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Obamacare Websites Functioning in Some State Exchanges; Senate Majority Leader Considering Nuclear Option for Presidential Nominees; John F. Kennedy Remembered on 50th Anniversary of Death; Interview with Kathleen Kenedy Townsend; Interview with Samantha Power

Aired November 21, 2013 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEW DAY. It's Thursday, November 21st, 7:00 in the east. Here's what happened while you were sleeping. A massive Boeing cargo jet somehow landed at the wrong airport in Wichita, Kansas. Now it's stuck. Why? The runway there simply too short for the dream lifter to lift back off. The custom built cargo jet was supposed to land at McConnell Air Force Base but touched down at this much smaller airport 12 miles away.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And Florida Congressman Trey Radel says he's hit bottom. He's now deciding to take a leave of absence from Congress and enter an inpatient drug treatment program. Radel did not say he would resign, didn't say much about his future, but did say he will be donating his salary to charity. Radel pled guilty to cocaine possession in a D.C. court and was sentenced to one year probation and a fine of $250.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of State John Kerry says there may be no better time for a nuclear deal with Iran than right now. The U.S. and other world powers in talks once again in Iran with -- let me try that again in in Geneva with Iran. Thank you very much.

CUOMO: It's a complicated situation.

PEREIRA: It is. I'm telling you. Kerry says all sides are closer than they've been in a long time, a potential deal that would rollback sanctions in return for assurances that Iran isn't developing a nuclear weapon has met resistance at here at home in Congress and Israel as well.

CUOMO: Fiasco, debacle -- you've heard the doom and gloom descriptions of Obamacare since its fumbled, rumbled, and stumbled rollout last month. While the president's health care overhaul clearly hasn't lived up to expectations, it's not completely off the rails either. Would you be surprised to learn Obamacare is actually working in several states? Jim Acosta, live from the White House. Is that true what I just said or completely wrong?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: In some states but not all states, Chris, that's right. Just nine days to go until the White House target date of November 30th for the vast majority of users to be able to use the website healthcare.gov. And while it is still a source of health care heartburn, other parts of the program are showing some signs of life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Just as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was touring an Obamacare signup center in Florida this week and chatting with volunteers about healthcare.gov, the website crashed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Screen saver, sorry, the system is temporarily down.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: That's OK. It will come back. You know, that happens every day.

ACOSTA: As it turns out, the struggling website is exactly the scenario administration officials quietly fear. As more e-mails released by house Republicans reveal top HHS official Henry Chao was warning dozens of his colleagues the White House worried the site was not ready one week before its October 1st launch. Referring to White House chief technology officer Todd Park, Chao wrote "One of the things Todd conveyed was this fear the White House has about healthcare.gov being unavailable." Chao even e-mailed out a screen grab of the site when it was down.

HENRY CHAO, DEPUTY CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER, CMS: Right now it's about focusing on fixing the problem.

ACOSTA: As Chao told lawmakers this week, healthcare.gov is getting better every day.

CHAO: The error rate of people experiencing some level of difficulty with moving from stage to stage in the online application, that has been reduced and improved.

ACOSTA: What's also improving, enrollment. More than 133,000 people have now signed up for Obamacare on the state health exchanges, and the White House released an economic report that notes the nation's health care costs are shrinking under Obamacare. A trend officials say could translate into more than 250,000 jobs by the end of the decade. It's a story line that could attract more attention were it not for all the questions about healthcare.gov, the website the White House says will be ready for the vast majority of users by November 30th.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're working to have as many options for Americans to enroll as possible to help meet the pent up demand that we've seen.

ACOSTA: It's a White House mission to rescue the policy from the punch lines.

CONAN O'BRIEN, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: Yesterday president Obama urged Americans not to be put off by the Obamacare website and he offered alternative ways to enroll such as using the mail.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Then the president got back on his horse and rode off to spread the news to the next town. Let's go!

