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Sebelius testifies on Obamacare Website; Rahm Emanuel Says President Not Disengaged; Mitt Romney Comments on Obamacare Rollout.

Aired October 30, 2013 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats say the health care law is working. The website will get fixed. Republicans say the website problems are proof that the Obamacare law isn't working. That political divide certainly was evident in today's hearing on the rocky rollout of the website. Democrats say Republicans were using the hearing simply as a pretext to bash Obamacare and that they're not interested in fixing it. Republicans took aim at the Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.


REP. CORY GARDNER, (R), COLORADO: And my insurance policy has been canceled. The White House website says if you like your health plan you have, you can keep it. Did I hear it wrong?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Again, sir, I don't know how long you've had your policy or --


GARDNER: Why aren't you losing your insurance?

SEBELIUS: Pardon me?

GARDNER: Why aren't you losing your health insurance?

SEBELIUS: Because I'm part of the federal employees --


GARDNER: Why aren't you on the exchange? You're in charge of this law, correct? Why aren't you in the exchange?

SEBELIUS: Because I'm part of the federal health employees plan.

GARDNER: Why aren't you in the exchange? Why won't you go into the exchange? You're literally in charge of this law. Should you be any different than all the other Americans out there who are losing their health insurance?

REP. MIKE BOYLE, (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I think it's somewhat disingenuous for my colleagues on the other side of the podium here to have this faux anger and this faux concern over a bill that they absolutely want to fail and have rooted for its failure and have voted over 40-some times to repeal this bill, never putting an alternative plan on the floor for the American people.


BLITZER: Let's bring in the "Crossfire" cohosts, Republican Newt Gingrich, former House speaker; Democrat Van Jones, the former Obama administration official.

Newt, thanks so much.

Van, thanks to you, as well.

You've caused quite a stir with this latest tweet that you put out there today. I'm going to put it up on the screen. "Sebelius dishonesty in testimony this morning exceeds anything President Nixon was accused of. The Obama team can't tell truth and survive."

Did she commit any crimes?


BLITZER: Did Richard Nixon commit a crime?

GINGRICH: First of all --

BLITZER: Did she commit any crimes?

GINGRICH: We don't know yet.


GINGRICH: For example -- for example, CNN is reporting today that health insurance executives are being pressured into not speaking out.

BLITZER: So are you accusing her --


BLITZER: Nixon broke the law with the cover-up, right?

GINGRICH: We don't know right now because the fact -- what I'm saying, first of all is, in terms of the --


BLITZER: I want to know if you want to revise --


BLITZER: -- making a comparison to Nixon and the only president forced out of office because he broke the law.

GINGRICH: No, he was forced out of office in part -- he resigned in part because he had said a series of things that weren't true.

BLITZER: He lied. He lied.

GINGRICH: OK. He lied.

BLITZER: He covered it up.

GINGRICH: He lied. He covered it up.


BLITZER: He broke the law. That's illegal.

GINGRICH: So you have the secretary of Health and Human Services go to a committee today after a month --

BLITZER: Did she lie?

GINGRICH: Well, she says the website never broke down. Now how can you --



GINGRICH: How can you have been through a month of the website breaking down? If you want to make the argument, she's out of touch with reality. it wasn't a lie because she hasn't noticed.

BLITZER: When you make a comparison to Nixon --



BLITZER: -- that's significant comparison.


Van, you went to Harvard Law School.

JONES: That would be Yale. I went to the better one.


BLITZER: One of those law schools. So here's the question. She testified before this committee to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth. If she lied, she broke the law. Is that what you're insinuating.

GINGRICH: I'm not insinuating anything. I'm saying flatly, whether you take Valerie Jarrett's tweet the other night, Obamacare doesn't force you to lose your insurance, or take what the secretary said today, they are simply flat not telling the truth.

JONES: Well, first of all --

BLITZER: Go ahead. JONES: -- with all due respect, to compare anything that's happening with this silly website to what Nixon did is --


BLITZER: It's not a silly website.


BLITZER: It's a very important website.

JONES: It's a very important website? But you've got glitches. I remember when Twitter used to go down all the time. They fixed it.

But to compare what's happening to Nixon is to put the hype in hyperbole. It's so far beyond what's going on here.

