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Debt Ceiling Compromise?; Interview With Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins

Aired October 10, 2013 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So, let's be clear about what's on the table here.

This deal would lift the debt ceiling, albeit for a short amount of time. So, what then happens during those six weeks, really? A lot of talking, we hope. You know what the Republicans want. They have been saying it for weeks, negotiations over what you just heard Speaker Boehner call some of America's pressing issues, but the White House is sticking to this line.

There will be no negotiations until the government is back up and running.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He wants Congress to fulfill both of its fundamental responsibilities, open the government, i.e., turn on the lights, pay our bills, i.e., do not allow for default to happen for the first time.

And if Congress takes action without partisan strings attached on either of those, that would be a good thing. And the president said himself that he would sign it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Big meeting happening in 90 minutes. The president will be meeting with Republican House members at the White House.

And one of those Republicans made a stop by our CNN cameras on Capitol Hill before heading to the White House. She is Lynn Jenkins, Kansas congresswoman.

Congresswoman, thank you so much for stopping by. We truly appreciate it.

Let me just ask you out of the gate, what do you plan to say to the president?

REP. LYNN JENKINS (R), KANSAS: Well, we plan to ask the president, how can we move forward to get the government back open and move towards addressing our out-of-control spending problem and our huge debt and deficit issue?

BALDWIN: You know, I hear you on the spending. Listen, both sides have talking points. But let me ask you. But the question is in terms of how we move forward, let's say obviously let's accept that he's talking to you all, but what is this about? This is where I'm confused. Is it about Obamacare? Is it about entitlements?

JENKINS: It's about our spending problems and all of those things are contributing to our debt and deficit. Certainly, the mandatory spending program, our autopilot spending programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, throw in Obamacare, they're the drivers of our debt.

BALDWIN: But which is it, if I can try to get a straight answer from you?

JENKINS: It's a menu.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Is it all of the above?

JENKINS: It is all of the above.

We will like to negotiate on all of those fronts. What we're trying to do is get to a point where we can stop spending more money than we take in year after year after year. No individual family can do that, no small business at home in Kansas can do that. The federal government cannot continue to operate like this.

We have $17 trillion in debt. This ends badly for our economy if we don't demonstrate an ability to get our fiscal house in order.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you specifically about this meeting, because Jay Carney in the White House press briefing earlier today was asked, and he said, listen, the president invited all these Republicans to come, would have loved to talk to everyone. We know the House leadership specifically will not be attending, no Speaker Boehner, no Leader Cantor. Can you tell me why?

JENKINS: He invited the entire House to talk to us. We didn't feel that that would be very productive.

Right now, what we need is a negotiation. So our entire leadership, elected leadership team, including Speaker Boehner, Eric Cantor, myself, and our leaders in key committees, our key committee chairmen, will be going up today to lay out what we would like to see happen in the hours and days ahead.

BALDWIN: So those leaders will be there? Am I incorrect? Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor will be in attendance with you at the White House in 90 minutes?

JENKINS: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BALDWIN: They will.

And we hear -- listen, I hear from both sides of the aisle, and I know from a lot of Republicans I'm hearing this, we want negotiations, we want negotiations. My question is, why didn't those negotiations happen many, many months ago? We heard the speaker actually saying, I want to say it was back in May, but some point this spring, we will not tie Obamacare to this budget battle.

Obviously, that changed. But why didn't both sides talk about this? This debt ceiling deadline, the budget issue, this is not news. You had the deadlines. Why weren't you al talking months ago?

JENKINS: Well, why we find ourselves here is because the Senate hadn't passed a budget in five years and they didn't pass one appropriation bill all year long.

That's how regular order works. The House passed their budget. We have marched through our appropriation process. We spent the last two weeks funding various key components of the federal government. But the Senate has failed to do any of those things. And that's why we find ourselves in the position that we do today with the shutdown.

BALDWIN: OK. I hear you, and this frustration and this group isn't doing this and this back and forth, but this is what I think the American...

JENKINS: Well, those are the facts.

