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Obama: "I take Full Responsibility"; Sebelius: "I apologize, I'm Accountable"; Big Jump In Medicaid Signups; U.S. Spying ON Yahoo & Google?

Aired October 30, 2013 - 17:00   ET



While his Health and Human Services secretary got a drilling today up on Capitol Hill, President Obama got out of town. He just gave a spirited defense of his health care law in Boston where former rival, Mitt Romney, signed a very similar and successful Massachusetts law less than a decade ago.

Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by on Capitol Hill, but let's begin our coverage this hour with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the president said he's responsible for Obamacare's flaws, but he also said that Romneycare also had a slow start.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. As you said, Wolf, the president traveled up to Boston to make those comparisons between his health care plan, Obamacare, and Mitt Romney, his old rival's health care plan, Romneycare. He was talking about the bumpy rollout. There were some bumps, but not as many for the president's health care law in Romneycare up in Massachusetts.

But Wolf, there was another mission for the president today and that was to do some damage control acknowledging some of the website problems that have plagued Obamacare in recent weeks and he made mention of that pretty early on in his remarks. Here's what he had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no denying it. Right now, the website is too slow. Too many people have gotten stuck. And I'm not happy about it. And neither are a lot of Americans who need health care and they're trying to figure out how they can sign up as quickly as possible.

So, there is no excuse for it. And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP. We are working overtime to improve it every day. Every day.


(END VIDEO CLIP) ACOSTA: Now, the president also made mention of the fact that in the early stages of the rollout of Romneycare up in Massachusetts, that only 123 people signed up in that first month and then that grew into thousands and tens of thousands by the years. And -- but of course, that is very different from what is happening with Obamacare, website problems, problems with the president, and comments that he's made in the past about if you like your plan, you can keep it.

All of this did not go over well with the former Massachusetts governor who released a statement blasting the president's event today. Let's put this up on screen.

In one part of the statement, Mitt Romney says "had President Obama actually learned the lessons of Massachusetts health care, millions of Americans would not lose the insurance they were promised they would keep, millions more would not see their premiums sky rocket and the installation of the program would not have been a frustrating embarrassment."

Strong words from Mitt Romney given the fact that the president was essentially giving him a shout out today, Wolf. One other thing we should mention about this event, Wolf, is that the president did try to offer an explanation for his words in the past, "if you like your plan, you can keep it."

The president did not really acknowledge these fact checkers out there, one today in "The Washington Post" who gave the president four Pinocchios. The president didn't (ph) acknowledge that, did not respond to that, but he did offer a defense of those words by saying that the people who are getting those cancellation letters now will be able to buy coverage under Obamacare, something he said that those folks may not have been able to do in the past -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

The Health and Human services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, apologized today for what she called the miserably frustrating rollout of the Obamacare website.


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


BLITZER: Sebelius was grilled for 3 1/2 hours, sometimes, relentlessly by members of the House panel. Republican lawmakers raised serious concerns about the website's security and privacy even as users grappled with another outage. Let's go to Capitol Hill. Our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by. She seemed pretty contrite, I think, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And that was her whole goal. It was clear from the very beginning when she said what you just played, apologizing. She said over and over that in her words this debacle was her responsibility. She acknowledged that the testing beforehand was inadequate, even though she thought it was OK, and she told the president it was OK.

She said she was wrong. And you know, it's important to note that even as she was talking, the website actually was down, which is something that several Republicans pointed out during the hearing. But you know, she also didn't give an inch on the sort of broader questions about changing or delaying the law.

Even some democrats there on Capitol Hill are asking her to extend the enrollment dead line which is March 31st. She said absolutely flatly no or even to delay the fee that people will have to pay if they don't get this mandatory health care. Again, she said no -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, beyond the problems of the website, a lot of people, though, are still being dropped from the plans that they had even though the president said if they liked their plans, they could keep their plans. So, that came up today, as well.

