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Government Shutdown; Interview With Congressman Charlie Dent; Obamacare Rollout

Aired October 7, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, new fighting words between the House speaker and the president.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president would rather default on our debt than to sit down and negotiate.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He doesn't apparently want to see the government shutdown end at the moment.


BLITZER: The government shutdown drags on. And a second crisis is days away. Could there be a hint, though, of hope amid all the finger pointing.

Plus one week into enrollment for Obamacare. We're seeing firsthand why some Americans can't sign up. The Web site still has some glaring problems.

And inside the capture of a wanted al Qaeda operative. His wife talks exclusively to CNN about the U.S. raid that nabbed him.

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

One week into the partial government shutdown, the nation is now counting down to the next federal crisis and President Obama is warning it could be an economic catastrophe. Administration officials say the United States will run out of its money to pay its bills 10 days from now unless, unless Congress votes to raise the limit on the amount of cash the government can borrow.

The White House may be showing a new glimmer of flexibility though as that deadline nears even as the war of words between the House speaker and the president heats up.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's got the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, White House officials are indicating that President Obama is open to a short-term increase in the nation's debt ceiling. That has the potential to pull the government from the brink of default, but it's not stopping both sides from engaging in a blame game over the shutdown.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here at FEMA for a couple reasons.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In the eye of a shutdown storm that's still raging, President Obama stopped by FEMA to point out the agency is grappling with national disasters with a furloughed work force and to accuse House Speaker John Boehner of blocking a vote that would reopen the government.

OBAMA: My very strong suspicion is that there are enough votes there, and the reason that Speaker Boehner hasn't called a vote on it is because he doesn't apparently want to see the government shutdown end at the moment.

ACOSTA: But there could be a few breaks in the clouds over Washington. The president promised to work with Republicans on health care and the budget if they end the shutdown and raise the nation's debt ceiling.

OBAMA: I am eager and ready to sit down and negotiate with Republicans on a whole range of issues.

ACOSTA: Another hopeful sign? With a potential default on October 17 fast approaching, White House officials said the president is willing to accept a short-term increase in the debt limits, instead of racing it for one year, as most Democrats prefer.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm simply saying that we have never stated and we are not saying today that the debt ceiling ought to be or can be any particular length of time. I'm not ruling out the specific duration, and I want to make that clear.

ACOSTA: But Republicans complain it's the president who's risking default by not negotiating, pointing to this comment made by White House economic adviser Gene Sperling.

GENE SPERLING, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: The president strongly believes that if he were to sanction negotiations with those threatening default, that would actually increase, not decrease the chances that we as a country undermine or full faith and credit.

ACOSTA: Sperling went on to say that the president believes such negotiations would only encourage more brinkmanship.

But Boehner had this interpretation.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This morning, a senior White House official said that the president would rather default than to sit down and negotiate. Really?

ACOSTA: A new CNN/ORC poll finds Americans are furious over the shutdown with 63 percent angry with Republicans, 57 percent with Democrats, and 53 percent with the president. What's worse, nobody in Washington seems to know what might happen in the nation goes into default next week.

JACK LEW, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I can't tell you. We have never gotten to this point. But it's very dangerous.


ACOSTA: As for that idea of a short-term dead ceiling increase, a House Republican aide tells CNN that would have to go along with spending cuts, but, Wolf, at this point, that is something that the White House is not even willing to look at. They say a clean debt ceiling increase is the only thing they will look at, at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: The rhetoric on both sides obviously still very, very angry and furious. Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

We heard President Obama suggest the speaker, John Boehner, could get the House to end the government shutdown very quickly if he simply wanted to. CNN has been counting votes out there.

Let's bring back our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

The vote count shows it potentially could be very tight.


CNN, as you said, has been doing our own count, our team has been looking at whether a clean funding bill would actually pass. What they have done is identified 200 Democrats that would vote yes on a clean bill. That does include, as we talked about last hour, five conservative Democrats who didn't sign on to a Democratic leadership letter over the weekend.

