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No Excuses For Web Problems; Polls Show 56 Percent Oppose Obamacare; Approval Numbers for Congress

Aired October 21, 2013 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Full steam ahead. That's the message from President Obama today. He was the keynote speaker at an Obamacare pep rally in the Rose Garden over at the White House. And while he admitted that there have been some major issues with the health exchange website, he also tried to clear up misconceptions and questions about Obamacare.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance through your employer or Medicare or Medicaid, you don't need to sign up for coverage through a Web site at all. You've already got coverage. What the Affordable Care Act does for you is to provide you with new benefits and protections that have been in place for some time.

The problem has been that the Web site that's supposed to make it easy to apply for and purchase the insurance is not working the way should for everybody. There's no sugar coating it. The Web site 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 precisely 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.

But while we're working out the kinks in the system, I want everybody to understand the nature of the problem. First of all, even with all the problems at healthcare.gov, the Web site is still working for a lot of people just not as quick or efficient or consistent as we want. And although many of these folks have found that they had to wait longer than they wanted, once they complete the process, they're very happy with the deal that's available to them. Just like Janice's.

Second, I want everybody to remember that we're only three weeks into a six-month open enrollment period when you can buy these new plans. We did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a Web site. That's not what this was about. We waged this had battle to make sure that millions of Americans in the wealthiest nation on earth finally have the same chance to get the same security of affordable quality health care as anybody else.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: The president also pointed out that 476,000 people have already applied for the health insurance exchanges through federal and state marketplaces. He did not say how many of those 476,000 actually have taken the next step and purchased a specific health plan, although at one point in his speech, did he say that number was in the thousands.

Jim Acosta was there in the Rose Garden. He's joining us right now. Jim, the Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, she was at the event. The president didn't call on her, made no reference to her. As you know, as all of our viewers know, she's coming under a lot of criticism right now for the rollout of the Web site.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And there are a lot of conservative lawmakers up on Capitol Hill, Wolf, who think that she should testify at a hearing coming up on Thursday. There's a hearing in the House that is on these glitches, on these technical problems with the Obamacare Web site. She's been called to testify. The Department of Health and Human Services says that she's not available and that she's going to be doing some events around the country later this week. So, that appears to be not in -- not going to happen at this point.

Interesting to note, Wolf, you played a long chunk of what the president had to say there. He did empathize with a lot of Americans out there who are having problems getting on the Web site. But a couple of the things he did not talk about during those remarks. He did not say when exactly these problems are going to get fixed and he didn't say who is doing the fixing.

The administration said over the weekend that they're starting to bring in, what they call, the best and brightest from across not only the government but the private sector to work on these fixes. But the president didn't talk about who those people are. He said that they're working 24 hours a day, seven days a week but no more specifics than that.

So, it is going to be interesting to watch how all of this plays out because as you know, Wolf, the president said in the very beginning of all of this that this was going to be like going on Amazon.com or on the Kayak Travel Web site. Clearly, that has not been the case so far and so there are a lot of expectations that the president built up. Of course, the White House has said there are going to be glitches in all of this but this seems to be much more systemic than glitches.

The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said at the White House briefing which is going on right now that the volume of people coming into the Web site, and they think about 20 million people have visit the Web site so far, was higher than anticipated and that's what he resulted in some of these glitches and kinks that they're now encountering. But there are a lot of experts out there, Wolf.

And they -- and, as you know, they've been talking to a variety of news outlets who say that this is not just volume related. These aren't just glitches and kinks. That there might it be something systemic in what is going on with the Obamacare Web site. And that's what they've got to figure out here in the next several weeks to months. They've got to get this figured out soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We have a new CNN -- or a Cpoll that we're releasing today. We asked the American people about their support for Obamacare. And look at this, 41 percent favor the health care bill, 38 percent oppose it because it's too liberal. Those are mostly, obviously, Republicans. 12 percent oppose it because it's not liberal enough. Those might be people who would want a government sponsored single payer system, if you will.

When the White House looks at those numbers, what do they see and what do they say?

ACOSTA: Well, I think that is -- that is one of the caveats that we get thrown in our faces from White House officials privately from time to time when we focus on these polls and it shows that the popularity of Obamacare sort of upside down. When they dig into these numbers, officials here at the White House say, well, now, wait a minute. You're not talking about the fact that there are people who don't like Obamacare, because it isn't single pair health care. So, it's interesting that you point that out, Wolf. That is basically what people inside this administration say.