BASH: It sure did. And Republicans since last week or even beforehand have been saying privately that their strategy is to get beyond the website because they believe ultimately it will be fixed and to look at more of the fundamental problems they believe is with this law that people are seeing. One of them is the fact that people are being dropped from their existing plans.

Something that the president promised wasn't going to happen during the campaign and before the law became law. And Republicans came armed with constituent horror stories. Here's one example.


REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN, (R) TENNESSEE: 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 are a one year contract with individuals. They are not lifetime plans, they are not an employer plan.


BLACKBURN: -- 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, no at crystal stem. You're taking away their choice.


BASH: Now, you sort of saw there Secretary Sebelius struggled trying to explain why people are being dropped from their plans. Eventually, during the three and a half hours explained that it's because there are new requirements for benefits under this new law that weren't there before and aren't are some of the plans. Requirements that give better benefits, she said, consumer protections and people can't be locked out like before.

And it fell on some of -- to some of the Democrats who were also eager for her to better explain this because they're getting angry calls from their constituents to talk about the fact that this is the way the marketplace works and even though people might have higher priced plans now, they might not ultimately. Listen to Frank Pallone of New Jersey.


REP. FRANK PALLONE, (D) ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Insurance companies are canceling lousy policies with high prices because they can't compete. And that's what's going to happen when you have a private insurance market, which is what we have here. We don't have a government controlled system. We have private markets.


BASH: You heard a lot of Democrats trying to talk about the benefits of the Obamacare law, talk about the fact that women are treated the same as men which they weren't always before, things like that. But clearly, they understand that that is being overshadowed, not just by the website problems, but by fear that people's plans, current plans, are being dropped and they're not able to get new plans because they can't get on the website or can't get on the phone to get a new plan.

BLITZER: Clearly, the frustration continues on that front. Dana, thank you.

Up next, the Obamacare exchanges are seeing relatively modest number of enrollments for private insurance, but there's apparently a big surge in Medicaid signups for the poor. Why that could be a significant problem to the whole program?

And Kathleen Sebelius apologizing for the Obamacare website problems, but is that enough. We're going to have a debate between two outspoken members of Congress.


BLITZER: A deadly plane crash that went unnoticed for hours that had happened at an airport. We have details. That's coming up.

And remember, coming up at the top of the hour, our SITUATION ROOM special report, Obamacare under fire. You can tweet us. Use the #sitroom.


BLITZER: America's health care crisis centers around the tens of billions of people who are uninsured, while just a trickle of people supposedly, so far, have signed up for the Obamacare through the exchanges, the floodgates are wide, wide open for the Medicaid recipients and that could potentially pose a significant problem for the entire program. Tom Foreman is here to explain. What's going on here, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is early in the process. That's really important to bear in mind. But the goal of the Obamacare plan from the beginning has been to start to reduce this number, this number right here, 47 million uninsured legal adults in this country, residence, they don't have health insurance.

In theory, this goal is reached by getting most of them to buy in a three-year term private insurance through the health care exchanges. About 22 million insured through the exchanges if everything goes right and by getting about 12 million covered through Medicaid which is, of course, the health care program for poor people. They're the targets three years from now.

Twenty-two million through exchanges, 12 million covered through Medicaid. Fifteen states, and we're going to show you here the map, have decided to opt out of the Medicaid buy-in because they're arguing it will cost taxpayers too much money over time to pay for that coverage for those people. But what's happening in some of the other states that are participating is raising eyebrows about this whole process.

And let's talk about, because some people are signing up for this free health insurance through Medicaid much faster than people are buying insurance through the exchanges. In Washington, for example, 35,000 people have enrolled for coverage, but of that number, 87 percent of them are coming in through Medicaid.

