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Interview With Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise; New Info on Nevada School Shooting; Killed Teacher Remembered As Hero; Rights Groups Challenge U.S. On Drone Strikes

Aired October 22, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Please stay on the line. Your call is very important to us. How does signing up for Obamacare between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. On Thursday sound?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead. The Obamacare rollout, a marvel of dysfunction, but do we really need congressional hearings to tell us that? We will ask one of the Republicans eager to grill those who designed the Web site.

Also in national news, he survived the battlefields of Afghanistan, only to die on a school playground, a Nevada teacher and former Marine gunned down while shielding others from danger. In moments, we will hear from a student who witnessed the horror firsthand.

And the pop culture lead. Music videos, seems like MTV hasn't played one since before Snooki was born, yet it still has the "V.M.A.s." Now the modern go-to spot for music videos is YouTube and they are handing out their own awards, too. But will you watch?

Good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We will begin with the national lead.

Let's talk about the right and wrong ways to roll out a product for a minute. Say what you will about Tim Cook's reign at Apple compared to Steve Jobs, but Apple still knows what it is doing. You drum up excitement, you stir up positive word of mouth, reveal the thing people are clamoring for and preferably standing in front of a giant screen never hurts.

Earlier, Cook unveiled a new lightweight iPad, a new iPad Mini and the new Mavericks Mac operating system, among other products. Apple will move millions of units before the end of the year, et cetera, et cetera, yadda, yadda, yadda. That's the right way to do it. Now let's look back to the 1st of this month to another product launch, Obamacare.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Remain calm. All is well. All is well!

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: I'm sorry. That was a clip from "Animal House." I'm not sure how that was put in there. Let's try it again. Here's the administration the day that the Obamacare Web sites were launched.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system and within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I'm not an expert on Web design, so I can't guarantee that there aren't glitches that are just technical in nature.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I think that the volume-related issues are ones that we welcome, frankly.

OBAMA: I don't remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads.


TAPPER: Yes, because picking out your best health insurance plan, checking with the IRS to see if you qualify for a subsidy, double checking to see if you already have insurance and then enrolling, that's the same thing as purchasing an iPad.

Maybe it's time for President Obama to try a black turtleneck on for size, see if that works any better. Apple, for one, must be very, very happy that the administration has dropped its comparisons. But from day one, the White House tried talking around the debacle of the Affordable Care Web site exchanges. President Obama yesterday publicly acknowledged the problems, but insisted that they are being fixed and interest remains high.

Public opinion, however, not so much. In a new CBS News poll, only 12 percent said the sign-ups are going well. Nearly half say it's not going well. So the public thinks it's going not well. Even one of the president's own former innovation fellows, Clay Johnson, says the contractors who made this Web site were -- quote -- "at best sloppy and , at worst, unqualified for the job."

This has all given Republicans so much ammo. And the House Energy and Commerce Committee holds a hearing on Thursday, but Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will not be there. Instead, she says she will meet with the committee next week.

Congressman Steve Scalise is on the Energy and Commerce Committee. He's a Republican from Louisiana. He's also chair of the Republican Study Committee -- group -- study -- what is it?

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: Republican Study Committee.

TAPPER: Study Committee, that's what I thought. And it's a conservative committee. So you're not going to have Obama administration officials at this hearing on Thursday, so who is going to be there?

SCALISE: Well, supposedly, we are going to be talking to some of the people who actually developed this Web site.

Obviously, we have got a lot of serious questions, lot of questions that they have still yet to answer. We're talking about a Web site that the administration had over three years to develop this and they spent over $500 million. This is more than Facebook cost to build and over a billion people use Facebook and it works.

So we're not talking about some kind of low bid, you know, small cost contract.

TAPPER: Are you trying to get to the bottom of how to fix it? Is that the goal here? Or is this more, we want to bring people to account for what has not been a successful rollout?

SCALISE: Well, I think accountability is at the forefront.

TAPPER: I'm not criticizing accountability. But there are a lot of people who want to -- I mean, you would admit there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Americans who want to sign up. They want the problem solved.

SCALISE: Well, they want the problem solved and they also want to know how can you roll out a product like this without even testing it?

Clearly -- I used to develop software for a living before I came to Congress. We would pull all-nighters to make sure the day of the rollout, the product actually worked. And, clearly, they didn't do that.

I tried getting on the site and I spent over two hours. I got kicked out four times, I got a bunch of blank screens, a whole lot of "Please, wait" boxes, something you don't get in the private sector. The president likes talking about Apple and Kayak and other Web sites that actually do work. This is a system that you go buy an iPad, even if it had a glitch, it still works. This is not a glitch. This is a national embarrassment.

