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Obama on Website Malfunctions; Obama Addresses Healthcare Glitches; French Summon U.S. Ambassador Over NSA Spying; Greek Couple Charged in "Maria" Case

Aired October 21, 2013 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: People are working around the clock to make it work. We've got full analysis coming up as the president goes back into the Oval Office right now.

Jake Tapper, let me just get your quick thought on -- the president really didn't explain why the website wasn't ready to go perfectly on day one.

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN'S "THE LEAD": No, he did upgrade the word "glitches" is now "kinks." So there is an acknowledgment in that change of language, that it is more serious than the administration has acknowledged. But he also just emphasized the product. He said, I'm frustrated because this is a great product. He talked about - he talked about the individuals with pre-existing conditions who now have insurance through these exchanges.

He was introduced by a woman who was the first woman to sign up for insurance from the state of Delaware. As you and I were discussing, Wolf, she -- it took her seven hours on the phone and online. Eventually she had to go through and clean out all the cookies from her cache and then she was able to sign up, but she did sign up from the small state of Delaware.

You know, he was - he's in an untenable position. He wants to have people sign up. He gave out the 800 number. But, at the same time, there are serious problems and tens of millions of Americans who need to get on these exchanges, because there is a federal mandate that they sign up for insurance by next March but are having trouble doing so.

BLITZER: Let me bring Sanjay Gupta into this as well.

Sanjay, I got a - read a tweet from Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and there you - you see Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff.

We do know, by the way, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, she was there in the Rose Garden sitting next to Denis McDonough during this event.

But, Sanjay, Senator McConnell tweets, "when a visit to #obamacare website makes a trip to DMV," Department of Motor Vehicles, "seem pleasant, it's time for the president to consider delaying this rushed effort."

Now, certain aspects of Obamacare, as you know, have been delayed. Employer mandates. Individual mandates have not been delayed. Do you foresee a possibility, because of these problems, the president may announce on an administrative basis he's going to delay certain aspects of this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I would be very surprised if the individual mandate was delayed. And we talked about this a little bit earlier again, Wolf, but, you know, it's -- this is a complicated system but so much of it depends on this individual mandate in terms of actually getting more people into the system to help pay for it. If those people don't come into the system, premiums are going to be really higher. Much higher, I think, than expected for the people who are joining the marketplace. So there may be delays in other smaller aspects of it, but I don't think with regard to the individual mandate.

And, Wolf, you know, he started off, as I think Jake was saying as well, that this isn't just a website. He was making his case that, look, we're talking about people who are trying to sign up over the last three weeks. But even for people who have not been paying attention to this issue at all, think this doesn't involve me, I have my insurance, this is somebody else's issue, they are benefiting, as well. That's the case that he was making. He gave a few examples. People who stay on their parents' plan till age 26, seniors who can get cheaper prescription drugs and everybody who can get free, preventive care.

So he was saying, look, this extends a little bit more widely than just the website. This extends a little bit more widely than just the people who are trying to get in the marketplace now. This has bigger benefits and protections. So that was sort of the case that I think he was making. But again, that individual mandate, I'd be - I'd be surprised, Wolf.

BLITZER: If he were -- if he were to delay it -

GUPTA: If he were to delay it.

BLITZER: Because some people might say, you know, for three, four weeks, if it's not working properly, maybe delay the penalty phase, paying this $90 a year fine the first year if you don't sign up and you're required to sign up.

Let me get Jake's take on - take on that.

TAPPER: Well, I just wanted to ask Sanjay, I mean it just seems very notable that when the president - and this is not odd for a politics, but he talks about the examples that help tell his story, the individuals who are now paying less because they're not - they're not held responsible for having a pre-existing condition, the 25-year-olds who are able to stay on their parents' plan, et cetera.

But he doesn't talk about the individuals who are now going to have to pay more in health insurance because their plans no longer fit the federal standard or for other reasons. And to have a full, honest discussion of health insurance, we should acknowledge that there are individual who are going to pay more because of these changes, not only people who are going to pay less.

