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Train Derailment Investigation Continues; President Obama Touts Affordable Care Act; "I Wish I Hadn't Called It 'Obamacare'"; Cyber Monday Hits Sales Record

Aired December 3, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey. Have you heard about this thing called the Affordable Care Act? Because the president is not sure that you have.

I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The national lead. He knows the rollout was a disaster. He knows many think he broke his promise about being able to keep their plans. But, now, with the Obamacare Web site kind of sort of working, the president is making his sales pitch to the American people again.

Also in national news, we already know the train was going too fast. Now we know that the engineer says he was in a daze before it derailed. What else will we learn when investigators update us this hour on that deadly train crash in the Bronx?

And the pop culture lead. Johnny's in the basement mixing up the medicine. I'm on the pavement thinking about the French government charging Bob Dylan for inciting hate? Bob Dylan? The times, indeed, are a changing.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. It's great to be back with you. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the national lead. For most of the year, Paula Deen held the award for worst public relations disaster, and then of course Obamacare rolled out, ushering in two months of bad headlines, frustrated customers, Web site crashes and canceled policies.

During that time, President Obama explained, excused, and eventually apologized. But now the White House with the claiming that handled one million visitors yesterday without any major issues, the president is now launching a massive three-week-long blitz to entice Americans back to the Web site to sign up for insurance policies.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bottom line is this law is working and will work into the future. People want the financial stability of health insurance and we're going to keep on working to fix whatever problems come up.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: And so it begins. And this will last until December 23, the deadline for people to enroll if they want plans beginning on January 1.

Each day the White House says they will plug different benefits that you can get through Obamacare with help from Democrats and progressive action groups. Even though we have heard more insurance pitches from the president in the last few months than Bill Murray endured in "Groundhog Day."


OBAMA: Just visit

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Funny you should mention your health because...

OBAMA: The deal is good. The prices are low.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I sell insurance.

BILL MURRAY, ACTOR: What a shock.

OBAMA: They're leaving a million people right now without health insurance.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I got the feeling you ain't got any.

OBAMA: People want affordable health care.


TAPPER: Oh, Ned Ryerson.

Even if the president succeeds in his career as an insurance salesman over the next three weeks, there are a lot of big questions about the implementation of his law.

Joining me now from the White House is David Simas, deputy senior adviser to the president.

David, thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate it.

I want to start by asking you about some Obama administration e-mails CNN obtained from before the launch. It suggests, these e-mails, that there were individuals in the government and with one of the contractors concerned about some fundamental promises the administration made, particularly about securing people's private health information.

In one e-mail, dated on September 10, George Linares from CMS, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, indicates That the site is storing personal details and he writes -- quote -- "This process in itself contradicts all of prior CMS statements."

This was written before the launch. Can you assure us that whatever concerns there were about the personal identifiable information, the PII, that we were told would not be on the hub of, that all that was worked out and none of this personal information can be assessed through the computer, through computers, through the Internet?

DAVID SIMAS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: That's exactly right, Jake. There's no PII on the federal data hub.

The federal data hub is basically a conduit that's used basically to determine eligibility and basically see what kind of subsidies and other information are available to consumers.

Jake, as you know, the system undergoes a tremendous amount of testing around security. It met the conditions of the Federal Information Security Management Act. It complies with the standards for security, and it complies with the same standards of security that are in place for Social Security.

As we identify any problems that occur, we continue to address them, but I can say very, very directly there's no PII on the federal data hub, period.

TAPPER: All right, David. "The Washington Post" has reported also that since October 1, about a third they estimate of those who have signed up for plans on the site have errors in their enrollment records. That would mean some folks who think they have successfully signed up for insurance might not be getting what they expect on time.

The information that's given to the insurance companies is incorrect. I know that the White House disputes that number. Can you tell us what the number is?

SIMAS: So, what I can tell you, Jake, is what the process that folks are undergoing right now, which is an important process that's a collaboration between CMS and the insurance companies.

Just over the past weekend, they put in new fixes. And for folks at home, essentially the 834 is a way to transfer the enrollment from to the insurance companies and there were some errors that it developed in the first couple of months. That's significantly getting better, and now there are teams that are working through these on a daily basis to make sure it's even better.

One final point on this, and I believe CMS has spoken to this, that over the course of the next two to three weeks, CMS is going to be reaching out to folks who are enrolled through the federal marketplace just to confirm with them, to make sure that they have made the connection with the insurance company so that they're covered on January 1.

So that's something that we're going to work through to make sure happens with folks.

TAPPER: David, I want to play some sound from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte from earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: From Obamacare, to immigration, the current administration is picking and choosing which laws to enforce.


