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Republican House Leaders Meet Behind Closed Doors; Interview with Rep. Phil Roe and Rep. Jim McDermott

Aired October 4, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It is Friday, October the 4th.

We'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

And happening right now, Republican House leaders have been meeting behind closed doors this morning and they are about to speak live on possible solutions to the government shutdown, and where are we exactly?

Day four of that shutdown, 13 days and counting until a potential first-ever default on the nation's debt, our bill that we've already racked up.

Where do the House Republicans go from here? We may soon be getting an indication from GOP leaders who say all things are possible if only Democrats would negotiate on that bill, ObamaCare, that law.

Democrats say Republicans are holding the government hostage to an ObamaCare obsession, pretty intransigent.

Let's get to CNN's Dana Bash live on Capitol Hill, and then from down the street in our bureau our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, who's also anchor of "STATE OF THE UNION."

Dana, let me begin with you. There has been this rumbling in the last 24 hours that the speaker of the House, who is about to speak live, is about to concede perhaps somewhat when it comes to the debt ceiling and dealing with Democrats and talking about no-strings-attached on a debt ceiling deal.

What are you hearing today?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I certainly do not expect him to say publicly or privately that he would be willing to deal with a debt ceiling, or allow the Congress to pass a rising in the debt ceiling with no strings attached.

In fact, what I was -- what I've been told is that his conversations behind the scenes has been more about questions of how they could negotiate with the White House on some of the things they were talking about months ago, in some cases, even years ago, dealing with entitlement reform, dealing with tax reform, things that don't have to do with ObamaCare, but do have to do with issues that Republicans have been striving for and maybe could sort of extract from the White House as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.

However, the White House has been very clear. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, has been very clear. They're not going to negotiate at all.

Part of the problem, frankly, for John Boehner, is that he has said publicly, and I'm guessing he will say it again today, he does not want to default on the U.S.'s loans. He doesn't want to be responsible for that.

Democrats know that. They don't really have much of a need to negotiate.

Excuse me, I'm just waiting to see if the speaker is coming out, so I don't --

BANFIELD: I should tell our viewers, Dana, that you're actually standing live right in front of the podium where the House speaker is going to speak, so I may end up interrupting one or either of you when he walks in.

But can I just jump over to Candy on that very point that you made, Dana? And that is this, Candy, again, keeping an eye on the live action behind Dana, might this not be the moment when the Democrats really do need to start discussing negotiation in earnest, if we can get past the C.R., this short-term spending bill, to get to the end of this debt ceiling issue? Isn't this the time?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if anything, the president has been more clear on the debt ceiling.

I mean, the language is pretty tough, it is pretty uncompromising, and, you know, that's when he first brought it up was on -- by the way, the debt ceiling, we've already spent that money, and they need to just do this.

There are ways around it. Dana and I were discussing this this morning, there are lots of things they could do.

I think the problem for Republicans right now is they need someone to negotiate with other than themselves.

BANFIELD: So what kind of back room conversations might actually be going on other than this meeting, Dana Bash, that happened with John Boehner in the last hour where I'm not even sure who was part of that meeting, which members are part of the meeting.

Maybe you could start from there, and what kind of conversations can we assume he was having?

BASH: Well, the speaker is coming from a meeting with all House Republicans, and our Deirdre Walsh has been talking to members coming out. And they didn't even talk about this at all.

The entire discussion was about the current government shutdown and the series of mini-spending bills that they're going to continue to pass today and perhaps even into tomorrow.

So that's not even in the real public discussion.

These discussions that we're told about it's much more close hold. The speaker with some of his, for lack of a better way to say it, "kitchen cabinet," some of his closest advisers in the Congress, and it hasn't really gotten past there.

But, again, I would be shocked if the speaker concedes anything with regard to the debt ceiling that he's going to give on the debt ceiling.

I wouldn't be surprised if he says I don't want to default on loans. He said that before. I'm sure he'll say it again, but, remember, he also said that he won't let the government shut down and here we are.

BANFIELD: This is the problem. Everybody has the same rhetoric. We don't agree with the government shutdown. This is the worst thing for America. We don't support.

Of course it's like saying crime is bad.

Candy Crowley, what is the issue then when you hear a meeting yesterday and rumblings from inside sources saying that the meeting with the House speaker was that he would be willing to rely on Democrats to help raise the federal government's debt limit?

Essentially, what does that mean? No strings attached? Some strings attached? Easy strings attached? What does it mean?