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: As for those enrollment numbers, the White House says the federal numbers for healthcare.gov will not be ready till next month. And as for the news coming out of states, it is not all good, guys. In the state of Oregon officials held a contentious hearing yesterday trying to demand why that state's online exchange has yet to sign up anybody. That's right, not one person yet. And at this point, they're still receiving applications by mail and by fax. That's how dire the situation is out in Oregon.

BOLDUAN: Clearly administration, the White House will take any good news when it comes to the numbers at this point. Jim, thank you very much.

Now to Capitol Hill where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may resort to extreme measures to keep Republicans from blocking presidential nominees. So is Reid ready to go nuclear? Our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash is following this live from Washington. Dana, coming from Capitol Hill you're always trying to avoid getting into process because it can make your eyes glaze over, but this is important.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very important. It's because of frustration over Republicans blocking the president's nominees. A senior Democratic source tells me this morning that the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid is poised to launch the nuclear option this week, maybe even as soon as today, Kate. It's called the nuclear option because it's a rules change that could make a partisan environment even more divisive because it would take the minority's right to filibuster, which is sacrosanct, away.

Here's what we're talking about. Let's just lay it out with the numbers. Under current rules it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster. The rule change would take that away for the president's nominees and allow confirmation by 51 votes, a simple majority. Look at the current balance power in the Senate as to the reason why Democrats want this, why it would benefit Democrats. They have 55 Senate seats, Republicans have 45. So they take away the filibuster, they can get the president's nominees confirmed.

BOLDUAN: But as you always say, you may be in the majority now but that doesn't mean you'll always be in the majority. That's why Democrats have been reluctant to get behind this option to this point. What's different this time?

BASH: You're exactly right. The truth is that Senator Reid hasn't necessarily had to the support even of his own Democratic caucus because some veteran senators are reluctant to change the rules out of reverence for the institution. But more importantly, Kate, what you said. They know the Democrats won't always be in the majority in the Senate. They will be in the minority one day. And the beauty of the way the Senate works, as opposed to the House, is the minority has more power. The power of the filibuster is a huge one.

But Senate veterans even like Dianne Feinstein of California, they have been changing their minds in recent days, saying that things are so broken in Washington the nuclear option may be the only way to fix it. And I'm hearing that Reid feels more confident he's at least close to having enough support for his caucus that he could make the changes as soon as today.

The last thing I will say is an important one. Republicans argue that Democrats don't really have that big of a problem with the president's nominees and they're just simply trying to change the subject away from Obamacare and the rollout debacle.

BOLDUAN: Another illustration of just how little trust there is right now between the two parties.

BASH: It could get a whole lot worse.

BOLDUAN: You're right. Thank you, Dana. Great to see you.

CUOMO: A bad indication of the Democrats' desire to change that dynamic themselves by changing the rules they're saying we don't have to change the dynamic. That's a problem.

BOLDUAN: They're also saying all bets are off. They're kind of saying that, too.

PEREIRA: I was talking yesterday, to change the subject completely, about the idea of a snow vacation. It looks as though --

CUOMO: A snow-cation.

PEREIRA: A snow-cation. It could happen out west.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're going back west, Michaela, because we're talking about Mammoth. We love Mammoth. They saw a good amount of snow yesterday, one to three inches still in the forecast for them. The bull's-eye over Colorado today, over a foot of snow expected for them. That's one side of the system out in the west. The other side is where it's warmer in the southwest. They're going to be talking about heavy rain and flooding chances. This will be a big story, another four to six inches of rain towards the weekend. We'll be looking for the flooding concerns as we go through the weekend.

The other system we'll be watching is the one that today is into the Midwest. Not looking for heavy rain, looking at some of the stronger showers. But this is going to be the same system that will be making its way to the northeast by the weekend. As far as the rain amounts here again, we're seeing the higher amounts around the gulf, maybe about an inch through Illinois today, monitoring that out through Washington, Illinois. The big story with this is going to be the temperatures. I want to show you, Friday, maybe some light showers by the evening hours. Look at these temperatures, New York City 53, Philly 58. Now let's take a look at Sunday. This is how quick things are changing. We are talking about 30s and 20s as your high. To make it even more exciting, maybe some snow, Michaela, Sunday morning here. The only difference this time I will be asleep for it because it's on a weekend.

