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Massive New Effort to Fix Obamacare Site; Red Flags Signaled Obamacare Problems; Shutdown Forces Delay in Tax Season; Promising Step Toward Baldness Cure; Interview With Rep. Elijah Cummings; Nevada School Shootings; Real-Life Story of Killer Whale Keiko; Batting with Beards

Aired October 22, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, shocking new information about why the Obamacare website launch fizzled. Sources tell CNN there were warnings in advance that things could go wrong.

Delayed by the government shutdown, the latest jobs report shows a drop in hiring. Why isn't Wall Street worried?

And a promising new step toward a potential cure for baldness, we have the details on an exciting new study. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's 22 days after the Obamacare web site was rolled out like a new car with flat tires and no engine, the administration is launching an all-out tech surge to fix the clunker. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says this will include outside experts, including veterans of top Silicon Valley companies.

CNN is learning some new stunning details about the launch. There were warnings from the start that this rollout could be a bust and is it possible that no one was really in charge? CNN's Joe Johns is standing by with that part of the story. But let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. Brianna, what's the latest on the Obamacare web site problems?


Well, Jeff Zients, whose name I know you recognize, a former administration official, is the chief performance officer. He was the acting OMB director, as well as one of the president's top economic advisers. And he also has a lot of private sector experience. He is a former CEO.

And we've learned that he is bringing -- being brought in, really, to help through this troubled period with the Web site and with the continued rollout of Obamacare.

We also had heard from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that a number of other people, names we do not know, but we are told that they are folks inside of government, as well as government contractors, including, we understand, veterans of top Silicon Valley companies, being brought in. There's still a lot of unanswered questions, though.

For instance, when this is going to be fixed; how much it will cost to fix it; how much that will cost taxpayers; and, also, whether this may delay that individual mandate, that penalty that folks will have to pay if they don't have insurance. The White House clearly not wanting to box themselves in on those questions. They prefer, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, not to Monday morning quarterback, but to fix the problem.

Here's more of what he said.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You'll get no argument from me or anyone else here that there are problems and there were problems that need to be addressed. And we're improving the experience for consumers every day. And we won't rest until Americans who want to get more information about the affordable health care options available to them through the Web site are able to do that smoothly and are able to register and sign up.


KEILAR: And so many headlines around this right now, Wolf. Of course, the political. You have Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Chairman It's such a, who has sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, wondering, really, asking if politics played a role in the fact that initially, people had to register for the Web site before they could see the pricing. That has since changed.

We've also been hearing calls, of course, for Secretary Sebelius to step down, as well as there are hearings coming up on Thursday. And we're expecting that she will testify next week.

Some lighter headlines as well, though, Wolf. Some state exchanges getting rather creative as they try to promote their product. In Colorado, one of the campaigns that they're launching is called Brosurance. Picture of somewhat look like frat brothers. And it says, "Keg stands are crazy. Not having health insurance is crazier.

Don't tap into your beer money to cover those medical bills. We've got it covered."

So it shows you, Wolf, the White House sort of straddling between trying to pitch this product and really address all of the criticisms and the frustrations with it.

BLITZER: Are they open to this notion that the decision to bring Jeffrey Zients, who's going to be the new head of the National Economic Council once Gene Sperling leaves in a couple of months, to take -- to really help out in this, that that's sort of a vote of no confidence in the existing team that's been in charge of this rollout?

KEILAR: You know, they're not certainly putting it that way, Wolf. I think what they're acknowledging, tacitly, in this move is that they need more help than they have now. And they'll point, certainly, to the fact that he has private and public sector experience.

But you -- it's sort of an acknowledgment, I think, that they need some help in what they're doing right now.

BLITZER: Yes. And the president was ominously silent yesterday in the big event in the Rose Garden. Yet Kathleen Sebelius sitting there in the front row. He never mentioned her once during those entire remarks, which was pretty surprising to me.

There she is right there, sitting next to Dennis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, and Valerie Jarrett. You would have thought the president would have said something about her. She's the secretary of Health and Human Services and in charge of this entire Obamacare rollout and everything else involving that.

