Return to Transcripts main page


Obama Defends Health Care Law; Interview with Rahm Emanuel

Aired October 30, 2013 - 16:30   ET


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the great news is today Jan is cancer free, she's on Medicare. But Alan has been uninsured ever since. Until last week. When he sat down --


When he sat down at a computer, and I'm sure after multiple tries.


Signed up for a new plan under the Affordable Care Act. Coverage that can never be taken away if you get sick.


So I just want to read you what he says in his letter, and he says, I got to tell you, I've never been so happy to pay a bill in my entire life.


When you don't have insurance at my age, it can really feel like a time bomb waiting to go off. The sense of relief from knowing I can live out my days longer and healthier, that's just a tremendous weight off my shoulders.

So two days later, Alan goes over to his buddy Bill's house. He sits Bill down and his wife, Diana, at their computer. And after several tries --


Alan helped lift that weight from their shoulders by helping them to sign up for a new plan, also. And compared to their current plan, it cost less than half as much and covers more.

See, that's why we committed ourselves to this cause. For Alan and Jan, for Bill, Diana. For Annie. For anyone who wrote letters and shared stories and knocked on doors because they believed what can happen here in Massachusetts can happen all across the country. And for them and for you, we are going to see this through.


We're going to see this through. We are going to see this through.

This hall is home to some of the earliest debates over the nature of our government, the appropriate size, the appropriate role of our government. And those debates continue today and that's healthy.

There are debates about the role of the individual. And society. A rugged individualism, and our sense of self-reliance, our devotion to the kind of freedoms, this first shot rang out not far from here.

But they are also debates tempered by recognition that we're all in this together. And when hardship strikes, and it could strike any of us at any moment, we're there for one another. And that as a country, we can accomplish great things that we can't accomplish alone.


We believe that. We believe that. And those sentiments, those sentiments are expressed in a painting right here in this very hall. Liberty and union. Now and forever. One and inseparable. That's the value statement Deval was talking about. That's what health care reform is about. That's what America is about. We are in this together and we are going to see it through.

Thank you, God bless you. God bless the United States of America.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama at Daniel Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, wrapping up a robust defense of the Affordable Care Agent.

I want to bring back CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, we heard a revision of if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.


TAPPER: It's now if you lose your health plan, you can go to one of the exchanges and find another one.

GUPTA: That's right. So there was a little revision in that language. And obviously addressing a criticism that we've been hearing throughout the day the last few days.

There was another little revision as well, Jake. You may have caught this, but it said -- he said if you like your health care plan, and it is working, you can keep it. So it's "and it is working" language that he added in there as well.

TAPPER: Right.

GUPTA: And what he was referring to was this idea that it is working to him means that it's offering this patient protections. You can't have your premiums raised, you know, the caps on how much insurance companies can pay out go away. So, yes, a couple of tweaks in the language there, but again addressing some important criticism.

TAPPER: And Gloria Borger, we heard President Obama acknowledge very candidly that the Web site is not working. He's not happy about it.


TAPPER: But when it came to defending the actual plan, he talked mainly about the people who were sick, who were grateful for Obamacare and not those people with concerns.

BORGER: Yes. He also, I might add, Jake, said that he took full responsibility for making sure that the Web site gets fixed ASAP. So he sort of put it on the line there. Now I'm going to make sure it gets fixed.

What's interesting to me is, building on what Sanjay said, he seemed to -- be saying, look, the insurers who are canceling your insurance had -- were promoting substandard products and we -- we're not going to do that that anymore. So understand that you can replace what was substandard with something that is going to be better.

Now he also said most people will get a better deal. And that's where the crunch is going to come because a lot of people who are complaining are saying, OK, I want to replace it, but I'm not getting a better deal. And he's saying the deal that you will get will be better because it will be safer and more secure for you in the future.

TAPPER: Right. And of course most people getting a better deal is not everyone getting a better deal.

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: And there's math here at stake and some people are going to pay more.


TAPPER: We've got to get a break in.

BORGER: Exactly.

TAPPER: Thank you so much, Gloria Borger and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Coming up next, with a nickname like Rambo, and a reputation for swearing like a pirate, former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is not a man known for beating around the bush. I will ask the Chicago mayor if he thinks heads should roll over Obamacare's botched opening. Stay right there.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing with our "National Lead."

Rahm Emanuel warned the president back in 2009 when he served as his first chief of staff at the White House. He pleaded with the president not to try a sweeping reform of the entire health care system but as the president's enforcer, Emanuel still played a critical role, negotiating and getting those reforms passed. Then he left the White House a few months after it was signed into law.

Emanuel went on, of course, to be elected mayor of Chicago where I am today. And I spoke to him at O'Hare Airport earlier as he unveiled his latest transportation project. I asked him what he thinks now as he watches the law which he worked for so hard stumble so badly out of the gate.


