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Saving Obamacare; Full Investigation File Released in Case; Highest Inequality in U.S.

Aired October 30, 2013 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: A debacle. That is what the woman in charge of the Obamacare rollout admits as she's getting drilled by lawmakers. But now, it's President Obama's turn.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. The news is now.


UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.


BALDWIN: Kathleen Sebelius apologizes, but what will the president say during his speech, live, during this show?

As the pope is named one of the world's most powerful, a little boy didn't seem too intimidated.

Plus, a Marine under fire for warning his brothers in war about what would become an insider attack.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should be giving him a medal, not prosecuting him.


BALDWIN: And CNN takes you to the most unequal place in America. This place, where there is no middle class.

Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Great to be with you.

But not a great day if you are Kathleen Sebelius. The Health and Human Services secretary grilled today over Obamacare and the bungled launch of the website Now, Secretary Sebelius, certainly fighting for her own political life, tells this House committee today she's sorry.


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I am as frustrated and angry as anyone with the flawed launch of So let me say directly to these Americans, you deserve better. I apologize. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The Obamacare website was only part of the three and a half hour grilling. Secretary Sebelius got from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Other hot buttons today -- the cost, President Obama's pledge, if you like your insurance, you can keep it, your privacy, abortion, enrollment numbers. We also heard references to red herrings, red Solo cups, Pinocchio, and "The Wizard of Oz." And throughout this hearing today, this site, it was down again. Watch.


REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: The president kept saying, if you like your health care plan, you can keep it. So is he keeping his promise?

SEBELIUS: Yes, he is.

BLACKBURN: What do you say to Mark and Lucinda in my district who had a plan, they liked it, it was affordable, but it is being terminated and now they do not have health insurance?

SEBELIUS: Insurance companies cancel individual policies year in and year out. They're a one-year contract with individuals.


SEBELIUS: They are not lifetime plans. They're not an employer plan.

BLACKBURN: Let me move -

SEBELIUS: Your constituents will have -

BLACKBURN: Just let me move on. It's what they wanted. And I will remind you, some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari, and some people like to drink out of a red Solo cup, not a crystal stem. You're taking away their choice.

Let's put the screen shot up. I want to go to the cost of the website and talk about the website. This is what is happening right now with this website. We've had somebody in the back trying to sign on. It is down. It is not working. Last week I asked for the cost from each of the contractors that were with us last week. So can you give me a ballpark of what you have spent on this website that does not work, that individuals cannot get to? What is your cost estimate?

SEBELIUS: So far, congresswoman, we have spent about $118 million on the website itself and about $56 million has been expended on other I.T. to support the web.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you provide for the committee the list of insurers in the federal exchange who do not offer as part of their package abortion coverage?

SEBELIUS: I will get that information to you. The website has never crashed. It is functional, but at a very slow speed and very low reliability.

REP. LEE TERRY (R), NEBRASKA: Do you have data on how many people in general in the United States have tried to enroll in a plan through this website?

SEBELIUS: No, sir, we do not have any reliable data around enrollment, which is why we haven't given it to date.

REP. MICHAEL DOYLE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: All right. Now I understand that you've said approximately 700,000 people have applied for coverage via the and the state exchanges, is that - is that --

SEBELIUS: They've completed an application.

DOYLE: Right, which is different from enrollment?

SEBELIUS: That's correct.

DOYLE: So my question is, are you expecting - I know you don't have exact numbers yet, but are you expecting a large number or a small month number of enrollments during the first month. What is your thoughts on that?

SEBELIUS: Well our projections prior to launch were always that there would be a very small number.

REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: Dorothy, at some point in the movie, turns to her little dog Toto and says, Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: This "Wizard of Oz" comment by my colleague from Texas I think is particularly apropos given what we hear on the other side of the aisle. I don't know how you keep your cool, madam secretary, you know, with this continuous effort on part of the GOP to sabotage the ACA, to scare people, and bring up red herrings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So the president ultimately is responsible. While I think it's great that you're a team player and you're taking responsibility, it is the president's ultimate responsibility, correct?

SEBELIUS: You clearly -- whatever, yes, he is the president. He is responsible for government programs.