We'll see what happens on that front,

Brianna, thanks very, very much.

Who could have foreseen that the Obamacare Web site rollout would be such a fiasco?

Lots of people, apparently, inside had serious, serious doubts.

Joe Johns is working this part of the story -- you're learning there were plenty of concerns, lots of warnings that apparently weren't heeded -- Joe, what happened?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's certainly true, Wolf.

So why is it that the government missed the red flags indicating the rollout of the Web site would be such a flop? Much of the finger-pointing right now is on CMS, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and their role in the project.


JOHNS (voice-over): Sources in and outside the government who spoke to CNN blame the problems with the Web site on a variety of issues leading up to the launch, especially the lack of a true point person, a true project manager who could give CMS what one insider called a "no BS assessment of how imperfect the rollout would be."

The White House is hoping to solve that problem by naming a fixer, business whiz Jeff Zients.

CARNEY: He's an expert in the field of effective management. And HHS will be tapping his experience and expertise as they address the challenges that have come up with the administration of the Web site.

JOHNS: What may have made the rollout worse was failure to manage expectations. Sources said they were aware of capacity problems.

When confronted with reality that the Web site was going to underperform, a source said higher-ups circled the wagons, overpromising that any glitches wouldn't be that bad. In fact, the Health and Human Services secretary was actually on CNN downplaying the capacity problems on the day the Web site rolled out.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: But I think the volume-related issues are ones that we welcome, frankly. It shows how many people are eager to get real information.

JOHNS: A source familiar with the situation tells CNN a subsidiary of Verizon has been working on the Web site's network capacity issues.

As far as the Web site itself goes, sources said the government did not know what it wanted in the first place and kept changing the goalposts, or revising the plan on Web site design, making it extremely difficult for multiple contractors to deliver a product.

But a former member of the president's technology team says contractors shouldn't escape blame, either.

CLAY JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL INNOVATION FELLOW: I had a feeling that wasn't going to go the way that everyone wanted back in February. But the only reason I had that feeling is because if you look at the history of federal IT projects, they almost always result in failure.


JOHNS: Clay Johnson says the government should stop naming huge companies to do new technology projects and hire smaller, more agile companies.

We asked Verizon for a statement for this story and they declined to comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story it is.

All right, Joe, thanks very much.

Up next, how the shutdown will impact your taxes. We have important new information that will affect when you file your taxes with the IRS.

Stay with us for that.

And get this -- could there be a cure for baldness in sight?

A new study reveals a promising development. We have the details of that, as well.


BLITZER: More fallout today from the government shutdown. The Internal Revenue Service says it will delay the start of the tax filing season for a week or two.

CNN's Alison Kosik is joining us now from the New York Stock Exchange -- Alison, so what's the reason for this? Does this mean tax filers will get some extra time?



I have to laugh about that.

Do you think -- this is the IRS. I doubt they would ever give extra time. And this includes this time, either, as well.

The deadline is going to stay the same -- April 15th for your filing. It has to be in by April 15th.

This warning that you're talking about is for the early birds. These are people who file their returns as soon as they can. Many of them are looking forward to getting refunds, so they like to file early.

The IRS is going to begin taking these tax returns sometime between January 28th and February 4th. Previously, it was on January 21st. The official date is going to be announced in December.

Why is this happening?

Why else?

The shutdown. So it came at the time of the year when the IRS is busy preparing the tax sea -- the system that -- for the tax season. They are processing, you know, 150 million tax returns. That's a huge undertaking.

So what happens is, in the fall, they begin testing the system out, updating it. They didn't get a chance to do that because they didn't come to work to do it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alison, the -- also delayed by the shutdown, the release of the September jobs report that came out this morning -- 148,000 jobs added. That's less than the month before, less than anticipated. But the unemployment rate fell from 7.3 percent to 7.2 percent, so it's sort of a mixed report.

How are people seeing it?

KOSIK: Yes. I mean first, the good stuff. The unemployment rate fell. And it fell for a good reason, because people are finding work, not just dropping out of the labor force, something that we've seen in the earlier reports. That's where they weren't counted. So there's good news there, that the unemployment rate fell.

