Return to Transcripts main page


Obama: "There Are No Winner Here"; Put More Money Into Politics?; Will Heads Roll Over Obamacare Glitches?

Aired October 17, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A last minute spending bill got the government running again, but do you know what else was in that bill? We're taking a close look.

And after the troubled Obamacare rollout, should someone's head roll? Republicans are now targeting a top cabinet official.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

A big sigh of relief or exhaustion here in the nation's capital as the debt crisis is averted and federal employees go back to work. But President Obama says Washington cannot go back to business as usual. Hours after signing the last minute legislation that temporarily ended the shutdown, the president said the standoff left no winners, damaged the economy, and left the American people in his words "fed up."

President Obama is calling on Congress to work together to make government better instead of quote, "purposely making it work worse." But with the next crisis looming just a couple months away, has the well been poisoned on Capitol Hill? Let's begin our coverage with our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who's here in the SITUATION ROOM. What a day it's been on this day after the government comes back.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's true. A lot of wound licking, a lot of second guessing and a lot of regrets, especially and entirely from Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, who actually told a couple of newspapers, "The Hill," included, that there will not be another government shutdown.

He said something along the lines of, in Kentucky, there's a saying, there's no education in the second kick of a mule. So, they're kind of make sure that this doesn't happen again. You mentioned kicking the can down the road. This is not just a hypothetical. It's a real conversation to have, because it's just a few, but three months away that this deadline is going to come up once again.

Probably has is that a lot of Republicans at least in the conservative base don't necessarily agree. Ted Cruz has no regrets. He's not saying there's not going to be another government shutdown. The only thing that we do know is that when it comes to the House, there does seem to be -- seems to be very educational for a lot of House Republicans who wanted to go down this route, this Ted Cruz strategy.

One interesting tidbit which I sort of thought about today, more than 50 percent of the House caucus has only been here for two and a half years or less. So, they're all really new. They don't know how to legislate which is really an art. They didn't trust John Boehner, their speaker, when he said this is not the way to go, and he said fine, let's do it. Now, many Republicans in the House tell me that they're going to trust him more now.

BLITZER: Presumably, they're not going to trust his leadership colleagues, whether Eric Cantor who voted in favor of that deal or Kevin McCarthy, or the others, the top leaders who all surround John Boehner. In the lessons learned department, I want you to listen to a little clip we put together from Capitol Hill.


REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) BUDGET CHAIRMAN: We're going back to regular order. This is the budget process. The House passed a budget, the Senate passed a budget, we come together to try and reconcile the differences. That's the way we're supposed to do things.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY, (D) BUDGET CHAIRWOMAN: Our job over the next eight weeks is to find out what we can agree on, and we have agreed that we are going to look at everything in front of us. It's been a big challenge, but we believe we can find comfort (ph).


BLITZER: Patty Murray, Senator Patty Murray, Congressman Paul Ryan, they're going to be co-chairing this The House/Senate Budget Committee Conference, if you will, to hopefully come up with some sort of package deal and agreement by mid-December.

BASH: Just that image alone should be really standard, having the budget chairman from both parties or from both chambers getting together but it's not. There hasn't been a real budget conference in four years which is kind of stunning given the fact that that is Congress' basic job, right to fund the government.

But this is something that was part of the deal to reopen the government, to make sure that these real negotiations go on, and they're actually going to meet, the full conference or all of the negotiators, Senate and House, Republican and Democrat, are going to meet, 29 members, by the way, for the first time probably in a week.

That's progress. It seems kind of stunning that it should be progress, but it is in this climate.

BLITZER: At least they're talking a little bit. We'll see if they get a budget deal. A lot of people are skeptical that they will get a -- Paul Ryan did not vote in favor of the last minute agreement that was passed by the House of Representatives. He was a member, if you remember, of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, but he rejected its final conclusions even then. So, let's see if he and Patty Murray and their colleagues can put together a deal. It would be nice if they did. A lot of people, as I said, are skeptical. Thanks, Dana Bash.

