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Budget Negotiations; Al Qaeda Suspect Now in U.S.

Aired October 14, 2013 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Hour two. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Fourteen days now into this government shutdown and in just over two days, the U.S. is expected to run short of money to pay its bills. But, big news this hour, we are now reporting this postponement, this delay in that meeting that would have been taking place right now at the White House between some major players here so of course, the president, the House speaker, John Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

And as we have been discussing the last hour, the two men emerging as chief negotiators here because this is up to the Senate right now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. The meeting was supposed to be happening right now. Why was it postponed? Well, according to the White House, more time is needed to, quote, "allow leaders in the Senate time to continue making important progress toward a solution that raises the debt limit and reopens the government.

And one of the issues that was supposed to be discussed at this meeting, this deal being hammered out by Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Constructive good-faith negotiations continue between the Republican leader and me. I'm very optimistic that we will reach an agreement that's reasonable in nature this week to reopen the government, pay the nation's bills and begin long-term negotiations to put our country on sound fiscal footing.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: We have had an opportunity over the last couple days to have some very constructive exchanges of views about how to move forward. Those discussions continue, and I share his optimism that we're going to get a result that will be acceptable to both sides.


BALDWIN: There you heard it, a tone of optimism from first the Democrat leader and then the Republican leader.

It's a bit of optimism we haven't heard on the Senate floor for weeks. Once again, the meeting in the White House has been postponed.

So, let's go to the White House, to our senior correspondent there, Jim Acosta, with a little explainer as to why, and also Dana Bash, our chief congressional correspondent, reporting there on the Hill.

Jim, first to you.


BALDWIN: Why the postponement? What's happening behind the scenes?

ACOSTA: Well, the postponement is basically the White House saying, listen, you guys are working on a deal. Keep working. Keep making progress.

You heard the president say earlier today when he visited a D.C. food pantry that he believed the Senate was making progress. He said the proof will come later on in the afternoon when he gets to see some of the outlines of that agreement. But, basically, the fact that there is no meeting, I think, is a sign of progress.

And as Dana has been reporting all afternoon, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, they have worked out some sort of agreement. I will let Dana talk about it in just a few moments, but to give you the White House response to what she's been reporting on this afternoon, the White House is basically saying they sort of like what they're hearing out of the Senate.

Basically, what they're saying right now is if they can get a long- term debt ceiling bill that extends the debt ceiling for a good period of time, not really clear as to how long this would go, but they like the sound of six months to a year. They really like the sound of that. That, to the White House, is an indication that the threat of default is really now off the table in terms of a negotiating ploy.

As for the continuing resolution that would reopen the government, they would prefer something shorter-term. And you will hear from the Republicans. They want the reverse of all this, but the White House would like something in the shorter-term variety because it brings this discussion over the sequester, those forced budget cuts, the second round of those kick in early next year. They would like to start talking about that in a budget conferee process.

And that is essentially when lawmakers from both sides of Capitol Hill appoint folks to start working on all of this. The White House likes the sound of that all as well. They would like to soften the edges of some of the sequester cuts. There are those forced budget cuts in a lot of domestic, non-discretionary spending programs that they don't like, and of course there are some Republicans who don't like the Defense Department sequester cuts. They feel like there's a lot of room for compromise, a lot of room in the middle here if everybody can just come together.


Dana, to you, I know a lot of this just gets downright wonky, but a lot of it, the crux of this, I know you're about to give the news, what you're hearing from a Republican source, but it comes down to length of time, right, some of these sticking points, length of time in terms of funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It comes down to length of time for both of those, which has always been the issue, and again, the other issue, which it is appearing to come down to once again is Obamacare, whether or not Democrats will give even an inch, even smaller than an inch on anything that has to do with delaying or changing the fundamentals of Obamacare.

Let me just show you what a Republican source tells me that they think is going on here, or maybe they hope is going on here, the outlines of a deal. First of all, with regard to funding the government, they want to fund the government through the end of the year, at least through the holiday season that would keep the spending levels where they are right now, which would be kind of a plus for Republicans, because they're at forced spending cut levels, which Democrats don't like, but that would also give Democrats a leg up because they don't want this funding bill to go into the next year, into the next round of forced spending cuts in 2014.

Then a debt ceiling increase, that is the other thing I'm told they're doing a give and take on, the length of that. Harry Reid, I'm told, proposed six to nine months to extend the level of the debt ceiling. Republicans, I'm told, are trying to make that a shorter amount of time because they still think that that is a very important point of leverage for Republicans with regard to broader-term budget negotiations, entitlement reform, things like that.