But look at this. It's slow, though, the job growth, I'm talking about. It hasn't budged for three years. This is where the problem is. You look this year, we're averaging about 178,000 jobs being added per month. Last year, it was 183,000.

Guess what 2011 was?

About the same, only adding about 175,000 jobs, on average, per month.

So what you should really be seeing are these bars on the screen there growing, not staying at the same height, which is pretty much what they're doing. So what's happening is not enough people are getting jobs to bring down the unemployment rate as fast as we'd like -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point, Alison.

So if it's not a great jobs report, why do Wall Street numbers keep going up and up and up?

KOSIK: Because they like the report because of the headline numbers, but because of what they mean, meaning the way Wall Street sees things, it's sort of bad news is good news for Wall Street. The way that Wall Street thinks is they expect the Fed stimulus to continue, meaning the Fed stimulus where the Fed is pouring billions of dollars of money into the economy, propping up the stock market. So many here on Wall Street are thinking these numbers were pretty weak, so the Fed is going to continue...


BLITZER: It looks like we just lost Alison Kosik over there, so we'll connect with her. But you got the gist of what she was saying.

She's down at the New York Stock Exchange.

The latest job numbers, by the way, do not include the 16-day government shut down and its aftermath.

So does that mean we can expect a weaker employment report when October's numbers come out?

I put that question to Jason Furman.

He's the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.


JASON FURMAN, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: We have some initial indications about October. We know that unemployment insurance claims were declining steadily up until the shutdown, but then they jumped up 50,000. We know Gallup does an index that's a pretty good measure of job creation. That also was doing decently before the shutdown. And it took a big blow in the first half of October.

BLITZER: What does it mean, that there are, what, 852,000, nearly a million so-called discouraged workers who have simply given up hope of getting a job?

FURMAN: You know, Wolf, there's a number of different ways that we measure the unemployment rate. The official measure has fallen from 10 percent at its peak, pretty steadily down to 7.2 percent now. There are broader measures of unemployment that count those discouraged workers as unemployed, count people working part-time for economic reasons as unemployed.

JASON FURMAN, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Wolf, there's a number of different ways that we measure the unemployment rate. The official measure has fallen from 10 percent at its peak pretty steadily down to 7.2 percent now. There are broader measures of unemployment that count those discouraged workers as unemployed, count people working part-time for economic reasons as unemployed.

Those broader measures have also declined at roughly the same pace, if not a faster pace. So, no matter how you're looking at the labor market, you see the same story, which is broad improvement over the last couple years, but a lot more needs to be done, and you know, more needs to be done in terms of policies to get us there.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Much more on this story coming up later this hour.

Also, other news we're following, including a potential breakthrough in the search for a cure for baldness. We have details of a surprising new study. That's just ahead.

And scores of raging wildfires tearing across Australia. Authorities fear the worst is still to come. We'll have the latest for you. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the other top stories we're monitoring right now in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER (voice-over): Extraordinary pictures out of Australia where authorities are bracing for the worst. The scores of wildfires, some 1,000 miles long, tear across its most populated state. Officials say they're bringing in another 1,500 firefighters to join the 1,000 emergency crews already on the ground.

Officials expect tomorrow to be as bad as it gets. Nearly 300,000 acres have already been torched. More than 200 homes destroyed.

Schools, major roads, and an airport in Northeastern China remain closed amid a filthy cloud of smog engulfing much of the region. Pollution levels are well above international standards right now. Government officials are blaming conditions on too little wind, farmers burning crop stalks from their autumn harvest.

Investigators are said to be looking at ten missing children cases from countries including United States in connection with a suspected kidnapping of a mystery child in Greece. Authorities have charged a Roma or gypsy couple with the abduction, although, they say she was adopted. The child, being called Maria, is believed to be five or six according to medical tests. Take a good look at this shot of the Capitol Dome right now, because it's about to undergo an estimated $60 million renovation. Its first in more than 50 years. Due to age and weather, the building is said to be plagued by more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies. The project which is set to begin next month is expected to take about two years, will involve plenty of scaffolding before its completed.

