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Christie Re-Elected as N.J. Governor; Sebelius is Grilled Again on Obamacare; Toronto Mayor Admits Smoking Crack, Refuses to Step Down; Pope Francis Sends Questionnaire to Catholics on Controversial Issues

Aired November 6, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX: Talking 60 percent of the votes. Well, Christie says he did it by reaching across the aisle, something he says Washington has not yet learned. An apparent reference to the 16-day government shutdown.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: If we can do this in Trenton, New Jersey, maybe the folks in Washington, D.C. should tune in their TVs right now, see how it's done.


MALVEAUX: And meanwhile, in Virginia, the only other state to hold elections for governor, the year after presidential contests, Bill Clinton's close friend, Terry McAuliffe won. The well-known Democratic fundraiser narrowly defeated his Republican challenger, Ken Cuccinelli, a Tea Party favorite, who seized on the rocky launch of the Obamacare website. And New York City also has a new mayor, Bill de Blasio. He's the first Democrat in 20 years to win the mayor's seat.

Joining us from Washington, Wolf Blitzer.

So, Wolf, it was really just a - it was a fascinating evening, fascinating to watch all of these things. What struck me were two particular states. You have Virginia and New Jersey. It will be pretty important in 2016, the presidential race. Virginia always this large swing state and then you've got Governor Chris Christie, very strong in his home state, could actually put New Jersey on the electoral map, which is really fascinating. So what was your takeaway?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S "THE SITUATION ROOM": Well, on the latter point you make, you're absolutely right, it could be close, because in the exit poll we did in New Jersey, we asked potentially hypothetically, would you support Christie versus Hillary Clinton for the presidential race in 2016? Hillary Clinton won, but by not many points.

So New Jersey, which in a presidential contest is very, very Democratic as opposed to Republican, potentially could be up if, in fact, Christie were to run for the Republican presidential nomination. And all indications are he's seriously thinking about it. And if he were to win and get that nomination, and Hillary Clinton were to get the Democratic nomination, maybe even New Jersey could be at play. Who knows right there.

I think the big problem he would have is getting the Republican nomination because he would have to win in states like Iowa. New Hampshire he probably could do well in, but South Carolina, then Florida, you know, another northeastern governor, Rudy Giuliani, tried the Republican route that way. It didn't exactly work out well for Giuliani. So let's see.

MALVEAUX: And Governor Christie, you know, initially he was criticized by fellow Republicans for really praising the president, being on his side, because they worked very well together after Superstorm Sandy. Well now, right after he wins, yesterday in the interview with Jake Tapper, he was very critical of the president, saying that, look, particularly Obamacare, that he was not forthcoming when he said that some people, actually everybody, would be able to keep their insurance, which did not end up being the case. And here's how he put it.


GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Here's what my suggestion would be to him. Don't be so cute. And when you make a mistake, admit it. Now, listen, if it was a mistake in 2009, if he was mistaken in 2009, 2010 on his understanding of how the law would operate, then just admit it to people. Say, "You know what? I said it; I was wrong. I'm sorry, and we're going to try to fix this and make it better." I think people would give any leader in that circumstance a lot of credit for just, you know, owning up to it. Instead of now like trying to - like don't lawyer it. People don't like lawyers. I'm a lawyer. They don't like them.


MALVEAUX: Oh, Wolf, I love that rolling bus shot there. But two things he seems to be doing here, he's slamming the president, but he is also slamming Obamacare. Which one do you think is going to be more effective in winning over the Republicans?

BLITZER: Well, I think he's going to have to do both if he wants to win the Republican presidential nomination. He was actually giving the president, and I think they have a pretty good relationship, especially after Superstorm Sandy at the end of the campaign last year when the president came into New Jersey, help New Jersey, he warmly embraced the president to the irritation of a whole bunch of Republicans, including Republicans in the Romney campaign. He was giving the president some good advice. If the president made a mistake, Americans are very forgiving. Acknowledging the mistake, saying it won't happen again and then move on instead of lawyering it, if you will.

And he makes - he makes another good point: Americans like leaders, they don't like lawyers. And he says he's speaking in a -- as a lawyer. So I think he's giving the president some good advice. The president's not yet ready to admit that he made a mistake. Although, as you know, and all of our viewers by now know, he's finessing and putting some additional clauses on that earlier, you know, flat assertion, if you like your plan, you can keep your plan.