GUPTA: Yes, and I think the specific sort of apples to apples, if you will, comparison here is that there were these sort of bargain rate plans. They didn't offer much for people, but those plans were available for people who really didn't think they needed to have health care insurance because they thought themselves to be healthy. A lot of those plans are not available anymore, to Jake's point. They're not - you know, they're no longer allowed under this -- these new regulations. So those people will probably have to pay more.

And I think the larger issue, again, you heard the study. He -- the president cited a very specific study, saying six out of 10 uninsured people who join the marketplace will pay $100 or less a month for their premiums. Now that is dependent on many things, including the fact that the individual mandate stays in place, that these young, healthy people don't become discouraged by what's happened thus far and choose not to sign up, just pay the penalty instead. If those things - if they don't sign up, those numbers are going to go up what people are paying.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen, let me get your thoughts because the president also said, you know, if the website's not working as efficiently as it should, and clearly it isn't, you can do it the old fashioned way. Go ahead and call someone. The wait time is not going to be long. You might be on the phone for a while to get through this process, or you can meet what they call a navigator. Go to some government office and do it the old fashioned way, once again, with paperwork. How long would all of this take? Forget about the website for a moment. The phone call, signing up or going through a navigator, going to a government office?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I don't think it's going to be incredibly long. I don't think it's going to be like the seven-hour ordeal that we heard about from somebody who tried online. But it's still not the quickest thing in the world. It's not like buying a book on Amazon. You have to give information, birth dates, et cetera, about yourself and your family members. You need to get all these security questions answered so that they can verify your identity. You then need to choose between different policies.

This is not a sort of lickety-split process like a lot of us are used to when we go online. And it's not going to be lickety-split when you go in person or over the phone. But the reality is, is that for many people who are struggling online, it's going to be quicker to do this in person or to do this over the phone.

BLITZER: It probably will be. And Marc Saltzman, you write about technology. Quickly to you. Did you hear encouragement from the president that he's on top of it, the administration is on top of it, the Department of Health and Human Services, they're bringing in the best minds, I.T. people in the country to work on this, that this is going to be resolved anytime soon? MARC SALTZMAN, TECHNOLOGY ANALYST: That's what he said. But without giving, you know, a timeline or how much it's going to cost. He did say he's doubling down -- he's doubling up the efforts to get the website working. He reinforced the fact that it's a good product. It's going to save you money, but it's not a good website, to paraphrase him.

You know, I think that by bringing on the right people and without him extending the deadline perhaps you can read between the lines that they're working on it and that his sources are telling him, we're going to get this resolved pretty quickly. And even the worth kinks, by the way, I heard your colleague earlier say that is maybe a more serious word than glitches.

It's still pretty light. It's still a light sounding word. Kinks sounds like it's, you know, a little chink in the armor. But I think it's a bigger problem than this. And I think we'll know within a few days how many people continue to grow frustrated and maybe opt for the phone-in process or the printout option.

BLITZER: Yes. Now, Jake was quoting the president calling it kinks. Earlier it was the glitches. These are obviously a lot more serious than what the president is now saying kinks, or what earlier was described as glitches. These are serious, serious problems with the website. It wasn't Jake's word, it was the president's word, "kink." Just want to be precise on that.

Laurie is with us still as well, Laurie Segall.

Laurie, do you have a good understanding why some of these great I.T. folks working in the government were not ready on day one as they should have been?

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN MONEY TECH CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, you have to look, and they contracted this out. In Silicon Valley, they would recruit the best engineers and bring them in and it would be a lean (ph) process. This was quite the opposite.

You know, I was looking at this speech and I was waiting for Obama to say exactly where these, quote/unquote, kinks were, where the problems were, and we just didn't hear that. I mean, the one thing he said was the number of people visiting aggregated underlying problems. So we do have confirmation that the traffic -- the overwhelming traffic was an issue here. But what we don't know is what these underlying problems are. And without knowing that, we don't know specifically how long it will take to, you know, to fix that.

