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Obamacare Website Glitches Persist; Obama Priority Is Immigration Reform; How Debt Crisis Impacts Obama Legacy; Hagel Comments on Military Spending Cuts; Normalcy Returns to Washington, D.C.; White House Press Briefing on Budget Negotiations

Aired October 17, 2013 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Any explanation who, early on, had a password in order to shop around for potential health insurance, why those passwords no longer are working? Is there an explanation that you received from the administration?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The five call center reps said it's because of the upgrade. They say the upgrade is the reason why. The administration official that I talked to just said, look, we're constantly trying to improve it and now it's not a problem. It might have been a problem before. But now it's not a problem. So people, who are creating accounts now, are not encountering the same difficulties.

BLITZER: Well into week three of the new website. How it's doing, based on everything you're seeing and hearing?

COHEN: You know, it does seem to be working better. I managed to create an account that worked. Other people have said the same thing. They are working on it 24/7. You expect it to be getting better.

The question is, give us numbers. You know, how many people have managed to log in, how many have managed to apply, look at sites and buy insurance? The federal -- the administration is not telling us. They won't give us numbers.

But we did get numbers from one state. So the state of Wisconsin told us that, in the first week of Obamacare, in the first week of using the site that you see right there, fewer than 50 people in the state of Wisconsin signed up. Now, the person we talked to said, look, some of that is it takes a while to buy policies. You're not going to do it quickly. It's not like buying a book on Amazon. It's a serious decision. But they said, yes, some of the problems with slowed things down. We might have had more if we didn't have the glitches.

BLITZER: You keep asking for Kathleen Sebelius to provide numbers. They'll do it, what, at the end of November? Is that what they're now saying?

COHEN: Yes. They're now telling us that they want a month's worth of data before they report anything. And so what they did tell me earlier this week, they said, look, we'll give you some metrics. We're not going to give you enrollment numbers but we'll give you some numbers that will give an idea how the site is performing. I was expecting numbers on Tuesday. I was told they'd be given out Tuesday. Today's Thursday. They still haven't been given out.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

There are some winners in the debt deal that Congress passed last night and the president signed into law. Among them, a surveillance oversight board. The Privacy and Civil Liberties board will receive $3.1 million. This is the group meant to guard Americans' right to privacy against overreach by government cyber intelligence. It became fully functional this year for the first time since 2007. It ramped up activities following revelations about the NSA spying program.

As far as politicians, the White House says there were no winners in the fiscal showdown. How did all of this impact the president, the presidency, his legacy? I'll pose that question to the historian, Doug Brinkley. He'll join us live when we come back.


BLITZER: The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, getting ready for his briefing. We'll go there live once he starts answering questions.

Furloughed employees in the federal government, they're heading back to work today. A government default has been averted. But how had this fiscal showdown affected the president, the presidency, the president's legacy, what about President Obama's second-term agenda now in the remaining three years?

In remarks a little while ago the president mentioned one of his top priorities, comprehensive immigration reform.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should finish the job of fixing our broken immigration system. There's already a broad coalition across America that's behind this effort of comprehensive immigration reform from business leaders to faith leaders to law enforcement.


BLITZER: Senator Marco Rubio says the latest stalemate will make it more difficult, more difficult to pass immigration reform.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R), FLORIDA: I think there are areas where a vast majority of Americans agree on the need to have a legal immigration system that works, the need to enforce existing immigration laws. There are other areas that are more difficult to find consensus on. Quite frankly, even more difficult now, given the lack of trust in government and the way that this White House and Democrats behaved over the last three weeks. We cannot ignore that that's going to be a factor moving forward on all of this. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bring in the presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, who is joining us now.

Doug, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: Let's talk about the president in his remaining three years or so in office. He came out today, he was very forceful, very tough. Some say he was lecturing the Republicans on the 16-day government shutdown. Is that a way to reach out and score legislative achievements?

BRINKLEY: No, but the president's exhausted. He's been feeling that the hard right is trying to hold the U.S. government hostage. I think this is a president who's going to have to build a second term domestically on Obamacare. You have 50 million uninsured Americans. You have 500,000 that were supposed to be part of the Obamacare system. Numbers are sluggish. This is his big accomplishment, Obamacare. It is huge. He has to make it become part of the fabric of American life the way Social Security was with FDR or Medicaid or Medicare with Lyndon Johnson. I would go on an all-out offensive if I were President Obama and make sure Obamacare is real, that it doesn't kind of fritter away or die on the vine or get wrapped into politics in the next two years. I think that's his main goal. Immigration reform's great but it's not clear he's going to be able to pull that off in this kind of hostile climate.

BLITZER: What about a budget deal? Long-term entitlement reform, Social Security, Medicare, tax reform, comprehensive tax reform, dealing with the national debt, dealing with the annual budget deficit, do you think that's realistic? They've tried it several times. It didn't work out the way they would have liked.