My concern this: We are now in this rhetorical arms race where every side is doing everything except focusing on the real issue. Democrats are in danger right now of sounding tone deaf to the people who are surprised at some of these outcomes. Democrats need to eat some humble pie and show real concern for the people getting these notices. I think Republicans need to also show a little bit of humility. They seem to be completely indifferent to the losers in the last system and now they seem to be completely indifferent to the winners in the new system and they seem to be grandstanding. None of this is good for the country. I don't think we should be dragging Nixon into this.

GINGRICH: How would you handle -- you look at the scale of dishonesty and the tweets from the White House that says, Obamacare doesn't require in into lose their insurance. That is plain a lie.

JONES: Well, I wouldn't say --


GINGRICH: What would you call it?

JONES: Here's what I honestly think. I think the president was overly broad in his assurances to the American people. That's inarguable.


BLITZER: He clearly should have been more precise with his words.

JONES: I think so. And I think you have Democrats coming out -- you have Democrats coming out and trying to twist and turn the words. That's not good. But why was the president so overly broad in these assurances? There's a context here. The context is that you had Republicans out there saying Stalin was on the way. Have you extreme overstatement on one side, extreme over assurance on the other. Maybe it's a judgment question but it's not a character question.

GINGRICH: Wait a second. The president of the United States goes around hundreds of times, hundreds, and says, you will not lose your insurance. You will not lose your doctor or your hospital. Period.

BLITZER: If you like them.

GINGRICH: This is not complicated.

JONES: Listen --

GINGRICH: Was it the truth or was it a falsehood?

JONES: I think as the law was written, he was right. As the regs were written, it's questionable. As it turned out, he's wrong. I think he was overly broad. Now, you look back -- and Democrats have to --


BLITZER: 12 to 15 million people have these individual policies, and of those, maybe five or 10 million of them are going to lose their policies, that they may have looked them, they may have been crummy policies. They may not have worked if they really got sick, these individuals. But obviously, millions of people are going to lose policies. So, on the point, Newt makes a fair point. On the point comparing it to Nixon, comparing what she did --

GINGRICH: What do you say -- what do you say --

BLITZER: -- with this secretary did to Nixon, that is, I mean, just between you and me, that's a little overblown.

GINGRICH: What do you say about an administration -- you just point out, the actual number may be 16 million Americans losing their policies. This affects life and death. It affects --


BLITZER: You're talking about the president. Here you said -- and I'll read it again just to be precise, and then you can tell me if you want to revise it. "Sebelius' dishonesty in testimony this morning exceeds anything President Nixon was accused of."

GINGRICH: I'll modify it.


GINGRICH: Equals anything. How is that?


GINGRICH: Exceeds -- may have been too strong.


GINGRICH: I think to go under oath and say with a straight face there was not an outage in a site you've been covering for a month.

JONES: That is so far from what happened with Nixon. I don't think its serves the country for us to be in this rhetorical arms race. I think the president should not have said that nobody ever was possibly going to have anything bad happen because it turns out not to be not true. That's not Nixon. That's not Nixon.

GINGRICH: But he said it hundreds of times.

JONES: I think hundreds of times he said something he shouldn't have said. I don't think Democrats should pretend that was a wise statement. But for you to say that's a Nixonian-level --


BLITZER: You saw "The Washington Post" today. Their fact checking.

JONES: Sure.

BLITZER: They gave the president four Pinocchios.

JONES: Fair enough. They didn't have Nixon's nose. They have Pinocchio's nose, and there's a difference.

BLITZER: Hold on. Don't go away. We're going to continue this serious important discussion.

Much more coming up, including we're going to play a clip from Jake Tapper. He just interviewed the former White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, about the president and Obamacare, what the president likes to know, what he doesn't like to know. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

My colleague, Jake Tapper, just spoke to the former White House chief of staff, the current mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. They spoke about the problems of Obamacare, other challenges the president now facing. Listen to this exchange.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: There have been criticisms with President Obama not knowing the details of the Obamacare website problems, and then also with the national security agency and the spying surveillance of our allies.


TAPPER: There have been criticisms of him as disengaged. Were you --


EMANUEL: 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 he went out. When I see him every morning, had read all the material that was presented to him by everybody. And he knew going into the meeting what the assumption of the other side of the argument was, why he wanted to -- he had exactly what questions he wanted about whether it was on economic policy or any particular foreign policy. So the idea that he would be disengaged is unless, something happened, I've never seen in the two years of intensity that I was there, I just don't buy it.