TAPPER: The president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, who has been critical of the rollout, he told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "I think the administration trusted their subcontractors. There is an astronaut joke that an astronaut is a guy sitting on top of a rocket assembled by the lowest bidders. Obamacare is a bit like the astronaut on top of the rocket."

I think he's paraphrasing "Armageddon" there, but it's not like the government can afford to have Mark Zuckerberg design this site. Right? They have to, because they are the stewards of taxpayer dollars, go after the cheapest.

SCALISE: No. They would have saved money if they had Mark Zuckerberg.


TAPPER: I'm saying, they can't afford Mark Zuckerberg is my point.

SCALISE: They spent more than Mark Zuckerberg spent in the first five years of Facebook's life span.

TAPPER: You take my point, that they have to get cheapest bids?

SCALISE: Clearly, they did not do the cheapest bid on this contract. It was a Canadian company. They spent over $500 million of taxpayer money. Spotify cost maybe 10 percent of that. You look at Twitter, you look at other software products that people go online, and whether they're exchanging information or purchasing products, those Web sites cost a whole lot less money to develop and those Web sites work, and they handle more traffic.

TAPPER: So you're head of the Republican Study Committee. You unveiled your own health care bill, the committee, and you have introduced legislation to repeal and to...

SCALISE: Replace the bill.

TAPPER: Replace the bill. I guess my question is why should Americans watching these hearings on Thursday think that this is going to be a legitimate attempt by Congress to find out what went wrong and fix it, as opposed to another attempt to talk about how horrible the law is itself, a law that passed the House, passed the Senate, was signed by the president and found constitutional by the Supreme Court?

SCALISE: Well, people don't like the law in general and a lot of people that are going on these Web sites, they are expecting to find out information, are being asked a lot of very personal information that has nothing to do with their health care.

TAPPER: Like what?

SCALISE: Well, they are being asked what is their race, ethnicity, is their wife pregnant, for example? That was a question I was asked. Again...

TAPPER: Isn't that relevant for you're getting insurance?

SCALISE: Well, the president said that you're not going to be rated based on your health.


TAPPER: Well, if you're 75 years old, you probably don't need a plan that offers prenatal care. I'm just guessing.


SCALISE: But the bottom line is, Jake, this Web site clearly doesn't work. The president admits it doesn't work. And yet people, American families right now are being told under the law that if they don't go on to this Web site that doesn't work and buy a product that they can't afford and give their personal information to the IRS who can't be trusted with it, they will be fined by the federal government.

If the Web site's not working, one thing I think is a basic request that a lot of American families have is if I can't even go online and buy this product that the law says I have to buy, shouldn't the president at least waive the fine for the individual mandate, like he waived it for business?

TAPPER: It's a fair question. I asked the White House that yesterday. Their response was that there are still other ways to get Obamacare. There's the phone number. There are -- you can fax it in. There are other ways...

SCALISE: Well, the phone -- the 800 number, if you can get through, it's busy now because the Web site doesn't work -- they actually refer you back to the Web site that doesn't work.

TAPPER: Well, there are people who have been able to get -- I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's going well, but there are people who have been able to get insurance through the Web site.


SCALISE: There have been very small numbers. If you look at some states, they spent over $100,000 per person that successfully signed up, again, not a good bang for your buck. And you compare that to the private sector that the president's comparing it to, the president's the one out there saying this is like Apple or Kayak or some other Web site -- they spent a whole lot less money to build Web sites that do work where people, millions of people every day are able to go and actually buy products.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, chair of the Republican Study Committee, thank you so much for coming in. We appreciate it.

SCALISE: Great being with you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next on THE LEAD, a hero teacher walks toward a student shooter, buying time for other kids to flee. We are getting a clearer picture now of what happened on that middle school playground in Nevada yesterday from the students who witnessed the shooting. And I will talk to one of them next.

Plus, a Democratic congressman refuses to apologize for sending out this image as a fund-raising ploy. Did he go too far by comparing the Tea Party to the KKK? Do I really need to ask that question?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In national news, their voices noticeably shaken, one after another, students and teachers call 911 hoping someone, anyone, could save them from the nightmare they were living at a middle school in Sparks, Nevada, yesterday.

It's still not clear what made a 12-year-old student bring a gun to school and open fire, killing a teacher and injuring two of his fellow students, before turning the gun on himself. But newly released 911 tapes paint a picture of the panic after he was spotted on school grounds aiming his weapon.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody brought a gun to school and they shot a teacher.

911 OPERATOR: Shot -- the teacher's down?


911 OPERATOR: OK. We will get somebody out there right away. You're at Sparks Middle School?


They shot again.

911 OPERATOR: Shot again?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you get the police out here? There's a kid with a gun.

911 OPERATOR: OK. Where are they with the gun?


911 OPERATOR: Where are they with the gun?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sparks Middle School.

911 OPERATOR: I know, but where at the school? That's what I'm saying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: By the basketball court.

