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Interview With Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz; Election Day

Aired November 5, 2013 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report, "Election Night 2013." Republican star is waiting for voting results that just might set a path toward the White House.

Stand by for an exclusive interview with the New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on his political future and the future of his party.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: The party has got to focus on winning again. You know, sometimes I feel like our party cares more about winning the argument than they care about winning elections.


BLITZER: Another critical race tonight, can Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe reclaim the Virginia governor's office for Democrats?

We're watching the key contests, the bitter battles across the nation right now.

And the Obamacare fiasco is weighing on the president and his party. So, now he's tweaking a promise that got him into the political trouble. Watch this.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're this THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're less than one hour away from the first poll closings tonight in high-profile battles to control key states and big cities. Voters in Virginia, New Jersey, New York City and other places across the nation, they're making their choices right now.

The results could influence the fight for Congress next year and the presidential race in 2016. We have our anchors, our correspondents. They're out in the field. They're covering the hot races and the big name candidates.

Let's begin with Jake Tapper, who's been talking to the biggest name on the ballot today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

You spent a lot of time with him today. Jake, how did it go?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We got a lot of behind-the-scenes interview access with Governor Christie, who is highly favored to win reelection here today. The last three polls had him beating his Democratic challenger, state Senator Barbara Buono, by double digits.

The question for Christie really is, how much can he beat her by? He is setting expectations low, saying he just wants to win something in the 50s. But obviously he has polled higher in some polls. What he wants to do, Wolf, is send a signal, a message to the national Republican Party about 2016 and why, if he runs for president, he should be their standard bearer.

This is obviously a Democratic state. President Obama won here twice, the first time by 14 points, the second time by 18 points. The point that Christie's going to try to be making if he does very well here today is, look at me, I can win over voters that Republicans who seek the White House such as Mitt Romney, John McCain had trouble winning over, independents, some Democratic voters, women, minority voters. That is going to be the point that he tries to make when -- if he wins tonight to the national party, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jake's interview, exclusive interview, I should say, with Chris Christie coming up shortly here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jake, thanks very much.

Let's get to the governor's race in Virginia right now. It also has implications for 2016. It could be the closest contest of the night. Polls close in Virginia at the top of the hour.

Dana Bash is over at the headquarters of the Democratic candidate, the former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

How does it look over there, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats here in the state of Virginia are saying that -- excuse me -- the Commonwealth of Virginia, we want to make sure we get that right, say that they are feeling good about turnout, which of course matters on every Election Day, but matters even more here because it is an off- year election.

And for Democrats in particular, they are hoping to really boost turnout in some of the high-density populated areas like where I am in Northern Virginia. But you heard Jake talking about New Jersey where it's about a big personality. You mentioned Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate. He is a big personality. Everybody who knows him know that. He's a longtime Democratic operative, very close to the Clintons.

But you wouldn't know that if you were watching him on the campaign trail. He is trying to keep a very low profile, make clear that he is just about Virginia. On the flip side, the Republican candidate, Ken Cuccinelli, he is somebody who has just over the past two weeks especially been making the point that Obamacare is horrible, and it is something that he was actually the first attorney general to sue against, and that that is really a referendum, this whole race he says is a referendum on Obamacare, which Democrats are saying if that is true and if he loses, as the polls show looks like it's going to happen, it's a big plus for Democrats looking forward to 2014.

BLITZER: All right, Dana is over at McAuliffe headquarters in Northern Virginia.

Let's go to the Republican candidate for Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli's headquarters. He's the state attorney general and Tea Party favorite.

Our political reporter Peter Hamby is standing by.

What does it look like there, Peter?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's pretty quiet right now here, and frankly it's probably going to stay quiet for most of the night. Republicans in this state have been bracing for a loss at the top of the ticket for weeks now.

They're expecting about a mid to high single-digit loss to Terry McAuliffe. There are a lot of factors at play in the race. A lot of money has come into play. There's been a scandal in the governor's mansion that sort of kept Cuccinelli from getting a lot of attention.

Well, but Republicans insist, as Dana mentioned, this Obamacare, this late push, that things have sort of tightened in the last couple of weeks as they really hit this Obamacare message home. And Republicans are hoping a silver lining will come down ballot. Look, they think Ken Cuccinelli is going to lose, but there's a winnable attorney general's race, and there's a number of races in the Statehouse that they are hoping can be pulled over the finish line.

