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"The Elephant In The Room"; Affordable Care Act Gets Ripped At CMAs; CMA Song Of The Year Honors Fallen Soldier; The Nuclear Waste Next Door

Aired November 7, 2013 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Time now for the Politics Lead. Some would call it a heavy-handed pun. Others, a fat shaming cheap shot, but I don't think anybody would call it subtle. This is the new cover of "Time" magazine. which is owned by our parent company, Time Warner.

It features freshly re-elected New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has battled with weight issues along with the headline "Elephant in the Room." It's funny because he's battling a serious weight problem.

Let's bring in our panel, "Time" magazine's Deputy Washington Bureau Chief, Michael Crowley, CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Hillary Rosen and senior editor for the "National Review," Ramesh Ponnuru. Michael, you did not write the cover, I am not blaming you for the cover --


TAPPER: Well, defend it. We are trying to teach people, kids especially, don't bully, don't make fun of how people look if they look differently, et cetera, and this is rude.

CROWLEY: Well, look, figuratively speaking it's very true. The 2016 race that's going to form around Christie, he's the elephant in the room in the race. Is he going to run and the other candidates will be anti-Christies in various ways. So I think fundamentally, that's what the cover's about.

There is a literal element to it and I would just point out that Governor Christie himself has poked fun at himself. He pulled out a doughnut on David Letterman and I think that his weight is part of who he is and his political persona.

Basically this is a story about how he is a huge political player in the Republican Party right now and will decide the early contours of the 2016 race. That's what the story is about.

TAPPER: I'm sure it's a fantastic story, but we're not talking about the story. It's the cover.

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, actually, the elephant in the room means the person who nobody talks about. Certainly everybody's talking about Chris Christie. Even the analogy doesn't work. Look, I feel for Chris Christie here. I'm sure he is -- you spent the day with him -- it is constantly talked about.

Everybody asks him about it. He lives with it and I assure you as somebody who struggles with weight myself, I'm sure a day doesn't go by where he doesn't find his own reminders of it. But you know, for the media to kind of take it and exploit it that way is just kind of -- I agree. It's just rude.

TAPPER: He has this historic win, wins 60 percent in a blue state. Obama won by 18 points, he actually won by more than 18 points, he won by 22 points. He wins the Latino vote, the women's vote running against a female. "Time" magazine comes out, you're fat.

ROSEN: There's a lot to criticize him for, believe me.

CROWLEY: I think there's a literal component, but there's more to it than that.

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I read the article. It's a good article. It doesn't go into is his weight something that should weigh on voters' minds, so to speak, is it something that's going to be a problem. It doesn't discuss that. The only time it comes up in this cheap shot on the cover.

CROWLEY: I'm glad you pointed out that's not what the story is about. The story is about how he is so important to the Republican Party right now, the direction it decides to take, is it more of a centrist moderate tack or more of a Tea Party tack and how the 2016 presidential race will be defined around him, and in that sense, he --

TAPPER: Let's get meta for a second. If whoever is in charge of the cover, if they hadn't done that, we might be talking about the great story in "Time" magazine about Governor Christie. Probably not, we probably wouldn't be, not to say you wouldn't be here.

But on the other hand, you didn't write the story. It was an attempt to get buzz and generate conversation about "Time" magazine and it did so, making the construction like it's worth it, we'll take some raps for fat shaming. Is that a fair analysis?

CROWLEY: I'm not sure -- look, I'm not sure that's right. I think that the point that the cover makes is an accurate one, that this is the guy who is figuratively, it is also literally true the biggest player in the room and in the republican party right now, and I just think that's a true way --

TAPPER: I'm putting you in a tough spot.

PONNURU: They thought they were being high-minded by not using 800 pound gorilla.

TAPPER: God bless them for that. Let's turn to Obamacare. Of course, yesterday the president met with 15 Democratic senators who are up for re-election next year to talk about the dismal rollout of Obamacare. On the list, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who is already the target of this political ad.


ANNOUNCER: She sided with Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I had to vote for the bill again, I would vote for it tomorrow.


TAPPER: They already put their political careers on the line to get this bill passed. Many in the House were not re-elected. How big a price will we see when it comes to Senate elections next year?