BALDWIN: OK, that's some of the highlights, some of the lowlights from today. But there is one very big concern, and that was actually brought on by a Democrat today. Young people, the so-called invincibles, who are essential to Obamacare.


REP. MICHAEL DOYLE (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I've got four kids that all work on the Internet. And if they can't get something in five minutes, they're on to something else. What do we do, and what plans are in place by your department to encourage young people to go back and revisit that site and to make sure that we're getting young people looking at that site and accessing it?

SEBELIUS: Well, step number one is fix the site, because we don't want people to be invited back and then have a bad experience a second time around. I think that's absolutely right. The site is particularly important to tech savvy, younger generation folks who we need to enroll. I think that we have -- so fixing the site is step one. And step number two is getting information to folks that the law even exists.


BALDWIN: I mean this is what is so, so important. Big picture here, it's the young people. And many of them don't even know that this law exists. And those who do know it exists are trying to log on to a website that doesn't always work. So if young, healthy people cannot or simply do not sign up for health insurance, can Obamacare be saved? With me now from Washington, two of the best. A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of "The Hill," and "The New Yorker's" Ryan Lizza. Ryan is also a CNN political commentator.

So hello to both of you again.


BALDWIN: Hello, hello. You both watched this hearing, along with the rest of us here, and I'm going to ask you what peaked your political interest in a minute. But first, this is the list we wanted from you, three ways to save Obamacare. We asked you both for your prescriptions.

So, A.B., I'm beginning with you first. So taking a look at your list you say fix the website. You say, increase -

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE HILL": That sounds like Sebelius.

BALDWIN: Right. You say increase penalties for opted out. And you say, number three, launch a P.R. campaign of Obamacare happy stories.

A.B., let me hone in on this increasing penalties for opting out. What do you mean?

STODDARD: Well, I mean, at this point, the penalty for 2014 for opting out is $95 or 1 percent of your income. It's very low. That does escalate in the out years and it will drive more and more people to reconsider the paying the penalty to the IRS and actually joining the exchanges.

But what we need is we need those young and healthy people in there right now. And disincentivizing that, to use a fake, you know, cheesy word is really a mistake for the ultimate success for the program.

BALDWIN: We get - we get what you mean. Yes. STODDARD: I mean we need those people in there right now. The sick are on the exchanges. They're staying on the website for 18 hours at a time. They need in there right now to get insurance that they haven't been able to have. So in order to balance the risk in those insurance pools, we need the young. If we don't get them now, the prices come up right now and it becomes unaffordable.

BALDWIN: That is - that is what is so incredibly important.

Ryan Lizza, this is your prescription for saving Obamacare. Number one, we heard this before, fix the website. You say enough so that viewers can at least shop if not yet apply for health coverage. And I want to - I want to come back to that in a minute. You say number two, in the meantime, you say bolster enrollment by phone. And, three, have it all running smoothly by February or delay the mandate.


BALDWIN: So back to your number one, you sort of liken this to shopping on, which, listen, we all like to pick up different items, but we don't always click on the shopper cart, correct?

LIZZA: Yes, look, at a bare minimum, what they need to fix on the website is the ability to compare plans, to shop. If you can go on there and it can get - and you can give it a little bit of information about yourself and you can look at the menu of options that you have, that is important to have to get that working as soon as possible.

Then the next step is, even if they can't get the enrollment function of the website working, at least once you've shopped, once you've picked a plan, you can pick up the phone and enroll over the phone or by a paper application. If they - you know, think of the Internet back in about 1996. You know, you could look at - you could look at stuff online, but you still had to call up and order it over the phone with your credit card. That at a bare minimum is where they need to get this thing working. Obviously it's better if you can shop and enroll on the website all in one, as it was intended.


LIZZA: And then they have to have that shopping and enroll function functional by February or, I'm telling you, Obama is going to have to delay the individual mandate because there's no way you can penalize people for not buying a product that they literally can't go about buying.


LIZZA: So the clock is ticking.

BALDWIN: Let me hit pause on the conversation. Got to get a quick break in. When we come back, more from secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius' thoughts and also the fact that she said today, whatever. Back after this.