BLITZER: Van Jones and Newt Gingrich still with us, the cohosts of "Crossfire."

You worked with the president. Do you agree with Rahm Emanuel?

JONES: Famously well prepared. Frighteningly well prepared. Everybody in that building, if you wrote it, he was going to read it. You better have it exactly right. The idea that he's disengaged, playing golf, that kind of stuff, that is not this president. Something went wrong, but the idea the president was not engaged is not part of the story.



BLITZER: You don't know him as well as Van knows him but you've met him. He doesn't seem like the type that is disengaged to me.

GINGRICH: Let's assume for a second he's engaged. That means he knew he wasn't telling the truth when he said you won't lose your insurance. He knew the system wasn't ready on October 1st. Which is it? It if he's truly engaged, I'm happy to believe either version. Because you can make an argument for a president who delegates and trusts his people. But if he knew, it was irresponsible to launch the site without any testing. If he knew, it was totally irresponsible not to tell the American people the truth about the bill. I'm happy to believe that Mayor Emanuel is accurate. But if he's accurate, what the president said consistently for three years was not true, and he knew it.

BLITZER: On this point, there's obviously been a lot of concern over the past few days that, for whatever reason, nobody told him that the system wasn't ready, the website system wasn't ready to go October 1st. You heard Kathleen Sebelius, once again, say today they didn't tell the president there were these potential problems out there, and that the president also didn't know that the U.S. was listening in on phone conversations of Angela Merkel and other allied leaders. He didn't know about that, presumably. Those are two disturbing elements. You would think the president, if he were really engaged -- and I believe he is engaged -- would know that kind of stuff and somebody didn't tell him.

JONES: Sure. Something went wrong some place. These are two separate issues. When it comes to surveillance and the whole methodology of how stuff is gathered overseas, that stuff sometimes the president knows and sometimes the president doesn't know the details.

BLITZER: That kind of stuff he should know.

JONES: I think we're now conflating the NSA thing with this. This is different. This is disturbing. I think people don't understand.

BLITZER: But this is his signature issue.


JONES: People have been a saying this for weeks.

BLITZER: For decades, the American people -- politicians have been trying to get affordable health care for everyone. He finally did it.

JONES: Democratic politicians have.

BLITZER: Republican politicians, too.

JONES: Part of what --


BLITZER: You initially liked that affordable health care for everyone back in the '80s.

GINGRICH: I still want affordable health care for everyone.


GINGRICH: I don't think this model works.

JONES: Listen, if the model doesn't work, it's the Nixon, Heritage, Romney model, so we're trying to implement the Republican model here. We're having problems doing it.

I think people want to know and are going to find out over time exactly how this thing went so badly. But I also -- we live in the age of Twitter. We shouldn't live at Twitter speed all the time. We will eventually figure out who did what right and wrong. There's a nasty dangerous undercurrent here where people are now trying to challenge and build a case against the character of the president. There may be some flaws in the process here. There may have been judgment mistakes on the campaign trail. But this president is a straight-shooting, honest, hard working president who is engaged. We'll find out what went wrong.

I'm looking forward to hearing his words today. I think what you're going to hear from this president today --

BLITZER: He's speaking later today in Boston.

JONES: -- is a president who is going to take responsibility. I think Kathleen Sebelius --

BLITZER: Should he say "I'm sorry"? Should he apologize? JONES: I think that Kathleen Sebelius did the apology part of. I think the president needs to do the accountability part.


GINGRICH: I think two things. One, his speech today is going to give us a lot of stuff to talk about in "Crossfire" tonight at 6:30 p.m.



GINGRICH: Here's the problem the president has. On a project this big, one-fifth of the American economy, I am astounded that he didn't have a once-a-week briefing where they went into detail about the whole rollout. It's not just the website. The website is the tip of a very complex iceberg that has many different moving parts to it, and that is not only his biggest single achievement, but it's the biggest single change in the American system in our lifetime. I think it's almost utterly irresponsible to have something this big coming down the road and having the secretary of Health and Human Services say, oh, yeah, went didn't quite tell the president.

As you know, yesterday, I think on your show, you brought up the packet that there was a report as early as September 1 that said this thing ain't ready.