TAPPER: Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for doing this. We appreciate it. So I remember, I was White House correspondent, you were White House chief of staff. You worked so hard on the Affordable Care Act. And now --

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL (D), CHICAGO: Who was better? Were you a better correspondent than I was chief of staff -- go ahead.

TAPPER: And now we have -- we'll let the American people decide.


TAPPER: And now --

EMANUEL: Open it up to referendum.

TAPPER: And now we have these big problems with the Web site. What is going on? What -- how do you view this, having worked so hard on getting that legislation passed?

EMANUEL: Well, first of all, let's take a step back. The work through like all companies that roll things out and have technological difficulties, they'll work through this. There are two things that you can't lose sight of right now while you have the difficulties. And I -- and there should be focus on them because the exchanges, the electronic marketplace is a key component.

One, two years running health care costs have been lower than what they have been historically.

TAPPER: Rising at a lower level.

EMANUEL: Rising, yes, like inflation, but at much lower rate. And it's benefited the city of Chicago's budget, it's benefiting family budgets. That's happening throughout the system. And company budgets. Number two is if you actually look at all the state exchanges, premiums are much lower than what people thought they were going to be.

If you go back when we were actually doing the bill, one of the things that we were very concerned with was would in fact the premiums be at a competitive pricing. And in fact, there about -- at a distance I'm doing this. About 25 percent, 20 percent lower than we -- anybody expected going in. So people -- young people can get health insurance less than 100 bucks a month. Things that you couldn't do before.

Now they will work through the technology and they have to work through it. And the president knows that. As does everybody that is working for him. Because it's a key part of how the exchanges are going to work. But if you look at all the states that are up and running, those exchanges are working. You know --



TAPPER: Some of them are.

EMANUEL: Ours -- Illinois, California, I mean, New York, Maryland, they're working. And there are difficulties. You can't hide from it. You've got to be honest with people. But do I think we will not be in the same place two months, three months, four months from here in that -- in getting through that.

TAPPER: Do you think the White House has been honest enough about it? Originally they were saying this is just because so many people want health insurance. It turns out there are actual problems with the software.

EMANUEL: Well, I think -- actually in this -- I don't think they were hiding anything. I don't think they were trying to not be honest. I think as information became more public, they were forthcoming with it.

TAPPER: Are you hearing from people who are disappointed about either rates going up or they're being told, especially individuals with individual health care plans, that their plan is going to be canceled?

EMANUEL: Yes. I have not. But that doesn't mean it's not happening. So -- but I have not. I know that the goal of the health care is -- and the basic plan was -- of the legislation, bring health care costs down because it was just eating up way too much money. It was one of the reasons people were not seeing pay raises over the last decade and the last two decades, was it was all going into health care premiums.

Bring that cost down. Bring competition to the marketplace that did not exist and give people real competitive pricing, because there was a big portion of the public, 53 million, 49 million, any given year, that were not getting covered both poor people, but also young and healthy people, who just had confidence in their kind of own health position at that point that didn't want to buy insurance.

We need to get that type of competition universally and you will get health care cost as well as coverage in a much more manageable place because it's just eating up too much money.

TAPPER: Do you think it was a mistake for the president to say if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan?

EMANUEL: No, I don't think it was a mistake at all. I think he was talking and I think everybody knew and you guys covered it then, and what the indication was as it related to the employer based plans which were the dominant north of 65 percent got -- people got their health care plan.

TAPPER: Last question on health care.


TAPPER: I have a tough time imagining --

EMANUEL: Do we have to talk to your doctor or something like that?


TAPPER: I have a tough time imagining that if you were chief of staff right now somebody would not have lost their job. I -- it's a difficult time. I remember when you were White House chief of staff, there was accountability. People messed up, they lost their jobs.

This is a big mess up.

EMANUEL: Jake, first of all, when I was White House chief of staff, you were never that nice to me. So let's not kid ourselves.


Nobody -- everybody complains. You know, there was -- not to go to another channel, but, you know, Discovery just did that thing about all the chiefs of staffs.

TAPPER: Right.

EMANUEL: As I think Jim Baker says what all of us have experienced because you are, literally, you walk around on the front and on your back, a giant target.

TAPPER: Right.

EMANUEL: And anybody walking by gets to take a shot at you. OK. And look, I ran the White House, when I ran it, people were nice, people were critical, things that -- you know, people said certain things about the White House. That just comes with the job. Denis is doing a great job. He's -- first and foremost everybody knows one thing. He and the president are close and he's 100 percent loyal to the president.

