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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Piers Morgan; Health Care Rollout; Republican Donors Withholding Cash
Aired October 18, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This hour, we're learning more about serious problems with the Obamacare Web site and the enrollment process.
Sources tell me there's deepening anger and frustration inside the White House, throughout the administration about the embarrassing rollout. Republicans are pouncing. They're demanding that the health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, resign and scheduling a House Oversight hearing next week.
We also have confirmation just a little while ago we received that Sebelius herself has not agreed to testify. She said she's too busy and won't be able to appear. That's only making Republicans more angry.
Let's bring in our Brian Todd. He's been working this story for us from the very beginning.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, new information today.
All day, we have been speaking to those on the receiving end of all these applications, insurance companies. Industry sources are telling us there are widespread problems with the applications coming in. Now they are having to track back to solve them.
TODD (voice-over): Signing up for Obamacare is now a problem not just for potential customers, but for the insurance companies processing their applications.
Listen to Joan Budden, of the Michigan insurer Priority Health.
JOAN BUDDEN, PRIORITY HEALTH: We talked to one gentleman who had not received the confirmation that he anticipated on the exchange Web site, so he hit submit a couple times, and ended up -- was concerned that he had enrolled in multiple plans.
TODD: Another company tells us soon after enrollment started, they had one customer mistakenly apply three times for two different plans. Insurance industry sources tell CNN insurers are getting duplicates, missing information, data without a time stamp. We did speak to other insurers who told us they had no problem with the data, got complete applications, but for those who have had problems...
BUDDEN: We're calling each member and just going over the enrollment information with them to make sure it's accurate.
TODD: For a response to those issues, we called and e-mailed CGI, the private contractor which got tens of millions from the government to design this system. We didn't hear back.
The Department of Health and Human Services said, "As individual problems are raised by insurers, we work aggressively to address them."
As for customers' problems, we first interviewed Luke Chung, who runs a database company, a week into the enrollment. He had been pulling his hair out with all the glitches. Now he says there's still too many screens on the Web site for those applying.
LUKE CHUNG, PRESIDENT, FMS INC.: I had to enter a previous screen that gave me my name and e-mail address. Then I had to come to this screen to provide a user name and password. And the next screen, I have to provide three secret answers to questions.
TODD (on camera): And should it all be on one screen?
CHUNG: It should be on one screen. Why bother having three screens?
TODD: How would you fix it?
CHUNG: The way I would fix it would be two levels.
First of all, I would have a change in management. Technically, I would try to get people through this system as quickly as possible, asking for as few pieces of personal information as possible to expedite the process.
TODD: Now, to be chair, Chung says he has seen some improvements on some pages he says on the Web site. They have had added more questions on single pages to save people have having to answer a question, save a screen and then go to the next Korean. And administration officials continue to say they are hammering away at the glitches. Wolf, they say that just about every day.
BLITZER: What his the biggest fundamental problem that Chung sees there?
TODD: He says what really they do that's unnerving to people who try to log on is they ask you to give you too much personal information just to get a price quote.
He says with every other service where you by something online, they will give you the price. They don't ask for all this personal information just for a price quote. He says, look, give us just the prices, that's it. Then if we decide to apply, then gather the personal information, but you have got to go through all this stuff.
BLITZER: Did you get an explanation for why they came up with this strategy that you got to give your Social Security number, all this personal information just to get various options?
TODD: The best people to ask and get that answer from is the contractor CGI that designed it. They're not talking. They're not talking to hardly anybody at this point.
The administration says, look, we know these are problems, we're just hammering away at them and we're streamlining the process. They seem to be a little unwilling to answer the specific questions about those specific things. You get the impression they're trying to work with the contractor to iron this out, but it's painstaking.
BLITZER: Very painstaking. The congressman who is involved in the investigation having the hearings next week told me in the last hour, Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, they have already spent at least $400 million to create this Web site with all these problems.
Brian, thanks very, very much.
We're also hearing today some new grumblings from Republican donors who are ticked off about the 16-day government shutdown and their party's role in making it happen. It's raising more questions about the GOP's future and its campaign cash.
Athena Jones is here in THE SITUATION ROOM working this part of the story.
You have been trying to reach out to some of these major GOP donors. What are you learning?