CROWLEY: Ay, there's the rub.

It means -- and, look, does it mean, OK, let's raise the debt ceiling just a little? Which would be hard for Democrats to turn down in the sense of, you know, this is going to be disastrous and the president and his Treasury secretary all out talking about how awful it would be.

So let's say they raise it just a little, only to come back and discuss it again, to kind of give them a negotiating period. They could try that.

What it means, though, I think, is that clearly -- well, I'm sure what Dana and what I've been hearing is even Republicans who have said, I don't actually know what would happen if the debt ceiling is not raised, but I don't want to find out.

On the other hand, in that core group that has kind of driven the flow of the Republican caucus, there are a the lot of people who say, I don't think it will be that bad.

So even deciding whether it's bad or good is problematic for Boehner, but I think he's made it very clear, as Dana said all along , that he's not going to let the U.S. default.

Now what his conditions are and whether anybody comes to the table to negotiate is certainly an open question.

BANFIELD: Dana, I just want to keep our viewers up to speed. You can see Dana Bash. She's taken her seat in the front row for this news conference that's about to begin with the House speaker.

Candy Crowley, still standing by live.

I think we had sort of an unofficial two-minute warning, Candy, so I'm going to ask you a question with a caveat that I may have to cut you off, which always sounds terribly rude, and that caveat is this.

The polls are showing it is desperately clear that three-quarters of Americans, right now, a CBS poll just out today, thee-quarters of Americans are livid about this. Those are my words, by the way, livid.

They just don't support what's going on on Capitol Hill right now. The president has to know this, and they are actually taking a lot of blame in the Democratic Party, as well.

Yes, the Republicans are shouldering the majority of the blame, but that separation of numbers is closing and both parties are taking it on the chin for what's going on.

Look at the numbers right there, top priority for Congress.

Look at me, I'm interrupting myself, Candy, because the House speaker is entering the room.

Let me listen to him and I'll talk to you later.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-OH, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Good morning, everyone.

You know, when we have a crisis like we're in the middle of this week, the American people expect their leaders to sit down and try to resolve their differences.

BOEHNER: I was at the White House the other night and listening to the president some 20 times explain to me why he wasn't going to negotiate. Sat there and listened to the majority leader in the United States Senate describe to me that he's not going to talk until we surrender. And then, this morning, I get the Wall Street Journal out, and it says, "Well, we don't care how long this lasts, because we're winning."

This isn't some damn game.

The American people don't want their government shut down, and neither do I. All we're asking for is to sit down and have a discussion and to bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare. It's as simple as that. But, it all has to begin with a simple discussion.

CANTOR: Good morning.

You know, this week the Americans -- American people have seen, once again, that Obamacare is not ready for prime time.

A dysfunctional website is the least of that law's problems. And we've asked, as the speaker said, for basic fairness for the American people, no special treatment for anyone under the law. And we are continuing to ask for that, no special treatments for us and no special treatment for special interests.

Now the president continues to refuse to sit down with us Republicans, and sadly that is a hallmark of his presidency. In divided government, Americans expect us to work together to solve problems.

This week, the House passed legislation to open up parks and memorials, to reopen trials for children with cancer, to allow the District of Columbia to be locally funded and to fund veterans services and the National Guard. Today we're gonna vote to open FEMA and the national weather service as we witness a growing storm in the Gulf. And we're also going to vote to provide nutrition services for women and children in poverty.

CANTOR: We plan to also, later next week, open up Head Start. And tomorrow, we're gonna vote to ensure that all furloughed federal employees know that they will receive their pay once this shut down is over.

Now, 57 Democrats have joined us this week to make sure that some of these critical functions of government are operating while we in Washington are trying to work out our differences. And I want to thank them for that.

And I'm hopeful that we can see more bipartisanship and start talking, so we can end uncertainty and restore the confidence in our economy and the faith in our government.

MCCARTHY: This morning I read how the president canceled his trip to Asia. It is a perfect opportunity, now that he's here, that we can begin the negotiations. As the speaker laid out, senior White House administration says it doesn't matter how long we're shut down. I believe it does. I believe the 57 Democrats who joined with us on passing the legislation to open government back up believes it matters as well. Now is the time we get in the room, settle our differences, and move this country forward.

MCMORRIS RODGERS: We continue to hear from the president that the way out of this shutdown is to basically give him everything he wants. He wants the easy way out without addressing the debt crisis, without addressing a stagnant economy, without addressing a unaffordable health care law.