ROSEN: You know, I think it's a little too early to say there's going to be fallout, but I think these senators are putting the administration on notice that unless, you know, the administration can actually keep its promises that it's made to have this thing fixed by the end of the year, that they are going to be calling for an extension and they may even pass it over some objections and see where that goes.

You know, so far, the senators I talked to still have the administration's back, still have Kathleen Sebelius' back. I think they just want to know that on this next round, their concerns have been heard and the problems get fixed.

TAPPER: Ramesh?

PONNURU: Well, I think that if you're a Democrat who is up for election in 2014 and you're not concerned about how this is going, you don't have your head screwed on right. I think there is a lot of nervousness on the Hill and a lot of gleeful anticipation of this among Republicans, and I think also, although there has been a lot of debate as to how much of a factor this was in Virginia, a lot of people, even on the Democratic side, have sneaking suspicion that this helped make that a close race.

TAPPER: You think so? What's your take on this? Do you think this had an effect in Virginia, I think there's a lot of debate about that, and do you think this really could cause Mary Landrieu or any of these Republicans -- I'm sorry, any of these Democrats in purple maybe red- leaning states or maybe solid red states, to lose their jobs?

CROWLEY: I do, and there are a lot of them. I think the biggest problem, the substance of this is terrible, but it also changed the subject, right. So the Democrats had this wonderful story line where the Republican Party was threatening to tank the economy with the shutdown and they were all fighting with one another, and some of these tea party figures were saying things that were far outside the political mainstream, and that conversation just screeched to a halt.

Now these poor Democrats who really didn't have much to do with the actual implementation of the plan suddenly are finding themselves in the hot seat for things that, you know, have to do with technology problems that were managed out of the federal bureaucracy far from their day to day lives and their offices.

TAPPER: It's not just that, not just the technology. We are talking also about individuals who are losing their health plan despite President Obama's -- I think we moved on from the web site in some ways.

PONNURU: But they intersect in such a damaging way because you've got these people whose current insurance plans are being canceled who are going to have to get new insurance and will be fined if they can't because the websites aren't working.

TAPPER: That's what really is unfortunate about this. There are a lot of people who support Obamacare, who want to sign up for these plans, and because of the problems with the web site, they're not able to right now.

ROSEN: I think we're a long way from this, you know, being that kind of crisis.

TAPPER: We're not there yet. No, no.

PONNURU: Deadline's in a couple weeks.

TAPPER: You said end of the year. They actually said end of November was what they originally said. We'll see. Hillary, Ramesh and Mike, thanks so much. Great to see all of you.

Coming up next in the POP CULTURE LEAD, it's the country music song of the year, based on true life heartbreak. We'll catch up with the real star of the song written about the son he lost.

Plus, he's the terrorist mastermind who allegedly planned the attack on Nobel Prize nominee, Malala and he just got a big promotion. Stay with us.


TAPPER: There were a lot of notable winners last night at the Country Music Awards, and one clear loser, the butt of many of the jokes, the affordable care act, also known as Obamacare.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I need to see a doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have that Obamacare?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obamacare, what's that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's great. It's great.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I started signing up last Thursday and I'm almost done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to wind up with hemorrhoids.


TAPPER: On a more serious moment, especially for an underappreciated community, Goldstar families, those who have lost a loved one in combat, was the announcement of the winner of song of the year, Lee Brace for "I Drive Your Truck." It's a song about the longing one man, Paul Monti, has for his son, Sgt. First Class Jared Monti, a Medal of Honor recipient who was killed in 2006 in Afghanistan. It has kind of a powerful impact on gold star families and once you meet Paul Monti, it will have a powerful impact on you, too.



TAPPER (voice-over): The CMA song of the year has a simple name, but it's the deep emotion, the inconceivable feeling of loss behind the song "I Drive Your Truck" that helped earn it the honor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much, Jared, for what you did for this country.

TAPPER: Jared Monte, an army sergeant first class who was killed in Afghanistan while trying to save a fellow soldier. The song is about the absence of Jared, really, the deep longing for him felt by his father, Paul.

PAUL MONTI, GOLDSTAR FATHER, SON KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN: Very humble kid, very hard-working kid, extremely adventurous kid. There was no hill too high, no tree too tall for Jared.

