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How Obamacare Is Affecting Wal-Mart; Low Attendance At Booker Swearing In?; Senator Cruz's Dad Makes Controversial Comments; Food Stamp Cuts Start Tomorrow; Boston Stronger

Aired October 31, 2013 - 16:30   ET



In our money lead today, there may be no more controversial American mega company than Wal-Mart. Vilified by Democrats and labor unions for low wages and in their view, an anti-worker attitude, Wal-Mart nonetheless thrives as the biggest private employer in the U.S.

The company is mindful of its reputation in these attacks and recently committed to buying $50 billion in U.S.-made goods over the next 10 years and to outreach to hire veterans, efforts we thought were worth exploring.

And joining me now is Bill Simon. He's president and CEO of Wal-Mart U.S.

Thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

BILL SIMON, CEO, WAL-MART: Great to be with you.

TAPPER: So, in May, you announced an initiative to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years.

SIMON: That's right.

TAPPER: How's that going?

SIMON: It's going really well. We announced actually that we would offer a job to any honorably discharged veteran within his or her 12 months off active duty, anyone who wants a job can come to Wal-Mart and we'll give them a job. If you served your country, you shouldn't have to fight for a job.

TAPPER: At any store?

SIMON: At any story, we'll find the right spot for them.

TAPPER: You've also committed to buying more U.S.-made products. I know that's a challenge because they are often cheaper abroad. How's that working?

SIMON: The economics of that are changing fundamentally from what existed several decades ago. The transportation and labor components are making manufacturing certain categories very, very viable in the U.S. and the opportunity is once in a generation for us to reestablish some manufacturing in the U.S. And we've had great success.

Since we announced that initiative and began that rollout in August, we have been able to make several announcements that have totaled 1,600 jobs. And we have several hundred active projects under way where manufacturers are looking at the right geographies in the U.S. to place facilities.

TAPPER: Now, Wal-Mart's the largest private sector employer in the U.S.

SIMON: That's right.

TAPPER: So how is the Obamacare rollout affecting your employees?

SIMON: We've had several years to prepare for it, and the health care benefits we offer our associates already exceeded the minimum requirements -- substantially exceeded the requirements of the new health care law. So, the implementation cost impacted us slightly but they're already built into our base and our people haven't had an impact of it because they have healthcare offering that exceeded that.

TAPPER: Aren't there a number of I guess they would be part-time associates who would qualify for Medicaid because they don't have insurance?

SIMON: You know, their part-time status would suggest that they have benefits from some other place. Many of them, part-time workers, this is a second job. We have a very large group of retired people who work for us as well and then we have a very large group of young people who are still on their parents' benefits.

TAPPER: Now one of the things you're doing and getting some notice for is on the spot promotions, going around to different stores around the country promoting 25,000 employees. I know you've taken a little heat for that, people suggesting that you're doing that to distract from the controversy over Wal-Mart's wages. Tell me about the program and whether or not the criticism's fair, in your view.

SIMON: Our company promotes 160,000 people a year. That is over 400 a day at stores and clubs and distribution centers all around the country. We're proud of that. We're proud of our jobs. At any given time, we have 15,000 or so openings in a work force of over -- well over a million people. It's not difficult to get in. With 160,000 promotions a year, it's not difficult to get promoted, either. We're a company of opportunity. We wanted to take the opportunity to stand up and tell our associates that we're proud of them and then promote them very publicly.

TAPPER: Obviously a lot of controversy about Wal-Mart wages. Do you think that Wal-Mart pays people enough to live on?

SIMON: Our pay is in the top half of what retail offers, what our industry offers. We're proud of the opportunity that we provide people. Our company gives people the chance to start and work their way through the organization. Our folks can very quickly move from an entry level position into a more supervisory hourly role into a department manager role and into an assistant manager role.

Our management team, our assistant managers, start around $55,000 a year and our store managers average about $170,000 a year. So it's a good opportunity. They're good jobs and the progression that we see has caused people to stay with us. We have over 300,000 that have been with us for 10 years or more.

TAPPER: You have become something of a whipping boy for Democrats and labor organizations, though.

SIMON: You know, every good organization has its set of critics. You know, as we move forward, we take a look at what we have, opportunities to improve on, and we move forward.

