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U.S. Federal Government Partial Shutdown Continues; Debt Ceiling Deadline Approaches; Senate Finalizes Deal; Possible Deal Reached; White House Briefing

Aired October 16, 2013 - 12:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of folks say, Gloria, that the women in the -- there already 20 women in the United States Senate that they really did take charge and come up with this deal.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I think, led by Susan Collins and Amy Klobuchar and some others, they said look, we just can't let this occur.

Susan Collins, for example, is a Republican up for re-election in the state of Maine. She had ads run against her by Heritage Action with Ted Cruz in them, and was one of the people the most frustrated by that, saying to her colleagues privately in a caucus, if I don't get re-elected in the state of Maine, which Republican is going to get re- elected there or elected there? So there was a lot of frustration that kind of boiled out, Wolf.

What struck me about Ted Cruz is that what he was talking about is Obamacare. This is important to him. It's important to those Republicans who came here. They got elected to repeal Obamacare.

But other Republicans have said to me all along, and John McCain was one of them, which is that they were promising to do something that they knew they could never do, and that it was unfair.

They were making a promise that they were going to repeal Obamacare to the American people that they knew they could not keep because of the way the Congress is divided.

So ultimately, in the end, I think Ted Cruz is going to take his fight -- continue his fight nationally, and he'll see who follows him in the Republican Party.

But this is a party right now, Wolf, make no mistake about it, that is completely split and even "The Wall Street Journal" today which very often speaks for the Republican Party called this a "comedy of political errors."

BLITZER: A very tough editorial by the writers of "The Wall Street Journal."

Let's go back to Dana Bash, chief congressional correspondent. Dana, walk us through where we go from here.

We heard the statements from Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid. They're on the same page right now. So what happens next?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't have a firm answer yet. There are mixed reports from the senators themselves coming out of the meeting that they just had with Mitch McConnell, Republican senators that is, about who will go first, whether the Senate will vote on this first or the House.

It certainly seems to me that it is possible for the Senate to go first. Here's the reason why. The news, if you will, out of what Senator Ted Cruz just said to us at the cameras is he's not going to block the vote, that we understand from other sources he told his colleagues in this meeting that just wrapped up he has no intention of slowing things down.

So if that is the case, then there's no need for the House to go first because the Senate can get an agreement to vote on then deal.

So it is entirely possible, I would venture to say probably now is going to be what's going to happen because all of the match (INAUDIBLE) therapy trying to go through was all trying to work around Ted Cruz who they expected to slow things down.

He announced he's not going to slow things down. That's why we expect things to happen today in the Senate and the House. This whole thing could be wrapped up by the end of the day and could be voted on, sent off to Capitol Hill to the president's desk by tonight.

BLITZER: Yes, that would be pretty amazing when you think about it. Are we sure that other opponents of Obamacare, Senator Rand Paul, for example, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, are they on the same page as Ted Cruz?

Can we assume if Ted Cruz says he's not going to put any procedural blockades in front of this, they won't either?

BASH: Yes, I'm pretty confident that that is the case. In fact, senator who came out of the meeting told me that will both Mike Lee and Ted Cruz told their colleagues that they are not going to hold this up. They would certainly be the most likely suspects to do that.

Rand Paul has not been as aggressive on the strategy at all. In fact, I think he's been pretty torn whether the strategy was the right way to go in the first place.

He's not going to stop this train at this point certainly now that Republicans have gotten so much blames and are so divided over what has become really a mess within the Republican Party.

BLITZER: All right, so if it goes to the Senate first, it will pass the Senate. Then it will be up to the speaker of the House, John Boehner, to go ahead and let it come up for a vote without any changes, without any amendments, no -- just "as-is."

It presumably would then pass the House. The president would then get ready to sign it. Government would reopen fully. The nation's debt ceiling would be raised until February 7th. All right, let's see what happens, still a ways to go, but we'll watch every single step of the way. We'll get reaction from the House of Representatives.

