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Debt Ceiling Crisis; Interview With Congressman Charlie Dent; Interview With Congressman Devin Nunes

Aired October 15, 2013 - 15:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin. It is about 15 minutes from now. Democratic leaders are scheduled to head to the White House for talks with the president. But right now, we should tell you that the Senate, those talks are on hold on that side. They're waiting to see how the House moves forward on its proposal of its bill. That has spent the day being picked apart and getting shot down by both sides of the aisle.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Our leadership team met with our members today trying to find a way forward in a bipartisan way that would continue to provide fairness to the American people under Obamacare. There are a lot of opinions about what direction to go. There have been no decisions about what exactly we will do. I have made clear for months and months that the idea of default is wrong, and we shouldn't get anywhere close to it.


BALDWIN: Doesn't want to get close to default, but keep in mind, if we all look at the clock here, that ship has sailed, because we are close to that deadline, 33 hours to go before the U.S. runs short of its money to pay its bills. And right now the only deal on the table is being called a nonstarter.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. President, the House Republican leadership's plan that is now out and people have taken a look at it, it's a plan to advance an extreme piece of legislation, and it's nothing more than a blatant attack on bipartisanship.

This bill that they're sending over here is doomed to failure. It's doomed to failure legislatively, and it's so awful, awful, awful for our country.


BALDWIN: That House Republican proposal even hitting some big snags among conservative Republicans. And you will never guess what the big sticking point is here for both sides, the O-word, Obamacare. Some House conservatives say this bill doesn't go far enough in making changes to Obamacare provisions.

The White House today saying that those demands amount to ransom, while still saying they're open to some sort of negotiation.

To Capitol Hill, we go to our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. A lot of moving parts, 15 minutes away from this meeting between the president of the United States, House Democratic leadership.

Set the scene for me right now where you are on the Hill.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're in a holding pattern. We're waiting to hear from the House speaker's office, from Republican leadership in the House as to what they plan to do.

With me here, I have a member of the House Republican Conference, Congressman Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania.

Congressman, if you could just give us an update now. The Senate is now waiting on you all to move something. What are you hearing about what will move and whether or not there will be changes to what was presented to you this morning in the meeting?


There are three plans on the table right now, the plan that the speaker laid out this morning to the House Conference. It doesn't appear that there are the votes there to pass that. There's the Reid- McConnell plan. And there's the Collins-Manchin plan.

So, I suspect at this point the House must regroup and determine what bill we will send over to the Senate, if any. And the Senate, as you stated, is waiting on the House. But it's not clear at this point what the House will send and when it will send it.

BASH: So just to go back to sort of what you said, and we have been reporting this since this morning, that the speaker presented a plan to you and your fellow Republicans in a private meeting this morning. There was pushback. Tell us -- take us inside that meeting. How is it that we're two days before default and the House speaker is presenting a plan to his fellow Republicans and they can't even get behind this?

DENT: Well, I would say some of the more very conservative members had some problems with it. I like to look at it as the glass half- full right now. What the House and Senate have agreed to, we have agreed to the dates. We have agreed to the date on funding the government through January 15 and we have agreed on raising the debt ceiling to February 7. That's really the basis of the agreement.

BASH: That's right. But you can agree on anything, but if you don't pass it into law, it's not relevant.

DENT: Well, there was another issue too that I will say Vitter-lite, the Vitter language, minus the congressional staff. And they put the medical device tax in, which is important to me, a two-year delay.

Like I said, I think that the sides are far closer than we realize right now. It's just a matter of just really putting together the final agreement.

BASH: You think the sides are closer. You have been somebody who's been outspoken for a couple of weeks, that, if it were up to you, you would have put a clean bill on the floor to fund the government, to reopen the government.


DENT: ... put that on the floor on September 30.

BASH: Right. Right. So tell me how you feel now two days before a potential default. And, I mean, I have talked to people. I don't know if you feel this way. And if you feel this way, tell me -- that it is entirely possible we're going to blow through that date and the markets could react very negatively.

DENT: I sure hope not, because, as I said repeatedly, it's unacceptable to default on this country's obligations. And this government shutdown is horrendous. I think, at the end of the day, if we can't come to an agreement, then there could be a clean agreement. Just we agree on the dates, January 7 and February -- January 15 and February 7.

