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Interview with Greg Louganis; Cult Comment Called Out; New Hampshire Democrat Under Fire for Obamacare

Aired December 18, 2013 - 16:30   ET



In world news, it's not an Olympic boycott like some LBGT advocates want to see but ahead of the winter games in Sochi, Russia, the White House is making a very in-your-litzo move to Vladimir Putin. Litzo is Russian for face.

Just a few weeks from today you'll see banners and emblems of every stripe and color hoisted high during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, except for rainbows probably. Those could get you arrested. Russia has passed a strict law banning so-called gay propaganda.

President Obama had criticized it had and today the White House announced that no one from the administration, not the president, not the first lady, nobody will attend the games, but you know who will? Some prominent openly gay American athletes as part of the U.S. Olympic delegation, including tennis legend and former U.S. Olympic coach Billie Jean King.

Would Russia really enforce these laws against visiting Americans? Well, Lady Gaga's promoter was sued for, quote, "promoting homosexuality" with one of her concerts last year and she lost. Well, if Russians don't like gay propaganda, whatever that is exactly, then Lady Gaga must have made some heads explode over there.

While we're at it, have you ever noticed the Olympic rings are sort of rainbow colored? Better get on that, Mr. Putin.

Olympic diver Greg Louganis knows what it's like to struggle with sexuality as a professional athlete. He took home gold twice each time in the '84 and '88 Summer Olympics. Just a few years later he game out as a gay man living with HIV. It's all documented in the new film "Back on Board."


GREG LOUGANIS, DIVING OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: My name is Greg Louganis. I'm gay, and I'm HIV-positive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had he been a straight athlete, he would have made millions.

LOUGANIS: Why didn't you get the endorsements? Why aren't you more successful? It doesn't matter. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And Greg Louganis joins us now from Los Angeles.

First off, Greg, thanks so much for joining us. You have said -- you've that you would have been happy to serve on this delegation. Are you disappointed you weren't asked to be on it?

LOUGANIS: I was a little disappointed that my name wasn't there. I -- I would have loved to have been a part of that. What I always said is if I could go there and feel that I could make a difference, then I'd be there. They've got my support. But if I would be a distraction, then I would stay home.

But, you know, what we're really, you know, trying to do is show that gay people are, you know -- there are gay children born in Russia every day, and who is protecting those children? You know, these laws that are supposed to be protecting children, but what about the LBGT gay -- you know, LBGT kids that are born in Russia every day? Who are protecting those kids?

TAPPER: That's a great question. What do you make of the delegation picks, including two openly gay athletes?

LOUGANIS: Well, you know, I think that's -- you know, that's important. It will be interesting to see, you know, how that is utilized and spun, but, you know, just to be -- you know, to be out there, just to be -- you know, actually a walking propaganda within themselves. I mean, they are opening gay people and representing themselves.

I mean, we're just regular folks, you know, and you know, and also -- you know, I -- you know, I said, you know, for the athlete, you know, if they are successful and they are interviewed, then dedicate your performance to your openly gay, you know, aunt, uncle. I mean, we all know somebody who is gay, you know, and dedicate your performance to them.

I mean, that's how we can support the LBGT community in Russia because, you know, these laws are really, really, you know, difficult. I mean, it was bad enough being gay growing up in the United States, and, you know, and I didn't have legislation against who I was as a person.

TAPPER: You don't support boycotting Olympics. You missed out on the 1980 Olympics because of the boycott.

Do you think that the -- that where this landed with the U.S. not boycotting, President Obama, First Lady Obama not going, sending Billie Jean King and others there, do you think that's about right? Is that about where this should have landed?

LOUGANIS: You know, I -- you know, I think that is -- that is the -- you know, I think it's some type of action, you know. We're taking some type of action. I mean, I had the opportunity to perform in the '76 Olympic Games, silver medal there, boycott of 1980. What a lot of Americans -- always seem to forget is the 1984 boycott of the eastern bloc countries.

I was also able to continue to '88 where all of the countries were represented, so, you know, in -- in '84, I mean, my competition was there. It was China, you know, but in a lot of the other sports, you know, the eastern bloc countries, they weren't there to represent themselves, so they missed out as well, and when you talk about Olympic boycotts, I don't feel that Olympic boycotts work. They hurt the wrong people, but when you talk about commerce and business, that works, so, you know, take it out on the sponsors, what the heck.

TAPPER: Greg Louganis, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

LOUGANIS: My pleasure.