In Kentucky over here, 26,000 people have signed up, new enrollees. Eighty-two percent of those have come in through Medicaid. And in New York, 37,000 people have signed up, so far, 64 percent through Medicaid. You can see the imbalance here, Wolf. They want much more robust numbers in terms of the other enrollment. And if that doesn't pick up through the exchanges, that doesn't pick up steam, then we could see real economic challenges to Obamacare -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Federal government releasing very little information on the enrollment numbers. So far, we don't really know until, what, mid-November, Tom, when we'll get the real numbers?

FOREMAN: Yes. That's when we'll figure out whether or not this will continue. And in all truth, it's unlikely that this trend right now is going to continue at this rate. And here's three caveats as to why. Number one, it is early. Of course, if people really need a service and you make it free, they'll jump at the chance whereas when people have to pay for it, they will take a little bit longer to think about that.

They'll probably delay that commitment. We've seen it in many different types of programs. Number two, it's early. The numbers we have so far are just too sketchy and really tell much about them. It doesn't matter if you're for this or against this. We just don't have a whole lot of data to work with yet. And number three, it's early, Wolf. This is a very early part of this process. It's important to watch the numbers. If this keeps playing out over the next few months, then you have a real problem. That's why people are paying attention. But right now, it's just one of those artifacts of the system that people are looking at and saying what if -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very, very much

We're also hearing that the White House is trying to put some pressure on the health insurance industry to keep silent about ongoing problems with Obamacare. Drew Griffin of CNNs investigations unit has been digging into this part of the story. What are you learning, Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIONS UNIT: What we are hearing, Wolf, is that behind the scenes, if an insurance executive is quoted, speaks out, says anything negative about the Obamacare rollout, they or more likely their bosses are to get a call from inside the White House asking them to explain the comments. It's being perceived as pressure to keep quiet.

Sources within the industry are telling me, telling my colleague, Chris Frates (ph), that there is a reluctance to speak out because of these phone calls. Jay Carney at the White House says the allegation is preposterous and inaccurate, but one insurance insider willing to go on the record, Robert Lyshevski (ph), a major consultant for the health insurance industry and a critic of Obamacare tells CNN that the White House is exerting massive pressure on the industry, including to trade associations to keep quiet.

And our sources are confirming to us what Lyshevski says, Wolf, adding that they fear retribution from the White House. Lyshevski says there is embarrassment in the industry about all these health insurance policies that need to be dropped or canceled due to the Obamacare regulations that Dana was talking about.

But he also says the industry specifically warned the administration this would be the result if those additional coverage requirements moved forward which, Wolf, they did.

BLITZER: The White House flatly denying that they're exerting any pressure at all, right?

GRIFFIN: Yes. According to White House spokesman, Jay Carney, in addition to calling the allegations preposterous, he adds and I'll read it to you here, "It ignores the fact that every day, insurance companies are talking about the law in large part because they are trying to reach millions of new customers who will now have new affordable options available from providers through the new market place." That from Jay Carney -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Drew Griffin reporting for us, thank you.

Coming up, U.S. government accused of spying on Yahoo! and Google. Now, the NSA is pushing back.

Plus, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He was the last journalist to have an exclusive interview with the embattled Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. Is her message about Obamacare better today than it was last week when he sat down with her? Sanjay standing by to join us live.


BLITZER: There are new developments today in the scandal over U.S. government spying. There are also new allegations the NSA the tapped into Yahoo! and Google communications which are used by hundreds of millions of people in United States and around the world. Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto is working the story for us.

Jim, the "Washington Post" reports the NSA infiltrated links to Yahoo! and Google servers globally that the agency is using this practice to get around port approved process. You've been investigating. What have you found?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, the story in effect is that they've gone into the communications links picture undersea cables between Google and Yahoo! Now, the reason you would do this is because they are overseas, therefore, they would fall outside of the oversight of the U.S. government. They can access them without seeking a court approval under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Here's what the NSA said when we went to them today. They said, quote, "The assertion that we collect vast quantities of U.S. persons' data from this type of collection is not true. The NSA applies attorney general approved processes to protect the privacy of U.S. persons." Now, notice in that statement, they say we do not go after U.S. citizens. No mention of foreign citizens, for instance.