We've heard the president say that the Republicans are holding the U.S. hostage. He's -- he said that he has bent over backwards to work with us. His words may sound good, but you know what? Actions speak louder than words.

MCMORRIS RODGERS: And this is the president; this is the Democrats in the Senate that continue to tell us that they're not going to negotiate. They aren't even willing to come to the table.

The Republicans in the House are committed to keeping this government open. We are working every day to get this government open. And what we need is for a dialogue to begin with the Democrats in the Senate and with the president. These -- these bills that we're working on, this legislation, is an area where we should be able to start finding some common ground so that we can have a dialogue over the other big issues that face this country, that the American people want to see us address.

BOEHNER: You know, I reminded the -- I reminded the president the other night that he's famous for saying, "Well, you know, in a negotiation, nobody gets 100 percent of what they want." We're not going to get it in this one either.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, (inaudible) and what we're hearing about in conference, you guys focused mainly on the C.R. A, is that true, solely on the C.R.? And B, to what extent would you be willing to look at a temporary debt ceiling increase, given that there's very little time to resolve both of these issues (inaudible)?

BOEHNER: The issue right now is the continuing resolution to open the government. And all we're asking for is for Harry Reid to appoint conferees so we can sit down and have a conversation about bringing fairness to the American people and getting our government open.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, you've been quoted before as saying that you do not want -- that you want the debt ceiling to be raised and do not want the U.S. to default. The Democrats are interpreting that as saying that at the 11th hour when the president refuses to negotiate on the debt ceiling, you'll (inaudible) a clean debt ceiling bill. So can you be clear where you and your conference is on the debt ceiling?

BOEHNER: Listen, you've all heard me say this, going back over the last two or three years. Our goal here wasn't to shut down the government. Our goal here was to bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare. I don't believe that we should default on our debt. It's not good for our country. But after 55 years of spending more than what you bring in something ought to be addressed.

This year, we'll have more revenue than any year in the history of our country and still have a nearly $700 billion deficit. And I think the American people expect if we're going to raise the amount of money we can borrow we ought to do something about our spending and the lack of economic growth in our country.

QUESTION: Is this shutdown -- this showdown about the Affordable Care Act? Is it about the budget deficit? Why is the government shut down right now?

BOEHNER: We sent four bills to the United States Senate. Four different positions trying to soften our position to get the Senate interested in keeping the government open and bringing fairness to the American people under Obamacare. It's as simple as that.

(UNKNOWN): Last question.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, we see a lot of reports about how there's sniping -- personality sniping between you and the Democratic leader and the president...

BOEHNER: No, no. That's just not true.

That is just -- listen, that is not true.

Now most of you have dealt with me for some time. I might have sniped at Luke once or twice, but I have very good relationships with all of my colleagues across the aisle.

Listen, it's me.

And maintaining these relationships is critically important. All I'm asking for is let's sit down like the American people would expect us and talk to one another about getting the government open and dealing with the significant problems that we face.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What about a grand bargain?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Harry Reid said that you care more about your job than your country.



BANFIELD: Well, you can hear the reporters making every effort to get more out of that news conference and, that's a laudable effort because do you know what? We got nothing. Or maybe not.

Candy Crowley, if you could jump in for a moment here, there were two things that stood out to me. Number One, it was headline after headline after headline after headline. The messaging being the Democrats won't negotiate. All four said that.

But then number two, I heard what I thought the House leader say was that we don't believe we should default on our debt, but something has to be addressed. And, to me, that sounded like don't be so sure what I had to say yesterday in private I'm not going to let this debt ceiling become a political problem. Am I reading too much into that?

CROWLEY: No, I think that's exactly what he said. I mean, I think first of all, we don't have any movement on the spending bill. Other than the House continues to pass bills saying, well, let this group go back to work. Let's pass spending for this group. This does not pass muster in the Democratic controlled Senate. I don't believe they're going anywhere.

It is very clear politically that Republicans have signed on to the belief that the Democrats refusal and the president's refusal to negotiate is not sustainable politically, that he will take some hits from that. I also read the same thing into what the speaker had to say about the debt ceiling. Again, he has been definitive in the past that he won't allow the U.S. to default.