And that -- and when he speaks, he speaks for the president. And in fact I have all the confidence and all the assurance that heads are rolling and they're spinning right now to fix the problem. And that's what the president wants everybody's energy on. Fix the problem. We'll deal with culpability later because the most important thing you've got to do is get the problems fixed.

TAPPER: -- there have been criticisms with President Obama not knowing the details of the Obamacare web site problems and then also with the National Security Agency and the spying, the surveillance of our allies. There have been criticisms of him as disengaged.

EMANUEL: Let me say this. That is the furthest from the truth about the president. I used to see him every morning. I used to see him every morning, three or four times during the day and every evening before I went out. And when I'd see him every morning, he had read all the material that was presented by to him by everybody.

And he knew going into the meeting what the assumption of the other side of the argument was, he had exactly what questions he wanted whether it was on economic policy or any particular foreign policy. So the idea that he would be disengaged, unless something happened, I've never seen in the two years of intensity, I don't buy it.

TAPPER: Is it possible people are not bringing him bad news?

EMANUEL: No. I mean, Jake, let's go back to this. One of the great strengths of this president, I told him and he always made me -- you know my view having done health care. I was not --

TAPPER: You wanted to do a smaller --

EMANUEL: If you do it, expand kids and family and small business. At a critical juncture when the world was darkest, he said what will you to do now. To his credit, even though he knew what my position and it was kind at the worse moment, he sought a contrary position. It's totally contradictory to everything about him.

So you guys paint pictures because they fit a narrative. You do, OK? We do certain things. You guys do certain things -- disengaged. That's how you answer this. The fact is you've now learned it wasn't the national security staff of the United States. It was other European intelligence operation.

It's not like give all the volume of the information the president goes, OK, so was that by satellite or how did we -- that's not the question the president asks. My point is he's not disengaged. If anything, he is very so he list difference of people who have a contrary view. So this doesn't fit.

It's not right because I know how he is and how he operates. To his credit, that's a real strength. You're in your darkest moment and you're willing to have somebody who disagrees with you give a contrary view. That's a real strength.


TAPPER: We'll have more with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel after this quick break. He may have left Washington, D.C. happily, but it does not mean he's no longer giving advice to the White House. We'll talk Washington dysfunction, his thoughts on a potential Hillary Clinton run in 2016 and whether he would ever run for president himself coming up.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Before the break, you were watching my exclusive interview with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel now halfway through his term here. Emanuel has major problems plaguing his city like closing a $340 million budget deficit and a murder rate that has at times outpaced the number of U.S. troops' deaths in Afghanistan. I asked him about the challenges and about the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., which in the past reduced him to the kind of language that could make fellow Chicagoan blush.


TAPPER: We're here right now near the airport, O'Hare. You're trying to bring business to Chicago. You're trying to bring companies to Chicago. How is that going?

EMANUEL: It's going very well. Just to give you kind of three things today. We are the transportation distribution logistics hub of America. I call Chicago the inland port. We are the number one air cargo facility for U.S.-China trade right here. I just broke ground on the largest gateway air cargo facility in America in the last decade starting now 1,200 jobs ultimately will be 10,000.

Later on, I go to the U.S./China transportation discussions being held for the first time here in the city of Chicago about air cargo commercial traffic. O'Hare was just rated the number one connected airport in America throughout the world and throughout the United States.

And at 1:30, we announced "Go-Go," very hot technology company in data communication air travel is moving their corporate headquarters to the city of Chicago and 1,000 jobs with it. "Economist" magazine just came out with a report serving 150 cities worldwide. Chicago was the only city in all North America moving to the top ten ranking for economic competitiveness.

TAPPER: It's been not an easy job, though, being mayor of Chicago nor did you think it would be. One of the struggles and you've worked hard on this has to do with the violence in the city and I'm sure that that probably is a factor when companies decide whether they're not going to move here. What can be done about it beyond obviously you're a supporter of greater regulations of guns, but it's not just a gun problem, right? There are issues here in Chicago in terms of gangs, in terms of the breakdown of the family.

EMANUEL: Well, I say, first of all, this is the 22nd company moving their headquarters here. It has drawn over 40,000 jobs. There is a lot of vibrancy in economic growth in the city of Chicago. One overall homicides are down 20 percent this year. Overall crime is down 23 percent and shootings are down 24 percent. That's great trends. On the other hand, you know, I call every parent God forbid something happens to their child in any capacity and those are the hardest calls you make. I don't want to be -- I said we cannot be a tale of two cities. We have to be one city with one future where every neighborhood is as safe as the other one.

The gun issue, we take more guns off the street than either New York or L.A. because like the air cargo and transportation hub, a lot of illegal guns coming in here. Now we need to get -- everybody has their hands dirty in this process. We need a more effective U.S. attorney, more effective state's attorney.

