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"Time" Details Behind the Scenes of Obamacare Rollout; Obama Unveiling Plans for After Presidency; Kerry Talks Ukraine Crisis, Fear of Russian Intervention; Obama Plans Overhaul of Nutrition Labels

Aired February 27, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Four million and counting, that's where Obamacare enrollment numbers stand right now. Hard to believe just a few months ago the website was in truly critical condition, barely surviving as major glitches kept thousands of potential customers from signing up, even logging on. "Time" magazine's new cover story, "Code Red," goes behind the scenes during those very tense weeks when the White House was scrambling to revive the site and save President Obama's signature health care program. It details how top administration officials were completely clueless about the problems ahead of the launch, and reveals the president came close to actually scrapping the site altogether, delaying implementation of the entire program.

Let's discuss what we've learned from this article with the author of the piece, "Time" contributor, Steven Brill.

Steve, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: I guess anybody who reads the piece is going to be shocked once again that the signature issue that the president of the United States had, they had three years to get this website ready and they were all clueless. How could this happen?

BRILL: Well, they were worried about making sure that people showed up to enroll and completely ignored the question of what would happen if they did show up. They just took the assurances of the people at the Department of Health and Human Services, you know, that everything was wonderful with the website. Don't worry, it's a go, even though it's a really complicated major e-commerce venture to launch. And, you know, they were more concerned with policy and with marketing, the political challenge of getting people to enroll, than they were with, you know, the basic nitty-gritty of running a government.

BLITZER: How close was the president to actually delaying or scrapping the entire thing?

BRILL: Well, on approximately October the 17th, he asked his chief of staff and his other top aides to find people who could parachute in and give them an assessment of whether they should scrap the whole thing and start all over or whether it could be fixed. And it took that group who parachuted in until the 23rd of October when they went to the president and said, yes, we can fix this. The good news is that the mistakes that were made are so obvious. And there are so many of them that are relatively easy to fix because they are so obvious that we think if you give us until November 30th we can get this thing back on track. And this wonderful team of, you know, really unknown people, you know, dressed in sweatshirts and T-shirts basically came in and redirected all the engineers who had been working on it. And they got it fixed, working day and night, through Thanksgiving and right up to Christmas Eve.

BLITZER: Name names. Who was responsible for the blunder in the rollout?

BRILL: Just name anyone who was involved in it until October 17th and you've got people responsible. Now, you know, ultimately, the president himself has said that he's responsible. And he's right. If you're running an enterprise or government and there's something that is this high a priority, it wouldn't hurt to, you know, dig down a little bit into the details and meet the actual people, who are responsible for the technology, and make them demonstrate to you or to your top aides, who are technologically sophisticated, make them demonstrate to those people that, yes, it works. I think it was a combination of not talking to the right people and all the people around the White House and around the agencies not wanting to give any higher-ups the bad news that maybe we should wait.

Which also brings up another issue. No one ever launches an e- commerce venture like this all at once. They should have launched it in one state or maybe, you know, a region of a state and then a state and then a region of the country. You never rollout something like this, you know, by turning the button on and, you know, asking everybody to show up.

BLITZER: So, Steve, clearly the president was blindsided by this, but was his chief of staff blindsided with the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius? Was she blindsided? Where were they?

BRILL: I think they were all blindsided. The chief of staff, as I report in the article, called someone the night before October 1st and said, I think we're going to knock your socks off with this thing when we turn it on. And, you know, he was right but not quite in the way he meant.

BLITZER: Certainly a lot of people were -- clearly had their socks knocked off --


BRILL: Yeah.

BLITZER: -- which was -- (AUDIO PROBLEM) -- Jeffrey Zion, that team, they came in and they rescued this whole website, didn't they?

BRILL: They did. If we're going to blame the president as the man responsible for the bad launch, I guess we have to give him the credit for bringing in the people who fixed it.

BLITZER: We certainly do.

Excellent article by Steve Brill. He doesn't write a lot of these articles, but when he does, you always learn something.

Steve, thanks for joining us.

BRILL: Thank you. Great to be with you.

BLITZER: Up next, giving young men of color a boost. The president is making good on a promise. He's launching a plan right now to help those at-risk.