We'll get reaction from the White House, Jay Carney scheduled to brief reporters, supposed to start five minutes ago, but that's going to be delayed as we all know.

Our special coverage here in Washington continues right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

A historic day here in Washington, a deal at least among the Senate Republicans and Democrats to go forward to end the government shutdown, raise the nation's debt ceiling, tinker a little bit with Obamacare, but not very significant tinkering, and also promise that House and Senate budget committee representatives, chairmen will go forward and start dealing with some of the long-term budget-related issues.

Lots to assess, the Senate's going to vote on this, and Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, only moments ago said he's not going to stand in the way of a vote on the floor of the Senate.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I have no objections to the timing of this vote. The reason is simple. There's nothing to be gained from delaying this vote one day or two days. The outcome will be the same.

Every senator, every member of the House is going to have to make a decision where he or she stands, but there's no benefit. I've never had any intention of delaying the timing of this vote.


BLITZER: All right, so there he is, Ted Cruz, saying that he's not going to do any filibusters, any other procedural delays. He's going to allow this vote to come up on the floor of the Senate.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski who's joining us, the Democratic senator from Maryland.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us. I assume you're pretty pleased with this deal.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: Well, first of all, Wolf, here at the capitol, there's a real sense of relief that we're actually going to reopen government, and we'll actually have the United States of America pay its bills, and that we're going to get back to work solving the long-term fiscal issues of our country and also promoting a pro-growth, pro-jobs approach to our fiscal situation.

I chair the budget -- I chair the appropriations committee and look forward to working across the aisle and meeting their deadlines and really joining the "middle-of-the-roaders" here in the Senate to get -- help our middle class Americans.

BLITZER: So, as far as you can see here, it's going to be January 15th. That's when the government will remain fully open. Potentially, there could be another shutdown January 15th. The debt ceiling will be raised until February 7th.

Are we going to go through this agonizing ordeal in January and February one more time, Senator?

MIKULSKI: Well, it's going to be a very tight schedule, but if the budget committee is allowed to vote when they're -- and allowed to meet because they've been blocked by six tea party Republicans. Now we have an agreement to move forward. We can be able to do the job.

But this is why I used the term the middle. America is a middle-of- the-road country, and it wants its elected officials to be middle-of- the-road, to find and think about the middle class, ordinary people who are out there working hard from day for their money, and they want us to work very hard when government spends its money.

And I think what you saw, really led by a lot of the energy created by the women -- I'm so proud of what Senator Sue Collins and Amy Klobuchar did.

Patty Murray's the budget. I'm the appropriations committee that puts money in the federal checkbook. We want to be able to go right down the middle, find what Colin Powell says, that "sensible center," and meet our problems, but do it in a way with sensibility, with civility and working together, and I believe that's the majority of the Senate.

BLITZER: Senator, walk us through what happens next.

I assume, now that Ted Cruz and some other Republicans say they're not going to use any blocking mechanisms to try to prevent a vote on the floor of the Senate, it's going to come up for a formal vote on the floor of the Senate within the next few hours.

Is that right?

MIKULSKI: Yeah, and this is the way our government should be. I really appreciate Senator Cruz and his cadre of followers that they won't use parliamentary tools or tricks to block the ordinary procedures of the Senate.

So somewhere over both today and tomorrow, the House and Senate will vote. The president --

BLITZER: Who will vote first, the House or the Senate?

MIKULSKI: Well, they're working out what is the best parliamentary framework to have the most expedited procedure, so while the parliamentary gurus are working on that, many of us are working on getting ready not to the fuss about parliamentary procedure, but how to really focus on the long-term problems.

We're already discussing among ourselves how we can begin our meetings necessary to get the job done, but once the Senate and the House vote and this passes, it will go to the president.

The president will sign the legislation that reopens government. Government goes back to work providing essential services and protecting the American people.