And take a look at this.


BLITZER: This is the Ohio State marching band performing at halftime, a Michael Jackson tribute. If you watch closely, you can see the band forming into the King of Pop's profile complete with the white glove, slowly moonwalking down the field. And they're playing plenty of Michael Jackson hits as they are doing it. Truly an amazing performance. Good job.


BLITZER (on-camera): A promising new step toward a potential, potential cure for baldness revealed in a new study. Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. She's got the details. So, Elizabeth, why is this research potentially so significant?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, because Wolf, it seems to be a proof of principle. Let me tell you what these researchers at Columbia in New York City did. What they did is they took cells from hair follicles, from hair follicles, and they put these follicles on to skin that doesn't bear hair, where hair would never grow. They put the follicles on that skin and then they put that piece of skin on the back of a mouse and they waited some time.

And what they found was that hair grew. So, you wouldn't expect it to grow, but it actually did grow. And so, you know, there's obviously a lot more work to be done, but as I said, this is a proof of principle, that this kind of thing could possibly work.

BLITZER: But they're saying it's promising, right? As you say, there's a lot more work that needs to be done.

COHEN: Right. There certainly is. So, for example, you know, hair falls out. So, will it grow back in when it falls out under these circumstances? Will it grow back in over a period of years? I mean, there's lots of things that they need to figure out first.

BLITZER: If it does work, any idea when it might really be usable for humans?

COHEN: You know, it would be many, many years. So, they need another three to five years to keep doing this work until they try it in human beings. Then they have to do those trials which take years, and then they have to apply to the FDA. It's going to be a long time. I always like to say with stories like this, this may never come to fruition. This may be the last that we hear of it. But even if it does work, it will take years until someone can actually buy it.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen with that medical study, thank you.

Up next, no one in charge. Warnings that things could go very wrong. I'll talk about the Obamacare website problems with Democratic congressman, Elijah Cummings. He's the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

By the way, you can tweet us some suggested questions. Don't forget to use the hash tag, sitroom.

Also ahead, a huge boost for efforts to legalize marijuana. There's a new poll that is out. You will be surprised by what it reveals.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story right now. Sources telling CNN there were red flags early on that the Obamacare Web site rollout could have some major problems. We're learning that no one person was really in charge of the entire operation.

Here's a question. Should someone be held accountable for the failures?

Let's discuss with Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland. He's the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you must be very frustrated. Were you surprised to learn that apparently no one was really in charge of this Web site rollout, even though they had a couple years to plan for it?

CUMMINGS: Yes, a bit surprised. But Wolf, what we've got to concentrate now on is making sure that the Web site works. And I'm hoping that Republicans and Democrats will see this not as a partisan issue, but as one that we have to make work for all the American people. Failure is just not an option.

BLITZER: Well, let me get to that point, because your responsibility is congressional oversight --

CUMMINGS: That's right.

BLITZER: -- and when there are mistakes in the executive branch of the government, your responsibility is to learn from those mistakes, report to the American people what happened, and then hopefully we won't repeat those mistakes down the road.

CUMMINGS: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: So, your committee has a legitimate oversight responsibility right now, you and Darrell Issa, the chairman of your committee. CUMMINGS: That's right. We certainly do. And what we -- Chairman Issa has already said that he wants to look into this matter. But I want to make sure that this does not turn out to be one of those situations where the chairman makes these allegations, the press don't follow up on them to make sure they're true or false, and then later we find out that they are absolutely inaccurate.

So we've got to do -- I've said to Chairman Issa over and over and over again, I want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So we're going to be looking into it and trying to make sure that we make it work.

Keep in mind, Republicans have spent the last few years trying to repeal it over 45 times, trying to defund it, trying to delay it. And so I have not seen a lot of effort on their part to make the law better but simply to destroy it. So that's the kind of issue that I'm working with, Wolf, on my committee. I've got to make sure that we all work together to make sure that the law works for millions upon millions of Americans who need health care.