BRINKLEY: Not realistic at all when you're having a midterm election coming up. So we're talking about, what's the president going to do between now and next November. I think push Obamacare through, and then I think he has to make more of a mark in foreign affairs. He is fighting hard on the war on terror, getting us out of Afghanistan and Iraq. But what about China? I look at Richard Nixon's historic visit and I've been listening to the Nixon tapes and how much Nixon and Kissinger were obsessed with China. Right now, in this crisis, we just had we saw how much debt we owed China. Can the president go to Beijing and have Chinese leaders come to Washington and create a new economic dialogue with China? I think that would be large. Foreign affairs, he has an open reign. And he's going to find that a better way to garnish his reputation and legacy than trying to extract to much more out of the Congress.

BLITZER: You studied second-term presidents for your whole academic life, if you will. How important in a second term is that notion of a legacy for the president? You say health care reform, Obamacare is his major legacy. He must be so angry, so frustrated that the original -- the first three weeks, there have been so many glitches, serious problems with the Affordable Care Act website.

BRINKLEY: I think so. I think that's where the rub goes down, Wolf. This is his big accomplishment. Make no bones about it, and the Republican Party understands it, if Obamacare becomes the law of the land, they originally, the right, tried to tact to the health care act as being Obamacare. He decided to own Obamacare. Now he has to make it work. The glitches, some are understandable but it's not running as smoothly as it can be. I would be making all pistons go on the front. Fight for Obamacare. It has to disappointing. When he passed the Affordable Care Act, he though that would be the first of a legislative record. And there may be many more progressive programs. But Barack Obama's a fire-wall president. It's amazing he got the Affordable Care Act through by a hair and he's trying to defend the progressive achievements of FDR and John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton. And you saw that in this crisis, the steel backbone of Barack Obama. That's what history's seeing him as, as the fire- wall progressive.

BLITZER: By the way, we're showing viewers pictures of the president outside the West Wing of the White House. He's saying good-bye to the prime minister of Italy, visiting Washington and ready to go back to Italy. In a situation like this, Doug, you'll appreciate it, Doug. Italy, a year ago, two years ago, had so many economic issues facing that country, so worried, and now the prime minister of Italy comes here to the United States. And I can tell you, I had dinner with him last night. He was amazed. So many foreign leaders seeing the economic situation in the United States, worry about potential default, partial government shutdown. They never thought this kind of stuff happens in the United States. They think it happens in Europe and Asia. But for the United States, for this kind of stuff to happen, it's always, always so shocking to them.

But wrap this up with a little perspective on the global view of the U.S., specifically this president.

BRINKLEY: Well, he's beloved around the world to a degree. He won the Nobel Peace Prize. He's trying to be a peace president though he's the drone president, too. But he's extracting us from Iraq and Afghanistan and handled the Syria crisis, a weird roller-coaster ride, but we avoided war. He has global respect. It's time to cash for him to cash in on it now.

Again, China is terrified about what's going on, not just Italy. We need to try to assure the world. It is time for Barack Obama to be hugely optimistic, talk about "we aren't a third-ranked country," and that the American economy is strong. And really take to the campaign trail. Get out of the White House, travel around America and the world, being a cheerleader for the American economy.

BLITZER: Doug Brinkley, thanks for your perspective.

BRINKLEY: Thanks, Wolf, as always.

BLITZER: When we come back, we'll go to the White House. Jay Carney will have his White House briefing, take reporters' questions. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Once again, monitoring the White House right now. Once that briefing with Jay Carney begins, we'll go there.

Even though the government is up and running again, there are deep concerns at the Pentagon. That's because, if no deal gets done by January, forced spending cuts could have a bigger impact on active- duty U.S. military personnel as well as civilian workers.

Moments ago, we heard from the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel.


CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: People have to have some confidence that they have a job that they can rely on. I know there are no guarantees in life, but we can't continue to do this to our people, having them live under this cloud of uncertainty. Our allies are asking questions, can we rely on our partnership with America? Will America fulfill its commitments and its promises? These are huge issues for all of us and they do impact our national security.


BLITZER: Those forced budget cuts would cut the Pentagon's budget by $21 billion. I think it's about a $600 billion budget all around.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of federal workers are back on the job, after being furloughed for 16 days. Some worker at the Environmental Protection Agency got a personal greeting this morning from the Vice President Joe Biden.

While the partial shutdown means busy days with lot of backed-up work for federal employees, it also means vacationing Americans are getting much needed time-off at the country's national parks, monuments and museums.

CNN's Rene Marsh is joining us from the National Air and Space Museums, one of my favorites here in Washington.

Rene, big crowds today? What's go on?

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, the crowd's about what you would see on a typical Thursday. The doors at all of the Smithsonian Museums have been sealed shut for the past 16 days. Now, under four hours ago, they opened the doors for the first time. Take a look. This is what the crowd looks like inside of the air and space museum. We can tell you that the visitors themselves, they lined up at the doors, wanting to get in. A line formed before the doors officially opened.