Let's go to the White House right now where President Obama is taking a tough and somber tone calling for a new way of doing things here in Washington.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists and the bloggers and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict and focus on what the majority of Americans sent us here to do.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. Brianna, the president said Americans are fed up. He's clearly angry. He's frustrated. But here's the question, do we expect real change? Do we expect anything to change in the next few weeks or months?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are a lot of doubts that they will, but despite those doubts, President Obama outlined a three part agenda, immigration reform which has stalled, a farm bill as well as a budget agreement, deciding how to fund the government as Democrats and Republicans try to rein in some spending.

He says that he wants bipartisan solutions but what does his tone today say about his chances of getting that? I asked White House press secretary, Jay Carney.


KEILAR: He really is serious about moving forward in a bipartisan way on some of these initiatives. Why did he chide them for following bloggers and radio talk show hosts?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The shutdown that we went through had real consequences, real costs, as did the threat of default that was precipitated by the strategy pursued by some on Capitol Hill. You can't ignore that.


KEILAR: And today, President Obama made clear, Wolf, that his hardball strategy is here today, unlike in 2011, he did not negotiate with House Republicans. He instead sidelined them and he did fare better in the polls because of it.

BLITZER: Brianna, the critics are saying, some are suggesting that the president, unless he's very, very deliberate and careful right now, he's got three years plus left in office, he could wind up a lame duck, if you will, unless certain things fall into place for him. What are you hearing right now on that issue, the criticism of the president from obviously his opponents?

KEILAR: Well, Wolf, his aides concede that this whole mess really got in the way of him pushing his agenda, but they also think that what you're going to see and this is following the midterm elections next year, that you will start to see Republicans moderate a little ahead of the 2016 presidential election and there will be some room there for him to keep pushing some of these agenda items.

But I think what the president made clear, Wolf, is that even though he's got very much an uphill battle, when you have a lot of Republicans certainly trying to protect their right flanks, worried about being primaried, he's basically going to drag them kicking and screaming as he tries to promote his agenda here in the near term.

BLITZER: We'll see what he can do. There's an opportunity now, to be sure. Let's see if everyone takes a step back and takes advantage of that opportunity. Brianna, thank you.

So, while the president is calling for a change in behavior and tone here in Washington, listen to this from CNN's Fareed Zakaria writing in today's "Washington Post." He takes direct aim at what he calls the extreme rhetoric of the right.

I'm quoting. "Over the past six decades, conservatism's language of decay, despair and decline have created a powerful group of Americans who believe fervently in this dark narrative and are determined to stop the country from plunging into imminent oblivion."

"At some point, will they come to recognize that you cannot love America in theory and hate it in fact." Fareed is joining us now from New York. He's the host of "Fareed Zakaria GPS" here on CNN. You also want conservatives to lighten up, Fareed. Explain what's going on here.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": Well, I think there are two things going on, Wolf, as you were discussing earlier. One is the kind of institutional collapse of authority in the Republican Party so that as you know, on immigration, the leadership of the party wanted to make a deal. Most senators, most of the leaders in the House, but they can't because there's no structure.

This is not Newt Gingrich's Republican Party anymore. The second piece is that there is this extreme wing within the party, the Tea Party, that really believes that America is going to hell in a hand basket and tomorrow. You know, as Ted Cruz said at that value summit, we've got two years to stop this country from plunging into oblivion. Well, if you use rhetoric like that, if you work people up like that, it's very tough to see how you could compromise.

You're telling them that what they're doing now by refusing to raise the debt ceiling is noble and heroic and is saving the republic from imminent oblivion, how do you dial that back? You know, that second piece is really worrying because most of the Tea Party come out of this feeling, you know, we just -- this just means we have to fight harder the next time around. BLITZER: You know, I remember after the government shutdown in early 1996, when Bill Clinton was president, the House speaker was Newt Gingrich, and they had a bitter fight, the shutdown lasted for more than 20 days. I was CNN's White House correspondent then, but you know what happened after that, cooler heads prevailed.

Obviously, Bill Clinton got re-elected and then they worked together, Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton. Welfare reform was passed. All of a sudden, four years of budget surpluses, all of a sudden came into being. There was great cooperation on many levels. Do you anticipate that is possible, even possible, between this president and the Republican leadership in Congress?

ZAKARIA: I think it's going to be very difficult, because two things have happened. One is this fact that the leader doesn't have -- you know, Gingrich was a very powerful speaker. He could deliver the whole party. You saw what happened in this vote that took place. I mean, as you pointed out, Paul Ryan didn't vote for this deal that Boehner brought.

