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Shutdown Showdown Day 10, Interview with Rep. Steve Southerland

Aired October 10, 2013 - 23:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight a CNN special. Powwow between the powers that be.

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), MAJORITY LEADER: We had a very useful meeting.

TAPPER: I'm sorry. Did I hear you correctly?

CANTOR: It was clarifying I think for both sides.

TAPPER: House Republicans meeting with president. And it was productive? Forgive our wonderment, but we haven't heard anything like that in the past 10 days. So crisis over?

CANTOR: Our teams are going to be talking further tonight.

TAPPER: Well, the president didn't say yes and he didn't say no to a short-term plan that would raise the debt ceiling. And it's unclear what effect any of this might have on the partial government shutdown. But --

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president strongly prefers a longer-term resolution.

TAPPER: Put a pot of coffee on. This could be an all-nighter.



TAPPER: Good evening. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to this special half hour of CNN, SHUTDOWN SHOWDOWN. And tonight I'm going to report something that I have not been able to report for 10, almost 11 days now.

Actual, honest-to-god progress. It's not a beast of progress, it's a little mouse. It's small. It might run off if it hears a loud noise. It's fragile. But it exists. Tonight here in the nation's capitol, our elected officials or at least their staffers are right now holding some very caffeinated discussions after the most promising meeting of this entire week and a half ordeal.

This evening, House Republicans returned from the White House after making President Obama an offer to raise the debt ceiling for a six- week period in exchange for further negotiations about the nation's debt. If the limit on the debt ceiling is not raised within a week, the government will not have all the money it needs to pay all of the bills after that.

Now President Obama did not immediately say yes to the GOP offer, but he didn't say no either. In fact, the White House called it, quote, "a good meeting," which is practically a group hug compared to the tenor of the rhetoric leading up to this. But even if a deal is reached on the debt ceiling, what about reopening the government?

A Democratic source familiar with tonight's White House meeting tells our Jim Acosta that the president doubled down or tripled down or quadrupled down -- it's hard to keep track at this point -- on his position on this partial government shutdown. No concessions for reopening the government, he said.

Joining me to talk about these late-night negotiations is Republican Congressman Steve Southerland of Florida who was a member of the 2010 Tea Party freshman class. He attended the House GOP's White House meeting with President Obama earlier today.

And of course I'm always joined by chief political analyst Gloria Borger and chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Congressman, first of all, it's your birthday today, 48, and you got to spend it with Eric Cantor, John Boehner, President Obama and now us.


TAPPER: This is exactly how you dreamt of it.


REP. STEVE SOUTHERLAND (R), FLORIDA: If you'd have told me that four years I would have said no way.


No, no way.

TAPPER: So I can tell that this meeting tonight was actually serious because not a lot of details were coming out. But tell us what you can. Tell us about the meeting, the tenor, and what was discussed as much as you're able to.

SOUTHERLAND: Well, first of all, we were very -- thank you for having me on tonight. All of you.

BORGER: And happy birthday.

SOUTHERLAND: Thank you very much. You know, we were very optimistic with the invitation that we could go and sit down with the president. So as we -- as we went to the meeting, you know, we were -- we're hopeful that we will be able to begin discussions and have a conversation. You know, one of the things -- TAPPER: About what, though? About the debt, about Obamacare?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, look, we've been very clear that we wanted to extend the debt ceiling. We also -- we offered to appoint conferees to begin a long-term -- longer-term budget discussion between the conferees but also to have a working group of individuals that would have a conversation about the budget and about issues facing our country.

And to get the government back open. That was the impetus of our third request. And so we -- you know, we outlined that before we went in to the meeting. And that's basically what we talked about for the hour and a half that we were there. And it was received I think very well.

BORGER: So how do you get around the elephant in the room, which is the defunding of Obamacare, which is right there when you talk about opening the government? And you guys wanted to defund Obamacare. The government shut down. And the president says no way. And I know you had a really nice meeting and you all like each other now and all the rest and you've stopped calling each other names.

TAPPER: He didn't say that.


BORGER: OK, but --


BORGER: OK. Right. But you've stopped calling each other names. But how do you get -- is defunding Obamacare off the table as part of the reopening of the government?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, you know that we passed four resolutions out of the House.

BORGER: I know.

