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Interview With Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn; Nevada School Shooting; President Obama Speaks Out on Obamacare Rollout Problems

Aired October 21, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. We have disturbing new information about a deadly school shooting in Nevada. We now know the name of the teacher who was killed and how the student who shot him got his gun. Stand by for all the latest developments.

Plus this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody is madder than me about the fact that the Web site isn't working as well as it should, which means it's going to get fixed.


BLITZER: Anger and promises from the president about the Obamacare fiasco. I'll ask a vocal Republican critic if she's rooting for the program to fail.

And two jumbo jets in flight only 100 feet away from crashing. We're learning who's to blame for putting hundreds of passengers in danger.

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

But let's begin with the breaking news this hour, another deadly school shooting, this in Nevada -- new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about the victim and the shooter, a student who didn't leave the scene of the shooting alive.

CNN's Brian Todd is here. He's got more on the latest information we're learning. What are we learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: New pieces of information we have at this hour, Wolf.

The teacher killed in the shooting has been identified. His name is Mike Landsberry. We have although one image of him for our viewers. Landsberry is described as a veteran of two tours of the war in Afghanistan. The mayor of Sparks, Nevada, Geno Martini, speaking with Wolf a short time ago described the fallen teacher.


GENO MARTINI, MAYOR OF SPARKS, NEVADA: From what I understand, he was a very well-liked teacher by the students and other teachers in the school district. He's also a member of the Nevada National Air Guard and served a couple of terms in Afghanistan is what I understand. So, you know, it's very unfortunate that someone like that, that protected our country over there and came back alive, had his -- his life had to be taken at his work at a school. It's very devastating.


TODD: We have new information from CNN justice reporter Evan Perez about the shooter. A federal law enforcement source who's been briefed on the situation says the shooter used a handgun taken from his parents to shoot the teacher. The shooter then used the handgun to shoot and kill himself, according to our source.

Mayor Geno Martini says he does not believe the shooter came to the school targeting the teacher, but again we're very early in this investigation. Police still interviewing witnesses, still investigating a possible motive. Here is one witness account. All right. We may get that sound in a little bit.

But what we can tell you is two people are at the time, the teacher Mike Landsberry, and the suspect described as a student there possibly 13, 14 years old. Two students were wounded, one of them shot in the shoulder, who the police now say is in stable condition, and one shot in the stomach, who underwent surgery and who police say is in critical condition.

At this hour, witnessing many, many witnesses, many of whom are children in middle school. You're putting the age now at between 11 and 13 years old, seventh and eighth graders. You have got a lot of them who are around, a lot of them giving descriptions, witnesses of just -- they're kids who were frightened out of their minds and now have to come up with a coherent explanation to the police of what they saw.

BLITZER: Authorities are not explaining, giving an explanation why a 13-year-old boy would come to school with a pistol, with a handgun and start using it.

TODD: No, no description, no accurate really portrayal of a motive now.

We did hear from our affiliate KOLO in Nevada that some witnesses described hearing some talk of possible bullying before the shots were fired. Again, these were witness accounts. This does not come from the police, witness accounts, very initial in this investigation.

BLITZER: All right. If you get some more, Brian, you will let us know. Thanks very much, Brian Todd reporting.

Meanwhile, there's other news we're following, including some brand- new revelations about America's surveillance tactics from the NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Once again we're hearing about tens of millions of phone calls supposedly being intercepted, this time in France.

French officials are fuming. Secretary of State John Kerry is in France feeling the heat.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, has been digging on this story.

What's going on?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The incident is serious enough now that we have learned that President Obama called, made a personal call to the French president, Francois Hollande, to discuss these reports.

And according to the White House, the president discussed how the reports were distorted, and however though the president has made clear he has ordered a review of the practice so that -- quote -- "We properly legitimate concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share."


SCIUTTO (voice-over): France is a close ally, critical in recent years in dealing with Syria, Libya and Iran, but according to documents revealed by Edward Snowden in France's "Le Monde" newspaper, they were also right in the crosshairs of a massive NSA surveillance.

