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Tech Giants To Obamacare Rescue; Lawmakers Exploiting Obamacare Loophole; Obamacare Architect Speaks Out; Obamacare Retail Store?; Vice President's Apology; FAA to Allow Most Portable Device Use; Mom's Song Makes Baby Well Up in Tears

Aired October 31, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, tech giants coming to the rescue of the Obamacare web site as its ongoing failures take a toll on the president's poll numbers.

Also, why won't the White House let Congress hear from some survivors of the deadly terror attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi?

And a huge turnaround by the FAA, a new rule will change the way almost all of us fly. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They are some of the biggest names in tech, Google, Oracle, Red Hat that we just learned that dozens of their experts are taking part in what's being called a tech surge to try to fix the mountain of problems that are plaguing the Obamacare website. Among the latest, a total crash that kept the site down for a full day and a half.

And now, there are signs the Obamacare debacle is taking a serious toll on the president's approval numbers as well. CNN's Athena Jones begins our coverage this hour over at the White House. What's the latest over there, Athena?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, Obamacare is getting a lot of the attention, but the White House is in damage control mode on several fronts, facing sagging poll numbers and a second term agenda that, so far, is stalled.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I want to especially thank all of you.

JONES (voice-over): The president today trying to turn the page on a bad few weeks for the White House.

OBAMA: I'm here, because I want your companies to know, I want companies around the world to know that I believe there is no better place in the world to do business than the United States of America.

JONES: What he can't ignore, his approval rating, sinking to 42 percent, an all-time low in the new NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll. And more than half of Americans saying Obamacare needs a major overhaul or should be totally eliminated. JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There will still be plenty of time for people to register.

JONES: This even as the vice president issued an apology for the disastrous rollout of the website.

BIDEN: We assumed that it was up and ready to run.

JONES: It wasn't.

BIDEN: And we apologize for that.

JONES: In an interview with CNN's sister network, HLN, Biden also revealed that President Obama had tried to log on.

BIDEN: The president tried to get online and my daughter tried to get online. I did not, because it was clear that I wasn't getting online. So -- but it really is -- it's inexcusable.

JONES: And it isn't just Obamacare that's plaguing the president. The 16-day government shutdown marred all Washington politicians. Even before that, Obama's handling of Syria seemed bumbling. And now, he's under pressure over reports the government spies on allies. The president's second term priorities, chief among them overhauling the nation's immigration system, appear in jeopardy.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He's got himself in a pickle here. It does not mean he can't get out of it, but there is, to be talking about anything else now like we'll do immigration reform and this and that, I think it's pie in the sky.

JONES: So, can he recover?

BRINKLEY: There's a question of competence going on now. I mean, what Barack Obama sold to the public was like Jimmy Carter, I don't tell a lie, I'm truthful. And this Obamacare rollout, there seems to be a lot of question marks everywhere. And there seems to be a lot of weasel words, a kind of mealy-mouthed activity going around this rollout now which belies a strong commander in chief.


JONES (on-camera): Now, brinkley says fixing Obamacare, making sure the law works, has to be top priority and with today's announcement that some of these big tech companies are contributing experts to help fix, it's pretty clear the administration knows that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena at the White House where the news is not good over there.

Let's move on. The health care law says that members of Congress and Congressional staff, they have to go into these new Obamacare insurance exchanges, but some lawmakers are planning to exploit a loophole in the law. Our Capitol Hill reporter, Lisa Desjardins is working this part of the story. Explain, Lisa, what's going on. LISA DESJARDINS, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: All right, Wolf. You probably remember and so do our viewers back in 2010 when Congress wrote the Affordable Care Act, they decided that members of Congress and their staff should personally feel the ups and downs of the Obamacare exchange. They wrote that into the law.

Well, fast forward to now, and members will still be required to go into those exchanges, our elected members of Congress, but because of the way the law was written, vaguely, it's not as clear for staff. And there's a very messy debate over that. Really quickly, here's why. When the law was written, it said that members of Congress and quote, "Congressional staff," would have to go into the exchanges, but just about a month ago, the office of personnel management came out with a ruling saying that Congressional staff meant official office staff.