SOUTHERLAND: OK. But you also know that the first resolution was a defund. And then we continued, you know, subsequent resolutions, a delay. We also sent the subsidy repeal for members of Congress. So I think you could see that we began different attempts, OK, to effect the healthcare bill. I'm pleased that the president said look, if we can have a discussion we're going to talk about parts that he agrees.

BORGER: So it's not off the table.

TAPPER: Obamacare in general is not off the table but defunding it is.

SOUTHERLAND: Well, let me say this. The one thing you don't do, the one thing you don't do when you come away from a positive meeting is you don't -- you don't torpedo those efforts. And so, you know, to be able to tell you, OK, hey, this is what we discussed in that meeting. BORGER: Right.

SOUTHERLAND: And this is going to be one of the topics that we're going to go through over the next -- tonight, OK? Because we've agreed to stay throughout the evening and talk tomorrow. And I don't think that it's positive to take anything off the table. And the president met -- look. I think that he recognizes --

BORGER: You would think it was positive to take that off the table.


SOUTHERLAND: Well, look. And let me say this. And I think that -- you have to have an attitude of respect. And today I think we had that. And we would not -- we would not commit to anything outside that working group that's working right now as we speak so.

BASH: Now I know that you want to respect the gentlemen's agreement not to talk too much about what happened in the meeting.


BASH: But you know we're reporters.

SOUTHERLAND: I understand.

BASH: So we can -- we can tell you what we've heard from other sources.


BASH: And I -- my understanding is that, that it was, you know, we know it lasted for about an hour and a half, and that the president was pretty emphatic that he wanted to reopen the government and start talking about that before the debt ceiling extension even temporary one. And you all led by John Boehner were saying, you know, we've got to do the debt ceiling first and was sort of going round and round.

And that there was a moment with his former rival, at least -- vice presidential rival Paul Ryan where it was sort of the eureka moment where they all sort of decided -- you all decided, OK, enough already. Let's talk about talking. And that's when it led to the discussion about going back and trying to see if there is some possible way to reopen the government with conditions.

SOUTHERLAND: Well, I think --

BASH: Even though the president says he won't do conditions.

SOUTHERLAND: Look. The president has been very clear with his beliefs. And I think that Speaker Boehner and our conference have been very clear with ours. But there's always a moment I think when negotiations get to a point where you feel like, OK, you know, maybe we need to listen a little more, and where everybody comes back to the --

BASH: That was the point?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, let me just say, it was -- you know, Paul and the president certainly have a pass through the last election and I think there's a great respect between them. And you can't make that up. It is and it only comes because of the path that they've traveled together. And so I think that the communication between Paul and the president I think was an important part of the conversation.

TAPPER: Can I ask you a question? The -- I still don't fully understand, given especially that the funding of the government idea, we're talking also about that being a short-term bill. It originally was just through November.


TAPPER: I guess at this point it might extend into December. But it's still not a long-term government funding bill. Why is the government still being kept closed? I don't fully understand this. You have the president's attention. You have -- I'm sure there's going to be some sort of discussion that comes out of this. But at the end of the day you have 800,000 furloughed workers, you have the memorials and the parks closed, you have poor women who depend on nutrition and formula through the WIC program.

BORGER: The military.

TAPPER: That's -- we're about to hit the walnut.


TAPPER: Veterans and G.I. bills.

SOUTHERLAND: But clearly, you are smart people here, OK. And clearly you've seen the bills that we've passed out of the House.

TAPPER: I understand the piecemeal.

SOUTHERLAND: On a bipartisan basis. So look, we've had Democrats join with us in several of those bills the president has signed into law. So just today the survivor benefit that he signed into law tonight. I think that's positive. So, you know, to -- Head Start and the WIC program.


BORGER: But --

TAPPER: But why keep the government closed? Why?

BORGER: If you're piecemeal refunding it, why not just open it, right?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, look. We're having a longer discussion, and that was our third ask that we would have a -- you know, or excuse me that the conferees on the budget second ask and the third ask would have a discussion that I think should delve into some even bigger issues, long-term entitlement reform, tax reform. And we recognize that those are going to be long discussions.

They're not going to be something that we can solve between now, you know, and when the government can open back up.

TAPPER: Certainly not. Right.

SOUTHERLAND: But one thing I want to be very clear is we talk about -- I hear music in my ear. We need to --


TAPPER: That thing --

SOUTHERLAND: Is it a birthday song? Are we going to sing "Happy Birthday" now?

BORGER: Happy birthday.

BASH: Jake is going to sing to you.