BLITZER: I read that letter you wrote, Chairman Issa, today. I will read a line from it because it suggests to me, correct me if I'm wrong, you don't have a lot of confidence in the way he's going to conduct this investigation. "In the committee's past investigations, you write involving operation Fast and Furious, the attacks in Benghazi and the IRS review of applicants for tax exempt status, your approach has been to leap directly to accusations against the White House and top administration officials with no basis in fact." Here's the question. You have confidence that the chairman will be fair and responsible in this current oversight investigation?

CUMMINGS: You know, Wolf, I want to think that. I want to believe that. But you know, I think what I'm seeing now is the same play and the same scene all over again. We saw the chairman make strong allegations which were inaccurate with regard to Benghazi and Fast and Furious and IRS. And only to find out that those allegations were simply not accurate and had no basis of fact. So it makes my job a little tougher.

While I want to make sure that government operates properly and I'm going to do that, I also have to make sure that we get all of the facts so that we can make proper decisions and so that we can truly bring about the reform that's necessary and do what you just said, be able to inform the American people of what happened. Not a little snippet here or snippet there, but the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth.

BLITZER: Should someone be held accountable for these failures?

CUMMINGS: I always believe that you've got to hold somebody accountable. And I think the president, that's his job. He will look into that. We don't know all the facts yet. But the president will determine that.

But the more important thing is right now, we are in the midst of trying to make sure that all of these people who have gone to the Web site, over 19 million now, that they are able to get the information that they need so that they can access insurance information so that they can become insured.

So I want to concentrate on that right now. And I believe that the president, knowing him as I do, he is one who pursues excellence in everything he does. I can imagine that he's a bit frustrated right now. But I'm sure he will address all of that, and I would imagine that he is spending night and day, day and night letting people know exactly how he feels.

But let me tell you something, Wolf. I have absolutely, unequivocally no doubt, none, that we will have this matter resolved, that the Affordable Care Act will go forward, and the people who have been granted this wonderful opportunity to finally be able to get accessible and affordable health care will have that opportunity. This is so very important.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of us thought maybe there would be some problems with the Affordable Care Act down the road but very few -- I don't think anybody who is not on the inside -- thought that as far as a Web site, given the high-tech orientation of this president, this administration, that launching a Web site would be this humiliating and this embarrassing. I assume you didn't have a clue about that.

CUMMINGS: No, I did not expect this. But you know, Wolf, we've seen this before. You know, a lot of operations when they first come out, the technical people tell me they've have these kind of problems. But again, you know, we are -- the president I know is bringing in the very, very best people in our country to make sure they address this.

As I said to my constituents over and over again -- let me tell you something, Wolf. If we can send somebody to the moon, we certainly should be able to deal with this. And so we will. I don't think people should panic. I don't think that the Republicans should go around looking for the doomsday. It's very interesting, you hear them over and over again, oh, we're in trouble. Oh, we won't be able to do this, we won't be able to do that. Please. We're better than that. We're a better country than that. And we will get this done.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in Secretary Sebelius?

CUMMINGS: I have confidence in Secretary Sebelius, and I guarantee you by the time we get into December and the time the people -- in March when people have to have all this done, we will have the kind of results that we need. Believe me, sometimes you have a problem early in a situation, Wolf, and that allows you to make those corrections early so that it clears the path so that you can get to where you've got to go. I've lived long enough and seen enough to know that that's the case. So, it's going to be fine. It will be fine. Trust me.

BLITZER: Elijah Cummings, one of those hearings in your committee is supposed to start; we know that another House committee starts this Thursday, continues next week. Sebelius will testify next week. This week, some of the contractors will testify. When are you expecting your committee to launch hearings? CUMMINGS: I would imagine sometime within the next two to three weeks. That is going to depend on Chairman Issa. He calls those balls and strikes. But again, you know, we'll have in the House the executives from CGI, the computer folk, they'll come in and they'll talk about the surges (ph). Of coruse, that's not our committee. But I think we'll learn a lot there. And so --

BLITZER: We'll learn a lot on Thursday during this initial hearing, and they're testifying, these contractors who created this Web site.

