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White House Meeting On Debt And Shutdown Today; Veterans' Rally At WWII Memorial; President's Comments At Martha's Table

Aired October 14, 2013 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Good afternoon. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington.

The debt ceiling deadline now just 59 hours away, the shutdown entering its third week. And this means it is crunch time, just two hours from now, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will meet with the congressional leadership at the White House. Attention has clearly shifted right now to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the minority leader Mitch McConnell.

They have just wrapped up a meeting within the past half hour or so, Reid saying they're getting closer and closer to a deal. Just minutes ago, President Obama said there is some progress out there on the Senate side. We should get that videotape of the president. He's been outside of the White House, any minute now, we're going to bring you his comments as soon as they come in. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee says the Reid- McConnell talks underway right now are where a deal is most likely to come from.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I think at the end of the day, the culmination needs to be something between McConnell and Reid. And I think that all of the side talks that have occurred have helped create an environment for that to happen. So you know, I think Mitch and -- I know Mitch and Harry are talking and I think we're about to get to a place where, you know, again, we can move something hopefully off the Senate floor that's widely bipartisan. I think it's going to take that to having something move productively on the House side.


BLITZER: Let's get the latest on where things stand right now. Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill. Brianna Keilar is over at the White House. Dana, we'll start with you. Give us the latest read we're getting on the Reid-McConnell talks. As I said, they just wrapped up a little while ago. What are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I just came -- I'm in the Capitol on the third floor. I just came from the second floor of the Capitol where the leaders have their offices. And some of the Democrats who have been meeting in a bipartisan way to try to find a deal were coming out of Harry Reid's office. They got a briefing on his discussions with Mitch McConnell and they sounded very optimistic. And I'm talking about Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota all saying that they feel that things are moving in the right direction. Heidi Heitkamp even saying that this is moving at warp speed, even she said minute to minute. But the read that they got based on the conversation that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell had, according to them, was pretty optimistic.

Now earlier, Harry Reid had walked out of Mitch McConnell's office and swarmed by reporters including myself and he also sounded like it's possible that they could be working closer to a deal. He said that maybe they could even get something together by the time the leaders go to the White House, which is going to be a 3:00 meeting with President Obama and the four top leaders. These Democratic senators who we just spoke to moments ago said that doesn't sound like it's possible but perhaps this White House meeting could be the place where they finalize things and work things out.

So, things are happening very rapidly. Now, the obvious question is, what are they discussing? My understanding from Democratic sources is that Harry Reid went into the meeting with Mitch McConnell offering broadly to fund the government until close to the end of the year, mid-December, and to extend the debt ceiling for maybe six to nine months. We don't know what happened when Mitch McConnell came back to him and, obviously, that is going to be the key. Republicans are trying very hard to get something from this. And just raising the debt ceiling pretty long-term, six to nine months and funding the government through the end of the year, from their perspective politically, doesn't get them very much.

So, we'll see if there's any give on Harry Reid's part. Remember, he has been one of the real big drivers of this no negotiation stance. The president has been saying it, but Harry Reid by all accounts has been really driving this, saying we've got to break the fever of Republicans trying to use these crisis points to cut spending. So, we'll see where things stand after these discussions, particularly the high stakes discussions that are going on right now between these two key players, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid.

BLITZER: The assumption, Dana, I take it is if they can get some legislation passed through the Senate and then send it over to the House of Representatives, it would put enormous pressure on the speaker, John Boehner, to simply let the already is Senate approved legislation come up for a clean vote yea or nay and presumably would have enough votes to pass, 217 or so, whatever is needed.

BASH: Yes.

BLITZER: And to send to the president for his signature. That's the theory, right?

BASH: That is the theory. And that is part of the reason why the hope among senators, even Republican senators -- you heard Bob Corker say this, you ran the sound bite a few minutes ago, saying that that's why they hope that they get a big bipartisan vote in the Senate. It will make it a lot easier for John Boehner to do that. To bring up a vote in the House that he hasn't been willing to do for two weeks. One that would get bipartisan support but maybe not necessarily the majority of Republican support.