TAPPER: Now, I think when it comes to Obamacare, the president has been criticized and Mr. Goodlatte was referring to delaying the employer mandate and other things that the president has done because you weren't going to be able to make deadline.

What exactly is the authority for the president to decide which parts of Obamacare to enforce at which date?

SIMAS: Jake, as the representative knows, and as folks who are on that committee knows, the president is using his prosecutorial discretion that's built into the law to make sure that there's a smooth implementation of the law. That's part of the function of making sure that you roll things out smoothly and importantly.

Just have one point to make on the hearings such as the one today. What is striking is that over the course of the past two months, while we try to fix the Web site and make sure that the million visits that went on to, that those people have a good experience and are able to buy insurance, we're trying to make this better, when there is no alternative that's being proffered in any of these hearings from House Republicans and specifically that committee today.

So everything that we are doing is consistent with the law, and is with the intention of making sure that the American people have access to affordable quality health care, and that's the whole point of the Affordable Care Act.

TAPPER: David, one million people visited the site yesterday, but I believe I read that 18,000 signed up? That's a very low rate of people actually enrolling for Obamacare, enrolling in the Affordable Care Act, if you have a million visitors.

SIMAS: So, Jake, first of all, I'm not going to confirm how many enrollments there were yesterday. We will release those numbers later on in the month.

But here's what I think we learned in the Massachusetts experience in 2007. And Jon Kingsdale, who ran that, speaks to this eloquently. When people go on to a Web site to look at insurance products, they go back eight, nine, 10 times. They spend 20 minutes or 30 minutes looking at their different options because this isn't an impulse purchase. It's about making sure that you find the plan that works best for you.


TAPPER: But, David, if that's the case, David, if that's the case, why not just share the numbers? The president has talked many times about transparency. And it seems like the White House releases numbers that are good when they want to and bad ones they hide as much as possible. We don't know how many of those 834 forms are faulty. We don't know how many people, for sure, enrolled in Obamacare. But you're out there talking about a million visitors. Why not just put all the information out there? The American people are grownups.

SIMAS: So, Jake, in terms of releasing numbers, this is like Medicare, it's like Medicaid. It's like the monthly release of jobs numbers. We said from the beginning that, once a month, so we can do quality control to make sure that we have got the numbers in from the different states, we will release the numbers.

And we will do that again in December for the month of November. We are working night and day to make sure -- and we have crossed an important threshold with to make sure that it's up and running and it's functional, and we will continue to release some information, like today's announcement from CMS that just in the month of October, Jake, just in October, 1.46 million people were made eligible for Medicaid.

Now, that's part of a regular release of information, and we will have more on enrollment in a couple weeks.

TAPPER: David Simas at the White House, thank you so much for your time.

SIMAS: Jake, thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: The engineer admits he was in a daze moments before that deadly train derailment in New York. Was he solely responsible for the crash? We're waiting for another update from the National Transportation Safety Board, and we will bring it to you live.

But, first, Bill Clinton defends himself from critics who say he was trying to help his wife by tweaking President Obama.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now it's time for the politics lead. And the first rule about rebranding Obamacare, you do not talk about Obamacare. Today, the White House launched a three-week blitz on the public's perception of the Affordable Care Act, because, according to Press Secretary Jay Carney, Obamacare does not exist anymore.

Here's what he told CNN's Jim Acosta.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jim -- I, first of all, there's not an insurance policy called Obamacare. I think it's important to your viewers that they understand that they're purchasing private insurance.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Still, the president didn't shy away from the term today when he was defending the law.


OBAMA: That seems to be the only alternative that Obamacare's critics have is, well, let's just go back to the status quo, because they sure haven't presented an alternative.


TAPPER: So what's in a name?

Let's bring in our panel, editor of "The Weekly Standard" Bill Kristol, former Arkansas Senator and chairwoman of the It's My Business Coalition Blanche Lincoln, and Washington bureau chief for "USA Today" Susan Page.

Senator Lincoln, I want to start with you.

President Clinton -- former President Bill Clinton is slapping down reports that a few weeks ago he was trying to give Hillary Clinton, his wife, who may be running for president some day, some cover when he suggested that President Obama should honor his promise, if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.

Here's what he said to CNN Espanol's Juan Carlos today.


JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN EN ESPANOL CORRESPONDENT: Many believe you did it to distance your wife, former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton, thinking of a presidential run.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The answer to the first question is no.

First of all, I said nothing about this, not one word, until the president himself spoke.


TAPPER: What do you think? What do you make of it?

BLANCHE LINCOLN (D), FORMER ARKANSAS SENATOR: Well, I -- who knows? If Hillary runs, I hope she does, I'll be right there behind her just like I was last time. But I do think it's important to keep promises. And I think that continuing to work to make sure that the Affordable Care Act works and gets rolled out in a way that people can access it is essential.

