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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Obama Employs Comedic Talent To Push Obamacare; Is GPS Technology Lacking In The Hunt For Flight 370?; Kerry Rejects Invite For Sit-Down With Putin; 2014 Clues In Florida Special Election?; The Agony Of Not Knowing

Aired March 11, 2014 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Turning to the politics lead now: just moments ago, the Obama administration released new enrollment numbers for the president's new health care program. They show more than 4 million people have signed up for Obamacare between October and March 1st. That includes nearly a million new enrollees just last month.

But here's some bad news. That is below projections and there are still not a lot of young people signing up. That's necessary, of course, for the law to work without premiums skyrocketing. Young adults between 18 and 34 account for only 25 percent of enrollees. That's way off the administration's 40 percent target, and there's less than 30 days to go before the enrollment period ends. That might explain why the president is trying to get creative, shall we say.

In his efforts to push the program to the younger crowd and seeing as how the Obamacare website's rocky rollout probably gave the president all of the symptoms of a really bad hangover, it only makes sense that he would enlist the help of the wacky star from "The Hangover" movie trilogy to help sell his plan to young people. Here is some of the video from the Web site Funny or Die, featuring President Obama and comedian Zach Galifianakis, where the president does his best Abbott to Galifianakis' Costello to pitch the Affordable Care Act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have you heard of healthcare.gov?

ZACH GALIFIANAKIS, COMEDIAN/ACTOR: Here we go. OK, let's get this out of the way. What did you come here to plug?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I think it's fair to say that I wouldn't be here with you today if I didn't have something to plug. Have you heard of the Affordable Care Act?

GALIFIANAKIS: Oh yes, I heard about that. That's the thing that doesn't work. Why would you get the guy that created the Zoon to make your Web site?

OBAMA: Healthcare.gov works great now, and millions of Americans have already gotten health insurance plans. And what we want is for people to know that you can get affordable health care. And most young Americans right now are not covered, and the truth is that they can get coverage all for what it costs you to pay your cellphone bill.

GALIFIANAKIS: Is this what they mean by drones?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The clip was released today. It already has more than five million views.

Coming up next, locating the plane. Smartphones can pinpoint your location from within inches of where you are. So in a time when every move we make is tracked, how does an airplane just disappear without a trace?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Continuing our World Lead, of course, the new information that we've received today indicating that missing Malaysia Airline flight 370 traveled about an hour off course after its transponder stopped transmitting, well, it took four days for that information to emerge from a senior Malaysian air force official. In a world where every move we make is tracked by someone or another, how is it possible that technology hasn't been able to locate this plane yet?

Let's bring in Noah Shactman. He's executive editor at "The Daily Beast." He's also a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institute's Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence. Noah, thanks so much for joining us. After four days, we're now being told that a military radar picked up the plane an hour after initial reports that contact was lost. What is different about a military radar versus a civilian aviation radar?

NOAH SHACTMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE DAILY BEAST: Sure. And thanks for having me, Jake. Military radars are of course more powerful than their civilian counterparts. And they can also, depending on the model, can also sort of see through the brine of the sea and can look lower than civilian radar can.

They are also differently positioned. So, we're now getting hit on this military radar from the Straits of Malacca. That's a well-known piracy hub, and there's been counter-piracy activities by the Malaysian military and others for more than a decade there. So in a sense, if they found the plane over the Straits of Malacca, it makes sense that the military would find it and not the civilian authorities.

TAPPER: What about the black boxes? What are crews doing to find that?

SHACTMAN: You know, the black boxes, which are actually orange, do have a beacon on them. But the thing is that those beacons can only call out for about five miles or so. So it's still very, very, very hard to find these things in the open ocean. It's really - it's the smallest of needles in the biggest of haystacks.

TAPPER: Assuming that the plane is more than five miles underwater, you're saying?

SHACTMAN: No, I'm saying that gives you a five mile radius to look in. But look, they just found this thing hundreds of miles off course, so who knows where it is. So it helps, but it only helps to a certain degree.

TAPPER: So we've heard that forces from 10 different countries are scouring the region. What are they carrying on their aircraft and ships to try to find this plane?

SHACTMAN: Yes, that's right. Forces from the Chinese military, the Malaysian, of course, the American military, the Australians, the Thai, the Vietnamese on and on are all looking for this thing. It's really an incredible hunt. And the U.S. military in particular is kind of treating it like "The Hunt For Red October." They are using some of the most sophisticated sub hunting equipment, magnotometers to look for metal. They are using acoustic sensors to hear if the plane might still be moving. Infrared, regular optical sensors, satellites. It's really an impressive array and, unfortunately, they still haven't been able to find anything, despite all of that gear.

TAPPER: Are we sure that the most advanced technology is being used? What are some of the other ones that searchers may be employing?

SHACTMAN: Well, it really seems like they are throwing just about everything at it, even the array of sensors used to detect nuclear launches. Those sensors are being used. They are called infrasound. They look for very low sound waves -- are being used. It's really kind of everything. And, still, they have no luck. It's amazing.