BALDWIN: Facts are great, but this is what the American people, I think, part of the frustration is, this may be good news and the president, according to Jay Carney, is happy at this possibility of this deadline moving maybe six weeks.

But what can you tell the American people, Congresswoman Jenkins, that we will not be having this same conversation in early December?

JENKINS: That is absolutely our intent, to put this to bed right now, and once and for all address the issue at hand. And that's our out- of-control Washington wasteful spending. We have got hopefully a window of opportunity here, a six-week negotiation period, where we're going to appoint our budget conferees, and the two sides can sit down and come to some agreement.

I think it's a good sign that the president has finally come to the table to visit with us, and we have made an offer today that takes default off the table, so no one needs to be worried about our markets.

BALDWIN: OK, Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, Republican, Kansas, Congresswoman, thank you. We will wait to hear back from you as far as this meeting goes at the White House.

As we mentioned, that meeting happening in an hour-and-a-half. The president steps into this meeting with these Republican House members. According to the congresswoman, some of the members of the leadership will be there, but will there be progress or is this really just another dead end?

Jim Acosta, let me bring you into this, our senior White House correspondent, and also Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst.

And, Jim, I watched the back and forth with Jay Carney and you. You were trying.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You watched the whole thing?

BALDWIN: Yes, I watched, the back and forth, the pressing, and we appreciate that. Your question, how the White House is reacting to this Republican plan for a clean debt ceiling bill, what did you get from that?

ACOSTA: What I got from Jay Carney at the briefing -- and we all tried. This went on for several minutes, and several minutes is probably not giving it the credit that it's due.

The gist of it, basically, is this, Brooke. The president will sign, depending on what the legislation looks like, a short-term debt ceiling increase that is clean. So, you know, one of the things that we heard from White House officials earlier this morning and last night is that, yes, the president wants to sign any debt ceiling increase that is clean, if it's short-term, if it is long-term, whatever, but what I sensed during this briefing, Brooke, is that they want to see this bill first, and that there's still not a whole lot of trust going on between the White House and House Republicans up on Capitol Hill.

But given the likelihood that this is a clean debt ceiling increase, yes, the president will sign that. Now, the big million-dollar question that we also tried to get at during this briefing, Brooke, is whether or not the president would sign this debt ceiling increase and not have accompanying legislation that would reopen the government, that clean continuing resolution that the president has said he also wants.

The indication that we got from Jay Carney at the briefing is that, yes, the president, for the sake of avoiding default, for the sake of avoiding what they have described as an economic nuclear bomb, the president will sign a debt ceiling increase that does not also include legislation that reopens the government just for the sake of moving the country away from the brink on October 17.

So, baby steps I think is the watchword here at the White House. The other thing we want to point out, Brooke, is that Senate Democratic leaders and the Senate Democratic Caucus, we should mention, are all meeting with the president right now. We expect that meeting to wrap up really at any moment. We will get a read from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, we hope, outside the West Wing here in just a few moments to see what he has to say.

And then of course, the big meeting coming up in just about an hour- and-a-half from now, when House Republicans and John Boehner show up here, that's when this is going to get very interesting.

BALDWIN: Gloria, let me just ask you about that. That is the big meeting. What needs to happen there?

(LAUGHTER)

Oh, boy, you laugh.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think there are some Republicans who are not happy with this plan, some Republicans who see that it's a way out for them. I think the big question looming right now is the question of whether the president will agree to engage in any budget negotiations so long as the government is shut down.

When Jay Carney was asked about it at that briefing you were just talking to Jim about, he was, I would call it purposefully ambiguous. He didn't -- you know, he didn't really answer the question. He didn't say no, the president, you know, wouldn't. But he said, look -- the question was asked point blank, will the president negotiate on the budget so long as the government is shut down?

And we don't know the answer to that. And if the president says, you know, I really won't, then you know what? There might be some Republicans who say, well, why are we even doing this? And, by the way, there are lots of Democrats who are asking that same question? Why are we doing this? If we don't deal with both of these things at the same time, aren't we just giving Republicans a fig leaf to get out of the debt ceiling problem, and allowing them to keep their Obamacare argument on keeping the government running?