But the second piece is the Tea Party is new. The polls that just came out yesterday show something stunning, about 55 percent of Republicans say they don't consider the Tea Party to be part of the Republican Party. That's probably half Republican moderates and half Tea Party members who also agree that they're not really part of the Republican Party.

So, you have this strange internal dynamic within the Republican Party that probably has to sort itself out before it can really become what we're looking for is a party that thinks of itself as a governing party, that judges itself by the results it delivers, not the level of obstructionism it can produce.

BLITZER: Fareed Zakaria, thanks very much. Fareed has a special guest, by the way, Sunday on "Fareed ZakariaGPS," the former secretary of state, James Baker. We'll be anxious to see that interview. The entire program, Fareed, 10:00 a.m. eastern, Sunday morning, replay 1:00 p.m. eastern only here on CNN.

President Obama plans to nominate a former Pentagon lawyer to run the Department of Homeland Security. Sources tell CNN the president's pick is Jay Johnson who was general counsel over at the Pentagon. If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace Janet Napolitano as the next Homeland Security secretary.

She resigned to run the University of California System. The sources say Obama will nominate Johnson tomorrow.

Just ahead, how can Republicans recover from that 16-day government standoff? What will it take?

And those Obamacare glitches or serious problems, whatever you want to call them, our own Ryan Lizza tried to create an account today on Wait until you see what happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Amid all of the talk over the last few weeks of trimming spending, eliminating waste, there's now call to inject, get this, more money into politics. Joining us now is our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and our CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine.

Ryan, you wrote a piece, excellent piece on ways to fix Washington and you suggested counter intuitively that maybe we should go back and increase those earmarks, the pork barrel spending as some people call it, because that might make the government more efficient and effective.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think they have a worse reputation than they actually --


BLITZER: -- speak to John McCain. He'll tell you.

LIZZA: There's an argument that a little bit of pork in the system, not too much, and it is true that they got out of hand right before they were banned by Republicans, a little bit of pork in the system helps lubricate the gears of Congress.

BLITZER: Give us an example how that could have made a difference this time around.

LIZZA: Well, look, we all know that there's this bridge on the river between Kentucky and Illinois that got $2 billion in increased funding. Now, $2 billion is a lot, but it's --


LIZZA: And everyone is saying this was for Mitch McConnell. Look, I don't think that Mitch McConnell agreed to this compromise because of that bridge, but if that helped seal the deal, does anyone think that's a big deal? That that's worse than going into default?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: OK. I'm going to agree with you on this to a degree.

LIZZA: I can't wait for the mail (ph) on this one.

BORGER: OK. I know. We're going to -- from John McCain. So, I'm sorry. I think that the speaker would have had more power if he could call people in his office behind closed doors and I'm not really calling for the smoke-filled rooms again, but say, you know, do some horse trading.

And when I started -- I'm not saying all earmarks are great but what's pork to some is kosher to another. You're elected to do things for your district. But if the speaker had the tool or chairman of the committees had the tools to say, OK, I need your vote on this, but I'll help you out on this bridge you need in your district, then maybe you can, you know --


BLITZER: That was the way it was done forever in Washington. One of the reasons Tip O'Neill had so much power.

BORGER: By the way, it was overdone like most things in Congress. It was overdone, and so, it became a bad thing.

BLITZER: We're going to have a full report, Tom Foreman, later this hour on some of the stuff that's included in this 37-page legislation. Nothing to do with the government shutdown or the debt ceiling.

LIZZA: Some of the greatest legislation in history would not have been passed if people knew in real-time what was in it. I hate to say it. Medicare, they made up all the numbers.


BLITZER: Gloria, the Tea Party, back in 2010, Pew Research Center did a poll. It had the unfavorable number for the Tea Party of 25 percent. Now, it's 49 percent.


BLITZER: That's nearly double. That's not good for the Tea Party.



BORGER: It's not good for the Tea Party. What's interesting to me is within the Republican Party, that 51 percent according to that same poll, 51 percent of Republicans don't really identify with Tea Party. So, what you see is a split in the Republican Party.