And I could vote for that. I could easily vote for that. Of course, I could. I could do that, you know, immediately. But, again, there are other provisions being attached to this bill in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Reid had said that they didn't want to do anything with respect to the health care law in this agreement. Well, now they have apparently agreed to this so-called re-insurance tax.

BASH: Tell me about the House speaker. He's been such a key person and personality and leader, for better or worse, probably as far as he's concerned, going throughout this.

What is he like behind closed doors? And do you feel that he has the support of the conference, because he's sort of, you know, listened to the people who you didn't want to listen to, some of the conservatives in your conference? And where is he right now with regard to the state of his leadership?

DENT: Well, look, the speaker is -- he understands that we have an affirmative obligation to govern. He knows that we cannot go into default. He knows that we must reopen the government. And I know he's working hard to get to an agreement. Clearly, there will be some members in the House Republican Conference who will not be happy with whatever he presents that the Senate can accept.

Some members of the conference are just simply not going to be happy with anything.

BASH: Is he in trouble?

DENT: I don't believe he's in trouble. I don't. I don't, because I believe most members understand that he's in a tough spot, we have divided government and that, you know, we have to deliver votes to pass an agreement that the Senate can accept and the president will sign.

And I think most members of the House Republican Conference, I would say close to 200 of them, understand that in this type of divided government, we have to make some accommodations. It doesn't mean we like everything, but we have to respect it.

BASH: Thank you.

Just before I toss it back to Brooke, do you think there will be a vote in the House tonight?

DENT: I don't want to make a prediction. I would hope there would be on something that's reasonable. But I'm not prepared to tell you yes to that yet.

BASH: That's an unfortunate thing to hear. Thank you very much -- Brooke, back to you.

BALDWIN: Dana Bash and Congressman Charlie Dent, thank you both very, very much.

I'm going to talk about the plans and the proposals and the deadline now bearing down on all of us with two Washington veterans. Steve LaTourette served nine terms as a Republican congressman from Ohio and he is now the president of the Republican Main Street Partnership. And in Washington, Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.

Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.

Congressman LaTourette, I want to begin with you because I remember our interview. We last chatted in January. It was day one of your retirement. We talked about the new Congress. I very distinctly remember a word you called your former colleagues, chuckle-heads. And 10 months later, sir, has much changed?

STEVEN LATOURETTE (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: No, other than there's more chuckle-heads on the horizon and more chuckle-headedness going on.

This is the fiscal cliff redo. This is exactly what happened to John Boehner when we had the fiscal cliff at the end of last year. People make demands, and you're entitled to make all the demands you want, but at the end of the day, if you won't give him 218 votes, you have just surrendered the majority and turned him into someone who's powerless.

BALDWIN: Chris, speaking of demands, there's this conventional wisdom out there. We even heard John McCain saying it, that the Democrats have the Republicans cornered. But if you read, there's this contrarian notion that's been percolating that every time we go through or Congress goes through one of these crises, these fights, that the president has to concede on the big kahuna, if you will, spending levels. Does that make you nervous?

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I mean, it doesn't make me nervous. I think it's the unfortunate reality. When I hear people talk about this deal and somehow the Republicans are caving, the Republicans are surrendering, I need to remind everyone that the spending level that is being agreed to that at least would extend through January and February, depending on how you look at it, is basically what the Republicans wanted in terms of the C.R. level. We're talking about $980 billion, give or take. The Democrats wanted a little over bit $1 trillion, $1.05 trillion.

That's a significant difference from what the Democrats' preferred position would be. Part of this is the art of negotiating. But, unfortunately, I think, as you have seen, you can't negotiate with a party, I have said this so many times, that can't seemingly agree amongst itself what its position is.

And you're seeing that right now, where the House Republicans cannot even agree on what they're going to vote for, as you heard the congressman just mention.

BALDWIN: The fissures within the Republican Party has much been reported. But, coming up, Congressman -- I want both of you to stick with me. We have to get a quick break in.

But, Congressman, John Boehner is a good friend of yours. You both come from Ohio. I want to talk to me about some of the pressure he's facing right now. Be right back.


BALDWIN: Pretty day in Washington. Wanted to come up with some live pictures here of the White House and just tell you any minute now we know that House Democratic leaders will be meeting with the president of the United States to talk about, possibly, hopefully, some kind of deal, talk about some of these negotiations that have been going on back and forth on Capitol Hill.

