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What If They Never Find The Plane?; Global Airline Group Forming Task Force

Aired April 1, 2014 - 16:36   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN GUEST HOST: That's President Obama in the Rose Garden there just declaring something of a surprise victory with Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, saying that it in fact exceed the $7 million target, the crucial Congressional Budget Office target, the original target for enrollment. The president calling the plan good for our middle class, good for our fiscal future. He said, quote, "The law is doing what it is supposed to do. It is working."

I want to bring in CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, this is not where we might have expected we would have been just a couple of months ago when the rollout started with nothing less than a disastrous start for Obamacare.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. What a difference a working website makes. You heard the president take what was basically a victory lap here in the Rose Garden. This was their moment in the sun, and they wanted to maximize it. And you heard the president announce some news there, Jim. And that is that 7.1 million Americans have signed up for insurance through Obamacare. Earlier today, it was 7.04 million, so a slight increase in the hour since we heard that news earlier today.

And you heard the president tout the benefits of the law. He also defended the law. And I think what we heard the opening shots of the 2014 midterm campaign cycle. The president saying that the debate over repeal is over, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. He even went after his Republican critics, talking about that still there's no proof of death panels and so forth. So the president really soaking up this moment.

And we should point out, Jim, it was on October 21st, nearly six months ago when the president was in this Rose Garden acknowledging problems with the website, acknowledging the problems with, that it wasn't working as well. But in those last 24 hours, heading into March 31st, they had a surge of enrollment. That made a big difference in reaching this goal, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Thanks very much, Jim Acosta. Clearly the president enjoying this moment.

I want to bring in our political panel now to comment. We have CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger. We also have Kevin Madden. He is a political commentator, Republican strategist. And Governor Ted Strickland, president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Also former governor of Ohio. Thanks very much to have you all here.

I wonder if I could begin with you, Governor Strickland. I want to mention what Vice President Biden said just a few weeks ago. Expectations management at the time when things -- no one was really expecting it to hit this target. He said we may not get to 7 million, but if we get to 5 million or 6 million, that's a hell of a start. Can you say the president has turned Obamacare from an albatross around his neck to a real legislative achievement?

TED STRICKLAND, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND: Well, I think what's important is not the political impact of this law, but the real impact of this law. So many millions of our fellow citizens will now have access to high-quality, affordable health care coverage. And that's what we ought to be celebrating today. Not the political dimensions of this as much as the human dimensions.

SCIUTTO: Well, Gloria, I want to bring you in. Because the Obama administration very specific about one number, 7.1 million. As Jim said, it was 7.0 --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. They are saying that it's going up and up and up.

SCIUTTO: Right. But there are numbers that they haven't been specific about, particularly who pays. Who paid --


BORGER: Right. And I just got off the phone with a senior White House official asking those questions. What about the numbers that we don't know? And the answer you get is that they are unknowable at this particular point. The question is, how many previously uninsured have enrolled? How many have paid? Estimates are that 80 to 90 percent have paid. The answer to me was some of these folks haven't gotten their bill yet, so they can't possibly have paid.

Question: what's the breakdown of that risk pool so we know the young versus the old? Don't really know the answers to that yet. We know that it's got to be better than it has been when they've done previous calculations. And also the big question out here is how much do premiums go up for 2015? We don't know -

SCIUTTO: And this all happens right around midterm elections inconveniently, right?


BORGER: Right around midterm elections, premiums could go up more than some would like. And that would be fodder for you.

SCIUTTO: I have to ask you, Kevin, this is going to be primary ammunition in midterm races in the fall. Hard not to call this something of a victory, particularly where we were just six months ago.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If this were a victory, if this were a political asset for candidates, you wouldn't have just Harry Reid and Dick Durbin that were there in that Rose Garden. You'd have Senate candidates that are in really big battleground states standing there as well and running on it and saying that they were proud to. They are not.

They are trying to draw contrast with the White House on this issue. They are talking about what they are doing to fix some of the problems on it that affecting the populations back in states. So many of the folks that are out there, they have their names on the ballot and Obama -- I'm sorry, President Obama said that the debate is over. Obamacare is going to be on the ballot in 2014 in a very big way.

BORGER: But repealing? Repealing? I mean, that my question.

SCIUTTO: How do you take it away from 7 million people? Right?


BORGER: (INAUDIBLE) coverage for pre-existing conditions?