TAPPER: I want to move on to one other question, which has to do with a Wells Fargo analyst recently said that Amazon is the Wal-Mart of the post-2000 period. Do you think that Wal-Mart waited too long to try to compete with the Amazons out there?

SIMON: You know, it's a great question. Amazon's a terrific competitor, but we compete with terrific competitors all across the world in lots of different channels. Amazon has built themselves a customer base and a niche based on service and assortment that is very impressive. We're moving in that direction from an e-commerce perspective as well.

We believe the opportunity to be successful is in the convergence of physical and digital retail and we have the opportunity to do that in a way that nobody else can. Amazon has an online presence that's very strong, but our footprint in the U.S. of 4,000 stores.

And around the world of 10,000 stores provides us product already in the customers' zip code, already in their neighborhood. If we can connect those physical locations with the digital world, we think there's a really, really good opportunity.

TAPPER: Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart U.S., thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.

Let's check in with our green room. Molly Ball, Ross Douthat, Tracy Seffel. Ross, Senator Cory Booker was sworn in today. While a lot of friends and family showed up, we couldn't help but notice not a lot of senators did. Our own Dana Bash estimates there were only about a dozen Democratic senators and a few Republican ones. This is right before the Senate was supposed to vote. What do you think? Is this hazing the newbie?

ROSS DOUTHAT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a big mistake, Jake. I mean, we all know about Cory Booker's penchant for heroism, pulling people out of burning buildings, saving kittens from trees, that kind of thing. If something goes wrong at the capitol, those 15 senators, he's getting them out alive. Everybody else, who knows? They're on their own.

TAPPER: Very nice. Got to think ahead when it comes to Cory Booker. He's like underdog. He is always there. We appreciate it. The political panel is next. Stick around.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. This just in for the Politics Lead, after the Obama administration reportedly said thanks but no thanks to help from Amazon and Microsoft to fix, the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services is revealing some of the big guns they're bringing from the private sector in to help, including a site reliability engineer who is currently on leave from Google and personnel from other tech companies like Red Hat and Oracle.

The site is back to normal as in normally terrible, awful, after crashing again yesterday. The administration has vowed to get it working smoothly by the end of November. Now let's move on to our political panel. Fathers often play prominent roles for politicians, whether it's dynastic dads like George H.W. Bush or Prescott Bush or Joe Kennedy or the fathers that color the inspirational family stories so common on the campaign trail.

Ted Cruz's dad, Pastor Rafael Cruz is of the latter variety, staple of the Tea Party favorite stump speech and as a Cuban immigrant is the Texas senator's personal symbol of the American dream. But what do you do as a politician when your dad says something like this?


RAFAEL CRUZ, SENATOR TED CRUZ'S FATHER: We need to send Barack Obama back to Chicago. I'd like to send him back to Kenya.


TAPPER: Back to Kenya? What? A spokesman for Senator Cruz told "Mother Jones" magazine, the left-leaning magazine that broke the story, quote, "These selective quotes taken out of context mischaracterize the substance of Pastor Cruz's message. Pastor Cruz does not speak for the senator.

Joining me now to talk about it, "New York Times" op-ed columnist Ross Douthat, Democratic strategist, Tracy Seffel and writer for the "Atlantic," Molly Ball. Ross, first of all, I think it's fair to say we all have dads and we all have moms and maybe they don't always represent what we actually think. But Pastor Cruz is a big part of Senator Cruz's message and who he is.

DOUTHAT: Yes. I mean, this is actually, that specific line is a sort of specific issue, but if you look at the kind of sermons and quasi- stump speeches Pastor Cruz has been giving for awhile now, it was pretty obvious that he is and will continue to be a controversial figure. It's a little bit like if Jeremiah Wright had been actually Barack Obama's father in 2008. It takes the sort of right factor and ups it quite a bit. I guess it's just going to be interesting to see how Ted Cruz handles it.

TAPPER: Tracy, those comments, would you care to characterize them? TRACY SEFL, DEMOCRATIC COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST: Well, he seemed to have more energy than his son, who last Friday night spoke in Iowa at a big Republican gathering and was one of the most listless and vacant speakers that --

TAPPER: You were there? You were at a Republican event in Iowa?

SEFL: I've got sources.

TAPPER: OK, so he's a little more peppy. Molly, that's just racism. President Obama should go back to Kenya?

