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House to Offer Temporary Debt Ceiling Deal; Democrat Response to Debt Ceiling Deal; U.S. Senate Chaplain Prays for Government; Interview with Senate Chaplain Barry Black

Aired October 10, 2013 - 11:30   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: There you have it. This is sort of classic Speaker Boehner -- couple of questions, some very turst (ph) and very clear reactions and then that's it. Typically, when the president or Harry Reid gives their news conference, little bit lengthier. President's news conferences are lengthier or have seemed to be in the past two weeks anyway. The message, no matter what, is abundantly clear. Let me give you a little bit of the headline here. Not what we weren't expecting. Speaker Boehner did say we've been trying to have that conversation. They don't want to talk. President doesn't want to talk. Here is the weird part. President did extend the overture of an invitation to all 233 members of the House Republicans to come to the White House to talk. Here is how it was received. No, not all of us are going to come. The speaker, instead, is going to bring 20 of those Republicans. You just heard the speaker alluding to that as well. When he meets with his membership, albeit a truncated version of the membership, at the White House today, it's expected to be not about this debt ceiling deal but the opening of the government. We are still in a crisis of spending, still dealing with that.

Dana Bash is standing by. She's been watching all of this, breaking it before the leadership has a chance to break it for us.

I think that's exactly what we were expecting to hear. Although, did you expect that the speaker, Dana, would allude to the meeting today with the White House as dealing with this debt ceiling deal, not so much the continuing resolution?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Yeah, but I don't think that is so surprising, because that certainly is -- the debt ceiling and, more specifically, the whole negotiation that they're hoping to have in exchange for temporarily raising the debt ceiling is exactly what they have been demanding to talk to the president about. When the speaker says let's talk and let's negotiate, that's what he says he wants to do, to have big negotiations about the issues that are giving the nation problem with his regards to the deficit and debt. Taxes are a different set of bags because the two sides, obviously, are very split on that. For that reason it wasn't that surprising.

I don't know if you could hear my question that I yelled out from the sea of reporters. What I was trying to get at is whether or not when they do sit down and discuss reopening the government if the Republicans are going to acquiesce and give in on what they were demanding from the beginning, which led to this government shutdown in the first place, which is neither a repeal, delay or dismantling of Obamacare in order to reopen the government. As you sort of heard, he gave one of his favorite lines, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts. He didn't want to go there.

BANFIELD: This has been the issue all along, Dana. If it's not about Obamacare anymore, what is it about? Is it about any kind of concession? Does that mean face-saving?

I want to reiterate the headline of the day. The House GOP leadership just came out and confirmed what our Dana Bash has been reporting since yesterday that there is this overture, an offer of a deal, a deal to at least avert the bursting through of the debt ceiling. We came to effectively, for the most part, the end of the borrowing possibilities, the end of the bill payment possibilities, even the magic was running out. So this will at least offer up about six weeks temporary remove from entering that debt ceiling. It will be expanded and we will be able to pay the bills and we won't lose AAA credit -- we don't have AAA credit rating anymore. We lost that a long time ago. It means there's a six week period for dialogue.

Let me just read what Eric Cantor, the majority leader said. He said, "This deal is in exchange for real commitment to sit down on the pressing issues." And then I waited for what that commitment would look like. No details. Nothing at all. So, that's really the crux here. What is that commitment going to look like in those six weeks? A nebulous, let's all do this in good faith? That doesn't seem to work. Or is it something in writing?

We'll take a quick break. Have some great analysis and even further digging on what the Democrats are saying about this and whether they'll be on board with it. The president says he's on board. How about the rest of them?

Back right after this.


BANFIELD: You may think seven days is a long time, but it's not when you're coming up against a debt ceiling and you can't pay your bills as a country. That's why today's big news is a breakthrough. Albeit, an itty-bitty break through. But the Republican leaders have come out and agreed to offer up an extension, at least six weeks to raise the debt ceiling. And during that six-week time, talk. Get in deep and thick on the issues that are facing the Republicans and the Democrats, and that is how to tax, how to spend and how maybe not to do so much of each.