TAPPER: That thing you're going to be clear about? Hold that thought.


TAPPER: Dana, Gloria, stay with us. Stick around.

Coming up, here comes the hurt. The reviews are in and the polls plummet. So who will survive the cliff dive after 10 days of government unplugged? Stay with us.


TAPPER: President Obama said he would negotiate but not with a gun to the head of the American people, he said. Now that so-called gun may be lowering. But are we any closer to a deal? That's coming up next.


TAPPER: It's been a week and a half since Congress failed to reach any kind of agreement to avoid a government shutdown. Both sides believe that they have staked out the moral high ground and they've argued that it's the other side who is being completely unreasonable.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't make extortion routine as part of our democracy. Democracy doesn't function this way.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president's position that, listen, we're not going to sit down and talk to you until you surrender is just not sustainable. It's not our system of government.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: I'm joined now by -- and earlier in the program by Congressman Southerland, a Republican of Florida, one of the Tea Party Republicans who is helping to drive this current debate.

Is that fair to say, do you think? You think so? OK.


And also of course Gloria Borger and Dana Bash.

BASH: This should be like an exit row on a plane. You have to say yes.




BORGER: And by the way, happy birthday again.

TAPPER: So I do want -- there is a new poll out tonight from NBC and the "Wall Street Journal." And it continues this drum beat of not such great news for the Republican Party during this showdown.

Here's one number that is particularly interesting. Who is to blame for the showdown? Republicans -- 53 percent blame the Republicans, 31 percent blame President Obama, 13 percent both equally. That's a fairly wide divide. Fifty-three percent of the American people. Even though President Obama's approval ratings are below 50. Most Americans blame Republicans. This is not good for your party.

SOUTHERLAND: Yes, where are the Democrats on that -- on that poll? Are they in there?

TAPPER: Well, isn't this a standoff between the -- Republicans and President Obama at this point?

SOUTHERLAND: No. Look, I think -- I think you can't -- you can't talk about this in its totality without talking about Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate. So I mean, look.

BORGER: Well --

SOUTHERLAND: The fact that --

TAPPER: All the other polls show, though, the Republicans are experiencing much higher disapproval than Democrats.

SOUTHERLAND: Well, first of all, everyone knows that on a government shutdown in a debate like this that the party that believes in a smaller government, more efficient government, is the one that's typically going to get blamed. I think that's fair.

BORGER: Really? SOUTHERLAND: And I think that that's the reason that I think the president whose ratings have been going down consistently really was hoping that something like this would happen.


BORGER: But this (INAUDIBLE) tonight --

TAPPER: Do you think President Obama was hoping the shutdown would happen?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, I think -- I think this. I think that everyone knew, OK, over the last several months with the Syria conflict and the economy and everything that we were seeing, the jobs numbers, it's been -- it's been a difficult several months for the president. And so therefore, if we're able to come to an impasse that we know that the Republicans are going to get blamed for, then why --


BORGER: But you created this.

TAPPER: You get blamed for this because you -- yes, I mean --

BORGER: He didn't actively do this. You -- the Republicans said, we want to try and defund Obamacare. That wasn't his idea.

TAPPER: Got your signature legislation or we'll --


SOUTHERLAND: Well, but let me say.

TAPPER: Or we won't fund the government.

SOUTHERLAND: And when it became very apparent that Harry Reid was going to dispose of that then we continued to send other bills. Then we sent --


BORGER: But -- no, I understand. You said that.


BORGER: But here's the question I have, which is -- and Jake is talking about the polls. The "Wall Street Journal" poll this evening was overwhelming in its evidence that Republicans are being held accountable here and to blame, that 70 percent of Americans said Republicans put their political agenda over the national interests. That's not a great number. And so my question to you is, are Republicans panicking about this? Worrying that it could cost them the house?

TAPPER: You're not.

SOUTHERLAND: I mean, guys, am I -- am I the picture of panic?



BASH: Well, it's your birthday.


SOUTHERLAND: No. We're not panicking.


SOUTHERLAND: Well, thank you.

BASH: On that -- actually this is a serious question.

SOUTHERLAND: On the other side of the pillow.

BASH: Because people --

BORGER: But it is serious.

BASH: People out there hear Tea Party class of 2010. You are kind of, you know, a very typical example. So I want to ask you. You -- I mean, just in terms of the new kind of a politician.


BASH: You've never held public office before, right?