How about that for bureaucratic language. What does that mean? Well, that's up to each member of Congress, the office of personnel management said. So then, Wolf, what we have now is members of Congress, some of them like Darrell Issa, saying that he plans to exempt all of his staff, saying none of my staff is official staff.

He says he doesn't want anyone to go into the exchanges and that's why there's others that are particularly questioning committee staff or leadership staff, do they count? So, we're seeing a lot of divide. And right now at this hour, Wolf, is when congressmen have to make that decision on who is exempt and who is not.

BLITZER: And I understand Republicans, they may all dislike Obamacare, but they're taking different approaches on this issue.

DESJARDINS: Yes. It's fascinating. As i said, Darrell Issa, Republican, House Oversight chair, exempting all of his staff. Tom Coburn here on the senate side exempting his committee staff. But on the other hand, Speaker Boehner, all of his leadership staff will go into the exchange. Similarly, for Democrats, Senate leader, Harry Reid, he says his leadership staff will stay in the federal health plan.

They will be exempted essentially from the exchanges. But his number three, Patty Murray, the Senate budget chairman, all of her folks going into the exchange. So, it's really a divide and the truth is, Wolf, behind the scenes, some people are angry at others for how they're interpreting this.

BLITZER: Lisa, Republicans blocked the two high profile presidential nominees. There could be some other big ramifications. What's going on on this story?

DESJARDINS: OK. We can handle that quickly. There could be ramifications, but I'll tell you right now, there probably won't be. We saw those two nominees, one for Housing agency and the other for the court of appeals for the for the District of Columbia, both get blocked today. Big nominees. And there were some unhappy Democrats about that. Mentioned a possible rule change about the filibuster, the so-called nuclear option. This comes up from time-to-time. Well, our producer, Ted Barrett, talked to Senate leadership staff and they say right now there is not the appetite to basically go to war over these nominations and cause that so-called nuclear standoff over the Senate rules, which may be a good thing for getting things done, but it also tells us that there's a lot of tension hanging in the air still over these nominees.

BLITZER: Lisa Desjardins, Lisa, thanks very much.

Coming up, I'll speak with the architect of both Obamacare and Romneycare. Tweet us your questions using the #sitroom.

And lawmakers want to hear from survivors of the Benghazi terror attack. Why won't the White House let them appear before Congress? New battle lines are being drawn on this front.


BLITZER: So, is Obamacare in any danger of actually collapsing? I'll ask an expert who helped design it. Tweet us your questions for the Obamacare architect, at least, one of them and use the #sitroom.


BLITZER: Ten months into his second term and it's proving to be a tough one for President Obama with the Obamacare website debacle just the latest in a series of problems that are dragging the president down. Let's talk about that and more with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, our CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker" magazine, and our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley, the anchor of "State of the Union."

Gloria, look at these NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll numbers that just came out. How's President Obama doing as president, approval in early October, 47 percent approved to the job he was doing. It's gone down five points to 42 percent. That's the lowest since he took office.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: What's also just as telling is that his favorability ratings are upside down, that more people disapprove of him than approve of him. And I think that's, you know, just a problem for him as president. You know, one of the things he had going for him in the campaign was his likability. And I think that is fast evaporating.

And I don't think it's just because of Obamacare. I think it's because the government shutdown hurt everybody. I think it's because of NSA surveillance. You know, I think it's because of Syria and the problems related to that. And I think when you put all of these things together, people are looking at the president and saying you know, you're not fixing the problems.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think one of the problems, too, has been something the Republicans have pushed and pushed it subtly, I thin for once, and that is the whole idea that he didn't know anything about anything. republicans have put that, you know, you bring up Benghazi, what did you know, when did you know it, you bring up did he understand what was going on with the website.

Well, no, he really didn't know it. And so, you know, did he know we were spying on our closest friends, well, no, the president didn't know that. I think it gives people this uneasy sense. We're already in uneasy times economically. Obamacare just superimposes itself over that and people thinking something that we talk about at my kitchen table is changing here, and that's important.

It's not some place far away. It's right here. And then you add on top of that the sort of president that Republicans -- was not paying attention. I think it makes --

BLITZER: If they fix Obamacare, the website, by the end of November works well, is he going to bounce back?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know if he'll bounce back. He has a lot of other things going on. NSA surveillance is an increasingly important issue to a lot of Americans. I assume there's a lot of liberals who are frustrated with him and giving him a low approval because Congress' legislative agenda is stalled.