In just 30 days from December 10, 2012, to January 8, 2013, the NSA allegedly intercepted over 70 million phone calls in France, an average of nearly three million intercepts every day, targeting, "Le Monde" reports, both individuals with suspected links to terrorism and prominent leaders in business and politics. France's outrage was blistering.

LAURENT FABIUS, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): These kind of practices between partners that violate privacy are totally unacceptable.

SCIUTTO: Even as Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris on an official visit.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We in the United States are currently reviewing the way that we gather intelligence. I think that's appropriate. And our goal is always to try to find the right balance between protecting the security and the privacy of our citizens.

SCIUTTO: Any new balance will have to be struck with a long list of allies now revealed by Snowden to have been targets of NSA eavesdropping, including Germany, Britain, Brazil, Mexico, and the European Union.

(on camera): Is this truly damaging to the relationship not only with France, but to Brazil, Mexico and other countries who protested?

P.J. CROWLEY, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Potentially, yes. You have this political sphere, this public sphere, this aspect of trust, and, you know, there's impact, you know, when all of a sudden you have these things exposed. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: The French revelation comes just a day after the German magazine "Der Spiegel" reported again based on documents released by Edward Snowden that the NSA systematically eavesdropped on Mexico, including the public e-mail account of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, which elicited another strong protest from an ally.

The administration has not said, however, it will significantly rein in the practice, and,Wolf, we spoke to a former NSA analyst who told us in his experience there are no ethics in intel gathering, no allies, just targets. That's the dirty world of intelligence gathering, and really that's been the administration's main talking point here, is that everybody spies on everybody.

BLITZER: Everybody seems to be wondering right now, I have spoke to officials, what else has Edward Snowden got that if he hasn't released it yet, is about to be released that will be further embarrassing, at least politically to the United States?

SCIUTTO: And with this relationship he has with WikiLeaks, their strategy is always to stretch it out as long as they can, so we will certainly be seeing a lot more of these revelations.

BLITZER: Presumably, we will

Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Still ahead, the president promises to fix the Obamacare Web site, do it quickly, but now he may have overloaded the phone enrollment system as well. Stand by. Information coming in.

We're learning how two 747s managed to get within 100 feet of one another, coming very close to crashing in flight.


BLITZER: Shocking video captures the moment a bus explodes on a Southern Russian city street, killing at least six people, injuring more than 30 others. Investigators say they believe a 30-year-old female suicide bomber from the semi-autonomous republic of Dagestan is responsible.

A criminal investigation is now under way. Stand by for more news, right after this.


BLITZER: The president says there's no excuse for the failures with the Obamacare Web site, so he has computer experts working 24/7 to try to fix it. His political team is working overtime as well to try to repair the P.R. damage to his signature achievement in office.

The president took the lead in that effort today, publicly defending the program while acknowledging at least some of its problems.

Our senior White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is joining us now.

Brianna, how forthcoming was the president?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he called them kinks in the system, referring to the problems with the federal Web site, so maybe minimizing I guess the depth of some of the structural issues.

We have seen White House officials do that. But he also talked about what he called a tech surge, really mobilizing people in the government and the private sector to fix the problem. His overarching message though was this Web site is not Obamacare.


KEILAR (voice-over): An embarrassing moment for President Obama, forced to defend his signature health care reform program.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course, you probably heard that, the new Web site where people can apply for health insurance and browse and buy affordable plans in most states, hasn't worked as smoothly as it was supposed to work.

The product is good. The health insurance that's being provided is good. It's high quality and it's affordable.

KEILAR: He instructed Americans to call in.

OBAMA: I want to repeat that, 1-800-318-2596.

KEILAR: Bus it's a slow process, as CNN senior medical producer Danielle Dellorto found out.