If it stays within three or four points, they think they can maybe pull some victories down ballot out tonight. But at the top of the ticket, Republicans are bracing for a loss here.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Peter, we will get back to you.

Let's go to New York City right now, where Democrats appear to be on track to win back the mayor's office for the first time in more than two decades.

Don Lemon is over at the headquarters of the Democratic candidate, Bill de Blasio.

It's been a long time since there's been a Democratic mayor. There was Rudy Giuliani, then Michael Bloomberg. That's about to change tonight, Don.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting in a city that is heavily Democratic. I mean, Democrats outnumber Republicans here 6-1.

And to have not have had a Democratic mayor in 20 years is something. This is going to be the first, though, because he is ahead 65 to 24 percent. He's had a lead throughout most of his campaign here. You can see the podium that they're getting ready for back there. They're setting the sound system. It says on the podium progress. He says he wants to usher in a new era of progressive governance in this city. He wants to get rid of the controversial stop and frisk law, the police tactic. He says he wants to even the income equality in the city and he wants to tax the wealthy, people who are making $500,000 or more. And he wants to limit charter schools. These are good old liberal policies that he ran on. And he appears to be on track to winning tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it looks like a landslide, I must say, if you believe all the polls going into tonight. All right, Don, we will check back with you.

On this Election Day, many Democrats wish the Obamacare mess would simply go away. And if you listen closely, you will notice that the president's wording of a controversial promise is getting a bit of a makeover.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, explain what's going on.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, White House officials are refusing to admit the president got anything wrong when he used that line if you like your health care plan, you can keep it, even as conservative attack ads are being sparked by that line and Democrats are becoming more frustrated with the entire health care rollout every day.


ACOSTA (voice-over): As more Democrats are calling on the White House to fix Obamacare...

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: I believe that there's been a crisis of confidence created in the dysfunctional nature of the Web site, the canceling of policies and sticker shock.

ACOSTA: ... the president has once again tried to fix the line he used to sell the law in the first place. Before the law was passed, it was this:

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you like your plan, keep your plan.

ACOSTA: But last week, it was this:

OBAMA: If you had one of these substandard plans before the Affordable Care Act became law, and you really like that plan, you are able to keep it. That's what I said when I was running for office.

ACOSTA: And last night, it was this:

OBAMA: If you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law, and you really like that plan, what we said was you could keep it, if it hasn't changed since the law was passed.

ACOSTA: While White House officials don't deny the president is changing his words, they are offering no apologies.

(on camera): So if the president could go back, he would use the same words again?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, the president, as awesomely powerful as the office is, can't go back in time.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But it's the future where trouble is looming, as Republicans like Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are all but accusing Mr. Obama of lying.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: I think it's pretty clear what the president said is not accurate. And we have to assume that the president knew what he was saying.

OBAMA: If you like your private health insurance plan, you can keep your plan.

ACOSTA: A conservative group is running this ad on social media, linking McConnell's opponent in next year's midterm elections to the president.

NARRATOR: When liberals don't tell the truth, Kentucky gets burned.

ACOSTA: The other fire the White House is fighting is the implementation of the law itself. As new documents released by House Republicans reveal, the administration's health care war room was scrambling over the last month to confront mounting consumer frustrations. The government's enrollment assistants or navigators were seeing people very frustrated and walking away.


ACOSTA: All of which may impact those crucial enrollment numbers. Earlier today, the head of Medicare and Medicaid who is overseeing the rollout of Obamacare said that the administration expected to see about 800,000 people enrolled by the end of November, but another official here at the White House cautions that that is not the hard number that they expect to release mid-November.

But just to be sure, House Republicans issued a subpoena today to the White House to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services for those numbers, just to be sure that they get those numbers, Wolf. They issued that subpoena earlier this afternoon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: There will be a lot subpoenas I suspect, as well.

All right, Jim Acosta, thank you.

Still ahead, I will ask about the Democratic Party chair about the president's changing Obamacare promise, the stakes in tonight's election. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is standing by live.