MALVEAUX: All right. And a little hit that the lawyers took as well there. Thanks, Wolf. Sorry we didn't have time for Virginia. I'm sure we'll get to that in the 1:00 p.m. hour. Appreciate it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks.

MALVEAUX: President Obama is taking a political hit, at least in the polls. Take a look at this. Only 39 percent of Americans now approve of the job that the president is doing in the White House. Fifty-three percent say they now disapprove. That is according to the latest numbers from Gallup. And it puts the president just one percentage point above his lowest approval rating of 38 percent back in 2011. While some are pointing to the botched roll-out of the president's health care reform website and, of course, the mounting criticism from all of that as well.

The president's point person for implementing Obamacare back on Capitol Hill, you see there, full damage control mode. We are talking about Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifying again. This time it is before the Senate Finance Committee. She's facing some new questions about the troubled roll-out of the website Here's some of the back and forth.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: The 88 percent of Americans were satisfied with their current health insurance plan, which is why the president, no doubt, made the promise that he made. And as you can see, as of yesterday afternoon, the White House website says, 'If you like your plan, you can keep it. And you don't have to change a thing due to the health care law.' Well, we know that lying to Congress is a crime. But, unfortunately, lying to the American people is not. I just like to ask you a simple true or false question. Is that statement on the White House website true or is it false?


CORNYN: Is it true or is it false, madam secretary?

SEBELIUS: Can keep your plan. The vast majority of American who are insured are in the employer market, or in public plans or in veterans' plans. And the -- those plans have stayed in place and continue to offer benefits. The 11 million people who are in the individual market, a majority of those individuals will keep plans that now will have stronger coverage and others will have to choose if they have a brand-new plan and not a grandfather, have to choose of a plan that they no longer get medically --

CORNYN: My time is limited, so I would just ask that the record be note - that the record note that you have refused to answer my question whether it's true or false.

SEN. MAX BAUCUS (D), CHAIRMAN, FINANCE COMMITTEE: So I just keep limping along. Why not just shut it down and put all of - and put it together the way it should be put together? Many have pointed out that your -- when all fixes tend to have unintended consequences down the road. That is in some other part of the system. No end-to-end running of the whole system after all the fixes have been made. And people ask, why hasn't that happened?

Pointing out also that every day when there's a story of somebody that didn't get on, get a blank page or there's a security problem, that's a -- that's a - that's a - that's a bad media campaign. It's negative. It hurts you. It doesn't help you. So why not just have one bad story, you're shut down, and fix it all. Why not shut it down and do it right?

SEBELIUS: Well, Mr. Chairman, I'm relying on the advice of not only the inside team and contractors, but a lot of the outside experts who have come in to take a look at the system. And they did a number of things along the way. They did a series of diagnostics, looked at the entire system, and determined at the outset that is fixable. That it isn't fatally flawed, which was the initial report out of many people. Secondly, we have asked that question a number of times, would it just be helpful to take the whole system down and make fixes along the way.

We've been advised that that actually doesn't help, that it is better to do routine upgrades, some of which are hot patches which can be done while the system is fully running. Others are better to be done in the maintenance period between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., when the user experience is pretty low and we actually take the system down for periods of time. But given the fact that the various fixes, particularly the functionality fixes, the codes, have to be written in batches, it's been advised that you don't gain much from just taking the whole system down.


MALVEAUX: Joe Johns joining us from Washington.

So, Joe, last week we heard from Kathleen Sebelius. She apologized. She took full responsibility for the problems associated with the website here. But now we have more information. We're learning about more problems than we were first told, like 50 percent of the call center cards having issues in the initial days. So how is she explaining the new information, the new problems that we're now learning about this week?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Suzanne, they talked a lot about the issue of security. And that has been a major issue, both in the House and the Senate.

She's pushing that line that you heard right there, that they're fixing the website, they're doing the best they can and it's improving every day, which is precisely what the White House has been saying as well. This is a real tough position for Kathleen Sebelius, defending a high-profile government roll-out that just went very poorly, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Did she respond at all to the idea or the notion of taking it down, fixing it and then bringing it back up? Or was that just a nonstarter?