We will also resume our conversation with our political pros here in just a moment.

But I want to take you back to Capitol Hill, back to our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who has a congressman standing by who is about to break a little news.

Dana, the floor is yours.

BASH: That's right. Hey, Brooke.

We have been waiting to figure out what the House is going to do, if the House Republican leadership is going to move a bill and what's in it.

And I have with me Congressman Devin Nunes, Republican, who you can tell us that there is news on that front now.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I feel pretty strongly that here just within an hour or two, we're going to see the bill that's going to be revealed at the Rules Committee. It'll be similar to bill that we talked about this morning in our Republican Conference and likely be voted on tonight.

BASH: And what is in that bill?

NUNES: Essentially, what it is, is a clean debt limit increase until, I believe, into the new year.

BASH: February 7?

NUNES: Yes, roughly, and I think a clean C.R. funding the government until probably December, and then with the medical device tax making sure that there is all members of Congress and staff and White House are on Obamacare, and then making sure that there's an income verification in Obamacare, so a couple small changes to Obamacare, but all changes that the Senate actually agrees with.

And I think this would be a strong bipartisan compromise with the Senate.

BASH: So, first and foremost, this means that you feel confident or you know that John Boehner feels confident that he now has 270 votes from your Republican Conference to pass this bill tonight.

NUNES: I don't know that we know that we have the votes or not. But I think it would be -- it would really show those who are Republicans and those across the country those that came here to actually govern and make law and actually do something with their voting card vs. just people who just want to vote no.

BASH: You have been very outspoken, calling the group of conservatives in your caucus who have been basically forcing the strategy from the beginning, starting with defunding Obamacare and linking that to the spending bill and so on, you have been calling them the lemming caucus. You have even said that their strategy is moronic, very critical of your fellow Republicans.

The fact that here we are two days before a potential default and they're still making noise about a bill that John Boehner clearly brought up to give them one more shot at making their stand, what does that tell you about that particular part of your caucus?

NUNES: Well, first off, your premise is wrong.

To be a conservative -- these are not conservatives that do this. To be a conservative, you have to know how to count. And we started off in this without counting the votes. Clearly, we didn't have the votes. And now we have been through this for two weeks. It's exactly -- it's playing out exactly as we knew it would. It was not going to get rid of Obamacare.

But there are times when we work closely using our majority, like we will try to do tonight. If we can use our majority tonight to give us leverage, then I think Harry Reid will have to take this or something that looks awfully -- an awful lot like it.

BASH: Let me just go back to what you said. Those are fighting words. I know you have been very critical of your fellow Republicans, but to say that they're not conservative?

NUNES: Well, it's not fighting, but conservatives know how to count. You have to be here to actually conserve something. When you go out and tell your constituents that we're going to just shut the government down until we get rid of Obamacare, it's just lunacy, plain and simple.

So this allows us tonight to get 218 Republicans to pass something that would then go over to the Senate that would make some small changes to Obamacare that need to be made.

BASH: You are somebody who, I think it is fair to say, is a pretty close confidant of John Boehner. How is -- take us inside his head or at least the walls of the leadership as he's been trying to navigate this for the past, what, three weeks or so.

NUNES: Well, look, he fully gave this Cruz strategy a chance. He fully implemented Ted Cruz's strategy. And, look, he didn't want this. This is not what he wanted, but he did everything he could to push it.

BASH: Was it a mistake?

NUNES: Look, I think it was a mistake, but what choice was he given when a majority of our conference wanted to implement it? I think now you're seeing a majority of our conference has figured out that this was probably not a wise move.

BASH: So, looking forward, do you think or do you know that John Boehner knows that since we are so close to that magic date of potential default in two days that he is going to have to do what he has refused to do for the past three weeks, which is put something on the House floor that is likely to get bipartisan support, Democratic votes, and maybe not all of your Republican Caucus?

NUNES: Well, that's what this is tonight. This vote tonight is something that has support of Senate Republicans and Democrats.

This is something that we need 218 votes to pass, because the Democrats are going to give us no votes, because, let's face it, the Democrats like having this shutdown. This is helping them politically. And we have to just wait and see if we can get the votes tonight. And then Harry Reid is going to have a tough decision to make, because then it really will be Harry Reid's default.