So, that -- whether that will happen will really depend on what Mitch McConnell will be able to extract from Harry Reid, if anything, in terms of what Republicans will be able to go back and say, ha, we got this. Whether it's spending cuts, whether it's anything at all dealing with Obamacare, although I'm getting waived off of that by Democratic sources that at least in this initial deal that they would agree with anything even repealing or even delaying that medical device tax that helps pay for Obamacare.

I just was talking to a Democratic source who said, you know, we're really digging our heels in on this. But, you know, they may go to the White House and the president might say, you know, we'll give you on -- we'll give on that. So, we'll see.

BLITZER: We'll see, indeed.

Let's go to the White House right now. Dana stand by. Brianna Keilar is over there. The day started without anything on the president's public schedule. He's now been out meeting at Martha's Table, an important group that provides food for hungry people here in Washington. We're going to get the videotape of what he just said momentarily and at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. He's going to have this meeting with the Republican and Democratic leadership of the House and Senate.

The last time around, as you well remember, Brianna, that scenario unfolded. There was a deal in the Senate. It went to the House. Boehner let it come up for a vote. It passed. That fiscal cliff was avoided. The only difference is the last type Joe Biden was directly involved with Mitch McConnell. This time Harry Reid is involved with Mitch McConnell. But what do we anticipate happening during the course of today?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as we speak right now, President Obama has actually been out making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with youngsters at this food pantry in D.C. And he's there, Wolf, to try to highlight some of the effects of the shutdown and also, I think, trying to show that many of the volunteers at this pantry are actually furloughed workers, folks who have not been working and instead have been using their time for a good cause. So, I think he's trying to kind of -- you know, maybe some folks don't always have a ton of sympathy for government workers but he's certainly trying to show some there as well.

And he took this opportunity to really, I think, ratchet up a little bit of pressure on the House of Representatives. He said there is some progress on the Senate side, he said. But he also called the government shutdown completely unnecessary. He acknowledged as well that there are certainly differences. And he said that we stand a good chance, this is not a quote but this is just sort of broad strokes of when he said that we stand a good chance of defaulting if there isn't a compromise with Republicans. So, he's really trying to kind of outline the stakes here. And when he has this meeting this afternoon with Senate and House Republican and Democratic leaders, I think, you know, this can go one of two ways. You know, either it's to kind of push along what's going on in the Senate or it is certainly highlight some of the progress or maybe he'll do a little bit of both. It's such a moving target at this point, Wolf, but we're hearing from the president himself that he feels like there is some progress in the Senate.

BLITZER: Do you think there's any chance the president would do what he said repeatedly he wouldn't do, but at least allow some symbolic element of Obamacare to be included in this -- in this deal, if you will. For example, delaying that tax on medical devices for two years which is what Senator Collins and a whole bunch of other Democrats and Republicans are recommending?

KEILAR: You know, right now, Wolf, even privately, White House officials, while they say they're open to this idea of the medical devices tax, you know, perhaps in a vacuum, they don't like the dynamic of it being, in their feeling, sort of held hostage here. So, it's not that they are not amenable to discussing that. You have a lot of Democrats who don't even like that tax but they don't like that it is a bargaining chip in this atmosphere.

So, at least at this very moment, it appears that, no, that's not likely. But you know and I know that there's a big difference between Monday and between Wednesday when we're looking at that the October 17th deadline. Things can change very quickly. What three days before a potential default can be a nonstarter, you know, staring down the barrel of a default sometimes that can change. But, at this point, the White House insists they don't want to negotiate on that when it's really being sort of held hostage to the idea of a debt ceiling. That's how they see it. That, in a way it's sort of like extracting a ransom and they don't want to negotiate that way.

BLITZER: We'll stand by to get the videotape of the president's comments on this government shutdown momentarily. All right, Brianna, thanks very much.