Of course he said no one's more frustrated than him and we heard a lot about those types of specifics, but we didn't really get the idea that, you know, from what I know, that they're replacing right now virtual tech with hardware, they're adding servers, they're trying to anticipate for the demand, they're trying to fix problems on the back end. But, you know, this idea that they weren't - they weren't really able to get the best and brightest to do it is -- in the first place is a pretty big deal here, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, he didn't provide numbers either. He did say 20 million people have gone online to try to check in to see if they could go online. He did use the word thousands have succeeded in actually going forward and enrolling and purchasing health insurance. Thousands he said. Didn't say how many thousands.

We're going to continue our special coverage. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.


BLITZER: Only moments ago, the president made the case for the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare as it's known. He says the product is good, the website, not so good right now. Listen to what the president said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no sugar coating it. The website has been too slow. People have been getting stuck during the application process. And I think it's fair to say that nobody's more frustrated by that than I am because -- precisely because the product is good. I want the cash registers to work. I want the checkout lines to be smooth. So I want people to be able to get this great product. And there's no excuse for the problems. And it's -- these problems are getting fixed.


BLITZER: Jim Acosta, you were in there. You were in the Rose Garden during this event. Tell us who was there. I know the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, was there. I didn't hear the president make any specific reference to her.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No specific reference to her. There were other officials on hand, as well. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, the senior advisor to the president, Valerie Jarrett. A lot of Democratic activists in the audience, Wolf. We spotted Brad Woodhouse, who used to be over at the Democratic National Committee, various other activists in the party, as well as people who support the law and have benefited from the law according to the White House.

It is going to be interesting to see what happens in the coming days with Secretary Sebelius. She has been called to testify up on Capitol Hill. There's a hearing on Thursday about that. The Department of Health and Human Services basically said that she doesn't have the time in her schedule at this point to go up to The Hill and testify at that hearing and, of course, conservatives are responding by saying, well, she had time to go on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" earlier this month. Why won't she testify up on Capitol Hill.

But, Wolf, this was very much a campaign style event in the Rose Garden. You heard clapping and laughter at some of the president's punch lines during those remarks. But some interesting comments that the president made that he is going to have to hope he doesn't, you know, live to rue the day that he said those things.

He said something like, "It's going to get fixed. We're well into a tech surge to fix the problem," and that sort of thing. Those are comments, if this doesn't get straightened out in short order, he may live to regret some of those words.

But the president did say, time and again during this event, that the website is really only part of the program, that people can call in and get insurance that way, and that there are many consumer protections that are working for people right now.

Also interesting, Wolf, that the president did sort of come out and acknowledge these issues. The very first woman who introduced the president said that she had had some issues, some technical issues in signing up for insurance, and the president mentioned a letter he received from a gentleman in Pennsylvania who signed up for insurance and basically described the process as somewhat maddening, but now that he's saving money he feels better about it.

So a mixed bag for the president, but no question about it. He has to hope these problems get fixed and fast because this is his pet project. This is his signature achievement. If he wants to call it that, it's going to have to be fixed.

BLITZER: And quickly, Jim, that -- near the end, we saw that young woman who was standing behind the president appear to get weak. It looked like she was getting ready to faint.

The president turned around and then some folks started to help her, and fortunately she was taken away. But was it really hot out there? Was it sunny? What was it like?

ACOSTA: A lot of sun. And, Wolf, you and I both have seen this happen at campaign stops, somebody in the audience who's just been standing there too long gets a little weak in the knees and starts to faint a little bit. I think that's what happened there.

She was escorted out pretty quickly. It didn't seem to be a major problem from that point forward.

And as you noticed, the president quickly wrapped up his remarks after that happened. He said that it -- that these things sometimes happen when he goes on for too long.

But it doesn't appear to be anything more serious than that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yeah, fortunately. All right, Jim, thanks very much.

Jake Tapper is here. Were you surprised at the end, that the president makes that pivot and slams the Republicans for the government shutdown, for their opposition to Obamacare, and turns what was almost like a sort of a pitch for Obamacare, an infomercial, if you will, call this number and you can get through, operators are standing by, to at the end, he makes this direct turn and goes after the Republicans? JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No, because President Obama, when -- I was a White House correspondent when they were doing healthcare, and he really did -- there were many efforts on Capitol Hill.