But at the same time, that was -- single payer health care was never going to happen. Remember, this is what Mitt Romney of -- to a large extent, carried out in Massachusetts. And there are some people -- I've talked to a lot of health experts up in Massachusetts. I've done some stories on Romney care over the years. They experienced some of these same issues when Romney care was rolling out.

And the supporters and defenders of the law also say that Medicare had some of the same issues when it was rolled out. What is going to have to happen, Wolf, and this is critically important for this president, is that they've got to get these fixes and they've got to show people that these fixes are taking place because there's this is huge news void right now with the shutdown being over and the prospect of default being behind us. And it seems like right now, Obamacare is dominating that discussion. That's not good news for this White House -- Wolf.

BLTIZER: Yes, we're going to be speaking shortly with the communications director over at the White House, Jennifer Palmieri. And we'll get her take what is going on. We've got some good questions for her. Jim, thanks very much.

So, we heard from the president. But even as he tries to put forward the positive, here's the reality. People trying to enroll in Obamacare are finding one problem after another. He's calling in experts to fix it.

Let's bringing in CNN Money's Laurie Segall. That's where all the experts are. So, Laurie, what's wrong with the Web site right now and what do the experts think needs to be done to fix it?

LAURIE SEGALL, TECH REPORTER, "CNN MONEY": Well, first of all, what we heard -- we didn't really hear Obama address the specifics as to what's going wrong. The one thing he did say is that the number of people visiting aggregated underlying problems. So, we know that the Web site had about 4.6 million people signing on in those first days.

And we also know that there are other problems. I can tell you that one of the specific problems was with account creation. People tried to go in and tried to build out an account. And we also have to know that this is a complicated Web site. It's not front facing. When you go in, it's pinging the IRS. It's doing a lot of different types of things. But as Obama said, they're working 24, seven to fix this.

But in the Valley, a lot of people are just saying -- you know, they're just kind of shaking their heads that this type of rollout could have possibly happened -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are the experts saying about the security? How sense -- there's a lot of sensitive information that people have to be -- to put into the Web site if they want to go ahead and eventually purchase health insurance. About their Social Security numbers and stuff like that. What are they saying about the technical -- the cyber security, the safety of this Web site?

SEGALL: Well, that's huge and we need to talk about that because in the Valley, it's move fast and break things. Well, we all know that they move pretty quickly here and they also broke a lot of things. But in the Valley, you know, privacy, they pretty much ask for forgiveness and not permission. Well, with this type of site, you can't ask for forgiveness if there's valuable data that's exposed.

So, from talking with folks, that -- those privacy -- that privacy had to be baked in which is adding to the complexity of the Web site and this sort of roll out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Laurie Segall, a "CNN MONEY" Tech Correspondent. Thanks very much.

No excuse for the problems. That's what the president of the United States said. You saw him live here on CNN.

Coming up, I'll be joined by the White House communications director, Jennifer Palmieri. I'll ask her what specific steps are being taken right now to fix all of these problems.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just a short time ago, we heard from President Obama on the Affordable Care Act. The problems people have encountered on the health exchange's Web site. This follows a course of complaints from Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It's been a fiasco. Send Air Force One out to Silicon Valley, load it up with some smart people, bring them back to Washington and fix this problem. It's ridiculous and everybody knows that.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Well, I certainly agree with Senator Cruz that Obamacare is indeed a train wreck. I mine, a visit to the web site is kind of like a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state. People can't -- even if they can access the Web site, there's no way to get quotes. Even those who is may be fortunate enough to sign up are going to find that the premiums are higher and the choices are fewer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in Jennifer Palmieri. She's the communications director over at the White House. Jennifer, thanks very much for coming in.

JENNIFER PALMIERI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So, here are some of the complaints. I'm going to give you a chance to respond. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, he said because of all the problems, it was a rushed effort. Would you consider delaying at least part of this -- the individual mandate, the penalty for example, because people are having a tough time logging on?

PALMIERI: No, we don't think that's necessary. Part of the reason why we had a six-month enrollment period was to allow extra time if we encountered problems in enrolling. And, in this case, we have with the -- with the Web site. What -- in past experiences, in Massachusetts for example, what you found was very few people enrolled in the first month. And it wasn't until you got to a deadline that people did that. So, we think that the schedule is OK as it is. And that's why we billed it to be six months.

BLITZER: John Cornyn, the senator from Texas, he says you've already spent hundreds of millions of dollars getting this Web site off the ground, albeit obviously the fragile state it's in right now. He wants to know how much the repairs, the tech surge as you're calling it, how much more will taxpayers have to spend for that?