Later this hour, I'll also speak with two members of Congress, Representative Scott Rigell of Virginia. A Republican who says he would vote for a clean budget bill to get the government going again. And Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She's a Democrat. She has been heavily involved in these behind-the-scenes negotiations with Democrats and Republicans.

While all this talking is going on in Washington, the voices of the people are growing louder and louder to end the shutdown.


CROWD: By the dawn's early light, what so proudly we hail --


BLITZER: That was the scene over the weekend at the World War II Memorial over the weekend in Washington. The high profile Tea Party supporters such as Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, they joined veterans as they rallied against President Obama and Democrats for their role in the ongoing stalemate.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Why did the federal government spend money to erect barricades to keep people out of Mt. Vernon?


CRUZ: Why did the federal government spend money to erect barricades to keep people out of Mount Rushmore?


CRUZ: Look, our veterans should be above politics. Enough games.

LARRY KLAYMAN, FOUNDER, FREEDOM WATCH: I call upon all of you to wage a second American nonviolent revolution to use civil disobedience and to demand that this president leave town, to get out, to put the Koran -- to put the Koran down, to get up off his knees and to figuratively come up with his hands out -- up.


BLITZER: Wow, pretty outrageous statement right there. We're going to have more on that part of the story coming up this hour. As you can see, the memorial has become a symbol in the bitter fight between Republicans and Democrats over the shutdown when the White House press secretary was asked last week who was at fault for the closure of the World War II Memorial, Jay Carney said, it's the Republicans.

Investors, meanwhile, are weighing in again today on what they think of the debt ceiling talks here in Washington. I'll tell you what happened when Wall Street opened for business today. That's next.


BLITZER: All right. So, the president of the United States, he left the White House today. He went to Martha's Table. That's a local charity here that provides badly needed food to a lot of hungry people in the greater Washington, D.C. area. He went there for a specific reason, to underscore that there are a lot of federal workers who have been furloughed here in the nation's capital. Many of them have been volunteers at Martha's Table over the years and he wants to make his point and, among other things, he wants to -- he wants to make it clear that they need support right now. They need to end this government shutdown.

The president then went ahead and he spoke at some length about what's going on. The tape is now coming in of what he said. We're going to play the entire tape for you right now. It sets the stage for what could be a critically important meeting coming up in about less than two hours, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, when the president has invited the Republican and Democratic leadership over to the White House, the Senate leadership, the House leadership including House speaker John Boehner, the Senate majority leader Harry Reid. They're all coming over to the White House right now to meet with the president and the vice president at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

They've been making some clear progress but they're not there yet. And as they say in these very, very tense, difficult negotiations, there's no deal until there's a deal.

You can be 70 percent of the way there, 80 percent or 90 percent, but until you're 100 percent there and you've reached a deal, then of course, there's no deal. So let's see the exactly what the president had to say when he went to Martha's Table just now.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right, well, the -- the main reason that we're here today is first of all, just to say thank you. We've got some wonderful volunteers here at Martha's Table. And they do a great job all year 'round making sure that folks who are in need are able to get you know, the kind of nutritious meals that are so important to families.

And so we very much appreciate them and we appreciate Martha's Table. We come here usually every Thanksgiving with the whole family to do great work.

But part of the reason I'm here today is because we've got a lot of volunteers here who are furloughed federal workers. These are folks who have not been paid, in some cases are very eager to be back on the job but are not even allowed to work, and yet they're here contributing and giving back to the community.

And I think that shows the kind of spirit that we have among all kinds of federal workers all across the country, people who dedicate their lives to public service, think that what they're doing is important in terms of helping this country and yet find themselves in a situation which, because of politics, they're not able to do their jobs.

Now, this week we'll be entering into the third week of a government shutdown that was completely unnecessary. And I'm going to have the opportunity to meet again with the congressional leaders this afternoon. And I am going to once again urge them to open the government and make sure that the United States government is paying its bills.