911 OPERATOR: By the basketball court?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Please send someone now.


TAPPER: Police aren't releasing any details about the shooter, but we do know the murdered teacher had a military background, so it's no surprise Mike Landsberry died while trying to protect his students.

One witness says that Landsberry approached the shooter, asked him to hand over his gun and that's when he got shot. You're about to hear from a student who saw this horrific scene play out. But, first, let's go live now to CNN's Stephanie Elam, who is in Sparks, Nevada, with the very latest on the investigation -- Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, what we have learned now is a better picture of what exactly happened here just before 7:15 a.m. local time.

What police are telling us now is that the student shooter came on to campus. He first encountered one student. That's the one he shot in the shoulder. Then, coming across the playground, he encountered his teacher -- or I don't know if it's his teacher, but a teacher, Michael Landsberry, walking toward him, trying to confront him.

That is when the teacher was shot in the chest. The student then found another student, shot that one in the abdomen, before taking his own life. And police are saying, during that time, other students were allowed to run while Michael Landsberry was there confronting the student and that the staff and student inside the school ensured that he did not get inside with that weapon.

That's something they're saying is very helpful because it could have been a much worse situation. Also learning that the parents of the assailant have police protection with them. They have been cooperating fully with the police as this investigation continues, and they could face charges if it's found out that this gun that he used belonged to them and that it wasn't handled properly, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, CNN's Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

The teacher killed in the school shooting was known affectionately by his students as Batman, and he lived up to his superhero nickname in the final moments of his life, shouting at students to run for cover while he pleaded with the 12-year-old shooter to hand over his gun.

A Facebook page set up in Mike Landsberry's memory includes a touching message from his stepdaughter which was posted a few weeks ago that reads in part, "This man, my dad, has been through so much to make me and my family happy and I don't know what I would do without him." She goes on to write, "No matter what, I'll always love him" and to that, Landsberry responded, "I love you all so very much. You all are my world. My everything."

We want to talk to someone who witnessed some of the tragic events that played out yesterday. Thirteen-year-old Kyle Nucum is a student at Sparks Middle School. He joins us now live.

Kyle, thanks so much.

First of all, I'm so sorry for what you've been through. I'm so glad you're OK. I'm sure everybody watching is so glad you're OK. Thank you for joining us.

Tell us as best you can what you saw yesterday.

KYLE NUCUM, WITNESSED SPARKS MIDDLE SCHOOL SHOOTING: I was just talking to my friends and then I heard a loud pop. For a second, I thought it was a firecracker at first, and then I turned around and see a teacher approach the gunman and then the gunman is pointing the gun towards the teacher, and he fires a shot at the teacher, and then everybody started screaming and running.

And we continued running across the soccer field, and we heard about five to four more shots. And I turned around and saw the teacher laying down and the gunman shooting at the other students, and we ran into this lady that let us into her house and from there, we called our parents.

TAPPER: Your parents must have been so happy to have heard from you.

Did you know Mr. Landsberry at all?

NUCUM: I didn't know him as well as many other students did, but we had the occasional talk here and there.

TAPPER: Tell us about him.

NUCUM: He was always a positive guy. He would always try and make other people's days, you know, like more better. Yes. That was the kind of guy he was.

TAPPER: There are some reports that the shooter had been bullied. Do you know anything about that?

NUCUM: I don't really personally know him, but I think that's what everybody's telling me, too, that he was bullied. That's what I'm guessing also, because he was yelling a bunch of things while we were running.

TAPPER: What was he yelling?

NUCUM: He was yelling stuff like why, "Are you laughing at me, why are you doing this to me," like that.

TAPPER: To Mr. Landsberry or to other students?

NUCUM: He was just yelling at us, to everybody.

TAPPER: Do you happen to know if the shooter had any grudge with the teacher or any other students?

NUCUM: I'm not sure about that.

TAPPER: Kyle, does your school practice school shooting drills?

NUCUM: We have practiced a bunch of earthquake drills but I'm not really familiar with a lot of shooting drills that we were taught that much. But we were taught stuff like code reds and code yellows.

TAPPER: So, you and your fellow students, you have experienced a traumatic event and this is something very serious and there's no shame and there's no -- nothing wrong with seeking help or talking to anybody, and I'm sure all of your fellow students are trying to seek counseling. You think you're going to be OK going back to sparks middle school some day?

NUCUM: Yes, I think I'm going to be OK. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be safe there now.

TAPPER: What did your parents say to you last night when you got home?

NUCUM: My mom just told me that she's glad to see me and that's it. Just, you know, she was just in tears.

TAPPER: All right, Kyle. Stay strong, my friend. Thank you for sharing your story. Our thoughts are with you and your entire community as you try to get through all this.