DANIELLE DELLORTO, CNN MEDICAL PRODUCER: Basically, today you would just apply for me, I would wait a week or two, and then I call you back once I have my eligibility, and then we would go over the plans?

KEILAR: Not exactly what the president had in mind five days before the Obamacare Web site launched, when he said you could buy insurance.

OBAMA: Same way you shop for a TV on Amazon.

KEILAR: In states that launched their own Web sites, users have had better luck.

JANICE BAKER, USING OBAMACARE: I am now honored to introduce the president of the United States.

KEILAR: Janice Baker, the first person to sign up in Delaware, was facing the possibility of going without insurance due to relatively minor preexisting conditions.

BAKER: Osteoporosis, cholesterol, things like that.

KEILAR (on camera): And you were denied how many times?

BAKER: Three.

KEILAR (voice-over): But on the federal site, 21 days since it launched, many Americans are still unable to enroll in Obamacare. Come mid-February, they could face a penalty if they don't have insurance, unless that deadline is delayed.

QUESTION: There's flexibility there in the law if folks...


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would simply remember you to HHS for more details, but we're working on -- or they are working on aligning those policies, the enrollment period and the individual responsibility time frame period, and they will issue guidance soon.


KEILAR: So leaving the door open there, Wolf. We have gotten word from the Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is expected to testify before them next week. No doubt she will face some tough questions from those members of Congress.

BLITZER: And some of the contractors as well, October 30.


KEILAR: That's on Thursday. That's right.


BLITZER: Yes. That's when she's going to be testifying.

All right, thanks very much, Brianna, for that report.

We're learning more right now about a terrifyingly close call involving two jumbo jets that were only 100 feet away from crashing in flight. It appears the pilots failed to follow instructions.

Chris Lawrence has got the details for us.

What happened here, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is something that the British investigators still cannot say with any certainty. They know the pilots were at fault here, but still can't understand why they did what they did.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Two jumbo jets came close to a catastrophic collision over Scotland, with up to 1,000 passengers on board. Somehow, the pilots got so confused they nearly steered their planes right into each other.

STEVEN WALLACE, FORMER FAA ACCIDENT INVESTIGATION CHIEF: This is very hard to explain, because it appears that two airplanes with two pilots in each airplane, everything got it wrong initially.

LAWRENCE: Both 747s were about to cross the Atlantic. One climbed to a cruising altitude, which put them on a path to converge. An air travel controller immediately told the plane on the left turn left, the plane on the right turn right, but the pilots misinterpreted the orders ends and did the opposite. They turned toward each other.

The 747s got within three miles when the emergency order was giving for one to go up, the other down.

(on camera): Were the pilots told one thing and all four of them heard the complete opposite? Is that possible?

WALLACE: The conclusion of the British investigators was that each pilot did what the other pilot was instructed to do.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Even though they were miles away, at one point one plane was just 100 feet above the other.

WALLACE: And the report said that in this airspace they're supposed to be 1,000 feet vertical and five nautical miles horizontal, so they were clearly not separated by that much.



British investigators found that the instructions the pilots got were simple, clear, that the pilots understood those instructions, and that their call signs were so completely different, it would be hard to mix them up.

One thing that American flyers can take comfort in, there's not been a collision of U.S. airlines since 1978 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence reporting for us, thank you.


BLITZER: Just ahead, it looks as though Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn will get a chance to grill the health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, about the Obamacare Web site's failures. Congresswoman Blackburn, you see her there, she's standing by live. We will discuss.


BLITZER: A huge and dangerous mega-fire may be forming right now. Dozens of fires are raging in the bush near Sydney, Australia. Officials fear they will merge together fueled by hot, dry and windy conditions. The fires already have eaten through an area larger than New York City, damaging or destroying more than 200 homes.

More news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The president acknowledged today that serious problems with Obamacare have given his critics plenty of ammunition and he urged the Republicans to help make the Web site and the overall health care law even better.


OBAMA: But I just want to remind everybody, we did not wage this long and contentious battle just to run a Web site. That's not what this was about.