And earlier today, the NSA chief said we do not go after servers. He does not mention communications links. So, in effect, the NSA confirming the essence of the story here and you can argue they're doing their job, right? They're going after foreign intelligence overseas to protect the U.S interests -- security interests here back at home.

BLITZER: Yes. There are two European delegations that have come to Washington from like Germany and the EU to complain about all of this.

SCIUTTO: That's right. The Germans went to the White House. I also spoke with the EU delegation who went to the White House. They actually had a sit-down themselves, one-on-one with the NSA chief, Alexander who walked them through this report that the NSA was listening to millions of phone calls in France and Spain and showed them exactly how that report got it wrong, showed them the slide that Edward Snowden had released and said actually this is not true.

And by and large talking to the members of delegation, they found that explanation satisfying. Alexander also told them that when the U.S., when the NSA collects data in Europe, they do it in collaboration with European intelligence agency. So, I asked the delegation. I said, is it hypocritical for you to be criticizing the U.S. when it's your own intelligence services that are participating. Here's how they responded.


CLAUDE MORAES, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, UNITED KINGDOM: Absolutely. We want to get to the truth why (INAUDIBLE). There are a set of allegations --

SCIUTTO: By Americans and Europeans or just by Americans?

MORAES: Whoever it was and whatever partnerships it may have been, whoever it was, we want to get to the truth of it.


SCIUTTO: So, in effect, they're angry at both sides. They're saying they're demanding answers not only from the U.S. government but from European governments to find out why this mass surveillance is happening and to what extent.

BLITZER: You're getting statements from Yahoo! and Google, right?

SCIUTTO: That's right. This is in response to the "Washington Post" story about accessing communications links between their servers. This is from Google, "We have long been concerned about the possibility of this kind of snooping which is why we've continued to extend encryption across more and more Google services."

So, Google trying to fight back by encrypting the communications links. And Yahoo! is also upset saying "that we have not given access to our data centers to the NSA or any other government agency." So, both of them not happy with this. And Google in particularly forward leaning and that they're trying to encrypt and in effect fight back.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto reporting.

Coming up, one Democratic congressman says Republicans are like chicken little when it comes to Obamacare. He's here so as a republican lawmaker. He will respond. Two lawmakers with very different views.

Plus, a little panda makes big news. We have details of a milestone for the star of the National Zoo here in Washington.


BLITZER: New twist on something every flier has heard before. We're going to show you how one airline is taking safety to a new level. And don't forget, coming up at the top of the hour, our SITUATION ROOM special report, Obamacare under fire. Tweet us. Use the #sitroom.


BLITZER: We're just getting this in, and we'll get the sound for you momentarily. But we have just been told that the Vice President Joe Biden, he also is now officially apologizing for all the problems with the Obamacare Web site in an interview with our sister network HLN.

The interview is on its way here to the SITUATION ROOM. We're going to get you that sound shortly. You'll hear what the Vice President Joe Biden had to say. He just spoke to CNN and he is apologizing as so many others are now apologizing for the problems with the Web site.

All right. We'll get to that in a moment.

Let's continue the conversation on what's going on with Obamacare right now. Joining us our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us as well.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

All right, so, Gloria, you've spoken to your own sources now and there seems to be a change in tone from the president taking responsibility, Sebelius saying that she's accountable, she's apologizing. Now the vice president in this interview with HLN also apologizing.

What's going on here?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Contrition. I think a lot of contrition. I mean, today we heard Kathleen Sebelius call it miserably frustrating. The president -- and she took full responsibility. The president said he takes full responsibility for making sure the Web site gets fixed ASAP as he put it. You just reported the vice president.

So now that they're getting all of the apologies out of the way, they're also taking an opportunity to step back and try and re-explain what Obamacare will mean to you and to your family because it's very clear from all the controversy that we've seen about people being forced to change plans, their plans being canceled or killed, that they understand over at the White House that they need to re-explain what this is all about.