And then we also say to the world, we're going to pay our bills. Don't worry about the safety and solvency of America's T-bills. We're not going to be a deadbeat nation. We're not going to go to junk bond status.

And I say that we can now move forward, and I believe that again, if we focus with mutual respect, do what the middle road Americans want us to do, we can get the job done.

BLITZER: So, assuming everybody's on board now in the Senate, why not have a roll call vote right away, get it over with, pass it in the next couple or three hours?

You know, have a little bit of debate as you obviously -- I'm a little confused. You could do that. The Senate majority leader, minority leader, they're are both on board. Pass it in the Senate and send it over to the speaker. Let him pass it. Let him put it up for a vote in the House.

MIKULSKI: Wolf, I admire you so much, and you've been doing such a great job talking to the American people, but you're focusing on parliamentary procedure and who goes first.

We want to make sure that the American people aren't going last. Regardless of what body of the House goes first, both of us will vote. What we need to do is look at the most expedited efficient procedure. That's what the leadership is talking about.

But the real conversation that has to go on here is the kind of conversation that goes on at American kitchen tables. How much money are we going to have? How are we going to pay our bills? What should we be spending our money on? The same questions American families ask of themselves, we need to ask of ourselves. And this is where we need to focus our conversation now.

BLITZER: And I know you're working as quickly as you possibly can. The pressures are enormous. The Treasury secretary, Jack Lew, says at midnight tonight, they're going to stop being able to make some of those payments, although I suspect he's got a little maneuverability left.

But every day that people are furloughed, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are furloughed, they're not getting paid, so the pressure is to do it today. If you could get it done today, great. If you've got to wait till tomorrow, that's still OK. But, obviously, every day counts when so many people out there are suffering. And I know you totally - MIKULSKI: I know you get it -

BLITZER: I know you totally agree with me.

MIKULSKI: Absolutely. I represent one of the largest concentrations of federal employees in the state. And they're great people that are looking out for America. They work at the National Institutes of Health finding cures for diseases. They work at the National Weather Service, so we know what the weather is. And we've got to deal with the stormy weather here in Washington so that the federal employees can go back to work at Social Security, at the Weather Service, at NIH and other crucial agencies doing the job that they're going to be paid to do, performing essential services and we've got to do the essential work of coming to grips with our fiscal situation, how much money do we have to spend, what is the best way to spend it to move America forward and draw down our public debt.

BLITZER: Barbara Mikulski is the Democratic senator, one of two Democratic senators from the state of Maryland. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

MIKULSKI: You're welcome.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to continue our special coverage. Important developments on the floor of the United States Senate, but the House of Representatives, there - there equal - an equal branch in the legislative branch. They've got to act, as well. We're anxious to hear from the speaker of the House, John Boehner. Get White House reaction. What happens next? Stand by.


BLITZER: Important activity on the floor of the United States Senate. We're going to get White House reaction as soon as Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, goes into the White House Briefing Room. It was scheduled to begin about 20 minutes or so ago, but I anticipate he wants to wait a little bit, see what the House of Representatives is going to do. We know what the Senate is going to do because the House and - the Senate Republican and Democratic leaders, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, they are both on board now. They've worked out a deal to end the government shutdown and make sure that the nation's debt ceiling is increased, at least for a few months down the road. We'll get reaction from the house; we'll get reaction from the White House, as well. So stand by for that.

In the meantime, let's get some reaction from Van Jones and Newt Gingrich, the two the co-hosts of "Crossfire," who are here with us, as well.

If you were still in the United States Congress, would you support this deal that Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid announced?


BLITZER: You know what the outlines are.

GINGRICH: (INAUDIBLE). Yes, here's the -- this is about as bad a way to govern as you can get.


GINGRICH: Nobody has any idea what's in the deal. The legislative language hasn't been written. The whole thing was done in secret. The American people are totally cut out. And I just think the whole - you know, I'm not defending what --

BLITZER: You want to see the fine print? You want to see the language?