TAPPER: In 2011, Paul Monti told a reporter with Boston public radio about his operation flags for vets. His mission to place American flags on the graves of service members on Memorial Day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I have this right. Do you still drive Jared's truck?

MONTI: Yes, I do. I love driving it because it reminds me of him, though I don't need the truck to remind me of him. I think about him every hour of every day. It just so happened there was a songwriter from Nashville who was going home from work. She turned on NPR radio and heard the interview, and it struck her immediately.

TAPPER: Today, we caught up with Monti in Brockton, Massachusetts, where he's still living out his son's message of strength and duty and yes, still driving Jared's black Dodge Ram pickup. He was pleased to hear about the award.

MONTI: It was very uplifting. It was a song that's touched the hearts of Goldstar families throughout the country as well as other families that have lost their child. It's fitting that we have something out there that honors them, that they can hold on to.

TAPPER: Jared Monti was killed trying to save a fellow soldier during an intense firefight with as many as 50 insurgents on Hill 2610 in a remote area of Afghanistan in 2006. When one of the soldiers, Brian Bradberry, was severely wounded and pinned down under a barrage of gunfire, Jared tried to reach him three times. On his last attempt, he was hit by an RPG. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: They say his final words on that ridge far from home were of his faith and his family. I've made peace with God. Tell my family that I love them.

TAPPER: Working with two other songwriters, Connie Harrington found inspiration in Paul's words from that 2011 radio interview, and after Lee Bryce recorded the song, it hit number one on billboard's country air play chart. But Paul Monti had no idea. Sheryl Lee Patrick, the mother of one of the four soldiers killed on the hill that day, sent the song to Paul. She, too, drives her late son, Patrick's truck. But neither had any idea Paul was the song's inspiration.

MONTI: It was only after the song reached number one two years later, really, that I contacted with Connie Harrington and the songwriters.

TAPPER: Jared's truck gets bad mileage. It doesn't matter to Paul.

MONTI: I'm alone in the truck with him. It's just -- it's a very special peaceful feeling.

TAPPER: That peace is hard to come by.

MONTI: People tell you time heals all. Well, in this case, it doesn't. Losing a parent is one thing. That's your past. But losing a child, you've lost your future. You don't have those grandkids to look forward to and those special days of going to the ballpark together or going fishing. All of that that you envisioned is gone.


TAPPER: Paul Monti says his hope is that those who enjoy the song learn what a Goldstar family is and what those families go through. Listeners have to learn, he says, that freedom is not free. It's all paid for with the blood of our young men and women.

A new series from the minds at Marvel will be streaming to a Netflix account near you. The company plans to develop four original shows just for Netflix. They will center around the adventures of daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Lou Cage, a mini-series tying them together is also planned called "The Defenders." The streaming starts in 2015. Marvel has come a long way from comic books, its agents of shield is doing well on ABC, but the Netflix deal is their biggest leap into live action shows.

Coming up next, just when you thought it was safe to go outside, a few scientists ruin everything with a report on just how many asteroids are out there. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. It's really a mind-boggling thing being able to split the smallest building block of the universe to unleash the greatest power known to man. Over the past several decades, nuclear power has posed the greatest threat to human life and also provided a commercially viable clean source of energy for millions. Clean if you don't count the lethal toxic waste that will be around for whatever replaces us on this planet.

CNN's Drew Griffin is exploring the risks and rewards of nuclear power. Take a look.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The odds are very good you live not far from nuclear waste, sitting slowly decaying in temporary concrete casks like these. The odds are also very good you have been paying to get rid of it, in a small fee added every month to your electricity bill. But despite more than $37 billion collected so far by the federal government, to maintain, store and secure the nation's nuclear waste, it has not happened and here it sits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got 32 fuel assemblies that are stored in each one of these canisters.

GRIFFIN: Gerald Bischof runs the Dominion nuclear power plant in Virginia, which means he also runs the temporary storage site for the plant's spent nuclear fuel. You are looking at 15 years' worth of that waste, temporarily stored on site, waiting for the federal government to decide where to put it.