BLITZER: Sanjay, all of us remember your exclusive interview last week with Kathleen Sebelius. Now I want to play a little clip of what she said then and then we'll assess how she phrased it today. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes or no, is there any way that the individual mandate would be delayed?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HHS SECRETARY: Well, I don't think that that really is the question right now.


BLITZER: All right. She was asked similar questions today and there was a difference in nuance, right?

GUPTA: Yes. Look, she's not backing down on this point. I mean, she really dodged it when I asked her. Today she's sort of saying -- making the case that open enrollment is started, it's happening right now. So there is no signs of delaying the individual mandate. That can't happen is essentially what she said. So it wasn't -- it still not a firm absolute no, but, yes, I think a little bit more of a precise answer with some reasoning behind it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And let me bring Elizabeth into this conversation. All of us remember what the president said about health care back in 2009. I'll play the clip.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan. Period.


BLITZER: Period. All right. Today he rephrased it a bit. Here's how he phrased it today.


OBAMA: For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it. For the fewer than 5 percent of Americans who buy insurance on your own, you will be getting a better deal.


BLITZER: What do you think about that nuanced twist?



COHEN: He said that has health insurance that works. So what the president means is that some health policies -- health insurance policies right now don't work. They're what we call Swiss cheese policies. They're full of holes. Maybe they don't cover maternity care, maybe they don't cover prescription drugs at all. And he's saying those don't work, you're going to have to get a new one.

But here's the important point here, Wolf, is that some people who have those policies they love them because they're cheap. And I was talking to one person who said, well, I know this doesn't cover drugs, but I'm healthy. I don't take any prescription so I'm fine. I don't mind that at all. I love how inexpensive it is.

And so the president is going to have to convince these people, Wolf, that's risky. What if you got sick you would want prescription drugs covered. He's going to have to convince them how faulty, how Swiss cheesy those policies are.

BORGER: You know, he started doing that today in his speech, effectively saying, what you were buying is a bad product. And what you need to get is a better product because you never know what's going to occur in your life.

And you have a lot people saying, wait a minute, you shouldn't be telling me --

COHEN: Right.

BORGER: -- that I need to do this.

COHEN: It's my decision. Right.

BORGER: Right. That's because the administration hasn't explained the concept of a risk pool very well.


BLITZER: You know, Sanjay, I guess it depends on the definition of a health care plan that works.


BLITZER: Because the president might think it's not working, but as Elizabeth says, some of these folks who pay a minimal amount of money for these plans, they think it works just fine.

GUPTA: Yes -- no, and I think that's a very fair point and I think that's been the genesis of a lot of this criticism. But it is important to point out I think what is an important nuance here, that some of those clips that you were playing where he was talking about this before were before the law was passed. As a result of the law being passed, there are certain patient protections which now have to be in these plans.

They -- your premiums can't go up after you get sick. You can't be discriminated against. You also can't have these caps in terms of how much insurance companies will pay out in any given year or over your lifetime. So those things are now mandatory parts of the plans and they're going to cost more than probably these -- the more bare bones plans before.

So, yes, you may have better prescription drug coverage, yes, you may have this odd concept of maternal health protections. Even if you're a male because that's part of the group plan that Gloria was talking about. But I think the thing that's driving up the prices a little bit more is actually allowing these patient protections that we're talking about to actually be in place.

And, Wolf, I don't think they've done a great job of explaining that point. And I think as a result people are sort of dabbling on the fringes trying to understand what he means by this.

COHEN: Right. To Sanjay's point, I was talking to someone, we did a story about him in your show yesterday. And I said, you know, if you get cancer next month, they're just going to cancel you. They're not going to let you keep this Swiss cheese policy. They're going to get rid of you and under Obamacare, they can't. And he said, well, I don't care. I'm young and healthy. I'll take the risk. It's worth taking the risk.

The president has to convince these folks that it's not worth taking that risk.