We've got to run. Congressman, thanks as usual for joining us.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Elijah Cummings of Maryland, ranking member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Just ahead, efforts to legalize marijuana may have received a little bit of a boost today. We have new poll numbers. Stand by for that.

And as CNN prepares to bring you an extraordinary documentary about killer whales this week, we are taking a closer look back at some of the most famous orca of them all.


BLITZER: A breakthrough for those supporting legalizing marijuana. We have details of a dramatic new poll. That's next.


BLITZER: We're learning new details about the messy Obamacare Web site rollout. The red flags that signaled things could go horribly wrong, the lack of a point person, all of that. So is this just the tip of the iceberg?

Let's discuss the political fallout. Joining us, the CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's the editorial director of "The National Journal," and columnist A.B. Stoddard of The Hill newspaper. Guys, thanks very much.

Ron, I've just gotten a statement from Brendan Buck, the spokesman for John Boehner, the House speaker. He says the administration will be briefing House Democrats tomorrow on this Web site. No briefing was offered to House Republicans. They're upset about this. I assume they're going to have to fix that, right?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Understandably. I mean, one of the issues here has been the amount of information and the transparency about what's happening, which has been lacking.

But you know, we are really in a situation where political problem overlaps and slides into actual substantive problem, Wolf, because one of the key issues for the exchanges from the beginning was whether they were going to get enough young, healthy people to sign up to create a balanced risk pool. The assumption has been that people who are in ill health who need health care desperately are going to find a way to do this. And they are going to wait through long delays on the Web site, they are going to do whatever they can to get the health care. The issue has been whether younger people are going to sign up, and if it continues to be difficult for someone who doesn't desperately need health care to sign up, they do increase the risk of having what is called adverse selection and a risk pool that will drive up costs in the future.

So they really need to get this done, not only because the optics are bad but because at some point down the road, it threatens the underlying substance of what they're trying to do.

BLITZER: That's an excellent point. A.B., all of us, we have covered these kinds of events here in Washington over many years. When there's bad news for an administration, you have to assume, they have to assume, they learned this the hard way, often, it will come out anyhow. The better way for it all to come out, the bad news, is you put it out yourself instead of letting your critics or enemies put it out. I'm not sure the administration yet has learned that.

AMY STODDARD, COLUMNIST, "THE HILL": Right. Ron's point is central to the entire program, it collapses under itself if those new people don't come in. And what was required was a smooth beginning. The administration should have known this. They were under pressure to be aware of this structural necessity from the insurance companies three- and-a-half years ago. The fact that they allowed for a rough beginning will have a material impact on enrollment.

And the fact that they stood out this week and said yes, there's problems, there was a message on the HHS Web site, the president came out to make remarks. We never heard a specific diagnosis about what went wrong. We still don't know that they know what went wrong or when it will be fixed. And that is going to create a problem for people who are healthy and disengaged like the young and healthy will think it's a hassle to sign up. And that ultimately has an impact on prices.


BROWNSTEIN: One thing -- I'm sorry. One thing they have going for them, Wolf, is the Massachusetts experience, which is the closest we have where they did the individual mandate under Mitt Romney, of course -- they did find that people tended to sign up in large numbers right around the deadline. So that would be at the end of the year to have coverage by early next year, and then of course, the end of open enrollment in March.

So they probably still have some time to get this cleared up. But I agree with A.B., there is an opportunity cost from the outset. And if it lingers, it becomes much more dangerous than an optics problem or a political problem. It becomes a problem to the substantive working of the program.

BLITZER: Let me get your thoughts on a very, very different subject. Marijuana right now. A new Gallup poll numbers on legalizing marijuana. "Do you think the use of marijuana should be legal?" And the numbers have really changed dramatically. Back in 1969, only 12 percent thought so, 34 percent, 2003. Now it's up to 58 percent, Ron. Fifty-eight percent now believe marijuana should be legal in the United States. That's a majority.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's what we're seeing on a number of issues. I mean, you know, gay marriage has had a similarly rapid evolution in public opinion in some ways, even more striking. With the millennial generation leading the way and certainly being the point of the spear on the change, but also other generations following to some extent.