PEREIRA: Can't snowboard in it, though?

PETERSONS: This much, no.

BOLDUAN: That's your bunny slope.

PEREIRA: A couple more inches. Thanks, Indra.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, closer than we've been in a decade. Secretary of State Kerry is talking up the chances for a nuclear deal with Iran. That's what he says. That's how close he says we are. But is it all it's cracked up to be? We're going to discuss the prospect with the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power.

BOLDUAN: Also ahead, 50 years after John F. Kennedy's assassination, we're going to talk with his niece about his legacy and the mystery that still surrounds his death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. But his spirit has lived on as evidenced by the awarding of the presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday, an honor founded by President Kennedy. Joining us now to talk more about this anniversary is Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the late president's niece and Robert F. Kennedy's daughter. It's great to see you. Thanks so much for coming in.

KATHLEEN KENNEDY TOWNSEND, DAUGHTER OF ROBERT F. KENNEDY: It's good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Of course. I just want to get your take as we approach the 50th anniversary of his assassination. You were with the president and the former president yesterday, not only for the medal ceremony, but you then have the honoring of him at Arlington Cemetery. What is the message on this 50th anniversary? What is JFK's legacy?

TOWNSEND: President Obama spoke very beautifully last night at the dinner for the Medal of Freedom winners in which he talked about what president Kennedy gave us is a great sense of spirit. And that's what I think of President Kennedy's legacy. He challenged -- was the spirit of youth, not to take challenges, to do things that were difficult, raise us up as a people and individuals.

When he talked about going to the moon, not because it was easy but because it was tough, he talked about -- he asked us what we could do for our country and launched the Peace Corps and called it the toughest job you'll ever love. So what I think President Kennedy did is say, each of us can be better, can produce more, give more, serve more.And that's something that touches each of us in our heart. And it keeps us -- why 50 years after his death we're still remembering him.

CUOMO: Maybe more resonant, Kathleen, today than it even was 50 years ago in terms of a need for it, certainly in politics. You've responded to the call. You've held high office. You do a lot to help those around you. Anyone who knows you knows that.

The efforts toward peace, though, is something unique to President Kennedy that doesn't get a whole lot of attention. What do you know about where he was on that?

TOWNSEND: Oh, Chris, I'm so glad you raised that. As you know, early in his term we had the Bay of Pigs, which was a disaster. And it was not well executed. In fact, it looked like the CIA and military weren't really giving President Kennedy the full story.

And afterwards, President Kennedy was very depressed. And he thought he was a failure, what could he do? And my father, Robert Kennedy, was trying to cheer him up. So he said, "Why don't we call dad? Why don't we call my grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy?" And Grandpa said, "This is the best thing that could have ever happened to you. Because it means that you now won't trust the generals and you won't trust the CIA."

And that was excellent advice, for instance, during the Cuban Missile Crisis when, as you remember or you know, many of the generals said, 'We have to bomb Cuba,' and President Kennedy resisted. And as a result, we're all here today.

BOLDUAN: Kathleen, looking forward and carrying on the Kennedy name, Jack, President Kennedy's grandson, introduced President Obama last night. I think we saw some video of that there. How do you see him picking up the torch and carrying on?

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm very excited about him and the many, many younger members of our family. I think he definitely is interested in public service. He's actually studying Japanese because his mother is the ambassador to Japan. And he's studying history. And I think that indicates a real interest in what's going on in the country.

And we don't know - there are many -- what we learned last night and what President Obama said so well, there are many ways to make a difference and contribution. Politics is certainly one of them. We grew up learning that politics was an honorable profession. So that may be open to him. But there's lots of other possibilities as well.

BOLDUAN: True.