BORGER: And I'm told he's going to be speaking a lot more about this. Originally they were going to have him out there speaking to drive traffic to the Web site. I was told, now I think his role is much more explanatory.

BLITZER: Drive traffic to the call centers.

BORGER: Right.

COHEN: Right. Exactly.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Thanks very much, Gloria, Elizabeth, Sanjay, guys, thanks very much.

Kathleen Sebelius apologizing for the Obamacare Web site problems. Is that enough? Two Congressmen standing by to debate. Tweet us your questions, by the way, use the hash tag sitroom.

And a little boy steals the spotlight from the Pope before 100,000 in St. Peter's Square. You have to see this.


BLITZER: All right. Fasten your seatbelt. It never sounded like this before when airline shakes it up on board.

And coming up at the top of the hour, our SITUATION ROOM special report, "Obamacare Under Fire." Tweet us your thoughts and don't forget to use the hash tag sitroom.


BLITZER: All right. Let's get to the news that we have here. The apology now from the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, for the problems with the Obamacare Web site. He just spoke to our own Christi Paul from our sister network HLN. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: And we assumed that it was up and ready to run. But the good news is, although it's not, and we apologize for that, we're confident that by the end of November, it will be and there'll still be plenty of time for people to register and get online.


BLITZER: We apologize for that. Let's discuss what's going on with two guests, the Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, and the Republican Congressman John Fleming of Louisiana.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

It's not only Biden, but earlier today we heard from the president, we heard from Kathleen Sebelius. Let me play a couple of clips.


OBAMA: So there is no excuse for it. And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP.

SEBELIUS: So let me say directly to these Americans, you deserve better. I apologize. I'm accountable to you for fixing these problems.


BLITZER: All right. Congressman, so you accept her apology. Are you willing to work with her to fix, to repair Obamacare?

REP. JOHN FLEMING (R), LOUISIANA: Well, Wolf, as you know, I've called for her resignation along with 32 other colleagues. I really have to stand by that. I really sincerely believe this could have been prevented. We find that she does apologize. She says she's accountable, but then she also points fingers at a lot of the private contractors. It was her responsibility to be sure they were in line to begin with.

BLITZER: But maybe they blundered, those private contractors. You've worked with government contractors. A lot of times they screw it up.

FLEMING: Yes, but again she's in charge. She's the CEO of that operation and the CEO has to make sure it gets done in the first place.

BLITZER: So you still want her out?


BLITZER: What do you say to that? REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), ENERGY AND COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Well, I don't think she should resign. I'm less concerned with her resigning than I am with fixing it and making Obamacare work correctly. I mean -- I mean, that's what I care about.

BLITZER: Have you lost confidence in this whole program as a result of the blunders involving the Web site?

ENGEL: No. I think the concept of national health care is an important one. We have 48 million Americans right now who are uninsured. Under the Affordable Care Act, we think that will at least be cut in half or maybe even more. And we all know the good things that we have. You can't be denied insurance for pre-existing condition, your children can stay on your health plan up to age 26. Well, lots of good things there. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water.

BLITZER: Congressman, you're a physician, so you like those positive aspects of Obamacare, that people can't get kicked off if they get ill, if they have pre-existing conditions, they could still get health insurance, young people can stay on their parents program until the age of 26. You like all of that?

FLEMING: Well, Wolf, I came to Washington as a physician to have health care reform. I saw we had problematic system and wanted to fix it. The problem is that what is the cost of what we're achieving now and the cost is too high. As you know, people are being kicked off of their present insurance and now they're going to have to pay a lot more for the new Obamacare.

BLITZER: What do you say about that, Congressman? Some people won't be able to continue the health insurance, the bare bones health insurance policies they may have had. They were relatively cheap and now they're going to be forced to get something that meets higher standards but will be more expensive?