So, you know, the president is getting it from all sides. He's getting it from Democrats. He's going to get it from conservative Republicans, so that meeting should be interesting, both meetings interesting.

BALDWIN: Gosh, I think I would be pulling my hair out if I was working and living and eating...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: I am pulling my hair out and I'm not there.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, Gloria Borger, thanks to both of you.

Let me get this in, this just in to us here at CNN. The Senate has unexpectedly approved legislation to restore death benefits to the families of fallen members of the military, so spouses and families of service members who die will receive $100,000, as well as other benefits, you know, covering the cost of funerals, the burial, the housing, et cetera. So that's news from the U.S. Senate.

Coming up, forget the October 17 deadline for just a hot minute here. On November 1, soldiers, men and women of the military, may not get paid, one specific group of them. I will speak live with a representative of wounded warriors.

Plus, this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The officer told me, if I see you hit your son, we're going to have to lock you up. I said, sir, what can I do? I have been asking for help, and there's no one is helping me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: A father's plea for help. How can parents, how can they get help in situations like this? That's coming up next. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: It has been a long day for the prime minister of Libya. He was abducted off his hotel doorstep by militia gunmen early today.

Then, flash forward hours later, he was simply let go. Here is Ali Zeidan speaking at a cabinet meeting after he was freed, seemingly doing fine after this kidnapping ordeal. He even appeared to downplay his abduction, characterizing it as an internal political problem.

We should tell you that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, as he was traveling in Malaysia today, he was briefed on the situation and he said, Secretary Kerry is confident in the security for the U.S. Embassy and personnel in Libya.

Happening now, as we're keeping a close eye here on the markets, look at this, above the 300 mark, a lot of green on the screen, which we love to see here. Possibly, the green is a result of this maybe, maybe, this deal, albeit a short-term deal, when it comes to the debt ceiling.

(STOCK MARKET UPDATE)

BALDWIN: Coming up, disturbing details in our exclusive reporting, our investigating here into the death of Georgia teenager Kendrick Johnson.

That police report in the beginning that ruled it as an accident, but new evidence points to foul play. And revelations about the treatment of his body after his death are almost unspeakable.

But, coming up next, casualties of the war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, now victims of the government shutdown, disabled veterans right now not getting paid, possibly here in just a couple weeks. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: As we just told you a couple minutes ago, we have now learned that the U.S. Senate unexpectedly has approved legislation to restore the death benefits for the family of fallen members of the military.

There was all kinds of outrage when those payments were cut off because of this partial government shutdown. While restoring these payments is obviously great, welcome news for some, for others, the outrage remains, because, come November 1 -- and I know maybe, maybe, there may be a short-term deal, but if the shutdown is in effect here, 3.8 million of our wounded veterans won't be receiving their disability checks here.

And Sherman Gillums joins me now. He's a Marine veteran, an associate executive director of veterans benefits for the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

So, Mr. Gillums, welcome in, and thank you so much for joining me.

Just for our audience, you were left disabled in a car accident. This is just a couple months prior to deploying to Afghanistan. And before I get your reaction to our latest news when it comes to the death benefits, we wanted to talk to you because I'm pretty passionate when it comes to our wounded warriors and getting the help they need. And if this thing continues, they may not get it. How hard will this hit them?

SHERMAN GILLUMS, PARALYZED VETERANS OF AMERICA: Well, let me put it this way.

Most of us, we have bills. We have, you know, a way to provide a roof over our heads. We have to feed our families, put gas in the car. When you have to make choices among paying those, those are bad enough. But imagine for a second you face that same circumstance, except when you wake up in the morning, you look down and your legs don't work or they may be missing or your hands don't work or -- and you have to pay an individual to come into your home to help you do the activities that a lot of us take for granted when we're able- bodied.

Well, in those cases, when we're talking about a paycheck getting cut off, you're having to choose between the essentials, the routine essentials, and in the case of many of the men and women over whom Paralyzed Veterans of America, for whom we advocate, that's the choice they have to make. You know, now you're talking about cutting off the very things that keep you alive, that help you survive every day.