Then the last two points, verifying income on some Obamacare recipients and delaying any kind of Obamacare tax. Those are on the Republican wish list, according to a source. They think this is something they're going to get. Three Democratic sources now have told me, uh-uh, this is not something that the president and Democratic leaders are willing to do.

We have heard them say it so many times. They're willing to discuss the idea of necessary changes to Obamacare, but not as ransom for either reopening the government or not defaulting. So that certainly appears to be a sticking point still in these negotiations. But, as you heard from all sides, they're optimistic that they have narrowed the differences enough that they can work this out.

It is in everybody's interests, particularly Republicans, who admit it very openly now in these hallways. They want to reopen the government. They want to make sure that the U.S. government does not default and they want to do it soon.

BALDWIN: It's so important for all of this in the Senate to get overwhelming bipartisan support so then John Boehner can take it to the Republicans and hopefully he can get the votes they need on that side.


BALDWIN: Thanks to both very much.

And so once again, as we're watching, whenever that White House meeting may happen, again, it's not happening, as Jim was reporting, postponed so the Senate can really get down to brass tacks and work something out.

I want to broaden this really beyond the Beltway and bring in my next two guests here. We have -- Errol Louis is a CNN political commentator and political anchor at New York 1 news. Ben Ferguson is also a CNN political commentator.

Welcome to both of you all, Errol on the left, Ben on the right.

Errol, we talked a lot about Republicans, but I want to hone in on Democrats here because on the budget negotiations specifically, it appears as though the Democrats are seeking a way to skirt around another round of these forced spending cuts. Is that a late add for them? Are they, are the Democrats guilty here of moving the goalpost?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know if it's moving the goalpost. I don't think any of the Democratic leadership ever made it secret that they didn't want the sequester cuts, that they thought it was a horror show, that they thought it was a sort of blind cutting out without regard to what the nation's real needs were.

And we could have anticipated that come the next round of sequester cuts in January, they were going to put up a fight. If this is all turning into one big ball of conflict, it's hard to see why that particular issue would have been excluded. So, no, it comes at no surprise at all.

BALDWIN: OK. Errol says no.

Ben, what do you think, Democrats here?

BEN FERGUSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, it's definitely moving the goalposts. The good news is now, though, you actually have what the government is supposed to do, negotiations. I almost had a heart attack about a half-hour ago when Harry Reid actually said, we are negotiating. I would say to Harry Reid, congratulations.

I mean, you're moving forward. You guys are actually getting something done now. You have decided to negotiate, which is exactly how our government works, and I also think something else that's amazing is Joe Biden now, and who would have thought that Joe Biden would be some sort of quarterback, but Joe Biden is a guy that is now going to be in the room. Democrats and Obama didn't want him in the room because he actually is good at negotiating.

So finally, we get down to everyone being stressed out, Americans being hurt. Joe Biden is going to come in now and negotiate, which is exactly what should have happen day one of the government shutdown.

BALDWIN: Joe Biden, former senator, has a great relationship with the minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell.


BALDWIN: Let me stay with you, Ben, because there was also something that John McCain, Republican, said, that got our attention. I want your comment. Take a listen.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And the Democrats, they better understand something. What goes around comes around. If they try to humiliate Republicans, things change in American politics, and I know what it's like to be in the majority and in the minority, and it won't be forgotten. Now is the time to be magnanimous and sit down.


BALDWIN: OK, so sit down and continue working.

Ben Ferguson, the word humiliate, do you sense the Republicans face humiliation over all of this?

FERGUSON: Yes, well, I mean, look at it from the very beginning. When the president of the United States of America walks out and refers to Republicans as being like terrorists with bombs strapped to their body and then says, I refuse to negotiate, I will not negotiate, I don't owe them anything, well, you owe the voters who put them in office something, and that's to listen to them and to negotiate.


BALDWIN: Republicans are also saying, Peter King calling them a fraud, his own party.

FERGUSON: Well, but the difference was, if you're the president of the United States of America, your job is to lead and not walk away and be absent for almost 12 days, and then when you go out in front of a microphone, you throw huge bombs at the other side.

I think John McCain's point was, look, I was on your side almost more than my own team at the beginning of this, but the way you have been acting, this can come back to haunt you because you have showed no goodwill to us. You have not led on this issue. And you purposely are trying to do...


LOUIS: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.