It passed as a partisan bill, but there were many efforts on Capitol Hill for it not to be a partisan bill, for Republican ideas to be included, and that was a big source of frustration.

And I know in the White House, obviously, the president is still resentful of the fact that Republicans were -- he attempted to bring them on board to do this bill, and then they were not part of it, and they have been trying to block it as we saw with the shutdown.

But one final point, Wolf, we still don't know how many individuals have successfully enrolled in -

BLITZER: Purchased.

TAPPER: -- purchased or at least completed the enrollment process and are waiting for the final step.

And one of the other problems we know about is that insurance companies are having problems on the back end of the software. It's not just people having trouble logging on and joining these exchanges, but the insurance companies are getting false information, inaccurate information.

They're told somebody's enrolled, then they're told that person is un- enrolled, then they're told the person is enrolled again.

So they are much bigger problems with this Web site than glitches or even the upgraded word, "kinks."

BLITZER: And even when they tell us how many people have actually gone ahead bought the insurance through the website, they have to say how many of these are healthy, young people who really don't need much insurance, but they're doing it because of the individual mandate, and how many are people who never could buy insurance before who are -- who have pre-existing conditions, who are very poor or frail or whatever.

TAPPER: They've not been transparent with this number.

BLITZER: They've got to be transparent.

TAPPER: A lot of us have been trying to get this number from the very beginning. Over the weekend, the Obama administration obviously leaked some sort of number that they accumulated through the state exchanges and the Obamacare website,, to the Associated Press.

And immediately, as soon as the A.P. posted the story, Obama administration officials started furiously tweeting it out there, 500,000.

We should keep it in mind that it's not 500,000 people who have successfully enrolled. It is 500,000 people who have started the process.

BLITZER: The registration process.

TAPPER: We still don't know how many have actually enrolled, and that is an important number for this legislation to work.

BLITZER: You'll have much more coming up on "THE LEAD" later today, right?

TAPPER: Four o'clock Eastern.

BLITZER: We'll be watching.

TAPPER: I know you will.

BLITZER: And I'll be watching later in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

TAPPER: I'll be watching as well, and I'll be watching that.

BLITZER: Hey, guys, thanks very much.

That continues -- that ends our coverage at least for now. Thanks very much. I'll be back at the top of the hour.

"AROUND THE WORLD" starts right after the break.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: We are following three top stories today.

The president says people are working 24/7 to fix the Obamacare website fiasco, and Australians are dealing with the worst wide fires they have seen in more than a decade.

And this little girl is found in the hands of a family now accused of kidnapping her in Greece. Now, they say they adopted her, though not legally. We're going to take a look at this bizarre case.

Welcome to "AROUND THE WORLD." I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Michael Holmes is off today.

We start off with France, one of America's oldest allies, but now reports of U.S. spying, they have the French fuming. They have now summoned the U.S. ambassador to the foreign minister's office.

Now this follows a French newspaper's report that the National Security Agency, NSA, intercepted more than 70 million phone calls in France over a 30-day period.

Our Jill Dougherty, she's at the State Department. And, Jill, of course, explain to us why this is so serious.

The U.S. gathers intelligence all the time, spies on friends, spies on enemies. Our allies really know this, but this, we're talking about, what, 3 million phone calls a day? Is that normal? JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't know actually. I guess nobody could really know the precise number and whether that's normal.

But certainly being called in, being summoned by the foreign minister to explain yourself is not exactly routine for the State Department, and in fact, the American ambassador, Charles Rivkin, was called in by the foreign minister to explain himself.

And, you know, these are -- it's an interesting thing. What do you mean by summon? Well, when they summon an ambassador, it's really choreographed. It's quite formal.

They call them in. It depends -- there's significance in who they meet with, what kind of words they use. For example, let's say in French, if you have your high school French there, remember the "tu" and the "vous" form? The "tu" form is the familiar and the "vous" form is the polite. You might address him in the familiar form.