BASH: You don't think any Democrats will vote on this tonight? I mean, I know that's not probably a proper question to ask you since you're a member of the Republican Conference. But is the speaker devising this with the idea that maybe he will get some Democratic votes?

NUNES: Well, we know that in the Senate it will get Democratic votes. We know that there's strong bipartisan support for this. In the House, it's a much more political -- this is one of the things that some of my conservative friends haven't figured out yet, that without 218 votes in the House, you just don't have any leverage. So I don't suspect that Nancy Pelosi is going to give us very many votes, but there will be a few Democrats that will vote...


BASH: Now, before you go, I just want to clarify one thing that you said about the changes the speaker made to this Republican plan. It sounds like you're saying is that not only would people like you, members of Congress, the president, the Cabinet, not get federal subsidies for your health care, but also your staff. Is that what you're saying? You're expanding it to include congressional staff?

NUNES: As I understand it, yes. That's true, so all members and staff in the White House, all members of Congress and their staff.

BASH: You feel comfortable taking that money away from people who are making, you know, $18,000, $20,000 on your staff?

NUNES: Well, look, I don't think it's wise. But I think it's -- but it's an argument that we're going to have to have. Clearly the American people believe that everybody should be on to Obamacare. And I don't actually disagree with that.

The issue is, is what about the employer-supported plan you give to all federal employees and should our staff be treated differently? I get that. But the problem is, we're at the 11th hour. This is what it takes to get the votes. And so you have to go with it.

BASH: OK. Thank you very much. And thank you for bringing us that news.

Brooke, as you just heard, the congressman who has a very good sense of what's going on in the leadership telling us that the House is now prepared to move a bill similar to the plan that the leadership told the rank and file about this morning, but with some changes to try to appeal to the caucus that the congressman calls the lemming Congress. He even said that there's lunacy going on with them, effectively calling them lunatics.

But that also just really goes to show you how raw things are, even among and within the Republican Party.


BALDWIN: Fighting words, to quote you, Dana Bash. Dana, thank you.

BASH: Thank you.

BALDWIN: This is sort of one iteration of a proposal that, as we just heard, a little news broken, may be voted on tonight. But as we just heard from the congressman, thus far perhaps doesn't have the votes.

Steve LaTourette rejoining me, former congressman, Republican from Ohio, and Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis.

So, Congressman, let me just pick up on the point they were making specifically about the pressures, right, that Speaker Boehner is facing. He sort of let this Ted Cruz strategy play out, perhaps didn't work, and now rejiggering this proposal, if I may.

Just -- you know this man. What's he like? How frustrated might he be right now?

LATOURETTE: Well, you know, the great thing about John Boehner is he has a pretty steady personality.

But he's got to be pulling his hair out, because this has been going on for two-and-a-half years. And the pressure he faces in front of him is a very tough negotiator in the president of the United States, and Senator Reid, who I think is enjoying being back in a boxing ring with this particular fight he's always wanted.

And then behind the speaker, you have these, we will call them Cruz missiles, if not lemmings, and they continue to push a strategy that has no chance of working legislatively. To think that the president's going to have a V8 malt during this meeting with Nancy Pelosi and go, you're right, Obamacare stinks, let's just get rid of it, it's not reasonable.

And so I feel sorry for Congressman Nunes and Charlie Dent, Dana's last two guests, because they know what the right thing is. And so does John Boehner.

BALDWIN: It's interesting.

Chris, we did hear from a veteran of the Senate, Republican John McCain on the floor this morning criticizing the thought, you know, this idea that the Senate, that the House Democrats, that the White House rejects this Boehner proposal outright. This is what John McCain had to say.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And the majority leader and the Democrats in the House and the White House to say absolutely, categorically not, we will not consider what the Republicans in the House of Representatives are doing in my view is piling on. It's piling on and it's not right.


BALDWIN: He says it's piling on. He went on to say let's consider the Republican House proposal as a serious proposal as a way to end the gridlock and a way to get this thing done. He's come out and criticized his own party, Chris. Are you surprised by those comments today?

KOFINIS: No, I'm not surprised.