BALDWIN: Go ahead, Errol.

LOUIS: The president has not stepped in to stop the Republicans from humiliating themselves.

This is a day when Ted Cruz, one of the leaders of this entire failed strategy, was out on the mall standing next to somebody who was telling the president to put down his Koran, that kind of inflammatory crazy language. There was this demand that the government had to be shut down unless we defunded Obamacare. Everyone knew that wasn't going to happen. There is dissension in the Republican ranks. They haven't been able to fix it. They have in some ways tried to rely on Biden and on the president to help them out of it, and the White House has just said, no, we're not going to help you. You're going to have figure this out for yourself. Having taken the country to the brink, now you will have to snatch it back from the brink.


BALDWIN: Errol Louis got the final word.

Gentlemen, gentlemen, we have to stop there. Errol Louis and Ben Ferguson, thank you both very much. We know you will be watching closely. We will too.

But I have got to move on, breaking news on CNN. We're just now getting word that the al Qaeda leader, the one suspected in the 1998 bombing in Kenya who was nabbed by the U.S. in Libya, is now inside America. We're getting instant reaction to that. That breaking news is next.


BALDWIN: Breaking news just into CNN. Al Qaeda operative Abu Anas al-Libi is right here on U.S. soil. He was snatched from his home in Tripoli two weeks ago and taken to a Navy vessel for interrogations, indicted for his involvement in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in both Kenya and Tanzania.

So, joining me now, senior international correspondent Nic Robertson and our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti.

And, Susan, let me just begin with you. How did all this happen?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're going to find out very soon, no doubt, but he is not only in the United States. He arrived over the weekend. He is in New York.

He is in this area, and he is expected to make his very first court appearance tomorrow here in Manhattan. As you indicated, this was someone who was picked up in a dramatic raid just a couple of weeks ago. And he will have to appear in court on this indictment that actually has been on the books for many, many years.

He was indicted back for the 1998 bombing, as you said, of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Now, of course, he was brought here from that U.S. Navy ship where he had been questioned or attempted to be questioned by a high-value interrogation group that goes after high-value detainees to try to see what information he might know about any current al Qaeda plans that might be in effect for the United States to carry out any future attacks.

That would be the first thing they would want to know. But, of course, when he's in court tomorrow, he will have to answer for that indictment of the 1998 bombings. BALDWIN: Nic Robertson, to you. Just give us a little bit more context, the significance here, and to Susan's point, the fact that the U.S. may get some key information out of him.


I have met with his family, neighbors, been to his house. The sense that they have is that this is a man who had given up on al Qaeda a long time ago, that he was living pretty much in the open in Libya. Of course, it's been a very divisive issue in Libya because it's seen as a -- it has had a very negative impact on the government there, the prime minister himself kidnapped during the week by armed militias in the city essentially over the fact that he was suspected of helping the United States in pick up al-Libi, so for him, a very dangerous development.

But the fact that his friends and that his family say that he was living in the open, that he had nothing anymore to do with al Qaeda, and two government officials I talked to, including the justice minister, told me that al-Libi had reached out to the Libyan authorities to try to clear his name -- so the fact that he has only spent about seven days in U.S. custody -- he was picked up nine days ago, Saturday, the weekend before last, in Tripoli -- the fact that he's only spent seven days in custody outside of the United States being questioned about other potential al Qaeda activity or his knowledge about that is perhaps an indication that he didn't actually have much to offer up or he was deemed to be noncompliant in that regard.

But it does seem to indicate, at first flush, at least, that he didn't have a lot to say. Libyan government has said that it respects the U.S. legal system, that it expects him to get a fair trial here. But they have said that they do want him to have a Libyan legal representation here, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Nic Robertson and Susan Candiotti, my thanks to both of you.

We are going to take you back to breaking news out of Washington. The vice president was scheduled to be at the White House meeting that would have happened at 3:00 -- had the White House decided to postpone it, we have learned, so that the Senate can continue to make inroads in the negotiations to hopefully broker some kind of deal that they can take to the White House before that deadline midnight on Wednesday.

But we're going to hone in on the vice president's role here in previous negotiations and the current one coming up next.


BALDWIN: You know, many politicians in Washington, they love the spotlight, but there is one who has been laying low, Joe Biden. The vice president has not been front and center during the government shutdown, and people have noticed.


MCCAIN: So I'm hopeful that we will get negotiations. I hope the president will become engaged. Maybe we need to get Joe Biden out of the witness protection program.