What That means is that all House Democrats have pledged to vote yes. As for Republicans, the key here, 14 Republicans have either publicly stated or told CNN that they would vote for a clean, continuing resolution to fund and reopen the government. That's three votes shy of the 217 needed to pass a bill in the House right now.

But as you have heard, Wolf, from Charlie Dent in the last hour, he told me, he told you earlier in the day, that many Republicans would vote yes if given the opportunity, but, Wolf, the issue is senior Republican sources insist to me that this is kind of a nonstarter, because John Boehner still says he will not bring this up.

Part of the reason why maybe we're not hearing from some of these other Republicans to fill in the blanks of those three is because why take the political risk? Why say publicly they're going to vote for something that could, you know, result in attacks from the right within their own districts and from around the country?

The other interesting thing I was told is that a Republican source said the conservative backlash against not just those members but the speaker would be -- quote -- "god-awful." Another Republican sort said, speaking of John Boehner, that would be the end of the speakership.

BLITZER: That's why that so-called discharge motion to go around the head of a speaker and force a vote on a clean resolution apparently is not going to go anywhere, either.

BASH: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Dana, for that.

Let's get an update right now on the enrollment for Obamacare insurance policies. One week into the process, a CNN survey finds that roughly 100,000 people at the very least have created accounts online to explore their coverage options, but there are still serious glitches, serious problems even after the administration promised to improve the site.

Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, your team tried to create an account. What happened?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we tried it last week, Wolf, and we couldn't do it. Then we tried it this week and we couldn't do it.

We did it through the federal site, because we live in Georgia. Like most states, they're using the federal site. So you get this page, and then you get let's get started. That was good. Then you have a page where you create your identity. And that worked. That was good. Then we got to the page where you answer security questions.

These are all things you need to do to create an account. Last week we got stuck on this page. We couldn't make this page work. This week, this is a good sign, we managed to make that work. So we got to a page that then said please wait and then this is where it didn't go so well. It said your account couldn't be created at this time. The system is unavailable.

So we have been trying and trying and trying since Tuesday of last week, still unable to create an account.

BLITZER: That's pretty embarrassing. What about other folks out there? Are they getting through this process?

COHEN: You know, the federal government says that many people are and people have been able, unlike us, to go on and create accounts.

They also note that the phone lines, doing it by phone has been very successful. They say there's very little wait, just a matter of seconds and you can talk to someone.

BLITZER: We will continue to monitor the so-called glitches and see what happened. Elizabeth, thanks very much.

Still ahead this hour, I will talk to a Republican moderate who told me earlier in the day he does believe the House would vote to end the shutdown if given a chance. I will ask Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania what he thinks about CNN's tally that suggests maybe not yet.

And the terrorist suspect who was nabbed by U.S. special forces, new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about why a second suspect got away.


BLITZER: Right now, U.S. authorities are interrogating a captured al Qaeda operative and explaining how another high-value terror suspect apparently got away. We're learning more about the weekend raids by elite U.S. forces in Africa, the successful mission in Libya and the aborted operation in Somalia.

CNN spoke exclusively with the wife of the suspect who was nabbed in Libya, Abu Anas al-Libi.

Here's CNN's Jomana Karadsheh in Tripoli.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His family says al-Libi, one of the most wanted men in the world, wasn't even hiding, so they were shocked when U.S. special forces showed up.

Al-Libi was in his car, his escaped blocked by four vehicles. His son shows me the car he was driving, shattered glass from its smashed-in windows the only evidence of the raid that they say lasted only moments, and not a single shot was fired.

(on camera): Over the past hour since we got here, there's been a constant stream of visitors, of women and children coming in to see the wife of Abu Anas al-Libi, they say to offer support to the wife.

Umm Abdul Rahman says her children were asleep when her husband before dawn for prayers at a nearby mosque. He came back as the sun was rising.

UMM ABDUL RAHMAN, WIFE OF SUSPECT (through translator): It was before 7:00 a.m. I was waiting for him as he was on his way back from the mosque. I rushed to the window at hearing the sound. I saw a Mercedes-type minivan outside the house with a number of masked and unmasked men around. They were carrying pistols with silencers.