OBAMA: And in the meantime, I've said many times, I am willing to work with anyone on any idea to make this law perform even better. But it's time for folks to stop rooting for the failure, because hard- working middle class families are rooting for its success.


BLITZER: Let's discuss with Republican congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will hold hearings later this week, Thursday, on what is going on.

We're just getting word that next week, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, will be appearing before your committee to answer all your questions. I assume you're pleased by that decision?

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Well, we certainly would have preferred for her to be there this Thursday. We sent the information to her, the request two weeks ago. We wanted her to come this week. She's got time for Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show," but she doesn't have time to come to those of us who are tasked with overseeing this. And now, finally, I think after catching a whole lot of flack from the American people, she's decided next week would better than this week, and that way she doesn't have to change her plans.

But Wolf, what we're trying to do is figure out what went wrong with this contract. When you've got over a half billion dollars on a no- bid, single-source contract, you've got some problems. Most web developers I have talked to have said you would expect for about a half-million dollars to build this type aggregator Web site and not the exorbitant amount of taxpayer money that went into this. And it has been a colossal failure.

BLITZER: Let's talk about that money. You're saying that the U.S. government, the American taxpayers have already spent $500 million on this Web site alone? Because I've heard various numbers, $200 million, $300 million, $400 million, but you now have confirmed based on the information you have it's $500 million?

BLACKBURN: Right. And when you look at the contract that went out on this and you look at the fact that it went to a Canadian company -- and I think one of the things, Wolf, you have to look at too is the fact that there are coding problems that are embedded in this.

We want to know how did it get so off-track? And Secretary Sebelius, who is tasked with overseeing this, why was she not on top of this? When you talk about this amount of money, you talk about this period of time, it's problematic.

Now, what we are going to hear from this week will be some of the contractors who have worked on this. We think we'll have four contractors in front of us: CGI, Equifax and --

BLITZER: Serco, and Serco.

BLACKBURN: -- and a couple others. Yes, Serco.


BLITZER: CGI is sort of the affiliate of that Canadian company that got the biggest part of this deal.

So, I'll ask you a question I've asked a lot of people. I don't know if you have the answer. Who screwed up here?

BLACKBURN: Well, see, that is what we're wanting to know. And we hope the hearing will help us get to the bottom. Was it negligence? Did they plan for it to fail?


BLITZER: I'm sure they didn't plan for it to fail because they've suffered a great deal. It's humiliating. It's embarrassing the way it's been rolled out, the Web site.

BLACKBURN: Well, I agree with that. But Wolf, why did they not, given the amount of money and time that they had access to, set it up so that you could at least query the site and get through the process?

And people are incredibly frustrated with this. They look at it as being another failure and another broken promise. Health insurance costs are escalating, not going down $2,500 a family as the president had promised us they would. He had promised if you liked what you had, you could keep it. That is not true. We hear from individuals every single day, both here in my district in Tennessee and across the country who are receiving notices that their plans are no longer going to be offered --

BLITZER: But you are pleased, Congresswoman -- excuse me for interrupting -- that people with preexisting conditions who could never afford to buy health insurance, were never eligible for health insurance, are now -- now have eligibility?

BLACKBURN: And I will -- of course. We are pleased that they have access to something we on our side of the aisle would have handled it differently, with some state-based risk pools so that they had the ability to have access to affordable health insurance. And Wolf, that should be the goal of everyone in this process. How do we make certain that everyone has access to affordable health insurance? What we see happening now is that people are being priced out of the health insurance market. And what started as an $863 billion access to health insurance program has become a $2.6 trillion takeover of the healthcare industry, healthcare delivery --

BLITZER: Martha Blackburn, we've got to -- unfortunately, we got to leave it there. We're out of time. We'll continue on another day. Thanks very much.

BLACKBURN: Thank you so much, Wolf. Bye-bye.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching.

"CROSSFIRE" starts right now.