This is fairly simple. And this whole shutdown has been completely unnecessary. Keep in mind that the problem is not that the U.S. government has run out of money. The problem is not that our deficits are going up. Our deficits have actually been cut in half since I came into office and are continuing to go down.

The problem is not that there's not the opportunity for us to work intelligently to come up with a budget that creates long-term fiscal stability while still investing in growth.

The problem is is that we've seen this brinksmanship as a strategy time and time again to try to extract extreme or partisan concessions. And I think the American people have made very clear that's not how we expect Washington to do business. There are going to be differences between the parties. There are going to be differences in terms of budget priorities, but we don't need to inflict pain on the American people or risk the possibility that America's full faith and credit is damaged just because one side is not getting its way.

And you know, not only is it untenable for us to continue the shutdown, this week, if we don't start making some real progress both in the House and the Senate and if Republicans aren't willing to set aside some of their partisan concerns in order to do what's right for the country, we stand a good chance of defaulting.

And defaulting would have a potentially devastating effect on our economy, sending interest rates shooting up, people, whether Social Security recipients or people with disabilities or small business people who are vendors to government not getting paid on time, we've already had a damaging effect on our economy because of the shutdown.

That damage would be greatly magnified if we don't make sure that the government's paying its bills. That has to be decided this week.

So my hope is is that the kind of spirit that that is shown by all these outstanding volunteers is going to carry over in the meeting with the leadership this afternoon. They can solve this problem today.

And it doesn't mean that the differences between Democrats and Republicans go away. That's what elections are for. But between elections we're supposed to be governing and we're not supposed to be hurting the very people who sent us to represent them. And I hope that that kind of spirit holds true during the course of discussions today and over the next several days.

All right?


QUESTION: Are you confident that a deal can be reached?

OBAMA: Look, are I think that there is -- there's been some progress on the Senate side with Republicans recognizing it's not tenable, it's not smart, it's not good for the American people to let America default.

There's been some progress in recognizing that we're not going to be able to completely bridge the differences between the parties all at once. And so it doesn't make sense in the meantime to try to use a shutdown or the threat of to let America default.

There's been some progress in recognizing that we're not going to be able to completely bridge the differences between the parties all at once. And so it doesn't make sense in the meantime to try to use a shutdown or the threat of default as leverage in negotiations. So that's progress.

But obviously, until the details are done, until these folks are back to work, so that they can volunteer on weekends during their free time as opposed to when we'd like folks to be on the job, you know, I'm going to be -- you know continue to push Congress as hard as I can.

But we'll see if we -- we'll see this afternoon whether this progress is real. I think there has been some progress in the Senate. I think House Republicans continue to think that somehow, they can extract concessions by keeping the government shut down or by threatening default.

And my hope is that a spirit of cooperation will move us forward over the next few hours.

All right?

Thank you, everybody. Thank you, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Step back, thank you.

BLITZER: Wearing a nice green apron. Martha's Table, very important local charity, provides food for a lot of people here in the Greater D.C. area, people who are hungry. The president volunteering today but using this moment to underscore once again, close but not there yet, not by any means.

They still have a lot of work to do and presumably they'll be doing more of that work when the president meets with the Republican and Democratic House and Senate leadership at the White House 3:00 pm Eastern. That will be a critically important meeting even though the president says some progress has been achieved on the Senate side between Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, there's still work to be done on the House side.

We'll see how the House Speaker John Boehner deals with all of this. We're going to have a full analysis; Gloria Borger is standing by. We'll also get a quick check on the markets. We've got a Democratic senator, Amy Klobuchar, who's standing by live. I'll speak with her.

Scott Rigell of Virginia, Republicans congressman. He's here, as well. Much more of the breaking news coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Efforts to raise the country's debt limit reopen the government, they are clearly intensifying today but there's still no deal. The debt limit deadline less than 59 hours away.