KARADSHEH: She claims those who nabbed her husband appeared and sounded Libyan. Umm Abdul Rahman says her husband is an innocent man and denies he was involved in the 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, claiming he had left al Qaeda two years before that.

ABDUL RAHMAN (through translator): I'm sure of what I'm saying. He did not take part in any bombing anywhere in the world. He participated in the jihad in Afghanistan. He was a member of al Qaeda, and he was personal security for Osama bin Laden, that's true, but he did not take part in any operation.


BLITZER: Jomana Karadsheh reporting for us from Tripoli, Libya.

Now to the other U.S. raid in Africa over the weekend, this one in Somalia. Sources say it was aborted after a firefight.

We're joined now by CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank, who is joining us from London right now.

Barbara Starr reporting it was apparently aborted after the suspected terrorists in Somalia came out with children in front of them as human shields. What do you make of that?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, very, very interesting indeed.

Clearly, this was aborted. They weren't able to capture this very important Al-Shabab figure. We have been learning new information about him from a leaked Kenyan intelligence report, also from a former Western secret agent, who actually penetrated al-Shabab, and spent time with Ikrimah, the guy they were trying to target. Ikrimah is somebody in his late 20s, he spent some time in Norway between 2004 and 2008, and he's of Kenyan nationality, and also has Somali nationality, and has really emerged as a key figure in terms of then plotting attacks against Kenya in the last 18 months.

But he's also been the point guy for all the Western recruits going into Somalia, and also the other foreign fighters. We have learned today that one of his top ambitions was to use these fighters, these Western fighters to launch an attack back in the West, Wolf.

BLITZER: It suggests to me the fact that commandos, special operations forces were going in there to get this guy, to capture him, they wanted to get him and then start questioning him, as opposed to simply doing what the U.S. often does in recent years, sending in these drones and just launching a missile and killing this guy.

CRUICKSHANK: Well, that's absolutely right. If they had managed to capture him, maybe they could have started to take apart of the terrorist wing of Al-Shabab and this raid obviously followed two weeks exactly after the attack on the Westgate Mall.

And this terrorist operative Ikrimah was near the top of the suspect list when it came to sort of plotting attacks in Kenya, so some speculation he may well have been involved in some way in that terrible attack two weeks ago.

BLITZER: Would you anticipate more drone strikes against these various targets in Somalia? They have been going on for a while, as you know.

CRUICKSHANK: I think we can expect the United States to ramp up the precious against Al-Shabab. This is a terrorist groups that's promised more attacks in East Africa, including against American interests, Wolf, so great concern from the United States.

The leader of this group, Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, is trying to transform it from a militia insurgent group into an al Qaeda affiliate, into a terrorist outfit, launching attacks across the region.

BLITZER: Yes, my conclusion is since the president approved both these operations, the message he's sending to these terrorists out there, you can run, but you can't hide, no matter how many years it takes, the U.S. will find you and bring you to justice, either capture you or kill you. That's the message that's President Obama is sending out right now. Paul Cruickshank, thanks very, very much.

Up next, Republicans willing to go against Speaker John Boehner and vote to end the government shutdown, I will speak with one of them. Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania is standing by live.

Are there enough votes on the floor of the House? Stand by.


BLITZER: The partial government shutdown and the debate over the debt limit have moderate Republicans caught in the middle.

Republican lawmakers who are backed by the Tea Party have been in the driver's seat, at least so far. They have been using the debate to take on Obamacare.

Let's discuss one of those Republican moderates, Congressman Charlie Dent joining us once again.

Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thanks again for having me, Wolf. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Since we last spoke, we have done an informal survey. CNN has a done a survey of all 435, now 432 or 433 because of some vacancies, members of the House, and we have found that 200 Democrats -- that's every single Democrat in the House -- would vote for what's called a clean continuing resolution, a clean bill, without any strings attached to end the government shutdown.

We have only found 14 Republicans who are publicly willing to make that commitment. That's not enough. You need 217. You think you would get it. Tell us why.

DENT: Well, you just said 200 Democrats, 14 Republicans. Actually, the number of Republicans who are prepared to vote for a clean continuing resolution is greater than 14.