MADDEN: That is a very good question. But I think again, I'm the political hack here. So I know that the government doesn't want to get into it, but I can.

SCIUTTO: And you'll have your chance.

MADDEN: One of the big issues is whether or not people feel like it's having an impact and whether it's affecting their health care positively. The numbers about Obamacare's unpopularity in the states are very striking. In some of these swing districts, it's 40 percent for, 60 percent against. In many of these red states where you have very hot Senate races, it's 30/70.


SCIUTTO: Well, one place where the numbers are changing for the better, and I want to ask Governor Strickland about this approval for Obamacare is up. It's not a big margin, but 49 to 48 percent, considering where it was. I was speaking with a Democratic strategist this morning who said to me, made the case to me that in the fall elections, Obamacare will be something to run on as opposed to something to run away from.

STRICKLAND: I hope they think that.

You know, we're talking about politics here, and we ought to be talking about the fact that millions of Americans now have access to health care coverage when they didn't have it previously. And in terms of younger people, what we've seen here at the latter stages of the signup period is that younger people are starting to enroll in greater percentages than they were previously.

I want to tell you, I'm from a swing state, the state of Ohio. If I were on the ballot, I would be running for and with the Affordable Care Act because when you see what we saw today this number of 7-point some million Americans who previously - I mean, these are people who have previously had not health care coverage --

BORGER: But you're not from a red state. You're not from a red state, as Kevin was pointing out. If you're a senator, a Democratic senator from a red state, you not only have a problem with Obamacare, you have a problem with Obama, who is unpopular. And it's kind of hard to separate the two.


SCIUTTO: Very quickly, I'm going to give you the last word. Governor Strickland said if he was running, he would run on this this year. If you were running or running a campaign, would you run against this in the fall?

MADDEN: Oh, if I'm a Democrat?


MADDEN: If I'm a Republican? Oh, absolutely. I think it's easy to say when you're not on the ballot. Remember, this is a government created (INAUDIBLE) by the mandate, and there are 5 million people who had their policies canceled because of Obamacare. They are going to be showing up at the polls in November.

SCIUTTO: I'm going to have to leave it there.

STRICKLAND: And that number is going down, and that's good news.

SCIUTTO: A point that the president made as well. Thanks very much, Governor Strickland, Center for American Progress, Kevin Madden. The other Gloria in my life, Gloria Borger.


SCIUTTO: Thank you very much.

BORGER: He's married to a Gloria

SCIUTTO: I'm married to a Gloria. Full disclosure.

For the families now and for all airline passengers and their loved ones in the future, why is it so important for investigators to find that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? That's going to be after this break. Stay with us.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. And more in our "World Lead" now. The search for Flight 370 and it's a question being asked more with each day that goes by. What if they never find the plane? It is, of course, a possibility as we close in on a month since it vanished and that would leave a nagging grief for families who have already been through so much.

But it would also lead the airlines guessing as to what might have gone so terribly wrong as they try to prevent this from happening to other families in the future. Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh is taking a look at that part of the story for us -- Rene.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: It's a question that you can't help but ask. What if Flight 370 is never found? One thing seems apparent. Proof that 370 had mechanical problems would likely lead to safety improvement, proof that 370 was hijacked would likely lead to security improvements. But without any proof, we only have speculation and speculation may not change a thing.


MARSH (voice-over): The history of aviation reads like an equation. Accidents equal safety and security improvements. In 1983, a fire broke out in a laboratory on Air Canada Flight 797. The plane landed, but 23 people on board died. After that, smoke detectors and automatic fire extinguishers were mandated in aircraft laboratories. In 1996, hazardous cargo on Value Jet Flight 592 caught fire.

UNIDENTIFIED CONTROLLER: What kind of a problem are you having?

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: Smoke in the cabin.

MARSH: The plane crashed in the Florida everglades, 110 people died. It led to new cargo hold safety rules. But not finding Flight 370 or its data recorders could be a missed opportunity for change.

JEFF PRICE, AVIATION SAFETY EXPERT: Whatever brought down that flight, whether it was fire, hijack, pilot suicide, explosive decompression, a bomb, whatever, it's important to find that out so we can fix it so it doesn't happen again.

MARSH: And it's security, too. The September 11th hijackings led to strengthened cockpit doors. The shoe bomber led to shoe checks. The aviation industry needs hard facts before it can make changes.