BALDWIN: And we're back with some of our favorites here from Washington. A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of "The Hill," and "The New Yorkers" Ryan Lizza, a CNN political commentator as well.

And, A.B., let me pick up with just -- if you watched, you really, really watched Kathleen Sebelius, what was the testimony, some three, three and a half hours. To me, her facial expressions told the story. How do you think she did?

STODDARD: Well, I think she was dreading it, and I think it was pretty dreadful. She did the right thing to apologize right out the bat. But it is -- it is a really -- just an extremely awkward situation. I can't imagine what other countries looking at this hearing would think, that we would send the Health and Human Services secretary to testify on Capitol Hill and she would not be able to provide the amount of people who are officially enrolled versus who have, you know, just opened an account and gotten through step one or two of many, many steps on the website. And it's really quite amazing.

And then, at the same time, showing - you know, the members showing her that the website was down and then still down hours later. I mean it was very - I can't imagine the administration feeling nothing but defeated. And I think it's -- the whole thing is really a shame on the administration, that they would not anticipate -- not only did she admit that young people have to find out what's in the law, which means they've failed to sell it after many, many, many years and millions of dollars, but that they would really not be in a position to be able to tally up this kind of information for congressional oversight, that they wouldn't have anticipated that these were the questions that would be asked just even weeks into the launch is really quite stunning to me.

BALDWIN: Yes, we heard our deputy testifying yesterday and everybody's asking where are the numbers, where are the numbers? And apparently we're getting them in November. But - so it's one thing to see, you know, Kathleen Sebelius testifying, Ryan Lizza, it's going to be quite another to see the president of the United States. He is speaking live during the show from Boston, the birthplace of Romneycare.


BALDWIN: And we heard - we heard I'm sorry from Sebelius today. We heard her refer to this as a debacle. Do we think we will hear a mea culpa from the president of the United States?

LIZZA: I don't know. You know, I'm always in favor of political accountability. It seems like there's not much of that in Washington these days when something goes wrong. It's always some else's fault.

BALDWIN: On either side.

LIZZA: On either side. And you have to give credit to Sebelius for apologizing and taking responsibility. And, look, at the end of the day, the president's the president. He can't shirk responsibility from this. This is his program, his success - the success of his second term and his legacy will depend on getting this right. So there's no point in him trying to pretend that he's - you know, it's not his responsibility. He owns this and he knows it.

I think on this question of the president and saying that if you want your insurance -- want to keep your insurance, you know, you can, this is really a major blunder by the administration in not sort of being more specific about this. This was a policy decision. They knew that roughly one or 2 percent of the population had plans that were substandard and were going to basically have to move into frankly better plans, right? They're giving folks more coverage. They have better regulations. And in some cases, not all, those are going to be more expensive. And they knew that that -- in that 1 percent to 2 percent of Americans, the statement, you can keep your coverage was not going to be right. And that was a policy decision they made. And they should be out there defending it.

BALDWIN: Yes, that is not going anywhere. And we will all be watching and waiting to see what the president says today as he speaks from Boston. A.B. Stoddard and Ryan Lizza, thank you both very much.

LIZZA: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Coming up, CNN takes you to the most unequal place in America. It's a place where there just, quite simply, is no middle class.

Plus, the moment you have to see, when this little boy refuses to leave the pope's stage. More on these adorable pictures.

Plus, a breaking twist in the mystery of a teenager found dead inside a high school gym mat. Are we closer to finding out what happened in his final moments? That's next.


BALDWIN: Major developments today in the case of that Georgia teenager who was found dead in a gym mat at his high school. So the full investigative file into the death of Kendrick Johnson has now been released. That was by a judge's order just a short time ago. I'm talking unredacted documents, photographs from Lowndes County High School, and the surveillance video from inside the high school gym will be released later this hour. This is a huge victory for Kendrick Johnson's parents because they never believed that initial ruling back in January that indicated that Kendrick Johnson suffocated after falling into the gym mat while reaching for a shoe. They believe their son was murdered. Victor Blackwell has been all over this for us from the beginning. He joins me live from Valdosta, Georgia.