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
I have talked to some and a big Houston-based GOP donor I spoke with today told me he's not contributing to the national party until he sees Republicans focusing on issues that matter to him like overhauling the immigration system. He also said he fears that another government shutdown over Obamacare would seriously harm Republican chances of keeping the House and regaining the Senate in 2014.
So where does the GOP go from here?
JONES (voice-over): A fractured GOP is licking its wounds after the 16-day government shutdown, some members blasting a failed strategy, led by Tea Party stars like Senator Ted Cruz, to defund Obamacare, and calling on their colleagues to be more pragmatic in future fights.
REP. MICHAEL GRIMM (R), NEW YORK: But you have to have some tactics and you also have to have some respect for the fact this is a big party. I think Obamacare's bad policy, I agree with my colleagues there, but I think shutting down the government is bad policy.
JONES: And many donors believe the party got the tactics wrong, says GOP strategist Ron Bonjean.
RON BONJEAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: By and large, the Republican donor community did not agree with attaching the shutdown to funding or delaying Obamacare, because it wasn't going to work and it didn't work.
JONES: Still, the fight over Obamacare is almost certain to continue.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told "The Hill" newspaper he won't allow another shutdown to try to undo the law, but Cruz hasn't ruled it out. And conservative groups like Heritage Foundation are vowing to fight on. Former Senator Jim DeMint writing in "The Wall Street Journal" said "Many Republicans are thankful for conservatives likes Cruz and Senator Mike Lee, and that with a revived and engaged electorate, Obamacare will now be the issue for the next few years."
What would that mean for the party's future?
STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": There's no doubt that in the short-term, Ted Cruz has led a movement in the Senate and in Congress that has damaged the Republican Party, and frankly will be strengthening the Democrats in terms of recruitment and fund-raising over the next few months.
JONES: And what about those GOP donors?
BONJEAN: The key is what the next steps are. I don't think donors have made up their minds just yet, but clearly they're not going to bring out their checkbooks to help the Republican Party if they keep engaging in failure.
JONES: Another prominent Republican I spoke with said while donors are angry, he believes they will end up coming around. And an RNC official tells me the party is doing very well in terms of fund- raising in October and said to me, wait until you see the final tally for this month -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We will be anxious to see that. Thanks very much, Athena. Good report.
Still ahead, Dick Cheney reveals his heart condition was even worse than we knew when he was vice president of the United States, so serious he took an unprecedented action. And CNN's Piers Morgan standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He has got a lot to say about Obamacare, gridlock here in Washington.
By the way, if you have a question for Piers, this is why do. Tweet us that question and use #SITROOM.
BLITZER: For the first time in years, U.S. officials say they're seeing some real sings of progress in the nuclear standoff in Iran after face-to-face talks in Geneva this past week.
Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, was in Geneva for the negotiations. He's back here in Washington right now.
What did you see? How did it go?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: A number of the U.S. officials involved in these talks have negotiated with Iran before.
I have covered talks in these very same Geneva rooms. And by all accounts, they have never had negotiations as open and promising as these, both sides speaking of an unusually positive atmosphere, and one that got into real details about curbs to Iran's nuclear program, which they say would not be the case if Iran was not serious.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): In Geneva, U.S. officials called the nuclear talks with Iran more detailed and candid than ever before. But, back in Washington, lawmakers are now vowing not to budge on crippling economic sanctions until Iran turns the positive atmosphere into Geneva into hard action.
REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: We are basically giving the ayatollah a choice. If he wants to compromise on this program, we will move one way on sections. If on the other hand he wants to play us and continue to development his nuclear weapons capability, then we have the wherewithal here to increase the pressure with the sanctions.
SCIUTTO: The administration position, say U.S. officials, remains firm. No relief on sanctions until Iran acts to rein in its nuclear program.
JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We're not taking steps to relief sanctions. Iran will have to agree to meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions before we can seriously consider taking steps to ease sanctions.
SCIUTTO: So, what are some of those verifiable steps? Reduction of uranium enrichment, access to all nuclear facilities, and the possible closure of some nuclear sites, including an underground enrichment facility at Fordow. Those confidence-building steps take on greater urgency because Iran has repeatedly lied about its nuclear program.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have never chosen deceit as a path. We have never chosen secrecy.
SCIUTTO: Meanwhile, Iran has moved closer, by some measures beyond, enriching enough uranium to build a nuclear bomb. As a result, David Albright, a former weapons inspector, adds, one more confidence-building measure, fessing up about its past pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
DAVID ALBRIGHT, PRESIDENT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE & INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: If they can't be truthful about the past, it's very hard to trust anything they do today.