And later, those nutrition labels on the food you buy are getting a makeover. We'll talk with the FDA commissioner and our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the proposed changes.


BLITZER: Right now at the White House, a focus on young African- American and Hispanic men. President Obama launching an initiative called My Brother's Keeper.

Don Lemon is at the White House watching this story unfold.

Map out the program, Don, for us. What is it specifically designed to do?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's designed to help young black men, young men of color really, black and Hispanic men, who really fall at the bottom, or the top, however you want to look at it, when it comes to unemployment, incarceration, school dropout rates. So the president wants to take this initiative, called My Brother's Keeper, and he wants to make it nationwide.

But what he is doing now is he met with a group of youth in Chicago last year. And he said they really touched his heart. And he touched their hearts as well. And after speaking to them, he said he wanted to come and do this initiative nationwide.

So here's what it entails. So far, they've had $150 million -- and this is money that has been donated by philanthropic organizations and business organizations, community leaders from around the country. So far, $150 million. And now, to add to that, they're going to try to raise $200 million at least over the next five years to try to figure out what works specifically, what will be different about this time, what they can do differently about this time? The president will go into the East Room, Wolf, 3:25, and make that announcement.

And, Wolf, this used to be your beat. You know that there's something big when you start to see big names, big faces roll into the White House. I've been here for a couple of hours. I've run into Magic Johnson, who will be participating in this. I ran into the former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. And I've run into a number of people, Mark Muriel, former mayor of New Orleans, as well here, all really having a stake in this particular initiative that we will get more specifics from the president in just a short period of time.

BLITZER: Yeah, this is really important stuff that the president is doing right now. I know you're going to have a lot more later in the "The Situation Room."

Don, thanks very much for coming to Washington and reporting on this important story for our viewers.

Coming up next, the plan to overhaul the nutrition labels on all the foods we all buy, the biggest change in 20 years. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta standing by with details.


BLITZER: Secretary of State John Kerry has been meeting with the German foreign minister at the State Department. Moments ago, Kerry spoke out on the escalating crisis in Ukraine and fears Russia could intervene.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Obviously, Ukraine is at the forefront of our minds. We spent a fair amount of our lunch talking about Ukraine. I'm very grateful to the foreign minister for his leadership, his personal leadership, his engagement with several other foreign ministers who went to Kiev and became engaged and helped to shape, particularly, with Foreign Minister Schteimmeyer's leadership, the agreement that was reached. The United States is really appreciative of that kind of leadership. It's a shared burden. And I know that, together with our French and Polish colleagues -- and I talked earlier today with the Polish foreign minister -- together we were able to make -- create a framework within which this change was able to be carried out, after the huge violence that took place, in a mostly peaceful way after that.


BLITZER: Kerry clearly concerned though as are other U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, about Russian intentions. We're monitoring this situation closely for our viewers.

Other news, the Obama administration today unveiled a plan to overhaul nutrition labels on the foods all of us buy. This would be the first upgrade since the government started requiring the labels back in 1990.

The first lady, Michelle Obama, says the idea is to make it easier for all of us to eat a bit healthier.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: As consumers and as parents, we have a right to understand what's in the food we're feeding our families because that's really the only way that we can make informed choices by having clear, accurate information. And ultimately, that's what today's announcement is all about. As you heard today, for the first time since the nutrition label was developed two decades ago, we are overhauling these labels to make them easier to read and understand.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

You had to chance, Sanjay, to go through these new labels, compare them to the old labels. What are the major differences?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The most important thing is the type of information that people want in labels is going to be more emphasized.

Let me show you what we have now and what the proposal is. This is a proposed label. It's not set in stone. Calories are clearly at the top. That will be bolder. You will see calories. That's total calories as opposed to calories from fat. You have to add the calories from other areas. You have the total calories very clear. And also some of the nutrients that Americans are deficient in. Vitamin D. A lot of people are told they need more Vitamin D. That will be more clearly labeled.

One of the biggest things, Wolf, is -- I'm sure you've dealt with this, I have as well. You look at the numbers and say this doesn't look so bad. You have a few food items and there's actually eight servings in that bag. You have just gone through four servings. You are eating far more calories than you thought. They're going to address that problem as well, Wolf. If it's likely you will eat the food in one sitting, like a bag of potato chips, for example, you will get not only the per serving information, but the whole package information as well. And you can make your conscious mind go online and think twice about what you are eating.