The society is moving in many ways toward a more libertarian perspective on some of these issues of kind of personal liberty and personal freedom, and I see this as very much parallel to what we have been witnessing on gay marriage, which is becoming quickly a norm in blue states as well as a solid majority in public opinion.

BLITZER: Yes, A.B., it's legal in a couple of states now, right? But presumably, it's going to get -- it's going to expand, especially after these numbers, right?

STODDARD: I think so. I mean I think that Ron's right, it's not only that the country is broke and there is a libertarian streak where people say, you know what, we can't afford to prosecute crimes of buying or possessing or dealing marijuana anymore. We can't fill our jails with people who were convicted of these crimes, at the same time there's a prevalence of marijuana as a treatment for pain relief from -- for cancer patients, et cetera.

That seems to be a sentiment that's growing more popular, that it's more acceptable, and I don't see this going in the reverse direction. I think like same-sex marriage it will just continue for different reasons to become more and more popular.

BLITZER: A.B. Stoddard, Ron Brownstein, guys, thanks very much.

STODDARD: Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Chilling new 911 calls just coming in from the Nevada school shooting that left a beloved teacher dead.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is joining us from Sparks, Nevada, right now. She's got the details.

What do we know, Stephanie?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you hear these calls, Wolf, you can just hear the chaos and panic in the voices of the people calling in. Remember, from the time that the first call came in to 911, to when police got here, was just three minutes and in that time, everything was over and in that time, two people were dead and two were injured. Take a listen to this one call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a student from Sparks Middle School. Can you please send police out here? There's a kid with a gun.

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


UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: Where are they with the gun?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sparks Middle School.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the basketball court.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: At the basketball court?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Send someone now.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: OK. I need you to talk to the paramedics, too. Don't hang up, OK? Hold on one second.


ELAM: And from one witness who was there, one child, an eighth grader, saying that the student that was shooting was also yelling things, yelling things like, why are you all laughing at me, he said, and different things that he was screaming at the time. But at the same time, all of the kids on campus were running and because the teachers and students inside the school acted so quickly, the student was not able to get inside of the school and so police are saying that was a huge reason why there were not more people injured or lives lost.

BLITZER: What a story -- what a sad story indeed. Stephanie Elam, thanks very much. Heartbreaking.

This Thursday, CNN will air the film "Blackfish" which takes a critical look at the captive killer whale industry. Twenty years ago, another movie that started out as a simple family film became an international sensation. For a time it seemed everyone wanted to -- everyone wanted to "Free Willy."

Here's CNN's Martin Savidge with the story behind the story.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you had children growing up in the '90s, then you definitely remember this.


SAVIDGE: "Free Willy." The story of a troubled kid who befriends a killer whale trapped in a rundown aquarium became an unexpected hit. It was all Hollywood, but the orca in the failing Mexican aquarium, that was real.

Called Keiko, he was malnourished, weak and might have died there if not for then CNN reporter Gloria Hillard, who confronted movie execs.

JENNIE LEW TUGEND, PRODUCER, "FREE WILLY": Gloria and her camera crew came to my office and essentially started asking Warner Brothers has got a hit movie, they're going to make a lot of money on this, you've got a sick whale behind -- left behind in Mexico. This is a publicity nightmare. What are you going to do?

SAVIDGE: What they did was help organize a national campaign to free Keiko. Soon the money was pouring in. He was moved from Mexico to a specially built tank in Oregon where he got healthy. Then to Iceland to prepare for his release back into the waters where Keiko had been captured. But Keiko had depended on humans most of his life. Hand- fed, never around other orcas. The hurdles were huge.

COLIN BAIRD, KEIKO'S FORMER TRAINER: (INAUDIBLE). Always to reintroduce into his family and have him spend, you know, the rest of his life at sea with his family. The reality of it was that he wasn't the best candidate for the release.