JOHNS: Well, she did. And her position is that, according to the experts, it's better to do what they're doing right now, which is try to fix the plane while it's in the air flying. She says she's been given the recommendation to do that. And so far it's working very well. She also made the rhetorical point that you're not going to be able to get cancer, for example, to take a holiday. So there's a real reason and an urgency to get this thing going now.

MALVEAUX: Sure. All right, Joe, thanks. We appreciate it.

Now, the Obama administration says that the website is going to be fixed by the end of the month. So that is the conclusion. We'll see whether or not that actually happens. And despite the disastrous roll- out of the website, there is a new poll now that shows uninsured Americans are actually more interested now in the coverage than they were before the debacle. So this is a new poll here by Reuters/IPSOS. It actually shows that 44 percent of the uninsured view the Affordable Care Act favorably. That is compared to the 37 percent who felt that way before the online marketplace opened.

You can also see the number who oppose it. It has dropped from 63 percent in September, now to 56 percent. The health care law bans insurers from rejecting those with preexisting conditions from coverage. It also provides subsidies to help low to middle income Americans buy private insurance.

And President Obama continues to push for Obamacare support. That's going to happen in Texas later today. You're going to watch it here on CNN.

And coming up on AROUND THE WORLD, the mayor of Toronto fesses up now to using drugs.


MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO: Only one person to blame for this, and that is myself.


MALVEAUX: People are calling on him to resign, but he is refusing to step down.

And then smoking, hair salons, cameras, all banned. Women must cover up. And violators are threatened with violent punishments. How Al Qaida is taking over an area of Syria right along the border with Turkey. Our CNN exclusive is coming up on AROUND THE WORLD.


MALVEAUX: After his bombshell admission that he smoked crack, people are now calling for the mayor of Toronto, Canada, to step down and seek some help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO, CANADA: These allegations are ridiculous.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: After months of bold-faced denials --

FORD: I did not use crack cocaine nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.

NEWTON: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's confession was as riveting as it was blunt.

FORD: Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But no, do I? Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, approximately about a year ago.

NEWTON: And there it was, the sordid truth that this mayor could no longer outrun.

Months of secret police surveillance of Ford was made public last week in connection with the mayor's arrest.

Police say, so far, the mayor isn't charged with anything. Police did confirm that they have the video, the one that allegedly shows Mayor Ford smoking crack cocaine from a pipe.

And Mayor Ford says he wants to see it.

FORD: I want everyone in the city to see this tape. I'd like to see the tape. I don't even recall there being a tape or a video. I know that, so I want to see the state I was in.

NEWTON: But now Mayor Ford says he's put it all out there. He's looking for forgiveness.

FORD: I have nothing left to hide. I embarrassed everyone in the city, and I will be forever sorry.

NEWTON: He had a lot to say except the words, I'm stepping down.

FORD: I was elected to do a job and that's exactly what I'm going to continue to do.

NEWTON: He intends to run for mayor again, next fall.


NEWTON: Not only is he running, many people here in the city say he actually has a good chance of winning again, if he runs.

You know, he has a strong base of support here and it has been a movement some people call it the "Ford nation" of people in the suburbs, really deciding that they want city hall back here to get their act together. And that means reducing taxes. It doesn't have anything to do with people's personal lives. Many people here today, Suzanne, still telling me, this is the best mayor the city has ever had. Hugely controversial and I can promise you, the story isn't going away.


MALVEAUX: Unbelievable story.

And Pope Francis is taking a survey, and he's asking Catholics, what do they think about gay marriage and divorce.

The Vatican survey on the modern family, pretty amazing stuff, coming up.


MALVEAUX: This guy is pretty lucky, lucky to be alive. This is one of these helmet-cams. This is a bunch of guys who were kayaking in southern England. Now, one of them gets his boat actually wedged under a waterfall. He becomes trapped. He can't get out, can't go backward, thinks that he's probably going to drown. Thanks to quick-thinking, fast work from his friends, it all turns out well. They rescued the kayaker and he says that he just hopes that his wife doesn't find out about what happened.