BLITZER: If you are buying a 20 ounce bottle of a soda, like Coke or Pepsi or diet, whatever it is, the old labels would have the servings with eight ounces. And now they have decided that people are not only going to drink ounces, but drink more than eight ounces.

GUPTA: Exactly right. It's trying to better reflect what a serving means in today's day and age in the United States. As you mentioned, unlike people who buy a 20 ounce drink like that, are going to stop at the one serving mark and have a clear idea of what they just took in. They are probably going to drink the whole 20 ounces, and that is exactly to your point. But also, if you take ice cream, for example -- I don't know if you can see this, but you might guess how many servings this is. This is 12 servings, but people may be able to get four or five servings out of this. They will try and better reflect what is likely in terms of a serving. Not that they encourage people to eat more, but that they know what they are eating.

BLITZER: These are big changes but there will be a 90-day review. We will see how many are implemented. We'll see what goes on.

Sanjay, as usual, thanks very much. GUPTA: You've got it, Wolf. Any time.

BLITZER: Don't forget to make an appointment with Dr. Gupta every weekend for "Sanjay Gupta, M.D." It airs Saturdays, 4:30 p.m. eastern, Sundays, 7:30 a.m. eastern, only here on CNN.

Picking up the pieces after returning from the battlefield. We will show you how an actor with deep ties to the military now helps veterans find jobs and a place to live.


BLITZER: He played one of the most memorable veterans on the big screen. Now the actor, Gary Sinise, has turned his passion into finding vets and homes once they return from the battlefield.

Our Chris Cuomo has more on the mission in today's "Impact Your World."



GARY SINISE, ACTOR: I thought I would try out my sea legs.

TOM HANKS, ACTOR: But you ain't got no legs, Lieutenant Dan.


CHRIS CUOMO, HOST, THE LEAD (voice-over): Before Gary Sinise played Vietnam Veteran Lieutenant Dan in "Forest Gump," he was a passionate supporter of the military.

SINISE: I have a long history of working with veterans starting with the relationships that I have in my own personal family. My dad served in the Navy and my two uncles were in World War II. My grandfather served in World War I.

CUOMO: With the success of "Forest Gump," wounded veterans began to identify with Sinise.


SINISE: How many veterans we got here?


CUOMO: He formed the Lieutenant Dan Band and entertained troops around the world with the USO. The actor said his call to action became very clear after 9/11.

SINISE: When our men and women started playing to Iraq and Afghanistan, they started getting hurt and killed, and having Vietnam veterans in my family, it was troubling to think they would come home to a nation that didn't appreciate them. CUOMO: He started his own charity dedicated to veterans. The Gary Sinise Foundation helps build customized homes for the severely wounded and helps vets find civilian careers.

SINISE: I have met hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of wounded veterans who continue to not let their circumstance get them down. Countless Lieutenant Dans out there that inspire me every day.

CUOMO: The actor, Seth Rogan, is known for making audiences laugh, but he took on a serious topic in a visit to Capitol Hill and testified about his mother- mother-in-law's battle with Alzheimer's.

SETH ROGAN, ACTOR: After forgetting who she and her loved ones were, my mother-in-law, teacher for 35 years, forgot how to speak, dress herself and go to the bathroom by herself, all by the age of 60.


BLITZER: Seth Rogan also shared a lighter moment when he explained why he decided to get involved in a serious cause.


ROGAN: It's because of this lack of hope and shameful stigma that my wife and friends and myself decided to do something to change the situation. We started Hilarity for Charity. Hilarity for Charity is a fund we have as a part of the Alzheimer's Association to help families struggling with Alzheimer's and support cutting-edge research. That's right. It is so dire, it caused me, a lazy, self- involved, generally self-medicated man-child to start an entire charity organization.


BLITZER: Seth Rogan will join my colleague, Jake Tapper, on "The Lead" later this afternoon at 4:00 p.m. eastern. Check it out.

A quick check of the markets. The Dow is up 70 points. Stocks dipped a bit this morning before bouncing back. We will continue to watch for you.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I will be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.


Wolf Blitzer, thank you very much.