And what I think we're going to see down the road, and I've been wondering how long it would take the business community to realize this, is that the business community which people say overwhelmingly Republican, suddenly is realizing wait a minute, we don't have the same goals as the tea Party.

The business community did not like this shutdown. The business community, for example, wants immigration reform, Tea Party not so much. So, maybe, you'll see the business community now fundraising for Tea Party opponents, contributing to Tea Party opponents, and see how that rift in the Republican Party develops.

BLITZER: The big business community never wants any discussion of America's credit rating out there to be an issue.


LIZZA: Absolutely. They were for having a clean C.R. right in the beginning and as Gloria points out, they're for immigration reform. This is the ideological split that's now in the Republican Party. You have a populist grassroots that's very anti-corporate, anti-corporate welfare, and you have a business community that wants the traditional agenda of low taxes and now immigration reform and certainly not playing with fire in threatening default.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, I interviewed Tom Cole, the representative from Oklahoma, good friend of the speaker, John Boehner. He voted in favor of the legislation last night just like the speaker did. Listen to what he said when I asked him if the speaker came out of this stronger or weaker or whatever. Watch this.


REP. TOM COLE, (R) OKLAHOMA: I think John Boehner actually is a big winner in this in terms of the conference. Frankly, I see him as much more popular today within his own ranks and much more able to influence them than, perhaps, was the case two or three weeks ago.


BLITZER: What --

BORGER: I would agree with that, actually.

BLITZER: You think Boehner is more popular?

BORGER: Inside the Republican caucus. I think first of all --

BLITZER: Even though two-thirds of the Republican caucus voted against him in effect on this bill last night.

BORGER: He gave the conservatives enough rope and I would argue they hung themselves, but he gave them the rope that he didn't give them in the fiscal cliff a year ago. All the leadership was with him, and by the way, there's nobody to replace him. The leadership voted the way he did so they can't have a coup and who among the Tea Party conservatives is going to win the speakership? Nobody.

LIZZA: We're going to have a test of this question in just a few weeks, right?


LIZZA: Well, if this budget committee that gets together and if Boehner starts working with the White House on a deal and they revive some of the talks that they previously had, Boehner is going to have to make a decision at some point, deal or no deal, and he's going to have to bring that before the same conference and see if his leverage has increased with these conservatives.

BORGER: And I think these moderates are going to start -- there may be 30 of them in the House, they're going to start asserting themselves.

BLITZER: Moderate Republicans.

BORGER: At least that's what they're saying. They're saying it's time for us.

BLITZER: Ryan, I follow you like a lot of people do on Twitter. And you started tweeting today because you wanted to get into the Obamacare website. Tell our viewers what happened. We're going to show our viewers some of your tweets.

LIZZA: Yes. I was testing the site. I hadn't tested it yet because we were following these other stories. And I logged on, and actually, I was surprised to find out logged on and could create accounts almost flawlessly. I was doing this on my iPad. I went through the first part, no problem, then went through the verification of my identity.

You enter your Social Security number. You enter an address, and it comes up with a couple questions, very fast and worked flawlessly and it verified based on my answers and my Social Security number, who I was. But then, when I entered some information about income and family status and who did I want to buy health care for -- entered some very basic information, you know, then when I got to the final process when I wanted to submit the application, I got that.

BLITZER: What does that say?

LIZZA: And it just sort of hung up with that circle --

BLITZER: It says got all the way to the end on, and then it got hung up trying to submit app and you showed the picture.

LIZZA: Yes. Yes.

BORGER: Did it ask you questions?

LIZZA: Before that, it asked me a series of questions. It took me through them. The questions were basically there to then give me a menu of options and tell me --


BLITZER: It just died at the end, is that what happened?

LIZZA: That just died. It wouldn't submit the application.


BLITZER: But don't you feel like you put your -- a lot of private information in there, Social Security number --


LIZZA: I was, actually. That's the first thing I thought of is wow, there's a lot of private information that is going into this. And look, I was just testing the system. I have health care. I'm not trying to buy health care. But imagine if you had been waiting for this, and you'd heard all about Obamacare and this is your opportunity to get some subsidies, to get some low cost health care and this is what you get.

BORGER: That's why it's a good thing I think they put in the anti-fraud provisions in this compromise that came out of the Congress.