TAPPER: Bill? Bill Clinton, your thoughts?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: First, I feel like I have to say three or four times, Obamacare, Obamacare, Obamacare, since Jay Carney is now forbidden. As you said, the president uses it all the time but somehow --

TAPPER: Last year on the campaign trail, he said it, I like it, Obama cares.

KRISTOL: When you don't like -- exactly -- when you don't like the policy you get on the exchanges, that's not Obamacare, that's just some private insurance company giving you a policy.

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: When it's wonderful benefits, it's Obamacare. I guess that's just politics.

Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton is great, you know? Bill Clinton is -- he is 24/7 worrying about Mrs. Clinton, Secretary Clinton's chances for 2016. She'll be in a tricky position, I mean, having to -- she was part of the Obama administration. She can't really walk away from it.

On the other hand, she's not going to want, I think, to inherit all the baggage that might be there by 2016.

TAPPER: There is something about whether or not calling it Obamacare is a problem, Susan. Today, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters, quote, "I wish I hadn't called it Obamacare before because that has politicized it and has been used by Republicans as a pejorative term."

By calling it Obamacare, it's a pejorative term. That's interesting coming from a House Democratic leader.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY: Yes, well, the source is surprising but the fact is true. The Gallup organization, in fact, tested that in their poll and they found that the Affordable Care Act gets higher ratings than Obamacare. You can describe exactly the same policy but labeling it with Obama does inject very partisan politics into it.

So, it would -- but I think the White House decided, I mean, whatever Jay Carney said today, the White House decided a long time ago, it's going to be called Obamacare. That is a losing battle. Talk to headline raters who have to fit Affordable Care Act into a headline and they'll tell you Obamacare --

TAPPER: By the way, isn't even the full name, right? It's actually longer than that.

That you're speaking of that Gallup poll about how the Affordable Care Act tests better than Obamacare. Actually, Jimmy Kimmel, a friend of the show, put that to the test on the streets of Los Angeles.


QUESTION: Do you agree with the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare?


QUESTION: And why do you prefer the Affordable Care Act over Obamacare?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just don't agree with the whole Obamacare policy thing that's going on.


TAPPER: Now, the truth is, most people are busy. Day live their lives. They're not like us focused on all this policy, but this does indicate a communications problem for the White House.

KRISTOL: No, I don't agree.

TAPPER: You don't?

KRISTOL: Nothing's changed in the last two months, whether it's called Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act. What's changed in the last two months, real people are getting real insurance policies canceled and seeing what they can get on the exchange and don't mike what they're getting. It's reality. It's not communications.

And I think the president can tell himself and the White House staff can tell themselves, gee, if we give more speeches and say this and say that, their problem is the actual results of Obamacare are bad for an awful lot of Americans and getting worse I think.

LINCOLN: Well, they do have to give more speeches and they got to get out and sell it. But the Affordable Care Act, that's what I've called it all along, you know, it does matter what you call it because for me, as a member of Congress, when I would go home to my state, people would say, I want what you have.

Well, what we had was an FEHBP. It was the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan. It was private insurance we got at a good price with good coverage because all 8 million federal employees were pooled together and when the OPM negotiated, they got us a good deal from private insurers.

KRISTOL: And you could choose among the private insurers. You didn't have to choose one that included mandated health benefits. You shouldn't just --

LINCOLN: They had to meet the state mandates.

KRISTOL: Well, which all insurance plans have had to. You should have expanded --


LINCOLN: Olympia and I tried to do that.

KRISTOL: They'd be better off, if you had succeeded, the president would have been better off.

TAPPER: Final thought from Susan.

PAGE: There are policies and programs that where a PR campaign can help. This isn't one of them because this affects people's lives. They'll make their own judgment, good or bad, about whether this has worked to help them, and their families, and their relatives and their neighbors. And that is Obama's problem but it's also his hope.

TAPPER: Potential solution. If the Web site is up and if it actually does, what they promise it would do for a majority of Americans.

PAGE: Yes.

TAPPER: Susan, Bill, Blanche, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

Coming up, later this hour, the National Transportation Safety Board will update us on cause of Sunday's Metro North train crash and maybe shed light on who's to blame.

PAGE: And if you're like most Americans, you bought those jeans 50 percent off from the comfort of your couch while eating Thanksgiving leftovers. But did the success of Cyber Monday come at Black Friday's expense?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Now, it's time for the money lead. Here's one important lesson that we learned this holiday shopping season. People are much more into getting a deal on flat screen TVs from the comforts of their laptops or smartphones versus getting tackled WWE style at a store on Black Friday. Go figure.