Victor, do you know what's in these files or on this video?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's talk about the video first, because it is a lot. We're told that there are 40 cameras in and around the gym at Lowndes High School where Kendrick Johnson was found in January, upside down, dead in a mat. But when the sheriff's office went to the schools to get the video, they wanted 48 hours, the last 48 hours of each of those cameras. So we could be talking about up to 1,900 hours of surveillance stills and video. It will show, again, as you said, unredacted, it will show the faces, who was inside the gym, when, what their involvement if at any time was with Kendrick or that mat. But not just inside the gym, the hallways leading to the gym, the weight room, outside the building, at the doors. So there are maybe 2,000 hours almost of video there.

Now, interestingly enough, what the attorneys for the family do not expect to see is the moment in which Kendrick Johnson went into the mat, whether he climbed into the mat or was placed into the mat, they do not expect, out of all those cameras and hours, to see that. Here's what their attorney, Ben Crump, told us after the announcement was made.


BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY: It's not going to be a home run, we think, we'll see in the videotape, but what we think the videotapes will do will get us on first base because it will then have questions answered that will lead to other questions to get us to second base, to third base and finally get to home plate where we will be able to put together all the pieces as to what happened to this child.


BLACKWELL: Brooke, it's not just the video, but also the files. Hundreds of pages now also unredacted, every person, students, the teachers, the janitors, their parent that they spoke with during this case. We know that there was special attention paid to at least a few students at Lowndes County, and one student who was not at that high school. But, of course, this is all the result of the family's lawsuit. And CNN was granted the right to intervene in their lawsuit to peruse its open records request, and all those were granted. So a lot of new information in this case, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Victor Blackwell, great reporting. Thank you so much.

And now this. Coming up here on CNN, it's a CNN exclusive. The most unequal place in all of America. We take you to one town that some call cursed.


DEDE WILLIS: Why is God keeping this town alive if we're the poorest?


BALDWIN: Up next, a sobering look as people from both sides of the economic divide look to close the wealth gap, only here on CNN.


BALDWIN: Want to tell you about this CNN exclusive. It's a piece entitled "The Most Unequal Place in America." It's a special look at devastating income inequality in this small town in Louisiana. It's called East Carroll Parish. It has been called the poorest place in the nation. This is a town where some mothers can't even afford to buy underwear for their kids. The mayor there says the town has spiraled downward for 38 years. But people in this tiny town, they're not giving up hope.


DEDE WILLIS: I just pray that the Holy Spirit will just move one night over this town. You have to sit back and think, why is God keeping this town alive if we're the poorest, and if we have the highest unemployment and crime rate. Why won't God say, I'm just going to go ahead and wipe this town out? They're useless. It's because he knows that there's definitely hope here. That's why he's keeping us, because he believes, and he's waiting for us to start to believe in ourselves.

JOHN SUTTER, CNN COLUMNIST, CNN OPINION (voice-over): This corner of Louisiana, near the Mississippi River, is a place of great natural wealth. Of cypress trees and corn fields and a lake so beautiful they named it Providence. But there's a curse this community can't shake. It's the most economically divided place in America.


BALDWIN: John Sutter, we heard your voice in the piece, thank you for joining me.

You helped start up this whole - this whole idea at CNN, the "Change the List Project." And so you went to this town. I want to hone in because this is a huge article. Hone in on these two different high schools. You have the public, you have the private, you have the majority black, the majority white, and the graduation rates are like night and day.

JOHN SUTTER, CNN COLUMNIST, CNN OPINION: Yes, they are. So you saw Lake Providence in this video and there are really sort of two worlds, one on each side of the lake. One that's largely poor, one that's largely rich, and the gap, you know, the statistics are what brought us there. The gap numbers wise is just huge. And the graduation rates are, too. It's just sort of one indication. One hundred percent of the students who go to the private school, Briarfield Academy, graduate about -- a little less than 75 percent of the public school graduates do. And that's more or less on par with the national average. But I think what's important here is that we've lowered our expectations in a way. Like we hear - I think some people hear that and they think, oh, obviously, the public school students will graduate at a lower rate. But why should that be. It has nothing to do with aptitude. I think that there are people there who have accepted these divisions and people nationally who do too.