GERALD BISCHOF, VICE PRESIDENT, DOMINION GENERATION: That's right. The federal government was supposed to take possession of spent fuel from commercial nuclear facilities and it's been a struggle over the years to find the correct site, then Yucca Mountain was developed, a lot of money was invested, but that facility right now, the licensing of that facility has been suspended.

GRIFFIN: Yucca Mountain is the $10 billion nuclear waste repository that Congress first started back in 1982, passed again in 1987 and again in 2002.

ANNOUNCER: Yucca Mountain is the most fell thoroughly researched site --

GRIFFIN: To become the one place where all this waste would go. So why isn't it open? No one really wants a nuclear waste dump in their state. And powerful U.S. Senator Harry Reid promised his state's voters he would personally shut it down. Despite Yucca Mountain being the law of the land, that is exactly what Harry Reid managed to do.

Reid wouldn't comment for this story, but Gregory Jaczko did. He is Reid's controversial hand-picked former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He oversaw the defunding of Yucca Mountain.

GREGORY JACZKO, FORMER CHAIR, NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION: It simply was a project that was going nowhere, and is now dead, so it was never going --

GRIFFIN (on camera): You say it was going nowhere and now dead. It's going nowhere and now dead because of you and precisely because of Senator Reid not funding it.

JACZKO: Well, at the end of the day --

GRIFFIN: Isn't that the end of the day? He didn't want it. He wanted to get re-elected. Nevada politics said as much, and at the end of the day, this law, I mean, it was defunded.

JACZKO: Ultimately, Yucca Mountain was a failed public policy experiment. So as we go forward to look at this nuclear waste problem, we have to do it in a way that gets the buy-in from the communities or we will be in the same place that we were with Yucca Mountain, which is a site will never get built.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): So instead of one nuclear waste site out in the middle of the Nevada desert, there are dozens and dozens of them just like this scattered across the country. Is it safe? Yes, for now, but Bob Alvarez, an anti-nuclear activist and former senior policy advisor at the Department of Energy, says don't wait too long.

ROBERT ALVAREZ, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: They've become major radioactive waste management operations and are not being treated as such, and we have to come to terms with that and have a national policy to have this stuff safely stored and not in so-called interim jerry-rigged storage systems.

GRIFFIN: That's the real problem. We still have the waste. It isn't going anywhere, just sitting. What was temporary, now for years, waiting for Yucca Mountain to open or waiting for another Yucca Mountain to be found. Drew Griffin, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: This evening on CNN, a special report, "Pandora's Promise" a look at the future of nuclear energy that airs at 9:00 Eastern only on CNN.

We are getting a look now at new video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. It's not the one that purportedly shows him smoking crack cocaine. Ford admitted on Tuesday he has tried crack, probably, quote, "in a drunken stupor."

This new video was shot in his living room, which is apparently not in a van down by the river as you may have assumed. It would leave Ford red-faced were he not permanently red-faced to begin with and seemingly incapable of experiencing shame. Listen to his rant.


MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO: You've never seen me -- I will -- I need 10 minutes, make sure he's dead. No one's going to -- around with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: The mayor of Toronto, ladies and gentlemen. Not clear who he's so mad at there. Ford did address the tape, telling reporters while it is extremely embarrassing. He doesn't have a problem with everyone seeing it and says quote, "Obviously I was extremely, extremely inebriated," obviously.

Pakistan's Taliban has a new leader. They needed one because the last guy was killed last week in a drone strike. The new leader could be linked to an attack that made headlines around the world this year. Remember Malala? She was shot in the head on the way home from school because she dared speak out in favor of education for girls.

The new Pakistani Taliban leader is the man believed to have planned that attack. Military officials in Pakistan believe he's in Afghanistan ordering attacks from there. Malala survived the attack and has become a champion for girls education.

You might want to check your homeowners insurance policy and see whether you have asteroid coverage. There are way more flying around than we knew about before. Remember this insane video of asteroids raining down over Russia in February? More than a thousand people were hurt.

An analysis from that explosion shows that impacts like this happens an estimated seven times more than scientists originally thought. We are talking about as many as 20 million asteroids, about 60 feet wide, near us. Scientists are only tracking a few thousand of them. Sleep tight, America.

Check out our show page at for video blogs and extras. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jake, thanks very much.