PALMIERI: Well, that's a question for HHS. I don't have as much detail as they do about their project, but we are -- we are very focused on getting -- you know, it was good to add this what they were calling the tech surge advisors, people who have dealt with tough problems before to come in and advise us on, you know, what they -- what they see. And, you know, the president's very frustrated by the website. It is making progress every day. That is a true fact. And we will stay at it until it gets done.

BLITZER: Apparently, Jennifer, there were warnings in the six months before October 1st that there were some serious is problems but HHS decided to go ahead and launch it in any case. Here's the question, who screwed up?

PALMIERI: We're not focused on assigning blame. We're focused on fixing the problem. Obviously, I mean, as HHS has said, they underestimated the amount of people who would be coming to the website. So when they tested it, they didn't test for the amount of people that we are seeing. So, you know, that has caused -- or that has unearthed these problems. But we just want to make sure that it gets fixed and that, in the meantime, people have options offline through the call centers or by downloading the applications online or going to a local community health center where they can get information and apply while we're fixing the site. We still want people to go to the site and you your - you know, it is -- people are making it all the way through, but it is, obviously, a still a very -- more frustrating experience than it should be.

BLITZER: Will the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, who was in the Rose Garden during the president's remarks today, testify this week before that House committee that's beginning an oversight investigation into what happened?

PALMIERI: You know, HHS is very happy to cooperate with Congress on oversight matters. They do it all the time. I believe that there was a timing problem with this week's hearing and I think that the committee and HHS are trying to work that out.

BLITZER: You -- so Thursday you think she'll be able to squeeze a few hours in and go appear there?

PALMIERI: No, I think she has said -- she has said that she's not able to attend, but I think that they are, you know, she's been up there dozens of times to testify. This is something that was called with relatively short notice. But I believe that the committee and HHS are trying to work something out to have an appropriate representative there.

BLITZER: Are they trying to get somebody else from HHS to testify?

PALMIERI: I don't know. You'd have to - you'd have to talk to HHS specifically, but I understand they're trying to work this out with the committee.

BLITZER: What about all these Republicans who are calling on the president to fire her. Reince Priebus just issued another statement, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. He said, "we're dealing with a fundamental breakdown in leadership. Someone should be held accountable. And while I continue to call for an end to the train wreck of Obamacare, I also suggest that President Obama fire HHS Secretary Sebelius. If HHS were a private company, she would have been gone two weeks ago."

Does the president still have full confidence in Kathleen Sebelius?

PALMIERI: Yes. You know, I don't find it surprising that the Republican Party chief would be calling for her to resign. But what people have to remember, the president always says, that, you know, Obamacare is more than a website. What we've created is a new marketplace where people can get affordable insurance.

What would have been a big problem, and what may have spoken to a flaw in the underlying legislation, would be if people weren't interested. And instead what we're having is overwhelming interest in people wanting to purchase this insurance. So we still are very unhappy with the site - the state of the website and we will fix it, but this is a -- having more interest is a better problem than not having any at all.

BLITZER: Will the president support complete transparency and giving the American public all the numbers on a regular basis, as soon as possible, how many people -- he said 20 million people have actually gone online and tried to check it out, 500,000 people have registered, but he's not telling us, or the administration is not telling us how many people have actually gone ahead and purchased health insurance, completed the process right now. When are we going to learn all those numbers?

PALMIERI: Mid-November. This is what we said prior to October 1 in terms of reporting, that we would report in on enrollment on a monthly basis in the middle of the month. And, you know, what our -- this is not just the federal numbers. This is also - all the states have their own marketplaces. So it's a lot to cull. We think that a monthly snapshot is a good snapshot. And we put the number out over this weekend about the applications to give people a sense of interest. And as frustrating as the website is, you know, people are still being able to process their applications.

BLITZER: One final question, Jennifer. When will it be completely fixed?

PALMIERI: I can't speak to that with certainty. We - I wouldn't even say we're day to day on this, because we never lift up from the - our heads up from the project because it is going on 24/7. We're continuing to make progress and we will stay at it.

BLITZER: Jennifer Palmieri is the communications director at the White House. She's got a tough job. Good luck, Jennifer. We'll stay in close touch with you.

PALMIERI: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up at the bottom of the hour, I'll get a different perspective. A freshman Republican congressman, an outspoken critic of Obamacare, we'll get his opinions on the president's frank assessment of the exchange website.