It's hard actually to get below, you know, 45 percent in this country as a leader, because the two sides are pretty (INAUDIBLE). The floor should be about 45 percent. So, you start getting into that territory. It starts to get, you know, pretty dangerous. But, on the other hand, he's not up for re-election again, right?

BLITZER: He doesn't have to worry about that.

LIZZA: But he has to worry about the midterm, Democrats in the midterm and his own credibility and approval, getting his agenda through Congress.

BORGER: And he got an earful from Democrats today or his chief of staff did, Democrats in the Senate about Obamacare because they're going to run away from him. They've got to get re-elected. They're going to run away from him. It just doesn't start --

CROWLEY: Because once you get past the process which really is how do we get on and apply for this, if it works, shows signs of working, if we hear more stories that it's working than that it's too expensive, that turns it around for him. Maybe not to like big booming things, but I do think there's a large --

BLITZER: Here's what the president and the Democrats have going for them. The same "Wall Street Journal"/NBC News poll, your view of the Republican Party, 22 percent have a positive view at the Republican Party, 53 percent a negative view. That's also pretty low, low.

LIZZA: And most of these polls, these numbers for the Republican Party are all time low, historical lows since the polls have been asking the question. I mean, the Republican Party is absolutely in a ditch. And they need to figure out a way to get out. A sign of how much of a ditch they're in is Mike Lee this week who sort of led the defund debate, gave a speech and is trying to moderate his message and move back to the Senate.

BORGER: But here's the interesting question, I think, looking forward is who's the leader of the Republican Party? You know --


LIZZA: They're out of power, you know. There's --

BORGER: Right. So, they don't like Republicans. That's fine. But if there's a leader that somehow emerges miraculously from the conflict that is now the Republican Party, you know, people might be open-minded and say oh, OK, that person is a different kind of Republican, that person, you know, we're ever optimistic in this country.

But right now, you've got defeated Congressional Democrats who suffered from the shutdown versus a president of the United States who's not very popular and the public is looking at it and saying you know what, we don't like any of you.

LIZZA: I mean, one dynamic to think about, you have a Republican in New Jersey running for re-election, running against Republicans in Washington, and you have a Democrat in Virginia looks like he's going to win and he's out there, Terry McAuliffe, running around with Bill Clinton and they're talking about the lack of leadership in Washington, right?

So, you have people already running state-wide a year before the midterms who are running against their respective parties.

CROWLEY: But it's a pretty classic, though. If you want to run, do it as an outsider.


BLITZER: Let's turn to Benghazi for a second. The terrorist attack on U.S. officials in Benghazi, Libya, more than a year ago, but it's still very much in the news right now. Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator, he was here in the SITUATION ROOM the other day. He said he's going to put a hold on all presidential nominees until people who survived that attack in Benghazi are allowed to appear before Congress and tell us what happened. Listen to what he said on "New Day" today.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Is it really too much for me to want to talk to the people who were in Benghazi independent of the administration or should in the future the Congress just be told to shut up and go away, trust us, we've looked at it?


BLITZER: So here -- I guess the question I'll start with Gloria, why won't the administration allow these survivors --

BORGER: I think that's the question.

BLITZER: -- either in open door or closed door session before Congress?

BORGER: I think that's the question Lindsey Graham is asking. I think it's a completely legitimate question. I think he's doing this because he feels like it's the only leverage he has. He has no other leverage. He's a minority in the Senate. And look, I think it's a legitimate question.

LIZZA: Yes. On the merits of this, it seems like Graham's got a pretty clean place. We should have more information. He should be allowed to have anyone he wants. Just -- and I don't doubt for a second that Graham truly believes that he needs to get to the bottom of this. On the politics of this, remember, Graham is one of those Republicans who stuck his neck out on immigration reform.

He's got a primary challenger back in South Carolina, and his numbers among conservatives in recent polls have been dropping precipitously --

BLITZER: When he was here in the SITUATION ROOM this week, I asked him this question, you know, maybe some of them already have appeared. Listen to what he said to me earlier in the week.


GRAHAM: It's my understanding that the survivors, the state department personnel who survived the consulate attack, one of that group has been interviewed by the House.