I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer, my colleague, who is live in Washington, D.C., right now, for a bit of analysis on what we've just seen.

Correct me if I'm wrong, I thought we might get more detail about what that six weeks might entail. Can kicking without concrete reasons of what we could see effectively happen in that six weeks. WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: The devil is in the details right now. It looks encouraging. Certainly, the markets are reacting favorably to a possible six-week extension of the debt ceiling, get that off the table, at least for the time being. Meantime, continue some serious discussions, negotiations, whatever you want to call it, in terms of reopening the federal government, making sure that the partial government shutdown end.

Markets are up 227 points right now, Ashleigh. It was up a little bit -- very little yesterday, maybe 25 points. It was down triple digits in the days preceding, as it looked gloomy. What the markets want to see and what everybody wants to see is, make sure that that debt ceiling is raised even temporarily to re-ensure investors around the world, Americans at home, that they're not going to have to worry about their T-bills, 401K, Social Security. Social Security recipients get Social Security, that they will get their checks on time.

If you listen today to Jack Lew, the treasury secretary, he testified. He outlined a very dire scenario, a doom and gloom scenario if the debt ceiling were not increased. So if they can kick that can down the road for at least six weeks, that's encouraging.

Meantime, let's hope that they can resolve all the other issues they have, open the government completely. And then deal long term what the president himself has said he would like to deal with, that so- called grand bargain, entitlement reform, tax reform, everything else that the Republicans would like to see and a lot of Democrats would like to see as well.

So this is an encouraging moment right now. We'll see what happens when the Republican leadership goes over to the White House, 1:30 pm eastern later today. Democratic Senators will go over about 4:30. All the House Democrats were at the White House. These are incremental steps but encouraging ones.

BANFIELD: If you had asked me years ago whether a six-week reprieve and a debt ceiling crisis all the while shall while the government is shut down, no resolution for a C.R., a spending bill to keep the government open, if you had said to me a few years ago that this would be something that would sky rocket our markets, I would have said, Wolf, you need to find another job.

Hold your thoughts for a moment, if you will. I want to bring in Christine Romans, out chief business correspondent.

Am I crazy to think why is Wall Street happy about this?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is what it's come to. It's the first inkling that they've had that they're not stupid enough to not raise the debt ceiling. And that there is a little bit of progress here.

BANFIELD: For now.

ROMANS: For now. BANFIELD: That means uncertainty.

ROMANS: This is uncertainty. But this is Wall Street is saying at least the next six weeks, assuming this doesn't collapse, by the way. We are in the early moments of this. Assuming this does not collapse, this is what Wall Street wants to see. They do not want to see the shenanigans of the last few days, these stresses starting to come together. Look at stocks right now, building on their gains, back above 15,000.

Another interesting thing happened today, Ashleigh. We had a weekly jobless claims report. An economic report still wasn't coming out. It showed a jump in unemployment claims. Some of those were tied to the shutdown.


ROMANS: You can make a direct line between the shutdown and not raising the debt ceiling to jobs. This is a Congress that used to be -- a city, Washington -- that used to be obsessed with who was doing more to create jobs. No one there is creating jobs. They're sending people home and talking about a forced recession by balancing the budget, by not raising the debt ceiling. That effectively balanced the budget like that overnight. Doing that would almost certainly drive the U.S. economy into a recession. None of these people, none of these people win if that happens.

BANFIELD: What's so frustrating, you can't say there's a silver lining. We're saving all that money with the shutdown. Because we're not. We're paying people not to work at a time when we have massive debt.

After the break, Jeffrey Toobin, after the break I want to ask you about six weeks. You're a former federal government man, former federal prosecutor. You know a little bit about how this stuff works. Six weeks, really? Can we do anything in six weeks? Think about that. You've got three minutes.


And we're back right after this. I put him on the spot.


BANFIELD: So, once again, the headlines that are being broken today is that there may be some movement, some. And when I say some, you know, maybe some. At least the House leadership, the Republicans have come out with an offer of a six-week break. And the problem we're facing with the debt ceiling, raise the debt ceiling for six weeks on the condition that the Democrats go to conference with the Republicans in that period to deal with other expenditures and issues. At the same time, I'm sorry to report, the government is not going to reopen. We still don't have an issue with the C.R., the spending bill.