BLITZER: September 6th.

GINGRICH: September 6th.

JONES: At the risk of repeating something I think is important, listen, a lot has gone right with this. And I think that part of what we are in danger of doing now is pretending that this system now only has losers and the last system only had winners. There were a lot of losers in the last system. If you had a pre-existing condition, a very sick kid, you were a loser, you were in the seventh ring of hell in the last system. People act like Obamacare keeps us from having health. We are moving into a system where there are more winners now than losers. We still have losers. Democrats sound tone deaf when they ignore the people who feel like they're losers. We have to take those people seriously. But we also have to celebrate the winners. And there are many more winners in this system than the last one.


BLITZER: The president, as you say, is going to be in Boston later. I think he's speaking about Romney-care as well.

We just got a statement in from Mitt Romney on what he thinks about what's going on right now. I want you guys to weigh in right when we come back.


BLITZER: Later today, the president will be in Boston delivering a major speech on Obamacare as well.

John King is standing by in Boston for us.

John, set the scene for what the president hopes to achieve today.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what he hopes to achieve, first and foremost, and most of all, I should say, is to urge people to lift their heads, and he'll say, essentially, look out at the horizon, that, yes, the Obamacare rollout seems to be a mess, but the point he is trying to make is, a year from now, things will be different. We're getting people who didn't have coverage. We're expanding for people who did have coverage. And while he will take accountable and say, yes, we're responsible for the mess, to try to tell people be patient, things will get better, in the end, this law will be good for you. Republicans, of course, disagree.

And as an example, we expect him and we're told he will cite the rollout of Romney-care, or the Massachusetts health care plan, where only 123 people, according to the statistics, signed up the first month. Now it covers more than 95 percent of the citizens of Massachusetts. It has broad bipartisan support among the people, the voters, of Massachusetts and among the politicians.

But this is a tough challenge for the president. You saw Secretary Sebelius on the hot seat today. The president's own credibility has been called into question because he did say repeatedly when this was debated that if you had health care you liked, you wouldn't have to change it. It will be a big challenge for the president to get people to lift their heads up, past the rollout controversy. And a big question is whether he'll address his own -- field questions about his personal credibility in all this.

BLITZER: John, stand by.

Newt Gingrich and Van Jones are here.

Mitt Romney put out a statement today saying that what's working in Massachusetts should never have been used as some sort of national platform, if you will. He said, "Health reform is best crafted by states with bipartisan support and input from its employers, as we did, without raising taxes and by carefully phasing it in to avoid the types of disruptions we're seeing nationally."

You agree with that?

GINGRICH: First of all, if you study carefully Romney-care, it's the second most expensive health care in the United States. It came at a time --

BLITZER: People in Massachusetts like it.

GINGRICH: Sure, they do, and they are willing to pay for it, but you couldn't extend it to the whole country, it's so expensive.

BLITZER: It works in Massachusetts.

GINGRICH: It works in Massachusetts.

BLITZER: Should individual states have done what Massachusetts did, as opposed to a federal --

GINGRICH: They were drifting in that direction. You look at Vermont, which has adopted a single-payer system, totally different from anyone else is the country.

JONES: First of all, I think it's amazing that now you have Romney hugging Romney-care. He spent two years running from Romney-care, now he's for Romney-care again. I can never quite track where Romney is on his own ideas.

That said, Romney-care started out unpopular and glitchy. Now it's popular and works well. The same will be said for Obamacare.

BLITZER: Medicare in the '60s, they had a lot of problems early on. Now everybody loves it.

GINGRICH: Medicare in the '60s was a very different program than this. One of the things to remember is there were no losers with Medicare. No losers in Medicare Part D. There are millions of Americans being coerced by their own government to give up an insurance plan they chose. So in that sense, I think what Van said a while ago is really important. It's amazing how insensitive the president and most Democrats are to the fact there are millions of Americans who feel that they have been imposed upon.

BLITZER: All right, guys, I have to leave it there.


BLITZER: I suspect 6:30 p.m. eastern, are you two co-hosts --


JONES: We'll get into it.

BLITZER: I know you've got a good show. We'll be watching right after "The Situation Room."

Guys, thanks very much.

I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

NEWSROOM continues right now with Brooke Baldwin. She's standing by. Right after the break, you'll see Brooke.