BLITZER: All right. So, one state department official who was there, but as you know, and all of our viewers by now know, not all of the American officials who were in Benghazi on that horrible day worked for the state department. Some worked for other agencies of the U.S. government, very sensitive agencies of the U.S. government. That's one of the reasons why the administration says, you know what, it's better that these people do not expose themselves --

BORGER: Meaning CIA --

BLITZER: Obviously.

CROWLEY: That's why they have closed doors. That's why they have -- they do have people up there that have top security clearance that could be given, you know, that are trusted as much as anybody over at the CIA or the, you know, the FBI or wherever it is. So, they could produce --

BLITZER: They argue that they make, Ryan, and I'll run it by you, see what you think. The argument I've heard is that these are some of the most sensitive people who work whether the CIA or other U.S. intelligence agencies and if they start testifying either in open or closed door session before Congress, they have to retire. They, for all practical purposes, can no longer be clandestine officers of the United States.

LIZZA: My understanding is while ago, the National Counterterrorism Center actually was the lead agency in putting together the definitive timeline for the administration on what happened in Benghazi.

They went in in closed session, the director of the NCTC in the intelligence committee, took the whole intelligence committee through the timeline with video surveillance video and the whole thing and after that, there were folks on the intelligence committee, Republicans, who are saying OK, Benghazi is a little bit more different than we were thinking and some of the heat turned down.

So, I don't know if Lindsey Graham has asked to see that presentation, but other Republicans who have seen it, my understanding is they're not out there --

BLITZER: Like Mike Rogers who's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he's been briefed on all of this. And I don't see him calling for all these individuals to come and testify.

LIZZA: Because he's seen this briefing. I don't know if Graham has or not.

BORGER: And part of this, obviously, is politics. It has to do with Hillary Clinton in 2016 and we know all of that. But, it's an open secret that Benghazi was effectively a CIA outpost. We've been talking about that. And, so, we all know that. And there are ways as Candy was saying to debrief privately, to get Lindsey Graham to have the same kind of hearings that, perhaps, Mike Rogers has had and if they haven't done that, maybe that's a compromise that can be reached.

LIZZA: I just want to go back to the point Graham is in a tough -- not tough, he's in a primary against --


LIZZA: Let's remember that's part of this.


Crowley: Part of the package. I mean, so much of what you're hearing now is hard to extrapolate what part of it is politics and what part of it is policy, because we are in an election season. And this is clearly, Benghazi is clearly going to come up. The Republicans do want to push that which doesn't mean as you pointed out that he isn't serious about finding out what happened.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. I suspect they'll work something out fairly soon. But we'll see. All right, guys --

LIZZA: Yes. It's also going to reengage the debate over the nuclear option. Democrats are not just going to sit down and let the Senate be held up. BLITZER: Nuclear option has nothing to deal with --



BLITZER: It's a bureaucratic thing in the Senate. All right, guys, thanks very much.

Up next, the disappointment of shopping for Obamacare insurance. Some are finding few choices or none at all. And I'll talk to one of the experts who helped create both Obamacare and Romneycare. Tweet us your questions. Use the #sitroom.


BLITZER: Some people shopping for Obamacare coverage are not only frustrated by the website problems, they're also disappointed at the lack of insurance choices. CNN's Tom Foreman has been looking into this part of the story for us. What's going on here, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, a cornerstone of Obamacare is the idea that millions of uninsured people would flood into the market buying coverage and many insurance companies would compete for their business. In theory, that gives the customers more choices and the competition drives down prices. But CNN has been collecting data from all 50 states, and so far, that broad array of choices is occurring only in some places.

We've broken it down here. The federal exchange rates, state exchange rates, joint exchange. What we're seeing out there, for example, if you live out in California, there are 12 companies competing for your business. In Texas, 11 companies, in New York, 16 companies. These are just a few samples here.

What do all these places have in common? They have big cities and the trend makes sense. If you're a company is looking to match new customers with services, that is easier done in places with a lot of people, a lot of doctors, and a lot of hospitals. But move out into the states that have few or no large cities and look at the difference.

In Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, Vermont and Wyoming, people have only two companies to choose from, and in West Virginia and New Hampshire, there is no choice. Only one company offering insurance through Obamacare. If you add them up, these states alone, not the big ones, but all the little ones out here, contain 32 million people who are not currently realizing the promise of Obamacare in terms of choice and competition -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of the supporters of Obamacare point out, Tom, that many Republican-led states have resisted the program from the start. Could that also be, at least, partially to blame for this disparity?

FOREMAN: Yes. Maybe some of it, because if you look at the breakdown from the last presidential election, if we go a little bit further on here, you can see that a lot of this seems to stack up in red states versus blue states. Blue states being more Democratic, red states voted for the Republican nominee last time around. But, the primary driver still appears to be the demographics of all of this. Here's what I want to point out.

In fact, in many of the blue states, people outside of major metropolitan areas are facing similar limited choices. You may have 16 choices in the city, but you may only have three once you get 100 miles outside the city. That sort of thing. What's more, we have found that also even in blue states, the further you get away from cities, the less you see that competition.

And sometimes, you see the same company charging hundreds of dollars less for the same policy in the city, hundreds more for people who are out in the smaller towns or countryside, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff. Tom, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little deeper right now with Jonathan Gruber. He's an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M.I.T. He helped designed both Obamacare and Romneycare. Jonathan, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: So, what do you make of what we just heard from Tom, at the time three, four years ago when you were coming up with Obamacare, with all these ideas, did you realize that in some of these states, there would be, what, only one or two insurance companies competing for the folks' business?

GRUBER: Yes. I think there's two issues we have to keep in mind. The first issue is to remember that we're comparing the world after Obamacare to the world before. It's not like Obamacare's chasing insurers out. These are just markets that didn't have many insurers to choose from before and there hasn't been a lot of entry in the recent times since the law has passed.

But the second thing to keep in mind, Wolf, is the law is brand new. In Massachusetts, after a law had been in place for two years, we had a major new entrant that really shook up the insurance market. You don't need a whole lot of new entrants to shake up a market. You don't need 16 choices.

You don't need 12 choices. It's nice to have that many, but having one or two new entrants which will happen over time, it did in Massachusetts, can really shake up the market in lower prices.

BLITZER: You spent a lot of time on health care and working on Obamacare. Is there any real danger that Obamacare is actually in trouble of eventually collapsing?

GRUBER: No, not really, Wolf. I mean, what we're seeing now is website difficulties, that is unfortunate. But remember, the main thing you need the website for really is to shop. And, that's in some sense the easier part. And that part, they will have working by the end of November. Enrollment can happen over the web or over the phone or in paper, and that can happen as soon as the website's working and people can shop effectively.

And remember the other thing, Wolf, the key deadline here is March 31st. That's when people have to have insurance to avoid the individual mandate. That's still months away. In Massachusetts, the first month people could sign up to pay for coverage, 123 people signed up in total. By the end of the year, it was 36,000. So we have to allow for ramp-up and allow for that ramp-up, it will work.

BLITZER: But there's an earlier deadline which is December 15th. If you haven't purchased the new policy by then, you're not going to be covered, assuming you've lost your coverage right now, starting on January 1st. And what happens if that Web site isn't really operating fully by the end of November?

GRUBER: I think as I said, if the -- if the Web site isn't operating fully for shopping by the end of November that's a problem. I think these people who have to change policies, many times they're just being asked to change to very similar policies, with different name or slightly different deductible, but they do need to find them. And I agree, for those people, that minority of people that are seeing these cancellations, I think it would be a problem if the Web site wasn't up and running by the end of November.

BLITZER: Now you've suggested, and correct me if I'm wrong, that about nine million people in the United States will eventually have to pay more for health insurance policies as a result of Obamacare. Is that right?

GRUBER: You know, it's a rough number, Wolf, but I think, you know, we're talking 2 percent to 3 percent of the population, sort of -- you know, around six -- I would say the number is more around six million people but I think it's a rough estimate. I think the main thing is what's hard to say is what paying more means because a lot of the time, people pay more in premiums but be getting much better insurance for it.

BLITZER: Well, some people are going to be paying significantly more, right?

GRUBER: Yes. Some people will. If you're young and healthy and not poor, then essentially you are benefiting from an existing discriminatory insurance market. A market that excluded the sick and the unhealthy. We bring in the sick and unhealthy, then those who are young and healthy and benefiting from that discrimination will now have to pay some more to participate in the market. That's part of the social contract that we're part of to make the insurance work in America.