TAPPER: Coming up in politics, you've heard the saying drinking the Kool-Aid, but an illusion to the Jonestown mass suicide has one new White House insider in some hot water.

And in "Pop Culture" he's the man who says he discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn. I'll go one-on-one with "Anchorman" Ron Burgundy. So stick around because things are about to escalate quickly on "THE LEAD."


WILL FERRELL, "RON BURGUNDY": Wow. Right on the lens. I'm sorry, sweetie, you're the best quickest.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In our "Politics Lead" the next time you hear someone toss around the expression drinking the Kool-Aid you might want to explain to them what they are actually talking about.

Today the newly returned White House counsel John Podesta caught heat from Republicans for using the Jonestown tragedy as an analogy for some members of the current House of Representatives.

In a piece for "Politico" magazine, Podesta is quoted as saying, the administration's big comeback should, quote, "focus on executive action given that they are facing a second term against a cult worthy of Jonestown in charge of one of the Houses of Congress," unquote.

After an uproar over that comment Podesta is apologizing in a tweet saying in an old interview --it was just October, really, but, OK. "My snark got in front of my judgment. I apologize to Speaker Boehner whom I've always respected."

Now in case you forgot or you're young like the couple of the panelists we have here, back in 1978 over 900 Americans were led to their death by a phony faith healer and cult leader, the Reverend Jim Jones, in a mass murder-suicide pact in a South American jungle in which his followers drank cyanide-laced fruit punch.

So, yes, probably not the best analogy.

Let's bring in our panel, Republican strategist and vice president of the Winston Group, Kristen Soltis Anderson, opinion writer for the "Washington Post" and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Matt Miller, and staff writer for "The Hill," Elise Viebeck, in her inaugural appearance here on THE LEAD.

Welcome, good to see you.

So, Matt, you know John through the Center for American Progress. This guy was supposed to come in and save the day. I don't want to make too big of a deal out of this but kind of a rocky start.

MATT MILLER, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, look, he could have picked a nonviolent cult, the Ayn Rand cult or the tax- cutting cult, if he was going to be quoted. As you said, it was, you know, a couple of months ago. He is one of the most talented political executives of this era, and I think that between his chops in policy, politics and communications, those three things together, it's very rare for one person in a White House, as you know, to have that combination of skills.

I think he's right person at the right time to help move this administration forward against all these problems they've got.

TAPPER: He's no doubt a very gifted man and a very gifted executive, but, Kristen, there are a lot of Republicans who saw that and said, well, first of all, this quote isn't old. It's from October. Second of all, why are you only apologizing to John Boehner who you probably weren't even talking about to begin with?

Do you think this will actually do any damage? Or is it just kind of like a faux outrage?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think this was already -- his selection to begin with was already a signal that sort of the era of Mr. Nice Guy, if it ever existed, is over for this administration.

I mean, John Podesta has very publicly said, you know, I think this administration needs to take on Congress, needs to go around Congress when possible, that it's sort of a realization that Congress is not going to get more Democratic in these midterms, that they're going to have to, if they want to get anything from their agenda implemented that they're going to have to really go around Congress to get it done.

I think it's setting up some nasty fights for the next three years.

TAPPER: Elise, what are you hearing on "The Hill"?

ELISE VIEBECK, STAFF WRITER, THE HILL: It's very interesting. Republicans were very upset today and in fact we saw --

TAPPER: Legitimately upset or --

VIEBECK: Well, it's always a little hard to tell especially when the criticism happens on Twitter. You know, there's a lot of snark there as well, but I think as spokeswoman -- spokesman for Speaker John Boehner actually hit back at Podesta and said, listen, if the White House is constantly complaining about Tea Party rhetoric, why are we hearing this out of you?

So I think we should really look at how Podesta handled the crisis. He immediately got out in front of it, he apologized on Twitter, which is immediately picked up by media outlets. This is a sign of his effectiveness and this is why the White House wants him there.

TAPPER: Let's talk about Obamacare, and not necessarily pajama guy, because I think we've covered that sufficiently, but there's a New Hampshire television ad targeting Senate Democrat Jeanne Shaheen from the ending spending super PAC. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: On health care Jeanne Shaheen didn't tell the truth.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: You can keep your insurance if you like it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So next November if you like your senator, you can keep her. If you don't, you know what to do.


TAPPER: That's tough.