This is day 14. We're starting week three of this partial government shutdown. President Obama getting ready to meet in a little while with the bipartisan congressional leadership over at the White House, 3:00 pm Eastern. The Senate majority leader Harry Reid and the minority leader Mitch McConnell, they have just wrapped up another meeting in Senator McConnell's office.

Republican Senator Bob Corker says the focus now is finding a middle of the road solution.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Certainly Republicans have been in a place that was not going to lead to success for you know, the last six weeks or so. Democrats have been in a place over the last 48 hours that was not going to lead to success because they were overreaching and trying to undo settled law under the Budget Control Act.

And I think that things are back in the middle of the road on the Senate side. And I think there's an opportunity today to bring that to a conclusion and to begin moving something off the Senate floor in a bipartisan way.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Gloria, right now the key is to get something that will pass the Senate so that it can go to the House.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And then, of course, there's the question of what can get through the House, because that's always been the sticking point.

I think --

BLITZER: If it passes the Senate with extensive bipartisan -- a lot of Republicans are on board. That will put enormous pressure on Boehner to let it come up for a vote in the House.

BORGER: And it will be -- put some pressure on him if he still has the group in that "hell no" caucus that won't go for it, would he be willing to bring something to the floor that could conceivably get less than a majority.


BLITZER: He did that last time with the fiscal cliff.

BORGER: That's right. And he has, of course, listened to that caucus for a long time now.

But I think, Wolf, what everybody is looking for here is a fig leaf. Everybody right now understands what they're facing. They don't want to deal with the debt ceiling crisis.

And so what the Democrats are looking for is some way to say let's now the lock in that second round of automatic spending cuts. Maybe there's a way we could deal with that. The Republicans are looking for a way to say we need to have some serious entitlement reform, budget negotiations.

Maybe there's a way to conflate the two of those things so they can say we're going to agree that we have to come up with some spending negotiations and get through the rest of this mess.

Also, there's a question of just how long this will go on for, do they extend the continuing resolution for six months, for six weeks? You know, that's a big question too.

BLITZER: A lot of people have been wondering, we've been asking this question for a week. The vice president, his role. John McCain -- listen to this -- he weighed in yesterday. And John McCain and Joe Biden, they go back many, many years in the U.S. Senate. Biden spent decades in the Senate. I want to play for you what McCain said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: So I'm hopeful that we will get negotiations. I hope the president will become engaged. Maybe we need to get -- maybe we need to get Joe Biden out of the witness protection program because he has good relationships with --

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS HOST: We haven't heard very much from him.


BLITZER: All right. So that's pretty cute but it's -- there's an element of truth there because Biden has not been very visible. Behind the scenes, he's been in all the meetings; he'll be in the meeting with the president today, but when McCain says get him out of the witness protection program, those are pretty biting words.

BORGER: It's very clear that Biden is not leading any negotiation. There's a reason for that, which is that Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, does not want Joe Biden meddling, as he would put it, anymore in the Senate. He feels that Biden did not cut Senate Democrat a great deal last time he cut a deal on the fiscal cliff or on the debt ceiling negotiations back in 2011.

Reid wants to do it himself.

The only problem Reid has is that he and Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, don't get along at all. So now you have two guys trying to come up with a deal and they can barely stand to be in the same room with each other, because Harry Reid is working to defeat Mitch McConnell, who's up for re-election in the state of Kentucky.

Mitch McConnell did the same when Harry Reid was up for re-election. So they don't -- they're not really best of friends, let's put it that way.

BLITZER: Mitch McConnell has a Tea Party challenger who's challenging him, as well, for the Republican nomination. So we'll see where that goes.

All right, Gloria, see you later in "THE SITUATION ROOM," as well.

The Senate may be moving closer and closer to a deal to end the shutdown, extend the debt ceiling. Will it get through the House? We're going to talk with a Republican Congressman from Virginia, Scott Rigell. We're going to find out if he's ready to give his stamp of approval. He's standing by, live.