BLITZER: That one little tweak of Obamacare.

BORGER: Well, but it sort of makes you feel better.

BLITZER: Yes. Who supports fraud?


LIZZA: Absolutely. In the end, the Republicans helped strengthen Obamacare in a way, right? They added a fraud prevention solution to Obamacare.

BORGER: You know what, the one question they don't ask which I think is a comfort to a lot of people is what's your pre-existing condition. None of that. None of that. Which is a huge difference.


BLITZER: They got to fix it and they got to fix it quickly. Let's hope they do. All right. Guys, thanks very much.

Coming up, with all the problems with the Obamacare rollout, Republicans are now calling for heads to roll. Should the Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, be the first? There are a lot of Republicans who say fire her. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It was a story that was certainly overshadowed by the government shutdown and the debt ceiling battle, but with those crises over, at least for now, attention once again turning to the serious problems plaguing the Obamacare debut. And there are now growing calls for someone to pay the price for all the glitches or serious problems. Brian Todd is here. He's taking a closer look at this part of the story. Brian, what's going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, right now, that someone you mentioned is Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. Republicans are now publicly equating her with the rollout mess and they're turning up the heat.


TODD (voice-over): She's become the face of the Obamacare rollout and all its technical problems, and there's intensifying pressure on Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius to step down. She's the chief target of Republicans, including Senator Pat Roberts, who's a long-time friend of Sebelius' family.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS, (R) KANSAS: Secretary Sebelius has had three and a half years to launch Obamacare and she has failed. TODD: Roberts is joined by Republican congressman, John Fleming of Louisiana, a long-time family practice doctor. Fleming says he'll soon send a letter to President Obama asking him to accept Sebelius' resignation. Fleming says he's gotten other House members to sign it. I presented the White House's defense of the health care sign-up website when I spoke to him.

It's getting better. These problems are being streamlined more and more each day. That's what they're saying. Not good enough for you?

REP. JOHN FLEMING, (R) LOUISIANA: Brian, that law was passed almost four years ago. They've had plenty of time to either roll this thing out properly, beta test it, make sure it works, or delay the implementation. They did neither.

TODD (on-camera): Secretary Sebelius' aides said she was traveling and not available to go on camera. They didn't respond specifically to the calls for her to resign but did refer us to comments from the White House earlier this week.

CARNEY: The secretary does have the full confidence of the president.

TODD (voice-over): But President Obama's former press secretary said this. Quote, "I hope they fire some people that were in charge." And there are two House committees investigating the Web site launch.

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL NEWSPAPER: They will make sure that Obamacare is the story of the day, most days of the week, for months and months to come.

TODD: Sebelius said this on a tour promoting Obamacare this week.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Now I'll be the first to tell you that the Web site launch was rockier than we would have liked.

TODD: And potential customers are still shopping. A company that analyzes Web traffic says after the first week online, out of all those who attempted to sign up through the federal exchange, just 1 percent ended up enrolling in Obamacare.


TODD: Administration officials say that's not accurate but they are still not giving any specific numbers right now on actual enrollments. We have to emphasize that company's data is unofficial and it's just a snapshot. It does not include state-run exchanges. They just mentioned the federal exchange in that one study -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All these problems, though, with the Web site certainly undermining a key goal of this entire health care law.

TODD: It really is. You know, right now analysts saying -- are saying with all the problems with the Web site and the fact that Republicans are now turning up the heat politically on all of this, they are going to have trouble, the administration is going to have trouble getting young, healthy Americans to enroll in this program.

They desperately need the young, healthy people to enroll in order to subsidize the older, sicker people who they are also going to be covering. They need it to get off to a good start with the younger healthier people enrolling and this may be a problem in doing that. Getting off to that good start. They are clearly not off to a good start.

BLITZER: They got to fix it --

TODD: Yes.

BLITZER: As I said, fix it quickly. Brian, thanks very much.

Let's get some more now on some of the problems with the Obamacare Web site. We'll bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's been working this part of the story since it was unveiled on October 1st.

Elizabeth, what are you learning now about potential problems with people's passwords on

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, it's interesting. I tried to get a log-in and password and finally managed to get one on October 9th but it's never worked. Until this day it doesn't work. And so I called the call center. I spoke to five different reps and they all said the same thing. They said if you got a log-in and password relatively early on in the first week or so of the site's existence, then some of those passwords have been deleted and so your log-in isn't going to work.