ENGEL: Well, you know, there are a lot of people where it's quite the opposite. In fact, there are many more -- who are going to get health care in my home state of New York for cheaper rate than they -- than they're currently getting. We need to make sure that people who are suffering as a result that we fix this. And we try to fix it as best we can.

But there are always cases that are cited as if it's the norm. It's not the norm. There were some people, it's unfortunate and again we have to try to make those people whole. But basically we think that the Affordable Healthcare Act is going to --

BLITZER: Go ahead.

ENGEL: -- allow people to purchase insurance at a cheaper rate.

FLEMING: Unfortunately, Wolf, in most states, most venues, the rates are going up stratospherically.

BLITZER: Is that true? FLEMING: Over -- for men, 100 percent on average increase. This comes from the Manhattan Institute. Women 62 percent. And as for universal coverage, never less than 30 million Americans will be uncovered, uninsured under Obamacare. And that's in years to come.

BLITZER: Is that true?

ENGEL: No, I don't believe it's true at all. Look --

FLEMING: That's the CBO that says --

ENGLE: What we should have had in health -- affordable healthcare, is we should have had, frankly, the Republicans cooperating with the Democrats to try to have a bill that would be bipartisan that would move the country forward. But Republicans have rejected this from day one. And you know it was -- it was passed by Congress, it was signed by the president, it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

There was a presidential election run in 2012 on it. It's the law of the land. We need both sides of the aisle to come together to fix it. All major bills like this need some tweaking. And rather than the Republicans trying to shut down the government to fund to kill it, they should work with to us try to approve it.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

FLEMING: Unfortunately not a single Republican supported this bill. We had no input into it. Remember the president classically said, I'll go with any member of Congress line by line over this law. We wrote him a number of letters, many of the physicians in the House GOP. We had no input into this. It's unpopular with the American people and now people are getting a big surprise of being thrown off their existing insurance and asked to pay a lot more for the future insurance.

BLITZER: In New York state, and you're from New York state, there seems to be a pretty good response, but a lot of those people who are signing up are Medicaid -- are getting Medicaid and they're not putting money into the system. They're getting money out of the system in effect. But which is good, they'll finally going to get health insurance, but they're not getting enough young people who are healthy, they're 20s, 30s, and 40s, who are yet signing up.

ENGEL: Well, that's why you have the individual mandate which the program only works if everybody signs up. You have to have young people sign up.

BLITZER: They can't sign up if the Web site is not working.

ENGEL: Well, listen, there's no excuses. I'm not going to make any excuses for the Web site. And that's really inexcusable. But I would say to my friend and colleague here, the reason why Republicans have no input is they chose to have no input.

(CROSSTALK) ENGEL: They rejected this from day one. They voted against from day one. We would have welcomed bipartisan input. I would have preferred it but --


ENGEL: They were naysayers from day one.

FLEMING: We applied a number of amendments. They stripped them out. They're in conference. Now we have no input into this. We have a lot of great ideas that are market based, patient centered, and they were all rejected by Democrats.

BLITZER: It's now the law of the land. You're going to have to live with it unless there's a new president --

FLEMING: Well, you know --

BLITZER: -- in 2016 who decides to take steps to end it.

FLEMING: Right. You know, the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit was the law of the land at one time. It's not any longer.

BLITZER: So you think it's going to change at some point down the road?


BLITZER: Guys, let's leave it there. Continue this down the road.

John Fleming, thanks very much.

FLEMING: Thank you.

BLITZER: Eliot Engel, thanks to you as well.

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

Four people were taken to the hospital after being hurt in this school bus crash near Santa Maria in central California. One had serious injuries. It took rescuers almost one hour to pull the driver from the wreckage.

Federal officials are investigating a deadly plane crash at the National Airport that went unnoticed for almost seven hours, the single-engine Cessna went down in dense fog, but the control tower didn't learn about it until a pilot reported debris on the runway. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He says that the prop's about 500 feet from the departure and of runway 2-center, the touchdown zone. And it appears that something might have gone off the right side of the runway.