MILLER: It's a very tough ad in December 2013. The question is, will it be effective in November 2014? And, you know, they talk in that ad about 25,000 people who've lost their coverage. There are 250,000 people in New Hampshire who are uninsured. My bet is that by the time we fast forward eight or 10 months enough will be done in terms of Obamacare implementation that that story is going to change and what looks really powerful and it is today won't have as much bite.

TAPPER: And, Kristen, that's the point that why they're running this ad now is they want to set the stage of untrustworthy, you can't trust this person so that by November, if Obamacare, if the Affordable Care Act is something of a net positive, they have already sowed these seeds of -- I don't want to call it character assassination but painting Shaheen in a bad way.

ANDERSON: The most damning thing about if you like your plan, can you keep it, it wasn't that people couldn't keep their plans, but that it was a perception that we've been lied to. That's why you've seen President Obama's numbers on this metric of do you believe he's honest and trustworthy have just plummeted in the last month or two, and that's what they are making this about.

So let's say you fix a web site. If -- just because you fixed a web site doesn't mean that you fixed the broken law and that's why Republicans are going to try to hammer on this as sort of a character issue, not just a broken web site issue.

MILLER: But the real character issue ultimately will be what's the Republican plan for the 250,000 people in New Hampshire who were uninsured or the 50 millions of Americans uninsured.

TAPPER: Is that fair, Kristen?

ANDERSON: Perfectly legitimate for Republicans to criticize the horrible way in which this law has rolled out. What I caution with Republicans is don't think you've got 2014 in the bag because Obamacare has been such a disaster. A year is a very long time in politics and the economy remains the number one issue. Keep the number one issue the number one issue.

VIEBECK: Jeanne Shaheen is creating a "playbook" for other vulnerable Democrats on Capitol Hill how to handle this issue. She introduced legislation to extend the open enrollment period. She wants to appear as a problem solver. Paint herself as someone who is moving to the center and saying listen, I understand a lot of people are upset their plans were canceled and I have solutions to fix it.

In fact, "The Hill" interviewed Harry Reid this morning and he is very bullish about Democratic chances in 2014 based on Obamacare. You know, Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the same thing.

TAPPER: What's he is going to say?

VIEBECK: I guess that's true, but he thinks that by pivoting to the middle and painting themselves as these problem solvers with legislation in the bag, ready to go, to fix the law and adjust the time lines that Democrats will be in a strong position.

TAPPER: While we're talking about New Hampshire there's a lot of buzz about Scott Brown, former Massachusetts senator, the guy the most unwelcome inaugural president for President Obama that exists one year after he was inaugurated, Scott Brown tipped the balance in the Senate from 60 to 59 seats. What are the odds that he actually moves to New Hampshire and runs for Senate?

VIEBECK: I think he's been making a smattering of appearances in the state. People don't really know what he's doing but for the Republican Party, he is their one best hope in New Hampshire. Not a lot of other candidates that could take on Jeanne Shaheen who had very strong poll numbers in the summer and is positioning herself on Obamacare. And she thinks she can be effective.

TAPPER: Does carpet bagger work when it's just Massachusetts to New Hampshire? Is that big a deal?

MILLER: I think so. I mean, they are two different states --

TAPPER: Romney had a house in New Hampshire.

MILLER: But this looks we're doing this opportunistically. It doesn't feel - we're not a system. Hillary Clinton, what was her connection to New York in advance? Maybe there's a certain stature you achieve at which point carpet bagger can no longer be raised against you. Not like England where the party picks a safe seat for you and sends you out there so I think it still resonates when people say it.

TAPPER: All right, Kristen Soltis Anderson, Matt Miller, Elise Viebeck, thank you so much. Congratulations on your first appearance on THE LEAD. You got through it OK. Great job.

Coming up on THE LEAD, Will Ferrell extended us an invitation to the pants party. I sat down with the "Anchorman 2" star and we promise you won't regret sticking around, not immediately.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Now it's time for the Pop Culture Lead. If you've been in a glass case of emotion lately don't be so fast to blame it on the holiday season. Perhaps you've just been overwhelmed by the return of America's favorite Anchorman, Ron Burgundy and his rather aggressive promotional campaign.

"Anchorman 2" opens in theaters today. The movie will not only bring back familiar faces from the Channel 4 news team, but we'll also be introduced to a new crop of characters, who are sure to shake things up for Burgundy and his salon quality hair. I recently had a chance to talk to a man a big deal to "Anchorman" fans, actor and comedian, Will Ferrell.


TAPPER (voice-over): It was the sound bite that launched a comedy franchise.