And the -- by the way, we do know that Secretary Kerry who is traveling in France at this very moment, not a good time to arrive, has met with the ambassador. He went over to the American embassy and talked with Charles Rivkin.

And we will hopefully get a statement. We expect a statement from the embassy a little bit later today.

MALVEAUX: Jill, I remember in covering President Bush he was quite upset with the French when it came to not supporting the war in Iraq. And he took away the name "French fries" and turned it into "freedom fries" and the White House and the Capitol, Air Force One, no such thing as French fries.

You know, that was kind of a public snub. But, you know, this is something that seems like something that is much more important, although, you know, it's a slap on wrist. It's a public embarrassment, but it does seem like it really is substantially to the very core of setting U.S.-France relations.

DOUGHERTY: Well, it does. And, you know, France, remember. not so long ago relations were not very good. Now they've been quite good. And this comes at a moment that you would hope that it would continue to be good.

It could damage relations. We'll have to see precisely how seriously behind the scenes.

But let's listen to what the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, said.


LAURENT FABIUS, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER (via translator): These kind of practices between partners that violate privacy are totally unacceptable. We must quickly assure these practices aren't repeated, so the ambassador will be receive this had morning at the Quai d'Orsay.


DOUGHTERY: Right. At the Quai d'Orsay.

And then, also, what is the United States saying? Well, as I mentioned, we expect a statement from the embassy a little bit later. But in the meantime, the NSA has a statement, not a whole lot.

They're saying we are not going to comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy, we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations.

So they're throwing it -- you'd have to say kind of right back, saying this is something that a lot of nations do.

MALVEAUX: All right, Jill Dougherty, thank you so much. We appreciate. We're going to be following that, of course.

And people around the world, they have been following this story. They're really touched by this mysterious 4-year-old girl and what is taking place when it comes to her parents.

Now, the couple claiming to be the parents of the little girl they call Maria, well, they have just been charged with abduction and falsifying papers.

The child was found last week in a Roma community in central Greece. The Roma have been known in the past as "gypsies," so-called "gypsies."

Authorities are now trying to figure out who her real parents are and where they might be.

Erin McLaughlin has the story.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She's known only as Maria, the little girl at the center of an international mystery.

Just who are her parents? And why was she found living in a gypsy campsite in Greece?

Investigators were carrying out a routine inspection of a Roma encampment near the town of Larissa when they noticed Maria.

Her blonde hair and blue eyes were striking. She looked nothing like the 39-year-old man and the 40-year-old woman claiming to be her parents. DNA tests later confirmed the investigators' suspicions.

PANAGIOTIS PARDOLIS, "SMILE OF THE CHILD" SPOKESMAN: There was bad living conditions, poor hygiene. So the girl was found under -- in a state of neglect, both physically and psychologically.

MCLAUGHLIN: The man and woman were arrested on suspicion of abducting a minor, and the campsite is now under investigation.

The couple's lawyer denies the charges.

KOSTAS KATSAVOS, LAWYER FOR ACCUSED COUPLE: Our clients claim is that we never abduct this child. We just adopted with -- in a way non- legal. That's where we can confess.

MCLAUGHLIN: Police launched a public appeal, and have asked Interpol to help locate her real parents.

When Maria's story broke, it reminded many of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann in Portugal six years ago. No trace of her has ever been found.

STEVE MOORE, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I hope that something liking this would go give the McCann's enough hope and encouragement that they renew their strength for the fight.


MALVEAUX: Erin McLaughlin is joining us now from London.

So, Erin, I know that you actually were able to observe and get a sense of what happened in court today. What is the latest with this family?

MCLAUGHLIN: Hi, Suzanne.

Police have just released the mug shots of this couple. They released them following today's court hearing there, now, identifying this couple by name, a 39-year-old, Christos Salis, and 40-year-old Eleftheria Dimopoulou.

They have been charged with the abduction of a minor as well as falsifying records. They are not releasing them.