Also, Senator Ted Cruz, he hasn't pulled any punches at all on Obamacare. Hasn't ruled out doing anything and everything possible to get the law off the books. Dana Bash had an exclusive interview with the Texas Republican. We'll share some of that with you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The battle over Obamacare certainly was at the heart of the 16-day partial government shutdown. Republicans tried to defund it. Then they tried to delay it. All those efforts clearly failed. At the forefront of that fight was the Texas senator, Ted Cruz. He sat down with our own Dana Bash and told her that he's not ready to let Obamacare go unchallenged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you planning on doing this again on January 15th when the current bill that was just passed to reopen the government, when it finishes?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: There will be time enough to talk about specific strategy, specific tactics. What I can tell you is that I think we need to keep as the top priority providing meaningful relief for all the millions of people that have hurt from Obamacare.

BASH: But you're very deliberately not ruling it out?

CRUZ: What I'm saying is the top priority -- there are a lot of politicians in Washington who want to put Obamacare behind us, say OK, fine, no more. No more discussing Obamacare. And you know what, the American people are not satisfied with that.

BASH: But on a practical level, what is frustrating some or many of your colleagues is that they think that you are turning your ire on them instead of focusing on trying to help elect more Republicans to do what you all want to do. And I know you said that you're not endorsing any primary candidates, but you are -- your tactics are being used as fund-raising tools for the very groups that do fund those primary candidates.

CRUZ: Look, my ire is focused on Obamacare because it's not working and it's hurting the American people. And I don't think it's acceptable. I'm not willing to go to the Texans who elected me and say, well, you're hurting because of Obamacare, but I wash my hands. There's nothing I can do about it. I'm not going to stand up and fight. I'm not willing to tell that to my constituents and I am encouraging Senate Republicans to stand together for principle --

BASH: And to those who say that you have tarnished the Republican brand, that you have set the Republican Party back in efforts to maybe retake the Senate, maybe, you know, get in the position where a Republican can win the White House in 2016?

CRUZ: The single most damaging thing that has happened to Republicans for 2014 is all of the Senate Republicans coming out attacking the House Republicans, attacking those pushing the effort to defund fund Obamacare and lining themselves up opposite the American people. Now, I'm hopeful that will change. I'm hopeful there will be some time, some reflection and that Senate Republicans will come back, come back to the principles they believe and they campaigned on. I'm hopeful we'll actually put action behind the campaign promises.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Ted Cruz is also calling for unity among Republicans. Apparently the American people are unified about their feelings on Congress as a whole. Our brand new CNN/ORC poll shows that Congress now has an approval rate of, get this, only 12 percent. To put that in perspective, the president's job approval number right now is at 44 percent. Not so great either, but a lot better than 12 percent. Let's bring in our political director, Mark Preston.

Twelve percent. How surprised should we be?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We shouldn't be surprised at all given the fact that we saw a dysfunctional Washington at its best the past couple of weeks. And, look, the 12 percent is near the all-time low that we've seen congressional Republicans hit in our poll just a couple of weeks ago. So there's a lot of anger at Washington.

BLITZER: Take a look at this poll number. We asked about Republican control of the House, is it bad for the country? In 2010, 42 percent, 2011, 41 percent, 43 percent 2012. Now up to 54 percent, a majority, think Republican control of the House is bad for the United States.

PRESTON: Well, it's the first time we've actually seen that since they took control of the House back in 2010. And what is troubling for Republicans, Wolf, is that independence right now in that number, if you were to break the number down, 53 percent of independents think that it's bad for the House Republicans to run the House at this point. So, not good news.

BLITZER: Speaker Boehner -- we asked, should Speaker Boehner be replaced as speaker of the House? Among liberals, not surprisingly, 70 percent said yes. Among moderates, 65 percent said yes. Among conservatives, 55 percent said yes. Is he in serious, political trouble right now?

PRESTON: He's not in serious political trouble, but the last number that you stated is really troublesome I think for Boehner. Fifty-five percent of conservatives don't want him to be the speaker anymore. Look, he came under a lot of criticism because he did not cut a deal earlier with President Obama on the government shutdown and on the debt ceiling. However, he had to work with his caucus and his conference. And, quite frankly, there was enough of them that made him move a certain way. He walked a fine line but certainly John Boehner's damaged.

BLITZER: Yes. The damage right now to the Republicans. We'll see a year from now, when the elections take place for the midterm elections what happens then. That's a long time.

PRESTON: No doubt.

BLITZER: All right, Mark, thanks very much.

The president says the Obamacare website, he guarantees it will be fixed. Some Republicans say, however, that is not good enough. They want heads to roll. A freshman Republican congressman standing by to weigh in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)