SCIUTTO: U.S. officials have told me there's still distance between the U.S. and Iran on what sanctions relief is appropriate.
One difference is sequencing. U.S. wants action before any easing of sanctions. Iran would prefer the two to come at the same time, and there are still many skeptics. I spoke today to the chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Mike Rogers, and he said -- quote -- "I believe the leaders of Iran will tell us what they want to hear. All the while, they will continue to pursue their nucleus ambitions."
Wolf, still many skeptics here in Washington. Still, the administration is preparing a range of potential options, carrots, if you will, if Iran delivers.
BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, welcome back. Good reporting. Thank you very much.
Surprising new revelations, meanwhile, from the former Vice President Dick Cheney. It turns out his heart problems were so serious when he was in the Bush White House, he took an unprecedented step. He actually wrote a letter of resignation.
Cheney opened up to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Most people have a pretty strong opinion about Dick Cheney. But whatever you think of him, you may by spread to know that over the past 35 years, he's had five heart attacks, open-heart surgery, a heart pump, and even a heart transplant at age 71.
He revealed all of this in this new book called "Heart" that he's written with his cardiologist, Jonathan Reiner. But I will tell you when I sat down with him, he was so concerned about his health at one point that just two months after taking the oath as vice president, he took this unprecedented action. DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Basically, what I did was I resigned the vice presidency, effective March 28 of 2001.
GUPTA (on camera): So, nearly for your entire time as vice president, there was a letter of resignation pending.
GUPTA: Cheney discovered there was no provision in the Constitution to replace a vice president who was alive, but incapacitated, so he drew up a letter of resignation to give to the president.
CHENEY: It says, "In accordance with Section 20 of Title III of the United States Code, I, Richard B. Cheney, hereby resign the office of vice president of the United States."
SCIUTTO: How did President Bush react when you told him about this?
CHENEY: He was a little surprised, but he thought it was a good idea.
SCIUTTO: We also spent a lot of time talking about the impact such a significant disease had on his job, not only as vice president, but also as secretary of defense and as a congressman. And keep in mind Dick Cheney had his first heart attack when he was just 37 years old -- back to you.
BLITZER: Sanjay, thanks very much.
To our viewers, by the way, you can Sanjay's interview Sunday on "60 Minutes," Tuesday on "A.C. 360."
CNN's Piers Morgan is here. Look at him. He's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN LIVE": I'm invading your SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Got a new book. This is the book. You actually wrote this book, right?
MORGAN: Of course I wrote it.
BLITZER: Did you have a ghostwriter who wrote it for you?
MORGAN: No, I wrote it.
BLITZER: You actually wrote every single word here?
MORGAN: Every single word.
BLITZER: We're going to talk about this and more, when we come back.
BLITZER: As we end a dramatic and often strange week here in Washington, there's been plenty of ammunition for the late-night comics. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Should we be happy the government is back? I mean, I kind of feel like my sister got back together with an abusive boyfriend or something.
CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST, "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH CRAIG FERGUSON": Joe Biden personally greeted government employees who had been out of work during the shutdown. Haven't these people suffered enough?
CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": President Obama called for a new era of bipartisan cooperation. Yes. Yes. Yes.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN: Yes. He said this because Obama likes to start off a speech with a joke.
O'BRIEN: That's always a way to hook them in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, stand by for another take on the shutdown crisis and its aftermath. Guess what? Piers Morgan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He is thrilled. So am I.
We're going to talk and discuss when we come back.
MORGAN: I am thrilled.
BLITZER: CNN's Piers Morgan certainly doesn't hold back with his own opinions on his own show or in his brand-new book which is entitled "Shooting Straight: Guns, Gays, God, and George Clooney."
Piers is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I have gone through the book. Piers, you really hit right from the heart. Very quickly, what is George Clooney doing on the cover?
MORGAN: Because I wanted to find a celebrity that could go with the more serious issues who I felt was a proper star.
You have met George Clooney and interviewed him. And I have interviewed him. To me, he personifies what a star is, as opposed to a celebrity. He is someone that cares passionately about big issues like the Sudan and so son, but he's funny, he's charming, he's old- school, he wears a great tux. He's like you, Wolf Blitzer. He's the Wolf Blitzer of Hollywood.
BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the current news right now. What do you make of the Obamacare Web site glitches, as they have been called? These are serious problems. This is the signature issue, the signature achievement that the president has rolled out. Clearly, it wasn't completely ready.
MORGAN: I think it's ridiculous.
They have had enough time to get it right. But you have to look at it politically, as well, and say if imagine if all the Republicans had done in the last two weeks was hammer Obamacare for it not working properly. They would have been in the driving seat right now. As it is here, they're on the back foot on behalf of this daft way they went about trying to defund it.
This is going to be a big story going forward. I have been saying this on my show and you have too, I'm sure, that Senator Cruz has his gander up, and he knows Obamacare is the president's vulnerability right now, because the system doesn't work.
BLITZER: They made it so complicated. If you want to buy a ticket on a flight, you can go to American Airlines, check out the opportunities, Washington to L.A., 30 different flights, nonstop, cheap, expensive, first class, coach, whatever, but you don't have to give them your credit card right away just to check out options. Here you have to give a lot of personal information just to check out the options.
MORGAN: It is crazy. This is for smart people.
I have been watching CNN reporters trying to do it and struggling and failing.
BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen and Brian Todd.
MORGAN: Just imagine, you know, what is going on all over America.
BLITZER: In Britain, where you're from, someone would have to resign, a Cabinet member?
MORGAN: No question, and would have already gone by now.
MORGAN: Yes, but you remember, I come back to the positive side of Obamacare.
In Britain, we have the national health system. Everyone is entitled to free health care. You can't get away from the fact that what the president is trying to do with this is bring 11 million people into health coverage that weren't otherwise having it. That's a good thing, but if the system doesn't work, then it's all hopeless.
We have got a question from a Twitter follower, and I know you're very active on Twitter. Here's the question, Piers. "Do you think comparing the U.K. system to the U.S. system is unfair due to the sizes and scales of both countries?"
MORGAN: Well, look, America has five times the population of Britain, but our health care system is very different.
People over like to call it socialized health care. It's not really. It's just that if you fall over, if you went to London tomorrow and you got run over by a bus, you would get immediate health care and you wouldn't wake up on morphine with some doctor handing you an invoice.
I fell off a Segway, to my great embarrassment, in L.A. And I remember waking up with five broken ribs and there was somebody trying to make me pay money as I lay there semi-conscious. To me, that is fundamentally a flaw in the system.
BLITZER: People overseas, they don't understand why this country doesn't have what you would call universal health care and they certainly don't understand -- correct me if I'm wrong -- and you have been outspoken in the book "Shooting Straight" as well as on your TV show -- the availability of guns in the United States. They don't understand the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
MORGAN: I think the thing about the whole issue of guns is that you have to have a rational debate about it.
And the problem at the moment is everybody is on the extremity. I simply keep telling people, look, I'm not American, but I'm covered by the Constitution as a U.S. resident, which I am legally. And I look at it and I say, this is not a license for American civilians to be able to go to Wal-Mart and buy assault weapons. To me, that's crazy, particularly when I can't buy in Wal-Mart a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg, because the little toys inside may choke me.
I can't buy sick packets of Sudafed because I may be building a secret pharmacological machinery. I can't go and buy French cheese in many places in America because of the hygiene bacterial risk, but I can buy an assault rifles in a superstore. Something has to change culturally.
BLITZER: Somebody reads this book, what do you hope they will learn about you?
MORGAN: I think they will learn that the cable news business is enthralling, it's unpredictable.
As you once said to me, Wolf, the news never stops. It's exciting. It's dramatic. I think when you get a voice, as I have developed I think to the guns things almost by default -- it's something I care very passionately about in Britain. And they will see the history of that.
We had our own Sandy Hook in Dunblane in Scotland. And we campaigned. And in Britain, we got handguns and assault weapons banned. And we have 35 gun murders a year. That many will die in America today. So I think they will learn a few things about me that may surprise them.
MORGAN: They will also learn that you, as I write, are a nice guy, which will probably horrify...
BLITZER: Well, thank you.
"Shooting Straight' is the name of the book, "Guns, Gays, God, and George Clooney," an excellent read.
Piers, thanks very much for coming in.
MORGAN: Lovely to be here, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: Always good to have Piers Morgan in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I will be back in THE SITUATION ROOM on Monday.
"CROSSFIRE" with guest D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and radio talk show host Larry Elder elders starts right now.