CUOMO: He's so smart. He's so good looking. Don't put pressure on him to go into politics. He could do so much more, Kathleen.

TOWNSEND: Well, Chris, you should know.

(LAUGHTER)

CUOMO: Don't do that. I know what that's like. Don't do that to the poor guy.

Let me ask you something else. A point of fascination about the president is, of course, how is life was taken, the assassination. How do you feel about that emphasis? I understand the allure of conspiracy and who did it and how many and why, but as family, how do you feel about that aspect of fascination?

TOWNSEND: Well, Chris, you may know that on the day of President Kennedy's funeral, my father wrote a letter to me in which he said, "Dear Kathleen, you seem to understand that Jack died and was buried today. As the oldest of the Kennedy grandchildren, you have a special responsibility. Be kind to others and take care of your family, work for your country. Love, Daddy."

And I think that set the tone for what we were going to do about how President Kennedy died. It was an awful tragedy and we could have spent the last 50 years trying to figure out what happened.

And instead, the message that we got -- I got and I think my brothers and sisters and cousins got from our -- you know, my father and others, was to go forward, be kind, don't be resentful, don't be angry about this. Don't look for revenge. Continue to serve our country. And I think that that's why it was so appropriate that yesterday on my father's -- on what would have been my father's 88th birthday, President Obama and President Clinton came to Arlington to celebrate a life, not just the death.

CUOMO: Very well said, Kathleen.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Great to see you. Thank you so much for your time.

TOWNSEND: Thanks for remembering.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

And make sure that you catch "THE ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT KENNEDY." That's airing tonight, 9 eastern and pacific right here on CNN.

Going to take a break, but coming up next on NEW DAY, a dramatic reversal in the Rebecca Sedwick bullying case. Criminal charges now dropped against her accused tormentors. We're going to tell you what happened and what happens next.

CUOMO: And is a deal on Iran's nuclear ambitions really imminent? Secretary of State John Kerry seems to think so. We're going to ask U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Thursday, November 21. Coming up in the show, a deal has been reached about U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. Will it be approved? Should there be any level at all? U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power makes the case.

BOLDUAN: We'll talk to get in just a bit. And also ahead, we have an update to a bullying story that we've been following very closely.

Stalking charges have been dropped against two teens accused of bullying a girl who later killed herself. We're going to talk with the sheriff who arrested the girls coming up.

PEREIRA: But, let's start by giving you a look at your headlines at this hour.

A massive cargo plane, stuck in a tiny airport in Wichita this morning. It landed there by mistake. The Dream Lifter left New York's JFK airport for McConnell Air Force base last night but the pilot somehow landed at the smaller Jabara (ph) airport in Wichita. That jet requires over 9,000 feet of runway to take off. Jabara's airport runway, barely 6,000 feet. The FAA is now investigating.

Florida Congressman Trey Radel says he's going to take a leave of absence to undergo intensive treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. This comes after the freshman Republican's guilty plea for possession of cocaine. Radel received a year's probation for the misdemeanor charge. While he's away, he plans to donate his salary to charity.

The search is on right now for a gunman who opened fire at an apartment near Houston. Two women and a man have been shot dead. Another man and woman were airlifted to the hospital. All five of them were shot in the head, all in their late teens or early 20s. Investigators say this is at least the third shooting in the area in the last two weeks involving teens.

A New York police officer was one of four bikers who pleaded not guilty Wednesday to gang assault in that attack on an SUV driver that was all caught on tape. Thirty-two-year-old Wojciech Braszczok was off duty last September when a mob viciously beat Alexian Lian in front of his terrified wife and infant daughter. In all, 11 people have been charged.

We have got some crazy video to show you. Watch driver Brian Gillespie take a souped up Honda to the brink and beyond. This is a speed test run in southern California earlier this month. He reaches a speed of about 209 miles per hour in the El Mirage dry lakes bed, when things go terribly wrong. That car flipping some dozen times or so. The car's exterior completely destroyed, but this is what is truly remarkable. He suffered only a punctured lung, cuts, bruises and possibly a concussion, and is actually now out of the hospital. That's amazing he could survive that.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely right.