I was surprised to hear this and so they talked to me about different things that I could do, I could maybe create a new account.

And, Wolf, here's an interesting twist. So I called and spoke to a senior Obama administration official and she said that the call center, who are their contractors, by the way, that the call center is getting it wrong. She said that they're saying the wrong thing, that they're reading a script that was given to them by mistake. She said passwords have not been deleted.

But she did say, you know what, some people who got passwords and user names relatively early on, that they may be having trouble logging in and if that's the case, they should call the 1-800 number and get help. And she said look, if you want to just create a whole new account, you can also try that, too -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Seems that all these glitches, all these problems are obviously getting in the way. We are finally hearing some data on how the Web site is doing. I take it not necessarily all that great.

COHEN: Right. Unfortunately, the federal government, the Obama administration hasn't released any data even though they said they would release some metrics this week. We haven't seen them yet. But it's interesting, the state of Wisconsin told us something. They said that from October 1st to October 8th, that fewer than 50 people enrolled on the site from Wisconsin. Wisconsin uses So fewer than 50 people in Wisconsin enrolled.

Now part of that, Wolf, is that you're not going to buy something like this quickly. Right? I mean, you're not -- you're going to move slowly and methodically and thoughtfully but part of it also they said is that the site is so glitchy.

BLITZER: All sensitive to cybersecurity nowadays. And you point out the confusion over passwords. Any time you have some confusion over passwords, that certainly elevates concerns of cybersecurity.

So is private information safe when you put it in to sort of just scout around, look for a possible health care program? Is it safe from hackers?

COHEN: Right. Certainly Republican lawmakers have said gees, we're asking a lot of people to give a lot of private information, use Social Security numbers, tax information, you know. Is this going to become a magnet for hackers. And the Obama administration has said look, we have used the -- you know, all of the best techniques for ensuring security. In fact, there was a quote from someone for the centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and those are the folks who are running this, and they said we are using the best technology in order to make sure that things are secure.

BLITZER: Let's hope that's the case indeed.

All right, Elizabeth, thanks for the excellent reporting on this.

COHEN: Thanks.

BLITZER: Up next, the shutdown winners and losers. Two influential writers came to vastly different conclusions about how Republicans fared. They are here. They'll hash it out.

Also, now that the bill has ended this crisis at least for now, you might be surprised at what else lawmakers squeezed into that actual legislation.


BLITZER: Dueling shutdown headlines. She says Republicans lost. He says Republicans won. Molly Ball and Peter Beinart, they are here to debate when we come back.


BLITZER: Two very different takes today on Washington. Sixteen days of gridlock, they come in two dueling columns. Both excellent. Molly Ball wrote in "The Atlantic" that Republicans shut down the government for nothing. And in the "Daily Beast," Peter Beinart wrote why the shutdown is a Republican victory. They're both joining me now. Molly, all right, explain. You said that Republicans got nothing out of this and they are the big political losers. Why?

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: Well, let's look at what Republicans had, if they'd taken the original deal. The continuing resolution that originally passed the Senate. It would have funded government through November 15th, ruined Thanksgiving for myself and all the other Capitol Hill reporters, and it would not have lifted the debt ceiling. And so the deal that they ended up agreeing to not only is there no delay of Obamacare, defunding of Obamacare, very cosmetic modification to Obamacare, but this goes farther than that in terms of funding the government.

It goes through January 15th and it lifts the debt ceiling. And so both of those potential pressure points that Republicans viewed as negotiating chips are now off the table.

BLITZER: Peter, you have a very different conclusion. What's yours?

PETER BEINART, THE DAILY BEAST: I think you have to distinguish between the shutdown itself and the deal. I agree, the shutdown was politically damaging for the Republicans. But as Molly herself just said, the actual deal, this clean continuing resolution which extends the sequester cuts and uses them as a baseline for further negotiation, that was acknowledged by both Democrats and Republicans as recently as a month ago as a victory for the Republicans because they wanted the sequester cuts extended and Democrats didn't.

It's only because we got distracted by this fight over repealing Obamacare that we forgot that the very idea of extending the sequester cuts was always seen as a Republican victory.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Molly.