BASH: This is your -- you're a funeral director by trade, correct?

TAPPER: Owner and --


BASH: Owner. Owner. OK. OK.

SOUTHERLAND: That makes me -- no, I am --

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: He's a businessman.

BASH: Yes, no. No. But that's -- and so you -- and you're representing a district that was represented by a Democrat for how many years?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, a Republican hadn't won this seat since 1882.

BASH: OK. So what are you -- based on all that, what are you hearing from your constituents about this? Like to Gloria and Jake's point about the polls? What are you -- are you hearing attaboy or are you hearing enough already?

SOUTHERLAND: We're hearing some of that. But also --

BORGER: And your numbers are reflecting that.

SOUTHERLAND: I also -- well, let me say this. Now is not the time to get an accurate poll number.

BORGER: Right.

SOUTHERLAND: OK? So let's be very, very clear.

BASH: But do you feel pressure to reopen the government?

SOUTHERLAND: No, I feel pressure to do the right thing. And I think that what we have stated all along is that the right thing is that we have a system where there's no special treatment for anyone.

Look, our founding fathers do believe or they did believe that a self- evident truth that all people, all men were created equal. And I think to have a signature piece of legislation such as the president's health care bill and the president himself, his family, his cabinet and all of the executive branch do not have to go into a system that is so great that it doesn't apply to them is to me it undermines the basic tenet of freedom that all men are created equal.

BORGER: So why is the public reacting this way then? I mean, you know --


BORGER: Why are these numbers all in this direction, anti-Republican?

SOUTHERLAND: Well, first of all, people don't like -- people don't like uncertainty. And we know that. And so I just -- I think this is an uncertain time. And I think that the government shutdown, and I think that the debt ceiling, that's a lot of uncertainty. I think that going to war just on the Syria issue several weeks ago, more uncertainty. I don't think people like that. And that's a natural god-inbred instinct. And I think that's normal.

TAPPER: Congressman Southerland, thank you so much for coming in.

SOUTHERLAND: Jake, thank you.

TAPPER: It's been a real pleasure. I hope you come back.

SOUTHERLAND: No. Thank you.

TAPPER: I know there's a lot of things we have to talk about and I want to have you back definitely.

BASH: And happy birthday.

SOUTHERLAND: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: Dana and Gloria, stay where you are.

SOUTHERLAND: Gloria, thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up, this majority is anything but silent. Sixty percent of Americans say fire them all. Every member of Congress. Will the calls to throw the bums out finally make a dent in Washington, D.C.? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Paging Malcolm Gladwell. I think we may have found the tipping point. Sixty percent of Americans say in a new poll, terminate them. Every member of Congress including their own representatives. Will that finally be the number that scares Washington, D.C. into action? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Incumbents just became a four-letter word. Although obviously incumbent is not a four-letter word. Sixty percent of Americans want to see every member of Congress canned, including their own representatives. That's according to the latest NBC News-"Wall Street Journal" polling, although, you know, I find it hard to believe. At the end of the day, the American people say oh, I hate my congressman or they give --

BASH: They hate Congress, love their congressmen.

BORGER: Right. Well, the district they're on --

TAPPER: But this poll specifically said they want -- even want to get their own congressman out but at the end of the day they --

BORGER: That never happens.

TAPPER: -- reelecting 97 percent.

BORGER: No, that never happens.

BASH: Well --

BORGER: I mean, that just never -- you know, the irony in all of this, though, to me is that in that same poll Obamacare as a result of this in the last month has grown in popularity?

BASH: That's exactly why --

TAPPER: But do you think that's -- do you think that's the Democrats rallying to Obama's side?

BASH: It might -- it might be that.

BORGER: It may be. But the Republicans have stepped on their own message.

BASH: Exactly. And that's why -- I mean, you know, he wasn't probably going to tell us about this, because they're not supposed to talk about what happens in private.

TAPPER: Although he did confirm that Paul Ryan --

BASH: He did.

BORGER: He did.

TAPPER: That's nice.

BASH: He did.

TAPPER: Second source.


BASH: Right here. But I mean from the morning, this morning when House Republicans met, I was told that there was so much anger expressed about the fact that the government's not open and that Republicans are getting in trouble.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, thank you so much for joining me as always.

And thank you for watching. I'm Jake Tapper. Be sure to catch me weekdays at 4:00 p.m. Eastern on "THE LEAD." Have a great night. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.