BLITZER: As someone who helped build Obamacare, how surprised have you been by this failure of the Web site?

GRUBER: You know, I don't really pay attention to these things. I mean I think it's disappointing. I think anybody who tells you otherwise is lying. The president said so yesterday. It's disappointing. But I guess I'm more frustrated by people's overreaction to it.

Look, when we set up our Web site in Massachusetts, we had monthly reports on enrollment. And even that was maybe too frequent. This is something with success not to be measured in days or weeks but months and years. According to the Congressional Budget Office it will be about a three-year ramp-up period until Obamacare is fully effective at its full level of functioning.

That's what we saw in Massachusetts as well. So we need to just calm down and stop worrying about days and weeks and focus instead on months and years.

BLITZER: Now remember -- and you know these numbers a lot better than I do. There are, what, 48 million, 49 million people in the United States who don't have health insurance, and the president and the CBO estimated that in the first year, if Obamacare works fine, about -- what, about nine million of those 48, 49 million people will have health insurance, is that right?

GRUBER: That's about right. That's about right.

BLITZER: So there is still, what, 40 million people who are not going to have health insurance, and we thought that --


GRUBER: Yes, I mean -- I mean --

BLITZER: At least I was under the impression, at least a lot of people were, that if Obamacare worked, everybody would have an ability to have health insurance.

GRUBER: So, Wolf, there's two things. There's ability to have it and having it. First of all, what CBO estimates is that when the law is fully phased in, at the current level of Medicaid expansions, about half the people -- about half of the uninsured will get insurance. Now if the governors of these states that are turning down the Medicaid dollars would stop committing the political malpractice they're currently committing and actually accept the federal dollars to pay for insurance for their poor citizens, that number will go up substantially. It will go up to closer to 60 percent of the uninsured.

But it's true, even when this is fully phased in, about 40 percent of the uninsured Americans will remain uninsured. A lot of that is because they are undocumented immigrants who are not helped by this law.

BLITZER: Maybe 10 or 12 million of them, is that what you're saying?

GRUBER: What I'm saying is, at the end of the day, of the remaining uninsured, probably a third to a half will be undocumented immigrants. Others will be people who have decided to pay the penalty instead. And others will be people who just are exempted from the penalty because they can't afford insurance.

BLITZER: So the illegal immigrants, they're all -- they're not going to be eligible to purchase health insurance under Obamacare, so they're the ones who will wind up presumably in the emergency rooms, right?

GRUBER: Just like they do today. I think once again, Wolf, the key thing is we can't evaluate Obamacare against the world we wish we had. We have to evaluate Obamacare against the world we have today. Today, these undocumented immigrants end up in the emergency room. Next year, they'll end up in the emergency room again. That may be something we want to take on eventually as a society but we don't seem prepared to do so now.

BLITZER: Maybe if there's comprehensive immigration reform, that can be fixed one way or another.

All right. Thanks very much, Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at MIT. Useful information. We appreciate it.

GRUBER: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Take a look at this. We have some live pictures from the White House right now. The president and first lady, they're welcoming local kids, military families, for some trick-or-treating going on for Halloween. Those are live pictures. Looks -- sort of scary over there. What's going on. Very nice gesture on the part of the first family.

Up next, it's not just the Web site. We went to an Obamacare store and found some serious problems there as well.

And a huge change in store for air passengers. We have details of the new rule about your electronics.


BLITZER: Change in the air. We're going to have details of the new FAA rule about electronics and how they will change the way almost all of us fly.


BLITZER: One state is trying to cut through all the Obamacare confusion. In Connecticut, people are looking for coverage they can shop for the old-fashioned way. They can actually go inside a store.

CNN business correspondent Zain Asher visited the state's first Obamacare retail outlet. Unfortunately, though, like the Web site, things aren't always running smoothly.


ZAIN ASHER ,CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take a trip down main street in new Britain, Connecticut, and right next to edible arrangements you'll pass a storefront that has the locals intrigued. JOSEPHINE SEMPERE, TRAINING MANAGER: We have a lot of different questions from individuals because it's new.

ASHER: A retail store set up by Connecticut State Exchange dedicated solely to all things Obamacare.