BALL: Well, that is certainly the case but that is something Democrats agreed to in the first place. And if Republicans had believed initially that that was a big win for them, they would have taken that deal. The fact is they were driven by these internal disputes and they ended up tanking in the polls. It looks like it has incredibly damaged their candidate for governor in Virginia, in the election that's next month that's going to be seen as a national bellwether. Republicans were set back in all sorts of ways.


BEINART: Well, I disagree. I don't think it was true the Democrats were happy about the sequester cuts at all. I think you, in fact, saw Harry Reid at the very last minute trying to bring this up. I think it was enormous dissatisfaction especially for liberal Democrats about the fact that this was taken off the table as even a discussion item.

The Center for American Progress had written a report in September basically saying we can't allow a clean continuing resolution with sequester cuts. On the one hand, the effort to defund Obamacare did hurt the Republicans in the polls. There's no question about it. On the other hand, it essentially made the fallback position of a clean continuing resolution with extended sequester cuts look like a Democratic victory when it's actually been considered a Republican victory early on.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BALL: Well, that's certainly true, and there has been this argument that one of the things that the far right has been doing is sort of pulling the political spectrum in their direction so the center keeps being reset further and further right. And I wouldn't disagree with that, necessarily.

I would say, however, that one of the things that Harry Reid refused to agree to in the final deal was to make the sequester cuts essentially permanent, to make that the baseline for the budget negotiations that they're going into. And so Democrats now have a chance to re-litigate this. They have the budget conference that they have been seeking all year, and this isn't over.

BLITZER: So what happens in January when the next deadline comes up to reopen -- make sure there's no more government shutdown? We go through this again?

BALL: Well, potentially we go through this again. I mean, there isn't --

BLITZER: You think we will?

BALL: There isn't too much evidence that the whole -- that any of the conditions underlying this dysfunction have changed.

BLITZER: Peter, are we going to go through this again?

BEINART: I don't think -- I don't think the Republicans are going to want to shut down the government. On the other hand, I don't think they have faced the reality that any real big budget deal is going to require an increase in taxes. And because -- and I think given how humiliated they are now, I think they are probably not in a position to eat that -- that even more bitter pill. So my guess would be another kicking the can down the road.

BLITZER: All right. Peter Beinart, Molly Ball, guys, excellent work. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

BALL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The National Zoo's hugely popular panda cam is back online after going dark with the government shutdown. And the star of the show, an unnamed cub born in August, has really grown. The zoo says she's gained two pounds, has begun to open her eyes. The zoo itself will reopen tomorrow.

Just ahead, details of some surprises that were slipped into the bill that reopened the federal government and raised the debt ceiling. Plus, a very well-known public figure reveals he tried to buy Twitter.


BLITZER: So how costly was the shutdown? We want to know what you think. Tweet us. Use the #sitroom.


BLITZER: So you must know by now that the shutdown was brought to an end after Congress passed an 11th hour spending bill aimed at keeping the government running at least temporarily for a few months. But do you also know what else -- what else was in that bill?

CNN's Tom Foreman has been taking a closer look.

When I finally read all 37 pages or whatever, I was stunned.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it really is quite surprising. After all of the wrangling, all those bitter words the shutdown and threat of default, this is the result. A slim document that supposedly met the Democratic demand for a clean, continuing resolution, meaning legislation to just keep everything running on current budgets. But there are several surprises hidden in these -- in these pages, in the fine print which add up to billions, and what some would consider pork.

First up, a dam payment in Kentucky, $202 billion additional will go to a dam and lock project on the river there, the Ohio River. That's more than triple what they were slated for, and supporters say it's worth it because otherwise the project would have to be canceled. The money already spent would be wasted, but nonetheless more money being spent there.

Certainly less controversial but also involving water is a section aimed at Colorado. Authorizing $450 million in spending to help rebuild roads and bridges and other things that are torn apart by the floods recently.

A few more items. Agencies that fight wildfires can count on an additional $636 million for next year. The agency that oversees the safety of mines will keep an additional $1 million in fees. A watchdog group looking into privacy issues will get just over $3 million more, and the widow of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg will get a death benefit equal to a year of his salary.