Once the doors did open up, we had a chance to speak with a couple of visitors. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED TOURIST: It's good for us because we came from France to make a tour from Boston to Washington. And we have been in New York. But they were scared not to see the museum in Washington, so happily, it happens just in time.


MARSH: All right, Wolf, some 3500 workers at all of the Smithsonian Museums were furloughed, but you saw it, they're back to work. That's just a slice of the more than 400,000 federal workers who were furloughed.

We can also tell you, Wolf, many of those workers, they did go ahead and file for unemployment, but because Congress agreed to pay them back pay, most states will come back looking for repayment.

Beyond the federal workers, we also have the monuments which have reopened. We saw this morning the barricades being taken away from the World War II Memorial. So things slowly but surely getting back to normal in Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: Key words, "slowly but surely." Let's hope it's quickly because the tourism industry is so important to the nation's capital, to the entire economy here.

Thanks very much.

We'll take a quick break. We'll see if the briefing with Jay Carney over at the White House starts when we come back.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Jay Carney now talking about the budget negotiations launched this morning between House and Senate conferees.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We certainly hope, as the president made clear earlier, that it is a success. Obviously, this is tough business. It always has been. But there is an opportunity here to find common ground. And the president sincerely hopes that members of both parties seize that opportunity.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The president at the beginning of the year in his State of the Union address laid out a progressive -- aggressive and progressive agenda for things he wanted to see this year, from gun control to expanded pre-K, and urging Congress to act on climate change. Today, we heard him outline his goals for the rest of the year as basically being able to get a farm bill, get a budget. Has the president had to scale back some of his expectations or lower his sights for what can be accomplished this year?

CARNEY: I appreciate the question. Let me say two things in response. First, I think no one in Washington could possibly suggest that getting a bipartisan budget deal, getting comprehensive immigration reform passed on a bipartisan basis and getting a farm bill passed on a bipartisan basis would be small or inconsequential in terms of the achievement. The president laid those out because he made clear those are things that Congress can do, working together in a bipartisan fashion this year, in what remains of this year. Because there are budgets passed by the Senate and the House and there is a bipartisan comprehensive bill passed in the Senate and waiting for action in the House. And there was a bipartisan comprehensive farm bill passed by the Senate that the House could act on as opposed to pursuing the purely partisan effort that they worked on in the past.

But that's not the limit of what this administration will be working on or what can be achieved in the months and years ahead. Other issues that are obviously a focus for the president are his belief that a program that insures that there is pre-K available to all in this country would be enormously beneficial to our nation. He believes we can continue to take action on energy and climate issues, and he will do that. He's committed to pursuing common-sense measures to reduce gun violence, as has been demonstrated throughout the year. And of course, college affordability is a subject that he has highlighted and believes we can, the administration, and also Congress, can act on. He identified those three objectives because those are three that already have some momentum in Congress. They require congressional action, and he was urging members of both parties to act on them before the end of the year.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Even the items you held up as being really big accomplishments, if we can get them done, have already -- are going to be real uphill battles and have already shown where there's a lot of disagreement in Congress to be able to get that through. Are you operating under the assumption that following the resolution of the crisis in the past number of weeks that the dynamic is changed or the atmosphere is better for making progress on those issues?

CARNEY: We hope it is. We have to hope for the best and assume the best here because what we saw was that a lot of time and effort was spent because of a sort of an ideological pursuit that led to the shutdown of government and the threat of default. And it achieved nothing except for the harmful consequences to our economy that the president outlined. So rather than continue down that path, there's an opportunity for Congress, including those lawmakers both Democratic and Republican, who helped forge the solution to the shutdown and the threat of default. In a way, that moves the ball forward on all of these issues. There's no question they're all difficult, given the current environment. And some of these, especially the comprehensive immigration reform bill and a budget bill, these are big items and they require bipartisan support. But we've seen that already in the Senate when it comes to immigration reform. We've seen it at least in conversations that the president has had with Republicans on budget issues.

When it comes to immigration reform, which is a big item, to be sure, we're confident that if that bill that passed the Senate were put on the floor of the House today, it would win a majority of the House. And I think that it would win significant Republican votes because I think there are many Republicans who agree that comprehensive immigration reform would help our economy. It would make our middle class more secure. It would make us more competitive around the globe when it comes to entrepreneurship and harnessing the talents of immigrants who come here and study and should be able to stay here to start businesses if we properly reform our immigration business and who are interested in the enhanced border security provisions of the Senate bill.

So there's an enormous opportunity on big issues and the president is not at all convinced by the skeptics who say that we can't get things done. He refuses to believe that. And --

BLITZER: So you got Jay Carney saying the president is ready to work, trying to achieve some specific goals this year. And then move on. We'll continue to monitor what's going on over at the White House briefing.

I'll be back, 5:00 p.m. eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

NEWSROOM continues right now with Brooke Baldwin.