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Obamacare War Room Fears Exposed; Anti-American Protests in Iran

Aired November 4, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, panic in the president's Obamacare war room. We now have some proof of White House fears that Americans will be disappointed even after the Web site is fixed.

Plus Iran's biggest anti-American rally in years. The stars and stripes in flames, and the future of nuclear talks in doubt.

And Republican Senator Rand Paul firing back at widening allegations that he actually plagiarized some of his speeches. Has his status as a Tea Party star and a potential president hopeful been damaged?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The president is speaking out shortly to a friendly audience here in Washington, and you can bet he will put a positive base on Obamacare's problems. There he is right now. He's speaking at a fund-raiser here in Washington in a hotel. CNN has obtained some notes from inside the administration's war room that reveal deep fears about the health care program and the political backlash.

Joe Johns is here in the THE SITUATION ROOM as we await the president getting to the substance of his remarks.

What are you learning?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, outwardly, the administration is confident and optimistic when it comes to Obamacare's promise of more choice and lower-price health insurance, but there are signs tonight of some possible chinks in the armor over at the agency responsible for the rollout.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we have done is essentially created competition where there wasn't competition before, and as a result of this choice and this competition, prices have come down. When you add the new tax credits that many people are eligible for through the law, then the prices come down even further.

JOHNS (voice-over): But, privately, there is concern. Internal war room notes submitted to Republican investigators and obtained by CNN detail worries that when the Web site is up and running, there might be sticker shock and anger because "The media attention will follow individuals to plan selection and their ultimate choices and in some cases, there will be fewer options than would be desired to promote consumer choice and an ideal shopping experience. Additionally, in some cases, there will be relatively high cost plans."

Meanwhile, the White House was once again on defense Monday after other war room suggested the administration's request to consumers to call in to register for Obamacare wasn't really a way of bypassing the glitchy Web site. Why? Because the call centers and the Web site use the same computer system.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The point of the call-in centers was to reduce the frustration that individuals were having. That's what he said. That's what we're doing. That's what we're doing. In the meantime, we're, you know, busting rocks every day to fix the Web sites so that it's up and running at a standard that's acceptable for the vast majority of Americans by the end of the month.


JOHNS: These notes apparently come from meetings with the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. The administration still has not released official data on how many people have actually enrolled in Obamacare.

A set of notes from October 11 suggests that at that time phone operators were receiving about 30,000 requests for paper applications every day.

BLITZER: The old-fashioned way, paper applications. You know what? I want to listen a little bit to what the president is telling these Democratic fund-raisers here in Washington.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But there's been so much noise and so much misinformation, and this incredible organized effort to block the notion that everybody should have affordable health care in this country, that I think it's important for us to step back and take a look at what's already been accomplished, because a lot of times, it doesn't make news.

Controversies make news, but what has happened quietly across the country over the last three years hasn't gotten a lot of attention. In fact, a lot of the people who are benefiting don't even know it.

Because of you, the insurance market now has the strongest consumer protections that this country has ever known. No more discriminating against kids with preexisting conditions. No more dropping your policy when you get sick. No more lifetime limits on the care that you can receive.

All of that and more is part of a new patients bill of rights that's smack dab in the middle of the Affordable Care Act, and it's helping people right now. Because of you, there are three million young adults under the age of 26 that are getting coverage by staying on their parents' plan right now, including Leslie's (ph) son. That happened because of you. Because of you, millions of seniors on Medicare have saved hundreds of dollars on their prescription medicines. It's already happened. They may not be aware of it, but that's already taking place. They're saving money because of the work that you did.

More than 100 million Americans have gotten free preventive care like mammograms and contraceptive care with no co-pays. That's all part of the law. Because of you, millions of Americans will soon know the security of health care, in some cases for the first time.

In states where governors have chosen to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas has covered almost 14 percent of its uninsured already. Think about that; 14 percent of the uninsured in Arkansas are already insured just because of work that you did. Oregon has covered 10 percent of its uninsured already.

We have got some Oregon folks in the house.


OBAMA: And, you know, what's been encouraging is that you have some conservative Republican governors who in some cases have put aside politics to do the same.

They have recognized, this is too good a deal for the people of our state for us to pass up, even if it's not convenient politics for us.

And I'm proud of them for doing that. And I hope more will too, because nobody deserves to be denied health care because of politics.