And CNN's exclusive interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. You will find out who he was talking about when he said this.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm really disappointed that the folks would do that. I think it is a complete violation of trust.



BLITZER: We're here in the CNN Election Center gearing up for the first results from the night's important races.

I will be here throughout the night to bring you the winners and the losers.

Up next, CNN's exclusive interview with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He's sharing his worries about his own party.

More of our special election night report right after this.


BLITZER: The New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, is hoping to sail to reelection tonight. This could be his last campaign or the unofficial start of a Republican presidential bid.

My colleague, Jake Tapper, spoke exclusively with Christie earlier today.


TAPPER (voice-over): In the final moments of his almost guaranteed reelection tour, Chris Christie insists he's only focused on this campaign. But it's also clear to anyone who sees him he's taking steps to address some of the questions that might nag a presidential hopeful, such as his health. He recently had lap band surgery to help control his weight.

(on camera): How do you feel? How is your health?

CHRISTIE: I feel good. We're little bit more than halfway to my goal in the last eight months. So that's really good. And I sleep better. It's a great feeling. And it's hard work, but I feel like, for the first time in 25 years, I feel like I have got a path left, which is really nice, really nice not to be as frustrated as I was before.

TAPPER: We spent the day with Governor Christie as she shook a few final hands and reflected on what the Republican Party might be able to learn from his campaign. He's doing well, not just with Republicans, but also making inroads with traditionally Democratic voters, such as women and minorities.

(on camera): The national implications for the party. Your party is in something of a troubled spot right now.

CHRISTIE: Yes. TAPPER: Dick Cheney told me last week that the Republican Party is in trouble. It needs new candidates. And he was obviously plugging his daughter, but what do you think national Republicans should look at when they look at this race vs. Virginia?

CHRISTIE: Yes. Well, listen, I don't know about vs. Virginia because we don't know what's going to happen in Virginia yet.

TAPPER: Well, we know it's going to be a struggle, though.

CHRISTIE: It is going to be a tight race as compared to here.

Listen, I think that the party's got to focus on winning again. You know, sometimes, I feel like our party cares more about winning the argument than they care about winning elections. And if you don't win elections, you can't govern. And if you can't govern, you can't change the direction of a state, like we have done in New Jersey.

And, so, I don't -- so, one, I think we need to get ourself refocused on that. And, secondly, I think sometimes we forget that candidates matter.


TAPPER (voice-over): Christie was one of the names on Romney's list to possibly join his ticket in 2012. But the new book "Double Down" reveals team Romney had some unanswered questions about Christie's background.

(on camera): If you were to look ahead, I can't help but think about this new book "Double Down." And I don't want to get into all the details. And I know you haven't read the book.

But it seems very clear that when you submitted information, confidential information to the Romney campaign when they were considering you for vice president, somebody violated that trust and gave information to the authors of this book. There will be time later for you to address all those issues. But I wonder what you think about that, about the fact that you trusted these people and one of them clearly betrayed you.

CHRISTIE: It's very disappointing.

And that was the first thing. When it came to light a few months ago that it had been leaked, you know, Mitt called me right away. And I could tell he was really embarrassed and outraged about it. And I think that's the kind of reaction that the person in charge should have.

So I'm really disappointed that folks would do that. I think it is a complete violation of trust of me and the spirit within which I entered that process, which was, you know, Beth Myers couldn't have been clearer with me and Mitt, when they both spoke with me, that only a few people have access to this and it will all be returned to you afterwards, and no one will have an extra copy and it will never get out. You know, now, there's nothing in there that I have any huge problem with, all right, but it is a violation of trust and it seems it only happened to me and not the other folks they vetted. So that's a little troublesome. .

TAPPER: Do you think it's because of the tensions between some Romney aides and some Christie aides? I know that you and Governor Romney have both there's no tension between the two of you.

CHRISTIE: No. Listen, I don't think there was ever any tension on our side. I'm now finding out that there was tension on their side. But who knows why someone does something that's so violative of the spirit of the process you entered into. I don't know. I can't answer that. You will have to find out who leaked it, Jake, and then ask them.