And that's unacceptable.

BALDWIN: You know, Montel Williams used to host a talk show for a long time. He's actually a board member of the Fisher House. He was talking to Piers Morgan last night. Fisher House is this private entity and who is bravely stepping forward and sort of taking on some of the death benefits that because of Congress initially -- that they're helping take care of these families.

And he came on with Piers and he basically said, because the question is why, right? Why is this even -- why is this happening? And he said that there are, I think he said 20 percent, less than 20 percent of the current lawmakers serving you and me -- have served. So the rest of the body of Congress has never served our country.

And I'm just curious if you think that that is part of the issue here. This is, you know, compared the numbers were very different decades ago. Do you think that's part of the reason?

GILLUMS: Well, I try to avoid playing into the politics of these things.

BALDWIN: Good for you.

GILLUMS: I don't want to indict the character or the motives of those who have chosen to serve their country in a different way.

But I will say that things might be a little bit different if part of the shutdown involved cutting off checks that go to congressional representatives.

BALDWIN: Well said.

Let me just thank you. I'm going to leave it right there and thank you so much, Sherman Gillums. I appreciate you very much and everything that you do for those who served in our country.

GILLUMS: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, as Republicans get ready to meet with President Obama at the White House just about an hour from now, negotiations over the debt ceiling may have reached a turning point. We are going to talk to "CROSSFIRE"'s Newt Gingrich and Van Jones right after this break.

Stay with me.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: One hour from now, House Republicans are due at the White House with their offer, assuring payment of the government's bills for six more weeks, six weeks in exchange for talks with the White House in what they are calling the country's pressing problems.

I want you to hear both from Republicans and Democrats. First, you're going to hear from Speaker John Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, what we want to do is to offer to president today the ability to move, a temporary increase in the debt ceiling, an agreement to go to conference on the budget, for his willingness to sit down and discuss with us a way forward to reopen the government and to start to deal with America's pressing problems.

CARNEY: The president has always been willing to negotiate and work out and find common ground with Republicans over our long-term budget priorities, but he's not -- you know, again, going back to -- like the assertion that they're going to use punishing the American people as leverage, doing harm to the American economy as leverage, that's unacceptable to the president. And I think he's made that clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: From Washington now, thrilled to have these two, "CROSSFIRE" hosts Van Jones and Newt Gingrich. So, welcome to both of you.

And, listen, I think when you talk to the Americans, they say, listen, this isn't about blinking. This is about solutions.

But I have to ask. Van Jones, I'm going to start with you. Did you see signs that either side is blinking here?

VAN JONES, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, I think that the president's strategy is paying off. The president looked at this Republican Party, saw it was incredibly dysfunctional, had been hijacked by this kind of Tea Party extreme wing, and he said, I'm not going to talk to these guys.

And by him not talking to the worst parts of the Republican Party, he created space for better voices to emerge. Now you see a Paul Ryan, who I never thought I would praise in public, coming forward with a sensible at least starting-point negotiation that doesn't include Obamacare on the debt ceiling. And so I think the president's strategy is paying off. The Republicans are finally coming back to some close approximation to sanity. We will see what happens tonight.

BALDWIN: You mentioned Paul Ryan.

Newt, I'm going to give it to you, because there were kind of crickets for a while, right, and then, boom, you see this op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" yesterday. Here, he pens this op-ed calling for modest reforms to entitlement programs, to the tax code, not a single word about Obamacare.

What do you make of that, because I know a lot of conservatives, they are not so pleased with this congressman right now?

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": No. No, look, I think you have to read what he wrote pretty carefully.

What he said was, on the debt ceiling, we ought to try to solve spending problems. And then he's talking about entitlements and other things that would affect the long-term debt of the United States. He didn't say anything about the continuing resolution and the government shutdown, which is where they have been fighting over Obamacare and where I think, frankly, the president took a big hit today when a poll came out that said, by 68-28, the American people oppose an individual mandate, which is far and away the biggest anti-Obamacare number I have seen.