This was, I don't believe the U.S. should be allowed to default even if I have to use, as he said, alleged to have said in a meeting, even if I have to use Democratic votes to do it but spending has always and forever, at least always and forever over the last two years, been what this group of Republicans has wanted. If we are going to raise the debt ceiling and let you borrow more then we need cuts up to that level, whatever that level is that you add on to the debt ceiling. It's a nonstarter generally for a lot of Democrats who say, as Nancy Pelosi once said to me, the cupboard is bare. We can't make any more cuts.

BANFIELD: And here is the issue. I don't know that the competing philosophies are not what is at stake here when it comes to the American people. It's the vehicle by which those philosophies are trying to be won and that vehicle is you and me and everybody else is trying to get this government back up and running.

I have Dana Bash who'd just been able to stand back up and do the analysis. Was that anything you were surprised at hearing? Because when I hear Speaker Boehner come out and say that this isn't some damn game, I sort of threw my pen up and thought, I thought we were going to get something out of this not just an additional battle for messaging and a battle for headlines.

BASH: No, I'm not surprised because that's exactly where we still are. It's very well put, Ashleigh, in a battle for messaging and headlines and, you know, there was sort of this caught on tape moment that we played a lot and I think even this morning between Mitch McConnell and his fellow Kentuckian Rand Paul talking about sort of the strategy here and the fact that if they keep pushing the idea that Democrats are intransigent -- in fact, I'm told that we have the sound. Let me just play that.

BANFIELD: We have it, Dana. How about that? You ask and you shall receive. Nicely set up. Once again, just so it's really clear, we have Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, they were both doing television interviews. The mikes were still hot, and they were having their secret conversation about the strategies that they're employing when it comes to the messaging. Have a listen.


SEN. RAND PAUL, R-KY: Do you have a second?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I'm all wired up here. PAUL: I just did CNN. And I just go over and over again, we're willing to compromise, we're willing to negotiate. I don't think they poll- tested, 'we won't negotiate.' I think it's awful for them to say that over and over again.

MCCONNELL: I do, too. I just came back from a two-hour meeting with him and that was, that was, that was basically the same view privately as it was publicly.

PAUL: I think if we keep saying we wanted to defund it, we fought for that, now we're willing to compromise on this. I think they can't- we're going to - I think, I know we don't want to be here but we're going to win this, I think.


BANFIELD: So there you have it, Dana. We're going to win this, I think. Listen, there's nothing sinister about politics. Politics is politics. Don't be a Pollyanna if you think it's anything different. It's really good insight to seeing while we're all held at bay this is what the conversation is on Capitol Hill.

BASH: Well, right, and the fact is that Speaker Boehner, you know, had this dramatic moment which he likes to do. He throws bills down on the floor. He throws newspapers and he says -- and he uses the word damn which is effective. I'm guessing we're going to see that a lot today. The point he was trying to make is, you know, Democrats are playing a game, not Republicans, and, I mean, just look here. I want to show you this.

Hashtag, "let'stalk." I have been in this room so many times and the background, this, is all about jobs and the economy because they really want to stick on that. Now it's #letstalk. Again, that's the (INAUDIBLE) saying Democrats aren't talking, they're not being reasonable, they're not negotiating. This needs to be a two-way street, and they feel like they're getting somewhere, at least trying to get somewhere on that.

The problem is I sat down with Harry Reid for a long time yesterday, the Senate majority leader, and I said to him, look, given the speaker a life line. Give him anything, and he is absolutely intransigent. He is determined to not do that because he says he's already moved the ball. He's already agreed to a lower spending level than Democrats wanted, $70 billion in spending cuts that Democrats wanted.

And they're not going to go any further. So that is where we are still on this issue and until somebody comes up - Candy said that she and I we were talking about this, this morning, and it's true. Until somebody comes up with a face-saving deal for both of them that allows Democrats to say we didn't negotiate and allows Republicans to say we got x, y, or z, we're going to be where we are. Of course, it's bad right now when it comes to the government shutdown. The debt ceiling, which is right around the corner, I can't emphasize enough, it could be catastrophic.

BANFIELD: Can I get you to piggyback -- I asked Candy right out of these comments what she thought about the speaker's comments regarding the upcoming debt ceiling issue and how we had this sort of rumor mill with inside sources and meetings yesterday saying that the House speaker was willing to -- I don't know if I want to use the word capitulate but at least not politicize the debt ceiling negotiation as it comes up.

But when the speaker said this, and I'm sure this rang in your ears as well, Dana, I don't believe we should default on our debt either but something has to be addressed. There was the but. And I just wondered if the but meant don't read into everything that's been reported in the last 22 hours.