MOLLY BALL, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, I think the problem with the figure of Rafael Cruz is not so much for Ted Cruz specifically, but for the sort of Tea Party constituency that has made him a hero, because it serves to underscore this perception that they're motivated primarily by personal antipathy to President Obama.

And there is a fringe that believes in birtherism and conservative thinkers like Ross have been saying to Republicans for a while they have to create some distance from that fringe if they want to start talking to the middle of the electorate more.

TAPPER: On the other hand, if you're a politician, you can say why are you attacking my poor aged father? I can see, you know, parents get a pass sometimes when it comes --

DOUTHAT: Right, I think the issue for Ted Cruz is as you suggested at the beginning, that his dad has been part of his stump speech, part of his inspirational story and his dad is a public figure in his own right. He is a sought-after speaker on sort of Tea Party and a certain strain of Evangelical Christian speaking circuits.

So it isn't as simple as saying well, it's just my dad, he said something I don't agree with it and so on. I think the issue for Cruz going into 2016, where we sort of assume that he's planning to run for president is figuring out if he needs to have a sort of quiet conversation with his dad about maybe stepping back from public speaking for two years or eight years, as the case may be.

TAPPER: Tracy, I want to put up the latest polling on President Obama's approval rating, which has dropped five points since earlier this month. Jay Carney was asked about it and here's what Mr. Carney had to say.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Everybody gets hurt when there's dysfunction in Washington. I think it's accurate to say that the dynamic has proven worse for Republicans because I think it became so starkly clear by the actions they took that they were responsible for what happened but everybody gets hurt.


TAPPER: So Tracy, am I to understand that President Obama's bad poll numbers are the Republicans' fault, too? Is that actually what he's saying?

SEFL: Well --

TAPPER: Because he doesn't think President Obama is part of the dysfunction.

SEFL: I think he said that everybody is suffering at this point. But what I want to point out is what I think is the problem for Democrats, and I can say this I think very objectively, that the problem that we're going to see these numbers falling because the dysfunction is going to be shorthanded. People are going to associate this dysfunction with a broken web site.

That's not a good situation for the president to have such a trivial label attached to what is such a more macro dysfunctional environment that we're in. But because there is such a broad misunderstanding or lack of understanding about what ACA is, what it's offering, how it's going to be implemented and what it will bring, it all gets shorthanded or cliff's notes back to broken website, who wants a broken web site. Of course, numbers are going to go down.

TAPPER: All right, Ross Douthat, Tracy Sefl, Molly Ball, thank you all so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, she vowed to fight childhood obesity with her "Let's Move" campaign, but is the first lady's program also one of the reasons why millions of Americans might be losing some of their food stamp benefits?

Plus, for a town that eats, breathes and sleeps sports, a World Series win is almost as good as winning the lottery. So how is Boston faring the day after? Our Sports Lead is ahead.


TAPPER: Time for the "Buried Lead," stories that aren't getting enough attention. More than 47 million Americans rely on food stamps but starting tomorrow, they may notice a good chunk of their benefits have been wiped out, just as the holiday season rolls in, it's partly because of a vote congress took three years ago. That vote reversed a temporary increase in benefits, which was put in place at the height of the recession.

Since 2008, the number of people who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called SNAP has increased dramatically. More than 21 million people have been added to the program. One in four of all U.S. children live in a home that gets food stamps and so do more than 900,000 veterans. Republicans largely voted against extending the increase in food stamp benefits, but here's an interesting twist.

The White House is also to blame for some of the program cuts. President Obama borrowed money from SNAP to pay for a portion of the first lady's anti-obesity campaign and he was perhaps naively counting on Congress to refund the money that he took away. CNN's Rosa Flores has more. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It sounded like a great idea when it was launched. A program aimed in part at making school lunches healthier.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: We're determined to finally take on one of the most serious threats to their future and that's the epidemic of childhood obesity.

FLORES: But to fund that war on obesity, the White House borrowed money from the war on hunger.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Some of the funding comes from rolling back a temporary increase in food stamp benefits or SNAP as it's now called starting in the fall of 2013.

FLORES: That's now, when the SNAP program runs out of money from the 2009 American recovery and reinvestment act.

STACY DEAN, CENTER FOR BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES: After these cuts, the average benefit per person per meal will be $1.40.