Cyber Monday sales hit record highs this year, at least one online shopping research group says sales were up nearly 20 percent. What's still not clear is whether that will be enough to lift retailers out of their Black Friday funk. Despite the fact most stores opened before your uncle could hit the sweet spot in his annual drunken Thanksgiving tirade, this year, Black Friday spending took a 13 percent dip.

Joining me now live from Chicago is Diane Swonk. She's a chief economist and senior managing director of Mesirow Financial.

Diane, thanks for being here.

Let's start with Cyber Monday. Why such a huge jump in spending this year versus years past? Were the deals that much better?

DIANE SWONK, MESIROW FINANCIAL: They actually were. We're seeing much more of the kinds of promotions you saw in stores on Black Friday which I think has become Red Friday because they almost had a loss now and was extended on, as you said, on Thanksgiving Day, it was crazy.

But those sales, I know one of my colleagues got online at 1:00 a.m. because he knew he could get ahold of those sales at 1:00 a.m. Of course, he works for me so I worry what he was doing at 1:00 a.m. on Monday morning. But he was online. He wasn't online -- we call it Cyber Monday because people used to come into work because they had faster Internet service.

And like you said, you know, now people have it an smartphones, tablets, get access to the Internet just about anywhere. And with free shipping which is almost standard this holiday season, along with they have these windows of sales operations for the next two hours you get an extra 30 percent off. That has sort of pushed it and it really is a sign of people seeking out the best deals as well.

TAPPER: And, Diane, how big a role are smartphones playing in the Cyber Monday boom?

SWONK: I think they're huge. I think the whole expansion of, you know, how we can get access to these sales is important but also the fact there is a blurred line. I mean, what is an online sale?

We know that the Commerce Department says it's less than 10 percent of overall retail sales. But a lot of brick and mortar retailers, you know, it's a blur of where do the sales end at the store and where do they begin? Because sometimes you can pick up the things at the store, or whether they begin online.

And so, there are some things offered only online. I actually had to look up because my son is 16. The Xbox One , the PlayStation 4, those actually are not being offered at the premium that most people thought they would be today on eBay. So, I know on that side of it, everyone thought they were sold out October 1st, they put them up on eBay. Guess what? They're a lot cheaper. I guess I should have waited for my son.

TAPPER: You always can wait.

SWONK: His birthday was November 11th. It was for his birthday.

TAPPER: You couldn't have waited then.

SWONK: Right.

TAPPER: Retailers -- what I wonder about, retailers seem to be more nervous this year than in years past. We're seeing some of that play out on Wall Street. But it would seem to figure that people are still spending. It's just a question of whether they do it at retailers or online.

Why would Wall Street worry, why so much anxiety if it's all money being spent?

SWONK: Well, that's a good question. I think the real issue is, you know, consumer confidence started to deteriorate before we had the government shutdown. Then it took a plummet. It's really not come back. And retailers are scared because we had a weak back-to-school season.

We've have -- birthrates have fallen since 2008. That means fewer zero to 5-year-olds out there. Who do we spend on Christmas? The holiday sales, on children. So, all of those things coming together with a weak economy, and consumers who know frankly they won't buy anything at least until it's 30 percent off. That is cutting into retailer margins.

So, no matter how consumers are spending, it feels like it's going to be a mediocre holiday season. That's what Wall Street is worried about.

TAPPER: Well, bad news. Diane Swonk, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

Happy birthday to your son.

Coming up, the train was barreling at 85 miles an hour when it hit the deadly turn. We'll bring you the latest on the Bronx story and a live press conference just a minute away.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In national news, any minute now, we'll bring you a live news conference from the National Transportation Safety Board. They'll give us the latest on their investigation into that harrowing Metro North train derailment that killed four people in the Bronx on Sunday.

But CNN has already learned that the train's engineer, William Rockefeller, told investigators at the scene he was, quote, in a daze just before the accident. That news coming from two senior New York law enforcement sources.

However, Rockefeller also said the brakes failed him, as CNN has also reported.

The NTSB has revealed that the train was speeding at 82 miles per hour when it reached a sharp curve with a 30 mile per hour limit. The locomotive and all seven cars jumped the tracks, a mass of twisting metal.

Our Nic Robertson is standing by at the site of the NTSB news conference in Yonkers, New York, and I also want to bring in John Goglia, he's a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Nic, any indication about what we're going to hear from the NTSB.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRRESPONDENT: Well, if they have been talking with the train engineer, Rockefeller, today, then there may be a few more details to come forward from that. Yesterday, they were reluctant to give any information about their interview with him until it was concluded --

TAPPER: Nic, I'm sorry to be rude.


ROBERTSON: -- until Tuesday, we're going to hear more.

TAPPER: Yes, we're going to hear more right now. I apologize for being rude. Let's go live to the NTSB press conference.