Here's I think the problem with Senator McCain's comments. I'm not sure what anyone expects, you know, Senate Democrats and the president to do here. Are they just supposed to agree to basically a proposal what's going to come out of the House that if it's lucky will have one or two Democratic votes and will -- and no Democrat will have been involved in the negotiations vs. what's coming out of the Senate, where clearly Mitch McConnell and Senator Reid have been sitting down trying to negotiate something that basically right now has a degree of bipartisan support?

So part of this is the gamesmanship of what's going on between two different chambers and the reality I think that Speaker Boehner is in a box that he's in a sense put himself in because he refuses to put this on the floor for an open vote. And that would be fine if the clock wasn't ticking.

BALDWIN: But it is ticking.

KOFINIS: At the end of the day, what we're talking about here is a four- to five-month extension and we're right back here again.

The smartest move, the smartest political move I would say for both sides is you buy the time to be able to negotiate without guns to your heads. And at this point, the realities of going over and defaulting, going over that deadline would be so bad for everyone, in particular for Republicans. I'm not sure it makes a lot of political sense what they're doing.

But I have not been able to understand what they're doing now for a little while.

BALDWIN: Chris Kofinis and Steve LaTourette, thank you both very much.

LATOURETTE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, a lot of talk here about this Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C., today. I will tell you, Tortilla Coast getting some free pub today, not because of the pitchers of margaritas. We're talking about a secret meeting among some House Republicans. It all went down right here in this basement of this Mexican restaurant. Listen, nothing stays secret in Washington for very long.

Coming up next, we're going to talk to the guy who broke the story. We're going to ask him who was there and what was said.


BALDWIN: We will get you back to our special coverage out of Washington in just a moment.

But, first here, BlackBerry tells its customers, we're not dead yet, the company publishing an open letter here in newspapers around the world stressing the smartphone-maker doesn't have debt and has a lot of cash on hand. Just last month, BlackBerry announced it will lay off 40 percent of its work force after losing $1 billion in the second quarter. All of that said, BlackBerry is for sale and has a buyout offer.

Apple, meantime, is recruiting another executive from, of all places, the fashion world. This time, the target is Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts. She's expected to take over strategy and operation of Apple's retail and online stores. Her hiring is raising some eyebrows, as many people suspect that Apple is working on some kind of iWatch, better accessory than an iPad. It is Apple's second high- fashion hire. Over the summer, the company hired a former executive from Yves Saint Laurent.

And a heart problem this summer for George W. Bush was far worse than previously known. Two sources tell CNN one of the former president's arteries was 95 percent blocked. A cardiologist says this would have put him at significant risk for a heart attack. Doctors placed a stent in the president's heart in August. The 67-year-old was famous for his excellent health during his years at the White House.

And here is yet another layer of gamesmanship to the drama playing out in Washington. A reliable Web site that covers Capitol Hill reports that Senator Ted Cruz of Texas convened a secret meeting last night. Senator Cruz reportedly summoned some 15 to 20 House Republicans to the basement of this Mexican restaurant on Capitol Hill for a meeting that lasted, ah, about two hours.

What was discussed isn't quite clear, but those reportedly in attendance included like-minded opponents of Obamacare who have been encouraged by Cruz to lead the unsuccessful effort in the House to derail the president's health care reform.

So, joining me now from Capitol Hill, the reporter who broke the story. He is Matt Fuller of "Roll Call."

Matt, nice work.

MATT FULLER, "ROLL CALL": Thanks. Thank you.

BALDWIN: I don't know if you happened to be there eating some chips and salsa yourself. Tell me, did you happen to be at Tortilla Coast? How did you get the scoop that Ted Cruz and company were there?

FULLER: I was not. A source told "Roll Call" and I sort of chased it down. But I can't say too much more than that.


In your piece that you published this morning, you wrote that it wasn't known what Cruz, et cetera, were meeting about. Have you heard since what was discussed in that restaurant basement?

FULLER: Yes, I have asked a number of members who were there. It seems they were discussing the next steps forward. No mention of a speakership revolt or anything, but certainly what the House can do and what the Senate is going to do, I think that members at that time were under the understanding and it seems that it's a good one now that the Senate plan will be the pathway forward.

And so they were discussing what the House would do, what members in the House, this 15 to 20 members, what they might be able to accomplish on the Senate bill when it comes to the House.