TAPPER: This may sound like a strange question, but after the Boston Marathon bombing, there was a lot of crowd sourcing. Now, a lot of that information was proved to be incorrect, but some of it was proven correct. Considering all of the satellite technology and things that the people at home have access to, is there any way for people who want to help the search who are sitting at home and maybe are advanced with their computers, is there anything that they can do?

SHACTMAN: Actually, it's not such a crazy question. Digital Globe, which is the leading commercial satellite imaging company, they provide a lot of the online maps, they provide images to the U.S. military, they've opened up their archives for the public to go and scour to see if they find anything.

Now, at the moment, that public facing website is down, but I'm told that it should be up shortly and, yes, maybe there is something in that wide open ocean that can be found by you and me.

TAPPER: Just the idea of all of that data and bringing more eyes to it maybe could help find this airplane. Noah Shactman, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

Coming up, thanks but no thanks. Why Secretary of State John Kerry is refusing a sit-down meeting with Vladimir Putin. That's next.

Plus, a daughter begging her father to come home safely. A mother holding out hope her son will return. The heartbreaking stories of families desperate for answers. Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We'll call this one "The Buried Lead" because of all the coverage of the Malaysia Air flight, tensions are exploding between Russia and the United States and Moscow's bear hug around Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula may have just gotten a little bit tighter. Secretary of State John Kerry has rejected an offer of a sit-down with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at least until Russia agrees to engage with the United States proposals on Ukraine's crisis.

Kerry told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov that he needed to know Moscow would engage seriously on a diplomatic solution before he would agree to meet with Putin. But time may be running out, Crimea will hold a referendum Sunday on whether to become a part of Russia. A referendum the White House has already said it will not recognize.

And ten days from now, Russia's lower House of Parliament, the state duma will discuss legislation that would make Crimea a part of their nation permanently, at least in the eyes of Putin. So what, if anything, can the United States do to stop that from happening?

Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the chairman of the Senate's Europe subcommittee joins me now. Senator, you were there with Senator McCain in Kiev back in December rallying with the protesters. Do you think there's any way the administration can stop Moscow from absorbing Crimea now or is basically the peninsula lost?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT), CHAIR OF EUROPE SUBCOMMITTEE: Well, there's no doubt that Putin has these extra territorial ambitions, that he has a view of Russia that is rooted back in the cold war and he is trying to capture as much territory of the old Soviet empire as he can. But I think he took this offensive action in part because he calculated that there wasn't going to be a strong economic response from the United States and Europe and I think we're going to prove him wrong.

Hopefully we're going to pass sanctions legislation here in the Senate giving the president broad sanctions authority over Russia, its government and perhaps its economic enterprises and I think Europe will join us. If we send a unified message to Russia, their calculus will change here. Understandably today they are digging in deeper, but if we get these sanctions right, we do it with Europe, I think Putin will have to reconsider.

TAPPER: Why are you confident, Senator, that Europe is on board with the sanctions? My understanding is that Germany and the U.K. have been pushing back a lot. They believe that it would actually hurt them economically with the hundreds of billions of dollars tied to their economies?

MURPHY: Yes, I think Russia -- I think Europe is just simply on a different timetable than we are.

TAPPER: Yes, never.

MURPHY: Well, I actually don't think that's true. I've been talking to our European allies throughout the last few weeks. I think they want to give diplomacy a chance here. But this is ultimately in their interests and territorial interests to act. Five years ago, it was ridiculous to think that Russia would invade Ukraine. Today, it may be ridiculous to think that they'll march on a NATO ally in five or ten years, but if this goes un-responded by Europe and by the United States, who knows what this guy is going to do in five or ten years.

TAPPER: Tomorrow, President Obama will meet at the White House with the Ukrainian prime minister. What do you want President Obama to tell him?

MURPHY: Well, Putin here is operating from a position of weakness. I mean, even if he is able to cloud the status of Crimea, 95 percent of Ukraine is outside of Crimea and he has essentially sealed their fate. They are going to join the E.U, but they can only do that with significant economic support from the United States, the IMF, and Europe.

And so our focus, really, first and foremost should be solidifying the Ukrainian economy because if we do sort of have a frozen conflict in Crimea over the next several years, if Ukraine, the rest of Ukraine joins with the E.U. with the help of the United States through economic aid.

That essentially ruins Putin's ambitions to re-establish the old soviet empire through something called a customs union or the Eurasian Union. This is a big deal if he loses the rest of Ukraine and that is where most of our focus should really be.

TAPPER: Senator, don't you think the best case scenario right now is that the United States just contain Putin to Crimea and just make sure that Russia doesn't expand into Eastern Ukraine, at least in the short term?

MURPHY: Well, I think it's important to draw a line here and to make sure that we make him understand that any movement outside of Crimea elevates the stakes, but I certainly haven't given up on diplomacy leading to a different outcome. We've seen this in other conflicts when he marched into Georgia after a series of weeks, he marched part of his troops back.

There are other alternatives here like bringing in international peace keeping forces to protect Russian citizens that may be able to de- escalate the conflict. I understand it looks bad today, but there's a history here of Russia moving forward and then moving back once the international pressure gets ratcheted up.