BALDWIN: Out of the witness protection program. That was Senator John McCain on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Lawmakers don't just miss the vice president. They remember the pivotal role he played in getting a deal done during the fiscal cliff crisis. Here to talk about the role he could be playing in this one, John Decker. He is the White House correspondent for SiriusXM's POTUS channel. And our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger is here.

Gloria, let me just begin with you. Listen, we know the news. The White House has postponed this meeting this afternoon so the Senate can continue hammering out some kind of deal.



BALDWIN: Which is great. So, whenever that meeting does happen, what is the role for the vice president?

BORGER: The vice president is there. This doesn't mean that his phone lines have been cut to people in the Senate. They haven't. He's engaged.

I think what this really means is that Harry Reid, though, has decided as the leader of the Democrats in the Senate that he's calling the shots. He did not much like the deal that he got on the fiscal cliff, all of it, and also on the debt ceiling negotiations in 2011, which Joe Biden headed up.

And I think on no uncertain terms, he told the White House, I'm in charge. I'm going to do this. And the White House said, OK, go ahead. And so far, even though he has not a great relationship with Mitch McConnell, it looks like they're going to work it out. The big question, of course, is, will it work out in the House? But that's a whole other story.

BALDWIN: We will get there when we get there, Gloria.

BORGER: We will.

BALDWIN: John, to you. You know, as we talk about when we remember 2011 and to use a baseball term, Biden was kind of the closer. Do you think he could play that kind of role here, or no?

JOHN DECKER, SIRIUS XM RADIO: I think the situation is so different from the past three years, when the vice president has been involved in these budgetary issues. Now you see the president over the past three weeks really saying, I'm not negotiating on major budgetary issues until the government is reopened, number one, and the debt limit is increased.

He also has, as Gloria just mentioned, buyer's remorse among Senate Democrats regarding the deals that the vice president has negotiated on their behalf in the past. And, lastly, Brooke, you have the situation where you have Democrats who are very upset that this has gone on so long. And they blame it, they put the blame at the feet of House Republicans.

And the vice president, quite frankly, does not have the kind of influence among House Republicans that he does in the Senate, having served in the Senate for over three decades.

BALDWIN: So, again, Gloria, to your point, I guess, with Harry Reid saying no, what was the fear? Because we know that before being vice president, Biden was a senator. He gets along with the Republican leader of the Senate. What was the fear there?

BORGER: Well, I think the fear was that the White House and Joe Biden would give in to more spending cuts than the Democrats really want.

And so they're kind of a little nervous about that, and also, quite frankly, I think Harry Reid felt, look, this is my job, it's not your job. If I need you, Joe, I will call you. If we can't get it done, I will let you know. Again, as John was saying, there were no negotiations going on, and Joe Biden doesn't have a lot of friends among House Republicans, so I think that was kind of an issue, too.

And John Boehner, while he may get along with Joe Biden, he can't necessarily deliver his caucus, as we have discovered. So that's kind of fruitless.

BALDWIN: I'm just curious. Of all the players here at part of this negotiation, and then maybe even the intangible players, i.e., the markets and public opinion, who or what do you think has the biggest influence?

DECKER: Well, initially, right now, I think that all eyes are on Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to see what kind of deal that they can reach in the Senate. But then you go beyond that.

I think that John Boehner and his caucus really hold the key. We have seen these about 50 or so House Republicans who identify themselves with the Tea Party. They are conservatives. They very much want to see some concessions from the White House. They don't want to see -- seem like they're giving into the White House as we approach this deadline on Thursday.

So I think all eyes after perhaps a deal is reached between Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, all eyes will be on John Boehner in terms of whether he can get his caucus to go along with such a deal.


BORGER: I have to say, I think it's public opinion.

BALDWIN: Public opinion. You do?

BORGER: I think public opinion, this has been a disaster for the Republican Party, unmitigated. Everybody admits it. And the question is whether this is going to be short-term damage or long-term damage, a la Katrina for George W. Bush. We don't know the answer to that yet, but right now, Republicans are looking for a fig leaf, a way to get out of this still intact with the voters. We will have to see if they come up with it.

BALDWIN: Gloria Borger and John Decker, thank you both very much this afternoon here.

You know, political experts say it's the debt ceiling that's a no-win for both parties, no -- no-win game. But which party is losing the most ground as this back and forth and the finger-pointing in Washington continues? Just in, a new poll. Wait until you see the results here, as Gloria was talking public opinion. We will break it down with Wolf Blitzer live next.