Better laws on the books because I'm pushing for a three-year minimum for any gun crimes committed because I need a law on the books that is an actual deterrent because the one year minimum is not because people serve less than a year and in fact when the "Sun Times" did a story of the gang-banger said the law is a joke.

Now the gang-banger knows it's a joke. The deterrent is not working whether it's policing. Whether it's prevention, whether it's steeper penalties or whether it's parenting. I can't legislate parenting, but I can tell you if we had kids getting the type of moral education they need, one, two and three would be working a lot better and wouldn't need as much investment.

TAPPER: Chicago over the last three years has lost $11 million from the federal government when it comes to after school and summer programs and $7 million in Head Start because of the sequester. How do you do the prevention when the federal government is cutting almost $20 million in programs to do that?

EMANUEL: We increased our overall -- the three years I've been mayor, while the federal government has cut back after school and summer job, we've increased after school by 25 percent, more than making up for the federal government walking away because of the way we funded it and making tough decisions in the budget.

The federal government has been on a slow motion shutdown on the children and we're paying as a city and as a country a huge consequence for that. And we have as to start investing in our children. We have to make real tough decisions that make sure the resources we have go to our children because they're our future. It's a crisis. I'm not going to allow the city of Chicago and most importantly our children to be held hostage by the reckless politics of Washington or Springfield.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the reckless politics of Washington. You were giving advice to the White House during the shutdown?

EMANUEL: You know, as a former chief of staff, I'm always available to talk to any of my former colleagues and help them out if they want or not.

TAPPER: You had relationships because you're a former Democratic congressman with Republicans in the House. I don't know if you still talk to them, but you talked about the dysfunction in Washington and I know you don't miss it.

EMANUEL: Beyond don't miss it. It's like there's a great painting, the scream, where he's coming over the bridge. That was the look going out of that town. Somebody says do you miss Washington, I said like did your subscription to the newspaper ended? What would I miss?

TAPPER: A nice version of what you would say.

EMANUEL: That's a cleaned up family friendly CNN version.

TAPPER: I appreciate it. What can be done?

EMANUEL: Take two steps back. The financial -- dealing with the financial crisis actually gave -- spurred the Tea Party reaction. It made our politics a lot worse. That's the after effect and after glow.


EMANUEL: TARP and the whole effort, yes, the idea that you would be bailing out the banks and bankers. It spurred an entire political reaction. Look, ultimately there is an internal battle on the Republican Party for the heart and soul and direction. I'm not in -- I don't get paid to give them advice. One, I've always said they need a Bill Clinton moment. Our own party 10, 20 years ago face this and Bill Clinton set a new direction.

I have a fondness for that more pragmatic progressive philosophy. I'm not one for process. I think people get overwhelmed on process. But the House of Representatives is set up for the voters to pick their representatives. Through redistricting and through technology, representatives now pick their voters.

So the system is now turned upside down and that's why it's dysfunctional. And I say that as a person who practiced it. It's wrong. The political system for both parties is in the way we nominate people have allowed a radicalization that moves to the extremes because Election Day is primary day not general election day. That does skew the system. It's not the solution it is part of an overall solution and that needs to be worked out.

TAPPER: The dysfunction in Washington, is that the reason why you're the not optimistic about a grand bargain?

EMANUEL: I think all the elites run around talking about a grand bargain are fools. Grand bargains (inaudible) when George Bush had a House and Senate of his party and that's why he created prescription drug. We did it on the recovery plan, the financial reform, health care because the parties are so polarized. I think you can get a bargain and I think a single is OK. Given the political system is not set up for grand bargain. Everybody is wringing their hands, and it's kind of, you know, it's not set up to do that. Let's set up something to succeed and get it down because each success builds momentum to something else.

TAPPER: Will you ever run for president?

EMANUEL: Absolutely not. First of all, I would miss out on the opportunities to do interviews with you. I'm not running. I have no interest. This is the greatest job I've ever had.

TAPPER: Mayor for life?

EMANUEL: You know, Chicago, I love being mayor. First of all, they have to re-elect you. Second, I've been very fortunate to work for two great presidents. Being mayor is the most fulfilling about if you want a life in public life and the ability to move things like what we're talking today. This is a capacity to you deal with -- how do I make up for 90 percent cut in summer jobs for the kids. Then you have the best year ever, 20,000 kids working earning a paycheck, learning the values of work. Nothing more fulfilling than this.

TAPPER: Hillary Clinton if she runs, is it her nomination to lose?

EMANUEL: I'm behind Hillary if she runs. I think she will, but that's up to her.

TAPPER: Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. I know I pushed it. So thank you very much.

EMANUEL: So unusual.

TAPPER: Thank you, sir.


TAPPER: That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jack Tapper in Chicago. I'll be back in D.C. tomorrow. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."