I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin again with that question when we went to break. Six weeks seems ridiculous, another can kicking. Depending on your perspective, it can be very long or very short.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's right. To call this a breakthrough, I think you have to quote George W. Bush, is the soft bigotry of negotiations. This is good news shows what a terrible state we're in.

Congress only works on deadlines. It is good news that we will not have this financial crisis, this financial meltdown for six weeks. Since it only works on deadlines, it sure suggests to me that the government may stay shut down for the entire six weeks. And think about how that will affect the government employees, people who need government services, whether it's Head Start, whether you want to visit a national park, whether you want to visit a funeral, have a military funeral. These are real-life problems that people have. We have a federal government because we need a federal government but it looks like it will stay shut for quite a while longer.

BANFIELD: During the break, you were apt to point out that, as a federal government employee, you're not sure that all these furloughed employees will get their back pay after not working. Many will.


TOOBIN: Many will.


TOOBIN: Most are not getting paid now.

BANFIELD: They're not getting paid now.

TOOBIN: These people have bills. For the most part, they're middle- class people.


BANFIELD: Christine Romans pointed that out. Many are saying I need unemployment benefits.

ROMANS: In another couple of weeks, many will start filing for unemployment benefits, no question.

BANFIELD: That's great news at a time when we're trying to get the rails back on this economy.

I want to bring in Wolf Blitzer again, live in Washington, D.C.

Wolf, one of the things that struck me is I'm still hearing the kind of language that is not constructive, at least publicly. I don't know if that's an insurance policy for these politicians, to continue their rough talk about who is to blame for all of this. It doesn't make us feel any better. We just mentioned this. Jeff just mentioned this. Christine just mentioned this. The government is still shut down. Is there any thought that this could lead to a break in that? BLITZER: I think a lot of us have always said that both of these issues, the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling at some point would have to become one bigger issue that Democrats and Republicans and the president could try to resolve in one fell swoop. It's going to take some time. Look, the Republicans have this offer to deal with all these piece meal pieces of legislation as far as veterans or as far as making sure that the Food and Drug Administration or NIH or military funerals or veterans benefits, all of that stuff, they pass these kinds of separate bills. But Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats say they want one clean C.R. to get everything going. If you just start passing piece meal pieces of legislation, that simply will delay what everyone wants. A complete end of the government shutdown. So they'll go back and forth on that.

Republicans did come out last week and say they want this joint House/Senate conference committee to start talking amongst themselves. And this is one of the conditions that you heard the speaker and majority leader put forward, as part of the six-week extension of raising the debt ceiling, they'll start the joint House Senate conference committee. Originally, Democrats were reluctant to it. If they do that and everybody starts talking the way everybody thinks eventually they'll have to do, that would be encouraging as far as the government shutdown is concerned as well.

Look, there's still an enormous amount of work to be done. There are still enormous differences between the Democrats and the Republicans, between the president and the speaker, but at least they're talking. At least Republican leaders are going back to the White House today. I think that's good.

BANFIELD: Let me ask you, Wolf. If this overture from the Republicans to the Democrats to get this debt ceiling at least pushed ahead six weeks, does that likely mean that the Democrats and the president, in particular, are going to have to break in the intransigence on the cleanliness of the C.R., meaning if you want the government back up and running, if you want a spending bill, you better be prepared to consider things when it comes to Obamacare?

BLITZER: The president has made it clear that, once the government is fully operational, that the government shutdown ends, and once the spending -- the debt ceiling has been extended, he says all of those issues, including health care, he keeps saying it, are up on the table. If you want to try to improve Obamacare, he's willing to try to improve Obamacare. If you want to talk about entitlement reform or tax reform or social issues that are so -- these spending issues so important in terms of the long-term national debt, he's willing to talk about that.