TAPPER: What do you say to people who argue, look, the people of Crimea have the right to choose whether they want to be part of Ukraine or they want to be part of Russia? Why do you support the protesters in Kiev, but not the people in Crimea who have a referendum on Sunday?

MURPHY: Well, ultimately Russia has to answer that question themselves as well because they have populations within their borders who might decide to associate with other countries as well. This is never how we've established international borders, just by allowing for countries to march in, occupy a region, and then hold illegal referendums. The idea that Russia is going to hold a referendum with guns holding guns to the head, it's absolutely preposterous. There could be a conversation about increase sovereignty for the people of Crimea, but it has to be an international consensus to change borders or we would be living in a world of international pandemonium.

TAPPER: It seems, last question for you, Senator, it seems that Vladimir Putin is probably just trying to wait things out and hoping this becomes accepted as the new normal. They have Crimea. Doesn't it seem like he's winning that, at least for now?

MURPHY: Well, ultimately he's not winning because a couple of weeks ago, he had the president of the entire country under his thumb. He had prevented them from joining the E.U. Today he's essentially lost the rest of Ukraine. He's become an international pariah for the time being. There are going to be enormous economic consequences to his economy because of this with the possible consequence of tens and thousands of jobs are being lost. Putin is in a very weak position. We shouldn't glorify the fact that he's marched on Crimea is ultimately his entire country loses status no matter what happens to that section of Ukraine.

TAPPER: Senator Chris Murphy, thank you so much as always. Good to see you, sir.

MURPHY: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Now back to politics, it's a special election in a Florida county that most people outside Florida probably would not be able to pick out on a map, but you would not know it based on all the national attention and billions of dollars this race is attracting that's because the battle for a House seat in Pinellas County is being viewed by many pundits as a preview of what could happen in the midterm elections this November as parties test their messages with two candidates making the arguments even more important.

Plus, after decades of gerrymandering Florida's 13th congressional district, which includes St. Petersburg happens to be one of the few truly competitive seats left in the United States. Democratic Alex Sink who lost a race for governor four years ago and Republican David Jolly, a former D.C. lobbyist are in a heated battle to fill a seat left vacant after the death of long time Republican Congressman Bill Young.

Republicans are hoping that a barrage of campaign ads tying Sink to Obama and Obamacare will prove to be a winning formula that they can rely upon for upcoming races across the country. Sink, who recently moved to the congressional district from across the bay, she argues that Jolly's opposition to Obamacare means that he prefers the days when insurance companies could discriminate against those with pre- existing conditions.

Recent polling shows this race to be very competitive and, get this, because it's a special election, whoever wins will have to run all over again in November. When we come back, an agonizing wait for the families of the 239 people on board Flight 370. Some say they are still holding out hope because calls to the cell phones of those missing are still ringing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. More now on "The World Lead." The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, beyond the mystery there is, of course, what is at this point what almost certainly a tragedy. With days of searching yielding few clues, frustration is mounting for the loved ones of the 239 people on board the ill-fated flight, hope is giving way to heartache.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AZHARUDDIN ABDUL RAHMAN, DIRECTOR GENERAL OF CIVIL AVIATIONL, MALAYSIA: We have not found anything.

TAPPER (voice-over): For the families whose fate is still unknown, the news is agonizing. But as search efforts expand, the families of the 239 people on board Flight 370 are clinging to hope. And fighting for answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are not receiving any updates.

TAPPER: The benefit of no news, of course, is that there's still the possibility, however remote, of good news. Calls to ringing cell phones have led some to believe their loved ones are somewhere safe. Cell companies often send out a ringing noise while they are searching for the satellite. But hope does not often fact check.

PAUL YIN, GRIEF COMMENTATOR: The hope, however improbable, many people are still holding on to it.

TAPPER: It can be heart breaking. The daughter of Chief Steward Andrew Nori has been tweeting messages to her father. Daddy, you are all over the news and papers, she wrote, come home fast so you can read them. We are still waiting for you. There are 14 different countries with passengers who were on board Flight 370 and in every one of them, waiting is excruciating.

YIN: It's the worst possible news. At least there is what we call an appropriate reaction to it, whether it be grief or whatever.

TAPPER: The 50-year-old, Philip Wood, a father of two from Texas was on board the jetliner when it vanished on Saturday. His brothers told CNN on Monday they have not lost hope.

JAMES WOOD, BROTHER OF MISSING PASSENGER: We are getting through this on our faith. It's been a little numbing, to be honest.

TAPPER: Investigators continue to search for clues with hopes that the families will soon have resolution.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TAPPER: More than 100 people in Beijing who knew passengers on the doomed flight signed a handwritten petition demanding truth from Malaysia Airlines and they are pushing the Chinese government to play a bigger role in the investigation.

Makes sure to follow me on Twitter @jaketapper and also @theleadcnn. Check out our show page at cnn.com/thelead for video, blogs and extras. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Right now, I'll turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Mr. Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Jake, thanks very much.