MORT CRIM, JESSICA'S CO-ANCHOR, KYW-TV: When I was a typical 1972 male chauvinist anchor and I liked women, but I wasn't sure that their place was necessarily sitting beside me on an anchor set.

TAPPER: That's Philadelphia anchor man, Mort Crimm in a lifetime documentary about pioneering anchor woman, Jessica Savich. A documentary that one day Will Ferrell found himself watching.

WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: I got into the documentary and I watched him say, you have to remember back then I was a real male chauvinist pig. I did not like women, and that's kind of the genesis of us sitting here right now.

TAPPER: We sat down with the actor at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. in an exhibit dedicated to the film.

(on camera): This must be tripping, a museum exhibit in an actual museum dedicated for you for this film.

FERRELL: Yes, it's very bizarre. They have done a wonderful job of archiving, you know, the old news stations and the news teams, and we were -- we weren't far off the mark without even knowing it. TAPPER: You know, I didn't even realize, first of all, how much Paul Rodd's character, his entire wardrobe is Geraldo Rivera.

FERRELL: Pretty much.

TAPPER: The entire thing.

FERRELL: Yes, yes.

TAPPER: I happen to regard this as the best comedy of the last decade.

FERRELL: Well, you're wrong.

TAPPER: Which one?

FERRELL: I think it's "booty call." I think that actually came out top five.

TAPPER: That was more than ten years ago.

FERRELL: You're right, never mind.

TAPPER: I think it was late '90s.

FERRELL: I think it's timeless so I throw it into many different time periods.

TAPPER: It wasn't initially received as what it has become.

FERRELL: No. It was -- it was a modest hit in the theatres when it first came out and it was actually very divisive in a weird way. Friends who would say that is the funniest thing I've ever seen, and other people were like I don't get it, and I had a really good friend who went on a double date, and the other couple left in the middle of the movie.

TAPPER: They left?

FERRELL: They actually left and walked out and said this is too weird. I don't know what's going on. There's a gang fight with news people, and it goes into animation, like, come on. That's what's so fun. It's kind of now has a legendary status, but it definitely didn't start that way.

ANNOUNCER: We're starting a 24-hour news channel, and we want you.

FERRELL: I'm going to do the thing that God put Ron Burgundy on this earth to do. Have salon quality hair and read the news. This film is roughly 10 years later. It's 1980 which was the -- the first year for CNN and for ESPN. It was the beginning of the 24-hour channels, and we kind of find Ron and his team and what they are doing, and they are kind of given a second chance to get back into the news game by going on the brand new 24-hour news channel.

TAPPER: Like CNN, CNN-esque. FERRELL: It's called GNN.

TAPPER: So it's -- completely different.

FERRELL: Completely different.

TAPPER: Right.

FERRELL: Yes, it's CNN-esque. You know what, better backdrop to see Ron and his incompetent fellow news team try to compete with -- with what is now pretty much modern day news.

TAPPER: And is there anybody that Ron Burgundy is specifically modeled after?

FERRELL: He's just an amalgamation of all the local news guys I watched growing up. Even though we -- you run into people in local news, and they say I bet I know who that is based on.

TAPPER: That's why I ask.

FERRELL: Everybody owns it. A guy in L.A., local guy, Harold Green, who was in San Diego, he went to L.A. used to have a mustache, and I randomly ran into him in the street one day, and he was like that movie is based on me, isn't it? I go, no. And he goes there's an old saying in the news game, yes, right, and he walked away so he was convinced that it's based on him.

TAPPER: That's a good line.

FERRELL: Yes. I think we use it in the sequel.

TAPPER: Is there something about my profession that is inherently amusing?

FERRELL: I think on-air journalists are -- try to be more human and have a few more laughs, do the -- do the special interest store as I little more, and when it's time to deliver hard news, you guys, you know, are serious, but I think it's a profession that's based on being serious, having good hair. Your hair looks great.

TAPPER: Thank you, I appreciate it. That's going to be in my promos.

FERRELL: And that's a fun world to make fun of.

TAPPER: Yes. I appreciate it. Thank you so much.


TAPPER: Our thanks to going to Ferrell. "The Anchorman" sequel is expected to have an even bigger box office debut than the original, which raked in $28 million. Follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadcnn and check out our show page at for video, blogs and extras.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I'll be back in two hours substituting for Erin Burnett's "OUTFRONT" at 7 p.m. Eastern. I now turn you over to my colleague Wolf Blitzer. He is right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.