Those are 14 publicly declared. I saw another analysis earlier that showed there are over 20, I think 26 Republicans, who had publicly declared that they would vote for a clean continuing resolution. I believe there are many more who have privately told me that they would vote for one. They are on not any of these lists, but they would vote for it. So, I believe that a clean C.R. would pass the House comfortably. I'm not here to predict a number, but I think it would easily clear the 217-vote barrier.

BLITZER: What does it say to you that only 14, 13 of your colleagues, you and 13 others, are publicly willing to say you would vote for that legislation that would reopen the government?

DENT: Well, again, I believe it's more than 13 or 14 Republicans.

BLITZER: But the fact that only 13 plus you are willing to say so publicly, and all the others, they may privately be willing to go ahead when all is said and done and vote with you, but they're reluctant or they're afraid, or whatever, to tell us that they would vote for that so-called clean continuing resolution.

DENT: Well, unfortunately, you get to see a lot of that around here.

All I can say is in my state, I believe there are five Republican members of the House who have already declared publicly that they would vote for a clean C.R. And, again, I know that many members are concerned about primary pressure, but I tell my colleagues here, look, we cannot govern out of fear. We have to do what we think is right.

A shutdown is not in anyone's interests. And as much as we may object to Obamacare, me included -- as I have told you before, I voted to delay it, to repeal it, to defund it, to fricassee it -- but as long as you have a Senate controlled by Harry Reid and a president named Barack Obama, that's not going to happen.

So, at this point, we have to take what we can get. And right now, all we can get is a clean C.R. And maybe we can get a change in the health care law, but I suspect we are going to have to do that outside of this continuing resolution debate. It's time for people to step up, do the right thing, and end this current impasse.

BLITZER: Well, you're from Pennsylvania. And there are a few Republicans from New York or New England who agree with you, but almost all of the other Republicans, especially in the South and the Midwest, they're reluctant because they're afraid there could be a Tea Party primary challenge to them.

And they see what's happened to some other moderate Republicans, especially Senate Republicans, who were challenged by Tea Party opponents. Many of them went on to lose in the general election.

How worried are you about a challenge potentially from Tea Party leaders in your district?

DENT: Well, look, again, I don't govern out of fear.

You know, what we're seeing in the House right now, there are a lot of folks who want to see passed on the Republican side. And I always use -- this is the hope yes, vote no crowd, that they want to see this done. They want to see -- just like on the fiscal cliff, Hurricane Sandy, and the Violence Again Women Act and other must-pass pieces of legislation, they wanted to get them, but wanted somebody else to vote for them.

Look, I don't worry about this too much. I really don't. I can explain myself to my constituents. They know where I stand on this issue. And, frankly, most of them agree with me. I have very conservative Republicans in my district too, but many of them are also very practical people.

And that's what you see in the House. We have a lot of commonsense conservatives who have a great sense of governance, and they know that there are certain things that we must do. And this is one of them, to get the government funded. Again, I don't know how many Republicans will vote for this at the end -- for this C.R. at the end of the day, but I will guarantee you, there will be enough to make sure this is enacted into law.

BLITZER: And very quickly, tell us, Congressman, you could go over the head of the speaker, John Boehner, and force the vote on the House floor by joining the Democrats and supporting this discharge motion, as it's called, to force an up-or-down vote on this clean, C.R., but you are not ready to do so?

DENT: Well, yes.

And, as I mentioned to you earlier, that discharge petition would not be ready for prime time until October the 28th. So it's really not a practical response to this situation. I expect that we're going to have the government funded well before October 28. And that is the soonest.

In fact, the Democratic members cannot begin to sign that discharge petition until Saturday the 12th. And they would likely not be able to have any consideration of that until October the 28th. So it's really not a practical response. We have to get to this issue much sooner than that. And so that's why I think this discharge petition really is a -- it might get you a headline, but it won't get you a solution.

BLITZER: Congressman Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania, thanks very much for coming in.

DENT: Hey, Wolf, thanks again for having me. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Go ahead and tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom. You can always use the hashtag SITROOM.

Thanks for watching.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.