NUCUM: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thanks for talking to us.

Coming up next on THE LEAD: a grandmother, a cleric that preached peace, two new reports on U.S. drone attacks are highlighting the unintended victims of the war on terror. How does the Obama administration respond?

Plus, one of the most expensive colleges in the United States is now admitting to playing favorites with wealthy applicants. Which college?

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In our world lead now, two new reports out today highlight the toll of drone strikes carried out by the Obama administration. Civilian casualties, something even President Obama has acknowledged.

The human rights group Amnesty International documents nine strikes in Pakistan between 2012 and 2013. One of them was on October 24th, 2012, according to Amnesty. The strike killed a 68-year-old grandmother who was tending to her crops. They say her family witnessed her death including her young grandchildren.

Human Rights Watch looked at six U.S. strikes in Yemen that they say killed 57 civilians, including a cleric and his cousin on August 29th of last year. Human Rights Watch says these men were known to preach against al Qaeda's violent methods.

The potential consequence of these casualties may have been best explained by Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban while meeting with the president and his family earlier this month. She said she told the president that these drone strikes are, quote, "fueling terrorism," unquote.

But Obama administration officials maintain that drone strikes allow the U.S. government to help keep the world safer with small strategic hits that eliminate enemies of the U.S. and our allies at less of a cost in money or animosity than boots on the ground.

Let's bring in Mustafa Qadri. He's Amnesty International's Pakistan researcher.

And Jeremy Bash, who was chief of staff for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He's now the founder and managing director of Beacon Global Strategies, a national defense advisory firm.

Mustafa, I'll get to you in a second.

But, Jeremy, just a quick reaction to the Amnesty report or the Human Rights one. They seem to be fairly diligent reports on clear civilian casualties.


Well, like Mustafa and like the authors of the report, I wish we lived in a world without terrorism. I wish we lived in the world without training camps. I wish we lived in a world without the leaders of al Qaeda. But that's not the world we live in.

So, the question really for the United States is, how do we go after terrorists who hide in areas where we can't send in tanks, where we can't send in special forces, where we can't barrage the camps with artillery? So, we developed a very precise, very effective weapon that can take out terrorists before they plot attacks against us.

I definitely dispute the characterizations that civilians have been targeted or that they have been killed en masse. In fact, every operation I'm aware of, I would say that the ironclad rule is that if a noncombatant is there, if a woman or child was there, no operation will proceed. Our operators are very diligent and this weapon is very, very precise.

TAPPER: Mustafa?

MUSTAFA QADRI, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Yes. Look, I mean, you seem like someone that I can trust, but the problem is right now, all I can do is trust you. We've looked at, at least two cases where a grandmother was killed, civilians were killed, laborers, including a young boy. There may be others.

The problem is right now, there's no accountability. So we have to open that up. At least in these cases, we've documented them very diligently, as you say. The authorities must explain.

President Obama has to explain why have these people been targeted, what kind of threat do they pose to the United States?

TAPPER: Well, explain what you mean by accountability. You think that -- I mean, because these are obviously top secret strikes. You don't think they should explain who they are going to hit before they hit them.

QADRI: Certainly, in these sort of cases, where clearly you're talking about civilians, clearly people who are not a threat to the United States. At a minimum the U.S. should explain how did this happen, why did it happen, who was the target and if there has been as we are saying, human rights violation potentially, extrajudicial execution is a war crime, someone needs to be investigated.

We're not talking about every single drone strike. What we're saying is that at the moment, there has not been a satisfactory explanation in law or fact to justify this whole program.

TAPPER: And, in fact, I should point out both of these reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch detail strikes in which al Qaeda in the cases of Yemen and Taliban in the cases of Pakistan, individuals, militants or terrorists, whatever you want to call them, were struck and were killed but they also talk about civilians as well.

Mustafa, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the reports today. I want to play you what he said and get your reaction.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: To the extent these reports claim that the U.S. has acted contrary to international law, we would strongly disagree. We take mindful of the absolute need to limit civilian casualties and to, in this case, reach a standard of near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured which is the highest standard we or any country could set.


TAPPER: Your reaction?

QADRI: Well, I mean, look, if the U.S. claims that these are not illegal, unlawful strikes, give us the evidence. Give us the legal explanation for how you justify killing a grandmother in front of her grandchildren, how do you explain killing a young 14-year-old boy who himself in such a poor village had to be a laborer in a mine at that age? How do you explain those killings?

TAPPER: Jeremy, when U.S. troops kill civilians, presumably accidentally in Afghanistan or Iraq, there's a process under which these individuals can be compensated to a degree. I think one of the points that is being made here is because these drone -- the justification for these drone strikes is kept top secret, there's no way for these people to seek any sort of redress for their grievances.