BLITZER: The president of the United States making the case for the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare.

Elizabeth Cohen is our medical correspondent.

The president has got some strong arguments there, but there are some serious problems, including word we're learning now, what, every night this week from 1:00 a.m. Eastern until 5:00 a.m. Eastern they're going to shut down the Web site once again. Is that right, Elizabeth?


Wolf, these shutdowns have happened before, especially on the weekends or there was a holiday last month where they shut down during that time. In order to fix this site, which has been so broken, they really do that -- downtime is really, really helpful. I guess they're figuring how many people are on the site between 1:00 and 5:00 in the morning?

BLITZER: Not on the East Coast, but maybe on the West Coast, a bunch of people are as well. Elizabeth, we will check back with you tomorrow. Thanks very much. Still ahead, thousands of Iranians venting their anger at America, so what does it say about historic U.S. efforts to try to reach out to the country's new president?

Plus, Republican Senator Rand Paul is calling a plagiarism allegation against him an insult. Stand by for the latest on this controversy.

But we want you to tweet us with your views on this story, others news. Always remember, use #SITROOM.


BLITZER: High-level attempt to repair America's strained relations with Saudi Arabia. The secretary of state, John Kerry, sat down with King Abdullah today. It's the first face-to-face since a top Saudi official publicly warned of a major shift away from Washington. Among other things, the Saudis are angry about U.S. outreach to Iran, but that could be in trouble right now as well. We have details when we return.


BLITZER: A new attempt by the NSA leaker to justify his actions. Edward Snowden wrote an open letter that's been published in the German magazine "Der Spiegel." He calls it manifesto for truth.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Tell us about this manifesto. What does he include?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, he tries to make the case and he's made this case before that he's not a spy, but that he's a whistle-blower on what he calls the global problem of mass surveillance.

In this letter, he calls the U.S. and Britain the worst offenders, and condemns them for criminalizing, he argues, the release of information that the public should know. The debate he says -- quote -- "they wanted to avoid is now taking place in countries around the world. And instead of causes damage, the use of this new public knowledge is causing society to push for political reforms, oversight and new laws" -- end quote.

Now, the administration's response -- and I spoke to a senior State Department official about this today -- is that Snowden had a legal means to blow the whistle on this. He could have pursued it within the NSA, could have taken it up to the inspector general. If that wasn't good enough for him, he could have gone to court with this.

In fact, they're saying he should come back to the country and face these charge in court. That's the legal way to pursue his case if he wants to. But his position, of course, is he won't get a fair trial here.

BLITZER: That's another issue I want to raise, the whole issue of U.S./Iranian relations. Today, we saw a huge demonstration in Tehran marking the 33rd anniversary of the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. It was ugly. They were burning American flags, as usual. What does that say about this effort to try to improve this relationship?

SCIUTTO: You're getting a lot of conflicting signals out of Iran at the same time. Some of them indicate true political opposition to Iran's outreach to the U.S. at home and some of them are more political posturing, and playing to a local audience, which is important there. There's a large history of this kind of anger which the politicians in Iran are very aware of.

So today you had the protest at the U.S. Embassy marking the anniversary of the takeover of the embassy. The protesters burning flags that were, by the way, on sale at stores nearby, and others even carrying mockups of centrifuges as an expression of support for Iran's nuclear program.

But you also had the supreme leader of Iran, arguably the biggest skeptic in the country of warming up to the U.S., who was calling on Iranians to give their negotiators time. The administration here is also asking for time. Here is what White House spokesman Jay Carney said today.


CARNEY: The history of mistrust between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran is deep. It will not be erased overnight. But what we are doing now is not about trust. We are in serious and substantive negotiations that offer the possibility that we can stop the advance of Iran's nuclear program, gain more transparency into their nuclear activities and negotiate a long-term comprehensive solution.


SCIUTTO: I have been to more death to America demonstrations in Iran than I can count. I'm sure you have had the same experience, that they're a good part theater as well as public opposition.

I have been to them where people are smiling, they're kind of laughing as they're taking part. There's a little bit of performance here. That said, there is real opposition and skepticism in Iran to these talks and that's something that people like the president are very aware. They're sticking their necks out here and they have to show results very quickly on a relaxing of the sanctions, much the way politicians here in the U.S., the administration, they have to show results as well, because they're taking a risk.