TAPPER: And, Wolf, looking to tonight, Governor Christie hopes to win big. He wants to take a message to the national Republican Party saying that he is able to win over groups like Democrats, independents, women, minorities, and make a case for 2016 should he decide to run -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks like he really wants to, but we will see. All right, Jake. Thanks very much.

Up next, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, she's standing by live.


BLITZER: Election night 2013, I will be here to bring the results throughout the evening. Stay with us for more coming up right here in our special report in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're waiting for the first election night results. That's coming up.

But let's talk about the stakes of what's going on today with Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. She's the chair of the DNC, the Democratic National Committee. She's joining us right now from the headquarters of the candidate for Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe.

She also, by the way, has a brand-new book that's out there. You see it right there. It's called "For the Next Generation: A Wake Up Call to Solving Our Nation's Problems."

Congresswoman, thanks very much for coming in.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D), FLORIDA: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be with you. BLITZER: I know you and the Democrats have been working very hard for Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, where you are, but it looks like you just gave up in New Jersey, not much support for the Democratic candidate against Chris Christie. What happened? Why didn't the president at least go in there and campaign for the Democratic candidate?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, the DNC has actually been involved with Barbara Buono's campaign since the beginning of this year.

We have had a staffer permanently -- permanently assigned to the Buono campaign. We have helped her with digital and phone banking. And I went in to campaign with her. We have -- we have actually provided her -- we sent some e-mail to help raise her money. And so we have been there for her pretty much every step of the way.

But what we're focused on is, we have got races all over the country. Tonight, we expect that we will elect a Democratic mayor of New York City for the first time in almost 25 years. We're very excited about the opportunity here in Virginia. And, you know, Barbara Buono is an excellent candidate. We want people to get out and make sure that they vote for her. The polls are still open. And nothing is finished until the last voter casts their ballot.

BLITZER: But I was a little surprised. We didn't see the president, the vice president. I don't think the vice president was there. Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, none of them really showed up in New Jersey to help the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. It looks as if you just gave up hope in New Jersey, which is a pretty Democratic state.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I can tell you that we -- not only have we not given up hope. But the polls are still open. And we really encourage people to go out and vote for Barbara Buono. She's the best candidate.

If you look at Chris Christie's track record, his track record certainly doesn't square up with New Jersey's values. And we're hopeful that, when the polls close tonight, that Barbara Buono will be successful.

BLITZER: But if he wins in a landslide tonight, and all the polls indicate that is certainly possible, that puts him on a clear path, potentially, to the Republican presidential nomination. Would you agree?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, Wolf, what I think the message after tonight will be is leading into the 2014 elections that the American people will elect Democratic mayors and Terry McAuliffe tonight as governor of Virginia because they reject the Tea Party extremism.

There's been a civil war raging in the Republican Party. And the Tea Party has won. They shut the government down. They were willing to bring us to the brink of economic disaster. And we will win the majority of these races tonight because the American people just want us to work together and focus on creating jobs, getting the health care -- the Affordable Care Act implemented and making sure that we invest in education and in our future. What the Tea Party does -- has done is focused on a really extreme agenda that the American people voted -- rejected last year when they reelected President Obama, and that they will consistently reject tonight with the election results when they come in.

BLITZER: Should -- knowing what we know now -- and, obviously, all of us are a lot smarter with hindsight, but knowing what we know now, should they simply have delayed the rollout of the Obamacare Web site, since it's been so flawed from day one?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You know, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is more than just a Web site. And, clearly, the Web site needs to be fixed. No one was more concerned about the problems with it than President Obama.

But, keep in mind, when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law by the president in 2010, it kicked in a number of really important reforms, like that the young adults can stay on their parents' insurance until they're 26. Children with a preexisting condition can't be dropped or denied coverage.

Seniors have their prescription drugs much more affordable now, and preventative care available to women and to seniors without a co-pay or a deductible, like mammograms and colonoscopies and wellness visits. So, the benefits that Americans are already feeling are the reason that the Affordable Care Act approval ratings have actually gone up, particularly since the Republicans were so insistent on shutting the government down in order to deny people access to quality, affordable health care.

BLITZER: All right. We will continue this conversation, Congresswoman. We will see what happens later tonight. Thanks very much for joining us.



BLITZER: I will be here throughout the night with updates on all the elections.