This is customary, but spending tax money for this at this time is raising some eyebrows, especially among watchdog groups because his personal wealth was almost $60 million -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, Tom, a lot of people want Congress -- Congress members to give up their salaries during the shutdown. Some actually did. But is there anything in the law now, the legislation that was signed into law about their compensation? FOREMAN: Yes, there is, Wolf. There is one little clause here that says Congress members won't get a cost of living increase next year. They'll collect just their regular salary for doing such a bang-up job, although that may not be much of a hardship since they're paid $174,000 a year, or about four times as much as an average American -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Squeezed a lot of stuff into that bill.

All right. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman.

Let's take a closer look right now on some of the other top stories we're following in the SITUATION ROOM.

Iran state news agency says officials there are optimistic about international negotiations over the country's controversial nuclear program. The deputy foreign minister is quoted as saying an agreement could be reached within six months.

Talks in Geneva this week with the United States and five other nations were described as substantive and forward-looking.

Take a look at this unusual police chase. A line of cruisers in pursuit of a school bus. A man with a knife hijacked it this morning near Little Rock, Arkansas, with 11 elementary school kids on board. The chase ended peacefully after about 10 miles. Police took the suspect into custody and the children were not hurt.

The former vice president Al Gore says he once tried to buy the popular social network Twitter, but was unable to strike a deal. Speaking on Bloomberg TV, Gore called the company a fantastic success that's become a global utility. Twitter recently filed an initial public stock offering.

Coming up, President Obama lectures Republicans.

And an unusual story -- series of stories bumped from the headlines by the fiscal crisis.


BLITZER: Winners in the shutdown. Tweet us using #sitroom.


BLITZER: What else was going on while the nation was preoccupied?

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not only did Congress make us mad --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys are worthless. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fed up with you.

MOOS: But the coverage of Congress ran rough shod over stories like this. The military-funded wildcat debuted while we were watching these guys fight like wild cats.

REP. JOHN LARSON (D), CONNECTICUT: Do you stand for your country?

MOOS: This agile ground robot can go 16 miles an hour and when it stumbles, unlike Congress, it gets up.

While politicians were gridlocked, this bear locked itself in a car in California. The domelight flashed, the horn honked, the headlights went on and off. Officials had to break a window to get the bear out.

And while Congress was plotting this kangaroo was bounding through the airport in Melbourne, Australia, occasionally wiping out on the slippery floors. He was finally trapped in a pharmacy, sedated and cared for.

(On camera): Now you may think of Congress as a bunch of hoaxers. But while you were watching them, you may have missed this actual hoax.

(Voice-over): To promote a horror movie, a cafe in New York City was rigged up and actors staged rage over spilled coffee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just get away from me.

MOOS: Instead of in a coffeehouse, maybe telekinesis would have worked better in the House of Representatives.

Even congressmen like Oreos but because of their shenanigans, you might have missed the Connecticut college study on rats, showing Oreos activate more pleasure neurons than cocaine.

(On camera): Whatever you do, don't snort the Oreos.

(Voice-over): By the way, the rats also eat the cream in the middle first.

(On camera): Now here's something that Democrats and Republicans could do together to get over all that nastiness between them.


MOOS (voice-over): Snuggling with a stranger for 60 bucks an hour. Not sexy snuggling, therapeutic snuggling. Snuggle house is preparing to open in Madison, Wisconsin, similar to a place in New York called the Snuggery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whenever you like, we can change positions.

MOOS: But at least one thing we missed is back, the National Zoo's panda-cam was switched on so we can watch mom and cub snuggle as they sleep. Not all that different from Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if your heart doesn't break --

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to change the world one snuggle at a time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those in fair say aye.

MOOS: New York.


BLITZER: Happening now a SITUATION ROOM special report after the shutdown. The battles ahead.

President Obama challenges Republicans to avoid another crisis just a few months from now. He says the last 16 days have taken a serious toll on the nation.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are no winners here. These last few weeks have inflicted completely unnecessary damage on our economy.


BLITZER: House and Senate negotiators begin make or break budget talks knowing the current fix is only temporary. I'll talk to a Republican lawmaker who is taking part in those difficult negotiations.

And our shutdown scorecard. Did Republicans with presidential hopes strengthened or weakened their hands?