you see? Give us a little bit of the political landscape among the GOP in the House.

KING: Basically, it's a work in progress. It's not going as fast as I would like it to. There's definitely more than 20 people who want to do it. They're trying to find the right time. I think the right time is now.

But they are again negotiating among themselves, deciding when the right time is to actually make a decisive move, but I think the longer we wait, the worse it is. I'm disappointed we haven't moved more quickly on it. I voted no today on the rule, for instance, to show that I'm still opposed to what we're doing.

But there is a good number, I would say 20 to 25 who are talking about voting no on rules and stopping the process. There's probably another 100 who want the government to reopen on the Republican side. But right now people just don't want to move.

And let me say this. I have been very critical of the Ted Cruz Republicans. I give them credit for one thing. When they want to do something, they get it done. They don't worry about hurting anyone's feels, what people are going to say about them, and that's why they're taken very seriously. I give them credit for that. I wish people on my side had the same type of resolve.

BLITZER: Among other things, you're on the House Homeland Security Committee, the chairman on the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

We heard James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, say this government shutdown, the jeopardy increases for U.S. national security the longer the shutdown continues. Is he right?

KING: Yes, he is. I agree totally with Senator Lindsey Graham on that. The fact is we have the intelligence agencies, per se, many of the civilian workers are being furloughed, Homeland Security, counterterrorism people are being furloughed. And also the Army -- the military reservists are being furloughed, and they make up a key component, for instance, of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Naval intelligence. I have two former staff members of mine who are very active in the reserve. They do a tremendous amount of counterterrorism work on weekends. They have been furloughed. So we are definitely putting ourselves at risk. There's no doubt about it. There's a real homeland security, national security terrorism risk because of the shutdown.

BLITZER: Peter King, the Republican congressman from New York, thanks very much for coming in.

KING: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're keeping a very close eye on the West Wing of the White House right now. There you see it. You see the Marine guard. You see the microphones.

We anticipate fairly soon Republican and Democratic leaders to emerge from their meeting with the president. Hopefully they will come to the White House and tell us what happened. Our coverage continues right after this.


BLITZER: More than 42 hours into the government shutdown, the price tag for America is clearly growing by the minute.

Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at the costs. He's us from our virtual studio.

Tom, what are you seeing?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we knew up front there would be a big cost to some people. This first tier of people, sort of the red zone out here, the 800,000 federal workers who are laid off, and, of course, anybody that has a business that day to day to day must rely on the government, of course, they have been hit already.

We there was a green zone back here, which were the things where people probably wouldn't feel it much. The airports were going to operate, the federal courts would be fine, the Borders and Customs, the Postal Service.

Where we are really seeing it and where we're hearing the most reports of people being a little surprised about what's happened is right in the middle here in sort of the yellow zone. You mentioned a minute ago, and Representative King as well, the idea there are cutbacks in the intelligence community right now.

National Security Agency we're told has about 77 percent of its civilian employees now furloughed. If you want to hire somebody to work for you, you may go E-Verify to check on their immigration status. That's not working right now. There are USDA meat inspectors out there, but many other inspectors of other types of foods they're not on the jobs right now, they have been laid off, so that may be surprising people, depending on what they run into, on and on it goes.

At the National Institutes of Health, as we know, there are people who have been told they cannot start any new clinical trials, so maybe they're trying a lifesaving medical procedure, yet they can't get a start at it. There are about 200 a week of those and about 19,000 families have been told that Head Start is no longer available for their children right now. They're dealing with a little minor crisis in the family, and, of course, over at the National Zoo, the Panda Cam is not working.

Many people may look at this and say why isn't this saving a lot of money for the government? It is in the short run, because that money is not being spent, but it will almost have to be spent eventually or past records have dictated such a thing. In the meantime, what it means is this money is not going into the economy. How much? By one estimate, $300 million per day not going into the economy as long as the government is shut down.

BLITZER: This is a manmade disaster, not a natural disaster. Let's keep that in mind. Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Amidst all of this, a dire new warning today that the government shutdown is extremely damaging to U.S. intelligence operations and America's national security.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

You're taking a closer look at what's going on. What are you hearing?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I spoke to officials from several of the intelligence agencies today and they all expressed the same concern, that as the shutdown drags on, it does affect the nation's preparedness.

Across the intelligence community comprising 16 agencies, this includes the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other, 70 percent of civilian employees are now off-duty, and that includes a whole spectrum of workers from support staff -- and this is crucial -- to intelligence analysts. They do much of the intelligence work. Many of them are civilians.

Listen to how the nation's top intelligence official, James Clapper, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham describe the danger on the Hill today.


LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: The danger here of course that this will accumulate over time. The damage will be insidious, so each day that goes by, the jeopardy increases.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think it's irresponsible for all of us to let it continue, but where the hell is the commander in chief?

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Intelligence officials warn that terrorists are watching the shutdown to look for new vulnerabilities to attack the U.S.

An additional concern, one that several officials described to me, is as the shutdown drags on, some employees will be under financial pressure, making them more vulnerable targets for foreign intelligence agencies, a dreamland for foreign agencies, DNI Clapper said.

Intelligence agencies do have the ability to call employees back if, for instance, the security environment changes. And as I was speaking to several sources today, some of those agencies were already calling some of those employees back. As one official described to me, he said the intelligence environment is not static and therefore we're not static.

BLITZER: Of the 800,000 people who have been furloughed, civilian employees, about half, 400,000, are Defense Department employees, civilians, not military, but they do critically important work. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, he wants them back on the job.

SCIUTTO: That's right.

Several sources tell our own Barbara Starr that Secretary Hagel believe the Pay Our Troops Act that was passed on Monday to pay the troops, he believes it's broad enough to include some civilian employees at the Defense Department.

He has the support of Republican lawmakers. The question is, can he get the support from the White House?

BLITZER: The president could declare a national security at the same time as well.

SCIUTTO: He could, although the White House is reluctant to do this all piecemeal, so this is filtering into that decision as well.

BLITZER: It's only day two, but let's see how long it goes on. Hopefully, it won't go on much longer. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Once again, we're waiting over at the White House for the Republican and Democratic leadership to wind up their meeting with the president right now. They're inside -- they're inside the White House right now. We anticipate that they will be walking out at some point. There, you see the West Wing of the White House. They will be coming out to the microphones.

We assume John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, let's see if they come out and tell us what's going on. But that meeting has been going on now for nearly one hour. Who knows how long it will last, who knows what will emerge? We will stay on top of it.

Stay with us throughout the coming minutes and hours for continuing coverage.

That does it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.