PRICE: Unfortunately, we've had a history of sort of graveyard policy making. You wait until enough people die and then make a change.

MARSH: With so few crashes in recent years, the FAA is more proactive in finding problems that could cause crashes before they happen. Now, with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, there could be lessons to be learned. But only if they find out what went wrong.


MARSH: Well, I spoke with a former NTSB investigator and his perspective really helps drive home the importance of finding hard evidence about what went wrong. His concern is, let's say there is -- it was a problem with the plane. It could be a fleet-wide issue and if that's the case and nobody discovers the problem he says guess what, they will know about it the next time that happened and that, of course, is not a good thing. And by the way, the same is true if security problems go unidentified as well -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's a sobering possibility for the families and for flyers and for airlines. Thanks very much to Rene Marsh. Coming up, more on Rene's reporting. The need to know what happened and what the airline industry is doing now to make sure it never loses a plane again. Stay with us.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. And continuing our "World Lead" now, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370 and the need to know what happened to prevent future potential air disasters like it. Some in the airline industry are speaking out, like Tony Tyler. He is the general director of the International Air Transport Association. He announced his organization is forming a task force to make recommendations about how to keep track of planes.


TONY TYLER, CEO, INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: First, we need to be in the position to track aircraft through the whole entire length of the flight. Even if they go outside normal radar coverage.


SCIUTTO: I want to bring in Perry Flint. He's head of Corporation Communications for the Americas for that organization, the IATA, which represents some 240 airlines around the world. Perry, if I can ask you, a task force, what would we be trying to figure out particularly at this stage where we haven't found the debris yet to determine what caused the crash?

PERRY FLINT, HEAD OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS THE AMERICAS, IATA: That's correct. The task force is not focusing on finding a probable cause of the accident. Obviously that's the responsibility of the accident investigation. But rather, the role of the task force is to arrive at a consensus decision by the end of the year on a way to ensure that an airplane simply can't drop off the map for an extended period.

SCIUTTO: We already know the contact was lost with this plane. That's something that you want to solve.

FLINT: We want to know what happened. We want to know where it is. Primarily, the situation is we don't know where this aircraft is and we do not want another situation where that occurs.

SCIUTTO: So with the goal of the task force, we've talked about a lot of this on CNN, relatively simple ways, a GPS tracker would be different for an airplane. What kind of technological changes are we talking about? You have systems that would do constant streaming of the black box data, which is more expensive and more intense. What sort of changes are being discussed?

FLINT: I guess a way to think of it is that all options are on the table. Nothing has been ruled out or ruled in. That's the point of the task force. It's April 1. Hope to have something in eight months to have a consensus. One thing to be aware of is that the goal here, remember, is not to be able to solve the accident, but to know where the aircraft is.

SCIUTTO: One issue and this happened after Air France Flight 447 because after that one of the changes that was discussed was lengthening the battery life of the pingers from 30 days to 90 days, lots of back and forth and lo and behold the change was to start next year on new planes. Of course, it does nothing for the 20,000 somewhat planes that are in the air right now. That delay, in that case, is not encouraging when we think about how changes may filter into the system this time around.

FLINT: Well, it's true that a long -- an extended period like that may seem like a long time. But as you pointed out, there are thousands and thousands of aircraft and, in fact, the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is the U.N. agency for commercial aviation for civil aviation did indeed issue a standard that the life of the batteries should be extended and it gave a six-year implementation period. They are mandated by 2018.

SCIUTTO: That's a long time.

FLINT: Sure. But if you go into replacement, you put it in before that. So the answer is that these things seem to take a long time. Anyone replacing batteries is putting in a longer life battery.

SCIUTTO: Well, the problem here is cost, right? These systems cost money. Are the airlines going to accept that cost?

FLINT: It's not only a matter of cost, it's also if we are talking about a consensus agreement on what is the best way to know where an airplane is so it does not disappear. You also want to make sure that you don't wind up with 10 or 15 different solutions. It's already an issue that the industry deals with the global business and the ideal solution is one that works everywhere.

SCIUTTO: And we've seen where not groups and countries talking to each other well can have a problem as it has happened in the search for this flight. Thanks to Perry Flint with the IATA.

That's it for THE LEAD today. I'm Jim Sciutto sitting in again for Jake Tapper. I'm going to turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer. He is in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jim, thanks very much.