BLITZER: The pilot was killed and -- and was the only person on board.

The star of the National Zoo's hugely popular panda cam is nearing a milestone. The cub's eyes are now almost completely open. She was born in August. And zookeepers say she now weighs almost eight pounds and is almost two feet long.

Lots of frequent flyers tune in -- tune out the airline safety instructions, but here's one safety video that's hard to ignore.


That's the kind of safety video passengers will be seeing on Virgin America. This one features 36 dancers, former contestants from the "So You Think You Can Dance" and "American Idol" programs.

Up next with 100,000 people watching, a little boy steals the spotlight from the Pope.

And coming up at the top of the hour our SITUATION ROOM special report. "Obamacare Under Fire."


BLITZER: All right. Just minutes away our SITUATION ROOM special report, "Obamacare Under Fire," but first this "Impact Your World."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Country singer Clint Black is known for his signature cowboy hat and his classic sound.

But beyond the music, Black is supporting the fight against a disease called Rhett's syndrome.

CLINT BLACK, COUNTRY SINGER: My niece Courtney, my brother Kevin's daughter, was afflicted with this and lost her battle with it at age 16.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Rhett's syndrome almost always affects girls. It's usually diagnosed by 18 months. Children can't communicate and require constant care. There is no cure -- yet.

BLACK: I think the human knee-jerk reaction is to look away, because it's really hard to see, and it's real suffering, but the more I see, the more I see the families and how hard they fight, the more I realize we -- you know, we can't look away. We have to look. We have to see.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Black is the ambassador for Rhett's Syndrome Foundation and his efforts help fund research. He says it all comes back to family and the music.

BLACK: I'm a songwriter so I do a lot of self-examination, soul- searching, so I've always felt inclined to do what I can. And as I fight, you know, for my own successes, I feel like part of the battle has to be for those things I can help along the way.



BLITZER: It's not easy to steal the Pope's spotlight.

Jeanne Moos shows us who did.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Pope was a kid magnet, getting hugs, poking noses, giving kisses. With kids perched on the steps. For family day in St. Peter's Square. But one boy in particular caught not just the Pope's eye but the world's. He left his seat and came to inspect the Pope. Even kissed his cross before wandering off to explore the stage, but this 6-year-old kept coming back to play peek-a-boo with the Pope.

Standing alongside, like a papal guard, when the Pope stood to speak, a cardinal tried to move the boy along, but he wasn't moving. When Pope Francis started shaking hands, he tried to break it up and switched tactics, and began to usher others up to meet the Pope.

(On camera): The Pope sure does do a lot of head petting.

(Voice-over): But this kid's hair tussling was followed by soulful eye contact and later attempted bribery. A security officer even used candies to try to lure the boy to leave. The kid took the candy and stayed. Hugging the Pope's legs.

It turns out the boy was an orphan from Colombia, South American like the Pope. He was adopted a little over year ago by an Italian couple. Mom and dad were out in the audience separated from the adoption agency kids granted front-row seats.

After doing a few neck exercises, the boy made his boldest move yet, taking a seat in the Pope's empty chair. This photo was Instagramed out by the Vatican with the caption, "a special guest, with hash tag Popefrancis.

(On camera): At some point after he vacated the throne, the Pope's shadow finally disappeared from the stage.

(Voice-over): When the Pope himself left later in his Popemobile, we half expected to see the kid at the wheel.

He may not yet be a man, but on this day, he sure was the man.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Happening now, a CNN special report, Obamacare under fire. The president delivers a fierce new defense of his health care program with a twist that's infuriating some Republicans. His embattled health secretary faces Congress and makes apologies for the Obamacare Web site fiasco. Stand by for her heated testimony and the questions left unanswered.

And a warning of a high security risk on the Obamacare Web site. CNN has obtained a disturbing memo written only days before the launch.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in the SITUATION ROOM.


OBAMA: I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP.

SEBELIUS: Hold me accountable for the debacle. I'm responsible."