MICHAEL DUNN, RETAILS MANAGER: It's complicated. And so we want to make sure that people know what the new law really says and how it affects them.

ASHER: Think of it as the first brick-and-mortar version of an online state exchange. Management say they wanted to be creative so they used the Apple store as their inspiration.

DUNN: It's clean, it's open and it's bright. And as you can see, you know, it's very open for a customer to walk in and just kind of feel welcome.

ASHER: Past the greeting area, there's a screening area for informational videos on insurance, a play area for uninsured customers with toddlers, and cubicles for insurance brokers.

CARLENE BEAUPRE, INSURANCE SHOPPER: So it just feels great, you know, that somebody has your back, somebody is there to help you.

ASHER: Management also say that by having a physical store, they eliminate some of the confusion about what the exchanges actually are.

JASON MADRAK, CHIEF MANAGING OFFICER: We've got a lot of questions from individuals confusing this with the stock exchange or people thinking that it was physically a place where they had to come and bring their insurance cards into to physically exchange them for something else.

ASHER: But the in-store experience is running into problems. One customer says she's already had to come in three times to try and enroll for health insurance. Every time she moves further along in her online application, problems connecting to the federal data hub force her to come back and start over.

BEAUPRE: It's frustrating. Because, you know, you put your trust in the government and sometimes it doesn't come out the way it's supposed to.

ASHER: But Connecticut is going full speed ahead. The state already has plans to open a second retail store in New Haven in the coming week.

MADRAK: We wanted to find a way to really make a firm commitment to physically being in the communities where many uninsured individuals reside. We wanted to literally be part of the community. And so the concept of a retail store was really born out of that -- out of that thinking.

ASHER: Zain Asher, CNN, New Britain, Connecticut.


BLITZER: Vice President Joe Biden is confirming what the White House won't. The president himself has tried to access the Obamacare Web site and has seen its failures firsthand. Biden also became the highest level of administration official to formally apologize.

Listen to what he told HLN's Christi Paul.


CHRISTI PAUL, HLN ANCHOR: What did you know prior to the Web site being launched?

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: We were under the impression that it was ready to go. We had the president, to his credit, almost seven weeks out was saying are we ready, and to be told by the pros yes, this looks like it's all ready to go online, and neither he and I are technology geeks, 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.

PAUL: Yes. Have you tried to get online?

BIDEN: No. Well, actually, the president tried to get online and my daughter tried to get online. I did not, because it was clear that I wasn't getting online. So -- but it really is -- it's inexcusable. I mean, there's no -- there's no excuse. They just have to fix it. And so we pulled out all the stops and brought in the best people in the country and we're assured that we can be done by the end of -- the end of November.

PAUL: November. Do you know why it will still take another month?

BIDEN: Well, I -- look, all I know is they talk about 50,000 lines of this and this. I don't know the technical reasons. But they say the platform, the way they explained to me, the platform is fine, but they have to change an awful lot of the input. So I don't know. I wish I could tell you. That's why I became a lawyer.



BLITZER: The vice president speaking with Christi Paul. When we come back, a major announcement from the FAA that could change how you use portable electronic devices on your next flight.

Plus, could a new report help Chris Brown's defense against an alleged assault on a man right here in Washington, D.C.? We'll have details.


BLITZER: A major announcement from the FAA about rules for portable electronic devices. You're going to find out what it could mean for you and your next flight. That's just ahead.


BLITZER: There's a welcome news for air travelers who, for the first time, will soon be able to use most portable electronics devices throughout their entire flight.

CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us now from Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., with this much anticipated announcement from the FAA.

So what are they telling us?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, I mean, if you've ever been in the middle of a great novel on your Kindle and be told to shut it down while the guy next to you continues to thumb through his 600-page hardcover, this announcement is going to be a game changer.

Basically from now on, once each airline sort of verifies with the FAA that their planes are OK and they're not going to get any interference, you will be able to play games on your iPhone. You'll be able to read your novel on your Kindle. You'll be able to go through some of your business files and reports, or watch a movie on your iPad, all during taxi, takeoff and landing.

You won't have to hear any of those announcements about turning it off. There are a few things you won't be able to do. You won't be able to access e-mails, send e-mails, text messages, you definitely won't be able to still talk on the cell phone. This comes after the FAA took the better part of a year to really study this problem. They'd now found that it looks like it's going to be safe.