And in Italy, the former boyfriend of Amanda Knox was in court today for a retrial. He actually said that life has been a nightmare beyond imagination. He is calling the charges against him absolutely absurd. Both Knox and the boyfriend already served four years in an Italian prison. They were charged with killing Knox's roommate, Meredith Kercher. Knox remains in Seattle with her family and says she's afraid to go to Italy. The convictions were overturned in 2011 for lack of evidence.

And Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas. This happened in Bethlehem. This was just a short time ago. Now, Kerry's trying to get peace talks back on track. Earlier in the day, he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. And Kerry said after these meeting that both sides have legitimate demands and deserve to live in peace.

And Pope Francis, shaking things up once again in the Catholic faith, this time by sending a survey out about gay marriage, divorce, other controversial issues, to the parishes around the world, and it really is kind of this global roll-out by the Vatican.

Who better than to talk about all this, our senior Vatican analyst, John Allen? Thanks for joining us here.

So we're talking about same-sex unions, mixed marriages, single-parent families, surrogate moms, just to name a few. What, first of all, what is the pope interested in knowing?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, Suzanne, listen, I think the story is a perfect example of the Francis effect in action. The truth of it is stuff that otherwise might seem kind of ho-hum, suddenly seems new and fresh and full of possibility, because we've got a pope who is perceived as a maverick. The pope has summoned a meeting of bishops for next October to talk about the family. The Vatican has done these meetings off and on for 40 years, and they always send out a survey in advance. I think the new thing in this case is Francis seems interested in hearing not just from bishops and others, but also hearing from the grassroots, so he's asked for people to chip in their two cents on the various issues you mentioned. So you know, what's the reality with gay marriage in their part of the world? What's the reality of people living together before marriage? What's the reality on divorced and remarried Catholics and so on?

We should say this doesn't indicate that church teaching in those areas is on the brink of undergoing a revolution. The Vatican official said during a press conference yesterday that it doesn't mean that the church teaching is about to change.

But the pope wants to know what the reality on the ground is, so he can gear the church up of doing a better job of caring for these folks.

MALVEAUX: Why does the pope want to know that? You say there's not going to be a lot of change, but clearly he's trying to tap into something here. He's trying to understand people of the faith. Why does he believe that he needs this kind of information?

ALLEN: Well, I think fundamentally, what Francis is trying to do, Suzanne, is to use secular language. He's trying to rebrand the Catholic Church. He's trying to take existing church teaching and doctrine, for the most part, but trying to put a more compassionate and welcoming and merciful face on all of that.

And in order to do that, I think he feels that he and the other kind of leadership apparatus of the Vatican, need to know what the reality on the ground is in different parts of the world. And let's face it, the way the typical American might think about gay marriage or divorce or contraception might be very different had than the way the person in sub-Saharan Africa or the Middle East might think about it.

There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. Two-thirds live in Latin America, Asia and the Middle East that might have different takes on these issues. I think the pope wants to know what's bubbling in those parts of the world.

MALVEAUX: John, quick, before I let you go, I'm one of those Catholics. I'm in church on Sunday. Am I going to get a questionnaire or a survey from my priest to ask me those questions? Does it trickle down to the rest of us?

ALLEN: Well, that remains to be seen. The Vatican has kind of put the ball in the bishops' court as to how it will do this. I suspect it will work differently in every diocese and every parish.

But, Suzanne, let me tell you. As a mass-going Catholic, you don't need to have a survey to have an opinion on these things. So if you've got something you want to get off your chest, as a mass-going Catholic, by all means, walk up to your priest and tell it.

MALVEAUX: All right, will do. All right, John, thank you. Appreciate it. And now some shocking images, this is from Russia's capital. This is National Unity Day. That's what it's called in Moscow, but it's anything but.

Demonstrators called for a whites-only Russia, while some flashed "heil, Hitler" salutes. This is about 30 people who were arrested. Police say it is fewer arrests than in past years. Now, organizers were expecting about double the number of people who actually showed up.

So what is all of this about? This is a national holiday. It is seen as a way for racists to blow off some steam, and the government created it five years ago to commemorate the Polish leaving Moscow in 1612.

Well, you might say, when one election booth closes, another one opens. Coming up, how New Jersey governor Chris Christie, could be setting himself up for a presidential run. But the question is does he have what it takes to win over the Republican base? We're going to have a debate, up next.