CUOMO: Can't see that too often.

PEREIRA: No.

BOLDUAN; Thanks, Michaela.

PEREIRA: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: New this morning, President Obama, telling Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, in a brand new letter that he's pleased their countries have reached an agreement on the role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. That letter containing no apology as was talked about, as was rumored.

Samantha Power is the United States ambassador to the United Nations. She is joining us now to talk about this and much, much more.

You have a very full plate right now, to say the very least.

SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: At least I'm not in that car.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: Good point. Some good perspective. Thanks for coming in, Ambassador.

So let's talk about this first, this security agreement. It had been discussed, as you know, that there was a discrepancy that Afghanistan was expecting there to be an apology for past mistakes, but rather on the U.S. side they said it was going to be a letter of assurances. Is this a distinction without a difference or does it not matter?

POWER: Well, I mean, I think what the letter does is it tries to offer the reassurance that the United States in whatever role it stays in -- and we're negotiating that, of course, training, equipping, assisting on counterterrorism -- will respect the rights and the privacy of the Afghan people. That's something that mattered to Karzai.

We, of course, always respect the Afghan people and try to avoid civilian casualties and have done that from the time that we have been there. So we've been very clear we have nothing to apologize for. Our soldiers have sacrificed a great deal to give Afghanistan the chance it now has to move forward.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Where do you think that comes from, the perception that it was an apology, from the Afghan side they were saying, you know, 'You've hurt civilians here, these drone attacks and whatnot. And you should say you're sorry.' And it kind of fed into the apologist mentality that some ascribe to the administration?

POWER: Well, again, I mean, I think what we're seeking to do is to secure an agreement that enables us to continue to work together beyond the end of the combat role in Afghanistan. We've come a really long way in those negotiations; we're very close. It now stands with the Loya Jirga.

And I think the Afghan people are well aware, if you look at even the popular polls of what the American people have -- and the American military in particular, have sacrificed in order to improve conditions in Afghanistan. And the proof of how we're getting along, I guess, is how much they want us to stay and continue to assist in the train/equipment and assist role.

BOLDUAN: I want to get your take on the state of the negotiations with Iran, a lot happening today, obviously, in Geneva. But when you, kind of, take the current state of negotiations, the fact that secretary says this is the best chance that we've in a decade to pull this off, but the fact that the Ayatollah coming out and really making some very inflammatory comments, calling Israel a dirty, rabid dog, and also criticizing the U.S., you have those comments. How would you find confidence that Iran can get to "yes"?

POWER: First, let me, obviously, condemn the comments of the Ayatollah, which are abhorrent. What I will say is that we have decades of mistrust, partly on the basis of comments like this, partly on the basis of the continued steady progress toward a nuclear weapon. And that's why we're in the negotiations in the first place, right, is to ensure that a regime like that does not acquire a nuclear weapon, pose a threat not only to Israel but to the broader region and to mankind.

So that's why we're at the table in the first place. Again, we're called to take -- to ensure that those weapons are not obtained. And the reason that we are inclined to go forward with a first step is precisely also because of that lack of trust. So as to obtain a more intrusive inspections regime so as to be able to tell, you know, rather than going from zero to 60, have an interim step to be able to say, do they even follow through on commitments to roll back, to dilute, you know, to lower the stockpile, et cetera.

So we would be -- I think, it would be unrealistic to think that we could obtain trust at the end of a long negotiating process such that I would come here and present to you a comprehensive deal. We think a first step's very important, again, precisely because we have to test this regime.

CUOMO: And what's wrong with the first step being one that they take? Because that obviously would help quell the paranoia, right, from what we see in Syria, who knows what they're doing with the weapons, whether or not they're going to comply, applying it to Iran, let them take the step, let them have the inspectors come in and show that they're actually shutting down what we want shut down. And then we'll talk about what we do. What do you think of that?