They have to show the Iranians willing to put real restrictions on the nuclear program. That is what is happening here and as that is happening, politicians in Iran have to be aware of the public opposition, and you will have some playing up to that. It was interesting to see the White House say, hey, listen, we're not paying attention to that, we're paying attention to the talks that are taking place.

BLITZER: And then more than just the talks, we will see what happens on the ground as well.

Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that report.

Other news we're following right now, including the widening allegations of plagiarism supposedly done by the Republican Senator Rand Paul. The Tea Party favorite and presidential prospect, he is firing right back, saying he won't lie down and take these so-called insult.

Brian Todd is here. He has got details, the claims, the counterclaims.

What's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the latest is that we and other news organizations have uncovered what we believe is a pattern here.

Rand Paul, in at least one speech and in this recent book that he wrote, seems to have listed whole passages that were not his own and used them without immediately citing sources.


TODD (voice-over): He's one of the Tea Party's biggest stars, a conservative standard-bearer whose arc may carry him to the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, but now Senator Rand Paul stands accused of doing something our third-grade teachers would nail us for, plagiarism.

In a recent speech at Liberty University, first flagged by MSNBC and the BuzzFeed Web site, Paul doesn't cite Wikipedia when he talks about the movie "Gattaca," but listen to his words measured against the Wikipedia entry on the movie.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: In the movie "Gattaca" in the not-too- distant future, eugenics is common and DNA plays the primary role in determining your social class. Vincent Freeman is conceived though and born the old-fashioned way, without the aid of genetic selection. Due to the frequent screenings, Vincent faces genetic discrimination and prejudice. The only way he can achieve his dream of being an astronaut is he has to become what's called a borrowed ladder.

TODD: Paul and his aides says almost all his speech are impromptu, that none have been footnoted, but they will be in the future.

Paul said this to ABC's "This Week."

PAUL: I think the spoken word shouldn't be held to the same sort of standard that you have if you're giving a scientific paper. I have written scientific papers. I know how to footnote things.

TODD: Does he? In Paul's recent book "Government Bullies," BuzzFeed cites a section on a potential Supreme Court case. One paragraph begins with "The prosecution also reveals the risks of federalizing criminal law." That and every sentence in that graph match word for word a section in a 2003 study by the Heritage Foundation. We counted several paragraphs in the section of his book that were almost exactly like those in the study. Rand Paul doesn't quote or credit the study in that section of his book. He admits some of the sourcing may have been sloppy, but he also said this to ABC.

PAUL: I will not lie down and say people can call me dishonest, misleading or misrepresenting. I have never intentionally done so.

TODD: Paul is not the only politician cited for something like this. In 1987, Joe Biden was caught lifting part of a British politician's speech, revelations which were partially response for Biden bowing out of the '88 presidential race.

What does it mean for Rand Paul?

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": In the long term, you know if he runs for president and beyond, there will be a whole army of Democrats but also Republicans and journalists looking at everything he says and writes to make sure that he hasn't stolen from somebody.


TODD: Paul's co-author told us that long passage in the book that we cited should have been indented with quotes around it.

He says the sources are cited in endnotes right here in this book. But the endnotes in this area do not say which parts of the book come from them. The publisher of Paul's book never returned our phone calls. Wolf, a spokesman for the Heritage Foundation said they're not upset with Rand Paul. They're happy to have their work cited by him.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report.

Just ahead, so how close was Hillary Clinton being the president's running mate in 2012? We're going to talk about the revelations in a new book that -- what my sources were telling me in real time.


BLITZER: A midair collision between two planes sending one of them plummeting to the ground. But remarkably no one was seriously hurt. Both planes were carrying skydivers over northern Wisconsin. All five people aboard the plane that crashed were able to jump out with their parachutes. The other plane was able to land safely.

More news ahead. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A new tell-all book about the 2012 presidential campaign creating lots of buzz, in part because it gives some insights into some of the possible contenders for the White House in 2016.

Let's talk about the new book "Double Down" what it contains with CNN political commentator Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine, and our CNN political reporter Peter Hamby.