And I can tell you some airlines have already filed the paperwork with the FAA to say, look, we're ready to go with this. And when you look at how many airlines already have their own Wi-Fi capability, it's -- you can see why the FAA is saying, this is going to happen fairly quickly, and you may be seeing some of these changes by the time you start your holiday travel in another month or two -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence, over at Reagan National Airport, thank you.

Here's a look at some of the other stories we're monitoring in the SITUATION ROOM right now. A federal appeals court has ruled that the New York Police Department can resume its controversial stop-and-frisk policy, as other appeals in the case are heard.

Back in August, a judge ordered the policy be altered, finding it in part unconstitutional by unlawfully targeting blacks and Latinos. City officials bristled at the claims that police racially profiled suspects, and appealed the ruling, saying the policy has cut crime.

A lawyer for the NSA Edward Snowden says he now has a job in the country where he's seeking asylum. Beginning tomorrow, Snowden will work for a major Russian Web site where he will be performing maintenance. For security reasons, his attorney isn't naming the employer. Snowden is charged with espionage and theft of government property.

A Secret Service report detailing singer Chris Brown's alleged assault of a man here in Washington, D.C. is shedding new light on his possible defense strategy. The document obtained by CNN suggests that Brown's bodyguard could take the rap for the victim's broken nose, while lawyers could question the credibility of one of the police officers investigating the case.

Brown is currently serving felony probation for his 2009 domestic violence conviction involving the pop star Rihanna.

A big day here in Washington for the new New Jersey senator, the former Newark mayor, Cory Booker. He was sworn in on the Senate floor by the Vice President Joe Biden. Later met privately with President Obama over at the White House.

Booker won a special election this month to serve out the final 14 and a half month-term of the late Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg. The new nameplate is also up outside his Senate office door.

Congratulations to the new senator, Cory Booker.

Coming up at the top of the hour, new questions about U.S. eavesdropping. Did it extend all the way to the Vatican? The NSA says absolutely not. Still America has lost some trust in Europe. Stand by. New information.

Also, what makes this baby turned Internet sensation well up in tears? Jeanne Moos has the very touching moment.


BLITZER: There's some breaking news coming into the SITUATION ROOM right now. We're getting reports of a school bus that has gone off a bridge near Douglas, Kansas. We're told the bus driver and some children are being pulled from the water right now. No word yet on how many people were on board the school bus. No report so far of fatalities but we're checking the story.

We'll bring you more information as soon as we get. More news right after this.


BLITZER: You might think the politicians on both sides of the healthcare are acting a lot like babies.

Now CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story of one real baby acting a lot like an adult.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All babies cry. But this baby's brimming eyes may make you want to cry.

She's not being tortured. Her mom is just singing to her. AMANDA LEROUX, BABY'S MOTHER: Look, I could sing any other song and she doesn't have the same reaction.

MOOS: Amanda Leroux was listening to the radio in her northern Ontario home when Sara Evans came on, singing a Rod Stewart song.

So Amanda sang along to her baby.

LEROUX: I thought it strange. I thought at the first time it was a fluke.

MOOS: But it happened every time she sang "My Heart Can't Tell You No." Amanda's husband was skeptical so she made this recording to show it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was like, oh, my lord.

MOOS: What struck Amanda is how 10-month-old Marie Lynn seems to be struggling not to cry, to hold it in.

(On camera): What do you think is going through your baby's mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had just an older soul.

MOOS (voice-over): While her father believes in reincarnation and feels it's almost supernatural, mom thinks her baby just has a connection with the emotion behind the song.

A childhood development specialist agreed. Telling CNN the baby might be responding to the melancholy tonality of the song.

LEROUX: You feel the pain in the strong, yes, honey.

MOOS: Country singer Sara Evans tweeted out, "How cute the video is. Hopefully she's crying tears of joy hearing my song."

(On camera): But here's a bit of a downer. Because of all the hoopla and interviews and the video being played over and over, the baby has stopped tearing up when she hears the song.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she's become immune to it.

MOOS: But we sure aren't immune to her. Finally, a silent cry baby.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK. It's just a song.

MOOS: New York.