FLORES: The cuts impact 47 million Americans including 22 million children on food stamps and nine million elderly or seriously disabled people like Katherine McKinnon, who went from grandma to a single mother of three when her daughter died. Each month, she gets $358 in food stamps to feed a family of four about $4 a meal in a city where a box of cereal at her local store is $4.50. She sells cans to make ends meet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No matter how people look at you, keep your head up.

FLORES: The president said he would negotiate more funding with Congress, but negotiating with congress right now seems unlikely.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I know a number of members of Congress have expressed concerns about this offset being included in the bill and I'm committed to working with them to restore these funds in the future.

FLORES: His gamble even upset some congressional Democrats.

REPRESENTATIVE ROSA DELAURO (D), CONNECTICUT: I did not want to do that. This was -- these were bad choices to make.

FLORES: McKinnon already supplements food stamps by eating two meals a day at a soup kitchen. A Senate version of the next farm bill, which funds food stamps proposes cutting nearly $4 billion more over 10 years. The one in the House cuts $39 billion more.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE CONWAY (R), TEXAS: We need to reform the food stamp program with better policies. I'm not so much concerned about the planned spending that will be reduced as is getting policies that promote work and dignity. FLORES: For Katherine McKinnon, it's just about making ends meet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I learned how to survive.

FLORES: Rosa Flores, CNN, New York.


TAPPER: This week a bipartisan group of senators and members of the House started working together on a bill that would be seen as a compromise on food stamp cuts, but it's expected to face plenty of resistance among rank and file Republicans in the House.

This just in, police in New York City can resume their controversial stop and frisk program after a federal appeals court slapped a stay on an earlier ruling from a district judge who said the police unlawfully targeted people who were walking while black or Hispanic. There will be a new hearing on the issue overseen by a new randomly selected judge on March 14th.

Coming up on THE LEAD, hoping that Halloween costume you bought online really is one of a kind? Well, if you're dressing up as a twerking mouse, you might be disappointed. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Of course, we have to do the sports lead and what a difference a millennium makes. There was a time, youngsters, before the Beards and Big Papi when the only names you would hear about Boston baseball were the curse of the Bambino and Bill Bucknor. Now as the city of Boston readies duck boats for their third World Series parade in less than a decade, a new generation of Red Sox nation who don't even know Bucky Dent's middle name has been spoiled with success.

The Sox got to celebrate a title on Fenway Park soil for the first time since 1918, when a svelte Babe Ruth was in left field, a fitting celebration for a team that ran with the rally cry of Boston strong after the horrific marathon bombings. In a touching scene earlier this morning, some fans even kneeled down and kissed the finish line, no doubt remembering many Sox fans who were wounded on that day if not lost.

Time for the real Buried Lead. Get it? Because it's Halloween, buried? Moving along, it was the site that gave a fright to parents and people with eyeballs everywhere. Miley Cyrus and her outrageous VMA getup, well, it turns out plenty of you will be yelling twerk or treat tonight because Miley's look is the top-selling costume of the year, according to the Spirit Halloween Costume Change.

The ensemble has already been spotted on celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Kelly Ripa. Last year's look was far less disturbing, when the Avengers' characters owned the night. In 2011, the pop culture phenomenon of the moment was Jersey Shore queen's Snooki. In 2010, travelers carved out their stake in Halloween fun by wearing tributes to Lady Gaga's meat dress.

It wouldn't be Halloween without good old-fashioned pet humiliation. We are spending big money while allowing our pugs to dress like Bumblebees. The National Retail Federation says on average, U.S. pet owners will spend $330 million on Halloween costumes this year, but that's nothing compared to what we'll spend on pet-friendly Halloween candy and other goodies. The number shoots up to an estimated $6.9 billion.

To my dog, Winston, if you thought that number would shame me out of putting you in a costume this year, I'm sorry, pal. Looks like you're in for another rough Halloween night. Get it? Before we go, earlier this week we brought you a story about the history of "Mad" magazine. We neglected to say it was owned by Time Warner, which is also the parent company of CNN. It's an oversight that I wanted to correct, my apologies. We regret the error.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Happy Halloween, everyone. By the way, if any trick or treaters see this cop and perp out there, please do not call for backup. That will be me and my son trick or treating with my daughter and wife.

I now turn you over to Mr. Wolf Blitzer. It's not our news aide dressed as Wolf Blitzer. He's the real Wolf Blitzer in a place called "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.