A lot of discussion as a result of what's in the book, new information about maybe Hillary would be added to the ticket, Joe Biden would be dumped. I asked Hillary Clinton about that when I interviewed her back in April of 2012. Listen to this exchange.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If the president of the United States says madam secretary I need you on the ticket this year in order to beat Romney, are you ready to run as his vice presidential running mate?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: That is not going to happen. That is like saying if the Olympic committee called you up and said, are you ready to run the marathon, would you accept? Well, it's not going to happen.

BLITZER: I disagree.

CLINTON: Well --

BLITZER: I think it's -- it's unlikely I will say that. But if he sees in July that he's going down, he doesn't want to be a one-term president.

CLINTON: You know, Leon and I are in this awkward position because we have both been in politics and now we are in two jobs that are out of politics for all the right reasons so I don't comment on politics anymore. But I am very confident about the outcome of this election and as I have said many times, I think, you know, Joe Biden who's a dear friend of ours has served our country and served the president very well. So, I'm out of politics, but I am very supportive of the team that we have in the White House going forward.


BLITZER: Remember, Ryan, every time I even speculated that health care could be on the ticket, I got slammed by officials in the White House and the campaign. What are you talking about? Now we have learned in this book there was actually some focus group testing to see if they should do that.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. But watching, it seems like you knew something.


BLITZER: I had been told at the time that we did check it out, it's unlikely, but you know what? Politics is a crazy business.

LIZZA: What's fun about these books that come out after the campaign with all these anecdotes the moves so fast, many of us are covering it day to day. And it's nice to just have a couple people sit back and spend a couple years stringing together some fun anecdotes that we can all trade. (CROSSTALK)

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And also after the campaign we immediately segue into inauguration and the next election cycle, so, yes, to you point, I think that it's a valuable part of the post- campaign discussion.

BLITZER: If that focus group, that testing would have shown a huge shift in his favor, then they may have rethought some of those earlier considerations.


And David Axelrod I think was on "Meet the Press" yesterday and said we did do our due diligence here, we did focus group it, but like any potential running mate, it only makes a smidgen of a difference. It really made no difference at all. It was completely negligible, but they were just doing their due diligence by focusing group it.

HAMBY: I think the White House even said that it never even got to Obama, that they never even proposed it...


BLITZER: They say that about everything.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Paul Ryan. He became the vice presidential nominee. Chris Christie was bypassed for whatever reason. We will get to that in a second.

But in an excerpt from the book that's in "TIME" magazine, it says your article on Paul Ryan, Ryan, that Romney read on his flight back from Israel to the United States helped convince him that Ryan would be a good running mate. Were you surprised to hear that?

LIZZA: A little bit.

I picked a little bit of that up from Paul Ryan earlier this year when I talked to him for another piece, and also there was a Romney strategist who I e-mailed with earlier this year and sort of had heard inklings of this. To be honest, when I was writing that piece, I became more convinced the more I interviewed Ryan that he would not be picked for vice president, because I thought, why would this guy be spending all this time with a reporter from "The New Yorker" if he's being vetted by the Romney vice presidential team?

So I actually became less convinced. I think that I would love to take credit in some way for Romney picking him. I doubt that Romney needed "The New Yorker" to explain who Paul Ryan was to him, but maybe the fact that he survived a long comprehensive piece helped.


BLITZER: But, Peter, Chris Christie, it makes it look like he had some real baggage that raised all sorts of alarm bells. And he wasn't selected.


LIZZA: This to me is the biggest scoop in the book.

HAMBY: Absolutely. There's plenty of gossip in the book, there's plenty of interesting tidbits.

But moving forward, Chris Christie, you know, is probably going to run for president in 2016. To Mark Halperin and John Heilemann's credit, they understand the news cycle. They're dropping a daisy-cutter on his head at the very moment he will roll up a 20-, 30-point victory in New Jersey. He will have to start answering questions as he pivots nationally about this defamation lawsuit against him in 1994, about an investigation into his practices as U.S. attorney, various things that were surfaced in this book as part of his vice presidential vetting file, and turned over brazenly to reporters. That never happens in the vice presidential vetting process.

BLITZER: You vet somebody, and all of a sudden we know all about the vetting process, not necessarily good.

Peter, thanks very much. Ryan, good reporting, as usual.


BLITZER: The "Double Down" co-authors, by the way, Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, they will be here in the THE SITUATION ROOM live with me on Thursday. We will talk to them about their new book.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on behind the scenes in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.