GINGRICH: Well, yes, because the fine print's called law.

BLITZER: Basically what we do know is that the government stays open at least till January 15th. The debt ceiling is raised at least through February 7th. House and Senate Budget Committee members, they try to work out some long-term budget-related issues by December 13th. And there's an income verification clause to Obamacare that's put in to make it difficult for people to commit fraud about their incomes. Those are the basic outlines of the deal. You like it?

VAN JONES, HOST, CNN'S "CROSSFIRE": I like what I know - what I know about it. This is a big deal. This wasn't just Obama on trial. This wasn't just the Tea Party on trial. This was the governability of the United States on trial. We went right up against the line. And you had people around the world actually asking the question whether or not our system could work.

The heroes are not even being talked about. Amy Klobuchar - we're still talking about Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz went down to a humiliating defeat today as he deserved. Amy Klobuchar, a female Democratic senator who wasn't jumping in front of cameras, who was working her tush off behind the scenes, she should be talked about. The winners today are the people who actually were the adults in the room, who were behind the scenes, who tried to make sure that America does not become a deadbeat country. The governability of our system was on trial and we passed the test today. And that's the most important thing.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

GINGRICH: No. Look, I think this is a very sad day for this country.

BLITZER: Sad day?

GINGRICH: Sad day.

BLITZER: But let me just push through this. it's a sad day because?

GINGRICH: It's a sad day, first of all, because the president adopted a strategy of vilifying his opponents and refusing to negotiate and it worked. He got what he wanted, on his terms, in a way that teaches us what he's going to do next, which is vilify his opponents and refuse to negotiate. It's a sad day because -- does any rational person really believe that this new super committee meeting until December 13th is going to accomplish what nobody has accomplished in the last three years? I mean, once again, we kick the can down the road. We don't fix Obamacare, which is becoming a fiasco around the country. We don't fix any of our major entitlements. We don't do anything about our debt. We don't do anything about transparency in public. We have two old-time leaders get together at the last minute, cut a secret deal and all of us breathe a sigh of relief and say, oh, this is terrific. The ox is out of the ditch, but it's still an ox.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Van.

JONES: You know, I appreciate your passion. I see it differently. The way I look at it, this president did the right thing. The president said, listen, I cannot negotiate with a party that has been hijacked by its far right wing. I don't know who to negotiate with. This is not the right way to do business.

If you had a neighborhood association and somebody had legitimate concerns, but the first thing they said was, I want my concerns met or I'm going to burn down the whole neighborhood, you can't even deal with their concerns until you deal with the behavior.

This president stood up to the bullying. He said, enough is enough. And I think - and I'm proud - I'll tell you what, I am proud of this president today, I am proud of Harry Reid today, I'm produced of McConnell today. I'm proud of Amy Klobuchar. I think Ted Cruz should be ashamed of himself. There's a much better way to get the legitimate concerns of the American people met than this sort of stunt. And I'm glad it did not work.

Here's the deal, nobody wins today but Ted Cruz loses today. And that's very, very important going forward.

GINGRICH: This shows you the gap in this country. Every consecutive I know thinks the bully is Barack Obama. He thinks the bully is Ted Cruz. I just want to suggest to you, it is not healthy as a country to have this big a divide.

JONES: Fair enough.

GINGRICH: And I predict this president will spend the next two months further vilify Republicans and widening the gap even more.

JONES: I want to ask a question.

BLITZER: Did you read the editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today? The lead editorial.

GINGRICH: No, I haven't seen it yet.

BLITZER: Well, it -- it criticized those Republicans who thought it was a good idea to use Obamacare as leverage to try to deal with the government shutdown, with the debt ceiling. Among other things, the conservatives thus undermined whatever small leverage the House GOP had left. Without a united majority of 218 votes, the Republicans might as well hand the speaker's gavel to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

All right, Jay Carney is about to speak over at the White House. Get reaction. Let's listen in.