BASH: Well, no. That's exactly right. And I've done reporting on this. Our Deirdre Walsh, our congressional producer who's got amazing sources, has also done reporting on this. What we understand the speaker has said is that he is ultimately willing to do what he hasn't been willing to do so far on the funding bill, the government funding bill. He will be willing to do on the debt ceiling which is allow a bill that has Democratic votes, meaning, defy the Tea Party wing of his caucus. Our understanding is to do that he would have to get something from Democrats. He would have to get a deal from Democrats to give something on an, again, on an entitlement issue, on a tax reform issue, on something in order to do that. He's not just going to say, you know, eureka, uncle or whatever, I'm going to allow the debt ceiling to go up. And that is a very key distinction with regard to that discussion.

BANFIELD: You said it. Whenever you use even a minor expletive like damn on Capitol Hill it's going to get headlines. Although the headline they probably wanted to get out there was this while notion that the Democrats won't negotiate, because all four of them said it over and over. I want to play for our audience if they're just tuning in that very first moment when the speaker took to the microphone and very emotionally said this. Have a listen.


BOEHNER: I was at the White House the other night and listening to the president some 20 times explain to me why he wasn't going to negotiate. Sat there and listened to the majority leader in the United States Senate describe to me that he's not going to talk until we surrender.

And then this morning, I get "The Wall Street Journal" out and it says, well, we don't care how long this lasts because we're winning.

This isn't some damn game! The American people don't want their government shut down and neither do I. All we're asking for is to sit down and have a discussion and to bring fairness, reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare. It's as simple as that.


BANFIELD: You are right, Mr. Speaker. This is not some damn game and all I'm asking for, Candy and Dana, is a news conference in which we're not just, I don't know, a news conference that's not filled with platitudes. Tired of it. Ladies, thank you. I know you have your work cut out for you.

BASH: Good luck with that, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: You're the one on The Hill, girlfriend. You have to deal with it today. Thank you both.

Speaking of people on The Hill, there were two people just listening to that all live, and when they came to The Hill, they greeted each other amicably. They are standing there together. If you don't know them, the Democrat the from Washington Jim McDermott, and the Democratic member from Tennessee, Phil Roe-- excuse me, the Republican from Tennessee, Phil Roe. Like I said, they greeted each other amicably, but after the break, will it stay that way? Gentlemen, the grilling after this.


BANFIELD: I want to bring in two House members on opposite sides of this government shutdown fight, and I suspect many other fights as well. Phil Roe is a Tennessee Republican, also a member of the Tea Party caucus and a practicing physician for 30 years plus. And Jim McDermott is a Democrat from Washington state, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee and also a former psychiatrist.

Congressman Roe, let me begin with you. As I understand it, correct me if I'm wrong, you were part of the meeting this morning with the House speaker and the other Republican leadership. When we were gearing up for this news conference we all thought, we all crossed our fingers and thought we might be hearing something that's going to move this battle forward. And yet, sir, it was, and I'm going to be frank, it was just a bunch of platitudes, headlines, and bumper stickers. Why?

REP. PHIL ROE, (R) TENNESSEE: No, I don't think it's -- I disagree with that. Look, you can't keep negotiating with yourself and that's what we've been doing for the past week and a half, and I think that's all the speaker's asking for and our side is asking for is to come down, sit at the table and let's talk and work through this, which we've done for 200 years in this country.

BANFIELD: So, let me ask you this, Congressman McDermott, we heard four times over and over the message once again the Democrats simply won't negotiate. Is this now, honestly, a battle for the headlines? Whatever polls better? Whatever slug lines poll better? And are you not negotiating?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT, (D) WASHINGTON: I learned a long time ago in politics that what people watch most carefully is when you lose. The speaker and the Tea Party have lost. They said we are going to stop Obamacare. They have lost.

The president has remained resolute through every effort they've made. And so now they're flopping around like dead fish in the bottom of the boat trying to figure out what to do next. They have no plan B, and I think that they have to -- the speaker is going to have to come out on the floor and say to his Tea Party friends, I'm leaving you behind. I'm going with the Democrats. Me and 25 Republicans and all the Democrats are going to pass a continuing resolution and a debt limit increase and that's going to be the end of it.

He has lost, but up to this point, he hasn't been willing to come out and admit that he's lost. It's just a matter of time. He'll come.