Remember, he did have a deal with the speaker about a year or so ago, the so-called grand bargain, but when the speaker went back to the caucus, they didn't like it, a lot didn't like it and he backed out of the deal. He acknowledged that on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" only this past weekend. He acknowledged he did have a deal with the president. The president was on board, he was on board, but he changed his mind under pressure from some of the more hard- liners within the Republican caucus and the House of Representatives. So, there is a possibility, you can talk about all of these things down the road.

The Republicans are fearful, if they reopen the government fully, if they extend the debt limit they lose leverage in talking about the issues Paul Ryan wrote about the "Wall Street Journal," the chairman of the House Budget Committee, talking about entitlement reform and tax reform, long-term issues, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. And they're afraid if they accept what the president is demanding as far as the government shutdown and the debt ceiling are concerned, they'll lose a lot of the leverage, which presumably they will.

BANFIELD: I'm curious if they're gaining it back with the overture. When there's an olive branch from either side of the members of the government, it has a funny way of showing it self. Earlier, we heard how the speaker referred to conversations about to happen between his members and the president. He said the president doesn't want to talk, they don't want to talk. Well, let's hear what they have to say about that.

Wolf, thank you. Hold on for a moment. I'm going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll go to the White House and get some of the reaction to what the speaker just said and to what might be lying on the horizon as well.

Back right after this.


BANFIELD: As we continue to wait for some reaction from the White House on what happens just wrapped up on Capitol Hill, that meeting where the leadership of the GOP and the House, including the speaker, John Boehner, effectively laying out the plan, the offer of the six- week break to raise the debt limit, talk, not open the government, not fund the government, doesn't get a continuing resolution out of this but at least talk and get to the next deadline without blowing through our debt ceiling and defaulting on our debts. While that is sort of germinating throughout those in the White House, we're waiting for their reaction.

Wouldn't it be really nice to be able to hear someone stand up in Congress and speak from the heart, somebody guided by faith and conscience? Wow! Guided by principle and not the partisan talking points and the line of the day or the hash tag? There is someone exactly like that. You're about to hear from him. But with the caveat he's not a member. Have a listen.


ADM. BARRY BLACK, CHAPLAIN, UNITED STATES SENATE: Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable while being unreasonable. Forgive them for the blunders they have committed, infusing them with the courage to admit and correct mistakes. Today, give our lawmakers the vision and the willingness, remove from them that stubborn pride which imagines itself to be above and beyond criticism. Lord, deliver us from governing by crisis. It's time for our lawmakers to say enough is enough. We pray in your merciful name, amen. Amen. Amen. Amen. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Amen. I'm going to add one to that.

Here he is live, the chaplain of the United States Senate, retired Navy admiral, Barry Black.

Chaplain, thank you, thank you, thank you for saying these things. I wish they had more of an effect.

I want to ask you, if you are able to counsel regularly individual members about the kind of language they use, the kind of blame they throw around and the personal responsibility they do not take, especially when they use words like terrorist and hostage and gun to their heads, how do you operate in the halls of Congress with these people?

BLACK: Well, I teach a Bible study for Senators on a weekly basis. I also interact regularly with Senators at a weekly prayer breakfast. If I were talking to them about the power of words, I would tell them, first, words have consequences. Proverbs 18:21 says "The power of life and death is in the tongue." I would also tell them that how you say something is as important in what you say. Proverb 15:1 says, "A soft answer turns away anger." So I would encourage them to be responsible stewards of their verbiage.

BANFIELD: Chaplain Black, are you hopeful that -- you saw we had an overture today. Are you hopeful we'll get anywhere, are you hopeful we'll get out of this crisis without further damage to the people of Congress, to the people of the United States, and to the great name of the United States?

BLACK: Well, laudable goals are rarely achieved without hard effort and perseverance. I am the perennial optimist. I was in college in Alabama in the '60s when a diminutive preacher came to my campus and said, "We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." I think that optimism was contagious. If someone had told me in the '60s, when I was a student in Alabama, that the walls of segregation would come down and there would be an African-American chaplain of the United States Senate, I would have responded, you did indeed inhale. But that was what happened because of optimism, because of persevering.