SAVIDGE: The reunion never happened. The rehabilitation went on for years. Then one day, Keiko disappeared. He was tracked by a satellite and several weeks later located off the coast of Norway.

BARD: When I got into the water and measured him in Norway, he was to the centimeter what he'd been before we left (INAUDIBLE).

SAVIDGE (on camera): So he hadn't lost any weight?

BAIRD: Hadn't lost any weight.

SAVIDGE: And clearly had some help in eating.

(Voice-over): Keiko seemed content to stay, to the delight of locals. Another year passed and Baird went on a long overdue vacation. Afterward he turned on his cell phone and got a string of increasingly desperate messages from a team member in Norway. Keiko was dead.

(On camera): How did you take it?

BAIRD: Very hard. He was perfectly fit and healthy when I left. And his behavior changed very quickly.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The cause never known because no necropsy was performed. The entire project had taken eight years and cost anywhere $12 million to $20 million. Opponents to freeing captive killer whales called it a failure.

GREG BOSSART, MARINE VETERINARIAN: The wild isn't "Free Willy," the wild isn't, you know, gentle Ben. I mean, we need to be careful what Hollywood teaches us and put in perspective.

BAIRD: Did he swim off to the sunset with his family? No, but compared the North Atlantic to the aquarium in Mexico, I think it was a huge success.

SAVIDGE: It may not have been the Hollywood ending many wanted, but Baird says there's no denying that when he died, the whale once known as Willy was free.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Atlanta.


BLITZER: What a story. You can watch the new CNN film documentary on killer whales, "BLACKFISH," by the way, this Thursday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Coming up at the top of the hour, new questions emerging about one of America's most wanted terror suspects. His alleged role in the U.S. embassy bombings? We have details. That's ahead.


BLITZER: Boston is going beard crazy as the Red Sox gear up for the World Series. Jeanne Moos is next.


BLITZER: Here's a story that hits close to home. It's beard mania in Boston as the Red Sox gear up for game 1 of the World Series just a little more than 24 hours from now.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're looking at the Red Sox's secret weapon. Not their bats, their beards. The Red Sox lead everybody in RBIs, really bearded individuals.

MIKE NAPOLI, BOSTON RED SOX: I really can't control it. It's just -- it has a mind of its own.

MOOS: Mike Napoli and Johnny Gomes are considered the facial hair ringleaders.

JOHNNY GOMES, BOSTON RED SOX: I challenge some of the other guys to jump on board.

MOOS: It started in spring training and snowballed. With their hair bald, styles range from trim with attached sideburns to a beard bushy enough to cushion your face on a fence. OK, maybe an above average beard can't raise a batting average. But the team went from a terrible season last year to the World Series this year.

DAVID ORTIZ, BOSTON RED SOX: Feeling like Samson, powerful and everything.

MOOS: David Ortiz is referring to Samson before Delilah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The immortal story of the strongest man in all history.

MOOS: At least he was until Delilah cut the source of his strength, his hair, before that, Sampson was invincible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The lion of the desert. He fought with his bare hands.

MOOS (on camera): Forget the feeding lions. The feeding Tigers was what got the Red Sox to the World Series. The fans seem to love having so many team members looking like castaways. Back in September, fans got tickets to the game for a buck if they wore beards on Dollar Beard Night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the worst looking beard I've ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's four weeks old.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm calling this beard the full count. So it's got three balls and two strikes.

MOOS: Even T-shirts are bearded in Boston. Can I buy you a beard?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone wants to touch it.

MOOS: Of course not every Red Sox player is fuzzy. Koji Uehara wore a beard for years and then shaved it before the season started. No one gives him grief because his relief pitching has been such a huge relief. He's playing better clean shaven. But all those bushy beards can give the opposition facial hair envy, even though St. Louis Cardinal Jason Motte himself has a beard worthy of stroking.

JASON MOTTE, ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: They have a good amount of beards there. And, you know, those things are pretty, pretty nice.

MOOS: Wild the World Series may not live up to the billing "savage drama," why settle for "Samson and Delilah," when you can see Napoli and Gomes trying to pull each other's beards.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.